rallying

22 Mar

I managed to get in my full workout/training plan, last week. That was helpful. Things had been so sporadic for several weeks that (as evidenced by my last post) I had really started to doubt myself.

I still doubt myself.

But last week, I swam a mile. And I got in another 30-mile bike ride. Running mileage is up to 4.5 miles.

So maybe, by the hair on my ass, I’ll manage to squeak through the HITS Napa triathlon that’s in a month.

I have felt more pulled in different directions with my schedule than perhaps ever, before. It’s been tough. But for what it’s worth, I’m not having any physical hangovers from workouts, which I believe speaks to something. In other words: the workouts are hard, but 24 hours later, I’m basically fine. I’m not sore for days. That’s something new in my endurance life. Used to be, I’d be sore all the time, always, relentlessly.

It’s all still feeling like crossing fingers than like a badass triathlete, but we do what we can.

really struggling

13 Mar

I’m really struggling.

The last time I posted, I had been sick for awhile. I finally recovered. Got back into my training. My cycling didn’t seem to be affected, though swimming and running were definitely harder. But by last week, I was getting back to my 9:30 running splits (for me, that’s good–slow is anything 10:30 and over).

And then another cold hit.

It’s not over-training. Both times I’ve had a cold, my daughter had picked one up herself the week before, so I’m sure I just caught it from her. But nonetheless, this has meant an extremely crappy 8 weeks or so of training, now. Things have been inconsistent. It’s been cold and raining, meaning I’ve had to miss a few of my longer bike rides (and to my credit, I’ve hustled to make unscheduled rides happen a few times when the weather was unexpectedly nice).

I have an olympic-distance triathlon in a month. I don’t feel even remotely capable, right now, of being able to swim 1500 meters, then ride 24 miles, then run 6 miles.

This is a different sort of self-doubt. The last time I wrote, I was really referring to self-belief and the difficulty of imagining myself inhabiting this new role as “someone who can complete long-distance triathlon.”

Now, with 8 weeks of inconsistent training behind me (weeks that I really, really needed), the self-doubt is the kind where I literally just don’t know if I’ll be able to pull this off.

They are predicting great weather for this upcoming week. I’m developing runner’s knee in my left knee, so at this point my plan is to get some knee-strengthening exercises going and really focus on the bike and swim now that the weather is good.

But the struggle is that something always feels compromised. I up my swims in distance or number of times that I’m going, and then I start to feel some rotator cuff irritation. Time on the bike is time not spent running.

And to boot, I’m entering the busiest time of year for myself with work.

I’m feeling the pressure. I Wouldn’t say that I’m overwhelmed, so much as I’d say that the pressure is palpable and something I’m pretty constantly thinking about.

the struggle of self-belief

31 Jan

I’ve been sick for the past two weeks, and this has ignited a new storm of self-belief issues.

Before I got sick, I was enjoying how much more energy I had and how much stronger I was becoming. I was thrilled the night that I counted my laps at master’s swim class and completed a total of 60, which gets me at least in the vicinity of that one-mile mark that I’m aiming for (I need to swim a mile for an Olympic distance tri in April). I still don’t like swimming–the act of it, the annoyance of all the gear required (swim suit, cap, goggles, ear plugs, wet suit if it’s really cold, fins/paddles/kickboard/pull buoy), getting wet, and not having fun with it–but running and cycling were all going well.

Then, I started to feel a cold coming on. I went to bed early, over and over, hoping this would keep the cold at bay. I skipped workouts, because this cold was also coinciding with a very important work weekend where I’d need to teach all weekend.

No dice. The cold hit. The weekend came and went, and I coughed my way through teaching, and then I continued to skip workouts and go to bed early in the hopes of beating this thing.

Now I sit here, on the brink of a third week of feeling sick, still coughing in between typing, despite my efforts.

Tomorrow, I need to start working out even if I still feel like shit. There’s just no getting around it; I can’t skip any more workouts than I’ve already skipped.

The fact that I’ve skipped workouts at all has me feeling a little sheepish and embarrassed. I don’t want to admit that to anyone, but if I’d been working out like a crazy woman and just got sicker, then I’d be berating myself for not taking time for self-care.

Self-Belief

With feeling sick, I’ve noticed doubts creeping in. How in the world am I ever going to manage to complete an Olypmic distance, much less a half-Ironman? Am I crazy? What’s this all going to amount to, on the actual race day? What in the world makes me think that I can do this?

