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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

My story, in reverse

   I didn't even commit to any sort of imaging until January.  Argentina had turned into another disaster of an Ironman, sure, but I couldn't blame the left-sided sacral and proximal hamstring pain that had been a part of my life the entire season-halfway between finishing off the best training block I'd had all year and the race, my HR spiked 10-15 beats throughout everything I did, while my energy (and motivation) dropped.  Quite simply, I had overreached, and couldn't bring myself back in time.  But, whatever, the blood work checked out fine, any major underlying problem got ruled out, and I wasn't in any major rush anyways, figuring I'd need a few weeks to properly rest and rehab that ass pain to pull it back under control.  Unlike previous bouts, though, that pain wasn't coming back under control, but instead falling further out of it-once a week, I'd try a little ~20min test jog, with each becoming worse than the previous.  My main concern was something bone-related; in the back of my mind, my prior history of a sacral stress reaction and a stress fracture at the hamstring attachment loomed.  Not wanting to start up again, working through the pain, only to have it take me down entirely in, say, March, with race season around the corner, vs the middle of winter, I finally mustered up the courage (because I loathe asking for things) to email my hip doctor about the situation.  Within a few weeks that felt longer than the months I'd been actively ignoring the pain, the MRI was done, and I was in the office, awaiting my fate.

   Give it five minutes.  I told myself that at the start of runs more times than I can count this past season, as my body struggled to figure out how to make a normal run motion, my left ass protesting and guarding its way up the street.  And, sure enough, five minutes would pass, and I'd have compensated my way into a normal pace and passable gait pattern.  The bike wasn't great, either, but I could ignore that, too.  The more I managed to push through it all, the more I was able to convince myself that nothing could be that wrong.  The thing was, all along, on paper, I looked fine.  I cut some swim shorts because of a cranky shoulder, occasionally had a wonky knee limit me, and of course I just had some days where I felt awful overall and couldn't hack it, but the ass?  Not once did I give in solely because that hurt.  Sure, I did worry that their might be something wrong, but then I'd go out and put forth another solid run, and I'd be able to reassure myself that I was fine.  I can't pinpoint when the pain started this time around.  I remember it protesting the day after Eagleman when I went for a jog between travel bouts, but that seemed normal.  It locked up on me once during my longest ride prior to IM Lake Placid, but then it calmed down, let me finish out six hours, and I happily ran 20 miles the following day.  I remember the pain increasing leading into Placid, but justifying that with the taper, race, and recovery, I'd be fine.  When the ass hurt during the race, which is uncharacteristic for my injuries, as usually race adrenaline overrides all,  I justified that it was just because I'd had a bad run, and had been feeling all of the bad things.  When the ass hurt even more with starting up training again the next weekend, I justified that it was just because I'd been lazy, and needed to get moving again.  I got serious about rehab in August, and actually, it did begin to feel better. I think that September gave me a reprieve, but I was also riding that Wisconsin high into my Taiwan ambitions, and the mind can be pretty darn powerful at times like those.  During the marathon in Taiwan, I remember thinking to myself that I was glad that that was it for the season, because I needed to get a little more serious about taking care of my ass.  Then, even after a very long and uncomfortable flight, I got home, and decided I didn't want to be done-I had a score to settle (ha, on how that one worked out) with Argentina, and I was really quite enjoying training.  My ass had made it through the year to that point, so what were a couple more months?  Despite those limp up the street run starts, soreness afterwards, and nights spent awake with something throbbing, though, I legitimately did enjoy training all fall, until the wheels fell off at the very end.  I was consistent, fit, in a good mental space with it all.  Sure, it didn't work out, but I don't regret those months.  Plain and simple, I was satisfied, happy, despite the growing pain.

   It wasn't like I didn't have precedence for looking the other way.  That left ass hurt in the summer of 2017, but it was after I'd gotten back from Australia, where I'd spent the better part of the month of June doing absolutely nothing.  The more I got back into training, the better it felt-like it just needed to get going again.  The flare I'd had earlier that spring had been pacified with some cortisone injections and a few easy days.  When, after almost two years of strictly right-sided problems, the left side first started to hurt in the fall of 2016, I did have some pause, as an MRI to check on my right-sided pain the previous winter had shown a left-sided sacral stress reaction that hadn't even felt like much of anything.  But, despite my inclination that if I'd had damage with no major symptoms, major symptoms=damage, that fall MRI proved me wrong, and, at the time (until the pain kept recurring), we thought that it might have been related to the softball of a uterine fibroid I ended up having removed a couple of months later, anyways.  Regardless, the old standby of self-rehab got it better, anyways. 

   Besides, it didn't take some complex mathematical equation to get me to accept that some degree of pain on that side might be something I'd just have to deal with.  I smashed it onto hard-packed dirt in Cozumel four years ago.  It took the impact.  That left SI joint has shown signs of being widened on CT scans.  It likes to crack and pop all on its own with residual instability.  Some overuse injuries at that proximal hamstring attachment actually drove me into triathlon in the first place way back when, too.  It might have been problematic long-term even if it had been my bad side at first.  But, it wasn't.  My fractures, hip damage, etc, were all on the right.  I relied on the left for a good portion of 2015, as I pushed every recovery from everything to, and sometimes beyond, the limit.  In 2016 and 2017, my body started to figure out ways to keep all of those damaged areas on the right quiet.  If, for example, I shifted my right ass off of my bike saddle, the bone spur that resulted from that fracture healing wouldn't hurt.  After two years of right-sided pain, which finally went away in early 2017 after a long, slow rehab from my two late 2016 surgeries (the fibroid removal and the sports hernia repair), the left-sided issues seemed just like irritating noise that I was going to have to deal with from compensating from some structural imperfections on to an imperfect side.  At times, I almost felt comforted by the fact that my right side, which had seemed hopeless for so long, felt fine.  As long as I was functional, training, competing, I was happy, even with some pain.  I could accept that I try to do a sort of unnatural activity at a high level on an imperfect pelvis.  I don't expect no pain.  It is what it is.       

   The day I went down, 11/30/14, I was racing with powdered aminos in the bottle I carried on my down tube for the first time, something I'd tried in training lead up until that race.  I was worried that some might have settled out to the bottom of the solution, so I wanted to make sure it was completely emptied into my front aero bottle, so I got them all out.  The throw bottle collapsed in on itself as I squeezed its contents into the aero bottle, leaving some liquid at the bottom.  I laughed to myself as I blew some air into the bottle in order to reinflate it to get that last bit of fluid out-in high school, my teammate had coined the term, "giving the bottle a blow job", which was obviously hilarious at the time, and somehow, maturely, still amusing during an IM a decade and a half later.  I started to finish the refill.  Then, I started to feel my bike swerving beneath me.  It took a moment to register what was going on, but I had time to think, this isn't how it's supposed to end.  Instead of just taking the fall, a run of the mill skid on my side, I tried to correct, and made the situation worse.  I don't know exactly what happened next, but I felt an impact against the entire left side of my body, and I found myself laying on the downward sloped, hard packed dirt between the road and the bike path, my bike strewn beside me, with evidence suggesting it had done a perfect flip, landing exactly upside down. 
I'm sure the impact hurt, but I've blocked that from my memory.  My first instinct was to get started again.  My bike seemed ok, although the aero bottle holder had broken, and it was hanging upside down, so I couldn't see my bike garmin.  I thought to turn on my garmin watch, so I'd have something to look at.  The left side of my pelvis throbbed, but my heart rate was where it should be, at least for the time being.  I debated pulling the flopping around aero bottle off, putting the garmin into my back pocket, and tossing the bottle at the next aide station, but figured I shouldn't waste equipment.  Eventually, the pain began to push the denial aside.  My HR was dropping, my power kicked back in and was 30W low, and as I sat up to navigate a turn in town, my loosened (unbeknownst to me) aerobars dropped.  After having another, am I going down again? moment, I stopped, stood up, and was immediately greeted with stabbing pains on my right side of my pelvis-the opposite side from what had taken the impact.  I thought I probably wouldn't be able to run with that.  And then I was surrounded by spectators and medics, and it was over.  Or, just beginning, really.

