Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Stinging Lessons of Venom

What are the odds?  When something odd happens and then repeats itself a second time, it becomes more than just odd.  I had a repetitious oddity occur over the summer and it ended up being enlightening, motivating and profound.  It was a painful experience (both times) but yet it set my mind and my attitude straight and allowed me to take hold of hope and focus.

Here's what happened.  Back in May I had just finally declared my current Achilles injury healed. It was a year long healing process and at that point I was running without pain and no longer putting any thought to that part of my body.  Healed.  I also was able to train properly for a half marathon and so I trained and did one (sort of).  The race was on a Sunday, then the following Tuesday (2 days later) I made a big mistake.  I did a hard speed workout in quick preparation for the State Street Mile and at the end of that workout I slipped on my spikes and did 4 all out 200's.  I remember thinking after the last one, "I don't think I should have done that." Geez, famous last words.  The next day when I began my run, pain set in on the left calf/Achilles area (the area I just declared healed) and worsened as I ran.  I limped my way back, worried that I'd really screwed things up again.  As it turns out, I did screw things up again and this time it not only included my left Achilles but also muscle damage in the calf muscles as well.  It took me a few weeks to figure out it was another set back and it took me a few more weeks to accept the reality.  A back to back Achilles injury and now another lost Summer of racing and training (maybe more).

I write all this to lay out the background leading to the repetitive oddity I experienced.  I had to lay off of running for several weeks (again!!!) so I found some workouts that would help me keep much of my strength and fitness during that time.  One of those workouts was bike hill repeats which I did on Ladera Lane.  Ladera Lane is about a mile long hill with a fairly intense grade allowing for a full-on cardio-vascular effort and the building of crucial leg strength.  While my running partners hit the track on Tuesday mornings, I rode off on my bike to hit Ladera.  I began my warm up ride over to the hill around 6:00 am and there is a quietness to the morning that is like no other time.  I rode peacefully along the back roads of Montecito, said "Hi" to cute little skunks and an occasional deer along the way. These rides were nothing short of beautiful.  Serendipitous to be sure.  A prelude to the reminders to come: a curse is only a curse if you see it that way.  If you choose to see it as a blessing instead, well then a curse is really a blessing.  The power of perspective.  Read on.

Cresting the top of Ladera Lane
It was on one of these mornings that it first happened.  I was completing my final repeat (4th one) and rolling back down the hill when some kind of creature (insect) thumped into my ribs, immediately after which a searing hot sting rippled out from the point of impact.  I never saw what thumped into me but whatever it was, it either had big teeth or a big stinger.  It penetrated right through my shirt.  I kept my cool and didn't freak out and crash.  I waited until I reached the bottom of the hill and took a look.  There was a big red welt on my left ribs (ground zero) and waves of pain throbbed.  I didn't make too much of this experience.  I was glad at least that I didn't have more repeats to do and instead was able to ride the long cool down back home.  Something about the sting and the pain entered my psyche while I rode and profound thoughts came to me.  There was venom in me. Was it a bee, was it a wasp, was it something else? It's always an uneasy feeling when a small amount of a deadly substances enters your bloodstream.  

The next Tuesday morning rolled around and I left for my Ladera repeats while my friends (and husband) hit the track for their workout.  It was again a quiet, peaceful journey through dim emerging morning sunlight, with a steamy mist of humidity in the air.  I got going with my repeats.  By the way, Ladera repeats are fun and intense.  It's hard to get up that hill and as I pumped my legs for 8 minutes up, I imagined my running partners on the track. I must have been breathing just as hard, pushing through pain and fatigue just like they were.  This helped me find value and quality in my workout up Ladera.  On my third repeat, as I was rolling down, an insect flew right into my shirt through the open collar.  My shirt was loose fitting so I felt it fly in but because I was riding fairly fast downhill, I couldn't really do anything about it.  And there it was again, a searing pain hit me.  At least this time I knew the identity of the creature. It was a large bee (not a typical honey bee).  As soon as I could apply enough pressure to my breaks, I came to a halt so I could release the trapped insect. My first and foremost concern was that I get it freed from my clothing.  It must have been so frightened.  He flew away and there embedded in my left rib cage was his stinger. Remarkably, it was within a centimeter of last week's ground zero.  I pulled the stinger out, and continued down the hill.  I had one more repeat to do so this time I had to deal with this new burning sensation AND perform another intense effort.  All the while my mind was working over-time.  

Two weeks in a row, two stings in a row and both of them basically in the exact location. This is great fodder for profound life lessons to form in my already tender psyche.  I took it as a sign.  If these two poor little bees felt they needed to sacrifice themselves by stinging me, gosh darn it, it was going to mean something important to me.  If only I had a pen and paper with me as the adrenaline surged following the second sting.  

This was what I took away from this repetition of an otherwise uncommon occurrence (prior to this I'd only been stung three times in 46 years).  

I learned that pain is often our friend. While I don't know if this is medically true, I imagined that venom bringing healing to my injuries.  Venom creates inflammation and inflammation triggers the body's immune system and defenses.  

I learned that it is possible to push through pain and necessary to do so if you want to achieve your goals (that is if you have goals like mine).

I learned that I can control myself and deal with an unexpected situation, both by NOT crashing on my bike and also by not losing focus.  

I learned that I can have one part of my body afflicted with injury TWICE in a row and still get up and find a way.  The fact that these stings happened on consecutive weeks in the same spot is not lost on me.  Nothing is coincidence and everything can be used for something positive. At no time did I think either of these stings were a negative.  From the moment I felt the pain my mind set to deal with it.  There was a little bit of "rub a little dirt on it and go back out and play" mentality in play. 

There are unknowns that are unknown until they become known. One constant unknown for me is how I will react regarding bike handling when something unexpected happens.  At least now I know how I handle a bee in my shirt while going fast down a hill, anticipating the sting before it happens but unable to prevent it.  

If I were to get real deep, I could go on and on regarding how this is a metaphor for so many things in life and the good thing is that my mind went to all those deep places as I reflected on this.  I won't share all of that here but let's just say, I learned a long time ago that the right approach to ANYTHING that happens is to accept if for what it is and nothing more. A bad thing is really just a blessing in disguise.  Good things happen, bad things happen, there are blessings, there are challenges. But really there is no need to differentiate them from one another.  See everything as a blessing. See everything as an opportunity.  "Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds." Why?  Because in the end they result in a better "YOU" if you embrace them positively.  To what degree a person is able to do this in my opinion largely determines their character and general outlook on life.

Those bee stings set me on a new course.  I became hopeful that I would soon heal and be competing again.  I was reminded that pain is my friend and that things break and heal, and one day maybe break again. But there is always hope.  I was reminded of goals ahead and set my focus there.  

I wondered for a while if I would get stung a third time.  I kept going to Ladera at the same time on Tuesdays week after week and kept riding past the bee area (I assume there was a hive nearby). I didn't shy away and I didn't fear the sting.  The third sting never came.  But I expect it will sometime in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment