Injury-Free Ironman Training Is A Work Of Art And An Exciting Journey Of Self Discovery

Best defense against sports injury is your mind

Hi folks! Thanks for coming by!

Sue likes horses and ponies

Here’s Sue, one of my biking partners, kissing an equine. Sue likes horses and ponies. They are odd creatures.

The best defense against sports-induced injuries is your mind, assuming your mind makes most of your decisions for you. It’s all about selecting the wise choices, sometimes without knowing exactly why a particular action or inaction is appropriate. You just feel it in your bones, but this level of awareness only comes with time and experience.

I was out riding my bike with Sue the other day, when out of the blue she said, “Kevin, how do you train so much without getting injured?” My first thought was, “I really got fed up with being injured all the time and decided to work out how to avoid it“, which I did, eventually. It took a while.

FitOldDog's training wheel

FitOldDog’s thoughts on endurance training encapsulated as a simple wheel, that starts at the top – the study of body awareness. Click diagram for PodCast.

I summed up my approach to solving this issue in the FitOldDog Safe Exercise For Better Health Training Wheel┬áthat is shown in the figure on the left. You have to know what you’re doing, why, pace yourself, know when to seek help, and remember to reward yourself for a job well done. Simple, right? Well, not really, when it comes to a 140.6-mile race.

A few days later, I received the following and related question via e-mail from Lani Martin, one of my blog followers. Part of the message is reproduced here with Lani’s permission, and with emphasis added by FitOldDog! This question also seemed to come out of the blue, having the subject heading of “HELP!!!“:

“I’m 52 and trying desperately to get to Ironman Fl. 2013 on Nov. 2. My brain is doing great. My body on the other hand is getting mad. I am recovering from a torn ligament in my ankle. After doing a lot of aqua running and using the alter G anti gravity machine, to get more running in, I have now pulled my groin muscle biking up hills here in NJ. YAY ­čÖé

Lani Martin


My question is, how do you get the training in and still stay ready to race?

Here is FitOldDog’s Initial Response List With Special Reference To Lani’s Issues:

  1. Forget desperate and replace it with calm, reasoned and thoughtful.
  2. Fix the strained muscle (knowing which muscle or myofascial region is critical), and then determine whether the strain was due, at least in part, to guarding the damaged ankle, and if so stop doing that (much easier said than done). You might consider the use of an ankle brace for running for a while, depending on the type of ankle strain, as you don’t want to strain it again. I strongly advise against running trails or uneven terrain.

    Rory Conolly, FitOldDog's bike coach

    Rory Conolly, the guy who managed to shame FitOldDog into actually getting going on the bike. Thanks, my friend!

  3. Revisit your biomechanics, especially as you bike and run after repairing the groin pull. It’s easy to release the psoas with your thumb if you know how, and then spare it on the bike (engage the gluts) or the run (recruit spinal elasticity to pull the legs forward during recovery, rather than the hip flexors, as it saves a lot of hip flexor effort – read Jack Heggie’s great little book, Running With The Whole Body, for details, as it’s the best introduction to the Feldenkrais Method that I know of). Fixing an adductor or other ‘groin muscles’ can be a little more challenging, and will take some patience. I wonder which muscle is troubling you, as a groin pull feels specific but the term is not diagnostically precise.
  4. A chain is as strong as it’s weakest link, so consider having an assessment from a skilled physical therapist to find your weak points, as this is where trouble is waiting in the wings, then work with these issues (avoid straining by strengthening or modifying your biomechanics). For instance, one of my major problems, of which I was completely unaware and the PT diagnosed in minutes, was weak adductors.
  5. Make sure you have the right coach, especially when it comes to being an older athlete – the main function of a coach is to protect you from yourself. You can adjust your coach’s workouts down, but┬ánever up with respect to volume or intensity, and it is critical to keep your coach in the loop on such changes, and explain why you did so.

    FitOldDog's youngest son winning his first 50k trail run

    This is the guy who got me into triathlons in the first place, and here he is winning his first 50k trail run at age 39. What better inspiration do I need than an athlete son?

  6. Re-examine your injury history, as it may be contributing to your injury problems – sure did for me!
  7. Don’t take your ‘sprint’ experience and apply it to Ironman. In my opinion, at age 52, your training for your first full Ironman should focus largely on volume, rather than intensity. For instance, one of my best coaches (Chris Hauth, of AIMP), had a standard workout that really worked well for me, with the effort level based on his interpretation of my laboratory results (LT and VO2 max, using his standard protocol): 6 hour bike ride in training zone 1, at that time 100-115 watts or heart rate 95-105, for 6 hours straight. This is extremely hard to do on the road, as you have to brake down the hills to maintain wattage and crawl up them, but the mind and body training is brilliant. I’m working on them again right now, as I prepare for my seventh go at the Lake Placid Ironman in July.
  8. Find strains and fix them before they become injuries, for which a regular massage from a sports masseuse does the trick. They find tight muscles and fascia of which you are completely unaware. Work with a roller will fix most of these problems (see the FitOldDog video store for training videos; I’d happily send you the links to relevant videos for free as you are a faithful subscriber). If you find areas of chronic myofascial tension, find out why they happen – biomechanics, shoes, overtraining, whatever, and fix them before they put you on the sidelines.
  9. Learn from your mistakes, which means don’t do it again.

    Rick, FitOldDog's swim coach, and he's making all the difference by taking my attention away from technique and onto conditioning (the technique is coming along for the ride - a long ride).

    Rick, FitOldDog’s swim coach. He’s making all the difference by taking my attention away from technique and onto conditioning (the technique is coming along for the ride – a long ride).

  10. Never increase the volume or intensity of a workout based on a decision made during the workout, as endorphins can trick you.
  11. Avoid risky behavior when very tired, as that is when accidents tend to occur.
  12. Study the Feldenkrais Method, either by watching videos online, attending a class, or best of all one-on-one lessons, which I did for several years.
  13. Make sure your bike really fits you, as 112 miles is a long way to ride before a marathon!
  14. Enjoy the feel of the water as you swim (even long sets), the scenery as you bike (watch out for deadly traffic), that sense of freedom as you run, and smile as often as you remember to do so.
FitOldDog's support crew in NYC for the canceled marathon

FitOldDog’s support crew in New York for the 2012 marathon. Cancelation didn’t dampen their spirits. These are just a few of the people who keep my old bones moving along the road. Yep, I’m signed up for NYC Marathon 2013! Photo by Duncan Morgan; signed up for Mountains of Misery, 200k bike ride, 2013, with FitOldDad.

That’s it for a start. As soon as I publish this I’ll probably think of 10 more things, but this will do for now, as the real keys are (a) honing your mind and body awareness, (b) developing patience, (c) finding great coaches, (d) living a balanced life, and (e) smiling a lot.

And then there’s nutrition, ┬áhydration, and electrolytes!!!!

Endurance sports are unforgiving, and the next injury is literally one tiny mistake away. These setbacks occur as a result of a series of little but additive mistakes, progressing through strains to minor tears, to major tears, to true injury (unable to train or compete).

Hang in there Lani!

You’ll become an Ironman (Ironman Woman), if you make all those little decisions carefully and remember to have fun and dance (Your forte. Broadway? I’m impressed!) along the way, especially during the last 10 miles of the marathon.

-k @FitOldDog


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.