Monday, September 03, 2007

the nagging injury blues

yeah, so i've been dealing with a little bit of a nagging injury.

it happens. particularly anytime you're asking you're body to take a physically greater load, which is pretty much anytime you go training, triathlon or otherwise. it's just a risk that comes with the territory.

for me (and most everyone i know), you pretty much expect that you're going to have a certain amount of injury time every year, and the only question is just how much. it's not so much a reflection of training methods, or technique, or volume, or nutrition or recovery (although, they all do play a role). it's also simple statistics: given a baseline of injury rates for an average level of activity for an average population sample, you expect the probability of injury to rise in direct correlation to the rise of activity level in the population. in which case, it's never a question of if you are going to get injured, but when.

all injuries are bad, and never any fun. apart from the actual injury itself--and the accompanying pain and damage--there's the setback in training, loss in conditioning from the downtime needed for recovery, and the process of methodical, careful, almost ginger rehabilitation.

but for me, nagging injuries are the worst. you know the kind i'm talking about: the ones that never seem to heal, and just linger, just enough to prevent resumption of workouts but not enough to be debilitating. to me, these are excruciating for 2 major reasons:
  • they involve the added psychological torture of temptation--your body tells you that you're *so* close to being healthy and being what you want to be (healthy, vigorous, alive), but then just when you think you're ready, it closes shut the door of hope again and throws you right back into the dungeon of somnolescence. it's kind of like handing a tray of food to a starving man, and then snatching the food away from him just as he starts to take a bite
  • they are distorted, with the proportion of the physical damage being relatively out of scale with the level of debilitation, to the point that it's absurd. invariably, nagging injuries are located in obscure, remote, seemingly trivial places of the body (i.e., toes, the nip of the arch, the connective lining underneath the hamstring, even the deepest depths within the great glory that is our gluteus maximus). for all this, they simply do. not. allow. you. to. move. it's almost comical. it's like an elephant that winds up tripping over a mouse.
i've experienced a slew of injuries over the years that fall into this category: illitobial band syndrome, piriformis syndrome, trendelenburg syndrome, toe/ankle/knee/hip strain, plantar fasciatis, tendinitis, etc., etc., etc. even though the list of components in the body are finite, i'm sure this list goes on into infinite...and if medical science started to run out of injuries like this, then God/Yahweh/Allah/Shiva/Buddha/whatever would happily figure out new ones.

most injuries of this kind are identified as repetitive stress injuries: injuries that are the result of stress repeatedly placed on an affected body part, to the extent that it gradually starts to break down. although, thinking about it, they're probably all repetitive stress injuries, since i'm pretty sure the main reason they arise is from the grinding cadence of the miles that are so endemic to endurance sports. it's akin to how water erodes earth--given enough time, a river will wear down even a mountain of solid rock into a valley.

for me, right now, it's a calf muscle strain. that's right, a calf muscle strain. in particular, a muscle on the rear of my chin leading from the Achilles tendon to the back of the knee. how incredibly simple. how incredibly minor. how incredibly trivial.

and yet it's managed to derail almost my entire training schedule. it hurts on the push-off from the wall while swimming. it hurts on the downstroke of the pedal on the bike. it hurts with every footstrike on the run. it even hurts walking hills and going up or down stairs. sometimes it even hurts lying down in bed.

originally, i thought the rehabilitation for this was going to be simple. a couple of weeks of rest, and then everything would be right back to normal. so following this logic, i gave myself 2 weeks, then doggedly went out on a trail run to keep my conditioning from evaporating any further.

imagine my chagrin to find the injury not only still present, but actually worse.

how lovely.

at present, i'm finding myself coming up on 6 weeks of no cycling or running, and the pain still there. it's a twinge, just a tinkle of teasing. just enough to make me feel like things are getting better. and some hours of the day it's fine, but at other hours of the day it's not. just enough to throw my mental state into discomfort, and worse, send my training schedule into uncertainty.

well, actually, beyond uncertainty. i'd describe it as hell.

whatever conditioning i built up over the summer has pretty much been shot to oblivion by now (the rule of thumb is that the average person loses 90% of their aerobic conditioning within 2 weeks of complete physical inactivity...i'm pretty much waaaaaaaaaay past that at this point). meaning that instead of going into Ironman training with a good base of fitness, i now face the prospect of starting with no fitness whatsoever.

how much lovelier even still.

there's no better feeling then being at the bottom of a mountain and then looking up and realizing just how far you're going to have to climb...commencing from the bottom of the deepest valley.

ah yes, the loveliest thing of all.

and the worst of all of this is that there's not much i can do except rest--that is, do nothing. which is kind of contrary to athletic nature. i mean, as an athlete, your inclination is to be active, pro-active, to take action, to do something. anything else is passiveness, laziness, indolence. one of the things of being an athlete is to participate in your own destiny, to be able to play a role in creating change, to exert an influence in making a difference...especially on your own life. which makes it maddening to have a problem whose prescription for treatment is inaction and whose nature just simply will not respond to your attempts at control.

i suppose this is why they say that it's always agony to wait and always agony to be helpless. a nagging injury--even more so than an ordinary injury--is both.

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