Thursday, August 4, 2016

The courage to stop

 On June 28th at 4:40 pm, dressed in my vintage Chinese’s New Year Coeur Sports kit ready for yet another training session, I sat on the floor of my bedroom with my back propped against the foot of my bed and cried. Big, fat, wrinkled chin, squished eyes, ugly crying. Head in my hands, tears streaming my face, I was filled with the sense that this path was not headed towards my dreams. The path I suddenly realized I was on was not building me up and preparing me for the mountain I had fixed my eyes on, rather is was destroying me physically and mentally.

On June 28th, I found the courage to stop.

Truth be told, on June 28th I found the courage to stop mentally, but physically? I needed play, so I headed to the field for a little ultimate Frisbee for the first time in nearly 4 years. It was beyond joyous, but my body soon reminded me that it too needed rest –true, committed and extended rest and rebuilding.

I think there is one force and two factors that warped my path. The force? My relentlessness in pursuing a long term goal. I am driven by a desire to see the limits of this body of mine. This relentlessness had me so focused on my mountain top, that I didn’t notice that the path had become rugged, dangerous, and detoured. I am here because I could not see the whole picture. My factors? Fatigue and injury.

Late August 2015 I started to notice that my body wasn’t absorbing my training. I was putting in solid work, but when it came to recovery I could feel that I was only rebuilding to be where I was before the “tear-down”. I was only maintaining, or maybe even slowly slipping backwards. Mid October I finished my racing season with the greatest physical effort I’ve ever produced and then rested. Two weeks of nothing more than 1 or 2, 30 minute walks per day and then I was back to building.

I went from November 2015 to May 2016 without feeling like I’d gained any fitness or speed. Early on I had a high HR for my training paces –typical of coming back from a rest period, but also an indicator of Overtraining Syndrome. I slogged ahead, respecting the slower paces and just following my HR. By the end of winter I had exchanged a high training HR for a low training HR. I saw a 20 bpm drop in my 20 min FTP test on the bike, at exactly the same power and perceived effort. There was a complete decoupling between my HR and pace/power. My target aerobic HR of 147bpm on the run now took a greater effort and at times a 45 sec/mile faster pace to achieve. I had to push an extra 10 or 20 watts just to get my HR to the aerobic zone on the bike. All the while that feeling of maladaptation from August persisted. And the fatigue. I was just so tired.

It felt as though sleep had become a pause button, rather than the reset button I had once known it to be. I’d hit the bed drowning in fatigue and woke up right where I left off. After a training session I would feel positive and as though I would make it through the day only to crash 30 minutes later. And when I say crash, I mean crash. I’d pull my chair away from my desk and just lay on the floor at work, because laying down was infinitely more doable than sitting up. I couldn’t think. My eyes were heavy and my vision always a challenge to bring into focus. I had to try to amp myself up before meetings and crashed hard after interactions. Sugar and caffeine streamed endlessly into my mouth just to survive my daily work demands. I was just so tired.

The name given to my fatigue? Over training syndrome + adrenal fatigue. The source of the fatigue seems a mystery, but in reality it's just a lot of little things and probably some bad timing between all the stresses that accompany life and training.

One of those major stressors started 4 years ago, just weeks before my second Musselman 70.3. I was out for an easy run and a sudden pain locked up my hip and seemingly robbed me of most of my strength. This pain has twisted and morphed, but it has persisted in some fashion for four years. Daily pain. Frustration on the run, screams on the bike, and tears from simply sitting for more than 20 minutes.

I sought an answer in the first year. What I found wasn't pleasant. ‘Bad hips’ and a life sentence from Rochester’s premier hip guy. Fair enough. I was given the green light to keep going for as long as I can handle the pain, so I did.

Turns out the diagnosis of ‘bad hips’ was as ambiguous as it was wrong. I have a proximal hamstring tendinopathy with further pathologies in my adductor Magnus and hip rotators. I have an actual injury that is accompanied by an actual protocol and hope.  
Working on hamstring activation, which I'm apparently bad at.

