The Trials and Tribulations of an ageing athlete

Local man Robert Whyte took part in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA on Sunday 10th September. The following Sunday he represented Ireland at the ITU World Triathlon Championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
So how did he compete in two World Championship races just one week apart and what are his future plans in triathlon? Robert explains
“I had my best season so far in 2016 and had managed to qualify for both Championship races.
I’d run my fourth sub three hour marathon in the spring and I’d achieved a personal best at the full-distance Ironman by finally breaking the ten-hour barrier (I completed the 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km marathon in 9hrs 51min). I’d also finished in the top three in my age group (45-49) in four of the five Ironman 70.3 (half-distance) races in which I competed. This earned me my slot at the world championships in Chattanooga.
In Ironman you race as an individual but for ITU (International Triathlon Union) races you represent your country and must qualify through your National Federations league series.
Triathlon Ireland run a National Series league, which is mainly Sprint and Olympic distance racing. These races are over relatively shorter distances (Swim 750mt/1500mt ,Bike 20km /40km ,Run 5km /10km respectively) and are not what I usually train for. I definitely lacked the necessary top-end speed but I still managed to finish sixth nationally in my age group, which led to me being selected for the Irish team travelling to the world championships in Rotterdam. 
 While having two such important and challenging races so near each other isn’t ideal, they are difficult to qualify for and the opportunity to compete in either doesn’t come around that often. So I decided to do both anyway. It would also, for the first time, give me the chance to represent Ireland, and I felt immensely proud to wear the national team tri-suit.
These two races were my main focus for the year and everything was planned around being in top form for Sep. You know what they say about best laid plans ….
Unfortunately my 2017 season has been wrought with injury and frustration. I’d been struggled with what I thought was a groin injury until an MRI scan found “osteitis pubis” (OP for short) which is an injury characterised by inflammation to the pelvis at the site where the two pubic bones join. I reduced my running volume and kept the symptoms at bay as best I could. I continued to race and my results were actually still going well despite to lack of running.
I was racing in Galway but was tender the week preceding the race with what I thought was a pulled muscle in my back. I actually won my age group at the race but asked Andrea to drive home as I was feeling very uncomfortable. The symptoms continued for a few weeks so I booked another MRI which showed a stress fracture at the rear of my pelvis. It was five weeks out from the first race!!
This meant that in the weeks leading up to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships I couldn’t run at all, as I wanted to get my pelvis stable enough so that I could at least finish the race, and then see how I felt afterwards. Thankfully it held together so I said I’d chance the second race a week later. The lack of running really showed in both races, however, and I was quite a bit slower than normal. But I was still delighted though to be taking part, and to finish both.
The plan was to take some time off and let the body properly heal. In the last four years I’ve fractured six ribs, my wrist, my heel (yes ,my heel) my shoulder and my pelvis .Also the previously mentioned OP. All healed over time but were pointing to something not being healthy with my bones. Dr Rory insisted on sending me for a DEXA scan (bone density) .The results weren’t what I expected, unfortunately I’d developed osteoporosis .It’s rare in a male my age but it’s in my family history .He sat me down and explained ,quite forcefully actually☺ as he knows my form for only hearing what I want to, that if I continued running at the level and distances that I currently trained at I’d risk more fractures and possibly some permanent damage.
To go from competing at a pretty high level to now having to stop was a bitter pill to swallow. A few tears and a few beers followed .I was feeling a bit sorry for myself but then came the realisation that it could be some much worse and it is a very manageable condition.
I’m now on medication and some supplements and have promised Dr Rory not to run for at least a year until I’m rescanned to see if I’ve started to stabilised the condition. .He did say not to get my hopes up that I could return to completive running. I’m allowed to swim & cycle as they are non-load bearing and I’ve also started some strength & conditioning sessions which as I rapidly approach fifty is also recommended.
Sorry for the long article but I get asked a lot ,”what are your plans and what events are you doing next” and this saves a long explanation ,it was also a bit of therapy. Before anyone says “I knew all that exercise would kill him” it’s actually quite the opposite. I wouldn’t have found out about my condition only for the running and at least now I’m treating it many years before I would detected it. Thanks to my friends and family who helped and supported me throughout my late “career” as an endurance athlete and I look forward to seeing where this latest hurdle will lead me.”

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