Thursday, October 8, 2015

the struggle is what makes it worth it

Every year, I spend the week of my birthday working through all of my favorite things, little traditions.  I like to go ride my bike all day (bikes are MY FAVORITE) in the sunshine, so I do, and not just because I've signed up for yet another late-season-keeping-me-from-racing-cross ironman.  I like to do a batshit-crazy birthday swim of some sort, especially since I convinced Michelle to be the boss of my sassy britches, so I do.  I like to drink a reasonable amount of tequila and eat an unreasonable amount frosting, so I do.  I don't work on my birthday - not because I don't like to work, but because I simply don't believe in doing anything called "work" for this one day a year.  I want to spend my birthday brimming over with laughter with the people in my life that I adore, so I generally drag them all out for margaritas or over to my house to force-feed them burned meat and fancy ice cream.  I make it a point to get my yearly haircut, to take a real shower in our actual house (not at the gym), put on one of the maybe two or three pieces of clothing that I own that aren't spandex and shake my groove thing until the very late hour of maybe 8pm.  I fill my day with the simple things that makes me happy, and I celebrate the fact I've managed to hoist my ridiculous self out of the path of a speeding train or a piano falling from the sky for one more trip around the earth.
But this trip - this year - has been the toughest ride I've had in a while.  The last six months of my life, I believe, rival the months I lived through right after I decided to get divorced.  I've been coping in different ways (proven by the fact that I have zero points on my driver's license and no broken bones [as of today]), but it has been hard.  Dark.  Ugly, and many times I've looked around and haven't been able to see even a single pinpoint of light.  The letter I wrote to myself for my last birthday feels actual light-years away, not just 365 rounds of sunrise, sunset.
I think, this October, I want to simply be grateful that I am making it.  That I am here, now.  That I am typing in this little space, processing my life out loud, that over the last few weeks I have been able to recognize that there is a lot of joy here, patiently waiting for me to come back around.  I read a wide variety of blogs, and many times I've seen one or the other go dark for a while, and then the blogger comes back with a complete tale of living through a rough time and blooming out the other side.  And I respect that, I do, I know I've been quieter than usual the last six months, but I also have no regrets that I've been digging myself out of a hole of sadness, grief, loss, in a very public manner.  We all do things differently.  There is no one right way to get the rollercoaster slowly clanking back up the mountain.
I take a lot of selfies.  Let's not bury the lede, I do, I'm one of the more guilty naval-gazers out there, and I'm okay with that.  But I've been curious about why I think it's so much fun, and what I've figured out is: I take pictures because I want to see myself being joyful, because I want to share what makes me smile, laugh, pause even, catch my breath.  Being the person I really am: goofy, happy, running slip-shod through life, loose around the edges, that is what I am trying to build, create, reflect.  To be completely full of sensitive crap: this is the person I am trying hard to love.  I spend so much time feeling like I should really be more stern, grow up a little, act my age, but honestly, I like being absurd and after the last few months I could do with quite a bit more of it.  Unapologetically.  I hung a warning sign on all my social media outlets a few years ago; my life is puppies, running shorts, and selfies, and that sign basically says, suck it, haters, this is my goddamn journey.
I don't instagram when I load the dishwasher or write schedules or pay the phone bill, I don't take pictures of the three boxes of spinach I buy every week at Costco, and I try hard (although admit imperfection) not to waste my energy bitching and complaining about things I cannot control or change.  Instead I want to share the moments that make life special and different and my own.  If selfies are a sign of self-love, why shouldn't we celebrate that?  Why shouldn't we say, hey, friend, let me see your smiling face from two inches away doing something that makes you happy?  Why shouldn't we show the world our top-of-the-hour highlights, the way we hope to see ourselves, the best version of the person we are trying to be?  Why shouldn't I fill up the world with pictures that make me laugh because my dogs are adorable or I'm making a stupid face or no, you cannot actually see through the seat of these pants or hey it looks kinda cool when the sun comes up behind me on the bike or even just because I like my new sunglasses?  Is anyone being actually injured by the ability we have developed to take a picture with one hand while crashing through our lives?  (Unless you are one of those people that gets gored by a bison while taking a selfie because you are in the wrong place at the wrong time; rule #1 of the selfie is PAY ATTENTION!).
I've been curious about a lot of things lately, and I think that being curious about myself and what I feel is part of how I am climbing up and out.  I've been working with the talented and fabulous Julie Emmerman (who I cannot link to her webpage for some mystery reason) here in Boulder on figuring out my shit, and last week I shared a story with her about something that happened in at ironman in August.  On the ride, I came by the poet around mile 35 or so and he was ON IT with everything that was going on, he let me know that I was in second place.  That motivated me, that kept me hauling. When I came around again, I had been struggling with a slightly upset stomach for about an hour and assumed that I had been passed by buckets of women while I troubleshooted.  But on that second lap, somewhere after eighty miles, he let me know that I was in fourth, less than a minute back, and my undiluted reaction was, oh crap.

