... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Digging for Motivation

I've been writing upbeat post after upbeat post, bursting with excitement about being able to work out again and focusing on how good it feels each time and I do. And, while everything I have written is true, it's time to admit that there is more to the story. Much as I loathe admitting when I'm falling short, what good is a training blog if I am not honest with myself and my readers about the ups and downs of training? So here it is:

I am feeling lazy, weak, and unmotivated!

I keep trying to convince myself that I am excited to re-start my training -- and indeed I am, in theory -- but I am feeling massively overwhelmed and because of this I am failing completely at getting myself out the door and onto my feet (or bike). The more I think about the root of my motivation problem, the more several particular issues come up, and they are as follows.

1. Lack of time
Since I have started work, finding time to work out is much more difficult than it was when I was training before. Starting work at 7:30am with a thirty minute commute makes it nearly impossible to do my workouts in the morning, which is the time I prefer. This excuse is only somewhat valid, however, because it doesn't explain my laziness on weekends, when I have all the time in the world but somehow still find myself using it to sit on the couch rather than on a bike saddle.

2. Habit
They say that it takes three weeks (twenty-one days) to form a new habit. After four months of daily workouts and frequent two-a-days, I had my training habits firmly set. Now I have had approximately sixty days of inactivity due to my injury, and much as I'm trying to overcome it, I'm finding that that habit seems to have taken quite a strong hold in my life.

3. Weakness and Lack of Confidence
Perhaps the most valuable thing I gained throughout my training has been a level of confidence in myself that I didn't know was possible before. Unfortunately, I think that my confidence is also the most important thing I have lost during my injury. When I think about getting started on my training again, I feel incredibly overwhelmed. The swimming and the running don't bother me, for some reason. Swimming is relaxing for me, and although it does make me tired, it never feels impossible to me like running or cycling can. There is something about that extreme and acute muscle burn that intimidates me more than swimming. Running, however, isn't a problem for me either, because I am not allowed to run yet. Walking is easy. Cycling, however, is scaring me. The bike workouts were hard here when I very first moved here, and I was in shape then! There is nothing but hills, hills, and more hills, and if they were difficult when I was in good shape they must be damn near impossible now that my legs are made of jelly. I am actually scared.

So what do I do? How do I move past this?

To deal with the first problem, I just stop making excuses. I do have the time, it's simply a matter of whether or not training is what I want to do with that time, and if I want to complete the triathlon in November and even longer distances after that, then the answer to that quandary must be that it is. No more questions. As far as the habit problem, that is just a fact that I will have to deal with. It is not habit. I keep expecting it to come back and magically feel like it did before I got hurt, when training was a natural part of each day and I never questioned its presence in my life, but the fact is that the habit is gone and for a while (twenty-one days, according to Science), every single day of training is going to be hard. That doesn't mean I shouldn't do it!

Elevation maps that scare the shit out of me and my blubbery legs
Finally, tackling the most complicated problem, I have to get my confidence back. Since I'm feeling so overwhelmed by returning to my old training haunts, I think that the best way to get started cycling again is to take my bike down the mountain and do my workouts in new, unfamiliar areas that have no memories (or fears) attached to them. Luckily for me, these unfamiliar areas also happen to be much less hill-infested than the geography around my house. I think that once I can ride these comfortably and feel good about my fitness, it will be much easier to try tackling tougher rides again. I know that my confidence is still in there somewhere. It's just going to take little dedication to get it back.

So there's my plan:
1. Re-commit to my training and stop thinking about how much time it takes up.
2. Stop waiting for the idea of a workout to feel natural.
3. Start in unfamiliar and new places.

I remember how it felt to be strong and confident in myself and my abilities. I want that again, and in order to get it back, I'm going to have to wade through my insecurities all over again. But that's what training is, right -- facing your weaknesses and finding your strength?

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Buoy Butt (And Other Re-Training Problems)

I did my first regular swim yesterday. I have gotten in the water a couple of times during this ordeal, but you could hardly call the lopsided, lurching, sinking flail I was doing a swim stroke. I wasn't even allowed to use a kick because of the flexion of my toes. This time, however, I was free to push as hard as I could as long as it wasn't painful.

