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Saturday, June 17, 2017

And the hardest part...(on Australia)

  I'm overdue for a Chattanooga race report, and I do have one mostly written, but I'm going to go a little out of order here, for therapeutic reasons, and try to dissect what happened last week in Australia.  I thought I'd have finally finished IM #10 by now.  I hoped that I might be in a position where I was able to entertain thoughts of Kona points and strategy.  Instead, I'm once again trying to pick up the pieces, put disappointment behind me, refocus, and move on from the latest disappointment.

  When I first started training for Cairns, I didn't really have high hopes for my performance.  I just wanted to do an IM.  In the weeks leading up to the race, though, my fitness began to click.  While the distance intimidated me again, my workout evidence pointed to the fact that yes, I was ready, more ready than I had planned on being at any point along the way.  I never would have openly admitted it, as I like to keep the expectations and pressure down, but I did feel like if I could remember how to put it together, I had a shot at contending for the final podium spot on a great day, and top five on a good day.  I was heading down under to compete, not just participate, and it excited me.  I checked the boxes of the final week, got myself through, and was in the homestretch.

   Dave and I had a conversation with my parents one evening over dinner about IM.  You have to have such good luck to make it work, he'd been arguing.  I wouldn't say that, I countered; you just have to put in the work, avoid bad luck, and execute.  And so it went.  I feel like I should have run out of bad luck by now.  I feel like I should have earned something good when it comes to IM.  I feel like I've paid my dues, and it should have worked.  But, that's not how it works.  It's not like I've built up little bad luck antibodies that can ward it off.  Our flights got screwed up on the way to Cairns, despite the fact that Dave had checked and called and confirmed with the airlines the day beforehand.  We were able to get rerouted and rebooked, but the butterfly effect had been set into place-somewhere on those planes or layovers that we weren't originally supposed to be on, something microscopic got into my system that would prove to undo me.
Brief stop in Brisbane during a layover for a run along the river!  So much hope.

These kangaroo signs were everywhere.  Much like the moose signs in New Hampshire, they were a TOTAL disappointing fake out.  We didn't see ONE kangaroo in the wild.  Only in the crocodile park thing, which doesn't count.  Asshole elusive kangaroos.

   We got to Australia on Sunday, a week before the race.  I was tired, definitely dragging, but nothing I wouldn't have associated with travel and jetlag.  Monday morning, I got up, assembled my bike, and went out for a little bike and run.  Both felt like crap, and I had no energy.  I again brushed it off-flights, time changes, no caffeine, still recovering from my last push into the race.  The lower GI symptoms started later that evening.  Well, ok, weird, but my internal clock was still off, and I'd had a giant salad and bunch of popcorn earlier that day.  I woke up starving on Tuesday, but the lower GI symptoms persisted.  We walked down to the beach to catch the sunset, and on the way back up, I really just started feeling awful.  Like, dragging my feet, could barely walk awful.  While Dave pestered me about what we were going to do that day, I yelled at him that I just needed to lay down.  I got back and hit the couch.  My stomach began to turn on me.  At first, simple foods calmed it down; as the day progressed, I stopped eating.  My temperature rose.  I didn't even have the energy to sit up, all I could do was lay and watch TV.  I tried to stay calm about it-probably just a 24 hour virus, I'd feel better the next day, I'd be fine by the weekend.  I chose to worry about missing training instead.  I went to bed that night expecting to wake up in the cold sweat of my fever breaking, but it never happened-I was only waking up to my GI system.
The sunrise was pretty, though.  So at least I got to see that.

I never actually made it into the water down there.  This "treat your jellyfish sting" station helped to ease that "disappointment".
I had to.  This blog entry needs some levity.  If I can't unsee Dave's freakishly pasty thighs in a paisley speedo, then the internet shouldn't be able to, either.

   The next day (Wednesday), still feverish, nauseous, entirely drained, and with less than desirable intenstinal happenings, I found a doctor that would take walk ins, figuring that if I could at least get my hands on some anti-nausea meds to calm down the stomach pain, I'd be able to get in food and fluids to get my strength up and be good to go for the race.  I did get some meds, and while they did help, I still couldn't get much into me.  Thursday morning, I did feel better.  Not wanting the whole trip to be a waste, Dave and I went to a crocodile park, saw animals, held a koala, and then ventured off to a waterfall.  Somewhere in there, my fever and fatigue returned, and I still wasn't eating.  He started having some early symptoms.  Friday morning, while Dave's symptoms were seeming to stay less systemic and more lower GI (he was eating the whole time), I was still mildly feverish, repulsed by the thought of most food (which NEVER happens), fatigued to the point where walking 5-10min wiped me out, and letting go of the race.  Checking in and going to the pro meeting was painful, as I felt like a fraud.  Dave opted to switch down to the 70.3, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to race.  Well wishes and advice telling me to eat, drink, keep my hopes up were sweet, but I couldn't force myself to eat and drink without feeling sick, and the fatigue was crippling.  Even minimal activity was a huge effort.
Crocodile sanctuary dude.  Pretty sure this guy was like, eating golfers or something.  

This little wallaby guy let us pet him!!  So cute.  Petting furry animals makes everything better.

Koala!!!!!!!!  No amount of feeling like crap was going to keep me from my koala moment.  He was SO SOFT AND SNUGGLY.

They let Dave in for a picture, too.  I feel like this is sort of an awkward family photo, only with an adorable koala instead of a baby, so it's ok.  And for the record, here's where I verify that no, I did not withdraw from an IM and call it "stomach problems" when I'm really pregnant.  Because yes, I have been asked.   Which is fair.  But koalas only for now.  And dogs when at home.

The waterfall we went to

   I talked to Jesse Saturday morning, and to my relief, he didn't even suggest that I give it a try.  If I thought I even had a chance to get through any of the race, I would have showed up to the swim start, but the thought of 2.4 miles in rough salt water was enough to turn my stomach, I just wanted to spend my time laying down, and at that time, I was suffering from acid reflux that made being prone impossible.  I turned in my chip, which was easier than picking it up had been, and focused my attention to hoping that Dave would be able to survive the half.  Given how I felt, I couldn't believe he was ok enough to race, but he was going to go through with it, and I hoped it would salvage the trip a bit.  Race morning, I found him before the swim start, sent him off, and despondently walked along the beach to the bike out, beginning my day of trying to hold it together.  Dave had a decent swim and looked ok heading out on the bike, so I breathed a small sigh of relief, and left to drive down to the run course before I could hear the canon sound for the full.
Race morning sunrise colors.  Seemed to fit the vibe.

   The rest of the day was an emotional roller coaster.  I couldn't see Dave's splits, but he was moving up in his age group on the bike, so I kept my fingers crossed he'd be ok.  He didn't look great on the run, and was definitely feeling the effects of whatever we had, but he held it together well enough to snag 8th in his age group.  Waiting for him at the finish line hurt; I found myself staring down the red carpet I'd spent so much time dreaming about from the outside.  Afterwards, we got some food (I was having a brief reprieve), and had hours to kill before rolldowns.  We got bored sitting in the car, and finally opted to brave heading out to catch some of the IM run.  Needless to say, watching the pro women come through tore my heart, already scarred and pieced back together a thousand times in the past few years, out of my chest and stomped on it yet again.  At the end of the day, though, Dave was able to snag a spot to 70.3 worlds, salvaging something out of nothing, and we explored some night markets, which was a really neat, unique experience.
Dave run pain face.  Sponsored by immodium.

Ticket back to America punched!  Dave didn't want me to take a picture or make a big deal out of it, because he's annoying and doesn't see it as an accomplishment given it was just sort of a so-so day for him, but I did anyways.  Because, it is an accomplishment, and I've wanted to punch him several times lately over his negativity about his abilities.  Everyone tell Dave he's good at this stuff.

