Tuesday, November 7, 2017

light begets light

I don't even know how to talk about everything that has happened.  But I've got about thirty-six more hours on this planet with the use of both hands (just for a while, I'm not donating anything to science), so if I'm going to get a story out, it's going to be now.

When you lose something you love, whatever it is, there is grief.  We know that, it's a fact in the world. And I, an ENTJ with absolutely zero patience for stupidity, adore cold hard facts.  
There are facts about what I've been through in the last six months, straightforward well-documented medical information.  In July, I was diagnosed with two herniated discs, scapular dyskenisis, and a whole bunch of torn shit in my shoulder.  BOOYAH, here we go.  I was already rocking a dozen stitches up the poonanny thanks to the nod from a year of bicycle chaos and then while continuing a long trend of doing what I was told, I ended up with a calcaneal stress fracture.  So I finally decided to shut it all down.  For real.  Not just I'll just go to yoga and do an easy hike, but twisting the handle firmly and all the way over to OFF.  When I say it like that, it sounds like I had a choice.  But with a torn up shoulder and a torn up saddle-sitter and a busted foot, there just wasn't anything left.  (Other than, as a friend helpfully pointed out, the Single Arm Tai Chi Chair Olympics).  
It didn't help.  Of course it didn't help, don't be ridiculous, but I did it anyway, if for no other reason than to shut up all of the (mostly well-meaning) fucking assholes who felt inclined to chime in on my situation unsolicited, with absolutely no information other than that I was in pain (thanks!).  I found a new physical therapist, a different kind who specializes in neuromuscular reeducation.  She was actually quite a bit more knowledgeable than some random people on Instagram and she didn't even seem to mind that I cried almost nonstop for the first eight weeks of working together, a flood with no outlet.  My neurologist person at the same time guided me through many many rounds of medication and nerve studies and scary things done to my neck down at CU Anschutz in Denver, where they have the greatest-tasting ginger ale on the planet in their surgical recovery room.  And for a long time, for weeks that turned into months, I did nothing.  Nothing except watch my life pass by without me, imprisoned by a body that had totally fucking had it.  
There are facts about what this did to my mental state, facts that are probably oversharing but there's nothing really left on my fake bullshit highlight reel.  Depression, yes, that's what happens.  And I don't mean, oh man they discontinued my favorite flavor of coffee creamer I'm so bummed kind of depression.  I mean the real, ugly, dark & twisty kind, the kind where you don't leave your house for days at a time, where you stop getting out of your pj pants because it starts to seem like an exhausting effort to do so. Pain that lasts more than six weeks is considered chronic; mine lasted over five months & still isn't gone.  Nerve pain is its own particular inferno, because muscle relaxers don't help, steroids don't help, naproxen doesn't help, a hot bath and a glass of wine doesn't help, meditation doesn't help, actually nothing helps, you just walk around trying to figure out how to keep breathing in and out, all the while being mercilessly stabbed with thousands of knives.  So the only thing to do is to chase down the next doctor who might know something, or be able to prescribe something, or move something, or fuck it can we just chop my neck off if that will make it stop?  And in our brilliant health care system everything takes two weeks: scheduling appointments, getting a follow-up, finding a new specialist, seeing if the latest meds will start working, and that's a lot of dead time of waiting for a few quick seconds of hope before the doctor disappears out the door in a whirl of white coat.
October is my favorite month.  I'm in love with fall and everything it brings - the birthdays of everyone in my house, arm warmers, cool nights, dark beers, fuzzy boots, all of that crap.  And every year for the last seven years, for my own birthday, I've written a blog post.  It's generally just another pile of overly adverb'd nonsense, but routine, rituals, rhythm - these things are meaningful to me.  This year, I didn't do it.  This year, I missed the whole thing.  One of my best friends was in town to celebrate, and oh, it broke my heart that she spent the time and effort to come out and visit in the middle of this, that she had to bear witness to some of the worst moments of my life.  I woke up the morning of my birthday, and I tried to go for a ride.  That's what I do every year, usually it's the 80+ mile loop through the mountains that makes me happy in a way that not a lot of other things do.  This particular morning was Colorado-windy, and I was in a tremendous amount of pain, and I rode less than forty minutes before I was back home, and if we're going to be honest on a deeply squirmy level, I spent most of the ride hoping that a car would hit me so that it would be over.  So it could all just stop.

Yeah.  That kind of depressed.  That kind of hopeless.

