Wednesday, June 8, 2016

it's the sudden stop

Well.  So here we are.  
I find myself wishing that I had kept up with blogging these last two months, for myself, to have all this shit written down somewhere in a permanent fashion.  Last summer it was helping me to write my way through, but now I understand what it's like to be completely exhausted by my own story.  I am tired of being trapped in a spiral of injury, I am tired of constantly feeling frustrated, isolated, sad, angry, and I am beyond tired of talking about it.  If I heard it once growing up I have heard it a thousand times, if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all.
There is really no way to summarize any shorter than this.  Coming out of New Orleans, my mojo was brimming over, my batteries were at 100% and I honestly believed that my physical body was ready to start training again - really training, not just la-tee-dah what shall I do today training.  As it turns out, it was not.  A little niggle in my high hamstring that I had been managing, a niggle that I can trace all the way back to the 5K I raced in March, got worse.  And it got bad fast, a swift thunderclap, BOOM, right back on the couch.  It took about eight frustrating weeks of chasing my tail before prolotherapy plus an unplanned week off the bike when I flew to DC to help out a close friend with her adorable new baby finally allowed me to put all the pieces together.  My SI joint on the other side of my sacrum was the root of it.  Every time I was treated, I was told no running for a few days but riding and swimming were fine.  And then it turned out that the bike was the problem so all I was doing was re-irritating everything immediately following treatment which is why I wasn't getting better and nothing was healing.  I made some changes myself, I booked a bike fit, I rode the new fit and spent about ten days continuing to make minute adjustments as I worked it out.  
But the hamstring wasn't it either, really.  See, I fundamentally believe that the body can only deal with a certain amount of stress.  It doesn't matter if the stress is coming from hill repeats or fighting with your husband or a lack of sleep or multiple court appearances to deal with unpleasant business matters.  What matters is that there is a breaking point.  My body was throwing off warning signs all spring.  I had a skin biopsy come back not exactly negative.  I gained weight that wouldn't come off no matter how well I was treating my body with nutrition.  I got a weird rash in a line up the back of my leg that turned out to be shingles - a viral infection that can be reactivated in the body after a period of intense stress.  I ignored these things, clinging desperately to the medical advice that encouraged me to keep moving, hoping that one day I would wake up and all my various pains would have melted away and I would be able to run, ride, happy, again.  I thought I was getting there, I thought I was close, and that's when I went down.  
The day started off pretty well, we rode up to Loveland at the crack of dawn so I could swim 2.4 miles in exchange for a new cap and all the bananas I could eat.  The course was long (got my money’s worth!), but I had a pretty good swim and ended up taking a little silver cup home to add to my collection.  I joined up with one of my athletes for a few hours of cruisey riding once I got home.  I was pretty wrecked from the race but 1200 calories and a triple espresso turned me around.  We were about two hours into riding when we stopped to investigate a weird creaking sound on his bike.  After tightening some screws that had nothing to do with the issue, we clipped in to roll out and I fell over.  It happens, it’s dumb, but I’ve seen it happen to even the most experienced cyclists, sometimes you reach for the clip and you miss or you slide and you just - splat - on the ground.  I got a little scrape on one arm but it wasn’t a big deal, ten seconds later I was back up, fine, exclaiming I haven’t done that in years and years because falling over from a standstill never fails to make you feel like a complete moron.  The real crash came about twenty minutes later, we were going around a small corner and there was a lot of sand spread through the intersection.  I slowed coming into the turn but my rear wheel slipped it and just like that, my bike threw me into the road.  I felt myself land in slow motion on the ground - ribs - shoulder - head.  Smash smash crunch.  I hopped up as quickly as I could, mortified, and told everyone that had stopped, I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine but I’m going to call for a ride no go on I’m fine. A nice guy in a Jeep offered me a ride back into Longmont so I climbed in and the poet came and rescued me from there.  I was mostly just annoyed.  I really hate road rash and my helmet smacking the ground had given me a wicked headache but I thought I was fine, and I was pissed to shut down a ride when I was having a good time and my hamstring didn't hurt and goddammit already with this year.  I got home, though, and after a few minutes I noticed that my left eye was a little bit droopy and my vision was blurred and actually a few of my ribs were hurting kind of a lot and just like that I got myself packed off to the ER.  A couple of hours of scans and x-rays and having my road rash inadequately numbed before being scrubbed out with a brillo pad (sweet jesus) later, I was done.  Big time, for real, shut it all down, done (this is my super not-impressed let-me-take-a-selfie blogger pose, hopefully you can tell I've been practicing).
I’ve been thinking, these last few weeks, about how I got injured in the first place.  I've been thinking about how this rollercoaster started as I transfer registrations and cancel trips and try to reorganize my year all the while hoping to quell the very small voice of panic that continues to point first at my current fitness and second at my race schedule.  I raced IM Cozumel back in November, I would describe it as a solid day, a happy day, a little bit of revenge on what went down in Boulder, the race that will forever be known as the day I stomped a marathon off the bike.  Coming out of Cozumel, I didn’t feel as if I had that much fatigue so I took a few days off and then asked to leap straight back into training, and my coach agreed.  And look, I’m not blaming anyone for anything here because when it comes down to it, I am an adult and the boss of my life but in hindsight I think that was simply the worst thing I could have done.  I didn’t respect the distance & I certainly didn’t respect the six months of stress leading up to the race.  I ran somewhere between eight and twelve miles chasing athletes around in Tucson, six days after ironman.  It felt horrible and I ignored it.  I jumped straight into a lifting program in the gym which was high-rep high-intensity even though I think I knew in the back of my head that what I needed was the opposite sort of stimulus if I needed any stimulus at all, and I lifted myself silly the next three weeks while my volume shot back up.  I ignored some warning signs in the gym that were whispering, hey maybe you should be working on form in slow motion instead of 4x15 reps here, because I follow instructions and gotta check that box!  The workout where things fell apart, a four-hour trainer ride less than a month out from ironman, I knew, I should have shut it down but I didn’t because I am really fucking stubborn and 4-5 years of training without injury had lulled me into a false sense of invincibility and honestly even typing this out is making me cringe over and over.  And over.    
If I go back, if I read the notes in my training log and remember the things I was feeling, I was stupid.  I own that.  My body, the universe, it has been trying to tell me something for months now, and I have not been listening, I have been fighting as hard as I know how.  Maybe it’s all touchy-feely bullshit but you know what, it’s what I believe in and that’s all that actually matters.  And what I believe in, is that when the universe is trying to tell you something, it throws cotton balls and then acorns and then snowballs and then bricks.  When the universe is trying to get your attention you will lose every time because the universe has deadly aim, the universe is a sniper that can take out a flea from seven hundred thousand miles away; when the universe is trying to get your attention, the universe does not fucking miss.   

