There is no better feeling than achieving a goal you’ve worked hard for. Maybe it’s crossing the finish line of your first triathlon, hitting the podium or becoming an Ironman – that feeling of elation you get as a result is pretty hard to top! On the flip side, is the feeling you get when you find out you’re injured. Unfortunately, it’s something we’re all likely to experience at some stage, particularly as our time spent in the sport increases. A week before sitting down to write this article, I had to withdraw from the Cairns Half Ironman due to injury. I was upset and disappointed, however deep down I knew that it wasn’t the end of the world and that I would come out the other side a stronger athlete, and I’m not alone.
A few weeks ago Renee Kiley, a professional long course triathlete (and just an all-round legend, seriously if you haven’t heard her story you need to), came off her bike, fracturing her wrist. She suddenly found herself having to come to terms with a serious disruption to the season she had so carefully planned and worked extremely hard for.
Disappointment due to injury is a common experience for age group and professional athletes alike. Just as we share the course on race day, we also share the same ups and downs including injury. Renee has kindly shared her words of wisdom with us on injury and how to overcome its challenges.
Q. What were you training for? What injury have you sustained and how?
Ironman Australia was to be the first important race of my season this year and I was going to do Challenge Melbourne in the lead-up. I was racing in the Mooloolaba Triathlon a few weeks ago and came off my bike just 500m from T2! I got a bit of gravel rash but unfortunately also fractured my wrist which was the worst of it.
Q. What does this injury mean in terms of completing the events you were training for? How long will you be off training?
I had one week off completely after the fall. I was in a cast and some of the gravel rashes on my ankle got infected so I had to literally lie still and rest for a week. I was able to resume some light bike and run training the following week as my cast was taken off and replaced it with a waterproof splint. By week three I was back into regular running and bike training (wind trainer only).
I won’t be able to race Ironman Australia or Challenge Melbourne. I am only allowed to start light swimming again next week (week four) so unfortunately, I have just lost too much swim fitness for the two races I had planned. The doctors have also asked me not to ride outside for six weeks in total so as not to risk injuring my wrist again while it’s still healing. So all in all besides the swimming, I was able to resume my normal training routine within two weeks which was great.
Q. How do you decide or what’s your process for deciding whether or not to continue training for your planned event or pulling the pin due to injury?
I think it’s a personal decision and depends on your goals for the race. My goal this year is to finish races in a position high enough to earn an income from racing (usually top 5 or 6 for professionals). So for me, it is important that I am in good swim, bike and run shape to give myself the best chance of getting a good result. It is also important to look at the big picture. If racing will put you at risk of further injury because you are not prepared properly then it is best to pull the pin.
Q. How are you coping mentally and physically with the injury and setback?
I am in a very positive mindset and always see situations like these as opportunities. I’m not going to lie, at first I was very upset and frustrated that things weren’t going my way. About a month prior I cut my forehead open and needed stitches after an open water swimming accident so I felt a bit “why me/poor me” with two setbacks in a matter of months. But I think that is human nature and it is important to allow yourself a couple of days to feel a bit sorry for yourself! But you have to maintain perspective. It could have been a lot worse. And 4/5 weeks in a splint is nothing in the scheme of things.
Q. What is your biggest fear when it comes to injuries?
I have learned in the last 12 months that niggles and small injuries come with the territory of racing at an elite level. Really, most professionals seem to suffer a small injury and/or several niggles throughout the season. It is part and parcel of pushing your body so hard every day. So I think that is why I’ve been able to stay positive about my fracture. Being so new to the sport and now racing and training for my full time “job”, I fear a bad injury could mean in excess of two months off training. A stress fracture or something similar is probably my biggest fear.
Q. How is your mindset different to perhaps an age grouper?
As a professional, I race many times throughout the year. There is always another race I can do, so it’s just a matter of reshuffling things. It certainly temporarily impacts our day to day job and puts a hold on our income earning capacity.
As an age grouper, there are a different set of concerns. They don’t have the luxury of choosing any race they like. With exorbitant entry fees that sometimes you are unable to transfer, getting an injury may have a significant financial impact on an age grouper and therefore cause them more stress, and be just as difficult to deal with mentally.
Q. How have you adjusted your training and what goals have you had to reset?
No swimming for three weeks is really the biggest setback. I’ve been able to ride on the wind trainer and run as normal. Yes I have had to cancel a couple of my race plans in Australia but I head to Europe again in June and my three months over there was going to be my key race season so I am focusing on ensuring I am fit and healthy prior to leaving
Q. What’s your advice to dealing with an injury and setback?
I think perspective is the key. An important tool for me is I always make sure I have a person or a couple of people to think about when times get tough. When I’m sore or tired from training, having a bad day or when I have a minor injury. For me, they are my Nan (she was diagnosed with cancer at 40 and suffered with it on and off for 30 years before passing away), and Lauren Parker (a beautiful and talented young woman who had just turned professional and had a nasty bike accident leaving her a paraplegic – now kicking ass as a para-triathlete). When I think of my Nan or Lauren, what they have endured and the pain they have experienced it very quickly puts everything in perspective and makes anything I am experiencing really seem quite trivial.
Q. What are your top 3 injury prevention tips?
● Rest/sleep. The best performance aid is sleep. It gives your body a chance to repair and regenerate. If I was an age grouper and still working full time, with the knowledge I now have, I would definitely choose an additional 2-3 hours of sleep a week over completing a non-key training session if I was super tired and sore. You will be a better athlete for it.
● Weekly massage or fortnightly if that’s more achievable financially. I don’t think athletes prioritise massage enough. It is critical in my opinion.
● Compression. If you don’t have compression boots get some full-length compression tights or at the very least calf guards and pop them on after every run. They really do work magic.
Q. What is your recovery strategy? Who are you seeking help from (physio, doctor etc)?
I am lucky to have a good team who know my body and background (coach, massage therapist and physio) that I see regularly and can assess how things are going.
Renee has previously shared her inspirational story with us as a part of our webinar series. If you’re yet to tune in, set some time aside this weekend and have a listen over in the TriChicks Hub! Not a member yet? Have a look at our membership options here.