“You have a labral tear in your hip. I’m afraid you’re going to need surgery.” In true soap opera fashion, I instantly stopped processing the doctor’s words and simply said, “Can you repeat all of this to my husband? It’s just not sinking in right now.”
That was July, 2009. I had just returned from a personal best at Ironman Coeur D’Alene. Sure, I had battled pain, numbness, and the “dead leg” feeling during most of my Ironman training. But fresh off a 3:52 marathon there I thought I had it beat, whatever “it” was. Some days, my runs were swift and effortless. Other days I would get less than 100 yards from home and my leg would just stop working. Still, I knew something was truly wrong when I couldn’t run at all a month later.
The timing was the worst part of the whole process: I had just been selected to be a member of Erin Baker’s National Triathlon Team, racing on a squad with some of the nation’s top age groupers, I was eager to take my fitness to the next level—even resigning from my full-time job to do so. Not only that, I had also registered for one of the early 2010 USAT Level 1 Coaching Clinics. I was interested in gaining this knowledge for personal benefit, and also assumed that I could coach a triathlon team in town, or even pick up a roster of athletes of my own. At the time, that was all a view into the distant, hazy future. For the moment, it was all about me and my training: I was signed up for the USAT Half-Maxx Championships, the California International Marathon, Ironman California 70.3, and Ironman St. George. I clearly had no intention of having any downtime in my schedule. It was full speed ahead.
Apparently it didn’t matter what my racing intentions were. It didn’t matter that I quit my job to focus on fitness. My runs were disintegrating to a humiliating and debilitating level. Gone were speed workouts and hill repeats. Even cycling and swimming became painful. Frustration and anger gave way to anxiety and depression as it seemed the harder I fought, the worse it felt. In addition to countless hours of lost sleep, I lost thousands of dollars in race entries. I watched Half-Maxx slip away. Instead of running the California International Marathon, I was the sideline cheerleader for my husband. Dreams of St. George also faded. The one race I didn’t want to give up, however, was the Oceanside 70.3. It was going to be my brother-in-law’s first 70.3 and I had written a simple training plan for him. For several winter months, the Computrainer was my companion as I sucked up the pain and sucked down the anti-inflammatories. I finished in a respectable 5:33, but it was the pride in watching my brother-in-law finish that ignited my motivation to coach.
I expect them to follow the plan and keep me posted on progress. They expect me to give them challenging workouts and professional guidance.
In March I attended the USAT Coaches Clinic in Tucson. I was intimidated at first, as I’m sure most people are when they enter a room full of overachieving athletes-turned-coaches. Many were already coaching. I remember having a ‘this is exactly where I’m supposed to be’ goosebump moment while listening to Bobby McGee talk about his book “Magical Running.” I knew I was doing the right thing. I also knew that in order to experience magical running again, I was going to have to swallow my pride, take an extended training break, and have the surgery. Little did I know that this training sabbatical would also make my coaching business happen sooner than I thought possible.
So here I am, six weeks post-surgery. I didn’t die like I swore I was going to if I stopped training. I didn’t put on the 20 pounds that I was convinced were going to appear magically on my body. I didn’t cower into a hole of depression. I’ve taken the last six weeks to read, study, and school myself as a new student of triathlon. And you know what? My coaching business has sprouted almost like I planned it that way. This summer, I’m training a group of athletes to the Longhorn 70.3—their first race of this distance. We kicked off the base training period with some graded heart rate tests in each of the disciplines. We talked about our expectations for each other. I expect them to follow the plan, not get overzealous, and keep me posted on progress. They expect me to give them unbiased feedback, challenging workouts, and professional guidance. I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility for their success and a tremendous sense of pride that I get to be the one to lead them to it. Naturally, I’m a bit nervous, but like racing, nervous energy makes me work harder.
As for me, I’m back in the pool and on the bike for brief, low-resistance sessions. In an odd way, I feel temporarily released from the obligation of non-stop training. I must also admit, it’s good to know my only race commitments this year are those of the athletes that I’m coaching. I have no doubt that it’s more than coincidence that the growth of my coaching coincided perfectly with my own downtime. I don’t know what the future holds, but, in the meantime I’m honored to get up every morning, walk over to the track, and have my athletes ask, “What are we doing today, Coach Carrie?”
Carrie Barrett is a USAT Level 1 Certified Coach and freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Her articles have appeared on Livestrong.com, Runner Triathlete News, Inside Texas Running, and the recent triathlon anthology, The Meaning of Tri. Barrett is also a member of Erin Baker’s National Triathlon Team. For more information on her coaching, speaking and writing, visit fomotraining.com.