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Friday, August 26, 2016

Timberman 70.3 race report-carry on

  I made it through another race.  Like all of my other races in the past almost couple of years now (sigh), perhaps the bigger battle was even making it TO the start line.  As I had written about in my last post, between Racine and Timberman, I'd really spent minimal time on the bike thanks to my stupid left knee, and my groin and butt were taking turns in flaring up while awaiting their next round of injections.  As late as 1.5 weeks before the race, I was half looking into plane tickets to head out to Coeur d'Alene to watch Dave race instead.  But, I was instructed that I was still going to be ok to race, and as those last 1.5 weeks progressed, the cortisone injection into my knee seemed to kick in a bit.  I managed to get through a few 2 hour rides, with each one getting slightly less painful than the last, and although my hip (well, mainly butt this time) wasn't great running-wise (although I did hit a 30 mile week for the first time in 2016-not much, but more than I'd done), I could tell that I was going to be able to get it to hold out through the race until the injections this week.  Plus, if nothing else, my decreased land training meant that I began to at least feel a bit sharper in the water, where I'd been struggling and very frustrated for some time.  So, off to Timberman I'd go.  Obviously, I was heading there in a far from ideal situation.  I could probably count on one hand the number of times I'd biked 90min-2hrs in the past four weeks heading in, all on the trainer in the fear that my knee would give out, with no real intensity, and a bunch of 10-12 hour weeks weren't going to do much to get me back into shape.  But, I had no real reason not to race, and I knew that I could at least pursue the elusive smooth day, I was going to go through with it.

   In Dave's absence, I travelled out to Timberman with my mom for a fun little mother/daughter weekend.  This ended up working out very well, as we had fun and it made everything flow much more smoothly (plus, she didn't Sherpa whine like Dave, haha).  When I got in on Friday night, the biggest issue of the weekend came into play-I went to put my front race wheel on my bike, and the brake was rubbing.  I hadn't touched the adjustment on the front brake since Racine, and since my outdoor riding had been limited to one 50 minute ride which ended up with me crying in a yard holding my knee while Dave fetched the car, I'd barely even used the brake.  Why it was off, I don't know.  I probably was a little bit more frustrated over this than I needed to be.  I called Dave and he tried to walk me through some adjustments to no avail.  I spent some time freaking out and throwing minor tantrums about why is this NEVER EVER EVER without incident before deciding that I probably should look into bike shops with actual mechanics to help me.  It then dawned on me that pro triathletes are pretty awesome at helping each other and I was in Amber Ferreira's home territory.  Despite the fact that she was getting ready to go rock her own IM, she was able to direct me towards her bike guy (Ryan) who was working the event, and gave him the heads up on my situation.  Once again, fellow athletes came through for me when I was having a crisis-this sport is the best, thanks Amber!  I got my bike to Ryan as soon as I could the following AM.  Turns out my brake cable was shot, which is entirely a reflection of the wear and tear I've put on the bike without enough TLC throughout the past year or so, but after a couple of adjustments, him and the MC cycle guys were able to still get the brake working perfectly, and also adjust the derailleur that had given me the chain drop issues in Tremblant.  Once my bike was racked all was set to go (albeit slightly later than planned, but that's life), I was able to breathe a sigh of relief and get back to normal pre-race business. 

Sadly, my picture taking game wasn't strong on this trip-I don't have much.  Here's one of the lake the day before the race because it looked nice.  I also took a picture of the Dave port-a-potties and my bike on a rack, but I'm pretty sure everyone's seen those.

  Finally, onto the race!  The swim was non-wetsuit for pros, which was actually ok with me, even as a non-swimmer.  I'm not really sure why, other than maybe the increased time in the pool over the past couple of years and the myriad of swim meets I did, I almost felt more comfortable without a wetsuit on.  I hadn't done a non-wetsuit swim since the cutoff for pros got lowered, but thankfully, the water temp felt comfortable enough to me, as air temps were mild.  Anyways, swimming totally alone in Tremblant hadn't been all that fun, so my main goal was just to avoid that.  When we were sent off, I gave it my best effort, and after the initial scrum cleared, I found myself with another woman.  I planted myself next to her hip and proceeded to just hang on there, feeling like I was putting forth a decent enough effort to stay there.  We passed another woman, who stayed with us, and the swim proceeded.  A couple of times I tried to pull up a bit and see if I could get ahead, but it was pretty clear that those attempts were going to be unsuccessful.  The swim continued to progress uneventfully until we neared the second turn buoy.  The buoy before the second turn buoy was orange after all yellows to that point, and the woman leading me mistook it for the turn buoy and turned there.  I, too, was mildly confused, but was able to see and hear the kayak volunteers shouting at her, and continued on in the correct direction.  I led for a bit before the woman behind me took over; eventually our former leader joined back up.  I ended up getting out of the water in 31:35.  Not fantastic by any means, but it was just a few seconds off of my wetsuit swim in Tremblant, and relatively closer to some of the women in the field who had also raced there, so relatively better.  Plus, I felt a whole lot better getting out of the water.

   For once in my life, I managed to transition somewhat less remedially than normal, and exited around the same time as the women I had swam alongside, even clipping in without standing there for 3 minutes (not really, but it feels that way).  Due to my lack of outdoor riding thanks to the cranky knee heading in, I was admittedly quite nervous about descending, bike handling, etc.  But, once on the road, I was fine.  With the exception of a few brief stretches, the roads were in great condition, and winds were calm.  Due to my limited bike training heading in and my lack of confidence on a variety of levels, I didn't really have any major pacing targets in mind.  Jesse had shot out a power number earlier in the week when discussing whether or not my knee could handle riding it for 2.5 hours, and I naturally just pointed out that I'd be unlikely to ride that high anyways, given I'd biked exactly 0 minutes at it in the past month.  Well, lo and behold, once on the road I was kind of maintaining it, so, well, I decided that I'd just keep that gig up as long as I could.  My HR was pegged at what I know is a sustainable 70.3 level, so I just went with it.  I'd dip lower on descents and bring it up on climbs, but my main goal on the descents was just to stay upright and controlled enough to not freak, so I was happy enough to be successful on those accounts there. 

   Once I turned out onto the longer, flattish highway stretch, the ride progressed uneventfully.  Pedal, fuel, keep numbers where I wanted them.  I was feeling better than I had in previous races about my ability to stay relatively even and get the numbers where I wanted them, even though it was taking effort.  Mind over matter.  Other than a few twinges on some of the steeper climbs, my knee was quiet.  If nothing else, I finally felt like I was riding somewhat happily.  Even my dreaded bottle handling went relatively ok for me-the cooler (than what I had raced in this year) temperatures meant that I was able to get away with three bottles for the whole ride, so two refills and one handoff.  A couple of gradual climbs on smooth road meant that the refills went without major freak outs, and although the handoff was totally remedial, the volunteers (who must have sensed my deer in headlights look) actually encouraged me after success.  I like encouragement for what should be simple tasks when they're kind of harder than they should be for me.  Anyways, every time tech support drove past me, I internally smiled a bit, grateful that I wasn't having to flag them down for something.

   After the gloriously uneventful highway stretch, I turned back onto the hillier final ten or so miles of the course and set towards the bike finish.  I knew I had a couple of longer descents before then, and decided that I really had no great desire to bomb down them (not that this is anything different than normal)-I'd made it farther into a race without incident than I had at every single race I've done since 2013 except IM Chattanooga, so I was pretty keen on just keeping things that way.  I distracted myself from fear on the sketchiest descent simply by trying to execute the bike pee that had been brewing since the first hour (unsuccessful-one of many skills that's rusty).  The average power was dropping a bit on the downhills, but that was ok enough by me.  Somewhere in there (I think possibly because of the pee distraction), I did manage to neglect to put my bike back into big ring after a climb.  Oops.  I'm not entirely sure how long I pulled this trick, but I got passed a couple of times like I was standing still while thinking I was spinning out in my highest gear before realizing my mistake.  Well, I'd lost some power and a bit of time, but really, in the realm of the bike issues I've had of late, this I'd take that.  Once I was actually applying pressure through the pedals again, I was somewhere around mile 53, so although I put a little time back into one of the women who had passed me, it certainly wasn't worth burning matches with just a few minutes left to try to get ahead again.  I rolled into T2 just happy to have finally, finally made it through a bike leg without having to get off my bike for something.  I love my QR from the fit to the handling, so I was thrilled to have gotten the dumb luck issues out of the way before the race.  Well done, trusty bike.

