Today I am doffing my armor and diving into vulnerable territory. All in the name of speaking to a question that will likely plague every swimrun duo who sticks with the sport for a race or two: In a sport that is built around the performance of a team, what happens when your swimrun partner is injured and can’t train or race?!?! Whelp, it just so happens that I am currently the injured partner, and I hope that my story can help any unfortunate swimrunner who finds herself in a similar situation to navigate the uncertain waters ahead.
2019 was a banner year for Team Swimrun Labs. Brooke and I raced strong throughout the season to a #1 US Female Team ranking, and recently learned that our consistency with training and racing has earned us a spot at the 2020 ÖTILLÖ World Championships in Sweden this summer. Off the racing and training stage, we built a website and launched a business we are super proud of and excited to grow. SWEET!
Edit: Bittersweet. The story that I struggle to tell and continue to live is that right after a great race and win at Odyssey Orcas Island, I severely injured my back. My symptoms were so severe that for 8 weeks I could only tolerate sleeping in the drivers seat of my car (parked outside in the driveway). I was consistently clocking about 4-5 hours of fitful semi reclined “sleep” per night and barely surviving excruciatingly painful days. Floating in the pool was painful and swimming was out of the question. Sitting, standing, walking, and laying down all hurt. A single workday was more challenging than a 20 mile trail run used to be. The only relief came when my body would go numb swimming without a wetsuit in the freezing winter sea. I haven’t been able to run for over 4 months. Pain, weakness, and numbness in my left leg is constant, though it is improving. Only in the last two weeks has walking and hiking become tolerable to the point I can effectively begin to rebuild strength and cardiovascular capacity. Three weeks ago I was finally able to tolerate swimming 800 m continuously without tears. Today, 4.5 months after my initial injury, I swam 1600 m completely without pain.
I didn’t know if this day would ever come. I can only hope that I will also be able to return to running in order to train for one of the most exciting racing opportunities of my life at ÖTILLÖ Worlds this summer. I can only hope to regain strength in the muscles in my leg that have atrophied due to nerve compression. The jury is still out.
The story I tell sounds dramatic. For me, it has been. Before I go any further, it’s important to acknowledge that the suffering I have experienced since my injury has been a personally debilitating challenge in the context of my relatively privileged and healthy life. In the context of the suffering that humans endure in situations of abuse, war, illness, and injury far worse than mine, 4.5 months of pain is a drop in the bucket. I am a very lucky lady that this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to cope with on the spectrum of suffering.
That said, it certainly has been hard. The energy and ability I have always had in spades for training, work, life, and relationships has been reduced to a trickle these last few months. I felt like I was living inside a pinhole camera- mostly darkness with a tiny point of light in the distance suggesting hope. When uncertainty lies ahead, what is the best way forward? Celebrating the baby steps, learning from what it took to make them happen, and maintaining belief in optimism as a healing tool. Taking rest and rehabilitation as seriously as training. Being patient. I generally have a pretty unshakable belief in optimism, but until my pain free swim today this injury had begun to erode one of the most potent tools for healing that I possess: hope.
Today I celebrate the return of my belief in optimism. I am stepping out of the pinhole camera. I have more hope than I have had in a long time that I will be able to once again enjoy the sport of swimrun and have the capacity to push myself in training and racing. All my fingers and toes are crossed for a good outcome.
This isn’t all about me! What about my swimrun partner?! She’s strong as an ox, her competitive fire is stoked, and she’s ready to crush some hills and long swims at the upcoming ÖTILLÖ Catalina World Series race, the first ÖTILLÖ race on US soil! Sure to be a deep and competitive field for us to truly test ourselves against! We’ve earned gold bibs to wear at all the merit races in 2020 as we defend our 1st US female team title, and unlike ME, she would actually be caught dead wearing the dang thing because she’s been training her face off and is fit as shit!
I, on the other hand, am celebrating a slow AF 1600 m pool swim, and still can’t run. My fitness is at an all time low. I have essentially been in retirement in the pit of despond since October. ÖTILLÖ Catalina is in 2 weeks. So whaddaya do? *Passes mike to Brooke for comment on what happens when your swimrun partner gets injured.*
During one of my tearful sleepless nights at the end of December, I texted Brooke: Who am I kidding. I won’t be able to train for Catalina. Why don’t you try to find another partner. So she reached out to multiple super fit rockstar ladies to replace me. And after only a few days she called off the search and got me on the phone: “Hey. I can’t just find another swimrun partner. You’re my swimrun partner. This isn’t our A race by any means… how about we just take it easy with the goal of racing our best race at Catalina, whatever that looks like? If you have to walk the whole thing, that’s ok. We can finish last. It’s ok with me.”
Cue cheesy after-school-special music! This duo won’t be sunk! Daaaaaaannnng that’s partnership. I’m not saying this solution is everyone’s solution, or even necessarily that it will work for us, but the plan is in place. Instead of lining up to be as competitive as possible in the long course, we are crossing our fingers that I can complete the short course while representing at the back of the pack. Because as a team, that is what our best race looks like. Simply finishing. Together. Simply having the physical capacity to complete the short course distance. I have been a competitive long course athlete in multiple disciplines and let me tell you- I have never designed a race plan quite like this. It is more than one slice of humble pie. BUT… a race plan is always built around racing the best race possible, and when I’m competing with Brooke it is always about the best race WE can race on that particular day. She has given me the grace to stick to that plan together, even though it may mean we walk it in at the back of the pack.
Stay tuned for the next installment in the saga of what happens when your swimrun partner is injured. Today marks an important transition for me from feeling doomed and forced into retirement to regaining some hope that I may be able to show up at a start line in two weeks, surrounded by athletes of all abilities who love swimrun as much as I do. One of the most compelling reasons to love swimrun is the partnership. My gratitude to Brooke cannot be understated here. She said she was willing to finish last with me… game on, baby! Though faithful monogamy may not be the right path for all swimrun partners, it is more important for my return to swimrun from injury than any medical intervention could be right now. More than anything, I want to get back to feeling healthy and strong in a sport that I love. I’m not super healthy or strong right now, but thanks to Brooke I’m still plugged into a sport that I love and I have a kickass partner supporting me while I heal.
So in a nutshell, what happens when your swimrun partner gets injured? Really, anything could happen. But for Team Swimrun Labs, today, the answer is: You stay partners and prepare to race your best race, whatever that may look like.