I cannot count the number of times I have heard athletes say “Yeah, my knee/foot/shoulder is still giving me trouble but I’m just resting it and seeing how it goes,” and then I ask them what they have done about it and who they have seen, and they either say no-one, they went to a physio once about it but they didn’t help, or that they Googled it and diagnosed themselves…but are still now doing nothing with that information.
We live in an age where information is so readily available and in Australia healthcare can be so accessible but people seem to care less about and spend less cash on their bodies than their bikes. The biggest thing I see is people ignoring their injury and hoping that it will go away over night. Or they skip forward 10 steps and bandaid the issue by find a strapping technique to relieve pain, or get new shoes in the hope that they will fix the problem. Some just keep on training through the discomfort until one day they can’t train at all. Even if you THINK you’re on top of it, you might not be. It happened to me.
I am the first one to put my hand up and say I am 100% guilty of “injury denial” and of trying to palm off the responsibility to someone else. That’s oart of the reason I’m writing this, to stop it happening to you guys. In the 9 months that I had a stress fracture (without realising it- I thought it was medial tibial stress syndrome aka “posterior shin splints”) in my leg, I saw 4 different physios, got countless massages, saw my doctor regularly, spoke to my coach about it weekly, researched online for miracle remedies, iced it, heated it, got new shoes (and new blisters), then spent $400 on orthotics (?!?!?!-do not recommend), rubbed tiger balm in it and got dry needling. Not knowing that none of this was helping because my leg was actually broken.
The point is, during this time I was in complete denial of how much pain I was in. I distinctly remember asking my GP for a bone scan a week after racing Sunny Coast 70.3 and her saying “Well, you most likely don’t have a stress fracture if you just ran a half marathon last weekend.” Joke’s on me, right? As endurance athletes we spend all our time training our brains to block out pain signals from the neck down, to keep going despite being in agony and we never give in unless we pass out and get dragged off course. It’s the same reason people end up getting necrotic bowel (one of the most painful things ever) during an Ironman and not realising until they finish. We see injury as weakness, and more importantly, a gateway to weeks of not training properly and risking losing all the fitness we have worked so hard to gain up until this point. Yep, you’re all looking a little guilty of that one.
The thing is, nothing in the body heals itself if you just ignore it. The human body is amazing but no injury gets better if you “just rest” and “see what happens”. You’re an idiot if you think it’s going to. We so easily put it to the back of our minds so we don’t have to feel the jolt of fear that comes with thinking “What if I’ve injured myself here?”
Step one of taking responsibility for yourself is to stop doing the things that are making it worse. If it hurts to run then STOP RUNNING! Amazing how people will keep going, saying “Oh it only hurts for like five minutes then gets better as I warm up…” Mate, you’re kidding yourself because next week it will be ten minutes and then twenty and then you wont be able to get out of bed to pee in the night because your feet feel like you’re standing on knives when you get up. Yes, plantar fasciitis crew I’m looking at you.
Step two is going to see someone who knows what they are talking about and who can help you. Easier said than done. Try to find a physio or a doctor who is an athlete themselves (we are out there) and who will give you some practical advice rather than saying “Well, just don’t run again” – NOT helpful. And guys, you have to actually do the physio exercises like, everyday, for more than 3 days. In the meantime if you want to do some researching yourself, I would definitely recommend getting on to Kelly Starret’s website www.mobilitywod.com which is an incredible resource for people like me who like trying to fix it themselves as fast as possible. Whenever I get a niggle or a little bit of soreness somewhere I just look it up on his site and he has a perfect movement to help fix it. He has an amazing book called “Ready to Run” that you should just have in your bookcase regardless of if you’ve been a runner for years or are just thinking about starting. He’s also a massive guru on form for strength exercises, which brings me to the next step. You are probably weak and don’t move well.
If you are an endurance athlete (especially a triathlete, we’re the worst) I can bet that once the mileage starts adding up you stop going to the gym and working on mobility in favour of fitting in an extra long run or another bike. Am I right? But for too long we have been neglecting what are possibly THE most important disciplines of them all. If we are going to be able to hold run form for a marathon after 180k on the bike we need to have the strength to do that. You core needs to be there for stability in the water and on land, single leg strength is key for supporting all the strides we will be taking and, most importantly it is vital not to go into a race with muscle imbalances or inefficient movements. Because inefficiency costs energy, which costs time and could cost you your finisher’s medal.
Now, I am not for one second implying that you should get into the gym and work on your bench press max effort. This is for two main reasons; firstly, there is no quicker way to injure oneself than a max effort bench press, particularly with poor form. Many of the exercises you see body builders doing at your local gym can actually be a danger for triathletes. Push-ups can often do more harm, than good, as I learned when I first started working with Kriss Hendy- a leading strength and conditioning coach specific to triathlon who also trains Tim Van Berkel. He told me that doing push ups can increase the risk of tweaking your shoulders as you fatigue and lose form, which could put you on the pool deck doing rehab exercises quick smart. Finding a coach who understands your goals and who can design a program specific for the sport you are doing is instrumental in beginning your rehab journey or simply preventing an injury in the first place. Kriss does programs starting at $40 for a triathlon specific stuff but also posts a lot of these movements on his Instagram account @krisshendy
The final piece of the puzzle in taking responsibility for your injuries is to be honest with yourself as to how much it is hurting and whether or not it is getting better. Don’t go out, week after week, trying to run if you have to consistently stop because of pain after a few minutes. If you are doing everything right but seeing no improvements by about 6 weeks (ballpark) it might be time to take it higher up. Seeing a sports physician plus getting some imaging done might be the only way to get a clear answer. I have had great experience with the Docs at Olympic Park in Melbourne, but there are plenty around that might have a bit more knowledge than your local GP about some of this stuff.
Until then, get in touch with Kelly Starret and Kriss Hendy who will make you stronger, more agile and prevent you from having to spend your season on the wrong side of the barrier. 😉