The potential for having to deal with adversity is always lurking and can catch the best off us off guard at any moment.
Sudden cramp, a flat tire, torrential wind gusts, another flat tire or a physical accident or an injury. How you cope with adversity both physically and mentally makes a massive difference to the speed and extent of your recovery.
Having a strong inner dialogue – and heightened self awareness about your self-talk – is the key to dealing with adversity. You’ve got to get to recognise your feelings and accept what your mind and body is telling you, and sometimes that ‘inner dialogue’ might reveal more about you as a triathlete than any performance test or coach.
To bring this to life I asked Rob Cummins, a 9 times Ironman and 2 times Kona finisher who is currently recovering from spinal surgery, to share his ‘inner dialogue’ and experience on coping with adversity.
Here is Rob’s story…
It’s only 4 weeks ago that I got my kicks on a 20-25k Sunday Club run. Especially on the days that I’ve brought my good legs.
Usually, I don’t talk much for the first 20-30 minutes and the pace is easy. Just hearing snippets of conversations around me, enjoying the company of runners, the sun rising and the sharp winter cold.After a bit, I usually join in someone’s chat. My head and legs have woken up by now and the pace has to
o. It’s not fast yet but a satisfying cruise that gives me that nice buzz in the legs.
Then, usually somewhere around the last 5k, someone decides to stretch their legs and conversations first slow, then stop.
The effort rises, but if I’ve brought my good legs, I move up near the front and settle there. There’s another injection of pace and I match it.
The group is strung out now and the only sounds are of hard breathing and feet slapping the path. I snatch a look at my Garmin. It tells me what I can already feel. I’m not on my limit but I’m not far off it either.
I’ve got the itch though and I want to scratch it.
I move up onto the front and pick up the pace.
Just a bit, and hold it there.
The group matches it. I think I’ve got one more of those to reach my limit and decide to see if I’m right.
I go up another notch and after a minute the body accepts the workload and sits in the groove. I picture it like a needle sitting into a record. You’ll only understand that if you’re over 35.
It’s one of the best feelings you can imagine.
I feel strong, fast and in control. It’s what I love about running. Then someone decides to give it another little push and now the feelings change to ones of hurting and I remember that I’m a triathlete among real runners and as strong and great as I might feel, these guys are the real deal and if they decided to turn the screw I’ll most likely just go straight out the back.
I dig in and hope they don’t do that again. I know its only another 2k to go and reckon I can hold on that long but not any faster. Breathing hard and ragged and legs tiring I manage to sit on his shoulder until he takes his foot off the gas and cruises the last bit to cool down.
That was about a month ago.
Today, 16 days after spinal surgery, how I’ll get my physical kicks will be by going for a 15 minute walk to the coffee shop and back. That’s all the exercise I’m allowed to do. After sleep that leaves me with another 17 hours to fill each day; 90% of it horizontal. For someone who works 60 hours a week and trains 20-25 hours on top of that, all of a sudden I have a lot of time inside my own head.
The initial injury happened 7 months ago, about 2k into the swim of Ironman UK last year. I went on to finish in pain but not realising how serious the injury was. I had damaged a disc and displaced a nerve not just a pulled muscle as I thought.
I had also qualified for the World Championships in Kona, which meant another Ironman in less than 8 weeks. I had spent the lead into Kona doing intensive strength and conditioning, rehab and lots of physio. The pain was worse by the time Kona came around but you’re not going to skip a chance to race on the big Island unless a leg falls off.
I got through Kona and as that was the end of my season I took a short break from all training.
After that for me, the off season normally means a 2 month break from structured triathlon training and a return to running. My partner Aisling is a runner and it’s the easiest and most enjoyable one for us to fit in during the winter.
In early February the disc gave out completely and I was taken in for emergency spinal surgery. Part of the disc was removed the nerve was released and replaced.
While the operation was 100% successful, the rehab is going to be tough; 6 weeks in bed and 6 weeks rehab before I can consider starting training again.
From 20-25 hours training a week I’ve been told to consider sitting up for 20 minutes as exercise. I’m not allowed to empty the dishwasher. The former I found hard to believe at first but have since discovered to be true, the latter made me smile.
I realised that this was going to be a mental challenge more than physical and realised that I have to get my kicks differently now. I get them from the small bits of daily progress I make.
On day 4 it was being able to put on my socks myself. Admittedly it took almost 10 minutes!
Aisling had to do it before that. In fact she had to do almost everything for me at that stage. I’m very lucky to have someone who wants to take care of me. Every little bit of independence I regain is another small victory.
Day 6 it was putting them on almost like a normal person, pain free.
The endorphin buzz and adrenaline rush of finding and testing physical limits has gone for a while. I realised quickly that I needed to make the decision to forget about it and not drive myself crazy thinking about all I can’t do while I’m lying here for almost 22 hours a day. Instead I take all the pleasure I can from all the little victories and milestones. I also look at it as an opportunity to do a lot of things I wanted to but never made time for.
I’ve always wanted to write more and now I have the perfect opportunity.
I run my own business and there’s a whole list of things that never get fixed as I’m always so busy with the day to day stuff. Now I have the chance to redesign our website and deal with a lot of the administrative changes I wanted to implement from my bed.
I’ve discovered again that there’s always a positive side to every situation. Even to what at the time might seem catastrophic.
I can’t do my target race Ironman Frankfurt but I now have the bigger challenge of 3 months rehab and getting race fit by the end of the season instead to race in Wales. I’ve huge motivation now to overcome a much bigger obstacle than just training to race and am hugely excited about it.
I think that I’m already starting to see the injury, spinal surgery and 6 weeks in bed as being a huge opportunity and one of the most formative periods of my life.
Right now I’m off to get my kicks.
Today it’s a short slow walk with Aisling but I know there are people who would give anything to just have that much.
So I’ll appreciate every minute of it.
Can you relate to Rob’s experience? Does this make you re-think how you talk to yourself when facing adversity? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page to let us know what you think of this story.