Helen Jenkins Presurgery Blog

Helen Jenkins Presurgery Blog

Surgery today that's been a long time coming...


It's been a long time since I updated the triathlon world with what I've been up to. Mainly, I have been occupied with my little girl Mali! Since her birth in August, I took the time to very gradually build back into training and enjoy being a new mum. I was loving training and spending time with Mali. I consulted with a postnatal physio and felt good training, I could feel fitness coming back. At the beginning of November, I was doing a longer run and it was one of the first times I felt like my old self, I had a bit of bounce and I was visualising myself racing this year, a sign that I'm starting to get fit! A few days later I was in agony and couldn't walk, my back was in spasm.


I'm not sure how many reading would know the history around my back so here is a brief recap. I have a spondylolisthesis which is a slippage of a vertebra. Mine is L5/S1 which is right at the bottom of the spine. It probably has been there since early teens and didn't cause me any problems until 2011. I was out running with Marc one day and about 2 miles into the run I stopped dead, my quads were in spasm, I had to call someone to come and pick me up. Not thinking too much of it, you think, dehydration or something simple. As the year went on I was still getting sensations in my quads but was getting through training. I raced Sydney World Series in March and managed to race pretty well about 8k into the run my quads were going again, I had to back off, I remember thinking if this gets worse I'm going to have to stop running. I travelled to San Diego and managed to train really well for four weeks and then put in the best performance and race I have probably ever produced. Symptoms got seriously worse a few weeks later.


About three months before the Olympics I woke up one morning in agony, I had massive pain in my knee and with the best medical treatment focussing on the site of the pain, nothing helped and nothing was apparently wrong with the knee. As the pain was so diverse and not focussed on one area, my physio thought it may be being caused from my spine and not localised to the knee. I saw a back surgeon who highlighted the above problems but with such a short period to go to the Olympics there wasn't a great deal I could do, it meant my training into London 2012 was severely hampered and I was on all sorts of medication to make the start line. I'm incredibly proud of my achievement in London and the team that helped me get there.


After London major surgery, a fusion of the back was proposed but we went with the least invasive option and this seemed to help in the short-term and relieved pain. I got back to racing in 2014. Since then I have really struggled to have any consistency of training. I have had spells where I have managed to keep my body in one piece with the help of the amazing support I have in the BTF and Sport Wales along with a fantastic Chiropractor. I followed a reduced volume training plan overseen by Ben Bright and Marc, as given free reign over my training I would have trained too much and probably have achieved no good result! I have had some WTS podiums over the last few years but have been injured for months and then managed at best six weeks good training. I feel I have not near achieved my potential since my back is a huge limiting factor causing so many lower leg issues.


2016 was my best year for a long time and that included injections into my spine in January, a torn TFL muscle during a race and loads of lower leg nerve pain. My best result in years, winning Gold Coast WTS, which qualified me for Rio and came off a consistent block of four weeks harder training. I rarely run above 5 hours, average for a year would probably be 3-4 hours running a week. My desire to be a better athlete makes me want to run so much more than I do, and also the fact I just love to run.


Dealing with injuries is one of the toughest parts of sport and I have had to become very good at it. I am resilient, focused and willing to adapt training and do what I can to maintain to be the best my body will allow me to be. This has included doing 90 minute runs around a football pitch, going on the turbo or treadmill much more than I would like, aqua jogging, cross train, rehab, prehab or doing nothing - the hardest thing of all for an athlete to do! The injuries, the unpredictable nature of my back, the constant ‘fighting' take an emotional toll and when my back went again recently I realised, I just can't keep going on the way I have been over the last few years. I am exhausted from the constant emotional fight to get fit, knowing at any time it can, and inevitably will stop me in my tracks again no matter what I do.


My back is not going to get better. If anything it's only going to get worse if I do nothing and keep slipping more and more and putting more pressure on the nerves (if that's, in fact, possible since I've been told by the surgeon they are completely crushed already).


I have spent a lot of time considering my options and discussing the best course of action with the support network I have. I wasn't willing to have major surgery on a whim. My priority is to have an active and healthy life with my family in the future. My back, in its current state, even if I stopped competing in triathlon now can't guarantee me that. So, I have made the decision to have the fusion surgery now. It may be slightly too early in terms of pain but having it now gives me a stable spine with hopefully no nerve compression, something I've probably not had since I was a teenager. Having the surgery now at least gives me the opportunity to try and get back to compete.


So it's surgery today and another next week.

Thanks as always to the fantastic team that support me.

Happy New Year and Good Health everyone.

Live Long and Prosper!


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