Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cracked like the Liberty Bell

On Sunday I toed the line for the Philly Olympic Distance Triathlon. I haven't competed at this distance in 4 years. I've gone longer and shorter in that time span, but left this distance off the schedule since I could not find a race that fit in. But in December when the Evil Exercise Scientist and I sat down to plan out my year, I said it was time for an Olympic distance. And the timing of Philly fit the bill.

I was anxious leading up to this race. I haven't been swimming as much as I should, but my biking and running were going fine. My plan was to take it easy on the swim and then I had my orders to "Step on the gas" for the bike and go hard on the run. The plan sounded good, but execution of the plan is another story.

The few days leading into the race were touch and go. We had some massive rainfall which left the river at a level of "code red" which means no swimming or submerging. Not sure the race director saw that warning because the swim was not cancelled. As a matter of fact, the water temp was so warm that wetsuits were not allowed. Eeek!! That means bacteria-riddled water will come into contact with more of my skin than I wanted. Gross.  At this point I knew I had to swim faster.  I was in the first swim wave so it was in my best interest to swim fast so I can get on the bike course before the rest of the racers behind me.

We were allowed to jump into the water to get to the swim start. I saw each athlete go under when they hit the water. I was not prepared for complete, disgusting immersion so I sat down on the dock and slipped in. There would be enough time for me to get completely wet, but I wanted to prolong it. I swam easy to the start and waited for the horn. The starter said to watch the buoy's and not let the current bring you forward. What current?!?!  I've swam in the Hudson, I know currents. Philly, you have no current. Don't tease me.

The air horn goes off and so do I. I took it easy to get started and found my rhythm early. I'm pretty sure tons of people passed me, but I didn't care. I kept sighting and swimming. The water felt pretty warm for 82 degrees and I'm glad to decided to not wear the skin suit over my race clothes. I passed under a bridge and could see a turn up ahead. I decided now to pick up the pace a little. My hip flexors were fatiguing from the flutter kick I was doing to keep me going and I wanted to stop sweating in the water.

I finally made it to the swim exit and was surprised at my mile swim time without a wetsuit. I was more than pleased as I ran into T1. When I got to my bike, I tried to change quickly and get going. I had a long way to go to get to the bike exit. Lucky me to be staged all the way at one end of the transition area.

It's a two loop course and I knew I would have one clear loop to hammer it.  I knew the course was hilly, but didn't realize just how hilly it was. Each loop was ~12.5 miles with ~600' of climbing (1200' for 25 miles). And some of the climbs were steep. I was dropping it into the small ring to get up the climbs, saving my legs for the 2nd loop and then the run. The downhills were fun, though I had a few scary moments. First one was coming around a right bend on a downhill and my rear wheel hit a rock on the pavement. I felt the wheel come off the ground for a split second and I hung on as I threw my weight to the left to counterbalance hoping I wouldn't wipe out. Success!! I was still upright. the next dicey section was a big downhill at the end of the 1st loop that I totally misjudged. At the bottom was a hard right turn. I realized it a little late and began to brake hard, fulfilling my destiny as HOTS. I made the turn....barely.....and made my way around for the second loop.

The second loop was slower than the first. I was passing people, but sometimes there were just too many all over the place and it wasn't safe to get around. I would have to sit back and bide my time waiting. when it was safe, I made my way around then. Since I knew the course better the 2nd loop, I knew where I could hammer the downhills and where to brake. Clearly I didn't want to repeat any near disasters from the 1st loop.

I made the long walk through transition and changed for the run. All I had left was 6.2 miles. Just 6.2. It was getting warm out and I put my Zoot arm coolers to the test. The tricky part of this race was the run begins on the grass outside of the transition area. It was at this precise moment that the neuroma in my foot woke up from it's 6 week coma. Holy crap, my foot was on fire as soon as I hit the pavement. I tried every trick in the book to calm it down. Nothing was working. I almost stopped to take my shoe off and mobilize my joints to reduce the pain. By the 3rd mile it seemed to be quieting down to a whimper. At each aid station I would walk through to rest my foot, grab some water to drink/pour overhead and arms. The arm coolers were working to keep me cooler than usual. I have issues in the warmer weather with overheating and this is the 1st step in trying to keep me cool.

