Blogs tagged with "fatigue"

I'm not sure exactly how to start this post - or how to write the middle or end, actually - but I guess I better start where I left off on my last post.
I said I would write a race report about Ironman Texas.

Indeed.. so I did. Unfortunately, it got almost infinitely delayed because all the analysis in the world could not help me with those important "lessons learned" from my race in Texas. It started out so great. In fact, the beginning and the middle went surprisingly well. I just don't know what happened at the end, although I have a possible explanation now which is something I didn't have a month ago.

Ron and me - before swim start.

I really wanted to have a great race in Texas for many reasons. One of the big reasons was that my great friend, Ron, founder of Punk Rock Racing and designer of the new race kit I was wearing here, surprised me by showing up in my hotel room the day before the race. I was therefore super-jazzed to have extra support on the course and at the start that morning.

Ironman Texas started with a 2.4-mile swim in Lake Woodlands. Before the swim, I was told my more than one person that this would be a long swim and do NOT expect a fast time in this particular swim for many reasons. The swim - a rolling start - did a U-turn, then made a right into the waterway channel. I swam wide, as usual, to avoid getting clobbered, and surprisingly had a rather uneventful swim. My stroke felt great and I took it easy until the U-turn, after which I picked up my pace and passed a lot of people before - and even after - we made our way into the channel.
Swim start in Lake Woodlands

Because the swim was "long," I took it very easy, and I hadn't been able to get in the pool more than twice a week during my build-up, I was expecting to see something around 1:10-1:15 (or worse) on my watch when I stepped out of the water. The 1:02 on my watch was a blinding surprise. I tried to keep a lid on my emotions in T1.

We were encouraged to carry our bike shoes through the transition zone because of ankle-deep mud - it was gross, but we were able to rinse our feet before starting the bike leg. I knew I was in good shape when I got to the rack to see most of my age-group was still in the water. When I finally got on the bike, my legs felt great, again surprised with none of the usual fatigue after the swim.

Leaving T1

So I rode relaxed for the first 50 miles (I was told the second half of the bike course is when the hills show up) and made sure to drink at least a bottle and a half of fluids per hour. My new fuel regimen included Skratch Labs hydration drink mix and solid fuel - mostly rice-based recipes from the Feed Zone Portables cookbook.

I took in about 250-300 calories per hour and as the day got hotter (in the high 80s and very humid), I remained relaxed and didn't push too hard, even on the rolling hills in the second half. I did not feel any thirst or hunger during the ride, and much to my surprise, Texas was the first Ironman bike leg during which I had no nausea. Convinced my fueling was perfect, I was actually looking forward to a good - and strong - run.

When I pulled into T2, my time was one of my best 112-milers, my legs still felt good - albeit a little stiff - and I knew I was in the race although my husband Jim and I decided beforehand that he would withhold from me my position in the age group so that I wouldn't chase anyone.

The first mile off the bike was about 7:40 (too fast), but my legs were feeling great and I was trying to run relaxed. The second mile was right around 8 minutes (goal pace). And that was the last moment I felt good.

Inching along

Then everything seemed to fall apart. My legs started to give and I was overwhelmed with a sense of fatigue that I can't explain. It was like every molecule in my leg muscles was screaming at me that they were tired and I needed to stop. It wasn't the heat. It wasn't thirst. It wasn't hunger. It was just .. fatigue. I had no explanation and I could not will myself to go any faster or any slower.

I inched along - running, then walking, then running again - pouring water and ice on myself - and at one of the aid stations around the midpoint, someone stepped right in front of me, and I went down hard, twisting my ankle in the process. I figured that was it, but the volunteers and medical staff helped me get back on my feet, gave me ice on the ankle and I was determined to get back on the course and finish, no matter how slow.

I was angry, confused, hot, and feeling pretty woozy by the time I saw Jim with about 3 miles to go. He kept telling me that everyone in front of my was slowing down, but that did little to help because I had nothing in my legs. I stopped and proceeded to vomit right in front of him. I can't imagine what he was thinking, but I remained on the course and kept going forward. I was never so happy to see a finish line in my life, and - yes, shockingly - I managed to pull out an age-group 4th even with that dismal almost-five-hour marathon.

