This year was a big one for me. I finally bit the bullet last summer and signed up to Ironman Austria 2018, after four years away from long distance. Although it felt like I had ages to prepare for it (almost a year, in fact!), the time has come around shockingly fast.
I am now just over two weeks away from Ironman Austria, and I am sad to say that I have had to pull out.
After months of hard work, a marathon to prepare me for the run of my life, multiple winter training camps and gruelling hours to build up the volume, I am now unable to race.
I had some pain in my foot during my last training camp in Mallorca. I assumed it was muscular and just something associated with increased run volume over the previous months. It came and went and didn’t seem to cause me any problems, so I cracked on.
Then, after a mini mental meltdown before Outlaw Half (which you can read about here), I raced, with the pain in my foot coming on just 5k from the finish line. Something I assumed would just fade away a week or so after the race.
Well, it didn’t.
I had an ultrasound scan which revealed that I had tendonitis of the posterior tibial tendon. It runs from the foot, through the inside of the ankle and up the inside of the leg.
I was told by a physio to take strong prescription anti-inflammatories, apply ice twice a day, and to stop running. All of which I did. For one week only.
Until I visited my chiropractor, Ian, at Total Balance Clinic. He has a background in competitive swimming and understands the body probably more than anyone I have ever met. Other than being exceptional at skeletal adjustments, his knowledge of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and pretty much everything biomechanically in the human body, is astounding.
The most impressive bit is his intuition. He diagnosed posterior tibial tendonitis without the need for an ultrasound machine. And within about two minutes of me explaining the (admittedly quite unusual) problem.
He then went on to explain that I have a pelvis which likes to rotate, pulling my piriformis (which has caused me some tightness for a few months now), causing me to rotate my leg slightly outwards, and thereby an over-rotation of the ankle during the run motion. This has led to a strain of the posterior tibial tendon. Genius.
What’s more, he told me to immediately STOP taking anti-inflammatories and icing the tendon. Tendons typically take a long time to heal, and by restricting blood flow (which anti-inflamms and ice both do), the healing process is only prolonged. In order to heal, inflammation is actually a necessary requirement.
In fact, the scientist who came up with the Rest Ice Compression Elevation treatment 40 years ago (yes, 40 YEARS AGO), completely defied his own scientific theory just 10 years ago, saying that it actually delays the healing process and doesn’t work. You can read the full article here.
Anyway. So we’ve been sticking dry needles into the muscle and the tendon, plenty of massage, and refraining from running. It seems to be getting a bit better but there is still soreness in there and we had to make a call on it.
I’m gutted that I can’t race Ironman this year anymore and will be missing out on the spectacular course in Austria. I’m also gutted that I won’t be able to do justice to all the work I have put in leading up to this race.
But it’s the right decision. And when you know you’ve made the right decision, it’s far easier to accept.
Thing is, I had a lot of stuff going on in recent weeks anyway. Work stress and personal stress, to the extent that I almost thought about pulling out of the Ironman before I even had the injury. It’s funny how sometimes the body puts the blockers in the way for you though, isn’t it. Almost in an act of self-preservation.
For many reasons combined together, notwithstanding a debilitating injury, I am not in a position to race in two weeks. And even if, by miracle, my foot suddenly healed, I wouldn’t be able to do the race the justice it deserves as I have now not run for a month.
I wanted to make the step up to Ironman and feel in the best shape possible, as a confidence boost that I can nail this distance and put in a performance that would shock my 2014 self. Now I can’t do that.
But you don’t get hero points for running through an injury. The risk of then having to take a whole year away from the sport to heal my tendon, take a massive leap backwards, and risk ruining my love for Ironman by pushing through and hating it, is simply not worth it.
My body isn’t ready, and my head isn’t in it. That speaks louder than any bravado or need to prove a point – either to myself or to anyone else.
At the moment I am focusing on swimming and cycling, and taking a step back from the pressure of competition and performance, in order to get my body and my head healed so I can come back even stronger.
In an endurance sport like triathlon, you have to think long term. And if I want to be competing again with performances that I am proud of, and more importantly, be enjoying the process rather than feeling under constant pressure from every aspect of my life, then I have to get true, unbiased perspective on it all.
Having gained that perspective, I can now relax. Knowing that I’ve made the right decision. Knowing that I am doing the best for my body and mind. And knowing that things will get better in the future.