A little context to start. Earlier this year I was ramping up my training for my first ever olympic distance triathlon and began noticing some lingering low back pain. At it’s worst, I was getting symptoms down into my left lower leg and foot when I would run for more than a mile. I had never dealt with anything like this before, and as a healthcare provider, this was something that I naturally overanalyzed and tried to self diagnose. It is a very scary feeling when you feel like all the hard work you are putting in in training could go to waste come race day. Anyone who has dealt with a training related injury before probably knows a feeling similar to this.
Thankfully, through some hard work and smart recovery, I have been able to manage this injury conservatively and am now back to training at full strength. My hope with this article is to share some of the lessons that I learned throughout this process in order to help anyone facing a similar situation, and hopefully provide some insights into how to reduce your injury risk moving forward.
Number 1: Training load is king.
One of the most common reasons I see overuse or underprepared injuries (which mine definitely was), is due to load management issues. Looking back on my training at that time, I was focused on building my aerobic base which meant I was working at lower intensities than I was used to for many of my workouts. This is an important piece to training and something that I still do regularly, but my mistake came in the form of ramping up my running mileage entirely too quickly. Because I was running relatively slow, it felt very easy which led me to tack on more miles before I was ready. Big Mistake.
“Just because you are ready for a workout from a cardiovascular perspective, doesn’t mean you are orthopedically prepared to handle that training load.”
What this means essentially is that although these workouts were “easy runs” from a fitness perspective, my muscles and bones had not yet adapted to this stress yet. This is a recipe that I see frequently in athletes and a mistake I had to learn the hard way. Hopefully, if you are reading this, you will learn from my mistake and increase your training mileage in a smart and efficient way.
Number 2: Prioritize recovery
Lesson number two, I hate to say it, was born out of my own arrogance. I was not going to let a little pain stop me from racing (by a little pain I mean running on a numb foot). I continued to train through pain and minimized the severity of the injury when asked how I was feeling. As someone who works with athletes regularly this is the exact opposite of what I tell people to do, but looking back it gives me some good insights into the mindset of an athlete and patient. As coaches and healthcare providers, it is critical to know subjectively how an athlete is feeling, but also to make sure that their performances are backing that up. My workouts were definitely regressing. As athletes, we want to compete at all costs, and it can be very difficult to self mange these situations without some guidance from our coaches or providers.
We put a lot of time, effort, and money, frankly, into racing, and having to modify our training to anything other than full speed ahead is very difficult to do. I trained through pain for about 3 months and had to take another 3 months to recover which put me in a bad position for my A race of the year.
Hindsight is 2020, but had I listened to my own advice, and prioritized recovery, I would have been back to training at full strength much quicker and ultimately would of had a much better chance to achieve the result I was looking for on race day.
Number 3: Don’t be afraid to ask for help
This last one was especially tough. As someone who evaluates, diagnoses, and treats injuries on a daily basis, I figured I could get out of this on my own. The honest truth was I wanted to downplay this as much as possible so I could keep training.
Thankfully, at the time I was surrounded by a team of talented Physical Therapists and Coaches @ Pro-Activity who helped talk some sense into me. I definitely wasn’t the best patient (see points 1 and 2), but after some time I realized I wasn’t going to be able to get out of this on my own. Tough one to swallow.
With some hard work, good training habits, and focused recovery, I'm thankful to say I'm finally back to full strength. Some tough lessons learned, though. Overall, I look back at this injury as a good thing and an experience I can hopefully (if you’ve read down this far) pass along to you so you don’t have to go through the same process.
Whether you want to cross the finish line for the first time or you are looking to set a new personal best, we are here to help. For more information on how you can reach the starting line of your next race healthier and fitter than ever, email firstname.lastname@example.org or message us directly on Instagram @pro-activity_ohio.