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Friday, August 3, 2018

A little life, a lot of IM Lake Placid-if you can hold on, hold on.

 So, I haven't updated this thing in a while, because do people blog much anymore?  I don't know.  Not a ton.  But, a bunch has happened and I raced another IM, so it seems like maybe I should write about that.  It's always sort of therapeutic for me, at least, so there's that.  Honestly, I thought about blog therapy several times over the winter and spring, but doing so in a non-Debbie downer way would have been hard.  I suppose a little bit of background prior to diving into everything Placid would be warranted, though, as life was just...weird for a while.  This winter, I came home from Argentina thinking that I'd just had a simple bacterial throat infection, and that I'd take my antibiotics, take a couple of easy weeks of off season, and get back to work, refreshed and ready to hit spring fit and ready to go by IM Texas.

   Naturally, though, things were not nearly this simple.  My throat pain kept coming back, each time a little less, but with increased frustration each relapse.  I was also just...tired.  I couldn't sleep enough, and although I continued to try to train, I'd have days where I'd make it through 20 minutes on the bike before just getting off and laying on the couch the rest of the day.  I was heavy, unfit, struggling.  My doctor and a couple of ENTs couldn't figure it out-nothing fit.  The first couple of attacks of throat pain appeared to respond to antibiotics, but when it kept coming back after 3 complete rounds, that started making less sense.  Maybe mono, but I had that as a teenager.  I had a few mildly high liver enzyme readings.  My thyroid hormones read high, and then a few weeks later at the very lowest end of normal-but still normal, so nothing was done-leading to the theory of subacute thyroiditis.  Some scopes showed signs of reflux and allergies, but nothing acute.  Two ENTs just threw up their arms and told me TMJ, because my jaw subluxes...which it's done for over 20 years.  Needless to say, I eventually just gave up on getting a clear diagnosis, and dealt with how I felt the best I could.

   Also in there were some personal challenges.  We lost my grandmother in January.  It wasn't totally unexpected, she had been on a downward spiral since her hip fracture on Thanksgiving and was just shy of 97, but the loss still did-and does-hurt, as expected when a loved one who's been there your entire life is gone.  We had a health scare with our younger dog-it turned out to be treatable Cushing's disease, but there were ultrasounds and biopsies and concern of malignancies for a few weeks.  Additionally, we found out that Dave's ankle fracture wasn't healing.  He was in a boot, then on crutches, using a bone stimulator nightly to try to get it to heal, and was cut off of all training.  I'm perfectly capable of training alone, but when I was already not feeling great and trying to push out long rides alone in the basement, or head to the pool at freezing dark o'clock with a vaguely sore throat and ear...well, it just added another level of struggle, plus it plain sucked for Dave to not be able to do anything.  Eventually, things began to gradually improve.  His fracture was declared non-union, but the bone chip so small that the plan was to just rehab it, start training again, and see if he could handle it vs undergo a fairly major surgery involving detaching ligaments just to remove a tiny fragment.  My body began to be able to handle training loads, and although I had a couple of relapses of fatigue in there, fitness began to sort of come along.
Dave the cripple. He still baked a cake for Easter.  Moose photobomb.

I also baked a cake for Easter.  Mine was clearly more professional.

I discovered this on my phone when looking back for pictures from the spring, because my mental state was such that some PBS show about beavers was exactly what I needed to immaturely laugh way too hard at the time.

