One of those days

Today is one of those days. I’m anxious. I’m sad. I dread going to work and having to deal with people and having to think and make decisions. I feel like I can’t really think. I didn’t sleep well, I haven’t been eating well, and, aside from the morning after my last post, I haven’t convinced myself to exercise. 

I’m not sharing this for sympathy, although feel free to feel sorry for me and my first world problems… I share this so that you will you know that there are days like this. I am so much better than I was a few years ago, but I still struggle. Sometimes it’s mild, but sometimes it’s hard to force myself out of bed to go through the motions. 

One big difference now as opposed to before is that now I know that things will be ok and that there is hope. I know that once I start moving again, things will fall back into place. That’s a really hard thing to see when you’re depressed, even if your depression is pretty well under control and it only rears its head every now and then. 
I’m going to keep plodding along today, knowing that things are going to look a lot better once I crawl out of this day. 

Just a Push

I’m still here! It’s been a minute or two since I last posted. Thanks for hanging in there!

I don’t really have anything profound to say, but my doctor prescribed writing another post when I went in for my yearly checkup 3 years late today! (I have the best OB/Gyn ever. THE best. Seriously. A friend who I had referred to her actually chose an insurance plan based on whether Dr Wonderful was in network.) My wonderful doctor also prescribed that I sign up for the local sprint triathlon in August. Which I will totally do. I may not train for it, but I will do it.

Speaking of training – or not training – I haven’t done any. At all. None. I know you are shocked and are currently picking yourself up off the ground. It’s ok. I’ll give you a minute to recover. I’ll just go over here and EAT A HUGE BOWL OF PASTA while I wait. Because that’s what I’ve been doing. Steady yourself because I have another shocker: I’ve gained 20 lbs. And I feel like shit. And I am mad at myself for being lazy while at the same time totally rationalizing why I can’t get back on track. (You cannot even imagine how good I am at this game.)

Exercise time: I’m tired. I had a long day. I haven’t spent enough time with my daughter. I have to drive to another city to be with my husband. It’s too hot. I’m too hungry. My stomach is too full. It’s too early. It’s too late. It might rain. I might get sunburned. The place where the saltwater catfish barb stuck in the middle of my palm hurts (and, yes, it still does a little, even though that was 2 weeks ago). I didn’t bring the right shirt. This shirt doesn’t feel good today…

Later: Why didn’t you go run? You would have felt better. You are so lazy. You didn’t used to be this way. How did you ever do an Ironman? Why can’t you eat healthy? It’s not that hard. You really are so lazy.  And on and on.

Even later (approximately right now): Oh I’ll set my alarm for really early and go before it gets hot. See? I even set my clothes out. I will reward myself with a tasty coffee when I get finished. It will feel so good to get that accomplished.

Morning (probably tomorrow morning): ZZZZzzzzzzzzzz. <snooze> zzzzzzzzzzz <snooze> zzzzzzzzzz Why don’t I just reset this alarm for when I will really get up?

Every. Single. Day.

So, I need a new goal. That’s why my doctor prescribed the triathlon. She knows it’s not a big goal for me, but just the act of signing up for it might encourage me to sign up for something more. Sometimes I need a push. A gentle nudge, or a playful push, or a hard shove, depending on the particular situation.

Planning to move from our awesome city to a small, conservative town pushed me to find new things to focus on. (It turns out that I like to bake. I thought I was a shitty baker all this time, but it was really just that I have a shitty oven. The small town oven is great! I also like to do crafts, or at least attempt them… who knew?)

Not being able to find a job in an area closer to my husband’s job pushed me to talk to my boss and figure out an arrangement that allowed me to stay in our awesome city and house and will allow my incredible husband to try something new!

The Incident was a pretty big shove. But it pushed me out of the dark place into the open where I had to face my depression and the fact that it was serious. It forced me to admit that I couldn’t just “get over it” and I needed some help.

It always takes a push for me. A goal. So I’m going to set one. It’s going to be epic. Exciting. I am going to call it a goal and it will be something to strive for. I am going to put it in writing. Are you ready?!

 

Rather than trying to be perfect (and failing miserably), I will aim to be a little bit better than I was yesterday.

Boom.

There it is.

Once I can manage that for a week, I’ll build on it. I also have a secret goal (Do normal people have “secret goals” or is that just triathletes? Like when someone asks what your goal is for a race and you say, “Oh, I just want to finish.” But really you want to finish in a certain time… No? Just me, then.) My secret goal is to post something (even stream-of-consciousness drivel like this) once a week, maybe even for accountability. I haven’t decided on a day yet, so DON’T PRESSURE ME!

