Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sometimes the best lessons come from the hardest days

Last Sunday was a team ride and BBQ.  I seriously considered doing my scheduled 4 hour ride solo, but that seemed silly.  The team was doing a 4 hour ride, and while I've recognized that I'm intimidated by group riding, I've also recognized that it's a step I need to take.  Out of my comfort zone?  Good.  We should all leave our comfort zones on a regular basis.

The first half of the ride went well for me, but I made some serious execution mistakes.  Partly in biking harder then I should have, and partly in not fueling or hydrating properly.  2 hours in, we returned to our starting point to pick up the people that were doing a shorter ride.  I felt good at that point.  After all, a 2 hour ride is fairly forgiving of those errors in execution.  A 4 hour ride?  Um...

Even the next hour, I was doing okay, but I was getting tired.  I could push through this, I figured.  It's mental.

As I braked my way down the hills and worked my way up the hills, the gap between the rest of the group and me opened up considerably.  I started feeling really alone, and as I struggled up a hill, I started questioning whether I could really do this.  What kind of imposter was I?  I couldn't even keep up on what I knew was an easy ride for most of the group.

And as I kept going up that hill, my heart rate spiking, it was like my throat was closing off and I couldn't breath.  Except, I really felt like I couldn't breath.  I realized that I wasn't just breathing hard, but I was actually wheezing.

Then the group starting coming back on the other side of the highway.

I put my feet down and starting fumbling in my bike bag for my inhaler.  The inhaler that I always have, but never use, because my asthma is extremely well controlled.  (On a side note, I later realized that the control medication I used that morning and the day before may have been empty.)

As the group continued to pass me, some of them called to ask if I was okay.  "I'm good." I called back.  "I'm okay."

The actor in me.  The desire not to show weakness.  Trying to hold up the walls.

And as more people passed, I started to cry.  Damn it.  What was wrong with me?  Hold it together.  I halfway turned my back.  Must convince everyone that I'm alright.

"I'm okay," I called again, as my voice broke.

"No, you're not," I heard.  Relief and embarrassment washed over me.

Teammates Leslie-Anne and Leana crossed the highway and waited with me as I had a complete and total meltdown.  I couldn't even explain what the problem was.  I don't think I consciously knew at this point.  One of them told me to eat something.  It helped a bit, but there was no automatic fix at that point.  I kept apologizing.  Very Canadian of me.  Leana reassured me that I had made it up the hill.

"Yeah, but now I have to go back down," I said.  Yes, that's right.  I said down.  I felt like my confidence was shot, and in that moment, going down that hill was even scarier to me then the idea of climbing back up the next one.

Once I had calmed down, we started back up.  As I braked my way down the hill, I saw the huge gap that immediately opened up between me and the others.  I realized just how much speed I give up by using my brakes.  (On a side note, I don't actually ride my brakes the whole way.  I've read that can heat things up and cause a blow out.)  But, I do use them far, far more then necessary.  And, at this point, I was using them even more then normal.

Riding back up another hill, my legs just felt empty.  Like there was nothing left in them.  Dummy.  Fueling properly could have made a world of difference here.  I felt like I could barely keep up a normal cadence.

I limped along, and Leslie-Anne, Leana and Neil stuck with me until we caught the main group.  Then I rode with Toni, another teammate that has become something of a mentor to me.  I was at the back of the pack, which I'm okay with, and I was only just keeping my body going.  Toni stuck with me and we chatted while we rode.  Then, with only 10 or so minutes left, my leg seized up on me.

I'd been feeling the twitchy-ness that sometimes precedes muscle cramps for a while, but I wasn't quite prepared for how hard it hit me.  Calf and feet cramps I can handle, but when it hits anywhere in the upper leg, I find it excruciating.  I tried to pedal through it, but it just wasn't happening.  We stopped off, so I could stretch out a bit.

And I had another meltdown.

It was just a muscle cramp, right?  Why was I doing this?  Why was it such a big deal?

Except it wasn't.  I started talking and most of what came out had nothing to do with the ride itself.  Yes, I had executed the ride poorly.  Physically, that had been hard on my body.  But, mentally, I just wasn't holding together, for reasons largely unrelated to that day's ride.

I was afraid I was going to get injured again.  I was afraid that I had slowed down.  My calf muscle had atrophied.  It's still nowhere near equal size.  Surely, that was going to hurt me?  What if I couldn't make cut off times in the 70.3?  A month?  I have a month to build up to a half ironman run?  I've slowed down.  Even on the bike.  What if I don't make cut off times?  The bike.  I was afraid I wouldn't make the cut off.  My foot.  What if it's not really healed?  What if I can't keep running?

There was so much negativity stemming from my fear and it just spilled out of me.  Once I had talked myself out, we finished the ride and went to the bbq.  It was good times, with family and friends.  The day was an excellent lesson in why we have a team in what is an individual sport.

It was later when I talked to Angie, my coach, that I really started getting perspective.

Being afraid is nothing new to me.  One of the reasons I decided to do triathlon was because it scared me.  Deep water scared me.  It scared me to put myself out there.  It scared me to try something difficult.  I've been doing scary things for years now.

But, this time, I was letting the negativity take over.  I was taking that fear and letting it beat me down, rather then using it to propel myself forward.

And speaking of forward, I was inventing worries that hadn't even arrived yet.  By the end of the conversation, we concluded that one of my tasks was to live in the moment, and train in the moment.  Stop worrying about the race that is a month away.  Do my scheduled training.  Look ahead to the next day to make sure I can fit everything in, but stop obsessing about it.

Will I get injured again?  Probably?  At some point.  Most endurance athletes do.  Will it be another stress fracture?  Who knows.  But whether it's going to happen or not, it won't do any good to worry about it.  What I can do is work to maintain a balance.  Strengthen some muscles that have been identified as needing it, and keep training.

Sure, I'm scared.  Noted.  Moving on.  It's time to let go of the injured persona I've been stuck in and carry on.


  1. This was a big journey in a day Deb. Great blog! You are getting "it". Super proud of you. Angie

  2. You went a long way into the well there, and came out the other side. It's horrible at the time but when you think back on it later you'll realize its made you stronger. It's good to have such supportive team mates. Hope you're feeling better now. Did writing it all out help?

  3. Like Keith said, now you know you can survive a really rough ride. Use it for strength the next time your are in a tough place. You are tougher.

  4. wow. I could feel the emotion in your post. it may have been not the ideal day, but you put yourself out there and swallowed your fear and did many others never even try. it's always the mental part that seems to get us, the negative self talk, the worry. cheering you on...

  5. Wow, as I was reading this I kept seeing myself in your shoes. There is something about being behind the group that just heaps the self doubt on by the shovel full. I've been on those group rides were I've been dropped, and the tears begin to well up. It's no fun. I think yours was much more about your worries for your half IM and I can totally get that. It was probably a good thing it happened in the end. Get those worries out there and work through them. You'll come out stronger for it in the end!

  6. You guys have such a great team. I think we're all scared but accepting it and working hard is the difference. Breakdowns happen, cramps happen, bad days happen but it sounds like you're doing the right thing. You'll be awesome by the time that race comes in a month!