And in the face of those very real doubts and that lack of self-belief, I just keep reminding myself that everyone who does this has those doubts at some point. Everyone who does this has to have some amount of trust and faith that if they just put their time in, their work in, then they accrue strength over time.

Actually, if I’m honest, I’m having a rough day with all of it. I feel stupid typing any of this out, stupid trying to be optimistic and hopeful, stupid that I skipped workouts, irritable about having become sick. Also, I’m really sick of coughing.

I need to get myself to all of my scheduled workouts this week, even if I’m dragging my ass through them, because the one thing that has always elevated my belief in myself was simply putting in the time. God knows I’m not the best, the fastest, the most skilled in anything related to athleticism, but I do know how to put the time in and bear down and get the work done. When I’m accountable to myself, that’s when I have more belief in what I’m doing and trust that I can get to where I want to go.

advice for new runners

14 Jan

Today I was talking with a friend who wants to get into running. She described how she’s never been able to get into it because she’ll try for a bit and it’s hard. She said, “I always assumed this just means that I’m a bad runner.”

Typed out like that, someone might roll their eyes at this person (“Of course it’s hard!”) but I think that that would be too flippant of a response.

People don’t realize, when they’re getting into running, how hard it is. It makes sense to me that my friend, who has always seen runners gliding around looking like they know what they’re doing, might think that because it isn’t coming easily to her, she just doesn’t have some innate ability.

It’s not about innate ability, of course (which we talked about). In my experience, it can take up to a month of regular, consistent running before going out for a run feels natural at all.

Even for myself, even after all of these years of running, my sleep and nutrition and how hard I’m training overall will all play a role in how I feel on a particular run. It astonishes me how I can rock it with a run one day, and then another I’ll feel like it’s taking everything in me just to finish a low-mileage, slower paced day.

When I try to figure out why I’m having a hard time with a run, I can inevitably identify some factor that was set in motion twelve to twenty-four hours before (like not sleeping or eating enough, or having had a recent tough workout in another discipline) that’s probably affecting the current run.

Advice for new runners

1. Keep at it. Consistency is what builds aerobic capacity, over time. The bummer about this stage in the game is that everything in your body is going to be screaming at you, “You aren’t a runner and you don’t want to do this!” If you quit, then you never get to the other side–the glowy endorphins, meet other runners and talk shop, glide through the streets feeling like a gazelle–side of things.

2. Expect it to suck. If you’re going into it understanding that for awhile it’ll be hard work, then you aren’t disappointed when that’s exactly what your body serves up.

3. See a doctor. This is always good advice for anyone who’s starting a new exercise routine, but particularly so if you feel like something’s off and you’re having a harder time than people typically have. Just see a doctor, get checked out, and then you don’t have to worry.

4. Connect with other runners. Online communities; going to 5k events even if you don’t feel ready to run them, yet; seeing if a friend will train with you; meetups…options for meeting other runners are pretty endless, and when you connect with other runners, you’ll get helpful training tips and just feel like you’re part of a very cool (albeit sweaty) clique of people.

5. Obey the 10% rule. Don’t up your mileage by more than 10% in a given week. I think that apps like C25K trainer, which call out start and stop times, help keep you honest. Upping your mileage faster than this is a recipe for injury.

6. Don’t run back-to-back days. It’s a recipe for injury. Bones, joints, and everything else needs time to repair.

7. Don’t skip warmups. It’s a recipe for injury. Just walk at a brisk pace for five minutes.

8. Don’t skip stretching and rolling out. It’s a recipe for injury. My favorite foam roller is the Grid foam roller, and it comes in different sizes.

9. Use hydration or nutrition supplements, especially as you up your mileage. Drink lots of water. The salted caramel GU is my personal favorite, but you could also do a water bottle that has a squirt of lemon juice concentrate, a teaspoon of sugar, and a little shake of salt. I personally think that unless it’s a long workout, it’s best to avoid things like Gatorade, and I even question that stuff for a long workout because I think it’s got way more sugar than anyone needs. That said, I’ve heard of people buying one bottle and then diluting it with water. I’m also a fan of Hammer Endurolytes supplements.

10. In your day-to-day life, drink lots of water. I used to not pay attention to this, but I’ve found that drinking water really speeds up recovery from generalized soreness.

11. Give it three months. Just decide that this is the year, or the season, or the whatever when you’re going to try “being a runner” for three months. At the end of those three months, you get to quit if you want to–no harm, no foul–but you’re going to legitimately be consistent about running for three months so that you can see how it goes and if you want to keep doing it.

