How to come back from injury with a smile

I’m sitting at the waiting room of Dr. Maurer, a general medicine practitioner which happens to be an ultra runner himself. Visiting the doctor is usually an unpleasant event, as it means that something is wrong. Visiting Dr. Maurer has always a positive twist into it: he’s excellent at what he does and has a deep understanding of what running is all about. He just gets how my mind is wired.

It is the end of October and the season is coming to an end. My mind wanders through all the key milestones I’ve been through this year: finding my new coach Paulo Pires, starting a good collaboration bringing more method into my adventures, while at the same time a delightful friendship with someone that deeply resonates with a lifestyle connected with nature and the mountains; securing a great achievement at the Düsseldorf Marathon with my day-to-day running buddies, people I appreciate practising the sport with, more importantly even, friends that make the days more colourful; joining Armando Teixeira in his Estrela Grande Trail in Portugal’s Serra da Estrela, the first big challenge of the year that got finished with a large smile; going on holidays together with the family to beautiful Switzerland and participating in the Eiger Ultra Trail, a mesmerising experience across the Alps; last but not least keeping tradition by running through Via Algarviana, this time around in the company of old and new friends.

So here I am, sitting at the doctor’s waiting room, afraid of the recognition that an unavoidable injury may set me away for some time, grateful at the same time for all the good things I had this year so far. Life is not black and white and there are always two sides in each coin. It is important to focus on the bright side of things and regardless of what my injury may be, my heart lights up with the memories I’ve collected through this year’s events.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I’m in Dr. Blecker‘s waiting room, a fantastic orthopaedist I consult in rare occasions when things are really going wrong. He takes care of the Fortuna’s ice hockey team for large years now and has an amazingly efficient way of treating patients. The kind of that keeps it short, mandates the right exams to be made and expects his final prescriptions to be taken seriously. MRI is done and I ultimately wait for the bad news.

He comes in with his usual joyful attitude, looks at me straight in the eyes and says:
“I’m in a good mood today”.

He then presses:
“What this means is that you won’t leave my office with crutches today”.

Uh oh…
“You have an inflammation of the peroneus longus tendon and a stress fracture of the heel in you right foot”.

Arrgghh bugger… doesn’t really sound good, does it? My mind is in parallel seeking all possible justifications of the how and why this may have happened. Injury is not uncommon when you’re training a lot and I’ve been so careful lately taking precautions to prevent it. So how did this come to be?

“You’re an athlete, I can see it. You don’t do this as a side job, this is part of who you are and what you do. And you need to realise that even professionals sometimes get seriously injured, no matter how good they are or how hard they try to prevent injury. Sometimes, you just need to stop. And right now, you need to stop”.

Does it really matter how it occurred? I guess not…

I left the office with a prescription of staying still for 3 months.
No running.
No bicycle.
Walking allowed.

Sparingly.

So I’ve been having a lot of time to think about how to properly recover from an injury while keeping myself sane at the same time. And how to come back with a smile.

Comeback with a smile

The following is a list of the things I’ve found so far:

  • The right doctor: it is the one that you trust and that you can confidently follow advice from. The one you can question openly. The one you just follow. That ultimately nails it. For that is the one that will help you keep on course and execute the tough prescription he’ll give you.
    Bonus: if like me you have more than one, even better!
  • Get a date: get a quantitative figure you can keep track of and measure progress. Think of a number of days off. Or thinkg of the day you’ll return. For you want to feel that with each day there is an advancement towards your comeback, instead of feeling stuck in time. If not possible, aim for the worst case scenario or just keep reading.
  • Rest: just do it, no matter how hard it is. You may suffer yet this is the most efficient method of them all.
  • Focus on time: one day at a time, whatever the current status is, you are one day further away from a state of injury. Focus on the achievement of the time you’ve committed already – which is to say the days that have gone past – instead of fiddling with the despair of the days that are still remaining.
  • Pay attention to the small things: appreciate every step you give towards recovery, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. For it is upon those that you’ll build up your full recovery.
  • Plan the comeback: foresee in your mind how you’d imagine your return to be. Where? What? When? With whom? For you’ll be shifting your mindset from the negatives of the injury towards the positives of the joy you’ll have for making that special return come to life. Make sure it happens!
  • Take it easy: an injury is a tough beast to tame. Not everything will be solved. The human body is a complex system and the likelihood of a few leftovers are probably high. Learn about your injury and what the aftermath may look like. Stay strong and confident that with care you won’t fallback. Most importantly, ensure you don’t do too much too soon.

It’s middle of January, I’ve planned my perfect comeback and the universe conspired in my favour. I’m a big fan of snow and even though it’s winter time in Germany, we don’t find lots of snow around where I live.

This time around, on the day of my comeback, in my perfect training grounds in Sonnborn, having gathered a large number of friends for a wonderful Sunday morning run, the forest got completely dressed in white, a perfect wonderland to celebrate a fantastic reunion.

Oh such joy…

Oh such fun…

  2 Replies to “How to come back from injury with a smile”

  1. Enxi
    April 19, 2017 at 12:26

    Joao, really glad to see you come back and recovered. Running is part of your life. Wish you all the best! Smile always! Cheers!

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