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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Blackbird, fly

  It seems odd, I know.  I went from updating the blog about pains and chronicity and surgical talks, but now, well, right now, I’m riding in the car on the way up to Mont Tremblant, with the intention of racing the 70.3 up there this weekend.  I’m not counting on anything until it’s happening, that’s for sure.  So how did I end get here?  Not by miracle cures, perfection, or clear-cut answers, by any means, but by a combination of a solid dose of stubbornness, some concessions and truces with my body, and an element of letting go-but I’ll get to that.  First, though, I’ll backtrack a bit and just give a little synopsis of how the past four weeks or so have gone down.

  A couple of days after my last post, I was able to get in for a bone scan in order to determine if the old fracture sites were actively doing anything, or if they were just being stupid (my medical assessment).  I ran half an hour while waiting for the tracer to set in that day.  It really didn’t feel that bad.  I had a follow up with Dr. Giordano a week after that.  So in that time, I took it upon myself to, in a sense, say f*ck it, throw caution and fears into the wind, and just see what I could handle.  What I did that week wasn’t anything super crazy, but given my (lack of) training, it wasn’t exactly any sort of recommended progression, going from a max of 90 minutes on the bike to several 2-3 hour rides, and jumping from zero miles of running in 2016 to 25 that week.  I was, quite literally, seeing if I could push myself past some sort of breaking point before seeing the doctor.  If I was going to need ass surgery, I wanted to know sooner rather than later. 

   The results were somewhat messy, but, bottom line was, I didn’t get to the point where any session had to be stopped due to pain.  I was uncomfortable, I hurt, and I had evenings where I was certain that I was done, but, come the next morning, I found that I was able to get up and put in effort to some degree again.  When I saw Dr. Giordano the following week, he confirmed that my bone scan had been clear, evaluated a few things on my hip, and told me that he truly thought that doing anything surgical at the high hamstring area would be “overkill”.  I was referred to a sports hernia doctor, and given the green light to work within my tolerance.  I can’t say that this wasn’t a total rollercoaster still.  I would have times where I felt ok and had hope, and other times where I truly didn’t understand how I was ever going to get “better”, whatever better means-if I had a certain level of pain doing a certain low level of training, how was I going to get past that to be able to do more or to race again?  My outlook and moods went from one extreme to the other.  But, I kept trucking, despite the fact that my life was morphing into a continued wavering between “I don’t get how I’m not going to need surgery” and “maybe I can race soon instead”. 

   In the midst of all of this, just before the deadline passed, I threw my name on the Mont Tremblant 70.3 start list, just in case, on a whim.  I had more ups and downs, but even after some of the worst days, I could still physically run.  I also entertained myself by pouring through old training logs.  I went back years-to 2009 and 2010, when another lingering high hamstring injury and ischial tuberosity stress fracture had been the impetus to get me into triathlon in the first place.  I recalled that when I had first begun to run after 12 weeks off, the area did still hurt.  I remembered that I’d been annoyed that it still hurt, and just run anyways while rehabbing it with various methods.  Eventually, that butt pain had gone away without any drastic measures, all while I trained and raced and just refused to give into it.  So, I looked back at how much I’d actually been doing at that time.  Needless to say, there was some disconnect between how much I thought I’d been doing (full-fledged run training off the bat) and how much I was actually doing (maybe a couple of 30-45min runs a week, with some of those being race days).  I’d actually had some decent race performances in there, though, despite the low overall run volume.  Hmm.

   I started to shift my thinking a bit from “let’s see if I can break myself sooner rather than later” to “let’s see if I can somehow make this work.”  I decided on a couple of runs a week to see how my body would handle that.  I came to the conclusion that even if it meant some more pain throughout the course of the day, I’m 1000x better off and happier to be able to train to some degree than the alternative.  My next run felt better.  I talked to Jesse afterwards, who’d been monitoring my self-experimentation up to that point.  Everything was a crapshoot with no way of knowing or planning, so having a plan didn’t really make sense.  I told him that I wanted to race.  This finally culminated from working up from a 5k to me springing the whole idea of a 70.3.  After a year and a half of being an utter train wreck, the “screw it, let’s go for it” response came fairly easily.  And that was that.  Slightly smoother than the last time I’d sprung the “I want to race in Tremblant in 2.5 weeks” from the other end of the line. 