12. Wear Hokas. I posted in another entry about how minimalism did not work out for me. I’m now solidly in the “wear the nice cushioned shoes” camp. I’m a better, faster runner for it.

The snapshot of what it looks like to start out

You decide you’re going to start running. I suggest a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule. You get the C25K trainer on your phone and buy a running belt and make sure you have decent shoes. Only invest in nice running clothes if you’re really sure that this would be motivating for you; otherwise, just wear whatever.

You’re probably going to feel stupid, at first, and worry that people will laugh at you or that you don’t have the right body for running or whatever.

Make the appointment to begin. Tell yourself all day, “At _________, I’m going for my first run.” Get dressed 15 minutes before that. Have a GU. Drink water all day long, and stop drinking water about 45 minutes before your run so that you can pee it all out.

Go out, and start walking.

Do a little light jogging. Pay attention on the C25K trainer when it tells you to start and stop jogging.

Finish.

Feel like a rockstar. Or, feel totally pooped.

Go take a shower.

Roll out on a foam roller. Lay on your back and put your legs up the wall. Tweet about your workout.

Repeat up to three times weekly, always keeping a rest day in between runs.

That’s about it.

Current Training (and what’s to come)

29 Dec

My current training schedule looks like this:

Monday: Running (long run day).
Tuesday: Swim and spin.
Wednesday: Running.
Thursday: Swim and spin.
Friday: Running.
Saturday: Rest day.
Sunday: Rest day.

What’s to come:
Monday: Body blast (Godawful and tough strength-training meets cardio). Road cycling.
Tuesday: Swim and spin.
Wednesday: Running.
Thursday: Swim and spin.
Friday: Running and then 1.5 hour vinyasa flow class.
Saturday: Short, easy swim session.
Sunday: Running (long run), and 1.5 hour vinyasa flow class.

I’ll need to switch this up, somewhat, depending on weather conditions–I need real time cycling on the road, rather than just at spin class, and with California hitting the rainy season right now, I’ll need to take advantage of clear, warm days.

I’ll also need to take into account times when I need to rest. I’m hoping at this point to employ a lot of dynamic rest, which is about keeping the body moving but not going at full force. For instance, I imagine that by Friday, my body will be tired, but the vinyasa flow class, while it is vigorous, is also highly restorative and relaxing. Following that with a short, easy swim session on Saturday means that I’m keeping my body moving and getting more muscle memory in with the swim, but I’m not taxing my legs (and in fact, might even be resting them, since more than one person has told me that the pool is great for relaxing tired running muscles).

My hope is that then I’m prepared to get in that week’s long run on Sunday, followed by another vinyasa flow class–again, while vinyasa can be “tough” in some respects, I typically find that my muscles feel much better after a class. If I hit Saturday morning and still feel quite sore from my Friday run session, then I’ll skip the swim session on Saturday.

Ugh. Swimming.

I continue to not like swimming. It feels too cold. It feels like a hassle. It feels hard and unnatural and no matter how much I do it, I don’t seem to ever get better at it.

Yet my friend/teacher/triathlon-guru, Holly, pointed out to me that I need to have a strong swim for Vineman. She pointed out that if I try to play catch-up with the swim, I run the risk of tendonitis in the shoulders as I build to a full mile of swimming, and there’s literally no way to complete the swim without using your shoulders. By contrast, she pointed out, I can have sore legs and decide to go slower or in a lighter gear on the bike, or I can walk instead of run the half-marathon portion.

The Scheduling Juggle

Part of what’s behind this schedule? Jugging…everything. Being a mom, and childcare, and trying to get as much training done as I can during the day, while my daughter is in day care. Things my husband has going on. Running my business.

Meal-planning feels really tough to me, right now. I’m perpetually feeling under-fed or like I’m eating too many energy bars because they’re quick and easy. I’ve polled people for more eating ideas and they’ve been helpful, but then I’m not getting my ass in gear to really make the time for cooking (because something else feels like it’s competing for my attention).

It’s the perpetual juggle, but I keep reminding myself that everything is basically hanging together, and so long as I am getting my training hours in, each week, I’m good.

the benefits of cross-training for runners

28 Dec

For years and years and years, I’ve been stuck at the same pace: 12-minute miles when I was going an easy, do-able pace, and 10-minute miles when I was really, really hustling and pushing it.

I am slow. I admit it. My fastest-ever official 5k time is something like 28:40, and that was with a downhill for the final mile and a half, with me really hustling like a motha.

Something remarkable has happened recently, though: as I train for Vineman 2016, I notice that my run times are much faster. I’m running an average of 9:30 per mile at an easy pace, and closer to 9:00 miles when I’m pushing to run at a clip.

