Balance and the Pursuit of Passion

“In order to be successful, your focus has to be so intense people think you’re crazy!” ~Erin Wicomb

“F*** balance, follow your passion! What do you think about that?”

I was standing in front of the buffet table at my Toastmaster’s meeting when one of our younger members, a driven, passionate, and successful entrepreneur asked me this question. I paused for a moment, and replied “What if you have multiple passions?” He looked at me as if I were sporting three heads and a forked tail. In his world, multiple passions just weren’t possible. I on the other hand, have been both blessed and cursed with an abundance of things which ignite my passion.

follow your dreamsAs anyone who has followed my written musings for the last two years knows, one of those passions is riding a bike for ridiculously long distances. Others include cooking and nourishing myself, my husband, and our friends; designing and fabricating jewelry; studying and practicing acupuncture; running a small business. In my world, there is a constant juggling act between work, family, athletics, and art which is always passion fueled, often messy, and rarely perfectly balanced.

For the last two years, passion for the bike has superseded pretty much everything else in my life. Most waking moments which have not been spent running my business and feeding my husband have been spent either planning a ride or riding. 2014 started out the same way, with an ambitious plan which was to include a 200k (125 miles) every month, a Super Randonneur series, another attempt at a 1200k, plus Furnace Creek 508 as either a solo or a two person team.

In November I started a new stationary trainer course. To complete the events I was aiming for would require that I get a little stronger and faster than last year, so I signed up for the “hard” trainer class. From November through March I was committed to spending two hours on Tuesday and Thursday nights doing high intensity training (HIT) in addition to the three morning rides per week and weekend long rides. During this period I also planned to complete four 200k rides, one 300k ride, and a double century (200 mile) ride.

Although I wouldn’t admit it, I was already bordering on over training and more than a little burned out from a hard year of riding in 2013 which included a failed attempt at 1200k AND an unexpected participation as part of a 4 person team for 508. By the fourth week of class, I was exhausted and my performance on the bike was starting to decline. I dropped back to one night per week and dropped one mid-week morning ride. I had a bit of a break over the holidays, and then jumped back in with a sense of urgency. I’d met some new riders on my January 200k who were younger and faster, but I was close to keeping up and determined that I could.

February brought the first 300k of the year. My time was a little slower than last year, but I chalked it off to my usual riding partner who had struggled with nutrition and bonking all of last season. She had a great ride – only one bonk – but took more time at rest stops than I thought I needed.

train car on the Joshua Tree Double CenturyIn March, I tackled the Joshua Tree Double Century. I went with friends who are faster and stronger than me, expecting to be solo for much of the day. Despite “surfing” 18-wheelers with a 25mph cross-wind for 50 miles of Hwy 10 which had my nerves completely shot, 50 miles of strong head winds, a sore knee, and an encounter with a creepy local guy six miles from the finish, I managed to keep up for all but the last 20 miles and finished strong. Instead of spending the night in 29 Palms as I had hoped, we hopped in the car and drove straight back to San Diego. I got home at 3:30am, tired but functional.

Two weeks later, I rode 400K (250 miles) for the third of four Super Randonneur rides. Raspberry rice bars are one of my ride staples.Something was off in my nutrition, and I felt lethargic for the first 50 miles. I gradually felt better as the day went on, but had no desire to push my speed. My friend and I paced each other well and our breaks became progressively longer despite assertions that we needed to spend less time off the bike. My usually cast-iron stomach was uncommonly finicky and I consumed more carbs than protein making it easy to bonk. We finished well within the time limit, but 2 hours slower than last year. Again, I explained it away as my friend needing extra time to rest. In addition to riding, I had been taking a series of classical Chinese Medicine classes since January. This particular weekend, I had a ride on Saturday and class on Sunday. I got off my bike at 5am, slept 2 hours, drove back to San Diego, and went straight to class. I was exhausted, but powered through it knowing I had the next two days off to sleep in and catch up.

I was more tired than I expected to be, but didn’t think much of it.

Behind the scenes, there were other things happening in my life which I had been ignoring. My husband, following his own passion of entrepreneurship, had been self-employed and building a business for over a year without income. I had been so busy with planning and executing rides that I had been doing nothing to promote or even nourish my own business, and my holiday slow-down was still happening at the end of March. My office roommate had decided she’d outgrown my space and moved out so she could have the room she needed to expand her business, and the ads I’d been placing on Craig’s List were netting me zero responses so I was shouldering the full rent when I could least afford it. I was club President for my Toastmaster’s club which, while an awesome experience, was taking more of my mental energy than I really had to give it. And, my husband was starting to complain that he was neglected, abandoned, and in need of a surrogate wife.  Shortly before my 400k, one of the women I’d been training with took a hairpin curve too fast, hit some gravel, and narrowly missed riding her bike off a cliff. She walked away with a separated shoulder and a concussion. At the same time, a law suit resulting from a crash I had witnessed two years ago was heading to trial and I was the only material witness. In the back of my head, I started to feel as if I was on borrowed time. There were too many stresses, too many distractions, I was too tired, and no longer had the unconditional support I’d been enjoying at home as my husband pointed out that my life was “out of balance”. It was becoming harder and harder to maintain the mental focus and determination required to push past the inevitable fatigue and physical discomfort which comes with spending 12-40 hours at a time on a bicycle.

My plan was to ride 600K in May, and I was already signed up for a 1200K in August. This 1200 was scaring me – it boasted over 45000 feet of climbing in addition to 760 miles in the Central Valley of California, known for 100+ degree temperatures and wind. My friend and I looked at other options, and I decided to plan for a 1000k from Seattle to Crater Lake instead.

