It is perhaps the most frustrating moment in sports: you have trained well all base period and then suddenly, when the race season starts, bang! An injury.
Your world turns from a place filled with promises of PBs and chocolate flavored unicorns (ok, everyone’s training world is very specific to them!) to a dark, foreboding place where your dreams slowly slip away as everyone else gets faster.
First thing’s first: injury is not the end of the world! Now is the time to use your brain rather than your brawn. Stay calm and do the right thing now, and you can minimize the damage; fail to pay attention, and you risk a recurrent injury that could end up shortening your triathlon career altogether.
Every injury does not have to spell the end of a season and your planned goals. If you find yourself hurt or even just wondering if you may be hurt, I recommend that you stop training immediately until you figure out how bad the injury is.
This may require a specialist such as a physio. If you’re on the fence with this one, remember you’re better off safe than sorry. Too many triathletes think they can train through an injury, and end up making a small tweak much worse!
Make a plan
Once the severity of the injury is determined and a rehab and/or rest plan mapped out, sit down and review the impact on your training plan and goals (ideally with your coach if you have one). This should be based on the following:
- Is rehab days or weeks in duration?
- Impact on feasible training e.g. some injuries allow low-impact biking and swimming!
- How long until your next A-race?
Use the above factors in a decision tree format to get an idea of what you’ll need to do to minimize the injury’s impact on your goals.
At the end of the day, it is key to address an injury asap and work out what needs to be done/changed to you back in the best position to achieve your goal—even if that means adjusting for a new A-race.
Ignoring an injury, at best, will result in a sub-optimal performance—at worst, you’ll create a long-term absence from the sport, or even end your career.
Learn from it!
I have heard a proverb that says, “a mistake is only a mistake if it is repeated, otherwise it is a lesson”
For me, this wisdom is key to dealing with an injury. A significant part of an athlete’s rehab (no matter how long or short) should also be a review of the training in the lead-up to the injury to identify the root cause and prevent it in the future.
Once you have determined what was the likely cause (e.g. a shoulder injury caused by suddenly adding in a 6 x 800 paddle set into your swim training because your mate is doing it) you need to eliminate the issue and adapt your training accordingly.
I include “adapt” as an option as in a lot of cases. If a new training methodology is eased into over time, it can be beneficial! To use the example above, using paddles can be a great way to build strength—as long as you avoid the “from zero to hero” approach.
Yes, our sport will always carry the risk of injury—but if and when it happens, there’s no reason you can’t return stronger in the long term. Simply take sensible steps in the immediate aftermath and be open to adapting your race plan and training practices. There is no reason you cannot overcome any setback!