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.

Monday, July 11, 2016

so we can fly

God doesn't take things away to be cruel.  He takes things away to make room for other things.  He takes things away to lighten us.  He takes things away so we can fly. -- Pat Summitt

Everybody has something in life that makes them feel like they can fly.
For me, that moment happens on a bike.  I've been climbing all day.  I'm gritty, sweaty, covered in pollen and asphalt grime, my back hurts and my water bottles are empty; I've almost wiped out a dozen times swinging at the fucking deer flies and I haven't gone faster than walking speed in hours.  Finally, the top comes.  I can slow to a stop, pause, take a bunch of selfies for instagram, swing my leg off my bike and stretch.  Maybe I drink a coke, or eat a cookie or maybe a dozen, or fill my bottles and pee and crack my neck, or maybe I simply hook around in the middle of the road and head back down.  I pick up speed, slowly as first, then faster as I shift into my big chain ring, it feels so good to get my cadence back up over 38, and that, right there, that is the moment.  I push the pedals until I run out of gears, I shift my weight, I lean, I won't even consider touching the brakes but instead I hunker down as low as I can, and I fly.  
To the general dismay of whoever is unfortunate enough to be on my wheel I sing, loudly, the entire way down, across all facets I attack life with mouth wide open, but these are the moments that make me feel like my heart is genuinely about to burst.  I have yet to experience a feeling greater than this, and over the years, I have learned that the one thing guaranteed to ruin this moment is by slamming on the brakes.  Jerking and weaving and skidding, letting fear rip holes in my joy, enduring the descent with gritted teeth and white knuckles instead of succumbing to it, embracing it (probably both of you reading can see where I am going here), is water on the fire.  Flattening out the purest and most honest form of happiness I can feel.
After I crashed my bike (nope, still not done talking about it), I hid in bed for a few days before escaping.  I've realized that I was hiding because my ribs were broken I felt like I had failed.  When I decided to take a big-and-for-real-this-time break from any sort of training, exercise, triathlon thoughts, that felt like giving up.  Like I couldn't hack it anymore, like all the critics that exists both inside my brain and out, were right.  I had asked too much of my body, I had made too many mistakes, and now I had to pay for it by never again being able to do this thing I love so much.  I was tired of fighting so I stopped.  I gave up.  And I hated myself for it.

