Saturday, April 26, 2014

So That Happened

In case you're wondering, that would be part of the report of the MRA (kind of like an MRI) I had on Thursday.

And in case you're wondering what a labrum is (I know I certainly didn't have the word in my vocabulary until a few weeks ago), this handy picture might help a bit.  Funny how such a small little piece of tissue can cause SO MUCH FREAKING PAIN, when it's not perfectly intact and aligned.  And in fact, my tear is so small, that despite staring very intently at the computer screen and with my doctor pointing to exactly where the tear was, I still couldn't see it.  I finally just agreed that I saw it so we wouldn't have to stare at the screen anymore.  I'm glad there are really smart people in this world who become doctors!

As you might imagine, my past few weeks have been filled with ART, PT and MD appointments (and a fair amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth).  I've had xrays, lots of physical exams and most recently the MRA.  Quick word on the MRA - it's pretty cool to watch the contrast go into your system and through the joint!  It's not so cool to be in the actual MRI machine.  I wouldn't consider myself claustrophobic but darn it if it didn't take a few tries before the very nice (and patient) nurse was able to get me into the machine without me having a panic attack!  My advice to you should you need one?  Close your eyes and make up songs to the banging noises.  It works.

So, about that torn labrum (and the other stuff too).  When you don't see me on the start line in St. Croix or Texas, you know why!  BUT, but not all hope is lost.  While torn labrums sometimes do require surgery and there is a real possibility that I might end up in that category, there are some more conservative ways to treat them.  This includes a steroid injection into the joint, which I got yesterday afternoon.  This injection required another big needle but was also super cool to watch on the ultrasound machine!  And guess who has one of the biggest femoral arteries that Dr. McLane has ever seen?  Yep, THIS GIRL!  New party trick!  (I just knew I was talented in some way...)

After the injection: instant relief (and that just from the numbing agent they use in conjunction with the steroid, not from the actual steroid itself).  AH!  I can pull my knee up to my chest without wincing in pain!  Instant mood booster!  However as I'm sure most of you know, steroid injections don't fix the problem.  I am still going to have a torn labrum.  But the hope is that if the steroid can reduce all the inflammation surrounding the problem, I can move forward.  Best case scenario, the injection, plus ART, plus PT can solve this problem and I never see the inside of an operating suite.  Middle case scenario, the conservative approach allows me to race through the summer/fall and I get the surgery at the end of the year.  Worst case scenario, this doesn't work at all and I have surgery in 3 or 4 weeks.

As I told Tim (my coach) on the phone this morning, I do love a good challenge.  I would much prefer the challenge of hitting X number of watts on the bike or swimming on X interval or running X pace on my long run.  But, we don't always get to choose our challenges.  And I'm starting to understand that if I can embrace this challenge, just as much as I would my training or racing, I'm going to be okay, no matter which scenario plays out.

Soon I'll write about the psychology of injury from my perspective.  One thing is for sure, I suck at being hurt!  I'm learning though and I think I might be able to share some tips that have really helped me.  Most importantly though, I want to really say thank you to a few people that have gotten me through this last month (without whom, I'd be in some serious trouble).  Dr. Herring, Dr. McLane, Brad (best ART guy EVAH!), Linsey and a whole host of other friends and teammates that have checked in on me.  My family - they don't really have a choice of putting up with me or not but they sure do a great job of it!  Kim, my girl, who is one of the few people in this world that I can tell EVERYTHING to and who can truly understand (and won't think I'm crazy).  Tim, my coach, who surely does not get paid enough to deal with the hot mess of a situation that I put us in.  He goes above and beyond and without his direction and guidance (and assurance that "I WILL BE OKAY") through this bump in the road, I'm not entirely sure I'd be able to figure my own way.  And finally, Oscar.  We've been through a lot of ups and downs in the last 16 years together.  And although I don't think he can always understand the whys of my sadness, one thing he has NEVER failed at is being there for me.  And he's good at dealing with a few (or MANY) tears.  And he is the most selfless, loving person I've ever known.

So anyway, I think this blog is sounding way more dramatic than I intended it to be.  I'm not dying of cancer, my hip just hurts a little bit!  BUT, when someone is down and out, it doesn't really matter the reason.  All that matters is that they have people to carry them through.  And I couldn't be more thankful for "my" people.