Or you can. Just call it a push.

Yeah, but…

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted.  Ups and downs and ups and downs.  You know the story.  Work is crazy but better than it used to be.  Life in general is ridiculous but better than the alternative.  <——– please note that there was a time not terribly long ago that I didn’t believe this.  Things are definitely better!

Spring is here and things are green and warm and wonderful, even with the heavy coating of yellow pollen everywhere.  I’m back on my steroid inhaler for asthma that I really do try to use twice daily.  Really.  And I realize that my plans for great core training and healthy eating during the off-season have turned into fantasies that continue on into the spring.  Profound thought from Janis Joplin: Tomorrow never comes.  Every night when I think “Tomorrow is the day I start getting back into being healthy by running and eating right” turns into the next day when I think “Well hell.  I just had McDonald’s and a doughnut for breakfast and I hit snooze too many times to run before work and I have to drive 2 hours home and there’s no way I can fit in a run and I guess I’ll just do it tomorrow.” But then “tomorrow” turns into “today” and… well, you get the picture.

I have eaten healthier the past two days though, so there’s that.  A super awesome friend at work made soup this weekend and brought me some.  It was delicious and much better than the Taco Bell I probably would have resorted to otherwise!  Another super awesome friend at work fixed the hot water in the shower so I can exercise before work or during lunch and shower away the sweat.  (The potential to do that is there, anyway.)

Speaking of work, the past few weeks have really opened my eyes to yet another issue I have.  (Geez.  I just never know where these stream-of-consciousness posts are going to take me!)  I had to discuss job stuff.  I have been interviewing for positions near our new town.  This sucks and I hate it.  I hate it because interviews are weird and awkward and you’re being judged and you’re trying to take in everything and judge it and decide if it’s a good fit and then you have to talk about money (oh hell, please let the other person bring it up. it’s their hospital.  don’t make me ask.).  But it has been eye-opening.  Turns out, I know more than I thought I did.

I have been a veterinarian for 12 (TWELVE!?!?!?) years now.  I am starting to feel like I might be fairly okay at it.  (I know this is not at all reassuring to my friends who are also clients who are reading this.  But your pets have survived so far, so that’s pretty good, right?)  And this is my issue.  I totally under-value myself and my abilities.

I’m not sure if I always have, but it’s been there for as long as I can remember.  People are always complimenting me and (like my incredible mother taught me) I accept their compliment gracefully.  But in my mind I am thinking, “Yeah, but…”

Yeah, but I wasn’t sure.  Yeah, but I mess up a lot.  Yeah, but I don’t sing as well as 99% of other people here.  Yeah, but it was luck.  Yeah, but I barely finished the race.  Yeah, but I missed that diagnosis on that other patient last year.  Yeah, but I could have done better.  And that is where it lies.  Yeah, but I could have done better.

My husband looks at me like I’m crazy when I tell him that.  He reassures me and lists all the ways I am awesome (because he is a saint to live with me).  And with each bullet point, I think, “Yeah, but I could have done better.”

I have some confessions:  I almost retook the ACT in high school because I only made a 32.  I almost retook the SAT because a 1450 wasn’t good enough.  I applied to vet school because it was harder to get into than medical school.  (And people are awful.  Bleh.)  I didn’t do a half-marathon until after I did a marathon.  I don’t feel like an Ironman because it took me forever and I had to go to the medical tent.  I’m not a runner because I’m slow. I can sing kind of good, but not great.  (I don’t even have perfect pitch. I can barely sight-read.  I could never be a professional vocalist.)  I am not a great mother because I work and I let my kid watch TV more than she should.  I am not a good veterinarian because I doubt myself and I don’t always just KNOW the answer and sometimes I even get things wrong.

Seriously?  Yes.

The thing is, if someone handed me a list of all the awesome shit I have done or continue to do, I would tell them they are awesome.  I would tell them how amazing they are and how tough they must be to do all this.  I would tell them that no one is perfect and everyone doubts themselves, but that they are doing great.  Better than great.  I would tell them that everything is ok and that life is hard but good.

But as soon as they told me this was a list about me, I’d say, “Yeah, but I could have done better.”

What. The. Hell. Is. Wrong. With. Me?

I don’t think I am alone in this.  And I am aware of it (Knowing is half the battle!  Thanks, GI Joe!!) so there’s that.  But it’s not so easy to change.  It’s been with me for a long time, and I’m having trouble shaking it.  I have to go into these interviews and act like I am worth them hiring me and worth X amount of money, while I’m thinking that maybe I’m not.  Ok, maybe I’m only worth X-Z amount of money.  Maybe I wouldn’t be a benefit to your hospital.  It actually really sucks.  But, like all character building exercises, I’m sure it will be good for me.

