I thought I knew pain. I had had my share of it — from hip arthritis to sprained ankles to gallstones and two bouts of childbirth. But nothing has been like the past two weeks of astonishing, electrifying pain that has nearly disabled my every activity.
It started so innocuously. There was an enticing looking trampoline in the back yard of a house we were renting to celebrate our 25th anniversary. I climbed on to bounce with friends, no more than a few minutes.
But the morning after that two-minute jump, I woke up and found that my neck and upper back felt stiff and tweaky, like I’d slept on my pillow wrong. I figured it would go away as soon as I started moving around and loosening things up.
I was wrong. I entered, for the first time in my life, a growing, debilitating, excruciating pain that just would not go away. By the fourth night,I wasn’t able to sleep in my bed any longer. I was up every two hours, crying, only able to find intermittent relief if I rolled around on the floor with a lacrosse ball wedged underneath my shoulder blades.
I applied blue ice and microwaved, aromatherapy shoulder wraps. I got a plastic goose hook with a sharp beaky hook, and the only thing that allowed me to tolerate walking around was simultaneously digging that thing into my upper back, poking and clawing at the relentless spasm. A sweet friend came over and gave me a wonderful shiatsu treatment and when she left, I was comfortable lying on blankets on the floor. I dozed off feeling blissed out. But when I got up, the pain returned.
The only thing that gave me pure relief was regular doses of Percocet which allowed me to drift into comfortable sleep. The minute I put myself into a sitting or standing position for more than five minutes, the chewing, clawing sensation resumed.
I have learned many things during this Time of Pain. Things I never really appreciated until now. I learned that:
Pain is expensive. During this period of pain, I had to give up hundreds of dollars for concert tickets I had paid for. Nobody on Craigslist or Facebook wanted to see Jackson Browne as badly as I had. Ditto for a triathlon I had registered for (I went, driven by someone else, to cheer on my friends who had signed up to support me). Ditto for a hotel room I had pre-paid to stay in for a friend’s out of town wedding. It has added up big time, all these things I paid for when I assumed I would be active and well.
Pain is boring.Not only for me, wandering from one horizontal surface to another, but for the kind people who ask me every morning,”How do you feel?” and getting the same tired, dogged answer every time. “Not so great.” I wonder how long these friends will want to stick around when I am not the upbeat, active person I was before that damn trampoline.
Pain is on its own timeline. It seems like maybe it’s getting better. My husband (who has been a saint, and given new meaning to the words “in sickness and in health”) observes that at least now I am “comfortable at rest” instead of “agonizingly uncomfortable no matter what position.” But two weeks into it, I want to be better than able to lie around on my back all day. I need to get up and out and around. I need to be able to drive my car without crazy discomfort or narcotic wooziness. Pain doesn’t give a shit about my schedule, my calendar, my job or my plans.
Pain doesn’t show on the outside. After I employ Lamaze breathing techniques to endure a shower, toweling off, getting dressed and drying my hair, numerous optimistic acquaintances have exclaimed, “You look so much better!” But I am cringing from the stabbing red-hot poker that is assaulting that area between my scapula and my thoracic spine. They don’t notice that it doesn’t take longer than me for ten minute to end up on the floor again, seeking out the ball, the foam roller, the ice bag. I know that I looked “fine” when I was cheering my buddies on at See Jane Tri, but I was feeling terrible. I had to stop several times to roll on a picnic bench.
Chronic pain is absolutely debilitating. I am a physical therapist. I used to work primarily with people who had endured years and years of pain. I think about them now. I think about how they used to relay their stories to me and weep. How I didn’t really understand the depth of the mental and emotional exhaustion that pain can exact on a human being. It has only been two weeks for me, but I see that this could be a long road.
Pain is mysterious. Nobody can explain, really, why it hurts the way that it does. Maybe it is a rotated or twisted thoracic vertebrae, out of alignment with a rib. Maybe it is a neuro-electrical loop that won’t close or stop. Maybe it is muscle spasm. Maybe it is the “moderate narrowing” of my cervical spine, pressing on my spinal nerves. Maybe it just IS. Many people can jump and fling themselves around on a trampoline to no ill effects.
As I write this, I don’t know how or when I will feel “normal” again. When I will be able to effortlessly bathe, or eat a meal, let alone drive around in my car all day and practice as a home health physical therapist. When I will be able to swim in open water, ride a bike or run a 5k race. All of these things are like dreams to me now. All I can do is take each moment, each moment of discomfort, to try and learn someting, try and find a shred of compassion for myself and this situation. All I can do is ask for patience and a bit of relief.
I wonder how you think I’ve been treating you lately. I admit it isn’t the same intense, hot love that we had back in 2009 when all I thought about was you, all I dreamed about was you. I know, I was kind of borderline obsessed with you, but that was only because I’d neglected you for like, decades, and you gave me that big scare that made me think you were leaving me forever.
I admit that the last year has been kind of bumpy. I know that I sort of was giving lip service to the fact that I cared about you, but that sometimes my actions spoke otherwise. That was not so great of me.
I really want you to stick around. For a long, long time. I think I’ve been trying to figure out all the different things that I need in order to keep you around. I used to think that you would only love me if I exercised all the time and was really strict about what I ate. But then I realize that you are more attached to me than I ever realized and that if I didn’t take care of all of the parts of me, then you would suffer too.
