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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Aquabikes and hips-and so it goes

  All right.  I've started a blog post update many times, only to stop, because I didn't really know where to go with it.  After much deliberation on this rainy Tuesday (well, now cool, cloudy recovery Wednesday), I don't feel like cleaning the house, and I actually did sort of do a race this past weekend, so I've decided that some form of a race report is the best entertainment for me.  After all, it's been way too long since I've been able to write one of those, and make sarcastic photo caption comments.  So I'll get to that.
My nephew Blake on Father's Day.  Unrelated to this blog post, other than that everything about this just somehow echoes how I feel about swimming.  I get you here, Blake.
   First, though, I'll violate my own HIPPA to give a little synopsis of what's been going down with the injury status.  The past 1.5 months or so have honestly turned out to be one of the most trying times throughout this entire thing, probably only outdone by the stretch from mid-February to April, when those fractures still weren't healing.  The only reason that time outdoes this time in suckiness is because I have thus far been successful in my refusal to water run.  "Thinking Out Loud" is still being played on the radio, after all, and that song literally makes me want to gouge my ears out while water running.  Plus, "Fight Song" is also in the mix.  I don't need triumphant girl power while water running.  Anyways, I digress.  A few days before Keuka, my right hip/groin (note: there will be multiple groin references in this blog post.  Groin always sounds dirty, especially when you have to say things like, "my groin throbs".  There's no getting around it, though) started to hurt after a run.  I blew it off early on, as honestly I've had some amount of pelvis/hip/SI discomfort daily since the crash, and that's all normal and fine and to be expected as I built up training and strength.  I was able to race and convince myself that I was ok, but my ability to block out injury pain while racing has been a trait of mine for as long as I can remember, so really, I wasn't ok.  That was very apparent the next time I tried to run a few days later.  I lasted 10 seconds (ok, that kinda sounds dirty too...).

   Fast forward a whole bunch of time of not running, an x-ray, an MRI, an MRI with joint contrast, a doctor's visit, some very painful and discouraging weeks, and a whole bunch of anxiety and worrying about femoral heads and necks and hip flexors and adductors and labrums later, survey says: small labral tear, and inflammation of the iliopsoas tendon at its attachment on the femur.  The labral tear could have occurred during my crash, and it could be the culprit, or it might be something incidental that's just there because I'm a 30 year old lifelong athlete.  The hip flexor tendonitis could also be the culprit, or it could just have developed from six weeks of compensation.  So, on Friday, I'll get another needle jabbed into my joint, and I'll then go do some functional stuff and then play biking on Saturday.  Feeling better would actually=bad news, because that would indicate the the joint structure-the labrum-which may or may not mean surgery.  Not feeling better=good news, because that would indicate a structure outside of the hip joint, or that hip flexor tendon, which is non-surgical.  So that's that.  Whatever happens, I'll be ok.  I've accepted all possible outcomes, and other than the small tear, the hip joint looks good, so long-term prognosis for healing from it all is perfectly fine.  At this point, I really just want to be able to get back to full training without further setback, whatever that takes, and I'd like to be able to be able to prepare for the 2016 qualifying year.  Of course I'm very sick of all of these hurdles, but as long as I can continue to jump (or crawl) over them, that's what I'm going to do.  People have years where they're out.  Now's my time for one, so be it.  I'm done with reason and trying to figure it all out and accepting that I needed rest; that ship has sort of sailed, and now it just is what it is.  Nothing to do but keep working through.