   In there, I raced the local Freezeroo series over the winter, and a couple of half marathons in the spring.  Argentina left me a bit scarred on the tri front, and although I never found any run speed in those races, mentally, they helped me along.  My tri season started at Eagleman, where I swam on par for my lack of swim motivation all spring, biked horribly, and ran decently.  I followed that up in Mont Tremblant, where I actually swam well, again biked sort of ehhh, and ran pretty well.  That helped.  From that point on, training clicked in.  With the exception of one run that I had to bag and one ride that I simply moved, I hit what I needed to, and in the last couple of weeks before Placid, my training numbers were as good as they'd ever been.  Maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself in those final sessions, maybe pressing too hard because I felt the need to redeem disappointing races, maybe I just wanted to prove to myself that I was "ok" a little too badly, but I did hit race week feeling mentally and physically ready to go.  The day before the race threw some fatigue at me, and I woke up that night again in a cold sweat, but I still managed to convince myself that I'd be fine, it was just carb loads and nerves and normal pre-race stuff, after all.
Oh yeah.  I also raced a taco mile with Stevie.  One mile, 4 tacos.  2nd place.  Darn college track girl beat me.

And there was the Sunset house 5k in there!  It's right by my house.  Little opener before the Buffalo half.

Buffalo half finish line.  Typical. #babealert

There was a bit of a sprint finish in Tremblant.  Olf.

I got to go up to Placid with Valor and train!  This run was hot.  But good.

I guess I did race a lot and not blog much-jumped in the Mini Mussel the weekend before Placid!  That was fun.  With my mom post-race.  The Moose was being camera belligerent. 

And with my dad!
I got to do a Live Feisty interview before Placid with Sara Gross!  It was really fun.  Again, typical with the face. #Imawkward
Yay for expo Irina hugs and selfies, too!  This is actually cute.  Rare instance of no weird faces on my part.

   So maybe I should get to the actual race.  As far as IM swims go, this one was fairly uneventful.  I did a warm up swim, but ended up getting out of the water for the start absolutely freezing.  I wish that air temperature was factored into the pro wetsuit cutoff temp, as my elite license doesn't mean that I can stay warm when it's in the 50's with a water temp in the low 70's, but all I could do was hope the race effort would keep me ok enough.  The cannon sounded, we took off into the water, and seemed to actually stay bunched as a group for a bit.  Eventually, the group strung out more into a line.  I think my shivering chills at the start ended up making me feel a bit odd, so I hopped on some feet in the line and just stayed there to calm and warm myself.  The effort felt decent enough, and the first lap didn't drag on too long.  We hopped out, ran to the inside of the still filtering rolling start, and jumped back in, allowing me to see I was at ~32min, about right for me non-wetsuit.  It didn't seem like most of the field was too far away, so I settled back in and just continued to follow.  The second lap got trickier; we were allowed to swim inside the buoy line to avoid the AG rolling start to the outside, but the whole pros inside/AGers outside thing wasn't exactly being adhered to perfectly, so it was a little rough at times.  Still, I made sure to keep my position.  Shortly after starting the loop, though, things started to feel a little too comfortable, and I was getting cold.  A few times I attempted to move further to the inside and take over our little group simply to warm up, but things were just to crowded to really make that happen.  So, I figured that a few seconds wouldn't matter too much anyways, and stayed where I was, still occasionally moving out of the draft in the hopes that working harder would keep me from getting too cold.  Eventually, I exited the water in 1:06, not fantastic, but only 5min back and actually a non-wetsuit PR (narrowly), so I was fine with that.
Total #BABEALERT out of the water

   I made the less than wise choice against arm warmers in T1, and headed out onto the bike.  My legs didn't feel awesome off the bat and I was trying to warm up, but I managed to not worry too much about it, knowing the power numbers the first section wouldn't be awesome as I navigated my way out of town, anyways.  The wind was already fairly gusty, and I mostly just wanted to make it to Keene, regroup, and go.  By the time I got to the descent, I really just had to pee so badly that despite my fears regarding it and wind (I hadn't handled the same situation well in training), I was sort of looking forward to the chance to empty my bladder, because my stomach kind of hurt from it.  Turns enough having to relax certain areas meant that I overall relaxed, and my trip down was fine, I was comfortable and in control, and thankfully, that time around, not too cold.

