Hey everyone! This week has been kind of crazy and I wasn’t able to make any time for writing, unfortunately. After checking out a new restaurant Monday night, Matt and I enjoyed the training group meet up Tuesday night. Wednesday night I had some girlfriends from school over to catch up over margaritas, Thursday was track night/pool workout, and last night I crashed after getting home late after celebrating a successful dissertation defense by another student in my lab. Trying to stay on top of my PT exercises in addition to having a busier than normal week has meant really late nights (well, late for me)…to the point that I blew off this morning’s bike ride to catch up on some Z’s. And my body is VERY thankful for that decision!
Tuesday morning I did intensity intervals on the bike. I did a 5 min warm up on level 8 and then did 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, and 1 min intervals at level 11 with 1 min of recovery at level 8 in between, and finished with 3 min of cool down at level 8. It was a good, solid ride, and my knee handled it really well. I covered 6.85 miles in 30 minutes. I rounded out Tuesday with PT exercises later that night.
Wednesday morning I did a 30 minute easy ride on the bike at a level 7 and covered 6.9 miles. I also did another round of PT exercises that night.
Thursday night I headed to the pool for 30 minutes of pool running and covered 350 yards. (I stopped every 50 yards to measure my heart rate so I could make sure I was working hard enough…I was starting to find it easy to drift off while watching the swimmers around me.) I am finally feeling like this makes sense to my body and I am doing a much better job of staying afloat. It was a very successful workout!
I took the last two days off of PT workouts, however, just to give it time to recover. I have a new set of exercises to work on for next Thursday, however, so I’ll be starting to work on all of them tonight.
Learning From The Past
After being sidelined by injury before 2013 even started, I knew I wanted to focus my writing on the recovery process (and staying on top of core workouts to avoid injury in the first place!). With each PT appointment, I’ve shared my progression and discussed the focus of each exercise. I’ve talked about adapting workout plans to my current abilities. And I’ve continued focusing on maintaining my cardio fitness. But there’s one BIG component that I haven’t spent much time talking about.
And that’s mental strength.
Fighting back from an injury is mentally exhausting. While trying to stick with cardio workouts and stretching, I’m adding in 2-3 hours each day of additional exercises…which are obviously designed to be challenging. As a result of trying to keep up with all of these workouts, I’m in bed much later than usual and my body almost always feels exhausted. I would be lying if I said there weren’t times I just wanted to sit on the couch and do nothing at night…particularly as my exercises get tougher and tougher.
So as the weeks have gone by and I’ve continued to fight the urge to go running, I’ve found myself losing the motivation to keep with my exercises and workouts. It gets even more challenging when you go to PT hoping (against your better judgement) to be told you can start running, only to be stuck inside on the bike still. Sometime I have to trick myself into getting my exercises in. Sometimes I have to bribe myself. But regardless of how it may come across on here, it’s never really easy.
Lately, however, I’ve found myself drawing on my past to find the motivation to keep going forward.
When I was in 8th grade, I was at dance class one particular Wednesday night. I was still in level 5 but was trying to move up to level 6, so even after I spent the early mornings practicing at the ice rink, I would stay for about 4.5-5 hours of ballet class after school. That specific night we were working on double pirouettes on pointe; as part of the choreography for our upcoming production of The Nutcracker, no one was hitting them particularly well so our instructor had us working on them going across the floor. On our last set, I went up into pointe on my right foot and began to make the rotation when the next thing I knew, I was on the floor with my foot in excruciating pain. Years later I learned that previous ankle injuries had left me with pretty much no ligaments in my right ankle, so when I went up on pointe my ankle gave out and I sprained my foot. (During college I had surgery to use some of my tendon to create new ligaments so my ankle is fine now.)
After several x-rays I learned that defects in some of the bones in my feet meant it would take longer for the sprain to heal and it would require extensive physical therapy. My doctor actually told me recovery would have been easier if I had broken my foot instead.
The injury came at a particularly bad time. I had been training for a big regional skating competition and was hoping to advance from my placing the year before. And sitting through 3 hours of dance class 4 nights each week wasn’t exactly much fun, either. So I started out strong with my physical therapy, but after weeks of being stuck in a boot feeling like I was getting no where, I started to slack. I didn’t appreciate how much I needed the PT. And when I finally did get back on the ice, I certainly didn’t appreciate how much of a difference the time off was going to have (I think it ended up being about 2.5-3 months). Nor did I consider how hard it would be to come back.
