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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!!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Let go. Jump in. (Kona, and what's next)

    Well, our Kona trip has come and gone and my own season is coming to an end, and stuff is happening, so I figured that a little blog update writing therapy might be in order!  Where to start...?  Kona seems logical.  Dave raced, in case anyone didn't notice my 9000 different social media posts on every outlet I'm on that day.  He raced well, finishing in 9:55, under his goal of 10:00.  He swam and biked extremely well, and held on well enough on the run.  Anyone who knows Dave knows that he's really pale and really, really sweaty, so he doesn't normally fare too well in the heat.  He's also been dealing with an ankle tendon injury all year that's limited his run volume, and was pretty overloaded at work heading in.  But, he trained for the heat and raced within his capacities, so he ended up with a strong, steady, well-executed day.  Lessons for all.
Time out for a whole bunch of pictures, because taking a bunch of pictures is what one does in Hawaii.  Plane trip!!  I was much more caffeinated (and pain med-ed) and thus enthused than Dave about early AMs and travel delays.

Bike Blue Steel.  Just because.

Since I didn't torture the internet with pasty Dave in a speedo at the underpants run this year, here he is giving me a pasty finger in miniscule run shorts while getting a massage.

Age group male swim start.  The washing machine was wide.

From what I gathered from my twitter feed post-race, coverage of the women's race was sub par (boo).  Thankfully, I was stalker enough to get pics of the podium women as they headed down Palani to the finish.

Maybe taking pictures of triathlon with my smartphone could be my alternate triathlon-related career.

Nope.  Missed Heather Jackson.  Here's her back.

Natascha Badmann finished just before Dave did, so I was able to capture some of the final moments of her career here.  #legend #respect

Either Dave just raced really, really hard, or he has to poop.  Or both.

Post race with Dave!  Good thing I look sweatier.  I was rather disgusting. #poolshoweredthatnight
   As for me in Kona, I had my moments.  In all honesty, I'd blocked the place out of my mind as a defense mechanism-if I pretended like I didn't care about racing there, then not racing well enough or being fast enough to earn a slot in 2014 and my injury battles since that have kept me from even being close to trying a damn Ironman wouldn't hurt as much.  But, as soon as I got there, the scab got violently ripped off the wound, and I spent the first half of the trip scared, vulnerable, angry, and just in pain, both physical and emotional.  There I was, on my Hawaiian vacation, being a petulant little child.  But eventually, I came around.  After some rest heading in, my pissed off left side became only cranky, and I was able to resume some sort of training through the pain.  It kept me more sane than nothing.  I swam with turtles.  I stared at huge, angry waves crashing against lava rocks at the southernmost point of the entire country.  I swam to the far buoy of the course, completely alone for a good 20min, with a healthy dose of fear, but made it back.  I rode in the wind on the Queen K, terrified at times (one bad crash with wind as a factor will do that), but didn't give up, cry, and call Dave like I wanted to.  I spoke up about things.  I drank wine (and still ran the next morning).  I met with Jesse; there was venting, crying, swearing, more wine, some kind of planning, and as much peace as could result through the confusion.  I socialized and laughed a whole bunch, and cried at other times.  I fully allowed myself to feel what I felt when I felt it, and I made no apologies.  I was real.  I faced more fears and jumped off a cliff (the low part, but still a cliff).  When all was said and done I headed home not healed physically-nothing changed-but in a far, far better place mentally.  I was forced to remember what I want to at least be able to try for, whether successful or not, and I at least had some sort of muddy algorithm for what to do in the meantime to give myself the chance.
Turtles!!!  He (she?) was awesome!

Southernmost point.  I did not jump off this cliff.

Pictures couldn't really capture the awesomeness of the surf.

"If you face the fear that keeps you frozen, chase the sky into the ocean, that's when something wild calls you home"

Things they probably don't teach in any USAT coaching courses: sometimes, you just need to pour your athletes a glass of wine. #properhydration

Cliff jumping.  I went from where the girl is here (good enough).  Dave from where the guy is.  Jesse from the top level.  It's like the podium of people I've driven nuts in the past couple of years, in order. ;)

We survived.  Note that even after racing on the sun, Dave is still ghastly pale.

