Injury Wrap-Up! And Moving On

It’s been 14 weeks since I crashed on my bike, but who’s counting? I still have some discomfort around my right shoulder blade and collarbone, and my left ankle still hurts when I press on it, but overall I declare myself recovered. I’d like to take a moment to be thankful that broken bones heal so much faster than other issues like tendonitis or mystery pains that can hang around for so long. I figured publicly acknowledging the end of being injured would let me tie this experience up with a pretty bow and forget about it.

So that’s that. Onto more exciting things!

Over the past few weeks I’ve gotten back into yoga (mostly because my 10 class Groupon pass was close to expiring and I do not like to let those go to waste) and attempted to run regularly in preparation for the Haunted Hustle half marathon at the end of October. My running “training” has been a loose training plan considering I started at zero and I’m not doing the race for anything but to have fun, but my long run paces have been pretty average for me. Not surprisingly, my motivation is high and I’m itching to get into a committed and structured training cycle. Last weekend Eric ran a new PR at the Twin Cities Marathon, which sent me into a tailspin of researching winter marathons and flight costs.

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Watching other people run marathons makes me want to run marathons.

As one might have predicted, my strength and fitness did not all return to Ironman training levels as soon as I started to run again. Which means I’ve got a little extra injury weight hanging around and no upper body strength. I plan to get into a regular strength routine and maybe swim a bit, but there’s that saying about best laid plans, so we’ll see what happens. As the weather turns colder and the days get shorter, running outside might be near impossible on weekdays, so strength training and swimming could be more likely to happen.

I guess this is all to say that I’m back! My Ironman dream is on hold for at least the next year, but I’ve got plenty more (running) races to tackle before I get back to spending all of my time on my bike.

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8 Weeks Post Accident: “Clinically Healed” and a Big Decision

Eight weeks ago yesterday I crashed my bike on a long training ride for Ironman Wisconsin, breaking my collarbone and a rib and getting plenty of road rash. I withdrew from this year’s race and let go of my plans for this fall. After not using my right arm much for 3 weeks, then gradually increasing my range of motion over the next 2 weeks, I started to feel almost back to normal around six weeks or so. My road rash has healed into scars that will hopefully fade with time. And at 6 weeks post-injury my doctor declared my collarbone fracture “clinically healed.” I have a referral for physical therapy if I want it, but other than that, I am free to gradually return to normal use. Hallelujah.

I’ve spent the past two weeks getting back to running. The first week I ran for 30 minutes 5 times, and last week I “accidentally” ran 50 minutes instead of 40 while exploring a park near my hotel while in California for work. Yesterday I attempted a 6.2 mile loop around the lake near my apartment, and man it was challenging. This getting-in-shape thing is no joke, and at times like this I half understand why people give up on getting back in the habit of exercising. Luckily I know what awaits me on the other side!

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Running in Mountain View, CA. I swear those are mountains back there.

Speaking of “the other side,” I’m now registered for two half marathons in the next few months and contemplating several more as part of a Marathons of Wisconsin challenge. First up is the Haunted Hustle Half Marathon in nearby Middleton, WI (not part of the challenge). The course goes near my first Madison apartment from this summer (oh yeah, I moved two weeks ago – great time to only be able to lift light things…), and there is a costume competition. I will certainly not be in prime racing shape, so I’m excited to use this race to celebrate running and fall, my favorite season.

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Football season at a football school means Jell-o Jiggler molds at the grocery store.

The big decision to be made: do I register for Ironman Wisconsin 2015? As soon as I withdrew from this year’s race, I made up my mind I’d register for 2015. But I’ll be traveling Monday-Thursday 2 weeks per month for my job for the foreseeable future. I’m not particularly drawn to the idea of long rides on a stationary bike at a gym and long runs on a treadmill. Plus forget pool access. I’m sure other people make it work, but it just doesn’t seem worth it for me. Instead I think I’ll proceed with my original plans for 2015: complete the Marathons of Wisconsin challenge and train hard for Grandma’s Marathon in June. I haven’t trained to really race a marathon since the fall of 2011, and I want to.