But I also don't believe that the universe is a total asshole.  There have been moments, brief, grateful moments where I get a glimpse.  There’s a moment on the bike, maybe you’re tired, or soft-pedaling, and someone (hopefully that you know) rolls by on your left and you have less than a second to decide.  Do I hop on and possibly destroy myself trying to hang or do I let them go?  There was a day, about a month ago, where I got to decide that.  And in the ninety minutes that followed, ninety minutes where I stopped looking at power or heart rate or anything except the hub of the wheel in front of me, I threw away all the logic and reasons and silenced the alarm bells going off in my brain clamoring YOU ARE NOT FIT ENOUGH FOR THIS KIND OF JACKASSERY and instead, said firmly back, I WILL NOT GET DROPPED TODAY.  Fuck fitness, fuck good sense, I will rip out my own teeth and spit them over my left shoulder into the slipstream if I have to in order to not lose this wheel.  Every cyclist in the world knows, respects, in a twisted way absolutely lives for this moment.  We stopped to refill bottles and one of my girlfriends said something to me about never seeing me ride this strong, and I laughed but I wanted to cry, I wanted to plant a stake in the ground, THIS is how I ride, THIS is who I am.  And you don’t know me, not at all, if you don’t know that, but of course you don’t know that because I haven’t seen that person in the mirror in a very long time.  
June 8th.  I am, flatly, honestly, exhausted.  I have spent the last five months of my life in pain.  Physical pain, emotional pain, stress, anxiety, it has piled up.  I am out of fight.  All the training I’ve done this year has been walking the tight-rope of what my fragile body will allow me to do.  I feel as if I’ve spent every day of this year bracing against pain.  Every procedure I’ve had, every time a doctor has assured me, it hurts now but you will feel better later!  I’ve spent countless hours laying facedown on a treatment table saying, fuck FUCK fuck fuck fuck, over and over again, squeezing my eyes shut and taking deep breaths because if there is one thing I do not do, it is fucking cry, not me, not in front of you, no matter how excruciating, no matter how big your needles are.  And it has exhausted me.  I stopped going to morning masters for the most part because sleep dragged at me no matter how early I went to bed.  I stopped getting bikini waxes (TMI but fuck off if you actually care) because I couldn't lay on another table tensing against any more pain, not for one more minute, I have completely maxed out my ability to endure.  It has extinguished the fight I have in me, my desire is gone, my flame is out, all these months of trying to be strong.  It has taken away the joy I used to find in training, and fuck racing this has never been about racing.  When I can’t complete a swim without a pull buoy because kicking is irritating my joint, when I start every ride by heading out the door on a Saturday morning telling my husband, I’ll be back somewhere between three minutes and two hours, when I run the first thirty steps down my driveway holding my breath, praying that the pain is low enough on the 1-10 scale that I can make it around the block today, when that is what my life has become, that is when it is time to step away.  So I decided, after this crash, finally, to step away.

And usually when I am forced to take rest, I enjoy it for a day or two and then I start to itch to move, and I’m on day four of this self-imposed break and I feel nothing.  I feel empty, barren, my soul is scorched earth.  Steph Davis talked last year about the difference between endurance and resilience.  She says, enduring is really about being numb..it's about getting the job done instead of falling apart and giving up.  What I have been doing, these last few months, that has been endurance.  Bearing down, accepting pain, living with pain, gritting my teeth and saying, I'm fine go ahead it's fine because I wanted so badly to be healed and also because I refuse to give up.  I can tell you what endurance looks like.  It is laying on a table in running shorts that don't fit, covered in road rash and bruises and aching from head to toe, trying to hold up cheerful conversation while you feel like your eyeball is about to explode because your physical therapist has one finger in your mouth and is doing deep work on the muscles that hold your brain in place.  Explaining how you were turning, sure, but you had both hands on the handlebars and had slowed enough for the stop sign and have good handling skills and weren't even taking any selfies!  And the universe threw you at the ground anyhow.  But really, it's not at all about the crash, it's not the fall that kills you, as the joke says.  It's the sudden stop.
I know how to endure.  I know how to tolerate pain.  I've done ironman seven times, not to mention living a life full of all kinds of other crap, a lot of it tougher than ironman in incomparable ways.  But resilience is different.  And what might look from the outside like giving up, maybe that's actually where resilience starts to grow.  I get that I have a choice, we always have choices.  I could hold on, I could keep pushing, struggling, desperate to force my fragile body through more months of movement, most of which at this point has been stripped of joy.  Or.  I can let go.