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Friday, January 5, 2018

It's all within yourself-on Argentina

  All right, it's been a while.  Blogging got away from me in the fall, and then I *might* have sort of let my domain name expire.  Figuring out how to renew it was then more complicated than grad school.  Obviously, I went to Argentina, came home, and got more caught up in the holidays and catching up on life than writing about the race.  Plus, probably not that many people really read these things anymore anyways.  But, when it came down to it, that was hardly a run of the mill race, and getting my thoughts down on it seemed like a therapeutic way to process it all and put it behind me.  My college coach used to say that the best races hurt the least, and I've always found this to be true.  The body feels good, the numbers are there, and the mind feels and sees that and follows with positive feedback and motivation.  PRs and placements are chased, and yeah, at those times, the accomplishment is objective and tangible, and it's easy to post triumphant pictures and say stuff about how hard work works, etc, etc.  But what happens when the opposite is true?  What if despite all of your best efforts, the body isn't working, and the numbers are terrible?  What happens when you finish with your worst time ever, well out of any sort of decent placement?  Is there any cause for happiness?  Was the work worth it?

Opening pictures with a non-chronological panoramic of Argentina, featuring my normal resting confused face.  As usual, got asked if I needed help finding anything while minding my own business, pushing a grocery cart today.
   Fall, as a whole for me, involved a whole bunch of troubleshooting, rearranging, and making the best of what I was handed.  In late September, the faucet on my on again, off again foot niggle turned a little too on for comfort, and I had to back off my running to near negligible levels, and pull out all of the PT, chiropractic, and NSAID stops.  Eventually, it came back around, and I was able to race the Miami 70.3.  It wasn't my best race, wasn't my worst, but I survived swimming in rough waters, biking on a windy day, and running off of low volume in the heat.  Valuable experience as a whole, and a fun trip with my mom.  I headed home with my foot feeling encouragingly decent, and was ready to put my head down and dig into the meat and potatoes of training for Cozumel.  Well, life had other plans.  The scratchy throat I felt on my way home that I'd hoped would be a brief, train through it sort of cold turned into a full on sinus infection.  Although I was able to exercise throughout, I felt like crap, and it was a far cry from the heavy training I needed that week in order to be prepared for an IM a month later, especially given my low run training volume heading into Miami.  Options weren't great, but I had put in some solid swim and bike training before I got sick, and we still felt like I had enough in me to end the season with an IM, so the decision was made to push the date forward a week to IM Mar del Plata, allowing me to recover more from the sinus infection and still get in some run volume.
My mom and I post-Miami 70.3.  Don't worry, I made sure that Dave knew how she went along with all of my race crap without a single complaint whenever he annoyed me in Argentina.  He loved hearing this.

A good 70.3 trip ends with froyo

   That final ~month of hard training was both a grind, and a whirlwind.  #panictraining made its way into my vocabulary, and I had a tendency to alternate between times when I hit solid sessions, and times when I instead ended up crying on the trainer, convinced there was no possible way that I was going to be ready for an IM in x weeks.  My sinus infection symptoms lingered, and I also spent about a week out of the pool in there with an incredibly painful ear infection, as well.  Additionally, I admittedly just had a mental block when it came to training for an international (non-Canada) IM.  I couldn't help it, looking back at how previous registrations have gone-a withdrawal from Los Cabos before I made the trip (sick/overraced/et), a DNF in Cozumel (crash/injury), another withdrawal from New Zealand before I made the trip (injury), and of course, that DNS in Cairns (sick).  At times, the petulant voice in my head just said, "why are you doing this, why are you pushing yourself, it's not going to work out, it never does".  But.  When all was said and done, I (and others) had convinced myself to just keep going, both during individual workouts and training as a whole, and I had some days where yeah, regardless of the IM outcome, I felt pretty damn satisfied with that.  The way the fall played out meant that I crammed a lot of training into not a lot of time, and as race week approached as the workload began to pull back ever so slightly, my body started to respond, and I began to at least gain a little bit of cautious optimism.  Turns out, I was right not to trust it, but we'll get to that.

Tales of my training-toughing through a long Saturday trainer ride.  Not sure if this is the one where I stopped and cried for like 20min after 3.5 hours, but entirely possible.

Buuuut then the next day, here I am, crapping out of my long run.  Of course there's a picture, because Dave is a jerk.
After one of my final runs of the season.  Wardrobe selection indicative of current laundry status, how little I cared at that point, and excitement about impending Christmas season.  Bailey wasn't impressed.

