Thursday, December 4, 2014

the truth is

When I first started blogging, I blogged every weekday, five posts a week.  I would usually write it the night before and then post the next morning.  I loved becoming a part of that community, I met people, lots of people, friends that have stayed in my life to this day.  When I went back through my iPhoto albums looking for a picture to post here, I discovered that there were too many.  Too many bloggers, many now defunct or retired, that have become true friends, Kirstin Amy Liz Allison Emily Heather Amy Caroline Sarah the other Emily both the redheads Beth Jason Anabel Yasi and a thousand more, people I never would have known, my life would have been less sparkly without them.  
Over time, it became a chore.  When I moved to Colorado at the end of 2012, I decided I wasn't going to blog every day, not anymore.  Instead I was only going to talk when I felt like I had something to say.  So the wordless whatever posts stopped, the random posts stopped, the lists stopped, and for a while, that felt right.  The blog turned into a journal, I stopped giving a shit about how many comments I had on each post and instead it became much more personal.  It stopped being pictures of my food and pictures of my dogs and became more selfies a reflection of the journey I was on - and by journey I mean the ups and downs of life that we all experience - but few of us are either stupid or brave (or both) enough to take all our emotional clothes off and stand naked in a place where we hear far more from our critics than we do anyone else.  

But over the past year or so, I've gone through some experiences that I haven't felt comfortable talking about on the internet.  All due to fear.  So posts have died down even more, and the ones that do go up are mainly reflections of race experiences, mostly because those are my favorites to reflect on as I've changed.  The risk that is taken when posting everything, ugly or joyful, on the internet, is that you are living your life out loud.  But the problem with living your life out loud is that when you decide to live half of it out loud and half of it in the privacy of your circle, it becomes a complicated tangled mess.  And there have been times when I've posted something that has hurt someone's feelings, a few times now this has happened, and never on purpose, but I know what they say about intention.  Intent does not matter.  Effect, does.  When this happens, just like any time you hurt someone's feelings in life, it feels like the world is ending.  And then I want to burn it all down.  Stop blogging, stop being vulnerable, stop trying to figure out my shit in the very public way I have decided to try and figure it all out and instead hide in my house and figure it out at 2am when I'm supposed to be sleeping but am instead awake and wracked with anxiety like everyone else.

The truth is, I would really like to adopt another dog.  We would.  We talk about it all the time.  And there are two reasons why we haven't done so.  One is because I am worried about the financial implications, I will never forget how it felt to be unable to care for sick Graham after losing my job three years ago.  Learning that no matter how big your safety net is, sometimes it is just not enough.  And the other reason is that there is a tiny part of my heart that remembers being attacked for the decisions I made in those moments, and it doesn't matter how much we have done to pay it forward since then, it doesn't matter that that particular experience changed my life in a significant and meaningful way, what matters is that I can't bear the cruelty of but what would people say.  
The truth is, I have developed an embarrassing and unhealthy addiction to overpriced running shorts.  It has taken over the top spot of "clothing I have an unnecessary amount of" from hoodies.
The truth is, I don't have a healthy relationship with food.  People ask me all the time about what I eat, about the changes I have made, and while my body might be better off physically than it was, one or two or five years ago, I'm not sure that it is mentally.  For example, I eat the same thing for breakfast every day because it is safe.  I read "Grain Brain" over the summer and it scared the living fuck out of me, but it also didn't help this relationship.  I know that I am judgmental about what other people eat, and I don't even know where those thoughts or feelings come from, but at some point over the summer I went out for lunch with two friends and was horrified, then smug, to watch them order sandwiches.  Sandwiches, for heaven's sake, not heroin with a side of tequila and marshmallows.  That was the first time I was really aware of it, but the truth is, I hate it, and I don't know how to fix it.
The truth is, I have lived here for two years and yesterday I bought my first winter coat that was not a 6000-pound ski jacket or actually just a hoodie pretending to be a real jacket.

