Monday, May 27, 2013

A Tale of Two Kellies

Only it's Kelly. With a Y.

And they're both me.

Tuesday at track I pulled a muscle in my left quad. It's the same leg (same quad) that has given me repeat trouble, so when I left class early, I felt very discouraged.

The moment it happened (ZING!) I knew I should stop for the night. The last thing I wanted was to injure it worse. But I was embarrassed to quit in front of a coach to whom I have not yet proven myself. I was embarrassed to pull up suddenly as a series of ace runners flew by me, all muscle and sinew.

I'm just gonna say it. I came home and cried.

Every time I get hurt, I go through a mini-mourning process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. It's "mini" because I tend to jump straight to depression.

Acceptance/resolve after an injury takes me a few days, and in the meantime I swallow ibuprofen and make other physically recuperative efforts, hoping for the best.

The mental side of it is way harder. I go from a wildly-beating heart (I'm working out after all) to a hollow nothingness in my chest. There's a thick blah in my brain, akin to being tired but without the desire to sleep.

It's the kind of sudden absence of feeling that I assume most people fill with alcohol. But as I am personally opposed to drinking, I'm tempted to fill it instead with great heaps of black-tie mousse cake while lying on the couch watching old episodes of How I Met Your Mother until way past midnight.

Not that I'd ever do that.

When I feel the weakest is when it's easiest to compare myself to others. Funny how that happens, isn't it? It's a habit that has got to be just as unhealthy as black-tie mousse cake.

Because when I compare myself to others, or even to where I want to be, resolve is hard to come by. There's always someone better, stronger, faster, lovelier. There's always further to go, and more than I think I have inside myself to get there.


When I'm calm enough to consider the advice and encouragement of friends I trust, when I'm rational enough to compare myself not to others but to where I used to be, *then* I'm able to look forward... maybe not to the finish line, but to the next day. To the work that needs to be done, right now.

This got me considering something amazing.

A Comparison of 2012 to 2013

Memorial Day Weekend, May 2012

Here I am in the hospital, one year ago exactly.

Despite the demi-smile, this was not a happy time. The photo was taken by an orderly who came in to clean and resupply my emergency room cubicle around 2AM. As though you can't see them for yourself, suction cups were plastered across my chest and abdomen.

The good doctors were monitoring my erratically hiccuping heart.

I was worried. I was tired. I was very alone. A few texts with clutch friends kept me company. I had a book, but I couldn't concentrate well enough to read it.

I remained hooked up for most of one night in the emergency room plus 24-hours at home.


Two things had happened.
  1. Part one has already been blogged. I'd just started running for the first time in years when my heart began wigging out. And instead of getting better, every day it got worse.
  2. This bit I've kept pretty close to my vest until now. Twice that month, in the middle of the night, I awoke sharply, my head and shoulders rising with a great inhale of breath. Heaven knows I like words, but there are none that can describe what I felt at those moments. I was aware, both times, I had almost died. I knew that if I had not woken at that second, I would have died in my sleep. 
I cannot explain how or why I was so certain, but I was . . . am . . . certain. As a person naturally filled with logical doubts and questions about life, the universe, and everything, I remember almost-dying with a rare conviction. Gratefully, it has not happened again since.

These near-death experiences occurred before my heart misfires were noticeable, so I had no idea what was happening. And it terrified me. Both times, by the way, my only thoughts were of Bridgette. I was not ready to leave her. The thought of dying and being parted made me miserable.

So I found myself hooked up to an ECG.

The startling discovery was how many thousands of times per day my heart misfired: doubling, tripling, or skipping beats. And . . . how low my heart-rate dropped at night while misfiring. Coupled with permanently low blood pressure, this created a dangerous situation for me and explains to me the near-death feeling.

My parents were off in Bermuda, which sounds like an analogy, but it's the truth. They were on the island of Bermuda. I couldn't contact them, and like most adults, had to face this on my own.

Well. Let's come to the point shall we?

The ECG was valuable, the blood tests were more valuable, and we concluded what ailed me. It was not my heart per se. I lacked the chemicals in my body that control electric impulses from my brain to my heart. I'm on a life-long medication now to synthesize those chemicals, and I'm doing nicely.

So nicely, that one year later, I'd almost forgotten about that night at the hospital. Not quite, but sort of.

When comparing May 2012 to May 2013, my heart is not the only improvement. The rest of my body and life have changed too. For example, last May I could not run 1/2 mile without stopping, and I couldn't run more than 3 miles to save my life.

I hadn't been on a bike in 14 years.

I'd never worn a wet-suit.

In terms of family life, we'd just signed Bridgette up for her first year of preschool. She could barely talk, was still using only one or two words at a time, and couldn't pronounce anything properly. We did a LOT of deciphering, translating, and gestures.

Jeff and I were about to venture out on our first trip without Bridgette, taking a just-the-two-of-us vacation for the first time since she was born. We were headed to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and I was worried about her and worried about my heart and whether we'd both be safe while away.

The comparison of last May to this May shows what a difference one year can make.

The Month of May 2013

Let me list all my FIRSTS, of which every single one scared me but were ultimately much healthier than the fear I felt in the ER.

