The 5 Stages of (Injury) Grief Runners Go Through



It can happen unexpectedly to any runner. You’ve been training for a race, and running has gone well. You’ve been improving, and you see success.

Then a dreaded ache or pain happens. You think “I can just run through this.” Maybe you back off mileage, or perhaps you continue to run through that minor ache.

Eventually, you find the issue is not improving and in fact, it’s becoming more of a problem.

Now, what? Do you see a doctor? Do just rest? You’ve already tried running through the pain and it’s gotten worse. Any injured runner or athlete normally goes through a series of thoughts about an injury:

Stage 1: Denial

This phase begins when you feel the first twinges of pain. You think: “I can run through this issue and I’ll be fine”. Fine becomes worse and later down the road you find yourself with a more severe problem.

This is the most dangerous stage to be in. If something doesn’t feel right, you should take a few days to rest. Often times a minor issue becomes a very serious injury. Stress fractures can start out as a simple ache and develop into a fracture. The phrase “rest is best” applies here. Denying small problems is only lying to yourself.

Stage 2: Sadness

The next phase begins when you realize the issue is worse than you thought. Your problem isn’t getting better. You’ve backed off of your mileage or even stopped running altogether.

Yet, you still have an unwanted pain. You begin to feel sadness related to running. Normally rock bottom comes when your doctor comes out with the results.
The doctor reads the results and it hits you like 100 bricks.

You are injured…

Now it’s time for a cast or at the very least no running. Either way, you are lost without running. You begin feeling sad for yourself. You throw multiple pity parties for one. You don’t dare invite any of your running friends because they just “don’t get it.”

They have never been injured the way you’ve been injured…Running has never betrayed them like it betrayed you.

Stage 3: Confusion

Now that you are without your beloved sport, what do you do now? You begin looking for new activities to do to fill the void of running.

  • You catch up on your sleep…only to dream about running.
  • You call all of your friends…and talk about running.
  • You browse the internet…and find multiple articles about running.
  • You begin reading…about running.
  • You start watching movies…about running.

Finally, you find something that has nothing to do with running. You clean you house; you remodel your kitchen and heck you even do laundry.

You are confused because you’ve found new hobbies to enjoy that don’t have anything to do with running. What will happen when you start running again? Will you still enjoy these hobbies?

Stage 4: Motivation

The fourth stage is when you realize, your injury is only temporary. You are going to beat the system and come back stronger. Maybe you’ve just gotten your cast off or maybe you’ve gotten a new strength plan.

Whatever the reason, it hits you that you can cross train now. You can get your endorphins from something. You join a gym, cross train like a machine and continue to recover.

During this time period you begin to look for goal races. Your day consists of waking up, cross training, going to work and staring longingly for a goal race. You are determined to heal and recover, without pushing it of course. You are going to show the world you can beat any set back.

Stage 5: Welcome Back!

This stage might feel awesome, or it might be tough. As someone who has been injured several times, I’ve had both situations. Some injuries, I come back and felt like every run is “the greatest run ever” while some injuries I’ve come back and felt like “every run is awful and hard.”

It’s important not to compare yourself to anyone, not even yourself. Every runner comes back from an injury differently and every injury is different. You continue to slowly increase your mileage and shake out the rust. Slowly and steadily, like the little engine that could, you are back to running.

Hollie Sick is a New Jersey-based runner and blogger who has completed nearly 30 half marathons. Learn more about Hollie at her blog, or follow her on Twitter.

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