The Injury Loop of Death
Getting an injury is a big fear for most runners. Yet, despite this looming possibility, we regularly fail to see the warning signs or worse, we choose to ignore them.
As an athlete I have suffered with a stress fracture, achilles and posterior tibial tendon problems as well as a recurring hip and knee issue which hasn’t ever really disappeared. Sometimes injuries are unavoidable, but despite being an experienced runner with years under my belt, I definitely could have avoided or reduced the length of these issues if I'd either been honest with myself, ignored my ego or tried not to do too much too soon.
If you cross the line and don't learn where your threshold is you may find yourself limping through the 'Injury Loop of Death'. When you're a patron of this Hell Hole and start to feel a niggle in one of your muscles, tendons or the like, your inner dialogue will probably look something like this:
Step 1: Denial: "Don’t you fucking dare"
Step 2: Instant Depression: "That’s my life over"
Step 3: Irrationality: "Goodbye years of fitness."
Step 4: Acceptance: "I’m such an idiot for letting this happen"
Step 5: Hastiness: "Ooh it feels better today."
Step 6: The Gamble: "Time for a run"
It can be a struggle to break free from the Injury Loop of Death and a lot of runners continually toe the line between healthy and unhealthy running. We often find ourselves guilty of wanting too much too soon because a lot of us have this inner ego that really really wants to super fit today, not tomorrow. This can become an even bigger factor when we start to compare ourselves to others.
Here's a few scenarios:
- You've signed up for a Half Marathon but have picked up an injury. Rather than give your body the time it needs to heal, you feel a huge amount of pressure to get back on track as quickly as possible in order to not miss out. If someone took the race away there'd probably be no pressure to get back to where you were as quickly as you originally felt.
- You're a new runner with a lack of experience and the physique to cope with the miles you want to be running. Rather than build up slow, you up the miles far too quickly. With proper advice or a sensible training plan, it'd be very easy to see that running puts a huge amount of pressure on the body and, just because it's so easy to head out the door for a run, doesn't mean you should come at it with a lack of care and consideration.
- You've joined a local running group and the people around you are building their fitness quicker than you are. Rather than accept your body's limitations or the differences in each of you, you push yourself harder to keep up with them. We are all unique and our bodies aren't all built the same. The quicker you can come to terms with this, the better your strategy can be.
The internet is full of tips and advice on how to avoid injury, yet despite this, so many runners find themselves falling head first into the Injury Loop of Death. Therefore, rather than give you pointers on what you can do to avoid injury, I’m going to cut to the chase and accept that you’ll probably end up ignoring all of the information anyway.
So instead, here’s some tips on what not to do once you’ve picked up the blasted injury. If you feel offended by this, feel free to head to a different site, do some research and save yourself a lot of time and heartache.
Stop Effing Prodding it.
My fingers are like flies on shit when I get an injury; constantly touching the sensitive area to either test it or to check if it stills hurts - “Yep it still does!”.
Just as you wouldn’t prod a cut that needs to heal, why are you getting those sausage fingers all over the problem area? How about…leave it alone and it let it heal!
It’s funny because the last time I checked my walls for all my accreditations I noticed a distinct lack of kudos for any doctoral qualifications. Yet, I’m always one Google away from being an expert. There’s so much information online and a lot of it is either wrong or not applicable to you. It’s really important to check in with a Physio or Specialist to dig deeper into the problem and find a solution that’s tailored to you.
When I had my stress fracture it took me a whole month before I finally went to a Physio and found out my toe was broken. I had wasted all that time in denial about the severity of the problem and believed that with a bit of rest and ice it would go away. It seems silly looking back.
The problem with rehab is that it takes a long time. The moment things improve it’s very easy to assume you’re healed and so you head out for a run.
Injured runner: “I’m just going out for a ‘test run'"
Disinterested person: “Oh yeah? How long you going for?”
Soon to be re-injured runner: “Oh I was thinking maybe 6-7 miles?"
