Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Return to Racing: Ironman Chattanooga

         It's been a long journey but I made it back to the starting line recently for the first time in a couple years.   It's also been a while since I've blogged - almost a year and a half, so I'm due for an update. Since I started this blog as a triathlon blog, that's what it shall remain, even thought I'd gladly love to ramble about my other passions: my growing family, my adventures in real estate, and things like theology and greater life purposes.   I was recently looking back on the past few years as a triathlete. Most people didn't know my triathlon life existed any more, as I have moved on to a full time career in real estate a year and a half ago as well as fatherhood, and I have closed my triathlon coaching business, but I've secretly kept grinding out the training, day after day, in hopes to race fast again.  I didn't tell too many people of my plans, partly because it's not that fun to explain to people my injuries and the frustrations of my recent athletic life, and also because I have much more going on in my life to talk about that triathlon.

       In December of 2012 I decided to give triathlon a go again after a year of struggling with burnout and finding joy in doing what I was doing.  Long story short, in June of 2013, after 7 months of what I was calling my comeback attempt to triathlon, I ended up having foot surgery, delaying this so-called comeback another 10 months.  I had to have a tendon in my foot detached, a bone removed, and the tendon reattached to a different part of the bone.  This surgery likely would have been the end of it all and caused me to hang up the running shoes for good, but the problem was that prior to my surgery I had just spent 7 months trying to get back into shape and racing.  To give up after that long of trying to come back seemed....well, to me like a waste of 7 months. So I viewed my surgery as just another hurdle in the way and decided to carry on. My doctor told me I'd be running 3-4 months later, which seemed hopeful.  Nearing the end of 2013, I realized my foot was not what it used to be, nor the new and improved foot I thought it would be after surgery. It was about 10 months til I was running again, and a few more months til I was pain free.  So there I was, after two attempted "comebacks", still trying to become a triathlete again.   The problem was that when you invest THAT much time in efforts to get back, after so long it really doesn't matter how much longer it will continue to be, since you've already made up your mind that you WILL get back.  After spending a year and a half working toward something, there was no way I was pulling the plug after that long

Here's a timeline of events:

March 2012 - Raced Ironman 70.3 California. Poor performance, throwing up from salt tablets. Left the race very unmotivated, decided to quit triathlon for good a month later. Burned out.
August 2012 - Completed Ironman Canada (10:01) on minimal training & only 6 short runs in past 4 months due to injuries. Wasn't able to cancel my trip, and I owed it to family to race, so I did the race with my father-in-law.  No emotion. No feeling of accomplishment crossing the finish line.  I hadn't put in the training.  It was a slow day, as expected.
December 2012 - After many 60 hour work weeks in a sales job, I got the motivation back to make a comeback. I hired coach John Spinney of QT2 Systems as I knew I needed accountability and structure.
January 2013 - After 8 short runs in Newton shoes, I got a foot pain while running on the treadmill in my 5th metatarsal (exactly where the lugs on the soles of the shoes stick out and put added stress on the foot). I was told it was only peroneal tendonitis.
Jan-April 2013 - Lots of cycling, was getting strong. Foot hurt badly walking around. Stopped running completely. Went to the QT2 pro camp in February (swim & bike sessions only). Motivated. Confident my 'tendonitis' would soon heal.
May 2013 - MRI showed a fully displaced avulsion fracture of the 5th metatarsal. I was shocked. Prayed for 1 month that it would heal. No healing, so surgery was needed.  My sales job recently ended and it was a great time to go to real estate school.
June 7, 2013 - My daughter Riley was born.
June 16, 2013 - Foot surgery. Dr. said I could run in 3-4 months (it took about 10 months)
6 weeks in cast while getting around on a knee scooter. Tripped on crutches 2 weeks after surgery while attempting to carry my newborn daughter in car seat; thought I’d have to re-do surgery. Depressed. More x-rays to see if sutures pulled out during my fall.
June 2013 - Started new job as a Realtor.
July 2013- Tried swimming with a foot cast cover…not too successful.
September  2013-  First bike ride.
December 2013- First run attempt. Foot hurt badly. Forced to keep waiting.
April 2014 - First run with no foot pain from the surgery! Finally
mid April, 2014 - Bad calf pain on a run. Torn soleus muscle in calf.  No running for several more months.
April 30 - May 10, 2014 - Bacteria sickness for 10 days. On antibiotics. Very sick.
July 27, 2014: Raced the Evergreen Sprint Triathlon; got 3rd. First race in a few years. Bad foot pain the following week caused by the race. Thought I fractured my foot again. Depressed.
August 10, 2014: Got another MRI, was sure I had a fractured metatarsal. Thought I'd never race again. MRI came back with lots of swelling, but NO fracture. I was overjoyed. Another few weeks off running.
September 28, 2014:  Completed Ironman Chattanooga (9:43).  Cramping starting in the swim, lasting all day. Very frustrated crossing the finish line.

