My wife told me that she'd gone to see a doctor because she gets a sharp pain in her eye whenever she drinks coffee with cream. I asked, "What did the doctor say?" She replied that the doctor told her to take to spoon out of the mug... da-da ching! How does this fantastic comedy snippet relate to training for triathlons? Unfortunately too many athletes ignore the obvious signs of pain.
I can't tell you how many times I've had a conversation with an athlete that goes something like this:
Athlete: Hey coach, I'm getting this unbearable pain in my foot/knee/kidney/thumbnail/brain every time I run longer than 300 yards.
Me: How long has this been going on?
Athlete: A couple of months.
Me: Months? What did the doctor say?
Athlete: I haven't seen a doctor yet...
Your coach should have deep knowledge and years of experience working with athletes and may have seen in the past something that's almost exactly like what you're experiencing. But (with some exceptions), your coach is not a doctor. We know you want us to say, "That's nothing. Just rub some dirt on it and get back out there" but that's not generally what you'll hear.
Triathlon training isn't unsafe or bad for you but it does tax your body. Injuries and "niggles" happen. As athletes, we can generally tell the difference between fatigue or a minor issue as a result of overdoing things and an injury that hangs on for days or weeks or more.
When you have an issue, don't wait weeks or months playing through the pain to figure out what's going on. I know that healthcare can be expensive and taking time to make an appointment and be seen by a doctor or PT is a hassle. And often times, it's nothing major so then you feel as if you should have waited it out rather than wasting your time and money. Maybe it's something that happens as you get older, but when the doctor tells me I'm healthy, I've never felt that I've wasted my time and money. Pay attention to the little problems before they become bigger ones. And don't be afraid to take rest days- even unscheduled ones!
When injuries occur, even small ones, check in with your coach right away (and log the issue in TrainingPeaks--there's a "Metrics" entry that's perfect for these notes). But often, getting to see someone who can assess and treat you (if needed) early is going to be the most valuable thing you can do with your time and money.
Dave Sheanin has coached athletes of all levels and types, including the University of Colorado Triathlon Team to six National Championships. Coach Sheanin is certified by USA Triathlon, USA Swimming, and TrainingPeaks. He also races with Athletes in Tandem, helping disabled adults compete in endurance sports.