Somewhere things went wild and astray. This was not supposed to be how things worked out. Vermont City was to be a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Qualifying times and appearances at the Olympic Trials marathon were the intended result of the last ten years of my life. Race after mind numbing race from coast to coast all geared toward the day that I made my marathon debut. Others, seemingly less naturally talented had the marathon distance figured out beyond anything I could ever conceive. I was awestruck with their discipline and respect for the distance. I was blithe and at times cavalier in my training. There was a joy in the simplicity with which I approached training. I love running, I love running fast. All I needed to do was run every day, throw in some workouts and everything was always fine. At my height I could produce whatever performance at whatever distance I desired. Now stymied by the marathon I sat impatiently on the exam table waiting for my sentence from the sports medicine doctor at Cheshire Medical Center.
It appeared to be a innocuous lingering pain at the outset. Four days after the marathon I had attempted an easy three mile jog with some friends as they warmed up for a workout in preparation for the USATF New England 5k the coming weekend. Expected tightness quickly turned to debilitating pain in my right achilles and I honestly expected it to snap any second. In reality that’s where it all ended and all began in an instant. Suddenly and for the second year in a row I was faced with the prospect of another long term running injury. Despite my best attempts at rehabilitation ranging from the standard, ice and ibuprofen, to massage, and chiropractic, nothing worked. Simply put I was up shit creek without a paddle. I had a fairly severe bump on the body of the tendon and when I moved it you could feel a rather alarming amount of fibrous tearing. It was even suggested by a friend that I was rehabilitating the tendon to much. Night after hot summer night I would sit in my recliner icing and staring at my right achilles tendon wondering where it had all gone wrong. My training had been reasonable and almost perfect all year. Durning the indoor track season I had even turned a 4:08 mile while doing marathon workouts. So many things were going right that somewhere along the line I started to neglect that tiny cracks in the dam that would eventually lead to a flood of despair.
Somewhere in the haze and depression of the first month away from running my mind began to wander. I reached back to the early and formative years of my life as an endurance athlete. I remembered one Sunday afternoon watching Mike Pigg dominate the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco and my mother remarking that she could see me doing that race or something similar someday. I have this picture burned in my mind of Pigg tearing through the streets of San Fransico at what seemed like ungodly speeds. Now for the first time in nearly twenty years that image became refocused on the lens of my competitive spirit. I love cycling with every fiber of my existence and truly feel that there is nothing more awesome on the planet than a bicycle. Obviously I had the running part down but could I swim?
Later that afternoon I found myself at Wilson Pond the next town over. If there was going to be anything remotely similar to my boyhood memories this pond was to be the starting point. Literally and figuratively I dove head first into the warm summer water to discover if I could become a triathlete. A half mile, and twenty minutes later I had not drowned and simultaneously convinced myself that this could be done. In my eyes fitness was fitness and whether I could swim with any sort of technical mastery did not matter. An hour later I was out the door on my trusty Kona mountain bike and my journey as a triathlete began in earnest.
Back in the exam room Dr. Heather Schaffer entered with the knowing and understanding look of someone who had dealt with me before. Heather had worked with me through my previous major injury the previous year. Our first meeting was serendipitous but I will be forever grateful. My primary care physician had moved back to Hanover, New Hampshire and Heather was seeing extra patients from the family practice on top of her duties at the sports clinic. Obviously Heather thought I was mad at our first meeting when I insisted that she just shoot my lower back full of cortisone so I could get back to training. Every step of every day during that injury felt like someone was striking me in the center of my lower back with a fifteen pound sledgehammer. I needed relief. I pleaded and insisted that I was not some wacko off the street looking for pain meds. I just wanted to stick a needle in there, kill it, and get back to work. Two MRIs later I had the diagnosis of a stress fracture in my sacrum. No running, and no cycling for twelve weeks, game over. The achilles injury was already at ten weeks and showing little to no improvement. Heathers diagnosis was bleak and her treatment even worse, the boot of shame. The previous year as I was dealing with my fractured sacrum my wife, Mary, was dealing with a severe and debilitating case of achilles tendonitis. At Heather’s recommendation Mary spent almost three months in the boot of shame. That was followed by nearly three more months of physical therapy before she could even think of running again. The boot of shame was a power move at this stage in the game. How long did I want to let this linger? I was terrified at the prospect of the boot and would not commit, I needed to take one last shot at running before I finally gave in. We made a deal that I would run that afternoon and if I felt even mildly improved that we would shelf the boot and favor PT and a reasonable approach to running.
Three days later with unspectacular but steady progress I entered my first triathlon. My life would never be the same again.