Tuesday, May 28, 2013

CapTexTri: CapTexDNF.

The calm before the storm.

I wanted to write this yesterday, partly because I felt so dejected that I wanted to do something with it and vomiting my self-pity all over the internet seemed like a splendid idea.  Thankfully, I refrained or my limited readership would have been reduced to nothing as they all threw themselves off a proverbial cliff like a herd of literary lemmings.... just to make it stop.

What happened?

Honestly, there are a few stories here.  1.) the story of a failed work/life balance and the impact that has on the body. 2.) The story of how a bad situation can become potentially life threatening in a race situation.  3.)  Dealing with my first DNF and all the irrational thoughts that accompany it.

Over the last few weeks, my work load has gotten.. um, ridiculous.  It's never good but it went from bad to worse with very little warning.  I kicked off the last show before the race (most shows run in two week cycles) by getting sick.  A brief but highly unpleasant little visit from a stomach bug came on the heels of a particularly heavy training week.  In my profession, taking a night off of work is like a solider saying, "Ya know, I just don't feel like being at war today."  Not particularly realistic but I did it anyhow.  The braiders that closed ranks so that I could do that all had to shoulder an abusive workload so that I could be sick.  I owed them my best efforts in the weeks following.  I gave it to them, doing not only my own work but helping others nearly every night.  On the days off, I body clipped horses instead of resting (a decision that was a probably a very big player since every major asthma attack has been within a couple of days of body clipping).  I pushed my shoulder past it's limits.  My training got put on hold.  Brian did everything in his power to keep me from falling off the cliff.
Body clipping involves shaving every last centimeter of the animal.
Hugo here is very happy to let me wear the remnants of his winter coat.

It is very dirty, allergic work.  That is hair all over my arm.
Every bad attack I have had has been right after doing this.

By the second week, I had pushed my body over the edge and I had that weird nervous energy that I assume is my blood:cortisol:caffeine ratios reaching critical.  When I start to have that feeling, I stop sleeping.  And so, I stopped sleeping.  Four days of not sleeping.  By Friday, the only note to my coach in my workout schedule is "Day four of no sleep. I'm Fucked." I finally slept Saturday morning, but then got up Saturday, worked until 3 am, slept until 6 am, drove to home, went to packet pick up/bike check-in, etc.  I finally got into bed at 9:50 pm.  I was awake by 11:40 pm.  Not quite two hours... damn.  I did fall back to sleep for a while but definitely did not get what I needed.

The morning of the race, my stomach was in revolt so eating was largely out of the question.  I had slightly overslept and was rushing so coffee and a some protein powder in almond milk was as far as I got.  I had some bars with me and I figured if it settled I could eat one an hour or so before the race.  I wasn't in any mood for food but I did run back to my car 20 mins before transition closed and got another dose of antihistamines   I wasn't breathing well at all and I was concerned.  Transition closed and I ended up not taking anything with me.  It wasn't until later that I found out they had changed the start times and I would not go for another 2 hours.

I wanted to warm up but once I got down to the swim start it was too crowded and there was no opportunity to get in the water.  I wasn't really expecting much from this race so I just planned to start slow and use the first 400 as a warmup.  The swim start went well, though I had positioned myself too conservatively and swam over a lot of people for the first half of the race.  My time was about 2 mins slower than my last Olympic time... you know, the one where I took the scenic route.... so I was pretty disappointed in that but otherwise, I had sighted well and stayed under control.  My shoulder, however, bitched and moaned with every stroke and swimming a straight line meant that I had to be trying to turn right the whole time.  Whatever.  It got done.

I ran towards T1 feeling no worse than usual and thought that things might be looking up.  I am totally comfortable with my ability on the bike and just trust my legs will be there for me.  It was time to do what I do best: Go hunting.  There was this crazy long run to the start line and since I was racked on the far side of transition it was probably 800 yds or more (I probably need new cleats now) and I was feeling confident.  A volunteer shouted "Now that's FAST!!" as I rolled the bike past him.  I responded with a smile "Yes, it is."

I jumped on the bike and had a clear shot onto the course.  Since I was in the last of the Olympic AG waves, it was a traffic nightmare.  I started passing people and quickly found myself surrounded by some very good male riders on some very slick bikes.  (I love when you print your name on your butt so that I can specify who's I am addressing.. "On your left, Colorado!"  Colorado and I were on the same bike and played leapfrog for a while.  That was fun.)  The course headed up a short little hill and I tried to punch it.  I came up flat.  I settled back and spun up the hill and tried to kick into gear again heading towards the capitol... again... nothing.  My breathing had been pretty ragged but that's not uncommon early in a ride so I didn't worry about it.  I dug in and pushed myself.  That was when I felt it.  It was almost like that moment when your car blows a vacuum tube and you experience a sudden power loss.  My breathing spiked and I started to cough.  I looked at the garmin... 166 watts... barely tempo.  WTH? Didn't matter.  I was having a bronchospasm and I needed to worry about that.  I pulled to the right and soft-pedaled for a while.  It lessened a bit but did not fully stop.  As it eased, I thought I might be able to slowly get back into the race.  This was the big mistake.  I tried to pick it up a bit and my breathing went haywire.