   What if I'd just gone down when I first started to lose control?  Would I have landed safely on my side, with road rash and bruises, but nothing major?  What if I hadn't been so worried about those final couple of ounces of fluid?  What if the wind had blown in that moment at just a slightly different angle?  What if I hadn't mistaken some water safety personnel for a buoy and swam past the turn into the swim exit-would I have been at a slightly different place in the road in that moment, where I might have kept control?  If my first tooth implant had taken, I never would have missed training, and I would have raced IM Arizona, instead of opting for the extra week of training.  What if I'd never even been born with whatever tiny genetic variant kept me from having two adult teeth, and I'd never needed that implant in the first place?  What if my brake had been just a fraction of a centimeter, in Coeur d'Alene earlier that year, keeping it from rubbing-would I have been content to have finished my season earlier then?  What if I'd never picked up some microscopic bacteria in Florida, leading to me getting sick at camp, eventually withdrawing from IM Los Cabos, and ending up racing Coeur d'Alene?  What if all of these tiny little flaps of the butterfly's wings had never happened?  Would I have ended up on the ground that day?  Would I be here, over four years later, writing this, analyzing how my current situation is so intimately linked into that one dumb, stupid moment, that moment that changed the trajectory of a large part of my life, that has reminded me it occurred via some sort of bodily pain every day since?  I'm not going to deny that these what-ifs haunt me sometimes.  When I'm able to train through the pain, not so much-then, I can override the pain and shut those little gnawing thoughts right up.  But in down times, like now, they get their chance to taunt me.  In plain terms, it sucks. 

   At the same time, in my moments of clarity and optimism, I see the good in everything that's transpired as a result of that moment.  I wouldn't have learned as much about resilience, fight, grit, etc, as I have otherwise.  I always trusted my ability to hurt, but I guess it's given me more evidence to support that.  The times I've gotten things right, those races I've nailed, have filled me with a greater joy than in previous years.  I'm not going to deny that I still take bad workouts and races to heart, because that's my personality, but I've come to appreciate good days and workouts for what they are in and of themselves, not merely as means to the end of a race.  The race doesn't always work out, so I sure as heck better be finding a deep satisfaction along the way.  Just because Argentina was total shit this year doesn't mean that I regret this fall, because I know how I felt working my way through that training.  Sure, I ended up overstepping it, but lessons were learned.  While, like many endurance athletes, I've always had a sense of wanting to make sure I did what I could to give myself the best chance of success on race day, having a race day end up in a Mexican hospital also gave me another perspective-if it doesn't work out, am I going to regret any decisions that I made along the way?  Shit's too uncertain to throw my entire life out for a dumb sport.  Sure, I'll still go to bed early so I can get up and swim (note: giving up the comfort of my bed to go embark upon an activity that allows me to work towards a goal that benefits me and me alone just is NOT a sacrifice), but if I want real ice cream and not mashed up frozen bananas here and there, so be it.  Additionally, maybe it goes without saying, but even in my worst moments, I can appreciate how small my issues actually are-I don't have a terminal or chronic disease, I don't have a sick child, my material needs are more than met, I'm in a happy marriage, I have the time and resources to train and compete around the world, my family is close by and loving, and overall, I'm happy in my situation in life.

  As for right now?  That MRI from last month showed some glute tendonitis, some asymptomatic, unrelated hip joint stuff, an "assault" stress reaction at the sacrum, whatever that means (I'm guessing "old and not important", since my doctor didn't really seem to think anything of it), and some partial tearing of my proximal hamstring tendon at the attachment, with related bone marrow edema.  That one required attention.  We opted to try PRP injections that in hopes that the tendon would heal up enough to get going again.  The surgical option sucks, not a really high success rate at returning to high-level sport even after a lengthy recovery period, so I'm not really about that.  I'm now four weeks post-injection.  If I'm being honest, at the moment, everything still hurts more than it did before the injection, with some right-sided stuff talking to me a bit again, as well.  I can swim, bike limited amounts, and elliptical a little bit, but running is a total no.  I haven't exactly been sunshine and rainbows lately.  Despite saying all of the right things prior to the injections about how smart I'd be, blah blah blah, I've had my share of moments lately of pushing into pain amounts that I know are not in my best interests in frustration.  It's dumb.  Really dumb.  Which is why I went about writing this-because maybe, just maybe, getting these thoughts, these dumb little what-ifs, out in writing will keep them from bouncing around in my head, leading to poor decision making on a physical nature. 

   So, I guess I should wrap this up here, since my dogs need a walk and I need to clean and pack and get some actual work done.  Fact of the matter is, it's easy to drive oneself nuts thinking about the tiny things that could have gone differently to result in a different outcome.  But, my cards have been dealt.  Instead of obsessing about how one more shuffle might have given me a better hand, I can make the most of the one I have, because guess what?  I still have a chance to do something with it.  Some people get truly shit hands, and don't get that shot.  I don't always have to want to celebrate a less than ideal hand, but being angry about it and throwing my cards across the table isn't going to solve a darn thing.  Instead, like throughout every other pelvic sequelae that's result from one tiny moment in time, when it comes down to it, I can pick up my cards, allow myself to have feelings about them, but smile, keep playing with whatever comes my way, do my best to make the most of it, and appreciate the hands that work out all the more.  That's life, and mine is pretty darn good no matter what.

Friday, August 3, 2018

A little life, a lot of IM Lake Placid-if you can hold on, hold on.

 So, I haven't updated this thing in a while, because do people blog much anymore?  I don't know.  Not a ton.  But, a bunch has happened and I raced another IM, so it seems like maybe I should write about that.  It's always sort of therapeutic for me, at least, so there's that.  Honestly, I thought about blog therapy several times over the winter and spring, but doing so in a non-Debbie downer way would have been hard.  I suppose a little bit of background prior to diving into everything Placid would be warranted, though, as life was just...weird for a while.  This winter, I came home from Argentina thinking that I'd just had a simple bacterial throat infection, and that I'd take my antibiotics, take a couple of easy weeks of off season, and get back to work, refreshed and ready to hit spring fit and ready to go by IM Texas.

   Naturally, though, things were not nearly this simple.  My throat pain kept coming back, each time a little less, but with increased frustration each relapse.  I was also just...tired.  I couldn't sleep enough, and although I continued to try to train, I'd have days where I'd make it through 20 minutes on the bike before just getting off and laying on the couch the rest of the day.  I was heavy, unfit, struggling.  My doctor and a couple of ENTs couldn't figure it out-nothing fit.  The first couple of attacks of throat pain appeared to respond to antibiotics, but when it kept coming back after 3 complete rounds, that started making less sense.  Maybe mono, but I had that as a teenager.  I had a few mildly high liver enzyme readings.  My thyroid hormones read high, and then a few weeks later at the very lowest end of normal-but still normal, so nothing was done-leading to the theory of subacute thyroiditis.  Some scopes showed signs of reflux and allergies, but nothing acute.  Two ENTs just threw up their arms and told me TMJ, because my jaw subluxes...which it's done for over 20 years.  Needless to say, I eventually just gave up on getting a clear diagnosis, and dealt with how I felt the best I could.

