Sunday, December 22, 2013

New Things, Good Things, And One Sad Goodbye.

I've been a bit quiet lately.  Sometimes that means that the wheels fell off the bus, rolled down the road and I'm off chasing them.  Right now it means that everything is going really well and I'm frankly a little afraid to jinx it.

First off, I took a big risk and sold the P5.  Why? Because I had a motivated buyer, I felt that the bike was worth as much right then as it would ever be, and that there were some minor fit and handling issues that could possibly be improved upon should I find a used P4.  I looked.. I found.. I bought.. I sold.  I came out way ahead on the deal as I got a great price on the P4 and a great price for the P5.
Big C.. King of the Jungle.
I'm really going to miss you.

Big C and Little C... Quite a pair.

There were several weeks of angst on my part as a second guessed my decision which was based solely in logic and did not consult my formidable emotional side.  I agonized over everything from the names of my bikes (Little C doesn't make that much sense without Big C in the stable) to a very real concern that I might be over-facing (horse term: scare by presenting more of a challenge than the horse or rider is ready for) myself because my initial rides reminded me a little too much of the hyper-responsive, herky-jerky handling of the Felt that (with the help of eating pavement 3 times) ultimately scared me so badly I could barely ride at all.  Part of the appeal of the big bike was that it was so smooth and solid, partially due to the fact that it was so big.  I knew I had improved confidence and handling skills but the first time I almost wiped out because I couldn't get the water bottle out of the BTA mount (the moment of truth in my worst crash), I had some serious misgivings.  When the buyer put the money for the P5 through a week earlier than I expected, I almost lost it.  Then the day we met at the shop and he loaded my beloved in the car and drove off... yeah well, I'm amazed I wasn't bawling.

Sol's philosphy: "You can't be sad if you're tired.  KEEP PEDALING!"

But that day, Sol (shop owner and fit magician... truly the best in Austin and an patient mentor to the Duck) spent all afternoon with me, dialing the new bike and helping me make some decisions about which way to set it up (there is a lot to consider when someone walks in and buys your entire set up, including the wheels).  In the end, we decided to favor crank length and table decisions about wheels and power for later.  We got the new crankset on the bike and tinkered... and tinkered... and tinkered with the fit.  In the end, we dialed in everything but the front end because I know I am going to a clinic where we will be measuring aero data against power to decide how low the front can go before there is a power loss.  That is when the front end will be set to it's optimal position.

Sol: "I didn't say stop! KEEP PEDALING!!"

After a few days of bad weather, I finally got out on the road with the new beastie.  It still didn't have a name... mostly being called the new bike, or the black bike.... or a few times... Evil C.  With the new cranks- very short 155s- and the resulting stability through my hips, the squirrel-y-ness was gone and suddenly it was like riding a ribbon of black silk.  It was smooth, precise, responsive in an almost telepathic way.  The ride quality... unbelievable.  I was able to appreciate the beauty of the (obviously made of butter) hubs in the Campy wheels that came on the bike.  Honestly, I've never ridden anything like it.  The Campy components shift like silk... yeah, keep using that word... there's a reason.

155 cranks.. if they were much shorter my pedal wouldn't clear the chainrings!

I took it to a giant parking lot behind the horse show where I had been doing handling/cornering drills at the end of most of my rides on Little C (the road bike).  I have never been able to corner in aero at all.  Withing a few minutes, I was able to get confident in the new bike which handled like.... well, a lot like Little C.  In other words, like an extension of myself.  I did the drills a few times on the pursuits and then started trying them in aero.  By the end of that session, I knew the black bike (by this point I was calling it Evil C, the ninja bike.. SUPERVILLIAN) and I were going to be just fine.  I knew I had made the right call.

The Ninja Bike lounging after a day's work.
On another front, I have been feeling progressively stronger.  I am back working with a dietitian and am really seeing the results.  I have tightened up quite a bit and I am handling a full training load again.  It's not to say the road is without bumps.. got a cold, had some respiratory trouble from bad air quality at the horse show, missed a day when my neck spasmed up and the massage to fix it made me too sick/sore to train.  But what is missing is the general malaise, fatigue, and frequent crashes in energy.  I seem to be recovering, healing, and generally bouncing back from workouts.  It was like the last piece of this puzzle, my health, that I have been trying to solve for a few years now, has clicked into place.

One the road bike front, the handling skills are coming right along.  I get braver each day, I'm climbing well (for me), and descending in a much more relaxed and aggressive style.  I don't always nail the line through the corners but I am getting it much more often and the fear is getting left off the guest list more and more.

