Monday, September 19, 2016

Ironman Coeur d'Alene Run: race report

The Pat Summitt quote about taking things away was in my head daily leading up to ironman.  He takes away things so we can fly.  When I was tired, or sore, or on a forty-five minute run that felt like how in the living fuck am I supposed to run twenty-six miles next weekend; I pound-signed it at least one bazillion times on instagram in my ongoing quest to irritate the world with asshole hashtags, every time I felt frustrated or stuck or like it was a hopeless and stupid thing to be attempting with the fitness & body I had, I came back to it.  So we can fly.  So we can fly.  So we can fucking fly.
I jogged out of transition as carefully as I could, still rocking the shape of a bicycle with my butt in the bucket and my belly full to the brim.  I rarely look at data on the run in triathlon; I record it so I can send it to my coach and that maybe helps me be 1% more accountable to not getting pissed off and walking when I can't magically run 7:30 pace but I don't look.  We train for hours and hours and hours (okay, maybe not in this specific situation but usually) with data and one of the main reasons WHY is to teach the body what the right effort feels like.  And as I headed out on the run, there was no tiny watch talking to the sky that was going to tell me better than my brain what too hard felt like.  I knew. 
I actually jogged pretty steadily for the first hour.  Not quickly, nothing about this day was fast, but it was consistent.  I stopped somewhere in mile five for a quick potty break and then in mile seven, my right hip started to spasm and completely locked down all the way to my kneecap.  I stopped and stretched it for a bit but it was going nuts, so I decided I'd walk a few minutes and put down some calories and hope that it could get going again.  It was in there somewhere that a friend of mine showed up on his bike in his flip-flops and I could tell he was ready to thrash me with tough love but I told him, look, my brain is fine, my hip is freaking out and I'm just giving it a few minutes, I am fine.  I know that I looked a total shitshow by then, hat on backwards tri kit unzipped and tucked and covered in coke and who knows what else, stalking along with my thumb in my TFL, but I was okay.  I wasn't thinking about all the miles ahead of me, I was thinking about sending patience into my hip so maybe it would let me run a bit more.

And it did.  Miles 8-9 were a bit of a walk/run/stretch that fucker out against a stop sign/walk/run but something finally released and I got moving again.  I actually jogged the next eleven miles with very few stops other than ten steps through aid stations here and there to throw coke/pretzels/ice in the general direction of my mouth.  My mind was empty, cool, not worrying about anything other than one more mile, to the next marker, to the next aid station, the next timing mat, the next turn-around.  

I saw some friends coming through town at the end of the second loop but by then I was hurting pretty badly and I had drawn in, the grit that shows up - or doesn't - when the suffering suddenly becomes very real.  I saw my athletes again, that helped, if only because I didn't know where they were on the course and the last thing I wanted was for one of them to round a corner and see me walking.  I made it as far as mile 21, just about ready to head back into town, and that's when my hip gave up on the day.  Fuck you I am done stabilizing your pelvis.  Instead of being pissed, though, I was grateful, in a way that was honest and I mean it sincerely, with no cliche.  My body gave me so much more than I had trained to do.  It gave me 21 miles of running - after giving me 114.4 - before it bailed.  I kept trying to stop and stretch it out, by then it was both hips and I'm not sure anything feels worse than crossing one leg over the other knee at that point in ironman - actually I'm confident a lot of things could feel much worse - but it seemed to help.  I would get 2-3 minutes more of shuffling forward before it would seize again.  At some point I was reduced to twenty steps of running, twenty steps of walking, that was all I focused on for maybe two miles, counting to twenty over and over, trying to stay strong, trying to move forward as quickly as I could towards the finish line that I had finally realized I was going to reach.
The sun started to go down and the course got quiet.  I made the last few turns up and down through the neighborhoods, and when I went past the mile 25 sign, I started to crack.  I tried not to think of anything because I didn't want to be a bawling mess at the finish line (crying is the fucking worst), but I turned my hat around and thought about my grandfather.  The last time I saw him, he was wearing this hat, and maybe he didn't understand ironman, neither of my grandparents did I suppose, but he understood struggle.  He understood hard work, and sacrifice, and I'd like to think that he would be proud to be honored with a day of suffering, of toughness and determination and how incredibly fucking stubborn I can be.  I'd like to think that he would be so proud, that they both would be, of that.

