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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Picking up the pieces and moving forward-a little end of the year update!

  So, the another year is in the books.  I can't say it was everything I dreamed it would be and more, but in sport and in life, we learn from both the ups and the downs; life isn't a linear progression all of the time, after all.  And race results (or lack thereof) can't undo all of the benefits that happen from the training and learning that goes on before and afterwards.  When it comes down to it, I basically had a bad month (mid-February to mid-March), and then a couple of unlucky days in June and November-hardly the end of the world there  For me, 2015 will be about leaving those downs behind and building on the ups.  I can't do that immediately-my injuries (and whatever plague hit me yesterday-thanks for that, 2014, but better to get it out of the way now) are going to follow me past midnight tonight, after all-but eventually, those demons will get left behind.  Until then, just wanted to provide a bit of a more "formal" update on everything that's gone on in the past month!

  The first week after the crash, I was expecting to hurt a lot, and I did.  The SI/sacral area pain was really the worst of it.  I couldn't really walk all that well, but I was still able to blame it all on maybe some sprained ligaments, maybe a thrown out SI, whiplash, and lots of muscle guarding and spasm.  The road rash distracted me somewhat, and I was simultaneously grossed out by it, but sort of interested in it.  I still don't fully grasp the miracle known as Tegaderm, the magic scab healing film, but thankfully that turned the surface wounds into the least of my worries.  I took tramadol, and put up the Christmas decorations because darn it, they made me happy (and because I've apparently inherited my father's genetic code when it comes to injury).  When my PA sister saw me "walking" by the end of the week, she told me to get an MRI.  I told her that I was fine, that I had sprained the joint, that I didn't want to blow the HSA money on it.  I was going to rest anyways, after all, it was off season.  I'd seem patients after car accidents with whiplash injuries, and they were in a lot of pain without any specific structures being injured.  A few days later, I started to get a little more concerned.  I still couldn't weight bear without any pain.  I was getting more motion in the hip, but my gait still looked pretty bad.  I had told my boss via text that I was walking better-but he gave me one incredulous look as I limped into the office that day.  I emailed Jesse, he told me it was still normal after a bike crash to be pretty rough.  Well, ok.  I was able to live in a little bit more denial-I can bend at the waist more than 10 degrees now!  You're only walking funny because your glute med got shut off for a bit!  A couple of nights later, I looked in the mirror, and I tried to force myself to walk normally.  You're fine, it's just a learned gait pattern now, you have to make yourself be normal.  For 15min or so, I walked around the house, trying to avoid limping.  I spent that night laying awake in abject pain.  The next night, I realized that I didn't even want to go to bed, because I wouldn't be able to get comfortable, anyways.  I finally texted my sister-I think I need that MRI.  

  That weekend (two weeks later), we went off to Boston for the annual QT2 party.  I was starting to actually feel a little better, so I went to the mall for about an hour and a half the day before leaving to get some Christmas shopping done.  I wanted to be normal and active and up and about again, so I took more tramadol and forced it.  I employed all of my athlete mental strength, mind over matter techniques, still feeling like a bit of a wimp for being so gimpy still.  The next day, we walked around Quincy Market for a couple of hours, then stood longer at the party.  In that time, too, my ribs had started to really hurt too-any pressure, pushing, lifting, laughing, sneezing, etc were not so fun (it did at least get me out of driving, as checking over my shoulder or even operating the blinker sucked a bit).  That night ended up being the first time that I became truly scared about something more sinister.  Walking back to our hotel room after the party, my hip entirely stopped working.  It was simultaneously frightening and fascinating-what is going on?  For the first time since the first night, I literally just could not walk; everything in the right (non-impact) side of my pelvis screamed bloody murder the second that I tried to put any weight through it.  At the end of it, Dave ended up carrying me, dress and all, from the elevator to our hotel room.  The next two nights, I would lay awake with a new pain-a deep, sharp, throbbing groin pain, that I could feel intensify with every beat of my heart.  Thanks to my PT knowledge, I knew that throbbing+night pain=bone.  And I also knew that groin pain=hip referral.  And I knew that anterior hip fractures could potentially=very bad news.  By that point, the MRI was scheduled for Tuesday.  I didn't really say much about it, because A. we were still waiting for preauthorization, and B. I somehow still had it in my head that I was full of it, that nothing was wrong with me, that I was going to look pretty darn stupid when nothing showed up, but I was just complaining a bunch and faking a limp and being a wimp.  Still, the night before the MRI, I had told Jesse, this all seems very wrong to me....

  In the MRI tube, I tried my best not to move as my sacrum yelled at me.  I remember thinking, maybe something has to be wrong.  I've had stress fractures before, and those were fractures, and none of them hurt like this.  Still, I was thinking maybe I'd torn some of the posterior SI ligaments, maybe I had a little glute and high hamstring tendonitis.  I left the MRI with grandiose plans to get a bunch more Christmas shopping done.  I went to one store, then was grabbing some lunch when my sister's number popped up on my phone.  The instant that I saw she was communicating via phone call instead of text, I could only think, I'm screwed.  Sure enough, the first thing she said to me was, you're basically pretty screwed.  She listed the damage.  A right-sided sacral fracture with associated bone marrow edema and tissue swelling.  Well, that explained a whole ton of things.  A right ischial tuberosity fracture.  That one I could only sort of laugh at, as it was a stress fracture on the same bone on the left that started me in triathlon five years ago.  Who breaks both sides of their ass?  How did that happen again without hitting it on anything?  More swelling there.  A little swelling in my right hip joint and glutes (again, I freaking hit on the left).  Then, the kicker, the cause of that ominous groin pain-a fracture near the ischial/pubic bone junction, on the edge of the acetabulum (hip joint socket).  It didn't look displaced on the MRI, and it didn't look like it was extending into the hip joint space, but, they weren't sure.  I'd need a CT to confirm.  Non-displaced, not into the hip joint-it would heal.  Any displacement or extension into the hip joint, on the other hand, could have meant surgery to piece me back together, or, my worst fear when it comes to anterior hip pain, disruption of blood supply to the femoral head.  I was a bit of a wreck for a couple of days, but luckily, my incredible support system pulled through for me and then some.  The CT eventually confirmed that the joint had been spared-I would be fine.

   Since then, my instructions have been weight-bearing as tolerated, crutches as needed, cleared for the pool (not pushing off) and bike once tolerated, just not clipped in to avoid stressing some of the muscle attachments that pass around the fractured areas.  Upon further consult earlier this week, I learned that my version of "as tolerated" might be a bit higher than it should be.  Progress overall has been slow(er than I'd like), but mostly steady.  I've been given timelines of anywhere from 6-8 weeks to 4-6 months to get back to full training, so my strategy has just been to listen to my body, and accept what it can do, when it can do it.  For someone who's used to being able to push her body day in and day out, dealing with a different sort of pain every single day, almost every time I'm up still does get tiring.  It took me a good three weeks until I was able to sleep through the night without some sort of medication with "PM" in the name.  For a couple of weeks afterwards, I had a completely uncharacteristic lack of appetite, complete with random periods of nausea-which I often solved with the one food that sounded appealing, chocolate chip cookies (hey, it's the holidays.  I was injured, and I like cookies).  The scary anterior hip/groin pain, though, has greatly eased.  For a while, I couldn't actively flex that hip without feeling like I was being stabbed, but now I can lift the leg like a pro (sort of).  The ischial tuberosity fracture bothers me if I sit too long and then stand up, but that's to be expected-been there, handled that.  The biggest remaining issues are the ribs and scapula (which did x-ray negative again, but, then again, my follow-up pelvic x-ray was clear as well-if I was a betting person, I'd put money that I fall into the category of ~50% of rib fractures that don't show on x-ray), and the sacrum.  Every day is a bit of an adventure-what will my sacrum handle today?  Can I move that way?  Can I stand on that leg to put the left into a pair of pants, or should I sit down?

   Workout-wise, I'm doing what I can, which isn't much, but it's something. I'm able to swim (with a buoy, no way I could kick) every other day to rib tolerance.  My sacrum doesn't love rotating, and my ribs burn afterwards, but it still feels good, in some sick way.  I can water run with a belt pretty much to my heart's content, as long as I don't push it too much on the right leg range of motion.  I'm working on whatever core and strength work that I can, as I can already tell that the imbalances are building, and I'm going to be in loads of trouble if I think I can get back into training without proper rehab.  As the orthopedist that I talked to this week told me, it's not just the fractures that I need to worry about; a blow to that area likely caused a whole bunch of damage/tearing to my SI ligaments, which, judging from the way my bones were awkwardly positioned right after the crash, seems like the case.  Luckily, I have plenty of resources in the rehab regard.   I tried biking once-didn't work out so well.  But, although I've been entirely overly dramatic and annoyed at being sick these past couple of days, it might just be the healing impetus I needed to allow me to try biking again.  I'm recovering nicely from my plague, though, so...maybe tomorrow.  It's a new year, after all. :)

   It's more than just about the physical, though, isn't it?  The whole mental/emotional state is just as much of a part of this.  I put my bike back together last week.  The stickers were still on there, the frame was covered in the stickiness of spilled sports drink, the underside of the bar tape had remnants of dried blood on them, dirt from the side of the road coated it in parts.  On the end of the left bars, there was a small scratch, and another bit of scuffing on the back of the seat.  My aerobottle and garmin were the only casualties.  It took me so long to put it back together because frankly, all of that was one giant, painful reminder of it all.  And quite honestly, as positive as I've tried to remain, I do have times where I just get upset about it all.  I get pissed, I get sad, I replay the moment over and over again in my head all while wishing that I could just somehow forget it.  Being active, being competitive, being a part of this sport is a huge part of my life, and to have that taken away, even if just temporarily, is not going to make me happy.  That's being human.  And maybe it's selfish and short-sighted, but I think that sometimes when we're disappointed or upset over something, we need to allow ourselves to feel those emotions and not feel guilty about them just because we could have it far, far worse.  But eventually, it becomes about putting them into perspective, picking up the pieces, and moving forward rather than dwelling on the negative.  Focus on what you can do.

