Friday, July 24, 2015

Carter Lake Crossing: race report

Oooof.  Two weeks after a swim race isn't the best time to be writing about it but I like to keep track of this stuff plus I have some really unflattering pictures & a normal amount of selfies to share so here we go...
I signed up for this race as part of a bundle of three open water swims scattered around Colorado this summer for no other reason than I love to swim.  I've ridden my bike alongside of Carter Lake approximately one zillion times in the last three years but I've never actually been IN the lake, so I was excited to see if it was a disgusting swamp or perfect and delicious.  Logistics seemed a bit aggressive, we had to be at the race site several hours before the race (not to mention sunrise) to catch a bus to the start.  I rolled in at the end of the show up before X time or you will explode into fire window and managed to get checked in, on a bus, and to the start of the race with over an hour to kill before we actually were able to get in the water.  Hrrrmph, a little, but it was also nice to sit on a rock and watch the sun come up (sitting on a rock selfie, hi) and definitely a better option than oh crap am I going to miss the start because I wanted to sleep past 4am.
The race was advertised as three miles but the announcer with the cute Australian accent kept saying that it was five kilometres! as he chatted throughout the morning so let's call it officially it doesn't matter because we all swam the same thing.  I squashed into my freak, checked in on the dock and floated out and backwards to the start line.  The water was perfect, if not a bit warm, I discovered a hole in the leg of my wetsuit as soon as I got submerged but otherwise just sculled around chatting with some friends until it was time to go.  My wetsuit has abs drawn on it so I don't have to flex anymore which is a good thing in my old age.
I had high hopes for swimming in or maybe just behind whatever the front pack ended up being until I learned earlier in the week that Julie, who coaches masters where I swim, had gotten all of her pro triathletes to sign up as well as someone who swims at my pool who qualified for the trials last weekend, plus a stack of local superstars that I can draft off of if I'm lucky and also if I manage to slip a rope around their ankles without being noticed.  I warmed up a bit, felt okay, and decided at some point that I wanted to swim at an effort perfectly described as as hard as I think I can go without wrecking my race tomorrow.  I spent the first ten minutes cruising, letting my big fat steam engine warm up and enjoying the calm clear tasty lake, then built into the effort and started passing people.  I hopped on the train of two men thrashing side-by-side for a while, then decided to find out if that effort was too easy.  So I swung out and kept it controlled and pulled around them in about ten strokes.  That clearly annoyed them as they immediately thrashed their way back in front of me, so I hung out on their feet for another minute or so and then swung wide to try and pull around, and repeat this exact situation about six times until I finally got irritated enough to swim as hard as I could for as long as I could until they were far in the rearview mirror (about three minutes, I think) (do as I say not as I do).  Once they were dropped like whoa gone, I could see the front pack of olympic wildebeests about 500 meters in front of me and knew I would never catch them but hoped to pick up a straggler falling off the back for a free ride.  No one got dropped, I could see a swimmer far to my left and a couple of swimmers far to my right but since I was right on the buoy line I just decided to stay put and chug along.  Which I did, there was a bit of congestion as we all came together at the first turn buoy right before the finish and I swam hard enough to hitch in on a draft for the last hundred yards or so.  Sexy, right?
I had a few friends watching and swimming, so I hung out for a bit, chatting & drinking terrible coffee & combing the weeds out of my hair.  Once the overall winners were pulled out, I managed to squeak my way onto the podium (not really a podium just a hand-shake and a water glass) and then rolled home desperate for a nap.
One of the really fun things about living in Boulder is that as any kind of athlete, you really the lesson about racing whoever shows up.  Sometimes it's a normal local race and sometimes it's roll call for a stack of the best athletes in the world.  
That's fun, to get to play in that sandbox, to be in that environment on a regular basis.  It's both humbling and motivating to stand on a start line next to a group of people who lap me every 200 yards Monday and Friday mornings.  We're all just in it to see what we can do and this swim ended up being a peaceful way of reconnecting with racing after a couple of really rough months.  I had a good time doing what I love with an open and clear mind and that was enough.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

where to even begin...

