2010 Vancouver Olympics

2010 Vancouver Olympics
Welcome! It is here I hope to keep all of my sponsors and supporters up to date about my everyday life as a full time Biathlete. I will post regular updates about how my training and race season is progressing, which will hopefully provide a little insight as to exactly what my life is all about. With the Sochi 2014 Olympics fast approaching, I invite you to join me on my journey as I pursue my dreams...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Personal Best - Personal Agony

Racing in Oslo last season - my last weekend of racing for that winter.

Finally as promised, the long awaited details about my back injury.   In July 2011, while completing a max strength session in the gym I herniated a disk in my low back, between the L5 and S1 vertebrate to be exact.  The previous day we had done a hard interval session of double poling which had my back feeling a little tight and fatigued the morning of the incident, but at the time I didn’t think much of it.  The weight lifting session had been going well and I was midway through finishing my squats for the day.  During one of my reps while squatting up from the low point of the lift, my back shifted slightly and I suddenly felt a sharp pain shoot through my low back.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that I might have just seriously injured myself.  Yeah it hurt a lot but I thought it was just one of those injuries that would quickly disappear.   I took some anti-inflammatory drugs when I got home, iced my low back, and thought I would wake up the next day more or less ready to go again.

I woke up the next morning thinking that I would be OK, but instead I woke up barely able to walk and in a ton of pain.  I hobbled into physio later in the afternoon and the long road to recovery officially began. I received a CT scan a few days later and an MRI a few days after that which both confirmed what was feared; a left sided herniation, slightly compressing the S1nerve root.  I backed off the training and started on an intense rehab plan.  The initial recovery actually went really well and I progressed faster then what our support staff would typically see.  It wasn’t long before I was back to training on a modified plan and come fall I had made up any lost training and intensity hours.  Things weren’t perfect, there were a lot of activities I had to refrain from doing, but I was able to accomplish the training I needed to get done with some changes to the program.

When I transitioned from roller skiing to skiing on snow in October, things started to act up a bit with my back but it seemed I was always able to keep it from getting too bad through physio.  The race season went ahead as planned, but by the end of the third race at the World Cup opener in Sweden I was running into problems again. I was in a lot of pain and this time symptoms were progressing to my left leg.  By the time we arrived in Austria for World Cup #2 things were to the point where I was having trouble walking.  I was planning to pack it in and fly home, but after a few days of taking it easy things started to settle to the point where I was able to ski again without too much problem.  I survived the next two World Cups of racing on a rollercoaster of ups and downs – some days I raced in pain, some races my left leg felt fatigued, others I felt not too bad.  With the combination of physio, the majority of my spare time spent lying on ice, and daily massage treatments consisting of painfully deep pressure point release, I somehow made it through.  I was happy when it was finally time to fly back to Canada for Christmas.  I was mentally and physically exhausted from dealing with this injury and finally I was given a small window of opportunity to sort things out.

Over Christmas my time was spent on highly focused rehab sessions, and when it was time to cross the pond again two weeks later I felt as though I had things more under control.  Or at least I thought so.  The next two World Cups went more according to plan, I was not racing in pain and although I felt some discomfort by the third race at each World Cup, I was always able to recover fairly well in time for the next World Cup. 

World Cup #7 in Oslo is where things really fell apart.  The week opened up with a 10km Sprint race where I posted the best result of my career finishing 9th.  The next day I followed up that result placing 13th in the 12.5km Pursuit.  This was awesome and things were going perfect.  I should mention however that I had to race the Pursuit without a toe plug in my left binding.  It somehow fell out in the ski bag that the wax techs had brought down to the start, and by the time I noticed I had about 10 seconds until my start and it was too late to do anything about it.  The toe plug helps stabilize the ski and controls how much flex the binding has. Without the toe plug there was nothing from stopping how much flex my foot would have in the binding, and in this case the amount of flex was unlimited which left the ski dangling off my foot after each push.  This resulted in the most frustrating World Cup race I had done, but I still managed a solid result and I had figured out a way to push without flexing the binding too much.  A situation far from ideal but I dealt with it. 

The third and last race in Oslo was a 15km Mass Start.  As a biathlete, Mass Starts are the most exciting race we do on the World Cup circuit and there’s a certain honor that comes with qualifying to race one, because in order to do so you have to be ranked within the top 30 in the World.  Based off my results that week I had qualified for the race in 24th and was about to check off one of my big goals for the season.