Photo of Otay LakesTwo weeks after the 400K I went out for a solo cruise around the mountains of Eastern San Diego County. After 50 miles, I was exhausted, sick of climbing hills, and 43 miles from home. I muscled through it, and arrived home dirty, tired, and demoralized. I knew I would be off the bike for the next two weekends, and was hoping the rest would help me get the physical stamina and emotional edge back. Allergy season was starting up, and I was slowly ramping up the cocktail of drugs and herbs which keep me breathing through the spring.

As my respiratory system complained more insistently about the pollen in the air, our usually cool grey spring weather turned hot and dry. The wind kicked up, air quality declined, and the wheezing got worse. I spent a weekend with friends and their small children who happily ran around with runny noses, and by Monday my throat was sore and I had chills.

As an herbalist, I always start with plant based medicine before heading for drugs. By Thursday, I had taken everything I could think of herbally, had ramped up my inhalers to full dose, and still couldn’t breathe. I left the doctor’s office with not one, but FOUR prescriptions – a new record. My mid-week riding ground to a halt. I couldn’t even finish a sentence without a coughing fit and working out was out of the question. For two weeks I coughed and wheezed, sounding like a cross between a locomotive and a 50 year smoker. The plan was to ride 200k on Mother’s Day weekend, the final training ride before 600k over Memorial Day.

As an athlete, I set a goal and set my mind. Pretty much nothing is going to stand between me and giving that goal everything I have. Two days before the 200k I found myself facing an unpleasant reality. I had been off the bike for almost three weeks. My breathing was still not right, I was still not sleeping through the night without coughing fits, and I was completely exhausted. I talked about riding 125 miles, and my husband looked at me as if I were sporting three heads and a forked tail. “What would you say to one of your patients who was considering a big event coughing like you are?” he asked me. I growled something unrepeatable at him, but he did get me thinking.

As a healthcare practitioner, I work really hard to mirror “healthy behavior” for my patients. I eat well, exercise regularly, take my supplements like I’m supposed to, study hard, and honor my body. I had to admit that attempting a long ride that weekend would be out of integrity with my message. For most of the day I wrestled with this in my head. If I couldn’t finish 200k this weekend, I had no business trying 600k in two weeks. To go into it barely recovered from the worst respiratory adventure I’d had since having pneumonia at age five would just be stupid.

But I’d worked SO HARD to get to where I was. Hum. Where exactly was I? Over-trained to the point of poor performance, under prepared, stressed out, exhausted, and sick. Hum.

inspirational quote and sunset image

Quitters never win! Only a loser quits! Just do it!  F*** balance, follow your passion! All these messages rattled around in my brain as my internal wisdom said it was time to call “time out”. I knew what I needed to do; I just didn’t want to do it. I typed the email to my friend, that one which would end my spring event season, but didn’t hit send. I went back to work, saw two more patients, coughed more, and took another shot of the inhaler keeping my airways open enough for me to carry on a conversation. Finally, at the end of the day, I stared again at that email wishing for a different reality but knowing I was doing what I needed to do.

I hit send.

I had a meltdown.

Despite the inevitable sadness for the lost goals unmet, I felt a sense of relief.

The next morning, I got back on my bike for the first time in almost three weeks, promising my body I would not push. Two laps of Fiesta Island felt like a tease and felt like the world’s biggest workout. I stopped while I wanted more, remembering what I tell my patients – start back at about ¼ of your usual workout. Now that I had succumbed, I may as well follow my own advice and honor the process. I set an intention to ride 40 miles on Saturday and Sunday, but woke up Saturday morning feeling like it was too much, too soon.

As I write this blog, I continue to mourn the season which was not meant to be. My lungs are slowly recovering. I rode 41 miles without pushing my pace this weekend, and started back to short periods of interval training this week. I’m planning the next 200k for the weekend I was supposed to do 600k. That gives me another week to rest, another week for my lungs to heal. It will be an easy coast ride, and I may need the full 13.5 hours to finish. It will be ok, and my friend will match my slow pace and ride it with me. We’re planning another double century at the end of June, and if my body allows there is another 600k I’m considering in October. Next year I’ll….well…we’ll see.

The other stressors are gradually getting worked out. I have a new office roommate who is excited to be there and planning to stick around awhile. I’ve been taking marketing classes, reaching out to consultants, and working hard on paying attention to my neglected business and it is slowly turning around. I’m confident that the business will
be stronger than ever once the foundation is rebuilt, and I will be a more compassionate practitioner after going through a significant illness myself. My friend’s shoulder is healing and she successfully completed a 100 mile event this month. The lawsuit settled without me having to go to court and testify. I’ve been at home for four weekends in a row and my husband is actually encouraging me to go for a ride rather than asking for a surrogate wife. It may be because I’m behaving like a caged panther without being able to work out or perhaps it is because he knows how much I love it!

Following your passion is important. So is balance. Sometimes the lines get blurred and it becomes hard to see the forest through the trees. Passion comes with a price, and when the price becomes too high it is time to take a step back and reevaluate. Balance is tricky, messy, and always imperfect despite our (my!) best intentions.

Whatever your passion, I encourage you to throw yourself into it with abandon. Follow your dreams, listen to your heart. And when it is time to back off and take a “time out”, let your intuition, your inner knowing guide you through the maze of self-discovery and angst until you find your way back to the center where you reconnect with your soul and your loved ones before taking flight once again.

As I sit at my computer in this space of humility, in that rare pause between pursuits of passion where balance iMy husband and me playing with bikess possible, I am eternally grateful for my husband, family, patients, and ride buddies who care enough about me to let me know when I’m crossing the line
AND love me even when I refuse to listen! You are always in my heart.

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