(thanks Emma Lo for a great mountain run last summer, and for this majestic pose)
"With every ounce of my blood/
With every breath in my lungs/
Won't stop until I'm phenomenal"
I think I'm writing this post because, finally, it can be a summation of the past - of things that are over, done with; lesson learned.
I titled this post "However long that it takes/ I'll go to whatever lengths" because, as usual, one of the crude rap songs I listen to pre-race sums up how I feel. And sums it up much more clearly than my raw emotions and rambling thoughts ever could. Over the course of my [relatively short] athletic career I have learned a lot of lessons. We all know that's how we grow; improve ourselves; become better people. Ask Andrew C. to tell you the lobster story to describe this phenomenon in a much cuter way.
Some of those lessons include, but are not limited to: always take mittens when bagging peaks in the Rockies, no matter the season; how to change a road-bike tire fairly quickly ('cause I'm a strong, indenpendent woman, dammnit!); think 'stand up,' not 'don't fall;' take a glasses-down cooldown if you need it; and how to properly (ish) apply klister.
And some of the things it seems to take more than one failure on my part to learn for good: don't go anaerobic before standing shooting in a race; if you don't eat enough dinner after intensity you will wake up at 3am ready to consume a small child; you really have to pay attention to stay on your feet when trail running under fatigue; and swiss chard from the free bin is good - kale is most definitely not.
"Step into the unknown and find yourself"
(Glorious skiing in Kananaskis Country this winter; above is December in Pocaterra..high on alitide)
However in the past couple of years, in my what I'll call "desperation" to become the athlete I've always dreamed of being, and achieve the results I've so coveted, I went on too far of a length, and discovered what "whatever it takes" really means. I figured it was time to share this story, so that others can learn from my mistakes, and I can continue to grow too. It's not an easy thing to share, but it's time.
After an unsuccessful final year as a junior in 2014, I decided I was going to do whatever it took to become the best biathlete I could possibly be. The people who know me best know that already up to that point, I was going above and beyond when it comes to training, recovery, and being a student of my sport (my fellow Hammergirls will understand). I started biathlon late, and felt like I was still playing catch-up. I figured that what I was already doing was clearly not enough, and that it was time to take the next step to become great. In retrospect, my training likely just needed a little tweaking; but I decided that I needed to become more comitted and made a list of anything and everything I could change or add to become great. Changing my body to look like the lean women at the top was on my list. Yet another classic female endurance athlete story! You'd think I would have avoided that road, seeing the destruction in the running world, but perfectionism won out.
I won't go into details, but over the course of one summer (2014) I managed to uknowingly push my body almost to the point of no return. Between training really hard and purposefully underfueling myself, I did manage to drop 5% body fat and 10lbs, but unbeknownst to me was simultaneously slowly shutting my thyroid down, and evenutally almost my entire endocrine system as well. Late last fall, during a routine bloodtest, it was finally discovered that I was extremely hypothyroid. All the symptoms from the previous winter (that had worsened that summer) I'd previously blamed on not being fit enough - extreme fatigue, weight gain, etc - were because every single mitocondria in my body's cells wasn't getting enough T3 - the thyroid hormone; the driver of all processes in the human body. Hypothroidism and low hormone levels in general I am genetically susceptible to, but through pushing my body to the limit I had brought it on, and brought it on hard. Being hypothyroid is like being caught in slow motion as all your body's processes slow to a crawl- I was forcing myself to push really hard when I trained and worked, but was dead to the world between sessions. As you can imagine, as an athlete, this is not an ideal state to be in. Somehow, though, I was still training full-time, posting some good time-trial results, and no authority figure in my athlete life was any the wiser. After the diagnosis, the start of last winter was tough, as the long-term damage to my endocrine system became more clear and I tried to race hard through it all. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken last season off, but I was determined to race and pretend everything was fine. With the help of a new doctor, though, and the support of family, friends, teammates, and coaching staff, I spent most of the race season adjusting to medication to help out my thryroid. I started taking dessicated thyroid (not on the WADA banned list; for my bottomed-out thyroid, the doc compares it to someone really low in iron taking Ferritin) and slowly began to feel closer to normal again. Hypothyroidism robs you of your "youness;" you are too tired to really have much personality; I didn't notice this until I felt like myself again. My teammates will appreciate this - I was robbed of my sparkles, and getting some hormones again brought them back!
