Tuesday. Well I made it back alive from Memorial Day Camp. A very different experience on many levels from last year. All in all a successful weekend.
Before I left for camp I had developed a pain in my left hip. I went to my acupuncturist on Thursday. He joked that my hips did not want to return to Lake Placid. I joked back that I guess I had sprained my chicken muscle. Lots of joking around with some electrified needles followed by ice, Tylenol and a poultice that I had to put on my hip at night and I would be okay in about 3 weeks. He thought it was a bursitis in my hip.
I guess the rest of my body didn’t want to go back to Lake Placid either because after successfully driving up there 6 times last year, this year I missed the exit and ended up 70 miles in the opposite direction…. I have to admit it gave me pause and I thought that maybe my subconscious was trying to tell me something. I shook it off and got back on route.
Everything was fine driving into Lake Placid, checked into my hotel room, got changed, got on my bike and rode over to Cobble Mountain Lodge to meet the team and do a 35 mile orientation ride of the run course on “the back nine” of the the bike course. Team assembled and left the driveway of Cobble Mountain Lodge, per usual I rode to the back of the pack. As we turned out of the driveway we were officially back on the bike course. Then I experience one the weirdest (may actually be THE weirdest) feelings.
The first thing that I was overcome by was the smell. I saw some trees swaying and the smell of fresh mountain air and maybe some kind of weed or flower wafted over me. I have had sensory recall before. Sometimes when someone walks by me while smoking a certain kind of cigarette or I walk by fresh-cut grass I am transported back in time. As I was sitting on my bike, I saw a couple of trees sway, inhaled the air and I guess I must have subconsiously been transported again.
I was in observer mode. I noticed time was slowing down. I saw everything very clearly, the slope of the road, the colors of the shirts of the riders in front of me and then the shake of my hand. Weird, I thought, why is my right hand shaking? Almost like slow motion in a movie. Then I looked at my left hand and saw it was shaking too. I didn’t FEEL it shaking, I SAW it shaking. That’s the weird part. Was this an out-of-body experience? You know when your spirit exits your body and looks down on it? I don’t know, I was just aware I was observing my body and it was a separate entity from the me who is I. Then I saw (or maybe I felt this one) my right knee shaking and my right quad start to quiver. I stood to climb up over a little bump of a hill. We have not been riding for even two minutes.
We turn the corner heading toward mirror lake and I am in some kind of weird Deja Vu but it wasn’t a Deja Vu because I knew I had been exactly here before and I knew exactly when. Okay, okay, I started to talk to myself, everything is cool, you are doing great, there is no hill until there is a hill, you are braver than you think Pooh, you’ve done St. Croix you can do anything. It started to rain. And then for one brief second I felt my lower lip quiver. Oh No, you will NOT go there. STOP, I don’t care what happens today, YOU WILL NOT CRY! You are not a baby, this is just a bike ride and you are not even going near that hill. Okay, okay, I’m good.
We pull up to the Olympic Oval where transition will be. The coaches give us a little orientation. I’m triple checking my bike. Brakes, check. Wipe off tires from wet rain, check. Brakes, check. Helmet, check. Brakes, check. Okay, I’m good, I’m good to go. Oh yeah, BREATHE. Check your brakes one more time. The group heads out, the rain gets harder.
I make it about 100 feet and the lip starts to quiver. The rain is coming down. I see 35 people wearing red going down a hill in front of me. Suddenly I don’t trust a single one of them. It wasn’t my mind screaming, it was my body screaming and it was doing whatever it could to make me stop. My legs were shaking, my hands were shaking. The rain was pouring down and the next thing I know, a gut wrenching sob crawls up my throat and out my mouth and all I can do is gasp for air. Then the flood gates opened from Heaven, the rain came pouring down and the tears came pouring out of my eyes and I couldn’t help it and I had to stop. No, no, no, do not cry. It was too late, my body won over my mind and I couldn’t do a thing. I pulled into the driveway. One of the coaches was behind me. Oh God, don’t make me cry in front of a coach. I’ll cry in front of my mother, my best friend, my dog, but I don’t want to cry in front of my coach. I don’t want them to think I can’t do this. Too late. I’m not sure which is coming down harder, the rain or my tears.
