Saturday, May 31, 2014

Emotions Check

On the eve of my first tri of the season- Leon's Triathlon (though I will be run/walking the run), I had a realization.  For the past almost 1.5 years, I lost my momentum in this sport.  Training, and the results it brought, were sporadic, as well as my motivation.  However, worse than this, was how I was beating myself up over it.  Almost in every post I've written, I have been disappointed in myself for my lack of consistency.  I've seen every skipped workout as a failure, and taken it personally.  I saw it reflecting on myself- I was unmotivated, couldn't commit, had no willpower. Now I am realizing that those thoughts are pure negative energy and do nothing to help me. 

This will be my first Olympic distance in two years.  I looked back on my results from that last race, where I was not tapered and remember feeling flat/awful the entire time.  This also led me to look at the training surrounding it.  A far cry from my training in the past year.  Consistent long runs over 10 miles, weekday morning bike rides of 18-25 miles, swimming 3x/week, etc.  I was also about 15 lbs lighter.  So the first thing I jumped to when seeing these old training logs was "wow, I was so good then and so bad now."  But wait a minute, yes, you were good at triathlon, or at least training for one.  But my life is very different from then to now. 

Back then, I was in the early stages of my research, and my productivity in that respect was pitiful. Train in the morning and come in late- no problem!  Now I'm thriving in that arena (at least some days) and working part time as a therapist.  Not only do I not have the flexibility in schedules that I use to, but my work leaves me much more stressed and fatigued.  Back then I could swim before or after work, being away from home for 14 hr periods.  Now I have a wonderful dog who would not like that so much.  Back then I had no competing weekend plans.  Now there are conferences, weddings, etc. 

Back then, triathlon was all I did, all I defined myself with.  And that was great.  I was faster than I can imagine now, at least in terms of running.  I was proud of myself, for training and racing.  Others were proud of me too.  I was happy doing triathlon.  Now, I have a lot of other things to define me as well.  These things take time and detract from triathlon, but they are also important.  Yes, I'm a far cry from the athlete I was back then, but I'm also a far cry from that person, and mostly in a good way.  Sometimes I think I don't like myself and am unhappy due to my "slob" state (aka that I don't train religiously and eat like a college kid...) and if I can just get back to those old habits, all will be right.  I think what I just figured out now is that I don't need to go back to that, but rather, my happiness resides in accepting that fact.  I am ok (or better than ok!) how I am.  There are tradeoffs in priorities, and we just do the best we can with where we are at. 

While I resolve to stop beating myself up for not being what I was, I also can recognize what I still want.  I love competition.  I would love to be competitive, at least at some level.  I do still love this sport, and these past few days of reintroducing running have been a great reminder of how much I love to run. 

I want to do better than I have been doing with training and eating and overall healthy lifestyle, but I will move on when this doesn't happen.  I also need to let go of the "once was" and focus on where I am at now.  While the whole season is up in the air thanks to this hip, I can't be competing with the old me.  Maybe this year I can beat her, maybe next, maybe the year after.  What I do know is that a year from now, I'll wish I started today.  So I can put in the work now and not be upset when I don't see instant results in races.  I can be ok with being slower than I was.  But if I don't start training as a better me, next year will be no different. 

Let's call the 2014 season my rebuilding year, and rather than worry about the failures, see all the positives as crafting a foundation.  I might not make all the progress I want to, but something is better than nothing. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Relief... and frustration

After nearly 5 hours in the MRI last week and waiting an agonizing week for results, I got something quite anticlimatic.  The MRI is all clear.  Hallelujah!  Obviously, I am relieved.  While I have come to some sort of peace with a possible ankylosing spondylitis diagnosis over the past week or so, hearing this crossed off the list is outstanding news.  The two findings on the MRI were a very small labral tear on the left hip (the non-painful one) and a small bulging disk in my cervical spine.  Neither of these correlate with my symptoms and jsut go to show the dangers of doing imaging without knowing the patient's complaints. 