The result of one of my failed long ride attempts.  I've always had guinea pigs, because I'm like 8 and I like them.  My last one left this world when we were in Australia (adding to that trip).  Dave told me I couldn't replace her.  Well, guess what happened when he was away on business and I was sad about that ride.  Henry happened.  I told him I at least got a male to keep in company in the house of girl puppies.

I did run a 5 miler on Thanksgiving.  It made me want to learn how to run fast again in 2018.  But, I at least won a pie, and got a sweet turkey t shirt.
On the flip side of Henry, I bribed myself through a different ride with the promise of buying myself a new light up Christmas animal for the yard if I finished.  I have problems.  The struggle of late season IM training is real.  

   Because of the race switch, I was able to spend Thanksgiving at home with my family.  As it turned out, my 96 year old grandmother fell and broke her hip Thanksgiving day, and underwent surgery the following morning.  Hugely unfortunate and hard situation, obviously, and I was grateful that I was in Rochester, and not in Mexico, preparing to race.  As it was, I still felt guilt leaving the country for a week a few days later.  Dave had to work out of town for a couple of days prior to our departure, and he met me in the Toronto airport to depart with a full-blown cold.  I immediately went into panic mode with wipes and hand sanitizer and every vitamin C/zinc product on the planet.  I kept myself separated from him as much as I could for those first couple of days of travel.  We took a redeye to Buenos Aires Tuesday night, spent Wednesday in Buenos Aires, and then drove to Mar del Plata on Thursday.  Between Dave's germs, the impending race, the wind and water conditions in Mar del Plata, and driving in Argentina (or, in my case just being a passenger), to say I was in a bit of a high-anxiety state would be putting it nicely.  Plus, my power meter broke.  But, alas.  I rode and stayed upright, we didn't get into any car accidents, and I mostly felt ok.  Mostly.  Friday evening, my throat started to hurt a bit, but sort of deep back there.  I freaked out that I was getting Dave's cold, of course, but when it wasn't any worse the following day, I chalked it up to that ear infection maybe sort of coming back, and went about my pre-race business.
Dave, by and large, was a lot more enthused about Argentina than I was at any given point

This was my first glimpse of the swim venue.  WTAF.

This was the morning I swam for five minutes before just hoping that if the water was like that, the swim would probably be cancelled.  Killer prep.  Really reassuring.

This is what a broken power meter calibrates at.  I totally screwed up my TP account with some of the numbers it came up with in there.  I think my FTP is now like 5000W.

Bike racks in a different location, for those that want to see something stereotypically IM.

   The night before the race, I started to feel a little bit warm and off.  I checked my temperature a few times, and it wavered between 98.5 and 99.5.  Ok, no big deal, still within normal variations, right?  I clocked out early, but then woke up a few hours later clammy and a little nauseous.  It didn't comfort me, but I did my best to shrug it off as normal pre-race nerve related stuff, although the rest of the night was spent restless and mostly awake to lightly dozing before waking up in a cold sweat.  Race morning, though, I felt ok enough when I woke up, until I ate breakfast and nausea immediately set it.  Still, I tried to stay optimistic-it's not unheard of for me to go through random waves of stomach upset from time to time for no known reason that pass relatively quickly.  We walked down and I did my normal set up stuff, but my stomach really just didn't want to feel any better.  Shortly before the swim start, I tried Pepto and Immodium, to no major avail.  Thankfully, the water had calmed down from the washing machine it had been in the days prior, but the swells were still present, which wouldn't mix well with stomach upset.  I said my goodbyes to Dave, and ended up digging my last resort, the single leftover Zofran from the Australia experience, out of my sports bra a few minutes before the race start, hoping that if I could just get through the horizontal body position and swells of the swim, things would calm down and I could get to work afterwards.
Race morning.  Que sera, sera.

   That swim.  Olf.  The gun went off, and I half heartedly worked my way through the breakers on shore.  I wasn't completely last, but I also quickly lost any contact with those in front of me.  It didn't so much matter, though, as attempting to push was pretty much out of the question.  The dark, cold, murky salt water, swells, and the state of my stomach were all a bad combination.  In any race I've done, that was probably the most nervous I've ever been about being in the water-I felt all kinds of weak, and I really was just hoping I'd be able to make it through.  I almost pulled myself out of the race then and there.  But, that's not my style, and I could at least just give things a shot.  I concentrated solely on making it from buoy to buoy, trying not to think beyond that.  The AGers started passing me pretty early on (and with more contact than was necessary in the open ocean at times), but I couldn't really do much about that.  Finishing the first loop was a relief.  I was fully mentally prepared to see, like, 40min on my watch, so although 34:xx was still pretty bad, it was better than I had expected.  I got back into the water for my second loop, and it was more of the same-keep the stomach at bay, try not to swallow too much water, plug from buoy to buoy.  I also had to pee, uncomfortably so, which was odd given how little fluid I'd gotten in that morning, but figuring out how to execute that while moving in the water was somewhat of a highlight of the day.  The little things.

