the off season

Every year, I take the off-season more seriously.
Last year I was forced into it by a yes-I'll-finally-admit-it-was-broken arm, but that combined with an unsatisfying race meant I was itching to get back training by about mid-December.  I think I gave myself about a week or so of rest and then I filled the rest of the month by trying to do things my body wasn't ready for (see: swimming), getting annoyed, saying fuck it and drinking beer, rinse and repeat.  I was thrilled when the colored boxes of January 1 showed back up in my life.
This year was different.  There was absolutely no itch.  And I think that's part of being incredibly grateful for a solid season.  If we're counting, which obviously I am because I'm the boss around here, I PR'd every leg of every distance that I raced this year, and some of those were significant.  But WAY more important than any PRs, I figured out some of my shit.  I made changes.  I tried new things.  I was healthy, credit should be distributed a few places to all the people in my village who worked hard on my often-uncooperative body, but start to finish 2014 was the healthiest and most consistent year I've had.  And when I closed out my season with the best ironman I've been able to put together - so far - it left me at peace.  Content.  No itch to train, no being mad at people jogging because I had to rest, no driving to the gym "just" to swim twenty minutes, nothing.  More than ready for a few weeks of eating and sleeping and cooking and traveling and all the other things that I fill my life with when I'm not happily bouncing along the hamster wheel of training.
Only because I know I'll look back at this in a year and wonder, I'll share.  I took two weeks completely off.  During the second week, I had a minor medical procedure done that prevented me from any activity at all, but even during the first week I had zero desire to do anything.  We traveled home from Arizona the day after the race, and the next day I boarded a plane back east to visit friends and family.  No swim cap, no running shoes, no spandex.  No checking pool schedules and setting alarms so I could run before anyone woke up.  Just, off.  I stopped being horrified by bread baskets, I stopped trying to keep sugar at a reasonable level, I drank wine, there was obviously plenty of tequila, beer, potato chips, I ate when I was hungry and slept when I was sleepy and those two things took up 90% of my time.

And it was good.  I blew back through Colorado and then headed out to California to support several of my athletes that were running the marathon.  I swam a little with them while I was there and I probably ran seven miles in two-minute-sprints doing bottle hand-offs and check-ins all over the course.  There was a gorgeous early morning run right with Ashley before I got on the plane, but none of it was because I had to, it was simply because this is the rhythm of my life.  I flew home Monday night and spent Tuesday getting my shit together to start training again, so of course I woke up Wednesday morning bright and early and ready to head to the pool, with a sore throat.  
My only guess is that my body wasn't ready to be done resting.  I waffled between taking days off and plowing through some training anyway, and after about ten days of that and (shockingly) not getting any better, I ended up in a doctor's office getting a stern lecture and almost a month of antibiotics, which I hate because I believe that antibiotics are creating a world that will one day be wiped out by a super-bug a la The Stand but that is completely beside the point, which is this: one of these years, I will learn.  
I always really enjoy coming back from a training break, at least for about two weeks, and then I'm just annoyed that my fitness doesn't magically spring back and that none of my running shorts fit.  But the first little while is happy, I spend the time laughing to myself about the paces I have to run to keep my heart rate low and checking the batteries in the power meter over and over and at least the swim is somewhat okay because all of the added buoyancy is sorta helpful, those weeks are fun for me and, more importantly, I think they are necessary.  I ran a 5K in there somewhere (seriously, maybe someday I will learn?), a coughing choking hip-collapsing effort that left me wondering when 8-minute pace got so hard.  
The antibiotics kicked in (FINE modern medicine is wonderful) and I got moving again, enough for me to rip off a 10K swim on New Year's Day without too much struggle.  This is the third 10K swim I've done in my life.  The first was way back in 2011 with my good friend Emily in the sketchy basement of the LA Fitness where I trained for ironman number one and I'm really only mentioning it so I can post this amazing photo of our goggle marks.  
The second I did alone, this year, the day after my birthday with an absolutely appalling hangover.  And the third was last week, I had the company of two of my athletes (not to mention two separate master's groups that came and went while we continued to flip, flip, flip) and an awesome and not-that-crazy-at-all set from Michelle.  It was fun (it was long), we all know the pool is my happy place and I do well on anything steady with good intervals, I settle into the clock and counting flip turns and calculating send-offs and all of a sudden 9600 yards has gone by and it's time to cool down.  
One more tiny thing in my long list of random gibberish.  This post doesn't really have a point other than spitting out things I'd like to be able to look back on next year when I am bitching about being fat and slow, and the biggest thing that happened in December is that we brought home another (yes, a fourth) puppy.
After my last blog post, the poet and I had a conversation, maybe the thousandth one, about bringing another love home, and it was finally the right time.  It happened quite quickly, there were some emails and then I went to meet him and the next day we had our foster visit and he was home.  Ours.  His name is Hunter, he has a very sweet personality with just the slightest hint of side-eye.  I know that saying this in a public place is going to bite me in the ass, but out of our four, this is the easiest puppy-transition we've had.  He mostly sleeps through the night, he cries for just a few minutes in his crate, he knows how to sit and wait for his dinner, and there have been not that many potty-training incidents in the three weeks that he has lived here.  Sofie has only tried to kill him twice, Graham is thrilled to have a new playmate and Molly refuses to acknowledge that his existence other than to throw him a look of sheer disdain if he happens to get within eight feet of her.  
I'm not planning on a 2014 recap post (which is good as it's already January sixth and I think that blogging ship has sailed).  Everything that I want to remember is already up in this space and I don't have the desire to rehash it all (other that the video I put together in the days before Christmas because it made me happy to do so).  It was a good year.  Life, relationships, training, friends, dogs, love, travel, races, all of it.  Hundreds of spectacular moments.  
I am looking forward to 2015.  I'm not about to spout off a list of goals as that isn't what gets my fire burning hot, but I am quietly starting to piece together the shape of the year.  Someone on Twitter shared an except from the book Burn Your Goals and I downloaded it to read (although the shared excerpt, so far, is the best piece of the book).  The author says, I want to know what you are committed to doing with your 24 hours a day to close the gap between who you are and where you want to be.  I've been thinking about that a lot lately, about the concept of being in the moment and not worrying too much about what's going to happen in the future, and it helps to ground me.  What can I do today to be the best wife, friend, athlete, coach that I can be?  And, in my athletic space, what are the controllables that I am ready and willing to commit to working on?  That's easy - my weakness in this sport is very clear.  So I've spent the past few weeks asking questions, analyzing, approaching the work with intention instead of just checking off the boxes, picking the brains of anyone who will let me rifle through their personal encyclopedias of knowledge, forcing myself out of my comfort zone, adding to the village I have built.  I am committing to learning more about myself, about my body and what it needs outside of the carousel of swim-bike-run that I ride ten or eleven months out of the year.  And last year I learned a good lesson about the effect that small changes can have, done regularly and consistently and applied to time, I learned that, how after even a few short months, your life can become unrecognizable.  
But along with commitments, thinking about the gap.  I learned last year that I am light of heart in that gap, living, flying, weightless in the space between the two trapezes.  I learned that change is cumulative, I know that there is still a cavernous distance between who I am and where I want to be, but I learned that it is okay to exist, there.  Last spring I spent a week training in southern California with a good friend and it was on that trip that I realized that my happiness comes from the work, the chase, plotting, planning, working, growing.  And the work I did last winter spring-boarded me into one of the most joyful - albeit imperfect - years of my life.  Now it's January.  Simply time to begin, again.