Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inconveniences, Injuries and Illnesses

Injury is a dirty word in athletics (too bad it isn’t four letters). The connotation of time off, rehabilitation, searching for a diagnosis, or even the threat of ending a career is enough to make anyone recoil in horror at even the slightest niggle. I have been fully vested in athletics since my 7th birthday, so I am intimately familiar with injuries of varying severity on multiple body parts and illnesses both common and strange (have you heard of Ehrlichiosis? Well, I had it in 2003).

Since the “I” word is often said with a whisper behind closed doors, and nobody wants to admit they have an injury unless they absolutely have to, I coined a new term, “inconvenience”. Inconveniences refer to conditions that slightly disrupt training and require a little bit of extra attention or problem-areas that need continued watching lest they develop into something worse. A very sore muscle or a mildly sprained ankle, for example, would qualify as an acute inconvenience. My on-going inconvenience occurs after races with a wetsuit swim. The combination of the wetsuit and my wild arms (I have been known to hit people 3 lanes over in the pool and inevitability get tangled up with the person next to me in races – sorry!!!) followed by riding in the aero position makes my shoulders sore for a few days requiring ice, extra massage and easing off on the swimming intensity. Taking care of it immediately staves off worse pain and the dreaded injury. Sometimes, though, despite doing everything right, an inconvenience progresses to an injury (look, if you ignored it, don’t come crying to me that it got worse), and a few days off turns into a few weeks.

Now you have an injury. This is where the real test begins. If you are lucky, the exact problem is very clear and a path to recovery can commence immediately. Often, the pain is intense, you can pinpoint the area, but there is no known cause for the problem. In 2008, I had mystery pain in my foot. What was initially thought of as a bone bruise and would dissipate in a few days (a perfect example of an inconvenience) turned into a 2 month ordeal (a perfect example of an injury). I dragged my leg into the orthopedists office and upon physical exam he could not find an answer. Would you believe he asked me if I was faking? Yes, I said, I had nothing better to do today than sit around and chit chat with you. Well, we never did find out the culprit, but with lots of attention, time off and dancing around the totem pole, the injury finally healed.

Illnesses in many ways are worse than injuries. Injuries usually affect just one body part leaving the rest of you intact while illnesses are systemic and knock you out completely. The type of illness will dictate the duration of feeling sick and the amount of training that can be accomplished. I really hate colds as they always turn into a sinus infection and as an asthmatic they morph into the dreaded bronchitis. In my youth, I thought I could beat the cold (and the asthma) and I would forge forward until I wheezed myself into a full blown asthma attack. Now that I am older and supposedly wiser, I realize a couple of days off in the beginning reap dividends in the long haul.

I have dealt with a multitude of maladies and seen a diversity of healers which has given me practical experience and consequently qualified to offer some advice. First, a diagnosis is helpful; it makes the path to restoration easier and more targeted. Second, you must commit to the assigned recovery program. Third, if you are not progressing in your recovery or satisfied with your care, do not be afraid to seek out another opinion or method. Answers are generally out there, you must be vigilant in finding them. Finally, do not ignore your inconvenience, injury or illness; if you do, beware that incapacitation is inevitable.


  1. After reading a couple of your posts and the answers to 10 questions, I'm going to have to agree with that blind date and say that you are charming. Or is witty?

  2. JZ - Can you share a little on your no-sodium diet and why/how you changed? Or direct me to where you've already done so. I'm 42 year-old with (now) medicated high blood pressure. On doc's orders I've reduced sodium, but haven't yet trained in the heat. In summer, I easily go thru 2-20oz bottles/hr riding. I always use E-Caps in 70.3 and longer races. Thanks, Warren K.

    PS I also have a plate and 8 pins in my shoulder from a Mtn Bike crash last spring.

  3. Hi Warren-

    We seem to have opposite problems. I have low blood pressure and have actually increased my sodium. I have a cuff so i can monitor my blood pressure daily and I recommend that you get one so you can see how training affects your BP. If you go to my website: you can email me directly.


  4. I too have low blood pressure, luckily no problems in training/racing but I can no longer donate blood (almost passed out last time due to very low BP).

    I was also told to eat more sodium by my sports dietician, since I tend to sweat buckets training indoors (cold prairie Canadian winters force me to ride the trainer from November to almost April). She was a big help in keeping my nutrition in check and fueld properly.

    Definately monitoring your BP training is the best way to see how you body is reacting, along with your resting HR.

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