The sultry month of July, slowly sweating by. Too much time to reflect on past mistakes and future turmoil. The momentum of the early year lost to endless obstacles and upheavals.
Just so, a serious injury seemingly stops time. As you stand still, the competition flies forward. And each day lasts two, three times as long, piling up time for you to ponder whatever the hell cursed your season this time.
This period follows those first agonizing weeks of wondering: “This has to be just a muscle strain.” “A day off and I’ll be fine.” “It’s not my turn. Surely somebody else deserves an injury more than I do.”
Then the inevitable misdiagnoses: “Ah, yes. That’s just your quad not firing correctly.” “Just walk normally. It’ll be fine with a couple days off – just probably a strain”
The eventual MRI almost inevitably shows something which, according to everyone “Could be worse.” Well, you know what? It could always be worse. It’s the fact that we’re unsatisfied with our current predicament that we’re driven to succeed, and this predicament is only worsened with injury.
But the nagging self-doubt! That is only redoubled with each new serious injury, each time you must go through the same process to return to full health. Each time, you are that much more acutely aware of just how difficult it will be to stay focused on the slow rehab, the months of exercises that can’t even be called training. You know how miserable each workout will feel, how badly it will hurt just to finish mile repeats slower than what used to be tempo pace.
But it’s not just the rehab that’s fearsome, it’s the sudden stab of fear during a hard workout once you’re supposedly “healthy”. The knowledge that it could happen all over again. The over analysis of past mistakes – “Where the hell had I really gone wrong? I improved my nutrition, was more cautious in training, always changed shoes on time. Will I be able to fix it this time around? What if I haven’t fixed things and I’m making a new mistake?”
That’s the problem with injuries. It’s not just one cause. Everything is associated with a myriad of mistakes that can seem so stupid in hindsight. “This time I was injured because of a bad shoe choice.” “This time I increased mileage too quickly” “Oh, I just fell off my bike” “I added too much intensity too quickly”
But worst are the injuries that seemingly have no cause, because those are unpreventable. Obviously we cannot cope with these unfathomable injuries, so we begin to over-analyze and attempt to sort through the mess of data accumulated prior to the injury.
But each injury and each rehab bring with them a more intense realization of just how badly you want success. How deeply you appreciate the races when the ground floats by and you know that you’re fulfilling your potential. Because for those of us who crave challenge and competition, nothing else captures that intense satisfaction of those moments of complete exhaustion and exaltation.
I’m finally in the process of finishing my rehab for a stress fracture in the neck of my femur. There’s still a ways to go, but over the course of this injury I’ve spent enough time over-thinking to make progress in areas that will improve my chances for consistency and, ultimately, success.
How it began: In late March, almost directly before my first scheduled race in South Africa, I was training surprisingly well. I was coming off a hill block and finished my first tempo thusly: