Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Injury Update

With nearly two weeks having passed since my right leg injury first presented, I figured now would be a good time for an update.

It is a bad news/good news scenario. The bad: the problem has not abated as quickly as I had hoped and sometimes the pain can be rather sharp. The good: I’m still able to run and my attempts at therapy are showing some results.

But let me go back to the beginning.

As I mentioned in my last post I had felt a rather painful, uh, pain, near but not actually on my left knee as I completed a 75 minute run one evening. It was too low to be IT Band syndrome, with which I am familiar, but it did hurt the way that does flaring up more so on inclines than on the flats. Research into the problem suggested very strongly a pulled lateral gastroc muscle.

My initial response was rest. In fact, for the next four days I did nothing at all, just rested my leg and continued to apply heat and take NSAIDS (specifically Aleve) as you can see by this conspicuous gap in my training calendar:

I broke my rest cycle with a trip to the pool, and followed that the next day with a strength work out. In other words, I let a week go by without any use of my legs (I generally don’t kick during my swim workouts).

Last Wednesday found me back on the trainer for just over an hour and my affected area actually felt fine during that ride. I was feeling a little tweak in my hamstring so I cut it short, not wanting to pile one injury on top of another.

The following day, the pain was back. Not as acute as it had been a week earlier, but still enough to make me decide that running, as I had originally planned, was perhaps not the best idea. So instead, I went back to the pool and did laps.

By Friday of last week, the pain had abated again so I set out to an easy our on the bike path near my house. It does offer a gradual decline (which means climbing on the way back) but nothing like a steep hill.

Figuring out what is wrong and what caused it has been a largely heuristic process. I’m not totally unqualified to do a little self-diagnosis. I’ve been running for years and I know my body better than anyone. That’s especially true when determining what just an ache is and what a bona fide injury is. As I ran, a new thought occurred to me. In the words of Mars Blackmon “It’s gotta be the shoes!”

Last April, I switched from my ever-reliable but boring Brooks Addiction to pair of Nike Structure. It was less of a motion control shoe but still had stability. If the new paid did not work, I figured they would tell me. Well, they did not. I went through a long season including two half marathons, 5 triathlons (including a 70.3) a 10K and hundreds of training miles with no issues. So naturally, when it came time to replace them, I bought another pair. That worked well until I started upping the distance in preparation for a full marathon this spring.

There’s rarely a smoking gun in a case like this, but I believe the combination of more miles, an aging body, cold weather and yes, shoes, are causing me a problem. Specifically, I suffer from supination as depicted below:

A view of the soles of my shoe confirm as much. They show a great deal of wear on the outside of each heel. Over time, this is causing excessive pulling on the lateral muscles and ligaments. In other words, it took over 500 miles and nearly 10 months, but it turns out that these shoes actually are not right for me.

The solution: go back to the Brooks. These were the shoes that carried me through my last marathon (way back in 2006) as well as countless other races and miles of training with no more issue than the occasional blister (which was probably not shoe-related).

My new pair are on their way, probably just in time for a long run this Saturday. The remaining question is whether or not I’ve done permanent damage in the mean time. My guess is: I don’t think so. The fact is that the affected area only hurts some of the time—even while running. While complete healing will probably take a few more weeks, I also think that I’m on the road to recovery all ready.

In the meantime, the season keeps getting closer. In order to take advantage of an early-bird discount, I have registered for the Rattlesnake Triathlon and will probably end up signing up for the Loveland Lake 2 Lake by the end of the month to get their deal as well.

The lakes are still frozen, there’s snow in the forecast and the sun sets just after five o’clock. Nevertheless, I can already get a sense for what’s coming!

Thanks for reading! 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Getting Older and Discovering New Injuries

The folk song tells us you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. That could not be truer than when you are injured and have to modify your training schedule. Such is the recent development for me as the result of a lot of time on the run lately.

Last Saturday, I was pleased to have completed a 17 mile run as part of my preparation for the Colorado Marathon on May 5. It was a bitterly cold day. Like 1* with the wind chill cold. As in the tube running out of my Camelbak froze solid cold. You get the picture.

But despite all that, I did it and hit a major point in my training schedule. After a few days off I was ready to go out for a much easier 75 minute training run aimed at staying entirely within Z1. The course I chose seemed like a good one since it included a lot of downhill which is the most distinctive characteristic of my marathon.

Some where around the five mile mark, my left hamstring started complaining. I knew I had not pulled it, but I could tell it was tight and that the risk of an injury was higher. The solution was easy enough. Just shorten my stride, slow the pace and I would be fine. And that worked.

But meanwhile, the muscle behind my right knee was conspiring to cause me other problems. With about a mile and a half remaining, it started hurting more and more to the point that I slowed to a walk for the final four minutes. I wasn’t limping, but it definitely hurt. In fact it really hurt. Unlike some nagging injuries that bother me slightly over time, this one felt more acute.

