Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.

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A LONG Way To The Top: A Running Story

This week, I’ve thoroughly freaked myself out by reading reviews of the Catalina Eco Marathon. Tales of Mile 16 emotional breakdowns, 1/5 of runners not finishing, and other such horrors litter the Web. According to one runner, there are no flats on this run, just uphills and downhills. According to another, the climbs are pretty bad until about Mile 10 or so, when they even out into rolling hills. Mile 19 has a long, brutal uphill, followed by a long, brutal downhill. I had no idea exactly what I was getting into when I signed up for this thing.

I told myself that, if I was going to get really serious here, I needed to jump on a trail running regimen, with lengthy climbs, like, A.S.A.P. With only six weeks to go before race day, I am facing some serious hill training. Today, I decided to jump on the trail to supplement my distance training and, at least, get me somewhat ready for such a rigorous climb.

The trail was a nice up-and-back, about eight miles total, of which I thought I would run about six, straight through, no walk breaks. Ha. One mile into the climb, I was suffing for breath. I let myself take a walk break and set my interval timer up for 6/1. I tried to run six minutes up the following hills. The bod wasn’t having it. Those weebly hamstrings of mine still were fighting me. Plus, the first three miles of any run are always the worst, whether you’re Dean Karnazes or, well, me.  I ended up walking about a minute early and readjusting my intervals to 4/1.

Even at four minutes, that climb was tough. I found myself glancing at my interval timer about a minute early through each one. “This is going to be what it’s like in Catalina,” I thought. “I’m going to die. How am I going to get through 26.2 miles of this, when I’m struggling at three?”

It’s not like we haven’t done long hills in our training. Some of our hills were 4+ miles long, and steep, and I tackled those and continued on eight miles further. Maybe it was the group setting, maybe the footing, maybe the sun wasn’t beating down quite as brutally as it was then, as during today’s training. I’m not quite sure why my body was fine before, but was rebelling against this challenge. Either way, I felt yet again defeated, wondering why things just weren’t working the way they were supposed to be at this point.

All of these setbacks are making me extremely anxious. Can I do this, or am I just setting myself up to be scraped off of the trail like so much buffalo pucky?

I finished my intervals to Mile 3, and then made the fun descent back, which was actually great practice for keeping steady and fast on the downhills without burning out my legs and joints. Next week, I’m going to try to go the whole way, perhaps lowering down to a 3/1 interval, just to make it up to the top, then running the full way back down. If I can make that four mile climb, I’ll already be in much better shape than I was today.

Advice from trail runners would be uber amazing.



Just Breathe! : A Swimming Story

I woke up seven minutes before the alarm. I hate that.

“I’ll just treat it like my ‘snooze’ button,” I thought to myself, and tried to go back to sleep.

My mind had other plans. It started revving up, zooming ahead with thoughts of all of the worries that lay ahead of me for the day. Namely, that morning’s swim class, or the anxiety I felt with wanting to be a good swimmer, but feeling like I just couldn’t get adjusted to the breathing.

Last class, I really struggled for breath, especially during faster laps. At the end of every lap I would be gasping for air, heart thudding, body heat radiating off of me. Even though I knew that I could make it all the way across the pool without taking a breath, I still felt panicked, like I could never get enough air in my lungs to make it through.

It’s been cooling down here after a late summer heatwave, so the air was a bit chillier than I was used to as I stripped down to my bathing suit at the Santa Monica Swim Center. The water felt tepid, at best, when I first got in. Four warm-up laps in, I toasted up, and I noticed the work was a teensy bit easier and that I was a teensy bit faster than I had been in the first two weeks.

We practiced freestyle lap after freestyle lap, and I focused on breathing. Mikey, my coach, told me to alternate five fast strokes with five slow strokes to learn to adjust my breathing for faster work. While I got a few mouthfuls of water at first, I tried to focus more on relaxing, keeping my head down, and letting the water support me, and everything started to come together.

