Trying a new sport and having rapid success at it, like I did with high jumping, can be exhilarating. But, as I've found out, one of the dangers of such success is overtraining. You get excited, push harder, put in more hours and don't listen to your body when it says to stop. This can especially apply to masters athletes who are giddy with excitement about getting a second chance at competition.
This is what happened to me, and why I've spent the last year on a journey to find solutions to repair my peroneal tendon, and cure constant tendonitis in that area. I have pain about 80% of my day. I’ve seen numerous doctors, surgeons, PTs, nutritionists, reflexologists, massage therapists and chiropractors over the past 18 months. I’ve had three MRIs, physical therapy and worn a boot. I've stayed off it, stayed on it, iced it, heated it, CBDed it, x-rayed it — I can’t seem to solve it.
But, I hear, I’m not alone in this.
Whether you were a successful competitive athlete when you were younger, or you always wanted to be one and now you can’t believe you are getting a moment you only dreamed of, the masters athlete's joy of the second chance can interfere with some healthy good common sense. Training at a high level while in pain, like I did -- is not recommended. I know that now!
Once you get to an elite level of fitness, the thought of stopping your level of training can be scary. Your emotions and definition of yourself are bound up in your fitness level. I was told to shut it down early in 2018 by the first doctor I saw about this, but I didn’t until late in the year. I can still hear myself explaining to him that I had meets to compete in, a world ranking to maintain, records to break, medals to win. I continued to train hard on it and competed in all the meets I wanted to make that year. My body was warning me, but I didn't listen and reduce my training and competition schedule. I ended up doing irreparable damage.
I think that many elite athletes start feeling invincible. I know I did. If your fitness level is above those around you, you may start feeling like nothing can stop you and you are indestructible. Overconfidence is awesome in competition, but can be detrimental to keeping you healthy.
Training through pain, I have now learned, isn't a good idea. The, "I just need to warm it up"-philosophy isn't a plan. Recovery time is critical for a masters athlete. With hindsight, I have learned that sometimes less, really is more.
I was my most successful when I wasn't logging miles on the track and road. When I wasn't training five days a week. I was most successful when I did less.
Back to tendonitis. After all this time and all the medical professionals scratching their heads at me, I may have found a combination that’s working. An extremely talented chiropractor, Dr. Sarah Wilkie (in whose office, I have cried, twice!) is helping me with alignment which can really get out of whack when you are limping in pain, and a wonderful acupuncturist, Nobu Wago is trying to wake up the healing mechanism in my lower limb. I am getting some relief. It’s a super slow process, and I still have pockets of the day in pain, but there’s a path ahead, and I’m hoping it continues to improve. Patience is key, and not something I’m all that good at. But, maybe that's why I could run so fast and jump so high in my 50's.
Meanwhile, my injury has taught me to be thankful. Having less in one area, can show you that you have more in others. I'm more thankful for the strong body I was born with, thankful for the extra time to focus on my family these 12 months, thankful for the travel I've been able to do, and thankful for a summer off from sun damage — ‘cause I’m not out under the sun each day training in the boiling heat!
I'm also thankful for my six masters high jump national champion titles and four years ranked in the top 10 in the world. That is an amazing accomplishment that I didn't appreciate when I had it. But, it's not over. I'll be back. I'll just be training smarter the next go around.
If I can help someone else listen to their body and lay off while a muscle or tendon heals so they aren’t out as long as I’ve been, I will feel like this blog post has done its job. Take it easy! The track, or whatever your sport of choice is, will always be there! Less, can be more!
Thanks for following my journey!
I was honored to be asked to act as a correspondent for the 2019 Atlanta Georgia Relays this past Memorial Day weekend. As I continue to fight tendonitis on my jump ankle, and wait out another season, giving back to the track and field community by covering this event felt great. I did 40 interviews of both masters and youth over the course of 40 days and practically lost my voice, but the excitement of being there buoyed me each day. Hydration in the 97-degree heat was critical, too!
No matter how many meets I attend, I'm just fascinated to see our 40, 50 and 60-year old masters bodies flying down the track at speeds not seen in normal life, i.e. the grocery store, at an office, or walking through our neighborhoods. As humans, are we masters tapping into our stone age selves? Is this amazing, or are we doing what we were built to do naturally? I don't know, but it's exciting to see the grins and hear the laughter of masters athletes as they accomplish goals set for this 2019 outdoor season.
You can find my interviews on YouTube at this link: click here. Hear about nutrition for masters athletes, the men's M35 team breaking a world record and all the other action at the 2019 Atlanta Georgia Relays. Put the 2020 Memorial Day weekend Atlanta Georgia Relays on your calendar now!
There I was, back on the track after a six-month hiatus caused by trying to heal an ankle injury. Facing a row of hurdles at my age can be daunting, especially if you haven't attempted to jump over even one, since last summer. As I went to attack the hurdles, mostly just to see if I still could, the phrase below kept repeating in my head. Rules to live by for 2019, perhaps? See the results in the video below.
