Friday, October 16, 2009

Ariadne's thread, my 2009 racing season

The story
In Greek mythology Ariadne was the daughter of Minos the king of Crete. The half man half bull Minotaur inhabited the labyrinth on Crete. Every year 14 young men were provided as sacrifices to the Minotaur. After Ariadne fell in love with Theseus she provided him with a magical golden thread so that he could find his way out of the labyrinth when he was placed into it. Read more and more

This certainly describes my 2009 racing season.

The races
Steilacoom Resolution Run Series
Death Valley Marathon
Desert Half Iron
Ironman Canada
Grand Columbian Half Iron

The numbers

Resolution Run, age group first, mile series
Death Valley Marathon, age group first, 30km event
Desert Half Iron, age group first
Ironman Canada, age group fourth
Grand Columbian, age group first

The labyrinth
I started the 2009 season high as a kite from an incredibly successful 2008 season. In retrospect this was clearly dangerous. My aspirations were high.

My work career was winding down to retirement and I had time and inclination to train. During the fall I had a number of incredible trail running experiences in California. My in-laws lived in Cupertino at that time and their assisted living facility backed up to Rancho San Antonio Park and open space. The weather in Silicon Valley in the winter time can be great, the hills were challenging and beautiful, and I was stoked. On the day these photos were taken I ran all the way to the top of Black Mountain and enjoyed every second of it.

Then disaster in the form of a training injury struck. Running more than a few miles resulted in the most excruciating knee pain I've ever experienced and brought me to a crawl. I struggled through the 10-mile and 15-mile Resolution Run races. In both races I started out fine, but the pain returned some time during the race. At the 15-miler everything was great to about mile 12 at which point I slowed to a crawl.

All this was pointing me to the Death Valley Marathon which was going to be a whole new experience for me. It was not to be.

By the time I got there I was not healed so I switched to the 30km race. That was a smart decision but still a struggle. Bad weather resulted in a course change so we ran in Badwater (the lowest place in North America) instead of through the mountains. By the turn around my pace had slowed to a painful limp. That journey back across Death Valley, peering through the mist, was probably the longest 3 miles I've ever run.

Now I was suffering from serious testosterone poisoning: big aspirations in combination with a body that wasn't cooperating.

Following the thread
First, I went to a physical therapist. A PT had helped me to recover from a shoulder over-use injury the previous year, so I felt some kind of confidence in this approach. With my exercise bands firmly anchored I proceeded to follow instructions and I began to heal!

I was able to run again! It took a while, but it happened.

Then I worked at lowering my aspirations. This was really, really hard because I had set myself up.

But, if the fun was to go out of it, I didn't want to do it.

Training one day at a time became my mantra. Have fun training with my buddies and race up to whatever I was capable of doing and make my competitors work to win.

By the time the Desert Half rolled around I was feeling pretty frisky. But I was flat on the bike, just didn't have the snap I expected. The run was hard, hard, hard. It seemed that my plan was not fully executed.

Then some other mysterious injury settled on me: my right hamstring HURT LIKE HELL when I rode my bike. Massage and acupuncture helped and I could still run totally pain free.

Who would believe that it would be possible to get injured swimming in Lake Washington? It happened. On a training swim I collided with another swimmer who did a perfect head butt to my left rib cage. At first I could hardly breathe; couldn't cough or sneeze or laugh without awful pain.

Wow, I was really being tested.

The coup de grace occurred in mid-August when I was laid low by a hemorrhoid (hargh!) attack.

So, here I was getting ready to do an Ironman with: sore ribs, hurting leg, hargh! Whoa, would I make it to the starting line?

Off to Penticton with plenty of reading material just to make sure that I took it EASY and laid low. The days raced by, I was filled with self-doubt, and I meditated on my state of mind.

The race was a reprise of the Desert Half only twice as long: flat on the bike, struggle on the run. It seemed almost as if I had dug myself in even deeper.

Then the way cleared up: I was still good, I could still race, even in spite of it all. Holy, moly, what a revelation! It didn't matter. I had gone in to the race with self doubts about starting and finished really well. I could let go; I could let the day unfold around me.

That was it. Now I could focus on the fun again and let the rest of it happen as it would, without worrying. And I did. My last race of the year was total fun with a big success.

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