the emotional anatomy of a comeback

When you work on a comeback, it’s a crazy range of all the emotions. It’s truly kind of crazy what all goes into it, and how my mood changes from day to day.

At first, I couldn’t imagine a time when I would be able to run again. Heck, I didn’t know if I would be able to walk without a limp again! But as time went on, what seemed impossible became possible. That’s when all the emotions really kicked in.



I think fear is the biggest thing to keep a person from their comeback. We can be afraid of so many things: failure, or the chance of re-injury come to mind. Fear kept me from starting back to actually running sooner. I just couldn’t see how I could manage to make my body run without shattering my pinned together ankle. Irrational? Absolutely. But fear is like that. I can’t help but remember being at this stage and never wanted to be there again!

winter break


When I finally decided it was “safe” for me to run, I was still very plagued with doubt. In my mind, I had built this all up so much, and I just didn’t know what was going to happen. Even after my first few running sessions, I’m still not sure what the future holds. While nothing feels wrong, nothing feels right, either. It’s hard to stay positive in this comeback when I can’t seem to remember the joy of running.



This is hard one for me. I have always been embarrassed to show weakness, and in my comeback, I know I’m vulnerable. Before my injury, I always used to run before dawn, which meant no one could ever really see me. Now, I have to run in sunlight, because I’m scared of tripping or taking a misstep. This leaves me incredibly exposed to anyone else who might be out and about, and it’s hard to put myself out there. I wish I had a sign that read “rehabbing from injury” just so that there is a justification for my awkward gait or labored breathing. That being said, I know this is a “it’s not you, it’s me” feeling, and my comeback shouldn’t be negatively influenced by my own self-consciousness.

couch to 5k


Starting over is hard. Like really hard. The body has to learn to move all over again. It’s hard to breathe and find a rhythm. I remember going out for six, seven, or eight miles like it was nothing, and now I struggle to manage two or three. It’s hard to stay in the now and honor the progress I’ve made, without letting it feel like defeat.



When all is said and done, the feeling of empowerment creeps in. To overcome any injury or setback, to get back to doing what you love? It’s everything. Seriously, everything. The feeling of victory is like nothing else and honestly, it’s like you’re invincible. While the emotions are hard to process, I love reaching this pinnacle and feeling on top of the world! I can’t help but be proud of how far I’ve come, no matter what the other emotions are. There’s lots more of this to come!

couch to 5K

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What emotions are involved when you return to doing something after being away for a break or injury?

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33 Responses to the emotional anatomy of a comeback

  1. Catrina says:

    This is an excellent analysis, Jenn! I feel you on the “embarrassment” one.
    When I was coming back from my injury last year, I had to do walking breaks on my runs. I hated being overtaken by other runners while I was walking. I would have loved to have a sign with an explanation on it. 😉
    Looking back, I wish I could have been less self-conscious, but it’s hard!

    • runswithpugs says:

      I mean, I would always do run/walk for a variety of reasons, but I felt like I looked a little less on the struggle bus. Plus, I could run in the dark so no one could see me. I know the only person who cares is me, but it’s hard to move past it.
      runswithpugs recently posted…week 15 (20): happy easter!My Profile

  2. While there are so many negative/difficult feelings that go along with starting to run again, its also an opportunity to start over. You will get to achieve new milestones again and everything you do can be a “post injury PR”. As hard as it is, I think its important to focus on all the accomplishments you are making!

  3. stephanie says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I know I will be in your shoes soon as I return to running. I will most certainly reference this article and know I am not alone.

  4. Coco says:

    Oh, this resonates so much. It’s also not a strait line. You may feel empowered one day and then face a defeating setback the next. The road to recovery is challenging, but makes us stronger in many ways!

  5. I love that you ended with empowerment, because it’s true! It would be easy to just never run again, wouldn’t it? You took the hard, but more rewarding, road.

    The fear never quite goes away, not for most of us, anyway. I’ve never had such a devastating injury, knock on wood, but I did have some pretty severe IT problems at one point. It was years ago, and I’ve been past that a long time, but it’s still something I’m fearful about recurring.

    As far as running outside . . . truly, most people are way too self involved to notice other people!

    • I look at the other runners all the time. Look at their form, clothes, etc. If they are faster, I try to see how their stride is different than mine or if they lift their feet higher. If they are slow, are they dragging their feet. Maybe I’m strange.

    • runswithpugs says:

      IT band issues are scary because that can just keep cropping up and really lead to so many chronic problems. I hate that that’s something in the back of your mind.

