On Breaking Things: How to Transform Injury into Victory

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Transform Injury into Victory

The 2015 Ft. Bragg Spartan Sprint was an experience which yielded fantastic results. I took 1st overall in the open heat, my wife grew in confidence and athleticism, I met some great fellow Spartans while volunteering…

I also broke my freaking big toe and effectively ended the rest of the season.

Andrew Bowen injured toe

First, I destroyed my IT band during the 2015 Carolina BattleFrog in April, now I’ve broken my right big toe at the Ft. Bragg Spartan.

Turns out that I have an exceptional talent for kicking my own ass.

joseph ducreux obstacle racing

Joe’s right.

My last injury left me unmotivated and addled with self loathing. I gained weight, lost hope and perspective…but it doesn’t have to be that way, not this time. Injury, if properly understood and utilized, can become a powerful tool in our long term fitness and athletic goals. Here are few perspectives on how to transform injury and setbacks into victory.

Strength Through Humility

Humility comes from the Latin humus, which means “ground” or “earth,” therefore humility is to be grounded in truth–in knowing your essence and identity.

Obstacle racing has awakened a latent passion in me that has transformed my life, and so I identify with the grit and toil of the trade. Humility therefore is not a path of self depredation, but a knowing deep inside that I belong in the fury of the race, and if the quintessential end of the sport is to rise as champion in these events, to what other goal should we aspire? Every triumph and every injury then should give us pause, not frustration, for they are portents and prophets of wisdom which makes us stronger and more fit for the journey.

Build Embers, Not Flames

When I injured my IT band during the Carolina BattleFrog event it was only the latest in a series of prideful episodes which led to my fall. Honestly, I wasn’t ready for that race. I had not fully recovered from my IT band strain, nor properly rehabilitated the wound. Pride drove me to race, and adrenaline and blood lust for victory stirred the flames.

I should have knelt. In striking, I revealed nothing more than hubris.

It took time, but I eventually sheathed my pride and patiently rehabilitated my leg. Kneeling to reality is not weakness, but an opportunity to rest our passions, regroup, and adopt another perspective. I built my strength, endurance, and mobility slowly and with wisdom. There were times when I wanted to push the envelope, but discipline and self mastery won the day, and I became a better athlete. Being patient with ourselves and our setbacks deepens our experience and offers a better foundation upon which to build our athletic careers and aspirations.

Using the Right Weapons

My broken toe at the Ft. Bragg Spartan Sprint was not the result of hubris, but improper equipment–specifically the wrong shoes.


These Vibram Five Finger’s have served me well, and while they’ve helped me achieve great course times, they were never the right shoes for OCR, which contributed to their degradation and my foot injury. Thankfully, Vibram makes a shoe for OCR called the Spyridon MR.

Such is the cautionary tale of bringing the right weapons into any OCR battle, because no course is ever the same. As athletes we must study the terrain, season, and weather conditions. Depending on these variables, you may require a shoe with more aggressive tread or ankle support for one course, but a lower profile and lighter material for a water-laden course. Headlamp, wet suit, mid-course nutrition…bringing the correct gear for battle will be the difference between loss and victory, and perhaps even injury.

The Situation Room

Sometimes we are overzealous. Sometimes we are stubborn and ignore the promptings of our bodies and good sense. We push ourselves into uncharted fitness or competition territory without due diligence or planning, and then, we pay the price.

Injuries and setbacks are not cosmic punishments, but consequences. That said, a wise athlete or warrior is adaptive and humble, turning misfortune into opportunity. Injury is a forced stop on the freight train of pride which offers us a chance to reevaluate our methods and strategy. In doing so, we gain perspective.

Injury also forces us to think creatively on training. A broken toe in my case means little to no plyometric exercise, so now I must be more vigilant with food choices. By limiting high intensity cardio, I can now focus on other areas, such as mobility and flexibility routines and strength training. The idea is not to focus on what you can’t do, but what you can do.

If you are currently couched by injury or even self doubt, I encourage you to rise up and go. It doesn’t matter what you can do, just do what you can and push yourself with grace and wisdom. Remember, in OCR the biggest obstacle is ourselves.

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