Dropsy Turvy

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One quality I deeply admire in others is adaptability. I think this is especially important in athletes. Our bodies are fragile. I am a huge culprit in taking for granted physical ability. In my default belief system the following apply: limits are meant to be exceeded, pain is mental, and therefore, subjective, and healing is an inherent function of the body.

The seemingly incidental bike accident I experienced a month ago was a complete game changer. I didn’t give credit to the detrimental effects of it until the past few days when the reality of my body’s state came to light.

Saturday morning at 7am, I was wheeled under a giant spaceship machine (also known as an open MRI) to have my shoulder analyzed. Perhaps it is the extreme body awareness I carry or my phobia of magnetic fields, but I honestly felt the pull of this enormous alien analyzing my body. The image of my little ADD body remaining PERFECTLY still for 35 minutes makes me chuckle in retrospect, but the MRI was surprisingly meditative. I visualized all the ways I would use my precious shoulder once healed: plunging in perfect rotation while swimmjng through open water, shifting gears on the aerobars of my beautiful bike, holding my newborn children someday, doing drunken cartwheels on the beach, hugging the people I love most without hesitation, perfecting cobra pose, throwing my hair in a bun with both hands, dancing, kayaking, catching a baseball, retreating in to down dog after a long day, wrapping my left arm around my lover, challenging myself to push ups, and the numerous other ways in which my shoulder makes life better.

I have come to understand more than ever the powerful purpose of my left shoulder. More than anything, I’ve surrendered to the limits of my body. I have surrendered to patience and the possibility of experience that lies in the time when I’m not training.

Most days have been spent reading, writing, wondering, digesting, and waiting. At night and in the morning, I ice, heat, repeat (see pic above).

But, seriously, I am so quietly happy. I know whatever happens, life goes on. I will keep healing, hoping, and hugging with my right arm.

By the way, my MRI report came today, but that’s for the next post.

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Off-the-cuff mindset rotations.

Dear Readers,

It’s been over 4 months since my last confession.

January 16 was the last time I babbled on to you, high on exercise and endorphins. Times have changed, but not all is lost. Over the past 100 days, I’ve endured some quirky health hurdles that my short little legs could not clear.

It inspires me to know that summer isn’t far away. I’m determined to get over these bizarre health and unforeseen medical challenges and get my butt in to Iron shape.

February started off strong like any other month, I was feeling faster, lighter, and FIT. When I entered the pool the very first Monday to take on my fitness tests, I looked down to see my Garmin watch was missing a very important button. For a watch of its price and age (2 mths), this should not have happened. Not only did the missing button impair me from get splits, it impaired me from saving my workouts to TrainingPeaks so that coach J could analyze and work his magic. Ok, not a huge set back. I immediately sent it in the next morning of Tuesday, the 7th, and continued doing workouts with the plan to push back my testing week by 7 days.

The following weekend arrived and for various reasons, my left toe had some symptoms of what could be an ingrown toenail. I’ve had them in the past without much complication of removal. A shot of whiskey, peroxide, and some tweezers was all I needed to get rid of them. However, this time I foolishly decided to wear tall boots while working at the Dose Market all day long. Big mistake. By Monday the 13th my toe was disgusting. The only solution was an emergency professional toe removal that occurred on the afternoon of Valentine’s Day. The joke of the day was “gauze: My Bloody Valentine.” HA. Again, not all was lost. After a short week, I was back to training, restored watch on wrist and ready to hit the Iron road. The first Saturday of March arrived which brought a camper reunion at Lillstreet where I enjoyed an afternoon of art projects with some little ones. Immediately following that event, I felt slightly run down, but nothing too out of the ordinary.

Tuesday, March 6th, I ecstatically took the train out to my sister’s house for some overdue family hang time. I kept complaining of an unexplainable headache despite my upbeat disposition. I snuggled in to bed at their house only to wake up the next day with a blindsiding migraine, fever, and sore throat. After the 3 hour train trek home in this condition (not recommended), I crawled in to my apartment for 2–3 days, barely able to walk around. I did manage to watch about 15 Star Trek episodes though while in sick bay.

Recovery was unfortunately slow, but after a few weeks, I was like Sister Act II: back in the habit. April came and went with some solid training. After months of slight setbacks, I grabbed my 26th birthday by the *ram* horns and gave training my all with a swim PR I still grin about.