Oh crap.

After that came out of my mouth, I had a brief moment of self-awareness that I needed to file it away to untangle sometime later.  I kept on pedaling, knowing that I was still in striking distance of the front of the field, of the podium, for the next thirty miles I stayed focused every time I wanted to sit up and stretch out my back and soft-pedal.  And the entire time that oh crap was trotting laps around the track in my head.  Then I hit the run and my day blew to absolute smithereens and it was a long, long time before I was really ready to think about any of it again.  But I got there, I remembered feeling like that at mile eighty and I brought it up and we talked about it and it made me so uncomfortable that I was crawling backwards up the couch like a pissed-off & terrified cat.  What it boils down to, we uncovered, is that I don't see myself as an athlete.  At all.  Definitely not a strong one, one who belongs at the front of the field, at the pointy end, in the thick of the race.  I should be in the back, cracking jokes and throwing spitballs and absolutely not taking myself or anything around me seriously.  Because if I don't take it seriously, then it doesn't matter when I fail.  And there it is, the circle closes, it all comes back to failure.  
That's nuts, right?  I've been running on and off since I was 19 years old, I learned how to swim in 2008 when I broke my foot, I bought a bike in 2009 which has now multiplied into a garage full of slick whips, I train my ass off, that I'm not a real athlete crap ship should have long since sailed by now.  I've done six IMs, over a dozen half IMs I even went to the freakin' world championships last year blah blah BLAH BLAH blah, there are a million things I could list, scientific facts on paper that should make it easy for me to say this about myself: I am an athlete.  But that isn't how I see it.  I would never describe myself as an athlete to a stranger.  As a coach, yes.  I love what I do and I also understand that this makes no fucking sense but it's my personal pile of crazy bananas and it doesn't need to make sense to anyone but me.  Being a coach is my job and being an athlete is my hobby.  I'm okay with being better at my job than I am at my hobby, I work really hard at my job; I have plenty of athletes that are a lot faster than me and I can own that because I would much rather be good at my job than my hobby.  But a strong athlete?  I would never dare to say something like that out loud, for so many reasons, the first of which is that I was taught from birth to be humble above all else, to be quiet, to be seen and not heard.  Daring to stand up and say that I am good at something doesn't feel like plain truth, it feels like boasting, even thinking it makes me disgusted with my own arrogance.  One of the many things I am learning from Julie is that maybe there is room between humility and arrogance - a place as wide as the sky - and I need to shove a crowbar in that crack and learn to live there, and to be okay with it.  Somehow.  

For a while, I forgot how to fight.  I let the world, other people, loss, my own hands and brain and translation of the story that was happening, shrivel me up.  I sank deep into my own pain, I was weak, I broke, I hid.  I went into a hole because I thought that was the only place I deserved to be, and I blame no one but myself.  But what is the truth here?  What does Marianne (yes we are on a first-name basis by now) have to say about it?  Your playing small does not serve the world.  That is what I was doing.  AGAIN.  Playing small.  Letting other people who ARE, in fact, small, teach me to shrink instead of shine.  Letting the struggle make me feel unworthy.  But.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so other people will not feel insecure around you.  It's hard to feel like that when life is beating the absolute shit out of you, it is a lesson I will learn over and over, but my God it is the truth.  And I feel like I am standing on the wobbly Bambi-learning-how-to-walk legs of a newborn, but I am rising.  Standing.  Strong.
Right now, all I am doing is piecing together moments.  Small ones.  How odd is was, the first time a laugh split my face open after weeks of grief.  The first time I dug into the water and pulled hard instead of zoning out into 17 strokes-flip-16 strokes-flip-17 strokes-flip.  When I let the sun shine on my face in Vancouver, where I found a tiny seed of no, this is not what I want my life to be.  When one of the trainers said I like your striped pants and I laughed and said you just like what they are holding up! instead of looking at him blankly and then going back to my clamshells in silence.  The day I rode most of the way up to Ward and then turned around to descend, and after a few minutes, started singing to myself, softly at first but by the time I needed to brake for the hard right turn it was off-key Genesis at the top of my lungs.  It was me again.  All the good, all the bad, everything that I am, loud as the trombone player hopping around in the back row of the pep band when the touchdown is good, all of it.  Me (last one, promise, even I am getting tired of my own face by now).  
It doesn't mean I'm done wrestling with all my baggage, it doesn't mean I am somehow magically the person I was last winter or that a perfect human has alien-invaded my body, that hey presto! the past has been erased.  But I don't want to revert to who I was before life got really hard, either.  I don't want to go back.  I want to put all these pieces together into something new.  I don't want to be flawless, I want to be indestructible.  And I don't wish that I could have skipped over the struggle.  I don't want those months back where I was numb, or even the ones before it where I had no idea what was waiting, just around the corner, to knock the wind out of me.  I don't think ruefully and regretfully of the birthday I celebrated a year ago, how simple and happy that day seems compared to where I am now.  Because the struggle?  Is what makes it fucking worth it.