      I know in my brain that no one cares what I’m doing, but like Darlene, I’m a people watcher. I don’t judge, but I do watch gait and speed, and outfits and shoes (ok, I do judge poorly fitted shoes). I just hope no one is out there passing mental judgment on my lack of grace right now, because it would break my heart, but this is where my head is at right now.
      runswithpugs recently posted…week 15 (20): happy easter!My Profile

  6. Laurie says:

    Jenn, you may have felt fear, defeat, doubt, etc., but your comeback has been inspiring to a lot of people! To those of us who don’t see you every day and get a once a week snapshot of your progress, we can see the improvements so clearly. The emptional stress of your comeback has now been compounded by the every day stress of living through a crisis but you have continued. You are amazing, Jenn! Kudos to you.
    Laurie recently posted…Three Of the Craziest Things I Ever DidMy Profile

    • runswithpugs says:

      That really means the world to me to hear you say that. I think having this recovery and comeback as a focus has actually helped me deal with crisis times – after all, I have had nothing planned, nothing to really look forward to, nothing besides getting healthy, and I’ve had the time and space to do that with zero pressure or expectations. Don’t get me wrong, my anxiety is up and I am just heartbroken for what we are all going through right now, but I feel like I have coping mechanisms I might not ordinarily have had.
      runswithpugs recently posted…week 15 (20): happy easter!My Profile

  7. I do remember feeling many of these same emotions after coming back from injury myself. It’s scary and the worry of reinjury is real. You have to learn to trust your body again. Take it slow and steady!
    Deborah Brooks recently posted…10 minute Tank Top Arms & Shoulders WorkoutMy Profile

  8. As you know I’ve been there. I was very anxious and impatient. Not like you. I wanted to be my old self and I wanted it sooner than later. So I pushed myself and got injured. Hopefully, I’ve learned from that.

    I was also surprised that my fitness did come back and that it took a long time but I was actually better than before. I would never have believed.

    I told myself that I wold be satisfied if I could just run.. It wasn’t true. I am competitive by nature.

    I still worry about my ankle and it’s been 8 years. Every day!!! I stare at it. If it’s stiff I worry. If it hurts, I worry.

    Yup, I am a worrier too.

    • runswithpugs says:

      Yeah, I have zero interest in injuring myself again. I’m comfortable with biding my time until I’m stronger. Right now, I will be sastisfied if I can run. That goal may change once I really am running again, but one day at a time. Of course, I’m sure some of that is fear and doubt.

  9. YEs, there are definitely steps to a comeback and empowerment is the best one but you do have to go through some or all of the other steps to make it back. Doubt is a biggie after you’ve been down and out for awhile.
    Sandra Laflamme recently posted…In need of a goal? Check out these Virtual Race Series!My Profile

    • runswithpugs says:

      Doubt was hard to face. Every day I have a run scheduled, my brain has an argument over whether or not I can or should do it. I just have to shake it off and get through it.

  10. This is such a great description. I felt all of those things when I came back from a sprained ankle last year. There are still things I’m afraid of…like running trails since that was where I was injured. But the biggest thing for me to get over was fearing I would never be back to where I was pre injury. Thankfully I’m starting to see real progress on that front.
    Montana @ Pretty Lil Mudder recently posted…Social Distancing Week 4: 4/20-4/26My Profile

  11. Wendy says:

    I’ve come back from a few different times off–I think I mostly experienced fear. Fear of not resuming the running I was accustomed to, fear of getting hurt again, and yes, fear of failure. After running for most of my life, I don’t find coming back as emotional as it did in my younger years. You’ve done a nice job with your comeback!

    • runswithpugs says:

      Fear is a powerful feeling. I hate being afraid – it brings me back to a time in my life when I was truly scared of so many things. I don’t want that creeping in ever again.

  12. Yes, all kinds of emotions. I know that dance well. While my running eased back without a hitch, I was fearful of falling and splitting open that nasty 6-inch suture seam on my knee. Thankfully, with my situation, I wore a compression sleeve over my knee for awhile (more as a security blanket that actual support) so I had that to draw on for ease of mind during those first few weeks of running posts-recovery. Do you have any kind of an ankle brace you could wear, for a little extra support, until you’re more comfortable running?

    • runswithpugs says:

      The ankle brace is a little restrictive. I tried it and I can’t move my foot as well with it on. I may pull out the ace bandage, but the doctor and PT weren’t so keen on my wearing that. I’ve tripped twice and lightly rolled off the sidewalk once, and I was ok. It’s just a matter of doing it to prove that I’m ok, you know? Kind of like the first ding on a new car lol!
      runswithpugs recently posted…week 15 (20): happy easter!My Profile

  13. I think the steps to work through emotions caused by injury are similar to coming to terms with grief. You need to go through all of them and come out on the other side stronger.
    Debbie Woodruff recently posted…Benefits of Running, the Pandemic VersionMy Profile

  14. Rachel says:

    I am SO happy for you. This has been such a long journey and you’ve persevered! One foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. You’ve got this.

  15. So many emotions! I’m sure journaling your experiences through your blog and social media has really helped you get where you are today!

  16. Heather Hart says:

    I’m right there with you. Last year was a year of multiple injuries for me, so I ended up having to take long bouts of time off. I used to get frustrated with comebacks. But now I try to view it as a big science experiment. My body has gone from injured to fit before, I KNOW I can do it again! Glad to see you back out there!!!
    Heather Hart recently posted…How to Successfully Tackle the 4x4x48 / 5x4x24 Running ChallengesMy Profile

    • runswithpugs says:

      It’s pretty scary, but I see so many others come back from injuries, so I feel confident. Some days are harder and scarier than others, but that’s just part of the process.

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