Hobbling down to the water was much easier than using crutches, and being able to walk (albeit slowly) rather than hop on one foot into the waves made the entrance less precarious. When I started to swim my foot felt odd and stiff, and at first I was hesitant to kick at all for fear of hurting it. Urged on by my boyfriend and remembering that the doctor had instructed me to work on flexibility as long as the activity didn't hurt, I let it move a little more freely. My stroke was still awkward and choppy and the foot definitely felt strange, but I'm assuming it was good to get more range of motion going. Depressingly, it is incredibly clear that my booty and legs have gotten fatter; I had noticed in one of my previous posts that as I got more toned, my legs started sinking while I swam. Now, once again, they float like a damn buoy. Oh well -- time cures all wounds, and hopefully all excess fat...

From the middle of the beach to these rocks!
I swam for about ten minutes, then took a break to look at all the beautiful tropical fishies I've been missing out on for the past seven weeks. I missed the coral and the bright colors and the way the sun creates moving patterns on the ocean floor, and I missed the feeling of being pushed around by the waves. When I started the swim back to shore, I remembered the kick advice for triathlons that I had put so much time into practicing: kick from the hip, try not to bend your knees, and keep your feet pointed. For triathlon purposes, this kick technique is supposed to conserve energy in your legs and help you have a better bike and run leg, but for the purposes of my broken foot it also worked remarkably well. Keeping my legs mostly straight and my feet stiff allowed me to use my normal kick without causing too much stress on my metatarsals, and I picked up a lot of speed on the way back in. I finally felt like my stroke was back in rhythm and I could enjoy the swim again.

It's truly amazing how easily the little details are forgotten. In less than two months I forgot how it felt to move with the waves and how I can stay on a straight path by following the ripples in the sand on the bottom. I forgot how to reach forward and pull with each stroke, and my arms are clearly weaker, but moving smoothly through the water felt amazing. More to come...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Accepting Discomfort

This is my most recent piece for Hawaii Sport Magazine, which I wanted to share on here given my recovery process. The acceptance of discomfort has been integral in my not going crazy while disabled.

In this age of iPods, computers, and technology, we are always on the hunt for something faster, easier, or more convenient. Many people spend their entire lives attempting to avoid anything that might be difficult or unfamiliar -- we have been conditioned to hate feeling uncomfortable and to associate discomfort with negativity, when in fact it can be a tool in the process of self-improvement.

As athletes, overcoming this mindset is of the utmost importance because discomfort is a necessary part of training. It means that you are pushing beyond your previous boundaries and discovering new levels of possibility for your body and mind. Each time you take your workouts to a new level, you stretch both your physical and mental capabilities, and although it may be uncomfortable, acceptance of that discomfort opens up many doors throughout your life.

I learned this lesson firsthand when I started training for my first triathlon. I had spent the previous fifteen years of my life actively avoiding running, and I agonized over how much I hated it. Running hurt, it burned, and it made me feel like I weighed a thousand pounds and my lungs were made of cement. The swim strikes fear into the heart of many a triathlete, but I knew from the beginning that the run would be my greatest nemesis. For the first few weeks of training, I spent most of the time during my run workouts wondering why on earth so many people put themselves through this torture on a daily basis, glancing around occasionally to half-heartedly enjoy my gorgeous Hawaii surroundings. I slowed to a walk every time I got too uncomfortable, telling myself -- as I had been conditioned too -- that so much exertion and even pain could not possibly be healthy or productive.

Then one day, a miraculous thing happened. The usual pain came, my chest tightened, my legs got heavy, but I decided to see what happened if I kept pushing. After five minutes of intense discomfort, the pain passed. I ran for forty-five minutes, almost twice as long as I had planned, and felt nothing but pure exhilaration when I made it home. I was tired, but invigorated.

It took this experience for me to make what has been the most profound and valuable discovery of my training journey: feeling uncomfortable is okay!

Once I realized this, everything became easier. Instead of fighting my feelings of discomfort, I accepted and even welcomed them as a sign that I was pushing myself and growing as an athlete, and it wasn't long before it became clear that I was growing as a person as well. When you stop running (no pun intended) away from anything that makes you uncomfortable, opportunities that had previously seemed impossible are suddenly within reach. Doors open. Everything seems clearer. The mindset of embracing difficulty as a necessary step toward improvement changed my entire outlook on life leaving me energized, positive, and ready to take on whatever came my way.

