Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Fresh Start... Again.

It is crazy to me to think back and realize that it has been five years since I had my best season, and how badly I squandered things after that.  Sure, it wasn't entirely terrible, but I brought personal worsts to a whole new level over the past two years.  The worst part?  It is entirely my fault.  I really can't blame anyone else.  And as hard as it is to admit it, much of my demise was probably preventable.

Sure, there have been a few injuries and those are really going to happen no matter what.  But it's how badly I let them get to me that made them effect me that much worse.  My first major issue in 2008 had me out of running for six weeks but I let it completely destroy me mentally and even somewhat physically and the repercussions lasted far longer than that initial period of not running.

For a very long time, I was the person who would never miss a training session.  I'd get up at crazy hours to run 20 miles before work, spend most of every Saturday on my bike, get on the trainer at 3:30 in the morning to get a ride in before getting on a plane, plot out what I was going to eat day after day.  I didn't make any excuses because I wouldn't have accepted them as legitimate.  And you know what?  My performances were the result of this dedication.  I'll admit that I was completely surprised by a lot of the things I had suddenly become capable of doing, because in a way it sort of seemed "easy" to me.  Just do the training like you're supposed to, sleep and eat well, have a great race.  It's really not that complicated and there isn't some magical quality that fast people possess aside from unwavering determination.

After I had my breakthrough year, I think I got a little scared.  How could I top that?  It was so far beyond anything I had even dreamed of accomplishing.  "Winning" Lake Placid, seventh in my age group in Kona, riding away from the field like biking was the easiest thing in the world and even somehow managing to run well.  I decided right away that there was no way I could top it.  So I started training and racing that way.  Well, I can't do any better, so I don't really have to try as hard, right?  The decline was very slow, but it was certainly there.

Aside from my injury, I still did the training, but I stopped taking care of myself otherwise.  Weight started to pile back on which made me feel like more of a failure after having worked so hard to shed the years' worth of evidence of my teenage addiction to Doritos and Pepsi.  I didn't take action, I simply gave up.  And like I said, the race performances showed it.  I remember how I used to show up at race start lines feeling like I'd done absolutely everything that could be done to have the best race possible.  Suddenly every single race I showed up at had me feeling like a kid who forgot to study for a final.  There's nothing you can do at that point but fake your way through it and accept the inevitable of your failure to prepare adequately.  Sure, I could still finish races, but I didn't get into this just to cross finish lines.  If I did, I certainly wouldn't train so much.

So we all know that earlier this season I had to drop out of Mooseman because my foot was bothering me.  My foot had been bothering me since at least Mother's Day, but it didn't really hurt enough for me to think much of it so I just altered my run stride a bit.  Then I found out it was broken.  I was pretty much out for the summer.  Oh, and out at least $1000 worth of race entry fees that might as well have been flushed down the toilet.

A lot of other years this sort of news would have been devastating to me.  I cried when I found out I had a stress fracture just two weeks before Kona in 2009.  I cried on the run I was on in 2008 when my back brought me to a screeching halt.  This time, instead of getting upset about it, I decided to treat it like a good thing.  First, it would keep me from having what I knew were going to be a series of disappointing races over the summer.  I just wasn't in a position to do well.  Second, it gave me a reason to stop training for a while.  And I mean really stop.  Not the couple-week break at the end of the season, not a break from running but continuing to swim and bike like crazy, but to just completely and totally stop.  Sure, I swam and rode here and there, but there was no set schedule.  I did what I wanted when I felt like it.  I slept in pretty much every day and stayed up past 10 on a regular basis.  I participated in family events without going home early because I had to train early the next morning.  I only had to do about 25% of my normal laundry amounts.  I didn't have pressure on myself about coming back as soon as possible.

do have time and as long as I do all of the little things I'm supposed to do, I can be back on track.  Ironman Texas is eight months away.  That is a pretty long time.  But the work does need to start.

So let's just pretend that I didn't squander the last two years and maybe just train like there's no way I can fail.  I've got friends I used to train with that I haven't been able to because I got way too slow, and it'd be nice to be able to train with them again.  I'm hoping to spend the next month slowly getting back on track, still without a schedule and still without running because I'm not there yet.  But biking, swimming, lifting, elliptical, just generally starting to get into a regular routine again.  Then hopefully I'll talk to my incredibly patient coach, Jesse Kropelnicki, and we can pick an official start date.  Three years ago he brought me back from the dead.  I dug myself a similar hole this time, and hopefully we will both be able to bring me back again.

