I’ve clearly seen too many adverts extolling the virtues of Scholl’s gel inserts and the like, because in spite of the podiatrist’s advice that orthotics might not help my knee pain as much as I was expecting, I only took about two metephorical eggs out of that basket. I still believed that everything would get better with insoles.
Even when the special strapping (to simulate the orthotics) didn’t make any difference, I simply told myself that nothing resembling a brown papier-mache sock could come close to simulating the expensive plastic technology that was on order for me anyway.
Well OK, maybe I did silently take a couple more eggs out of the basket to make room for some meticulous Googling and consulting with Jen at the gym, but I left just enough eggs in that insoles basket to set myself up for a mega tantrum if they did not work as I hoped. Bear this in mind, because by the end of this post you will witness all the eggs cracking, and they are rotten and they stink. But I had to wait two weeks for the insoles to arrive, so in the meantime Google and Jen were all I had.
I have actually been relishing in the seriousness of my swimming training, which I’ve taken back to basics with fervent commitment and dedication. It makes me feel like a proper triathlete, doing ‘swimming drills’ and using the lingo like ‘nose clip’. So I wasn’t averse to starting work on a few strategies to ensure I also try to improve my running.
Strategy 1) Stretch my Illiotibial Band (aka ITB) twice a day, every day. The ITB is a band of fibre that goes from your pelvis to your shin, on the outside of your leg. If it is tight, it can scrape against the outside of your knee causing pain after a while of running. Doing a few basic stretches, it definitely felt like my ITB was tight, so it was worth a try to stretch it out and see if that would help. This has meant rolling on a foam roller that Jen has loaned me twice a day and stretching my legs in all my workouts, not just running. Helpful note for readers – rolling on a foam roller hurts LIKE A MOTHER-EFFER and you will cry and possibly vomit in your mouth a bit from the pain, like I did.
Strategy 2) I have to concentrate on engaging my core, my glutes and my quads while I run – I can’t be lazy and just stumble along like I apparently have been doing. This has also been tricky, because my muscles are generally tired out from whatever workout I tortured myself with the night before. Plus, it feels weird. Then to top it all off, when I am squeezing my muscles and engaging my core, I tend to breathe in my chest rather than in my belly, which is inefficient and negatively impacts my running abilities. So basically I can’t run as far.
Strategy 3) The hardest one, but a strategy that seems to be unanimously accepted across the internet and by Jen: I have to stop running when the pain starts. I will make a note of how long I can run for each time, and hopefully I will gradually increase it to a point where I can run for a respectable period of time. I am not a patient person and apart from the pain I am fit enough to run, so this will be the hardest strategy to implement.
You may be noticing a theme here. Because I sure was. In order to get better at something that really shouldn’t be that hard, something that I thought would be my favourite part of this sport, I first have to go backwards, and backwards, and backwards. I couldn’t embrace this approach like I did with swimming; it didn’t seem fair. I still hoped the insoles would save me.
Two weeks later, my orthotic insoles were ready and I raced down to the podiatrist at lunch time to pick them up. (Any day now, this blog will be totally up-to-date and I can talk in the present tense about stuff I am doing today!)
I wont build it up – I went for a run the next morning with absolute faith that I would be able to run for hours. I was in Crazy Land. I managed exactly 10 minutes before the pain started.
Under my new rules, I had to stop running at that point and wait until my next session, to try for 11 minutes. It’s going to be a long journey to reaching an hour or more (which is where I’ll need to be if I ever want to do a non-baby triathlon) and I was REALLY down in the dumps. I went home and had to avoid looking in the mirror at the stupid fat person who can’t even run 3km. Numerous expletives exited my mouth. I glared in anger at all the things I’d been buying: things that a triathlete needs; not a loser who can’t swim or run and doesn’t have a bike. I felt frustrated. The triathlon Gods were beating me.
I’d been counting on the running part being the easy part. I thought I’d push myself through the swim and the bike, knowing that I could look forward to a good old run to bring me home with pride. It finally dawned on me that I truly could not count on any part of this triathlon game being achievable. I had no guarantees with which to reassure myself.
Simply investing time, effort and money at this was not going to be enough. I would have to add in research, strategies, studying, and a pig-headed refusal to accept defeat.
I had tears in my eyes, but I didn’t want to quit. I think if I’d been faced with all these challenges around doing a triathlon at any other time in my life, I would have quit. I have quit lots of things. In the face of pain, suffering, financial costs, fatigue, chaos, I am good at letting go, walking away, cutting my losses. I think it is a valuable skill to have because you need to be able to use that word ‘no’ with confidence when there is no pay-off coming your way. Quitting gets such a bad rap – but I say, quit if you know it’s the right thing to do. Quit if your mental health depends upon it. Definitely quit if your happiness is at stake.
On the other hand, sometimes quitting is just really tempting and it gets the better of you. I’ve been there too. Another version of me would have stepped back to look at this triathlon mess and seen the pain (which isn’t actually going to kill me) and the financial costs (which isn’t putting my mortgage at risk) and the costs in time (which simply mean that some days the washing piles up more than it used to and the house is a mess) and found the easy option: to quit. And I would probably regret it. So what is different this time?
The difference is that this – yes this – is really why I chose triathlon. Because I knew it would be hard. I knew, actually, that it was impossible for the person I am today. I knew it would take more effort than I have. And I knew that physically I would fail many, many times.
There is a strange serenity about accepting something is impossible, but continuing to work towards it anyway.
I wont quit triathlon. Because I have the mental freedom and strength that perhaps I didn’t once have, which means that the failures don’t deter me. I believe that I will survive the small but certain defeats looming over me today and tomorrow – and maybe one day when I’ve survived more than I thought I would, I will defeat a triathlon. In its face.
So, no guarantees. But no regrets either.