Tag Archives: injury

Running at Shawnigan Lake Triathlon

This one weird trick will change the way you run

…and you’ll never guess what it is!

Just tear your ACL, get knee surgery, and be forced to teach yourself to run all over again. Easy-peasy!

No really, if there was a blessing in disguise for being off running for a couple of years, it was that I had to learn to run again.

Recovery was slow but steady, but running and triathlon training have been a different kettle of fish.

The fact that I am now regularly running 10k – and have signed up for a fall half marathon, is a miracle of modern medicine. And, to be honest, a testament to my following my physiotherapist’s instructions.

I began by “running” only the straightaways on a track, walking the curves, but it was clear from the very first foray that I would have to run differently.

I would have to run more efficiently, on my forefoot, the way Victoria runner Marilyn Arsenault tried to teach me years ago while I was training for my second or third marathon.

I had signed up for one of her clinics, then got impatient and left the group because I felt re-learning my running gait was interfering with my training. So I remained a heel-striker through my journey into triathlon some years later.

Then the knee injury and the surgery and the recovery.

So there I was, on the track, ready to run for the first time in two and a half years. I started out tentatively and immediately felt pain shoot up through the newly-reconstructed knee.

Discouraged wasn’t nearly a strong enough word. My tears said it all, and Ken could only commiserate.

Then I remembered the two or three Mindful Strides sessions I did manage to get through years ago in Victoria.

Then and there, I switched my running gait to land more on my forefoot, with my bodyweight firmly under me.

Quite frankly, it was the only way I could run without pain. I was astounded that by switching up my gait, there was no pain at all.

I was running again!

I was slow as molasses. It was deliberate and exhausting, but exhilarating. It was a total of about 2 kilometres. But I was running, and it was pain-free.

I’ve been slowly building up fitness ever since. I’ve been incorporating strength training into my routine as well.

I haven’t been working on speed in the last year I’ve been running – just putting in some mileage, getting used to the idea of running and doing triathlons again. I’ve done a few hills now and then (they’re hard to avoid, living in Vancouver).

I’m still slower than I was pre-injury, but I’m hoping that’s because I haven’t deliberately trained for much of anything except completing a couple of 10k events last year.

Training starts in earnest mid-July for the Victoria Half. Then next year? Bring on the 2018 triathlon season!

Photo credit: Connie Walters Dunwoody

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Physiotherapist taping up someone's knee

Under the knife – coping with major sports injury

What happens when a triathlete suddenly can’t be a triathlete?

Physiotherapist taping up someone's kneeFifteen months ago, I tore up my left knee after a fall while hiking: meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament. Since last August I’ve been waiting for reconstructive surgery. I haven’t run a step since January 2014 when the injury happened, and it took several weeks to gingerly get in the pool, and several months to be able to get on my bike.

It’s been tough, especially since I was a runner first, and running is my main stress-reliever. It’s been my go-to for blowing off steam for as long as I can remember, because it’s so easy. No bike tires to pump up, no open pool lanes to find. Just lace up shoes and exit the front door.

“With people coming to sports as a way of moderating depression or stress, warding off illnesses like heart disease or cancer, or to lose weight, the stakes are higher. When injured, they not only have to deal with the pain and stress of being injured, but they have lost a primary coping strategy,” said one article I read (Tarkan 2000), and that has been very much my experience.

Last season I did a couple of relays, but it wasn’t the same. Triathlon is a sport in itself, because when you’re doing one leg, you’re always thinking of transition, and how the next phase of the race is going to be affected by what you’re doing now. That’s what I loved about both rock climbing and triathlon: the problem-solving.

And I haven’t been able to do it for more than a year. Once surgery comes, I will be in recovery for months more.

“It’s often said that being a triathlete is a life-style rather than a reflection of having raced in a triathlon. It is a cornerstone of a person’s identity and self-esteem … The unspeakable fear is, “What happens if full recovery never comes?” Serious injury can rattle the very foundation of one’s identity,” says a guy named, I kid you not, Dr. Charlie Brown in a blog post from 2000. As a result, many athletes can get clinically depressed after injury: “Research has shown that some of the more common psychological responses to injury (ie, depression, anger, anxiety) are amplified in cases of more severe injury, such as a traumatic ACL injury,” (McCardle 2010).

I have many friends who had major injuries requiring surgery, so I turned to some of them for this post, asking how they coped. Not surprisingly, the friends least prone to depression were the ones who immediately responded to my request.

My triathlete friend Connie has had two major surgeries in the last several years: to repair a hamstring avulsion (it was torn right off her sit-bone), and then a broken wrist.

My climbing friend Dave has had several surgeries: one resulting from a dislocated shoulder as a result of a fall, another a ripped biceps from a particularly strenuous move at a gym, and more recently some foot surgeries to deal with arthritis.

