Thursday, July 25, 2013

Crowder Peas and R.I.C.E.

Downtime plan: Don't panic, don't overdo it, don't kill any stupid people.

Well, I am now a week into my punishment DOWNTIME (it's downtime... downtime.... like vacation!!.... whatever.), and I ran for the first time today.  While I would normally be guilty of dropping everything in favor of the bike because I favor it so much, this time I had a legitimate excuse to alibi the behavior that would have happened anyways.

I had recently had a very painful episode that turned out to be a displaced and locked fibular head with a trapped nerve.  I visit to the clinic followed by a visit to the clinic ruled out and diagnosed the problem but the doc said it was too far gone for her to attempt the manipulation that would bring it back in line.  I was referred to a local OD and she did the deed.  It ended up not being a horrible process and the bone shifted back into position with a satisfying click.  She cleared me to ride that afternoon so I bolted off for a 50 miler.  The following day I was sore enough to feel like it needed a day of rest.  The one nice thing about the whole off-season in the middle of the summer thing? I was able to rest it guilt free.

Tonight, I attempted to run.  I popped the bone back in since it was trying to migrate again and taped the area up to offer some stability.  Then, I made my way out to the VASA trail (the place I saw the bear last year).  With Wilbur in tow, I did the 5K loop plus short out and backs off the loop.  I have no idea how far I ran, only that I ran for a little under 50 mins.  The leg did great, the breathing was much slower to cooperate but the trail is beautiful, challenging, and fun.

Towards the end, a mountain biker attempted to pass me as I ran up a long, steep hill.  It was single track so Wilbur and I stepped off the trail as he went by, honestly grateful for the reprieve since the hill was a bitch!  I then started running again.  A few seconds later, I caught up to him.  We ascended the hill side by side.  When it leveled off, he quickly shifted and rode away but I am pretty sure his ego was laying on the side of that trail.  He didn't quite get chicked by an asthmatic 40 year old woman on foot.... but close enough that he was clearly upset by it.  He went as far as using precious energy to tell me that he was going slow because he was tired from spending the day with his family at the beach.  I would have felt bad for him but my legs were hogging all the oxygen so my brain (the mushy bit responsible for emotions) wasn't getting any at that moment.

At the top of that hill, I turned around and headed back down to pick the 5K loop up again.  I really don't descend on foot any better than I do on a bicycle.  Ok, let's face it.  I'm a klutz.  I was bombing down the hill trying to keep my feet under me when I stepped on a rock and turned my ankle.  It was a sharp pain that didn't go away right off so I decided to treat it like an potential injury.  I was cautious on the trail the rest of the way back and now have that foot up and packed in frozen crowder peas.  I am not sure what crowder peas actually are but they make a great ice pack!

Crowder Peas and R.I.C.E.

Wilbur, on the other hand, is presently so tired that he has slipped off the back of the couch into the window sill... and doesn't care.

A tired dog is a good dog!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Let's Talk About The Upside.

I am falling short of race goals again due to prevailing health issues.  I am frustrated and disappointed but there are a few very shiny silver linings.

1.) My Health.  Do I think that all these problems are suddenly cropping up from nowhere? No.  I spent most of my life abusing my body and neglecting my health.  In fact, at a certain point in my history, the abuse of my body could almost be considered suicidal.  Now I am testing my body with hard training and all of the damage and weakness that those years left are simply giving way under pressure.  The reality is that just because you wake up one day and decide to clean up your act does not mean that you haven't incurred a huge physical debt that must be paid.  The wealth of orthopedic problems that I have suffered are not because I am fundamentally flawed but because I did an awful lot of damage while I was 100+ lbs overweight.  As I got back into shape, my joints and tissues had a lot of wear and tear, plus the first few years I was compounding the issues by carrying a lot of excess weight in training.  That's the way it goes, folks, when you walk that road.  You don't lose weight and magically all your problems go away. Your body will struggle to heal them but you cannot expect results overnight.  Your kinetic chain will be totally out of whack and it will take a lot of careful patient work to get things back in balance... but it can be done... slowly.

The same holds true for my breathing issues.  The doc thinks, given my history, I have always had asthma.  The mold and allergies may have pushed it over the edge but chances are, I have never known what it feels like to train using my full lung capacity.  I have a lifetime of defense mechanisms in place that tell me to stop right before my breathing gets out of control.  I'll be honest, until recently, it's possible that I never pushed myself out of L2/3 because that's when the oxygen ran out.  The fact that I have NEVER in all my years made myself muscle sore from cardiovascular work (weight lifting was another story), even hard races, tells me a lot.  I've rarely even had a burn in my legs during a hard effort.  I have never been able to push that hard because I was gasping for air.