I also have been training a lot with a teammate.  Austin Bikes/Revenant team has a really, REALLY tough female state cyclocross champ on it's roster and she has been a very welcome addition to my training program.  For the most part, I do most of the pulling and except for hard sprints where I exceed 26-27 mph, she stays right on my wheel.  What is remarkable is that she does this on her CX bike with its KNOBBY TIRES!! She is soft spoken and humble, never quite acknowledging the fact that I would be a quivering pile of goo should I ever need to keep up with her on a ROAD bike.  Needless to say, her presence has been great for me.  It is inspiring, infuriating, and humbling all at the same time but the social component of a team sport has been the antidote for my (at times painfully) solitary lifestyle.

Snapped this while heading out with my Teammate.
We've had some beautiful days lately!!

So that is what is going on in the Duck Pond as 2013 comes to a close.  2014 will be my first year as a full time bike racer/roadie and I'm not sure what to expect.  The newness of it is exciting and I am not sure what to expect from a very different style of racing and tactics.  All I know is that it is forcing me out of my comfort zone and what I am finding there is that much of it suits me.  Let's see what I say about it on race day.  Right now, all the new experiences have me feeling like a kid in a candy BIKE shop!

Google's Christmas present to the Duck!!!
"Coach Brain" has been immortalized by their search engine!

And finally, I can't thank one person enough...  Coach Brain.  He has guided me through some tough times this year and never once let me down.  He has helped me to be a stronger, faster, healthier athlete.  He put up with 9 billion emails about purchasing that P5 only to have me sell it 9 months later and calmly responded to 9 billion emails about that, too.  He was right there for me when my body was letting me down, helping me put myself back together, and keeping me focused all the way through.  I don't think I would be anywhere near this happy point in training (and by association, life) without all of his hard work.  Thanks DUDE!! You ROCK!  Let's kick some ASS in 2014!!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey With A Side Of Suffering.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Ready to roll, layered up..
 ..about to SUFFER!
Don't let the sunshine fool you the way it did me!

This has been a great couple of weeks for me.  I've been at home in Austin, enjoying the roads and the city (though the weather has been less than stellar).  I've reconnected with old friends and made a few new ones.  I spent the day eating turkey with my awesome neighbors.  I even got a deck compliments of the awesome folks at my RV park!

LOOK! I have a deck!
No photography skills... but a deck!  

I took a new-to-me bike for the first time and did a little  recovery spin today.  My legs told me they were on holiday and were not going to be answering calls.  I was to ride without them.  It was an enjoyable little ride and the one time I put in a request for power, my legs referred me to their answering service.  NOPE.  Big fat SORRY ABOUT YOUR LUCK!

Alright Blackie, lets see what you are about.

Why the attitude?  Well, keep reading.

Coach Brain, as I said before, put a little slack in the lines on this schedule and I am getting to stretch my legs.  There have been a couple of deliciously challenging workouts in the mix, though some were challenging for more reasons than just what was written.  There were a couple of interval sessions that really reminded how much I like to dig down and hurt.  You know, the crunchy ones where you end up shouting at your legs for trying to slow down.  (not that it takes much to get to that point these days!!) Still, those workouts... the ones that leave you in a crumpled heap... those are the ones I like the most!

Then there are another kind.  They test you, not because the effort is challenging but because the circumstances are.. like the long trainer ride.  I had a couple of those this week.  Coach Brain gave me permission to shorten it to a brief warmup and cool down, plus the main set.  That would certainly have made it more palatable but I finally realized that there are so many reasons for me to shorten or skip a workout, that I did not need or have the luxury of a cop out based on boredom.  The workouts got done in their entirety.

The trainer workouts paled in comparison to the outdoor workouts though.  With a horrid cold front pushing through.  I found myself riding in weather that I would normally leave to.. well, ANYONE else.  Again, with all of the trouble that I have had in the last couple of years, I feel like I have used all of my “get out of jail workout free” cards.  I layered up and headed out the door the moment it stopped spitting ice from the sky.  The first day was so painful, it inspired three days on the trainer as the worst of the front pushed through.  Then, I headed back out to see if I could freeze out the princess that seemed to be rearing her tiara-ed head.

Full finger gloves and arm warmers.  Yeah, that's all that's in my arsenal.