I was sniffling and trying to hold my shit together the entire last mile, a runner next to me asked me with an alarmed look on his face if I was okay and I couldn't get anything out other than FINE.  I ran over the bridge, there were two guys (one of whom I discovered after the race that I knew) mooning the course with hot dog underpants on and I snorted with laughter through my tears, resigned at this point to showing emotion (seriously the worst).  I made the last turn towards the finish, remembering the first time I ran down this street four years ago.  I thought randomly and wildly of dancing with my grandfather at my first wedding and the picture of it that still hangs in my dining room, and I stopped short of the finish line to walk the last few steps across, to take off my hat and bow my head and honor them both.  Maybe it's too much emotional bullshit to be sharing on the goddamn internet yet again, but I can't think of another moment in my life where I felt simultaneously fulfilled and shelled; where I had accomplished something so meaningful yet so insignificant, minuscule against the entire universe of what I had lost, the people I loved and the lives that they led, and how much I miss them.  Every single day.  And how I know what giving up looks like, I've done it a thousand times in this sport - in this life - before, and I finally figured out how, the last key that opens the lock, to never, ever, ever give up.  Never.  Not ever. 
Run: 26.2 miles, 5:24:18, 26th AG

Nutrition: 2 bags of Skratch chews, 2 bottles of NBS Hydration, perhaps as many as 20 chewable Pepto tabs and an unknown amount of water, ice, coke, gatorade, pretzels & bananas.

140.6: 13:28:20

I got my hat and took the medal picture which never fails to be the most horrifying shot of the day, I ate some terrible wonderful pizza and limped my way back up the hill to change clothes (and eventually hop back on my TT bike to go chase my athletes down which is maybe the worst way to thank your crotch in the hours following ironman).  I didn't want to celebrate, to make a huge deal about it or to get drunk or whatever else in the hours following the finish.  I felt quiet.  Fragile, physically and mentally, and to be perfectly honest I couldn't believe that I had actually done it.  I had spent so much time preparing for the day to be stopped short by failure that I was completely unable to handle the truckload of emotion (ugh) that came along with success.  Because without question, this day was a success.  I can try to quantify it with all the truths about preparation and execution and I could rob myself of the ability to see it as a success by comparing it to the first seven shots at this distance, but I won't.  I have not.  I will not.  As an entity, we are so hard on ourselves as athletes, we are so quick to thieve our own joy before the critics outside of the arena have a chance to do so, but this day is somehow protected in my head from the reflex to tear it down, to compare, to declare failure instead of accomplishment.  
What I learned in Coeur d'Alene is a lesson that I've been trying to learn for years.  The mind, the human brain, is incredible.  I'm not sure I've ever raced hard enough in ironman to reach physical failure; I feel confident that what has stopped or slowed me down each time has been mental weakness.  And to finish, to complete this day, that had very little to do with my physical body.  Will trumps fate.  It's from an UA campaign, or maybe I made that up after too many nights of surfing hashtags when I couldn't sleep, but it is true.  I've coached a lot of athletes over the years, not to mention lived with myself as a hot mess as I've learned and grown through this sport.  I've seen many successful race days and I've seen many days where athletes learn instead of win.  One of the common threads about learning is that at some point on race day, an athlete will bump into something that changes their expectations on the day.  Maybe it's windy, or hot, or their belly hurts, or they don't feel like eating, or they flat, or get hit by a meteor or whatever.  These things never define success or failure (well, the meteor might).  These issues are never what force the outcome of the day.  Instead, it is the reaction of the athlete that determines how the remainder of the race will go.  And the athletes that find success are generally the ones that roll smoothly over the bump in the road and get back on track.  The ones who are disappointed at the end of the day are more often the ones that realize they aren't going to hit their pie-in-the-sky secret-goal and completely shut down; instead of troubleshooting and moving forward they become bogged down in what they "would have gone" if everything was perfect.  These are the athletes that often blame the little calf or hamstring twinge, or that their coach didn't make them run mile repeats or flip over tires or do 30" pops at 175% of FTP two days before the race, or the crappy night of sleep they had Thursday night, or their race wheels or swim goggles or maybe that was a bad avocado on my sandwich.  Mara Abbott spoke about it beautifully after her race in Rio:

Would you rather have some excuse or rationale for a race outcome: Sick last week, got a flat tire, missed a feed, had to sneeze when the winning attack went, or even just that you lost your nerve that day when it got really hard (yes, this happens). With that, you can forever clasp onto the worrystone-mantra of “I could have won, if only…?"

Or, would you rather honestly know you had ridden a race to the very best of your strength and ability, know there was nothing else you could have done and have that be…not…quite…enough?