   Still, I know I'm lucky.  If nothing else, this past month has given me a greater appreciation of how healthy I normally am, and how minor my problems actually are.  I just watched a news report about the homeless population in Rochester living in tents under a bridge, and how they're going to be displaced tonight because of the fireworks display-and I'm upset about not being able to ride my multiple thousands of dollars worth of bike sitting in my warm, cozy home.  To be truly disabled, to live every day with chronic pain or degenerative conditions or autoimmune diseases without any real chance of significant improvement-I don't even want to imagine that.  For me, the difference between continuing on with life as I know it vs. a long uphill battle was a fraction of an inch in my hip.  Even more importantly than that, from what I can figure out from the bike damage (or lack thereof), the bike might have flipped.  So, I could easily have landed another six inches up on my head or neck, which again falls into the "I don't want to imagine that" category.  As my neighbor had said last week as we exchanged Christmas cookies at the front door, "look at poor Mike Coyle, he never had a chance".  Whenever I drive from the chiropractor to work up 250, I see a roadside memorial just before I get into Webster.  Not a day passes where I haven't thought of these losses.  I'm still here right now, with all of the most important stuff intact.  And, as I've said before, this stuff happens in our sport.  It's the risk we take, and I'd been extremely lucky in that regard up until this point.  Just part of the game.  So, overall I've been good mentally.  I had the holidays and all of the associated baking, shopping (mostly done before I knew that I shouldn't be walking so much...), wrapping, and family time to enjoy, so I was overall fulfilled in different ways and happy from all of that.  Having some time to spend with those most important to me is more valuable than any training session or race.

   Plus, I've been injured more times than I can remember in my past.  I'll be able to swim and bike fairly normally soon, and I know that I can maintain reasonable running fitness based on that alone.  It was 12 weeks off of running for an ischial tuberosity fracture that got me into triathlon in the first place, after all, and I really wasn't that far off running-wise in my first race, despite the fact that I think I ran about 4 times, for a grand total of 12 miles, heading in.  It's just been a while since I was sidelined from injury.  In the past 5.5 years, I think that I've maybe missed 4-5 runs and a recovery ride due to pain.  That's not a bad recent history for someone who never used to be able to make it more than a month or two without some stress fracture of tendinopathy.  One way or another, I made it through to the other side; the only difference this time is that I went from healthy to broken a bit more quickly and dramatically.  At the end of it all, I think I stand to gain more than I've lost from this.  When I was sitting in the hospital with Dave, even before x-rays, I turned to him and said, wouldn't it be ironic if I broke pelvis, and all I could do is swim for a while after I was complaining so much about swimming recently?  In some way, I'm still convinced this was all one big ploy by those swim gods.  In reality, though, having my strong suit taken away and thus being forced to work on my weakness is one heck of a blessing in disguise.  I was truly dreading every last swim towards the end of last season; I had lost any sort of pleasure in it whatsoever.  But now, I'm so darn grateful to be able to do anything that the pool has become far more tolerable (for now).  Maybe more importantly, I now have bit of a score to settle, a chip on my shoulder, an albatross around my neck.  For a while, I was too concerned with bigger issues to worry about my fitness, and I won't be able to go gung-ho for a bit, but I'm starting to feel a bit like I'm just waiting to pour some gasoline on the flickering flame.  I've also learned how truly awesome those that are around me are, and I've appreciated every person who reached out to me in any way, shape, or form.  I don't know exactly what the new year will bring, but I'm glad to be moving forward with new opportunities and challenges coming my way!

   Also, I should add that outside of races, life this past year was actually pretty freaking good.  I changed jobs and found more opportunity in that regard.  I was able to commit more of myself to training, and to all of the other stuff that goes along with it.  Coaching with VTP was hugely rewarding, and I'm very thankful for that position and to those who have allowed me to be a part of their journeys.  I know it sounds cliched, but I watched some dreams be realized out there, and I felt the warm fuzzies from all of that.  I spent time with my family and friends, and I'm continually grateful to be able to have those opportunities.  I'm getting to watch my niece and nephews grow up and develop their own little personalities (and quirks).  I traveled some cool places, and was able to again see family and friends in many of those locations.  It might sound somewhat inconsequential, but I was able to get to the woods with my dogs more regularly-there's something extremely therapeutic about watching them enjoy the pure exuberance of movement while the seasons changed around us.  I did some of my best thinking, planning, analyzing, and dreaming in those woods.  I met new people, made new friends, and, if this whole thing was going to convince me of anything, it's that I pretty much have the greatest support system, both near and far, that anyone could possibly ask for.  So, life remained good as a whole.  Still, here's to the new year, new health, and continuing to look forward!

Inspirational comeback picture exhibit A: Johnny's Running of the Green 2006.  My first race back after an extended period of time off from a stress fracture. I performed respectably.  Also,let it be noted that I was freshly dating Dave, and I dragged him out to this.  I was planting the seeds of creating the monster.

Still Johnny's, I just wanted to include the "cooling down with Carolynne" shot.  This happened every year at that race.

Exhibit B: Fall 2006, after our conference XC meet with my friend/teammate/fellow fifth year senior Kate.  I missed like, seven months of training with knee and ITB problems.  I started the season in hideous shape.  I'm clearly not at race weight.  But, I managed to sneak onto the scoring team (I was like, 85th place overall, but whatever) here, and ran (bringing up the back of the pack) at Regionals.  It was still some of the most hugely rewarding slow racing I've ever done.

Exhibit C: Spring track 2007, Hillsdale Gina Relays 5k.  After that XC season, I promptly started to get back into shape, and ran myself into another stress fracture that winter.  Oops.  A former teammate made some comment to me about how I was done.  I got annoyed by that, and then water ran, biked, and ellipticaled like a madwoman.  This was my third race back; I'd been running for maybe a month.  I dropped ~40sec from the 5k I had run the week before, and I surprised myself by running 18:17, within 10sec of my PR.  Again, nothing special in the world of D1 track, but I couldn't have cared less that evening.  After a year of struggles, this race was easily one of the highlights of my collegiate track career.
2009 Cape Cod vacation with my mom and sister.  This was in the midst of my 3 month hiatus from running thanks to ass fracture #1.  I was biking and swimming, though, and even without running, I somehow managed to enjoy this beautiful night with a fantastic sunset on an awesome beach with family.  Life was good, broken ass and all.
Some memorabilia from my first tri, about a month later (that's an AG award, I didn't win the whole thing).  I think this might be the only race photo that I've ever actually purchased for myself, but I secretly really like having it.  I'm heading out onto the 10k run, after not having run that far in about four months.  My mom said I looked "hopeful" in that picture, which I like more than, "like you're thinking wtf".  This race will always be one of the highlights of my tri career, though, and not just because it was my first, but because it represented another time where I had made the most of what I could do during an injury, and I had opened a HUGE new door as a result.

Time out from positiveness to display this bastard of a Chinese food fortune, that mocked my gimpy state.

That's better.

The annual, "Merry Christmas, we have dogs and do triathlon" shot.  Bonus points if anyone can detect the theme of the triathlon items behind the dogs.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What happens in Mexico...Fall down seven times, stand up eight.

 Every scar has a story. Don't be afraid to tell it. 

   I don't know how many hundreds of races and thousands of miles of competition I've completed in my life. I do know that of them, prior to Cozumel, I'd finished all but three races. My high school coach pulled me off the track in an 800 and a 1500 during league meets during my senior year of outdoor track when I was having asthma attacks due to untreated allergies. The other DNF came at an open indoor meet 1500 when I was in college, due to the type of stomach cramps that leave you doubled over. Overall, until last weekend, I'd missed less than a mile total of racing.

   Not a bad completion record.

   Triathlon, though, in a way, it's a game of chance. There's just so much more that can go wrong when you throw a bike (and, in some cases, a crowd of people in the water) into the mix. The longer you go in the sport, the more you hear of races that ended prematurely.  No race has a 100% finishing rate, after all. After four years of no bike mechanicals and only one minor, outside of competition crash, I was becoming more and more aware of the fact that I had been extremely fortunate thus far. I was a ticking time bomb, though. The mechanical slowed me down this summer, and I guess that lady luck hadn't found her way back onto my side quite yet.

  Anyways. Despite some rough times initially getting restarted after Chattanooga, the final few weeks of training heading into Coz ended up being some of the best, most consistent weeks that I had put in the entire year (minus swimming, but that nerve stuff was still going on). I checked all of my boxes, I knocked off a few bike workouts that were daunting on paper, I got to the point where extra layers and no fan on the bike no longer felt hot, and I found myself in a decent state of mind heading into the race. The field was strong, no doubt, but I tried not to focus on it too much, instead choosing to focus on my own race and execution. Yes, I was ready for the off season, but more than that, I was ready for one final good effort. Mostly, I had told myself that I wanted to enjoy the race, to find pleasure in the pain. I wasn't fully invested in Texas, the Coeur d'Alene mechanical had taken the wind out of my sails there, and in Chattanooga I was too fearful and too worried about redeeming my season that I'd been unable to really enjoy anything other than the final five seconds of the race. I thought back to that picture of me take on the bike in Placid last year-I was nowhere near the lead at that point, but I was bent over, powering on, and smiling away. I only wanted to find that in me again.

   Dave and I left for Cozumel on Thanksgiving day. I was excited by the fact that Southwest had TV stations available to watch, so Dave and I shared some headphones and watched the parade and the dog show (always a Thanksgiving highlight for me) as we flew into Cancun. The bus ride/ferry experience wasn't the most fun I've ever had in my life (in particular the ferry, as the rough seas meant that I was surrounded by people puking into bags. I don't handle puke.), but, in retrospect, it beat the return trip. We finally arrived at our accommodations, the Dive Inn, with hosts Jessica and Weston. A fellow pro female friend (thanks Jen!!!) had suggested it to me, and both Dave and I were very, very happy with how that worked out. Jess and Wes were the BEST, driving us around to wherever I needed to go (including safe biking and swimming areas), suggesting restaurants and such, and providing insider info on the island. I was able to get out on my bike a couple of times, which was much needed after extremely limited outdoor riding of late. If that was a factor in what ended up happening, I don't know, but that's life in upstate NY. Additionally, Dave had put a new set of aerobars onto my bike shortly before the race, and I wanted to get a feel for them. I got a taste for the wind on the east side of the island. I even fatefully told Weston that I hadn't been too scared in it, and I'd forced myself to practice refilling my aerobottle in it. Ha. Otherwise, pre-race prep went smoothly, particularly with the help of Jess and Wes.
Bus ride from the airport.  Hard to tell from the picture, but for whatever reason, our seats were basically reclined to a "laying" angle, and we couldn't figure out how to change it.  So we lounged.

After getting off the bus, I somehow ended up with a monkey on my head.

