Recovered

One of the luxuries of staying at home for longer is enjoying the longer days and warmer weather. Waiting for my visa to be approved is torturous! I need to get myself back to Sweden as quickly as I can as I know that is where I can improve the most. Sweden however is terribly cold and dark this time of year… That makes being stuck here a little easier to handle. I do have to start being careful with all the snakes about now, yesterday while running after my gym session I saw two Brown Snakes, the second looking as though it has just eaten a small rabbit or something of similar size – its been quite some time that I have had to be concerned about them. Here is a much friendlier visitor that was in the backyard earlier last week that a lot of people (primarily members of the Mens British Ski Team) were mistaking for a snake on Instagram – a big Blue Tongue Lizard of course! Come on fellas, I wouldn’t voluntarily get that close to a massive snake, my last name isn’t Irwin! Nor Kovacs for that matter – check out what that crazy man has been up to: http://pkovacsxc.wordpress.com/

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After almost exactly 2 months since my accident and after being given the all clear medically, last Thursday was time to see how my body reacted to a maximum effort in the form of a VO2 max test. This is the kind of test that no-one ever wins, your body will always fail, its just a matter of how long you can last – Go till you drop!! This ordinarily gets me nervous, primarily for the pain you are about to put yourself through but also due to the amazing desire to improve on last time. This I hope gives you an idea of how much I was stressing about returning to that treadmill. Performing well in previous tests has been a continual mental boost for me throughout my career – on paper I could match it with the best in terms of raw Aerobic output however now, after this particular accident, it’s all an uncertainty. With Silvana’s (my surgeon’s) expertise, thankfully every measure was taken to try and preserve as much lung capacity as possible, however the actual damage done takes a lot more to determine.

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It’s that fear again – the fear of my lungs having problems dealing with the most aerobically straining tests of all but also the fear of potentially seeing results that one of my greatest assets had disappeared. I was about as nervous as making my Olympic debut – quite simply ‘packing it!’ I made it through to the higher stages feeling very comfortable which put me in a much better head space. At 36 minutes is where I hit my record breaking result last time so I knew if I could just get onto the same stage as that (32-36min bracket) the result can’t be that bad! I made it through to 32min feeling like my system was still coping, after that though the speed at which I fell apart was dramatic! Usually I can feel my system struggling but I can manage it for a while – this time I just fell into a world of pain from the lactic acid. I forced it out to 35min which despite the discomfort was worth every bit back in satisfaction.

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Above are my results and by looking at them closely, there are definitely some unusual things going on. At least however my biggest fear hasn’t quite eventuated. If no injury had ever occurred and I had just been restricted to the training program that I have completed over the past 2 months, the lactate curves and level reached would be as expected if not surprisingly much better than expected. I need to keep reminding myself that I have only completed a handful of sub-threshold and only 1 above threshold workouts. There is good reason for falling apart at a faster rate at those higher intensities – my body has lacked the training in those areas entirely. So with all things considering, I am amazed at how fast my fitness has bounced back.

The confusion comes when looking at the VO2 readings. As you can see on the graph, this test (blue line) shows lower VO2 levels at the same level of work. My best back in September 2013 was 89.7ml/kg and this test shows a bit of a drop to 80.75ml/kg. At first I was a little worried to see this, however the initial responses from the various physiologists I have spoken to have said its not an issue at all. If you are the same weight, and the test is running exactly the same protocol in terms of speed and gradients at each level, the only way you can reach the same level of work with lower VO2 readings is from an increase in efficiency. As I do more intensity training, these values will rise again (hopefully to what they were before) and I will be able to handle even higher levels of work. So to gain efficiency in movement by laying horizontal for 12 days is not very likely, however it’s almost certainly due to the training that I did before the accident. With my coach Mattias at DSA, my strength, endurance and intensity programs have completely changed and hopefully we are seeing some of these gains now even with this set back. To last another minute at the same intensity on the treadmill is completely achievable and I have faith now that I can reach this level of fitness and even go beyond before my key World Cup and World Championship events this season. It’s not in my interest and never has been to achieve the same results – I just can’t think about it that way and this time around is no different. I understand and appreciate the challenge of getting back to where I was last season and that should be enough, but that’s not the way I operate.

