Hi de ho there neighbors.
A lot, lot, lot has occurred since I last rapped at ya. The summer happened. It got munched up and swallowed by a big snarly monster of unexpected familial responsibility and I remember almost none of it. A lost summer, but there will be more, so it is okay. My kiddos are back in school as of last Wednesday. Phook in 1st grade. Bigs in 4K. Parkie the lone ranger in my Target cart now. First day of school looked like this:
I maintained. No cryin' or nuthin'.
Big K, not pictured, did not maintain. The large man cried during the Bigs drop-off! I, on the other hand, recognized this as a moment Bigs and I have both needed somewhat desperately for a good long while, so I gave the sucker a snuggle and skipped on out of there. Not to be a dick or anything, but it's true.
I did do some fun stuff this summer, like a camping trip with my shorties, my bestie, and her shorties. Yeah, that's right. 2 ladies, 5 shorties, a tent, OMG. We risked our lives repeatedly, in this case on account of severe inclement weather and semi-high risk hiking. The small people were delighted.
So, yeah, I already got sidetracked with this "What I Did On My Summer Vacation" essay. Sorry. I suck. I meant to talk about my fitness disast. Let's do that. Note that there's discussion of blood and grossness in the telling of this tale. Consider yourself warned and stuff.
Okay, so. Triathlon. Not exactly a natural fit for someone such as myself. What would be a natural fit? Well, depending on how big of a redneck you are, you may be familiar with the rednecky activity that is tractor pulls. You basically hook a weighted sled to a tractor and see how far the tractor can go as the weight on the sled increases. That would be my fitness wheelhouse. I would, of course, be the tractor in question. And that is my natural athletic gift. Hauling.
So of course I set my sights on a triathlon. Since it's pretty much the exact opposite of what I do well in the fitness department. Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's my jam. Picking the thing that is really hard and becoming obsessed. So I knew there was one to be held in August, and I spent the entire summer rolling it around in my mind as something I probably wouldn't do but couldn't stop thinking about. I trained for it, even as I told people I wasn't doing it. I swam a ton, even taking swim lessons to improve my stroke. I biked a lot. I ran a lot. I did these things in horrible combinations for hours at a time. Pretty much every day this summer. Along with my preferred pastime of moving heavy things repeatedly while gym dudes stared at me with a confused look of abject horror/awe on their faces. But, yeah, I did a butt ton of high intensity cardio and a lot of endurance crap over the past few months, and I spent a lot of time lying awake at night obsessing about this tri.
To be honest, I was terrified. In the tiny box that holds the contents of my tiny life, this became a REALLY BIG DEAL to me. Like an actual accomplishment, should I accomplish it. Something not naturally grouped with laundry and toilet bowl maintenance. But an actual thing that is known to be somewhat hard and which most people, I think, would feel some sense of satisfaction in completing. So at the 11th hour, I signed up for the sucker. I imagined my kids seeing me finish it. Maybe even holding "Go Mom!" signs that always make me tear up when I see kids holding them at this sort of thing. From a mental health perspective and from the perspective of showing my kids that their Mom is, well, her own person and also a big asskicker, I decided I had to do it.
In the week leading up to it, I ruminated endlessly on the run. I am a very strong swimmer, and I knew I could do the equivalent swim (a quarter mile) in under 8 minutes in a pool. I had done the 16 mile bike on my shitbomber mountain bike several times in under an hour. What terrified me was the run. Oh how I am not a runner. I am slow. It hurts. I am slow. I spent a week dreading the hell of my burned up quads trying to do the run after getting off the bike. I was worried I would be ashamed of how pathetic and slow I was on the run.
It turns out, I had other stuff to worry about.
I realize I am getting wordy and I haven't even really started telling the story yet. I'm a terrible writer. Sorry.
Let's fast forward to me standing on the edge of the lake, gearing up to jump in the water and fantasizing about how I was about to seamlessly peel off a quarter mile swim almost good enough to put me into the elite wave.
Only that didn't happen. No. I ran out into the water with my wave of 30-something ladies, started swimming, and promptly almost drowned.
Yup. For reals. About 45 seconds into the swim, I turned my head for a big breath, and inhaled at the exact moment another woman kicked. Her wave of water went right into my mouth as I inhaled a deep breath. Yes, friends, I aspirated what felt like a flipping quart of lake water less than a minute into what was to be my 2-hour endurance event.
It was truly horrific. My body instantly went into crisis. I couldn't breathe. I nearly lost consciousness. My heart started pounding out of my chest. Swimming an actual stroke became a literal impossibility. And then once I could breathe, I couldn't control my breathing at all. It was like a runaway freight train. I had spent a lot of time during my training practicing reigning in my pace when I needed to. I would purposely go too fast, get my heart rate and breathing all crazy, and then practice getting it back under control. My brain knew how to do that. I had trained for it. But as I floundered there in the water, my breathing was completely out of control no matter what I did. My senses started to fail. I was horribly dizzy. I couldn't hear. I don't remember seeing much of anything. It was disorienting and terrifying. I have never in my life been in trouble in water before. I have swam across multiple lakes. I've been tossed around by the ocean. And I have never, ever been scared in water. Until that moment.