I researched this (because I’m a nerd) and it turns out this is not uncommon.  You all probably deal with it too and think I’m just a complainer, but this is my blog so suck it.  It even has a name.  “Imposter Syndrome”  I’m just waiting for people to figure out that I have no freaking clue what I am doing (even though I mostly do, but don’t tell that to my anxiety and my overactive brain…  shhhh) Those articles I read were really interesting, but they didn’t actually tell me how to fix it.  There is probably no cure.  I’m pretty sure it’s terminal.

So I decided that I would make up my own tiny attempt at maybe slightly improving my self-esteem.  Just a tiny bit.  Kind of.  Maybe?

I am going to make a conscious effort to replace one word in my weird internal dialogue.  Instead of “Yeah, but…”  I’m really going to try for “Yeah, and…”  One little word change.  It’s not even a big word.  Three letters.  I mean, that’s what I would say to any one of you.  If you told me your achievements and said, ” …but I would have done better,” I would act like you were crazy and say, “Whatever.  You did this AND you were also dealing with this,” or “Yeah, AND you even did this.”

This may be wildly optimistic, given my track record of failed plans, but I am going to try to catch myself in the “Yeah, but” part and start saying, “Yeah, and.”  It doesn’t even have to be a positive about me.  As long as it isn’t critical about me.  “You sang beautifully.”  “Yeah, and it was such amazing music.”  “Great job on your race.”  “Yeah, and it was such a pretty day.”  “You did a good job with that case”  “Yeah, and isn’t she the cutest cat ever?” “Your resume looks great.”  “Yeah, and I’m a motherf*ckin badass rockstar!!!”  Well, maybe I won’t say that last one out loud.  But, depending on the interviewer, I might.  (And that’s probably the place I would most like to work.)

It’s a tiny change but I’m hoping for at least a little impact.  Maybe it’s about time I try to treat myself like I would treat a friend instead of treating myself like someone might treat a red-headed stepchild…

“I think you’re great”  Yeah, AND I am!    <——- that made me cringe to type.  It sounds so arrogant.  But I’m going to leave it in here.  You all are great for sure!

 

Stories are Powerful

I was thinking about what to write for my next blog post a few days ago. J and I had been talking about how our lives are made of such distinct chapters. I was driving along in the car by myself on a cold, rainy day, thinking about how this part of my life actually seems like a totally separate book. Thinking back a little further, it seems like the previous section was like a separate book too (different husband, different city, totally different life). Okay. So it’s a trilogy. Great, I thought. That means this is the last book. Well, that’s kind of depressing.

My daughter and I watched Maleficent a couple of weeks ago (We’re late to the party. I know. Don’t judge me.) She kept asking why everyone liked Maleficent, since she was the bad guy. Seeing as how her — and our — only point of reference for the character was the Disney movie Sleeping Beauty, we talked about perspective. We talked about how the story can change depending on who is telling it.

I went for a run tonight (Stream of consciousness is fun! Right?!) I had to make myself. I didn’t want to but it was a pretty day and it was 50 degrees and there was no rain or snow and I knew I needed to go outside. But it was getting dark. I was going to run on the main road near my house because it is well-lit and close to home and because my brain told me that was the best thing to do. So I decided to go to the Battlefield instead.

The Battlefield is a mostly wooded area (National Park) where the streets are runner and cyclist friendly, so I train there a lot. It was getting dark, but that doesn’t really bother me. I decided to do the basic 5K route I have done a million times. I am so not into training right now that a 5K is about all I can muster. My brain told me that I was going to run the 5K, no matter what. You’ll never get back into training if you don’t just do it. No stopping. You’re here to run. Suck it up and run.

About 1.5 miles into the run I heard it. One of my favorite sounds. The sound of summertime evenings in the country. The sound of peace and relaxation. The frogs. I heard them even with the music from my headphones pumped straight into my ears. I stopped. No! No. You don’t stop. Runners don’t stop. My brain was so adamant. If you don’t do it today, you won’t ever be able to do it. But another part of me said, Stop and listen to the frogs. They’re only here for a little while. They’re the sound of little me, catching lightning bugs and running barefoot. I stopped. I listened to those frogs and I looked around. I saw the deer wandering around in the fields and in the woods. I watched the squirrels run up the trees. I saw a hawk heading home for the night. I took a deep breath and things changed. I walked the rest of the 5K, headphones off, enjoying the gloaming and the air and the sounds.