"But are you prepared to give more than you get?/
And put in twice what you get back"
(Found these 4-leaf clovers last spring; always been a special talent of mine and Madeline's; so lucky to be recovering from my health challenges..and so lucky to have two amazing sisters by my side!)
After a winter of up-and-down racing, and my body adjusted to medication and I started to slowly try to un-do some of the damage I'd done, I underwent another challenge in the spring. I left behind the development team I'd be training with, and all my teammates and support staff, to join a new team; a club also based in Canmore. It ended up being an extremely positive change, as the new group welcomed my broken physical and emotional self and immediately made me one of their own. It became time to take "However long that it takes" to heart. The coaches made it their mission to get me actually 100% healthy - we decided that 2015-2016 would be a rebuilding year, and results would not matter. Building a base of health and strength and fitness for the future would matter instead. In fact, my only goals this year have been to be "happy, healthy, and skiing fast" (fun fact: I achieved those in December already!). I was lucky enough to train with some of the fastest female xc skiers in the country, getting my butt kicked in any and all speed/power/strength work, and some of the most passionate up-and-coming female biathletes in the country (you two know who you are!). I ran up mountains as fast as I could; I did some serious plyometric work; I embraced a new program. I also embraced the celebration of strength and weight gain, and the importance of total hormonal health. I now eat a lot of game meat; a lot of healthy fats and whole grains; a lot of chocolate; a lot more of everything. Through it all, I've also been blessed enough to get to work with a nutritionist who helped me shape healthy habits around food I can now rely on for life. I call the couple extra pounds this year vs last year my "sparkle" weight - the power of happiness in those cells. I'm not quite there yet; it's a long waiting game for hormones to come back after basically having none, but I'm getting better with every passing month and blood test. It's also been one of the biggest mental challenges I've ever faced, being ok with becoming bigger instead of smaller, but I've got a lot of people behind me encouraging the "I eat to be strong, not skinny" philosophy.
This challenege is not quite over yet, but I'm getting there. The cards have been dealth, played, and now I'm cashing in the chips. I gave a whole heck of a lot of myself to my sport over the past two years, but I sure learned of a lot about myself out of it. And now I enjoy a lot more fat sandwhiches.*
"Ready to face any challenge, waitin'/
...As I fight to the death, til my last breath/
...I ain't gonna be the only one with the advantage"
(One of the many beautiful uphills we experienced during the fall 2015 Park City, Utah training camp)
I'm more resilient than I ever thought, and I'm lucky enough to have more people who love and support me than I could have ever dreamed. I like to think now I have an extra edge, the little late bloomer who was always too small and too skinny, then too thick and slow and beaten up, to ever make it as an elite athlete. No one can ever say I didn't give it my all - I almost gave too much. I'm ready for the many more epic challenges this beautiful sport will throw at me down the road - that's why I do it. Tough workouts, injuries, illness, politics, blowing up on last laps (yesterday!), who knows...but I'm ready for it, 'cause, after all, as Eminem says, I am phenomenal.
That wasn't the easiest thing to write - thanks for getting to the bottom. It isn't time for me to throw in the towel just yet.
"But I would never say 'Oh it's impossible'/
Cause I'm born to be phenomenal"
ps. Almost forgot -
Listening to, explicit: Phenomenal, Eminem (pump-up for the last international races of the year)
Listening to, rated G: Free, Rudimenal ft. Emile Sande (I consider this my anthem)
Eating, chocolate-wise: I'm out of the good stuff, so nutella on crepes in Italy (yes, obviously with banana)
Eating, on-tour: as much salad as I can hold, after limited veggies in Czech, and fresh pasta (!!)
Wearing: thick gloves and warmups, then just a race suit as the sun hits the venue and we race in above-zero temps!
Watching: the Ski Tour Canada (!!!), Oslo WCH (!!!!!!!) and now New Girl (how did I not know there was a fifth season?)
Excited for: one more sprint and relay on the IBU Cup, and my great-aunts visiting Canmore in late March
Grateful for: funny emails from my mom and clear starry night walks
*A fat sandwhich consists of a large lunchtime sandwhich that has no less than 3 sources of fat on it, and therefore at least three epic layers of deliciousness (avocado, cheese, bacon, mayo..ok maybe 4)
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!