Well team, we have a lot of updates to roll out here. I’m probably going to regret this but rather than glossing over things, I’m going to try to give each one a post and get them out fairly timely! Up on tap: health update (today!), The Stockville race report, a race report from The Hard Fall 24 Hour Adventure Race, and a re-cap of the Backbone Trail Running Camp. That will probably be as much blogging in the next 2 months as I have done all year, but #dreambig right?
So, here we go: health!
My last blog was bout IM CDA which was not a good race, to put it mildly. I went on from that race knowing that was not a reflection of where I felt my fitness was. I reminded myself that I had added that race onto my calendar fairly last minute for an Ironman, and that many things pointed to the fact that perhaps I just wasn’t quite back to Ironman-level fitness, just yet. But the good news was, I could channel all of my energy into a race coming up quite quickly, as I had Ironman Lake Placid just a month away.
I was *really* looking forward to Lake Placid. It is as much of a “hometown” Ironman as I will ever get, and I have been going back to Lake Placid many times in a racing, coaching or training capacity over the last 9 years. Not to mention, my heart and soul is in those High Peaks that look down on the village of Lake Placid. Plus, it’s always a reunion race with Biscay Coaching athletes and other triathlon friends. I never regret going to IM Lake Placid!
The month between CDA and Lake Placid was…..fine. I had some decent workouts, but I also had a lot of crappy workouts. Nothing glaring was off, but things just didn’t feel good. But, I *had* just raced one ironman, so maybe asking to feel sharp was too much to ask right? And I’m no stranger to what it takes to bounce back from a less-than-good race performance, so my mental focus on the good stuff and maintaining a relentless positive outlook was at 110%.
The day started and there could be a whole blog to write about the day itself. Construction forced a new transition zone and with that a cluster of a morning getting myself to the start line in an effort to play by the rules, take the designated shuttles, etc. Ultimately I got to the start and unfortunately, the chaotic morning turned out to be the least of my problems that day. While the swim felt “fine,” pretty soon after I got onto the bike I started to feel the energy and power draining from my body. It literally felt like a slow leak on a drain, and as energy poured out, the leg burn and the fatigue just crept in. The carbon Garmin holder I had on my aerobars that day actually snapped when I hit a bump and while I did stop to pick up my computer, I had it in my back pocket the second half of the ride, so I wasn’t able to see just how much power I was losing – probably a good thing. I wasn’t too far out of the mix that I thought I could be in, so it was time to run. From the first step, there was a burning and pain in my hips that I have never felt to that extreme, and certainly not during a race. Okay, ignore, compartmentalize, look for Matt and my parents on the course. Just keep the legs turning over.
And then things went from barely hanging on, to pretty much failure in any sense of the word! The most noticeable issue was that I couldn’t breathe. The only thing I could think when my heart rate would get up was “this must be what an asthma attack feels like” — I just couldn’t get air in, I couldn’t take a full breath, and if I did it was like there was no oxygen in it to send to my muscles. If I pushed it, I started to dry heave and vomit. If I backed off, I could shuffle, but the hip pain and leg pain remained.
This was really, really hard, in so many ways. It is so hard to do this for a living and have one of your worst days in front of so many people who care about you. Ultimately, I did the only thing I knew how to do: just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep my heart open and make some friends, use the other thousands of amazing people out there on course to get me through. My 36th Ironman and easily my worst performance.
In the days after, I was plagued with so many thoughts, but as I sorted through all of them and consulted constantly with coach Hillary Biscay, I kept coming back to the idea that I have had bad races before. I know what it feels like to have a bad day, when your body just doesn’t show up. This wasn’t that. This was different.
Over the next two months, I didn’t work out very much. I couldn’t. The weeks after Lake Placid I was hanging on by a thread – functioning just enough to coach my athletes, which was pretty much all the energy I could muster. I saved my sanity with a few trips to the mountains that would leave me depleted for days after. I had headaches. Couldn’t sleep. My brain felt like it was working half the time, at best. It felt like I couldn’t breathe no matter how much I rested or how much I stayed still. I was having heart palpitations that had me concerned. There were days I barely had energy to walk Ramona.
After *many* different doctor appointments and thousands of dollars I had been told:
-I was fine, I just needed to rest.
-Are you sure you’re not pregnant?
-I had anxiety.
-Are you sure you’re not pregnant?
-I had asthma.
-I had acid reflux.
-I had allergies.
-No really, are you sure you’re not pregnant?
In case you can’t tell, for the love of god, I wasn’t pregnant, and I have 8 million tests to prove it, hahaha.
Admittedly, this all was made more complicated than it already had to have been, by two factors – one, I had just relocated to a new state. I had no background with any doctors. They didn’t know me from Joe Schmo, and it’s really more difficult than it should be to explain to a doctor the lifestyle of a professional triathlete. The second factor was that several of my symptoms, namely the breathing issues, heart palpitations, and sleeping trouble, had been ones that I had been going to a doctor regularly for since, ready for this? 2017!
