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Friday, August 8, 2014

Finding x

The x factor, the spark.  My mojo, my groove.  Call it what you want-it's that thing inside that can't really be defined clearly.  It's what gives an athlete that extra little oomph.  It's fighting for every stroke during a swim workout, even when the times aren't the greatest, instead of throwing it in because it's not your day.  It's that moment when you know that you could let up a little bit on the pedals, when you could ease the burning in the legs just that little bit, and the heart rate would still stay in zone-but something deep inside just won't let you.  It's when you start to reach for the garmin to hit stop to just give yourself a few seconds of a break-but you keep pedaling instead, convincing yourself to make it another minute, which turns into two, which turns into ten, which turns into the rest of the ride.  It's when you're deep into the week and the legs feel like total bricks, and you could cruise to the end of the run because the pace is sort of ok, but you want better-and you push for every last step over those final few miles.  It's that ability to really, truly, put mind over matter.  It's when you could settle for good, but you go for great instead.  Sometimes, training isn't an all or nothing deal.  There's giving up, there's going through the motions, there's executing...and then there's doing it all with that little something extra.  And for the better part of the past year, whether I wanted to admit it to myself or not, that little something extra was missing.

 One year ago, I was a few days removed from an emotional IM Lake Placid win, feeling invincible, and sitting on the phone (amid a living room full of couches, this was during the time that we'd torn up one carpet without a game plan for putting in the new one-but that's a different story of IM couple living) on a three way call between myself, Mary, and Jesse, bullheadedly insisting against those that knew better that I could ask more from my body than it would be willing to give.  It was a state of take, take, take at that point-I was going to race Tremblant, I was going to get into Kona, and I somehow still thought that I could show up to Kona and have a good race.  I would be fine.

   And I was fine-for a bit.  I got back to training, I felt halfway decent between Placid and Tremblant.  I had a PR swim up in Canada, I biked within myself, I floated through the first loop of the run, and although the second loop really, really hurt, I still ended up with a new IM marathon PR to boot.  I was going to Kona!  I couldn't be broken!  Or...not.  After that point, things slowly, subtly began to unravel.  I started training again, but the numbers weren't quite there.  Work started to get really, really busy-in the four years I spent at GRPT, September 2013 was far and away the busiest.  I couldn't catch a break, running back and forth without a chance to sit, eat, or breathe for up to six hours straight, sometimes brimming with fatigue on the inside while forcing a smile on the exterior.  Sleep?  I skated by with it; getting just not enough night after night-I just HAD to swim every morning, after all.  There was that time I ate pavement on my bike, hiked up and down some mountains the next day, and then drove home alone from New Hampshire into the middle of the night, inspiring looks of concern as I limped my bandaged, swollen, oozing, bruised body into a rest stop at 9:30pm, almost crying with relief that Starbucks was still open.  Oh, and then it was back on my bike that next morning, and at work that afternoon.  My running, once something that came easily and freely, that felt natural and made me happy, was suddenly forced, uncomfortable, and slow.  Of course, the solution to all of this, in my opinion, was not to try to take care of my body and to respect it, but to demand more from it.  And by demand, I truly mean demand-there was no asking, there was only taking.  It wasn't responding, and in my book, that meant to just press harder.  I was going to Hawaii!!  Life was good!  What the heck did I have to complain about?  Get some freaking perspective, Jennie-you're the lucky one!!

   But there came a point where I either couldn't or just didn't want to press harder; I'd settle for "ok" with my workouts, trying to tell myself that I'd done what I could, but knowing deep down inside that a part of me just wasn't willing to go as far into the well as I once would have.  I was pretty darn spent in Kona.  I can't say that I minded the first few weeks of a lengthy off season.  I then thought that the off season had rekindled my fire; I thought that I had my mojo back.  At first, it seemed like all was well.  I was biking really well, and swimming was coming to some degree.  But my running never came then, all that sick stuff happened, and I found myself down and out.  I remember after a disappointing 10k last winter, Jesse had said to me-I'm still learning about you, and what I'm learning is that when you miss by a little, you take it hard.  The statement stuck, just because of its truth; the little misses here and there kept adding up.  My build into Texas was again a whole bunch of settling for just ok.  For every great workout or moment of inspiration, I had another where I simply went through the motions or even completely gave in.  I didn't really miss anything major, and I was excited to race there, for sure, but when the choice came to try to shift to an extra gear or yield to the pain that day, I yielded-not completely, but that urge to try a little harder, to see if I could get through it to the other side just wasn't there.  Sure, the race went pretty well overall, but it more or less was a fair representation of how my training had gone heading into it; some up and down, overall decent but nothing spectacular.  Early in the previous season, an eager mind and a willing body had worked together in harmony; all was well.  Then, the mind got greedy, the tank began to run on empty, the body was no longer willing, and as a consequence, that toughness, that x factor, that flame, had faded.

