“Why does it seem like I’m always injured and no other runners are?”
In 2018, I was hobbling around the Spartan Race World Championship in a boot, having just broken my second metatarsal. A stranger approached me, without even saying hello first, and asked:
“Injured? Again?! Weren’t you just injured?”
I laughed and shrugged it off, but something about it stuck with me. Yes, I was injured again. And yes, I’d spent the better part of the last two years dealing with one stress fracture or another. As I watched everyone around me running 100-mile weeks or racing almost every weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder:
What was wrong with me? And who were these magical people who never got injured?
In my career as an athlete – and maybe yours too – every instance of injury seems world-ending. In these moments, I fully convince myself that I’ll never be able to run and compete again. Every time a decent stretch of good health comes, there’s always a tiny voice in the back of my head that says: enjoy this while it lasts, because it’ll all end soon. Through both of these times, the good and the bad, I’ve carried with me the stigma that I’m an “injury-prone” runner.
Sure, I’ve had my fair share of injuries, but is that a fair assessment?
There are a few things at play here.
First, runners are notoriously prone to, and often good at, hiding injury or pretending that it doesn’t exist. Maybe you are a person who broadcasts your injuries where other runners don’t. The telltale sign of an injured runner is when they disappear off Strava for weeks, then reappear without a word.
Injury is a part of every athletic journey. It’s just a part we are all ashamed to talk about, which is probably why you might feel like nobody else is injured.
If I’m injured and not running, everyone is going to know about it. Since I talk publicly about my injury and rehab process a lot, it may simply appear to people that I’m injured more often than other runners who don’t share.
Second, maybe there actually are things that contribute to more frequent injuries in some athletes. Training volume? Eating habits? Refusal to take rest days? No strength training? I fully know that I have made a lot of mistakes here (namely, being in a constant state of relative energy deficiency in sport, or RED-S).
But even once you “fix” those things, it doesn’t guarantee that you will be injury-free forever. I convinced myself that, once I started eating enough to reach a solid place in my eating disorder recovery, I’d never face another injury. Wrong. Sure, my injuries since have been less catastrophic, but it’s not a simple formula of do-x-and-get-y.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if the body worked that way?
Yes, some runners are just absolute freaks of nature, blessed with good genetics or running gaits that enable them to run injury-free for years. Yes, I want to throw things at them too. It’s hard to not get frustrated and caught up in the comparison game, especially when you feel like you’re doing everything right and, say, your significant other has never stretched or lifted weights in his life and he’s never once been injured.
On my darkest days, I sometimes worry that running isn’t the sport for me, when I compare my training volume with my competitors’. But maybe that’s also what keeps drawing us back – the constant pursuit of finding out how to do this sport without (or with a minimal amount of) injury, looking for that sweet spot. Perhaps some of our running friends figured that out at an earlier age. Perhaps some of them will figure it out at a later age.
Simply put: injury is a part of every athletic journey. It’s just a part we are all ashamed to talk about, which is probably why you might feel like nobody else is injured. But from a runner who does talk about it, I hear you. You’re not alone, even when it feels that way. And along those lines, let’s keep living like there’s nothing to be ashamed of, because it’s all part of the process.
From Summer 2022