When athletes come to me for coaching, I have them fill out a long Q&A, as most coaches do.  Through this, I ask them questions about where they have been and where they want to go and what they believe is missing from their current routine.  All of these potential athletes talk to me about wanting to be fitter, faster, healthier, beat that jerk in the next lane over, go longer, race stronger.  And most of them say something along the lines of, I need someone who can kick my ass.
But here's the thing.  When I start working with these athletes, and getting to know them, for the most part, they kick their own asses.  These are high-functioning adults with successful careers that have gotten far in life by having their shit together.  They never miss workouts and when they do, they agonize over what that thirty-minute easy run will do to their ironman seven weeks away.  I never have to say to these athletes, er, pick it up you need to work harder.  That is not what they need; they froth at the mouth for the hard workouts, they wreck themselves beyond belief and then write notes telling me that they want to try again because they think they can find one more watt.  These athletes don't need someone to teach them how to suffer more, when they come to me and write I want to be stronger fitter faster, what they are actually saying is, Katie, teach me to be resilient.
It's tough to discuss resilience, it's become such a buzzword these days (I accept my fair share of the blame for this), especially when paired with vulnerability.  But when I look up a definition of resilience, here what it doesn't say.  It does not say, resilience is never ever ever giving up.  It does not say, resilience is beating yourself into submission and sacrifice all things to reach a goal.  It also does not say, everything went perfectly all the time and I never gave up or struggled or hurt or questioned myself.  What resilience actually is, is the ability to bounce back, to recover, to be elastic.  Resilience is not riding every goddamn wave perfectly.  Resilience is spitting the sand out of your teeth after the wave has plowed you facefirst into the ocean floor and paddling back out to sea.  Resilience is being willing to get knocked down, knowing that you are strong enough to pick yourself up off of the ground.  And in thinking about the key to developing resilience, what I have come up with is this.  As high-functioning, OCD, type-A organized athletes that are accustomed to success, what we don't need is more grit, more pain, more suffering, not always.  We don't need to be taught perseverance - we have spent our lives learning these skills and flawlessly displaying them across our carefully ordered lives.  What we need?  Is a little bit of grace.
I went to Hawaii.  I gave myself space to heal.  I went to Coeur d'Alene, I let the roads and the lake and the air fill me up, revive my fat little sumo wrestler of a soul.  When a friend of mine asked me if I wanted to drive back to Colorado instead of fly, my first response was no.  I have to get home, it's time to be in my routine again, I need to rush through this experience and back into my real life.  But the truth is, I can work from anywhere, and I can respond to emails and write programs and read research while hooked into my iPhone data plan for seven hours on the roads of Montana just as well as I can at my desk.  I had my bike, my bikini, and enough clean clothes, so I said yes.  And the healing continued.  I swam in the hot springs in Montana.  I watched sunset with the friend who I hold personally responsible for my first ironman registration on the lawn of the capital in Salt Lake City.  I saw hot air balloons rise backed by sunrise in Park City.  I spent plenty of time doing nothing but staring out the window, watching the landscape change, breathing.  And all of this?  This entire month which I keep describing as reckless irresponsible wanderlust?  It was actually nothing more than that little bit of grace.  When I landed back in Colorado, I could tell that I had mended, that something deep inside me that was broken for months had started to stitch back together, finally, again.