The last week of April brought a tremendous delight: the arrival of my beautiful new triathlon bike, whom I have temporarily named Troi (after Counselor Deanna Troi), although I’m heavily considering calling her Crusher after Doctor Beverly Crusher, and also as an honor to my team CRUSH Multisport. My first ride out was absolutely glorious. It was unlike any other biking experience of my life, I couldn’t stop beaming. Within a mile of home during that first ride, I hit a pothole and instantly got a flat.

Womp. Womp. That was easily solved and I was ready to take on the biking discipline in a whole new way. Training was constantly rewarding. With every workout, I felt myself growing stronger. For the first week, I did most of my rides on my new trainer, which is totally awesome…

THEN, Friday, May 4th, I was biking home from my friend’s casa around 9 on my commuter ride, eager to wake up early and hit the lake path at sunrise with Troi. Unfortunately, I was biking rather fast in less than ideal flats and took a hard crash on Damen just north of Irving Park. Getting in bike accidents is a curious experience. On one hand, my initial response was utter embarrassment. On the other, there’s a childlike response where you assume nothing breaks or tears. The fear of getting hit by traffic quickly transformed laying in the middle of Damen avenue to sitting up and instantly assessing what worked on my body. People flooded above me.

“Are you okay?” “Should I call an ambulance?” “Did someone hit you?”

“no. I’m okay. Need to sit. Oww. *attempts and to lift left arm from the ground* f*ck. I think my arm’s probably broken. My foot hurts. Ouch.” I didn’t cry. Those of you who know me will be shocked. I didn’t cry. It was the most pragmatic, survival mode response imaginable.

I called my man while deliriously on the ground saying I just needed him. Meanwhile, some kind CVS worker and stranger named Curtis escorted me and all my belongings inside the pharmacy, conveniently located 300yrds from the crash site.

Inside, Curtis informed me I probably had a concussion, which made sense given my blurry vision and intense aversion to the overhead fluorescent lights. I bragged about how I wasn’t crying and asked for a Gatorade while waiting for the Christo. During that time, I realized at that point my foot ached while tripling in size and turning violet (“Violet, you’re turning violet, Violet!” kept playing through my head). CFL arrived shortly after and we hightailed it to the ER for x-rays.

I can’t express my gratitude for the Christo enough. He somehow managed to make the ER experience FUN. Thanks to him, I was laughing more than crying as we joked about our midnight visit to “Club X-Ray”.  After a report of nothing broken from the mediocre doctor and the most uninformed nurse I’ve ever had (she didn’t know where the nearest pharmacy was located), we went home.

Due to my stubborn mindset, I didn’t go to the doctor for two weeks while I self-diagnosed to no success. Given that I couldn’t lift my arm higher than my shoulder or perform basic activities, I admit I was/AM a total idiot. By the way, two weeks of not training and only walking for exercise is pretty much like torture for me. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I broke down and called the nearest chiropractor as I was determined to use alternative medicine to begin healing.

I have to rave about my chiropractor, Dr. Alisha Schafer, for a minute. I’ve never regularly visited any doctor, but her attention to detail and care has made me understand why people do it. She diagnosed my shoulder situation as a severely strained rotator cuff (if not torn, I haven’t had an MRI because, well, I can’t afford it). We’ve started therapy 2-3/week and I have trust in it healing my body. If by next week I haven’t gained range of motion, I will get an MRI and make a judgment call on future races.

What does this all mean? Well, I’m disappointed to realize I can’t participate in Leon‘s next weekend with the team. I do plan on being the most enthusiastic cheerleader there though. Depending on recovery time, I am still planning to do Muncie, though it is obvious I will have a fraction of the fitness I planned on. My mental toughness is being challenged at this point, but I am staying as positive, patient, and realistic as possible. Every ounce of me plans on crossing the finish line at Madison.

In my 4-year recreational athlete experience, this is by far the biggest setback and injury I’ve experienced. It is an absolute challenge in every way, but it mostly challenges the way I perceive myself and place in the world. If I’m not active, who am I? What is possible of me from my mind and attitude when my body isn’t performing in an ideal way? It’s teaching me to push the limits of positive thinking, to embrace being present and to be grateful for everything that does work in my body. I’ve never been so grateful for my body. This time is forcing me to slow down, be present, SIT, socialize in a quality way, listen (to others, to nature, to my body), and not be so rushed to SWIM/BIKE/RUN through life. I have to walk through my world at this point, and that’s okay. One injury isn’t the end, it’s the beginning of a new journey to understand the needs of my body. I will be an athlete the rest of my life, in whatever ways possible. What I’ve realized this year is that being an athlete is much more of a mindset than of physical ability. I’ve always been so reliant on training to maintain my happiness, but this injury is an opportunity to build up my character and re-frame my definitions of ability, of identity, and of happiness.