The physical benefits we reap as endurance athletes are many, but what I have learned is that the mental benefits are just as substantial. With each workout we have the chance to improve ourselves, to face our fears and our discomfort and decide that we can make it through. We find confidence in our willpower and we learn to harness the strength and inner toughness that few people have the opportunity to find within themselves. For this we have only one thing to thank: that moment when we don't think we can go any further, when we meet our previous boundary head on and then step beyond it. You can go further. Keep pushing.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Well, my well-intentioned foray back into exercise felt incredible but quickly resulted in a sore foot and stiff ankle. It's amazing to me that just walking can cause such a dramatic response in a foot that has always been strong and flexible!

It was so great to put on dri-fit and spandex again (never thought those words would escape my mouth) and even better to be outside again. I went for my walk in the early morning around 7:30am, as the birds were still singing and the air still had that cool, day-hasn't-quite-begun-yet feel to it. The colors were gorgeous -- bright greens, deep blues, golden light. The short, dead-end road that I used to find way too short to run on seemed like it was ten miles long. My calf muscle and ankle felt oddly wobbly and spaghetti-like after only about ten minutes. But it still felt good, at least until three hours later.

I had forgotten the little joys of my workouts -- the way the wind rustles in the grass and the wind on my face, the feeling of being headed somewhere and the warmth of working muscles. The smells had changed since the last time I was out. Late Spring has brought with it new flowers whose scents drift on the breeze and surround me, encouraging me to breathe deeply.

I had also forgotten the silence. The sounds of my house are familiar; the cat running back and forth, the blinds bumping up against the windows in the wind, the cows in the field next to my yard, and more often than I like to admit, the TV blaring its endless nonsense. On my walk, all was silent except for the grass, the wind, and the ocean. I felt calm and focused, perfectly at peace. Ah yes, I have missed this.

Since I am not even close to ready to tackle the hill leading from the main road to my house on the bike, I put it in my car and dropped myself off at a spot that is decidedly more flat. I did about two miles down and two miles back, a complete joke compared to the distances I had grown used to but I didn't want to burn myself out and get frustrated by a long ride too soon. The nuances of the ride that I had forgotten so quickly startled me: the noise of the road under the tires, the feeling on tiny pebbles, and the differences between 1st and 5th gear. I kept feeling like there was something wrong with my bike when in fact I am simply so unhabituated to the feeling of being on the road that everything felt off.

Even with my awkwardness, however, it was nice to be back on the bike. I love the speed and the feeling of my surroundings flying by. I rode slow and easy and it felt wonderful. My legs are definitely out of shape but I know it will come back quickly. All I can do it tell myself that plenty of people have come back from much worse injuries and that with proper rehab and effort, I'll be back to where I was (and beyond) in no time. Frustration gets me nowhere.

It didn't take long once I got home for my muscles to start protesting. My calf immediately got sore and my ankle turned into a stiff, painful mess. The metatarsal area even felt tender, so I iced the foot and ankle for 20 minutes each, then put on the boot to give some extra support while they calmed down. The pain was mild and continued for the rest of the evening, and I was a little concerned that I had made a mistake by going out and exercising.

Cow friend I met along my walk
The next morning, the soreness was gone and I think my ankle even felt a little steadier than it had before the workout. I'm taking this to mean that there are definitely benefits to putting some stress on it, but that I should probably back off a little from the schedule I had so excitedly put together.

The more I think about it the less my logic makes sense. Why was I thinking that it would be smart to start a daily workout schedule just days after I get the all-clear to remove the boot? It makes more sense to give the foot a little while to adjust to the new arrangement before stressing it. I was just too excited.
Dog friend who wants to bike with me

So here is my new (adjusted) plan:
Walk twice per week, 20-25 minutes only
Bike twice per week, 30-35 minutes
Swim twice per week, 10-15 minutes

June 23rd I'll go back to the previously shown schedule. I'm hoping that going easy for another week and a half will do the trick. I guess we'll see. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Official New Training Schedule

Well, after doing some research and taking the ideas of base training and my previously chosen Olympic tri training schedule into account, I put together a schedule to get myself back up to par. Since I am essentially starting back from scratch fitness-wise, I am following the base training recommendation to increase exercise time by no more than 10-20% per week in order to facilitate angiogenesis, the development of capillaries in the lungs. This allows the body to increase it's oxygen efficiency and create a "base" for further training. Here is my masterpiece, after much deliberation and careful scheduling (it's harder to train when you're working full time!):

Since I have only been cleared to bike and walk (ortho shoe included), I will be starting slow. The swims noted will still be arms-only, at least until July. The bike rides will be leisurely and on as level of ground as I can find around here. The walks, at least for the first few weeks, will be more like "gimps." I hope to be able to jog a little by mid July.