First time attending a group track class.
(This continues to be the hardest thing for me.)

First time trail running.
Trails are the only reason I'm learning to enjoy running.
It's a soul reviving habit, and I love it.
(These pics are from Saturday's 14-miler, not my first run.)

First time clipping in to my bike.
(Speed Play Light Action)

First group bike ride.
(CK Elite Racing Team)

First coached group-swim in a pool.

First open-water swim with wet-suit.

First sprint triathlon.
I was SO nervous, but it went well.

Second sprint triathlon the very next weekend.
I was SO cold, but it also went well.
(Race reports to come.)

First bike crash.
Road rash and bruises, but the worst was the blow to my head / whiplash. (And THAT, people, is why we wear helmets.)
I got up and went on. I might not have done that last May.

First fresh-water group swim without a wet-suit.
First time swimming in a shallow, windy lake that felt like an ocean.
First time losing my keys at the bottom of a lake. :)
(Giggle. Those three are all related.)

First and second flat tires while riding.
First time learning how to fix a flat, re-place a chain, etc.

And in terms of family life, well, see for yourself how Bridgette has developed. Taken the last day of preschool on Friday. By the way, if you make it to the end of the video (3 mins), you can watch her add on multiple bows and kiss-throws. (She's the one in the front row, bright green leggings.)

And this year instead of Yellowstone, Jeff and I are soon visiting Alaska, where my biggest concern is whether I can find adequate time & facilities to keep up with my workouts in prep for my subsequent races in months to come.

I'm not worried about my heart, and it's a great feeling. In fact, I'm excited that I can hike, play, swim and have fun and actually be in good shape doing it!

The Change(s)

What a lot of positive change, none of which has come easily. First I had to address some serious underlying health issues. If I hadn't, I couldn't have started.

Then I had to set goals, LOTS of them. I'm having to seek help from others, venture out of my comfort zones, work when I don't want to, and learn to forgive myself and start again when I don't work hard or often enough.

I'm also having to figure out how to handle mentally what I can't control physically . . . like injuries & illness. And certainly there are other challenges in other aspects of my life that continue to arise & surprise and which I continue to address or ignore to my betterment or detriment.

Life doesn't stop. I'm just racing, too.

But the overall comparison from last year to this year is hard to ignore. I know it's felt path-changing in some non-ephemeral way, but literally because of my choices in the past year, my path through time has changed. I hope for the better. Certainly I feel stronger, more resilient, and as a whole, happier.


Another thing that's changed are the friends I'm finding along the way. My intent when I signed up at IMAZ last November was to make this whole journey ALONE. Completely alone. On purpose.

That's what I thought I wanted.

I'm finding it's not what I want. And fortunately, it's not what's happening.

There's a line in the Holstee Manifesto that says, "If you're looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing the things you love."

I've found that principle is accurate in forging friendships as well. And to all of you who have lent words of encouragement, I say from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Quote from Josh Cox
(Long-distance runner & American record holder in the 50k)

Speaking of encouragement, I'll leave you with these words.

I've been in contact with the race director at Thanksgiving Point, Kendall Wimmer, who has given his own support to Bridgette and me in our activities. He sent me a quote from Josh Cox the night I pulled my quad, and it really helped me reach for my resolve.


"Doing something only when you 'feel like it' is a guaranteed formula for failure. Passion isn't enough, talent isn't enough; you have to commit to putting in the work.

"Pursue your passion and be willing to put in the painstaking work it takes to succeed. Lots of folks want success without sacrifice but life doesn't work that way.

"Marathon running is a great metaphor for life because in order to succeed you have to make daily deposits over a long period of time. Surrounding yourself with others who are working towards a common goal pays huge dividends and provides accountability. Even still, there are many days I don't feel like getting out the door.

"Something that renowned children's author Madeline L'Engle said has always stuck with me, 'Inspiration usually comes during work, rather than before it.' I've found this is true in just about every area of life. In running, inspiration rarely finds you on the couch; it likes to wait around the first corner. On days when I'm having trouble getting motivated, I shut my mind off, get dressed, lace 'em up, and get out the door. It's not inspiration's job to come find us, it's our job to go find inspiration.

"The key to training, and life, is taking that first step. The first step is the best step; it's where intent meets action. Don't talk about it; be about it. When you don't feel like doing what you know needs to be done, take the variable of 'the choice' out of the equation. Shut the mind off and just begin."


Tammy and Alvin said...

A Tale of Two Alvins:

Last May I ran the 2.2 mile Dearbought Trot (it's a neighborhood Memorial Day "race") in about an 8:45 minute mile pace, but I wasn't sure because they don't have official timers.

Today I ran the 2.2 mile Dearbought Trot at an 8:00 minute mile pace because a good friend has been dragging me out of bed every Saturday for months. And I know how fast I ran because this year I have a smart phone, and that makes all the difference.

Love all of your posts. Thanks for the inspiration.

Lore said...

Thanks for posting the pre-school performance video. You know I watched all of it.

You once wrote a college paper titled something like, "In the Rearview Mirror." This post reminds me of that paper. It's a good perspective to have.

Love you and see you soon!

Anonymous said...

Love this Kelly! Thanks for sharing. You are inspiring!
-Laura F.