Face it, it happens to all of us. The nasty ‘I’ word: injury. Unless you’re a superhuman freak of nature, then you’ve been there at some point. And your injury might lie anywhere on this spectrum of pain. And it might be defined in any number of ways: medical, nagging, chronic, debilitating… We can handle pain – boat loads of pain. But injury most certainly also brings with it frustration, fear, and doubt. It is in these moments of frustration, fear, and doubt that even the toughest athlete struggles.
And that’s okay.
But an injury doesn’t have to define you, or your racing and training goals. And it certainly doesn’t have to set your limits.
There is frustration in knowing that you suddenly cannot do the things you normally wouldn’t think twice about, not without pain or the need for constant vigilance. And more frustration may stem from knowing you did something wrong to cause this: a weakness, or an imbalance, or improper mechanics, or even just a stupid fall. There is fear in not knowing if or when you’ll feel ‘normal’ again. Will it ever get better? Fear that your goals will never be attained, or even attainable again. And doubt creeps in insidiously. It sounds like the click of soft pedaling, and your heartbeat thudding in your ears, and the scream of your muscles begging you to stop – and you do. It says things like, “I can’t do this, because… it will hurt me/I’m not strong enough/I’ll be injured all over again.” It’s your first thought upon waking: “Will I even be able to run today?” And your last thought before falling asleep, “Why does it still hurt?”
It is a universal process. You are not alone.
But these things don’t have to haunt you! They can instead be focused to help you improve, become more attuned with you body, and remind you of why you’re passionate about this sport in the first place. Yes, I could say it, some sappy trope about how the process of recovering from an injury is all part of your life journey to better know yourself… But you already know that.
Instead, let’s focus on what you CAN do, instead of what you can’t control.
1. Get help.
In theory, if you’re suffering from an injury, I hope first that you’ve seen the proper healthcare professionals to help you recover. This is going to seem obvious, but do what they say. All those silly little exercises – they are insanely important. If you’re ever in the mood to be humbled, ask a PT for some stabilizing exercises and see how ridiculously badly you do on your first attempt. Your body will learn quickly, but sometimes that neuromuscular control is just not there.
And then set-up a support network to help you out. If sport is the backbone of your community (like it is mine), an injury can be not only frustrating, but also isolating. Stay in contact with your friends, your coach, your community, even if you can’t be there in the workout. You might even get to know them better when you aren’t distracted by sticking to the right interval, but actually having a conversation.
2. Focus on technique.
So, you can’t do what you want. Suck it up – that’s life. Instead, pick something you can do and make it perfect. Cultivate an attention to detail. Put all that frustration to good use and create a movement of beauty. Once you’ve got it, pick another tiny detail to perfect. You know how it goes when you’re training like crazy, and barely have time to shovel food into your mouth before it’s time to sleep, and you just can’t give enough time to the small stuff. Give some time to the small stuff when you’re working through an injury. Bone breaks and muscle strains universally require 6-8 weeks to heal. Habits take 20-30 days to form. You can form some good habits in 6-8 weeks!
3. Have some fun.
Like I said before – when you’ve made training and racing a priority in your life and you’re super exhausted from training ALL THE TIME and barely have time for food and rest… you can sometimes also forget that there are other things in life. What?! Other things? Yes, like friends, and family, and hobbies – you know, the ones that aren’t triathlon related. Go ahead, revisit some of those things. You might even enjoy them! It doesn’t mean you’re giving up on triathlon, it just means you can put a little more time and effort into your hobbies and relationships while you’re recovering.
Or, instead of diving headlong into training even harder to compensate for what you can’t do, instead, do things that remind why you love to swim, bike, or run. If you need some help or inspiration – check out Charlie’s Workout of the Week. Go ahead, be the speedo guy playing sharks and minnows. Or sport your favorite pair of jorts and this t-shirt and cruise on your bike for the scenery instead of the workout. You could even teach someone else how to do the things you love.
4. Be grateful.
One of my best friends is a huge proponent of acknowledging your gratitude as a way to be happy. There are days that I cannot get over myself enough to be even a little grateful, but most of the time, it works wonders to dispel a bad mood. How great is running water? You never think about it until you don’t have a toilet… The ability to walk is something I cherish. Even more after 5 weeks when I couldn’t walk at all, and another 5 weeks when it was an enormous struggle. Be grateful for the mornings you wake up wanting to conquer the world in your next race, even if you have no idea when it will happen. Be grateful for each incremental little step of progress you make in your recovery, even when no one else cares.
And remember, in time, this too shall pass. You’ll barely remember how awful it was once it isn’t awful anymore.