A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thoughts - April 25 - Injury Management and the Mind-Body Link

I think I enjoyed myself too much this weekend.

In my zest for running on a very muddy course I wiped out in a puddle at the 2 mile point of a 3 mile trail race (Scholarship Trail Race). I felt a little bit of pain, but continued running. I actually ran well the last mile, passing some people on the uphill and finishing the race quite strong.

Afterwards, when we were talking about our respective races, I felt a sharp pain coming from my right big toe. It was at that point when I realized that I might have significantly injured myself.

Coming home after the race, the pain sharpened and the toe swelled up.  I tried running a few strides, but every time I pushed off I was in quite a bit of pain.

I might have broken my toe.

So here I am, 3 weeks before one of my "A" races this year (Massanutten 100), and I'm sidelined for what might be a broken toe. Broken toes can typically heal in 3-4 weeks.

Boy, this is cutting it close.

I immediately started RICE for the toe, which stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. All 4 are needed to prevent swelling and promote healing.

Now here's the kicker. I have to listen to my body.

You see, my body and I are on clear talking terms. It tells me how serious the injury is, how fast the injury will heal, and when it will be allowed for me to work out again without aggravating the injury further. The official term for this communication is the mind/body link.

As a coach, this is my PRIMARY DUTY above all others to teach people how to listen to their bodies. It is this heightened awareness of their bodies that prevents them from overtraining, prevents them from sustaining overuse injuries, and maintains the right level of training for optimal results. This, the mind/body link is the FIRST thing that must be developed before any meaningful training can occur.

The wonder of the body is that it's always talking to you. And yes, most of what it is trying to say to you is very important. It will convey to you whether it is overtrained, whether you run the risk of an overuse injury, whether it's ready for a hard workout, and when it feels that it needs to take it easy for the day. If only all athletes can listen to what their bodies are saying, overuse injuries would not be a major issue in training. And most people would have kickass seasons.

A person who can tune into his or her body can translate those signals into a meaningful "dialogue" so that biofeedback is maintained. Biofeedback is absolutely CRITICAL for optimal training.

It also helps tremendously when one sustains an injury like I did this past weekend. I'm pretty much a master of managing injuries; I don't stay injured long.

Despite logging untold miles of running and cycling in my 21 years as a triathlete and ultra runner, I sustained very few injuries, and only one was an overuse injury.

In 1995 I sustained a stress fracture of my fibula near my ankle. After successful injury management, I successfully ran the New York City marathon on a FULLY HEALED leg just 8 weeks later.

I suffered a broken ankle in 2002 after severely twisting it on a trail run. After only 6 weeks, I successfully ran the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Ultra and in a good time (10 hours 7 minutes).

Again, unlike other runners, I don't stay injured long.

This is the Mind/Body Link at work. When fully developed, it can be the athlete's ultimate weapon in his or her arsenal that can contribute to a great athletic season.

So here I have a huge challenge ahead of me. If I listen to my body correctly, hopefully I will have healed enough to get myself to the starting line of the Massanutten 100 Ultra in 3 weeks. It's quite a tall order, knowing that the timetable for healing might take me past the race, but I'm up to the challenge.

Right now, the first thing I shall do is rest and promote the healing process. Hopefully by the middle of this week I would have healed enough to get some swimming and cycling in without re-aggravating the injury.

Will it happen as planned? I don't know. But my body will tell me when it's safe to swim and bike, and ultimately run.


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