The truth is, I work too much, because I am afraid.  Of everything I don't know, of all the things I haven't learned yet, of the knowledge I don't yet have, of making mistakes.  And some of this may be considered healthy because it motivates me to never stop learning, reading, watching other coaches, watching other athletes, asking questions, learning about all the different methods that exist and the many, many ways to skin the proverbial cat, but I have more fear than I probably need.  I have poured so much of myself into building my business, and I'm so grateful to the athletes that have let me learn from them over the years, but I live in constant fear of making the wrong decisions.  
The truth is, I have a difficult time with sincerity.  My own and anyone else's.  I am afraid that my headstone will say she was really good at being sarcastic on the internet.  

The truth is, when I was in France with Gloria, that was the first time in almost three years (other than off-season breaks where I did jack shit) that I trained based on what I wanted to do every day instead of doing what the long row of boxes threatening to turn red held for me.  It was terrifying.  And then it was freeing.  I came back from Europe conflicted, it took me quite some time to sort through everything that I was feeling (part of this due to jet lag), but one of the many results of that experience was deciding to end my official coaching relationship with Sonja, who I love dearly and have learned so much from over the years we have worked together.  There was no shortage of tears about this decision, but looking into my future at the end of June and seeing uncertainty and being excited about that, about feeling bound to no races, no training, no athletic responsibility, that is how I knew it was right at the time.  I haven't talked about it because I had no idea how to talk about it in a way that is honest and gracious, that honors the time we spent together, everything that she poured into me, all of her hard work to take me from an athlete that had one triathlon and one half marathon under her belt not to mention a seriously busted ass and massive disaster from the neck up, into the 3-about-to-be-4-time (when we talked on the phone) ironman.  I have struggled with parting ways and what that has meant for me, it has been difficult to figure out how to gently land a relationship that has been important and valuable for so long, and probably talking about it on the internet is going to equal hurt feelings for someone out there but for whatever reason, I woke up this morning and it was time.  

The truth is, one of my grandmas is really sick.  I saw her last winter and then I saw her a week ago and in the time between those two visits, I lost her.  She doesn't know me anymore.  The only thing I know how to do with all the emotion wrapped up in this situation is stuff it down and hope that it just goes away.  But it scares me to death.  
The truth is, I'm lonely in Colorado.  I have made some great friends here and I know that it takes time, but I am still growing into our life here, I am still figuring out who and what and where makes up my community.  It has been tough, sometimes I meet someone and I think we could be friends and I react so enthusiastically that they back away from me with wide eyes and holding their hands out like I am a grizzly bear trying to eat them for lunch.  I didn't have really any friends until about the seventh grade because I spent all my time reading and doing hard math problems and I haven't really learned how it goes other than you are a human let's ride bikes.

The truth is, when I post something on Instagram, I obsessively check to see if people like it.  Puppies are the favorite.  Workout selfies are not, but sometimes I just can't help myself.  