So here's to hoping that my blog will now turn back into updates on my training and how things are going well.  Oh, but if only my Garmin 310XT didn't shatter last weekend after falling off my wrist during the race :(

Thursday, September 8, 2011

One Year Later

I apologize for the lack of updates.  I promise once my entire life gets back to normal (which I'm hoping will be very soon) I will put blogging back on track.  But for now, sitting around and not training and staring at my booted left foot doesn't make for interesting blogging.

All right, instead of working chronologically, I'll start off with the fact that somehow today is one year after my dad died.  I haven't seen or talked to him in a year.  It seems unbelievable both that it has been that long and even still that it happened at all.  It still feels like some sort of horrible dream that I've yet to wake up from.  The only problem is that for the past 365 days I've awakened to the reality of not having my father with us anymore.

While the year was not without a few bright spots, it's probably safe to say that it was the worst year ever.  I've been told that the first year is the hardest and I am sincerely hoping that is the case.  This past Saturday night, after dinner my mother, brother, sister and I took the boat out and spread some of Dad's ashes over the lake.  We didn't go far, Mom told me to stop a ways out but just make sure that he could still see the house.  Afterward we spent about an hour just talking, just the four of us.

While the circumstances surrounding that evening were obviously horrible, it's probably pretty rare that any family, even one as close as ours, takes the opportunity to just sit and talk for a while, just those of you who grew up under the same roof.  We all felt pretty much the same.  We've all been pretty well checked out for the past year.  So I apologize to anyone who I may have alienated in any way or just not seemed like myself, I just found it difficult to muster up enthusiasm for much of anything.  And everyone else who was on that boat with me that night felt the same way.  We're hoping that it can bring some form of closure and the beginning of what can maybe be a much better year.  It seems unfair that all that we can really do is move on, but that's just the way it goes.

My mother has been amazing through all of this.  As much as I know it hurts me to miss Dad there is the added knowledge that Mom doesn't have him anymore.  You often hear how marriage is work, but my parents made it look like the easiest thing in the world.  A chance meeting at a bar in Boston turned into a relationship that spanned over forty years without any significant road blocks.  Obviously they loved each other, but they also just genuinely liked each other and enjoyed spending time together and just talking.  I even said to my mother on the boat that the two of them set an impossible standard for marriage and my unmarried brother agreed.  How do you replicate something like that?

Mom reaffirmed that everything I perceived about them was true, and that is a good thing.  She also told us how proud he was of all of us, even though when she first married him he apparently took a bit of convincing on having kids at all.  Hard to believe that someone who was such a great dad wasn't really that interested in the job in the first place.  It was a nice evening and thanks to our house guests who let us abandon them for a bit and even cleaned up after dinner.

I had feared the summer as a whole was going to be awful, given that that was where Dad really thrived, driving the boat, riding his bike, golfing, just enjoying life in general.  I inherited the job of boat driver and did my best at trying to get my brother and sister competent at navigating the lake and which side of the buoys to drive on so as not to destroy the propeller on some rocks.  I got to drag the kids behind the boat on the tube and saw why Dad always seemed to have so much fun seeking out waves and trying to send the kids flying.

So to be fair, we did have some fun this summer, though there was no denying there was something missing.  It wasn't really until the last couple of weeks of August that I really started thinking about it.  Mostly that that time last year everything was totally fine and I had no idea that everything was going to change and I'd never see my father again.  We talked about him often, though, mostly the good memories.

Labor Day weekend was especially difficult although we purposely involved some major distractions.  We had quite a few visitors up on Saturday, and in spite of me still being relegated to the boot, I decided to do a triathlon on Sunday morning.  You see, last year the Circle Triathlon, the race just down the road from the lake house, was the last race that Dad saw me do before he went out that afternoon on what turned out to be his last bike ride.  He never went out in the afternoon, but he came to my race instead of riding, putting that off until later.  He zipped up my wetsuit before I got in the water and cheered me on even though I was terribly slow and it capped off a dismal tri season from a performance standpoint.