If you go to Kona and don't take a picture of a sunset over the water, is it like you were ever even there?
   So, then, there's the physical stuff and the plans moving forward.  As for the race plans, I'm currently set to head down to Austin next weekend for one more go of a 70.3.  I had, as previously mentioned, wanted to see if I could get through a fall IM (ok, Cozumel revenge, I'm probably not fooling anyone here) this year.  But, as life would have it, I could accept that my body just was not going to allow for that.  In Kona, I sort of grappled with things-I didn't want to end the season yet because I would have been a wreck if I didn't train while I was there; I was in pain; if I was training while I was there, I wanted it to have a purpose; I wasn't doing nearly enough to be able to race a full, though.  Finally, during a 2.5 hour ride, it dawned on me that a 70.3 would be a good compromise.  I could get through a few more weeks like that, and mentally being able to say, ok, I ended the season on a race just sounded far more preferable than saying, I ended my season because stuff hurt and I finally caved and waved the white flag.  I know that no one would have blamed me for the latter, but I would have blamed myself.  I can fully recognize that I need to take a long recovery period moving forward, and I know myself well enough to know that while I'll still be an impatient bitch about it, it'll be easier if there was an actual end point beforehand.  So, I'm still training.  It's been touch and go orthopedically, but with an end in sight, I've been (perhaps a little too) willing to push things to the limit of what I can handle.  It's the best way to assure myself that I'll be at least a little content when it's all said and done, even if this year didn't go the way I would have liked it to.  Of course, I'm absolutely paranoid that something's going to go wrong in the next nine days, and even more completely petrified that I won't make it to the finish line in Austin.  I remember what happened the last time I tried to make it through one more race to end a season on a high note, and as the time gets closer and closer, those demons get closer and closer, as well.

   As for the orthopedic stuff and what I'm going to do about's still a little up in the air.  Right now. I've got three separate (but linked) issues going on.  Left sacral pain, right anterior hip/groin pain, and right butt pain.  I'm having an MRI next Monday, thanks to the continuing patience and assistance of my orthopedist/hip surgeon-I can't say enough about the care that I've received from that end of things.  The left sacral pain is pretty simple.  I had some MRI findings of a stress reaction there last winter, which didn't matter too much at the time because I wasn't running anyways.  Based on the location of pain, that could very well be back, and would obviously require rest.  It does hurt pretty consistently with running, and to a lesser degree swimming, followed by biking, and it aches to no get out at night (and while sitting), but the bottom line has been that I have been able to run decent distances at decent paces through it to this point (knock on wood), minus a couple of weeks of not much after Barrelman.  So, we'll see.

   As for the right side, that stuff is the same chronic crap I've been dealing with all year, managing with endless rehab exercises, visits out to Tiffany for deep tissue massage when the going got more rough (it's certainly been up and down), and a couple of rounds of injections.  This has been my choice all summer and fall, and I wouldn't change it.  But, my choice now is to see what I can do now to truly repair things, rather than just piling on band aids because I really wanted to race.  The anterior hip/groin pain is likely related to athletic pubalgia/a sports hernia.  The repair for that is fairly simple, with a recovery period that wouldn't be beyond a normal off season.  This pain has been going on consistently since I started running again after my hip surgery, so I can accept that it's chronic and not going anywhere.  I don't have much to lose with that one, and I intend to have this done locally (I met with the doctor earlier this summer, and we agreed to defer until post-season, if I could handle it).  The caveat to that would be if the MRI shows some sort of specific adductor damage, in which case I might consider a specialist out of town (with out of pocket pay...ouch).  The true pain in the ass is the pain in the ass.  I know I've mentioned it before, but there is a small bone spur where one of my initial fractures had healed (after a lengthy period).  But, the surrounding/attaching structures (proximal hamstring tendon, mainly) looked perfect, so disturbing them to get at a small defect didn't seem worth it.  I have had periods during this summer where it didn't bother me at all, but now it's been ten months, and the irritation at that spot is again building a couple of months after my last round of injections.  Still, the procedure to get it at is major, and would require a long recovery, so I'd still like to avoid it if possible.  Rest, rehab, and maybe another injection at at time where I'm not immediately going to go out and start running on it the next day are what the current game plan consists of, but again, there's that MRI coming up.  If there's anything to indicate that the soft tissues around the bone are in fact being irritated by it, then I might have some decisions to make.  But, given how unremarkable my imaging has been to this point, I doubt that will be the case.

