Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Swim, Bike, Run, Pray #6: Wheels of Resistance

I now have three races to catch up with – with job changes and trying to get our house ready to sell, life has been a bit crazy. I’ve taken it easy since St. George, but now that Saturday’s Rock Cliff race is done, I’ve got a month to prepare for the Toughman Half. I’m not nearly as worried about this race as I was St. George. I know I can do it, and I plan on getting a PR for the course – I came in at 7:47:10 three years ago. And so far, I’ve been PR’ing almost every race this year. So first, a brief look at Salem Sprint Tri, Daybreak Olympic Tri, and Rock Cliff Olympic Tri. Then I’ll get to this entry’s spiritual triathlon connection.

Salem was harder than I had anticipated. I finally realized the reason for my slow bike splits this year.

1. I’d been training at a lower wattage over the winter, staying mostly in zone 2 to prep for the longer distances. But that also meant I’d have a harder time going hard and fast on the shorter races.
2. Something was wrong with my front wheel. It kept feeling like the brakes were rubbing the whole time, even though I kept looking down and saw they weren’t. I finally realized I’d been experiencing this for all my outdoor rides this year. We’ve had it looked at since, but no one has found anything wrong with it, even though I know something is. Since then, I’ve just ridden with my wheel I usually just use on the trainer until we can get a second opinion.

Once I realized I wasn’t going to be able to kick butt on the bike, I decided to just try to relax and enjoy it. I had just gotten a new bike fit earlier that week, so I was still adjusting to things. The weather was cool and rainy again. Blah. Despite all of that, I still managed to PR the course by a little over a minute – 1:30 faster swim, and a five minute faster run! Yeah, the bike was slow. But I felt really good about the faster run – even uphill!

 This was a new race for me – never done it before. It was similar to a few others I’ve done – false flats and a few hills on the way out, then mostly downhill and fast on the way back. Overall, I liked the course, and was super excited to place third in my age group – a first for an Olympic distance. I had a time of 3:02:05, which I was pleased with considering the heat on the run which slowed me down a bit. I was still feeling down about my bike though, with a pretty slow average speed – until I looked at my age group and discovered I had the fastest bike split! That was huge for my struggling self-esteem! Haven’t decided if I’ll do this race next year, it depends on what my A races wind up being.

I have a love/hate relationship for Rock Cliff. This was the 4th year I’ve done this race, the 2nd year I’ve done the Olympic. In 2013, it was my first race after not finishing Boise 70.3, so swimming wasn’t my friend. But, I finished – in 3:54:18. Last year, I signed up for the sprint at the last minute – and was so glad I did because I finally reached my goal for the year of qualifying for USAT Age Group Nationals. This year, I felt like I still had a bone to pick with that Olympic course.

Unfortunately, I’d been feeling ill for a couple of days before the race, and when Kermit and I woke up Saturday morning, we both felt like we were going to hurl. I was so weak and nauseas, I didn’t know how I’d do an Olympic distance. I could switch to the sprint, but then I wouldn’t qualify for The Works from Racetri, earning an extra cool trophy at the end of the season. I decided to go up there and if I still felt uber sick, I’d just volunteer. Stress really wreaks havoc on my digestive system, and I’ve been experiencing plenty of that lately.

After going to the bathroom a couple more times and getting transitions set up, I started to feel a little better. Okay, let’s do this thing. I knew if I just went slow and steady, I could finish and still PR. If I had done Daybreak the week before in 3:02, I could do less than 3:54, even with feeling sicky and not eating more than a few bites of a peanut butter sandwich.

Once I blew bubbles a few times in the water, I got used to the cold, and by the time we started, I immediately just relaxed into a steady rhythm. It was weird because sometimes I’d swim through ice cold water, and other times, it was warm. The distance was a bit short, putting me a full 25 minutes ahead of my 2013 time – I was loving that! On the bike, I decided to take it slow and easy, since I hadn’t eaten much and was feeling a little energy depleted. But I was able to stay at a pretty good clip throughout, relaxed on the downhills, maxed out at 43 mph, and bettered my bike time by 15 minutes. Of course, part of that was because of the flat tire I got in 2013.

On to the run. I was super stoked because they changed the run course last minute to avoid the river – which had overtaken part of the course we usually do. That meant more time on the trails around the campgrounds. I was in my happy place! Because of the light drizzle, cloud cover, and high, fast river, the run course was amazing – it smelled great, was challenging, and was just my favorite part of the race. I took in all my nutrition, trying hard to milk every last ounce of energy I could squeeze out of my tired body. Although it was a slow 10k for me, I PR’d the run by 5 minutes.