   Also in there were some personal challenges.  We lost my grandmother in January.  It wasn't totally unexpected, she had been on a downward spiral since her hip fracture on Thanksgiving and was just shy of 97, but the loss still did-and does-hurt, as expected when a loved one who's been there your entire life is gone.  We had a health scare with our younger dog-it turned out to be treatable Cushing's disease, but there were ultrasounds and biopsies and concern of malignancies for a few weeks.  Additionally, we found out that Dave's ankle fracture wasn't healing.  He was in a boot, then on crutches, using a bone stimulator nightly to try to get it to heal, and was cut off of all training.  I'm perfectly capable of training alone, but when I was already not feeling great and trying to push out long rides alone in the basement, or head to the pool at freezing dark o'clock with a vaguely sore throat and ear...well, it just added another level of struggle, plus it plain sucked for Dave to not be able to do anything.  Eventually, things began to gradually improve.  His fracture was declared non-union, but the bone chip so small that the plan was to just rehab it, start training again, and see if he could handle it vs undergo a fairly major surgery involving detaching ligaments just to remove a tiny fragment.  My body began to be able to handle training loads, and although I had a couple of relapses of fatigue in there, fitness began to sort of come along.
Dave the cripple. He still baked a cake for Easter.  Moose photobomb.

I also baked a cake for Easter.  Mine was clearly more professional.

I discovered this on my phone when looking back for pictures from the spring, because my mental state was such that some PBS show about beavers was exactly what I needed to immaturely laugh way too hard at the time.

   In there, I raced the local Freezeroo series over the winter, and a couple of half marathons in the spring.  Argentina left me a bit scarred on the tri front, and although I never found any run speed in those races, mentally, they helped me along.  My tri season started at Eagleman, where I swam on par for my lack of swim motivation all spring, biked horribly, and ran decently.  I followed that up in Mont Tremblant, where I actually swam well, again biked sort of ehhh, and ran pretty well.  That helped.  From that point on, training clicked in.  With the exception of one run that I had to bag and one ride that I simply moved, I hit what I needed to, and in the last couple of weeks before Placid, my training numbers were as good as they'd ever been.  Maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself in those final sessions, maybe pressing too hard because I felt the need to redeem disappointing races, maybe I just wanted to prove to myself that I was "ok" a little too badly, but I did hit race week feeling mentally and physically ready to go.  The day before the race threw some fatigue at me, and I woke up that night again in a cold sweat, but I still managed to convince myself that I'd be fine, it was just carb loads and nerves and normal pre-race stuff, after all.
Oh yeah.  I also raced a taco mile with Stevie.  One mile, 4 tacos.  2nd place.  Darn college track girl beat me.

And there was the Sunset house 5k in there!  It's right by my house.  Little opener before the Buffalo half.

Buffalo half finish line.  Typical. #babealert

There was a bit of a sprint finish in Tremblant.  Olf.

I got to go up to Placid with Valor and train!  This run was hot.  But good.

I guess I did race a lot and not blog much-jumped in the Mini Mussel the weekend before Placid!  That was fun.  With my mom post-race.  The Moose was being camera belligerent. 

And with my dad!
I got to do a Live Feisty interview before Placid with Sara Gross!  It was really fun.  Again, typical with the face. #Imawkward
Yay for expo Irina hugs and selfies, too!  This is actually cute.  Rare instance of no weird faces on my part.

   So maybe I should get to the actual race.  As far as IM swims go, this one was fairly uneventful.  I did a warm up swim, but ended up getting out of the water for the start absolutely freezing.  I wish that air temperature was factored into the pro wetsuit cutoff temp, as my elite license doesn't mean that I can stay warm when it's in the 50's with a water temp in the low 70's, but all I could do was hope the race effort would keep me ok enough.  The cannon sounded, we took off into the water, and seemed to actually stay bunched as a group for a bit.  Eventually, the group strung out more into a line.  I think my shivering chills at the start ended up making me feel a bit odd, so I hopped on some feet in the line and just stayed there to calm and warm myself.  The effort felt decent enough, and the first lap didn't drag on too long.  We hopped out, ran to the inside of the still filtering rolling start, and jumped back in, allowing me to see I was at ~32min, about right for me non-wetsuit.  It didn't seem like most of the field was too far away, so I settled back in and just continued to follow.  The second lap got trickier; we were allowed to swim inside the buoy line to avoid the AG rolling start to the outside, but the whole pros inside/AGers outside thing wasn't exactly being adhered to perfectly, so it was a little rough at times.  Still, I made sure to keep my position.  Shortly after starting the loop, though, things started to feel a little too comfortable, and I was getting cold.  A few times I attempted to move further to the inside and take over our little group simply to warm up, but things were just to crowded to really make that happen.  So, I figured that a few seconds wouldn't matter too much anyways, and stayed where I was, still occasionally moving out of the draft in the hopes that working harder would keep me from getting too cold.  Eventually, I exited the water in 1:06, not fantastic, but only 5min back and actually a non-wetsuit PR (narrowly), so I was fine with that.
Total #BABEALERT out of the water

   I made the less than wise choice against arm warmers in T1, and headed out onto the bike.  My legs didn't feel awesome off the bat and I was trying to warm up, but I managed to not worry too much about it, knowing the power numbers the first section wouldn't be awesome as I navigated my way out of town, anyways.  The wind was already fairly gusty, and I mostly just wanted to make it to Keene, regroup, and go.  By the time I got to the descent, I really just had to pee so badly that despite my fears regarding it and wind (I hadn't handled the same situation well in training), I was sort of looking forward to the chance to empty my bladder, because my stomach kind of hurt from it.  Turns enough having to relax certain areas meant that I overall relaxed, and my trip down was fine, I was comfortable and in control, and thankfully, that time around, not too cold.

   Once onto 9N, I settled in and started to find my legs a bit.  Eventually, I came back up on Robyn, Rachel, and another woman, riding more than legally spaced.  Still, I couldn't slot in, so I rallied for a few minutes to make the passes at once and move ahead.  That seemed to wake up my body, and the rest of the lap felt great.  My power was spot on but not forced, I was happy, and I was rather enjoying the climb up the notch, wanting to get back to town to see all my people.  I did have a couple of weird things going on, though-I basically had to pee constantly throughout the entire ride despite barely drinking (I was through a single bottle through the first 56 miles), and my face felt like it was having some sort of allergic reaction to something-my cheeks and eyes felt swollen, to the point where I was having some trouble seeing.  I could see fifth place by the end of the lap, and smiled for Dave and everyone I knew as I got the boost through town.  The rain had started by then and I was probably overly cautious heading out towards my second lap, but that was ok.
All smiles at one point!  And not freezing.

