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Surviving the Mental Game of Injury

As I am watching several of my friends complete their last few tough workouts before the Oceanside 70.3 taper, I am super sad that I won’t be racing. At the same time, I know it’s okay, not the end of the world, and time will pass quickly on the injury so long as I play a smart person (at least on TV). 

Summary: I have a tibia stress fracture, right leg.  (What caused it – the majority of the questions I am being asked…)  Okay, so it was an injury that I saw coming from literally MILES away, for two weeks.  I did not listen to my body.  I ran like a wild person through something that, with a bit of rest, might have been okay.  But bull-headed and stubborn, I ran and ran and stair-climbed through the pain—only to be told very quickly via MRI… yeah, you’re on the DL. Which means no weight-bearing much of anything for two months. I’m allowed to walk around to get where I need to go–but other than that, no.

Swimming = ok.   Biking = just now ok on trainer with no resistance; no climbing hills; no pushing wattage over 100.
Pool running = soon, in a week or so.  Elliptical = no.  Stairs = no.  Running = no no no.


I manage to mess up at least once a season with some dumb injury.

I rarely injure myself actually training – it’s usually a fall in the driveway, or down the stairs, or a car accident (or.  This was one of the first, actual triathlon-induced injuries – so I suppose that I will wear that like a badge.

For those of you who haven’t been with Swim Bike Mom long… here’s a medley of highlights with my major setbacks from 2011 forward.  Just to name a few. Seriously.

The broken foot

The sprained foot

Broken ribs

The broken ass

Hip dysplasia

Heart attack – not really

The terror down the stairs

Poo Disease

*And let’s not forget the Bike Crash AND subsequent

Car Crash 11 weeks out from Ironman Lou last year.

[For the love.]

Since I have been around this injury block MORE than enough times–and because it seems like so many of you out there are also injured, I thought I would take a second to write about what is going on, what I know (at present), and that’s about it.

1) Accept The Truth

I would like to say that this is the first time that I have (at least for real) taken an injury in stride.  I immediately accepted it, and that was it.  Sure it sucked, but after over five years at this sport, I realize that when you are placed on the Disabled List, really, that’s the end of the story.  And when that happens, there’s only one question to ask.


2) Ask the Right Question

And that question is NOT “when can I run again,” but rather the question is:  “What can I do with what I’ve got?”  Meaning to survive the injury, we must focus on the good and use what we can (that is safe) to further our goals.

I can swim, so I am swimming like a mad person.

Mind you, this big swimming feat that happened last Sunday was in the plan for a long time, though. I didn’t just wildly say, “I can’t run, so I’ll swim 6.2 miles.”  I have been swimming like crazy since December, and this was part of a challenge I had planned to undertake. (*Disclaimer: do not blindly jump into swimming 10,000 meters… it IS just as far as it sounds. 🙂 )


I can do core work (modified, on knees).

I can strength train some.  (I am also nursing a bulging disc in the neck from the car accident last year. So that’s causing referred pain in the shoulder and down the arm… so really, I am sort of in a generally sticky spot.  Swimming is good as long as I am giving myself enough time to recover in-between).

Do what you can with what you have.  Seriously.  Even the little things matter. Extra strength. More core.  Hone in the nutrition.

3) Stay Positive

It’s really not the end of the world.  Really.

Difficult, yes.  Of course! Especially when we have a really bad injury that can span the course of a whole season, or we are missing our key race.  When we have this sport that brings us so much fun, joy or stress-relief… to have that “outlet” taken away, it can mess with the brain for sure.

Stay focused on what is important and positive.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I love the kids’ sports season SO much–watching them play sports is SO much fun to me… Sure, it’s hectic as a working mom and shuttling kids all over creation AND everything else… but I am taking these injury-induced moments to enjoy really sitting at their games without the pressure of “oh, I have a six hour ride later”— I mean, don’t get me wrong, I wish I could six hour ride.  BUT, I am savoring all the positives that are with the injury—increased sleep, less scheduling nightmares, overall general goodness.


Keep your chin up.

4) Don’t Feed (or Whatever) the Injury

Finally, and most importantly. Don’t turn to whatever weird and destructive survival tendencies you might have.   If you are an emotional eater, drinker, shopper, or _____ (fill in the blank), the time during an injury –it’s important to reign that in—and stay away from the destruction.

After I received the news that I was stress-fractured, I had pizza and ice cream and chocolate for two days (no booze, though), and felt terrible.

I was able to snap out of that pretty quickly and get back on track.  For the first time, I can report that I haven’t eaten or drank these emotions into the ground.  A few “poor me” days (and only in the house) took place, and then I moved on.

Back to #2, doing what I can with what I’ve got.


Hope this helps, and quick healing to all my DL friends!

And for those of you who have “survived” injuries and missing out on key races, what things have YOU found that have helped you through these injuries?