I wondered how one goes about retiring from a packed course like this.  I knew my inhaler was in transition so getting back there seemed like a good plan.  I scanning for ways off the course.  I didn't see anything.  The nice thing about a really fast bike is that it goes a long way without slowing down.  I was able mostly coast all the way to where the turnoff for transition was and chose to stay on the bike to that point because it was faster and less work than walking.  About this time, a male rider (if clothes and speed are an indicator, not a very good one) went by my and made a really nasty comment about my bike and the fact that I was going slow.  I may not have been able to breathe but discovered that my middle finger had a mind of it's own.   By the time I got there, I was dealing with a fair bit of tunnel vision and disorientation.  At the turnaround, I pulled into the crowd to dismount, informed a volunteer and a cop that I couldn't breathe and my inhaler was in transition.  The cop ignored me and the volunteer simply told the people next me to let me through.  I headed into the crowd to find a break in the fence to get to transition.  I could get through the wall of people and at this point I was having trouble speaking.  I used the bike like a battering ram, running the front wheel into people who refused to move.  I was starting to lose my ability to rationalize this problem and my anxiety levels were skyrocketing.  I felt like I was in a nightmare or a horror movie.  I couldn't talk, I couldn't breathe, I could barely think, I couldn't find a way through the fence, and I was surrounded by people who acted like I was invisible.

After what was obviously about 200 years, a spectator... a man with an impossibly small dog... realized that I was in distress.  He asked me if I needed help and took my gurgle as a YES.  He found a group of volunteers and we all tried to find that holy grail: a way through the fence.  Still wasn't happening.  For some reason everyone kept trying to relieve me of my bicycle.  Unfortunately, I was A.) not thinking well enough to keep track of it so I wasn't about to let it go and B.) using it like a walker.  Without it, I would not have been moving forward.  That caused an additional spike in my anxiety levels until finally they just let the baby keep her binkie. Since no one really knew what to do, one of the volunteers stayed with me and we walked that fence line until FINALLY we found a way in.  About this time, someone asked if I wanted to go to the med tent but by then, my inhaler was closer.
This was the middle transition area where I was racked.
There was another set of racks to either side.
You can see the red fence around the outside that became my nemesis.

Once we got back to my transition area, I folded up on the grass and hit the inhaler several times. The attack eased and my breathing normalized.  With the introduction of air and the passing of the emergency, the adrenaline that had been holding me together ebbed away and I dissolved into tears.  The volunteer put her arms around me and talked to me until I stopped crying.  Then I started packing up my transition area.  I sat on a rock ledge and waited until they announced that bikes were to be released from transition.  As I sat there, I tried not to focus on all the people being announced across the finish line, all the smiles and finishers medals, the beautiful weather, the general ambiance of the day that I normally love so much.  I was just making me feel worse.  I found myself thinking that I should have somehow sucked it up.  I was fine now, maybe it wasn't as bad as I had thought.  I knew that if I had just been a little tougher, I could be enjoying all that right now.  I sent a text to my coach, "dnf".  He texted back "It's probably for the best.  Get some rest."  I felt like a total failure.  I was also suddenly so tired I was struggling to stay awake even with all that albuterol (a powerful stimulant) in my system.

When they released the bikes, I grabbed mine and started out of transition.  THAT was when I noticed that volunteer.  She was shadowing me a few feet away.  She had been there the whole time.  She seemed to know I wanted to be left alone, but did not truly leave me.  I never thanked her but I could not have been more grateful.  For all that was wrong, she represented everything that was right.

When I got home, I immediately crashed.  I really didn't get out of bed again that day.  The amount of sleep I have gotten since yesterday morning tells me just how deep the deficit really was.  Between naps, Brian and I exchanged a novella's worth of emails troubleshooting the day.  There was another thing to be grateful for... his pragmatic responses kept me focused on solving problems rather than wallowing in them.

