A Tough Decision

Tonight, with the advice and  help of my coach, I decided not to run the Surf City Half Marathon this weekend. Could I run the 13.1 miles?  Yes.  Could I finish in two hours or less?  Probably.

Will this help propel  my training and boost my confidence?

Not really.

Moreover, I could re-aggravate the leg injuries that ART therapy has helped me restore.  There's just not enough upside here, as Mel Kiper Jr. likes to say when evaluating NFL Draft prospects.  The funny thing is, I've known all along this is the right decision.  I signed up for Surf City without a clear head, still emotionally swelling from Ironman Arizona.  I had no business making such lofty plans mere days after such a big race. I know that now.

It could be worse though.  My buddy John, who has been pasting me in trail runs the past few Wednesday, felt a twinge in his leg this past week while I was in London.  He instantly knew it was serious.  IT band tightness.  John, too, is a scratch for this Sunday's Race.

Not such a Super Sunday after all.

I've had the great fortune of participating in multiple races, injury free.  This was to be John's first half marathon.  A big milestone in his life.  He worked very, very hard to get to this moment.  Perhaps too hard.  But this is just a heartbreaking turn of bad luck for him.  He told me that at first he almost wanted to cry he was so frustrated, the moment he knew his race was over before it started.

I'm sure we can all relate at some point.

For me, I'm reminded how blessed we are to arrive at the starting line ready to race.  Physically and mentally.  It's a gift in itself to feel healthy, alive and proud just moments before the starting gun pops.

Keep that in mind the next time you toe the line.  We are very, very lucky when our plans align with reality.

138 days and counting.

Get Better

Why do we push ourselves so hard as triathletes? Why do we spend our discretionary income hurting ourselves, mentally and physically?

What do we get out of it?  What are we looking for?

I think the answers to all these questions and more change over time.  We evolve from, "Because I want to know if I can do it," to, "Can I do it again?" to "How good can I do it consistently?"

But still, what's pushing us forward?  Is it desire?  Is it fear?  Is there some outside inspiration that propels us, ala Livestrong?  Does it come from within?  I wondered that today as I was enduring a painful Graston Technique in my ART session where a cold, blunt metal device that resembled a boomerang was being thrust back and forth into what felt like my hip bone.  I winced, grimaced and gripped the chair as I lay prone on my left hip.

Why am I doing this to myself?  What am I trying to prove that's worth all this pain?

For me, that answer, and the motivation that comes with it, changes every day.  It can be a song that fires me up.  An inspirational story pushing me forward.  An insult or jab from someone teasing me.  My coach saying something positive to me.  A trainer encouraging me to squeeze out one more rep.

But for every answer, there's a voice from within that says something.  A voice speaking to me.  "Go farther."  "Try harder."  "Push!"

And even on the ART therapist's table this morning amidst the pain and scowls, the only voice I really heard was, "Get better!"

Maybe that's what it's all about in this crazy sport. "Get Better."  Become a better swimmer.  Recover faster.  Learn something new about yourself. Explore a new trail.

Getting better hurts.  But I think the pain is necessary.

What do you think?

148 days and counting.

Officially Recovered

It didn't occur to me until late this afternoon that I had run three days in a row, each without pain.  Nearly six miles with several climbs on Friday, three miles yesterday following a long pain-free bike ride and today, nearly eight miles of trail running in just shy of 1.5 hours. Yeah, I'd say that marks a recovery or if nothing else, a significant improvement.

Duration: Two months exactly.  About one month longer than I ever expected.  But better late than never!

Now, what contributed to this recovery?  I think it's a number of things that all blended together:

-- Accepting the need for recovery: This was definitely the most difficult part of the process.  I thought I could just leap back from my Ironman after a few weeks and start workout out again for the next event.  Not even close.  Once I realized that, my real recovery began.

-- Listening to my body: I had twinges in my hips, knees and IT bands I wasn't used to, and instead of ignoring the pain I did something about it.  I pulled back on races, consulted my coach, personal trainer and ultimately, my ART therapist.  There's a time to ignore pain (perhaps in a race) and a time to acknowledge it (training, post-race).  I'm very grateful I chose the latter route.

-- Taking time to recover: Once I accepted that I needed a recovery, I decided to let the process run its course.  I'm inpatient, so this step was especially difficult.  But it's necessary because rushing through an injury will likely just make matters worse.