   I can't say I was unhappy when the swim ended.  I saw 1:08 on my watch when I crossed the timing mat, which at least wasn't my worst IM swim ever (low bar).  The changing tent was pretty empty in T1, and my bike was pretty lonely on the rack.  I set off, not sure what to expect.  Because of the broken power meter, the plan was to pace off of heart rate-probably better given how I felt, anyways.  Welp, that ended up not working out so well-despite reading all morning, the monitor decided not to work when I started the bike.  I saw Dave on my way out and told him this, and then gave myself a little bit of a troubleshooting "get it together" pep talk.  I had time, distance, speed, cadence (that was somehow still working), and effort to work with.  I can survive without technology.  Besides, at that point, my main goal was to make sure my stomach would settle in order to be able to fuel the race-kind of critical in an IM.  Thankfully, the weather was so damp and cool that I could get away with not having to stomach a ton of fluid.  In fact, I had to pee almost constantly throughout the entire bike, despite drinking far less than I ever have in any IM I've done.  I knew that we'd have a tailwind out, headwind back on the two loop bike course, and initially just aimed to try to keep my 5 mile lap splits relatively even for each respective portion.  I could tell that I was way back in the field, but generally I was perking up a bit.  Eventually-actually, somewhat ironically given my last experience racing an international IM-my HR monitor began to pick up again after I sat up to refill my front bottle.  The headwind on the way back to town at the end of the first lap was tough, but overall, I was still ok enough at that point, and not in horrible spirits.  Dave told me I was holding fairly steady within the field, and so I hadn't yet given up hope on the day.
Always really pro heading to the mount line.

   The first half of the second bike lap continued to not be too awful, other than bladder discomfort (flat courses are rough).  My HR monitor was now consistently working; I was sitting a couple beats below where I should have been, but I thought that I might be able to push things a little higher towards the end.  Well.  The trip out was faster than it had been on the first lap, so I began to mentally prepare myself for a tough trip back to town.  After making the turnaround, the headwind started to suck (blow?).  I knew we'd turn off onto a cross street for a little out and back about midway through the stretch back, and it would give a little bit of a reprieve, at least, so I focused on that.  Of course, getting to that turn off seemed to take forever.  At one point, I began to wonder if I'd somehow missed it.  It seemed possible that I could be that dumb while racing.  Additionally, some of the men around me were starting to be, well, man-like with their surging and slowing down and not dropping back when passed (and in one case, riding all the way to the freaking left...douche).  Since it was getting to be about the time where I wanted to see if I could bring the HR up anyways, I did try to break away from the irritation a few times, to no avail.  Finally, mercifully we reached the turn off for the out and back, and a little break from the wind.  I ended up doing a lot of sitting up and soft pedaling in frustration, which was only ok because of the overactive bladder issues that were still rampant.  My HR was dropping, but more because of the race dynamics than anything physical, at least I thought.
End of the first loop.  Prior to having my soul crushed by an hour of pedaling 15mph into the wind (SPOILER).

   Once we turned off that street, back onto the highway for the final ~15mi stretch back to town, the wind came in full force.  I quickly realized that I was going to have a LOT longer left than the ~45min I had prepared myself to have to go at that point, as I watched my speed drop to the 15-16mph range.  Yikes.  On the bright side, it did break up all the man crap I was dealing with, but otherwise, it was just tough.  And sort of demoralizing.  By 97 miles into an IM bike, I'm usually generally pretty over my bike, and yet this was absolutely going to be slower than climbing up from Wilmington in Placid, except at least there there are climbs to give the undercarriage a break (the overactive bladder created more than a few uncomfortable situations).  Nothing to do but keep going, though.  If nothing else, I wasn't scared, which was saying a lot given my general anxieties about racing in wind and that sort of deal.  Otherwise, trying not to be too defeated took a lot of willpower. I couldn't quite keep my HR up where I wanted it, I was convinced I was going to have a horrific bike split, I hadn't budged within the field, and I felt completely out of any sort of decent placing in the race.  Finally, we got back into town for the final out and back.  Right before I started that part, there was a moment of confusion, as some sort of remembrance march for the missing men on the submarine was happening on the course.  People were yelling at me in Spanish and trying to divert me onto a sidewalk.  I had no idea what was going on, and was just tired and confused by that point, so I stopped and started crying as a bunch of wonderful volunteers and spectators came to my aide and pushed me back into action.  After that, the final few miles of that out and back seemed to just drag into eternity, and I was sure the bike course was actually going to be like 115 miles (it wasn't), but finally, finally I made it into T2.