I woke up the next morning with my back feeling a little off.  I figured it was because I had been racing a lot and thought it could be in part because of how my body had to compensate while racing with the binding malfunction the previous day.  I received some treatment from our therapist that morning and felt ready to go for that afternoon’s race.  Things were going smoothly during my warm-up until I turned a corner leaving the range and felt a sharp stabbing jolt of pain in my low back and glut.  It paralyzed me on the spot and I nearly fell over.  It was weird because I didn’t fall, trip, or stumble when I was coming around the corner; something in my back just went.  When I came to my senses a second later it happened again.  I made it back to the range and told my coach something was wrong.  I pondered for a bit, finished zeroing and then decided to try and ski a loop closer to race pace and see how things felt.  The pain was to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to ski anywhere near race pace. When I arrived back at the start pen I took off my skis and thought maybe I could walk things out.  I took a few steps and nope, this definitely wasn’t helping.  I hobbled back to the start pen where our therapist tried some pressure point release which didn’t help either. 

By this point there was about 5min until the start.  I didn’t know what to do but with the pressure of having to make a decision over the next minute, I decided to start the race.  Our wax techs were on course about 200m from the start with spare equipment in case a ski or pole broke during the commotion of the start, and I figured that I would get dropped by the pack right off the back and if that was the case and the pain was too much, I would just pull out where our techs were standing.   The race started and I didn’t get dropped like I thought I would.  I was in the mix and once the adrenaline kicked in I didn’t feel the shooting pains in my back as much.  The first couple loops were painful but I was racing extremely well.  I was shooting awesome, skiing fast (I have no idea how) and moving up in the rankings with each loop. In a sprint to the line I finished the race in 10th, the second best result of my career to cap off a dream week of racing for me.  A dream week of racing in terms of results that is, for what I was about to experience next when the adrenaline of racing wore off was agonizing beyond words, and that would last the better part of 10 months.

Since this post is getting long I'll continue where I left off with part two to follow shortly, but before that...

I commented to my girlfriend Rosanna while I was drafting this post about the emotions and memories that resurfaced while I was writing this, and to be honest I feel mostly shocked when I re read this post.  I'm confused as to how I was able to ignore so many early warning signs, to keep pushing forward when I knew my body was far from 100%, and why this whole experience had to go the point where I couldn't even walk before I finally gave in.  I guess it's clear I have a tough time when it comes to dealing with pain and knowing when enough is enough.  I feel pain when training all the time.  During every interval session, during every treadmill session, during every race, my body hurts like hell.  To some extent I think it’s fair to say I crave pain, the hurt I feel during a race is satisfying, especially when my body is in top form.  I’ve taught myself early on in my career to accept that pain and challenge it, to constantly test how hard I can push my body before it physically gives out or until mentally I can’t handle it anymore.  As ridiculous as this will sound to non-athletes, it’s sometimes difficult to decipher what type of pain is ok to push through, and distinguishing between the types of pain that might be causing my body harm, although often fairly obvious, is at times difficult.  Up until now I’ve been relatively injury free in my career, and I’ve had to take very little time off, if ever from training.  Being in top physical form is an amazing feeling, you feel like can you handle almost anything and to some extent you feel invisible.

In addition, another very big factor that played into all of this was how well I was racing.  I think if my results had clearly been poor and I wasn't racing well due to my injury, it would have been easy for me take a step back and look at the bigger picture.  But that wasn't the case, and because of that it was difficult for me to stop.  Last winter was my best season to date. I tied my previous personal best result on the World Cup in the second race of the season, and as winter progressed so did my results.  I was consistently placing in the top 20 and 30, had to top 10 finishes, was ranked among the worlds best for shooting, and scored points in every single World Cup race I started with the exception of my season opener in Sweden.  From a results perspective things were going perfect and I was getting stronger as World Championships approached which was exactly what I had wanted.

I'll never know what would have happened if I hadn't started that last race in Oslo.  Chances are that last race effort wouldn't have changed the outcome as something went really wrong with my back during my warmup.  Or, maybe I would be back to racing already.  Either way what's done is done and I've been forced to learn some valuable lessons and deal with the path that now lies ahead.

Stay tuned for the next instalment! 

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