Don’t let the above photo mislead you, I actually can’t brush my hair with that arm. Not that I ever really brushed my hair anyway.

Exercise makes me smarter, and other thoughts of training-induced euphoria.

Most people have heard from one source or another the positive impact that exercise has not just on physicial fitness, but almost more importantly, on cognitive stamina.

For me, this is an absolute truth, and one of my biggest motivators to exercise daily.

Exercise keeps me saner, smarter, and more engaged with the outward world around me, and with my own inner universe.

This week marks the 6th week of my Ironman training, which I’ve completed with more consistency, dedication, energy, and knowledge than any other time in my life thanks to Crush Multisport! When I’m training, or exercising regularly (6x/week), I feel like the best human possible. Like a superhero, really. It positively impacts every other arena of my life. After this month and a half, I’m steadily learning how to balance my work, social, and training lives, and they’re beginning to co-exist with staggering beauty.

Or, perhaps, there has been a sense of balance all along but training releases such intense doses of endorphins that I’m suddenly aware and in awe of it. Because I’m in awe of everything after training. Chris calls this state my “post-training glow.” But, these days, the glow is here for good.

Training is making everything in my life better. For the past couple weeks, I’ve been spending between 7-9 hours at the X-sport gyms. I’ve been making friends with their stationary bikes, reveling in their pools/hot-tubs, and-believe it or not- bonding with their treadmills. A majority of people declare their dislike of gyms, but I’ll be honest, I love them. I love them. The gym allows me to have time all to myself. Gyms are one of the few community places strictly dedicated to self-care and I find them deeply inspiring. If I want to be social and make friends in the locker room, I’ll bond over race gear stories, fitness clothings, or daily news. However, in general, the gym provides a time for me to be quiet, which is a rarity. Perhaps it’s the fact that I was raised in a house with 4 older siblings, 3 cats, 2 dogs, and 10s of hamsters, but I find a meditative state amongst the chaos of TVs, flourecant lights, phermones, sweat, and everything else lingering in a gym. In general, I respect the people, the effort, and the purpose of being there.

As a person who prides themself on never owning a TV (nor has any interest in it whatsoever), indoor exercise provides a time for me to explore music albums, podcasts, audio books, newscasts, TED talks, and many other sources of audible education. And, it’s making me downright smarter! Whether I’m crying over a podcast about endurance racing tales, cursing politicians during a WBEZ newscast, giggling with Dan Savage, or freestyling under my breath to hip hop beats, my time at the gym is some of the most well spent. Training allows me to connect with my body and mind while developing cognitive, cultural, and emotional intelligence. Not only does the content I’m absorbing make me smarter, the very act of exercise stimulates brain activity, memory retention, and muscle development. Some of my best problem solving is completed while exercising as it allows my brain the time and space necessary to concentrate on an idea while listening to my instincts. In my life as an athlete, I’ve rarely left a problem unresolved (at least within myself) by the end of an exercise session. My productivity at work is remarkably greater following a workout versus a morning of sedentary activity. I have more confidence in my ideas, more focus on my tasks, and all-around more energy to take on the day. In fact, I KNOW my day will be far better if I train/exercise/move in the morning. Exercising is one of the easiest ways to ensure an awesome day.

In addition to the euphoric affects of training, I’ve been sleeping better than I have in YEARS. In the past, stress has always reared its nocturnal head in the form of insomnia for me, negatively impacting my work, moods, and overall quality of life. Lately, I have been sleeping soundly and fully through the night and I can only attribute it to the stress relief brought on by consistent training.

In light of sleeping better, I have put lots of thought lately in to the phenonema of people who pride themselves on NOT sleeping (I used to be that sort of individual) and will be dedicating my next post to the importance of sleep. Check back, friends.

In the meantime, a few sources of knowledge:

Article: Can exercise make kids smarter?

Article: The Unaging Triathlete

A TED Talk about how to live to be 100

Limits of the Body

Finding Emilie (Thanks, Kase!)

Savage Love

A fool for the pool

Fools for Pools!

A tale of embarrassment for my present peeps and the sake of posterity.

As a wee J.Z., I had the privilege of a pool just steps from my bedroom. One would think that such frequent exposure to water from a young age would mold me in to an impressive hydrodynamic mammal.

Au contraire mon frere.

Maybe it is my genetic chicken legs, maybe it is my absent buoyancy, or maybe it is because I’m an Aries (we’re fire signs, ok?). I really have no explanation for this phenomenon of failure. But, during the warm Illinois summers, you can be sure I regularly placed dead-last in every race that took place across our family’s chlorinated watering hole.

