When I was younger, it was good for a neat party trick. I can fit my large-for-a-woman fist in my mouth (jaw hyper mobility), tuck my heel behind my head (hip hyper mobility), do a split, and do some of the crazier yoga poses, especially when pre-lubricated with tequila. The downside to hyper mobility is that as a triathlete or almost any kind of athlete, we need a certain amount of stiffness, resistance, strength to perform. My pelvis is hyper mobile and along with that comes a truckload of problems that I believe are the root of nearly every injury I've ever had. The biggest issue is that my pelvis doesn't like to let my sacrum stay where it is. Instead, it twists and rotates and as of last week, four times in my life has gotten so completely jammed up that it takes away my ability to train or even walk around, sit, stand, take selfies pain-free. I believe that what happens - and let's just clear it up now that I am not a doctor and my ability to absorb and translate correctly what is happening is dulled by the fact that it's usually being explained to me after five days of excruciating pain & while I have a hundred needles lined up in my back - is that when it rotates and gets jammed, bones that are not supposed to touch, do (I'll leave a space here so you can cringe), and sometimes a nerve gets squashed in there and that's when the pain goes from discomfort and stiffness to nuclear can't-get-out-of-bed just take me out back and shoot me please. If I told you how long these needles are, you would probably throw up in your mouth.
The first time it happened was the half marathon that almost wasn't way back in 2011. I was in bed for almost two weeks until I found Chasity who was my miraculous miracle worker the rest of the time I lived in DC. I also found Paul somewhere around that time; he taught me how to squat and deadlift and do lots of single-leg work to help my body learn how to keep things where they are supposed to be. That's when I really started working in the gym on strength training. It's not
I didn't have another significant problem with it until about a year and a half ago, when I managed to knock it way out of joint just before boarding a plane to Portland to spectate the poet running a marathon. If I remember correctly, I was a horrific houseguest, I could barely sit on a bike seat while trying to chase the marathoners around town, I kept bursting into frustrated tears of pain that no amounts of anti-inflammatories or massage therapists that my friends kindly called on Saturday or glasses of red wine would touch. It wasn't until the following week when Heather snapped it back into place that my pain levels came down from "ghastly." The good thing is, once it's back in place, it feels about 80% better and then it's just a game of waiting until the inflammation calms down before I'm happily crashing through my life again. Heather stuffed about a dozen needles into my butt, sternly forbade me from doing flip turns for at least 48 hours and sent me on my way. I think I rode my bike for four or five hours the next day because it was my birthday and by the time I was back in the water two days later, I felt 100%. I sure do have a lot of pictures of needles in my back side (NSFW).
It happened again last January, I was in the gym deadlifting and a superstar triathlete walked in, in my embarrassingly slobbering excitement I dropped my phone on the ground and when I went to pick it up, WHAM out my sacrum went. I still wasn't knowledgeable enough by then to realize what had happened, so I spent a day or two thinking that I had pulled a muscle before realizing that it was the same twist-and-wedge and all I needed was to get it whacked back into place and then clean up the soft tissue damage and I'd be good to go. I think I lost a week there, it was right before I went to Hawaii to train with Michelle and by the time I boarded the plane I was rested and healthy and desperate to ride hard again.
And this time around. About a week ago I had a long trainer ride, certainly longer than I've had in a while but not excessively long especially considering that I did an ironman a month ago. I got off about 2.5 hours in to refill my bottles and could tell that my pelvis was a bit rotated. This is really common, every time I get off the bike I crack myself and these little adjustments (I believe) are part of what has kept me healthy and minimize text-message-SOS to poor Charlie. I adjusted it then, and again later that night. When I woke up the next morning the joint felt sore, but it wasn't until I was dumb enough to wear cowboy boots with a heel out to dinner and then off for dancing and bluegrass that it turned quite bad. I woke up the next morning and the whole joint was a line of dull fire. I went to the pool anyway because I'm a stubborn jackass and had a friend visiting and was bitterly disappointed to have to call off our new year's day swim at 8K. I got in a couple more cracks and adjustments of my own but could tell it was still out, so Saturday morning I was sitting at the $19 strip mall chiropractor's office when they opened, where a horrified but very nice woman smashed me back into place. I got some soft-tissue work done today by my favorite needle man who for some reason has always been a few states away when this has happened (possibly on purpose) and I know that in a couple more days I'll be fine again; this, too, will pass.