When I passed the mile 3 sign I figured I was home free. WRONG. I had to run across the grass again to get to the 2nd half of the run. Sweet baby jesus, someone is out to get me. I gingerly run/walk the 4/10th mile across the grass to get to the pavement. But no luck, this neuroma was back with a vengeance. I decided at this point once I hit the pavement I was going to run as fast as I possibly could to get it over with. My 3rd and 4th toe felt like someone lit them on fire. I was in agony. Every swing of my leg I would attempt to flare my toes to give it some relief. I noticed on the sidewalk was a large Great Dane. I thought long and hard about hopping on it's back and riding it for a mile or two, but that would have gotten me disqualified. Hey, if you're going to get a DQ, make it a good one!!

I repeated my walking breaks at each aid station to try and get relief. But in the end, I just raced it in as fast as I could. I caught Wingman by surprise with my negative split. He wasn't expecting me to come in so soon. After crossing the line, I grabbed my finishers medal and an ice cold towel to drape around my neck. Cold never felt so good.

I have to say it wasn't my best race, but I gave my best under all the circumstances handed to me. The 2nd loop of the bike had its challenges and the run was absolute murder for me. But it clearly shows me that I can push through the pain when I have to, to finish the race.

Oddly enough this week, I had two runs with absolutely no pain in my foot. None. Zero. Zilch. I guess running on grass/uneven surfaces just isn't working for me. Hopefully my next two races are smooth surfaces.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Oh, oh, what I want to know, where does the time go?"

That's the line from "Uncle John's Band" from the Grateful Dead. And it's so true. Last I left off I landed in Spain for a 2 week cycling vacation. Next thing I know it's almost mid-June and racing season is here. I've been on a hectic schedule the last few weeks and hardly home on the weekends. Last month the Wingman and I rode the Gran Fondo in NY/NJ. Then I was off to Baltimore for a course in Dry Needling  to further enhance my PT skills (blog link courtesy of Sinead). It was 3 days of intense learning. You were in class for 10 hours and then spending a few hours at night in the hotel reading/studying/preparing for the next day. I can honestly say it has changed the way I look at pain in my patients.

I wasted no time in putting my new skills to work. First up was Sinead. She was having some neck motion restrictions and a headache. I used ~7 needles in her cervical spine and 2 up in the base of her occiput. I could certainly feel a change in her deep tissues after the treatment. She reported later a 90% reduction in her headache and neck pain/restrictions. Success story #1. My second volunteer was an aide that works with me. He has AC joint pain when he bench presses. He rated his pain to be about a 6 out of 10 when he benches. I placed a needle in each of his upper traps, and then went to work on his right shoulder. The magic spot was his infraspinatus/teres minor region (aka Ground Zero). When I asked what he was feeling, he said he could feel the pain in his AC joint being reproduced. Bingo!! It goes to show you that sometimes the pain you experience can come from a different source. After his session, I had him load up a bar to try to bench.  He loaded 155lbs up and said his pain felt like a 3 out of 10 now. He could bench press with a lot less pain. My last volunteer for the day was Jen. I went to town on her glutes and her lateral quad. She was feeling some ITB pain when she squatted, along with some other tightness in her hip area. Many times 'ITB' pain is actually trigger points in the lateral quad that refer pain down the side.

I hit a few trigger points in her glut that were tough to release. After I was done, she was pretty sore. I had her ride a stationary bike to work it out and hydrate to help flush things out. By the end of the next day, she could squat pain free and instead of her hip tightening 1 hour after running, it now took 3 hours. Progress.

Of course needling by itself is not the complete answer. The biomechanics of movement need to be assessed and corrected, muscles need to be strengthened and not in the traditional 'gym' sense. Pounding out bridges to strengthen glutes is fine, but if you can't use that strength in your activity, then you've wasted a lot of your time. Which leads me to this past weekend.

Sinead and I flew to Tampa for the APTA conference. They had an exhibit hall where we got to play with some fun "toys", but mostly we sat in on a 3 day lecture on Biomechanics of the hip, knee and ankle.  I definitely picked up a few interesting ideas and techniques that will help me better help my patients. I am also getting heavy into motion analysis and have been working with a new software application that allows me to quickly view video that I capture of a patient doing an exercise or running on a treadmill. I can analyze the movement and see where the breakdown occurs, show the patient, and then go to work fixing the dysfunction. This is the direction I ultimately want to head in my career.