8 weeks out from Ironman Chattanooga I signed up for my first race in a few years, a local sprint triathlon in Evergreen.   I was in pretty poor fitness on the run, but it was fun to get out there and race again.  I came off the bike in 2nd, and did what I could on the run to finish 3rd.  The run had a lot of up and downs, some on trail and some road.  I decided to wear my racing flats, which was a foolish decision after all my foot issues, and a low-key fun local race for training purposes.  I woke up the next day with some foot pain from the slapping of the feet on the steep downhills, but didn't think much of it. Fast forward a week later, and I couldn't put much pressure on my feet. I woke up with throbbing pain in bed. It was the same pain I felt with my fracture prior to surgery.   I was devastated.  I knew there was a good chance it was all over... again.  I remember going to the pool for a swim that week. I couldn't make myself get in the pool; instead I sat on the bleachers and began balling like a baby.  Two years of training every day with the goal to race again, and I thought it would never happen. I'm not sure if I was just frustrated never to race again, or the fact I thought I'd just wasted 15-20 hours a week training for the past 2 years; time that should have been spent with my family.
An MRI a few days later showed bad bruising and edema, but no fracture. Naturally, the next day I told myself I'd be an Ironman champion someday :).  The roller coaster of emotions was a bit crazy; my wife thought I was going insane. Depressed one day saying I'll never run again, and the next day I walk in the door telling her I can be a champion. She kept me in check.

The saga continued up until Ironman Chattanooga. Coach Spinney called me about 6 weeks out from the race saying he thought I needed to cancel plans to race it.  I just wasn't ready. I had very little run volume, and I was working 50-60 hour work weeks for the past 4 of months on top of training.  We both knew I wasn't ready, since these setbacks didn't allow the proper running, but I explained to him I had to do the race.  I couldn't cancel another race. I had cancelled way too many races the past few years.  I thought I could be about 80% on race day if I nailed every workout for the next 6 weeks.   I was longing for feeling of accomplishment and eager from 2 years of fighting to get back to the starting line.  I had sacrificed much; my time with my family was slim due to work & training all year, and I needed to do it for them as well.