When not dealing with banged up wife, Oscar runs sub 3 hour marathons on the weekend for fun.  :)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Me And My (non) Friend, Diet Coke

When most kids go off to college, they start drinking alcohol.  Or if they already drank, they start binge drinking alcohol.  But I've never done alcohol and never will.  So when I went off to college, I started drinking Diet Coke.  

This was quite possibly just as big of a mistake.

What ensued over the next 17 years (yes, it's been THAT long since I've been a freshman in college), was a full scale, all out, no holds barred addiction.  And I mean addiction in the strongest sense of the word.

I could tell you how much Diet Coke I would drink on a regular day, but I don't want to scare you.  Nor do I want you to think I'm some kind of freak.  So I'll just tell you it was a lot.  Like A LOT.  Like think of a really large number in your head and then add a few extra cans.

This was my motto (yes, I drank it for breakfast):

And when life got rough, this was my motto (yes, I medicated myself with Diet Coke):

I'm kind of surprised I still have teeth, to tell you the truth.  Have you ever seen this?  I love being compared to meth users!

So anyway, I decided I was going to quit drinking it.  Because whether you believe Diet Coke is okay to drink or not, I think we'd ALL agree that drinking it as much as I did was NOT okay.

Now, this isn't the first time I have tried to give up Diet Coke.  I've definitely made some (weak) attempts in the past.  Like the one time I decided I was going to give it up for Lent.  That lasted not even one day (I kid you not - by that evening I was cracking open a can).  Or the time this past July when I decided I was going to "cut back" and by the third day of cutting back, I was already back up to 95% of my previous usage.

This is not a picture of me, but it should be.
So what was different this time?  Not really sure.  Other than I started associated it a bit more with performance (ie: stop drinking Diet Coke and you will be faster) and I will do ANYTHING (legal, of course) to improve performance.  And the other thing is, I finally acknowledged the fact that I don't know how to do anything in moderation so it was either I drink it (like 5 liters of it) or I did NOT drink (like none at all, no "cutting back", no "weaning down", just full out cold turkey STOP).

54 days.  That's how long it's been.  I wouldn't say I'm out of the woods yet.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.  It was easy at first because I was at training camp and my roomies Steph and Kim didn't drink it so we didn't have it in our house.  Plus I was training all day so there wasn't really time.  Kim can tell you how I almost cried on the drive home because I wanted it so bad (when I'm traveling I LOVE it even more).  And once I got home and back in the routine of life, I definitely have had some real longings for it.  Oscar (bless his heart) agreed to my request to not have it in our house.  But when we go out to eat, I WANT IT SO BAD I would give up an arm.  Or a leg.  Or a lung.  Anything for a Diet Coke.  I thought of Diet Coke the ENTIRE flight from Phoenix to Pittsburgh on my trip home from Cabo (darn flight attendants kept flashing it around) and when I'm at work (where I can get free fountain Diet Coke - THE best), I have to just avoid the cafeteria altogether (which is hard because my office is right next to it).

So yeah, it's hard.  And not getting much easier.  But I know it will.  54 days.  Just focusing on day #55 right now.  Diet Coke, you will not win.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Ironman Cabo - Lucky Number 7

Despite all that was going on in my little world (as described in the back story), I woke up on race morning really excited (and nervous!) to race.  And to race an IRONMAN of all things!  I have never raced an IM so early.  Not even close!  The year I did IMCdA, I thought that was VERY early and that is 2.5+ months later than Cabo.  Other than CdA, I've started the IM season in September or October.  HA!  It is definitely a different ballgame in March.  But regardless, I was super happy to be starting the season off with a bang.  If there is one thing I can count on, it's my true and very deep love of racing.  It really is my passion.

And before I knew it, we really were off with a bang (actually a siren of sorts) for the swim!  Cabo is a beach start but the water gets deep relatively quickly so there wasn't a lot of dolphin diving.  There WAS a lot of swimming really, really hard at the start though, so that I could get on some feet and not have to sight straight into the sun!  When the dust settled, I landed on Saleta Castro's feet and there I would stay for the next 2.4 miles.  It was pretty awesome.  I did very little sighting.  I tried desperately not to hit her feet with every stroke.  And I sang this song over and over again in my head (pretty fitting since I really was swimming in an ocean, trying to keep my eyes above the waves).

