Cancer-versary (is that a thing?)

Today is my first cancer-versary, if that’s even a thing? The first anniversary of my diagnosis day. I’m acknowledging (not exactly celebrating) it, as it denotes one of the before / after divisions in how my life is organized.

Jan 25th was the first day I had the word “cancer” attached to the thyroid problems (“the darkness” was what I called it when things weren’t working as they should in my body) that I had struggled with for years. Cancer was both an explanation and a sentence – while I was relieved to know what was going on, I certainly didn’t want it to be THAT.

I was out of town attending faculty meetings last year when I got the “can you come in this afternoon” call from the endocrinologist’s office. My stomach sank (that kind of call while waiting for biopsy news is never good). I was driving home that evening with a colleague as I took the call from the doctor letting me know that there were cancer cells found in the biopsy and that, among other things, I would be sent to see the surgeon as an urgent referral.

I sent a text message to my mom, and it started with “ok, don’t freak out…”. I don’t really remember what the rest of it said – probably something to reassure them it would be ok, and the drive home was a blur.

It was the beginning of the / separating before / after; Schrödinger’s cat time following diagnosis but preceding surgery. The space between before / after was more like before than anything else with tasks and parenting and training and work – until I was alone. I cried in the car, often, while listening to the song “Blur” by Mo on repeat.

I would hold it together during the day and then at night, after the girls went to bed, and I went to bed and I was alone, the thought “I have cancer and I’m scared” would whisper in my head, through my heart and wrap itself around my lungs. I only let those words leave my fingers once in a late night text when I couldn’t bare to be alone in bed with it – I have cancer and I’m scared.

I did other things during that in between time, too. I recorded myself singing the songs I sing to my girls at night, in case my vocal nerves were damaged during surgery (one of the risks). I looked at what would need to happen if I woke up from surgery and was no longer well, like if I would need to sell the house because if I was no longer well and couldn’t work I would not be able to afford to keep it (as I was in a contract position at work I only had 16 days of sick leave available). I separated my wedding rings for my girls. I looked into my will, and my life insurance. It was such a strange, isolating, surreal time – doing the things and planning for the possibility that I might no longer be ok while I was working from home during the day, trying to stay as detached from the possibilities as possible, then trying to fall asleep at night before the clamouring of “I have cancer and I’m scared” got too loud (and too real).

Jan 25th was the first day I caught a strong wiff of how close I was to the chaos of catastrophic change. I mean, we all live there – every day. And we usually all acknowledge how easily things can change in the blink of an eye. But we don’t usually live quite so closely to an embodied awareness of it, so closely that we can feel it’s breath on the backs of our necks.

You’d think that jarring awareness might have come on diagnosis day. Or when I took bandages off after surgery to see the scar for the first time. Nope. It came several weeks after surgery with pathology and finding out that what I was (am?) dealing with is aggressive.

That was when I landed squarely in after – when the surgeon spoke to me as if I were a cancer patient. Jarring.

(holy shit – I have cancer)

So yeah – my first cancer-versary is today. And this is my acknowledgment and re-membering of it.

I spent the morning doing a long bike ride with the group I train with on Saturdays, and plan to spend the afternoon enjoying the sunshine with my girls. After isn’t so terribly different than before when it’s not close to an appointment date.

Before my Jan 6th 2020 follow up to get the blood work and ultrasound results I ran away to sit by the ocean for a few days and to just stay present with myself. I’m always so much my grounded when I’m by the water.

I’m relieved to say that my results showed “excellent response to treatment” and that nothing further is required at this time. That was the news I had been waiting for – that radiation worked. It is a solid baseline setting me up for a healthy after.

I was asked what I do differently now (after), and my response was that I’m am less tolerant of bullshit – in relationships, at work, and just kinda in general.

I acknowledge when I’m too close to the awareness of after and take care of myself differently. I am more cautious and intentional about how I think (and hope and dream) about future. And now I ALWAYS buy the insurance. Which I probably should have always done anyhow 😉

Now, back to focusing on prep for IRONMAN Canada!!

Counting down to IMCanada 2020…

I registered for Ironman Canada – race date August 30, 2020. I don’t know if my body will cooperate to get me there, but I’m going to give it a shot. Swimming started a few weeks ago, cycling starts tomorrow, and I’m rehabbing my knee to get back on the treadmill. Here we go again!!

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But as I say that and smile at the camera, I’m standing in a body that I don’t recognize and that I feel has betrayed me (and if I’m being honest, feeling that that I have betrayed it, too, somehow in getting sick). I’m in uncharted waters. I don’t yet know this version of me, or my new limitations. A work in progress…

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But this is a gift of training for Ironman, no? It is impossible not to be present in my body – and I am grateful for the push to land back in myself again and work through it all. Or so I tell myself today!

That said, this isn’t a post where I share what has been motivating – this is a post where I talk about the ongoing struggle. It is a vulnerable thing to think about, let alone talk about the past 9 months – especially when my shtick through adversity has been to be 10 feet tall and bullet-proof, behind a wall of “I don’t know you how you do it” (and I’m still stinging from the accusation that I’m using my diagnosis to get attention when I asked for support). It’s ok, too, if you’re not up for reading about the struggle – some days there is space, and some days their isn’t. I process some of this by capturing it in words (and memes!). And on the off chance someone else finds it relatable or supportive, I put it out there when I have space to do so.

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Where has 2019 gone?

About 9 months ago I distanced myself from feeling anything and from connection to my body. It all waits for you, though, if you distance yourself – I mean, I’m a psychologist and know how this story goes. Almost 9 months have passed and it is all still right here. All the stuff people don’t usually talk about because we don’t believe we are supposed to. All the stuff I have felt guilty thinking (let alone voicing) because so many people have it so much worse.  I mean, when it comes to cancer, thyroid cancer is considering winning the “jackpot” in this shitty lottery in that it is highly treatable, chemo isn’t generally indicated as an intervention, and comes with a great survival rate. As one of my good friends said, there are some cancer diagnoses that are worse than cancer, and some that are better than cancer – and this one is definitely on the better end.

But shit…I was told this year that I have cancer.

