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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Luck, hope, and surgeries-Austin race report, and the off season game plan!

   So.  I went to Texas.  And I found some luck there.  Who would have known?  Life is funny sometimes.  When you least expect it, you get thrown a bone.  Anyways.  As I mentioned in the Kona/life wrap up post, I was in the midst of figuring things out body-wise while training to tack on one final race to, well, just end the season on a race.  Because I was planning on downtime afterwards, my training approach was to make sure that when I got to that starting line, I'd have peace of mind knowing that I had done as much as possibly could to prepare.  I didn't have any crazy sessions or volumes, but when all was said and done, I'd hit what I could, and everything hurt enough to assure me that my training mission had been accomplished.  Plus, I'd really kind of enjoyed beating myself up a bit, and counting down to something.  Then, I spent most of race week totally distracted from racing by MRI results and planning what to do moving forward; maybe a blessing in disguise, as it kept any nerves at bay.  I’ll get to that, though.  For now, Austin.

   Race travel and prep all went completely, totally smoothly.  I was suspicious.  I’m not used to that.  Otherwise, though, I was in a good state of mind, for once.  I can’t describe it, but all of the normal non-productive fears I might have had about the race just weren’t there.  I’m not sure why; maybe I had done enough stuff that scared me in Kona, or maybe I just felt like I had fought through the year and really didn’t have much to lose.  Either way, my lower-anxiety state was somewhat pleasant.  Race morning rolled around, and I ended up having plenty of time before heading to the swim start.  The sun started to rise.  We were called into the start corral.  The fog, though, stuck around, and the race announcers told us we were on a delay until it cleared.  As time rolled on, the fog only got worse, and even the first buoy became unsightable.  Finally, about an hour after the race should have started (after I'd complained repeatedly about how I could have been done swimming for the season), the call was made-cancelled swim.  Let's not kid ourselves here, I wasn't going to complain.  Of everyone in the field, if I could pull off a decent day, I stood to gain a significant competitive benefit from it-not losing ~5min off the bat obviously makes a big old difference.  Plus, we were going to be out on the course later into the day, which meant things would heat up more.  After spending 10 days heat training in Kona, I'd continued with the heat acclimation  at home.  While I don't love heat, when I'm ready for it, I can generally hold up well enough.  I thought back to Racine, though, where I'd just completely unraveled anyways.  My internal dialogue simply shifted to, do NOT blow this chance.  Soon enough, we were corralled back into transition, and then the pros were sent off a 30sec intervals.  I was the second non-seeded bib number female off, just at about the midway point overall.  Definitely a different starting position than I was used to on the bike.
Picture break!  This has nothing to do with racing, but that SUV a few cars ahead of me leaving the airport rental garage had the bar thing come down on its roof and a giant board come up from the floor into it.  Basically, it made a huge noise, and the rental got totally jacked.  I was grateful I didn't have to deal with that.  It would have been a not smooth prerace thing.

My bike did end up upside down getting moved around awkwardly, though.  I dropped part of the seat post clamp into it, and it turned into one of those games where you try to guide a ball through an impossible maze, but only with a bike.  I took a jog break due to the frustration in there.  

Barton Springs pool!  A few people told me that I should check it out, so I did.  It was pretty sweet.  A little chilly, but my pre-race swim was enjoyable.  I even saw a turtle!
Snapped this while we were waiting for the swim call-this was right before it came.  Notice you can't see the lake.  

  The fog hadn't totally lifted at the start of the ride, but visibility was ok enough still.  Right from the start, I found myself surprisingly happy with how my bike legs felt-for the first time in a long time, the power numbers that were popping up where actually a good deal higher than my perceived exertion.  I wasn't sure if I was overcooking myself or not, but I decided just to go with it.  I headed into the race with nothing to lose, so I figured I might as well take advantage of that.  The Austin bike course, with its frequent turns, rough roads, and rollers didn't necessarily fit my strengths, but at some point, I need to get over that.  I made a couple of passes in the first 15ish miles, but after than, things got pretty uninteresting.  For the next 40 miles, I saw more loose dogs (NOT comforting while on a bike-one I had to stop and yell at, and I wasn't the only female that got chased) than other racers.  The bulk of the ride felt more like a supported solo training ride than anything else, as I knew the remaining women ahead of me were super strong cyclists, and the likelihood I'd see them was very, very low.  So, although my power dropped a bit from the first 20 miles where I'd been able to chase a bit, I just concentrated on pushing to stay as steady as I could, and I absolutely forced myself to get over bottle fears and drink, drink, drink away (which ended up in resulting in my first successful bike pee in two years within the final couple of miles-small victories).
Heading off into the fog.  I didn't tip over trying to clip in in front of people.  Always a legit concern for me in TT starts.

