triathlon

A year of not running: being happy when the shit hits the fan

For runners and triathletes, not being able to run or train for any length of time feels like torture. Not being able to do it for A YEAR is generally unthinkable and horrifying. Whatever kind of athlete you are, when suddenly you can no longer do much of anything, it’s a fucking nightmare difficult transition.

Sometimes, the unthinkable happens. 

Just over a year ago, I did a half-iron triathlon. It was the fittest and strongest I have ever been in my life; yet, when I crossed the finish line after just over 7 hours, I allowed myself only a split second (no joke. maybe one full second.) worth of joy before the “could-have-done-better” began. Shortly thereafter, the shit hit the fan big time, with my body going into a year of perplexing dysfunction and often-debilitating pain. During this time, I’ve probably spent more time getting health care – with doctors (6), physical therapists (4), chiropractors (3), acupuncturists (3), the ART (active release techniques) guy (1), and, thank GOD, one truly remarkable therapist – than I have spent training. There were times, over the Winter, when the pain was at its worst, that I honestly did not think I could live with it, that I *wanted* to live with it. It is, so thankfully, much better now, but my activities are still very limited.

I’m not going to say I’ve got it all figured out, by any stretch; but I must admit, I have handled it all about a zillion times better than I would have anticipated. Early on, I thought I’d “go crazy” or “lose my mind.” I’ve done my best to stay active on the days and in the ways in which I’ve been able. And, though I’ve lost a lot of strength physically…I’ve most definitely picked up strength mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Here are a few of the things I’d like every athlete coping with an injury…or every athlete who may one day deal with an injury, so, basically every athlete…to know. And, actually, these things are just as applicable to non-athletes, too.

Let yourself truly celebrate your achievements, while staying humble and grateful. 

I can see from my new vantage point here mostly on the sidelines that a more fitting finish line response a year ago would have been sobbing tears of joy while doing cartwheels and screaming “OMFG! OMFG! OMFG! I AM ON TOP OF OF THE WORLD!!!” On the other hand, there’s something to be said for humility, which is part of what you learn from this type of experience. The universe, it seems, does not want you to have a big old arrogant head; conversely, it does not want you to relentlessly beat the crap out of yourself. And oddly enough it is very possible – commonplace, even – to do both simultaneously. If Facebook triathlon groups are any indication, I am not alone in this regard.

So, let yourself *really* feel those intensely joyful, peak experiences while also not having the arrogance to take them the least bit for granted. Because really – none of us ever knows when a race or a ride or a run or a walk for that matter may be our last for a very long time or even forever. 

Humility goes hand in hand with gratitude. For me, now, every swim, every ride when they can happen, and every one-mile jog-walk which I just now am finally able to try – is a win. It’s tempting to belittle it, but NO. It’s an absolute gift.

Learn to stay with your feelings, not run from them. 

Whether we’re aware of it or not, many of us routinely run from our feelings of insecurity, groundlessness, fear and sadness. This has been a HUGE strategy for me my whole life, and I don’t do it halfway: when my Mom and Dad were getting divorced, I picked up and moved to the other side of the country. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone by any means, but for me, triathlon training – as much as I often genuinely enjoyed it – became just another means of running from my feelings of deep dissatisfaction and of not being good enough.

In this way, being “forced” by my injury to sit still long enough to feel my feelings was a true blessing. I’d go so far as to say, as hard as it’s been, I’m grateful for it. When you sit still long enough to actually experience your not-so-happy feelings, you move through them and…guess what…then you feel the HAPPY feelings more, too. The universe is amazing that way.

To do this, instead of distracting yourself from your feelings via whatever means you traditionally do (Facebook? Cookies? Another work out when you really don’t need one?)…just hang with them. Let them be. Give them some room to breathe.

Read or listen to some Pema Chodron. She has become my favorite writer during all of this, after my therapist recommended her. And she can say all of this much better than I. When Things Fall Apart, The Places That Scare You, The Wisdom of No Escape … all incredible books that will help you through any injury and probably change your life.

The big one: Learn to listen to your true self. 