I now know that my body can handle the hardest of workloads, and mentally this is a huge relief. Intensity is going to be the primary focus in the coming weeks and as rough as that’s going to be, I’m ready for it!

Continued difficulties with my visa last week has delayed my travel progress. I am hoping to finally get the all clear in the next few days. Hopefully they realise that I’m not such a bad bloke and start becoming a little more welcoming!!! No, I understand the procedures that need to be followed but I do hope it’s all smooth sailing from here.

Momentum

Momentum is hard to gather for heavier objects but luckily I am a light weight! Maybe that is why coming back has been easier than I ever expected. For the first time I feel that I have been smart about about getting back into training. Usually with injuries  I fire things up too hot, too early and well and truly cook the goose! This time I have been scared, any reprocussions would be unbearable, so in a way this fear has helped keep me sensible.

The AUSXC Team camp was great. Unfortunately I missed the first day due to sudden family commitments in Sydney, however luckily that coincided with meeting up with Teresa before she flew back to Sweden the next day. Seconds before a man in a suit fell in, Manly was offering a beautiful view to watch and relax!

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The following day however was back to work!! As mentioned In my previous post, medically I was given the all clear to step it up a notch! The plan was to see how my system worked and responded by going above threshold by completing the first stages of the VO2 Max test. L4 is what we call it, but essentially a level of work around race pace and getting to the higher ranges of heart rate capacity. My body was for sure working hard not having touched on these intensities for quite some time, but all the feedback was positive. I had no pain with the higher strain on my lungs and chest and this has now meant I can continue rebuilding my form with high intensity training. This has already been implemented into the plan and I completed my first full set of L4 Double pole intervals yesterday. Maybe the early season isn’t a complete write off afterall!

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The following day was quite the challenge! A Christmas adventure race consisting of running, rollerskiing and kayaking around Australia’s Capital. This was my longest workout for quite some time but apart from one mess up trying to find a checkpoint, the whole session was completely drama free. My complete respect now goes out to kayak athletes – that had my shoulders screaming!

Photo cred: Finn Marsland AUSXC

Photo cred: Finn Marsland AUSXC

Due to the altitude and remoteness of the activity, I have unfortunately completely missed out on the amazing Australian spring skiing that was to be had this year. So the final session being a ski across the main range in NSW, was a little disappointing to miss. Sometimes it really is hard to not be an idiot and actually follow the rules of rehabilitation!

That afternoon was the NSWXC awards BBQ where I received my 3rd NSW Athlete of the Year alongside my sister Aimee.  The definite highlight was to see all the kids and younger athletes that I had coached earlier in the year. It was a little emotional to see just how much they cared about my health and what they had done to help raise funds to help get me out of this mess. Thanks NSWXC, a small yet unbelievably strong community.

Photo cred: NSWXC

Photo cred: NSWXC

This week I have been discussing with my Surgeon the progress so far and moving forward from here. I need to quickly mention just how amazing my surgeon has been. Her completely professional but friendly approach has given me such confidence right from the day of planning the surgery. Even after taking leave she has continued assisting my rehabilitation plan and I am so grateful! Thanks Silvana! The great news is that I just received confirmation that I am medically cleared to go for a Max test! There is a big difference in physical stress between higher intensity training and a maximal effort where you go until you drop, but at some point it has to be done. I plan to fly back to Sweden at the end of next week and I think it is definitely smarter to take the risk here rather than abroad. So now begins the planning of a potential VO2 max test for next week. Already I feel nervous about it; that fear is certainly raising it’s ugly head yet the feeling of overcoming it will of course be all worth it!

That was Intense!

