It finally happened. Your second opinion doctor agreed with the first:
No running for six weeks.
There goes your goal race. There go months of training. Here comes a nervous breakdown and the five stages of grief and that’s just within the first few days.
Google “coping with running injuries” and you’ll get a long list of mind-numbingly generic articles. Most give the same bland advice about cross training with yoga or swimming and “staying positive”.
In contrast, elite runner Tina Muir has a beautiful and comprehensive article that speaks to her personal experiences in “12 Ways to Deal With Injury Depression“.
Few runners make it through their careers without being sidelined by something… an injury, illness, or pregnancy. (Or all three!) Following the professional advice absolutely is the path to recovery and running again.
Do Not Disregard Doctor’s Orders!
I have never met a runner who said, “I ignored what the doctors advised and I returned to running sooner, with less pain, and with no long-term ill effect.”
But beyond yoga, swimming, and staying positive!, most runners end up trying some less orthodox methods for maintaining their sanity when running isn’t an option. I asked a group of GenX runner friends what they did when the crazies set in.
5 Crazy Coping Tips
1. Break the Rules
I know. This flies in the face of the previously mentioned “Do not disregard doctor’s orders!”. That is seriously good advice that you should follow. But… If you have been compliant and are healing and you pay attention to your body’s signals, it may be okay to do a little something you’re not supposed to do just this one time.
That’s what Gretchen decided when she just couldn’t take not being active anymore. After leg surgery, she had been following her surgeon’s and physical therapist’s instructions to a T. That was great for her leg, but not so great for her psyche.
In what she calls a “Here, hold my beer” moment, she enlisted her reluctant husband to help her get on her tricycle, despite still being in a leg brace. Gretchen swears (quite defensively, I might add… we’re not judging, girlfriend!) that she went very slowly, was not in any pain, and had already been on a bike in physical therapy.
Still, this pic is something only injured athletes can appreciate:
2. Teach Your Kids to Run
If you’re not a certified running coach and you’re physically incapable of running at the moment, teaching other adults to run probably isn’t a great idea. But your own young children might be fair game! That’s what my buddy, Steve, decided when plantar fasciitis sidelined him for a while.
Steve has two sons, ages 6 and 8. He says, “I would drive past the track and hate not being able to be out there. I asked the boys if they wanted to learn to run a whole mile. They were psyched. All summer we would go to the track every day and they would run/walk/skip around a lap, then have some fruit snacks… run/walk/skip around a lap, then pick clover in the football field.
“I tried to keep it no pressure, just fun. We went running shoe shopping and got ice cream. We ran the bleachers and did push-ups. And we picked a freaking lot of clover. At the end of August, I ran a one mile kids fun run with my 6-year-old and my 8-year-old ran the 5K. He won his age group. I think I was more excited than he was! ”
3. Volunteer at a Race
I was pleased to see this mentioned by Michelle because I am a huge advocate of volunteering at races. In fact, I’d like to take this opportunity to pressure you to click on one of the many links to sign up for my newsletter and receive the Ultimate Guide to Race Day Volunteering.
When you can’t run it can be tempting to disengage from the running community. It’s just too painful to be reminded of what you aren’t allowed to do. I unfollowed every Facebook running group I was in when a complicated pregnancy left me bedridden. Distancing myself from those connections left me even more depressed.
Michelle did just the opposite. She threw herself into volunteering at a different race every weekend. She says, “I volunteered the first time reluctantly. My sister dragged me along because she was volunteering and they were short staffed. It ended up being so rewarding that I went home and looked up other races to see if they needed volunteers. They all do!
“I was always the sort of person who said thank you to the volunteers who handed me water but I never really realized how much work goes into putting on a race and how I had been the recipient of volunteers’ generous gift of time. When I couldn’t run I ended up going to more races and more kinds of races than I ever had. I worked marathons, color runs, trail races, and triathlons. It was incredible.”
4. Collect Injured Runner Memes
This suggestion came up a couple of times! Todd posted his on Facebook and Instagram “as a way of apologizing in advance to family and friends for being a grumpy jerk”. Well, “grumpy jerk” weren’t the words he used, but he agreed to let me clean it up a little bit. Todd is just glad that I’m not Mr. Swanson, his 5th grade teacher who gave him swats for cursing. Remember swats?!
Sarah spent her days shopping for and designing her own injured runner t-shirts. I don’t think she sounds crazy at all when she says, “This is going to sound crazy, but I wore running clothes every day, even though I couldn’t run. It made me feel like I was still A Runner. I could at least look like who I used to be.
“And this is really crazy (I can’t believe I’m admitting this), but when I’d go out in public I would wear an injured runner shirt, hoping that other runners would know that I was still a part of the club. No one even knew who I was… I was at the grocery store… but it made me feel connected in some weird way.”
I get it, Sarah. That’s not weird. Well, maybe a little bit, but in a very relatable way. That’s what not being able to run does to you. If running is a part of who you are, well, who are you when you can’t run? Why not tell the world and yourself that you are still you?
Sarah says that her mom bought her this shirt from River Imprints on Etsy:
5. Ceremoniously Destroy Medical Equipment
We return to Gretchen again because this one is too
crazy awesome to pass up. As you progress through your healing, do something to celebrate each step. This is what Gretchen wanted to do when she was finished needing her leg brace:
If arson is beyond your comfort zone, maybe you could tie a bow around your air cast and then dump it in the garbage can. Write a haiku as you’re returning your wheelchair to the rental pharmacy. Smash up your crutches and use them as kindling for a glorious bonfire (with s’mores!).
And if it’s 2017 and your crutches are not made from untreated lumber, consider an idea like this one from RecycleArt.org:
I don’t have to be told that that gardener was an injured runner. He used to have an overgrown backyard that got mowed halfheartedly now and then. With an entire season ahead of him of no running, he decided, “Why not tear up my yard and grow some food my kids won’t eat?”. That kind of long-term hobby is a great idea for a sidelined runner and the support crutches are a touch of brilliance!
If you currently can’t run, you have my sympathies and my lack of judgment for your insanity. I’ve been there and know that anguish. In the five years that I’ve been running, I’ve had foot surgery, gallbladder surgery, “lady” surgery, and a complicated pregnancy. I am always starting over.
Share your coping tips with us and then share this with someone you know who is losing her ever-loving mind over not being able to run right now.