TRIUMPHANT RECOVERY FROM INJURY
by Carolyn Pfalzgraf, pro triathlete
Landry's customers Carolyn Pfalzgraf & Brian MacIlvain compete professionally in triathlon. In these Landry's Triathlete Tips, they share what they have learned.
"The road to recovery was long and difficult, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to race again. I’ve come a long way and stayed focused on the light at the end of the tunnel, so I decided to test the waters by signing up for a sprint triathlon."
From Injury to Recovery – a story of the Sharon Sprint Triathlon 2015
My long journey to repair a childhood injury began last fall when my right knee started acting up and no one could figure out why. After months of barely training and seeing various doctors, I finally had knee surgery in early February to remove an inflamed plica, smooth out some cartilage damage to the back of my kneecap, and remove a rogue piece of cartilage that had been floating around in there since it had apparently chipped off long ago. The road to recovery was long and difficult, and I wondered if I’d ever be able to race again. I’ve come a long way and stayed focused on the light at the end of the tunnel, so I decided to test the waters by signing up for a sprint triathlon.
The hardest part of this whole ordeal has been the mental agony, and I’ve come to find truth in how the mind truly has the power to dictate what the body can do. Each time I set out to do a longer run, my brain would go into a frenzy about when my knee would act up, how I’d have to cut it short, and concerns about never being able to compete again. This mental anguish proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy and a lot of my runs ended in tears. Eventually, I learned to heed my surgeon’s advice of “the more you do, the more you’ll be able to do” and I tricked myself into doing some longer, faster runs. This gave me enough confidence to take the next step and attempt a short race.
Even though I was ridiculously nervous, I knew I had to try and stay positive — something that’s typically very hard for me. I went in with low expectations, so I wouldn’t put too much pressure on myself and sure enough…the comeback train made its first stop — the Sharon Triathlon!
I didn’t really know what to expect, so my only goal was to finish and keep my fingers crossed that my knee would allow me to run off the bike. In my return to training I had only done a couple of 5-minute bricks, and my overall running mileage had been low and mostly slow. Up until only a few weeks before the race, I had been experiencing weird catching and locking in my knee any time I tried to pick up the pace or run downhill. I had one “breakthrough” workout where I ran 10 miles at 6:45 pace, which gave me hope that my running ability was still hiding in there somewhere. So I gave it whirl.
Swim 0.5 Miles (13:34)
It has been a while since I’ve raced, so I was a bit rusty on starting in a group of aggressive dudes. I got thrashed around a bit more than usual at the start, but I was able to catch up with one of the other elite women and stayed with her. I swam about 1 minute faster than last year on the half-mile course, which was a good indicator that my swim fitness has definitely improved. I was also not last out of the water by an embarrassing margin, so I counted that as a win.
This was my first race using my new wetsuit, and it got pretty stuck around the ankles. Looks like I’ll need to cut the legs out of the suit for next time!
Bike 12.5 Miles (33:13)
The bike was just “meh” for me. I came out of the water with one of the other elite women who happens to be an incredible cyclist, so at the start of the bike I watched her ride off into the distance and I just couldn’t catch up. I often feel like I can never really get going on the bike in a sprint race. It's really tough to immediately start putting out big watts when your heart rate is pounding through your chest from the swim, and I totally forgot what that felt like. This particular course had some tricky pavement, and all the dodging and weaving and coming out of aero didn’t help me, and just like last year my watts were lower than I would have expected given some of my recent workouts. My new bike felt pretty good, and it definitely looked good, which is obviously the most important thing! It was a little windier this year, but I still went a little bit faster on similar watts.
Another bad transition. I managed to dismount well, but when I got back there was no place for my bike. Since I got beat into transition by a few other elites, the order of the bikes got jumbled up and there was no room left for me (more incentive to bike faster in the future!). A few seconds of running around like a chicken with its head cut off really set me back!
Run 4.5 Miles (26:55)
I got off the bike in 3rd place and started running like I usually do, not even thinking about my knee until I was already a mile in. I hadn't done much fast running in training so my pacing was a bit off and I took the first mile out super aggressively in around 5:30. While that was a tad bit overzealous, it did bring the second place woman into sight and I now had a carrot to chase. I was worried that my knee would start freaking out at any minute, and I wondered how long I would be able to run normally before all hell broke loose and I’d have to walk it in. I focused on just taking it one step at a time, and just kept going and going.
To my complete surprise, my knee never bothered me! It felt like an actual miracle! I was so excited, that I didn’t even realize how fast I was running until I passed the second place woman about 3 miles in. I ended up running nearly the same pace as last year, on absolutely NO run training whatsoever. I am honestly still shocked. I think in part I'm just so much fitter on the bike and the swim, that they take less out of me physically, and I can run well. Triathlon performance really is a combination of fitness across all three disciplines, and you can't do one well without fitness in the other two!
I came in 2nd overall, right between two other legit pro ladies whom I respect a lot. I could not be happier! My time on the course was over a minute faster than last year! I am starting to finally feel optimistic about racing a half Ironman or two later in the season. I was glad that even this small, local race gave me a good indication of where I am fitness-wise relative some other speedy local pro women, as well as myself from last season.
As tempting as it is to push the run mileage and really test myself, I know it's better to be conservative — especially now that I know I can run well off of low mileage. I'll hit the bike pretty hard over the next few months, since big gains can be made in a short period of time there, and hopefully I'll have a few more opportunities to race this year!