Monday was the worst I’ve felt since this neck injury recurrence – I had the quadfecta: pain, numbness, muscle weakness, limited range of motion. All because I had the unmitigated gall to thoroughly wash my hair instead of half-assing it like I had been to try to protect my neck (anything where I reach my right arm out and try to do stuff with it makes my neck angry.)
Then I had physical therapy Monday afternoon and she added a series lying on the foam roller (with it longways up my back) including a “snow angel,” a 2-minute stretch with my arms in “T” position, and “scissors” with one arm up by my ear and the other by my hip.
Except I couldn’t get my arm up to the top of the snow angel, the stretch was so painful that tears sprang into my eyes and I couldn’t finish, and I couldn’t get my right arm all the way back to the floor on the scissors. When she had me sit with my face in a pillow for the ultrasound I just started crying.
She thinks another 2-3 weeks until I can get back to training (and I’ll have to start off slow) That leaves a month and a half until IM Arizona. None of this is good news.
The last couple of days I’ve been feeling better (though I’ve certainly gone back to half-assing my hair washing) and I’m starting to have hope that I will be better sooner rather than later. My activities are currently restricted to walking and some light weightlifting.
With more free time I’ve been able to do more writing. including a serious piece about that awful Weight Watchers kid’s dieting app for US News, and an open letter to James Corden about his well-meaning but really problematic response to Bill Maher’s pro-fat-shaming rant. I also have a couple fun projects in the works. In some ways that makes it more difficult because this is what I was looking forward to doing once the IM was done. It makes it harder to think about returning to spending so many hours a day training, and not having the time or energy for much else.
But then I look at the inside of my forearm (where I was planning to put the IM tattoo) and…it’s still empty, and it’s hard to think about walking away from this journey without crossing that finish line.
So right now I’m just trying to take care of my neck and get better so that I actually have decisions to make.
Oh . Many of you will remember that the thing that started me on this project (of doing athletic activities that I’m not good at and are out of my comfort zone) was a neck injury that caused me not to be allowed to do the athletic activities that I actually enjoy. I had several bulged discs and I was having symptoms like pins and needles across my back and down my right arm, a pain that shot across my back and down my arm when I coughed or sneezed (making an ill-timed head cold into an excruciating experience) that built to extreme nerve pain in my right arm and ultimately seriously messed with my nerves, causing not just horrible pain, but the short-term loss of the use of my right arm.
It took weeks of doctors insisting it was a pulled muscle or rotator cuff issue until finally one of them insisted on an MRI and I got a diagnosis. I was told that I could “try physical therapy” but would likely need surgery, and my doctor restricted me to water activity and walking, which put me on the path to walk my first marathon while I got the physical therapy and did the obsessive icing, home traction, and stretched that eventually made me better.
About three weeks ago I started to have a pain in my arm. At first I thought that it was a pulled muscle but then it began to feel too familiar. The neck problem is back. It’s come back a little bit over the years, if I sleep on it funny or something but usually a couple of days of icing and NSAIDs solve it. Not this time. I’ve spent the last week and a half on activity restriction that means I can’t swim, bike, or run – which is pretty much everything.
So I’ve been the queen of long walks and my new “triathlon” is icing, traction, and stretching.
I was scheduled for the Atlantic City 70.3 this weekend. We had already modified to the aquabike to try to avoid re-injury to my left achilles, but now it’s just not happening at all.
My IM is in about 2.5 months and it’s not like I was steaming along faster than I needed to be in order to make the cut-off times – I need this training time.
Y’all, I’m just going to be totally honest – I am in a dark place. Right now it feels like this whole journey has been a total waste. All those hours and hours and miles and miles – right now it feels like I have worked so hard for five years and have fuck all to show for it. Part of me just wants to get back to training as soon as I can, another part of me just wants to quit and find an activity that I enjoy (preferably with air conditioning and clothes in my size.) I don’t have any answers right now, just a mix of sadness and frustration and a pretty big desire to throw myself of the floor and yell IT’S NOT FAAAAIIIIIRRRR (except I’m pretty sure that toddler-style tantrums are on my movement restriction list.)
For now, you can take a look at my current activities, including ultrasound, the electro stim machine that shocks me while I lay on a giant ice pack, my best chipmunk impression as I inflate my traction collar, and a workout selfie from a late-night walk.
