An amazing thing transpired while I was not really paying attention: I've been hitting my training goals with relative ease and improving by leaps and bounds. And I'm having more fun than I've ever had.
When I started racing in 2006, I was 20 lbs thinner and many minutes faster. I rarely got my heart rate over 150, I could easily run a 10-minute mile, I rode 18.5 mph on the bike, and the only problem I had with my swim stroke was that - although it became more technically and aesthetically pleasing - it was not fast. My goals were a sub-10-minute mile in any race less than half marathon and a respectable Half Ironman finish.
But I thought I was fat and slow. I hated working out with a group because I felt inferior. I was constantly injured, my nutrition was atrocious, and I was pissed off when I didn't PR at every race.
In short, I was an ungrateful, reckless b*&(h.
Then something crazy happened. No, scratch that - everything crazy happened. My life fell apart: mental, emotional, financial problems. I stopped blogging about training to blog about my life. Then I even stopped blogging about my life. And I thought I could keep training through all of it, but I was not, to my surprise, Captain Tough Nuts. My training suffered. My mental health suffered. My relationships suffered.
I lost every single bit of the fitness I'd gained from 2006 to 2008.
From summer 2008 through spring 2009, I hardly raced. I did a sprint tri (and PR'd) in July, a 10k (and PR'd) in October, a half marathon (and a new slow time) in December, and then made it only 14 miles at my second marathon in February 2009. The breakdown? My inconsistent training. At the marathon, for example, it caused my IT band problems to flare up again.
And triathlon? What is THAT? I took an entire year off of triathlon. I swam and trained with the group in spring, but because I wasn't the smart person I thought I was, I didn't factor in how to train around my September D&C or my March surgery.
Starting over was unthinkable. To be honest, I thought I might never enjoy racing again.
In August, a co-worker asked me if I would train for Disney with her - her first marathon and her mom's first marathon. I was pulled back into the excitement of training, but I was dissappointed to find that I was now running (yes, RUNNING) at a 14-15 minute-mile pace with my heart rate in the 170s. (That's not even my walking pace!) Most all of my runs through September were 5-minute intervals including 2 minutes of walking. I completed a 10k in October roughly 20 minutes slower than I'd EVER run.
And now? NOW I knew what it was like to be slow.
Through 5 months of persistence, gradually increasing my mileage (as one is supposed to), however, I returned to my original base pace of 11-13 minutes per mile. The girl who took 1:28 to finish a 10k in October now finishes 20-mile runs in less than 4:40, which is also faster than my Philadelphia Marathon pace. My heart rate doesn't get into the 170's now unless I'm running a pace of 10 minutes per mile or less. The prospect of an 8:30 time trial and a 10:25 5k pace are well within my reach. This month I'm signing up for a 50-mile charity ride, and for Florida 70.3 again.
The best part about all of this is, that by the time I toe the line at FL Half Ironman in May, between my almost 4 years of experience, my January marathon, the February half century, and lots of bricks and nutrition practice on the way, I will have the strongest training base I've ever had in my life. And because I've already been through more than I ever thought I'd go through in my entire life, including finally earning my BA (summa cum laude, no less), prospects for grad school and one crack at the GRE under my belt, I don't see much that's capable of holding me back.
The moral of this story? Some times you really do have to lose it all.