When we exited the water and I saw the time on the clock, I chuckled a little.  My official time was 55:53.  HA!  I have never swam under 1:01 so I instantly assumed that the swim was short because who swims a 5+ minute PR?  Regardless of the legit-ness (see that, I just made up a word!) of the course, I do feel that I swam better than usual because at Wisconsin, Saleta out swam me by several minutes and this time I was on her feet.  ALSO, super swimmers Haley and Katy did NOT out swim me by 10+ minutes which is usually the case.  This time I kept the gap to a (still sizeable but a bit less) 8 minutes.  Progress, people.  I'll take it!  (and little did I know how important that extra 2 minutes would be at the end of the race)

Race morning with my teammates and roomies Matt and Doug.  NOTICE how I'm lubing up with Body Glide!  Yet...
...this still happens to my neck!  ARGH!  My wetsuit hates me!

Onward to the bike!

This was a challenging course.  Hilly in that it was constantly rolling but never any super hard-wow-this-hurts-so-bad type of climbs.  And it was hot.  I might mention that a few more times in this race report because darn it folks, Mexico is hot!  I felt good on the bike.  Watts were good.  HR was good.  I drank more Gatorade than you could ever imagine.  I peed 4 times.  I passed four girls but got passed by another (Lisa Ribes, who I came into transition with).  It was a good time.

Patiently awaiting my arrival from the swim (actually, this is the day before the race).

Bright, sunny sky and big smiles on the bike!
 And then there was just one sport left to do.  The marathon!  I came out of transition with Lisa and Katy.  For one hot second I thought I was going to run with Lisa.  Then I wised up.  She was running way faster than I was supposed to be running those early miles and indeed, she would go onto run the fastest pro women's marathon by 10+ minutes.  So instead, I settled into my own pace.  And this felt good, for about 5 miles.  Then it didn't feel good.  In fact it felt, real, real bad.  Uh-oh!

Must have been early on because I'm still smiling!  Or actually laughing at the guy who took the picture - Mike - race support extraordinaire!
Now I'm certainly used to the last 10 miles of an IM marathon feeling like death.  But the last 21 miles?  I panicked for a bit wondering if I had done something really, really bad.  But then I remembered Kim telling me about her IM Texas race last year (in similar 90++ degree heat) and how she felt bad very early on in the marathon too.  But she just kept ticking away the miles, knowing that everyone else was also suffering in the heat.  Don't look at the splits.  Don't worry about pace.  Just keep moving forward.

I passed Haley around mile 10 to move into 4th.  From there it was looking a little bleak because the other 3 girls were pretty far up the road.  I kept telling myself that anything could happen.  People blow up in the heat!  But mostly I just focused inward.  I poured GALLONS of cold water over my head.  I picked out AGer after AGer to try and catch in front of me.  And I kept putting one foot in front of the other.

In the middle miles, I had put a bit of time into Haley but with about 3 or 4 miles to go I saw her charging hard behind me on one of the out and backs.  @#$F$#$R!!!  I DID NOT want this to come down to some kind of sprint finish so I told myself to get my act together and GET IT GOING!  Haley is super tough and she had me running scared.  Those were the longest miles I think I've ever ran!  I gritted my teeth and dug very, very deep into the well.  And luckily, it was just enough.  I crossed the line in 4th in 9:32 and fell into a big heap on the ground.  It was a long, tough day and I was really thankful to have gotten through it.  After doing two cool/moderate temperature IMs last year, I think I had forgotten the challenge of doing a really hot one (in March, no less!)!  Yowzas!!

This picture and the one above are both from and neither (obviously) are me.  HOWEVER, it should be noted that upon crossing the finish line, I was in a very similar position.  It felt very good to lay down.
And with that, Ironman #7 of my career was complete!

I got into the cold ice bath/pool, took a tour of the post race food tent, got the best post race massage ever (!) and then got carted off to drug testing where I proceeded to throw up all that post race food I attempted to eat.  Oops!  I felt really bad for the drug testers who had to watch me do this (you can't be out of their sight) but they were very kind and understanding.  Not sure why you would want that job - ha!

