The Frustration of Injury: Fighting Back

Injury is not a foreign concept to me. At this point and I know what to expect—there will be times of frustration, lack of motivation, hopelessness, and eventually progress. Even though I know what is coming every time, it is still challenging.

Phases of injury/illness:

  1. It is okay, I will be back in no time.
  2. Okay…this might impact my training for a bit, but I’ll be okay.
  3. Well, it has been a while…and it is going to be a while…and I can’t do anything fun for training.
  4. This is never going to end. What even is normal?

I am approaching 7 weeks of no training that involves the upper body (including any gripping activities like biking) with no real timeline ahead. I have found the unknown timeline for an injury is much harder pill to swallow than with a set timeline like a broken bone for example (not that having a broken bone is easy). Athletes are good at setting goals and making plans—from process goals all the way to long-term goals, there are steps and ways to measure forward progress. However, when you don’t know when you can use your arms for the first time for example, let alone be back to a normal training routine, it is easy to lose hope and forget what normal even feels like.

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Zap zap, make things go back to normal.

Relative to my other injuries and illnesses, this elbow injury doesn’t even compare, yet, I have gone 6 weeks without much progress. This raises two questions I ask myself all the time. What am I doing wrong? What can I change? Maybe my body just breaks easily. Maybe I ignore normal training aches and pains too long. Maybe I have yet to discover the answer. Or maybe I will never know.

What I do know is that I can fight back.

During a former injury/illness, one of my coaches once told me that playing the victim is never the answer. At the time it was not what I wanted to hear, nor did I understand what it actually meant. It wasn’t until the injury had passed and I had some perspective, when I truly understood what it meant.

This brings me the phases 5 and 6, the hardest but most moving phases.

  1. Hopelessness/indifference: I have tried everything, what is the point to keep trying with no result?
  2. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and fight back.

Phase 5 is what I call the protection phase; it is how I protect myself from getting hurt by something I really care about, trying to blame other things and act like I am indifferent. That eventually leads to Phase 6, the “turning point”, where I decide that playing the “victim” will never solve the problem, and decide to get my sh*t together.

So…I am ready to fight back once again! I have already been through this rodeo a few too many times to know that although it sucks, adversity has always made me better. It almost comforting to know that when I am healthy again, I know I will be more motivated and excited to train than anyone else, and that appreciation for “normal” can only come when normal is taken away. I try to remind myself the positives of the situation when I am having a rough day and focus on what I can do.

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Smiling because I can run up mountains 🙂 (PC: Emily Hyde)
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Goofing off with my teammates on an OD adventure.
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Sunshine and summit smiles (PC: Erika Flowers Newell).

This elbow injury has given me the opportunity to work on one my biggest weaknesses, running (aka conditioning). I am running a lot and loving it. I have fallen back in love with running now that I am fit enough for it to be enjoyable. Unlike other injuries I have had, I am lucky enough to be able to still train and not lose fitness and I try to remind myself of that when I am having a tough day.

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Running on one of my favorite trails, Franconia Ridge!
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Up, up, up we go! (PC: Erika Flowers Newell)
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Excited to see my SMS Elite teammates again.
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The perfect day for Franconia (PC: Erika Flowers Newell).
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Normatech pants have been my best friend, helping my legs recover “leg day” everyday.

I am grateful to be at school this summer because I am training a little bit less than I normally would so I have more free time on my hands. School has been a great distraction between workouts so I don’t go stir crazy thinking about my elbow. I have been trying to transfer my frustration into excitement for my classes, enjoying a different kind of challenge.

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How my hands look all the time.
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Pappardelle pasta!
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The power of a hand.
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Only half of my drawings…clearly I have been busy and covered in charcoal.
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Some prints from the waterproof film camera I am experiment with for my class!

With summer term already half over, I am fighting back and enjoying what I can do!

-JKern

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