   The wind had picked up to a greater degree by that point, but I was more comfortable than I had been at the start of the ride, so things were a bit faster.  The further out I got, the more the rain dumped on me.  I basically started laughing to myself-it was the type of conditions that stories are born from, and at that point, I had no choice but to just deal with it.  The wind was whipping rain into my already swollen eyes, and I could barely see as I made my way towards the descent.  Welp, I thought to myself, I can't see, my brakes barely work in the rain anyways, my garmin is unreadable with rain, and my hands are freezing, so I might as well just go with it and get this thing over with as quickly as possible.  So that I did-somehow smiling the whole way just because it was SO ridiculous at that point.  I don't think I even saw another racer for a good ~20mi stretch in there, either.  I was so cold by the time I got to the bottom, that I decided my best plan for survival would just be to put in a surge and grind my way through 9N, hoping that I could get to 86 and some climbing (and thus slower speeds and less wind and more warmth) before I went entirely numb.  I was still barely drinking, but other than being cold, I still felt decent.
Not sure when this was, but it's me.  I'm on a bike.

   The unraveling started a little bit before the next Haselton out and back, though, about 80-85 miles in, right when I wanted to be starting to pick things up for a strong bike finish.  I had been eating every 40ish minutes, but if I was a betting woman, I'd bet that it wasn't enough to make up for my lack of drinking combined with the added energy my body was expending trying to stay warm.  I felt hungry, and then after taking in a gel and forcing down some Gatorade (despite STILL needing to pee) for much needed carbs, I felt sick, which seemed odd given my low HR at the time.  I tried to stay positive on Haselton, hoping that I'd feel better once I was able to change positions and climb up the notch, but that didn't materialize.  My power and HR stayed low, and I just shifted into damage control mode.  I took my final gel, and tried to hammer another bottle of gatorade that only went right through me.  Still, at that point, I was still managing to keep control of my mental state-I've been able to run fine plenty of times after rough bikes, and I knew I had plenty of run nutrition both packed and on course that I could take to get myself out of whatever hole I was in at the time.  I simply survived the final stretch of the bike, and got to T2 hoping that I'd be able to recollect myself.

   I got to T2 and then immediately peeled off into a port a potty, where I peed for what felt like an eternity.  Kelly was volunteering in the tent; she was an angel who gave me some splits, and then fetched me a red bull when I said I was feeling weird.  I chugged half the can and then headed out, hoping that I'd start to feel better.  I didn't.  I relayed messages of feeling off to both Jesse and Dave, and buffeted a gel and some chews, hoping that something, anything would help.  Also, race photos later confirmed what I'd felt on the bike-that my face was just weirdly swollen and puffy, something I still haven't figured out.  I made it until mile 3, maybe, before I just shut down.  Mentally, physically.  I wasn't feeling any better-for reasons unknown-and when I had slowed down to slower than any training run heading in and felt no signs of life, all I could think about was the misery I'd gone through in Argentina to simply finish.  I wasn't over that.  I spent my entire winter feeling like crap with no answers, continually dismissed with things like "as long as you're gradually getting better", all the while doubting myself and my mental state, and worrying that my body could fail me like that again.  I felt like it was happening again, and I couldn't take it.  Jodie and I went back and forth over the next couple of miles, going in and out of our own mental battles.  She shut up her demons and charged passed me coming off of River Rd, encouraging me to keep going, that we could do this.  I might have stopped if that hadn't happened.  I saw Jesse express relief up ahead, which was just a dagger to my discouragement, anger, and frustration at the time-what about me, I'm miserable, I can't do this, everything is wrong.  

I had to steal this and add it in here, solely because if nothing else, my thigh made the GREATEST race pic ever.  Look carefully...  

   No one would tell me to quit, though, and I trudged up towards town with a heavy heart.  Here I was, in this place that held so much magic to me, thinking I was failing.  In reality, my splits weren't as bad as I thought they were, but I refused to look after the first few miles.  I knew the BTC and the QT2 crews were waiting in town and that my parents and Dave were there as well; I felt a profound sense of guilt over the fact that I was perceiving that it was happening again.  My IM pro emails (long story) go to Dave, who hadn't sent me the one with the updated prize money listings, so I thought the race only paid 6 deep, and I was in 6th at the time, feeling like I was going to get passed and bumped out of that, too.  I got to Rich Clark hill on that first lap, and lost it.  I walked up, bursting into tears, sobbing, as I got to the QT2 tent.  I just wanted Jesse and Dave to tell me that it was ok, that I didn't have to keep going, that I didn't have to put myself through that again, that I didn't have anything to prove.  Instead, they gave me some crap about how I was still moving ok, which I vehemently denied, and put me back on the course.  I made myself start jogging again, which only lasted until I got to special needs and they missed my number, leaving me standing there, honestly done caring, until I got my bag and grabbed out the gels I never even bothered with, anyways.  I yelled at my parents about how I felt awful and it wasn't my day, I didn't care if I was still in the money, but then willed myself to keep going back through town-I could at least run down hills, I supposed.

   I worked down the hills, albeit slowly, bolstered by people I knew, and back onto River Road.  Another walking pee break happened.  At that point, I was on a steady diet of Red Bull and salt, because it seemed to be the only thing that sort of was making me marginally feel better.  I thought that maybe I had to poop, and stopped in a port a potty at mile 16, which really just turned into a break of me sitting there, trying to collect myself.  How long would it take for someone to find me in here?  I got out, realized I still hadn't been passed for sixth, and happened to notice that mile split, with the less than speedy break, was 8:59.  Well, ok.  Maybe it wasn't an Argentina-ish breakdown, after all.  I mean, by that point there, I couldn't even run under 10:00 pace without luxury port a potty breaks.  I told myself that I could at least make it to the turnaround, and judge how much of a gap I had to the next woman.  So I did that, and realized that with about 7 miles to go, even though Caroline looked WAY better than I did, I still had about a six minute gap.  Six minutes, 7 8:26 popped up.  Not as slow as it seemed, really, I supposed, and given I'd maintained my place to that point with all kinds of walking, crying, port-a-potty breaks, etc, I'd probably be more than fine if I actually just ran.  So that I did.  I started checking mile splits, and they started coming in around 8:00 pace.  Not great, but for that point in the race, not horrendous, especially when I maintained them as I started to work up the hills.  I saw more friends out on the course, continued to raid the Red Bull, Coke, and salt, and with every passing mile, my confidence and spirits rose a bit.
Total different story than the first loop right here...

   By the time I got to mile 23-24ish, I felt significantly better about life.  Still feeling guilt about my earlier performance up the hill with everyone cheering for me, I made it a point to smile back up into town the second time around, at least feeling slightly more like myself.  The stretch up Mirror Lake Drive to the final turnaround seemed to last forever, as I still wanted one more check that I was holding my position and could maybe at least try a little bit to enjoy the finish.  Once I had that confirmation, I eased off a bit the final half of a mile, and soaked in the oval, finally done with a day that I'd given up on so many miles earlier, yet had somehow managed to finish up.  There were more tears, some mix of happy and just exhausted, physically and emotionally, through with another salvage job of a day that wasn't what it could have been, what it should have been, what would have made me feel satisfied with it all.
And more smiles, finally, coming up through town again

   The race, as a whole, sort of became a new IM experience for me-one where nothing had gone hugely wrong, but one where I did not get the most out of myself and my fitness and prep leading in-and it's left me feeling emptier and more lost than ones where I've had something definitive to look at and say, hey, that went wrong, that's the enemy, that's what happened, from crashes to illness to rubbing brakes.  Sure, I was cold, I was low on calories on the bike, maybe I wasn't tapered enough, maybe this, maybe that, but none of it seems like anything that I shouldn't have been able to overcome for a better day than what ended up happening.  After scratching and clawing my way back to being fit and ready after the mess that had been my winter, I'm still left wondering...was something missed?  Is there something physical that no one can figure out, no one is willing to figure out?  What was that face swelling/allergy stuff about, and what's been up with the weird breathing faces in every race picture since last fall?  Am I going to continue to press and push and work, only to have some unknown issue leave me flat on race day?  Am I doing something wrong in training, in recovery?  I don't know.  I had plenty of rock solid training days and weekends, approaching my lifetime bests heading in, so I'd like to think that it was just a matter of some small things taper-wise and nutritionally that I can take care of, but the worry that it's not still seeps its way into my mind.  Maybe I shouldn't compare myself to the past, but at the same time, I feel like I'm not yet at an age where there's any reason I shouldn't be able to race to that same level.  I've bounced between wanting to physically hammer myself and total apathy, wanting to avoid discomfort, over the past couple of weeks.  Honestly, other than Tremblant, Musselman, and maybe Barrelman last year, the rest of my races have been completely underwhelming, at times some of my life worsts, and telling myself to keep pressing, get through it, things will get better has gotten difficult, as at some point I wonder if I'm just deceiving myself.

