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Vince Golding: The long and winding road continues...
Posted by: 400m
Posted on: Tuesday 16th March 2010


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The Long and Winding Road

This is the latest chapter in the story of my rehabilitation after very nearly meeting my maker. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, or to quote Lance Armstrong; “Pain is temporary. Quitting lasts forever.”

Apologies, but as I have been thinking events through, I realised that I'm actually getting very fed up. Positive thinking can get you so far, but following surgery, it's as if I've travelled back in time. Apart from when I've been away on holiday, there isn't a week that passes by without some sort of appointment, maybe several. Rehabilitation can be an exhausting process!

At least I have resumed running after an enforced, seven-week break due to shoulder surgery. Although I had regularly used an elliptical trainer to try and maintain some cardio-fitness, my heart rate was much higher than usual, with the average, approaching maximum levels usually seen when running hard track sessions.

post-surgery average heart rate: 161 max 187

Post-surgery average heart rate: 161 max 187

pre-surgery average heart rate: 140 max 159

Pre-surgery average heart rate: 140 max 159

The seven week break was the longest I've had since the accident. I've written before about the reality of recovery time not being like on TV drama shows – so it should have been no surprise to me to be reminded of that again. Real life recovery is not a "five minute job". This time I'm not going to try and attempt any over ambitious training, a more cautious approach will hopefully see me regaining, and hopefully exceeding, the level of fitness I had pre-surgery.

Fractures to my right clavicle had healed with it mostly tilted forward at 45 degrees. For over two and a half years my body had developed some muscular "tricks" to enable my right arm to move beyond its very limited range of movement. Suddenly those "tricks" have gone away. Once again it's a struggle to lift a kettle, even more so when there's actually some water in it!

I'm actually suffering more shoulder discomfort now than I was at any time since my accident. The discomfort is due to muscles and tendons now having to cope with the clavicle being properly aligned. I'm a lot less lopsided than I was, but a few months rehab work, in the gym and at home, needs to be undergone to rebuild the muscles that have atrophied (or as the surgeon wrote "emphasise the empowerment of the lower trapezius and serratus anterior muscles for scapular control to improve posture which will be challenged by the presence of previous scapular fractures"). Although the left side of my back has a lot of muscle definition, the right side doesn't. The surgeon says that improving the range of scapular postural movement will help the clavicle function. The clavicle itself isn't a source of discomfort, but I do get a sharp pain when I try to wear my rucksack over the right shoulder, because the strap digs in to my new metal plate. I was advised that the metal work might be taken out after 18 months, especially if it becomes irritating. Rolling over onto my right side, when I'm in bed, is a source of discomfort and will wake me up.

xray of plate

scarsAs well as the scar on my neck, made by me entering the closed window of the van, I'm now the possessor of a scar where the surgeon opened me up along the clavicle to insert the metal work. Scars do fade, especially with the use of Bio-Oil.

Six weeks after the operation I saw the surgeon again, the follow-up x-ray shows the bone is "softening" which indicates it is joining together. My next follow-up appointment is after another two months. Although I can now go without the sling and can start driving again, I was told to avoid “long lever” weight bearing  exercises (i.e. using a straight arm) and no swimming yet either. I was given the go ahead to start using a stationary bike (i.e. turbo) and running. I'm following a routine that's a combination of exercises suggested by my PT (David Jones) and my physio. The frustrating aspect is that I've been advised to stop an exercise if I start getting tired, that's when secondary muscles start to take over and it doesn't really help those that I'm targeting. Telling an athlete to stop when they start getting tired just goes against the grain!

At least for a few days when I was out of action, heavy snowfall stopped much of the population from doing much regular exercise outside too. At least I got to meet most of my fairly new neighbours, when most of our street cleared snow from the road. Even I got involved and developed an effective one-handed shovelling technique based on a lunge, so my previous gym work paid dividends. Being a “competitive athlete” meant that, even one-handed, I cleared the snow at a much higher rate then most of the neighbours, until one of them turned up with a home-made snow shovel (broomstick and a sheet of steel) and made relatively light work of the task. It goes without saying that my, now teenage, son was not very helpful, and in common with the rest of the youngsters in the street, was more interested in having fun. They all made a huge snowman.