Not physically, certainly, there are still struggles and work that needs to be done on the body I inhabit and I can tell that it is going to be a long build back towards whatever I decide I'd like to be.  A month of nothing but swimming with sea turtles and taking jumping photos did not magically heal me, I don't believe in that kind of magic anyway.  But I don't need to decide any of that right now.  My soul is soothed.  I am ready to be patient with the healing process, it has been far easier to ride the undulation of the last few weeks of physical work now that my brain feels whole.
Last summer, I got a new tattoo.  When people ask what it means, I usually just say, it's for my grandmother, because that is true.  It is her light.  But that isn't all of it.  It's Marianne Williamson saying, it is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  It's the shitty football movie inspirational speech that got me over the finish line of that half marathon over five years ago, when I clung to Al Pacino, the inches we need are everywhere around us.  It's the second time in my life that I've gotten a tattoo at what feels like rock bottom, a reminder, we can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us, or we can fight our way back, into the light.  Maybe fighting doesn't look like what I thought it should.  Maybe instead of suffering through, of never giving up, of pushing as hard as I can, what fighting actually looks like is letting go.  The greatest joy is found when you succumb to the mountain, you don't even think about the brakes, you simply weight your ass down into your saddle and let the world fly around you and apparently I only wear striped pants anymore.
If I had been training for ironman this year, I wouldn't have gone to Hawaii with one of my best friends.  I wouldn't have witnessed her own healing on the top of a mountain in thirty mph winds, I wouldn't have swam with sea turtles or watched so many different kinds of sunsets or done cartwheels on the beach until I collapsed in laughter at my own ineptitude.  I wouldn't have gone to Coeur d'Alene and felt so full, erupting, riding on the roads, remembering so clearly, so fondly, my first trip through that many miles four years ago.  I wouldn't have hopped in the truck and talked non-stop for three days (sorry but to be fair you totally knew what you were getting into), I wouldn't have gone stand-up paddleboarding or to so many baseball games or driven out to Lake Dillon just to have lunch and walk around.  
There would have been no cannonballinng into the hot springs or dancing like your embarrassing uncle Eddie on the streets of Denver or hiking up Sunshine Canyon in flip-flops just to watch the sun set in the wind or getting more than a little bit shitfaced on the fourth of July.  There would have been no riding all the different bikes on all the different rocks and dirt and gravel once I decided to start rolling again on two wheels.  And I wouldn't have missed these things, because my life would have been filled with other joyful moments, but actually, maybe I would have missed all of these things.  This whole year, I have been agonized that ironman had been taken away from me, because that's how it felt, like something was taken, rudely, abruptly, yanked away.  I don't feel like that anymore, not after the last month, not after I let go, because I get it now, that maybe it was taken away to make room for other things.  Instead I finally feel like I have been given a chance to experience so much life that makes my heart full, people and places and probably way too much beer, the chance to learn about myself when I'm not riding my bike 10+ hours a week and living on carefully measured sweet potatoes and bed by 9pm no matter what.  
This year.  It's July.  I haven't ridden one hundred miles or run twenty, I haven't been in the pool 20K+ every week, I haven't done hill repeats or strides or form work or a million banded 50s or videotaped my deadlift or any of the things that have been a normal part of my happiness in the past.  But I have learned the definition of grace.  I have figured out how crucial it is to be able to show love towards someone in the moments they feel like they deserve it the least.  To be able to direct love inwards in the moments I hate myself the most, something we all experience but never discuss, it's ugly, and dark, and disgusting to admit what we feel sometimes when we look in the mirror.  What I needed to heal was not more struggle.  It is not perseverance or toughness or mantras that are why I am still here, why I've laughed more in the last couple of weeks than I have in a long time.  It is grace.

