Friday, 17 July 2015

Injury is no excuse.

This might be the last post before The Outlaw, but a lot unexpected aggravation has happened so I wanted to update, so will dive straight in with the nuts and bolts of what's been going on.
Back in the last post from the Woodhall Sprint I mentioned a stomach injury that made running painful. After that race it has all been about the build up to the 140.6, and everything in terms of training and racing was constructed with that in mind.

So after that race I took a week off the running to give my stomach chance to rest. I turned out a week on Tuesday later to run a half marathon, and the pain was still there from the off. A jarring, stabbing pain with every stride low down in the bowel just above the pelvic area. I decided at the time to suck it up, and ended up running a 1hr 22min, which I was well happy with. The stomach soon settled, but a few more shorter sprints in the week still gave it jip. It just wasn’t getting better.

The next Saturday was an opportunity to take a recce of the bike course, doing the Southern and Northern loop of the Outlaw Course. On race day it will be South/North/South totalling 112 miles. Setting off from a local bike shop as a group doing South and then North made it 90 miles all in, and would give me a decent taster of what to expect.

On arrival I was surprised to find how many people were doing it in their comfortable riding gear, or on bikes that they wouldn’t be using come race day. For me this was a chance to simulate race day nutrition, my intended kit, the bit set up. A proper dry run. This was definitely out of the ordinary thinking among the group and I was surprised by that.

Langdale Lightweights before the ride. A nice bunch.
That said, it was a good group, led out by a couple of really capable pure bred cyclists from Langdale Lightweights that drove the pace. There were moments of beauty where we ate up the miles as a fully working chain gang, the guys on the right rolling forward and falling to the front of the ride, soon replaced by the man behind them as they trickled back round to the rear, and repeat. With 12 of us in the group that meant nobody was working at the max for too long at the front, and we were able to hold 21mph+ without too much bother at all.  It gave me confidence that 20mph should be achievable come race day without wrecking myself for the run.
One big decision that was made last winter was to give up the allotment to free up time to train in the evening. Might not sound a big deal, but after near continuous plot cultivation since we got married 14 years ago, and having long been my main source of relaxation, not to mention decent family food it was a big decision and 1 that troubled me. To counteract the inevitable feeling of loss I decided to dig over the front lawn and replace it with a small scale allotment plot. That way I still had the fun, without the hours and hours of commitment, the drive there, the drive back, and all the additional faff. Seemed like the perfect compromise, and has been working well.

And so I was stood in the front garden digging the beds on the Tuesday night, and felt a minor twinge in my back and shoulder. The twisting of the fork as I turned the soil seeming to pull my back & neck a tad. Nothing to worry about.

The some what demented looking front garden.


Training carried on and I still had the stomach pains.

On the Thursday I had the day off to take part in the Castle 2 Coast 2 Castle 100mile Cycle ride from Lincoln, (unsurprisingly to the coast) and back again. I had been given free entry and a snazzy cycling top courtesy of my Sponsors, Delta Simons, who put together a great team, and we had a decent ride there and back among mixed abilities, with the opportunity to talk and network along the way. It was a good day out and perfectly timed for some additional volume mileage in the legs. A quick lunch thrown in at the half way point in the sun made it all the more enjoyable.  A proper look round the back roads of the Shire.

Team Delta Simons outside the cathedral at the start of the ride.

As we headed back I got my foot down and made a break, wanting to test myself at pace over longer distance. The last 20 miles I put down alone at a decent pace and was pleased. Once we got back I packed up the car and took a bit of a jog between the car and the BBQ laid on by the organisers.  The stomach was agony instantly, and I swiftly stopped. It clearly wasn’t getting better and proving a proper problem with the running. I had dropped a significant portion of the weekly training mileage to help it heal to no avail, and I had noticed a few times when swimming it seemed to hurt as I rotated in the pool also. Maybe a trip to the doctors was in order. This I did and he indicated that a scan was in order and almost certainly would highlight a hernia. We had a chat, and I explained I couldn’t sort anything out until after the season was over, and he agreed to do what he could to get me through it.
The following Saturday was a swim race called The Amphibian. At 5km in 500m loops with a 100m run in between each swim loop it was again a tactical entry to give me some over distance race simulated practice before the big day. Lots of fun but competitive long distance stand alone events had seemed to fall perfectly to help with the final run in.

Once we arrived my concern for my stomach climbing out onto the run and hurting me motivated me to take a few painkillers to stop any bother. My brother had also decided to come out of retirement and give me a race, and my PHISH relay team mate Suzy had also entered the 5km with a pledge to skin me. Other friends were in the 2k, and Ella and my Dad were racing in the 1km, Ella being excited at her first full adult open water event. The painkillers seemed worth it to ensure we all had a great day.
I had a total target time of 1hr 22min in mind (including the runs) and knew that would put me top 5, depending on who turned up on the day. It was an achievable target and things started nicely. At the horn I got a cracking start, well away from the melee behind, and settled in with the front pack for the first 3 laps. People started dropping away as they finished the 1km and 2km races and left the 5km green hatted athletes dotted about. Now I was on my own, and the pace seemed to be easing.
About this time on the 5th lap Suzy pulled alongside me, and gave me an eyeballing as she swam level. For the rest of that loop we swam side by side, me eventually easing off & letting her get ahead round the last buoy so that I could draft and pull her ankle to psyche her out, knowing she hates it. Climbing out of the water my run was quicker and I got back into the water a good 10m ahead.
Before the first buoy however she was back past and in full stride. Try as I might I just couldn’t keep up, and by the end of the next lap she was in and out of the run phase before I climbed out. Nothing felt wrong, and I couldn't understand where the speed had gone.
Team mate Suzy Hegg laughing as she passes me on the run section....


