Overtraining, an accident and recovery: One year later

On the anniversary of my bike accident (8/14/14) I happened to come across an article from Competitor Running with the headline “7 Warning Signs You Are Overtraining” and it struck a chord. I lived in Sicily from 2012 to early 2015 and during this time I was signing up for European races since travel was easier and, of course, I was living in Europe. I had completed Ironman Austria at the end of June last year and already signed up for Barcelona set for October 5th. I gave myself a week off from working out after Austria and then was back at it. I had a training plan which called for an easy 50 minute ride the day of my accident. I ran that morning before work so I was looking forward to an easier ride in the afternoon. My original plan was to take a spin class and while I set up my spin bike, at the last minute I decided to ride outside. It was a perfect day to be outside so I chose a loop that I've done several times before.

At the start of the ride there's a short hill where you can pick up speed pretty quickly. Within a tenth of a mile of taking off I was going downhill when I saw a dog coming up the road straight for me. Side note: There are stray dogs EVERYWHERE in Sicily. Most of the time they chase cyclists. As I approached the dog I was positive I could go around him and continue on my way. I moved over to my right thinking I could pass him while not going into the lane of oncoming traffic, however he moved in my direction, so I then moved to my left and once again he was right in my path. Everything happened so quickly and I ended up hitting the dog square in his side, essentially t-boning the dog. I was going 31 miles per hour -according to my Garmin- and ended up flipping over my handle bars and over the dog. I snapped my bike in half where the head tube, top tube and down tube intersect. I never applied my brakes because I was 100 percent sure I would pass him, but I couldn't have been more wrong. I, of course, had a helmet on and while I did hit my head, the greatest impact was to my right shoulder and ribs. Once I realized I had crashed I knew I needed to get out of the road and I knew I was injured but one of my first thoughts was hoping it wasn't that bad and I'd still be able to race Barcelona. 

My bike didn't fare so well...

 

An Italian woman had come up the road and stopped to help. She spoke no English and I no Italian. I did however manage to have her pull out my cell phone from my bike and called friend to call an ambulance. I was then taken to the hospital on the Naval base. Upon arrival I was given pain meds and taken for x-rays and CT scans. The docs originally thought I broke my clavicle at the AC joint and 3 or 4 ribs on my right side. I was planning on being released to return the following day for further treatment of my fracture, however several hours later it was found I also had a pneumothorax (approx 50 percent). While I felt pressure from what I thought was just impact from the crash, my O2 sats were staying around 98 percent and I never experienced shortness of breath or any other symptoms of a collapsed lung. Because of this, I just bought myself an admission to the hospital and a chest tube. 

All smiles here after being given morphine but before the chest tube being placed. 

 

The following day I was told I was being transferred to Landsthul, Germany due to the severity of my accident. I spent a week in Germany where I developed pneumonia, however 4 days later I was transferred stateside, albeit a little bummed I never even got out to sight see! :) I was medevaced from Germany to northern Virginia on a C-17 with a chest tube, which by the way is not comfortable. I was then placed on another flight down to Portsmouth on a C-130 the following day. Once in Portsmouth and at the hospital, I met with the ortho doc specializing in shoulders and knew I was in good hands. The day I arrived I finally had my chest tube pulled was released from the hospital the following day. I had surgery set up 3 days later. I am extremely lucky to have such great medical care. 

I met the MCPON Mike Stevens on a visit to Landsthul, flew on a C-17 and C-130 to reach my final destination, had my chest tube pulled and the last picture is 1 week post-op.

 

As I look back on not only that day but the months leading up to it, I can easily point out the signs of overtraining. Hindsight is of course 20/20. I realized I was overtraining for IM Austria as well. The article I found lays out the 7 signs (click here for the original article):

1. You’re more irritable than normal.

*I found myself getting worked up easily and snapping at friends, especially my then boyfriend (now fiance) more often and over the smallest things. 

2. You’re not sleeping soundly at night.

*This one was a big one for me. I would sleep at night but wake up extremely exhausted. I literally felt like I was hit by a truck. I would drag myself out of bed, finish up my morning workout and make it through my workday. I would get home from work and fall asleep around 7pm but the next morning I never fully felt rested. I was tired ALL THE TIME. I figured it came with the training and I needed to power through it. On the weekends I would finish my brick workout or long run and pass out for the majority of the day afterwards. 

3. You have to motivate yourself to get out the door for each and every run.

*Lack of good sleep made this happen on a daily basis. Not just for my run, however, but also for any swim, bike or weight session as well.

4. Your legs and arms feel sluggish all the time.

*Yes and YES! Again, I was hard headed and thought it’s what everyone goes through with training for a full Ironman. 

5. You experience sudden weight loss or gain.

*While I never experienced weight loss or gain, I did experience hair loss. I realized it after Austria when my hair was much thinner than it used to be. I also noticed I was hungry all the time but couldn't seem to fill the void. I ate healthy as I usually do but looking back, realize I was not eating enough. Yes, I’m a registered dietitian and I am fully admitting my diet was all jacked up!

