Blogs tagged with "stress"

Finishing (and winning) the
Sylvania Tri in 2010 may be the last
time I wasn't in pain running

It's been seven weeks since my PRP injection. During this time, the thing I've longed for most is the feeling I get when I'm out on the pavement with only my heartbeat, my running shoes, and my thoughts. I solve problems when I'm running. It's the only time I can let go of the damaging self-critic. It's the only time I can be myself without being terrified of what everyone else thinks. I need to run.

Unlike before, this time off from running has been one of inner reflection and fighting demons. Because I wasn't sure I would be able to run again. That fear was always there. What will I do if I can't run? I turned to introspective stream-of-consciousness drawing - the only other thing that gives me similar peace. But the fear continued. What will I do if I can't run? My physical therapist quoted the medical report ".. you have SEVERE tendinosis .. seriously NOT good" (as though I didn't fully grasp the severity of the injury). He said my hamstring tendon was "breaking down" - made it sound like it was actually disolving. The fear grew. Seriously. What. will. I. do. if. I. can't. run?

The fear made me ok with taking seven weeks off without a single step in a running gait. Sure, I was an emotional wreck (further compounded by a car accident). I became religious about my physical therapy. Heck, I became religious. I prayed. But I never stopped worrying. I frantically searched the internet for hamstring PRP success stories. Six weeks went by with not much improvement. And I had pretty much given up hope.

Then, in what seemed like an overnight miracle, this week the familiar always-there pain faded. And today I got the go-ahead. To run. It's been a rough year so I'm not celebrating just yet. But I will run. And it will not be far. It will not be fast. But there is running in my future. And unfinished business - with a finish line.

All I can do to explain is offer this (and stifle the tears):

Singer/songwriter Mark Dignam
at the Barking Spider Tavern

Once again, I shift gears to write about music. And once again, where I usually discuss running, swimming, biking, and less frequently, visual art and technology, writing about music will be very uncomfortable. It's not necessarily something want to do, but today, it's something I am inspired to do.

You may already know through social media that I've been muddling through a really bad year. A hamstring injury continues to threaten (and potentially end) my ability to train and compete in a sport that I not only love but one to which I've dedicated many many years. And in disaster-magnet fashion, a few weeks ago I was in a car accident. I was rear-ended by another driver, my 14-year-old car was totaled, I suffered additional injuries, and my emotional well-being, already hanging by a thread, was further pushed to the limit by being given only three days of a rental vehicle by the other driver's insurance company. Stressed out with new aches and pains, frantically searching for a new (or used) car or come up with alternate work transportation, I found myself crying a lot and drawing for mental relief (having lost the stress-reducing factor of running that I've so relied on in the past).

So what does this have to do with music, you ask? Well, although it shouldn't happen this way, last night I had to be reminded of one of the great uplifting, anxiety-relieving things in this world - something I can get lost in that gives me hope and makes me want to get up the next day - something that gives me an appreciation of beauty and good in the world. That thing is music.

The musician is Dublin-born, Pittsburg-based Mark Dignam. The first time I heard him was in 2010 supporting the Swell Season at The House of Blues in Cleveland. He has a storied history having grown up busking on the streets of Dublin with the likes of Glen Hansard. And like Hansard, he truly embodies the spirit of the singer-songwriter. If you want to know more, Google him like I did the first time I heard his music. I watched every video I could find... the more I found, the more I wanted to kick myself for not having heard of him earlier than 2010 (seriously, it was embarrassing). But the most amazing thing about Mark Dignam is that he IS his music. When he performs, it seems like every molecule of his body is belting out the song. (Note: I stole this description from my friend Andy - an artist and occasional musician - who seems to have made it his mission to turn me onto good music. In the past, he's described some of his favorite musicians in this way - they "are their music.")

Mark Dignam is one of those musicians. Watching and listening to him, I can't imagine he could ever have done anything else with his life. It's an all-incompassing talent that I would proverbially give an arm and a leg to have (especially in my art). It's a talent that rarely sees the light of day in this world - a world in which we have American Idols crammed down our throats and are force-fed monotonous pop "music" via uninspired corporate-owned radio stations.

The only thing about it that makes me sad is that Jim and I were two of only about ten people there to witness Mark's performance in Cleveland, a city that claims to have great cultural institutions. It would have been easy to pack the place - a small bar called the Barking Spider - because it was a free gig right smack in the middle of a big university (Case Western Reserve). Unfortunately (in fact, it was a damn shame) only a few people were there to see it. A very lucky few, but in the end, only a few.

