The Hidden Gifts of Injury

It’s easy to feel like the world is falling apart when we are injured. It feels like our dreams our slipping through our fingers. We want to grab on tight, but the tighter we hold, the worse we make the cracks.

It feels like our bodies are betraying us. Our mind is willing, but our body refuses to keep up. We lose our routine, our community, our escape, our time to think about everything or nothing.

How do we navigate this time? When pushing harder just breaks us farther?


When those tough feelings come knocking, meet them with gratitude. I’m not saying to not feel your feelings. Embrace the loss. See it for what it is. Maybe you lost a race, a goal time, the community of weekly group runs, the mental health peace of a good run. Mourn that loss. It counts. Yes, other people have it worse. Guess what? Everyone can say that, except the person at the very end of the chain. You lost something, and it’s okay to not be okay about that.

See your loss for what it is, but don’t you dare let it cloud out all the sunbeams.

Gratitude has proven psychological benefits, including improving sleep, relationships, self-esteem, empathy, mental health, physical health, and psychological health. ( Running has a lot of those same benefits. If running has been put on hold for you due to injury (or life), then gratitude can help you get some of your sunshine back.

So let’s look at some of the hidden benefits of injury.

1. Time for Other Things

I’m currently getting my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. A decrease – or cessation – in running mileage means a lot of extra time, and this included time to get unseasonably ahead in my classes.

This might be the time you get to make more home-cooked meals. You might learn to play the piano or how to code. You could reorganize your running gear (please someone tell me you also have a designated pile where you throw your daily gear?). Reconnect with non-running friends. See if your runner friends want to meet up for lunch or a hike.

You have more time, and yes, you’d like to spend it running, but I challenge you to get creative with what you could do.

2. Developing Supplemental Skills

In November, I plan on running the Pinhoti 100. And I’ll be honest.

The vert scares me.

It’s less vertical gain than a lot of races. But it’s more than my first 100, Rocky Raccoon. About triple.

I already love bombing down a hill. I need to get better at up. So, I took this time of being injured to buy myself some trail poles (another gift of injury, ha!) and practice power hiking with trail poles. It actually helped that I wasn’t running, because I was forced to learn the technique at a walking pace first. Gradually, as I healed and cautiously tried running, I was able to incorporate them in.

New trail poles, who dis?

I’ve also added in some core and strength work, which will help me as I return.

3. Developing Mental Health Skills

Let’s be honest. Running is as much for our mental health as for our physical health. When I can’t run, I can feel the dip. Not really a good thing, right?

Well, it forces me to develop other tools in my mental health toolbox. This is an analogy I like because it’s so visual. You need a hammer in a toolbox. But if you try to build a house with only a hammer, one of two things is going to happen. Either (a) the house isn’t getting built, or (b) once the house is built, you need to stop swinging that hammer around or else it’s coming back down. . . very quickly. You need a hammer, a screwdriver, some pliers, etc.

Our mental health is no different. We need to have a lot of ways of caring for ourselves. We are multifaceted beings – physical, social, spiritual, emotional, psychological, intellectual. We need to feed all parts of ourselves, and we need to feed these parts in different ways. Running is great in that it feeds so many parts of myself, but using running as the only tool is a surefire way to end up in exercise-addiction, or injured, or both. Eating a brownie is enjoyable; eating twelve causes a stomach ache. Injury teaches me to develop my other tools besides going for a run – like calling a friend, journaling, meditating, etc.

Paint-by-numbers are surprisingly entrancing and enjoyable.

4. Rest. . . and Appreciation of Rest

We runners like to push ourselves. We like to test our limits. Whether that’s running our daily route a little bit faster, or running our first marathon, or setting a PR, we like to pursue improvement. Dream big. Then go chase those big dreams.

It’s easy to go out and grind, grind, grind. What’s harder – at least for me – is rest.

But rest is where the magic happens. Running is a physiologically stressful activity. We are breaking down our muscles. . . with the plan of building them back stronger. Effort alone doesn’t produce growth. We have to rest, allow our bodies to adapt, and then we grow.

Injury makes me rest and reminds me why it’s a good thing, including when I can train again.

5. MORE Grateful with LESS

I have slowly returned to running after injuring my knee, and by slowly, I mean slowly. I didn’t go on my usual trails, where the undulating surface could aggravate things. I went on flat roads, and I went at a pace where sometimes I questioned if I was even moving forward.

I was grinning like a banshee the whole time.

Knee brace, shirt from Rocky Raccoon 100. . . unstoppable.

Injury reminds us that it’s not the PRs; it’s not the medals. Coming back to it without all the glitz and glamor reminds us – running feels like home.

This time wasn’t wasted; it was invested differently. It’s going to pay some big dividends. What are some things that you are grateful for, in your injury?

2 responses to “The Hidden Gifts of Injury”

  1. As someone who practises tons of high-impact sports, injury is sadly common, and it always bums me out when it strikes. But I see that as an opportunity to catch up on other supplemental skills, like you mentioned. My diet becomes tighter, other muscle groups can get more work (if the injury is limited to one limb), and I also get to do the things that I normally wouldn’t have.

    Great post, Emily. Thanks for sharing!


    • I am with you there, Stuart! I usually wallow for a couple days, then realize I have time and energy to devote to other pursuits – either supplemental ones, or different ones altogether. Thanks for reading and reminding me of the gift of time!


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