The race:
I don't think I'll ever feel satisfied with race results until I race up to my potential, but I may be starting to realize that results aren't everything.  I raced in the professional division again as I had through the end of 2014 on my pro license, and it was the only way I got into the race as it was sold out.  It was strange coming back after 2 years toeing the line with a handful of fit guys, guys who wake up daily simply able to train and recover all day long, without much else going on and without responsibilities of full-time work and family. My lifestyle was pretty much the opposite.  Working all day, and training into the nights.  I was in shape for about a 9:15; truthfully no faster than that as my run volume was extremely low due to the pattern of injuries and inability to run any real volume for several years. I was in no fitness to compete in the front, or even middle, of the pro field, but knew I could get by without too much embarrassment if things went ok. I knew it would be a rough day, but was confident my swim and bike could carry me most of the way.  The swim started out like many races of the past 5 years, with extreme muscle cramping.  I hopped in the river to warm up, and instantly was met with severe cramping in the bottom of my right foot.  I had about 2 minutes until the start, and there I was holding onto a boat with one arm, and digging into my calf and arch with the other hand in hope to get my muscles to release.  I have no idea where the arch cramping came from, as I never cramp on the bottoms of my feet.  I got the foot to release about 30 seconds before the gun went off. The race started, and I swam steadily in the 2nd pack, feeling great and swimming conservatively. About 10 minutes into the swim, the demons came back and I was hit with bad muscle cramping - first in the groins, then the hamstrings.  Long story short, I found myself frozen in the river, frolicking, completely stopped, and digging my fingers into my legs hoping for some relief. Pack after pack caught me, and eventually I was near the back of the pro field, swimming alongside guys I'm usually minutes ahead.  Intervals of swimming, cramping, and attempting to loosen the legs up with breastroke sums up the swim leg.  I swam breastroke for at least a few minutes, and was stood still with locked up legs for another few minutes. All in all, I lost a good 4 minutes in the swim, and crawled out of the river hobbling with cramping legs as I ran into transition.   I thought my day may be done.   I saw coach Spinney and coach Kropelnicki as I exited the swim; they could tell I was hobbling and cramping badly.  Luckily the muscles had released enough for me to hobble out of the water; in the past I've had it so badly I am not able to move - like what happened in the water.
Onto the bike, I tried to regain focus and hold my 250-255 watt planned average.  I was getting passed at that wattage, but knew I needed to stick to my plan. The bike course was very rolling, so it's easy to spike your power and heart rate if not careful, which will come back to hurt you at the end of the day.  At mile 80, my legs were cooked. The cramping in the swim had completely trashed my legs, and I was completely done.  This bike course was 116 miles, 4 miles longer than the normal 112, which left me soft pedaling home for the final 36 miles.  My wattage had dropped to around 200-205 watts, which is my recovery effort. It was simply a matter of trying to make it back to the transition area; truthfully I didn't know if I could. I told myself this was my last triathlon. Too many struggles, too much trying without succeeding, and too many frustrations. Enough was enough. I had tried, but my body just wasn't working for this sport.   I was mentally out of the game, as the frustrations had taken over.
I made it back to transition, saw my family cheering for me, screaming at me how great of a race I was having.  If they only knew what really was going on...those were my thoughts.  I owed it to them, and to my coach, to try to get to that finish line.  The only issue was the 26.2 mile run ahead of me.  I ate my banana out of T2 and entered the run course. My first mile was about 7:10 pace. I had vowed not to run anything faster than 7:20s the first few miles due to my low run training volume; but my 7:10 miles felt more like 8:30 miles. They were easy, very easy! That said, I knew I had no adequate run volume in my legs due to the past 6 months, and it was a matter of relaxing, holding on, and having my foot pains stay away.  At about mile 9 the demons came back. My hamstrings seized up, and I was forced to a shuffle. This was the story for the next 17 miles. Jog, cramp, take salt, shuffle, walk, jog, cramp, take salt, etc.   That was the pattern.  Eventually the top 3 pro women ended up passing me, which was humbling. I remember Jennie Hansen, a friend who I housed with at the QT2 camp the previous year and who took 3rd on the day in the women's pro race, passing me on the bridge, a mile or two from the finish. She said "it's so awesome that you're back out here doing this" as she passed me.   I appreciated the kind words, thought back about the journey it's been, then quickly snapped back into the reality of not wanting another female to pass me... but she was gone in a flash :).  The race was probably the hardest physical thing I've done, simply because of having to force my legs to move for hours when they couldn't. It was much more painful than Ironman Canada, even though I was fitter, the cramping had destroyed my legs from the start of the race. Once your muscles go through that stress of seizing up, they never are the same again. With 800 meters to go, I just wanted to get to the line. Rounding the final turn, groups of spectators were cheering me on. I made one final push to get to the line, but both hamstrings seized up again, and I was stuck on the side of the road, completely stopped. My legs wouldn't move.  Cramps were in full force.  I was half a mile from the finish line, but I couldn't move my legs.  I yelled a few words I probably shouldn't have, got shuffling, and somehow made it down the finishers chute.  In my first Ironman in 2012, I crossed the line with no emotion.  I didn't feel accomplished, since I hadn't put in the training, nor had a successful finish (10:01). I was content with that situation though. My goal then was just to finish, and I had no expectations.  This time I had extreme emotion. No joy or sense of accomplishment still, but this time I was filled with pure frustration.  I knew the cramping had ruined my day again - a feeling I've had so many times before.  Coach John came to me at the finish line, and all I could say were a few too many expletives (which isn't like me) and how my body doesn't allow me to do the sport. I finished in 9:43.  I remember yelling "I'm not even tired" and "my body doesn't work for this sport!".  I feel badly how I handled things, but was overwhelmed in frustration.   I understand many people would love to finish in 9:43, but I know what my body is capable of when it works properly. It's extremely frustrating to be limited so much by something that feels so out of my control - especially after years of trying to figure out the cramping issues.  
The month leading up to the race, I did everything I could to prevent the cramping. I took epsom salt baths nightly all week leading up to the race. I did massage, took salt tablets the morning of the race, used the foam roller, ate a good diet, many vitamins, pills, etc.  I have been haunted by muscle cramping in most of the triathlons I've ever raced, so had a plan to hopefully avoid it.

