If there is one thing I've learned after the last 17 years of competing in endurance sports it is that life is so unpredictable and you just never know what is going to happen next. Just the same as when you are racing, plans for the season are great and all, but you need to be able to adapt to various conditions and circumstances and just roll with it sometimes. Well after Victoria 70.3 yet another injury crept up forcing me to re-think things and adapt. Various athletes have reached out to me personally over the past couple years asking me how I've been able to deal with injuries and continue time after time to bounce back, conjure the strength and willpower to just keep going, and if anything push myself to an even a higher level. I'll admit I'm not perfect and don't just brush injuries to the side like they are nothing. I don't just say oh well there goes all that fitness I built up, down the drain it goes. No. Like any other person, I get depressed, and just feel like the walls are closing in around me. It is especially difficult when in my scenario you have invested everything you got mind, body, and finances into one single goal. I think Phil Gaimon said it perfectly in his book Draft Animals, and it made so much sense to me and I wrote it down right away and have thought about it every single day:
All in means devoting your life to performance. Every calorie is nutritious, sleep is maximized, and stress is minimized. When I joined the World Tour, I thought that the next step was to find balance, but maybe I had it wrong. At the top level of anything you have to weigh what you value. So what if I could win the Tour de France but I wasn’t a good friend, and I never ate a cookie, called my grandma, or experienced love. I’d have the achievement, but what was it for. Or what if you make all those selfish sacrifices and then you only finish fourth. Fourth sucks. You can wrap your life around one goal and then failure would be devastating, but if you chase multiple goals failure is more likely. What if balance means teetering on the edge of a cliff.
The last part of that really stood out to me. But that is just how I am wired and I've said it many times that I just don't go half-way into things. When I want something I go all in. Yes I could probably be a physio make good money, and compete in pro triathlon on the side but I would never likely touch the pointy end of the race, or achieve my long-term goal in the sport to win races and go to Kona as a pro. Maybe I could, maybe not, I don't know. But I also know that I wasn't happy practicing physiotherapy especially at this stage in my life when I feel like the last 7 years of quality training day in and day out have transformed my body and mind to the point of having the potential to do something special. One of my greatest fears is being older looking back and regretting not chasing my dream. I never want to say something like I wonder what would've happened if I just went for it. I wonder if I could've made it as a professional athlete. Initially that dream looked like chasing a 2:16 marathon and representing Canada in the Commonwealth games, but injuries struck left right and centre, I adapted, and here we are chasing that same dream to compete for my country on the world stage but in a different sport. Maybe it's a mistake, but if so it's one I need to make. And keeping all that investment emotionally and physically in mind yes injuries do bring me down.
So to answer the question how do I deal with injury and keep coming back time and time again: Well I'll be sad, frustrated, and angry like anyone else would and I'll take a day or two to sulk and cry but then I get up the next morning and I write down my long term major goal. I stare at it for a bit, visualize it, and see myself achieving it, and to not let the big goal intimidate me, I keep it very simple and I say give me one, one single thing or task that I can do now, today, that will keep me going along this journey. It doesn't have to be big, it doesn't have to be something spectacular like a big comeback workout or anything like that, it can be as simple as to just get out of the house and go for a walk to breathe the fresh air again after sulking in the basement for the last couple days. It can be just making a phone call and talking to someone for a little bit to help calm yourself and keep you grounded. And you know what you do the next day, you say once again give me one thing I can do today to keep it going, and you keep doing this day after day after day, taking it one day at a time, piece by piece until before you know it you are back in the routine and well on your way again. Just like a marathon, you don't get to 37km and say okay 5km to go, no instead you say okay just keep moving one step at a time, and eventually you will get there. And really this way of thinking just one small thing to do each day applies to life as much as it would returning from injury to sport. Just doing one good thing no matter how small each and every day to be a better person. If that means smiling to someone walking by on the sidewalk or saying good morning, or holding the door for someone, saying thank-you to the person at the drive-through when they hand you your coffee. In the grand scheme of things we are all in this to reach that point of self-actualization, that Maslow talks about, and you don't get there with a few giant leaps, instead it's one small step at a time.
So for me, yes I sat in the basement on the treadmill for hours and hours weeping when I had to stop a run because I just couldn't run through the pain in my leg anymore, periodically getting up to hit the heavy boxing bag as hard as I could almost breaking my hand. Like I said life is so unpredictable. There I had maybe the best two months of my life running, in terms of the workouts, especially when factoring in that bike and swim training was going along with it, and in blink of an eye here I was injured. But then unlike past injuries where I've self-treated and just hoped whatever I was doing would work, the one thing I can do right now at this moment is to book a bone scan to see if this pain is actually what I think it is. The not knowing is one of the worst feelings, and this didn't feel entirely like other one's (stress fractures) I've had. Although there was a tender spot the size of a quarter on the tibia itself, running uphill on the treadmill was much more painful than downhill (opposite to what it usually has been for stress fractures since there is less impact uphill therefore usually less pain) and when doing that I felt the majority of the pain below my knee and on the lateral side of the leg if anything - although when I stopped running the pain below the knee quickly subsided and localized back to the spot on the tibia. So I booked a bone scan to rule out the stress fracture so I could continue on with my journey without the uncertainty, and looming threat of catastrophic failure (complete break in the bone). While I waited for the results, I received the best gift I could possibly could get, my brother and sister-in-law in NYC had there beautiful baby Emma Alessandra Ferlisi Sorbara a little earlier than the due date which was July 2. While I waited on the bone scan results what is one thing I can do today to keep the dream going, well quite simply it's to smile and be happy and have a couple days not thinking so much about triathlon. And when you're holding little Emma it is literally impossible not to smile. As my brother said you get sort of like a perma-smile and your cheek muscles actually start to get sore being with her.