Just like that, Maleficent was no longer the villain. My book was not the last of a trilogy. It’s just Book 3 of a series. (It’s probably that character building one that is hard to read and hard to get through, but really important to the storyline…)

Just. Like. That.

Sometimes I need the same lessons as a 5-year-old watching Maleficent.

The story changes depending on who is telling the story. The same is true whether it’s in an old storybook, a movie, or in my head. I have to be careful how I let my mind tell my story. I can choose to be the heroine, not the victim. I can choose to be in a comedy-fantasy-drama (think The Princess Bride), not a tragedy or a Lifetime drama.

We tell ourselves so many stories every day about how we’re not good enough or how we failed at something or how things are going to end badly or how that thing we said was SOOOOO dumb or how we made the wrong decision for our patient/our child/our life or how we’re just not good enough. Well, that’s bullshit. That narrator is really just the worst. So she’s fired.

I get to be the author of my story and it’s going to be a good one.

I Am (not) A Failure

Well, it happened. Here I was thinking that I am so mentally healthy now and I’ve finally gotten control of this whole depression thing and – WHAM – I got knocked back a few steps. Out of nowhere, those thoughts of worthlessness and hopelessness and anxiety just hit me. Everything was fine. It was great, really. Hanging out with my husband and my kid, off work, dinner with friends, mostly cleaned up house. Then there was (as my husband describes it) “a click”. Not audible, I hope, but a distinct change in my thoughts and my actions. I was cranky, I started picking fights, I stopped making eye contact. And in my head, I was only a little aware that I was doing all this. I don’t even remember it all that well. I just remember thinking, “I don’t want to be here anymore. This is all bad and it is never going to be good and it’s all my fault.” What. The. Hell? I’m fine now, so don’t worry. No need to call and check on me. I have a great husband who has had to deal with me for a while now and he’s getting better at noticing when my anxiety is showing. After many, many tears (mine) and some frustration (his) and some confusion (ours), everything calmed down in my head and I was able to go to sleep. The next day, though, I kept thinking about what a failure I was for letting myself get that far down into that hole again. Why didn’t I notice sooner? Why didn’t I try harder to stop those negative thoughts? I scared J. I scared me. It caught us both off guard just enough to shake our sense of stability. It was nothing, nothing like “The Incident”, but it was enough of a reminder of my mental state at the time to shake us both. How had I let that happen?! I had failed. Again.

Failure is my biggest fear. No one likes to fail. I am scared to fail. Terrified. As a matter of fact, I’m just waiting for everyone to figure out that I am really just a big failure who has been fooling them all this time. I lie awake worrying that I made the wrong decision for a patient, that I missed something. I worry that I’m failing as a mother. There are so many things I should be doing that I’m not. I’m not as active as I should be politically; I’m failing to make the world better. Sometimes my fear of failure keeps me from doing potentially awesome things, like auditioning for a stage performance (with speaking parts?!) or joining a chorus or karaoke or dancing with friends or even just dinner if it means having to have conversation with people I don’t know well. Because they might see me as a failure at acting or singing or dancing or conversation or being interesting.

I really have tried to push myself beyond that fear of failure. It’s getting easier (sort of) the more I fail. And I have had some doozies. Here is a tiny sampling: I was booed at a speech in high school (still not sure if that’s a fail, but it was a bit traumatic). My first marriage failed. Of course, there was “The Incident” splashed all over local and regional media. And then there were my first 2 Ironman attempts. Ugh.

My first Ironman was going to be in Cozumel in 2012. I was so dedicated to training. I ate healthy. I trained according to schedule. I lost time with my little girl to go and ride my bike for 5 hours. I was ready. But then the swim happened. I’m not a really strong swimmer, but I’m okay. The water was already choppy when we all got in to tread water until the start. The race started and things were going ok. Initially, you swim “upstream” against the pretty mild current. I started having more trouble making progress and the waves got bigger. Once I made the turn and headed “downstream”, I couldn’t see the buoys. I could see on the ocean floor that they had been dragged down the course. I followed the drag marks as best I could. A paddleboarder helped call out where the next buoy was. I was starting to get really tired and dehydrated (my tongue felt like sandpaper and about 10 times too big in my mouth) from the salt water I kept swallowing. I reached the next turn to head back “upstream”, only this time, it was like a river. The current had picked up tremendously. I held on to a life guard’s float and vomited into the water (it wasn’t too gross because it was immediately swept away by the current). I tried to swim away, but came back to throw up one more time. Then I headed toward the swim exit. Except I didn’t. I swam in place. I swam HARD in place. The paddleboarder said she would stay with me until I got out of the water. She said she had to paddle hard and continuously just to stay with me. If we stopped, we lost so much ground so quickly! I had 20 minutes left before the cut off, but I was making no headway and I started to vomit again. I waved for the boat pick me up. It was my first DNF (Did Not Finish, for you tri-newbs) I cried so hard, hanging onto the paddleboard while we waited for the boat. (Little did I know that it was taking so long because they were busy picking up 400 –FOUR HUNDRED – other swimmers who were also DNFing) I cried because I had failed. I had taken so much time to prepare for this epic thing and I had failed. I wasn’t prepared for that. I wasn’t prepared to fail.