-- Extensive stretching: Instead of workout out, I stretched.  And when I wasn't stretching, I was trying to schedule a yoga class.  While it's nowhere near as fun (for me) as cycling out on the open road, I've felt the differences from stretching and foam rolling more often.  Combined with the ART therapy (below), my body has felt fresher lately.  In addition to stretching though, I got back on a strength training regimen that has helped my muscles replenish themselves.  I've been careful to primarily rely on body weight, cables or light weights and met with my trainer to ensure that all exercises helped alleviate my leg problems, not contribute further to them.

-- Active Release Technique therapy: ART therapy has made a huge difference, in my opinion.  I was skeptical at first but am now a believer.  My hips have experienced the biggest benefits so far from the gripping manipulation techniques, and my IT bands are no longer tight like they were in the weeks immediately following Ironman Arizona.

-- Overhauling my running form: I've used the past few weeks to try and ditch my heel-striking ways once and for all.  The process has been long and slow, and at time frustrating. I'm slower than usual.  My calves have been sore, but the end-result should be more pain-free running and ultimately I should be faster by leaning forward and relying more on forefoot striking.  The key for me has been not to get frustrated, or be intimidated by any upcoming races.  My light racing calendar this year is helping me emotionally accept being slower and the moment and being more diligent about learning to run again.

-- Re-emphasis on nutrition: The holidays added weight to my frame, but not the good kind. More like the chocolate kind.   There's probably more of a connection between my lack of recovery and poor nutrition than I'd care to admit.  But once the New Year rolled around, I took a balanced and healthy diet more seriously.  Do I think nutrition was the primary factor in helping me repair myself?  No.  But I do believe in the "body in, body out" mantra, and it's no coincidence that my recovery took a sharp turn for the better in January compared to December.

Will my recovery last?  Can I finally put Ironman Arizona in the rear-view mirror once and for all?  Time will tell.

But I'm finally ready to focus on on improvement, not recovery.  If you are recovering as well, I hope this primer helps you!

149 days and counting.

Graston (Torture) Technique

See these instruments? Do they kind of remind you of these instruments?

Yeah, me too.  That's what I thought this morning before work when I first saw Dr. Ben pull a device out that resembled a butter knife and told me, "this is going to hurt a little bit."

At least in surgery you get an anesthetic.

The device Dr. Ben used is called a Graston tool, one of six that encompass the Graston Technique, which helps alleviate adhesion in soft tissue muscle.  From what Dr. Ben explained, an adhesion occurs when soft tissue or fascia crosses over onto itself or becomes knotty.  It should be smooth and run parallel to muscle.

One of the by-products of the Graston Technique is bruising of the affected area on your body.  It's done on purpose to help restore blood flow and dissolve bad tissue.  Dr. Ben told me to expect a fairly heavy amount of bruising over the next two days.  I'm starting to bruise tonight, 10 hours later.  Let's see what happens when I wake up.

The pain is manageable.  It feels like a sharper version of a rolling pin moving across your affected area, though the Graston tool generates a hot sensation on your skin from the friction (though gel is applied first).  If you've had a lot of massage work done, the pain is similar to a deep tissue massage.  On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being screaming in pain from a brutal massage, my first Graston session was a 6.  Not comfortable, not pleasant, but I've faced much worse.

The reward?  A lunge stretch with Dr. Ben immediately following the treatment and feeling no pain in my hip area at all.

Was that because of numbness?  Maybe.  Did I care?  Not at all.

In fact, I rewarded myself with breakfast across the street.   It's not unlike being a little kid when after scraping myself I'd beg for chocolate ice cream as a "reward" for my bravery having alcohol rubbed on the wound.

I'll post pictures of my bruise tomorrow if it gets nasty.

And now, bed time.

152 days and counting.

Hips and a New Workout Regimen

Before jumping into what amounted to a fairly important two days in my training and tri-writing career, I wanted to share my second "Mind Games" column for Lava Magazine online.  I'm pretty proud of this one, and hope it somehow helps you in your training if you've ever gone through or are going through some tough times right now. If you haven't already, check it out and let me know what ya think or if you've found other methods have helped you overcome disappointment. OK, now to our regularly scheduled blog post.  Apologies for not writing last night -- Steph and I had a wedding-related class and got home late.