And the second piece of this quote is what is being shared everywhere, as it is brilliance and heartbreak in one, but the first piece is what we see far more often as amateur athletes simply trying to chase down the greatness in ourselves through the medium of ironman.  To have an excuse for a race outcome, we easily, greedily latch onto that.  And I am relieved, confident, content to stand on the far side of this particular ironman and own success.  There have been so many times - too many times - where I have stood on other side of a finish line and felt hollowed out by knowing that there was more.  To experience this differently - no matter what the fucking clock told the internet about my race - was a surprising, unexpected and incredible lesson to learn.  Finally.
The days that followed were hard.  Harder than I remembered experiencing ever before.  In part due to more than a little bit of what now? because I had not thought any further than August 21st.  In part due to the hormonal whack following a 13+ hour race being intensely magnified by significant under-preparation, which meant that I burst into tears for no reason at all about a dozen times a day for nearly a week (which made me extra fun to be around).  I didn't do anything, physically.  My strep throat came roaring back (shocking) & I finished the back end of the antibiotics.  My recovery was impacted; I'm not sure it's ever taken me this long to feel recovered from ironman but, as I said in an email to Liz, I'm not sure I've ever done an ironman with only four weeks of training before so I suppose that's completely fair.  I did the thing that bloggers everywhere bleat nasally to an enthralled audience and listened to my body and what my body said to me was, you are welcome now go sit on the fucking couch.  One of my closest friends came out to visit and we spent a few days in the mountains doing absolutely nothing.  The last morning we got coffee and went for a walk, maybe as much as a quarter-mile, and I was out of breath and exhausted by the time we were done.  And completely okay with that.
I don't know, right now, what the rest of my year will look like.  I don't know if or when I'm going to race again, I don't know what my next steps will be.  It's been four weeks since the race and I'm only just starting to come around into movement again.  Gentle, easy, all the steps that are part of a rebuild.  It is ridiculous, I am sure, to feel this way, but I do feel like, well, now that the ironman is out of the way I can start trying to find fitness again.  That's all I'm hoping to do.  To get moving, to continue to make peace with a body that has struggled this year, and to be open to whatever the universe will bring me next.  And to not lose touch with what I did.  It is a phenomenal thing, to finish an ironman.  No matter who you are, no matter what your story is, it is always a tiny bit of luck on top of whatever amount of training that gets you to the finish line.  I know that finding my why was powerful motivation on race day, but an ironman finish is never as simple as motivation, or preparation, or any of the little shit that we spend so much time fussing about.  Ironman is my favorite day.  It's my favorite day.  And for the eighth time, I was able to put together the confidence to start and was graced with the opportunity to finish.  I will never take that for granted.

In honor and in loving memory of Olga Yovish, 1933-2015 & Francis Yovish, 1928-2015. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Ironman Coeur d'Alene Bike: race report

The first thing I did on the bike was start shoveling bars into my mouth.  I knew that the day was going to warm up & I wanted to get in as many calories as I could right off the bat (warning: be prepared to be grossed out by how much I ate on the bike).  I remember looking down at my Garmin to note that I had an entire Bobo's Bar finished by eight minutes into the ride.  Miniature fist pump inside my head: sometimes it's the little things.
My plan was simply to go by feel and glance at heart rate every now and then.  Nearly all of the riding I had done in the month before the race had been done by heart rate or even effort alone.  The very little work I had done while watching the power meter simply felt like dialing all my internal pacing thermometers back in.  I decided not to look at power at all because I couldn't think of any reason why it would be useful for this particular day.  I wasn't trying to race, I was trying to see how far I could get, and I know what my heart rate should look like when I am trying to go all day.  So I rode by feel.  The first short loop was cool and I got straight to work, knowing that the good weather was precious and would be in limited supply.  The few times I glanced at my heart rate on the small loop, it was lower than the window I was hoping for but I was afraid to push any harder, telling myself over and over just like in the swim, today is about managing all the way to the finish line and nothing more.

I saw both of my athletes on their way out as I came back through town so I was glad to know that they survived the swim (which wasn't at ALL in question but I am a worrier with a capital W) and were rolling just fine.  I did feel, even then, like I was blowing through my bottles quickly, and even being really on top of fluid and calories, the first twenty miles I just felt flat.  I can't actually remember the last time I felt so sluggish in ironman.  I had a couple of bottles with me that had caffeine in them so I started one a bit early and that helped.  My legs don't tend to feel warmed up until I get some work going into them, but I still took the first climb out into the second small loop very cautiously, repeating patience patience patience.
I had to pee pretty badly after about 25 miles so I pulled over at an aid station and emptied my bladder (I can pee buckets while swimming but nada on the bike), refilled a bottle and crammed down another bar.  It seemed like the aid stations were spread out pretty thin and even at that point in the race, athlete traffic seemed much lighter than I am accustomed to.  It turns out that almost 1000 less people started this year than in 2012, which explains that, but it was just a bit weird to be out there and feel alone instead of spending the entire first hour dodging super aggro ON YOUR LEFT accompanied by the sound of fancy wheels and the odor of testosterone.  The wind wasn't really noticeable on the first lap but it did feel like we were getting a very gentle assist back into town.  I saw both of my athletes again, I think I yelled at one to eat and one to get into aero, as you do, when they flashed by.  