I am tired and injured, but I am not done. I've rested for four weeks which included working with a chiropractor, very basic physical therapy and short walks and riding my bike next to Tim as he ran. July 25th, I started in the weight room and with that I began my journey back to rebuilding my foundation. It'll be October before I can contemplate running again and far longer before I can dream of races. For now, I have a foundation to build and that foundation must be strong enough to support my dreams. A worthy task, if you ask me.
Tired and injured, but not done. Easy walk in the rain after my second strength session

A little Saturday hike at an easy pace with this fella.

Until the next tale,

Major love going out to my amazing sponsor, Coeur Sports. When I told them my season was over, they sent me love. And a t-shirt. With a big-o heart on it. I am writing about my story because they inspire me to be authentic, follow my heart and invite others into that journey. Thank you for the love and support, Coeur!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

What this race taught me: TRIRock Philly – 6/28/15

TRIRock Philadelphia Olympic distance (turned Du) – 6/28/15, 1st amateur, fastest bike split (including pro’s), another p-card qualification

When planning my season, I put TRIRock Philly on my schedule for three reasons. One, my good friend, Blair, lives in Philly and we’d be able to spend the weekend with him. I could just stop there, ‘cause that’s more than enough! Two, this is the best an Olympic distance race fit into my schedule prior to Age Group Nationals. Three, this was another opportunity to qualify for my pro-card, if my first go in Raleigh was a flop.

As race day approached I was SO eager to test my fitness, specifically the swim. Raleigh had been a long swim and was non-wetsuit, so it was hard to compare my swim fitness to the previous year. Alas, the swim was cancelled due to excessive rain –and to my surprise, this evoked a small bit of panic in me. I’m not a strong swimmer, but I’m mentally tough –I’d rather an uncharacteristically tough swim than no swim at all.  I also think, in general, the swim hurts me less than it does most runners turned triathletes. Without the swim, I figured I'd have more competition.

I decided that it didn’t matter, because… well… it didn’t. I turned my focus to what I could control –attacking a technical and wet bike course and digging deep to still run well afterwards.

It’s risky business balancing the swim/bike/run –wanting to push each right to the edge of complete implosion to get the most out of yourself. The cancelation of this swim, for some reason, gave me permission to be a little reckless. I decided to wager more and in the process I experienced a new level of acceptable pain on the bike, only to get off and crush my 10K pr. In short, I learned I can actually ride a bike well.

Overall amateur podium at TRIROCK Philly

But there was a greater lesson that came from an outside source a few days later.
As it turns out, you can have a good-for-you race that includes an all-time 10K pr and still be called out in an online publication for 'fading' on the run. And, despite starting a solid 90 minutes after the elite field, in writing it can look like you let 5 people run away from you rather than the racing-off-the-front-all-by-yourself scenario that actually existed. 
What this race taught me?
Clip from

If it's not clear, the Slowtwich article got in my head a little bit. This was a valuable lesson moving forward as I'm sure I'll continue to come across references to myself that feel a little like salt in a sensitive wound (i.e. I know I have work to do on my swim AND run...and bike for that matter...). Toughen up, kiddo! It REALLY doesn't matter what others think or write in regards to my performances. If I need external sources to make me feel validated or valued, then it's time to refocus and remember why I'm in this sport.
Until the next tale,

Monday, February 1, 2016

What this race taught me: The other lesson from Raleigh 70.3

Raleigh 70.3 – 5/31/15, 1st amateur, PR, pro-card qualification

I've already posted a key lesson from 2015's Raleigh 70.3 race. In an effort to keep that post short, I touched on the primary lesson: I can, by myself, get shit done. Within this race, there was a hidden agenda as well as a hidden lesson. 2015 was the year that I would strategically put myself in position to qualify for my elite license. I worked three qualifying races into my schedule and decided that 2015 would be the only year that I 'chased' a pro card. 

I had a quiet confidence going into this race and I was ready to sit comfortably with whatever unfolded. I am who I am and that is all I can ever be.

My constant self reminder that I am me. Simple as that.