The weekend that my grandmother passed away, team amazing day was hosting training camp in Boulder.  My third and the largest one yet, and Colorado weather made sure to teach me a good lesson about planning.  Unlike camp in February, where we had perfect 65º weather through the last day when we were treated to a few inches of perfect fluffy snow, this time we got hammered with rain, flooding, hail, snow, thunder, wind.  By the end of the weekend, I think the only workout that we had completed as originally on the schedule was the race.  
Regardless of all of that, I love hosting training camp; to spend time with athletes in person is priceless.  But also to watch how they work through a challenging weekend, to see how they fare and react as the fatigue piles up, I know, your crotch hurts and you’re tired of eating and then a road was closed so everyone got lost, when it stops being easy and fun and starts been plain old hard work, those are special moments and not just because I like torturing people with a bicycle but because I love watching them grow.  And as each athlete has scattered back home, they’ve carried something they learned that weekend with them, whether it’s a little bit of toughness, perspective, a little bit of embracing things that are hard instead of bitching about them on twitter, or maybe even just a little bit of joy in the art of movement as my friend Ron used to say.  There is pleasure in doing things that are really fucking hard, and at camp we did a little bit of that every day (one of my friends doing SAG support said on Monday, I just can’t believe how much crying I saw this weekend and I shared with him the title of the memoir I will write someday which will be called When Girls Are Tired They Cry).  The first day we swam twice to the tune of somewhere between seven and nine thousand yards, the second day we rode up to Ward which for some of the flat-landers would have been enough of a challenge but as the group climbed it started to drizzle and then snow and then hail, and the last person up the mountain was crusted in frozen snow and she won the badass of the weekend award because she lives in a place where two feet of elevation gain is considered a lot.  The third day we did a classic Boulder ride out to Carter Lake, we time-trialed up to the top on exhausted legs and then started a second hard effort coming home not knowing that a road was closed and a detour was set up due to the rain the day before and some of our campers ended up TT’ing as hard as they could in the general direction of Kansas before SAG finally tracked everyone down and got them rolling home.  And then we ran off the bike, to add insult to exhausted injury, but when everyone piled back in my house to eat themselves silly, the talk wasn’t what the fuck did we just do, it was more like, holy shit I can’t believe what I just did.  And that, to me, is the best reason to ever go to a training camp of any sort, every time I have hoisted myself out of my comfort zone to go get my ass kicked for a weekend, I have come home with stories that start out, I had absolutely no idea that I could do that but..., and to be able to pass that along to the awesome group of athletes that showed up in Colorado to train is fucking amazing.  
I ran the Bolder Boulder with one of my best friends, isn't it funny how people wander into your life and poof, can we go ride bikes? turns into powerful friendship.  We went out with a plan that I called let’s run the first mile and see how fast it is and then decide whether or not I’m racing and when we clicked over the mat around 9:00 pace, it was an easy call.  Our day quickly degenerated into laughing and chatting and pointing out crazy costumes and spectators and a woman in her driveway talking loudly on her cellphone and wearing nothing but a very short mink coat.  We stopped for the jello shots, to hug friends at the Doritoes, to take multiple trips down the slip’n’slide, to grab cookies and pretzels and cupcakes and slugs of beer.  When we trotted around the stadium and through the finish, my happily-heel-striking laddered-with-triathlon-tan-lines legs felt fine although my abs hurt from laughing and I realized it had been a short but very welcome respite from the grief that I had been carrying heavily the last two days.
Last year over Memorial Day weekend I had some athletes out to train, a smaller group and much more informal, but doing the same again this year was good for self-reflection on my part as a coach.  What I have learned in the last twelve months is staggering to think about, the coaches that I have been able to work with side-by-side as well as under, the classes and experiences and billions of books and articles and plans, the trainers and therapists and other specialists of the human body that have freely shared their knowledge, I’m fortunate to be able to build my own education in this way.  And certainly I would not be growing if it wasn’t for the stable of athletes that I have partnered with in their own athletic journey, all the people that make me laugh and bang my head on the desk, figuring out patterns and individual periodization and the differences that make each of them tick, what motivates them, what holds them back, celebrating their victories and being someone to lean on while they struggle.  I hate to use the word “blessed” because it is over-abused most particularly in the land of bloggers, but after three years of working, learning, growing, exploring, making mistakes (sorry, you guys), I am certain that for at least this part of my life, this is exactly where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing.  I can only hope that over the next year I can continue to stuff information into my brain that translates into continually being better at all of the things that make a great coach: a shoulder, a listener, a therapist, personal trainer, technique instructor, support system, a nutritionist, how to take selfies of your ass in stripes along with a tiny bit of writing schedules.
Once camp was over, I immediately boarded a plane back to Pennsylvania to be with my family.  It’s been three weeks since then, and I still haven't figured out how to put words to my grief, not really, not in any way that is adequate.  The first day back in Colorado, I got on my bike.  It wasn’t about the ironman that was ahead, it was simply because no matter what Ariana Huffington says, moving my body is the best form of meditation I have ever found.  I rode a while, mind blank and empty, and I was almost fifty miles from home when the combination of an out-of-alignment bottom bracket that was clicking with each pedal stroke for 2.5 hours and finally giving myself a chance to truly be alone and grieve meant that I ended up sitting in a puddle of spilled OSMO in a ditch just outside of Masonville, crying until I thought my heart would break.  I tried to call for a ride but couldn’t get anyone on the phone so I eventually blew my nose on my armwarmers, scraped myself up off the asphalt, got back in the saddle and soft-pedaled home.  
Numb is probably the best way to describe how I got through the days that followed.  There was no spark, I had no fight, I buried myself in work, I used training as a distraction, looking back I feel like I was bailing on sessions all over the place but the boxes on my schedule show that there were really only a small handful of these.  I told Michelle over and over again that I didn’t care, there was no joy in training, I was going through the motions and nothing more.  I talked to a couple of friends, then, about dropping out of Coeur d’Alene.  A small part of me was worried about the training I had missed that month even though the logical part of my brain knew that was a bit ridiculous as I’ve been training my ass off all year.  But the bigger worry was that I would swim: numb.  Bike: numb.  And then when it was time to run the marathon, the one that needs to be powered by I still care, the one that is all heart, I would have nothing.  That I would leave transition and turn in my chip and walk down to the lake and that would be the end of triathlon for me, maybe forever.  That I would never be able to go back.  Perhaps it sounds completely melodramatic - and I’m not done with that for this post, either - but I spent at least two weeks convinced that I would never care again, not enough, that my fire had burned out.
