By Rose Dey, SGX
Anyone who has trained for a long time can tell you setbacks are disappointing. You work hard to achieve your goals, sometimes sacrificing time with family and friends in the process. When you are young, recovery is usually quick, you have plenty of years ahead to reach your potential, and you have a big support network encouraging your comeback. When you’re 49, things look a lot different.
I was introduced to the world of obstacle racing at 42. Having a background in strength, gymnastics, and martial arts made obstacles a fun challenge (it was the running I hated). Being a personal trainer, I read, researched, became an SGX coach, and put in years of hard training to finally reach elite status and grab my first masters podium spot at 48. My hard work was paying off, and I was looking forward to crushing the following year. That’s when it all came crashing down.
After a car accident in February 2017, I still managed to join my United Strength Academy team and take on Greek Peak, but I was the one needing the most help. My son, Matt Carroll, even carried me at one point. That’s when I realized there was more going on than simply two dislocated toes. A change of doctors and several X-rays and MRIs revealed that I also had a torn tendon in my foot, a deviated metatarsal that needed correction, and a parameniscal cyst in my knee. I was devastated. I would need surgery to put a plate and screws in my metatarsal-cuneiform joint and reattach a tendon, followed by eight weeks off my foot, and finally a follow-up arthroscopic knee surgery. Recovery was estimated at one year before returning to an active lifestyle, and there was no guarantee that I would ever regain my previous running ability. To make matters worse, age was against me. My tissues atrophied, and bone density in the injured leg took a nose dive. It was becoming harder to stay positive. The fight was on.
As an SGX coach, one of the biggest things I have learned is the importance of mental toughness, or grit. Mental toughness is defined as “firmness of character, indomitable spirit”; it’s that inner quality that enables a person to never stop working hard to reach their long-term goals. As my head filled with doubts and worries about not being able to run again, I forced myself to stay focused on my why? Why do I want to race again? Why is this important to ME? For me, there is no greater why than my kids. I know the greatest lessons don’t come from what I say, but from what I do or don’t do. How can I tell my kids they can do anything in life and overcome any obstacle in their way, if they see me succumbing to my own circumstances? Yes, it would be understandable and acceptable. After all, I’m almost 50, and it’s not like I’m a world record holder or household name. But I am important to three special people, and that’s enough of a why.
I believe if you want something bad enough, and for reasons beyond yourself, then you can make them happen. I spent the last several years watching motivational videos and following people like T. D. Jakes and Mark Divine in pursuit of a winning mind-set and attitude. I realized that now, more than ever, I needed to implement everything I learned. So while I was off my foot, instead of watching mindless TV shows, I read articles on the type of surgery I had and on recovery in athletes. I also read a great book by Jay Dicharry, Anatomy for Runners. If I was going to pursue my goals, I wanted as much information as possible to help get me there. I set my mind up for a full recovery before my foot was even out of the cast.
First, I focused on was what I was able to do. My upper body wasn’t affected, so two weeks after my first surgery, I was in the gym working on my upper body strength. I am thankful for the friends who shared my mind-set and helped me by driving me to the gym and pushing me on the days I didn’t feel 100 percent. As soon as my cast and boot were removed, I had four weeks before knee surgery. I had extreme tightness in my plantar fascia, limited ankle mobility, calf atrophy, a stiff hip, and some bone density loss in my foot. There was no time to spare. I spent three days a week in physiotherapy, having my big toe moved back and forth for a half hour and massaging my foot to loosen the extreme tightness in my plantar fascia.
I knew that wouldn’t be enough, so every day, including PT days, I spent 30 minutes performing what I called the mobility trifecta. I would roll my foot with a lacrosse ball and use the foam roller on my quads, glutes, and hamstrings. This helped to restore length to the muscles. I did this as often as possible, sometimes several times a day. Next, I would do banded hip and ankle joint distraction drills. This helped create space in those joints so they could function normally. I did this at least once a day, sometimes twice. Then I would go through a series of stretches for range of motion. Finally, I would work on balance with standing on one foot, single-leg Romanian deadlifts, and single-leg Bosu work.
Thankfully, the arthroscopic knee surgery was a quick fix, and I was on a bike three days later. The added stiffness in the knee was frustrating, but that just made me more determined. Biking for twenty minutes to loosen the stiffness in the knee really helped it recover quickly. I added strength exercises, including deadlifts, front squats, walking lunges, and glute bridges. I believe the combination of strength and mobility training was the key factor in recovery. I slowly started pushing into light jogging, bucket carries, and even some incline training.
In a follow-up discussion with my foot doctor, he said a study showed that about 50 percent of people who have a lapidus procedure return to activity after 37 months. It has been six months since my surgery, and although I’ve lost speed, some strength, and some agility, I am back training for my return to obstacle-course racing. My doctor also mentioned that there were no Spartans in that study. As funny as that may sound, I credit the Spartan community, and the mind-set and training that it emphasizes, for my relatively fast recovery.
Ready to tackle a Spartan race? Download The Spartan 2018 Training Plan as your blueprint. #noexcuses