Staying positive when injury strikes is one of the biggest challenges. Sadly as an athlete I’ve got a lot of experience to call on here. From not running for nearly a year after rupturing my plantar fascia the day after the Commonwealth Games, to frequently missing weeks of training with a dodgy hamstring over more recent years. But thankfully, these days as a coach I’ve learnt the lessons from my many injuries.
No one gets through their entire running career without being injured at some point. Sometimes it’s from poor training principles, sometimes it’s from recklessness and sometimes just sheer bad luck. The biggest impact of injury on your running doesn’t come from the injury itself. It’s how you respond to injury and what you do next that count most. And this is where staying positive when injury strikes makes all the difference.
Acknowledge how you feel
The first step to taking a positive approach is to acknowledge how you feel about your injury. It’s perfectly acceptable to be angry, depressed or bitterly disappointed about injury especially if your running was going well. But what’s most important is not to allow these emotions to rule your response. Acknowledge your feelings but don’t allow them to cloud everything. There’s a well-recognised link between physical and mental health. Being positive will support your physical recovery.
The next step is to analyse what led up to your injury. Ask yourself these questions. And be honest with yourself in your answers.
• What were you doing immediately before the injury occurred?
• Were there any early warning signs?
Often, we have early warning signs that we dismiss as minor niggles. Sometimes it’s something else that is causing an initial problem which we disregard as unimportant. My weakness was ignoring my lower backache each time until my hamstring gave up when it couldn’t take any more.
• Have there been any significant changes in your training? More volume? More intensity? Lots of races? Or conversely more time off and less running?
• Are there aspects of your training to which you have been paying less attention than you know you should?
Yes, I am talking about lack of strength and conditioning mainly here. I know that whenever I was injured, I would throw myself into strengthening work with good intentions to keep it up. Then as I got back to running, the strengthening work would start to slip until gradually the weaknesses started to creep back into my running again. Sound familiar to you?
Recognise What You Need to Change
If you have answered the questions above honestly then you should have a good idea of why your injury happened. The next step is to recognise what you need to change to make to ensure you don’t get injured again.
Don’t just throw yourself back into the same training as before as soon as you can run again. Take time to build up from short, steady runs before you launch back into interval sessions and long runs. Pay more attention to recovery days and steady running to balance your training load throughout the week. Increase your training over a more realistic timescale. Even if this means moving some goals or missing the next planned race. Focus on the long term as well as the short term.
Make a Plan
Make a strength and conditioning plan that not only focuses on your injury but also addresses any underlying weaknesses. Start with a rehab plan then move onto a regular maintenance plan and resolve to stick to it.
This is the biggest positive change I have made to my running. Whereas before I often let this go, now it’s an integral part of my weekly training. I recognise and respond more effectively to the early warning signs. For me, its tight hamstrings or weaknesses in my feet. So I take steps to resolve them, even if that means easing back slightly as I follow a targeted strengthening programme. As a result, my training is less interrupted and I sort out most issues before they stop me running.
Staying Positive Means You Can Come Back Even Stronger
While you’re injured it’s hard to stay positive, especially if it seems to last forever. However, staying positive when injury strikes means it can be an opportunity to learn some important lessons and improve your running.
Recognise what went wrong. Acknowledge how you feel. Then make a plan to make changes. Being positive means that instead of setting you back, your injury can actually make you stronger, fitter and faster.