I kept training, though.  I rode 100 miles one more time - about 30 of those with one of my athletes who was doing final prep for her first 70.3 and was unlucky enough to bump into me at the beginning of her ride when I had nothing to do but cruise.  She asked, don’t you have work of your own to do? and I said quite cheerfully, nope! and hopped on her wheel and coached her through the next two hours of her workout and then pulled around front to let her draft while she cooled down and dropped her without realizing it because I’m an asshole.  I kept riding after she headed home, it was raining pretty good and somewhere in the last few miles I realized, hey…that was kind of fun and now it’s over.  I ran a few miles off the bike, shoveled the contents of the refrigerator in my mouth and went to bed.  The next morning I started my long run at 5am because I really enjoy the cool hours of the morning and Colorado is starting to run out of them.  I sucked down OSMO and listened to Andy Grammer on repeat and blew through calories and all of a sudden I was 13 miles in and it was time to pick up a friend who had offered to join me for the last 7.  I sat on the back bumper of his car and pounded the coke he had brought me and we got going, I warned him, I’m not going to talk to you because I’m out of heart rate and I just want to get this done, so we ran silently down St Vrain and past the airport, in the last 45 minutes I think I stopped three times to bend over and put my hands on my knees and say, I can’t, I can’t do this but then when I got back to my house and it was time to choose between running three hours and running twenty miles, I ran straight past the driveway and around the corner, counting the minutes, six five four until I could turn around and finish.  I never do the thing where I run around in circles waiting for even mileage on my watch but that Sunday morning I did, I ran every step until the split beeped Lap 20 and I was done, I was sore and tired and everything hurt and I was starving but also, I was glad.  I felt a bit like the run was a huge failure because I kept banging into my mental limit but later that week I was emailing with my friend who ran with me and he said, your run was...digging and clawing your way back to the version of you that you want to be.
Taper started, I had one more long ride which left me feeling you think I can hold HOW MANY watts for HOW LONG? which I know is completely normal, I started fussing with getting the race wheels on my bike and rotating in a second pair of run shoes, using the goggles with the dark tint, being precise with nutrition and hydration and calories so the race would be nothing but press play, and somewhere in there I realized that by not deciding anything, I had decided to race.  It had become okay.  I think part of it happened when, after a long weekend of training two weeks out, I realized that my mojo was still crap and I had a good talk with Michelle about what to do about it, a little bit of a shake-you-by-the-shoulders chat that I desperately needed.  I woke up the next day and decided that I was taking the day off and going to do whatever the fuck I wanted to try and get my happy back, and that I was going to blow up instagram in the process.  I took pictures of the foam on my latte, I deadlifted all the way up to 195 pounds after chatting with Erin who works behind the scenes with Michelle to make sure I don’t fall down the steps naked in the dark and wreck the machine she's been building, I did a recovery swim with my GoPro, I had lunch with my best friend, I bought new shoes, I hung out with my puppies, I had a dinner date with the poet and by the time I went to bed that night I felt more like myself than I had for a long time.  It started showing up in training then, finally, I had a couple of good days, but the bad part about starting to care about training again was that I was starting to care about training again and when I went out for my last long-ish training ride, I felt like shit and rolled home into a meltdown that I have now realized is very unfortunately an annoying pattern I have developed.  I got another strongly-worded-but-kind missive from Michelle in which she grounded me from the internet, selfies, worrying, thinking about the race, reading, self-reflection and basically doing anything but mindlessly sitting on my ass, work and a couple of training sessions which I was not allowed to think about or judge until race day.  Which, I grumpily admit now, was exactly what I needed.  
A couple of those days went by and last Saturday I was planning on racing a local open water swim race, 2.4 miles in my wetsuit sounded perfect.  I woke up early, my ride was over nearly as soon as it started which is how most rides feel after how many times I’ve ridden 4-6 hours in the last four months, I chilled out all day, I took a nap, I packed up my bag and was shoveling in some last minute calories when I realized that I was actually excited, happy, nervous, and a little bit scared about going out to race.  It was almost time to go when my dad called.  My grandfather had collapsed at church, he didn’t know anything but they were on their way to the hospital.  I was carpooling over to the race with a friend so we went, my mind racing, and over the next two hours more phone calls rolled in.  He had a massive stroke.  He was paralyzed, he couldn’t talk, he was being medivac’d to another hospital for emergency brain surgery, he scored a 23 on the stroke scale, whatever that means.  Two of my closest friends were there with me and I was so glad to have them both, to sit on the beach in a friend sandwich and feel surrounded by love instead of pacing a hole through my kitchen floor.  And they both said, swim, just get in the water, it will be comforting, you love swimming, it’s okay, and I went as far as getting into my wetsuit and wading out to the first buoy, swinging my arms and trying to smile, but when the gun went off my brain just said, nope, and I turned around and got out.  I handed in my chip and went back to our pile of blankets and clothes and bottles of OSMO and just sat, alone in the crowd, silent, until my friends were done.  Maybe it’s way too personal to be sharing, but I couldn’t imagine racing while so much was unknown.  If I was in that reservoir and I got out and learned that I had been swimming while he was dying, I don’t think that I would ever get back in the water, not for the rest of my life.
My grandfather made it through surgery and to the next morning, but once a day had passed and there had been no improvement, together with my family he made the decision to move into palliative care.  To not live out many more years in a wheelchair, on a feeding tube and a ventilator, but instead to peacefully pass on.  And because of all of this, I am typing up this post on a plane not heading to Spokane, WA to line up for ironman number six but to Philadelphia to say goodbye.  That decision was simple, easy, there was no weighing pros and cons or trying to go and race and then go home next week, I spoke with my parents on Sunday morning and in a few short hours had canceled all the plans I could cancel and booked a ticket home and that was that.