I am sure Mark Dignam made fans out of everyone sitting in the audience last night. One customer - engaged in conversation with him when we arrived - had no idea he spent the better half of his time at the bar talking to the performer. Having to leave half way through the set, the still-shocked new fan walked up mid-gig and asked to buy Mark's one CD. (Note that upon finding out he brought only one CD to Cleveland, this was the one I had set my heart on leaving with.) My point is, it's hard not to be blown away seeing Mark Dignam live. And if you didn't already know about it, he will introduce you to the catharsis of the sing-along. I don't know about you, but it's hugely fun (and stress-busting) singing out loud with (not quite) a roomful of people.

As we did last night. And hopefully will again. And again.

So, because I sometimes make it my mission to turn people on to good music, I have to share some of it. The title of this post is a line from this, one of his more well-known songs, "Stormy Summer" (since I had a pretty bad summer, hearing this live was my personal catharsis). Here's the video I took of it (with his permission):

And here's another song from last night - this one is called "Build":

Feeling up against a wall - in life and in sport. I guess this is what it looks like in my mind's eye. I drew it in about 45 minutes (fast) and with a bigger pen tip (.3mm) than what I've been using lately (.25mm)

Feeling up against a wall - in life and in sport. I guess this is what it looks like in my mind's eye. I drew it in about 45 minutes (fast) and with a bigger pen tip (.3mm) than what I've been using lately (.25mm)

Today I felt completely tied down and strangled. I've been panicking regularly while working about 12-14 hours per day to launch a new website and it finally went live but with little fanfare as I still have an extremely large amount of work to do to get everything working the way it should. My head hurts and my hands hurt and that's what went into this drawing.

Today I felt completely tied down and strangled. I've been panicking regularly while working about 12-14 hours per day to launch a new website and it finally went live but with little fanfare as I still have an extremely large amount of work to do to get everything working the way it should.

After one more very long work day (12 hours of struggle in front of a computer), I sat down on the couch and started drawing what my head is feeling like - both the pain and the stress of upcoming unrealistic deadlines. I'm tired of hearing twisting words and having to deal with underhandedness. It grows like a fungus an affects everyone. Here's my drawing, I was having trouble stopping the growth, I could have filled the page.

After one more very long work day (12 hours of struggle in front of a computer), I sat down on the couch and started drawing what my head is feeling like - both the pain and the stress of upcoming unrealistic deadlines.

Cleveland winters usually keep me training inside
(this was my front yard yesterday)

I've been struggling for weeks to write this blog - mainly because of a lackadaisical attitude towards training for many weeks. I've started my training for Ironman St. George, but I haven't been at all excited about it. Being stuck on the bike trainer for many months was easier - and much more fun - last year than this year, and even though I'm not skipping or skimping on workouts, I just haven't been really enthusiastic during most of them and I've been wracking my brain to figure out why. Here's what I came up with.

January was my month to be wholly unmotivated. I now believe that the reason for this was, simply, my job. I love my new job, and the time I've been putting into it (mentally) has taken me away (mentally) from my other great passion, training.

It's ironic that the reason for my return to racing in 2008 after a four-year hiatus, was also, simply, my job. That job (at the Zoo) had become a source of disappointment when I learned that hard work and dedication was irrelevant to my opportunities for advancement. I was "stuck." Eventually, I came to terms with it - because, fundamentally, I loved the work (and it's true, if you love what you do, it's not really work at all). But as always, I needed an outlet for the energetic and goal-oriented side of my personality and I already knew that racing could satisfy that urge. Recommitting myself to Ironman finally paid off three years later,  when I was able to make good on my nine-year-old promise from 2002 to one day return to Kona.

For the last three years, dedicating myself to training was easy because, like clockwork, something coincidentally disappointing at work would happen in January or February and reignite the passion to be a better athlete. But this year was different. This year there was no need to recommit because of work woes. This year I find myself in a very rewarding position at The Cleveland Museum of Art. I am surrounded by like-minded, energetic, and hard-working cohorts. Some of them are also athletes. And instead of fueling my passion for training and racing, my coworkers and supervisors have fueled my passion for my work. I am once again fully engaged in my job and spending more time at it than necessary - not because I "have" to, but because I "want" to.