   We spent a pleasant Sunday packing up and exploring Port Douglas and Cairns a bit before heading out to Brisbane to start the long journey home the next morning.  My "feeling better" progress was slow to seemingly nonexistent at times, as my appetite and energy were barely recovering.  I tried a couple of 30min jogs in there, which were 2min/mile slower than what I'd been running heading in and loaded with breaks.  They spiked my nausea afterwards and drained me, but absolutely confirmed that no, I could not have even attempted to race.  Thankfully, I have no regrets haunting me on that decision.  In fact, until I had my first MRI a couple of weeks after crashing in Cozumel and found out that I actually did break stuff, despite the fact that I could barely walk in that time, I felt more guilt and weakness over that DNF than I ever did about this DNS.  I can't say that travel home felt good in the least, and my first couple of days back in Rochester were about survival (especially given I somehow still can't stomach coffee...SAD FACE).  I'm not entirely sure what struck me down (trying to figure it out at the moment), other than the fact that it was/is pretty nasty and prolonged.  Dave and I still are very slowly coming along.  Both of us are struggling to do any sort of training, he's now in the reflux stage, I'm still hit or miss on the eating front, and I'm still struggling a bit with waking up in the middle of the night, needing to sit up to tame the waves of stomach upset.  But, the past couple of days (well, mostly today) have shown actual signs of improvement, so I'm hopeful that I've turned the corner to the home stretch of whatever got me.
Random restaurant in Port Douglas called "Dave's", that offered a discount to anyone named Dave, and featured a "wall of Daves".  Help me.

Another picture of water that looks nice but is probably loaded with man-eating crocodiles and giant jellyfish up in Port Douglas.

Last morning in Australia!  View from breakfast in Brisbane.

This is what it looks like when the third seat in your row ends up empty, and you get skycouch without having to pay for it on your 11 hour flight!

And an airline reschedule resulted in first class on the final leg!  All the other women were all done up and proper while I watched Anchorman, greasy and unshowered from hours of travel, wearing some old comfy run pants.  According to Dave, I was probably the first person in first class to watch Anchorman.  And?  I watched Dodgeball while in peasant class on the way there, sooo... #stayclassy

   I remember starting out one of my long runs when training for Cairns, back when my butt pain was more prominent and I wasn't sure if it would hold out or not.  Something clicked in my head then-yes, I so very badly wanted to race an IM in Cairns, and I feared another setback.  But, although I had moments of thinking that every piece of bad luck was the straw that's going to break the camel's back at the time, I've managed to find my way around them thus far.  No matter what happens, as long as I have the choice to press on, I will.  I can't control everything along this journey, but that part, the not quitting part, is entirely up to me.  Some part of me still holds onto the belief that it's going to come together, and when it does, it's going to mean SO much more than all of the times that it came together before I knew what it was like to deal with all of the BS that I used to only worry might happen someday, back when my triathlon journey was some fairy tale journey.  Shit happens (sometimes literally), to absolutely everyone on the planet.  When you're living it, you deal with it, you make new plans, and you move on.  I've made new plans, and as soon as my body gets its strength back, it'll be full steam ahead.  Maybe they'll work out, maybe they won't, but that's no reason not to go after them like they can work out.  In the great scheme of life, missing an IM is HARDLY the end of the world.  I mean, I've had plenty of times in the past couple of weeks where I've internally whined about how I could possibly still be nauseous, before realizing that it's just a drop in the bucket, in reality.  I'm not undergoing cancer treatment, which would make me a lot more nauseous for a lot longer while, you know, worrying about my life, not just some stupid race.  Perspective.  Yeah, it's still disappointing, because I put so much into it, it's been so long, and I was finally ready, but...I was finally ready.  My "new normal" body can get itself ready, even if there are a few imperfect stretches along the way.  Food poisoning (or whatever it was) doesn't change that.  My heart will scar over and heal.  I'm looking forward to ponying up and getting back to work, because I can (or hopefully will be able to in short order), I still have this opportunity, when so many can't.  And for that, especially when I've gone through periods when it wasn't possible, I'm grateful.    

  So, that was Australia.  Not the kind of report I was hoping to write, but such is life.  We still got to visit the other side of the world and experience an entirely new place, so that's a gift in itself (and, Master Chef Australia was actually pretty entertaining when on the couch :) ).  Many thanks to everyone who took the time to reach out to me, wish me well, and show me concern and caring when I was down and out.  I had wanted to complete that race to prove those who had believed in me throughout this time right, and that remains my goal moving forward through the summer.  The fight will continue!  Also, thanks to Big Sexy Racing, and our fantastic team sponsors including Zone3, Reynolds, QR, Ice Friction, Kask, F2C Nutrition, and others who had me fully equipped and ready to go, even if my body didn't cooperate!  Next time. :)

One of my favorite little cartoons.  Because, this.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Into the fire-2017 life

   I blinked, and then it was April.  In reality, life has just been happening, and I've started half a dozen different blog posts in that time, none of which have been finished.  I should first mention something I announced via social media a few months ago-I'll be racing this season as a member of Big Sexy Racing's new pro squad, with several other outstanding athletes (and people).  This was a great opportunity that somewhat unexpectedly popped up for me this year, and I'm excited to represent some new companies and sponsors and their products.  I'll be updating this blog with fresh links and such on those, and stay tuned to the blog for a little more information on some of those!  Of note is that my coaching situation hasn't changed-who else could I trust with my crap after all of these years? (Sorry, Jesse.)  Anyways.  As for life.  For a while, I was just still in the post-op recovery mode, semi-cranky and trying to figure out my body and find my way.  Finding my way took a whole bunch of work, targeted strengthening and body work, and patience, arguably mostly from those tasked with dealing with me (and my moods).  When I started to find my way, I went through an odd period (late January/early February) where I was struck down with abdominal pains that rendered me flat out miserable, non-functional at times, and ultimately in an ER CT scan machine.  While that was a rough period in time, it turned out that my post-pelvic surgery body apparently just needs some, well, consistent help moving things along (slightly TMI, but what hasn't been with all this pelvis crap?).  Once that got in order, well, I actually got into training and it sort of got real.
During the stomach mess.  This was legitimately how bloated/distended I was at times.  It totally could beat some people's 20 week baby bump pictures.  Needless to say, this was not comfortable.

   After my stomach saga, I went to QT2 pro camp at the end of February, joining up halfway through.  I was undertrained, unfit, and in an environment where I never really thrive, anyways.  I had a few rides there where I was riding so far off of the back of everyone, losing faith in my abilities, just generally questioning what I even thought I was doing down there, pretending like I'm still a pro triathlete.  The truth was, in those moments, I couldn't be comforted by words or justifications.  I just had to (be allowed to) keep going, because doing the work was the only solution to the problem, even if doing the work meant I had to face the truth that doing the job was going to be a lot harder than I recalled.  So I kept going.  I did the work.  I wasn't always in a positive state of mind, but I started and finished every workout I was given exactly as it was laid out in front of me.  Finally, on the final day of camp, over the course of nine miles of 800m run repeats on a bike path, Beth and I both managed to find something inside as we hit each and every one at paces faster than we would have given ourselves credit for a few days earlier.
This was our "yep, as good as we're gonna look right now, that was a lot of running faster than normal" selfie.  Hawt.
   I came home, and after some recovery, started to actually get back into something that resembled real, true, IM training-those deep, dark, long places I'd both deeply feared and missed.  The prolonged layoff from that type of work has left me in sort of a mental tug of war at times.  It's pretty easy to tell myself, "it's ok, look how far you've come, it's understandable if you're not doing well or can't make it through training".  I've had plenty of instances of indulging that line of thought throughout the past couple of years.  Maybe there's some short term gratification.  But, in the longer term, I end up being too easy on myself, which eventually just leads to the lingering emptiness of not getting to where I would like to be.  I'm honestly just done with this "justification"-it's crossed the line from reason to cop out.  But, at the same time, there's past comparison.  This is the nagging reminder of how much stronger, faster, thinner, more powerful I used to be 3-4 years ago, how much more volume and intensity I used to be able to pound out and push through.  It's the little voice that says, "yeah, but..." when I check my workout numbers and start to feel decent about them.