There is nothing to say here, there are no words.  I spent Monday and Tuesday in Boulder, moving my body out of nothing more than comfort and self-medication.  I felt badly every time I bumped into someone who had remembered that I was going to race next weekend and greeted me excitedly with questions about how I was feeling and had to instead share the decision I had made.  I wish there was a way that I could wear a sign that says, WARNING I AM NOT GOING TO COEUR d'ALENE if only to save my friends the little pinch of pain when I had to explain why this race that I had been getting ready for all year no longer mattered at all. 

I have absolutely no idea what is going to come next.  What I do know is that somehow in the middle of all of this, I had the desire to record everything that has happened over the last month, to vomit it out and decorate it with photos to try and take away some of the sting.  This little blog started out as puppy pictures and ass shots and Gu giveaways but its primary purpose over the last several years has been a very public journal of my life.  All the good and bad, the emotional, the journey, my many failures, too many selfies on a moving bicycle, fighting for my own self-worth, all of it, it’s here, it exists in a permanent place and while I wish I had only triumphs and success to report, it wouldn’t be life without sadness, grief, failure.  I couldn’t find the way to type my way through it a few weeks ago, but I wish I had, I wonder if it would have helped me process.  I let myself grieve privately, certainly without restraint, and was held up by all the people in my life who love me, but now it’s less like grief and more like I have been blinded, frozen, numb.  
I was starting to get my spark back, though, and I want to remember that.  I am not making any decisions right now, tentative plans yes, but no hard decisions.  But if I had to guess, I would say that I’ll be on a line again, and sooner rather than later.  As I’ve worked through the last couple of days and dealt with what not racing means, other than well since I’m not racing I might as well lift all the heavy shit I can find and swim 6K at masters and fuck I can ride as hard as I want, I think I’ve found that there’s a little bit of fight left in me.  Maybe it was coming back last week, maybe it wasn’t going to show up until five minutes before the cannon went off Sunday morning, but I think it’s in there.  As we’ve gotten closer to Coeur d’Alene and the internet has launched into a frenzy of overreaction about the temperature on race day - which, to be fair, is predicted to be record-breaking-ly hot - I had a tiny bit of, well, don’t have to fight through that, but was a little bit surprised to realize that the bigger feeling was, damn, I would have liked to stand on the front line of that battle and see what I could do.  To see how well I could manage my hydration and nutrition and effort, to see if the changes I’ve made would make a difference, to see if I could find another finish line, to be surprised by what I had learned when I wheeled my bike back to Wes at the end of the day, covered in salt and OSMO and honey stinger crumbs, and then limped on home.  This weekend isn't for me, I am exactly where I need to be in the world right now, but if all the puzzle pieces fit together the way they need to, there will be another day, another race, another opportunity to go do what I love to do: find out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

