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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Reflections: Injury and Recovery

Taken from googleimages

I've been reflecting lately on my injury last year. Not for any particular reason except that is was an important obstacle in my life. I have always been able to exercise when I wanted and how long I wanted; but not then. 

Sure there were times when I chose not to exercise but this injury made it impossible. I was physically unable to engage in physical activity. 

This was a crucial moment for me. 

I have learned a lot from that experience and work everyday not to commit the same mistakes. I want to share the process I went through from injury to recovery to running again.

Understanding the Ailment

Once I was past the denial stage, meaning I accepted that I was injured, I researched all I could about my particular injury. This was partly to make sure I did not aggravate it and slow down recovery and partly to see how long this recovery would take. 

Most of my research was online. Based on my particular symptoms I realized I was suffering from a common, overuse injury called illiotibial band syndrome (IT band syndrome). I read up on what that meant to my body, how it was caused and how to treat it.


This was a two-part process because I had to learn how to cope with my injury mentally and physically. As I said above, I researched how to treat it. The best "medicine" for this type of injury is rest. I had to stop running altogether for at least 3 months. I incoporated useful stretches for the IT band into my routine. When I was able I also incorporated leg exercises. 

For a full month I did no exercise, nothing. This was hard for me to deal with mentally because just a week ago I was training for a marathon! I was running 4 times a week and weight training twice a week. I went from a highly active lifestyle to a non active lifestyle in a span of days. I didn't stop running gradually because I wanted to get better fast and because I was in serious pain. 

I realized that I had hurt myself a week before but I was in denial. Instead of resting, maybe taking a couple of days off, I ran 18 miles. I had to stop at mile 16 because I was limping from the pain. 

The next morning I could barely walk. I mean with every step I was in excruciating pain. This lasted for a week and then the pain subsided. However, I knew I had to be smart. So I just stopped cold turkey. This was the best thing for me to do physically but mentally I was a mess. 

I had incredible mood swings. I would restrict my diet because I was afraid that I would gain weight. I thought, if I gained weight, it would be even harder for me to get back into shape once my 3 month hiatus was over. 

I would see people running in the street and get incredibly jealous. I was mad, depressed, and overall disappointed in myself. How could I have gotten injured? What was wrong with me? Did I know anything


A friend of mine is a psychologist. One day, talking casually, she introduced me to visualization. She told me to visualize my route. To think about the smells when I run, the sounds, the sights and how my body feels during a run. 

She encouraged me to run in my mind. It may sound strange but it was helpful. I would sit outside, or sometimes in my room and just close my eyes. Sometimes I would think about a particuarly satisfying run that I'd done in the past. Or invent an entirely new one.

It was great becasue I was able to satisfy my mind while protecting my body. 

After that tumultuous month was over I slowly started getting in shape again. Nothing too taxing on my body though. I would stretch everyday, do some leg exercises to strengthen my IT band and also abs. I also rode my static bike. Soon my 3 months were over.

When To Go Back Out There

As I said the normal recovery time for this type of injury is 3 months. Of course I listened to my body. I was itching to go back out there and run but I was afraid to run. I was afraid that I would start running and that pain in my IT band would resurface and then the entire cycle would start up again. 

I was deathly afraid of this. I almost didn't go out there and run, almost but not quite. 

I started with running 15 minutes the first day. I warmed up on the static bike for 10 minutes first. Then I stretched for 10 minutes paying extra attention to my injured area. 


Instead of running right away, I walked for about 10 minutes or so then started running. I ran at a leisurely pace. I ran even slower than my long run pace.

I ran the slowest I have ever run. 

After my 15 minutes I cooled down by walking 10 minutes and then repeated my stretching routine. 

I made sure to run on dirt roads at first and to avoid hills until I felt strong enough. I ran a total of twice a week at the beginning and would increase my time by 5 minutes each week. 

Not until I reached 30 minutes of running without stopping did I increase to 3 times a week. When I reached 45 minutes I incorporated hill work and started running on asphalt surfaces. 

The question: When to go back out there? Is a complicated one. All I can say is to take it slow. You don't want setbacks. You want to get injury free as soon as possible and stay that way.


Self-treatment vs. Hospital Care

Throughout my injury and recovery process I pretty much self-treated. Based on my pain and the nature of my injury I did not feel like I needed to go to the hospital right away. 

I gave myself until the 3 month recovery was over to see the doctor. If I wasn't fine by then, and if my leg acted up again while running, I would see the doctor in case I had a more serious injury. 

Luckily, in my case, I just needed to rest and to take care of myself and not push myself too hard. I was a beginner runner acting like I wanted to qualify for the Olympics! Of course I was going to hurt myself. So I say self-treatment is good up to a point. 

Obviously you know your body better than any doctor. You know if an injury requires more than homecare or not. 

If you are in extreme pain and normal anti-inflammatory/pain medication does nothing than maybe you need to see a doctor. 

Some injuries do require surgery so keep that in mind as well. Be smart and don't be afraid to get help if you find you need it.


Writing this it seems like the time went by in a flash. 

But it was super long! 

Okay, it was only 3 months. However, I didn't start training again until June. 

So from December 2010 to June 2011 I was MIA. 

The amount I ran after those 3 months was nothing compared to my training. 

Three weeks into my training now I can tell how out of shape I am! 

Yet, I'm wiser for the experience and determined to run my first marathon more than ever!

Stay tuned for a future post on my 1-month marathon training update.


  1. Great post on injury. I know I have a much harder time overcoming injury mentally than I do physically. I like the visualization idea though!

  2. It's funny that when you DON'T run (or exercise) you feel more like there's something missing. It's the routine maybe. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I went through something very similar last year. One day I woke up and decided to be a runner. So, I started running everyday as much as I possibly could. It wasn't long after that, that I tore my patella. After 8 months of healing, I'm finally in a place where I've begun to train again. Your story is so inspirational! Keep up the amazing work.
    I'm so happy you found my blog today :)

  4. Oh, wow. I had to google that. That must have been TOUGH! I can't imagine 8 months in recovery. I'm so glad you didn't need surgery and were able to recover. Thanks for the comment! (I love your blog!)