When we returned from NYC I got the news that thank goodness there was not a stress fracture in the tibia. At the painful spot there was some bone remolding going on but no fracture, instead a good bout of medial tibial stress syndrome (what people often call shin splints) - basically inflammation of the periosteum and surrounding muscles, but again NO Stress Fracture.
So got up the next morning and said what is one thing I can do today to keep me going forwards on this journey. Well let's think here, so the swim and run have been major strengths at the first 2 races (and run again if you count the win in the Baden Duathlon two times over), meanwhile the bike has been a weakness. In particular putting sustained power out in my aero position, no problems climbing a hill a 6w/kg for 20min, like I did before leaving NYC on Bear Mountain, but holding something solid on a flat road in time trial position that was an issue. So although running is painful, triathlon is three sports so I'll just take what I'm given and use the extra time to work the bike hard. I could just go back down into the basement and crank out some big workouts on the trainer over the next few months until an incredibly exciting September of racing (more on this when it's official), but I guess the perfect opportunity to put my new bike position (semi-mantis position with literally the most comfortable arm rests of all time with the Revolver Wheels Ergo Mantis Arm Rests - https://www.revolverwheels.co.uk/shop/components/carbon-fibre-tribar-arm-rests/), while at the same time put the fire in my belly to train hard today and tomorrow, and the day after that, is to put the position and power to the test on a course where I know only two things will matter power and aerodynamics, and that is at the ITU World Championships in Odense, Denmark. I was officially selected and given the honour to represent Canada a couple weeks ago but was going back and fourth in my mind with the high cost of the race, and then on top of that the leg wasn't 100% so my decision was still up in the air. But then after confirming that there was no stress fracture in the leg, and it would just take some heart and brute strength to run through the pain but no serious damage would be done to affect the long-term goal, with the drive and determination it will add to the bike training I said yes I'm in. Still the financing of the race was a major hurdle so I needed to keep delaying my final decision until I figured out a way to make it somehow feasible, feasible to a guy who was shaking as he handed his debit card to a cashier for lunch one day because was nervous that the 6$ veggie sandwich would cause an overdraft penalty. I need to really thank Triathlon Canada for being so patient with me as I delayed and kept searching and searching for a way to make this happen. Well as of yesterday I found the way, and the short little bike workout I did last night was the evidence of exactly the reason I went through with the plan pumping out the easiest feeling 380-430W intervals I've ever done cause I was so motivated and pumped up. So the plan is this, it's pretty complicated so I'll try my best to explain. For Denmark, the biggest expense was the flight back from Copenhagen to Toronto. I searched everywhere online to find a place nearby cheaper to fly back from but had no success. I was even searching for flight back from Reykjavik thinking maybe ill just swim there bike and suitcase in a canoe in tow or something and fly back from there. Eventually though I found Prague. And the later into July you went the cheaper the price got (not really rocket science since just means more in advance of the flight that your booking). And then thought hold on a minute this is silly why would I stay for like an extra week or something to make it cheaper to fly back from Prague. My professional Opera singer sister lives in Berlin, about 2/3 of the way from Odense to Prague. So I could take a train from Odense to Berlin, chill with her for little bit take in some opera shows and then take a train over to Prague and fly out from there whenever. But then hold on a minute there is Ford Challenge Prague July 28. Why not do that same plan of staying in Berlin for little, then train to Prague race, and then fly back to Toronto after the race. That's two weeks apart from ITU Worlds to Prague. Have I done that before, oh ya I did Penticton without my run all the way cooking all on cylinders but had a solid race nonetheless winning the Overall Amateur World Championships, and then with two more weeks of running under my belt did 70.3 World's two weeks after and had my best run of the season especially considered such a hilly run course. So a plan came together where for a grand total of 30$ more than it would cost to do ITU Worlds in Denmark on its own, I get to do Denmark and Prague. I had thought Steelhead would be my next race, but this works out better since like I said it costs essentially only 30$ to do Challenge Prague if I already decided on ITU Worlds, and also I get a full 6 weeks then to build towards September which will be legend-wait for it (but seriously it hasn't been confirmed yet)- dary.
So a breakdown of my symphony that is the work of one solid afternoon and evening of having a billion tabs open on my computer and many cups of tea, coffee, and cramps from sitting too long here is the rundown:
Now-July2,3: Take another week off running to let inflammation settle and everyday give myself one task that will make the leg just that little bit better and keep moving forwards
July 10: YYZ to CPH, Denmark (arrives 8:50am on July 11)
July 11: Train from Copenhagen to Odense, Denmark
July 14: Smash the ITU Worlds Long Course (3km swim, 122km bike, 31km run) to pieces and wear the Canada Flag with pride again
July 15: Train from Odense to Berlin
July 15-July 26: Recover from ITU in Berlin than 5-day training block just like did Penticton-Chattanooga last year
July 26: Train from Berlin to Prague
July 28: Swim, bike, and then hopefully really crank out a big run and time at Challenge Prague
July 30: Prague back to YYZ
July 31: Finally sleep in my own bed and eat something other than white pasta (on my budget I'll be basically eating white pasta, with maybe olive oil and salt/pepper if the airbnbs have that stocked, for 3 weeks straight almost like a true World Tour rider).
Alright so there's the plan, now time to check out more details on these courses since all this happened very suddenly, and put in big 2 week block of work to sharpen up to represent Canada to the best of my ability of the 14th. Until next time thanks for reading, happy training and racing and remember just one thing one day at a time.