The irony of being sidelined with a running injury is that it can be more painful than ripping a 400-meter repeat or toughing out a 20-mile run. Despite what you may think, there is a silver lining: An unplanned break from running can help you become a better runner and possibly a better person, too. We sat down with running coach and 2:29 marathoner, Dan Kittaka, to bring you advice on what to do when injury strikes and your body requires some downtime.
Try to keep an open mind as we walk, er, run, through my guidance for dealing with injury. This guide is not meant to replace medical advice; please consult a medical professional if you are experiencing physical pain.
Once you’ve received the proper medical advice, take some time to appreciate your pain and loss. The loss you’re experiencing would not be painful if running wasn’t important to you. You should appreciate and celebrate your passion for running. It is truly a privilege “to have loved and lost (temporarily).”
Next, accept the fact that your body needs to heal, which means time off your feet. Commit to your break from running with the same passion you’d apply to training for a goal race. Riding an emotional rollercoaster of “test” runs every week keeps reopening the wound of being unable to run, disrupts your body’s efforts to heal, and keeps you from focusing on the rehab and recovery work you should be doing.
It might take some time to reach acceptance, so be patient with yourself. Just because you aren’t running doesn’t mean you are no longer a runner. Respecting your body and allowing it to heal on its own schedule is a way to practice a deeper understanding of what it means to be a runner.
Shift the way you allocate your time and focus. View the freedom from the demands of running as an opportunity to engage in other activities you may not otherwise have time for. Some of these other activities might be ancillary to your running.
For example, you might build a routine of physical therapy exercises to address the underlying cause of your injury. Or you might build and maintain muscular strength through weight-lifting. And just because you’re not running doesn’t mean you can’t raise that heart rate: Try swimming, biking, or deep-water running.
However, not all of your newfound time should be spent in rehab. Unless you’re training to make an Olympic team or podium when you return to the sport, an unplanned break from running should be viewed as an opportunity to invest in other aspects of your life. Not only will your life be enriched, but this break from running and ancillary activities will allow you to return to the sport you love with greater focus and resolve once you’re healed.
Just like we include recovery breaks during a repetition workout to help our bodies become stronger and faster, breaks in training—planned or unplanned—are opportunities to help our bodies and minds grow.
In my running, when I experience an unplanned break, I acknowledge my frustration and then celebrate my commitment to resting. I shift my time and focus toward building relationships outside of running, as well as spending time on my artistic pursuits of illustration and comics.
As for ancillary activities, I do my best to address the root cause of the injury and spend a moderate amount of time on strength and flexibility work. When I return to running, I may feel a bit out of shape, but I also feel a refreshing level of gratitude for each pain-free step. I hope you experience the same!