   So, that's that.  I'm making my way towards peace with all outcomes of everything.  As for the race, I just want to make it there and make it through it.  Harnessing the toughness I've learned over the past couple of years and embracing every last second of the race misery pain are what's important there, not outcomes.  I know where my fitness sits, and I've accepted that I just haven't been sound enough for so long now to get it anywhere wonderful.  The training I've done the past several weeks hasn't been spectacular, but I can be assured based on how things feel that it's the most I could get out of myself at the current time.  As this week has progressed, I've found myself worrying less and less about what hurts-something always does, that's a given-and trying more and more to just enjoy moving, testing myself, pushing myself through swim sets I love to hate, major sweat fests on the trainer, and cold runs in the pouring rain.  I don't have too much longer to be able to do that this year, and I'm not banking on being able to resume doing so quickly, so I might as well get it out of my system now.  From there, I'll either get answers, or I won't, and both have their advantages.  Although I know I'll have my inevitable moments-I can't deny this-I have a team to help me through them, and I can just keep continue to press forward through them.  As always, thanks for all of the support, kindness, and love that has come my way!  I've had some major players in keeping me sane and holding me off of the ground, and I absolutely could not do it all alone.  I'll be putting my best foot forward ( I have one anymore?) for the remaining time of my season, and then refocusing that energy on getting myself as "better" as I can from that point on!
I can't say I was upset about coming home to WNY in October.  Love love love our woods!


"You might have some bruises, and a few scars; but you know you're gonna be ok.  Even though you're scared, you're stronger than you know."


Monday, October 3, 2016

We rise, we fall, we carry on-Barrelman race report (and other stuff)

   Well, I've sat on this race report for a bit now, because it's turned into a bit of sweet and sour.  Sweet for the race, sour for what's come since (more injury limbo).  But, since I'm now in Kona for Dave's race, no time like the present to finish this one off, right?  So, here goes. After Timberman, I went through a little bit of a rough week mentally and physically (more hip injections, and my knee began to hurt on the run, not just the bike) before pulling myself together.  Ok, I trained 12 hours one week.  Maybe the next week I could make it 13.  If I didn't like how my knee felt but wasn't willing to rest it, then I needed to consistently rehab the crap out of it.  When all was said and done, I ended up putting together a few non-spectacular but consistent, relatively content weeks, and had made it to my next race-Barrelman.

   Barrelman, well, it probably sounds strange to say that I felt like I wanted redemption at a race I've never done, but that was the case.  Last year, Dave had finished out his season there.  I was about 1.5 months post-op at the time.  I clearly remember riding the trainer in a parking lot under a tree, not even clipped in yet, and then wandering around the park on the run course, hopping onto curbs and into grassy areas to do my rehab exercises.  My run envy game was stronger than ever, as I wanted more than anything to be tromping around Niagara Falls instead of standing on the sidelines.  Plus, the whole atmosphere of it had a friendly, affable vibe, and I wanted to take part.  Aside from that, Barrelman just made sense in terms of timing, location, and finances.  Dave and I had been wanting to race together for some time, and this was our best chance.  Also, I do love to support more local races when I can.  I've always felt that the organizers, directors, and volunteers at them put extra care into them, and it shows.  Barrelman was certainly no exception.  Everything about the race had a fun, personal feel, and it clearly shone through that those involved were dedicated to making it a great race experience for all.  For a point to point race, logistics were easy.  Dave and I drove out and took care of checking in on Saturday afternoon, and then spent the night in Orchard Park with Jen Brady, who was kind enough to offer up her guest room (and kitchen utensils).  For once, my race lead in was suspiciously low-anxiety, with my biggest issue being whether or not to run the disc wheel in potential winds (I ended up going for it).
The night before the race, we discovered that Dave's athlete bracelet said "Hans".  We thought that they had left out the "en" from Hansen, and laughed about it.  It's sort of a long story, but Hans is the nickname that Dave's brothers use when he's being a PITA and they want to make fun of him for it.
   Race morning continued to go relatively smoothly.  My pro wave started a minute before Dave's wave.  This had also been a source of slight anxiety heading in, as I had envisioned all 200 men and women in his wave physically swimming over me at once 2 minutes into my swim (similar to my IMLP 2012 experience when the mass start caught me swimming alone in DFL), followed by massive packs of age group males engulfing me and playing cat and mouse on the bike (similar to my IM Florida 2012 experience).  Turns out, this couldn't have been further from the truth, because A. 800 people is not 2500-3000, and B. despite the fact that I think I'm a terrible swimmer, in the realm of all triathletes, I'm not entirely awful, so a non-obscene number even caught me.  The swim was at the Welland Flatwater Center-think, giant pool, or manmade Mirror Lake.  Smooth water, easy navigation.  Knowing that a whole bunch of baller swimmers were in the pro wave and I likely wasn't going to be able to catch a draft no matter how hard I went out, my strategy was more to not burn too many matches in the first few minutes (because really, any excuse not to sprint is ok by me), and instead conserve something for when the next wave started to catch me, to see if I could catch a draft once the packs started coming past at a more comparable speed.  This worked out well.  Sure enough, I started to get passed early on, but a little before the first turn buoy, a larger pack more gradually engulfed me.  I made the first turn in the midst of that, and realized that I was literally swimming side by side with Dave.  How romantic.  I poked him intentionally a couple of times.  Once around the second turn buoy, he got away from me a bit and a couple other slid in between us, but I latched myself onto the back of his pack, and just hung on there for dear life for the rest of the swim.  By the time I got out of my water, my garmin (I don't bother with the swim mode, and triathlon mode screwed me in Tremblant) had gone into powersave (obviously), but I saw that it was 9:30 on the front screen.  So, I'd swam 31 something-officially 31:46.  The swim was a full 2k vs ~1.9 in a typical 70.3 swim, so, like 30 low-ish.  I've swam 30 low-ish a couple of times but I'm pretty sure that those swim courses were short, so I'm counting that as a good swim.  More importantly, although I didn't know it, I was less than 5min off of the lead, which wasn't atrocious in my world.