By that point, I didn't care about anything except getting my medal. I tried to eat and drink after the race but ended up in the med tent with severe nausea and dizziness.

For a couple weeks after the race, I was still very confused about what went wrong. Was it not enough long-distance training? I had only one 100-mile bike ride but several close to 90 - winter training was difficult in Cleveland this year because of extreme cold. And I only ran 18-20 miles a couple times. I had several confidence-boosting long bricks though. Was it my fueling? Maybe solid food doesn't process as quickly as liquid? I really had no clue.

Now I'm starting to rethink it because of a recent illness that has sidelined me. Here come the "gory details" mentioned in the title. And it's really embarrassing to talk about, but hell, it's the truth.

About 4 weeks ago, shortly after Ironman Texas, I started to get a strange pain in my butt, kind of up near my tailbone and to the right. I was also feeling extremely fatigued - so much that Jim kept insisting something was wrong because I was sleeping so much. I sloughed off the pain as being muscular in nature - maybe from riding my road bike for the first time in a while. I thought nothing of it.

A week later, when the pain did not subside, I started poking around and felt what can only be termed a "lump" - or hardness. Still thinking it was muscular, I went to Google (yep, I Googled "pain in the ass"). Googling is not something I recommend to anyone contemplating a lump of any sort in their body. GO TO THE DOCTOR.

In the second week of butt pain, there were also other symptoms - ones I did not associate with my butt. I had a headache that wouldn't go away, I lost my appetite and was constantly feeling nauseous, and I had pain in my skin (the kind of pain you might associate with a fever but my temperature was only 99ish). When I did a training ride or run, I would get fatigued and be dragging after about 20 minutes. I told Jim I would call the doctor if it didn't go away, but it felt like it was subsiding by that Thursday, so I put off the call.

BAD IDEA. By Monday, I was in severe pain with all the other symptoms and now a larger elongated lump. Scared sh*tless about what it might be, I called and begged my doctor's office for an appointment, which they couldn't provide until Thursday. Tuesday, I called our health insurance "nurse on call" for advice - which was, duh - SEE A DOCTOR WITHIN 24 HOURS. The Cleveland Clinic has same-day appointments, so I took one Tuesday afternoon with a nurse practitioner. I didn't care. I was in severe pain.

The diagnosis? The first diagnosis was that I had a pilonidal cyst - this is basically an infection/abscess located near your tailbone usually caused by a plugged up hair follicle. She gave me antibiotics and sent me home. Two days later, I saw my family doctor. There was still pain. Some fever. Major fatigue. The lump was unchanged -- maybe bigger, it was hard to tell.

She had a different diagnosis: I had a peri-anal abscess. She gave me a different antibiotic in case the first one didn't work and referred me to a colorectal surgeon, just in case - if it needed to be "lanced and drained" it would be a simple office procedure for him. Ok, now I was freaked out - I've failed to mention in this post that eleven days from then I had a trip to Sweden to race in the ITU Long-course Age Group World Championship. My doctor reassured me that the surgical consult was "only for the worst case scenario."

Yep, I went home and Googled the hell out of this one.

My Google findings turned up the following: this type of abscess will not respond to antibiotics. It must be drained, either on its own or by lancing by a doctor.

My surgical consult was Tuesday. By Monday, I was almost comatose with an ever-expanding lump (this thing was now covering about a third of my butt cheek), pain, headache, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and now a 100-degree fever. I called Jim, he called the surgeon's office -- they sent us to the emergency room "where it could be lanced and drained if necessary." In the ER, I was pumped full of a DIFFERENT antibiotic, pain killers, anti-nausea drugs and given a CAT scan for more information. The ER doc said no way was he touching this thing because of its location - better leave that to the colorectal guy.

(JUST A QUICK ASIDE: while we were chatting with the emergency room doctor, we found out that he was in attendance at my first Ironman, Ironman Utah in 2002 - his brother raced - and he happened to be one of the medical personnel trying to revive the man who drowned in Utah Lake that morning. Talk about bizarre coincidences!)