Using the elliptical trainer in our gloomy garageAs I mentioned earlier, thanks to having an elliptical-trainer in the garage, which my wife uses for her exercise, I at least tried to maintain some cardio-fitness. I don't mind training in the garage, it's where my turbo lives. At least when I'm on the bike I usually have the ergo view generated by the Computrainer while following a Spinervals DVD, I don't use the 3D courses that much. The elliptical-trainer lacks any such distraction, so I managed to catch-up with old episodes of IMTalk, including an interview with Hawaii Ironman legend Dave Scott. I was amused to hear that him say it was a myth that he used to stare at a dot on a piece of paper while doing hours on the turbo – how much time had I previously wasted?!

Why can't gadgets be compatible? My wife's elliptical trainer is made by Tunturi and it doesn't pick up a signal from my Garmin heart rate monitor. Then again my Computrainer has a lead to pick up Polar HRM signals but not the type of Polar HRM that I have!

Thankfully, the tedium of using the elliptical trainer is at an end now that I am allowed to start running again, but the surgeon did warn against falling over, due to ice or mud, in case it jeopardises the repair. So I won't be running any cross-country races for the rest of this season. I'll also have to make sure any long runs avoid trail routes, some of which have seen me slip over. It's probably obvious to many that, with my background, running is my favourite sport. I usually visualise going a for a run to get to sleep at night!

I've started using the short “Time Saver” Spinervals sessions on the turbo and find that it's really quite painful on my shoulder, especially when getting up from the aero bars that I have on my training bike. Shoulder rehabilitation can't come soon enough!

The last two years has seen me enter an athletic event near the anniversary date of the collision. I've used it as some sort of measurement to see how far I've progressed. I struggled around the London Marathon the first year and then the Spring Duathlon at Goodwood last year. This year I'm tempted to go back to Goodwood again, this time for the shorter race, and then review race options for later on in the year. Hopefully, before long, I won't be racing with “one arm tied behind my back”. Lack of fitness does mean I won't be running the Brighton Marathon that I had entered last year.

Recovery drags on, April 21 will mark the third anniversary of my near oblivion. Physically I'm still significantly, and measurably, below the level I was at. Cognitively I'm not back doing the type of work I was doing. I've had to re-learn how to do a lot of things that were previously a matter of routine. Fortunately, the internet is a readily accessible information resource.

Problem solving and creative thinking are the skills that seem to have deserted me, something that was formerly second-nature. I'm still using my DS, daily, for puzzle solving games.

To me mental fatigue is still the most debilitating problem I suffer from. For an endurance athlete, taking rest breaks when you haven't done any physical exercise feels like cheating. But when I  tire mentally, a switch can flip and I get very irritable, especially with those nearest to me. I guess explosive angry outbursts are the worst deficit to my family. I can still get stuck on what people tell me if they aren't explicit enough. I'm sure anyone reading my articles will have a sense of disbelief that there are any problems, but sitting down and writing is a lot less demanding than personal interaction, because I take my time and make corrections. This article has taken weeks to write and many, many re-writes in collaboration with my wife.

My wife, as the person who is around me the most, also suffers the most, how she still supports me is a testament to her and her tolerance of my irritability.

Although triathlon is only a hobby, not my livelihood, in my quest for rehabilitation, sport is what brings me a sense of achievement and fulfillment. It also has the advantage of being measurable, both in training and racing.

I look forward to the day when I'm writing a triathlon race report and not the latest installment on the road to recovery.

Onwards!

Train safe.


Vince Golding About the Author
Formerly a good standard 400m runner who was thwarted by the dreaded stress fracture. A few years later I made a return to running at cross country and 10k before being tempted by triathlon, trying longer and longer distances. With more miles under the belt I kept on improving, then one day while out training on my bike a van driver didn't see me...

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