It doesn’t matter whether you’re a pro athlete or a social runner, it is equally frustrating to be injured. Especially when it means missing out on a big event you had your heart set on. – BY RENÉ KALMER
A frustrating injury is the reason why I had to withdraw from the World Championships taking place in Beijing, China this August. In 2008 a dream came true when I qualified for the Olympic Games in the 1500m and I would have loved to go back to Beijing to relive the special Olympic memories, and to create some new ones. I have represented South Africa 28 times and it is still a great honour and privilege every time I get to wear the green and gold on the international stage.
I'm sure all of us, from professional runner to weekend warrior, experience the same disappointment, frustration and emotions when injuries haunt us. For most of us, running is like a best friend with whom we share the good, the bad and the ugly that life throws at us. Then suddenly we can't rely on this friend called ‘running’ for a while to get our endorphin fix. Then our poor family, friends and loved ones also have to deal with our withdrawal symptoms, like depression, irritability or lethargy, which injury triggers in us.
Having learnt the hard way when it comes to a niggle or an injury, denial is not an option! It’s best to sort out a stiff calf muscle before it turns into shin splints, and with more denial, into a stress fracture. Been there, done that! It is best not to ignore the problem, but to act immediately by seeking advice from a physiotherapist or doctor, or at least taking a day or two off to recover. I'm also guilty of not listening to my body and running through pain, and in the long run it is almost inevitable that this could sideline you for months.
Dealing with the physical pain of an injury is normally not as difficult as coping with the frustration of putting running goals on hold, but as Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” When we have to take time off to recover from injury it is the perfect time to work on our weaknesses that we often neglect when running is going smoothly. Working on strengthening your core can benefit you in becoming a stronger and better runner post-injury. It is also a great time to refocus your energy and to spend more time with family and friends and doing activities, like camping, that you normally missed out on because of running commitments.
Seeing the Up Side
The positive side is that an injury does not have to mean that you have to turn into a couch potato. Best is to consult with your doctor about some low impact cross-training activities like spinning, swimming, aqua-jogging or cycling that can help you maintain some fitness and sanity. Even though we don't feel like facing our running friends, it is best not to abandon running altogether. It is a great time to give back to the sport we all adore by offering to volunteer, marshalling or just cheering fellow runners in a race.
Lying dead still for an hour while the radiologist took an MRI scan of my injury recently was also a good time for me to reflect on my running career and to count all my blessings, like my health and loved ones. My greatest advice is to stay positive, as an optimistic attitude can speed up recovery!