   T2...well, my bubble about my relatively ok T1 got burst there.  Since I hadn't managed the successful bike pee, I pulled the "pretend I'm sitting in the grass pretending to put on my shoes but really I'm hiding that I'm peeing" move.  This was priority over helmet removal.  So was putting on my race belt and starting towards the run out.  Halfway there, I realized I probably didn't need the helmet anymore.  Or maybe I did.  I turned back to return it to my bike, but not before I was spotted by the race announcer.  I was already laughing at myself as he called me out-welcomed comic relief for sure!  I then proceeded to get lost trying to find the run out.  I finally managed to figure it out and get out of there as the announcer pointed out that he was glad I figured out I wouldn't need my helmet on the run.  Thankfully, apparently laughing at myself is a great distraction from my normal thoughts of holy geez running feels freaking awful and I want to lay down coming out of T2.  I mean, I still didn't feel great, but I also didn't feel like I was walking or like I was so close to passing out that I couldn't comprehend running a half marathon, so there was that.  I smiled for the people cheering for me and relayed the helmet story to Becky as I ran past, because I knew that would be right up her alley.  This time around, the off the bike leg finding was happening at ~6:45 pace rather than ~20sec/mile slower than that, so the first couple of miles were slightly more encouraging than they've been.  Nothing was cramping yet, either.  After that, I don't remember a ton from the first loop.  Gradually, I was reeling in the woman who had entered T2 slightly ahead of me and exited a whole lot further ahead of me, but based on where I was at the turnaround, I could tell I wasn't really putting any time into anyone else.  No matter, nothing to do but continue on.  I exchanged encouragement with Chris as he lapped me, on his way to the podium.  The course was sort of gently rolling so I knew splits weren't going to be completely even, so I concentrated on keeping the HR climbing a bit and just did my best to keep the miles under 7:00 pace, my baby step goal.

Picture of me running out of T2, courtesy of Nick Gough.  Notice that my helmet has now been removed-although, a small part of me does sort of wish that someone had captured those moments in transition on film for my own bemusement.

   Shortly before the end of the first lap, I managed to pull in a couple of women, but correctly figured that any forward movement in the field would end there.  I still felt decent enough, though, and smiled for my cheering squad to break my normal race pain face.  I don't remember too much of the second lap, other than snippets here and there-occasional weird left hand cramping that never progressed beyond there, mile splits still holding up, thinking I felt ok, thinking I didn't feel ok, and wondering why it was taking me so long to get to the turnaround again.  I went into coke survival mode, and tried to spot friends and teammates for a quick attempted (not always successful) smile, trying to convince myself that I was ok still, and appreciating the cheers and boosts even if I was rather unresponsive in return.  Around miles 9-10, I started to calculate what I would need to do to sneak under 1:30, a time I once took for granted.  Keep it under 7:00.  Mile 10 was under.  Mile 11 broke even.  Mile 12 was over, but that was up and 13 was down.  I spent the last couple of miles hating life in the best possible way, putting what I had into it, hating it but at the same time, remembering my last few miles of Racine, how my body had just shut down.  Despite the painstakingly long minutes, I harbored some gratitude that at least my increased effort seemed to result in some sort of increased speed from my body.  I had seen at the turnaround that I wasn't all that far ahead of one of the women who I had passed earlier, and even though it didn't really matter for much place-wise, I knew that psyche-wise, holding someone off would be nice.  As the final mile progressed, I could tell that the park just looked too tauntingly far away for the course to be 13.1 garmin miles, and I didn't have enough cushion between garmin miles and real miles for the sub-1:30.  I still wanted it over with as quickly as I could, though, and I got myself to the finish while watching 4:40 juuust pass me by, too-not that that was anything I'd had in mind, because I don't put a ton of stock in times, but being just over something is always sort of a bummer (thanks, T2).  But, overall, I was relieved to be done, and just glad to have gotten from start to finish feeling like I had remembered how to race and get the most out of myself, without any major calamities (just a few entertaining moments of stupidity).

   After the race,  I spent a little bit of time at the race site, chatting with my mother and friends.  I was certainly happy to have had a day where everything had gone smoothly, and I had felt like I had finally been in race mode.  My nerve level (high enough to indicate that I cared) heading in, my ability to control the controllables (nutrition, etc) and have the confidence to maintain pace and execute appropriately, and my willingness to put myself to the limit to chase a run time (even though it proved unsuccessful) were all steps forward for me.  From start to finish, I had 100% been in a good mental place.  I raced happy and enjoyed it, even when I was mentally tapping into the deep dark places that I now have to spur myself along when the normal sucky hard parts inevitably came.  What I'm not all that thrilled about is just where my fitness level is at the moment.  I just want to be better, plain and simple, but I've been met with frustration after frustration as my body keeps fighting back at me, preventing me from being able to do the work required to get to where I want to be.  Some of this is certainly on me-although it's not something that I like to obsess over, because I've had struggles throughout my entire running career over how I view myself with it, I'm the first to admit that my current body comp is high enough to be a large (pun maybe intended) limiter on my run.  Sure, low training volume doesn't help, but my self-control could be better, and beating myself up over it only adds to the problem.  But, even with that, when despite all of the work I've done to try to get and stay healthy, things like the knee pop up and the hip gets cranky, I can't help but to feel a full range of sometimes less than helpful, but very real emotions.  I miss weekend hammerfests shelling myself and walking (or laying on the couch) away stronger.  But, I can only take things one day at a time, continuing to troubleshoot and put my best foot forward despite what my body may have to say.

Speaking of feet, I at least managed to gross them up pretty good out there.  I already lost a couple of toenails, and I had to paint some skin before getting my eyebrows waxed today, because the my eyebrow waxer also does pedicures, and I'm always concerned she'd be horrified if she saw my feet in their native state.

   In the days after the race, I also let comparison (having one of the slower run times in the field repeatedly doesn't make me happy) and something rather juvenile that happened (or, more accurately didn't happen) steal some of my joy of the positives unnecessarily.  I began to judge myself negatively because my outcome wasn't brag-worthy, rather than focus on all of the myriad of positives that came from the weekend.  Feelings of inadequacy and insecurities about being an outsider ruled me for a bit, and I retreated into myself.  In the time since, though, I've had to remind myself that although the peaks of my triumphs right now are much lower than they once were, I'm starting from deep in the valley, rather than on level ground.  So, I'm climbing further, even though I'm not ending up as high above the ground as I was a few years ago, and I have to take the positives from this.  Maybe I'm not standing on stages holding pieces of metal, but so many have taken time to make me know that I'm worth more than that as an athlete, and as a person.  I don't even know how many people took a minute or two to tell me that they were glad, inspired to even see me out there, regardless of my time or place, and to me, that's even more valuable than a piece of metal on a shelf (not too helpful to my bank account, but that's ok too).

   So, the journey continues down the totally uncertain road.  Despite my excitement with how my knee felt during the race, it became clear to me a couple of days later that I'm far from out of those woods, and I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen there.  I just had the injections I had done to the former fracture areas in my butt and groin (that helped to get me started again earlier this summer) repeated in the hopes that I'll get another few good months out of them.  I'm mostly hoping that the butt pain will become quiet again, as that was what had taken me out at the peak of my training last winter-the groin pain, while not pleasant, has for the most part been train-throughable.  So we'll see.  For now, my focus is getting these things under control again best I can, trying to maximize my fitness while doing so, and doing my best to keep my emotions and thoughts in check in the meantime.  As much as I sometimes try to look at how far I am from where I was at my peak, I can also look back and see that actually, I have come pretty far from my lowest points, too.  It's admittedly hard to see sometimes when the pain is there and real still, but just because I'm not where I thought I'd be a year ago doesn't mean that I'm not incredibly grateful and happy to be able to at least race to my fullest current fitness still.  Timberman was a step forward on several levels for me, and although I'm still dealing with some things orthopedically, I can take those positives with me.

  So, to wrap this up, thanks again to those who have gone above and beyond to continue to support and back me through the bad and the good, and who celebrate the small things with me while caring for me regardless.  Special thanks on this trip to my mom, for being a fantastically accommodating and agreeable race sherpa as I dragged her through all of my race shenanigans and perfect travel partner.  I appreciate every kind comment I receive, and I can say that I've been carried along many, many times.  Let the fight continue.

It's national dog day, so, puppies!!  They're carrying on, too.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dog days of summer-Racine race report and more bumps

   Well, I started a Racine race report shortly after the race-a month ago.  Then, life got in the way, as well as some other stuff that caused me to retreat into a hole, not really wanting to talk about much.  But, that's how it goes sometimes.  So, I might as well report a bit on the debacle that was Racine, and then touch a bit on the bumps that have marked the time since then.  From start to finish, everything about Racine was one of the biggest messes of my racing career.  A few days before Tremblant, I had registered for Racine, figuring that I might as well put my name on the list to get my feet back in the racing water.  I knew that the three week turnaround wouldn't be long enough for miracles to happen, but after so long off the racing circuit and with nothing else reasonable for over a month after that, I figured that I might as well just go for it.  I did see some improvements in my bike numbers in that time, and I hoped that a few more runs would result in a slightly better result.  In that time, my hip toyed with me a bit with some on and off crankiness that's been making me question the whole idea of that sports hernia surgery, but when push came to shove, I ended up missing all of 30min of bike cool down on one ride because of pain.  So, Racine it would be.  My goals were pretty simple-build upon Tremblant, have a swim that I felt was more indicative of the amount of work I've put into it the past 1.5 years, have a solid ride where I did NOT have to get off the bike for any stupid mechanical issue, and run a couple of minutes faster, hopefully getting under 1:30 this time around.  Well, none of that happened, but life experiences are only failures if nothing is learned, and I do feel that this race ended up having value, even if the result on paper was pretty ugly.

