Catching Ironman Finishers Makes Me A Better Person

I’ve watched dozens of Ironman races and I’ve volunteered at full and half IMs here in Madison five times now. Each time has been an incredible experience.

Sunday was Wisconsin IM 70.3 and instead of handing out water as I have in the past, I was convinced to work the finish line with some friends. We were trained in “catching” participants: You and another volunteer come from each side of the runner to physically help/escort him or her through the next 50 feet of the finish area, stopping for timing-chip removal, getting medal-ed, handing off water, and then checking with them one last time before releasing them back to the world. We learned how to make a two- and three-person “net” to catch and carry wilted athletes in, if necessary. We learned how to stop them if they were running too fast and how to shadow them if they didn’t want to be physically helped.

I love this sport so, so much. I find the mass swim nauseating to watch, but everything else about triathlon just awes me and makes me feel alive. Having done a handful of sprint triathlons and knowing friends who train for 70.3 and 140.6 mile races, I have a basic idea of how much planning and training and perseverance it takes to get to race day (i.e. lots and lots and lots.) The weather, as always, was a factor in the day and while rain delayed the start and made for slick bike conditions, I was happy for the cooler temperatures and cloudy skies. Cooler means safer, and cloudy also meant lots fewer sunglasses, and lots more eye contact with the athletes. It makes a difference to be able to see their eyes. You can see the triumph, the pain, the disbelief. Some are dazed. Some look like this is just a day in the park. It’s an incredible array of emotions at the finish line.

The first wave of finishers looked and felt great crossing the line, with only one person throwing up. To be honest, puke doesn’t phase me. I threw up from conception through delivery for all pregnancies, I have two kids and four cats. Vomit is a part of our lives. Two years ago at an aid station about ten miles into the run, a woman came up, grabbed some gels then gracefully turned and threw up, hard, in a garbage can. And then she apologized. Oh, honey. You have no idea how proud I am of you. Ironman, sure. Throwing up IN THE CAN?!? Way to go!

You get invested in these strangers, and it is thrilling to be so near, watching them work their hearts out. My favorite aid station at the full Ironman is on an out-and-back portion, and since they run the course twice, you can see someone four times. You mentally keep track of people as they come and go, silently praying for them, especially those who are struggling, while continuing to cheer the people in front of you, hawking your Gatorade or water, apologizing for being out of ice or chicken broth. Every year, we end up closing down the aid station, cheering the last person on the course through, then driving up to the finish to make sure “our” last people make it. Sometimes they don’t get there in time. Believe me, if I’ve seen you finish that race at 12:01, you’re still an Ironman to me.

This Sunday, I got to catch a friend after he finished his best HIM yet. His knees buckled a little, but he found his legs quickly and after passing him off to his brother, I rushed back to the twin lines of volunteers waiting for the next athletes.

Like all the races I’ve volunteered at, most of it is a blur that left me wired and tired, but there were a handful of finishers who had an impact. Some lean on you more than others. My last “catch” of the day before my shift was over was a young guy who started to hyperventilate. The station director gave him a good, long look, asked him if he was okay, and told us to keep walking and breathing. We did. At the finish area exit, the other volunteer raised his eyebrows at me, and I said I had it. Then, with arm still around my athlete, I asked him quietly if he was okay, and he cracked and started to cry. Oh buddy. Have you come to the right place. I happen to know someone who sobs at finish lines. She only does sprints, but she’s a real gem.

I walked him out of the mud pit and found him a spot to sit a ways away in the grass. He’s from Chicago. He doesn’t have anyone here except a friend who’s still out on the course. He’s had too much sugar and caffeine. He didn’t expect to cry. He doesn’t have to drive back tonight and plans to have a Spotted Cow or two. I listen and sit next to him and agree that RedBull is the worst, and when I notice he’s stopped shaking I get him up and ask if he wants a hug and tell him how truly proud I am of him. I leave him in the food line, in better shape than I found him.

I tell my leader I’m leaving, then head home on my bike.

Here’s the secret: Volunteering is good for me. My well had run dry. I had almost nothing left for my family. And yet giving and being present at that finish line was easy. You need someone to lean on and get you a soda? You got it. You’re still shaking and you need an escort to the med tent? I’m here. I’ll walk with an arm around you the whole way and won’t leave until I know you’re being taken care of. It’s simple, easy, necessary help that I can give. And then I wipe my hands off and I go help someone else.

Perhaps I haven’t felt useful in quite some time. Perhaps it’s nice to be needed? I’m needed all the time. All. The. Time. The seven-year old has pneumonia for the third time in three months. She felt good for a week? A few days? There is no respite. There is no cavalry. I left the kids home watching videos to pick up her antibiotic, and despite the urgency, I found myself stalled out in front of a magazine rack, in the middle of an interview of …Anna Faris?I don’t know how long I had been standing there.

But… I left that finish area restored. I helped. I did my best. I reminded people to stop their watches and congratulated them on their hard work and achievement. I gave hugs and high-fives and sodas and foil blankets and, it was enough. I can’t explain why helping strangers makes it easier to continue to help my own child, but I don’t need to. I’ll just see you at the finish line at WI IM, this September.

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Wrist band given to IM athletes to give to volunteers. Also, a reminder of my best self. She’s not that far away.

First Step

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new chapter for me.  It was the first day I was comfortable talking about my MS.

