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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Full circles around the sun-on this year's love


  Well, I guess I haven't updated this old blog in a while.  It hasn't been because I haven't had anything to say-I've had plenty on my mind, but life has been morphing into something resembling what I once remembered.  So there's what feels like real training.  And with that comes a need for early mornings, which leads to non-productive and early nights.  But, I digress.

  In reality, putting my emotions into words over the past couple of months is difficult.  On my back left flank sits a slight discoloration, a small reminder, should I chose to twist myself to see it, of it all.  It's not bad, though.  It's healed, just a little different than it was before-the perfect metaphor for the rest of me.  The time leading up to the whole "one year crashiversary" thing felt a little bit like picking the edge of a scab off of a wound.  That whole time period, from the trip to the diagnosis, remains crystal clear in my memory.  I'd say this is annoying, but it beats the alternative, which would be to have had ended up with the type of injuries where memory becomes clouded.  I'm not sure what else I can say that I haven't psychoanalyzed here about being injured, coming back, going down again, and coming back again that I haven't already written about over the course of the past 12 months.  I've gone through several very distinct phases.  Winter was the fracture phase; I had to resign my 2015 winter and spring goals, but I held onto hopes for the summer and beyond.  Spring was marked by a brief return to running, and also by facing my fears of getting back onto my bike outdoors.  I longed to feel like an athlete again.  I started to feel like an athlete again.  I had a tentative race schedule.  Then my hip disagreed.  Summer was, in a word, muddy.  I stumbled along through doctor's visits and waiting and tests and again letting go of goals.  I went through the motions in the pool and on my bike with no heart or passion behind them, because indifference was easier.

   I had my surgery.  As my body began to heal, I nonetheless found myself starting to have greater difficulty dealing emotionally, because although my healing was ahead of schedule, I was just so over it all.  September was hard-my chosen word for that month has to just be, gray.  I honestly just didn't feel like trying to be positive about it all anymore.  But, with some help, even the most stubborn clouds clear sometimes, albeit slowly and cautiously.  The darkest hour is just before dawn.  I began to run again in mid-October, with all of the confidence of a newborn deer taking its first steps.  First walk/running (the answer was always yes, I did have to wear the garmin and take run splits), then actual running.  Trusting the pelvis and hip and any progress was a tall order, and it's still a work in progress.  While I have the utmost confidence in the skill of my surgeon and the training from my coach, I have a harder time trusting myself and my own judgement.  Then there's that pesky feeling I have that I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I've always preferred to focus on the process, as I feel that what we learn along the way takes precedence over the outcome, but eventually, I'm human, and all process with more setbacks than outcomes gets old.  So, as much as I want to believe now is going to end up being for real, I'm going to be skeptical and superstitious and nervous to some degree until I actually find myself an IM finish line.

"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?"
(Prophetic excerpt from my final blog post before Cozumel last year)


Because the old road rash picture seemed appropriate here

About a week later.  Winning at swelling.  Not winning at wound care.

Aaand, a year later.  Good as new!  Yes, I was definitely dehydrated post-run and flexing a little.
   Anyways-enough about that past stuff and that little dark corner of my mind!  I guess I should continue to make this post even more disjointed and actually update on what's new with me that's good, because I guess I do have some stuff to report on finally.  Training is coming along.  I'm probably up to ~75-80% of normal volumes.  I haven't done a whole ton of intensity yet, but I'm not necessarily at a point in my training where I would be putting in a whole ton of intensity regardless, and my fitness (much to my secret delight, because I can't say I enjoy high-end speed work and prefer to have the "I'm doing well enough without it" card to play) has progressed fairly well on a whole bunch of aerobic base training.  After plateauing and then declining in the water since my winter swim focus, I finally took the plunge (pun intended) with swimming and joined the Rochester Area Masters swim team a few weeks ago.  Although I'm convinced that other strokes exist solely to make me feel better about my freestyle, I'm so far glad that I put my fears about swimming with others aside and started with the team, as I know that consistent feedback, variety, and a "shut up and don't be an asshole" mentality are keys to my swimming.  My lanemates are great, and are patient with the spaz trying to figure out what she's doing in there.  I got to make a Zoolander reference today in regard to my completely lack of body rotation to one side (I can only turn one way!).  Biking is, well, biking.  Around three months or so after surgery, I was able to finally start riding clipped in all of the time.  My fitness has come along, although I can tell that my overall bike endurance and durability, especially with run training mixed in, still needs work.  I often find myself thinking, "I can't believe that I used to be able to ride x much longer than this after doing y and z in the preceding days" while parked in my saddle.  But, all in due time.