Other swimmers in the boat tried to console me, including a 5 time Ironman finisher and former Flying Tiger. But I sobbed. I had to walk/ride my bike back to the bike transition area, past the cyclists who hadn’t failed. The volunteers were sweet but weren’t sure how I was supposed to get my bike where it needed to be. They weren’t prepared for a failure. I finally racked my bike and waited at the bike course to cheer for my husband, who had waited 40 minutes for me to get out of the water. (This alone was pretty telling. He’s a much stronger swimmer than I, but it had taken him an hour to swim that last 0.5 miles.) Then I jogged back to the hotel at the end of the marathon course to drop off all the stuff in my transition bags that I should have needed but didn’t get to use. People cheered for me, thinking I was still in the race. Thinking I was not a failure. I cried some more. I met J at the beginning of his marathon, wearing my race number, and did the marathon with him. People cheered for us, but it didn’t count for me. Because I was a failure. I was an imposter. He finished and I cheered for him because he is awesome and he never quits. I couldn’t enjoy the full beauty and fun of COZUMEL for the next few days because I had failed.

Then came Ironman Louisville. I was definitely going to do this. I couldn’t deal with failing again. I had trained and trained for the heat and the hills. I knew this race, because J had done it 2 times before. The swim was fine. Upstream and crowded for a little bit but then downstream and just fine. I rolled onto my back and smiled (which broke the seal on my goggles and made them leak for the rest of the swim, but whatever). The bike was going pretty well, but then I couldn’t choke down my nutrition. All the foods and drinks I had practiced with on all those 75, 100, 110 mile rides? Not. Going. To. Happen. I wasted a lot of time trying to get those calories into my stomach, even getting off the bike a few times. Nope. I got off the bike before the cut off, but pretty late. And I couldn’t make my body run. Those brick workouts were for naught. I had no calories and no energy. After mostly walking, I realized there was no way for me to finish in time. I met a girl who was injured and crying because she wasn’t going to finish and I made the decision to DNF. I walked in with her. We talked and I told her about my DNF in Cozumel. I reassured her that it was ok. Whether she finished or not, her friends knew she was awesome. Her husband thought she was incredible for training with all the other stuff she had on her plate. The world would go on. She would get another chance.

I paused and I heard myself. She wasn’t a failure.

This time, I only cried a little when they took my timing chip and confirmed that I was DNF-ing. I stood at that finish line and I cheered as loud as I could for those Ironmen coming into the chute. I was so proud of them. I cheered them in and got so many smiles in return. I loved each one of those sweaty, exhausted, slightly (but only temporarily) broken people as they became Ironmen that night. And I felt only somewhat of a failure.

Now removed from those failures, I can see them as they are. I failed to complete those races, but I was not a failure. I worked hard. I gave everything I could. I made it to the start lines and I pushed myself forward again and again. I got knocked back a few times. But I was not a failure.

Failing to complete something as big as an Ironman is pretty much the worst for someone as afraid of failure as I am. But it happened. And I learned. I learned that my friends love me whether I finish the Ironman or not. My family loves me even if I fail to keep it together all the time. My husband and my daughter love me even if I fail to keep anxiety and depression at bay all the time. And the rest of the world doesn’t care at all. They’re not watching me. They’re worrying about failing at whatever they’re doing.

Each time I fail, it gets easier. It still really, really sucks, but it takes less of a toll on me. Even though I failed to control my depression a few days ago, I’m not a failure. I’m a work in progress.

After all, I’m awesome, not perfect!

Sometimes I need to hear my own voice

I’m having a hard time tonight. I feel like crying. I think it’s hormones. These days, the few days before my period, I am like a toddler. Uncontrollable mood swings from hell. And my tolerance for people is at -45.

Right now I’m sitting at work, even though I could have left 2.5 hours ago, because if I go to the old house, I will fall asleep as soon as I sit down. And I have some shit I need to get done.

