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, 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.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

on letting go

A little over two weeks ago, I raced the Boulder Peak as part of a relay.  

We had signed up for the race before CdA, so I planned on swimming and biking and then handing off the run.  But ironman came & went without me, and then LifeTime Tri announced a "race within a race" challenge for the male/female athlete that got from transition to the top of the Old Stage climb the fastest, and we decided that I should chase that, so I got the bike leg alone.  
I smashed the living fuck out of myself all the way up through the spectators at what I thought was the top of the climb for purposes of the preme.  When I got through there I coasted for a solid minute before realizing that it ended at the second top, gathered myself up for a few more minutes and then rode the descent all the way out to 36.  (This is not a lesson on how to race an olympic bike leg).  I managed to get my power sorta back up the rest of the ride but didn't put up a great overall time & was convinced that the mistake I made with where it ended had cost me the yellow jersey.
But at the end of the day, it didn't.  I got to stand on the podium, twice actually, because our relay team came in second place despite the way I executed the ride.  It was an incredibly happy day.

The success I had with racing that weekend, I thought, was money in the bank for the ironman I had signed up for on the sly.  After CdA, I gave myself some time and space to see what would rise to the surface.  And what rose up was, I wanted to race.  Desire was there.  The cheapest option ended up being Boulder, and I thought it was a good option because I had some leftover angst about the way the run went down last year.  So I talked to Michelle, and went ahead and signed up, but kept it to myself.  I didn't know what life was going to bring and the conversation that I had a thousand times the week before CdA (good luck on your race!  oh?  you're not racing?  why not?) was tough to work through.  But mostly because I wanted this one to be for me.  Not about anyone else, not about making anyone proud or happy or being tough in front of an entire town.  I wanted to show up, quietly, and see what I could do.

After I signed up, I did some recon and realized that if I had the day I believed that I could execute, some special things might happen.  The podium might be in reach, qualifying might be in reach, and I honestly never in my life thought that either of those things would even be a dream I felt safe having.  But I'm also not ashamed to say it in print, I wanted to chase those things and I thought I could. I kept those thoughts in the back of my mind while I did my final prep, I didn't obsess over it, I knew that on race day I needed to focus on myself and see what the day brought for me, but I also wanted to make sure that I was open to the opportunity that it could happen.

In the two months before this race, my grandmother passed away.  Four weeks later, my grandfather had a stroke.  Two weeks after that, he passed away.  My dad has been in and out of the hospital, some of these visits quite scary, several times over the last three weeks.  I have been struggling with some relationships in my life and last week I lost a very close friend.  And I say all of this not as any kind of an excuse, but to try and annotate the holes, the void, the emptiness of my tank of emotional strength.  

Race day came.  I stood in transition getting dressed and said, I can't do this.  I had been thinking it for days, saying it here and there and then shaking myself angrily and trying to rewrite those thoughts.  The stories we tell ourselves.  The swim was wetsuit optional, I chose to wear my swim skin because I hoped that I would start racing and be able to find myself.  I went off in the back of the hour corral, right behind someone who swims in my lane at masters.  I know that she is faster than me but I also know that I stay on her feet for ninety minutes at least once a week.  The start was aggressive, it took a while for the pack to blow out.  I could tell that there weren't a lot of women around me.  I stayed focused, anchor and roll, thinking about powering my stroke and nothing more.  I knew the only way I could get through the day would be by staying in every minute, blocking out any noise, but the truth is I was numb.  My support team let me know that I got out of the water in fifth place but passed three women in transition and rolled out of the reservoir in second.  
I held onto second place through about 60 miles.  I was having a bit of trouble getting nutrition down, so I backed off heart rate a bit to see if that would help.  And it did, and that was when the first woman blew past me.  I tried to (legally) pace off of her, but one eye on the power meter let me know that was a terrible idea.  Another woman went by me a few minutes later and when I came through mile 80, I was in fourth and four minutes back.  I worked hard to keep my power up those last 30 miles, the longer climbs were hot and I was showering with water bottles every aid station, I had to force myself to eat and drink, but I rolled down Folsom knowing that I had slaughtered the first seven hours of my day.  
When I got off the bike, my stomach felt a little empty but otherwise fine.  I flew through transition, stopped quickly to pee, and headed out, still in fourth, but gaining.  The path was shockingly empty.  My first mile split a perfect 9:09.  My legs didn't feel great although they have certainly felt worse, but my legs weren't the problem.  The problem was my head.  The second mile started to feel hard, and negative thoughts started to roll in.  I pounded some coke right away because often negative thoughts are based in nutrition, but I was beyond the point of sugar & caffeine.  I started to yell at myself in my head, this is supposed to be for you, just keep moving, keep eating, keep believing, do this for you and no one else.  I knew how ashamed and angry I would be later if I gave up, because I've given up before.  I knew that I would despise myself for making that choice.  It wasn't enough.  
The part that hurts the most, the next morning, is that I had it and I let it go.  It was in hand.  All I had to do was execute the run that I was 100% confident my physical body had the ability to do.  And I chose not to, I'm not victimizing this.  It was my choice to quit and I made it.