I hurt my hip doing my own bike-run-bike the beginning of December.  I have big plans of doing a half-marathon for the first time this April 1st, before tri season. (“Before tri season.” Listen to me.) So when the injury persisted after a few weeks rest, I called the UW Running Clinic and amazingly, wondrously, got in to see a Physical Therapist in a matter of two days.  Is this the benefit of being, of thinking like, an athlete?? I’ll take it.

I was expecting to be put on a treadmill and have my gait analyzed, but we’re not there yet.  First we repair and strengthen.  I met a friend in the lobby, a colleague of my PT, and we caught up about our kids and our health and made plans for his wife and I to train together.  It felt like belonging to a special club.  It felt great.

I meet my PT and he’s smart and nice and he asks questions about the injury and my goals and then, “Is there anything else I should know?”  And I don’t even hesitate to tell him I give myself injections three times a week for MS prevention and my hip is one of those injection sites and I’ve got some welts to prove it.  And he nods and asks if I have any mobility concerns related to that and it’s all completely normal.  He didn’t apologize to me for the diagnosis I shared.  I didn’t have to tell him how it started or how long it’s been going on.

He asks after my kids and we laugh about him asking if I pick them up, which I hear as “picking up after” and, of course I do, they’re slobs.  I mean, they’re my children.

One little test is while sitting, slouching and dropping my chin, I straighten one leg out and see where it’s tight on each side.  Except that dropping my chin makes the bottom of my feet go numb….and I have to redo the exercise a lot until I notice any other sensation. (It’s L’hermittes’ Sign, a vestige of the initial nerve damage.)  I explain what I can and can’t feel and he nods.

He gives me some homework (clamshells, hip raises, foam rolling) and I’m to stay away from yoga and running for a bit.  He mentions something horrible known as “dry needling” as a possible recourse if things don’t improve and jokingly I ask if it’ll make me cry.  He hesitates too long and I laugh and tell him, don’t worry, I’ll do my exercises.  I ask slyly if this is a good reason to get a new bike, hmm?? And he laughs and says definitely.  As long as I have it fitted.  Deal.

Later, he left me with my new resistance band while he filled out forms and I did some bicep curls with it until he came back (only because I didn’t have my phone and I don’t remember how to sit still, look pretty.)  Then, I needed to sign off on our plan and I couldn’t do it.  I’d been gripping the resistance band and my hand was hot and crampy and I got three letters out before I had to stop and shake it out.  Try again.  Third time, I manage to ink it out and he asks, “So what’s going on there?”  And I tell him “Oh.  That’s damage.  When my hand gets too hot, I lose my grip.”  And he’s a physical therapist who works is sports rehab so he says “Oh.  So running in the winter is actually probably better?”  Yep.
“How do you do with summer triathlons?”
“Good.  Well, actually, it’s a challenge.  I wear an ice-vest for the run, but that only give me about 20 minutes on a warm day. It’s part of why I only do sprints.”

Nods.  He just nods.  And it’s no big thing.  And he doesn’t congratulate me or tell me I’m doing the best thing for myself or tell me anything about how great I am.  And I liked it.  A lot.  This is me.  This is what I do.   I didn’t flinch or soften anything about my diagnosis or the small parts of it that affect my life.  And it was just fine.

Race Report: Door County Triathlon

I’m sure I haven’t mentioned that I did a triathlon this summer, or again this Labor Day weekend.  I kept it pretty quiet.  You know me, so quiet.  So humble.  I was uncharacteristically out of words afterwards…but I’ve finally found them.  Here’s my first race report:

Door County Sprint Tri, July 16th or therabouts, 2016

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First, the swim. I was ready far too early. I paced and did some swim sprints to get my heart rate up. I peed in my wet suit a dozen times (while in the water, of course) before my wave went off, third to last. I wade out with the pack when the buzzer goes.  I dove in and start free-style.  I was a pro.  I put my face in the water.  I had conquered the totally rational, everyone-has-it-even-if-they-lie-fear of sea monsters.  I was sailing along. Five strokes, ten.  But there were all these other people in the water.  Polite ones, sure (thanks, ladies!!), but also people in kayaks telling you stuff and a boat and someone with a megaphone, I think, and it was too much.  It was all pulling at my attention and I just couldn’t stop looking around. None of these conditions are trustworthy! All these moving pieces! So I did the side-stroke for a quarter mile to keep my head up and in the game.  No biggie.  I can do a front crawl at the same pace I can side-stroke.  (I’m doing a Masters class now—and it turns out side-stroke is not an actual thing.  When she says 100 yds, free choice, she doesn’t mean side-stroke.  Wut?)

I fall a bit behind my wave and it gets nicer out in the water.  I am a seal.  I am a sylph of the water.  I am a selkie.  God, this is such a long quarter mile.

I schlepp onto shore and someone calls my name and I flash a million-watt smile. I have been advised to find the camera, let it be my friend. Lo! The very woman who suggested this tri thing seven months ago is the wet-suit peeler right in front of me!  She yells “Oh!  I get this one!!” and she and her dad unzip me and rip that suit off and get me back on my feet in nanoseconds and I’m rubber-legging it up the ramp to my bike.

I don’t remember transition.  I’m already out on my bike, and it is quiet out here on the road.  And the bay is to my right and there’s hardly anyone else on the road and it is amazing.  I laugh out loud and startle myself.  What a charmed life, to have this body, this time, this ability to move, this gorgeous earth to speed across.  Then my left arm goes densely, leadenly, numb.  And my toes start to go pins-and-needles and I start to wonder what I’m going to do next.  It has only been five miles.  I put my head down. I pick up the pace.  I fly into the water station at the turn-around at mile nine and ask everyone for ice. Ice.  Ice! They are confused.  I wheel my way into their supply line and grab ice out of the buckets, cooling bottles of Gatorade, and shove it down my shorts and into my left arm sleeve. The volunteers just goggle at me.  I want to tell them to volunteer at an Ironman after 9 pm and they’ll see it all, then.