I’ve been working for weeks with a company that does custom tri kits. I’m not going to name them because I think they are doing their best and trying to solve the problem (though it won’t be in time or me,) and because they are basically no different from all the other companies I tried.
I submitted my measurements on their form, my coach designed the world’s most adorable kit, and everything went fine. At the final step I got an e-mail from one of the company’s leadership telling me how sorry he was, but that they simply don’t have the capability to make a kit in my size.
To be clear, I wasn’t getting a custom kit for style (though it’s cool) I would rather spend much less on a regular kit, but those don’t seem to exist in my size either. As I said, this is not the first time (nor second, nor third) that this has happened, though everyone else was able to tell me right away that they couldn’t do it, this was the first time that we got to the design stage which makes it all the more painful.
The paucity of good basic workout clothes in plus sizes has been getting better over the years and I’m happy for that. But when it comes to true technical athletic wear, they still seem to want us to compete in clothing we fashioned from a bedsheet. It’s incredibly frustrating. If it weren’t for the chafing (and, you know, public nudity laws) I would just say fuck it and do the whole thing naked, but instead it looks like I’ll be wearing a cobbled-together FrankenKit.
In good news my workouts have been going pretty well, with the exception of the long bike curse. I’ve had all kinds of weird malfunctions during this ride including, this week, a popped spoke. I was only 12 frickin’ miles from the end of the ride, too! Luckily I ride a loop and I was only a couple miles from my car. And in extra good news, my legs were still strong and it felt great to walk after the ride – even in my bike shoes (I don’t clip in so they aren’t as uncomfortable as they could be to begin with, but they certainly aren’t my cushy running shoes!) So it was an unintended Brick workout!
Just for posterity, here’s the kit my coach designed (Originally I wanted the back to say “If you can read this, you’re not making the next cut-off” but Steve reminded me that it’s a looped course and people will be lapping me, so we went with this instead:
Hey all! I’m still here training – just haven’t been blogging much. I actually blogged last week and I was wondering why I didn’t get any comment notifications through my e-mail. So when I came to post this week I realized I never actually published that blog, which should help give you a sense of how hectic my life currently is. I’ve copied that blog post at the end of this one so you can get all caught up if you are interested.
I continue to find it tough to blog about this process for a number of reasons, some of which I’ve talked about before. Since I shifted to making most of my income from writing rather than speaking to give myself more training time, I’m writing a lot and this blog tends to get gets pushed to the side.
And I continue to imagine that if what I blog about feels repetitive to me, it must be painfully repetitive to those who are taking precious time out of their day to read it!
This journey has easily overtaken both my first and second marathon as the thing I’ve wanted to quit the most, but I’m still out here training. For those of you friends/family/fans who are still taking time out of your day to read this, send good vibes, leave supportive comments etc., I’m eternally grateful!
This week the struggle started on Monday. I was doing an indoor workout utilizing an elliptical, a stair climber (one of those endless staircase machines designed by satan,) and a treadmill. In addition to providing different challenges, this was supposed to be more fun than running. And it was, if only because I got to watch television while it was happening. Also, I wasn’t running, so bonus there.
During the warm-up on the elliptical my left calf started cramping. Regular readers know that this is a consistent problem while running, so I thought that at least since I was using machines it didn’t have to stop me. It persisted through the stair climber, got worse when I was back on the elliptical, and felt a bit better on the treadmill. It started to seriously cramp in the car all the way home. By the time I got out of the car I was sporting a significant limp. It was at that point it dawned on me – I do not have a cramp in my calf, I have a muscle pull. Also, I am an idiot. Effing great.
The good news is, I babied it Tuesday, did a modified workout on Wednesday and by Thursday it was 100% better, for which I am very grateful. I lost a couple a workout and a half, but not any real progress.
Last week’s blog:
If You Can’t Take The Heat – Too Damn Bad You’re Training For An IRONMAN
Training has been going along fairly smoothly (at least by my standards) but I had a wee setback earlier this week when a spike in the heat and a particularly late start meant that I working my hardest at the hottest time of day and I just overheated on a bike ride and had to cut it a few minutes short. To be clear it’s WAY hotter in other places, but this is Southern California and none of us can deal with any kind of weather. Literally everyone I passed on the trail – whether they were biking, walking, or riding a horse (no, seriously, there are horses on the bike trail,) said something about the heat and I returned in kind!