So here below is an unedited IM chat my physical trainer, Shannan, shared with me that she had with a grad school professor of hers.  He’s a Ph.D. in biomechanics and doctor of physical therapy.  This conversation occurred after I described to Shannan my ART therapist's analysis of my hip area problems, which were initially diagnosed as psoas-related, then we moved to the hip flexor, and now we've been looking at the gluteus medius.  This of course relates to all the post IM Arizona problems I've been having.

Shannan thought the problem may be something else.  And she's been right about me before.  Shannan's the one who attributed my early IT band troubles in my running career to flat feet and advised I get fitted with orthotics.  I did, and my IT band problems went away. So, Shannan has accurately predicted things in the past.

Here's the IM chat:

Shannan: Hey- I have a case study for you, 90% sure it’s  trochanteric bursitis or G. medius tendonitis; abnormal hip pathology is primary symptom.

Male; mid-30’s; fine-boned; ironman finisher; significant pronator (wears bilateral orthotics); confirmed leg-length discrepancy; palpable abnormality at the greater trochanter.  His ART guy thinks it’s an overactive G.med but unless he strained it there’s no way…I can visually see a mass and I can feel the difference.

Doctor: History of back injury? Lower back problems, glute insufficiencies?  What are his running habits (trail, road, treadmill)?

Shannan: He has spondy, little scoliosis, glutes are pretty insufficient but no L4-S1 acute injuries that I know about; in other words nothing that would prevent building them up.  He does a lot of trail running…

Doctor: I would do a Trendelenburg test to check out his abductor reflexes.

Shannan: Yeah, I’m thinking it’s an abductor weakness (not overworked as the ART therapist suggested), but I stopped the abductor exercises because I don’t want to provoke the inflammation??

Doctor: Right, usually an ultrasound is needed to determine exact etiology; however, bursitis will not cause pain upon resisted abduction, but G. medius will hurt like a mo fo (well, mo fo point tenderness pain).  Keep off the abductor exercises until pain goes away a bit, but you’re correct in diagnosing the abd weakness.  Build up his glutes, too.

Shannan: What about stretching?  Deep tiss massage?

Doctor: Massage is good to deliver blood flow; stretch all he wants, but it’s not going to help if it’s articular.  I suggest he gets those orthotics checked; at the rate he trains he may need a new set every 6 months.  Also, until the condition improves I do not recommend trail running because the uneven surface does not help- both conditions are caused by some type of asymmetry, and trail running is contradictory.  I understand the training demands, but he should run on flat surfaces.  ART is fine, never hurts.  What’s his size?

Shannan: He’s 5’7” and probably around 137-140 this week.  Fine-boned

Doctor: He’ll have a double hip replacement at this rate…

Aside from being mildly annoyed with being called "fine-boned" (what am I, a herring?), the last sentence obviously got my attention.  It's what occupied a good portion of discussion today in my personal training session with Shannan.  Fortunately, she doesn't think I'm on track for such a dreadful fate.  It was the doctor being off-the-cuff and dramatic, in her words.

Instead, after doing some mobility drills and balance tests where I stood on one-leg and resisted pressure using my legs to push outward, Shannan thinks the problem is tendinitis or bursitis in the hip joint that connects the femur.  That would explain the puffiness as it's likely fluid build-up.  The solution, in her opinion, is getting an ultrasound at my MD office and then a shot to reduce the inflammation.

That sounds a LOT better than replacing two bad hips!

To combat the problem, Shannan produced the following workout regimen.  I'll be doing this twice a week for the next few weeks and will let you know how it goes.

153 days and counting.

PS: I have contacted Newton about reviewing a pair of shoes for the blog based on your passionate feedback about how much good they've done some of you. So far, Newton has been amazingly responsive and open.  I'm embarking upon this experiment against the wishes of my coach and ART therapist.  But that's where the potential lies for a great story.  I'm thinking of it as the Newton Challenge.  If they're good for me, they're good for anyone.  Newton's up for the challenge and I'm up for the risk.  I'll use the shoes exactly as intended in the ramp-up period and share what I find at the end.  I'll drop a few snippets here on the blog to give you an idea on how it's going.

Pain in the Butt

So tired tonight.  The week has caught up with me.  Poor sleep the last couple nights has caught up with me.  Perhaps not eating enough has caught up with me.  The result was a slower than usual swim session tonight with the Fortius team.  I think I just bonked, but it's also hard to go faster in the water when you're trying to constantly implement all the feedback from each drill.  Flutter kick to avoid crazy legs.  Make sure you're making a bow like an archer on your upstroke.  Keep your arm out wide enough so as not to cross over your body on the downstroke.  But not too wide!  Relax!  Your shoulders are tense. Just listening sometimes is exhausting!

