Coping with a running injury: Emotional Stages


I never thought it would happen to me, until it did. Despite the amount of abuse I have put my body through in the past two decades, I have never been injured, until now. Pre-injury, I was a mythical creature (unicorn) the runner who never got injured. Now I know, that doesn’t exist. It was only a matter of time until I joined the majority of runners who are suffering from an injury at one point or another (I believe the staggering figure is something like 1 out of 3 runners will be injured at any given time). 

Post-injury, I have some insights that I didn’t have just over two months ago. But there are still many unknowns. For example, I still have not pinpointed the exact cause of my hamstring injury. All I know are the following facts:

  • Stiffness/pain in my upper right hamstring and inner thigh began a week after my Newport Marathon effort. I had no previous pain and had been “recovering” with some easy runs all week (in hindsight I probably should have taken some days off….).

So, actually I only have speculations. I may have pushed too hard during the marathon. My coach believes that it was the “elevator shaft” of a drop (downhill finish) that caused muscle tears that later became my injury. After some research, I conclude that I may have muscular imbalances and weak glute, hip and hamstring muscles (the majority of runners). I still don’t know, and it’s an uncomfortable feeling… waiting for my body to ambush me when I least expect it. 

But besides etiology, I mostly want to discuss the emotions that took me on a roller coaster ride. I can actually look back now and recognize the defined stages that I went through when coming to terms with my status as “injured”. 


  1. DENIAL. This is probably universal. No one wants to be injured, and for as long as the pain can be ignored the thought of injury will be shoved away. I continued to run on my injured leg for another 4 or 5 days, hoping that if I just ran slower and easier, the pain would resolve itself. 
  2. DISBELIEF. Contemplating that I could be injured was hard, how could I be injured? I was fit, I stretched, I had never been seriously injured before. How could this happen?
  3. FALSE ACCEPTANCE. Fine. Maybe I am a little injured. I’ll take a couple of days off. I can not even contemplate that it will not feel a whole lot better after a day or two of no running. 
  4. ZEALOUS RECOVER-ER. A day or two of rest morphs into 4 days off, as the hamstring tightens up painfully and I could barely walk. I realize that this is serious. I accept 100% that I am injured. Now my only job is to seek out all methods of recovery in order to return to health, and quickly because I can already feel my fitness slipping away. I stretch, ice, heat, foam roll, consume turmeric and ginger, and research like a maniac. I will be the perfect pupil, dedicated to my recovery. 
  5. FRUSTRATION. After several weeks, a month, a month and a half, I am still not getting better. My recovery seems to have stagnated. None of the changes I have made in my running, self-care, or stretching routine seems to have made a difference. I am getting weaker by the day and losing all the fitness that I worked so hard for. What’s the point anymore? My initial zealous nature of recovering is slowly replaced by apathy.
  6. DEPRESSION. If I’m not a runner, than what am I? It’s the only thing that truly makes me happy and that I am good at. I’ve defined myself by my love of running since I was in middle school. Am I still a worthy person? Or have I become a burden and a killjoy because all I can feel and talk about is how depressed I am because I can’t run? I feel guilty because everything else in my life is perfectly fine, but I seem to be incapable of gratitude. 
  7. BARGAINING. I’m not sure when exactly I experienced bargaining, it was probably before depression, but it consisted of me promising to  sleep more, eat right, and really take care of myself if only I could be healed and run like I was before. 
  8. REAL ACCEPTANCE. At some point I did accept that I was injured and that recovery was a process. None of the various techniques and products I tried seemed to work. I concluded that my body would recover based on it’s own natural timetable. This is evidenced by the way I was finally able to say, I am injured, and not really feel any emotional attachment in one way or another. Or maybe this was just a deeper depression, I’m not sure. Let’s hope it was acceptance. 

One thing that I learned was that, biologically your body strives to maintain an inner homeostasis (balance) at all times. When you are injured or stressed in any way you are unbalanced. Your body’s natural inclination is to heal, and so given the right conditions: time, nutrition, rest, etc. you WILL heal eventually. There is no magic cure. I discovered that physical therapy was not a magic bullet either. 

It’s really dangerous to define yourself solely as a runner, as that identity is precarious. You need to have something else to fall back on, or you risk falling into a pit of despair. I wasn’t injured long enough to be forced to find an alternative activity and things are slowly returning to normal as I seem to be on the mend now. But still, injuries and missteps are lurking around every corner, just waiting to catch you the moment you fail to prepare. That’s why prevention is key. I am still, and always will be, keeping my eyes and ears open for helpful tips and new information as to what I should be doing to stay healthy. 

One can only hope to learn more and do better. 


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