I’ve had some rough injuries and long rehabilitation periods. If you train hard and compete, eventually you’re going to get hurt. Most of us have experienced torn ligaments, tendonitis, ruptured lumbar discs, sprains, strains, muscle spasms, broken bones, and reconstructive or corrective surgery at some point in our athletic careers.
As athletes, we live to “do our thing” whether it be running, CrossFit(R), lifting, hoops or yoga. We do it to get out of our head and experience that “flow” state as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his pioneering book: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The state where there is nothing but the present moment and pure focus on our mastered activity.
You know it when you feel it.
As athletes, we walk a fine line of pushing ourselves to the max, and blowing out in injury. We know that growth and performance improvement happens outside our comfort zone. We push, strain and struggle and the stress response results in growth.
Until we push too hard and something snaps.
High-level training brings high-level confidence. High confidence leads us to believe we are good. Maybe even great. When we’re good and great, it’s natural to want to test ourselves in competition by pursuing a PR or against an opponent.
A healthy ego gives us the confidence to challenge ourselves to do more. Ego fuels the fire to endure what we need to reach our goal. We know the pain is temporary. On the flip side, ego can play a big part in whether or not we injure ourselves.
The unhealthy ego leads us to say we should attempt feats beyond our reach.
In my 20’s and 30’s my ego pushed me to bench 315lbs which injured my shoulder. I had to take a three month recovery period from bench & shoulder work. It was a purely egoistic goal so I could have bragging rights in the gym.
As an athlete that races the clock, I know that the race or training session is good if I’m a sore the next day or two. But if a pain persists, it’s time to get a professional assessment.
Playing hurt teaches us how to modify our regimen to adapt to our new reality. Sometimes we’re forced to abandon one methodology for another while we rebuild.
Earlier this year, a new injury came up which sidelined me for a month of peak running season. I had just set a PR in the 5k and was looking forward to relatively burning up the course to make my goal for the year within the next couple of week.
It turned out mobility impairments triggered spasms in my back.
“Wait! How can this be?” I thought. “I practice yoga 4-6 days per week, and running under 25 miles per week. Impossible!”
But pain said otherwise.
My physiotherapist prescribed mobility work, backing off running completely for a few weeks, and continuing yoga. Sure enough, within 3 weeks, I felt fully mobile and pain free.
But when I resumed running, I wasn’t able to pick up where I left off.
Picking up athletics after an injury reminds us to be humble and check your ego at the door. The flip side to ego is humility.
Forget the past PRs and how badass you were before the injury. Start fresh.
Be right where you are, now.
David Rachford is an athlete and yoga teacher from Santa Barbara, CA. He can be followed on Twitter and Instagram.