If you are now or have ever been an athlete, it’s highly likely that you have gone through some sort of an injury. And if you’re a newbie runner-triathlete-endurance athlete, chances are pretty strong that if you stick with it long enough, eventually you will. I’m not being negative, just realistic.  I often see people FREAK OUT when issues crop up that set them back. Which isn’t unfair; you work hard, you see progress and the last thing you want is your body telling you ‘back off’. And often times, ‘the masses’ can blow out of proportion the issue at hand. If you toss out a mention of your possible injury, you may hear from the peanut gallery of those who have been through it; it was a nightmare, took forever to overcome and their life has never since been the same. While some of their experiences may be legitimate, I caution you from throwing your woes out on social media. If you have a coach, talk to him or her. If you need to see a doctor or a physical therapist, consult with them. But the biggest advice I can give to you is relax, do your research, and create a plan.

Here are a few tips on dealing with injuries; shedding some light on how to navigate them, and hopefully mitigating some of the anxiety induced when they set in.

1) Learn to recognize ‘good pain’ from ‘bad pain’. Let’s start by taking a few steps back.  If you’re going through an injury, one huge positive spin is that you’ll learn from it. Like anything, understanding how to navigate injuries comes with experience. Good pain is muscular; you did a hard session, increased the weight in the gym, and your muscles are sore. You ran a half marathon and it’s tough to walk for 3 days. This is good pain. You finished a hard run and had shooting pain in your knee, possibly bad pain. You have a dull ache in your foot that lingers after every run getting progressively worse, maybe we need to listen to this. We often call these tweaks. Don’t let the tweaks go on too long. Don’t be stubborn and brush them aside. Over time, you will learn when to speak up and back off verses when to ‘push through’. Don’t be a hero; we know you’re tough, but realize you need to be smart, not just tough. Smart >> Tough. #1.

2) Don’t over dramatize.  SO …you have a training injury. Congrats! You’re healthy enough to be training! Chances are you’re not dying, but you need to attend to it. Don’t lose your shit. If you have done sport long enough, you will encounter something at some point. WE ALL HAVE. What becomes easier to understand with time and experience is, the body can actually become more resilient through these experiences. Think about this. You have an IT Band issue; you back off on your training, go to physical therapy, do your exercises, give it 4 weeks. You come back with little to no pain, and in the future, you learn to recognize what you felt originally; enough that you can avoid getting here the next time. You live and learn. Try to view all of your experiences as an athlete as building blocks. Some days you realize you can do something you thought not possible. Some days it clicks; ‘ok this is what suffering means. Cool. Got it.’ Others you realize it’s not so cool when you’ve pushed your body too far. It is all part of the full experience. With each breakthrough and each breakdown, you’ll become more wiser and more resilient. Step back and see the bigger picture.

3) Figure out what you CAN do. The majority of the time, running is the first thing to go. As much as I love running, it pounds our bodies. It is one of the best things we can do…until it isn’t. Okay so you can’t run. I guarantee there is a variety of other activities you can do to stay active, keep moving and even maintain (if not improve) your fitness. Rather than obsessing over what you cannot do, focus on what you can do. That may be walking, hiking, cycling, yoga, swimming; lifting upper body, core work. While you may need complete rest from exercise for a period of time (take it), usually you can ease back to ‘something’ after this full break. Figure out what is the wisest plan of action and make a new training schedule for yourself. It will look different. That is okay. Be smart, stay positive and accept what you cannot change; enjoy what you can do, and don’t obsess over what you cannot.

4) Embrace the change in pace; explore self-discovery. You can be frustrated, but much like a bad race, get over it in a timely manner and deal positively with all that you cannot control. Like anything in life, a training injury sidelines you in ways you had not anticipated. What can you do with your extra time? Call up a friend and catch up on an evening you may otherwise be training. Spend some extra time with your kids, or your spouse. If your weekend opens up due to a few extra hours, explore a new hiking trail. Curl up on the couch and read a book. Head out on your usual bike or run route and walk it with your dogs. Your thoughts will drift, and you will notice things you had not noticed before. Use this time to refresh your body and your mind. Almost every single time I have suffered a major setback, I have been able to look back in hindsight and realize that it was just what I needed at that time. It often isn’t realized in the moment but see it for what it is; just a minor road bump. Make something productive of the forced change in your typical routine.

5) Create a New Plan. This can be a fun process. So you had your entire season planned out? Big deal. Recreate your vision for the next year. There will always be more races, more opportunities; but best to seize those only if you can step up to the plate at 100% and your best self. This part can be exciting because the ‘new plan’ may open doors you hadn’t seen previously. Use this opportunity as a time to hit the reset button. When you are able to dip your toe back into training and racing, you will do so with more appreciation than you had prior; viewing it with a slightly different landscape. But without unexpected change, our lens can get dull from time to time.  You have been given an opportunity to actually acknowledge what you have missed, and think about why you’ve missed it. Appreciate that you have gained more insight as to your ‘why’.

When you do come back, there will be some fear; there will be uncertainty. But this my friend is the good stuff. It is where you have to trust the process and embrace where you are, at the moment. Don’t expect to come back perfect. Strip away ego, self-judgement, perfection. Come back as your best self. Put your heart out there, give an honest effort; it may be golden, but it may be rusty. Regardless of the result, you’re back out there, with another notch of life experience under your belt. Hold your head high and keep on moving forward. You have another life story to add to the mix.