Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The dark side of the "comeback"

This post is probably going to be a real downer, so if that's not your thing, feel free to skip it! See you next week :)

I've been cleared to go back to training and racing without restriction (aside from better common sense) for a couple of months now. It's something I had dedicated myself to (becoming healthy again) and something I recovered from much faster than most, and for that I am quite thankful. The care of Provision Sports Medicine and Dr. Kevin Sprouse , along with a healthy dose of lifestyle changes and better monitoring of my recover are what I attribute that speedy recovery to.

The physical toll taken was severe, and there is much I'm unsure if I'll ever be able to return to with the same tenacity that was once seemingly so easy for me. However, I'm healthy once more, and that is a trade I am willing to make. I will continue to push my body, but under much more careful guidance.

But this post isn't about the physical comeback that I may or may not ever orchestrate, (You can read/refresh on my story of dealing with OTS here) this is about the mental battle being fought, which I am now fully confident will be the key piece of the puzzle determining how this story eventually unfolds. I have spoken with (a very good) sports psychologist, and while he certainly empathized with me, I just never felt we were talking about the same thing. Perhaps it was my failing in being able to convey what it was like.

Nobody writes blogs (or at least none that I've read, and I've looked) about how much trying to return to form in an athletic endeavor sucks. It's a very personal struggle, one that is, pretty much, a downer. Certainly there are many success stories out there, but most gloss over the actual "return" and focus on the high points.

I'm out of Egypt... but I'm still in the desert spending my proverbial 40 years trying to find my way back on track. So, let's dive into what I am thinking and feeling... painful truth and all.

First, the hardest part. Letting go of what you were. I have tried, trust me on that. Unfortunately, it's much more difficult than deleting a few previous personal bests.  The easy solution is not to compare, I know... but putting that into practice is no simple task. I remember doing this and it feeling easy, I remember being "good" (big fish small pond syndrome but whatever) at this. I remember having the confidence that when I showed up there were, at most, a handful of people who I was competing with.  Without sugar coating it too much, it's sort of "has been" syndrome. I did an open water swim last week just to see how I could do (I was toying with doing the aquabike at Rev3) and it was something akin to pouring lemon juice in an open wound.

For the first minute it was like a fairy tale. I hit the water and started swimming. My breathing was fine, my stroke felt good... it was like everything had clicked and I'd never been away. A minute later reality crashed down with all of it's merciless truth. My back was on fire, and my stroke was ending somewhere around my naval. I just didn't have the strength and endurance to do it. I stopped, doggy paddled for a minute, and started again, albeit at a much easier pace. Rinse and repeat that until I made my way back to shore and nearly collapsed from fatigue.  Sure, the astute among you would probably think that your first swim in two years (not technically correct... I swam 200y at the West Side Y tri last year) probably couldn't have went much better. You're probably right. I should have probably been excited I didn't drown... but if I'm being honest... I was upset. The frustration of knowing HOW to execute something and having no way to actually force the muscles to respond is somewhat infuriating,

Change is hard. The one side of me wants to do nothing this minute more than go bust out a 10 mile run just to prove to myself that I can, consequences be damned. When I have a tough day on the bike where I barely hit my wattage goals and just feel beat up, my first thought isn't "probably should get some rest," it's "tomorrow I'm going to re-do this set! Plus 5 watts!" The difference is I'm smarter (hopefully) now and don't do that session the next day... but I still think like that.

Support from friends and family is hard as well. "You'll get it back" "You're best stuff is still ahead of you" "You're doing great" etc etc... it's just tough to swallow, smile and half heartedly agree. The closest thing I can compare it to is when you're at about mile 17 of your Ironman Marathon and a volunteer says "You're looking good!"
No. We both know I look like hammered hell.
You can't say that, but we are both thinking it.

See, just compared myself to somebody who knows what mile 17 of that marathon feels like! Hard to escape!!

There is also the deep seeded necessity I feel to be valuable to my sponsors. It's a pressure I have solely put on myself (at no point have any of my sponsors ever put pressure on me to perform, or even to toe the starting line, and for that I am grateful beyond words) but it is a pressure that I keenly feel. I am a competitor at heart, and it stings me deeply to feel like I am riding on the coat tails of my own previous efforts.

Then comes the self sabotage. Not truly wanting to compare yourself any more. Because, let's face it, in my own little reality I can find fanciful ways to excuse myself into doing better than I actually did. It's important to be honest with myself, and that's one reason I went and swam last week... to draw a hard line and stop thinking "maybe I'm still good (let's be honest, I was never "good" but adequate) at this. At my first race this year I got a flat. Now, I'll grant you that kind of thing happens... but I haven't gotten a flat in a LONG time. Why did I get a flat at that race? I didn't check my front tire for wear... something I always used to do. Did I purposefully get a flat at that race? No, but I was lax in my preparation and that opened the door for it.

At our local TT, I raced my Cervelo with a small gear and my "lesser" equipment... why? I told myself because I didn't want to get the Trek off the trainer (laziness) and I wanted to "test out" the Cervelo... but honestly I didn't want to stack myself up against others "at my best..." so that I would have a buffer when I got beat.

Then, there was the debacle at the last TT. I brought my A-game... but couldn't be bothered with making sure I was on time. I have a good idea how I did compared to the competition, but a good idea and exact data are worlds apart. Nonetheless, my ego made it through unscathed.

Self Sabotage, whether self aware or not, is a very real issue.

The answer perhaps is to just take everything and especially myself just a bit less seriously. But... Know Thyself... I like to nerd out on things, focus on them, probably/possibly even stress out over them... it's what I am.

This was all over the place, incomplete and full of half thoughts. Sorry for that. Hopefully some day down the road somebody will find some help from it though, if all that is is to say "man somebody else had to deal with this crap." It's real, it stinks at times... cruise on friends. After all... "The best races are still ahead!" right?

-Christopher Morelock

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