After I found out I broke my ankle, there was a 10% chance I would be able to still race Ironman Wales (this upcoming weekend). I took my doctor's very hesitant prognosis and got inspired. I ran (well, hobbled) home and started researching all of the ways to speed up the healing of a broken ankle. Or, at the very least, how to ensure my best odds of a successful recovery.
Below, I outlined a number of strategies I tried to give myself the best shot at healing quickly. While (spoiler alert!) the body had different ideas and I'm still at least 1-2 weeks out from running, I believe the strategies below helped heal relatively quickly/correctly and gave me something to strive for while my triathlon goals were put on hold.
Keeping me sane during this time has been a refocusing of my goals and not worrying about not being able to run or bike or even keep up with my lane mates—but focusing on the little things that I could keep in my control. In a way, this is the complete opposite of the typical way I approach triathlon (I'm great at executing the swim/bike/run portion, but try to get 8-hours of sleep and do all of the small yet critical things? Not so much).
If there was ever a silver lining to this injury, it was that it has taught me how to treat my body during times of stress. Maybe you don't have to wait until you're sidelined with an injury to have that knocked into your head—at least, for your sake, I hope you can learn a little from me.
Strategies to Heal Broken Bones
(That also happen to be good take-aways for any training athlete)
Nutrient Rich Diet: Focus on lots of nutrient- and anti-oxidant rich foods. Research the AIP diet (auto-immune protocol) and get some ideas for ways to decrease inflammation while allowing your body to heal. While I didn't stick to this 100%, I did use it as inspiration for ways to focus on ways to heal naturally and maximize my healing through nutrition. For me, this included extra protein, bringing more colorful veggies into the house and a focus on Calcium, Vitamin D and Iron supplements. I am usually wary of supplements and even usually failed to take my daily Centrum multi-vitamin prior to this, but I made it a priority during the healing process. Although I typically don't drink milk or eat yogurt, I added them back in during this time.
Feed your body: This one was hard, as I was well aware that I was burning far less on a gimpy leg than my previous 18-25hr training load. But it is still critical to make sure you are giving your body enough calories to promote the healing process. So while I certainly didn't lose any weight while injured, the few extra pounds were worth the peace of mind that my body had what it needed to heal.
Avoid Ibuprofen: (Or any other anti-inflammatory drug for that matter). These both delay healing—some natural inflammation can be good in the repair process!—but also limit the amount of feedback your body can accurately provide if you're just shutting down your pain signals.
Quality Sleep: While I can't say I hit the gold standard of 8-hours each night (thank you, crazy workload), I did try to prioritize sleep. As we all know, this is critical healing time and should be a non-negotiable for anyone looking to maximize their healing and recovery, whether from a broken bone or a 5-mile run.
Exercise/Movement: Yep, you heard that right: surprise, surprise - injured people don't have to spend 5 weeks parked on the couch! Shortly after I joked about screwing a bike cleat into the bottom of my boot, someone posted a (likely unrelated) tweet shaming people trying to exercise while still in their boot. Well, for starters, you likely don't know the specifics of their injury (e.g. weight bearing was not an issue for me—I just couldn't re-roll my ankle for fear of undoing the damage, hence the boot) and, secondly, the more you can maintain or increase circulation and (doc-approved) movement, the more quickly and correctly your injury will heal. I'm not saying this is for everyone, but odds are that if the person is in a boot, getting the heart pumping and the blood flowing is not a bad thing.
Make your life easier: This comes in a variety of solutions: I kept a chair in my shower (will definitely be setting this up the night before each Ironman from here on out!), I brought everything I needed upstairs from my bedroom at the start of the day so I could avoid trips up and down the stairs, I wore a running shoe (Hoka!) with semi-equivalent height to my boot, even while puttering around the house to avoid any imbalances.
Treat Yo Self: Similar to the above, but don't forget to take care of yourself while down. For the first week or two, I got my groceries delivered and ordered delivery (thank you GrubHub!). I hired a cleaner the second week to do a one-time clean and handle the things I could no longer easily do myself. I also enjoyed a few epsom salt baths and Amazon'd a few new books to keep me entertained during my down-time.
Limit Alcohol: Said to also inhibit healing, plus if you only have so many calories in the day, you'll want to focus on adding quality and the nutrients suggesting above, rather than filler junk.
Limit Excess Coffee: It's both dehydrating and could affect Calcium levels. I wasn't so sure about this one (thanks Dr. Google), but figured I'd still limit my caffeine intake and stuck mostly to green tea during this time. Plus, it's not as if my stress and cortisol levels couldn't also use a little coffee break.
Collagen/Bone Broth: I've read a lot about the ways additional collagen (whether via bone broth or the powdered supplement) can help promote tissue and bone growth. I added in both traditional bone broth as well as some of the unflavored Vital Proteins powder that you can add in your tea or water. I also got my hair cut last week and my stylist said it was the healthiest she had seen in the last few years, so at least something good definitely came out of it!
Challenge Yourself in New Ways: One thing I haven't done in years? Any significant upper body strength. While there were a few limited lower body exercises I could still do, I found the best way to keep me motivated was to keep myself challenged and that was by moving my body in different ways. I took on an upper body and core routine and was the crazy person hobbling around the weight room in my boot doing a lot of seated or standing upper body moves.
Quantum Healing Meditation: Yep, you heard that right. I figured this one was more on the woo-woo end of the spectrum but since I was already spending time meditating daily, I figured it wouldn't hurt to spend a few of those minutes imagining my bones and ligaments healing themselves. Some say thoughts still can promote certain chemical reactions in your neural pathways... kind of understand, kind of skeptical, but really no hard in a few extra calming minutes of daily meditation. Read more about it here.
No Smoking: Well, duh, you shouldn't be doing that anyway—broken bones or not.
Things I didn't do, but wish I had: access to a bone stimulator or other more high-tech ways of healing, acupuncture (I had it on my list but never got around to it) and access to an alter-g instead of my aqua-jogging.
If anyone else has anything in their healing toolkit, whether for a broken bone or just smashed legs after a hard week of training, I would love to hear it! My goal is to add it to the list, as well as to my list of "new habits" that I get to take away from this recovery process.