When we turned off the bridge coming into town for the second time, that was when I noticed that the wind was blasting.  I pounded a bottle and threw it at a friend when I rolled by, grabbed another bottle of water and got more calories down.  Some of my former coaches should be so proud; if anything starts to go sideways on race day, my immediate instinct is to pile calories and electrolytes and caffeine on top of it.  (Good eaters go faster!)  I made a full stop at special needs to drink an entire bottle plus a can of coke plus a bar plus I managed to pee WHILE drinking another full bottle of water which made me feel pretty impressed with my bad self (throwing things picture).
The second longer loop was rough, which everyone knows by now because no one else is lazy enough to wait three weeks to write a race recap.  The headwind was terrible, it was hot and dry and at some point I thought I was hallucinating because it appeared to be snowing but it turned out that was just ash from a nearby forest fire falling on the course (it's fine).  I stopped again somewhere around mile 80 because I had gone through all of my bottles, I refilled and ate three stinger waffles and peed again but what I actually wanted to do was climb inside the giant trash can of melted ice cubes and live there forever.  I was counting down the miles and minutes until we turned around; I had set my Garmin to auto-lap every ten miles and I snorted at one point when I glanced down at the beep to see that it had taken me 51 minutes (including the potty stop but STILL) to ride ten miles.  I wasn't looking at data otherwise, I stayed in aero as much as I could and just held into the wind.  

It was interesting, when I finally did a teardown of my own after the race, that even though this was one of the harder rides in terms of conditions that I've done in an ironman, I never hit a dark spot, there was never a real low, or a fifteen minutes where my head was full of fuck this, this is fucking stupid ironman is fucking stupid where I cruised along at maybe as many as sixty watts while stamping my mental feet.  All I wanted to do was get as far as I could, there was no emotional energy or judgement tied to time or pace or speed, I never once looked at any of those things, and I believe that was the key to how well I rode.  Until I finally turned around at the far end of the big loop and headed back into town, it was the smoothest and strongest I've ever ridden in ironman.  And the more hilarious note is that - without looking at my power meter all day - I rode the same normalized power I rode in Cozumel last November.  On the button.  I could feel the lack of depth of my fitness, sure, and I could absolutely feel the extra 10-15 pounds that I'm carrying as I lugged myself up and down the hills of the second loop.  But I think that's less remarkable than the fat pink line that runs straight across the data of the day, accompanied by the steady red heart rate line that shows that, whatever else may be true, I rode solid and steady and maximized what I had to give. 
When I hit the turn-around, I realized that I hadn't put much in my mouth since my potty stop and I could tell that the wind and heat had me burning through fuel, so I spent the ride back to town opening and eating every single bar and chew I had in my pocket and getting down as much fluid as I could get my hands on.  I tried to use the downhills to do this and still ride strong on climbs back in, and I knew that whatever time I might lose by doing a bit of coasting would be worth it when I didn't try to run out of the tent and fall flat on my face.  Two weeks before the race, I did a long ride/brick with an extended stop to scrape someone else off the bonking pavement and force-feed him coke and snickers bars at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.  I ended up bonking to holy hell on my run off the bike that day because I hadn't accounted for that time in my calculations and I was extremely interested in not repeating that experience.  I also knew that it was more likely I would be facing a bonk thanks to the many many days that I trained for the race so while it's true that I am always good about eating and drinking, I am fairly confident that I set a PR in fueling on the bike & that it served me well in the final hours of the run.

I was thrilled to turn off the bridge and head back into town, I didn't feel great but nothing felt alarming or horrible or broken in any way other than still feeling a bit low on calories and for the very first time, I thought that maybe I might actually make it to the finish line.  My triathlon recovery brain kicked in and I got my feet out of my shoes in time to dismount, happily hand over my bike and jog with my hips still in the shape of a bicycle into T2.

Bike: 112 miles, 6:41:35, 24th AG
Nutrition: 5 Bobo's Bars, 3 Stinger Waffles & 2 packs of Skratch chews for a whopping 2700 calories or ~410 calories/hour.  8 bottles of NBS Hydration + about 10oz of coke + 4-5 bottles of water for 286oz of fluid or ~42oz/hour.