There are facts about what this did to my physical state, and the next person that says nah you still look great to my face is getting their eyes clawed out and I am not even joking.  Because I've gained more than twenty pounds at this point, and twenty pounds on a 5'6" frame that has completely stopped exercising does not look the goddamned fucking same.  My running shorts are gathering dust, I've been rotating between the black yoga pants and the stretchy blue yoga pants when I deign to get dressed at all.  My boobs have exploded fantastically outwards into being, when I stuff myself into a sports bra I am the grand prow of a ship; I'm Courtney Cox in the fat suit, a shadow of the person I used to be except the opposite of a shadow, a caricature with four chins.  So when you say, shut up you look fine, either you're placating me or you aren't seeing me - or my pain - at all.   Both of those are worse.  
Nerve pain, that's been my problem throughout.  When the superstar doctors solved my neck issue all of the pain should have stopped, and went it didn't, everyone just kind of stumbled over their feet and went, huh.  About a month ago, I saw yet another specialist.  She mapped out a couple of experiments to try and route some kind of path forward, and I was in, ready to try anything, sure I will buy your purple snake oil and drink it while reciting German poetry backwards at moonset because I bet THAT will fix me.  I was almost ready to listen to someone on the internet!  But one of them worked, although it was the bad kind of "worked," the kind that means, well, we figured it out but you are really not going to like the answer.  My herniated discs were compressing a nerve, and that sucked and probably kicked off at least part of this mess, but it turns out the all the Torn Shit around my shoulder wasn't holding the shoulder in place - you LITERALLY have one job! - and when it flopped forward to where it's been living for the last six months, it was compressing a nerve.  Actually a whole crapload of them.  And nerves DO NOT like that, NO NO NO NO NO, they bitch and moan and pull on every single muscle they can reach, and now I know exactly how many there are back there, surrounding my scapula.  It is a lot.  I've spent the last several months busting my ass in physical therapy to try and get my body to put my shoulder back where it goes and keep it there, but we haven't been able to crack the pain/flare-up spiral at all and no one could figure out where all the nerve pain was coming from.  This particular doctor, who will now get a Christmas present from me every year for the rest of eternity, voodoo-taped my shoulder back where it's supposed to be, and over a period of about a week, most of the nerve pain went away and the muscles started to calm down and all of a sudden I remembered how to smile.  After about three weeks of working hard and hoping, we pulled the tape off to see what my shoulder had learned and everything went batshit to hell, because, like I tell my athletes all the time, hope is not a strategy.  So on Thursday, another doctor is going to take my shoulder apart and put it back together correctly because tape is not a permanent solution.  And all of the 17 opinions that I've gathered from real doctors about moving forward in this direction are confidently positive that with about 6 months and a zillion more dollars of physical therapy, I'll get my life back.  Exhale.
But I won't be the same.  I'm already not the same, I'm already different in a way that I can't quite put my finger on but I can see, and not just in the boobs and thighs.  I'm more careful, with my body but also with my life and the people that are allowed inside.  I'm sure that stress contributed at least in part to this, and I've finally started to learn how to set real boundaries around my time, my energy, my heart.  