First was a hill ride with one of my Austin Bikes teammates.  It was a great ride with great company, a good pace, and one of those times that fighting a 30 degree, 20+ mph headwind up some big hills seemed more tolerable when you are not alone.  By the end of that ride, the cold was causing my back and quads to cramp pretty badly.  I was quite happy when that was over but equally happy that I had the guts to get out there and do it.  I finished the day with a body weight resistance workout and felt pretty solid about how the two weeks were shaping up.  Only, those cramps, that cold, that strength workout, those hills... they would come back to haunt me.

The next day was a 3.5 hour ride with a decent block of tempo work.  It was a couple of degrees warmer... like two.... so confident from the previous days ride, I headed out the door in the same layers that had worked the previous day.  I was fine.. for about 90 mins.  Well, sort of fine.  I caught a long red light in the first 15 mins of the ride and after that point noticed a strange sound coming from the front of the bike.  About an hour later, I was feeling like hell.  I knew I had a tailwind but I just couldn't make that bike GO.  My legs and back were starting to cramp up again and I felt HORRID.  I stopped to check out the sound only because I needed a rest.  The sound?  The front brake was almost fully engaged.  It had been since that light.  I was hearing (and smelling) the brake pads burning off the rim.  AWESOME.  After I opened the brake, I rode a little further, suddenly feeling like I had wings, then got a my turnaround and went into the wind.  It was like the brake was back on.  DAMMIT.


By the time I got to the tempo block, about 2 hours into the ride, I was really suffering.  My legs were dead and painful, my back was locked up, my feet and hands were blocks of ice, my face was chapped (nope.  Didn't think to bring chapstick.  Too obvious!).  I was looking at my power and it was showing numbers far below the suffer factor.  My cadence was horrible.  My legs were totally unresponsive and no matter how hard I tried to spin up to a higher cadence, even in an easy gear, it wasn't happening.  Same was true for applying any real force to the pedals.  Every pedal stroke shot pain through my knees and up my legs. My legs tendered their letter of resignation while I sucked down every bit of nutrition I had packed looking for salvation in a gel packet.  I got through that ride.  Every. Last. Hateful. Minute.   I was prepared to be proud of my fortitude but really, I was a little panicked that I had overdone it and it was going to cost me the rest of this training block.

I came in from that ride shaking.  My legs and back were tender to the touch they were so sore.  It had taken all the stubborn I could muster (and honestly, I have a LOT of "stubborn" at my disposal) and then some to finish the ride.  I knew I had found that hole that I like to fall into and hoped I had not gone over the edge.

Maybe it could be argued that I would have been better served aborting the workout but honestly, I think I wanted to remind myself that I can still get it done.  I did my best to salvage the situation with nutrition.  I shot emails to my coach and dietitian... (slightly panicked): What did I do?? What do I do??  Since they are both athletes and professionals, they kindly refrained from actually penning an eyeroll or facepalm and gave me some simple recovery tactics that basically amounted “eat, drink water, and go to bed... dum-dum!”

When I woke up today, I discovered something.  I hadn't died overnight.  So on this absolutely FABULOUS day, I took that new bike for a ride.  And (properly dressed for the weather) enjoyed every last second of it.  I am thankful to have something in my life that cleans the slate so gracefully.  I am grateful for the ability to ride my bike today.

Wilbur had other ideas on how cold should be handled.

Oh, and the new bike?  AWESOME.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Something You Don't Know About Me

Most of the people who read this blog know that at one time I was much heavier.  What they don't know is that starting as a child, I was an avid artist.  I stopped in 2007 cold and never picked up a brush or touched clay again.  I don't know why. In 2010, I destroyed my entire portfolio.  Again, I don't know why but I do know it was a part of a huge purge of belongings that seemed to be tying me to a painful past that I needed to let go.  It was literally and figuratively, taking out the trash. The sculpture pictured here is part of what I destroyed.  The paintings and drawing were not as they were sold as commissioned work years earlier.  Sometimes you just need to cauterize the wounds of the past.

I had no idea that I still had these images anywhere but I found them saved in an album on facebook.  This is far from the scope of what I produced, only the couple of pics that I ever loaded to facebook.  I guess that site is good for something.

For your enjoyment:

Some decisions you live to regret.  This may be one of those.  The jury is still out.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Losing or Gaining Weight... One Choice At A Time.

The kids lining up for a ride!
"Pick me! Pick me!"

In the few weeks since my last post, I have done one thing in particular... ride my bike.  I have ridden a lot.  Not always a lot on one day, but often.  I have gotten back into the habit and tonight when I decided I would err on the side of caution and take a rest day, I felt like I had forgotten to brush my teeth.  Something was missing.  I wasn't freaking out or jonesin' to ride, just that I hadn't done something that is a part of my normal daily routine.