Monday, June 27, 2016

on adventure

I am a sentimental person.
A bit of a gross understatement along the lines of sometimes people do not agree on Facebook.  For a long time, I was embarrassed by the deep extent of my emotional, nostalgic, downright cheesy streak.  I have an excellent memory for important events in my life; one of my high school boyfriends and I still argue about which day who said what to who and which song was playing on the radio when it happened back in 1996.  Every important event in my life has music linked to it, emotionally, embarrassingly so.  I can clearly recall the Indigo Girls song that was playing the first time I kissed my now-husband, the Nico & Vinz that played on repeat while training for my first crack at IM Boulder, the Diana Krall that never fails to rip my heart wide open, the Journey song that made my ears ring in the bar down the shore where I first met one of my oldest friends, the Lionel Richie I played on repeat for months after my first silly teenage broken heart, the Lifehouse that got me through my divorce (I warned you, embarrassing), the Barenaked Ladies song that, twenty years later, still instantly transports me back to Blue Bell, windows down, off-key at the top of our lungs trying to cram all the words out.  I remember things, I have a soft spot in my heart for friendship, for old loves, for whatever kind of family you build around you, I believe that the universe is not an accident.  I know that plenty may claim that the whole idea of a universe and a bigger purpose is a tidy bunch of crap but that is not what I, personally, feel to be true.
I crashed my bike, that's where it began.  I spent a couple of days in bed with prescription narcotics, wincing every time I breathed or itched or rolled or sneezed, not sleeping, laying in the dark, staring at the ceiling, thinking.  When a doctor tells you to minimize time in front of tiny screens, it sure does open up a whole lot of time in life these days.  (And all you brats get off my lawn!)  What I was left with felt like another kind of rock bottom.  I was done.  Ready to throw up my hands, to open wide to the sky, beg, please, reveal the lesson already!