My daughter is staying with her grandparents tonight, which is totally cool since she isn’t staying with them as often as she used to. I will have grand plans to write or read or clean or pack or even just paint my nails, but I will sit down and the next thing I know J will be calling to check on me and it will be 11:00. And I will have mush brain but won’t be able to fall back into as deep of a sleep again until 10 minutes before my alarm goes off in the morning. Then boom. Mush brain again.

Plus, I don’t have wi-fi at the old house and I wanted to download some updates for the ol’ electronic devices. And I don’t know what I want to eat. And I’m cranky. And I’m mad at myself for not being healthier or training or just getting my shit together. Right now, I don’t even know where my shit is, much less if it’s together!
————————————————————————————————————-

Whoa.

I was interrupted in my stream-of-consciousness rambling rant when J called to chat. We talked and he was going to get something to eat and play COD (that’s Call of Duty to you uninitiated folks.) That’s how exciting our phone conversations are. When we hung up, I decided to go through some voice memos on my phone. I’m not really sure why. I’m weird like that.

I just listened to a very frustrated, very unhappy, very lost little girl. She hated her job and she couldn’t think and she was feeling very overwhelmed and very much like a failure. She was thinking of writing a letter to a self-help person because she didn’t know what else to do. She cried when she talked about how lucky she was but how broken she felt. I have to admit, I teared up when I heard her. Okay. I ugly cried. I wanted to call her and hug her and tell her everything is ok. That she is ok. That she is depressed and she just needs a little help to get moving again. She needs to tell someone else all that stuff she just told the recorder on her phone. Because she doesn’t have to hide behind a façade of everything being just fine.

I wanted to give my 4 years younger self the gift of knowing she has the strength to get through this, but she can’t do it alone.

It has been a hard 4 years. Until I listened to that scared, broken woman, I didn’t realize how far I had come. I didn’t really realize how long I had been fighting my depression and then fighting even harder to hide it. I’ve survived a lot. My depression was brought out into the sunlight (and internet and tv and newspapers) for all to see and to make — usually erroneous– judgments about.

And here I am.

I am standing. I am smiling more than I am not. I have a happy, healthy, super smart and hilarious daughter and I have a husband who stood by my side through it all.

Oh younger me, I am so sorry I let you stay in that dark place for so long! And I am sorry to know what trauma you have to go through to get back into the sunlight. But I am not sorry to say that you are awesome. You are tough and you are loved and you are amazing. You still have bad days and you still are tired sometimes and you’re not as perfect as you would like. But you are standing tall and you will continue on in the sunlight with the help of all those people who love you, whether you’re perfect or not. (Mostly not. And that’s ok.)

By the way, “those people?” That’s you guys. Thank you for being cheerleaders and companions and spectators along this journey. I appreciate you more than you know. I love you and you are all tougher than you think.

You are an Ironman!

Woah. It’s been a little while since I posted anything on here. I feel like I haven’t seen y’all in a month of Sundays!

 

So, I’m an Ironman now. I don’t really feel any different. But I have a medal and some finishers stuff and 3 fewer toenails than I did before the Ironman. Also, I vomited on the guy who won. The winner. The one who finished the 144.6 miles more than TWICE as fast as I did. He put the medal over my head and said, “You’re an Ironman! Congratulations! Are you ok?” I said, “Yeah. No.” and proceeded to vomit on his shoes. He was so super nice. He just put his hand on my back and said, “Let’s get you an IV.” But honestly, who better to know what it’s like to push your body to the point where you vomit than the guy who WON the race?! (I need to send him a “thank you”/”sorry I vomited on you” email…)

 

Apparently people who finish races do race reports. Trust me, it’s a thing. I’m wordy, so it will be long. (You might want to break it up into chapters. Take an intermission for a snack and a bathroom break.)

 

It wasn’t my first Ironman (first one to finish, but I’ve started a total of 3) so I knew a few things. The first two Ironman races I had attempted, I did with my husband, a true Ironman. He is the reason I ever thought I could do this crazy thing. And he is the reason I was able to finish. He has confidence in me when I don’t. That morning, I was just really, really excited to have a Sherpa. (It’s not a person from Everest. Well, it IS, but not in this context. A Sherpa is what a triathlete calls a super awesome person who lugs all the triathlete’s crap around and wears themselves out as much as the athlete just trying to make it as easy as possible on the racer. [THIS pregnant-at-the-time Sherpa once ran – RAN – a mile back to the car – down and back up a hill – to get a bike computer for her triathlete. Just saying.] A triathlete appreciates his or her Sherpa a WHOLE bunch. And if he/she doesn’t, they suck as a person and should be cursed with only disgusting porta-potties for the rest of their races.) Having a Sherpa meant that I could bring a bunch of stuff with me to keep me comfortable before the race and I didn’t have to discard it when the race started. It could be carried back to the car!