The first person I saw in the tent was a woman laying on the ground receiving medical attention, and that scared the crap out of me.  The second person I saw was cussing up a storm about the weather conditions on the bike which made me smile (you are my people!).  The volunteers were amazing as always, I got my bag emptied out and mine asked me if I needed anything and I said, snacks please, anything you've got, she brought me a cup of pretzels and a cup of chips and a banana and some orange drink and some water and I sat there, wind-blown, and ate and drank every single thing, along with a bag of chews and the whole 22oz bottle I had packed as a handheld.  I chased it all with some Pepto as a giant apology to my belly for the massive calorie dump and started to pull my running stuff together.  The run was the biggest mystery.  In the days leading up to the race, I had no idea how wrecked I would be after the bike, or how far I would make it, or if I would even start.  And I won't lie, for a second in the tent, I considered calling it.  Going and taking a shower and chasing my athletes around instead.  But I pulled my hat out of my bag, and one of the volunteer ladies asked about it, and I told her, It's my grandfather's hat.  And she asked if he was there, and I told her, No.  I was supposed to race here last year but he had a stroke so I went home instead.  He passed away and I came back to finish what I started, and two or three of them started crying and then I started crying and I knew I had to get the fuck out of there or I would sit there and cry all fucking day instead of try to finish what I had started.  I stopped and peed one more time and then headed out to run.  
I don't know where I read it so many years ago so I am very sorry to whoever said it first for stealing it and not recalling where, but: the bike is all brains.  It has to be.  And I felt like I rode as smart as I could with the body I had, with all the tools I had available to me.  But the run is all heart.  And I jogged out of transition ready to find out how much heart, exactly, I had left to give.  

T2: 8:19

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ironman Coeur d'Alene Swim: race report

The day before was a bit more stressful than usual.  And it wasn't until I was laying on the ground hidden in my earphones an hour before the race started that I was able to pinpoint why: I was fucking terrified.  I'll admit it.  I know how much ironman hurts.  I'm well-acquainted with the level of suffering it brings, and after volunteering at IM Vineman and IM Boulder, it was fresh in my mind.  I've never gone into an ironman even close to as underprepared as I was at Coeur d'Alene, and it left me feeling a bit at loose ends in terms of what to expect on race day.  
Race morning.  I got in and out of transition early and quite quickly and then hot-footed my way up the hill, away from the madness.  My best races are the ones that start with some quiet time, plugged into a mellow song on repeat, just breathing and emptying my mind.  I made several porta potty trips and chased them all with swigs of Pepto - being worried about my recently-trashed-by-antibiotics GI tract - and ate my snack and pounded my fluid and generally went through the motions with as little fuss as possible.  I squashed into my full-of-holes wetsuit - at three years old and resembling a sprinkler, this was likely its farewell race - and got down to the water with about five minutes to go.  I belly-flopped into the lake just to feel the temperature and then wiggled my way up near the frontish of the pack.  In hindsight, this was a mistake based on the effort level I was planning on swimming but I wasn't thinking about any of that, I simply fell back in the rhythm of the day of ironman and that's what I would normally do.  When the announcer yelled out, who is going to be an ironman today? I took a moment to close my eyes, there on the beach, and I thought of my grandparents and what I wanted to do.  For them.  And when I opened my eyes and looked out on the lake, I was smiling, thrilled that I was there, that I was going to start, that I was going to try.  There are not a lot of these moments in life, but this was one: across the entire universe, I felt strongly that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and my heart felt huge, happy, full.
All I wanted from the swim was to get through it with as little damage to the rest of the day as possible.  I had a pretty honest grasp on where my swim fitness was (or was not) and knew that it was not the time to throw my dick around in the water with the super-aggressive men that I usually swim next to during ironman.  It meant that the entire first loop felt like I was holding back, big time.  I kept repeating in my head, patience, patience, patience and easy, easy, easy.  Every time someone would pass me or pull around me, I would instinctively respond and go with them and then have to slam on the brakes (sorry to all the people who kept trying to hop on my feet and then crawled halfway up my skirts).  

There was some good chop right before the first turn, and then at the second turn there was a huge traffic jam.  I went wide to get around it but managed to get kicked - hard - in the nose by someone big in a green cap.  I felt a crunch and as I kept swimming, I could taste that my nose was bleeding (triathlon, as always, so fucking classy).  I couldn't tell how bad it was so I kept cruising my way back to shore.  Before I hopped out, I scrubbed my face hard and blew my nose into my hands as to not alarm anyone with a face full of blood (I prefer to do that on the bike).  I heard my name from somewhere as I ran across the sand but it all happened so fast and seconds later I was back in the water.