What does this mean for me in the long run?  Well, provided I don't let the run of difficulties get the best of my attitude, it means that at some point, if we can solve these issues, I will have the ability to improve in a way that I never have before.  For every challenge, handicap, struggle, there is a unique advantage that can be gained if you can make yourself open to the idea.  I was overweight.  As a result, I have a lot of joint damage.  The upside?  I am also very, very strong from all those years of working in barns, being very active while being over 235 lbs (at 5'4").  I have learned to be semi-competitive while using about half the oxygen my body can actually provide. Right now, I am choosing to focus on the possibilities that holds for the future.

2.) My Love Of The Sport.  When I got sick last fall and had to take some unstructured time, it nearly sent me over the edge.  "Unstructured" also immediately became "inactive".  But I was also very sick.  This time, even though we are only a couple of days into it, I am looking forward to doing some bike "touring" while I am in Michigan, riding with some of the local guys, and so far have woken up each day eager to do some work.  Yesterday's late evening ride plugged me into one significant fact.... I LOVE to ride.  I also love to train the run and swim as well but at the moment, heading out the door knowing that I am not obligated to do anymore than I feel up for has eliminated the sense of being overwhelmed that had been developing.  I go back to my horse training days on this and find it humorous that I am not so different from the animals.  A horse can train through pain/problems for a while, but eventually, it starts to eat away at it's passion and courage until finally the animal loses all it's "heart" and gets "sour".  Same holds true for people.  It's called burnout.  This time, working with a coach that was really in touch with the situation meant that we got a handle on the situation before I burned out (which is my usual M.O.)  In a perfect world, the off season unstructured time would not come 3 weeks before the "A" race but hey, the world isn't perfect.  At least it is coming before I am so far gone that I can't enjoy it.

Coach Brain (Stover)
3.)  My Coach.  This is huge.  Brian (Brain) has my number for sure.  I don't doubt for a moment that he was expecting this to happen weeks ago.  He also let me fight for it for a little longer and come to my own conclusions about the futility of the situation.  He then listened to me and talked it through for a LOOONG time.  He never made me feel like he/we were giving up but rather that we were making a choice to take a long range view of my situation.  At some point, a coaching relationship gets tested.  You WILL find out if your coach is truly invested or if they are simply cashing checks.  Brian (Brain) showed me that he is not only invested but understands my brand of crazy well enough to keep me on track through a tough time.  His experience, support, and dynamic approach to coaching are the difference between a post about being disappointed and series of tragic posts that rolled across this site last fall.  My faith in him going forward will be even greater than it already had been.  I truly believe that I am in good hands and that will pay dividends down the road... even more than it is currently.  He has already achieved impressive results with a half-broken athlete.  I'm looking forward to see where we go from here as my body continues to heal and get stronger.

Right now, I am going through a transition from seriously overweight couch potato through recreational fitness enthusiast to serious athlete.  There are a lot of layers that get uncovered in the process and many long-neglected details that have to get sorted out... a lot of debt to be paid.  It's not an overnight process, or an easy one.  It is a process and with each layer I peel back, each time I find a new problem that can no longer be ignored, it is because I am becoming a better athlete and pushing my boundaries farther and farther.  Each step takes me farther down this road I'm on and further cements the changes I have made in my life.  Each problem that arises is another opportunity to clear the road to my best self.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Hard Decisons

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I have been dealing with some breathing problems since last fall.  I had really hoped that cleaning out the AC would work and it did, for a short time.  Starting last week, they started to creep back up and reached full strength, maybe even worse than they had been, a few days ago.

Back in June when they got so bad that I ended up going to the clinic up here for some medical attention, my coach broached the topic of whether or not I was going to be able to race nationals.  The missed workouts represented a big hit to my fitness in one of the last blocks of good training time available leading up to that race. At that point there was still time to salvage it if I could turn things around.  When we discovered the mold in the AC and following the clean up I had a run of very good days, I thought things were really looking up.

Beginning last weekend I felt the symptoms start returning.  Last Wednesday, I took a Time Trial clinic and during a hard effort had a really nasty attack.  It was one of the worst since CapTex.  Since then, I have missed or shortened more workouts than I have completed.  Yesterday, I didn't make it 20 minutes into my ride.  Last night, I emailed Brian "Do you have time for a call?"  We needed to talk.

We talked today and discussed it at length.  Aside from the obvious conclusions of I needed a new medication regimen to control the asthma and that I probably need a new job, we also discussed Nationals and the rest of the season.  We came to the decision that I needed to not go and take all other races off the calendar until the fall.  Even though I knew this was coming, it was a huge disappointment to finally hear it out loud.