 

Having a Sherpa was especially important to me for this race. Like Ironman Louisville, Ironman Chattanooga is first come, first serve to get into a line for the swim start. The further ahead you are in line, the more total time you have to finish. This is important to slow pokes like me because to be an Ironman, you have to finish the 140.6 miles in less than 17 hours. Except Chattanooga. Because the sunrise is late that time of year, you only get 16.5 hours, if you start at the front of the line. You might only get 16 hours if you start at the back of the line. “What’s 30 minutes, when you’re going to be out there all day?” you might ask. It’s about 6 months worth of training if you’re already cutting it close anyway. Plus, Chattanooga’s bike course is 4 miles too long, so the total distance is actually 144.6 miles. Not that I was counting.

 

My Sherpa and I got up at 3 am to get to transition (where the bikes are located) when it opened at 4:30. I pumped up my tires (thank you for carrying my bike pump, Sherpa!) and we hopped on one of the first buses to the swim start. (We chose not to walk the 2.5 miles to the swim start because I was cranky and nervous and it was cold). We were at the front of the swim line!!!!!! Yay!!! I stole an idea from someone I had seen at Louisville. I brought an inflatable swim float to lie down on. The cold, dewy ground is not something I enjoy lying on in the cold 3 hours before swim start. I am apparently old and it makes my bones hurt. But the float? It. Was. Awesome. Highly recommend. I also brought a blanket and some headphones to drown out everyone else’s nervous (or confident) chatter. I didn’t like being around people before a big exam in school either. STFU TYVM.

 

Michael Franti’s “Life Sounds Like” was playing when I jumped into the water. It’s really a topic for another post, but Michael Franti is incredible and it’s crazy how his music has synched with things going on in my life and really helped me through some hard times. The chorus of that particular song is “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive. Woah, I’m alive.” Many of you don’t know how significant that is, seeing as how I haven’t really written about that on here. But there I was, less than a year after The Incident, jumping into an Ironman swim, even after this challenging year. I couldn’t help but smile. And then pee in the water.

 

The swim was GREAT!!! So fast. All downstream J It was so fast, I had a hard time maneuvering around the buoys! I had a flask with Gatorade in it tucked into my bra, so I didn’t get thirsty like I usually do when I swim for so long. The right eye of my goggles was apparently too tight and was cutting into my face, but I didn’t dare break the seal and risk leaking! I had a pretty nasty headache by the time I got out, but it went away not long after I took the goggles off. When I was fast walking (no running up the swim exit for me!) to transition, I pulled the flask out of my top and a spectator yelled, “So that’s what those are for!” I laughed and waved. I changed out of my swimwear and into my bike shorts and a top. I put on my sunscreen, put on socks and shoes, put on my helmet, and put body glide in any crease on my body. There was no shame in that changing tent.

 

The bike made me smile. It’s my favorite part. Until about mile 90. Then it’s the worst thing ever and I never want to see the bicycle again. I didn’t realize I was going so fast. It was just fun. I had ridden the loops of the course before, so once I got to the loop, it was familiar and I knew how to prepare for the hills. I saw people I know who live along the course and they cheered :) I finally saw my awesome Sherpa husband and our volunteering friends. I saw my boss and his wife at their aid station and then I started the second loop. The second loop wasn’t as much fun. I cursed the hills and my stupid lungs. I ate better than I had in previous races, but I still didn’t get as much nutrition as I needed to, so I cursed my gut too. But I saw my Sherpa husband and friends and my sweet baby girl (who is almost 5) and my in-laws. Then it was a downpour. Along the longest hill of the course. It stopped for a minute just in time for me to have to carefully hold the brakes on the downhill that normally makes up for the long-ass uphill but didn’t this time because I was too afraid to do the usual 30 mph on wet asphalt. And then it started raining again once I headed back toward town. That’s when I realized why it was so fun on the way out. It had all been downhill. It was a difficult grind for those last 10 miles. But then I saw Lee and Christie and Jack standing in the rain, waiting to cheer for me, and I smiled again :)

 

I was thrilled to give my bike to some stranger (volunteer) and walk away to the transition. I didn’t know what they were doing with that bike, and I didn’t really care.

