Injury – Our Biggest Competitor
By Sheryl Rosen,
There’s only one time I hate being a runner: when I can’t run.
Injuries are among the toughest challenges we face. Enduring a 4-month stint with a fractured foot or rogue IT band is more emotionally trying than any marathon I’ve ever run. Enduring that stint with your sanity and some level of fitness intact is nothing short of a miracle.
Injuries test our patience, increase our anxiety, and decrease our joy. We fear them more than a monstrous hill, more than hitting the proverbial wall, more than a 22-miler in the snow.
When an injury imposes, we are discouraged and worried. We ask ourselves with furrowed brows, Will I be able to run again? Will I be able to run as fast? As far? How long will it take to heal?
If we’re forced to take time off running, we become as restless as squirming children. We’re desperate for a cure. Frustrated, we look for replacements by cross training, but we remain unsatisfied. Nothing can replace running. It’s not just about exercise, after all. A run isn’t the same as a swim or an aerobics class or a turn on the elliptical machine. There are no perfect substitutes.
As we take time off, we increasingly mourn the loss of the things that made us take up running in the first place – perhaps the thrill of pushing to the limit in a 5K, the friendship of a running group, the beauty of our favorite trails, the flop of our dog’s tongue beside us, or the simple pleasure of an easy solo run when we find our comfortable rhythm and tune out the world.
For many dedicated athletes, the activity is the identity. Not the whole identity by any means, but an inextricable part. Describe yourself with 10 words. Odds are, the word athlete or runner is among them.
When an injury removes the ability to participate in that activity – in our case, to run – we feel this part of our identity is wounded. A chunk of our purpose has been removed, put on a shelf until we’re declared healed.
The wait on that shelf is when the true challenge begins. Healing can be prodded along, but it can’t be hurried. Distance runners seem to posses plenty of patience to get us through long training runs. However, we find ourselves grossly unprepared for the kind of patience it takes to endure a major injury.
So we become grouchy, irritable, lose some fitness, and make the rounds to doctors and massage therapists. With time, most of us eventually heal. We resume running. Maybe we eventually regain more speed and endurance than we lost.
What we don’t repair, however, is the fear of a life without the activity and identity we cherish.