The best laid plans…. There is nothing more frustrating, when training for an event, than to do everything as prescribed and get injured anyway. I have been struggling with a recent injury after 5 months of a perfectly laid out running plan for my latest 1/2 marathon, only to get completely derailed three weeks prior to the event. As this has happened to me several times before including summit attempts up Mt. Whitney (3) that had to be aborted 1 mile from the peak, or other adventure type challenges where I had sob inducing spasms 8 miles in…injury is a part of the process of pushing your body, getting older, and being stubborn. It happens to everyone who tends to push themselves at some point or another.
The stubbornness comes into play from my sheer unadulterated ability to be in denial when something starts to go south in my body. The most distressing part of the entire struggle for me is that I tend to get injured only when I feel at my complete and total best. Like a true ATHLETE (love this word). There have been three different times in my life when I have really felt strong, fit, and able, that are perfect examples of this phenomena. These moments are pinnacle training times in my life where all of the hours, sweat, and focus came together and I felt unstoppable. Ironically, these are the exact three times I have gotten the most injured. The first time I had been working out hard as a gym rat and cross training like a professional and I felt great. So I decided to return to my childhood sport of soccer (for the first time in 15 years) in my early thirties. I joined a local women’s league, bought myself some cleats, and went to my first practice (seriously the FIRST one). Running (as if my life depended on it) to save a ball from rolling back into our practice goal, I stepped into a gopher hole and blew out my ACL, tore my meniscus, and bruised my femur. I was in surgery 2 days later. I was laid up on modified exercise for 6 months. Did get this cool leg stretchy machine I got to hook up too, but I digress…
The second time I was doing our bootcamp program every morning and pushing my cross training and fitness to the test. I took on every workout as if it were a personal challenge against myself. I was on fire. One particular morning I was doing burpee circuits and I threw my heart into atrial fibrillation and ended up in the ER with probes strapped onto my chest. Instead of surgery, this got me a hypothyroid diagnosis and many heart tests (was told my heart is healthy as an athlete!). Had to go on thyroid medication (for the rest of my life). This final time was two weeks ago. As some of you readers know, I am training for another 1/2 marathon after my training partner (and dear friend) asked me to celebrate her Birthday with her by doing her first 1/2. Being a good friend, I created the most thoughtful, slow, gentle training plan to get her and I ready to go injury free…and it worked amazing (right up until it didn’t) and I got injured. But it wasn’t the plan that caused the injury, it was my head deciding that I felt like a real runner for the first time in my life and I was the fastest, strongest runner I had ever been. It was literally to the point that I was thinking I could pull off a full marathon a few months post 1/2 if I kept training. I felt unstoppable. I kept speeding up my pace because it felt SO good to my body (coincidentally, this was NOT on the plan). My new speedy running attitude worked right up to a 10K we did together as a charity race where I ran the fastest 10K I had ever done (by A LOT). Got a PR! I was so fired up….and that’s what did it. I pushed too hard. I messed up my TFL and piriformis. Now I cannot walk without pain. Sigh.
Those of you who do not love working out may be confirming your suspicions right now that this is why exercise is evil and you should just stay on the couch! But this is not at all the case. Do not be fooled…it is still the best thing for both mind & body. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of seeing what my body can do through exercise. Sometimes, however, my head and my body don’t agree. When this happens I get injured. I have learned a few things from my injury that I would like to share with you:
1) Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously – There is no point in stressing out about missing a race I have signed up for, or even worse, needing to walk. I’m not Lolo Jones, I wasn’t going to win. I can go out there on race day and do my very best…whatever that looks like that day. There will ALWAYS be other races/events/challenges.
2) Keep Perspective – Your healthy body demands to be your number one priority. You realize this the minute something happens where you get sick or hurt; however, maybe being mindful of this when things are going well is equally (if not more so) important.
3) Don’t Always Power It Out – You shouldn’t ignore the small little twinges and warnings that your body is telling you along the way. Injuries can happen out of nowhere (like in an accident such as my gopher hole scenario), but often your body is talking to in little whispers before it starts to yell. This is where my head tends to tells my body to be quiet and keeps running, when maybe I should have slowed down my pace, took a few days off and rested my injury two weeks ago when I first started to feel it. Instead I tried to push through. Just because your head may be able to do this, does not mean your body can pull it off.
4) Get Help – I am ridiculously STUBBORN when it comes to seeking medical help for injuries. Yes, dear spouse, I can admit this. I have no idea the root of my absolute certainty that I do NOT need to go to the doctor, chiropractor or massage therapist to work it out and get help when I am hurt. My cocky, ego ridden, personal trainer self is just sure I can use the tools I already know to get better. If you are like me, save yourself a few extra weeks (or months) of injury and seek expert help. Anti-inflammatory drugs and R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) do NOT cure everything. Trust me..wish they did, but they do not.
I imagine an injury as a little monster messing with your body. I see it as a little black scrunchy thing with a wicked smile and a pokey spear. It can feel like it is mocking me..right when I feel my best. The truth is, getting hurt is your bodies way of telling you to back off, change what you are doing, or slow down. I don’t tend to pay attention until it is too late and I end up hurt pretty bad. I have been getting frustrated with my body because it won’t do what I want it to do; when the truth is, my head is what needs to change. My body is doing an amazing job keeping me alive and allowing me to do everything I love. My head needs to understand how to be patient, compassionate, and mindful of what my body is telling me along the way. The little monster can really my friend if I learn how to embrace it.
Stacey Neil, LMFT, CPT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer who is in private practice in Los Gatos, CA. She can be reached at 408.827.5139 where she is layed up on ice.