This week has been very difficult for me physically and emotionally. I have arrived at the last day of one of the busiest weeks of the year relieved that I was able to get enough help to keep myself from imploding. I did not work the monster hours that I have been known to work in the past... I think my record was braiding 42 out of 48 hours (and a total of 105 hours for the week) without taking a break (even to use the bathroom for the first 16 hours- can you say dehydrated!)... but at this point, the work that I did pushed my shoulder and hands to their limits. Sadly for my bank account, those limits are far less than they were even a few years ago. Still, I think that the choices that I have made this week in terms of both work and training show an evolution in my way of thinking. I am trying to preserve my body for longer term goals rather than bust a gut (or a tendon) trying to do it all right now.
It's difficult to realize that you cannot do what you could do before, especially when you get paid by the horse. Every horse I cannot braid cuts deeply into my income. A couple of years ago I gave myself permission to start prioritizing my physical health over monetary gain and the bragging rights (You did 14? I did 17!) that are the primary currency in my profession. I bucked the trend of martyring yourself for the job, not that I wasn't the queen of that once (so you braided while you were pregnant? Passing out because you have the flu? Big deal. I died and still made it to work!- Ok, that story in a minute.) I would keep going through any kind of fatigue, literally just kicking my sense of self preservation out the door. It became kind of a goal to braid under the worst possible conditions and for as long as possible.
It was true of my training as well. I used to look forward to the bonk because that was when I could get all the way to the bottom of myself. It's why I have been able to tolerate ill fitting bikes and saddles, push injuries to the point of ruin, train day after day, week after week with little or no sleep, ride for hours in the midday heat of Florida with taking in no calories and minimal fluids. There was a certain high associated with smashing myself into the ground. I loved finishing a workout or a work day so smashed that I couldn't do anything else. I loved when it got so bad that it seemed spiritual to keep going.
That sort of bullheadedness has served me well over the years. It's a great attitude if you work with race horses and thoroughbred yearlings, compete in martial arts, or live without a safety net or support system for decades. I have done all of these things and this attitude has saved me because sometimes no matter how bad it gets, failure (stopping, giving in to pain) is not an option. But now I am trying to get my body to produce a type of performance that requires it to be functioning at it's peak, not just muscling through the mud. I find it very difficult to say no to one more horse. I struggle with feeling inadequate if I cannot do it all. This week, it feels like I did very little. I trained lightly, I braided steady numbers all week but about 2-3 more a night than what I can do pain-free, but by comparison to the other braiders who all did more, I feel like a failure.
That feeling, of course, permeates other areas of my life... particularly my training. I have really struggled since the last race with fatigue and consistency. I know this happens when I do the big drives and the changes in venue but I still can't shake the feeling that I am "letting it slip away". I am afraid I will go into my next race less fit than my last (and of course if that happens the sky will no doubt fall). Intellectually, I think I am making the right choices by pulling back and coasting through these harder times with the intentions of coming through them without a huge physical debt. But my mile wide stubborn streak and life long love affair with smashing myself until there is nothing left is making it hard to believe that I am anything but a total failure right now.
I see other athletes who balance work, training, life, and wonder why I can't seem to maintain the effort. I really have little perspective and I don't have any idea how much the unstable sleep schedule really impacts my life. I know that it is both helpful and disheartening to read what my former coach, DW wrote to me regarding training as a part of my life. I have chosen not to take his advice, to press forward instead, and on a good day, I really believe that progress is progress even if my lifestyle slow down the results. I know that in a moment I am going to finish this post, put my head down and go through the motions until I forget that I feel like this. I know that as soon as I get back to a regular training schedule, all this insecurity will evaporate and I will return to enjoying the process. But for the moment, for right now... this is my blog and I'll whine if I want to.
Ok, the story... As I have told you before I had some odd issues when my thyroid imbalance and gluten intolerance were untreated. One of those was very low blood pressure combined with a low heart rate. One week I had been feeling particularly bad so I went to a doctor and they drew blood. After it was over, I started to feel very sick and dizzy. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in an ambulance. I spent the day in the ER with docs making an enormous fuss but never really telling me what happened. Finally, they released me with no diagnosis. I had a friend pick me up and take me to get my car. I then went home, changed clothes and went to work. Months later when I followed up with the original office where the blood was drawn, I found out that the panic was because my heart had stopped for a short time and for a brief period it looked like I was not coming back to planet Earth. I was checked out by two cardiologists and ultimately given the green light to engage in any sort of activity, including triathlon/ironman training if I so chose. The conclusion was that I had a vagal response but since my bp, hr were already so low, the heart lost pressure... or something like that. I suppose if I had known that I had taken a walk on the dark side of the moon, I might have gotten those ponies covered by another braider... maybe, but the culture of the braiding world would have been working against me.
Total madness, total madness. I refuse to believe that I have made a poor choice by refusing to push myself this far past my limits to earn a little more money (or get a few more miles in) today. I do believe that I would be dealing with far fewer injuries if I would have learned to pace myself a little sooner and in the long run would probably have gotten farther in all aspects of life. Here's to hoping I get the most out of what I have left.