Zen and the Art of Body Maintenance Revisited


Hi folks,

Training Tip: How to address an injury close to a planned race.

In a previous post, I referred to that important book, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance‘ by Robert Pirsig, which addresses the issue of quality, using motorcycle maintenance as a metaphor. This is how I remember his story, which I read about 30 years ago. Robert Pirsig presents the relationship between two couples, who ride together often, and their respective motorcycles. One couple, let’s call them couple A, just takes the machine to the repair shop for all maintenance, and they appear to have no idea how it actually works. If they break down on the highway they are essentially stuck. The other couple, couple B, loves their motorcycle and do all of their own maintenance, and if they break down on a trip they have a fair chance of fixing the problem. They have to put in a lot of work to achieve this end, but for them it is a ‘labor of love.’

I am returning to Pirsig’s thoughts as I address the issue of rehabilitating a sore ankle at a critical point in my training, only four weeks away from my annual vacation at the Lake Placid Ironman race; and what a great venue it is! I first competed in this race in the year 2007, at the ripe young age of 64 (Oh! To be so young again!). Here is a fuzzy movie that shows my completing the 140.6 miles in 15 hours and 44 minutes.

I have since taken two hours and ten minutes off of that time, but I would like to complete it in under 12 hours. Finishing in the daylight in 2010, in 13:34 was a definite sign of improvement, but I have a long way to go in this fun game.

Lake Placid Ironman swim course with a view of the Adirondacks

When you arrive in Lake Placid, NY, a few days before the race late in July, the whole town is buzzing with triathlon energy. One thing that can get in the way, however, is an injury. It is critical that you learn how to deal with injuries, which are going to happen from time to time, however careful you might be. My sore ankle was self-induced due to changing shoe arch inserts too rapidly, but it is nearly fixed. I am dealing with a residual mild tendonitis in my right, posterior tibialis tendon. I had a number of choices when addressing this injured tendon, as follows:

  1. Do nothing and try to run through it! Big, big mistake. You’ll never make Hawaii that way. In fact, your running career may be much briefer than you thought.
  2. Go to the doctor. The average doctor will treat the symptoms, and may even inject cortisone. If enlightened he/she MIGHT send you for physiotherapy.
  3. Go to a Sports Medicine doctor. This is a very good approach if the problem is severe and you don’t know what to do about it.
  4. Go to the physiotherapist. If it was severe, and I had no prior experience with tendonitis, I would probably do that.
  5. Formulate your own approach. In this case, you have to be like couple B in Pirsig’s book, in which case it is essential that you know about your body, how it works, and how to help it to heal. Having training in Veterinary Medicine definitely helps me a lot in this arena, but anyone can learn a great deal about fixing minor sports problems. At least if you are informed you will be able to tell a good doctor from a registered quack, and avoid that potentially costly error.

My approach has been to (a) return the regular arch supports to my running shoes, (b) work on reducing tension in the strained portion of the calf muscle group using a roller (gently), tennis ball, and ice, (c) relaxing my calves and ankles whilst running, reducing load on the calf muscles, and (d) breaking up my runs into multiple smaller runs to cover the same distance, but using the roller and ice after each run. This seems to be doing the trick as my ankle happily withstood a 32-mile bike ride followed by four miles of road running today. If it persists, I would go on to do number 4 above, or even number 3. And of course, I have been applying Feldenkrais approaches, through the application of Functional Integration techniques (‘toe twiddling!’) by Karen, which also helps a great deal.

If you are serious about being an endurance athlete, you should strongly consider being like couple B, and in addition to that, give Feldenkrais a try. Michael Sigman did, and he seems to be pleased with the outcome.

Happy trails and don’t forget to follow me on Chez Ollie on July 24th.

-k Your Medical Mind

PS My old dog, Nickel, just died! I’ll go cry about that now. We were together for about 16 years.



  1. Kevin you’re an inspiration. I’ll be tracking you in July at placid. I have a marathon under my belt and am considering an ironman at some point. You’ve done both…….how much different is the training for an ironman (outside the obvious–you need to swim and bike too). Also how did you feel during and after your first ironman? Was it more exhilarating than the marathon?

  2. Hi Benjamin,

    Thanks for the kind words, and see posted response in today’s ‘article.’

    Kind Regards,

    Kevin (Old Dog)

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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.