In other words: running with what I’d say is the same amount of perceived effort that I used to attribute to 12-minute miles, is something I’m now doing while running 9:30 miles.

I’m not sure why the gap has not stayed parallel to what it used to be, before. In other words, I’m not sure why it is that my leisure pace before was 12-minute miles and my race-pace 10-minute miles, yet now my leisure pace of 9:30 doesn’t mean I can go a race-pace of, say 7:30. The gap between leisure and really pushing it is much narrower.

But I do think that if there’s any reason behind why I’m suddenly going faster, it’s all about triathlon training. I’d always heard about the benefits of cross-training for runners, but I’d never understood it until now. For years, before triathlon when I was only running, I did some cross-training: a bit of strength training, some yoga, and I’d mix up my running workouts to include intervals, time trials, sudden sprints, and all of the other things that are supposed to contribute to becoming a faster runner. Yet none of that made a difference.

In retrospect, I think that I probably wasn’t ever working out hard enough to see results. I always though that I was putting in a hard effort, but now I think I felt that way just because running is hard. Now, I realize that the more hours you put in each week doing any kind of physical fitness, the more you’ll see the gains across the board. What’s more, I’m seeing how the benefits of the lower-impact activities–the cycling, the swimming–are even contributing to running.

sacrificing your sacred cows

9 Nov

My first really bad running injury was a dislocated cuboid bone. I’d had shin splints, pulled muscles, all sorts of things like that before, but those all happened before I was a serious runner. The dislocated cuboid bone happened once I had fallen in love with running, and there was a period during that summer where even just walking or standing was really difficult. That only healed because I found the one chiropractor who knew how to fix this type of recurring injury.

I had many doctors, physical therapists, etc., tell me that running just wasn’t good for me. I ignored them. I generally ignore anyone when I feel they’re talking out their ass, and I just knew that there was some way for me to run. Also, these were all people who were unable to fix my foot injury. The chiropractor who did fix the injury said to me, during my first visit with him, “Let’s get you back to running.”

In 2011, I found Chris McDougall’s Born to Run. I identified with so many aspects of his story, namely that he had been told by people not to run (and that, like me, he’d had cortisone shots! Ouch!). I devoured that book. I read and re-read it. I googled the names of the people in the book. I began learning as much as I could about running form. That lead me to studying Chi Running with a Chi Running instructor, and I absolutely saw measurable improvements in my running and more comfort while running, just by improving my form.

My second really bad running injury was in 2012: a stress fracture on my left foot, 4th metatarsal. This was after I completed a 1/2 marathon. Once I had a stress fracture and looked up what causes them, I had done All Of The Things That Cause Stress Fractures. I had trained on a treadmill, then run a race on concrete. I had upped my mileage really fast, with no regard for the 10% rule. I had changed my running form shortly before the race. I did it all.

* * *

I thought that minimalism was the answer. If I was getting injured, it was because I needed to toughen up my bones. I would keep working on my form, and I would ditch the thicker shoes and go for the lighter shoes. I tried running barefoot, a few times. I wore Vibrams for walking, again all in the name of strengthening up my feet and calves. And, I continued to rack up shin splints and finish runs feeling sore.

Late last year, when I bought new running shoes, I went for slightly cushioned shoes. The sales person brought up the idea of wearing Hokas, those ultra-cushioned shoes, but I wasn’t interested. I thought that what my feet needed was less cushioning, so that my arches and all the muscles in my feet would get a proper workout.

Every run since then has felt hard, and that’s been fine. I dig hard. I can do hard.

Then I had that scare with the bruise on my foot, right before my very first triathlon. Now, I think that that bruise was just something superficial, like maybe I dropped something on my foot or bumped it, but just forgot about it. At the time, though, I was afraid that it was something serious like a stress fracture beginning.

* * *

After my first triathlon, I saw my podiatrist. “I’ll do anything. If you want me to, fine–I’ll wear those ridiculous looking Hokas,” I said.

My podiatrist smiled and held up his foot. He was wearing Hokas. Insert foot into mouth…

I left his office that day confident that I didn’t have a stress fracture, but also ready to buy a pair of Hokas. I did, and went on my first run with them, just a short, easy mile.

It was a totally. different. experience.

I had worried that they would feel like running through quicksand. But, no, they feel just like regular running but without the impact. I did a few more short runs in them, wanting to make sure I eased into the new shoes.