   With an actual short-term goal in mind, life marched on.  I saw the sports hernia surgeon, and we decided that I was ok to hold out on doing anything with regards to that.  The orthopedic PT journal conveniently put out a great clinical commentary on rehab protocols for high hamstring injuries and guidelines for working through them, and I began structuring my rehab around that.  I worked with Tiffany Rickert at Metta massage a few times-the squirming on the table, almost tapping out, super deep tissue work seemed to fulfill some sort of missing link in all of it.  I ran twice a week, and kept the biking to 2-3 hours max.  I held up, albeit with a few hiccups here and there (known as some stubborn foot tendon issues) as my hip and butt started to improve a bit.   I do believe, though, that a large part of the hip and butt feeling better stemmed simply from having something else to focus on.  Instead of spending every second of training obsessing over what was going on with my orthopedic parts, I had a different, more positive outlet for my nervous energies.  I stopped doctor googling, because the actual doctor who had seen the ins and outs of all of it had told me that I was structurally sound.  As soon as I was able to break the hold that my hip had over my mind, as soon as I was able to take charge of it all, I was able to start to maybe sort of figure out how to move forward.

   At the same time, that whole idea of letting go came into play.  I’d had it floated to me in a different context-let go, quit, go find something else to do, forget about triathlon.  At one point, I was told that the only solution was to stop doing anything triathlon-related entirely, let go of any goals that I might still have been harboring at the peak of my frustration, spend months away, and talk to psychologists.  In the absence of any imaging findings to suggest that there was an actual physical structure in me that needed healing other than a bunch of stuff that didn’t quite know how to work after a whole bunch of time away, I honestly had a hard time buying that.  I know myself well enough to know that doing nothing without known cause would only serve to make me miserable, and I didn’t feel like a mental depression would help my physical self.  I did leave the door open for Dr. Giordano to tell me that maybe I did need to stop being at all active, but he had shut it vehemently, so I moved on accordingly. 

   But, this isn’t to say that I haven’t let go of some stuff.  I wouldn’t be planning on racing this Sunday if I was still holding onto everything.  Back in December, I had gotten myself into trouble because I was so focused on the idea of some perfect comeback race, sold on the idea that I was going to toe the line in some sort of peak fitness and crush something triumphantly (for me).  Although I do think that at the current moment, goals have been useful in allowing me to focus on something other than pain in training, back then, my post-op hip and fracture areas weren’t totally sold on everything yet, and my goals at the time were allowing me to ignore a bit more than I should have.  So, I’ve let go of that ideal of perfection.  There's a middle ground between full-on IM training volumes and nothing; between huge race performances and surgery.  Having been stuck with the latter of those options while pursuing the former, I'm perfectly happy having found just a bit of footing in the middle ground.  You can believe in the power of the mind all you want, but the fact of the matter is that I just flat out haven’t put in the body of work required to be in that great of shape, in particular on the run, obviously.  There’s no denying that; asking for something awesome out there would almost seem like I was trying to take a shortcut.  And that’s ok.  100% fine.  That’s life, and life is messy and imperfect.  I just want to race.  I miss it, and I'm not complete in myself without it, for better or worse.  If nothing else, these past few months have been a gift in that they’ve truly allowed me to let go of worry about all of those little details I used to drive myself crazy over-my power isn’t going to improve every ride, some runs will be slower than others.  I’m heading into this race a few pounds heavier than I’ve ever raced before.  It’s going to be hot as balls.  But again, driving myself nuts with worry about these details won’t do me any good at the moment.  I will care again someday, likely sooner rather than later, but for now, I’ve been down in the trenches for too long to be concerned.  

   I also had to get over the fear of getting burned again.  I took this winter and spring hard, harder than the fractures or the surgery or anything tangible.  I was so, so terrified to let myself get close.  Uncertainty and fear were ruling me-I refused to allow myself to think about anything in the future, and I was having difficulty even taking any enjoyment in training, in case it got taken away from me again.  Numb was easier.  But numbness, well, it sucks.  So here I am, feeling entirely vulnerable again (and still absolutely not counting on anything until I’m physically racing, and definitely not letting myself exhale until I've actually made it to a T2).  Feeling, though, is still better than drifting aimlessly.  Maybe this will work out.  Maybe it won’t.  Regardless, it’s been fun to even start to go through the whole process of getting to a race, to think about things and plan and hope.  Maybe it hasn’t worked out the previous a lot of times, but before that, it had worked out.  I’ll just take things as the come, play the hand I’m dealt, and see what happens.  I’m nervous and excited at the same time.  I have no expectations, which is wonderful in a way.  Even my slowest 70.3 ever is still better than one that didn’t happen.  So, tomorrow will bring what it will bring.  I'm admittedly absolutely terrified of all things related to bottle handling first and foremost, but I've practiced the past several weekends, and I just need to trust in those times that it did work out, instead of fixating on the one time that it didn't.  I've learned that the ability to even get to a race is already a gift not to be taken for granted.  Finishing it, however long it may take me, well, that would be even better, but we'll see about that one.  Whatever happens, happens.  Throughout it all, I continue to feel extremely fortunate for all of the support and well-wishes heading into this-more than anything, I want to be able to show that those who have continued to back me and hold me up how grateful I am out there.  There aren't any guarantees, but that's what makes taking a shot worth it sometimes. 

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