Conventional wisdom says in order to get closer to ones potential we MUST stay injury free. Consistent training from year to year allows the body to sustain higher training load and make progress. It's science!
Yet, over the years, I've been in the habit of making mega progress towards my triathlon goals only to have all that I achieved threatened with a dreaded injury. Sometimes it's over use or bio mechanical issues. Sometimes it's bad luck.. Very bad luck. I do not enjoy being sidelined either way.
However in my experiences and through watching my friend's amazing post injury comebacks I know that injury always presents a real opportunity to become a better athlete.
Those who stay committed to their big picture dreams or who find new, revised goals gain something at the end that cannot be duplicated through the ideal year after year of the heathy training cycles. These triathletes don't just sweat for the goals. We literally, cried, broke and bled for our dreams and inspired others along the way.
For me, whether it is plantar fasciitis, a bike crash, a shoulder injury or a non-training related accident, I've faced the adversity and grown from overcoming each set back, always making progress. I have worked hard to build back strong. Being injured every so often motivates me to give more towards my goals rather than just give up. I can feel the importance and meaning behind my goals the most when it slips away from grasp nearly out of sight. The appreciation of a healed and resilient body thrives long after the injury is gone.
I can list the amazing things that have resulted from each of the darkest injuries I've endured. I discovered triathlon after plantar fasciitis. I scored my first age group win after a bike crash. I always want to work harder when I am back to my healthy self. I've met amazing people through each injury.
Yet there is a dark and lonely side to injuries. Persevering through it makes us better, stronger and faster.
For typical triathletes, an injury can place us so far outside our comfort zones of control and routine that we panic. The sacrifices we make are significant to us so when that seems for nothing it can be disappointing and even devastating at first. Triathlon has this way of connecting to athletes so much that even with a healthy life balance it becomes a lifestyle, rather than a hobby. It's a routine, a connection to others, a place to find a sense of satisfaction and an outlet for stress relief. Tri is a means to achieve big goals and dreams. No matter how "balanced" our lives are, we can feel the loss of something that was important and when that is gone, we are at times grieving. In injury times we can become isolated sometimes by choice and sometimes because our social world always involved being active. Our tri friends often don't know how to help.
We can become full of doubt and questions. We sometimes try to control the chaos of injury with amended plans, overdoing it in Physical therapy, taking up knitting and other bizarre behaviors.
When one identifies herself as an triathlete regardless of being a newbie or pro she can feel shaken when she cannot do what she have loved to do. For me, I'm sad when I cannot achieve what I thought I could. It's hard at first when our sacrifices (financial, social, time commitment) seem to be irrelevant. This is feeling normal. I see it in myself and others over and over. Yet through this emotional upheaval we discover a part of ourselves that drives us to be better. This is also normal. When injured I believe at the core that "I'll never be the same athlete I used to be... I will be better."
I can list some of the most embarrassing injury induced behaviors I've had. I have been cursing or bawling in doctors offices, getting teary eyed at Starbucks standing behind a woman wearing my run shoe brand, removing my coach from training peaks and saying I quit, crying into my swim goggles at practice, copping a stubborn attitude over a light pink 1lb weight in physical therapy, sitting aimlessly on a bean bag chair eating chips, skipping a week of alternative workouts I could have completed, ignoring my friends, drinking 2 gallons of milk in a day hoping to speed the bone growth, challenging gym rats to post injury plank competitions or engaging in broccoli eating contests while still in a sling... Ok.. I'm blushing as I type and so I'll just stop right there!
Despite these tough times and injured-iron-nutty-behaviors I believe most triathletes can use these set backs as "mental fuel" to drive forward and to explore other outlets.
These moments are what cause us to discover the sparks within that can fuel us. We can transform ourselves as athletes and people through the process. Injury solidifies the purpose and commitment to the training process. The tremendous gratitude of being back in the game makes us lighter on our feet and gives us perspective through future races.
The desire with in us provides a mental edge that you cannot learn or synthesize during a healthy training block.
When you are going full force and all is well you get to leverage the physical training benefits. When you are injured and fighting to hold on to a dream and questioning the lifestyle and even parts of your own identity... Your mental game is evolving and strengthening. You learn what matters to you. You find out if "IT"is "worth" it. Everyone has a reason for doing this sport and often that is revealed with clarity during an injury rehab.
To me, achieving my triathlon dreams and moving closer to my potential is worth all the work and sacrifice.
When the injury fortified mindset emerges to partner with a fully healed body good things happen. No matter how hard that last mile in the race feels, it is never more painful than the feeling of being sidelined. Not even inclement weather conditions come race day can compare to the storm a sidelined athlete has already endured. The mental edge is solid and the athlete is more ready than ever before.
This is why I cannot wait to see what 2014 brings with so many athlete's injury comeback stories just waiting to happen. You know who you are.
Warning: I do not recommend you go so far as to give yourself and injury so you can gain a mental edge in racing upon completion of reading this article.