Over and over, I would finish runs amazed–I’d feel a little winded from all the cardio, but my legs and feet didn’t ache. After every other run I was doing in other shoes, my legs and feet would feel sore, the muscles really worked over. It never got better, no matter how much I ran, so I just thought “That’s how running is; you get sore.”

Nope. Turns out that that’s not how running is. Running in the Hokas is a totally different (positive!) experience. I’ve been in them for a month, and I don’t feel sore or tired after running, anymore. Since buying them, I’ve done training runs, a 5k, and now the run portion of a triathlon while wearing them. My run times have gone down, not up–I’ve gotten faster–and I’m having zero evidence of injury or any other negative consequence.

* * *

Sometimes, you’ve got to sacrifice your sacred cows, your dogma, your long-held beliefs about the way that things “should” be done. People recommended Hokas to me for years, and I resisted them because I was so attached to the idea that minimalism was best, minimalism was what worked for Chris McDougall and so many other Born to Run followers.

Now, I think that it’s great if minimalism works for someone–anything that gets you running. I’m all for it! But minimalism hasn’t worked, for me. These shoes feel so good. That’s something I haven’t been able to say, even after giving it a solid effort of time, attention, training, and money. I dig my shoes, because they have me running (even if I still think they look kiiiiind of ridiculous).

marin county triathlon

9 Nov

Triathlon #2!

Saturday, I completed the Marin County Triathlon. But before that: my foot is totally fine. I had a visit with my podiatrist. He said no stress fracture–maybe just a teensy “little baby neuroma” that is causing some of the foot numbness. He suggested Hokas and custom orthotics. I will offer a separate post on that, sometime.

But first: Triathlon #2! Triathlon numero dos! The second triathlon!

The Past Month

The past month has kind of sucked, training-wise. I’ve felt borderline sick. I haven’t gotten my ass into the pool. I only got in one really good road ride. I’ve been doing more running–which is awesome–but overall, I’ve been disappointed with myself for not pulling it together to get more training in. I’ve let busyness creep in, and when I’m feeling really busy, I feel resistant to what feels like another “have to,” another “appointment,” which is showing up for a training session.

I kept with it, though, because of this: I want to feel like a triathlete. One triathlon, does not a triathlete make. That was really the only thing that kept me going.

I was sick the entire week leading up to the race. Nausea, a head cold, the works. I had been told that there were places that rented triathlon wet suits nearby, and it turns out that they had stopped doing this. I was really busy with work, and didn’t feel like I had time to research triathlon wet suits and actually make an informed decision about it.

But, with 24 hours to go, I decided I just needed to get a freaking wet suit, so I went to a local triathlon store. What luck! They had one, used, for $100. That was fine by me, because I felt like for a first wet suit while I’m figuring out what I do and don’t want, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, anyway.

Race Day

I headed down to Marin, only about 30 minutes away, and had an easy time setting up at transition. There was only one thing I hadn’t realized, for some reason: this was going to be a bay swim. Like, a legit bay swim, in the San Francisco bay. For some reason, I had thought that it would be more like a slightly enclosed harbor type of area that fed out to the bay, not literally swimming out in the ocean.

Also, it was really cold. Even with a wet suit, I kept thinking that my hands, head, and feet were going to be freezing. I was having thoughts like, “What if I get hypothermia?”

The swim was the thing that I’d felt most resistant around and most afraid of. I hate being cold, and I’m such a shitty swimmer, it’s not even funny. The day before the race, I kept telling my husband, “If I could just finish the swim, I can do the rest.”

Much to my surprise, the swim ended up being a really lovely part of the day. For one thing, I was a much, much stronger swimmer than the last time that I did a triathlon–not so much stronger from a physical perspective, as I was stronger from a mental perspective. It was a lot less jarring, because I understood that once the gun went off, I’d be in the “wash cycle” of arms and legs and splashing. I started off with strokes that kept my head above water and this was a good idea, because I got oriented in what I was doing.

By the time I rounded the first buoy, I was feeling better. A few times, I flipped on my back and fluttered my feet to take a break, and looked up at the sky and had the joyful thought: I’m swimming way out in the actual ocean! How cool is this? How amazing is it to be doing this?

I exited the swim feeling good, even smiling. I went to T1 and changed out of my suit and into my biking gear, fueled up, and headed out for the ride.

My mentor/spin instructor/friend Holly had told me that the Marin County Triathlon was a hilly course. She was right–but again, I felt grateful for spin classes. These were hills that I could handle, and I know it’s because Holly has us rocking out in class. I pushed my pace as much as I was able, but more than anything, I was in awe of the views–the course was running along the coast, the air smelled sweet, the roads were closed to all traffic so we had them completely to ourselves. Wow, wow, wow. Absolutely stunning and gorgeous.