So... after reading the scan, he gave me the third diagnosis. I had an ischio-rectal abscess that was no longer full of fluid but now had blossomed into a case of cellulitis. It "had not become gangrenous" (yeah, i know, WTF!?!?). I was sent home from the ER with more instructions and info to deliver to my colorectal surgeon. When I got home, my fever went up to 101 degrees.

I had the worst night of fitful sleep ever.

Tuesday morning, I saw the surgeon and found myself in tears just telling him how bad I felt. He took one look, checked the CAT scans, and sent me to the hospital to prep for surgery in the OR at 2pm. No problem, he even said I'd be able to race in Sweden the next week. REALLY?

When I woke up from surgery, the overall feeling of illness was gone. Seriously. The drugs were not masking it.. my headache and nausea and fever were all gone. I still had pain, but now it was from three incisions and drainage tubes sticking out of my butt cheeks.

Jim gave me the lowdown - the abscess was much worse than even the surgeon expected - hence it wasn't a simple lance-and-drain kind of thing. It was deep and extended to my left side (they call it a horseshoe abscess). No, I wouldn't be racing in Sweden - no lake swimming with open wounds.

I didn't care. I was so happy to be free of this thing - and I spent the next three days in bed. We contemplated still taking the trip to Sweden, but I couldn't envision sitting on that plane for many hours and spending the entire trip worrying about gauze and drainage and - omg - what if there were complications?

So, it was a drag to do, but we canceled the whole trip, and I've been recovering from this surgery for one week as of today. I saw the surgeon this morning and - yay! - my drainage tubes have been removed and he hopes it will heal up in 4-6 weeks. But no swimming (Boo!)

I can't help but wonder if my fatigue in Texas might have been the beginning of this illness. Either way, and true to my nickname, I seem to have picked a great way to start out a new age group.

Low-techie in my non-tri-related
There were almost 4000 bikes in transition.

I had nothing even resembling a taper, but I took the day before easy(ier) with a shorter swim and run, and I tried to get two good nights of sleep leading into race morning (although Expedia did everything to thwart that by allowing us to book a hotel with no vacancy two nights before the race, making us scramble around Racine at midnight on Thursday looking for a place to stay). Even though my legs were fatigued, I attempted to come up with a race plan - just to have one.

My race plan was simple: hammer the bike and see what happens. I guess it's basically the same thing I tried to do last year because of my hamstring injury. The difference was that this year I was able to run without pain, and I've working on bike speed by riding with faster riders.
I went back and read last year's race report only to realize that this year I had an identical (disappointing) race (on the bike). The water was a little warmer this year and the swim course was slightly different, but the rest was mostly the same.
W45-49 start

The water was calm and the women in my age group weren't overly aggressive - in fact, everyone was courteous in the water when any contact was made. I felt strong the whole time, visibility was good, and I came out of the 1500-meter swim in the top ten in my age group (time: 22:18). It was a long run to the bikes, and my overall transition was slower than I would have liked, but I was happy to finally win the struggle getting my wetsuit off over my heels.

Like last year, my bike leg began with pain and soreness and I immediately struggled to push myself. With all my long riding, all my body wanted to do was settle into a comfortable pace - you know, the way you do in Ironman. Aerobically, I felt fantastic, but my quads were sore and cement-like and protested immediately. Similar to last year, the first few miles of the 40K bike course were spent playing leap-frog with another woman. I passed her on the "hills" (not really hills but more "up"hill than the flats, and one was a long bridge) and she dusted me on the flats. The mostly-flat bike course has several turns and two turn-arounds. The most memorable thing during the bike leg was seeing the referee nail a guy for drafting. It happened right in front of me, and when the leap-frogger passed me, she said "that guy was a jerk!" (although I think she used a different word) - to which I replied "did you see they nailed him?" We had a laugh and then she took off.
Bike finish

My speed was pretty steady, but after the turnaround, five or six women in my age group passed me before we pulled into transition. To my dismay, my bike time - 1:09:37 - was only about one minute faster than last year. I had another slow transition struggling to both rack my bike AND get into my running shoes. Once I was running, things started to look up.