amazing grace

I had a lot to talk about, a few weeks ago.  My parents came through town, we went shooting, I hosted the biggest training camp yet, ironman training has been different some more, Hunter is getting big and fat, all the normal things of my life.  And then last Sunday, my grandma passed away, and none of that exactly seems to matter right now.

I was up to my neck in camp, crazy weather in Colorado meant that almost every single session on the original schedule got moved or altered due to pouring rain and then snow, I thought I was holding my shit together okay though but I woke up Sunday morning and saw that my mom had called at 3:45am and I knew.  My grandma had been sick for a while, she had Alzheimer's which I know affects a lot of people in a lot of different ways but the disease is disgusting, it steals precious moments from everyone that it touches.  But I don't want to talk about the last two years of her life and how she suffered.  I don't even know what I do want to talk about, but I know that this space is part of how I've processed so many important moments in my life the last five years and I feel that I need to use it now.   For me.  To take a moment and remember.

Grief is a physical manifestation.  It is heavy on my chest, it clogs my throat.  It affects everyone differently, true, but the emotion is the same and I know anyone that has experienced it understands.  It shows up whenever it wants to, grief is like a puppy, it's rude.  It has no manners, no sense of propriety, you can be fine in one moment and the next bent over, unable to support the physical weight of sorrow, folding your heart into your knees, desperate to remain intact.  I wish it could be private, I am a person that does not like showing emotion at all and I am angry by the intrusion that grief brings into my tightly controlled life.

Being home, being around my family, it helped.  The end of a life is the time where all the good that you brought into the world is recalled, and my grandma brought so much.  She loved me, she loved my sister, we were her only grandchildren and there is not a lot that I am certain about but God, I know she loved us.  And we share so many of the same memories, the Slovak lullabies, crocheting backwards, walking on the beach in North Carolina, wrinkling her nose at my mom when she thought she wasn't looking, putting Benadryl in my grandfather's spaghetti, sleeping over Friday nights and getting three donuts - each! - on Saturday mornings.  Against the backdrop of our childhood, she and my grandfather were always there.  Constant.  I know that everyone in my family is hurting right now, but I know that my sister is feeling a lot of the same things that I am, and there is comfort there.  

The last time I saw my grandma and she knew me was when the poet and I flew home for my dad's surprise birthday party about a year and a half ago.  She hugged me, and she called me by my name, and I told her that I loved her that day, I am sure of it.  I talked to her on the phone over the next few months as she deteriorated, sometimes she recognized my voice and we chatted and sometimes she silently handed off the phone to my grandfather, but that was the last time I saw her while she still knew, and I have grieved that day for months.  Over the past year, my family - in particular my mom and my grandfather - has had to make some difficult decisions about her health and how to take care of her, and it has been hard to watch, and to process.  And the last time I was home, the last time I saw her, she was already gone.  Her body was here with us, I believe that somewhere inside she was still fighting, but she wasn't free.  That is what I have said over the past week, while we are all relieved that she is no longer bound to this earth in sickness, we still don't want her to be gone.

A close friend of mine had his dad pass away earlier this spring, and I hope that I am not disrespecting his mourning by mentioning it, but he is a friend that seems to understand what I need.  So many friends have reached out, I am lucky to have so many people in my life that love me, but I don't want to talk to any of them and that, I know, is selfish.  But he seems to understand that what I need is not words of comfort, but someone to sit beside me and simply, quietly, bear witness to my pain.  

