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Running is a passion of mine. As a mom of a large family, it helps me maintain my sanity. I was invited to contribute the following article as the first in a series for the Catholic Women Run ministry. 

Injury, the dreaded “i-word.” The one thing you never want to tell your running buddies is “I’m out for __ weeks.” When running has become a part of you and sweating in the sunshine is a crucial part not only to your daily routine, but maybe even your sense of well-being, a side-lining injury can seem like a jail sentence.

For many of us, the prospect of an injury is not an issue of “if,” but rather “when.” And the question we will then face is “What am I going to do about it?”.  But to answer that, we first need to think through the first cause of the injury. The way I see it, there are two types of injury: the one we sensed coming and the one that we didn’t. I’ve experienced both.

When You See It Coming

Several years ago, I ran a downhill half marathon when I was 4 months postpartum. I had kept up running throughout much of my pregnancy, and I thankfully was able to jump back into running six weeks after birth. I’d even seen my sports chiropractor for a check-up and to make sure I was good to go. “You’ll be fine as long as you do these essential strengthening exercises to reactivate your core and hips,” he said.  But in my earnest desire to just be out there again running, combined with the many demands of a newborn, those exercises were rarely completed.

The night before the race, I was unsettled. Waking early that morning and leaving my house, I was still unsettled.  Even getting on the bus to head to the start…I couldn’t shake this sense.  A voice in my head kept saying, “Don’t run this race.”  Another voice said “You put in the mileage. You paid the entrance fee. Your friends are running. You’ll be fine.”  I ran it. And I still regret it. I injured my hip in a place that can only be physically repaired through surgery. Sigh…so much for my comeback race.

Fortunately, I was able to avoid surgery by limiting my mileage for a few months, hitting physical therapy with a vengeance and consistently strengthening and loosening the surrounding muscle systems in order to keep my hip in check.

The moral here is to listen to those senses. Call it the Holy Spirit, your guardian angel or plain old body whispers, pay attention to your inner voices, even when they don’t seem to make sense. There’s always another race and another day. (And if you’re a postpartum mama, check out MuTu System to get your core running-ready again.)

When It’s Out of Nowhere

The other injury culprits are those that we cannot see coming. These are usually out of nowhere and unrelated to running.  Shortly after my second marathon, when I was in hope of training for a third, I broke my foot on a family camping trip. I was devastated and in a boot cast for 10 long weeks. Then, just this spring, I was in a car accident, complete with nasty whiplash, that sidelined me for 3 weeks.

How God Sees It

In all instances of injury, we need to find perspective. And what better perspective is there to consider than that of Our Lord? The physical wound, bound in KT tape or a cast, that keeps us from running is a detour from our own cherished plans and desires. We won’t get to see things play out in the near future as we had hoped. And that’s a major bummer. Our plans for a new personal record or of completing that new or favorite race…gone.  We’ve had the taste of feeling stronger and healthier…now we must find a new way to keep ourselves fit.  Or that good deep conversation time during a long run with a dear friend…not gonna happen any time soon. Our dreams, our running goals can be dashed in an instant.

The fact is that God foresaw this injury, whether we sensed it or whether we were blindsided by it. Nothing happens in our lives without His knowledge. And He makes all things work for our good (Rom. 8:28). But we have to ask more than, “Why did this happen? Why me? Why now?” While disappointment and even anger are natural, we need to work to move beyond it. We have to ask, “Was I too attached, maybe, to my own goals and plans, so much so that I couldn’t see His? What is God showing me in this? What can I learn here? How does He want me to use this time away from the sport I love?”

He will show you and be with you, for He is with us both in times of disappointment and injury and in times of great health and strength. But here’s the catch: we have to ask to see with His eyes, to know with His heart, the lesson in this hard time. You have to lean in. If you’re brave enough to ask Him the hard questions in this time of injury with sincerity and an open heart, He will show up and meet you there. Let’s not waste the opportunity of using this injury to bring us closer to our ultimate goal: union with God.

“And Be Grateful”

In addition to seeking to internalize God’s view during our injured state, we can also use this time to reach out externally to other runners around us. Remember my broken foot? That injury, as unpleasant and unwanted as it was, unleashed my inner running cheerleader. Not only did I volunteer to drive my Catholic running friends to the race, but I drove the point-to-point route, stopping along the way to holler, clap, wave a sign and ring my cowbell. And I loved it!

When I showed up on the sidelines to support my friends, I started to see all those running in a new light…they were warriors. Whether old or young, Christian or non-believers, these were ordinary folks striving to accomplish great things one step at a time, not knowing the outcome, but hoping for the best. It was a joy to support them all in their time of travail. As much as I wanted to be out there hitting the pavement with them, my front row view of the larger running community allowed me to see the racers as a whole—from the speedsters at the front to the hoping-just-to-finish runners toward the end. And it made me even more proud to be among their ranks. I was grateful, not only for the ability and desire to run, but also that there were others out there to run alongside.  And to this day, my inner cheerleader still regularly surfaces…usually around a race’s mile 3. I can’t help but offer an encouraging “You’ve got this!” or “Nice work!” to one who’s struggling or to one who’s killing it.

Our times of athletic injury, just as in the rest of life’s trials, have a purpose and a place. But it’s up to us to take it to God to make sense of it. It’s up to us to not waste it and to learn from it. And with God’s help, we can work to see His perspective. In time and trust, we’ll soon be back out there again, with a fresh spring in our step, our fast feet creating a cadence of gratitude (Col. 3:15) in our stride and more deeply, in our hearts.