Running doesn’t always go to plan. This year reminded me of that.
Early in May I had some awesome plans to smash out 100km at the Wilsons Promontory Ultra with a few friends. Nervous and relaxed all in one had me on the start line. For the first 26km it was all awesomeness. Running comfortably down a moderate hill my left foot landed on a loose rock.
Rip and pop!
Two weeks of living in a moonboot and no running for four weeks. It sucked. I’m not going to lie. I got grumpy. The injury was a high ankle sprain. There’s some potential ongoing issues with this. Running properly again takes time. I decided to make sure I rehab the hell out of my ankle. It’s crazy how many exercises you can do for your ankle and foot.
Not running gives you a lot of time to think about not running. The exercises, walking, physiotherapy, stretching and strength work are just details. Injuries suck. How do you make the most of your injury time out?
Change Your Focus
If you have the discipline to train hard and push yourself in races, then you have what it take in injury. You need to flip that discipline to doing the stuff that isn’t as fun and hold back. Structured rest is training.
You can still push yourself. It just has to be different ways.
Rehab exercises boring? -> use that to develop the ability to maintain focus
Have a muscle imbalance? -> work on strengthening the weak muscles
Core is weak? -> increase the time devoted to this
The list can go on and on. Use the injury time to improve what you usually think you don’t have time for.
This should be a two-pronged attack.
1. Big Goal
First decide on a big goal in the future to work towards. Something that drives you. A goal to fuel your passion. Choose a goal that will signal you are back in action.
I chose being able to run 50km as part of the Surfcoast Century relay. Not expecting to be fast. Just wanting to put in a solid effort and finish without breaking down. It was definite and timely. A 4 month time frame. I had so many moments when I couldn’t be bothered. A big goal reminds you of the bigger picture. It makes it easier to give your own a butt a kick. You can’t always rely on motivation. Knowing you have a deadline helps force you to do the training you don’t want to do now so you can do the training you want to do later.
2. Little Goals
Second part of the goal setting attack is use a series of little goals.
Often best worked out with your physiotherapist, doctor or coach. Create small goals to work towards over just a few days. Treat them as criteria you have to achieve before you can increase the training load. Having something clear to work towards in the short term makes it easier to do what it takes.
During the first couple of days of injury the goal can be as simple as don’t make it worse. Focus on that and it’s easier to rest, elevate and apply compression or whatever is needed. A few days later the goal might be to introduce movement without pain, or it might be get a follow up review with the doctor. Super simple. Focus on a small goal and make it the priority.
Further down the rehabilitation path you progress the goals. Some of mine over the weeks included:
complete 3×10 double calf raises without pain
complete 30 single leg calf raises without pain
complete 3×10 hops without pain
walk briskly for 30 minutes without developing discomfort over the next day
run for 5 minutes without developing discomfort over the next day
run at a steady effort for 60 minutes without feeling instability in my ankle
There were steps in between these goals. The idea is if I can’t achieve the current goal, my body isn’t ready to progress. You have to earn to right to train at the next level.
Mentally it wasn’t easy. I doubted myself. Every week I wondered if I was doing enough. With no high end training I couldn’t see myself being race ready. I stuck with the plan. When asked how I was doing I made an effort to keep my reply positive. Even if I didn’t believe what I said. The power of repeating something can rub off. Maybe it’s a case of fake it until you make it. Little by little the training increased. Nothing fast, but I was happy with the mileage. The weekly totals turned out like this:
Sometimes the pace crept up a bit too much in runs. Aches and feelings of instability let me know about it the following day. The final 86km was right on my limit. Soreness and failure in support muscles forced a couple of days rest afterwards. Right at taper time. Have I made it? Next Saturday will have the answer.
Injuries can be a good reason to review why we do what we do. You can do a lot in injury time.