In retrospect, it would have been best to have done something two years ago when my hamstring began to hurt. However, triathletes, on a whole, usually try to fight through the pain in order to compete in the sport they love; I am no exception. Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes, and treating a pain flare up right away is a prudent course of action. However, if you tried to treat every niggle, you would never compete. There is a grey area or blurred lines between pushing through the pain and stopping training all together to receive treatment. As an athlete, you usually flip the coin as to whether you continue and sometimes these flips do not go in your favor. I had been flipping this imaginary coin for a couple of years before my luck ran out in May of this year.
A lot of what I write about is so others do not necessarily emulate but maybe learn from my trials and tribulations. This is why we are releasing our first manual, Life of a Triathlete: Race Preparation, www.lifeoftriathlete.com, and why I enjoy writing for partners like Recovery Pump. If I can help individuals by relaying my experiences then it makes the process worthwhile. The reason I am prefacing this is because everyone is different, especially in regard to their bodies and injuries. Showing the process that I went down and the rabbit hole that it became should be an eye opener for others in a similar predicament.
My right high hamstring/glute had been bothering me for the better part of two years yet it got to a point where racing became a chore after Ironman New Zealand 2016. My right leg was just a passenger on the bike and run as my left side carried it around. Obviously this is not a good recipe for speed and a tremendous recipe for further injury. Your mind drifts to a point where, at one time you could fight through the pain, all thoughts are on just finishing the workout or race. This isn’t something you can mentally block out; once that niggle gravitates towards injury, training and racing does not become fun or rewarding. After Ironman St. George 70.3, I performed multitudes of therapy; everything but complete rest. You always have a glimmer of hope that something will miraculously heal. However, after Ironman Mt. Tremblant 70.3, I knew for sure it was time to batten down the hatches and take care of the injury.
I was able to get in with a well respected doctor in the Bay Area after Ironman Mt. Tremblant 70.3. He examined my MRI and some of his words seemed alarming yet they made so much sense. He stated there is no such thing as a perfect MRI for an athlete, especially a professional. For example, all Major League Baseball pitchers have micro tears and damage; the question is when that damaged area will become a problem for the athlete where it affects their performance. He said that both of my hamstrings and gluteal muscles had tears. However, my problematic area, for one reason or another, was creating unbearable pain to the point where it is impossible to run at top speed. Easy tasks like bending over to tie your shoe were now tedious and painful. My good leg, for one reason or another, had little pain even though there was the same damage on both of them. My doctor said you can’t explain these types of things, so you try to treat it and rehab accordingly. It could be a case where the damaged area was swelling into some nerves or certain fibers had been severed that created an unusually high pain point. Whatever the reason, it needed to be fixed to be able to compete at the ever increasing level of professional female triathletes in this day and age.
The old adage goes it takes courage and discipline to recover. Treating an injury is a battle of patience. To stop what you have been doing all your life, working out and training, is no easy task as athletes can attest to. However, if you do not do it right, you are destined to repeat the same mistakes and it becomes an endless hole that is tough to crawl out of. The day is still filled with many activities; there are always things to do with your business, sponsors, giving back to the triathlon community, rehab, yoga, the exercises that you CAN do, physical therapy, maintenance, family, friends, life etc…However, the enormous chunk of the day that training takes up has been altered. The best advice is to keep your mind occupied, improve other areas of your life that may have been neglected (the spring cleaning that has been on hold for four years has finally happened!), and rest.
As my rehab enters its third week, I have been concentrating on heat, ice, compression and repeat. My Recovery Boots have been working overtime as I work diligently to heal and massage the tender hamstring. I am thankful to be able to swim, bumped up strength sessions and have incorporated stretching, Bikram Yoga and continued physical therapy into my routine to keep from scar tissue building up and to make the affected area stronger. Hopefully, as the saying goes, we will take one step backwards to take two steps forward and the body will eventually thank me for it!
My last thought is to always forge ahead. It can be easy to sit back, rely on others, or think "why did this happen to me." Triathlon racing is a roller coaster ride and all you can do is weather the storm and keep your eyes on the prize for that elusive perfect race. As with anything in life, there is no knight in shining armor or magic formula that is going to swoop in and miraculously save the day. If you are smart, prudent, and calculated with your actions following an injury, you can be back better than ever before you know it. Patience is a virtue!
- Meredith Kessler