Since triathletes perform in more than one discipline, the spectrum of injuries they can experience is much greater than a single discipline athlete would. Swimming, cycling and running each take their toll on the body.
Typically, triathletes suffer from overuse or overtraining injuries, the most common being those affecting the knee, lower leg and lower back. Considering the demanding nature of triathlon training though, this isn’t really surprising.
Tendons, muscles, and tissues surrounding joints and bones are put under extreme and continued stress in the period of training leading up to a big event such as IRONMAN. Some triathletes I know train up to three hours a day or more! This constant use of the same joints and muscle groups causes repetitive microtrauma; basically, the body cannot repair the tissue damage as quickly as it is created by training, and eventually the tissue breaks down, leaving you with pain, inflammation, and weakness.
And knowing triathletes – and their determined and competitive nature – I know that many will ignore this pain and push through. This is a terrible idea, because that pain and inflammation is not going away, and ignoring it will only make it worse. Continuing to train will lead to macrotrauma and the disruption of the tendon, muscle or bone, with the worst case scenario being an injury that could result in weeks or months away from your triathlon training and competition.
“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” says Tony Paladin, a registered biokineticist and member of the Biokinetics Association of South Africa (BASA). Apart from working with athletes with training-related injuries every day, Tony himself has extensive personal experience as a pro athlete, having formed part of the 2011 squad that qualified South Africa’s gold medal team for the 2012 Olympic Games and with a background in road running, trail running, cycling, triathlon and weightlifting.
“All sports and events are relative with regards to the amount of load an athlete sustains when doing them. For a novice, a half-triathlon can be significantly more devastating to the body than Ironman is to a professional. The bottom line here is that when there has been insufficient training, the toll will be higher, regardless of whether you’re doing Ironman or playing tiddly winks.”
His advice for avoiding injury? “The golden rule is to never let a niggle become an injury. The science behind this lies in the tissue stress theory – when training load outweighs load capacity. For example, when you develop a blister from running in a new pair of shoes, it makes sense to end your run and allow the blister to callous so that you can run further two days later as opposed to running the blister raw and having to swim for a week.”
Bottom line: If it’s sore, stop. Or you could end up costing yourself two weeks out of the game rather than two days.