   The trick, then, has turned into balancing the two.  I need to remember where I'm coming from in the recent tougher times, but also where I've been in the further back, more successful parts of my past.  But, the first part needs to be in a way where I'm not letting myself off the hook because something's hard, and the second part needs to be in a way that helps me to believe in my future self, rather than put down my current self.  Easier said than done.  When it comes down to it,  I've come to realize that the day to day push and grind of training is, in fact, hugely fulfilling to me-more so than painting lawn chairs, tearing up carpet, or organizing cabinets.  I can't put into words why this is, but I know how I feel about it.  I've seen the "other side", I've lived it, and, really, I want this sport to be the predominant part of my life right now.  There's no right or wrong, that's just how I feel.  Even when the numbers haven't been there, I'm still better off on multiple levels with it.

We had a windstorm the week after I came home from Florida and lost power for five days.  This pine tree fell in our backyard.  It's still laying there, because training is better than adulting.

We also had a snowstorm the week after the windstorm.  Everywhere was closed, including the gym, so I ran in it.  It was sort of dumb, but sort of awesome.

Oh, and, NEW BIKE!!!  Still a QR PR6, but an upgraded, super pretty one.  With an ice friction chain!  Jennie needs free speed these days.

   With that, though, also comes more risk.  As much as I've tried this year to just put the past behind me and move forward in training, fact of the matter is that I've had multiple fractures, surgeries, and areas of soft tissue damage to the same general area of my body in the past two years, and I'm attempting to train myself to compete in a really long event to the best of my abilities, not content to simply finish.  This means that despite my (and my awesome support staff's best efforts), I'm at a higher than normal risk of stuff going wrong.  And, the more I invest into training and the further along I get, the harder it gets when anything goes wrong.  I finished a couple of solid training blocks where things went right.  I was starting to actually feel like I was really training for an ironman again, and I loved figuring all of the "training hard" stuff out.  Things didn't feel perfect, but they were functional.  Then, something went wrong.  My left (the side I landed on but didn't break) butt/sacral area went out on me.  I had to bail on a couple of rides and runs, and to put it nicely, I didn't take it well.  Maybe it's cliched, but the closer you get to the fire, the more you get burned.  I got unnecessarily and disproportionately upset, considering if I was just better off not even bothering to risk it in trying anymore-at least that way, I wouldn't have that high of a ledge to fall from.

   That was dumb, though.  That's not living.  I forced myself to stop wallowing, I asked for help, and I remembered that people really are good, and will be there to support you, even if your dreams and goals seem sort of silly.  So, just like a million other things that came before this, I'm working through it, with the assistance of those who have been there a million times before, and it's responding decently enough, for now (albeit sore from some injections yesterday).  Really, I only missed a few training sessions, so the world really wasn't ending as horribly as I was pretending that it was.  With that, the goal remains the same-IM Cairns, in less than 8 weeks.  Dave and I had flight credit from our cancelled trip to New Zealand when I withdrew from that IM last year, and that race made the most sense.  He's registered, we're going regardless, so I'm going to do every damn thing in my power to make it to a freaking start line ready to compete my heart out, whatever that might look like.    I also would be remiss here to not give a shout out to the huge roles that Tiffany at Metta therapeutic massage and Kenny Tsang at Active Care Chiropractic have played in keeping this screwed up body functional-I would recommend them to anyone, a million times over, in a heartbeat (and I work in healthcare, so I like to think I know my stuff here).  And, of course, perhaps more of a task has been keeping my mind out of my way-Dave, Jesse, and those who I have running text and/or email bitch sessions deserve shout outs for this one.  So, well, that's kind of a discombobulated wrap up on life lately!  Imperfect and bumpy at times, but not without light, hope, and help from the kindness of others.  We'll see.  I might not trust my body, but I still have to believe that this is going to be possible, and move forward like it could happen. :)    
And matching lazy orange puppies, just because.  This was during the power outage time, actually, when I was biking upstairs because it was too freaking cold in the basement.  Totally a motivational view.

Friday, December 30, 2016

On fear and forward movement. Cheers, 2017.

  "Your dream must be bigger than your fear."

 Taped on Dave's old college desk next to a giant clunky desktop computer in our study, a room that serves more as a dumping ground for bathing suits, wetsuits, transition bags, and gloves than anything else, is a fortune cookie fortune that bears those words.  I'm not sure when I initially stuck that on there, but it must have been years ago, because I can't even remember the last time I turned on that computer.  But, those words have stuck with me, no more so than over the course of this past year.  At many points, the saying became my mantra to get me through the rough points of doubt.  My relationship with fear and triathlon goes way back, though, to my beginnings, and as 2016 draws to a close, I've found myself reflecting back to many experiences along the way.

 I remember my first ride on a road bike.  During the spring of 2009, with steadily increasing hip, shin, and pelvic pain (that would later turn out to be a stress fracture or two), I decided to use Dave's birthday as an excuse to purchase a $200 aluminum Schwinn from Walmart in order to get in some outdoor exercise that wasn't running.  I'd obviously had bikes before, but before that point, they'd consisted of 3 speeds with coaster brakes, and a secondhand "mountain" bike purchased from a garage sale for $40.  The day that road bike came, I assembled it and set off with no clue what I was doing, mostly afraid of the skinny wheels, with a side of excitement to try something new.  I white-knuckled it through the neighborhood a bit, before inadvertently turning onto a road that had JUST been chip sealed.  By some miracle, I managed to stop and turn around without wiping out, heart pounding.  From there, I made it home without incident.  Still, despite the fears, I kept at it, monopolizing what was supposed to be a joint present (of course).  At some point, I was diagnosed with that old pelvic stress fracture, and I registered for the Finger Lakes triathlon after determining that I was in fact capable of swimming the distance continuously.

   So much about that first triathlon terrified me.  I did end up eventually upgrading the Walmart bike to a decent entry-level road bike of my own (that actually fit).  I met a woman at the pool one morning, Lauren, who took me under wing and rode me around the course the following weekend.  She zipped down the hills, while I rode the brakes.  My first time wetsuit swimming in open water was about a week before the race, at a clinic put on by a local bike shop for first timers.  Needless to say, there were a few obligatory moments of panic.  The day before the race, I almost hit a dog while squeezing in an easy ride, but I did finally figure out how to properly use my front derailleur.  Race day, I again panicked early in the swim.  I thought of Lauren's words of wisdom-"you can't sink in a wetsuit".  I thought of my mom and Dave there to watch me, and I didn't want to let them down by not getting through the swim.  I also thought of all of the yards I'd swam that summer, reassuring myself that I did in fact know how to swim, and it was the same activity I'd done for so many hours, just in a different setting.  I swam respectably enough.  On the bike, the hills that had seemed so intimidating on the training ride seemed to have shrunk, and my desire to hit a 20mph average (my goal) dwarfed my brake-squeezing instincts.  The run was painful, but after not running for so much of the summer, I was just too excited to be out there to care.  I came in fourth that day, and in a moment of walking back to transition after the race, I found myself in tears.  The sense of pride and satisfaction that came from completing that race well were intensified by knowing I'd overcome far more trepidation than I'd felt before any running race.  I had a sense that I'd found my new sport, and I wasn't turning back.

