Inner Circles for Injured Runners


Being injured as a runner is horrible. All runners know this. If you can’t run, you can’t do the thing you love. To make things worse, you also can’t do the thing that probably most helps you manage the stress brought on by being injured.

That’s the vicious circle of it all. Injured runners also get the same advice over and over again: Cross train while you can’t run. Focus on what you can do. Don’t abandon your nutrition plan. Use the time you aren’t running to invest in other hobbies or to spend more time with family and friends. That’s all good advice. It’s also kind of yadda yadda yadda. Meaning, it’s a good start, but it’s nowhere near enough.

Injured runners also need what I call Inner Circles. When I dealt with nine months of no running because of plantar fasciitis, people in the Outer Circle got the occasional update on the injury, a dash of woe-is-me, some kind of perky resolution and then on to other less boring topics. But personally, I needed a variety of Inner Circles to handle the more hard-core parts of mental coping while injured.

What do injured runners need from their Inner Circles and who might offer this sort of support?

North High Girls XC Team Huddles up before the race

Hugs and a shoulder to cry on. Injured runners tend to be crabby, grouchy and depressed. It helps a lot to find someone who can offer pretty much unconditional and limitless support. This person should never say things like: “Not being able to run isn’t such a big deal; it’s not cancer or something like that.” Even if that’s true, it’s not helpful. Instead, you are looking for someone who can say: “I know it’s awful to not be able to do the thing you love.” Over and over and over again. A spouse or partner is a good bet here, but a sibling or best friend or even a parent might fit the bill.

Reminders of past glories. If you’re away from running for a long time, it’s useful to have someone remind you of how great it is — and how great you have been. During an extended time off, you might lose touch with how much you love running or what it feels like to have running as a regular part of your life. Training partners can help with this. I’m not going to lie — it’s sometimes hard to talk to healthy runners who are currently enjoying all the things you are missing. But training partners can remind you of your own prior successes and why it’s worth it to keep plugging away at recovery. They might even be willing to cross train with you. Some of the camaraderie of running buddies can be found over coffee, lunch or drinks. Don’t lose touch with these folks even when it hurts to talk to them.

Faith in the recovery process. Injured runners need reminders that recovery is possible, even likely. Stories of other runners with similar injuries who are now better are solid gold, especially if those runners have gone on to major successes. Physical therapists and coaches are both potentially great sources of faith in the healing process. A good physical therapist should be able to measure your recovery concretely. The right coach can help chart a course back from the end of injury to starting to run again. Injured runners often need help remembering that the path back to running exists.

Company in the darkness. Sometimes pretending things aren’t all that bad is just too much work. It helps to have some folks to share the suck-fest with. It’s actually quite valuable to have someone who will simply agree with you when you tell them how awful everything is. A light in the darkness is a wonderful thing, but sometimes company in the darkness is even more important. Other injured runners are a likely choice here, but try to find someone with a deep well of compassion and remember to be their company in return.

Who’s in your Inner Circle? Are you in someone else’s Inner Circle right now? Do you have anything to add to this list?

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2 comments

  1. This is right on the money. Not injured right now, but in only a few years of running I’ve had two major injuries that have taken me out for months at a time. I will say when I’m hurt I generally find that friends who have been there, done that are easier to be around than friends who don’t seem to be plagued by injuries.

  2. I enjoy Angelica’s take on this. I won’t swear to it, but I don’t believe I have an inner circle. However, it and the ones who make it up are invaluable. Last Friday marked my one year anniversary for heart surgery. 2017 has not been the way I planned but at least I am moving. I’m happy with the little things. Glad that you are running again.