But I'm frustrated, and it's hard not to be. I'm frustrated that no matter how much focused strength & mobility work I do, daily work, consistent work, that my body continues to be, quite literally, a high maintenance pain in the ass. I went back through my training logs around these three instances to see what patterns I could find, and the truth is there are none, but the scientist in me finds that hard to accept. Charlie said this morning that it's probably just a fluke, and if anyone knows how much work I do to try and avoid this it's tied between him and Erin and Michelle, and jeez is that annoying if it is in fact true.
It's frustrating that I put a lot of time and resources into keeping my body healthy. I get maintenance work done at least twice a month, year-round, sessions that leave me limping for 24 hours but then keep me going strong for a while. I work with Erin, the magic guru of intelligent strength training designed to compliment what I put my body through in triathlon. I generally eat well, I get enough sleep, I pay attention to recovery, I don't sit slumped in front of a desk for twelve hours a day, I've almost completely stopped being an asshole about new running shoes, I get regular check-ups on my bike fit; I feel like crying out to the heavens I do everything right! Yet still, breakdowns occur.
The flip side of this that I've finally, begrudgingly, arrived at, is perspective. That all of this is worth it. I've done two IMs a year for the last three years plus God knows how many other shorter races. That is a LOT of fucking races. I love to train. I love to ride my bike for a long time, I love to swim long and don't let Michelle read this but I even mostly enjoy long runs. As I've been worrying and analyzing over the past few days, I realized that I haven't missed more than about a week of training in four years of racing ironman. In actuality, that's probably pretty fucking stellar. My back has gone "out" (I realize this is a colloquial way of putting it but whatever, my backyard my backside) three times, my right adductor is needy as hell, I thought I broke my foot but it turns out it was a pissed-off peroneal tendon, my neck was making my hand numb for a while, I had a pissy knee for a couple months going into Cozumel the first time, my hamstring gets verklempt about life as a hamstring every so often, I crashed my bike which resulted in a jammed shoulder and a concussion and letting Geoff Hower stick his (appropriately trained and regulated) finger in my mouth, I've had little aches and pains here and there but for the most part, I've been healthy. I clearly remember griping last summer to one of the men in my life that keep me healthy, why is my body such a huge mess all the time?! and being told, because you beat the shit out of it all the time! Which is true.
My other thought about frustration is, I think I'm feeling it right now because I feel slightly frustrated with a few things in my life. Little things, but they add up and I'm finally saying, enough. I've been frustrated with my weight for about a year, but it's only a few pounds, so it hasn't been enough to stimulate me into being better about fueling and food prep and snacking because whatever it's just a few pounds. I've been frustrated with a lack of progress in a few highly-specific areas in sport, but not enough to get me to put in that little bit more time to being dedicated about working resolving them because whatever I've still got so much room for growth in the places I like to work on. I've been frustrated at how poorly I sometimes manage my time which either gives me anxiety because I feel behind all the time or has me working past bedtime almost every day. And I'm saying, enough. It's not at all because it's the new year. I don't believe in making resolutions. Sweeping declarations of huge change only piss me off, because it's so hard to back it up when really, incremental change over time is what we all know works. I know it, a few years ago I learned it, I lived it, and then I fell back.
But I am glad to see 2015 in the rearview mirror. I'm glad to feel like I have this whole year, this whole season, spread out before me, a clean slate. Rich with opportunity. It didn't start with January. It started with feeling closure about the really hard time I went through, in part Cozumel gave me that and in part the tremendous amount of work I've done on my brain gave me that. Feeling the end of the season rang more true with me than the end of the calendar year. Becoming more aware of myself in the process as an athlete, having clear ideas about where I want to go when four months ago I wasn't sure I wanted to go anywhere at all, ever again. So I'll sit on the couch for a few more days with an ice pack stuffed down the back of my leggings, I'll keep doing hip mobility and taping my squat form and torturing myself with dry needling and watching you tube videos about running mechanics because at the end of the day, it's what I love. And this is the kind of work I need to do to be able to continue to do what I love, then for now, at least, it's completely worth it.