Taking the Downs With the Ups

The last few months have been a whirlwind of change, development, growth, excitement, success and – most recently – a bit of frustration. It’s all been an experience, and I’m excited to share the updates of what has been going on.

At the end of January I boarded a plane, bound for Kona, where the team of Purplepatch pros descends every year for a several-week training block. I love our camps – our crew has this really unique ability to push each other to new limits, all while supporting each other, AND while living in close quarters for an extended period of time. My bestie, EK Lidbury, astutely said one night at dinner how amazing it was that 8 athletes, beasted and famished could collectively navigate our way around a kitchen in an amicable way without ripping each other’s heads off in a scurry to get food in our stomachs at every meal. She could not be more right. It’s a hilarious sight actually – all of us arriving home, dripping sweat, dirt covering our bodies, stinking like no other, all racing to the kitchen, a few profanities here and there about how “F-ed” someone is, all shoving our faces with food. And then suddenly, the frenzy is over, everybody clears out, and the house becomes dead silent as everyone retreats to their little nooks to nap, watch episodes of “Breaking Bad”, talk to their kids, read a book – whatever. And then, as the next session approaches, we all emerge, slowly at first, and then the eating frenzy begins again before we head out the door to be beasted all over again.

I love it. And I love the camaraderie and positive environment that our team fosters and creates. It is truly a special team that Matt has created.

One day in the middle of camp, Matt and I sat down and had a long talk about where I was, what our goals were (short- and long-term) and what we needed to do to get there. We both agreed that this year would be a defining year for me in my career, and that it was imperative for me to step up and start racing “like a big girl”. I had expired my two years of “new-to-the-game pro” status and was in a place where I either needed to become a contender, or re-think where my career was headed. I’m not in this sport to be average. I’m in this sport to be great. I want to win. And with that comes an expectation in terms of my progression as an athlete.

We asked the questions: how do we make that happen? What do I need to do? What has been working? What needs to change?

Collectively we decided the best option for me was to head up to San Francisco to spend time directly in front of Matt. We planned for me be there for 2 months. As soon as I arrived back in Los Angeles, I packed my bags, said goodbyes to my amazing group of friends in LA and drove up to San Francisco.

And…it became almost immediately evident that the decision was a wise one. Everything I had been needing and looking for (and things I didn’t even realize I needed) was there in front of me. Matt has pushed, supported and encouraged me to become a stronger and better athlete, and I have started to evolve.

While swimming has taken less of a priority in terms of my training hours, every second spent in the pool has been highly focused. If I take one stroke that is lazy, Matt is on my ass, not allowing me to stop focusing for one instant. We’ve worked on stroke rate, arm position, body position, breathing. On the bike, I do two bike trainer sessions a week in front of Matt at Shift SF (an indoor bike training facility in downtown San Francisco). If my body position moves, my head goes down, my hands are not where they are supposed to be, Matt calls me out. He monitors my watts and my efforts and we adjust things on the fly. Several runs a week Matt is there, his stop watch out, watching my form, my leg turn-over, my knee drive, my arm carry.

I also started working with a great strength, conditioning and rehab team (Foundry Performance) who have played an instrumental part in my training program, and have created a platform for communication with Matt that keeps everyone connected and in-the-know. These guys are showing up at my 5:30 am swim sessions and watching my stroke to discover real-time weaknesses. Same with the bike and the run.

Such positive momentum was hard not to see, and within weeks we had decided that SF was the right place for me to be right now (as much as I love LA and feel it offers so much in terms of training environment). Rather than a 2-month stint, we decided I would re-base myself in San Francisco for the 2014 season. I’m keeping my apartment in LA, and will be back in SoCal several times throughout the season to do some work there, but I’m taking advantage of the opportunity now to be in front of Matt and work with the team of people I have set up there to take the next step up. It is going to be an exciting thing to watch so stay tuned!

At the end of March, as I was getting ready to head off for my first races of the season (including my dirty double (Texas 70.3 and New Orleans 70.3)) I started feeling a bit of tightness in my hip flexor. It was nothing serious – truly nothing preventing me from doing any of my training, but it was there. I would get it worked on with my massage therapist and ART/Chiro team and generally felt like it was improving. When I left for 70.3 Galveston at the beginning of April I didn’t think much about it. I hadn’t even mentioned it to Matt as to me, it was a non-issue – just a small niggle that needed to get worked out.