2014 birthday post
2013 birthday post
2012 birthday post
2011 birthday post
2010 birthday post 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Santa Cruz 70.3: race report

After I missed IMCdA, Ironman was kind enough to let me (pay to) transfer my entry to a 70.3, and I had airline credit and points travel so it was pretty inexpensive to tack this race onto my fall schedule.  It got me going again after a couple of rough weeks following Boulder, but then I felt like I had only been training again for a few minutes when suddenly it was time to dial it back down.  I spent the weekend before traveling down to Albuquerque to celebrate the upcoming birth of a good friend's first child.  It was fantastic to visit, blow up her kitchen with failed recipes, eat too much baby shower cake, and unwind a bit.  
A week out from the race, I had a few moments of well, this sure isn't going to go well after how inconsistently I've been training this summer.  But once I got to California, I was glad to be there.  Ashley let me shack up with her in boiling hot Santa Clara, which was nice except for a sleepless first night due to her house attacking me with dogs and falling box fans and the like.  I got my bike put together and finished up with work and stocked up on essentials before heading down to Santa Cruz.  And when I'm drinking tea and taking selfies you know I'm doing all right.
After unpacking and checking in, I headed out for some exploring.  The coast is absolutely gorgeous.  It was a perfect sunny day and riding felt good, my legs felt good, my heart felt clear.  I had a lovely dinner date with my book about witches and climbed into bed.  Simple, easy, happy.
Saturday morning was foggy and cool, I noodled around for a bit to get the bike checked in but mostly relaxed in my jammies, and just like that, it was race morning.  I was calm, there wasn't a lot I was hoping for out of this day other than to see if I could find joy in triathlon again.  Like the half marathon I ran a few weeks earlier, I wanted to be present in the day, not worry about what was going on around me or what anyone else was doing, just enjoy the art of movement like my friend Ron says.

Swim: 1.2 miles, 33:30, 9th AG
The swim was in the ocean.  I thought it was going to freak me out because I am a giant fucking pussy about things that might sting me, but the water ended up cold enough that I knew all those terrifying creatures were off somewhere else.  I hung back when our wave went off, took a few minutes to get myself settled and then just kinda...swam.  The morning was ridiculous and gorgeous and every time I breathed left or sighted, I caught some of the sunrise.  I was content.
I couldn't find any feet (what else is new?  I'm a good swimmer but I'm Rainman of drafting) and was happy to hit the first turn buoy and hang a right.  The chop we pushed into on the way out was now slapping me in the face every time I breathed left, but it wasn't really bothering me, more like, okay, neat, this is how this is going to go.  When I hit the next turn buoy to head back towards the beach, I took a minute to breaststroke and try to figure out which way the current was pushing.  It looked like everyone was being dragged a bit right, into the pier, so I pulled hard with my left arm for a while, congratulating myself on being a brilliant strategizing analyst of the ocean.  That worked until I heard someone yelling and looked up to see a kayaker waving at me and noticed I was swimming about 200 yards to the left of the entire field.  (Sigh).  It took me a few minutes to swim back into the crowd, and when I climbed up and out of the water I knew it wasn't going to be one of my fastest swim times but for whatever reason, I didn't really care.  

T1: 6:30
The run to transition was quite long, on cold feet, and it was nice to get onto the turf of the soccer field.  I couldn't quite get my wetsuit off and I really had to pee.  I got some OSMO down, emptied my bladder, and rolled out.  Stopped for a moment at the mount line to zip up my long sleeve top and then finally got into my shoes and out.