   I rolled into transition as the fourth woman off the bike, but Beth, Amanda, and Heather all came barreling in just moments later, so I knew that they were all technically ahead of me, as they'd started behind.  How much ahead, I had no idea, but that didn't so much matter.  My task was to just run a half marathon to the best of my ability, and let the rest sort itself out.  Despite the copious amounts of fluid and salt I'd taken in on the bike, my quads were feeling a little bit crampy heading out onto the run.  The heat was on full force by that point, too, so I spent the first few miles easing into things, taking in even more salt, and using the aide stations to get in even more fluids and to cool off.  I moved ahead of the women that I'd come into transition in terms of position, but not necessarily in terms of place, as I decided it just wasn't worth it to even try to figure things out in that regard.  The first lap ended up passing by fairly quickly-the run course was actually kind of fun, with some rolling hills, dirt roads, and plenty of spectators, especially concentrated towards the end of each lap.

   Heading out for the second lap, the cramping had eased (although I became briefly aware that my feet were sort of splitting open), and I actually felt quite good, just rolling along, doing my best to keep the heat as mitigated as possible.  At the turnaround, I could tell that I was closing on Melanie ahead a bit, but Beth was hanging tight behind me, and Kelly was closing quickly.  By the end of the loop, I used the crowd support to make the pass on Melanie, which meant that had the third position cyclist with me.  Although my immediate reaction was to tell that I probably wasn't actually in third, and was probably going to get passed, I ultimately decided that I'd enjoy the moment regardless of where I actually was in the race, because I hadn't been up so high in ages, and certainly didn't think I'd get the opportunity there.  Then, shortly into the third loop, Jennifer in the second position became visible ahead.  I completely unexpectedly found myself ahead of her shortly afterwards, at which point everything just shifted into "turn the brain off and GO" mode.  I knew that a podium finish (it'd be tight between Beth, Kelly, and I) would be an unbelievable way to end a trying season, but I just didn't allow myself to think about anything other than staying in the moment.  Of course I was hurting by that point, and I felt like I could barely pick up my feet.  I pulled out every mental countdown trick in the book, and just channeled my ability to hurt, along with the knowledge that those last few miles would be it for a bit.
I had a bike escort!!!  She was awesome.  Even though they're not allowed to lead us anymore (boo), she still told people I was coming to help clear the path.  Yay.

  After what seemed like the longest 3ish miles of my life, I crossed the finish line barely holding onto my second position ahead of Kelly, which meant that I was at worst third.  I was overjoyed with either position, especially because my teammates would make up the rest of the podium.  After the time gap between myself and Beth had passed, I was announced as officially second, at which point the disbelief, happy, relieved, everything has been a fight, did this really happen, I couldn't have asked for anything more head on the barrier crying happened.  I can't really describe it, but it was just one of those moments that just confirmed that what I've known for the past couple of years was unequivocally true-this is still worth it.  I shared hugs and congrats with the other women, before noticing that my shoes were in fact covered in blood, and I probably should get that attended to.  Oh well.  Small price to pay.  Of course, I'm completely realistic that if we had swam, I would maybe have squeaked out a fifth or sixth place, and that it benefited me more than anyone else in the field.  But, when it comes down to it, we can only ever just deal with what's placed in front of us on the day, and so I'm grateful that my body was willing to allow me to make the best of the chance that was placed before me.
Finish line with Jeanni.  No idea what's being said here, but she was awesome!!

Dave needed to record that he was there.  I was thirsty.

What makes races even better?  When athletes are there! I think this was the first time I've ever raced with Paul in several season of coaching him, so that was awesome.  He rocked it, finishing just out of awards in his AG.  Plus, we got to share some beverages.

Jeanni giving her speech.  Me being unaware my skort thing was unattractively riding up.  Note: Dave accidentally packed that skort on a business trip, thinking it was his shorts.  He rewore gross dirty shorts instead of wearing it, sadly.

Doing the "hold up the trophies" thing.  It was my first piece of WTC metal in over 2 years, so I was ok with the cheesiness.

QT2 podium sweep!  Surrounded by ladies who are awesome on many levels.  Love being a part of this team!

  So, that was Austin, where I was unexpectedly able to end what had been another trying, yet rewarding year on a high note.  What's next?  In the week before I went to Austin, the off season plans were starting to take shape once as soon as my orthopedist emailed me with MRI results.  Nothing new orthopedically, still the mild deformity at the ischial tuberosity fracture site that was getting more painful heading in, but no associated hamstring attachment damage, and no new findings in the painful adductor/groin area.  With that, I scheduled the sports hernia repair locally.  I was lucky enough to be able to get an appointment before I left for Austin, then even luckier to be able to get a prompt surgery date, which ended up being yesterday.  So, that's done.  I put it off and trained through it all summer, so I'm hoping that the surgery will help to take care of that issue-obviously one day post-op I'm pretty darn sore, but I'm sore in the same distribution that's hurt all along, which I think is a good sign.
Dave again with the selfie, as I look gross pre-op.  I just wanted to be under anesthesia at that point, to end the hunger associated with 12+ hours of fasting.  Yes, I did squeeze in one final ride before heading in, too, so I was also ragingly thirsty.