Overall, I PR’d Rock Cliff Olympic by 48 minutes! Despite feeling super stressed and sick the few days leading up to it, it was a great race overall. And, I placed 3rd in the 35+ collapsed age group, and 1st in my USAT age group, again qualifying me for this year’s USAT age group nationals (I also qualified at Yuba last September). I was super pleased. And also proud of Kermit, who finished his sprint distance, even though he felt really sick too.

Resistant wheels

I had an epiphany after Salem that I’ve been mulling over ever since. Thanks to a possible yet unknown malfunction on my bike wheel, I’ve had added resistance on all my outdoor rides. I’ve had to work twice as hard to go as fast as I used to. The uphills have been harder. The flats have all felt like hills. And I couldn’t even rest much on the downhills because I was still going slow and had to keep pushing. It’s been so hard. Physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. I’ve questioned myself and my abilities as a triathlete. I’ve wondered all kinds of things like, “Is getting older really slowing me down this much?” and “Have the 5 pounds I’ve put on since last year slowed me down this much?” and “Seriously, what’s wrong with me?! How can people be flying past me on the entire course?! Last year I was so much faster; how could I get so much worse with all the training I’ve put in?” It’s just been really, really hard.

Depression has been having the same effect on me. No matter what kind of state I’m in, everything seems harder. I seem to move slower, take longer. Even though I continue to work hard. I have to work twice as hard to try and get the same results, but often I still feel like everything is slower. I have to work harder to feel my Savior’s love for me. And often, I don’t feel it. I feel weak spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Even though in reality, I’m not. If anything, I’m probably stronger than I’ve ever been. But the depression adds extra resistance to everything I’m doing. The uphills, downhills, and everything in between all feel harder than normal.

What these two scenarios have in common is that ultimately, I’ll be stronger for all the added effort. Hopefully, in time, I’ll be a stronger cyclist than I ever imagined. And, hopefully, with time, the depression will pass and I’ll be stronger mentally, emotionally, and spiritually than ever and able to handle what happens next… at least more so than I would have before going through this. It will still be hard, but I’ll have more confidence in my ability to keep pushing through it.

I continue to repeat and apply the phrase that got me through St. George: This hill won’t last forever. I just have to keep pushing through it until I get to the downhill. I don’t always know when I’ll hit the downhill, or how long it will last. But I know it’ll be there. I won’t allow myself to think about any future hills that may also be ahead. Just focus on this one, and the release I know will come afterwards. Don’t stop. Don’t quit.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Swim, Bike, Run, Pray #5: St. George 70.3 Race Day Report

I struggled writing today’s post. Saturday’s elation at finishing an extremely difficult race, made harder by the weather, was quickly replaced yesterday with self-recrimination and sadness. Not quite as bad as I’ve experienced with past races, but it’s still there.

Me with dad, hubby, and kids
just before race start
On the one hand, the fact I even finished is a miracle. So many things went wrong during my race, that I’m amazed I kept going. About 700 athletes didn't finish. On the other hand, I’ve had two main thoughts going through my head:

1. It was so incredibly disheartening to get passed by so many people on the bike. They flew past me on the hills like it was no big deal, from the first big one, referred to as Nemesis, to the last one in Snow Canyon. Meanwhile, I barely inched along, had to stop multiple times for various reasons, and took a lot longer than I’d planned. I just can’t describe how much that affected me mentally. I felt like all that training, all the hours I put in for 5 months, was for nothing.

2. Everyone has been telling me and posting about how proud they are of me, of how awesome I did, etc. But I don’t think I earned it at all. I was one of the last ones out there from my triathlon club. I put in so much time and effort. My physical game was totally off.

Despite all of this, I pushed through the race and finished. It took me 8 hours and 10 minutes, but I didn’t give up. Even though I wanted to multiple times on the bike. And if there’s one thing that came through loud and clear, it was that prayer works. So in an effort to push out all the nastiness that’s been fighting its way to the forefront of my mind, here are the top 10 good things that happened during Ironman 70.3 St. George.

1. It’s obvious I’ve come a long way with my swimming. Despite the waves, the cold water, the athletes swimming right into me who weren’t sighting at all, and the kayaks I had to dodge that were trying to help people, I was like a fish!  Other than some nausea, I felt great on the swim, enjoyed it even. Sometimes I almost laughed when the waves rolled around me like I was on a water bed. And when it started raining, it smelled so good (unlike the gas smell from the boats, yuck). The water is so pretty, even when it’s raining. I think the swim was actually my favorite part of the day. I couldn’t say that 3 years ago!

2. Although my chain came off twice while trying to switch between the big and small rings, I didn’t get a flat tire or lose a water bottle. Plenty of people did.

3. I noticed that my nausea went away after I used Base Salt, which I’d forgotten about until about mile 28 of the bike. That and I realized that I’d been so stressed about my chain coming off again, I was in knots inside. But, I’d gotten it unstuck twice already, so I could do it again if I needed to. That relieved a lot of stress.

