A coach’s confession
When I hurt my back the last time, or rather the latest time, my husband told me that I had to write about it. I’d been plagued with a few nagging injuries all summer long.
First I had a terrible case of carpal tunnel in both wrists, but worse in my right. Then I found myself battling plantar fasciitis in my left foot. Lastly, I fell off my bike in an Olympic distance triathlon where I was going nearly 20 miles an hour. I got up, finished the ride, which was less than half a mile and ran the 10K. It wasn’t until I finished the race that I saw how badly the entire left side of my torso was swollen.
Less than two weeks after the bike crash, I found myself unable to move due to major nerve pain going down the right leg all the way to my right foot.
It turns out that I had herniated two disks (L5/S1). The disk was pressing on my sciatic nerve and causing a great amount of pain. I know that many of you reading this are thinking that I’m nuts. You would have thrown in the towel before somewhere between carpal and fasciitis.
But I also know that many of you reading this would have kept going, just like I did. That is, until you couldn’t go any more.
I know now, that no matter how many signs were thrown my way, I was not going to stop until I was literally forced to. Despite the many signs telling me to slow down, I never listened. Even I would have thought that after the bike crash/fall/accident, whatever you want to call it, I might have taken a break and let my body heal. Instead, I was counting the days until I could swim again. I had to let the deep cut on my left forearm heal so as not to risk infection from a chlorinated pool, murky lake or salty ocean. I can say with complete certainty that even though I know what I should have done, I would not have stopped. This herniated disc was a wake-up call for which I am truly grateful.
From late August through December 2010, I sought out many medical opinions, both surgical and non-surgical. I went to three orthopedic back surgeons, two physical therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists, personal trainers, two massage therapists and even two psychotherapists.
To make a long story short, I am proud to say that I was a patient patient. I listened to my body as it was healing itself. Despite the fact that I missed three late season events (one endurance swim and two sprint triathlons) and gained a few pounds (only I would notice), I’m thrilled with my healing process.
Last June, 10 months after the herniated disks literally stopped me in my tracks, I did a sprint distance triathlon. I was only looking to finish pain free. I ended up winning my age group. Not bad for 10 months of patient recovery.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been pretty good about varying my routine and cross training. I do practice what I preach, as a coach. But during this recovery period, I have learned a lot more about how to prolong my training years and to stay injury free.
Below is what I’ve learned and I hope you take the time to read and “listen.” Take what you want, I hope some of it works for you and keeps you from being stopped in your tracks.
1. Warm up
All the experts say to do this, everyone says they do it, but if it comes down to getting those miles in, let’s admit it, nobody does it. Here’s what I do for each discipline:
Swim: 500 yard warm up before the main set. This warm-up consists of 100 yds freestyle, 100 yards arms only, 100 yds kick only, 4x50 yds with a 15 or 30 second rest in between. Feel free to cut it in half. But make sure you warm up.
Bike: If I’m doing an indoor cycling workout, I’ll ride for 5-10 minutes before the main class or workout. If I’m outside, I try to keep the hills at bay for at least a few miles.
Run: If I’m running on a treadmill, I walk for 5 minutes at a 15:00 per mile/4 mph pace. If I’m running outside, I walk for about a ¼ to ½ mile.
Core Workout: I always warm up on some cardio machine at the gym for 10 minutes before a core workout.
2. Vary Your Routine
I must admit that I’m pretty good at this. For the past two years, I have been religious about not running two days in a row. Even if I’m on vacation and there is no other activity I can do, I will take a long walk instead of running back-to-back days. I also interject some interval running by varying my speed, if outside, and/or incline if on a treadmill.
3. Cool Down
I try to end my run with a 5-10 minute walk. This gives me time to cool down and let my muscles relax. I will try to stretch when I get home or outside (weather permitting), but if I don’t have time, at least I’ve done the short cool down walk.
I have a 10-15 minute stretch routine that allows me to cool down after a hard workout. If I know that my time is tight, I will shorten the main set so that I have time for the stretching. This is something that I NEVER would have done before. What I’m learning is that a short main set followed by some much needed stretching will allow me to be rested and ready for my next workout
5. Do Yoga
Many people who know me know that I don’t really like yoga. And it’s not like I’ve taken one class and made this decision. I have been trying to like yoga since 1999! However, I do know that yoga is a good balance to my hard workouts. For me, yoga isn’t another tough workout on my body, it’s the opportunity for me to recharge and recover. I am a big fan of Yin Yoga. I call it “forced stretching.” Check out Sage Rountree’s Yoga for Athletes. You will definitely get some good nuggets from her books and podcasts. (sagerountree.com)
Seems odd to have to remind yourself to breathe, right? Well, I find that it helps get the oxygen moving around to all parts of my body. I’m not just talking when I’m training, but even as I type this article. I take many deep breaths while driving, watching television, reading or right before bed.
7. Rest and Recover
The most underrated part of training is rest and recovery days. Usually you get a rest day if you’re travelling somewhere or you have meetings back to back and a workout is out of the question. Are you really resting? Try to find one day a week where you schedule a rest day. It’s okay if it’s also a work day, just make sure you’re not changing time zones. A good rest day will go a long way in a successful training program.
8. Less Is More
There are days when I just need a short swim. That’s okay. Every workout doesn’t have to be the Magna Carta. Mix it up.
9. Pain May Be A Distraction
Learn for yourself how some of our pain might be more about our emotional issues and less about our physical ones I’ll let the book and the research speak for itself. Healingbackpain.com
You can’t be tense when you’re smiling. Try it. See? I’m right. I love to train and sometimes, when the workout is hard, I forget that. If I start to smile, I relax and realizing that I’m having fun, despite how challenging the workout may be. Recently I was doing a workout on the treadmill and I started to smile and I ran faster and with more ease.
11. Be Kind To Yourself
I truly believe that I have been given a second chance to train and race; pain-free. For 20-plus years, I have been training for and racing marathons, half marathons and triathlons. I have been spared any major illnesses and injuries. I’ve had a few that have sidelined me, but never for very long. This latest injury was the biggest. And at the age of 45, I am finally listening.