Incredulous person: “I see…”
Another scenario is that a Physio has given you exercises to do every single day, morning and night, for a long period of time. After a week of trying the runner gets fed up with a lack of progress, gives up and starts whinging about it not working. Or, the rehab stops altogether because there's been a slight improvement, they head out for a jog and the injury flares up again.
Rehab takes a long time. Building up strength in tendons (which is often the problem) can be a good month’s worth of work at least. Do it right and you will be back on it as soon as physically possible with the lowest chance of the injury striking again.
Without acceptance of responsibility you stand a high chance of ending up right back in the injury zone. You need to understand what you did wrong, be honest with yourself about it and make sure not to do it again. If you find yourself guilty of making the same mistakes, don’t expect sympathy from us. The second time you make a mistake it’s no longer an error of judgement, it’s a choice.
Draining Everyone Around You
Yeah, we get it…running is your 'go-to for Mental Health stability'. Without the ability to run it can make you feel like shit. But did you know that you’re not the only person with issues right now? When we get injured our ability to see beyond our own needs becomes severely affected. I guess it's part of our body's instinct and need for survival. We can very easily go from a ‘person in need’ to a ‘person to punch’. It you’re sucking the life out of someone on a daily basis, it can lead to resentment and a lack of support.
Make sure you pick and choose your moments to ask for comfort. When you do, consider whether you have been over this topic before. I refer back to my previous blog: 'Negative By Default'.
If a negative thought starts to come to mind, rather than blurt it out I ask myself the following questions…
“Is this something I have already talked about?”
“Is the information I am about to talk about any different than before?”
“Have the circumstances changed since we last spoke?”
“Have I done anything to help myself?”
If the answer is No, I keep my lips sealed. That’s not because I am suppressing my feelings, it’s because I am trying to be conscientious to others and their own thoughts and feelings. I have done my venting and I have received support in the past, so if I continue to go on the support I receive may become weaker or dwindle altogether because, and this is the important bit to remember, it’s not a tap I can turn on and off as and when I see fit.
This still applies, even when injured. If you find yourself with the belief that you can’t control how you feel, please ensure you proactively reach out for external, professional support rather than assume your partner, friend or cat will sit there and take the weight every day.
It’s Not Forever
Injuries are not life sentences. When a set back hits it can truly feel like the worst thing in the world. Don’t worry I’ve been there! My irrational, chimp brain kicks in and I firmly believe that I’ll lose every ounce of fitness I have spent all these years building, which is probably why all of the above happens - we feel we have a lot to lose.
Unfortunately, the truth is…Yes you will probably lose some fitness. However, it will come back in no time at all. The body is designed very well when it comes to maintaining fitness. It can take months for muscles and tendons to weaken. But also, once you have built fitness it's even easier than the first time to build it back.
The emotional weight you hang around your shoulders is ten times worse than the small blip on the large graph of progress throughout your running journey.
Being injured, ironically, probably hurts more emotionally than it does physically. Our lives are often filled with factors that we feel are uncontrollable, whereas running is a hobby that we have full control over most of the time. So to lose this control and have no choice but to skip your run can be painful.
“I’m desperate to be back out there as soon as possible”
“It’s the one true mental release in life”
“It gives me permission to eat chocolate every night”
“My followers on Strava are going to miss me so much if I don’t go out for a run today.”
All these are valid reasons to feel shit about an injury and you have my sympathy. But consider this...don’t become someone who has to give up the sport they love altogether because a once small injury becomes chronic. Trust me, I have trained with people who have suffered with issues for years. You do not want to be one of them.
Remind yourself that running was probably once a hobby and hobbies shouldn't bring you so much pain that you almost wished you'd never bothered in the first place. You are in control of your training plan and it's your choice whether you want to take a risk or not with your approach. Obviously, some injuries are unavoidable...but you knew that before you got into running, right?
The good news is that if dealt with appropriately, honestly and sensibly you will be able to look back on an injury as a distant memory. Even better still, it’ll be another layer of mental strength you can build from a moment of adversity. And isn’t that what life’s all about?
Take the time. Learn from your mistakes. Build a new plan. Be better. Be stronger.
Or, better still, don’t be a dick and avoid the Injury Loop of Death altogether.