Without a doubt, the year to date has been the slowest, most frustrating year I can remember as a triathlete. I'm currently sitting at home in Australia 8 days before the start of the 70.3 World Championships in Austria, having made the tough decision to withdraw from the race. I arrived home five days ago to try to heal and refocus, and to salvage what remains of 2015.
So how did I get to this point? ...from a few bloody good kicks in the pants. It's not my intention to make the following sound like a 'pity piece'. I don't wont votes of sympathy. If you read this and feel I'm an emotional pussy then I'm sorry for that. Anyone that knows me personally would hopefully agree with that this isn't the case. I can imagine there's some athletes out there that are probably in a worse state of affairs than me at the moment, but this is my story of the year thus far. I'ts not all doom & gloom though, I finished this post with my chin held high and an optimism for what lays ahead in the remaining months of 2015.
So what's the story?
There's no story really. Embarrassingly, the injury that has kept me from starting at Zell am See is not a story of crazy training or heroic run mileage or anything like that. It's because I fell on some wet stairs while walking home from the swimming pool in the rain. I hit my knee on the steel handrail and that was that, a bone contusion on the lateral condyle of the tibia. Sure, there's worse things that could have happened. I could have fractured my leg. I could actually have an overloading injury or have crashed or been hit by a car. It's just gone 2 weeks from the fall and I might even be running by tomorrow, so it's nothing serious. But the timing was unquestionably bad 3 weeks before a world championship. I've been under performing the whole year, and have been dealing with ongoing niggles that made training difficult. To miss out on two weeks of bike & run training three weeks before Worlds was the final kick in the pants I needed to book that flight home.
The fact that is my first blog in 4 months should probably read that things just weren't on track. Ironically my last blog written in April talked about dealing with injury. I've had no wins or podiums to report. I haven't even raced for two months because I was just that focused on just getting the work done for Worlds. The lack of blogging doesn't make it much easier to explain the year to date, so I'll just try and briefly detail each kick in the pants as they came.
Ongoing psoas injury
If you read my last blog, you would be aware of the biomechanical changes I have made regarding my leg length discrepancy and the heel raised I've utilised to reduce said deficit. I began with a 4mm heel raise in February, and rather quickly moved to a 6mm raise 6 weeks later. This was too early. Not long after starting with the 6mm heel raise I began dealing with a lot of pain in my iliopsoas as my body tried to adapt to the drastic changes forced upon it. The issue was that my pelvis on the short side rotated itself forward, which resulted in a constantly overcontracted psoas muscle (location of referred pain visible in the diagram below). It would hurt almost entirely throughout the day, for months on end. In April I started chiropratic treatment at CNS Chiropractic Mooloolaba, and was managing well with the issue while under big load preparing for the ITU Long Course World Champs in late June. Adjustments through the SI joint on a Thomas drop leaf table were helping a lot to correct the pelvis rotation but the issue was still lingering. In May I left for the annual pilgrimage overseas, and consistent effective treatment became harder to find. The issue got quite bad after the travel to the US for Escape from Alcatraz, then straight onwards to Europe for a stint of training in Spain. I was getting the training done, but it was so uncomfortable I wasn't enjoying any second of running. Kick in the pants.
Escape from Alcatraz & ITU Long Course Worlds
I had drafted race reports for these events, but never found the motivation to finish them. In short, I raced well at Alcatraz but just wasn't good enough finishing in 4th place. I led from the gun, and went from 1st to 4th in the last 10 minutes of the race. ITU Long Course was just a complete failure and disappointment. The failure was my performance, and the disappointment came from the poor organisation and judgement from race officials leading to a shortened swim (4km to 1.5km). The fact that I haven't raced since ITU Long Course in June just makes the pants kick feel like it was done with a steel capped boot.
