It all started in 2013. I was training for a hike in the Andes in Peru. Then, while on a visit back home
in Cairo, I over-enthusiastically joined a group of runners on a 16km run. That day, I got the knee pain. Not long afterwards, I went on a hike in the Sinai mountains. I came down the mountain limping.
It was shortly after that when I got back to the UK that I started visiting a physiotherapist and discovered there was a world of knowledge I was unaware of in the field of sport. Six years of medical training and several years of dabbling in a variety of workouts and sports did not mean I had a grip on what I needed to do to get fit, keep fit, prevent injuries and deal with them when they came.
That was when I first really understood what iliotibial band syndrome was. Later, as I started training earnestly for a marathon, I discovered shin splints. Not that I hadn’t had them before, mind you. I just hadn’t realized what that pain in my lower leg was before.
But it was really only after I dislocated my shoulder after a fall from my bike while touring in Belgium that I slowly began to put together my full “athlete’s support team”. Instead of healing, my shoulder deteriorated and I got frozen shoulder, despite regular visits to an NHS (the UK’s National Healthcare System) physiotherapist. So I went private, saw a consultant, had an operation, and visited a private physiotherapist twice weekly for weeks. When the physio gave me the green light, I began working with a personal trainer to get my shoulder and the rest of my body fit again. Every time I tried to weasel away from the personal training and go back to regular gym classes I’d somehow manage to injure myself. My theory is that the shoulder dislocation created an imbalance in my body that required some extra special attention. Instead of gradually fizzling away the personal training, I ended up increasing it to twice weekly. I had the shoulder operation mid-January 2016. By the very beginning of June I was participating in my first triathlon of the season. It was a sprint and I felt great, so by the end of the summer I had gone on to do two Olympic triathlons for the first time ever in Nadia history. But at the end of that last one I started feeling some knee pain and have been struggling with it since.
I now go semi-regularly to my physiotherapist so she can examine and explain to me the causes of my aches and pains. I train twice weekly with a personal trainer so he can strengthen the muscles that my physio tells me are weak and not functioning properly, leading to potential injuries. And I’ve started going to a sports masseuse to knead out the scarred tissue and lactic acid from my muscles when needed. Oh. And I’ve joined the local triathlon club to get some sport-specific training, mainly in swimming for the time being. All that is in addition to the running, biking and swimming, of course.
My husband jokes about my team. A part of me also thinks it sounds a bit ridiculous. I don’t do triathlons for a living. I don’t make any money out of them; in fact I am spending tons of money on this pastime and all the support I’m requiring. But on the one hand, I want to be able to keep doing this and I want to prevent these injuries that keep popping up and deal with them quickly when I get them. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly to me, I’m finding the science of sport and the specifics of my own unique biomechanics absolutely fascinating.
You know how some little kids love taking things apart to figure out how they work? That’s how I feel these days. I’m loving “taking my body apart” and learning how it functions and malfunctions. I’ve been working out in one way or another for the past 13 years. I thought I had learned a lot about exercising and muscle function in that time. But it was only in the past three weeks that I learned – and now completely recognize and can’t believe it’s taken this long to figure out – that my left glute is very weak and it’s causing several problems in my left leg. I thought glutes were my thing! I thought I had glutes down! I do squats better than most women at the gym, for goodness sake. But it took a knee injury and subsequent examination by my physio to figure out where one of my problems lies (I know there must be more, now). I do great squats but my left leg depends on other muscles to make them happen even if I make a concerted effort to squeeze my glutes at the top like we’re always told.
To solve my glute weakness, I had a one-on-one session with a pilates instructor, who gave me Nadia-specific exercises to do regularly in order to work on activating my glutes. That’s in addition to my personal trainer who now also knows we need to make sure those glutes are properly activated before training.
I find it all extremely fascinating. I love having all these people explain stuff to me. I love having specialists to speak with and understand what I’m doing wrong and how to fix it.
It would be great if I was one of those people who could train and just never get injured. I love training myself. I’ve figured out how to gradually improve my mileage in running, swimming and cycling. I love going out on solo runs, swims and bike rides. It clears my head. I’ve actually discovered that I’m better off running and cycling on my own than I am in groups. I’m too competitive. I push myself too hard when I’m around people in order to keep up or be better and that has more often than not led to injuries for me.
But even though I know I’m never going to be a fast athlete (I come out average or just below average in my age group of women in all my race results), I love training for triathlons as if I’m going to the next Olympics. I swear to God Almighty, that’s how I feel when I’m out there running and cycling. I don’t care how slow I’m actually going, in my head I feel like it’s the speed of lightning. And if I need a team composed of a physiotherapist, personal trainer, sports masseuse, pilates instructor, and triathlon club to ensure that I can keep feeling that way and performing (if even slowly), then so be it. I’m learning so much along the way.