And because I'm one of those people who can't do anything half-assed, this has once again become a curse as I desperately try to create balance among all the things I want and have to do. I just can't DO everything with maximum engagement. Upsetting the balance this year has actually created a new level of anxiety and stress that I'm currently having trouble coming to grips with.

Since the beginning of February, I've worked to put motivation back into my training but new stresses are revealing themselves. Now that the motivation is back, the gains do not seem to be coming. Or maybe it's too early to tell. I have always worried about a point at which my age becomes a major factor in the "hard work pays off" ethic, and I'm worried I may be reaching that point. In the past three weeks, I'm not seeing gains in power on the trainer despite working myself to exhaustion. The same is happening in the pool. The only place where my training seems to be paying off is on the treadmill where I've seen gains in speed over time by doing intervals. Based on the other two sports, I reason that my running had become very slow to begin with so it's no big deal that I got faster.

The question I keep asking myself is: how much longer can I keep it up if I don't see more positive results? In contrast to my worried assessment, my husband Jim (usually the voice of reason) keeps telling me I said the same thing last year. All I can say now is, I hope he's right.

My cat's manifestation of today's general feeling

Sometimes I get ahead of myself. And that's how anxiety and panic begin to take hold. For instance, this weekend, I conquered the monumental task of spending five hours on my bike trainer. But I didn't see it as an accomplishment. Instead, based on my "trainer" speed and distance, all I could think of was: "I just had the crappiest bike ride of all time that proves no matter how hard I work, I still suck on the bike."

The truth is, I've been training my arse off on the bike. But I'm getting ahead of myself. After the Disney Marathon, I dedicated myself to complete a three-month workout plan known as the "ComputTrainer Challenge" in my circle of training cohorts. It started with a time trial to determine my FTP (Functional Threshold Power) -- which I did four days before the marathon -- and continues with three workouts weekly, designed to increase our sustainable power output. The one thing I've not told anyone (in that circle) is that because I'm racing Ironman St. George in May, I've been doing a really long ride (obviously, now up to five hours) every weekend (this was not advised). But in reading others' assessments of the training plan and improvements in their fitness levels, I realize I'm not making the same gains. Instead I'm tired and cranky and my legs are screaming with fatigue. And I'm sick and tired of doing all my workouts indoors during this horrible winter.

So today I called my good friend and fellow athlete, Ron, to complain, and he helped put it all in perspective. I WAS getting ahead of myself. He reminded me that my trainer speed and distance has no comparison to that of the road and I need to just focus on power. He reminded me that I have to deal with stresses at work in addition to training. And he reminded me I'm doing exactly what I need to do. And I need to stop comparing myself to others.

But then I was still doing it. Affording a CompuTrainer was a stretch, but I determined it was the best option (and nothing speaks louder than "guaranteed to make you faster"). But here I may also have gotten ahead of myself. I'm now hanging out with a group of "CompuTrain"ing athletes, and I've fallen back into that behavior pattern of comparing myself to other triathletes -- this time financially.

It reminded me to address the third bullet in my Seasons End article from December: "Where on earth will I scavenge up the cash to pay for ever-increasing race entry fees, gear (including necessities like running shoes, nutrition and supplements) and travel expenses?" Every time I turn around or read other athletes' blogs or forum posts, I feel like I'm the cool triathlete's poor relative -- the one riding a purple ten-speed, running in cotton sweats and (white) Chuck Taylors, and wearing a stop-watch around my neck. Remember those people? Oh my God, I've BECOME one of those people!

But seriously, what is a financially-challenged athlete to do? (Um.. figure out how to make more money, or) put things in perspective, of course! My friend Ron got an earful on this front as well. Me: "All these triathletes I know have unlimited funds, multiple racing bikes, Garmins, treadmills in their basements, Newton running shoes, compression wear - you name it." I can't keep up. If it's marketed toward triathletes, everyone else seems to have it and I can't afford it. I know, I'm getting ahead of myself once more. Ron came to the rescue, again, with one simple line: "Steve Prefontaine didn't have any of those things."

All it took was a look back, and I'm no longer getting ahead of myself. When I got home from work today, my husband Jim reminded me that I know what I'm doing. And that I needed a day off. From the mental stress. From the physical stress. From the fatigue. And, in the midst of a massive winter storm, from the weather.

And right now, everything is back in perspective.

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