So how did I feel about the outcome?  I won't lie, initially I was a bit disappointed with the race.  Why, I'm not sure.  But after quite a bit of thought, I really feel like I gave it the best I had on that day and in the end, that's all we can ask of ourselves.  And I'm so, so thankful to have gotten the opportunity to race again such amazing women.  They really pull out the best in me and that's the very best part of racing!  I certainly didn't like her at the time, but I appreciate the fact that Haley made me run faster than I thought possible in those closing miles!  :)  I'm walking away with a ton of new knowledge (most especially about racing in the heat) and for that I'm also very thankful. next two races will also likely be sweltering - St. Croix 70.3 followed up with IM Texas!  Woohoo!  I've already started a countdown!!

A big thank you for all the cheers and encouragement, texts, calls and messages.  Every one of them means so, so much to me.  Triathlon is a truly wonderful community of people!  And with that, I leave you some more pictures!

My mom and I and yes, we most definitely have matching shirts!  Couldn't do this without her!

Some fellow QTers in San Lucas the day after the race...

Doug and I doing a little pre-race swim.  As we were pulling those wetsuits on, some guy walks up to us and asks us if we know how warm the water is.  Yep, we know!

And finally, Matt in all his sombrero glory!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ironman Cabo - The Back Story

Before I actually write a report about the race, let me back up a few weeks.  I last wrote about QT2 training camp in Clermont, Florida.  Camp was awesome.  The weeks after camp once I was back home in Pittsburgh?  Not so awesome.  I was very happy to be reunited with Oscar and Roxy but training wise, I struggled.  Camp was a huge high for me.  Returning back to the cold and snow of the northeast and back to training by myself, inside (trying desperately to hold onto any heat acclimation I had), was a pretty big low.  Physically my body was struggling to recover from the huge training load at camp.  Mentally I was struggling to readjust to the normal routine of life and training by myself again. 

And then I got sick.

It was just a cold but it totally kicked my butt.  At first I bulldozed right through and kept up with my training sessions and life in general.  But then I didn't.  After the night I spent laying on the bathroom floor coughing up a lung (don’t ask why I was on the bathroom floor – I think I went in there for a Kleenex and just never made it back out), I cried uncle.  I called off work and Tim ordered a day off training.  That might have been the worst of it.  But it wasn't smooth sailing from there on in – I still struggled in my workouts, sometimes feeling great and then sometimes feeling very NOT great.  I was having trouble determining if I was tired from being sick, if it was just in my head, if I was still recovering from camp?  Oy!

That brings us up to about 8 or 9 days before Cabo.  When I got home from camp, Cabo seemed so far away!  But here it was about 4 or 5 days before I was leaving for the race and I felt like a mess.  It’s no secret that I am someone who struggles with confidence.  Where I do gain a TON of confidence is from executing well in training day in and day out.  Camp left me in a very good place mentally.  But in the weeks following, I felt that confidence slipping away and being replaced with my (not so) good old friend, self doubt.  I HATE YOU, SELF DOUBT!!!!  WHY MUST YOU HAUNT ME?

Double Oy!

I had a few conversations with Tim that helped quite a bit and I really made an effort to pull myself together, but I’d be lying if I said I was 100% there by the time I boarded the plane to Cabo.  I needed a little “fake it until you make it” mentality and I was also relying on getting to the race site and having the complete and utter excitement of getting to race an Ironman totally take over! 

I met my mom in the Charlotte airport and traveled the rest of the way with her to Mexico on Monday.  It was awesome.  Once in Mexico we met up with my QT2 teammate Matt (and then the next day, another teammate, Doug) and the 4 of us stayed together for the duration of the trip.  This was super awesome and fun! 

But we did have a few little mishaps in the days leading up to camp: (in no particular order)

*Matt ripped a hole in his shin so deep, I saw his bone.  This of course necessitated a trip to a Mexican hospital for him to get stitched up.  It’s his story to tell but let’s just say, it was an adventure.  And although the doctor told me NOT to look when he was cleaning out the wound, I couldn't help myself and I watched anyway.  And now I will forever have this image branded in my memory.  I really shouldn't have looked.  (BTW, the grace with which Matt handled the situation was super impressive and he never even considered not racing – true mental toughness)

He was cool as a cucumber with a HR in the low 50s.  Meanwhile, I was sweating profusely with a HR in the low 200s.

