Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Getting to the finish line

It's been a very long while since I've written a blog, but I thought I would give a little update here, rather than my coaching site. 2016 was a very odd year for me. I left competing in the sport of Ironman in May. The basis for this decision was that I was convinced there was something wrong with my heart. In 2009 I was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve (a birth defect), I was allowed to keep competing but was told that the situation could lead to valve leakage. Based on how I felt racing and training from the end of 2015 I was convinced this was what was happening, but was too scared to go for a proper check and receive bad news. When I got both the courage and waited for an appointment I was told in July that I had been misdiagnosed and I did not have a bicuspid valve, and instead I had a normal tricuspid aortic valve. Although this was good news, it was quite hard to process. For about 5 mins I was wondering if I was some sort of miracle that somehow healed a heart valve, but soon realised this was impossible. I was then left wondering of what could have been. Being told you have a heart problem when you compete at a high level in sport really messes with your head. A good heart is a pretty crucial asset in endurance sport. In fact at the time, I remember my Doctor who referred me for testing saying "This is great we discovered this" and I was thinking no, you have just messed with my head big time. It wasn't serious, so I was told I could compete as usual and just had to listen to my body, not train or compete with a virus and monitor the situation, but at the time there were other professional athletes with the same condition having to retire from the sport and there is very little research on the impact of an endurance sport, on those with those kind of heart defects. I really struggled to compete to the same level after that recording several DNF not being able to contain my fear in the races, until I took time out to have Benny in 2011. Over 2011-2015 I was so busy with Benny that I pushed it aside and completely forgot about it and competed very well, but towards the end of 2015 people kept bringing it up, and it really effected me mentally, before, during, after the race, continuously questioning what I was doing, the worst times were when I was questioning what I was doing during the race. This led to my DNF at both Challenge Wanaka in February and IM Australia in May of 2016 and ultimately never wanting to compete again as I found it was impossible for me to now compete without that fear getting in the way.

I find it confusing that someone as well trained as a cardiologist could possibly make that mistake, of not being able to count to 3!, but I have to put it behind me now and move on. To make matters worse though, they lost my records from 2009, so I can't even go back and re-read that report. Since July funnily enough, so many people have told me, "You always need to get a second opinion, Doctor's are always making these kind of mistakes". I only wish someone had told me that in 2009!! Although at what number of opinions can you trust the right decision has been made?

So in July I found this out, and then a few weeks later I had a miscarriage 12 weeks into my pregnancy. I then really wanted to give myself a goal to focus on, so I wouldn't spiral into a dark place, and started training for IMNZ 2017.I then fell pregnant again quite quickly and that was the end of that. I then had to get through a second 1st trimester which is a lot of fatigue for one year! and now I am nearing the halfway point. Since I reached the second trimester however, I have had a huge increase in energy. Looking back now, it was clear I had just reached a point of extreme fatigue from Ironman. No surprise with me racing the number of full distance races I was a year, and it was very similar to what I went through in 2010 before falling pregnant with Benny. I had zero motivation for training and racing, disliked everything about being at a race when I have always had such excitement combined with nerves at going to a race and loved every minute. I was also struggling to get my heart rate up even after days of recovery and was also struggling going up hills that I used to easily fly up (and up hill racing and training was always my strong point). All big red flags of fatigue which I refused to accept and convinced myself were due to my "heart condition" deteriorating as the physical symptoms were also that of someone with a leaky valve.

Now that I know I don't have a heart condition (just has taken way longer than normal to find this out!, 7 years!) and I have had a huge rest from the grinds of continuous endurance racing with back to back seasons, I now have a lot of motivation and excitement about the prospect of racing and training. Of course now I am pregnant so I'm just enjoying short easy, enjoyable training sessions just to keep the body moving, maintain my fitness and do what I love doing, but I now do have a goal of returning to racing. Whether that means just going back and finishing one Ironman (so that I can finish on my own terms and not finish with a DNF), or doing more I don't know. It all depends on life with 2 children. I may lose all motivation once this baby is born, or I may be further driven, or it might just be too tricky, if the baby is a difficult baby it could take me years to get to a start line, or it could take me less, who knows, but I know now that I do want to try to get to that finish line! At least I know I can do it having done it before, although I am sure being 36 instead of 30 will mean for a much longer build back. The good thing though is unlike last time when I really only knew of a couple of Ironman athletes that had returned to competitive sport at the elite level, this time there is no shortage of inspiration. So that should help a great deal with motivation to get back in shape, seeing so many inspiring women in our sport doing amazing things.

I also really wanted to try and get to another finish line, as I think without that, in future years I may lose connection with how my athletes really feel at different stages of their training and racing. So I am determined however long it will take me, or however hard it will be that I will get to a finish line somewhere at some stage. Whether it be as a age grouper, or if I feel I am up to competing as a pro again that will be determined. Of course my family and my athletes will be the priority, not this personal goal! One thing about pregnancy though, it forces people like myself to truly rest. I know that may sound funny, as most would see pregnancy as being anything but a rest, but for someone that is used to pushing their body for hours a day, come rain or shine, it really means you are forced to slow down and LISTEN to your body, as the health of someone else comes first. I am enjoying that at the moment, and happy that I am still able to run. With Benny I quit running at the 16 week mark. I am a couple of weeks past that now, and still feeling good with it, so chuffed that I can keep doing it (although slowly and short sessions of course) for as long as it feels right. I may a little later on write an article on training through pregnancy on my coaching website www.coachginacrawford.com

So hopefully you will see me back finishing an Ironman/Challenge race at some point down the track, but for now I have another finish line that I have to cross first!