  All right, enough of that.  That was longer than I intended.  Onto a race report!  So, in my delusion post-Keuka, I registered for Musselman.  Ever since 2011, I'd wanted to return to that race.  I just love the whole Musselman experience, especially because I had always exceeded my expectations there with my first 70.3 in 2010 and my win in 2011, and, well, maaayyybe I secretly wanted to take my stab at a few of Kim Loeffler's course records, because she kicked ass in that time.  But, as my hip spent the month bitching at me, it readily became apparent that a half marathon off of the bike just wasn't happening.  I was in a state of mourning over that, and strongly considered staying away in a fit of self-pity, but at the end of it all, I switched into the aquabike, even though the idea of me thinking that I could do well with only my less than mediocre and sort of ok legs of the race was cute.  Then, just over two weeks before the race, I got a cold.  Well, whatever.  Ten days of way more snot than I prefer, horrible training sessions, the disgusting productive cough (Dave's favorite) and headaches and dizziness later, I had to admit defeat to the man cold, as it had progressed to a sinus infection.  Thankfully, after a few days of antibiotics, things started to turn around, and I was left slightly out of shape from the limited training, just a little bit snotted up, but overall sort of coming back to life.  I did have reservations about the ability of my hip to handle a lot of pressure (especially three days post contrast dye injection, as I was supposed to "avoid strenuous activity" and swimming submersion for two days afterwards), and my head was also sort of (ok, maybe a lot of) a mess of anxiety, as I was still waiting on the results of the MRI with joint contrast.  But, I figured I might as well go through with the aquabike.  If it was a shitshow, then it was a shitshow.  I'm used to the shitshow by now.

We stayed at my sister's house the night before, and her puppy took a break from attempting to eat all of my race gear to look cute and pose with my stuff.  I probably should have been more upset when he was running around with my swim cap in his mouth, but he looked cute...

I packed this suit, and completely considered racing in it.  At the end, desire to preserve what's left of my lady parts after 1000 rounds of radiation won out.

   The day before the race, I grappled with a whole host of emotions, fighting back a few tears as I passed parts of the run course while going to packet pickup, and feeling some tugs of heartache while sitting in the athlete meeting.  Race morning, though, was pretty laid-back for me, as I was still just thinking things like, "what am I doing out here?", and "I hope I beat my 2010 time" (on my road bike, in my first 70.3).  I casually rolled into transition with 15 minutes to spare (as Becky had predicted), and sort of enjoyed being in the last wave, as it gave me plenty of time to screw around pre-race.  I literally had zero expectations.  To say I was plenty rested was an understatement (more like unprepared).  I spent about 3 minutes swimming back and forth in a roped off area before my wave, and decided I was plenty warmed up.  The laissez-faire attitude basically continued until the race actually started.

   As soon as I started swimming, though, the switched flipped, and the innate competitor in a competition in me came roaring out.  Despite my intentions, I couldn't deny it.  I began to push and fight and worked my way onto feet (the aquabike started with the males 60+, females 55+, and athenas, so I was working onto male feet-kind of a fun change).  There was some chop on the water for the first half of the swim, so I did my best to stay on the feet without body slamming into the legs, which I was only moderately successful in doing.  Slightly out of practice on that one.  3/4 of the way to the second turn buoy, I realized that we were rather far right.  I broke away from the feet, got myself back on course, and turned to the canal.  As soon as I turned around the second buoy...ahhh, current.  I managed to navigate myself through some of the earlier waves and into the canal without too much accidental smashing into people, and perhaps became a little too comfortable riding the current.  Another aquabiker in my wave then came flying past me, so I woke myself up and got onto her feet (again, annoyingly hitting them several time).  She wasn't wearing a wetsuit and sort of had that swim stroke that looked like she was a real swimmer, so I figured that I was doing ok enough if I stayed with her.  We worked through the rest of the swim, and I saw a 27 on my watch when exiting the water.  I shrugged, as there was no way that was legit, but it did actually place me fairly well within the field, so good enough.  Onto the bike!