When I rolled in to T2, my legs had that tired, rubbery feeling again, just as they had in my first triathlon. I fueled up more and changed into my running shoes. Just as I did with my last triathlon, I reminded myself that this is just how it feels, and my job was to push the mental game and keep my feet moving.

There were more hills on this run course, and those were hard, but I kept moving as best I could, took only a few walk breaks, and…

…rolled into the finish chute with a final time of 1:48 and some change. Not bad! It was technically a faster triathlon than my last, which was 1:55, but this course had a longer swim, yet a shorter bike ride, so the times probably average out to be about the same.

What was different

I ended this triathlon feeling genuinely happy and genuinely proud. Knowing that my feet were okay and not having just tweaked my neck, I felt like I had more time to just enjoy myself. My run time was a bit faster, which I’m super proud of given that this was a course that had some big hills, and given that running is my favorite of the disciplines.

Like my last triathlon, I experienced very little muscle soreness that day and felt a little tired the next day, but otherwise completely recovered. That feels like another success, as well, because it points to my overall fitness.

I’m ending this triathlon season having lost some weight (about six pounds) and needing to hike up the waist of my jeans. I’m injury-free. I’ve made some incredible new friends, and I’ve been proud of myself for the times when I did follow through on my training plan.

This race–the Marin County Triathlon–is the one that has officially hooked me. As I was heading out to my car, I overheard two people talking, assessing their performance and trading notes. I had been thinking of just the same things. The air in my bike tires was low, this race, and I know that that slowed me down a bit, as did the fact that I still haven’t installed my clip pedals (I know, I know, I know). I don’t have a proper triathlon kit, and that slowed me down at transition (I wore a bikini under the wet suit, and put running/cycling clothes on over the bikini, rather than just stripping off the wet suit and heading out on the bike).

It was the swim that did it for me, in this race. All this time, I’ve been thinking about how much I hate the swim, and yet the memory of flipping on my back for a moment, floating in the San Francisco bay, looking up at the sunshine, is a joyful one. The gorgeous views from the coast–wow.

All of this will prepare me for Vineman.

Because after such a great triathlon, I registered for Vineman 2016.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 11.44.38 AM

my first triathlon

29 Sep

Kate Swoboda runner triathlon

The last few weeks have been a blur. They’ve been a blur of training, and disappointment, and not training, and injuries laced with anxiety. Here’s the whole story.

Shortly after my last post, a suspicious bruise showed up right over my fourth metatarsal (that’s a toe bone) on my left foot. That’s the exact location where, back in 2012, a bruise showed up that indicated a stress fracture.

I freaked. For about 24 hours, I was in total victim-mode. Why me? Why, when I had been so conservative in my training approach, not cheating and running more miles than I should, following my training plan exactly, wearing great shoes, etc., etc., was I getting another stress fracture? Why, why, why?

My husband told me to chill, reminding me that it could be a random bruise. There was no pain when I pushed down on the area, the way there was whenever I had had the fracture back in 2012–that had clearly been a fracture, and even a light touch hurt like a mother. So far, it was just a bruise that I’d noticed on my foot. No pain.

I decided, right then and there–I am DOING THIS TRIATHLON. I had four weeks to go. I would stop running for the next four weeks, but continue with my swim and bike training, and if game day arrived and I had to walk the 5k portion of the triathlon, then I was walking the 5k portion. I would stay off of my foot until then, but I was DOING THIS TRIATHLON.

Within 24 hours of making that decision, the bruise was inexplicably gone. Gone! This indicated that maybe it wasn’t a stress fracture, after all. Stress fracture bruises are kinda gnarly and tend to hang out for awhile.

Nonetheless, I was not taking any chances. No running! I’d go about my daily life with the usual amount of walking, but that was it.

* * *

If I’m completely honest, while my decision that I was DOING THIS TRIATHLON was powerful, emotionally, not being able to run (my favorite of the three disciplines) was a total bummer. Some of my enthusiasm for training died down a bit, then.

It also coincided with starting to both attend a class and teach a class, both of which fell on the nights when I usually did Master’s Swim and then spin class, so I didn’t have the community that I so loved connecting with. This was temporary, only during the month of September, but still–I was doing all of my training, alone. It again reinforced how important community is to all of this.