   Once onto 9N, I settled in and started to find my legs a bit.  Eventually, I came back up on Robyn, Rachel, and another woman, riding more than legally spaced.  Still, I couldn't slot in, so I rallied for a few minutes to make the passes at once and move ahead.  That seemed to wake up my body, and the rest of the lap felt great.  My power was spot on but not forced, I was happy, and I was rather enjoying the climb up the notch, wanting to get back to town to see all my people.  I did have a couple of weird things going on, though-I basically had to pee constantly throughout the entire ride despite barely drinking (I was through a single bottle through the first 56 miles), and my face felt like it was having some sort of allergic reaction to something-my cheeks and eyes felt swollen, to the point where I was having some trouble seeing.  I could see fifth place by the end of the lap, and smiled for Dave and everyone I knew as I got the boost through town.  The rain had started by then and I was probably overly cautious heading out towards my second lap, but that was ok.
All smiles at one point!  And not freezing.

   The wind had picked up to a greater degree by that point, but I was more comfortable than I had been at the start of the ride, so things were a bit faster.  The further out I got, the more the rain dumped on me.  I basically started laughing to myself-it was the type of conditions that stories are born from, and at that point, I had no choice but to just deal with it.  The wind was whipping rain into my already swollen eyes, and I could barely see as I made my way towards the descent.  Welp, I thought to myself, I can't see, my brakes barely work in the rain anyways, my garmin is unreadable with rain, and my hands are freezing, so I might as well just go with it and get this thing over with as quickly as possible.  So that I did-somehow smiling the whole way just because it was SO ridiculous at that point.  I don't think I even saw another racer for a good ~20mi stretch in there, either.  I was so cold by the time I got to the bottom, that I decided my best plan for survival would just be to put in a surge and grind my way through 9N, hoping that I could get to 86 and some climbing (and thus slower speeds and less wind and more warmth) before I went entirely numb.  I was still barely drinking, but other than being cold, I still felt decent.
Not sure when this was, but it's me.  I'm on a bike.

   The unraveling started a little bit before the next Haselton out and back, though, about 80-85 miles in, right when I wanted to be starting to pick things up for a strong bike finish.  I had been eating every 40ish minutes, but if I was a betting woman, I'd bet that it wasn't enough to make up for my lack of drinking combined with the added energy my body was expending trying to stay warm.  I felt hungry, and then after taking in a gel and forcing down some Gatorade (despite STILL needing to pee) for much needed carbs, I felt sick, which seemed odd given my low HR at the time.  I tried to stay positive on Haselton, hoping that I'd feel better once I was able to change positions and climb up the notch, but that didn't materialize.  My power and HR stayed low, and I just shifted into damage control mode.  I took my final gel, and tried to hammer another bottle of gatorade that only went right through me.  Still, at that point, I was still managing to keep control of my mental state-I've been able to run fine plenty of times after rough bikes, and I knew I had plenty of run nutrition both packed and on course that I could take to get myself out of whatever hole I was in at the time.  I simply survived the final stretch of the bike, and got to T2 hoping that I'd be able to recollect myself.

   I got to T2 and then immediately peeled off into a port a potty, where I peed for what felt like an eternity.  Kelly was volunteering in the tent; she was an angel who gave me some splits, and then fetched me a red bull when I said I was feeling weird.  I chugged half the can and then headed out, hoping that I'd start to feel better.  I didn't.  I relayed messages of feeling off to both Jesse and Dave, and buffeted a gel and some chews, hoping that something, anything would help.  Also, race photos later confirmed what I'd felt on the bike-that my face was just weirdly swollen and puffy, something I still haven't figured out.  I made it until mile 3, maybe, before I just shut down.  Mentally, physically.  I wasn't feeling any better-for reasons unknown-and when I had slowed down to slower than any training run heading in and felt no signs of life, all I could think about was the misery I'd gone through in Argentina to simply finish.  I wasn't over that.  I spent my entire winter feeling like crap with no answers, continually dismissed with things like "as long as you're gradually getting better", all the while doubting myself and my mental state, and worrying that my body could fail me like that again.  I felt like it was happening again, and I couldn't take it.  Jodie and I went back and forth over the next couple of miles, going in and out of our own mental battles.  She shut up her demons and charged passed me coming off of River Rd, encouraging me to keep going, that we could do this.  I might have stopped if that hadn't happened.  I saw Jesse express relief up ahead, which was just a dagger to my discouragement, anger, and frustration at the time-what about me, I'm miserable, I can't do this, everything is wrong.  