So while I am overcome with relief, I am also very frustrated.  I am no closer to knowing why I am having pain.  Yes, I know pain can be due to a variety of things, but I'm still concerned.  We are going on 3 months of this hip pain, and this thoracic pain seems to be getting worse.  Five hours of expensive imaging and I just don't know. 

In a way, finding something would have been a relief.  It would have been a clear explanation for my pain and I could make a plan or better educated guess on when I'd be all healed up.  Truthfully, it would also make me feel less wimpy.  Three months of crappy training I can't blame on an imaging finding.  All that moping, all those breakdowns the past couple of weeks, and I don't have a name to call it. 

The ironic thing is I actually have been drafting a post since this pain started from my PT viewpoint of why you don't need to have a pinpointed diagnosis.  But man, did I want one.  The good side is that I do have deficits that are correctable- my hips are mad weak and tight.  My core is on vacation.  My weight can come down a notch.  All these things can help. 

Since I don't have a diagnosis to make a plan for me, I guess I will have to go back to basics.  Strengthen what is weak, stretch what is tight, teach the muscles that don't fire how to fire.  I am going to keep with my run/walk plan to ease back into running.  And I guess we'll just play it by ear. 

Bottom line though, I'd rather deal with frustration than ankylosing spondylitis. 

Side note: Major props to everyone out there who does have AS.  I can only imagine how it feels to not get the phone call I got but instead the other version.  I have also been humbled by the accomplishments of folks I have heard about who do have AS and lead very active lives.  Helgi Olafson is one such individual who even responded to a message I sent him very quickly with the utmost support.  I have come to see the Crohns and Colitis community as one of incredible people, and it appears the AS one is as well.  Three cheers for all of us with autommune diseases- keep fighting the good fight!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Baby Steps

I'm in an optimistic place right now.  That is somewhat tough when waiting on MRI results that are definitely not happening in the 48 hrs they quoted me.  Too bad it isn't like ordering pizza- if it's not on time, it's free.  But patience is a virtue, right? 

Tonight I ran.  Not fast, not far, not without walk breaks, but I ran.  I did 6 rounds of 4 minutes of running alternating with 2 minutes of walking, for a grand total of 24 running minutes!  And no pain.  Not even a hint of soreness.  We'll see how it feels later, but I could jump up and down with joy right now. 

This is my second go at the run-walk approach.  On Sunday, I did 30 minutes with a 3 minute run to 2 minute walk ratio.  I also felt great on that run, unfortunately I had a pretty significant SI ache later that night when I was lying in bed.  However, it subsided by morning.  I'm not saying that is a good thing, but I'm willing to see how this round leaves me feeling tonight and tomorrow. 

I'm not just thrilled to not have pain with running, but the experience really just felt glorious.  It was a peaceful night (no Mom, I don't run in the dark at 9pm...), nice cool air, lights along the path all lit up.  I truly just felt rejuvenated.  I soaked in the calm of the night and was just grateful to be moving. 
Of course, any success like this also instantly makes me more optimistic for my recovery.  On Sunday, I am registered for Leon's Triathlon.  Since it really is so close to home and I already paid, I'm still going to go through with it as a test of swim and bike fitness.  I was planning to just bail after the bike.  However, this run(/walk) has me thinking I can take that same strategy and finish.  It obviously still won't be the race I want, but I need to focus on appreciating what I am doing.  

