Topo Elite athlete Rachel McBride turned pro only six years ago and, in the last couple of race seasons, struggled to advance her career at the pace that matched her potential due to a series of foot injuries. Frustrated and confused, she tried a different approach this year that involved a new mobility routine and switch in shoes. This is her comeback story.
My career as a professional triathlete has been plagued by a series of unfortunate foot injuries – I’ve completely lost count of how many metatarsal stress fractures alone I’ve healed. The silver lining to nursing so many injuries? I’ve been able to understand myself better than ever – both mentally and physically – through the process of healing. I have learned how to gain valuable perspective in my career and be incredibly grateful for every single pain-free step I take, every single stride I run. It also means I have gathered a pretty incredible team around me of health professionals and coaches who keep me on track.
Solving the Mystery
This year my nemesis was a mysterious foot pain that showed up in February. After negative MRI and bone scan results, we ultimately concluded it must be a neuroma or nerve issue of some kind. Knowing it was not bone-related, I was given the green light to start a walk-run program around April. This is shortly after I had signed on as a sponsored athlete with Topo, a brand that believed in my potential even as I was working through challenges with my run game.
I was running with quite a bit of pain even with my new walk-run regime – and that’s coming from someone who has a pretty high pain tolerance; I’ve actually completed two half Ironman distance races on a broken foot! Of course, I did so unknowingly and definitely do not recommend it. Essentially, running with pain is nothing new for me so I stuck to the plan and kept slowly building up the length of my running intervals.
Having been in this “limited running” situation before, I followed my best advice: be patient, let the recovery run its course and focus on the things I CAN do versus CANNOT do. Along with concentrating more on swimming and cycling, I adopted a strength and mobility routine that helped me maintain and even gain the running conditioning I needed to return to running as quickly as possible once my foot was ready.
But as confident as I was in my recovery strategy and mental fortitude, it was still hard to watch the start of my 2017 race season slip further and further away.
The Big Breakthrough
It was a huge blow to my morale when a few weeks into my regime my pedorthist noticed my gait was starting to become slightly asymmetrical to compensate for the pain. I consulted my massage therapist about the issue and he did some very focused (and VERY PAINFUL) mobilization on my foot. The next day I was suddenly running pain-free! He essentially identified and released the tangled mess that was my foot after years of running in shoes that (unknowingly) abused my feet.
Surprisingly, it was after that session that I truly realized how crucial it is to have space in the toe box for all the bones (anyone else with bunions?), muscles, connective tissues and nerves to not get scrunched up together, leading to injuries like mine. Discovering Topo footwear has been a game-changer for my feet: for the first time in my life, I don’t have to cram them into my shoes! With Topos, I finally have the room I need for my toes to spread and splay naturally. Since May, after adopting a strict mobility regime and rotating through my different Topo platforms, I’ve continued to run pain-free and have been able to log more miles running this year than all of last year alone.
Last year I thought my professional triathlon career might be over due to debilitating foot pain. Fast forward to last month when I raced Ironman Canada: I was first out of the water (a career first for me!), set the women’s bike course record and – above all – clocked in a personal best in the marathon to claim bronze! In these past months, I’ve essentially regained more than I ever lost and I’m more excited than ever to tackle my next big challenge: the ITU Long Distance World Championships in Penticton, B.C., on Aug. 27. I’ve won two bronze medals at this event and hope to step up to the podium once again. I’ve recovered quickly from Ironman Canada and am ready to see what my trusty Fli-Lyte 2s can do on the world stage!
About Rachel McBride
Rachel, a.k.a. “The Purple Tiger,” is a professional triathlete training in Vancouver, B.C. She has been racing full time as a professional triathlete since 2011, but is also an accomplished cellist and a board-certified genetic counselor with two graduate degrees! Stay tuned into Rachel’s comeback journey online at rachelmcbride.com or on social: @rachelmcb on Instagram, @Rachel_McB on Twitter and @RMcBrideRacing on Facebook.
One thought on “The Purple Tiger: Earning New Stripes Through Recovery”
Having run recreationally for 40+ years I decided at 66 I’d run an organized 5K, 8K, 10K and a 1/2 marathon. The first three were easy. I found while training for the 1/2, around the 10 mile mark the balls of my feet would go numb and a couple of my toes felt like they were hit with a hammer. Moving up a half size did not help. That was only once a week so I put up with it. Five 1/2’s and one year later I decided I should add a full marathon. But the numbness and toes? I stumbled on Topos after trying on another brand with wide toe box but a zero drop. Too much of a change. After using Topos for a few months feeling started to come back to balls of my feet. Zero toe pain. However, as the miles started adding up I noticed muscle pain on the bottom of my feet, especially after longer runs? While I run I will feel tinges like muscle cramps on the bottom of my feet. Every now and then much more. They always go away but linger for about 12 hours. I don’t know what that is or what is causing it, but at this stage I wear a pair of racing flats for the long runs not wanting to risk anything at this point. Topos did save me much pain and I recommend them to almost everyone and they remain in my now limited rotation.
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