I’m realizing so many more things about our relationship lately – that you need to sleep and rest. That you actually LIKE it if I take time to write. I used to think you were jealous of my writing and that I couldn’t spend time with my writing and have you too. I didn’t really get that you guys are like BFFs. Wow.
I used to think that you only liked doing a few things and I think maybe our relationship got into a little rut and I started feeling bored. I didn’t realize that you liked doing so many of the same things that I do.
Did you know that I’ve been writing about you for 8 days in a row? (how’s that for attention? are you feeling it??) And I’m going to be doing it for the WHOLE month of November. I know! You must be in shock.
Guess what? Some of my favorite people are also writing about their health, too. Isn’t that cool?
Anyway, I just wanted to acknowledge that I was not the best friend I could’ve been. I was trying, but you know how you can be trying and still be sort of “off.” My intentions were good but hey, this is a really long term relationship and sometimes we just make mistakes. I think I can say that I learned from them.
Let me ask you. What did you think of that triathlon training last year? I know it was pretty badass. YOU were a badass and you did things I really never believed were possible. But I also think I was beating up on you a bit too. I don’t know. Maybe it was my mind beating up on both of us. I still have to mull that one over.
This next year, let’s do some more running. Like a couple of half marathons. You want to go to Disneyland again? Let’s dress up for the Tinker Bell Half. I promise it won’t be anything dumb, just something fun and comfortable. Definitely a tutu and maybe some wings? Or just sparkles.
Then I’m going to take you on a half marathon tour of OUR TOWN – yeah, the Oakland Half Marathon! We’re going to see so many of our friends. I’m super excited about this one.
I’m reallly excited to train, with like a REAL running coach, and a team, this time. I know how dumb it was to try to drag you out for half marathons in the past (remember Las Vegas? Yeah I don’t want to either) when I didn’t really know what the heck I was doing. But you should be pleased to know I’ve joined Team in Training again and we’re going to do it RIGHT! With lots of cowbell and support. And of course you know this means you’ll be wearing a lot of purple in the months to come. Heh.
Well, body, we’ve been through a lot. I want to let you know I appreciate you. I’m going to be taking better care of you. I know you’re feeling kind of tight and that you’ve got some aches and pains. I’m going to get that taken care of. Maybe some PT. Maybe some Pilates. I’m not going to ignore you when you’re crying. I love you!
That’s it for now. I like writing to you. Now the question is – are you going to write me back?
Today’s guest post is by Julia Jones – triathlete and running coach. Alongside Shauna “Dietgirl” Reid she created Up & Running online running courses for women. They invited me to be a stop on their Blog Tour this week.
It’s easy to feel discouraged when you’ve had a terrible training session or run a rubbish race, but these less than perfect scenarios can help make you a stronger athlete! Coach Julia explains all…
This last spring I ran several half marathons as part of my buildup to a June 70.3 Half Ironman. The 70.3 finishes with a thirteen mile run, and that’s after swimming over a mile and biking fifty-six. I wanted to get comfortable with the 21K distance so that it just rolled out automatically at the end of my triathlon. I figured the best way to do that, besides my normal training plan, was to run the distance several times before the actual race.
I signed up for three smaller half marathons and then got offered a place in the Milan Marathon. I figured I could just conveniently duck out at the 21km mark.
I checked the weather forecast the day before the race: rain. Pouring rain. All day and all night. It was April so not freezing cold, but not exactly toasty warm. I packed a pair of gloves, a long sleeved shirt and a visor to keep the rain off my glasses, then took the train to Italy’s northern capital.
There was drizzle on the windowpanes on the ride up, then a torrential downpour as I dragged my bags through the streets to the hotel. Later at dinner in the hotel restaurant hail pelted on the roof.
The next morning dressed in my running garb I looked out the window and saw that nothing had changed during the night.
The heavens opened up yet again at the start line as thousands of runners huddled together waiting for the gun to go off. As I ran the first mile I asked myself the question that a few of you might be thinking now… “Why the heck are you doing this?”
For the next two soggy hours I jumped over puddles and had to run through a few. When I pulled out at thirteen miles, mission accomplished, I ran to the changing tent to get into some dry clothes then watch the finish. I stuck around for about three seconds – I was drenched again and had really had enough rain for the day. Maybe for the rest of the year!
In psychology there’s a term known as Resilience, which is our ability to cope with stress and adversity. The more we subject ourselves to situations that are difficult or just a litte more of a reach over our emotional or physical abilities, the better we get at handling them. They say that Resilience is a process, not a trait. You’re not born with Resilience, it’s something you can actually train and develop, from whatever level you happen to be starting from.
I’ve seen women develop their Resilience lesson after lesson in our Up & Running courses. At first it can feel like a huge struggle just to get out the door for a training session. But after a few weeks it becomes routine. Then they start building their Resilience through races. The 5k becomes 10k. Those building blocks stack up until they’re doing things they’d never dreamed of…
I develop my own resilience by dragging myself out of bed in the early hours of dawn, or by running races in the pouring rain. Countless times I’ve drawn upon that triumphant feeling of running through a storm to get through a difficult patch in a race, or a day that didn’t start off well.
It’s also helped me recognize that no experience is ever wasted; no matter how difficult it may seem in the moment. It’s a building block onto better things and you’ll always come out a winner!