   As for that sacral pain that was so bad at some points before the race?  Well, here's where it gets kind of weird.  My sacrum looked fine.  The stress reaction there last winter was nearly resolved.  What was seen, though, was that the 2cm incidental finding posterior uterine fibroid that had first popped up on scans after Cozumel was now 6cm (roughly the size of a tennis ball), and pushing back in a way that feasibly is putting pressure on the structures and nerves back there.  I have been getting that monitored by my ob/gyn the past couple of years, and I'd actually had it measured via US there a few weeks before the MRI.  Between when I'd first contacted my orthopedist and getting the MRI, that office (2.5 weeks after the fact) had called me to tell me that it had grown a concerning enough amount that they wanted me to come in and talk about removal (which took 4 weeks for a 5min consultation that could have been easily done over the phone-yes, that is a gripe, and I came to appreciate how efficient my orthopedic treatment has been all along).  So, between the growth rate, the position, the fact that I have nothing else to explain the pressure and pain in my sacral area, a few other symptoms that don't need to be brought up necessarily, and an undeniable fluctuation in symptoms based on time of month (maybe TMI, but relevant), I'll be having that out in the beginning of December.  I would have liked to have had the two surgeries a little bit closer together to avoid conflicts in rehab, but the fibroid removal can be done laparoscopically, which means a shorter recovery time.  Unfortunately, it's still a bunch of incisions in the same area that are likely going to have repercussions on the deep core and lower abdominal strength that already wasn't optimal after everything the past few years, but with proper rehab and a slow build back, I'm not horribly worried.  I do have concerns still about the ischial tuberosity fracture area pain that's been on and off all year with running especially, but again, I'd have to have a perfectly good hamstring tendon detached to smooth out that bone, which is just way too major to justify (and, thanks to a continuing ed article I read the other day, leads to a weakened tendon/bone interface down the line and often bone callus formation anyways-so, basically, screwing up a bunch of stuff to remove a bone callus that could end up turning back into a bone callus).  Plus, there's a chance that some of that pain could be related to nerve pressure from the fibroid.  Time will tell.

I need a break from talking about my uterus.  Thankfully, we got home from Austin in time to make Halloween happen! Here are some pumpkins, before the squirrels ate their faces.

Peacock Bailey.  I'm horrible.  But, this is better than an incision picture.  It's not in a pretty area.

   So, the plan moving forward is to get through all of this surgical stuff, rest appropriately, rehab everything carefully and properly, and hope that with stuff repaired and gone, the pelvic pain that's been a nearly constant part of my life for almost two years now will work itself out enough to be able to build back to the IM distance next year.  The last two races of my season could not have gone better placement-wise, and I'm so, so happy to have had them to give me fresh memories of what the highs of the sport feel like, so I'm inspired to keep fighting.  Plus, they helped with a big part of the picture, which is to help me to believe in myself as an athlete a little bit again.  For the final 3 months of the season, I had to accept that I just wasn't going to be able to train like I wanted to, but I still managed to make the most of it on race days.  Heading into my hip surgery last year, I was just in a low place after fighting back from the pelvic fractures, only to find out that I needed a hip operation just as I was getting back.  I had no recent results to go on, no glimpses of light in there to have any reason to believe in my abilities anymore, and I was desperate to get back on a starting line.  As a result, I tried to push back from that too hard, too fast in order to prove to myself that I could still be an athlete, which led into my issues this year.  Now, the attitude is different.  I've had a solid glimpse of how awesome and rewarding racing can be, and I'm pleased with how things went out there in my last few attempts at it.  I maxed out what I could have done with what I had, and I know that from here on out, if I want to keep moving forward (and ultimately back to fulls), I need a healthy body.  It's not a question of whether or not I still want to do this; I completely know that I want to now and I've seen that it's worth it to take the time and get things right.

  Once again, if anyone made it through all that (post-op Jennie=bored writing Jennie, especially because Dave is at work and then insisting on running before coming home-guilt trip), HUGE thanks for all of the support, encouragement, kind words, and love from both this race and throughout this whole season!  I'm feeling pretty optimistic about the (athletic-that's all I'm going to specify on that one) future at the moment (especially while on painkillers), and looking forward to seeing where things can go from here.  Special thanks to QR for being the best bike company ever, my closest family and friends (and text message confidants), the pro women who have reminded me what an awesome group I'm a part of, my fellow coaches at Valor and our awesome group of athletes, QT2 and all of the great companies that support our team (Normatec, Base, Trisports, Kleen et al), and of course to Dave and Jesse, who have helped me navigate through a whole bunch without letting me lose faith.  Here's to having a 2016 season, and to hoping that 2017 can build on that!

And a happy Moose in the woods!  I love pictures of my dogs with leaves, especially because I'm so grateful that she's still enjoying them!!