Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Coping With Injury and Racing

In early August I raced 70.3 Boulder. The race went quite well and I was really pleased with my result, especially considering I had never done anything at elevation before. The timing of Boulder was good because it left me about five weeks to prepare for the 70.3 World Championship after I got home. I figured I would get home, put in a solid three week block, taper, and head to Vegas ready to race. Sadly, my best laid plans quickly came undone.

After getting home from Boulder I headed up to the Adirondacks with Becky to spend some time with my family. I was excited to be able to get some good training in up there, swimming in open water, and having relatively untraveled roads to ride and run on. In between training sessions I would be able to just relax and rest. The first two days went as planned and things were going well. Tuesday morning I went for a hard interval run and ended up putting in just over 11 miles. That afternoon my right ankle started bothering me. It was a weird soreness, but nothing excruciating, so that afternoon I hopped on my bike and went out for a 40 mile ride, hitting some hills and pushing the pace pretty hard.

Wednesday morning I woke up and my ankle was still sore, maybe a little worse than the day before. It was raining pretty hard, so we decided to pack up and head home early in the day. That way I could swim in the pool and ride the trainer if I needed to. By the time we got home to Rochester, though, it was clear skies so I went out for a couple hours on my bike to do some interval work. My ankle was still hurting, but on the bike it didn’t bother me so much. Afterwards I headed to the pool and got a swim in.

This is where things started to go badly. Thursday morning I took my sore ankle out for a 10k. It hurt. Then I went to work and hoped it would feel better by the afternoon. I told myself maybe this was just something that needed to work itself out. I hadn’t done anything specific to hurt it: no rolled ankle or falls. I hadn’t really increased my run mileage that much recently. So that afternoon I went out for my second run of the day. I figured I would get in 12-13 miles and hopefully by the end of that my soreness would start to feel better. Bad idea. I got about three miles in and I was in agony. It felt like someone was stabbing a knife into my ankle with every step I took. I knew I couldn’t finish the run, so turned and headed home. I iced my ankle immediately and took some Ibuprofen. This was not in my plans.

Finally, on Friday I decided I better stop acting like an idiot and rest my ankle a bit, so I went to the pool. That afternoon I was heading to Keuka Lake to visit my friends Bob and Pam. Bob is a Physician’s Assistant and Pam is an Orthopedic NP, so I figured I would ask them what they thought about my ankle. When I got to their place I told them what was going on and showed them my ankle. The response was not good. By this point I had done enough online research to realize it was Achilles tendinitis, but it was now really, really severe (way to keep running on it, Scott). No more training. They said I was so swollen that if I did anything, even walk up the stairs wrong, I could rupture it. I was crushed. I knew it was going to take a while to heal and I was going to miss a lot of training.

That weekend I barely left the couch and I was on a strict icing and Ibuprofen program. I was absolutely miserable and grouchy. To top it off, it was beautiful all weekend. It was sunny and in the 70s. If I had to be locked up inside, couldn’t it at least have rained? I honestly don’t know how Becky put up with me that weekend. If I was her I would have punched me in the face and left the house for the weekend, leaving me in my own self pity. She was so patient and supportive though. I’m a pretty lucky guy.

Monday I drove out to see Bob and Pam again and have them check my ankle. The swelling had gone down significantly over the weekend (thanks to my strict adherence to the not doing anything active plan and lots of icing), but the pain was still there when I brought my toes up. No running or biking allowed still, but they said if I wanted to swim and it didn’t hurt when I did, I could. Since I’m the crappiest swimmer ever, I figured the extra time in the water would be good for me, and at least I would feel like I’m doing something active and get the endorphin release. I went to Canandaigua Lake every day so I could swim without having to push off the walls at the pool. Pointing my toes and pushing like that still hurt, so I figured I would be safer not doing that yet.

By the end of the week I decided to try riding again. I didn’t want to rush back too soon, but I was starting to lose my mind. I went for an easy spin and it felt so-so. The pain wasn’t like it had been, but I definitely noticed it. I decided to give it a couple more days before going again. During that time I was talking to my sister’s housemate, Beth, about it and she told me about this place she had been going to get her knee worked on. Beth had knee surgery over the summer and part of her rehab included trips to Pittsford Performance, where they do ART and electro-neuromuscular treatment. At this point I was less than two weeks out from Vegas, I was still having pain, and I hadn’t run in almost two weeks. I was ready to try anything. I made an appointment for the next day.

I knew a little about ART and had heard good things about its effectiveness. I had also heard it hurts. The neuromuscular treatments I did not know much about, but that was what they determined would be best for my situation. It also hurts. A lot. Basically they test for weak areas using electric current, find the weak spots, hook up to pads and turn up the juice as much as you can tolerate. While that’s going on you do exercises to strengthen the area that is injured, so I mainly did toe raises and heal drops. As you do that they keep turning the intensity up. You say a lot of four letter words during these treatments. I did two six minute sessions of that my first visit.