I sang at the funeral.  My mom asked me to, and I said yes after rejecting her first request (Ave Maria being impossible to sing well on a normal day, not to mention ten years out of practice).  Probably not many people in my life now are fully aware of my history as a musician, but it exists.  My undergraduate degree is actually in opening my mouth and letting music fall out, it was a huge part of my life when I was young.  And when I stood up at the pulpit I had to close my eyes to even be able to start, because I can't think of a time when I sang in church, even as a tiny little bratty kid, that my grandma wasn't there watching.  It was imperfect, three verses of Amazing Grace felt like an insufficient tribute and I'm not sure how I made it through without falling apart.  I hugged my grandfather, people said nice things about it to me later, they were very kind, but all I could think of was how unfair it is that power in music is so often driven by sorrow.  

I have barely even thought about ironman.  I don't care.  Any movement I have done over the last week or so has been an attempt to be alone, an escape, and the fact that I have been moving my body at all is only a side effect.  To even call it training feels like a joke, I am numb.  Michelle has been supportive and kind, and that has surprised me, not because she is a jerk (she's not) but because I don't understand how to be on the receiving end of compassion, or how to allow myself the same grace.  I am not making any decisions or even asking for advice from anyone about what to do or expect from Coeur d'Alene later this month, but I know one thing is true about ironman.  To get through it, to run that fucking marathon, you need to care a whole lot.  That's what I learned in Arizona last fall.  I still care.  And right now I don't care at all, and I can't imagine what it would take to muster up the energy to do so.  But I am also not expending a great deal of effort worrying about it, or what is going to happen, instead I am simply letting time flow over me.  

I flew home on Saturday night, and I've spent the last few days going through the motions of my life.  I can work, I can do that.  I can take my still-ticking QR to the shop and pick up groceries and fold laundry, I can do these things.  I can show up at masters, ride quietly off the back, and inch by inch feel some stress drop away.  I can go see Charlie with all my first-world problems of my bicycle and my hamstrings and the only moment where I tipped over was when I asked for one more needle in my whatever-spinatus on the back of my shoulder and he asked, how did you hurt this? swimming? and I replied, grief.  Time helps, the days slide by, my friend says chop wood and carry water.  Part of loving people is significantly and deeply feeling their absence, allowing it to be a loss, and the depth of my grief right now is only a testament to how lucky I was to be loved for so long, how lucky we all were.  

In memoriam. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I want to remember

