here we are.

•January 7, 2013 • 1 Comment

It’s January.  Early January, at that.

And yet, there it is, in my in-box: “Well, here we are, race week…”

Race week.  Bone Island Half-Ironman. For reasons I vaguely recall I thought it prudent to schedule a half-iron in January after a frustrating 2012 season-that-wasn’t.  2012 was supposed to be Ironman Coeur D’Alene.  It wasn’t.  2012 was the year of races that weren’t and health distractions that were.  2012 wasn’t the year I thought it would be.

So here we are.  It’s 2013 and it’s race week.  I will be testing the theory that it’s better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.  And that’s okay, it has to be.  There’s nothing I can do about it now.  Training is done.  All that’s left is a little 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run. With a smile.

Sometimes I forget why I do these things.  I need to remind myself, so here it is: I do it for me.  I do it because I can.  I do it to see what I can do, to push myself.  I do it because if I didn’t –  if I didn’t go swim and bike and run and get out of my head and my life and my stress for a few hours a week – I would be miserable.  I do it because I need to do it.

And I get to do it because I am so very lucky and I need to remember that.

So here we are.  Race week.  I get to go to the Key West and experience 70.3 miles of ocean and earth in a way that few people will.  I am lucky to be surrounded by family and friends while I do it.  And that’s not a bad way to start 2013.

Cheers.  To 2013.

 

the red pill

•January 7, 2012 • 2 Comments

there’s a line between can’t and won’t.

can’t implies some true impediment,  a valid external prohibitive factor.   won’t simply suggests the lack of desire or motivation – the prohibitive factor is internal.

people say can’t when they really mean won’t.

there are some true can’ts. it’s not that i won’t become a professional basketball player, it’s that i’m 40, 5’5″  and entirely uncoordinated.  i could spend the foreseeable future working hard to try to do this, but in reality it would never happen.  i can’t.

more often – most often – can’t has no basis in reality.  can’t is overused and overrated. can’t is a cop-out.  can’t is an illusion waiting to be shattered.

when i tell people i’ve completed an ironman – and that i’m doing another in a few months – most tell me that they could never do something that.  “i can’t” they say.  why yes.  yes you can.  80 year olds do.  people with prosthetic limbs, people who are legally blind, people with true medical limitations do.  old, young, fat, skinny, tall, short. they all do. they all go out there and show that they can.

can’t has no place in that discussion.  you can. it’s just that you won’t.  maybe you don’t want to, maybe you lack the desire – and that’s fine.  i’m not here to judge your choice not to spend your free time swimming, biking and running.  i mean, i could take up knitting but i have no desire to do spend my free time doing that (no offense to the knitters of the world).

but where the can’t/won’t line is drawn from there gets a bit hazy.  i can finish an ironman – i can’t win one.  i can’t be a professional triathlete. but what can i do?  what more am i capable of?  where is the line?

i often lament my running.  i’m really quite slow.   i should be faster.  i’m not carrying extra weight, i don’t have any pesky injuries or medical conditions that might be a valid detriment to running speed.  and yet – i’m an 8:30 runner.  in a 5k, not in a marathon.  and i wonder how much faster i can be.  i’m not going to be running 6-minute pace, i can live with that. but how close can i get? conceptually, i know what i need to work on.  i could use some more power, i know my leg turnover is slow. and oh, yeah, track or intervals would be a good idea.

and i want to push that envelope.  i want to shatter that illusion bit by bit.  knock it back. even just a little.

just because i can.

this isn’t just some rambling dialogue on triathlon and running.  everyone has an illusory can’t or two or ten.  personally, professionally, athletically.  it’s easy to slip into the can’t.  it’s easy to get complacent and accept without question, without recognizing that you’re saying you can’t when you really mean you won’t.

it’s easy to accept the illusion as real. it’s safe to stop wondering what might happen if you tried to do something you thought you couldn’t do.  there is comfort to sticking with what you know.

but it’s stifling, stagnant.  it’s existing without living. there is so much more to see and do.

reach for the red pill.  push the envelope.  shatter the illusion, bit by bit.  you’ll be glad you did.

just because you can.

how you doin’?