I've been thinking about this and how, after a while, things become a lifestyle.  It becomes part of your identity.  People who have known me for a long time remember when this wasn't a lifestyle.  Some remember the shift in focus, the often turbulent change that took place in my (very thick) skull.  But most?  Most can't even imagine me any other way.  They identify me as a small person, fit, feisty, and active.  For me, the transformation has not been nearly so complete... or has it.
This picture was taken in Michigan while braiding.
Here I was roughly 215 lbs, 20 less than my lifetime high weight.
I am not tall (see photo below for evidence of shortness).  That weight on my was crushing.
I was miserable, felt like hell, and avoided mirrors like the plague.
Nobody should ever choose to stay this unhappy.

I still see myself as the fat one.  I still look at every picture and expect to be unhappy with what is there.  I check every mirror, every window that throws off a reflection, even at my shadow, always expecting to discover that I am suddenly fat again.  But fat doesn't just happen.  It's isn't something that you wake up and find like a wart.  It is a state of mind and a state of life.  You don't put on a 100 lbs at once nor do you take it off that way.  You take it off one choice at a time.  Each good choice changes the way you see yourself a little bit each time. However, you put it back on the same way you take it off: one choice at a time.  You put it back on by failing to identify with yourself as a fit person living a healthy lifestyle.

Why is it so easy for some people to make the right choices and not for others?  Well, I don't really know... but I'll venture a guess.  People tend to make choices in accordance with how they see themselves.  Anyone can make the easy choices (I think I'll ride my bike on this beautiful day when I have nothing else to do), but you make the hard ones (riding in the weather, working on your weaknesses, or choosing not to indulge every last craving your body throws your way), based on your perception of yourself and how that person would choose.  Foodies will choose to spend more for organic or gourmet items.  Athletes will choose to follow a strict diet regimen and train through adverse conditions.  Animal lovers will choose to stop the car to rescue a turtle.  Hipsters will choose to challenge the laws of physics to wedge themselves into a pair of skinny jeans.  Do people who don't identify with an archetype make those choices as well?  Of course.  But making them a lifestyle without that perception is very, very difficult.  Someone is not a hipster may turn themselves into a denim sausage a couple of times, but sooner or later, that person will most likely choose circulation over fashion.

Over the last few months, I have been stuck in idle.  My training has been on pause.  I have ridden but not trained.  My perception of myself as an athlete who is willing to go the extra mile for fitness and performance has waned.  My connection to why I make certain choices, particularly the hard food choices that usually only come when I am locked on a race target, has weakened.  And all of this is evident in some of the tragic food choices I have been making, particularly in the last few weeks, and the most recent 5 lbs (above the acceptable off-season gain) that have taken up residence on me arse.  I haven't been drinking enough water either, and my performance has suffered... but then, if I am not an athlete, who cares?  If I am not an athlete, I can settle into a steady weight 10-20 lbs higher, still fall into acceptable ranges for good health, and still be attractive (because really no matter what your weight, you will be just perfect for someone).

In the last couple of weeks, Coach Brain and I have exchanged a series of email sporting content volume that would make "War and Peace" seem like a little light reading by comparison.  We have agreed it's time to push forward, though there is still some question on the best way.  One thing is certain, I have a very narrow margin for error.  I am going to support my body with proper nutrition and care if I am going to get even marginal performances out of it.  The choices that I struggle the most with, the ones that I usually leave until I am fully absorbed in training with impending competitive goals sharpening my focus... those will have to come first.  If I hope to train "for real" or ever find a starting line...much less the finish... or podium... again, I will need to make these choices and changes first.

Yep, I do like that spot!
I hope to return regardless of whether it is triathlon or cycling.
The sport is merely the tool used to create change.

At work last night, as I was walking by a trash can, I reached in my pocket where several Snicker's minis had taken up residence and evicted the little goal-wrecking bastards.  That was the line in the sand.  I am not who I once was.  I am the product of my better choices and who I will be a year... five years... ten years down the road will be the product of the choices I make from here.  I am actively choosing to reconnect with this identity and re-immerse myself in the mindset.

Here I am still roughly 15-20 lbs over my eventual goal weight for racing but I am healthy.
In the end, it's about taking control of your life, your health, your happiness.

I am an athlete and choose to remain an athlete and that will only happen if I train, eat, and live AS AN ATHLETE.  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What Do Circles and Ducks Have In Common?

