The last few weeks have been a blur. They’ve been a blur of training, and disappointment, and not training, and injuries laced with anxiety. Here’s the whole story.
Shortly after my last post, a suspicious bruise showed up right over my fourth metatarsal (that’s a toe bone) on my left foot. That’s the exact location where, back in 2012, a bruise showed up that indicated a stress fracture.
I freaked. For about 24 hours, I was in total victim-mode. Why me? Why, when I had been so conservative in my training approach, not cheating and running more miles than I should, following my training plan exactly, wearing great shoes, etc., etc., was I getting another stress fracture? Why, why, why?
My husband told me to chill, reminding me that it could be a random bruise. There was no pain when I pushed down on the area, the way there was whenever I had had the fracture back in 2012–that had clearly been a fracture, and even a light touch hurt like a mother. So far, it was just a bruise that I’d noticed on my foot. No pain.
I decided, right then and there–I am DOING THIS TRIATHLON. I had four weeks to go. I would stop running for the next four weeks, but continue with my swim and bike training, and if game day arrived and I had to walk the 5k portion of the triathlon, then I was walking the 5k portion. I would stay off of my foot until then, but I was DOING THIS TRIATHLON.
Within 24 hours of making that decision, the bruise was inexplicably gone. Gone! This indicated that maybe it wasn’t a stress fracture, after all. Stress fracture bruises are kinda gnarly and tend to hang out for awhile.
Nonetheless, I was not taking any chances. No running! I’d go about my daily life with the usual amount of walking, but that was it.
* * *
If I’m completely honest, while my decision that I was DOING THIS TRIATHLON was powerful, emotionally, not being able to run (my favorite of the three disciplines) was a total bummer. Some of my enthusiasm for training died down a bit, then.
It also coincided with starting to both attend a class and teach a class, both of which fell on the nights when I usually did Master’s Swim and then spin class, so I didn’t have the community that I so loved connecting with. This was temporary, only during the month of September, but still–I was doing all of my training, alone. It again reinforced how important community is to all of this.
For the next month, my foot didn’t hurt in the metatarsal area, and I didn’t run, and I saw no bruises. And then…
…about ten days before my triathlon, my cuboid bone felt kind of sore one night. Years ago, back in 2006, I had a slightly subluxated cuboid bone and took forever to get any help for it, and then it didn’t want to stay in place when I finally went to the doctor. That injury took something like two years of stops and starts before I finally found a chiropractor who knew how to fix it. I hadn’t had any issues with this since…maybe 2011? 2010? So to feel that dull ache in that area, especially when I wasn’t running, again had me feeling totally irritated and victim-ey.
Then it went away.
Then, on the Thursday morning before my triathlon, I sat up in bed, and–bam–my entire neck muscles were all spasmed out. I could not turn my head from side to side, nor up and down. All of the muscles between my shoulder blades and on up into the occipital region were irritated and tight.
Thursday night, I hit the wine bottle, hoping it would relax everything. Nada.
Friday, determined that I was DOING THIS TRIATHLON, I called up my doctor and asked for muscle relaxers. She obliged. I took them Friday night before bed, and woke up Saturday feeling about 50% better and able to move my neck from side to side (important when you swim, yes?).
I had enough of a prescription for Saturday night, so I packed up all of my gear and headed to the hotel where I was staying so as to be close to the triathlon location (otherwise, that would be a really, really early morning).
Saturday night, I had a glass of wine at the hotel, and a few hours later, I took the Rx, again. I woke up Sunday morning, triathlon day, feeling about 90% better.
* * *
Sunday morning, I headed out to the triathlon with all of my gear. I was totally nervous. I had just learned how to take my bike tire on and off of my bike, the day before. Getting it together in the parking lot before I got inked and set up my transition area was a little nerve-wracking, but I stopped and said one of my favorite mantras: “There is a solution to this problem. There is a solution to this problem.”
Having read books about triathletes and endurance athletes all of these years, I felt like I knew a lot, going in–as if I’d studied for the event for a long time. Setting up my transition area, I felt pretty relaxed. I tested the water and it was bath-water warm, so no wetsuit needed. I saw some of the other women who were doing the same triathlon and said hi.
Then, it was time. We all headed over to the reservoir where the swim was taking place, and the gun went off. The reservoir had some seaweed-like stuff at the bottom, which was weird to walk through, but then I dove in.
For the first several minutes, I felt completely thrown off. I couldn’t get into a rhythm with my swim. When I’m in the pool, I count off a “stroke, stroke, breathe” in my head, but my arms and my impulse to breathe weren’t timing up. I knew from all of these years of reading about other triathletes that the most important thing in the swim is to control your breathing. If your breathing is out of control, your heart races, and you can’t get your wits about you to keep swimming. So, a few times, I rolled onto my back and lightly fluttered my feet and focused on my breath. That helped, and finally I found my rhythym with it and was able to complete the swim. I finished the 400 meters in about 12 minutes. Funny, the swim feels like the longest portion of everything, even though it’s really the shortest.