Galveston was a solid race. I was REALLY nervous beforehand. I had been feeling like my position on the bike was off leading up to the race and I had not been feeling that comfortable or feeling like I was getting good power generation through each pedal stroke. Knowing the bike is a strength of mine, I was anxious on race day as to how I would perform. The entire ride I felt absolutely terrible, but I also was passing people and seemed to be making up time on some seriously strong riders and contenders, so I just kept my head down, stayed focused and tried to not to think too much about how I was feeling. When I pulled in to T2, I was in 3rd, and only a few minutes down on the lead. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the results at the end and saw I had broken the bike course record! Out on the run I started out strong and running right on the pace I wanted. But about 6 miles in my energy started to wane, and I bonked big time. The last few miles were miserable and I sort of limped my way into the finish. It wasn’t a bad race by any means though! I took so much away from it, and my bonking actually led to some big changes in what I was doing for my race fueling, which has had really positive effects for me in my races since.

After the race my hip tightened up a lot – it was the first time I was worried at all about it. The next day it was again tight. When I arrived in to New Orleans later that day I spoke with my Chiro and ART guy, who gave me some stretches and activation work, and I sought out a massage therapist who was able to work on me several times that week leading up to the race.
Race day came. The morning of the race I went out for my typical runs (I do a run first thing in the morning when I wake up and then another at transition), and my leg was hurting me. Not terribly so – but it was there. Once the race started, I felt no pain. It was time to race.

The race was ok. I was exhausted from the week before and really did not have too much to give. My swim was average. When I got out onto the bike, I felt like I didn’t have much power, and it was a frustrating ride for me as with almost no course refs there was a lot of drafting going. I was disappointed I didn’t have more to give as it meant I wasn’t able to break up what was going on behind me.

When I got to the run, I started out feeling very controlled and strong. At mile 9 I was running in 2nd, and I could see the lead girl was fading, but my stomach was not happy. I was trying to keep the pace, but my focus had turned to keeping everything down. I ended up stopping on the side of the road and puking everything up. As soon as that was over, I felt so much better, but I had lost a bunch of time and was in 4th. Once I got going I was able to pull myself back and finish second. I was disappointed with the result and frustrated with the race dynamics, but I also knew that the double was providing me with a great foundation and base to lead me into Ironman Texas, which was coming up in May, and just took it for what it was.

I had a flight out of New Orleans that night as I needed to get back to San Francisco for a team training camp that was starting on Monday. Before I even got on the plane my leg was throbbing and when I got off the plane I was having a hard time standing on one leg, let alone walking without a massive limp. Something was obviously wrong. As so many of us do, I kept telling myself and my team that I was fine; it would be fine in a few days; it was just a muscular thing. And I believed that, but there was admittedly some doubt and worry that had started to creep into my mind.
I went to the camp that week, but with the exception of one 30-minute run to “test” my leg, I did not run at all, and that one run did not go well. When camp ended, I immediately went in for an MRI, which came back negative for everything – no stress fracture, no labral tear – nothing. We all consulted, and it seemed, based on the MRI results, that the pain I was feeling was a muscular issue. We came up with a game plan that involved no running and a boat load of rehab – massage/PT/Chiro/ART/ stabilization work, etc. We decided to move forward with my race schedule and to race both St. George 70.3 and Ironman Texas as we all truly believed I would not be hurting myself further in competing.

St. George was the first big test. I hadn’t run in 3 weeks (effectively since New Orleans) and though I knew my leg was still bothering me, I had no idea how it would hold up in the race. The race itself was good. I had a decent swim – I was pleased with it all in all, but I also felt like I settled in too quickly. Part of it for me is that I have this fear of completely blowing up in the first 200 meters, so I tend to settle quite quickly and go into my pace. It is something I need to work actively on moving out of. Out on the bike I knew there were a lot of very strong riders competing. This race (for those who are not familiar) was the US Pro Championships, and the field that was assembled was effectively a World Championships field, save a few other women. So the level and depth of talent was incredible. Based on that I knew I had to bike my own bike and not fall into the rhythm of the other ladies. I did that for about 25 miles and when I caught the second pack of women, it was hard to break them. There was a lot of back and forth, which meant a lot of short spurts at higher power, etc and I struggled with that. It wasn’t what I was used to, and I honestly didn’t know how to manage it. It completely broke my rhythm. The bike ended up not being an average ride, but I learned so much from the experience and was actually very thankful for that as it gave me a lot of insight into some specific training I will need to do to get ready for 70.3 worlds.

