Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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To The Max: A Swimming Story

Funnily enough, swimming learning curves come in waves. Just when you think that you’ve conquered one, another, bigger one comes to challenge you. As each wave comes, you consume cerebral knowledge and convert it into instinct. And just when you’re on the very brink of frustration, you break through to a new level of understanding. That’s what I think makes this sport so cool.

As for me, I have surpassed the larval stage of swimming and am now somewhat able to hold my own. I am not, of course, as fast as the intermediates, but I can now make it across the pool in 21 seconds, so that’s better than my pathetically limping newbie start. I know that I won’t be a superstar overnight, but I just hope for the day when I will be able to swim easily with the rest of the group.

Last week, I skipped Monday practice because of my 20-miler. I actually felt okay afterward, but I didn’t want to overtrain, so I took the day off. When I went to Wednesday practice, my coach was nowhere to be found. Instead, another coach, Gary, introduced himself and said that our regular coach, Mikey, had gone on vacation, and would be gone for the week.  It was early in the morning, I didn’t know this man, and I felt this inexplicable fear consume me. He didn’t know me, didn’t know my ability, and he wouldn’t know to take care of poor, little beginner me. It didn’t help that none of the other newbs showed up that morning. I wanted to scream, cry and run away, like a tantrum-ing baby. Instead, of course, when he looked me in the eye and said, “400 warm-up” I nodded, put my goggles on, and took the plunge.

I had never swum 400 yards consistently in the pool before. It felt like I was just going on and on, forever and ever, but I made it. Afterward, however, my head was consumed by a terrible headache. I rubbed my sinuses.

“You okay?” Coach Gary asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I answered. “I just have a little headache.”

“Well, it’s easy to get overheated in these pools. Take it easy for a sec,” Gary advised.

I guess there was no fooling him into thinking that I wasn’t a newb. Still, I didn’t really feel overheated. I wasn’t really sure what was going on with me. He put us through some kick drills and corrected my back and breaststroke. I bore through the headaches, which came and went, til I was out of the pool.

When I got home, I spoke to my mother on the phone, who is an avid swimmer. I told her about my headache, as it was totally random and I wasn’t sure what caused it. At first, she thought the same thing, that maybe I was overheated, but then, when I told her how many breaths I usually took to get across the pool (two), she said, “Don’t get caught in that trap of trying to breathe as little as possible. Your body needs oxygen. That’s probably why you were getting headaches.”

Oooooooooooohhhhh. Oops.

So, erm, lesson(!): Breathe often. O2 is good for you. Who knew?

Also, I swam with Mikey this morning (she’s back–lovelovelove) and really felt a difference in my stroke and body position. So, hmm, maybe it is good to switch things up with a different coach every once in a while. Maybe I’ll even attend one of Gary’s classes one of these days.

Last lesson: Try new things. They are also good for you. The end (for today).

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Like Forrest Gump: A Running Story

Last Sunday, I geared up for my longest training run yet: the 20-miler. I had planned to meet some running buddies midway, but, because they did the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco the week before, they all decided, on second thought, they should opt out of this long run. Twenty miles solo seemed intimidating, but, come hell or high water, I was going to make it.

I’d mapped my run out along the beach, so at least I’d have a nice view the whole way along. I’d hydrated well on the days leading up, slugging down water galore, and a little G2 low-cal Gatorade on the day before. I felt prepared. I had a plan, sort of. I was just going to take it easy, concentrate on my breathing, and put in the mileage.

Marina Del Rey was well-lit this time, when I grabbed my hydration belt and set out on my pathway toward the beach. With the daylight came the early m0rning cyclists, whizzing past me in their spandex shorts and flashy, color-coordinated jerseys. Yes, I was running on the bike path, but, as there was no consistent walk route near the beach, I chose to take my chances, as often did other runners wanting to breathe some sea air instead of smog and exhaust for a change.

As luck would have it, the morning was overcast. Dark grey clouds stretched over the beach, providing perfect shelter from the energy-sapping effects of that big tan line maker in the sky. As I approached Mile 5, a few droplets of rain spattered my hat and shoulders. Light rain isn’t necessarily a bad thing while you’re sweating.

It’s kind of weird to think that the first six, seven or eight miles would be easy. Even saying, “first six” sounds both ridiculous and pretentious. In reality, sure, I was sweaty, I was exerting myself, but my body was used to it. I could just keep chugging along, hearing and watching the waves slosh up and down the shoreline, or catching excerpts of conversations from cyclists as they spun by:

“Well, he used to ride with us on Saturdays, but, he’s got a new girlfriend now, so…”

“They completely remodeled. I haven’t been over there, but…”

“Yeah, I used to take classes there, but I didn’t like the instructor…”

“Okay, top 5 most influential British bands; Go!”

