Friday, August 8, 2014

A tale of 2 Seasons

"Whatever you do, don't you dare stop. I mean don't even consider it. Get it out of your fucking head. Because once you stop, once you succumb to your fear, its over. They've won, your doubters, your detractors. Failing is inevitable, but its absolutely no reason to quit. Own the failure, acknowledge your weaknesses, and defeat them. So get off your sorry ass, and get back to work."

From a former coach, and dear friend while coaching me through a particularly awful day of training

Hey all,

I first want to thank everyone who sent condolences and prayers after the passing of my uncle. Please know my family and I greatly appreciate it. He was an amazing man, and is truly missed.

As I sit here in the office at INTENT, I've had some time to reflect on what has been a real rollercoaster of a season; plagued by illness in late winter through most of the spring, then, sickness derailing my title defense at Gull Lake, some wins in between, the passing of my uncle, a win in his honor, then less than 2 weeks ago, another title defense derailed. I was in Mackinaw City, MI looking to defend my win from last year, and was starting to feel better, tight hamstrings had been killing me, due to a poor bike fit. Yes, for those who heard me laud this bike initially upon getting it, I'm thoroughly prepared to throw it on the expressway because, spoiler alert, it doesn't fit. Anyway, thanks to some awesome physical therapy at Achieve in Naperville, with Ashley and Rob, and some of my good friend, Gina Pongetti, I was coming around.

I started the race well, blitzing through the first mile in 4:50, and maintaining a sub 5 min pace heading into T1. I had a 30 second lead and was planning building on it. Once on the bike, I hit the accelerator immediately, navigating nasty chipped concrete, and some hills in the first 5K, to hit open, smooth roads. I was already 2 minutes faster through that section than a year ago. Good sign for sure. Until the left hand turn at about 10K into the ride. It was a tight left, and with age groupers wide to the right, and on-coming traffic tight to the left, I took a line I thought would be ok. I saw them right away, the nasty potholes that lined the turn, but I had no where to go. At 30 mph, you don't have a ton of options. The minute I hit it, I knew it would be bad, flying over the bars, hitting the deck and sliding a few feet in the gravel on the side of the road. I had 2 competing thoughts in my head - 1. this really, really fucking hurts, I can feel myself bleeding, but this ground is comfortable, so I think I'm going to just lie here, and 2. Get up and make sure your dumb ass can walk. I chose the latter. Once I stood up, the blood from my left elbow and knee had that deep red color you only see in horror flicks of surgerical documentaries. I couldn't walk well, the adrenaline still high was dampening the pain, but the elbow and knee were throbbing. I was concerned something might be broken. Thanks to some wonderful people who happened to be close by, I was able to get a ride back to the race site, and into the med tent.
The paramedics did what the could to irrigate the wounds, but stressed how important it would be to get to a hospital, pronto. Closest one was 40 miles away, but I didn't care. Such a big part of me felt that the crash hurt more than physical, it was the culmination of an awful month, and basically a pretty lousy year in general. On the ride to the hospital, I was preparing to call it a season. I've been sleep deprived for a couple months, feeling taken advantage of, unappreciated, and having an immense sense of loneliness. We compete in a solo sport, but I hadn't felt this type of emptiness is a long time.
At the hospital the nurses cleaned me up, and the doctor reviewed the xrays - much to his surprise - nothing broken. Horrible road rash for sure, but I was otherwise unscathed. And like a brick wall, it hit me - I avoided more damage because of the things I had done in training, mainly strength and conditioning. I got back in the car for the long drive home, contemplating this, and realizing that the last 4 years of adding this critical component to my training once again paid dividends in spades. Although pneumonia kept me from training outdoors most of the winter, I was still inside doing strength. Same in the Spring. But I realized that in the last month, I was so wrapped up in my bike not fitting, in wasting energy on people and things that just weren't respectful of it, I had started to neglect the thing that made me feel my best, that gave me confidence in my training and racing, not to mention everyday life. It was Crossfit, plain and simple. The training has done nothing but great things for me, so I vowed, no quitting, rather, destroying weaknesses. Slaying the dragon. Becoming unbreakable. The beauty of that realization was that even if I was doing Crossfit WODS solo, I still felt connected to this amazing community, this positive energy, all the success stories, the triumphs and failures, the joy and sorrow, but a large group connected by shared suffering, not as just an individual.
This last week, the above quote has been sounding off like a tornado alarm in my head. The notion of acceptance of failures, of weaknesses. The need to acknowledge them, because if we don't, then we cannot defeat them. We can't dance around them, we can't try to sneak past them. They are the immovable object, the 800 lb gorilla. When I got back in the gym last week, they were all there, waiting patiently for me. The deadlift, the kettle bells, the row machine, the sled. All my old "friends" smiling, as if they knew something I didn't. See, by not really addressing my weaknesses, I gave them tremendous power. They actually felt like they took on human form, someone to avoid in a dark alley. While I thought I was doing the right things in training, getting more specific data on the bike and run, I neglected other data that was so critical - strength, power, flexibility, agility, mobility. Things crystalized last week in the gym. I saw all of them, and attacked, not meekly, but full bore, knee and elbow bandaged, blood coming out from both areas, sweat seeping into the wounds, adding a wonderful burn to those areas. My hands hardened, calloused again. Sweat poured steadily as I worked through wall ball, deadlifts, toes to bar, sled pulls and pushes, and in the moments when it just absolutely sucked and hurt the most, I felt truly alive, I didn't feel alone, I didn't feel sorry for myself, my eyes opened to the fact that it doesn't matter one bit what others think of me, of any of us, that if people don't want to give me respect or appreciation, I have the right to let them know, and that I am capable of a lot more. I haven't stopped attacking my weaknesses for 13 straight days. I don't plan to stop anytime soon.

So yes, for those who have been asking if I'm ok, the answer, the real answer is a resounding hell no. But its ok. Because I, all of us, we don't have to take shit from anyone. We don't. I know we do things that make us hate ourselves, we cave to our bosses at work to make sure we get a paycheck, we duck hard conversations with friends to avoid hurting feelings, we essentially give power to these intangible things that they become tangible. They suddenly seem insurmountable. I don't care if its in the area of fitness or everyday life. You give power to a weakness, to a tough situation, then it owns you. And once its got its hands on you, look out, because it will dig in deeper than shark's bite. I say, fuck that. I fully admit, I fucked up. I allowed these things to happen to me, I got soft, I got weak. Ok, that's done. I see it, I am facing it, and I'm tearing it apart. I could go into my bike shop and raise hell, I'd be well within my rights to do so. But what does that gain? Will they even care? Probably not. So I'll find another way to make it work. We must be prepared to take on things solo if we are to truly understand what it means to beat down our demons. Its not to say that asking for help is wrong, quite the contrary. Ask for help. Seek counsel and advice from friends, loved ones. But they can't make the changes for you. They can't beat your demons. That's on you. They can lend support, they can guide you, but no one can do the work but you. Make sense? It will.

I'd love to write more, but I've got to get back at it. My season isn't done. Not by a long shot.

Stay strong,