Figuring this mess out and scheduling surgery lifted a lot of the dark clouds that were hanging over me.  Even though it means the next few months I'll be in a sling and on the stairmaster and knocking things over trying to navigate the world with my left hand and oh fuck I just realized I'm incapacitating my selfie arm, even though it's a few more months of staying inside while the world seems to pass by in high speed outside of my window, there's an end, or maybe just yet another day one.  There is a light.  And light begets light.  
More well-intentioned friends have tried to point out a silver lining here and there.  I've been able to focus more on work, and I do truly love what I do or I wouldn't still be doing it, but if someone took away a bunch of crap that make you really happy and rewarded you with more time behind a computer telling people they don't eat enough on the bike, would that 100% be a good thing?  As a coach, it's hopefully not immodest to say that this year has been really great, and in a lot of ways that has helped what I have been going through personally.  I don't want to take the credit because it's all of my athletes that are out there busting their asses, but I feel really lucky to be working with the people who have found me.  People who are rebuilding from something themselves, or seeking new heights, or chasing whatever kind of dream that gets them out of bed in the morning.  And this year, athletes that I have coached for years have experienced some incredible breakthroughs.  I'm torn between wondering if it was because I had more time to nurture their experience and truthfully understanding that it is a combination of hard work, planning, opportunity, patience with the process and just a tiny sprinkle of luck.
I've been able to see how much my husband loves me, and tucking in a few lines deep in this post is in no way able to embrace the incredible significance of how supportive he has been.  He has tried to fight for me when I could no longer fight for myself, and if that isn't what marriage is supposed to look like, then I don't want to know what is.  
When we found the correct band-aid for what was going on, I was able to start moving again.  And I don't want to call it training, it's barely even been exercising.  I've made a lot of jokes about how it's been going, the watts and the pace and the near intolerance of the spandex, but it has felt good to move again.  To work through the process of starting from scratch, all on my own terms.  I've always said that as an endurance athlete I would never be without a coach to prevent myself from falling down the ironman stairs naked in the dark, but this isn't training.  I'm not an athlete right now, and I know that no one on the planet knows better than I do what I need.  I'm not even sure I would trust anyone to try.  So I've been building it myself, and patience is easy to come by after everything that has happened.  It has been a month, and I've watched myself grow, and I'm excited to do it all over again once this is truly behind me.  A couple people have asked why I would bother to spend a few weeks now rebuilding when I'm going to turn it all off again after surgery for more than a little while, but that's easy.  Because it's who I am.  Because it's how I take care of myself, because after all this darkness I needed some sunshine, because it's the few moments on this planet that I feel more me than anything else I've ever experienced.  I have no idea what the future will bring, but I know I have two choices, I have a reminder that I see every day.  I can stay here, and get the shit kicked out of me.  Or I can fight my way back.  Into the light.  I can climb out of hell...one inch at a time.  I was stuck there for far too long.  I gave up.  But now, I am ready to climb.  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

when things fall apart

Writing all of this down has been circling in my head for the last few months.  To be honest, I was waiting for the point when I would climb up out of hell, and then I could casually talk about it in the past tense through a veil of optimism & strength, oh yeah, sure, it was hard but I got through because I'd be beyond it, finally spit out the other side.  But, without being melodramatic, I'm not sure if or when that is going to happen, and spouting my overly-wordy crap in this space is one of the few coping mechanisms I have left.

It didn't start, as many injuries do, with a thunderclap.  It was more like a splinter, so small I barely noticed it. Then another piece cracked, then another, and then one day I woke up and everything had fallen apart.  It began in April.  I noticed in the pool that the back of my shoulder felt a little bit tight and that the last two fingers of my hand were going numb.  I chalked it up to the fact that 99% of my swim training for the last six months could be described as, maximum effort & still getting lapped and made a mental note to get a massage.  It came and went, barely noticeable, forgotten once I was out of the water and dragging myself home to eat, work, and then scrape into the next as hard as I can session on tap.

Later that month, I woke up one morning and couldn't turn my head to the right.  A crick in my neck, I thought, we've all done it, slept a bit weird and then spent the day popping your jaw and Advil both.  I had an appointment with someone the very next morning, he worked on my neck and shoulder and upper back, frowning and harrumph-ing and saying more than a few times, this is really quite bad.  It fixed me right up, though, I treated myself carefully the next few days as it eased off and then got straight back to it.  Anything to be great, right?  

But a week later it was there again, worse, sharp, shooting down along my spine and up into my skull, into my shoulder, through the rotator cuffs, wrapping around the ribs, wrenching me into tears should I momentarily forget and look over my shoulder to change lanes in traffic.  I started ringing the alarm bells into the village I've grown here in Colorado, talented intelligent people who have been key to letting me continue to do this crazy thing that I love for so many years now.  And that's where it all just gets a bit blurry and difficult to trace.  Everyone was able to provide relief - for a few days, and then it would come crashing right back in.  Four months later, I've seen three orthopedists, one sports medicine specialist, seven physical therapists, two massage therapists, a chiropractor and an acupuncturist.  I've taken a dictionary of medicines, I've been through a glacier of ice, heat, don't even fucking twist your mouth to ask me if I stopped training, stretchy bands, injections, strength, walking, yoga, meditation, therapy.  Nothing has changed.  Without exaggeration, I am in pain all of the time.  That's incredibly hard to type, to admit.  As athletes we are meant to be strong, stoic, tough; we silently agree to never admit to weakness or suffering or distress until it is long over, and then only in flip references to how much it absolutely sucked.  But I am not past it.  It is not over.  And it stopped being about swim bike run quite some time ago.  It became simpler than that - breathe.  Move.  Live.  Many days - just survive.