Hydrating and carb-loading.  Just kidding.  Dave took care of those, telling me that he wanted to enjoy "his Mexican vacation". I reminded him of that Mexican vacation he took back in March, and stabbed him with daggers from my eyes.

What this photo doesn't show is that the boat was being violently thrown about by waves as bikes were being precariously lifted onto it.  I kept waiting for one to end up in the water.  It just all seemed like a bad idea.

Mexican mystery meat, in a rainbow of colors.  Mmmm.

Putting my bike in its sweet special rack at check in

View from my pre-race shake out ride.  It was much prettier when all of my skin was still there.
   Race morning involved a somewhat stressful combination of shuttle buses that didn't seem to be in the same rush that I was, but I managed to make it to the swim start with time to spare. We weren't allowed into the water early at all, but I hung out with QT2 teammates Darby, Jessie, Amy, and Katie, chatting, laughing, and stretching out. The atmosphere was buzzing, but my nerves were controlled, and by the time we got into the water, I was ready to get going on one last effort. The Coz swim was advertised as being down current, which always benefits me, of course. As it turned out, the Coz down current was not nearly as dramatic as the Chattanooga down current, but then again, I shouldn't exactly get used to that. Finally, we were sent off (late, according to Dave...that's Mexico, I suppose). I got a bit boxed in at the start, but eventually found myself with a couple other women. I knew that I wasn't pushing fully, though, so I set my sights on another woman (who turned out to be Kelly Fillnow, one of my swimming buddies of races past) and pulled myself up onto her feet. I stayed on Kelly's feet for some time, before she backed off a bit and I decided to take my turn doing the work. 
All smiles still at this point!  Yep, that 71 stayed on my arm for about another 4 days, until I had to suck it up and get my wounds wet in order to get the stuck on gauze off of them.

QT2 pow wow of randomness pre-race.

Because we didn't get much warm up time, my bladder was really full upon getting into the water, which meant that I actually peed WHILE swimming to the start line.  That was an accomplishment, at least.
   The Coz water was crystal clear; occasionally, I felt the light sting of a jellyfish on my arm or leg, but mostly, I made myself concentrate on swimming, rather than the colorful fish playing around underneath of me. For whatever reason, the straight shot swim just seemed to go on FOREVER. I sang 99 bottles of beer to myself, thinking that would take up a good period of time. Still, the turn towards shore buoy was nowhere to be seen. My brand spanking new goggles, which I had treated with antifog spray on top of that, were fogging slightly-just enough to make sighting difficult. Additionally, a little bit of water sneaked in them, making me concerned about my already bugging me contacts staying in place, especially when I lifted my head. For whatever reason, the buoys there were a combination of colors and shapes with no real rhyme or reason, and the SUP and kayak volunteers were wearing similarly colored shirts. All in all, those factors left me wondering if I was still on course, or if I had missed the turn here and there. It didn't helped that I someone consistently managed to time my sighting with being at the bottom of a swell, making it even harder to spot the next buoy. I stopped a couple of times in confusion, trying to get sight of my next target. Just when I thought must be getting towards the end of the course, I'd catch a glimpse of another looong line of buoys-ugh! Just as I was feeling like I was never getting out the water, I discovered that the long line of yellow buoys were, in fact, volunteers in bright yellow in SUPs. I saw Kelly to my left getting directed around the turn buoy, and then made the hard turn to try to follow her. I actually had zero idea where I was going the final stretch, using only her bubbles to navigate. I lost those, too, at the very end, and found myself outside of the lane line bringing us to the swim finish, with swim course volunteers yelling at me to go to my left. Oops. I ducked under the lane line, crawled up the exit steps, and made my way out of the water thinking, thank GOD I am FINALLY done with swimming for the season. Overall, though, my current-assisted 59min swim was still fairly solid for me. I was right where I should have been with in the field. Times were generally about 3-4min fast for most, which still put me in the range of my best IM swims. I darted through transition (again following Kelly, because I was sort of lost in the racks of bikes), and headed towards the mount line.
  The bike started off well, uneventfully.  My biking legs had been tired heading into my taper, no doubt, and I thought that my wattage goal seemed a little aggressive for my instructions to take it easy the first loop, to hold back.  The first ten miles, though, I was hanging a watt or two above my target and feeling comfortable-not easy, but comfortable.  I wasn't sure about my ability to hold that for another 100 miles, though, so I began to back it off just a hair after then.  I finished my first bottle in just over half an hour, and, for whatever reason, didn't refill right away, as I had turned onto the windy section of the course, and I didn't want to break from aero.  I decided that I would wait until the course began to incline just the slightest bit up anyways, to minimize the aero disadvantage.  The course began to rise right at a section that was completely bare from all vegetation between the water, bike path, and road-maximum exposure to the wind.  I flipped my aero bottle open, just like I'd done a thousand times before, grabbed the bottle from the cage-I had practice refilling in the wind two days earlier, just to cover all of my bases-and I started to refill.  Then it unraveled, it all came apart.  The refill bottle began to collapse into itself.  I pulled it up to my lips, to try to blow some air back into it, and went to bring it back down when my bike swerved.  Maybe it was a crosswind, maybe it was my new, wider aerobars changing my center of gravity, maybe a combination of all of those.  I don't really know what happened next; I remember is thinking oh shitam I going down?, I remember maybe trying to correct, and I definitely remember the moment when I saw my bike heading towards the gravelly, dirt-covered, rocky downward pitched edge of the road.  I knew exactly what was about to happen, and I remember thinking, this isn't happening, this isn't how it's supposed to end as I closed my eyes, flew off of my bike, and landed squarely on my left side.

   The impact itself-it's almost like I was outside of my body.  I didn't feel anything, I was numb.  I sat up.  You're fine, you're fine, get back on the bike before you lose too much time.  The next thing I was aware of was Kelly Fillnow on the road above me, yelling down to me, clearly scared and concerned-that must have looked bad-asking if I was ok, if I needed help.  I'm ok, I'm ok, I told her.  She instructed me to get back up onto the road for help.  I nodded.  I stood up.  My lower back/sacroiliac/posterior pelvic area complained.  My scapula stung a bit-that's going to suck later when I have to reapply sunscreen before I run.  I picked up my bike, brought it back onto the road.  My aerobars were tilted down, the zip tie holding my aerobottle down had broken, leaving it flopping forward, and the top of the bottle was broken off, but otherwise there didn't seem to be any damage to the bike.  I'll pull the garmin off the bottle and toss it at the next aide station, I thought, and I started the 910 on my wrist so I could see some data, at least.  Below me, the offending refill bottle laid in the dirt.  I knew that I should pick it up, but in an act of defiance and anger, I left it.  With a couple of deep breaths, I pulled my aerobars back up (they stayed, at least at first), clipped back in, and started off again.

   My power meter magnet got dislodged in the crash, and I wasn't getting any power data anymore, but I decided that was for the better-I thought that I'd need a bit to go by feel.  I couldn't use my aero bottle anymore, but I would just have to get over my fears and drink from the downtube bottle-it wouldn't be that bad if I just drank a lot at once.  But my left iliac crest/lower back area was hurting.  With each pedal stroke, it complained with any significant pressure through it.  The mind is powerful, though.  I thought of my triathlon colleagues and friends; I thought all of those stories of people getting through races despite races.  I remembered crashing at camp, and how I finished the ride that day.  I thought of Steph in Florida a couple of years ago, flying past me despite a fresh patch of road rash on her shoulder.  Kim, standing by the side of the road in Placid after going down.  Did Mary Beth Ellis win France after crashing into a ditch?  I thought of Sam in Coz a couple of years ago, finishing with blood streaming down her face.  Keep going Jennie.  You can get through this, Jennie.  Be happy.  Smile at people, if you hide the pain from them, you can hide it from yourself.  Your hip will loosen up.  You just need to get through the bike, then it will loosen up on the run.  Can I still run?  I can always run.  I know this will be fine on the run, it always is.  It doesn't matter how you do anymore, you know you want to end your season at the finish.  You can still do well, though, you didn't lose that much time.  Am I gaining on anyone anymore?  I think I see some other people all the way up there.  Drink, dammit, I know you're scared of that now, but you're not going to be able to run a marathon unless you drink.  Downshift, increase cadence, it's less pressure on that left side.  Just.  Keep.  Going.  Make it to town, let Dave know what happened, tell him you're ok, that you're going to finish.  Make it through the headwind.  It will be a great story, when you finish.  Maybe you'll have to go to medical for your wounds, but that's ok.  Even if you don't place well, you can get through this.
Just a little road rash and a broken aerobottle...nothing to look at here...
  I set my sights on making it through the headwind to the road that cut across the island.  I was watching my HR, mostly.  I didn't have power, but I also knew that I was supposed to shoot for a HR around 153.  I couldn't keep it up there, but at first I was able to keep it around 151-152.  I kept trying to push it harder to bring it higher, but inevitably my left hip would just stop working.  It occurred to me how much my pelvis hurt.  I can't guarantee that it's not broken, I began to think.  My ribs and scapula started to ache, as well.  What if they're fractured?  I turned out of the headwind, and thought that I felt better, but I was wrong-I only felt better because my heart rate was dropping.  Gradually, it slipped lower and lower.  High 140's.  Mid 140's.  Back up the high 140's.  The hip/glute/low back wasn't loosening up; it was getting worse and worse.  Additionally, my right SI joint area was starting to hurt, particularly anytime that I sat up to drink or grab more fluid.  I just wanted to finish the lap, I just wanted to see Dave, I just wanted someone, anyone to tell me that it was ok.  I thought of everyone at home tracking, of my parents, my friends, Jesse, everyone, and I felt absolutely heartsick about dropping out, about everyone waiting hopefully for a split that wasn't coming.  Finally, I got to town.  The spectators would cheer at first, but then I could see changes in their faces as they caught a glimpsed of the blood-covered back that I couldn't see.  Funny thing was, that part didn't really hurt.  I then saw Dave-he had his camera out, ready to take pictures and cheer, which I keep thinking back to, how I changed his day in an instant from excitement to concern and fear as I yelled out, voice tinged with tears, I crashed.  Hard.  It really hurts.  I don't know what to do.  I saw his facial expression change in an instant as he laid his eyes upon me, from "ready to encourage" to some form of devastation.  I slowed down and let him run alongside me for a minute, as he told me, shit, do whatever you need to do.  I was growing increasingly skeptical about my ability to finish the race, and at that moment, I almost just wanted the permission to stop.  But, I had one last bit of fight in me, one more moment of, he'll tell everyone you crashed, but then he'll say that you're strong and that he knows you can still do this, and I committed to continuing on at that time.  Little did I know, the moment after I passed, he called everyone we knew in a panic over what to do, and headed to transition to look for me in medical.