I walked until I found someone with a cell phone so I could call to get a ride, and instead I was told to call Michelle before turning in my chip.  She ripped me a good one - and I know this is backed by love but man, when she is pissed off it is a raging fire - and I agreed to finish.  Simply because I didn't have the strength to fight with her either.  The path of least resistance.  

So I walked.  In a most singular act of hatred and self-sabatoge, I walked 24 miles.  At some point in the later miles, I tried to jog, and I felt the sole of my foot split open, and I pulled off my sock and shoe to see that I had completely shredded it.  I put my shoe back on and kept walking, jogging a little, every step a knife, pain that I welcomed because it was what I had earned.  I didn't care.  I had given up.  When I finally reached the finish chute, I jogged down, not looking at anyone, visor over my eyes, wanting the day to be over.  I didn't want to take a medal, I was ashamed of what I had done to myself, a few people have said they are proud of me for finishing and that makes me want to vomit with shame.  There's nothing to be proud of in this day.  I didn't want to finish, I don't care that I finished, even now.  I still wish I had just walked off the course and let it be done.  I had nothing to prove, I know I can cross the line, the only thing finishing accomplished was forcing me to be alone with my thoughts for six hours before driving home in defeat.  

I know that I should probably let all of this move around in my brain for a few days before writing it down.  But writing it down and releasing it to the world, where I can't change it, I can't take it back, that's a huge part of how I process.  And what I'm feeling today is raw, and ugly, and I don't have energy to dress it up with long words and extra commas.

Some will say that grief is behind what happened here, and that's not wrong.  But that's not the root of the root, either.  What happened here is that I got the day that I fundamentally believed that I deserved.  I didn't believe that I deserved to stand on the podium yesterday, to be fighting for a slot, to put together a perfect race.  I thought I did, I thought I had learned this last year how to believe in myself, even a week ago I had faith, and hope, and then I discovered at mile two that I was wrong.  My physical body was more ready than it has ever been, working with Michelle has turned me into an athlete of infinite capability and opportunity.  But I learned a hard lesson yesterday about what happens when your physical body is ready and willing but your soul is grieving, broken, lost.  And I'm tired of this being my story too.  Apparently the damage that has been done through recent events has brought me right back to where I started.  I didn't believe I deserved a good day.  I know that I am surrounded with friends and love and happiness, but I don't believe I deserve any of it.  I don't deserve the friend who, Friday afternoon, dropped everything and got on a plane to Boulder to try and be a pillar of strength for me because he knew I was cracking.  I don't deserve all the love I came home to last night after one of the worst days of racing of my life.  I don't deserve to be forgiven for my mistakes, accepted for my flaws, held up when I am weak, celebrated when I am strong.  The friendships and relationships and people I have lost, I believe that I deserve the pain that comes with those losses because I never deserved the grace of their presence in my life in the first place.  

I also don't know how to move forward, although I suppose that figuring that out is going to be my main purpose over the next few weeks.  I don't ever want to go through a day like this ever again.  I feel like human carnage, I have been destroyed and I have no idea how to heal.  If I can heal.  Or if it's just a matter of living with an open wound.  But I do know that I have to be the one to fix it.  And this is disgusting, that this is my story, and it's probably far too ugly to be written down on the goddamn internet and hitting publish but it is my story.  It's the only one I've got.