Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A New Chapter at 25

It feels like I’m literally dusting off the blog to write this post. I returned from the month long Kona trip in October, started training with my new coach, Jesse Kropelnicki, and enjoyed some time in San Antonio with my family through the end of the year.

My training included several weeks of snail pace runs and rides and easy monotonous 3-4x1k or 3-4k straight swims mostly alone until I was back in SD for masters in January. I had to become a numbers person again, letting that HR monitor guide my workouts; though I still don’t even have a cadence computer on my bike  I kept up the PT for my back, and spent through February doing 3x a week of solid gym sessions.

By the time I headed out to our QT2 Pro Camp in Clermont (Feb 14- March 4), fitness was coming along nicely! My back was solid- it would tighten up now and again but I felt optimistic I could handle the heavy mileage at camp. My runs went from being at 9-10min miles in Z1, to high 7’s, low 8’s. Weight was slowly coming off without a rush, and in Clermont Jesse made it clear and simple how we’d get to race weight and fitness through Galveston 70.3 on to the goal of a PR at IMTX.

Camp started out really rough for me. For female reasons I had a horrible first 3 days which really worried me, especially since Jesse had said this would be the most training any of us had done, and there’s no way we’d make it through without perfect recovery techniques. After that patch, though, I came around well, mostly excelling in the pool. I adore swimming so having 18 days of a squad environment swimming 4-7k/day was a thrill!

The riding was great- it reminded me of the Texas Hill Country. Clermont indeed has “hills”! I’ve never ridden that kind of mileage in my life. I have yet to go back and tally it up but nearly every day was 3-5 hrs. I learned to hurt on the bike more than I ever thought possible and surprised myself in various group TT and “road race” workouts. Going to the well on the bike seemed to affect me way more than the rest of the group. Therefore, I had a few forced off the legs days and sat out of some run workouts. In fact, I recall only 2 runs where I felt decent. The rest were crap.

As a whole, the camp was by far the most humbling, eye opening, and beneficial (for personal and athletic growth) experience I’ve been lucky to partake in. I was simply in awe of the resilience and work ethic of our QT2 pros. But more than anything, I was grateful to be in the hands of Jesse- if only we had met 5 years ago! I digress; I think everything happens at its supposed time and for the right reasons.

Jesse’s system at camp was what “hardened’ me the most- he’d announce at the pool deck each morning what the swim set would be, and then after we were done and showered he’d say something along the lines of “ride to the meeting place. Be there at 10:30am, bring enough fuel for 5hrs”. That could mean anything. All you had to know was: be there and definitely bring enough fuel! I looked forward to the only real meal I’d get each day: dinner. But I never knew what time I’d finally be sitting down for it. After our ride Jesse would normally say “see you at X place at X time for a run”. Awesome.

The most epic session was an evening run after a day of swim/bike that started just before sunset and went through almost midnight. 20x1mi as a relay (Brianna & I did 15x1) and you had to run each mile faster than the previous one or incur a 15min penalty. I loved it! But let it be known that if it had been one of the days it was 40F and not humid and 80F I would’ve been in absolute misery.

18 days later, I was back in San Diego feeling fitter than ever and overjoyed at the fact that my back only got achey on two of the last rides at camp and nothing I couldn’t manage! My improvement in the pool was clear once I returned to my masters group, and the mental tenacity that Jesse instilled in us with the “unknown” method at camp had me checking off workouts like they were a walk in the park.

Through all of this progress and content emotion that I was on the right path toward my goals for the year, and slowly but surely paving the way for the dreams that still lay 10 years into the future, something (actually many things) in me had changed in the last 6-8 months…

Like all humans, I often act on impulse. For general every day things it can either turn out favorable or lead to a petty mistake. However, a few crucial times in my life this “impulse” has felt absolutely right. It’s something that comes from the heart and pulls me with such strength that I’m hopeless trying to ignore it. I may delay the action, but it’s inevitable. These circumstances make me believe that each of us has a true purpose in life and a path we’re destined to be on. Whether we see it to fruition or not is a choice.