6. Your workouts are inconsistent. “If one day you feel like a super hero and the next day you feel like you can barely move, that’s a big sign that you’re getting toward the real danger zone,” Allen said. “Your body is taxing your adrenal system and it’s trying to compensate, so one day it’s able to compensate, but it’s on super drive. But [in the process] it takes every bit of reserve out.”

*This happened on a weekly basis. The “good” workouts were further justification that on the sluggish days I needed to power through. 

7. The people around you keep telling you that you don’t seem quite right.

*The day of my accident I remember a good friend asking me if I was ok. He said I looked exhausted. At the time I didn’t think anything of it…. 

 

I am very fortunate for my outcome as it could have been much worse. A year later, I have since made a full recovery and currently in training for a half IM along with a few other races this fall. Back in February, a couple of months after I was cleared to run, I had already registered for Boston so I met my best friend there to run it again. Knowing I wouldn't nab another BQ, I ran it for the experience and it was amazing. I’m still working on getting my pace back, but I am fully aware of my training plan and listening to my body. If I have a workout planned but not feeling it that day, I skip it or cut it in half. Here are a couple of tips I would like to share as my own lessons learned: 

1. Listen to your body. There are days when the alarm goes off and you don't feel like getting out of bed and then there are days you need to take off. Look at your training plan, when was your last day off… and I mean a full day off, not a 1,000 meter easy swim or a quick weight workout, but a full day off of doing nothing. 

2. Stretch. Take yoga or dedicate time to taking care of your body. Find a massage therapist who does deep tissue if you can afford it. Keep stretch bands at home or even use a towel. Either way, stretch every day.

3. Eat right. As you increase training you need to increase your caloric intake.  Timing of your intake is crucial as well. My site is a good place to find out how!

4. You don't have to sign up for every race you come across. Just because there’s a race in your city doesn't mean you have to sign up. It not only can contribute to overtraining but it also gets expensive! 

5. Have fun. When you stop enjoying your training, that’s when you should take a step back and evaluate what you’re doing. Now not every workout will be fun, but if you find yourself dreading your workouts day in and day out, it may be time to take a step back. 

6. Buy race insurance (if offered). If you are shelling out hundreds of dollars for races, spend a little more for the insurance. Since I couldn't race IM Barcelona and it was too close to the race date, I was out the entire entry fee. Also, I learned the hard way that road and tri bikes are not covered by your homeowners insurance. 

7. Rest. Especially if you become injured. It’s not worth making an injury worse just to get in a workout. I was sidelined from any training for 6 months. I did walk, however. Even in a sling, I started walking everywhere because that is what I could do. Luckily I lived in a city where I could walk everywhere. 

Bottom line, I realized (well it finally sunk in) that my life does not need to revolve around training for (insert any race here). It’s not healthy and can become obsessive. From this accident I have a new perspective on how I approach my training. :) 

Ironman Pescara - My First 70.3

This was just the beginning. The beginning of the craziness. In 2012 I had been running for 7 years and been thinking about getting into triathlons I just never knew how to do it... where do I even begin. When I moved to Sicily I met a group of crazy runners and triathletes who were perfect for me to learn. In true endurance athlete form, they took me in. I was persuaded (didn't take much) to sign up for the half in Pescara, Italy that was occurring 2 months later. I registered online and then thought to myself, what did I just do?! I didn't know how to swim nor did I own a bike! 

Luckily, my new friends taught me how to swim, I was able to buy a used bike and was off to start my training. Two weeks before the race, my wetsuit came in the mail and we were headed out to do an open water swim. That was an experience. I had a melt down. Literally, a melt down. I didn't pull my wetsuit up all the way so it was pulling on my neck and it was tight. I couldn't breathe. Looking back it fit exactly how it should I just didn't know that at the time. So we get into the water (which is crystal clear on the shores off the eastern coast of Sicily) and my melt down begins. I put my face in the water only to see a swarm of jelly fish. I freak out. I stayed right behind a friend who was going super slow to stick with me but I decided not to open my eyes because I figured if I didn't see the jelly fish, they were not there. Not too logical I realize but at the time it worked for me. We made it to the other side and I survived but had major doubts about the race. I felt defeated but I was not giving up! The next week we went out again and I decided to swim on my back. It was a much better swim (mentally) for me. 

Come race day it was a mass start so I stayed back and was one of the last to get in. I started to swim free style and began to freak out so I flipped on my back. Much better... I spent 95% of the swim on my back doing a bad mix between survival stroke (whatever that is) and hoping a current would help push me along. I made the swim cut off with 10 minutes to spare and I was ecstatic. The nice part about coming out of the swim last is more room to get ready for the bike portion. :) I was alone on the bike course as well which was perfectly fine with me. I finished the bike and then it's off to run. I knew if I made it to the run I was good to go! This was my strongest area. I finished the race in just over 7 hours and was on top of the world. Since then I've been able to cut my times down but for my first triathlon being a 70.3, I was happy to finish!