   After multiple fumbled attempts trying to get my wetsuit into a plastic bag for transport to the finish, I made it through T1, actually exiting at the exact moment as Dave (meaning that my horrible transition was still better than his, always important), and was off on the bike.  Dave was gone before I got clipped in.  Early on, it became apparent that my fears of giant packs swarming around me were stupid.  I was basically alone.  I also continued to fail at garmin operation, somehow managing to start the bike with my garmin was in "run indoor" mode.  I pressed a couple of buttons until it was showing me HR and HR only.  I decided that I could adequately pace on that alone, and use the markers every 5k to sort of figure out when to fuel.  Great plan.  This was sort of how the first 30k went.  I got passed and passed people here and there, but everything was well-spaced and clean (which, thanks for being honest, dudes!).  My HR was sky-high early on and I had some issues getting my first feeding down, so I ended up just trying to settle things down for a few miles.

   Around the 30k mark, the bike handling magic started to happen.  First, I refilled my front bottle going more than 15mph on a gradual, straight uphill with perfect road condition for the first time in 2 years.  Then I convinced myself to take a bottle handoff before I was uncomfortably parched (the Racine run has proved to be an excellent motivator in this department).  Then, bolstered by my successes removing a hand from the bars, I changed my garmin to a screen that showed time.  Oops.  Not shockingly, it's entirely possible that perhaps I wasn't exactly riding up to 70.3 intensities without any data yelling at me.  I managed to stop and save that and get my garmin restarted in bike mode.  I didn't like what the power meter was reading, so I told myself it wasn't reading right after not being calibrated immediately beforehand.  In retrospect, it completely could have been, but nothing good would have come straying from my choice in delusion at the time.  Honestly, I just felt a little flat on the bike-no excuses, that's just how it was out there.  Although I wasn't thrilled with my power, I tried to use time to motivate myself, knowing that the pancake-flat point to point bike with far more tailwind than headwind could lead to a pretty bike split for me.  Somewhere around 60-65k, it started to rain a bit.  Then a bit more.  I could tell that it was super localized, but it happened to be following me.  This made me a bit leery through the zig-zagging portion of the course from ~65-85k, but I didn't corner too remedially (I think), and I remained upright (more than my husband can say).  The rain actually felt pretty good in that it cooled me off a bit, and I came around a bit, reeling in and passing a couple of men back who had gotten away from me, and then laying into it a bit more, bolstered by a cop complimenting my pink bar tape, helmet, and shoes (that's what it's all about, after all).
Me, riding my bike, with a disc wheel, after a bunch of rain, staying upright. #winningenough