So I left.  I felt taunted by the routines of my life (Monday swim lift Tuesday bike run Wednesday swim run...). I woke up two days after the crash, packed a bag and three hours later I was boarding a plane (Southwest points excellent for spontaneity).  Eight hours after that I landed with a friend who lives near the beach.  He didn’t ask any difficult questions but instead gave me a set of keys and pointed me in the direction of the sea.  I slept a lot, I kept to myself, and in some quiet way, I figured out how to grieve so many things that have been lost, finally, to let go and leave it behind, there.
Another handful of days and airports and continents and oceans later, I ended up in Maui with a different friend, one who has been going through the same kind of rough patch over the last little while.  The best kind of friend, the one that you can call and say, life is fucking terrible, and two hours later you get off the phone with a week of vacation booked in Hawaii.  Off we went.  I didn’t think about training for even one second.  We cooked, we ate well, we slept, we explored, we soaked up the sun.  I let my mind and body be still.  I paused, I sat back.  And I swam in the ocean every day.  Not for fitness, not for exercise, not for a reason other than taking selfies with the GoPro there is nothing more healing to my soul than that.  Wading in, dolphin-diving through the break and slowly, gently, stroking along the shore.  We chased schools of fish, climbed on rocks with crabs, and on the last day, swam around the point into a little family of sea turtles, honu, probably eighty years old. Quiet, ears plugged with salt water, dove over and over again, totally buoyant.  I explained to Julie about how honu are a sign of incredible luck, and when we looked it up later that night, somewhere, I read that they also signify endurance and long life, and no matter how lost, they can always find their way back home.
I healed.  A day or two in, we were exploring the north end of the island, taking ridiculous pictures on a cliff into the blasting wind and Julie said to me, in this picture you look like you are laughing harder than you have laughed in a long time.  That’s what it felt like, the whole trip, like I finally remembered how to smile, to laugh, to be.  There is something inside of me that has been twisting for months now and I didn’t even notice until it paused, struggled, and set itself free; the shocking emptiness, a diseased, dead tooth popped neatly from its socket.
I managed to catch a cold on the plane ride home and spent the next few days holed up in bed, still healing.  Waiting patiently for my body to say: I am ready.  What I’m learning, what I’ve lived is that life is a series of setbacks and comebacks, the critics have that right at least.  I realized at some point that this entire setback has felt like failure.  That is what I have been carrying around for the last six months.  I am injured, I have failed.  Worse, I am a failure.  I have let people down, I have let myself down.  But I can finally, tentatively, say to myself.  Hey.  It doesn’t have to be like that. This is not the real story here.
You don’t get to choose.  Even though, I know, all the inspirational crap says otherwise.  Everything that says that you are in charge of the future, you can design your life, you get to absolutely pick who you want to be and where your path will take you, it’s fucking bullshit.  Because someone dies.  Someone leaves.  You crash your bike, you miss your flight, you break your ribs, you lose, over and over and over.  Your story builds itself around you, despite best-laid plans.  And you have two choices.  To fight it, to rip into resistance.  Or to accept the vulnerability of life and then, do what?  I don’t know.  I haven’t figured that part out just yet.  But I know that there is a choice there.  And I am making it.
Last week, I went and saw a physical therapist, slightly despondent that after two plus weeks of no training or exercise or even walking a little bit briskly, I was still in pain.  Only a little bit frustrated that all the arm-chair quarterbacks who insisted that I was overtrained were wrong, because if eighteen days of rest doesn’t fix my body, what will?  (I’m aware of how illogical this sounds).

We talked.  And something she said steadied me.  She told me to stop.  Stop the massage, stop the core work, stop foam rolling, stop using the mobility ball the stick the lacrosse ball the belt sander, stop self-adjusting three times a day, stop doing 25 clamshells before bed every night, just stop.  Step back.  Let healing happen unassisted.  Let the body do.  I squirmed a little in my chair, unhappy and disbelieving, because if I want to heal I need to WORK at it, right?  I need to be doing everything I can to fix the spiral of injury, seeing every doctor, doing work every day, strengthening massaging mobilizing activating, work.  That's what I've been doing all spring, and as I said it, I could hear how it has exhausted, strained me.  And she said, no.  That the body needs a certain amount of tightness to work properly.  That MY body is clearly trying to find this stability and every time I massage a muscle and loosen it up, it’s going to clamp back down twice as hard.  And I am confident that I do not need to deconstruct this metaphor but it was a hammer to the head, cartoon-style, the lightbulb went on.  My body is telling me, it is not time yet.  I am not ready.  So my wandering adventure continues.
I am a sentimental person.  And it does not escape my notice or commentary that I am writing this blog post as I fly to Spokane to support my athletes racing this weekend, that I will roll in town pretty close to the exact minute that I crossed the finish line there for the first time, four years ago tonight.  Ironman isn't for everyone.  Right now, it may not be for me, and that has finally become okay.  I think it will come back around.  I think it may come back to me, if I let it go.  The universe chimes.  I believe in it.  And I have to believe in a universe that wants me to find my way.
This weekend, I will swim in the lake.  Maybe I'll ride, I might even run a few minutes on the roads of Coeur d’Alene.  I’ll try and connect with all the reasons why this sport is where my heart beats, this incredible deck of indescribable emotion that we, as athletes, constantly try and fail to put into words.  I'll continue this adventure I started when I went down into the road almost three weeks ago, the one that has already gone further to heal me than any amount of therapy, physical or otherwise.  I’ll stay quiet, I will make peace with a body that I have fought so hard these last few months, and I will hope.  Because even after all of this, I still have this.  Hope. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