The week after the race, I did the same thing I had done after a terrible cramping experience in the Chicago Triathlon of 2011. I got bunch of blood drawn, and did many tests to try to find deficiencies.  Everything came back normal, other than low Vitamin D and some odd results relation to the liver - but I'm told that is most likely caused by just putting my body through an Ironman.  Really, I was hoping to find an answer, and I don't think low Vitamin D is necessarily the cause.  My coach and I had thought perhaps my cortisol levels were off, and my adrenals may have been cooked, but that wasn't the case. Historically, I've cramped worse when I've been very stressed and sleep deprived.  There are no simple answers to my muscle cramping. I have it worse than anyone else I've ever known, and have tried for years to figure it out.  I have not been able to find a solution yet, and that's just the way it is.

Naturally, I'm not wanting to quit just yet. I don't think I really ever can until I figure out my open water swim race-day cramping issues and race to my potential, even if that's just for one race. 

Now, how can I spin this blog post to have a cheery, happy ending?  I'm not sure.  The blog is a chance to be open, honest, and pure.  I am an athlete who won't quit, and one who won't be satisfied until I succeed, and that's the type of person I am.  I don't do anything with a half effort, and with plans to 'just finish'. I have no desire to walk around in Ironman finishers clothing so I can smile and feel proud of my myself, and tell everyone what I accomplished. It's not about that.  I do this sport to reach my potential and use a gift I have, and because I absolutely love competing in sports.  

 Triathlon is not my top priority in life anymore - rather my family is and my job, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with mediocrity nor to I have goals to race faster than ever.  I have worked hard in building my business as a Realtor in my first year and a half, and have been successful in it so far. (Side plug: If you're interested in keeping up to date with my real estate happenings, please visit https://www.facebook.com/RyanBorgerRealEstate ) .I understand that's what happens with hard work and the right approach; but often times we can put in the hard work and not see the results, and that's just the way it is.  That is the frustrating part about my triathlon pursuits.  That said, it doesn't change my approach. I continue to believe in hard work, every day. There's really not any other option, other than quitting. I understand that nothing is worth doing unless you are happy doing it. I am happy doing triathlon, most times. I'll admit I'm not happy all the time, due to the struggles I've had with it, but I know the joy will be that much greater when results are achieved. Things don't always go the way we want them to, but I think perseverance is important. I'd rather try and try again til I can't try any more, than simply throw in the towel. That's the approach I take.

I understand without figuring out the cramping issues, I'll never be the athlete I want to be, so that is my primary focus.  It's what's been holding me back since the first triathlon I did in 2009, where I hobbled across the line with leg muscles locking up.  I will keep experimenting during races in hopes to find a solution.  I've got a goal of winning the overall amateur race next year at Ironman Coeur D'Alene, and to finish under 9 hours, so hopefully I will have an epiphany before then.  If I never figure out the cramping problems, I know my years as a triathlete were successful in other ways than results, mostly in the athletes I coached and the ability to impact others, and the relationships developed through countless hours of training with others. I also know that my cramping in racing is not a real life problem; it's a little annoyance in a pursuit of mine, but far from a real life problem. I don't have any real life problems. My family is healthy, I am blessed with a job, and I've faced no major tragedies.  Triathlon cramping is not a life problem. It is a very small frustration that is minimal in the grand scheme of things, and I need to remember that and keep things in perspective - a task sometimes more difficult to do than it should be.   I also continually have to remind myself, especially in a self-centered sport like triathlon, that my life is not my own and for my own purposes, and that I need to continually seek out ways to use triathlon to serve others.  A selfish life is a shallow life, but a life lived to better the lives of others is the life worth living, and a live with much more meaning. These are lessons I need to remind myself of daily.  Thanks for reading. Onwards and upwards...

1 comment:

lynne said...

Hey, you can never say you failed because in God's eyes all that matters is using His gifts he has given you for His glory. There is no failure ever. Period.