When as a runner you are injured there is plenty of information out there from health practitioners and (some very questionable) resources on the internet on how to deal with the physical symptoms. There doesn’t seem to be great deal on how to deal with the psychological effects of injury. Having dealt with long term injury preventing me from running I can say from experience that the psychological effects can be profound: fear, anxiety, worry, depression, anger, helplessness. There were times with my back pain and neural pain that I thought running was over for me and I actively started to grieve for the hobby that I would probably never return to. How I wish I had been on the Mindfulness course back then.
I have no experience in sports psychology and I have never consulted a sports psychologist but over the last few weeks since attending the Mindfulness course little nuggets have triggered many moments of clarity as I’ve realised how anxiety related to many issues in my life have effected me. But having a little think abut it over the last few days, and I believe there are aspects of Mindfulness that can definitely help with dealing with an injury.
I suppose one of the biggest issues with injury is acceptance. You can either accept that you’re injured and find a way to deal with it or, as I have tended to do, you can ignore it and try to continue training and competing over the top of it. The latter for me has always led to worsening of injury and then the spiralling of my psychological symptoms like anxiety and frustration, plus a lot of ‘what ifs’. If we do decide to train over the top of an injury we should try and accept that this was our decision. We chose to train on a sore heel or a painful back. But we are only human and as runners we don’t want to feel like we’ve failed. However maybe by not being mindful and accepting of a situation we can prolong an injury that might only have needed a few weeks rest.
Another thing that I can be prone to when injured is what the Mindfulness tutor refers to as Grasshopper thinking. For me this can be a mixture of ‘what ifs’ and catastrophic thinking. It will usually take this format:
‘Can’t believe I’ve been injured this long.’
‘If only I hadn’t done that sprint session, I might have been back by now.’
‘I’ve been out for X weeks, I’m going to be so behind on training’.
‘What if I have to defer?’
‘If I hadn’t been injured I might have been able to get a PB’.
‘What if I can’t get my mileage up or get all the sessions in.’
‘What if I never get better and I can’t run any more?’
Things will escalate and I become anxious and then all my physical anxiety symptoms come out. This is where I think the meditations and practices from the Mindfulness course will be most helpful, in trying to stop these chaotic thought processes that take up so much energy. Plus it feeds into the acceptance side of things: I have been injured, I can’t get back the time I’ve lost, there is no real benefit of looking back other than to look at old training habits. I need to look forward.
Another thing that I’ve realised is that an injured runner is allowed to be upset. We’re allowed to feel frustrated and angry but I think the psychological/emotional issues come from trying not to acknowledge these feelings and trying to feel as though we’re ‘coping’. Because running injuries are never life threatening I suppose we feel fraudulent for complaining but we need to be able to express how we feel about it, whether that’s crying with frustration or writing a blog post.
As I mentioned before these are just thoughts that I’ve picked up from a Mindfulness course that I have felt could help in coping with an injury. It is 18 months since my back injury and it was tough. Psychologically I felt like I was never going to get better and I would never run again. I have been able to run since and I completed the London Marathon, which funnily enough I managed to be very Mindful about with realistic expectations and an acceptance of my performance on the day. I’m back in training again and although things aren’t quite as smooth as I’d like I’m doing my best to be mindful, accept my current limitations and find solutions rather than spiral into my usual destructive thought patterns.