The Lonliness of the Injured Long Distance Runner

...and bling!
…and bling!

No athlete likes being injured.  Nope.  There is nothing worse than not being able to do something that you enjoy.  For most athletes, though, this simply means they show up to practice but don’t get to participate with the rest of the team.  The difference for the distance runner is that running is a very individual sport.  You can run with people, sure, but unless you run as a relay team, this is a very solitary, personal, and, yes…competitive pursuit.

And while you may train with people…hold each other accountable…when those long run miles are logged…it’s just you vs. them.  And sometimes…when you get hurt and are out for awhile…you get lonely.

And that, my dear friends, is the story of my life right now.

I think I’m an oddball in the running community in that when someone I know or train with is unable to join in the group runs or is injured, I send them messages and texts, check in on them, and all that.  And part of that is that I view running as a social activity.  Of course, I do have my own competitive streak.  I compare myself to my friends and other runners, but ultimately, my competitive streak is mostly against myself.  For me, running isn’t about winning a race or placing in an age division.  Running, for me, is about the people I get to meet along the way.  And, because it is the nature of the sport, sometimes these people get hurt or sick.  I try my very best to check in on them.

From past occurrences, I know how it feels to be down for the count.  I know how it feels to have to bow out of every Saturday long run because your body is not where it needs to be to participate.  Perhaps it’s a minor twinge, or something bigger like a muscle tear, stress fracture, or whatever.  Maybe it’s a lingering cold or respiratory thing.  Whatever the case, after weeks of being away, you suddenly feel…lost.

I feel lost.  I feel alone.

There have been a handful (yes, I can honestly count them on one hand) of people in my running community who have continued to check in on me, see how I was progressing, to see how I was feeling.  To find out what happens next, how long I’ll be out, or whatever.  A handful.  Sometimes it’s once a week…sometimes it is almost every other day.  I can’t tell you how much those little check-ins mean to me.

Because, let me be frank…


There, I said it.  This torn labrum in my hip has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome.  My Boston Marathon time and performance have me doubting my abilities and whether I can even get back to where I was.  The fact that I don’t get much sleep because my leg hurts when I roll over doesn’t help my mood either.  And that’s what this is…a mood.  A funk.  A downtime.  The blues.  But every week I have to go with cross training (spin class, elliptical, swimming, yoga, etc) instead of hitting the roads on my own during the week and with my group on the weekends is another week I feel like my running “career” is ending.  I have good days…where pain is down or nonexistent, for sure, but most of the time, I put on the smile, say those positive things you’re trained to say aloud, and don’t let people know that inside I’m breaking apart.

Inside…I’m broken.  I spend at least 5 nights out of the week in tears because I hate doing my PT stretches.  They are boring and tedious.  I yell at my roommate for stupid reasons.  I have panic attacks over the medical bills I now have streaming in.  You ask anyone at my office about me though, and they would say that I’m just happy-go-lucky Karen.  No worries.  Hakuna Matata and all that rainbow unicorn stuff.  I’ve cried at my desk at work out of frustration, out of loneliness, out of just a feeling of doubt and fear…but no one here would know that.

Most of the people I know in the running community don’t know that either.  Well, they might now.  But I just feel like one of my core group of friends…people I have come to let into my tight circle…are lost to me.  And it sucks.  I told my mom the other day that I missed my running peeps…that I feel lonely.  And she said she could understand that.

Everyone can understand it, but not everyone knows how it feels unless they have been there.  I don’t like feeling like a failure, like a broken toy that has been cast aside.  I don’t feeling like I’m all alone in all of this.  Yeah, I know, I have my roommate and some close friends who aren’t runners who have checked in on me…but what about the people who should understand what I’m feeling the most?!  It sucks to feel so isolated when I’ve always tried to make it so no one would feel this way.

I just want someone to say, “How is the hip today?”  “How are you doing, honestly?”  “Do you want to dinner sometime?”  “Come out for coffee…we’d love to see you!”

Every race I miss or have to sit out…every upcoming event I stress out over whether I can do or not…it weighs so heavy on me right now.  I love seeing my friends do well in the sport…and I cheer the loudest for all of them.  But there is that little voice in the back of my head saying, “That could have been you hitting that new PR…that could have been you tackling that speed work…that could have been you placing in that race…”  Instead, I’m sidelined and doing what I can to keep my activity level up so my return in the (distant) future isn’t so rough.  And, to be frank, it just SUCKS!

