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Mid-Week Check-In + Dealing with the Emotional Side of Running Injuries

I apologize if any of you were unable to access my blog this morning. It was down until around noon. My tech guru did his monthly updates and security checks late last night and apparently one of the WordPress plugin updates made my blog crash. He had to troubleshoot by going in one-by-one and activating plugins to see which was the guilty party. And I have 33 of them. If that a) sounds like a foreign language to you or b) sounds a little tedious and not very fun then you’ll understand why hiring Web Symphonies to run the back end of my blog has been one of the best business decisions and investments that I have ever made. Isaac, the owner, is so super responsive, knowledgeable and right here in Charlotte. I am grateful.

Packing has been a wee bit painful but not so bad. I cleared my calendar this week of any social commitments or meetings so that I could be sure to feel that I had time for packing, work and self-care. All is calm so far. I took Zoey for a run on Tuesday, which was awesome. (Although every time I take her my heart absolutely breaks for Sullie that she can’t come with us.)

It was one of those runs where I didn’t really feel like going but I kind of did. I had no idea what to expect from it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it felt easy and good, which was not the case for my recovery runs last week after the half. We covered 5 miles at an 8:26 pace. It was 50 degrees and cloudy which I think makes for perfect running weather. As long as I can run in shorts, I’m a happy girl. (And for the record I have an appt to see Ariana to wax my brows tomorrow. They’re a little cray-cray right now! So glad she’s back in town. Comment or message me if you want her info!)

Let’s segue into talking about running injuries.

Over the last six months or so I feel like I’ve been all roses and rainbows about running. I’ve received quite a few emails and Instagram messages lately from readers who are injured, sad and frustrated seeking advice on how to deal with injuries, not just physically but emotionally.

Here’s an example…

I wanted to ask more specifically about how you healed from the injuries you accumulated over years of distance running. The posts you’ve written on the topic have been really helpful, as I’m currently struggling with a hamstring injury that has been ongoing for over a year now (and has now gone down into my calf/behind the knee). I’m in my second round of physical therapy and, at this point, have pretty much not done any exercise for over a month and am having pain just walking around the house. I’m going to try to get a referral for an MRI to figure out what exactly is going on, but am very frustrated and starting to lose hope.

I know a huge thing for you was turning to yoga, but that has actually been aggravating for my injury (downward dog is pretty painful). Is there anything else you did to recover that you found helpful? More importantly–can you elaborate on how you mentally accepted not being able to run? I find it really inspiring to see that you’ve now returned to running with a renewed passion and a stronger body, and am hoping you have some advice for someone who’s at the other end of the healing process.

And lastly, if you have any ideas for forms of exercise that would that would get my heart rate up without irritating my leg I am all ears. I’ve tried biking, jump roping, etc. and they all cause pain. Really finding it hard to keep my spirits up without any exercise endorphins.

First, I just want to remind you guys that my background with running was injury city. Running in my 20s can be labeled as, “trial and error, had no idea what she was doing, did not listen to her body, tried everything everyone else was doing.” I never successfully trained for a marathon without getting injured. It was incredibly frustrating. It was so heartbreaking that I ended up quitting distance running all together and claiming that it wasn’t for me. Did you know that I didn’t run one single half marathon distance race or longer between December 2010 and November 2015? I still ran regularly but rarely more than 3 miles at a time. I actually had people question me and ask if I was going to change my blog name because I wasn’t much of a runner anymore. I was so confused and lost about running and my body. I knew I loved it but I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do it the way I wanted to.

During my distance hiatus I got really into yoga, started exploring CrossFit and worked on building not only strength and flexibility but a deep love and acceptance for my body. I emerged in my 30s a totally different and stronger runner. The three pillars of what’s different about running for me these days are simple but take a long time to cultivate and appreciate.

  1. Yoga, flexibility, mobility and bodywork.
  2. Strength and a focus on addressing and owning imbalances and weaknesses.
  3. Listening to my body.

I’m so much more relaxed about my running these days. It remains my #1 go-to choice for exercise and the best therapy for my head and my heart but I don’t put so many expectations on it. I know it works for some people to run 5-6 days a week and 40+ miles per week. I know now that it’s not for me and I accept that. I run to feel good, not to prove anything to myself or others. And that’s a huge shift for me.