   The drive out to Racine took forever, but we made it eventually and I got dropped off at the airbnb room where I was staying (with four black cats...I sort of felt like this might not be the best of luck there).  The next morning, I went to go get ready to go for a jog and get in a swim set at a Y when...where was my transition bag?  It contained my wetsuit, goggles, bike shoes, bike helmet, and run flats, among other little things (body glide, sunscreen, trislide, blister shield, etc etc).  This was a problem.  After some frantic searching and phone calls, Dave confirmed that I had indeed left it in my car in Rochester.  Well, ok.  He packed up the crucial stuff (helmet, bike shoes, wetsuit-I actually had extra run flats in a different bag), took it to his brother's packing and shipping company, and sent it on its way overnight-supposedly-via FedEx.  After everything, I remained rather rational and carried on with my day.  I did back up my idiocy by proceeding to go out the wrong locker room door at a random Y post-swim, winding up locked in an incredibly creepy, dark hallway of abandoned squash courts with no exit.  Thankfully, I found some phone with the front desk's number written on it, and was able to call for rescue.  I then confirmed my airheadedness by leaving my swim equipment in the locker after leaving, and having to return.  Anyways.  This is not all that relevant, but it all just contributed to the general theme of the weekend.

   Fast forward to the next morning.  FedEx tracking said that my stuff was supposed to arrive in Racine to be picked up at their facility at 9am.  Well, 9am rolled around, and no package.  I talked to Jesse somewhere in there, and when I mentioned the FedEx situation, he advised me to start putting plan B (scrounging around to borrow the key items) into motion.  Dave started hounding FedEx, and I went to work hounding my eventual savior Kelly (and her dad).  Long story short, FedEx sucks and had no idea where my stuff was, but Kelly was able to hook me up with bike shoes and a wetsuit, and then I was able to pick up another wetsuit thanks to the friend of a travelling nurse who was staying in the same airbnb as me.  Go figure.  The other small stuff (number belt, body glide, etc) was picked up at the expo.  So, although the whole situation was less than ideal, I somehow never felt all that stressed by it, and I was incredibly grateful to those who stepped up to help me out and went out of their way for me.  The triathlon community is great.  Later that night, once I had the chance to breathe, I started to realize that I really just sort of  I couldn't put my finger on it exactly.

  Still, the next morning, I woke up feeling ok enough, so all was well enough.  I got to the race site, got my borrowed gear settled in transition, and was starting to pull on my borrowed wetsuit to walk down to the swim start and get a good warm up in the extra unappealing sounding 57 degree water when we were told not to leave transition.  Apparently some weather was on its way.  While we waited out the storm, the swim was cancelled (I wasn't upset).  We returned to transition at 7:30 as instructed, and were told that the race would go on as a shortened bike and a run, which would start at 10:30-come back to transition at 9:30 for the final announcements.  I went back to where I was staying, relaxed, ate, and wrote a few training plans.  When I left to head back to transition, I knew that I was looking at a 31 mile bike, and a run.  Secretly, I sort of celebrated that the bike length minimized the need for bottle handling, and I didn't have to swim, but felt a little bit sad that this wasn't happening while I was actually sort of in run shape.  Once back at transition awaiting the race start, the clouds had burned off, leaving behind a humid, sunny, rapidly warming, very windy morning.  My warm up jog felt like crap.  I brushed it off, and soon enough, we were being released on the bike TT style, 30 seconds apart.  I managed to not do anything too uncoordinated clipping in in front of people up a hill, and was off. 

   The first few miles of the bike, I actually felt like things might go ok.  I was hitting my somewhat ambitious wattage target, given my lack of anything higher-end in training, and although I wasn't thrilled with the rough pavement, the wind wasn't freaking me out too much yet.  Then, somewhere around mile 4 or so, one of the bumps in the road caused the zip tie holding my aero bottle holder in place to snap.  Of course.  The bottle flipped upside down, spraying its contents everywhere.  I had a few moments of trying to figure out what to do about it before I decided to just let it hang there.  Unfortunately, my bottle had ended up in that exact same position after my crash in Cozumel, and I'd ridden with it like that there, considering just tossing the damn thing at an aide station before deciding not to because my garmin was still attached-the garmin that ended up totally busted anyways.  The flashbacks of that, along with the realization that I was either going to have to deal with drinking from my downtube bottle repeatedly in harsh winds if I didn't want to get entirely dehydrated, was enough to completely screw with me.  I told myself that I could stop at the first aide station, though, see if they had zip ties, and get some fluid while stopped.  Not ideal and not pro, but the most appealing solution I could come up with at the time.

   The course soon thereafter turned off of the bumpy road onto a smoother one, but with open fields and fierce crosswinds.  My anxieties over wind continue to cripple me at times, and I honestly spent a good portion of that ride more frightened than I've ever been on a bike, out of the bars, just wrestling to keep it on the road.  Around mile 10, I did see the tech support van up ahead.  Tech support!  I slowed up when I got to them, and asked for a zip tie.  The mechanic quickly hopped out, and zip tied my bottle holder back into place as I refilled it and thanked him profusely.  Getting off of my bike during races (both voluntarily and involuntarily) is seriously starting to get old, but at least I only lost a couple of minutes this go around, and I actually sort of welcomed the brief reprieve from the wind.  Once back on the road, though, the fear didn't really decrease.  Stopping caused my power meter to cut out for the next five miles (I don't know...), and I felt myself start to mentally crack there.  Whenever I was hit by a wind gust, I just wanted to stop, until I thought of everyone who had assisted me before the race.  I spent the rest of the ride (with some help from Jodie's words as she passed) just attempting to keep upright and not panicking entirely.  I cornered horribly as per usual, and spent maybe 5 miles total actually in my aerobars.  As I had said after the race, I didn't even feel like I was racing-just trying to survive on a bike.  I was frustrated at my fear and my ability to get over it, and I was beating myself up as a result.  Eventually, I got to transition, not even caring about anything (like my growing thirst) other than getting onto firm ground.

   In transition, I did grab another bottle I'd thrown on the ground after realizing the bike was shortened, and downed that while running to the exit.  Once onto the run course, I didn't immediately feel horrible, but my feet started cramping pretty early on.  Well, that wasn't good.  Additionally, I realized that I was running pretty darn slow, but my HR was pretty through the roof, sitting at around 175 while running a pace I'd normally see around 155.  Once past the mile, I started to feel legitimately awful, and questioned my ability to keep going even more than normal.  I had lost an entire bottle on the bike, so I did what I had to do on the first loop.  I made myself let go of pace, I accepted the freakishly high HR, I grabbed a vial of salt from the base guys on course, and spent the aide stations doing everything I could to get fluid in and heat off.  I wasn't running well, but I was putting one foot in front of the other, and the aide stations were helping immensely-I'd get through one, feel better for a few minutes, and then survive until the next.  I continued to think about everyone who had gone out of their way to make sure I was even able to race, and I knew I owed it to so many to just tough it out, even if my result wasn't going to be anything to talk about.

   Once onto the second lap, still feeling crappy but moving forward, the course just got super crowded.  I began to have trouble getting as much as I needed at the now packed aide stations, and just hoped that I'd gotten in enough to that point.  By mile 8, I was still hanging in there.  Mile 9 started to get rough.  By mile 10, not only were the cramps that had been on and off the whole run on, but they were on the verge of taking me out.  I've never experienced anything like that in a race before, not even a full-with every step, my feet and calves threatened to just seize up entirely.  I wanted to try to pick up the pace so I'd get to the finish line sooner, before the cramps did me in entirely, but every time I tried to put any extra effort in, or even did something like step a little funny or go around a turn, the cramping got sharp.  I was relegated to a helpless shuffle, just thinking again of everyone that went out of their ways to get me to the start line.  I felt like I was one misstep away from collapsing entirely.  Yet, despite my much slower pace, my HR was stuck at the unnaturally high levels I'd seen right at the start of the run.  Finally, I somehow managed to trot my way through the final few miles and get to the finish line.  I crossed honestly in somewhat of a daze, some combination of upset at my horrible run time and just relieved to have gotten through it on my own two feet.

  Once across the line, I told the volunteers that I was badly cramping, and I let myself get taken into medical.  I was having trouble finding words, just pretty out of it in general.  They let me sit while fetching me fluids (I was SO thirsty by that point).  At one point, I could tell that my stomach was off, and I asked for some anti-nausea meds.  The volunteer told me they didn't have any, and I'd been able to get my shoes off and cramping down, so I left to go gather my gear.  I made it back to the bike rack area when I just started to feel REALLY not good.  I found a spare pepto in my stuff, took it, and sat next to my bike for a bit, waiting for the feeling to pass.  It didn't.  My body was doing the cold clammy sweat thing as I baked in the sun, unable to move.  One thing about me is that I HATE throwing up with an absolute passion, and I'll do anything in my power to avoid it.  I texted Dave and Jesse that I felt like I was going to barf.  I went through a fair share of moments of questioning why I'd missed making myself that miserable for so long.  I had no internal answers, but I somehow was still ok with it.  The low point was spending some time in the port a potty, cold sweating and just praying that I wouldn't end up barfing on my feet while other things happened ( is glamorous).  Darby-bless her-came over when I was out and then sitting on the curb miserably.  She fetched me sprite and pretzels, which I tried to get in but just couldn't.  She had to leave to go coach, but before she did, she told one of the race directors nearby to keep an eye on me.  I thanked her for being so sweet, although I was too nauseous to fully express my appreciation. 

