alsoran runners Running Injuries:
An interesting perspective

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I asked my friend Gail Mclellan, a fellow alsoran runner, to put pen to paper and write about her injuries and how she has managed to overcome them.  What follows is a very interesting perspective to managing and dealing with injuries.

Running Injuries: my coping mechanism 
by Gail Mclellan, green number 10783, 11 medals

This is not an article on running injuries per se.   It is an account of my experience with recovering from injury and self management after recovery and my coping mechanism. 

Running injuries are a nuisance!   There is never a good time in any runner’s life to sustain an injury.  It usually happens when we are training for a marathon or some big race and so we are shattered when it happens!   “This can’t be happening to me, not now!”   Sound familiar?   I have experienced various injuries, quite often the traumatic type, various fractures, leg lacerations requiring many stitches and in addition more common things like hamstring and calf injuries.
I am not very proud of these achievements, although the experience has given me an insight into how to deal with them and keep my mind happy.   The mind is the most powerful asset we have to help us through an injury.

I am sure most people will have heard of Dr Kübler- Ross and her five stages of grief notably, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.   This model was used to help the understanding in relation to bereavement.   These stages are also experienced in less serious traumas than death and bereavement and disability and injury fall into that scheme of things.   So now we start to understand a little more.  

The first thing is denial, it can’t be happening to me kind of thing.   Tomorrow it will be better and I’ll go out for a short test run!   What happens next is that the test run is a disaster because we can’t actually run and then we get angry!  We go through the bargaining stage and then get depressed and only when we hit the realization that if we do not do something about it, it will not go away, do we accept that we have an injury and take control.   We consult a physiotherapist and probably tell her/him that we need to be up and running by race day!   So much time has been wasted by this stage and now we expect a miracle! 

 I actually experienced serious denial when sustaining an injury and this illustrates the grief model quite nicely.   I injured my calf while out running on my own about 4km from home.   I hobbled home in pain thinking that perhaps the next day after some rest I would be able to run- at that time I could not even put pressure on the injured leg so I was in complete denial of what had happened!!    I was to have run my 10th Two Oceans that year and was bitterly disappointed and angry at my situation.   After having some physiotherapy treatment and trying desperately to run I realized I had to come to terms with the fact that I was not going to be able to recover in time to run Two Oceans or Comrades that year.   I would have lost valuable training time when it counted most for both those ultras.   I came to the decision not to try and prepare for those races and once that had been decided I found that I was more relaxed and could really concentrate on receiving more treatment, recovering and starting a rehabilitation program.  I then took control of my situation.  I find that if I am actively going about seeking professional treatment, planning a program and measuring my progress I am able to cope.   I call it active recovery.

 I base my re-habilitation program on what I learnt at Run, Walk for Life many years ago. 
They taught stretching and the importance of the right shoes and also commitment to the training which lead to discipline.   The thing that I remember most was starting out very slowly and doing the same time or distance three times before moving to the next level.   An example is running 4km for three training days then moving to 5km for three training sessions and so on with a rest day between training days.    I have found applying this to my recovery period very valuable in getting back on the road after an injury.    The distance is usually short to start with, e.g. 2 or 3 km depending on the nature and severity of the injury sustained.  The distance is also determined by the period of time that you have not been able to run.   This is where commitment and discipline comes into the equation.   The come back needs to be slow and consistent. 

Most of us have a training program to follow when training for a marathon and there is no difference with this recovery period.   We set our goals, write the program and know where we will be in our training at a time in the near future.   The mind accepts this approach because you are in control and have written the program so at the end of the run on any day you have achieved your goal for that day.   It’s about achieving your goals day by day and week by week.  This is an exercise in patience and discipline which in the long term can only help you with training your mindset for ultras where you have to dig deep to stay in the race.   We are always playing mind games and this exercise can be used for that kind of mental training.  

When you start out on the first few runs monitor how the injury feels, is there pain? Does it pass after a while?  Does it get worse?  Is there pain after the run?   Are you running too far too soon?   Adjust the distance till you feel more comfortable.   You need to discern whether the discomfort is just the body reacting to running again or something to worry about.  I tend to keep running when there is some discomfort initially and usually it resolves after a while, but if you do not push through that barrier you will not know.  However, if the discomfort continues and becomes pain then you have to stop running and address the problem. 

You need to believe that what you are doing is the preparation necessary for getting back to your normal training program.   The secret is a slow build up over a couple of weeks and  I have always felt that the slow build up of kilometers over a few weeks has been the key to feeling stronger after an injury, however, the same principle can be applied to starting up again after a holiday or whatever.  I find that when I am able to run 8-10km comfortably I am ready to resume normal training.

In conclusion the next time you have the misfortune to pick up an injury try to skip the first stages of grief and go straight to acceptance and deal with it.   It saves so much time!   The sooner you deal with it the sooner you will be back on the road!
My experience with recovering from injury has highlighted the importance of the role of the mindset in coping with an injury.   It is interesting that the mind plays such an important part in our running and yet we don’t really benefit from it because we tend to focus on the physical side of training the body and forget to train the mind.   It certainly helps to visualize the route and anticipate how we will be feeling during the last kilometers of an ultra so that when it happens, the mind recognizes the feeling and copes with it.   But that’s a whole new topic and perhaps best left to the experts.

External links: Official Comrades Marathon website

Copyright Nikki Campbell 2010