Friday, 17 April 2015

Balancing Act - Injuries.

Injures are inevitable - not only in elite sport but persistent throughout all levels of 'sports' down to the generic person popping along to the gym. Sadly, in elite sport there is evidently a higher risk of injury, as we are constantly trying to propel ourselves beyond the limit. Athletics in general, is a tightrope – you are always a few inches away from plummeting off and having to grind your way back up to the top once more! Each injury is an immense learning curve. It allows you time to truly assess things and implement changes in order to reduce the chance of something similar from occurring again!
Stellenbosch Track

This winter had been my most consistent yet. Everything was going extremely well – perhaps a little too swimmingly for that time of year. I was fit and prepared to get the indoor season underway and keen to trim down all of my personal bests. Woefully, it wasn't to be! After travelling out South Africa for a training camp with the British Athletics team – I fell ill on the first day! I couldn't appear to shift the illness and regrettably it ate into almost 10 full days of training. Training hard and consistently – weakens the immune system – which makes the body highly susceptible to picking up bugs! Airplanes seem to be my nemesis and I find it very challenging to not fall ill, particularly after long flights. I'm going to invest in a mask, that Chinese Tourists are renowned for wearing, in the hope that this reduces my possibility of contracting viruses! It may sound a little excessive but sickness really does impact an athletes program and i'm sure it'll be a great conversation starter. A simple cold virus can be gone within a week but lie dormant, within the body, until an athlete hits another arduous week of training. It then may decide to rear it's ugly head afresh! I experienced this the entire 2014 year and found it highly frustrating to deal with.
Happier times in South Africa

On my comeback from illness, I was perhaps a little too eager to restore normal routine again. There was also a vast disparity between the surfaces I was running on - out in Stellenbosch - in comparison to what I ordinarily run on, in Loughborough. I primarily keep to the gravel canal paths and road, whereas in SA – there were not many safe routes that I could go out on, alone, and so I was restricted to running all my weekly mileage on a very soft, grass loop. I found that the spongy grass truly did sap all the energy out of my legs, especially after illness. On my Sunday long run, I unluckily twisted my ankle very sharply, which ended my run abruptly. Although I didn't think about it too much afterwards - the following morning, I woke up with a precise needlelike, nervy pain in my left ankle. Again, I tried not to concentrate on the pain excessively. As an athlete, training twice a day – every day – aches and pains are part and parcel of the sport, so it is easy to not deliberate too much and batter on with the day. However, perhaps a mistake on my behalf – I attempted to carry on with my scheduled track session that evening. After being blown around the track, by Stellenbosch’s 29 miles per hour winds, with my spaghetti legs– it was safe to say my ankle had popped it's little clogs. I could barely walk. Promptly, the decision was made to hop home as soon as possible for a scan and await the news. It didn't come as too much of a surprise to hear the ankle was broken but it was still a colossal kick in the teeth.

It's always the same regarding bad news, especially an injury. Running is not only my job – it's what I love doing – so it's challenging when such a huge aspect of your life is removed. 'Normal' people never really understand my attachment to running but when you babble to other people who share a passion for running – they fully relate and understand how vexing it can be! Without fail, I initially have a few days where i'm really down-beat about everything. I would argue with any living soul, within a 10 metre proximity to me, that the sky is NOT blue or that a crow isn't black...but once this passes, my mind then switches into over drive. I think this may be a standard McColgan trait! I then direct all of my focus on demanding cross training sessions. I repeatedly remind myself, how valuable all the cumulative cross training will be once I am back doing what I love to do – running!

Manchester Velodrome
I was told at first it would be 4-6 weeks out but after further scans and investigations the doctors realised the ankle was unquestionably fractured. This then extended my healing time in a 'moon boot' to 8-10 weeks. I tried my best to rock the 'moon boot and jeans look; but it's an acquired taste. Mentally, the aspect of being injured is sometimes frustrating to deal with - when you believe there is only a week to go and can see light at the end of the tunnel, it's a hard knock to be told you're actually only half way! The doctor was a nervous man breaking the news to me but he escaped unscathed. For the entire duration of the injury, I was allowed to aqua jog each day. Slowly, I built up to the watt bike before finally adding the elliptical cross trainer after 8 weeks. You wouldn't think adding in another form of cross training could have such a positive impact but my quads were starting to rival the size of Chris Hoy's and it was a delightful break from cycling. It's safe to say I won't be switching sports any time soon and I have a whole new respect for cyclists (as I try to squeeze myself into a pair of jeans that once used to be baggy!).

