If I’ve learned anything from sport it’s that highs and lows are part of the game. Sometimes your dreams are achieved in ever glorious triumph! Other times they’re dashed in heart wrenching disappointment. Oh, the drama! Yeah, the lows suck, but without them the awesome highs don’t exist. You have to persevere to make it worth it. You can’t feel like I did two weeks ago, without feeling something like I do right now.
But before all you Crazy Ass fans go riot in the street, do a dozen man march on Capitol Hill or send those floaty candle things from Karate Kid 2 down the Okinawa river, let me tell you that’s it not that bad. This journey still has a long way to go. It’s not a long term, career ending, or even too big a step back. It’s a 3-4 month hiatus. And the silver lining is – it’s going make me faster than ever. So don’t cry, little tiny crazy ass fans, all will be well.
Because I don’t think these stories are told by pro athletes enough, and I know at least 3 of you want to hear it all, the full soup to nuts story is below. Here we go:
I couldn’t help but think of this SNL commercial when I wrote this blog.
A Forgotten Injury
This story starts 10 years ago, back when I was a strapping young steeplechasing lad at Stanford. After a school record setting & All-American track season, I was too eager to start cross country, ran too much, and got a stress fracture in my navicular bone. Since it was my last season on the Stanford team, I was starting my master’s degree, and had a job on campus, I didn’t give the recovery my full attention. I didn’t stay on my crutches and built a bionic wheel leg that strapped to my knee to scoot around campus (seriously). I disregarded any pain I felt, did my requisite time in a boot and carried on with my life. I started riding my bike, broke my neck, started a company, got married and went to business school. Lots of stories there but the point here is that I wasn’t worried about my foot anymore and eventually forgot about it.
Sporadic “Ghost Pains”
When I started training seriously for triathlon about 7 year later (3 years ago), I’d feel my foot a sometimes during and after running. I was convinced it was “ghost pains” from the fracture – tightness related to the ligaments or stiff joints in the area. It was incredibly sporadic – sometimes it would hurt after lots of running, sometimes it felt better after lots of running. So Matt and I “managed” it. I had frequent massage, stretching, joint mobilization, orthotics/inserts, etc. But mostly, I just didn’t run that much. I ran 20-25 miles a week for my first two years as a pro, and would take 3-8 day stretches off if it got sore, which sometimes happened after races or big training blocks. But since we were focused on developing my swimming and biking anyway, it didn’t really matter.
First Run Focus
This year was the first time that Matt and I put some real work into my running, which my results have shown. I out split Javier Gomez at Alcatraz, and ran a 1:10 at Oceanside. In the leadup to Wildflower, I had the best run workouts I’ve ever had as a triathlete – hilly 5:20 pace felt easy, I finished a long interval run with “smooth” 4:39 mile. My foot was a little sore off and on, but it wasn’t anything different than years before. I took the days before Wildflower very easy like I normally do, no big deal.
Wildflower Pain Train
About 3 miles into the run, after a steep off-road downhill into a tight right turn, my foot got angry. It wasn’t a pop or anything, it was more like it started yelling louder and louder and louder until, despite being in the middle of a grudge match with Leon Griffin, it was the primary voice in my consciousness. The fact that I could feel pain through the adrenaline meant that something wasn’t good. Nevertheless, I continued on because, who knows if it’s that bad? I’ve felt it before and bounced back fine. Plus, I want to win.
The run down Lynch Hill was a mix of pain, celebration, and a little bit of sadness. I was stoked, but I had a tiny feeling in the back of my mind that my season might be over. Yep, I celebrated, and did some fun interviews. But when I walked back to my family in the finish chute, hugged them, and gave a half smile, the first words out of my mouth were, “I think I broke my foot.” They were shocked, but I had to tell someone. It was a weird counter environment to the celebration happening around us, kind of like being in a music video or something.