Is it possible for words to physically weigh you down in the water, like a rusty anchor?

The one buoyant bit of news today came from my ART guru, Dr. Ben Kleinbrodt. We're getting close to isolating my leg problems.  It seems my right gluteus medius (not quite your butt, but the side part of your butt connecting hip to butt) is puffy and swollen.  It's easy to see when I'm wearing tight shorts.  (Not sure it's appropriate to share a photo, it's not that kind of website haha!)  Dr. Ben thinks it's because I lean to the left, and my skeletal structure forces extra pressure on the right side of the body.  This hip/butt pressure tightens my psoas, which tightens my hip flexor, which in turn can tighten the IT band.

It's kind of a big deal.  Dr. Ben told me to focus on foam rolling my right hip/butt area for at least five minutes a night.  He also told me to increase my running mileage a bit, that my body is responding well to the treatments and exercises.

I'll have plenty of time tomorrow to stretch.  I missed a cycling workout on the trainer today to accommodate my ART session.  And since I'm a bit overtired from the week, there's no making that session up.  I can't stand missing training sessions.

Ah well. In reading this post I sound a little cranky and whiny. Let's call it a night.

Hope everyone's training out there is going well.  Hang in there!  There are days like this that dot all of our training cycles.  It's just part of the journey.  Part of the process.

159 days and counting.

Trivial Pursuits

I was prepared to write all about my  first ART session today in Brentwood with Benjamin W. Kleinbrodt, DC, CCSP.  I was eager to share all the details of how jacked up my body is structurally, how Ben gasped as I showed off my bare legs and said "it's a miracle I can do any (endurance events) at all" based on my pronated ("super flat") feet, inversely rotated tibias, and a generally crooked and ill-proportioned body. Then, this evening, I volunteered at a homeless shelter on Skid Row preparing and serving meals.

I am humbled and embarrassed. So much of this blog space has been devoted to what I feel or think about triathlon. I live inside my head.  In my own world.  Deep in the "pain cave" or the "hurt locker" at times.  Where it's solitary confinement by choice.  Many of us triathletes live there, by choice.  And yet while I (we?) think about our mileage and our raw, organic meals or exactly when in the day we should have our next protein shake, tens of thousands of people in my city alone are wondering when they're going to eat next.  Their pain cave is a lot deeper, a lot colder and infinitely harsher.

I am simply shell-shocked tonight.  I'm ashamed to write that I've never been to a homeless shelter.  Until this moment, "the homeless" have mostly been a group I could disassociate with.  I could write a check to a cause and consider myself a good person.  But interact with them?  Surely that was someone else's responsibility.  If a homeless person approached and I had money, I'd almost always give it (remember this summer's "drug bust"???).  So I'd smile within and think, "That was a nice mitzvah (good deed) I just did.  I'm a good person."  But I'd also just as easily try to cross the street or avoid eye contact.

Tonight, I met several people without homes.  And I emphasize PEOPLE.  People who have bad luck.  Or are ill.  Or maybe haven't been the nicest or the best they could be.  But, as I looked at every person I could who humbly put their hands out for a hot plate of food, I saw two eyes looking back at me.  Real people.  Not covered in blankets.  Not shrouded in the dark, or cocooned in a sleeping bag with a cup to leave some money.  Functioning people in regular clothes, some with kids, some full families.  And the food line just kept growing, so much so that the kitchen had to close and three hungry people were turned away.

What a wake-up call.

We are all lucky to have lives where we can challenge ourselves on a higher level. We have the means and the resources to pursue being our best.  But I have been guilty of focusing too much on one journey -- achievement -- at the expense of another -- fellowship.  Have I really been pushing myself to be the best I can be if it took 36 years before I saw the inside of a homeless shelter?

Tonight that changes forever. Stephanie and I will volunteer at the homeless shelter more often.  I have to.  It is already done.

I love triathlon.  I love the lessons I've learned from the sport.  But tonight I was reminded of perhaps the toughest lesson of all about it: It can be a selfish pursuit.  Ultimately, helping someone get a hot meal is a lot more important.  And a lot more satisfying.

My life changed tonight.  And I've never been more ashamed to admit it.  I should have been doing this years ago.

187 days and counting.