June 12, 2017

I am not someone who has ever enjoyed being told that I can’t do something. Can’t dye my hair at school, well I’ll do it anyway! Can’t go and live in Paraguay when you know nothing about the place? We’ll see about that. Can’t exercise because you’re injured? Right.

It almost makes me laugh as I type thinking about how different I am now from the Rose of yesteryear. That Rose scoffed in the face of exercise, ate what she wanted and prioritised napping over everything else. I should say at this point, if this sort of lifestyle is working for you, then do not change a thing! But for young (slash old-enough-to-know-better) Rose, it definitely wasn’t working. She had very low self-esteem and let fear stop her from chasing after the objects of her heart’s desire.

Anyway, old-enough-to-know-better Rose (it’s catchy, let’s roll with it) would have relished the idea of someone telling her she shouldn’t exercise, after years of people telling her that she should. But since embarking on a long-term fitness plan with the goal of better looking after my physical and mental health, I’ve swung to the other extreme (errrr no, YOU’VE GOT AN OBSESSIVE PERSONALITY).

I digress.

One thing that has really irked me since whatever mystical click was set off in my brain to allow me finally to see and feel the benefit of exercise is when I can’t do it as freely and flexibly as I’d like—I’m talking injury here guys. Injury and sickness, what a couple of bastards. Last year when I started running, I got some tendinitis that knocked me out for a good month, and boy did that annoy me. It didn’t take long for another arsehole, the voice inside my head, to gleefully start its attack on my confidence, with helpful thoughts including, but not limited to, the following: “oh my God, what if this means I spiral into a mess and eat all the food and put all the weight back on and am destined to be forever in this inescapable overweight prison?” Yeah, yeah, I know, I am a genius at self-sabotage. Funnily enough, this became somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, when my return to running made me so anxious about injuring myself again, I got IBS (I’ll spare you the details).

Anyway, injury once again knocked on my door this year, after a particularly obsessive spell with fitness inevitably pissed off one of my muscles, and not a small one, no, but my bloody hamstring! I hadn’t ever felt my hamstring before, but goodness me when that thing hurts it really goes for it. I excelled myself this time, by continuing to exercise on the injury and thus making it worse, much to the consternation of my physio, who kept telling me not to do any exercise, which, as we all know, is like a red rag to a bull.

The moral of this story is that through these spells of forced paralysis, I had to really dig deep to find the positives. But find them I did with the help of the wonderful cheerleaders around me, and now I’m going to share them with you (you’re welcome):

  • Listen. Bodies are pretty clever things and are well-versed in sending signals to your brain when they’re overworked and exhausted. But here’s the thing, you have to listen to them. The most useful advice my physio ever gave me was to listen to my body. He said that if I slowly go back to training and at any point I feel instinctively not to push a certain part of my body too far, to listen to that instinct. Sounds simple, but I can confirm that it works! Also, if your body is telling you to rest, then rest you must, which leads me onto my next point…
  • Sleep! If you’re anything like me, you just run and run and run until you can’t anymore, such is the power of ambition. But sometimes it pays to take it slow. Building anything, be it a new routine or a muscle group is slow, and far more likely to be sustainable if it’s developed over a long period of time. So watch that boxset, sleep that extra hour, because I’m pretty sure that as soon as you’re back on your feet, you won’t want to rest.
  • Love. Turns out, even though you worried at some points that your relationship with exercise was more a relationship of convenience than anything else, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. There never is a sweeter time than when you get back into the swing of things, confident in your love for the sport and ready to experience its benefits once again.
  • Resilience. I have injured myself more in the past 1.5 years than I probably have in any other time in my life. BUT, I’ve also learned that pain is a temporary feeling, which helps when you’re prone to blips of mental ill health, like me. For most of us fortunate lot, that pain in your leg is temporary, and so is that pain in your heart. Time heals all most things.
  • Strength. One thing I discovered through forced periods of inactivity is that when I eventually have returned to exercise, I am usually stronger/faster/quicker than I was before. Obviously sometimes your cardio fitness takes a hit, unless you can top it up with low-impact activities like swimming, but I find when my muscles have a bit of time to rebuild, they are more resilient and stronger when I return to exercise.

So there you have it, the silver lining to your twisted ankle, dodgy knee or unhappy hamstring. I hope that this provides some solace to those who are currently injured or unwell. But most of all, I hope my long-suffering friends direct me back to this post when I’m moaning about my next ailment, in the hope that I’ll listen to my own advice (unlikely, soz).