Here’s hoping this 4th draft of this post will actually be the last one. Lucky #4, right?
Oh uhm, it’s been a while…but hey, I’ve been busy. Suddenly here we are, middle of March and it’s been over two months since I last updated this blog. As well intentioned as I was, meh, I just wasn’t into writing much. I’ve become quite good at only committing to the things that elicit a major “Hell Yes” in my life.
As in, if it’s not a hell, yes…it’s a no. Not talking myself into maybes that don’t excite me or out of hell yeses that scare me a little has become my modus operandi. Black Or White. Elective life endeavours are either a full-commit or a non-starter because sitting on the fence is just not my thing.
In my last post I said that the truth always comes out no matter how much we try to hide, repress, deny or avoid it. The picture for this post was taken back in September when there was a lot of uncertainty about my heart health and whether or not I would race again. One of the things that kept the fickle balance between being active and not training was taking my bike for a daily short ride to my favourite spot on the water and just think (or not) for a while. I usually just sat there with my old road bike and enjoyed the scenery…bartered with life…bribed the Universe, and so on…and dared to feel the “unwilling to die” yet unfulfilled dream inside me. One day, I also fell off a rock in the process because well, that’s just how klutzy I can be and in the spirit of keeping things real, that’s my full disclosure moment. The truth, people…the truth.
I was trying so hard to get my ducks lined up, keeping a tight grip on something I had next to no control over, it was ridiculous. And one day, in a very uncharacteristic move, I got fed up and I just decided to let go. Let it all go…and see what washed up. Now there’s probably a great “message in a bottle” analogy to be made here but I’ll abstain and let the romcom movies keep the theme for themselves.
While all this was going on during the summer, I had a lot of friends ask me with everything I have accomplished (which is arguably very relative depending on who you are talking to) why I still wanted to race..why I was doing this sport..why I was pushing my body so hard..where did that stem from…what was in it for me, etc. Truth be told, I was asking myself those questions as well. But I was too burnt out to come up with an answer. Plus, did it even matter, really? Mentally, physically and emotionally, I was fried. To a crisp. And I’m not ashamed to admit it either.
When I look back on the post Mont Tremblant 2015 period, I realize that I did not take the time necessary to figure out the “what now?”. I may not have experienced the post-IM blues that most people do (I was actually on a mighty high) but I also didn’t take the time away that I should have. I got swept into something new on the personal level and dove right back into IM training. Those two cogs eventually chewed me up and spat me out. And my resolve to not let it break me eventually broke me in another way. Lesson learned. And eventually the unescapable “what now?” surfaced again.
What those moments of quiet stillness by the water gave me (besides the occasional wet socks) was clarity. What washed up was the answer that would set the stage for the next few months.
I have not yet had the perfect Ironman race. And I want that. Badly.
That’s what I’m going after. I do not want to walk away from this sport with an unfinished business feeling which is what I feel. Because, yes, my last one (2016) still tastes fucking bitter. That DNF (my one and only) was pretty much like trying to swallow a peach pit at the time. I am many things but a quitter is not one of those. Now with hindsight, there are much worse things to deal with in life but I digress.
So what exactly would be a perfect Ironman race to me; that the clincher. I am not so much talking quantifiable results here…although I ain’t gonna lie, that’s always in some way part of the equation when you involve a clock, a finish line and me. There’s a #truthbomb that surprises no-one, I’m sure. But the primary aim is personal satisfaction which I break down as follows:
1. Do everything I can to prepare well.
2. Show up ready to race.
3. Stay calm but focused.
4. Execute the plan (and its contingencies) and cross the finish line happy.
THAT is what I am chasing. That is MY chase. That’s what I’m going after.
I have a “time” goal as well but it is not my primary one.