One of the nice things about still being at home instead of already being in Sweden is that I don’t miss out on the Aussie Spring! This last week has been amazing weather and that always makes a big training week even nicer!

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Fortunately, this last week I have found the progression in my health and training to continue at the same amazingly fast rate. Already I am back to hitting higher hours again – It was just over a 20hr week! With skiing at lower levels feeling completely comfortable once again, and beginning to return to similar energy levels to what I am use to, it was time to progress one step further. Last week was my re-introduction to interval training, and I was pumped for it!!

The first two sessions were limited to Level 2 which for me corresponds to heart rates of less than 150. The first session of 3*10min L2 classic was pretty easy session but a sensible, tentative approach is certainly necessary given my situation. 4*10min skate was the second session later in the week which was also shouldn’t be that demanding, however I had some trouble keeping it tame! Finally moving at speed again and feeling like I had some power to burn was just such a good feeling and admittedly I may have gone into L3 a few times…. on each interval… However, in my defence it was very difficult given that I am still unable to wear a heart rate monitor strap. Internally, apart from the stiffness and random shoots of nerve pain, I feel relatively pain-free, however on the surface I am dealing with a lot more sensitivity. The skin is still completely numb, however underneath that layer and around the surgical sites is still amazingly painful to push on. I am pretty well known my my ability to over-react on the odd occasion and whilst getting out of the car the other day, the wind blew the door onto my ribs – it felt like I had been shot!! This was definitely one of those occasions… The unfortunate situation is that one of these sore sites lies directly where my strap goes. So after a couple more weeks and a few spoonfuls of concrete I’ll hopefully be fine again, in the mean time we are talking about strapless options. And now it sounds like I am talking about a new bra….

Photo Cred: Carla Zijlstra

Photo Cred: Carla Zijlstra

I do most of my training close to home on the quiet country roads. There usually is close to no traffic, however was quite surprised to be stopped by Ant Evans and his wife Carla, both legends in what they achieved in their sporting careers but great friends. They too were surprised to see me, half naked in the middle of no-where but you have to make the most of the warm weather while you have it! Aussie spring has already been just as warm as some of the nice days of the Swedish Summer we experienced – the roads are already melting slightly!

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Anyway, yesterday I completed my first L3 (heart rates up to 167) session! 4*8min classic climbing intervals was certainly a great opportunity to start opening things up just a little more and to my relief, it felt great!! This has been one of my major concerns, many people continue to get large amounts of pain with heavy breathing after such procedures and this worried me truck loads! Power was not anywhere near as bad as I was expecting, and stayed pretty consistent until the last 3 mins of the last interval. My muscles simply just gave out, they were cooked! But breathing felt comfortable and painless right the way through, which was a hugely satisfying result. Its all just about being patient and waiting for my system back up to speed again!

This week we have a National Team Testing / Training Camp at the AIS in Canberra. I won’t be doing the VO2 Max testing, that will come later! But the plan is to use the treadmill with poles to work into higher intensities in a controlled, safe environment. If successful with no issues, I will then slowly be able to start training closer to the highest intensities.

To boost the positivity of this last week, with thanks to the recent generous additions towards my fundraiser, the goal has been reached and exceeded!! As I have outlined many times before, this has helped me more than most would imagine. The financial issues created by this accident are ongoing and keep popping up as I continue – travel insurance is the latest problem I didn’t consider. With a pre-existing medical condition now required it has added another blow, but with these latest donations pushing the fundraiser over the line, I am confident I will get through it all irrespective!

Once again, its all becoming a novel already, but I really need to say a special shout out to a few people. To the Sim family – Ben, Sami, John and Sonja. To Rod Peile and the Southern Alps Ski Club – As a corporation you show just how much local support there is for us Athletes. And finally to my Ski Club, Cooma Ski Club! What an amazing group of people you all are. Year after year you have supported me, dug even deeper this time and still are one of the most enjoyable group of people to be around.