Recovering from injury

I’ve had this post in draft for a little while, but given some horrible luck befalling some training friends it seemed good timing to finish this one off. I had a turbulent start when I first cranked up my training for a serious ultra event, incurring a couple of early injuries to work through. When you push your limits now and again you’ll find them, in often painful ways, yet these moments give very positive opportunities to become stronger in other areas.

peter wileman photography

One of my other passions…

One of my other hobbies is motorbike track days. There’s a level of acceptance shared among regular track day addicts that eventually, if you’re pushing to find your limits you will eventually find them by means of crossing them, which often takes the form of a crash. It happens to the professionals a lot, it happens to the amateurs less frequently yet it’s regarded as ‘one of those things’ that comes with what you’re doing. Sometimes its bad luck (hitting oil on track, being hit by someone else), sometimes it’s a silly mistake on your behalf (not checking tyres, loss of concentration) or quite often you just find that fine knife-edge of making it around a corner to finding the gravel. When it happens those experienced riders know it could quite easily be one of them next… we accept it, we hope it won’t happen, but we don’t let it stop us from enjoying our passion.

I can relate many aspect of physical training to this same mental approach. When you’re pushing your body to get stronger you push it to it’s limits. When you set off on your journey towards your final goal… sometimes, unfortunately, something can give. You can do what you can to minimise the risk, but the only way to eliminate something unfortunate occurring completely is to completely avoid the activity. However, what IS in your control, is how you tackle the recovery stages after the event.

Firstly, don’t linger too long on what’s happened. By all means reflect healthily on whatever incident led to the injury, as there will be valuable lessons to be learned. Yet don’t dwell on ‘What if’, it’s a waste of your energy. Focus on the facts, adjust your behavior or approach for the future, and factor in changes in to your future endeavors, keep it factual and keep it positive.

Next, depending on the severity of what’s happened you may want to look for some professional help in the days after the initial injury. This gives things time to settle whilst being soon enough not to miss an initial critical window for some early rehabilitation. For muscular or soft tissue type injuries it can be crucial to start stretches and exercises (Albeit very minor) quite soon in order to ensure a full and strong recovery. Seeing your GP or going direct to a reputable physiotherapist is highly recommended.

From here you’ll want to start working out a recovery plan. Most minor injuries have IMG_4109around a 6 to 8 week recovery time. During this period you’ll want to be keeping your training habits and work around your injury. For me THIS was the hardest part. Mentally I felt like I was losing so much time not being able to progress, then I felt like everything I had worked so hard to achieve was disappearing and I would be soon back to square one by the end of the first day of rest. These demons, like any lingering hindsight, need to be ignored. It takes at the very least two weeks for any strength to start waning, and even then initial losses are slow and minor. Yes there may well be some loss of time and yes it will take you a little while to get back to where you were, but less then you think and more if you allow the negative demons to take hold! Keep positive, focus on other areas of your training, keep the training habit going and focus on where you’ll be a year from now, not a week.

If you have access to a coach or personal trainer this is where they can really show their value to you. They can look to keep you motivated, work with the advice from your physio, and help you map out a clear road-map to recovery with some short term goals. They can help fuel the positivity from steps taken in other areas of your training  as well as ensure you don’t push too hard when building back up your injured parts. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help from friends and training buddies too. You may not be able to train alongside them for a little while, but they’ll only be too keen to help out and keep you emotionally and mentally invested.

This is also an opportunity to learn more about your own body. I found my appointments with my physio to be fascinating. I looked to get as much knowledge as possible out of our time together and I became a lot more conscious of my own body. I became much more aware of what my body tries to tell me before a possible injury, the warning signs of tight or fatigued and strained muscles. That awareness can’t always help a single event, but I’m sure it’s helped me avoid injuries since as I can now hear the messages my body is sending. Comparing it back to the track day example, a bike or tyre will give you signs of approaching the limit of grip, which can be easily missed by the less experienced. Yet once you’re aware of those signs it gets easier to avoid and likewise once you become more aware of the messages your body sends you’re better equipped on when and how to ease back.

The harder you train, the more rewarding the results, but the higher the risk something unfortunate can happen. If and when it does stay focused on how far you’ve come, how much you now stand to learn, and treat it as a chance to toughen up your mental training. I had very mixed feelings on my initial injury. It was a big negative mental blow given how close to my first event it was, yet also I couldn’t believe I had now earned my first sports injury, and that I was undertaking things that a short time previously I never would have thought possible. Keep focused, accept it as part and parcel of what you’re undertaking, and move on stronger for it.