Where The Hell Have You Been??

“Where the hell have you been, bro?”

This was  question I had received a few days back from a fellow running friend/DWEP athlete.

As I pondered this question for a minute, it gave me time to reflect on all the places I have been these past 13 months.

In the running or OCR world, it seems that if you aren’t regularly racing or talking about upcoming races, the world tends to forget about you and move along it’s merry way.

For the 5 years living in Virginia, there was very few, and I mean VERY FEW, weekends in which I wasn’t racing and or being at a race to support fellow friends, training partners, or clients. It was fun, a lot of fun but…..

Then, with better opportunities, came change. Crystle and I moved to Rhode Island at the end of 2014 and immediately, our lives became a whirlwind again but, in a much different, more productive, more positive way.

As we left behind many good friends in VA, we also left behind a whole spider web of deceit and drama.

While in Virginia, we thought we were happy, and we were but, things needed to change. So, with us both landing new jobs, we set out on a different path, to create our own way. A way that we’d been trying to create in Virginia but, that wasn’t the time, nor was it the place to do so.

So as 2015 went by quicker than we could blink, the new found positive energy just kept snowballing and snowballing as the year went on.

Right away, we both fell in love with our new jobs/careers and, we finally had time to fall deeper in love with one another. Then, out of the blue, amazing started to happen. In late winter, an opportunity for me to finally land my dream job of coaching high school happened. In March, I took over as head outdoor track coach for Mt. Hope High School, which also led to the head coaching position for cross country and indoor track as well.

Just as I landed the new coaching gig and didn’t think things could get any better, we found out that Crystle was pregnant and that we’d be welcoming our little girl into the world by the end of the year.

As winter faded into spring, we began our search for a new house. No apartment any longer, no living with Crystle’s parents for the time being. Finally, we were going to have our own place so that when Lillie arrived, she too would have her own home. In early June, we found the house perfectly suited for us, in an amazing neighborhood, on the ocean, and very conducive to all of my training needs.

During the preparation of getting our new house and prepping for our little bundle of joy, something else happened.

DWEP EXPLODED!!! I am not sure I could pinpoint the one driving force that made this happen but, I believe it was because I could finally fly!! No restrictions, no challenges, no competitive egos to obstruct the path any longer. The plans I had always had for the Endurance Project were the same in Rhode Island as they were in Virginia but, the difference now was that I was finally unshackled and unrestricted to grow it the way I had always wanted and to see it develop into what I had always envisioned.

During just a few short months over the summer, DWEP was getting new clients rolling in almost daily. All of a sudden, it seemed that the word had spread and the plan was shaping up like I’d always dreamed. When looking back on it now, I believe much of this success happened because I was able to let go of some of the things that was holding me back, I was able to cut away the negative energy and finally remove the rocks that were covering up the roses beneath.

But, what about my racing? Well, I did race a decent amount during the year and, did quite well in all of the said races but, it was different now. I was too pre-occupied with all the other amazing things going on in my life that, I kinda forgot about the racing and training. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was still training hard all year for World’s Toughest Mudder but, I think the spark was gone. I still had every intent of going into WTM in November to try and reclaim the team title with Team Spartan Wolfpack but, in October, the powers to be changed those plans.

As WTM grew closer, it was becoming all too real that the date of the race was way too close to the due date of Lillie’s arrival. So with heavy heart, I had to make the decision to back out of WTM so that I was there for Crystle during those last few weeks of pregnancy. Not to mention, I didn’t want to be in the middle of the Vegas desert, knowing that I could possibly miss the birth of my first child. NO WAY!!

Oddly, as this was all happening and I was bummed about missing the race, something strange happened that would have likely made the race an epic disaster had I went through with it.

While out on a training run with my cross country kids one day, all of a sudden my breathing become extremely labored, my heart rate went from 130 to 180 (on an easy 8:30 pace effort), and I felt like I was going to pass out. I actually had to stop and walk the last mile back to school.

From there, it got worse and more frequent. I literally couldn’t run more than 400 meters without feeling like I was going to pass out. Now, even though I was still wanting to train, I couldn’t!!! To say I was freaking out, would be an understatement.

For the first time in my life, I was actually scared and worried. I had no clue what was happening and I had no clue how to fix it. Crystle was getting worried too because, she’d never seen me this frazzled. My whole life, I’ve been an inner fighter. If I am sick, hurt, injured, etc., I don’t show it. I just trudge on. But, this was uncharted waters and I wanted answers.

So, right away I went to see a doctor that only I would be able to fully trust with my health. He was an accomplished marathoner and a retired Naval Medical officer, a Captain who had served 30 years. From the moment I spoke with him, he knew that I wasn’t coming in to talk about the sniffles and that my panic was genuine.

Within the span of a few weeks, I got blood drawn 4 times and had it tested for everything from Lyme’s Disease to thyroid disease and everything in between. I was put on antibiotics but, nothing helped. The Doc then scheduled me a stress test. Now, here I am, someone that’s in the top 5% in regards to physical fitness and, I couldn’t last 8 minutes on the treadmill at an incline of 5% and 4mph. Hell, a month before I was cranking out hour long stints at 20-40% and barely breaking a sweat. Now, I have what appears to be the fitness of a dead person. During the initial stress test, the Doc actually abruptly pulled the plug because my heart rate had went from 124 to 176 in the matter of two seconds, without even any change to the stress being applied. WHAT THE #$%% IS GOING ON?!?!

While Crystle was fearful that something bad was happening and my health and life were at stake, all I could think about was “how is this going to impact my racing and training”?

After the stress test, I had 3 separate cardiac echogram tests done, a very extensive cardiac MRI, a pulmonary function test, a respiratory function test, and some more blood work.

Aside from being mildly deficient in vitamin D, the results weren’t showing anything that could seem to be causing my issues.

I continued TRYING to train but, could barely get 20 minutes in, no matter how easy I went. Then, Crystle, as well as my friend Michelle, suggested that maybe it was just anxiety and stress with all the changes that were happening in my life.

This made no sense to me, at all!! I was always the guy who thought that anxiety was just in the head and was for the weak. I was not the type of guy who could succumb to anxiety. But, I also wasn’t the type of guy that was going to go on barely being able to run a quarter mile without feeling like I was going to blackout. So, as much as it sucked to swallow my pride and ask the Doc about possibly prescribing some anti-anxiety medications, he too thought that anxiety might just be the culprit.

So, here were are a few weeks later and, I am reporting that things are coming back together. The main thing is that Lillie is healthy and that she brightens my day, everyday. She is my instant anti-stress medication. But, I’ve also started taking real anti-anxiety medications and, though I only take them before workouts,  I am again training with some vigor and, so far, I’ve been doing really well and the training has been going great. So much so that, I’ve been able to do some pretty intense workouts these past couple weeks and am having little to none of the previous symptoms/issues that I was having before.

To answer the original question, THAT is where I have been!

But, now that it appears that I might be out of the woods, that fire is starting to glow again. I have some big races planned for the year and, in fact, I am going to throw the spikes on tomorrow to run an indoor mile. It likely won’t be pretty because, I certainly have lost some fitness during all these weeks of inconsistency while trying to figure out the problems with my health. It might be a 4:30 mile, or it might be a 6:00 mile but, if I can get through it, then that will be my measuring stick going into this year of training and racing.

So, with 2016 already starting off with a full head of steam, I have no doubts that it’s going to be a great year! BRING IT ON!!

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