There is something that I have been needing to write about but couldn't figure out quite what I was needing to say.  I think I know the question, though I am sure it will be a long time before I find an answer.

The problem?  I lack a point.

Now I know you think "Duck, after 237 posts, you are worried about having a point now?!!"

Not that kind of a point.  I can, AND WILL, ramble on to my heart's content whether or not I make an ounce of sense from now until eternity.  This page is mine to torture as I wish.  No, I mean something else.

My training.  My training lacks a point.  It lacks a purpose.  It lacks an identity.  More precisely, I lack these things right now.

When I was training hard with certain triathlon goals in mind, it became easy to make the hard decisions.  Want pizza? Eat a salad.  Want to veg out in front of the computer? Get your ass out there and run in the rain. Get up early to train, keep an intense pace at work so you can get done early enough to get sleep and get up with enough time to train tomorrow.  Don't make a mistake in time management on Thursday that will cost you on Saturday.  Push when you want to coast. Make sure that session is your best effort, whether that means trying your best to keep it aerobic or tasting pennies on a really hard session.  Finishing each hard workout sharp while visualizing a finish line and asking yourself "is that all you've got?" "Is that your final answer?".  Taking the bad days and muddling through the miserable runs because this is how you get better.  Checking your ego at the door of every workout so that you can be totally honest with yourself.  These moments?  These are what I love, what makes it all worth it.

What do I do? What do I do?
That is where these two come in.
Mine shoulder space is occupied by The Blerch (thank you Matthew Inman!)on one side,
and The Honey Badger (MBE, one bad ass badass) on the other.
That type of thinking, those efforts, brought out the best in me.  They let me find a better person inside myself. Of course, I race to get the rush that is inevitable in that scenario but that is secondary.  I do it to provide a vehicle for the day to day development of myself as an athlete and by proxy, a human being.  It is reinforcement for the fact that I AM an athlete and not someone just playing "pretend".  Competing is the dividing line between a hobbyist and an athlete for me.

Now there is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist.  But the hobbyist has different motivations.  So long as they are fit and lean enough to enjoy themselves and be healthy, then there is no reason to make the hard choices.  You do the parts that are fun and leave the rest.  But here's the snag, self-improvement (regardless of the vehicle- for me it's sports, for you it may be totally different) is not a fun, pain-free process.  It is taking the whole of your experiences and not just cherry-picking the enjoyable parts.

I've never been very good at training just for training's sake.  It's all fine when the sun is shining but it's not enough to get me out the door when I am tired or lazy or the weather is bad.  It won't get me to bed early or ordering the salmon plain but as a triathlete with certain races on the calendar, I would do that and more.  I had a strong vision of how I needed to develop to reach my goals.  Even if a race wasn't imminent, I understood how each thing I did advanced me towards my long term goals and realized vision.  It kept me on track.  I understood how to find balance.  I knew when I could relax the discipline and when I couldn't.  In spite of numerous running injuries thwarted substantial progress, I felt connected with what I was doing.

Then this fall I made the decision to give up trying on the run.  It was a calculated, intelligent decision.  My body's resistance to the run training, due in part to the fact that my physical attributes are the OPPOSITE of what you want in a runner, had hampered my ability to get fit in any of the three sports.  In spite of being more precise in those workouts than any other type, I had seen a plateau and had started what seemed to be a slow decline in fitness and speed.  I felt like the only way to salvage any part of this was to remove the elements that were (for one reason or another), placing more drag on my progress than I could overcome.  Eliminate the run (and swim).  Essentially, turn around and try to make some progress with the wind at my back for a change.

My doc is thrilled. My legs are thrilled.  My coach is on board with the experiment (I don't think he sees this as quitting).  I immediately started seeing a response out of my body as I stopped trying to drag it down a road that it is not made to travel.  Oh, and that hip that had been stubbornly refusing to improve cleared right up.  I am spending more time doing what I really love, the fact that I don't constantly hurt, the fact that cycling by design includes a degree of social interaction that is typically scarce in my life.  In other words?  It is fun.  The people are amazing!  It also comes naturally.  I will most likely be more competitive in this as a solo sport because it is the only area where I have an ounce of talent (provided I am willing to put in the work).  If I can train consistently without being chronically injured, I can finally push past that plateau and get to a new level of fitness (though admittedly I'm going to be sporting the world's largest quads within a month or two.)

Did I say a months? I meant weeks... or minutes.
Running was the only thing keeping these in check.
Basically, I'm never going to fit into jeans again.

This was my idea.  THIS IS WHAT I WANTED!