A few days ago, I went back and re-read some of my posts leading up to Coeur d'Alene back in 2012.  I used to post every weekday (exhausting).  Now I only post race reports and the occasional babbling missive on training and/or puppies with a hefty side of selfie.  I often feel like I have run out of anything even remotely interesting to contribute to the internet; I look up and notice that a month has gone by and I haven't spent any time in this little corner of my existence.  And I've realized that maybe I shouldn't worry so much about saying anything that has any value (ha!) but instead just scribble down the crap I want to remember if I decide to poke around in the time leading up to ironman number six a few years from now.  (It is very lucky that you cannot smell this picture).
I want to remember that I bought a new bike this spring and I love it and it has been a colossal pain in the ass.  I've been on my CD.01 for four years, it has taken me through five IMs and at least a half dozen 70.3s, not to mention hundreds of thousands of miles all over the country and as recently as March I was saying to people I don't need a new bike I love the bike I have!  But then April rolled around and we were surprised to end up with a tax refund and I found a last-year model of exactly what I would want on deep discount in my size.  TriSports got me all set up with the crank that I wanted and the saddle that I ride, and then I spent some time tracking down all the little bits and parts that a new bike needs, cages and pedals and putting shitty wheels on it that weigh a million pounds and retaping the bars et al.  I got in with my body magician for a fit the week after NOLA, we matched things up to my old bike, made a few tweaks and he dispatched me to the road to check it out.  I rode it once and then made a small adjustment, then again and another small adjustment and that led to falling headfirst into the rabbit hole of my hamstring hurts so I tilted the handlebars up 1º but that made my knee hurt so I moved the saddle forward 2mm but then I lost all my watts so I moved it back and down 1mm instead but then my left arm started to cramp while in the bars plus I can't climb well so I moved something else 2mm and on and on and on, generally driving myself (and Charlie, hopefully he is used to it by now) a little bit crazy.  The good news is that last week I rode probably somewhere around 200 miles on it and my knee twitches have died down and nothing hurts.  At least not more than I think anything should hurt after that much time in the saddle, so I believe that I've finally landed the elusive perfect fit of power and comfort but jesus what a pain in the dick the last couple of weeks have been here.  
I want to remember that I finally sucked it up and started going to 5:45am masters on Friday mornings with the awesome Julie D.  She coaches the really excellent Monday masters I've been attending for a few months (that happens at a much more reasonable time of day).  The Friday morning session is sprint-until-you-vomit on ten minutes rest, and this is a piece of my swim fitness that kind of completely blows, so 5:45am (which I understand is really not all that early) masters it is.  This session has a few more of my regular swim friends in it so it's different than Mondays in that I don't get lapped every 100 yards by every single other person in the pool, but it pushes me much harder than I can do on my own.  While it's true that I am grumpy from the moment my alarm goes off until about 300 yards into the workout, when I get out I am always glad that I showed up.  And all together the pieces of my swim have been put together really well recently, I think my swim sat on a plateau for quite some time and this spring it seems to be creeping forward again.  
I want to remember that for a variety of medical reasons I went back on the pill for a grand total of four days and it completely screwed with my body (maybe this is TMI but whatever, click away).  It threw my RPE against pace/watts system completely out of whack and that combined with a bit of heat had me pretty WTF until Michelle pointed out that maybe the new dump of hormones was to blame.  I checked out the list of possible side effects and had seven of them so I went straight back off of it and 4-5 days later things were pretty much back to normal.  That said, there was a pretty miserable 100+ mile ride in that week.  I was completely nauseous, a bunch of kids driving threw a can of beer at me and I wiped out, I couldn't deal with sugar AT ALL and I spent about three hours being super pissed because I wanted to cry.  And I REALLY hate crying.  
I want to remember that despite the fact that I just told you that I spent three hours on a bike wanting to cry, all things being relative I think I am holding my shit together fairly well this time around (although there are still five more weeks of training so no promises).  Part of that is I realized a few weeks ago that once I race CdA it's highly likely that it will be at least a year before I race ironman again, and there's nothing like a walloping dose of perspective to keep your head on straight.  I believe that losing your shit when training is beating the daylights out of you is a choice, you are not a victim of it, but certainly there have been times in the past when volume and fatigue have been so high that yes, I have chosen to bawl my eyes out because I couldn't cut open a fucking avocado.  But this time, there is almost a bit of wistfulness mixed in with a normal amount of cranky, like when a six hour ride shows up on my schedule and I think, wow, I'm only going to ride six hours a few more times!  For whatever it's worth, that tiny bit of appreciation is going a long way towards keeping my head positive even when I am really, really smashed.
I want to remember that I've been more relaxed about eating this time around than I have been in a while, and it's good.  I'm eating well, I still crave vegetables after a long day in the saddle and bump into the ceiling of my sugar tolerance at least twice a week, but I also am not beating myself up for the tiny slice of cheesecake although it does make me fart for several hours which is not fun for anyone.  I know that compared to last year, I have been carrying around a few more pounds of inflammation and Snooze pancakes but I also feel like I am riding well, swimming okay and running just fine.  So I will keep my extra pounds and sleep soundly knowing that whenever taper arrives the inflammation will melt off and the rest will keep me company for yet another trip through ironman.
I want to remember that I figured out that Michelle has figured out my recovery patterns and because of that I've had some fantastic workouts pop out of (seemingly) nowhere.  I think there are two pieces to why this is working: part of it is because Michelle is wise about knowing when to dig me out of the hole and part of it is because I've seen her do it enough times now that I trust her to do so when I need it....and when she doesn't do it then I know it means yup get your ass off the couch and go ride.  The last few weeks have been pretty much as expected, but the way recovery has been laid across the volume has translated to quite a few sessions that I looked at beforehand and said, well I have no idea if I'll be able to hit any of that but I'll go try and oddly enough it shows up.  And sometimes it's a hell of a lot harder to hit things than I would expect but maybe I've finally gone through this enough times that I'm starting to understand the difference between training to finish an ironman and training to race one. 