 

I was soaking wet and kind of chilly and the body glide had worn off. I had the foresight to bring more body glide to put on before the run, but I hadn’t thought I might need a towel. (I made a mental note. I won’t forget it again. Just like the mental note I made at my last marathon: Put body glide on the insides of your upper arms, you moron.) I did have dry socks and I put them on, along with my running capris and a visor. I tried to choke down a gel (it finally went down) and I walked out onto the run course.

 

I realized that I hadn’t done enough brick workouts (training workouts when you bike, then run – or swim, then bike) when my legs wouldn’t go up and down as smoothly as I had hoped. Mental note: more bricks. I walked up the hill and saw bunches of people I knew (Christine and Debbie and all kinds of awesome spectators). The first 10 miles weren’t that bad, but it was hard to run. My skin was sore. When it bounced, it hurt. Then I hit that Damn Hill. I realized that I had made another mistake. (Mental note: ALWAYS run the damn marathon course.) As a stand alone marathon, it would have been a difficult one. As the marathon in an Ironman, it made me cry. Steep. Ass. Hill. Downhill for a while, circle around the area where The Incident occurred – great. let’s bring back those traumatic memories during the hardest part of an Ironman. ooooh! let’s do it twice. – then BACK UP the Damn Hill, but from further down, so it’s twice as long. Andrea met me part of the way up the Damn Hill and cheered me along, even running on the downhill when I could make myself do it. Not too much further, I found Barb and my husband, J, who came along too. Andrea went missing before I even had a chance to thank her. I grabbed my special needs beer and headed out for the second loop. I was grateful to have some company along parts of the riverwalk. It was desolate and I was not near other runners. Not well lit along that path, either. About mile 15, Joe and his crew joined me. About mile 18, Kelsey found me and cheered me all the way in.

 

She and J encouraged me, even though I occasionally gave them looks that might have been deadly to lesser humans. At one point, J said something about the course going right by the site of The Incident. Kelsey just said, “Well, you guys are kind of a big deal. It’s like a tourist attraction now.” (Which makes me smile now, even if my face couldn’t manage it at the time) Crossing the pedestrian bridge, I knew I was running out of time, so I started running. I hadn’t been able to stomach much of anything for the last 8 miles or so. I remember looking down at the finish line. It was so far away. Now that is a completely ridiculous and utterly irrational thing to think. It was less than a mile away. I had just gone more than 143 miles. One hundred forty-three miles. And 1 mile was so far that it seemed impossible. They laughed at me and I cried. “There is no way I can get there in time!” J said, “Just don’t stop. You’re an Ironman.”

 

I ran the last mile. I saw the lights and the chute and I started to run faster, excited to give high-fives and smile at the spectators. Then I vomited. It wasn’t the dramatic, my-stomach-is-turning-inside-out kind of vomiting like when you have a stomach virus. It was just going to come on out. So I vomited and kept running. Then I vomited again. And I wiped my hands off on my pants and keep going. People were still trying to high-five me. But I spared them. I did smile :)  And I knew that I was going to hold my arms up when I crossed the finish line if it took the last bit of energy I had. I was going to smile and be triumphant. And I was.

 

Mike O’Reilly came down beside me and said, “You’re an Ironman.” He put his hand on my back and said it again. I smiled at him (and gagged, but luckily he had walked on to the next finisher). The winner gave me a medal, and I thanked him by ruining his shoes. My friends and family were there cheering for me, but I didn’t get to hug them. Volunteers took me to the medical tent and gave me 2 liters of fluids and some Zofran. They even tried to get me a clean medal to replace my gross one, but the medal people had already left. I wanted to go hang out and watch the very last finishers, but they wouldn’t let me :( Finally I left the medical tent, and I was suddenly VERY tired. I wanted to hang out with my sweet family and incredible friends but it was time to rest. I knew I had some really wonderful friends, but I never knew how much they meant to me until that night.

 

If you have never been at the finish line of an Ironman between 11:30 and midnight, you should put it on your bucket list. You will cry and cheer and pull perfect strangers over that finish line with nothing but your energy and your love and it is incredible. You will cry for people you have never met and you will be more proud of perfect strangers than you ever thought possible. Those people who are finishing with no time left on the clock and with nothing left in their bodies except determination are amazing. They are Ironmen. I am proud to be one of those last finishers. It wasn’t the training year I had planned last August, before my life changed. It wasn’t the race I had envisioned. I had some pretty good excuses for not doing as well as I hoped or even for not finishing at all. To even start that race took some determination. To finish…. Well, I’m still processing what that means.

 

And if I can find the money, I’m signing up for Ironman Chattanooga next year. I can do it faster and without winding up in medical. But I can never do it better than I did in September 2014. I gave it everything. I am an Ironman.