Sunday, July 27, 2014

The sprint to triathlons

“Desire is the key to motivation, but it's determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek.”
-Mario Andretti
A section of the Zion 100 course

It was such a fluke accident that occurred to me on 3-31-14 at 3:47 PM. It was an accident that would forever change my life; I tore my meniscus just 4 days from running a race that I trained so hard for.

With my bags already packed and organized, I was 2 days away from getting on an airplane to run the Zion 100.  This was a race that was to be held in the southern Utah desert, adjacent to the Zion National Park in Utah. It was a race that I had trained so unbelievably hard for months on nothing but hills. I worked hard at being efficient at running and speed walking up any hill! So, I was standing in front of a group of Jr. High track athletes giving them instructions when my right knee popped; it felt like it had given out, I couldn’t walk instantly. After about 30 minutes, I was able to get to my car with help. By then my knee was starting to swell and it hurt. I drove myself to the ER and once there, honestly it seemed as if the medical staff could care less, they called it Runner’s Knee, a very general term. The doctor looked at me with her cold eyes and said, “You’re not running your race!” Luckily, a wonderful PT and friend took a look at me that night and the next day. My knee was completely swollen, I couldn’t run, I could barely walk and I couldn’t make a decision on the race: should I still go? I was in shock! She helped me decide to not go, Zion indeed needed to be cancelled. It was such a huge upset.  I would soon learn that all summer races needed to be cancelled because after visiting with 2 knee doctors, not only did I have a torn meniscus, it had flipped. I also learned that I have been living with a partially torn ACL and it was causing me to have early arthritis. The ACL injury is a 25 year old injury from a volleyball incident that I do remember. What a shock! I at first didn’t believe the doctor and of course he wanted to perform surgery on both problems. I was more upset about the torn ACL! I had run so many miles on this “torn ACL.” I had run at least seven 50’s, 71 miles and a 100 and now I was being told that I needed to have surgery on this ACL! I thought, “Why should I and why do I have to?” It was also suggested to me that I should only run ½ marathons! That one never sunk in, in one ear and out the other.  I did extensive research on people with old torn ACL’s and learned that surgery wasn’t exactly necessary. I did a few Physical therapy appointments over the next few weeks and my swelling eventually went down. Because, I also decided to move up my needed Inguinal Hernia repair to the same day as the race, (at least I could be in pain from an event, right?)  I had to listen to that doctors instructions. So, I swam when I could, I walked when my knee was feeling better, I was going to a class called WillPower & Grace and then I bought a bike. I went to my preoperative appointment with the knee doctor.  I decided that I definitely wasn’t doing the ACL repair but would go ahead with the meniscus repair even though my knee wasn’t bothering me! The doctor examined me; pulling and pushing and poking at my knee. I told him how active I was and in the end, he cancelled the surgery and I was so happy. He mentioned that sometimes a flipped meniscus can flip back. I thought, “By the grace of God!” He did warn me that I probably should cut back on the running and that was when I came up with the idea to go ahead and give triathlons a try. I had been told so many times already that I should try a triathlon since I could swim well. Going to the pool was my hobby, it was fun. I had even swum up to 4 miles in the pool at one time. I enjoyed it.  The knee doctor thought triathlons would be an excellent idea.

My only concern over the idea of doing triathlons was open water swimming. Since I was a child, I have always had a problem with even sticking my toe in anything that I couldn’t see the bottom of. Heck, I had a problem with being the only swimmer in a pool! I could literally feel a shark nipping at my toes when I was the only one!  Seriously, I was scared to death! Was it because I had seen my dog almost drown in the ocean as a child? Was it because of the movie Jaws? Thanks mother!
My visions of Jaws eating me
Whatever it was, I avoided the open water. Because of this fear, I only had one experience in the open water and that was swimming across the Smith River in California one time.  I decided to go for the Sprint distance (1/2mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3 mile run.) By the time the sprint triathlon came around, I had already rode a lot of miles on my bike, even up to 72 miles at one time. I was good at riding 12 and running 3 and every so often, I snuck in higher mileage, just in case. I was able to go to one open water practice prior to the Sprint Triathlon, but not until I had my experience with a wetsuit: I got two bloody fingers and almost had a heart attack from simply getting the thing on! The swim training was in the Willamette River in Portland. It was an organized swim by the Zing3 coaching team. It started at Cathedral Park, under the beautiful St. Johns Bridge.  I was to swim to the guy in the Kayak and then back for 500 yards total and of course; I could go as many times as I wanted. I initially was just going to swim out and back once! But, I went 3 times. That first time out and back was so scary (no dead bodies please) and I was breathing so hard, but I did it! The second 500 yards, I achieved my goal of trying to simply calm down. The 3rd time out, I focused on my stroke. I was thrilled that I did any of it! What a huge accomplishment for me.