I know that when you’re in the injury cycle that it can be discouraging and frustrating. I’ve been there. I encourage you guys to use it as a chance for information gathering. There is NOTHING wrong with you but your body is trying to tell you that something you’re doing isn’t working. STOP DOING WHAT ISN’T WORKING. Don’t run through pain.It’s the worst thing you can do.

This doesn’t mean you can never run again but maybe you need to take a step back, evaluate and approach it differently. I look at every run like a gift, not a chore. I am so grateful that my body can do it. When you can’t run, focus on the things that you can do. Try yoga, cycling, strength training and I can’t recommend swimming enough. In the past I have found it to be extremely therapeutic. And please prioritize body work and strength.

I promise that I’m not trying to sound preachy. It’s taken me years to get to this place with running and it’s a good place to be. I can’t say that I’ll never be injured again (I’m sure I will be) but I want to give you guys hope because I spent so many sad years thinking my distance running days were over. You will get through this and you will learn from it…even if it takes 5 years.

I’d love to hear your experiences with running injuries and how you’ve stayed motivated and positive through them. Or how you’ve struggled with them.

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{ 29 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Tara | Treble in the Kitchen March 16, 2017, 7:05 am

    I am so trying to figure out my balance with running. I feel like it’s a never ending journey! My calves and IT band (and hamstrings!) are always super tight and acting up, so I am just constantly figuring out the right balance of stretching and yoga to incorporate. I’ve always stretched but I wasn’t necessarily stretching the way I needed to be. Over the past couple of years, I’ve really focused on listening to my body to help with all of this. Last year, I went to a chiropractor which was super helpful and I’ve had massages before but I’m not sure which is better (or if either is!) or which I prefer. When you get “body work” done, what do you prefer?

    • 2
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:37 pm

      Hey Tara! I’m sorry to hear about your struggles but you’re not alone. I hear about those specific areas so, so much. I would really encourage you to make yoga at least a once a week thing. RE: my favorite bodywork. Definitely regular massage for maintenance (like every two weeks and a good sports massage) and then adjustments/active release for acute injuries or pain I’m having.

  • 3
    Diana March 16, 2017, 7:49 am

    Hey Jen! It’s so great you’re blogging about this. I’ve been on the fence about blogging about my current injury in more detail, though I have talked about past ones a lot. I can totally relate to the trial and error of the 20s, and it’s also only been since I’ve been in my 30s that I feel like I’ve been figuring things out. Totally agree with your 3 points above. To help me get through my current injuries, I’m turning to physical therapy to make sure I’m emerging from the injuries stronger than I was before with proper care. I’ve also turned to restorative yoga and meditation, which have been really helpful. And I’ve also been practicing gratitude and focusing on the positive things in life. I may have rolled my eyes at the latter two in my 20s, but 30s-me knows better. They are so simple but so powerful. 🙂

    • 4
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:34 pm

      Hi Diana – I am so sorry that you have been struggling with an injury and I hope you’re on the mend. You’re smart to work with a therapist to makes sure that you not only heal but address the root cause of why the injury happened in the first place.

      I’m SO thrilled to hear that you’ve found yoga and meditation helpful.

      I love reading about all of your NYC fitness classes. I am awed by all of your dance classes because I have no rhythm!

      xx

      • 5
        Diana March 20, 2017, 8:22 am

        Aww you’re too sweet! Thank you! Getting better slowly but surely. I wish it went faster, but I’m trying to be patient. 😋

  • 6
    Julie Running in a Skirt March 16, 2017, 8:53 am

    Running is such a gift! I’ve struggled with injury too and am in search of a balance that allows me to run and enjoy other fitness I love. It’s all about finding what works for you… and for me that’s NOT running everyday!

    • 7
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:32 pm

      Agreed, I am a mess when I run every day. I definitely do best with variety!

  • 8
    ACKTIVE LIFE March 16, 2017, 9:42 am

    I have found that the best way to stay healthy when it comes to running is exactly what you have done…Proper strength training, yoga, listening to your body, and also properly nourishing your body. It’s important to keep it balanced! I love that race photo of you, it’s so awesome!

    • 9
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:32 pm

      Yes to all! I think the variety is key on top of just the good self care. And thank you so much! It’s a fun photo that was totally candid!