And along those lines, it has been a bit surprising how often I have workouts where the comments after go something like this: on every interval I was pretty sure I was going to blow or not be able to do one more but then I kept going after it and I didn't blow... and that might be the best thing I have learned about myself over the last few months.  All the things I've done to get myself into a situation where I'm not afraid to try, that's where I am, and blowing and rolling home at 35 watts is happening less often than I would expect.  I've learned the difference between making the box turn green because planned time was completed and because the intention of the work was executed properly.  Completing the time will get me to the finish, sure, it's worked five times before.  But if I want a different race then I need to be doing different work or maybe even similar work with a different attitude.  I'm sure I am not saying any of this well at all but I think the trite-and-true you are stronger than you think is starting to sink in.  That doesn't mean I don't bitch about how hard some sessions have been (because bitching about this hobby that we choose to do in our spare time is our god-given right).  But so far when the choice has been to stay with the thing that hurts or give up and jog aerobic home, I'd like to believe that I have consistently kept chasing the hard, even if it means hitting repeat 900 times on the fight song and feeling the huge blister under my big toe fill, pop, soak my shoe and then run another 7 miles on it.  
When I was training for Coeur d'Alene the first time, I had quite a few but I am so tired meltdowns.  And now these stories are fun to tell, the time I ran a MAF test in 2 mile increments and hid under the bleachers hyperventilating from heat and humidity between repeats, the time I called the poet for a ride after I got stung by a wasp and he drove twenty miles to get me and we drove for five minutes while I sniffled and then I got back out and rode home, the time I rolled out for 100 miles and was 20 miles from my house before I noticed that I had forgotten all of my water bottles, all the times I wanted to throw my bike in the ditch and just walk home instead of sit on the saddle even one more second.  Lake Placid there were a few less although I do remember a spectacular blowout with the poet about who put the ANT stick where after who used it last, Cozumel again a few less and so on.  Somewhere along the way I realized that losing my shit is kind of exhausting especially when I know I'm going to get up and finish my session anyway so I might as well just skip it and get home sooner.  
But falling in the hole is a spectacular fashion is still a fun story to tell.  This last weekend, I had a long/hard run on Saturday, I spent the morning spectating a race but I was really looking forward to getting out to run and kicking ass because on paper it didn't look bad at all.  Instead the first mile said oh yeah remember when you rode your bike for six hours two days ago? and the second mile was full of this isn't even that fast why the fuck does it hurt to run at this pace and so on until I finally dragged myself in through the garage and collapsed on the couch saying holy shit I have no idea why that was so hard.  And I spent the evening eating everything I could put my hands on because my swim the next morning had "TT" in the title so bread it was.  The next morning I crawled down to the kitchen and forced myself to eat a gigantic breakfast (I am so tired of eating) then stopped for a latte because I have learned that coffee is turbo power in the water.  I dilly-dallied a bit through the warm-up but once I got going I wasn't that annoyed with how it went, I shaved a few seconds off of my time for the distance and then smashed the fuck out of the second verse same as the first but PBB and it will feel a whole lot worse.  But when I finished the second TT, I pulled myself up on the pool deck and sat with my head in my hands and maybe a few tears fell inside my googles, when my friend sharing my lane asked if I was okay all I could say was I just can't do anything else that is hard.  I managed to cool down, I had my recovery drink in the shower but by the time I made it out to the parking lot I hit the wall.  I didn't even make it into the car, I sat on the little step on the passenger side and whispered I can't a few hundred more times, a good friend of mine wandered out of the gym and scraped me off the pavement and carted me off to ModMarket to shovel eggs and breakfast potatoes down my throat until I stopped shaking and I could put together complete sentences again.  I drove home and got on the couch with the puppies for a few hours while giving the ride on my schedule a big hairy side-eye, but again, this is where I've learned, once I got rolling and found a place to do repeats not only was I able to get my power up but I ripped them all off at the top of the range, check, check, check.  (This might be the most disgusting selfie I've ever taken, I like to call it 220 watts on a very windy day).  Then back to the couch I went.
I had lunch with a friend of mine yesterday who possibly has never been around me while I've been this level of exhausted by training, and she asked me rather dubiously, why do you keep doing this?  And it was hard to convince her that I do this for fun, because when I eat an entire tupperware of leftover bison/sweet potatoes/red peppers in less than thirty seconds without taking a breath and my eyes look like pissholes in the snow and I hold my sacrum like I'm 80 years old when I get up, it doesn't seem to her like I am having fun.  So I tried to explain that I'll have fun on race day, and maybe that worked and maybe it didn't, but I think the real reason that I keep doing this (other than the because it feels so good when I stop! answer) is that because I am still learning shit about myself from this process.  One of my athletes shared a really great article with me a few days ago, and the quote I pulled out of it is this: There’s a difference between joy and fun, and the things that bring you the greatest joy are often not that fun while you’re doing them.  All of this brings me joy even if it's not always fun while it is happening.  Training is tears and singing along to Rachel Platten and scraping my shoulder on the floor of the pool and pacework in the pouring rain and blisters and sugar and descending and always being hungry and selfies and hitting stop on the Garmin when it says twenty miles and chamois cream and so many other things, but it's my joy.  It's that simple.
Five weeks until ironman.