Coach was telling me it is okay to not go out today. NO it is NOT okay. I’m tougher than that! I know because all my friends have told me I’m tougher than that. I’m going to be an Ironman. An Ironman doesn’t pull over the side of the road and cry because it’s raining and the roads are slick and the people in front of her might have changed from her best buddies to overnight idiots. An Ironman pushes the tears aside and goes on. Natashca Badmann wouldn’t stop. Michellie Jones wouldn’t stop. I do not want to be a wimp. I tell the coach to go in front of me and I push off. I make sure there is about 100 feet in front of us and I make it down IGA Hill. The rest of the team is long gone in front. The road starts to flatten out and I start to feel better. I do trust the coach’s riding so I get up closer. I feel better and I tell him I’m okay to ride. I’m embarassed and mad at myself, but I can ride.
The rain continues to pummell us. I catch up to the team but I stay a good distance behind. I pass a couple of people who also leave a big gap (apparently I’m not the only one establishing a good distance.) They line us up with the fastest people going first and slowest people going last so we won’t overtake each other. Then they send us off in 5 second intervals to make sure we have space. We ride downhill in the pouring, pummelling rain to Wilmington. It was scary, not just for me, but for everyone I believe (well at least everyone I spoke too). The rain was coming so hard it made it hard for me to see so I just went as slowly as I needed to go. If it was going to take me two days, I didn’t care, this was as fast as I was willing to go. When we got to the bottom we turned around and climbed back up. Of course the rain lessened for the part when you have to go slowly, climbing up the hill.
I had a tea party with my insecurities during that ride. But I also got a chance to think. I kept asking my body, what’s wrong? What’s wrong, you are not even at the hill why are you so upset? You have been here many times before. What’s wrong. And then it hit me. Yes my body was afraid but my mind was in mourning. I realized that I needed to grieve a little. I know that sounds really strange but I finally said out loud into the rain “This sucks! And it sucked that I trained forever and a day and I was robbed of my big day and it hurt and everything that happened to me sucked.” Then little voice that always chimes in tried to chime in “There are people with real problems in the world and this is petty and stupid. You don’t get to mourn over something so self-indulgent as training for an Ironman. This is a priviledge not a right. Get over youself.” I realized right then and there that second little voice had been chastising me for a year. You don’t deserve to be sad or upset because this was not something that mattered to the world. This was something that mattered to you and it was a self-indulgent undertaking. You don’t get to grieve over something like that. Be grateful for what you have, not whining over what you don’t.
So there I had my little epiphany. I never really let myself grieve over my own stupid little loss. It’s not a big loss like losing someone you love or something like that, but it was my loss. I tried so hard to be upbeat that I never myself really feel it “this sucks and I deserve better.” I kept trying to talk myself into the positive “I’m just lucky to be alive.” But, there in that torrential downpour I heard a message from the universe. No matter how bad you think you’ve had it, or are having it, it can still be worse. There is more crap to come. You thought you would come back and have nice weather, a clear path, a new road to Ironman. Well news flash, there will be more rain and heat and flat tires and probably broken bones and broken spirits but it’s okay to be sad and upset. Even if it seems like a trivial little thing, it’s okay. You, despite your intentions to prove otherwise, are human. Exhale.
I had signed up for a daily 30 minute massage before I had left New York. I think that helped me a lot too. She worked a lot on getting the tension out of my shoulders. Of course I got no sleep that night trying to process ten million different emotions. Why process them slowly over a year when you can bottle them all up inside and process them in one night? I got up and checked my brakes twice in the middle of the night.
So the next day we were to ride the real bike course. I was feeling much better. I had purged a lot of emotions out of me during the night and frankly there were just no more tears in stock. I had done a lot of crying, a lot of shaking out whatever fear was left in my cellular level and of course I had to do some self-flagellation over how much I thought I was overreacting to something that was really not that big of a deal. I was definitely nervous about the coming day, seeing the spot again, trying to figure out exactly what happened, what went wrong.
Our group went out slowly, taking our time climbing out of town. I was leading the group which was probably painful for them because I’m the slowest climber of the bunch. But frankly I didn’t have much time to worry about them because it was almost a death march for me. Climb, climb, climb now because very shortly you will be going down, down, down. Gulp. Breathe, darn it, breathe.
