Pro Triathlete Vanessa Raw tells you how to come back strong after triathlon injuries.

Vanessa at the 2011 Huatulco World Cup Triathlon (Photo: Triathlon.org, Rich Cruse / ITU)

I have just recovered from an injury to my foot that was the longest I’ve ever had to endure. It came about from an uneven pelvis, possibly caused by a bike crash in August 2010. My injury seriously affected my riding power, but I tried to push on through it, literally hanging off the right-hand side of the saddle.

It hurt, but I was told to get on with it and quit complaining. It affected my running too, and with that came some rock-bottom lows. I persevered on my own, day in, day out, but several months later I was still in pain. I was quickly losing hope of a career in triathlon.

Coping with injury at any level is hard. Triathletes identify themselves with their sport, and feel good about themselves when they are doing well. So, when you’re injured, it reflects physical and mentally. I firmly believe things happen for a reason, and every time I’ve been injured I’ve learnt some important lessons from it. It allows you to grow mentally as well as physically, and come back even stronger.

I was forced to make some hard choices and changes, but often brick walls are put in front of us to test us and keep those who don’t want it enough, out. With a new way of thinking, things soon slotted back into place. It seems that being highly focused didn’t work. I needed to be more relaxed and in a positive state of mind.

Lately I’ve been working with a strength and conditioning coach Stephen Powell who based my training on dynamic movements, teaching my body how to use its muscles more effectively and powerfully. Since then I’ve got back to normal training again, and I’ve learned some important lessons that might help you if ever you’re unlucky enough to have an injury:

SPOT WEAKNESS
Do whatever you can to find out exactly where you are weak, and what caused you to be injured. You must get strong in the gym, but work primarily on those muscles that are weak and more generally on the others. Get help from a trained physio or gym instructor to help you do the correct functional exercises for you. Once you know what to do, it’s a case of being patient and believing in yourself.

CHECK YOUR DIET
It’s really important not to overlook nutrition when you’re injured. It’s so hard – I really struggle with it. When you’re not training it’s easy to lose focus and

eat bad foods. But if you stay focused, it will pay off in the end and you’ll come back sooner. Make sure you eat good lean protein to help the body repair, and oily fish too, which can be hugely beneficial due to the anti-inflammatory properties it has.

STOP FIGHTING IT
Stop battling against your injury and accept it or listen to it. I am great believer in the power of the subconscious mind. Go somewhere quiet and listen. Ask your subconscious whatever is appropriate: “Why is my foot hurting?” or “What should I do next?”. The answer may just pop into your head then and there, or it may come to you during the day or in your dreams at night. But trust the answer. We know our bodies ourselves better than anyone else.

LEARN TO LET GO
Lastly, let go of results and focus on the processes that will ultimately get you back on track. Otherwise you’ll rush everything and won’t enjoy the amazing journey that takes you there. The mind and body are linked, and the body does not work properly if the mind is unhappy, unbalanced or stressed. The day when I ‘let go’ was when I finally accepted that whatever happened next would be the right course of action.

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine – subscribe now to get the magazine delivered to your door every month.

You’ll find loads more triathlon training tips, workouts and nutrition advice in triradar’s online Training Zone.