Mind, Will and Becoming the Buttercup that Sucks It Up
The Whiny Prelim
I had a great season last season. My running improved as well as my confidence. I immediately signed up for the 2014 IMCA 70.3 after completing 2013 ready for more. I’m getting closer to a full distance Ironman.
The year took a different turn. I attempted to train for a marathon only to discover my knee had another plan altogether. Knowing one day I would reach that limit as my running knee was a timed element. The plan was after completing a full Ironman which was within my reach but still off in the distance. The knee can fall apart then –at the Ironman finish line and I’ll get all the surgery they’ll give me. Not all goes as planned. Long story short: MRI done, knee way worse than I thought, almost wrong surgery, second opinion from highly respected sports med orthopedist, Chris Wahl, no surgery for now- will not help me run, time to retire running and take up ultra cycling if I want to continue walking for a long time, no surgical option to improve, only salvage surgery. I’m screwed. But I haven’t made it to a full Ironman. Decision: Take a year off running to let the inflammation go down, train for a full and that be the LAST time I run. Deal. Surgeon agreed.
However, I already signed up and paid for the 2014 IM CA 70.3. No refunds or transfers. Might as well show up for the swim and bike and have a great day. I’ve done this particular race twice already. I don’t need the medal. I’ll train on the swim and bike. I’ll make friends with the ellipitical and see what I can do on the run. I’m sure I can bike fast enough to buy me time to walk. In fact, let’s go for a bike PR. And if I’m done at T2 for some reason, I’ll happily hand in my timing chip and cheer on my friends. I like it.
I train. Life is busy. Training becomes more like maintenance and the elliptical goes by the wayside. I focus more on the bike. As soon as I realized I was going to bike more- which was great news for me- I signed up for the Solvang Century. I had been dreaming of that ride for many years and now I felt confident I could do it. That became my “A” event. I consistently commuted to/from work a few days a week and did a few long rides and speed work. I worked through a few mental barriers on the bike. Not much training but enough to keep me honest. As March approaches, I increase the bike training. I complete Solvang pleased with my time and effort. I felt great afterwards. I guess what training I did do was efficient. Ok, I can do Oceanside—at least the bike.
The Oceanside plan is to give it all I have in the swim and bike and PR on the bike. The run- I can decide at the time. I’m open to a planned DNF, walking or running. Again, I don’t need the finishers medal. But as it gets closer, not finishing seems wrong. I kept thinking that I completed 3 x 70.3’s, 3 marathons…pattern of threes. I tried to complete a 4th marathon but it was not in the cards. I don’t want to follow the same pattern with 70.3s. I want to finish. I want 4 medals, 4 completed 70.3s. I need to finish what I signed up for. If I run slowly I think I can phone in a half marathon especially if I run/walk. Nevermind that I haven’t run since September and this thought process is taking place in March. We’ll see.
Swim Bike Swim Bike Bike Bike Swim
2 weeks before the race – injury. Not my knee. My knee is doing great since I haven’t been running. I was riding on a raft with my daughter being pulled by a boat in the lake. It’s great fun. Luna tells my father in law to increase speed. It feels REALLY … REALLY fast. We hit a wake and apparently catch quite a bit of air. I hit the water with my neck and upper back---like a belly flop with my neck. I think someone smacked my spine with a baseball bat. Ouch. I come to the surface of the water and immediately notice the complete loss of sensation in my left arm. WTF??!! I pinched a nerve. I get back on the boat and am fine.
The next two weeks are stressful as this injury feels worse. The numbness and weakness in my arm is still there, my 1st thoracic area is spasming, the shoulder and scapula burn. It hurts to flex or extend my neck in the smallest way and forget turning my head to the left. Sleeping is impossible.
I attempt to swim. Not bad as long as I keep swimming. Stopping- ouch! Bilateral breathing is awkward which in the pool is usually natural. I couldn’t get my face out of the water enough on the left so I’d swallow water regularly. My stroke is way off. I have to tell my left arm what to do as it feels disconnected. THAT was weird. So I’m exhausted after all of this. At least though the swim is do-able. But it will be even slower.