Benjamin Mee: “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” (We Bought A Zoo, 2011)
My New Year’s Resolutions...more stretching, less stressing, more weights, less worrying.
I got injured this year. Learn from me, dear reader, and the mistakes I made. I over-trained. I got so excited to add new events to my roster (pentathlon newbie) that I didn't know when to stop. Masters athletes need to pace themselves gently -- and that goes for all their training. I didn't stop when I hurt myself. I kept going, kept competing through it, and that put me off the track for much of the season. Not good.
But I capped off my 2018 outdoor season by winning silver in the women W55 high jump and bronze in the W55 80m hurdles at the 2019 USATF Masters National Championships in Spokane, Washington. I am ranked in the top ten in the USA in the pentathlon, high jump and hurdles. Woo-hoo!
I also thought I'd share that I spent much of year worried about not being skinny enough. There's a lot of talk about body image and I feel I must weigh in, pardon the pun.
Why be critical of this equipment? Well, I "run," literally and figuratively, with lots of very skinny women athletes. My events are powerful, explosive and strong -- and I am guilty of forgetting that sometimes.
But, enough of that! This strong body can do amazing things — run fast, jump high, hurdle quickly, throw a shot -- and do it all while balancing life, marriage, work, kids. It has won me three national championships and countless medals. Like many masters athletes, I've gotten a second chance at competition and representing my country. So bring it on, baby, let's stop worrying and get at this!
So, what about you? What are you stressing about? What gifts do you have that you take for granted? In 2019, let’s work on focusing on what is good, rather than what could be — “more soul, less show!” Who’s with me? Happy New Year!! #behappywhereyouare @bemorewithless #stretching #usatfmasterstrack #mastersathlete #injuryrecovery
I'm married to someone who craves exercise. He always comes back from a run or workout saying, "Wow! I just planned my day while working out!" Or, "I have the BEST ideas while running!." He attributes all his awesome brainpower to the blood-pounding, oxygen-inducing side effects of a workout. But, then there's me. I've had some of my best ideas sitting down, on a couch, in front of a fire, under a blanket, cuddling a kid, or a cat. It's just my nature. I don't really recall getting that "natural high," that fired-up feeling that people talk about as a result of working out or running.
BUT wait, here's a newsflash. Life can change you. Now, as I struggle to heal an ankle injury (yes, still, that's why there have been so few posts), I have found that at the age of 58, I am one of those endorphin-seeking persons! What me? One of those people who need exercise for their mental health? Yep, this experience has taught me that if I don't exercise, I get a little grumpy, kind of miserable and hard to live with. So, in a way, I am thankful. Now I understand why runners run, cyclists bike, rowers row, marathoners marathon. They don't just want to, they NEED to.
If you are an athlete who is laid up because of injury and struggling with it, here's a great article about ways to get over the frustrated, down feeling that can creep in whilst you wait to recover. It helped me a lot, so I thought I'd share. https://runnersconnect.net/depressed-after-race/
I've also discovered I've been taking a whole lot for granted. Every once and a while something comes at you that rocks your world and makes you realize, things are actually pretty darn good.
During my masters athlete journey, I've felt a bit apologetic about my successes. I just went out and did it. But now, in and out of an "Aircast" boot for almost six weeks, I've been taught the finer points of thankfulness. (What wonderful timing with Thanksgiving just around the corner!)
I would love to be able to high jump or hurdle at this moment, but I can't. As a matter of fact, just being able to walk without pain would be a gift. So now, for me, the ability to WALK is a gift. The strength to MOVE a muscle, is a gift. Being able to HUG a kid, is a gift. The experience of having an ankle that doesn't work has made me thankful for the parts of me that DO work. Whatever exercise I CAN do, my garage workout, my hand weights, my pool running...is a gift.
It often hits me, that I will heal, but there are those who will not. If YOU, dear reader, can move. Do it. If you can walk, run, or jump, do so. Be thankful you can. It's a gift!
After I hobbled home from this summer's masters nationals in Spokane, WA with my silver and bronze medals, I went to see the doctor about my jump ankle tendonitis. Once he heard my description of how much pain I was in each time I walked on it (not to mention, jumped, hurdled and ran on it) and the strategies I was employing to cope with it over the course of much of 2018, the doc booted me up for a month. Very unfortunately, this was 10 days before I planned to go to the world championships in Spain. This would not be my year.
When people look down and comment on the boot, I tell them, "It's a good problem." And it is. The fact that at age 58, I have an injury due to flying 5 feet high in the air, backwards, mind you, is a good problem. The fact I didn't get off it earlier, and listen to my body, not so much. Microtears to the peroneal tendon are a complicated injury to heal. I'm doing my best by following directions.
Meanwhile, as my normal track workouts and other gravity-requiring training is on hold, I'm trying to stay fit. Core work and LOTS of swimming is the recipe for the next month or so.