This run that has me so happy wasn't even planned.  My grand plan for the day was to do a longish swim after work and then bike when I got home.  Well, try working in the hospital for 5 hours in the morning and then running an experiment in the afternoon.  I was pooped.  I made myself go to the pool, but when I saw there was a wait, I just couldn't do it (excuses, excuses...).  I wrote today off as a rest day, and went on with other plans.  Then I pretty much psyched myself up to do something by just not wanting zeros in my TrainingPeaks account.  Whatever works, right?  I felt up for another try at running.  And man, am I glad I did! 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Writing this is a big victory.  It means I have (temporarily) put down whatever crap I am stuffing my face with in attempts to drown out emotions.  Here's the deal- I haven't worked out since Saturday.  I've been too busy hosting my own pity party while simultaneously telling myself it isn't so bad.  Yes, I multitask.  The roller coaster of last week has continued and I'm disappointed in myself but have to admit I'm letting it run me over.  Where we left off is that I had a good ride on Saturday.  The problem came Sunday when my hip wasn't totally convinced that it was in fact a good ride on Saturday.  So apparently biking isn't totally pain free either.  Sunday through Tuesday found me in pain with just walking.  Bad sign.  But then today, walking seems fine, and I can run about 10 feet before I feel it.  Yes, 10 feet is a long cry from a marathon, but drastically better than pain with walking. 

Part of me was relieved to have significant pain.  It takes the guess work out of "can I run through it?"  Rather than feeling lazy and unmotivated to work out, resting is the undoubtedly smart thing to do.  It also makes DNS's easier to swallow.  Last weekend was the Galena Sprint, another race I am a DNS for.  There have been races in the past that I've skipped and always questioned my decision, but skipping this one was a no brainer.  Unfortunately, while my body is definitely screaming "DO NOT RUN!", I am just hearing magical voices telling me not to swim or bike (or at least try and see how they feel). 

Part of the problem is that motivation has been a struggle for me for the past year or more.  I read stories of people who are injured and use it as an opportunity to swim six times a week.  And then there is me who was getting ready to go to swim class Monday night and just couldn't muster up the motivation.  All or nothing personality strikes back- if I can't do everything, why do something?  Training is a habit, and unfortunately, not training is just as addictive. 

What is killing me is the uncertainty.  What is wrong with me?  How long will I be out?  What should I be doing right now?  Every single event on my summer calendar except for my best friend's wedding is triathlon related.  In other words, this is what I've planned my life around and have no idea when I can get back to it.  I think I would rather know that I have a lengthy six month recovery period and that none of my races will happen then the "I can't run right now, maybe next week, maybe next month, it's all in the air."

I know I am definitely jumping to the worst case scenario when thinking of the possibility of ankylosing spondylitis, but it has been scary to see how folks react when I tell them my doctor is evaluating me for it.  There was my mom crying on the phone, and treating me like a fragile patient since then.  People I mentioned it to at work tread lightly around me.  I got up the courage to tell my boss I won't be able to run Ragnar and you would think I told her I have cancer and 6 weeks to live based on how she treated me today.  I really am thankful I have this support, but really, nothing has changed.  I am just back to the same pain I was having, now with added frustration and a possible diagnosis.  That sentiment is of course the logical me talking.  The emotional me is absorbing the pity and terrified it is for a good reason. 

My big fear is that this MRI is going to show something that will significantly change my lifestyle, i.e. strip my calendar of all those events for this year and possibly longer.  I'm in a weird place with life in general right now- friends are graduating, getting jobs, getting married, popping out babies.  And I'm not.  And 95% of the time, I'm ok with that.  I have triathlon to fill my time.  I have those events on my calendar and that gives me focus.  I'm scared of what my life will be without them. 

In total contrast, part of me sees the possibility of a "medically necessary" break as a relief.  Maybe a break is what I need based on that lacking motivation I've had.  I find myself questioning if I really enjoy this sometimes.  I keep coming back to yes, and that I am just in a funk right now.  I still love watching youtube videos of races, choosing new races to add to my schedule, reading forums, etc.  I really do enjoy (possibly not the right word...) the majority of my workouts once I get myself out the door.  I still dream big of what I could accomplish some day.  I still am so proud of what I have done through this sport and what I know I can do.  This past year and a half has been one of the most challenging, and I am still learning how to be myself.  In other words, I'm trying to recognize the struggles I've had with motivation as a byproduct of other crap, and realize that I need to set better boundaries and gain control in my life to return to the joy I have had in the past with this awesome sport. I also know that regardless of other circumstances in life, motivation isn't a guaranteed constant. 

