Mentally Coping With an Injury

Mentally Coping With an Injury

Today's #TheWerk post is brought to you by Mwangi Gitahi (@CoachMwangi). Mwangi, originally from the Kenyan Highlands, is a long-time runner and USATF coach who resides in New Bedford, MA. 


As runners, there are three words we never want to hear: “No more running.” It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when you’re just starting to hit your stride or you have a race coming up. Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the sport, and they happen to many of us. One study has shown that the prevalence of running-related injuries among runners can be as high as 92%! If you happen to be in this situation, and as you go through your own abbreviated Kübler-Ross stages of grief - denial, anger and eventually acceptance - here are five things to keep in mind as you cope with being injured and sidelined from the sport.

It’s important to listen to your body. Easier said than done, but think about it: if you’re attentive to what your body needs during training, then why not honor its need for recovery when injured? Oftentimes injuries are a signal that something needs to be adjusted, or that you’re pushing up against your body’s limitations. Tuning into these cues allows you to take a proactive approach to healing and preventing further injury, which your body will inevitably thank you for. 

Even the best runners get injured. It’s true! Running injuries don’t discriminate. They can happen to anyone, regardless of skill level or experience. This is not to suggest that you should find comfort in other people’s misery. It just means that you are not alone, or somehow exceptionally prone to getting injured. Remembering this can help you shift the focus from self-pity and self-blame to viewing this an opportunity to learn and grow stronger from the experience.

This is a learning opportunity. Always! Every injury represents an opportunity to learn something valuable. Every runner that I’ve worked with has benefitted from something they learned while recovering from an injury. Whether it’s a new recovery tool, a refined technique, or a better understanding of how your body responds to training, there is always something that being injured can teach you. Take the time to reflect on the circumstances leading up to the injury. Was there a change in training intensity? Were you giving yourself adequate recovery time? Did you have the proper footwear? Were you getting enough sleep? Embracing the lessons learned during the recovery process, and committing to incorporate this new knowledge into your training, will make you a smarter, more resilient runner.

You may still be able to run while you recover. All hope is not lost! Depending on the injury, you may still be able to engage in some form of running or maintain some level of activity during the recovery process. When I was recovering from a hairline fracture in my lower leg, I would routinely test it to see if I could run again. This required a proper warm-up, the right shoes (the more cushioned the better) and a very gradual return-to-running plan (15-20 minutes at a time). I was less concerned about the miles than the total time spent on my feet, and I continued to run like this for weeks WHILE I was healing. It’s important to follow a tailored rehabilitation plan, but even if running is out of the cards for the moment, you may still be able to engage in other forms of exercise, such as cross-training, pool running or other modified workouts.

Find ways to stay engaged. Fight the urge to crawl into a hole! When you’re not running, it can be easy to become withdrawn or feel disconnected from the running community. Running has a natural way of keeping you connected to others and motivated through the collective energy and spirit of the community, but the opposite is also true. Finding ways to stay involved in something running-related can improve your mood and help you cope with your time off. This can be a great time to volunteer at a local race, help with a youth running program, assist with a clinic, or just drop by your local running store and chat it up with your fellow runners. You may be surprised by what you learn or the perspective it gives you. This can also be a great time to share the nature of your injury with your running buddies, as their support can be invaluable during this challenging time.

A running injury can be a frustrating experience, but I’ve discovered that the trick is to approach it with a positive mindset, some proactive strategies for recovery, some patience and some support from the running community. With the right approach, you can overcome any setback and return to the sport you love stronger and more determined than ever. 

Stay tough and keep doing #thewerk! You got this! 

Coach Mwangi (

Run better. Run smarter. Run for life.

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