Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
If you’re a serious runner, you’ve probably had at least one injury during your career. Some injuries only last a short time or don’t require us to actually stop running, but others can be more serious and keep us out of the game for weeks, months or even years. When someone who truly loves running is forced to stop, it has a huge effect on both their body and their mind. I recently experienced my first serious injury and found that it affected my life almost as deeply as if I had lost a loved one. I went through the five stages of running injury grief. If you’ve ever been forced to stop doing the thing you love, you understand exactly the type of emotion I’m talking about.
1. Denial. Sometimes it starts with pain, other times it’s just discomfort. You know something isn’t quite right, but you refuse to believe it’s actually something that bad. You’ve pushed through injuries before, working out just as hard and adding on some R.I.C.E. time to balance it out; this won’t be any different. Surely, you just went too hard and you’ll be fine after foam rolling and resting for a couple of days. When friends and family suggest that maybe you aren’t taking care of your body as much as you should or that you might need to lower the intensity for a while, you scoff at them. You don’t need to hear all that negativity; you know your body and you know that it’ll be completely fine.
2. Anger. It quickly becomes clear that this is not just a small injury. Of course this would happen to you, and of course it would happen now. Your training was going so well, and you’d been doing everything right! Okay, maybe not everything, but you’ve done more asinine things before and you know other runners who put way more stress on their bodies. Why are you the one who had to get hurt? It just isn’t fair. You consider blocking your old high school buddy who just posted a Facebook picture of her finishing a marathon. You snap at your family when they ask you how the working out is going or if you think you’ll get back out there soon. You punch your pillow and stare angrily at your now useless running shoes. Running is important to you; it helps make up who you are, and without it you feel that a part of you is missing. It’s not only a way for you to have fun, but also a great stress reliever. What are you supposed to do with all the tension you no longer have a release for?
3. Bargaining. Okay, so the combination of sulking and fire-breathing hasn’t been working out too well. You still aren’t able to run, and getting angry about it only makes those around you stay away when you really need their support…something’s got to give. You decide that it’s time to take action, rather than continue feeling sorry for yourself. You need to get some form of exercise. Maybe if you just go for a light jog—wow, that was a really sharp pain. Okay, okay, so that was a mistake. Maybe the elliptical will be better. It still burns plenty of calories and since your legs are partially supported, it won’t put a lot of pressure on them. The elliptical feels pretty awesome, and you manage to work out for about half an hour before you start to feel any discomfort. A huge smile spreads across your face. Screw the doctors who said you had to wait weeks to get active again, what do they know anyway? You can continue strengthening your muscles and getting that endorphin high, after all. Later that night as you lie awake in agony, you start to think that maybe doctors do know what they’re talking about—maybe there isn’t a way around this one.
Related: Cross-Training Options For Runners
4. Depression. As time goes on it really starts to hit you—running is no longer a thing you can just go out and do. It doesn’t help if you tell yourself it’s only temporary, because every moment that you’re stuck inside when you could be out logging miles feels like an eternity. Your spirits drop to a new low and you lose any bit of optimism you had left. You start to turn on yourself; why did you have to get in that extra workout when you knew you were spent? You become disgusted with your body, devoid of the tight muscles it once comprised. You touch every inch just to torture yourself, taking mental note of how flimsy your calves and quads have become. The feeling that your identity has changed or been chiseled away at grows stronger. You torture yourself by Googling running quotes and begin to stalk your runner friends’ old pictures, as well as your own. You continuously count how many days it’s been since your last run.
5. Acceptance. Though it feels like the fog of depression will never go away, it eventually lifts and you come to terms with your situation. You’re hurt. It sucks, but it isn’t the end of the world. At least it’s not a permanent injury, right? You’re still cautious not to think too far into the future, since you don’t know for sure how long it will be until you’re healed, but you do become rational enough to outline a recovery plan. You make a firm agreement with yourself to take it slow this time—as painfully slow as is necessary—and try to use this rest time to discover new, non-physical, interests and activities. You talk to friends and family openly about your frustrations and worries rather than denying that they exist, and you finally agree to take your doctor’s advice. Although you are still missing your Saturday morning miles like crazy, you decide not to let the grief completely take over your life. You also start to consider some other ways you could improve things for yourself, such as a healthier diet, stronger and more durable workout gear, and increasing your overall knowledge of running safety.
It’s been a long journey, and it still isn’t over yet, but you’ve made great progress. You still feel old pangs of anger and sadness when you hear the thud of trainers behind you on the sidewalk, but you push those feelings away and focus on where you currently are, rather than where you were or even where you might be someday. You’ve made peace with your situation, so you take a deep breath and enjoy this tiny victory. There will be many other battles in your quest to becoming the best runner you can be, but for now, it’s time to listen to your body and give yourself a much-needed break.