Coming back in, I am now completely alone.  There are no more waves coming out and me and my trusty 1995 hybrid are streaming through the countryside.  Med-tent stop.  Beg for more ice.  More stunned and confused volunteers.  Someone gives me a glove with ice tied inside, which I shove, again into my shorts.  Someone else picks up on the urgency and helps me stuff ice into the elbows of my cooling sleeves.

Mile 15.  Three to go.  There is no one to yell “Hybrids for the WIN!!” or, “Go get ’em tiger!” at.  There is no one panting “Good job.  You got this,” as they pass me either.  Just me and the road.  And despair. We soldier through, together.

18 miles, done.  Transition is going fine.  I have this small chest of ice holding my ice vest in it.  I have nailed down the motions of one, two, three, dumping the ice water over my head, zipping up my vest, putting on my shoes…and I can’t tie my shoes.  My fingers will not work.  I look for anyone to help and then can’t remember if officials can help or just other participants or anyone or WTF will I do if I can’t tie my shoes??  And I grab two fistfuls of ice from the pavement and hold them for a minute, and I can finally feel my fingers and tie up clumsily and boom, I’m ready to run.

Good lord.  My body doesn’t work.  I did my due diligence, people.  I did brick workouts.  I know this sensation in my legs is temporary.  But this is ridiculous.  My toes have cramped into tight, little snails.  My left leg is going numb.  My hands are on fire.  I am tired and so freaking pumped.  This jolt hits me–this dichotomy of “Oh boy” and “Yass!” is why there are addicts in this sport.  You are doing this to yourself…and it’s miserable and exhilarating all at once.  I stumble past the big crowds.  I don’t see my family, but I do see a sign for me.  For me??  On this road?  And it’s an inside joke from sixth grade.  SIXTH GRADE!?!  Did you ever once think when you were in sixth grade that 26 years later you would do a triathlon with someone in your classroom??  I didn’t.  I loved it.  I cried and kept running.

The road gets so, so hot.  I finally see people ahead.  I have found my way back to the race.  People are walking, drooping, shuffling.  I shuffle right along with them.  I walk some. I pass a woman with a “Baby On Board” t-shirt and tell her “Hell.  I couldn’t even walk to my mailbox when I was pregnant.” (Partial lie.  I could have.  I just would have vomited if I did.) I thought I would run the whole thing, but nah, son.  Not today.  I can’t uncurl my toes.  I run until I’m just about to vomit, then I walk a minute and try again.  I get the shakes.  I’m so, so hot.  My ice vest has thawed.  I’m dumping water on my feet and head and in my bra at every station.  No weird looks here.  Everyone is wilting.  I’ve set my eye on Sparkle Skirt, who is part of a Team Triumph, a superhero up ahead.  If Sparkle Skirt can push a whole ‘nother person through this, I can push my own damn self.  I yell thanks to those Angels for pushing and for pulling me along, too.  It’s a 5K.  And it feels endless.

I finish.  I don’t see my family.  I fumble and panic with getting my ice vest off, then fall into the ice pool with my finisher medal.

I did it.  It was hard.  My first thought was “Aaaand, never doing that again.”  Only to immediately remember I was already signed up for one in six weeks.

I’m a triathlete.

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Countdown

The entire house smells like pee.  Cat pee from Stuart’s protest pee on the vent by the front door.  The bathroom from some errant slipstream from a child.  The bedrooms from twice nightly accidents from the little girl with a cold and double swimmer’s ear sleeping like the dead.  The kitchen where all the pee blankets, all the blankets in the house in fact, are waiting their turn in the washer.  Pee.  And my workout clothes too, because I haven’t been able to wash anything other than blankets and have been grabbing biking jerseys that not only are sweaty and damp, have been stewing with pee pajamas for two days.  Pee.  All the time.  Everywhere.
There’s a dried yogurt smear on the floor.  The paper towels are on the floor too.  So are all the grocery bags we’ve ever gotten.  And all the Playmobil ever made.  All of it.  On the floor.  Because the all the art work from the school year sits on the cabinets and the Sculpey we haven’t baked is spread all over the bay window and the candle scaping gems and junk mail are all over the telephone table and the shipping boxes are on the sofas with the towels that were once clean but are now coated in cat fur.  And the Play-Doh and pirate art and the compost bowls and dirty dishes and the library books and the broken picture frames from that time someone slammed their door and they shattered in the hallway.  And the running shoes and rain boots and dirty socks and Candy Land cards and all the stuffed animals with the doctors kit and the bow and arrows and the dying house plants and the cupcake tin filled with rocks and beads and the play dollars and coins and the broken crayons and the spilled bag of bug sprays and sunscreens and the discarded clothes and the catnip mice and the Fourth of July footrace prizes and the dinosaurs and the unopened bottles of Nature’s Miracle waiting to be used on the pee smell.
I get to have a conversation next week Wednesday about which medicine I’ll start with the intention of slowing down the progression of the MS.  I’ll start them when we come home from a westward road trip.
Did I forget to tell you?  I finally got my MRI results back. One new silent lesion. This is six weeks ago:

Sunday, June 5

Watch friends do the Lake Mills Triathlon.  Cry twice.  Once when a runner with spasticity troubles runs by.  Is it MS?  Is it ALS? Parkinson’s?  I don’t know.  But he trucks on past and I cry.  The next when a friend runs by smiling when I tell her she looks like a million bucks and says “This is so, so hard.”  Is it weird to be emoting this much on a trail, clapping and cheering for strangers?  Who can say.

