The darker side of being a runner

If you’re a runner or someone who competes for fun or even for glory you will have at some point witnessed the highs of your chosen sport. In running this is often called the runner’s high. That feeling of elation, joy and maybe even of floating.

The many instagram photos and twitter posts of runners showing off that they’ve just had an epic run is testament to this. I do it all the time.

What isn’t as well accounted for are the trials and tribulations of the runner’s low.

I’m currently in one. And felt the need to write about it.

A lot of chat has happened around these days of mental health. It’s a hot topic and although my running highs and lows aren’t as dangerous as other people’s mental states, the runner’s low is a mental state in itself.

I happen to class myself as well grounded with a logical approach to life and scientific approach to figuring out issues. However, often the runner’s low is due to an injury, and it is in this injured state that my mental health reduces. Injuries and rehabilitation are fairly well documented, but the recovery of ones’ injury for the common runner can be a bit hit and miss. The feeling of the unknown, the physiotherapist diagnosis based on range of movement, subjective pain readings, and experience can often be best guess. I’m not knocking their profession but it does seem in my extensive experience of visiting many physios to be recovery by trial and error.

It is this uncertainty that feeds the mental state. All of that build up, training, time, focus, and mental preparation can be wasted by an injury that puts you at risk of completing that A-Race. My logical brain is dumbfounded by illogical injury issues.

I’m 6 weeks out of my A Race. A 400km jaunt across the highlands and remotest part of Scotland. A foot race that will test me mentally and physically. I don’t expect to finish unscathed, if I finish at all.

The above was true before I got this latest injury. An acute pain on the lateral side of my calf. It stopped me running when I’d usually run through pain, this pain was not one of those types.

From a week earlier, I ran 55km successfully. I didn’t get injured and I recovered well. I had a high and I had confidence. I even blogged about how that run gave me confidence to complete the up coming Ultra.

Alas, 7 days later, I’m hobbling and questioning the future and my ability to do the race.

All I can do is rest. At these points, I get quite insular. Not wanting to speak about the injury. Not wanting to socialise in fear that someone might mention how my training is going. Not wanting to face the reality of the situation. I get quite aggravated and angry. I see other runners running and I’m jealous. “Fucker!” I’ll mutter under my breath to the guy who has the audacity to run past an injured runner! Completely illogical and frankly me at my worst. Of course I don’t mean it, i’m just frustrated.

I start hypothesising the many journeys that this injury could take. How many test runs will result in failure. Should I be icing? Should I walk down that hill? Will that aggregate the injury?

What’s worse is figuring out what I could have done to prevent it? What could have caused it? What will I feel like if I can’t race.

My mind is a blaze with questioning, hypothesising, and despair.

Not doing the race won’t be the end of the world, I will survive, I will run again. But I will have lost so much and the time I’ve dedicated to this adventure would and could be wasted.

After seeking advice from friends who know this feeling I took a visit to the physio. It helped to talk through the issue and understand some of the science behind the pain and recovery. I am happy to report that I came away feeling positive. The fact that my range of movement and going into full stretch and full tension on the physio table did not bring about pain was a good sign. The fact that the pain has decreased from not being able to extend my leg to being able to walk without limp had led me to a happier state of mind. One that has let me write this post.

It is with this positivity that my mental state has bounced up. But without a test run under my belt I’m still quite low.

I’m now in the stage of “it feels Ok but if I run and it hurts have I set myself back?” “Should I hold off running for longer?” “What will this do to my preparation?”

I’m still not out of the woods but I have hope. I know logically that 6 weeks is plenty of time. That what I could do in 6 weeks is probably enough anyway.

My Other Half Andy summed the situation up quite well.

“what an emotional rollercoaster this run is turning out to be!”*

*say with a Geordie accent!

And he is absolutely right.

If you’re in this situation, I’ve found the best thing to be is positive and to keep focussed on other things that you can do. I’m going to do more stretching and Pilates. I also recommend talking to folk about it. A problem shared is a problem halved. The person may not fix you but it would have been good to talk it through and add some perspective on the situation.

Or you could write a blog post…

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2 responses to “The darker side of being a runner

  1. Hey Glenn, my advice is try not to panic … I know I’ve been in similar situations before, thinking some injury that is in fact already getting slightly better, may not be better enough, and all is lost if I don’t train right now … It’s so frustrating. Something I learnt was that the keeping on trying to run / test it didn’t help me go faster in the race, but it stopped it from getting better quicker. Your physio report sounds quite positive. 6 weeks out from a race like this one, most of the training has been done. What you lose won’t be your endurance base, which is the bit you need. Be as patient as you can, let it recover and as soon as you are on that start line, it will be massively more of a mental game than a physical one. Don’t doubt you can do it!

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