Blogs tagged with "panic"

This may be the most difficult thing I ever write. I will cry while writing it so be warned: the page is wet and may warp while you're reading.

I recently lost a friend. Not recently in the past month or so, but recently in, like, the last two weeks. He was one of the greatest people I've ever had the pleasure to know. He was one of the greatest people anyone had the pleasure to know. And he knew a LOT of people. He LOVED a lot of people. And a LOT of people loved him. I don't know how someone who was so loving and so loved could ever have lost the will to live.

But he did. And he took his own life.

He left behind a loving, adoring wife. He left behind a myriad of loving, adoring friends and athletes in the local running and triathlon community, all of whom would have been much less inspired had they not crossed paths with him.

But I can't speak for them. I can only speak for myself. And in speaking, I will say that my life will never be the same without my friend Bob. And his death will haunt me until the end of my days.

Bob was more than just an accomplished athlete. I met him when I started triathlon in 2001, but it seemed like I had known him forever. In him, I found a kindred spirit. He was one of the few amateur athletes, besides myself, willing to embrace his competitive nature. We trained together in those early days - my hard days with him were probably his easy days. We raced together too. My early success in triathlon had a lot to do with Bob's influence. I would not have qualified for Kona in my first Ironman had it not been for him - in fact, I thought we would be racing in Kona together, but, sadly, he failed to qualify. We always said we would go to Ironman Kona together someday, and my heart breaks because I know now that will never happen.

We fell out of touch after my bike accident in 2003 when I lost my motivation to do anything athletic for several years.

But when I came back to competitive racing in 2008, Bob also came back into my life. At that point, he was mostly just running - and was busy blowing people minds with times in his 40s that most runners can't even dream about in their 20s and 30s. He kept telling me he wanted to pass on to me what he had learned about training. Because he KNEW me. He KNEW I tended to run myself into the ground (pun intended) and beat myself up. He KNEW I needed to stay healthy. And he knew he could help - with knowledge that kept him running fast when most people were on the downslope. I never asked, he just offered. We WERE kindred spirits still.

He also always knew when I raced - and when I raced poorly - and knew when I would judge myself harshly. Before I could even check Facebook, he would have offered up pearls of wisdom behind the scenes in the message console. He was always looking out for me. But why?

I found out at his funeral that it wasn't just me. He looked out for myriads of other athletic friends. Bob had a way of making you feel like the most important person. Where did he have time to work, train, race, AND be a best friend to hundreds of athletes? He was truly special.

Many people would compare us, but seriously, I didn't have his unwavering drive, enthusiasm, and energy. I broke down. I had bad races. Did Bob even have bad races? If he did, no one knew. Did he come out of every race situation unscathed? Was he even more like me than I thought? Did I fail to see the signs? When he was offering up all his knowledge to help others, was he really on top of his own game? This is what I will be asking myself always. Were there signs?

And back to that question: were we as much alike as I think we were? Because that's what scares me.

I recently caught a TV interview with Michael Phelps in which he discussed how he's changed since the 2012 Olympics, i.e., the things going through his mind in 2012 compared to how he deals with swimming and competition now. His answer also scared me. He had dark moments. Moments of feeling inadequate and worthless. If amazing athletes like Michael Phelps and my friend Bob can get to the point of questioning their worth, what chance do I have? I hate myself. I've hated myself since I was 13. I hate myself after I race poorly. And I hate myself even after I race well - when I look to the future and see huge failures on the horizon.

What makes an athlete think like this? Why have I put so much importance on performance?

Again, all I can do is speak for myself. It goes back to my youth, to my family, to the way my parents reacted to my athleticism. I'm sure it wasn't intentional. No parent wants to give their child a lack of self-worth. But my athletic (and scholastic) performances had become my way of proving I'm worthwhile. Especially when I feel useless at my job and at other tasks of everyday life. When I fail at racing - the one thing that's completely within my control, I just want to throw up my arms and say "what's the point?" I can't do anything right. Why even exist?

