Friday, June 13, 2014

A different kind of pain

Triathletes are no strangers to discomfort. It comes in many forms like training-related muscle soreness, blisters and chafing or perhaps the grueling demand of threshold intervals in the dead of winter before dawn (no hard feelings, Flanny). It seems that pushing oneself outside of the typical peaceful realm of everyday life is part of the appeal of such athletic endeavors.

While I have become rather accustomed to certain types of pain, the past several months have exposed me to new facets of torment, both physical and mental. Navigating this virtual obstacle course of optimism and defeat is proving to be quite the personal journey. Here are a few snippets of my odyssey. 

Where’d the sunshine go?
Short arms make for poor selfies
Being stuck inside is painful for me. If you read my Miami70.3 race report, you’ll recall that I had some nagging ankle issues going into the race. The consistent inflammation that occurred with running and skiing forced me to stick to the trainer and pool over the winter months, drastically impacting my mental state. I struggled to find meaning and enjoyment in my workouts. I don’t live to train. Rather, I use my active, outdoor lifestyle as a catalyst for fueling my competitive nature. Asking me to hole up indoors (even in the wintertime) is like asking Jesse Thomas to race without his aviators…not gonna happen.

Swimming hurts
Why does it seem that swimming is frequently the triathlete’s nemesis? In his article, Diaryof a Wimpy Swimmer, Jordan Rapp states that he never learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable in the water, “which is the real difference between someone who just swims and a swimmer.” I have embodied this mentality over the past 6 months and forced myself to think like a swimmer. This means doing whatever excruciating workout our master's coach Kyle devises at our 5:30am sessions. I’ve become more accustomed to doing IM until I resemble an active drowning victim. I’m learning to embrace that lung-bursting, tingly-legged sensation that follows hypoxic sprint sets. Though I’m tempted to agree with my friend Dusty (see his thoughts on swimming here) I’m also gradually learning that pushing myself out of my comfort zone in the water is taking my weakest leg of triathlon into a new realm. More on this later.

Battling the unpredictable, gusty spring winds added a new
level of challenge to the Jason Broome TT
Time Trials make me want to cry like a baby
With my ankle being uncooperative and forcing me to forego my first planned race this season (St. George 70.3) I was seeking some kind of competitive outlet. When I texted Flanny that there was a local time trial coming up one weekend here was his response: 

Breathing fire at the Bogus Basin
prologue at Bob's Time Trial Festival
Pretty sure he piddled on the carpet with excitement. This was my first experience with an all-out, 10-mile effort on the bike. I guess if it feels like you’re coughing up Brillo pads for a week afterward you’re doing it right. Since I don’t own a road bike, I was relegated to racing events that allowed TT bikes on course. Thus, I decided a Time Trial Festival sounded like fun. Doesn’t it??? Turns out it REALLY HURTS. I have a whole new respect for pure cyclists demanding repeated maximal efforts of their bodies like that. The prologue left me with an inferno in my esophagus that wouldn’t quit, along with the sensation that I had hot wings stuffed deep in my ear canals. No joke. The following day we were to complete a 40k time trial and cap it all off with…wait for it…another 10k time trial- Merckx style! I’m feigning enthusiasm because it hurt in a magnificent way. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.

DNF = Did Not Fail
Going into Boise 70.3, it was becoming apparent that my little ankle problem was not going away. I’ll spare the details at this point, but running was not an option. The disappointment of this realization was suffocating. Being only my second season racing in the pro field, and having yet to execute a 2014 race (with no prospects in sight) was excruciating emotionally. I spent several weeks processing the mental demons that nagged at me, causing me to feel defeated before even toeing the start line.

Pre-race Lucky Peak swim with fellow Wattie Ink teammates
Travis Thomason and Sarah Barkley
I had a choice to make. I was reminded that I could still participate in my hometown race, but my goals would be different. I solicited input from coach Flanny, multiple friends and of course MFMG. “Whatever decision you make, own it and follow through,” urged Flanny. Matt was adamant that I start the race, if for no other reason than to do battle in the swim. Ultimately, choosing to complete an aquabike in the pro field was the right choice for me. It was important for me to gauge my swim fitness against the pro ladies and have the privilege of racing the bike with them. I had placed nothing in T2 prior, so I knew my race would end as soon as I completed the bike leg. Arriving in transition was a culmination of both torment and personal glory. I had accomplished what I had set out to do without compromise.  Though it was my first-ever DNF, it was on my terms and hinged on a new set of objectives that forced me to transcend any physical or mental pain that threatened to obscure my focus.