After that, Mikey made me swim 200 meters nonstop, which was an intimidating prospect, but, I thought, if I was going to work up to doing 2.4 miles, I was going to have to start somewhere. 200 meters is nothing for experienced swimmers, but for someone who has only been swimming for two weeks, it seems a bit out of a person’s comfort zone. I decided to take it easy, to let the water support me, to keep my head down, and breathe deeply and calmly. Back and forth I went, steadily slicing through the water. When I was finished, Mikey said, “You’re done already? That was fast!” Not only did I not die, but I also got a little bit faster!

Swimming is major proof that big changes come when you push yourself out of your comfort zone. I feel 200 percent better about my chances of finishing this Ironman thing. I just have to keep calm, and swim on!

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Start Slow: A Running Story

I’m told that everyone has a “bad run” at some point during the training season. Up until yesterday, I really hadn’t had a bad long run. Even the runs where it was really hot or I felt a twinge of pain in my extensor tendons, I muddled through and I finished strong. Yesterday was the first day that I really felt defeated by my body.

I was supposed to do 16 miles, but I ended up only doing 14. I’m not sure of the exact cause of my problems, but a variety of factors may have contributed. To start, I had only had five oft interrupted hours of sleep for each of the two nights leading up to the run. Two nights prior to the run, I had gone and had one too many libations, and woke up with a mouthful of sawdust. While I spent the entire next day guzzling electrolytes and H2O, I still didn’t feel 100 percent awesome on run practice day. Also, I’d been training a lot more during the week, with the added swims, runs and the extra day of Pilates. While I had rested all day Saturday, I still didn’t feel amazing in the morning. On top of that, it was already scorching hot by 7 a.m.

To shift the odds even further away from success, two members of my pace group who paced the same as I did were not at run practice. The group that I was in suddenly was comprised of members of a higher pace group, and one gal who was from New York, who just joined our team. We started out at a pretty speedy clip (about 8:45 pace), and, by mile 3, I was feeling a little outmatched (my usual pace is about 9:30-10:00). By mile 6, I had fallen about 10 seconds behind the group, and that gap continued to widen. By mile 10, my legs were seriously quitting.

Mile 10 wanted to kill me. My legs felt as though the hamstrings had completely disintegrated. The spring in my step had sprung out and I felt as if my feet were dragging along like some sweat-drenched version of Quasimodo. If zombies had been chasing me, I would have been a feast, for sure. I struggled through another two and a quarter miles to the next team aid station stop, then I rested with a few teammates who were also suffering from the heat or lack of training. A few of us rested up at the aid station for a few minutes and then ran two miles back to the starting point. Surprisingly, those few minutes of recovery were all I needed to get back to running my normal pace, and finished, just fine and dandy!

Sometimes defeat is a great lesson. I learned quite a few things from this run:

1) Pre-hydrate at least two days in advance of long, hot runs (that means no boozing it up on a Friday night, if you have plans for your big run on Sunday).

2) Sleep well. Get at least 8 hours one one of the two nights before your long run.

3) If you’re running with a group that is heading out too fast, either tell them to slow down (which I did, and it didn’t work), or drop back and start out at your own pace. You know that saying, “It’s better to be alone than in bad company?” It’s better to run alone than in a group at a pace that is too fast.

4) Listen to your body. If you’re having trouble following a rigorous training regimen and find your muscles quitting or giving out, take an extra bread day or couple of days. Rest can make you stronger and faster.

5) During a long run where you’re feeling tired, take an extra walk break or stop and stretch. It can work wonders to help you to recover and finish strong.
I didn’t go to swimming this morning to let my body recover from yesterday. It’s hard to take a break when you want to keep going, but, sometimes, you have to just let yourself go, just for a day. Recover, eat, relish the rest.

Next week is attempt #2 for 16 miles. No biggie, I got it covered this time!

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Spasm-ing Out

Last night, after my last post, my body said, “Thou shalt not run tomorrow morning,” by giving me an awful neck and shoulder spasm that needed serious heating and attending to if I was going to even think about doing Pilates at noon. Actually, I tried running, but got out about 15 minutes and realized that my legs really had not much left in them, and it was probably a better idea to spend my morning hours stretching and heating my neck. As much as it felt like “wimping out” I decided that the best thing for me to do was to chill out on the running for a couple of days and let my aching hamstrings regain some semblance of strength.