Julia Jones lives in Italy and is coach at Up & Running. They offer e-courses for super-new and seasoned runners tackling 5K, 10K and half-marathon runs with expert coaching, awesome training plans and vibrant community support. Julia’s has rocked 33 marathons, 2 half Ironmans and numerous triathlons and is a columnist in Italy’s most popular running magazine.
Want to build up your own running resilience? Get a helping hand with Up & Running’s next e-courses which start 3 September.
Finally – an old fashioned blog post that isn’t a race recap! How ’bout that! I’ve been so busy lately at my newish job – which I really like – but which requires so much paperwork that often at night I am catching up on doing that rather than blogging. I’ve missed it.
Anyway, today I was having an awesome run in the cool foggy woods (we are soooooo lucky to not be in the Heat Wave) and I was mulling over a couple of things (great things to do during a run). I ended up doing several kick-ass hill repeats, which made me feel so strong and happy. And I realized that part of the reason I was doing hill repeats is that last night when I went to see President Obama (!!!!!!!!!) I ended up running into two of my triathlon coaches, Holly and Mark. It was so great to see them. We were all pumped up for this fantastic event.
I think seeing them stayed with me a little bit this morning. So when I saw a hill coming up in front of me, I didn’t slow to a walk as I generally do. I charged UP the hills, especially the steepest ones. And it felt so good. And I felt like part of me had been sparked by seeing them last night, and remembering the hill repeats we did during training, and I wanted that feeling again. I often don’t push myself hard when I’m alone. But I felt “triggered” somehow – in a good way- to do this, thinking of the ways they had pushed me beyond my (perceived) limits.
At Weight Watchers, we often refer to the word “trigger” in a negative way; ie “trigger foods” are those that can start an avalanche of bingey or unhealthy eating. We eat one cracker with peanut butter and before we know it, the jar is gone, or we’ve then gone and eaten half the pantry along with it. Stuff like that. But in this case, I felt like I was “triggered” to do something positive, to do something MORE than I would’ve done without it. I felt kind of shot out of a cannon this morning. And I think it was a combination of things. I was still all high from seeing the President. I had been in contact with my triathlon training coaches. I remembered seeing the TNT Marathon team in the same park on Sunday, and this sign.
(Same statistic goes for triathlons, I think!)
So that combination of “triggers” (as well as getting a text message from a running buddy this morning) all conspired to get me going, out the door, on the trail and not only on the trail but doing hill repeats. And it reminded me of how important it is to be part of a community that shares my healthy and active goals. It pops up and helps me in so many ways.
Another phrase we use at Weight Watchers is “anchors.” Anchors are positive reminders, people, thoughts or images that “anchor” or ground us and keep us from floating off-track or away from our goals. But I also thought about feeling an anchor as a heavy weight, sometimes dragging me down, keeping me stuck to couch or bed or routine.
Triggers and anchors. They can help us or hinder us both. What are yours?
Today I saw the official race results for the See Jane Run 5k I did this weekend. They made me happy. Overall, I came in #681 out of 1,475 runners in the 5k. That was in the top 50%!
I mentioned this to the family and stated that it felt better than my results for Wildflower, where I came in 776 out of 786. That’s right, I was tenth from dead last. While people can say all they want that I was miles or millions ahead of all the people who didn’t do a triathlon at all – still, it feels psychologically different. I know I’ll never WIN a race, and part of me certainly does believe that “finishing is winning” – but damn, I don’t really ever want to come in last. And I don’t like being that close to last, either. I like feeling like I am in the middle of the pack, and if I am just a smidge toward the front, then all the better.
These things are all so silly and arbitrary but at the same time, they DO mean something. Otherwise people wouldn’t be so hot to see their results, and they wouldn’t use computer chips and all kinds of fancy technology to track it all. It does matter to someone. It matters to me.
During (and after) I ran this “little” 5k on Sunday, I felt strong. I felt capable. I felt proud of myself. When I’m struggling with all my might and I’m so close to the end of the pack, it’s just that… a struggle. I have to talk myself into feeling proud. I’m physically beat and NOT feeling strong.
This weekend I vowed to mostly participate in races where I can have that strong feeling. Which means not getting in over my head, or going in undertrained or unprepared. I think it just does more harm than good. I really wish I could do See Jane Tri in September, but darn it, I just found out it’s the same weekend as Fitbloggin, which I can’t miss for anything. So.. maybe another time. And maybe another tri.
What do you think? Does it matter to you what your results are when you run a race, or are you truly just in it for fun? Do you even LOOK at your results?
So my second triathlon is done. This experience was so very different than the first in so many ways. Starting with the training. When I did my first tri last fall, I was so religious about completing every single assigned workout, both the coached and OYO (on your own) ones. This time, not so much. Not so much at all. This season was plagued by illness, injury, travel, job changes, distractions from every direction. So about halfway through the season I decided to switch from the Maui Olympic Tri to the Wildflower Sprint (aka Mountain Bike).
I’d heard scary stories about Wildflower – mostly about its brutal hills and the sheer size of the event. The Marin Tri had about 500 people total, and Wildflower was something like 13,000. YIKES. I’d heard that the Mountain Bike course was as hard as an Olympic anywhere else. But it felt like my only option other than dropping out completely, which I did not want to do.
