How injury is making me a stronger athlete

So we all know the story by now, right? It started with a pain in the neck about two weeks after the marathon and then a sneeze at the beginning of January that set me back again. It’s been a crazy few months trying to balance my recovery–physical therapy, acupuncture, rest–with the rest of my life including a challenging project at work and several other leadership position responsibilities in other groups. Add to that being a new coach with 2 athletes and I have plenty on my plate!

So how in the heck is this injury making me stronger?

  1. Being injured is a tough mental game. And I’m not just talking about the frustration of dropped races, missed runs with friends, and feeling like all my training gains from my marathon training cycle are withering away. Not being able to workout and especially run, changes your brain. No workout endorphins, no familiar form of stress relief, and a total disruption of routine will have physical effects, for sure. Add a little bit of a feeling of a loss of identity on top of uncertainty of when full recovery will happen and training can resume and there was a lot to wade through all at once. It wasn’t all bad and I did enjoy my social life a bit more, but I did find myself feeling more stressed than usual. In the past couple weeks I have definitely noticed a mental shift as I learned how to adapt. Maybe not so coincidentally, my recovery had a sharp upturn in progress when than mental shift happened!
  2. Consistency in strength and conditioning. During marathon training, I was getting in strength and conditioning about twice a week for at least 45 minutes each session. My physical therapy calls for 10-15 minutes of stretching every morning and evening with a few minutes here and there throughout the day. Additionally, I have 30-45 minutes of strength exercises to get in every day: single leg balances, 60 squats, 60 weighted lunges, 60 single leg bridges, several different core exercises in multiple sets, some weighted upper body work. It was a lot to keep up with. But I learned that I can do strength work every day and it’s not too much. It was also great mental training on the days I just didn’t want to do it. This was especially true for days that work erupted or other life stuff seemed to compete. There were days I had to dig really deep into the motivation well to get that strength workout in! And the results are apparent both in my increased strength and my body composition.
  3. Adding cross-training to the mix. During marathon training, I was also supposed to be getting in 1-2 non-impact cardio (spinning or elliptical) workouts each week. I hate the gym and riding my bike in the city freaks me out. Needless to say, I made it out for 2 cycling sessions at the start of my training cycle then quickly forgot about the 1-2 cross-training days. My physical therapist only wanted me doing elliptical and walking on a treadmill for awhile so I had to work past my gym anxiety if I wanted to recover. I signed up for the rec center gym around the corner from my apartment and have been twice in the past week. When I get back to training, I plan to keep the elliptical and stair climber in my routine at least twice a week.

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    I’ve been cleared for elliptical and short run/walk intervals so this morning I signed up for 6 months at the local gym and hopped on the elliptical. Followed that up with 30 minutes of strength and 15 minutes of yoga/stretch. I feel like a totally new person. Not training has been TOUGH. Much tougher than actually training!
  4. Letting go of expectations. For the first 2 months of injury, I was pushing to get back to training–sometimes to the detriment of my recovery. After the sneeze, I resigned myself to taking my time and removing expectations. My desire to plan my entire year’s race schedule (including goal times) faded and I became comfortable with the idea of just getting better and being able to run short distances. My physical therapist told me I can probably train for a Fall marathon, but I’m not even looking. I know there is still plenty of time to figure it out. I can figure out my goals as my recovery progresses. There is no need to declare my goals months or even weeks in advance.
  5. Getting back to basics — and appreciating them. A few years ago, I never thought I would run again. That first and second year back I was just so excited about every small goal — a 5 mile run, finishing my first half marathon. Last year I had a really great year full of PRs, heavy training, and a marathon. When I crossed the line at NYC Marathon, I felt like a real runner and athlete. I was so proud that I felt great for most of the race and was able to make my last mile my fastest. I was ready to push myself to the next, bigger goal. Being injured and not being able to do anything for awhile has reminded me of what a gift it is to be able to run. (Or just workout, for that matter.) To have a body that is able and mind that is willing to move is truly a blessing.
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First time running since New Year’s Eve. Only 2-3 lanes cleared on the track after last weekend’s storm. This was mostly walking, only 10 of the 30 minute workout was running and it was only 1 minute intervals. I’ll start increasing my run intervals until I get to 30 minutes of solid running again. It felt great just to be on the track and moving a little!

I’m slowly getting back to running with run/walk intervals and hope to be up to 30 minutes of solid running in the next week or two. Then I will start slowly building my mileage through March. No speed work until at least April, but I will be able to run both Broad Street Run (10 mile) and the Brooklyn Half in May. My physical therapist let me know this week that she is hoping we can wrap up our work together in the next week or two, but encouraged me to continue with acupuncture which I am more than okay with. I don’t know how soon I will go back to group runs, though. Running with friends on New Year’s Eve was fun, but also stressful as I felt the need to keep up with them. I think I will continue to fly solo for awhile until I get back into a comfortable pace for myself.

I’ll save the updates about my new role as coach for another post. However, if you are interested in a personalized training plan based on Jack Daniels (VDOT) philosophy do let me know!

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