The Comeback Trail
Injury discriminates against no one – it can stall even the greatest of athletes. Jordan Blanco speaks to Linsey Corbin and dishes out a lesson in careful recovery for all.
“The injury was the best thing that could have happened to me”, said no one ever.
In general, being sidelined due to an injury is an emotional and stressful period of time, and depending on the injury, it could also be full of uncertainty. The body will heal on its own timeline and often our attempts to hasten the process can actually exacerbate it. The impatience that accompanies an uncertain timeline is even more excruciating when your livelihood depends upon it.
Professional triathlete, Linsey Corbin, spent the better part of 2015 sidelined, with injuries that curtailed her ability to train for any of the individual triathlon disciplines, let alone race all three. That’s traumatic when the sport is your job. She is now back to full health and set to race Ironman Cairns in June 2016, after several successful Ironman 70.3 races so far this season.
The path to recovery from injury was not straightforward, physically or emotionally for Corbin, but she readily acknowledges that she has learnt a lot along the way. Lessons she can and will apply to her training and racing in the future. Lessons that many of us can heed and apply when we find ourselves benched.
It’s clear when talking to Corbin that an overload of physical and mental stress was the major contributor to her injuries. She initially suffered from a viral infection, which prevented her from competing at Ironman South Africa last spring, but just as she recovered from the infection, she discovered she had a stress fracture.
It’s not obvious that the two are connected but as Corbin explains, she didn’t truly respect how sick she was from the virus: “I pushed on with the training when I likely should have been on complete rest.” In her words, “I think my body had to rob Peter to pay Paul, so-to-speak, and the result was the stress fracture in my femur.”
Lesson: If something feels off, there’s probably something to it. If pain persists more than a few days, there’s probably something to it.
If you’ve ever watched the US television series ‘House’, starring Hugh Laurie, you might appreciate that diagnosis of an illness or injury is not always straightforward with doctors investigating symptoms and causes in a form of medical whodunit. Corbin trained and even raced through her injury before an accurate assessment was finally made. Not because doctors necessarily missed anything, but rather because injuries, including stress fractures, can be hard to diagnose.
Corbin’s femoral neck stress fracture presented as a ‘sore hip flexor’, which was initially diagnosed as a pulled groin. Only a second MRI finally captured the small stress fracture.
Lesson: Monitor the pain you are experiencing and/or seek several opinions. If improvements do not occur within a week or two, return to the doctor to press for more answers.
‘Recovery Road’ is bumpy and emotional
Triathletes, by the nature of the event, have earned a reputation for seeking to do more, pushing the boundaries and loading up on swimming and biking, say if an injury prevents them from running. Isn’t that the best part of triathlon – having so many disciplines to choose from?
Corbin’s bumpy recovery road is admittedly because she didn’t respect the healing process. After three weeks on crutches with her stress fracture, doctors gave her the go ahead to ‘exercise’ gently, as long as there was no pain. Corbin’s personal translation of that medical advice was a tad aggressive. She launched herself into a program of cross training that included “swimming, biking, water running and upper body weights”. It was only when repeated MRIs showed no improvement in the fracture that Corbin benched herself. And she literally means ‘benched’. She spent the better part of a week on her couch, and a further seven weeks with minimal activity: “Not even a walk around the block with our dog, no grocery shopping, no standing up to do the dishes. Nothing.”
Corbin is quick to acknowledge the mistakes she made along the way to recovery, noting that an injury is the body’s way of getting your attention and saying STOP: “the best thing I did was shutting everything down.” She could regret not shutting things down on the training front earlier in the year, but she’s smart enough to recognise the lessons learned. She goes on to add: “I learned there is no text book answer when it comes to healing and the human body. Different people react in different ways to different scenarios.”
The emotional toll of the recovery process is something that Corbin refuses to sugarcoat: “My world began to feel very small and limited. I had several days of being down in the dumps.” However, she leveraged her experience as an Ironman athlete to her advantage: “You have to break things down and stay present. You can’t think too far back or too far ahead, or the feelings can be overwhelming and discouraging.”
Lesson: A yellow light from a doctor is just that – it means to proceed cautiously. If you are prone to overdoing things and pushing the envelope, ask your physician for more structured guidelines.
As the injury progresses and your health and the ability to train is restored, it’s easy to put everything behind you and feel that you are literally and figuratively ‘off to the races’. However, it’s a valuable time to review the path than landed you on the injury list in the first place.
Corbin used her time on the ‘bench’ to research and understand the ‘why’ of getting injured: “I ultimately ended up having some things going on hormonally that likely impacted why I ended up injured.” To fully resolve the root cause, she stopped taking birth control, gained 5kg in weight, and essentially hit the “reset” button on her entire body.
Now that she’s back to full-time training, she carries with her some practical lessons to help monitor her own physical state: “I focus on recovery and listening to my body versus just barreling through because a training plan says to.” With the injury in the rearview mirror, her advice to others is to “Have confidence that this is just a temporary setback. And a setback is a set-up for a future success.”
Lesson: Find out the WHY behind the injury. Is it an unbalanced body, is it a diet issue, not enough recovery, or is it bad luck? During your time away from the sport, find ways to ensure that the same mistake doesn’t happen again.