“There was a 7-day delay for the hamstring surgery because the first surgeon who was on call didn’t know how to do it,” said Connie in a text message. “This was June 2010, two weeks before the first Half Iron I was supposed to do …. I was in a specially constructed brace … I sat on the front porch for 8 weeks. Peter [her husband] would make me a pot of coffee, put cream and sugar in it and leave it in a thermos for me …. I was already signed up for the October Half Marathon. I shed exactly three tears, then started wondering from whom I could borrow a racing wheelchair. LOL. I didn’t get depressed but I did worry it’d never be normal again. I don’t think I realized how worried I was until my first “run,” which was about 8 minutes per K. I kind of lurched along.”

Let me just add here that Connie is one of the sunniest, friendliest, most fun-loving people I know, and I wasn’t surprised at all to hear that she coped well with this injury, which happened before I knew her. However, I did know her when she broke her wrist a couple of years later, and that was a little harder to deal with.

“The wrist was more debilitating than that. I had never been in so much pain and I completely underestimated the recovery that would be necessary. I knew I’d be in a cast for at least 6 weeks after surgery. And I was; that was all fine. I couldn’t cycle, even on the trainer, because I couldn’t hold myself up. I couldn’t run/walk because it swelled. I couldn’t do anything for myself,” she said.

It was when the second surgery to remove the pins happened that finally threw Connie into a funk. “I TOTALLY underestimated how that was ‘like another break’ because of the space left by the pin. Was in the cast 8 weeks and then 6 more weeks of recovery.

I lost 40% of my range of motion. For example, I can’t pull myself out of the pool by putting my hands on the side and hoisting myself up. I have only just gone down on the drops [while cycling]; it hurt for a long time and I think I was a bit depressed because I couldn’t even cycle. …. [But now] I am back to training … and it feels good!!!”

As for Dave (a retired teacher who lives in the Kootenays), after the second injury in 2001-2002, he never did technical rock climbing again, “I figured maybe it was time to quit. I started that stuff late in life, so it wasn’t a big deal. I realized I couldn’t climb the way I could before – but I never could climb very well. I was always uneasy about technical rock climbing. I learned a lot about movement of body and rope management though. For me it was almost a minor relief that I didn’t have to do that anymore. I got more into mountaineering.”

What has been more difficult for Dave is recovering from foot surgeries to correct the effects of osteoarthritis: “My feet have caused me big problems. They would be so painful after spending a day in the mountaineering boots.” Dave has had joints fused in three toes on one foot, and big toe surgery in the other one. “I’m just finished the recovery process and I’m still hiking and bushwhacking – but long days on rough terrain is becoming too hard. Although we trekked for three weeks in Nepal last year … as long as I can still hike it’s OK.”

Dave has never been the type of guy to let little things like injuries get in the way of doing what he loves – being out in the mountains. Both he and Connie are inspirations to me as I wait for my ACL reconstruction surgery. I can still walk a bit, and I can still cycle and swim. It’s an adjustment, but humans are adaptable.

Or, as Dave says: “If you get out and do anything, stuff happens. And then you get older, and different stuff happens. You just deal with it.”

Further reading:

Image: “Sports Injuries and Physiotherapy” by Durrah Ramli, used under Creative Commons License

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Four things I knew already, but forgot, before the Shawnigan 2014 triathlon

In descending order of importance, except for #6 Extra Bonus – you could just skip to that part right now if you wanted.

1. Endurance sport is all about mental toughness, and mental toughness is a skill borne of habit and routine.

All last year, and the year before that as a runner, and the year before that as a marathoner, back to 2009 and my first ever marathon, I have a week-long (or more) pre-race routine: each morning I wake up to “Love Like a Sunset” Parts 1 and 2 and visualize race day. I close my eyes and imagine the start, the middle, the end: the hurdles I’ll face; how I’ll overcome them because of my experience and training; how it will be tough, but I’ll come through it; how I’ll want to quit, but I won’t because the finish line is so sweet. And I visualize crossing the finish line triumphant.

Shawnigan triathlon swim start

Photo by Connie Walters-Dunwoody, all rights hers, used with permission

I didn’t do that this time. I think I was in denial. My unconscious thoughts were: I’m injured and have been slow to recover; I can’t do this whole race anyway; I can’t run (in fact I’ll probably need surgery before I can run again); I’ve gained weight; I’m slower even than usual; I’m shouldn’t take this too seriously because really, what am I doing out there in the first place?

My conscious thoughts were: I’ve been swimming like a dolphin; I don’t need to think about this; this is ‘only’ 500 metres; I don’t get to cross a finish line; it’s just a little swim in the lake; I’m an “old hand” at this; I don’t need to really think about it.

I didn’t even pack my gear until the morning I left for Shawnigan, though I had meant to pack the night before, then go for a little “shake out” bike ride Saturday morning before leaving.

As usual, race morning jitters hit me after breakfast race day, but this time worse than ever. Confession: I was almost in panic mode standing on the shore an hour and a half before my wave started, trying not to let it show as my relay team-mate Darcie and I watched the Trestle Challenge and Olympic distance racers embark on their swim. I posted a photo saying how nervous I was, but other than that I didn’t know how to calm myself down.