Without a specific time goal (sub-7:00 pace would have been good), I wanted to at least chase down the women who passed me on the bike. I managed to do just that. Only that. My first three miles were under seven minutes, I felt good and I wasn't limping. Around mile 5, everything changed. I felt like I had "hit the wall" in a marathon. I lost mental concentration and my legs felt heavy and discombobulated. At mile 6, I made the mistake of turning around - to see an age-group woman I had caught was now catching me. I willed myself to hang on, but my legs were revolting.
I've felt better at finish lines.

With less than a quarter mile to run, I dragged my uncooperative body to the finish while praying that I wouldn't get passed in the last few seconds (and thus die of embarrassment). It was good for sixth in my age group - by a hair. My run time was 43:28 - about three minutes faster than last year - and my total time was 2:19:41 (about four minutes faster).

My surprising finish place made me instantly regret not having tapered for this race. I guess I always feel that way after USAT Nationals because it has always come at an inconvenient time of year. And this year, I certainly never expected to be in the midst of Ironman Kona training. My choice was made when I took my Kona slot that morning in Coeur d'Alene. But standing at the finish line in Milwaukee, I wasn't thinking "big picture" - only reacting to one small moment in a grand scheme.

Now I can see clearer and be satisfied with it and look forward. There's always next year. In Chicago. In a new age group.

Thanks to my husband Jim for the photos, all the driving and support with these whirlwind weekend trips.
One great thing about Burlington, VT:
Ben & Jerry's

The title of this article is a lyric from the titular song on Mark Knopfler's 2010 album, "Get Lucky," because after my most recent triathlon, I worry that my successes so far this year may have had more to do with good fortune than hard work or talent. And ever since I crossed the finish line on Saturday, I've been asking myself the following question: what can I possibly have to write about my performance in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in Burlington, Vermont?

The only thing I could come up with is this: do you know that feeling you have when you're rested and all ready to race? Yeah... well, I didn't have that feeling on Saturday. In fact, I didn't have that feeling at ALL the entire week. The days leading up to the USAT Nationals were plagued with fatigue, discomfort, and soreness and I should have dropped my performance expectations early in the week to avoid the potential fallout.

Another great thing about Burlington:
Vermont Brews

But I was naive. I tried to ignore it. I tried to shake it off. I tried to think positive. Even when cold hard facts were staring me right smack in the face: I have two Ironman races' worth of fatigue on my body and I'm in the midst of training for a third. No matter how hard I wished and worked for short-race speed, it just wasn't gonna happen. But I tried anyway, and I tried to convince myself it COULD happen.

Now I'm left to pick up the pieces of my wasted self and my shattered self-confidence. And I wonder how much damage was done. To my endurance training. To my attitude. And to my upcoming Ironman in Kona.

Attempting to race well in an Olympic-distance tri at this point in my season was a disaster in the making. Too bad it started so innocently - as a reason to go back to Burlington for the first time since the Vermont City Marathon in 1993 when my husband Jim and I had a great trip despite a disappointing race performance. We loved Burlington. We even bought our wedding rings there. We looked forward to a great trip back 18 years later. And Burlington in 2011 was everything I remembered from 1993 - an awesome city with great restaurants and shopping.

And the last great thing about
Burlington: Church Street performers

My high hopes began to vanish last Wednesday when I spent my time in the pool fighting the water only two days after having my best swim workout this year. By Friday, I was baffled at why my legs felt thick and heavy on the bike after two days off. Running felt about the same. And my swim stroke had no strength at all.

But despite these issues, I surprisingly slept like a rock the night before the race and my usual anxiety was almost nonexistent. I could only chalk it up to a new level of confidence resulting from a great racing season so far.

(Quick note: When I use the word "confidence" in describing my attitude, disaster is looming on the horizon.)

We drove down to the race start around 6:00 am. The transition area and swim were located at Lake Champlain's Waterfront Park. We managed to find parking above the park and had to walk down a steep hill to the transition. My bike had been racked the day before, so all I had to do was set up my transition and decide whether or not to wear a wetsuit in the 74.5-degree water. I had until 8:40 a.m. to make my decision as my age group, women 45-49, would start in the last wave. No one I talked to understood the reasoning behind the start waves - for instance, men 18-24 were in the second-to-last wave and there was a 10-minute gap before the wave start of women 50+. Go figure.