  • 10
    Lisa @ TechChick Adventures March 16, 2017, 9:54 am

    Thanks for the pep talk! It’s hard to focus on the fact that someday the injury will be gone – but it might take awhile. I am trying to refocus my goals so I can get better right now. Glute and hamstring pain have been hanging around for too long for me. I just saw a new PT person yesterday that gave me some good ideas. Maybe this time will work 🙂

    • 11
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:30 pm

      Lisa – ugh, I can relate to glute and hamstring pain and their ability to hang around for way too long. So great that you saw a new PT. Sometimes you just need a fresh perspective on what’s going on as well as a different treatment plan. I think everyone is different in what treatment methods work best for them.

  • 12
    Allison March 16, 2017, 10:59 am

    This post really speaks to me, as I am currently recovering from microfracture surgery on my left knee. I spent 6 weeks strict non-weight bearing, then spent another week transitioning off crutches, and have finally been walking idependently for about a week. Right now my only “allowed” cardio is the stationary bike. Next month I can add elliptical and more intense biking, such as spin class. Mid-June is targeted as a return to running. It has been so hard to stay positive as I have watched my fitness slip away over these past 2 months! I was in half-marathon shape just before my injury and now even walking is difficult. I was shocked how much my left leg atrophied by not using it for nearly 2 months. Nevertheless, I am determined and motivated! This post reminds me that running will still be there when I am ready (even though right now I really really miss it!!).

    • 13
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:29 pm

      Hi Allison – I’m so sorry to hear about your injury and surgery. I can’t imagine the patience that it takes to come back from something like that. Your fitness will come back but just be gentle with yourself as you’re dipping back into everything. The body has an amazing ability to heal and strengthen itself. Sending you lots of love!

  • 14
    Laura March 16, 2017, 12:15 pm

    I also feel like I’m finally starting to learn how to listen to my body and find the right balance of things to stay healthy in my mid 30s. I love what you said about running to feel good now, not to prove anything to yourself or others. That’s what I’m trying to focus on now myself. Not always training for something. Just running for running’s sake, because I enjoy it and it feels good. As far as how to deal with injuries, the best strategy I’ve come up with recently is to look at it as an opportunity. To try something different or learn something new (for example, I’ve always wanted to learn how to play tennis and golf). To spend more time on things I’ve skimped on in the past when I’ve been able to run more (strength training, yoga, cycling, swimming, heck, even non-exercise things like reading!).

    • 15
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:26 pm

      I LOVE your outlook on injuries as an opportunity and not a limitation. And YES to the non-exercise things like reading!!!

  • 16
    Rebecca March 16, 2017, 12:27 pm

    Running injuries are so frustrating! I had a bad IT band injury a few years ago, I ended up having to take a couple of months off of running (to let it heal) and then did physical therapy to prevent it from happening again. Emotionally it’s hard to take time off from something that makes me happy, plus I missed seeing my running friends!

    I’ve found that body work (massage and Active Release Therapy), plus keeping up with my physical therapy exercises has helped keep the injury at bay. If I feel it flaring up, I go ahead and rest to keep it from getting worse. I’d rather take a few days off by choice than have to take months off later!

    • 17
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:26 pm

      Oh IT bands are the worst. So painful. I’m glad you did the physical therapy to hopefully prevent a repeat occurrence. And such a great point on missing the social aspect of running. I totally get that!

      I couldn’t agree with you about stopping at the onset of pain and being willing to take a couple days off so that it doesn’t lead to months!

      Thanks for sharing!

  • 18
    Hayley C March 16, 2017, 12:54 pm

    This post is coming at the perfect time and encapsulates exactly how I’m feeling right now. After recovering from a tibial stress fracture in fall of 2015 (I had to drop out of Chicago marathon a week before) I ran a BQ marathon in New Jersey last May. Boston has always been my dream race and I found out a week ago that I have a femoral neck stress fracture (probably the worst you can get) which puts me out of running for three months. I’m feeling totally defeated as I’m on crutches, pretty much non weightbearing for the next month and it will be months before I can run again. I”m like you where I’m at the point where I don’t think I want to continue distance running as its taken too much of a toll on my body, and not being able to exercise at all is far worse than not running.

    Any tips for working through injury? I’m doing arms/core but it really is killing me not being able to sweat, on top of the fact that I’m also not able to run Boston.

    I love running but I think its time I take a ‘vacation’ from it and focus on strength and yoga once I’m healthy – two things I love too!

    • 19
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:24 pm

      Hayley – I’m so sorry to hear about your stress fracture and that you had to drop out of Chicago. And now dealing with another fracture on top of that? I can understand why you would feel so defeated. Was the running the cause of the fractures? Have you talked with your doctor about how you might prevent this in the future? Have you had a bone density test?