   But, something's just become increasingly different in me these past couple of months.  I hadn't realized how far removed from myself that I'd become until I began to, well, feel like me again-and I don't just mean physically, that's been coming for some time now.  The shift has been subtle.  I started to get my groove back before Coeur d'Alene.  The fitness was there, and the desire was starting to catch up.  I started to remember what it was like to truly "go there" in training, to get to that dark place.  Then came that race...and we all know what went down there.  Although I pushed myself hard physically despite everything, I know that many moments existed during that race when easing up a bit was chosen over the alternative-I made myself a victim of circumstance, I suppose.  That next week, to be quite honest, involved a few elements of eff this $h!t!, complete with staying up late, sleeping in, ice cream, copious amounts of coffee, an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies, and a total hiatus from any indoor swimming.  Once that was out of my system and I started back up again, though, I began to realize that the slight change in attitude that had started before Coeur d'Alene was continuing to build some momentum.  It wasn't like I had some major breakthrough that made me realize this, but instead, some sort of summation of smaller parts.  There was the bike ride when I felt like something was up systemically, but kept turning the darn pedals with intention-I didn't know if I was going to make it through that day, so I better make every minute I was out there worth it (and in the end, I made it through).  There was the abjectly miserable 2x20min tempo run on the hottest day of July at high noon when the paces were hideous and I felt awful, but I damn well could at least keep the tempo portions under X:XX if I gave it what was in me that day (which would pay off the following week, when I nailed the same workout under better conditions).  There was that moment when Jesse had me 3/4 of the way up Whiteface, struggling, already nearing in on my total ride time for the day, when he told me that we didn't have to go all the way to the top-was this a test?-and I wearily said, no, no, I want to make it up there.  And then there was 30min after that, after I'd made it down and defrosted my extremities, when I made myself push it again up the Wilmington notch.  There was that vacation monster set this week, when even though the pool was foreign and my times were slow(er than normal for me), I realized that I was working my butt off for every darn stroke.  And there was that sprint tri last weekend, when I was told that the first girl had left T2 just ahead of me, and even though I thought that she was probably in the Olympic race, some old fire of, go try to run her down came over me, instead of the more lackadaisical maybe she'll come back to you approach I know that I've had in my last few races.  (As an aside, she was in the Oly, and I didn't have any sort of earth-shattering run, but I could use some speed work, to say the least).

   So what does that all mean now?  Well, I find myself staring down the face of a week that somehow contains all of the most intense workouts I've done in quite some time all rolled into one-and there's no overload attached to it yet.  While daunting, I'm finding myself looking at it with trepidation, but eagerness-if I can somehow get myself through all that with any sort of quality, think of how much strength I can gain.  And I'll still have a block to go before Chattanooga.  Next up on the (planned) race schedule are a couple of races I took on in 2012, the Rochester triathlon (yes, it has been two years since I've done an Olympic) and the Muskoka 70.3; to me, both seem like opportunities to gauge my progress over the past two years.  I have a long weekend ahead of me, and I know it's going to be tough, it's going to hurt, it's going to be hot, it's going to take work, but I'm looking forward to trying to make it all happen (I say that now, in the calm before the storm, that is...).  So, with that, I have some bottles to mix, chains to clean, and bags to pack.  How it's all going to work out has yet to be seen, but now, a year older and wiser, I know better to ask myself for more than I should.  However, the time has finally rolled around where, well, it's time to start asking for more, because...why not?

I felt the need to end all this with an inspirational quote on a peaceful beach scene