Feels a little like I’ve almost lost most of 2019. Not quite, because I am still aware of events that happened. And I worked. I did I parenting. I did the things. But it is fuzzy and disorganized and both distant and near at the same time.

I got the diagnosis. I did the surgery. I got the pathology news that I have an aggressive sub-type that required radiation, and that my risk of recurrence will never be the “low” that was offered when I was first diagnosed. I ingested the radiation and exposed my entire body to it and then I did the isolation for the days that followed so that I didn’t expose anybody else. I did the whole body scan that let me know that fortunately cancer hadn’t gotten out of my thyroid, and did the appointment that was supposed to have felt like relief to hear that I had an excellent response to treatment and to follow up again in 6 months.

I keep hoping for that relief – that appointment happened 3 months ago and that relief still hasn’t shown up.

Even though I did the things all of that time time doesn’t make sense, events don’t flow logically together, and feelings are raw and maybe misplaced. There are so many things I haven’t said or thought or felt for the past 9 months that are still RIGHT THERE.

I don’t think I ever hung out in the denial stage of diagnosis (you know, the Kubler-Ross stages of denial, grief, bargaining, acceptance). I went straight for escape. I knew that wasn’t a healthy thing to do. I was reminded it wasn’t a healthy thing to do by my family doc when I saw her in prep for radiation (to get the good anti-nausea meds) and she started asking questions I ask when assessing someone’s risk for self-harm in the work that I do. It fills me with shame that I had to reassure her that I wasn’t going to harm myself, but just didn’t want to be present in my body for the experience. And now I am facing 9 months worth of all of the feels and all of the tears as I stand at the starting line of training, because in training it is me against me and there is nowhere to hide.

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As I’ve been landing back in myself again there are so many tears around the wondering when I get to go back to being “me” again. And then more tears because I know that there is no back – only forward. And forward is without a piece of me that has been cut away and with the fear that I will keep needing to have pieces cut away until there isn’t enough left to go on. I think that fear is the heaviest – that whoever I was will be lost, piece by piece. After all, it has already started – I am not the same person I was 9 months ago and never get to be again.

Right now I am hurting. And that’s all part of it. How does that go again in Ironman? Right – embrace the suck.

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There have been interesting moments along the way. Some filled me with gratitude, like when I wet the bandages in the shower after surgery on the day they could be removed, and my daughters (7 and 10) came to sit with me in the bathroom because I didn’t want to take them off alone. There was something undeniable about the scar that would be revealed underneath, that was just a little too real for me in that moment. They were the two people in the world who I wanted there with me in that moment and we grounded each other in love and acceptance.

My girls have been rock stars through all of this – they have asked for help, talked about the scared that they felt, and had lots of hugs and encouragement for me along the way. They have learned some lessons early about the impermanence of things, I think…

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Some moments broke my heart, like when I was told that people I loved and thought loved me wouldn’t or couldn’t offer me any support when I reached out. Or simply said nothing at all.

Some moments infuriated me, like when the cancer endocrinologist suggested I might want to “consider a healthy lifestyle”, and all that statement implied.  There was fat shaming and other things inherent in his words – and yes, I did ask “oh, so being an ironman triathlete isn’t a healthy enough lifestyle?” I mean, was there something healthier I should have been doing that would have prevented me having to be there meeting with him?!? Gah. Pleased to say I don’t have to see him again – I switched to another doctor in the clinic (who is night and day amazing) with the support of my regular endocrinologist for a referral after I explained that I didn’t feel seen or heard as anything more than numbers (lab values) on a computer screen and that I didn’t feel confident in the care he would provide.

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And some were accompanied by a resignation to the reality of it all, like when I found out my healthcare number will now always have an additional cancer number attached to it. The identity of “cancer patient” will endure in some places, it seems. When I went for blood work after surgery the lab tech was frustrated that she had to look up my cancer number and that it wasn’t readily available on my requisition.  I didn’t even know that was a thing – welcome to the club, I guess?

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And some spark just a little bit of hope, like when they fellow I see for acupuncture used the gentle phrase “little warrior” to describe me when I (in tears, because that is what is happening these days) asked for help with how I’m feeling.

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(I like little warrior better than cancer patient – I found myself “failing” at cancer somehow, based on how everyone talks about it…)

Failing at cancer

I attended a narrative therapy conference in May (which I felt like I drifted through as a ghost because my energy and ability to engage really sucked), and one of the keynotes was my friend Lorraine Hedtke who presented on “failing at grief” – that if you don’t follow the Kubler-Ross model and perform grief according to standards of society you get pathologized (the problem gets locates within you and your mental health) and not supported. Here was my reaction:

I’ve been sitting with the notion of failing at cancer, and the more I think about the different ways that we inherit or are imposed on us about how to “do” cancer, the more pissed off I get.

Every body is different, yet “cancer” is talked about as if it were a singular thing. The Godzilla of health, right? That implies everyone should be on this journey in the same way, and opens space for judgement if you aren’t.

I mean, when I was diagnosed I was told I have the “good cancer” and that I shouldn’t worry by doctors. Almost everyone else in my life reacted with “you must be terrified!!” Right from diagnosis, I must be doing this wrong – because if I’m terrified I’m doing it wrong (hysterical) in the eyes of the medical professionals who tell me it isn’t anything to worry about, but if I don’t worry enough then I’m doing it wrong in the eyes of those I am supposed to lean on for support. And when my diagnosis changed from “highly curable” to “still survivable”, so did the reactions others expected. Suddenly I wasn’t taking it all seriously enough for the doctors. I was numb – I wasn’t any of the other things I was expected to be.

I am supposed to be “brave”, “courageous”, and “fight”, yet at the same time I am supposed to “rest” and “recover”, while I am supposed to return to my everyday life before cancer as soon as possible. If I should show visible effects, I should hide scars with makeup (and while it doesn’t apply to me personally at this point in my journey, the message is that women should hide hair loss with wigs and fake eye-lashes because if we can’t pass for well then we are doing it wrong). I am supposed to be sick and resting and doing all of the work to pass for well, all at the same time.

