Thursday, May 5, 2016

That one time I lost it. (Training for my second Ironman.)

The thought process behind signing up for this second Ironman went something like this: Matt was doing it, which meant I'd already be flying down, we'd already be getting a rental car, and we'd already be paying for a hotel.  So once we decided to hold off on baby #3, it was like, "Well, if I'll be there anyway, I might as well go get a PR."

I know, so much forethought.  I'd assumed it would play out like last time, when we had our lives in order, planned our schedules perfectly, ate well-balanced meals, slept, and even had a mostly-clean house.  I mean, why wouldn't it?

Life, that's why.  Real life -- you know, the one outside of triathlon training -- has been different this time around.  Our babies got older (but still not old enough to be in school), we had new responsibilities outside of the home, and we've had people we love go through some really tough situations that have required extra support.  Oh!  And we got PCS (military move) orders, meaning I've spent the last few months researching towns, neighborhoods, schools, preschools, etc.  There was one long ride at BAM during which I spent the entire four hours e-mailing our realtor back and forth to put in an offer on a home.  (By the way, it was a full-price offer but we still lost the bidding war.  We still haven't found a home and the long-distance hunt is still time consuming and increasingly stressful.)  Meanwhile, we've been working on finishing our basement here so our current home will be ready to rent.  Dual Ironman training on top of all that just seems funny sometimes.  It's been so different, less organized, and less efficient than last time around.  We've eaten poorly, I've gained a fair amount of stressed-out-sweets-eating weight, I've been sleep deprived, and I haven't remotely made the kind of swim-bike-run progress I'd hoped to.  In a word?  It's been hard.

I always try to be completely honest as I track my training on Instagram, and all the positivity there is 100% accurate.  It's interesting -- even if a workout or a day is hard, when I sit down to write about it in a tiny square, it's the good parts that always pop out to me.  And I for sure touch on the less-than-awesome stuff here and there, but there's only so much you can type out on your phone (even for a long-winded soul like me).  So the last 29 weeks on Instagram are a perfectly true account of training for my second Ironman as a mommy to two while my military husband trains for a shot at Kona.  But life goes deeper than little squares, so this post is here to add to that account and allow for a bigger picture.  Really, it's here for myself, because I don't want to forget.  I may just leave this post in draft mode forever. :)

Two huge things affected our scheduling in particular.  First, the Air Force started sending Matt away for work.  A lot.  There was one 8-week period in which Matt was gone for 4 of them.  That's fine, of course... it just seriously complicates things like Ironman training when we'd anticipated him being around.  (You can't exactly just leave toddlers at home alone while you go to the pool.)  Second, since my kids grew up a little bit, I lost the nap time training window that I'd relied so heavily on last time.

Shortly after that stretch where Matt was out of town half the time, my old achilles injury started acting up again with cycling.  I tried to ignore it for a couple weeks but it just got worse -- not as bad as it had been last spring, but definitely not a good trajectory to be on.  After a cycling class at BAM on week 14, I sat on my parents' couch and iced it, and wondered how on early I could make it through another 16 weeks -- a full marathon training cycle, for crying out loud -- with how difficult it was turning out to be to get training in already, and especially if I was going to have to deal with my achilles.  I was telling Matt that I should have bought the registration insurance (to get your money back if you're injured, pregnant, etc.) and that I just felt like the situation was hopeless.

My little 2-year-old daughter came up to me and asked, "Mommy, what do you want?"  To her, this was simple -- if someone seems upset, they obviously must want something (a sippy, a toy, etc.).  To me, however, this was pretty profound.  I asked myself what I wanted with all this.  The answer was that I wanted to PR in Texas, of course -- I wanted to race a good Ironman.

So then, I asked myself what I needed to do now to make that happen.  The first order of business was to take care of my achilles.  I knew that my bad bike fit was causing it.  Matt had just ordered a new bike and was waiting for it to come in, which meant I would inherit his Felt.  So I scheduled a real bike fit with Jeff Sherrod from Precision Bike Fit (also known as the Bike Whisperer).  He worked his magic with my cleats and cycling shoes, which immediately made a huge difference -- I wasn't re-aggravating my achilles every time I rode my bike anymore.  To deal with the current, already existing achilles pain, my mom suggested I go to a family friend who happened to be the head sports massage therapist for the MLS team here in Utah (Eric Brimhall at Premier Bodyworks).  He tore into my foot and calf, and did amazing things for that achilles -- it was back to normal in no time.  To make sure I stayed healthy, I got my bum back to physical therapy.  Megan Goff at Mountainland Physical Therapy has been such a lifesaver ever since I started this endurance sports kick.  And finally, I wanted to make sure that my training time that I fought so hard to carve out was as optimized as possible.  I didn't want to sacrifice to create all that time just to put in junk miles.  I wanted to train SMART and make it count.  Enter Jen Johnson, the wife of Matt's coach Wes Johnson, and an incredible athlete and coach for Balanced Art Multisport.  I'd wanted Jen to coach me forever and finally decided to make it official.  Being proactive made a big difference.  All of these things were so crucial for this last half of the training cycle!