Sometimes your body doesn’t recover as nicely as you’d like it to, especially after doing relatively new activities (like gargantuan hill training or swimming), and you’ve got to be patient. I know this, in my head, but my enthusiasm and drive to master these skills sometimes get the better of me.

Fortunately (or unfortunately) I still have Pilates today, which I would have canceled, except they have a “late cancellation fee” that is almost as much as an entire class. Oh well, I can try to focus on the few muscles that aren’t spasming or worn out, and hopefully, I’ll survive yet another day.

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Double Double Your Enjoyment?

Oh, help, what have I sunk myself into here? I’m training for a hilly trail marathon, learning how to swim, and trying to eek out some time to feel more comfortable on my bike. Oh, and did I mention Pilates as cross training? Most days I’m finding myself doubling up on workouts. It’s getting a little intense up in herr (I’m from “Tha Lou”–we are still allowed to say it like that).

My week so far:

Sunday: 12-mile hilly trail run (feeling all right, pretty good even)

Monday: 1 hour swimming, 1 hour intense Pilates (feeling a little beat up)

Tuesday: 1 hour of intense hill training (feeling good, but still beat up)

Wednesday: 1 hour swimming, 1 hour light running (feeling a bit strung out, and beat up–with periodic light muscle throbbing)
What remains:

Thursday: 1 hr 15 min regular intensity running, 1 hr super intense Pilates

Friday: 1 hr swimming, 2-3 hrs low intensity bike riding

Saturday: Glorious rest

Sunday: 16-18-mile run (heeeellllpppp)

I know that the “beat up” feeling won’t be forever, and that the full marathon intensity will be able to subside a bit after my November marathon (before it picks back up in Spring season), so that I can focus a bit more on getting my bike and swim up to par. Still, I’m kind of worried–can a person keep up this level of intensity longterm without burning out or doing serious damage? I know the cross-training is good, and that it will make me stronger, overall, but, what if I’m just, plain, tired?

Right now it feels like I barely have any muscle left, like the rest has been melted away by too much activity. And all of this can explain why I am exhausted at 9 p.m.

For the past few days, “It’ll get better” has been my mantra. Now I will rest, rinse and repeat it.

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Stand By Me (While I’m On The Treadmill)

You don’t have to block out your besties–just be sensitive to their feelings.

As a caring and easy-going person, I suppose that I’ve attracted a lot of people to me in my lifetime. Most of the time, I go out of my way to support friends and relatives when they need it, and I’ve been rewarded with quite a few longtime friends. Unlike many people who come to Los Angeles, I didn’t feel the terrible pain of isolation when I ventured out to this big city. I was a lucky duck who found the right People at the right time.

There are few things that can really dissolve or wreak havoc on good friendships, and sometimes friendships have to go through what I like to call, “A Lifestyle Change Litmus Test” in order to determine whether they are indestructible. It’s a difficult test to have to experience, and the results can be surprising, but, overall, at least the result is that you know who will be with you through thick and thin (literally and figuratively).

People undergoing their own healthy lifestyle changes face vital personal decisions when it comes to socializing. Often changing means foregoing a weekly brunch buffet with friends until you get your eating habits under control, or passing up drinks or late night activities because you don’t want to be hungover for Pilates in the morning. So much of our social culture revolves around eating or drinking, that it can marginalize the time that you spend with your buddies, and it can distance you from them as well.  Then again, therein lies that test that I was talking about.

If your friends are too busy drinking and eating and carousing to notice your absence, maybe it’s time to think about the essence of your friendship. There have been some friends with whom I enjoyed meaningful conversations over drinks, but, sober, found conversations stilted and awkward. Many of my friends, once I pointedly abstained from boozing it up or staying out ’til dawn every weekend, never once called, sent a text or even a Facebook message to see if I was still alive. At first, I made attempts to connect, to let them know, “Hey, I’m still here!” Unfortunately, with scant reciprocity to feed it, my little tree of hope withered, and I decided to move on to greener pastures.