My two oldest sisters managed to master the art of swimming and graced the acclaimed St. Charles swim teams with their flawless glides. In an effort to follow their wet steps and improve my aquatic inadequacies, I decided to join the diving team my freshman year of high school. Although I was by far the worst on the team, I still managed to leave MY OWN mark on St. Charles North’s swimming pool.

For all you non-Saints/Stars, my hometown of St. Charles is known for its record-breaking swim teams. So, naturally, the St. Charles North North Stars (that’s not a typo) wouldn’t be complete without a gorgeous state of the art pool. In an effort to initiate the freshly dug pool, our team took a bucket from the St. Charles East pool and, uh, baptized the North pool late one night as soon as it opened. Well, I decided to perform my own baptism, and it is now, 11 years later, I hereby declare that I was the FIRST person to urinate in the St. Charles North High School pool. It’s true.

The only other claim to swimming fame occurred when I was recruited to participate in a “diver relay” swim heat during a swim/dive meet. Unfamiliar to the standards of formal swim team, I assumed all I had to do was boogie down to the end, turn around, whack the edge or whatever, and come back. Simple enough. As soon as I dove off the small platform and hit the water, the pressure of the splash moved my goggles half-way up my face, rearranged my contacts off my eyeball and in to the not-so-vast corners of my lids, rendering me as good as blind. In a panic, I emerged out of the water, aquatic eyeware in hand and exclaimed, “MY GOGGLES!,” under the naïve impression that this kind of announcement would allow the heat to restart and somehow communicate that I couldn’t see anything. Nope. Everyone in the blurry room started yelling “KEEP GOING!!!! (YOU IDIOT),” echoing off the walls of the aquatic center, and in to the deep recesses of my humiliation vault, until I splashed down the 25yrds and back, arms flailing in to the lane lines, ultimately leading to an inevitable disqualification for the team.

YEP.

After my single-season stint on the SCN dive team, I quickly turned back to theatre and choir for the remainder 3 years of high school and never dared to join an athletic team as a teenager again.

Cut to my blossoming adult years when I “taught” myself to swim at a fancy Argentine gym pool where I pretended not to understand when the lifeguards constantly corrected my embarrassing techniques. And thus, my atrocious form was formed. I can thank my pride for the consequent shoulder tendonitis and various other swim struggles.

Somehow I managed to compete in a couple Ironman 70.3s and still finish without complete failure yet I have always been ashamed of my swimming. When I registered for Ironman, I quietly promised myself I would learn to swim. For real. After all, a 2.4 mile swim ain’t nothin’ to f*ck with.

THANKFULLY on Christmas Eve, JB did a full swim assessment with a nifty underwater camera to analyze my stroke, breathing methods, and overall form. It was probably the most helpful hour in my triathlon history. I walked away actually understanding (and listening) on exactly how to get through the water most efficiently, without injuring my body or wasting energy. All my water workouts since the assessment on JC’s pre-party have been the most FUN and FAST I’ve ever had. Hooray for having a COACH. I actually FEEL like a swimmer when I go to the gym now instead of some imposter with an Ironman 70.3 cap on 2-stepping down the lane.

I now have high hopes for myself as a swimmer. By the time Ironman comes around, my body will perfectly sculpted like Amanda Beard and my speed will match Michael Phelps. Okay, probably not, but at least I’ll have more to brag about than pissing in a pool.

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The Tri Goddess: Chrissie (Give’emhell)ington

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In the triathlon world and beyond, I’m not alone in my deep admiration for IronWOMAN 4-time world champion, Chrissie Wellington.  She is my biggest inspiration as an athlete, and top 10 as a human being.  Back in 2004, she was working in Nepal for the British government and started doing triathlons, 3 years later she became the world champion. And remains undefeated.

In 3 years.

This fact alone never ceases to leave me astonished when I contemplate the volume of talented, hardworking triathletes IN THE ENTIRE WORLD. She was actually quoted saying something in that interim about never doing an Ironman distance, that it was “for crazy people,” which is fitting, because her athletic accomplishments prove she is a FREAK OF NATURE. Aside from being jaw-droppingly fast, CW completes a majority of her races with a permasmile. Smiling.  For 140.6 miles, often in temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 50mph winds against her .  Amazing.

