When it comes to injuries, like most triathletes, I’ve had a few. “But then again”, as the song goes, “too few to mention”.
Of course I’m going to mention injuries. This wouldn’t be a triathlon blog without discussing injuries. Come anywhere close to a triathlete (or a group of two or more) and see how easily the conversation can veer to injuries.
You: “Boy it’s hot today.”
Triathlete: “Not as hot as the day I crashed my bike and tore my ACL.”
You: “How’s your mom?”
Triathlete: “She’s really happy at the new senior home but I’m worried she’s not getting enough protein. When I went vegan a couple years ago I was having the same problem and ended up with a stress fracture in my back.”
You: “That’s some crazy stuff happening in Greece.”
Other triathlete: “How’s that KT tape working for you?”
A Remarkable Run
For someone as active as I’ve been all through school and into my adult life, I’ve had a remarkable run without a major injury or setback. For 14 years I played soccer and made the varsity team as a high school freshman. I ran track and cross country starting in grade school all the way through college. I didn’t have any type of major injury that I can recall until college. I was running cross country and starting to up my mileage for a half marathon when I began having knee pain. I went to see the sports doctor about the pain and he ended up giving me a shot of cortisone at the urging of my coach. We were racing the next day and of course I had no pain. I hated the idea of taking a shot to mask the pain but I didn’t know how to talk to my coach about it so I just quit running cross country for the school.
Recovering from Injury without Medication
As I’ve gotten older and gradually drifted more toward half-marathons and finally jumping into the world of triathlon, I’ve experienced more injuries. Some have been the chronic type caused by the wrong shoes, problems with technique or just trying to dial in the right training zone. Others have been the more acute kind, such as from my brief (lasting 5 minutes) return to soccer after 9 years away. That ended in a cast for six weeks, crutches and a persistent problem with plantar fasciitis that continued for two years.
With my general aversion to drugs of any kind (I only take a liquid multivitamin because I don’t like things that come in pills) and an allergy to Ibuprofen, I’ve had to develop alternate strategies for recovering from injuries and managing chronic conditions. I still get discouraged when an injury keeps me from hitting my training goals or causes me to miss a race but I’ve learned to be proactive. Having a strategy for adapting my training so I can continue getting stronger while recovering has helped make me a better athlete. I’ve come to appreciate that injuries, while best avoided, are still an opportunity to learn something and come back even stronger.
Here then are my 3 favorite injuries and how I deal with them.
For me, those small annoying sensations that start to demand my attention are in fact a handy tool to gage my body. When the niggles start popping up, particularly in my lower back or right hip I know it’s time to back off. When I got to the run of my first 70.3 I had a bad case of the niggles. I had been struggling with an IT-band problem for about 6 weeks leading up to the race and I’d replaced my regular running with water jogging. I was able to stay in the race by focusing on shortening my stride and finding a rhythm that allowed for a little less pain. Once I get in the groove I use whatever mantra that comes to me and silently sing it in time with my stride.
For a long time I struggled with feeling completely exhausted after some of my brick workouts. The feeling would continue into the next day or days and it felt like I was just grinding myself down. Not good if you’re trying to avoid getting injured.
The most recent addition to my training tech arsenal is a Garmin Forerunner 920xt. This replaced a much older Garmin model and came with a bunch of new features. The heart rate sensor and zone settings have been the most beneficial. When I first got the watch and did a couple of runs and bike rides I quickly learned that I was pushing too hard. My bike cadence was low and my heart rate was really high. Since then I’ve learned to switch to a gear that is more manageable, keep my cadence up and bring my heart rate down to the zone I’m trying to hit. The benefits have been dramatic and I’m able to finish my sessions without completely draining the tank and recover faster as well.
The Special Expletive
I have a love-hate relationship involving ice. If I ache from a training session I prefer to sit in the hot tub but if there is something bothering me in a specific location I lay on the ice. For minor aches and pains it works wonderfully. I always follow up with lots of stretching and roller work.
The ice bath is something I reserve for extreme cases; usually after a big race like my recent century ride. The pain in my quads was just throbbing after that so I took the plunge. I definitely used some special expletives during the first 5 minutes but I managed to hold out for 5 more and then repeated it a couple hours later. In the morning my legs were refreshed. It was really amazing considering the way I felt the night before.
Avoiding the Problem
Over the years I’ve developed a whole suite of strategies to avoid injuries. From massage to band work and core strength exercises to hot yoga, I do everything I can to stay healthy. Ignoring things has never seemed to me an effective approach to handling any problem. Pain from injuries like the 3 I’ve mentioned has taught me a lot but if I can avoid an injury with a good preventive program, I’m all for that.
If you’ve learned anything from your injuries or discovered something that has helped you recover please feel free to share in the comments below.