Sunday, May 24, 2015

Believe, do something

Last week was a lot more manageable. Not only I had Monday off and spent a few good hours riding my bike with friends, but it also went pretty well on all fronts (work, family, monster slaying). Thanks to Emma, there is even a new picture of Zin and I worth of a frame now. Aren't we cute?
It's now saved as wallpaper on all my electronic devices. In my happy place with the love of my life, it can't get better than that.
Here are a few more from the day because why not?
We had to wait for a train. Now that was a first.
Then Zin posed with our fearless ride leader Emma, who just as I thought, has grown some nice muscles in those legs of hers over the winter. I can't even. She's now waaaaay stronger. But I love her just the same. She's going to kick some serious ass in her first ever triathlon season.
On Tuesday I took a day off. Alas not from work, but I gave my legs a rest since riding 100km over two days was a bit of a shock to them.

However, I showed up to the track the next day, especially after promising to a young member of our club that I would work out with him. I took him under my wing since he joined and it's amazing to see him taking his first steps into triathlon so to speak. He's determined, and I think that he will do pretty good once he gets a little more confident. For now it's all about enjoying the process of learning new skills and building a good base, one km at a time. I am really happy for the opportunity to be there for him.

So we did the speed workout and overall we ran/walked for 5.6km. My legs felt just fine, but mostly because it was interval work and I gave myself plenty of rest in between the fast laps. It was a short workout, but it made me believe that a comeback may be around the corner. My PT seems to have a plan for me. He keeps telling me that I'm making progress and I have a sneaky suspicion that, not only he wants me to go back to running, but also get faster.

On Thursday I went to the pool and swam 3 x 700m in my ROKA SIM shorts. Despite being a bit lower in the water than the week before, I managed to swim 5sec faster per 100m, mostly due to paying attention to my stroke for as long as I could keep focus. I'll timidly call this progress.

Then on Friday I went to my physio where I worked hard as usual, doing all kinds of running and strength focused exercises. This PT really knows how to tap into your psyche and make you feel good about yourself. Which may have been a little foolish of him, because this happened as soon as I got back to the office:
Yes, you read this right. 5 races (because discounts matter)! All sprints, with the exception of Wasaga Beach Triathlon. For now the Muskoka 70.3 is still on the schedule, but I will most likely drop out after the swim, or the bike or walk the 1/2 marathon, or not do it at all. I will be there because it's my hubbs' A race, but I don't have any expectations for myself. It'll probably be as foolish to even toe the line.

Alright, so now that's done, I'd better get in the groove, right? On Saturday I went back on my bike, this time with the FMCT tri club. It was a very chilly day (only 2C when I woke up!), but Zin and I plus 3 other brave souls showed up and we rode to Erin for a treat at Holtom's Bakery, then came back all schuss on Mississauga Rd, which is always a great adrenalin trip. I didn't even beat my fastest time on this downhill, but of course, I wasn't drafting behind Zin. Here are some pictures from day because they are all awesome memories.
I came back home and relaxed for the rest of the day, then on Sunday I did it again. Well, not quite, but our club organized a "brick day" and this time I showed my young friend how to change gears on his brand new road bike and bomb all downhills because it's always a pity not to! Then we ran for a bit on the Caledon Trailway and called it a successful day.

Needless to say, I feel much better today.
Almost 9h of training this week. Say whaaat?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

IT hurts

Every time I come out of a crisis, I feel completely lost about how and what to write here. Should I talk about it, should I just brush over the subject, or completely ignore it? IT. The monster living inside my head that takes over my thoughts and chews my brain, inch by inch until it feels about to explode. It's hard to explain if you've never been inside my brain. It hurts, a lot. It hurts my head, it hurts my body, it's rather unbearable the way I feel trapped inside a very tiny room with white walls. I can only make one step in each direction before I start to panic, over ventilating, heart beating out of my chest, in full panic mode. There is no way out, the pressure on my chest, the claustrophobic feeling triggered by the overwhelming amount of thoughts that keep bouncing inside my head. Many times I think there is no way out. It's just a matter of when I am going to lose the fight.
I start folding the laundry. It keeps my hands busy. It keeps me in a state of usefulness. The 3 baskets of clothes have been waiting for me for 2 weeks, but I ignored them. With more clothes added to the pile, the less adequate I feel for the task at hand. I manage to put away 1 basket and a half. But one hour from now, another one will take its place. It always feels like a sisyphean task. And predictably enough, I start crying again. Two hours of crying is quite a workout. Some days, it's all I can do for my family as I leave most of my energy at the office. I live in a constant state of mental drain. If it makes sense, I dream of a brain battery that I can recharge on the spot, like a robot.

