Injury and illness is a part of life, and if you ask any triathlete that has been doing this for any extended period of time, injury setbacks happen all too regularly. Luckily, with a bit of rest and rehab (plus the help of a good physio in most cases), the time away from training is usually minimal. At worst, you might have to drop one or two disciplines for a little while, which means you can focus more on honing your other skills – oh the joy of training multiple sports at once!
But what happens if your injury is more major? What if you do something more serious that can keep you away from all training for an extended period of time?
I found myself in this exact situation after an untimely cycling accident that occurred a couple of months ago now. Towards the end of a normal Saturday ride, a split second mechanical issue led to me making contact with a kerb and being thrown into a wooden bollard (which I, in turn, ripped out the ground). Long story short, after a short trip to the ED in the back of an ambulance and a bunch of x-rays and other scans, I ended up finding out the crash led to me fracturing my C4 vertebrae, as well as sustaining ligament damage to my C2 through C7 too. I walked out of hospital a little under 2 days later in the oh-so-sexy plastic contraption below…
The neck brace above is called a Miami collar, and I soon found out I would be wearing around the clock for 8-12 weeks. This includes showers, sleeping and everything in between. During this time I was also not allowed to run, swim, lift anything over 2kg, or do anything that would remotely cause any strain or stress to my neck or spine. I was shocked and understandably pretty upset. While I was initially there should be no long term complications from the accident, it was still a shock and would change everything that I had come to grow accustomed too over the last year or so of training!
Dealing With Change
If you’re not familiar with my journey – in December 2020 I was sedentary and weighed nearly 140kg. I discovered cycling, which got me on a path to becoming fitter and healthier, which then eventually transitioned to discovering triathlon, which has consumed my training for the last year. I entered my first 70.3 in December 2021, which I completed, and through that qualified for the World 70.3 in October 2022. I also got down to 100kg – a 37kg total loss in around 16 months.
I was understandably concerned about not being able to train (other than walking) for 2-3 months. Was I going to go back to old habits? Was my nutrition going to fall off a cliff? Would I pile on the kg’s again? Would I ever return to triathlon again? The negative thoughts were flowing thick and fast…
My wife was a big help in getting my head right and helping me formulate a strategy to keep myself on track during these changes, and I started setting myself recovery goals.
Recovery Not Negotiables
I wrote myself a list of not negotiables for my recovery period, to help keep myself honest. I tried to have these cover a few different points: physical, nutritional and mental wellbeing, and I tried to keep it simple. My not negotiables were as follows:
- Walk minimum 4kms every day – this was the only exercise I could do initially, so I wanted to ensure I stayed active to the best of my ability
- Don’t eat like a triathlete – I wanted to keep my caloric intake in check 95% of the time. No eating like I had just gone for a 4 hour ride on weekends!
- Keep involving myself in the triathlon community – I wanted to keep supporting my teammates and the other events I would normally have been involved in. This helped keep me mentally strong and focused on the other end of this.
- Listen to a triathlon or motivational podcast daily – Another way of keeping mentally strong and focused on recovery and a return to training.
How Things Are Progressing
I don’t want this post to take hours to read, so I’m going to skip forward to how things are going currently. I am still in a neck brace nearly 8 weeks post accident and am in a great headspace. I am still driven to compete at the Mooloolaba 70.3 in September this year (16 weeks from now), and the World 70.3 in Utah a further 6 weeks after that. I have progressed to doing indoor cycling thanks to being able to jump on Zwift – this has been great for turning the legs over. I have also begun incorporating lower body strength exercises into my training too – if I can draw one positive from this it is going to be that I am stronger in my lower body than ever before – since I have never really focused on strength training during my past builds.
So, if you’re experiencing a long term injury remember to keep positive. Set yourself a list of non negotiables and surround yourself with people who are going to keep you honest, motivated and on track. Things will always get better and before you know it you will be back to training again and, who knows? You might come out of it stronger than you ever were before?