It's taken me almost 3 months to finally get back running outside – but even that is very limited. Presently, I have progressed to running twice a week outside with all my other training being supplemented on the cross trainer, bike, pool and alter G. I did however, make the huge mistake that many people suffer from, when they find out they're injured - I unreservedly flogged myself cross training for around 8 days before having a colossal crash in energy levels. I was significantly fatigued by attempting to train hard, twice a day, every day – which clearly isn't sustainable... but it was my way of dealing with the initial frustration and the 'why me' sympathy stage! Subsequently, I was quick to wise up and started making smarter decisions towards balancing my cross training and allowing myself enough time to recover. It's been a huge relief getting outside again, releasing my hair from the Marge Simpson beehive, that's been permanently positioned on top of my head and allowing fresh air to hit my skin rather than the constant drench of sweat. Cross training isn't attractive – so kudos to anyone whom can make it look relatively pleasant!

Channeling my inner Marge Simpson. 
I've had quite a few people email me regarding their own injuries, particularly - what cross training sessions I do in order to try and maintain fitness and how to keep motivated during extended spells of being injured.

I'm very fortunate that when i'm cross training, I can completely switch off. I would go as far as saying it's a special skill! I zone out, into my own little world, staring at the wall and barely flinch when someone enters the room. I put every ounce of my energy into it because every minute sweating it out, is bringing me closer to returning to what I love the most.

1. I would encourage anyone to acquire whatever music they enjoy listening to. Weirdly enough, I don't listen to music during track sessions but for some reason I find it helps me enormously whilst slogging out sessions on the cross trainer. A loud, fast beat - forces your legs to move to the same rhythm and speed. As you tire, throughout the session – you do your best to keep the leg turnover fast in time with the music. I am also partial to weird documentaries during my easy hour cross trains – Transgender Children, Wild OAP's, Dog with 8 legs – you name it, i've most certainly watched it.
Blood, sweat and zero tears. 

  1. Make some goals – this will assist with motivation. In the back of my mind, I have my main objective of my year. I keep it there permanently and constantly reflect on it during the hours and hours spent cross training. I never tell people my long term goals or aims – it's my secret and what i'm constantly working hard in order to achieve. By telling someone, you're disclosing something personal, something that's confidential to you. No one can tell you, 'you can't do that' or that it's 'unachievable' because they don't know what your personal goal is and it's completely unique to YOU! Not everyone can be an Olympic Champion but it doesn't have to be on such a grand scale. Making a school team, completing one park run a month or taking a few seconds off your marathon time. It can be anything. It's also crucial to have some minor goals and aims along the way. These are markers that I make in my head. Perhaps something like, I want to start back training on the track again by X day of X month or I want to be able to race X by X. If it is achieved then I'll focus on the next goal – if i've not been able to achieve it, I don't dwell on it too much, re-asses and make a new one.
  1. Rehab, rehab, rehab. Injuries give you a vital opportunity to correct things or become stronger in different areas. In the past, I have always neglected that time and just purely focused on maintaining my cardio fitness. This time around has been a little different. The majority of my focus still remains on cardio but I have also brought in two strength sessions in the form of a circuit, alongside balance drills, foot drills and core almost daily – I still won't be winning any press up contests anytime soon... but it's progress! Being injured turns out to be a lot more time consuming compared to my usual training routine. A typical 5mile run transpires into...travelling to the gym, an hour slog on the cross trainer followed by rehab drills, stretching, barefoot drills alongside physiotherapy and foot mobility etc etc. By the time I look at my watch, a good 4 hours of my life has flown by! It can end up becoming very intense and devour your time like a vulture but it's important to really implement some time out. Both my boyfriend and housemate are athletes and also currently injured, however they are much more laid back with their routines – which is a huge help. They force me to rationalise things and not obsess about it all, because ultimately what's done is done! It makes no sense to live in the past and dwell on what may, or may not have been a mistake. Focus on the future and things you CAN implement or change. It really isn't the end of the world having some time off and injury is not going to change life in the longer term! AKA – CHILL THE HELL OUT, YOU'RE 24 EILISH. I'm a worrier though – it's another lovely McColgan trait.
    Spending time with the important people. <3

  2. Physiotherapy – it can be awfully expensive but depending on the injury it may be vital. I am very lucky to receive regular treatment through UKA. It allows the mobility in my foot and ankle to be maintained whilst I try to return to full training again. If you can't afford regular treatment then make sure you have a vigorous stretching routine in place. Even something as simple as foam rolling 10minutes before bed each night, can make a huge difference when you are making the transition from cross training back to running again – (and it makes you sound really cool to all your non-running friends....). Biking especially, shortens the quad muscles and can really force them to overwork so it's particularly important to hold the length in these muscles as you return to running.
    My sneaky flatmate catching me at work... 

