Don’t get me wet and don’t feed me after midnight

A couple of weeks ago I followed a routine I’m coming to know rather well: roll out of bed hideously early; follow a carefully prepared list of instructions, including a detailed nutrition plan and timings; go to body marking; hang around nervously waiting for everything to start…

Unfortunately this was the nutrition plan:

nutrition plan

…and this was body marking

body marking 1body marking 2

This was the final step in diagnosing the cause of ongoing excruciating hip pain I’ve been having that has stopped me from running, cycling and, at its worst, even swimming or walking without difficulty.  Following a series of scans that suggested joint issues as the probable cause, an injection into the joint under general anaesthetic was used to confirm that the pain does indeed come from the joint and, in turn, that arthroscopic hip surgery is the most appropriate treatment.

This followed a hellish couple of months of being told by various medical professionals that there was nothing really wrong, the pain would resolve by itself and it was fine to keep training on it, even when I was in agony and could barely walk.  Although the outcome was that I have to have surgery that will take me out of competition for the rest of the season, my main feeling was relief that it wasn’t psychological and was well-defined enough to be straightforwardly (if not easily) treatable.  Combined, admittedly, with mild terror…

The good news is that surgery will also treat the cause of the problem – the short story being that the shape of my femur and hip socket is such that there is impingement, which in itself causes pain and also damages tissue inside the socket.  The surgeon doesn’t just repair the tissue damage, but also remodels the shape of the bone slightly to prevent the problem recurring.  I look forward to seeing what I can achieve when I can string together more than a few months of consistent run training!

So last week I had the first (right) hip surgery. There’s a minimum of six weeks between having each hip treated in order to make rehab workable. Those of you who have met me will be astonished to learn that my second one is scheduled for six weeks to the day after the first……

My dependence on caffeine becomes apparent from my selection of items to consume upon waking. I’m also trying very hard not to look at the blood in the tube coming out of my hand

My dependence on caffeine becomes apparent from my selection of items to consume upon waking. I’m also trying very hard not to look at the blood in the tube coming out of my hand

Back on the bike, 24 hours after surgery – believe it or not, this was under doctor’s orders!

Back on the bike, 24 hours after surgery – believe it or not, this was under doctor’s orders!

Beautifully tidy stitches! BUT I CAN’T GET THEM WET, so no swimming (or having a bath) for 14 days

Beautifully tidy stitches! BUT I CAN’T GET THEM WET, so no swimming (or having a bath) for 14 days

Obviously I’m gutted to be missing out on the rest of the season, and Kona in particular.  Every night I dream that I’m training or racing – at one point I even took 85 seconds off my 5k PB, so there’s a new target for when I’m better!  Then I wake up, and I’m still on crutches, and it still hurts, and I’m still not going to be well enough even to fly to Hawaii, never mind compete.  A slightly suboptimal start to the day.

Happily the rehab process is probably the most active you could imagine for lower limb surgery – six thousand* physio exercises twice a day, plus all the upper body strengthening work I already do, and using a stationary bike with low resistance “starting with 10-15 minutes and gradually increasing the duration” twice a day.  I couldn’t possibly comment on the wattage or the duration I’m now up to…

*Ed and I will celebrate our four-year anniversary next weekend. His tendency to hyperbole may or may not be starting to rub off on me

So anyway, rehab keeps me busy, and in the low moments, or when I’m in pain, or sick from the side effects of the painkillers, I try to count my very substantial blessings…

  • Ed has been kind enough to set up and pay for private health insurance for me for the last year, so I have had and will continue to have immediate and free access to world class medical care
  • He has also come with me to every appointment, into hospital (and down to theatre while I cried and panicked – for someone who is hard as nails in other circumstances, I am very scared of medical stuff) and stayed at home to look after me in the days following surgery
  • I’ll be better pretty soon in the grand scheme of things – I should be back to full training 12 weeks or so after the second operation, with biking and swimming returning to some extent within a couple of weeks, and some running-related work (pool running, cross-trainer and anti-gravity treadmill) well before the 12-week mark
  • Once I’m better, in the medium to long term I’ll be stronger than I was to start with. As mentioned above, I should no longer grind to a halt – literally – with hip pain every few months. The physio I’m seeing as part of the process is also addressing a range of weaknesses including, but not limited to, hip stability, that may have contributed to my problems – fixing this will be a significant help in generating and transferring power efficiently when I’m running
  • In a sense this is really ideal timing – I’d more or less decided to get my pro licence next year, and having this happen a couple of years down the line could have been a lot more stressful if I’d had sponsors who expected me to race, or simply missed out on prize money I’d expected from races. As it is, I can wait and see how my return to training goes before making a decision on whether to race as an amateur or professional next year

Speaking of racing, any plans I had for 2015 remain up in the air but I’m confident that, if my recovery progresses as expected, I’ll get myself into good enough condition to race at some point during the year.  To cheer myself up, I had a look back at what I managed to achieve in the rowing season immediately following six months out of training with rib stress fractures…

Within a couple of months of returning to training my test scores were back on a par with athletes in the middle of the national squad and I’d placed fifth in the (non-squad) GB selection trials.  The following summer, I acquitted myself well racing the single scull against the best in the world at Holland Beker international regatta; won National Championships by a comprehensive margin; and represented my country in international competition in the single, double and quad sculls.

Clearly I wasn’t at the same standard in triathlon before I got injured as I was with rowing, so can’t expect quite the same results upon returning, but the above is normally enough to raise both my spirits and my motivation to complete the aforementioned plethora of physio exercises.  I’m determined to come back stronger, faster and with an even higher level of appreciation for the fact that I’m able to spend much of my life training and racing.

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3 Responses to Don’t get me wet and don’t feed me after midnight

  1. ironman39 says:

    Sorry to read this buddy. But, you are hard as nails and will be back stronger, faster, hungrier.

    Stay strong!

  2. Sarah says:

    Good Luck Frankie – hope all goes well with both the recovery and the training. Having finally just had nasal surgery to enable me to be able to breathe out of both sides of my nose I can empathise with the frustration of feeling that no-one is listening to you that there’s a problem, and on the hating medical things – I’m a complete wimp with hospitals and needles coming out of hands too!


  3. amalia says:

    wow it sounds like you’ve had a really rough time. Well done for persisting with medics trying to fob you off and good luck with a speedy recovery

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