Physically, there is a long way to being active to the point where I don't hate myself. I usually feel active enough to work out, but looking in the mirror is always hard. I miss the days when I had the energy to move mountains and I was not broken both mentally and physically. The month so far has been like a long walk through a swamp. Not only I did a lot of physio workouts, but those didn't get me outside of the house enough. This week I tried putting a little spin on my workdays so to speak, by biking to work and back. I've always been fearful of the drivers in my city, they are rather... intense. I made it 2 days back and forth and I didn't die. Now that was surprising. Each ride took just a little under 30min, and overall I enjoyed them. Which means that for the first time in a long time, I biked 3 times this week. And I smiled every single time.
It gives me hope to see these smiles. If I can be outside, if I can focus on things that bring me joy, I feel safe. I may be the least safe on the road, dodging cars and potholes, but being alone with my thoughts is certainly more dangerous.

I also had company this weekend. My friend Carol spent 2 days at my place with her boyfriend. She is training for the mighty Ironman Muskoka and she went on her longest ride ever yesterday with my hubbs and 2 other friends of ours. I couldn't go because I'm not fit to ride over 100km and I already go against my doctor's orders every weekend with the rides that I lead for my tri club. This picture that we took just after a long and gorgeous descent today, reminded me of our best times on the road, training for our first 70.3, two years ago.
In two weeks from now we'll be returning to Muskoka for a training weekend with the club, but once again I won't be allowed to ride long. I'll have to find a lot of mental tricks to stay present. Ideas are welcome... At least my boys will be with me and maybe they will be willing to spend some quality time with their mom instead of staring into their phones.

This post is bouncing all over the place and I'm not sure where to go from here. So maybe I'll just talk about today. It was our club's first race simulation day event, where we swam, biked and ran, just like in a race. We even had transition racks hand made by Zin.
With 16 people in attendance, it sure was a very successful event. We swam in circles for a while, simulating open water swimming, and that was a lot of fun.
Then we went on the bike ride and I chose to lead the 40km group. Other people, more speedy than me chose to go on their own, others did the 55km loop or the 20km one. To each their goals. I have no goals other than staying outside of the dark corners of  my brain.
I found the same uphills and downhills that I've been enjoying in the past few years, but traveling across these roads is always a new adventure. You never know what your legs are capable of. Today, it took mine more than 20km to go from wet noodles to pistons. I made it back with a big grin on my face, then I finished with a run. My longest run this year, 5km, wow. It took me 34min, between walking up the hills, taking pictures of other runners in the group and stopping to smell the lilacs.
My knees started to hurt at 4km, but I ran/walked the last km and made it back in transition where I scarfed down a few pieces of watermelon because it was the best ever. Then I went home, ordered food for lunch and collapsed in the couch with a beer. I am hoping that it refueled me enough to reach the end of another week without banging my head against (invisible) walls.

And since this is a long weekend, tomorrow I'll be riding with friends again, but this time from Burlington. I love me a slice of Escarpement, but I may not be able to keep up with Emma, who just finished the 8 Days in California Trainer Road Challenge. Read all about it here. She has become a beast on the bike... but maybe, just maybe she will be tired enough so we can chat in between hills.

What else? I don't feel like going into too many details of the last weeks worth of workouts. I reached 7h of workouts/week, with the help of bike commutes and picking the garbage on the side of the road at the semi-annual Adopt-a-Road club event. The physio focus is still there, but not as intense. I forget to stretch throughout the day, but I foam roll more often than before. I have made great progress in strength and agility and the physiotherapist seems rather happy with me, but I haven't seen a major difference in my knee pain just yet. Trying to stay patient. And remember to stretch. If you feel inclined to see how I filled in my weeks, here's a Training Peaks snapshot.
As for the state of my mind, one day at a time... it's all I can do. I know that most of you, for not knowing my past, assume that I am still dealing with the Ironman blues, or that I got depressed for not being able to run, or because I am not losing weight, or some other vain trait. Before I end this post, I wanted to tell you that this isn't the case. Why do I feel the need to justify myself? Because of articles like these which are hard to avoid nowadays. You see a lot of smiles on this blog, but I have plenty of pictures crying as well. The smiling pictures help me go back to those moments of joy. The sad ones have their purpose too, but I don't feel like bringing other people down with publishing them. I have been depressed for over a decade. Running and exercise just helps me cope with it. For the rest, there is no magic wand or snapping out of it. IT just is.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In Physio Focus

