Monday, March 21, 2016

Training through loss

Yesterday marked three weeks without my dad. It was really my first time losing a very close loved one. I don't even have the words to describe it - crushing, life-altering, searing, overwhelming... It's likely you know the feelings as death and loss are pretty much a universal experience.

What I want to write about (since this IS a triathlon blog), was the weirdness of trying to figure out how/if training would fit with the process of grief and loss. And the weirdness of realizing that I could even be thinking about that at a time like this.

But I know that for me, nothing untangles emotions better than a sweaty workout. Training to me is normalcy. It's structure. It's (the illusion of) control.

So when I left my Virginia home February 28 to travel to Pennsylvania to the side of my suddenly widowed mother, my packing included things to swim, bike, and run and I felt a pang of guilt about it. I felt conflicted. Was this dishonorable toward my dad, and my love for my dad? But then I thought about how when my mom was sick this fall, my dad continued with his faithful trips to the gym. I think he'd be telling me to keep going.

That week, nearly all the hours of the day were spent with my sister attending to my mom (who ended up in the hospital for two days with a GI issue), making decisions and more decisions, writing the obituary, gathering photos, making calls, sorting through paperwork, cleaning things out, receiving guests, answering calls and emails, and attending to all the "business" of death that I had no idea about. I was also doing what I could to keep up at least my minimal work responsibilities. My sister and I got a lot done (one night until 2:30 am) but it was exhausting.

After two days off of training (scheduled, ironically), I vowed to do something active each day, whether it matched the training plan or not. I guess this was my way of coping, but so be it. I needed something to help me wrangle the overload of emotions and information coming from every direction.

Coach Jim and I were in communication and without my saying so he understood I needed the "security" of seeing the unchanged schedule on TrainingPeaks whether I did it as written, or did something else, or did nothing. I needed that schedule there.

The week after my dad passed away, I ended up on the bike trainer in my dad's basement office (top photo) on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning, and doing a combo treadmill then pool workout Wed and Friday at the rec center. This is what I wrote to Coach Jim in my training logs:

Tuesday, March 1: Brain clearing ride. Got one QoM (75 min Zwift ride)

Wednesday, March 2: nice to go from treadmill to pool in the same building. only cried once, during the swim, so that's progress. the wind has gone from my sails a bit right now, but it feels good to go through the motions at the very least. (45 min run, 30 min swim)

Thursday, March 3:  won three sprints and was second in two QoM. I ride HARD for those polka dots. Anyway, proud of myself for getting on the bike. Tough day, not feeling great (tired, headachy, floaty) but I did SOMETHING. (90 min mix effort ride)

Friday, March 4: Did a pyramid 100 to 500 and back down and mixed up swim and paddles/buoy. I could tell from the last swim to this one my head is in a MUCH better place. (50 min interval run, 2500y swim)

Saturday, March 5: quickie pre-trip ride. (60 min)

Sunday, March 6: Since I didn't ride long yesterday, I let this be what it would be. Amazingly my legs felt good and somehow this run just flowed. It never felt like a huge effort, I didn't care what my HR was, I just ran...sobbed a few times...and kept running. I finished feeling good, not overspent. It wasn't much slower than the 10-mile race. I wish I could figure out why some days it just comes. (11-miler, a run I did NOT NOT NOT want to do that day)

I'm sharing this because no one really talks much about training through grief. It's different for everyone, of course. Triathletes can be thought of as "selfish" with regard to their workouts so there's a lot wrapped up in the decision. Was I selfish to train during this time, or was I preventing major emotional wreckage from a sudden cessation of the activities my body was accustomed to? I believe that for me, the training time offered a momentary respite to collect my wits and it served as a barometer to show that I was indeed just a little stronger each day.

I was happy to get a supportive email from a tri coach/friend who shared, "I remember going straight from my dad's funeral to the pool. Deep google marks in a swollen face." Another friend/coach lost her father a few weeks before I did, and I remember thinking how impressed I was that she kept training too! By their examples I felt that my decision to keep up with swim/bike/run was okay.

My mom and I returned home to VA on March 5 and I got back in sync with the training schedule. I won't lie, it's more of an effort to motivate myself right now, but I know I need this. I also know to have, as Ryan Hall has said about his running, "grace for the pace." I'm not going to put undue pressure on myself in training or early season racing because what I want most from the sport right now is the happiness, the peace, the belonging, the grace. Some times that might mean a few days away from training to attend to other matters, but if I can keep moving, I shall.

One mile at a time.
One day at a time.