I was in T1 for an insanely long time (11 minutes). I felt really disoriented after the swim, and wanted to be sure to get all the sand off of my feet so as not to create blisters and problems while cycling and running. I didn’t feel like eating, but I had a gel and a Luna bar, anyway, again because of all of the triathletes I’ve read about who shared anecdotes about how they didn’t fuel at transition and later regretted it.
I felt much more confident once I was on my way on the bike. I got going, and then decided that I was going to push my pace for this race. (I was feeling a little fatalistic, frankly, thinking things like, “You never know; this might be the last race that I can ever do given that my foot keeps acting weird, so I’m going to go for it.”)
The benefit of all of those spin classes really showed when I was on the bike. I really wasn’t tired, and I finished the bike in 44 minutes and felt strong once I was off. I spent a lot less time in T2 (5 minutes) and again I didn’t feel like eating but I did another GU and plenty of water, anyway, and then it was time for the run.
Again, because I’d read all of these other triathlete stories over the years (seriously, reading about other people’s experiences has been so helpful), I knew not to freak out about the fact that my legs felt like lead. Even though I felt really good coming off of the bike, I knew that it’s common for your legs to not go as fast as you think they should be able to go. I started the 5k portion off with just walking, and then once I did that, I got to it with running.
The run was HARD. It was hard because I hadn’t been running for a month, and it was hard because I’m not a really great runner even on the best days and much less of a runner when I’ve just done a swim and bike beforehand.
Mostly, it was mentally hard.
Sometimes, when I’m biking, I get what’s referred to as “hot foot.” It’s a numbness in the foot and no one really knows exactly what causes it other than it being related to bike position. When it happens, it always happens in that same old area where I had a stress fracture years ago; the same area with the mysterious bruise.
I was getting “hot foot” while running. My head started to go wild. Was this a stress fracture? What was wrong? Why was this happening, now? Should I stop? Would I do more damage if I kept going?
And then, I went back to: I AM DOING THIS TRIATHLON.
If a stress fracture was emerging, then, well–too late for me, anyhow. Not finishing this triathlon wasn’t going to change that. I’d rather end the day a triathlete with a stress fracture than a DNF with a stress fracture, if that was how fate was going to play her cards.
By the end of the run, the numbness had stopped. As I approached the finish chute, I upped my speed a bit and arrived, red-faced, at the finish line. I had finished the run in 33 minutes. My overall time? One hour, fifty-five minutes.
* * *
For the hours following the race, my biggest feeling was one of disappointment.
I felt briefly happy when I took pictures with friends and cheered for them (three women I knew hit the podium for their age group!), but heading home, I felt tired and disappointed.
Again, the mental game: Why the issues with my foot? What were they? What was going on?
I hadn’t gone to a doctor before the race because my podiatrist had said that a stress fracture wouldn’t show up on a bone scan or x-ray for a few more weeks–so I wasn’t going to get any new information about my foot, and it wasn’t hurting, so there wasn’t much that I could “do” about anything.
Part of my frustration is that I had a hint of what was going on: I have auto-immune Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, and while Western medicine is very reductive and focuses only on one thing at a time (thyroid), the reality is that my whole endocrine system is out of whack. When your endocrine system is out of whack, you’re at greater risk of bone fractures.
My disappointment was that yeah, sure, I had finished the triathlon, today. I had willed myself through, despite injury, and that’s great. But–was I going to now have to quit? Was I, again, going to have to go back to the drawing board with injuries? And was I, again, going to feel the frustration of going to doctors and saying, “What’s going on, here?” and as per usual, they don’t have answers, so I’m again on the internet for hours trying to figure out who’s a quack and who’s legit with alternative approaches? All of that, again?
I got home, talked to my husband a bit about how I was feeling, got some more post-race nutrition, and as the day went on and I looked at the pictures from my race, I began to feel happier. More grateful. It felt like a stretch, on some level, but the more I stretched to “feel into” the happiness and the gratitude and the pride in my accomplishment, the happier I did start to feel.
Then I really got how much I had been up against: the injuries, the lack of time, the lack of confidence, and all of the things that I had to get over in order to do this. I’d been up against all of that, and I hadn’t quit.
That, I felt really proud of. When I tapped into that, I could really celebrate the day fully.
* * *
Now, I’m a few days post-triathlon. I haven’t really felt sore, which becomes another thing to be proud of–it points to my overall fitness that I could do an endurance event with minimal soreness. My neck continues to get better. My foot is still a big question mark, but I have an appointment with my podiatrist.
And more than anything, I’m excited about doing another triathlon. I’m excited about getting back into spin class with my peeps. I’m less excited about swimming (that’s still a meh for me) but looking forward to it, nonetheless.
Given the foot issues I’ve had, I think it’s probably always going to be sprint triathlons, for me. Then the run distance is kept to a minimum. But I like the idea of improving on my overall time and staying fit by cross-training among the different disciplines. I love the community. I think I’m sold!