I have been staring at this white screen way too many times in the past month, wondering what I could write about. Last time I wrote it was all about doing more of what made me happy. And I did follow suit, however these opportunities were far and in between. There is a sort of lassitude that is slowly creeping in. The less I work out, the less I am motivated to do it, kind of -
"without running, what's the point?". I know it's silly, but I am slowly losing the passion, the fire that ignites my willpower. Without races on the horizon, without a coach, without a plan, it's easy to fall back into the couch potato routine.
Pretty sure I was about to cry. Thank God for that Larabar.
I managed to drag my sorry ass out for a swim every week, hot yoga once a week and a bike ride or two every week, mostly outdoors. However, I've only tried running once for 15 minutes, and that was rather uneventful. Another reason for this decrease in activity has been because I've started working with a new physio therapist and I was told to stay put. Everything has to be "easy" and no runs longer than 20 min for now. But I am very busy taking care of my hips and glutes. All physio work is targeted towards strengthening these areas, so I've been trying to be a good student and fit in as many exercises as he prescribed.

I went to see this guy, who was recommended to me by half a dozen people for being the best at fixing wonky knees and shredded IT bands. I could not afford going last year because I had maxed my physio budget before my IT bands decided to go on strike. But as the new year started, I made it a mission to have a gait analysis done and find out what it would take to fix my legs so I can return to running. His practice is just 5 min away from my office, so that worked out perfectly. The good news is that I run well and he had nothing to say about my gait. He said things like "natural ability", "great posture", "talent" blah blah blah. Maybe he was just trying to be nice. But anyway, then he went on giving me the not so nice picture about my strength. "You are nowhere near as strong as you should be for doing the kind of distances that you chose". Or rather, I am not strong in the places that I should be, like hips and glutes. I've heard this one before... But only now I've been given extremely specific exercises that target precisely those areas. And gosh, he has me working hard.

He said that if I were to do just sprint triathlons or run 5Ks, he would have just told me to go home and not bother, but since I made him understand that running long distances is important to me, he is committed to seeing me returning to doing what I love. And he wants to follow me throughout the entire season to make sure I keep on doing things right. Not once he tried to sway me away from doing long distances or to tell me that I am destroying my body, like many other therapists said before. He isn't Lisa Bentley's PT for nothing. I really liked the guy. He also took time to explain every single exercise and how it affected my body. He puts a lot of emphasis on doing all exercises with such focus and purpose, it's almost intimidating when you think about engaging all these muscles during a single stretch or exercise. Like the bridges below. Try doing them on your heels, tilting your pelvis, squeezing your butt and the legs to keep them close to each other. And don't forget to breathe. Ouch.

He has me on a 40% mobility, 40% stability and 20% strength routine. I don't have the video to share with you, but when I run, my knees collapse inwards and good running technique can only take me that far before knees and hips start complaining. It's all normal since I sit at least 10h a day and then I add more sitting on the bike. So now I have to get up every hour and stretch my hip flexors and IT bands. I have to do a variation of the "couch stretch", by using my desk, with a good posterior pelvic tilt and glute recruitment, at least 5-6 times a day. At home, I get to do daily bridges and work with bands, and a thousand jumps and core stuff. Here's what this week's torture session looked like:
  • 10 x bridges 10 sec on/off 
  • 10 x bridges with leg and arms lift 10 sec on/off 
  • 5 x 5 lateral steps each direction with 2 bands 
  • 12 cross leg stretch on step and opposite side lunge, each leg 
  • 5 x 10 basic stance hops 
  • 5 x 10 left leg runner forward stance hops 
  • 5 x 10 right leg runner forward stance hops 
  • 5 x 10 forward/backward hops 
  • 5 x 10 forward/backward hops with open/close stance 
  • 10 cross step and side lunge with bands, each direction 
  • 10 x 10 sec low plank with arms on bosu ball
  • 5 x 10 sec side plank with leg lift each side
Band Level Up! Twice the bands, twice the resistance.
Sweat makes perfect
Can you guess how sore I am? These exercises make me grunt and sweat with each step! But after 2 weeks of work, the PT seems to be happy with my progress, so fingers crossed that I'm on schedule for his 6-8 week prediction of seeing real improvement (aka no more pain while running).