Once I am more comfortable in my job, I’ll revisit the idea of training for Ironman while traveling regularly. So for now, it’s not goodbye, but see you later to Ironman training. But we’ll see what actually happens when registration opens…

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On Being Injured and Exploring Wisconsin

I meant to write a “4 weeks since the accident” post, which turned into “1 month since the accident,” and here we are 5 weeks post accident. The thing is, there isn’t much to say. I went to a few water aerobics classes, and at first I enjoyed getting to move around and play in the water. Eventually though, I grew bored – probably because I went three days in a row. Then on Wednesday I tried to do a spin class. I’m not sure what made me think I was healed enough or in shape enough to do it. After getting completely out of breath within 10 minutes and then having my entire upper right body ache, I walked out after 30 minutes. I bought a cupcake on the way home from the gym to help the sadness, so at least I’m dealing with my feelings in a healthy way.

I finally saw my x-rays at my follow-up appointments. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to snap a picture of the rib one, but just imagine a rib with a crack. Here’s a picture of the original x-ray of my collarbone. That little piece at the end is supposed to be in line with the rest of the bone. People break their collarbones much worse than I did, as a quick Google Image search will tell you. And the white dot in the lower right corner indicates where the pneumothorax (hole in my lung) was. The doctor explained to me that they can tell the blood vessels weren’t filling the space where my lung should be, so they knew air was leaking out of my lung. Or something like that…

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Online forums and blogs talk about people breaking collarbones and ribs and getting back on their bikes (and even completing short triathlons!) within a few weeks. I can’t even handle a stationary bike right now. I think my pain is due more to whatever muscles or ligaments I messed up in my crash than the actual broken bones, but honestly I still feel pain in many places . The internet is a dangerous place, and I’m learning an important lesson not to compare my injury and healing with anyone else’s, but it’s hard.

The other night I was telling my mom about my frustrations with the spin class, my boredom with the recumbent bike at the gym, and just general anger at not being able to complete any satisfying workouts, and she said what I really needed to hear: “ You know, you don’t have to work out at all right now. You can just heal.” And she’s right. I’m not training for anything, and I want to be back to 100% as soon as I can. So for now, I’m staying away from the gym and focusing on other things, like reading, traveling (for work), and exploring the areas around Madison NOT from the seat of a bicycle.

On a quest to find an activity that wasn’t shopping (I’ve never lived closer to a mall than I do right now), Eric and I drove out to the Cave of the Mounds, a small cave about 20 minutes outside of Madison. We toured the cave and walked around the very pretty grounds. We both can’t get over how much cooler summers here are, so it was a gorgeous day to be outside. On our way home we stopped in Mt. Horeb to walk into a few gift and antique shops.  And to take pictures of the trolls. Wisconsin’s an interesting place, I tell ya.

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Entrance to Cave of the Mounds

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The landscape above the cave

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Trolls along the main street in Mt. Horeb

As for reading, right now I’m about halfway through The English Patient, and I have The Handmaid’s Tale  and The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People  on my nightstand to read next. If you have any recommendations for books NOT related to running/triathlon/sports in general, pass them my way!

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Withdrawing from Ironman

Well, it’s official. No Ironman for me this year. Thursday was the last day to officially withdraw from the race and get a bit of the registration fee back. While it was hard to send my withdrawal email, I knew it was the smart thing to do. I wrecked my bike 9 weeks out from the race. Ribs and collarbones supposedly take 6 weeks to heal, but there’s no guarantee. Plus those 6 weeks were supposed to be my most intense training, and I’d miss them or spend a LOT of time on the stationary bike and elliptical, bored and miserable. I’m taking the “life-long athlete” perspective here and betting that this year wasn’t my one and only time to try to do an Ironman, and I’d rather take plenty of time to recover than push myself to train and race with fragile bones.

