Words by Cat Benger.
So where do I start? Back at the beginning where this journey started sounds sensible. Like all journeys there are highs and lows, thrills and spills, destination sometimes unknown, and this journey is no different. But what I will say is that I am buckled in and looking forward to a fast finish!
At the end of 2014 I knew that the mild dull ache in my butt cheek was not quite right. But me being like most athletes, I was slightly dismissive of an ache, a pain, a tightness or soreness. As athletes we often don't want to accept that a training session or two should be missed or that the “R word” — REST — should be adhered to. First we learn pain is an indicator, it's your body’s way of telling you something is not quite right. I was battling a mix of emotions and clearly not wanting to surrender to the R word. Up until this stage I had been very fortunate and hadn't experienced a “real” injury or setback. Cyclists and triathletes often think we are invincible, so why would I just stop or seek help!
March 2015 I did seek some help from a health professional, a physiotherapist, and it was the best decision I could have made — albeit a little on the tardy side. Seeking a professional opinion gave me clarity on the situation and what was going on, but more importantly what to do about it. Now I had a plan! Maybe not the training plan I was hoping for, but no further physical energy was being wasted and potentially making the injury worse or mental energy trying to self-diagnose what was going on. Let’s just say, “physically and metaphorically it was a pain in the arse”. In a nutshell, we were working to remedy a lazy left glute, hamstring tendinopathy, some back and QL problems. Over the years the wrong muscle patterns had been firing — and with the volume and intensity my body had endured it finally said, “enough is enough! STOP!”
It was back to the drawing board to re-train those neuro muscular pathways, not done overnight, in days or in weeks. More like months and years. For me, 2015 and the start of 2016 has been a melange of complete rest - no swim, bike or run. I also spent many hours in the gym on strength and conditioning (S&C). There was no racing and I had to accept some DNSs (did not start) against my name. When the time was right, the process allowed me to reintroduce and then build some consistency in training, whilst juggling the curve balls being thrown at me from time to time. It was a little “two steps forward and two steps back” at times, with some side-ways steps of minor and temporary set-backs to be overcome. The one thing that did remain constant was my S&C work in the gym: glute bridges, aka butt squeezing! I like to think I am some-what of a pro now when it comes to glute exercises. I have mastered all variations and progressions! I think they call it “buns of steel!”
To bring you right up to date, I am still rehabbing under the guidance of health professionals and I am moving in the right direction. My training programme now involves all the disciplines of a triathlon — and of course my S&C work.
Having a plan — to me it was my “battle plan” — and working with people who I trusted, who had faith and confidence in gave me strength and kept me motivated. Sticking to my strategy, diligently, made me stronger physically, mentally and emotionally.
That gives you a flavour of the physical journey...but what about the emotional one – the emotional roller coaster - good days, bad days and spoilt brat-like stroppy days! But I honestly believe it was and is ok — and normal — to endure that myriad of emotions. We're only human after all. I first had to accept I was injured and acceptance did not come straight away. I felt angry. Not a “Why me?!” angry. I was more annoyed and sad. I was missing out. I could not do what I love nor could I experience those endorphin highs. Exercising is my escape.
It was much easier to move on once I had stopped trying to rebel against it and fight it. I needed to accept I was injured, as this was one battle I was never going to win. But one goal I never lost sight of was winning and getting back to winning ways.
During my recovery time, my partner, clients and friends were all still training and racing which meant I had a new hat to wear (supporting them) and new goal to achieve (being the loudest supporter!) Of course being amongst them racing would be my ideal, but I knew this was not possible. My body was not ready, so supporting was the next best thing and the experience gave me so much enjoyment, inspiration and strength to hang on in there as I will be back.
The supporting and the time-out gave me a chance to reflect, reassess and ask myself: do I really miss it? Do I love it (the training and racing) as much as I think I do? YES YES YES, no thinking time required, I do miss it and want to be back, but when and only when the time is right. Only my body will dictate that. Being injured has allowed me to learn so much about myself and my body. I truly believe this will allow me to be a better coach, mentor and personal trainer. Plus I can now relate, with conviction and gravitas, to those experiencing an injury or set back.
So what is next for Cat? My big goal remains the same — a sub-10-hour Ironman — it’s just postponed a little from 2015 to 2017. I will leave this piece with a quote which I have referred to many, many, many times over the past few years and will continue to turn as I focus on the goal:
“The greater the sacrifice, the bigger the comeback.”
Cat is a tremendous triathlete and cyclist. She is a triathlete coach for ABCpure.com