How I came from injured to podium finish – part 1

By Rachel Lotz

It has been 20 weeks, 147 days since I experienced my first debilitating knee pain from IT Band Syndrome. A lot can happen in 20 weeks. I turned a year older, watched the seasons change, finished several shows on Netflix, traveled to new places, and forfeited many many races. In the first few weeks of January I was still riding the high of completing a very difficult 12 Hour Endurance event in the middle of December, so I told myself that 2018 would be the year that I would make myself comfortably uncomfortable. I wanted to see what my mind and body were truly capable of; little did I know that would mean recovering from an injury for the entirety year.

On payday in January I bought myself a Spartan Race Elite Season Pass to race competitively in various races they offered throughout the year. I also decided it was time to step outside of my comfort zone of obstacle course racing, and sign up for a few local half marathons. I ramped my running volume up quickly, too quickly. A few days later, I was out in the pouring rain on a routine run after work, when I felt a sharp pain in the right side of my knee. It also didn’t help that I was at the farthest point in my run, and had to shimmy my way back an additional 3 miles back home. After experiencing continuous pain in my right knee for a few days following my run, I reached out to Bob Cook at Performance Therapy to check if there was anything else wrong to make sure I wasn’t injuring myself more. He did confirm that I was experiencing IT Band Syndrome in my right leg.

My first instinct was to ask if I would be healed by March 2nd. I didn’t care what had to be done leading up to that point, as long as I was physically, mentally, and emotionally ready by that date. Friday, March 2nd was the Unofficial Spartan Endurance 12 Hour event put on by Krypteia Cha, and it was also his last event as a Krypteia. I HAD to be there, and this would also kick off my 2018 racing season.  Little did I know that this would also be the first time I forfeited a race entry for the first half of the year.

After several visits and my personal attempts to keep training, Bob told me that the best course o action was to mobilize, strengthen weak supporting muscles and lay off running until the pain subsided.

LAY OFF RUNNING? This man had to be crazy. I was in the height of off season, putting in some serious mileage to be conditioned for the start of my season in March. To say I was devastated by this news would be an understatement. Running was so much more to me than just exercise. It was my time alone to jam out to music, decompress, and digest the activities of the day or week.

Towards the end of January and into February, I started to regain momentum in my training. I still was not able to run or put immense strain on my lower body like I once had, but I kept telling myself, to keep my spirits up; at least I could workout. At least I could still move, go on hikes, partake in HIIT workouts. I still had something that I was holding onto, that got me through these next few weeks. I was injured, sure, but I wasn’t broken. I wasn’t immobile.

As the weeks went by I learned that no matter how strong, fast, or in shape you think are, if you don’t mobilize, strengthen weak points or take into consideration recovery, everything else in your training is compromised and you won’t reach your full potential or worse, get injured. All the times I avoided stretching before a long run, so that I could run for a few minutes longer that day, or avoided a cool down after a rigorous workout because “I didn’t feel like it”, flooded my mind. I was angry at myself. This situation could have been easily avoided, and all I had was myself to blame.

Fast forward to February 18th, I was visiting a friend in Seattle for the weekend, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to get outside and go on a hike. It was a short hike but with a steep grade, that gave us a beautiful view of Lake Sammamish. It took us no time to get to the top, snapped a few photos and headed back down. Boy oh boy was I in for a treat. The steepness of the hike irritated my IT Band causing the debilitating pain to resurface in my right knee and shoot up into my hip. I did everything in my power to get down the hill without pain. I tried walking without bending my right leg, walking down backwards to keep my right leg straight, even slid on my butt a few times so that I could have a few moments of relief. About two hours later, I finally made it to the bottom of the hill in company of my very frustrated friend. Following the hike I contacted Bob in frustration and defeat. If I wasn’t running or putting stress on my IT Band how could I be in so much pain?

Bob assured me that this was not abnormal — I did not need to be out running around and climbing mountains. The way the IT Band slides over the knee joint when walking down a hill is one of the worst activities someone can do when recovering. I was prescribed to rest, ice and given a program to restore muscle and joint movement. Later than same week during an office visit, Bob informed me that it would be in my best interest, and overall long term health for me not to compete in the 12 Hour Endurance event.

I think this moment was one of the most pivotal in my recovery process. I had to learn to remove my emotions from my injury and look long term. Sure, I was going to miss this one event, but would it put an to end my entire athletic career? Was toe-ing the line and potentially DNF’ing in the first hour, really worth it? In five years, would one missed race matter?

One of the biggest set backs besides the physical pain, was continuing to compare myself to those around me who had experienced the same problems. At this point it had been a little over two months since I first experienced pain in my knee, but I wasn’t getting any (mentally) better. At the end of the day, I couldn’t run so I wasn’t healed. One of my coaches was experiencing IT Band problems, and took her mere weeks to heal. One of my fellow Spartan Racers had just gotten back to racing after a month and a half of pain. I am a very competitive person by nature, so if they could heal, why couldn’t I? What the hell was wrong with me?

After some moping around and feeling sorry for myself, I found myself in the pool for 5 days during the week. I would be dammed if I was going to let myself loose my endurance. This exercise allowed me to keep my legs straight, taking stress off of my IT Band, while still being able to put in some cardiovascular training. When it came down to having to forfeit four more races in April, I didn’t even bat an eye. At this point I expected my body to not recover, I expected myself to be in constant pain. If I had already given up one of the more important races, what did these matter? In all honesty, accepting this defeat early in the month allowed me “power rest” as Bob calls it. I was finally willing to commit myself and focus on the exercises and programming that Bob provided through Performance Physiotherapy.

It was at this point that for the first time in a while that I had felt any sort of relief. There had to be a catch to this, right? The pain walking down stairs subsided. I was able to put in time on other cardio machines, and even RUN! Well, on a treadmill, at two minute intervals on a 15 percent incline. But I was running!

After giving up every activity imaginable, my hard work started to pay off. My sights were set on a Beast Race in Montana on Saturday, May 5th. Bob had my program on a fast build. Three days a week I would walk on an incline on the treadmill, and four days a week I would perform a run/walk interval on the treadmill on an incline. This was a pretty humbling experience as I was huffing and puffing after just a few minutes of running, but I had never looked so forward to a tiring workout before.

May 5th arrived. I laced up my racing shoes and started to stretch for my race. I felt so much anticipation and sheer terror at the thought of running on flat ground. Yes, I had been running, but not on flat uneven ground. What would happen if I felt pain during my warm up? Was I conditioned enough to be racing this 14 mile race? Why the hell was I even here? After talking myself into a warm up jog, with every step of my right leg I waited to feel the pain. I knew it was going to hurt, by the end of the day, but when? I was very trigger shy after my last clearance to run, because I started to feel pain in my IT Band after only about a mile and a half of running. If my warm up was a mile and a half, how was I going to get through this race?

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