Saturday, June 18, 2011

Season Over

It is with great sadness that I officially declare the 2011 triathlon season over…at least for me.

As you all can tell, I haven’t been posting much. There are several reasons for my lack of postings. No access at work and general laziness are certainly two of the reasons. But one of the primary reasons is frustration. Last season by all accounts was very good. I showed great improvements. I went into the off season on a fairly high note despite the cancelled swim at Halfmax.

The off season was a mixture of emotions for me. I made some good progress and made some mistakes. Overall it was mentally draining. But despite the mistakes, I was coming into this season in better shape than I had ever been in. But as many of you read even last year, I was slowly having trouble with my back/hip/SI joint.

Here is what I believe occurred that has led me to this point. For me, things are seldom simple. I don’t just fall and break a bone. I make a change that creates some kind of muscle imbalance that creates an injury in an odd body part and the diagnosis takes months while I suffer through my workouts. That appears to be the case here.

So last season I went on got my bike fit completely changed. That is when my back troubles really began. Early on I was told to suck it up, muscles are working different. Perhaps that advice was correct, or perhaps my seat was too high. The pain was very mild and never impacted my running. As I got into the off season and did short but extremely intense workouts, I didn’t have any trouble. But later in the off season I made some fairly large bike fit changes myself. All in an effort to get more aerodynamic. Well if my bike seat wasn’t too high before then, it was after I changed things.

As time went on after those changes I started having more pain. My personal belief is that it was all muscle pain at that time due to my poor bike fitting skills. Essentially I ignored that pain. I believe that created a muscle imbalance on my left side. My glute, piriformis, and hip flexor were all having trouble…and I pushed forward despite the pain. This brings me to about March. The pain would come and go to a certain degree. Stretching and other things would help to a point.

At some point in April/May two things occurred that I believe pushed my small problem into a full blown problem. Both were typical me. First, I was at the Y after a swim with the group and I fell right onto my left side. It was pretty much straight down onto my left butt cheek. I landed hard on the bone…hard enough to essentially knock the breath out of me. I had to sit there for several minutes before I could really move again. As my hip/glute was hurting prior to that fall, I couldn’t tell if there was a problem or not.

Prior to that fall the pain would come and go with my riding. After low mile days/weeks my back was much better. After high mileage, it was sore. To me, that indicates a muscular issue. Several days after the fall, perhaps a week I went for my long run and decided to push through the pain instead of stopping early. The next day I couldn’t walk without a pronounced limp. I have never recovered from that day. Both biking and running have suffered dramatically to the point of seeing both a chiropractor and orthopedic surgeon and having an MRI taken. I suspect the muscle imbalance and then the fall made me more susceptible to this type of back issue and the running just hammered it home. So what could have been a minor thing had I fixed my bike fit became a bigger deal.

The results of the MRI show a bulging disk in my back between L4 and L5. The bulge is minor but is apparently allowing the joint to aggravate the nerve. The disk is not herniated or hitting the nerve, so that is VERY good. But the problem is bad enough to require cortisone injections into my back to bring down the swelling. I had my first one on Thursday. The doctor has asked that I not run for about 3 months.

At the moment the diagnosis is somewhat ambiguous. If this first shot eliminates all my pain then the Dx is pretty clear. If, however, I am still in pain, it is possible that the Dx is incorrect and that the cause of my problem is something entirely different…or, I just need a second shot. So while the doctors are fairly confident, there is room for error.

What does all this mean? Assuming the diagnosis is correct; it means my triathlon season is over for the summer. The prognosis for a full recovery is very good so long as I let things heal, and I know for a fact I don’t want to be dealing with back trouble the rest of my life. So I will let this heal up. In the best case scenario that I am aware of at the moment I might be able to start running in very late August.

If the diagnosis is incorrect, I don’t have a clue. I will still probably lose the season as I am still unable to run or bike with any frequency.

It is my hope that if nothing else, I’ll be able to ride and swim this summer. I’d like to be outside working out. Otherwise I’ll be stuck on the elliptical all summer and at the gym. I just don’t think I can handle that. Granted I’ll be doing a lot of rehab work to make sure the core muscles are very strong to prevent this in the future. But I’d much rather be outside once we get some summer weather. Hard to believe its almost July and we’ve had maybe a handful of days above 80 degrees and everything else has been 50’s-60’s.  Plus I can work to build a really strong swim/bike combination.

It’s a shame really, I was in fantastic shape. Prior to the injury I was weighing 196 and the weight just seemed to be falling off me. But I might be able to get in some winter racing if I am willing to travel. 

The obvious question is what to do after learning such news.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I went out on Friday night and got drunk.


  1. Hey Eric, I'm sorry to hear about your setback. But, if you look at as just that, then it may be easier to deal with - although its not easier. Kevin

  2. I tore a tendon in my knee and have recently discovered I have an imbalance between my hamstrings. I'm not sure if that caused the injury or resulted from the injury, but it's been causing hamstring/glute/hip flexor pain. Weight lifting is helping me out. I've been doing single leg extensions, single leg curls, front lunges and side lunges. And, of course, core work always helps.

    Good luck with the comeback. Now that the season is over, take your time and do this right. I know one guy who had to have knee surgery and pushed way too hard on his comeback and he did so much damage he can no longer run - ever. This sport is fun, but it's not worth lifelong back problems. If you take your time and work on strengthening, you'll probably come back stronger than before and have a great year next year.