As my consciousness flickered and I got weaker and weaker with each pathetic dog paddle forward, I knew I needed real help. Luckily there were rescue kayaks positioned all along the swim route, and I called one over. I hung on the kayak. The woman offered to whistle for help. I declined. I hung on her kayak and tried to control my breathing and I failed. After a minute or so, I back floated and kicked a little further. She stayed with me, encouraging me, cheering for me, trying to help me with breathing, asking if she should blow the whistle. She kayaked alongside me the whole way. I don't know exactly how long I would spend resting and how long I would spend kicking...it was various intervals of unbelievable misery and fear. At some point I turned the final corner of the swim and the kayaker asked my name. I told her, and she relayed it up to the next kayaker who relayed it up to shore, and pretty soon all the spectators on the shore were screaming my name and cheering for me. Of course in their minds I was the chubby girl who didn't know how to swim, and knowing that was soul crushing and mortifying for me. I don't often (ever) find myself vulnerable. I didn't want to be the charity case, the chubster left out to sea when literally 400 other racers were already out on their bikes. But hearing them cheer, even if their encouragement was based on rooting for the underdog instead of rooting for the half-dead lady, pushed me to finish. At one point the kayaker said, "You're almost there. The shore is right there!" and I looked up and I swear to you it looked like it was a hundred miles away. I truly do not know, will never know, how I finished the last bit of that swim, half unconscious and more exhausted than I could have ever imagined was possible. Really and truly, it surpassed childbirth. It probably did not actually acutely hurt as much as childbirth, but in terms of forcing oneself through a feat of endurance, this definitely demoted my 24-hour+ labors to a distant second place. I can't believe I'm saying that, but I am. My 8 minute swim took me over 17 minutes to complete.
So I got out of the water and truly almost collapsed. I had no legs. I walked over to this guard rail and put my forehead on it, and everything was spinning. Eventually I looked up and I saw my sister there, thank God. She, alone among the crowd, knew something was very wrong. I coughed out, "I aspirated lake water." She looked stricken. And then a race organizer guy ran up to me, still thinking I'm the out of shape lady in over her head, and starts jogging with me to transition, pumping me up with encouraging words. I don't know how, but I got on my shoes, and got on that bike.
Almost immediately, I started coughing. Badly. And even though I was pedaling so slow I felt like I was going to tip over, I could not slow the pace of my breathing. It was full-on 100% gasping panting fast-paced breaths that I had literally zero capacity to control. In my head, I was running through all this relaxation shit, mistakenly thinking that this was somehow up to me and that if I could just hit on the right technique, I could reign in the breathing. I was wrong. It wasn't up to me. It ceased being up to me the moment I aspirated. Realizing that, I started to spit. I was rolling along on my bike, painfully slowly, and coughing, coughing, coughing. I found myself needing to spit. I did. I was horrified. I spit out a giant mouthful of lake water, mixed with what was very clearly blood. Lots of it. That right there is where most people turn their bike around, had they even been crazy enough to get on it.
I did not. I kept biking. Hacking. Spitting. Blood. Brown water. Blood. Brown water. My throat was on fire and my sinuses felt terrible, basically a permanent sensation of what my mother always called a "snoot full." That weird sense of being submerged long after you're out of the water. When I made the first significant turn on the bike, I encountered someone coming BACK from the bike. That's right, they had already ridden their entire 16 miles just as I was starting. I just thought, "Holy shit. I'm screwed." And I knew right then that this wouldn't be a battle for time, or a respectable finish, or about meeting the goal I had set for myself. This would be a battle just to finish. And even that goal, in that moment, seemed beyond my reach.
I biked on. I saw some familiar faces, friends racing. And I saw a ton of unfamiliar faces. And so many of those elite racers, and even the less elite races, as they passed me going the opposite direction, knowing I was literally well over an hour off of a reasonable pace, shouted words of encouragement to me from their bikes. The most common refrain was "Keep Going!" I cannot say how awesome this was. My favorite thing about organized communal fitness events is seeing other people out there trying. In this case, I was the charity case, the one everyone was rooting for out of a sense of pity. But also, I know many of them were really rooting for me. Even if I accept that they were rooting for me thinking I was undertrained and overfed, they were genuinely rooting for me, knowing I was doing something that was really hard for me. Of course they couldn't know that I was actually a moderately fit person who should have been rolling along with the pack of my own wave of racers, but the further I went the more that became ok. I fed off of them. Ego fell away. I just kept pedaling. And spitting. Oh the spitting. At one point I spit and the slime landed on my calf and I looked down at my lung blood glistening on my calf and I thought, "Holy shit, what am I doing?" But for the most part, I just kept pedaling. Panting, pedaling, spitting.
