5 lessons my running injury taught me

Me (far right) with two running buddies at the race expo before the 2010 Chicago Marathon.
Me (far right) with two running buddies at the race expo before the 2010 Chicago Marathon.


In 2010 I ran the Chicago Marathon. It was my second marathon and I shaved nearly 20 minutes off my previous time. I ran for the charity World Vision, which was a blast, and I was on top of the world. About a week after I finished, my runner’s high started to wear off and the hip pain started to settle in. Soon the pain was waking me up in the middle of the night. At the time, I had no idea that this was just the beginning of a very long road. Turns out, I had torn the labrum in my left hip but wouldn’t be properly diagnosed for nearly a year. The injury was devastating and even after several rounds of physical therapy, I find that my left side is weaker than my right. I haven’t run distance since. Here’s what I’ve learned from my injury and the years I spent recovering.

1. Strength and endurance is all perspective
When I was training for marathons, a 10 mile run was nothing. I once ran 18 miles on the morning of a friend’s wedding and still wore heels to the reception. I was strong and in the best shape of my life. Once I was recovering from my injury and several rounds of platelet rich plasma injections (which has dental applications too), I started to measure strength much differently. Anyone who has been through physical therapy will understand. Your therapist shows you something that looks easy enough and you’re sure you could have done it pre-injury. But when you try the exercise, it’s the most difficult thing in the world.

My lesson: Strength is getting through these times without blaming yourself and without feeling so sorry for yourself that you want to give up. Endurance is showing up to your 7am physical therapy appointments before work twice a week. I have to give myself credit for these things. I suspect dental school is another place where strength and endurance take on a new meaning. When all the rules change, you have to reward yourself for making progress no matter how small the successes seem at the time.

2. Find flow in new places
Coined by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a state of mind that runners talk about a lot. It’s also called “being in the zone” in many other sports. According to Runner’s World “When you become deeply involved in autotelic activities to the point that your mind no longer wanders, Csikszentmihalyi found that you enter a mental state known as flow.” The feeling is amazing but luckily it’s not exclusive to running or even to physical endeavors. I’ve since achieved flow in artistic pursuits and even creating layouts for ASDA publications! I’m no scientist, but I have to believe that seeking the state of flow is good for us in a time of information overload and constant interruption.

My lesson: Many of the skills and mental toughness that you develop as an athlete can be applied to the rest of your life.

3. It’s ok if you don’t like swimming
If you’ve ever suffered a sports injury, you have undoubtedly received the advice (solicited or not) to swim. I took every piece of advice I could get and swam for about a year. I even had a friend who’s a triathlete give me swim lessons. I would get in the pool at 5:30am to get some cardio in before the workday. I worked on my form and tried to figure out how to do that underwater turn so I’d look more legit. But I never liked it. I loved running and every time I was in the pool it made me miss it more.

My lesson: There isn’t a “one size fits all” solution to any problem. You have to listen to your own needs and do what’s right for you.

4. Patience is a marathon, not a sprint
If I had a magic genie lamp and three wishes, my first wish would be for more patience. I really believe this would make life so much easier. Commuting, grocery shopping, theme parks and sports injuries would all seem more manageable. I lack patience to begin with, but being patient with the healing process and with your recovery is tough. Staying hopeful when you can’t remember the last time you had a “pain-free day” is even harder.

My lesson: These are the times when I would try to think about all the people in the world who wake up each day with far less than me and just as much or more pain. I’d humble myself by remembering that I have access to doctors and that if I keep working it will get better and I will get stronger. It’s difficult to do, but changing your perspective can do wonders to provide you the strength you need to get through the day with a slightly better attitude. (And when that doesn’t cut it, eat some ice cream!)

5. Your health is everything
In the time since I first injured my hip, I’ve seen an orthopedic, a chiropractor, three physical therapists and a rheumatologist. That’s a lot of doctors for someone who hasn’t cracked 30. All this has made me more cautious with myself. My friends will sign up for obstacle course races and I respectfully spectate on the sidelines. I’ve become the official sports photographer of my triathlete/marathoning friends and that’s ok. There was a time when I would have loved to climb a 30 foot wall and drop into a mud pit below, but now I have to be more careful with myself. I don’t want to risk the good parts I have left.

My lesson: It’s never too early to take your health seriously. Whether your struggle is an injury, nutrition or sleep deprivation, take care of yourself! I had to learn this lesson the hard way, but I’m thankful it was just a labrum and not something more devastating.

There was a time when I was really down about my injury and I couldn’t imagine writing this post. I’m a pretty high-strung person and I’ve used running as a stress management tool for a long time. I’ve finally come to see that having running taken away from me was a life lesson in patience and in prioritizing. I needed to relearn a lot of things and I needed to work through some tough times, but I’m glad these lessons weren’t lost on me.

I hope that you aren’t dealing with a similar situation. But likely you’ve experienced disappointment, frustration and some sort of physical obstacle to overcome at some point. If you’ve picked up a life lesson from these times, let us know in the comments below. We’d love to glean some insight from your experiences.

~Kim Kelly, publications manager

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  1. Fantastic article, Kim! I really appreciate you sharing your struggle with us. I wish for a speedy recovery for you (though, you know “speedy” is relative). I can totally relate with the impatience of rehabbing an injury. I’ve literally cut off a couple of my own casts – how’s that for impatient?? You’re doing better than I did, so keep it up!

    1. Thanks, Ryane! That is impatient! Hopefully both of us can slow down enough to let our bodies heal properly 🙂

  2. Ashley (Phares) Sara says:

    Great piece, Kim! Reminds me of when I cut my Achilles’ tendon in half and was told I had at least a 50% chance of walking with a limp for the rest of my life. Unlike you, I’ve never really enjoyed running, but I joined the school’s cross country team to force myself to really work all the muscles I needed to strengthen to regain function after 6 months in casts. So glad it worked, but it was incredible how just walking would leave me sore to the point of not being able to fall asleep from the pain. And my physical therapy elastic band was my worst enemy… Thanks so much for sharing! Hope you and the Ed Board are doing wonderfully!

    1. Thanks, Ashley. Ouch! I never knew you cut your Achilles’ tendon. Your rehab must have worked because I didn’t notice a limp when we worked together 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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