In November, I ran one of the best races of my life and completed 60 miles with Team VPX at World’s Toughest Mudder. Our team finished more laps than any other team at night and earned the coveted “Black Ops” award. Unfortunately, those 60 miles really did a number on my body and I ran the last 30 miles with a torn meniscus. Since then I have been “benched” from all activity involving my left leg. I spent 1 month on crutches, then the next month hobbling around with a limp. I was not allowed to ride an exercise bike, use an elliptical, run, hike, or even walk more than needed! At some moments I really went crazy as my mind and body suffered from lack of exercise… but I had to find a way to cope and this is what helped me:
If you can’t use your legs – you can use your arms! (or vice versa). I set a goal for myself to be able to do 10 pull-ups by the time my leg is healed. I can’t quite do ten yet – but I am at 7 and this is more than I have done since I was a teen.
I also had crutches to work with and they were a huge upper body workout. I used them whenever I could, and felt arm muscles developing that I didn’t know existed. I did push-ups, monkey bars, rope climbs, and sit ups.
Watch your calorie intakes. I was very afraid of gaining a ton of weight. Pre-injury I ran or worked on the elliptical at least 8 miles per day – burning a minimum of 500 calories. Without being able to burn those calories, I would gain 1 lb a week if I didn’t do anything about my diet. I had to cut back, quit splurging, quit cheat days, and really crack down. I love a glass of wine, but started limiting that to only a few nights a week. I eliminated snacking between meals – my body wasn’t burning extra calories – so I didn’t need extra fuel. I made my breakfasts smaller and focused on low calorie beverages, and lean proteins. VPX has many bars such as the Life Lift that are not high in calories but packed with fiber to fill me up. I also added a lot of vegetables – low calorie but high volume.
Get REALLY creative. I wasn’t allowed to do elliptical so I started standing on my good leg and using the arm bars to put momentum into the step and get the machine to move. At first it was totally exhausting and I could only do about ¼ mile of “one-footed elliptical”. As the weeks went on my arms and core got stronger from pushing the pedal with my one leg and I built up to 1 mile. It wasn’t much compared to my 8 miles but it was a huge workout and made me feel like I was doing something.
I did a similar thing with my exercise bike. I put a pedal strap on my good leg and used the strap to pull up and get the wheels moving. One legged biking was equally difficult to one legged elliptical but it was much much much better than nothing.
I also went climbing – using most of my upper body and my good leg to move upwards and over the walls. I figured climbing was kind of like vertical crutches because most of the weight was on my arms.
Remember when…. Remember when you were healthy, active, and exercising. I watched movies of myself on obstacles and on trails so I didn’t forget my potential. I know that going back after this injury will make me a different athlete than I was, but some of my strengths still exist. I had to be reminded of that. I have never been strong on my legs, I have never been able to jump high, or run fast. Really, this injury won’t change much there – my legs have always been my weakness and now they will still be. I am good at upper body and I will continue to focus on that. I will keep my head up and remember that all is not lost.
I also tried to remember previous injuries that at the time seemed hopeless but now don’t even phase me. I have broken my arm twice, pulled both hamstrings, had rotator cuff surgery, and RECOVERED. This injury too will pass, and I will still be me, just a little more cautious.
If you are feeling down, depressed, or sad, consider journaling about your frustration, talking to friends who have been in your shoes, or make plans for something fun to do when you recover. Brainstorm things you CAN do with your injury. For me that was sledding, kayaking, climbing (easy routes), monkey bars, pull ups, sit ups, yoga, and swimming. I could also enjoy a nice dinner; focus on projects that I have been meaning to do, have a nice soak in the hot tub etc. You have to open your mind to the possibilities of entertainment.
Scream! If you have a bad day or just can’t take it anymore, that’s OK. Let it out, go to bed, and wake up tomorrow with a new attitude. Each day brings you closer to recovery and closer to being back on track.
OK – keep your head-up injured comrades and hopefully this helps.
This is a guest post by Corinne Rose Kohlen, a 31 year old (soon to be 32!) registered dietitian at DaVita Dialysis with a Masters Degree in Nutrition and certified diabetes educator. Her background is in rock climbing and she used to compete and work professionally as a rock climber for Sea World. She has been obstacle racing for 2.5 years and have done over 30 spartan races, 10 tough mudders and many Ultra races. Her favorite races are Survival runs. This year she will be returning to World's Toughest Mudder for the third time. Her specialties are rope climbs, traverse wall, and chicken carrying.