Crossing the Line: Admitting You’re Injured

Yes, it can be completely normal to walk around your house with these tied to your knee with a sock.

When we’re training hard, something’s gonna hurt. The whole point of training is to break our bodies down to build them up, so being 100% pain-free is simply not going to happen. Maybe you wake up with a sore heel every morning or hamstrings that like to complain when you push a little too hard on the track. Maybe you run home and strap the frozen peas to your knees or rely a little too much on the ice baths. Whatever it is, it’s normal. But only to a point.

My name is Salty and today I am admitting that the butt pain that woke me up from a dead sleep the other night and caused me to swear as I was stuck in traffic on the way to the grocery store (because it meant I had to sit for 3 extra minutes) over the weekend is indeed more than a training ache. I have crossed the line and I am injured. There. I said it.

When you’re a serious runner, pain runs on a spectrum. One end is inhabited by zero pain (hahahaha!) and the other is full blown debilitating injury pain. The kind where you can’t put any weight on your legs. Most of us hang out in the middle of this spectrum all the time. There’s a point on this spectrum, where we go from having a mere manageable ache and pain to being injured. We can train through aches and pains. But when we cross the line into injury, we will at a minimum need to modify are training and often (*gasp!*) have to stop. When there’s a goal race on the horizon, it’s really hard to get off the training train and hop aboard the injury train, which may or may not take you to the starting line.

What’s also hard, is that we get used to the daily grind of training. Often we thrive on being badasses who push ourselves every single day. We get off on our ability to do track workouts and tempos and long runs every week and run through pain. It’s hard to admit we need to stop. Sometimes it feels like failure. Maybe I’m just a wuss, we think. Maybe I just need one more ice bath

Capping off the difficulties of pulling the plug and admitting you’ve crossed the injury line is that where that line lies is often a mystery. Where it lies is different for everyone and complicating matters more, where it lies is different for you at different times in your life. I’ve recently discovered that. 

That middle line is different for everyone.
That middle line is different for everyone and might even change for you over the years.

I, unfortunately, thought I could move that line through sheer will, training through this injury for months and months back in 2011, until it forced me to stop. As I was recovering, I became pregnant. Now more than a year and a half after acknowledging that injury, here I sit re-acknowledging it. It’s still there. It’s not as bad as it was in 2011 and I surely would still be training through it if it was then.

This was far from an easy decision. I could keep training. Maybe take NSAIDS a little more than I should or sleep on an ice pack. Maybe I could just will myself to run through it. After over a year of not training because of injury, pregnancy and post-partum recovery, the last thing I want to do is take more time off. I could just keep running. I did it before.

The white spot is the site of the tiny little butt muscle which has been driving me crazy for years!
The white spot is the site of the tiny little butt muscle that has been driving me crazy for years!

Maybe I’ve grown up a little as a runner, but I cannot do that again. Instead, I paid attention to some warning signs and decided it was time to do something about my pain in the butt.Whatever it is, I don’t care. It’s across my line today and it’s time to do something about it.

Warning Signs You’ve Crossed the Injury Line

1. Pain. Duh. This is the first sign. If you have pain that keeps coming back despite being diligent about icing, foam rolling, being careful about your running surfaces, etc. then it’s time to consider that that sucker isn’t going to fix itself – you need help. With my butt, this pain keeps coming back. It might go away for a week here or there, but it always comes back. And it’s been years of this. ENOUGH!

2. Irritability. Pain makes you cranky. If you find yourself cranky because you are in pain, consider boarding the injury train. Whoa. Have I been a crab. My patience is short and my fuse is shorter. This is not a good scene when you’re a parent. Despite my best efforts, I found myself snapping at my kids because I hurt. This is not normal.

3. No Fun. On a similar note, if running itself isn’t the joy in your life it usually is, you probably need to do something about it. I wasn’t enjoying my workouts. I found myself constantly fighting the urge to quit workouts in the days leading up to the realization that I’m injured. Again, this is not normal. I love training and running with my friends, so when it’s suddenly not fun, something is definitely wrong!

4. Possibility of Long Term Damage. Running is awesome! I love it so much and I know you do too, but as hard as it might be to admit, it’s not worth being in pain for the rest of your life. It’s just not. I have been struggling with the same issue for years. One of the potential sources of my pain is spinal injuries like herniated disks. The thought of battling a bad back for my entire life, especially as a parent of young kids who need me to run and play with them, made me get real and stop living in my fantasy “I’m not injured!” land. Forget it. Running isn’t worth ruining my life. Really!

5. Inability to Progress. Lastly, the whole point of what we do is to get faster, but when we’re injured we will not progress the way we would if we were healthy. I finally realized if I don’t do something about this pain, then I will never get where I want to go with my running. My form is all crazy and my range of motion is messed up. Even if I can get the pain to simmer, it will be temporary and just as I start getting into good shape it will come roaring back – this has been going on for years! If I want a chance at reaching my goals, I have to seek help and fix not only the pain, but the underlying issues causing the pain.

Admitting injury can certainly feel like admitting defeat. And it’s scary. Will you ever be able to fix the problem? Will the doctor tell you that you can’t run for a long time or (oh sh*t!) ever again?! Plus, what kind of can of worms are you opening? I put it off because the thought of what I’d have to give up and all the crazy things I’d have to do were intimidating and of course, I didn’t want to have to stop running.

However, the thought of having a butt that doesn’t constantly hurt is worth it. I’m at the point where I’d rather never progress with running and not be in pain, then be in pain and be super fast (even though I know I’ll never get super fast with the pain in the butt!) I think I’ve finally figured out where my line is and I’m not coming back to training until I’m firmly back on the other side.

Have you ever struggled to admit you were injured?

Salty Running boss and mother of 3 little ones with PRs of 3:10:15 (26.2), 1:25:59 (13.1) and 18:15 (5k). I love to write about running culture, mental training, and fitting in a serious running habit with the rest of a busy life.

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  1. I have definitely struggled with this. I’ve been dealing with a nagging pain in my left ankle for about a year now, but kept training on it. Last December, it turned into a sharp pain, so I finally decided to take a break from running. The extended rest helped some, and I cautiously started running again. The ache still comes and goes, though.

  2. #3. Yes. For sure. When I had my stress fracture/reaction in the spring, I HATED running. It was terrible. I didn’t want to go but I also didn’t want to admit to how badly my foot hurt. Thanks for including that part…many don’t realize it.

  3. Totally relate. I love to run and get a big enough endorphin rush from it that I can run through almost anything (i.e. I ran a marathon with a shin splint that was so bad it was difficult to walk even before the race). I never want to admit when something is hurting. But this tendency has really impeded my ability to progress as a runner. I’m getting better about acknowledging when things are starting to break down too much, but it’s still a big struggle. I can also relate to the butt pain – I’m a mom of 3 and since my last pregnancy 3 years ago I have had a lot of trouble with my L hip/glute and other athletic moms I know have had this issue too. I’ve been doing a lot of conditioning/PT focusing on this area over the past year and it is slowly improving, but I’ve come to the conclusion that having kids, for all it’s immeasurable joys, is extremely tough on the body of a runner or anyone who wants to continue to be athletic afterwards.

  4. Sorry to hear you are hurt. 🙁 What are you going to do to rehab it?

    Thanks for this post. We runners definitely tend to ignore injury a little too long.

  5. Sorry to hear about this. I’ll make sure James reads this, too! Takes a lot of strength to say that you would rather be healthy than faster. Congrats on boarding the injury train, though. I honestly believe things will work out if you throw out an expectation to heal on a certain time frame and just let it heal. The challenge is doing exactly that, but you are in the right place.