Sunday, May 31, 2009
The big comeback
Funny how I think it is human nature to be able to measure. We seem to need to know the starting point, the length traveled, the time traveled and the end point. Even when we say that we are “in the moment” we still seem to know how long we stay in that moment. So it is with me as well. From the last race to the next, how long is recovery from surgery, when can I start training, how far can I go, when is the next race, what time do I need, what time do I want to feel successful, how long to recover from that race to the next.
I decided from the realization that my body was going to need some help that I would take each measurement seriously. I would commit to what each expert told me. I had, after all gotten the best team and made sure we were all on the same page so I could trust what every one said. I also decided to define what would be success with each step. The first was getting through the surgery. Success would be no complications. While a there was a little surprise, no other problems came up so success. Next, getting through the first week. I was allowed to walk so I decided to make each walk with some goal in mind. The first week is to increase the walk by a few minutes each time. While some days were harder than others, goal reached. Also getting my body to get over the affects of anesthesia and pain medication seemed to be a major accomplishment.
Once back home, I realized I needed a plan. I had been living the past five years by a well defined plan each day. Every day I knew if I was running, biking, swimming and how far or how long. I organized the rest of the family needs around that plan. I decided to keep that time open for training only now my training looked much different. I still followed protocal for endurance sport. So I would walk. First, started with 30 minutes. Success. Each week I added 10 minutes to one of the walks. Success. I worked my way up to an hour, then two and finally three. Success. In each walk, I tried to find the littlest challenge and then celebrate each small victory. I did all the prescribed stretching and rehabilitation exercise. The time then came to set a goal.
With permission from the doctors, I set a goal to walk a half marathon. I could have made this hard as I RUN marathons. Instead, I stayed thankful that I was moving and certain that I would find joy in whatever I could do. Then I got permission to jog a few minutes with the promise to stop if pain came up and for only 5 minutes at a time. Success! I had made it to the next phase of recovery. I decided to stay grateful for what I could do and certain that more would be revealed. As I jumped into the half marathon as a walker, I just stayed excited to be a part of the magical energy of hundreds of people facing there own personal demons and realizing there own strength. Victory!
Before I knew it, I could once again mount my two wheeled steed. It was harder than I expected. I soon realized that the success here would have to be redefined. Baby steps would be required and expectations altered. After taking stock in what was possible and what I was determined to feel, I set smaller goals. I stayed within myself where I was not where I had been or where I wanted to be. I knew I had to find some victories. While it took some time, soon I would go a little farther or climb a little stronger than the last ride. Success! While I never was certain that I could or would ride like I had, I was still achieving a little each time and for that I was thankful and excited. That was my new measuring stick.
Back in the pool; my coach was comforting, reassuring and certain. In her eyes, I was still an athlete and she treated me as such. In her, I believed even when I was not sure where to begin finding success somewhere between 1 and 25 meters. I had worked so hard to feel like I was a swimmer of sorts and now I felt as if I was starting over. I felt as if my body was hinged at all the wrong places and no part was working the way it should. Coach, however gently assured me that things would come around and then would hand me an “impossible” swim set. Where was I going to find a victory here? She found them for me. Just get through a swim set – victory, have better form – victory, set and make an interval – victory. Before long and just as she had said, things began to feel normal and even strong. Success. The goal was to make each practice – success. Then add in an additional practice – success. Over time I was no longer just trying to see old splits, but now I was seeing all new times. Success!!
The time came to get back in the game. I would not doubt. I would not question. I would have a plan. This is the benchmark. This is just to see what is there. Does the fire still burn? Is there still purpose? What can I learn? This would require to new measurements. I would not look back. I would not look at others. This is my journey. It always has been. It always has been about who I am, what I can do, who I can be. That is it at the core. That is all competition really is; a way to measure where we have been and where we are going and who we become in the process. It is never about who is in the next lane, who else toes the line or rolls up next. What makes it competition is that each person has chosen this as a way to be on that journey and the energy that is created propels everyone forward. The race was decided and a new plan formulated. I would be the director this time, I would make the calls, I would shoulder the responsibility for my path. I soon learned that I was listening to my body more than ever. Success! With new expectations came new confidence and I was willing to do it differently hoping to get different results. Everyone that really knows me, assured me that it was time and that I had always had everything it took to stand on my own. I began to feel a bit like Dorothy in Oz. I was loved, supported and no one questioned me so I ran with it. Victory!
