There has been a tremendous amount of radio silence on my end over the past couple of months, and for that I apologize. Truthfully, the large reason for my lack of update has been the fact that, for lack of a better answer, I was training my tail off. With some of my continued health struggles rearing their ugly heads at the end of last season, my coach and I decided to take an entirely different approach to my training. Specifically, we were going to train easy – as in, very little intensity. Because of that, however, we were going to swim, bike and run…a lot.
The approach was completely new to me; my prior programs often were geared more heavily to intensity than to volume. But recent evidence had clearly pointed out that this type of approach was no longer working for me. As the famous quote says, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” So it was time for a change.
For better or worse, the high volume/low intensity type of approach requires a whole lot of swimming, biking and running. Six-to-eight hour training days often are typical, which – after accounting for sleep, daily meal preparation, stretching, and other tasks that don’t factor into those hours – leaves very little time to do anything else. And while that meant that updates were few and far between, I was willing to tolerate the massively long days because, simply put, the new approach was working incredibly well.
With each passing week, I watched my paces in the swim and run, and my power on the bike, climb without any change in heart rate. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy to log so many miles during the time of year when weather conditions were at their worst. However, the continuous positive feedback in my training data made the situation much more palatable. Honestly, I was stunned at the results. Stunned.
Moving into mid-February, my numbers (relative to effort) were at an all-time high. I had never seen these levels of power and pace at such a low heart rate throughout my entire career. I had four weeks until my first planned race at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico, which allowed just enough time for a small bit of speedwork to shake off the rust and be prepared to race at my best. I couldn’t have been more excited to see how this new approach translated to race day.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance. Prior to even implementing higher intensity work, I had a morning long run the day after taking advantage of an easy day to spend most of the day working in my yard. As I cooled down at the end of the run, I could tell that the left side of my sacroiliac (SI) joint was bothering me a bit. I finished the run with a slight limp, but nothing so substantial as to generate any worry. As per usual, I followed up my long run with an easier endurance swim. Only this time, once I finished the swim set I was unable to get myself out of the pool. My left hip was in such pain that I could not bare a single ounce of weight on it.
The diagnosis? A significant tear in one of my hip stabilizer muscles. Excluding the time I was hit by a car while biking in September 2015, it was my first training-related injury in 8 years. Just like that, I was on crutches for 2 weeks, forced to take 3 weeks off with no training, and was unable to run for over 7 weeks. Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico came and went without me on the start list, as did Ironman 70.3 Texas in early April. All of the sudden, all of the work that I had put in over the winter (as well as my chance to see how that type of training translated to race day) was gone. By the time I was able to run again in late April, all of that fitness had disappeared. And that’s not even to mention the mental struggle of falling so quickly from such a positive overall training experience.
Despite being at an incredibly low point, I tried my best simply to steer my attention to the future. Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga remained 5 weeks away, and while I would not be able to get to my highest level of fitness, I still felt there was opportunity for success. In addition, after missing my first two races, I was incredibly motivated to toe the start line.
My coach and I made a conscious decision to be more aggressive with my build into 70.3 Chattanooga, even knowing increased risk of re-injury was a possibility. I never like to start a race with merely the hope an average performance, so we were going to implement some harder work in the attempt of having a race truly reflective of all the work put in to date, regardless of risk.
As expected, the fitness came back around relatively quickly. The swim and bike were still at a good level since the injury only limited those disciplines for a few weeks. And despite 7 weeks away from running, the speed work was sharpening up my run in a very promising manner. My outlook rapidly changed, and I again thought there was a great chance of a strong performance at 70.3 Chattanooga.
Just when the tide seemingly started to turn in a positive direction, I finished a run less than two weeks out from the race in which the right side of my SI joint felt a little strange. On this occasion, the pain was much less than my original injury in February, yet I was concerned that the issue appeared on the opposite side – a classic instance of a problem resulting when compensating for an injury. Still, the problem was not all that painful, and I finished my day with an open water swim.
Almost as if history were repeating itself, upon finishing the open water swim, I could not get myself out of the lake. The pain prevented me from walking, though this time it originated in my right hip. Once again, I was on crutches.
The diagnosis on this occasion was a severe strain of the glute medius muscle in my right hip. Not nearly as significant as a tear, but far from positive news nonetheless. The only silver lining was that, as a bigger muscle with more blood flow to it, there was a chance (albeit slim) that the glute medius might heal rapidly enough to still race.
So here I sit 5 days out from 70.3 Chattanooga, and all I can do is cross my fingers for the opportunity to race. But by the same token, attempting to race only to then set myself back for an additional amount of time is the last thing I want to do, as suffering a third injury to one part of the body might impact the entire rest of the season. I’m certainly at a loss.
For now, I can only wait…and hope. All I can do is keep my fingers crossed and wait until the last minute to make a decision. It is a huge understatement to say that this lead up to racing is far from ideal, but I simply want the opportunity to give it a shot. I’m trying my best to remain positive, but given the past several months, that is a tough task to undertake.