Monday, October 9, 2017

My First Duathlon, Part 1: Training for a Duathlon While Recovering from Injury

Earlier this past summer, I wrote about why I participate in races occasionally, but in August, I participated in a summer race for which I had little time to train.

To provide a brief background, I had been searching for something that would motivate me to work a bit harder as we worked nearer to the end of summer than I might if I had nothing to aim toward and a duathlon presented itself. I have never in my life competed in a duathlon, but this event, while a challenge for me, seemed like a doable distance and course to complete, so a bit on a whim, I signed myself up just a few weeks prior to the race.
*Image found here
Almost immediately, I had buyer's remorse (participant remorse?). I wasn't entirely sure this was my smartest move. I've had a lot of issues that have kept me from running much at all this year, but I also knew when I signed up that walking portions was a possibility. I'm also far more comfortable with other types of physical movement. If someone told me there was a competition in a few weeks involving strength, I believe it would be less intimidating to me. Still, I didn't want to walk the running portions of the race and the internal nagging persisted as I continued to ask myself why on earth I'd have signed up for a run-bike-run race?

Obviously, the two tasks I need to undertake for this race are running and biking. Fortunately, I'm on a bicycle at some point just about every day, but I knew that my distances were going to have to advance and I'd need to have some focus on speeding up my usually casual-leaning pace. Riding a bicycle doesn't terrify me the way running (twice) does. Riding a bike is easy. It can be challenging on different terrain/inclines, but for the most part I get on a bike and go, down shift or up shift as needed, and pedal.

Running doesn't come as easily. True, it's still just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, but my body tends to fight me much more when it comes to this form of movement. As anyone who's read here can tell you, the injuries my body has dealt with over the last several years have brought a challenge to even riding as far as I'd like. My injuries span from feet all the way to shoulders and have varying levels of intensity and need of coddling. For instance, my pelvis comes out of place at least once per week. Running or even walking when it's out (as one might imagine) isn't the easiest thing to do. I also deal with genetic issues that truly will always keep me at a slow pace when it comes to running.

Still, I can train as long as I don't try to push too hard when I'm experiencing immense pain, and as long as I take care to listen to what my body is telling me.

My regular workout usually takes place at the gym. I vary exercises but usually find myself on a treadmill, lifting weights and mixing in my own random sets of cardio exercises that I've taken from various sources over the years. I also try to include stretching at some point, but it's one of those areas that I really should include more regularly.

When starting to train for the duathlon, I figured it would probably be a good idea to actually practice the way things would go for the event. So, I started running, biking and then running again.

My first try at it, I figured I'd take it easy, starting with 1/3 the running distance, most of the biking distance and then 1/3 the running distance again. I had decided to train only on the treadmill, even knowing that running outside is a different sort of beast, but also accepting that it would do less harm to the parts of my body that I needed to keep safe.

On the first run, I ended up completing 1/2 the running distance because I felt I didn't need to back as far down as I'd initially thought, but I will say that the most challenging part for my brain (and body) was returning for the second round of running.

As stated earlier, I'm used to riding to the gym to work out and then riding home, but there was something about that extra run before the return trip home that threw my mind in to chaos. I could feel my brain telling my body that we were done and to stop moving, so it was a bit of a mental struggle to refocus and tell my legs to keep moving. Of course, practicing helps with muscle memory so this fight wouldn't be such a struggle going forward.

The ride home after that first attempt, even though I live only a couple of miles from the gym, was not easy. Although the distances had not been great, the three hours I'd spent moving meant that my body was looking for some sort of nutrition. It's as though I'd forgotten that there is a difference between a workout and training for an event, but my body was definitely reminding me.

With the second try, I incorporated some GU into the riding portion of training, which helped tremendously. My brain felt clearer as I started the second run, I didn't feel as though I was going to collapse, and even the bike ride home was a little easier. I still hadn't quite got the nutrition part correct, but it had gone much better than the first round.

Unfortunately, injuries still plagued me into the third week and I was starting to wonder if I'd be able to compete in this event at all. Having difficulty walking, let alone trying to run was causing mental distress. I pondered deferring my participation until 2018, but I really wasn't ready to give up quite yet.

Still, as I did not have much time between sign up and the actual race day, I tried to determine the best ways to utilize what was available to me. Running a lot would be good for this type of event; however, my body doesn't tolerate it well, so instead I spent some time walking uphill and doing other cross training activities such as jumps and short, faster sprints in order to try to build up what would be needed for this duathlon.

Surprisingly, my body was doing pretty well and I was beginning to think that I might actually perform decently at the duathlon. My back was holding up, my knees weren't hurting, and even my pelvis had been staying where it needed to most of the time.

By the first part of the week of the duathlon, I was feeling great! In the back of my mind I had minor moments of doubt, but I was pretty sure that my body was as ready as it could be given the short amount of training time, and I was experiencing only minimal pain which was already a win for me. I even made a comment to Sam that I was feeling good and thought I could do well at the race.

The debate about what to wear for the event had been plaguing me too. I had tried a few combinations during my practice duathlons, but nothing seemed to be to my liking. If it worked well for running, I was uncomfortable on the bike and vice versa. The last thing I want to be doing during a race is tugging on clothing. Ultimately, I had decided on my triathlon knickers because they are easy to run in and still have a small amount of padding for the bike.

The top portion was where I was struggling though. After trying several bike jerseys I own, I wasn't happy with the way they behaved while running. When it came down to it, I didn't need the pockets on the jersey because I had a bag for the ride and could keep GU in the pocket of my pants while running, so I decided to wear a work out tank and hope that it would be sufficient.

My workout plan was in place for the week leading up to the race too. I continued to exercise but took things a bit slower than usual to ensure that my body would stay well.

Unfortunately, the day before the event, my pelvis decided that it was time to pop out of place. I had been having some neck issues and could not turn my head so I had made a trip to the chiropractor the day prior, insisting that he only adjust the upper part of my back/neck as all had been so great with the lower portion of my body.

After the adjustment, my neck started to feel better, but I was then dealing with lower body issues that were making it difficult to walk at all. I was kicking myself for going in for an adjustment, but knew that I really needed to be able to turn my neck during the race. Still, had I just left things alone I was fairly certain none of this would be happening.

The night before the race, I was convinced that I shouldn't show up to the duathlon at all. The majority of the race was running, not biking, so I didn't think I'd be able to fake it to the finish line. I was mad at myself for spending money on a race that I'd known would be a challenge even in a good state, and now I was experiencing so much pain just putting one foot in front of the other to walk through the house that I was pretty sure this just wasn't going to happen.

"What do I do?" I asked of Sam, as I held my hand up to my aching hip. "Do I go anyway and try, and if I can't finish, at least I gave it a shot? Do I just forget it and not bother. I really don't think I can run at all, and I'm honestly not sure I can even walk very well."

Unfortunately, Sam didn't have any wise words for me. I completely understood. It's not really possible to tell someone else what their body is capable of doing, but he definitely sympathized with my plight and was aware that I was not in a good state. I knew he wouldn't blame me for dropping out entirely before I even got to the start line, but I was still (as much as it perplexed even me) trying to figure out how I could complete what was in front of me the following morning.

*Part 2 is in the finishing stages and will be available soon.
**Part 2 can now be found by clicking here.

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