I had to steal this and add it in here, solely because if nothing else, my thigh made the GREATEST race pic ever.  Look carefully...  

   No one would tell me to quit, though, and I trudged up towards town with a heavy heart.  Here I was, in this place that held so much magic to me, thinking I was failing.  In reality, my splits weren't as bad as I thought they were, but I refused to look after the first few miles.  I knew the BTC and the QT2 crews were waiting in town and that my parents and Dave were there as well; I felt a profound sense of guilt over the fact that I was perceiving that it was happening again.  My IM pro emails (long story) go to Dave, who hadn't sent me the one with the updated prize money listings, so I thought the race only paid 6 deep, and I was in 6th at the time, feeling like I was going to get passed and bumped out of that, too.  I got to Rich Clark hill on that first lap, and lost it.  I walked up, bursting into tears, sobbing, as I got to the QT2 tent.  I just wanted Jesse and Dave to tell me that it was ok, that I didn't have to keep going, that I didn't have to put myself through that again, that I didn't have anything to prove.  Instead, they gave me some crap about how I was still moving ok, which I vehemently denied, and put me back on the course.  I made myself start jogging again, which only lasted until I got to special needs and they missed my number, leaving me standing there, honestly done caring, until I got my bag and grabbed out the gels I never even bothered with, anyways.  I yelled at my parents about how I felt awful and it wasn't my day, I didn't care if I was still in the money, but then willed myself to keep going back through town-I could at least run down hills, I supposed.

   I worked down the hills, albeit slowly, bolstered by people I knew, and back onto River Road.  Another walking pee break happened.  At that point, I was on a steady diet of Red Bull and salt, because it seemed to be the only thing that sort of was making me marginally feel better.  I thought that maybe I had to poop, and stopped in a port a potty at mile 16, which really just turned into a break of me sitting there, trying to collect myself.  How long would it take for someone to find me in here?  I got out, realized I still hadn't been passed for sixth, and happened to notice that mile split, with the less than speedy break, was 8:59.  Well, ok.  Maybe it wasn't an Argentina-ish breakdown, after all.  I mean, by that point there, I couldn't even run under 10:00 pace without luxury port a potty breaks.  I told myself that I could at least make it to the turnaround, and judge how much of a gap I had to the next woman.  So I did that, and realized that with about 7 miles to go, even though Caroline looked WAY better than I did, I still had about a six minute gap.  Six minutes, 7 8:26 popped up.  Not as slow as it seemed, really, I supposed, and given I'd maintained my place to that point with all kinds of walking, crying, port-a-potty breaks, etc, I'd probably be more than fine if I actually just ran.  So that I did.  I started checking mile splits, and they started coming in around 8:00 pace.  Not great, but for that point in the race, not horrendous, especially when I maintained them as I started to work up the hills.  I saw more friends out on the course, continued to raid the Red Bull, Coke, and salt, and with every passing mile, my confidence and spirits rose a bit.
Total different story than the first loop right here...

   By the time I got to mile 23-24ish, I felt significantly better about life.  Still feeling guilt about my earlier performance up the hill with everyone cheering for me, I made it a point to smile back up into town the second time around, at least feeling slightly more like myself.  The stretch up Mirror Lake Drive to the final turnaround seemed to last forever, as I still wanted one more check that I was holding my position and could maybe at least try a little bit to enjoy the finish.  Once I had that confirmation, I eased off a bit the final half of a mile, and soaked in the oval, finally done with a day that I'd given up on so many miles earlier, yet had somehow managed to finish up.  There were more tears, some mix of happy and just exhausted, physically and emotionally, through with another salvage job of a day that wasn't what it could have been, what it should have been, what would have made me feel satisfied with it all.
And more smiles, finally, coming up through town again

