Exactly three months ago I began my recovery from hip labral cartilage and tendon release surgery. Happy anniversary to me! It has been a long, often harrowing, often fun, often educating experience ever since I was injured last summer after finishing my first Olympic distance triathlon. While I used to tell people Maumee Bay broke me, the bike broke me, the dehydration broke me, the general distance broke me, the truth is that I broke me. After realization sank in that the pain was not simply from a pulled muscle and that I wouldn’t bounce back in a week or two, I became obsessed with “training” even harder. I literally thought I could train my way out of the pain, but I’m sure you can figure out where this is going. I went from logging 15 miles a week on the bike to 40. I started running up and down hills like it was my job. I would swim in the pool so long that even after I showered the smell of chlorine would ooze out from my pores. And I NEVER strength trained. I had read in a triathlon book that once a triathlete had started his/her season, he/she should lay off lifting so as not to increase mass. I failed to realize that this book was aimed at tri folks much more fit than I was. I had worked so hard to get down to my ideal race weight that lifting scared the bejesus out of me. I started my 2012 season both the lightest and weakest I had ever been in my 4-year amateur triathlon career. It didn’t matter that I doubled my racing distance; what mattered was how overly confident and ill-prepared I was from the start.
When the pain grew worse after Maumee Bay, I decided it was time to see an orthopedic doctor. I had waited (and still trained through) 4 weeks of extreme discomfort. Sometimes the pain was so awful, I wasn’t able sit upright; I had to stand or lie down to relieve some of the pinching feeling. One MRI later in July, my fate was sealed, my season was over. I was to stop all training effectively immediately.
I threw myself into physical therapy, and even though I definitely increased my muscle tone and the strength in my glutes, hips, and core, it wasn’t enough – I was still in pain. I slipped into a very deep depression. I didn’t eat much. I suffered from tension headaches that would stun an elephant. My skin broke out. I cried all of the time and was a cranky bitch to everyone. Fearing for my well-being, my husband urged me to see my trusted family doctor. I gave in and upon explaining my symptoms, Dr. Shahed had the simplest of answers: I had become addicted to training and was suffering withdrawal symptoms.
At first I laughed, but when he explained to me how I had become addicted to the endorphins and adrenaline, it was only normal that my mind and my body would react – if not violently at times – to its lack of its daily dose of natural chemical highs. I was a training junkie! This both horrified me and relieved me. I was certainly glad to know what the problem was, and scared to death that it would happen to me again.
Fast forward to December and my decision to get the surgery. In the past three months, I have learned more about patience than I have over the course of my 34 years on this planet (sorry, Mom). I have learned to trust my doctors, my physical therapists, and myself. I learned that my friends and family were right when they would remark on how crazed I had become with my training, and I learned that I need to heed their warnings and advice more carefully. I learned that my teammates make even better dinner-mates, wine and coffee-mates, and comfort-mates. I learned that cats make great leg warmers. I learned that my coworkers are some damn amazing folks. I learned that my husband Mark is a much stronger and intuitive man than I had ever imagined. I have learned so much these past three months, and I hope that what I have learned will help others figure out what they need to know.