How to Turn Injury Into Opportunity

Learn From Your Injury

"When everything is going well, you keep doing what you've been doing," says pro triathlete Drew Scott, who credits his injury with helping him become a better runner. "This was an injury that was probably waiting to happen—I had no idea I was so tight on one side. And my glutes were weaker and I didn't have nearly as much momentum as I had on the right side." This imbalance was brought to light in the form of a stress fracture in the cuboid bone of his foot. According to Scott this injury "probably was a good thing, because I would have continued to neglect a few of these points until something went wrong. It has allowed me to progress more as an athlete."

Don't Let Rehab be Your Only Focus

When Kessler raced the 70.3 World Championships shortly after recovery, she knew that her intensive rehab had left her in good physical shape. But, she says, "I had been taking Advil for multiple weeks, which left me severely dehydrated. I also did not manage my schedule correctly and was running around with my head cut off on the days leading up to the race. I didn't anticipate the 100-degree heat and trained like I would in 65-degree San Francisco, taking in comparable liquids. These factors all contributed to my death march, especially on the run. I had spent all this time on my rehabilitation, but failed to successfully complete other tasks surrounding the race, which was my ultimate downfall. Lesson learned."

Allow Yourself 50 Percent More Recovery Time

Doctors aren't generally wrong when they give you an estimate of how long it might take you to recover from an injury. Just keep in mind that they're probably thinking of the time it takes to get you to a functional level, not a performance level. "At 12 weeks, I might be close to 95 percent of a functional human being. But that might be only 50 percent of a high-performance athlete," says Thomas. "Give yourself an extra 50 percent upfront when they tell you what your healing time will be. Then you're more likely to approach your recovery with patience and less likely to get frustrated."

More: How to Recover From Injury in the Offseason

Invest in the Rest of Life

"Use injury as an opportunity to do a bit of a deeper dive into other areas of your life that you might have to sacrifice during heavy training," says Thomas. "That makes you feel happy about your life overall, which is the point of all of this stuff, anyway."

Be smart. When Kessler was rehabbing, she continued the indoor trainer workouts that she normally does (about 90 percent indoor training, she explains). On the road, "I made sure I biked with competent cyclists who were looking out for me every pedal stroke of the way."

Focus on Healing, Not on What Happened

As Kessler puts it, "I could have focused on all the negatives about how I broke my back and my ribs, lost fitness, and endured a grueling recovery period, but this is unproductive and it is never enriching to ride a negative bus. Unfortunately, adversity is part of life. How you approach and conquer it is what matters."

The fact is, "nobody masters injuries and dealing with them," says Thomas. "It's difficult to separate the logical approach of knowing what you're going through from the emotion of what you're experiencing. Even if you're 100 percent prepared, and you're patient and do all the things you're supposed to do, it's still going to be really hard, and that's OK."

More: 7 Embarrassing Triathlon Injuries

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