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February 23, 2017

On the long run: How to physically and emotionally recover from injury

This week, I received an email (if you want your question answered: email me!) and the question was: Throughout your career what were some of the things you did that helped you recover from an injury, physically and emotionally?

I can tell you what some of the things that don’t help you recover physically or emotionally are: beating yourself up, feeling sorry for yourself, blaming yourself, losing all hope, self destruction, poking the injury a bunch, running through it, pretending it’s not happening, obsessing about what you should have done or any combination of all of the above.

Definitely don’t set up a deal with yourself that you’ll either cross-train for at least an hour or do nothing at all, thinking it’ll encourage you to cross-train more. Spoiler alert. It won’t. This cavalier, all-or-nothing attitude will cause you to lose hope around 25 minutes and you’ll just get off the trainer and move to the couch because it’s easier to switch to a new episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force from there.

Injury Advice

Adult Swim aside, the best two pieces of advice I’ve ever received about dealing with injuries are:

1) “Don’t forget who you are as an athlete”

2) ”You might need to beat the sh%$ out of your bed with your crutch (or yoga mat or foam roller) a few times.”


1) Don’t forget who you are as an athlete. I heard this piece of advice on a bus back from a practice track in Rio in 2010. I didn’t know who she was or what event she did, but she handed me this rose gold nugget of wisdom during an important time; I was at the tail end of really, quite successfully, forgetting who I was as an athlete. I definitely fumbled the implementation, but this advice came in like a cosmic mic drop. Whoever you are, majestic track goddess, thank you.

2) This crutch-to-the-bed advice came from a former coach who is now an FBI agent. As a rule of thumb, I take most things she says as 100 percent truth and fact.

Ok, let me translate

nicole bush ankle injury1: You’re still the athlete you’ve always been and the athlete who got you this far. Don’t lose sight of that. Don’t cower away from life. Keep showing up for your teammates, your friends and your family like you always have. Don’t let an injury shrink your world and challenge your identity–which an injury can certainly do. But if you’re cognizant and ready, you can often neutralize those unproductive thoughts quickly and move onto more important things. Like picking out a new running outfit in anticipation of your next workout back on the track–gentlemen don’t act like this doesn’t apply to you.

Injury is hard and it always sucks. But at the end of the day, remember the athlete that you are and–to quote Amy Poehler in the movie Sisters–be that you!

2: Now the crutch thing. Let me explain/bear with me.

You’re probably going to get pissed or angry at some point during the duration of your injury. Or you’re going to get really irritated. Or really sad. And that’s normal and that’s legit. Because it feels really negative when you can’t go running and it’s literally the only thing you want to do (besides eat/sleep).

Sure, you can maintain fitness and even get stronger cross-training. But we hate the elliptical, the pool, the bike and the alter-g, on principle.

And yes, taking this time to get stronger in ways that you often can’t while you’re training at full-tilt and in-season can be a huge and valuable investment.

Sure, you can also keep taking care of yourself like you’re training at full-tilt and in-season. Do things like stretch, get physio, hydrate, eat well, sleep well, do rehab, do yoga, ice bath, NormaTec, roll out.

Keep keeping your training log.

Set goals for your cross-training, your rehab and your next season.

And yeah, flex your resilience muscle by focusing on the small things you can control, while looking toward the future.

See a sports psych if you need to talk; read Mindset by Carol Dweck if you need to book.

Drink all the good coffee, read all the other good books and take time to relax.

And yes, do your best not to get obsessed with any of the above. Even, like, the coffee part. Because we’re runners and Type A is real.

But at some point, it just might feel like five Mondays happened in a row and you hate your life. The weight of coming up with the twentieth different pool or elliptical fartlek combination to creatively get you through 80 mins, will be crushing.

So, take your yoga mat–or your crutch if that’s your life–and go hit your bed with it. The mattress will give, so you can hit it pretty hard. And not just once. Probably not just twice. But like, repeatedly. Like you couldn’t possibly do another pool or Elliptigo workout ever again in your life. Hit your bed with your yoga mat until you pass through all the stages of grief successfully:

Denial – “I’m fine!”

Anger – “I hate this and I hate everybody.”

Bargaining – “If only I had just iced cupped two more times…”

Depression – “I’m so sad. Like literally. I cried sitting on the floor of the shower on a washcloth today.”

And finally, acceptance – when you start laughing at this situation and yourself, because wtf are you doing? Pull yourself together and go get in the damn pool.

If you’d like to write in and ask a question On the Long Run, you can email me at [email protected].

May the footing be ever in your favor.

(Editor’s Note: If you made it this far, you’re probably curious. Oh, what’s that photo have to do with anything? Nicole and I struggled to find a photo to match this week’s topic. While injured, I guess the last thing you want is photos that have a big boot or crutches ruining them. We had a scenic shot from the trip to Rio but Nicole wasn’t in it. The photo above is her first season in Europe after the injury. All smiles again.)

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