Thursday, October 17, 2013

Coping with an Injury

When you begin to realize that something isn't quite right while you're running, what do you do?

At first you deny, deny, deny! Or at least, that's what I do. "That's just a normal twinge, it'll go away as soon as I loosen up some more." "Everything hurts at some point, no need to be concerned yet." "So I have to modify my stride a little bit, that never killed anyone." "Once I get to mile 3 this sharp pain will start to dull, I just have to push through until it gives in to my will power." These are all thoughts that crossed through my mind last week as I pushed through a strange pain in my upper left quad.

Eventually, I couldn't even walk without pain and entered a state of acceptance that something was actually wrong. I began to frantically google what it could possibly be and what to do about it, and also what cross-training was acceptable (after of course looking into how bad it would actually be to continue to run. Maybe acceptance isn't the right term, desperation seems more appropriate). I eliminated a femoral stress fracture and limited to some sort of hip flexor strain. But how bad the damage was, only a doctor could tell me. So I continued to run - definitely not acceptance. It wasn't until after seeing a PT did I begin to accept it and stop running.

In the mean time, I was flooded with a series of emotions and thoughts. I'm not sure that I can even separate them all into distinct episodes. It has been a mix of despair, anxiety, depression, panic and anger all rolled into one hot mess. The most distinct is anxiety and depression. These feelings seems to not be limited to running related thoughts. My entire life seems to be out of control. And while I have moved on to the next stages, the anxiety hasn't seemed to lessen in intensity.

Anyways, why has it seemed like my whole life had come crashing down? I mean it's just running. But its more than just running, it's a huge part of who I am, a part that I really love. Yes there is more to me and my life than just running, like grad student, friend, daughter, girlfriend, etc. And for most people, this is true and enough to get them through an injury. But for me, I am beginning to realize that I am a runner who is also a grad student, a friend, a daughter and a girlfriend. Being an athlete has always been a central component of my identity and despite what some people think, there is nothing wrong with admitting that something like running can hold such a central place in one's life.


Once I navigated this identity crisis, I began to fight back. I tapped my inner athlete to focus on my physical therapy exercises, strengthening my core and arms, as well as any sort of cardio cross training my leg can handle.  My new found determination has me hopeful that I will be back to new in no time. Maybe by Sunday for Nike Women's? (The decision on this will come tomorrow, when I need to cancel the hotel if we are going to get out of the reservation penalty free).

Google "coping with a running injury," and you'll get various different versions of the mental coping stages one goes through. For me, it has been:

  1. Denial 
  2. Desperation
  3. Acceptance
  4. Depression/Anxiety
  5. Identity Crisis
  6. Fighting back/Determination

What sort of mental process do you go through when faced with adversity? 


  1. I'm reminded of Kubler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief. If I didn't know you, I would have thought you lost a close friend or a family member. But there's hope! Because there's no acceptance here. No finality. Only patience and persistence and perseverance. You don't have to accept shit. The nice part is the body heals itself. And if you're like Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, you come back even harder, even faster and even more focused :)

  2. Found your blog from Loving On The Run. I'm so sorry about your injury. I can definitely relate. I started having very serious IT band pain on my last long run (before the marathon I was supposed to run). It came on out of the blue and in the end I wasn't able to run the marathon. Total bummer after having a great training season until then. I would try to focus on the good things in your life while you heal the injury. I turned to cooking new healthy recipes and walks with my dogs. I haven't run now in two months which is crazy for me, but somehow the time does just fly by. Wish you the best! You'll be stronger from this :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by! And thank you for your kind words :)

      That stinks about your marathon, I can totally relate to how difficult and disappointing it is to have to make the tough decisions to not run a race you've worked so hard and long for. I hope you've been able to get back to it and are working towards a new goal!

      You are totally right, I am stronger and hopefully smarter from this. I'm finally starting to recover physically and mentally and definitely a different person, or at least a different runner because of it!