it's the sudden stop

Well.  So here we are.  
I find myself wishing that I had kept up with blogging these last two months, for myself, to have all this shit written down somewhere in a permanent fashion.  Last summer it was helping me to write my way through, but now I understand what it's like to be completely exhausted by my own story.  I am tired of being trapped in a spiral of injury, I am tired of constantly feeling frustrated, isolated, sad, angry, and I am beyond tired of talking about it.  If I heard it once growing up I have heard it a thousand times, if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all.
There is really no way to summarize any shorter than this.  Coming out of New Orleans, my mojo was brimming over, my batteries were at 100% and I honestly believed that my physical body was ready to start training again - really training, not just la-tee-dah what shall I do today training.  As it turns out, it was not.  A little niggle in my high hamstring that I had been managing, a niggle that I can trace all the way back to the 5K I raced in March, got worse.  And it got bad fast, a swift thunderclap, BOOM, right back on the couch.  It took about eight frustrating weeks of chasing my tail before prolotherapy plus an unplanned week off the bike when I flew to DC to help out a close friend with her adorable new baby finally allowed me to put all the pieces together.  My SI joint on the other side of my sacrum was the root of it.  Every time I was treated, I was told no running for a few days but riding and swimming were fine.  And then it turned out that the bike was the problem so all I was doing was re-irritating everything immediately following treatment which is why I wasn't getting better and nothing was healing.  I made some changes myself, I booked a bike fit, I rode the new fit and spent about ten days continuing to make minute adjustments as I worked it out.  
But the hamstring wasn't it either, really.  See, I fundamentally believe that the body can only deal with a certain amount of stress.  It doesn't matter if the stress is coming from hill repeats or fighting with your husband or a lack of sleep or multiple court appearances to deal with unpleasant business matters.  What matters is that there is a breaking point.  My body was throwing off warning signs all spring.  I had a skin biopsy come back not exactly negative.  I gained weight that wouldn't come off no matter how well I was treating my body with nutrition.  I got a weird rash in a line up the back of my leg that turned out to be shingles - a viral infection that can be reactivated in the body after a period of intense stress.  I ignored these things, clinging desperately to the medical advice that encouraged me to keep moving, hoping that one day I would wake up and all my various pains would have melted away and I would be able to run, ride, happy, again.  I thought I was getting there, I thought I was close, and that's when I went down.  
The day started off pretty well, we rode up to Loveland at the crack of dawn so I could swim 2.4 miles in exchange for a new cap and all the bananas I could eat.  The course was long (got my money’s worth!), but I had a pretty good swim and ended up taking a little silver cup home to add to my collection.  I joined up with one of my athletes for a few hours of cruisey riding once I got home.  I was pretty wrecked from the race but 1200 calories and a triple espresso turned me around.  We were about two hours into riding when we stopped to investigate a weird creaking sound on his bike.  After tightening some screws that had nothing to do with the issue, we clipped in to roll out and I fell over.  It happens, it’s dumb, but I’ve seen it happen to even the most experienced cyclists, sometimes you reach for the clip and you miss or you slide and you just - splat - on the ground.  I got a little scrape on one arm but it wasn’t a big deal, ten seconds later I was back up, fine, exclaiming I haven’t done that in years and years because falling over from a standstill never fails to make you feel like a complete moron.  The real crash came about twenty minutes later, we were going around a small corner and there was a lot of sand spread through the intersection.  I slowed coming into the turn but my rear wheel slipped it and just like that, my bike threw me into the road.  I felt myself land in slow motion on the ground - ribs - shoulder - head.  Smash smash crunch.  I hopped up as quickly as I could, mortified, and told everyone that had stopped, I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine but I’m going to call for a ride no go on I’m fine. A nice guy in a Jeep offered me a ride back into Longmont so I climbed in and the poet came and rescued me from there.  I was mostly just annoyed.  I really hate road rash and my helmet smacking the ground had given me a wicked headache but I thought I was fine, and I was pissed to shut down a ride when I was having a good time and my hamstring didn't hurt and goddammit already with this year.  I got home, though, and after a few minutes I noticed that my left eye was a little bit droopy and my vision was blurred and actually a few of my ribs were hurting kind of a lot and just like that I got myself packed off to the ER.  A couple of hours of scans and x-rays and having my road rash inadequately numbed before being scrubbed out with a brillo pad (sweet jesus) later, I was done.  Big time, for real, shut it all down, done (this is my super not-impressed let-me-take-a-selfie blogger pose, hopefully you can tell I've been practicing).
I’ve been thinking, these last few weeks, about how I got injured in the first place.  I've been thinking about how this rollercoaster started as I transfer registrations and cancel trips and try to reorganize my year all the while hoping to quell the very small voice of panic that continues to point first at my current fitness and second at my race schedule.  I raced IM Cozumel back in November, I would describe it as a solid day, a happy day, a little bit of revenge on what went down in Boulder, the race that will forever be known as the day I stomped a marathon off the bike.  Coming out of Cozumel, I didn’t feel as if I had that much fatigue so I took a few days off and then asked to leap straight back into training, and my coach agreed.  And look, I’m not blaming anyone for anything here because when it comes down to it, I am an adult and the boss of my life but in hindsight I think that was simply the worst thing I could have done.  I didn’t respect the distance & I certainly didn’t respect the six months of stress leading up to the race.  I ran somewhere between eight and twelve miles chasing athletes around in Tucson, six days after ironman.  It felt horrible and I ignored it.  I jumped straight into a lifting program in the gym which was high-rep high-intensity even though I think I knew in the back of my head that what I needed was the opposite sort of stimulus if I needed any stimulus at all, and I lifted myself silly the next three weeks while my volume shot back up.  I ignored some warning signs in the gym that were whispering, hey maybe you should be working on form in slow motion instead of 4x15 reps here, because I follow instructions and gotta check that box!  The workout where things fell apart, a four-hour trainer ride less than a month out from ironman, I knew, I should have shut it down but I didn’t because I am really fucking stubborn and 4-5 years of training without injury had lulled me into a false sense of invincibility and honestly even typing this out is making me cringe over and over.  And over.    
If I go back, if I read the notes in my training log and remember the things I was feeling, I was stupid.  I own that.  My body, the universe, it has been trying to tell me something for months now, and I have not been listening, I have been fighting as hard as I know how.  Maybe it’s all touchy-feely bullshit but you know what, it’s what I believe in and that’s all that actually matters.  And what I believe in, is that when the universe is trying to tell you something, it throws cotton balls and then acorns and then snowballs and then bricks.  When the universe is trying to get your attention you will lose every time because the universe has deadly aim, the universe is a sniper that can take out a flea from seven hundred thousand miles away; when the universe is trying to get your attention, the universe does not fucking miss.   