At this point I’m maxed out on Ibuprofen, Tylenol and Devil’s Claw. I reak of Anesthabalm. And I haven’t really slept at night. I have to fix this. I have to bike. At work I give my patients Flexeril with the idea that it will relax the muscles and the pinched nerve will just slip back in to place. I’ve never had that in my life. I can’t even take Benadryl and the last medication I had was when I birthed my 22 year old son. I try Flexeril at bedtime because after a few days of no sleep- I DESPERATELY NEED SLEEP.
It’s great for sleep. I wake up and don’t feel the pain.
I thought one Flexeril would release and it would be over. Maybe it will be better after I move more. I try to ride to work but did not even get out of my neighborhood. It was awful on the bike no matter what I did and bumps were excruciating.
I was crushed.
I was heartbroken.
I was angry.
I have 1.5 week until race day. I’m depressed (looking back the Flexeril was a big part of it). I take one more that night – sleep well but again comes back and I’m super sad.
Screw this. I need to see my chiropractor, Jenny Enstrom. I see her Saturday- 1 week before race day. She adjusts and does a little ART and I can move. The rest of the day is smooth. It’s there but not bad. Excellent.
But the pain comes back Sunday afternoon. I’m thinking I may need to skip this race. I can’t seem to bike. I tried again and never got out of my neighborhood. Swimming is a joke. I could cheer my friends on. That would be fine. If I could just make the pain even 1 level less I could tap into my mental strength and just suck it up and race. I’ll give it until Wednesday to decide.
So what is going on with my neck and back? Herniated disc at T1. Classic. Treatment- exactly what I have done and Prednisone. I do a 6 day course of Prednisone. My last resort. If Flexeril depressed me, what will steroids do? I apologized to James ahead of time if I am being an aggressive bitch on the Prednisone. I start 60mg Monday and return to my chiropractor. Good stuff. Pain way less frequent. Not much sleep but I’m neither depressed nor a raging bitch. I am stressed as the clock counts down. The closer we get the more I want to finish this race. The more it looks like I may not, the more I want it.
I’m liking the Prednisone---a lot. The chiropractic and Prednisone combo are the only things that work. Wednesday is the day I decide if I am in or not.
I am negotiating with myself. Now thinking I can phone in a full 13.1mile run---nevermind I didn’t even train to WALK this. But I expect divine intervention and I will just run to make up for lost time on the bike.
Tuesday- I ride to work. WITHOUT pain. Excellent. The rest of the day is smooth. Now Im still on Prednisone, 3000mg Ibuprofen, 975mg Acetaminophen and Devils Claw. Whatever works. I’m elated. I declare it. I’m in. I’m racing Saturday.
I don’t know what it will look like and I may have to drop out on the bike. I’m okay with it. As I verbalized my decisions, my daughter said “well you will at least try, right? You can’t just not do it.”
This race is all about mind and sheer will. Nothing else. If my mind and will are strong I will finish. Physically, I can do it. I just have to be strong enough to suck it up if it hurts.
Mantra- Mind…Will…oh and Suck it up Buttercup.
Thursday- the neck and shoulder start to tighten up. I’m worried. But it never gets worse. Promising. Certainly not the best way to go into a race but after all the other stuff I’ll take it.
Friday- still tight and little sore but no pinching, burning or spasms. I tell myself I’m strong and try to will it away.
Race Day Saturday
3:30am. Despite 4 broken hours of sleep, I’m ready. Tight and sore but ready.
Liam and James are my sherpas. Liam is turning into quite the awesome Sherpa. He likes getting up early and coming to see me off at the swim. His energy is so positive and helpful. I love having him there.
The arrival is smooth.
Here I am back at the Harbor. I get ready to step into T1 to set up my gear. I kiss James and Liam good bye and start to cry. Really - I am totally falling apart inside. I am so afraid I am setting myself up for failure. I honestly have no idea how this race will end. I tried visualizing the finish all week but the DNF would make its way into my visualizations occasionally. I told myself I was strong and going into this with not one but two injuries so a finish is pretty awesome. But really what if I didn’t finish? Am I really ok with that. Absolutely not. I would be done with triathlon—even a full Ironman. Not sure why I had that logic in my brain but at the time it made sense. I’d almost rather go home and avoid a chance of failing. Failing = DNF. Failing= something else I cannot seem to identify, more of a feeling. However failure is not an option.