By the time I went to bed, walking up stairs was difficult and walking down them was excruciating. When I woke the next morning, things were no better. I had to down the stairs leading with just my right foot. Walking was slow and a little awkward. As I continued to get ready, it felt a little better but the pain was still fairly pronounced.

Once I got to work, the first thing I had to do after parking was make my daily ascent up two flights of stairs out of the parking garage. Not fun.

So during a break, I started Googling items like “pain behind knee” and started getting a ton of information. Ultimately, I think I have developed either gastrocnemius tendonitis or, and I think more likely, a strain on the right lateral gastroc muscle. Specifically, said strain is near the popliteal area which is the area behind the knee.

The interwebs had all kinds of treatment suggestions which sounded great but not all that practical (when am I going to find time for ultrasound treatment?).

During the day, I noticed the pain would abate somewhat after I had been moving around. Sit behind the desk for a couple of hours and it would be sore. Walk around for a few minutes and it felt better. Simply put, the muscle was getting stiff when it was not in use.

For years, I dealt with pain in my lower back which was the result of some foolish decisions to lift heavy objects or work for hours shoveling. The best relief for this was to put a heat pad on the affected area. Once it was sufficiently warmed, everything felt better.

Applying this logic to a different muscle (but still a muscle) I wore the pad around my right knee last night. By bed time, I was walking up stairs like a normal person (rather than take a step with my left, then pull my right, repeat). Walking down still hurt, but was not excruciatingly painful.

When I woke the next morning, things were better. I did take two naproxen tablets at bed time which probably did not hurt either, but I do think the heat has relaxed the strained muscle enough to allow it function more normally.

I am neither a doctor nor do I play one on TV. So if the pain does not fully abate after some time off, I will go in and see my physician or an orthopedic specialist. However, I am encouraged and hopeful that what I thought might be a season-altering injury is in fact just a nuisance along the way.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mulling My 2013 Equipment Options

As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s not all about the equipment. I would do this sport with a pair of surfer trunks, some old Chuck Taylor high-tops and a steel Schwinn bike with no gears if that was all I had. However, I’ve been fortunate in my life and career and this has allowed me to make the training and racing experience better through better equipment. That is not to say, however, that I don’t have to make some choices about what I can buy from year to year. This need to make a decision also makes me be more thoughtful about each item. Here’s the list of possibilities as it stands today:

 1. The Wahoo KICKR Trainer

I first read about this from a DC Rainmaker post from EuroBike and I was intrigued. I like the notion of a free-wheel that coasts and more accurately simulates the downhill. I also like the quiet promised from the unit. My mag-resistance trainer gets the job done, but definitely not quietly!

Unfortunately, their promised availability date of January 1, 2013 has come and gone with no indication that this unit is now for sale. Comments expressed on their Facebook page indicate frustration and serious doubt about when they may actually launch. Unfortunately, this tendency to promise a deadline and then miss it seems to be par for the course with several manufacturers lately.

2. Power Meters.

Lots has been happening in this space which is good, but again, items that I found most interesting are not coming to market as promised. Of particular note is the Brim Brothers cleat-based system. This is of particular use because your power meter follows you from bike to bike. So whether I’m training on my road bike or my race bike, I’d have readily available power data (something for which I’ve come to appreciate the need). Originally Brim said mid 2012. The late 2012. Now mid 2013. But, who knows?
Another new entrant is Garmin with their pedal-based meter called Vector. While perhaps not as versatile as Brim, it still is intriguing, but at $1500 it’s not terribly competitive with crank-based systems like Quarq. And…you guessed it—the system is still not available. The latest word is the first or second quarter of this year.

That lead me to think that maybe I would just have to fork over the cash for a crank-based system. Then today, again thanks to DC Rainmaker, of a company local (Boulder-based) company called Stages Cycling. Their power meter is located on the crank-arm (as opposed to the spider with other companies). They have their reasons as to why this is just as good if not better than the more traditional set up. I’m more impressed with pricing starting at $699, a relative bargain when it comes to power meters.

3. Race Wheels.

This is one I’m having trouble justifying. I love the idea of a light bike and getting more speed from the same effort. I really love the way a bike looks with these on it. But the cost? Painfully high. More than the bike in some cases. What’s more, in a place with frequent high wind (like Colorado) the solid back wheel is likely to be more of a hindrance than a help. That’s not to say you won’t ever see them on my tri-bike, just that at this stage, they seem like a lower priority.

I’ll no doubt go through a coupe more pairs of shoes, especially as I train for a full marathon, and I may also need a new swimsuit or two during the year, but my Zoot Flash held p great during another season, and I think I’m a little rough on my suits. The bike is new as of last year and will not be on the replacement list for several years.

All of this also has to be balanced against a big trip to Europe in June to celebrate my 20th anniversary. I do need to leave enough in the bank account to ensure that’s a good trip and not have to take my wife to the street fair for our anniversary dinner.

