Ironman CDA, Knowing When to Quit, and Representing the Underestimated

It's funny some times how the experiences of others can teach me more about myself than my own experiences ever do.

I'll start a few days ago, with a pre-weekend blog. I had a bad week of spells this week, and I had a conversation with my Wasband about it, quite by accident. It was something like, bla bla bla, I've only biked twice and ran twice this week, and one run was more like a walk, bla bla bla. He thought it was so awesome that I kept training through my various illnesses. I basically said what's so noble about it, anyway? The honest answer to that question is nothing.

But first - CDA.

A number of people I know and love were racing yesterday at Ironman CDA. One of them was the CFL Tri Club coach, who pulled off a very impressive 13ish time (that was his 2nd IM and he trained for it while coaching nearly 200 athletes); one of them was IronD, trying to qualify for Kona and finishing in 12 hours and change, effectively PRing at the IM distance TO THE TUNE OF AN HOUR. Two of them were a couple getting married this summer, who came in within 30 seconds of each other, both finishing in about 14.5 hrs.

And one of them had a story that wasn't so numerically impressive, but her story stands out the most in my mind for a number of reasons. This particular athlete is not trying to qualify for anything, or coach anyone, or become certified in every exercise possible. She's not trying to win first place, or become the next Heather Fuhr. She's just trying to have a good time. And THAT is the first thing that stands out, because that's truly what the majority of us are trying to do. When she managed to come down with a really severe cold just before CDA, she still started. And, though she made it through the swim and into the bike, after struggling for some time on the bike, she decided to DNF herself.

Why, might you ask, do I find this so impressive, especially in comparison to the results I saw from other friends and aquaintances competing at CDA this year? Well, because she is the best example of a well-rounded athlete and WHOLE PERSON that I can imagine. Let's face it, most of us can't be elite , and few of us can be excellent without sacrificing our lives to the sport. Here is what she said - and this pretty much sums it up. Her husband had once reminded her of how Michael Jordan played a championship game with the flu, and during the toughest part of the race, she recalled his comment. And then she thought:

"The difference was that, Michael Jordan was playing in the championship....I was doing just another race in a long line of races.

Michael Jordan was also making millions of dollars a year to do exactly that.

I was doing this for fun.

I was not having fun."

And this means something to me because . . .
I continually push myself into oblivion for the sake of finishing a race or reaching a goal. Then, if I don't reach the goal or finish the race, I am depressed for days, or even weeks. I spend countless hours crying to myself - literally and metaphorically - because my training hours are lower than they're supposed to be, or because I'm not training as hard as all the other athletes I know. When I was on the run at Florida Half Ironman, and I knew hyponatremia was in the cards for me, or when I was running Philly, underdressed, in 39-degree rain, with a sinus infection and ended up almost missing my first, flirst-class flight home because I had to crawl under the covers with a fever for hours after the race with what was presumably mild hypothermia, I SHOULD have quit. Qutting is not giving up. It's more like hitting the pause button.

Like Tea said, this is supposed to be FUN. That's why I started doing it.

While everyone was busy training and competing at CDA this week, I was trying to relax and rest, because my "little spell" has developed into the nausea and the fatigue I've experienced on and off for the past 5 or 6 years. A sit-down with The Boss is in the books once he returns from CDA, because I hit maybe 4 of my planned 12 training hours this week. In the mean time, I tried to schedule an appointment with my MD, but he wasn't available until today,and I can't afford the time away from work to drive 50 miles round trip to see him. If I still feel yucky, I will have to try to find a new doctor in my area, but even that is quite a waste of time - they've tested me ad nauseum and found what they're going to find, so there's nothing else they can do but tweak my meds and there's nothing else I can do but take them regularly and try to eat and sleep well and exercise regularly.

I have to be honest. I feel a little lost this season. I feel a little "off." Like I can't quite pull it together. Like there are all these signs telling me I can't be a triathlete. Like my body and mind are going all different directions and I can't figure out how to bring them back together. My typical response to that kind of feeling is to fight harder, but the only way I'm going to get anywhere this time around is to stop fighting. I was told by a professional last week that the mental and emotional stress I am putting on myself to try and make every single workout is only going to make my body sicker.