I remember what Luna said “at least try.”
I get it together, remind myself that this race is about mind, will and becoming the buttercup that sucks it up. I just hope I have the mental strength today because I woke up with a very stiff T spine. I’m trusting the extra dose of Prednisone will kick in.
Stepping into T1- I see Linda Rich, another triathlete who was volunteering- Every year I see her and give her a hug and every year that beautiful athlete calms my nerves. I adore her. All is balanced.
I find my bike rack with Tri Club SD. Love those! I set up. It feels good to be there. I like my bike spot. I like that Liam and James are right there on the other side of the wall supporting me. I see friends everywhere. I am thrilled to see Monika embark on her very first 70.3 and coach Julie come to place after multiple injuries this year. I’m so inspired b everyone around me. I’m comforted by seeing so many familiar faces.
Looking out at the harbor, the butterflies start. My 3rd year on a row and that harbor still humbles me. I map out my strategy. Slow and easy in the harbor, get into a rhythm. Pick up the pace a little at the turn. Stay next to the buoys—remember that I like all the people around. Pick it up a notch going to the jetty. Turn around, steady pace. Pick it up more in the harbor back. Sprint to the next buoy, stay close to the right and so on.
I set my stuff up, say hello to people, enjoy the conversations going on around me. I watch the swimmers, hang out with James and Liam. James is watching the time and tells me I need to hurry. It’s almost time to go. I still need to run over the beach and do a really quick meditation. I do it and return to be reminded by James I really do need to get going. I look for my wave and realize as I am running through the long line of athletes my wave seems closer and closer to the start. Um… actually … wait! That’s my wave getting IN the water! I run to the start and hear someone yell “Go Cecily!” Who on earth would recognize me in a wetsuit, cap and goggles running frantically to my wave? What? Is this a habit I have developed since last year being late to my own wave start? Last year the wave before me was getting in when I ran frantically to my wave. This year they were 15 seconds in the water. Nice. It made me laugh. At least I don’t have to wait and get anxious.
And I’m off.
The Swim: I like this swim. The water isn’t cold. The sun is out.
Ouch. The T spine is fussing. Kind of a lot. It surprised me. I’m wearing a neoprene cold water swim cap which make my head more buoyant. Just the wrong amount of flexion for my neck. I have to force my head down more to stop the pinching. It works. Just swim and keep the spine neutral.
I passed over a few people- always feels kind of cool to do that. Grabbed a few feet on accident. Had my feet grabbed. No elbows or punches. Excellent. No super aggressive men this year.
The buoys pass by fast. I stay on track swimming with the buoys on my left. I can touch each as I pass by. My sighting is perfect. Excellent. Almost out to the jetty. I turn back and have a hard time sighting back. I can’t see the buoy, sun is in my eyes, so I sight on the big white building and keep the rocks to my right. I pick up the pace as planned. Ouch. Leg cramp—foot, calf all the way up my hamstrings. Okay this sucks. Must be hypokalemia from the Prednisone. Crap. I forgot to drink a bunch of Coconut water last week to replenish my Potassium stores. I stretch it and swim with my foot flexed until it subsides. That’s a rough one. I’m going to feel that tomorrow. Hey, my neck feels great though so I’ll take a leg cramp any day. Moving on…I’m loving the swim. Always happy to be there. Second leg cramp- other leg, not as bad. Resolved.
I swim to the finish. I can’t find the race clock. I wonder what my time is. Not record fast but I’m fine. I hit land and OMG my legs feel funky from the cramps. They are shaky and wobbly.
T1: I see James and Liam and run to T1. It feels good to run but I feel way off balance so I slow it down. I arrive at my bike and immediately put my heated winter hat on, sip hot chocolate and remove the wetsuit. After 3 years I have the heated transition down. I no longer need a list of instructions to remember my steps. I’m warm…unusually so. Actually I think can ride without my jacket. Great! Time to move onto the bike.