In Limbo to Diagnosis
I spent the next 12 days, getting a host of scans, evaluations, and consulting with two of my most trusted medical advisors. This is the hardest part of the process, being in limbo, knowing something is wrong, but not knowing what. I swam in the river, cried on the trainer, you name it. It was an agonizingly long and frustrating couple of weeks, but my advisors were hugely valuable. The eventual diagnosis – navicular stress fracture.
The Decision – Smartest for the Long Term
Given that navicular fractures rarely heal on their own, and I’ve carried one around for over 10 years, it was clear that I needed to get surgery to fix it long term. But the decision had to be made as to whether I’d do it now, or try to train through Worlds and do it in September. But if I did the latter, I’d risk permanent joint degradation or fracturing it all the way through, making a relatively safe and predictable procedure much riskier. So it made the most since to just bite the bullet and do it now, killing my 2013 Worlds aspirations, but giving me the highest chance of a successful recovery.
Reading the Signs – Baby Time
There is one other obvious X (or Y, we don’t know) factor in this whole thing – Lima Bean. In some ways, it’s fitting that my body gave me three awesome results, held out for a threepeat at Wildflower, and then said it was time to chill the F out right before our first baby is due. If I have any aspirations of being a World Champion (which I do), or doing an Ironman (maybe, we’ll see…), I need to get this surgery at some point in my career. Well, there probably isn’t a better time than now to do it. I can rest, do what’s best for my career long term, and focus on my family during a very crazy and important time in our lives. I’ve heard the term “blessing in disguise” a fair amount the last couple days.
The Prognosis – Surgery Today, Late Season Racing Maybe
I go into surgery this afternoon – wish me luck! My surgeon has performed this same procedure for many world class endurance athletes – including my wife. He’s the best in the biz, so I have a lot of confidence it will go well. I’ll be 3-6 weeks on crutches (hopefully more like 3, as Lima is due two weeks from Friday). I can swim with a sock over my boot at 1-2 weeks (should make for interesting pics/video), ride stationary bike with boot at 2-3 weeks, ride normal at 8-10 weeks, and run around 12-14 weeks. If everything goes smooth, I could race by October, which would let me get a couple 70.3s in, and take a crack at defending my Rev3 Florida title. I’m not going to rush anything, but that’s out there if my body lets me do it.
How I Feel – Mix of Bummed, Excited & Thankful
Obviously, it’s never easy to go from shape of your life to crutches and a boot, but I’ve been processing this reality since mile 3 of Wildflower, so it’s not a complete shock to the system. I do believe I had a legitimate shot at a podium this year at World Championships, but I know that challenge will exist for many years to come. Sometimes the best path forward requires a step back. I really do believe, as do the doc and coach Matt, that this procedure will enable me to train much more consistently on the run, like I never have before. So my new mantra is 1:08. Who knows if that will ever happen, but it definitely won’t unless I put it out there, so BAM! Until then, it’s another opportunity to focus on my swim and bike. It could be just the last push I need to bring it all up to a world champion level….
I am also incredibly thankful for the amazing season I’ve already had. It’s been a huge confidence builder, and one I can easily store inside for a few months. I’m also thankful for the people that have supported me through this process. Lauren, coach Matt, Matt Lieto, John Ball, Amol Saxena, and my family have been absolutely awesome. I also want to say that I have the best sponsors in the business, all of whom were incredibly supportive when I told them what happened and what I needed to do. I can’t tell you how much easier it is to go through all of this with such an incredible support network, it might even make me a little emotional. So thanks a ton you guys, it means a lot.
Telling the Story
I’m going to do my best to blog, tweet, facebook, and instagram the crap out of this process. Like I said, I think it’s a story that isn’t told enough from a professional point of view. So please feel free to comment, tweet me back, etc. The best part having some Crazy Ass Fans following me is that I never feel alone during any of these experiences, particularly the difficult ones. It’s the most motivating and powerful healing tool a dude with Aviators could have. Thanks guys and see you on the other side!