The second loop is always a bit longer as you swim a tiny diagonal back out to the course.  The swimmers had spread out quite a bit by this point.  The chop was the same near the first turn, and there were two men swimming on either side of me that kept trying to pinch me shut and then I would swim hard to drop them and then remember that I was supposed to be swimming easy and slow down and then the whole thing would repeat and that's the story of my entire second lap.  When I stood up to run out of the water, I felt fine, I knew that whatever my swim time had been, my effort was right on the button because I wasn't even a little bit winded.
Swim: 2.4 miles, 1:09:02 (33:27/35:34), 16th AG

I had debated changing into a cycling kit but the day before the race I was feeling stressed about the tiny details and decided to wear my tri kit out of simplicity (a decision I would end up regretting due to both monster chafing and vanity i.e. race photos).  I got most of a bottle down while wrestling into my sun top, which always feels like it takes forever; my tri shoes are falling apart (this race sponsored by maybe it's time to update some of your gear) so it took a few tries to get the velcro strap to stay closed.  There were kids with spray sunscreen right outside the tent; I stopped to let them spray me and started shaking my booty and dancing around while they did it, they laughed and it was good mojo all around me.  I snagged my bike off the rack, took a few more seconds at the mount line to adjust my way-too-tight spandex and rolled on out.  Time to do work (for sure never done an ironman with this much boobs on me good grief).
T1: 5:06

Monday, August 29, 2016

to make room for other things

It seems impossible to try and explain how I went from a month off to an ironman in about three and a half weeks without sounding completely off my rocker.  But writing it down is important for me and I'm sure both of the internet denizens that may still read this blog already understand that I am nuts so off we go and fuck yeah let's kick things off with a selfie and definitely one where there is something in my teeth that I'm not going to bother to photoshop out.
There was no master plan here, this summer, at any point.  When I crashed my bike and started hopping on planes, there were no thoughts in my head about races.  I had a little bit of the tantrum-y I am never going to race ever again! going on (ah, the dramatics of the human experience).  I was signed up for IM Boulder, yes.  I wanted a chance to go back and have a different experience than the one I had last August.  But after I went down in June, I realized that there was no way that I was going to be ready to complete the race, and intentionally DNF'ing or using it as a training day did not sit well with me.  So I transferred the registration forward into IM Coeur d'Alene as I was planning to be there for race support, thinking that I would swim and then spectate and enjoy the day.  And that was, quite honestly, all that I thought about that.