First, I have to get rid of the stress. Then, I have to resume ANY KIND OF activity so that I can maintain a healthy level of endorphins AND fitness. I have a sprint tri on Sunday, and I am certain that I can handle it - if not PR. But I was advised to look at that race - and all my upcoming races - as long, slightly-more-rewarding-than-average workouts. Because the pushing-myself-to-the-breaking-point shit has GOT to end. I need do what I intended to do, this season and keep doing it EVERY season: the best I can. And by the best I can, I mean the best I can without injuring myself or making myself ill. For example, very early morning workouts are often hard for me to make with my sleep issues. I MUST have one morning every week where my body can sleep as long as it needs until it wakes up ON ITS OWN. That means I may not be able to train at the levels or times of day at which a coach would like me to train - or it may mean I need a coach even more than the average triathlete.

Fine. I am not the average triathlete.

But that doesn't mean I quit. And it doesnt mean I force myself to fit into someone else's training schedule. I am going to do this on MY terms. Because it's MY body. MY season. MY hobby.


Next big race is Nationals in September. I have to buy my plane ticket and send my tri gear out before then. I'm not forgoing Nationals, or Miami Man in November. I've got two and a half more months before Nationals, and I'm already trained at LEAST enough to finish without dying or embarrassing anyone. Will I PR or break records? Maybe. But that's not the point. I need to learn to be proud of myself for doing whatever it is I can do, whether that's crossing the finish line, beating the person next to me, or just showing up for the damn thing. And Miami Man is going to become a celebratory race for me to cap off the end of a long season. I'm gathering a group of friends to celebrate birthdays and the race after I compete. And I need to be smart and take care of my body BEFORE, DURING and AFTER the race - because each of these races are one race out of many, but my life - my health - are one out of one.

Now I understand what someone asked me several weeks ago when they called me, concerned about me, asking me if I was doing this because I felt I had something to prove to myself or to anyone else. Tea presented herself unknowingly as the perfect example an athlete who is mature and secure enough to put her sport and life, strengths and limiters, all into their proper context. Do you think SHE whined and moaned after she DNF'd at CDA? Absolutely not. She KNEW she had done the right thing. And that finally made it clear to me that driving myself into the ground doesn't make me noble, strong, tough, heroic or admirable.

Au contraire, mon cheri. It makes me immature, insecure and foolish.

Just by getting to Nationals, I have accomplished a giant goal. My place on that roster is enough. Because my name being up there proves that anyone can do it. I stand for all the weekend-warrior, back-of-pack athletes for whom a shot at a national championship or special award is nearly impossible. I'm the athlete people look at and think there's no way she completes marathons and triathlons! I represent the underestimated.

And you know what? If that's ALL I EVER accomplish in this sport, I have done more than I, or anyone else, expected me to do.

Now, as the Grand Marshall of the Mardi Gras parade down in N'awlins is honored to say every year to officially kick off the festivites: l'aissez les bon temps rouler!

Let the good times roll.

4 tidbits of wizdom:

Wes said...

Anybody can bull head their way through anything. Going about this smartly? That requires some extra work, and let's just face it. It's easier to do less work.

It seems to me like you are still figuring out what your boundaries are. So am I as a matter of fact. Only then can we push against those boundaries and make ourselves better.

Pushing yourself to mental and physical exhaustion, without reason, is just stupid.... Push against your boundaries at the right time in the right place.

Tea is such a special person. That's what I love about this sport. I would not have the pleasure of knowing any athletes without it and their blogs :-)

Tea said...

gosh....I can't believe this post. It sounds like someone who is discovering who they are....not discovering limitations, just finding out who you are.

For me, my problem was always accepting my limitations and allowing them to prevent me from growing. Now, I realize they just mean that I take a different route. That's how I read your post.

We all have different routes to take because of our personal limitations. But that doesn't mean our potential is limited.

CCP said...

Great post! Tea is amazing and set the perfect example for those of us who are too stubborn to listen to our bodies. Do what you can without injuring yourself - you'll still be a fabulous triathlete. A smarter one even;) Now I need to listen to my own advice.....

Alili said...

Smart, smart lady. You are making great discoveries about your needs and wants. Keep at it and know that you are inspiring others every step of the way.