If I consider what I would do if I got a running injury my instinct would be to “push through the pain”. Perhaps reduce my volume or intensity, or both. But stopping my running altogether would be my last option. I’m a runner, after all. Therefore, I must keep running.
In the past I believed I was fortunate to not be affected by injury. I always ran. Only now I know I simply “pushed through the pain”. Luckily, I was able to keep adjusting my training and my races were largely unaffected. Then in the summer of 2017 I had my first serious injury. A hip bursitis on one side left me unable to walk without significant pain. I healed relatively quickly and was able to still run my seventh marathon that autumn. Within 6 months another injury beset my ambitions – MTSS. Although I achieved my goal of running my first ever sub-5-minute-mile, the remainder of the year was adversely affected.
The main cause for both injuries was over-training. My ambitions (and motivations) were higher than the training load my body could cope with. I didn’t quite get the balance of stress and recovery right, and I paid the price with physical discomfort and psychological disappointment.
Although I dealt with the hip bursitis well enough, I tried my best to run through my shin pain. This was a mistake. The major problem was simple – I had no plan for such an eventuality.
Kate Avery, the 27-year-old British cross-country specialist, told Athletics Weekly that patience is “the most frustrating thing” for any athlete. But her reward for developing this skill was finishing as the fastest Brit in the senior women’s race at the 2019 World Cross Country Championships. A strong winter season means that she has finished in the top 10 in six races already, including at the Simplyhealth Great Stirling XCountry. This is after experiencing multiple injuries that took her away from the sport for 17 months. It appears that a plan to cope with injury is essential for long-term success.
Indeed, as Hannah Winter explains in Athletics Weekly¹, fear of fitness loss is not a healthy reason to run whilst injured. Instead athletes should focus on returning to pain-free movement and setting realistic medium-term goals. The road to recovery may seem long, but it’s worth taking time to reflect on your journey to date and future potential. There are many ways to cope with not being able to run. I have spent time writing about my running, cycling indoors and committing to core exercises and stretching to stay active, as well as coaching other runners to achieve success. Whatever method(s) you use, try to stay positive. I now know that if injury does strike again I have a plan to cope as best I can with the setback.
So next time you consider whether to “push through the pain” of injury remember that long-term success requires smart decisions in the short-term. For example, a pre-planned break from running may prevent you needing to take an unplanned break.
1 The Athletics Weekly article is entitled Mental Rehab. Published on 11 April 2019.