Ready to kick some ‘boot’ie

So here I sit, post-op with a heavy-ass boot dangling off my left leg. I’ve been given a couple different medications for pain, was warned of discomfort lasting for days afterward, and am prepared for the slow, steady road to recovery. Funny thing is, this surgery is the least distressing thing I have experienced all season. In fact, having a clear diagnosis and a genuine feeling of optimism is making for a relatively painless experience thus far.  And in any case, so long as I’m learning from the pain, I’ll welcome more in the future.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Winter Challenge: Tri-ing something new

Well, it finally happened this past Saturday…my 2014 triathlon season kicked off with a local multi-sport event of a different kind. The Winter Challenge was a jovial mix of winter games, springtime liveliness and sunshine with a touch of Mardi Gras. And it exceeded all expectations of how Boiseans know how to have a good time!
Some of the costumes from the race. Bonus: can you spot the Matt Green Photo cameo?

Now, I realize I'm coming off of blogging hiatus and it is a bit interesting to be writing a race report so early in the season. In fact, I have been quite busy with other adventures… such as a kick-ass spring training camp with Black Dragon Racing and Wattie Ink. Unfortunately, I missed the boat on writing a feature article on it, so I'll let you read about it here, here, here and here. I have so many positive things to say about my first camp, but I'll limit it to: love Coach Flanny even more, very thankful for amazingly generous friends and sponsors, 2014 is going to ROCK!

Back to the action…

When I'd heard friends Adam Wirth and Antonio Gonzalez were scheming to organize a winter triathlon I was intrigued and (I'll admit) a bit apprehensive. My trepidation stems from Idaho's notoriously fickle spring weather. We could be planning a winter tri, but end up getting sunburned and covered in mud while hike-a-biking through the remnants of the Bogus Basin Nordic trails. Plus, I'd struggled with a nagging ankle issue all winter that interrupted my blossoming love affair with skate skiing (more on that later).

My cohort with her,
um, teammate Sunday.
Taking the plunge, I signed up and promoted the event with fervor. I borrowed a bike (again) from friend and XTERRA aficionado Allison Moore. I tested my mended ankle with one last ski. And before I could say "who's blow-up doll is THAT?!" it was time to race!

The event started with a 4k run along the Nordic Highway, which is actually a continuation of Bogus Basin Road when it is not snow covered. The run took a hard left downhill into the trees for some solid rolling hills, looping back to the finish. The main thing I remember about the run (besides "Thank heaven for Yak Trax,") was how sorry I felt for all of the poor suckers taking off fast and chasing Adam and Tom Liby straight out of the gate. Have fun with that…

Men's Podium
Women's podium
I've never been one to claim transitions as my strength. They still need work. My transitions in a winter triathlon need LOTS of work. Change shoes…grab gloves I forgot at the start…beanie off, helmet on…wait, glasses off ($h!t)…mount bike…GO!

Riding on snow was hanging over my head as the unknown factor in this event. I pictured slipping and sliding around every corner, hopelessly losing control in the spring slush with my rudimentary single-track skills. With the first turn, though, I was pleasantly surprised at the traction provided by the icy surface. Freezing crystals flipped up and peppered my face, like little gnats that dissolved on contact. I have skied this trail countless times and this experience brought mirth that I can't put into words. I went from "ugh, I have to ride 3 laps of this?" to "WOO HOO!! Can I ride more than 3 laps of this?!" I'm still smiling...

All too quickly my joyous ride was over and the ski loomed ahead. Another clumsy transition ensued and it was time to throw down the last leg of the race. I had no idea who was ahead of me or behind me…I was having the time of my life! Friends were hanging out near transition, ringing cowbells, heckling and cheering as the racers made their way through.

Since the ski route was a reverse of the run I had gotten a good idea of snow conditions. The occasional crusty patch threatened to grab my ski's edge and toss me into a snow bank, but I managed to keep upright and strong. Remember that steep downhill coming off the Nordic Highway I mentioned during the run? You guessed it: we got to climb that puppy twice during the ski leg. If I could describe for you non-skiers what it's like to climb a steep hill while skating… did you ever try to climb up a slide at a water park while it's running? Progress is painfully slow and you'd rather just give up and slide back down.

Kirk Jackson, a member of the Bond team
sporting black tie attire on course
Just when I was reveling in my final, triumphant climb and I thought I could just cruise to the finish, I saw him. Frenchie. My friend Walter was just up ahead and looked like he was running out of steam. This race ain't over! In my mind, I threw myself into a powerful V2 sprint a la Kikkan Randall. To anyone watching I just started breathing harder. Nonetheless, I was gaining on him with less than a half kilometer to go. YES! Bragging rights over Walter…this is better than any trophy! Alas, Frenchie glanced back to see me gaining on him and lit up whatever gas he had left in the tank, which was enough to finish just 8 seconds ahead of me. Next time, Walter. Next time.

The day was wrapped up by swapping race stories, excellent food by Kanak Attack catering, beer by Payette Brewing, awards and costumes. Head on over to the Winter Challenge Facebook page for additional photos. Hats off to Adam and Antonio for putting on one hell of an inaugural event! Thank you to local businesses Bogus Basin, World Cycle and Tri Town for amazing race organization and support. And volunteers- you guys were fabulous! Events like this can't be executed without dedication, enthusiasm and true pioneers at the helm. For all of you locals who missed out: this should top your list of fun, must-do events next year!

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