If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my nearly lifelong pursuit of sport, it’s that as rewarding as it is to be an endurance athlete, it can also be incredibly tough. The range of challenges we face each day is extensive, but perhaps none is more difficult than dealing with injury. Even when we do everything right, none of us is immune to the potential damage of pushing our bodies to the limit, and most endurance athletes will have to work through some type of injury over the course of their athletic career.
While being sidelined from racing and training is difficult physically, the mental challenge is even worse. As you’re unable to be active, your Strava profile sits empty, almost taunting you for the time you’re away from training. You feel guilty, anxious and insufficient about the workouts you are missing and the perception that you’re falling behind, especially as you see friends and competitors continuing to log big training days. The photos look epic, and all you want to do is get back out there… but you can’t.
Injuries suck, plain and simple. But after gaining more than my fair share of experience with them as of late, I’ve learned that there are ways to make the rehab and recovery process at least a little bit easier, and a whole lot more gratifying in the end. Here are my biggest tips:
1. Accept that your body’s needs are different and honor them
By nature, endurance athletes tend to feel the need to push harder, and do more, in order to get the most from ourselves. We want to give everything, and see this as the key to success. While that relentless will can set us apart and propel us forward, sometimes it can send us in the wrong direction.
When we are injured, training hard and pushing through is not what makes us better. Instead, modification, rest and recovery become the new recipe for success.
This can be hard to understand, and even harder to accept. When you are used to going full-throttle in pursuit of your goals, nothing feels more counterintuitive than taking a step back. But when your body is not at full capacity and begging for a break from something, it’s critical to honor that, and to be able to ask yourself: «What will really make me faster right now?» If regular training won’t actually help you improve in this moment, then there’s no reason to feel guilty or disappointed by not doing it. Instead, trust your body and have confidence in knowing that by honoring its needs and embracing a modified routine through your recovery, you are ultimately doing the best thing for yourself and your performance.
2. Treat your recovery like your training
Even still, knowing it’s the right thing to do doesn’t make it any easier to adjust from multi-hour training days to something significantly more tapered during injury. Just because you’ve come to terms with the need to step back and prioritize your recovery doesn’t mean you won’t still really miss training and all that comes with it: the sweat; the drive; the adrenaline; the feeling of progress; the knowledge that you’re doing everything you can to work toward achieving your goal. Because of that, it can be easy to fixate on everything you’re not doing; everything you’re “missing.” But here’s the thing: that’s completely counter-productive. Instead of lamenting everything you can’t do, focus on what you can do.
Take that same effort, energy, focus and dedication you’d normally put into training, and channel it toward your recovery.
Commit yourself to giving 110%, just as you would in your regular routine. Because while the goal may be different for the moment, the process is the same. So dig in. Embrace the process, and make the most of it. Before you know it, you’ll be back to doing what you really love.
3. Hone your balance
While being injured is inconvenient in so many ways, it can actually provide a great opportunity to refine your balance, both specifically as an athlete and in balancing sport and life. Athletically, we all know things like nutrition, proper rest and recovery, strength and mobility work, and – ahem! – injury prevention are important factors in the formula for success. But too often these things fall to the wayside because we just can’t do it all. But when training is cut back, it provides a great opportunity to do a better job with all of the small things, and make some big changes as a result.
Dial in your nutrition. Get more sleep. Build strength. Improve your mobility.
Take advantage of your scaled-down training time to help yourself become a better athlete in other ways. Likewise, take the opportunity to work on your sport-life balance. Embrace the extra rest, and use this time to catch up on other parts of your life that don’t get enough attention when training and competition become all-consuming. Get ahead at work, start that house project you’ve been putting off, catch up with family and friends, and most importantly take some “me” time to just relax. Loading up on the “life” side for a while will help you stay more centered, and enable you to be a more well rounded athlete when you’re back.
4. Stay engaged, and seek out support
When you’re not training and competing as usual, it can be all too easy to feel distant from your sport, so it’s crucial to find other ways to stay engaged. Use your networks, like Strava, to keep yourself immersed in the culture and community. Continue to “act like an athlete,” even if you don’t always feel like one. Track your progress as you work through the injury, setting goals and milestones to check off, just as you would in your regular routine. If you’re able to do any cross training, log it! Give yourself credit for all you’re achieving, celebrate each small victory along the way, and stay focused on what you still want to accomplish.
Never lose sight of your “why,” and keep on stoking that fire inside.
Additionally, surround yourself with people who will help you stay positive and benefit your path to recovery. Being injured can make you feel alone, but it’s important to remember that so many others have experienced the same challenge at some point. Take their advice, and look to them for encouragement. Use your Strava community as a network for support, give your friends some kudos while you’re at it.
5. Stay forward-focused, and think big picture
It is so hard to see beyond the moment when you’re sidelined. You get swallowed up in the challenge, and it feels like you’re getting behind in such a way that you’ll never catch up. But in the grand scheme of things, a few weeks, months or even a year are relatively insignificant, and the long-term benefits of taking a step back to focus on your health and wellness far outweigh the short-term sacrifices.
Remember the big picture, and keep your ultimate goals in mind.
Trust that the seemingly tedious work you’re doing, and the rest you’re taking now, will only make you that much better in the end. By taking the time to fully restore your health, you’ll create an even stronger foundation to build on. Stay focused, be patient, trust your body, be confident in your plan, give 110%, and you will ultimately come back stronger, hungrier, and ready to rock at a whole new level.