“Catastrophizing” is one of my favorite psychology words! You can probably figure this out without much explanation, but catastrophizing involves a type of cognitive and emotional escalation that causes a small issue to become a catastrophe.
My own thought process will serve as an illustration. It went something like this:
“My calf hurts AGAIN. I’ve already taking time off and seen a doctor and a chiropractor and a physical therapist. I’m going to have to go back to the doctor and the chiropractor and the physical therapist and my insurance isn’t going to pay any of it so it’s going to be really expensive. I’m not going to be able to afford the treatment I need and, even if I can afford it, recovery will take FOREVER. I’m going to miss out on weeks and weeks of training. Everyone else is getting faster while I’m barely able to maintain fitness because of this stupid injury. Actually, this injury has continued to recur. Maybe it’s some sort of permanent injury. Maybe I’m one of those “injury prone” runners everyone is always talking about. The doctor and the physical therapist are going to tell me that I can’t do high mileage. They’re going to tell me that I am not going to be able to train for a marathon. I’m not going to get any faster at long distances because I can’t do proper marathon training. I’ll never qualify for Boston. I may never run another marathon, ever again. What if they tell me I can’t run AT ALL and I can never run ANY race EVER AGAIN!!?? If I can’t run, I’m going to gain weight. I’m going to be fat and unhealthy and lose all of my friends who are runners and die alone!!!”
I’m sure at least some of you can relate. And, no, the phenomenon of catatrophizing is not exclusive to athletics so it can creep into any part of your life!
If catastrophizing were an Olympic sport, you’d be reading the blog of a gold medalist. Over the years, I’ve gotten much better about halting this process early on but, like my shin injury, it’s pervasive and I cannot let down my guard. When Dr. Wittenberg told me that I had to take eight weeks off from running to let the heel heal (alliteration – I love it!) he said to me “Eight weeks of thinking about nothing other than not-running is going to be a long eight weeks.” So true! How does someone who LOVES running and THRIVES on a runner’s high survive eight weeks of no-running without losing their mind?
They set goals! Stop thinking about the running goals that you can’t work toward at the moment. In some sense, you’re still working toward them but you won’t see any real progress on those until you’re able to run again. Create a situation in which you can feel a sense of accomplishment soon, and frequently! You can be creative with your goals. Maybe you want to lower your body fat by a certain % through your cross training. Maybe you simply want to see how many miles you can ride on an exercise bike in a twenty-minute period, setting a new mileage goal each week. The goal setting is very personal and it doesn’t really matter WHAT the goals are as long as they are well-constructed goals (I’ll talk more about that in a future post) and they motivate you.
Initially, I tried setting generic fitness goals while we were waiting for my leg to “feel better.” After the 8-week running ban was initiated, I knew I needed more concrete goals. After discussing the options with Justin and with my coach (http://www.dairobertsgroup.com/), I have decided that I will run a half ironman (or an Ironman 70.3) at the end of September 2012. Ho-ly smokes! I’m excited! I’m intimidated! I’m wondering how in the WORLD I’m going to do it all! This is a rather large commitment for me; I’ve got class four days a week and I work in the psychology clinic 3 days a week… plus, at some point I should probably start doing my homework. We’ll see how it goes! I’m lucky that Justin is so incredibly supportive and Dai is so incredibly flexible!
I’ve been biking and swimming just to maintain aerobic fitness for the last month but now I’ve exited “athletic purgatory,” as I like to call it, and am headed into an intense training cycle. I’m eagerly awaiting the email from my coach with this week’s workout schedule. There will be swimming, cycling and strength workouts! Today, I went for my second bike ride outdoors, on the roads, with a “proper” road bike and this afternoon we bought bike shoes for me so that I can begin to learn how to clip into the pedals rather than riding with cages. I’m already starting to feel much more comfortable on the bike and I’m encouraged by how rapidly I’ve adjusted! I followed up my bike workout with a 40 minute bay swim with a friend from my days working in the Pentagon, Jason Pittman. He did quite well, despite being certain that I would swim circles around him. I learned, today, that if I have a bit of congestion in my ears and the water gets choppy, I experience motion sickness. I had intended to swim for longer but I began to feel rather nauseated so we called it quits at 40 min. It was still a good workout AND I learned something; take no chances on race day – pop a dramamine!
I’m thinking about the kind of time goal I want to set for my Ironman 70.3. I’m thinking under 6 hours? I believe that could be reasonable if I can get in a respectable swim, a respectable bike ride, and a sub two-hour run. I’m hoping I’ll have a better idea of what I can expect of myself once I’ve got some tri-specific training under my belt.