The word that athletes fear most: INJURY

Recovery is not a smooth process. It’s more like riding the Anaconda at Gold Reef City even though you’re scared of heights, and the person next to you regurgitates their lunch on your lap… It’s one heck of a ride that you won’t forget! A lot of people have asked me how I have coped with my injury and why I am so open and honest about it. Well here are some of my thoughts;

I have found that a lot of athletes hide that they are injured (especially at the elite level) as it seems to have a stigma attached to it. We tend to think it makes us look bad and people will judge us. Sadly, some people do judge and make assumptions but that’s out of our hands.

Any athlete knows that injuries are part of the sport. Whether it be in training or in a race, there are so many factors that influence injuries; A collision with another athlete, stepping wrong on a rocky trail, fatigue, poor technique on an obstacle, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, recovery, hormones (the women’s triad), training plans, the weather… the list goes on.

By hiding the fact that we are injured, people who look up to us start to get this false impression that we are never injured. This does not only make us look super human (even though I would like to believe that I am), it also causes those who are injured to feel worse about their injury as they compare their situation to a false pretense. At the moment, I know a handful of athletes who are currently injured and two handfuls who are suffering from niggles… This does not mean they are weak, unsuccessful, or that they have failed. Besides often being stubborn, they are simply human, trying to better themselves and work their ass off to achieve their goals… Sometimes things happen that are out of our control, other times we walk the very narrow road of overtraining (but that’s a debate for another day).

I don’t know if it’s just me but when I have been injured, it can easily consume me. I dream about it. While I am trying to study my thoughts are distracted as I think about the races I will be missing. Driving on the road, I want to run over every runner I see (joking, well not really) and it is ultimately depressing! The mental pain caused by an injury and temporarily being sidelined, is often far more devastating than the injury itself.

I fractured my foot really badly in a race I won in April. This was still early on in the race but I wanted to push through and win (you know, go big or go home). In my head, it was ‘just push through’- the stupid no pain no gain mentality. In a race, the adrenaline is pumping, the ego is probably high (no one wants a “DNF”) and you are already suffering- so what’s a little more going to hurt. (I really struggle with judging pain- I mean we PAY to get bruises and battle scars when we enter an obstacle course race). What would you have done if you were in my position? …I probably should have stopped, and looking back, I sometimes wish I did. However, in the same breath, I have learned so much from the experience and my upper body is the strongest it has ever been. A tough decision to make in the moment.

Why injuries suck:

Sport is part of our Identity. It’s part of who we are and what we do. Not being able to do what we love makes us feel ‘lost’. If I am not an athlete- then who am I? …A good question to ask.

A big blow to our self-esteem. Everyone is getting stronger, and you feel you are only getting weaker. We start to question our abilities and allow self-doubt to rule our minds.

No more miss independent. Your routine changes and you often have to become dependent on others. Uber is expensive.

FOMO. There is that HUGE FOMO of not being able to train with your friends or compete in your favorite races. You start to spend more time on Facebook and Strava while eating comfort food and adding on the kilos.

Uncertainty. You never really know ‘when you will be back’ and everyone seems to ask the question and a sense of pressure dawns on you… making you feel even worse.

BUT LUCKILY FOR US- THIS IS ALL NORMAL. As we move through the phases of injury: Denial (downplay the injury and continue to train through the pain), Anger (Why me? Why now?), Bargaining (maybe if I rest this week, I can run next week), Depression (realize the seriousness and nature of the injury)… we EVENTUALLY reach ACCEPTANCE (make the best of the situation). The quicker we reach acceptance, the quicker we can start the rehab process, the better our recovery.

Advice:

Be sad, initially. Then deal with your current situation. Don’t keep looking back and thinking ‘what if’ or ‘I should of’.  It happened and nothing can change the past. Time to move forward.

Rest. (For example, just because you are not running, doesn’t mean you are actually resting. Lifting weights and standing on an injured foot- is not resting. It’s being dumb). We tend to become so determined and stubborn but I guess with injuries comes wisdom, eventually.

Listen to the professionals. Selective hearing is common in athletes- we don’t want to accept bad news. (I also recommend getting a second opinion if the injury is serious).

Take the proper time off. Don’t try rush. Remember that sometimes the fastest way of coming back is the slowest.

Keep positive. Being depressed and hating life is not going to help in any way. (I have a gratitude journal and every day I write down something to be thankful for- some days it’s easy and other days it’s hard).

Find balance. Take time to spend more time with friends, do something different. (I tried reading. ‘Born to Run’ was probably not my best choice in the current circumstance).

Do what you can to keep active. That may look like swimming in the pool or sitting on a bench while doing upper body.

Be proactive in your rehab. No matter how boring and silly it may feel- just do it. Put as much effort in your rehab as you would with your training.

Use this time to work on your weakness. Take it as an opportunity to come back stronger (I used this time to work on my pull-ups, and I am flippin proud of each of them- thanks, coach).

Set new realistic goals. If you have to start from basics, that’s ok. It doesn’t mean you failed. I keep reminding myself that small progress is better than no progress.

Accept the support from your friends, family, and teammates. Fight the urge to isolate yourself; spend time with your teammates and go support fellow athletes at events. Don’t be envious but enjoy sharing their success.

Be PATIENT. I hate the word.

Pray. Pray more, worry less.  I find a lot of comfort knowing everything happens for a reason and I am never alone on the journey. There is no testimony without a test!

Healing is a matter of time but also a matter of opportunity. With any sport, we put our bodies through so much and need to do our best to look after it. Yes, injuries are a pain in the ass but they are not the end of the world, even though it often feels like it. It may just be a blessing in disguise if you choose to make the most of it.

3 Responses to The word that athletes fear most: INJURY

  1. Pierre says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I have been sidelined since February with injury and it has been extremely difficult to sit the races out and be unable to do any training on top of it. However, it also highlighted some flaws in my training and technique, so when I am eventually back to training I will be much more disciplined about technique and form! For now, just taking it day by day and trying to stay positive remain the main challenges. Patience is a lesson learned every day! Good luck with the rehab!

  2. Cindy says:

    Nice article Sabrina, and all so true.

  3. Charlene says:

    Sabrina, Thank you soo much for this article. It’s like you were in my head. I have not been able to run now for 8 weeks due to potential Stress fractures of the Tibia after having shin splints. I am relatively new to running and OCR and started training Last year November. Pushing myself to bee better and faster caused me to over train severely. Its very frustrating but the knowledge I learned from my injury is priceless. I learned that I cannot run every day! I have to cross train and swimming is a great replacement. Adjusting your training program is better in the long run as my Orthopedic surgeon said that if i don’t adapt I wont be able to run at all in the future! seek help in training. Its worth it. I get physio now once a week and have a very good training program from a biokineticist.

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