Tell my dad and mom the radiologist found something on my MRI, a silent lesion near the cerebellum, one so small the neurologist can’t see it. That for me, it feels like three strikes and I’ll go on medication, probably thrice-weekly injections, come August to help slow the progression.  My dad asks if the lesions ever get smaller.  “Actually, the first lesion has shrunk.”  I say.

Dad: “Whoa!  That’s just like The Shrinking of Treehorn!”

And I laugh.  Hard.  Like I haven’t in many days.  And all is right with the world again.

I’ve wrapped my head around the injections.  But I’m starting to crack under the very idea of having to discuss them.  I refreshed my memory about the side effects of the options.  Almost all of them include the most common being depression and liver failure.

Did you know that “Depression is frightfully common in multiple sclerosis, so much so that about half of those with the disease will have at least one major episode. Worse, this depression is not the simple result of being bummed about having MS or coping with increasing disability.”  (Read more here.Do be forewarned, though. Reading stats about depression, is, well, depressing.)

This terrifies me.  I know depression.  I remember.  I live in its shadow to this day.  What arose in the darkest chapter of my life took years to squash back down and I’m reminded often of how shallow it lies beneath.  I have a security blanket in the form of a pill I take every day and don’t you dare even look funny at my blankie.  Without it, I don’t know who I am.

What worries me the most about this diagnosis and about treating it is how it will change the way I get to interact with my kids.  I have made choice after choice to be here, now, with them.  What happens now?  What happens if I’m too tired, to depressed, to preoccupied with myself?  It seems that depression lurks in the malady and the treatment. What is my future and if it includes suffering, who suffers the most?

So, I contemplate the future, and retreat as I do.  The house reverts to its natural, disgusting, state.  I run and bike in gorgeous places and exercise until I can’t any longer.  I binge-watch compelling shows (thanks for the heartbreak, Penny Dreadful.) I sleep until someone pees in my bed to wake me.  I plan vacations and write down training plans.  I go to movies alone and clap and gasp.  I sit in coffee shops and write.  I say nothing for days then keep my husband up late and spill it all.  And then I get up and I’m better.  I watch Mindy outtakes and answer my daughter with a proud “yes!” when she asks if girls can be president.  I think about seeing Yellowstone for the first time, and about camping with my kids in the Badlands and seeing the Perseids for the first time.

I think about how far I’ve come and how lucky I am.

Summer Idyll/Idle

July 4

Neighborhood parade and picnic. The 6-9 year-old foot-race countdown goes wrong, and Q misses the start and the day is almost ruined. It’s hard to explain how much these ten seconds affect the whole year. The year he was four, he didn’t race. He was listening and they never called for four-year-olds. They called for “Five and under” and we couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t go up then. And we didn’t understand until it was too late. I heard about it all year.  Stupid Fourth of July picnic and its stupid races with stupid prizes no one wanted anyway.

We watch the Fireworks on the golf course. Not as magical as last year. Too loud. Too bright. I get a migraine. Q gets a headache and says he’d rather watch them from the house next year. Lexi loves it, the dark, the racing through the night with glow necklaces, the sitting in my lap. She says the big ones “make mine heart bump out of my body”.  And here, on the quilt my grandma made, with my little family, watching those bright lights, it’s worth a headache or two.

July 5

Drop the kitten off to be spayed. Spent the last couple months explaining to the five-year old why this is okay to do. (“But what if Sherbert wants to have babies??”) Feel only a little icky about this forced sterilization we are having done. Good to go. But, of course, I was focused on the wrong child. We go to pick up Sherbie afterwards, and I had forgotten to prep the kids that she would have some of her leg and her belly shaved. And the eight-year-old has a complete breakdown. Because if he were the cat, he wouldn’t have been able to say no to this and what we did is awful. (And I think he’s talking just about the shaving her fur, and not even the spaying, but even so…)

Winning.

July 6

Lex is upset with me because I didn’t tell her that people would be able to see her if she played T-ball. I don’t know how that slipped my mind. So glad I signed her up. Sorry MSCR for repeatedly signing kids up for things and never attending. Think of it as donations. I do. The things she does want to do, like Storybook Ballet, I thought I signed her up for, but actually didn’t. And don’t remind her that she wanted to play soccer, which I also thought I signed her up for, but actually did the T-ball thing, (what was I doing this May?!?) and, well, here we are.

I have injured my knee. It is a pain I remember from Cross Country and Track. It’s the pain that stuck around after the bone bruising was healed. It’s a heat behind the knee-cap. Accompanied by a loud click every time I straighten up. It’s from overuse and too much work without a good base. And weakness in the quads and glutes apparently. I need to do my squats and clam shells. And ab work and back work so I don’t throw out my back again. And push ups to keep my shoulder happy. I haven’t been doing any of it. Once healed, I need to keep up strength and conditioning work to keep it from happening again, and work on getting a higher cadence in running and biking.

Listen to me. Like I’m an athlete. Like I know what I’m talking about.