With every swim, every bike, every run, every weight lifted, I was, without awareness, on a mission to prove to myself that I was good. So much so that, even after one particular PT whom I saw only once accidentally went too far and made my injury worse, I put myself through an awful 13-mile run, which was intended to be my first training run for the Chicago Marathon. Clearly this was not in the cards; my body was telling me almost every step of that run to stop. I ignored it, and listened to the louder voice of “I can push through this.” Because I felt if I didn’t, I would have failed. I would have been less. At times, on that run, it felt like I was punishing myself for some unknown offense. I truly crossed a line.

But it is not our training or our race times or our accomplishments that makes us good. We all have innate goodness (or Buddha nature, if you’re into that, as I am). Sometimes we need to learn to listen to THAT voice…not the voice of our egos but the voice of our deeper selves. If there is a nagging “doubt” in your mind, you might need to listen.

As endurance athletes, we all walk a fine line. Sometimes it is completely appropriate to listen to that voice in our head that drives us, that pushes us farther than we’ve gone before, the voice of motivation and determination. And, sometimes, as I have now learned the hard way (actually, there IS no easy way), the voice that whispers “stop” is more true. Learning to distinguish between the two has been an absolutely invaluable lesson.

Thank you, Universe. 

For the first time in my life, even though I can’t run even a mile, even though I have regained some of the weight I lost three years ago, even though I am not racing these summer weekends like so many of my friends, I can honestly say that I believe I am good. It’s a very peaceful feeling.

If you are dealing with an injury or the shit has hit the fan and you want to chat, drop me a line. I understand.

More sunrises

I’ve always been partial to a beautiful sunrise. When traveling anywhere near a coast or a good vista, I’ll almost always get up at an absurd hour to drive or run to see it. Like…this one.

Gulfstream Park, Florida, 2011

Boy, there’s something to be said for the “real” camera. I need to pull that out more often. But anyone who knows me Facebook or Twitter knows that I *love* to run at sunrise whenever possible and share Instagram photos. Like…this one.

South side Milwaukee, somewhere near the infamous “Vomit Hill”

And this one.

South Shore Park, Milwaukee. Where all good sunrise runs start.

So, I was thinking recently about how to meet my fundraising goal for Racers Against Childhood Cancer this year, beyond the usual “incessant begging” strategy that has worked in the past, thanks to your generosity.

What could I do? Shave my head? Still not quite ready for that…

What event could I have? Working on some possibilities, but with all the training, don’t have much time for planning…

What could I give?

Inspired by Drawing Support on my friend Mickey Gomez’ blog, I found the “sunrise” connection.

This year, if you support RACC through my page, I will send you a special sunrise card. And if you donate $100 or more, I will send you a special framed version of the sunrise of your choice.

Together, we can help fund research so the 46 kids who will be told they have cancer today see more beautiful sunrises.

(Yes, sort of like the American Cancer Society “more birthdays” campaign. But way cooler ;) )

THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, to those of you who have already shown your support this year. I promise to work my ass off to make you proud.

So much love.

Spaight

Set BIG fitness goals. Goals that make you want to puke.

IT’S A NEW DAY. A FRESH START.

A wise friend (Sheila, I think?) posted that goals that aren’t written down are just wishes. And I agree, writing them down starts the process of making them real. So it shall be done, this New Year’s morning before dawn. I LOVE A NEW YEAR. Don’t you love a new year, a fresh start?!

2013 was a GOOD year, injuries and all. I lost over 20 pounds (34 total now since 2012), set new 5K and half marathon PRs, finished my first century, and, quite unexpectedly, learned to *really* swim. Equally important, I met some new running and tri friends, joined Badgerland Striders and a tri group. So, now 2014 is here and PRAISE GOD the Christmas cookies are GONE. There’s a little extra squish around my middle to prove it. Squish aside, I consider myself a fairly fit person. And 2014 is going to be the year I get *REALLY* FIT…specifically:

“Racing Weight” lean… 16-18% body fat fit, to be precise. Which is likely a weight loss of another 9-ish pounds. (It’s true what they say, these last pounds really are the hardest, but I know as training really gets cranked up here it’ll happen.)