   Sometime around the start of the next year, I signed up for my first 70.3, Musselman, on a whim-a new challenge, one that once again scared the crap out of me.  I trained for it, not really knowing what I was doing or what I was getting myself into or what I was doing.  This came to a head the weekend before the race, when Dave and I attempted to ride the bike course on one of those 90+ degree, humid, heat and air quality advisory days.  With little knowledge of fueling, woeful amounts of fluid on board, and no smartphones to guide use when we got lost, we ended up separated.  I guzzled water in a winery bathroom, ready to pass out, somehow found my way back to the park, and was about to head out and look for Dave when he made his way back (I added in that detail to prove that at one point, years ago, I could beat Dave on a bike).  How in the name of everything good and holy was I going to get through that, plus a swim and a half marathon a week later??  I made it to race day with that debacle in my mind, and I was panicked over the fact that I'd never really run more than 3-4 miles after long (2.5-3 hour) rides.  I couldn't fathom what was about to happen, and it showed at the start line.  I remember my sister's former college roommate finding me before the swim, telling me to just breaststroke if I started to freak in the water, and that I was a good athlete, I'd be fine.  She was right.  With little knowledge of pacing or fueling, I'll never forget getting off the bike, and settling into the run at a pace that both felt easy and was far faster than any expectation I had.  That run pace carried me further up into the race than I would ever have dreamed to be possible.  My fear of the unknown and uncertainty of my abilities to get through it morphed into complete joy and sweet surprise when I crossed the finish line as the second female, just under 4 hours, 56 minutes after the start.

Let's face it, this post is useless if I don't take the opportunity to once again make fun of my bike setups of years past.  Here I am, combating that dehydration of the training ride the week beforehand with my camelbak and sideways "aero" bottle in my clip in aerobottleholderbars.

But then I finished and it was cool.  I even touched Dave.

   But, that didn't leave me with a newfound confidence, or erase my insecurities and apprehensions heading into 2011.  I researched and learned more about the sport that had found me, figuring out what 70.3 worlds were, and how I could qualify for them.  Well, huh.  Maybe I'd give that a shot.  Dave and I signed up for the Mooseman 70.3.  I also added another source of anxiety to my triathlon life, switching from a road bike to a brand spanking new tri bike.  Just because I had clip on aerobars on my road bike didn't mean that I'd ever actually used them (other than as a hands-free bottle holder), and this transferred over to the tri bike.  I had no idea how to ride the thing, rarely even shifting because I was too afraid to let go of the brake hoods to reach the bar end shifters, let alone ride in the bars.  During my first training ride out on it, I tipped over on a climb because I wasn't downshifted enough.  I occasionally managed to get my left arm down-my days of "half aero".  I began to research the course I'd signed up for.  A huge climb, done twice.  A windy descent to follow.  What if I tipped over on the climb again?  How could I get through it twice?  And I hated descending.  That was even worse.  Once in New Hampshire, I worked myself up to the max as we drove the course and went through the check in process.  Everyone looked faster than me.  The bike at the end of the rack in my age group had race wheels and the shoes were clipped in, she obviously knew what she was doing and was fast.  Could I even bike under 3:00?  That all continued until the race started.  Once again, I was fine as soon as I was in motion.  I remember little about it, except that I got through the chilly swim and the hilly bike (in my "half aero") upright and in decent enough position to make headway on the run.  I do remember how it felt to win my age group that day.  I remember once again being shocked and speechless about not only meeting, but exceeding my goals.
No idea what's going on here, but I have my resting anxious/confused face going in full force.

My classmates in college and grad school always used to hate me because I'd freak out before tests and then get, like, a 98 on everything.  Seems relevant here.

Not that race, but my "half aero" should be noted.

  The rest of that summer was spent preparing for Vegas worlds, and getting over my fears related to the race and the course.  In the midst of racing with a stomach bug a month later, I dropped into my aerobars for the first time, too wracked with fatigue to think about what I was doing or be afraid of it.  That was all I needed to figure out that skill-to not think, just do.  I rode over to one of the quiet, big hills by the bay, and did repeats every Monday to prepare for the hilly Vegas course.  I tried race wheels, and didn't give up on them when I wanted to cry in crosswinds during my first ride.  I raced more, and had success.  The summer was blazing hot, and I forced myself to keep shirts on and sweat it out during midday track workouts every week.  While all of that should have built confidence, it was for naught about a week before heading west.  Someone shared a preview of the amateur race with me.  My name was in it.  Until that point, I'd been happy just to qualify, with no expectations for the race itself.  Once the seed of outside expectation was planted, the nerves started.  These only intensified once we got into Vegas, where it was hot and dry and the hills on the bike course intimidated me to no end in training rides beforehand.  I doubted everything about myself, to the point where I was in tears before the start of the race (didn't help we were one of the last waves), swearing to myself that I would never do another tri after that, I just couldn't handle how scared and nervous I got before each and every one; the anxiety was relentless.  I probably don't even need to say it-what ended up happening there was the same as what had happened at every other race I've ever done, tri or running.  Once in motion, I was fine.  Instead of that being the final race of my triathlon career, I ended up with a world AG title and a pro card.  So that was that.
The classic near tears pre-Vegas picture

Again, shut up Jennie, no one believes your pre-race crap

   The following year, my fears shifted to those big things that any first year pro and first time IM deals with-as in, lining up with the best, and, well, tackling 140.6.  These seemed fairly justified, all things considered.  This time, though, I had a coach and teammates and friends to guide me along the way, and a husband training alongside me for his first IM, too.  That's not to say my pre-race mental state and general anxieties didn't raise questions about my ability to handle it all, but these were largely erased as soon as I was racing.  I was able to demonstrate that so much of that was a defense mechanism, designed to lower expectations and self-induced pressure, that faded into a process-oriented stoicism once I got going.  That year, the next, sure, I got nervous before big races, and I always found something in particular to fixate on, but by and large, I kept things to a normal, healthy (maybe arguable) level of nerves, not abject fear.  I raced well.  Then, 2014 began to throw doubt into my mind.  First, a DNS that made me start worrying that every time I felt even normal tired, I was about to fall down the rabbit hole of excessive fatigue again.  Then, a mechanical that made me forever obsess about my front brake.  Then, just when I thought I had it together again, I ended in the Mexican hospital.  And that was that.

   2015 was a wash.  Then came 2016.  I didn't make it beyond New Year's day before getting the old butt fracture site x-rayed again.  The 13 minutes of running I made it that day were the last 13 minutes I'd make it continuously for almost five months.  When thinking back on last spring, though, I only tried running a few minutes a handful of times, giving up on myself before trying to get going not because it hurt too much, but because it still hurt a little bit.  I was too afraid of the debilitating pain that I'd experienced over the winter to even want to try in the spring.  I took having to withdraw from races that winter hard, and I was scared to let myself hope again, to risk yet another broken heart.  I turned to my doctor, who gave me the green light.  And with that, I began to work my way through the season that played out.  Your dream must be bigger than your fear.  I repeated that to myself so many times along the way.  I had no choice.  Getting over the Achilles heels of my Cozumel experience-bottle handling and wind-was no small task.  At times, I wondered if I'd need professional help of some degree to help myself over what felt like crippling anxiety I felt even thinking of them.  My overwhelming desire to race again won out, though, at least to break the seal.  Then came Racine to throw me for another loop-a miserable race existence of my own doing, born from my sheer panic in wind and resulting refusal to hydrate.  That was my warning, and my impetus to get my act together with the controllables.

   I've documented the rest of this past year plenty-the ups and downs, how eventually I had my moments of races that came together smoothly (Timberman, Barrelman, Austin), and the way my steely stubbornness and crazy dreams began to push fear aside again on our Kona trip.  But, that doesn't mean that I'm not still afraid of a whole ton heading into next year.  Because I am, big time.  I've done everything that I reasonably could this off season.  I rested.  I had a couple surgeries to fix what could be fixed.  I did absolutely nothing but walk my dogs for four weeks.  I've been methodically rehabbing myself, and I turned myself back over having my training schedule written for me before I even could be overzealous.  But...but.  What if I'm never the same?  What if, despite all of my best efforts, despite the fact that nothing is glaringly obviously wrong with me, I just can't do it anymore?  What if that stupid little butt bone deformity is going to continue to set me back?  I'm afraid that I'll never make it back to an IM start line, let alone a finish line.  I could drive myself nuts.  Sometimes, I do drive myself nuts.  But then I get a grip (arguably...).