But there is no trace of that shiny, happy athlete forging ahead with her fitness, breaking new ground in skills and social connections, preparing for a season of crushing souls in the cycling world.  I'm in a total tailspin.

I have never done a straight cycling event other than a time trial.  I have no races on the calendar to lock onto, defining the skills and fitness goals.  Right now, I am aiming in the dark.  And what I walked (limped??) away from is the only thing I can see.

Everything in my twitter feed, my friends, real and online, the blogs I follow, the books I have on my kindle... all of them are inundating me with images of people fighting through the hardship to cross that finish line.  It is especially true now with Kona and Longhorn in the same month.  Everyone of those makes me feel like crap.  I have stopped reading them, looking at pictures, even at times struggled to wish my friends who are racing good luck.  I suddenly feel like I am staring at what used to be my reality from behind a pane of glass.  I have found myself getting bitter towards people who do everything wrong yet seem to glide through the process unscathed.  Damn them and their forgiving bodies!! I have turned into the grumpy cat of triathlon.

Thinking of quitting?
The world is full of motivators like this...
To which I say:
Did I mention I was grumpy?

So what's the problem?  I gave up.  I walked away from the fight.  I walked away from the sport that had started to make up the "walls" of my world.  Yes, there is the intention of gaining fitness, losing weight, and returning stronger than before... but let's get real.  I reached a breaking point and I made a choice.  I quit.  And at the moment, with no other well defined goals or plans, that is the only thing written on those wall right now.  I quit in a sport where the one true win is not quitting.

More motivation:
Quitting is not an option,
I don't know how to settle this with myself and it shows in everything that I do.  I have no focus, no vision of how things will look in 6 months or a year, no idea what I am doing. The result? Well, that has shown up on the scale.  It's shown up in my drive.  It's shown up in the fact that even rooting for a friend at the race this weekend seems like the hardest thing in the world.  Oh, and did I mention that it has shown up on the scale?  I did?  Well, it's shown up enough to be worth saying twice.

Each time I try to challenge myself to do better, it all comes down to one question.

What the Hell am I doing here?

I need to find the point.

There.  It's out.  It's what is really bugging me.  But since I can't solve this today, I'll do what I always do....

Go ride my bike.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Giant Screws, Giant Spiders, and One Dirty Duck!

I have been ducking my blogging duties (pun possibly intended) because when I have big things on my mind, I tend to clam up.  Since I prefer to compare myself to water foul rather than seafood, I decided I had better remedy this.

While I have milled about pondering my future in triathlon, specifically that portion of triathlon that stands between my beloved bike and the finish line, I have been riding... a lot.  And with an increase in riding often comes an increase in the associated obstacles: in this case, flat tires and mechanical failures.

It all started with Big C getting his chain link panties in a wad.  By wad, I mean this:
Chain link panties all wadded up!

Can you see the keeper wedged into the links?
Not how that is supposed to look!

I had to call a friend for a ride home for the first time in my riding career.  Well, I shouldn't have gotten too comfy with that idea since one of the downsides to my lifestyle is that unless I am at a horse show, it is unlikely that I would be anywhere near a friend to call. Fortunately, this little mechanical happened during a show and I called my friend who is best known as Wilbur's beloved Auntie D (who has one wicked throwing arm!).  Auntie D, who is in the process of remaking herself in the image of a cyclist, came to my rescue since Big C had told me where I could stuff it.

That little mechanical was like the first big raindrops before the deluge begins.

Next, I went for a group ride on Little C and  three blocks into the ride, picked up a screw.  Not just any screw but the screw you would want Cerebus' chain bolted to while you are stealing his breakfast.  It was a really big screw.  I was of course riding with the shop guys for the first time and wearing my shiny new (WHITE) team kit for the first time.  No pressure.  I hadn't had to change a flat in so long, I was all thumbs.  Well, that got changed and I was suitably mortified.  Then (and possibly because of this), my breathing went south and I decided that today was not my day.  I peeled off from the group and rode home.  Later that day, I rode solo and put down a confidence boosting effort.
THIS big!! I swear!!

Two days later, I went out on Little C again.  I knew it was going to be raining but I reminded myself that I don't melt and I can't choose the weather on race day.  I kicked myself out the door.

Like water off a duck's back, right??

 I was about halfway home on an out and back when I rolled through standing water on a bridge and both tires immediately ruptured.  I changed my flats but the front was not holding air.  I would later find a tiny shred of embedded glass that was only apparent when the tire was stretched inside out.  I was now out of tubes.  I rode a few minutes before the front was totally flat again, added more CO2, and repeated... until the CO2 was also gone.  Then I started walking.