I had this gut order on quitting tennis and leaving the Academy, on what college to go to, on moving to Encinitas to pursue triathlon the day after my final exam at SMU, and a couple more personal situations that truly influenced who and where I am today.
Since it became evident around Sept last year, that this back pain was an actual trauma in my L4/5 and I would have to carefully manage it the rest of my life, it really made me analyze things. Immediately following the MRI consultation, I had to see myself without triathlon at all for the first time in 6 years. It wasn’t just like a potential bad break up- it was like being dumped at the altar. I had just turned pro! My first reaction was that of a kid throwing a tantrum, and it lasted a few weeks. I just wouldn’t accept it, I cried, and felt sorry for myself, and then trickles of enlightenment began to erase those immature and selfish thoughts. Was that all I wanted of myself? A 9hr something Ironman? Another Umeke from Kona but with a Pro label? Besides the love and desire to compete and challenge myself, what was I chasing? Anything outside of the pure love for sport was about the ego.
Being in Kona to watch the race opened my eyes even more- I enjoyed not racing a little too much. I did burn inside on race day, but I realized that more than anything, I love training, I love the triathlon lifestyle, I love the industry, and I love traveling. The urge to race in Kona and to win this and win that wasn’t overpowering me. I had been there and done that. Sure not as a pro, but I had still spent 6 years approaching this sport with a professional mindset. I’d raced Kona 4x and been on the podium each time. I rarely lost a single race in my age group, and came out 11th Amateur in the 2011 World Championship. If I needed to push myself to extremes and prove that I am an elite athlete, I had done it.
Warnings of the consequences of doing so many Ironman races before I turned 24 (8) were everywhere. I didn’t listen. I’m Sagittarius. I’m stubborn, even if it’s just to go against others. Now my body was letting me know. Despite days feeling great in training, and after the high of being so fit after camp, there’d be that little voice saying “just take a break”.
Almost like an out of body experience, I’ve witnessed myself becoming much more relaxed and participating in “normal” things like going out late on the weekends, starting a morning swim hungover, and being completely okay and guilt free when cutting out a workout because I’m toast. It’s not to say that I’m training to race as a pro with a careless attitude, I’m just seeing that I have better workouts and am happier when I really listen to my body and do things I’ve shut down completely for months on end simply for the sake of an upcoming race. But I also have to be realistic. With the growth of triathlon, comes the surge in talent. I have a grasp on what I’m capable of and I would have to implement that monkish approach to my training nearly year round to have a shot at podiums- and at the expense of doing further damage to my back.
I’m calling this my quarter life crisis. Tragedies like the Boston bombings make it horrifyingly clear that life is too short. I feel like I’ve accomplished so much in triathlon that one more PR or winning an Ironman as a Pro, wouldn’t raise my satisfaction level significantly higher, and definitely not proportionate to the beating I’d have to endure physically and the crazy cost of PT just to withstand it. There’s so much more I want to do in my life that’s not about me. I’ve spent 6 years focusing on ME. I want to have a positive impact on others. I want people to remember me not by my race times but by how I was able to inflict positive change in this world and help other people.
So what am I getting at here? Well, I raced Galveston 70.3 last weekend and it went just fine. I had no expectations on placement as the goal was to have a pain free race; and I did. I swam horribly but all else was good and I felt fit. It was easy in terms of how fast the race went by and it felt great to go hard (vs when you’re not fit and it just sucks to go hard). Somewhere along the bike and again on the run, I was just “over it” it was cool to be exercising for this long, racing the clock, and getting to have a yummy dinner and fun times with friends after. But that ferocious eye-of-the-tiger focus and intensity that I’ve had before and that is required to podium at these races was just not in me anymore.
Talking to Jesse after the race I told him I simply see nothing worthwhile about racing Ironman Texas than another shot to break 10hrs and get a tshirt ;) I would honestly rather do an 8hr training day without destroying myself with a marathon, still feel good after and actually be able to enjoy a dinner, and keep working out days after.

There was my answer. It’s time to move on. I’ve been an academic my whole life, and reading for pleasure and having this part time job from home is not challenging enough nor am I doing anything meaningful. It was a good break after college, but my mind needs to be put to greater use! I’m ready and excited to work full time 60, 80 hours, whatever! I became a triathlete because I have that OCD extremist personality and it’s time to put it to use in the work place. At the same time, I do have an obsession with being outdoors and being active, so I’ll undoubtedly continue to swim, bike, run, and plenty of other activities that I’ve yet to explore.
For now, I’ll continue to train and race as a pro through the end of the year- doing short local events that are cool and exciting and only some halfs I love as an entire trip such as Honu and Vineman. I’m not “quitting” I’m just taking a step back. Truthfully, I feel that if I ever want to accomplish anything as a pro in triathlon, or lay down a sick PR, this step back is necessary. My body is tired. I lost the core of why I’m a triathlete- the fun of it- somewhere, and I need to get it back in order to revive that hunger to compete at that level. I may not ever race pro again and just come back in a few years and tackle the AG in Kona. Or I may have a few good results at 70.3s this year and renew my pro card and keep making steady casual progress, who knows? The point is, it’s only a part of me, a sport I enjoy, but it’s not all I want to be, it’s not an identity.