We haven’t had internet all day and it is filling me with a hot rage. There are downed branches and trees all over from the storm last night, but this doesn’t make me feel any sympathy toward Charter at all. I can’t even report an outage. I tried from my mobile. And I got this automated system that supposedly understands voice commands. Except she did not understand me saying “You guys are the WORST!!! I just want to tell you there’s an outage. NO. It is NOT the electricity. IT’S YOUR SERVICE. OF WHICH I HAVE NONE RIGHT NOW.”

I, after months of thinking about it, am suddenly determined to email my neurologist and ask his opinion on yogurt and collagen. Because I want to put the collagen in my tea so my knee stops clicking. And because I want to eat the yogurt. AND I CAN NOT PULL UP THE ARTICLE OR EMAIL BECAUSE MY INTERNET SERVICE IS DOWN.

No 4 mile run this morning. Letting the knee rest. “Tapering” we could call it since the race is next Saturday. No bike. That’s when the knee started hurting—in the middle of an 18 mile bike Friday, and all through a 20 mile Sunday. So, so crabby. Combed out Lexi’s hair today for the first time in, hmm, two weeks. Two weeks of ocean, wind, pool, lake, wind, pool. It was awful. And with no internet, I dug out an old DVD of Max and Ruby to distract her with while I wet, conditioned, and combed for an hour straight. Her and I, crabbing together.

Days like this always bring to mind “Station Eleven.” If you haven’t read it, go read it now. Or, maybe, don’t. It’s post-apocalypse. Or post-virus, rather. And there’s no internet. And it’s grim.

Two days ago, I decided to sign up for a half-marathon in October. Following a 27-mile Bike The Barns, and second sprint triathlon in September. Benchmarks. One week at a time. Things to fill the calendar with. Totally fine that I’m sporting knee pain that once made me vow to never run competitively again. We all make ultimatums when we’re 17 that don’t make sense 20 years later, right? Busy is better, I tell that 17-year-old.

So. Want to volunteer at Ironman WI with me? Train for something with me? Find a race for November? December? I’ll fly out to do it with you, I promise.

My Rose & Thorn from tonight (where we each talk about the good and the bad from our day), was ugly, so I went out to swim. Ah, the swim. I can swim no further than I could back in January. I feel slower each time I get in the pool. The only sign that I’ve made any progress is that I don’t need to sleep for two days after splashing through 400 meters. Lake Mendota, the one I take open water swim lessons in, is beautiful and completely disgusting. Agriculture feeds us all…and it has ruined this beautiful lake. Sure, you can boat on it. Even water ski, or kayak, but swimming is miserable. Close to shore the weeds are filmy, wet gobs of tissue-paper that reach out to you, imploring you to succumb to them. Further out, the weeds get hardier, with woody stems, like an underwater pine forest where kelpies and snatchers live. And then there’s the algae blooms, which the hard rain last night will probably spawn. Years ago, in my college days, I went skinny dipping in good old Mendota and inhaled a mouthful of lake water. I ended up with a lung infection that took three different antibiotics to take care of. Between the thought of getting the water in my mouth and the sight of the weeds just below the surface, I just can not bring myself to swim more than a few strokes. Makes for a terrible swim.

Anyway, I go to the pool, except stop to quick wax my bikini-line first, which is normally in all its natural glory because tri-shorts are the best thing ever….but wanted to wear a normal suit for once. Get to the pool and it’s a Masters’ Swim time. Which I don’t know how to join, and the lanes are already crowded, which makes me feel rushed and tired, and I think about it and suck it up, go to take a shower but my wax job is now angry and bleeding and fire-crotch seems even less public-swim friendly than dark spider legs of hair creeping out onto pale Irish legs…so I drive back home.

So no run, no bike, no swim. No yogurt. No ice cream. No Facebook. Even if I had internet service, WHICH I DON’T.

I’ve been planning family vacations to Door County for the race, and later this summer, to the Museum of the Rockies and Yellowstone. The planning alone makes me so happy. Did you know Montana has a bunch of the World’s Largest roadside attractions?!? Booming Prairie Chicken (although, that might be Minnesota,) Holstein Cow, Buffalo, and Purple Spoon! Wyoming has The World’s Largest Jackalope and The Even Bigger Jackalope! What a world! I’d give you the full list, but it’s on my roadtrippers account, which is on the internet, which, you know, I don’t have.

Le sigh.

I have to go find a cafe with strong enough WiFi that it reaches the parking lot so I can upload this. Watch me.

Fine. I’ll just stay here and read a book by candlelight like Laura Ingalls.

Summer Farewell

June 15

I’ve turned into a hermit.  It’s gorgeous out, but we’re all inside listening to adventure music. Folding laundry is so much more dramatic to the “Dances With Wolves” soundtrack.  Seamus killed a chipmunk and two mice this morning in a matter of 20 minutes so even he’s on house-arrest now, much to the kitten’s delight.  Lexi wants to go to the pool.  Quinn wants to write.  I just feel worried about the heat.  And that we’re going somewhere even hotter in two days.

I’m also coming down from the coconut dream ice cream/Nature’s Bakery cookie pack/Menchie’s diet.  Feeling mean.

I have the energy to take them somewhere, a very refreshing thing, but we stay.  It’s only the first week of summer anyway, and Lexi needs a lot more unstructured time more than she needs an activities director.

I got up at 5:45 to run, and instead sat, cold and half-asleep on the sofa draped with all the baby blankets I’m trying to get rid of.  I sweat through my sheets every night.  It’s been a problem off and on for years now, and I just can’t get it right–the room temperature or the blankets or the pajamas.  So I wake up wet, and tired and cold and uninspired to do anything.

