The end came abruptly and suddenly. “No running and wear this brace. I’ll see you in 3 weeks”. These were the words of Dr. Kevin Denis. Dr. Denis is a podiatrist and orthopedic foot specialist with Commonwealth Orthopedic Associates. I was seeing him as a followup to my 4th incident of rolling my ankle a mere two weeks before my planned 2018 Boston qualifying attempt. I really knew going in that I wouldn’t be running the Steamtown marathon on October 8th but now harsh reality set in.
For my pure running friends, race season is really just getting started but for triathletes, October tends to be the bitter end and Steamtown was to be my grand finale for the year. As I think ahead to what might be in the year to come, I also look back at a season that was a mix of successes and failures. The upside is I don’t think I have ever had so many podium finishes as I did this year. I managed to make at least an age group award in every event but 2 at a mix of distances.
On the other hand, I also have never had so many DNS (Did Not Starts). These were all for a variety of reasons but primarily a result of illness or injury.
All last winter I made references to the intimidating American Triple T in Ohio that I signed up for. This race is a bit of an early season crazy-fest involving the full Ironman distance over the course of a weekend but with mind-dizzying amounts of hill climbing on the bike. I live in a hilly area and by mid-summer consider myself a reasonably good ascender. But I’m also a big sissy when it comes to riding in the cold. If the temperature starts with anything below a 6 (as in 60 degrees) I’m in the garage on the trainer.
I just don’t enjoy the bone numbing snot fest that is cold weather riding. Why I thought I would be ready for Triple T in early May is anyone’s guess. In fact, shortly after I signed up I heard an interview with one of the race directors on IMTALK, a great podcast I often listen to. Or it may have been the Sadism for Fun and Profit podcast. I started getting worried when he was talking about how “interesting” it was watching the elite athletes get off the bike during the 3rd race and cramping up heading for the swim. Yeah. Interesting. That’s the word I’d pick.
I think I could have gone to Triple T and suffered through it to get the coveted finisher’s jacket. I had done some tremendous work on my Wahoo Kickr over the winter and had added 24 watts to my FTP. But then I ran the Boston marathon, and while I had an extraordinarily crappy race, I was in love with the Boston marathon event itself and decided my best chance to get back there was to take a shot at Run for the Red marathon in May. This was one week before American Triple T. I clocked a solid BQ time but knew I wouldn’t recover quickly enough to do Triple T. Additionally I had sacrificed any May bike time to stay in fast-running shape for Run for the Red. So American Triple T became the first race casualty of the season. At least I saved the travel and camping costs. I could have spent another chunk of change to defer to next year but didn’t. After hearing of some of the shear misery of participants this year the appeal of doing Triple T in the future has lost some of it’s luster.
I still had a full slate of shorter races on the docket. My “A” race, so to speak, would be back-to-back Olympic distance triathlons in August. I increased swimming and biking including the acquisition of a new, better fitting bike. Training was going well through July. I already had an eye toward another fast fall marathon. Then one summer morning, the first ‘incident’ occurred when I severely rolled my ankle at mile 1 of a 7 mile fast run. What? Yes of course I ran the last 6 after the injury. What sort of stupid question is that!? This would probably become the key moment of the summer. After completing the 7 mile run seemingly without any pain or harm from the rolled ankle, I hopped on a bus for a 3 hour ride to New York City. Once at the NYC Port Authority terminal, I walked . . er . . hobbled off the bus. During the long ride, my foot had become swollen and stiff.
Uh oh. Life didn’t get better once off the bus either. We then proceeded to walk about Manhattan for several hours and then more or less run back to the bus terminal to avoid a thunderstorm. None of this is at all similar to the prescribed treatment for an ankle sprain which would have involved rest, ice, and elevation. Needless to say my foot remained swollen and painful for a while.
Meanwhile, July was hot, humid. These to me are beautiful conditions. I breathe the best in mid-summer and don’t mind a sweaty run at all. It seemed I developed a bad habit of sitting around chatting with friends or in the car for a long ride home in my sweaty workout clothes. A few days after my foot had recovered and after an especially sweaty run, I began to have some trouble “down there”. It seems I’m not alone in my love of hot, moist conditions.
Evidently bacteria like it too. In August I got to enjoy the “fun” of a urinary tract infection. Annoying at first, and then extremely painful and uncomfortable almost to the point of sending me to the emergency room. Things were at their worst a few days before the Rev3 Pocono Olympic distance triathlon. I held out hope but finally gave in and paid $50.00 to defer to 2017 for DNS #2.
A week after the DNS for Pocono and a course or two of antibiotics later, I was feeling well enough to have a solid race at Steelman. After this, I felt like maybe the rest of the summer could only get better. Then I rolled my ankle again. And again. And finally the coup de grâce. . . again. The last time fairly severely and only two weeks before the Steamtown marathon. This happened during a leisurely early morning 6 mile jog on my beloved Chester Valley Trail. Since resuming running after the third ankle roll, I had been extremely diligent about focusing on the road ahead and avoiding any sort of road hazard no matter how small. That morning, I got lost in conversation with fellow runners and my right foot landed on a small nut hidden by an early fall leaf. My ankle rolled over like cuddly panda rolling down a hill. (There are better analogies but I really wanted to embed the video of the cute Panda rolling down a hill). I wound up hobbling nearly two miles back to the car. Fellow CVT runner, coach, and friend Tim Jones hung with me for the walk. I told him to go on but was sort of grateful he kept me company.
This last injury occurred on a Friday morning. Courtesy of Wegman’s grocery store I had iced immediately and still held out hope for Steamtown but as the weekend progressed, the swelling and pain got worse instead of better. I had a Monday appointment with Dr. Denis who confirmed my fears. No running . . for quite a while.
My friend Larry Filtz was also doing Steamtown and was gracious enough to pick up my $85.00 shirt at packet pick-up but I would not be racing. I’ll admit that it was a little hard to see the nearly perfect race-day weather (chilly, with a hard tail wind) and see the fast times turned in by my friends at Steamtown. Oh . . and I have no qualms about wearing the shirt for a race I didn’t actually do. I paid a lot of money for that shirt.
As I look at the calendar for the rest of the year I got nothin’. At this point, that’s probably good since I have no clear pathway for recovery for my ankle. As I write this, I am on my second full week of physical therapy and have my followup appointment with Dr. Denis coming up next week. I don’t know what he will tell me.
The pain in my ankle is mostly gone though an annoying twinge remains when the brace is off. Will I be allowed to run again soon? Is more extensive (or invasive) treatment needed? Will Batman and Robin escape the Joker’s deadly plot? I don’t have the answer to any of those questions althought chances are Batman gets away. He always does. I do know that going forward I will not sign up for any races before I positively have to. An expensive last-minute sign up is cheaper than a cheap, early registration I never get to use.
Well, it’s time to stop feeling sorry for myself, start thinking about next year and getting fast and strong at those things I can do. I have an unlimited green light to bike and swim. I can also do strength and flexibility work. Here’t to building a fitter, wiser athlete for 2017.