I had a solid run. I had agreed with Matt that I would run the first 4 miles fairly controlled and then would try to open it up. It worked out well as for the first 6 miles of the run my leg was killing me. I actually contemplated stopping, but decided to run one more mile, then one more mile, then one more…and by the time I hit 6 miles I didn’t feel any pain anymore and was able to run in the way I knew how. I felt light on my feet and pain free and I was able to push it.

I finished the race in 8th – a result I was definitely pleased with – and I took a ton of knowledge away.

Immediately following the race my leg felt the best it had felt in ages. It didn’t even hurt and I felt very positive about it. That night though I woke up in agonizing pain. I couldn’t put any pressure on my left side, and was up for 1 hr letting Advil kick in and trying to roll out my leg (as I thought it was muscular) before I was able to get back to sleep.

In the morning I again could not walk on my leg, but thought maybe if I loosened it up a bit it would feel better. So…I hopped on my bike and road for 2 hours. And honestly, it DID feel better. I got off my bike and could walk, and my leg felt much looser.

The week following I was actively doing PT/Massage/etc to rehab my leg and by the time I left for Ironman Texas I felt like I was back to the point it had been before St. George. We all agreed this wasn’t an ideal situation – managing things from race to race – and after Texas I would take a break and let my leg rest and fully heal. But, The MRI had been negative and my overall experience with racing on it in St. George had been very positive, so we did not think it would be a high risk racing on it at the Woodlands.

Ironman Texas was an OK race all things considered. I had an absolutely TERRIBLE swim. I completely missed the pack I should have been in and came out of the water at least 3 minutes back of where we expected me to be. That sucked.

On the bike the first 50 miles were the most enjoyable 50 miles I have ever ridden in an Ironman! We were expecting a strong headwind on the back half of the bike, so my game plane for the front half was: Patient, Conversational riding. I had to write it on my water bottle so that I would not ride hard because what I wanted to do was GO! But I followed coach’s order and when I hit mile 60 the leash came off and I was allowed to ride my bike. Where most of the girls rode 1-2 minutes faster than me on the front half (if not more), I rode 12-20 minutes faster than everyone on the back half. It was a new strategy for me and honestly, I think I rode a bit too easy at the beginning, but all in all we were successful the execution and I put up a solid ride all in all.

The goal for me on the run was to be consistent – to just run consistently. I had no idea how the run was going to go, and as soon as I got on course my leg was in pain. My stride was way off. My knee was collapsing in when my left leg hit the ground. It hurt. So I just focused on engaging my core to support my legs and stride mechanics. I had hydrated and eaten SO well on the bike, so I felt great on the run – the only limiting factor for me was my leg and not being able to push at all. At the mid-way point I took some Advil and once that kicked in I felt WAY better and started to run a bit harder. My pace increased from 7/7:15 miles to 6:30-6:50 miles and I felt great. With 2 miles to go I was in 4th and 1 minute out of 3rd, and suddenly my leg just stopped working. It was the strangest feeling I have ever experienced. My body felt fine. I had great energy, I did not feel fatigued. Mentally I was focused and moving forward, but over the course of ½ mile my leg just completely shut down. The muscles just stopped working and eventually I couldn’t take another step. Rather than driving my knee I was trying to swing my leg around, but the problem was that when I landed my leg just collapsed in. There was nothing I could do. It wasn’t a pain factor for me – I can run through pain. It was a body-flicking-me-the-bird factor. I was 1.5 miles from the finish. I sat there and I knew my day was over – there was nothing I could do. But I hated the idea that I had done all that – worked all day – and RUN on that leg for 24.5 miles to stop 1.5 miles from the finish. I felt like I owed it to myself…to my damn leg..to get to that finish after all I had asked of it, not to mention just respecting everyone out there who was also suffering. My view – if I could walk and put one leg in front of the other, no matter how humbling or how I finished, I was going to walk across that finish line. And I did. My last 1.5 miles took me nearly 35 minutes to complete.