On race morning, I felt joy and excitement as the pro men lined up and were soon sent on their way -the best of the best, pinned against one another in head on competition. WOW. Not long after, the pro women were called to the water and the horn sounded. The race was on.

I was immediately transported to the water. I felt myself jostling for position, looking up and seeing half of the field swim away from me. I had an over whelming feeling that I didn't belong in that wave. I was suddenly terrified. I couldn't do it. If I did manage to qualify for my elite license, I would not take it.

What changed? Because, spoiler alert, I've got that shiny new pro card tucked into my wallet. I began my race some 20 waves after the pros, with every single male on the course in front of me and nearly all of the other women. In 56 miles on the bike, I passed over 1500 athletes. 1500! While I love seeing others take on the challenge of triathlon (and I truly mean that!), my personal race was greatly compromised as I spent much of the time navigating around bikes that I was literally traveling twice as fast as.

What this race taught me?

While I may not truly believe that I belong on the start line with the A-list pros, I know that it is dangerous for me to begin a race behind 1500 people. It has huge negative effects on my race and personal performance. I would also guess that watching some chick wiz past on the bike can leave some feeling a little defeated and maybe even a little anxious. I want to have a positive and safe race experience and I want the same for others. No matter if the pro field swims away from me this year or if it turns out that 2015 was the best that I can be, I will remember that I am who I am and that is all I can ever be.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What this race taught me: Raleigh 70.3 – 5/31/15

"Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn." C.S. Lewis 

Raleigh 70.3 – 5/31/15, 1st amateur, PR, pro-card qualification
If I truly have a unique strength, I’d say it’s the ability to adapt. I signed up for this race in October and planned to carpool with a friend, stay at their friend’s house and have a race day Sherpa. This race promised to be a great early season opener and an opportunity to ‘go for pro’ as it meets the requirements for elite card qualification. Two weeks out from this race, my friend bailed. Their friend was going through a divorce and their house was no longer available, nor was her race day Sherpa-ing. Mired in fatigue from my final build, I had to accept the fact that my race budget was just blown up and figure shit out. I booked an Airbnb that was a long walk from T2/finish area and found a hotel to break up my 10 hour drive along the way.

Pre-race: just me and my thoughts, hopes, dreams, and even a few doubts.
For the first time in my life, I asked a stranger to zip up my swim skin. I walked to the water without anyone to wave to, hug goodbye, and kiss for good luck. In a sea of thousands, I was by myself. I crossed the finish line uncertain of my finish time, place, or splits (watch malfunction). I had no phone. No one handed me my special post-race recovery. I wondered to the food tent and sat on the curb with a Coca-Cola and made a new friend. No entourage, no congratulations… just me and my race. All mine and only mine.
What this race taught me? 

I, by myself, can get shit done. I seriously doubted my ability to race effectively when left to do it all alone -especially when 'alone' meant a solo drive of over 10 hours to the race with numerous more hours in the car going from downtown Raleigh to T1. More so than the speedy-for-me time or pro-card that this race produced, it showed me that I am tough and capable. It showed me that, while racing is enriched by having those I love and care about with me, the ability to race comes from within. I can and I will get shit done.

Bonus lesson?

The lack of external feedback (data and spectator) immediately following the race allowed space for me to ask how I did and produce an answer that was internal and raw. Again, making the race even more so my own. 

Until the next tale,

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What this race taught me: Fly by Night Du – 5/10/15

As I plan for the coming 2016 race season, I can't help but to think about all the lessons 2015 racing taught me. Since I didn't do a single race report last year (or at least post any here), I'm going to post a quick recap and "what this race taught me" for each 2015 race over the next few weeks. Be warned -they'll be short an maybe just a bit raw, but lessons are what they are.

My favorite kit (by Coeur Sports). Raced in this kit all season, but got
things kicked off in the Monaco at FbN -appropriate as it's 'race-car-inspired'!
Fly by Night Du – 5/10/15, 1st female

A formula 1 style duathlon with a 1.6 mile run, 10.2 mile bike, 1.6 mile run, 10.2 mile bike, 1.6 mile run… on a race track… under the night lights… freaking awesome. This race is a favorite of mine, not surprisingly, for the amount of threshold pain it inflicts –it’s a true hammer fest. This was my fourth year racing and my second year winning. The race itself was pretty uneventful; I went out hard, established an early lead and played chicken with complete and utter implosion.