I fear I continue to fight the fight because I'm a coward. But then, I find small values here and there, and I lose myself in swimming, running, and making art. I think about my husband and my cat and realize I'm being stupid. I convince myself that they need me. Although I have no idea why. But I work hard to not take that thought path. I spend a lot of time crying. Especially since Bob left us. Sometimes, I spend the whole day crying.

Here's where I say it's really difficult to explain depression and lack of self-worth to people who haven't been there. And I will always wonder if Bob went to that deep dark place and could not return. Was it sudden? Was it something he thought about for a long time? It's happened to me spontaneously and inexplicably - at the slightest provocation. Sometimes it comes as a panic attack - which is preferable because I can't think, I can only gasp for air. When it's not a panic attack, it has come as an outward attack on myself. And I have spent time in the hospital for it. It isn't a rational thought process. In fact, it all happens so fast that I'm only here today because someone was looking out for me.

I remember one of the eulogies at Bob's service. One of his best friends reiterated (with pregnant pauses) the fact that there would have been help had he asked.. if only he had reached out - or given someone a chance to help. But I also know this is very difficult to do and not everyone wants to deal with a depressed person (no matter how much people say you can count on them). How do I know who will understand? Whose love is truly unconditional? Especially when I ask questions they can't answer - it's usually: "suck it up" or "think positive." And, is it fair for me to expect someone to feel empathy for feelings they don't have the capacity to feel? Especially when everyone thinks it's curable with some kind of medication. It isn't. It will never be. It's hard work to keep my head above water and not drown.

I don't want Bob's death to be in vain. I want it to mean something. And writing all of this is my way of making it worth something. Even if just opens up channels of communication between people. Or gives others the impetus to ask their friends how they are and open up their hearts to listen to the real answer. We're all in this together.

This may be the most difficult thing I ever write. I will cry while writing it so be warned: the page is wet and may warp while you're reading.

I've been seriously neglecting this blog lately - mostly because I don't want to sound like a broken record every time I race.

It's the last week of my taper for Ironman St. George.

Two weeks ago, I went through the panic. I'm not ready. I didn't train enough. I didn't train HARD enough. I don't know if I did the right things in my training. I didn't do enough nutrition training. I didn't train for the hot weather. I didn't train for the cold water. I didn't eat well during training. I didn't get enough sleep...

That's what happens during a pre-race panic attack. Every. Single. Time. And, as usual, it happened after a few bad workouts during my last build period.

The sad truth is that I've trained harder this year than last year. I did strength training. I was more consistent than ever in the pool, and my workouts were both harder and longer. And yet, in the last three weeks, my intervals are slower than ever. I rode more long rides and harder short rides this winter than last. But the last time I did a long ride, my power and speed hit a training low. And the one thing I pride myself on, my running speed, which I painstakingly fostered weekly on the treadmill during this whole buildup, is anything but fast and my legs now feel like jello.

And to top it all off, last week I got slammed with an upper respiratory infection that knocked me for a loop.

So, yes, I panicked.

And now I am trying to stay calm. Because there's nothing I can do. I can't cram in anymore training. The weather forecast for next Saturday in St. George is close to 100 degrees F. And my bike is already on it's way to Utah. I have to trust that I've done all I can, that I will make good decisions nutritionally and pace-wise on race day, and the weather is something I can't control. And let the chips fall where they may.

I've been seriously neglecting this blog lately - mostly because I don't want to sound like a broken record every time I race.

It's the last week of my taper for Ironman St. George.

Benchmarking Ironman: RunTri's 25 Toughest Ironman Races
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There are 19 days to Ironman St. George and I fear I'm heading smack into full Disaster Magnet panic mode. (How ridiculous is that? Only I could be "afraid" of panicking.) I don't feel so alone going to St. George because I regularly read the blog TransitionFour. Check out his latest infographic on Ironman St. George - race registration numbers are dismal. I find it very strange that there's an Ironman race that couldn't sell out because it's labeled as "too hard." I mean, COME ON! This is Ironman - it's supposed to be hard. As crazy as Ironman athletes are, I would expect them to be flocking to this race just to say "I did the hardest one!"

