Before we dive deeper into the series, Ray wants to share an important note: She spent a lot of time already working through the grief of not being able to move how she wanted to (both because of injury and fatigue from overtraining) as well as the loss of a former identity. Ray has both worked with a mental health therapist and spent significant time journaling to work through the emotions and mental components of being injured. Because of this, it was an easy transition for Ray to move into an elongated rest and recovery period. However, if you find yourself increasingly depressed or anxious, she recommends finding a therapist to help support you on your own journey.
2. Surround yourself with positivity.
Most mornings, you can find Coach Ray on her bike trainer, not to gain fitness, but to maintain a healthy amount of activity for well-being. And you better bet that you won’t find her listening to anything but a podcast or YouTube video that has positive vibes and is about learning and growth.* Monday mornings, it’s usually the newly released episode of the Rich Roll Podcast, then on to Jay Shetty, Woman of Impact, and whatever videos the YouTube algorithm has found for her.
In addition to her weekly cycling practice, Coach Ray will often do a short guided morning meditation or journaling practice, and listen to a short Oprah Winfrey, Gabrielle Bernstein, or other morning motivation video and she’s getting ready.
*This is definitely not a practice of toxic positivity. As a mental health therapist, Coach Ray highly believes in the value of uncomfortable emotions. She also believes that surrounding yourself with positivity in the morning can help to shift the outlook on the rest of your day and help with the more challenging emotions that may come later on.
3. Play with New Activities
Despite being a water (cancer) sign, Coach Ray would not describe herself as a swimmer. Yet she knew some swimming would benefit her and break up the daily indoor cycling routine. Bonus that the Salida Hot Springs pool is warmer than most pools. Even though it doesn’t compare to running, Coach Ray knew she could make it fun and enjoy it.
The first day she went to the pool, it was literally just to get her feet wet. Or rather, to make sure she could get from one end of the pool to the other in a mostly straight line and without drowning. Although not pretty, she achieved that challenge.
Her mental talk?
“Okay Ray, harness your inner dolphin.”
“Just keep swimming.”- Dory
Coach Ray has worked with athletes who won’t swim or cycle because they find it boring compared to running. But that is a limiting thought. Not just because other activities can be fun, but it negates people’s own ability to be creative and make things fun.
4. Celebrate the little successes
At the beginning of Coach Ray’s rehab, even the beginner Achilles strengthening exercises felt like too much and pushing through pain to do them didn’t make sense. Instead, she decided to play with some “Toe Yoga”. When she first saw other people moving their big toes without lifting their little toes, and vice versa, she thought “that’s crazy”, it seemed impossible. So she started out by holding down her big toe to move her other toes up, then her little toes to move her big toes independently. 3 weeks later and without any assistance from her hands, she finally did it! She was so proud of herself and as excited as if she just nailed a workout.
Whether it’s finally being able to do some toe Yoga, holding a plank for a minute, or doing your first single leg squat, celebrate it as much as you would if you just ran your fastest mile.
Bonus: After gaining proprioception from her toes, Coach Ray actually began to get arches in what doctors had proclaimed as (permanently) flat feet!
5. Get more sleep
When things get busy, the first thing to go is usually to sleep. Or, if we want to prove what a hardcore runner we are, we wake up and run when it’s still dark.
For Coach Ray, she sacrificed sleep since junior high, waking up early to run or go to the 6:30am skills basketball sessions with the boys team. In her 30s, it started to become a struggle to wake up when the alarm went off, not because she was depressed, she was just tired.
Now Coach Ray often gets 8.5-9 hours of sleep. While that may seem superfluous to some, if you’re still waking up extra early to get on the bike, you may not be honoring your recovery. The body needs rest to heal.
We know that 9 hours of sleep just isn’t possible for some, most of us can work on getting to bed earlier, taking a nap, or even doing a 5-minute meditation on your lunch break (not the same as sleep, but relaxes your body enough to gain some of the benefits of sleep).
When you can, harness your Inner Sloth!
6. Lower your Stress
Research shows that stress can slow down the body’s natural healing process (and in more extreme cases, can also cause disease*). Therefore, finding ways to lower your stress can speed up the healing process.
While we can’t all be like Coach Ray and move into a Yurt in the middle of open space for 6 months, we can take away a few key parts of how Ray created a more serene life for herself:
-Every morning or every evening, take 5-10 minutes to meditate, journal, or write down what you’re grateful for.
-Learn to say “No” to things you don’t want to do and don’t absolutely have to do. Say “yes” to things that make you happy. (Some weeks, Coach Ray only left her Yurt to swim and do town errands twice. She said “yes” to opportunities to spend time with family and friends, but only if she wanted to and not out of obligation.)
-Practice deep breathing several times a day. This helps to regulate your nervous system. If anxious, this can move you from the sympathetic nervous system (fight/flight) and back into the sympathetic(rest/digest.)
*Read When the Body Says No by Gabor Mate for an in-depth overview of thestress-disease connection.
Getting outside everyday is imperative. Coach Ray was lucky enough that she could still walk Coach Pacer (Higher Running’s Pawsitivity Coach) every day to soak in all the healing aspects of nature, from getting a little bit of Vitamin D from the sun, connecting with the Earth, and allowing her brain to pause by looking at the mountains. If you do have an injury that doesn’t allow you to walk outside, just take 5 minutes to stand or sit on your doorstep and take some deep breaths. Our bodies and minds need the light, especially in winter. (If it’s freezing, just get outside for 1 minute, or gaze out your window.)
8. “Your injury didn’t happen to you, but for you.”
Coach Ray can already see the brown bananas and expired energy gels being thrown her way, but let’s hear her out.
This is actually a paraphrase from Oprah in one of her motivational YouTube videos. It’s not about being oblivious and making merry of the bad. Really, it’s a consideration of Victor Frankle’s message in Man’sSearch for Meaning, that we have a choice on what we make of the bad things that happen to us. By considering that our injury happened for us, we open the door to the body’s messages and our own inner wisdom. This thought helps give us some control over the situation and can also be a motivator to do the monotonous physical therapy exercises.
9. Reconnect with Your “Why”
If you’re in the recovery game for a while, and even if you’ve done your best to make cross training fun, there will probably be a point when you don’t want to do it.
For Coach Ray, she didn’t really miss running all that much until almost 4 weeks in*. She needed the rest and was enjoying cycling and swimming. Then, she had to jump in a cold pool on a cold day. This is the point she really started to miss running. Of course, as she started to swim she warmed up and began thinking. “I know I have more days like this ahead, especially as we go into December and January. What’s going to keep me motivated?” The short answer: Moving freely and joyfully through the mountains with her dog, Coach Pacer in the summer. Just touching into that vision and the feeling it conjured was enough for Coach Ray to bring the fun back into swimming.
*Starting to feel excited to run again is a sign of healing, although not necessarily that it’s time to run again if you’re recovering from an injury. Don’t feel guilty either if it takes a longtime to get the excitement back. There may be several reasons for that, such as your body and mind really needed the time off.