Honestly, officially withdrawing from the race was a relief. No more limbo of “am I training for this thing or not?” Instead I’m taking the time to enjoy the things I didn’t do during Ironman training: lots of Netflix, relaxing (though sometimes boring) weekends, and going to the farmers market on Saturday mornings. Just today I requested several books from the library that I hope to read over the next several weeks or months. Unfortunately, not training for an Ironman means I can no longer eat like I’m training for an Ironman. Still working on that balance…

As much as I’m glad I don’t have to train for the race with broken bones, I miss working out hard. The recumbent stationary bike is good for one reason – I can prop my iPad up and watch a few episodes of 30 Rock while I ride – but that’s about it. I considered trying a Zumba class, but a quick Youtube search revealed that it would likely be too much movement for my shoulder. I’m thinking of trying a water aerobics workout at the gym tomorrow. Yes, I have turned into an old lady. My orthopedist suggested I could do some yoga (but none that involves body weight on my arms like chaturanga push-ups or planks) to increase my shoulder flexibility and strength, so I might start taking a few minutes each day to do some warrior poses.

So what does it feel like to have a broken rib and collarbone? (You were wondering, I’m sure.) I’m 3 weeks into healing, and I feel better almost every day (thank goodness). The beginning of the day and the end of the day are the worst. I broke my rib on kind of the outside back, so when I sleep, I’m putting direct pressure on it, and I wake up with my entire rib cage very sore. Getting out of bed is painful. I’ve started to try sleeping on my stomach some, but that messes with my collarbone. Anyway, after the first 20 minutes or so of being out of bed and moving around, the pain subsides. I’ve gotten a good bit of mobility back to my right shoulder, so I can use that arm to wash my hair, and getting dressed is less awkward (getting a shirt off, on the other hand, I haven’t mastered gracefully yet). I sit at a desk most of the day at work, so I don’t have much pain during the day, just general discomfort, with increased pain if I move the wrong way. I don’t lift anything more than a coffee mug with my right hand – doctor’s orders are nothing more than 5 pounds. By the end of the day though, my right shoulder and upper back are tired and sore. These days I am not in constant serious pain, so my number one goal is to not do anything that might hurt. Additionally, my road rash is mostly healed, though now I have some pretty sweet scars.

Of course I’ve already started thinking about next year’s racing plans, so stay tuned for an update on more exciting things to come!

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Injury Update #2

It’s been two weeks since I crashed on my bike, and overall I physically feel much better most of the time. Emotionally… I have hopeful moments where I think maybe I’ll heal super fast and still be able to do the Ironman this year or at least I come up with some reasons why waiting until next year could be fun, and then later the same day I’ll be crying on the drive home from work because I realize there is no way I’ll get to do the race this year and I hate it. Additionally, my back and shoulder and rib cage hurt, so sometimes I get frustrated with the pain.

Honestly I think I could be ok with not doing the race this year, though Eric doesn’t believe me (probably rightly so). Here are the up-sides of doing the Ironman in 2015:

  • I’d join a team next year and have people to ride with and learn from – that sounds fun!
  • I don’t love the idea of being under-trained if I were to come back from the injury this year and attempt the race.
  • I could do the Madison Marathon in November this year (assuming I heal in the estimated 6 weeks and am cleared for running). Though I just checked the price and it’s $115 right now – oof. Maybe not…
  • I already know some rides and swims I want to do next year as training.
  • I can still spend the fall/winter trying out the classes at my gym. I wanted to do some strength training, but that might be out for a while. And I was just getting into the habit of doing some push-ups and planks each day…
  • I can still learn some winter sports as a break from triathlon training. Cross-country skiing! Snow-shoeing! Other snow things!

There are plenty of downsides too, obviously:

  • I’ll be traveling a lot for work starting in a few months (and working longer hours), so scheduling my workouts will get more challenging.
  • I was really looking forward to focusing on training for a fast marathon next year.
  • I’m frustrated to lose the work I’ve put in since the beginning of 2014, as I was swimming better than ever, getting stronger on the bike, and running really well.
  • I already paid the 2014 entry fee and don’t want to have to pay again (yes I know what a sunk cost is).
  • A DNS (did not start) is never fun.
  • #firstworldproblems

But the worst part right now is being in limbo. Will I do the race this year or not? I have until Thursday, July 24 to officially withdraw from the race and get a whopping $150 back from my $675 registration fee. Coincidentally, I have my follow-up x-rays and appointments with the trauma and orthopedics people that morning. Hopefully they’ll be able to give me a better recovery timeline and I can make a final decision.