When I walked out after my first session my ankle felt the best it had since it got injured. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I didn’t have the pain during dorsiflexion that I had been having, so that was hopefully a positive sign. I went home and rode my bike for a couple of hours. The first half hour felt great. Then the soreness started to creep back in. It didn’t get as bad as it had been, so I continued the ride. Two days later I went back for another treatment and asked if I should refrain from riding. The doctor told me I could ride and he actually wanted me to try running then next day.

The next day I went out for an easy four mile run. It was exactly nine days until Vegas. The first two miles weren’t too bad, but on the way home it started to hurt a bit. I was now debating whether or not I should even make the trip to Vegas. I seriously considered just packing it in at that point. My next appointment to see the doctor was Tuesday, so I thought I would try one more run before seeing him. Maybe it would take some time for the treatment to be effective. Sunday morning I went to the gym and ran on the treadmill. I figured this way if it started to hurt I could just step off and stop rather than have to run home if I was outside somewhere. Plus the treadmill is quite a bit more forgiving on the body than the road. I started running and felt much better than Friday. In fact, rather than the 4-5 miles I was going to run, I ended up staying on the treadmill for 10k. That run gave me such a confidence boost and I believed I would at least be able to go to Vegas, race, and finish.

Tuesday I went for another treatment. Wednesday I went for another four mile run, but outside this time. I was going to be running outside on the roads on Sunday in Vegas, so I figured I might as well try it out first. That run felt much better than the first outside run did. I started to feel a bit of relief and the stress of potentially having a DNF attached to my name was melting away. Now the question became how would I hold up over 13 miles in the heat of Vegas after a tough bike course after missing so much training over those three weeks? Time would tell.

I went to Vegas and raced in the 70.3 World Championship with some of the best triathletes in the world. Perhaps I’ll write up the race report another time, but to keep this from getting too lengthy, I’ll just say that it wasn’t my best race. I had a bad swim and left T1 frustrated already. I never felt like I could get into a rhythm and get my legs going on the bike. My legs could tell they hadn’t run anything close to 13 miles in a month. But I finished and my ankle never bothered me once. I made it through the injury and was able to experience the World Championship, which if you had asked me two weeks ago if I thought I would make it through, I would have said “no”.

So, get to the point already, right? Fair enough… Here it is:

1.      Injuries happen and they suck. We never plan for them and they never come at a good time. It is part of the process and to be able to overcome them we need to adapt and adjust. 

2.   Listen to your body. When things start to hurt, maybe you need to give it a rest. We can’t push through everything like we like to think we can. Overdoing it can lead to longer lasting injuries. If I had ruptured my Achilles, I would have been out for 4-6 months. I’m fortunate that didn’t happen.

3.     Listen to those who are helping you. I firmly believe that without the help of Bob and Pam and the doctors at Pittsford Performance, I would not have made it to the finish line. I might not have even made it to the start line. I am extremely grateful for all of their help and treatment to get me back and functional for race day. It was important that I followed their advice and did what they told me to. These individuals are professionals in the medical field and if I had turned my head to what they told me, I could have ended up severely damaging my ankle.

4.     I am extremely lucky to have the support of close friends and family. During those few weeks I had many talks with people and they provided support to help me get through the tough times when I didn’t know if I’d be able to race. I was struggling during that time because I worked so hard to earn qualification to this race. It had been my goal from October of last year and I worked hard from then until May when I qualified. The thought of not being able to see that through was a really tough pill for me to swallow. Specifically I have to thank Mike, Steve, Derek, Jimmy, my parents, and the guys at the bike shop for their advice and encouragement.

5.     Becky gets her own space here. She has been incredible through everything and is probably the most patient person ever. She put up with me when I was miserable when I couldn’t train. She dealt with my frustration when I didn’t think I’d be able to race. She supported me however she could and never said a word about how difficult I was to live with for basically the entire month of August.

After the race I really struggled with my performance. I did not race to my capabilities and I was disappointed with my result. Now, a few days later, I’m coming to grips with it and I realize that at the end of the day, it’s just triathlon and it’s just a hobby for me. It’s hard to see that when you commit so much time and effort to something though. So after the race when we’re sitting there and I’m disappointed with my performance she says “It just means you’ll have to qualify again and do better next year.” Knowing that I have her support means everything. She makes just as many sacrifices as me to allow me to do this. The time she gives up with me, with friends, and with family is not small. But she gets that it is part of who I am and knows how important triathlon is to me. For that I can’t thank her enough.

6.     It’s time to set new goals. I have less than two months until Ironman Florida. I can sit around disappointed in this race, or I can set new goals and make sure I’m as prepared as possible for Florida. It’s time to get back to work...