Monday, December 23, 2013

Overcoming Setbacks and Injuries

I hate injuries. They come at inopportune times and they keep me from doing what I love doing - training and racing.

Since taking up endurance sports I've been relatively injury-free. That was until recently. I've mentioned in previous postings that I've been having some issues with my calf. A short period of feeling good, training a bit more. And then bam, you're back to square one.

Injuries are extremely frustrating like that. You feel as though you're slowly climbing up a hill. You're making small progress. You're eager to continuing climbing (maybe too quickly). Then when you re-injure or have a slight set-back, it's like you're back at the base all over again.

Injuries can be valuable though. They can teach us a lot, both physically and mentally. But, we can't learn from them if we're still fighting them. Be open to the valuable lessons that dealing with an injury can teach. It's all part of the journey. Here's a few thoughts when those nagging things come up.

1. Stop - Don't push it. Once you feel something isn't right - stop. Even if it means walking the 3 miles back home. It's tempting to keep going, to push through the end of the session. I've had that feeling too. As endurance athletes we're conditioned to persevere through pain. But push at mile 25 of the Boston Marathon. Push at mile 99 of your first century bike ride. Don't push at a time when results are meaningless and jeopardizing your season is at stake. 

2. Diagnose - If the injury is severe and/or debilitating, your first step is to obviously consult a physician, chiropractor, physical therapist, or other health professional. But for other injuries, those small, nagging issues that just pop us, self-diagnosis can be useful. What do I mean by this? Think about what's changed in your training between the time you were healthy and the time you got injured. Did you come off a three-week break and increase the training load too quickly? Have your biomechanics changed at all, possibly from tightness or imbalances in some muscles? Are your shoes different? For me, the most useful process is to think about all constants and variables in my training, and see where things may have changed. Ask questions of yourself. I took the month of October off. Could this level of inactivity have contributed to tightness in my calf? I wasn't doing yoga during this time either. Culprit? Possibly. When I resumed training I was running 2-3 times per week. These were mostly base runs of no more than 1 hour 15 minutes at a fairly comfortable, zone 2 effort. Did I ramp up my training too quickly? Probably not because my intensity, frequency and volume were all fairly low.

3. Get Input - I'm not a one problem, one solution kind of guy. I have the strategies that work for me, but there are tons of athletes, coaches, friends, doctors, physical therapists, etc, who all know something I don't. Those are the things I want to hear and the things I try to search for. Resources like blogs, Youtube, and journal articles can all be helpful. I'm open to learning and constantly looking for new information. That's the only way to improve and perform better.

4. Adapt - Your training plan is never set in stone. Use this time to improve other weaknesses. My calf injury forced me to look at and focus on other aspects of training. One goal of mine is to improve my endurance and power on the bike this off-season. The 10 days I took off from running, I did a focused block of bike training. Instead of seeing my calf injury as a set-back, it helped me think about and prioritize other things that need improvement.

5. Patience - This is, in my opinion, the hardest lesson to master, but also the most valuable. Why? Because patience requires an intimate understanding of your body. How much is too much? What's just enough? I remember back in college, when I was playing soccer, where this really came back to hurt me. After a solid spring my freshman year I headed into the summer excited about the prospects for the next season. I was playing well and in really good shape. That summer, during a match, I fractured a bone in my ankle. The timetable wasn't ideal. Rehab took the rest of the summer and it was doubtful I'd make the first game of the season. I pressured myself to get back as soon as I could. The pressure from my coaches was equally as tough. I was compensating in my running and agility to try and minimize the pain. I just wanted to play. I did play in the first couple games. But, then I re-injured my ankle in training. Long story, short I only played in a few games that year. I was sidelined for about 75% of the season, which ended up being my last. It was a tough way to end my career in the sport I loved in that way. But it was also a valuable lesson in patience, one I won't forget.

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