   In the wake of Carrie Fisher's passing earlier in the week, I saw this quote floating around: "Stay afraid, but do it anyways.  What's important is the action.  You don't have to wait to be confident.  Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow."  (Note: I've never seen any Star Wars movies-blasphemy-but I liked the quote.)  Hasn't this always been the theme of my triathlon career?  The anecdotes above represent some of my favorite moments of my years in this sport, and they all have a common thread-rising above fear.  Risk/reward.  If I waited until I was confident that something was going to work out, I'd never do anything in life.  There would never be any reward.  At some point in the lead into any of those big days, those great moments, I was a freaking mess.  But, I went ahead with them anyways, because something inside of me wanted it more than I feared it, and nothing was ever as scary as it seemed once underway.  So, that's what I have to do now, staring down 2017 and the uncertainty and fear related to trying to get my Ironman life and dreams back.  Move forward.  Find confidence when I can.  Devote myself to the controllables-the rehab, the slower than molasses progression.  Listen.  Do what I'm supposed to without being a giant pain in the ass (maybe just a small one).  Just keep plugging away.  One of my favorite self-talk messages at the end of long races has always been, "you haven't come this far to blow it now".  This mantra sort of works now (along with, "don't do anything in December that you're going to regret in May...again").  So, that's going to have to be what I go on heading into 2017-I'll try to keep my head straight, level it all out, and remember that I have dreams that are bigger than my fears.

Since we're on the theme of Chinese fortunes, here's a good, classic one from our Christmas Chinese.  Dave and I ended up flying solo on Christmas day, so we obviously ordered Chinese.  It felt right.
And the original fortune discussed here.  I could have moved the ancient white out bottle, but I felt like it sort of fit to describe how long that thing's been taped up there.  But look, 32 is a lucky number.  I'm 32.  26 is, too.  I was 26 when all of the good 2011 stuff happened.  I'll go with it.

And, of course, a Moose.  Why is the Moose relevant, other than that she's always relevant?  Because the Moose is a year into kidney disease now.  She doesn't spend her time worrying about if and when she'll get worse from it.  She looks forward to her dollop of peanut butter with pills hidden in it twice a day, and then goes and runs around the woods and smiles and begs me for petting and shoves her face in my face when I'm trying to do rehab.  Don't worry.  Be happy.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

There is a season and a time to every purpose (a time to heal)

   My last few years have been odd.  2013 was unequivocally the triathlon fairy tale.  2014 was the come down from that, the coming of age-the year where all of those things I spent years worrying about happening during races happened.  The withdrawal due to illness.  The major mechanical.  The crashing out, the broken bones from crashing out.  Each one was a little worse than the last, but the truth of the matter each time was that ones fears came true, I was able to look back and realize that I made it through them all, each time rolling my eyes a bit at my over dramatic self of issues past.  2015 was the year of false starts, where my body morphed into an onion, unraveling to reveal another layer of issue after issue.  Fractures that healed more slowly than planned.  A labral tear, a labral repair.  Fracture sites that started to hurt again.  An overambitious return through it all that left things low-level ambiguously hurting, and my head and heart searching for answers.  My body became the lemon of simple, non-displaced hairline fractures and an uncomplicated labral repair.  This past year, 2016, was, as I had posted after Austin, the year of taking that lemon and turning it into lemonade.  I came to grips with many concepts- healing can't be rushed, the world owes you nothing, and you can still be happy in the face of imperfection.

   At the end of it all, though, I think that the maximum amount of consecutive time I had taken completely off from any swimming, biking, or running from the time I started training again after the fractures (December 2014) through Austin (over 22 months of time) was about 4-5 days after the PRP injections last March.  Sure, I had plenty of stretches in that time where I was doing what seemed like next to nothing to me (and many very long ones of not running), but it wasn't actually, truly nothing.  When I was at a crossroads last spring where I had to make the decision to totally rest or to try to see what happened if I committed more fully and tried to grind through it all, I chose to try to grind through it all, and I had a season.  No regrets.  At the same time, although the peaks and valleys were beginning to shift from mountains to rolling hills, I didn't gain solid footing up at any given point.   I knew that I had things that needed fixing, and I knew that I did truly need a good, clean break before I'd be have a chance at a more steady climb, but mentally I needed to get through a season before I'd be able to wrap my mind around it and successfully execute the healing I needed.  So, that's what I did, it ended on a high note, and seven weeks later, I have no regrets.

   I've started and stopped a bunch of different blog posts since I last updated, having a little bit of writer's block.  Should I review the year?  Write about the surgeries I've had by now (sports hernia repair and laparascopic uterine fibroid removal)?  Throw down a few other ideas rattling around in my brain at the moment?  Being in these post-op time periods, I haven't been hugely busy (obviously), so it wasn't like I had much else going on.  At the end of it all, I figured that I'd go through some of the surgical stuff.  I fully recognize that actually, it's a pretty boring subject, but something that I've found a bit frustrating in going through it all is trying to find specifics as this stuff pertains to triathletes, both in symptoms and recovery.  Plus, the uterine fibroid is a bit outside of the box in terms of "normal" triathlon ailments, but its development has been inextricably linked with some other factors that I think are somewhat important to discuss sometimes.

   The sports hernia repair was fairly straightforward.  Technically, "sports hernia" is a bit of a misnomer, as no true hernia bulging-instead, the obliques become stretched or slightly torn leading to continued pain and functional loss.  In my case, the muscles that attach onto the pubic bone of my pelvis (where I'd had a fracture) had become imbalanced thanks to improper strengthening along the line and overaggressive returns to training.  More specifically, my adductors that I stretched and strengthened the crap out of overpowered my obliques, which had been largely neglected, as I was limited in how much I could strengthen them due to various restrictions after my labral repair.  Throw in the previous trauma, and I was ripe for some chronic groin pain.  I was able to train through it all of this time, managing with a variety of interventions, but after nearly two years of some degree of pain in the area (mostly with running over an hour, faster running, kicking in the pool, flip turns, and higher degree core strengthening), I needed a little extra help.  It wasn't always my main issue, but undergoing the surgery seemed worth it-the surgery itself was a simple procedure with a relatively brief recovery, and addressing one problematic area would knock down compensations and allow me to fully address the others with the strengthening I need.

Visual of the muscle stuff I tried to describe above.  Circle marks the spot.  Lovely.
I don't really have any pictures that I took that are really relevant to the subject matter that don't look like me documenting a pregnancy with mirror selfies, and I needed to break this boring subject matter up with something visual, so here's not exercising bored Jennie decorating her poor, tolerant dog exhibit A: Ironman flag, and AWA luggage tag.

   The surgery itself was fairly simple.  I opted to have it done locally, and the actual procedure varied little from an actual hernia repair surgery.  They opened me up (the incision is about a couple of inches long), threw in a piece of mesh along the weakened area where the abdomen meets the thigh, and glued up the incision.  The idea is that my muscles will sort of scar into the mesh, in essence reinforcing the area back together.  Different surgical methods exist that don't use mesh, but I would have had to have traveled to PA and paid a hefty sum out of pocket, so without any overwhelming evidence (I searched) that one surgical method leads to better results than the other, I opted for the open mesh repair.  The first week after surgery was pretty acutely painful.  I needed meds, can't deny that.  Pretty much any activity that required me to contract my abs in the least (bed mobility was the worst!) felt like I was getting stabbed in the incision all over again.  After about 4 days I started taking slow, painstaking walks.  For the first week or so, the mesh just felt odd-like it was poking into my abdomen at its edges and blocking my ability to flex my hip and trunk.  The incision was very tender.  But, at the week mark, things started to come around.  By two weeks, I was able to walk on the treadmill at an incline, bike a bit, and a few days later I began phasing in pulling in the pool-bilateral breathing for the first time ever, because it felt better.  I also began light core strengthening as per the protocol my surgeon's PA gave me. Overall, the area remained sore and I had to be careful, but with my impending fibroid removal, I was less inclined to see any purpose in pushing it.  So, by the time the fibroid removal (finally) rolled around, I was up to 75min rides at out of shape off season aerobic powers, ~3000-3500 pull swims every other day (nothing hard), and perhaps somewhat overaggressive treadmill incline walks.
My dogs normally try to act like they hate each other, but every so often they touch and I get the warm fuzzies.