But I also don't believe that the universe is a total asshole.  There have been moments, brief, grateful moments where I get a glimpse.  There’s a moment on the bike, maybe you’re tired, or soft-pedaling, and someone (hopefully that you know) rolls by on your left and you have less than a second to decide.  Do I hop on and possibly destroy myself trying to hang or do I let them go?  There was a day, about a month ago, where I got to decide that.  And in the ninety minutes that followed, ninety minutes where I stopped looking at power or heart rate or anything except the hub of the wheel in front of me, I threw away all the logic and reasons and silenced the alarm bells going off in my brain clamoring YOU ARE NOT FIT ENOUGH FOR THIS KIND OF JACKASSERY and instead, said firmly back, I WILL NOT GET DROPPED TODAY.  Fuck fitness, fuck good sense, I will rip out my own teeth and spit them over my left shoulder into the slipstream if I have to in order to not lose this wheel.  Every cyclist in the world knows, respects, in a twisted way absolutely lives for this moment.  We stopped to refill bottles and one of my girlfriends said something to me about never seeing me ride this strong, and I laughed but I wanted to cry, I wanted to plant a stake in the ground, THIS is how I ride, THIS is who I am.  And you don’t know me, not at all, if you don’t know that, but of course you don’t know that because I haven’t seen that person in the mirror in a very long time.  
June 8th.  I am, flatly, honestly, exhausted.  I have spent the last five months of my life in pain.  Physical pain, emotional pain, stress, anxiety, it has piled up.  I am out of fight.  All the training I’ve done this year has been walking the tight-rope of what my fragile body will allow me to do.  I feel as if I’ve spent every day of this year bracing against pain.  Every procedure I’ve had, every time a doctor has assured me, it hurts now but you will feel better later!  I’ve spent countless hours laying facedown on a treatment table saying, fuck FUCK fuck fuck fuck, over and over again, squeezing my eyes shut and taking deep breaths because if there is one thing I do not do, it is fucking cry, not me, not in front of you, no matter how excruciating, no matter how big your needles are.  And it has exhausted me.  I stopped going to morning masters for the most part because sleep dragged at me no matter how early I went to bed.  I stopped getting bikini waxes (TMI but fuck off if you actually care) because I couldn't lay on another table tensing against any more pain, not for one more minute, I have completely maxed out my ability to endure.  It has extinguished the fight I have in me, my desire is gone, my flame is out, all these months of trying to be strong.  It has taken away the joy I used to find in training, and fuck racing this has never been about racing.  When I can’t complete a swim without a pull buoy because kicking is irritating my joint, when I start every ride by heading out the door on a Saturday morning telling my husband, I’ll be back somewhere between three minutes and two hours, when I run the first thirty steps down my driveway holding my breath, praying that the pain is low enough on the 1-10 scale that I can make it around the block today, when that is what my life has become, that is when it is time to step away.  So I decided, after this crash, finally, to step away.

And usually when I am forced to take rest, I enjoy it for a day or two and then I start to itch to move, and I’m on day four of this self-imposed break and I feel nothing.  I feel empty, barren, my soul is scorched earth.  Steph Davis talked last year about the difference between endurance and resilience.  She says, enduring is really about being's about getting the job done instead of falling apart and giving up.  What I have been doing, these last few months, that has been endurance.  Bearing down, accepting pain, living with pain, gritting my teeth and saying, I'm fine go ahead it's fine because I wanted so badly to be healed and also because I refuse to give up.  I can tell you what endurance looks like.  It is laying on a table in running shorts that don't fit, covered in road rash and bruises and aching from head to toe, trying to hold up cheerful conversation while you feel like your eyeball is about to explode because your physical therapist has one finger in your mouth and is doing deep work on the muscles that hold your brain in place.  Explaining how you were turning, sure, but you had both hands on the handlebars and had slowed enough for the stop sign and have good handling skills and weren't even taking any selfies!  And the universe threw you at the ground anyhow.  But really, it's not at all about the crash, it's not the fall that kills you, as the joke says.  It's the sudden stop.
I know how to endure.  I know how to tolerate pain.  I've done ironman seven times, not to mention living a life full of all kinds of other crap, a lot of it tougher than ironman in incomparable ways.  But resilience is different.  And what might look from the outside like giving up, maybe that's actually where resilience starts to grow.  I get that I have a choice, we always have choices.  I could hold on, I could keep pushing, struggling, desperate to force my fragile body through more months of movement, most of which at this point has been stripped of joy.  Or.  I can let go.