  The race director then came over to me when I didn't move for a few more minutes.  He asked if I needed to go to medical; I told him that I couldn't get anything in and really needed something for nausea, but I didn't think that I could get myself over there.  He then joined the list of people who seriously deserve like 15 batches of fresh-baked cookies from dealing with me that race, went to medical, and came back on the gator to fetch me.  Once in medical-the triage area this time, not the chairs I had sat in right after finishing-a PA handed me the most glorious little quick-dissolve tablet I've ever taken for nausea, and as soon as that had miraculously kicked in and I could lay down, the IV was attached.  Once I had that combination in me, I felt approximately ten million times better.  I was released, and finally returned to transition to gather my gear for real this time.  The race director who had helped me was there; he commented that I was upright, and I was thankfully able to tell him that I felt a TON better and thank him before leaving that less than fun adventure behind. 

   Over the course of the next few days, I did continue to struggle with some GI/heartburn/general malaise issues, which I don't know where caused by what had happened during the race, or that had lead to what happened during the race.  Who knows.  What I did know was that I really would prefer to never feel that awful on a run course again.  I never have been, nor I never will be the most talented runner.  It's not that I'm completely talentless, but for me, consistency is key, and my main ability isn't in speed, but in the ability to train myself to just hold a very high percentage of maximum for a long amount of time-outlasting more than outrunning.  But, I've had several very prolonged layoffs from running in the past couple of years with only brief spurts back into it in between, and so, as a natural consequence of this, I don't expect my run to be what it was a few years ago.  I'm realistic.  Even with that, though, my run in Racine was so far from what I want out of myself that I was disappointed.  I have never run that slow in a 70.3.  It wasn't even a good IM run pace for me.  Maybe it's more PC to talk about how happy I was to just be back out there and that I could run at all, and while that's obviously still the case, that race was just a poor performance that I'm not happy about.  I'm not going to sugarcoat that I'm capable of more, and I should be able to get it out of myself. 

   So with that, I licked my (thankfully only figurative) wounds from that race and decided to turn my focus to the next one on the schedule-Timberman.  I told myself to focus on the details, take off the kid gloves in letting myself off the hook with glaring imperfections, and get to work.  I had several weeks to get in consistent training and see what would happen.  Well, as usual, my body had other plans.  I made it a week, managed to string together one of my longer, more solid training weekends in a while up in Lake Placid, came home, and a few days later, out of nowhere, found myself cutting a bike ride short because of some random left knee pain.  I brushed it off at the time.  It stuck around, letting me know it wasn't going anywhere on the one year anniversary of my hip surgery-not the best for the mental game there.  I could run, but not bike, but I couldn't run too much because my hip and butt pain were flaring up, and that left swimming, but I was just angry, cranky, upset, and completely burned out of spending more time in the pool because that was all I had.  Plus, my on again, off again left shoulder pain (possibly a crash consequence, but I've never had it investigated) was on again.  Needless to say, it's been a bumpy (to put it nicely) few weeks of questioning and complaining and pain.  I've said it before that past misfortune doesn't guarantee future good luck, but at some point, I think it becomes natural to just wonder, when is this sport going to throw me a freaking bone?  What does it want from me?  That thought had already been in the back of my mind following the Racine debacle of a race, so adding a completely unnecessary knee injury and more hip questioning on top of that pushed me back down into the valley, staring at the climb out, wondering if I even wanted to attempt it again.

   Then, in lieu of riding my bike one Saturday, I painted a lounge chair while waiting for Dave to get home.  And sure, the lounge chair looked better afterwards, but I finished it thinking about how really, it just didn't give me any great life pleasure to have a freshly painted lounge chair on our front patio.  I'd rather ride my bike.  So I got in with my surgeon's PA to get some cortisone thrown into the knee to try to get it back under control.  I made a massage appointment with Tiffany to get my cranky adductor and butt worked out.  I got my next round of hip and butt injections booked, and re-committed myself to the simple strength work that I know my body needs.  We mapped out a plan-try to get through Timberman, for better or worse, get the hip injections (same ones I'd had back in May that had given me good relief throughout June and early July), try to get to another 70.3 in September, and then reassess what road to take in October.  I went on family vacation to Cape Cod, I remembered that last year I'd been on crutches freshly post-op there, and I got in some runs that revived my spirit a bit.  My goal at the moment is to try to get through October still training and racing, whatever that looks like, so I can at least feel like I sort of had a season, however slow and imperfect it may have been.  I don't know if that will happen, but nothing is ever guaranteed anyways.  For the time being, I'd still rather live in some degree of pain in order to be an athlete, even if I do get days where I question the sanctity of that.  I could easily read into it all as signs that I should give it up, take a break, and seek out answers, and honestly this would be "easier", but my heart is stronger than my hip, and so that's what I'm going to follow for now. 

  So, that's that.  For now, not too much I can do other than continue to try to work within the realm of what my body will give me orthopedically, and to continue to try to do everything I can on my end of things to get it to cooperate.  Continued thanks to those who have supported me unconditionally, and have kept me moving/sane/in less pain/smiling/sort of racing/putting one foot in front of the other.  I wouldn't still be clinging to some degree of faith and belief on my own, so my gratitude continues to be with those who have helped along the way!


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Climbing out of the valley-Tremblant 70.3 race (race!) report

(As a prelude to this...I did write a blog post the day before the race about how I went from "I might need more surgery" to "I'm racing".  I was just feeling to superstitious to share it anywhere.  If anyone wants to read a couple of novels today, it's the post right before this one.  Obviously).

  So…I raced  A real 70.3, with a (very very good) pro field.  And I finished.  And it wasn’t perfect or triumphant or any of those things.  In fact, I had some issues along the way that were almost a comedy of errors.  I also ran the slowest half marathon off of the bike that I ever have in my entire life, and it was only just BARELY faster than the pace I ran for the full there three weeks after racing another full.  But it’s really all ok.  Still beats the 25min I lost to my brake in Coeur d’Alene, and welp, anything beats Mexico.  And all of the races that I haven’t done in the past 1.5 years.  As painful and awful as certain moments were, I know that I got the most out of what my body was going to give me (although…my bike tried to derail me again!), and although that wasn’t that much, I was still absolutely thrilled to have finally, FINALLY made it to a finish line in one piece without anything broken or torn or stupid.  So, because I’m still excited that I raced, that means race reporting while it’s still fresh in my mind, because I have also totally missed making snarky comments about myself racing.

This was one of my favorite moments of the day-a pre-race picture with Heather.  A year ago, she had a significant neck injury and surgery, and I was treading through the labral tear diagnostic process, so getting to share a huge hug with her in transition pre-race was completely awesome and emotional, because we were there and healthy enough to race.  So glad I got to share part of her day with her-great job Heather!!  
   Really, everything leading up to the race went pretty smoothly.  I don’t need to detail all that, because, well, everyone checks in and racks bikes and goes to meetings and eats breakfast at early hours and all that.  I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonably well I managed to corral my nerves, all things considered.  I think knowing that the field was huge and deep and I could just kind of do my own thing off of the back helped.  Also, pro women are the BEST.  Seriously.  I was welcomed back with open arms and friendliness, which I so greatly appreciated after so long away.  I focused my freaking out on all things bottle handling related, of course.  Thankfully, I had an easy spin the day before the race, where I got the skittishness out and forced myself to practice a few refills.  The forecast was hot, and I didn’t need to screw my run any more than it was already going to be screwed by not drinking enough on the bike because I was scared of it.  I still didn’t nail that, but I’ll get to that.  Anyways, I had plenty of time on race morning to get everything taken care of, and made it to the start line without any issues.  That’s not to say I wasn’t emotional here and there, because I was.  I had a few “this is really happening” teary moments while walking to the swim start, and another one just beforehand, when I recalled sitting on a trainer at our condo during the full last year, crutches next to me, two weeks post-op, losing it as I heard the cannon starting the pro women off sound in the distance.  But this time, I’d be starting too.

This is the furthest forward I would ever be while wearing a wetsuit.
Pre-race selfie.  Hot.
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Stolen from the race FB page...I like this picture because I'm standing with badasses.

