Thursday, October 16, 2014

Starting Over

Well once again it has been a long time since I've written any kind of an update.  The excuses are many, but mostly due to a lack of activity in sport.  Without going back to read where I actually left off, the short version is that I had an un-diagnosed injury to my back/hip/leg on my left side. 

Well, that was quite some time ago.  In fact I think the injury first began to surface about 5 years ago.  2009 sounds about right.  I suffered through seeing about a dozen doctors, chiropractors and PT’s never really finding the answer.  I was able to live with it for a couple years and even raced somewhat successfully despite the injury, but never reaching my potential. 

My last race was the IM 70.3 World Championships in Vegas where I suffered several setbacks.  And while simply being at that race was an accomplishment, it was also the last time I was able to toe the starting line. 

The years following 2012 were challenging in several ways.  My job at the time was easily the most stressful job I've ever had.  It got so bad my Crohn’s became a regular issue requiring me to go through several CT scans and be on prednisone multiple times.  It had gotten bad enough for the doctor to consider surgical options.  There is a difference between the doctor considering surgery and me considering surgery, but for him to even mention it as an option is alarming.

The unfortunate truth is that had you asked me 3-4 years ago if I’d need another surgery in my life I’d have said probably not.  I was doing well, stress was under control, and the Crohns was well controlled.  As I sit here today I’d have to say there is an 80% chance I’ll need to do it again.  On a normal day I feel fine, but the dietary restrictions have me at a point where I can’t eat an apple without having issues.  Raw fruits and vegetables are not really an option for me at this point in time. 

On the brighter side, I am finally starting to make some progress with my hip.  In the past I’d been diagnosed with hamstring tears, bulging discs, and various other issues like SI joint arthritis, etc.  I never really believed those diagnosis because they didn't fit the type of pain I was constantly feeling.  I always felt like this was due to some type of imbalance combined with something I was doing every day to make the issue worse…every day.  Something in my everyday life had to be a contributor.

Well, over the summer I decided to go back to the doctor as I wasn't willing to just live with constant pain any longer.  Through that process I saw a PT at the spine center who started taking a look at the muscles around my lower spine and had me do a few balancing exercises.  Within about 3 days my day-to-day pain vanished.

Unfortunately, that was about as far as that PT got with me.  It was around that time that my sister and brother-in-law were in town.  He was racing at USAT Nationals.  In one of our discussions I brought up the injury and the types of issues I was having.  As it turns out, he’d had something similar and saw a PT in Austin, TX.  The PT essentially specialized in posture and proper movement.  I briefly spoke with that PT via email and he directed me to his instructor who is on the north side of Chicago.

Long story short, I’m all kinds of screwed up.  The muscles in my hips, low back, and legs are all kinds of imbalanced.  I've seen David Foo (new PT) twice now and have already seen a dramatic improvement.  I first saw him back in early September and he gave me a set of 4 breathing and posture exercises.  After about a week of those I was able/willing to get back on the bike and start running as well.  Overall getting back into shape hurts a lot more than I remember.  But my back is doing a lot better.  While the pain is occasionally still there, it is much less severe.  In fact, if the pain had stayed at this level back in 2012, I would have never stopped training/racing. 

I saw David again last week and got a few more hip/back/leg specific exercises, and saw another dramatic improvement.  I’m now at a point where I am biking 4-5 times per week and running 5-6 times.  Granted, I am taking things very easy.  Rides are all under 60min and generally Z2.  But I have started into slightly higher quality workouts as of last week.  (Managed 2x5' @300w on Tuesday!) My runs will stay at an easy 9-9:10 pace for now.  While it’s slow, it’s still much more than I was doing.  And for the first time in a really long time, I have actual hope of being able to train and compete again.  The speeds will improve as I begin to drop the 40lbs that I put on in my stressed out un-athletic Crohns induced depression.

Overall things are looking up.  I have a new job that is both challenging and a lot of fun.  I work with a lot of really talented people and the stress levels are much better.  We’re in the same building as a Gold’s Gym, so I’m able to work out at lunch making things a lot easier on my schedule.  At the same time I’m left with the bad...A VERY poor diet has left me 40lbs north of where I was when racing.  There’s not sugar-coating my state of fatness.  40lbs is a lot even on a 6'2" frame that hides it pretty well.  Simply put there are no excuses...I put myself in this mess and I have to get myself out of it.  I knew I wasn't working out and ate as if I was...that's a really bad mix for an endurance athlete used to burning at least 4,000 calories per day.  Weight loss is generally a simple equation and I ate more calories than I burned.  Now I need to go the opposite direction.

At the end of the day, I’m left with several things to focus on.

First, I have to make sure I remain healthy.  This includes both the Crohns and my back.  If I don’t focus on getting healthy in both regards, none of this matters.  Fortunately for me, working out again should help me with stress management and the Crohns.  At the same time, I need to continue with, and stay focused on the muscle imbalances that led to my hip/back issues.  I need to get those corrected so I can move forward.  I see David again next week and hope to continue making good progress.

Second, I need to get a basic level of fitness and endurance back.  If my back and hip continue to improve I need to get myself to some longer bike rides so I can burn calories without the impact of running.  The reason that’s important is that I don’t want to do too much long distance running until I've dropped around 20lbs.  That will help both my speed, but my durability as well.  I'll still run, but I'll likely keep it to a consistent 30min 6x per week instead of building to 90min runs.

Lastly, once I have some basic fitness, I can start to really focus on the weight-loss.  I’m at a point right now where dropping the 40lbs will have a far greater impact on speed than quality speed workouts would.  So it makes sense to hold off on harder workouts and focus on some longer endurance workouts that I can repeat day in and day out.  In order to do that, I’ll probably need to add swimming into the mix in the next several weeks.  I just don’t want to add swimming back in until I’m really sure my hip/back are going to get better.  Too many false starts with this injury have left me a bit deflated emotionally.  I don’t want to get my hopes back up only to be left in pain and unable to work out again.  So I’ll be taking it somewhat slow.

And that, as they say, is the rest of the story.