Friday, February 01, 2013

The Upside of Injury: Getting Faster

Most triathletes will have to deal with an injury at some point in their training and racing lives. It can be demoralizing, debilitating, frustrating, and of course painful. But there can be an upside to injury too: Speed. All too often as Type A triathletes, we fixate on mileage, intensity, heart-rate, wattage, and other easily measurable and trackable outputs, sometimes at the expense of the less-quantifyable but important aspects of sport like technique, flexibility, and core strength.

An injury is a setback, sure. But it can also be a benefit when you use your injured time to focus on these overlooked areas of training to make yourself stronger, more flexible, and more efficient (not to mention more injury-proof for the future, since poor technique, lack of flexibility and low core strength are big contributors to most training injuries)

Unfortunately, I speak from all too much experience with injury, especially in the last few years. But as much as it has upset my training, my injuries have had some unexpectedly positive consequences. Coming back from three years in which I broke my hand, my arm, and my arm again (at the elbow), you would think that my swimming would be far worse than it was, say 5 years ago. But instead, I'm faster now than I've been at any time since college. I used the last few years to work steadily on the things that truly matter to speed in swimming: technique, flexibility, and utilizing my core more in my stroke instead of my arms and shoulders.

 The result was evident the other day when I swam a series of 200s in 2:20, a training time that I haven't hit since my days of swimming two workouts a day, six days a week (I'm only swimming 3x a week currently). I can't pile on the yardage that I used to, but I can make every yard count.

This year with a knee injury from a biking incident, I faced much the same problem with running. From last April, two months before Ironman Coeur d'Alene until now, I haven't been able to run more than a couple miles at a time, and until the last few weeks I've been holding my mileage down to 1 - 3 three mile runs a week, hardly an inspiring amount of mileage. Also, no speed work, no track workouts and no tempo runs. Those are three-mile jogs, not anything with intensity or difficulty.

So how is it that on a run with my sister yesterday, she came to comment "You're a lot faster than you used to be!"? I simply applied the same principle to my running that I have to my swimming over the last few years: work on the things that you can, instead of focusing on what you can't do. With running, this has meant a focus on holding good Chi Running form, working on a light and quick turnover of over 90 per minute, and putting a big emphasis on body composition. I've been tracking calories using an Android app called LoseIt, and have very gradually dropped over 10 pounds in the last year. I figure this makes it easier on my injured knee, as well as making me a little bit faster.

So if you find yourself staring an injury in the face this training season, you might think of it as a bonus, not a drawback. Use the time to work on the things you can: core strength, flexibility, technique, body composition, and see if you just don't come back stronger!

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