Coping with, and how to avoid injuries
I am writing this blog in a pretty positive mood compared to how I have been for the past few weeks - since my crash-out in Cape Town and my development of a knee problem, which started before that crash. I’m not going to lie I have been a bit of a misery at times, as some of my nearest and dearest would be able to tell you! But I have done all I could to make the best of the situation and so I thought I would share what I have learned from the (ongoing) experience and hopefully you can take something from it too.
I just found out today that I will be racing the London World Triathlon Series event at the weekend, hence the positive mood! This was a nice reward for a few weeks of frustration and ambiguity of when /where I would be racing.
Before crashing in Cape Town I was actually carrying a bit of knee pain that had started the week before the race. I went to the race anyway and hoped that a few days off running would allow it to settle down and I could race fine on it. Whatever would have happened with the knee in the race didn’t, as I ended up being taken out on the bike by another athlete and hit the ground pretty hard (video of it can be seen on this blog). I went home with lots of road rash, a shoulder that I could barely move and a destroyed Zipp 303 and pretty much forgot about the knee! This was just 3 weeks after I had slid out on some mud in training too, so some just-healed cut had been re-opened! The worst thing about these smaller crashes is always the frustration of knowing the time off you are most likely going to have to take to recover. The pain is not something that bothers me, it’s more the feeling of weeks and months of training going to waste.
I decided to take a few days off because of deep cuts, an arm I couldn’t move and bruising and road rash all over my body. I was also hoping that a bit of forced rest would clear the knee up. My head went down after a few days of not really feeling any better and the rest turned into 1 week.
I started training again after the week off and soon realised that the knee problem had not left me. I was ok riding and swimming but running was aggravating it. So I stopped running for a few days. This is something I believe in: that you are better having a few days off and doing what you can without pain then over-doing it and making things worse. But then after a few more days it started hurting when cycling too. This is when things started to get very frustrating. I was now down to swimming and gym! At this point I was treating the problem with ice and anti-inflammatories but it obviously wasn’t working. So I decided to get some advice and some treatment on it from physios. I am lucky enough to have a girlfriend who is a great Physio and she helped me a lot with the treatments – needling, kinesio-taping, massage and strengthening exercises. It turned out to be an issue with the dreaded ITB, which was rubbing over the bones in the knee – a common problem in running and cycling.
Living at the pool/gym!
While I was sorting the knee out I was swimming twice a day and doing gym 5 times per week as I had read-up on and agreed on exercises to help the problem. I figured that I might as well use the time to hammer the swimming and get myself closer to being a real WTS front-pack swimmer! I could have aqua-jogged but I think that working on my swimming was better for my overall performance and more functional in triathlon terms. It would also serve as a good replacement for the lost volume from not being able to bike or run. But I have to say – swimming twice a day is BORING! I don’t know how swimmers do it. But I knew it was the best thing to be doing so I just sucked it up and got on with it. I did the odd short run/bike here and there to test the knee but for two weeks I felt like I was living at the pool!
During a time of injury I think everyone goes through the thoughts of: ‘What is the point?’, ‘Should I just quit?’ and ‘I don’t even feel like and athlete right now!’ It is very hard to stay positive but at the same time so important. Positivity will make the whole process of recovery easier and I believe it also helps you to recover more quickly. I did this by taking myself out of my normal training environment for a few days and heading to Bath to see friends. It helps take my mind off the injury and gives some perspective to a relatively small problem.
Since then my recovery has been much quicker and after delving a bit deeper into what to do about the problem, I was told that it was ok to bike and run on it up to the point of pain. With the interventions I have added it is much more manageable now and hopefully on the mend. One of the more unusual therapies I have had for it was “Cupping”. A really weird, unpleasant treatment that seems like something from medieval times – but I found it to be very effective for this particular problem. The pictures with this blog show you the aftermath of the treatment! Also my swimming is going great at the moment and my run and bike have not suffered too much due to the work I had already done at the start of the year. Plus the swim volume helped to keep my cardiovascular system working hard.
Tips to avoid/cope with injury
So in summary and at a point where I feel like I am on the mend, here a 6 things I learned from this bout of problems:
1. Always keep your gym work up -
During the few weeks before I very first felt the knee pain I had neglected my basic gym work (core, glutes and balance) and I strongly believe this is the biggest factor in me developing the problem. This is vital when you are training for triathlon and can save you weeks of frustration down the line.
2. Rest sooner rather than later if you get an injury during training. Try to save yourself weeks of frustration further down the line. A few days off from the sport that is giving you issues may save weeks of rehabbing if you make it worse.
3. Go to see a physiotherapist ASAP if you get an unusual problem that will not leave. It took me a bit too long to seek advice and I would have had more peace of mind during my recovery had I seen a physio earlier in the process. Even if it did not solve the problem any quicker, it would have given me more focus and positivity during my rehab. I found after getting an answer about what the issue was that I was happier and knew what I was doing and why I was doing it when in the gym.
4. Try to take your mind off the problem. Do this by getting out of your normal training environment and doing something different that will still help you physically but also mentally. This will inevitably shorten your rehab in my opinion. And if not then you might as well be happy then miserable!
5. Work hard on the discipline(s) you can still do. Luckily as a triathlete we have the benefit when injured in one sport to work on the others and improve more quickly on those disciplines. I am swimming great now after just 2 weeks of double swimming and that will hopefully set me up well for the swim in up-coming races. Also I am going to the gym more and it has forced me to make sure gym, stretching and massage are integral parts of my training.
6. Keep training consistent. Consistent training will enable you to more easily solve problems should they arise. It will enable you to see more easily what has changed following a problem. For me there was a slight change in my Saturday training schedule, which was instructed by my coach and I think this may have set off the tightness that caused the pain.
This point also ties in a bit with point 2. A few days off may keep your training more consistent in the long run, which is always much more important than just a few big days of training. 4 weeks of consistent training always beats 1 week of smashing yourself to pieces!