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Sunday, August 23, 2015

When you think of love, do you think of pain?

  I read an article while sitting at the border last weekend in one of the running magazines that Dave found some slickdeals (not surprisingly, his favorite website) deal on that we get.  The article talked about perfectionism in runners, and optimism vs. pessimism.  The gist was that runners who are too perfectionist are never happy enough; made sense.  Conversely, though, too much optimism isn't a recipe for success, either.  The "too positive" thinkers who "strongly fantasized" desired outcomes, the article stated, "tended to invest so much of their effort into positive-thinking their way to success that they forgot to do the real work".  Interesting stuff.  The week after surgery, oddly enough, I laid on the couch most of the time, and I coped by thinking about outcomes.  I haven't crossed a long course finish line in almost 11 months now, and it digs at me daily.  Without any evidence of how out of shape I was becoming, it was easy for me to delude myself with crazy thoughts and fantasies of races and finish chutes.  I reveled in the small stuff-my range of motion was good, I could put weight through my leg, I was almost at my normal recovery wattage range, the doctor said I could progress more quickly than most, etc, etc.  Small victories were large victories; the well-wished poured in and I felt sort of justified in lamenting over how little I could do for myself.  Eventually, though, that began to wear off, and I began to regain my independence and was given permission to add more activity here and there.  With that, though, comes a stark realization of how not exactly in shape I actually am, and how much work it takes to get there.  Yikes.

   Which brings me to where I am now, stuck at the intersection of "look how far you've come" and "look how far you are from where you want to be".  Laying on the couch imagining stuff is physically easy.  Heavy training with a clear goal in mind, when the daily battle is waged between fitness and fatigue is physically hard.  It's also mentally hard, but it's a time when mind can be placed over matter, and the ability to both embrace and mitigate pain, to overcome it, is incredibly rewarding.  Right now, though, is just foreign and strange to me.  When I had acute fractures this winter, the PA had told me that if I overdid it, I'd just be sore, I wouldn't negatively impact the bone healing.  I don't know if she necessarily understood that sore to an IM athlete is a way of life, and a normal, sort of cozy feeling to be embraced.  Post-op, though, is a different ball game-soreness is normal but pain needs to be heeded and listened to and understood.  How much should I take?  This is my judgement call-according to my aquatic PT, the surgeon said that part of me being allowed to push (fairly far) ahead of protocol was that I have to be completely honest about it, and not ignore or deny pain because I'm trying to be tough or stubborn or whatever.  Argh.  As objective as I try to be as a PT and a coach, policing myself is an entirely different ballgame.

   Stay patient, be smart.  Sometimes, I'm pretty damn optimistic and positive.  The hip feels ok, I'm able to look and see that hey, a 4k "swim" (well, pull these days), a 60-90min easy-lower end aerobic bike a day, and a fairly normal gait pattern 3.5 weeks post-op is actually sort of active, and I'm in better shape than a good majority of the population.  Then the pessimist cuts in.  I'm not even using my legs in the pool, my arms are tired, my shoulder is getting sore again.  I'm riding 30-40W lower than normal.  Running is a distant memory.  I'm sick of carrying around an extra 10 lbs.  When I feel something from my hip, I start to question am I doing too much or can I do more, what's the line?  Beating myself up over the lost training and fitness becomes far too easy, as it stares me in the face, and this time there's some frustration knowing that I have to wait before I'm able to put in the type of work that I need to put in.  That's healing.  I can't rush that.  But then again, I switch back to thinking about all of the good stuff, and I then start being myself up over feeling bad about the bad stuff-at this point, even to me, it just seems like petty whining to both myself and everyone around me.  Many would kill to be in my shoes.