What else can I share? Maybe a little more of that stuff that makes me happy? It may not have been all unicorns and rainbows, all the time, but sure it did the trick, at least for a while.
Warm enough to wear my new Coeur bike jersey
Riding my bike with hubbs
Channelling my inner cycling diva before falling on my face (true story)
I knew I could turn the gloom around. Now that was a beautiful day worth reminiscing. Just looking at these pictures makes me smile!! 

What else did I do that made me happy? 

First, I got my NCCP coaching certification. Yessir!! I am supposed to sound legit and shit when I talk triathlon now. Just don't forget to talk to your doctor before doing anything I say, mmmmkay? Not that I plan on giving up my day job for becoming a coach any time soon... But at least I keep my mind entertained with knowledge since I cannot keep my body busy with practice.
Second, I managed to renew my Hot Yoga pass! For cheap. And I'm not even a Goodlife member. Don't ask me how I did it, as it may, or may not have required a pig tail and the blood of a virgin.
Last but not least, I met a bunch of friends and we had dinners and fun together. Friends make everything better!! Here is Phaedra and I eating ALL THE SUSHI and chatting up a storm. I love this girl!
Okay, I think that's enough smiles and good news to redeem this post. What say you? Here I click Publish.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Do more of what makes you happy

"Do more of what makes you happy" - It's the key to bouncing back up, and a mug that I've seen on Pinterest and bought earlier this week because I need the constant reminder. There aren't many options, but when Mother Nature gives you two days at +10C and sunny skies, you take time off from work and go for it!
So  I took Thursday off and along with Good Friday and the weekend, I knew I was in for a treat. After starting the day with a steering committee meeting that I had to hold over the phone since it was super important (and I was the host), I turned on my "Out of Office" notification and called it a day work wise. I could not wait to get the fun started!

Truth is, I didn't quite know what to do with myself. Zin was working, the kids were in school and I had no plans on having fun alone. I spent a few hours on the couch, but I don't even remember watching TV. I do remember counting down the hours to the moment I'd go on a bike ride with hubbs though. Eventually, it happened.

Empty roads, a strong head wind and patches of snow still on the ground. And a crooked horizon because I am out of practice taking photos while I ride.
I also had a crooked helmet because it hadn't been worn it in months and who knows what happened in the garage while it was sitting in its box? Oh well, stop looking at the helmet and look at our smiles instead. I *think* Zin was smiling.
It was a short hour to reunite with my bike and my balance skills. But also with all the feelings that bring me happiness, even temporary like the endorphin high. It may have only lasted for an hour, but it filled the day with enough awesome to make it memorable.

And the next day? Guess what? I did it again!! This time I took a few folks from the tri club to Belfountain and we ended being on the roads for more than 3h. It was still windy and cold, but the company warmed my heart. And this smile? It stayed the entire weekend!
Not even the aborted run on Saturday could kill my mood. I spent most of this short break watching movies (Mad Max 1 & 2, Into the Woods, The Imitation Game, Annie) and doing things that I love. Okay, folding the laundry doesn't count. That always sucks. But I cooked healthy food and it turned out pretty tasty (yay me!), took care of my sore muscles by stretching, rolling and icing. I even did a strength workout focused on my hips and glutes.

I talked to my mom and my best friend in France today, I put on my compression tights which I haven't worn in months, I even went on Zwift island for another spin to help my legs recover from the failed run.