Bike: 56 miles, 2:54:12, 10th AG
I had only been riding about fifteen minutes when I had to pee again.  And that's when I realized I hadn't adjusted my normal race day hydration for the fact that it was 60º and overcast instead of 90º and sunny.  I'm sure it makes Michelle hold her head in her hands but I've never been able to figure out how to pee on the bike.  Ever.  And I've wasted a lot of time in races trying, although I didn't let that stop me from wasting some more.  I ignored it for the first ten miles, but then it started to get a bit urgent.  We turned off the highway, had some nice up-and-down climbs on some really shitty pavement and then finally hit a long twisting descent.  Instead of hunkering down and flying, I sat up and spent the entire time coasting, trying to get the water moving.  It didn't work, and for another ten or fifteen minutes I alternated between suck it up and oh for shit's sake and using every little down to see if I could make it happen.  I went through the turn-around on the highway and didn't want to stop, knowing that there were a few more short descents coming up, but after another few minutes I decided that the next time I saw a porta potty I would just stop already.  For whatever reason, it was almost fifteen more miles before I came across one.  I leapt off the bike (can you hold this for me please can you hold this? to a nice volunteer) and directly into the potty.  My stop was brief and I felt a million times better and I'm writing all this down so next time I don't spend two hours wasting time not being able to push big power numbers because my bladder is aching.  
I hadn't been able to drink or eat anything for quite a while because the only thing I could concentrate on was needing to pee, so once I got back on the bike, I drank 1.5 bottles of OSMO & ate a bar and a stinger waffle as quickly as I could (do as I say NOT AS I DO).  I was about 9 miles out from transition and I knew that I needed to get things digesting ASAP if I didn't want to have serious digestive issues on the run or be simply bonking my brains out.  But there really isn't much to say about this ride.  I kept an eye on my power numbers here and there, I tried to stay out of potholes, I ate a bit, but mostly I just rode and thought about my bladder and now you all had to read two paragraphs about it too.  

Nutrition: 3.5 bottles of OSMO (including transition bottle) + 2 Bobo bars & 1 stinger waffle for 77oz & 920 calories for 25oz/hour and 306 cal/hour.

T2: 2:41
By the time I made it back into transition, I desperately had to pee AGAIN (I promise that's the last time I'll mention it).  I got into my shoes and everything tucked away and jogged out.  My legs didn't feel good or bad, they just felt like legs, but my gut felt great and I was smiling.

Run: 13.1 miles, 1:49:54, 10th AG
I went out like a bat out of hell, mostly by accident.  When I hit start on my Garmin, it didn't have a satellite, so I figured I would manually lap at mile 1.  I missed the mile marker, and the watch auto-lapped somewhere, and then I manually lapped at mile 2 and did some math and went WHOA NELLY! in my head.  But my effort felt right and my legs were fine, so I pulled it back a little but also stopped looking at my watch almost entirely.  I trickled in chews and OSMO here and there, I spent most of the time asking myself if I was happy with how hard I was running and responding, firmly, YES, I tried to give the nice job friendly wave to everyone flying back at me and I ran.  It was that simple.  I wish I could figure out why, or how, or what I was able to do this time that I rarely have been able to find before, but there was no magic.  I just ran.  It was never easy, it started to get warm and it was work and by mile 9 the smile has mostly melted into the heel-striking mouth-breathing grimace that always shows up at the end of a race, but it also wasn't impossible.  It felt like nothing was going on in my head, a blank space, any thoughts that wandered in had to do with whether I needed chews or coke or OSMO or Pepto tabs or whatever, and that was all it was.
I caught a couple of splits here and there and I remember once thinking that maybe I could break 1:55 (a solid day in half IM for me) or even the 1:53 that I ran last year at New Orleans, but I wasn't baby-sitting pace or even really worrying about the finish time, it was more like it drifted through and then went on.  I have this habit of flipping over my watch to total time at ten miles and starting to do math but I didn't do that here, I was content that I was giving my best effort and knowing the time wouldn't have changed that.  The last 1/3 of a mile was down onto the beach on the sand and that was hard, the little green line in my run file goes up through the roof as I flailed across the deep sand with everyone else, shoes tripling in weight, ankles collapsing galore, but then the line showed up and I was over, I was still smiling, and when I hit the stop button on my watch and saw total time on the run for the first time, I was surprised, delighted, with what I saw.
Nutrition: 1 bottle of OSMO and 5-6 mini cups of water & coke, much of which went directly up my nose + 1 pack of stinger chews & 7-8 glucose tabs.

