Three Lessons I Have Learned from Injury

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I was 6 weeks away from doing my first triathlon, at 40 years old. As I did not grow up as an athlete, the training regimen was very new to me. I was still learning to swim, riding a road bike for the first time and logging way more running miles than I ever had before. 

It was a “brick workout” day. This means two disciplines, back to back. The most useful “brick” prepares your body for the transition from the bike to the run. I had just completed my 40-mile bike ride and now it was time for a short run. I locked up my bike, traded my helmet for a visor, changed my shoes and started to jog. After about 200 yards, I rolled my right ankle- HARD.

I had sprained that ankle a handful of times and I immediately knew it was a sprain. Keenly aware that my race was in 6 weeks, I gently walked back to my car and drove home. Being active is one of the best things we can do for our health. Being active also comes with the risk of injury. Like many other unpleasant life experiences, I have found injury to be a good teacher. Here are the three, top lessons it’s taught me.

  1. I have learned to be patient with myself. When I have an injury, I can choose to be angry and frustrated or I can accept it and then patiently allow my body to do the healing. I hear plenty of stories about people getting injured then pushing their bodies way too soon, only to create more problems. An injury means rest. An injury requires patience.
  2. I have learned the importance of cross training. For many years I focused on hiking as my primary cardio exercise. It usually involved steep climbs, consequently, many miles and thousands of feet to walk back downhill. Over time, I started forming bunions on both feet. I decided to add running to my routine, as I could wear shoes that were much lighter and flexible than hiking boots. Also, I could get a great workout without having to add any up (and much worse, downhill) to my workouts. Pretty soon, my main cardio was running. After upping my miles too quickly, I had a case of plantar fasciitis. That’s when my husband convinced me to start cycling. Now I could enjoy outdoor exercise without any stress on my feet. Ah, cross training! Doing different activities allows us to work different muscles in our bodies without over training a particular set, helping us to avoid overuse injuries.
  3. I have learned that more is not always better. Of the three disciplines in triathlon (swimming, biking, running) the running has been my most challenging. I felt like every time I made progress, I got injured. I was really stuck on how many miles I was running each session, every week. Don’t get me wrong- if you are training for a marathon, you need to run a lot of miles. I was training for Olympic distance triathlon- a 10K run. Finally, I joined a club track workout. I learned firstly that all of my runs need to have a purpose. I also learned the importance of interval training. I could actually run less mileage and see improvements in my pace. It also reduced my risk for injury. This is when I began to reevaluate exercise overall- learning to work smarter, not harder. I have learned that often a well-structured, shorter, focused workout is more beneficial than a long, drawn out effort.

I’m not saying injuries are fun, but they are going to happen. So why not take a lesson from them?