Taking Advantage of Injury

Taking Advantage of Injury

Being injured is never on an athlete’s to do list. Unfortunately, at times it has a way of forcing itself there. On the road to recovery from that injury, you’re much better off keeping it at the top of the list until it’s healed.

This doesn’t mean you neglect your need to stay active, give up hope of ever returning or become a recluse, hiding out until you’re better. This is the time to be patient, rest, re-evaluate, re-connect and re-focus on other aspects of your training. Some psychological research has been done theorizing that individuals who have faced adversity and faltered in the past are more likely to show persistent effort and reach the top in the future. What a great theory.

I am recently returning to running from a foot stress fracture in November. My 25-year athletic history began as a runner and this marks my first official running-related injury that has temporarily pulled me away from a sport I dearly love. I’d like to share some tips about to take advantage of injury, or any perceived setback for that matter. If you are going through something similar, I hope these will give you some ideas of how you can come out of an injury better and stronger – both physically and mentally.

  • Take a deep breath. Sounds simple, right? But when it feels like everything you’ve worked for has come crashing down around you, it’s easy to panic. Don’t be in denial of where you are right now and what is happening.
  • No pity parties. Focus on what’s in your control and what is not. Anybody can be positive or have a larger vision when everything is going their way. The real challenge comes when you get derailed. If your injury is something broken or sprained, no matter how hard you try you won’t be able to fix it overnight. Focus your energy on taking the necessary small steps to healing and the rest will come in time.
  • Learn how and why the injury occurred and take steps to stop it from reoccurring. Was this an overuse injury? Were you not paying attention? Is it something about your nutrition or daily habits? An honest assessment and talking to your doctor and coach will help. Figuring out what caused your injury and taking action to prevent it again will go a long way for your mental recovery and pave the way for longevity in your sport.
  • Adjust your goals for the season. Now is not the time to rush things, so do not sign up for races while you are healing. Doing this will only make you anxious and you will likely push yourself too hard, too fast.
  • Split the recovery period into smaller timeframes. I knew I wasn’t going to be running normally for several months, but thinking about that long of a time period was depressing. So, I aimed for more reachable dates: a few weeks and I would be off crutches/walking boot, then a few more of walking in normal shoes, then a few more of treadmill walk/running, then finally back to regular running. Thinking about things a few weeks at a time was much easier to handle and to see progress.
  • Learn what you physically should and should not be doing while you are recovering. Don’t push it! Now is your time to train any weaknesses in a way that won’t aggravate your injury. For most triathletes, swimming is a weakness. If you’re given the okay to do it – commit to it! Spend your time working it, whether it’s strength, technique, endurance, speed, etc. Luckily there are many clever ways and gadgets available for us to still get cardiovascular, core, stability and endurance work done while injured. For me, I swam two to three times a day, six to seven days a week, mostly using a pull buoy and without flip turns. Waterjogging was important for cardio and even with a walking boot there were still many strength/conditioning exercises I could do without bothering my foot.
  • Distract yourself. Capitalize on this extra time to complete nagging tasks. Organize closets, read books, take a class you’re interested in. It’s an excellent opportunity to become more well-rounded and learn something new! Take a break from social media, especially if it is racing season. Watching all the racing could give you serious FOMO.
  • Reconnect with family, friends or groups. Remember these folks you love and who love you? Yeah, don’t forget your support network and take this time to give back to them. Consider volunteering at some local races or give a talk to a group in town. If you have friends training for long events, offer to drive or ride SAG for them.

Being injured is not fun or ideal. I went through several bouts of frustration and anger while I was healing my foot. But it’s not the end of the world and if approached with patience, focus and openness, you will come back stronger than ever. Your mental game will be on point, you will have had time to improve your weaknesses, and you’ll have a renewed sense of purpose, a healthy body and a bigger and stronger support system! Remember the real mental, emotional and physical challenge comes when you have setbacks. It takes courage to focus and act when it seems the tables have turned on you.

About Author

Lisa Roberts

Lisa Roberts is a professional triathlete. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @lisarobertstri.