   So, soon enough, we were toeing the water, about to start.  I don’t know if I was in the best frame of mind regarding the swim.  I was semi-anxious about how I would handle the bike and excited about the possibility of a run, so I just sort of wanted the swim to be over.  It sort of showed.  The cannon went off, and about five seconds later, my thought process was something along the lines of, shit, there goes everyone.  I’m already in last.  I told myself to get my act together, and hammered out a bit to catch up to a couple of women.  A couple of minutes later, I felt like I could go around them, so I did.  I saw another woman slightly ahead of me at that point and tried to bridge the gap, but I was unable to do so, and she pulled further away.  So, I spent the rest of the swim alone, just trying to maintain an effort.  If nothing else, I think I stayed on course better than I ever have alone, so there’s that, even though I was getting tired of lifting my head up constantly.  Oh well.  The return trip back to shore seemed to just drag on forever, even though in the great scheme of things, it shouldn’t have felt that far.  Finally I reached shore, and glanced at my watch.  31:30ish.  I had been hoping to be closer to 30, and I felt like with the swim volumes and swim race results I’ve put in throughout this entire injury process I should have been, but such is life.  I was done with my least favorite part of the day, so nothing to do but move on.

See that awesome-looking dive happening at the front here?  That's totally not what I looked like.  I believe that I'm one of the ones still standing in the back, about to just sort of flop in the water and get dropped immediately.  Oops.
   Enter T1.  This was where my lack of racing in the past 1.5 years truly reared its head.  First, my wetsuit got caught on my garmin and my massive calves during wetsuit stripping.  Then, despite my lackluster swim effort, I felt like I was going to keel over on the run to my bike.  Then I got confused and lost in transition and ran around a bit extra trying to find my bike.  There were only two other bikes left on the rack.  Not excellent.  By the time I got my shoes and helmet on, those bikes were also gone.  I exited T1 in DFL.  Thankfully, I’m no stranger to DFL out of T1, so nothing to do but get to work.  I moved up a couple of places fairly quickly.  I was able to keep my power where we had discussed it-more like IM wattage than 70.3 wattage, but that’s just the fitness I’m in.  It felt hard, but ok hard.  I focused on drinking and staying controlled and what not.  Despite all of my fears before the race, I felt pretty comfortable once rolling, all things considered.  The road condition in Tremblant is so top-notch, which greatly helped matters, and winds were quiet.  About 15 miles in, while screwing around with a powerbar, came my next rookie move.  I was racing with my garmin 920 in triathlon mode for the first time, and I accidentally hit the lap button, pushing the screen forward to T2.  Oops.  I had zero clue how to undo that one.  Cursing myself for telling Dave I didn’t want to borrow his garmin bike computer because I didn’t want that much data to look at, the only thing I could think of to do was hit lap again, sending it into run mode.  At least there I’d have time, distance, and HR to pace by.  It turned out to not be a huge deal, as that proved to work out well enough.  I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to know where my power sat, anyways.  I moved up another place, and pressed on.  Shortly after that, I ran out of fluid and was forced to pull my first bottle refill.  I waited until a slight uphill, and pulled off the task, slowly but steadily.  Phew.  Not that I wouldn’t have to do it again, but getting the first one under my belt was a relief.

Thankfully, Dave captured this moment where I look semi-legit running with my bike here.  About two seconds later, I was standing there stopped trying to mount while the woman behind me went flying around me flying mounting.  But then I moved ahead while she tightened her shoes, so I maintain my position that it all evens out anyways.
   Continuing on, I made the first (painstakingly slow-my cornering and turning abilities were utterly horrific here) u-turn on 117.  Climbing out of that, I stupidly made a rookie cross-chaining error, and ended up dropping my chain for the first time.  No big deal, it didn’t get lodged, and tech support happened to be right there.  He waited with me while I got it back on, and I was off after a minute or two.  I lost a couple of places there, but made the passes back after about five or ten miles and continued on.  After about the 25 mile mark of the bike, too, with caffeine layering in, I started to feel better.  Admittedly, due to my reluctance with all things bottle handling, I was not drinking enough.  I did end up pulling off a couple of veerrrrryyyyy slow handoffs and got in about four bottles total, minus what I sprayed all over everything because I’m not coordinated (my bike is extra sticky), but given the heat of the day, it wasn’t quite enough.  Still, despite a few moments of being entirely in no-man’s land and wondering if I was even still on the course, the ride was going smoothly.  I did have a moment of coasting around another u-turn where I started to feel my quad and calf cramp, which was slightly unnerving.  I went for some salt and tried to drink more and reassured myself that I was getting towards the end of the ride.

  Heading into the final hillier ten miles of the bike, I felt like I was making good time overall (couldn’t quite tell because of the garmin snafu) and I was looking forward to trying to end it strongly (despite the general crampiness of everything) when my chain dropped again.  I hopped off, fixed it, grabbed another bottle while I was stopped, laughed about the fact that I did in fact stop at an aide station (something I had threatened that I might do), tried to take off, and immediately dropped the chain again.  This time it got jammed.  Badly.  I yanked and yanked and stomped on the chain and watched other riders pass me by while starting to freak out a bit.  After everything, a DNF so close to the end of the bike due to something so stupid would have been an absolutely bitter pill to swallow.  But the chain just would NOT budge.  The aide station volunteers weren’t able to help me, but they directed me to some bike racks at the end of the station.  As I continued to fruitlessly pull at the chain, I started to panic and asked for someone to call tech support.  A volunteer handed me a screwdriver.  I jammed the screwdriver in between the crank and the frame and just pounded at it, beyond caring about scratching my frame all up (better my frame than my body this time).  Just as the volunteer started to say, “it’s impossible, you’re going to have to take the crank off”, it came loose.  I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief (all while thinking, don’t use the word impossible around me right now, that's not a thing), and popped the chain back on.  Thankfully, I thought to spin the pedals a couple of times before trying to restart, because the chain was still getting stopped on something.  I did a quick once over, and discovered what had caused the issue-when I had initially dropped the chain at that aide station, it had pulled my power meter (which wasn’t reading anyways because of the garmin issue…sigh) magnet off, and the magnet was stuck to the chain.  I popped it off (later retrieved from my sports bra), thanked the volunteers, turned down their offers for hand sanitizer or something to wipe my bloody, greasy hands on, and continued on.  All in all, I lost about five minutes in the endeavor, along with a couple more from the first drop, which proved to cost me a few places, but I wouldn’t have been in the money anyways and frankly that wasn’t on my radar to begin with-I just wanted to finish. 

   The last ten miles were then a bit subpar, as I took some of the curvy, windy descents a bit cautiously, but I had lost enough time between the two chain drops that saving a few seconds here and there didn’t seem worth the risk.  I somehow ran out of fluid again, and just wanted to get to my bottle in T2.  Finally, I reached the dismount line, and breathed a slight sigh of relief to have my feet on solid ground again.  This was short lived, though, as I realized that a bunch of stuff was cramping and I REALLY didn’t feel so hot.  I hadn’t felt even the slightest urge to pee on the bike, and it was getting pretty warm.  And, oh yeah, I hadn’t done more than a couple of 9-10 mile runs in a good six months, and none had been off of the bike.  About that.  I took my sweet time in transition, dumping my (once frozen, now warm) bottle of water all over in me and downing a bunch of it, and ran out feeling rather rough.  The first mile, I had some serious doubts about whether or not I’d make it through.  A lingering foot tendon issue that I’ve been having started to bug me a bit, and I questioned the sanctity of continuing on.  I was pretty convinced I was running 8:00 pace, maybe 7:30 pace at best-I had no idea because my garmin was at some weird distance after reading 40.something miles of bike as running; I had no clue whatsoever what time or distance I’d started the run at.  My abdomen was starting to do the painful crampy thing it does when I’m dehydrated.  I wanted to be happy that I was running, but the task at hand seemed daunting.  Then, my first mile split popped up at 6:51.  Welp, not as bad as I had thought.  So I kept running.  The second mile felt equally miserable, but the foot pain quickly faded.  I saw Dave somewhere in there, and yelled to him that I’d lose some time to a jammed chain and to text everyone of importance about it, because that seemed crucial at the time.  Somewhere around mile 3, I started to finally get my legs underneath me a bit.  I still wasn’t running quickly, but I was perking up.

Heading up the first climb out of transition.  Not so sure about life.

Downhills were sort of nice, because they meant that I was moving towards the finish line slightly more quickly.  Still not so sure about life, though.

   Once we hit the bike path, I settled in, bringing up my HR and at least making one pass.  My quads were feeling crampy and my hands were cramping the entire duration of the run, so I did what I could to try to troubleshoot, pounding salt and drinking as many cups of whatever I could get at every aide station.  I could tell that it was pretty hot out, but with regular cups of ice and water all over everything, it wasn’t getting to me that much.  I’m just not in great run shape.  My mile splits were popping up in the 7:00-7:15ish range, which really wasn’t all that spectacular, but realistic for me right now.  I managed to smile for Dave once or twice, and still had it in me to give a few smiles and cheers to my teammates, and the women’s leaders who were absolutely crushing it on their way back.  With more salt and fluids the hand cramping began to relax a little, although my quads were getting rough.  I made it to about mile 8 fairly reasonably, all things considered.  At that point, the wheels began to fall off, and it turned into flat out, countdown survival mode.  I passed Katie in there, exchanging commiseration about losing time on the bike to penalties and mechanicals, and just tried to hang on. 
About three feet further along than in the previous picture.  The amount of time it took to read the previous paragraph between the two probably correlates to the amount of time it took me to move those three feet.