Even if friends do stick around, if they care and keep in contact with you, there are other factors of  lifestyle change that can cause tension or drive close friends away from you (sometimes for good) on your journey. It seems unfathomable that people who love you would be anything but supportive, and want to hear all about your personal triumphs, but even the best of us is human, and subject to earthly and unreasonable emotions. While your friends may be happy that you’re happy, they may also see your success as a reflection of their own personal failures. I think we’ve all been guilty of jealousy of a friend at some point. A friend gets an awesome promotion, and we want to be happy for her, but, secretly we’re sorry for ourselves, being stuck in a job we hate, or another friend meets someone he thinks is “The One” and we want to find some flaw in the relationship because we just got dumped…again. Everyone has an Achilles Heel, and, while you may be excited about your accomplishments and want to talk about them, your friend who is struggling with her own weight might be looking at you and thinking, “Way to rub it in!”

I’m guilty myself of being overzealous in sharing my workouts and race plans, and it’s a struggle to be mindful not to go too overboard with friends who might not be ready to be inspired into a healthier lifestyle, or who aren’t interested in the topic at all. Finding other things to talk about will, however, save those friendships that are worth it to you. If you don’t cool it, you may find these people distancing themselves from you, feeling alienated, jealous and upset. It’s important to do your best to be sensitive to their feelings, whether or not they actually disclose them to you.

I have adopted this strategy with those particular friends: If friends ask me about my workouts or training, or healthy eating, I will share. If not, I will talk about something else. If workouts or training must come up within the context of the conversation, I make sure to gloss over it quickly.

With whom can you share your enthusiasm for your new, healthy lifestyle, new body, and new goals, if not your closest friends and family? Get new friends. Join a fitness team, meetup, club or online forum. You can prattle on for hours within a fitness-friendly environment with people who share your passion. it will save your good friendships and possibly create more good friendships so that you will have that much more support when you cross all of life’s “finish lines”!

Save your health nut spiel for people who want to hear it. Get some fitness buddies to share your journey with you.

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The Backstory

Running my first 10K in Long Beach, CA.

I wasn’t always this Hell-bent, crazy person determined to be a “real” athlete. In fact, for most of my life, I’ve thought that marathoners were a little bit insane. I was the pathetic pudgy child in grade school gym class, who had a mastery of creative excuses to avoid the horror of being made to run around the soccer field in the lifesucking humidity of St. Louis Indian summers.

It was only in my 20s that I discovered that running wasn’t so awful. Well, no, it was, but I took a certain joy in mastering it. While children seem to sensibly avoid torture, adults, on the other hand, take some kind of masochistic joy in it. Minute by minute of sweat and heart and lung-popping lurching on the treadmill produced a low level of cardio fitness and, eventually, 30 or so pudgy pounds off. Oh, that torture was magical!

Of course, life happens and, before you learn to roll with the punches, you get knocked down over and over. I gained weight and lost weight over the years and through numerous locations and degrees. Running was a torture I returned to over and over to attempt to shed the flubber that kept rudely attaching itself to my derriere.

When I moved to Los Angeles and began looking for work, I swore that I would keep running in order to thwart the evil flub and, in my mind’s eye, whittle me down to a more Hollywood-friendly size. However, displacement and unemployment took a toll on me and I began eating to cope with the stress of feeling like a directionless loser with a worthless Journalism degree. Depression stopped my legwork, and the running fell off, and, slowly, the flub began to consume me.

When I finally did get a job, after leaving my many skills and advanced degree off of my resume in an effort to just find SOMETHING, it was nothing of what I’d hoped. The place was a dreary den of misogyny, where one boss relished making the female employees of the company collapse into tears after he screamed into the phone from his office in Puerto Rico and hung up on them, and the other boss apparently expected women to be seen and not heard, telling me, at one point, that I had, “Too much personality.” Times were tough, economically, so I bore through it, but not before burrowing through boxes of candy, cookies and other delights, daily.

I started a vicious cycle of binge eating. I was like Ms Pacman, insatiable, shoving food into my mouth all day long, all evening long, until I collapsed, like a gorged tick, into bed at night. Every morning I would resolve to eat healthfully, and I would start with a light yogurt and a banana, but then everything fell apart by midday, and I returned to the binge. It was just too intoxicating, that decadent boost I got from grabbing a chocolate caramel and letting it melt in my mouth, doing that over and over, until I was stuffed to the kills with sugar.