So what have I been doing with my free time? Watching le Tour, wasting time on the internet (lots of shopping for non-workout clothes – I bought a down coat for winter!), and going to the gym to ride the stationary bike and/or use the elliptical for 20-30 minutes before my back and shoulder get cranky from holding my right arm in an awkward position. Plus, everything takes longer when you can’t use your dominant arm for much.

I have been in this position before, when I was registered to race the 2012 Boston Marathon but was suffering from some tendonitis and IT band syndrome and spent early 2012 pool running for hours each week before acknowledging that I wouldn’t be able to make it through the race. I survived and got to run in 2013, so I’ll make it through this as well. And in the grand scheme of things, it only matters to me whether I do an Ironman at all, let alone whether it’s 2014 or 2015 or 2030. Six weeks of waiting to be able to work out again isn’t so long. With some luck, I’ll be back to normal training in a few months and this will all be a blip in my past, another lesson in patience and determination.

Yeah, my brain is all over the place. If only I could go for a hard run to let off some steam…

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Injury Update #1

Five days into my injury-imposed rest, I’m in higher spirits than I anticipated. It might be the oxycodone talking, but for potentially having my Ironman dreams squashed (for the time being), I think I’m doing ok mentally. All I’m focused on right now is getting my wounds to heal. Who knows what will happen come September 7, but I’m taking it one step at a time.

This post is a random collection of things that are making me feel alright about my accident this week.

Le Tour. It helps that the Tour de France is happening right now, and these guys crash like all the time. Mark Cavendish crashed at the end of the first stage, going over his handlebars and landing on his right shoulder. I also went over my handlebars and landed on my right shoulder, so I’m basically on his level, right? Right. I assume the majority of them have broken their collarbones and ribs, and look, they’re back to racing bikes professionally! Surely I can get back to recreational racing eventually.

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I feel you, man. Though he needed surgery, and thankfully I did not.

Maxi skirts. Before this week, I did not own any maxi skirts or dresses. I’d contemplated them once or twice but never found “the one.” Then I crashed my bike and had to figure out what to wear to work that didn’t irritate or show the road rash on my shin, knee, hip, and “flank” as the nurses called the area I’d call my love-handle. Enter the flowy, loose, and oh-so-comfortable maxi skirt. After I’d left the hospital, napped at home, and realized I actually had nothing to wear to work the next day, I asked Eric to take me to TJ Maxx (because being on oxycodone means I can’t drive and TJ Maxx is the right price point for clothes you may only need to wear for a week or so). I grabbed two skirts and a dress without trying them on. And yeah, I’m obsessed now. These skirts will definitely be part of my regular clothing rotation.

Also, today at work a girl asked me if we were wearing the same skirt, saying she got hers at J. Crew. I kindly said mine was from TJ Maxx, but yes, they look identical! #maxxinista

Defined healing time. The doctors said my rib and collarbone would heal in about 6 weeks. Of course it’s horrible timing with the Ironman in less than 9 weeks, but in the grand scheme of things, 6 weeks is nothing. And unlike the year I spent trying to figure out what was wrong my foot and then IT band and how to fix them, I know exactly what’s wrong with me, how to fix it, and how long it will take. Nothing is guaranteed, but I should heal within 2 months, and that’s reassuring.

It could’ve been much worse. Even among cycling-induced broken collarbones and ribs, my injuries are pretty minor. I didn’t actually see the x-rays (not sure why not…), but they said my fractures are very small and the hole in my lung was tiny. I didn’t need surgery, and it seems everything should heal just fine on its own. My road rash is already healing up. And Eric and I seem to have escaped the hospital without any hospital-acquired infections – something we were seriously worried about.

This weekend I’m hoping to start weaning myself off the oxycodone so I can drive again. Big plans, people. Sunday is the open water race I was supposed to do. It’s about a 45 minute drive away, but I really want to get my shirt and see the event, so I miiiiight wake up early on Sunday to go watch (I’m not much use as a volunteer right now, I fear). Or I’ll enjoy sleeping in like a normal person. We’ll see.

