The 6 Stages of an Injured Runner (And How to Prevent Injuries, For Real)


You know that saying, “You’re stubborn as a mule”? Well really it should be, “You’re stubborn as a runner.”

That would be MUCH more accurate.

If you’re a runner (chances are you are, since you’re here reading a blog about running, right?), then you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you’re a runner who is or has been injured, then you definitely know what I’m talking about. Heck, even if you just know a runner who is or has been injured, you probably have some insight into what I’m getting at.

To further explain, I’ll just let what I’ve dubbed “The 6 Stages of an Injured Runner” speak for themselves.

1. Invincibility
“Running is my life. There’s no better form of exercise and anyone who thinks differently is living a lie.”

2. Curious Questioning
“Something felt kind of weird while I was running today. But the pain stopped when I stopped running so it’s probably nothing. Definitely no need to take a break. Breaks are for squares.”

(P.S. Breaks aren’t for squares. Smart runners take breaks or at least tone it down a notch or two at this point in the game.)

3. Denial
“That thing still hurts, but I can’t miss a day of training or else my race won’t go exactly as planned. It’ll be fine as long as I ice it and stretch really well after every run.”

(Note: You can miss a day — or two, or three — of training and still have your race go according to plan!)

4. Oh Crap
“The thing is so bad that running isn’t even an option anymore. I should have rested when it first started to hurt. Now I have to take weeks off of my training, I might not even be able to race and my life is void of all meaning.”

(via giphy)

5. Recovery and Crazed Sadness
“Every time I see a runner in the wild I die a little inside. Please just let me run. I’ll do anything if I can just run. I can only take cross training for so long before I go insane.

I used to complain about training but now I would actually pay large amounts of money to be able to run. The irony. Oh the irony.”

6. Back to Running!
The first few days: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. #IlovetoRun #RunningisLife #RunForeverandAlways

After the first few days:
(via Buzzfeed)

I know, it’s funny because it’s true. But it’s also not funny because it’s true. I’ve covered this topic many times before (because, unfortunately, I’ve been injured many times before) but it’s always worth revisiting, because it seems this is a recurring trend for many runners (myself included).

So, let’s have a semi-serious talk about running, running injuries and staying healthy.

What can you do to make sure you avoid this infamous injury cycle?

injury prevention for runners

I’m not a running coach, so I’m turning to Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running for some answers. He’s easily one of the top experts on all things running and has an extremely extensive log of injury prevention strategies. He’s even created a free injury prevention e-program that you can subscribe to.

Basically, he knows how to run strong and stay healthy, so I recently read through the majority of his injury prevention content and found a few very helpful points:

1. You need to build recovery into your training plan, both short- and long-term. Fitzgerald writes:

“Instead of always pushing forward with more miles, faster workouts, and longer speed sessions it’s best to take a long-term outlook on your training. Short-term thinking almost always results in trying to “catch up” and do more than your body is ready to handle.

Muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments are tissues that break down with use. Don’t treat your legs like components of a machine.”

2. Be Patient. Like, REALLY patient.
To quote Fitzgerald again:

“Good runners think long-term and put in the work month after month. They don’t care that they’re not ready to race this weekend – they’re more interested in building the fitness they need six months from now.

It’s a different mindset, but it’s often the difference between those who are chronically injured and consistently healthy.”

In other words, you need to give yourself a realistic amount of time to reach your goal. If you haven’t run in a while, you need more than a few weeks to train for that marathon that looks super fun but is only several weeks away. If your doctor told you you can’t run for 6 weeks, then DO NOT run for at least 6 weeks.

3. You have to do strength training. It’s not optional.
Most runners already know this, but very few actually include strength training in their plan. I admit, I am so guilty of this. When I’m training for a half marathon (like right now) sometimes it’s hard to find enough time just to get all of my running workouts in, so I’ll do a strength workout here and there when I have the time for it, but the truth is, that doesn’t cut it. Strength training has to be consistent and smart.