The conclusion was to approach training with more of an off-season attitude so that when I am not feeling well, I don't push and when I feel good, I can stretch my legs a little more.  For the moment swimming is on hold since the shoulder prevents any real progress there and to focus what energy I have on the bike and run.

While I feel like this is a good decision, I am at the moment grappling with a big case of "WHAT NOW??"  I was fighting (even if I was losing) to hold the training together for this race and the one in September that I kind of feel like everything just went out of focus.  I figured I would give myself tonight to be unhappy about it and tomorrow it would be time to kick on.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Words Just Keep Failing Me.

This week started with a death, included a holiday, and ended with my birthday.  It has been deeply emotional. I have started this post and deleted it at least a dozen times.

I want to tell you about a friend of mine.  She wasn't perfect... who is.  She was real.  She was honest.  She was funny.  She could laugh at herself, laugh with you, laugh at you if you made the mistake of taking yourself too seriously.  She suffered a great deal of hurt in her life yet forgave readily if the situation allowed.  Her smile was infectious and she would have walk across a battleground if she had a friend on each side that she wanted to chat with.

She was a braider like me, and though she was younger than I am, had been doing it much longer.    She was excited about her upcoming wedding, scheduled for this October in Colorado.  She was determined to lose weight, get in shape, and take back her life and health, in spite of a recent setback due to a broken ankle.  She called me to tell me of her recent steps in this endeavor a little over a week ago.  It wasn't about the dress.  She already knew she looked beautiful in it.  It was about feeling good and living well.

The first time I met her was in December of 2007.  She talked to me like I was family within five minutes.  She instantly befriended me and never wavered in that.  I had no idea that I was meeting  what would be one of my closest friends in the braiding world and one of the only people I could ever fully trust.  She also was to become one of my staunchest supporters in, well, pretty much everything.

We became friends.  She had this great laugh and it was there for everyone.  Do something funny and she'd laugh at you until you were laughing too.  I recall a time that that I looked over at her and she was having an intense conversation with a basket of flowers.  I got really confused and asked her sheepishly if she was talking to the flowers.  When the laughing finally subsided I found out it was a person out of my line of sight but hey, we are braiders.  A conversation with a basket of flowers is never entirely outside the range of possibility.

When I started to lose weight and train hard, she thought it was great, cool, fantastic.  She never made me feel like I was improving myself though.  That would be impossible because the previous incarnation was a perfect as this new one.  That was the thing, you were perfect just the way you were.... here... now... just like this.  Wanna make a change?  Cool.  That version would be perfect too.  Her world view was one that would make any Buddhist proud and yet it came without meditation or effort.  It was just her.  Just the way she was.  And to me, that seems pretty perfect.

Last Tuesday, this young woman in her 30's started her day like anyone else.  I'm sure she woke up.  She may have tossed a shoe at the alarm clock.  There was probably some breakfast in there somewhere.  She went about her day doing the mundane things that we all do.  The things we don't even consider as they tumble from the roster of habits each and every day.  Something mundane went wrong.  Probably something that has happened to us all but she drew those long odds that it could be bad.  Then the even longer odds that it could be a worse case scenario.  Then those exponentially longer odds that it could be a worst case in the worst place.  She beat all those odds. This day she experienced a set of circumstances more rare than a lightning bolt, more rare than the powerball.  Against all odds and in the blink of an eye, that mundane task ended her life.

She will not get married.  She will never again listen to me cry out my frustrations.  She will never laugh at me again for being a doofus.  She will never again call me in the middle of the night to ask how my race went.  She will never again talk to a basket of flowers.  In an instant, her life is over.

The funeral was Saturday.  I was unable to attend.  I missed my chance to say goodbye because I was slammed at work.  I hope she was sitting in Paradise, drinking a Mai Tai, watching us scurry around, panic braiding, and laughing her ass off.  It was that idea that got me through Saturday night.

When I finally began to accept her death and understand that it was real, I posted this:

Finally getting my head around things. Last night it really hit me that I have no choice but to say goodbye. I don't know how and nothing seems good enough but that was the thing about Dee, you were always good enough... no matter how imperfect... she loved people as is, right now, warts and all, judgement free. She raised forgiveness and acceptance (AND HUMOR) to an art form. Rest in Peace, my beautiful friend. I truly miss you. 

The lesson in her death is this.  You never know.  Kiss your kids.  Express your love.  Show kindness.  Dump all your baggage.  Live fully and joyfully so that each moment could be your last without regret.  Things could turn in an instant.  Live every minute of your life.  The only moment you are guaranteed is this one.