The dreaded six-letter word that no runner wants to hear. As much as we each exercise specifically to stay healthy and make our bodies stronger, unexpected things do happen, and you find yourself dealing with it.
In this article, we’ll discuss staying fit while injured in addition to some tips for runners recovering from injuries.
How to Stay Fit
No matter when it happens in your training cycle or if you aren’t even training at all, an injury is a let-down. It’s easy to think your fitness goals are going down the drain when you have to take time off from running.
If you’re susceptible to moping about like Eeyore when injured, remember: you can still stay fit. It’s just going to take a little bit more effort. Try to look on the bright side instead of focusing on the negative.
Stay Mentally Sharp
The best thing you can do when injured is have a positive mental attitude. Make sure that you don’t let negative thoughts impact you, as they will make starting back up again more challenging. Instead of having a judging mindset—why is this happening to me?—have a learner mindset: What can I learn from this?
Keep the truth in the forefront of your mind. It takes several weeks for muscles to atrophy after consistently working out, so you’re not going to lose everything that you worked hard to accomplish.
Remember that it’s just a season. You’ll be back on your feet before you know it, and then you’ll wonder why you were so bothered about the injury in the first place. It will become a thing of the past.
Take the time to read running magazines and running articles so that your mind is still fresh and crisp, as you have a little extra time to rest and recover. Think about what you’d like to do when you get back to running again.
Having the opportunity to take a break is actually a huge gift because it gives you the opportunity to change and switch things up in your training when you go back. It’s a restart in a sense, meaning that you can get rid of any bad habits from before. It’s a fresh start.
As much as possible, be grateful. Thankful people are happier with their lives even if they have less than other people. And remember that some people will never be able to run while you’ll be back soon enough.
Focus on Health
While you might just feel like watching Netflix on the couch, now is not the time to get lazy and disregard your health. Make sure that you’re paying attention to nutrition and eating well. Use some of the time that you would have spent running to make good meals.
Make sure that you follow recovery guidance. Whether that is icing/heating your injuries, wearing a brace, or going to physical therapy, do it. You might be itching to get back out. But pushing too hard too soon can result in setbacks and further injury. You could turn a minor injury into something much more serious. Sure, it’s annoying to have to take time off, but a short break is way better than a couple months off. Just do whatever you need to do in the interim.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of being properly hydrated. This will make you feel a lot better and start you on a good habit if you haven’t been particularly great about hydrating before.
Finally, plan your return from injury training. How are you going to ease back into things? What does your physical therapist/doctor recommend? Make sure that you aren’t going too hard the first week or so back after an injury.
Cross-train, if Possible
Depending on your injury, this may not be possible, but do what you can to keep your physical fitness up. If you’re able to strength-train, do that. If you can do yoga, do that. If all you can do is walk, do that. Anything that gets you up and moving is good.
This is also the opportunity to try something different. Maybe you can get a month membership to the gym to use the swimming pool. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to join the rec volleyball league—do that. Or perhaps you have a passion for kayaking, but don’t get out a lot.
Whatever sports or training you’re able to participate in, do. And if you can make it fun, that’s even better because it will give you something to look forward to as you’re recovering.
Related: Cross-training shoes guide for beginners
Tips for Recovery
In addition to staying fit while you’re recovering from an injury, you’ll want to keep some other things in mind for your well-being. The more you can do during your recovery, the better. Make the most of the time you have.
Depending on how long you need to recover from an injury, you can still stay involved in the running community in a variety of ways. Maybe you can volunteer at a race or two. In addition to still being in the community, you’ll also likely experience happiness by giving back to others.
You could also suggest meeting up with friends for beer, coffee, or whatever treat suits you after they’ve gone for a run. While it certainly is a bummer that you can’t be there with them running, at least you can still hang out afterward.
Maybe you can help some of your running buddies by waiting with water for them on one of their running routes or putting together a running plan for a friend who just got into running. And at the very least you can always be an encouragement to your friends.
The best thing you can do to get through your time injured is to have something to do. It’s easy to spend hours watching TV and lamenting that you can’t run if you don’t have any other hobbies.
This is your opportunity to get out there and try something completely different. You could find somewhere to make a basket, go play bingo, paint a picture, find a side hustle, and so forth. What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t been able to? Now is the time.
You could even be a little bit of a kid again and plan your next race to some exotic location. Where would you want to go? What would you want to do for sightseeing? Don’t worry about money. Just come up with the most outrageous plan.
This is also the time to start reading a new book—something you’ve always wanted to read but never had a chance to before. If you’re not sure what book you’d like to read, see if there are any recommendations at your local library.
Finally, you shouldn’t forget the power of getting outdoors. If you’re a runner, there’s a good chance that you like being outside, so don’t deprive yourself of that, even if you can’t run. Go for a hike in a nearby park if you’re able, or even just sit on the grass and watch the clouds or the stars.
You might even want to find new places to run for when you’ve recovered from your injury and can get back on the road and trail again. Take time to enjoy nature since you’ll be moving at a slower pace, and don’t forget to take a picture of the sunrise or sunset.
In the end, injuries are very frustrating, especially for runners. But instead of looking at this time as a barrier, look at it as an opportunity to become a better person and a better runner. And when you get back on the road, you’ll be so grateful.