In hindsight a better course of action may have been to find a quiet place, dial up Phoenix on my phone, breathe deeply, and visualize myself swimming confidently through the cold water to a 10-minute swim split. Then do it again and again until it was time to get in the water.

2. Swimming is harder than it seems like it should be

I worked hard at swimming this winter, because it was pretty much the only thing I could do after I got off the crutches. Yet, my time for this 500 metre open water swim was, at 12 minutes, only 26 seconds faster than last year’s performance. I was confident I would make it in 10 minutes or less this year.

Tori peeking around other swimmers to mug for the camera

Photo by Connie Walters-Dunwoody; all rights hers, used with permission

I had a good warmup, which calmed my nerves. Then we stood on shore for 15 minutes waiting for my wave (the final wave) to start. I joked around with my teammates, and mugged for the camera a couple times, but I was shivering when we finally got in the water. Then the horn sounded, and I swam. I went out fast, trying to follow a speedy swimmer’s bubbles (the lovely Donna Morrisey actually), trying to see what it is like not to hang back, not to swim wide trying to avoid other swimmers.

I had no trouble being with the other swimmers, but I froze up 50m out from shore. I had gone out too fast; I wasn’t relaxed.

Full blown get me the f**k out of here panic.

Gasping for air, disoriented and thinking “I can’t do this, I can’t do this,” I stopped completely, floated in place and watched other swimmers pull away from me. Breathe. Breathe again. Sighted the first buoy. Told myself “I CAN do this. I’ve done it before, many times, in water colder than this. Get a grip, calm down and just swim. No-one cares if you win or not. No one even cares if you finish. No pressure. Just. Swim.”

So I did. At my own pace. To my surprise I aimed straight for the buoy and actually almost hit it. I rounded it, went straight for the next buoy and almost hit it too – no zig-zagging (my biggest problem last year.) I relaxed and tried to let go of expectations. I swam to within 3 steps of shore and exited the water, and then had trouble getting my wet suit off. Erg.

3. Leave the arm warmers off, or wear them under the wetsuit.

Tori in transition @1 swim to bike

Yeah, those arm warmers ain’t doing jack, and it took 150 seconds to put them on. Photo by Darcie Nolan-Davidson; all rights hers, used with permission.

It was a chilly, rainy day and I wondered how to get an extra layer on in transition for the bike. I rolled arm warmers like I roll my socks – all ready to unroll up my arms (or feet). But it took too long. I spent nearly 5 whole freaking minutes in T1, most of it trying to get arm warmers on wet arms. Gah.

Iron distance finisher and teammate, Coach Lindsey, told me later she just puts them on under her wetsuit – they dry as fast as a trisuit anyway. Double Gah.

4. It doesn’t f**king matter if it’s a bit chilly

I didn’t even need the arm warmers. I didn’t wear socks. I didn’t wear gloves. I didn’t even need sunscreen because it was cloudy. Transition could have been 2 and a half minutes, not 5, and it would not have mattered one little bit to my bike time. Racing is different from just being out for a ride. I’m working harder, I’m more focused.

5. Bonus: I love cycling

My bike split was 57:29, an average pace of 23.1 km/h on a rolling hills course; nearly 8 minutes slower than last year. I got passed by a hybrid AND a mountain bike at first! (I overtook them on the hills later…) And yet, I was happy with this performance. I only started cycling “for real” again about two or three weeks ago, getting off the tame, flat Galloping Goose trail to do the slightly more challenging waterfront-mid-peninsula routes I was doing regularly at this time last year. Heck, I had done a metric century ride in March last year leading up to triathlon season!

My physiotherapist still wants me to take it easy on the hills, and in truth I have no choice – I’m outta shape! But not as out of shape as I thought I was. I only had to ice my knee a little bit after I got home …

6. Extra bonus: Darcie is my hero

Tori, Darcie and Connie

Limp, Grunt, and Gasp. Selfie by Connie. Use with caution. 🙂

My team was called TriStars Limp, Grunt and Gasp. I was the Limp because of my knee injury, and Connie was the Gasp, because when she signed on to do the run portion of this relay team she was sick with a bad flu AND recovering from wrist surgery. Unfortunately, she had a coughing relapse a couple of weeks before the triathlon and couldn’t compete, so I ended up doing the swim and bike while Darcie – the Grunt – did the run.

Tori and Darcie

Tori and Darcie

But get this: Darcie was Grunt because six weeks before Shawnigan Triathlon she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. SIX WEEKS POST-PARTUM PEOPLE. If that’s not determination I don’t know what is. Baby Abby has one helluva superhero mom, don’cha think?

See you at the Victoria Subaru Sprint, Olympic and Half Ironman in June! I’ll be swimming the Olympic relay distance as with Peter and Connie as part of TriStars Team Scrambled Legs.

Note to racer #799 with the Aussie accent:

… did you get a timely ride back to the finish? Bad luck with that flat and no spare, sorry I couldn’t help you out more. ’Til next time!

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