Why is it I’m being pushed to “fight” when I am not a solider of cancer or wellness? It is my body that is the battleground where this war is fought, my organs and tissues and mental health are the casualties of the weapons of mass destruction that are intended to, at the end of the day, lead to liberation.

I am supposed to “get back to” myself as quickly as possible, as if my self is fixed in a time and way of being before a cancer diagnosis.

In the face of any other adversity I would be encouraged to change and to evolve. But when faced with cancer the message is to revert. I am different now, but the message I’m getting is that I’m not supposed to be. Other people expect me not to be.

I am supposed to reach for support but when I do, when I am not brave and I need to rest rather than fight, I am told that I have bigger problems that I need to address, as if the impact of being a battlefield is all inside my head and should not be; and that, too, is wrong…

Even though I have had every position of privilege afforded to me in our society (perhaps besides being female, lol), and despite that I (literally) have a PhD in studying the impacts of dominant discourse on individual experience, I never imagined that it could be quite as relationally impactful as it actually has been.

So now, here I am – on the struggle bus AND continuing to move forward.

Like I said, I’m not sure what this body of mine is gonna be up for. But I guess we’re gonna find out!

Stay tuned 😉

Schrödinger’s cat

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I feel like Schrödinger’s cat – I am existing in a superposition of states.

I am at the same time healthy (specific to triathlon, I am training, as well as working and parenting and all of my day to day things) and ill (I was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer one week ago today).

I am waiting to open the cage (to meet with the surgeon, and then for the results of surgery) to determine if my state becomes one of recovery and health or one of illness in my new (and unwelcome) relationship with cancer.

I am living both health and illness for this short period of time. Telling people “I have cancer” seems absurd as I’m busting it out in class with them on the computrainer or in the pool. Training is my meditation and grounds me in my body – both a gift and slap, it feels right now.

People assume I must be going crazy with the not knowing – and I am, a little. But…I don’t know if I’m ready for this superposition of possibilities to collapse into a single reality.

As difficult as it is right now not to know for sure whether this will be a surgery and recovery or a surgery followed by further interventions and/or an extended battle, I can’t help but wonder if having a foot in both places is emotionally dangerous or safer. At least here, possibilities of bouncing back quickly and picking up where I left off continue to exist.

Bouncing back is important. I’ve got (at least) one more 140.6 left in me. And a whole lotta half irons and half marathons and other fun shit to do.

Fingers crossed…

And since 2016 there have been more races and adventures…but not without time on the struggle bus

Since completing IM Canada in 2016, there have been more adventures and experiences that I haven’t written about (including another Ironman finish). Better late than never, I suppose.  For a while there, I  couldn’t bring myself to actually write about any of these my experiences, as often as I had intended to.

I lost sight of my “why” along the way. Sometimes I thought I could still see it in the distance, and sometimes I had no idea where it had gone.

But, waking up early this morning to get my run on the treadmill in before the day started with kids and work (I’m currently training for a half marathon in a few weeks) I was excited to move.  More than just excited, actually – I craved it, the movement, the push, the challenge, the “dig” for it.  Reflecting back on the past couple of years, I realize it has been a long time since I had experienced this.  I’m grateful to have met that familiar (and very much missed) feeling. I hope I can convince it to stick around!

IM Calgary 70.3, July 2018

I’ll start with the most recent adventures – in July I completed Calgary 70.3 and had the day I trained to have.

Solid swim, exactly where I expected to be.  With a 2-loop course it felt crowded with lots of jostling on the first loop, but otherwise I found some feet and cruised along.

I was excited for the bike course – flat, fast, and I had busted it out all year to make gains in my speed and strength.  With physics on my side I like being able to tuck into aero and go. I hit my goal for time and did it with a smile, exactly as planned.

The run wasn’t fast (at all!) , but I kept my smile, went at the pace I could, and had the run I had trained to have.  It was 2 minutes slower than my bike time.  Gah! So…my goal now is to learn how to run! I don’t aspire to podium or qualify for Kona, but I’d like to move more into the middle of the pack from the back.  Last year I focused on improving my bike, so this year it is time to focus on my run, starting with the half marathon I’m signed up for in a few weeks.

I finished with an abundance of gratitude for the day, a solid PB by quite a bit, and even hung out in the beer tent for a bit afterwards 🙂 I really do love the race as a celebration of the work that was done and the support received, toward the privilege of my standing at the swim start and crossing the finish line (and everything in between).

I struggled in the weeks leading up (got a cold and couldn’t get it out of my lungs), but I raced anyhow – and found myself at the walk-in clinic the next day to address the issue.  Turns out I’ve got a reactive respiratory thing happening that hasn’t been well controlled – kind of like a long-lasting exercise-induced asthma. This has been an issue for the past few years when volume increases with my lungs tending to revolt on me (and me being really good at getting pneumonia if I don’t take it easy when I’m sick).  With some new meds I’m hoping to be more proactive in addressing this going forward.

Chinook Oly, July 2018

As a training race leading up to Calgary 70.3 I did my first olympic distance race in a while.  I got talked into it about a month out – and I’m so glad I did – I loved it!! Chinook is a smaller, local race, and I’ve done it once before a few years back.  I loved being in the open water, I surprised myself on the bike, and had a strong run (followed by another  10km training run the following morning).  It was a great way to kick off the 2018 season, and rediscover my joy in triathlon.   I haven’t done many shorter races in the past few years, but I think that going forward I’m going to make sure I include them.  There is fun to be had in them that I had almost forgotten about.

Highwood Pass, June 2018

This remains one of my favorite experiences – and I opened my season with my first outdoor ride of the year with this beautiful and challenging 75+ km spin before the highway opens to traffic on June 15th (I read somewhere that it is the highest paved road in the country).  And I love that the experience has changed – from one of the most challenging things I’ve done, to a push that I look forward to and enjoy.  I rode with a training buddy who was getting ready to ride the hills of IM Canada in July, and for once, I managed to keep up on the climb.  It took just over two and a half hours to summit, then and hour and five minutes to come back down again – wheeeeeeeeee! The grin lasted for days afterwards.