  3. Supplements. In the past, I have never taken any supplements or medication other than the odd protein shake every now and again whilst training on altitude camps. With all the recent news of contaminated supplements – I am the type of athlete who is scared to take a plain paracetamol tablet when I think I may be knocking on God's door! I once spent 40 minutes in Sainsbury's (there are other supermarkets available) scouring over all the medicines, texting my doctor, to double check that plain Ibuprofen was definitely OK! Over the last few months, under the advice of the nutritionist – I have decided to start supplementing with Calcium tablets daily and Omega 3 Oils. I have no idea whether this will make any substantial difference to my actual injury but I do hope that it may reduce the chances of picking up a further bone injury in the future! Only time will tell. These tablets have all been batch tested by Informed Sport and are on a regular basis consumed by many athletes – HealthSpan Elite. I have also made changes to my day-to-day diet in order to improve nutrition and give my body the best possible chance of recovery after sessions. After an exceptionally hard session, I have reverted to taking a scoop of the protein powder in my standard recovery fruit smoothie – PAS Strawberry Protein Powder. It's the only powder i've been able to drink without wanting to gag – so that's a bonus!
There's never been too much of a focus on what i've eaten and when.. but over the last few months I have made a conscious effort to try and eat cleaner. Even if it only gives me an extra one percent than i've had previously – after being injured for the past three months... I need every accumulated percent I can acquire! My coach has always been very influential on how much diet can affect an athletes performance but it's entirely up to the athlete to finally make the ultimate judgement on things. It's one of those ' I TOLD YOU THAT FIVE YEARS AGO' scenarios. I now make sure every morning before training, I have a big bowl of porridge, mixed with normal milk, some almond milk, topped with banana and berries. Previously, I have always refused to eat anything other than sugary cereal but as a professional athlete – that's ridiculous! - I needed to make some minor changes to my current diet. Food is the fuel to your body – putting the essential fuel into it will effectively make it preform better, so why not make the minor change and see?

It's important to remember there is always a finish line. Things may feel like they are never improving and that you are stuck within a viscous cycle but even a one percent improvement, is still an improvement! All of the hard work that is done behind the scenes, whilst you are injured, will eventually pay off... but what if it doesn’t? Well, at least you can say you gave it your best shot and have no regrets!
RUN FAST, LIVE FEARLESS.

Typical cross training week for me:

Monday 
 Two easy ellipticals. HR zone easy – 140 average

Tuesday 
 am. Watt Bike session, e.g. 40 minutes of 45 seconds hard – 15 recovery. HR max 186
am - Circuits

pm. Easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average


Wednesday 
 am - Aqua jogging session, lower HR – 155 average, 2minutes on 30 off.

Pm - Easy Elliptical, HR zone easy – 140 average

Thursday 
am - Bike tempo - HR zone 170 average. 45minutes-1 hour of 3minute-2minute-1minute (continuous, no recovery)

pm - Easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average

Friday 
  Two easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average
am – Circuits

Or a REST DAY

Saturday 
am - Elliptical session, eg. 40 minutes of 90 hard 30 easy. - HR max 186

pm - Easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average

Sunday 
 Two easy elliptical - HR zone easy – 140 average

This was typical training of around week 7 after my injury – all completed whilst wearing the ever fashionable 'moon boot'. Once I was allowed out of the boot and walking properly again in trainers – we introduced the Alter G treadmill around 10/11 weeks a few times and then finally outdoor running by 13 weeks. I am still very limited to the amount of running, as the pain within the ankle has not fully subsided. It's a little discouraging, as after 13 weeks, I would of hoped the foot would be totally healed, but unfortunately that's not the case. It's slowly turning into the never-ending saga. I've made the decision that I can no longer take anymore time off – if I want to try and get myself back running this summer and possibly make the World Championships in August. - then I need to start pronto. It's a long shot – but next month is crucial as to whether that is achievable or not. At least I know, I have given it absolutely everything to try and accomplish that.
First session back - thrown into the deep end with Gemma Steel!

If anything, the injury has reinforced to me how much I want this. Running is all I have ever known. From October to December, I had managed to get myself into the best physical shape I have ever been in – so it has reconfirmed the goals I want to achieve this summer because I know they are possible and within my grasp. I've always been told 'running has many more lows than highs' but that the lows are often forgotten in favour of the highs– so this is just another obstacle to hurdle.

'Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see...'
I hope this answers anyones questions – if you guys have anymore then please post them below and I will do my best to respond or write another blog answering them!  


4 comments:

  1. So glad i'm not the only one whose spent weeks crawling through the "injury wilderness!" Great post- you'll be back in the game before you know it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Sorry to hear you're also struggling.. Keep positive! :)

      Delete
  2. One tip i've seen for planes is to take some anti-bacterial wipes. Wipe your bag & laptop/tablet after security; and your armrest and tray table on plane. Probably right that it's the recirculated air but it might help.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brilliant idea! Thanks for this.. Worth a shot!

      Delete