   The race, as a whole, sort of became a new IM experience for me-one where nothing had gone hugely wrong, but one where I did not get the most out of myself and my fitness and prep leading in-and it's left me feeling emptier and more lost than ones where I've had something definitive to look at and say, hey, that went wrong, that's the enemy, that's what happened, from crashes to illness to rubbing brakes.  Sure, I was cold, I was low on calories on the bike, maybe I wasn't tapered enough, maybe this, maybe that, but none of it seems like anything that I shouldn't have been able to overcome for a better day than what ended up happening.  After scratching and clawing my way back to being fit and ready after the mess that had been my winter, I'm still left wondering...was something missed?  Is there something physical that no one can figure out, no one is willing to figure out?  What was that face swelling/allergy stuff about, and what's been up with the weird breathing faces in every race picture since last fall?  Am I going to continue to press and push and work, only to have some unknown issue leave me flat on race day?  Am I doing something wrong in training, in recovery?  I don't know.  I had plenty of rock solid training days and weekends, approaching my lifetime bests heading in, so I'd like to think that it was just a matter of some small things taper-wise and nutritionally that I can take care of, but the worry that it's not still seeps its way into my mind.  Maybe I shouldn't compare myself to the past, but at the same time, I feel like I'm not yet at an age where there's any reason I shouldn't be able to race to that same level.  I've bounced between wanting to physically hammer myself and total apathy, wanting to avoid discomfort, over the past couple of weeks.  Honestly, other than Tremblant, Musselman, and maybe Barrelman last year, the rest of my races have been completely underwhelming, at times some of my life worsts, and telling myself to keep pressing, get through it, things will get better has gotten difficult, as at some point I wonder if I'm just deceiving myself.

   But, alas.  As negative and raw as that previous paragraph was, I hate to complain about a lackluster IM finish.  A year ago, when I was just trying to make it to a start line healthy for the first time in over 2.5 years, let alone a finish line, I would have completely rolled my eyes at athletes for acting all tragic over being maybe 15-20min slower than what they thought they could do.  In the words of my former boss, "go find yourself a real problem".  I can't exactly pinpoint why this not real competitive exercising problem has hit me harder than prior real competitive exercising problems, which in the great scheme of life actually aren't problems, but so it goes.  When it comes down to it, I raced in one of my favorite places, I got to complete it, I placed relatively decently, and I did have some moments throughout the day where I was actually quite happy and enjoying myself.  I was surrounded by friends and family, both in person and virtually, and even though I wish I could have given everyone more to cheer about, I still could not have felt more loved and cared about by so many of them.  Although I've been somewhat hard on myself about it all, I still do have all of those things, and they make me fortunate.
One of the coolest things about this race was that thanks to my head start, I ended up finishing about 30 seconds before college teammate/friend Tim!  It was awesome to be able to get these pictures after crossing the line.  Because friends. 

And then we met up with Welby later!  I *might* have had a few non-sports beverages by this point. #solike2006righthere
  So that's that.  Over and done and onward, I suppose.  I'm hoping that what will be next is joining Dave to race IM Wisconsin, although I'm currently trying to get some of my chronic left SI/glute/high hamstring area issues to settle down (turns out SIs are never quite the same once they hit pavement with enough velocity), so we'll see.  As always, huge amounts of thanks and gratitude are in order for the army that has supported me to and through another IM, and every up and down along the way.  I continue to stick with these weird exercise competitions because of not only the personal discoveries and satisfactions, but because of the connections I've forged along the way.  Ups and downs are all part of life, but the relationships we have are what keep us going through them all.  So on we go.  Thanks to all who are there with me!!

Since basically none of this has been rainbows, here's an actual rainbow that appeared while I was writing some of it while Dave drives, ironically enough.

And hey, I still got to come home to these two furry orange things who were all excited to see me, so there's that, too. :)