   I took my sweet time in T2 (finally at least temporarily getting to fully empty my bladder), totally unsure of what was about to transpire.  In all honesty, not having power working on my bike was probably my saving grace for that ride-it was just better to not know, to not have that in my head as an inescapable measure of what was happening.  On the run, though, I'd know my pace.  I started off feeling awful, questioning how I'd be able to make it through 26.2 miles.  So, pretty normal for an IM marathon.  I wasn't feeling too confident, but I also knew I'd felt similarly before.  As I got into things the first few miles, it initially wasn't too horrible-with the tailwind, I was at least able to sneak under 7:00 pace for a bit.  At the first u turn, though, the wind hit.  I thought maybe I could still hold under 7:30's.  That didn't last long.  I took a gel four miles in, but the aftermath of that felt awful, and from there on out, I had no choice but to fuel the rest of the marathon on coke alone.  My HR was dropping, but I couldn't move my legs any more quickly to rebound it.  I stopped paying attention to pace, just hoping that maybe the next tailwind section would help.  When I saw Dave at the end of the first loop, he tried to tell me something positive, which I quickly shut down by telling him that at that point, I was just going to keep going out of respect to the sport.  I spent a lot of time out there thinking of many, many others, in particular some of the top athletes in the sport (and my grandmother in the hospital, who had somehow still remembered to wish me luck in Argentina before I left, despite it all), who have kept making forward motion despite circumstances and poor results.  In my eyes, my respect for them grew more in those instances than it had during their triumphs. 
I'm guessing still first loop, because both feet are off the ground.  Although I'm going to claim I ran the entire marathon in a short bit here, finisherpix don't lie.  There were some shots where both of my feet were on the ground.  No flight phase.  Glorified walking.  Sad face.

   The second lap got more rough.  Even with the tailwind on the way out, I was continuing to slow down, and knew that I was in for a doozy on the way back.  I don't know how to describe what was going on in my body, other than that it just simply was not working.  I felt like I was jogging (because I was), but I also felt like I was running as hard as I possibly could have at any given point.  I wasn't shutting it down or selling wholesale by choice; I was instead still fighting with every fiber of my being, but to no avail.  Passing by Dave on my way out to the second u turn, I told him I was running at my "don't puke" pace.  On the way back from that, heading onto my final lap, I told him that I was starting to feel super off, and I tearfully asked if I could walk.  He said yes.  I didn't, though.  As slow as my shuffle was, trying to keep running meant to me that I was still trying.  One of the hardest parts of that final lap was that none of my normal tricks regarding breaking down the time left applied.  Reaching mile 18 didn't mean that I could tell myself I only had about an hour to go, because I was barely keeping it under 10:00 pace (at least when I checked) at that point, and still had to run back into the wind for most of the remaining distance.  After hitting the turnaround, the final few miles of battling back into the wind were, without exaggeration, the hardest miles of my entire running career.  I stopped at one point to walk into the bathroom (bladder was still hyperactive), and couldn't tell if I was sound enough to start again when I came out.  Men twice my age were going back and forth with me while walk/jogging.  A kid was standing on a skateboard, letting the wind push him backwards.  I felt weak enough that I could barely muster the strength to fight forward into it, at times.  Admittedly (sorry, Dave), one of my few remaining motivating factors for speed was to at least be faster than Dave's slowest IM marathon (or else I'd be major league putting my foot in my mouth, after all).
This was probably earlier in the marathon than I was at the end of that last paragraph.  I don't look shitty enough yet.  Dave probably was afraid of what would happen if he captured pictures of my finest moments.

