Imagine this: You’ve spent the last couple months studying for a tough exam. You enter the classroom, fully prepared, pencil in hand, water bottle at the corner of your desk, a fresh piece of college ruled paper in front of you. The professor gives the okay, and you’re off! You set your pencil to the page, when suddenly, CRACK, the lead breaks. Now imagine you don’t have access to a pencil sharpener, and this the only writing utensil you are allowed to use. Imagine also that you are a type-A student, who believes that the outcome of this exam is everything. It’s life or death.
If you can imagine that, you can understand a bit how an athlete feels when she’s injured weeks before her big race. Of course, injury is party of the game, part of the journey, and something many if not all amateur and professional athletes face in one way or another.
A couple months ago, I had to stop running due to a leg injury. I was smack in the middle of marathon training. And although this won’t be my first full marathon, the race is undoubtably important to me. My confidence was shattered. But then, I did what I do best, I made a plan. I’m no running expert, but I know the frustration of injury and the joy and pride of tackling your goals not just in spite of the pain but maybe also because of it. So below is my plan to keeping your motivation and confidence up through a tough training patch. I hope it inspires at least one athlete to keep her head up
First of all, choose to view this “break” actively instead of passively. In other words, don’t think of your recovery time as a waste of time. Use it. Make the absolute most of it.
-Stay active. I understand that the thought of using an elliptical probably falls somewhere on the spectrum of watching grass grow and being stuck in the middle seat while flying coach. But staying active despite your injury is important. If you’re like me, as soon as you take exercise out of my routine, I become sluggish, start to eat poorly, and become less productive (due to a positive correlation between time on my couch and hours watching Netflix). Instead of thinking that your workouts are a poor second option to running, try to do something you’ve always been meaning to but maybe didn’t have a chance to before. For instance, I started going to yoga with friends. I’d been telling myself I wanted to do more yoga, and now I finally had the chance! It’s harder to feel depressed about not doing something, when you’re doing something else you love.
-Read for inspiration. My suggestions: Born to Run, Eat & Run, Thrive, and Triathlete Magazine.
-Do more of what you love, and less of what you don’t. And I don’t mean just in terms of exercise. Remove stress where you can. I, for example, sometimes get a bit obsessive over cleaning my apartment. I suppose it’s because the end result is so satisfying and the process so straight-forward. Unlike, say, just about everything else in life. But I absolutely do not need to deep clean my apartment every day. Instead of spending that time doing something that, despite it’s clear result, feels like an obligation and an added stress, I try to do something I enjoy that isn’t necessarily required of me. Like sewing. Or even spending a few extra minutes petting my cat. When I do this, it always surprises me how much control I actually have over my stress.
-Find your balance. Physically and mentally, I mean. Were there things in your life that you were missing out on during your training? Did you skip meditation in the morning so you could get a run in before work? Did you pass up invitations to go out to the bar with friends because you wanted to be fresh for the next morning’s twelve miler? Was (and is?) your mind so cluttered with anxiety about training and the race that you forget friend’s birthdays or catch yourself worrying during Monday business meetings? Relax, and take this time to catch up, and maybe even start to schedule a new routine around the stuff you’ve been neglecting.
-Focus on nutrition. Now is finally your chance to start paying better attention to what you’re eating! If you’re aren’t burning 1500+ calories on long runs every weekend, you don’t have the same excuse to stuff your face with any and every carb that you can get your hands on. Focus on quality foods. Explore new ways to gain energy or focus. When I was recovering, I used the opportunity to switch to a plant-based diet. When I was in the heat of my training, I was concerned that a plant-based diet would not provide the energy and protein I needed. But having time to experiment with recipes and new foods during my recovery ensured that I had a solid nutrition plan settled for when I was able to pick up the training again.
-Remember your dreams and goals. Remember what you’re recovering for. Remember why you’re putting in the effort and time to get better and do better. And remember that injury and recovery is part of the game, just as much as crossing that finishline is.
Any other advise you would give a struggling or injured athlete? Or even a person who just needs some motivation to get started?
p.s. This post is dedicated you, Michelle. I KNOW YOU CAN DO IT!