Not gonna lie. The past month or so has been one heck of a challenge. But at the same time, a much needed reality check.
For those lucky folks who have been able to avoid my persistent whining, here’s a brief summary to get you up to date:
Around a month ago, a quick dash into the street to corral my kid resulted in a noticeable popping sensation in my right calf.
As soon as it happened I stopped, hung my head and muttered “please not my Achilles,” which is always a VERY long recovery.
(In a weird twist, my friend and fellow coach Tony Gentilcore suffered the exact same injury three months ago. Though at least he could say he was legit sprint training, not lumbering after a three year old.)
I initially thought I avoided that fate for just a really bad sprain, especially because I still had some mobility in my ankle.
But after a rookie GP misdiagnosed me and the swelling got REALLY bad, a specialist confirmed my initial fears: torn Achilles tendon. LONG recovery. Foot in a heavy boot (a real joy living in a house full of stairs) and definitely no real lower body training.
The above came at no surprise and wasn’t even that jarring — I’ve been around many guys and even clients who suffered this injury, dealt with the long layoff but then bounced back just fine.
And with them I had all kinds of positive ways to look at their misfortune, different perspectives to help get them out of a funk, even ways to see opportunity in essentially being on their ass a lot more. (Writing? Consulting? Guilt-free Netflix binge watching?)
Yet, for whatever reason, none of that was working on me.
I couldn’t stop thinking about all my plans that had to change.
Like, just that week, I’d adjusted my schedule so I could take my kid to a nearby park right after he gets home from daycare, to both shut down my workday and start taking advantage of the beautiful late summer/early fall weather we have in the mountains.
Poof. Not anymore.
I had been enjoying the best training I’ve experienced in years. Taking so much time off during the lockdown was like turning back the clock on my joints, and then watching fat fly off while the scale went UP was super motivating (thank you muscle memory).
For the first time ever, I felt like I was BEHIND schedule in terms of shaping up but the photos showed I was actually AHEAD. In the past it was always the opposite, and I certainly enjoyed this version much more.
Poof. Not anymore.
Now, this is where as a coach I would normally jump in and start throwing all kinds of positivity, from “think of all you still CAN do” to the well-worn “if you’re driving along and blow a tire, would you hop out and slash the other three tires? No, you’d put on a spare and continue on as best you can!”
Peachy. But since it was coming from me, it wasn’t working on me.
But these three things did help:
1. I tapped my network.
Thanks to what I do for a living I have friends in medicine and athletic therapy and even a surgeon, not to mention dozens of people who do what I do and know their stuff.
One of my favorites is Tony G. As noted, he had the same damn injury, and is in a similar family predicament (he has a young, active son). So while generic positive vibes weren’t helping, actual advice/support from someone in the same boat was extremely helpful.
If nothing else, it confirmed what I was feeling in the back of my mind but just couldn’t embrace: that I got this.
2. I changed the plan.
You know the expression “if you wanna make God laugh, tell him your plans.” A big part of my doldrums was seeing a lot of things I had planned suddenly get put on hold or scrapped altogether.
It really stung with respect to my own training and dieting. When you hit a really good groove there’s just no better feeling — I felt almost invincible — and I hadn’t felt that “together” since LONG before Covid hit. And then there were all the other little projects I had planned but was now forced to shelve.
But I didn’t have to scrap. Because everything I had planned was basically flexible in terms of a timeline. There was no “gotta do X by Y day or else.” It wasn’t even like a bodybuilding show with a set contest date.
It was all drama and expectation cooked up in my own mental kitchen. But I was still the head chef and while I didn’t control all the ingredients I had to work with, I alone controlled the final menu.
(What can I say, food analogies speak to me.)
3. I stopped blaming.
If there is an 11th commandment, I guarantee it would be “shit happens.”
A popular expression in get-shit-done circles is to always blame yourself for your problems.
I appreciate the underlying theme of taking responsibility and not playing victim, but there are obvious limits.
You get T-boned by an impaired driver and have neck pain. Is that your fault?
Your workplace and kids school all get shut down and you’re forced to play home-schooler & breadwinner in a crippled economy. As such, training takes a back seat (did I mention the gym is shutdown) and diet adherence suffers as stress skyrockets.
Is that your fault? Would filling out a gratitude journal put food on the table?
Your kid gets diagnosed with leukemia…God forbid. NOT going there.
Its a bit of an intellectual strawman as the original message wasn’t meant for such tragedies but rather promote a mind-shift away from blaming others towards taking personal responsibility.
And for everything that does happen to you, your fault or not, you control your reaction.
But like all good things I’ve watched it get perverted and twisted and stripped of all context and empathy, and then even get traction, such as shit like, “Oh they got lung cancer? Well next life don’t smoke.”
As if lung cancer ONLY occurs in smokers. Or that smokers somehow don’t deserve basic decency.
The fact is not everything is your fault, and not everything happens for a (knowable) reason. Some things are just random.
But random is scary and there’s a seductive comfort in the “everything happens for a reason” mindset.
Look at those who buy into conspiracy theories. They want to believe that there’s A PLAN afoot (i.e. order behind the chaos) and they’re “in the know” which is really just assuaging via the illusion of control.
But its not just Q’Anon types. I suffered an Achilles tear and asked every doctor I saw what I did wrong or how I could’ve prevented this.
Should I have been stretching more?
Training calves less frequently or intensely?
Drinking more water? (I was certain that was it; I’d been slacking in that regard.)
They all said the same thing: The only thing I did wrong was have 1973 on my birth certificate and some shitty luck.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for personal growth and dare-I-say enlightenment.
Perspective, and how much training is a part of my DNA.
Gratitude, for being able to pursue an active lifestyle.
Appreciation #1, for intense exercise, not to mention basic mobility.
Appreciation #2, for the power of Non-Exercise Physical Activity (NEPA) on maintenance calories. My waistline is currently learning this in real time.
Appreciation #3, for being able to eat a hell of a lot more and be leaner. Sure miss that.
Motivation #1, to get through rehab and get under the bar.
Motivation #2, to start creating crushing what I CAN do, like upper body work 6 days a week with different areas of specialization, and more structural balance stuff that I often skip. #newprogram
Motivation #3, internalize all the above and then help others.
Everything happens for a reason or shit just happens?
All I know is, shit is happening. How we choose to see it and proceed is on us.