Post a painful first Half Iron distance, the thought of failing lingered. I realised there were perks and perils of self training. Nonetheless, deciding to pursue, I took it slow and earmarked my next race. The Goa Triathlon in 2016 was the next tri around the corner and I signed up for the Olympic distance; thinking it would make things easier.
Time to Debrief
My training primarily was focused on the Mumbai Half Marathon for the next few months. The injuries I sustained in my first tri I thought I could run through them and they would eventually go away. So swimming and biking stopped and I was just running.
I also realized during my entire Half Iron training that my weight was pretty much stagnant. This led me to do some research on sport performance and nutrition. While doing this, I came across a book by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney. This seemed to be the perfect solution, it had all the answers, my carbohydrate diet was not working and now I now knew why.
I planned a whole new training and nutrition schedule basis my research. My pace dropped, I was more hungry, miserable and was still pushing through that injury. I finished my Half Marathon race 15 minutes slower than my personal best. What’s more I had gained 7kgs and it was clear that my diet choices had backfired. I went into the Goa Tri, struggled and half way into my run, I felt a snap in my foot. I ended up walking the rest of the distance.
Back in my room, I took off my shoe and saw that the base of my foot had gone blue. It was clear that there was clotting and my injury had reached its logical conclusion. I finally got the message that it was time to stop running. At least for a while.
Research and An Army of Experts
I took time off training and again went back to deciphering what went wrong with my diet. This time I referred to ‘Racing Weight’- by Matt Fitzgerald. Again the diet seemed logical and right. After all, it talked about striking the right nutrition and training balance, being inclusive and had easy to follow guidelines. I also picked up books by Joe Friel and Matt Dixon. Even though my injury had yet not healed, after 4 months of not doing any runs I decided to do some small distances. I also signed up for my next Olympic Tri at Thonnur. I spent more time in the pool, below average time on the bike and hardly ran. To be honest, I found Joel Friel’s book too long and detailed and instead of reading it diligently I skimmed through it. My training was still half-assed and it showed when I did the race at Thonnur.
Another SCMM went by with disappointing results. And it got me thinking. Was this it? Am I even capable of going faster? Maybe I should just give all of this up!
I tried various protocols for strength training, foam rolling etc. I even took myself to a sports orthopedic clinic and got a shot in the heel. The pain disappeared and then within 10 days it was back.
While an army of physios recommended this and that, nothing really worked until I consulted with Heath Matthews, a renowned specialized physiotherapist for athletes. On sharing my history of injuries, the first thing he told me to do was to stop all activities for the next 2-3 months.
Study and Heal Time
We spent a lot of time on therapy for the next few months. Since training was at a complete standstill, I used the time to get back to reading. I had a feeling my nutrition plan was still substandard and I could work on a better plan. So I did the ‘Carb intolerance test’ by Maffetone. It made me realise that if I was not training, I would need to work on following a clean diet. I also read more about the low carb diet. I realized that earlier I had not really increased my fat consumption when I went off carbs. I decided to try the diet again and completely went off carbs. This time things went as per plan and I started dropping weight. After 4 weeks of dropping weight, I started my swims. Attended a workshop on TI swimming and tried improving my swim technique.
The therapy was helping and the pain was much less than what it was earlier. I slowly started off with my bike rides. I also invested in a fluid trainer; a much safer option than cycling on the roads of Mumbai. Runs were still a problem, the pain would get aggravated after continuous running of 4-5kms. So I didn’t push myself.
Getting Back in Better Form
After consulting with Heath, I decided to give the half iron distance another shot and signed up for the Dubai Ironman 70.3. I also signed up for 3 half marathons which I would then use to gauge my running fitness (B and C type races). I decided to follow a structured training regime based on classic periodisation.
Thanks to the fact that I still couldn’t run properly, I worked out a plan that put me on the bike more. My strategy for the race was clear; I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.
So I mentally told myself that if I could not run more than 15kms without pain I would drop out of the race. During my base and build phase of training, I also realized that I would need to add carbs when doing specific types of workouts. But overall my nutrition strategy was “Train low, race high”. After dropping close to 9kgs of body weight, I started adding small amounts of carbs back to my diet. This time the focus was on gaining some weight. Thanks to some reading and complex formulas, I had figured out the optimum body weight for my height and body type for the bike leg. Also I had slowly built up my steady state runs to 15kms without much pain. I did my first ‘C‘ type Half marathon and finished in 2:16hrs. The pain came back after 11kms of running and it was clear that trying to infuse any kind of tempo or faster paces aggravated the heel. I went off running for another 4 weeks and trained even harder on the bike.
While rehab continued, we added extracorporeal shockwave therapy along with manual therapy and stretches. With about 5 weeks before race day, I did my ‘B’ type half marathon. This time I finished in 1:58hrs. What was even better was that the pain resurfaced at around 16kms and I could run through the remaining of the race with the pain. I more or less had a benchmark of how to proceed with my ‘run’ leg of the triathlon.
The regular training on the bike in the ‘pain cave’ also had improved my bike time. I could now do 90kms in around 2:35hrs which for me was a breakthrough.
That really was the boost I needed; a sign that things were going well as planned. Now I could go ahead and chart out a course for the race. I met up with Akshay Samel; my friend and fellow triathlete to help. I arrived at a calculated target of 55-60mins swim, a 2:45-2:50 bike leg followed by a 2:15-2:25 run. With transitions I figured a 6:15 to 6:30hr finish was something possible. I was finally getting back on track for race day.