IM Arizona, 2017

I just couldn’t bring myself to write about this one or share my thoughts – not in the training, and not after the race.  10 months later, I think maybe I’m ready to attempt to do the experience some justice with words…

I guess the biggest reason I struggled was that I lost sight of my “why”.

A few months after Whistler I signed up for IM Arizona 2017 with my (then) training partner.  I was excited pressing that “register” button at exactly noon on the date registration opened – I loved who I was when I was training for Whistler and I couldn’t wait to be back in the Ironman bubble again, as all of the other things that were on my plate at that time (such as negotiating the separation from my husband) because so much more manageable, and at such a chaotic time in my life, IM was something that was mine, something I could do, it was my escape from the realities of day-to-day life, and I found so much comfort in it. Whistler was my 40th birthday present to myself, and I was committed to proving to myself that, truly, anything is possible.  I remember feeling so fiercely proud of myself as I hobbled the run course and as I crossed that finish line – for all and everyone that had gone into getting me there.

Training for and racing IMAZ just over a year later was a very (very) different experience.

I was living a different reality as training for IMAZ got started – I was no longer living with my ex-husband, and with my kiddos live with me 90% of the time I found myself responsible for the bulk of child care. Training was no longer a welcome place that I could retreat into to avoid the stresses of home life – instead, it because an additional demand when I was already carrying more than I had before.  I questioned whether I could do it, and on several occasions I felt that I had no choice but to pack it in.  Procrastination, guilt, sadness, exhaustion, and resignation were my almost constant companions during those days.

I persisted in the training, but without the joy that went along with training for Whistler.  Signing up to share the experience with and support someone else as a main motivation wasn’t enough, I discovered.  I floundered, struggled, missed workouts, cried, and got sick.  I seem to always struggle with kicking a cold when volume picks up, but this time was different – I missed almost the entire month of August because I couldn’t get it to stay out of my  lungs.  Gone was a big chunk of bike volume, and gone was the majority of run volume.  I went into IMAZ without the training I wanted to have under my belt, with my confidence shaken, and hoping I could hang on and get through.  As the race got closer, I withdrew into myself, didn’t smile much, didn’t laugh much, and just plain struggled. Everything felt dark, and not something to be shared in a blog.

The excitement of the venue and of the day got me pumped up and reminded me that I really do love this stuff!! My parents have a place close by, I brought my  girls to hang out with my folks for a vacation for them, and I knew my dad would be at the finish line!

As for the race itself? I guess I can say that had the day I trained to have.

I spotted my dad in the crowd as I was about to get into the water – that sent me off with a smile.  My dad had always been apprehensive about my participation in the bigger races, so I was grateful to have him there so he could see how it all worked (and hopefully worry less as a result). The swim was pretty murky – like, difficult to see your hand in front of your face murky, but I knew that going in.  It made it difficult to draft effectively, though.  On an amusing note, I had been told that the markers were 100m apart – but that wasn’t quite right – so I was pleasantly surprised to reach the turn-around when I did, much earlier than anticipated.  I went from “wow, I’m really struggling to get anywhere in this swim” to “yay!! the turn around already!!!” in a hurry, lol.  I felt good getting out of the water and onto to the bike.

This bike course is fantastic – flat, fast, tuck into aero, and go! Wind and heat aside, what an experience to be on that course with almost 3000 other IM athletes! The Whistler bike course felt lonely, but in Arizona there were athletes everywhere – and I loved it. I like loops, so this 3-loop course suited me just fine.  That said, the wind and the heat took it out of me – even with my cooling sleeves and with frozen water bottles in my special needs bag – and I took longer on the ride than I had hoped to.

It all caught up to me about 12km into the run.  That I had been sick.  That I had missed a lot of training.  That was was feeling worn out and beat up, both physically and emotionally.   That my entire life had changed in the previous years and that I hadn’t let myself feel it (let alone deal with any of it).  As the evening got darker, so did my experience.  Physically, both feet blistered and the blisters eventually broke.  My walk/run became a fast walk, then dissolved into a painful shuffle, and there is remained until I got across the finish line.

Emotionally, I searched desperately for my “why”.  I’m pretty sure I will always remember the portion of the  course where I was crying and thinking to myself “I am suffering alone in the dark.  This is a metaphor for my life, and I don’t want to do this anymore”.  For about 25 km, I couldn’t have told you why I was there, and why I was still moving forward.  That run course stripped me of all of the things I had been hiding behind, and made me face all the stuff I had been so desperately trying to avoid.

My experience on the run course this time wasn’t one of feeling proud of myself or my accomplishments.  Instead, it tasted of guilt and selfishness – I had taken so much time away from my kids, my relationships, my family, and everything else to train for this race – and I couldn’t see my “why”.  Meanwhile, my legs kept moving, tears kept flowing, and I resolved to finish so it wouldn’t all have been for nothing.  I crossed the finish line, wrapped myself in the foil blanket, inhaled a cheeseburger while lying on the couch, and let it all sink in.

Perhaps THAT was my “why” all along – and that was the gift of the experience.  To recognize how much of my experience in day to day life felt as alone in the dark as that race course did.

Every experience is a gift – and the gift of IMAZ was to come face-to-face with myself in an inescapable way.  To prove that I can suffer for a really long time, but more importantly – to realize that I can change my relationship with suffering.  That suffering was a choice I had been making.  In finishing that race, I don’t think there will be room for doubt that I can keep moving forward, no matter what.  Even on broken blisters, if that is what it takes.  When I talk about this race now, I talk about my gratitude for what I learned in the experience of it all.  I’d love to race again and bring a better version of myself to it.

It took a few more months for me to move out of this dark place.  To re-negotiate my relationship with guilt and procrastination and anxiety and depression.  To let myself feel all the stuff that I had been trying to out-swim, out-ride, and out-run, and to come out the other side.

And now?

It seems that I have found my smiles again. My laugh. My energy. My joy.  I don’t feel like I’m suffering alone in the dark anymore.  My “why” is different – I’m no longer running away from experiences.  Instead, I am running (and swimming and riding) toward my “why’s” and my future, while trying to remember to be present in the moment and take it all in.

