Solving Problems

In a follow up to covering my interesting problems last week I’m excited to report some progress on all fronts. I’ve come clear of the cloud of fatigue that has been hanging over me for a couple of months, my ankle impingement has received treatment and the procedure went smoothly and my pelvis is becoming better aligned after I messed up my gait while trying to protect my ankle during my big races in Europe.

After struggling with bad form for months, followed by trouble sleeping just before WOC I took a blood test which discounted a few possibilities such as low iron. By this stage I had not been training for a month and my insomnia was getting worse so the next step was to investigate supplementing my zinc intake and I immediately started having excellent sleep. Although the science around zinc’s relationship to sleep is spotty I had a number of suggestions to try it. The change was so immediate that I struggle to attribute all of it to the zinc tablets. I went from taking between 2-4 hours to get to sleep to 15 minutes literally overnight, I didn’t wake up every hour and I felt wide awake all day at work. I’m stoked to have a fully functioning brain again, and at some stage I’ll play around with the zinc intake to get more confidence around this strong correlation.

MRI scan of my left ankle showing some extra white stuff

Last week I also received a cortisone injection directly into the build-up of scar tissue between my talus and tibia in my left ankle. As the tibia slides forwards over the talus the scar tissue gets jammed by the shape of the two bones. The cortisone was injected using ultrasound to guide the needle precisely into the scar tissue, and aims to reduce inflammation and give my body a better chance to remodel the injury site.

Looking down on the cross section of my ankle apparently shows bruising marked by the green arrow. I’ll just reiterate what the experts say on this one.

What was also noted from the MRI scan was the bruising of the talus itself, perhaps from the initial impact one year ago that kick-started this cycle of positive feedback where more damage created more swelling and scar tissue making it easier for subsequent damage to occur. I’ve had no discomfort after the injection, but will not know the how well the remodeling process goes until I race in 2 months.

Coooooool!!!

I’ve also made good progress with my stride mechanics and can now run up to half an hour without my TFL turning into a ball of tightness. More analysis at Sports Lab showed a subtle over-lifting of my pelvis when standing on my right leg, although much less than what I was experiencing a month ago. More activation drills and release work are needed to restore the proper activation pattern. Was it really worth it to push through all those races in Europe while trying to compensate for my ankle now that it has taken 2 months to overwrite my lop sided technique? Probably, Fin5 was epic!

So for now the off-season lives on.

Is this the Off Season?

Planning for the next progression starts with reflection of the previous progression.

3 distinct progressions over the last year, with training camps in dark blue, A-goal race weeks in green and unstructured weeks in red.

While my European campaign started well, it didn’t end on the same note and priorities changed as the complications accumulated. I was struggling to maintain good shape throughout the trip, most disappointingly at WOC, but my shape during my last week at Fin5 was especially bad. I’ve had a blood test and none of the results are indicative of anything sinister, although I’m still struggling with poor sleep quality and general fatigue. Regardless of feeling flat, I was not able to race Fin5 with full aggression as the ongoing problem in my left ankle has still not been fixed through mobilisation exercises. I had an x-ray, which didn’t yield anything useful, but the subsequent MRI scan showed an accumulation of scar tissue impinging the motion of the tibia over the talus. This means that when my foot reaches full dorsiflexion under load I feel a lot of pain as the scar tissue is jammed hard between the two bones. This increases swelling and sensitivity, compounding the problem. This is of no consequence when cycling, road running, or trail running for the most part, but such limitations on ankle motion are simply not compatible with orienteering on uneven ground. I have to concede that my future orienteering looks bleak unless we can fix this problem which reached its most severe at Oceania this year after orienteering on a weekly basis for many months. Since then I have done most of my training on the road where it would not be irritated, but orienteering every second day in Europe soon brought back the sensitivity.

The build up of scar tissue has got itself into the path of my tibia as it glides forwards over the talus in green.

This talus impingement problem was especially incompatible with the Finish forest and I chose to run very cautiously during the 4 forest races, especially in the more stony areas. In doing so I changed my gait to reduce pressure through my left ankle, which was essential to get me through the week, but these changes are taking some time to reverse and it would be unwise to do more than a little running until good movement is restored. So I’ll be focusing on unwinding the past 2 months by working closely with Sports Lab and maintaining conditioning through short road runs, drills, and strength training. It’s very important for me to keep moving as a large number of my past problems are related to sudden changes in routine, even inactivity. All this comes at a rather convenient time as I have no races looming, making this more of an off season than any other period in the year.

Once I have ironed out my gait and have a treatment plan for my talus I will be starting a progression towards the Kepler Challenge in December. This 60km trail run near Te Anau will be my longest race so far and I’m looking forward to chasing the competition in trail running over summer once again. I have also entered the 62km event at Tarawera Ultra and hope to take my experience at Kepler forward to a good result in this international race.

In the meantime there is plenty of fun to be had working on mechanics and riding.

I’ve also made a good effort to get all my maps from this year on my DOMA and would encourage New Zealanders to take a look at my races from Europe and foreigners to take a look at the cool terrain we have here in New Zealand.