   So that's the quick and dirty on swimming and biking, which, eh, I've been doing those all year (minus the ~2 glorious weeks away from the pool to heal my incision...I sometimes miss my incision).  Which leaves running.  Running!  Actual running!  So, as I previously mentioned, I began the walk/jog process a couple of months ago.  After two weeks of that, I got to run continuously for the first time-20 big minutes.  From there, we slowly and gradually added bit by bit, five minutes at a time, a few times a week.  I've now peaked at a long run of 90 minutes, and I've had a few weeks of about 35mi/week.  Other than races (more on that in a moment), all of the training has just been aerobic, non-crazy stuff.  Even that, though, has been somewhat of a challenge.  Thanks to all of the swimming and biking, my aerobic systems have somewhat outpaced my muscular endurance and run speed.   This isn't a bad thing, though, as it has allowed me to be able to resume running at paces that I'd actually be happy with during times where I'd consider myself to be fit.  This isn't to say that I don't still have a long way to go, though-the difference is that these paces certainly feel more challenging, I'm not doing them off of the bike, and my long efforts and total mileage are still reduced.  Just like with biking, I finished that 90min run having difficulty fathoming running twice as long at nearly the same speed after riding a bike for five hours.  But, after the better part of a year away from running, re-learning how difficult it truly is to develop deep run fitness should come as no surprise.

   And did I say race?  Well, I did.  I managed to talk Jesse into letting me run a 10k on Thanksgiving, the Race with Grace.  I'd missed the previous Thanksgiving travelling to Mexico, so it seemed fitting to return to a race I'd run many, many times in the past.  The race itself was rough.  My instructions were basically, "screw up your hip and I'll kill you", and I'd had a couple of fatiguing days (which I assumed were by design, in order to ensure that I wouldn't be able to push hard enough to not follow those instructions) heading in.  It was windy.  I backed down the final half mile or so, and finished in 38:44.  Nothing earth shattering, supposedly respectable enough, but not enough to satisfy me.  The next day, as my food hangover and I were actively bombing out of a bike workout, I began an angst-y campaign to give another race a (somewhat fresher) shot.  By that point, giving into the demands of the nuts person (ha) must have just seemed easier than arguing, because by the end of what turned into a recovery ride, I had been granted permission for the Jingle Bell half marathon, a race up in New Hampshire that Dave and Becky were running the weekend of the QT2 holiday party.

Post Race with Grace-I made Dave tempo it so we could win the husband/wife title by default, because the Bylers are both really fast and won individual awards.  We still need to use the dinner gift certificate!
   So, just over two weeks later, I found myself on another starting line.  This time, well, I actually cared more, and as evidenced by the itemized list I'd texted Jesse about why my goal pace was entirely unrealistic (even though it, of course, proved not to be so) that morning, my normal race mental state had kicked in (insert winky emoticon).  Before I go any further, I will say that the race organizers did an awesome job.  The race itself was actually fairly large-about 800 participants-but there still was a small race friendliness and feel to it.  All of the volunteers-from the man who checked us in, to the local high school teams manning the aide stations, to the announcer who made the connection between Dave and I when he finished, to the sweet lady at the awards table-were SO welcoming and on top of their games.  As for the run?  The course was pretty much all fairly hilly and curvy-there weren't any majorly steep or long climbs, but there also weren't any long flat stretches.  Additionally, the final 2.5 miles were one long uphill, so that was in the back of my mind.

Race morning bathroom selfie in some of the most obnoxious race attire I've ever donned.  Might as go with a rainbow unicorn, pink zebra theme.  Makes perfect sense.

