It’s not about the cards that you’re dealt, but how you play the hand – This saying from Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture obviously applies to many life situations, but for now I’m going to focus solely on how it relates to my life. When you’re dealing with pain, you’d think that your initial response would be to respond to the little red flag with rest and rehab. Unfortunately, the little voice inside of most athlete’s heads is a stubborn one – one that whispers thoughts of super human capabilities and says that to rest/pull out of a race is weakness, especially after traveling all the way to the race site.
When I was having trouble running the day before my past race in Iowa, I should have listened to my body and pulled the plug on racing the following day, knowing I wouldn’t be able to give my usual 110% effort. This thought never crossed my mind. Instead, I spent the rest of the day plotting how I would get through the race and thought “I’m as fit as I’ve ever been, I can push myself through the pain.” This is the typical athlete ego. In addition, I thought about past races/training sessions where I’d pushed through the pain, found that “extra gear” and achieved amazing things (running with a broken toe, finishing a tri after a concussion, blablabla…) My mind was focused and ready to go for race day, now I just needed my body to cooperate for a couple of hours.
I learned pretty early into the race that mind over matter doesn’t always work. After a decent swim, my foot started throbbing as I ran (read jogged) out of the water and up towards the transition area. At this point when I was experiencing excruciating pain, I should’ve stopped. But, once again, the inner voice told me that maybe the pain would subside once I was on my bike and that I should continue on. I hate DNFs more than anything, so I hopped on my bike and off I went. What ensued after that can only be described as pure torture and the longest 10k run of my life. I finished the race but something was obviously off with my foot and I now know that there are only certain types of pain you can push through.
It would be very easy for me to feel sorry for myself right now as I do all my running in a 10yd stretch of a pool’s deep end instead of the gorgeous trails of Colorado this summer but that’s not what I plan to do. I’ll take the forced down time and come out of this stronger and smarter than before. If you are an athlete reading this, I urge you to learn from my mistake and always listen to your body. Besides, making the decision to look after yourself is the best healthcare you can have. That, and playing your cards wisely...
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy summer!