   But, alas.  As negative and raw as that previous paragraph was, I hate to complain about a lackluster IM finish.  A year ago, when I was just trying to make it to a start line healthy for the first time in over 2.5 years, let alone a finish line, I would have completely rolled my eyes at athletes for acting all tragic over being maybe 15-20min slower than what they thought they could do.  In the words of my former boss, "go find yourself a real problem".  I can't exactly pinpoint why this not real competitive exercising problem has hit me harder than prior real competitive exercising problems, which in the great scheme of life actually aren't problems, but so it goes.  When it comes down to it, I raced in one of my favorite places, I got to complete it, I placed relatively decently, and I did have some moments throughout the day where I was actually quite happy and enjoying myself.  I was surrounded by friends and family, both in person and virtually, and even though I wish I could have given everyone more to cheer about, I still could not have felt more loved and cared about by so many of them.  Although I've been somewhat hard on myself about it all, I still do have all of those things, and they make me fortunate.
One of the coolest things about this race was that thanks to my head start, I ended up finishing about 30 seconds before college teammate/friend Tim!  It was awesome to be able to get these pictures after crossing the line.  Because friends. 

And then we met up with Welby later!  I *might* have had a few non-sports beverages by this point. #solike2006righthere
  So that's that.  Over and done and onward, I suppose.  I'm hoping that what will be next is joining Dave to race IM Wisconsin, although I'm currently trying to get some of my chronic left SI/glute/high hamstring area issues to settle down (turns out SIs are never quite the same once they hit pavement with enough velocity), so we'll see.  As always, huge amounts of thanks and gratitude are in order for the army that has supported me to and through another IM, and every up and down along the way.  I continue to stick with these weird exercise competitions because of not only the personal discoveries and satisfactions, but because of the connections I've forged along the way.  Ups and downs are all part of life, but the relationships we have are what keep us going through them all.  So on we go.  Thanks to all who are there with me!!

Since basically none of this has been rainbows, here's an actual rainbow that appeared while I was writing some of it while Dave drives, ironically enough.

And hey, I still got to come home to these two furry orange things who were all excited to see me, so there's that, too. :)

Friday, January 5, 2018

It's all within yourself-on Argentina

  All right, it's been a while.  Blogging got away from me in the fall, and then I *might* have sort of let my domain name expire.  Figuring out how to renew it was then more complicated than grad school.  Obviously, I went to Argentina, came home, and got more caught up in the holidays and catching up on life than writing about the race.  Plus, probably not that many people really read these things anymore anyways.  But, when it came down to it, that was hardly a run of the mill race, and getting my thoughts down on it seemed like a therapeutic way to process it all and put it behind me.  My college coach used to say that the best races hurt the least, and I've always found this to be true.  The body feels good, the numbers are there, and the mind feels and sees that and follows with positive feedback and motivation.  PRs and placements are chased, and yeah, at those times, the accomplishment is objective and tangible, and it's easy to post triumphant pictures and say stuff about how hard work works, etc, etc.  But what happens when the opposite is true?  What if despite all of your best efforts, the body isn't working, and the numbers are terrible?  What happens when you finish with your worst time ever, well out of any sort of decent placement?  Is there any cause for happiness?  Was the work worth it?

Opening pictures with a non-chronological panoramic of Argentina, featuring my normal resting confused face.  As usual, got asked if I needed help finding anything while minding my own business, pushing a grocery cart today.
   Fall, as a whole for me, involved a whole bunch of troubleshooting, rearranging, and making the best of what I was handed.  In late September, the faucet on my on again, off again foot niggle turned a little too on for comfort, and I had to back off my running to near negligible levels, and pull out all of the PT, chiropractic, and NSAID stops.  Eventually, it came back around, and I was able to race the Miami 70.3.  It wasn't my best race, wasn't my worst, but I survived swimming in rough waters, biking on a windy day, and running off of low volume in the heat.  Valuable experience as a whole, and a fun trip with my mom.  I headed home with my foot feeling encouragingly decent, and was ready to put my head down and dig into the meat and potatoes of training for Cozumel.  Well, life had other plans.  The scratchy throat I felt on my way home that I'd hoped would be a brief, train through it sort of cold turned into a full on sinus infection.  Although I was able to exercise throughout, I felt like crap, and it was a far cry from the heavy training I needed that week in order to be prepared for an IM a month later, especially given my low run training volume heading into Miami.  Options weren't great, but I had put in some solid swim and bike training before I got sick, and we still felt like I had enough in me to end the season with an IM, so the decision was made to push the date forward a week to IM Mar del Plata, allowing me to recover more from the sinus infection and still get in some run volume.
My mom and I post-Miami 70.3.  Don't worry, I made sure that Dave knew how she went along with all of my race crap without a single complaint whenever he annoyed me in Argentina.  He loved hearing this.

A good 70.3 trip ends with froyo

   That final ~month of hard training was both a grind, and a whirlwind.  #panictraining made its way into my vocabulary, and I had a tendency to alternate between times when I hit solid sessions, and times when I instead ended up crying on the trainer, convinced there was no possible way that I was going to be ready for an IM in x weeks.  My sinus infection symptoms lingered, and I also spent about a week out of the pool in there with an incredibly painful ear infection, as well.  Additionally, I admittedly just had a mental block when it came to training for an international (non-Canada) IM.  I couldn't help it, looking back at how previous registrations have gone-a withdrawal from Los Cabos before I made the trip (sick/overraced/et), a DNF in Cozumel (crash/injury), another withdrawal from New Zealand before I made the trip (injury), and of course, that DNS in Cairns (sick).  At times, the petulant voice in my head just said, "why are you doing this, why are you pushing yourself, it's not going to work out, it never does".  But.  When all was said and done, I (and others) had convinced myself to just keep going, both during individual workouts and training as a whole, and I had some days where yeah, regardless of the IM outcome, I felt pretty damn satisfied with that.  The way the fall played out meant that I crammed a lot of training into not a lot of time, and as race week approached as the workload began to pull back ever so slightly, my body started to respond, and I began to at least gain a little bit of cautious optimism.  Turns out, I was right not to trust it, but we'll get to that.

Tales of my training-toughing through a long Saturday trainer ride.  Not sure if this is the one where I stopped and cried for like 20min after 3.5 hours, but entirely possible.

