How one Ironwoman triathlete came back from Achilles injury

Nine times Ironwoman triathlete, Roz McGinty, shares her story of the frustrations and breakthrough moments in recovering from an Achilles injury.  

“I was basically always injured,” McGinty begins, “ I initially moved from running to triathlon because of persistent Achilles problems but it still kept recurring and often in the run up to really important races.”  Even with this she turned in some really impressive age-group results, getting as far as Silver in the2019 Long Distance Triathlon World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain, but “who knows if I could do better with less time lost to injury”.”

Achilles injuries can be particularly troublesome to solve, as many endurance runners know. Your Achilles is the band of tissue that runs down the back of the lower leg, connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone, the Achilles tendon facilitates running by helping to raise the heel off the ground. Achilles tendinopathy is one of the most common overuse running injury, it accounts for 8–15% of all injuries in recreational runners. 

Data junkie 

McGinty has been training for over 12 years and started using INCUS in February, a self-confessed data addict she says she is ‘obsessed’ with her INCUS | NOVA and uses it for every session, “I love  stats, and I’m always analysing everything. Getting more data is one of my motivations for training!”  However, as for many of us, the 2020 and 2021 season has been frustrating, “firstly swimming pools weren’t open and then I was side-lined with injury.” But, slowly and  surely through early 2021 through a concentrated programme of strength and conditioning work, adaptations to her training by her coach  and careful monitoring of her form and progress using INCUS she has returned to competition. 

Returning to running after Achilles injury 

“ I needed to get the injury fixed first, before I could even begin to train properly again, but now I’m able to run again. I am using the INCUS to help me to stop those injuries reoccurring.”  Using the INCUS | NOVA has helped McGinty in two distinct ways; the Pro Tips offer tips and advice to work on during her sessions and the bank of data she is building up over time is allowing her to monitor progress and watch for warning signs of her injury reoccurring. 

“I’ve been working with a strength and conditioning coach, since I started I have been able to see a difference in my flight time and take-off acceleration, I can’t yet tell whether the improvements are from strength and conditioning or from improving my fitness or recovering from injury. But the more data I get over time the more that picture builds up.” 

INCUS Pro Tips  provides advice and reminders after every session that can help athletes really drill down into what is happening in each run, “ There is lots of data and using the summary screen is really informative, it tells me what to look for and what to work on. It was through the summary of my sessions that I picked up the degradation of my form as the run went on.”  

INCUS unique running metrics, such as left-right balance, flight time and contact time gives athletes the power to monitor their form, aiding their recovery from injury and making positive changes that make future injuries less likely, “ I’m concentrating on landing force at the moment. When I first started I was getting close to -1 and I’ve now brought that down to 0.5. I think this is a key area of my running for helping to reduce landing impact and preventing further injury.”  

Finding the best running shoes for Achilles injury 

Finding that often elusive perfect pair of running shoes is a challenge for all runners, but even more so for those prone to injury. McGinty has been putting the NOVA to work to try and establish which shoes are the best running shoes for her Achilles injury, “I have started wearing different shoes and comparing the data, particularly my left/right balance and landing force differences between trainers. On one pair my left/right balance was really off so it’s been interesting.”  She plans to take it further with controlled testing. “I want to do an analysis of different sets of trainers on a running treadmill so we can control the variables, that way  I can find the shoes that help me to perform the best.” 

A systematic review of studies relating to Achilles tendinopathy identified that there are “differences in lower limb biomechanics between those with and without Achilles tendinopathy that may have implications for the prevention and management of the condition,” research is not conclusive, although  it does suggest that form and technique may play a role in who develops injuries .  For those who have experience Achilles tendon rupture there is some interesting research on how it alters running biomechanics during the recovery process

Unique ways to improve your swim technique 

While her Achilles problems were slowing her down it did at least give McGinty the chance to spend some extra (unwelcome) time in the pool, “I have always hated swimming! I do it because I have to!” yet using the INCUS | NOVA has gone some way to fixing her attitude! “Now I’m getting data. I enjoy it more, I thrive on data. I want to go and swim just so I can see the data and analyse it!” 

INCUS brings a whole battery of unique metrics to swim training, which for swimmers who don’t get to spend much time in the pool with a coach is revolutionising their training, “ You can’t get feedback in the pool unless you have someone watching you, but with the NOVA you have exactly that – a little thing on your back watching your every move! It makes me make more effort and I feel accountable. It’s made a huge difference, any sloppiness in your stroke is going to get spotted. My swim has improved significantly. I feel I can do more independent technique training without my coach watching.” 

INCUS Pro Tips  offer constructive advice that you can use to make every session count so you can keep improving, swim after swim. “Even things I have read ten times over I still refer back to. I get more enjoyment out of the sessions. I’m adding extra sessions voluntarily because I’m looking forward to the sessions. It makes me want to train. I love data and statistics so it works for me.” 

Return to competition 

Despite the interruptions of covid-19 and injury McGinty has surprised herself with a successful race season, 

“I’ve raced really well! All my international races have been cancelled but my UK races have all resulted in podiums.  I even ran a PB in a half-marathon at the end of a triathlon ( although the swim was cancelled due to fog). I feel so much is down to using INCUS, staying on track and watching my progress.”  

When you speak to INCUS athletes the thing that comes up again and again is accountability, as McGinty says

“you can go out and hit the target rate your coach sets you or complete the distances set but who is to say how you are doing it, how good your form is?”   With INCUS you have the opportunity to make every session count, because today’s data is tomorrow's improved performance. “Having the INCUS | NOVA  there, makes you accountable for your form, it makes you focus in every single session. We haven’t seen half of what INCUS is capable of yet.”

But more important than success in races is the feeling of your body working in sync again, “if you look at the grin on my face in pictures it is saying, ‘I can’t believe the pain has gone and I’m here!’ I will never not be grateful for what my body can do. Sitting on the side-lines was awful. I’m so happy to be back racing.” 

I have one last big race scheduled in this season, The Long Distance Triathlon World Championships postponed from last year.  That is in three weeks time and I have raced the same course twice before so it will be interesting to see if I have made any improvements in my times.

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