Yesterday afternoon I chatted with Coach Phil about the upcoming season. A race schedule was requested by sponsors and so it was time to concretely map out a plan for the year. Usually, this task is completed much earlier and with more enthusiasm. But, as I explained just that morning to a friend during a run, underneath the eagerness for the approaching season, I am quite nervous and apprehensive about racing again. Up until the moment I amassed a schedule, the season was a theory and training was for “health”.
Now, with races on paper and contracts under review, the season has become tangible and not far off.
Last year was a rough one. The dichotomy of 2008, when I had one of my best seasons ever, to 2009 when I was removed from the race course twice in an ambulance, is astonishing and was mentally and physically taxing. I started last year with excitement and pride as the reigning Ironman 70.3 World Champion. My goals: race hard and defend my title. And, while I did race hard and despite all of the setbacks along the way I had the chance to defend my title, the entire year went terribly awry. The problems were subtle in training and easy to dismiss. Then, at my first 70.3 of the year in New Orleans, I became terribly dizzy early in the run and felt so bad I do not remember running the last 3 miles (I was highly motivated to finish. It was my first trip to New Orleans and I badly wanted to experience the nightlife, and I knew a DNF would leave me too grumpy to party). The dizziness continued to plague me, particularly during competition, causing me to drop out and then pass out at races.
The quest to determine the etiology of the dizziness was overwhelming, frustrating and time consuming. I sought out the expertise of specialists in a variety of fields to no avail. I explained in great detail to each doctor that the dizziness was not new, just worse (maybe because I am more blonde now?), and my entire triathlon career has been defined by good races and dizzy races (almost every Ironman has had some component of dizziness leading me to retire from that distance in 2008). I wanted to confer with House, but my husband dislikes his bedside manner and pointed out that patients almost die before receiving a diagnosis, so we nixed that idea. The pinnacle of my frustration over finding a cause occurred when one doctor gently suggested that my dizziness was psychologically induced and was just anxiety and another doctor explained that my age was the issue (really? Just a few months before, I won a World Championship title. I must age in dog years then). These conversations came during a time that I was unable to train due to the dizziness and completing simple daily tasks, such as standing up, were ridiculously difficult (one day I almost passed out grocery shopping). I did not take the words of these doctors well and felt even more motivated to solve my health issues.
Finally, we determined the dizziness was due to low blood pressure; I was experiencing low morning blood pressure causing head rushes or falling over when I got up and worse yet, my blood pressure was dropping precipitously during exercise. A healthy dose of salt and keeping an eye on my nutrition reversed the problem and now I keep track of my blood pressure daily to avoid a relapse (the moral: there is almost always a reason for feeling ill; keep plugging away until you find an answer). Fortunately, there was enough time left in the season to prepare for my defense of the 70.3 title and a smart and dizzy-free race in Austin raised my confidence. Bad luck befell me in Clearwater ending my race prematurely when a water bottle hand off went amiss leaving me with several broken bones and a bad case of potty-mouth to express my anger and pain.
And, that brings me back to the prospect of racing again. My reasons for diving back into the fray are many-fold. First, I enjoy a good challenge and unquestionably, racing at the highest level after the injuries I incurred in Clearwater is one that must be tackled (and let’s not forget at 40 rumor has it I am over the hill). Then there is the matter of unfinished business. I plan to return to all of the races I experienced physical difficulties and make things right by finishing with a smile instead of in a crumpled heap. And, most importantly, I love racing even if the thrill of victory is sometimes overshadowed by the agony of defeat (so cliché, but so true).