•November 21, 2011 • 2 Comments

hey.  motivation.  yeah, you.  ‘sup.  how you doin’.  you’re looking good these days, mighty fine, mighty fine.  but why’re you way over there?  we used to be close.  tight.  you scratched my back, i scratched your back.  it was good.  we had something going.

now you’ve got no time for me, you’re busy, distracted.  i thought i lived up to my end of the bargain this summer.  i’m not the fastest chick out there, but i had results.  i made progress.  27 minutes off my olympic PR, 50 minutes off my 70.3 PR.  wasn’t that good enough for you?

i know, i know.  i’ll take some of the heat, i’m partially to blame.  i gave you the cold shoulder for awhile there. at first it was recovery and i really needed it, but then…. yeah.  it became more.  it took over.  but i never meant for you to go.  i needed you more than ever.  i needed you whispering those sweet nothings, telling me to quit my bitching and suck it up princess.

i’m going to lay it out for you here.  ’cause motivation, baby, i need you.  2012 is a big year.

2012 is 41.   41 is a lucky race number, the number i will be sporting on my calf for the year. lucky?  yeah. i think sir roger bannister would agree.

2012 is 70.3 through the hills of clermont in april. the testing grounds.

2012 is 140.6 through the hills of idaho in june.  and there is retribution to be had.  this will not be a repeat of panama city.  this will be my own private idaho.

2012 is maybe, just maybe, some more running.  say, 50 miles worth. i’m not making any promises but i’ve been toying with that for awhile and i think it’s time to buck up.  and that’s why i need you.

there it is.  there you have it.  i can’t promise it’ll always be good.  it’s a love-hate thing, i know.  there will be arguments along the way.  i won’t always do what i should.  there will be some bitching and complaining.  but that’s why i need you, whispering in my ear: “suck it the f*** up princess.”

you always know just what to say, baby.

it is a sublime thing to suffer…

•October 12, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“It is a sublime thing to suffer and be stronger.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“It hurts up to a point and then it doesn’t get any worse.”
Ann Trason

“When a person trains once, nothing happens. When a person forces himself to do a thing a hundred or a thousand times, then he certainly has developed in more ways than physical. Is it raining? That doesn’t matter. Am I tired? That doesn’t matter, either. Then willpower will be no problem.”
Emil Zatopek

No one likes to suffer. And yet, some of us look forward to it.

Suffering is a means to an end. It’s temporary. Temporary might mean minutes … or hours. It might mean days. But it is temporary. And once the suffering is over, once the critical mass is past, there is reward. There is pride and accomplishment and satisfaction. There is power, reassurance, validation. There is strength.

Some people are better at suffering, better at gritting their teeth and powering through. Better at not letting the twinge, the side stitch, the cramp stop them in their tracks. Better at shutting out the distractions, the detractions, the noise.

Where does that come from? That mental edge. Can you train yourself to that state? Or it that what training is for, to push your physical boundaries, to test your limits and prepare yourself for the mental strategy involved.

I’ve been struggling with the mental aspects of training and racing. Not struggling with suffering, per se, but struggling to keep focus, block out the unimportant things. Struggling to get to the point of suffering.  Triathlon has been a mainstay for me, something I have been involved in for over a decade. In the beginning, it was a gift, given to teach me things I needed to learn about myself. I’ve lost sight of that and in losing sight of that I lost some of my motivation. I lost my willingness to push and test my limits. But suffering teaches many lessons and I am once again a willing student.

Augusta 70.3: Gazelle or Lion

•September 27, 2011 • 2 Comments

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

Gazelle or lion? Hear me roar or… what sound does a gazelle make anyway?

Augusta 70.3 is the second half-iron I’ve completed. I was supposed to race Miami 70.3 last year… I started Miami 70.3 last year. It was the race that wasn’t. And while a DNF beats a DNS any day, it stung to quit on the run. It was the right decision – but it still stung. I wasn’t having a banner year and it was the proverbial icing on the cake of frustration.

The race itself: logistically, Augusta is a bit of a pain in the ass. The start isn’t far from the finish … but is a mile from transition and although there’s a shuttle from transition to the start there’s no real parking at transition. For those not staying at the host hotel it’s a bit of a hassle: it’s not racer-friendly especially at the end of the day when you’re tired and need to figure out how to get your stuff out of transition. In the end, though, my verdict is that the hassle is worth it.