   For some reason, my power meter kicked back on again at that time.  I glanced at the numbers, and realized that I could only maintain 30-40W before where I started; my surges weren't much higher, and they were limited by immediate pain.  The muscles in both hips and glutes were starting to not work.  Several minutes later, still in town, almost exactly 20 miles after crashing, after sitting up to navigate corners, which sent new pain through my scapula, ribs, lower back, and both SI areas, my aerobars dropped down again-seriously, am I going to crash again?  I was able to regain control of the bike, and I slowed to a stop.  I debated what to do at that point.  Pull the bars back up and keep going to the next aide station to look for a tool to tighten them?  The second I stopped, spectators started rushing towards me.  I asked if a woman could call my husband, so I could ask him what to do.  At that point, I knew that I would't be competitive anymore, so I didn't mind losing more time talking to Dave.  As soon as I put my feet onto the ground, the pain intensified.  Jessie passed me in that moment, calling out encouragement to me.  I had a spectator hold my bike so I could just try to walk for a second, to see if I could shake it out.  I swung my right leg over my bike, and almost went down then and there, as I immediately felt like someone had stabbed a dagger into my right SI joint.  I took a couple of steps, and was stabbed a couple more times.  A few more steps, same result.  I couldn't straighten up, I couldn't really lift my legs, and I could barely even put any pressure through my right side, which until that point, I didn't think was that bad.  I walked a little more, just to make sure that it wouldn't get better, and it only got worse.  More and more people were passing me, some shouting encouragement.  At that moment, I realized that even if I did somehow make it through the bike ride (40-50W low), I didn't have a freaking shot in the world at being able to run a marathon.  The spectators asked me if I wanted to sit, and motioned to the curb.  I turned, tried, and realized that...I couldn't.  I physically could not lower myself to the curb to sit.  Sometime in there, someone had motioned to the medics across the street, who were soon next to me.

 Sometimes you gotta fall before you fly.

  That's when the true confusion started.  I was crying, not so much from the physical pain, but from the utter devastation about the inevitable DNF.  I was harboring a horrible sense of guilt that maybe I hadn't gone as long as I possibly could have.  As much as these past few days have been the most physically painful days of my life, as ruined as my body has been, a small part of me still feels that guilt.  It's ridiculous, and I know I shouldn't, but I do, because finishing-it's just want I do.  Maybe I couldn't walk within an hour of being pulled off the course, but if the object in motion had stayed in motion...still, the worst part of it for me was feeling like I was disappointing others, and that was what I was crying over.  The on course medics explained to me that they didn't have an ambulance, but an ambulance had been called and was coming for me.  I demonstrated that I could move my arms and denied pain while they palpated my neck.   The ambulance came quickly, and I cringed as I was placed on the backboard and loaded in.  Somewhere in there, people were telling me things about my bike, telling me it would be safe, but all I couldn't concentrate on too much at that time.  The bike represented pain and disappointment at that time.  The ambulance ride itself was uncomfortable-my lower legs were strapped down, but all I wanted to do was bend them to take some of the pressure off of my crying lower back.  Every bump and turn jolted me, and sent new little stabs of pain to the same area.  Somehow, my road rash still didn't hurt, though.

   Finally, I found myself in the good old Mexican hospital.  I was reassured by many on my way there though that it was "good" and I would be in good hands, so I wasn't too concerned, as all I really wanted was to know if anything was broken or not.  I was greeted with a clean, sterile-looking, white environment, and transferred onto a bed, where some combination of doctors and nurses with decent English were able to explain to me that I'd be getting my wounds cleaned, and then I'd be getting x-rays.  The doctor with the best English was a tall, reassuring man wearing Ironman scrubs, and the receptionist spoke clear English as well, so I was able to communicate to her to call my husband.  I was asked about allergies, I was asked where it hurt.  My race kit was painstakingly removed down my body, and I was covered in blankets.  The subsequent IV placement was probably one of the worst parts of the whole darn hospital experience-my veins are small to begin with, and with blood loss and a giant needle added in, finding one took three pokes and lots of needle jostling.  I was reaching my limit of pain at that point, and lost it a bit when the poor kind nurse was hitting a nerve.  Finally, that was in.  Wound cleaning brought about more whimpering and a few tears, but thankfully was over soon enough.  I heard a few more sirens in that time, and watched a few athletes in bloody race kits get wheeled in around me.  Oddly, I felt less lonely.  I asked about Dave; the receptionist came over and told me they had gotten a hold of him, and he was on his way.  In the meantime, "medicine" was injected into my IV, and by the time he got there, I was actually fairly comfortable and in good enough spirits.  The worst parts of the wound cleaning were over, I was clear of mind, and crying about it just wasn't going to get me back on the race course.  Plus, there I was, in a Mexican hospital-at some point, it would make for a good story.
The obligatory "Mexican hospital thumbs-up" picture.  They gave me "medicine".

Who smiles that widely when taking a selfie with his wife in a hospital bed?  Dave does.  It's almost like I was a miniature pony.
   I laid there for a bit while we chatted.  I actually didn't really have much of an idea of what was going on or when I was going to be taken for x-rays, but I could hear some of the others that had been brought in throwing up profusely and loudly screaming in pain, so I figured that I had been dropped down a bit on the priority ladder.  Finally, a couple of nurses came in, and motioned to Dave to help wheel the gurney up to x-rays, which was interesting in itself.  Moving around into various positions for the x-rays (and then transferring from the bed to wheelchair to bathroom a short while later) was one of my first indications that, yikes, this shit hurt.  I was taken back down, and we waited more.  Finally, a doctor came in and told me that my x-rays were good, and a nurse then said I'd be able to go in 2-3 hours.  2-3 hours???  All I wanted at that point was to get out of the hospital.  And a burrito.  Given that I had already had to pee, I wasn't feeling like the giant bag of saline was all that necessary.  Dave took off at that point to get me some clothes and some food, briefly pausing to post a facebook update about what was going on, with instructions on how to reach me.  I made and received some calls, and felt better overall.  He returned, we ate, and finally I was told that I could go.  After my IV was removed and I had changed, the doctor caught a glimpse of my labored gait, and made me walk a bit.  I put on a brave face and tried to act as mobile as possible, just so that I'd be allowed to leave, even though I could barely weight bear through my right leg.  He told me to not move for a couple of days, and handed me a prescription.  The hospital called me a taxi, and after a brief ride and a very labored walk, I was finally back to the Dive Inn.  Phew.

   I found a mirror and checked on the road rash pretty soon after getting back.  Holy shit, was my reaction, as I'd had no idea how extensive it actually was-I was expecting a small scrape on my shoulder.  I tracked the race, answered messages, and watched some football as Dave was mercifully able to track down my bike, return my chip, grab me some medications, and eventually get some dinner.  Things deteriorated further as the day went on and the hospital pain meds wore off.  At one point when he was out, I had to get up to plug in my laptop, which resulted in me getting literally stuck at one point, looking for something to grab onto while not twisting my right leg in any way.  I realized later on that I couldn't lean forward from the couch to grab anything off of the coffee table.  We also looked at my helmet, and discovered a couple of nice dings in there-huh, guess I had hit my head!  I did manage to remain in reasonable spirits about the race, though.  Dave and I spent the evening indulging in some (somewhat unearned) tacos and baked goods, and finding anything to laugh at.  Getting from the couch to the bathroom and up to bed later on, though, required the use of a stool as a walker, much assistance, and plenty of laugh-crying.  Surprisingly, I was able to get some sleep that night, although it was eventually disturbed by a combination of discomfort, unnerving dreams, and pain med induced nausea.
Topless pic on the internet!  Scandalous.  But not sexy.  Not at all.  Plus, the giant left love handle of swelling is starting.  Mmm.

Thank you, Mexico, for having this over the counter.  And thank you, enough of a medical background to know what to tell Dave to ask for.

Trying to make it from the couch to the bathroom to the bedroom with a chair-walker.  Wes later fetched me a far more effective stool-walker.  Holy right SI joint.
  The travel that followed in the subsequent days was, well rather rough.  The original plan had been to make it from Cozumel to a fancy-ish hotel in Cancun on Monday, the day after the race, taking the ferry to Playa del Carmen, a bus from Playa to the airport, and then a taxi from the airport to the hotel-all while lugging along my bike box, two roller bags, two suitcases, and my over-the-shoulder bag.  My right SI joint remained the most painful part of the entire deal, though, rendering me barely able to even weight bear on that side, let alone walk with luggage.  My road rash still felt ok at that point, but only because I'd managed to shower without getting it wet, and I'd just left my shirt stuck to it-there was only so much pain that I could handle at once.  My left ribs, lower back, and hip/hip flexor areas all hurt, but were at least manageable.  The soreness in my neck reaffirmed that I had in fact hit my head.  Still, all I wanted at that point was to salvage a night with a beach view and a nice dinner from the trip.  I figured that we'd be better off making it off the island without any time rush, too, so Dave tracked me down a cane, I gritted my teeth and convinced myself that I'd be able to move well enough with it, he broke down my bike, and Wes gave us one last lift to the ferry station.  In order to make it to the hotel, I knew that I had to get over my desire to be independent, and I accepted a wheelchair ride to the ferry, a bike cart ride from the ferry to the bus, and some help with bags at the airport (even though Dave yelled at me for accepting help, because it meant that his options for taxi rate negotiation were limited-which resulted in a sobbing breakdown on my part, because I literally could not do it without help).  Finally, we made it to the hotel, and after another Dave-directed breakdown (stop acting like I killed your best friend because you had to pay more and because we can't do anything fun at this hotel, this hurts really really bad and I needed help), we managed to enjoy the rest of the night and the following morning, including the best breakfast buffet ever (Nutella on french toast solves all), a brief, slow trip across the sand to the water, and even the experience of ripping my shirt off my road rash, as all I could really do at that point was laugh.
Last night of "vacation" with the Hansens.  I'm attempting to detach the shirt that had been healing onto my wounds for >24hrs.  Dave helped by taking pictures.  He has another pony-wide smile on.  Asshole.

After getting the shirt detached, so the road rash after ~24hrs picture.  Yes, that gauze did attach on as well.  Swelling is starting to set in more.  Extra sexy.