*I flatted on my tubular riding out on the highway on the same day.  You would THINK this would be a simple problem with a simple solution but it turns out finding a new tubular, finding the glue to put the tubular on my wheel and finally, finding a mechanic to do all this for me in Cabo was WAYYYYYYYYYYY, WAYYYYYYYYY harder than I’d ever imagined it would be (and took way longer).  This is very clearly my own fault because if I knew how to do all this by myself, I wouldn't have needed all this help.  Lesson learned!  In the end, my teammate Pat, who was 1000s of miles away, saved the day and hooked me up with the AWESOME Ken Glah and his Endurance Sports Travel group (who brings their own English speaking mechanic with tubular glue to all races!!).  Thank God for awesome teammates and very kind people willing to help out a desperate girl with a flat tubular.

*Doug flatted.

*Matt’s crank was jacked up and falling off his bike.  (or something like that – I was so consumed with my own bike issues, I wasn't entirely sure what Matt’s bike issues were)

*Doug caught a GI disease.

*Our rental car got hit in a parking garage.  I almost cried on this day. 

*We locked ourselves out of our condo.  This was certainly annoying (because it wasn't like a hotel where you could just go to the front desk and ask for a new key) but the bigger issue was that my mom was *supposed* to be (in my mind) inside the condo.  Because everything else had seemingly gone wrong, I instantly assumed my mom had been abducted since she was very clearly not where I thought she’d be.  I worried about this for quite some time until she showed back up.  Turns out she just went for a walk.  Think I was letting my imagination get a little carried away there?

And so it goes.  There might have been a few more missteps here or there but after a while we stopped keeping track and just started laughing.  It was all that we could do.  And it was kind of funny!  Because really, other than perhaps Matt’s leg wound, nothing that happened was of serious concern.
So that’s the back story.  At first I thought I wouldn't share all these details of the weeks leading up the race because the very LAST thing I would want would be for someone to construe them as excuses.  Not in any way am I trying to make excuses!  And I feel very confident that on race day, not one of these things, including getting sick, the bike troubles, the race week stress, etc… had any effect on my ability to perform. 

So why tell the back story, then?  Because ultimately I decided that it’s a good reminder for me (and perhaps someone else reading) that things don’t have to go perfectly.  I very easily get caught up in the mindset that I MUST CONTROL ALL THE THINGS.  And that ALL THE THINGS must be 100% spot on to have the race I want to have.  But these past few weeks I have learned that this just isn't the case.  We can do what we can do but the truth is, things don’t always go smoothly.  Sometimes you go into a race not in a great place mentally.  Sometimes the self doubt is screaming so loud you can’t hear anything else in your head.  Sometimes you have mechanical issues.  Sometimes you feel a little run down physically.  Sometimes your workouts just aren't that stellar in the weeks leading up to the race.  Heck, sometimes you even end up in a Mexican ER just praying someone speaks English!  And it’s okay.  It does not mean that you can’t pull it together and execute on race day as best as possible and it CERTAINLY does not mean that you can’t still have a stellar race.  I've been racing for a while now and I probably should have a real good grasp on this concept by this point.  But I didn't and I'm glad to have had this experience so I could mature a little as an athlete.

I think I will always look back on this race and be truly thankful for all the people that helped me (us) when I (we) needed it – the kindness of others really astounds me at times.  I will also look back on this race with a lot of fondness for all the things we got to experience.  Because let’s face it, we walked away with more than a few epic stories - the kind that you might not necessarily get if you're always living in your comfort zone.

But most of all, I will look back on this race as a lesson in learning how to roll with the punches.  Because I realize now that knowing how to successfully do this is just as important as executing your workouts or your nutrition plan on race day.  And in fact, the race might just be a bit more satisfying knowing that you had to get over a few lows to get to the high of the finish line!

You threw some monkey wrenches at us, Mexico.  But you sure were beautiful!

Next up: actual race report!