How to deal with setbacks in running

The past 7 days have been a whirlwind.

Last weekend, I attended the ASICS FrontRunner launch in Birmingham where I got the chance to meet all of my new team mates and find out more about the year ahead. It was one of the best weekends away I’ve had for ages. Unfortunately it’s also the weekend where we got some devastating family news and the niggle in my hip got much worse, which has now stopped me from running. The rest of the week has been a bit of a blur as we’ve spent a lot of time travelling and seeing family.

The reality is I have been struggling with my own mental health this week and I’ve had to take a bit of a step back from social media. There has been a lot of negativity surrounding the FrontRunner team which hasn’t helped. I don’t want to give the topic any more air time but I am disappointed people have jumped to conclusions without really doing their homework. It has also been quiet upsetting seeing people get so angry and upset about a community which is supposed to be so positive.

However, I am a strong believer that you can turn every negative into a positive, or an opportunity to learn.  So I wanted to talk about dealing with setbacks and unexpected absences from running and I’ve listed a few of my top tips below, based on what I find helpful in these situations.

Don’t panic

It can be taken from you so quickly. One minute you’re out running, without a care in the world. Then BAM. You get an injury or your circumstances change. You can no longer run. What do you do?  The first reaction is to…well.. over react. For me, I often feel like there is a big loss in my life. I genuinely come home, stare at my trainers and mourn. I think it’s totally normal to feel angry, sad and scared about the situation. If you’re training for a specific race, you’ll be questioning “have I got time to rest and still get to the start line?”…. “will I have to pull out?”….“will I ever run again”?

But don’t panic and try not to worry about the long term impact. If you’re missing a race, remember there will be plenty of other opportunities. Find another goal to look forward to. In October 2016, I got a stress fracture in my knee which took me out of the game for 4 months. At the time I felt like it was the end of the world, but I did recover and fortunately it’s long behind me now. It’s important to stay positive and upbeat, because that will have a huge impact on your recovery or comeback.

Fake it till you make it

Did you know when you fake a smile or a laugh, you still release endorphins?

In the early days, when people asked me about my stress fracture, I was embarrassed that I had got myself injured. I used to tell people it was fine and that I was still planning on making it to the start line of the London Marathon (even though I didn’t really believe it at the time). As the months went on, the more people I told, the more I started to convince myself and actually believe that I would get to the start line. I focused all my energy on recovery and worked out what I needed to do to build up strength. Low and behold, I stood amongst 40,000 others on 23 April 2017, injury free.

That being said, I do totally recognise that if you’re used to riding the high (and endorphin rush) of running, it’s normal to feel terrible (physically and mentally) when you have to stop.

So what can you do to replace that feeling?

Work out what form of exercise you can do

I have spent a lot of time in a car and have driven the extent of the M4 (100 miles each way) at least 6 times in the last 7 days. This has resulted in my hips getting even tighter than they were before. I have been really busy at work too (when I’ve been in the office) so I haven’t been able to go for my usual lunchtime walk. I am limited in what activities I can do because my hip is obviously quite angry at the moment. But I have found a few small things:

  • Walking more
  • Hip stretches 3-5 times a day
  • Aqua walking
  • Engaging my glutes and core in the car
  • Gentle cycling

These are things which my strength and conditioning coach has signed off on. If you have just developed an injury, you should see a professional who can assess the situation and provide you with a list of safe activities. I usually start with a physio, but you could also consider a GP, sports injury therapist, chiropractor or an osteopath depending on what the injury is.

If you are unable to run due to other circumstances, just do what you can when you can. Don’t beat yourself up. You probably have enough on your plate already which is why you’re out of action. Be kind to yourself and focus on all the good things you have done and can still do.

Get your nutrition right and look after you

I have eaten a lot of pre-packaged and processed food this week. It’s not nice. It’s not healthy. And it’s certainly not going to help my injury – from a physical and mental perspective.  I have done my best to take satsumas, apples and nuts for the car and avoid fizzy sugary drinks. We have also crammed all the green veg into our evening meals where we’ve been at home.

If you are in a similar position, just do your best to maintain a healthy diet. I am not an expert so I won’t give any specific nutritional advice. But I will say that if you can equip yourself with the right diet, this will impact your physical and mental health, which is absolutely crucial for recovery and maintaining good health.

Have you looked for the cause?

Also one final thought, and possibly the most important one. If you’re out of action due to a niggle or an injury, take control of your own destiny. It sounds cliché but have you thought about what caused the injury? Hands up if you’ve had a niggle, taken a bit of time off and then gone straight back into your old routine? I am definitely guilty of this. What we really need to do is take a step back and think about why we got injured in the first place. How are you going to improve and come back stronger?

I have been seeing Matt, a strength and conditioning (S&C) coach at the Physio Clinic in Bristol.  He usually does my sports massages but he is also an expert in S&C. The plan of action is for the physio to watch me running on a treadmill, conduct an assessment and then Matt will write me a plan based on my weaknesses. It’s a bit like the gait analysis you have when you buy a pair of trainers, but in more detail. I’m not an expert but I know I have a weak core. I get lower back pain and I’ve had problems with my hips for years, which has resulted in poor running form and a long list of niggles. Knowledge is power and I am determined to get this right. After all, I’m stuck with this body now so I need to make sure I’m taking good care of it.

Do you need to talk?

Sometimes, we put all of the right things in place, but it is not enough. Sometimes all we really need to do is talk to someone. I want you guys to know that my door is always open if you want to vent or chat things through. The running community is strong and we need to work together to build each other up.

Positivity breeds positivity.

Big hugs to anyone who needs it.

Martha x