Opportunity for consistency beset by interruptions
With the ITU Long Course chapter closed on June 27, I still had the months of July & August to finally get some training done that I would be content with. These months would be crucial to a good performance in the 70.3 Worlds on August 30 in Zell Am See. There were some good racing options available in Europe in these months, such as the European Championships in Wiesbaden (which is a really good, tough course) , but I just wanted to train. I spent the first week of July training in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain) with Ash. After one week recovery from ITU Long Course, I had one good week of re-entry and volume, then had to take the next week off after taking a hit from a solid bout of gastro (actually that week was anything but solid). Once I recovered, I had another few re-entry days, cramming in some good workouts in anxiety of the next training block with Sebastian Kienle in Germany. I moved into the family home in Mulacker on July 24 and was really excited for the opportunity to train with him in the lead up to Zell Am See. We had two cracking days of speed and strength work on the bike and run as Seb dialed himself back in after a big effort in Frankfurt, then we headed off for 5 days of course reconnaissance in Zell Am See. After the on-course training camp, which was bookended by a couple of easy days, we returned to Muhlacker and got back to work. Three days later I had my uninteresting fumble on the stairs as we walked home from the swimming pool. My knee was initially pain free, but I had obvious swelling and fluid around the impact site. I thought after a few days it would be sweet. Four days after the fall I did a short run off the bike for 20mins and I didn't feel anything until I stopped. I then had an intense pain in the back of the knee down into the back of my lower leg. I guessed this was from a further accumulation of swelling, perhaps putting pressure on the sciatic or tibial nerve. A couple of says later Seb & I were scheduled to do a local olympic distance race as a tune up three weeks out from Worlds. Because of the neural pain I was having I only intended to swim & bike. Upon hitting the beach at the swim exit and running to the bike, the neural pain in the back of my knee switched to excruciating pain on the impact site of the tibia. Like hell I was going to walk in front of a crowd though, so I stubbornly soldiered on. I knew instantly that I had made the problem much worse, and I knew this would likely happen before I started the race; but with Worlds not far away I just couldn't sit still. I had to test it out and know for sure whether I was injured or not injured. By the 20km mark on the bike my affected leg suddenly went numb. I pulled out, and when I got off the bike I could hardly walk. I had an MRI the next day which came back negative to any fractures which was positive, but came with a recommended 2 weeks off running. I already knew I would need this much time off anyway, and had pretty much already made the decision that Worlds would not be feasible. Even if I could get to the startline with just one week of running in my legs there would be no point. If I couldn't bring 100% fitness to the startline I didn't want to have to deal with more disappointment. Each night Seb would tell me epic stories of his three world title wins to complete surprise off very little running after months of plaguing injuries, but I had no interest in believing these circumstances could be favorable for me. Mentally I have already hit an all time low. Some more kicks in the pants.
When you're a long way from home...
All your problems feel worse and magnified, especially when the sole purpose of your time abroad, to train & race, dissolves overnight. I was in a fantastic environment training with Seb, but in the absence of loved ones and a support team it's just that much harder to get your shit together. In ones home environment, support mechanism are known and easy to utilise. All I could think about these last two weeks was getting home and starting again, but on the other hand I didn't want to be weak and give up so easily. I've been in many tough spots over the years, many times I've thought about packing up & heading home. Typically after the initial emotions settle everything is then fine and I could easily push on, but in this instance I still knew going home was the only option. Aussies, Kiwis, & some others like South Africans/South Americans etc. all spend more time away from home than anyone else. It's not ideal but we get on with it for the sake of a career. The positive of it is that time away from home adds to the adventure that triathlon has to offer, the yearly vagabond migration to chase the dream. But when things go wrong, the adventure is always the first thing that I forget about. It's no longer and adventure when you're unhappy. As I said, I've been close many times to giving up and heading home, but I had never actually followed through. There was one time when the very thought of booking a flight home was the only thing that kept me from pulling out of the race. The idea of packing it in and starting again can be a real catharsis in tough times. That particular time I finished the race, gave it a day, and everything was fine. I went on to success. In the present situation of 70.3 Worlds, the thought that my parents were coming from Australia to watch me in Zell made the decision to pull out of Worlds even harder. I also knew & loved the course. I wanted to race. My whole season was about that race, so I gave it another week. With little tangible improvement across those seven days I confirmed my doubts and got on the plane home. 32 hours later door to door and I was home.
So where to from here?
Part of the reason I was eager to get home was that there's so many more options for racing left in 2015. For instance, I have the option for a 70.3 on the Sunshine Coast in 3 weeks time, which is an hours drive from home door to door. Should I be able to run with some load between now and then, I will definitely start. The following week is the Beijing International Triathlon. I have the option to race from home half a dozen more times before the year is up, not including Challenge Bahrain which I will most certainly attend.
After a good kick in the pants...
you do whatever it takes to avoid the same thing happening again. After all, it just downright hurts. I remember when I was 7 years old, my sister kicked me in the nuts so hard that I was actually happy to pull my pants down in front a doc to check that everything was still in place. The good news was that everything was fine for pre-pubescent Burgerman, and I certainly made sure I didn't drop and break any of my sisters Easter eggs ever again. I went on to forgive her for her cruel and hasty judgement of the situation.
I'm a history student. I always try to avoid mistakes of the past, so I will do what it takes to avoid the disappointments 2015 happening again. Though this year I have learnt a heck of a lot, and I intend to take these lessons forward with me. Fortunately, training with Seb was one of the best lessons in triathlon I've ever had, and I feel really fortunate to have spent three short weeks with him with the prospect of doing it all again next year. The new sessions and approaches to training I absorbed in this time has me foaming at the mouth to get running and fit again, ready to tackle the remaining races of 2015. It had been years since I'd last had a full-time training partner, and while there's some positives to training by oneself, you inevitably fall into habits that feel convenient, not necessarily beneficial. After training with Seb, I now have the knowledge and motivation to avoid what's convenient. Better again is that since early July I've had no more problems with my psoas and had been running pain free since then. Hopefully this means the last of the heel raise adaptations have fallen into place, and I can look forward to getting on with the job.
For those interested and providing my recovery goes well, the rest of my season will look something like this...
September 13 - Sunshine Coast 70.3
September 20 - Beijing International Triathlon
October 18 - Port Macquarie 70.3
October 25 - Nepean Triathlon
November 20 - Challenge Bahrain
November 30 - Western Sydney 70.3
December 5 - Bahrain 70.3 or December 13 - Ballarat 70.3