      RE: working out through injury…stay the course with upper body and then are you cleared for swimming? I found it to be amazing for me when I couldn’t run due to injury.

  • 20
    Haley @ Haley on the Run March 16, 2017, 2:45 pm

    I did train regularly in high school for track and cross country and was lucky enough not to have to deal with any injuries, but now that I’m older and taking up running again it does make me nervous! I’m just going to have to do my best to listen to my body and increase my distances at a very gradual pace.

    • 21
      Jen March 16, 2017, 6:21 pm

      Hey Haley – yes, you will be doing yourself a huge favor if you get back into it SLOWLY! Don’t be nervous, just listen to your body!

  • 22
    Emily March 16, 2017, 3:13 pm

    Hi Jen! This is off-topic but are you going to do a full review of the resort you guys stayed in? I have been looking forward to that post!!

    • 23
      Jen March 16, 2017, 4:54 pm

      Yes, yes! For sure next week.

  • 24
    Rachel March 16, 2017, 8:00 pm

    Although I’ve never been an hardcore runner, I have dealt with IT band issues when I tried to increase my milage too soon. It was awful but foam rolling help a TON. I also switched to yoga during those times when I needed to take a break and heal (of course that was after trying to run through the pain a couple times). Now I try to be more intuitive and listen to my body so I don’t end up prolonging the injury.

  • 25
    Rosie March 17, 2017, 9:03 am

    Wonderful post and follow-up comments. I have learned, through trial and error and multiple injuries over the years, that I will never be a high mileage runner. I can run no more than 3-4 days/week max and NEVER on consecutive days. As I’ve gotten older (44 now) I have also come to realize that cross training via strength training with traditional or body weight exercises is just as important as the running itself. Also the time spent recovering with stretching, foam rolling, epsom salt baths, legs up a wall, etc. are integral to keeping injuries at bad. I am in week 11 of training for Big Sur at the end of April and this training cycle has had its ups and downs but I am committed to not pushing myself too hard. Getting to the start line healthy and ready to tackle the distance mentally and physically is way more important than any particular finish time.

  • 26
    tara March 21, 2017, 12:37 pm

    what a great post ! one thing i would say i have learned that it seems you and others have echoed is how much time it actually takes to be injury free and in good shape. i guess i always though you could just lace up your sneakers and go. obviously a short warm up and some stretching after are needed, but i have come to learn that in reality people who stay relatively injury free spend a lot of time foam rolling, stretching, doing band work, weight training small muscles, eating well, etc. also time and money is spent on massage, PT, chiro, acupuncture, yoga, etc. and you cant just do it every once in a while, its a weekly/daily practice. i guess thats a long way of saying staying in good “shape” is a journey not a destination and one should expect to spend a lot more time than you might think to do so. for me, that has been a huge lessen the past 1-2 years. i think its great you highlight these types of things as they are just as much a part of your fitness/health plan as the workouts themselves. Best of luck to the writer of the message.

    • 27
      Jen March 23, 2017, 8:15 pm

      Thanks Tara! Yes, it’s definitely not an overnight fix. It takes a lot of dedication and time to put yourself back together again but it can be done. And yes, the routine maintenance is critical for KEEPING yourself injury-free once you get there. You can’t just drive the car hard and never service it.

  • 28
    Meredith March 21, 2017, 1:39 pm

    I was a new reader of your blog when struggling with an IT band running injury and was encouraged by all of the other forms of fitness you pursuing at the time when running wasn’t clicking as well for your body!

    I’ve been inspired by your injury free transition back to longer runs. I am running again now too, and what has helped me has been a consistent combination of:
    1. Doing exercises I learned when I saw a PT
    2. Foam rolling
    3. Icing after running
    4. Yoga
    5. Barre Classes <– This has been the most recent edition for me and really seems to have helped with how my body feels going about my day, when running, and after running. The strong emphasis on core strength and low impact both are great. And several barre exercises are so similar to what my PT showed me, I cannot recommend highly enough to anyone who has dealt with IT band issues.

    Barre studios will ask about injuries before you start working out and offer modifications so this might be helpful to the reader looking for a workout while recovering from a running injury.

    • 29
      Jen March 23, 2017, 8:13 pm

      Hey Meredith, I am so pleased to read this comment. Congratulation on your return to running. Doing all of that work is the tough part to stay disciplined and diligent about but worth it if the result is that you can run. Awesome info on barre – THANK YOU for sharing it!

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