Ascending Mountain Lake twice made for one epic ride... putting in the work and loving it.
May: Races, events & celebrating 30!
I rolled into May with excitement to to kick off the triathlon season and because I would soon be celebrating my 30th birthday!! I raced back to back weekends at the Smith Mtn Lake Sprint Triathlon on May 6th and the Kinetic Half on May 13th, placing first in my new age group for both. That was followed by two low-key training weeks in order to rest up for the Mountains of Misery Century on May 28th. Mountains of Misery was everything I expected it to be: a long, fun and incredibly challenging day on the bike with great company and gorgeous views. Despite the forecast calling for thunderstorms, it was a picture perfect day of riding.
The first 50 miles of the ride flew by, but I made nutritional mistakes along the way which added to challenge of the final miles. Basically, despite knowing I have a high sweat rate and that I need to really push fluids, I finished the ride significantly dehydrated. I was drinking often and consistently, but I think I was having too much fun between the company and scenery that I didn't drink quite as much as I thought. The ride finishes with a climb up Mountain Lake, which is 4 miles at 7% average grade. Hard enough when your legs are carrying 98 miles worth of fatigue and, as I learned, even harder when your muscles are locking up from dehydration. Despite the struggles of the final miles, I was elated with the ride and ready to do it again!
June: Roadblocks and detours...
June can probably be most simply described as "things fall apart" (or at least that's how it felt). The weekend after Mountains, my husband and I traveled down to Chattanooga, TN for the Chattanooga Swimfest, which included a 2.4 mile distance event on the same stretch of the Tennessee River as the Ironman event (but opposite side). When I committed to racing Ironman Chattanooga earlier this season, I vowed to schedule at least one training weekend to preview the course. Naturally, the Swimfest provided the perfect excuse to visit the town and log some quality training + course recon.
I treated the Swimfest as a glorified open water swim workout. As part of the event, we boarded a ferry and were transported up the river for the point to point swim. This was not only a relaxing way to start the day, but a valuable opportunity to see the river and note landmarks along the course. We were told that the river current was VERY strong which meant very fast times, and they definitely were NOT kidding. I completed the 2.4 miles in 46:42... crazy, crazy stuff. Obviously the time was irrelevant to the primary goal of previewing the course and taking advantage of the opportunity to practice my open water swim skills.
After some quality brunch (at Maple Street Biscuit Company, which came highly recommended) and a much needed nap, the hubby and I headed out for a 90 minute preview of the run course. The primary goal was to gain a solid feel for the north shore hills and while leaving energy in the tank for my long ride the next morning. The run went extremely well despite the heat and the hills (they were TOUGH but totally doable), and afterward I immediately set to work refueling for the next day. Unfortunately my body had other plans for me and, long story short, I was up half the night in pain thanks to a UTI. I knew without question the ride was a "no go" and the hubby and I drove the course instead. I had been eagerly looking forward to this ride and thus quite disappointed, but even so the trip was extremely helpful and fun.
The cascade of events that followed our visit to Chattanooga are difficult to put accurately into words, but I will do my best. For starters, I failed to fully appreciate the infection my body was fighting (because the majority of symptoms had subsided, other than being tired) and the following weekend I ran a half marathon on an already stressed immune system. While I was happy, had a great time and enjoyed the supported long run, I felt absolutely drained and very "off." I knew afterward I would have been better of staying in bed (or on the sidelines). Hindsight is 20/20.
The stress of the race depleted my energy stores and in the week that followed my energy, mood and appetite plummeted. I struggled to complete my easy aerobic recovery type workouts. I was discouraged, defeated, frustrated, and by mid-week had decided to take the rest of the week off. In hindsight this also has depression (which I am prone to) written all over it, but at the time I simply didn't know what to make of it. I was overwhelmed. My coach cleared my schedule for the following week (which was last week) so that I could slowly get back to training as motivated without the pressure of specific workouts. Meanwhile I was trying to come to terms with what exactly was "off" (was I depressed? burnt out? simply tired from my recent events and toll of my infection? all of the above) and wrestling with an even bigger question, "Should I still race Ironman Chattanooga?"
Everything happens for a reason, right?
A major lesson that I've learned as an endurance athlete is that the foundation for executing any level of training is health (all dimensions, not just physical) and happiness (enjoyment of the sport and process). And a major challenge I've encountered as an endurance athlete is in knowing when to push through challenges and fatigue that comes with pushing the envelope and life in general, and when to step back and allow my body to rest. The answer to that question is not as complicated as it seems - it simply requires looking within and listening to your body.
The events of the past few weeks were a major wake-up call and, to me, an indicator that my "foundation" has been compromised. Meaning, I am simply not confident that my health is solid enough to launch into higher volume Ironman training. My heart is very much saying that I WANT to train for this race and I'm CAPABLE of doing so, but my gut-instinct is telling me it's not what my body needs right now. As someone who has always followed her gut-instinct, this has been a VERY tough pill to swallow. I have to acknowledge there's a difference between "can" and "should." Sure I can push through this rough patch and continue training for the race, but is that the best decision for my longevity in the sport and long-term health? You can probably guess where this is going...
I've decided to withdraw from Ironman Chattanooga in September.
These decisions are never easy, and I'm currently feeling a mix of sad, relieved and lost. Having just left Chattanooga 3 weeks ago excited to ramp up training towards the race, and having just discussed with my coach summer training plans, this is not what I was expecting whatsoever. But I have to honor my body and my intuition and I DO believe it is for the best. This past spring was much more stressful than expected for a variety of reasons (work, professional obligations, health) and of course then there is training. The greatest stressor, however, has been the state of my mental health (namely my anxiety levels) and the challenges that have come along with it. Mentally I am spent. I need to step back and focus on my health.
So what now?
While I'm still working with my coach, I currently have a blank training calendar and am taking things one week at a time. I've always wondered, "what I would do if I didn't have a specific race or goal to train toward?" Now I guess I can find out. I don't have a plan for the rest of the year, though I'm working on formulating an informal bucket list of fun and exciting things I'd like to do. I am shifting my focus from performance to health, with the current goal being to give my body rest, rebuild confidence and rekindle the joyful and motivated person that is normally "me." Right now that means exercising for pleasure and mental health, investing greater energy into self-care, practicing gratitude and working on some general lifestyle adjustments that will lend towards a happier, healthier and more balanced Kristen over the long haul.
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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