But then I went to Coeur d'Alene.  It was the first time I had been back since 2012.  I can't explain it, although I'll certainly use 7000 words to try, but being there, in the town, on the roads, it felt like magic, it felt like balm on my exhausted, banged-up frayed disaster of a triathlon-specific soul (hopefully that was enough words).  I went out the first day to do a shake-out ride with my athletes and I literally could not stop smiling.  Noodling along at 70 watts with the biggest shit-eating grin in the world, remembering - and laughing, more a little - at all the incredible memories of my first time through ironman four years ago.  Reflecting on everything that has happened since then, so many ways my life has changed.  And it may sound vomity-in-the-back-of-the-throat, but on Saturday afternoon I stopped in the middle of a short easy ride and laid in the grass next to the lake and stared up at the clouds and felt peace.  Healing, yes.  But also like maybe I didn't need to fight anymore.  
That trip, something about it changed me.  I can't put my finger on exactly what it was, but I came home feeling different.  It was as if I had finally gotten back in sync with a universe that I still do believe wants the best for me.  My physical body was still not quite ready; in CdA, I rode a couple of times and ran for fifteen minutes - the first anything I had done since I crashed.  And it wasn't great.  My back hurt, my hips hurt, my ribs ached.  So I took the long way home, I jumped in the hot springs instead of back into training and that was the right thing to do: to wait, to accept, to breathe.
It was the next week when things started to change.  I believe in a ton of hippie crap, everyone knows that, but it's too much of a coincidence that I spent a long weekend in Coeur d'Alene feeling joy and peace and about a week later my physical body calmed.  I went to see one of my favorite physical therapists; I had come up with an idea about how the problem wasn't originating in my back but instead in my hip.  I asked him to treat my hip and just generally blast me with one of the 200-dry-needles-everywhere sessions that leave both of us dripping with sweat and the room ringing with the word fuck.  He complied, I think only because I've responded so well in the past to these sessions (and not because dry needling is MTV TRL).  We chatted while he worked, our conversation led to a discussion about what I had been doing in the gym (nothing, because every smart person in the world told me to get out of the weight room as soon as I got injured and I agreed).  As we talked, we wondered together, what would happen if I got back in the gym?  He knows and has always supported how much time I spend in the weight room as a triathlete, and agrees that it has been a significant piece of staying healthy the last 2+ years.  I think his exact words on the subject were something along the lines of, nothing else has fucking fixed you so why not give this a try?
Two days later, I did a carefully-executed strength session in the weight room, the first one touching actual weights since maybe last December.  I didn't ask anyone for input, I went to the gym at a time when I knew it would be empty and quiet so I could take selfies and simply worked through exactly what felt best for my body.  That is notable only because I've spent so much time with so many world-class coaches and trainers, trying to absorb and integrate everything they have to teach, but when it came down to it, I'm on the inside and there will be moments when I know better than anyone watching exactly what it is I need.  And when I left the gym, I just knew.  I could tell.  My body felt solid in a way it hadn't in months.  Since that day, my back pain has been completely gone.  I went back to that PT a week later for another blast at my hips and while he worked he shook his head and said, it's a goddamn miracle.  It's crazy that the solution was so simple, but also, maybe it wasn't, and that's what I believe.  Maybe I needed to find my mojo, to heal on the inside, to spend time with people and places and set myself free, and then once I had given myself space, it makes sense that the physical body would follow.  No one else has to believe my spiritual crap, I'm a scientist at heart, a mathematician, and even typing it makes me roll my eyes at myself.  But that's how it happened, that's the story of how I healed.  
So.  With few exceptions (sea turtles), I took four weeks completely off.  The first week "back to training" had five hours of training in it, and it wasn't training, it was the easiest movement I could do and probably at least half of that was swimming and, looking back, that week ended 7 weeks out from ironman.  But I wasn't thinking about ironman then.  I was beyond thrilled to be out of pain, the ability to ride my bike and be happy was occupying any space devoted towards training in my head and there were no thoughts more complex than that.  Another week went by, I hopped on the say yes training plan which meant that whoever asked me to go and ride or swim got a Yes! from me.  
I kept traveling and drinking beer and riding my bike all over the fucking everywhere.  I went out to Copper to get dropped in four seconds by a professional triathlete ride with a friend that came into town, I spent half a day pushing my mountain bike over rocks at Buffalo Creek, I started meeting one of my best friends for short easy morning jogs where we spent half the time complaining about our pace and the other half our sky-high heart rates, I went to Kansas for two days to remember what humidity is like.  And I thought about my time in Coeur d'Alene.  The way the town made me feel.  The Pat Summitt quote I shared, about how things aren't taken away to be cruel but to make room for other things.  Somewhere in this mishmash of euphoria over being able to move again and self-discovery and living a life of wild tiny adventure, the thought rose to the surface that maybe, just maybe, I could attempt the full ironman.  It came about in thinking about the cyclic nature of the universe, and how last year I was supposed to race IMCdA but instead raced IM Boulder so what if this year my journey was that I was not supposed to race IM Boulder but instead I was meant to go back and race IMCdA, to finish what I chose not to start out of grief?  Maybe that is the room for other things?  And, as things do, once the idea was there, I couldn't shake it, despite how ridiculous I know that it was.  I kept riding, and running, and getting the shit beat out of my hips, and finally one Tuesday morning I went out for a ride, and I was tired, and I spent about an hour mentally going, should I or shouldn't I? and that when when I knew it was time to ask someone else to write the parade.  So I sent Liz an email like thIs:
We talked on the phone for only a few minutes later that day, me chattering ninety miles a minute trying to not take up any more of her time than necessary as she had a new tiny human in the world and I just had an insane and maybe quite stupid idea.  I tried to explain about how I was supposed to do this race last year and my grandfather had a stroke and then I pushed forward into Boulder and that was a colossal grief-saturated meltdown and then this year I was signed up for Boulder and after six months of injury and a bike crash I pushed that one forward into IMCdA and maybe yup it's beyond insane but I wanted to do this in honor of my grandparents.  In honor of two people who always wanted the best for me, who made their life together out of hard work and sacrifice and wanted nothing more than the happiness of the people they loved.  And I know it may sound ridiculous, completing an ironman is a really bizarre way to honor and remember people who have passed away, it's such a small thing, a selfish thing, but it was powerful to me and once the idea got its teeth into me, all I knew was that I wanted to try, to do this tiny thing that would somehow say, I knew.  We all knew, how loved we were.  So Liz told me, with all the caution of a seasoned coach slightly backed into a corner by an overly emotional triathlete, well, let's just see how it goes and less than four weeks out, I started(ish) to train.
And, not to take anything away from her masterful ability as a coach but nothing she did to me was that much of a surprise.  I decided that since travel and drinking beer and riding my bike anywhere I could drag it was some sort of key to my happiness and healing and I needed to keep doing it, and she worked with the hot mess of scheduling that was my life for these weeks.  The day that I woke up at 4am so I could ride 100 miles - about 70 of them on loose gravel which brought about the first ironman-bike-meltdown I've had in several years - before hopping a plane to San Francisco to spend a weekend with friends and handing people sponges for a little while at Vineman.  Or when I decided to spend a few days in Lake Tahoe riding as part of the say yes plan, or trying to fit a big weekend of training around supporting and volunteering at IM Boulder, and then not banging her head on the wall in dismay when I came down with strep throat ten days out (thanks to all the bike-touching in T2 at IM Boulder, I am certain).  Not to mention dealing with the instability of a veteran ironman athlete experiencing the slight anxiety of panic-training for a distance that includes an incredible amount of suffering even when impeccably prepared.  It wasn't easy - training for ironman never is - but the fatigue was familiar and comforting, I know it well and that made it easier to simply ride the wave.  
There were a lot of things I didn't do, in these weeks.  I didn't get on the scale, holy shit would that have been a terrible idea.  I'm highly aware of what it would tell me based on how I've been living my life for the last eight months and I knew that there was zero helpful information it could provide three weeks before an ironman (other than maybe it would be a good idea to buy a new tri kit which race photos have now confirmed).  I didn't take these 3.5 weeks to try and "clean up" my eating: I eat plenty of plants but I also have spent the summer having plenty of cocktails on the patio and eating plenty of not-plants.  I kept lifting, trying my best to drop those sessions in where they would wreck me the least but feeling connected to the idea that it was a big part of how my body was responding.  I didn't shut down all the traveling but instead let training flow around it and if my longest long run only got to 12.3 miles (ooof, but also, hooray!) because I flew to California for a few days then so be it.  Because whatever I was doing in the month of July was working.  I was healing, I was starting to feel strong again and I didn't want to upset the apple cart by trying to lose fifteen five pounds or make sure my macros were perfectly balanced or say no to the IPA of the month.  God-willing, there will be another ironman in my future where I may decide to return to these things, but if I did one thing right this time around, it was to feed my body richly with food and experiences alike.  I didn't obsess about watts or pace.  I watched, certainly, because I'm a math nerd consumed with the process, but I never came home stomping my foot because of how much heart rate it had cost to hit a certain pace; I'm not sure I even looked at pace on the run, really, for these weeks.  
I rode the living shit out of my bike, mainly by heart rate and effort which is different than the glued-to-the-power-meter experience of the last two years and I think was absolutely the right call.  My swim didn't have a chance to make it into the depth I needed to come around and I didn't care, and I could feel that my run was very slowly inching back towards normal but I knew it wouldn't make it there in time for the race and that didn't matter either.  At no point in time did I have any goals for this race other than to see how far I could get.  No secret goals - God almighty if I have learned one thing from all these years of coaching it's that nothing destroys a race faster than secret goals.  Finishing was not a goal.  I wanted nothing more than to see how far I could get.  To go until I couldn't go anymore.  And then, I knew, I would think about my grandparents, and how much they meant to me, and maybe, just maybe, with a little bit of luck and a whole lot of stubbornness, I could do the whole fucking thing. 

