How To Make a Setback the Platform for Your Comeback

Training for Ironman Arizona, I was asked all the time "Why did you pick such a late race" or "How are you still motivated when everyone else is finished?", saying "I bet you are SO ready for the off season!" My answers were 100% not what people were expecting. Yes, I'm SO glad I picked a late race! No, I haven't lost any motivation at all...l want this more than anything. No, I'm not ready for the off season-my season started in August!

Augusta 70.3 Finish Line, 2017

Augusta 70.3 Finish Line, 2017

I'm lucky my race was one of the last full IMs of the season, with the multiple setbacks I overcame & less than 4 months to come back from injury. Training for Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon came to a sudden halt in late April. The inside front of my left ankle had started to swell during every run, becoming more and more bruised and sore after every run or bike workout. I had noticed it Mid-March, a week before I was scheduled to help lead a pace group at the Georgia Marathon. Of course, I ignored the injury & the pain as long as I could. Late April the doctors put my left leg in a boot, cancelled all activity for 30 days, and said plan for an MRI in May.

I was crushed. There was such a huge season in front of me! Escape from Alcatraz in June, Augusta 70.3 and Ironman Arizona were all on the horizon. Instead of joining my training team for hill repeats to practice for the climbs of San Francisco, I was sending a documentation of injury and deferral to the race directors of Alcatraz. The MRI revealed I had split the ankle muscle on the inside front of my leg. The muscle hadn't torn on the side, it had completely split in two, separating right down the middle. When the doctors explained it, they weren't sure what had caused it and had never seen an injury similar to this one. Overuse of that muscle area was one possibility, but I was sure there was a better explanation, a finite issue that I could resolve. Overuse was not an acceptable explanation for an Ironman-in-training. Eventually, my bike fitter and I determined that the crank arm length on my road bike was so long that it ended up causing this severe muscle split. 

Before I could make a badass comeback, step one was properly healing this freak injury. I was the perfect physical therapy patient that always did her at-home exercises. I did upper body strength training and core workouts. I stalked the athletic accomplishments of my training buddies & complete strangers on Instagram. I focused on nutrition, decided this wasn't the best time for Whole 30 & fine-tuned my meal prep. 

Step two of making your comeback is finding that support crew as you make your way to that start line. I chose to hire a one-on-one coach through the Atlanta Tri Club. Best Decision. Ever. In moments when being that super motivated, driven, badass Ironman-in-training was difficult, I had a training crew, my coach & my boo to help me check myself. My coach Michelle did a phenomenal job guiding me in ramping up my endurance safely and effectively.  Mid-July, we jumped back into training. 


Two weeks after training picked up, I decided to go for it and bought my first tri bike. Second. Best. Decision. Ever. First ride outside and we crashed. I landed hard, knee-first on the right side of my body in a move to avoid the cyclist moves LEFT when you repeatedly yell "On Your Left!". If you're wondering, the bike was fine. That was my first question too, as I laid on my back with the wind knocked out of me. Only evidence of a crash was a small scrape on the derailleur and some busted bar tape. Luckily, I biked away from the crash with a severely swollen kneecap, aching shoulder, a deep elbow bone bruise and road rash on my arms and legs. Driving home, I couldn't believe I was back to rest and recovery for what would be another two weeks. At the same time, I knew I was lucky. It could have been so much worse.

Now time for a second mini comeback! I was sure to Rest. Ice. Compress. Elevate. like a pro. I used that ridicuoulsly expensive Tegaderm to keep the road rash wounds from getting infected. I didn't rush back to cycling on my PERFECT new bike until I had enough knee range of motion to pedal.  

If Michelle was daunted by the volume of training we had in front of us, she never showed it. She has mad faith in my abilities as an athlete. If I got ahead of myself, she would rein it in and remind me that Arizona was our endgame; Augusta was a training race. Augusta training finally resumed at the beginning of August.  Michelle and I fully exploited the 50 days of training left before Augusta. It was difficult. I was relentless. A group training ride completing the 56 mile bike cemented that assuring I GOT THIS mentality. Even after completing the race the year before, the confidence from conquering the distances post-injury is a huge relief. 

My bike training went well, but building run volume was far more difficult than I had anticipated. My last long scheduled training run didn't go exactly as I wanted. Sometimes it takes some tough love reminding you that you can't control everything, either on a training run or during the run leg of your "A race".  Physical training is invaluable, but your mental fitness, willpower and heart get you through those last miles and across the finish.

I never lost sight on Ironman Arizona as my endgame this year. And I raced Augusta with JOY. The swim was fast. The bike was rolling. The run was hot. And it was great. I was so incredibly thankful to be racing that course! I was ecstatic to finish in 6 hours 57 minutes, with a 63 min PR over last year.

Jacqueline Wabler from Atlanta, Georgia...You Are An Ironman!

Jacqueline Wabler from Atlanta, Georgia...You Are An Ironman!

An overwhelming sense of gratitude for my health gave me the drive to train and race late into the season.  I'm motivated by all the times I was physically unable to swim, bike, or run. After enduring a cracked sternum and five broken ribs from falling off a balcony, after breaking a leg in half underneath a four wheeler, after contracting Dengue Fever in Africa, a split ankle muscle was surely not the injury to hold me back from Ironman Arizona!

Although the photos at the finish line only capture one athlete, getting to the start of Augusta 70.3 and Ironman Arizona took a village. Looking back, I can't imagine accomplishing these goals without my Atlanta Tri Club & Atlanta Track Club tribes, my coach, and my endlessly supportive boyfriend.  

I made time to heal, asked for help and made my setbacks a platform for my comeback. I became an IRONMAN. My journey to achieve this taught me Anything Is Possible.