Sometimes in life, and especially in the world of athletics, we have to step back in order to move forward. Stepping back is almost never easy to do. But in many cases, it is the right thing to do, and the necessary thing to do — as in my case right now.
This past week, I realized that I need to take a step back. To be truthful, this is actually something I have known I probably needed to do for a while now. But I have finally decided to confront the reality, make peace with it, embrace the new direction and modified tasks at hand, and focus on doing what I need to do now, as best and completely as I possibly can in this step back, so that when it comes time to move forward again I can make it further than I ever could have before.
I’ve had issues with my hips for years now, dating back to my high school ski racing days. Over the years the pain has come and gone as the problems flare up or settle down depending on what activities I’m doing, but it has always been there, and I have largely always ignored it, finding a way to push through and work around it, as athletes so often do. (High pain tolerance and stubborn determination can have their downsides when it comes to actual self-care!). Essentially I just got used to always feeling a little bit uncomfortable.
But since I’ve begun focusing more exclusively on triathlon these past few years, my hip issues have progressively gotten worse and worse, especially with TT riding. So far I have still mostly been able to train as planned, perform and achieve my goals, but I have certainly been limited by the weaknesses and extreme lack of mobility in my hips. I didn’t realize just how much this has actually been holding me back – or how lucky I’ve been that it has not escalated to be a lot more serious yet and just how quickly it could get to that point – until a recent check-in with the experts, which confirmed exactly that. The fact of the matter is that, yes, my hips are in really bad shape, my capabilities are hugely limited by these issues, and I am very much at risk for this to become a serious problem if I don’t address it now.
So, I am doing what I should have done a long time ago, and I am working to fix the problem. What this means for me right now is taking that step back; ultimately, going back to the basics. I have to modify my training significantly, at least for the time being, with a much-reduced overall volume and a significant shift in focus, from the big aerobic base-building block I had planned, to essentially a whole lot of mobility routine repetition, stretching, resting and re-training my body on how to move properly, as it’s been moving so poorly for so long. Basically, I have been building my body’s capabilities on a poor foundation, and as we all know not having a solid foundation is a recipe for disaster in the long run, no matter how well you build up from there. So, I have to go back and restructure my foundation so I have a solid base to grow from, and can ultimately reach new heights that may not have been attainable before.
Indeed, stepping back is not easy. I sure wish I could be out putting in long hours on the bike or on my skis right now, like I had planned to be. Especially after last year when I got my hand surgery in February and missed out on so much winter base-building time, all I want to do this time around is get out there, get after it and start chasing down those goals full-steam ahead. But instead I’m doing a 15-minute mobility routine four times a day, and on some days I also get to do an hour to 90 minutes of “regular” training. It’s hard not to feel like I am missing out; like I’m getting behind and won’t be able to catch up. It’s hard not to feel a little bit panicked about stepping back right when I expected to really be ramping things up. But it’s the right thing to do. And I know – and have to trust in the fact that – it’s the best thing for me to do, and that while it seems like I’m stalling myself now, in the long run making these changes will only enable me to go that much further, and faster (and do it so much more comfortably!).
For athletes with big dreams and clear road maps on how to get there, it can be really hard to see beyond right now when something gets in our way and we have to change the course, or especially when we have to slow down. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through my athletic career it’s that things almost never go completely according to plan, and as I’ve said many times before there truly is no such thing as perfect preparation. But what does always come into play is adaptability. And adaptability, patience and long-term vision are some of the things that I believe differentiate a truly great athlete from a good one. So because I want to be great, I’m trying to exercise all of those traits now: to be willing and able to adapt to the situation at hand, to be patient and trust in the process, and to remember that while the changes I’m making now may seem like sacrifices in the short-term, they are essential to the long-term success I want to achieve.
I have a lot of work to do, and this has been reiterated to me several times already through the beginning of this rehab process. But another way to think about that is that I have a lot of untapped potential. This is not a dead-end or a turn-around; it’s just a re-route and a small delay. And that’s the approach I am choosing to take. I’m going to re-channel the energy and enthusiasm I had built up for base training into my efforts to correct my body movements and create a stronger, healthier foundation than ever before. I am going to take that same unbridled effort I put into the long miles of pedals and steps and the laps in the pool, and put it into doing each and every small mobility movement as well as I possibly can. I am going to commit myself to being the best I can at the task in front of me right now, and embrace the purpose of these steps back, so I can be that much better – and my steps that much bigger — when it’s time to move forward again.