I probably shouldn't have raced but it's in my nature to try.  It's also in my nature to take a failure or bad race hard and very personally.  It's part of why I work at it the way I do.  I don't do things halfway.  Right, wrong, good, bad... it's the way I'm wired.  I prefer to think it's a strong attribute, even though it can be hard to live with.  It's also in my nature to put my head down and get right back to work.  The sooner I heal, recover, regain the fitness I have lost recently, and get back into the fight, the better I will be.  Last night, I indulged in a hefty slice of self pity pie.  Today, I have work to do.

The day before the race, knowing I was behind the eight-ball, I tweeted this:

"Even though I will prob suffer a lot for iffy results, I plan to go in swinging, bleed it all out, see if I'm still standing at the finish."

I did exactly that, and as it turns out, I was not still standing at the finish.  We like to think of all the times that it works out well, but if you are truly going to take a risk, then it is well... a risk you take.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tempering Expectations.

Lately, life and triathlon training have gone head to head with my job and my job has been winning.

A quote from my twitter feed: 
"This week my job executed a hostile takeover of life, training, health, well-being. I'm still standing but those four are on the mats"

I think it was something like this:

Look at my job go!
Look at how effortlessly it destroys everything in it's path.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is display of raw power!

I don't actually get a day off this week as I have a little work to do today but at least I didn't have to work last night and I got some serious sleep.  I feel better but very one dimensional.  I wouldn't be stressing about this but I have a race next monday and the last week went like this:

Monday: Bad run leads to total meltdown.

Tuesday: Drive to Tyler, TX, get a stomach flu.

Wednesday: Recover from stomach flu by staying up all night and braiding 15 horses in 13 hours (figure 60-70 mins/horse is a reasonable estimate) because that was all the time I had!

Thursday: After a round of insomnia, repeat Wednesday. Whimper a few times.

Friday:  Get 5 hours sleep, repeat Thursday, add an extra horse.  Note that IT Band and knee are totally flared up from so much "good ladder time".  Seriously question sanity, consider a life of crime.

Saturday: Sleep 7 hours, struggle to tie shoes.  Be relieved that the list drops to 10 horses even though it takes almost 13 hours to do them because you are so sore.  After work which including collection drags on until 12 pm, go for lunch (breakfast? Dinner?), throw caution to the wind and drink Margarita and eat chips.  Pass out as soon as arriving home.

Sunday:  Sleep until 8 pm.  Go back to bed at 9:30 pm.

Monday: Wake up at 9 am.  Question sanity.  Blog over coffee.

Back to the title of the blog.

Until just recently- kind of last week- it was still spring in Texas (winter two weeks ago).  Wednesday night a nasty storm rolled through and now it's summertime.  The temps have skyrocketed and the air has that feel of summer that goes beyond being hot.  Since it is May in Texas (Last year it was triple digits by Memorial day), I can only assume it will stay that way.  I have not trained... not one mile logged since Monday.  I am not acclimating to the heat I will probably deal with next week at CapTex.  I am going to pay for that.

Also, CapTex is a runners race, in my opinion, for age groupers.  I am going off in the 14th wave on a tight course with a lot of turnarounds, four laps, and 3500 racers.  I am unlikely to ever get out of traffic.  My running lately has been less than stellar.  My ITB issues are already speaking up due to too much time on the ladder and next week is threatening to be nearly as busy as this one.  Frankly, between this, the lack of training, and the heat, I'll be lucky to not be walking the run and there will be little chance to kill it on the bike.

Final nail in the coffin?  The swim.  I did essentially the same route last year and found that the current required my to swim stronger with my weak side.  I almost couldn't manage the turn at all.  I have been working on swimming straighter but that is only so much help when the current is pushing you towards an injured shoulder.  I had my worst swim time ever on this course last fall and I am not expecting tons of improvement now.

I have to face the fact that this race IS going to come down to the dreaded run.

It comes down to the run...
wait, something is wrong with this image... Hmmm.

There... fixed it.
That's more like it.

There are a million good reasons to scratch from this race.  There is an overwhelming body of evidence that I should simply dial it back and focus on finishing.  I have all the reasons in the world to just cruise this and call it an expensive training day.

Why all the doom and gloom?  Because I am trying to take a dose of reality with my morning coffee.  My morale has been suffering enough lately without any big surprises here.

But also... because I fight my best fights when I KNOW I am behind the 8-ball.  The duck loves to be the underdog.  Knowing that, deep down, will bring out that tenacious scrapper that latches on and never gives up, no matter how painful and regardless of the ultimate outcome.  It becomes about the fight... outcome be damned.

I will need her next week because nothing else is going to help me.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Someday I Will Learn...

I am very short on time tonight but it occurs to me that I can't leave that last post hanging out there without some sort of follow-up.

As you know....