The truth is, after IM Boulder I think I lasted about ten days before deciding to do IM Arizona after all.  Because I was dissatisfied with my day, which is maybe not always the best reason to stand on the line but it was mine.  The truth is, I changed my mind.  Sometimes that's all it is.  I thought I wanted freedom, hiking 14ers and riding the mountain bike and living without the colored boxes.  But feeling disappointed - again - after ironman pushed some buttons that I didn't at all expect to be pushed.  You can't predict how you will feel in the future, you can only deal with how you feel in the present.  So when I decided to go ahead with Arizona, I did what anyone would do - I called a friend.  I asked her if she would help me get through ironman without killing myself, which would surely be the case if I was at the helm.  I can barely navigate the rest of my life without constant nuclear-level destruction.  I warned her that it was likely a short-term project because I was feeling burned out and ready to be done with ironman, but after the day I had at Boulder I had enough juice in my system to give it one more try.  And I was a disaster this fall, I was not an easy project to take on, it was not a nice thing to ask of a friend.  I was tired of triathlon, I got sick, I was stupid about shoes, I was inconsistent, I made some poor decisions both in and out of training, I was reckless, I was a terrible athlete and any coach in the world would have been banging her head against the wall by the third day.  But instead, Michelle was patient, she was kind, she offered a different set of eyes on my particular variety of hot mess, she brought my volume way down so the rest of my life could come way up, she was unwavering even when I was completely cracking up.  The truth is, different doesn't have to be better, or worse, there is no judgement associated with different, it can simply be not the same.  And what I needed to drag my emotionally exhausted self through one more ironman training cycle, was that.  The truth is, the impact that she made on me in such a short time monumentally changed how I feel about myself, as a person, as an athlete, and was one of the big puzzle pieces falling into place that led to the breakthrough I had on the run a couple of weeks ago.  I hope it is not insulting to say that I was surprised, I went into this hoping only to survive, to lay out what I knew was already inside of me and instead came out the other side wondering what else might be possible.  Still emotionally exhausted, still deflated, still struggling with all the shit that I always struggle with as a type-A worrier that carries around a wheelbarrow of anxiety and fear.  But so many have tried to teach me, and failed - through no fault of their own, simply due to my inability to learn - to believe in myself, and from Michelle, I finally learned how.  
The truth is, after all of this, I went ahead and signed up for IM Coeur d'Alene next June.  Maybe it's a new beginning, maybe it will be a final chapter, maybe it will bookend the ironman experiences in my life quite nicely, maybe I have so much mad scientist in me that the thought of a new experiment is simply irresistible.  Five times now, I've set out into ironman chasing the same goal, and now I've accomplished it, and I don't know what to chase next.  The only thing that I am certain of, today, is that another finish line awaits, and I will learn plenty along the way.  A lot of it will surprise me, there will be joy and struggle and at least one day of wanting to throw my bike into the bushes, I will make mistakes and piss people off and cry when we are out of avocados, just like every time that has come before, but I remain lucky to have another opportunity to stand on the line.  To ask questions.  To find out.  

My last truth, is this.  I have no idea how to talk about any of this.  Some of it is inconsequential, silly, my attempt to inject a bit of flip lightheartedness into a post full of fear.  Most of it probably does not matter to anyone but me, and I am not always sure why I feel the need to continue to publicly chronicle my comings and goings.  Lately, every time I've hit "publish" and sent another missive out into the world, I've wondered if it would be my last.  But these are my elephants, this is another attempt to be vulnerable instead of deciding to burn my private-journey-that-I-share-with-the-entire-world down.  It may be stupid, it is less likely that it is brave, but it is my life.  Unedited, raw, imperfect.  Mine.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ironman Arizona Run: race report

You can choose courage or you can choose comfort but you cannot choose both. -Brene Brown (duh, who else)

A lot of athletes in ironman feel fantastic off the bike and then blow up 13 or 15 or 18 miles in (or so I've read on the internet).  I’ve never had this problem.  I have always believed that feeling great off the bike was a myth concocted so that everyone could collectively deny how much it blows and lure in other suckers to try it out (I feel the same is true of childbirth).  Because every time I’ve started the run, my body feels like a sackful of broken bones still vaguely in the shape of a bicycle plus bloated and sunburned and kind of annoyed that I've exercised for like seven hours and I'm not even close to being done.  For me, the hardest miles have always been the first few.  I have been able to rebound into some great second halves, but in the past, the beginning is where things have fallen apart, and as I left transition and started running I told myself today is the day we erase that tape.
And that first mile felt fucking amazing.

I actually needed to hold back, which was ridiculous and brilliant, but I felt so cautious.  I didn't trust how good I felt; I didn’t want to jump straight from the “blow up in the first hour” disaster to the “go out too hard and blow up at mile 18” shitshow.  It took monumental effort to keep my pace in the high 9s.  I lapped my watch at the first mile marker and thought, 25 more of those and this is a day to remember.

