(Warning: the rest of this post is a bunch of self-indulgent whinging about the first world problems of a spoiled triathlete whose life is about as good as it can get. Read at your own risk, and I recommend not eating for an hour after.)
The first week of November, after a morning hill repeat session on my bike, I changed into running shorts for my usual jog to the ferry. I provide that extra detail so everyone can imagine me changing clothes. You’re welcome. After 10 steps of running, I could tell something in my left hip was wrong. I thought it might be just a minimal strain, but after several days of track workouts, cycling, and swimming, the pain was still there when I ran.
Therapy for therapy
I went to a physio (Aussie for physical therapist) that a friend at my cycling lab had recommended, which was close to my work in the Sydney CBD. The next ten weeks were an exercise (literally) in frustration.
The diagnosis was that my leg had slid forward and was pressing against my hip. I was told to not run, to ride out of aero position, to avoid stretches where I would compress my hip. With each visit, I would be given new exercises, and maybe some stretches, and “we’ll see how it is next week.” After six weeks the pain had subsided, but one test run of 500m intervals on grass brought back soreness and problems in the hip flexor and adductor tendons.
A wake up call
I went to our Warringah Triathlon Club’s training camp in Thredbo in the Snowy Mountains south of Sydney, and had the best six days of the last year. Despite it being a training camp, it was the most relaxing time. I went to bed early, I got up later (7 AM) than my usual 4:45 or 5 AM start. But the hip was worse after camp. One person at camp said “you can’t get injured on the bike,” which is ludicrous.
But running was bad. The team went off for a 14-20K trail run, and I managed a 5K walk/run, and my hip was clearly not working correctly. The hip flexor and adductors weren’t loving riding after 3-4 hours, either. I was doing all my stretching and strengthening exercises. I was getting stronger but the problem was getting worse.
After a great ride on the weekend, I tried a short run on the beach on Monday morning, hoping the sand would cushion the blow, but my hip was even worse. After just 100 meters I had to stop, because my stride was restricted and the flexor and tendons were not cooperating.
I sent a note to the WTC coaches about my concern, and Mick wrote back the email that, if somehow I cross the finish line at Melbourne anywhere near my goal time, or even getting to run part of the marathon, will be the turning point in my training. He didn’t sugar coat it and even recommended I think about dropping the race and trying for Ironman Cairns in May. When I explained about all the charity fundraising, he immediately got it, and we agreed that at a minimum, I could race the swim and bike and walk the marathon, and my goal should be from here to find a way to get my hip healthy so I can run as much as possible, whatever that will be. And he pushed me to talk to a new physiotherapist.
My appointment with Toby was a different world from my appointments with my CBD therapist. His credentials were working with cyclist, like the Garmin Team and a who’s who of professionals, along with a slew of Olympic athletes. He was shocked that I hadn’t had an MRI yet.
He noticed 10 other things immediately, took amazing amounts of notes, took a broad spectrum of measurements. And despite warning me that hip problems that fit the description I gave him in email often end in surgery, at the end he told me I wasn’t nearly as bad as he feared, and there was indeed hope I’d be able to run part of or all of the course, but we had to be careful, and make progress over the next 8 weeks.
By the end of the appointment, he had a concrete theory that actually rang true in my head. My bike saddle was the source of problems.
About 5 months ago I switched to an Adamo Racing saddle. People who ride split saddles go on about how wonderful they are. While it did let me into a more efficient (aerodynamic) position, I’ve never liked it that much. And Toby asked me enough questions that made me realize that the change in my cycling position was likely directly correlated to my hip problem. He then worked some magic (which involved no small amount of pain) to the point where my hip actually felt open, and my legs were the same length again (this happens to me a lot – the left leg shortens up over time as the muscles tighten up).
I went home and swapped my new saddle for my old saddle. Today I rode for an hour and the hip felt much better, but it’s early on, it could just be the result of his treatment the day before. We’ll see what happens.
History Re-Beats Itself
The tragic thing is that this is the past repeating itself. When I injured my knee in the early training for my first half-Ironman back in Texas:
- My previous injury was also bike-induced. My IT bands were tightening on the bike, then my left knee was taking a beating as a result during the run.
- I went to see a physio who seemed to care more about getting me booked into my next appointment than figuring out what was actually going on.
- My coach, Maurice, was the turning point, pushing me to switch to Performance Wellness in Austin who solved the problem in no time at all.
- Find the best who knows what you are doing – this applies to physio, nutritionists, massage therapists. If you’re a triathlete, make sure they work with triathletes and understand what it does to the human body.
- Get a scan (MRI) if you don’t have a clear diagnosis within a couple visits. In Australia it’s $300, which is nothing compared to what a triathlete spends on a regular basis for nutrition, massage, entry fees, bike parts, and hair coloring.
- The bike is a more likely source of running injury for me than the run.
- Don’t let work, friends, social life get in the way of getting better. In fact, eliminate all of them from your life if you can. Stop answering emails and text messages. Talk only to your bike, and only if it’s all carbon. Okay, maybe that’s a little too far.
- Work with coaches who care. (Luckily I have this one already.)
- Be aggressive about your treatment. Question your doctors. Make sure they understand your tradeoff between time, money, race goals, etc. They may be optimizing for all the wrong things.
Racing Ironman Melbourne
Will I be able to race? Well, I will line up for the swim no matter what. Will I finish the race? Unless they drag me off the course, yes. Will I be able to run the marathon at the end? Unclear. I may have to walk some or all, depending on the risk of damage. But I’m going to do everything I can to run the entire thing. I’m too connected to my fundraising cause to let this one go quietly.