After the race I have NEVER been in as much pain as I was then. It hurt so much it was nauseating. I cried…which for someone who has a high high pain tolerance, meant I was in a tremendous amount of pain. My brother called me the day after the race and when I answered the phone I just started sobbing. It hurt SO much and there was nothing that was helping it.

When I got back to LA, I was able to get in to see one of the top hip specialists around (Thank You Bobby Jaffe for getting that set up). They did an MRI and the conclusion: A fractured Femur – specifically a hairline fracture in my Femoral neck. What does this mean? It means roughly 2 weeks of non-weight bearing movement, then I can start slowly adding pressure to my leg; 3-5 weeks on crutches; swimming only with a pull buoy and no pushing off the wall; 6 weeks of no biking; 3 months of no running. I’ll be back in for an MRI in 6 weeks and hopefully if it I’m healing right I’ll be able to get back on my bike.

Am I bummed? Yes, of course I am. Completely. I LOVE to race. I love it. I LOVE what I do. I love it. So to be sitting on the couch right now as opposed to out in the sun riding my bike – yeh…it bums me out. Do I regret racing Ironman Texas? I do not. My personal view is that as elite athletes we are frequently riding a fine line between injury and not. And I believe that to be great, we have to push ourselves, take risks and take chances. Sometimes those risks/chances and decisions we make don’t turn out in our favor. And sometimes they do. I believed I could win Ironman Texas – even with my hurt leg. And I was prepared to give it a go. I knew I was hurt, and I knew that once the gun fired I would have the capacity to push through any pain. I could have easily pulled the plug on the morning of the race and said I didn’t think it was the right thing to do. But I didn’t. I made the decision to race. If someone had said to me that the result would have been a broken leg – well then of course I would not have raced. But given the information that we had and based on what unfolded in St. George, I felt as though it would be ok.

Am I bummed? Yes, of course I am. BUT….I am also thrilled I don’t have a labral tear, which would have required surgery, taken much longer to recovery, and the guarantee of getting to 100% was much lower. So I feel “lucky” it is only a broken bone.

Am I bummed? Yes, of course I am. Kona is out for me this year. But….I recognize that while this does impact my season, perhaps this is my opportunity to focus on my swim in a way I never have before, and perhaps that will allow me the breakthrough I truly need to have. Perhaps this is an opportunity to help me take that step and become a better athlete and become great.

The near term disappointment is inevitable, but I’m looking for how this is giving me an opportunity to make my medium and long-term brighter. And I promise I will be doing everything I can to make the most out of this time out of competition.

I know this is long, but I really need to thank so many people for their support.

EVERYONE has stepped up and supported and helped me in ways I did not expect, and I am so grateful to you all:

– To Brian and Tina Trimble for taking care of me as soon as I crossed the finish line – getting me in a car, taking me home, picking up my car, my bike, my bags, getting me ice – you two were amazing and I am not sure what I would have done without you.

– To Joseph and Lucy Major and Maureen and Greg Gibbons for helping me pack all of my things the day after IMTX.

– To Tim Floyd for getting me to the airport and checked in to my flight

– To EK Lidbury, Stacy Tager, Heather Gillespie, Heather Reed, Jesse Rice, Laurel Wassner for picking me up from the airport, taking me to my doctor appointment and MRI, for picking up food and my medications for me, for coming to my apartment to do body work, for the flowers and the company – THANK YOU

– To the guys at Foundry Performance – Craig McFarlane, Michael Lord, Ryan West for your help in getting me around, helping to get a plan in place and starting to move forward to get me back to healthy

– To Matt Dixon – for your support, guidance and honestly, just being a freaking amazing coach, person and friend. Thank you!

– To Bobby Jaffe, Dr. Stephen Lombardo and Dr. Jason Snibbe for getting me in quickly and getting an answer even faster! Thank you!

– To Anthony DuComb for helping to get me back to San Francisco

– To so many others – Stephen Clouthier, Eric Neponaschky, Phil Goglia, Gerry Rodrigues, my family and friends – thank you for your support

I’ll be back soon – better, stronger and faster than before. It’s time to rehab!

Until Next Time. Don’t Dream It. Be It!

Little Poo (AKA Little Red)

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