Now, I think I would be guilty of being a bit dramatic if I compared being diagnosed with a terminal illness to that of being stricken with a running injury. But with that noted, I have sustained a marathon ending knee injury and, for me, it sure felt like it was the end of the world!
Elsabeth Kubler-Ross, in her seminal work, “On Death and Dying,” (Macmillan Publishing Company, 1969) presents five stages that terminally ill persons may go through upon learning of their illness. I think many runners go through these exact five stages when we are afflicted with a running injury—I know I did.
- Denial. The first thing I did after sustaining my injury was made a plan to run again the next day just to make sure it wasn’t just in my head or a 24 hour thing. Also, right after I got the injury I “googled” my symptoms and hoped there was nothing conclusive, and if there was something that did seem to apply to me, I ignored it.
- Anger. I ran the next day and couldn’t stand the pain so I stopped and walked (I also stretched a random muscle every 10 feet in case there was something tight—yup, back to stage one). The whole way back to my house I was furious with myself about the stupid things I did to incur the injury and all the great things I was now going to miss out on now that I was being sidelined.
- Bargaining. For me, prayer was quite prominent at this stage. I made deals with God (or any higher being who would listen to me). Deals like “If I don’t run for a whole week will you fix it?” or “If I spend more time with my family and do the jobs around the house that I have been avoiding can you make me better?”
- Depression. I soon felt very sorry for myself because I was no longer able to train, bond, and laugh with my running buddies (now they would be laughing and talking about me instead). I was also very despondent because the race I was training for was now slipping away and my knee was not getting any better.
- Acceptance. At this point, race day was almost upon me and I could barely walk. I had to come to terms with my injury and accept that I would not be participating in the event. I had to put that race in the past. It was now time to concentrate on physiotherapy and strengthening exercises so I would be able to get back to running again. I realized it would be a long journey toward the unknown but I couldn’t sit around and feel sorry for myself. I had to start moving forward!
Is getting a running injury similar to being diagnosed with a terminal disease? Many would say “certainly not,” and I would have to agree. But the feelings can be the same. You feel like someone has just had the rug pulled from beneath him. When you are in the eye of the tornado, it is very scary (especially when cows and buildings are flying around). If you go through the “five stages of a running injury,” it is totally understandable, because, to many runners, an injury really IS the end of the world.
(This is the first in a two-part series. Part two: “Starting Over.”)