And I walked.  7 miles... SEVEN... as in more than a 10K... 7 miles home in cleats.. with no socks... and wet feet.  About 2/3 of the way home when I saw blood coming up over the edges of the shoes, I found a cotton plant growing wild on the roadside.  On a whim, I picked the wad of cotton and stuffed it in my shoes to protect the shredded parts of my feet.  I don't think it really worked but it made for a good story.
No kidding.  Wild cotton.
I am Mac-effing-gyver!

I made it home covered in a pretty spectacular amount of road grim but otherwise in one piece.  My cleats were not so fortunate and were replaced the next day.
Road grime at it's finest!

A couple of days later, I showed up to a Tuesday morning group ride on Wednesday morning... yeah, one of those days... and decided to tackle the hills of West Austin solo.  The first road hazard I encountered on this ride was a spider.  A big spider. A spider so large and creepy that I would have thrown myself into traffic to avoid it.  I didn't realize that tarantulas went cruising down the side of the highways in Texas but now I know.  Big.  BIG... ENORMOUS... tarantula.  You cannot imagine how creepy they are when they crawl because unlike little spiders, you see every articulated movement.  ***shiver***
It most likely looked like this...

...but I saw this...

...and did this!
Later,  as I was crossing highway 360, which is a huge road and getting across is no joke, I encountered the next hazard of the day.  I made it into the left turn lane to cross traffic and turn around, when suddenly the bike went bumpity-bump-bump.  ANOTHER damn flat.  This time it was a nail and I was now stuck in what I would not consider to be a very safe place.  (Forget the cars, what if there was another spider!!)  I stood on the median of a major highway and changed that sucker.  The number of people, both on bikes and in cars (mostly with bikes on the back) that holler to me to make sure I didn't need help was a credit to Austinites and cyclists in general.

Flat no. 5: much better than spiders.
And finally, to round out a nice schedule from coach Brain, I did the Austin 70.3 course with a group.  In keeping with tradition, I missed a turn (not paying attention) and did part of the course backwards.  I also got a flat tire.  This time it was a microscopic bit of wire that was almost undetectable, except for the air hissing out around it.

Wilbur and I both like to sport cat 4 tattoos!
That flat rounded out the total at 6 flats in 9 days.  I really shouldn't publish this right now since my next move is to go ride my bike.  But I can't resist the opportunity to tempt fate!

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Problem Is That I DO Run Like A Duck.

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks.  It's not that I haven't had anything interesting to say, it's that I have one big question in my brain and I couldn't quite put a post together.

When teaching kids about equine conformation, we tend to show them a right and wrong image.  The "right" horse will have every detail perfect and the "wrong" horse will display all of the common faults in one animal.  Of course, no horse has all the faults and no horse is completely perfect.

This is the guy that ends up hanging by his underwear from a flagpole.

This equine Angelina Jolie probably refuses to share a table
in the lunchroom with the chap above.

If I were to diagram the different injuries I have had since I began running four years ago (three years for triathlon), I would look a lot like horse number one.  If I sit down and think about it, it get pretty frustrating.  I am getting to where it doesn't matter what ailment Runner's World decides to cover this month, I've had it.  The most difficult part is the lost time.  In the last three years, I have spent 15 months sidelined by running injuries and another 6 running with an injury limiter.  I have hovered at the same weight (gaining and losing the same 10 lbs over and over and never getting to the next 15) and level of fitness, unable to string together the time necessary to break through that threshold.

With each new round, there has been an effort made to correct mistakes.  I have changed my shoes, changed my cadence, changed my conditioning program.  This has spanned four different coaches, a multitude of training philosophies, nearly every type of nutrition program known to man, Chiropractors/ART/Massage Therapists/Acupuncturists/Orthopedists/General Practitioners, in three different states and countless cities, leading to an overhaul of my general health.  In many respects, I am healthier than I have ever been... but I can't run without pain.  At this point, I have the best brain I know coaching me and a really top notch support team but I still can't string together more than 6 months of light run training.

In spite of myself, I have gotten faster.  I have not been able to build up any substantial endurance though as that requires me to be able to run more than 20 mins at a stretch and for more than 6 months at a time.  And many of these injuries don't just impact my run.  They interfere with time on the bike and in the water.  They keep me from doing other things that I love like hiking.  They cause me enough pain to impact my job.

When I don't do what I love, I'm not the only one losing out.

