Monday, June 27, 2016

on adventure

I am a sentimental person.
A bit of a gross understatement along the lines of sometimes people do not agree on Facebook.  For a long time, I was embarrassed by the deep extent of my emotional, nostalgic, downright cheesy streak.  I have an excellent memory for important events in my life; one of my high school boyfriends and I still argue about which day who said what to who and which song was playing on the radio when it happened back in 1996.  Every important event in my life has music linked to it, emotionally, embarrassingly so.  I can clearly recall the Indigo Girls song that was playing the first time I kissed my now-husband, the Nico & Vinz that played on repeat while training for my first crack at IM Boulder, the Diana Krall that never fails to rip my heart wide open, the Journey song that made my ears ring in the bar down the shore where I first met one of my oldest friends, the Lionel Richie I played on repeat for months after my first silly teenage broken heart, the Lifehouse that got me through my divorce (I warned you, embarrassing), the Barenaked Ladies song that, twenty years later, still instantly transports me back to Blue Bell, windows down, off-key at the top of our lungs trying to cram all the words out.  I remember things, I have a soft spot in my heart for friendship, for old loves, for whatever kind of family you build around you, I believe that the universe is not an accident.  I know that plenty may claim that the whole idea of a universe and a bigger purpose is a tidy bunch of crap but that is not what I, personally, feel to be true.
I crashed my bike, that's where it began.  I spent a couple of days in bed with prescription narcotics, wincing every time I breathed or itched or rolled or sneezed, not sleeping, laying in the dark, staring at the ceiling, thinking.  When a doctor tells you to minimize time in front of tiny screens, it sure does open up a whole lot of time in life these days.  (And all you brats get off my lawn!)  What I was left with felt like another kind of rock bottom.  I was done.  Ready to throw up my hands, to open wide to the sky, beg, please, reveal the lesson already!

So I left.  I felt taunted by the routines of my life (Monday swim lift Tuesday bike run Wednesday swim run...). I woke up two days after the crash, packed a bag and three hours later I was boarding a plane (Southwest points excellent for spontaneity).  Eight hours after that I landed with a friend who lives near the beach.  He didn’t ask any difficult questions but instead gave me a set of keys and pointed me in the direction of the sea.  I slept a lot, I kept to myself, and in some quiet way, I figured out how to grieve so many things that have been lost, finally, to let go and leave it behind, there.
Another handful of days and airports and continents and oceans later, I ended up in Maui with a different friend, one who has been going through the same kind of rough patch over the last little while.  The best kind of friend, the one that you can call and say, life is fucking terrible, and two hours later you get off the phone with a week of vacation booked in Hawaii.  Off we went.  I didn’t think about training for even one second.  We cooked, we ate well, we slept, we explored, we soaked up the sun.  I let my mind and body be still.  I paused, I sat back.  And I swam in the ocean every day.  Not for fitness, not for exercise, not for a reason other than taking selfies with the GoPro there is nothing more healing to my soul than that.  Wading in, dolphin-diving through the break and slowly, gently, stroking along the shore.  We chased schools of fish, climbed on rocks with crabs, and on the last day, swam around the point into a little family of sea turtles, honu, probably eighty years old. Quiet, ears plugged with salt water, dove over and over again, totally buoyant.  I explained to Julie about how honu are a sign of incredible luck, and when we looked it up later that night, somewhere, I read that they also signify endurance and long life, and no matter how lost, they can always find their way back home.
I healed.  A day or two in, we were exploring the north end of the island, taking ridiculous pictures on a cliff into the blasting wind and Julie said to me, in this picture you look like you are laughing harder than you have laughed in a long time.  That’s what it felt like, the whole trip, like I finally remembered how to smile, to laugh, to be.  There is something inside of me that has been twisting for months now and I didn’t even notice until it paused, struggled, and set itself free; the shocking emptiness, a diseased, dead tooth popped neatly from its socket.
I managed to catch a cold on the plane ride home and spent the next few days holed up in bed, still healing.  Waiting patiently for my body to say: I am ready.  What I’m learning, what I’ve lived is that life is a series of setbacks and comebacks, the critics have that right at least.  I realized at some point that this entire setback has felt like failure.  That is what I have been carrying around for the last six months.  I am injured, I have failed.  Worse, I am a failure.  I have let people down, I have let myself down.  But I can finally, tentatively, say to myself.  Hey.  It doesn’t have to be like that. This is not the real story here.
You don’t get to choose.  Even though, I know, all the inspirational crap says otherwise.  Everything that says that you are in charge of the future, you can design your life, you get to absolutely pick who you want to be and where your path will take you, it’s fucking bullshit.  Because someone dies.  Someone leaves.  You crash your bike, you miss your flight, you break your ribs, you lose, over and over and over.  Your story builds itself around you, despite best-laid plans.  And you have two choices.  To fight it, to rip into resistance.  Or to accept the vulnerability of life and then, do what?  I don’t know.  I haven’t figured that part out just yet.  But I know that there is a choice there.  And I am making it.
Last week, I went and saw a physical therapist, slightly despondent that after two plus weeks of no training or exercise or even walking a little bit briskly, I was still in pain.  Only a little bit frustrated that all the arm-chair quarterbacks who insisted that I was overtrained were wrong, because if eighteen days of rest doesn’t fix my body, what will?  (I’m aware of how illogical this sounds).

We talked.  And something she said steadied me.  She told me to stop.  Stop the massage, stop the core work, stop foam rolling, stop using the mobility ball the stick the lacrosse ball the belt sander, stop self-adjusting three times a day, stop doing 25 clamshells before bed every night, just stop.  Step back.  Let healing happen unassisted.  Let the body do.  I squirmed a little in my chair, unhappy and disbelieving, because if I want to heal I need to WORK at it, right?  I need to be doing everything I can to fix the spiral of injury, seeing every doctor, doing work every day, strengthening massaging mobilizing activating, work.  That's what I've been doing all spring, and as I said it, I could hear how it has exhausted, strained me.  And she said, no.  That the body needs a certain amount of tightness to work properly.  That MY body is clearly trying to find this stability and every time I massage a muscle and loosen it up, it’s going to clamp back down twice as hard.  And I am confident that I do not need to deconstruct this metaphor but it was a hammer to the head, cartoon-style, the lightbulb went on.  My body is telling me, it is not time yet.  I am not ready.  So my wandering adventure continues.
I am a sentimental person.  And it does not escape my notice or commentary that I am writing this blog post as I fly to Spokane to support my athletes racing this weekend, that I will roll in town pretty close to the exact minute that I crossed the finish line there for the first time, four years ago tonight.  Ironman isn't for everyone.  Right now, it may not be for me, and that has finally become okay.  I think it will come back around.  I think it may come back to me, if I let it go.  The universe chimes.  I believe in it.  And I have to believe in a universe that wants me to find my way.
This weekend, I will swim in the lake.  Maybe I'll ride, I might even run a few minutes on the roads of Coeur d’Alene.  I’ll try and connect with all the reasons why this sport is where my heart beats, this incredible deck of indescribable emotion that we, as athletes, constantly try and fail to put into words.  I'll continue this adventure I started when I went down into the road almost three weeks ago, the one that has already gone further to heal me than any amount of therapy, physical or otherwise.  I’ll stay quiet, I will make peace with a body that I have fought so hard these last few months, and I will hope.  Because even after all of this, I still have this.  Hope. 

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'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.