70.3 miles, 5:26:47, 10th AG

Ashley was there and I got her to take a picture of me so I could send it to Michelle along with a text LOOK WHAT I DID!! I realized a second later that I had crossed the finish line with the same guy that I ran the first six or seven miles with at IMAZ last fall, so I said hi (Hi Josiah!) and we laughed and took a picture too, because that and pictures of cats is what the internet is all about.  
There isn't much else to say, really.  I spent the day happy, that was the best.  It's obviously notable that I ran four minutes faster than I've ever run off the bike, PRd my open half marathon time, broke 1:50, blah blah blah no one cares but me.  I did it without really doing anything other than leaving my mind open and letting my body run.  But that isn't why the day was so great.  It was like finding your favorite pair of jeans in the back of the closet and snugging them up over your hips all soft and perfect, only to find twenty dollars in the pocket too.  I did all these things on the run that I've wanted to do for a while but funny, isn't it, now that I did them, that's not what I'm pleased with, I'm pleased with the state of my head throughout the day and to be joyfully racing again.  
Coaches say it because it's true: focus on the process and the results will come.  I say it to my athletes all the time, and Michelle said it to me very clearly the day before the race when we were chatting (because the part of my brain that is an athlete doesn't at all like to listen to the part of the brain that is a coach which is why I have Michelle plus a million more very good reasons).  She told me to focus inwards, on myself, to not give away energy to anyone else, and I did.  (Take a picture of me being HAPPY after RUNNING!)(I consider it a major failure that Ashley and I took zero selfies together over the weekend).
I'm still pissed about what I threw away at Boulder two months ago.  I probably will always be when I think back.  I also accept it as part of my journey.  Part of MY process.  It was something I needed to go through, no matter how ugly and uncomfortable and painful, in order to move forward - not just in racing, but in my life.  At the time it felt like everything that I was, that I had, was burning down.  But what has grown out of that is, I realize that for months beforehand, I was stuck.  Going nowhere.  And that is not who I want to be.  

Heading into this weekend at Santa Cruz, I was excited.  I've always had a bit of fear going into race day, it shows up three minutes before I get in the water as I don't want to do this I don't want to go and I thought it was normal, I thought it would always be there and now I know that doesn't have to be that way.  Somehow I managed to take all the pressure I was putting on myself, off, I enjoyed every moment of the day and if I had run ten minutes slower that would still be true.  Because it wasn't about the time, it's not about the result.  It's truly about the process, triathlon for me has always been about the journey and I sat on the beach later that day relieved to find that I have fallen in love with it all over again.
A huge thank you, as always, to the people and companies who let me harass them on social media and plaster their logos on my body.  OSMO Nutrition for always teaching me new things about the science of running off the bike without pooping my pants, Normatec for letting me recover - so fast! - so I can actually ride all those hours that show up on my schedule without imploding, ECFitBoulder for letting me deadlift heavy and often without smashing the rest of my training, Charlie Merrill for yanking on my leg and not being afraid to tell me to shut up already when I've said ow too many times in a single session, Geoff Hower for patiently spending an hour on three square inches of my hip whenever I ask, and Michelle for simply being exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it.  And to the poet, who deserves a lot of credit because living with me is surely not easy but he is, quite simply, the best man I have ever known. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

on training again & figuring shit out

After Boulder, Michelle and I had a good talk, and hopefully she won't mind me sharing a piece of it.  She told me that she didn't want me to drop out of the marathon because she knew it would be excruciating to walk for six hours, which it was, and because she wanted me to hit rock bottom, which I did.  And she didn't want me to do either of those things because she wants to torture me, she did it because she wanted me to finally start figuring out how to change.

So now a month has passed, and a lot, in fact, has changed (not puppies, they are the same).  
The first thing I did after ironman was reach out for help in dealing with all of the crap I was going through.  Which maybe was long overdue with my specific challenges related to sport, but for whatever reason, I wasn't ready until now.  And maybe that's why the universe dumped me on the doorstep of IM Boulder, so I would keep dealing with my shit.  I accept that.  I know that I've been lucky in life in that I've never had anyone close to me pass away.  To lose both of my grandparents in such a short time overwhelmed me with grief.  I didn't know how to handle it.  Looking back, I can see that I spent most of June and July being numb, trying to bury my pain and to hide from everything that I was feeling, and I was flailing, and hurting, and cowering.  All that accomplished was pushing off the moment when I was finally forced to feel everything, and it was awful.  I'm sure that anyone who has ever lost a loved one understands, I know that my grief is not unique to this world, but when it showed up a few miles into the marathon, it took me down.

