The beginning of spring has me reflecting a bit on 2021 so far. While it hasn’t been perfect, it seems as though the world of endurance sports (despite some high profile cancellations) will return to some version of normal. Athletes around the world are getting fit and ready to make up for their lost seasons.
My 2021 has started a bit differently, which is to say, painfully. I’ve been dealing with the aftermath of a hamstring tear. Not a “just rest it for a week or so” micro-tear, but a full on proximal hamstring avulsion that had my sports med doc asking me questions like “what are your future athletic expectations?”, and referring me to a surgeon. On January 6th, the aforementioned surgeon reattached my hamstring to my pelvis with some sort of “bioabsorbable” anchor…whatever that means.
Now, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’ve been killing rehab. Hitting up in-office physical therapy three times a week, doing PT exercises at home the days I don’t go into the office, and slowly working swim, bike, and “run” (does an alter-g count?) back into my schedule. It was going great….until Thursday afternoon. After a relatively easy bike/swim day, my right glute (same side as my surgery) was super tight and sore. “Why is this happening to me? It hurts to walk! I’ve done everything right! I don’t deserve this! My triathlon “career” is over!!!” It was like a taper breakdown, but worse. My roommates, as I will heretofore refer to my wife and children, were unimpressed with my histrionics.
As endurance athletes, it’s all too easy for us to place entirely too much emphasis on a single data point. Whether it’s a race that doesn’t meet expectations, an FTP test that falls flat, a swim TT (seems like this is the YouTube vid theme of the year) that doesn’t reflect the work you’ve been putting in, or simply an easy run that didn’t feel “easy” enough, we’re all programmed to want more. It makes sense! Seems to me there’s a handful of reasons to compete in endurance sports: the community, looking good naked, and the feeling you get from working hard and improving at something.
BUT…improvement never follows a straight line. The path to truly getting better at ANYTHING is always bumpy. It doesn’t have to be “two steps forward, one step back”, but we also can’t expect completely unimpeded progress. The arc of time tends to smooth out the trajectory of improvement in our brains. The completion of a successful season erases, or at least discounts, the various obstacles we overcame along the way, turning a staircase (or even a jagged mountain range) into a smooth ramp.
Improvement in our sport is built not upon sustained perfection, but on showing up day after day, week after week, month after month, even if you have a bad race or workout. Put in the work, and you’ll get better, but no one can promise you a smooth ride!
As for me, I was talked off the ledge by my physical therapist on Friday morning, who reminded me that we had done a significant amount of work on Wednesday, and that I was only experiencing a completely reasonable amount of DOMS. In layman’s terms, she told me to stop being such a baby. If you ever need someone to talk you off a similar ledge, let me or Patrick know!