And I guess that finding my “why” again felt worth sharing.

Finally!

Emily Doyle – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

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I got to hear those sweet, sweet words on July 24th, 2016 after completing a really long day on the Ironman Canada course in Whistler, BC.  Huzzah!!!!!!

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It’s been a while since I’ve posted…as the race approached (from about 3 months out), I found myself getting quieter and quieter.  I didn’t want to say too much about my training out loud – but I’m now finding it hard to articulate why…I think part was fear, part was doubt, and part was disbelief that I was actually going to go through with this crazy adventure.  If I wrote about it, somehow it would be real. Silly, right?

Let’s see if I can capture the last little while in a few words and a few more pictures…

The Lead Up

The last few months of training went well.  Volume  went way up, with many long bike rides and an endurance camp that had us covering 2km of swim, 38 km of run, and 318 km of bike over 4 days when we were a month out from IM Canada.  That volume weekend included the windiest gran fondo imaginable, with the last 50km being uphill and into the wind (and not in the way our parents tell us they used to walk uphill barefoot in the snow uphill both ways to get to and from school each day)

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Before that, we completed a 5 hr ride on the computrainer, followed by the Calgary Half Marathon the next morning on tired legs.

(that computrain ride was so long our coach showed up with a pillow so she could take a nap while we rode)

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We also warmed up for IM Canada with an Olympic distance race at Wasa Lake, where we all had personal bests and lots of fun.

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And before we knew it, we were tapering and getting ready to head to Whistler…

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We drove over 2 days, arriving on Wednesday evening after a gloomy and daunting jaunt through the back roads of BC.  Our condo turned out to be across the street from T2, the finish line, and the Olympic Plaza (where the expo and briefing happened), which was fantastic! We could easily attend all the event hoopla (much to the detriment of my credit card after coming out in the gear tent…3 times), or retreat away from all the energy into what we called our “bubble”.

On Thursday morning our helmets went on for breakfast and for practicing tire changes. I know, it’s silly – but it works for us! There was much rejoicing as we refreshed our memories about how to change a tire (we brought a spare one to practice with), and a decreased amount of swearing the more we did it.

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We messed around with our gear (since neither of us really knew what we were doing, how to pack things up, or what we should be packing), checked in, got our bracelets, beer (there was beer in our race package), backpacks, and wandered around Whistler Village.

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Friday brought more of the same puttering and hanging out in the bubble, with a short bike ride and a practice swim in a windy and choppy lake during the day, and a dinner that evening with our coach and support crew.  Nerves were in full swing at this point, but we still managed to enjoy our time, and our coach gave us each a card and a note of encouragement.

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Saturday we finished packing up our bike-to-run bags and our special needs bags (I packed WAAAAAAY too much in my special needs bags – live and learn).  We dropped off our bikes, our bags, and retreated back into the bubble.  I cooked us supper that night (which was also my breakfast the next morning), and we were off to bed early.

Race Day

My alarm was set for 3:45am, but I was wide awake at 3:24am so I got up and started to get ready.  I like to give myself lots of time to have breakfast and get myself together so that I don’t feel rushed.  I knew that it would be a really long day, and I wanted to start it off without any more stress than was already there! Coaches Shannon and Candice had volunteered for body marking, so we found them as soon as we wandered over at 4:50am (it was just across the street from where we were staying, so we didn’t have far to go).  Shannon had been practicing drawing flowers and other designs, so we were well decorated.  While I had been nervous in the days leading up, this morning I was cool, calm, and collected.  I trusted my training, the taper, and that I had done enough work to finish what I was going to start.  I felt solid, and when coach Shannon asked me how I was doing, I replied with a smile: “I got this”.

We dropped our food into our T2/special needs bags (there couldn’t be ANY food left on the bikes or in the bags overnight, as bears are very present in Whistler), and then loaded onto the bus that would be taking us to the lake.

That bus ride was surreal.  I’ve been on several different bus rides that would drop us at lakes to begin a race, but this was THE bus ride.   This was the bus ride we had been working towards, the reason there had been so many early mornings, so many early evenings, so many long training days, and so much given to be there that morning.  It’s funny – we started this journey together 6 years ago with our first sprint triathlon – and here we were, on the bus, on our way to the swim start of IM Canada.  My heart was full, and I was so grateful to be on this journey with these amazing friends and training partners.

Swim

When we arrived at the lake, it was beautifully calm.  Again, surreal – mist rising up from the water in the background as the athletes pumped tires and got their bikes ready.

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Then I was in my wetsuit, our national anthem was playing, the cannon sounded, and I was slowly moving forward toward the rolling swim start.  At this point I wasn’t with my training buddies anymore (as we had all seeded ourselves differently), and I had the opportunity to reflect on what it had taken me to get there.  I’m not a crier, but there were tears.  It was overwhelming.  And in that moment, I was fiercely proud of myself.

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As we waded into the water, the guy standing beside me reached over and we shook hands.  And then we were off!

The swim was brilliant.  The water was calm, and at the perfect temperature.  I had scaled my swimming way back in training, as I was struggling with swimmer’s shoulder for the past several months.  I never did get a 3800m swim in prior to the race, but I wasn’t worried about completing the swim.  My shoulder held up, I stayed on course, and didn’t get pummeled.  I was ready to be out of the water as a rounded the last buoy, and when it was finally time to stand up, I had a huge smile on my face.  I don’t know if it was the same guy or not, but whoever was next to me reached out and shook my hand as we got out of the water, both of us grinning like fools at each other.  It was a solid swim for me – 1:29.

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T1…hahahaha…I had NO idea what I was doing.  Thank goodness for volunteers.  I swam in my sports bra and a pair of tri shorts – and changed into bike shorts, compression calf sleeves, socks, a sleeveless bike jersey, and De Soto cooling sleeves.  Good grief – that was a lot of clothing to try and put on!

Bike

I had studied the bike course.  Read race reports.  Trained hills, hills, and then some more hills (including a ride up Highwood Pass).  And still – I think that NOTHING could have really prepared me for that beast of a bike course.