Pre-race line-up, I was the only one stupid enough to
not wear a wetsuit.

The 1.5K swim would be entirely within a breakwall in a boating area along the shore of Waterfront Park and the swim course was a sort of modified "Z" shape. Because of the water temperature, I decided to go with my swimskin instead of a wetsuit to save time in transition (and after Lake Placid, I was convinced the speed advantage of a wetsuit was minimal). By the time I lined up with my wave, I realized I was one of only a handful of athletes not wearing a wetsuit, none of whom were in my wave. I prayed I hadn't made a critical error by not wearing a wetsuit.

The swim start was in deep water adjacent to a set of boat docks. We were funneled to the start area in waves... It gave me the distinct feeling I was getting on an amusement park ride (like a rollercoaster) - and my pre-race anxiety just added to that feeling. To stay warm, I waited until the last possible moment to get into the water, then swam out to the starting area with the rest of my age group. We had to tread water for about 2.5 minutes, and with only about 100 women in my wave, it was much less exciting than what I'm used to in an Ironman race. I could distinctly hear the starter and everyone was relatively well-behaved and quiet. Until we were swimming.

The swim finish - I look much better than I felt

In the short swim to the first turn buoy, I had almost no problem contenting with other swimmers. But after that, I got clobbered several times by a swimmer behind me who seemed to want to swim right up on top of me throughout the the race. I got so annoyed at her that I finally just stopped and did breaststroke for a minute to try get out of her path. Spotting buoys was not easy because there were only a few of them (that didn't even appear to be in a straight line), and at one point we were headed directly into the sun. After the race, several people I talked to complained that they swam well off course because of this.

Throughout the swim, I never really felt good or strong. Instead, I felt like I was flailing around and my stroke never felt reached a normal rhythm. I'm still not sure why this was after having several great training swims recently. It was as though, overnight, I had forgotten how to swim.

I got out of the water and started stripping off my swim-skin while running to my bike. Volunteers were telling us to take it easy with wet grass and mud in the transition zone. I thought my transition could have gone a little quicker as as I donned sunglasses, helmet, number belt and then fumbled with my gel flask. My shoes were clipped to my bike and I ran through the grass and mud hoping my feet didn't get too much dirt and pebbles on them. I didn't have too much trouble slipping into my bike shoes, and getting on my way.

However, after a few minutes, I looked down only to realize that my bike computer was still in sleep mode. I simultaneously realized that I had also not looked at my watch or taken a single split since the start. I was NOT mentally engaged in this race. I took a watch split and started my bike computer, but the damage was already done. (According to the results, my swim spit was 25:39 and my transition was 1:18.)

Bike finish (I look desperate for it to be over)

The 40K bike course was a modified out-and-back along rolling terrain that even encompassed a part of the freeway, I-89. But trust me, in Vermont (or anywhere in my homeland of New England for that matter), it could have been a LOT worse than it was. From the very start my quads felt like they were on fire and no matter what I did, I could not shake it. I tried high and low cadences and nothing could rid me of the feeling that I was in a major state of lactic acid buildup. I went into survival mode and although I passed quite a few people (remember, I started in the last wave), I got passed by several women in my age-group who were out of sight in a matter of minutes. I worked the downhills the best I could but unlike Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP), I was unable to roll by anyone on the uphills. I went into survival mode on the bike and my mind turned hoping I could pull something out on the run. At one point, a woman in my age group passed me and said "there are a LOT in front of us" (assuming age group? who says that?).

Because of the bike computer/watch fail, I didn't know how far I had gone or what my time and average were, so I ignored it and rode as hard as I could to the finish. I didn't think my average would be much faster than 20 mph, but the official split had me at 21 mph. Once I was off my bike, I ran as fast as I could to the rack and tried to stretch out my legs a little for the run. My transition was slow because I struggled a little to get into my shoes, but I did remember to grab my hat and run with it. I wasn't sure where the transition ended and the run began, so once again, I did not take a split until I was actually ON the run course.