The Bike: It feels great to be on the bike. I’m not cold. I fly up the short hill out of the harbor and onto Camp Pendleton. Ouch. Here we go with the neck again. It started fast and early.
I can push through it.
I try different positions. Drop- No way. Upright- ouch, aero- yikes. Okay keep moving- better but not good. I settle into regular aero- the least amount of pain and try to ride. Stop gritting the teeth. Suck it up does not mean gritting the teeth. The scapula is searing. The T1 pinched. Why can’t my chiropractor just ride next to me? I’m screwed. I don’t want to DNF this early.
I’m not DNF-ing.
I plead with the universe.
Stop thinking about it and
I descend a small hill and get way, way ,way down in aero, as far as I can and pull my shoulder blades back and down with my butt off the seat.
Something stretched and moved and all the pressure is gone. Okay extreme aero it is. And that is how I rode most of the way.
10 miles in, pain gone.
Time to pick up the pace and do this.
It’s hard though. I feel more lactic acid than I’d like at this point reminding me of just how little I trained for this race. I felt somewhere between the first and second Oceanside race. It doesn’t matter. The pain is gone and it’s time to PR this ride. It is clear that I am here today to PR on the bike. I want that the most. And I will do it.
All I really remember about the ride is constantly calculating paces and distances, various bike finishing time possibilities, what pace for the next 10 miles do I need to bring up my current pace to finish at this time or that time. How much will I lose on the uphill and gain on the descents. I was constantly checking in on my perceived effort, how my legs were spinning, adjusting gears to go as fast as I could and maintain my energy. Calculating how many calories I have taken in, what I have left. Passing athletes and trying to catch up with those who passed me. Yet remembering to hold back so I don’t slow down at the end. I was ready for the first hill that kicked my ass the first year. I was expecting it to be a breeze this year. Afterall I just did Solvang and did better with the hills at mile 85. Hills really are my friends. I got there and it was harder than expected. It didn’t kick my ass but I felt a little burn. I was getting irritated at the people walking their bikes up in front of me and swerving out. Seriously? WTF is wrong with you? You are WALKING YOUR BIKE UP A HILL and you can’t walk straight? Why are you here? It’s an Ironman for goodness sakes.
Time for a snack, I’m irritated. Irritation rapidly changes to elation as I fly down the hill. That’s why I like hills…what goes up must come down and oh I love the down. That means speed in the bank. For me the first hill is the hardest part for me. The remaining hills are nothing, so I’m good the rest of the ride.
Loving the ride. I even look up a few times and appreciate the scenery. I love this race. I think I will sign up again just to do this ride. It is the only time civilians are allowed to bike in the back of Camp Pendleton.
I am preparing to power though the last 10 miles and gain more speed. These miles are relatively flat but always with an annoying headwind. I looked down and focused on my pace never letting my speed drop below 20 mph and account for stops and turns as I am in town. I needed to get my average speed up by .1-.2mph to PR by 10 minutes. This is harder than any hill but I like it. I thrive on it. I fly into Oceanside. I’m satisfied with my effort but tired and ready for the next part- a nice WALK. Thank goodness I’m not running.
T2: I get back to Oceanside and ride into T2. PR’d by 12 minutes. I was hoping for 10. I cry out of happiness. I achieved and exceeded my goal- a bike PR. The neck didn’t stop me. I did it! I continued to happily sob all the way to my bike rack, sobbed while blowing my nose, sobbed while eating a banana, sobbed putting on shoes. I felt like I finished. I felt great.
I have plenty of time to finish the race even if I crawl.
So lets finish this race.
The “Run:” I run out of T2. It feels good. I tell myself to go slower and just try to run as slow as I can. Perfect. I feel great. I start deciding on a run walk strategy. Run 1 mile, walk 1 mile. That’s exactly what I’ll do. Almost a mile in, suddenly my knee decides to speak up. Shit- what is THAT feeling. Its awful- not sharp, but just really unstable, pulling in a way that it shouldn’t be with a little scraping, crunching and popping. Hmm … I could suck it up but I remember how stupid it would be to do so with zero run base...let’s walk. No big deal. My walking pace was only 1 min slower and the sensations subsided as soon as I stopped running, so perfect I’ll hold this for 12 miles.
