When the New Year Starts with an Old Injury

Fewer things are more frustrating to an athlete than injuries. We’ll take the bad weather, mechanicals, tough workouts, and even getting beaten by our arch rival. Those things can be unpleasant, but they don’t stop us from doing what we love the way injuries can.

In January, when “new year, new you” is a common mantra, getting hurt can be even more difficult. Starting the year out with an injury isn’t just physically uncomfortable – it can mess with our heads and make us doubt our ability for the season before us. We recently caught up with two injured XTERRA athletes to hear how they stay fit, motivated, and excited for the new year, despite injury.

Emma Kosciak was the XTERRA Texas Regional Champ last year in trail running. She finished 9th at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship and 17th at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. After enjoying months of peak fitness and fast times, she is currently out of commission with tendonitis-like knee pain. She had tremendous success last year in the XTERRA Texas Trail Run Series and was planning on entering the Houston Marathon on January 13th. Because of her injury, she had to pull out, which was a huge disappointment.

“As any athlete who’s been injured knows, when it happens to you, it can feel like the end of the world,” said Kosciak. “Like you’re never going to be in top shape again and all your chances to chase your dreams are forever gone. I’m no different. However, after my initial couple of weeks of ‘Oh no, the world is ending,’ reality set in that it’s not such a big deal.”

2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ Rife Hilgartner agrees that it’s always good to have a bit of perspective on the situation. Last year, he ruptured his quad tendon, and needed surgery. His season was over before he had the chance to defend his national title.

One of the athletes Hilgartner swims with is a below-the-knee amputee.

“Sure I was super bummed about getting injured and I’ve had my bad days,” admits Hilgartner. “But I’m going to heal and get my leg back. My buddy I swim with won’t.”

Hilgartner says that discerning between the temporary and the permanent is an important part of keeping your head in the right space. “You’re going to heal. You’re going to get better. You’re going to have another chance to get out and do what you love to do, whether it’s racing XTERRA or taking a long walk in the mountains.”

Another part of staying mentally positive is looking for the good – which can be hard when there doesn’t seem to be anything good about being injured.

“Last year, I was in great shape physically,” said Hilgartner, who is a personal trainer and coach at How Fit Training in Vail. “But I wasn’t there mentally and spiritually. When I got injured, I took it as a sign that I needed to relax a little. I decided to work on my priorities and make sure I’m out there racing for the right reasons.”

Kosciak is also keeping her spirits up. “I’m currently treating this injury as if I just came off a big race,” she said. “I always allow myself a break after a big race. Maybe I sleep in and don’t worry about missing workouts or stay out late and get a few more drinks and don’t worry about what the scale says. Being injured just forces me to do other activities, or just get more sleep and not be grumpy from high-volume training.”

Last year, XTERRA pro Maia Ignatz suffered a tibial plateau impaction fracture at XTERRA Victoria that kept her from running or biking for six weeks. She could barely walk or swim but continued going to masters swim workouts and to the gym for strength training. At the time, she said, “I find that showing up and being the best ‘athlete’ that I can currently be keeps me positive most of the time.”

Hilgartner says that while injuries can be devastating, they can also be empowering by teaching mental toughness.

“You have to let go of control first,” he advises. “I couldn’t control that I fell, but I can control what I do about it. I can’t run but I can bike. I can swim. I can lift weights. Yeah, this injury is a breakdown in my life, but am I going to get down about it? There’s always another chance, and if you remember that, you can use that mindset to get back to where you want to be. Never underestimate the power of your thoughts. The mind is crazy powerful.”

Kosciak is also a triathlete, so her natural inclination is to get on the bike and in the pool. She is also going to start strength training, which often takes a back seat to running workouts.

“Houston has a great cycling community that I’ve connected with, so I’ve even had thoughts about signing up for my first road race and maybe seeing if I can get some women together for the Texas Team Time Trials. There’s also a velodrome here, which I’ve never ridden on because their training conflicted with my track workouts. Maybe now is my opportunity!”

It’s important to also see that injuries can be blessings in disguise. Last year, Kathy Lockwood had double hernia surgery in February.

“I couldn’t bike or run for six weeks, and then had to slowly build back into it,” she said.  “But maybe it’s good that I got a late start last year because I tend to overtrain.”

Lockwood went on to win her age group at XTERRA Renegade, XTERRA Deuces Wild, and XTERRA Laguna Beach, and she finished third in her age group at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship.

Of course, sometimes when we are in a dark place, we just need to wait it out. For that, Hilgartner advises patience and acceptance. “To quote Michael Phelps, ‘It’s what you do in the dark that puts you into the light,’ whether that means dealing with problems or getting up at oh dark thirty to cross train.”

2017 XTERRA World Champ Brad Weiss is living proof of this. After a season riddled with injuries and setbacks, Weiss barely slept in the days leading up to XTERRA Worlds.

“I went through some deep dark places before the race and before I even got to the race,” he said while the laurel wreath was around his head. “Perhaps that prepared me mentally a little bit. In the race, I thought, I’m going to throw a little caution to the wind and go for it and see what happens.”

Ultimately, injuries can help us see what we are truly passionate about and how determined we are to get back to doing what we love.

While she is staying positive about trying new activities while her injury heals, Kosciak hasn’t lost sight of her goals.

“I have all of the XTERRA Texas races in my 2018 calendar still. I love trail running and the Race Revolutions crew who puts them on.” 

“For some people, XTERRA is their job,” said Hilgartner. “For me, it’s my passion and it’s what I love and what I want to do for the rest of my life. Outside of my family, XTERRA is my family. I don’t think there’s a single person I’ve met in XTERRA that I don’t feel a connection with. I want to get back to the people I want to be around.”

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