How to Make the Most of Your Running Injury

Three runners cool down after a run

Advice from an injured competitive runner

Being injured is the worst. When you can’t tap into your usual source of endorphins, fitness, and community, it’s natural to feel down. Here are some strategies to make the most of it until you’re back to your old self.

Truly allow yourself some time off.

Runners have a hard time with not running, and many of us force running through pain, which only makes the problem worse. There are no shortcuts to getting over an injury. Your body has finally told you: Enough is enough. Now figure out what has gone wrong, and address the problem.

Take this time to examine and improve your form.

Get checked out by a professional—particularly a physical therapist who specializes in working with runners, if possible. If you have an overuse injury, it may have been caused or exacerbated by imperfections in your form. PTs shed light on why we are getting injured in the first place, while helping us build strength and balance. Take new drills and strength work and build it into your usual routine, even after your injury clears up. It will make you more injury-proof for the future, and likely make you stronger than before.

Maintain fitness and try a new form of exercise.

Yes, we have all heard of cross-training. But take this time to mix in a new activity. You may discover an unexpected love for yoga, or finally try the climbing gym for the first time. A new form of exercise lets you challenge yourself in a different way and bring back the endorphins you miss from running. You will likely gain balance and strength that will give your running a new edge once you’re back. And maybe new fitness friends, too!

Explore a new hobby while you cross-train.

Sometimes you just need to hop on the ol’ stationary bike. But indoor exercise feels less constricting when your mind can explore. An hour of stationary cycling is the perfect time to practice your Spanish through an interactive app, such as DuoLingo. Or learn how to whip up a new dish with your garden veggies by watching videos on YouTube as you spin. Maybe you’ve been wanting to read more books this year. Download an audiobook, and get engrossed in a good story while you sweat.

Take this opportunity to examine your motivations behind running.

How much focus have you been placing on finisher medals, age group awards, or that perfect instagram photo after the race? It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of racing, or performance in general. Do you run for weight loss? Community? Personal challenge, or time spent outdoors? There isn’t a right answer here, but sometimes a body-mandated rest period is a valuable chance to reflect on what really matters when it comes to running, and to hit the reset button once we are able to get back.

Give back to your running community while you’re on the sidelines.

Can’t run a race that’s usually on your calendar? You can always volunteer instead. While it’s tough to skip a favorite event, your running community will appreciate it when you cheer others on, hand out water, or take photos. It might even be nice to avoid the nerves this time around. Don’t worry--you’ll be back to racing soon enough.

Accept that life is all about seasons, balance, change, and growth. Try to find the silver lining.

Life is not all good, and you won’t always feel good. The sooner we all acknowledge that, the better. Is it rainy outside? Great. Now indoor exercise doesn’t seem so bad. Can’t run 60 miles per week anymore? Well, now you’ll have more energy to put into that project at work, or to focus more on your kids, your partner, petting your cat, etc. Actively practice seeing the bright side in any situation, and you will gain mental toughness that can only make your life better.

When we are healthy, it’s easy to forget how magical running can be. Our bodies are capable of more than we know. Show yours some love and gratitude—and patience! Sometimes we don’t know the power of what we have until it’s (temporarily) gone.

By Kate Schwartz. Schwartz has been running competitively for 20 years, and she currently runs with the Asheville Running Collective. She lives in Asheville, NC, with her husband, Alex, and their cat, Clementine.