   I started out actually slightly under that goal pace (6:15) that I had deemed unrealistic, but throughout the first couple of miles I was actually considering it even more unrealistic, given that we were running slightly downhill and I was only slightly faster than it (6:10ish).  After that, the course started rolling more and mile splits got totally thrown out the window anyways, and I just focused on keeping my HR in a certain range that sounded about right to me.  I had miles in the 6:30's and miles around 6:05 with that, but the effort felt relatively steady so I just kind of went with it.  I passed Becky for the female lead somewhere around mile 4 or so, and maybe one or two more men after that.  Honestly, the race itself was fairly uneventful.  I never felt great, but I also never felt completely awful.  Every mile (thinking positive, as usual), I played, "what will my time be if I just run 7:00 pace for the rest of this?"  I figured that this was slightly slower than my normal training pace these days, so theoretically I'd come in below whatever time I was figuring, and be happy about it.  The last couple of miles hurt-but like they're supposed to hurt, I quite sincerely just hadn't been to that place in so very, very long.  My right leg, as a whole, was just struggling along at that point, not because of injury, but because of durability.  I wondered if I was having an allergic reaction to something, because I could barely breathe.  I was counting down tenths, then hundreds of miles.  I debated if I was going to finish, or collapse before the line.  In reality, I was fine for that stage of the race, but I'd just forgotten what things are supposed to feel like at that point.  Finally, after what felt like hours of struggling up a mountain (but was really more like 15min of running gradually uphill), I had made it onto the finishing straightaway.

   I let up a bit the last hundred meters or so, and just took it all in.  I was finishing.  I had run a strong half marathon, one that I would consider a "normal" good (not spectacular, but good) race (especially on a course with ~500ft of elevation gain) at any time period in my life, let alone where I am right now and where I've been in the recent past.  A year ago, I had been unable to sleep for nights on end after merely walking a couple of miles in Boston.  2.5 months ago, I wasn't running.  4 months ago, I was on crutches.  I crossed in 1:22:03 officially, but according to our garmins the course measured ~.15mi short, so probably more like 1:22 high if we're being honest.  Either way, I was happy with it-I'd remembered how to race and hurt, and I'd gotten to that point where I was willing to push myself through it because I really, really just didn't want to accept anything less than what my body was going to give me on the day.  And that was what I'd wanted.  I guess I broke the course record, too, not that that's saying a whole ton for a three year old race, but it sounds impressive, I suppose.  Becky finished just over 1.5 minutes later; we hugged and cried a bit, and then waited a few more minutes for Dave, who was brought in as "probably race winner Jennie Hansen's husband".  I guess this is what being mostly kinda "back" is like, I told Becky at one point before we began our cooldown slog.   

Finishing shots.  Somehow not awful, but the standards for Jennie finishing shots are low.  Like, a piece of tape on the ground low.

Becky and I post-race!  

I won beer.  This is good, because I don't really like beer, but I do owe a lot of people beers for the past year.  Come get some.  I have a case.  I also won chocolate.  It's almost gone.  This should surprise no one.

In New Hampshire, the port a potties are all named Dave, apparently.  I'm drawn to them.  Note: I'm a completely germophobe, but I somehow find the outside of a port a potty 9000x less disgusting than a cart handle or doorknob. 

I recruited company for my post-race recovery spin.  We watched Zoolander, though, so it was worth it.

   So that's training and racing and all of that stuff.  As for the hip?  Well, it's not 100% pain-free yet, but it's where it should be.  I still have some hip flexor and adductor tendon stuff going on, but (knock on every piece of wood in the immediate vicinity), it's been work through-able to this point, with a combination of smart progressions, strength and core work, and twice weekly ART treatments from Kenny Tsang at Active Care Chiropractic (I'll plug anything in here that I believe strongly in!!).  I saw Dr. Giordano a couple of weeks ago.  When I told him my running and training volumes, he told me that surgery had most certainly done its job in fixing the underlying problems, as I wouldn't be able to run as much as I was four months post-op if it hadn't done the trick.  The remaining soft tissue stuff is normal due to the motion restrictions I'd had.  Then he said the magic words-no restrictions.  I'd smiled and thanked him, but looking back, that doesn't seem like enough for someone whose knowledge and skill had quickly and accurately allowed me to resume life as I know it.

