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Triathlon Training Is a Pain in the Knees

I may have overdone it a bit with the running in the last month or so—ramping my normal 10 to 12 miles a week up to 16 or more, way faster than I should have—and so it was no surprise when my knee started to bother me during speed drills or hill repeats.

You see, I'd been skipping my team's Tuesday night practices in favor of my own leisurely a.m. runs, making excuses about how I didn't like giving up my evenings and how I much preferred morning workouts. But the truth is, I don't push myself nearly as hard when I'm running by myself, and as much as I hate running with other people, I've finally decided it's necessary if I want to get better.

Too much, too fast
When I finally did make it to a Tuesday night practice last month, I faced a rude awakening. I struggled to keep up almost from the get-go, and the workout kicked my butt way more than anything I'd been doing on my own. So I began ramping up the intensity of all my runs—and while I have noticed a bit of improvement, I also think I added a little too much, too fast.

Two weeks ago after an intense 25-mile stationary bike ride at the gym (stupid rain!), I hopped off the machine and almost collapsed: My left knee felt wobbly and unstable, like it would give out at any second. The feeling went away after a few minutes, but during my soccer games (three!) later that day, it twisted during a quick pivot, and I had to duck out: It felt like I'd jammed it and I couldn't straighten it, like it needed to be popped back into place. Now I've had achy knees for as long as I can remember (I was told last year that I have what's called moviegoer's knee, a risk factor for osteoarthritis), but this strange twisting sensation had actually happened a few times in the last two months, and I was getting scared.

Some stretching seemed to help and I was able to walk it off after the game, but it continued to feel sore for the rest of the day; I was in plenty of pain Monday too, just sitting at my desk. It felt fine for my run Tuesday night (this time on my own again; I wasn't taking any chances and didn't push myself harder than an easy, flat jog), but I knew I should see an orthopedist if I wanted to get my confidence back.

Doc's advice: Pills and PT
On Tuesday of this week, I was finally able to get in for an appointment. My new doctor, a sports medicine specialist recommended by my primary care physician, said the X-rays of both of my knees looked fine, and that I appeared to be coming down with some
tendinitis—inflammation of tendons that can interfere with movement and cause pain. Luckily, he didn't seem too concerned with me doing a triathlon in a few short weeks.

He warned me against overtraining and reminded me of the 10% rule of running, which I knew I really should have been following the whole time. Fortunately, preparing for a triathlon means plenty of automatic cross-training, so I don't have to worry about running every day—and biking and swimming are both great alternative exercises that are easier on the knees. He also gave me a prescription for anti-inflammatory meds I can take when the pain starts to bother me.

The doctor also prescribed physical therapy (PT) two times a week until the race and a subsequent follow-up visit with him. When he said this, I had to fight the urge to whine: Twice a week? You think I have time for that, on top of training and everything else? But I caught myself, remembering that his alternative solution was likely to be to stop running altogether.

So Monday is my first PT session, at 8 a.m. sharp. I'll be switching my morning yoga class for an afterwork one instead (if I make it there at all), and I'll likely be doing work over the holiday weekend to make up for missing an hour or two in the office that morning.

I'm reminded again, as I have been so many times during triathlon training, that this is all about time management and keeping my priorities straight. And right now, my biggest priority is getting through the month—and through the race on July 26—without putting myself through further injury. I can look at the bright side too: At least I have an excuse to kick back and take tonight off.

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