But, we had a nice view from our balcony.  I at least waded into that pool.  Naturally, it also started pouring while I was sitting on those lounge chairs, and Dave was off playing on the beach at that time.  Thanks to the random awesome girl who saw me struggling and helped me up and into some shelter!

I would not be denied a trip onto the beach.  Nothing like being a well-appearing 30 year old with a cane!

Artistic Dave in front of the water.

I dug my (swollen) toes into the sand...until the tide came up a little more, and I realized I wasn't steady enough on my feet to resist the waves.
   The flights home were manageable; Tramadol and my excitement to get home trumped (almost) all, even though I was reaching my limits with the seemingly unending walk from customs to security in the Baltimore airport.  Since getting home, I've continued to be a bit up and down physically.  My experience with acute injury and hospitals had previously consisted of an ankle sprain when I was 14.  My only other bike crash had hurt, but I was riding six hours again by the end of the week.  So, I guess you could say I wasn't necessarily prepared for or expecting how much something like this could hurt, really.  I made it into work on Wednesday, but needed help from my patients moving their equipment-great.  We mercifully were able to arrange it so that I'd be off the rest of the week.  The road rash pain peaked on Wednesday, as I hadn't been able to get my hands on any sort of proper dressings in Mexico, and it just kept getting adhered to gauze, shirts, etc.  When it started to dry out a bit and crack, moving my left arm began to hurt.  But, Tegaderm (thank you Peter!!!) has been a godsend for that, at least, and I can tell that the surface area is getting smaller.  My left elbow is still puffy, but only hurts with pressure.  My left hip/hip flexor/SI area is mildly sore at times, but really not too bad except again when I put pressure on it-laying on that side isn't happening too much yet.  My left ribs are still somewhat uncomfortable-again, not horribly uncomfortable, but definitely tender, and coughing or sneezing are not too fun.  Pretty much my entire left side from scapula to foot swelled up, but that's coming down gradually.  True to my bruise-resistant form, I really don't have many bruises.  The biggest problem, though, remains my right SI area.  I'll get a few good hours when I cave and take painkillers, but otherwise my weight bearing tolerance remains limited, and my gait looks, well, in the words of my boss, "like you had a stroke", which echoed my assessment of myself.  I have had a few moments (usually when trying to get into bed) where I've reached my limit and broken down a bit, but overall, I've felt very, very fortunate.  I wouldn't have had any training to do right now anyways, and my injuries are quite definitively temporary and will hopefully be relatively short-lived.  I know how much worse it could have been had I landed with my arm stretched out more, or if I had taken the impact six inches higher on my body, up near my head or neck.  I know far too many people that haven't been nearly as lucky as I was with crashes, and so I'm continually extremely grateful to be in the position that I'm in right now.  This knowledge, and my focus on taking care of my physical self, has helped to keep me from any sort of major disappointment over the race and what could have been.  IM number ten will just have to wait; it was just my time for some misfortune, that's all, and in the grand scheme of things, it will soon just be a spring board for some motivation, anyways.
On the way home, I had to lie to customs about touching or handling livestock., because Dave had been petting a donkey.  Oooo.  Scofflaws.

A little hard to see, but my favorite random injury: a bruised pinky.  What the heck?  I don't ever bruise..except for my pinky.  So random.

Wednesday night road rash.  Starting to get stiff and cracking, but smaller in surface area!  Rocking some swelling still, though.

I don't take tons of bathroom mirror selfies, unless they involve oversized elbows.

  Accept what is, let go of what was, and have faith in what could be.  

  As for what's next?  Well, I had a very productive conversation with Jesse yesterday, which left me encouraged and optimistic about last year.  The ups and downs of this year served as one heck of a learning experience, and I think we both gained a greater understanding of what works for me, what makes me tick, what keeps me in one forward-moving piece.  In the past, I likely would have balked when told "no more than three IMs in a year" and that I'd need a nice, long base this winter before adding intensity or being allowed to race, but yesterday, I was only sitting on the other end of the line in silent relief, because I knew very well that was exactly what I needed.  In a way, the DNF in Coz might have been a blessing in disguise-sure, more Kona points and a good finish would have been great, but maybe physically, it was better for me to not have put myself in more of a hole with a fourth IM this year.  Now, I'll be able to wipe the slate clean and head in with a body that's as ready to go as the mind.  What happened in my races in no way takes away from the gains that I made in training over the past few months, and although those results aren't posted for anyone to see, I can still put them in my little mental bank of "things that I've done", and withdraw that knowledge when needed.  But first, even if my season ended in a Mexican hospital, I'm still going to enjoy the heck out of my off season-especially because it's Christmas, and I freaking love me some Christmas.  I'm already enjoying some small dose decorating, and I can't wait to catch up with my family and friends (including a few who I've gone way, wayy too long without seeing), shop, bake and cook with my parents, and stay up past 9:30 and sleep past 5.  Plus, it's given me time to start creating some new stuff for my athletes, and work out some better organized systems in that regard.  I am already starting to miss, well, moving, though, which is a good sign that I'll soon enough be ready to get back at it.  I crawled back to my chiropractor today (as a PT, I'm not too proud to admit this-call out to Kenny Tsang at Active Care Chiropractic for sliding me in today and promising to get me in as much as possible next week), so I'm optimistic that I'll be able to move my right leg soon enough, as well.
This was a pretty dumbass idea that I'm now paying for, but I needed to at least START getting the Christmas lights up today.  I found myself pulling all of my "mind over matter" athlete tricks out for this one.  And I involved the Tramadol.  Christmas or bust.
   Overall, I think that I have more thank yous to give out and more gratitude to express after this whole experience than I have after any other race in my life.  I've been continually, absolutely touched with the responses I've received from so many near and far.  From the phone calls, to the facebook messages, to the emails, to the packages, I can't say enough about how appreciative I've been towards every last person who took the time and effort to reach out to me.  My emotions were on overdrive in the days after the crash (probably not aided by medications), and I found myself tearing up repeatedly over how much love and encouragement was being directed at my way.  Even though triathlon had hurt me, I was still having a little lovefest with it, thanks to the awesomeness of the people the sport attracts.  I don't know how it is in other professional sports, but the fact that a good number of my very competitors reached out to me, in my opinion, just speaks volumes about the quality of individuals in not just the women's pro field, but the entire sport.  In particular, thanks to my amazing friends, and to my family.  My biggest concern in the hospital was just getting in touch with those closest to me, and assuring them that I was ok.  Hearing familiar voices at that time was more useful than any pain med that was being pumped into my body.  Thanks to Jess and Wes for their hospitality with our housing, and for their enormous amounts of assistance all weekend!  Thanks to Quintana Roo, for again supporting me just as much in the bad times as the good.  On the bright side, my body broke the fall and protected my bike!  Huge thank you to Jesse, for encouraging me, reassuring me, helping me keep this whole thing in perspective, listening, and getting me to look ahead with a new sense of understanding and optimism.  And thanks to Dave-although I might have wanted to smack him a couple of times in the course of travel (and when he yelled at me for not thinking to return my timing chip as I was getting carted off in an ambulance-really??), nothing makes you appreciate your husband more than legitimately needing him.  I'm going to enjoy a little more rest and relaxation, and then I'll do my best to channel all of the lessons and bumps in the road from the year into something positive in the time to come!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Push, shove, force-but I'm still standing

  After a tooth implant that ended up not taking, missed training time, and a longer than expected recovery after Chattanooga, the decision was made to change my fall IM from Arizona to Cozumel.  Sometimes, two extra weeks can be key.  What this means right now is that I just made it through my final overload of the year.  This training block featured plenty of volume, a few lackluster 5ks, an actual swim meet (with a few awesome flops off the diving block), a return of some form of tolerance for the pool (for now), a few nailed workouts, a couple of very long days, but, most glaringly in my mind, a few rides that ended up with me laying in piles of clothes, wanting nothing more than to sleep instead, and a couple of missed runs afterwards.  But, if I've learned anything this year, it's that triathlon, well, like life, sometimes just isn't going to go according to plan.  There's pushing, there's shoving, and then there's forcing.  And forcing, well, it just never quite works out for the best.  Force it, and it will eventually resent you, and it will eventually win.

   Looking back, in many ways, maybe 2013 came too easily.  I remember spending the first half of the year hitting new numbers in workouts, swimming better than ever, biking better than ever, finding my marathon off the bike abilities.  I pr'ed at the 70.3 distance twice in rapid succession.  I simply did what I was supposed to in Texas, my body obeyed, and I found myself in second.  I wanted to win Placid for so many reasons, with every ounce of my body, heart, and soul, and after about eight hours of racing that day, I found myself with the lead cyclist in a spot I'd hold.  I decided I wanted to race again and go to Kona.  I raced again and went to Kona.  When the time came to get to race weight, I'd give up ice cream and measure out the cheese on my salads, and bam, I'd be there.  I could hit a long ride one day, then hit another medium ride and a long run the next.

   Then, this year happened.  I never found my run all winter long.  What was once my bread and butter, the long run, became my absolute nemesis, as I, for the first and second and third times ever in my life, wasn't able to finish what I had started out there.   I pushed, I shoved, I forced...and I got sick.  And then I got better, so I forced again; then March happened.  In the recent weeks, I've been reading a bit about overtraining syndrome and overreaching; I now can see how very, very close I was to going over that edge.  I was searching for something, anything to explain what I was going through, when the answer was obvious, it was right in front of me.  My perfect bloodwork and scans weren't going to show forcing, after all.  That's the paradox of it all, though.  In order to get the most from ourselves, we have to be walking that line.  We have to be constantly pushing and shoving; we can't simply hop out of the pool, step off of the bike, or walk home from a run the second it stops feeling good, or the second that the numbers aren't where we want them.  But sometimes, even deep in the heart of it all when the blindfold is on, we have to have a sense of where that edge is, and we have to stop ourselves (or, in many cases, have a coach grab the back of your shirt and pull you back despite your insistence that there's another foot or two available) before going over it.  If I've learned nothing else from 2014, it's that.