The first climb was fun.  Up to the Olympic park where they had the ski jump was challenging, sure, but I had fresh legs, I knew to be conservative, and I enjoyed the ride and the scenery (then bombing all the way down after the turn-around!).  As a heavier athlete, physics is on my side for the descents, and I have to remind myself not to smile with my teeth or with my mouth open on the way down to avoid swallowing bugs. I brought electrolyte with me (as I struggle with what they had on the course), and I quickly got the hang of grabbing water at the aid stations, dumping it on my cooling sleeves (as they only “cool” when they are wet), and tossing it before leaving the aid station.

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Then there was some rolling up and down, before we hit the huge descent.  And by huge, I mean 32km long.  This was punctuated by some steep and nasty climbs, including “suicide hill” that came out of nowhere and had me stopping for the first time at the top to dump water on my sleeves and try to cool off.  The down, down, down again into Pemberton, where I stopped at my special needs bag to refill my water bottles, grab some more nutrition, apply some more sunscreen, and hit the porta-potty (for those who know me, you’d be shocked I didn’t go until now and wouldn’t have stopped if I wasn’t already off my bike at special needs).  And on to the flat section of the course.

I thought the flat would be good.  I’m strong and steady on a flat course, and again, physics is in my favour as a heavier athlete.   But it was not good.  It was hot.  My ass hurt from sitting in the saddle for so long.  I was starting to get tired.  And it was hard.

(and it was stunningly beautiful)

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So I ate, drank, fueled, and got through it.

What goes up must come down (and vice-versa), and at km 144 I started the long, slow, steady climb back toward Whistler.

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(haha chipmunk cheeks – stuffed with larabar, I believe!)

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WHO puts a mountain at the end of an IM bike course? Who would do such a thing?!? It actually did come out of my mouth while passing (or being passed by) others who were on that mountain with me: “there is a special place in hell reserved for whoever designed this f(*#er”.  I was overheating, so I stopped at every aid station to shove ice down my shirt and into my cooling sleeves, and was losing time like crazy.  For the first time that day I started to worry about making the cut-off, but I tried not to focus too much on it.  When the worst of the climb ended and I was onto the rolling hills back into Whistler, I found my legs around and picked up some speed.  And made the cut-off!

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See that face? That’s a face that is willing to do ANYTHING to get off the bike, even a marathon.

Run

T2 was tough.  After getting off the bike and getting out of the heat, I was dizzy and found it hard to keep my feet.  I was a little disoriented as well, and couldn’t figure out the order in which I needed to put on my clothes.  I changed into a tri kit, and was trying to put on my sleeves before my shirt.  And I was trying to hide how woozy I felt, because I was worried that someone would make me sit down (and that I wouldn’t be able to get going again).  At that point, I was knew I’d be walking much of the marathon.  And I was ok with that.

I headed out, and coach Shannon met me to check in.  I told her I needed to walk for a bit to get my legs under me, and she reassured me that I was fine and encouraged me to do what I needed to do.  It didn’t take long, though, before I picked it up (ha, not much mind you, but enough to walk/run and get a little more speed).  For about the first 15km I walked up the hills, ran on the downhills and flats, and walked the aid stations.  I felt strong, I was focused, and I was positive.  Slow and steady

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I made a new friend on the run course – a fellow from the states named Robert.  We were moving at about the same pace with the walk-run, so I hitched myself to him and we spent the rest of the day together.  My stomach started to complain, and his hamstrings threatened to revolt, so we found ourselves walking at a blistering pace – but one that we were confident would get us across the line before midnight.

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We chatted, complained about the bike course, admired the scenery, and got through the marathon (which is a really, really long way to travel…just sayin’).  I’ve death marched a half marathon before (in my first 70.3), and this experience was nothing like that.  I was standing upright, and feeling ok.  Any time I would fall behind (as I would take potty breaks along the way), I’d run a little and catch up.

Then…BEARS!  On the course.  In the trees right next to us.  A mom and 2 cubs. Eeeek! I was extra glad I someone to walk with – especially since I knew I’d be passing that area again in a while, and next time in the dark! Kinda cool to see a bear in a tree on the run course, all the same.

The second lap we didn’t talk as much, but we were both still in good spirits.  I had a scary few moments where my legs started to feel really wooden and they wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do.  I didn’t panic, took some more salt, and made sure I was eating and drinking – and thankfully, the feeling backed off again.

There are some DARK areas of this run course, and neither of us had a headlamp or light with us.  We were escorted by volunteers with bells through some of the wooded areas, as there was a fourth bear in the area.  And we were diverted (other racers had been stopped earlier) around where they had tranquilized the momma bear and were trying to catch the cubs.   They actually extended the finish line by 10 minutes after midnight to accommodate for the bear disruption.  There were a tense few moments as we approached the turn-around on the last lap, not knowing exactly where it was, but knowing that we had a cut-off to make.  We made it easily, and they were on our way back.

Coaches Shannon and Candice met us on their bikes (with lights) to keep us company through the darkest parts of the trail, and one of Robert’s friends met us with a bear bell to walk us through another area.  As we got closer to town, his friend’s wife also joined us, with encouraging words and moral support.  I also got a hello and quick chat from a fellow facebook Athena triathlete who had been watching for me, which was a really nice pick-me-up at that point in the evening.

And then we were rounding the corner in town and approaching the chute.  As it was downhill, I found my legs and ran it in.  And remembered that I was fiercely proud of myself, and enjoyed every moment of it.  The crowd, the amazing energy, the blinding bright lights, and those magical words:

Emily Doyle – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!!

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I was given my medal by Trevor Wurtle (I think?), one of the pro men.  I really appreciate the tradition of the pros coming back to give medals during the “finish line party”, and how much us back-of-the-pack’ers are celebrated and encouraged.

(I was secretly hoping for Andy Potts, but hey, it’s not like I could have jumped on him at that point, anyhow 😉 )

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I stayed just behind the finish line to watch a few more of the folks I’d been traveling with all evening cross the finish line – there was some great camaraderie and support out there (from volunteers and other athletes alike), and then it was time to head home.  Thank goodness it was only across the road, and that I had the good sense to get up the stairs before really relaxing and having everything seize up.  I *may* have bum scooted into my room after a 2am cheeseburger picnic on the floor across the hall so I didn’t have to stand up.

