I'm Here.

Remember when I used to write about feelings and things that were important to me, and how fitness things weren't really fitness things at all because they were so much more than that? I do, and I'm not sure what happened to that blog or when or why it turned into how I swam or rode or ran a million miles (please hear me out and don't just click out because I said "Ironman" for the 40 millionth time this year). My Ironman journey is one I want to share, I just haven't been sure how to do it, or if anyone will even want to come along. I have so many posts floating around in my head that, admittedly, do pertain to Ironman training, but they are so much more than that. They're full of the thoughts and the feelings that I have that relate not just to Ironman training, but to life. They're the types of posts I used to write, the ones that I thought just about anybody could relate to, whether you get your cardio in from ultramarathons or running to the kitchen from the couch during a commercial break. They're the ones that stem from my own personal adventures in fitness but aren't really about fitness. They're about what I'm going through and what it feels like to chase my dreams and to both succeed and fail, the highs and the lows and all the in betweens and what I learned at each step.

To be honest, training for an Ironman has had me wondering where I fit now. I worry that I seem too far removed from the Beginners Club to be relatable, but at the same time all of this stuff is way too freakin' hard for me and I'm in way over my head to be a part of the Real Athletes Club (not that they'd have me anyway). One of the reasons I started this blog was to be yet another voice on the Internet telling anyone who would listen that hey, if I can do this, so can you! "This" being anything you think you absolutely can't do. The only problem with that now is that I don't feel qualified to spread that message anymore, because for the first time since I started turning my can'ts into cans, I found something that I thought I really, actually, might not be able to do. I just didn't feel like I could continue to preach that gospel when I didn't believe it myself anymore. I'm not sure if I ever stopped believing it, or if I just hardened myself to it. I got so frustrated when I struggled, and so afraid of failure, that I stopped letting myself go to those places of, "What if....?" I stopped dreaming of all the things I could do and I stopped writing about them because I just wanted to wall myself off from the possibility that I might have finally bitten off more than I could chew. 

How could I blog about my experiences and share them openly and transparently if I couldn't even be honest with myself about them? Where could I go from there? What should I do? I haven't quite been able to find the words to do this until now, but I think I just....write. Write about my experiences and my struggles and try to make them as real and relatable as possible. I still have workout recaps and race recaps to write, and I do want to write them because I have some irrational fear that future me will be really upset with past me if I don't (although present you would be just fine if I didn't, I'm sure), but right now I just want to share what's on my heart and what's really going on.

I've honestly felt like I've lost myself over these last 17 weeks. I have no idea who I am outside of Ironman training anymore (which I realize sounds ridiculous - it's been 3 months for crying out loud), but I also haven't really felt like myself since I've been in Ironman training. I've completely lost sight of where I started and why and how I got here and why I wanted to be here in the first place.

Maybe it's just that literally all of my energy - physical, emotional, mental - has gone into training over the last few months, but I honestly haven't even had the emotional capacity to feel what this training and achieving this goal mean to me - or what it meant to me when I signed up, anyway. I have been going through the motions and while that's gotten me to a place where I feel physically ready to tackle this (some days, anyway...other days I think about all the miles I haven't covered in training but maybe should have and I just want to puke), I would be remiss if I didn't take some time I wasn't ready to do it before now, and I'm not sure what's changed - possibly the fact that I can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and I can feel the days left slipping away - but I'm ready now. I'm ready to explore what this really means to me, to open myself to reflecting on the good and the bad that has gotten me here, to being vulnerable again and sharing that vulnerability and telling you I am really, really scared and I have no idea what on earth made me ever think I could be an Ironman but that I am also so excited and so ready and so full of hope despite all my fears. I'm ready to come out of the fog I've been in and start to dig through the feelings and clearing out the emotional baggage swimming around in my head and my heart. I'm just ready to feel what endurance sports mean to me in the first place and to tell you all the things they teach me because it's about so much more than just swimming, biking, and running. I'm ready to embrace this as the life-changing journey it is and should be. 

That's all I wanted to say today. That I'm here. I'm really here. For the first time in months, I am really here. 

