The Upside of Adversity

I have been ruminating over a couple of ideas for blog entries for the past month, depicting my path to Kona.   I had notes jotted down describing various hurdles and highlights I’ve encountered during this journey. The blog entry (which I had already proudly entitled: “One eye on Kona, One eye on the road”) was to describe how I handled training and preparing for this race, which held so many question marks and so many unknowns. How could I do? How would I do? Could I possibly compete? Or do I just race for the “experience of racing Kona”? With training, coaching, teaching, and spending time with my family, I haven’t had too much time to write these past few weeks, so I planned to assimilate my thoughts while on the plane to Hawaii. That was my plan.

Well, as we all know, plans don’t always go according to their script. I got through the bulk of the Kona training feeling confident and healthy, and I had finally arrived at the highly coveted “2-week taper”. No more crazy long rides or run — it was all downhill from here until Kona. Or so I thought… Fast forward to last Sunday afternoon. I was tired both emotionally and physically and found myself eating an abnormally large serving of chocolate covered pretzels to will myself out that door for my two-hour ride. I ordinarily embrace my workouts. But not today for some reason. During the first 15 minutes of the ride, I felt pretty darn terrible. I may have even shed a tear (just one!) wondering why I was out there; why I was “forcing myself” to go on this ride when I just didn’t feel like going. Everyone else is home watching football. Why don’t I just stay home with them? I’m a huge proponent of commitment and sticking to the plan, so I decided to charge forward and hope that things got better. A few minutes later I found that I had escaped my negative self-talk and was putting out higher power numbers and feeling more positive. Maybe I would have a good ride after all.

apple-cider-doughnuts-2I rode along on one of my usual routes when I saw a line of cars stopped in front of me. Apple picking traffic. I should have predicted this on a beautiful Sunday afternoon in September. Everyone was waiting in line for hours just to sink their teeth into one of those apple cider donuts. I somewhat patiently navigated my way around the donut seekers and turned uphill, away from the orchard where I found open road. I picked up my pace in an effort to get my groove back. I crested the hill and began to descend the other side picking up speed. That’s when it happened. A car was backing out of a driveway directly in front of me. I could see the accident unfolding before my eyes. I saw the car, but the car didn’t see me. In an effort to avoid the accident, I hit the brakes, fishtailed all over the road, and instantly found myself smack on the ground staring up at the sky above. Less than a minute later, I was being covered with blankets, tended to by a nurse and told that an ambulance would soon be on its way.

I eventually got up on my own and came to the conclusion that I didn’t break anything. Various medical personnel were all at the scene within minutes, checking my vitals, taking my blood, etc. I vehemently declined the suggestion to go in the ambulance as I knew that would take away my entire day. One nurse asked me if I knew where I was and if Donald Trump was president. I was in a bit of a fog, but cognizant enough to laugh at her comment (I hope it was a joke!). I eventually made it home, threw some ice on my tailbone, popped some Advil, and starting making pizza for dinner. I was a bit shaken up, but was relieved my bike was okay and that my injuries were minor.

I knew the next day I would feel worse. And I did. I tried swimming, but found that any kicking motion was pretty painful. I decided to cut my losses, hopped out of the pool, and headed off to school. The next day, I should feel better. Unfortunately the next day came, and I didn’t feel better. I got in a short bike ride, which felt okay. But then tried to run and could barely make it a mile. My neck hurt like the dickens from whiplash, my head still hurt from where my helmet struck the ground, and my tailbone was quite badly bruised — I could barely walk. In the evening, I reclined on my son’s yogibo to read the boys books before bed time. When it was time for them to go to bed, I realized that I literally couldn’t get up! I had to have two of my children (ages 3 and 5!) pull me up, as I couldn’t lift my head or body. I couldn’t get myself up off the ground. How would I be able to race at Kona in 12 days?! This thought pervaded my head. I couldn’t escape it.

It’s amazing how quickly things change. Thoughts of how to navigate the Kona winds, how to adjust my nutrition for the heat, and what to expect from myself in the race had been replaced with one overarching question: would I be able to complete this race? In my current state, I found that I could ride my bike at about 80%, could swim slowly without kicking but couldn’t run without significant pain. People kept telling me to “rest, rest, and rest some more” — give the body time to heal. But how could I mentally prepare for the race when physically I felt so far away from being ready to race?

2c3a33c5bca5bb6e0eeb48b97cdd395fI knew I had to change my perspective, as on top of being physically beaten up I was now mentally not in a good place. One of the most useful pieces of information I learned in grad school is that in order to promote well-being and happiness, one negative thought should always be followed by three positive thoughts. It’s called the 3:1 happiness ratio. So I crashed my bike and couldn’t run. BUT my bike survived the crash, I can still ride it and I’m going to HAWAII. All positives! I tried to consciously alter my perspective by changing my focus away from what I couldn’t do toward what I could do. I could ride my bike and I could swim without kicking. So at the least, I should be able to get through the swim and bike portions of the race. At the minimum, I can compete in the Kona aquabike. Is there such a thing? Well, maybe for me this year. And if that’s all I can do, I’ll make the best of it. And crush that bike course.


I also tried to take a step back and look at the big picture of this situation. Whether or not I complete or don’t complete this race is not going to change my life for better or for worse. AND I am a firm believer that you grow the most personally when you have to find a way to deal with adversity. There were moments during the week after the accident where I actually felt less anxious about this race. All expectations or projections over where I might finish were off the table. I didn’t know how things would unfold, but I would adapt and make the best of the situation, whatever that may be. And finding ways to manage and deal with adversity and being able to view it through a positive lens will make me a better person.

I have shared my story with many people and the reactions have varied widely. Many are supportive and offer words of encouragement, insinuating that rest will help and I may be better off on race day with this additional rest. Others focus on the journey and commend my hard work for making it to Kona. They remind me of the fact that I’m going to Hawaii after all and to soak in the experience regardless of what happens on race day. I like these responses. They focus on the positives and search for value in the experience no matter what the outcome. But so many people dwell on the unfortunate, by saying things like “That is such a bummer! You’ve trained so hard for this. This is so unfortunate to happen 2 weeks before your race.” Sure all of these statements are true, and I have the right to be angry and throw a pity party for myself. But just for a moment. Because being angry and feeling sorry for myself doesn’t help the situation at hand. All I can do is focus on the present, focus on the positives, and make the best of the given situation today and moving forward.   Sure it will suck if I can’t complete the race on October 8. But in the big scheme of life, I know I’ll be a stronger person as a result of going through this experience, regardless of the outcome.

17152772988_a44a86d234_oOn another positive note, it’s T-5 days until race day (gulp!). I was able to successfully complete a glorious 4-MILE RUN on Sunday, so I’m heading in the right direction and slowly starting to feel better. I was told that I might be uncomfortable, but I should be able to get through the race without risking any long-term damage to my body. SO, even though I’m still not physically feeling 100%, I’m feeling slightly more optimistic about the impending race day. At this point it’s MIND OVER MATTER! Regardless of how things unfold, I know that I’ll give it my all and make the best of the situation, whatever that may be.

I don’t want to invite more adversity into my life, but I think it’s helpful to find the value in it.   Ironman Lake Placid went exactly according to the script, leaving me a bit unclear of the big picture takeaway fromthe race. I guess I needed to learn a bigger life lesson from this race. Maybe I have already learned it and maybe it will become evident on race day. Let the mystery unfold – Kona, here I come!

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