Why Runners Don’t Talk About Injury
It’s the ultimate enigma. The one topic that every single issue of every single running magazine in existence covers, and yet no one ever talks about.
I feel like I should make that big and bold and centered.
I’m injured, people!!!
Okay, so that’s not exactly a surprise to anyone who reads this blog or has encountered me personally over the past 6 months. (That includes you, HEB grocery store cashier. I am buying three different styles of ankle brace and a bottle of off-brand Ibuprofen because I am an injured runner. This is very different from a “meth addict”.)
I think I’ve made my point, but let me go on.
At work the other day, a (much faster) runner friend and I were commiserating over our shared injury experiences. Four of us are headed to Chicago in two weeks for the Shamrock Shuffle 8K. Three of us are injured, and the fourth is Handsome J, who swears he doesn’t know how he got roped into this (I know your address and birthdate, and I have a credit card, hehehehe!).
Said friend is currently fighting a calf issue, and previously lost an entire year to plantar fasciitis. Perhaps he had that in mind when he made this seemingly offhand remark: “Yeah, I’ve noticed no one really writes about serious injuries.”
This stopped me in my tracks. Not only had I not written about my injury, I had stopped writing altogether. I admit it. I straight up abandoned this blog.
And that wasn’t the only thing I abandoned. Just a few weeks ago, Emily asked me if I had seen a certain story in Runner’s World
. I had no idea what she was talking about. Under normal circumstances, no one geeks out on running more than me. NO ONE. (Except maybe Coach Chris, who is chartering a plane
to the SeaWheeze Half Marathon. But that’s another story.)
No, once I realized that my injury wasn’t getting better anytime soon, I stopped almost all my normal activities:
- Early morning workout alarms? — Only if Jeanine dragged my butt to spin class.
- The running magazines I used to read cover to cover? — Unread and overflowing two magazine racks.
- My perception of my “healthy social life”? — Shot to pieces as I wallowed in jealousy over my running friends making NEW running friends.
That last one is crucial for those of us “on the DL”, as my dad would say.
Not at first, of course. At first, all our running friends reassure us that we’ll be back at it in no time. My injury occurred just after Chicago in October, and at the time I had two more races on the calendar: Rock ‘n Roll San Antonio Half Marathon in November, and the Houston Marathon in January.
I eagerly joined my friends in this state of denial. “No big deal if I miss San Antonio. Houston is what matters.” After all, three months is a lifetime in training cycles.
By early November, my tune had changed ever so slightly: “I’ll be really pissed if I miss Houston!”
The race was on January 12th, and I waited until December 20th to officially defer. Never mind that I hadn’t run in months. I honestly thought that if I stayed in shape and had at least three weeks to ramp up, I could run a marathon.
Why in the world would I think that??
Because runners DON’T TALK about injury.
I mean yes, we talk about injuries all the time. As I alluded to in the beginning, I’ll give $5 to anyone who can show me an issue of a running magazine that doesn’t include an article with a title along the lines of: “Never Get Injured Again!”
This is the runner’s equivalent of Cosmopolitan advertising “The Last Diet Advice You’ll Ever Need!”
The problem is that, like the diet articles, these injury articles are full of fluff. Common sense, yes, but fluff. “Cross-train! Develop a strong core! Rest when you’re sore! Do yoga!”
This is kind of like telling a woman over the age of 8 to drink water and read nutrition labels. OMFG, we know!
The fact of the matter is, magazines aren’t out to sell reality. They’re out to sell hope. (“Follow this diet for 30 days and you’ll be a size 4!”)
editor Jonathan Beverly more-or-less flat-out acknowledged this fact in his April 2013 “Editor’s Note
Injury is my least favorite topic, personally and within the pages of Running Times. I’d rather publish inspiring stories of success than dwell on all the aches and pains that beset us.
The key is what he says next:
But the fact remains: Most runners get injured.
Despite the fact that it is ridiculously irritating to have a non-runner comment that “running is going to destroy your knees”, the truth is that doing the same motion over and over and over for days and weeks and months and years on end is inevitably going to cause a little wear and tear. If not to the knees, then to the ankles, or the hips, or the back…
The other truth, and the one we like to admit even less, is that we runners are a fragile sort. And I don’t mean physically.
We don’t just like to run. We need to run. It’s who we are – part of our identity. It’s stress relief, anger management, the boost for a weak ego. It’s our hobby and our social circle and our goals for the future. I guess I can’t really speak for every runner out there, but I can speak for myself.
Running was EVERYTHING to me.
On the morning of my wedding? I organized a GROUP RUN. (And yes, hobbled around the dance floor as a result.)
And because running is so much–so everything–to us, we can’t handle the thought that it could be taken away. We’d rather read about the guy setting records on prosthetic legs than Desiree Davila fighting her way back from the stress fracture that knocked her out of the Olympic marathon.
Why? Because if we can’t imagine missing a long run, the idea of dropping out of the Olympics might just kill us dead.
Only problem is, the miracle story isn’t always the one that features the hero. (Side note: WTF, Oscar Pistorius???)
No, I’m not saying you should admire me, Desiree Davila, or any other runner just because he or she happens to be injured. But please, please, please…don’t stop thinking of us as runners just because you haven’t been seeing us at 5:30 Wednesday mornings.
And double-please, don’t complain to us about not quite acing your speed workout or having to miss a run or two due to family obligations. Yes, those are 100% valid things to complain about, but your injured runner friend would likely give their left leg below the knee to be able to run just one 12-minute mile. (After all, that Pistorius guy was pretty successful before he went totally batsh*t.)
Yes, it’s hard. And no, not even runners who successfully come back from injury (so…all of us) will ever be good at accepting that it happens. But acceptance is the first step on the road to recovery. So let’s all take a cue from Jonathan Beverly:
And while I still think the best place for detailed advice about specific injuries is on our website…
(okay, so he’s not quite 100% there…)
…we won’t shy away from injury in our pages either. Instead we’ll see it as part of the success stories we celebrate, in our heroes and ourselves.