Sure, not the most scintillating or scandalous chats, but enough to keep me going and wondering about every person who passed me. One female cyclist passed me wearing scandalously short shorts and thigh-high stockings, pedaling furiously with her booty high in the air. The two spandex-clad male cyclists approaching from the other side almost fell off of their bikes staring at her, and I almost fell over laughing (or I would have, but I was really only laughing in my head–smiling and chuckling knowingly at them as they passed me).

These little things were helping the time fly by. The night before, I was talking to a guy who said that he’d heard of a woman who had part of her brain removed and who was completely unable to conceptualize space and time, and so became one of the world’s leading ultramarathon runners. It had me thinking. I knew that a lot of the challenge of distance running was not necessarily physical, but also mental. If a person can just somehow lose themselves in the scenery, or in thought, in some kind of deep, trance-like state somewhere far away from logic, it could make distance running seem less daunting, more do-able. Maybe if we could just let go of our seriousness, our stresses, we could glide along forever, like Forrest Gump when he took off running just for the sheer enjoyment of it.

One thing you realize when you’ve run in one direction further than you’ve ever run before, is just how far your legs can carry you, and it’s liberating. Hitting Manhattan Beach and seeing all of the surfers taking advantage of the awesome morning waves, then Hermosa Beach’s long, long, loooong strand, with families, dogs, runners and cyclists enjoying Sunday morning, I felt triumphant. I wanted to tell everyone I passed, “Hey, I ran all the way down here from Marina Del Rey–and I’m running back!” Knowing it inside was probably enough.

I hit Redondo Beach and made my turn-around. The sun had started to poke through the clouds a bit and beam down its runner-melting rays. It wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with the sun on a long run, of course, but, on a 20-miler I really, really wished that it would tuck itself back into the greyness. Luckily, as I wound my way along the paths and into El Segundo, my wish was granted, and the evil glare retreated, for a while anyway.

Not to say that I wasn’t tired at points before this, but I didn’t really start to feel like stopping until about mile 16-17. Until then, I’d been pretty good at distracting myself from any soreness, fatigue or other issues. My legs complained and my super even breath started to quicken a little bit. Distraction was not working anymore.

I passed a campsite cooking their breakfast.Mmmmm, food! I’d forgotten allllll about the joys of food! Suddenly my mind was euphoric with images of food dancing in my head. I asked myself what I wanted after the run. After 20 miles, I could have anything, ANYTHING in the whole wide world. Any forbidden delight, no matter how fatty, sugar-laden, no matter how carby, it was mine.

“Milkshake,” my body replied, most definitively.

The delectable sweet creaminess of these milky delights painted pictures in my head, topped with fluffy whipped cream. Like a greyhound following a rabbit, I found it in me to pick up my pace, just to get a little bit closer to my sensory delight.

The sun decided to again come out of hiding with ferocity, just as I was turning the bend to finish off that last mile. Just a little bit longer and I could stop running, forreal. I would be done, I would taste victory, milkshake and anything else I wanted for the day.

I hit Dock 52 with a sigh of relief, and walked, walked, walked around the parking lot, to “cool off” my legs. Distance runners know an ache like no other. Coming off of a long run, my legs cannot be stretched enough to eliminate the deep, deep dull pain of hours of repetitive muscle use.

I stretched, hydrated again, and found the nearest milkshake spot. Cookies N’ Cream, and well, well deserved.

 


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Tri-ing On A Budget: A Triathlon Story

On top of being crazy enough to try training for an Ironman, I also have entered into this training world while having no budget to speak of. Yep, I am one of the many educated professionals in this country who is currently unemployed.

It didn’t really come as that much of a shock to me when my boss announced at the end of June that they were slicing off my position from the company. They’d been doing some “trimming” of what I’d thought were pretty important positions for the previous six months. This round of lay-offs wasn’t anything new, so, when my boss asked if I had any questions, I quietly said, “Nope, not really,” and quickly gathered my belongings from my desk and headed out.

My world was turned topsy-turvy. I’d been training for a half marathon, and had a full marathon on the horizon. I’d been dreaming of joining Team in Training’s IronTEAM. Would I have to quash my lofty goals in order to go into “survival mode”?

