As we drove along I could feel a bright light shining beside me. It was the sun, and it shone so bright this Thanksgiving morning. It was literally lighting up the whole sky, and as we drove I felt like it was accompanying us. One right hand turn later and it was behind us, lighting the way through these country roads.
It felt like Dad. It felt warm. It felt supporting. While to some it was just the sun, when you go through loss like this you tend to find or develop or create meaning in the smallest most beautiful things.
We have been travelling to this little 5K out in Wyoming County for ten years now, only missing one. Luc has run every time, Curt most and I think I have only run it once. On this day I was nervous. Not because of time or placing or even that it was a race, but purely because of my injury.
Last winter I developed a pain in my right lateral calf that we basically flew to the moon to try to diagnose. After multiple perfect images, several providers, theories, everything, all of the providers came up with one conclusion.
Inflammation secondary to grief. Which was the strangest diagnoses ever, especially from the people I was seeing. I was looking for something concrete, a tear, fracture, something I could fix. When I explain it to people I feel like I am using a ouji board or tarot card.
Further research showed that during the first year of loss we are much more susceptible to injury and illness (there are some good studies over on Pub Med). At the same time it made me feel like I was doing grief wrong somehow. I was (still am) seeing a therapist who specializes in grief, I write about it, share about it, connect with people who have experienced loss. The thing to know is this: you can’t really do it wrong and an injury also doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong. It just is.
I changed up my racing season to Aquabiking and had great success. I started building my run back in May with 4 x 10 minute runs. I incrementally built so slowly and methodically to where I am now (17 miles a week and counting, I will build to 30). I have been patient, deliberate and slow with increasing anything. I wanted to hop into this 5K so break the seal, and try to mentally get past this injury. I was really nervous that I would have pain. I just needed to do this.
I run 5K’s differently than most. Because I am a triathlete a 5K is always ancillary and a chance to practice racing and pacing. If I was a 5K focused athlete I would do it VERY differently! I run at a tempo (zone 2) heart rate, and let the time fall where it does. If I was a 5K focused athlete I would run much harder (zone balls out). But this affords me a strong effort, the ability to run a touch harder on this now healed ambiguous injury, and see where I am at. The benefit of pacing like this is that I don’t get wrapped up in time, and through the next few months I should see my 5K time improve at the same HR. Plus I don’t have to rest and I bike race on Tuesdays (on Zwift) so I can do that without worry, because I can hold a tempo HR no matter what I do previously!
I had a great race. I easily held my target HR, feeling strong, able to cheer on those around me, and no pain whatsoever. I couldn’t stop smiling because nothing hurt. I was able to snag an age group win (and so did Curt and Luc got 2nd in his!), on a beautiful sunny day with clear roads and snow blanketing the lawns. The whole town seems to come out for this and it benefits a young lady with Cystic Fibrosis. As a pediatric nurse who has cared for many families who live with this, it’s close to my soul.
It just all felt good. God I love to race. I love whatever that tends to look like too. I love the morning prep, I love the starting line, I love the butterflies. I love the good and difficult parts of it. I just love it and for some reason I am loving it even more these days.
This season was a great one. An aquabike focus left me less beat up. The training I did was so aerobic I was able to build up a really strong foundation heading into 2023. This season I am utilizing the principles of Dynamic Loading (also called Readiness loading), and it’s amazing. In short, you utilize HRV, sleep scores, perception, etc to determine how ready your body is for load or stress. Traditionally athletes adhere to a more strict schedule of “Tempo Tuesday” (or whatever their schedule calls for) and no matter what, that set gets done on that day. Through Dynamic Loading you change the load days based on how ready your body is to accept the load. To learn more about it hop over to twitter and follow Alan Couzens and Gordo Byrn. These guys are amazing and if you have questions they answer (if you were around for Gordo’s old forum in the early 2000’s… it’s just like that again).
I always feel Dad out there though. He wasn’t an athlete yet I feel him there. I am missing our end of season recap chats. He would love this concept of Dynamic Loading (it’s actually not even a new one, but it’s a smart one). He loved to talk about principles of training and the philosophy of racing and all that.
Later in the day we took Thanksgiving to Mom’s and it was the first holiday I have sat at the dining room table… and the chair at the head of the table… was empty. It felt awful. It felt stark. How can someone be in that spot for my entire life and not be there anymore?
But then I remember, that he is here. He’s in the sun riding beside me on the way to a race. He’s in the air as I smile and run my heart out. He’s in the quiet moments. He’s where I need him to be. Mostly in my heart. And that’s a good place to be.