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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?