Finding mental toughness and bouncing back

Injuries can happen to anyone at anytime, and when they do, it can be tough to bounce back.

I’ve had friends who have been hurt in the pursuit of an adventurous life. Climbing accidents, mountain bike spills, skydiving landings and skiing falls. All unfortunate but to an extent it’s an inevitable consequence of living a life away from the sofa. But that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when it happens.

Personally, I find it difficult to be injured. Not the event itself; that is usually frighteningly easy. The aftermath; once the dust has settled, the treatment is done and the long stretch to recovery begins. Patience is key in this phase and I struggle with that. 

My biggest injury – both in terms of it being physically debilitating and mentally draining - came after the operation to remove the tumour in my thyroid. Not discounting the obvious downtime required to recover from the operation and wait for the general anaesthetic to wear off, I had anticipated being back on my feet within a few weeks.


But, like all plans, they rarely work out. Unexpected complications during surgery meant that five years on, I’m still walking the slow road to recovery. The main issue meant that high impact exercise, specifically running, was out of the question. Several attempts to make a comeback prematurely have (inevitably) led to both a slower recovery and recurrence of injury making it all the more frustrating.


Until recently I wasn’t able to run more than 5km without several days of quite severe pain afterwards. I was doing a lot of strength exercises and earlier this year I set my sights a little bigger and started training for a 10km run. The sense of achievement that came with completing it was immense. Knowing that I could reach that distance gave me a lot of inner confidence and I believed I was finally on the path to a full recovery.

Excitement kicked in as a pondered the endless adventures that lay before me and I found myself applying for a spot on the London Marathon 2018. That would be my next goal to work towards. I had nine months to prepare and my new-found self-confidence convinced me that I had plenty of time to build up the miles and work towards completing it.  



I wasn’t making much headway in my running time and distance in the first few months so I drafted in some professional support. Part of me wanted reassurance and part of me wanted guidance. My biggest concern was sustaining an injury that would take me out again and I wanted to make sure I had taken all the necessary precautions to avoid it.


I went to see a physiotherapist in one of Bupa’s health centres for an initial consultation.  You don’t need to have private health insurance to use these centres – all services can be paid for as you go. Since there are centres across the country it was easy to find one near home too - a really convenient service.


We discussed my existing health issues, current fitness regime and marathon running aspirations in detail before moving on to a practical assessment. The physiotherapist assessed my range of motion and filmed my running technique for motion analysis purposes too.



At the end of the second session with my Bupa physiotherapist, we reviewed the results together and she highlighted some flaws in my running style that were contributing to the overarching problems I’ve been having. The detail of these sessions meant she was able to create and share a very specific exercise plan that would allow me to address my weak spots – but it also meant she was able to draw a very clear conclusion about my condition…


…I wouldn’t be ready to race in the London Marathon 2018.


Attempting it would likely do more damage long term and I needed to re-build my strength more slowly to make it sustainable. Whilst this was a massive blow I knew it was the right thing to do.



It’s hard having to adapt your plans when you have your heart set on achieving a goal. Over the last five years I’ve learned a lot about overcoming setbacks and in lots of little ways it’s taught me so much about myself.


1)     Get perspective

One of the best ways to cope with the itch to get back out there is to mentally take a step back and reflect on what you’re missing most. Use that emotion to plan your comeback in a smarter way.


2)     Set goals - but be realistic

You might be tempted to focus on smashing your personal best but getting back to that level of fitness takes time, and you’ll only be disappointed if you can’t reach that goal in the time you’d like rather than the sensible timeframe around it.  

Come back better, stronger and smarter but don’t try and do it all too quickly.


3)     Adapt your mindset

Forget about the big comeback and focus energy and attention on rest and recovery. It’s hard to feel like you are starting from scratch again, but that’s the reality, so make a plan to tackle it in the most positive and productive way to get you fighting fit again.


View the enforced pause as a gift of the time you need to re-focus and work out your next steps. Once you are ready to begin the return to action, remember how you felt stuck on the couch and use that memory as fuel. Wait until you’re ready. Adapt and overcome.


4)     Surround yourself with positivity

Surround yourself with a supportive environment – where you can receive encouragement and have people on your journey with you, celebrating the small milestones and achievements as you recover. It’s important to appreciate what the body is doing to heal and acknowledge the progress being made. If your injury means you have to give up on one sport for a bit, look at others that might help as part of rehabilitation.


5)     Celebrate every milestone

Even the smallest signs of progress are to be celebrated – all are signifying that you are moving a step closer to full recovery. Celebrate every milestone, no matter how insignificant it might seem at face value.


We all have to rebuild. I’m not as strong or as fast as I was, but I will be.


It’s easy to book a physiotherapy appointment, health assessment or GP appointment at a Bupa health centre. Click here for full details of locations and services available.


Disclosure: I was very kindly offered two free physiotherapy appointments for the purposes of this review. My opinions on this blog are honest and my own. This review forms part of a wider campaign, sponsored by Bupa. 

BUPA running motion analysis
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