This morning already – against my better judgement – I registered for my first two triathlons. Olympic distance in June and HALF FREAKING IRON distance in July. GULP. I really do kind of want to puke right now, but honestly, if at least one of your goals doesn’t make you nervous as hell, you’re not aiming high enough IMHO. I also plan to do a fall marathon, which no longer seems scary *at all* compared to a triathlon swim.

To make these goals real, there are a whole host of sub-goals on which I’ll need to focus…

Keeping my son G involved and engaged and spending as much time with him as I possibly can! Being nice to my husband, who is a huuuuuge part of my support system. Being nice to MYSELF…loving my body for what it can do in spite of the (temporary!) extra squish around my middle. Eating extreeeeeeeemely well for fueling and recovery. GETTING. MORE. SLEEP. HAVING MORE FUN along the way. Managing money very carefully to support/save for the god-awful-expensive triathlon habit…that’s next on today’s agenda, after a healthy breakfast and some agility drills on the track. And a nap. :)

All right then. What BIG, vomity goals have you set for yourself for 2014? GO GET EM.

Digging for discipline, because regret sucks more.

Photo Credit: Frederic Mancosu, Flickr Creative Commons

This tweet from @Tri_Psychology yesterday got me thinking:
“Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret.”

So true, isn’t it? As a goal-oriented person, especially, it’s an either/or proposition. There is inevitably some amount of regret that comes along with letting time pass without sticking to your goals, plans, guides, intentions. I see friends set goals all the time and then let them go, instead of finding the discipline to stick with them, and then I see the pain of their regret. Personally, and from observations of others, I think the regret is much, MUCH more painful.

Not that I, myself, am perfect by any wild stretch of the imagination. Quite the contrary. While I have found a wealth of discipline and met many goals over the past year and a half, it is sometimes a two-steps-forward-one-step-back proposition. The hardest thing for me is finishing a hard training cycle…and then finishing those events and having to adjust to greatly reduced calorie intake. Or, put more simply: it’s hard to stop eating! To turn on a dime from hard training mode to maintenance or weight loss mode. Which is why I’m digging for discipline right now, to avoid taking that step back.

It’s been three weeks since my last event (Door County Century) and still I’ve been eating like a defensive lineman. Last fall after my first half marathon, I ended up gaining back about 8 “holiday” pounds before I managed to put the brakes on, turn myself around, and lose 20. Now, it’s a year later…I see myself falling into the same it’s-fall-let’s-eat pattern, and, NO. Just no. I will not let it happen this time. Even for three weeks, I loathe the feeling of being regretful about my choices. I know I’ll never be perfect, and everyone slips, and some splurges are OK and all that. But NO. I can do better than I am doing. And that kind of regret is treacherous, to self-esteem, among other things.

So I’m going on public record with my next goal, because that usually helps. It’s WEEK 40 of 2013 right now. Which means there are 12 WEEKS of 2013 LEFT to make more progress before the new year, instead of backsliding. And there are 16 WEEKS until the IceBreaker Indoor Marathon Relay. My goal is to lose my LAST 8 POUNDS by that race, and reach my ultimate goal weight of 135…starting 2014 in by far the best shape of my life, at the age of 45.

Holy shit, did that just happen? Did I *publicly* state my weight? THIS is a huge moment for me, y’all. After being fat on and off for most of my life, I am 100% cool with telling the world my weight. WOW. *pauses to soak this in*

I’ve got big goals for 2014 and 2015, so I need to head into the new year in a good place. Assuming that the swim training goes well this fall, I plan to do a sprint or olympic tri in Spring 2014, a half iron distance tri in Fall 2014, a full marathon in 2015 and IronMan Wisconsin in Fall 2015. There. I said it. Out loud. Those goals may change, if, say, I end up hating the swim, but as of today that is the PLAN.

So. Now. How about YOU? Any regrets that you’re tired of living with? Goals you set this year and didn’t meet? Goals for the rest of the year or next year that you’re digging for the discipline to meet? Is there anything I can do to help?

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