...but nothing was going to spoil the picnic after.

From then it was clearly a bad day at the office and things felt slow. It just wasn’t coming together and I finished 11th with a novice time of 1hr 30min total. Absolutely abysmal. Knocking out the run splits left me with just a 6:58 min 400m pace average. Absolutely shocking.
No matter, it was a bit of race training fun, lots of family and friends present, and so we sat down and enjoyed the Picnic before heading home. I think more photos were taken of the picnic than the race. Picnic done, the day had turned from a wet murky start to glorious sunshine, so home to enjoy the garden.
By 3pm I was in agony. The painkillers had worn off and my back was spasming uncontrollably. It seemed that the poor swim had come from adding to and damaging the strained back/shoulder muscles earlier in the week and not realising. By now it was hurting to breath, and that night I barely managed any sleep not knowing what to do with myself. Every position standing/laying/sitting excruciating agony. Early Sunday morning required a trip to A&E that resulted in confirmation of torn back and intercostal muscles. The little muscles in-between the ribs being the reason it hurt so much to breath, like a belt with nails knocked into it, pressing in deeper as the chest expanded, tightening round the ribs.

Excellent Wifery after the hospital on Sunday Morning.

Home with some painkillers and anti-inflammatorys, and not a lot else that could be done I spent the next 48hrs unable to move, twitching, trying to find a way to sit or lay that wasn’t painful.
And so that was last week. By the end of the week with the glimmers of a recovery, and having not dared think about the upcoming Iron Distance I took to a few small runs to see how it coped. Limping along to a 9min mile pace for 3 miles seems terrible, and it is, but I was just pleased to be able to do. Swimming a week last Wednesday I managed 200m and got out in agony. By last Saturday I managed 0.75miles at a steady easy pace, but I could see a potential for a way forward, The Outlaw just maybe being possible with some swim adaption that means breathing only over my left shoulder, so every 4th stroke (rather than every 2). I could see how with some recovery time that plan might just see me through the swim. So Sunday I got on the bike and put down 65miles, again, at an easy pace of 18mph, but it didn't made things worse.
The biggest problem seems to be once you are warmed up and working hard there very quickly comes a point where I can’t catch my breath deep enough, and it results in a painful gasping. Most of the speed comes in the final throws of effort, when you are at your limit, the chest bursting, the legs on fire. By taking that away you lose the most the quickest. So annoying. A stitch developing quickly and prematurely that necessitates easing off swiftly. All I could keep doing is pushing this limit and gently stretching the muscles.
 This week has been more of the same, adding a bit more speed into each set where I can, before easing off in agony. That said, there has been no painkiller use, and every swim, every bike, every run yields improvement.
 So that is a very dry and succinct account of a miserable and stupid injury that has completely thrown my final plans for the Outlaw.  I have doubtless lost some form, but how much (or little) I don't know.
 What is interesting though, what's worth blogging about is how an injury like this has taught me more about myself and my limits.
You never know how you will respond to something until it happens. The first few days were just misery, laid there, but I kept saying to myself 'see how it goes, you've got 3 weeks, and that's a long time to heal'.
Once I could move about and think about the most gentle of runs I did them. It always seemed that whenever I was wincing in pain someone would drive or walk past. Always catching you at your worst point. To be fair I have had a lot of people express me concern and worry and tell me to take it easy and it has been touching to know people care. I would be saying the same thing if I saw someone doing what I am doing, but being in the situation and reading your own body I know that deep down it is capable. It all comes down to resolve.
It's weird, but I know that I need to hurt myself to improve myself enough to still be able to compete at a level that will do my training justice. It hurts, but it is about acceptance. This is the hand that has been dealt now, and I can either embrace it or fail. There is no middle ground. I am Martin, and for the next month of training and racing my body will have to hurt. Accepting that fact allows me to push on.
Swimming is the most acute, gasping for breath making the leg kick and spasm out involuntarily as I do. As much as it hurts though, it is strangely satisfying. Knowing that each breath stretches the muscles that little bit more, stopping them healing tight and stiff. Letting them know from the off that if they are weak and choose to get injured there will be no compromise. They have to conform, build up and repair, coming back stronger than ever. The weak link was shown, and it is being addressed. Of course this has to be tempered by not pushing it too far, because re injury will certainly now mean I wont make the start line, but that is the thing. What looks mental to the observer doesn't feel so bad from within. It is knowing that limit. Knowing when it is 'just pain' and when it is more. When it is damaging. It is finding that line, and pushing yourself up to it, careful to never cross it. I cannot advocate training through injury to anyone else, it is definitely not the wise course of action, I simply speak from my own perspective here.
 So from 140.6 seeming daunting and a challenge in itself, it is now 'can I do it at around 70% of form' and still 'race' the course, not just complete it. I have to admit I like the extra. The curve ball has swung in, and (hopefully) it is being dealt with. If you are going to do an iron distance you may as well make a challenge out of it. There's a good chance I will live to regret these words! but there is no alternative attitude right now.
 After the Outlaw I am looking forward to a 2 week holiday with family swimming the lochs of Scotland again, camping on the beaches in the North, hopefully getting wet with passing Orca and Porpoise.
 And then the pressure returns - the relays. The team have made it clear that these set backs are no excuse. This is motivating me to push on right now more than the Outlaw. The fear of letting down the team when we only missed National Gold by 14 seconds last year. Its easy to fail for yourself, but when others are depending on you, you are not just wasting your own efforts by giving up, but essentially the hours of training they have also committed. That can never happen.
Onwards and upwards. Thank you for reading, I know this has been one of the less interesting posts.