Sunday, June 12, 2016

Half Ironman Take 2

The finish line, with my stalkers (you can see my finish line chair to the back right)
As I crossed the finish line of my SECOND Half Ironman, I had no idea how to feel. It wasn't until the following day that I recognized my true feelings.

But let's rewind several months. About 9 months ago I was contacted and asked if I would be interested in doing another half ironman to celebrate a 40th birthday. I am rarely one to turn down a request for challenging my endurance and so I jumped on the opportunity. I registered impulsively and then felt like I was punched in the gut. How the heck was I going to prepare for such a significant race, especially considering I was going to be travelling for several weeks in the beginning of the year. I then reviewed the training schedule and learned that all was good in the world because the training wouldn't officially start until after my trip.

Training swiftly began in January, a couple of days after I returned from India and I dove in as best I could. The training was challenging in the middle of winter, but I stuck to it until one day I fell in the middle of a business meeting. What was simply a trip, fall and sore knee at first, was really a strained knee that couldn't be run on for three weeks. Set back number one recorded.

I continued swimming and cycling on a stationary bike at the gym, but could not squeak a run out of these legs for the life of me.

After three weeks of struggling with training, I was finally able to run again, but had to start from scratch. This stressed me out to the core because I just lost several weeks of running. Regardless, I brushed myself off and marched on.

My training was going fairly well when I suddenly became sick. I had a sinus infection that I insisted needed antibiotics, but the doctor insisted I needed rest. and so I rested, for a week and never got better. I followed up at the end of the week and was finally given antibiotics, and began to feel better. Another week of training lost... Set back number two recorded.

I once again brushed myself off and picked up where I left off, which equated to four weeks behind in running, a couple weeks behind in swimming, and about three weeks behind in cycling. I simply was not going to give up!!!

In the midst of all of these random setbacks, I also had some weird symptoms that could only be explained by the dreaded words Multiple Sclerosis, by my doctor. What could I do for these symptoms? Well, you guessed it NOTHING. But I chose to trudge onward, and opt for some physical therapy that I though might help with my walking struggles, and amazingly it did! While all of this was going on, I was training in silence, because I could not figure out if this race was going to be attainable. In fact, I was so silent in my training, several people expressed their concern for my readiness, at which point I assured them I was training. This is when I started talking about my training as to squelch people's concerns and then something happened, training started to feel easy, so easy that as my running miles built up, I finished each run with confidence, I was killing my swims and even started to ride outside, which was a blessing as 45 miles on a stationary bike was a different kind of misery that no individual should ever have to experience. My champions were likely still skeptical, but they chose to show support rather than cynicism because they were hearing of my successes!

All of a sudden the race was two weeks away and I couldn't have felt better about the race. Everything was looking up and I knew I was going to smash my goals. My last weekend of big training I went out for my long run, smashed the 11 mile run and was literally on cloud 9. The next day, I was so excited for my success that I hit the bike trail with an exuberance that was mirrored in effort. I was clipping along and about 10 miles into my 55 mile bike ride, when I took note of my speed 19 mph. Clipping at 19 miles an hour was likely not going to be sustained but something to strive for for at least the first 25 miles or so...

And then it happened, my back wheel slipped on a wood bridge and I found myself sprawled across the trail, wind knocked out of me, water bottles rolling in different directions, my bike 10 feet from me and a runner standing over me asking if I was alright. I thought I was, once I caught my breath. I put myself back together, cried for a few minutes, sent a couple of texts and decided that I would just slow down for the remaining 45 miles. I officially only made it three more miles after the fall, and found myself sitting on a car stop in a park parking lot, crying, while waiting for my friend to pick me up. I was sore, but certainly didn't think I had a concussion or anything else seriously wrong with me. I simply thought I had a bruised ego and I could put myself together to try again the next day...

Well, I was wrong, the next day I could barely roll myself out of bed and was at the doctors office learning of concussion signs and being probed and prodded to ensure none of my ribs were not broken. Because of the symptoms I was told to refrain from exercise until my concussion signs were gone for 24 hours, and until I could breath normally while exerting myself. Here I was two weeks before the race, and once again sidelined. Setback number three.

At this point I had a lot of concerned champions questioning my motivation, and for good reason. Why the heck would anyone want to keep pushing their body to the limit? Well, I really didn't believe I was, and I still stand by that. I felt that it had nothing to do with pushing my body to the limit, but instead me giving my body the opportunity to perform, and that it did.

