In June, just after a triathlon, I suddenly started having serious knee pain. It was completely out of the blue. My buildup for the race had been great and while it was unexpectedly hot on race day, there was no pain or discomfort in the knee during the race. I took a few days off. Did a light jog and couldn’t finish.
I haven’t ran more than a mile since. I’ve actually barely ran at all due to what was ultimately diagnosed as arthritis.
Finally, after weeks of resting, stretching, strengthening and biking, I’ve slowly started running again. Talk about seven minutes in heaven!
Going from 30 – 40 miles per week the last few years to 0 was difficult. Really difficult. Both mentally and physically.
Here are the 6 coping strategies for a long term injury that I found to be most helpful:
1. Throw yourself into something new
For me, this was a return to fiction writing. But this could also be the opportunity to try a new sport or activity. This sort of feels like avoidance, or distracting yourself, rather than acceptance, but staying busy really does help. Keeping the mind occupied made sure I wasn’t constantly thinking about the fact that I wasn’t running. No small feat, trust me.
2. Commit to the little things
If the writing took care of the mental side, treating my recovery as a training plan itself helped on the physical side. I was lucky in one respect. Much of the knee pain was very specific to running, so I could still swim, bike and do strength training. I am the type of person that almost needs to stay active to stay sane.
Treating the rehab and stretching as my training plan forced to track and do those little things that are too easily skipped during regular training cycles. Skipping the strength and stretch and developing muscle imbalances are ultimately what landed me with the arthritis, so the irony is not lost on me.
3. Work on your mental game
As part of my recovery, I finally committed to meditation. I made a daily habit to do a 3 to 5 minute session as part of my cool down. If there wasn’t time for mindfulness, then there wasn’t time to work out either. I think it’s helped me most in two ways.
First, like the Addison’s, there is no cure, so I’m finding even six months later, are good days and bad days with the knee. I’m like war vet with embedded shrapnel and can predict the weather. Having some strategies to deal with the roller coaster feelings and emotions has been helpful.
Second, it’s helped in dealing with the kids. Practicing mindfulness has helped me avoid (most of the time) knee jerk emotional reactions to the things they sometimes do. You can fight fire withe fire.
It’s also helped me introduce meditation to them. Headspace has a number of sessions aimed at kids that we do together.
4. Just take the break and recharge
I’ve always tried to ease back on working out in the winter months, but, if I’m honest, I’ve never been that successful. This injury has forced me to take what is probably a long overdue break and let my mind and body recharge.
There is a lot of benefit in rest. I just keep repeating that to myself and try to enjoy the long walks with the dog as my workout. Some days are better than others. I’m okay with that now.
5. Sleep and diet
When I was training 10 plus hours a week, I ate pretty well, but there was a large margin for error. I could eat pretty much whatever I wanted and the engine would burn it up. Taking this time off has made me focus a little more on my diet, especially the portions and balance of the macronutrients.
The same thing goes for sleep. I typically wouldn’t have much trouble falling asleep because I was exhausted. Now, with a little less fatigue each day, I need to be more cognizant of still getting the amount of sleep that works for me and allows my body to heal and hopefully perform at its best.
This was a big one. Maybe the most important one. I needed to accept that things had to change. I wasn’t going back to the way I was. My knee was never going to recover fully. Accepting this is not the same as giving up. I still want to run. I still want to compete in races. I just need to figure out how to do it in a different way.
Right now this means not losing sight of the strength work, trying to get more flexible through stretching and yoga, and tipping the balance of my training more toward lower impact activities like swimming, biking, rowing or even my nemesis the elliptical.
I’m trying my best to see this injury as an opportunity to pause, evaluate and recalibrate some things. I love running, but I don’t want to become obsessed with it. There are too many other interesting things to do with a life.
Running is important to me and how I live my life, but I don’t want it to take on so much importance that I risk my overall health or ability to just be active in the long term.