“You’re tired and close to breaking down, lifting heavy 4 times a week will take a toll on your body… Be careful”  my conscience said to me on Sunday last week, to which I calmly and confidently replied “I’m on a roll, I’m making progress! Easing up or taking a day off will just cut this party short, I’ve got more in me.”

Score: Rory: 1 – Rory’s Conscience: 0, because at 4.55am on Monday morning I was up and on my way to practice, and it was a solid one, as was Monday afternoon’s practice where I ended up going 48 seconds on the last 100 Freestyle repeat of the set, from a push… “See I told you that you had more left in the tank” I said to myself on Monday evening.

I’ve had this kind of conversation with myself a couple of times in the past, one period in particular stands out… It was back in 2005 just after I moved from Malawi to South Africa to train under one of the South African Junior National Coaches, Ryan

The Ryan Skinner Swimming Academy – 2005

Skinner. I had just finished school and was looking to take my training a little more seriously. I had always been pretty serious about my swimming, but the club I swam for in Malawi was focused on quality rather than quantity and we were only doing singles and averaging about 4000 meters a day, I felt like I needed more… And more I got! Ryan’s program had us doing doubles and averaging about 15 – 16 000 meters a day, a cool 4 times as much as I had ever done before! I was motivated though, determined to make it work, so I humbled myself and attempted to keep up with the 13 year old girls in the squad through every practice. Slowly but surely I got fitter and faster, first being able to keep up, then holding my own. I also began to swim more and more breastroke as that was my focus, and well I hate swimming on my back! But as I made progress I could sense my body beginning to feel the effects of the big increase in volume. “You’re tired and close to breaking down, going from 4000m a day to 16 000m a day will take a toll on your body… Be careful” my body would say to me. “You are keeping up with the rest of the squad now though, keep it going, the gains you are making are huge!” I replied, and I did. I kept going for a year, “No pain, no gain” after all!

During that year I found myself in more and more pain, but as the pain increased so did my ability to talk myself out of it and carry on pushing. I was beginning to find it hard to walk though and climbing stairs was an absolute nightmare. Then my mom came to visit me.  She noticed that I was walking differently after practice each day and it was obvious that it was uncomfortable. In a very loving way she gave me orders to see a Sports Doctor as soon as possible, which I did.

It turned out that I had what they call “Gilmore’s groin”. Which  involves a tear of the adductor muscles, usually high up near the attachment to the pubic bone. It is sometimes called the Sportsman’s Hernia, but there is not actually a hernia present. It is common in sports were a great deal of strain is placed on the groin and pelvic area. Being a Breastroke swimmer that made sense.

Two surgeries and 13 months later I was allowed to get back into the pool.

Back to Tuesday this past week and I’m working through a set that is challenging but by no means impossible. I can feel my right side beginning to tighten up and at about the half way point in the set I am finding it less painful to hold my breath than to actually breathe! (If you have every trained with me you know how much I enjoy breathing and dislike holding my breath!) “No pain, no gain” though remember so I soldiered on through the set. Steve must have been able to see some of pain on my face because he cut my practice short and sent me to the Athletic Trainers who informed me I had strained an oblique…

Jessica Cickay wrote an article last week for runners that will be competing in this year’s Boston Marathon. “Runners need  to be honest with themselves and decide whether an ache is truly a pain” she writes, “listening to your body and its injury cues are major components of what it means to be a successful runner.” Although her points are specific to running I felt like I could adapt and apply her 4 questions for determining whether or not I need to back off the throttle a little.

1. Am I adjusting my stroke to ease the pain?
When injured my groin back in 2005 I remember Ryan saying to me on a number of occasions “why are you legs staying so close together in your breastroke kick?” My body had adjusted it’s stroke to ease the pain I was feeling in my groin. If your stroke unintentionally looks or feels different you need to assess the possible reasons why.

2. Does the pain get better as I swim and then hurt after?
This often seems to happen with overuse injuries. You feel it before, you feel it after, but while you are working the pain seems to disappear.

3. Am I swimming through pain?
If you feel pain or are waiting for it to come with each stroke it not only promotes and prolongs injury, it zaps the fun out of your swimming.

4. Am I doing this purely for exercise?
Make sure to evaluate your motives and goals. If you are truly training and not merely using swimming for exercise, rest should be a part of your plan.

I should have listened to my body when it told me to ease up last Sunday. I think my lesson has been learned now though. This is no excuse to be soft, but sometimes you need to be smart about your training. Being honest with yourself is the key to knowing when it’s time to push through and when you need to ease up. No one knows your body better than you do. It is yours after all.