Honestly, I didn’t even want to go to practice on the Sunday after my Friday layoff. I just wanted to lay in bed and let the bitterness of my tears of failure burn a hole into my pillow. By sheer force of…I don’t know what, really…I stuffed my dragging zombie feet into my Nikes, slogged out the door and drove myself to the meetup spot.

In spite of what I was convinced was a dark stormcloud of doom hanging over my head, I was greeted with smiles and bright conversation from my teammates as I approached. Before I knew it, the cloud got a little lighter and a little less ominous. By the end of the run, dare I say it, a bit of my own sunshine had returned. There was no way that I was giving up on the one thing that made me feel this powerful, this jovial, this free. As far as affording it goes, well, I just had to be a little bit more creative.

The Swim:

I didn’t know how to swim properly when I started this whole journey. I needed to learn. Private swim coaches are expensive, and specialized Tri coaches are even more pricey. Still, there is no substitute for proper instruction. If you don’t learn proper technique for Tri, you’ll be putting in garbage mileage and tiring yourself out.

Group lessons can be good, but you have to pay per lesson or for a lesson package. Your best bet is a Masters class, but make sure it’s one where the instructors actually have a good reputation. Ask Tri buddies or go online (Yelp.com can be a great resource). In spite of the intimidating name, a Masters class can help even beginners to improve their stroke, and you can usually attend unlimited classes throughout the week (because we all know that practice makes perfect). Most swim Masters programs cost $40-$70 per month and, again, for unlimited swim time, plus instruction, that’s pretty awesome. I lucked out with my amazing instructor, Michael Erin Flaherty at Swim With Heart Masters in Santa Monica, CA, and now am swimming like a fish, breaking my 2:00 100m time in just one month!

As far as suits, go, check the REI outlet and SwimOutlet.com, where you can grab name brand suits for uber cheap. Swim caps are cheap ($5-$10), and goggles can be cheap too, unless you’re me and have a weird-shaped face that only fits the most expensive goggles in the store (*groan*).

Most pricey, of course, is going to be the wetsuit, if you plan to be doing chilly outdoor swims. SwimOutlet.com is also a good resource for these, and, also, some companies have a suit rental program and will sell used rental suits that have little to no wear and tear, for half price or lower, in some cases. Also, ask around–some of your Tri buddies might be selling their old gear, or might have an “in” with a company that makes wetsuits and can get them at a deep discount.

The Bike:

Of course, this part is the most expensive part. Good road or Tri bikes don’t come cheap. What on Earth is a poor girl to do?

Courtesy Meme Center

Craigslist, baby. One gal’s trash is another gal’s treasure. Be wary, however. Make sure that you understand the fundamentals of proper bike fit and that you understand enough about components that you can recognize when something isn’t functioning properly. Also, different brands have different fits. Try out a few bikes at a local shop just to know what feels good, then search for that kind of bike online.

I had been eye-ing women’s-specific bikes online, and the one that kept coming up with excellent engineering for the female body was the Women’s Dolce Sport from Specialized. When I saw one available for half price with a frame size that supposedly matched my inseam, I had to try it out. Luckily, the thing didn’t have a lot of mileage on it and hadn’t ever been crashed. The previous owner wasn’t really an avid cyclist and didn’t ride more than 10 miles every few weekends or so with her mother. In spite of the bike and gears being filthy (she obviously never cleaned them out), the gears and brakes were in tip-top shape.

Bike accessories and clothing are another matter. Stuff adds up, any way you slice it. Buying clipless pedals, something every Tri-athlete should eventually get into to improve efficiency of pedal stroke (and to be taken seriously by the cycling community, I guess), can be pricey. As a first-timer, I’m checking eBay for used pedals in good condition (the mountain bike kind, which are double-sided–I don’t care if the shoes aren’t fashionable on a road bike, I care about surviving in traffic). Used pedals can be around $25, but you should buy the cleats new (check eBay for those too), which are anywhere from $50-$150 new.

Things you can skimp on: jerseys, jackets, water bottles. Those things aren’t really all that important. Things that are hard to skimp on: bike shorts, safety gear, gloves. Look for sales of name brand stuff, but don’t compromise quality on the latter items. Your butt, hands and brain will thank you.

The Run:

Running is probably the cheapest sport out there, but, even that, comes with its own set of expenses. Ya can’t go cheapy on shoes, folks! You only have one pair of feet, one set of legs, so protect them with your life. Sure, there are ways to find sales and discounts, but do not get skeet on quality.