The Beginning of the End

I already wrote an update at the halfway point, and it's only been 3 weeks since then, but I'm feeling like I'm at another pivotal point. Maybe even the most pivotal point. Twenty weeks of training divides almost into thirds, putting me now in the final third. I can't decide if I feel like I should be farther than roughly 67% of the way through training or if I'm not where I should be yet, but in reality this last third will be about half work and half taper, leaving me just a few more weeks to get in as much training as I can before I start to rest up.

I've experienced significant mental fatigue and burnout over the last several weeks, so I wanted to break down the first two thirds of training to make a plan for how to successfully tackle this final third. All of my successes and failures thus far are worthless if I don't learn from them. 

If You Go Straight Long Enough You'll End Up Where You Were

I started running to see if I could prove the, "No you can't"s in my head wrong. I kept running because I kept proving them wrong. By the time I decided to train for an Ironman, I thought they were all but gone. I thought I had literally outrun them. But they have started creeping back in, and the more they ask, "What makes you think you can do an Ironman?" the more I have to concede that I don't know.

I just posted a few weeks ago that I have never quit a swim. It's the one thing I never give up on. I don't make it to the pool as consistently as I get in the saddle or on the road, but when I am in the water I don't get out until I have completed the task at hand. I have different strengths and weaknesses in each discipline, with none of them being something I'm overwhelmingly good at, but swimming is the one that I feel most comfortable doing, even if I don't always want to do it.

I was supposed to swim at the pool on Wednesday and Friday last week, but I made some poor training decisions early in the week that snowballed into me lifting weights at the gym on Wednesday night right before heading to the pool. After an hour of legs and core (including a total of 90 push-ups), my body was tired and if I went to swim I'd be looking at about 5 hours of sleep before getting up at 3:50am the next morning for a 2.5 hour brick before work. So, the snowballing continued and I decided to pass on the swim to go to bed instead.

When Friday rolled around, I really had to swim. No choice. I'd swam once in 2.5 weeks (pool was closed the week prior) when I normally swim 2-3 times per week. I got off from work a little early and went home with some pep in my step, ready to get back in the water. Ben and I had some chores to take care of first that took a little longer than expected, but we finally got to the gym around the same time I'd normally get home from work, and I was feeling ahead of the game. 

The pool is in the back of the gym but you can see it from the front door. As soon as we walked in we could already tell it was very full. I really don't like swimming in pools and get weird pool anxiety, which is how I roped Ben into swimming in the first place and how he ended up signing up for his first triathlon (coming up this weekend!). The lanes make me feel claustrophobic and I hate sharing with anyone because then I feel even more claustrophobic and I just find the whole thing very stressful. I'll share if I have to, but I really don't like to share with anyone other than Ben because I'm just constantly worrying about where they are and what they're doing that I can't calm down. I know it's weird, but give me open water over a pool any day.

Sometimes the pool is crowded when we first get there but then people start getting out, and since we usually go around 8 or 9pm, not a lot of people come in after we get there, so we just wait for a lane to open up (Ben is the only person I feel comfortable sharing with). On Friday we went at 6pm so not only were people not leaving, but more just kept coming in. We ended up having to share a lane, and this story is already getting ridiculously long and it gave me anxiety typing it once already in my training recap from last week, so I'll just cut to the chase and tell you that I had a full on meltdown over this. My anxiety was already high because the pool was super crowded, and then a guy jumped in the lane I was already sharing with Ben and I kept getting stuck behind him and I got really frustrated and upset and my heart rate was through the rough and after stopping twice and telling Ben I was going to quit...on the third time, I finally did it. Before I even realized what was happening I was taking my googles off and hopping out.

And then I went and cried in the locker room because if I'm going to freak out when things don't go as planned then how am I ever going to get through 140.6 miles? And I don't just mean let out a few tears. I sobbed. I was so, so upset. At everything. At other people in the pool. At myself for quitting. At myself for ever even thinking I had a chance of having the mental strength to get through this. At training taking over my life and making me feel bad about myself.