I've had two MRIs - loudest nap ever!  Both have shown something pretty seriously wrong but somewhat common to athletes of my age, which means the only thing that practitioners can really agree on is that surely it must be something else.  The sports medicine doctor (that I trust inside and out) sent me to the shoulder specialist to get scheduled for surgery, who instead immediately turfed me over to the neck specialist so they could quibble about who would stick needles in me first and where, which pretty well sums up my journey through our healthcare system.  It reminds me of a time about four years ago when cycling was causing knee pain.  The physical therapists all told me I needed a new bike fit and the bike fitters all told me I needed physical therapy and I recall venting in frustration to my friend Scott, I need a physical therapist who also is a bike fitter just so that he can't kick me out of his fucking office.  And somewhere in the beginning of all of this, a saddle-sore-turned-cyst reappeared, ruptured and needed to be surgically cleaned out.  Then a huge hematoma developed so on top of everything else, I've been frightening a completely different set of MDs about my seven-week-old purple donkey testicle that refuses to die or be swallowed back into my body and honest to God I would love it if I could go just three days in a row without someone asking me casually and without humor, how's the vag today? 

Chronic pain is different from an injury.  This isn't, my knee hurts when I run after fifteen minutes.  This is, my neck hurts when I breathe.  How to baffle all the, well if it hurts when you do that, don't do that doctors around!  It's nerve pain, I think we are nearly agreed.  It's chronic, it moves around, and if I could amputate my neck and the entire right side of my body above the waist, I would do it.  That's where I'm at.  Being in pain this long has changed me, not for the better.  All my dials are cranked up to 10.  You know that morning, the one where you oversleep and forget to eat breakfast and then drop your coffee cup on the floor in the garage where it shatters but you're late to work so you have to leave it and then someone cuts you off in traffic and instead of giving you the finger gives you the smug little wave, you know the flash of pure rage you get in that moment?  That's how I feel, all of the time.  And I may be a dramatic person but this is not drama talking, this is honesty stripped raw, any filter or fluff worn away by how plain old hard the last few months have been.  I'm angry at how I ended up here, at how no one has fixed it yet, at the people who I feel like have abandoned me along the way because they can't be troubled by a complicated problem that doesn't have a clear answer or an athlete who dares to feel pain, at the fact that I can't do something as simple as get out of bed in the middle of the night to pee without wincing.  And I don't think anyone really knows how bad it has been, other than my husband, who is destined for some sort of mega cotton-candy-naked-lady-wine-coolers-and-cocaine-bounce-house afterlife after the last five months (not to mention, seven years) of surviving our marriage together.  He knows, he feels it too, he would do anything to fix it and he might be the one person on the planet more angry than me about what has happened here; I know how hopeless he feels, every day, that he can't take away my pain.

I know I've retreated from the world, it's hard to have the energy to support the friends you love when everything is though a haze, and that is a horrible truth for someone who loves people the way I do.  Eight.  My pain is an eight.  Each new doctor, therapist, everyone I see asks the same stupid fucking question, where is your pain today?   I've spent a lot of time facedown on a lot of tables repeating the word fuck and counting to three because I can't process any more numbers than that, I've had a lot of really horrible close-to-blacking-out treatments and a lot of those things have worked.  For a day.  Maybe two or three, which is just enough time to shake myself off and believe that I'm at the end of this hell, just enough time to breathe, and then sure enough, it slams back into me and I go down.  Again.  That's even worse than whatever the fuck is going on in my body; this rollercoaster of hope and despair is what is actually going to break me down completely.  When someone asks, hey, are you okay? what they are generally hoping to hear is some version of, yup, hanging in there!  Because after a while it becomes too depressing to repeat all the time, nope, not okay, still in pain, horrible actually, I feel completely broken, my body has failed me, I'm falling apart, I can't bear it, I don't know what to do and I'm not actually sure I'm going to make it here.  The truth is awkward, it's exhausting, no one likes to be the friend that's in crisis all the time, no one wants to complain constantly, so at some point it just becomes easier to lie, or to simply not reply at all, to hide just a little bit more in the blazing nightmare that your life has become.  I know that there are people in the world dealing with chronic pain much worse and longer lasting than what I have been through and I am here to say that I honestly do not understand how they do it.  I'm not sure I could do it, I don't want to live like this, I can't, I won't.  

