Injury and Recovery

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This article, by Ray Charbonneau, originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of our magazine. In the aftermath of Boston, we figured it was a good time to share it again.

Injury & Recovery

A 10 Step Process

All runners, whether joggers or ultra-marathoners, fun-runners or Olympians, dread the one inevitable downside to the running lifestyle, the injury. When an injury occurs and you can’t get your daily running fix, an understanding of the 10 stages of recovery can help you make it through the experience with equanimity.

The key to understanding the stages is not to feel like you must go through every one of them in precise order. Instead, it’s more helpful to look at them as guides in the recovery process—they help you understand and put into context where you are.


You will probably react to your injury with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the injury and keep trying to run when you shouldn’t, to avoid the guilt and anxiety that comes from missing your planned runs.


You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” a la Nancy Kerrigan. Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for your injury on your shoes or your training plan.

You may also try to bargain in vain with your body, trying to find a way to run that avoids aggravating the injury. Please try to temper this, as permanent damage to your running form may result.


Next comes a long period of sad reflection when you realize you have to wait for your body to heal. This is a normal stage of recovery, so do not be talked out of it by well-meaning friends and their “miracle cures.” It is important that you experience the pain fully and not hide from it, avoid it, or escape from it with alcohol or comfort food.

Encouragement from others is not helpful to you during this stage of grieving. You may even isolate yourself from your usual running friends on purpose, for watching them run or listening to them talk about running leads to feelings of emptiness or despair.


You’re entirely ready to humbly ask your doctor’s assistance to resolve your shortcomings. You decide to admit to your doctor the exact nature of your injury and make a searching and fearless inventory of your symptoms.

As your treatment progresses, you continue to take personal inventory, and when pain or weakness presents itself, promptly admit it, and do any additional therapy your doctor suggests.

THE UPWARD TURNinjury and healing symbols for charbonneau article 4.23.16

At long last, your physical symptoms lessen, and your depression begins to lift. The wrenching pain is gone, and you once again anticipate some good race times to come, and yes, even find joy in the experience of cross-training.

As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you start to look forward and plan how you will return to training in the future. Eventually, you will be able to set a date where you can attempt to run without pain.


Finally the day comes where you go for your first tentative run. You find that you’ve forgotten how hard running can be. Halfway through your “easy” three mile run, you’re sore, out of breath, and taking a quick break “to adjust your shoelace.” The next two days are an agony of stiff muscles and tender feet, but you are elated. Everything hurts—but you can run again.


Your memories of your fitness level from before your injury color your expectations, but you live one day at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to improvement, and profit from the suffering that comes across your path. The energy expended on each day’s run is a deposit that’s returned with interest when you extend yourself and attempt to run farther and faster.


You come to believe that a power greater than yourself can help prevent future injuries. You talk to the chiropractor that your friend swears has kept him pain-free for the last five years, the expert in Graston Technique who’s working with an Olympian, the Feldenkrais practitioner who helped your mother recover from her stroke, and many others. You make a decision to turn your will and your body over to the best therapy, as you understand it.


As you strive to improve, you accept with serenity that age affects everyone, strive for the courage to change the things about your training plan which should be changed, and trust you have the wisdom to distinguish orthotics and new shoes from compression socks and kinesio tape.


After a number of tune-up races, everything finally comes together. Months of hard work have paid off. You are back where you belong, flowing smoothly behind the lead pack, confidently waiting for your moment. You are a powerful machine, ready to repel any and all challenges.

The time has come. You gather yourself for your triumphant surge to the front, take the first accelerated stride, and the excruciating pain in your leg marks the completion of one circle and the beginning of the next.  Ω

Injured? Waiting anxiously for your next injury? Why not relax and read one of Ray’s books —find out more at

To read more from our magazine, click here.

To read from our current issue, click here.


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