Struggling? Don’t Press. Pause.
Runners are a special breed. You’d be hard pressed to find a more committed, gritty, tough, and quirky tribe. Being able to manage pain and sitting in a state of discomfort for long periods of time is a requirement if you plan on getting anywhere in this sport.
But what happens when you’ve been dealing with injuries and pain, well past the point of discomfort, for so long you’re starting to feel like you’re in over your head?
What happens when you’re doing your darn best to stay positive and persist with Herculean effort, but it feels like you keep coming up short of your goals?
What do you do if you feel like your mental game is suffering, but you don’t know how to regain control?
Not Gonna Bulls***You
After I wrote my last blog post, “Hey, Struggling Runner” I received a lot of emails in response (definitely more than I was anticipating) asking for practical advice and ways to move through seasons of injury and hardship.
(Apologies for not getting back to everyone individually, at some point I got overwhelmed!)
I wanted to write for those of you who wrote in feeling like you “keep failing”, or can’t get a handle on your situation.
I’ve dealt with injuries at what seemed like the most inopportune times and really low lows. If it weren’t for the people in my corner reminding me of the long list of runners, and professional runners, who managed setbacks like mine and came out the other side, I maybe would have struggled more.
When you get injured or sick, it’s easy to feel wayward. It’s easy to feel insecure, like you failed yourself (or others) in some way. You wonder if you’re ever going to get through this and come out the other end better than you were before.
I’m not going to b.s. you, and I promise this isn’t going to be another blog about how you just need to meditate your way out of your situation. I can’t give you a five-step plan through this; everyone is fighting their own unique battles… I’m just hoping this dose of vulnerability will help you face your struggle in your own brave way.
The Lies We Believe
It took me a couple of years to finally put my hands up in the air and say “there’s something wrong, I don’t know what to do, and I need some more help”… and honestly, guys, for a fiercely independent and competitive human, that admission felt like swallowing acid.
I firmly believed at the time that the best runners didn’t need to get the amount of help that I was asking for. In my mind, the best runners never got injured like I was and they definitely didn’t struggle with depression, low energy or restlessness.
I wanted to live up to my contract and my own potential, but I was too afraid to admit to the things that were scaring me the most about my own situation in order to get the help I needed. Believing lies about what it meant to be an exceptional athlete kept me in a state of fear for a long time.
Remember, the BEST of the best athletes know how to do one thing really well: surround themselves with people who know more than they do to help them through their careers.
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
Are you struggling to get to sleep at night or waking up at 2–3 am battling with your own mind to rest?
Are you exhausted during the day or when you’re training? Are runs feeling burdensome?
Is your attitude waning? Have you noticed a shift in your levels of joy or just overall enjoyment of daily activities?
Are you gritting your teeth and running through some sort of pain?
Whatever it is, if that whisper in your gut keeps saying, “I don’t think this is right”… that whisper is worth investigating.
Blindly pushing through discomfort seems like it’s what you have to do to reach your goals, but it’s not worth it. You deserve to feel joyful, rested, and in control of your emotions. You deserve to feel vibrant in pursuit of your goals.
What you’re facing isn’t too much to handle and there IS AN ANSWER, you just have to ask… and if you don’t find the correct answer at first, ask again.
Maybe you’re vitamin deficient, maybe you need a gate analysis and physical therapy, maybe you have a health condition. Maybe you’re dealing with all of the things I just listed. Regardless, your first step is making a phone call and setting up an appointment to get assistance from someone who knows how to set up a plan through this.
Brain Stuff Is Important Stuff
Injuries themselves suck, they require rest and rehab… but I think the mental side of managing injuries requires MUCH more diligence and attention — help you can’t always find in the athletic training room alone.
I remember how insecure and scared I felt trying to come back from my first few setbacks. I’d lost some faith in my body and frankly in my own judgement. I rolled my eyes at the idea that I just needed to adjust my attitude, keep a gratitude journal, or think my way out of my situation. How was blind optimism going to change the fact that my body was breaking down? What did my mind have to do with this?
At the same time, I noticed my inner dialogue changing from consistent optimism and hopefulness, to fear and negativity… I was exhausted, sad and isolating more often than I could admit to myself, let alone others.
My sleep started to struggle, I didn’t want to run with my teammates and friends as much, and I found myself really putting on a face to get through days. I was in over my head, but I also felt shameful and silly, like I should be able to get through a setback without falling apart. I wanted to be tough.
Driven and hardworking as ever, I didn’t press pause and fully admit to some of my symptoms… I assumed everything would get better as soon as I could back to racing and training consistently at a high level. I dug my heels in further, and that belief locked me into a cycle of depression, anxiety, sub-par performances, struggling health, and ultimately cycles of more injury.
I could talk about mental health for a long, long time, but I’ll try to keep this brief.
Bottom line, if you’re dealing with thoughts that are affecting your ability to train or live the way you want to live, there’s NO SHAME in asking for help. In fact, you HAVE to ask for help.
Mental health struggles are just as impactful on your running as a broken bone but, unlike bone issues, left alone they don’t heal — they fester.
Consistent pain from injury, underlying health conditions, or not being able to exercise on a daily basis can throw your brain into a state disarray on a chemical level. Depression or anxiety does NOT mean you’re weak, doing something wrong, or alone and at risk of being left behind or abandoned for feeling the way you feel. It means you’re human and dealing with something millions (and I mean millions) of people are also dealing with on a daily basis.
Please, for me, if nobody else… make a phone call and contact your doctor or a psychologist/psychiatrist if you feel yourself sinking mentally. You’re worth that attention and help.
I’ve found that there isn’t a nicely light path through injury or mental health struggles or health struggles in general, it may be a winding road… but there is a road. The only requirement is that you show up for yourself fiercely, start driving, and be brave enough to pick up the phone to call your doctor, reach out to your coach, tell your athletic trainer, or just tell someone.
Remember to Rest
My final piece of advice to those of you who emailed or to those wondering how to make it through injuries or struggles.
And I don’t mean sit down and binge watch Netflix until your brain turns into soup.
I mean put your goals on the shelf for a second, and allow yourself to NOT be a runner. Search for the other parts of yourself that make you who you are.
Start painting, go for a walk through the woods, volunteer somewhere, build a freakin’ fort. I don’t care what you do, just do something that reminds you that the world is HUGE and running is just a tiny sliver of the human you were created to be. Go play, go laugh with your friends, sit in the sunshine and read a good book. Running will be there when you get back.
I promise your body, and mind, will thank you.