But that didn't make the scheduling any easier.

It's extremely important to me to not let Ironman training take away from my kids.  I don't like the idea of just plopping them in front of the television while I ride my bike, run on the treadmill, etc., instead of interacting with them.  My kids aren't really the type to let me get away with that, either!  So I do my very best to do most of my training while they are asleep.  Typically, all bike rides and swims happen in the dark -- early in the morning or late at night.  If Matt and I can work out our schedules so I can run in the afternoon, I jump at that chance to have a little me time.  Otherwise, and most of the time, it's the treadmill in the dark.

In theory, that works.  In practice, it's been more complicated.  If it were just me training, that'd be one thing!  But Matt is obviously training, too -- and his training is higher volume, higher intensity, and higher priority (I want that boy to get to Kona probably more than he wants it for himself).  So my crazy hours are scheduled around Matt's crazy hours, which makes mine less predictable and more crazy, ha.  The problem here is the lack of sleep.  When you swim from 9:30-10:30 PM, get home at 10:45 PM, get in bed at 11:30 PM, lie there and worry about loved one #3's problems until who knows what time you actually fall asleep, and then the alarm goes off at 5 to get the next day's workout in before the babies wake up?  And you do some version of that over and over again?  You get tired.  Really tired.

The kicker is that the purpose of my early alarm was to be done before the babies woke up... But then my little guy started using his 6th sense to just *know* that I was up and trying to work out.  So many times, he has woken up an hour+ earlier than normal and sauntered down to the basement with his bear and blanket in hand and the cutest little puppy dog eyes.  He then starts needing things.  It's like the "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" book, in which one thing leads to the next, and I'm on and off the trainer every five minutes filling a sippy cup, turning on a show, finding a toy, etc.  This obviously kills a workout -- not just all the extra "rest," but it's so much harder to get back into high intensity intervals when you're constantly getting off your bike, so there's a lot of quality lost.  Then the interruptions make the workout take longer than it should have, which just makes the problems worse (especially if we're now into baby girl wake-up zone).  And then inside, it gets frustrating, because I gave up all that sleep and woke up early just to get this done while the kids were asleep but they woke up early anyway so it was all for nothing. You know, those kinds of thoughts.  Over and over again.

There was one morning in particular a few weeks ago that was rough.  It was one of those early wake-ups after a late swim, and I had a 90-minute ride + 30 minute run on deck.  The ride had a lot of hard intervals and I was getting a really great workout in for the first 30 minutes.  And then that sweet little boy came down the stairs, so I paused to get him settled.  Cue every possible need every five minutes for the next 45 riding minutes (more than an hour actual time now), and I still had 15 minutes left on my ride, plus the run.  I'd thought he was finally settled -- watching a show, playing with blocks, having already been fed and hip sippy filled twice.  But then, as I'm right in the middle of a hard set, there he was again, needing me to build a tunnel with his blocks.  I smiled and told him okay, and I'd be upstairs in just a second.  But inside, I was exasperated.  He didn't "need" a tunnel right then -- he was still supposed to be asleep, for goodness sake!

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  He ABSOLUTELY needed me to build a tunnel.  That cute little boy did NOT sign up for this race.  And just because his mommy did sign up for it doesn't mean that anything should change in his little world.  He deserves to have his mommy available for whatever is important to him at any time of day.  I've always known that my "important" training is infinitely less important than sippies and snuggles and tunnels at the end of the day -- and I needed to remember that at the beginning of the day, too.  I'm happy to say that I've been more cheerful about hopping off the bike to meet those requests ever since.

But it's hard to deny the negative affects that all of the above has on training.  Leading up to BAM Camp, I was just burnt out from all of it.  It's just been so much harder than I anticipated -- life, training, all of it.  It just wears on you.  And for what?   I've already checked the Ironman box, so this time was about going faster.  I started to worry that the lack of quality training and lack of proper sleep/recovery have just made me slower despite all my best efforts.  That I'd show up in Texas and my body wouldn't be ready to be there, and I'd walk away having failed.  Failed myself, failed my kids, failed my mom and my family who have supported us so much to make this possible.  These thoughts were slowly building and intensifying... and then came camp.

Camp was fun!  Getting to put in those high-volume training days with friends was exactly what I needed right then.  Camp was also hard.  It's meant to be hard, but the addition of crazy high-wind-advisory level winds made it infinitely harder.  That last day of camp -- the 100-mile ride with 30 mph winds gusting above 40mph -- was one of the toughest things I've ever done, physically and mentally.  Most of the BAMmers were only riding 60-70 miles that day, but everyone doing Texas went for the century.  I'm the slowest of the Texas crew already AND had gotten a late start that day, which meant I was the last one on my bike, finishing up the last 38 miles of a long hard day all alone.  That gave me a lot of time to think, for better or worse.  My mind kept coming back to those worries...