Buuuut then the next day, here I am, crapping out of my long run.  Of course there's a picture, because Dave is a jerk.
After one of my final runs of the season.  Wardrobe selection indicative of current laundry status, how little I cared at that point, and excitement about impending Christmas season.  Bailey wasn't impressed.

The result of one of my failed long ride attempts.  I've always had guinea pigs, because I'm like 8 and I like them.  My last one left this world when we were in Australia (adding to that trip).  Dave told me I couldn't replace her.  Well, guess what happened when he was away on business and I was sad about that ride.  Henry happened.  I told him I at least got a male to keep in company in the house of girl puppies.

I did run a 5 miler on Thanksgiving.  It made me want to learn how to run fast again in 2018.  But, I at least won a pie, and got a sweet turkey t shirt.
On the flip side of Henry, I bribed myself through a different ride with the promise of buying myself a new light up Christmas animal for the yard if I finished.  I have problems.  The struggle of late season IM training is real.  

   Because of the race switch, I was able to spend Thanksgiving at home with my family.  As it turned out, my 96 year old grandmother fell and broke her hip Thanksgiving day, and underwent surgery the following morning.  Hugely unfortunate and hard situation, obviously, and I was grateful that I was in Rochester, and not in Mexico, preparing to race.  As it was, I still felt guilt leaving the country for a week a few days later.  Dave had to work out of town for a couple of days prior to our departure, and he met me in the Toronto airport to depart with a full-blown cold.  I immediately went into panic mode with wipes and hand sanitizer and every vitamin C/zinc product on the planet.  I kept myself separated from him as much as I could for those first couple of days of travel.  We took a redeye to Buenos Aires Tuesday night, spent Wednesday in Buenos Aires, and then drove to Mar del Plata on Thursday.  Between Dave's germs, the impending race, the wind and water conditions in Mar del Plata, and driving in Argentina (or, in my case just being a passenger), to say I was in a bit of a high-anxiety state would be putting it nicely.  Plus, my power meter broke.  But, alas.  I rode and stayed upright, we didn't get into any car accidents, and I mostly felt ok.  Mostly.  Friday evening, my throat started to hurt a bit, but sort of deep back there.  I freaked out that I was getting Dave's cold, of course, but when it wasn't any worse the following day, I chalked it up to that ear infection maybe sort of coming back, and went about my pre-race business.
Dave, by and large, was a lot more enthused about Argentina than I was at any given point

This was my first glimpse of the swim venue.  WTAF.

This was the morning I swam for five minutes before just hoping that if the water was like that, the swim would probably be cancelled.  Killer prep.  Really reassuring.

This is what a broken power meter calibrates at.  I totally screwed up my TP account with some of the numbers it came up with in there.  I think my FTP is now like 5000W.

Bike racks in a different location, for those that want to see something stereotypically IM.

   The night before the race, I started to feel a little bit warm and off.  I checked my temperature a few times, and it wavered between 98.5 and 99.5.  Ok, no big deal, still within normal variations, right?  I clocked out early, but then woke up a few hours later clammy and a little nauseous.  It didn't comfort me, but I did my best to shrug it off as normal pre-race nerve related stuff, although the rest of the night was spent restless and mostly awake to lightly dozing before waking up in a cold sweat.  Race morning, though, I felt ok enough when I woke up, until I ate breakfast and nausea immediately set it.  Still, I tried to stay optimistic-it's not unheard of for me to go through random waves of stomach upset from time to time for no known reason that pass relatively quickly.  We walked down and I did my normal set up stuff, but my stomach really just didn't want to feel any better.  Shortly before the swim start, I tried Pepto and Immodium, to no major avail.  Thankfully, the water had calmed down from the washing machine it had been in the days prior, but the swells were still present, which wouldn't mix well with stomach upset.  I said my goodbyes to Dave, and ended up digging my last resort, the single leftover Zofran from the Australia experience, out of my sports bra a few minutes before the race start, hoping that if I could just get through the horizontal body position and swells of the swim, things would calm down and I could get to work afterwards.
Race morning.  Que sera, sera.

   That swim.  Olf.  The gun went off, and I half heartedly worked my way through the breakers on shore.  I wasn't completely last, but I also quickly lost any contact with those in front of me.  It didn't so much matter, though, as attempting to push was pretty much out of the question.  The dark, cold, murky salt water, swells, and the state of my stomach were all a bad combination.  In any race I've done, that was probably the most nervous I've ever been about being in the water-I felt all kinds of weak, and I really was just hoping I'd be able to make it through.  I almost pulled myself out of the race then and there.  But, that's not my style, and I could at least just give things a shot.  I concentrated solely on making it from buoy to buoy, trying not to think beyond that.  The AGers started passing me pretty early on (and with more contact than was necessary in the open ocean at times), but I couldn't really do much about that.  Finishing the first loop was a relief.  I was fully mentally prepared to see, like, 40min on my watch, so although 34:xx was still pretty bad, it was better than I had expected.  I got back into the water for my second loop, and it was more of the same-keep the stomach at bay, try not to swallow too much water, plug from buoy to buoy.  I also had to pee, uncomfortably so, which was odd given how little fluid I'd gotten in that morning, but figuring out how to execute that while moving in the water was somewhat of a highlight of the day.  The little things.

   I can't say I was unhappy when the swim ended.  I saw 1:08 on my watch when I crossed the timing mat, which at least wasn't my worst IM swim ever (low bar).  The changing tent was pretty empty in T1, and my bike was pretty lonely on the rack.  I set off, not sure what to expect.  Because of the broken power meter, the plan was to pace off of heart rate-probably better given how I felt, anyways.  Welp, that ended up not working out so well-despite reading all morning, the monitor decided not to work when I started the bike.  I saw Dave on my way out and told him this, and then gave myself a little bit of a troubleshooting "get it together" pep talk.  I had time, distance, speed, cadence (that was somehow still working), and effort to work with.  I can survive without technology.  Besides, at that point, my main goal was to make sure my stomach would settle in order to be able to fuel the race-kind of critical in an IM.  Thankfully, the weather was so damp and cool that I could get away with not having to stomach a ton of fluid.  In fact, I had to pee almost constantly throughout the entire bike, despite drinking far less than I ever have in any IM I've done.  I knew that we'd have a tailwind out, headwind back on the two loop bike course, and initially just aimed to try to keep my 5 mile lap splits relatively even for each respective portion.  I could tell that I was way back in the field, but generally I was perking up a bit.  Eventually-actually, somewhat ironically given my last experience racing an international IM-my HR monitor began to pick up again after I sat up to refill my front bottle.  The headwind on the way back to town at the end of the first lap was tough, but overall, I was still ok enough at that point, and not in horrible spirits.  Dave told me I was holding fairly steady within the field, and so I hadn't yet given up hope on the day.
Always really pro heading to the mount line.

   The first half of the second bike lap continued to not be too awful, other than bladder discomfort (flat courses are rough).  My HR monitor was now consistently working; I was sitting a couple beats below where I should have been, but I thought that I might be able to push things a little higher towards the end.  Well.  The trip out was faster than it had been on the first lap, so I began to mentally prepare myself for a tough trip back to town.  After making the turnaround, the headwind started to suck (blow?).  I knew we'd turn off onto a cross street for a little out and back about midway through the stretch back, and it would give a little bit of a reprieve, at least, so I focused on that.  Of course, getting to that turn off seemed to take forever.  At one point, I began to wonder if I'd somehow missed it.  It seemed possible that I could be that dumb while racing.  Additionally, some of the men around me were starting to be, well, man-like with their surging and slowing down and not dropping back when passed (and in one case, riding all the way to the freaking left...douche).  Since it was getting to be about the time where I wanted to see if I could bring the HR up anyways, I did try to break away from the irritation a few times, to no avail.  Finally, mercifully we reached the turn off for the out and back, and a little break from the wind.  I ended up doing a lot of sitting up and soft pedaling in frustration, which was only ok because of the overactive bladder issues that were still rampant.  My HR was dropping, but more because of the race dynamics than anything physical, at least I thought.
End of the first loop.  Prior to having my soul crushed by an hour of pedaling 15mph into the wind (SPOILER).

