Breaking the Cycle

“Shit, I know that pain.”

That is all what was going through my head 15 minutes after finishing a long run at Watauga River Road. We had not run super fast, as I have a propensity to do, but it was just a solid run to end a week where I finally felt good in training.

12 x Canova Ks out at Todd with the crew
Picture Credit: J.C.Rain

After the NYC Marathon, I took a nice break from running. I ran seven times total in the next three weeks, and most of them were short. This was all part of the plan. Rather than rush back like I did from my previous two marathons, only to get injured within eight weeks, Pete and I decided to take a much more leisurely approach. The only hitch with this was ZAP only had four guys ready to run USATF Club Cross Country, and I was needed to be the fifth man for a complete team score. I was perfectly fine with this as long as we still stuck to a moderate build up and my expectations were not set very high.

Three days before the race, just like two years ago, my Achilles began acting up. But like two years ago, I figured I could still have a good race (I finished 8th). So this was no big deal. The only thing that made me worried was that it took a month of sporadic running to finally get rid of it, but I would deal with that after the race. The race ended up being an unmitigated disaster. Afterwards I was considering it my worst race ever, mostly because I could not think of a race where I performed worse. Five weeks earlier I ran nearly the same pace, but for four times the length. The only conciliation was that as a team we were able to secure 4th place, only three points out of 3rd, But I was disappointed to say the least.

In the weeks after the race, I turned my focus to getting my Achilles 100 percent before resuming training. That took an agonizing seven weeks of cycling and core work before I was running anything of substantial volume. And even after that, it took another five weeks to begin to feel like my old self. In every workout that five weeks, I was getting dropped, but knew that if I put the work in I would round into form. Even my teammates knew it too. Johnny kept joking that it was only another week before I would be “crushing it.”

Finally that switch flipped and I felt fantastic. On March 4 we all headed to Brevard, NC for a little four mile race hosted by The Oskar Blues Brewing Company (A quality Colorado company). Our instructions were to run the race like a progression run, as we then had some intervals after. I felt alright during the race, but on the intervals I was floating along while running faster than the race. I was stoked! In the upcoming weeks I was going to be able to get some quality training in before taking a shot at a fast 10,000m at Payton Jordan in May.

A few days later I had another good interval workout. Which leads us to the long run at the end of the week. Like I stated above, the run was not anything stellar, just a continuation of the first good week of training since my build up to NYCM. Heading into the run the last thing on my mind was any injury, let alone a stress fracture. My last sacral stress fracture had a quick on set of 24 hours, so I was not too worried to be nearing the end of my run and feeling a slight tightness in my lower back. Most likely it was just my back getting a bit tight in the last few miles of a long run. Fifteen minutes after I finished my run and I was in shock. In the matter of 30 minutes I went from running carefree to knowing that I was not going to run for 2 months.

Since I have been off over seven weeks, I have had lots of time to digest it. Mostly I was just disappointed that I was not going to get a track season again. Last year’s stress fracture was tough because I did not get a second chance to make the Olympic Team after coming close in LA. This time it was tough pill to swallow because I felt like this was going to be my season to focus solely on the track. I know that I most likely have not run my last track race, but the future of my career is on the roads and specifically the marathon, and to reach my full potential in the marathon I have to turn my entire focus in that direction.

For the last seven weeks I followed a similar protocol to last time. Around four weeks off limiting my movement, before I stared walking, gradually increasing the distance. Then around the sixth week I began some light Elipigo, and again gradually increasing the time spent on it. Even though this stress fracture was a level 3 (the lowest level, I think my other one was between 2-2.5), Pete and I are taking our time coming back. With nothing set on the schedule until the fall, there is plenty of time to return to training.

This spring we have been fortunate enough to get two Elliptigos for ZAP. They are great for cross training and since they have a longer stride than traditional elliptical machines, they are much better at mimicking running form.

Besides walking and Elipigoing (if that is even a verb) Pete and I have been trying to figure out what has caused this second stress fracture. The diagnosis of the first one was that my Vitamin D was low from being covered up all winter while heat training and came back too fast from the Trials, being among the most obvious. Once again this one came in the waning months of winter, but my Vitamin D was much higher as I have been consistently taking it along with calcium. Along with a DEXA scan, the numbers on every indicator of bone fragility are not there. While I was months removed from NYCM, I had been dealing with a temperamental Achilles, and after getting healthy I might have started training hard too soon. Some other ideas that Pete have thrown around is that even though my Achilles was feeling fine, it had altered my form slightly. And over the course of tens of thousands of steps, a slight change can add up if the body is not able to adapt fast enough.

Articles

Here is an article from Brian Fullem, whom is basically the closest we have to a team doctor at ZAP.

A good overview of sacral stress fractures in elite runners from Runner’s World

One guy’s story about coming back from a sacral stress fracture. From reading it, I feel like it made the mistake of coming back too soon and too much.

The last two articles are studies (1,2), so their language is more technical, but have some good info and ideas on why sacral fractures occur. Basically they say that load bearing activities are more prone to stress fractures (which is not new) and the fix is to take time off (once again not newsworthy). The biggest thing they say is that most likely sacral fractures are under reported because they are diagnosed as other, usually soft tissue, injuries.

Figuring out why this cycle of injuries is important, as I know the best way to improve is to stay healthy. Constantly increasing your fitness is much better than training hard and getting hurt only to repeat the same cycle again. While in college I was constantly hampered by injuries, every 18 months it was a given that I would be sidelined. Even through that cycle, I was able to advance my fitness and make big jumps. But it was not until I had a few years of uninterrupted training I really began to see how much fitness I lost while being hurt. I had over 5 years of constant training leading up to the Trials and I think that it showed me I am nowhere near my ceiling. I have come a long way from placing a high of 5th at the state meet my senior year of high school to 10 years later being 5th at the Olympic Trials. Had you told high school Tyler that in ten years time, he would have almost made an Olympic Team, I do not think he would have believed you. The belief I could make an Olympic team has developed over the years, but I would argue that the unbroken years of training are the core of that belief. Even with the last year of injuries, that idea has not left my head. There are still three more years until the next Trials! But the smoothest path is through an unbroken three years of training. So it is baby steps towards getting healthy and to eventually racing in the fall.

2 thoughts on “Breaking the Cycle

  1. Tyler, sorry to hear about your stress fracture. There has been an increase in sacral stress fractures (and sports hernias) with the increased focus on “core work” among elite runners and the running community. The connection is that a lot of the core work runners do isolates the muscle and does not teach thyem to coordinate with other muscles to support the running motion. The other problem is that runners typically think more is better too, so you end up fatiguing an area as well as not teaching it to work with other muscles. I don’t know your specific situation. But you did focus on core work after your achilles injury. If you did that long enough, you may have fatigued that area to the point it couldn’t support the running motion. Just a thought.

  2. Pingback: End of Summer Update | Website of Tyler Pennel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.