Dealing With Injury Setbacks

Seems like everybody at some point in their running career will get injured before an important event. You’ve been training hard for months, following your schedule, getting fitter each week, and then blammo – out of nowhere you get stopped dead in your tracks.  It’s happened to me several times in my 31 years of running and racing.  Sometimes the injuries are serious, other times just annoyances, and some are just in my head.  Regardless, at the time of injury, it can be devastating mentally.  It can feel like your world is ripped out from under you.  Trying to explain this to non-runners is futile.  After just having an injury where I lost about two weeks of regular training, I feel like sharing my thoughts.  I’m not a therapist of any kind, just a runner who has had his share of injuries, gone psycho, and tried just about every modality short of surgery.

How do you know you’re injured?

A sharp, stabbing pain in a muscle or tendon that stops me in my tracks usually is an obvious sign that something is wrong, but not always.  Harder ones to identify are those chronic problems I’ve had for a long time but that are now resurfacing.  The chronic tight hamstring.  The whacked out SI-joint, ITBS, plantar fasciitis, … Am I training too hard that this is going to become a serious problem?  Or is it manageable without taking a break or reduction in training?  At least with these injuries I know what they are and what has worked in the past to correct them.  The most difficult are those that I’ve never had before.  That’s what I just had.

What do you do when you know you’re injured?

Once I know something is seriously wrong I then become obsessed with finding out what it is.  Google is my friend. How in the world did I ever live without the google?  I also have many books that I consult.  Then it’s off to the LMT, PT, or chiropractor to get more opinions.  I don’t bother with the general doctor.  In my experience, unless they are a runner, they just suggest that I take time off from running.  Great advice, Dr.  I think I got that part figured out.  Is this a three-day, seven-day, two-week, three-week, or six-week injury?  I also try to figure out what caused it, but usually for me, it is training error and a study of the logbook clearly shows I increased something too quickly.

Once I’ve got a good idea what is wrong I begin the obsessive rehabilitation.  This actually is good for the head because I at least have something to do. I’ve got goals again: exercise to strengthen muscle or tendon weaknesses; ART, cross-friction, or other massage to work the tissue; contrast baths with ice and hot, ultrasound, etc to increase the blood flow.  If tendon or ligaments are involved I consume massive amounts of MSM – up to 10 grams a day.  If I’m desperate enough I’ll try something like accupuncture.  If I’m really desperate I’ll pray to skydaddy – ok, I’ve never been that desperate, just seeing if you’re reading.

While all this rehabbing is going on I’ve got to stay in shape so cross training it is.  Hiking, pool running, biking, EFX or anything to maintain some semblance of fitness.  This last injury I was able to hike all day long so I went on a couple of 8+ hour hikes instead of long runs.  I walked around town instead of riding the bus.  I also ran in the pool and got on the dreaded EFX machine in the gym.  Wow, is that a strange scene.  I apparently am not a gym person ’cause I sure feel out of place.

Maintaining a positive attitude I think is really important.  Whether it actually has a positive effect on the injury I do not know, but being negative is not any fun for anybody around me.  And it sure isn’t any fun for me.  I’m an optimistic person anyway so this isn’t difficult for me.  For some, I know this is not the case.

How do you come back?

So, I’ve been off for some time (2.5 weeks this injury).  Can I jump back to full-speed training?  Should I do normal training 5 days a week with a couple of days of crossing-training just for the heck of it?  I know some runners who feel they need to “test the body” to see if it is healed or not.  “I’ve got a 100 miler in 6 weeks so if I can’t run this 22 miler hard then I’ll never be able to run the 100 miler anyway.”  That seems foolish to me.  My approach is usually much more conservative.  I want each day to be better than the previous.  No more setbacks.  I already made one mistake.  Why make another?  If I don’t get back to full speed until race day then that is just the way it is.  I’d rather be healthy at 90% fitness than DNS or DNF on race day because I didn’t quite get the injury healed.

I had a great weekend.  A slow 40 miles in 90+ degree heat on the Rogue River Trail followed by a solid 10 hilly miles on Sunday where I ran full speed downhill without incident.  Hopefully, I dodged the bullet.  Running is so much fun.  I vow to never take it for granted again.  Well, at least not until I forget about this injury.

WSER site says 40 days ’til the race.  Bring it on!


  1. It’s really hard to picture you on an EFX. But there is some truth in the saying, “youth is wasted on the young”. A 90% effort @ 100 miles in 6 weeks would be a major accomplishment. good work LB!

  2. (caution, long comment ahead)
    Glad to hear you weren’t out long term and you had something to occupy your mind whilst not running – i.e. how to work a gym machine.

    Having been injured on several occasions, I sometimes wonder about the effect it has on other runners. Most of the injuries I’ve had have been serious and taken a good while to heal (currently I’m working my way back from 3 years off after tearing a disc in my back) but I’ve always come back to running – much to the chagrin of some who think that if something hurts you, you should stop attempting it.

    Trying to explain how you feel as a runner who is injured to a non-runner who is merrily walking about as if the world is right and with great smugness and self-pride in the fact that they’re healthy is like trying to explain why you should stand in a bucket of water holding onto a kite during a lightening storm.

    Years ago I tore my Achilles. It didn’t completely go initially, so after feeling a slight “pull” (read tear here) I kept running and finished the 7 miles back to my car. To say that to a non-runner causes people usually to look at you as if you’re crazy, then there are the comments on sanity. A non runner will tell you to ‘buck up, it can’t be that bad,’ when you’re faced with the prospect of not only months of no running, but a plaster and a set of crutches. They tell you to stop being juvenile, to stop acting as if someone has died. Someone HAS died! That person who could have gone out and run up and down the mountains for hours has disappeared and all that’s left is a skinny girl whose muscle is wasting away to nothing and whose legs are becoming more and more like skinny chicken legs.

    You’re right, LB, attitude is everything. Injury time is when I’m at my emotional lowest and it means the realisation of how wonderful it is to run and the guarding of that joy. Good work on getting the head in line and doing what you need to do to get the healing going strong. keep going.

    40 days!!

  3. Nice Post. Western States has really raised the stakes for me. Normally, if/when I get injured it’s a setback for sure, but even if I totally miss the race I was gearing up for there is almost always another I can enter when I’m ready. This time around I’ve been getting ready for this race for nearly a year and a half. But more than that, being my first 100 I’ve had this question hanging over me for that amount of time as well and I hope to answer it June 27th. Yes, 90% fit is way better than a DNS – we just have to constantly remind ourselves of that.

  4. @BigE – How do you stay skinny when you don’t run? Hell, I get fat.

    @Dan Olmstead – Yeah, WS does kinda raise the stakes. Even more as it is getting harder and harder to get in. The only guaranteed way in is a top ten finish, to get a top ten finish we gotta train hard, and training hard has risks.

  5. Nice post. I’ve been struggling through a calf injury. This morning I was at physical therapy. MY PT was having me do one-legged squats. Apparently I wasn’t doing them to her liking, when, I swear to skydaddy, she said, in her thick South African accent: “Matt, put ‘yer finger in yer butt”.

    How the [####] is THAT supposed to help!!??!!

    Maybe I should’ve check her references first. But still, you know, I really, REALLY, want to get running again.

  6. So if you’re at the gym in Eugene, and you hear a loud groan, it’s not the guy trying to bench press 350lbs and psyching himself up- it’s just Craig trying to step up on the EFX machine.

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