It would be easy to blame it all on ironman, of course everyone wants to dump it on either the distance or my own stupidity, but here's the thing.  On the inside, I work hard to do this right.  I educate myself, I do the strength training, the recovery, the sleep, mostly the nutrition (cookies have never herniated a disc or compressed a nerve bundle or torn a labrum in any research that I have read), I don't cut corners, I do the 1%, I don't do this alone, and after so many years in this sport I know that you do not get to nine finish lines if you are being a jackass about it.  I surround myself with people that I trust in order to protect myself, to protect my life in this sport that I love, to protect my own body, and while sometimes I have been really incredibly wrong about the people I have chosen to trust, this seems like a pretty harsh way to learn that lesson.  

When things fall apart, everything gets pared down.  Friendships, travel, adventure, joy, it all gets cut away.  I don't like who this has made me, this fat angry person who cries all the time and flies off the handle at nothing because my sympathetic nervous system is so beyond wrecked that I have no ability to tolerate even the smallest amount of stress.  This isn't who I want to be.  I want to be a person who rips into life full tilt, with humor, joy, gratitude, patience, the girl who bounces off to Hawaii on three days notice, who drags you up a mountain at 4am just to see the sun rise like it doesn't happen every day, who shows up with tequila when life takes a rotten dive, who is up for any adventure, who tackles fear by running straight at it, who will maybe always have five pounds to lose, the girl who works hard to love life so damn hard.  I miss it.  I miss that life, I miss movement, it's as simple as I miss my bike.  I miss my own happiness so much that it's hard to breathe if I stop and think about it for more than a moment before doggedly cracking on, calling another doctor, getting another opinion, pulling the ice pack out of the freezer with a sigh.  Which is why I had hoped that I could write about this once I came out the other side, because then I could rationally discuss the science of everything that happened and how it was solved, only show the highlights, the patience and grace that everyone talks about as a virtue of devastating injury.  But that's not where I am.  Instead, I am here.  I am broken.  I am in pain.  I am not okay.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

the universe in ecstatic motion

It's been nearly two years since I stomped a marathon in Boulder.

I haven't set foot on the vast majority of the run course since.  Maybe (probably) I'm overly superstitious, but it's been easy to avoid.  There are squillions of places to run in Colorado where I don't have to face my ghosts.  Because that's truly how it has felt since then.  Haunted, by grief and failure both.
The month after Santa Rosa brought another one of those little stormy seasons in training, the kind that only lasts a few weeks but when you're in it, feels eternal.  The crick in my neck flared out angrily in every direction until I ended up parked in bed with my laptop, working between muscle relaxers and people diagnosing me with too much stress.  I am fortunate to not have had too many of these train-screeching-to-a-halt injuries in the last six years but this one came all too soon on the heels of a rough 2016.  It took a while to sort out the root cause, then a few more days before it actually started calming down, yet another day or two before I stopped eating like a jackass and living in my pajama pants and suddenly it was the day before ironman.  I had signed up to volunteer throughout, supporting the swim and the run and the finish line.  I ended up having to bail on swim support thanks to the still-crabby neck/back/shoulder nerve situation but was grateful that I felt healed enough to sit on my mountain bike, mostly coasting, for three-plus hours as an escort on the run course.  

I got up early on Sunday and went for a run; it's the first time in about a month that the miles came as freely and easily as they did that morning.  I thought about my athlete racing, her first marathon and ironman both, and winged good mental mojo her way as I chugged along on deserted roads.  I got out to the bike course and caught her on the first lap, happy, smiling, working, then headed down to Boulder to wait for the pros to come into T2.
I'll be honest, when I signed up for this job, I wanted to escort the first place female.  Who wouldn't?  There was a pretty decent chance that it would be one of my swim teammates, i.e. someone who swims in the lane next to me but obviously in a completely different zip code along with most of the rest of the pool.  I'm a dork with a huge heart and that seemed like it would be pretty much the coolest (or likely the most annoying thing ever, for her).  But when the little cards got handed out, I ended up with fifth, so I started trying to sort out via the internet who that would be.  Ironman athlete tracking hit a new level of incompetence this weekend, meaning that from my phone I was unable to even pull up the list of athletes racing as the tracker produced nothing but a blank page.  