Poor, poor Bailey.  Seeking out her father, pleading with him to make her mother start exercising again.

As promised, the mirror selfie displaying my hot post-op belly swelling.  At least it was an excuse to wear soft pants all the time.  Not that I don't usually, but I milked it.

Somewhere between the surgeries, Dave made his stupid turkey.  He had to clean it and put it in the oven in the middle of a long ride.  Shirtless man in a HR monitor, bike shorts, and bike shoes in the kitchen scrubbing out a raw turkey=every woman's dream.

   So, that brings me up to the fibroid removal (laparoscopic robotic myomectomy, to give the official name).  I'll admit, it's a little weird to talk freely about my lady parts and hormones and such, but it shouldn't be a secret that high volume, high level training can affect women's health, and it's not like I did something freaky to develop a fibroid.  Fibroids are hugely common, and usually not a problem.  Mine wasn't at first.  Originally, that sucker was nothing more than an incidental finding on my first MRI, a 2cm blip in the midst of a bunch of bigger problems (December 2014).  At the time of my next MRI, it had grown, measuring about 3-5cm in dimension.  That prompted me to finally bite the bullet and actually go to the ob/gyn (I'd been a 3 year delinquent).  Another check that September via US measured in the 3-4cm range again, and I was asymptomatic, so we agreed to wait and watch.  My MRI the following January didn't even note it anymore.  But then, by this fall, as previously mentioned, it measured in the 6-7cm range, and sat on the posterior wall of my posteriorly tipped uterus, making it a potential culprit of my sacral pain, among other symptoms.  The decision was made to undergo the surgery, as it had likely become symptomatic, and was growing quickly enough that waiting might mean that I'd end up needing a more invasive procedure.  This turned out to be a good call-when all was said and done, the 8-9cm (approximately grapefruit or softball sized) fibroid that was pulled out of the back of my uterus was more substantial than anticipated.
Break from awkwardly describing my lady parts because yes, I do have more than one Christmas sweater and Christmas hat for the dog, and she looks forlorn in them all.

  But what was up with that growth?  Fibroids, as I've learned, grow directly in response to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.  During several years of high volume, heavy endurance training while pretty much being in a constant state of trying to get down to a certain weight (which I never quite could, even if it looked realistic on paper), and while racing a ton, it's likely fair to say that my hormone levels weren't exactly prospering (note: I've never had anything formally tested, but...the female body has its ways of cluing one into things).  I raced 5 IMs in 11 months from 11/12-10/13, and nothing, absolutely nothing about training or racing (or body comp) came easily to me the following year.  It wasn't a state of total wellness.  In 2015, as soon as I stopped training after the crash, I gained a bunch of weight alarmingly quickly while the fractures were healing at a snail's pace.  Logically, my body probably remembered how to make hormones in there, and the fibroid grew a bit.  I resumed training heavily that fall/winter, lost the weight, and the fibroid shrunk a bit.  This year, I hung out in the gray area ~5 lbs less than my injured max, but still ~5 lbs more than my previous training/racing normal, and my sustained training volumes were ~50% of my peak years.  Yes, I wanted to weigh less, the extra pounds were a limiter in my running, and I was plenty self-conscious about it all, but I also just didn't have it in me to monitor absolutely everything when I had bigger concerns about my injury status and overall health.  Plus, to be honest, I never really felt like the crypt, and it was nice.  This extended period of time at a higher body weight, not in a constant catabolic, low-energy state proved to fully jump start (or maybe even overcompensate?) everything about being female, almost to an annoying, excessive-seeming level.  The fibroid grew rapidly, especially once the season ended and I had some down time after the hernia repair.  When it measured larger than expected in those last few scans and at removal, I think I was the least surprised of everyone, given how I'd felt.
Another break because I like Christmas decorations.

   Moving forward, it's probably going to take a little work and a little tweaking to find a happy medium between my extremes of the past several years.  I'm not happy or performing well when I'm in a state of having zero reserves, but I'm also not satisfied with having body comp be a performance limiter, and with being in enough of an overdrive state to grow a freaking softball in my bits.  I've been through this enough to have a fair idea of where the line is, and I feel as if trying to force myself below that just ended up pushing me way above it.  Women are all different in what represents their personal health.  I know where I can be more careful (which might be in a lot of places right now...but, surgeries and holidays and off season, right?), but I also know where it starts being too much to support what I'm asking out of myself.  But anyways, enough about that.  As for the fibroid surgery itself, I had a few moments in the first week post-op where I thought about how they should actually let the people going through it write those flowery "what to expect" articles, full of euphemisms designed to deflect that actually, you're probably going to be more uncomfortable than you can remember being in your life.  The surgery itself, unlike my other ones done in an outpatient place, was done in the actual hospital.  After laying there starving (because obviously I'd gotten up at 5am to swim and bike for a couple of hours on coffee and apple juice) until 3:30, I woke up sometime around 6:30 and heard something about how my fibroid had been bigger than expected, blood loss, and that I'd have to stay overnight.  The overnight hospital stay basically sucked, and I think I would have been better off ultimately at home, but I was finally released the next morning feeling decent.

   That didn't last.  First, I developed right shoulder pain.  During the surgery, my abdomen had been inflated with CO2 gas to better visualize things, and afterwards, some of that gas remained lodged against my diaphragm, which referred pain into the shoulder.  The pain was pretty severe, and the only way I could get any relief was from the pain meds and Dave rubbing the area to gate it a bit.  I couldn't really take deep breaths.  As the day progressed, my GI system went into lock down, and I started to run a low fever.  I normally consider myself pretty hardy, but when my attempts to walk it off around the house left me doubled over and in tears, we ended up back in the ER (my first experience in the US...definitely a bit different than Mexico).  I ended up (after testing) being diagnosed with a simple case of ileus and a UTI, and was given the green light to head home that night.  Thankfully, life started to come around after that, for the most part.  A couple of nights later, I did go through one final round of stomach and back pain with a fairly significant fever (102), but that broke within a few hours, and from then on improvement was fairly linear.  The actual physical pain from the surgery was never nearly as bad as the hernia had been, and once the surgical symptoms (the fever, shoulder pain, stomach pain) subsided, I felt decent.  I was able to go back to work last week without issues, Christmas shop, walk the dogs daily, etc.  I started with a VERY easy ride today (just under two weeks post-op), and found that my main issue was that I'm now a little bit behind in the hernia rehab-that area's a bit tight after the time spent down.  But, I was able to pick up that protocol again without issue.  I'm still feeling just a little more short of breath and drained than usual with activity, but my RBC/hematocrit/hemoglobin values all took a modest hit with the surgery.  How much pain relief I'm going to get from the fibroid removal has yet to be seen, I think.  The whole area is still only 11 days post-op, so still in need of some time to normalize.

Another picture break, because the woods were a winter wonderland yesterday and it made me happy.