Run start - already suffering.

The 10K run started on a very steep uphill right after leaving the transition zone. I didn't feel great running up it, but getting into shuffle mode, I was running much faster than everyone around me so I just went with it. By the time I reached the top, I felt pretty good, decided to lengthen my stride and try to catch as many people as possible. When I started the run, Jim yelled that he thought I was eight minutes behind the age group leader. I knew at that point that I didn't stand a chance of catching her, so I settled on just wanting to have a respectable run.

After the hill, the run course was pretty flat, along residential roads and on a bike path - the same path I remember running on in the 1993 Vermont City Marathon. After the first mile, I was able to hang onto a 6:30 pace for three miles, but by the time I hit mile five, my legs were dead from that overall fatigue, and I had slowed to a 6:45 pace. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was angry, confused and disappointed in myself for not being able to run down more women in my age group. My 10K time was well over 40 minutes, and Jim told me I had finished somewhere around 6th in my age group (it was actually 7th). But what bothered me the most was that it was the first time in three years I was unable to break 2:20 in an Olympic-distance triathlon. (My official run split was 40:53 and my finish time was 2:20:01.)

I paced (both physically and mentally) for a long time afterwards - going over the race in my head to determine what went wrong. The only thing I can come up with is that both my head and body were not ready to race this distance. And I didn't treat it like the "B" or "C" race that it was. My whole season has been focused on Ironman and half-ironman. But I made the mistake of assuming I could perform well at short races when even when training for long ones. (In my running-only days, this was almost always true.) Last year, my 2:14 performance in an Oly-distance race two weeks after IMLP could have been nothing more than a fluke.

So, Burlington, Vermont, would once again be the site of a disappointing race performance, and now I have to determine how to view it as a non-disaster and get on with my season. If it weren't a national championship event, I think it would probably be a little easier. I guess I learned a valuable lesson - not to go to a "big" race and make it a "B" race. It was hard to sit through the awards knowing I could have done better if I had given myself half a chance (like, if I tapered, for instance).

Hanging out after the race with someone
I have great respect for - teammate, blogger,
and Punk Rock Racing Revolutionary,
Frank DeJulius

But there were several good things that came out of the weekend. Jim and I had a wonderful time in Burlington. I got to spend some valuable time talking to two of my Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport teammates: Frank DeJulius and Aaron Emig. For various reasons, Frank and Aaron didn't have their best races in Burlington either. After talking with them about their training and racing, I didn't feel so alone in my disappointment. Aaron will be representing the USA at the ITU Age Group World Championship in Beijing on September 10, and he convinced me to sign up for a spot to do the same thing in 2012 in New Zealand (the top 18 in each age group can sign up for Team USA).

So, now I have some big decisions to make for next year - like should I turn my focus from Ironman to short distances for a year? It's an exciting thing to think about, and I know it will be hard for me to give up the long distance training I love. But I have a little bit of time to think it through.

But for now, I have to focus on my new job and my two most important races of the year, the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas and the Ironman World Championship in Kona.

During Ironman training, unlike marathon training, the biggest struggle for me is the exhaustion and fatigue. For a runner with a tendency to overtrain, triathlon training is a good way to stay injury-free and still get the endurance "high" on a daily basis (what drives my no-rest mentality). But Ironman is a different story. Unlike cross-training for running, the cross-training now becomes the sport, and I can no longer escape the muscle and mental fatigue of 2-3 hour training days because I now have hard bike rides and hard swims. Training has become a second job. And the thing I hate most is that sometimes the only thing between me and my next workout is my bed. Sleeping often takes precedence over eating -- being so tired that you can't chew is usually a dead giveaway of which one to choose. As I get older, sleep has become even more important -- to heal, to regenerate, to recharge my brain, and, obviously, to spend more quality time with the cat.

But I'm not complaining. I'm just learning to balance this thing again. It seemed easier 6 years ago -- when I was younger. I often wonder if I'm training harder now or if I'm just not recovering as fast because of age. One thing is for sure, the difference this time is that I've learned to listen to the fatigue and the pain now.

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