Does this blog really need this many pictures of me running?  Probably not.  But I'm putting them in there anyways.  There's a lot that's not pretty.  I should force myself to look at them more often.

I believe this was about the point where my brief foray into feeling human began.

   The last few miles were super rough.  I was able to keep (even bring) my HR up, but I was a hurting puppy.  My smiling at Dave morphed into waving him off and telling him to go away (about right).  Quite honestly, I had figured that everything from about mile 8 or 9 on would be somewhat of a shit show-I was in uncharted territory in terms of both single run mileage and total time spent exercising on a single day.  My hands began to contort themselves with cramping again, I was thirsty as all get out, and I was simply to the point of just willing my legs to keep running to the coveted finish line.  With each kilometer marker, I did some sort of fuzzy mental math, multiplying the number of kilometers left by 4.5 to figure out about how many minutes I had to go, until even that felt daunting and still too far.  Because of the garmin snafu, I had no idea whatsoever what my run time was, but I didn’t so much care.  I stopped paying attention to my mile splits when they popped up, because I was working as hard as I could at the time.  Instead, I thought of the injured, broken, battered, numb girl that I’ve been for so long, and I knew that I owed it to that version of myself to get the most out of the opportunity to race, even if it didn’t mean much in terms of place or time or anything of those things.  Plus, at some point, it dawned on me that I just flat out wasn’t thinking about my hip or butt or foot or any of those things, and for that fact alone, I was grateful.   Finally, when I hit the 20k marker, I started to get excited about the prospect of being done.  Little did I know that the 70.3 course would take us alllllll the way up the giant, steep hill in town-not that I remembered the full from three years ago all that well, but I was correct that we hadn’t had to deal with that there.  I was not a happy person making my way up that.  It just kept going.

Pulling the "here's another picture of me three feet ahead of the previous picture" thing again.

That golf cart is probably back there because it thought I might need medical assistance the entire time.

Still heading out on the bike path, I think, but Dave was probably scared to take pictures of me after I started to get irrationally angry at him during the hurt locker part.
  Finally, though, came the turn to go back down to the finish.  After making my way up that crap, I decided that I was sure as heck going to enjoy the trip back down-as much as I could on quads that weren’t so sure about life.  But I’ve waited a long freaking time to finish a tri, and despite how far back I was in the field or how unimpressive my splits were or how much faster I’ve raced before, I wasn’t going to let it pass with a simple click of a garmin button and my pain face.  I allowed myself to actually smile and take in the final stretch, crossing the line with a couple of emphatic fist pumps and apparently a choice four letter word that I didn’t realize I let slip out.  That wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s pretty much what happens when a whole lot of pent up emotions and frustrations and flat-out relief are being released in the spur of the moment.  Plus, racing just isn’t easy!  I inevitably cried a little bit, got asked if I was ok, caught up with a few teammates, and finally made my way over to Dave. He fetched my morning clothes bag while I writhed around in the grass a little bit, rendered unable to do much else thanks to the most welcomed foot, quad, hand, and ab cramps ever that wouldn’t let me move.  I was flat-out more wrecked than I’ve been after a 70.3 in a long, long time-but that was exactly what I’ve missed, and exactly what I wanted out of it.

   So, in retrospect, I’m happy.  A lot of good came out of it.  Was it a “good” race?  Well, in terms of what I’ve done in the past and the level I’d like to be able to get back to, no, not so much.  My swim was pedestrian.  Take away seven minutes from the bike split for the chain drops and that wasn’t bad, but it was still likely more in line with a full IM effort than a 70.3.  My run was an all-time 70.3 worst.  I just barely ran faster than I had for the full there three weeks after another full three years ago.  I bled away time with all of the details-bottle handling, bike turning, transitions, etc.  My chain drops can be linked to stupid gearing mistakes.  I didn’t get in enough fluids for the conditions of the day and spent much of the run on a fine line because of that.  But, all of that was completely in line with both my fitness levels and my general rustiness when it comes to racing.  I was just happy to be out there, happy to get through it, happy to have to opportunity to compete, happy to remember how to put myself deep into the hurt locker, happy to be reminded of all of those things that I’ll definitely need to work at from here on out.  I finished in one piece, and even in the aftermath, my injury-ish areas are only sort of mildly sore-better than I would have thought even a couple of weeks ago.  Racing allowed me to break the link that my mind had over my body, and push my fears over every little niggle away.  I can look back at this race, and feel confident that I got as much as I could out of my body and my (not too high) fitness on the day.  That was the advantage of the demons that have been breeding in my brain throughout all of this-they can't create fitness, but they're sitting there in there, yelling at me to make the most of what I've got.  I’m glad that I was willing to put myself out there in a less than perfect state (and body composition), bust off some rust, and start working through some of my fears related to that whole bottle handling thing.  Sometime in 2014, I feel like I had lost some of the joy in racing and pushing myself to the limit to becoming a slave to paces, powers, times, and places.  Tremblant wasn’t about that.  It was strictly about the pleasure and the pain of racing, and gratitude to have the opportunity for all of that again.  Yes, it took a long time to get back out there, but I think that I might have just needed every last second of it to find that.  Yes, I do need to start to worry about all of those other execution and training details, and a single finish line has lit my fire to begin to dig into those details that I haven’t been completely diligent about (bye, regular sorrow-drowning ice cream...), but it’s nice to be able to feel again.
Post-race selfie.  Smile is more sure this time.  I was actually grateful to have a darn medal!!

   Life is a continuum.  There’s no absolute failures or passes; no absolute black or white.  Comebacks, as I’m learning, are a process, not a destination.  I’m not sure that I can call myself “back” right now, because what is back exactly?  I sort of hesitated to officially declare this something like my comeback race, because all along, it simply felt like a starting point to build upon.  I’m certainly not back to full training volumes, and I’m certainly not in killer shape.  I’m not where I’d like to be eventually, but there’s work to be done for that.  This race was a stepping stone in this journey.  I’ll have more ups and downs, I’m sure of it, but this was quite easily the brightest point I’ve had yet in this entire process.  I got to do what I love.  I got to remember and feel, and knowing how hard it can be just to get to a starting line in one piece, I’m incredibly grateful to have finally been able to get to a finish.  I’ll wrap this up to a huge thank you to everyone who took time out of their days to track me, support me, send me kind messages and comments and well wishes and congrats.  I took time to read them all, and I’m so fortunate to have so many people to share my joy with.  I thought about so many different people out there, at so many different, random times, and it pulled me along continuously.   And a huge thanks to those who have most directly mitigated my moodiness and ups and downs, and kept me moving through everything-Dave, my family, Jesse, Becky, and my compatriots in injury commiseration messaging-you know who you are. J  Up next?  Well, getting recovered from this (apparently, when you race undertrained, the soreness sticks around a bit longer…), continuing to fight the battle to stay healthy, and, well, if that all works out ok enough, why not race again soon, right?  After going over a year and a half without it, I’ve got the bug back, so hopefully with the right luck, I’ll be back out there at Racine in three weeks!

I feel like a picture of me with a Mexican monkey on my head is a relevant way to finish this.  I don't think I've quite shaken him off of me yet, but maybe about five months from now, I'll be waking up with him gone.  Not going to get ahead of myself on that one, though. ;)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Blackbird, fly

  It seems odd, I know.  I went from updating the blog about pains and chronicity and surgical talks, but now, well, right now, I’m riding in the car on the way up to Mont Tremblant, with the intention of racing the 70.3 up there this weekend.  I’m not counting on anything until it’s happening, that’s for sure.  So how did I end get here?  Not by miracle cures, perfection, or clear-cut answers, by any means, but by a combination of a solid dose of stubbornness, some concessions and truces with my body, and an element of letting go-but I’ll get to that.  First, though, I’ll backtrack a bit and just give a little synopsis of how the past four weeks or so have gone down.

  A couple of days after my last post, I was able to get in for a bone scan in order to determine if the old fracture sites were actively doing anything, or if they were just being stupid (my medical assessment).  I ran half an hour while waiting for the tracer to set in that day.  It really didn’t feel that bad.  I had a follow up with Dr. Giordano a week after that.  So in that time, I took it upon myself to, in a sense, say f*ck it, throw caution and fears into the wind, and just see what I could handle.  What I did that week wasn’t anything super crazy, but given my (lack of) training, it wasn’t exactly any sort of recommended progression, going from a max of 90 minutes on the bike to several 2-3 hour rides, and jumping from zero miles of running in 2016 to 25 that week.  I was, quite literally, seeing if I could push myself past some sort of breaking point before seeing the doctor.  If I was going to need ass surgery, I wanted to know sooner rather than later. 

