These past 8 weeks I have been challenged by something that I’m sure most runners and athletes have faced at some point during their time. I’d managed 8 months of training without needing to miss a day because of an injury niggle and while I was quietly hi-fiving myself about this achievement, I was seduced by a new pair of shoes. Now before you all get up in my grill about blaming an injury on a new pair of shoes, I should point out that I am very grateful to these shoes as well as to everyone who told me that ‘I needed to try them out’. The reason I’m grateful is because they exposed a weakness of mine. Of course this weakness may have stayed in its neat little box until after I finished Running for Bums, but it also may have reared its ugly head in 6 months, or heaven forbid 12 months when I’m supposed to be on the beach in Tasmania. So for the early warning I am grateful.
I know I tend to natter on a bit about things, so to get to the point the problem is my hip. It turns out that one needs muscles that are flexible in order to run – who would have thought. While I won’t give you a detailed run down on every little thing about this injury, I felt that the thought processes that go through my mind would be of interest to some (out of interest I have bursitis and I am doing everything that two physios, a sports doctor and my coach are telling me to do).
Whilst the physical recovery and work that needs to be done to settle the problem down and prevent it from happening again is fairly straight forward, it’s the psychological factors that interest me far more. It’s pretty easy to spend an hour every day on stretching, rolling and strength, but to clear your brain of worry, frustration and all the what-ifs is something entirely different. When I’ve gone from running 50-60 kilometre weeks down to just 15 kilometres, it is a big change to say the least.
Why is it that when we get injured we more often than not forget the one element that can do more harm than good if we let it? Yes, I’m talking about all the grey matter that is clumped together inside our skulls. It is such a powerful tool and while it may not be able to directly impact upon the length of a muscle, it can have a big impact on how we feel about it.
I tend to naturally gravitate towards a positive mindset, but if you’ve read my previous blog post I am by no means immune to feelings of doubt and worry, and getting caught up in the future rather than focusing on the now.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about whether or not this is a stress fracture.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t wondered about how I would react if this persists for 6 months.
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t questioned whether the kilometres under my feet are going to be enough.
And I would certainly be lying if I said I hadn’t momentarily thought about the repercussions of pushing Running for Bums back 12 months.
Whilst I haven’t entertained these thoughts too much, the fact of the matter is that they have passed through my mind and I have had to find ways to deal with them and not be consumed by them. Some of the thoughts are rational – even the doctor was at first concerned that a stress fracture could be the culprit; while some are clearly totally and utterly irrational.
So the question I had to ask myself was how to deal with these thoughts. Now while I’m sure there are many experts out there who can list the top 10 ways to counteract a negative mindset, I went with a more personal approach and came up with some situation specific examples.
1. I sought knowledge. I googled (and wikipedia’d) anything I could about this injury. I phoned friends who knew a thing or two about it. I questioned my coach. I sought confirmation bias. I wanted to be able to tell my mind that the pain I had in my groin, back and knee were directly linked to the injury and not something separate.
2. I got real. My hips didn’t take 4 weeks to tighten up, so they are not going to take 4 weeks to loosen up. In reality my hips have probably been getting tighter and tighter over the past few years and the shoe change was simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. And based on that figure of years, I’ve got a long way to go before they are as stretchy and strong as they need to be.
3. I did something. I started doing the strength work I should have been doing all along. I started doing the recovery work, the stretching and the rolling that I should have already been doing as well. It took being guiltily reminded by the doctor that my recovery work is AS important as the kilometres I put under my feet, to get me out of my lazy mindset. Quite often we don’t do things unless there is a really good reason for doing them, and more often than not prevention isn’t a good enough one even though it should be.
4. I started to be grateful for the injury. I am grateful that it happened now and not later. I am grateful that I have a coach who can guide me through it. I am grateful to have happened upon a physio who is hip specialist while on my holiday. I am grateful that I will be stronger as a result of it. I am grateful that it is not something worse.
5. I spoke up. While I’m not one to usually dwell on something, I had so many things going around and around in my head that I was getting lost in my own thoughts. In the end I sat down one day and wrote a long email to my coach about everything that I was concerned about, as well as everything that I was already doing to rectify the situation. In the process of doing this I questioned everything and came up with solutions to the problems with my mindset, yet still I sent it even though I’d effectively solved my own questions. The reason I wrote it out was mainly for my own benefit and for my own memory down the track, but also because I feel that feedback to my coach solely on my physical undertakings does not tell the whole story. It gives me more confidence knowing that he knows what is going through my head, and I imagine (whether right or wrong) that it gives him clarity as to how things are really going when he is so far away.
6. I erred on the side of caution. There is no good that can come from pushing through pain with an injury like this and with a goal like mine. I am better off to run 15km a week for 3 months than lie about how I am feeling and run 50km a week, only to then have this drag on and on. I would rather stand at the start of Running for Bums physically underprepared if need be, rather than already with an injury.
7. I stopped worrying. Worrying serves no purpose – not even a little bit. I was so worried about it being something more sinister or different to the original diagnosis, that it kind of consumed my thoughts. I realised that even if it turns out to be something different, all this work and strength that I am doing now is going to be beneficial in the long run regardless. Living remotely we have no access to mainstream diagnostic tools so even if I wanted to investigate further it’s unlikely I would be able to easily, so I figured it’s best to trust the experts and get stronger in the meantime.
So as you can probably tell I think a lot – I’m a day dreamer and I find great entertainment as well as solace in my own thoughts. After spending a lot of time sorting through all of these and coming up with arguments to counteract the negative ones, I’m in a much more peaceful place. I do my rehab and recovery and I’m thankful I can still run 3 days a week, because at the end of the day that is all I can do right now.