Clearly there is more to come on this front. I’ll be interested to see if Stages breaks the trend of missing deadlines and has a product available this month, as promised. I’ll update when I have more on this front.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Advice for the New Triathlete

It's January and as you can tell from the ads on television for gym memberships, diet and smoking cessation products, it's also resolution time.

Given the number of people who randomly wander by my blog, I wanted to offer some advice to anyone who may be considering or has even decided to do their first triathlon in 2013. While there's a plethora of advice out there on training, equipment, races, etc., I wanted to paint with some slightly broader strokes. So here, based on my own experiences, is my list of advice for any new comers:

10. It's normal to be intimidated. Just don't let it overwhelm you or scare you off. Any perusal of the interwebs, magazines or even a visit to your local bike shop (LBS) can make you feel inadequate and not equal to the task of finishing your event. Don't let it! Despite what a few unfortunate douche bags may say and do (and we do have our share of douches) this really is an all-comers sport. This guy is not representative of the overall group:

9. Swimming is harder than you think. Unless you're already someone who swims a lot or has been swimming most of their life, this really is as hard as you hear. I got faster swimming when I stopped worrying about how much power I was putting into it and focused entirely on my form. Seriously, I got faster when I stopped worrying about being fast.

8. Equipment is fun, cool and exciting, but ultimately not what it's all about. On my way back from an open-water swim one day last summer, I saw a guy on his bike. He was "kitted out" with some major name-brand or another and his back pockets were bulging with nutrition packs. He was struggling to get across the street on his bike because in one hand he had a CUP OF STARBUCKS! Cyclists (and triathletes) refer to a guy (or gal) with all the equipment but none of the motivation as a "Fred." Don't be one! Now, to be clear, I love my tri bike, my Garmin 910, and my Rudy Project helmet and sunglasses. The thing is, I don't compete in this sport just to have the stuff. The stuff just makes it more enjoyable. I also don't give a damn what other people think of it. This is for me.

7. Have a plan. You don't necessarily need to go out and buy a formal training plan--especially not for your first race. Online are plenty of plans that will prepare you and there are always a lot of great books on the subject as well. A decent plan will balance out the disciplines you need to improve to complete your first race. It also gives you a good way to identify milestones. Reaching these as you make your journey from new comer to veteran provides an innate sense of satisfaction. It also helps you plan the rest of your life.

6. Track it. Be it an online service like Run Tracker or Daily Mile, a spreadsheet program or a legal pad, keep some kind of a log of what you're doing. You may want to review past successes and failures so that you can avoid repeating them in the future. Your training history also provides a good foundation for setting up a new plan when that time comes. Finally, you're once again rewarded with some tangible evidence of your efforts.

5. Your biggest obstacles are mental, not physical. Yes, there will be those times when you are winded and not sure if you can go on. You may also have sore muscles, an upset stomach or, ahem, digestive issues. But the biggest threat to your success is that little voice each of us can hear that keeps saying "QUIT." It may be more subtle and say things like, "just take today off--it's only one day." Or, "hey, most people aren't athletes, you shouldn't feel bad about not being one either." Ignoring this voice when you get home after a long day at work and would rather plop down in front of the TV instead of going for a run will make you successful. The voice is persistent. Your challenge is in being more so.

4. Find a balance. Training and competing are fun and rewarding things to do. But, like any hobby or activity, they can take over your life. Never forget the balance between your other obligations like a spouse, kids and a job. Triathlon is supposed to be a positive thing. Don't let it be the thing that ruined your life. Also remember, the sport is a lot more fun if your friends and family are out there cheering for you on race day.

3. Start small. Sort of like dipping your foot in the pool before you jump in. Yes, arguable the most prestigious events in the sport are the Ironman series, but they are no place to begin. A sprint, consisting of a swim of usually no more than 750 meters, a bike of no more than 20 miles and almost always a 5 kilometer run is a great place to begin. If you find the experience addicting (and most do) you can always set out for something more after that. And don't listen to the aforementioned douche bags who speak of sprint events with disdain. They are triathlons and a great place not only to enter the sport, but to tune up at the beginning of each season.

 2. Be prepared for the unexpected. Two days before my first race, the swim was canceled due to high ecoli levels in the lake. A year later, at the same event, the swim was on, but the wind created huge swells that totally messed up my swim time. I've had the bike course shortened due to security concerns (it was going to go through a Navy base on the tenth anniversary of 9/11) and an entire event threatened due to smoke from a forest fire. Logistically, organizing and successfully executing a multi-sport event like a triathlon is very tricky. Things can and do go wrong. Be ready for it and roll with it.

1. Have fun! If you're not enjoying yourself (despite some tough work outs or grueling races) then you're missing the point. All of us who do this sport and keep coming back year after year do it because we like it. We enjoy it. We would miss it if we didn't do it. Smile, take in the scenery and enjoy it.

Congratulations on your decision to join the ranks of triathletes. It's a big step but one you'll be glad you took. There's lots of great stuff to read and many places to seek inspiration, information and ideas. Go forth and conquer your fears and inhibitions. This step may change your life!

Thanks for reading