I was close to that in 2015. I didn’t let the nerves, the circus that is Ironman weekend get to me. I was happy in my bubble and I executed the plan perfectly…until the race had a plan of its own for me. I am still proud I finished that race when I could have quit but it is in what I feel escaped me that my quest for more rests. What if I didn’t sprain my back on that bike pass? What would the race have looked like then for me? That’s how I know there is more and that is what keeps washing up. I want that. I have experienced that at other distances but it has eluded me at the IM distance. Yes, I am well aware that Ironman races hurt like hell and rarely go to plan but that is not going to stop me from chasing that goal.
So from October to February (when I was to meet with my cardiologist again), it was back to basics for me. I took some time to do the “boring” stuff nobody ever wants to do. Especially with swimming. Oh my god, the swimming. Drills, and video anyone?!
I did something most would highly disapprove of…I spent a LOT of time with fins, form paddles and snorkel (because it was easy cardio-vascularly) just swimming lap after lap after lap working on my stroke (or lack thereof) and body position. Like, a lot of time…then I gradually weaned myself off all the “aids” and came out the other side with a way better feel of my body in the water and a half-decent stroke compared to the flailing ostrich careening down the lane I had before. There’s a visual for ya!
You might remember that I tested on the bike in the fall. Yeah, that was dismal. Lowest numbers ever. So I chipped away at my FTP while staying within was I was allowed to push heart rate wise. And the run, well, I just ran at what I felt was easy…turns out I was way off on that one.
Then I squeezed in a few more weeks of training before it was time for my follow-up appointment with my cardiologist in Toronto and that’s where the rubber met the road.
Up to this point, I had felt like I was almost a waste of his time. I know it wasn’t the case but let’s be honest, every time I went to see him, it was clear to pretty much everyone that I was the “healthiest” patient on the docket that day. Combined with the fact that he does some pretty intricate and delicate surgeries, my case is pretty much a walk in the park for him. In one way, it was reassuring to have him talk about what was going on with me so casually and in such a manner-of-fact tone; like it was no big deal…on the other hand, my perception of this was that it wasn’t serious and/or I was an inconvenience in the lot. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. If he seemed aloof back in September, this time he came prepared to meet with me and my lifestyle…and he meant business.
The required fitness and medical tests were done before my consult with him and we went over them pretty quickly. Everything checked out and was pretty straight forward. THEN came the serious discussion. If you guessed that my first question to him was whether or not I could resume training/racing (remember the vision, people?), you would be right. He took a deep breath and said: Yes. But.
This was followed by a long and winded
statement lecture about how it would be in my best long term interest and health to work on lowering my base heart rate and how to go about it which was exactly in line with what I had been doing since January. Yes, I could do and increase intensity work…just balance that out with some easy stuff. Bluntly put, his exact words were: “The tests don’t lie. It is clear to me that you don’t know when to quit and you can push and sustain the effort when most would have long stopped because of discomfort/pressure issues and you have been doing this for a while. That may serve you well in certain occasions but it is not something you should be doing all the time. You are tiring your heart out. Ultimately, too much of this hinders performance because it affects output. You’ve been building a house on an egg for too long and you are smart enough to know that’s not the most solid foundation out there. The heart is a muscle that can be trained just as easily as it can be fatigued if you stress it too much and I don’t mean just physical stress. It’s up to you. You can be smart about this or we can see each other again in the Operating Room. Your choice. What you’ve been doing got you here. If you want different you are going to have to make changes.”
And so, just like that, I was suddenly staring down the barrel at a very different landscape than I had imagined. However, the fact that I was given the all-clear (encouraged, even) to remain active (in a smart way), was a huge relief. It also meant that I would have to flip my mindset on its head. What I did not know was how challenging this would prove to be for me. Hard comes in many different shapes.
Having had to take the summer and most of the fall off training wise, I thought I had become pretty chill about that aspect of my life. Yeah, you can tell yourself all kinds of stories but when it comes down to it, your personality eventually comes through. At least for me it did. Here’s that unavoidable truth again. I have always been, and I suspect always be, competitive at the core. So when we got the new numbers from a run test (because that is where I was knocked down on my ass), it was a pretty rude awakening.