Fitzgerald recommends:
This Standard Warm-Up Routine
This IT Band Rehab Routine
This Core Strengthening Routine

4. Variety, Variety, Variety!
Running is extremely repetitive (you already know that), which is why, Fitzgerald explains, you need to switch up different elements of your training routine often. He suggests:

  • Running different paces and types of workouts (see number 5)
  • Rotating between two or three different pairs of sneakers
  • Varying the terrains you run on (including the elevation profiles)
  • Cross training
  • Training for different goal races

Put simply, Fitzgerald wrote, “Often these little variations are all you need to keep a little niggle from developing into a serious injury.”

5. You need to run slow.
Most runners think (myself included) that you need to run faster to get faster. This is another mistake I am personally guilty of. I can admit it, more often than not, even on runs that are supposed to be easy, I find myself trying to push my pace. Yeah, it’s great to run faster and that’s the goal when you’re racing, but to achieve that in a race, you have to incorporate more slow workouts in your training. It’s those types of workouts that let you cover the miles you need to cover, but that also promote recovery.

Fitzgerald explains:

“Surprisingly, many runners are running too fast during training and aren’t recovering properly between workouts. Fatigue is then carried into a long run or faster workout, causing a mediocre performance.

The result? Every run during the week is a moderate effort. There are no very hard days and certainly no easy days…

In fact, Matt Fitzgerald just tweeted about a study that showed runners improve their 10K time more with a 77%/3%/20% low/medium/high training intensity distribution than with a 46%/35%/19% breakdown.

What does that mean? Simply put, reduce the moderate days and make more of your runs easy!”

Putting It All Together
So, those are just five of Fitzgerald’s most important injury prevention tips. His coverage of this topic is quite extensive, so this is kind of just the tip of iceberg, if you will.

One more thing I do want to mention, though, is Fitzgerald’s post from early 2014: How I Got an Achilles Injury (my first injury in 5 years)

Reading it both helped shed some more light on the problems with my own training and helped me to not feel so bad about being injured (right now I’ve been resting/not running due to plantar fasciitis, BTW).

If, like me, you’ve been running for a while and constantly dealing with injuries (or you just want to train smart and prevent injuries), I highly suggest you read about Fitzgerald’s experience with Achilles Tendinopathy.

One of the most important points that I got from it: “Don’t combine too many risks into one run (or even a week of training).”

In other words, one run with a pair of old sneakers that need to be replaced, or pushing a little bit harder than you should have one day probably won’t lead to a full blown injury. But when you repeat these mistakes constantly or combine a bunch of them into one run, then you greatly increase your risk for developing an injury.

Make sense?

So, now that you know what to do (at least the basics of injury prevention) make sure you build it into your training plan! Through writing this post I personally learned what one of my biggest mistakes is: I’ve read these tips plenty of times before, but I always fail to implement them! Or, I implement them very inconsistently — a hill workout here, some core training there, strength training when I feel like it.

I won’t be making this mistake anymore, though. So don’t be like past me. Do the right thing and be proactive about running smart and strong!

Well, this post has gone on far longer than I had planned, but I hope that by sharing some insight from Strength Running you were able to learn a few things!

And before I go, I want to recommend a few more Strength Training articles on injury prevention!

The Best of Strength Running: Injury Prevention and Treatment
Hacking Plantar Fasciitis: Curing the Vampire Bite of Running Injuries

Can you relate to the “six stages of an injured runner?” Are you guilty of being super inconsistent like me? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

P.S. This post is NOT sponsored by Strength Running/Jason Fitzgerald. I just genuinely enjoy the content that Fitzgerald shares and it’s clear that he’s helped quite a lot of runners to get healthy and stay running strong. 

  1. The #1 rule of never getting hurt is to be willing to ease back when you feel a niggle. The ego won’t want to, but your conscious will tell you to rest!

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