For the next month, my foot didn’t hurt in the metatarsal area, and I didn’t run, and I saw no bruises. And then…

…about ten days before my triathlon, my cuboid bone felt kind of sore one night. Years ago, back in 2006, I had a slightly subluxated cuboid bone and took forever to get any help for it, and then it didn’t want to stay in place when I finally went to the doctor. That injury took something like two years of stops and starts before I finally found a chiropractor who knew how to fix it. I hadn’t had any issues with this since…maybe 2011? 2010? So to feel that dull ache in that area, especially when I wasn’t running, again had me feeling totally irritated and victim-ey.

Then it went away.

Then, on the Thursday morning before my triathlon, I sat up in bed, and–bam–my entire neck muscles were all spasmed out. I could not turn my head from side to side, nor up and down. All of the muscles between my shoulder blades and on up into the occipital region were irritated and tight.

Thursday night, I hit the wine bottle, hoping it would relax everything. Nada.

Friday, determined that I was DOING THIS TRIATHLON, I called up my doctor and asked for muscle relaxers. She obliged. I took them Friday night before bed, and woke up Saturday feeling about 50% better and able to move my neck from side to side (important when you swim, yes?).

I had enough of a prescription for Saturday night, so I packed up all of my gear and headed to the hotel where I was staying so as to be close to the triathlon location (otherwise, that would be a really, really early morning).

Saturday night, I had a glass of wine at the hotel, and a few hours later, I took the Rx, again. I woke up Sunday morning, triathlon day, feeling about 90% better.

* * *

Sunday morning, I headed out to the triathlon with all of my gear. I was totally nervous. I had just learned how to take my bike tire on and off of my bike, the day before. Getting it together in the parking lot before I got inked and set up my transition area was a little nerve-wracking, but I stopped and said one of my favorite mantras: “There is a solution to this problem. There is a solution to this problem.”

Having read books about triathletes and endurance athletes all of these years, I felt like I knew a lot, going in–as if I’d studied for the event for a long time. Setting up my transition area, I felt pretty relaxed. I tested the water and it was bath-water warm, so no wetsuit needed. I saw some of the other women who were doing the same triathlon and said hi.

Then, it was time. We all headed over to the reservoir where the swim was taking place, and the gun went off. The reservoir had some seaweed-like stuff at the bottom, which was weird to walk through, but then I dove in.

For the first several minutes, I felt completely thrown off. I couldn’t get into a rhythm with my swim. When I’m in the pool, I count off a “stroke, stroke, breathe” in my head, but my arms and my impulse to breathe weren’t timing up. I knew from all of these years of reading about other triathletes that the most important thing in the swim is to control your breathing. If your breathing is out of control, your heart races, and you can’t get your wits about you to keep swimming. So, a few times, I rolled onto my back and lightly fluttered my feet and focused on my breath. That helped, and finally I found my rhythym with it and was able to complete the swim. I finished the 400 meters in about 12 minutes. Funny, the swim feels like the longest portion of everything, even though it’s really the shortest.

I was in T1 for an insanely long time (11 minutes). I felt really disoriented after the swim, and wanted to be sure to get all the sand off of my feet so as not to create blisters and problems while cycling and running. I didn’t feel like eating, but I had a gel and a Luna bar, anyway, again because of all of the triathletes I’ve read about who shared anecdotes about how they didn’t fuel at transition and later regretted it.

I felt much more confident once I was on my way on the bike. I got going, and then decided that I was going to push my pace for this race. (I was feeling a little fatalistic, frankly, thinking things like, “You never know; this might be the last race that I can ever do given that my foot keeps acting weird, so I’m going to go for it.”)

The benefit of all of those spin classes really showed when I was on the bike. I really wasn’t tired, and I finished the bike in 44 minutes and felt strong once I was off. I spent a lot less time in T2 (5 minutes) and again I didn’t feel like eating but I did another GU and plenty of water, anyway, and then it was time for the run.

Again, because I’d read all of these other triathlete stories over the years (seriously, reading about other people’s experiences has been so helpful), I knew not to freak out about the fact that my legs felt like lead. Even though I felt really good coming off of the bike, I knew that it’s common for your legs to not go as fast as you think they should be able to go. I started the 5k portion off with just walking, and then once I did that, I got to it with running.

The run was HARD. It was hard because I hadn’t been running for a month, and it was hard because I’m not a really great runner even on the best days and much less of a runner when I’ve just done a swim and bike beforehand.

Mostly, it was mentally hard.