   Let's face it, most of us triathletes out there have opened up a new block of training, and have had one of two reactions: how am I supposed to handle that?, or, probably more often, that's it?  Shouldn't I be doing more? So-and-so is doing x more hours with more intervals and posting selfies on twitter while running 5:30 miles after biking 5 hours and then swimming 100x100 the next morning.  I did more in my last block/month/year!  I need track workouts and bike tempos and different swim intervals!  I need a 27 mile run!  Shouldn't the end of that ride be Z2?  Z3?  Why do I have more than one recovery day!!!  Then, invariably, in spite of myself, I find myself either A. handling what I thought I couldn't, or B. secretly thanking my lucky stars that I didn't have to get my HR into Z2 at the end of that ride, because it left me laying on the floor in my normatecs between the couches, wrapped in a blanket, crying out for some Chipotle, even with those extra recovery days (not that this happened recently...).  But, this certainly is NOT to say that I've hit everything perfectly according to plan since getting back on track last spring.  Not even CLOSE.  Every time I've missed, I've been filled with doubts and concerns.  I've learned how to focus on the past successes and block the past failures at workouts from my mind, in many cases, which can be both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing because this perspective is healthy, but a curse because each new failure can briefly cause questioning and panic, as I then go through a period of ohmygosh I used to be able o do 17 hard days in a row on 5 hours of sleep a night without a problem.  How I felt last early Spring...I never want to be there again.  Every day or two where I don't feel quite right now, I can't help but wonder-is it happening again?  It's taken me over six months to finally start to feel like, maybe, maybe I'm past it.

   So where am I going with this exactly?  Well, I'm not entirely sure.  At some point, it becomes about the lessons we learn along the way.  I've learned that I need to be both mean and kind to myself.  I've had a whole, whole bunch of, suck it up, buttercup; shut up, legs!; go find yourself a real problem; just keep your sorry ass moving; you're never going to get any better unless you keep freaking going moments this year, where I've had to be a little mean to myself in order to keep on keeping on.  But, at some point on those days, I've also had to be kind to myself- you're getting through it; you're doing what you can; you see the benefit eventually; today survive, tomorrow thrive.  I've also had sessions and days where I just haven't been able to keep going; where I haven't been able to force my way through.  Those are the days that I've had to be the most kind to myself, where I've had to tell myself that sometimes, even the strongest mind can't force the body when the muscles and nerves and blood vessels just won't function.  It's inevitable; it's going to happen now and then, and it will be ok.  I've learned that as much as I strive for perfection out of myself, I won't reach it; I'll always find something to criticize (and I've been called out on this here and there, too).  At the same time, though, I've learned that I also need to find some pride in what my body does for me on a day to day basis, and I need to forgive its shortcomings.  I've learned that sometimes, no matter what society says, I just really need more sleep than what seems humanly possible.  Sometimes, maybe it's that 9pm foray into the cereal box that gets me through that long run after a day of feeling completely depleted, so maybe I shouldn't beat myself up too much about that extra pound or two over race weight, because isn't getting through the run important too?  I've learned that the older I get and the more hours I put in, that I really can't get away with skimping on the recovery stuff, even if I have an easy day the next day-because it will get hard again, and I will need everything I can get.  Sometimes, I really, really just need to trust that my body and legs won't be there every day, but as long as I get it 95% right, I can trust myself on race day.  Perspective.  I put a huge portion of my existence into my ability to swim, bike, and run all day.  That was just a summer day of my childhood.  There are real problems out there.

   So, as I sit here within three weeks of what (assuming all goes according to plan) will be my final IM of the season, I know that my prep for this race has been a microcosm of the entire year-some bumps along the way, some triumphs, some good days, some bad days.  More than anything, I've gained a greater appreciation for the sport and my place within it, I've figured out how to push and shove without forcing, and I've come to realize that sometimes, I just need to keep on keeping on.  Whatever happens in Mexico, well, it won't stay in Mexico, but I'm determined to enjoy it this time around.  Because hey...I won't be in my thirties forever, right?   

Thursday, October 9, 2014

IM Chattanooga race report-the minor fall, the major lift

Your faith was strong, but you needed proof...

  Well, it's taken me some time to write this race report, just because it's a bit hard for me to put into words everything that went on that day, and I don't mean in terms of powers, heart rates, or splits.  Every time I make it to the line of an IM, the race is important, but I think it's only human to admit that sometimes, some of these just mean more than others.  And this race was one of those.  I'd picked myself up, dusted myself off, and put in the best three month stretch of training that I had in well over a year.  As I checked off workouts, I began to get increasingly excited-that is, until the race actually came into view.  At that time, the self-imposed pressures began to build, and I searched for every reason to lack confidence.  But...what if...?  I knew what I was capable of based on my training numbers, but, in my mind, it all meant little if I couldn't display it.  Mostly, I just wanted a day where I could throw my (fit) self into a race, and put my heart and soul into it.  I didn't need a perfect day; those rarely exist.  I just wanted a day where, when I would eventually put my overly caffeinated head to the pillow at the end of the night, I would know...that was it.

  So, after patiently watching my teammates, friends, and husband all compete at various races, biding my time, honing my fitness, dotting my i's and crossing my t's, my turn was finally coming.  Chattanooga was feeling like a special race for me for several reasons.  One, it happened to fall on the final day of my twenties.  I've had one heck of a decade, and even though my grand life plan a few years ago didn't put me where I am today (I think this was around when I was supposed to have kids or something...whoops, forgot about that one...), I wanted to close things out with a memorable day.  Two, a couple of the biggest players in my triathlon career to date played a huge role at the race. QT2 was the official coaching company of the race, and QR, with their headquarters in Chattanooga, also played a huge role there.  Having Jesse and the rest of the QT2 support team, as well as multiple teammates down there was a huge help and comfort to me.  As for QR, I cannot say enough for this bike company, and seriously, I am NOT just saying that because my legs grace the cover of their catalog or because my bike handled absolutely beautifully on the Chattanooga bike course.  The support that they provided me-I'll elaborate more shortly-throughout the weekend went above and beyond any sort of responsibilities that could have been asked out of a bike sponsor.  I was even willing to put up with the multiple photos of me in various stages of flattering being thrown on twitter (and I know who was responsible for most of them...despite the claims that "like twelve people have access to that account, haha).  Finally, this race was Little Debbie sponsored.  I can't help it, that alone amused me.
Little Debbie Ironman Chattanooga to benefit Crohn's disease and colitis.  Yep.
  Anyways, the travel down to Chattanooga went fairly smoothly.  I had opted for the 13ish hour drive over flying because A. planes are disgusting; B. planes are annoying; C. I dislike packing a bike box and, more importantly, negotiating it through an airport; D. we had just gotten a new SUV that could entirely contain my bike; and E. I'm a slob, and it's easier to spend a weekend just throwing crap into a car and worrying about it later.  We left actually within an hour or so of planned on Wednesday, and made it as far as Lexington that night (which, if any of my VM Project teammates from back in the day are reading this, brought back memories...back squat!).  The next morning involved some time on hotel bikes and laps in a hotel pool of surprisingly adequate length while a manicured woman looked on from her tanning chair, and then the remainder of the drive.  On the way down, Brad and Mac from QR called in order to arrange a time for me to bring my bike into their headquarters to get it race ready.  That's right, I got personal bike service to make sure my machine was race-ready.  This was especially appreciated, given that Jesse had been casually dropping threats here and there that I needed to be sure that nothing would go wrong with my bike in this race, and I cannot be trusted with this task.  We brought the bike in on Friday, and got a tour of the factory from Brad, which was pretty darn interesting (Dave was in his absolute glory).  Not only did Brad then spend a good portion of the day getting that bike looking better than it had since I had first started crapping it up (I have a reputation...), but he got that front brake PERFECT.  Like, BEYOND perfect.  I literally almost started crying with relief in the parking lot of our hotel when he demonstrated it to me later on that evening.

Posing in front of a giant wall of myself at the QR factory.  Dave made me.
   Without the bike to worry about, the rest of the race prep went smoothly.  Well, our hotel room was small, which didn't bother me because a whole bunch of dogs were staying there to compete in the frisbee dog world championships and I like dogs, but my prima donna husband complained a lot.  Otherwise, I lazed around the QT2 tent a bunch, ate pancakes, surfed down the river in the current at the practice swim, rode my bike around the parking lot to check the gears (absolutely perfect, of course), complained about how my quad felt funny to anyone that would listen (had to set the bar low before starting the race, after all), and tried to come up with motivational social media posts.  Soon enough, I was in bed, sleeping horribly the night before the race while having weird race-related dreams-a surefire sign that I might have cared a bit about this one.  On race morning, I got to transition to learn that the swim was not wetsuit-legal, which, although I would have liked a wetsuit, I was prepared for-the river had felt warmer than our pool the day before.  I also had master reset my garmin bike computer the previous night, so trying to get it to pair with my power meter amidst 2000 other power meters was interesting.  I figured that I needed something to fret about race morning, though, so this provided an outlet for that.  As it would turn out, the reset garmin 800 picked up power and not HR (even though I had paired it with the HR monitor in the hotel room the night before), and the 910 that I decided to wear on the bike just in case picked up HR, but not power for half the ride, even though it was paired with both.  Whatever.  I can judge a bike effort by now.  I was, admittedly, a pretty tightly wound nervous wreck that morning.  I greeted Jesse by bitching about how it was all his fault because he hadn't "let" me race in too long so I was too nervous about it before finally dragging Dave along with me on the shuttle bus to the start, because I didn't want to be alone with my thoughts at that point.  After we walked in the wrong direction for a bit, Dave deposited me at the front of the line, and I spent some time chatting with teammates Matt and Kait, which kept me somewhat under control.  We were finally allowed into the water as the darkness pretended like might break at some point, and I did my best to warm up and calm down.  
Action shot of me shoving face.  Typical.

Bringing my pony to transition.  Note: yes, I am wearing calf compression and an IM backpack.  However, I did not wear either in non-triathlon public.

Both of these two CRUSHED their days.  Loved sharing the course with them!!
  After the final excruciating countdown to the swim start (while a rope swept against our feet, trying to keep us from drifting forward with the current), the cannon sounded, and I took off to the best of my abilities.  For the first 30 seconds or so, I was happy to actually have women around me still, as my mirrored goggles in the dim morning light weren't the greatest for sighting, and they already seemed to be getting a bit foggy.  I concentrated on keeping myself in the midst of things when...WHAM!  I smashed directly into the first turn buoy.  Like, not just brushed against it, but pretty much had a head-on collision with it.  Ultra smooth.  I basically had to come to a complete stop, swim out and around the buoy, and then restart again.  Totally pro.  By the time I got around, the rest of the field was well ahead.  I didn't fret it too much, though, because as we all know, the current assist more than made up for the lack of draft.  Eventually, I did manage to catch up to a couple of women.  I remembered Texas, where I had been kicking myself a bit after the race for not pushing ahead of the pack that I was swimming with, and I moved ahead.  The main problem was that my goggles were a bit foggy.  Luckily for me, the straight shot swim course was NOT hard to navigate, even for me, and I just took care to sight frequently, admiring my improved skills in that regard at least.  I didn't necessarily perceive the current-I was concentrating on making sure that I felt like I was swimming hard the entire way-but I did have the vague sense that the buoys seemed to be passing more quickly than they do at my normal remedial paces.  I watched the numbered buoys, and before I knew it, I was swimming to the shore.
And we're off!  Go slam yourself into buoys!!

