Workout of the Month: Returning from Injury
by Marilyn McDonald
This workout of the month is a little different. If you are an athlete with a permanent injury that hinders your ability to run but you still have the love and desire to do triathlon, then this is your month!
Most will tell you that your time is up and you should quit. I don't believe in that! I think it's the easiest and weakest way out for the person telling you to call it quits. The fact is, they just don't know what to do.
Now, if you don't want to do the sport anymore, that's a different story. But if the passion is still there, don't let the masses tell you your day is done. You just need a different outlook and approach. You have to reprogram your mind and think differently.
Here's a story that is close to my heart. Before I entered triathlon I was a high level equestrian. The last big Grand Prix horse I rode as a junior was an older horse with really bad feet named Farely. He had been retired from jumping at that level for a few years. The horse knew how to do it, but his feet where now his limitation. He was to be retired as a pleasure horse. But my trainer at the time knew he'd be a perfect Grand Prix match for me for two years. I was 17 at the time and needed that more experienced Grand Prix horse.
My trainer told me if I could care for him, practice only on other horses and condition him just enough to be prepped for the competition days, he'd always come shining through because he had three things: courage, heart and confidence.
It was my job to care for him like he was a champion, condition him for the big day and add no stress to his feet. And when it was time to go, we were ready. We won everything!
Why am I telling you this story? Because every triathlete and most coaches I talk to are afraid to really know the approach for the "broken" athlete who wants to get into competition form. That requires a lot of faith on both parts. But it is possible.
I found myself in the exact same shoes as an athlete. I've gone from an injury I acquired through a crash that stopped me from triathlon, to back to competing in the pro field in an IM and placing in the top 10. And we used the exact same ideals and approach as we took with old Farely.
The first thing you have to do is remove the idea that you are going to get back to where you once were. Remove all expectation of being like your peers and using a traditional approach. Miles, speed work... those will no longer be part of your plan.
The good thing is that from a pure running standpoint, we go slow in triathlon. The Olympic marathon is a bit over two hours; our fastest tri guys are running more than 40 minutes slower than that.
Your new focuses for training are:
You will have to go very, very slow. You may be tempted to run like you used to or like you feel you are "supposed" to. Instead, run at a speed that is under any pain threshold.
I can tell you, you can look like you're running, be in perfect form and be going slower than a walk. But if you have confidence to do this every day, you will get strong enough that your pace will get quicker. Consider starting out walking up and down stairs with weight on your back to kick things off.
So, if you are still in love with triathlon, but have a run injury that is limiting you, be willing to take a different approach. Go slow, go often, get strong and have confidence that come race day your mind will take over and you'll finish in style.
Never give up on your dreams. You're stronger than that and those who doubt you simply just don't know.
Marilyn McDonald has been in elite sport since the age of 9, from show jumping to cycling and triathlon. Competing on an international stage in all three sports with an Ironman title, several podiums and state championships in cycling, Marilyn works with all distance and level of triathletes and cyclists. From beginners to elites; short course, bike racing, stage racing and long course triathlon, she has guided several athletes to the podium and to Hawaii qualifications.