On the eve, it felt like the first time. Did I remember what to do? Did I do all I needed? Was I certain of the plan? Yes, all systems are a go with new idea of what how to measure. I have learned from so many. I took a little from each and a new person was evolving. As the sun crested over the lake, I felt the familiar energy in the midst of swim caps. It is a palpable feeling of fear and excitement that resonates everywhere just as we move into the murky water. In that moment we are all sisters and brothers on this path that would not exist with each other. Behind the goggles each person is taking stock in their own fears, goals, dreams, demons and measurements. The cannon explodes and the dance begins. Power is realized, strength is manifested, certainty comes into focus and determination sets the pace. I enter the water with confidence. Somewhere the old panic is not there. With two hundred other women swimming in the same direction at the same time, there can be some chaos. Perhaps it was there, but I didn’t feel it. I just swam from buoy to buoy. How am I feeling? Where is a clean path, Can I pull a little stronger? Can I kick a little harder? These are the much different questions I am asking myself. Take it a buoy at a time. Stay in the swim and be strong. You have done this nearly every day for months. Gone are the days of fighting for my line and rather I am letting my line come to me. Before I know it, I see the shore approaching. Hmmm, that was a little longer than I thought, but I feel great is what I am thinking to myself. Success!
I run through transition and everything goes smoothly. What is the next thing I need? Race belt, helmet, sunglasses, shoes and the bike are all I need and I had prepared them in order. I guess I did remember how to do this. With each turn of the pedals I feel incredibly strong. I remember the plan. Measure the bike in 15 minutes. Every quarter of an hour get some calories in and take stock of where I am. Be aware of the planned heart rate, but more importantly really know how I feel and what I need in the moment. Within that moment, evaluate the road and decide what gear I need. Those are all I need to think about. If I find myself needing to mentally wander off, pray. It is working and I feel strong. When I was hungry I ate and I drank before I got thirsty. Towards the end I felt some pain in my foot. I realized I had less than an hour to go so I decided to give myself permission to get off the bike in an hour if it was still hurting. In the meantime, I had a job to do so head down and turn the pedal over. I turned the corner to get back to transition and there were huge crowds cheering for me and everyone else. The energy lifted me up and I remembered that feeling. Those of us on the other side of the baracades were representing so much for so many people. As we moved through our journey, we were demonstrating to someone what is possible and that is exciting. I started to cry for the sheer joy of being here when, in the moment, I realized I was still in the race and it was not yet finished. I had finished 56 miles on the bike at an all new record speed for myself. Success!
A quick stop in transition to drop off my bike and change into running shoes and I am off on a 13.1 mile run. While the legs aren’t fresh, they are still moving and doing what I am asking of them. I am struck that less than a year ago I wasn’t sure this would be happening and here I am. This is the part where everyone gets focused and quite. At this point, it is about trusting that the pain will pass and really staying in the moment. I develop a plan. The run is three four mile loops with half of each loop on a dirt service road. Putting 2000 people on a short route can make running on a dirt road with grass crowded. So my plan was to run my pace and not get trapped behind a slower pace. I would keep hydrated by taking something at each of the four aid stations and I would take the run a loop at a time. The miles ticked off. At one aid station I got frustrated about not being about to get what I needed. Someone behind me saw my frustration and reminded me to stay calm and not waste energy. Like I said, we are all in this together and it is a group effort to realize dreams. Before I know it, I am on my last mile and on target for a personal record. I begin to cry. I am so grateful for the strength and power to do this, for all who have helped me, for all who have supported me and for all who have encouraged me.
Now some time has passed and I have had time to reflect and regroup. I realize that race recovery is taking longer than I remember. I also know that devoting the time to recover is vital to the rest of my season. So for now, I focus on my recovery and letting my body do what it knows to do. I find myself reflecting. The biggest realization is that this is not a come back. I don’t want to go “back” to where I was. I know that I am a different athlete. The athlete I was would train every session as if it were a race or the predictor of my race. The athlete I was would never worry about recovery. The athlete I am has learned to embrace the process. The athlete I am is all about taking each day as it comes. The athlete I am knows that each day that I move is a victory.