I'm impatient, I hate being off this ankle. Luckily, this hiatus is not dampening my excitement about competing, so I'm chomping at the bit to get back on the track. Whoa, lady, hold up. Focused on the 2019 indoor season, I'm telling myself ... patience, patience, and just keep swimming.
I had a blast at the USATF 2018 Masters National Outdoor Championships in Spokane, Washington. Not only was it an opportunity to catch up with track friends, but I did my second only, and first outdoor, pentathlon. In addition, I was able to squeak in a silver medal in the W55 high jump. With a less than perfect jump ankle, I was happy to medal. But, the big kick for me, was winning bronze in my first ever hurdle race. Talk about jumping into the deep end of the pool! In my heat, the great masters track athlete, Joy Upshaw, broke the American record. I was five second behind her -- a world of difference. All in all, I'm glad I went and happy to have performed well. Now to rest and rehab my ankle injury and find new ways to keep up my fitness up that don't pound on the peroneal tendon!
"Because I like doing things that people won't try, or are afraid to do." -- Me
I heard myself say this at dinner with some friends the other night, when they asked, why are you pushing through this injury you have and continuing to train? Maybe it's in my blood? I'm not sure where this pioneer mentality comes from, but it might be the ancestors that walked behind the wagon as they settled new territory in the New World, or the Irish blood of those who came in the 1880's looking for a new beginning. Either way, I'm really not that special. Many a masters track and field athlete has pushed through pain and injury and come out the other side healed and competitive. I'm not quite there yet, but as long as I can train with a smile on my face, I'll keep going!
Someone quoted a great description of my life at the moment. I have two teen boys who have schoolwork, interests, hobbies, after school activities and the daily grind of school to support. Each day, I end up spending the hours from 3 - 10 p.m. in the car, or supervising some type of work. Though I'm 58, I'm living the life of someone 10 to 15 years younger. I'm still getting down on the floor, wrestling with boys, or listening intently to a school social concern, rotating through tons of laundry, still never leaving the house without snacks, water and a clipboard and pencil to throw in the back seat as I support the guys going from activity to activity.
I wouldn't have it any other way. I feel blessed to still be in this "rush hour." I waited till I was in my forties to have kids, so we're in the thick of it now. I'll miss it when it ends. I hear the nostalgia in so many of my friends who had kids at "the normal time," and I know these moments are fleeting.
The season I'm living in, as someone described it, is "rush hour" for a parent. I'd agree! And that makes it hard to find time to train as a masters athlete, especially when you choose an event like the pentathlon that has five to train for.
We masters are so excited about our second chance at competition, if we find a moment to train, sometimes we push through injury in order to squeak in more practice time. I know I do. Earlier in the summer, I kept hurdling during a practice far beyond what was sensible. I had hurt my quads and stupidly thought the pain was normal. Nope. One was strained and one had a tear. Thus, I've spent a far bit of the summer licking my wounds and skipping meets. A trip out of the country, down time with family and telling myself this won't last forever have replaced rigorous practices.
I have one more chance to compete this year and it's a big one. The USATF Masters National Championships in Spokane. I continue to heal, but am not quite competition-ready yet. Wish me luck.
"Much of your success in life is determined by how well you handle discomfort..."
I'm not sure who came up with the above quote, but it's been my motivational mantra over the past few months. As usually, I spend the fall training and resting up for the indoor track season which usually kicks off with the USATF Masters Indoors National Championships, which in 2018 were held in Landover, Maryland.
But, last November, within minutes of getting the schedule for the indoor nationals three-day meet, I got an email from church announcing that my 13-year old's confirmation service was the same weekend. Was I going to have to choose between defending my W55 high jump national championship title, and attending my youngest's confirmation service? You betcha. I was fairly certain the high jump would be scheduled at a time during the weekend that would conflict with me attending my youngest's confirmation. But, as mentioned before in this blog, I am a mom first, athlete second. There was no choice to make, really.
So, as a three-time national champion in the W55 high jump, I decided it was time to present myself with a new challenge, a new ledge to jump off, a new "just out of my comfort zone," situation. I saw on the schedule for nationals that the pentathlon (60m hurdles, high jump, long jump, shot put and 800m run) was on Friday. I could make that, I thought. The only problem was, I'm not a pentathlete.
I set about training for the pentathlon two months before nationals. Much to my surprise, I was able to finish (even sucking wind in that 800m) and placed third in points, while being awarded silver because the second place finisher was from out of the country.
The "pent" was a blast -- a day surrounded by inspiring female masters athletes who supported this newcomer to the event. I'm now officially hooked!
Looking forward to the next one!
Julia Curran-Villarreal is a three-time USA W55 national masters high jump champion. After a 35-year break from her favorite high school sport of track & field, Julia returned to competition in 2013 at the age of 53. Follow her journey on @juliajumping on Instagram and @juliacurran on Twitter.