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Sunday, August 13, 2006

What is your Weakest Link?

New injury low for Sarah UlmerOngoing injuries mean Sarah Ulmer has been ruled out of next month's world road cycling championships8 August 2006
"The leg and lower back problems which forced Sarah Ulmer out of this year's Commonwealth Games time trial have now put paid to her world road cycling championship aspirations.

Ulmer says she can still ride but only to a certain level, which is about 15 percent below what she needs to be competitive, and she has confirmed she will not be competing in Austria next month.

....Ulmer is heading to the Australian Institute of Sport this week to see if they can shed any light on the problem."
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Gary Moller comments:
I personally doubt if the experts at the Australian Insititute of Sport will shed much light on her back pain. Sometimes such experts can be the worst to consult.

Here is what I wrote in an article about knee pain and it could equally apply to other health and injury issues, including back pain:

So, your knee(s) hurt for some reason? If you go to a surgeon, you will be operated on. If you go to a rheumatologist, you will be prescribed a powerful medicine. If you go to a physio, you will be given utra-sound and strange exercises. If you go to an osteopath, you will be massaged and manipulated. If you go to a podiatrist, you will be given $500 orthotics, if you go to a personal trainer, you will do lots of funny exercises and go on a diet. Sounds uncomfortably like a lottery to me, I reckon! Currently, in NZ, if you have a knee problem, you will probably be sent to the surgeon. Heaps and heaps of knee ops are happening.

Often the solutions are right under your nose. An expert or specialist on, say, back pain, or bike setup, weight training or nutrition probably knows their topic so well because that is the topic that has consumed their energies. However this may leave little over for the study of other disciplines. They may not notice the obvious. Nor may they see the big picture.

I watched Sarah win the final stage of the international women's road cycling tour here in Wellington. This was just a few weeks before the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. She was on her own from 1/3 of the way and went on to produce one of the most emphatic wins one would ever see in international cycling. As the race was proceeding, I commented to another bystander that this stunning performance could be her undoing at the Commonwealth Games. How right I was and her injury problems continue.



By getting a healthy balance between the things that wore her down and those that built her up, Lorraines Moller's running career spanned a breath-taking 28 years of international competition.


This reminds me of the time I was down at a sports medicine course at Otago University several years ago. Attending, as well, was one of the sports medicine minders of our best fast bowlers - if only he were not forever injured! This bowler has suffered just about every injury known to fast bowlers, including heat exhaustion. His minder was seeking expert assistance with the heat exhaustion problem. To my horror, he was wanting to fry this fine young bowler in the university's climate chamber! I thought the poor guy's body was pleading for a break!

What would you rather: a fast bowler who bowls at 90% pace 100% of the time, or the same bowler who bowls at 100% of the time; but is unavailable because of injury for 75% of the season?

What is your weakest link?
We all have a weak link - some obvious, many not so obvious. I have two: For me, it is my low back and my tendency to get colds when I am pushing too hard. Back pain, colds, stress fractures, tendonitis, bursitis, glandular fever, anaemia, foot pain and hamstring pain are among the most common weak links that abound. No amount of physiotherapy, anti-inflammatories, manipulation, surgery or massage will restore the weakest link, unless the underlying causes are dealth with. The problem is a coaching and lifestyle one. These are not sexy and they take time and effort.

Anabolism and Catabolism
Vigorous exercise breaks our bodies down (catabolism). The body responds by building new and stronger tissue and larger energy reserves (anabolism). Training, competition, rest and nutrition must all be perfectly balanced to ensure that the anabolic processes are always a step ahead of the opposition (catabolism). For more information about anabolism and catabolism read the relevant sections in Training for a marathon.

If we do something especially exhausting, like a hard marathon in the heat, a multi-day cycle or several days bowling at pace; then we will need as long as several days or several months before we do it all over again. In the case of the marathon, the break may be as long as 6-8 months. During the intervening period, however long that may be, the athlete goes back to doing the basics and gradually rebuilds to another slighlty higher peak. Fail to do this procedure of recovery and rebuilding each time and the weakest link in the body will fail.

I like to use my sister, Lorraine, as an example of an athlete who got the balance right. Despite being a full-time professional distance runner, her annual weekly mileage was only about 80 miles and she only ever ran about 2 marathons really hard per year. In fact, she had a 2 year cycle that actually ran into 4 years - 2 years to the Commonwealth Games, a recovery year and then another year buildup to the Olympics and then a rest year, and so it went on.
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