Another expense for the ladies, is the sports bra. However, I’ve found that supportive lady wear can be found on clearance in more un-popular colors, like baby blue, sea green, or wine, for at least half off. Check Title Nine Sports or the Moving Comfort website.

Running clothing, on the other hand, can be cheap as heck. Old Navy has launched a whole bunch of compression wear for the season for less than $20 apiece, and Target always has a bunch of dri-fit items that work just as well to sweat in as the high-priced stuff. While I do LOVE Athleta and Lululemon, they aren’t exactly budget-friendly. Sacrifices must be made somewhere.

Nutrition:

Eating like an athlete while on a budget can be annoying too. Luckily, it’s not impossible. In recent months, I’ve certainly learned multiple ways to stay healthy and energized, on relatively little cash.

Here are some things on my grocery list:
Ovaltine: One canister yields, like, a million servings (okay, I’m exaggerating), adds a nutritional boost, and can be used in lots of things, like oatmeal, coffee, smoothies, or with your milk of choice as a nutritional dessert.

Oatmeal: Cheap, healthy and filling. What more is there to say?

Spinach: Trader Joe’s sells a big bag of spinach for under $2. It can be used alone for salads or wilted into pasta sauce, omelettes, and other veggie-licious dishes.

Pasta Sauce: Again, I hit up TJs for this one, because their basil marinara sauce is probably the best cheap sauce there is, and you can use it to dazzle up anything: eggs, veggies, proteins, etc.

Eggs: What’s the best source of protein out there? Eggies! Plus, they’re cheap. Make omelettes, scrambles, french toast, etc. I do pay a scootch more for the cage-free eggs, but that’s because I can’t stand the idea of cooped up chickens.

Pasta: Whole wheat pasta is the best. And, again, Trader Joe’s seems to have the cheapest options here. Not only does a little go a long way, especially with spaghetti (I can never seem to measure it right), but pasta can be made in many ways to add a little bulk and performance-enhancing carbs to your meal.

Tofu: I use silken tofu in smoothies to add both creaminess and protein. Firm tofu can be added to pastas and made into scrambles, for you vegans.

Peanut butter: PB can get expensive, as are nuts in general, but it’s really good for you. I usually go for the “natural” peanut butters that have no added oils or sugar. Salt is okay. We’re runners, we need it.

Bananas: Cheap, sugary, nutritious and delicious and they can be used in so many ways, bananas are a staple for any runner’s diet. They can be mashed up and made into “jam” for your PB sandwiches, thrown into a smoothie, or eaten alone as a pre-run energy snack. So much love for bananas, it’s ridiculous!

Broccoli: Another green super food, whole broc is really cheap, and can be thrown into just about anything. It takes a bit longer to cook than, say, spinach, but you can steam it up in advance and throw it into pastas or egg dishes during the week.

Whole-Grain Bread: Another pricey item, as a whole, but when you break it up into a per-serving deal, it’s not too bad. In summer months, I simply cannot bring myself to eat oatmeal, or often I’m too lazy to fire up the stove, so I grab two slices of bread, some nut butter, and I’m ready to rock my day.

Water: Duh, it’s free!

Also, if you’re really in a pinch, you can make some “Ghetto Gatorade” to hydrate before a big run or race. Put up to a tablespoon of salt per 20 oz. of water, use lemon or lime juice, OR Pure Lemon crystallized lemon powder (which I like, a lot), and sugar to taste (lots). It’s like a salty lemonade and it works in a pinch to help keep your electrolytes balanced and all of that jazz. It’s about 50-75% cheaper than the real stuff.

Racing:

When it comes to race entry fees, keep a lookout online for early bird and special coupon discounts. Search the web for your race’s name and the word, “coupon” or “discount” and see what comes up. Also, you can contact the race organizers to see what kinds of deals and discounts can be offered. Sometimes you can get a discount for racing one race if you volunteer for another within the same organization.

Also, scour the internet for hotel deals and travel. Usually, the earlier, the better. Also, in some cases, you can camp the night before your race. Let’s face it, you’re not going to get a ton of sleep anyway, so you might as well save money by skipping that luxurious hotel bed, right? As long as you’re organized, you’ll still be able to have a great time on race day.
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Welp, that’s all I have for now! I hope that I’ve been helpful. Back to the job search, I go!
P.S. If you know of anyone who is in need of a fantastic marketing professional (ideally in the interactive mobile, web, or tech industry), please feel free to check out my pro website: http://solangedcreative.com.