I had my bottle of OSMO from transition, so I ignored the aid stations other than to happily smile and wave at the volunteers.  There were already people doing some walking, and as I trotted by them, I warned myself not to get too cocky, that had been me in the past and it could easily be me again today.  The second mile turned over and I let myself work down a bit into the low 9s.  At some point I fell in step with someone running about the same pace as me.  After a few minutes, we started yapping (Hi, Josiah from CA, I hope your day was brilliant), but only just a bit, working together.  I came back through the transition area and saw the poet, I don’t think I said anything but I was still smiling, and then we went past an aid station and the song that was blaring was the goddamn Coldplay song about the trapeze, and the second verse was starting, and I said to Jo, this is my favorite verse of one of my favorite songs of all time and he said no shit and I said yes shit! and I sang MAYBE I’M IN THE GAP BETWEEN THE TWO TRAPEZE, but not at the top of my lungs, kind of softly under my breath.  And every mile that went by, I quietly celebrated in my head with a this is the best I've ever felt two miles into ironman.  Three.  Four.  Five.  Erasing my tape.  Terrified that the blow was just around the next corner, caution in every step, but every mile plopping straight into the bank of a successful day.  (How's this for a demonstration of amazing running form?)
My stomach started grumbling as we crossed the bridge to the other side of the lake, enough that when we went through the aide station I ducked into a porta potty for a pit stop.  And it was a productive pit stop but I wasn’t sick, I took an immodium just in case, got some more OSMO down and then popped right back out and kept running.  I knew that my stop would mean a slow split was going to appear so I ran a bit too fast to the next mat, hoping that I could make up the time or even just send out a message to the poet (and anyone else tracking) that said I’m not falling apart!  I’m FINE!  I swear!  I'm okay you guys!  I just had to POOP!

Miles 1-6: 9:40, 9:27, 9:12, 9:22, 9:13, 10:36 (potty)
The out-and-back on the far side of the lake was long enough that my starting-to-not-work-anymore brain didn’t understand how two laps of this would equal 26.2 miles and not more like...40.  My body started to hurt, it stopped feeling like springy joyfulness and started feeling hard.  And Krista had told me about her marathon at CdA in the spring, and how she felt great for 17 miles, and I thought WTF I AM SUPPOSED TO HAVE ELEVEN MORE MILES!  The loop brought us back and then up a little hill and around, we hit a short but very sweet downhill into the aid station under the overpass and another one of my favorite songs from this year was blasting (I have embarrassingly bad taste in music) and I let my cadence pick up and started smiling again and sang right along with it IT'S GOING DOWN I'M YELLING TIMBBBBERRRRRRR.
I came back over the bridge, the BASE salt guys were there and they were rocking out and offering their snake oil to everyone and I said yes.  I was starting to feel desperate and also in the zone in a way I recognize from late in a 70.3, where you are so tired and focused that you start throwing shit in the general direction of your mouth and it doesn't at all matter what it is only that it is the closest thing you can reach.  So he tried to teach my how to lick my thumb and shake the thing and I did but I didn't cover it up right and instead threw salt all over the road, he tried to show me again but I finally just poured some straight into my mouth and stuffed the little container in the back pocket of my top, the sad graveyard of hopeful but rejected nutrition.  Also known as "shit I throw at my husband every time I see him in a race."  (This picture is why I try to fix hip extension in runners everywhere not to mention myself.  Sigh, sorry Kevin).
Miles 7-13: 9:35, 10:05, 9:56, 10:43 (potty), 9:44, 9:47, 9:55

But I kept on trucking.  My tummy was a little grumbly so I was spacing out calories more than I probably should have, a few times I was definitely dancing with the bonk but then managed to get coke or a banana or even a few more chews down and bring it around.  I came through the half split, I was happy to see the poet but didn't stop because I was starting to be afraid that if I stopped, I wouldn't get going again.  There was another bottle of OSMO waiting for me in special needs so I stopped for it (and actually managed to get most of it down over the next few miles) and then shuffled my way forward.  And once I finished that first lap, everything I saw on the course, I was saying farewell to.  I know it sounds insane (like a lot of shit I post) but this is what happens inside your brain.  Mile 15 sign I WILL NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN!  Dancing guy in the bacon outfit SO LONG SUCKER!  Underpass aid station BYE NOW!