As I reached the turnaround point on the bike, there was a huge hill. When I saw that thing, I absolutely knew I could not get my bike up it. So I got off and walked the bike up the hill, almost tipping over repeatedly in the process, no legs, completely weak, panting, hacking, spitting. With an EMS vehicle right on my tail, its occupants asking if I was okay. At the top of the hill, I got back on and rode to the turnaround point. And then the 8 miles back to transition. Repeating the grossness, thinking about hailing the emergency vehicles every time they nervously passed me, and deciding that no, I was finishing this motherfucker.
When I neared the transition point again, I saw a group of little people on the side of the road. It was my little people, with Big K. With handmade signs that said, "Go Mom!" And I started bawling. I'm on the bike, I'm spitting up blood, and I am bawling. And I am screaming, "I love you! I love you!" at them as the elite racers, having long since finished the whole thing, are walking back to their cars, carrying their 12-pound bikes like they're nothing and nodding at me in a show of support, recognizing that I am someone who is out there trying, struggling for who really cares what reason. And my kids are cheering, cheering, cheering like I am winning that thing. I will never forget that. Never. I will always be grateful for that. That, of course, was the only moment I wanted out of the whole damned thing.
So of course I got back to transition. As I came in, I told someone I was spitting up blood. The medical organizer lady came over and saw blood in my hand. I asked her if I could finish, walking the run. She let me. Which is absurd, I'm guessing, from a liability perspective. But whatever. I'm really glad she let me.
So Big K came to my side and started walking it with me. We are a dangerous pair because neither of us will ever say to the other, "Why don't you stop? This might not be safe." Nope. We have identical wiring on this. Finish, conquer, persevere, overcome. There just aren't other options for us. As I panted and hacked and bent over to occasionally put my head between my knees to keep from losing consciousness through a walk that truly should have not counted as exertion on my regular activity scale, he never once said to me, "Are you sure you can do this?" He never once told me to think of our children and put my ass on the grass. He never suggested that we get medical personnel. And I will always love him for it. You, your mother, and every other sane human on earth may think this was recklessly stupid, and you're probably right. But I do not have that gene. And neither does Big K. And, well, even if I am on your crazy idiot-faced loon list now, I'm really flipping happy that we don't.
This. was. important. to. me.
Big K talked me through it. You can do this. One more mile. You've got this. You do this every day. You can do this. I'm proud of you. Drink some Gatorade. You've got this. Almost done. Here we go. I'm right here. You've got this.
At the end, I was joined by some very important fans. They walked with me to the end. And at the very end, Parkie ran out from her place with Hode and ran up to me with her arms out, so I scooped her up, and me and my three kiddos ran the last few steps through the finish line together.
I finished dead last.
I was deliriously happy. I was destroyed. I was proud of myself. I did something that was not dishes or laundry. And my kids saw me do it, even finished it with me. And my husband, the big badass, was the right kind of badass for his badass wife that day, and he got me across that line too. And I loved my people very deeply. Here we are 5 minutes after the finish. Me, delighted, and looking like I did not do a physical thing at all because of course I never got near a pace that would have actually been challenging were I alive, standing next to my poor sweat-soaked husband, who isn't used to completing the third leg of a triathlon even at my invalid pace. I think I'll always love this picture. It says a lot about what is important to me. To us.
Trying. I will always think it is the most important thing. Trying.
And then the medics freaked out, told me I was in danger of delayed drowning (I don't even want to google that), and told me to go directly to the hospital. Six hours after I aspirated the water, my oxygen saturation was still at only 92%, which my doctor said he could not get his to drop down to if he "duct taped his mouth shut and held his breath." My resting pulse, which is usually in the 60s, was still thumping away at 120. My lungs were filled with lake and making wonky crackling sounds, and I was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia. They gave me an antibiotic to kill whatever bugs might be trying to kill me from inside my lungs and said, "Wow, you are really, really sick. Go home. Be really glad they had rescue kayaks, because if they hadn't, you'd be dead." My doctor, who I thought would yell at me for recklessly endangering myself said, "I get it. I get the mentality. You decided you were going to do this, and once you got out there you were like, "Of course I'm going to fucking finish!" Yeah, I get it."
I was so the perfect girl for that guy to drop an F bomb on. I loved it.
And now it's been a bit over a week. I have had a very rough week, recovering from this thing. I went back to the gym for the first time today and it was made very clear to me that this is gonna be a long road back to where I was at. I am working hard today to not to be too devastated about that.
I guess, you know, I will just keep going back to the gym. And trying.