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From Pain to Podium in Just 6 Weeks

Originally posted on February 14, 2012

by Guest Blogger, John Tribbia

Today, I finished atop the podium, in third place, at the Teva Winter Games Vail Uphill race. This year was the first year the Vail Winter Uphill offered prize money to the top-4 and the caliber of racers that turned out definitely showed. The course takes athletes on an ascent of 2,200 feet in roughly 2 miles, from Lionshead up to Eagle’s Nest, finishing at 10,328 feet in elevation. The two runners ahead of me were ahead by 27 and 9 seconds, respectively. And each of us ran the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th fastest times ever behind Rickey Gates’ course record. Although I was close to the win and am disappointed that I could have trained better for this event, I’m happy and will enjoy this result since, only 6 weeks ago, my training was compromised by an unfortunate accident.

6 weeks ago, I was involved in a scooter crash.

You’re wondering – “why are you riding a scooter in the middle of winter in Colorado?” On the Front Range in Colorado, winter has multiple dimensions: 60 degrees, sunny and calm; mild temperatures with 70 mph winds; subzero temperatures; and snow (lots of it). I was driving a scooter in the first mentioned winter dimension and who wouldn’t want to cruise around town (with the amenity of free parking) on two wheels in that? The only problem, the streets were well covered with gravel and sand after a snowstorm earlier in the week. Did I mention that Colorado has multiple dimensions of winter? Ok, enough with the rhetorical questions…

The crash. I was driving up Ninth Street, west of Pearl Street towards North Boulder Park. The car in front of me stopped quickly to make a turn while I was checking my rearview mirror. I quickly realized that I was going to crash into the rear of the car. Instincts told me to stop quickly and turn away from the stopped vehicle, which I did. But, with the sand and gravel on the roads, I did not keep the bike upright nor did I stop completely. In a split second, I was air born and the scooter was sliding across the pavement. The hard gravelly pavement broke my fall and the focus of impact was my left hip.

A few x-rays later, I came away from the accident without a broken bone or a head injury (yes, mom, I wore a helmet), thankfully. It could have been a much more serious crash. Still, I was nowhere near in the clear. Along with a severe bone contusion on my left hip, I had damaged the cartilage in my front pelvis (the Pubic Symphysis) and, as a result, my right and left pelvic structure was misaligned. Bone bruises usually last 4-6 weeks and are relatively easy injuries for athletes to overcome. Still, I still needed to be cautious about returning to running, because the area of bone bruise can be weakened while running on hard surfaces and can lead to more serious injuries like fracture of the bone. These latter two problems have an unclear prognosis and healing times can vary anywhere from 2 months to 1 year (for a runner who needs healthy joints and connective tissue to pound the pavement, trails, and snow, like myself). Oh boy, I was in for a long winter.

After a few days of downtime, I quickly experimented with forms of exercise that could replace my regimen of running without stressing the injured area. I found that cycling and the elliptical machine were quality substitutes while I wait to heal from the injuries. Next up, get treatment because I hate just waiting for injuries to heal.

I consulted Scott Swann at Alta Physical Therapy to help me improve the prognosis. First up, needles. We wanted to realign my pelvis by alleviating the tension around this area using Trigger Dry Point Needling techniques. Let me say, “this area” is incredibly sensitive and not the most fun place to insert dry point needles. My first session of needling around the “bread basket” was uncomfortable, to say the least. At the end of the session, my pelvis was evenly aligned thanks to Scott’s strategic placement of needles in previously tense areas in my groin, hips, lower back, spine, and glute. Just one day following, I was off crutches and walking slowly at a normal gait. Fast forward a few days later and I was able ride strong, out of the saddle, on my bike. Talk about speeding up the prognosis!

Soon, my focus shifted to getting healthy in 5 weeks’ time for the Uphill in Vail. So, along with the needling, Scott gave me some strengthening and stretching exercises to increase mobility and flexibility of my “bread basket” region (keep your mind out of the gutter, please). Despite the improvement, there were a series of setbacks that forced me back to limping and crutches or feeling inferior on the bike. These setbacks took place when I got too greedy by trying to run too much and too soon. Over the 5 weeks leading up to the race, Scott helped me recover from these setbacks with more needling and some manual therapy to regain the mobility and flexibility that was lost. Meanwhile, I was putting in some consistent training on the bike and elliptical machine that helped me gain more strength where strength was lost, as well as, build and maintain my fitness from before the accident.

Although I am not currently running 100 percent volume (or anything close to what I was doing prior to my accident), I believe the therapy and instruction that I am receiving from Scott at Alta is helping me get there faster. Moreover, I ran today’s race pain free, which is a far cry from where I was just one week ago. Not to mention, I finished the race a whole 5 minutes faster than the time I ran last year! I truly believe the strong race I ran was partly due to the treatment I receive at Alta partnered with Scott’s attention to the source of my injuries as well as his patience and persistence. Here’s to more improvement and a healthier 2012 – thank you Scott and Alta!

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