I’ve been struggling with insomnia and race night was no different. Ate early, crawled into bed around 9, fell asleep at 10. Woke at 1. Woke at 3. Woke at 4 and decided that would be it for sleep. Obsessively double checked everything I’d organized the night before. Ate a little. Left my hotel earlier than planned to scope out the best parking, closest to transition. Found people parking in a lot for a catering business just outside the road closures and joined them – hoping my car would be there when I returned.

Walked to transition, set up my stuff, aired up my tires. Saw some old friends, heard some “hey, Doghouse!” shouts and met a few new people from home. Obsessively re-checked my transition area. It was warm, much warmer that I’d expected leading up to the race, and ominously overcast. Waited for the bus to the swim start. The line moved quickly and made up for the annoyance of having a transition area a mile or so from the start.

Puttered around – starting in wave #20 meant time to kill. It drizzled, I port-o-pottied and stretched. Heard the announcer change the gap between waves from 4 minutes to 3 minutes and engaged in the pre-race warmup routine of donning a wetsuit. If you’ve never done it: trust me, it’s work.

Lined up for the swim start. Goal: snag a position close to the middle of the river where I’d be less crowded and have more room to maneuver. The start is a plank-walk, down a narrow ramp to a floating dock where you slip into the river and tread water until the gun sounds.

Even in a full wetsuit the river felt cool and made me think how much colder Coeur d’Alene will be. The current was obvious, we were floating past the buoy start line, fighting to stay back … and then the gun sounded. The wide river start meant very little crowding and though the announcer claimed the current was weaker than previous years it was clearly carrying us downstream. I pushed a bit at the beginning to clear the crowd and felt unusually breathless. I love the swim, it’s not panic. Confined in the wetsuit maybe? Well, no. Stopped to tread water for a second thinking I’d adjust the neckline of my suit and realized what I needed. Like a baby, I let out a belch and felt better immediately.

The end of the swim was marred slightly by clumps of seaweed – in my face, on my arms, winding around my legs like it had a life of its own. Annoying, but better than jellyfish, I thought: seaweed doesn’t sting.

Ran up the swim exit ramp, glanced at my watch and saw a time in the low 29’s. Smiled only momentarily – as I started to peel down my wetsuit only to have the arms catch at the wrists. I eventually yanked my hands free and was insanely happy to see the wetsuit strippers, waiting at the start of the chute into transition. Wetsuit forcibly removed, I trotted the long grassy run behind transition and had quite possibly the the slowest transition in the world as I swallowed some enduralytes and shoved gels in my back pocket. Helmet on, shades on, shoes on, number belt on. Long run through transition in bike shoes, hoping the dirt wouldn’t clog my cleats.

Onto the bike. If water is my first love, the bike is my second. So it’s with some irony that my goal on the bike was not to push – but to hold back and control my effort. I know I’m capable of more … but 13.1 miles of running was waiting for me at the end of the ride and pacing was the name of the game. I kept my effort in check, stopped myself from following a few people who passed me and concentrated on my ride and nothing else. I had no computer to tell me my speed – I don’t have the magnet for my trispoke race wheels – and while I was initially wary of the wisdom of this approach I think it worked well. I wasn’t thinking about speed or pace, I concentrated on breathing and heartrate, spinning a bit more than my usual low cadence mashing in an effort to save my legs. I sat back to enjoy the rolling hills of the course.

And enjoy them I did. There were only a few spots I had to expend effort – like the sneaky little climb after the hard-right turn you hit having lost all momentum. And the downhills – the downhills! Those were the only spots I wished I had a computer, so I could see what speed I was hitting.

Once past the initial commercial and industrial areas, the course and scenery was beautiful. It was hot, but overcast and the clouds were a welcome respite from the baking sun. There were random residents on their porches or in their yards cheering us on and one whack job, standing on the side of the road with a sign on which he scrawled “go away. don’t come back.” As I climbed the hill past him he drawled “you are an inconvenience to the residents and you should not come back here. Don’t come through our town again.” Uh, dude? First, if you have a complaint talk to your mayor, don’t stand out there like a crazy person barking at the participants. Second, you’re welcome for the money your town receives for the permitting, which I am sure goes for road improvements and other public welfare services.

The miles ticked by and before I knew it I was heading back into transition. I didn’t hit the lap button when I started the ride so I wasn’t positive how long I was out there, but I knew it was less than three hours. I was reasonably on goal.