So I entered Wildflower Weekend with no small amount of apprehension, but determined to give it my best shot. Did I mention that Wildflower has been dubbed the “Woodstock of triathlons”? That’s because there are thousands of people camping out the whole weekend, with kids and dogs and Port a Potties and the whole works. Which makes it unique – on one hand, it’s kind of rough not having all the familiar comforts of home in which to prepare for a race. On the other hand, it IS a totally bonding experience.
Saturday had two events: the Sprint/Mountain Bike course, and the Half Ironman Long course. I was (no doubt) doing the first one, which consisted of a 450 meter swim, 9.7 mile trail/road ride, and a 2 mile run. I’m going to be honest and say that training for this event has been kind of lonely and a tad demoralizing. Out of our team of 40+ participants, there were often only 2 of us training for the Sprint at any given time. So it felt “uneven” to say the least, and even though nobody ever explicitly said so, I often felt “less than” the people who were training for the Oly or the Long Course. It wasn’t until I actually entered race weekend and knew that there were 500 other MB course participants, that I felt like it was a legitimate event.
As it turned out, there were 4 of us from our team doing the Mountain Bike course. One of my buddies, Ayala, who is also doing Maui, decided to sign up for the MB course at the last minute. She has an incredibly big heart and generous spirit and has been a huge encourager for me during our workouts. I met another woman who lives far from us and so hasn’t been at a lot of our team trainings. She turned out to be awesome and we have a lot in common. So it felt exciting to load up our bikes and tri bags and head out of camp together on Saturday morning. The whole team gathered around to see us off and cheer us, and the energy was just great.
We got down to transition which was super huge and crowded. At Marin Tri, we basically had what was equivalent to a walk-in closet for our transition space; and here, it was more like a shoebox.
But I managed to organize things pretty neatly. Then we got our race numbers (and ages!) marked in permaSharpie on our bodies. We had a good couple of hours before the race started, and it was beginning to get HOT, so we waited a good long while to put on our wetsuits.
When we had done this swim at training weekend, it had been “just right” – not easy, but not impossible. I was able to keep swimming, swimming, and it just ended pretty quickly. So I was feeling maybe a tad overconfident about the swim. I had never been in a situation where I was swimming with SO many people who are thrashing around in the water. The swim start at big races has been compared to a washing machine, a blender, etc., and I never had experienced that.
That was what happened this time. First we got to splash around, get water in our suits, pee (hah!), and otherwise get warmed up for a few minutes. I was feeling pretty good. Then we splashed back to land to wait for the air horn. BLEEEP. I dove in to start out my “gentle-kind” routine. So far, so good. I was going slow, but I was relaxed.
Then, when I was almost at the turnaround buoy, the horn sounded for the Blue Group behind us. I don’t know what their age group was, but they were FAST. And they overcame me within a minute. Suddenly there were bodies coming at me, and when I turned my head and saw them like a pack of sharks, something inside me just flipped. I was momentarily paralyzed. I started panting and then wheezing and then, well… you know. I headed for shelter at the first kayak I could find. I tried to find my calm happy place but it was not readily findable. The young woman in the kayak was very patient and kind and at some point I knew I had to push off. But I was rattled by that time and I pretty much spent the rest of the swim going from kayak to kayak. I lost a lot of time, and I think I got a little seasick. By the time I got out of the water I was feeling pretty demoralized and a little woozy. Not to mention the fact that I had to keep my goggles on back to transition because I’m blind without my glasses.
I stumbled back to transition and saw Ayala and Liney waiting for me, all ready for the bike portion. I just didn’t want them to wait around for me because I was feeling so shaky I wasn’t sure how long transition would take. I knew they had been ready to go for a while. So I waved them on and began stripping off my wetsuit and booties. I think I was a little out of it. I kept putting on my running cap instead of my bike helmet. I was moving very slowly. I was there for more than 10 minutes (ouch) but then finally I was on the bike and ready to go.
I was very nervous about the bike portion but it turned out to be not so bad. It was slow, but I just pushed through pretty slowly and steadily. I even passed a few people. (which absolutely never, ever happened during the swim) I didn’t get off and walk on the road hills, even when I saw other people walking (I always assume if anyone has to walk, then I do). I only walked during the very last hilly trail part that was kind of on loose sand, very hard to get a grip on. It was when I was walking that it hit me again, that I was feeling kind of hot and sick. I took a minute to stand under a tree and drink some water from an aid station. Then it was the long steep hill DOWN (wheeeee) and back to transition.
Transition #2 took me less time – 6 minutes – still SUPER slow but at least not in the double digits and I was off for the “run.” Haha. At this point I knew I was near the tail end of the sprint field. I could just tell. The run portion was only two miles – a mile out and back – with a few little short climbs. I decided to just try my best to jog/run as much as I could during the flats and downhills, and to walk the ups. That plan worked fairly well. When I was going out, I ran into Ayala and Liney who were on the way back to finish. I was so happy to see them! Since I had taken SO LONG on the swim, I had felt like I was doing the majority of the course alone out in the wilderness. At the mile turnaround, there was a great volunteer with a water hose who sprayed me down. That felt awesome.
The last mile in to the finish wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible. I alternated walking and running and I could pretty much hear the announcer the whole time. One of my feet was hurting but it wasn’t like agony. I wasn’t DYING. I just didn’t feel super sprightly. By the time I got to the finish chute (longest finish I’ve ever seen!!) I felt like I was able to keep up a steady jog and enough to raise my arms and have a happy crossing of the line rather than crawling over half dead.