   Once on the bike, I had no idea how I was going to feel; after the weeks leading in, I basically was going in blind.  I glanced at my HR.  180.  For reference, I think I averaged maybe low 160's in Keuka.  In an Olympic.  Interference.  I'll wait for it to correct itself.  10 minutes later, it hadn't budged much.  Well, ok then.  I chalked it up to the recent infection, and just kept rolling by effort.  I thought about my 2011 time, 2:36.  I thought about how I'd done that with a Neverreach, 40oz double cell bottle between the bars, horrible bike position, inability to stay in my aerobars over 25mph, and very few long rides over 2.5 hours.  I decided that even with everything, I'd be slightly embarrassed by myself if I didn't beat 2011 Jennie (although, 2011 Jennie was post-stomach bug and ~8lbs lighter, and thus had less to push uphills-skinny bitch).  Plus, the PR6 is a sweeter bike.  Game on, 2011 Jennie.  Having ridden this course on the computrainer countless times (because knowing where I'm at at various times is my way of cheating the whole "don't look at power while riding" system), I knew that the first 10-15 miles were sort of slow, so I was actually pleased with my early splits.  Despite easing off here and there to try to get the HR to drop, it wasn't really budging from the freakishly high levels (which, at the time, I thought were in my bike Z3-actually, it was my run Z3, which I'm glad I didn't realize, because I probably would have totally wigged out).  Somewhere in those first 15 miles, I just decided to go with it.  I was either going to have a good day, or I was going to completely blow up.  If there's a time to completely implode on the bike, I decided, it would be when there's no run after it.  Why not?  Having started in the last wave, no one would really notice.  I kept working away, and having some fun moving up through the field.

Ok, I know this has the watermark all over it thing going on, but I really needed to share 2011 Musselman bike Jennie again, as I don't feel like my description does her justice.  Just...all of it.
   The miles ticked away.  The course turned, the gradual up turned to gradual and more than gradual downs, I gained speed.  If I didn't lose too much time on the net elevation gain from miles ~35-40, it was looking good to take down 2011 Jennie.  I got to miles 20, 25 still feeling ok, and realized that I only had about 1.5 hours to go-this was an amount of time that I had relative confidence to push through.  Eventually, I found myself passing fewer and fewer people, and it was taking more effort to get around them, so I figured I was moving fairly well.  Halfway through, I glanced at my total time, and realized that I was actually on course record pace.  Not that it would count because I wasn't running, but that 2:31 had been an unspoken goal of mine before any of the shit had hit the fan in the past month.  It became a race of attrition, a huge chance to prove to myself that maybe I was stronger than I thought, maybe, just maybe, I shouldn't just throw my goals and hopes to the wayside because of some tough times athletically.  Maybe I could salvage something-the hip diagnosis would be what it would be, and really, it wasn't hurting a bit in that moment.  I ignored my power, and I realized that for the first time on the bike in a race since 2013 Lake Placid, I was 100% in control of it all.  I don't really know how to describe it, other than that it felt good to push.  I was working, but I also found myself being able to thank volunteers, smile at spectators, throw in surges if the HR started to drop, and try to grunt out a "good job" when passing.  It wasn't the hitting decent splits, but not feeling so hot doing so with no extra gears that I'd gone through last year.  Go figure.

   Turning up from Cayuga Lake, I started up the slowest portion of the course.  Again, thanks to my computrainer defaulting, I knew I just needed to make it to mile 40, and then I could hope to gain speed again.  I made it up without too much speed lost.  I felt reasonably confident that 2011 Jennie was going down.  Other racers were few and far between then, which was good, as the few miles on the less than perfect pavement through Sampson Park weren't the best for passing.  By that point, I was hearing from spectators that I was in the top 5 females, which did pick me up a bit-females 25-39 had started 20min ahead of me.  I somewhat nervously worked my way through the rough pavement of the park, and once through that in one piece, with just over ten miles to go, I threw down some extra caffeine, and realized that I still felt, well, pretty damn good.  I glanced at the total time, remembered how much I missed it all, and challenged myself to see what I had left.