Heat is not my friend and we are entering my least favorite part of the yearly training cycle – as it gets hotter outside and the workouts just keep getting longer! Plus we’ve just ended a cycle and the new cycle replaces my weekly interval ride on the trainer with intervals outside (now when will I find time to watch American Ninja Warrior and Million Dollar Mile?) It should be cooler than this at my IM (though of course nothing is guaranteed) so hopefully I’ll have had the advantage of training in hotter weather than I have to race in!
The new schedule is:
Monday: Tempo Run Tuesday: Long Bike, Pool Swim Wednesday: Interval Run Thursday: Bike Intervals (outside,) pool swim Friday: Day off Saturday: Long Run Sunday: Bike Long Intervals, Open Water Swim
First, I’m going to take a moment to truly appreciate my partner, Julianne. She has been unendingly supportive of this journey in every possible way, many of which were drawn into sharp relief when she took an extended trip to vist her best friend out of state.
I’m well aware of what she deals with generally, and on a daily basis – filling our home with enough gear to make it look like a survivalist lives here, creating a truly shocking amount of laundry, requesting early morning help with getting sunscreen on my back, and being just, generally surly a lot of the time.
Then there are our dogs – Bu (named by the people Julianne rescued him from) and ChadShannel Royale (named by us after rescuing him, he is named after three of our favorite drag queens)
Julianne takes care of feeding them, and holding them so they don’t bum rush the door when I’m trying to get my bike out. And, critically, normally during 4th of July season (which, for our former and current neighbors means setting off fireworks from about 2pm – 2am every day starting the week before and ending sometime in August) she comforts them and keeps them from stroking out at all the loud noise. With her gone, I ended up missing a bunch of swims because I needed to be home with them. Not ideal, but not as bad as missing bikes and runs. I am delighted that she and her Bestie got time together, and suffice it to say that while I would be thrilled to have her home regardless, I am also eternally grateful for everything she does to support me in this ridiculousness.
Let’s catch up on workouts:
I had a great long bike ride last Tuesday. It was cloudy for most of the ride and cool outside which was lovely. There was enough wind to be a challenge but not so much that I was cursing my life. The new trail I found was working great, and I found little games that I could play with myself to both help keep my cadence up and keep me from getting bored which is a huge help to my mental game. I get bored so easily and then my attitude (which, let’s face can be marginal on a good day) goes to total shit.
I have changed fuel which has also helped. And when I say that I’ve changed fuel, I mean that my IRONMAN race has changed from Clif Bars to BASE bars (I wonder if it’s because of all caps solidarity?) While there are certainly people who load up their bike with their fuel of choice (sometimes looking like they are pedaling out to set up an aid station at an ultramarathon) it’s about a million times easier to just use the course support (so that if you drop your bag or whatever you’re not stuck without nutrition/trying something new on race day which is one of the biggest no-no’s in triathlon.
Anywho, I got a variety pack of BASE bars and they have been a lot better for me. Clif bars are not a great fuel for me – they seem to work great for a lot of people but for me they are dense and tough to digest. Also, I don’t love most of the flavors. The BASE bars are easier to digest and the flavors I’ve tried so far has been good (though I’ve not yet summoned the courage to try Cranberry Lime) but they are also less calorie and carb dense so I have to eat more. They are also more melty, which I learned the hard way.
To preface this, there are people who can make a sandwich, mix a fresh berry protein shake, and groom a matted Pomeranian all while keeping their cadence at 90rpms. I am not one of these people (if there is some aspect at triathlon at which I particularly excel, I have yet to find it.) I can do basic things with my hand(s) of the bars – get a drink of water, reach into my back pocket for stuff, shake out my hands and arms etc. My bike frame isn’t really set up to hold bottles so I hydrate using a backpack. I keep my bars – which I cut precisely so that I can control the amount of nutrition I’m getting – in the front pocket on the strap of that back pack. In order to get to the food I unzip the pocket, pull out the number fo pieces I need and then rezip it.
As I reached in I found that my precisely cut bar pieces had melted together. Now instead of a precise amount of calories and carbs, I was just getting whatever I could grab in between my thumb and index finger. Sigh.
Finally the ride was over and it was time to go back to my car. The exit from the trail to the parking lot is a 90 degree turn and then immediately through a narrow gate, made narrower by a pole in the middle, then up right up a little hill. This isn’t remotely a big deal, except at the very end of the ride I was going downhill with the wind at my back so I had the bike in a pretty hard gear, pedaling hard (like I could significantly change the average speed of an hours-long ride in the last 10 minutes – ever the optimist.)