“This is out of control,” I would tell myself. I knew that I had to stop. My pants got tighter and tighter. Occasionally I would head down to the beach for a run with my petite coworker who used to run track in high school. Of course, I would just end up feeling like a beached whale, flopping and blowing on the strand, while my friend would glide gracefully along the beach, next to the waves, all firm and sleek, like a dolphin. I began working long hours to both please my bosses and to avoid having to embarrass myself on the strand. I watched as my coworker laced up her shoes and took off. As soon as she left, I would grab candy or cookies from the kitchen area and gorge.

I knew that my eating was out of control, but it continued to worsen. It was making me antisocial. Some days I would prefer to stay in and pig out, scarfing an entire calzone and a piece of cake in one sitting. Once, I remember spending time with a good friend and making an excuse about having something to do just so that I could go home and carry on my lascivious love affair with food. I would order in from some of my favorite restaurants, the menu a playground of delicious possibilities. Once, a delivery guy from my favorite vegan restaurant looked at my order, then looked around and said, “Oh, you live alone?”

I did all of my eating alone, in secret. Most fat people do because they feel ashamed to eat what they like to eat in front of others. If I wasn’t eating a salad or fruit, I was eating it away from people.
I was now barely squeezing into a size 16 and I knew that people were judging me.

My dating life was non-existent, practically. I’d gone from getting a lot of attention at a size 12, to getting dirty looks from guys when I went out to bars and clubs with my daintier pals. I’d go on dating sites, only to be rejected by guys once they saw how big my butt was in person. I remember one guy in particular, a handsome young surgeon, with whom I had a brilliantly witty exchange over cocktails, and he left with a, “We should hang out again sometime.” And, of course, that was the last I saw of him.

Of course, the constant rejection wasn’t too wonderful for my self esteem and depression. My friends would say, “You don’t want a guy who only wants you for your looks anyway.” And, while I could agree somewhat with that statement, when everyone rejects you FOR your looks, it seems like an impossible dream to be desired because of them.

Though unlucky in love, in one lucky turn of events, I found myself in a new, more creative, more friendly position at a tech startup. I thought, “This may be my chance to get out of this depression and unhealthy eating pattern.”

Offices, of course, are probably the worst traps for someone with a food addiction, especially when your boss takes you out for gooey, golden quesadillas or orders pizza regularly, or gets gourmet cupcakes when someone has a birthday. I wasn’t done with my binging, not yet.

The last big binge for me was the worst. I purchased a box of grocery store bakery cookies and two cans of frosting. I didn’t even wait until I got home to start eating the chocolate frosting. It was in a spray can and I just started spraying it into my mouth on the way home from the store (gross, I know). That evening, I went through half of the box of cookies and frosting. The next day, the rest was consumed. Of course, I felt horrible, low, vile and disgusting. Simultaneously, there was this thought in the back of my mind, “You’re already fat, what’s a few more pounds, really?”

My 31st birthday was on the beach in April of 2011. I’d set up a picnic for my friends and made tomato mozzarella salad and brought sandwich fixings. I even had a cute springy beach dress to wear, and had put little ivory rosettes in my dyed red hair. Friends arrived, I got intoxicated on wine from a plastic cup, and life was good. Then, I saw the Facebook pictures.

It’s weird when you look at your own face and you don’t recognize yourself. My face looked stuffed with fat, my eyes small and piggish, my body, well, HUGE, compared to all of my svelte friends. I knew that I was overweight, I was at least a size 18, but these pics really got the message across. Wow, I needed to change my life, and I wasn’t really sure how to go about it.

I decided that I would just try making small changes in my life, so as not to set impossible expectations.The first goal was to go one week without binging, then two weeks, and so on. I’d like to say that the process was smooth, but I did have minor setbacks, where I ate way more than I should have eaten, but I managed to stay away from full-on, motherlode, planned-out binges. Each time I would start over, I would remind myself of Mirella Cuthburt’s words from Anne of Green Gables, “Tomorrow is fresh, with no mistakes in it.”