I relaxed and napped the next day, and had another dinner out with training folks.  Again, the word that comes to mind is surreal – all of that work, and it was done.

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So now I’m back to day-to-day life.  I’m feeling fairly recovered, have been doing yoga, and have even started easing into running again.  And I’m looking forward to what my next training adventures will bring.

For now, I’m enjoying the time with my two iron kids.  So far I’ve heard lots from my oldest – “mommy, it won’t be that hard, after all, you did an Ironman!”.  I’m still smiling and holding on to that.

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Yesterday morning as I rolled out of bed early to get on the treadmill before work, I realized – I’m not just training.  I’m an athlete.  This is what I do.  And that sits really well with me.

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“Shouldn’t you be smaller…?”

That was a question I was asked last week at the pool, by someone I swim with in the local masters swim club.  The conversation started as I was changing out of my swim suit and into my running gear, for a 30 minute run followed by 30 minutes of strength training (after our hour long Masters swim workout).   I’ve been doing this for the last several months – I’m finding it easiest to piggy-back my workouts on top of each other than to space them throughout the day.  So we’ve changed together a few times a week, each time with her asking what I’m doing next.

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This day, the conversation was a little different:

her: how much do you train each week, now?

me: (adding on my fingers)…usually 10-14 hours a week now, and building in volume

her: shouldn’t you be smaller? I mean, with all of that exercise, you would think you’d be very small!

Let me say that the context and the inquiry wasn’t in any way disrespectful or judgmental.  She is a marathon runner herself, and is a very similar body type to me.  She felt comfortable asking me the question out of genuine curiosity – that someone could work out 10-14 hours a week, and work as hard as I work, and be anything but slim.

The non-offensiveness of this inquiry aside – I had to digest this a little before I commented on it.

me: you’d think, right?  I’d have though so too before I got into all of this…actually, I shouldn’t be smaller.  I’m working with what I’ve got on this, and my body is pulling of some pretty amazing stuff! while all of this  would be easier if I was a little lighter – no, I shouldn’t be smaller.

I believed in what I said.  For the first time in this crazy adventure I’ve been on, I believed the words I’ve seen written in so many places and said by so many other women (and men).  It was empowering to hear those words leave my mouth – and to be able to stand behind them and say them with respect and pride.

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I responded very differently than I would have several years ago.  Before I started to train for endurance events, and before I found such an incredible group of supportive and like-minded women through the Swim-Bike-Mom and Athena triathletes communities.  Before I learned that fitness doesn’t just look a certain way, and that bodies of all shapes and sizes are capable of some pretty amazing things.  Before I realized that you aren’t pretending to be an athlete if you don’t fit the ideal.

And before I pulled my head out of my own ass about the very same issue.

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I went to cheer on a friend a few years back at Ironman Canada.  I expected to see nothing but fit and slim athletes participating in this event.  I am embarrassed now to admit just how surprised I was when watching the athletes head out onto the bike course that I saw many who looked like me.  The exact thought that went through my head was “wow, there are a lot of chunky monkeys doing this….” It was such an easy assumption to make.

Yeah…Head. Up. Ass.

What I’ve realized is that my surprise wasn’t a reflection of how I saw others – it was a reflection of how I saw myself.  That was the day – and that was the thought – that ignited the belief in myself that maybe, just maybe, it could be possible for me, too.  It opened space for me to consider myself as more than as I already saw myself.  As more than just “pretending” to be an athlete.

But back to the  conversation in the locker room –  another swimmer (she’s an adventure racer who does what I consider certifiably insane, not to mention shark fast in the water) chimed in: “hey – many ultra runners and adventure racers look more like us! it’s hard to survive out there for days on end and through all sorts of terrain and temperatures unless you’ve got some stores on you! I lean out a bit when it gets closer to race season, but much smaller than that and I can’t do what I do”. Perspective, right?

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I AM smaller than when I started.  I’m leaning out further each week as I continue to focus on nutrition and am putting in the hours of training.

But will I be small?

Nope.

And I’m just fine with that.

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Perspective…

Perspective can be a funny thing, can’t it? I’ve been appreciating it these past few weeks…

After our most recent endurance ride (done on the computrainer as a group, with the focus on maintaining race wattage for increasing lengths of time), I remember thinking “man, am I out of shape!” as I was strapping on my knee brace and running shoes to shuffle out approx 4 km’s on the treadmill after 94 km’s on the bike.  In context, I was thinking that I still have SO much further to go in the next several months.

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But then I gave my head a shake and had a good chuckle.  Yeah – I must be out of shape, eh?  Our shorter endurance rides now are the longs ones we did last year when training for the half-iron distance, and we’re still increasing.  And I easily held my wattage and had a comfortable ride.  I need to keep it all in perspective and trust my training – I’m building.

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Unless it’s an endurance ride week, my Saturday mornings start early and are spent on my treadmill, and then in a flow and restore yoga class. Man alive, the long runs are really kicking my ass right now.  I don’t remember them being this draining while training for the marathon.  I need to be kind to myself and respect that I’m now training 3 sports, not just one.  I’m getting my ass kicked, but I’m recovering and I keep moving forward.

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Last week we completed our mid-season time-trial (10 mile flat), and I managed to hit the wattage I got at the end of last year – 212 average watts.  Darn it – I didn’t beat it! I need to keep it all in perspective – I’m stronger now and will keep working it.  I still have one more time trial to go in a couple of months to really be able to see what difference a year can make.

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I am feeling strong on the bike.  If only I wasn’t still so damn heavy – weight loss is free speed on the bike.  But I need to be patient with myself – I’m doing what I can towards this goal.  And I need to remain friends with my body through this process, not start thinking of it as the enemy.  I need to be kind to my body – it’s having some struggles.

