4 Weeks of Ironman Training: The Frustrating Tales of Early Setbacks

UPDATE:
The full 1 year Ironman training plan that I followed is now available!

I was hoping today’s post would be a triumphant one. Relishing on a recently completed 7 or 8 mile run, basking in how seamless the transition from CrossFit athlete to Ironman triathlete has been.

But alas, this is a different type of post. One where the reality of trying to train for an Ironman in one year sets in. One with setbacks & frustrations (and some good news sprinkled in).

So what happened?

On a particular day of scheduled activity, I was to attend a CrossFit class, and go for a 5 mile run. Turns out I had the day off from work, so I got to do this at my own pace, which was quite nice. The CrossFit workout was short and sweet, 20-15-10-5 deadlifts (185#) and assault bike calories. Totally torched my hamstrings, but otherwise, a “normal” workout.

Went home, ate, rested for a few hours and then went out on a 5 mile run. Right at the beginning of mile 4, the outside of my knee began to hurt. Some tightness up my leg, but what the hell, it’s all downhill to finish the loop.. might as well keep going.

So I ran the last 2 miles thinking that the tightness would subside when I finished the run. Only problem? It didn’t.

Since my last post on Nov 26th, I’ve run 7.3 miles; 20 less than the 2 weeks preceding.

Not because I suddenly lost aerobic capacity, or because of fatigue, or time. No, it’s been due to a nagging IT-band strain. A dull, nagging pain discomfort that only shows up after 1.5 miles. Not 1.4, not 1.6, 1.5. always.

I can deal with soreness, with a “twinge” here and there, but this was different. Not quite debilitating, but certainly sent enough signals to my brain to get even the most stubborn person I know (spoiler alert, that’s me) to say “I should probably stop”.

What have I done about it so far?

About everything I can think of (short of asking Elon Musk to build me a robot leg.. which is still on the table).

I’ve stretched, iced, taken ibuprofen, gotten dry needled (which has helped some), graston treatment, tried to ignore it and run anyway, rested, but all to no avail.

1.5 miles, perfect. 1.6? Nope.

Why do I think it’s failed?

Well, probably because after each treatment, I’ve done something immediately the following day. Even if it wasn’t running, I swam, headed to CrossFit, hit the bike, something. All because I relentlessly don’t want to lose any ground and the fear of not doing anything and “falling behind” is much greater (stupidly) than extending the injury itself.

So now what?

In addition to actually taking a full day off after some treatment (which I’m doing as I’m writing this), the only thing I haven’t done consistently yet is specific strengthening of the hip/IT-band. It’s about time I find out what I can do to prevent running injuries, rather than deal with them later.

We’re talking super manly (sarcasm) exercises like leg raises, clams (seriously, that’s what they’re called), single leg toe touches, and the like.

What I’m slowly discovering is that over time, even with squatting, jump roping, etc. I unknowingly favored my right leg, weakening my left over time. So now, I get to reap the benefits frustrations of that, and get to slowly build back up that left hip so it’s on par with my other half.

“Ok.. I thought you said there was good news?”

Oddly enough, as frustrating as this entire thing has been, it’s been convenient in one other way:

It hasn’t negatively impacted, well.. anything else.

Pain free, I can still swim, bike, and have yet to run into something in CrossFit that aggravates the knee (even survived the “12 days of Christmas” without a hitch).

That means that I’ve stayed on track with swimming and biking (my two new adventures) as well as CrossFit to keep me sane.

My breathing continues to improve in the pool, and my 100 RPM cadence on the bike trainer is becoming more second nature (particularly as I’ve thrown some gearing intervals into the mix).

Still being able to bike & swim keeps me hopeful.

Knowing that when (not if) this IT-band issue dissipates, that I’ve not lost any ground in the pool and on the bike, will be a big boost of confidence as my countdown clock to the official start of training gets smaller.

With 9+ months until the race, what’s the big deal?

Fear.

Fear of failure, that my body isn’t strong enough to make it till the end, that if I can’t even survive a few weeks at “light” volume without acute injury, how the hell can I survive a 17-hour-time-cap-race involving 3 sports that I’ve never been committed to before?

Fear of letting people down who are keeping tabs on my journey. Fear of having to say “I can’t”, or “I couldn’t”.

It’s easy for doubt to creep in. Particularly when facing adversity (however big or small) in a realm of uncertainty.

The reality is I don’t really know how my body will react as I continue to move forward, or how much I’ll have to adjust my training based on how long this thing lingers. I don’t know if I’ll hit my goal of 13.1 miles before “training begins” on March 5th.

I just don’t know.

The other reality is, I am indeed stubborn. Stubborn enough to not stop or quit (or even consider it) this early on. It’s less about “what if I can’t” and more about “how can I make sure I can”. That’s the mental journey I’m on now.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a guy named Yuri Zakharevich, a little known Soviet weightlifter (who’s awesome story can be read here) who came out of the gate absolutely dominating his competition. Attempting a world record lift in 1983, Yuri dislocated his elbow, so badly that it had to be rebuilt with (crappy 1983) synthetic tendons. 5 years later, after years of rehab, strengthening, and just pure grinding, Yuri lifted at the 1988 Olympics, where he broke a world record snatch on his second lift, and then broke his own, newly created record, again on his 3rd.

All of that lead to becoming a 1988 olympic gold medalist, and a legend in weightlifting history.

So why do I know this obscure story about a Soviet weightlifter? Because of this quote. It goes like this:

“There is a time in every one’s life when you must clench your teeth together and your fate only depends on your determination.”

 

Until next time.