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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Unplugging and climbing out

  Well, it's been some time since any updates.  These past few weeks have served to test my mettle as an athlete, and I spent far too much time during them questioning my abilities and my training direction, while mentally beating myself up.  Luckily, in the past few days alone, I've started to pull myself out of the inevitable rut that started a couple weeks ago, and I'm now feeling better about life in general.

   Everything had been going well when we hit QT2 camp a couple weeks ago.  For weeks, I had looked forward to camp and what it promised-training in some warmer weather, getting outside on the new Kestrel, and finally getting to do some running again.  Well, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and while I still had a great experience at as a whole, physically, I ended up beat up not from the training as much as, well, something still unknown.  It started innocuously enough- my stomach felt a little unsettled before, during, and after our camp 5k on the first day.  My performance was what I considered subpar, even without much running training under my belt.  Disappointed, I was still determined to put it behind me, and was still eager to get out for the next day's long ride (I really wanted to see an alligator, as an aside).  That was until I got back to my hotel room, went to get into the shower, and immediately broke out into chills.  Not just the "just finished a run and still in damp clothes" kind-the :something's not right" kind.  Dave and I tried to get some dinner, but I ended up nibbling at bread and trying to, well, keep anything down.  And thus the mystery stomach bug commenced.  Whatever I had was completely non-contagious (Dave ate from my plate that night and never got sick-I still thought he was nuts for going anywhere near me).  I managed to keep everything in, but still woke up feverish the next morning.  Long story short, I ended up getting through a six hour ride thanks to Advil and Pepto (and Kestrel, you are still pretty!).  Somewhere around the 3.5 hour mark, eating stopped being an option; I'm still not entirely sure how I made it back to the hotel (other than by sipping Perform to the best of my abilities).  The aftermath wasn't so pleasant, and while my stomach gradually began to recover after that, I'd put myself into a nice hole for the rest of camp.  If I'd been alone, I know I wouldn't have made it through; luckily, the support and encouragement from others helped me complete what I needed to, although I was still a bit disappointed that I hadn't been able to take advantage of the situation to train like I would have wanted to.  But, life goes on; worse things happen in the world, and overall, camp was still a pretty freaking sweet experience.

  Once we got home, I was well over my GI distress, but Dave was deep in the throws of head cold distress...which meant that within a couple of days, I was also deep in the throws of head cold distress.  More frustration ensued, as I refused to believe that my stuffy nose was any sort of excuse (never mind the fact that I considered calling into work last Friday.  I could still bike!  I could still run!).  I spent my increased running mileage watching my Garmin spit out splits that were sort of unacceptable in my book.  I'd then just get angrier, trying to will my heart rate to drop (yep...doesn't work that way), which meant that running was quickly becoming my chief life concern, rather than my chief life stress reliever (as an aside, I had been repeatedly reassured at camp that my run ranked at the very bottom of Jesse's life concerns.  I wished I could share this sentiment).  I thought that I'd reached the bottom of the rut last Saturday, when, after an hour of anemic trainer biking, I quit my long ride, my body completely unwilling to get through it.  With Galveston six short weeks away and my run seemingly not up to par, failing on a ride turned me unnecessary overly panicky.  Mary reassured me that one long ride wasn't going to make or break my season, Dave and I ended up having a pleasant day otherwise, I planted some indoor seeds (stress relief for nerds), and I got over it.  The cold began to improve, and I began to feel a bit more human in training.

  But, the rut wasn't quite deep enough yet.  This past Wednesday was long run day.  I went into it actually somewhat excited, hoping that because I'd kicked the cold, I'd finally see some zone 1 paces that I could be satisfied with.  What ended up occurring was exactly the opposite.  At some point (8 miles in?  When the downhill miles were still slow, and I knew it was only going to get worse the rest of the run?), my mind further beat down my already somewhat defeated body.  I was living and dying by the Garmin-my heart rate was skyrocketing, yet I felt like I was barely moving.  Getting back into my zone would require slowing down to a near walk, which would only make me angrier.  Twice in the last 25 minutes, I just stopped.  I somehow was perceiving that my heart rate monitor was suffocating me, and if I could only loosen it, I'd feel normal again.  Whipping my shirt up in front of a playground full of kids with five minutes left in the run to irrationally adjust it, I knew I'd reached some sort of rock bottom, despite the fact that I was perfectly healthy and just two short weeks removed from some of the best rides and swims of my life.  I'd become a slave to pace and heart rate, and I was judging my entire existence on it.  I finished the run practically holding back tears, some sort of mess of a new pro who felt ruined as a runner and panicked as an athlete, with all perspective totally blown.

   In came Mary's demand: cover the Garmin.  Still record it, but don't look.  Feel the training, get back to why I do this.  Thursday morning, I trotted around on a recovery run, admiring the snow-covered trees.  It's no secret that I hate running that slow, but without the numbers staring me in the face during the run, it somehow became more acceptable.  Friday morning, after finally feeling solid in the pool again, I set out on a simple 60 minute, zone 1 run.  Despite the gloominess of the morning, I tried to notice my surroundings for once, instead of gluing my eyes to my wrist.  I watched the lake roll in, I smiled at people walking their dogs, I noticed the giant wood-paneled station wagon parked at the beach and thought of my childhood (and adolescence-yes, I did ride to my junior prom in the rear-facing seat of my Dad's beloved giant wood-paneled Chevy Caprice wagon), and I generally just enjoyed running.  And in the end, I had stayed in my zone, and, well, I had run the same pace I'd run on Wednesday, but somehow, it was ok, because the method of arriving at it had brought me back to reality, and I'd enjoyed every second.  This morning, I thought I could handle occasional peaks at the watch during my long ride.  Well, halfway through, the negative feedback loop began, and the Garmin got tossed on the ground, where it remained for the rest of the ride.  I can't say I was holding back much the last hour of that ride, and I can't say that I had any clue what zone I was running in afterwards (after all, I've never run after any ride longer than 3 hours, so I had no idea what I'd feel like-the answer was surprisingly good, until I crashed like an idiot and needed rescue by Dave's miracle Powergel.  Then it was back to surprisingly good).  But, I felt like an athlete again, not a robot.

  Maybe I pushed too hard today, maybe I didn't.  At the end of the day, though, I had done what I needed to in order to get my head back in the game.  Now, next week, I know that I'll be able to go back to what I need to be doing training-wise to get myself physically prepared.  As Mary had pointed out to me (which is absolutely spot-on): we have the right approach, but if I'm defeating myself before I even start and if I can't let go a bit, I'm going to get absolutely nowhere, and I'm going to be miserable in the process.  I feel like I'm climbing out of a self-induced hole right now, and the little fire within me has been re-lit.  And yes, I'll start looking at the darn Garmin again next week.  But I sure as heck won't let it judge me.  Maybe we'll even become friends some day.  Until then, I'll work at repairing our relationship, while still taking the chance to look around every now and then.

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