The weeks after ironman were tough.  I had hard conversations with a lot of people in my life.  I cried, a lot, and I really hate crying.  But it was also a relief to finally be working through it all.  My trip to Vancouver was perfectly timed, I landed in Canada still a sniffling teary wreck, and over the course of the weekend I found a lot of light-hearted joy: in friends, in the community, in brightly-colored running shorts.  I came home from the race feeling hopeful, peaceful, ready.  
The TP box on Monday following the trip said, okay, back to work! and I made it through a few days of training before realizing that a hard-ish half marathon two weeks after ironman had done a number on my body and I needed to dial it back a bit.  I got a chance to ride with Marni and Karel while they were in town, I went back to masters, I gently reentered the weight room, and I stopped hiding from my friends.  It felt like the air had cleared a bit.  Still work to do certainly, but clear, like I am starting to find my way back.  
And I feel ready to think about racing again.  It's easier to see on the back side of this summer that training and racing, especially ironman, is a privilege, and that makes me feel even more ashamed that I wasted it at Boulder.  For a while, I couldn't decide if this was a when the horse bucks you off get right back on him and ride situation or a situation where I needed to take a few years off and go back when my head was straight.  So I did my research and I pow-wow'd with Michelle and the poet and the short story is that we are going to head back to Cozumel this winter so I can give this distance yet another try.  Because right now, feeling successful at ironman is what I want more than anything else in the racing world (taking pictures with the GoPro on an easy run definitely means I am starting to feel like myself).
And, to be sure, feeling successful has nothing to do with placement or qualifying or even the time at the end of the day.  Sure, looking at the line-up in Boulder, I had vague dreams about those things, but when I think about races where I've felt successful in the past, it wasn't because of where I landed in the field or what the clock said.  It was about how I felt, most particularly on the run, and out of six ironman races - how in the world have I done six? - I've only felt it one time.  And I want to find that again.
Before Boulder, I didn't tell anyone I was racing, and I thought that was because I wanted it to be for me.  But now, looking back, I think it was because I was afraid.  I've seen what a life looks like when it is lived in fear, and that is not the kind of life I want for myself.  I want to live out loud.  If I make huge mistakes, if I fall flat on my face, I've learned that I have people that love me and will help me pick up the pieces.  And I'd rather share my path, as flawed and screwed-up and insignificant as it may be, then hide under a rock, afraid to make any choice, any move in any direction because it might be the wrong one, afraid, all the time, of everything.  In the weeks since I've started working on all of this, I've slept better than I've slept in a year at least, and that has got to mean something good.  I want to figure out how to let the people that love me, do.  I know the world is full of plenty of people who don't, and I am trying hard to not give a shit about them.  But instead to focus on being thankful for the circle I am lucky to have, the ones that listen to me when I cry and never say, well that was fucking stupid and want to lift me up and be proud when I succeed.  It has been hard for me to see that my life is vivid and full of so many who honestly do want the best for me, just like I do them, but I'm working on it.  I'm trying, and that's all I can do.  (Sofie judges me hard for taking so many selfies).  
So I'm doing it.  I'm chasing another starting line, and I'm going to work my tail off to get there as healthy and happy as I can, both physically and mentally.  The last few days have been spent saying ooooof as my body has adjusted to training again.  Pace is low, HR is high, watts are in the basement and my body does not feel like my own, it feels like it's full of bricks and marshmallows and everything I do makes me sore.  But this morning, I rode so hard that I thought I was going to barf all over myself, and that felt good.  I ran, hard, off the bike, and I didn't judge the numbers, I just ran, and that felt good too.  So I know that while my fitness is still bouncing back, my brain is just about ready for another round of bobo bars and long rides and sweet potatoes by the pound and getting lapped over and over at the fast masters and running twenty miles when I feel like crap.  I'm going to write about it along the way, because that's what I do.  I'm going to make mistakes along the way, because that's what we all do, although many people aren't ridiculous enough to leave a tiny but permanent trail on the pages of the internet like I am.  A lot of this scares me, I won't lie about that.  But it scares me and I'm doing it anyway, because that is what I want my life to be.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

