“Something deep inside – keeps my faith alive.”
After an 10 month hiatus due to a stubborn knee injury (ITBS that I believe shifted into some nasty hamstring tendonitis)– I jumped into the draft legal sprint at Collegiate Nationals. The race was certainly a premature return to racing and I knew that. I raced because I felt the need to make the trip to support my team (Purdue Triathlon) in Tempe and see if I still have that competitive drive.
To be clear – this next part is not excuse, it is explanation of where I am in the recovery process and why I was pleased with my performance. Training has been minimal as I struggled with my injury. I went into the race on Friday with less than 200mi on the bike since August and less than 20mi of running since May (those don’t even hit the weekly mileages that are necessary to compete at the elite level). I even struggled to swim some weeks the last few months because pushing off the walls hurt. The 5k run at the end was my longest run since this injury latched itself to my knee.
Though I showed improvement in spurts, with different PTs and ideas – I did give up for a while on getting better. Looking for an internship for the summer and having a senior design and senior lab at the same time made for some long nights in February that did not help in that department (and will lead to more long nights in these upcoming weeks). There were times that I gave up on my daily recovery techniques, which weren’t really moving me forward anyhow. I started thinking of how to live with chronic knee pain at age 22.
However, I had luck at the end of March to work with local therapist Misty Bercerra down in Clermont while on spring break. She found that I was having major issues not with my IT Band (as I had last summer), but a large muscle deep in my hamstring that was pulling on my knee. Thirty minutes after working with her I was able to go for a 4 hour bike ride pain free. I even went for a short jog. It is clear to me that the reason why my knee has continued hurting is because my IT Band issues were essentially cleared up, but I was still having pain from tightness in my hamstring. This problem probably occurred while training through the ITBS last summer. My knee is certainly sore after the race, but I am getting weekly treatments that are cleaning up the hamstring and slowly releasing my knee.
To talk about the race itself – I am out of shape and it showed. Plain and simple. Draft legal racing is not a forgiving style of triathlon. Part of the reason why I have been chasing that avenue the last two years is because of that. It is not the Ironman style individual pursuit to the finish line. Your competitors can be your allies and opponents at different points in the race. You have to gut it out at times to stay in the game, for example to stay within a bike pack when the pace gets rough or bust out of the swim to bike transition to avoid getting gapped.
I got to the first buoy on the 750m swim course completely clean for once (thanks to some good positioning and a new strategy), in front of approximately 70 other athletes and then was quickly swallowed due to fatigue. I still managed to be 5th out of the water in front of a large pack that was mostly left behind in transition. I then had to dig to hold on as the lead pack formed around me. It was clear early on this was not the day that I would stay with the lead pack. My legs and lungs were not in the shape you need to stay up front in these draft legal courses, and burned each time the pace was pushed. By then end of it I fell out of two different bike groups. When I got to the run I went for a smooth and controlled jog as to not push my knee too hard, and crossed the finish line happy. That was the first finish line I crossed since May and it meant a lot to me.
Since I did not come up through the junior elite ranks, draft legal racing is still newer to me. Each time I have raced it I have pieced together another part of the puzzle on how to race them – which is tough in a race that can unfold so many different ways. Draft legal races change rapidly and I’m still learning how to reel people in and work intelligently. Being out of shape, I pushed myself tactically to put myself in the best position possible at all times, and corner aggressively in the front. Although my power is down, most of my bike training has been drills and as a result my handling skill are developing well.
I am happy with how I performed because I found that I can still dig deep to hold on when it hurts. In fact I still love to dig deep, to test that limit of where the lungs and legs feel like they will explode, even if that happens earlier than it should. That is one of the things I was worried about even with the knee recovery going well.
There will definitely be time between now and my next race. I need to focus on school and digging out my hamstring before I build back into full training. This race gave me faith that I can come back stronger than I was if I trust my body and put in the hours (and unfortunately dollars) to recover. This summer I plan to spend some extra time riding as I build back into it. That includes looking to jump in with a cycling team by where I will be working (I’ll be on the west side of Houston for this summer). I am looking at tentative triathlon races in August if the recovery continues to go this well.
Thanks to everyone who supports me out there. I’m glad to come out of the dark and see that my friends are racing well and hope to join them soon. Stay tuned – I may not back yet, but I am coming.