The pain you feel today is the strength you feel tomorrow
Any athlete has likely heard these words or seen them emblazoned on a t-shirt somewhere. Statements like these are meant to motivate and inspire us to push through discomfort and to our individual finish lines. Unfortunately, when the pain stops converting to strength, it may be the first sign of a lingering issue. Whether you are an aspiring professional or an age grouper, like myself, recovery from an injury can be a long and winding road full of physical speed bumps and emotional detours.
I found out first hand just how difficult this journey can be when I sustained an L2-L3 back injury in September that forced me to “shut it down” for 3 months. Here are just five of the lessons I learned from my most recent experience.
Trust Your Team
At the first sign of sustained discomfort, get some medical attention. The longer an injury persists the more likely you are to have long term damage or at the very least prolong the length of your recovery. Build a team of physicians and/or physical therapists you trust. Most importantly, listen to what they tell you to do. If you don’t like their advise or the prognosis, seek out second opinions.
If you are lucky enough to have a coach, apprise them of the situation. They will be instrumental in helping you develop a realistic plan and keeping you accountable to it.
Ask your friends and training partners for referrals and support. Your social network will help keep you aligned to your goals. More importantly, if you surround yourself with people from the endurance community, you are more likely to get understanding as they have likely been through the process a time or two and may be able to provide the empathy you need in the darkest moments. And there will be dark moments.
Watch Your Diet
Your metabolism is not going to be what it once was and the excuse that you’ll just “run off” those extra holiday treats isn’t going to fly. While you may not initially pack on the extra pounds, you might notice changes in muscle tone that can mess with your psyche. Even a little added weight can slow results further by adding stress to the body both physically and emotionally.
Using an app to track your caloric intake can help you adjust your diet needs to your temporarily sedentary lifestyle. You may be used to 3,000 calories or more a day to sustain you during peak season training. For most of us, less than half of that will get us through an average day.
It’s simple math. If 3500 calories is the equivalent of a pound and the average person burns between 1,600 to 2,500 calories a day, without exercise to make up the difference it doesn’t take long for the pounds to start adding up!
Control What You Can
If you are told you can’t do certain activities, find ones that you can. It is hard to stay motivated when you are stripped of a major part of your identity.
If you are told not to exercise the body; then exercise the mind. Educate yourself about your injury. Avoid online forums as they are likely chock-full of well meaning albeit questionable information. Read inspirational articles (like this one) with suggestions about overcoming injury and learn what works for you.
Practice meditation and mindfulness. There is something to be said for mind over matter. Above all, do your best not to throw a pity-party. They are inevitable; but, they only detract from the focus you should have on progress.
Listen to Your Mind First and Body Second
You may be used to popping out of bed before sunrise to hit the road or the gym before work. Your body has acclimated to a certain lifestyle and forgets it’s injured. Your brain will likely be screaming for some exercise induced endorphins. It’s your job to resist the urge to push your body too soon. When you are given the clearance to exercise again, gradually increase your routine. It’s probably a good idea not to run a marathon on day one. If you allow the mind to listen, your body will tell you where your limits currently lie.
Resolve your purpose
As you get back to your routine, you may notice you are not as strong as you were pre-injury. It may even be a struggle just to breathe or keep your heart rate at normal levels. You may not initially be able to go as far or as fast as you once did. These may simply be setbacks or they may be your new reality. Either way, be appreciative of whatever you can accomplish. Try and remember where you started the first time you laced up those shoes or pulled on that first swimsuit. You’ll likely realize you haven’t lost as much of your base as you think!
Set fresh realistic goals and stick to them. Depending on your timeline, your “A” race might need to be a shorter distance than you initially had hoped or that sub 3 hour marathon may need to be a “sub-par” 4 hours. It helps to build a training plan and look ahead to future events. Again, if you are lucky enough to have a coach, have them help you build your strategy.
Above all, and especially during this, the holiday season, be grateful for that with which you are blessed. Even if it is only the desire to make it back to an active lifestyle. It is important to remember that strength also comes from fortitude. The first steps may seem small and slow but they are the ones that will rebuild the foundation necessary to get back the self you once knew!