I was naive. I thought I would get back on the ice and land the first double axel I tried. (And now that I think about it, I’m not sure I ever did land one after my injury. I certainly never landed another triple jump.) I thought I was invincible and the jumps would come back easily without any work. But I was foolish and wrong. And as I result, I never did work hard enough. I never focused on reworking each jump, even the easy ones. I never cared about building my stamina again. Because it was harder than I anticipated, I let it beat me. I wanted to rest on my natural talent and not on the hard work I needed. And so in one botched double pirouette, I ended up throwing away a lifetime I had spent on the ice.
To this day, that is the singular biggest regret in my life.
I still crave the ice under my feet and the feeling of flying through the air. My body still craves the positions of my signature layback spin and spirals. And the ability to take something so athletically challenging and make it look so beautiful…it was how I defined myself until high school. Of course it’s easy to look back now and realize where I made my mistakes, where I lost heart and motivation, where I should have pushed harder. But as a young teenager, I chose to ignore it. I chose to avoid the workouts I should have been doing. And now I live every single day carrying the burden of regret.
It’s been 13 years since that fateful ballet class. Essentially 13 years since I truly viewed myself as an athlete. (Yes, I played volleyball, hockey, and lacrosse in high school and did some cheerleading in college, but it was never the same.) Despite considering myself a runner and completing 4 marathons, I had always felt that the title of athlete was something I had thrown away the rights to long ago. But a few weeks ago, I was laying on the exam table at PT with a student shadowing my therapist during my appointment. As my therapist spent time working on my hip muscles and taking me through new exercises, she would stop to explain what she was doing to the student. At one point she mentioned something about the need to retrain my inhibited muscles to fire, but how that wasn’t enough. My muscles needed to also learn endurance and be able to manage hours of constant firing. She called me an endurance athlete as she described the need to keep my core stabilized for hours of running. And she unknowingly almost brought me to tears.
Even though I was refusing to see myself as an athlete, the years I spent pounding the pavement before most Washingtonians were out and about for the day had proven I was worthy of that name again. And just like every athlete around the world, I was another endurance athlete needing help to overcome an injury. I’m still not 100% certain I deserve to be called an athlete…I think part of me is waiting to see how I come back from this injury to fully accept it…but hearing myself described as an ‘endurance athlete’ was the motivation I needed to keep fighting through my rehab. Despite getting to bed hours later than usual, my therapy has become the most important part of my day.
Because this time, I’m doing it right and I’m not giving up.
After drawing on that memory all week to keep me going (and Matt will tell you that my frustration with some particularly challenging exercises came close to cracking me earlier in the week), I was excited for my appointment on Thursday. I finally figured out how to control my abdominal muscles so I could control the movement in my back (which is still really hard but I can do it now!) and my core stabilization has been improving every day. At the end of an appointment where all of my exercises were bumped up in difficulty, I was excited. But then I heard words that came close to making me cry tears of joy:
I can bike commute (no, Metro, you will no longer make me eat ramen so I can pay your absurdly high prices). Next time we’ll begin working on functional exercises (which means strength building and not just muscle activation and engagement). And 15 minutes of elliptical activity at a time…to see how the knee handles it.
Is it running? No. But doing things the right way means building to running slowly, carefully, and in a way that won’t land me back in PT a few months down the road. So tomorrow morning I’ll be starting my workout on the elliptical to see if my knee can handle 15 minutes of weight-bearing exercise before finishing up with 45 minutes on the bike. And if I feel like really getting crazy, maybe I’ll bike commute for good measure!
But beyond everything else, there is one reason I will continue to fight hard while working to overcome this injury: I know the pain of regret. I know how raw it makes you feel. I have already accumulated enough regret for one lifetime…I don’t want anymore. Instead, I’ll continue to find the motivation each night to do my exercises. I’ll resist the urge to run as much as possible until I’ve been given the green light. But I will always push myself to be my best and give my all within the limits. Because part of being an athlete means fighting back from injury like one.
And maybe, just maybe, if I can avoid regret this time, I can ease the burden of the regret I already carry.
Your Turn: Do you consider yourself an athlete? Have you had to overcome an injury recently? Did you dream of being a professional athlete as a kid? If so, what sport?