In the week before the race, I had a bit of a realization, and it is this.  The reason so many people walk in ironman?  I think it's because they've stopped caring.  That's why I've walked, in the past.  Sure, nutrition and being sick and broken bones, but what's really going on is I do not give an actual fuck.  The swim happens, the bike is long and hard and by the time you get off, you are tired, mentally and physically, and that's when the race plan goes sailing out the window.  Forget 9:20 pace, I don't give a shit anymore, all I want is the finish line and some fucking pizza and a few weeks off.  I spent most of the run reminding myself to step back, to stay out of the way, trying not to think at all, I never want to try and convince my body this is fun! when the truth is this is really hard and it kind of sucks because that - convincing myself - sounds exhausting.  I would rather let my emotional mind be empty and let the logical mind do the work, worrying about calories and hydration and whether that grumble in my intestines is just a grumble or a warning shot.  But every once in a while, I could feel the no I really don't give a fuck let's just walk trying to creep back in, and the truth I was able to come up with was I still care.  I wasn't trying to convince myself that I was having a blast, instead, I was reminding myself why I was out there.  To run well.  And 17, 18, 19 miles into the race, that thought burned hard, and I repeated that for miles against the rhythm of my footsteps.  I still care.  I still care.

Miles 14-20: 10:14 (SN), 10:33, 13:10 (long potty), 11:05, 10:57, 11:01, 10:33
The mile 20 marker was a relief.  I knew that I had about an hour left, I had absolutely no idea what time of day it was or how long I had been running, but I can count down miles.  I had lap pace showing on my watch and I was trying to keep it in the 10s, the low 9s were long gone but the 11s felt like a gateway drug into giving up and if there is one thing I did not want to do out there, it was give up.  Other than three stops in the porta potty and one stop at special needs, one pause to bitchslap my left IT band and a couple of 5-6 steps slowdown in the later miles to gather things at aid stations, I ran every step, start to finish.  

The last few miles were ugly.  I stopped eating and drinking because I knew I was close enough to not need calories anymore, but I still had the (irrational?) fear that it wasn't too late to blow up and walk it in.  A lot of people have said that when they are focused, they count their steps, 1-100 over and over again, so I started counting my steps but I couldn't make it past ten.  The idea of even thinking a word with three syllables in it - eleven - seemed insurmountable, it was impossible to ask my brain to do one more hard thing on top of all the work it was already doing.  So that was what I did for four miles.  I swung my arms, I tried to press from my toes and reach with my foot, and I counted to ten in my head.  Over and over, probably a thousand times, against my footsteps on the path.  Up to the bridge.  Over the bridge.  Turn left.  The mile 25 sign.  Looking at lap distance and realizing I only had a half mile - two laps of the track - to go.  Going past my husband, who started running with me and yelling, you did it! to which I barked back I have two minutes I haven't done it yet like a crazy person.  And I felt my watch vibrate with the last mile and turned past the sign splitting the runners into lap two and finishers and somewhere in that moment it hit me.  I had done it.  I hadn't blown up, I wasn't going to blow, I had run every step, I ran hard, I ran well, and the thought was in my head less than a second before I burst into tears.

(Seriously so embarrassing, I really hate it when people cry).

I ran down the chute with one hand over my mouth, trying to stifle how ridiculous I felt, thinking wildly and randomly of my friend Sarah and watching her ugly cry her way across the finish of her first ironman and how proud I felt of her in that moment, hearing the poet's voice over the entire crowd yelling my name, he is always the best and loudest spectator of my life, I wanted to be smiling and joyful and explosive, I didn't want this to be how I finished but I was completely unable to stop sobbing, shaking, the finish loomed up and I pumped my fists and threw my arms into the air, as hard as I could, because I fucking did it, me, I did it on my own, I did it - I can do it by myself! as my friend Jen says - there are a lot of things in this world that can be taken away but this is not one of them, finally.  Finally.  And it is true that I am lucky enough to have a huge village of support in my life, some people that have made a huge difference in my life over the past few months, but I still have to be the one to go out and execute it.  I've never done that before because I've never felt strong enough to do it on my own, I've never actually believed that I could.  Until now.  
Miles 21-26.2: 10:50, 10:40, 11:02 (IT band), 10:31, 10:20, 10:17 + whatever is left for Garmin gibberish = 26.2 miles, 4:31:52

