Bouncing Back From Injury-Trusting Your Body Again
*disclaimer- the tips I give below are all my own opinion/experience, I obviously have no medical expertise and am not trying to heal your injuries! Please always listen to your body and seek medical attention when necessary**
After my first major running injury in April 2018, I was out for nearly 6 months before I could run more than a mile without pain. I think that had I not been so afraid to get back into running after healing, I could’ve been out for a little less time. Yes the ankle pain was there, but I really believe that the severity of it was made worse by the fact that I was terrified to lace up my running shoes again and hit the trails, for fear that I would trip over something and start the entire hellish process over again.
If you’ve ever had an injury as an athlete, you may be able to relate. For me, nothing is worse than not being able to use my body to do the things I love. I grew up a competitive dancer, and when I got to college and slowly started to realize that the professional dancing world wasn’t something I wanted to be in, I took up running (thanks to my bestie Mel and her dad who somehow convinced me to whip out a 10 mile run with them one day. My love for distance running started right then). Within the last few years my love for outdoor adventure fitness has grown tremendously, and my idea of the best day ever always involves hiking, running up a mountain, learning to climb, SUPing, or something of that nature (winter goal this year is to finally learn how to ski!). Some would call this “type two fun”…
When your world revolves around fitness and using your body as an instrument to play outside and go on epic adventures, an injury that leaves you confined to four walls feels like a death sentence. Most days I found myself in a depressive state, knowing full well that it could be so much worse ( I didn’t even need surgery) but so frustrated with the fact that I didn’t exactly have an end date of recovery time to look forward to.
After my first ankle incident, a rib injury from surfing and two more ankle rolls followed shortly after that weren’t nearly as severe but still left me spending a few weeks (which I realize is minimal, but frustrating none the less) elevating and icing instead of flying down trails.
By the time I felt the pain and inflammation had subsided enough to run, I was honestly terrified. I felt like I couldn’t trust my body again.
It’s a daily practice, but I’ve come a long way when it comes to constantly being in fear of my body.
What has helped me the most?
I’m a huge believer in the power of our mindset, and the mind body connection. I started repeating a mantra in my head, specifically during races, but really any run where I started to feel that fear creep. Because the second we start mentally going down a dark hole, it actually effects our form and the way we are running. Your body tenses up, which may even lead to the exact thing you’re trying to avoid!
“I am strong. I am confident. I trust my body and I trust this mountain (or trail/street/etc).”
It sounds like the cheesiest thing ever, but I swear it works wonders! I ran an intense mountain race this summer in Alaska for the first time, and I was really scared of hurting my ankle and I think I repeated this for the entire hour and twenty minutes! It immediately allows me to focus on the present and stop creating stories in my head of what could happen.
Feel free to use this one as an outline and plug in whatever works for you!
On the subject of mindset power, visualizing can also be extremely helpful in focusing on the positive instead of the fear. Admittedly, it’s far too easy for my mind to immediately go to the worst case scenario and get caught in a never ending image reel of me falling and snapping an ankle (sorry for that mental image). It takes a great amount of effort for me to picture the opposite, but it makes a difference.
Before races, or just a training run, I close my eyes and really picture how I want to finish strong.
If you can capture that image pre run (or any workout!), it’ll be even easier to hang on to while you’re in motion. Get specific during visualization exercises- the more detail the better! Think of what you’ll be wearing, people cheering, how you feel, the music you’re listening too, etc. Seeing is believing!
3-Get in the game
If you are pain free, the best thing you can do is put yourself back out there! Make a commitment that will help hold you accountable, regardless of what you want to do when the fear creeps in. Sign up for a race that you can train for, or even just plan a workout with a friend every week. It helps to have something hold you accountable as you make your way back.
4-Give yourself grace
Most importantly, have grace and patience with yourself during this process. Know that it might take awhile to get back to your athletic level pre injury, and that’s okay! Listen to your body, and ease back into it.
When you put your body through some extreme things, injury is more than likely going to happen to some extent. I hope you never experience anything major, but everything worth doing is going to have some risks!
After some injuries, I honestly feel like I came back a much stronger runner than I was before. More importantly, it changed the entire way I view running and my body. I have a deep knowing of just how much of a gift having a healthy functioning body is, and I plan to use it fully and never take it for granted!