   Life as I know it.  That's a strange statement, because life as I know it hasn't been as I'd known it in quite some time.  Life as I know it is simple.  Swim, bike, run, work some days, recover, repeat.  Exist a little bit tired, sore, but satisfied.  Think about my next meal a lot.  Have goals in the near(ish) future to look towards.  This is where I'm happy.  Maybe I didn't know what I'd had until it was gone, but I don't think I fully comprehended how much I missed it until I started to get it back again.  Or maybe I did.  I don't know.  I do know that I was sad a bunch of the time.  I wanted to run so, SO badly.  Running was cast in some golden glow in my brain.  I wanted to be able to do normal volumes and such on the bike, too.  I wanted it to be hard.  And it is hard now.  There's no getting around that.  It's hardly like every ride or run has been like sliding down a rainbow onto my unicorn while singing songs about how grateful I am to be out there again.  Nope, I've used plenty of four letter words to describe them, I've had plenty of days where I'd questioned my own sanity, and I've gone through a whole bunch of growing pains while remembering what really, truly pursuing a goal is like, instead of just sitting behind a keyboard with a bunch of broken shit typing about how much I missed all of it.  I'm living what I've written now, and as f*cking hard as it is sometimes, I wouldn't have it any other way.  It's a different hard, and one that I can't elaborate.  It's a hard that has filled my heart again, and has woken me up from so much of the fog I felt.  It's the hard that's awesome in its hard-ness, because it's backed by love.

One of the little motivational things that's on the side of our fridge, the side that I see before I head downstairs to the trainer every time.
    So, even on those days where the runs have felt less than peppy (and today was one of them), I think back to the days where I felt a little bit lost, with a little empty area in my heart.  I often think of the girl who I was for most of the past year, and all of the promises that I made to her about how she'd use it all for mental strength down the line.  It might not make the immediate training moment any easier or more pleasant, but it gives me a little something extra to get me through it.  The thing about setbacks are that we can do the cliched thing and heal stronger, but it's not a given-it still requires a whole shit ton of work and dedication and focus, and then some.  My injuries and such in the past year don't guarantee jack shit.  They don't guarantee that I won't get injured or have setbacks again (and I more than likely will, nothing is linear-heck, I feel like this entire blog post is setting me up here), and they sure as heck don't guarantee that I'm going to have any degree of success down the line just because I've paid my dues.  Nope, I have to be willing to freaking work harder than I've ever worked before to get to where I would like to be.  Sure, my focus on what I want, and why I want it has been sharpened to a pointier point than ever before, but all of my typing and prose here means absolutely nothing if I'm not willing to put it into action, period.  I'll be the first to admit that I've had some major learning experiences regarding this as I've been moving through the past couple of months.  I have had a few workouts that just weren't working out, and I did have to pull the plug.  I took those hard-not that I've ever been happy about workout failure, but even I was surprised at how upset these made me.  Then it dawned on me-I wasn't just letting down my present self, but my past self.  This is something that I'm going to have to deal with for some time, I think, but at least I can recognize it moving forward.

My new 2016 bike bling.  A picture's worth a thousand words.
   Well...I think that's plenty for now.  Today's a weird day for me.  I started this blog post several days ago, but decided that I'd finish it today for a reason.  On 12/16/14, I got up, went and had an MRI, did some Christmas shopping, stopped at the Brighton Panera for some lunch, and ended up leaving in a daze, lunch half eaten, Christmas shopping halted, after my sister had called me to describe the fractures in my pelvis.  So, today, 12/16/15, I got up, went to masters practice, ran 11 miles, did some Christmas shopping, and have now stopped at the Brighton Panera for that lunch.  And instead of leaving in tears, I finished my food (mmm...training).  And I also did something else.  All year long, I didn't have a real solid race schedule or plans or anything along those lines.  All fall, I wanted a race schedule, but I also completely feared jinxing myself with one.  I still entirely, 100% have that fear, but my desire for a plan has won out.  It took a while to come up with one, and we were tentative to do so (I still am, especially with laying it out here).  But there is a plan.  After all, having a race schedule mapped out is part of being a competitive triathlete; maybe life won't go according to plan, but I can still share what I'm hoping for at this point.  The HITS Naples Olympic in a few weeks as a rust-buster, Panama 70.3, and then IM New Zealand.  After that, hopefully the Texas 70.3/IM Texas double.  So today, here, in this Panera, it seemed like the right place to finish up that IM New Zealand registration.  And now I'm actually going to go continue Christmas shopping, like I'd planned.  So here we go.  Full circle, fingers crossed.

Dave and I at the QT2 party post-half marathon.  I figured I'd throw in a picture to prove that we clean up every now and then.

Not that this is even really readable, but it's an MRI report that talks about a lot of screwed up crap.

How I feel about much of what I just wrote.

Because this blog always needs the Moose smiling

This blog also needs dogs frolicking out of a stream to finish it up, just because.