   The results were somewhat messy, but, bottom line was, I didn’t get to the point where any session had to be stopped due to pain.  I was uncomfortable, I hurt, and I had evenings where I was certain that I was done, but, come the next morning, I found that I was able to get up and put in effort to some degree again.  When I saw Dr. Giordano the following week, he confirmed that my bone scan had been clear, evaluated a few things on my hip, and told me that he truly thought that doing anything surgical at the high hamstring area would be “overkill”.  I was referred to a sports hernia doctor, and given the green light to work within my tolerance.  I can’t say that this wasn’t a total rollercoaster still.  I would have times where I felt ok and had hope, and other times where I truly didn’t understand how I was ever going to get “better”, whatever better means-if I had a certain level of pain doing a certain low level of training, how was I going to get past that to be able to do more or to race again?  My outlook and moods went from one extreme to the other.  But, I kept trucking, despite the fact that my life was morphing into a continued wavering between “I don’t get how I’m not going to need surgery” and “maybe I can race soon instead”. 

   In the midst of all of this, just before the deadline passed, I threw my name on the Mont Tremblant 70.3 start list, just in case, on a whim.  I had more ups and downs, but even after some of the worst days, I could still physically run.  I also entertained myself by pouring through old training logs.  I went back years-to 2009 and 2010, when another lingering high hamstring injury and ischial tuberosity stress fracture had been the impetus to get me into triathlon in the first place.  I recalled that when I had first begun to run after 12 weeks off, the area did still hurt.  I remembered that I’d been annoyed that it still hurt, and just run anyways while rehabbing it with various methods.  Eventually, that butt pain had gone away without any drastic measures, all while I trained and raced and just refused to give into it.  So, I looked back at how much I’d actually been doing at that time.  Needless to say, there was some disconnect between how much I thought I’d been doing (full-fledged run training off the bat) and how much I was actually doing (maybe a couple of 30-45min runs a week, with some of those being race days).  I’d actually had some decent race performances in there, though, despite the low overall run volume.  Hmm.

   I started to shift my thinking a bit from “let’s see if I can break myself sooner rather than later” to “let’s see if I can somehow make this work.”  I decided on a couple of runs a week to see how my body would handle that.  I came to the conclusion that even if it meant some more pain throughout the course of the day, I’m 1000x better off and happier to be able to train to some degree than the alternative.  My next run felt better.  I talked to Jesse afterwards, who’d been monitoring my self-experimentation up to that point.  Everything was a crapshoot with no way of knowing or planning, so having a plan didn’t really make sense.  I told him that I wanted to race.  This finally culminated from working up from a 5k to me springing the whole idea of a 70.3.  After a year and a half of being an utter train wreck, the “screw it, let’s go for it” response came fairly easily.  And that was that.  Slightly smoother than the last time I’d sprung the “I want to race in Tremblant in 2.5 weeks” from the other end of the line. 

   With an actual short-term goal in mind, life marched on.  I saw the sports hernia surgeon, and we decided that I was ok to hold out on doing anything with regards to that.  The orthopedic PT journal conveniently put out a great clinical commentary on rehab protocols for high hamstring injuries and guidelines for working through them, and I began structuring my rehab around that.  I worked with Tiffany Rickert at Metta massage a few times-the squirming on the table, almost tapping out, super deep tissue work seemed to fulfill some sort of missing link in all of it.  I ran twice a week, and kept the biking to 2-3 hours max.  I held up, albeit with a few hiccups here and there (known as some stubborn foot tendon issues) as my hip and butt started to improve a bit.   I do believe, though, that a large part of the hip and butt feeling better stemmed simply from having something else to focus on.  Instead of spending every second of training obsessing over what was going on with my orthopedic parts, I had a different, more positive outlet for my nervous energies.  I stopped doctor googling, because the actual doctor who had seen the ins and outs of all of it had told me that I was structurally sound.  As soon as I was able to break the hold that my hip had over my mind, as soon as I was able to take charge of it all, I was able to start to maybe sort of figure out how to move forward.

   At the same time, that whole idea of letting go came into play.  I’d had it floated to me in a different context-let go, quit, go find something else to do, forget about triathlon.  At one point, I was told that the only solution was to stop doing anything triathlon-related entirely, let go of any goals that I might still have been harboring at the peak of my frustration, spend months away, and talk to psychologists.  In the absence of any imaging findings to suggest that there was an actual physical structure in me that needed healing other than a bunch of stuff that didn’t quite know how to work after a whole bunch of time away, I honestly had a hard time buying that.  I know myself well enough to know that doing nothing without known cause would only serve to make me miserable, and I didn’t feel like a mental depression would help my physical self.  I did leave the door open for Dr. Giordano to tell me that maybe I did need to stop being at all active, but he had shut it vehemently, so I moved on accordingly. 

   But, this isn’t to say that I haven’t let go of some stuff.  I wouldn’t be planning on racing this Sunday if I was still holding onto everything.  Back in December, I had gotten myself into trouble because I was so focused on the idea of some perfect comeback race, sold on the idea that I was going to toe the line in some sort of peak fitness and crush something triumphantly (for me).  Although I do think that at the current moment, goals have been useful in allowing me to focus on something other than pain in training, back then, my post-op hip and fracture areas weren’t totally sold on everything yet, and my goals at the time were allowing me to ignore a bit more than I should have.  So, I’ve let go of that ideal of perfection.  There's a middle ground between full-on IM training volumes and nothing; between huge race performances and surgery.  Having been stuck with the latter of those options while pursuing the former, I'm perfectly happy having found just a bit of footing in the middle ground.  You can believe in the power of the mind all you want, but the fact of the matter is that I just flat out haven’t put in the body of work required to be in that great of shape, in particular on the run, obviously.  There’s no denying that; asking for something awesome out there would almost seem like I was trying to take a shortcut.  And that’s ok.  100% fine.  That’s life, and life is messy and imperfect.  I just want to race.  I miss it, and I'm not complete in myself without it, for better or worse.  If nothing else, these past few months have been a gift in that they’ve truly allowed me to let go of worry about all of those little details I used to drive myself crazy over-my power isn’t going to improve every ride, some runs will be slower than others.  I’m heading into this race a few pounds heavier than I’ve ever raced before.  It’s going to be hot as balls.  But again, driving myself nuts with worry about these details won’t do me any good at the moment.  I will care again someday, likely sooner rather than later, but for now, I’ve been down in the trenches for too long to be concerned.  

   I also had to get over the fear of getting burned again.  I took this winter and spring hard, harder than the fractures or the surgery or anything tangible.  I was so, so terrified to let myself get close.  Uncertainty and fear were ruling me-I refused to allow myself to think about anything in the future, and I was having difficulty even taking any enjoyment in training, in case it got taken away from me again.  Numb was easier.  But numbness, well, it sucks.  So here I am, feeling entirely vulnerable again (and still absolutely not counting on anything until I’m physically racing, and definitely not letting myself exhale until I've actually made it to a T2).  Feeling, though, is still better than drifting aimlessly.  Maybe this will work out.  Maybe it won’t.  Regardless, it’s been fun to even start to go through the whole process of getting to a race, to think about things and plan and hope.  Maybe it hasn’t worked out the previous a lot of times, but before that, it had worked out.  I’ll just take things as the come, play the hand I’m dealt, and see what happens.  I’m nervous and excited at the same time.  I have no expectations, which is wonderful in a way.  Even my slowest 70.3 ever is still better than one that didn’t happen.  So, tomorrow will bring what it will bring.  I'm admittedly absolutely terrified of all things related to bottle handling first and foremost, but I've practiced the past several weekends, and I just need to trust in those times that it did work out, instead of fixating on the one time that it didn't.  I've learned that the ability to even get to a race is already a gift not to be taken for granted.  Finishing it, however long it may take me, well, that would be even better, but we'll see about that one.  Whatever happens, happens.  Throughout it all, I continue to feel extremely fortunate for all of the support and well-wishes heading into this-more than anything, I want to be able to show that those who have continued to back me and hold me up how grateful I am out there.  There aren't any guarantees, but that's what makes taking a shot worth it sometimes. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Stuck in a moment

The water is warm till you discover how deep
Well, ok.  I guess that I should probably give a little bit of a brief synopsis over where I've been with the hip and pelvis and everything, and where I'm going with it for the three people left out there who actually care, rather than just post vague status updates about injections and frustrations and feigned optimism here and there.  It's time to just get objective up in this joint (joint...get hip joint...).  Anyways, I don't really know where I left up with this whole saga.  I know I had sort of outlined the path that had brought me up to the PRP injections at the end of March-ischial tuberosity (ass) pain that had knocked me out at the end of December, a January spent trying injections and training through it that had only led to continued pain despite unclear MRI findings, and then attempts at decreased training, time off of the bike, deep tissue work, eccentric strengthening, core strengthening, lower extremity stabilization, ART, etc, etc.  If it was somewhat based in science, I threw it at the darn thing.  Yet, nothing stuck.  In late March, in order to address any soft tissue/tendon attachment component, despite negative MRI findings, I underwent PRP injections to my proximal hamstring and adductor tendons.  Those hurt like a mother (probably more than surgery, to be honest).  I spent two weeks not doing much of anything other than mostly upper body swimming after a week, another two weeks of swimming and biking a mere 20min/day (and starting light strengthening), and then was given permission to begin increasing bike duration gradually over the next few weeks.