Normally, I still have at least a quarter of the swim to go at this time in an IM
  Exiting the water, I saw that I had swam a 47, and laughed a bit to myself at how ridiculous the current had been.  I had no idea how far in front of me most of the field was at that point, but as predicted, the current had compressed our swim times, and I wasn't starting in as much of a hole as I normally do.  I've heard plenty about the swim current and how it discounted the race, but really...I'm well aware of my strengths and limitations as an athlete, and I knew that the current swim, longer bike, and harder run in this course would play quite well to my strengths.  An IM is hard, no matter what-and I'm not going to complain about less time in the water.  I'm also not going to claim that my IM swim PR is a 47, because it's totally not.  Anyways.  Jesse told me that I was in a good position with relation to the field, so I zipped through transition to get to work on the bike.  As for my bike pacing plan-this time, it was different.  In all of my fulls and 70.3s thus far this year, I've set out at a wattage or HR target that's been ambitious, and have found myself frustrated early on when the numbers started dropping off.  So, the instructions were to just start out at an effort/number that I knew that I could hold throughout, and go from there.  Naturally, then, I spent the first ten miles thinking to myself, this is too high.  Is this too high?  I should ease up.  But what if I can't bring it up again?  I guess I feel ok.  No, I can't hold this.  This is so long.  I was moving up regularly and earlier than normal, though, I felt ok, and I was making it over my nemesis, railroad tracks, with rubber side down.
I thought that my muffin top looked worse than this.  Yes, I did adjust the waistband of my shorts mid-ride to try to tuck it in a little more.
 This lasted through 25 miles or so, when things started to feel sort of blah again.  I was watching my HR and power plummet, and I couldn't shake the thoughts that like every other race, things were only going to keep getting worse.  My left calf had started cramping in the swim, and it was continuing to cramp on the bike.  I saw the QT2 crew somewhere in there, and apparently my stress was quite obvious.  This was easily the low point, and the point at which Jesse later told he me knew I could go either way on the day-which was true.  I didn't want to start on the caffeine yet at that time, so I did whatever else I could to make myself more comfortable.  So, I took some salt and peed.  And then I started to feel better.  I began to think about my training-most specifically, all of the 2x20min tempos that I'd pulled off well on days when the warm up felt somewhat miserable.  I thought back to a high school track tactic-put in a hard lap when you're not feeling good, usually you'll end up feeling better-and I decided to do just that.  Give it ten hard miles.  I put in a surge, got myself free of the woman that I'd been jockeying back in forth with a bit, and just drove on.  Seeing the numbers rebound a bit encouraged me.  Keep it here until mile 40.  Now keep it here until mile 50.  My legs felt reasonable, my bladder was completely overactive, and the all-important caffeine usage was still low.  Passing through town at mile 50ish energized me, as did one particular sign: "It's my birthday".  For the first time all day, it occurred to me, this is your last day in your twenties.  Make it worth it.  

Action shot of my low point on the bike..."EVERYTHING IS DROPPING."  At least I'm not crying at an aide station while taking off my brake.  That's a positive.
   I started my second loop feeling...focused, more than anything.  Jesse said that I looked like a different person my next time around, and in a way, I was-for the first time all season, I felt like I was in control of the ride, rather than having it be in control of me.  I knew how much I had left, and I began to trust in my training a bit more.  Sure, it was going to hurt, but...I knew how to hurt.  More than anything, I wanted to finish the final quarter of that ride near the limit.  My PR6 turned out to be well-suited for the course, carrying momentum from every descent up over every subsequent climb. Every so often, an age group male came past me, but the pointy end of the field there was riding completely cleanly, and not once did I have any problems in that regard-kudos, guys.  I backed off just a hair between miles 60-85 with the intent of really nailing it home after mile 90, determined to put in those hard 25 miles at the end, just like in training.  Weelllllll...the intention was there.  Unfortunately, somewhere in there, I literally began to get stuck in traffic.  I was lapping athletes on their first loop, and somehow a bunch of cars had begun to appear on the course.  The roads had minimal shoulders and were curvy in spots, which meant that I was getting stuck behind lines of cars sitting behind cyclists.  Things got a bit sketchy, to put it nicely, at times, and there was a whole bunch of internal dialogue about keeping calm going on.  Judging from my splits, I probably only lost a couple of minutes in that whole mess, but the whole experience took a bit of the wind out of my sails.  Plus, my power meter sometimes likes to start to zero out or become completely erratic when I stop, so those numbers started to get a bit unreliable.  But, I hadn't had to get off my bike, I'd made it through in one piece, and I didn't need power numbers to know how to work, so eventually when I finally made it out onto clear road, I regrouped and tried to just bring the HR up.
Action shot of me actually looking like a real triathlete on the bike next to some cows.  A rare gem for my loyal readers.

Meanwhile, Dave made a friend.
  The final stretch back to transition was fairly uneventful.  I was completely alone by that point (actually thinking a few times, I hope these cars see me), having moved into fifth place, which I was actually quite pleased with.  I had no idea how far ahead of me the rest of the field was, but I was looking forward to running.  I used the last few miles of the bike to unsuccessfully try to take care of the bladder business one more time, all while cursing the extra four miles simply because I just did NOT want to be sitting on my saddle anymore, and my upper back was none too happy about aero at that time.  Finally, I made it to T2, overall pleased with the bike split and feeling like I had put in my best IM effort of the year, despite the snafus here and there.  The second I handed off my bike, though, I automatically felt a little bit dizzy and out of it.  I pulled off my shoes (still can't handle that task on the bike), ran into the tent, and got myself set.  After a quick veer off into the port a potties to finish off what I'd started the final miles of the bike (the answer is no, after peeing myself like, eight times on the bike, I didn't bother to pull anything down...made no difference by that point, ha.  I figured that was slightly better than my stand by the side of the road move from Muskoka, at least), I headed out the run exit.  Immediately afterwards, I ran down a short, steep hill, and...YIKES.  My quads did some weird screaming/cramping thing.  Well, this could be a long marathon.  I had plenty of doubts at the start of that run, for sure.  I probably said something whiny to Jesse and Dave at that point about my legs feeling weird, and began downing more salt.  Even though it wasn't hot, I'm fairly certain I took in about 400% of my daily allowance of sodium during that race-I'd started feeling better on the bike after my first round of salt eating, so somehow, in my head, it made sense to just continually eat salt.  Good thing I like it. of like, seventeen pictures of me opening my little vial of salt.  There was a reason that I looked seven months pregnant by the end of this race.  At least I'm rocking a sponge.
   Anyways, the rest of the first mile was pretty much uphill, which was fine-it made me feel like the stupid little hill up off of our street that I HAVE to run at the start of was sort of worth it.  I watched my HR, and kept it a good 5bpm or so below where I normally start IM marathons.  The day before the race, Dave and I had gone across the bridge to pick up a couple of things from a running store, and I actually had an intelligent idea-since we were there already, why not drive those last hilly four miles of the run course?  Turns out, knowing what I had coming at the end of each lap was a smart idea.  The hills reminded me in both pitch and length of a couple of the hills on my normal run routes, so while I had some confidence in my ability to deal with them, I also knew better than to try to overcook the flat portions of the run course at the start.  My first few miles clicked by in ~6:50's; I never felt great, or really even all that good during that run, but I was feeling reasonably enough.  I passed Rebeccah to move into fourth.  Then, around mile 4, I began to start feeling slightly concerned about the sanctity of my lower GI system.  By some absolute stroke of genius/luck, though, I'd found four life-saving pepto bismol tablets in my toiletry bag that morning while getting ready, and I'd stashed them in my back jersey pocket "just in case".  Remembering that they were there was probably one of the highlights of the day.  Things settled down a bit, and I pressed onward, keeping the HR low and controlled still.
No idea when this was taken, but I look like I'm still communicating about my lack of confidence in what was going down, so I'm guessing early on.
   As it turned out, I would probably rank this run course, even with the hills, as my favorite IM run course to date.  The varied terrain kept me interested, the entire route was lined with spectators, the bridge crossings were kind of fun, and the hilly portion over the bridge was actually really nice.  Not that I was taking time to admire the shops and really, really nice houses, but still.  Plus, unlike in the rich neighborhood on the IM Texas route, the people in the nice Chattanooga houses actually came out to cheer.  Anyways.  Still, my favorite portion was the first stretch along the Riverwalk.  The combination of paved trail and boardwalk reminded me of my beloved Riverway trail in Rochester, and I felt at home again. When I got to the end of that the first time, I threw a quick glance back, and, sure enough, I saw Ruth coming.  She's basically been the best 70.3 runner in the world this year, and I (correctly) had figured that I'd need a good 5-7 minutes on her at the start of the marathon, which I didn't get.  Shortly thereafter, she passed me, which honestly relieved me a little bit.  Although I think that sometimes I run better when I'm running defensively, I really don't like running scared.  I still felt controlled at that point, about six miles in, and I just kept steady (all while still yelling negative things at Tim on the bike though, ha).  Back up the highway, I began to slow a bit, but Laurel was gradually getting closer to me, so I figured that I was ok, especially heading into the hills.
Through the hills, lap one.  Making sure that Jesse understands that I'm the only woman in the entire race that's tired halfway through the marathon.