   Once we turned off that street, back onto the highway for the final ~15mi stretch back to town, the wind came in full force.  I quickly realized that I was going to have a LOT longer left than the ~45min I had prepared myself to have to go at that point, as I watched my speed drop to the 15-16mph range.  Yikes.  On the bright side, it did break up all the man crap I was dealing with, but otherwise, it was just tough.  And sort of demoralizing.  By 97 miles into an IM bike, I'm usually generally pretty over my bike, and yet this was absolutely going to be slower than climbing up from Wilmington in Placid, except at least there there are climbs to give the undercarriage a break (the overactive bladder created more than a few uncomfortable situations).  Nothing to do but keep going, though.  If nothing else, I wasn't scared, which was saying a lot given my general anxieties about racing in wind and that sort of deal.  Otherwise, trying not to be too defeated took a lot of willpower. I couldn't quite keep my HR up where I wanted it, I was convinced I was going to have a horrific bike split, I hadn't budged within the field, and I felt completely out of any sort of decent placing in the race.  Finally, we got back into town for the final out and back.  Right before I started that part, there was a moment of confusion, as some sort of remembrance march for the missing men on the submarine was happening on the course.  People were yelling at me in Spanish and trying to divert me onto a sidewalk.  I had no idea what was going on, and was just tired and confused by that point, so I stopped and started crying as a bunch of wonderful volunteers and spectators came to my aide and pushed me back into action.  After that, the final few miles of that out and back seemed to just drag into eternity, and I was sure the bike course was actually going to be like 115 miles (it wasn't), but finally, finally I made it into T2.

   I took my sweet time in T2 (finally at least temporarily getting to fully empty my bladder), totally unsure of what was about to transpire.  In all honesty, not having power working on my bike was probably my saving grace for that ride-it was just better to not know, to not have that in my head as an inescapable measure of what was happening.  On the run, though, I'd know my pace.  I started off feeling awful, questioning how I'd be able to make it through 26.2 miles.  So, pretty normal for an IM marathon.  I wasn't feeling too confident, but I also knew I'd felt similarly before.  As I got into things the first few miles, it initially wasn't too horrible-with the tailwind, I was at least able to sneak under 7:00 pace for a bit.  At the first u turn, though, the wind hit.  I thought maybe I could still hold under 7:30's.  That didn't last long.  I took a gel four miles in, but the aftermath of that felt awful, and from there on out, I had no choice but to fuel the rest of the marathon on coke alone.  My HR was dropping, but I couldn't move my legs any more quickly to rebound it.  I stopped paying attention to pace, just hoping that maybe the next tailwind section would help.  When I saw Dave at the end of the first loop, he tried to tell me something positive, which I quickly shut down by telling him that at that point, I was just going to keep going out of respect to the sport.  I spent a lot of time out there thinking of many, many others, in particular some of the top athletes in the sport (and my grandmother in the hospital, who had somehow still remembered to wish me luck in Argentina before I left, despite it all), who have kept making forward motion despite circumstances and poor results.  In my eyes, my respect for them grew more in those instances than it had during their triumphs. 
I'm guessing still first loop, because both feet are off the ground.  Although I'm going to claim I ran the entire marathon in a short bit here, finisherpix don't lie.  There were some shots where both of my feet were on the ground.  No flight phase.  Glorified walking.  Sad face.

   The second lap got more rough.  Even with the tailwind on the way out, I was continuing to slow down, and knew that I was in for a doozy on the way back.  I don't know how to describe what was going on in my body, other than that it just simply was not working.  I felt like I was jogging (because I was), but I also felt like I was running as hard as I possibly could have at any given point.  I wasn't shutting it down or selling wholesale by choice; I was instead still fighting with every fiber of my being, but to no avail.  Passing by Dave on my way out to the second u turn, I told him I was running at my "don't puke" pace.  On the way back from that, heading onto my final lap, I told him that I was starting to feel super off, and I tearfully asked if I could walk.  He said yes.  I didn't, though.  As slow as my shuffle was, trying to keep running meant to me that I was still trying.  One of the hardest parts of that final lap was that none of my normal tricks regarding breaking down the time left applied.  Reaching mile 18 didn't mean that I could tell myself I only had about an hour to go, because I was barely keeping it under 10:00 pace (at least when I checked) at that point, and still had to run back into the wind for most of the remaining distance.  After hitting the turnaround, the final few miles of battling back into the wind were, without exaggeration, the hardest miles of my entire running career.  I stopped at one point to walk into the bathroom (bladder was still hyperactive), and couldn't tell if I was sound enough to start again when I came out.  Men twice my age were going back and forth with me while walk/jogging.  A kid was standing on a skateboard, letting the wind push him backwards.  I felt weak enough that I could barely muster the strength to fight forward into it, at times.  Admittedly (sorry, Dave), one of my few remaining motivating factors for speed was to at least be faster than Dave's slowest IM marathon (or else I'd be major league putting my foot in my mouth, after all).
This was probably earlier in the marathon than I was at the end of that last paragraph.  I don't look shitty enough yet.  Dave probably was afraid of what would happen if he captured pictures of my finest moments.

   With about 3 miles to go, I saw Dave one last time.  I broke down and yelled, "MAKE IT END!!!!" at him, referencing the wind.  He told me that I didn't have to keep going (apparently I had coke and snot all over my face and looked horrific), but seriously?  If I'd suffered for as long as I had, I still wanted a finish to show for it.  The final couple of miles got really dicey.  I finally had to relent on a couple of occasions, right around 24 and 25 miles, and walk for a few steps to make sure that I could stay upright.  The final u turn seemed so far out that I was again convinced the run course was going to be long (and again, it wasn't), but eventually, mercifully,  I climbed the ramp towards the final stretch.  I will say this for that run course-the spectator support was awesome, although I wasn't in any sort of state to appreciate it, and the finish stretch was packed with enthusiastic spectators bringing us in.  At that point, I lost it emotionally, breaking down into ugly dry sobbing.  Obviously, I've been a pretty emotional IM finisher in the past, but this probably took the cake.  This time around, it had nothing to do with joy over a good performance or anything like that, but pure relief that it was ending, and some sort of emotion that I can't describe knowing that somehow, I'd made it through the absolute hardest day my body had ever thrown at me.  The thing was, I hadn't intentionally given up.  I'd left 100% of every fiber of my being on that race course, even though I had absolutely no extrinsic motivation to do so, as this was my worst pro triathlon finish by a long shot.  So no, I wasn't crying with triumph about my 3:51 marathon, but more because what had happened had tested me in ways I'd never experienced.
Finish line feels
A random person next to Dave took pictures.  Here they are.

The answer is yes, I did end up with some killer tan lines from this one.  Rocked them whenever I had to pull up my sleeve for a BP reading at the subsequent doctor appointments that resulted from that trip.