I finished! I was happy to see my coaches and a bunch of my teammates at the finish line. They had these awesome towels soaked in ice water which they draped over our heads. That felt SO GOOD. I mean, SO GOOD. I think that towel was one of the highlights of my day.
I was happy to get my finisher’s medal knowing I had finished every inch of that course. I had endured, I had completed every part of it, albeit slowly, and I finished. That felt good.
The entire thing had taken me about an hour and a half. I wasn’t brave enough to look at my results until today, but they pretty much confirmed what I had thought. My swim was by far my slowest portion, and the part where I really, really fell way behind the pack. It was all that stopping and wheezing and hanging onto kayaks. I was pretty much one of the last ones out of the water. The bike portion fared just a tiny bit better, but again, I was so behind. The run was my strongest as far as comparison with other participants went. I guess maybe some people walked the whole thing but I did pretty much a 50-50 split.
For someone whose training looked more like holes than cheese this season, I think it was not so bad. It certainly could have been a lot better and I only wonder what would have happened if I had trained as consistently as I did last time. But I didn’t, for a variety of reasons both in and out of my control. I’m not gonna beat myself up over it. I just finished my 2nd triathlon!
One thing I feel proud of is dedicating my triathlon to the amazing Christie O., who inspired me when I was first thinking about doing a triathlon in the first place. She was just diagnosed with the “cansuh” and this weekend had been dedicated to swimming, biking and running in her honor while she underwent surgery. Christie had sent me a superhero cape after I finished my first tri, and I wore it proudly this weekend. This one was for you, Christie!
This weekend has given me a lot of time to contemplate and think about what I want to do next, and how I want to do it. In many ways this tri was better than my last, and in other ways it was much worse. Here are my thoughts for the next time around (and yes, there will be a next):
My next goal is to ENJOY every minute of my next triathlon. Which means choosing an event that is not out of my range of comfort and ability. (Marin was really probably too long for me, and Wildflower probably a tad too big and hilly, given my training) Of course, no tri is ever EASY, but I would love for it to be an enjoyable challenge, if that makes sense. I’m thinking of doing a sprint-distance ‘Tri for Fun” and really focus on the fun. I did this at the Tinkerbell Half Marathon – I wanted to enjoy it and have FUN, and it really was.
I hereby solemnly swear to only do events that I have appropriately trained for. Enough said.
I love Team in Training- I really, really do – but this season was a challenge on many levels. There were only a miniscule fraction of people training for Sprint distance tri this time, and that made for a kind of lonely and weird experience. I often felt like I had to stretch to do the Olympic workouts, even after I had decided I wasn’t doing an Olympic event anymore.
I think that TNT Tri training, in its current form, does not really truly have a well-fitting program for novice/beginning/developing/SLOW/older/weaker triathletes. I think about the Walk Team program that they have. (and which I participated in) For many people on that team, it is a LIFE GOAL to WALK a half marathon. It’s a crowning achievement. And they take those people, and they train them to start at square one (walking a mile) and they slowly work up to Walking a Half Marathon. They don’t have them doing the same program as full marathoners or runners.
In (my) ideal world – and I have no idea if TNT will or would ever offer this – there would be a separate team, and coaching, JUST for Sprint Triathletes. Who are starting from square one, much like walking half marathoners. And the whole idea would be that their culminating event, their big Kahuna, would be a sprint triathlon. There would be no 27 mile bike rides or mile long swims. Maybe a practice sprint tri to put it all together. And they would be SO well prepared for a Sprint, it could be that challenging but joyful event.
As it was, I always felt like I was in over my head and I often felt embarrassed or ashamed to be “only” doing the Sprint. The training workouts were never really designed for a Sprint distance. Sometimes a Sprint workout would show up on the calendar, but that was mostly for the OYO (on your own) workouts. The big coached workouts were long and grueling and pretty much designed for the Olympic and Half Iron distances. It could be a chicken and egg thing – there is not a real emphasis on Sprint training because 95% of the participants are doing Oly and HI. But I bet if TNT put a real emphasis on “Everyone can do a triathlon!” and really invited beginning athletes to give it a try/tri, I think it could happen.
I’m not blaming any of the coaches or staff. They were patient and encouraging with me and my neverending Issues. Nonetheless, as a sprint distance athlete I often felt like a second class citizen, and either invisible or ignored. At the campfire the night before our event, there was a great rallying pep talk about the Long Course (half Ironman) the next day – what to expect, what it would be like, how to psych up for it, etc. There wasn’t a word mentioned about the Mountain Bike course and what the four of us should expect. It was really all about the half-iron athletes and this huge thing they were facing (true). I felt invisible and again, ashamed, for being Less of an athlete. In a team where EVERYone was doing the MB course, that just wouldn’t have happened.
This ended up going much longer, and more philosophical than I’d planned, but there ya go. I think that’s what happens when blogging falls off for various reasons – when you start up again, there’s just too much to say.
What else? I love my 30th anniversary Wildflower medal. I love the bonding experience of that intense weekend with my teammates. I love the team and the fact that people are doing this for so much more than their own selves. I loved being a mentor and seeing the amazing changes that individuals underwent. On balance, it turned out to be a wonderful experience, but it’s given me a lot to contemplate for the future.