Tried FitMoms this morning and so pleased the kids are on board this year instead of threatening mutiny.  But… I couldn’t do it.  Both my legs cramped up while I was pushing weighted mats around,  (probably from spin class yesterday morning, that one stupid “slide” part of class that you’ve probably seen from a Romy & Michelle trailer.)   And my left arm and right hand went numb too, so I was done.  Ten minutes of class and too hot to continue.  Frustrated.  Sad.

Tried out my Arctic Heat ice vest this afternoon.  Meh.  80F and humid meant it only worked for 20 minutes.  And I was just walking around, cleaning out the van.  I’ll try it in the ice-slush next time, but simply freezing the activated vest didn’t do it. Won’t do it for class or a run.  Disappointed.

And that is why we are sitting around inside.  Well, why I am, anyway.  The youngest one is waiting for someone to entertain her and the older one is cataloging creatures from the Mesozoic.

I read ActiveMS founder Dave’s blog today.  He talks about the first time he gave himself a (MS medication) shot.  (He fainted.)  And it’s funny and light, but today marks two months until the deadline I’ve set for myself to start injections myself.  Because of the ghost leaving tracks in my brain.  I got my MRI results last week.  I have one new silent lesion in addition to the two I already have.  (What do you call the non-silent ones?  Raucous?)  Well, the radiologist says there’s one on the edge of my cerebellum.  The neurologist can’t see it.  I get to look for myself early August.  So, when I got the news, it had been a few weeks since my MRI, I wasn’t expecting anything, and I was stunned.  I played Spider Solitaire for two days straight.  I did nothing. I told Guy and no one else. I thought about what the next lesion might attack–my vision?  My balance?  My ability to not pee my pants? My ability to pick up my child with a scraped knee?  And I decided I was ready to give myself injections three times a week, if not more.  Although, I get a pass until my appointment, the one set up deliberately after my triathlon, in August.  Ah, the triathlon I’m too hot to train for two-thirds of right now.

I had to unplug from social media, although it’s only been a couple of hours, so we’ll see how it goes…but I just can’t stomach any more news. And I just can’t stop checking. Hence, the declaration. No more details about the heart-wrenching Pulse attack and the horrors that happened there.  No more politics about gun control and how much money and influence the NRA has.  No more about how people have so profoundly failed each other.  No more poignant reminders about MS.  Not even any more summer photography challenges that show you how much you’re missing. But I don’t know how to disconnect.  Social media was my lifeline for all those years in the weeds with two littles.  Now it’s my addiction, my spider thread to the outside world.  And it’s getting in the way.  I needed a break and I’m getting a broken heart.

Hell, I can give that up.  And ice cream substitutes at the same time.  No problem (she said with false bravado.)  Besides, I’ve been typing this up and the result is the same for the kids, this only-sometimes-responsive, crabby, adult sitting on a sofa, staring at a screen.  Does that mean no more GG Chronicles? Maybe.  Baby steps.  I’ll start with Facebook and Twitter.  I’ve got to be done there.  My gut feeling is to go cold turkey until after August 15th.  I don’t know how I’ll keep in touch with my tri team, but I’ll probably cave and go back on before that’s a problem anyway.

Anyway, here’s to best of luck to me, and to all of you. I’m not feeling brave, but I like moving forward.  Have great summers.  Go, do, be. Be with the kids. Soak in the summer in an ice bath if you have to.  You’ll have all winter to clean the house once they’re back in school and you have nothing to train for anyway.  I booted the kids outside with a bag of cherries, and I think they need some help eating them.

Tri/MRI

One of these times, I won’t get nervous about the good, old MRI.  Apparently this time isn’t it.  Next Monday I get to have another, just to check for any silent lesions that may have occurred.  Since I’m on a precarious edge, here, of having MS, but not taking any disease modifying drugs, this is the path:  MRI, and then review worst-case scenarios with my neurologist every six months.

I can recognize recklessness.  It doesn’t look like you might think.  It looks like ice cream cake and one beer.  It looks like my Sunday afternoon.

T minus one week.

I’ve got to clean up this house and get rid of clothes and toys and pull all the dandelions and then sign up for another triathlon.  And open water swim lessons. And buy a wet suit. And maybe a hitch and bike rack.

Because I’ve been doing new/scary things for a couple weeks now.  First bikini wax (actually, NBD), annual physical, trying on a wet suit (with the dressing room door open, in stages, only zipped for a minute…but I DID it), going back to that damn pool, getting water in my left ear and still swimming.  PTA meeting—the WHOLE thing.

What happens when the Door County triathlon is over?  Sloth.  Feeding frenzy.

What happens when both kids go to school full-time in the fall?  The birth of a black hole.

I know.  As a culture we’re terrible at sitting still.  Well, I’m a child of that culture, through and through.  And yoga says when the stillness is intolerable, perhaps you should sit the bleep down and breathe.  I’ve tried that.  It makes me cry. I kept trying it.  Now, I’m picking swim/bike/run/lift instead.  I make myself take rest days, because I know all too well how injury prone I am and how I tend to push to breaking.  I thought for years that all I wanted was a chance to sit down on the sofa for a half hour with NOTHING in front of me…..and I finally have it for a few hours a week….and I HATE IT.  It turns out I not only DON’T want that, I CAN’T handle it.  YOU do it.  You sit and think about MS and dairy and what now and no, you don’t want to be co-president of the PTA even though you know you should, but you probably can’t if the meetings start at 7 pm and this fatigue that never goes away doesn’t have anything to do with training.  YOU think about limits and do you have any now and are you preserving your energy or just hiding.  YOU think about the distance that grows between you and your precious eight-year-old by the day.  YOU think about the sugar you all eat and the garden you don’t have the heart to plant this year.  YOU think about how you can’t sit still to read.  Even Terry Pratchett! YOU check to see if the valium is waiting for you.

