Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sidelined and Mental Fitness...

Injuries are something that most endurance athletes have to go through at one point or another. I have had my fair share of injuries, which is what led me to the sport of triathlon in the first place. I battled IT Band off and on for many years and achilles tendonitis a few times. Other than that, I was sidelined for one big bike crash and a few little ones. Throughout all of these injuries, however, I could always do a different sport injury free. For example, when I broke my collarbone, I was on the recumbant bike a few days later. That is the nice thing about our sport - there are three to train, so you pretty much always have one to choose from if you can't do the others. Well my latest injury is a first for me. The day after I competed in NOLA 70.3 - I pulled my groin muscle during a recovery swim. I honestly thought that this injury would last a few days at most. I stretched, iced, compressed, but was still feeling it every time I would swim/bike/walk/etc. Running was a no go. Now over two weeks later, it is still bothering me. I generally am fairly calm when I first get injured, but as the time passes, I find it a little bit more challenging to stay relaxed - which leads me to my next train of thought...The mental effects of an injury. 

Earlier this week, I was commiserating with my fellow master's swim teammate Jim, who is currently dealing with a shoulder injury himself. Jim is a top USMS master's swimmer and also a feature writer for several magazines including Men's Health and Swimmer. So Jim and I began discussing how we both have a tendency to lean toward the anxious/nutty side of sports mentality and questioned: could this effect or elongate our injury. I have 100% been a believer that mentality will effect injuries and performance. (Maybe I have read the secret one too many times.) But in college, I completed my master's thesis studying Physical Exercise and it's Effects on Women's Mental Health, so I have spent alot of time studying and thinking about about this topic.

Currently in the midst of an injury, I can't help but wonder: Is this a mental or physical injury? Or both? How do we prevent phsyical injuries from turning into mental injuries?

Why is it that injuries effect us endurance athletes as they do? Is it because we are generally type A people that hate to lose control? Is it because we are so dang afraid of losing fitness? Getting fat? Not being able to check that box that we swam/biked/ran XX amount of miles this week? Are we getting too far off track from our season plan? Are we afraid that we will never be that fast again or swim/bike/run again?

Jim brought up another question on my mind. How does having an injury effect our self - identity? If I can't get up and swim in the morning before work, can  I no longer a identify myself as a triathlete working as hard as possible to get better?

Anyways, I always try to keep my eye on the bigger picture. Obviously I know that in the scheme of things, this injury IS NOT THAT BAD! I know that I am very lucky to be able to do what I get the opportunity to do every single day.

For the past two weeks, I have been pretty calm most of the time, but it seems like when I would have an especially hard, exhausting day at work - my groin would be worse than usual. I would send a spastic email to my coach, and lucky for me, he would calm me down, by basically telling me to relax - exactly what I needed to hear. I think it is good to have a voice of reason when sometimes I can't hear my own. It also makes me realize that maybe I am making my injury worse mentally on an otherwise rough day.

So the question is what to do to stay mentally positive during a down period? I decided to give myself a break. Always keep the mindset that tomorrow is a fresh new day and anything is possible with a positive outlook. Really focus on the things that I can control, and this little annoying setback can fuel my desire to train hard when the time comes.

Anyways, these are just a few of my totally unprofessional thoughts on this very interesting topic.