“Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.” -Eli Young Band
It has been awhile since I have posted here. If you followed me in the past, I hope you excuse my late follow up; I intentionally neglected the triathlon world for a while. I needed some time to discover the part of me that is not a competitive athlete and that has been more challenging than I ever thought. It took months of digging to find out I needed a serious overhaul in certain aspects of my life that I have always been able to escape by walking out the door and ramping up my heart rate.
I’ll start this off by explaining what put an early end to my first professional season. As I mentioned in my last post back in May, I had an issue with my knee (IT Band Syndrome and a splash of “Stop Messing with Me Syndrome”) after racing 5150 Kansas in May – but it did not stop there. I took some time off running, got into physical therapy, and was confident I would get back on the start line in time for the following ITU event in Edmonton. I was just beginning to see promising results in myself; I was not ready to stop.
Edmonton was three weeks after I did some more damage to my knee in Kansas, and I still could not walk without pain. With a week to go and a seriously botched attempt to run again, I was forced to remove myself from the start line of that race. Still, I felt that I would see enough finish lines this year. I was wrong. By the end of the season I would pull out of seven races.
While in PT during June and July, I kept my spirits high. I tried to push back the thoughts of failure, the thoughts of how I sacrificed a full time engineering job to race full time only to see neither. I increased my cycling and swimming volume rapidly and kept pushing my limits in both. I may have actually hit my best swimming fitness ever. I planned a comeback at a race almost every weekend in July. I kept believing that I was almost pain free and essentially set deadlines for my recovery. Reality came crashing down on me when I found that I could no longer bike without pain and walking hurt bad enough to limit my daily movement. By the end of July even swimming was painful. I saw another specialist in August after an MRI and found I had inflammation in my hamstring that was preventing a full recovery. That was when I finally realized my season was over –I needed to stop fighting my body. No more looking at race schedules, no more planning. Just rest.
Although a part of me knew I was making bad decisions, I continued to push my recovery. I desperately wanted to be back to normal –to train and race full throttle. This was a pretty emotional time, even though it was not the most severe injury. I had been dealing with the obnoxious pain in my knee for three months at this point, and would for two more. The physical pain certainly did not feel good, but the killer was the constant reminder that I was broken, and my dreams were fading away, with every step of every day. It really started to wear me down. I woke up in the morning, and my first step gave a sharp reminder that today was not the day I would be able to train. I started feeling a little like the fictional Dr. House, and it was all too often that a good mood would leave as I carefully maneuvered down a set of stairs.
In August I was prescribed nothing as my treatment. Nothing. I never realized how hard nothing would be. I was sedentary for the first time in my life, and I am in awe that some people continuously live like that –they are missing out on life itself. I hit twelve pounds over race weight at the peak, and have never felt so physically inept. It’s almost ironic that to deal with my problems I always have used intense exercise, so it was beyond frustrating to have my coping mechanism taken from me. I eventually began lifting upper body to stay sane.
Though it has been tough these last few months, there are a few silver linings in this season. First off and most importantly, I realize now that no matter what happens in the next year, or next couple years, I will be out there grinding until I am thrown in a nursing home. Being an athlete is not something that will ever leave me. It is encoded into my brain and revealed on my skin.
I have a year before I graduate as a Chemical Engineer from Purdue, and that means I may find myself with a real, full-time job soon. Previously, I thought that I would have to choose between a life as a poor athlete or as an engineer. However, I did qualify as a USAT Elite while I was working full time at an oil refinery with only two paid vacation days (one of which was taken so I could show up the day before my first Ironman in Texas – don’t ask how I managed that). I’ll gladly take the stress of 16 hour training+work days over being out of shape without thinking twice. I have made sacrifices that make even me blush as a student/athlete/employee, and a full time job certainly won’t change my stride.
Also, after gaining some weight due to low training loads I had to start looking into my diet more closely. I discovered some interesting, and healthy, methods via the book Race Weight by Matt Fitzgerald that gets me close to race weight without much training or drastic race week restrictions. In 2014 I’ll be able to use an optimized diet for more efficient training and faster racing.
The last thing I want to mention is I got a chance to do some part-time coaching this summer as a result of my injury. As the Vice President of Purdue Triathlon, I had already enjoyed working with new athletes and giving my insights. Having the chance to be in a formal coaching setting was even more rewarding than I had anticipated, and I hope to do more this upcoming summer.
What am I doing now? I am getting back into shape, slowly but surely. It is going to be a long road back with some major changes in my training strategy, but I can barely keep the excitement under control. I am three weeks into running, and I wake up on my running days like a kid on Christmas. I began swimming again after a month off, and I am starting to get the feel for the water back. I see through looking at other athletes blogs (Purdue Alumni Andrew Starykowicz, Jordan Rapp, and Jesse Thomas) that coming back from injuries magnitudes worse than my own is not only possible – but can lead you to coming back stronger than before.
Training after my injuries has reminded me why I do this; because I don’t know if I would be able to live without it. Every workout hits the reset button for me when life gets tough. For a limited time every day I am free to simply feel the air in my lungs and the blood pumping through my veins.
Thanks to all my friends and family that have helped keep my hopes high over the last few months.