This week has gone very well, with a great mixture of training environments, swimming, gym, weights and Pilates Classes. Continuing from the previous week, I have further embraced these training methods and I’m starting to feel the benefits more and more as time goes by. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I had an ear infection and so had to stop using the Powerbreathe so as not to put a strain on my sinuses, I did loose a little breathing strength because of it, but it’s already built back to where it was in terms of the resistance of 2.5/3. I’m really enjoying some long workouts at the moment, sometimes lasting well over 3 hours! An hour of Pilates, followed immediately by 45/60 minutes of weights and then straight into the pool for over an hour is typical! By the end I can certainly say I’m ready to pack up and have a rest, but it’s that feeling of satisfaction that I crave so dearly. It’s very difficult to mimic if you only train for an hour or so at a time but I can safely say that when I finish those long workouts I’ve used up a lot of my energy and am in much need of a lot of food and rest!
I hope to gradually increase the intensity of my training closer to where it used to be, and I’ll be doing this in all areas of my training including the Powerbreathe. I want to push harder and faster in everything but I know I must be patient and take small steps. I had a simple rule of thumb when I was at my peak in November 2010, everything I did, I trained as hard as I possibly could, not a single push up, or stroke of a swim went by where I wasn’t thinking to myself to push harder and harder. The problem is, that, it takes its toll on your body doing that and it has to be able to cope with that level of strain. It was and I did, that’s why I was as fit and in as great a shape as I was, but when I injured my back and shoulders, that all changed. I could no longer push myself, I wasn’t aloud to, I had to voluntarily “take it easy” as my physio said, which was very hard for me. For an elite and dedicated athlete hoping to make the Olympics one day, I can tell you this is hard, we hate taking things easy, we feel we are letting ourselves down somehow even if it’s because your injured, crazy as it sounds but we have to have that harsh mentality of pushing ourselves to be able to cope with the very hard and draining levels of training. Otherwise you won’t be able to drive yourself to get up at 4:30am and exercise at an intense level, or push yourself beyond what you had set as your barriers.
I had to learn very fast an enormous amount of patience, otherwise if I didn’t, and if I didn’t take things easy, then I would simply make the injuries worse than they already were and I would set back my return to the sport even further. When my physio answered the question “how long is it going to take to get back” the words I heard next were not welcome but I was going to just have to accept them….She replied with months, possibly 6 months or more to build up your rehab and joints to get back. Inside I was crushed, as I had only 2.5 months of decent training at Loughborough and the last 2/3weeks being semi injured and on/off training, then I’m told it’s going to be 6 months before Im back!, that effectively meant the year was a right off. No PB’s. No more Level one competitions, no Nationals, Nothing! It was very tough for me to accept and it caused a great deal of distress, I had to consider maybe was this a sign trying to tell me not to swim again, or to just quit exercise in general? I had lot of thinking to do and I had to reassess my goals quickly and how I was going to work myself out of this.
As any elite athlete will tell who’s been seriously injured, it’s not the fall that’s the hardest part, it’s the getting back up with a smile on your face and trying to have the eyes of determination you had when you fell. For me the fall has meant warn cartilage in both shoulder sockets, warn cartilage in the colar bone to shoulder joint in both shoulders, impingement of ligaments in both shoulders, partial prolapsed disk in L4 vertibrea, osteo arthritis in the facet joints of the L4 &L5 spinal vertibrea and lastly tendinitis of both bicep tendons. Not a list I like repeating as I’m sure anyone reading this can understand, but in the face of adversity, sometimes it can only make you stronger and more determined to succeed. After many months of hating how unfair the cards I had been dealt were for my sporting goals, I realized that if I wanted to succeed in the sport and move on from being injured I was going to have to completely re-think how I train and motivate myself. This may sound odd, but it’s quite logical, for I had a simple formula for creating motivation before as I said, I used to go for it, try as hard as I could and try to beat everyone in everything that I did, in pressups, or a sprint swim or how long I could swim underwater for, it was very simple, like an on/off button for motivation. But this approach wasn’t going to work coming back from very serious injury and time off, I had to build a structure that would create and channel my frustration of not being able to swim like my fellow athletes and make internal personal goals within the sets and sessions I did. I knew I couldn’t swim off the rep times that I used to, and there was no point in trying, all that would do is to injure me again.
So I had to try and change the way I actually see exercise in my mind, and that’s very difficult to do and describe if you haven’t trained at elite level before, but when you have there’s a unanimous agreement of roughly what it’s like. When I exercise hard, in the gym or in the pool, when I feel my body straining and screaming out from all the lactic acid building up or my heart pounding at 190+ BPM, you usually think about how hard it is right? sometimes, but a lot of my fellow athletes and I actually enjoy this hard feeling, we embrace it and thrive off of it, almost like an addiction to exercise if you will. When you have managed to get to the more elite levels of training, you learn how to block out that strain and pain and on the most part to be able to focus on pushing yourself and having good technique. Then comes the enjoyment, I love the feeling of my body at the limit of its potential, when my heart rate goes up to 190+ and I’m swimming, or lifting or cycling as hard as I can, there’s nothing that makes you feel so alive and fresh.
All of that goes on inside you mind when you train at this level, and I had to learn not all most not enjoy it as much so I wouldn’t get drawn in to training too hard. I had to effectively train myself not to like it as much, otherwise I would want to do more and more and would get injured again. It’s very hard to describe, so I ask for you to picture the thing you love or love doing the most in the whole world, and imagine something takes it away from you, and then it will be returned to you in very small measured doses, and if you have or want too much of it, it’s taken away again for another 6 months all over. You can begin to see how frustrating and how very easy it is to go round in circles with injures sometimes, and how difficult it is to have a “slow and steady” recovery as an elite athlete and come back.
I’m still not properly back yet, but I’m a lot closer than I was before, I’m determined to not only get back to where I was but to surpass it. Then I will be truly happy with where I stand in my sport again, until then I use that frustration and turn it into motivation to be as thorough and patient as possible to defeat the injuries. I have turned it into my own little competition, the injuries being my opponent, and to beat them I must be as patient and calm as possible. They will win if I try too hard too early on, those are the rules of this mental competition I have going on and so far (fingers crossed) I’m ahead.
Why not read more on how POWERbreathe can improve swimming performance.