A few months ago, I was talking with Andrea Myers about her training experiences for Ironman Lake Placid last year. I remember her saying that with Ironman you are always training with “something”. An ache here, a pain there. And now that I have begun Ironman training, the truth of her words is unfolding with the most ugly of ways.
Right now I feel like the Operation gameboard – I’m naked, stripped of nothing but my pain, strapped to a cold metal table and if you happen to touch any part of my body, it would set off a cautionary buzzer and my nose would flash an alertful red warning to remind me that all of my muscles are on fire and buzzing with pain on a daily basis.
It started a few weeks ago with a red bump on my big toe. Insistent upon picking, squeezing, and touching every unusual bump that arises on my body, I of course pressed down on it to find it was infected. Shove that into a cycling shoe that should be outlawed because it is so old, foul, and ill-fitting and you get 100 rpm’s of pure, angry pain in your big toe. A visit to the podiatrist and a diagnosis ingrown toenail.
On top of that, last week my foot had intermittent flashes of hot pain. I was convinced that Ironman training had caused menopause to prematurely settle into my body, starting feet first, and I found evidence in these hot flashes and a growing paranoia. For days, I limped around convinced that I had fractured my foot. Chris suggested I either visit the doctor or stuff my foot in my mouth. Turns out that I am growing a neuroma. There’s a lot of things I can grow on my body – nails, hair, stink – but anything that starts with ‘neuro’ doesn’t sound like something I want to water and grow anytime soon - other than growing neurotic (which I was already doing quite well).
Back in July, on my way to a washboard stomach, I strained an abdominal muscle. Since then, I have learned that abs are a particularly stubborn, mean, and small area of the body that do not receive much oxygen and instead send out much pain to let me know every time I am aero on my bike or stretch out my swim stroke that even though they’re little they mean big business. My doctor poked and provoked some points of pain to which he said that it could be my abs or it could be my liver was swollen even though that was highly unlikely. But I thought, who knows – I mean, it’s Ironman training and anything can happen and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days I poop out my liver since I seem to be pooping out everything else at least 3 times a day/a workout/a night.
Right now my ribs have a death grip on my body. The muscles between each rib maybe sinewy and fine, but also finely attuned on how to create the most maximum pain in the most minimum area. When it started to hurt to breathe, I decided to visit my doctor for the 10th time that week. “Did you fall off your bike recently?” he asked. No, I didn’t think so. But I can’t be sure – maybe this is one of those Ironman enigmas like having a hot foot, noticing your armpit smells funny, or gaining weight while training up to 20 hours a week. Can you black out on the bike? Is it like drinking? Can you ride so hard and long that you wake up on your driveway with 93 miles logged into your cycling computer, a splitting headache, and no recollection that a few hours earlier you had fallen off your bike? If I didn’t remember that, then what else had I forgotten – had days gone by yet? months? Have I just been on my bike this whole time?
A few months ago I noticed that my right armpit was smelly – unusually smelly. Like I’ve been working out in a farm field for too long during the mid-day sun kind of smelly. Being curious, I looked up how someone so small could make such a big stink. Stress or hormones. It seems the Ironman training has elevated my already maddening blend of estrogen up-and-downs mixed with a steady dose of edginess. The result - one smelly armpit. Therefore, it seems logical to assume that Ironman training can indeed make you smelly.
I have strong suspicions that my body does not even recognize it’s own hormones and substances any more with so much sports drink, gels, ibuprofen, and caffeine pumping through me all day long. But if getting a period is any indication of hormonal health then I seem to be setting a PR in that area because last time I got mine for 10 days which was absolutely fabulous and which also makes me think that a Tampax sponsorship would come in very handy at this time.
Some days my intestines are happy, some days they are not talking to me, some weeks I get the silent treatment for up to 3 days because I haven’t eaten dinner earlier than 9 pm for what seems like weeks and when you go to bed at 10 pm that doesn’t leave much time for relaxing, drinking water, or anything else required for taking a normal, regular dump each day.
My back has been in spasm for 4 years from trying to combine cycling and swimming with computer work all day long. And now that I am not only combining, but overloading, my upper back is an impenetrable fortress of tight fibers. I got stretched out the other day by my doctor and if someone had walked in they would have seen me in a twisted contortion that looked like a cross between the Karma Sutra and Cirque de Soleil, like some sex-induced circus therapy that you have to pay good money for. But at least it works.
Move down to my lower back and I think you might find I’m growing humps or hooves because I feel like a freakin’ camel. To stay properly hydrated in the heat, I need 34 ounces of fluids per hour. It might be useful to have some humps to store this fluid in but right now my 32 AAA½’s are not much help. Instead, I pack my Fuel Belt full of fluids and food. Go on a 20 mile run with 34 ounces of Fuel Belt bottles on your back bouncing around for over 2 hours and you might end up with a bruise on each upper cheek right where the bottles spanked your behind over and over again.
These days I advise my husband not to even approach my crotch without clutching a 10-foot pole. Spend over 90 miles in a saddle and tell me how you feel, or what, if anything, you can feel. Enough said.
Take this entire body and step it on the scale and I find I am about 2 – 3 pounds heavier than last year. At this point, bananas, pretzels, bread, are just not cutting it. Give me only things that have at least 200 calories per serving and 20 grams of fat per scoop. The other day I was running long and hard and began bargaining with myself that I could have anything – meat, chocolate milk with more chocolate than milk, peanut butter from the jar, ice cream out of the carton, if I could just finish the last mile of the 20 mile run in under 6:45. I went 6:40, got home, and the hungry carnivore inside of me demanded steak.
I know what you’re thinking. Conceal all of the crazy pain with a tasty cocktail of coffee, Ibuprofren, and a dash of Vicodin that you’ve stashed since you last had teeth pulled. A deceptively attractive option but probably not effective because Ironman pain is not erasable, treatable, or cured by even the most potent of narcotics or most secret of stashes. In fact, part of the training is learning to endure and cope with the pain as it builds upon workout to workout, day to day until you are a ball of knots and spasms, writhing on your bathroom floor at which point you should probably learn to get yourself up and walk it off.
But in my mind, if I push the pain aside, what I find is that I feel better than ever. I’ve challenged myself with something entirely new and something so full of opportunity. And to me, that feels so good.
So, until October 21st, I may not be able to turn my head more than 2 inches or raise my arms above my shoulders or sit for an extended period of time, but I’ll be an Ironman, dammit – an IRONMAN!