Sure.  There are ways to fill those hours.  I KNOW.  I have the lists to prove that.  But what happens (especially now that all my shows have killed off my beloved characters) is this angry restlessness.  The kids come home and I’m short-tempered and mean. Everyone suffers.

There’s a #WhyITri thread out in the world, and it makes me a little sad to know that why I am training for a triathlon is that I can’t handle sitting still, that I was going to quit, but my neurologist said to keep doing it, and in fact, hey, let’s not meet again til after my race.  And that the MRI is next week and the valium doesn’t really do it, so I’m going out for a swim and a run today and a long bike tomorrow, and I’ll keep repeating that until it works.

See you out there.

Doing a Triathlon is Dumb

It’s become almost normal for me to get up before the kids and go off to exercise.  I do it once a week, now.  I plan for more, but can carry through about once.   I can’t decide if it’s the new wave or if it is purely unsustainable.  If I keep this up, I will soon have to go to sleep before my son.  I will lose an hour a day with my husband….And yet, I keep doing it.

A year ago I couldn’t fathom that.  Last summer, in fact, I was intending to go to 6:15 am boot camp classes rather than take two miserable kids to the gym with me later in the day.  Instead, I let my membership lapse and never went at all.  Problem solved!

What has changed?  1. (And this is huge.) The children are sleeping.  Mostly.  In better ways and places and for longer stretches than ever before.  It took seven years for us to get here.    I know some people sing a song called  “Find time for you, take care of yourself first! You could get up before the kids and get your workout in!”….but these people have never had beautiful barnacles for children.  Children who need you every hour of the day and night.  Children for whom waking up and having their mom gone, finding out she left while they were sleeping, would be terrifying.  Or maybe they do and have better problem-solving skills than I.  Who knows, and now that mine sleep better and are fine if they wake and I’m not there, who cares.  2. I guess, the MS thing.  Not that it actually changed anything. Except that the specter of disability and/or vision loss looms. And I fight disability with ability? Ah, yes, I suppose.  Enter the triathlon thing.

So…I worried my way through a spin class this morning. It didn’t help that I know and admire the woman teaching and the woman sweating next to me.  It’s energetic and exciting, but it is also new and dark and overwhelming.  Usually, when I worry (panic) in a class, it hits like lightning and I either step outside to cry or catch it just in time to quit.  It hasn’t happened in months, though.  This spin class, worries just sort of rolled in and out, and since I was sort of stuck in that room (because the door is behind the instructor)….I just kept it, and wore the worry home and it didn’t come off in the shower.

I worried about putting pedal straps on my bike and doing that instead of getting clip-in shoes and pedals.  I don’t plan on getting a new bike for the race.  I’ll just use my hybrid sorta road/sorta mountain bike, but I worried about the way my gears jump from 4th to 5th unexpectedly even after a tune-up this morning.  And about getting a flat tire or dropping the chain and if I need different handlebars, even though I like the ones I have and I’m not doing this for time.  I started to worry about whether or not to get a wet suit for the swim. My plan was not to wear one.  No claustrophobia to worry about, no hassle getting it on or off, plus cooling me down.  I know, hashtag a firstworldproblem, I know.

I’m not sure how this is going to work.  At about two miles of running, my feet start to sting.  I can just barely make it to three before sparks start flying, it hurts so much. And that’s on a slow treadmill without an 18 mile bike first.  If the water is cold (and it probably will be 60F), a wet suit could be necessary and I started thinking about how ridiculous it is to spend the first half a race trying to stay warm and the last half not trying not to overheat because your body will stop working either way.  In other words, what the hell?  Why would I voluntarily do this to my body when I spend the rest of my time trying not to get into either too hot or too cold conditions.

This is dumb.  Doing a triathlon is dumb.

Also, training is hella hard and I haven’t figured out how to do it without crashing and burning.  Because I was worried and tired all day.  Because I ate a giant anxiety muffin this afternoon (it’s the flavor you get when you are anxious but you can’t go for a run or do some yoga or meditate or do anything other than the grocery shopping you need to do because you already biked too far today AND, uh, you’re a responsible adult.)  Because I bent down to look at something in the grocery store and stayed there for a while because my legs were too tired to stand back up.

But.

In the middle of my anxiety muffin, I remembered why I signed up in the first place:  Because someone cool suggested it and I said “sure!” without thinking it through….To give me options while being healthy.  To do something good and active every day, but with a rotation of things so I didn’t get injured.  To get and stay strong(er).  To have a handful of different ways to keep moving if (when) I did get injured.  To have something better to think about.  To have stress-relief built in.  To make sure that stupid printout after every visit from the neurologist doesn’t have shameful BMI numbers.  Because once, I enjoyed running.  Because once, I loved biking the back roads around my home.  Because I’ve always wanted to be a mermaid, or, er..comfortable in the water, I mean.