I ran.
I cried.
I wanted to quit.

What you don't know...

I slept.
I woke up.
I got a grip.

Other important details...

I got sick the next day.

Why is this important?  Because it most likely was a contributor to the meltdown.  I was carrying a wagon load of fatigue but also fighting a virus.  At first, I thought it was some kind of food poisoning but as it turns out, everyone has had it.  I actually made it through faster than most which is probably due to the fact that I take care of myself.

Someday I will learn that those really tragic workouts are a symptom of something that has gone wrong, not a baseline for how much I suck.  They are actually a valuable tool for telling me when I need to hunker down and be kind to my body.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Do I Need To Get Real?

Caveat: I am at the end of a heavy week of training so I may not be in my right mind.  I am tired, mentally and physically, by design.  I may wake up tomorrow and want to take this post down.

The problem is the run.  Running.  You all know I have a love-hate relationship with running.  It's right there in the title of the blog.  Every so often, after months of torturous work, I will have a tiny little breakthrough that allows me to understand HOW someone could truly love running.  Up until now, until today, those tiny little glimmers of hope have been enough to keep me slogging through torturous workout after torturous workout.  I think I reached a breaking point today.  I don't want to do this anymore.  I don't want to keep beating my head against a wall if it's not going to accomplish anything.

I don't care that it's hard.  In fact, I like that it is hard.  I care that I seem to be making zero progress.  I will progress for short periods but then like the tide, it always slips away and there will be no trace of it left.  I was on a long run today, moving so painfully slow not because it was an easy, comfortable pace but because that was all I had.  My mind just went to pieces.  I stopped, sat on a bench and cried my eyes out.  I have been working my ass off since 2008 and I still can't run.  In fact, I was slower today than when I ran-walked my first half marathon in 2010 undertrained, on tired legs, with no food or water, and carrying an additional 50 lbs.

I have to ask myself when I am going to face the reality that I am never going to get any better at this.  On the rare occasion that I have a good run, it is a wonderful experience.  Fully of freedom, fun, and joy.  But it's about twice a year.  I don't know that I can keep this up for that twice a year.  I have a race in two weeks and I couldn't even manage to achieve my race pace from Orlando going downhill.  Nothing has happened.  Nothing has changed.  My body just said no.  And right there on the Town Lake trail, I lost it.

I can't blame training.  I have a great coach and he is my fourth.  I can't blame nutrition or hydration... not today.  I can't claim it was a hilly route.  Nope, pretty flat.  I am treating my asthma... my blood work is all ok... I didn't forget my anti-histamine.  Long?  No.  Only went 6.17 miles today.  Nothing explains it other than the fact that every time I push my body on the run, it pushes back.

I have been mentally flirting with the idea of making the switch to cycling but I don't know that I would enjoy it.  I don't like riding in a pack and crits seem horrible to me.  I like being on a team.. in name... not in a race.  The solitary nature of my job would make it incredibly hard to develop the skills necessary to be an effective racer.  The lone wolf nature of my personality would make teamwork more than a little difficult.  I don't know what to do, quite honestly.  All I know is that I don't think I can continue to convince myself that improvement is just up the road if I just try a little harder.

Please don't post and tell me that it's okay to be mid-pack or that just finishing is good enough.  I work too hard for this and I am just not wired that way.  If I was content with a non-competitive finish, I would not work nearly this hard.  To me, pursuit of futile goals is plain stupid.

Right now, I think I might have one more good, frustrated cry, then a nap, then a beer.  In that order.  I'm sure that by tomorrow, stubbornness will take back over and I will keep pressing forward, progress or not.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Face Of Suck!

I went into my last race rested but not fit.  The weeks between this race and the previous had been spotty and inconsistent.  DD did a beautiful job of damage control as I struggled with my thyroid, energy levels, asthma and allergies, work schedule, and a few other issues and I made it to the race.  This was, by itself, something of a victory.  However, it meant that I got off the bike and headed out onto the run with sub-optimal run fitness (keeping in mind that the same circumstances in the past have resulted in major time off, even trips to the hospital).  By the time I came down to the final run where the photographer had positioned himself, I was running on stubbornness alone.  Fortunately, I have that in limitless supply... just ask anyone that has ever had to live with me.

If you were wondering what happens when you race unfit, I'll show you.  This is the face of SUCK!

Coming off the bike.
The roads were so rough that vibration made hands, feet go numb.
Was definitely suffering here.

Thinking this sucks.

Knowing this sucks.

Realizing that this sucks so much even kittens can't fix it.
  The question is... how can someone be in that much pain and make THAT face but still be having fun?  It's one of the great mysteries of the universe.