My doctor looked at me strictly,“You have to take some time off from running.” Those words stabbed me like a knife to the heart. Overcome with emotion I sat, head down, watching my feet dangle off the medical table. Incredibly quiet in the room the only distinctive sound were my hands rubbing back and forth together, as I plotted how to respond to that statement.
For those runners who have suffered from injuries that have prevented them from running, for an extended period of time, this news begins what I like to refer to as the Runner’s Grieving Process. When running is such a major part of one’s life an extreme loss can be felt when injured. The injury and the circumstances might have varied but the reaction typically follows along the lines of the five psychological stages of general grieving: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Sitting on that table an unexpected thought hits and you suddenly find the words that you were at a loss for upon the breaking news. Much like filling out a crossword and trying to find the phrase for ‘a runner’s way to deny an injury’ the expression that comes from your mouth is a variation of, “Actually it doesn’t hurt that bad.” You say this but you don’t mean it, you’re faking it and the doctor knows it. Let us fellow runners be honest with each other for a minute, to get you into that doctor’s office in the first place something must have been throbbing. You commence a series of awkward looking flexes trying to establish the validity of your argument, yet to no avail when the doctor touches your weak spot and you wince. Attempting to convince the doctor and yourself you deny, deny, deny and its useless – the doctor knows.
Lingering sentiments of denial course through your bloodstream but you succumb to a different strategy. There is a reason for the expression don’t shoot the messenger, but you make sure to argue with the doctor just enough to make him hesitate a slight amount in your punishment or rather prescription of time off. When the doctor leaves the room even momentarily you barrade his credibility. Slowly beginning to work your way from people and objects inside the room to out of it as having been responsible for the injury it gets to a nearly delusional state. “It’s the doctor’s fault; he isn’t very good. It’s my coaches fault; he made me run too much. It’s those sneakers, I knew they didn’t have enough cushioning. It’s my parents fault; they never bought me an Easy Bake Oven.” The list goes on and regardless of the reason behind the injury, the next priority is to not have running taken away entirely.
Enter doctor, stage left. The next mourning stage begins with a valiant attempt at some light negotiation with the doctor, “Perhaps some jogging? Light jogging? What about walking-and-jogging?” Then come the waves of excuses as to why you couldn’t possibly take so much time off. It gets to a vaguely Rumpelstiltskin like place, where you’re near ready to give up your first born for some running, any running really. Confident the arguments you brought to the table were credible you are that weatherman who predicts sunny skies maybe even partly cloudy weather, and ends up with an unpredicted monsoon of rain. The words ‘no running’ seem to echo in the tiny room and you are left with only the prospect of cross-training.
“Dear Journal, Day one without running – As I sit on my couch surrounded by processed food, I hate my life. I will never run again. I hate all other sports. I am too young to be injured! I feel unproductive. Never go back to that doctor. Sincerely, New Prospective Heavyweight Champion.” The self-loathing comes on quite fast, the guilt over the injury, and the prospect of never getting back into shape again are probably the most lingering thoughts. It is quite often from this stage people resort back to denial and try to immediately run again. Many know that thrilling feeling of running when you aren’t suppose to and feeling great until a whole five to ten minutes in when you have to stop. Then anger, “Why does it still hurt!” Bargaining commences yet again, “Well, maybe I will only run five more minutes, I managed to run the first five.” From that point, depression- you are clear for landing.
If you are capable of making it through all these stages, you begin to find a type of happy place. Positivity re-enters the mind and with each day you become more confident you will run again. For those who aren’t the biggest fans of cross-training, it is important to use the prospect of running as motivation to get you through your less than favorable means of exercise. Try a variety of sports to keep muscles strong and strengthen others you may have never paid attention to. Finding an alternate activity you enjoy will be far more beneficial, than forcing yourself to cross-train in a manner you despise. Switching up routines keeps you interested and may even result in another sport you like, that falls a close second to running of course.
Being injured is no one’s favorite condition. However, if you are hating life while cross-training it is more than clear you have not left the depression state and you literally run the risk of returning to denial. Think of these stages as speed training. The faster you are able to get through them, the stronger you will become.
About the Author: Marie Walsh is a senior at Rice University, who runs for the Owl’s Cross Country and Track & Field Team. An avid runner, she loves to learn whatever she can about the sport and spread the knowledge.
Follow Marie on Twitter @MarieAWalsh