Welcome to my new website
Greetings everyone and welcome to my new website. This is the first entry of what will become a regular blog over the next year. It’s a warm Tallahassee afternoon here as I write this. The date is October 14. Most athletes are returning from their post-season break and getting back into the routine of regular training. Some are likely eying a big autumn of cross country and some are beginning to build base for a long 2014 track season, no doubt fueled by the successes, failures and memories of the 2013 season.
October is an optimistic month for distance runners. We are creatures of habit. The routine of training brings with it a sense of security as we can form our daily schedules with that run or gym session providing the gel of productivity that binds. Sleep comes easier. I didn’t have a 2013 outdoor season. I have no memories of late-summer Belgian evenings. No sense of that infallible feeling July fitness brings. All I have are thoughts that harken back to single leg squat after squat, hours on the bike and frustrated gasps in the pool as results of my peers flowed in from track races around Europe. It wasn’t fun, but thanks to that work I too can indulge in the optimism October brings. For last week, I got word from the world’s foremost authority on achilles tendons that I was ready to return to training and that the problems in the tendon had been found and irreversibly eradicated. Sweet relief.
When telling my 2013 story, I’ll always harken back to a late January evening at FSU’s Mike Long track. It was my first workout of my warm weather training camp, 10 days before my first race. A fantastic fall of undulating long runs, steady tempos and long intervals on the trail had not only brought about a new bank of aerobic strength but had helped banish the frustration of the 2012 Olympics. I felt free, liberated. Sure, I knew that my achilles problems had not been fully fixed, but I was responding well to massage and able to work out and run. Enough for me at the time.
That night, it was my first proper track workout of the year. I had a threshold mile, a hard 1200 and 10×300 in 42 off 100 jog. I had earmarked 4:55, 2:58 as the pace for those two. Paces weren’t set in stone, coach Rowland said to go off feel. Judging by my struggles at 7:30 pace the previous day with a former women’s team runner from FSU, I was leaning towards a conservative estimate. It was a beautiful evening though, and the FSU asst James Snyder and mens team came out to time and watch.
I clicked off a few relaxed 71s and strided out to a 4:40 cruise mile to begin. Three minutes jogging and I took off for the 12. I just told myself to chill and relax, see what came. I didn’t listen to splits but apparently the first 400 was 57. At 800, I glanced at Snyder and he was shaking his head. 1:54. Well, here we go. I crossed the line in 2:52 and it felt like a stroll. The 300s were a self-control exercise. I allowed myself one 39 before slowing myself down. Snyder said I should have just kept going on that 1200, for entertainments sake. I was just happy to be back. Feeling like myself again. Fast, strong. Surely, with London behind me, I could move forward now with this fitness. Make an impact again on the world stage. I was pumped.
The following morning, I woke and as soon as my left foot hit the floor I knew. Something didn’t feel right. A slight creak in my achilles tendon. An ache. Not a sharp pain, but that dull throbbing sensation that reminds you constantly something is awry. I banished negative thoughts though. Work to be done.
I hit a couple of more good workouts and a big indoor mile PR at Millrose. On the outside, all seemed well. But I didn’t feel right. Millrose, I didn’t have that power from the day of that 1200. 3:52 was decent but not what I wanted. Europeans came and went with a bronze medal. Ireland has a medal culture and people thought it was a great result. I was unimpressed. The tendon was deteriorating. I was on the physio table every day in Goteborg. I did my best attempt at hiding the slight hitch in my step as I walked through the airport in Dublin. Looking back, I tried to hide it from myself. I didn’t want to be stuck in the cycle of rehab and watching from the sidelines. Surely I could put up with some pain so long as I was getting decent results?
Three weeks later, I pulled up in a workout in Flagstaff, AZ with OTC. My right leg was seizing up, doing too much work because I was favoring it due to the left achilles. The remainder of the trip would be spent jogging, maintenance work. No workouts. I bluffed a 3:58 at Penn but by that point pre-meet jogs were discarded in favor of hot baths to relieve tendon pain. To step out in front of 50,000 people and know you’re not right is no way to live. I decided that weekend I needed to sort it once and for all.
With that, I consulted Gerard Hartmann, my physio back in Ireland. We embarked on a rehab plan formulated by himself and Dr.Hakan Alfredson, a tendon specialist based in Sweden. It took the best part of 5 months, with every morning and afternoon spent,changing tendon structure through rehab, on the table with Ger or Evan Scully or on the bike maintaining aerobic fitness. There were days I wondered what it was all for. Relationships took a hit, I was irritable. I envied those working 9-5 jobs, thinking that at some point of the day they could go home and just forget it all. Relax. The ache of my achilles prevented me from switching off. There were days I hoped it would tear so I’d finally have an answer.
The two weeks of World Championships were probably the most difficult. I had spent months visualizing racing in Moscow. Now I felt like the proverbial train was leaving and I was chasing it in desperation, watching as my peers embarked on a journey to see how they matched up against the world. And I watched. Thankfully, I had some terrific people supporting me and offering positivity. My friends, coaches, sponsors, girlfriend and family were unbelievable. In September, I took a step back from everything. Still rehabbed, but enjoyed life more. Went to some electro shows, shared some beers with friends. Before I knew it my consultation in Sweden arrived.
It took 5 flights to get to Umea. 30 hours. But it was worth it. Dr.Alfredson took a look at my tendon and after two days felt that the work we had done rehabbing and his work in alleviating the effects a hypertrophic plantaris tendon was having on the achilles would be enough in his opinion to keep me pain free long term. He endorsed a slow autumn build up and not get carried away. I walked out of his clinic quietly confident the worst of the injury problems were behind me. I vowed not to let myself get excited. I promised to not get carried away. I won’t be doing hard workouts or high mileage for quite awhile. There is still a long way to go. But I’m back training and can work to build up slowly without the worries of a damaged tendon playing on my mind. I too can share in the optimism October brings. And for now, that is enough for me.
I want to thank everyone for their support and positive words. Through social media, in person or over the phone, many people have reached out. It helped keep me focused on my goal throughout the summer. Keep tuned into this site and to @gociaran on twitter for more updates as I begin my build up to Zurich 2014. Looking forward to sharing the journey with you!