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Life is busy at the moment – it’s the end of the semester for my teaching gig, conferences and travel are coming up, and there is stress.  But when I think back to this time last year – I let exercise and self-care go to focus on work, and this year it is more important to me to get my training session in (or like tonight, to hang out with my kids and watch The Little Mermaid for the 187th time) than to break myself over work.  The question “what’s important NOW?” has been a real gift and keeps me grounded (thanks to my good buddy for sharing this with me).

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Sometimes it means coming home from work and changing out of my professional looking stuff and into a tri kit for supper, baths and bedtimes. Total dork – perhaps – but at least the comfort of sweat pants doesn’t lull me into skipping my ride that evening!

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And when I turned 40 last month, my neighbour let me borrow some of her perspective – while I might have just been scraping through as someone in my 30’s, there is a whole new bar set now.  And hey, I’m doing pretty well for someone who is 40! 😉

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Dealing with the turkeys

I’ve been working on losing some turkeys over the past couple of months.  I had nutrition dialed in tight until xmas eve – then let slip much of the mindfulness throughout the rest of the holidays.  I’ve since gotten back on track.  In total, I’m down 12 pounds (and if my body will cooperate, about 30 more to go).

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I went through the Swim, Bike, Fuel program and really appreciated how it was laid out over 26 days.  Each small change was cumulative – and about 14 days in I realized that I had made some significant changes! I was aware of the information covered, and had practiced most of it, here and there, but had struggled to put it all together.    It’s together now and I’m on my way.  I’m trying to keep my focus on forward motion, one small step at a time.  The goals regarding training and weight loss get overwhelming when I focus on the end results – so I’m keep my eyes on the ground in front of me for the time being.  I’ve decided to call all of obstacles “turkeys” 😉

Aside from the holiday plague (cold), training has gone well.  I’ve gotten through a mini-camp that involved 6 hours of trainer riding (3 hrs on friday and 3 hrs on sunday with a 2 hr run on saturday), as well as my first brick workout of the season and holiday swims.  As long as I can avoid pneumonia (which I get almost every year in Dec/Jan), then I should be golden.  Fingers crossed…

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I’m still training with Deb, working with Coach Shannon, swimming with the local master’s swim club – not much has changed.  This year I haven’t make New Year’s resolutions.  I’ve been making an implementing resolutions as I’ve gone, and will continue to do so.  I’m dealing with the turkeys as they come up, and just keeping myself moving forward.

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The adventures of Scott and Doc

After working hard on my biking all year, I had hoped for a strong ride in my “A race”. Soul-crushing winds that day had other plans for me. So feeling frustrated and defeated, my road bike was unceremoniously dumped into the garage after I got home, not to be ridden again until Computrain started up again in October. He just sat there, sad, lonely and un-ridden for the time in between.

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(me and Scott, in happier times)

Scott is my road bike, btw. He has been my buddy for the past couple of years – in the Computrain studio, on the roads for training, and in races. He’s traveled across the country with me and aside from some saddle issues, he’s been really good to me.

But n+1 states that I will be happiest with one more bike than the number of bikes I already have. So when I finished my PhD, I decided that my gift to myself would be a tri bike. And I would call her “Doc”.

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Doc had a difficult start in life. She’s a custom build (long story), who got stolen and recovered, and after months of sitting either in my garage or the bike shop, she was finally ready to come home.

At first, the two bikes meeting wasn’t an issue. Scott stayed at the Computrain studio during indoor riding season, and Doc would hang out at the house. But then Computrain wrapped up, and I needed to bring Scott home for the holidays.

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I was nervous about introducing Scott to the new, sleek, shiny Doc. Would he be jealous? I mean, he’s been my go-to for years now. And would Doc understand that she was being brought into a polyamourus bike relationship?

Initial introductions seemed to go well…

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What was I worried about anyway?

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All seemed ok, so I left them alone in the garage for one night – ONE NIGHT – and look what I walk in on in the morning…

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What the…

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????????

Guess I’m the one who should be jealous…

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😉

The weight of turkey

It was Canadian Thanksgiving last weekend, so I had family and friends over for a Newfie Jiggs Dinner (which is awesome, btw – check it out the link):

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/jiggs-dinner/

Part of dinner prep had me picking up a 20-pound fresh turkey – enough to feed everyone coming over (and, or course, to have some left-over).  While I’ve cooked lots of turkeys over the years, at that moment it really struck me how the handles of the plastic bag with this large bird stuffed in it stretched and strained as I lugged it from the shop to the car, then from the car to the house (and even worried they may stretch so much they break).

So I got to thinking…I couldn’t imagine running a marathon or cycling 100km (or 10, for that matter) if I had to lug around this heavy bag of turkey.  Yet, I’m lugging TWO of them, really – in everything I do.  What would my marathon two weeks ago have felt like if I wasn’t lugging along so much turkey?

Sounds funny, doesn’t it? But it also sounds (and feels) a lot less shaming.

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Fat is a word that is loaded with connotations and assumptions.  But in that moment of carrying the turkey in the plastic bag, I realized the impact weight of the extra I was carrying on my body – specifically for the purpose of endurance sports.  Away from self-image and what society thinks, but it narrowed to become about – do I want to carry this turkey along on the Ironman course?

I really don’t.

I’ve thought a lot about this recently.  Not about losing weight, but about why I haven’t.  I could list excuses here, but I won’t.

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My body is amazing. That is what I need to understand.

It has carried, nurtured, and cared for two healthy children.  It can swim far.  It can run for miles.  It can bike for a long time.  I am so very fortunate to have a body that has allowed me to do all the things I have done so far.  And to set the goals I have set.

Over the past number of years, I have given time and energy to my family, my education, training, and my job, as well as to worry, stress, and self-doubt.  It is now time for to include how I feed my body as something that is worthy of my time and attention.

I’m ready to be done being mad at, and disappointed in my body. I’m ready to realize that we’re on the same team, and that we have to take care of each other.  That neither of us is perfect (nor should we aspire to be), but that if we each give our best efforts, we can do even more amazing things. If I give my best efforts, so will my body.

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I’ve signed up for an upcoming Swim-Bike-Fuel workshop, focused (from what I understand) about fueling my body.  Not just for triathlon, but for the life I want to live in my body.

And just maybe, I’ll put down the turkey.

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