  The acute PRP pain did decrease, as well as some of the associated soft tissue pain, but still, groin and butt pain remained.  The groin pain began to make me worry about my hip joint and the labral repair, and the butt/ischial tuberosity stayed tender right directly on the bone, enough to make me question that fracture healing.  For some background, the ischial tuberosity was one of the pelvic areas that I had originally fractured in my crash, and it took the longest to heal.  I had originally been told (based on an x-ray) in early April (four months post-crash) that I was healed enough to begin running again, so I did.  In early June, when the labral pain presented itself, I initially started the imaging process with a pelvic MRI, which revealed that although that area wasn't really giving me pain, the fracture line was still present.  In mid-July, after another month of not running, it was described as "healing/healed" on my hip arthrogram report.  Because I was about to undergo hip surgery anyways, no one (including me) was all that concerned about it.  So, when the pain there began to present itself in late December (after running off of the bike for the first time), I immediately began to worry about that site.  My January MRI then reported that I had "contour irregularity of the right inferior pubic ramus (another name for it) compatible with remote fracture".  Basically, the it was apparent where the fracture had been, but it wasn't there anymore.  Dr. Giordano had also told me that I had mild amounts of swelling in the adjacent bursa.  It then made sense to go forward with what I had gone forward with-anti-inflammatory injections to the nearby bursa and tissues, PRP to the attaching hamstring tendon, etc, etc.

  So, better but not better, I ended up at the pain management clinic in early May (El Cinco de Mayo, to be exact...because, Mexico).  Dr. Giordano had gotten me set up with that, thinking that it might benefit me to see someone who could investigate me for possible pudendal nerve issues, which also map pain to the butt and groin areas (and yes, I am cringing talking this much about my groin-but actually "pubic area" is a more accurate description, so groin almost seems like a less dirty euphemism here).  I had set that appointment up in early March when I had set up the PRP injections, figuring that I might as well cover all of my bases to try to figure out what was going on-it just took a couple of months to get in, and I was secretly hoping that I'd be better enough to cancel.  No such luck.  So, after a lengthy consultation, the pain management doctor looked through everything and examined me, and determined that she didn't think that I had a pudendal nerve issue (that hadn't necessarily added up to me, either), but she thought that I was having issues with my former fracture sites, both at the ischial tuberosity and the superior pubic ramus-or, that fracture that was almost but not quite into the hip joint.  She proposed cortisone into those areas, feeling that it would give me better and more lasting relief.  I was on board with this plan, and I felt strangely justified, as I'd been saying all along that the butt pain just felt like bone.  Like, repeatedly.

I wasn't jumping; for me it was a fall

   The following week, I then underwent those injections.  I also learned an important life lesson: don't turn down sedation when needles are getting shoved into the general crotch/ass areas.  Anyways.  A few days later, I did notice some difference in the butt pain, and a couple days after that, maybe slight improvements in the groin.  I continued swimming and biking (which is at 2-3 days of 60-90min rides, followed by a day off), and started to add in some walk/running.  The roller coaster just overall continued, though-one day I'd feel great, the next day I'd want to just saw off the right half of my pelvis and start over.  And don't get me started on 3am.  I've seen too much of it.  After one particularly rough walk/run, I finally decided that maybe I should contact Dr. Giordano, given it had been over three months of mess and I still was limited.  Plus, I still couldn't help but question that ischial tuberosity healing, especially because I'd been able to see the bone during the x-ray guided injections I'd had the previous week.  Even to my untrained eye, I could clearly tell where the fracture had been, and it correlated to the T with where my tenderness was and where the injection was put.  I also have just been continuing to insist, it just feels like something's digging into everything down there.  After making Becky tell me that I needed to email him (this is what socially awkward people do when they have to ask people for stuff or make phone calls-they tell other socially awkward people who care about them about it, so they'll be held accountable to actually do it), I finally blindsided the most qualified person to figure out all of my shit with an overly detailed synopsis of my ass and groin.  I heard back a few days later (turns out he was off in Europe for a month after being specially selected to go learn things), and finally talked over the dreaded phone after some phone tag (which meant extra dreaded phone calls and me being awkward on voicemails...but, given the injury areas, I figured that shouldn't really be the biggest of my concerns).

  The outcome of that was interesting to me, and made me feel somewhat justified.  Dr. Giordano did confirm that there is a small bone spur on my ischial tuberosity.  If that's the cause of my pain, though, isn't totally confirmed.  He reassured me that my hip joint was unlikely to be the cause of my groin pain, despite my concerns, because other than the labral tears, everything in there had been pretty good at the time of my surgery, and my January MRI was clear enough to show a solid repair.  As the pain management specialist had said, he felt that that could be related to the previous fracture there, or there could also be a component of hip flexor irritation, either due to rubbing over any bone callousing or just due to general irritation and overuse.  On my pre-op arthrogram, the iliopsoas bone attachment had lit up with some bone marrow edema, which amounted to an incidental finding at the time, but could indicate that there are some issues there.  My next step will be to get some further bone imaging scheduled (once it's an actual business day, given we were talking on a Saturday) in order to investigate all of those sites, as well as to check on a left-sided sacral stress reaction that had showed up in January (but that had never really been a huge issue clinically).  As far as treatments go, I've basically exhausted a whole bunch of stuff.  What's left for the ass pain is surgical-detach the hamstring, shave off the spur, deal with the bursa, and then reattach the hamstring.  Obviously, this involves a fair amount of recovery time, and comes with its own risks.  As for the groin pain, well, there's not a whole ton to be done there, assuming that fracture healed ok enough (which, no imaging had given any reason to believe otherwise, really).  He explained that I wouldn't be a candidate for any sort of hip flexor fractional lengthening, as this would just strip away too much of the strength that I'd need as an athlete.  Assuming this is all just some pre and post-op sequelae, though, more injections (I was assured this one isn't QUITE as bad, at least...) to the hip flexor would be reasonable.

  Then, we explored the whole mind/body aspect of it.  How much of this is injury, vs me just remembering when life was rainbows and butterflies and nothing hurt pre-crash?  How much of my training limitations are true training limitations, vs fear of pushing through pain because I'm concerned I'm hurting something?  Am I willing to accept my "new normal"?  Interesting conversation to me, because these are all questions I've grappled with in my own head day in and day out.  Back in November and December, before the butt pain started, I did have groin pain every training session to some degree, but I was still enjoying training and while the pain was there, it wasn't limiting me at all.  The butt pain, on the other hand, did stop me from training.  Dr. Giordano assured me that I wasn't necessarily doing myself any damage, and that at some point, I probably just need to try to crank through the pain, and see if I can tolerate it.  Although some might take this whole "you're going to hurt" thing as pessimism and an ultimatum, to me, it was somewhat of a relief.  If there's one thing I trust about myself, it's my ability to put up with stuff while training, and to be told that this is ok was a breath of fresh air.  One thing I've learned over this past 1.5 years is that when it comes down to my basic quality of life, I am infinitely happier being in pain but being able to train and compete, vs having less pain but being sedentary or letting go.  The pain that has less of a resolution (groin) was able to be dealt with before the ass pain began, so I hope that that will continue to be the case.  The pain that limited me (ass) could be addressed if need be.

  So where does this leave me?  Well, first things first, I need to get the bone imaging done and see if anything else pops up, and then follow up with Dr. Giordano in his office (and possibly get the hip flexor injection done at that time).  In the meantime, I'll be trying to gradually increase my bike/run amounts and just see what happens with the groin, and in particular the butt.  Can I accept my new normal and deal with it?  Or, will the butt pain increase again as activity increases again to a level where surgical intervention would be indicated?  Time will tell.  Of course, I definitely don't feel as calm and collected and objective internally about this as I may or may not seem in writing-at times my mind is a jumbled, tortured mess-but there's not a damn thing I can do to change the past; I can only continue to sort of stumble and feel my way into the future.  I have pain, sure, but I still have my health and I still have everyone and everything else that's important to me.  I'm not throwing in the towel.  Surgery or no surgery, I still hope that as time goes on, my body will find ways to rewire itself, and although pain may be with me for some time, I can accept that as long as it figures out function.  I've greatly appreciated every last ounce of support and kindness that has continually lifted me up through this whole weird journey.  At some point last week, it occurred to me that I have some of the greatest minds at what they do invested in little unassuming me and my uncertain future in this random niche sport.  It's still crazy to me, and I don't know what I did to earn or deserve everything that I've received this entire way.  I owe a LOT of people a lot of hard liquor presents and gratitude, and I can't possibly begin to repay them for what they've done for me throughout the ups and downs.  For now, I'll just take things one step at a time-imaging, training increases, etc-and see where it gets me.  Thanks to all who have continued to back me through this!!