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How To Keep Training With Injuries

Updated on February 2, 2018
Inter Jonny Wills profile image

Jonny has been a fitness and mental well-being enthusiast for more than twenty years, documenting his progress for published projects.

Stuck in a Cycle of Injuries

So there I was on the sofa resting up, thinking that maybe a marathon I did six and half years previous had messed my legs up for good. In the previous two years I’d experienced patella tendonitis in the knees four times (two each side) and metatarsal strain or tears in the balls of my feet about the same number. It was obvious this was a cycle of complementing injuries, where the ‘good’ leg or foot was supporting the strain of the original injury.

From the consistent pain I learnt I should have rested even more and that movement and ice cold baths became something to enjoy. In hindsight I should have used crutches and asked my friends for more help with shopping. This is mainly because joint-related strain is cumulative and whatever you do it will take multiple times as long a) to discover how badly you aggravated it, and b) to actually heal.

Still, with nowness practice – attending to it dutifully at regular intervals – I got my numerous injury times down from two weeks to one. Strains normally come on overnight and build up, getting worse before peaking, then trailing off.

Don't Despair With the Onset of Injury

Search 'trigger points affected area' and you'll find many guides to help massage out pain
Search 'trigger points affected area' and you'll find many guides to help massage out pain

Finding the Right Healthcare Support

So I had been doing trigger therapy on my legs and knees, but finally, for an entire year my legs just wouldn’t recover. I seemed to have meniscus tears in my knees. The cartilage that cushions my shinbone and thighbone had worn down and I needed an MRI scan. Apparently this is what happens from overuse and age.

Fearful of weird machines that look vaguely like nuclear bank vaults designed to melt brains I opted out of getting in the MRI, thus any kind of operation. It hadn't helped that the surgeon also failed to explain fully the condition and the options leaving me think that if they messed with it I would never run again.

Additionally my first physio wasn’t spiritually present in our appointment and seemed to resent my knowledge of my own legs and fitness history. He thus elected to work against me rather than with, leaving me perturbed and wondering why he was in the service of healthcare. But Dr Burnside my GP was faithful, she didn’t mind me bringing my internal Columbo or Google searches with me into her practice room (I wasn't as full on as it sounds by the way), and she soon located a great physio called Paddy.

I guess in the same way I’d taken five attempts to find my doctor then taking two to find Paddy, is how it’s done. The lesson I guess here is is that the comfort level with the person you’re working with to heal you has to be right. You don’t have to like them, just trust them.

Be Fussy With Who Handles You

I once had a physio who, telling an angry story about his kids, ended up mangling my knee
I once had a physio who, telling an angry story about his kids, ended up mangling my knee

Rehabilitation, Recovery and Motivation

Paddy was a hero and told me I was doing nothing drastically wrong. We had numerous sessions where he introduced me to plyometrics (jump training) dedicated resistance exercises, stretches and recovery workouts. Best of all he enlightened me about the gym machines I needed for rehabilitation and strength training. He applauded my lofty goal to do an Ironman, concurring with me that a big target is actually good for the mind to help recovery and keep up the motivation.

These sessions lasted six months. In all it took a year for my legs to fully recover from the seemingly random aches.

As I said, technically it was the worst year of my life. And I’m not cheesily going to say, ‘in some ways it was the best’, because the fitness journey is a holistic story – you have to figure out how to rake through issues that ultimately affect your body and mind together.

Still, I wasn't running. I put on weight and had to deal with feeling glum. Plus I'd lost the highs and optimism from regular exercise. It was my worst year and yet, why did I survive well and say it was terrible with a smile on my face?

Back to the Gym for Rebuilding Work

A course of physiotherapy encourages you to rethink your whole body movement approach
A course of physiotherapy encourages you to rethink your whole body movement approach

When Injuries are the Training

During the worst times, how can you know it’s bad but still carry on?
Because you know it will eventually turn out okay and this is what we come to call our mindset. Perhaps this is too simple, but making your mindset being adaptable is also key. If you convince yourself things will turn out fine, then you have to acknowledge at some point that injuries are all part of the training. Instead of losing your mind it's actually a road to sanity. Top athletes have to deal with this all the time.

All during his three successful Olympic campaigns for Beijing, London and Rio Usain Bolt was carrying injuries. Think about this: winning eight gold medals from 100m, 200m and 4×100m relay means three consecutive four-year periods of intense training (including other competitions of course). Bolt's trainer, Coach Glen Mills knew how to train with and around his injuries, including making sure he rested properly. They weren't being insane headcases, they just both knew injuries were part of the training and were highly motivated.

Even when I didn’t know or wavered or cried or lost myself to rubbish nights of alcohol or chocolate (it happens) I had the following mindset: I’m still in training. This is how we can emulate a professional athlete. Not by stuffing your face with confectionery, but by not letting injuries make you think it's all over. Of course I’m nowhere near pro standard, but think how heroically I’d dealt with things for myself, so I couldn’t afford to not recognise I’d done well given I didn't have the Olympics as a full-time goal. And the more I 'got good at being injured' the more my Ironman goal seemed achievable.

Usain Bolt Took on Injury and Remained at the Top

Usain Bolt, coached by Glen Mills (not pictured) viewed injuries as part of training
Usain Bolt, coached by Glen Mills (not pictured) viewed injuries as part of training

Taking on the Pain With Treatment and a Plan

In practical terms I used rest and elevation and avoided touching restrictive bed sheets on sensitive toes. I iced with bags and baths; triggered the pain points around the ligaments, joints and injuries; gelled with Ibuprofen.

Throughout my training/recovery I encouraged movement and worked on my laptop, watched movies, read books and tried to have a life, albeit with a dodgy limp and nosey people asking only to feel better about me looking worse or suffering trite trades where no one is actually helping. Ostensibly it was hellish, but I was and am in training, trying to keep myself to myself while Columbo finds it all curious. The hellishness dissipates once you know the plan.

The truth is, it’s all about being Ironman in training that will help me reach that goal, and understanding that humility, work and self-educating support, will always end mental and physical confusion and help create the ceaseless wonder of being in the now. This includes the pain, boredom, frustration and self-doubt of resting because of injury. Try and remember that when you get injured and you'll be able to cope better than you could ever have imagined.

Being an Ironman is All in the Preparation

Looking forward to the day is all very well, but being prepared will make you feel better
Looking forward to the day is all very well, but being prepared will make you feel better

© 2018 Jonny Wills

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