Thursday 22 February 2018

Suffering for my sport with a HARD-won chequerboard of scars

Friction burn is one of the perils of triathletes.
Friction burn is one of the perils of triathletes.

Deirdre Hassett

I turned up for work last week perfectly groomed. Office-appropriate summer dress – check. Hair blow-dried out of crazy-runner-lady mode – check. I was getting some funny glances, though.

Eventually someone tentatively pointed out the huge, purple, ear-to-ear gash on my neck. I don’t have a death wish (though I look like I’ve garrotted myself); it’s my latest wetsuit rash, an ugly friction burn from open-water swimming in a full wetsuit.

It’s one of the perils of multi-sport: a constant litany of war wounds. Wetsuit burns. Cuts and scratches from running off-road. The “rookie tattoo”, oil stains or imprints across the leg from the bicycle chain ring. Bruises or, worse still, road rash from knocks and falls on the bike. To cap it all, triathletes usually sport a bizarre crosshatch of tan lines from cycle shorts and various jerseys and running tops, which prove to be impossible to cover up with fake tan if you’re a woman. No wonder my work colleagues look at me askance.

There are ways to limit the damage (although clearly I am not good at taking my own advice here). Ensuring your wetsuit is on correctly (pulled up well so your arms are free to move, zips and flaps closed, nasty Velcro tabs shut) is the first step. A good non-petroleum-based lubricant like Bodyglide (which is available in any good triathlon store) over any areas of friction – the back of the neck and under the arms being a prime location – help to reduce chafing. There’s a reason why road cyclists wear those fingerless gloves, and it’s not to channel Michael Jackson. Roadies usually wear jerseys with sleeves and gloves to protect from road rash (nasty open skin wounds) in the case of a crash.

Maybe it’s because Ireland is such a cloudy, rainy country but our Achilles heel is correctly applying sunscreen. I’ve lost track of the number of times friends have gone out in mild but cloudy conditions for a very long ride or race, saying cheerfully ‘Sure, I never burn!’, and arrived back with scarlet face and limbs. The advances in sports sunscreen in the last few years mean that there is really no reason to get burned on long workouts – even during Ironman distance triathlons, I keep a spray can of high-factor sunscreen to reapply in transition.

This week…

Just this week, I’m a mess, a chequerboard of scars. Aside from the aforementioned welt on the front of my neck, there’s a matching one on the back, a hangman’s noose mark hidden by my hairline. There’s an unaccountable fading pink scratch running down my right shin (a battle with a bush during a run? I’m not sure.) Pride of place is a series of healing grazes and welts on my left knee and elbow, which would put a six-year-old to shame. I took a spectacular pratfall running with my friend’s dog on the nearby Steven’s Creek trail, getting entangled in the leash. The unfortunate dog cushioned some of my fall, and we limped home a little bloodied but mostly with bruised egos.

Here in hot California, the sun can be a foe as much as a friend and I struggle to keep the sun damage to a minimum while getting a gentle tan. I’m home to Ireland next month for my cousin’s wedding, and the goal is to be scar-free so that my family don’t assign me a social worker.


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