4. All the positive thoughts and sayings I’ve been flooding my brain with the past few months finally paid off. I had multiple things to think about to push out the negative thoughts every time one came in. I don’t think I could list them all here if I tried. Different phrases popped into my head at different times that seemed to be exactly what I needed at that time. Probably the most helpful was, just go another mile and see how you feel. Then, this hill will be over soon. Followed by one from our team pep talk before the race: this is your moment; you get to choose what you do next. I chose to keep going.

5. The volunteers were amazing. From the guy who helped steady my bike at the last aid station before Snow Canyon (I was shivering so bad I couldn’t keep it steady to hoist my leg over and get going. He even gave me a little push.), to the lady in T2 who helped dry my feet and put my dry socks on because my hands weren’t working they were so frozen, to the great volunteers at the run aid stations who had funny signs, called me by name, and cheered me on.

6. I don’t know how I made it down from Snow Canyon. Because of the cold rain and wind, half of each foot was frozen, my hands were so stiff I couldn’t shift into my big ring so I had to coast down to T2, my right calf started spasming uncontrollably, and my bike was wobbling dangerously – not from the speed-generated wind, but because my entire body started shaking from being so cold. In addition, my arms and shoulders locked up from the cold, so I couldn’t move very well from aero to a more upright position without risking a fall, but I had to use my breaks, so I did it, but almost lost it, and then my water-logged breaks didn’t even work that well. For all intents and purposes, it’s a
Coming into T2, trying
not to cry
miracle I made it safely down.

7. One of the things I told myself was, this can’t be like Cozumel, you have to finish this bike so you can go on the run. The run will warm you up and you’ll feel better. It’s your favorite part of the race, and you don’t want to miss it! Again! And I was right. I felt a lot better about a mile into the run. That combined with getting more nutrition and water into me, the comradery from my tri club mates, and my awesome husband who chased me around on the course, made for a good experience for the last third of the tri. Despite a blood sugar drop about mile 7 and GI issues from mile 9 to the end that slowed me down significantly. And more cold wind.

8. I didn’t feel as sore after the race as I have after other races – and this was a really tough course. Today I’m barely sore at all – the worst is the wetsuit hickey on my neck.

9. Men, you may want to skip ahead to #10. This may seem like a small thing, but the women in the audience will appreciate it. I’m always super regular, and Aunt Flow was scheduled to start two days before the race. One more thing to worry about. But, miracle upon miracles, she went on a little vacation and came four days late. Happy dance that I didn’t have to deal with that on race day too!

10. Finally, prayer works. After I crossed the finish line, there were so many friends there who cheered for me and congratulated me. One in particular came up to me and said after she’d seen me standing on the side of the road in Snow Canyon, and seeing how down I looked, she started to cry and pray like crazy for me. She continued to worry and pray for me, hoping I pushed through and finished, because she said she’d known if I could make it to the run, I’d finish the race. And she was right – when she saw me coming into T2 as she headed out on the run, she finally relaxed, knowing I 
was okay. It really touched me that she cared that much about me finishing. And for the 4th or 5th time that day, I had tears too. Her prayers worked.

Just like in the race, we have so many people running with us who are cheering us on in life. They may be faster or slower than us. They may be going in opposite directions sometimes. We may only get brief glances of them, or a little smile or thumbs up. Sometimes, they might not acknowledge us, even when we need it, because they are in pain too. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care. Then sometimes, we’ll get a huge “Go Mandy, you’ve got this, you’re awesome!”

How many of our friends and family who have passed away are worried and praying for us? They know if we can just make it to our “run”, then we’ll finish our race. Won’t it be amazing to see them all again when we cross the finish line? To feel their love for us, their excitement that we did it, no matter how slow we were, or how many times we messed up and had to stop and try again?

Friends and loved ones, whether alive or dead, didn’t care that I took an hour and 10 minutes longer then I’d planned, or that I didn’t time my nutrition well, even though I’d planned to. They didn’t care I had black grease on my hands from fixing my chain, or who knows how many germs from multiple stops at the port-a-potties. They didn’t care I had to stop so many times, that I had to ask for help, or that I had to walk up a hill with my bike when I felt I couldn’t pedal one more stroke. All they cared about was that I faced the cold, the rain, the wind, and the depression, and I finished the race. It was enough.

One final note. While I appreciated all the support from friends and family on race day, it really came down to one thing – me making the decision to finish the race. I had to put in the preparation. I couldn’t depend on anyone to make me finish, I had to decide to do that. And if that isn’t mental toughness, I don’t know what is. Mission accomplished.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Swim, Bike, Run, Pray #4: Depression vs. Ironman Training

Hubby Finishing IM Louisville 2012
The reason I decided, in August 2012, that someday, I would finish an Ironman, was after watching my husband and many other amazing athletes forging ahead in Ironman Louisville. They exhibited such mental strength, something I felt I was greatly lacking, and it’s something I wanted for myself. Yesterday, I started to doubt whether I would ever accomplish that goal. I am stuck. Behind a brick wall. Called depression.

