“If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.”
This was a hard week. It wasn’t the training volume. I barely made a dent in what was planned to be a solid building block toward my first full Ironman. It wasn’t the intensity. I spent most of what was supposed to be a glorious milestone, the Blue Lake Sprint Triathlon, in bed. It was a message from my body.
The message went something like this.
Body: Knock, knock.
Me: Go away, I’m busy.
Body: KNOCK, KNOCK!
Body: You have a dentist appointment.
Me: No I don’t, I have a rac…OW! What was that?
Body: A friendly reminder.
The problem with this “friendly reminder” aka “exploding root canal” was that I sort of ignored it. Not completely. I called the dentist only a couple of days after the pain became excruciating. I had surgery scheduled for the earliest available opening. It was not technically my fault that the timing of said surgery allowed me to squeeze in an hour and a half session on my bike trainer right before going in. That was just serendipity. Plus, I was feeling pretty good. My training had been going well. All that base work was starting to pay off and with the help of a little hydrocodone and aspirin to dull the tooth pain I was going to keep right on track.
For those of you with experience with hydrocodone, known to many as Vicodin or “vikes”, you are probably shaking your heads right now. You will not be surprised to hear that my times in training were actually faster while I was having my tooth pain. I didn’t have a great time sleeping because if you know about the euphoric pain deadening effects of hydrocodone then you also know that nothing short of scratching your eyes out with a pitch fork could possibly distract you from the waves of nauseating agony that wash over you when it wears off. You take another pill and in 20 white-knuckle minutes you are OK. Everything, and I mean everything, is oooooh-K.
Lifting the Cone of Silence
This story has a happy ending. I hope. As of writing this I’m not sure. There’s been some time to think about what, if anything, I’ve learned. The good news is that the root canal surgery fixed the tooth pain right away. No more hydrocodone. For the rest of me though, I needed a stretcher. After lifting the cone of silence that had allowed me to shut off the messages from my body, it turns out it was trying to tell me something. Not just the little nasal voice that keeps saying “Would a little extra sleep kill you?” but more like hysterically screaming, “That’s it, I am through with you! Ironman? Ha! I’ll make you happy you can even walk!” It’s been rough and I’m not back to anything near normal.
What has been nagging at me though is that this is not the first time I’ve managed to ignore important feedback from my body. This bugs me because one of the attractions of training for triathlons has been understanding how my body works. How it responds to stress by becoming stronger and faster. It’s like an endlessly fascinating jigsaw puzzle. It can be very demoralizing to find a big blank spot when you thought everything was falling into place.
I had a similar experience when I was pregnant with my third child. What I learned from trying to race at 25 weeks pregnant and from pushing myself to come back too fast post pregnancy was that I can and do ignore important signals from my body. I still have a hip problem that first appeared during that time and to this day it requires constant resistance band training just to manage the tightness and pain.
I took that as an important lesson. One that I thought I had taken to heart. I have recovered from many minor injuries, regular aches and pains and even a pretty major foot injury last year using a combination of rest, physical therapy and strength work. I thought I had mastered coming back from injury without medication. This last week has been a wakeup call that I hope I can learn from and get past. Hopefully I’ll have a happy ending update to add to this post soon. If you’d like to share your own story about listening to your body (or not listening) feel free to add a comment below.