What else? Long weekend shenanigans aside, should I mention that on Monday I ran 30 minutes non stop? That almost did not hurt. On Tuesday I went to the pool where I introduced two new members of our club to our swim workouts. I swam a few lengths too, the first in weeks. I didn't like it, but what else is new? I prefer showing people good swimming technique from the deck rather than getting wet. Besides, I'm such a mediocre swimmer that nobody should take my own swimming technique as gospel. Do what I say not what I do, okay? And with this last thought, maybe it's worth mentioning that I also signed up for  a NCCP triathlon coaching course this coming weekend. Don't you worry, I'm not going to give up my day job yet, but at least I'll feel more confident about the advice I give to people starting in triathlon, who ask for it quite often. I really enjoy seeing people falling in love with the sport and I believe that having a good mentor makes a big difference. As I will be spending this year on the sidelines due to my injuries, at least I can make myself useful. And that makes me happy too.

"Do more of what makes you happy" is going to be my mantra and one way out of this. I give you my word.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

One week you're the hammer, another week you're the nail

Strange, strange days. Two weeks ago I was all about ramping back up my bike workouts and increasing my run frequency, but things just didn't turn out that way. I had a relatively good first training week, starting with Hot Yoga on Monday, then the 3 scheduled workouts as part of the Base Building Training Road program, which I pretty much aced, for once. See all details here if you are inclined to read wattage and heart rate and all that cool stuff.
The runs, however, just went downhill from there. The first one, on Wednesday was actually pretty good, I managed to run without pain for 27min non stop, a whooping 4km! I was hopeful to say the least. On Sunday, however, I only managed 2.5km, about 15min of running, until the knee pain came back. I decided to walk back home, but it was so damn cold that I called Zin to pick me up, then we drove straight to Tim Hortons for a tea. I took this picture just seconds before I jumped in the car.
Despite the sucky knee letdown, I was still in good spirits.

Last run was this week on Thursday, after spending most of the day crying and unable to deal with anxiety attacks. I had to come home at lunch time because I was not able to talk to people face to face without an emotional breakdown. At some point I even considered calling Zin to pick me up because I was afraid of driving by myself. I feel very vulnerable posting this picture but I know it helped me process my feelings, like looking from the outside in, if it can make sense. Seeing myself in distress makes my brain think more rationally and helps me detach from it (to each their own, I guess).
So anyway, I managed to keep my mind busy that day, working from home and arguing with people on the phone, which has become rather the norm lately. Then in the evening I went out for a run, but had to start walking again after 25min because of the same dreaded knee pain. These runs have become rather predictable.

And that's it. No other workouts. An insane amount of work made me too exhausted to move a single limb. On Tuesday, I made it home at 2am, completing my longest work day ever, 16h non stop. Part of me is telling myself that it's not worth to jeopardize my health for my career, but truth is, most days it bring me a lot of satisfaction for a job well done. After quite a few years of being treated like crap, my job is appreciated and I feel that I am making a difference. This too shall pass, right?

That day I also quit the nutrition program which I was following since January. While I completely agree with its teachings and I know that it works well for others, I could not get myself to remove enough sweets and treats from my diet, which would be the key to my weight loss. They are a coping mechanism and since I am not taking any medication for my depression and anxiety, I cannot afford removing them right now. Not losing any weight and seeing others being successful at it had also become an additional source of stress, so I preferred to detach myself from the other participants in the program and focus on what I can control.

In a move that can be seen as self-sabotaging, Zin and I went to Erin on Saturday to visit Holtom's Bakery where we bought a few sweets for the entire family and some amazing bread. I only had one butter tart and a scone, and I have been fighting with my will power since. But it was "good for the soul" after such a miserable week and I realize that we are healing ourselves with food, but we have no time for psychotherapy.
Then we went on a little drive on our favorite summer biking routes, and stopped by the Cheltenham Badlands for a quick dose of fresh air.
I see a few tentative smiles, so things are looking up!