SeaWheeze Half Marathon: race report

Perhaps the most overused term in discussing training for ironman (myself included) is the concept of a village.  It's overused, though, because it's true.  You can't get through ironman completely alone, you need a support system, I say it all the time to athletes.  And I am grateful on an ongoing basis for the one that has grown up around me: Michelle, Erin, Charlie, Julie, Geoff and now adding another Julie to the hut, all of the people who invest their energy into keeping me healthy & building my machine.  
But the ironman village is quite different from the village of your life.  There, more often, the cliche is describing life as a table with a select number of chairs, and I've been thinking about this concept a lot over the last few weeks.  What I've come up with is that I should fill those chairs with people that deserve a seat.  There is certainly value in privacy, but also in allowing my own path to be colored through relationships rich with love.  My table has filled slowly over the years; I am hesitant to trust.  But at my table, there is more than one chair, and that is because I think it would be doing our entire existence a disservice to expect that we could have all of our needs fulfilled by a single human being.  I want my table to be full, littered with spilled salad dressing and UNO cards and nearly empty glasses of scotch, I want my room to ring with laughter and tears and a voracious desire to be simply, explosively, alive.
The last month or so has shown me a lot about the people that I've invited to sit at my table.  They are the people I reach out to in grief, in heartbreak, the phone calls I make on a Sunday evening when my dad goes back into the hospital the day after my grandfather's funeral.  The friend who holds me in the gym parking lot, when I finally crack in grief from my grandmother's death and stand, shaking, unable to move.  The one who sends an email when I am deep in the hole, and it doesn't say, cheer up!, it says, I think a soul needs some time to hide and be wounded and heal, but when you are ready, the people you love will all still be here waiting.  (Although that particular email turned out to be a steaming pile of bullshit, but nonetheless, the sentiment was on point.)  The girls that I call when I am frozen with shock and pain and they say, just go to the airport and get on a plane, we'll be here, we are here, I'll pick you up, just go.  All the texts, emails, notes, calls, all of the people who have shown up and held me up with their love, traveled so many miles to sit quietly beside me while I've cried, been gentle and caring and forgiving no matter how badly I have fucked up.  Every friendship is different, valuable, unique in its own way, and when one goes missing it's not simply a matter of moving the plants around to cover the hole that has been left.  In the week after ironman, I hit rock bottom, and I'm not ashamed to talk about it.  I sat on my couch, quiet and alone, and sipped scotch until the room was dark.  For long periods of time, I did nothing.  Those first few days, I hid.  Eventually a good friend dragged me to a (different) pool, and my heart was heavy as I changed in the locker room.  I stood on the deck and stared at the water and couldn't imagine swimming like it was a normal day, couldn't imagine living out the rest of my life as if nothing has changed.  Maybe it was a crossroads, or maybe I was simply exhausted and sore and hungover, but I paused there, heart aching, eyes flat and empty, no spark, no life, no desire, no joy.  And then I dove into the water.  Because just like that.  Life goes on.
I flew back to Colorado, I was here for a day or so, and then back on a plane to Canada.  I registered for this race a year ago and made plans to spend the weekend with a dear friend from down under.  I knew, getting on the plane, that she would be good for my soul, that being in the yoga pants & sparkles motherland would be healing, a distraction perhaps, but a welcome one.  Wednesday afternoon we walked down to the harbor, I will not be sharing any selfies we took out of pure vanity because my eyes clearly reflect that I've been crying for weeks but it was gorgeous, soothing, quiet.  Thursday morning we went out on an exploration jog, it felt good to move my body again, to be near the sea, to chit chat happily as we trotted.  I constantly bumped into people that I knew on the street, in coffee shops, in lululemon (of course), I spent hours walking alone by the water, I read 400 pages of my current Outlander book and gave myself a break from the raining shitstorm of my life.  

Friday morning, we woke up well before dawn to get in line for some special shopping.  It was such a fun experience, the few hours we waited flew by, we were able to pick out some lovely treats and then raced back to the hotel to sneak in before breakfast closed.  
There was obviously not any sort of plan for this race once IM Boulder came into the picture, I knew I'd be lucky to jog 13.1 miles and not break or tear anything.  But despite my 6-hour walk and a week of travel and stress and tears and sugar and wine, my physical body was actually feeling slightly okay.  Not great, not fantastic, not perfect and snappy, but okay.  I sent Michelle an email at some point letting her know that my goal was to be 100% present throughout the day & asked for some direction on pace in light of if I go out faster than X that would be fucking stupid.  She gave me a number and also a reminder to check in on myself and make sure that I was at an effort that I will be happy with later, which I came back to many times over the course of the day.

Logistically, after traveling so often for triathlon and coming off of ironman, it was ridiculous how simple it was to go and race.  I woke up at 5:30 and was able to spend at least 20 minutes in bed drinking tea and liking shit on instagram before wandering down to the start.  I felt naked in shorts and a tee shirt, all I had with me were two packs of chews and a chapstick.  I checked a long sleeve for afterwards and drank a bottle of OSMO as I walked but I didn't have to get my heart rate up to one million trying to get into my wetsuit or walk on rocks in my bare feet after being sprayed head to toe with lube.  My warm-up was a mixed bag of jogging a few blocks and then doing some strides behind the olympic torch and sprinting for a porta potty line and doing single leg deadlifts in the corral to get my ass fired up.  I thought I jumped the fence into the 1:45-1:59 corral but just before we started moving I glanced around and thought to myself, these are not my people.  It was too late to do anything about it so off I went.
The first two miles were quite crowded, as it turns out I was in the wrong corral by a lot.  I had to slow down to almost a walk more than a few times; I did a lot of hopping up and over a curb through the grass around a tree back down into the road don't hit the cone (this is not a lesson in how to run tangents well).  My watch got bumped on early in the slow waddle to the mat and I had a moment of angst knowing that I wouldn't be able to take a million pictures of it with my shoes and my medal and my waffle sandwich after the race (don't worry, I took one anyway).  It was having trouble with satellites in the city, it let me know that I was running 12:30 pace for about five minutes and then after the first mile lapped I apparently picked it up to 5:50 pace for a short while because I am a baller.  When we hit the 5K mat I was able to flip over to total time and figure out what in the sort of hell I had been running, and that was where I had a few moments of waffling.  I just did ironman, no harm in jogging it in, do you know how hard you need to run to fix three miles of 8:45 pace, I'd rather run a 2:10 then another crappy 1:55, I can't fix it, it won't be enough, my hip hurts anyway, I'm not ready for a strong half marathon and on and on and on, as you do.  Those thoughts sat with me a moment, and then I started to get a bit pissed off.  I had been having a great time in Vancouver, Friday was really the first day I'd felt even remotely like myself, and the last thing I wanted to do was to wreck it with yet another mediocre race.  And I said, to myself in my head, but I know exactly who I was talking to, no.  No.  You have taken so much from me, so much has been taken away recently, you do not get to fucking take this too.  You are done taking shit away from me.  It was the same thing that snapped in that sprint I won last year, that identical voice piped up and said, Fuck it.  Fuck how much I blew ironman, fuck the mistakes that I've made, fuck the last two weeks - not to mention months - of grief, fuck the fact that yet again I wasn't enough, that I wasn't worth it, I am good enough for ME and at some point that has got to be goddamn worth fighting for, and it's going to be now, today, here.  So I turned my watch over, I put down a bunch of chews, and I ran.  