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City To The Sea Half Marathon: A Running Story

While every distance race runner in California was headed up to San Francisco for the Nike Women’s Marathon, I, in my usual, offbeat style, was heading to San Luis Obispo for the City To The Sea Half Marathon, a visually pleasing run from downtown SLO, through the countryside, to Pismo Beach.

I had been up in NorCal for a few days prior to the run and the temp had dipped into what felt like arctic freeze. Honestly, it was only in the 50s and 60s, and, as a native Midwesterner, sure, it was nothing compared to sub-40 F cold snaps, but, after blazing hot daytime temps that seemed to dominate the late summer in L.A., it felt winter-y enough to me.  Actually, the crisp air was kind of a welcome change after so much heat, and, honestly, I was just kind of missing REAL fall.

I had no reason to suspect anything but brisk winds on the morning of the race, but, even at 6 a.m., it was warmer there than it had been the previous afternoon.  Although the race didn’t start ’til 7:30,  people were already congregating to run this thing. Mostly college students from Cal Poly, I assumed, gathered on the stairs of a nearby shopping center, pinning their bibs and lacing their chips into their shoes.

The shirt lady took a look at me and said, “We only have women’s small, extra small and a few medium shirts left, but we have larger sizes in the men’s shirts.”

“What does the medium look like?” I asked.

“Well, they run small,” the woman said, holding up a medium. It looked fine, the same size as my other workout tees. What did she think I needed it for? As a dress?

“It looks like it will fit,” I said, smiling politely and snatching it up, along with a fairly nice canvas shopping bag that contained one tiny Cliff bar.

This was the first time that I waited around before a race without anyone to talk to. I piddled around the area, stretched, and checked email and Facebook on my phone about a million times. Most everyone there had running buddies. It made me realize how nice it was to have been able to train with a group.

The race start was uncorral-ed, but with pace markers on sticks so that everyone could find his or her place based on anticipated finish time. I placed myself somewhere between 2:00 and 2:15, knowing that 1) I wasn’t even sure what my non-injured pace would be (I was injured at the Disneyland Half and finished in 2:19), and 2) I was trying not to go all out, seeing that this week was supposed to be my recovery between 18 and 20 milers.

City To The Sea Half Marathon start

Before I knew it, the gun popped, and the herds moved out. As we hit the streets of San Luis Obispo, the sun beamed down in full force. After one mile or so, I realized, it was already hot. This race was going to need a lot of hydration and will-power to overcome the intense power of beach city sun.

The funny thing about a race start is that everyone knows that everyone always starts out running too fast, but everyone always does it anyway. I did my best not to speed up when people from behind zoomed ahead of me. Over and over, I had to remind myself, “I’ll see that guy again when he loses steam at Mile Five.”

Running energy comes in waves for me. The first two miles are always the worst, then things go great until Mile Seven, when I hate life and want to stop running. Things pick up again around Mile Eight, and go downhill again around Mile Eleven, when the half marathon is almost over, and I know that the finish line is within reach. Aside from the torturous miles, there was a lot to look at on this run, and a lot of eyes looking at us, too. Around Mile Three, a hawk got a front row seat, perched on a telephone line, and observed these crazy leggers as they tried to fly without wings. At Mile Four, a shimmering paint horse tossed its head and galloped back and forth across its pasture, as if to say, “Hey, I want a race number too!” Little kids lined up outside of their countryside homes to high-five us as we wound around their neighborhood.

The first several miles of terrain sloped downhill, and then, around Mile Four, we encountered a few rolling hills. They weren’t all that steep, but, after a while, with the sun scorching the top of your head as if someone’s holding a blowtorch to it, you begin to dread their presence.

The water stops were small, but well-maintained, with Gu’s around Mile 6 so that I didn’t have to dive into my own Gu pack. I glugged down as much water as I could from the cups, and often also grabbed a cup of Fluid to keep my salt numbers up. By Mile Nine, it was so hot, that I began dumping waters ON me as well as in my stomach, and I was glad that I did.

At Mile 10, a young woman had collapsed by the side of the road getting violently sick from dehydration, with a volunteer at her side, comforting her. Lesson to all you hotshots out there: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Think you’re too cool for a hydration belt? Well, you’ll look much less cool when you’re puking up your guts in the last three miles of your race. Hydration is sexy!

The last stretches of the race were roll-y, even though they claimed that the last three miles was “mostly downhill.” They forgot to mention that there were also uphills to be had. I was kind of over the uphill thing, but also considered that, with my trail marathon, there would be lots, lots, lots more hills than in this measly run. Phooey.