During my journey of making small changes, I met a great guy, who, amazingly (especially for Los Angeles), looked past my fat and flubber, and liked me just for me. The weight was slowly starting to come off, and, having love in my life gave me the support I needed to keep making my changes. I finally returned to occasional running in November of 2011. At first, running even ten minutes was a chore, but I kept at it.

In January of 2012, I decided to try a raw food “cleanse” to detox from the carbs and sugars that had such a deep hold on my psyche. For three weeks, I ate nothing but fruit, veggies and almonds, all raw, which, actually wasn’t so terrible, except for the last weekend, where I would have given my left arm for even a cooked carrot. I dropped about 10-15 lbs during that period, felt energized, and started incorporating more proteins into my diet.

I resumed the running in February of 2012 (I didn’t run in January because I didn’t want to wear myself out on so few calories). By the end of March, I could run six miles, and I wasn’t even thinking about stopping. This crazy thought popped into my head: “How about a half marathon?” My mind searched for excuses, but none could be found (where was that creative kid from the 80s and 90s?). I found a race online that was wayyy in the future (October 2012) and signed up. That way, if I broke a leg or something in the process, I would still have time, I figured.

“You’ll be way ready before then,” My boyfriend encouraged me.

Then, I got a flier in the mail for the local chapter of Team in Training, a marathon training program that benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They were registering participants for the Fall season, which included the Disneyland Half Marathon in September. Hmmm, I thought. Hmmm…coaches, teammates, new friends, good cause….hmmmmmmm.

“I think I might sign up for this Team in Training thing, ” I’d told my boyfriend.

He had a friend who was on the team already, and linked us up. Once convinced, I plunked down the registration fee and began the second leg of this whole journey.

Meanwhile, my eating habits had greatly improved. I had not had even the slightest binge in over six months, I was regularly active with hikes, runs and other outdoor activities, and people were starting to notice my weight loss. I had shrunk back down to a size 12/14 by the time our first day of practice rolled around.

My time with Team in Training flew by, and my confidence grew exponentially. I met overwhelmingly kind, encouraging and generous people who I am now thrilled to consider as friends. Even after my relationship ended with my boyfriend early in the season, and I lost my job, I stayed afloat and away from those old habits that I would have turned to over a year prior. No matter what happened, I still had team practices and my personal workout time to look forward to. It’s funny, I never imagined that physical exertion would be something to enjoy, ever, in my life, but I finally relish it. I get excited to hit the pavement!

Through TNT I have discovered that I’m faster, stronger and more athletic than I ever thought possible. I’m now a size 8/10 and still shrinking! When I crossed the finish line at the Disney Half, I was so grateful to have accomplished something that many people only dream of achieving. Through patience and hard work, I got there!

So, now, you might think, “Okay, half marathon. I get it. That’s great, but…Ironman? That’s nuts! Why would you even think of doing such a thing?”

All of my life I’ve always been the one sitting in the back seat and letting other people achieve accolades and accomplish things that I admired. I never had the confidence to be in the spotlight or to go for something big myself. I’ve always admired people who accomplished the coveted Ironman title, and, after attending many lectures and speaking to others who had actually accomplished this goal, I became convinced that I could actually do it. Seriously, I think I can.

Of course, Ironman isn’t just about the run. At 31 years of age, not knowing to ride a bike was my deepest, darkest secret. In late January of this year, I finally took a class to learn how, and after many thrills and spills later (I actually fell in front of a paramedic truck once), I’m becoming a lot more confident on it. Ironwoman confident? Well, we’ll see.

I also didn’t really know how to swim freestyle, another barrier in my goal to get to the title, but I joined a Masters class in preparation for TNT training, and my coach says I have great body position. My 100m time is over 2 minutes, but, hopefully, with time, I’ll improve on that, or invent a tactic to distract the other swimmers in the water, while I zoom on ahead.

So, what’s the goal? Vineman with TNT on July 27th, 2013. I plan to document my journey, the ups, downs, pitfalls and snags, the triumphs even. Here we go. This is going to be awesome.