There was a decent climb up and over the bridge where I got to see the race that was coming back towards me.  Right before the turnaround I passed the 2-hour pace group, and a few seconds later I was able to high-five Emma and I took that joy from her, the happiness that she spreads everywhere she goes.  I was watching lap pace and nothing more, forcing it down, forcing my legs to turn over, thinking about my arm swing and keeping my hips under me and pressing from my toes, I didn't slow through aid stations but instead grabbed and threw in the general direction of my face.  By the 10K mark I was hurting badly, I did look at total time then and it was around 52 minutes so I knew I had work to do, there was nothing to be given away.  We got dumped down on the seawall and I caught up with a guy running barefoot perfect 8:25-ish pace and I hung with him for a while, there were two girls wearing backpacks that I leap-frogged with on and off, I watched the runners, I thought about nothing but the mile that was in, and I was angry.  I know anger isn't always the best fuel for a race but it worked for me on Saturday, it was a fierce meditation, my mind kept wandering and I had to drag it back to the present.  A thought would come in that would make me sad, or wistful, or wondering, and I didn't judge it, I simply dropkicked that thought right back out.  
It didn't occur me to start counting laps of the track (my usual late-in-a-race distraction) until there were six left.  And I'm not sure why I had fuel for this fire when I had none for Boulder two weeks ago, but it was there, and I took it greedily without examining why.  I spent the last ten minutes doing nothing but counting steps and tucking my chin, I went for it with every moment and when I flung myself over the line and hit stop on my watch, there was peace.  Finally.  And maybe the peace was born simply out of an absence of pain, but I was somehow both empty and full, there was a stillness where for so long agony has been.
As it turns out, my timing chip got fucked up and since I didn't start my watch in the right place, I might never know what I ran.  I know it was within 30 seconds of the PR I set back in the spring, one way or the other, and that is enough for me.  It is enough.  I am enough.

I still have a long way to go.  Being able to fight for just under two hours is different from being able to fight for eleven or twelve.  And spending just under two hours believing in myself is nothing like a lifetime of being strong, confident, powerful, of standing on my own two feet.  But it's a start.  I knew two weeks ago that if I gave up on ironman, I would be pissed off, and that was true.  And at the finish line, I was exhausted with the fact that I caved to the same old story, the one that I always cave into.  On Saturday I battled hard to set aside the enormous truckload of emotional garbage that I carry around with me, I didn't shut it out completely, but when it showed up I fought, hard, at the end of the day I did fight it, and I won.  
When Emma and I were hobbling back to our hotel, talking about our races, I said to her, I took something back today.  That's the best way to describe this race.  Maybe I ran well, maybe I didn't, maybe I PR'd, probably I didn't, maybe I would have run better if I didn't eat six cupcakes in the 36 hours before the race, maybe sugar is what makes us run fast after all.  Who knows.  But that isn't what the day was about.  I took back something that has been lost to me, a part of myself that has gone missing these last few months, something that matters, it's real, I let the decisions I was making in my life hide a huge part of what makes me, me, but now I see it, and I miss it, and I fucking want it back.  
Here's the thing.  I've been listening to and quoting this crappy speech from a crappy movie for years, but again, only because it's true.  I can stay here, and get the shit kicked out of me.  That's a choice, and it's the one I've been making.  But there is another choice.  I can fight my way back.  Into the light.  I can climb, out of hell.  
So that's what I'm doing.  One step at a time.  This isn't how I thought my story would go, when I stood on January 1 and stared down this year, I would have never been able to guess that I'd be halfway through August, feeling lost, broken, hurting, helpless, alone.  But what I do from here, that is my choice, that part of the story is still waiting to be told.  And this weekend, I learned that I choose to fight.