Man, I am the biggest triathlon Scrooge alive. Bah! Humbug! I’ve been grumbling and grousing and moaning pretty much all season. I’m the slowest runner. I’m the struggliest swimmer and the huffy-puffiest biker. And I’ve had the convenient excuses of injury, illness and schedule to keep me from doing a lot of the really hardest workouts. Part of me has just been DYING for Wildflower to be over so that I can get back to my regularly scheduled life, whatever that is.
But yesterday I just felt so glad and happy to be doing this and to be on this team. We were scheduled to do an open water swim plus bike ride. Originally, it was to take place at a further lake that has bike trails, and there was a 20 mile mountain bike ride included. I just kind of absorbed that info and made the mental note to bring my mountain bike. But when the workout location changed, I didn’t quite figure out that there wasn’t going to be a mountain bike component.
I hadn’t really quite realized the difference between riding a long course with a mountain bike with knobby wheels, and with a nice light little road bike. At this point I now am in possession of THREE separate bikes (I know, hilarious, right?) and I took the biggest, heaviest, most brutal-to-ride one.
The Olympic distance ride was 27.1 miles. I think I never really expected to do the whole thing, and that I would find some convenient spot around 10 miles out to turn around.
First the swim happened. I didn’t swim because I was on “water craft” duty. Which means kayaking around the swimmers and offering a place for people to hang onto. You know what? I almost always hang onto the kayak. I almost always need to. But yesterday I was impressed (and a little embarrassed) that absolutely NOBODY came near me for a breather, let alone to get pulled back to shore. My team is so freaking strong!! So I was fairly useless just paddling around out there. But it was fun. I love kayaks. I think I want to get one of my own.
I was pretty much the last one out of the water since I was providing “water safety.” Everyone had long gone on their bikes. I changed out of my wetsuit stuff and into my bike stuff and took off.
It was a long, long, pretty much on my own ride, until coach Holly caught up with me. Good thing she did because right before that, my course map had blown out of my pocket and I had no clue where to go. She became my human GPS and cheerleader, keeping me company or waiting for me at crucial intersections. We rode wayyyyyy out into the hills past vineyards and horse farms and long stretches of not much except pretty flowers.
Wimpy me, I had thought in my head that there was NO WAY I was going to do this whole ride. Especially on a mountain bike. And being wayyyy last. But I just kept chugging along. And counting each pedal stroke up the hills. When I was about 3/4 of the way through I was acutely aware that this ride was going to go down as my LONGEST bike ride EVER. I never completed the whole course at the Marin triathlon, and I had managed to miss most of the long rides due to absence or injury, so this was the longest by a LONG distance.
I thought for sure that everyone was going to be gone when I finally made it back to the parking lot, except for Lily and Eduardo (who I carpooled with), and of course coach Holly, who had stuck by me the whole way. But when I started the descent down into the parking lot, I could hear people cheering and see little figures jumping up and down and I suddenly got the feeling I might start bawling again. It was a huge moment! And then people were saying all these encouraging things about “OMG you did that all on a MOUNTAIN bike?” and one of my teammates, who I didn’t even think knew my name, came up to me and said I should be so proud of myself for what I accomplished and that I could use this moment as a touchstone “on and off the course.” I was blown away and so moved and suddenly I just felt so grateful for Team and for myself for not giving up and for coach Holly and all of it.
Today I did a 5k race with more teammates. And I just felt happy to be alive and moving, albeit slowly ;-).
This week Mr. McBody and I are taking a long awaited trip to Nicaragua and I will have my running shoes but really no way to bike or swim until Event weekend. It’s kind of a shame to be leaving just as I am getting “warmed up” but that’s the way it happened this time. I’m already thinking … maybe… next time? Run team? Hike team? Tri team?? I’m going to take a break after this one for sure, but who knows how long that break will be.
I went into this training weekend for the Wildflower Tri with a great amount of trepidation and maybe some (?) dread. It was already conflicting with a conference that is very important to me and that only takes place every two years (and in California, which never happens!). My buddy Lily wasn’t going to be there because she was in Phillly accepting this huge award. (GO LILY!)
I performed at the conference on Thursday and got to see a friend/author give the keynote speech. Then on Friday morning I had to hit the road early so I could get to the campground while there was still daylight. Yeah, they call Wildflower the “Woodstock of triathlons” because there are thousands of people camping out foot to nose, and there’s a ton of mud and maybe rain and no hotels for miles. I mean MILES. It just isn’t feasable.
I thought that the campground place was only 3 hours away from where the conference was in Southern California (MAN do I live in a huge state!) but it turned out to be six hours away.
Luckily I got there in time to set up my tent while it was still light out. I was feeling just a teeny bit cranky because I was so sad to leave the conference, but I guess I’m one of those “love the one your with” people because pretty soon I was able to shift gears/transition (haha – puns intended) into being with the team and my mentees. We all chipped in to make a group dinner and then we had a meeting with all the other Bay Area TNT tri teams who were there for training weekend. There were a LOT of folks there! I got introduced to the two (TWO!) other people doing the Sprint/Mountain Bike distance, along with Coach Tom, who was going to be our personal coach for the weekend (nice thing about doing sprint, you get a ton of personal attention!). Everyone else was either doing the Olympic or the Half Ironman. I was not wishing I was in either of those groups.