Although the swim and bike are pretty straight forward, running wise I have to use a combination of pace and HR based training. For the base work, I go by Heart Rate and for speed work, I go by pace – which is a real treat, let me tell you. It’s like taking the chains off! Running in Z2 HR, translates into high Z1 pace. For now. That was a HUGE blow. I mean I knew my fitness had taken a hit but this was disheartening (pun intended). The first few runs, I was running frustrated. I angry cried…more than once. During…and after runs. Damn it, didn’t I have the bartering conversation with the Universe? Should I have offered more as a bribe?
Turns out I had been running in no-man’s land for way too long so with these newly adjusted paces, the easy runs felt like slogs. The speed work was hit and miss. I could do the shorter (400m) intervals (because I could gut them out mentally) but with the 800s, I couldn’t hit the pace. For like, NONE of them in a given workout no matter how much I willed myself to…because I just don’t have the endurance. Yet. Key word, here.
Then I gave myself the real talk: “CHILL THE FUCK OUT. This is temporary.”
1. You took an extended break from running (for health reasons).
2. Your fitness starting line is not the same it was in previous years at the same time. (Meaning I am about 3 months “behind”…calendar wise) so of course you’re not going to run the times you did (or equivalent) in March.
3. That’s why your “A” race (half-Ironman) for this year is not until September (vs June).
Those are not excuses, they are reality checks.
And then I remembered how this working on the basics has worked so well in the pool for me going into this year. Doing the boring stuff paid off. My most recent CSS test was the best I have ever had and last week I swam my fastest 100 ever at 1:20. Not 15 of them…just one. I know this is not “out of this world fast” but this is my fast since I have never gone under 1:25 for a single all-out 100 so I’ll take it.
Now I need to put pride aside and apply the same to my run…easier said then done, let me tell you; which means reframing my perception of a successful run. To me. At this time.
In the past, I would have worked at the very edge of my pace/HR limits. Always at the limits (bordering on a little further) even on easy runs…that was kind of my go-to mindset.
Now instead of thinking “how fast can I run this at my top HR?”, I go with “how low a HR can I average for this run/pace?”. Taking my eyes off the overall pace has given my brain a break. Different angle on the challenge, same goal. In a little over a month of this, I am going into my runs more relaxed and it turns out the pace has gotten faster too. So we’re on the right track. It might take me a while but I will get there. Because I am stubborn and determined AF to get myself where I want to go. The goal is clear and each day I get one (or two) workout(s) closer to it.
On a side note, I would be remiss not to thank you, Phaedra, for keeping me honest and accountable on a daily basis about this. Knowing you will be checking those metrics is the only reminder I need when I get tempted to “colour outside the lines”.
Is this mindset change easy to do? No.
Is it worth it? Hell, Yes.
(btw, not all difficult things come with sweat and snot…sometimes it is beyond that. It’s not sexy, doesn’t make for catchy IG posts but it is real.)
So there you have it. That’s where I’m at. I’ve taken stock of the past 18 years of racing and when all is said and done, there is still something I want to chase. And starting from where I’m at is “almost” like a new beginning. Some would see it as discouraging…I see it as fucking exciting. It’s all about perception and mindset; how you choose to see a situation. It’s not as easy as flipping a switch (trust me) but it does have a similar effect. And it feels good (or hurts less) when you are doing it for the right reason/cause/goal.
There’s a lot more to my life than this triathlon thing but this part is what I choose to share of online. Don’t forget the big picture…your loved ones will want more than shoe boxes of medals and pages of Strava records one day which me and the kids joked about over the Holidays.
Now, this was a VERY lengthy post about something that is relatively unimportant with everything going on in the world. And in one where the average attention span is 140 characters or less, if you’ve made it to this point of the post, I feel I should probably hand you a medal or something. However, you’ll just have to settle for my virtual gratitude. Sorry…but nonetheless, heartfelt thank you for making it this far.
Set yourself up for success. (that will be my next post)
Give your best effort at any given time.
And when life tells you to chill out, it’s probably a good idea to do just that.