My ride ended away from the rental house, so Matt had driven down to pick me up.  The second I clocked 100 miles, I hit the brakes, unclipped from my bike, handed it to Matt, sat down in the passenger seat -- and started bawling.  Considering the fact that I am *not* an emotional person and Matt has only seen me cry for myself less than 10 times in our nearly 10 years together, this was a big deal.  I just sat there and cried.  And cried.  And cried.  And poor Matt, since he has had no practice with this, sat there entirely baffled.  I choked out where I wanted to get food, so he drove there -- while I cried.

It was a total and complete breakdown that had probably been building for a long time.  It wasn't about the ride itself, although I'm sure that contributed -- since that ride seemed to be another marker of my lack of cycling progress, and therefore another piece of evidence that I was going to fail at my goal to PR in Texas.  The tears came from a place of such deep regret that it was painful.  Regret that I should have just been a mommy and a runner and a Matt supporter and we would've all turned out better for it.  That I'd been selfish in my heart.  That I'd failed my kids.  That I'd failed Matt.  That I'd asked so much of my family, who already had so much on their plates.  That all of this was for nothing in the end.

There was nothing Matt or anyone could have possibly done or said to make me feel better.  I eventually composed myself, went back into the house, showered, put a smile on my face, and joined the party as if nothing was wrong.  But inside, I ached with regret.

I was up most the night thinking about it.  By morning, I'd come a long way.  The thing that helped the most was something from my conversation with Syd during that century ride.  She was my angel that day, spending 30 miles with me when I needed it most.  We'd talked about many things, but one phrase in particular -- although said in a different context at the time -- kept coming back to me: "Stay in the moment."

I finally realized I was mourning the loss of a race that hadn't even happened yet.  Who is to say that I won't meet my goal?  On paper, it is still possible -- probable, even.  But more than that, what good does it do to worry about things that haven't happened yet, or to dwell on things in the past?  Stay in the moment.  This moment.  The one where I've completed all this hard training in hard circumstances, and grown as a person because of it.  This moment.  The one where I am still a good mommy, who may have had to do some training while my kids were awake, but who adores and prioritizes and plays with her kids, who teaches them and reads to them and takes them on adventures.  The one where I am still a good wife, who may not have cooked all the healthy meals this go around, but who supports and cheers for my equally supportive husband.  The one where my family doesn't actually care how fast I go in exchange for their early-Saturday-morning babysitting, but will be cheering their hearts out either way.  This moment.  The one where I realize that it even if I don't PR, it's not "all for nothing."  I still learned, I still grew, I still set out to do a hard thing and didn't give up.  The one where I replaced worry and regret with peace.

And now, as the race rapidly approaches, it's been good to remember to stay in the moment -- the one where I don't actually have to face swimming that 2.4 miles *just* yet.  Haha!  I've been focusing on the exciting things, and there are so many!  I'll deal with the worrisome things if/when they actually arrive.

Triathlon is a good teacher.

PS- It's a good thing I came to terms with the possibility of not getting my PR a few weeks ago, since it won't even be possible to get a "real" PR now that the bike course has been shortened due to flooding.  So my goal will be to go out there, do my best, go as fast as I can, and have a FUN day!  I suppose the true 140.6 PR will have to come in Ironman #3. :)


  1. Such as amazing read, thank you for sharing and for your had me in tears. Your kids have a mom they can be proud of and you're teaching them so much about believing in themselves, persevering and being in the moment. Congrats!

  2. You're an amazing athlete, but as a wife whose husband has been deployed or off on work up training trips for more than half of our 8 year marriage, I can't even begin to sympathize with him being gone for four weeks. Try having your husband gone for combat deployments in the middle of Afghanistan and Iraq. 4 weeks away is laughable. Air Force is such a joke.

    1. I hope that didn't come across as thinking it was anything remotely close to having a spouse deployed. The mention of the Air Force was simply because that is his employer, and one you can't just say no to because the timing isn't convenient. And the mention of him being gone was simply to show that the schedules we thought we would be working with didn't get to play out, which obviously complicates things like Ironman training when you have children. I would never dream of thinking a few TDY's were so much as a drop in the hat compared to what some military families work with.

      For the record, I have a sister and brother-in-law who are mil-to-mil Army and have spent as much as 18-months apart in one stretch due to overlapping deployments. Their daughter has had to live with my mom while they were both gone. I know full well what deployments mean. We are so grateful for all of our friends, family, and fellow military families who serve and sacrifice so much during deployments. We are willing and able to make those sacrifices as well. Matt was slated for a deployment over our daughter's birth but it didn't go through, and he was actually recently in the process of volunteering for a deployment when he was picked up for grad school instead. Since he'll be in for the full 20, I'm sure a deployment or two or three is bound to happen, and we'll handle it with a smile -- and I won't train for Ironman during that time. :)

      Thank you so much for your service as a military family.

    2. Well said, Ashley! Also, this is Jessica (not Eric)!