We go down a little hill. Is this it? Is this it? No, no water, this is not it. We go down another hill — I see a railing is this it? Is this it? No, no water. I remember that specifically. It is the point where you first see the water and the woman was standing on the outiside of the guardrail and I remember thinking what the heck is she doing there? She is going to fall into the water if she takes one step backwards.
Apparently I’m gripping the bike pretty hard because I hear the coach behind me, “loosen your right hand, loosen your left hand, loosen your shoulders, relax your back.” Okay, I can do that. Loosen my right hand, loosen my left hand, loosen my shoulders, relax your back. We start to go down a hill, there is a curve in the road, I don’t remember the curve but we straight out and BAM, there I am there is the guardrail, there is the water, this is the spot, THIS IS THE SPOT!! I put my hand out and point — THIS IS IT! THIS IS IT!! The coach says calmly “put your hand back on the handlebar.” ROFL, that made me laugh.
I felt strangely better. There was a curve in the road. I didn’t remember that. Suddenly it all made so much more sense. Why I could see the guys a good distance away and then why all of a sudden they were right in front of me. I saw them before the curve. They had to have slowed down or even stopped for something in the curve and when I turned into the curve they had started their crash. It made so much more sense to me. I get it. I could see now how I was robbed of a few seconds of critical reaction time. Okay, I get it. I finally, finally get it.
We kept riding and I kept repeating, loosen your right hand, loosen your left hand, loosen your shoulders, loosen your back. We were soon on the six mile descent and I kept repeating it, the next thing I knew I was relaxed and Tina (my bike) and I were sailing down the hill and I swear I heard her say “see I told you it wasn’t me, I can ride downhill, look.” I took the corners evenly, I wasn’t racing, I wasn’t in aero, but I was braking my way down the hill either. Nice even pace. The road opens up and I saw one of my teammates in front of me. I felt very relaxed and Tina wanted to ride so I passed her and headed down the hill into town. Done, I did it and when I hit the turn at the bottom of the hill in Keane, I didn’t have to let out a big exhale or anything. I was relaxed and ready to ride.
I waited and waited and waited. Where was everyone? Where was my friend who I just passed? Where was the coach? Finally a couple of people showed up and I waived to them to meet me. (I was the only one of the group who knew the course.) Finally everyone got down to the bottom of the hill and the coach arrives to say the gal I had passed had taken a spill (a car failed to signal as it pulled out around another car.) She was alright but her wheel was busted and not rideable. The coach had to go back up the hill and make sure she was okay. I volunteered to guide the rest of the group on the rest of the course. One thing I knew was the bike course.
It turned out to be a very good exercise for me. Instead of worrying about me, I got to worry about the rest of the group. I do well worrying about other people. I don’t do well worrying about me. So I rode ahead to each turn and waited for the group and told them where the next turn would be and any highlights or answered any of their questions. It totally got my mind of me and my phobias. I think it also did something to my brain that would come back to serve me well the next day. The coach caught up to us again and I was very happy that all of our group had stuck together and did a good job so he didn’t find us all lost and separated. We finished our climb back up to the Cobble Mountain Lodge and started our run.
After the 56 mile bike ride we had to run one loop of the run course, 13 miles. I had already anticipated that I wouldn’t be able to complete it. I figured my hip hadn’t lasted 6.8 miles the previous wednesday so it was just a matter of time before my hip or my knee went out. I gave myself permission to not worry about it becuase the real challenge of the day had been accomplished. Imagine my surprise when I ran the entire 13.1 (except I walked up the two big hills.) I was nothing short of shocked.
When I started the run I felt the discomfort in my hip but it just stayed at that manageable level of discomfort for the whole run. Nothing I couldn’t live through. Wasn’t pain, it was just there. My left knee was fine, my right knee a few moments of crankiness but all in all pretty darn good. I even ran down both of the big hills. I was nothing short of surprised. I felt fine. When I showed up to my second massage she said “okay what hurts?” I said “surprisingly, not much.” We worked on my big muscles to get ready for the 112 mile bike the next day.
The next day we were to ride two loops of the course. Start out within our own little groups but ride your own pace — no waiting for everyone. I took off feeling fine. As I expected my rabbit passed me on the uphill out of town. I knew I would see her later on the course — it was the same way last year with Nacho. She’d pass me on the uphill, I’d pass her on the downhill, I’d lose her on the flats and then she would sail on by me on the uphills home. I was figuring this would be the same. I was thinking a lot about last year and my riding partners.