Nutrition: 2 bottles of OSMO, 2 packets of Honey Stinger chews and oh god I literally have no idea.  
140.6 miles: 12:08:19, 20/119 AG

There are a lot of things I've done well this year.  Changes I've made, for shit's sake that is all I've talked about in relation to training and racing, change.  And there's a lot of little crap that we fuss about as athletes, so many things that seem important in the fishbowl of our ironman existence.  But here's the truth, when it came to racing, when it came to THIS ironman, none of those things mattered.  It didn't matter how many hours of sleep I got the night before the race (three) or how many pounds heavier I was than IM Boulder (almost ten) or how much ice cream I ate two weeks before the race at the tail end of a meltdown (no comment).  It didn't matter that I skipped my last long ride because my hormones were a Vitamix'd disaster, it didn't matter how many hours per week I trained or how many miles I ran at what heart rate, or that I was wearing shoes with only six miles on them, or raced in a kit that I have never trained in before or I dropped my bag of chews or forgot my lucky socks.  What mattered was me.  My demons.  Hunting and eventually, slaughtering them - not with triumph, not with burning, or leaping, not walking through the fire but by quietly standing aside and letting my body execute what has been inside me all along.  My day wasn't a success because I had race wheels or a pink aero helmet or rocked some random long run six weeks out or have one of those signs that says "DAYS SINCE SUGAR CONSUMED" hanging up in my brain with a triple-digit number next to it.  My day was a success because I believed it could be.  Finally.  And people have been telling me that for years, this is not brand-new information, but until I knew it, I never could have known.

Courage or comfort.  All this time, I thought I could have both.  I thought if I trained hard enough, this would feel easy, and then I would be able to whack it out of the park.  But that's not true, and understanding that was key for me.  I wasn't confident going into this race.  I know I've mentioned a few times that I've had a rocky fall and I came off IM Boulder feeling burned out and I had a few races that I scribbled meh next to in my brain once they were done.  It's the complete opposite of how I went into Boulder, at the end of July I felt like I have never been so physically ready for an ironman, I felt shiny and tanned and strong and healthy.  In the days before Arizona it was more like well let's just see how this goes down.  None of that mattered either.  I had some flat spots in the swim, plenty of flat spots on the bike, but all day, underneath, there was an itch to get to the run and find out what was there.  And now I know.  
Is there more?  Well, that certainly has been the most frequently-asked question in the days that have passed since I crossed the finish line.  I can answer it two ways.  Do I think that I could put together a better race than this one, do I think that I could, as my husband so kindly put it, actually put together a single day that consists of a strong swim AND a strong bike AND a strong run instead of rotating through them one at a time?  The answer to that is yes.  I think there is plenty more, I think I could keep making progress at this distance, with time and effort and patience and strength.  But the real question is whether I am willing, am I even interested in finding out?  Right now, I don't know.  This is the first time I've ever crossed the line and said, that's it, I am done with ironman and two-plus weeks later, I still feel slightly uncertain.  I don't know what the future will bring for me, I know better than to say never on the internet but I do know that whatever happens, for a lot of reasons, 2015 is going to be a completely different year.  

For right now, though, I feel at peace.  I've thought often about the days before IM Boulder, and when I stood in my kitchen and told the poet, I honestly believe that if I keep failing at ironman, the chase will destroy me.  And I've found ways to be content with the four times I've toed the line at this distance before, I've been able to pull positivity out of my race, I'm been able to see growth in myself as an athlete even if I have been left hungry and unfilled time after time.  Now I have found success - the version of success unique to me and my path - and there is nothing more satisfying that that.  Collapsing in the grass, shivering inside a space blanket and sobbing - that was so hard holy shit that was so hard - into the phone, shoveling down the pizza because I felt so light-headed that I thought I was going to pass out, quietly collecting all the detritus of the day and hobbling off home, still feeling protected, padded, in a bubble, separated from the athletes around me, moving silently, invisibly through the last few hours of the day just as I moved throughout the week before.  My race needs no explanations, no qualifiers, no excuses.  I believed I could.  So I did.