Today was Around the Bay 30K race. I missed this race last year because I was training for the Ironman and my coach thought it would be a bad idea to put such a high mileage on my legs at that point in time. This year I had a bib for the 15K relay, but I had to give it up. Since I barely can run 4km, it would not have been very wise. But Zin was racing it and I could not miss the opportunity to see how the day would unfold for him, and for many of my Daily Mile friends.
2:12:50 later, Zin crossed the finish line spent, but he achieved his goal of getting a silver medal in the oldest race in North America, given to all men participants who finished between 2h and 2h15. Those who finished under 2h received a gold medal. Last year he missed it by 3 minutes, so it was a sweet victory to come in with more than 2min to spare.
I am so proud of him!! He continues to inspire me every single day with his perseverance and desire to better himself in his athletic endeavors, as well as trying to be the best hubby a woman could wish for. And I am also proud of the friendships that I made over the years thanks to running, and to Around the Bay. This race started it all, so it's only logical that it became my favorite. Thank you my friends, you know who you are!!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

It's all about that base

Yeah, what about that base? That base is gone, RIP!

Between the crazy work schedule, the lack of energy and motivation, and the lack of cooperation from my knees, I had to put the biking workouts on pause for a while. Two months more precisely. The last group spin was, as a matter of fact, on January 5th and since then... not much that could count as bike training, not even maintenance. When I received my Coeur Team kit though, it motivated me to return to triathloning. This girl gotta represent, right?
So I decided get my ass back in the saddle and follow one of the Trainer Road plans to bring some spin back in my legs.  Initially, I wanted to do the Sustained Power Build plan for triathletes. It started with a 20 min test, but I chose to do the 8 min one instead. I didn't have high hopes and indeed, the test managed to put me to shame as early as the first interval.
I hovered just above the current FTP line, way below the target. The whole test was pure torture. I could no longer hold a good 90rpm spin, and I had to grind my way through it. At the end I was served with this piece of news.
I didn't know how to react. My ego was hurt, the legs were screaming in silence and I could feel the nausea making its way up towards my throat. I decided to sleep on it and not draw any conclusions. I left my FTP as it was with the goal of reevaluating after the following workout.

Two days later, boom: Avalanche Spire. 6 intervals of 6 minutes over-under the threshold. Jeez, already?? I knew these were going to hurt, but I felt motivated enough to attempt them on the old FTP. I only managed to complete 5 of them (plus the warmup that wasn't shabby either), then the legs shut down and refused to cooperate any longer. Hitting the wall had never been so predictable.
I chose to show my HR zones above so you can see how much time I spent around threshold. This one felt like another test. It destroyed me. And once I got off the bike I made the decision to change the plan and go back to building a base again. Obviously, my base was nowhere to be found and I figured that if I continued working this hard, I would have set myself up for another injury, given how much my hips and glutes hurt afterwards.

Thankfully the pain subsided significantly since and it allowed me to get back on the bike for the third workout of the week. However, I switched to the Sweet Spot Base Low Volume I plan, so I am back to square one, literally.

I also lowered my FTP by 10 watts and swallowed my pride. The Ego will live. And so with the new setup, I did Baxter today, which wasn't that easy either. It was supposed to be 1.5h of sustained aerobic effort, but as you can see from my heart rate drift, I ended doing a third of it at threshold. Not pretty at all.
Oh well, it is what it is. I'm already over it. Bringing the FTP down and changing plans was a good decision given my obvious lack of fitness.

In other news, I continued the Hot Yoga on Mondays, I went skiing again, and managed to fit in another Zumba class. All in all, things are moving forward, but running hasn't seen any improvement yet. I had to give up my Around the Bay 15K relay bib up because it would not have been smart to race while I still have pain in the knees. I'll have to save my crawling skills for the finishers' carpet in Kona (you never know... lottery results are coming!).

I really wanted to know how bad it was... And so one night I laced up my sneakers and decided to run 5K without stopping. It was still very cold and this may have had a negative effect, but as expected, after 20-25min, my left hamstring and calf started tightening up and knee(s) to hurt to the point that I had to walk. It took me 38min to make it back home. Again, not surprised. I am still hopeful, still going to my massage therapist, still poking and probing one muscle at a time.

This past Wednesday I asked him to concentrate on my IT bands, which were of course, as bad as I imagined and he also found the muscles along my left shin to be extremely tight and painful. Never a dull moment... Friday I went for another run... Again, I wanted to run without stopping, and I made it home pain free as I ran for 17 min straight. I know that I did not reach the 20 min threshold, but it was nice to have a pain free run, that really felt like a run. I had to concentrate on keeping a good form with each step, engaging my glutes and trying not to shuffle as I usually do. Anyway, I know that it didn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, but it was a good moment to savour, if only for a night.