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Broken

I was planning to publish a post this weekend about how gorgeous (and challenging) cycling is in the Madison area. I even had photos to include and everything. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about what I’m eating to fuel my training when I’m not swimming/biking/running, and I had brainstormed some ideas for how to write about that topic too. And I wanted to talk about how excited I was to sign up for my first non-triathlon open water swim this Sunday (2.4 miles!) and my first 200k bike ride (126 miles!) in a few weeks.

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Ok you get to see a cycling picture

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This state smells like cow manure

Instead, I spent Sunday afternoon through Monday afternoon going from urgent care to the emergency department to the trauma unit at the hospital. Not as fun as blogging, let me tell you.

On Sunday I set out to ride about 65 miles, doing one loop of the Ironman course plus part of the stick to eventually add up to about four hours. About two and a half hours into the ride, I was going pretty fast down a hill when a big tractor appeared coming up the hill in the opposite direction. Because of the angle of the road and a tree, I didn’t see him early enough, so I slammed on my breaks and went over the handle bars, landing hard on my right shoulder and rolling a few times. Thankfully I always wear a helmet and I didn’t land on my head, so my head and spine were fine. A cyclist stopped and waited with me until my friend arrived to drive me to urgent care – the first of several wonderful strangers I’d come in contact with that day.

A few x-rays at urgent care revealed I cracked my clavicle (collarbone) and a rib, and I had a small puncture in my lung. Additionally, I have road rash pretty much everywhere.  My jersey ripped in a few placed (though not where I have scrapes?) and my shorts and sports bra have some holes too. The nurse and nurse practitioner at urgent care were amazing. Due to the lung situation, they had to send me to the hospital, which meant an ambulance ride. The guy who rode in the ambulance with me was great too, talking about how he works the Ironman every year and then giving me the heads up that going into the trauma room at the hospital would be overwhelming (it was). The nurse there was very sweet, though I was annoyed they took off all the bandages the urgent care nurse had painstakingly applied, but I guess they have to get a full evaluation. Eventually I was admitted to the hospital for observation, where I met yet another awesome nurse (and another when they changed shifts in the morning). Honestly, nurses are my favorite people in the whole world. Finally Eric and I headed home Monday afternoon, over 24 hours after the crash, with a sling, about a million pieces of gauze and medical tape, and a prescription for pain pills.

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My jersey. Note that the only real hole is is the center-left. I have zero scratches there somehow.

A couple of observations:

  • When trauma unit nurses see how much road rash you have and say, “oh honey…” you know you’ve done an impressive thing.
  • The default settings for the heart rate monitor thing are not set up for athletes – I kept setting off the alarm in my sleep because my resting heart rate was below their threshold.
  • Related, I crushed the respiratory exercises and measures, even with a hole in my lung. Fitness FTW.
  • I got a tiny glimpse into how much being a resident sucks. The same resident who talked to me about my rib in the emergency department at about 6pm was doing rounds with the attending at 8am, so yeah, I’m guessing he didn’t sleep.

So where does this leave me and Ironman training? Honestly, I don’t know. Or I’m avoiding admitting that doing the race is out of the question. Supposedly the rib and clavicle will take 6 weeks to heal, and the race is 9 weeks away. The nurse practitioner at urgent care made it clear she didn’t think it was possible, and I haven’t talked to any other medical providers about it. The orthopedic resident said I could stationary bike as soon as I felt like it, but I didn’t broach the subject of Ironman. I’m taking this week completely off, and I guess I’ll reevaluate over the weekend. I go back for follow-up x-rays in two weeks, where I’ll learn how things are healing up. A cracked rib and clavicle is a painfully common cycling injury, and plenty of forums have posts from people saying they were back to (stationary) biking and elliptical-ing in 2 weeks and swimming in 6 weeks. Plus my fractures are tiny, whereas many people have surgery. So I am not ready to give up yet (plus I don’t think I could handle the next 9 weeks of wallowing). I need Ironman to motivate me to do my arm exercises and my breathing exercises (oh yes, I have a sweet incentive spirometer), and then to get back on a stationary bike next week so I don’t completely give up on exercising.

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Get Well flowers from Eric’s parents

And that’s my sad update for the week. I doubt there will be much happening on the blog as I continue to rest and wait.

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