  • Monica Johnson-Null

    March 20, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Injuries seem to to be the story of my life. I, like you Mere, have been down this path way too many times. However, I also took this DL time to think about the important things in my life, like my kids, my marriage, school, work, etc. I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion I need to rest for me. Not anyone else. I need to heal as much as I want to keep going. Maybe I’ve finally matured in this thing we call Tri, but I know I want to keep tri’ing for many years to come and if I don’t fix my problems now, I will never be able to continue. Instead of powering through, I’m resting, trying to work on my core, hope to start yoga again, and like you said, do the things I can do and not necessarily want to do! I have plenty of other areas to work on too, like nutrition. I hope to keep moving forward and can only hope my injuries will be a thing of the past soon!

    You always give me the insight or encouragement I need at just the time I seem to hit my low! That’s what I love about you and this group! Keep up the great positive attitude and keep moving forward!

  • Beth @ Paces and Places

    March 20, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    It sounds like your head is in a good place, which is tough during an injury! When I’m injured, I try to remind myself that in the big scheme of things (i.e. years of training across the course of my life), a few days/weeks/months off isn’t the end of the world. Being healthy and able to train for years to come is far more important (and productive) than pushing through an injury to get an extra day or two in right away. Keep up the good work!

  • Donna

    March 20, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    I had knee surgery for a torn meniscus about 18 months ago. After surgery I started feeling depressed and had some pity party moments. It just reinforced how important moving my body was to my mental state. The day the doctor released me to swim, life got so much better. I was at the pool 6 days/week. I became proficient at one foot push-offs on my flip turns. I got stronger and fell in love with swimming, something I never thought I’d do. The time came when I could start “run” training again which wasn’t running at all but I didn’t care. I was glad to be moving in that direction. I was instructed to find a location that had an Alter-G treadmill. I had no idea what an alter-g was but soon became very familiar with it. At first, I could only walk on it for 10 minutes supporting only 15% of my body weight. I walked and swam 6 days/week. Slowly, my time on the TM increased and the % of alter-g support decreased. I decided to set a goal to race Galveston 70.3. I had 4 months. We kept plugging away at the sports I could do- swim, alter-g, trainer rides, strength workouts. My injury taught me so much about myself mentally and physically. I had to train my mind to stay positive. I dropped the self pity and embraced gratitude for what I could do. When I showed up to the race, I was just so happy to be there. Crossing the finish line was so much sweeter that day because I felt like I’d been on this really challenging journey and persevered rather than give up. And because of the injury, I gained a whole new mental perspective that I now apply to my training and to my life.
    The cool thing about being a triathlete is that we have 3 sports to work with so there’s no shortage of activities to pursue, modified though they may be. If all you can do is swim, you do that. A LOT. We push our bodies way beyond average human capacity so injury is just part of the package.
    It sounds like you have the right mental attitude of Acceptance so you’re not wasting energy on negative thinking. Hang in there. In the big scheme of things, this is a nanosecond of your lifelong journey as a triathlete.

  • Jo

    March 21, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    The thing that is helping me come out the other side of injury? Finding your website. I have been a “runner” for forever, with sights set on an ultra marathon in May. But a few weeks ago I was told I was a hair’s breadth from a tibial stress fracture (jinx). So – no running. And no marathons or ultra marathons for the foreseeable future. Luckily, I asked the right question. And got told I could swim and bike (within reason – no hills). And some weights. And some physio exercises.

    A friend sent me the link for Swim Bike Mom and I suddenly thought – if I learnt to swim (something other than breaststroke) and borrowed my son’s bike and just built up some all round fitness, maybe … just maybe… So now I have a positive focus. And I will be going to the pool again today to see if I can avoid drowning by freestyle for more than 50m…

  • Kelly

    March 23, 2016 at 3:35 pm

    Wow! I wish I had read this 6 months ago… I tore my hamstring in early September, literally on my final taper run before my key event last year. Not only that, but my doctor has forbidden me to compete this season as well. Unfortunately, I turned to food for consolation and am now carrying an extra 20 lbs. I am just getting back to running and biking. Was swimming, but then herniated a disc in my neck in December for a second setback, and have just gotten back to that as well. I heartily agree with all the advice you have given – learned the hard way! Cry for a couple days, then get out there and do as much as you can (safely) and avoid consoling yourself with unhealthy habits. Great advice – thanks again for a helpful post!

  • Andrea

    March 24, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Great advice. Last year was “miss all my favorite events because of random injury/illness” season for me. I think when you’re committed to the LIFESTYLE of triathlon, you have those season. It sucks, but it will end – as you more eloquently put it here for us. Sorry for ya – can’t wait to see what you learn from it this time.

  • Lucy Edwards

    March 24, 2016 at 4:30 pm

    I also had a stress fracture last summer, in my left femur. I couldn’t run for 5 months or cycle for 7 weeks, but I could keep up my swimming at least. Definitely agree with your point about staying positive!


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