As I went through the gate a group of skateboarders went through the other side so I got nervous and I stopped pedaling, hit the brakes, and slowed almost to a standstill. As I started up the hill I went to pedal and realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do it in this gear. I could have just dropped the seat and put my feet on the ground but in my panic I thought that since I was on a hill I could just tip the bike sideways and catch myself with my foot. Friends, I was incorrect. What followed was a slow motion fall from an almost standstill into soft dirt (which assured that, while I wasn’t injured in any way, I was covered in dirt as I walked to my car.) Honestly, this is 100% “on brand” for my triathlon experience. I’m thinking maybe I should have named this blog DisasterTriathlete!
The skateboarders had come back and asked me if I was ok. I told them that I was fine and the scars were all emotional. One of them (they were probably 14-16 years old) said “I totally feel you!” and told me about how he had wiped out earlier in the day and “a bunch of moms ran up to check on me, it was mad embarrassing!” They were really sweet. I got back to my car without further incident other than the slightly concerned stares of little league parents.
These are still very frustrating because I’m limited by the issues with my calf so I feel like I’m not getting done what I need to get done, so I’m just trying to go hard whenever I can.
Bike Trainer Intervals
The dogs don’t love me doing this in general but they like it WAY less when Julianne isn’t there to snuggle them while it’s happening.
Day off workouts!
Bike – Tempo Intervals Outside
Got some good work in (the new trail is much better for this workout!) and didn’t fall down so bonus points for me!
Not terrible, not great. We’re trying some new stuff to try to deal with the cramping and pain including a longer warmup and changing some intervals to fast walk instead of run. It made a bit of a difference but it was still absolutely a slog.
Absolutely terrible, started cramping almost immediately and never stopped I think doing back to back walk/runs exacerbated the issue.
Long bike ride. It was (felt?) windier than my last long ride but I was able to keep a good cadence and push through.
These went better. Less cramping and pain, more hard work. Yay.
Bike Trainer Intervals
I got a late start (which is to say that I slept in late) and so just as my poor dogs were done being upset about this, the neighborhood fireworks started.
Day off workouts
Long run – I felt like I finally got some decent work in. The new strategy seems to be working.
I’ve got about five months until IRONMAN Arizona on November 24th. I thought this might be a good time to take stock of things.
The short answer is, I still can’t go far enough fast enough to make the time cutoffs. I’m going to have to throw everything I have at it for these next five months, and the reality is that it still might not be enough.
I’ve said since the beginning that I like to pick goals that are big enough that I know I could fail at them. And that’s absolutely true. And this isn’t the first time I’ve had to be patient to achieve a big goal. In fifth grade when I first picked up a clarinet, my teacher asked me my goals and I said “to play Carnegie Hall.” He was surprised, as most kids were like “I want to play Jingle Bell Rock in the holiday concert!” but supportive. It became a more unlikely dream as I was forced to leave that school to go to a much shittier school with a much shittier music department (my high school band director – absolutely no shout out to you dude – used to “conduct” us by hitting a drum stick on a music stand, and do nothing but try to discourage me.) But I practiced my ass off (sorry to my family who lived through all that) and got a scholarship to go to school for music. In 1998, I walked on to the stage at Carnegie Hall as part of the University of Texas Wind Ensemble and made my dream come true (and I sent my high school band director a postcard not thanking him for not helping me get there. Turns out I can be a petty bitch.)
So I like goals I can fail at, but of course I want to succeed. I’m now in the fifth year of what was supposed to be a 2 year plan to finish this. It’s been a long and difficult journey.
As I was running I was meditating on the differences between the two goals and I think they are that I enjoyed the clarinet and, despite the fact that I wasn’t necessarily immediately gifted (it took me two weeks to make a sound on it that wasn’t just a squeak) after working hard I got very good at it. When I competed, I almost always did well – close to first if not first place. With triathlon and running, I’m consistently last, except that time I didn’t finish at all. And that’s all kind of by design (except the not-finishing, that was not part of the plan) I chose to do this to push out of my comfort zone and participate in sports that I’m not good at. But I would be lying if I said that I expected it to be this hard. I’ve worked as hard at this, but I haven’t improved like I hoped.
So the goal isn’t completely out of reach, I just have to reach really, really far. Here’s to pushing as hard as I can for five months to try to make good on five years worth of work.