Sometimes, when I’m biking, I get what’s referred to as “hot foot.” It’s a numbness in the foot and no one really knows exactly what causes it other than it being related to bike position. When it happens, it always happens in that same old area where I had a stress fracture years ago; the same area with the mysterious bruise.

I was getting “hot foot” while running. My head started to go wild. Was this a stress fracture? What was wrong? Why was this happening, now? Should I stop? Would I do more damage if I kept going?

And then, I went back to: I AM DOING THIS TRIATHLON.

If a stress fracture was emerging, then, well–too late for me, anyhow. Not finishing this triathlon wasn’t going to change that. I’d rather end the day a triathlete with a stress fracture than a DNF with a stress fracture, if that was how fate was going to play her cards.

By the end of the run, the numbness had stopped. As I approached the finish chute, I upped my speed a bit and arrived, red-faced, at the finish line. I had finished the run in 33 minutes. My overall time? One hour, fifty-five minutes.

* * *

For the hours following the race, my biggest feeling was one of disappointment.

Yes. Disappointment.

I felt briefly happy when I took pictures with friends and cheered for them (three women I knew hit the podium for their age group!), but heading home, I felt tired and disappointed.

Again, the mental game: Why the issues with my foot? What were they? What was going on?

I hadn’t gone to a doctor before the race because my podiatrist had said that a stress fracture wouldn’t show up on a bone scan or x-ray for a few more weeks–so I wasn’t going to get any new information about my foot, and it wasn’t hurting, so there wasn’t much that I could “do” about anything.

Part of my frustration is that I had a hint of what was going on: I have auto-immune Hashimoto’s thyroid disease, and while Western medicine is very reductive and focuses only on one thing at a time (thyroid), the reality is that my whole endocrine system is out of whack. When your endocrine system is out of whack, you’re at greater risk of bone fractures.

My disappointment was that yeah, sure, I had finished the triathlon, today. I had willed myself through, despite injury, and that’s great. But–was I going to now have to quit? Was I, again, going to have to go back to the drawing board with injuries? And was I, again, going to feel the frustration of going to doctors and saying, “What’s going on, here?” and as per usual, they don’t have answers, so I’m again on the internet for hours trying to figure out who’s a quack and who’s legit with alternative approaches? All of that, again?

I got home, talked to my husband a bit about how I was feeling, got some more post-race nutrition, and as the day went on and I looked at the pictures from my race, I began to feel happier. More grateful. It felt like a stretch, on some level, but the more I stretched to “feel into” the happiness and the gratitude and the pride in my accomplishment, the happier I did start to feel.

Then I really got how much I had been up against: the injuries, the lack of time, the lack of confidence, and all of the things that I had to get over in order to do this. I’d been up against all of that, and I hadn’t quit.

That, I felt really proud of. When I tapped into that, I could really celebrate the day fully.

* * *

Now, I’m a few days post-triathlon. I haven’t really felt sore, which becomes another thing to be proud of–it points to my overall fitness that I could do an endurance event with minimal soreness. My neck continues to get better. My foot is still a big question mark, but I have an appointment with my podiatrist.

And more than anything, I’m excited about doing another triathlon. I’m excited about getting back into spin class with my peeps. I’m less excited about swimming (that’s still a meh for me) but looking forward to it, nonetheless.

Given the foot issues I’ve had, I think it’s probably always going to be sprint triathlons, for me. Then the run distance is kept to a minimum. But I like the idea of improving on my overall time and staying fit by cross-training among the different disciplines. I love the community. I think I’m sold!

5 weeks to go

21 Aug

I added up all of the training hours that I put in during an average week, the other day: eight to ten hours. Usually more like eight.

My first thought: “Really? That many?”

I’ve never been someone who worked out that much. When running was exclusively my thing, I’d do half-hour runs with longer weekend runs, 3-4 times weekly, so maybe 4-5 hours weekly of running when I was training for the half-marathon that I did in 2012. Maybe.

The report:

I’ve stuck to a routine. This is really great news, for someone who has resisted routine with workouts.
I’ve been struggling a bit to figure out how to keep myself fueled without eating those junk granola bars that are so quick and handy, when I’m moving between one workout to another.
I tweaked-ish my back a little over a week ago. I think a tight hamstring tugged at the wrong moment when I was bending over, and this caused some issues with my lower back. Fuuuuuuuuuck. Luckily, it healed quickly. Wine is a powerful healer (and muscle relaxer). I’m paying attention to trying to get that hamstring to chill out; I’m not sure why it’s so tight.

Triathlon is in five weeks. There are more things that I want to say about it all, but not enough time. I’m going to be late for a master’s swim workout!