2 days later, it was time for the Sprint Triathlon. The Sprint tri was held at Hagg Lake in Forest Grove, OR on
Hagg Lake
July 12th. I got to the race 2 ½ hours early and was very ready to go by the time my turn came up to swim. Heading out, I could see the first buoy, but the 2nd one, um not so much. I stopped swimming, took off my goggles and thought, “Now why are all those ladies going the wrong way?”  I decided I better follow them and I did.  After the 2nd buoy, I pretty much thought that I was going to drown because I was panicking and I remember telling myself, “ten more strokes!” and I counted them. I made it out of the lake and got on my bike for a hilly ride, but I felt better, I was able to breathe again! Once the run came, I really couldn’t feel my legs and it took several minutes to be able to run normally, especially since for a ½ mile, the course was run on a horrible, rugged terrain that was easily an ankle twister. (Great for my knee, right?) Once out of that and back on the pavement, I was able to run more normally and finished the entire race in 1:50:54 (with transition times). This included a 16:40 minute swim! (My pool practice time was 22 minutes.) Athletes Lounge credited the suit, I credited my fear. The bike time was 51:53 and the run 36:35

Triathlon finisher!

Because of the swim, I initially decided that I wasn’t going to go any further up the triathlon scale just yet.  I was going to stick with the Sprint distance and not move on to the Olympic distance (1 mile swim, 24 mile bike and a 6 mile run). However, I knew my only trouble spot was the swim and I would have 3 “I’d better make them count!” opportunities in the Willamette River to train for the Olympic distance swim, 1 mile.

At Cathedral park looking at the St. Johns bridge
I’ve been training very hard since that first triathlon. I decided to purchase my own wetsuit to avoid the rental fees and the back and forth trips in to Portland to pick up and return the suit. I have been swimming at least 2 miles at the pool on Tuesdays and I’m still swimming with the group on Thursday nights. I still don’t like it, but kind of look forward to it. Driving to the group swim on July 24th, I kept thinking back to my childhood and my fear of swimming in open water and I thought, “How did I get here?” This last group swim, I came to the river with two goals: to go out and back 5 times for 2500 yards or 1.42 miles and to not grab my water for 3 loops.  I achieved my goal of the 2500 yard swim and surpassed my no water rule, I made it 4 times!  (This is a miracle as I take and drink my water when I visit the bank!)  I felt great! I really feel that I have improved my open water swimming and my fear is almost gone. I already feel ready for the Olympic Triathlon coming up on August 3rd in Fairview, OR. I will have one more opportunity to practice. As far as the bike and run go, I’m ready and yes, my knee is feeling good with the higher distance. I had even run 9 miles a few days ago.

“We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we've established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep. It makes everything else in life so wonderful, so worthwhile.” –Earl Nightingale

Since my injury, I was forced to slow down my running, 70 weekly miles to now 20! I also have slowed down my need to get involved in “just one more event.”  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking; I honestly never much liked trail running. I never liked “having” to run in the freezing cold Portland weather. Why do I have to train for a January Ultramarathon? I mean honestly, who was I doing all this running for? I don’t think it was for me any longer. I think somehow, having so many Facebook friends and followers and a Facebook page with people who looked up to me, there became this pressure to perform. I was no longer running for myself. I wasn’t even enjoying it. I was signing up for one event after another, but when it came down to it, I didn’t want to participate in them.  So I believe this injury has forced me to look inside myself and forced me to ask “what is it that I want to do now? What is driving me? What do I enjoy? I do have a lot of soul searching to do, but I still want to run ultramarathons and I still have the goal to run Badwater. (Badwater has been a goal of mine since 2005, when I ran my first marathon.) However, my new goal is to do an Ironman. I’ve learned firsthand that sometimes:  “A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.”-Bruce Lee
Whatever I decide to do, I'm sure it will be awesome because I still firmly believe that I can do anything that I set my mind to and nothing will ever stand in my way!

My ACL research:

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