  But really, is this a bad thing?  Context goes two ways.  I can't wallow in self-pity, because I'm actually doing quite well for where I am now.  Feeling sorry for myself gets me nowhere but miserable.  But, at the same time, I know where I want to be, and if I was content and patting my back over every small accomplishment now, I'd never get to where I'm truly happy with it all.  Training to get the most out of yourself, no matter what level, takes freaking hard work.  Period.  We were up watching/coaching at IM Mont Tremblant last weekend, and I thought back to what had turned into a pretty awesome training weekend for me there last year, when Dave had been racing.  The day we left, I had put in a 5k swim, a 3hr tempo ride, and then a set of 5x1 mile all out repeats on the track.  Our drive up there that evening had been slightly delayed by Dave having to wait for me to unfurl and start moving again afterwards.  I had a swim and a recovery ride the next day, nothing major, but had followed that up with a 6hr ride finishing over IM effort and one of the best ~6 mile  transition runs of my life on Saturday, and then had somehow squeezed in another 2hr ride, 15mi run (a test of pure will on toasted legs), and a cold, lonely swim surrounded by chop and some sketchy water plane landings nearby while making it to every major course checkpoint to spectate Dave and two athletes.  So basically, leaps and bounds away from the "training" I'm doing now.

  That weekend last year, I had suffered pretty hard on many occasions physically and mentally.  Halfway through the long ride (which I had done on the trainer-it was cold, what can I say), I had found myself standing at the fridge, eating cold leftover pancakes from Dave's earlier breakfast, pondering the meaning of life.  I whined on the couch afterwards, forcing my pre-race husband to cook me dinner, too.  On the run the next day, all I'd wanted to do was stop where the aide stations were being set up and chug an entire bottle of coke to try to revive myself.  The swim-I really did not want to be in the water the entire time I was in it.  Trekking back to the condo after the race, I think I was every bit as happy as Dave when a shuttle bus let us in to drive us up the giant hill, bike and all.  So, on the surface, it seems as if this year's experience should have been more enjoyable.  I only swam a little bit, I went to a team breakfast, I hung around the condo, I slept more, I relaxed, we hung out by the pool a little, I never wanted to lay down by the side of a path or barf, I never wondered if I was in some kind of time warp making one bike minute seem like 17 regular minutes.

   But even though the training hurts and sometimes picking weeds out from between the pavers of our back patio while eating ice cream sounds more pleasurable than sitting on my bike seat for 3 more hours, when I'm in those time periods where everything is shot and the workouts are relentless, I'm at my happiest.  A few years ago, after the San Juan 70.3, Dave and I had been sitting behind our hotel, looking out over the water.  He was reading, I was typing out a race report and trying to saw into a mango the size of my head with a plastic knife (I miss those mangoes).  We watched some others who looked to be around our age by the pool, drinking and laughing with each other.  We could have come here and not raced, Dave had commented, and done that instead.  Remember real vacations?  We kept talking, though, and quickly decided that actually, we were happier with our trip.  Were we loving life at, say, mile 10 of that half marathon?  Probably not (Dave especially in that race).  Was riding a stationary bike and swimming in the 15m hotel pool before heading out to explore the next day sort of time-consuming and tedious?  Well, yes, it was.  But, neither of us would have had it any other way.  Training and racing are their own rewards, and that's what we've chosen.  I probably don't need to explain this to anyone who's actually taking the time to read this, after all.  Comments I heard from mile ~25 of the Tremblant run course last weekend included, "Ironman is insane", "why am I doing this again?", "I'm too old for this", and variations of "uuuunnnnnhhhhhhh"-but yet, all of those people had chosen to do that race, even if I was more comfortable sitting on the curb at the time.

  I've also read that we block out memories of the unpleasant stuff and remember the finish line, which is why we do these things again.  That's probably the case, but somehow watching others suffer has somehow confirmed with me how much I want to get back to that position.  If I was never able to race again, I'd find a way to make life go on and be happy about it, for sure.  That article from earlier?  It also mentioned being forced to "deal with the reality of whether you have the time, energy, or talent to actually do what you want".  The deep tightening in my chest and stomach when I really think about racing, the twinges of jealousy,  the total melodramatic meltdown I'd had on the trainer a week ago hearing the cannon shoot off the pro women, and the fact that I voluntarily swam, like, 22k with actual intervals with no one making me in my first week back in the pool tells me that my heart is still in it.  The article's solution for that whole overly positive vs. overly perfectionist thing?  Think about the end goal, but then break it down into the steps along the way that need to be done before it can be reached, and find some satisfaction in reaching them.   Allow yourself to fantasize about that finish line, but then shift and think about the obstacles in the way and the steps that need to be taken to overcome them.  For me, right now, this sounds like the perfect compromise.  

1 comment:

  1. good stuff. keep'm coming. Our race splits might be wildly different but the struggle isn't.