After this latest injury, a mystery niggle that appeared right as I stepped back to get my breathing issues under control and has turned into months of downtime, I went back to the drawing board again.  I went to a sports medicine center in Dallas (I was in the area for work) and had a functional movement analysis done.  This is where you do a bunch of odd movements designed to reveal weaknesses and imbalances and then they videotape you running so that you can be horrified by your butt jiggle see what you are doing when you run.

I supinate, even with a forefoot/midfoot landing.  I have some weaknesses in my hips.  Mild in the left and pronounced in the right (but then, the right hip has been injured for a while so that is not all that surprising).  I rotate through my stride and cross behind in the recovery phase.  None of this is surprising.  My legs are crooked to the casual observer. But none of the gait issues by themselves should really result in the ongoing parade of injuries, unless you happen to be hypermobile.
There is plenty that can be done to improve my run form.
I just worry it won't make a difference.

I land and take off rolled to the outside.
I realized last year that I never put any weight on my big toe,
which apparently is a problem.
The wear on my shoes confirms this.

I didn't know a thing about this until my primary chiropractor/ART doc (Dr. Z) kept using the term.  Apparently, it is not normal (though it is hereditary- my sister is the same way) to be able to do the splits at 40 with no flexibility training.  Apparently, you are not supposed to be able to bend your knees backwards.  (Yeah, yuck.  Go ahead and say it.)  I have tightened up over the years but not in an all-over-strength-and-stability-way but in a spasmed-overloaded-by-too-much-movement kind of way.

And then there is the job.  Dr. Z pointed out that my tipping point for injury isn't my training load.  It's my training load PLUS my job.  All those hours standing on a ladder twisting at the waist with my knees lock out and back across a ladder rung... yeah, not helping.

I don't know where all this is going.  I don't know if I am going to be able to keep training the run or not... or even if I want to.  It's been one heartbreaking setback after another.  I have NEVER made my goal race.  I have never done more than two tris in a season.  I have never gotten through a season without losing most of my progress to a layoff.

I enjoy running and I LOVE triathlons but right now I am questioning whether or not I want to be on this path.  Shoulder pain has left my ability to swim in ruins and the run... oh, the run... well, let's just say I am a one trick pony.  The only part of all this that I can do effectively is cycling.  I also know that I have become so protective of my body that I no longer do many things that I really love for fear of an injury.  I don't hike or trail run, kayak, SUP, or try new things any more.  I also don't race very much.  I certainly don't try adventure races or anything else that involves unusual movement.  And I certainly don't want to drag myself back from another injury only to lose another year to the next one.

And about that shoulder injury.  Swimming used to be a happy place for me.  Now it hurts.  ALL. THE. TIME.  I have watched my paces for 100 yd speed efforts gain (not lose, GAIN) roughly 45-50 seconds over the last two years.  I can no longer breathe bilaterally, something I have done since I was 6 years old.  I my form has degraded and I literally swim half lying on my side, taking a much deeper stroke with the good arm since I don't get much forward motion out of the other.  I worry it's only a matter of time before the shoulder that is doing most of the work, decides to go on strike.

Even running is not the experience I wish it could be.  I never get to just be in the moment.  During a run, I am very dialed in to how my feet are hitting the ground because it is so easy to put a foot wrong and roll an ankle.  I have done it too many times.  The doc doing the movement analysis said that at points during the test, she worried I could break my ankles.  I know I sometimes land that supinated but I was landing pretty straight (for me) in the video.  I was in brand new shoes which helps tremendously.  I get about 50-60 miles out of a pair of shoes before I start to break down the outer edges and really rock to the outside.  The more cushion, the worse this gets.  I had a month old pair of shoes I retired this summer that didn't even sit flat on the ground when I wasn't wearing them.  

Even Dr. Z came right out and told me I needed to consider life as a bike racer.  My friends tell me I need to consider a switch.  I have many times wanted to make the switch.  I do love triathlon but that doesn't mean I would love something else.

At the beginning of this year, I made a decision to give it another try.  I resolved not to run through pain (I didn't) and move forward with consistency being the primary objective.  I took care of myself, didn't overdo my workouts (much), didn't dig holes.  Brian was all over every little detail.  I cut back how much I worked.  I scheduled breaks.  I think I also believed, really believed, that I would make it through this time.  I broke anyways.

Maybe next time is the charm.  Maybe I am just delusional.  I am moving forward right now but with no real belief that this time will be different and no real passion or fire.

I can't offer a really good reason why I am still in this fight.

But I am.

And I don't know the answer.

And I don't know what to do.