This week was rough. I always knew an injury would impact my training and racing at some point; I just didn’t know when. Well, it finally happened. And there isn’t even a good story behind it. I wasn’t lifting a boulder. I wasn’t chasing a bear. Nope, nothing cool like that. On Saturday evening, just 12 hours after finishing the Lake Monster one mile swim race, I bent over to light a campfire and felt a burning pain in my lower back that immediately and drastically reduced my ability to stand up straight again.
I awoke the next morning with a stiffness in my back that wouldn’t allow me to get comfortable for the entire day. I couldn’t stand up straight. And I was twisted towards my right side. All I could think about was “how the heck was I going to be able to complete a triathlon six days from now?”
I was fortunate enough to be squeezed-in Monday morning to see a physical therapist who has a spine specialty. Chiropractic care has always made me a little nervous. I liked the idea of utilizing physical therapy first to address the inflammation and range of motion versus a quick manipulation that may or not work. I know a lot people swear by chiro, and I believe it works, this is just my personal preference to try first. My diagnosis was a bulged disc and was assigned variations of prone press ups to do every two to three hours, helping to stretch my spine and related muscles backwards.
Within the first day I noticed improvement. I was able to put socks on without feeling it was impossible. I started standing straighter and felt less twist. I went for walks in the evenings, noticing day-to-day improvements there as well, going from 20-minute miles to 17-minute miles. I was still rather uncomfortable, but was making progress.
I had a follow-up appointment on Thursday and confirmed the improvement I’d been noticing on my own. I was still nowhere near 100%, but maybe 60-70% or so. My physical therapist didn’t recommend racing this weekend, but said I also wasn’t in danger of doing irreversible damage, just delaying my return to 100%. He understood my desire to compete and honor the commitment I made through Team Save the Children. I was assigned another progression of the press ups and given the option to up the frequency to every one to two hours over the next day to see if that got me to a better spot for race day, allowing my symptoms to drive my decision. It was up to me — a decision I’d find myself putting much thought into.
So here I am, Friday the 13th, the day before the Minneapolis Triathlon. I woke up this morning feeling decent, still with some discomfort but miles ahead of where I was earlier in the week. I ran a mile last night — my first run of the week and a drastic change compared to my 30 mile weekly average — and it felt ok. I could feel discomfort during the run, but it got progressively better as I ran. I was pleasantly surprised to still feel decent in the morning knowing the run didn’t set me backwards. My mind was still set on racing my first Olympic/International distance triathlon.
I went back and forth throughout the day on what I should do. Should I look into a reduced distance? Should I even race at all? I had come to terms that I wouldn’t be 100% and I’d have to be ok with not being able to put my best performance on the course. But I also knew this was no longer my “A race” of the summer. That was now the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Cleveland, OH next month. And I want to put myself in the best position to be 100%, or as close to it as possible, for that race. So after giving it much thought, I decided to drop my registration down to the sprint distance.
I attended the pre-race meeting, picked-up my packet and walked over to the solutions tent to make the change official. It was an easy adjustment to make. I immediately felt a little bummed. I felt like I was pressing an easy button, even though I know the sprint is still going to take a toll on my back. If you didn’t already know this about me, I’m pretty damn hard on myself. There’s still a part of me that believes I could complete the long distance event. But logically, reducing the distance, and the toll that will ultimately be taken on my body, puts me in the best position for Nationals next month. It was the smart choice to make. And when I keep that big picture view in mind, it makes the decision a little easier to reflect back upon.
The best part is that I’ll still be racing tomorrow and representing Team Save the Children. Once again I’ve been humbled by the generosity shown from family and friends through my personal fundraiser. Together we raised $600 dollars that is going to make life a little better for some kiddos around the globe. Together we made a difference — thank you! It will be with great pride that I wear the Team Save the Children kit, honoring and raising awareness for the work they do to help innocent children gain access to education, health care and nutrition while fighting to save them from poverty, discrimination and violence. It’s a constant inspiration and reminder to me that there is good in the world.
So tonight I’ll continue my press ups to help keep my back stretched and flexed. I’ll gather my gear for tomorrow and check it twice. And I’ll have my usual night-before-the-race beer with dinner to unwind. Then I’ll try to get to sleep early. And I’ll sleep well knowing I made the smart choice. Tomorrow’s a big day. I have no idea how my back will respond to the activity load, but I’m more than ready to find out. I’m ready to race!