So I noodled around while I waited, mainly being a pain in the ass on twitter.  I was panicked that I would have to pee while escorting and be forced to choose between exploding or abandoning my person for 90 seconds, which led me to make 800 trips to a portapotty plus one sorta behind a bush on the creek path after telling the guy sitting there, I'm just going to duck behind your tree, don't mind my butt cheeks I hope none of this is poison ivy?  That turned out to be the husband of the athlete I ended up riding with for the first 16-17 miles, as these things happen.  The pro men came flying through, then the first two women, then a few age groupers blasting the front of the race, then women 3-4-5, little ducks in a row, off we went.
I told my athlete, hi, I'm Katie, you don't have to talk to me, I'm just going to ride right here behind you.  She asked what place she was in, I told her, and then for a while it was so quiet on the path that my squeaky rear brake made me cringe in the silence.

She worked her way steadily through the course; random spectators kept throwing out wildly inconsistent splits or helpful commentary of the eye-rolling variety akin to, she's right up there go get her!  (Great idea, let's try that!)  My natural inclination is to chatter like a monkey but I know that when I am hurting, any stimulus makes me want to screech with rage so I mentally stapled my mouth shut and simply tried to not run her over with my bike.

I can't think of a time in my life where I have been so close to another human being suffering at that level, and it was indescribable (but bloggers lead their lives using seven thousand words where none would do, so let us crack on).  It felt sacred, holy, to bear witness to a fight of that magnitude.  Her suffering is not my story to tell, but I know suffering when I see it, the empty scent of pain, the devastating wrench of grief.  And from my own experience I do know that sometimes there is nothing better to be said or done other than to silently be present and hope to lift the isolation that surrounds.

I've been fortunate to spend the last several months seeing what triathlon looks like when it is approached as a job, not simply a passion.  A great deal of that has been really good for me, it has been a positive practice.  But the danger here, I've realized, is that it may become water on the fire of what drives me, dousing the spark into damp ashes instead of letting it burst into flame.  It's possible I'm making that mistake now, attributing so much importance to what was simply another day at work for someone.  Ironman for me is an emotional swan dive into all the crap that I hide under a rock, so that's what I saw on Sunday; one of Frankl's three sources of meaning in life, courage during difficult times.  He believed that suffering is without purpose until we give it meaning by how we respond.  I think of my own experiences with this distance, and the races that stand out are not the ones where I ran the fastest but the ones where my suffering meant the most.  Coeur d'Alene last year, done on a body slack with physical fitness but in memoriam of what I had lost.  Arizona, the first time I believed in myself.  And yes, Boulder, one of the worst days of my racing life but a catalyst for change that has propelled me forward and brought so much good into the groove I am wearing around the sun ever since.  What is to give light must endure burning.
I believe in a lot of bullshit that I'm confident makes a lot of people roll a lot of their eyes into a lot of their heads.  But this was too clearly a gift from the universe to consider it any kind of coincidence.  Where I was not given what I wanted but instead what I had no idea that I desperately needed.  The grit, the fight I saw in the exact moments that left me crumbling two years earlier, the raw courage that I was privileged enough to brush up against on Sunday afternoon - that will stay with me for the rest of my life.  

A couple of weeks before Santa Rosa, I remember swimming one morning and having the very clear thought, I don't want to do this anymore.  Not like this.  Tears in the googles, Amanda Beard's memoir, not like this.  And don't ever try and fucking tell me that the body can't hear what the mind spits out, because served up promptly a few weeks later, BAM, injury, exactly what I had asked for on a silver platter, nuclear shutdown, no swimming, then no training, then nothing at all except pain, blinding and white.  I was frustrated, I was stamping it small and shoveling rocks on top, and if I should have learned anything in 36 years it's that your body does not take that shit, can not, will not.  Suppression is simply delayed explosion.  I asked myself back in February, what is inside you?  What are you born to do?  And in the months after ironman, I lost that drive, trying to navigate life without all the awkwardness that is part of what makes me, me, trying to be perfect, not make waves, scrunch down, stay quiet, be seen but not heard.  That's the baggage I carry.  But I don't want that to be my experience, your playing small does not serve the world, I want to be the fucking universe in ecstatic motion.
I rode back out on the run course late in the day, the look of the race quite different in the hours that had passed.  But instead of haunted, it felt like the morning after hard rain, as if the water had washed everything clean.  Athletes, silent and stoic, each fighting their own personal battles on a field gone quiet.  I wanted to say to every one, but didn't, I am here with you.  You are not alone.  I spent more time volunteering at the finish line, the best moments of the day, when the suffering is over and the junkfood drunkfest can begin.  
I was confident after New Zealand that I needed to walk away from ironman for a while. It wasn't a negative decision, it was simply wanting to cast light in a different direction, dance on a different playground.  But god, it's my heart.  I don't quite know yet where, or when, or how soon (other than, not soon), all I know right now is that it will be.  A spark, bursting into flame.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

Santa Rosa 70.3: race report

As far as race weeks go, this one wasn't great.
My neck/upper back freaked out.  It started as, weird, maybe I slept wrong and pretty rapidly degenerated into, that's cool I don't need to look left or right or up or down ever again.  I had some life stress going on so it wasn't exactly a mystery as to why it popped up then.  I wasn't even sure if I was going to be able to go race, but by the time Thursday rolled around, it had calmed down enough that I packed up the bike and got on the plane.