Female registrants are waaaay down, only 18% of the total (compared to 23% in 2010), and registration is down for the older age groups. This is both good news and bad news for me:

  • The bad news about small age groups is there are very few Kona slots - maybe just one.
  • The good news about small age groups is fewer people are willing to take on the challenge.
  • The bad news is that it's possible only the best triathletes will be there (because of the course difficulty).

So, yeah, in my mind, the bads outweigh the goods at this point, and panic creeps into my thoughts nightly. It's giving me flashbacks to the weeks before finals in college. I'm even having the nightmares of being late to the test. Most of my conscious panic involves the following:

  • fearing I've not done enough hill training to perform well in an Ironman with 6000 feet of climbing
  • worrying that, with my horrible nutrition issues, I've had no way of testing my fueling for a race that may very well last over 13 hours
  • wondering if I've REALLY done enough running to tackle an extremely hilly marathon after the swim and the bike (this anxiety translated into a 2:20 long run at 5 a.m. this morning)
  • fearing that because I can't get out of town until two nights before the race, if something goes awry with my travel arrangements to Utah, I won't have enough prep time
  • fearing a swim in seriously COLD water
  • wondering if my allergist is right that I won't get asthma in Utah's dry conditions
  • the usual sleep anxiety
I hope that writing down these fears will make me look extremely silly and others will smack some sense into me. I have 19 days to get a grip.
Is it a coincidence that as soon as I finished writing this entry I got an email stating the Ironman St. George Athlete's guide is now available? I'll be wearing #309 on race day.

Twelve days to race day. I wrote in an earlier blog that I'd set some goals for the J-Team (previously known as "Team J"). One third of the J-Team -- my husband Jim -- spoke up last night after reading the blog.

He gave me a sort of tell-tale smile: "Does one of these team goals involve sleeping the night before the race?" Ouch.

Good question. I vaguely remember "sleeping" was one of my early-season race resolutions. Have I done anything about it? Not really. Four months ago, I was supposed to start going to sleep early. I didn't even start going to sleep early THIS month.

I defend myself: "I'm getting energized for my race by watching the Tour de France."

Jim strikes back: "DVR." Damn. So much for that excuse.

I guess I'll be practicing nightly relaxation exercises for the next twelve days. And no caffeine after noon. And no.. um.. *sniff*.. no three-hour nightly Tour rebroadcast.

If that doesn't work, there's always my secret weapon. The British indie band Turin Brakes. When all else fails, it's the one thing I have going for me when it comes to sleeping at night: Turin Brakes' 2003 album "Ether Song." I rarely mention it. Why? you ask... Obviously, when mentioning your favorite band, the last thing you want to do is tell potential listeners that one of their amazing albums is the equivalent of counting sheep.

There's so much more to it. When I first heard "Ether Song," it wasn't the sonic version of a siesta. It was a constant companion in my waking hours -- a brilliant mix of stormy and calm that sent shivers down my spine no matter how many times I listened.

Then came the accident -- the closed-head trauma, the neck injuries, the neck brace, the stuck-in-one-position-staring-at-the-ceiling-sleepless nights, the I-might-as-well-be-taking-speed effect of the steroids. After I struggled for hours one night while watching the time tick away, Jim suggested I try the iPod (perhaps my whimpering was keeping him awake?) It was that moment I discovered the drug that was "Ether Song."

I drifted through the first three songs, and, the next thing I knew, it was five hours later and daylight. That's a pretty powerful drug. The next several days, I tried other albums with no luck (well, to be fair, I did have intermittent luck with Radiohead's "Kid A"). But as soon as I played "Ether Song," I was out like a light. So this was it.. my favorite band puts me in a coma.

Little did I know that shortly thereafter, I would actually have the opportunity to tell them that. How, or more importantly, WHY, would you ever tell musicians that their music puts you to sleep? And why would you make it one of the first things you ever said to them? I still don't know, but at least I got a chance to explain... and, oddly, Turin Brakes' singer, Olly Knights, was not at all surprised by my revelation. He was almost, dare I say, thrilled to hear it. Like it was planned that way. Maybe to him, "Ether Song" didn't induce sleep, it induced a state of complete euphoria.. that then translated to sleep. The perfect drift off...