I'm also adding in some strength training -- just the basics, some arms, abs, and leg/booty workouts. I would like to make sure that I'm supplementing my training with weightlifting and strengthening. This should (in theory) help me avoid injury in my semi-pathetic, weakened state. 

I have eight weeks until the Olympic tri training schedule starts, and slowly but surely I will be working my way back into the habit of daily workouts. I am nervous. I could posture and pretend that I am nothing but excited, but starting over is scary. I remember the feelings of abundant energy and endless strength that I felt when I was training before, but it has been lost in way too much couch time during this injury. I want it back so badly it hurts, but the little voice of self-doubt forces me to question whether or not I'll ever get there. I know that it will take a lot of hard work to rebuild the habits that just two short months ago were second nature. 

On the other hand, I have never been so excited to put on some spandex and dri-fit! Picking out daily workout clothes is sounding pretty damn good! I've been gazing longingly at the sad-looking, unused stacks of tri shorts, sports bras, and running shirts in my closet. Putting them on again is going to be awesome! I don't care if all I can do tomorrow is wobble a mile on my bike and limp at a snail's pace -- I will be wearing $100 tri shorts and a sponsored dri-fit shirt!

Let the rehab begin.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Recovery, Grandma Style

Yet another week has passed and I finally got to have my follow-up appointment at the orthopedist! I was excited to hear that my foot is healing really well, has no displacement, and that I can start doing strengthening exercises for my ankle and calf. Even more exciting, the nurse practitioner gave me an orthopedic shoe -- basically a hard-soled, flat-bottomed sandal -- to replace my walking boot! Although ugly, it makes it possible for me to rotate and move my ankle, which was getting very stiff and slightly atrophied from lack of use. It seems that my training process is determined to make me look like a fool, be it from snorkeling masks, EarBandIts, or ortho sandals that look like something a 75 year-old would wear to play bridge.

I am not yet allowed to move my toes or roll through my foot, but wearing this beautiful piece of footwear, I have been instructed to do some basic physical therapy: drawing the alphabet in the air with my toes, et cetera. The sprain is feeling much, much better and only after a decent amount of use does my ankle start to feel tight and uncomfortable. It does, however, have an odd, floppy feeling. Being a former ballerina, having an ankle feel so weak is a decidedly foreign sensation.

Speaking of weak muscles, check out my calf! After nearly six weeks with zero muscle usage, my right calf has shrunk down almost comically. If you didn't know these two legs were attached to me, you would probably never guess that they are from the same person! I guess this is what I get for bemoaning my giant calf muscles and wishing that they looked more delicate. Delicate is not as cool as I thought it would be. I know that the major changes won't take place until I am able to roll through my foot again, but I am hoping that without the boot, using my calf muscle to stabilize my ankle will at least start the process of bringing it back to normal size, We'll see.

Beyond that, I am excited (and nervous) because now that I'm out of the boot I can slowly begin training again! For now, my weak ankle makes me hobble a little, but I am assuming that will take care of itself within a few days. Once that happens, I plan to start taking short walks for exercise. I think that I should be able to start some short bike rides again as well -- obviously nothing as challenging as before I got injured (I think I'll be skipping the 35 mile, 900 foot elevation change death ride) -- but some short rides on relatively level terrain should be a good way to get moving again. Swimming with a kick may still be off-limits, but I think that with a flotation device between my legs I can start working out my arms again. Getting into the water, past the breaking waves, should be easier now that I can hobble instead of hop.

Knowing myself as I do, I know that the only way I am going to make it through this rehab and back into racing shape is if I have a written, pre-planned training schedule to motivate me and keep my organized, so that is my project for the evening. I had already picked a 16-week training schedule for the Olympic length tri in November, so now I just have to create a rehab/training schedule to get me up to par before mid-late July. I'll post this plan in a few days!

On a different note, I was lucky enough to watch portions of the half-Ironman (nicknamed Honu) last weekend, right in my backyard. I spent some time at the bike turn-around before heading down to the bike-run transition area and finish line. It was great motivation for me not only to be around so many talented and dedicated athletes, but just to feel the energy that triathlons emanate. The excitement of the spectators and focus of the competitors was truly inspiring and reminded me how much I want to get back to where I was in my fitness and training. There was even a girl doing the race in a walking boot just like mine! It was a great reminder that although I will have frustrating days when I want to quit, it is mental strength that will see me through!

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