   I passed my parents shortly before T2, who told me I was in sixth.  That didn't thrill me, but what could I do?  Turns out, I was actually in fourth-one of the women ahead of me was last year's winner, Kristen, who was aquabiking due to injury (time out to completely acknowledge that she destroyed that bike course, and the outcome of the race would have been different had she been able to run), and I don't know about the other.  Maybe it was a relay.  Or a guy.  Triathlon can be sort of androgenous.  Still, I figured I was in ok enough shape heading into the run-I'd drank four complete bottles in under 2.5 hours, I'd been able to pick up the effort over the final 10 miles, and I didn't feel like the absolute crypt.  I made it through T2 in a relatively coordinated fashion (for me), and took to the run course a few hundred meters behind super swimmer (and super nice person) Sheila.  The first couple of miles were the normal amount of rough, but my pace was ok enough and my HR was in check.  My goal for the first lap was simple: run within myself, and if people came back to me, then great; if not, I wanted to still have something in me to feel like I could give chase.  A small out and back in the park gave me the first inkling of where the lead women were-about 3-5 minutes ahead.  Maybe a manageable amount, but I'd have to run.  Also at the out and back, I saw Dave limping a bit, and he told me he crashed.  I spent the next mile or so worrying about that until I caught up with him and had a brief exchange to ensure that he was ok enough.  I passed Sheila just after that, and we exchanged encouragement.
Me running during the run.  Enthralling.  Judging by the gel flavor in my hand, somewhere just before the halfway mark.

The full ambulance one ups the medical cart from my Tremblant run pictures.  Also, why does every number belt I own end up hiking itself up to my boobs?  I'll never get it.
   After that, I got to the far portion of the run course, which was really a highlight-scrambling up and down some stairs, running through some of the tourist-y areas past hotels, and getting a great view of the falls.  It also featured some nice downhill.  I forced myself to enjoy it on the first lap, figuring (correctly) that by my second pass through, even one of the world's natural wonders would seem less impressive than a finish line.  I passed made the for second in there, although I'd have to put another minute into her (she's a super amateur and had started behind me) in order to be ahead.  The trip back to the park along the Niagara Parkway really started to get sort of warm, humid, exposed, and gradually uphill, and I was really looking forward to the next aide station, but once I hit that, the final mile back to the park felt better.  My parents cheered enthusiastically when they saw me up a couple of places, and I was able to see that Miranda was about two minutes ahead.  Ok.  Head down, work on.  By the turnaround in the park, I'd probably gained about 30 seconds.  I thought of the race envy Jennie in the park last year, but I also worried that I was slowing down a bit, and I'd just run out of real estate, as Miranda was gamely holding onto the lead.  I could see her ahead once we climbed the hill out of the park, but I was starting to feel warm, cramping a bit, and at that special crossroads where I was debating how much I wanted it vs how much I was willing to put myself through.  I started timing the gap as we went past telephone poles or shadows in the road..50 seconds, 30 seconds, 17 seconds.

  Finally, just before the stairs, with about 5k to go, I moved into the lead, actually feeling a little bit bad that Miranda (a longtime competitor from back in our AG days who I've always had a ton of respect for) had been out front for so much of the day, but, well, a race is just that.  She still looked like she was running great, so I put a little extra effort into the downhill sections to gain a little bit of space, and then basically just held on.  The mist from the falls was actually rather refreshing, but after that it became a battle to the next aide station, as I could feel myself starting to get sort of low on fluid.  The gradual uphill seemed to take forever (and I refused to look when the mile split popped up on my watch).  The final few miles were the normal amount of countdown mode and time warping.  I had no idea what kind of a lead I had, and I was unconvinced that I wasn't going to be come back on, but all I could do was make sure that if I was, it wouldn't be because I'd let myself off of the hook because it hurt.  Finally, to the great delight of my parents, I was making it back into the park, veering off towards the finish, wondering why the final stretch seemed so much longer than it had looked initially, and grabbing a banner.  The next few minutes were a happy blur-Miranda coming in, a hug there, Dave coming in, hugging Irina, celebrating with Dave and my parents, a couple interviews.  The pain of the last few miles was quickly forgotten as we enjoyed the post-race glow.
Picture inundation time.  Me with a banner.  This is before I started doing absolutely bizarre contortion things with my body and the banner.

I'm not sure what it looks like I'm trying to do here, but it's awkward as per usual.

Finish line hugs

Here's a picture of me talking about myself to break up me writing about myself

With the birthday girl!!  Dave with the cleavage and man tuft.
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Obligatory podium pic

Obligatory podium pic of all of the second place AG and pro finishers.  Find Dave!