   With about 3 miles to go, I saw Dave one last time.  I broke down and yelled, "MAKE IT END!!!!" at him, referencing the wind.  He told me that I didn't have to keep going (apparently I had coke and snot all over my face and looked horrific), but seriously?  If I'd suffered for as long as I had, I still wanted a finish to show for it.  The final couple of miles got really dicey.  I finally had to relent on a couple of occasions, right around 24 and 25 miles, and walk for a few steps to make sure that I could stay upright.  The final u turn seemed so far out that I was again convinced the run course was going to be long (and again, it wasn't), but eventually, mercifully,  I climbed the ramp towards the final stretch.  I will say this for that run course-the spectator support was awesome, although I wasn't in any sort of state to appreciate it, and the finish stretch was packed with enthusiastic spectators bringing us in.  At that point, I lost it emotionally, breaking down into ugly dry sobbing.  Obviously, I've been a pretty emotional IM finisher in the past, but this probably took the cake.  This time around, it had nothing to do with joy over a good performance or anything like that, but pure relief that it was ending, and some sort of emotion that I can't describe knowing that somehow, I'd made it through the absolute hardest day my body had ever thrown at me.  The thing was, I hadn't intentionally given up.  I'd left 100% of every fiber of my being on that race course, even though I had absolutely no extrinsic motivation to do so, as this was my worst pro triathlon finish by a long shot.  So no, I wasn't crying with triumph about my 3:51 marathon, but more because what had happened had tested me in ways I'd never experienced.
Finish line feels
A random person next to Dave took pictures.  Here they are.

The answer is yes, I did end up with some killer tan lines from this one.  Rocked them whenever I had to pull up my sleeve for a BP reading at the subsequent doctor appointments that resulted from that trip.

   Upon crossing the finish line, a volunteer quickly wrapped his arm around me and held my crying, exhausted self up.  I'll never know who he was, but in that moment, I could not have been more grateful for his strong arm keeping me up and leading me around.  He took me over to Dave, and then eventually into medical, where I stayed under blankets with a shivering body and burning face until the anti-nausea meds did their thing.  I was feverish for the rest of that night (which, overactive bladder is generally my body's response to that, so who knows with that whole deal during the race), and couldn't get out of bed without violently shivering.  I did feel better the next day, although the sore throat I'd felt before the race was starting to creep back in.  The fever and chills and general misery came back that night, and then the sore throat turned into a saga.  I still thought that I was getting Dave's cold, but the throat just kept getting worse, and other symptoms never came.  The first round of antibiotics helped, or so I thought, until then it came back, and after another five days of living off of ibuprofen and some very rough nights, antibiotic round 2 happened.  But, it was what it was, and in some way, it was reassuring to know that yes, there most certainly was something physical going on with me that day.  Thankfully, now it's over, and otherwise I felt ok enough to get to enjoy some of Argentina in the couple of days after the race, and eventually the holiday season upon returning home.
Break for some pictures of Argentina, because Argentina!  Kind of have to.  Carrie told us some cool places to go, and we traveled around with her the day after the race.  This was some neat little shops at Sierra de Los Padres.  I got my mom a bracelet from that town.  Dave got his dad cured meat.  It somehow made it through customs.  It was disgusting looking.

I think this was some sort of funeral/remembrance site with all of these bandannas tied up around it, but none of us could interpret the Spanish explanation sign.


There were SO MANY DOGS in Mar del Plata.  Generally, they belonged to people but roamed around and were super sweet.  I wanted to take them all.  Dave wouldn't let me.

Colorful fishing boats, and a sea lion!

We had no idea how this guy got out of the water and onto the road (there were legit walls he must have scaled), but he was chilling in the sun.  The life.

Dave eating.  Menu translation was always a bit of an adventure.

There were some cool buildings in Buenos Aires.  No idea what this one was, but it looks sweet.

There was also a boat that was made into a museum.  We went on a boat.

   So, there's that story.  In the first couple of weeks after the race, I did struggle with those questions of "what's the point of putting myself through all that training and work if the race can go so wrong anyways?"  But, as time has gone on, I've come to realize how freaking valuable that entire experience was, and how absolutely freaking happy I am that I kept going and finished that thing.  Podiums and PRs and good results are obviously awesome and strong motivation to move forward, but something about continuing to fight when every goal I had heading into the race had long passed me by changed me a bit inside.  I'll never forget how awful it felt to DNF an IM, even though I quite obviously physically could not have finished.  I'll never forget how empty and disappointed I felt coming home from Cairns, after packing up the equipment I never used and checking the bike I didn't ride.  I kept going in Argentina because I could.  I had nothing to lose by doing so.  I have no regrets. 
Well, maybe one regret.  I regretted not putting body glide under my timing chip.  Carnage.  Cankles.

