In part one of this series we discussed the 5 Stages of Grief and how they apply to an injured or ill athlete. Once the athlete has traversed the final acceptance stage in this process the real work toward recovery can begin. Here are some tips on making the recovery process fun and beneficial.
Knowledge is power!
An athlete’s brain is the most important organ in their body. Knowing the facts about your injury or illness and how it will affect you and your athletic pursuits is of utmost importance. Educate yourself intelligently. The Internet is our primary source for information these days but it is rife with what I call “voodoo”. It’s tempting to latch onto the information that will lead to the fastest recovery but it is generally not in your best interest and can be exceptionally harmful. Make sure you are getting information from reputable sources. Some of my favorite sites are: Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org), Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), National Institutes of Health (www.nih.gov), Up To Date (www.uptodate.com), American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (www.orthoportal.aaos.org), and Pub Med (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed). Choose your health care provider wisely and consider them to be your number one training partner. Make sure they are willing to spend adequate time with you and understand your athletic lifestyle and goals.
Downtime can be productive and invigorating.
You are most likely going to have to take some time off from your usual training schedule and intensity. Most of us are over-trained. Reframe this break in your mind as the opportunity for the body (and the mind) to rebuild on all levels. Here is your chance to read that great Joel Friel book you’ve been meaning to get to and catch up on those fabulous USA Triathlon webinars. Review your training plans, data in Training Peaks, and race results; identify what went well and where there is room for improvement. Begin developing some good training and racing habits: take your resting heart rate every morning, weigh yourself at regular intervals, keep a food journal, develop a regular stretching routine. These are all things we often mean to do but they are often deemed less important than our track workout that day. Anticipate your next season: look at race calendars, set goals, and keep up your relationship with your coach if you are using one.
This is an incredible opportunity to give back to the sport while staying involved and engaged. Race directors always need help and will accommodate your limitations. Race packets need to be assembled, registrations completed, bibs handed out, feed stations manned…..the list is endless. Even if you are on crutches there is a job you can do. Volunteering gives you the chance to see the side of the sport that you might be taking for granted. There are a lot of people out there working for little or no money to make sure that your race day is a success. It’s an incredible way to meet the people behind the scenes and develop gratitude. Watching a race can be extremely instructive. Pay attention to running and cycling form and examine transition set-ups and techniques. You are bound to learn an incredible amount. And cheer on the competitors with all your heart – what a way to boost your spirits.
At some point you will be allowed to do something physical in terms of athletic recovery. Make sure you follow your health care provider’s orders and are in contact with your coach. The limits they set might be frustrating but they are in your best interest. Beware of getting stuck in “compare and despair” mode. Accustomed to running a 19 minute 5K and now you can barely make it a mile without having to stop and walk? I know how demoralizing it can be; I’ve been there. Rather than getting depressed over your current lack of prowess, think back to the time when you were just getting started in athletics. Everything seemed difficult and you might have felt as though you would never be fast. It’s easy to forget all that time and effort you invested to get to your peak – you did it once, you can do it again. Take this opportunity to work on your form, utilize your heart rate monitor and power meter to their full potentials, tweak your gear so that it’s functioning and fitting optimally, and practice positive self-talk and imagery.
Usual 10K training route bumming you out because it makes you feel so slow? Here’s the opportunity to explore other routes and ways of doing things. One of my favorite quotes is “The difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.”. By choosing a different direction for your bike or your run you won’t be reminded by the usual mileposts/landmarks that you are not up to your usual pace. Take the opportunity to look around at your environment; make a point to notice the wildlife, the people, and the terrain. Chances are you’ve been missing a lot and you might have been missing better training on different terrain. A great way to boost your spirits is to wave and smile as your encounter people, especially kids. Go to group workouts that are at a slower pace: Join the C group with the weekly cycling training ride. Run at the back of the pack with your trail running club. Jump in the slow lane at the morning master’s swim workout. You’ll meet incredible people, make new friends, learn a lot, and perhaps even find someone to mentor or be mentored by.
As cliché as it sounds, be grateful for your injury/illness and what it has to teach you. Turn your injury/illness into an opportunity instead of an obstacle. You’ll be stronger for the experience.