I landed in San Jose to spend the weekend with my remember-that-one-time-when-you-rode-your-bike-straight-over-me good friend Ashley (and her four ounces of new kitten).  I built the bike, got it checked over by an awesome friend-of-a-friend who fixed all the little things that I may or may not have noticed (tires on backwards?) & we drove up to Sonoma.  
The logistics Friday were relatively easy.  I woke up and went for a short run; it felt as awful as I would have expected the day after traveling and driving and so much stress in the week.  We rode down into Santa Rosa, where packet pick-up went much more swiftly than I anticipated.  I was able to drop my run bag off right there and then we headed out to the lake.  I did a very short test ride to make sure nothing was caddy-wompus, checked the bike, and we got the heck out of there before the place got crazy.  Lunch, a nap, and then I managed to find a completely empty SCM pool somewhere to do a shake-out swim before bed.
I actually slept okay, a bit twitchy and I overslept my alarm by about fifteen minutes before Ashley poked me awake.  I was worried about the logistics of the morning but we followed the cattle through and I had plenty of time for a jog, a few potty stops, and a pretty short warm-up swim.  The race was a  self-seeded rolling start so I lined up right around the thirty minute sign.

I chatted a bit the day before with another friend about the day and my thoughts on how it would unfold.  It had been almost two years - and three IMs - since the last time I raced a 70.3 and I was pretty sure that I had completely forgotten what it felt like to race any other way than, calm down slow down you have a long way to go.  But as we talked, I realized that what I really wanted was to just mostly race by feel, bust off the rust, encounter no drama and see where things landed at the end of the day.

Swim: 1.2 miles, 31:45 3rd AG
I had hoped to blast out a bit and grab some good feet for the swim but we were sent off into the water one-by-one, which nixed that idea.  I did hop on the feet ahead of me out to the first buoy but the effort was so overly easy that I went around him as we turned and then was alone in clear water for the rest of the swim.  The effort felt okay, maybe a bit on the easy side as I was worried about what was going on in my neck, but steady.  The swim course had been changed at the last minute due to gusty winds but I didn't notice much chop in the water so either it worked or IMNZ has forever ruined me in terms of conditions.  I had a weird coughing fit coming around the second or third buoy and, remembering all the articles I've read lately on coughing = heart failure, stopped to freak out for a moment and spit into my hand to see if I was hacking up blood (of course I wasn't).  I got moving again and was just considering picking up the effort when we went around the bend and there was the exit.  The theme of the day: oh shit we're done already I probably should have worked a bit harder.  Please enjoy this incredibly flattering photo of me blowing my nose into my wetsuit.
T1: 9:06
Transition was so long that for the first time ever, I regretted not leaving shoes at the swim exit.  With air temps in the 40s and water temps in the 60s, running hard uphill with frozen feet on steep rubbly concrete was the worst part of the day.  I've heard that the run was somewhere between .3 and .4 miles and that seems right.  By the time I got to my bike, my feet ached from the cold and the rocks.  I swam in a sports bra only so I could pull on a dry top in transition, plus socks, both of which I was grateful I took the time to do once I got on the bike.

Bike: 56 miles, 2:50:59 14th AG
There's a teeny bump up after going over the bridge out of transition but then a long descent follows.  2-3 weeks prior to the race, I crashed and then had a terrifying very-near-miss so I'll be honest and say that I was riding MUCH more cautiously and hesitantly than usual.  I got passed multiple times on the descent and was cursing myself for riding like such a weenie but those near misses were just too close in the past for me to really be over it.  I'll own it, it's what I needed to feel confident again.
Once we got down the descent, I was able to get into a good rhythm for a while but about 45 minutes into the ride, I noticed that something just felt out of whack.  A few minutes sitting up and I realized that my aero pads had gradually and completely collapsed onto the handlebars over the first fifteen miles.  I tried to yank them up but the bolts were clamped on too tightly to be able to move them back.  It turns out that the clamps were defective and have since been replaced by Felt, but in the moment I didn't know that and granted myself the luxury of a few minutes of mentally swearing at everyone who had ever touched the bike in its relatively short lifetime (including myself, although this did not get disassembled for travel).  