AND. My husband supports me.  Even if I quit.  Even if I let myself go like we joked about after we got married.  Even if I do the race.  Sassy California friend is doing a 5k and is training and posting gorgeous, smug selfies and it makes me so proud.  We’ll run 5ks “together” next weekend 2,000 miles apart.  Madison friends have stepped up and offered to run the 5k with me.  As slow as I need.  Other bootcampers I know have created a very helpful online group where some of us talk about our open water fears (me, and in order it is: lake monsters, dead bodies, weeds touching me, being cold, being wet, drowning, and lastly being really slow) and some of us post links to coaches and have helpful advice and calming words (everyone else).

So.

Some days I worry.  And some days I think about braver days and the good people in my life.  And then I go to bed early and save the declarations for tomorrow because nothing good happens after nine at night if you get up at five in the morning.

Good night.

 

A Side

Several times in the last week I didn’t recognize myself.  The first time was seeing this picture on my camera of me and the kids from behind, enjoying our reunion with their great love, the ocean:

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Who is that with the short, dark hair and dark clothes next to those bright little things? How did she get so lucky?

Then I proceeded to go for a run every other day we were on vacation on the beach, sprinting along the street one day, up before dawn another, up before dawn AGAIN for a go on a hotel treadmill.  No one uses those things!  I couldn’t do laps, but I flutter-kicked my way through the pool trying to keep up with my two young fish. Every suitcase I’ve ever packed has had the “workout” corner.  Just in case.  I used all the gear I brought and had to actually wash it and then wore it again this vacation.  Unheard of.  Who am I? Who does that?

The first morning home, the kids still had a day off, so I got up at 5:45 and went for a seven mile bike and swam.  What?  Who is this woman?

You know what else?  I brought a blender along on vacation.  And not for margaritas.  For spinach shakes.  Which I actually made and drank.  Does that sound like boasting?  It isn’t.  I’m more astonished by my own behavior than proud.  I ordered tilapia tacos at dinner with side salads. (Note: I am and probably always will be too immature to say the words “fish taco” out loud and not giggle BUT these are so, so good I have come up with a way to circumvent this by naming the fish in them.  Because, mango salsa.  Soft shells.  Some sort of tangy slaw. The best.)

Two other unrecognizable things happened on vacation.  We were in Fort Myers Beach, where ice cream shoppes are on every block, and I didn’t have any.  At all.  Not even the kids’ sloppy melted leftover cones.  I admit, though, this was a tough decision to make—I read an article (and if you have MS, you know the ’92 article I’m talking about “Correlation between Milk and Dairy Product Consumption and Multiple Sclerosis Prevalence: A Worldwide Study” by D. Malosse, et. al), had my husband and a good friend read the article, too, and break it down for me, and….don’t drink milk any longer.  There are different rates associated with different diary products, the highest being to cow milk.  I have tried a few times to wrap my head around it.  It seems like cheese is safe-ish. I don’t know about whey–is butyrophilin in whey?  I switched to a vegan protein shake for peace of mind alone. (Overcoming MS) recommends simply no dairy, period.  Um.  I know we’re talking about MS here, but also, cheese.  Cream cheese. Cream.  Butter. Key lime pie. Ice cream. Goat cheese spread on a baguette….

….but I still am having trouble with the other numbers and deciding definitively what my diet is from here on out.  I have mourned my loss of ability to read and digest scientific journals at other times, but right now it is irritating me once again.  (And this is entirely due to 1. Having children who, A. were part koala and B. did not sleep for years AND 2. Lack of practice.  At least that’s what I hope is the reason I can’t concentrate on an abstract and not be able to make sense of it.)

AND…on the way home, you know when you look at how easy your life is on the beach when you only have a fraction of your belongings and eat out every night and swim several hours every day  and watch the sun rise and set and can run on the beach or take a nap or build a sand castle or read a book and your husband isn’t stressed (as much) about work or working late and early and you haven’t been on your computer in a week and your get to spend real time with your family, the one you created, the one you love more than anything without worrying about anything….you tell your husband you just don’t want to leave.  Last year, you said you wouldn’t leave.  The year before that, that you couldn’t and in fact cried until you were on the highway.  You are making progress.  This year, I didn’t even console myself with a pastry and a huge sweet, milky coffee as we drove away.  (in fairness, the second morning of waking up in some hotel with five more hours to drive, I TRIED to get myself a decaf with weird non-dairy creamers…and scalded my mouth and threw it away.  Fucking health gods saving me from myself, sigh.)

Then yesterday, I bought groceries and at the last minute put some peanut M&Ms on the belt.  The young woman scanning the groceries asked “Would you like me to leave these out for you?” Um, no.  I know exactly which bag they are in and will eat them all once I get into my car, thank you.  And then she put two cartons of milk in one bag and looked at me, then said “Is this going to be too heavy?”  Uh, I sure hope not. I mean, I’m not feeble.  Am I?   So there’s that, anyway, that a perfect stranger still sees through this healthy activity nonsense.

And this morning, I pulled the perennial move of going to boot camp a day after 26 hours of driving and injured myself.  THAT, I recognize.  THIS time, at least I didn’t throw out my back or hurt my knee.  I did lay on the floor, unable to get up for a few minutes while I calculated how exactly to roll and stand without moving my locked-up shoulders.  The bonus was having a friend place traffic cones around me while I lay there.  It made me laugh.  It made me happy.  It made me realize that I am the same person I’ve always been.  The person who always tries really hard.  The person who sometimes ends up on the gym floor, broken.  The person who will hole-up for a month and watch five seasons of Once Upon a Time in order to slowly process her new reality.  The person who always gets back up.  The person who eats a “sharing” size M&Ms by herself in her car and trains for a triathlon as if her future depends on it.