Maintaining focus whilst injured.

On Saturday evening it felt like one of my worst nightmares had come true – a preseason injury that would prevent me from running and, as I like to put it, ‘ticking off the Ks’. The shock of an ankle injury appearing out of the blue really took its toll on my mental strength over the coming hours and I had to struggle hard to keep on top of it and to keep telling myself this wasn’t all that bad. When I get injured I always try to bear in mind that there is always someone worse off, always someone with a much worse injury!

Granted, the injury is bad enough to stop me from running for the moment but I can still walk on it with minimal pain and it is seeming to respond to the treatments I’ve given it in the past 24 hours or so. With this in mind I have spent the day devising a recovery strategy that will allow me to maintain my fitness and current weight (almost race weight) and will also assist me to stay focused on my goal of a decent individual finish in this season’s Cross Country league with the hope of qualifying for Southern Area Nationals in January.

Remaining positive in the face of adversity is very important when it comes to an injury that stops you from running. For the first few hours after I got the injury I was blaming myself and trying to find reasons I could blame the pain on. My mood was black. However, I soon became mindful of something Sakyong Mipham had written in his book ‘Running with the Mind of Meditation’;

“Pain and sickness are clear indications that something is off-balance. They are signals from reality. We made bad choices, we ate wrong, or we were not mindful, and now we are feeling the effects. Taking responsibility is not blaming the pain or anything else. Simultaneously, you don’t need to feel guilty or chastise yourself. Blame combined with pain only infects the pain with negativity.” – Sakyong Mipham, ‘Running with the Mind of Meditation’, p.115

After I remembered this passage I began to think of the choices I had made in recent days, had I been thoughtful? Had I thought about what I was asking my body to do? The answer, unfortunately, was no I had not been thoughtful. Worst of all I had ignored advice given to me by an extremely good Steeplechaser from my Club, on Tuesday I asked how should I got about breaking in my new cross country spikes? He answered that I should do half of my cross country sessions in my usual training shoes and the other half in the spikes.

Shame on me for spurning the advice! In my eagerness to break them in and run fast in them I undertook my entire Friday rep session wearing the spikes. It was my first ever negative splits rep session, true, but I now believe that this may have something to do with my injury.  I certainly did not give my legs and feet enough chance to slowly transition to a completely different type of shoe and now I am feeling the effects of that.

As some of you may know, I have only been running seriously since December 1st and this is the first time I’ve had an injury that has prevented me from running properly.  Naturally this has come as a shock as I really was not expecting my ankle to cause me any trouble at all. In fact, I was half expecting some sort of muscular problems in my calves or hamstrings as they often feel tight after training sessions.  The worst part of the ankle injury is that I have been reading recently about how Kenyan runners seem to have very strong ankles. This led me to begin researching ankle strengthening exercises on Saturday morning before my injury occurred! I am still going to add ankle strengthening workouts to my programme when I’m fully fit as I believe this will make me a more technically efficient and stronger runner – especially when it comes to racing cross country.

For now though, I need to stay on top of the injury, stay focused and not let myself slip into the doldrums! An active recovery programme will help with this and I intend to borrow an aqua jogging belt from my Club so I can maintain my cardio-vascular fitness while I’m not running on the road or on the trails.  To add to this I will also increase the frequency of weight and circuit training as this will help to keep my weight down, strengthen my muscles and generally make me a more supple runner – a runner can’t become a great runner by just running, I recall reading somewhere.

This may be controversial to some, I’m not entirely sure, but I’m going to throw it out there anyway!  As I’m not running so much I am also going to reduce my calorie intake, specifically by reducing my carbohydrate intake as I don’t feel that aqua jogging and weight/circuit training can replicate the calorie burn that intervals and other running sessions provide. I will probably switch from rice and pasta to quinoa whilst injured and instead of heavy green vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage I will eat salads instead.  I will also avoid snacking on bits of chocolate here and there or a piece of toast here and there as I really feel that maintaining a racing weight is an important factor when it comes to competitive running – I learned this whilst reading Toby Tanser’s amazing book, ‘More Fire – How to run the Kenyan way’, wherein I found a quote from Simeon Rono;

“When you find the weight your body races best at, try to keep it.” – Simeon Rono, in ‘More Fire…’, p.116

So far I have covered the need for a positive and thoughtful mindset, the correct diet and the need to remain in active recovery when it comes to remaining focused whilst injured. Finally, I’d like to cover the topic of DIY physio.

Most of us runners cannot afford the kind of intensive physiotherapy that elite athletes have access to and so it is important that we teach ourselves some important methods when it comes to overcoming injury and, following recovery, maintaining healthy muscles and joints.  Personally I have 3 things that I stick to, injury or no, and they are:

  1. Self massage
  2. Stretching
  3. Cold bathing

It is very important that you massage the legs before and after running, in my opinion this keeps them supple and fairly free from pain. This being said, an amount of pain is to be expected in our sport!  As the saying goes, if you’re not sweating during training then you’re not training hard enough and consequently, if you’re not feeling some sort of pain after a session then you also haven’t trained hard enough! I use a massage ball for a deeper massage but it can also be helpful if you can get someone else to help with massage as they will often apply more force than you may be comfortable applying yourself.

As for stretching, I don’t think this needs much discussion! The first thing you learn when you begin running is that stretching before and after a run is the most important thing for maintaining a runner’s life! So, stretch 15 minutes before a run and stretch 15 minutes after a  run – at least.

Finally, cold bathing is important when it comes to reducing swelling and stiffness in the muscles as it encourages blood flow when the bath is completed. I generally use the distance I have run as a marker for how long my ‘ice bath’ should last: 1km = 1 minute and then 2 minutes added for every 5km. Therefore, after an 8km run I’ll sit in the bath for ten minutes and after a 10km run I’ll be in there for 14 minutes. It can be quite uncomfortable but with a bit of experimenting you’ll find the formula that works for you as there are many variables to consider – how deep will the bath be, will you use ice packs and water or just water, how long will you be in the bath, will you require entertainment to distract yourself, will you require fluids?  As for cold bathing whilst injured, I suggest having a cold bath every other day for 8 minutes. No science behind that at all, it’s just my preference and I find it does help with reducing swelling and pain.

One final note, I try to avoid ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs. Overuse of these drugs can lead to long term problems and you could develop a dependency, resorting to them for the slightest twinge of pain. I feel that using the methods outlined above are a sufficient way to control swelling and pain. The use of anti-inflammatory drugs does not increase your pain threshold and they do not help your muscles adapt to the stresses and strains of hard training, I’d argue that they mask pain thus tricking you into believing you can handle more and so increasing the risk of injury.

I’m no doctor and I’m no physio so don’t take my word for it and don’t think that my word is gospel, it’s not. I’m just putting my method for dealing with my injury out there!

“We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort.” – Jesse Owens, 4 times Olympic Gold medalist. Berlin, 1936

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