I went to dinner with Ben instead and he helped talk me through what I was feeling and made me feel a little better, but I was still pretty down. I managed to make it through a 10 mile run on Saturday (after doing everything under the sun to procrastinate), but Sunday turned out to be even worse. I had to ride my bike 40 miles, which should have been easy after 110 the week before, but it wasn't. Not even close. Every pedal stroke felt hard and every mile felt like 10 and I just couldn't see the point anymore. I was ready to quit training right then and there. In that moment it didn't matter to me if I stopped training for the next 7 weeks and showed up on race day completely undertrained. And really, if give the option, I would have rather completed the whole race right then just to get it over with. I just wanted to be done. If my only choices were to either keep going or to get off my bike and forfeit ever being an Ironman, I am almost certain I would have taken the latter. I have thought this many times over the last few weeks, and on Sunday I was almost certain of it: if I didn't have three other people in this thing with me, I would probably have quit a long time ago. So I guess the only thing keeping me (barely) going at this point is Ironman FOMO.

This is the part of training I feel like no one really talks about. No one talks about the mental part and how hard it is to convince yourself to keep going when your brain is screaming at you to stop. Or how to tell when you should listen to that screaming, which is what I did on Sunday - when I did eventually get off my bike I took the rest of the afternoon off instead of running and swimming like I was supposed to. I read a lot of training and racing blogs and follow a lot of runners and triathletes on Twitter and Instagram, and while some are more transparent than others, there are far more stories of success than failure. But even the ones that do acknowledge failure don't seem to be affected by it the way that I do. Do they really not have the same negative emotions I do? When they do, do they just not allow those emotions to affect them as deeply as I do? Are they just not able to find the words to describe them, as I'm also unable to a lot of times?

I've always shared my running on my personal social media accounts whenever I felt like I had something to share, but I've deliberately chosen to document as much of my ironman training as possible this year on Instagram. I've tried to strike a balance between finding beauty in something that isn't always beautiful, and remaining as real and transparent as possible. I do share a lot of highs but I don't intentionally hide the lows or try to minimize them. Still, I often wonder if I am unintentionally contributing to this social media culture where everything is perfect and running is easy and I'm just over here powering through 15+ hour training weeks like its no big deal. I would hope that anyone who knows me or has read my blog knows that that is far from the truth and that I struggle, quite a lot sometimes, but I am still always curious how what I present online comes across. If I've ever downplayed how hard this is on me, it's only because I am trying to do my best to remind myself that this is a choice, it's something I am voluntarily putting myself through and for that reason I try not to publicly complain.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this or what the point is. I've had a few days of better training and some time to process the burnout, and I'm feeling a little bit better. I knew this would be an uphill battle so I can't say I'm surprised, but I just don't think I had the capacity to imagine just how much my limits would be tested during this training. I really didn't know, I couldn't know. Like I said at the beginning, I started running to prove to myself that the voice in my head was wrong, that I could do hard things. So when I've swam and biked and run hundreds or thousands of miles and find myself having and succumbing to those same thoughts telling me I can't, that I'm weak, that I'm worthless...I can't help but wonder what the point is. I can't help but wonder why I'm pushing myself toward a goal that I now really believe may truly be impossible for me to accomplish, if the only outcome is me feeling just as bad about myself as I used to before any of this started. 

I know I need a change of perspective, and that's what I'm working on moving forward. The one thing that slightly helped me get through the weekend was remembering that this is my journey. It is not my  training group's journey. It's not my coach's journey. Not the people who tell me I'm strong or brave for doing this. Not the people who tell me I'm crazy or think I'm stupid for doing this. Not my friends', not my family's, not my coworkers'. Not the people probably laughing at me running into the wall of the pool every lap because I left my goggles at home. Not the Instagrammers or the bloggers who make training always look like fun. Not anyone who has ever in any way made me feel like this could be an attainable goal (or not). Part of the reason I signed up in the first place was because I wanted this to be another road of self-discovery, the way my other really big goals and accomplishments have been, but so far if anything, I've lost myself. All of those people may contribute to my success to some degree, but at the end of the day, this is my journey. It's my swim, my bike, my run, my day, my Ironman, my iron year. No one else's but mine, and I have to rediscover my iron will if I'm going to make it to the finish line. 

If I Blogged, Vol. 2

What's New With You

I'd tell you that I'm realizing that sometimes I just have some tidbits to share, and that its okay if none of them grow into standalone posts. These aren't the type of posts I really like to write (or read for that matter), but they're what I got right now. And from the looks of my feed, I'm not the only one.