And there it is. My secret weapon. Something I will have to call upon once more because I didn't work on my anxiety issues and race-week panic attacks. And what's wrong with that?

Another recent conversation with a friend has inspired me to write this blog. It's not something I like talking about. And it causes anxiety. What is it?

Panic attacks. When you feel like you can't breathe and every time you try to relax, it's like another round of electric shocks going through your body. That's what happens to me regularly before races. Not right before like at the starting line, but at the times that it's most important to be resting -- the night before. And even worse -- the night BEFORE the night before.

It never happened in high school or college. Eight years of swim meets and four years of track meets and not a single panic attack. Oh sure, the nerves kicked in just before I got up on the blocks or walked onto the track. If it were a "big" meet, I might feel some nerves the "day of," but never the night before. And I would not have described it as "panic."

The real panic attacks started in 1991 before my first marathon. By 3 a.m. that morning, all my near-nod-offs had been thwarted by extreme anxiety and the feeling that my heart was pounding in my head. I was so desperate, I tried drinking shots of vodka. At THREE A.M! And THAT didn't work either. So I arrived at the starting line of the 1991 Cleveland marathon on no sleep with remnants of alcohol in my blood and extreme anxiety. But, in retrospect, over the years, I learned that sleeping the night before a marathon probably does more damage to your mind than your body. It's the sleep you get TWO nights before that matters.

Fast forward to the 1998 Chicago Marathon. I was close to a qualifying time for the Olympic Marathon Trials and put enormous pressure on myself. The result? You guessed it -- the anxiety set in TWO nights before the race. In a hotel in Gary, Indiana. We were not even in Chicago yet and I was sleepless for 24 hours. (And to this day, I still feel anxiety anywhere NEAR Gary, Indiana). I could barely eat the next day because of nausea, so I went into the race not only sleepless for two nights but also depleted. By mile 13, I was hitting the split button in every Porta-john on the marathon course. Over the years, I would learn that lack of sleep almost always manifested itself as stomach distress. NOT something I wanted to deal with in my future Ironman endeavors.
I finally explained it all to my doctor. His antidote? Anxiety drugs. The drawback? By the third day, I was so relaxed I couldn't get out of bed. Yeah, it was great, but I couldn't run in this condition. Dosage adjustment did the trick, and by the time I ran my next marathon, a Trials qualifying time was back in my sights and I was able to sleep.
Then came the night before the Trials and a whole new level of anxiety. You guessed it, drugs or no drugs, this was a fight I would not win. At one point during the night, I swore I heard a fire alarm go off in the hotel. No one else heard it, not even my husband. People must have thought I was a raving lunatic when I asked. The Trials marathon was a disaster (for more reasons than just anxiety). The year was 2000.
That year I decided things NEEDED to change. My doctor asked me to see a sports psychologist. It was probably the singular best thing I ever did to get control of my anxiety. He taught me how to relax using breathing techniques and relaxation tapes. I learned how to let go of things that I had no control over. I learned to have confidence in myself and run my own race. It was amazing. In September 2000, I arrived at the starting line of the Quad Cities Marathon with a full night of sleep. I even forgot to bring my gel for the race, but it mattered not. To my surprise, I didn't even feel nerves at the starting line. I ran the smartest marathon of my life, negative split, and won the women's race.

So what happened? I started racing triathlons in 2001 and didn't lose a single pre-race night of sleep until Ironman Hawaii in 2002. I dodged anxiety right up until the moment it really mattered and then had the worst panic attack of my life. I spent two nights of no sleep in Hawaii which resulted in a vomit-fest during the marathon. You'd think the first thing I would do is go back and re-learn relaxation techniques, but I never got a chance. In 2003, I was hit by a car and took a four-year hiatus. And now that I'm back, my relaxation techniques are so far gone that it feels like I have to start all over from scratch. And training for Ironman, I feel like I don't have the time. But, I need to make the time. It might be the most important time I make. Maybe writing this blog will point me in the right direction. Otherwise, I may never get a chance to go back to Hawaii and have that perfect Ironman race I missed out on.

Another recent conversation with a friend has inspired me to write this blog. It's not something I like talking about. And it causes anxiety. What is it?

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