This is great. I’m really taking the race in. Seeing my friends is awesome. The sun is out. I get to spend the next few hours walking along the coast, perfect weather and feeling just fine. I see my dear friend Wendee cheering everyone on---what a wonderful surprise.
As I’d see friends run by, sweating, struggling I felt really guilty. I’m not suffering. Now I’m not walking at a strolling pace. Its work but nothing like a run. No head stuff. When I used to run I always had head stuff going on, really quite stressful usually. So a few hours powerwalking and I can take a nap.
A few hours?
What mile am I on?
The miles go by faster running. Ugh. It’s going to be a mentally long day. Keep moving and stop for the Vaseline because I am getting some really hot spots on the bottom of my feet. I used a pair of REALLY old running shoes from my marathon days. They weren’t beat up. I only ran one marathon in them and bought them 6 weeks before the run so not a ton of miles on them. I had been wearing them for the extra cushion. No other thought went into them. Big mistake.
I lose time on my pacing and pick it back up. I’m getting bored and trying to play mental games. I’m usually stressed and depleted when I run I can easily play mental games and really drift off into the bizarre universe. Too cerebral and present today. So I start calculating paces and times. I had three estimated finish times. When I started today I did not care about my overall finish time, only my bike time. Now I am attached to a finish time. I’d like to finish somewhere between my first and second IM Oceanside.
Back at the pier I see James at the beach and wave. Fun! He walks with me a bit which is nice because I needed someone to talk to. I feel good, the legs are getting tired but not bad. Off to the second loop which seems so far and long. 5 more long miles. He can’t walk it with me. At that point I really am mentally done. Slowing down will only take longer. Legs and hips are getting tired fast. No matter how strong my mind is, my body did not even train to walk this race! Only bike and swim. I run a block to change things around. Feels good to get off the balls of my feet. The balls of my feet are burning. I can feel a blister forming. I need to have some semblance of suffering since I am not running, right? And the shoes are a size and a half too big for me. When I was running I thought we had to buy running shoes big so I did and of course New Balances are big anyway so my feet always slid around in them. Lost a few toenails in the marathons in these shoes. It was not until I had a proper run analysis that I was told I needed much smaller shoes. From then I wore fitted minimalist shoes for running.
As long as this one blister which feels a little exaggerated doesn’t pop I’ll be fine. And there we go….Pop. Nice. My socks are going to be nasty at the finish. And the burn right where my foot makes contact with the road.
And you guessed it…
Suck it up buttercup.
For a damn blister Seriously?
The miles slowly tick away. Calculations look good for a goal finish time but not the best one on my list. Almost mile 11- I have to pee really, really bad. I never ever stop to pee. Precious time wasted. But the Prednisone makes me pee a lot. Can I hold it for 30 minutes? There’s a porta potty and the answer is a definitive no. I pee for an obscene amount of time in there. Done. Ready to finish. Ouch. My legs feel like I ran a marathon. They cramped up.
Ok ok…I didn’t train. I get it.
Back to walking. I see my dear friend Erin. She’s not far behind me.
Finally the Strand. I’m going to run the Strand…the whole way.
I start running.
No I’m not.
Yes I am
I will run the finish shoot. I have to. I see Liam before and he hops in. I am so thrilled to see him. He says, “run with me.” I run at mile 13. I see James and he looks surprised that I’m running. I am too because I tell him “there’s some weird shit going down in that knee right now.”
Passing the banners, hearing the cheers I cross the finish and hear my name announced.
I did it.
I finished this thing.
I went essentially phoning it in with two injuries not planning to finish, got a bike PR and had a great time. A 3-peat for IM70.3CA Oceanside, 4-peat for the 70.3. I broke the pattern of 3’s.
Will I sign up again next year? I don’t know. At the finish, I would have said no way. But now, I’m thinking I may want to go back for a sub 3 hour bike PR in 2015. I’m planning to look into racewalking/powerwalking too. Had I continued the elliptical training and had real shoes, I think I could have had a much faster “run time.”