I had some random belly button chafing, but it ran parallel to my surgical scar from my fibroid removal the year before, so I thought it was kind of cool, actually.  A little reminder of where I'd been.

   I know I've spouted off many times about how injury and setbacks teach perspective, etc etc blah blah, and that all sounds fine and dandy, but until that race, I had my doubts that about how much I actually believed that.  On a day to day basis, I was still the same hard ass on myself that would mope over failed workouts and nitpick details.  That's fine, though, because even though a dumb luck accident changed my body, it wasn't going to change the innate wiring of my brain.  "Think of how many times you would have killed to have been able to do this" became more of a mantra in my "get your butt in gear and HTFU" inner dialogues, not something that filled me with a sense of kumbaya, everything is rainbows and butterflies bliss.  Before the race, Jesse had made some comment to me about how he was just happy that I had made it to another IM, and I'd internally rolled my eyes, because ok, that's nice, but I still had to do the darn thing, and I wasn't about to self-congratulate because I'd trained and traveled and checked in. 

   Then, I tanked the IM.  Granted, there have certainly been bigger IM tank jobs in the history of people racing IM, but obviously, my slowest marathon by 35min was a pretty solid tank job.  Yet, I'd crossed that line with so much positive emotion, and in the time that followed, I felt just as satisfied and proud as I have after any good result.  The thing is, I know that 3.5 years ago, that result would have crushed me.  Pre-everything, I felt bad about myself because of a few bad miles in Kona, and threw a freaking pity party over a mechanical in Coeur d'Alene.  Now, when I look back at those experiences and my reactions, and roll my eyes at my past self.  Ok, it sucks that Argentina didn't reflect the work I'd done for it, but I got to start, I got to finish, and I came home in one piece, physically able to move forward.  I was at peace with what had transpired, and like many of my other life experiences in the past few years, it gives me another deposit in the mental toughness bank for the future.  As I told Jesse right after the race, if nothing else, some day when I'm trying to keep it under 8:00 pace at the end of an IM and I think I'm doing horribly, I'll remember those 11:30's in Argentina, and think, "well, hey, actually I'm doing fine".  

   I've spent the past month getting past germs, enjoying Christmas, and taking a break from structured training.  I didn't want to do anything resembling exercise initially, but within a couple of weeks, my desire to bike and run came back, unforced.  Swimming took longer, but understandably so, especially given the pain in my throat.  Now, it's January, and I'm feeling ready to tackle the year ahead.  2017 wasn't perfect, but it turned out to be everything that I needed it to be.  I don't have to wonder if my pelvis can handle IM training, because it did.  I lacked consistency, durability, and confidence at times, but that's ok, because it means that I have plenty of room to continue to build upon that this year.  I relearned how to train for the distance.  I relearned what it felt like to race it.  I relearned what it felt like to finish well, I learned what it was like to finish not so well, and on two different continents, I had it absolutely confirmed to me-starting and finishing these things, for whatever reason, still makes me infinitely happier than not having them in my life.  And, in the process of travelling the world, I realized that adventure always sounds great, but when it comes down to it, I do best with familiarity.  While I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities that I had last year, this coming year, I'm thrilled that I'm planning on going back to a few races and things that have been a part of my past.
In "Jennie needs an animal spending intervention, post-IM version" Christmas sweaters.  The Moose absolutely hated me, but LOOK HOW CUTE SHE LOOKS.

The Bailey is pretty indifferent to sweaters, at least.  LOOK HOW SNUGGLY SHE LOOKS.

Christmas lights make me happy.  Note: this is the last year this guy was setting up this lights display, which leads me to the burning question-what is he going to do with all of those light up animals? (checks craigslist)

Um, so, if a bad ride meant that Henry happened, then clearly the result of a bad race could only mean one thing-George joined the household.  In my defense, I saw George in the pet store on two separate occasions two weeks apart before I sneaked him into the house while Dave was on a work call.  Henry likes having George.  So screw off, Dave. 

   So, that's that.  I need to wrap this up.  Again, deepest gratitude to those that have stood by me and helped me out along the way with all of this.  I was pretty emotional after that race, and I received more comments and messages that touched me and made me cry (in a good way!) than I had after any "good" performance.  It sounds cliched, but knowing that people supported and respected me almost more for the bad than the good meant the world.  More than the world.  So, thank you all.  Time to move forward and get back to work. 
Finally, a tree and dogs and sweaters, because that's the best way to end a year and move onto another one!