   Still, I've felt surprisingly chill throughout this entire process when it comes to exercise, training, etc.  When it comes down to it, this is my time to get things right.  This is the break that I never took.  I'm actually more concerned right now about giving all of the unspecified stuff that wasn't surgically addressed (namely, that still irritating ischial tuberosity fx site) enough time to settle while I can than I am about the surgical areas.  It shouldn't be any secret that I want to get back to IM racing, and that I want to be able to do it well.  I tried to roll through and give it a go last year, and as it turned out, I couldn't obtain this goal as was.  I've held onto the belief that there is a route that's going to take me there, but the short route I tried proved to be a bunch of neighborhood streets that went around in a bunch of little circles with no outlet.  I had to turn around, make the amends that I could, find my way back to the start, and get myself on the long, but better proven route.  The start is rest.  I've done zero swimming, biking, or running for almost four out of the past six weeks.  Meandering in the woods with my dogs has been my main source of exercise this late fall.  I'm not worried about losing fitness, because pressing for that before the body is sound is putting the cart before the horse, something I've done far, far too many times in my life.  What does the long road look like?  There are slow increases, and there's listening.  I'll find gratitude to be moving forward on it, no matter the pace out there, and the road map includes being as structured and progressive about my own rehab as I am with my patient's programs.  I don't expect it to be without setback and frustration, and I don't expect that I'm going to exist in zero pain, but I have faith that my healed pelvis, stitched up labrum, repaired sports hernia, and cleaned out uterus, along with what I've learned and the guidance and support I'll be continuing to receive can get me through.  And for now, that's enough.

If you have to go back to move forward, do it with gusto.  (Also, proof that Bailey's forays into sweater humiliation are short, and normally she gets to do fun stuff.)

And finally, a tunnel in the woods, just because I thought it looked awesome.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Luck, hope, and surgeries-Austin race report, and the off season game plan!

   So.  I went to Texas.  And I found some luck there.  Who would have known?  Life is funny sometimes.  When you least expect it, you get thrown a bone.  Anyways.  As I mentioned in the Kona/life wrap up post, I was in the midst of figuring things out body-wise while training to tack on one final race to, well, just end the season on a race.  Because I was planning on downtime afterwards, my training approach was to make sure that when I got to that starting line, I'd have peace of mind knowing that I had done as much as possibly could to prepare.  I didn't have any crazy sessions or volumes, but when all was said and done, I'd hit what I could, and everything hurt enough to assure me that my training mission had been accomplished.  Plus, I'd really kind of enjoyed beating myself up a bit, and counting down to something.  Then, I spent most of race week totally distracted from racing by MRI results and planning what to do moving forward; maybe a blessing in disguise, as it kept any nerves at bay.  I’ll get to that, though.  For now, Austin.

   Race travel and prep all went completely, totally smoothly.  I was suspicious.  I’m not used to that.  Otherwise, though, I was in a good state of mind, for once.  I can’t describe it, but all of the normal non-productive fears I might have had about the race just weren’t there.  I’m not sure why; maybe I had done enough stuff that scared me in Kona, or maybe I just felt like I had fought through the year and really didn’t have much to lose.  Either way, my lower-anxiety state was somewhat pleasant.  Race morning rolled around, and I ended up having plenty of time before heading to the swim start.  The sun started to rise.  We were called into the start corral.  The fog, though, stuck around, and the race announcers told us we were on a delay until it cleared.  As time rolled on, the fog only got worse, and even the first buoy became unsightable.  Finally, about an hour after the race should have started (after I'd complained repeatedly about how I could have been done swimming for the season), the call was made-cancelled swim.  Let's not kid ourselves here, I wasn't going to complain.  Of everyone in the field, if I could pull off a decent day, I stood to gain a significant competitive benefit from it-not losing ~5min off the bat obviously makes a big old difference.  Plus, we were going to be out on the course later into the day, which meant things would heat up more.  After spending 10 days heat training in Kona, I'd continued with the heat acclimation  at home.  While I don't love heat, when I'm ready for it, I can generally hold up well enough.  I thought back to Racine, though, where I'd just completely unraveled anyways.  My internal dialogue simply shifted to, do NOT blow this chance.  Soon enough, we were corralled back into transition, and then the pros were sent off a 30sec intervals.  I was the second non-seeded bib number female off, just at about the midway point overall.  Definitely a different starting position than I was used to on the bike.
Picture break!  This has nothing to do with racing, but that SUV a few cars ahead of me leaving the airport rental garage had the bar thing come down on its roof and a giant board come up from the floor into it.  Basically, it made a huge noise, and the rental got totally jacked.  I was grateful I didn't have to deal with that.  It would have been a not smooth prerace thing.

My bike did end up upside down getting moved around awkwardly, though.  I dropped part of the seat post clamp into it, and it turned into one of those games where you try to guide a ball through an impossible maze, but only with a bike.  I took a jog break due to the frustration in there.  

Barton Springs pool!  A few people told me that I should check it out, so I did.  It was pretty sweet.  A little chilly, but my pre-race swim was enjoyable.  I even saw a turtle!
Snapped this while we were waiting for the swim call-this was right before it came.  Notice you can't see the lake.  

  The fog hadn't totally lifted at the start of the ride, but visibility was ok enough still.  Right from the start, I found myself surprisingly happy with how my bike legs felt-for the first time in a long time, the power numbers that were popping up where actually a good deal higher than my perceived exertion.  I wasn't sure if I was overcooking myself or not, but I decided just to go with it.  I headed into the race with nothing to lose, so I figured I might as well take advantage of that.  The Austin bike course, with its frequent turns, rough roads, and rollers didn't necessarily fit my strengths, but at some point, I need to get over that.  I made a couple of passes in the first 15ish miles, but after than, things got pretty uninteresting.  For the next 40 miles, I saw more loose dogs (NOT comforting while on a bike-one I had to stop and yell at, and I wasn't the only female that got chased) than other racers.  The bulk of the ride felt more like a supported solo training ride than anything else, as I knew the remaining women ahead of me were super strong cyclists, and the likelihood I'd see them was very, very low.  So, although my power dropped a bit from the first 20 miles where I'd been able to chase a bit, I just concentrated on pushing to stay as steady as I could, and I absolutely forced myself to get over bottle fears and drink, drink, drink away (which ended up in resulting in my first successful bike pee in two years within the final couple of miles-small victories).
Heading off into the fog.  I didn't tip over trying to clip in in front of people.  Always a legit concern for me in TT starts.

   I rolled into transition as the fourth woman off the bike, but Beth, Amanda, and Heather all came barreling in just moments later, so I knew that they were all technically ahead of me, as they'd started behind.  How much ahead, I had no idea, but that didn't so much matter.  My task was to just run a half marathon to the best of my ability, and let the rest sort itself out.  Despite the copious amounts of fluid and salt I'd taken in on the bike, my quads were feeling a little bit crampy heading out onto the run.  The heat was on full force by that point, too, so I spent the first few miles easing into things, taking in even more salt, and using the aide stations to get in even more fluids and to cool off.  I moved ahead of the women that I'd come into transition in terms of position, but not necessarily in terms of place, as I decided it just wasn't worth it to even try to figure things out in that regard.  The first lap ended up passing by fairly quickly-the run course was actually kind of fun, with some rolling hills, dirt roads, and plenty of spectators, especially concentrated towards the end of each lap.

   Heading out for the second lap, the cramping had eased (although I became briefly aware that my feet were sort of splitting open), and I actually felt quite good, just rolling along, doing my best to keep the heat as mitigated as possible.  At the turnaround, I could tell that I was closing on Melanie ahead a bit, but Beth was hanging tight behind me, and Kelly was closing quickly.  By the end of the loop, I used the crowd support to make the pass on Melanie, which meant that had the third position cyclist with me.  Although my immediate reaction was to tell that I probably wasn't actually in third, and was probably going to get passed, I ultimately decided that I'd enjoy the moment regardless of where I actually was in the race, because I hadn't been up so high in ages, and certainly didn't think I'd get the opportunity there.  Then, shortly into the third loop, Jennifer in the second position became visible ahead.  I completely unexpectedly found myself ahead of her shortly afterwards, at which point everything just shifted into "turn the brain off and GO" mode.  I knew that a podium finish (it'd be tight between Beth, Kelly, and I) would be an unbelievable way to end a trying season, but I just didn't allow myself to think about anything other than staying in the moment.  Of course I was hurting by that point, and I felt like I could barely pick up my feet.  I pulled out every mental countdown trick in the book, and just channeled my ability to hurt, along with the knowledge that those last few miles would be it for a bit.
I had a bike escort!!!  She was awesome.  Even though they're not allowed to lead us anymore (boo), she still told people I was coming to help clear the path.  Yay.