It actually wasn't a bad course to ride mostly sitting up as the roads were rough and there were a lot of sharp turns.  There was a bit of gusty swirly wind here and there but for the most part I didn't notice it.  I think we were all expecting a killer tailwind based on how it was blowing the day before and the general sense I got post-race was that no one experienced that and rode a bit slower than they had hoped across the board.  I rode completely by feel, glancing at the Garmin every now and then to make sure that my 10s power didn't start with a 3 but otherwise just went.  Somewhere around mile 40 I realized that I wasn't hating every pedal stroke and my adductors weren't being torn from my body so I don't think that I rode nearly as strong as I could or maybe even should have.  But in hindsight, I would much rather have had a day where everything unrolled smoothly and maybe a hair under the right effort level than have had another race where shit blew sixteen times sideways because I took a risk.  
I got through my bottles, stopped once to pee as I still cannot pee while moving, I ate every single thing I had packed and it was just over so quickly (but also, well, not that quickly).  The last 15-20 minutes I noticed that I felt hungry; I'm still adjusting my pre-race breakfast and it's obviously not dialed in quite yet.  I had no idea what my ride time was as I rolled into town but I felt fine and ready to run so I was happy.

Nutrition: Two Bobo's Bars & two Honey Stinger Waffles for 1000 calories or 352 calories/hour, nearly three bottles of NBS Hydration for 72 ounces or 26 oz/hour.

T2: 3:54 
T2 wasn't nearly as long as T1 but my bike was racked right next to run out so I had a long jog to get there.  I made sure to grab all of my snacks as I felt a bit bonky but got out of there as quickly as I could.

Run, 13.1 miles 1:58:25 14th AG
I know better than to shovel down a huge pile of calories in the first mile of the run, no matter how much I am bonking, because that is the recipe for running potty to potty for the rest of the race.  So I put down a few chews, waited twenty minutes, put down a few more, repeat.  In hindsight, I think I could have pushed this closer together or maybe put down more than three at once because I never really felt like I got on top of the bonk throughout the entire run.  Miles four through eight in particular were about as miserable and sluggish as I've felt in a race for a really long time.  I started the coke early, hoping that the extra calories and caffeine would help but I never really came around.  But I didn't crash, either, I ran quite steadily throughout, there wasn't much decoupling in terms of heart rate and pacing but - more confidently than the bike - I can say that there is a lot of room here for better execution the next time around.
After riding either in half-aero on busted bars or sitting up for the last two hours, my body was cranky in a few places where it never really is cranky but that all worked itself out over the first few miles.  I decided before the race that I would run 100% on feel, I never looked at heart rate or pace or splits or anything until it was over.  In hindsight, of course, I'm curious about this decision.  I ran a full 10 bpm lower than I usually do in half IM and the pace was closer to what I would associate with an ironman effort, but I suppose that's to be expected when I really haven't focused on the 70.3 distance in some time.  And I'm okay with all of it.  I do wonder if I had been watching pace or heart rate if I would have pushed harder on the run, but paired with just barely holding off a bonk it might have ended up in complete disaster if I had.  After the last couple of years and races, I would much rather end a race feeling like, hmm, that was relatively unremarkable than push something too hard and have a meltdown.

Nutrition: Almost two packs of chews for ~300 calories or 150 calories/hour plus a mishmash of NBS/Coke/water etc. 
70.3 miles, 5:34:09 14th AG

Top to bottom, I'm pleased with this day, but I'm not satisfied with where I am, if that makes any sense at all.  This was a great opportunity to get out, to roll through this distance and to remember the feel that is associated with racing it (mostly, oops is it over already I wasn't even hurting yet?).  I wasn't sore at all the next day and felt ready to go a few days later, although I've had a few setbacks in terms of my neck continuing to freak out and try to kill me with nerve pain as well as some bike issues that I'm hoping to find long-term resolution on shortly.  So I don't know what's next quite yet but I do know that this felt good.  Being able to stand on the line made me happy, and really, that's what matters most.  I do this for fun, I do it because I love it deeply, and after a couple of rough years, it's good to feel nothing but quiet joy (and horrifying chafing) at the finish.  Everything else will work itself out.  Life always does.