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...