Lately I've seen it thrown around quite a bit - find your why.  And I had my why.  I know that in ironman, at the end of the day, it's rarely that we reach our physical limits - I certainly don't think I have ever experienced this.  It's our mental limits that slow us down (or only consuming three ounces of fluid and a single cracker on the bike).  I know that if I could dig down and hold onto the really formidable reason that I wanted to do this race - for me - then all the other little stuff would just fall away.  That anything, really, other than running a 3:30 off the bike, could be possible.
Four days before the race, as I took my antibiotics and gave my tri kit a very terrifying stink eye and commanded it to grow three sizes larger, I had a conversation with someone about how I would feel if I finished, or didn't.  And I realized that it wasn't about the finish, not entirely, but more about the fact that I felt confident enough to start.  When I crossed the finish line at New Orleans in April, it was the first thing out of my mouth, there is NO WAY I could attempt an ironman right now.  I was still too injured, my fitness wasn't there, my body wasn't there.  And how I felt during race week was the complete opposite of that.  I knew I wasn't even close to as physically prepared as I have been in the past, I knew it might take every single second of those 17 hours to get to the finish line, but I felt healthy, strong enough to start.  I had no expectation for a finish - and honestly, the truth about ironman is that no one should ever expect a finish, the day is too long and too hard - but I felt physically and mentally prepared to try.

I went back to masters swim on Monday morning, six days before the race, which never fails to refill my happiness tank.  I got my toenails painted with my athletes, I flew to Coeur d'Alene.  I kept working, I tried to interrupt life as little as possible and take care of my athletes racing mainly by forcing them to nap.  And I could sense it, the happiness of getting ready to race, buzzing under the surface of my normal life.  I rode the short leg of the bike course and felt again, the incredible magic of the town, another set of stolen lyrics, my heart is pumping up so big that it could burst.  (Speaking of big).
I stayed out of the circus that surrounds the ironman village, I snuck in and out of check-in, I swam in the pool instead of attending the practice swims, I did my shakeout sessions early in the morning before the rest of the house was even awake.  I packed my bags, I checked in my bike, I ate a giant pile of white food and I set my alarm.  And I felt ready, as ready as I could be.  To try.