Silly me. Naturally, I presumed that regaining my swim form would be the most difficult aspect of my recovery from crashing and subsequent collar bone surgery. It turns out that learning how to swim again was the easy part. It’s like this. I was bothered by a relentless back injury from 2001-2004. I was rescued from retirement and a lifetime of pain by the outstanding people at the National Training Center in Clermont, FL (none of whom are there anymore). Upon my release from their care, they offered me this warning: as long as you keep up with your exercises, you should remain pain free, just don’t crash.
I now comprehend the importance of their caveat. All of the symptoms that impaired my quality of life all those years ago resurfaced after I crashed in November. My back started to hurt, my hips ached, and the sciatica announced itself with radiating pain upon sitting. In addition to the requisite physical therapy, I returned to the gym with a vengeance trying to get my glutes stronger hoping if I succeeded in this endeavor my low back would stop throbbing. My biking and running, already impaired from extended time off, were now waylaid by these symptoms. My power on the bike was dismal and my runs were not only off-pace they rendered me sore and tired (and frustrated!).
Never one to sit idly by, I took action. A number of clues pointed to my run form regressing back to my old ways, to the era of a stiff upper body, Daffy duck feet, low cadence and a wild arm swing. I sought out the expertise of Bobby McGee. He has a masterful eye and in 40 seconds can pick out 10 things that need straightening out and then gives the drills that will aid in this undertaking (one such drill entails running dragging a tire). My worst habit, arching my back, was in full effect and he supposed I was doing this on the bike as well (turns out I was, and this was contributing to my lack of power and discomfort). Oh goody, lots to work on.
My first test of the season, the San Dieguito Half Marathon was only a few weeks away, so I had to be vigilant with my gym program and concentrate hard on correcting the flaws in my run form. Coach Phil added a dose of hill work to ready my legs for this grueling jaunt through Rancho Sante Fe just north of San Diego. I ran this race three times, the last in 2005 when I was preparing for Ironman Arizona, and never had I attempted this race with as little training as this year. I hoped my improved run form, strength from the gym, and overall experience would carry me through the race.
When I toed the line on Sunday, I was thrilled at the prospect of racing even though I had trepidation about the hills, particularly the long uphill drag to the finish line. I could only shake my head in disbelief when walking down to the start a racer inquired whether the course was hilly. Obviously, she did not do her homework; she was in for a shocker! Of all the half marathons I have done, the race on Sunday was the most fun. I appreciated being healthy enough to run after the struggles I encountered, my new nutritional plan kept my GI tract stable and my mind lucid, and even though the hills were tough, I finished strong and landed on the podium. And, running races are logistically so much easier than triathlons; no bike check in, no wetsuit, no body marking, less gear. And, unlike in triathlon when competitors start drifting out to the first buoy before the gun goes off, in a running race people actually stay behind the start line in an orderly fashion.
The prophecy of crashing causing injury to my back most certainly came true. But here is another prophecy. The week before the race, Coach Phil predicted my time at 1:22.30. I ran 1:22.38.