“I often lose motivation, but it’s something I accept as normal.” -Bill Rodgers

So I need a plan to get back on track (again).  I have a beautiful bike less than two weeks old, and a drawer full of gu's I ordered in bulk.  I don't want to waste either one.  I also have probably another 3 lbs I have packed on thanks to that emotional eating beast.  Seems like this is all saying it is time to get back to work.  I have had my little break and my pity party.  I need to remind myself that I need to use my body however I can for as long as I can.  IBD has challenged that before, and now this setback is making me appreciate my body again.  One of my favorite quotes-   "There will come a day you won't be able to do this; today is not that day."

Thanks to the awesome folks at Rev3, I still have a goal.  Rev3 Wisconsin Dells has a aquathon division, a half-ironman sans the run.  Perfect for the injured!  I emailed them to ask if I can switch into it, expecting it to be a hassle.  Well, Rev3 is standing out above WTC in terms of customer service!  I got a nice email back saying no problem, and they'll even let me switch back to the full tri if my hip heals up, up to the day before!  I have exactly one month to get my swim and bike in gear to dominate this aquathon!  And what better way than with a holiday weekend?  Let's look on the bright side- 4 days off equals a very well rested Rachel.  Tomorrow is a new day.  Unfortunately, it is one hell of a busy day, but I vow to at least swim.  Baby steps.  And then I'm giving myself a challenge.  We'll call it Rachel's Memorial Day Get Your Butt in Gear Challenge.  Friday-Monday, 200 miles on the bike.  I'm not sure I've ever hit that sort of cycling mileage in four days, but why not (well if the hip hurts, that is a good reason not to, but I'm being positive for the moment).  I'm also setting a swim goal of 10,000 yds for those 4 days.  Am I getting too crazy if I say yoga and core in there?  And good eating.  And good sleeping.  Or maybe, I'll just try to do my best, and let that be enough. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Roller Coaster Ride of a Week

May 16, 2014

They say the hard thing about Ironman Wisconsin isn't the total elevation gain, but the constant up and down nature.  One second you are cursing the hill, the next you are gleefully flying down the backside.  It is relentless.  I could say the same for this past week. 

Last Friday was definitely a high point.  I picked up my brand new Cervelo P2, who I adoringly call Penelope, and took her on her maiden voyage home.  Even biking on Irving Park at 5pm didn't bring this down- I felt like a little kid again on my first two-wheeler!

Saturday got even better.  My first race rehearsal workout for Rev3 Wisconsin Dells- a 56 mile bike ride followed by 6 mile run.  Penelope and I aced it.  I'll save the details for it's own post, but I loved the bike, had an awesome (and speedy) ride, and ran over 6 miles afterwards, the longest I've run in the saga of the hip.  My comeback seemed certain.  I started making goals.  Surely I could run 8 miles this week as my long run, and build from there.  Rev3 was going to be great. 

Sunday started a bit of a low.  A three mile run that was painful the whole time.  I told myself it felt better as I went, and that it was more soreness than pain, but I don't think I believed that.  Still, I didn't let that get me down- I'd had a big (and awesome) training day the day before- back to back workouts are tough. 

Monday was swim practice- a mix of highs and lows all in one, though more like false flats and slight downhills.  I was put in the fast lane, which pushes me but also discourages me when I'm lapped.  Twice.  But then I focus on my own form and see myself dropping my stroke count.  Progress. 