  After what seemed like the longest 3ish miles of my life, I crossed the finish line barely holding onto my second position ahead of Kelly, which meant that I was at worst third.  I was overjoyed with either position, especially because my teammates would make up the rest of the podium.  After the time gap between myself and Beth had passed, I was announced as officially second, at which point the disbelief, happy, relieved, everything has been a fight, did this really happen, I couldn't have asked for anything more head on the barrier crying happened.  I can't really describe it, but it was just one of those moments that just confirmed that what I've known for the past couple of years was unequivocally true-this is still worth it.  I shared hugs and congrats with the other women, before noticing that my shoes were in fact covered in blood, and I probably should get that attended to.  Oh well.  Small price to pay.  Of course, I'm completely realistic that if we had swam, I would maybe have squeaked out a fifth or sixth place, and that it benefited me more than anyone else in the field.  But, when it comes down to it, we can only ever just deal with what's placed in front of us on the day, and so I'm grateful that my body was willing to allow me to make the best of the chance that was placed before me.
Finish line with Jeanni.  No idea what's being said here, but she was awesome!!

Dave needed to record that he was there.  I was thirsty.

What makes races even better?  When athletes are there! I think this was the first time I've ever raced with Paul in several season of coaching him, so that was awesome.  He rocked it, finishing just out of awards in his AG.  Plus, we got to share some beverages.

Jeanni giving her speech.  Me being unaware my skort thing was unattractively riding up.  Note: Dave accidentally packed that skort on a business trip, thinking it was his shorts.  He rewore gross dirty shorts instead of wearing it, sadly.

Doing the "hold up the trophies" thing.  It was my first piece of WTC metal in over 2 years, so I was ok with the cheesiness.

QT2 podium sweep!  Surrounded by ladies who are awesome on many levels.  Love being a part of this team!

  So, that was Austin, where I was unexpectedly able to end what had been another trying, yet rewarding year on a high note.  What's next?  In the week before I went to Austin, the off season plans were starting to take shape once as soon as my orthopedist emailed me with MRI results.  Nothing new orthopedically, still the mild deformity at the ischial tuberosity fracture site that was getting more painful heading in, but no associated hamstring attachment damage, and no new findings in the painful adductor/groin area.  With that, I scheduled the sports hernia repair locally.  I was lucky enough to be able to get an appointment before I left for Austin, then even luckier to be able to get a prompt surgery date, which ended up being yesterday.  So, that's done.  I put it off and trained through it all summer, so I'm hoping that the surgery will help to take care of that issue-obviously one day post-op I'm pretty darn sore, but I'm sore in the same distribution that's hurt all along, which I think is a good sign.
Dave again with the selfie, as I look gross pre-op.  I just wanted to be under anesthesia at that point, to end the hunger associated with 12+ hours of fasting.  Yes, I did squeeze in one final ride before heading in, too, so I was also ragingly thirsty.

   As for that sacral pain that was so bad at some points before the race?  Well, here's where it gets kind of weird.  My sacrum looked fine.  The stress reaction there last winter was nearly resolved.  What was seen, though, was that the 2cm incidental finding posterior uterine fibroid that had first popped up on scans after Cozumel was now 6cm (roughly the size of a tennis ball), and pushing back in a way that feasibly is putting pressure on the structures and nerves back there.  I have been getting that monitored by my ob/gyn the past couple of years, and I'd actually had it measured via US there a few weeks before the MRI.  Between when I'd first contacted my orthopedist and getting the MRI, that office (2.5 weeks after the fact) had called me to tell me that it had grown a concerning enough amount that they wanted me to come in and talk about removal (which took 4 weeks for a 5min consultation that could have been easily done over the phone-yes, that is a gripe, and I came to appreciate how efficient my orthopedic treatment has been all along).  So, between the growth rate, the position, the fact that I have nothing else to explain the pressure and pain in my sacral area, a few other symptoms that don't need to be brought up necessarily, and an undeniable fluctuation in symptoms based on time of month (maybe TMI, but relevant), I'll be having that out in the beginning of December.  I would have liked to have had the two surgeries a little bit closer together to avoid conflicts in rehab, but the fibroid removal can be done laparoscopically, which means a shorter recovery time.  Unfortunately, it's still a bunch of incisions in the same area that are likely going to have repercussions on the deep core and lower abdominal strength that already wasn't optimal after everything the past few years, but with proper rehab and a slow build back, I'm not horribly worried.  I do have concerns still about the ischial tuberosity fracture area pain that's been on and off all year with running especially, but again, I'd have to have a perfectly good hamstring tendon detached to smooth out that bone, which is just way too major to justify (and, thanks to a continuing ed article I read the other day, leads to a weakened tendon/bone interface down the line and often bone callus formation anyways-so, basically, screwing up a bunch of stuff to remove a bone callus that could end up turning back into a bone callus).  Plus, there's a chance that some of that pain could be related to nerve pressure from the fibroid.  Time will tell.

I need a break from talking about my uterus.  Thankfully, we got home from Austin in time to make Halloween happen! Here are some pumpkins, before the squirrels ate their faces.

Peacock Bailey.  I'm horrible.  But, this is better than an incision picture.  It's not in a pretty area.

   So, the plan moving forward is to get through all of this surgical stuff, rest appropriately, rehab everything carefully and properly, and hope that with stuff repaired and gone, the pelvic pain that's been a nearly constant part of my life for almost two years now will work itself out enough to be able to build back to the IM distance next year.  The last two races of my season could not have gone better placement-wise, and I'm so, so happy to have had them to give me fresh memories of what the highs of the sport feel like, so I'm inspired to keep fighting.  Plus, they helped with a big part of the picture, which is to help me to believe in myself as an athlete a little bit again.  For the final 3 months of the season, I had to accept that I just wasn't going to be able to train like I wanted to, but I still managed to make the most of it on race days.  Heading into my hip surgery last year, I was just in a low place after fighting back from the pelvic fractures, only to find out that I needed a hip operation just as I was getting back.  I had no recent results to go on, no glimpses of light in there to have any reason to believe in my abilities anymore, and I was desperate to get back on a starting line.  As a result, I tried to push back from that too hard, too fast in order to prove to myself that I could still be an athlete, which led into my issues this year.  Now, the attitude is different.  I've had a solid glimpse of how awesome and rewarding racing can be, and I'm pleased with how things went out there in my last few attempts at it.  I maxed out what I could have done with what I had, and I know that from here on out, if I want to keep moving forward (and ultimately back to fulls), I need a healthy body.  It's not a question of whether or not I still want to do this; I completely know that I want to now and I've seen that it's worth it to take the time and get things right.

  Once again, if anyone made it through all that (post-op Jennie=bored writing Jennie, especially because Dave is at work and then insisting on running before coming home-guilt trip), HUGE thanks for all of the support, encouragement, kind words, and love from both this race and throughout this whole season!  I'm feeling pretty optimistic about the (athletic-that's all I'm going to specify on that one) future at the moment (especially while on painkillers), and looking forward to seeing where things can go from here.  Special thanks to QR for being the best bike company ever, my closest family and friends (and text message confidants), the pro women who have reminded me what an awesome group I'm a part of, my fellow coaches at Valor and our awesome group of athletes, QT2 and all of the great companies that support our team (Normatec, Base, Trisports, Kleen et al), and of course to Dave and Jesse, who have helped me navigate through a whole bunch without letting me lose faith.  Here's to having a 2016 season, and to hoping that 2017 can build on that!

And a happy Moose in the woods!  I love pictures of my dogs with leaves, especially because I'm so grateful that she's still enjoying them!!