Yes, it was back in 2017 when I started feeling…..off. So every 6 months or so I’d land in my PCP office, they’d run the bloodwork, do an EKG, chest X-ray, allergy tests, pulmonology tests, and maybe some others, and everything would come back: I’m healthy as a clam. And since 2017, I was feeling mostly better. Every 4-6 weeks I’d have a few days where I’d feel awful, but it became habit to blame aging and hormones and attribute it to that. The only thing that never ebbed and flowed, but stayed consistent, was this sensation in my lungs when I would breathe very deeply, I’d feel a “catch” of sorts, almost like a sense of fluid or something ever so slightly in my lungs. Of course, if you google fluid in your lungs, it’s terrifying. But the tests were always fine, so again, must be hormonal? Must be the fact that I exercise so much my lungs work differently?
This summer, in my myriad of initial testing I had a Lyme test done. The initial screen was positive. Stop the presses! I had come back to Lyme through the years, though my test in 2017 was negative. The CDC prescribes a two tier testing method for Lyme though, and my second test was negative – nope, couldn’t be Lyme then, the doctor at Dartmouth tells me. But….I am around ticks. All the time, I tell her. I can remember a time camping where we laid in the tent and counted tens of ticks crawling along the outside. I have a dog and I’m constantly picking ticks off her, and myself. I pulled a tick off the back of my head literally on July 23rd! One of my hobbies is crawling around in the woods, and I have lived in the mid-atlantic and northeast – where ticks are booming (thanks, climate change), my whole life. Nope, she says, not Lyme.
Two weeks later though, another test came back positive (pro tip – you can get yourself a very valid and FDA approved test from CVS if the doctor won’t order one), and the new doctors I have found think, of course it’s Lyme!
Over the next month I encounter:
-Doctors who think Lyme testing is 100% valid.
-Doctors who think Lyme testing has a lot of holes.
-Doctors who think Lyme testing is mostly useless.
-Doctors who think 2 weeks of antibiotics cures Lyme.
-Doctors who think 3 weeks of antibiotics cures Lyme.
-Doctors who think 4 weeks of antibiotics cures Lyme.
-Doctors who think antibiotics and herbs can cure Lyme.
-Doctors who think herbs cure Lyme.
-Doctors who think Lyme is never cured.
I could go, but you get the point.
This NYT piece is a really good read and while my struggle (knock on wood) seems to be less harrowing than his, it speaks to many of the feelings I have had through this process.
In the end, after many doctors and tests, I was diagnosed with Lyme and a co-infection, Babesia. I have begun to feel much better and have been able to resume life “as normal.” Though I still think I am working towards getting myself back to 100%, I do think I’m on the right path finally, and, most importantly, all of the symptoms I was feeling since 2017? They have all disappeared since the Lyme treatment.
I have been enormously lucky through my 8 year career as a professional athlete that I never had a season ending injury or illness, until this year. It was incredibly difficult to let go of my season hopes, and the two months after lake placid were very tough to keep myself together. But as I was talking to Hillary through it all, giving her the latest download of the contradictory information the latest doctor sent me home with, we both recognized a little silver lining in this all: that I was undoubtedly becoming a better coach through this.
I realized quickly how each doctor was seeing me, running tests, diagnosing me and making a care plan based on their own worldview. They saw test results and illnesses through their own lenses. The vast differences between them were so incredible. It really was nagging me throughout this – how do I do this same thing these doctors are driving me bonkers with, in my own life? As a friend, a coach, a girlfriend? What am I seeing through my lens and not keeping an open mind to? Where are places I can step back and see the bigger picture? Because I wasn’t training, I had very increased time and attention on my athletes and the relationships around me and I really think it gave me space to approach my role differently and change some habits. That was a good thing.
I am also very grateful that through it all, I was still able to get outside most days, and even if it didn’t feel good, I could go for a walk or a hike or I could do *something*. It was far from training by any definition of what I am used to, but it was movement. Many people navigating this or similar things might not be able to even do that, and not having the benefit of fresh air and movement, would have really made this so much more trying.
I still remember one thing my doctor said to me back in 2017 as I was living in Charlottesville – that every spring, he always has a handful of top athletes from the area coming to him with similar symptoms. He thinks it is just an allergy to something that is in the region. Looking back, I hope doctors become more open minded about ticks and are willing to acknowledge how little we know about Lyme and the other tick-borne illnesses. It is really scary when you start to look into it. But it’s made worse because of the culture doctors are creating around Lyme. We have to put our egos aside for this one.
As of right now, I think I’m one of the lucky ones, who had the time, resources and support from friends and family to keep knocking on doors, keep talking to doctors and keep advocating for myself. I hope I haven’t scared people with this story, but, it is kind of scary. And you can bet not a day goes by when I go outside without some good bug/tick repellent!!! Speaking from experience it is not worth the risk!!