The nice thing was that this time there was no pressure to perform.  I'd been riding for two weeks after having two months off along with swimming a bit.  I really only had to make it through the first two parts before I walked the last portion.  Most unfortunate was that my Garmin fell off my wrist at the very end of the bike, the strap separating itself from the watch itself, and the screen is now shattered from being run over.  Also racing was my cousin Jeff, the other Zahr triathlete, although he hasn't done a whole lot of races.  Of course it would've been fun to have beaten him even with the boot but I couldn't pad my lead enough with the swim and bike and he passed me on the run.  Next year, Jeff.

I got a lot of funny looks but probably more cheering and encouragement on the run as I walked along in the boot.  It was 2.7 miles, not exactly an incredibly long way to go, though the boot did leave me some nice blisters.  I will say it was a lot easier than walking the entire second half of the marathon at Ironman Utah last year.  I crossed the line way behind where I normally would have, and while most of my family was there to witness it, it was certainly obvious that there was something missing.  And that afternoon as time moved on, I would think about how at noon last year after the race things were still fine.  Everyone went home and I was just watching TV before my mom came upstairs to get me at 3:15, crying.  It is just still so amazing to me that things can change so fast.

The rest of the week has been something like that, too.  Thinking back to last year and spending every day in the hospital just wondering what might happen.  I'll admit that from the beginning I had held some sense of optimism that at some point Dad would wake up and we'd have him back, even if it would take a lot of rehab to make him so that he could ride his bike again.  Mom knew from the beginning.  While today is the day that his heart stopped beating for good, she still considers September 5th to be the day he died.

I sometimes think about how if this were a movie, that death would've just seemed totally unnecessary.  We didn't need to lose someone to bring our family closer together.  We didn't need for him to die in order to realize how amazing he was or how much we should've appreciated him.  But unfortunately in life sometimes stuff like that just happens.  And I will say that as much as I hate what happened, since then I've certainly heard of worse tragedies.  Young fathers, kids, mothers, daughters, whatever.  As unfair as I feel it is, I do know that things could've been a lot worse and I'm incredibly grateful for the time that I did get to spend with him.  I just wish it could've been longer.

So now begins a new year.  Each one will hopefully get a bit better although I doubt there will ever be a time in which I'll be able to think of him and not wish he was still here with us.  Whether it be any major life events or just watching the first Patriots game of the season.  Working the grill on a random Saturday night, driving the boat while I fall asleep in the front, taking me skiing and of course being there at the finish line of my races.  I do hope that I can cross a few more finish lines in the future knowing how happy he would've been to see me do so well.  I don't think I will ever lose the vivid memory of how excited he was when I was leading and then crossed the finish line as the first female in Lake Placid.

As an abrupt segue I will now mention that as of Tuesday's x-ray I am finally boot-free.  There is still a fine line in the x-ray and I've not yet been given clearance to run, but I can wear matching shoes, I can bike, swim, lift, walk, even elliptical.  I'll be honest and say that while it was frustrating to basically miss an entire season, it was probably a good time for it to happen.  I think I needed the break in more ways than one.  It took me a little longer than I thought it would to really want to train again, and I think I'm finally there.  I also got to spend much of last week with my best friends from college who I never get to see anymore thanks to a wedding, and not being able to train gave me an excuse to not miss time with them for training and wearing the boot to the reception gave me a solid excuse not to show off my complete lack of dance skills.

So this is it.  A year later, a lot of changes and a lot of unfortunate firsts.  But I'd just once again like to say that I've got an incredible family and I know we don't say it really, because we know anyway, but I love you guys.  As great as my dad was my mom is equally amazing and we are handling it as well as we are because of her.  My aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone has been great.  And thanks to my friends, some of whom came out of the woodwork after not having seen me for years.  Every note, card, bunch of flowers, bit of food, visit, hug, phone call, e-mail, comment and even facebook "like" meant a lot to me.  Losing Dad sucks either way, but it certainly makes a difference knowing I/we have so much support.  So just know that it is greatly appreciated.

We still miss you terribly, Dad.  Even though sometimes it feels like we just saw you yesterday.  While I know we can't have you back, we can at least try and continue to make you proud.