Anyone see that Deadpool movie? Where Deadpool #spoiler alert# gets tortured to unlock his Superhero mutation? Well, triathloning is kind of like that. This really really slow torture process hopefully culminating in a mutant gene flip where your VO2Max skyrockets, your bike FTP doubles and you'll be able to swim.... in water. But, with that hope comes the reality that often times, your body is precariously balanced on a tightrope between maximum development and injury.
On Sunday, my tightrope snapped. And it was totally my fault, and now I'm paying for it.
In my triathlon career I've had three mentionable injuries, all strains. The first was my plantar fascia (i.e., my foot) that occurred about 8k in to a relatively light 10k. At the time, I thought I had just cramped. 10 days later, I was still cramped. This injury resulted in my regular practice of rolling everything all the time as much as possible.
The second was a neck strain that occurred as I sat at my desk. Yep, good ol' desk-neck strain (watchout for desk sitting). I attribute this strain to a random kundalini yoga class (aka White Girl Dance Party) my friend Morgan talked me in to the day before. That lead to my first trip to the chiropractor for active release therapy. I would be back again, many times.
The third was this most recent injury, a strain to my right calf whilst playing squash with my buddy Marcus. A true shame too, because I was winning at the time.
For anyone in this sport I strongly believe that before sets and reps and miles and cadence and heart rate and everything else, you need to spend your time learning about injury prevention (prevention being the key word). Because, just like those catchy TV ads, injuries (in this sport) are totally preventable.
And in my case, failing to be in control of my prevention meant that I am forced to take control of my injury recovery (recovery is not as nice a word as prevention), setting my training (and my spirits) back in the process.
All three of my injuries occurred in the same way for the same reason; I didn't respect the warning signs, they were my fault. The signs I ignored were:
- I was mildly dehydrated;
- I was engaged in relatively light effort that didn't demand my full attention and wasn't part of my regimented training;
- I had ignored the warning signs from days before (stiffness, fatigue, tweaks and pinches and cracks and other weird noises);
- I was not properly warmed up;
- I was undertaking movement that was not customary;
- I had not taken control of my injury prevention in advance.
Ignoring these warning signs was dumb. I was dumb. Don't be dumb.
Instead, build a prevention plan. For me, the focus goes something like this:
- Drink, for the love of all that is holy, drink. Even if you don't feel like you need too. You do. And recognize the difference between "walking around" hydrated and "exercise ready" hydrated. They are not the same.
Don't underestimate the effort your body goes through in "light effort" activity. That quick Sunday jog to impress your Tinder date that you're not all that concerned about because it's "easy"? Be more concerned about it. No one wants to carry home a "fit" date that pulled a groin muscle trying to jump over a park bench to look cool.
Identify and pay attention to your own body's weak points, and work on them, a lot. Everyone in an office environment has bad hips and hunched shoulders (for example). Everyone. Stretch them, more than you do now. For me, I have particularly tight calves. And I know this, and I ignored it to my detriment. Stretch in the morning, stretch at night, stretch in your sleep, keep your body limber and agile and strong and you will remain injury free.
As your miles increase your recovery efforts need to also. It's easy to spend 10 minutes stretching after a 30 minute run. It's hard to spend 30 minutes stretching after a 2 hour run. But you need to. I, for one, have taken (if absolutely necessary) to cutting the "training" portion short to focus on the prevention (when I'm tight for time). Why? Because sometimes exchanging 10 minutes of training for 10 minutes of prevention on a Tuesday means I can put in a full 30 minutes more on a Wednesday. Had I done this this past weekend I would not be writing this post now.
Beware of cross training. But don't be afraid of it. Cross training is an amazing tool. But if your body is accustom to one form of motion (running forward, for example) and then you decide to throw something else at it (the aforementioned park bench), particularly without a lot of forethought, you may have an unpleasant surprise. That said, cross training will make you better.
Own your injury prevention plan. Make it part of your training. Follow it. Literally your ability to perform will depend on it.
So what happens when you are injured? What do you do? And how do you get better? Well, I have a list for that too:
- Don't blame nouns: The injury was your fault. Or maybe it wasn't. But none of that matters. Getting back in to shape is what matters so just get up and get after it (assuming you can get up, you are injured after all).
Be smart. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, light efforts and don't try to force-heal too fast (I'm guilty of that). Also, lots and lots of Ben Gay is a hilarious way to piss off your assistant (and attract those sexy elder ladies) but it's probably not the most reliable recovery technique.
Seek out assistance. A good chiropractor, a physiotherapist, a reiki healer, whatever it is that soothes your body and your soul. I, for example, learned a tremendous amount about my proclivity to injure my calves from a chiropractor who assisted me in active release therapy after my desk-neck strain. Obviously, I am a slow learner...
Roll everything! I mean seriously. If you haven't purchased a whole whack of goofy looking rolling devices yet, then go do so immediately. My calf strain I attribute 100% to being lazy on my rolling the days leading up to it. If you don't know what rolling is, or how to do it, spend a second googling "myofascial release rolling" or something similar, go to the local running store and get a $30 roller, and be prepared to feel oh so humbled at the pain your own tight limbs will cause you.
Alternate, but don't eliminate, your training. Triathlon is a great sport for this. If your legs are in bad shape, swim. If your upper body is in bad shape, cycle. If you can't bear weight (Ah! Bears!), stretch. If you can't breathe, call an ambulance and then do some sit-ups. The point is, you can elevate your heart rate and preserve much of your aerobic conditioning as you recover without actually aggravating the injury. Just remember to ice after, lest the increased blood flow promotes swelling in the injured area.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself. And do not use your injury as an excuse. If you use your injury as an excuse it is because you were looking for an excuse. Do not allow yourself excuses; do not allow yourself to fail. Make a plan, be smart about it, get better, conqueror all.
Injuries are not a mark of success, or toughness, or a badge of honour to be worn on your shoulder (or your knee, or wherever). They are serious business, and can be prevented. Train hard, train smart, train safe and keep the miles churning injury free.