   Knowing that my day would end in under half an hour, I really began to gun for it.  Could I break 2:30 on that course?  It would be close, and it would take what was left in the tank.  Earlier that week, we'd been passing a (somewhat inappropriate) "meditation" video around the team-"F*ck that-a guided meditation" (I highly recommend it).  Not surprisingly, so much of that had been in my head throughout the entire bike, because it just fit.  Screw it!  Screw everything about this stupid year!  Just ride!  None of it matters right now!  One line, in particular, became somewhat of the mantra I was repeating to myself whenever I started to feel tired-breathe in strength; breathe out bullshit.  I spent those last 10 miles with that single thought.  The last few miles seemed to drag past, but finally I saw the cones directing me back into the park.  One final push, and I stumbled my way across the dismount line.  Both my bike garmin and my 910 read 2:29 as I hit stop and racked the bike.  Mission accomplished (kind of, unofficially).

  I ditched the shoes and helmet, and barefoot ran (my hip was still in "feeling fine because it's a race" mode...that didn't last too long) my way through transition and across the line for the overall win.  As things would have it, my little T2 picnic and stumble home would be added into my bike time, giving me an "official" 2:32 in the results, but that didn't really matter too much to me.  I'd woken up mentally during the ride, I had shut my overactive brain off, I had realized that I haven't quite let go of old goals just yet, and I'd gotten the most out of my body in order to achieve it, regardless of runs afterwards or what it said on paper or any of that.  Plus, I'm arguably becoming a much more balanced triathlete than I've ever been.  As I watched others move through transition and onto the run course, of course I had the sense that it was all bittersweet, but it wasn't all lost.  I was able to catch my athletes Blake and Stevie as they headed out to crush their own races, and I was able to watch Ericka crush all 3 legs of the course in a breakthrough victory.  I watched Danielle cross in second, continuing to get it done year after year in this race, and Becky round out the top 3 after her own fun week.  Of course there was some hurt and heaviness in my chest, as I felt a sense of incompleteness that I had been unable to compete with three local women that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, but that was outweighed with appreciation for the fact that I had been able to compete in some capacity in the race where it all started for me, as well as happiness for those that truly earned their finishes.

At the finish line.  I now see why I'm always getting asked if I'm confused about something.  No!  I just have resting confused face!
   The rest of the day involved sweaty hugs with my athletes and friends, laughter and gossip, and, of course, taking home a bottle of wine.  My hip began its protesting in there, but all in all, not a bad day.  It certainly was far from the best bike ride that I've ever had, but Jesse assured me that my wattage was about where it should have been given my sad couple of weeks of training heading in, and it had never been about that for me, anyways.  Somehow, something that I'd been completely on the fence about going through with had assured me that I can be fine again someday, whether that's in a month, or four months.  So, that was that.  Now, I'll just hang tight for a few more days and hope that Friday's injection does absolutely nothing for me, which seems all kinds of counterintuitive to me, but then again, sometimes it's just about rolling with the punches.  Thanks again to all who continue to stand there and clap for me as I keep going around and around this weird rollercoaster of triathlon-family, coach, QT2 teammates and Valor athletes, QR, friends, supporters, and so on.  I've needed some votes of confidence, encouragement, and many times, just straight commiseration (because "I want to punch you in the face if you try to make this positive again" is always a healthy attitude... :) ) from time to time here, and it's all so very much appreciated!  So, onward and upward from here-while hoping that my hip still hates life after Friday's testing :)

Disproportionately excited that Red Jacket Orchards gave me a t shirt I can wear casually, and that I got a water bottle that's not growing mold.
Awards!  This sparked a conversation about my appreciation for sunflower nut butter.  I like it.  Not everyone does, apparently.  It's like cilantro.

My hip decided it was done.
Time to conclude with dog pictures.  The Moose swimming never gets old to me.  She always looks so happy and proud, but that's probably because she swims about 5 feet, and then decides that she's done.  I'd probably be happy if a 5 ft swim took care of things for me, too.
I obviously had to include a picture of the Bailey, too, looking happy after we had picked her up from the kennel a couple of weeks ago.  It's because they give her bandannas, so it's like she's wearing three sets of clothes-her fur, her collar, and her bandanna.