Obligatory Hansen pic with the Hans bib.  Since I mentioned Dave crashed, I should probably also mention that he was ok and finished the race 2nd  in his AG. 

And Dave with the REAL Hans.  Turns out they gave him the wrong race packet.  The real Hans's friend informed Dave of this before the race, so he was able to get it corrected, but he still raced with the Hans bib.  It made our day when actual Hans found him afterwards.
   Overall, I was just grateful to have had a day where I finally felt like, well, old me on a race course.  I can't really describe it.  It was just one of those days where I'd kept my head about me from start to finish, stayed in the moment, and even in my moments of doubt, I'd kept some sort of spark going.  Of course the win was nice, I can't lie there, but it was more the icing on the cake of knowing I'd done everything in my power on the day.  I felt redeemed, satisfied, all those good things.  But...there's always a but.  In the weeks since that awesome day that I have absolutely no regrets over, my body has again proved fickle.  Long story short, I had really wanted to keep going on the season.  I still do.  I had started to let my protective guard down and truly believe that a fall IM would be possible.  I tried to train through a chronically meh right hip and an acutely blah left knee, though, so I was playing with fire that something else had to give.  And it did, in this case, my left sacral/SI area.  The pain actually started a little over a week before Barrelman.  I had some pretty uncomfortable runs heading in due to it, but I've had a long history of problems with that area, so I did what I always did when it flared in terms of self-PT work and getting chiropractic work done, and figured that some rest heading into and coming out of the race would take care of the issue.  It didn't.  While I was ok enough on race day (although I did feel some pain), the situation only worsened afterwards.  I don't entirely know what's going on with it; my left SI joint was widened and rendered somewhat unstable (moving sit to stand is often noisy) in the crash, although that hasn't caused me any issues until now.  I also had somewhat of a left-sided sacral stress reaction show up on my MRI last winter, which I never really felt too much, either.  I was able to get in for a CT scan prior to leaving for Kona.  That showed nothing new, but wouldn't be able to discern between a cranky SI joint vs sacral stress reaction vs simply pissed off ligament/muscle attachments and resulting spazzed out muscles that need a little TLC.

   So, for now, well, I'm in Hawaii, so life isn't that bad.  I'd be lying if I denied that this place is dredging up a whole shit ton of emotion right now, but that's for another post.  I legitimately have no idea what the next few weeks are going to physically hold for me.  All I can do is take things day by day, do what I can (which is proving to be swimming with limited kicking, biking with limited amounts of time spent down in the aerobars, and strengthening), and see how it goes.  I have a "contacting medical professionals" algorithm worked out based on how this all goes.  Does it suck to have finally had a race that left me undeniably, no strings attached happy, that let me dream a bit again, that reminded me of what it used to be like when times were good with it, only to have it once again come crashing down again?  Completely, I've felt pretty torn apart at times here.  The higher you get, the harder the fall.  But, I've been through this before, and I'll go through it again.  If things turn around and I'm not done for the year, that would be fantastic.  I'm not letting go quite yet, without a clear reason to and with my heart still in it.  If they don't, though, and I have to call it quits for the season, then at least I had a season this year to call it quits on.  At least I ended on a high note, and at least I'll be able to take the next steps for getting things maybe a little bit more permanently better vs the unplanned living week to week, day to day, session to session I've been doing all year-because that does get old after a while.  Anyways, as always, thanks to my closest family, friends, and support crew on the never ending roller coaster that is my triathlon career!  I wouldn't have had this high point alone, and I was so happy to be able to share it with so many, and feel like I had finally been able to repay those who have kept faith in me a bit.  Thanks to the three people who made it through all of this, and for now, we continue on (and maybe go snorkel a bit in the meantime)!
You know how sometimes you talk about what you're going to eat before a race, and then when you actually finish the race it's totally not what you want?  That was absolutely NOT the case with shitty fast food Chinese.  This little hole in the wall on Grand Island was amazing.  My stomach kind of overpromised and underdelivered, but what it did deliver was extremely rewarding.

And, when worse comes to worse, there's always Bailey's peacock costume.  That thing is always a pick me up...for me at least.  For her, it means that she actually seeks out her sister for comfort.  Normally they try to act like they hate each other...unless Bailey's a peacock.  Then, Bailey seeks solace in the Moose, and the Moose lets her in gratitude that she's not being humiliated by her mother's Target impulse buys.