Tuesday, January 6, 2015

He's baaaaaaack.

Yeah, I'm back. No really, this time I mean it for real.

I got inspired by a friend who I read their blog and it made me want to start again. My journey went a little sideways for a while and I ran into some serious challenges, but we are back on track. Hungrier, more determined, and hopefully a little smarter now.

So parts of this post may seem a little down, but it's really just recalling where I was at and ultimately I'm past the worst of it.

So, when I last left this blog I had planned on doing Ironman Wisconsin in 2014 and I was on the ramp up for Ironman Miami 70.3 in October of 2013.

Let me explain, no - that will take too long, let me sum up...

About a month before Ironman Miami, I did my first greater than 10 mile race at Disney World at the Tower of Terror 10-miler. Had a fantastic experience and had a wonderful time.

Ironman Miami 70.3 - DNF. This DNF really crushed me even though realistically, I did everything I could. Why did I DNF? As the swim started, I got kicked in the ribs and fractured 3 ribs during the start. But I didn't really realize at the time, probably adrenaline. But where I have to give myself credit (or is it insanity?) was that I didn't quit. I finished the swim and I got out on the bike and went out to nearly the turn around. And that's when I passed out on the bike and crashed into the median as I tried to stop recognizing that something was wrong. Next thing I know, there is the paramedics ... including the guy who was asking me if I was OK at the previous aid station. The hardest thing I had to hear was the paramedics radioing into the base with my race number and the 3 letters DNF. That was a crushing moment. I truly was depressed for weeks after that.

I really have to thank my friends that stuck with me and really helped pull me through that dark time. My wonderful wife Juanita saved my sanity more than once. Did I take it too hard, yes. But it was something that I had put my heart and soul into and it was ripped out of my hand by a twist of fate.

Yet, out of that blossomed some wonderful friendships that I have to this day by friends who helped me pick up the pieces and put it back together. About 8 weeks later, I finished my first half marathon at the Seattle Half Marathon. For those of you that aren't familiar with the course, it's a hilly SOB. But, I had the most awesome set of friends and cheering squad who ran with me and cheered me on to my first half finish.

My first full marathon came not long after that when I finished (barely, but I finished) the Disney World full marathon. Some wonderful stories out of that one, like having a shoe full of blood from a broken blister at mile 13. But I swore to myself that there was absolutely no way that I was giving up on this dream either. And I kept plugging away. And I finished. I was slow as a turtle in peanut butter, but I had some wonderful memories from that race from the awesome spectators and the wonderful support I got from my team mates who raced with me.

Wisconsin turned into IM AZ and then 2014 happened. 2014 was the year of hell.

First, my ankle started to deteriorate. Then I got diagnosed with bone cancer in my leg. Yeah, that was a fun way to start 2014. So, I started to get radiation treatment to treat the tumor. Went through one round and we thought we got it. A few months later, nope - it's back. And so we underwent round two during the summer. Which ended up making me pull most of my summer race calendar off because I was barely able to train.

My weight climbed back up - I was still far, far away from where I started, but that was a blow. Felt like I was accursed. And mentally I collapsed. It was not a great experience in 2014.

Again, I have to be thankful for my wonderful wife and for all of my friends that I developed through my coaches group - some of them are friends far outside of just my training partners now.

Let me tell you this... If you ever have to face a serious medical illness or cancer or any major life altering event. Find a few close, very good friends, and you will get through it. My wife, also my best friend, saved me on more than one day. And then my friends outside there were my support network to keep me sane and trying to move forward. Seriously, mentally I would have been destroyed without them reminding me how strong I actually was training for an Ironman, battling cancer, and battling major orthopedic issues all at once.

At the end of the second round, we were pretty sure that we've gotten it all this time - and so far we've been right. I've been cancer free now for 6 months and I'm hoping for that streak to continue.

And the end of it all though, my ankle deteriorated orthopedically  to the point of the surgeon telling me that if I continued I risked doing permanent damage. So under the knife I went and the dreams of IM AZ died.

I ended 2014 recovering from my 3rd ankle surgery in 4 1/2 years.

And then there's the mental piece... by the time we got to surgery, I was back to self hate. I hated the way I looked, I hated the way I trained, I hated my failures, I pretty much had self-loathing to spare. I know better than to fall into that trap, but it's so seductive. I spent the week before surgery debating on if I wanted to chuck it all and give up on my Ironman dreams and just give up.

But then I had two moments that really pulled me back from the brink of that decision. First was a long conversation I had with my wife ... and she told me how seeing me fight through all of the setbacks my body was throwing at me inspired her as she battles chronic migraines. She told me that my fighting spirit kept her going at times. It was a moment that made me realize that there is still that spark of something in me that others could see. It really helped me realize that I still have more to offer. I have dreams that need to be fulfilled and I have places to go.

The second moment was when a friend of mine (names withheld to protect the awesome) had a conversation with me about how when she felt challenged or didn't want to do a workout, she'd think of everything I'd battled through and how I kept trying - even though I didn't hit my goal, and it would inspire her to go out and get it done. That's a powerful moment. To know that someone who is a fantastic athlete and is skilled in ever athletic endeavor is inspired by me.

And yeah, that's the root of a lot of the mental issues for 2014. Self confidence. When someone tells me that I'm and inspiration, I'm like "what?" "Who are you talking about?".

Those moments helped me renew and recommit to my goals. So much so that in the hospital post surgery, I took a sharpie and wrote IM NZ 2016 on my leg right above the bandages and incisions. A couple of the nurses and my surgeon though it was pretty cool. I decided at that moment, to renew, to go again.

But as 2014 closed, I came to a realization. I am not a set a medals on a wall. I am not a set of PR's, times, places. I am not expected to be perfect. I don't have to carry the weight of a million expectations on my shoulders as I shoot for my goals. I am who I am and I don't have to be perfect on the first attempt.

And another friend reminded me of a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

So 2014 ended with me turning the page and going back to a happier place. I am not perfect and I have a lot of mental and physical work to do. But I will do my best and that is all anyone - mostly me - can expect. This has to be fun, otherwise why do it? So, I'm having fun. I'm reveling in the strength I am starting to reclaim. I having fun working out again. Sore is ok and actually feels good. I'm not fully back, but I feel like I'm on the right track again.

There's a major mental / nutrition piece that I'm now realizing and addressing - but that's not ready to talk about yet.

So, as 2015 is now here ... I found myself walking through hell, but I keep going.

And I close this out with a few lyrics from a song I love now ...

"There's a time in your life
When the world is on your side
You might not feel it
You might not see it
But it surrounds you like a light
Makes you stronger for the fight

Never letting go, gotta learn to grow
Watch me as I touch the sky
Still I fly
Now I know it's what I gotta do
Find the dream that's new
Give it all I got this time
Still I fly
Still I fly"

So, I'm off to fly ... Hope you readers stick around for the ride.