I am just in from a 5 1/2 hour bike ride that included 4100 feet of climbing and what felt like a 30 mph headwind on the last hour home. I have a 20 minute run also on my day’s training schedule, but I’ve lost the will to do that, along with my will to live. And I still have almost 9 weeks til my ironman. That is a lifetime, and the blink of an eye.
I’ve been in this place before. I’ve done five Ironman triathlons, most recently the World Championship in Kona in 2012. The burn out of training days that last up to 8-hours and the resignation that I won’t shower for the day until well after noon are not unfamiliar. This time is terrifically different, though. I have years of endurance training in my body, but it seems to have a massive case of amnesia. I can’t seem to get traction. I never use a heart rate monitor, preferring to train by RPE, rate of perceived exertion. In other words, if I think I can go faster (rarely), then I will. (Back story: I stopped using a heart rate monitor in 2002 (2003?) after running the Steamtown marathon with a 183 heart rate. For almost 4 hours. If you’re keeping score at home, I should have keeled over. Not useful information. I’d rather not know, since after all, I didn’t keel over.)
These days, I find myself making that familiar, slightly uncomfortable effort on the bike and look down at my brand new Garmin, and I’m going 12 miles an hour. 12! And my riding companions are pulling away, then having to wait for me. W. T. F? I’m a half marathon runner who almost always runs in the 1:40-1:50 range. Twice in the last few weeks, I was killing myself to run a 2:01 and then last Saturday, a 1:56 (better). Both of these races were mostly downhill AND in perfect weather conditions. W.T.F?
I actually know what’s happening here; a couple of things, most of it circling back to stupid cancer, the redux. That radiation and chemo from the fall sucked the life and the fitness right out of me. It left me skinny with no muscle mass and even less lung capacity. I haven’t had to start from zero endurance fitness since I was about 35. But that certainly seems like what’s happening here. I have no top end at all. I am stubborn enough and tough enough to stay out on my bike for 75 miles, but my top end is gone. I am pokey. Or poky. Either applies, and spellcheck alerted on neither. Trying to regain Ironman fitness at 52 is turning out to be quite the challenge.
That’s part one. Part two is the latest medical update. Those 27 radiation treatments through my esophagus and part of my lung left quite the glob of scar tissue behind. I got to see it when I met with yet ANOTHER specialist at Huntsman. This time, it’s a pulmonary doc who showed me what looked like an impressive wad of Tissue That Doesn’t Expand When You Inhale. This explains a lot, actually. My high altitude hack after climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in February wasn’t just from high altitude. Also explains why everyone else but me on the Survivor Summit eventually was able to breathe unassisted. I, on the other hand, now have two inhalers to use, twice a day. And I’m hoping one of them starts to work a little before my first half-ironman of the year SATURDAY.
On top of all this, my ACL repaired knee is acting up ( 25+ miles downhill in 2 days on Kili and two half marathons haven’t exactly helped). I got a Cortisone shot yesterday, so this shouldn’t be an issue SATURDAY.
So what’s the takeaway here? I hate to quote 85% of the athletes interviewed on Sportscenter, but I will: “It is what it is.” I’ll work with what I have, because what else am I going to do? I’ll probably be slow, but when I cross the finish line SATURDAY and in June at Ironman Coeur D’Alene, I’ll be doing it less than a year after cancer tried AGAIN to take me down. Finish lines continue to be hugely symbolic for me. They put me that much further from being sick…. And they always mean I can stop running and head for the beer tent. I don’t need a stinking heart rate monitor for that. After all, my heart is still beating. Pokey (or poky!) never looked so good.