   Upon crossing the finish line, a volunteer quickly wrapped his arm around me and held my crying, exhausted self up.  I'll never know who he was, but in that moment, I could not have been more grateful for his strong arm keeping me up and leading me around.  He took me over to Dave, and then eventually into medical, where I stayed under blankets with a shivering body and burning face until the anti-nausea meds did their thing.  I was feverish for the rest of that night (which, overactive bladder is generally my body's response to that, so who knows with that whole deal during the race), and couldn't get out of bed without violently shivering.  I did feel better the next day, although the sore throat I'd felt before the race was starting to creep back in.  The fever and chills and general misery came back that night, and then the sore throat turned into a saga.  I still thought that I was getting Dave's cold, but the throat just kept getting worse, and other symptoms never came.  The first round of antibiotics helped, or so I thought, until then it came back, and after another five days of living off of ibuprofen and some very rough nights, antibiotic round 2 happened.  But, it was what it was, and in some way, it was reassuring to know that yes, there most certainly was something physical going on with me that day.  Thankfully, now it's over, and otherwise I felt ok enough to get to enjoy some of Argentina in the couple of days after the race, and eventually the holiday season upon returning home.
Break for some pictures of Argentina, because Argentina!  Kind of have to.  Carrie told us some cool places to go, and we traveled around with her the day after the race.  This was some neat little shops at Sierra de Los Padres.  I got my mom a bracelet from that town.  Dave got his dad cured meat.  It somehow made it through customs.  It was disgusting looking.

I think this was some sort of funeral/remembrance site with all of these bandannas tied up around it, but none of us could interpret the Spanish explanation sign.


There were SO MANY DOGS in Mar del Plata.  Generally, they belonged to people but roamed around and were super sweet.  I wanted to take them all.  Dave wouldn't let me.

Colorful fishing boats, and a sea lion!

We had no idea how this guy got out of the water and onto the road (there were legit walls he must have scaled), but he was chilling in the sun.  The life.

Dave eating.  Menu translation was always a bit of an adventure.

There were some cool buildings in Buenos Aires.  No idea what this one was, but it looks sweet.

There was also a boat that was made into a museum.  We went on a boat.

   So, there's that story.  In the first couple of weeks after the race, I did struggle with those questions of "what's the point of putting myself through all that training and work if the race can go so wrong anyways?"  But, as time has gone on, I've come to realize how freaking valuable that entire experience was, and how absolutely freaking happy I am that I kept going and finished that thing.  Podiums and PRs and good results are obviously awesome and strong motivation to move forward, but something about continuing to fight when every goal I had heading into the race had long passed me by changed me a bit inside.  I'll never forget how awful it felt to DNF an IM, even though I quite obviously physically could not have finished.  I'll never forget how empty and disappointed I felt coming home from Cairns, after packing up the equipment I never used and checking the bike I didn't ride.  I kept going in Argentina because I could.  I had nothing to lose by doing so.  I have no regrets. 
Well, maybe one regret.  I regretted not putting body glide under my timing chip.  Carnage.  Cankles.

I had some random belly button chafing, but it ran parallel to my surgical scar from my fibroid removal the year before, so I thought it was kind of cool, actually.  A little reminder of where I'd been.

   I know I've spouted off many times about how injury and setbacks teach perspective, etc etc blah blah, and that all sounds fine and dandy, but until that race, I had my doubts that about how much I actually believed that.  On a day to day basis, I was still the same hard ass on myself that would mope over failed workouts and nitpick details.  That's fine, though, because even though a dumb luck accident changed my body, it wasn't going to change the innate wiring of my brain.  "Think of how many times you would have killed to have been able to do this" became more of a mantra in my "get your butt in gear and HTFU" inner dialogues, not something that filled me with a sense of kumbaya, everything is rainbows and butterflies bliss.  Before the race, Jesse had made some comment to me about how he was just happy that I had made it to another IM, and I'd internally rolled my eyes, because ok, that's nice, but I still had to do the darn thing, and I wasn't about to self-congratulate because I'd trained and traveled and checked in. 

   Then, I tanked the IM.  Granted, there have certainly been bigger IM tank jobs in the history of people racing IM, but obviously, my slowest marathon by 35min was a pretty solid tank job.  Yet, I'd crossed that line with so much positive emotion, and in the time that followed, I felt just as satisfied and proud as I have after any good result.  The thing is, I know that 3.5 years ago, that result would have crushed me.  Pre-everything, I felt bad about myself because of a few bad miles in Kona, and threw a freaking pity party over a mechanical in Coeur d'Alene.  Now, when I look back at those experiences and my reactions, and roll my eyes at my past self.  Ok, it sucks that Argentina didn't reflect the work I'd done for it, but I got to start, I got to finish, and I came home in one piece, physically able to move forward.  I was at peace with what had transpired, and like many of my other life experiences in the past few years, it gives me another deposit in the mental toughness bank for the future.  As I told Jesse right after the race, if nothing else, some day when I'm trying to keep it under 8:00 pace at the end of an IM and I think I'm doing horribly, I'll remember those 11:30's in Argentina, and think, "well, hey, actually I'm doing fine".  

   I've spent the past month getting past germs, enjoying Christmas, and taking a break from structured training.  I didn't want to do anything resembling exercise initially, but within a couple of weeks, my desire to bike and run came back, unforced.  Swimming took longer, but understandably so, especially given the pain in my throat.  Now, it's January, and I'm feeling ready to tackle the year ahead.  2017 wasn't perfect, but it turned out to be everything that I needed it to be.  I don't have to wonder if my pelvis can handle IM training, because it did.  I lacked consistency, durability, and confidence at times, but that's ok, because it means that I have plenty of room to continue to build upon that this year.  I relearned how to train for the distance.  I relearned what it felt like to race it.  I relearned what it felt like to finish well, I learned what it was like to finish not so well, and on two different continents, I had it absolutely confirmed to me-starting and finishing these things, for whatever reason, still makes me infinitely happier than not having them in my life.  And, in the process of travelling the world, I realized that adventure always sounds great, but when it comes down to it, I do best with familiarity.  While I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I had last year, this coming year, I'm thrilled that I'm planning on going back to a few races and things that have been a part of my past.
In "Jennie needs an animal spending intervention, post-IM version" Christmas sweaters.  The Moose absolutely hated me, but LOOK HOW CUTE SHE LOOKS.

The Bailey is pretty indifferent to sweaters, at least.  LOOK HOW SNUGGLY SHE LOOKS.

Christmas lights make me happy.  Note: this is the last year this guy was setting up this lights display, which leads me to the burning question-what is he going to do with all of those light up animals? (checks craigslist)

Um, so, if a bad ride meant that Henry happened, then clearly the result of a bad race could only mean one thing-George joined the household.  In my defense, I saw George in the pet store on two separate occasions two weeks apart before I sneaked him into the house while Dave was on a work call.  Henry likes having George.  So screw off, Dave. 

   So, that's that.  I need to wrap this up.  Again, deepest gratitude to those that have stood by me and helped me out along the way with all of this.  I was pretty emotional after that race, and I received more comments and messages that touched me and made me cry (in a good way!) than I had after any "good" performance.  It sounds cliched, but knowing that people supported and respected me almost more for the bad than the good meant the world.  More than the world.  So, thank you all.  Time to move forward and get back to work. 
Finally, a tree and dogs and sweaters, because that's the best way to end a year and move onto another one!