Back in ’09 when I completed my first Ironman 70.3 in Lawrence, KS, and knew next to NOTHING about endurance racing (in all honesty, I had no idea exactly who Chrissie Wellington was at the time, I just knew she had won that specific race), I crossed the finish line in complete delirium, only to see what I thought was a mirage of CW putting a medal around my neck.  Luckily, this photograph was taken to prove the moment was, in fact, a reality. Shortly after the race as I re-hydrated with a beer in hand, I sauntered over the post-race party grounds to score Chrissie’s autograph.   Ordinarily,  I could give a rat’s patotooty about celebs, but this lady most certainly warrants my awe .   I’m fairly positive she never stopped smiling that entire day.  As a huge proponent of optimism and positive thinking, I look up to her with tremendous respect.

Perched under a tiny tent upon a tabletop, CW was signing posters of herself at Kona and giving kind words to all the athletes, like me, that had (obviously) come in hours behind her. I nervously asked for her Hancock and acknowledged how much I appreciated her constant smile.

Her response, “what’s not to smile about in this sport?”

This attitude towards athletics, and life, is one I deeply appreciate, and I am fairly positive her secret weapon to winning EVERY race in which she participates. At the risk of sounding hokey, I don’t think one can lose if they maintain a grateful, positive, and optimistic mental environment.

These days, that autographed poster is matted, framed, and hung within view of my bathtub, where I spend lots of time recovering my muscles and recollecting my spirit.  It serves as a beautiful reminder of the happiness, spiritual connection, and overall fulfillment participating in triathlons brings to me.

And…GO!

Sunday afternoon I met with my coach, Jeremy Brizzi, from Crush Multisport, to go over my 40 week training program.

Before I dive in, I should provide back story on how I met JB. When I first returned to Chicago from Bali in 2009, I was lost in reverse culture shock, trying not to forget the beautiful gamelan music I was used to hearing everyday, but delighted to ride a bike again and complete my first Ironman 70.3. See, since I was a late teen, I have dreamed of completing an Ironman race.   While studying in Argentina Jan-June of 2008, I had a significant amount of time to spare and decided it was time to TAKE ON MY DREAMS (insert wide-eyed dreamy smile gazing in to the distance).  So, in July 2008, I completed my first triathlon, a sprint distance in Naperville, IL, biking on a garage sale steel frame road bike I borrowed from my friend that was a liiiiittle too big for my 5’4″ frame. Being the overzealous and impulsive person I am, I immediately decided it was time to register for a half Ironman (1.2mi swim, 56mi bike, 13.1mi run) taking place in June 2009.  So, I saved over the Winter for a legitimate bike I could race on and flew off to Bali to be a governess.  Living in the jungle during the months of January and February proved to be exceptionally helpful in training for an early season race, not to mention I got to train in some gorgeous villa pools I enjoyed completely to myself!  In April ’09, I bought a bike I could both explore the Chicago streets on AND race Irons- a Jamis Satellite (sadly, this bike was stolen from me last year). Anywho, I returned to American soil and was in need of some friends and I thought, “who better to pal around with than triathloners?”, so I joined the Element Triathlon Club where I met JB at the first meeting.  Shortly after, he organized a loop ride from Harvard, IL to Lake Geneva with the club, and we’ve been friends ever since.  Jeremy has been an unbelievable friend over the years, from running partner to confidant to drinking buddy, I couldn’t have chosen anyone better to be my coach.

I am also certain Jeremy was born to be a coach. Not only is he impeccably organized, supportive, motivating, and a tremendous listener, he loves triathlons and endurance sports more than anyone I know. He established CRUSH Multisport last year and I am honored to be one of his athletes.

Ok, back to Sunday, JB & I hit up Intelligentsia in the loop (holy shit their coffee rocks), and discussed my Ironman program. It’s going to be a rockin’ 2012, folks!  Yesterday morning, my alarm went off at 6ish and I hightailed it to the Logan Xsport to get in the pool for the first time in OVER A YEAR (violin-screeching teeth clench), I put on my new suit, goggles, and an old cap, and got in!  Although it was a low-impact drills workout, I am pleasantly sore today! Afterwards, on my run, I got to break-in my new Garmin watch, that makes me squeal in delight just thinking about it!  It is orange and huge and awesome. Anyway, I did a slow run and, man, it feels SO GREAT to be on a training program again, especially training for a race I’ve been waiting my whole life to complete.

This weekend The Christo & I will head to Cali to see some close friends, but most importantly, to celebrate my mama’s 60th year of life!  JB tailored my workout to accomodate my travel which I REALLLY appreciate (since I love to travel A LOT).

I see beautiful beach runs with my ridiculously fast boyfriend in my weekend future.

Type at y’ll later!

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