Yikes, it’s been a while since I posted workouts. Here they are:
Woke up feeling 90% better after last week’s stomach bug incident. Got myself dressed and headed out for my run. Whatever deities control the weather smiled upon me and it was cloudy and cool with enough of a cross breeze to be cool, but not so much that I feel like I’m fighting it the whole time. Perfect weather, imperfect run. The issue with my peroneals (which may be a muscle issues, or tendinitis) is back and I never know whether it’s better to just move through the pain and tightness (which forces me to be slower) or to stop and stretch (which allows me to run/walk faster.) I took a blended approach, moving through the pain for several intervals, then stopping to stretch when it forced me to go so slowly that I didn’t feel any benefit.
Bike Intervals on the Trainer
I went hard on this workout and kicked my own ass. Yay!
Swim – Interval Speedwork
A lot of times these interval swims go by really fast – counting laps and timing rest and getting in the correct training zone and it’s over before I know it. This was not one of those. At one point during a 200M (4 lap) interval I checked the watch to see if I had completed 2 or 3 laps. I had completed one. One lap. I lost count at one because it seemed so interminable that I just couldn’t believe it had only been one lap.
Also, my lane sharing buddy was back. This is a person who has several times arrived when I’m about half-way through my swim. Even if the other lanes are being used by much smaller people (giving this person more room to swim) they always ask to share with me. I always agree because I’m not an asshole. The issue is that they have a …unique swim style which involves lying on their back frog-kicking with their legs, and sticking their arms straight out and then windmilling them in huge circles over their head and then through the water. They are tall with long arms and legs, and this method is not particularly speedy. There’s nothing wrong with any of that except that we are sharing a lane and I lap them repeatedly, creating even more opportunities for them to hit and kick me. I like to think of it as practice for the Open Water Swim.
Run – Speedwork
Equal hard/easy intervals. I tried a new location, it’s about a half mile from my house (which is just about perfect for my warm-up) and it’s all downhill, which means that when the run is done I have the extra work of going uphill to get home. I got down there and started my intervals and then…my stomach started to be upset. There is a restaurant near where I was training, but it wasn’t open. I was going to have to go home. Those hills that I had planned as bonus miles were now the enemy. I’ll save you the details and just say that I made it home just in time, then headed back out and finished my run.
Day off. Not my normal day off but friend of mine had to go to the emergency room and he asked me to go with him to be his medical advocate. I didn’t get home until 6am on Thursday and I was in no shape to go on a long bike ride so we shifted my day off from Friday to Thursday.
Went out for my long bike and got a flat tire. No problem, I carry everything I need to change a flat and I could use the practice. Except the tool I have with multiple allen wrenches isn’t long enough to give me enough torque to get the back wheel off today. Got some extra walking in getting back to the car. Am not the proud owner of an extra long 6mm allen wrench for my flat fix kit.
This went really well, but I think it was just because I was fresh from not having done the full bike, so…bittersweet.
Rough run, had pain and cramping in my calf almost the whole time, plus it’s getting hotter and the beach was extra full of people doing nonsense things that are extra irritating when you’re hot, in pain, and not at the beach for fun.
This remains my favorite workout, and the new trail I found is working great and was, to my great delight, not too crowded.
Open Water Swim
Tried the new beach near me. It has buoys but, unlike the place where I normally swim the buoys don’t mark distance, and my Garmin is total crap at OWS so I swam…some distance.
Tried a new place but it ended up being super crowded. Though I ended my run where they keep the big fancy yachts, so that was interested. Mostly took this workout selfie so I could ask if anyone knows what all that stuff on top of the boat is? Also, I’m a visor person now, so there’s that.
I got a stomach bug this week and ended up having to miss some swims and a bike and modify several other workouts. Since I felt the absolute worst when I woke up, a part of the modification was to wait until later in the day when I felt better. And just like that my “wake up, work out” streak was broken at 22 days. I’m pretty bummed about it but I’m finally feeling better and I don’t really have time to mope so I’m just ready to get right back to it tomorrow morning. (Literally ready – my clothes are laid out and my PB&J is on the nightstand.)
Being sick did my sleep schedule no favors, so this week I’m also going to work on walking back the time when I got to sleep to hopefully both be working out when it’s cooler (my current schedule has me out at literally the hottest time of the day,) and get used to waking up earlier.