Nothing turns off these thoughts these days.  I try to look past it…I try to stay positive…

But I can’t.  I am broken…and I don’t know how long it is going to take to get me back out there.  Every time I think about what happened before Boston, how much I fought to get to the finish line of that race…alone…crying for most of the course…I should be proud.  But I just notice that of the people in my group…I had the worst time.  I knew it was going to be rough, but that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done to myself.  Honestly.  It was a very lonely course from the start to the finish.  At times, I wanted to just give up…but I don’t give up…even when I really, really want to.  I’m stubborn like that.

But I miss my group.  I miss my friends.  I miss getting high fives and hugs and being told that I looked strong out there.  I miss being able to open up to people who aren’t my roommate and who aren’t my family.

I promise.  A torn hip labrum is a bitch to “fix”…but it isn’t contagious.  I just don’t want to feel so alone in all this anymore.

Running is competative and individual, I know…but for me…I’ve forged so many friendships that this cone of silence is killing me.  I just…miss feeling like one of the group.

I am not okay.  And I am not going to be okay for a long while.

I think I just want someone who has been there…done that…to tell me…that’s normal.  And maybe to invite me out for gluten-free pizza.

I miss running, sure.  But I miss those friendships more.

2 Replies to “The Lonliness of the Injured Long Distance Runner”

  1. You made me cry in the CoffeeTree! When are you allowed to start running? I can’t wait to see you on the 13th and I have SWORD for you and I want to talk to you about training and, and, and, I have missed you very much at our Frankfort races! When you are down, MESSAGE ME! I can’t promise I will drive an hour and a half for coffee but I will call you and I have a bad habit of staying on the phone forever!

  2. I just found your blog today (via some GF bagel tweets) and put you in my feed.

    I doubt you’re anywhere near me (DC/NoVA) but maybe I can support you virtually! I love my online running buds and am always happy to find more. And a fellow gluten-free’er? Even better.

    Being injured stinks, and a torn labrum sounds very hard. (I think my bud @runnerkristin is on her way back from that, maybe she can provide expert encouragement)

    I may have been oddly fortunate in NOT having running groups and friends, except online, and doing all my running alone – I didn’t have the same kind of situation/issues you describe, and I’m sorry you’re going through them on top of the injury….maybe telling folks in the group would help? So many runners will have gone through their own injury experience, they may just need a reminder to reach out. And you’re right that fear may be causing some of them not to – fear of not saying/doing the right thing, of not being able to handle your responses, of being reminded of their own painful situation.

    Speaking from my experience/perspective only, I’m not an expert.
    How you’re feeling is TOTALLY normal. Grief, fear, anger, melancholy, mood swings, tears. Aside from the identity, friends, goals and ways to spend your time on running, remember there’s physical and biochemical things you get from running – withdrawal from those is affecting your mood and outlook too. And nothing is quite like running. Pool running came the closest to giving me that feeling (sanity saver for me and my husband), and it introduced me to a lot of rehabbing runners/triathletes who gave me tips and referrals, made me feel like I could get through it, and were just good to spend time with while chugging away. I highly rec finding pool running near where you are in case you can find the same type of community and benefit. (also, with a waterproof case for my iPod, I managed 2.5h long “runs” in the pool.

    One thing that helped me when I had a (minor comparatively, for sure) injury was to frame that everything I was doing – PT and flexibility work that makes you want to scream sometimes, cross training, visiting my chiro (a miracle worker I am so grateful for), the early mornings in the pool, bike work at lunch, even resting – was training. It was all getting me back to when I could start my training plan up again (my injury happened early in a race buildup, and when I was able to run again, I decided not to run that race as I didn’t think I could do what I wanted, retargeted a race a few months past).

    If you work at it, you are going to come out of this so much stronger mentally as well as in healthier shape physically. Have you been able to figure out and address the causes of the injury? (sorry, haven’t binge-read your blog for background yet) That’s definitely something to work on.

    Every day, you can be doing something – aside from running – to make yourself a better runner. Core work, flexibility, yoga, mobility or stability work, learning form cues, weight work – all within the parameters you’re allowed of course. Work on nutrition if you need to (looks like you don’t). Explore every aspect of being a better stronger runner that doesn’t involve actual running and that you can do safely in your recovery – in that way, you’ll continue to make progress in areas that are easy to let slide when you CAN just go out and run, and you might build

    I also suggest seeking out and reading/watching about runners (or even triathletes) who were injured and made comebacks – like Deena Kastor (watch Spirit of the Marathon) or Meb after his hip problem. Or this triathlete Or read about Matt Long

    I found such reading inspiring – looking at people who’d had so much harder times, and what they did to get back and do what they could, helped me grit my teeth and go on. You can, and you will, get through this and get back to running.

    Let me know how else I can be of support or help – wishing you the best.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: