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Coming to terms with injury

We are absolutely delighted to present our first guest blog; it comes from ‘The Running Princess’ Allison McArthur.  Allison is an experienced marathon runner, avid Parkrunner and prolific blogger (you can follow her excellent blog here).  Allison wrote this blog a little while ago as she was coming to terms with a lower leg injury that was going to keep her out of her running shoes for a prolonged period.  I remember reading it at the time and thinking how perfectly it summed up an athletes thought process and emotions coming to terms with, and overcoming an injury.  Enjoy!!

If running or sport is a big part of your life, then suffering an injury can be a massive blow: not only are you deprived of an activity that’s really important to you, you might also miss out on an event that you’ve been looking forward to and training for. Yet admitting that there’s something wrong can be incredibly difficult. Even when deep within us we know that it’s time to stop, seek help and allow our bodies to recover, more often than not we instead seek solace in the restorative powers of sulking on the sofa with ice on our injury and a bar of chocolate in our hand!


But it’s in finally admitting to ourselves (and others) that something is wrong that we begin to come to terms with an injury. When I suffered an injury during training for a big challenge a few years ago, I was unable to run for several months and I found that time incredibly difficult. Looking back, I realise that through the loss of something precious in my life, I was doing what every injured runner does: facing the five stages of grief…

First comes denial. At this stage, we tend to ignore the injury and believe that a few days off, some ice, ibuprofen and stretching will somehow, miraculously, solve the problem. This never happens, yet this was the exact pattern I followed, convinced as I was that I’d bounce back in no time. That’s how denial can delude us.

Then there’s anger. Anger at our bodies for letting us down; anger at not being able to do the things we want to do; anger at the time it can take to figure out what’s wrong. But anger is not terribly productive either. Being angry won’t suddenly make everything better or find a miracle cure, it just drains our emotional energy and makes us feel worse.

When the anger subsides, there’s bargaining. We bargain with absolutely anyone and anything (If I just rest for a few days, can I try a short run? If I promise not to go too fast, can I still do that race? If I ditch one event and cross train, could I not just have a go at this other event?). We clutch at straws, desperate to keep on going even though it’s causing us pain. If it were anybody else, we’d be telling them to stop being stupid and rest, yet when it comes to ourselves we just can’t listen to good advice. And that’s exactly what I was like. Reaching my goal meant everything, and I was looking for any way at all to get there.

Which leads to the fourth stage: depression. Depression hits as it finally begins to dawn on us that our plans are going to have to change, particularly when we’re not yet ready for that to happen. Personally, I’m a nightmare at this stage. I mope about and refuse to do anything useful like strength train, cycle or swim even though these would be worthwhile activities. I stop seeing the point in my rehab exercises and lose interest in continuing with them. When I reach this stage, I need a really good kick up the backside and a new plan to get me back on track.

In my case, that plan was cycling. Admittedly, I was reluctant at first: I hadn’t cycled for years and my bike was in a state after years of neglect, but then I gave it a shot and discovered that cycling was much better than I had expected. Cycling got me back outside into the fresh air. It wasn’t running, but I could feel my muscles working, my heart pounding and my lungs burning. I loved it! I found new routes, I found a whole new community of friendly people to talk to and I found new excuses to buy myself brightly coloured kit! Running may be my first love, but cycling proved to be a tempting mistress and saw me through a summer of not running without losing my mind or alienating everyone around me!

Cycling helped me to reach the final stage of acceptance. I was able to come to terms with my injury and accept that running would be on hold for a while. Instead, I trained for my first ever cycling event and that helped me to maintain my fitness until I could run again. With something else to focus on, the fact that I couldn’t run bothered me much less, even though my injury time was lengthy.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had a running injury, and it certainly won’t be the last, but the experience taught me a lot about remaining positive and coming to an acceptance of my injury as soon as possible. Once I was able to accept it, I was able to move forward with my rehab, with some alternative training, and with some new goals. This left me better able to cope when, more recently, a different injury derailed my running plans and I was able to restructure my training and bounce back feeling strong.

So if an injury is getting you down, maybe it’s time to think about what you can do to stay positive and help your body recover. After all, moping around on the sofa scoffing chocolates won’t help you get a new PB in your next race (tempting as it may sound!). Positive thinking and effective cross training might!