Dismounted. Ran through transition in bike shoes… I really need to work on the whole leave-the-shoes-on-the-bike thing because running in bike shoes sucks. Racked bike, helmet off, bike shoes off. Sat to pull on compression sleeves, opt for socks for this distance. Shoes on, visor on. More enduralytes, more gels. Gum. My legs don’t feel spectacular – why would they – but they feel ok.

Miles 1 and 2. The clouds disappeared, the sun came out and it was hot, crushingly steamy. But it was okay, I was running, I was grabbing water at the aid stations.

Mile 3. Oh my god, it was hot but the clouds were coming back. My legs were not only feeling less-than-spectacular, they were starting to ache. The dull ache in my quads, at my hips. I’d hoped to get through the first loop before my legs got to this point and I was trying not to get discouraged. About this point I saw Sarah telling me I was rocking it and to suck it up, princess, and push on. It helped, but still- I walked a bit through the next aid station and I wasn’ alone.

Miles 4, 5. This stretch seemed so long, through Broad Street downtown and past spectators lounging, eating, drinking. Under the bridge, I walked past the “no walking zone” sign as my calves joined the fray. About this time I passed the back side of the finish line and back past cheering Sarah.

Past mile 6, where the finish line split off to the right and I could hear the cheers and celebration. Half-way done I crossed the mid-way mat, shoved some ice down my bra and heard someone yell “go Doghouse!” I turned, smiled and waved, and carried on, lap 2.

Miles 7 and 8 were less shaded, more exposed to the sun. I heard someone call my name and I was so busy avoiding thinking about anything but putting one foot in front of the other that it takes me a minute to realize that it’s one of the girls I met at transition in the morning, who doesn’t live far from me in south Florida. We ran together a bit and she asked how I was doing. Nauseated as well as cramping and just trying to run more than I walk, I was aerobically fine and still able to run in brief spurts about on pace target. I was taking in nutrition and it wasn’t energy I lacked. It was just that my legs betrayed me.

Miles 9, 10, 11 ticked on and my goal remained the same – try to run more than I walk. At some point in this stretch I also realized I had water in my ear from the swim. Maybe the cause of my mild nausea? More and more people were walking as the day and miles wore on and there was a camaraderie in that.

Mile 12 and I could practically taste the finish line. I knew I was over my goal of 6 hours, but well within PR time and that was okay, just to finish would do. I wanted to be done, my legs wanted to stop. I tried to run, to finish strong, and my right calf locked. Okay, well then, I will walk a little more. Two more little turns to the chute and there was no way I wasn’t running it in. I ran, heard my name and crossed the line. Eleven minutes over goal, forty-nine minutes faster than my first half-iron. Immensely pleased and having learned more than I can explain in a few words of this already-lengthy diatribe.

So, back to the quote. Gazelle or a lion? While I’m fond of the big cats and would love to identify myself as one, I have to say gazelle. Not just in the physical resemblance sense, scrawny calves. I race like a gazelle, I start off strong and fade – 59/180 in my age group out of the water, 43/180 in my age group off the bike, slipping to 89/180 at the finish line. By the time I finish the run I’m out there dodging the lion’s claws, sneaking past the teeth of the beast, trying to avoid being eaten – consumed by mental fatigue, self-doubt, frustration. It’s not a bad thing. There’s poetic motivation to it. A lion can lose and come back to hunt another day; the gazelle doesn’t have that luxury. The gazelle is intrinsically motivated to get stronger and faster. It’s a defensive posture rather than an offensive posture, to be sure – but I’m always better on the defense.

you’ve got to ask youself one question: do I feel lucky?

•September 17, 2011 • 2 Comments
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Seneca
“Shallow men believe in luck, wise and strong men in cause and effect.” Emerson
“Chance never helps those who do not help themselves.” Sophocles
“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Jefferson
“You make your own luck, Gig. You know what makes a good loser? Practice.” Hemingway

Can a person be lucky?  People say it all the time – good luck – but what does it mean?  Preparation meets opportunity, the culmination of hard work?  Or is it blind randomness, the roll of the dice?