After a few days of laying around, I found myself out running again, and it was a bit of  a struggle. My chest was sore but I could breath. I then went for a bike ride and splashed around in the pool, but my nerves were off the hook. One more week until the race, and half of my taper time included significant couch riding.

So, fast forward a week and I found myself toeing the line of what was to be my second half ironman. I was freaked out to say the least, but found peace in a calm lake. It wasn't my fastest swim ever, and I'm certain I could have outperformed this swim if only I had taken more responsibility for my swim training and exposed myself to open water swimming this season, but I didn't. Regardless, I was proud of my swim, and was even more excited when my friend Sue emerged from the sidelines to support me as I tripped my way into transition.

Typically, I am a good 'transitioner' however, I really took my time and dilly dallied so as to feel stable when going out for my bike ride. After what was a lifetime, I hopped on my bike and began going up a never ending hill that I literally didn't find relief from for 56 miles. Obviously, any rational individual will tell you that you can't go up hill for 56 miles, but this was one heck of a bike course that was relentless. The hills kept pounding me one after the other, after the other.

The Sun Greeting me. 
Because the bike course was a loop, I was blessed to see two of my closest friends along the way. Sue and Chris managed to find their way to the end of the loop, and as I approached the top of one of the longest hills, they were standing there shining the 'sun' down on me and showering me with love and cheers. Something that would keep me going as I took on the loops.

After my final loop, I found myself climbing another impossible hill that would take me to the final downhill of the bike course. As I rode up this hill, the realization hit me that I was also going to have to run this hill not once but TWICE!!! I would have felt deflated if it wasn't for the runners cheering me on to get to the top of the hill!

Once done with the bike ride, Chris and Sue did NOT miss a beat and were there for me. They were shoving subway sandwiches into their mouths and drinking coke, and I chastised them for eating in front of me, but then I spotted a cookie, and I made them relinquish their cookie to this struggling athlete... All the while, Sue stabilized me as I headed into transition and Chris asked me what she could do for me. Careful what you ask for, right? Without missing a beat I said, you have your running shoes, right? She did... I said, put them on and run the first loop with me. Without putting much thought in it, and after my trip to the bathroom, Chris was by my side, while Sue was screaming my name as I headed out for my half marathon.

The run was equally relentless as the bike. There was not just one hard hill, but around every corner was a hill, that I knew I could conquer with my walking capabilities, afterall this run mirrored more of a WALK run than a run... But so I went with Chris by my side telling me stories of her kiddos and continued support. After one loop, screams from Sue, my other friend Chris joined me for the second loop. She supported me, walked with me, jogged with me (when I could muster a jog), and we talked about life and love, my random crushed and friendship. Reflecting back on that I would say that the friendship she offered, along with Chris E. and Sue was friendship that many people yearn for but never realize in a lifetime, and here I had three of them there for the ride!!!

At the top of some hill 5 miles into the run. 

Anyway, after a few tears, a stop at an outhouse, the sweep vehicle stalking me (by the way, they were the best, most desired stalkers one could dream up), and one more GD uphill, I was finally close to the finish line, and across I went. I had the best cheering section of the race director, some EMTs, my stalkers, and other staff cheering for me... And then I collapsed into a chair!!!!!!!!

The welcome to the finish line

And that is it folks, another half ironman under my belt. But the story doesn't end there. The finish was climactic, and I'm thankful for every moment I was able to keep my body moving, but it wasn't until the next day that I realized what this race really meant to me...

The day after the race, as I was trying to shovel in four huge blueberry pancakes with strawberries and whip cream on top, Sue asked me a question, and I have no idea what that question was, but this was my response:

This race was different than the first half ironman. I remember when I did the first half ironman, I had just learned (three days before) that I had MS. I recall turning the corner to the final downhill of that race and I burst into tears. When I reflect back on those tears I remember that they weren't because I was about to cross the finish line of the biggest achievement of my life, but rather tears because I was about to cross the finish line of what was likely going to be the FINAL big physical achievement of my life. I remember thinking that this was going to be the last time I would be able to do a race like that because certainly my body was certainly going to give way to broken down myelin sheaths, and damaged nerves.

I continued by saying something along the lines of the following:

But this race was important, special and necessary because it was proof that I was wrong, and that I could still do anything I put my mind to. 

I don't recall if I said this while trying to eat copious amounts of pancakes, but I know that I stand by this today, even though this half ironman took me 15 minutes longer, it was certainly a much bigger, more satisfying accomplishment because I got to prove myself wrong... AND had three very special people there choosing to take the ride with me.

1 comment:

  1. Your strength of spirit AND body continue to amaze and inspire me friend. Congratulations!