I missed two full days of training this week. And cut a few
trainings short. I was so down, I was about to quit triathlon altogether. With all of the research being done on the human brain these days, I wonder what the cure is for depression, anxiety, bi-polar, OCD, and many other mental illnesses. There has to be something!

Despite many mental, emotional, and physical struggles this week, Thursday I strapped on my bike shoes and got back on the saddle. More than 1,000 calories burned Thursday, 1,200 burned Friday, and 1,400 burned Saturday – and today, I’m hammered.

Friday I decided to map a hilly course for my 2.5 hour, 12.8 mile run. I managed a total of 950+ feet of climbing, which doesn’t equal St. George’s 1200. Friday’s course had some 13-14% grade climbs, which I don’t think St. George will have.

After the first really big climb, which I jogged up entirely, I stopped at the corner and looked back on how high I came. As I panted, caught my breath and took a drink, I was amazed at what I’d just done. That felt good! The rest of the run was challenging too, and I didn’t run up all the hills, but I finished strong at the end, despite being tired, sore (my calves cramped up), and thirsty.

Yesterday, I had a 3600 swim and a 4:45 bike on my plan. Whew. After working a few hours helping to clean out the garage, I jumped in for the swim. I was tired after the first 400. I reminded myself that about 3 months ago, I swam 10,000. I could do this. I was thinking of stopping after 2,000, but I just kept going. It felt good to finish the 3,000, albeit a bit slowly, and then I cut the cool down short. My arms were so tired!

I came home and truthfully kept trying to find things to do to avoid the bike ahead. The weather was too dicey to ride outside, and I wouldn’t have been done until around 10pm anyway, so I finally got on the trainer, thinking I’d try to do at least 2 hours. I’d rented two movies to keep me occupied – Concussion (which was very good) and Daddy’s Home (very funny). 2 hours into the bike, my blood sugar had been low for about 30 minutes, and wasn’t getting better. So I took a break to get some real food.

While downing a PB&J, looking at the rain, then hail, pelting our backyard, tears sliding down my cheeks, the thought came to me: there are people like me who have mental illnesses who can’t even get out of bed in the morning. They are on social security because their mental health is so bad, they can’t work. I work 40 hours a week. Run a household. Have a husband and 2-4 kids (depending on the weekend). And I’m training for a half Ironman. I’m worried about making it through a 4:45 training ride and St. George HIM (half Ironman). And there are people like me who can’t even get out of bed. But I can do this. I am really blessed. I could be so much worse.

After crying for a while, and receiving many words of encouragement from my hubby, I went back downstairs for more biking.

I only made it another hour before I had to call it a night. I got in the shower and cried. A lot. People keep telling me that I’ve trained so hard, I can definitely do well in St. George. So why can’t I believe that? I just don’t understand why I feel so weak and tired when I’m trying so hard. Why does it feel so impossible? I get so tired on the bike. This lends more support to the idea that finishing an Ironman is just as much mental as physical.

What if I can’t do it? Again? I don’t want to fail again. Another failure at something like this could be the straw that breaks this camel’s back. I feel like I’ve been teetering on the edge of a giant cliff for a little while now. What if this is the failure that tips my mind over the edge? I don’t want that. But I’m afraid.

I need to take my own advice – fear and faith cannot coexist. And while I usually don’t pray for help with races – I feel like that’s something silly and irreverent maybe – I can pray for mental strength. That no matter what happens, I’ll be strong enough to come through it and keep going, whether I finish the race or not. But if I think that way, I’m giving myself an out. And the only way I’m going to finish is if I take away the option of giving up.

The look of someone who just
finished their first full Ironman
IM Louisville 2012
Shouldn’t I feel stronger by now? I know I could improve nutrition and sleep a bit – so can everyone. But I don’t think it’s severe enough to be holding me back this much. So it comes back to my mind. I’m starting to think more and more that I just don’t have what it takes. Some people are mentally strong, and some aren’t. I’ve been mentally strong at other times in my life. This current challenge is the biggest one yet. The angst I feel inside is real. It’s hard. I want to be as strong as those athletes in Louisville, including my husband. I want to be as strong as many of my friends in the Salt Lake Tri Club. But maybe I just can’t. And that makes me feel like I’m letting everyone down. My coach, my husband, myself. If I could just fight past this wall. I just don’t know how to make myself not give up when it comes to race time. This fills me with sadness, frustration, guilt, anger at myself. What’s wrong with me? It just makes me feel so awful inside. Awful about myself. Even typing this brings tears to my eyes. How do I do this? I have 27 days to figure it out.