Your coach will hate me for this debatably terrible advice I am about to give, but if he heard me out fully, then maybe he’d only respectfully disagree: I think you should get hurt.
Now don’t go do it on purpose right now [or ever], though eventually at some point in your running career I’d really suggest you try it. It’s not something to be sought out, and in the midst of it you’ll see no value whatsoever to the experience. However, somewhere down the line, probably long after you’re fully healed and the fitness has been regained and then surpassed, you will look back and realize that it wasn’t the worst thing to ever happen to you. And after the fact, it may actually make you a better runner for it.
I am currently on the backside of an injury that took me out for a few weeks. After a 3-week long off-season my body felt like an Oldsmobile in desperate need of some oil. Less than 40 miles later my achilles flared up on me, and I was sidelined for a few weeks. I am happy to report that today I am now running pain free and back into my buildup, [hence why I can write this blog in good conscience]. During my time spent in the pool, swimming countless laps and contemplating the purchase of underwater headphones, there were hours of reflection upon my career.
As I thought back to some of my other extended interruptions from action, I realized a trend that has developed. It would seem that my biggest breakouts in racing occurred shortly thereafter the longest periods away. How could this be? But Kyle, you always talk about consistency! Well this is what I came up with…
Training is very simple. We sometimes make it complicated, and coaches will talk in percentages, numbers and target zones. All well and good, but the aim in the multitude of approaches is always the same: Stress the body, and then recover. We do this every week in micro-cycles of hard-easy days. And then we do it again from a slightly more macro-approach, taking down weeks each month, and an off week between seasons. You have to let the body recover so the muscles you broke down, and the systems you exhausted can then rebuild to come back stronger.
Now let’s take one step further back and think about all the years of training and miles that have been compiled. Is one week off, combined with a week of easy running necessarily enough to allow the body to fully heal? That’s where an unfortunate, and timely injury can become a blessing in disguise. It is a way of forcing your body to recover and absorb those huge blocks of training. Instead of lightly tapping it, you are fully pressing the restart button and holding it down, and when you return your body is fresh—and so is your mind!
My motivation goes through ebbs and flows while stuck cross training. In the beginning it’s easy, because you convince yourself that it’ll only be a couple days and so the fitness needs to be kept. Then, you get pissed off because this thing is lingering too long. That’s when you sit in the park and watch an elderly lady with a metal hip trot by and think, ‘How can she possibly be running right now, and I can’t?’ And finally, you see the light at the end of the tunnel and you’re starving for miles. That energy goes towards doing more core, heavier weights, and deeper stretching. When you can eventually make it back to the trail, you’re well behind where you thought you’d be and so there is no room for error now—you have to do everything perfect.
Perhaps the greatest assist an injury can make to your career is the simple reminder of how great it is to be running. The pursuit can be tiresome, the pressure can be daunting and the losses can be deflating. Yet not having the opportunity to crunch leaves beneath your feet on a crisp fall morning is enough to recirculate that pure love for the sport you haven’t felt for a while. And that yearning sticks with you beyond a few weeks of pain.
Again, I don’t suggest going doing anything stupid and trying to get hurt. I am sure it will ultimately happen to you anyways. But when it does come, realize that there may be some positives that come out of the terrible and unlucky moments. And maybe the physiological benefits that I made up without doing any real research are nothing more than pseudo-science and a rationalization I created to make myself feel better. The important thing is that it hopefully makes you optimistic about your situation, and when you can finally run again you’ll be confident and excited to be back! Or maybe you can never run again—either way, we are all going to die soon anyways.