Our coach Dave is a real joker. Even though our swim practice was not supposed to begin until 10:00am, he woke us up at 5:30am by blasting the Darth Vader theme song and walking around the campground with his boom box. NICE. I took my sweet time opening my eyes to the darkness and crawling out of the tent. It was freezing. BOY it was freezing. Like, 37 degrees freezing? And we were going to go swimming? Right.
We did manage to get out of the tents, make some coffee, blink in the sunrise, and get a good breakfast in in plenty of time. I guess that was the point. Coach wanted to make sure we had ample time to go to the bathroom (always very important on race morning!), get all our gear organized and get our heads on straight.
We headed down to the lake around 9:15 for a little pep talk and swim clinic and to get our wetsuits on. I met up with Coach Tom and the other sprinters. He pointed out the orange buoy which we were to swim around. The mile buoy was pretty much out of sight. I was very glad that was not my destination. I wriggled into my wetsuit and swim booties, my Squid Lid and goggles, and hoped that I was not going to have any major panic attacks or breathing issues. Then we waddled out to the pier and jumped in the lake two by two.
It was cold. But it wasn’t PAINFUL cold. People were shrieking and freaking out all around me. I just bobbed around, got my bearings and started in on my “gentle-kind” swimming routine. All I can say is that it wasn’t impossible, and it wasn’t easy. It just was. There were a few moments when I got a little ragged around the edges and I could hear myself struggling a little, breathing wise. I got to the buoy okay. The trip back to the pier seemed to take freaking forEVER. I could see the little figures of coaches standing on the pier, and for the longest time they didn’t seem to ever get any bigger. But I managed to get there and clamber back onto muddy land.
I stripped off my wetsuit, put on a dry top, helmet, got my bike and was ready/nervous to start out on the mountain bike part.
It was just about 10 miles, but.. mountain bike. Hills. Bumpy stuff. Ack. Coach Tom met up with me and the other two women and he was just so reassuring and calming. He’s a big tall bearish guy and very, very calming. He said, “we’re just gonna go out there and have fun.” He was going to be our personal tour guide of the Mountain Bike route and just show us all the turns and changes. I was so so nervous and anxious about this part. In my head I was thinking, if this doesn’t go well, then I’m done. I’m just gonna drop out of racing altogether (for the Wildflower) and I’ll come back as a cheerleader only. We took off. The first part was nice and flat, along the lake, very scenic. OK. Good start. Then we got to this pretty steep hill. I went to switch gears and… switched in the WRONG DIRECTION. Um. Which ground me to a complete halt and I had to get off and push, panting. Boo.
Next hill, I knew better, so I was able to grind up the hill, really hard breathing, but I made it. YAY! More ups and downs, trail riding, bump bump, rocks and holes and sticks and stuff, but I dealt with it. Then there were the hills. They looked like this.
You can see that there are two really big uphills there. They were… intense. But I just set my bike into the lowest gear and counted. One to ten, over and over. I really tried to dig deep. I knew that if I stopped, or got off, my legs were going to protest and that would be the end of it.
And you know what? I stayed on the whole time, through both those big hills and then the final one at the end. See the super steep downhill? That was crazy steep DOWN at the very end. I bawled my face off on that whole downhill. I couldn’t believe I had done it. And I realized that doing the Mountain Bike Tri was not the wimpy thing I had thought. It had taken pretty much all I had. By the time I got down to the parking lot finish I was a huge blubbery mess.
I really have to thank big Coach Tom for seeing me through that day. He was patient, and reassuring, and kind, and I knew that he believed in us. He was a real Ito-Whisperer and I was so amazingly grateful. I found him by his car and bawled some more. And then I felt like I could really do it, and that it was just right – not too hard, not impossible, but not a piece of cake either. It was a pretty overwhelming feeling given all of my doubts and fears this time.
Yeah, my teammates ended up doing the Olympic and Half Iron distances. They’re a bunch of rockstars. But it doesn’t take away how good it felt to be doing the race that felt right for me right now.
It felt awesome to go back to camp and take a lukewarm (brrr) shower.
Getting through that bike ride/swim combo was soooooo huge for me. Huge! The hugest! I am now really looking forward to the tri on May 5th. It’s gonna be awesome. I am also realizing that maybe the Sprint is “my” distance. I don’t have to worry about bonking or getting super dehydrated. (plus, I did remember to hydrate and fuel well this time) I can really challenge myself without half dying. I can feel proud of it.
I had the opportunity to talk to quite a few people this weekend about my “downgrading” to Sprint distance and I’ve come out feeling so much more positive and confident about it. It’s not a stupid wimpy thing for losers. It’s STILL A TRIATHLON. It’s still a challenge. It’s still freaking badass. I had just lost sight of that when I got all caught up in comparing myself to others and even to my own self. But this weekend proved to me that it’s still a real accomplishment and something to be really proud of. I want to thank all the people who reiterated this to me, who showed me kindness in all of my uncertainty. It has meant the world to me.
On Sunday morning we had our practice run. My race distance is only 2 miles, so a mile out and back. When I got to the turnaround arrows I just wasn’t ready, so I kept going, including a big gnarly hill. I did a total of about 4.5 which felt good. On race day I will definitely just do my alloted 2 but it felt good to push it a little on Sunday. I left the race course feeling good and excited about what’s coming on May 5th. Woo!