Training gets you only so far on race day.  This I know, this I understand.  There are uncontrollable factors at play, things all the preparation in the world cannot thwart: rain and weather woes, angry dogs, potholes, rogue cramps, recurring injuries, fatigue.  Is ‘luck’ the product of those uncontrollable factors?  And why is that a list of negatives, the things we hope don’t happen but know are possible – do people wish others luck to ward against the negatives or to encourage the positives?  Is good luck simply the absence of bad luck?

When it comes to race day luck, I take training as my baseline and from there consider the bad things that can and often do go wrong from there.  My ‘luck’ is – has been – mental steeling for those uncontrollable events that derail the hopes and goals I’ve pinned on my preparatory efforts.  Maybe it’s the lawyer in me, I consider the negatives so I can safeguard against them as much as possible.  But in racing, in life, that’s not always feasible.  There are things over which I have no control.

So I wonder, as I am wished “good luck” for race day, is it luck I’m hoping for and if so what does that mean?  I’ve trained, I’ve put in the miles and hours, but there are some things no amount of training can account for.  Is good luck having those factors swing in my favor?  I so seldom consider the things that can go right.  At Augusta, I could find the rolling hills of the bike course suit me. My run may come together as it never has.  The heavens and stars may align.  Everything may go right.  It could.  It happens. If it does, is that luck, serendipity smiling down upon me?  Hm. This doesn’t quite suit me, doesn’t sit right with me.  It feels too much like relinquishing control to a higher power, it undermines my role in the process.  If I have a good day, if I have a bad day, it’s on me, my preparation, my hard work.  It’s not simply serendipity at play. It can’t be.

So.  What of Emerson’s cause and effect?  In sport, where there are so many things beyond my control, I initially thought the concept didn’t quite hold … but maybe it does.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Maybe I’m missing the part where I make my own luck, that’s the cause and effect.  Although I cannot control everything on race day, I can control how I react, how I think about it.  That’s the part where I make my luck, where I control the factors beyond my control.  I can focus on the negatives and let them get to me or I can choose to take what the day gives me, good and bad. Maybe the ability to focus on the good and draw every ounce from it is the heart of luck.  Instead of thinking about the things that can go wrong, I need to understand that they can, certainly, but I need to remember that it doesn’t matter unless I let it.  Good luck doesn’t have to be about the absence of bad luck.  It shouldn’t be.

So.  It’s true, preparation will only take me so far on race day.  I do need some luck.  And if you wish me luck, I’ll take it as a reminder to focus on the good.

And right now?  Yes. I do feel lucky.

and you may ask yourself: well…how did I get here?

•September 11, 2011 • 2 Comments

And you may ask yourself where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourselfam I right? Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself – my god, what have I done?

Well, how did I get here?

A push. A shove, maybe. Outside my comfort zone. Mind you, my comfort zone was small, miniscule even: four walls, a couch and some books… and it was comfortable. Known. Safe. It has been a process – it remains a process. Stepping outside my comfort zone. I don’t believe anyone is truly good at it, there’s a reason they’re called comfort zones. Some people have larger comfort zones; some people require less of an external push to leave, but everyone has one.

They can grow, expand, flex.  They should grow, expand, flex. In all aspects of life, if I’m waxing existential.

A 5k becomes a 10k becomes a half marathon becomes a marathon becomes a sprint tri becomes an olympic tri becomes a half-ironman becomes an ironman becomes …

I was carded buying wine last week, but there’s no getting around the fact that I’ve cracked forty. Which makes me a master, whatever the hell that means. And not that I pushed myself physically in my youth, but I imagine this level of training would have been easier ten years ago.  I imagine this level of training would be easier if it had been part of my life early on.

But then, what does ‘easier’ mean? An ironman becomes …

I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m not even sure how I feel about Augusta 70.3 in two weeks, this heat has been demoralizing and the humidity is killing my run. I will see what the day brings, there’s no use stressing at this point. Core training is done, I have to trust it and remember not to let my head get in the way.

My 2012 schedule is filling out. A spring half-iron nicknamed “the Intimidator” and in June – Ironman Coeur D’Alene featuring a freakishly cold lake swim and hills on the bike. Who is this person? Ten years ago I would never have conceived this. Five years ago, even, I would have called you crazy.  It may not be fast and it may not be pretty but it will get done.  I’ve been inspired, I’ve gotten some perspective, I’ve learned a few things.  My comfort zone has expanded.

So. An ironman becomes … I don’t know yet, but something. There’s more out there.

Into the blue again.