Pop quiz: what's missing from this picture?  If you said, "Jesse's black composition book", you'd be correct.  If my splits aren't written down in it like the race ever even happened?
  Once across the bridge the first time, things started to get a bit more real.  I used the "I'm trying to keep my HR steady" excuse for my feeble pace uphill, but part of it was just that my legs didn't really want to move any more quickly.  I did manage to finally catch up to and pass Laurel, but she was still running strong, so I knew she certainly wasn't gone from the picture.  My training this year has been a little different-I haven't done any single long runs over 1:45-so even though I'd had three days in which I'd run 20+ miles, I just started to lack the confidence to hold up for THAT much longer.  Somewhere in there, round II of pepto happened, as well, while I just prayed that it would hold up throughout the remainder of the race.  Jesse and Dave were there to inform me that Anna was slowing up ahead, and that I still looked strong, to which I believe I replied, "yeah, but I could blow up on the second lap!" (I was not the portrait of confidence all day, for good reason, based on the year).  I passed former camp housemate Ryan on my way back across the bridge to start my second lap; he offered some kind words of encouragement that lifted me a bit.  The second trip down the path, well, wasn't quite as much fun as the first.  I had a couple of quicker rebound miles before things really started to set in, and I had to settle for trying to hold ~7:20 pace, telling myself to just relax, use the flat path to recover and regain strength a bit.  At the end of the path, just before heading out onto the highway, I passed Anna for third.  Now things had gotten real.  I had a cyclist, Tarbell, with me now, who was completely awesome.  Despite being in the highest position I'd been all day, around mile 19 I just began to feel BAD.  Like, dear Lord, I don't know if I can keep running bad.  My legs felt like they were moving through muck as I continued up the road.  One mile at a time.  My existence was reduced to trying to put one foot in front of the other, and miserably croaking out "cookkkeee" when Tarbell asked me what I wanted from aide stations.  Thankfully, he was clearing a path for me through the runners as I moved along, which was much appreciated, as I wasn't functional enough to do so myself at that time, and was telling people my name.  I just did NOT want to lose my awesome escort at that time.
Across the bridge the first time.  Salt encrusted lips.  Salt bloat baby growing.  I'm glad this made the internet.
My race BFF Tarbell, somehow still staying upright despite my uphill pace at that time
  Once I hit mile 20 and started to move towards those hills again, it started to get really ugly.  Everyone was telling me how far ahead Ruth was, but I was completely powerless to even attempt to close that gap; I knew she had WELL more than enough space on me.  I was more concerned with where Laurel was behind me (even though an age grouper yelled, "don't worry about fourth, go f-ing get second!" at me when I asked Dave at one point, ha!).  I slowed down significantly through mile 22, until I could mentally wrap my mind around the distance left-imagine yourself on the four mile loop from your house that you run ALL of the time.  That never seems that far!  The crowds were awesome at that point; Tarbell was drumming up support still. I tried to use the descents the best that I could (even though my quads were screaming) and minimize the damage on the climbs.  Somewhere between miles 23 and 24, I learned that Laurel was just over a minute behind me.  Yikes-I knew then that I had to get my act together.  I thought back to the last couple of miles of my hard training runs, where I'd spent my time imagining this moment to get through them.  I was visualizing training, where I'd visualized racing-funny how that works.  So much of training and racing for me is processed-oriented-what's my HR, what's my pace, gel, drink, salt, ice, turnover-but, at mile 24 of an IM marathon when in the final podium spot, it became VERY outcome-oriented.  I wanted that third, badly.  After everything, getting back onto the podium at an IM suddenly meant the world to me.  I figured that I just needed to keep things under 7:30s at that point; chances were unlikely that anyone was going to be able to drop sub-7's suddenly.  So, despite barely moving up the final hill, I hit mile 25 just under that mark, where Dave informed me that I'd opened up a few more seconds of a gap.
The best part about this picture is that it does in fact pop up when I google image search for myself.  That's good.  It's so pretty.  And the salt baby is in full effect.

   Still, no time to let off.  I ran down the hill towards the final bridge, and...uh oh.  Suddenly, it seemed as if that last pepto would no longer hold out.  Hmmm.  Whenever talking to first time participants about an IM, Dave has always said that the #1 goal is to finish.  I've always contradicted him, saying that my #1 goal is to not $h!t myself.  It seemed as if that theory was going to be put to the test here, as in that moment, I was fully prepared to just let it happen in order to hold onto third.  Luckily, as soon as I started moving up the bridge again, that momentary bit of relaxation down the hill went away, as did my concern about what was going on in my intestines.  I found an extra gear again that last mile, counting down every last bit.  I got over the bridge, Tarbell turned off, and I gratefully made the turn towards the finish.  After standing at the line watching at both Placid and Tremblant, I had made one vow to myself before the race-I would smile and be happy in that last stretch.  Then, of course, in the moment I didn't want to let up until I'd crossed the line and secured my spots-think of the Bills-so really, I continued to look miserable up until the final ten feet, when I finally allowed myself to express my inner excitement with it all (sorry, all those people that wanted a high five!  I had NOTHING in me!).  I also apparently drifted all the way to my right for the finish.  Who knows.  I crossed the timing mat with an overwhelming sense of emotion, mostly joy with a strong element of relief mixed in there (and not just because I hadn't crapped my pants).
10 meters to go.  I get to smile now! 



Two meters away now.  Ok.  I'll be happy again.
I'm past the line now!!  I'm the second loser!!!!!

But Jennie...what...what...what about stopping your watch?  How did you manage that with your arms in the air?  What about your trademarked finishing pose?  What's going on with this race-no composition book, and no watch stopping all at the same time??  No fears.  It was still stopped, albeit two seconds late.  The world continued to revolve around its axis at that time, though.

Yayy!!  I might be getting old, but I still maintained control of my bowels!!
  What happened after crossing the line was a blur-Dave and Jesse were there, there was hugging and (on my part) crying and, a few minutes later, me already nagging Jesse about how I wanted to race again this season (he had to leave for his flight shortly after I'd finished, I had to get in the plug while I could-I'd already been told that morning that I had to come in under 9:30).  I was briefly interviewed, I congratulated the women who'd pushed me to the brink, and I chatted with some of the QT2 guys before someone wrapped me in a space blanket as it started to rain.  Eventually, I made my way over to the QR tent, where someone fetched me a chair, and I just sat there, wrapped up and wet, face in my hands, kind of dry crying out of some emotional blend of happiness, relief, and redemption.  The three months heading into that race were filled with self-doubt-what am I doing with my life, what if I never pull one off again, I'm just not good enough-but also with a whole lot of fight, and a whole lot of figuring out some way to get things done.  And that's what that race was for me.  I'd been a wreck beforehand, I'd doubted myself throughout (Jesse had picked up on that one as well), but I'd remembered that it was ok to hurt, I'd remembered how to fight through it, and I had managed to somehow find some way to make it happen again.  There was no magic, there was no odds-defying performance, there was no crazy breakthrough; there was only the result of continuing to chip away at things, and being able to execute based on that fitness.  And that was enough.  It was what I wanted, it was what I'd been chasing, and it's what I'm going to keep on chasing day after day, week after week, year after year.
Look!  The Hansens are touching!  I still think Dave looked happier with his mini horse.

Proof that looking extremely happy does not preclude you from also looking hideous.  At least the volunteer is happy that I'm happy, though.  Or she might just be happy that she didn't have to touch me like Dave did.

Action shot of me sitting in the QR tent in my space blanket, performing the all-important task of finding out what was going on on facebook while I was racing.
   And then, after I managed to drag myself into a Coldstone bathroom to change (yes, I ignored the "customers only" sign), there was pizza.  Well, first, there was a time period of what can only be described as pepto-induced gastric paresis, where Dave had to drive me around before I could uncurl enough to get out of the car.  Eventually, motivated by the Mellow Mushroom that awaited me, I was able to overcome the pain and make my way into the hotel room.  I later dragged Dave back down to the finish line, and I ended my twenties entirely appropriately, slapping high fives while watching the midnight finishers of an IM.  In case anyone is still wondering, my 30th birthday then consisted of breakfast donuts, standing on a stage, spending WAY too much time in Best Buy getting a new phone (which became worth it when I had car pandora and reliable navigation for the way home, at least), looking at some sweet fish and other creatures in the Tennessee Aquarium, and finally, checking "unhealthy specialty sushi rolls" and "frozen yogurt bar with ALL of the toppings" off my list of "crap food I'm totally eating after this race".  Oh, and as an aside, for all of the nerds out there who never achieved popularity in high school...turn 30 the day after a good IM, and you will feel like the COOLEST person on social media.  My facebook and twitter friends all rocked in that regard-thanks everyone!!  Take that, popular girls.  Just kidding.
The sign for the restaurant next to our hotel.  And...a spot on description of my post-race shower.
Shaking hands at awards.  Full of donuts.

Technically, I still had two more hours until I was officially 30.  Should have corrected Mike Reilly on that one.  Always honored to stand up there with such strong, fast, and awesome women!

Sea horses at the aquarium!  Aka, yet another completely ridiculous-looking creature that can swim faster than me.

Somewhere around mile 23 the day before, I'm sure that I had similar running form to these guys.

Still less terrifying than the body that was pulled out of the water 200m past the swim exit

Much nicer to look at than to run over
  So, I think that's enough of me rambling on for now!  As for what's next, I ended up getting a bit more recovery than planned these past couple of weeks thanks to a dental implant (and some busted stitches), but now that the mouth is (almost) all mended, it's time to get in some training and aim for IM Arizona!  I'm looking forward to racing again, Arizona always draws a hugely competitive field, so hopefully I'll start to snap back into shape in the coming weeks and will arrive there ready to go one more time this year.  I'll end this post with the thank yous to all who support me and make this all possible- first with the companies QT2, QR, Normatec, Rudy Project, and Reynolds.  And of course to all of my friends and supporters near and far, even the ones who I've never met in person; I carry the support with me on race day and use it to get me through the low points out there, and it means the world to me to have so many behind me!  To Jesse, for sticking with me through this year, believing in me when I might not have believed in myself, always conveying in some weird way that somehow it really will work out, and knowing how to light a fire under my butt.  And of course to my family, who stands beside me no matter what and keeps me going through this stuff.  I wrote a lot about everything happening for a reason in my last IM race report, and I now can see that even more-not only was Chatt a little bit sweeter, but the whole process just added a little bit more resiliency to me, and it made me see all that much more how much this crazy, weird sport matters, for better or worse.  I love racing, I love competing, and to be able to get the best out of myself is always a gift that I'll never take for granted.  Now...back to work!!!

Post-race birthday froyo bar.  ALL THE TOPPINGS!!  I miss this already...

Former expo site.  And then...there was one.  Little Debbie.  The lone survivor.  

I went for a walk and took pictures of bridges before driving a million hours and getting boxed in my trucks throughout the entire state of Virginia.  But I got to catch up with college roommate/teammate/friend Megan on the way, so that was worth it!

Scenic boardwalk.  Not the one that we ran on, but nice nonetheless.