Hey, Strong Runner Chicks! Happy Tuesday 🙂 In the fourth week of our Coping With an Injury series we feature Alyssa Snyder, cross country and track runner at Utah State University.
Please introduce yourself! (Name, age, hometown, event)
My name is Alyssa Snyder and I am 20 years old. I grew up in a very small town in northern Utah called Coalville, but I transferred to Park City High my freshman year of high school and really started growing my running career there, so I typically identify more as being from Park City. During indoor, my focus is on the 3k/5k double, and during outdoor I am largely a 10k runner. (I promise the 10k is much more fun than people give it credit for ).
What are your interests outside of running?
Outside of running, I am an avid writer, I enjoy cooking, I am a cat fanatic, I am passionate about board game nights, and I recently discovered a passion for psychology that led to me adding it as a double major.
Do you believe getting through an injury is as much of a mental challenge as physical?
I absolutely believe that getting through an injury is at least as, if not more, difficult psychologically as it is physically. For many athletes, whether you are at a stage where you are highly competitive or you are just running recreationally, running is a very large part of their lives and their personalities. To be removed even temporarily from such a large part of your identity often leaves individuals with uncomfortable and often unreasonable questions about who they really are and what their worth is without running.
What advice do you have for those battling an injury?
For individuals who are currently dealing with injury, I think the most important factor is to remember that, injured or not, you still have value as a person. It’s always difficult to be unable to participate in something that boosts your mood and makes you feel confident, and it can be all too easy to slip into a depressed mood state when you get injured. Instead of focusing on where you could be athletically had you not been injured or how much you wish you were able to get back into running right away, try to direct your energy into something positive like doing your rehab and cross training to recover more quickly or focusing on your grades more than you would be able to if you were traveling and competing every weekend, and whether you think you have time for it or not, set aside part of your day at least once a week to do something you enjoy that has nothing to do with your sport. Take an hour to go for a drive and see the autumn leaves, go to a pottery class, bake something, whatever it is that makes you happy and allows you to clear your mind, even if it’s just temporary.
What kind of experience do you have of dealing with an injury?
I fortunately haven’t had many injuries, but the ones I had were fairly devastating at the time. Both my freshman and sophomore cross country seasons, I strained my left hamstring just days before the conference championships. My sophomore year, this was a significantly bigger deal to me, as I had come into the season with much higher levels of fitness, and had fully expected to qualify for nationals. The season had been peppered with little aches and pains-quad and patellar tendinitis, IT band issues, and problems with my calves that made it difficult to race in spikes-and when it seemed we had finally worked out all of the little quirks, I strained my hamstring again in the final workout before the conference meet. My team needed me to compete in the conference meet, which resulted in a compensation injury in my right hamstring that left me incapable of anything besides cross training for the last weeks of the season. Rather than looking forward to regionals, after the injury I spent the two weeks between conference and region unable to do any workouts, dreading the race and the humiliation I was sure would come with it. And although this wasn’t an injury, I had a bout of the flu during the indoor season this past year that I found to be comparable simply because of the impact it had on my season. I was out of workouts for over two weeks at the beginning of the season, and didn’t fully recover until the last week or so of indoor, leaving me with what I considered to be a wasted season filled with disappointments.
Looking back at injuries you went through, do you believe they made you stronger as an athlete? Please explain.
Injuries can teach you a lot of things about yourself, your drive, your love for running, and the relationships you have with the people around you, so yes, I have to say injuries have absolutely made me stronger as an athlete. I believe one of the biggest ways they made me stronger was that they taught me how to be cautious and take a step back to evaluate where I’m at now and then. As I have transitioned into more and more serious levels of competition, it at times became harder and harder to actually listen to my body. It is all too easy to get caught up with how many miles other girls are doing, and how fast they are doing them. If you aren’t careful, you can find yourself obsessing over pace on easy runs and workouts alike, and forcing yourself to hit that 80 mile week whether you feel well or not. Now, I absolutely believe that there will be times that you need to be mentally tough and work through the little snags, but I also believe there are times when you need to calm down and realize that it’s okay to take a down week. Especially this year, it has been very important to me to get in and see the trainers for preventative treatment several times a week, stay on top of rehab, and listen to the athletic training room staff when they tell you to ease up on your long run this week or do a session or two on the underwater treadmill. Injury also taught me just how much I love this sport, and how much I value the people I get to work with in it. Until you are forced to take time off or you see a race that you believed would go well pre-injury blow up in your face, it is easy to take this sport for granted. It can be mentally draining at times, and I think we all think about what life would be like if we didn’t have the time drain that is running permanently booked into our schedules, but seeing my hard work last cross season go to waste really strengthened my resolve to do everything that I could to ensure that it never happened again. Additionally, I believe very strongly that if you have the mental fortitude to get up every day and keep trying when you are injured and potentially struggling with the depression that often goes hand-in-hand with injury, you absolutely have the strength of character to push yourself to improve and do better every day until you reach entirely new levels of fitness when you come back from that injury. On race days, I like to write the phrase “Tough B****” on the inside of my wrist to remind myself that after everything I have been through, both mentally and physically, this race is going to feel like nothing in comparison, and I am stronger than the doubts that try to accompany me to the starting line.
What are some of your favorite cross training and/or rehab exercises?
My favorite cross training exercise has got to be the underwater treadmill. If you can’t be out running on land, that is the closest alternative, and in some ways, it offers more challenges than regular running, as it is the same form as running, just with less pounding on your legs and the added drag from the water. Since 99% of my problems come from imbalances and weakness in my hips and hamstrings, I’ve also developed a love for the hip circuits that I do for rehab-Single leg RDLs, step-ups, exercise ball hamstring curls, bosu ball squats, those are all very enjoyable in my opinion.
Are there any specific quotes, blogs, podcasts, social media sites, etc. that helped you through an injury?
The book The Art of Racing in the Rain was very helpful for me when getting through injuries, along with the 2010 album by The Head and the Heart, particularly their song Lost in My Mind. The book is a fictional story, but still very inspirational for anyone trying to overcome adversity, and it is full of quotes that get me fired up and excited to run again. I enjoy the album because it’s very calm and mellow, and to me it always seemed to restore a sense of peace after a rough day. They may not seem to go very well with the idea of coming through an injury, but listening to that album after a cross training session that seemed like it was never going to end or a race that didn’t go the way I had planned always felt like coming home after a long day.
Any last words of wisdom (related to an injury or not)?
The words of wisdom I’d like to offer are very basic, but they mean a lot to me: Find the Joy. A friend and teammate offered me that advice this last season before my 10k debut at Mt SAC when I was panicking because I had been bumped into the fast heat. I didn’t think I would be able to hold my own with some of the best 10k runners in the nation and a professional athlete or two that would be racing, and I told him as much. Those three words help me to remember why it is I do this crazy sport; because it brings me immense amounts of happiness. I never want to forget that I do this out of love, and when the intensity seems like too much or I find myself obsessing over tiny details or wondering if I could just eat a little bit less or run a little bit more to improve my times, I try to reflect on the fact that this passion was born out of an enjoyment for the sport and the people around me, and that passion, not some crazy weight loss or increase in mileage or intensity, is what will keep me improving and in the sport.
Thank you SO much, Alyssa! Be sure to follow this wonderful gal on Instagram @alysinwonderlnd 🙂