Friday, June 10, 2011

Always Look on the Bright Side...

Ironman swim start - now scarier than ever.
It's not my nature to search for the positive things amidst an injury - it just doesn't go with the Disaster Magnet MO. But as of late, I've been fortunate to be surrounded by people who keep reminding me to do exactly that. So, instead of wallowing in despair, these days I get through workouts by considering what "good" has come of my broken rib. I started in my previous blog by noting that the aero position is now the most comfortable position on the bike. (Being forced to do hard workouts in that position might make the bike leg easier on race day in Kona. You never know.)

Biking with a broken rib was the EASY thing. Running was a little harder because it requires upper body movement and impact, but after a week off, I've been able to get a few decent runs in. Knowing I have a tendency to trip and fall even on flat roads, I've become much more vigilant about potential hazards. That can only be a good thing. Another positive, right?

But getting back in the water was always going to be the hardest part. I've been rationalizing that the only reason I'm able to bike and run this soon after breaking a rib was because it's my third rib and therefore not as big of a deal as last time when it was further down (when just breathing was a nightmare). Swimming, however, would surely be next-to-impossible with this particular injury.

I had to find out what I was up against as soon as possible, so yesterday, I tested the waters (literally) - I got up early and went to the pool. As it turned out, my fear (or dread) of the act of swimming was much worse than the actual swimming itself. In addition to rib pain, I was expecting a degree of discomfort in my shoulder as well. But once I got in the water, I found that my shoulder had weathered the crash quite well and I appear to have full range of motion. Surprisingly, I was able to swim with little difficulty and the pain was not much worse than that of running.

That was the first 25 meters, and I had apparently gotten a bit cocky. The wall would deliver the bitch slap. I did a flip turn and felt like I broke my rib all over again. Ouch! Who knew a somersault in the water could be that painful? Note to self: no more flip turns until fully healed. Maybe it's time to head for open water where there is no wall.

By the time I had completed an easy 500 meters, I found that there were many negatives about swimming with a broken rib: the aforementioned flip-turn agony, not being able to breathe comfortably or without pain, especially on the left side, no butterfly, no breaststroke, inability to rotate my body and loss of strength. Do I have to go on?

But, there were also positives - not many, but I did find them. So far, there were two:
  1. In compensating for a right-side injury, my left side may finally be forced to develop strength. (I'm so right-dominant in the water, you could proverbially tie my left arm behind my back and I would swim the same speed).
  2. To lessen the pain, I found myself (almost subconsciously) taking fewer strokes per lap. Call it the survival instinct kicking in, this was a strange realization - and it's something I've spent years trying to do consciously, and unsuccessfully.
The all-powerful pace clock revealed
how slow I am.
By the time I had gotten through a set of 200s, my rib pain had become an overall general soreness, so I decided to end the workout with a couple 50s. Don't ask me why - just chalk it up to that self torture I'm so good at. I wanted to know exactly how slow I had become in my days off. The first 50 was what revealed number 2 above. By the fourth 50, I found myself racing the guy in the lane next to me.

So I have yet another data point to ram home something I already knew about myself: competitive instinct trumps pain. In all these years as an athlete, I'm still not sure if that's a positive or a negative.

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