Race track ride-by on my fav long ride route.
What this race taught me?
The competition comes from within. With a win of over 10 minutes, I knew early on that I could have backed off the pace. I could have raced comfortably and coasted across the line. I didn’t toe that start line to win. I was there to see what I was made of –to get uncomfortable and to power through. Mission accomplished.

Until the next tale,

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Day 28 of 365: Build, Build, Build, Recover, Repeat

There was a time when I would skip recovery weeks. Everything I did was as fast as I could do it and there was little difference between my easy pace and my fast pace. Understandably, I needed a day off every week and I was beyond tired for weeks on end. At the end of a season, I was ready to file for “separation” from my sport.

“It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that I need a little space from you.”
December 2013 – just over a year ago – I began working with Mary Eggers. I still remember my heart sinking when I first looked at the first 4 weeks of my training. There wasn’t a single day off until Christmas Eve. I immediately began complaining – internally, of course. I can’t go 23 days without a recovery day! I’ll fall apart!
Then… I learned what it meant to build. For the first time in 4 years of training, I did a proper build. Everything felt SO SLOW. The complaints were standard.

“I can’t go that slow, it hurts too much.”
“This pace is embarrassing!”
“I’ll never get faster with these HR zones!”
“Shouldn’t I be working harder?”
It turns out that building is not working as hard as you can until you crash and are forced to take time off. Rather, building is a process of gathering fatigue slowly over a few weeks with a majority of your sessions falling in the aerobic category and a few select session truly challenging you.
Today... it's been 40 days since I've had a day completely off and that's day was only because I was sick. I've built up durability. I've developed a much greater speed range in swimming, biking and running. I am both slower AND faster. I also no longer have thoughts of filing for separation. I'm happily married to my sport.

I’m in the third week of a build right now and the sum of my training is weighing me down with fatigue. There wasn’t a single set in the last 2.5 weeks that wrecked me or left me truly broken down, but when you add them all up, even easy feels hard now.
It’s always in this third build week that my mind begins getting the greater of the workouts. My motivation is low. My desire to sleep is high. The joy that typically flows during my workouts is dammed up. This third week is when my goals and dreams compel me forward. Without complete dedication to my goals, I would quit early. I would give in to fatigue.
Learning what it means and feels like to build and to build well has given me new appreciation for recovery. I welcome a recovery week. This step back week, which is a reduction in work load by as much as 40%, allows my body to rebound from all of the acquired fatigue and like flubber, I rebound to even higher levels. Races, after all, come at the end of a recovery week. 
I guess this goes back to day 23 and my thoughts on ordinary vs extraordinary. Commit to the ordinary days. Let them build on each other and, in turn, tear you down. Respect you’re recovery and keep your eyes looking ahead. It’s the sum of the ordinary that results in the extraordinary.

Until the next tale,

Friday, January 23, 2015

Day 23 of 365: Find Extraordinary

I’ve been thinking about the ordinary and the extraordinary lately. I’m a believer that race day is reserved for extraordinary performances. If training has been appropriate and recovery given respect, then race day is where we do something that was previously impossible. On race day we find new possibilities- we find new selves.

There is a universal “extraordinary”. These people and performances are world record holders, Olympians, and champions of the highest level.

There is also a personal “extraordinary” where we better our own personal records, where we champion our own minds, where we unlock new levels of possibilities.

Extraordinary performances are made up of ordinary days filled with relentless self-belief.

Believe in yourself relentlessly.

Be persistent and consistent on the ordinary days.

When the day comes, forget about what you thought possible and accept the possibility of extraordinary.

When it comes to blogging, I often feel the pressure to write about the extraordinary. I’ve decided that this year I will do: Day XXX of 365 posts. They will be of the ordinary days that are filled with relentless belief. One page in my chapter, one chapter in my life.