Towards the bottom of the big hill is a speedometer sign. As cars and bikes ride by it it displays your speed on a flashing LCD panel. Under it a max speed of 35. Last year Sunshine used to scream at me to go faster down the hill and we would haul through there trying to make the display say 35. I passed the sign and it flashed 23. 23? 23? That stinks. That’s not even CLOSE to how fast I can ride. I thought, hmmm, well I’m probably riding a little more cautiously and that’s okay. When I pass the place where I had my accident, I’ll pick it up. SCREACH. HOLD THAT THOUGHT.
I was stunned. I was MILES past the place of my accident. I had blown past it like it didn’t even exist. I started to laugh. I can’t even believe I made it down hill after hill and I FORGOT to be scared. I forgot to look for the spot and I when I passed it, it hadn’t even registered as anything special. I was grinning from ear to ear, if that is not a huge breakthrough, I don’t know what is. I do recall thinking that it had been a good thing that I got to lead the group around after my successful descent of the previous day. Because I got to live with the good, positive, feelings for a long enough time. Had I been left to worry about myself I might have talked myself back into being afraid. Worrying about the other riders the previous day had sealed my confidence. Verryyyy interesting….
The second loop same thing happened. Didn’t even think about the downhill until I caught up to a coach later and said “the most bizarre thing happened.” And then I realized it had happened twice. That hill is no longer a demon for me. There had been a complete and successful exorcism. Very cool.
Apparentely I bonked on the second loop because I had grossly miscalculated my calories. I relied on memory from last year instead of taking the extra two seconds to do real math. I remembered that I always took 2 bottles of Infinit with me on the bike and then filled my aerobar drink holder with water. What I failed to remember is that my 2 bottles of Infinit were always DOUBLE formula. Ooops. So I did the first loop in 3:40 with 700 calories (I need 300 calories an hour or 1,050 calories for that amount of time.) I grabbed 2 peanut butter sandwiches during my transition (220 calories each). That should have brought me back on target at 1100 calories but I think I was really feeling drained later in the second loop. On the second loop again I took two bottles of Infinit (700 calories) and ate 2 more PBJammerz that I had thrown in my pocket. It ended up taking me 4 hours to do the second loop, I had really lost my zip. So although the numbers for my nutrition seemed okay on paper (once I added in the PBJammerz) I think I needed more. OR, I need it earlier which is what I think the problem really was. I think I was trying to make up calories instead of pre-loading. A subtle but important difference. Same thing happens with water, by the time you are thirsty it is too late. You have to drink in advance. So lesson learned — double up my Infinit bottles and add a little extra.
PBJammerz rock. I found them at the Westerly Market in the frozen food section. http://www.pbjammerz.com/Home.html
After the 112 mile bike we did a 6 mile run. It was not that sparkly but again I was pretty surprised that I was able to do it. Pain was minimal, discomfort great. I can live with that. The whole weekend felt very different from last year when I left feeling very unsure of myself. I can’t say I’m 100% confident that I can do this race, but I am much more confident than last year. Last year I said to Charlee after one of the training days “That was the hardest day of my life.” But now I’ve done St. Croix and that has to be up there as the hardest training day of my life (although even that is started to fade in my memory.)
My overall assessment is that I’m not much faster (or any faster) than last year but I sure do feel stronger. I feel like I can suffer longer or it takes longer for me to get to the suffering point. For me, Memorial Day training camp this year was all about conquering the demons in my head and on the course. I really feel I have done that. I’m not going to go crazy on race day riding my fastest down the hills but I’m okay with that. I’m okay with whatever happens. Sure I have crazy time goals I keep throwing on myself but I let them wash over me. I’ll be happy with whatever happens. If I have learned anything is that you can plot and plan until the cows come home, when the universe has another plan for you, that’s the path you will go down — sometimes literally.
Final funny note. I woke up Monday morning ready to leave Lake Placid and guess what? For the first time in six days my hip didn’t hurt. ROFL!
Excerpt from “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns:
“But Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid plans of mice and men
Go often awry, And leaves us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!”