Sunday, April 24, 2011

Training Hurt vs. Training Injured

As much as training and racing in triathlons has helped me get (and stay) healthier, I'll also admit that they can beat the holy heck out of your body.  Over the last few years, I've had my share of minor setbacks.  Last year, I developed tendinitis in my left foot, which took a good chunk out of my training right in the middle of the season.  This year, I've had some minor abdominal stress along with a little patellar tendinitis in my right knee.

Now, I know that I've been pretty lucky so far.  Nothing has sidelined me for any significant amount of time.  Aside from juggling around a few workouts or holding back on running for a day or two, there's hasn't been a huge impact to my training.  Of course, one nice thing about triathlon is that if you can't train for one sport, there are two others to keep you occupied.  When I couldn't run for a while last year, it was time to rock 'n' roll in the pool.  In other words, I've trained 'hurt' plenty of times, but haven't hit anything serious enough to be considered 'injured', causing me to have to stop training altogether.  Again: Hurt = keep training.  Injured = no training.

So, then the question becomes, "How do I know the difference?".  Like most of us, I'm not going to head to the doctor every time I feel a little stiff.  Shoot.  If that was the case, I may as well move in to the clinic. No.  As a general rule, once a body part gets hurt, I'll give it a day or two so I can understand it.  After that, I'll try home therapies.  If the body part starts to feel better, I'll continue.  If not, it's time to see the doc to see what they have to say.  Obviously, the severity of the pain is going to have a lot to do with this.  If my broken shinbone is poking up through my skin, I'm not going to 'see how it goes' before heading to the doctor.  Let's use my recent spell of tendinitis as an example.

Things first felt a bit 'off' near the end of a run two weeks ago on Sunday.  At first, I thought that I had just tweaked my knee a bit and didn't thing much of it.  I thought that I would just walk it off and it would go away on its own.  Then, later in the day, while on a bike ride, things went from 'off' to downright painful.  Every time I pushed down on my right pedal it HURT.  Of course, I couldn't just stop and call a cab, so I just sucked it up and limped my way home.  Again, I wasn't too worried.  I iced it, took some ibuprofen and stayed off my feet for the rest of the day.  I didn't get really worried until the next day when I woke up and it still hurt like a mother.

Luckily, I only had a swim workout scheduled on Monday, so at least my legs would get a rest.  After my time in the pool, I headed home for some RICE therapy (Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation).  The next morning, the pain was much more manageable than the day before.  "Okay," I thought, "at least we're going in the right direction."

Tuesday, my plan called for a run and a bike.  Running was out.  No freaking way.  But, I wanted to see what would happen on a quick bike ride.  I headed out on a nice, flat route that would be easy on the knees.  I was definitely aware of my knee, but it felt more like pressure than pain.  It was a good sign.  I upped the intensity just a tad, but the pain didn't increase.  So far, so good.  I headed home and started icing again, just to be safe.

Wednesday was a mid-week rest day.  It was good timing.

Thursday was supposed to be a long tempo run along with speed work in the pool.  Well, the knee was feeling light years better compared to Sunday, but it still wasn't to the point where I was comfortable running - especially for a 100-minute sufferfest.  So, I did the pool workout and then a spinning session to at least get my heart rate up for a while.

Friday was another long day in the pool.  Easy-peasey.  No issues.

By Saturday, I was finally ready to try running again, but I wanted it to be in a controlled environment.  So, for the first time in weeks, I packed up my running gear and headed to the gym.  I started at a modest 6.5 mph on the treadmill and things felt okay.  Over the course of 40 minutes, I slowly sped things up to 7.0 mph.  I could feel a little pressure in the knee, but no real pain.  Great!  We ARE on the right track.  I also wore a kneecap strap, just to add a little extra support, but I'm not sure if it made any difference. Honestly, I think it only succeeded in chafing the back of my leg.

During the first chunk of the following week, I still stuck to swims and bikes.  The pain was all but gone, so, by Tuesday, it was time to get back on the schedule.  The plan called for a 2-hour run.  Since the forecast called for snow (ugh, SNOW?!?) I hit the treadmill again.  It went something like this:

Good Idea: Going for a 2-hour run.
Not-So-Good Idea: Going for a 2-hour run on the treadmill at the gym.
Bad Idea: Selecting the treadmill pointed at the TV playing a Bravo marathon of 'Pregnant in High Heels'.  
Even-Worse Idea: Letting said TV show convince you that your next career path should be as a 'Maternity Concierge'.

Anyway, after 2 hours and 13.4 miles, the knee was sore, but good.  Heck.  After 13+ miles, ALL of me was sore but good.  My knee and I were back in business.  

Since then, I've had a few more runs and started taking things outside again.  I even had a breakthrough workout yesterday where I rocked some super-fast splits on a tempo run.  Hopefully, that'll mean a good PR at Get in Gear next weekend.

So, what's the takeaway?  Well, I suppose #1 is that I've been very fortunate that I've only had to train hurt, and have never been laid out with a severe injury.  Beyond that, I've learned to be flexible when my body starts barking at me.  Things are going to hurt from time to time.  The best move is to nip it in the bud by making adjustments to the training schedule. Or better yet, do some preventative maintenance like stretching and foam-rolling to keep from getting hurt in the first place.

So, now that my engine is firing on all 6 cylinders again, I'm REALLY looking forward to seeing how things go at Get in Gear on Saturday.  I'll be doing the 10K and The Wife will be racing in the 5K.  I'm hoping that the staggered starts for these races will allow us to cross the finish line at the same time.  Stay tuned to find out what happens.

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