Thursday, July 5, 2012

The importance of paying attention.

Injury is very hard on athletes.  Before I started running, my response to an injured runner would have been something like, “I’m sorry to hear that.  Enjoy the time off while you get better.”  Now that I am a runner and triathlete my response would be something like “I am so sorry.  Injury is the worst!  I hope you can cross-train and maintain your fitness while you are healing.”  My response to injury was different early in my running career than it is now.  I used to completely lose my mind, fearing that I would never run again.  Now I know the elements of proper recovery – rest, ice, compression, elevation, ibuprofen, stretching/foam rolling, proper nutrition, physical therapy exercises, returning to activity at the proper time.  Done correctly, you can minimize recovery time.  If allowed, cross-train to maintain cardiovascular fitness and sanity levels.   Listen to your body and your coach.   

Injuries are tricky little suckers.  You can be doing everything right on paper….proper form, following your training plan, enough sleep, good nutrition.  I was doing a great job at all this, or so I thought, when I came down with what I refer to as a snakebite on my heel.  It’s likely a combination of the onset of plantar fasciitis, some bruising (I whacked it pretty hard on a big rock one day swimming in the lake…my first thought was oh, no, this is not good), and subconsciously guarding my knee which had been  (but  currently is not) bothering me.   The thing that bothers me most is the possibility of plantar fasciitis.  I work hard to maintain really good form, and right now I’m putting in less running mileage than usual.  During marathon training, my mileage is much higher.   I transitioned from spring marathon to summer triathlon focus, and my running has never been better.  What on earth could have caused this? 

The more I thought about it, the answer was pretty clear.  This is hard to admit.  I wasn’t paying attention.  Life had become unbalanced.  Like most athletes, I put family first, then training.   I pride myself on balancing the two.  How could I have let the scales tip?  It wasn’t any one event, but rather a combination of little things.  At the end of the school year, I was volunteering a lot, spending a lot of time on my feet.  Any runner can tell you that a sure way to foot fatigue is standing around for hours with little movement.   What I did wrong: a long bike ride, followed by a quick shower, coffee, and off to help some family move.  What I should have done:  ice bath after the ride, proper nutrition and hydration, shower, foam rolling, then go help.  What I did wrong:  long tempo run, shower, coffee, pick up kids, off to not one but two consecutive end-of-school-year parties, where I was standing a lot.  What I should have done:  long tempo run, ice bath, nutrition and hydration, shower, foam roll, then party time, but sit down when I had the chance.  What I did wrong:  blowing off my PT exercises, telling myself “I’ll get to it later today.”  What I should have done:  Set aside time every morning for PT, no excuses.  I stopped paying attention to the details and a little of the magic was lost. 

I’m not blaming a busy life for injury.  Rather, losing focus can lead to poor training decisions.  There is a lesson to be learned here.  Running is full of lessons.  In the past, I sometimes wouldn’t listen.  I know better now.  I will be at the starting line healthy.  I refuse to make the same mistakes.  It will mean saying “no” to late nights during the taper, scheduling recovery time (ice bath, foam rolling) into the training day, and focusing on proper nutrition instead of relying on caffeine and energy bars.  Making and posting  a list of priorities has helped turn things around.  We all slip a little here and there.  The important thing is to pay attention and make changes when necessary.  The scales will stay balanced!

Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun.

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