Tuesday is where I realized just what I roller coaster I was on.  Another bad/painful run.  I went out at work, plan was to do five miles and add some intensity in if I could.  More lies that it was more sore than pain, but this time I was acutely aware that this was false.  I knew I should turn back, but I also had this feeling that this might be the last run I do in a while.  If it was already hurting, it couldn't do much (additional) damage to get the whole five miles in.  Yes, I realize that is totally illogical.  If I could fool myself to thinking it was ok while running, the facts hit me hard when I stopped. Walking shouldn't hurt. 

But just like in an Ironman, the bad feelings don't last.  The swim gods aligned for me- maybe they knew I needed a win.  The first good sign was an empty pool, no waiting for a lane which has a way of completely quashing any motivation I have to swim.  I did my 200 yd warm-up focusing on all the elements I am learning in swim class.  Reach out, patient hands, gliding through a narrow tube, low stroke count.  I felt like I was going slow.  Then I looked and saw I clocked 200 yds in 3:45.  Crazy fast for me, especially when I'm not trying.  Next came a series of 200's, the first two I clocked at 3:32ish.  I couldn't believe it.  Even better, that slower cadence wasn't exhausting me as much as my normal thrashing.  Obviously my swim endurance is lacking, and with fatigue, my times started rising.  My last few 50s were around 55 seconds, but still, I was elated.  I also got through all of a 3000 yd swim workout, and with my recent track record of missing swims, that in itself was a win, even without feeling like I made a breathrough.  This masked the uncertainty that bad run had given me.  It was like when you get to the bottom of an awesome descent and forget the pain that you encountered to get to the top. 

Wednesday morning kicked off with a 2 hr bike ride.  Nothing like starting the day covering the Lakefont Path from top to bottom.  36 miles and a great average speed and power.  It was all rainbows and butterfiles- I love you Penelope, I love triathlon, I love life!  Seriously, that is how I felt.  But then running to make the bus I couldn't deny the pain I felt in my hip. 

Thursday.  The no good day.  I started with PT.  Told her I was back to square one.  It was hurting walking, hurting doing stairs, etc.  And a funny coincidence- that tightness and pain I've been having in my thoracic spine seems to get worse with the hip.  Worse to the point where lying flat on my back or taking a deep breath is painful.  My PT didn't have any magical answer, but she gave her clear recommendation that running for now is out of the question.  I didn't really even process that, I got myself more focused on the thing she said where she mentioned ankylosing spondylitis in passing.  She quickly followed that up with a "We can't even go there. We're not doing this." 

The problem is, this diagnosis has been on the back of my mind for a while.  And hearing her just say the words, as much as she didn't think I should jump to that conclusion, put my head in a spin.  My symptoms added up.  History of IBD with hip/SI and spine pain?  I shot off an email to my gastroenterologist telling my of my symptoms, but putting in that I was sure I was being a hypochondriac.  And then I lied down and sobbed. 

His response wasn't the "yes, let's not worry about this, very unlikely" that I was hoping for.  Instead it was a "Sorry Rachel, I'm ordering MRIs." 

Just a few days ago I was on top of my training, counting down until Rev3, until IM Chattanooga, and even sooner, the Galena Sprint this weekend.  Highs and lows... 

I tried to not worry.  I don't know anything yet.  I'm just having some pain.  Could be anything.  Mind over matter.

Then I talk to my mom on the phone and she cries.  She read the same things I did on the internet. 

I find a blog of an elite Ironman athlete who has ankylosing spondylitis.  Maybe anything is still possible.  I take a deep breath in relief, only to be reminded that breathing hurts my ribs and spine. 

The optimist in me hates to admit that I spent today feeling sorry for myself.  That ends now.  There are highs and lows all the time, but you can also choose how to approach them.  Next week I will spend a total of 5 hours getting MRIs of my full spine and both hips.  I will hopefully have answers by the end of next week.  Until then, I will swim and bike to tolerance, because I can, and that should be celebrated.  I am thankful to have a job that gives me amazing perspective, and I know that regardless of what those MRIs show, regardless of what that means for my running future, in the scheme of things, I am so very fortunate.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure I fully believe that yet...