Ah, I’ve been gone a long time, haven’t I? People have been noticing. I’ve been getting emails and also in-person inquiries of “How ARE you? You’re not blogging!” It’s true. I have been gone a long time. And I now understand how people can sometimes just evaporate from the blogosophere.
It pretty much started during my Yosemite snowshoe weekend. (actually it started much earlier, but the most current issue started then) I woke up the next morning with a pain at the base of my thumb, near my wrist. I didn’t really give it much thought. But it pretty much persisted for weeks and it kept getting worse. Finally it was keeping me up at night and I was yelping in pain every time I tried to do ANYthing with my left hand. So I went to my good friend who also happens to be a hand physical therapist (handy, huh? no pun intended). She confirmed my suspicions that I had a raging case of DeQuervain’s Tendinitis (see, I *was* paying attention in class 30 years ago!!). I had a “double positive” Finkelstein’s sign and my left wrist was measured to be swollen. She made me a nice splint to keep it in a good neutral position, and prescribed 2 weeks of NO SWIMMING or BIKING. (or anything else that aggravated my condition)
Two weeks of no swimming or biking! But… but… but… I’m training for a triathlon! That was the start of it. At the end of two weeks, my wrist was only about 20% better. AND I came down with a horrible nasty cold thing which had me in bed for a week, and then after that, I was well enough to work but then not well enough to do any kind of workout AFTER work. Two weeks + two weeks = a month.
A month of barely any training other than some jogging put me into a serious funk. I felt awful, and wimpy, and sorry for myself, and pathetic and all sorts of other things. I ate things that seemed to help for about half a second and then made things two hundred percent worse. I spiraled into yuckitude.
I thought about quitting. But I’m a MENTOR. Which makes things so much harder. I think as a regular participant I would have felt fine saying “This is just not my season to do this” and I would have bowed out. I’ve done that with other races in the past and it hasn’t been the end of the world. But I really really struggled with being a horrible role model and bad mentor and blah blah blah.
It took me a long, long, long time to come around to the decision to scrap the Maui Tri plan altogether (complicated by the fact that my buddy Lily had also decided that Maui was not a realistic option for her). Then what was left? Wildflower! The steepest, hilliest, biggest and baddest triathlon around (except for maybe Escape from Alcatraz, which I would not consider under hallucinogenics). I never wanted to do Wildflower. EVER. I was never even the teeniest bit tempted. But guess what? Maui does not have a Sprint distance option. So it looked like it was down to the Wildflower Sprint (otherwise known as “Mountain Bike Course”) or nothing.
When recommitment week came, I sat and stared at those papers for hours. I cried over them and paced around and just did not know what to do. Finally I signed up for the Wildflower Sprint and that’s where we are. I am one of 2 people from our team (2 out of 50) who is doing the sprint option. When it’s that much of a minority, I can’t help feeling kind of out of it, kind of not really part of the “real” team. And so on and so forth.
It’s been a freaking struggle. And it’s been hard to blog about because I’ve just been in this bad place in my head.
But recently things changed sufficiently for me to turn things around a little. One, I realized that Life is Short. This was accentuated by attending two memorial services this weekend, for two men/husbands/life partners of women friends of mine. One passed away after a decade of illness and suffering. The other died suddenly and unexpectedly. Both events were MAJOR wakeup calls. You never know when you will become extremely ill OR when you will be healthy, exercising and eating organic and then die suddenly anyway. So why suffer needlessly?
Last week I realized how much I was dreading certain things in my life. One of which was various aspects of tri training. I decided to stop beating myself up for a million reasons in a million ways. I realized that nobody was holding a gun to my head and MAKING me train for a triathlon. And that the person most responsible for my suffering was ME. (um, duh)
So I decided to cut myself a break. For one, I didn’t force myself to get on the bicycle when my wrist is still hurting. It still hurts me to pick up a cup of coffee, to wash my hair, to pull up my pants. The conservative treatment I’ve been following so far has helped, but not enough. So I’m going to a hand doctor and see if a cortisone shot might not help. It has its risks, but I am ready to move on and try it now.
Last week I went back to my beloved trainer for two workouts. I almost cried it felt so good. I was able to fully use 3/4 of my limbs and I got a crazy workout in. I was a very happy sweatball. I remembered that working out can feel good.
I also realized that there is such a thing as fit. I really like the people on my team, but I also think that the fit is not the best one for me. I am constantly feeling (through my own doing, not theirs) so slow, incapable and wimpy. I am always the last. And while I am not competitive so that I need to WIN (hahahaha), but I also really dislike people having to wait for me to finish while they are standing around. I like being middle-of-the-pack.
This coming weekend is Wildflower Training Weekend. Which is a big wild camping trip in which we get to test out the course, but instead of doing it as a tri we will do the swim/bike on Saturday and the run on Sunday. It is really going to be a test for me, in which I decide, OK, the mountain bike tri is going to be just fine. Or it isn’t. And if it isn’t, I’m just going to let it go. I’m going to be a good mentor and cheerleader and not cry about it anymore.
So this long absence has been a huge learning experience for me. I’ve had a really rough time but I’ve also had some major epiphanies and there’s a lot of change coming, not just with the triathlon training but in other areas of my life. Transition is hard but it gets you to the next place, and that’s a good thing.
I hope that some of you are still around to read this! I’ve missed being here.