As they do with most races, they hid the finish line from racers. We wound around, and around, and around neighborhoods searching for a glimpse of it, while everyone and their mother made it a point to tell us, “You’re so close!” or “You’re almost there!” Do me a favor next time you’re on the sidelines of a race: don’t tell me stuff like that. When I think “almost there,” I’m imagining the thing is just around the next corner. At the end of a race, it is agonizing to turn a corner and discover yet more road and no finish line in sight. I’d rather not know how close I am, seriously.

I finished in 2:14:36, which wasn’t too terrible, considering that I didn’t push too hard in order to preserve my legs. I was ridiculously hot at the end, so, after grabbing two full cups of Fluid at the finish, I led my two friends who had come to cheer me on down a narrow beach stairway, removed my shoes, and stood blissfully in the coolness of the Pacific. Ahhh! Best ice bath, EVER!

Best Ice Bath, EVER!

Overall, it was a pretty race, with a nice t-shirt and a medal. I would definitely recommend it to someone looking for a scenic race and a beachy and delightful getaway.

Note: I stayed overnight in Pismo Beach at the Shell Beach Inn, which was a cute and cozy little place nestled along the beach route.


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Only 8.2 To Go: A Running Story

Insanity. What other explanation is there for waking up at 4-something on a Sunday morning to eat a bit of breakfast, walk the dog and get all of your running gear in order, so that you can go push your muscles to the limit for 18 miles? At any rate, that’s what I did this weekend.

My team was meeting up to run 8 miles around 7 a.m. in Marina Del Rey, in a popular parking lot where cyclists and runners meet up and park for free (a rarity in L.A. these days). I had planned it all out yesterday. I would get to the lot two hours before the team so that I could squidge in over 10 miles before meeting up with them on the route.

I hadn’t planned for it to be quite so dark near the docks at 5:30 in the morning. The road and lot were eerily deserted, as I pulled out my phone and started my running app. The pavement was dimly lit heading up to the running/bike path, and the world around me seemed oddly still, void of sound, even as I approached the water. Along the jetty, a rare tiny splash could be heard in the distance, but mostly all I could hear was the sound of my own breathing, searching for its proper cadence, adjusting to the environment and my shortened, higher-stepping stride. I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t think to bring a flashlight, or some kind of headlamp.

My mind always goes wild when I’m alone in the dark, and here I was again, recalling all of the very worst stories of female joggers going out and never coming back. My eyes played tricks on me in the darkness. Is that a serial killer lurking in the shadows? Nope, just a palm tree frond leaning against a post. Is that a pervert in the bushes? Nope, just a discarded trash bag. I pleaded with the sky to please start turning lighter soon.

The route I’d mapped took me through a tiny alleyway behind some upscale, beachfront condos, wound around them, and spit me out on a small, beachside path. I still couldn’t see anything. I used my phone as a flashlight to guide my way along the pathway, making sure to keep myself in the middle, so as to avoid stepping into the sand, twisting my ankle, and ending up a bloodied casualty of this attempt at distance running success. Finally, I saw some street lamps ahead, which briefly lit the path behind a very secured building (it looked like I probably shouldn’t have been running back there, but, oh well). A security guard eyed me warily, but allowed me to continue puffing along. I kind of had to pee, but I didn’t want to stop, for fear of losing too much time.

I wandered my way through a parking lot to a better-lit bike path closer to the water. The rolling waves made me realize that I really, really needed to find a toilet, in spite of the darkness, in spite of the time. I found a beachside toilet that was surprisingly clean and went in. It’s amazing how much anxiety can be relieved just by using a toilet. I felt way more relaxed afterward, and, bonus, the sky was looking just a tiny tinge lighter.

It’s interesting running on a bike path that you’ve only navigated on two wheels. I knew where I was, but the terrain seemed quite different while on my feet instead of in the bike seat. The hills seemed a bit steeper, the path a lot longer. Still, before I knew it, I’d hit Dockweiler Beach, then El Segundo, and the sky had gotten many shades lighter by the time I turned around at 5.7 miles.

As I headed back toward Marina Del Rey, the golden morning greeted me. The world was fresh, the beaches were all mine, save for a few early morning bikers and runners who had FINALLY decided to join me (sleepyheads!). The seagulls swooped against the sky in windswept patterns, and, even though it was overcast, the colors of the sun glowed in different pastels as a backdrop.

I don’t know if it was the beauty of the morning that fueled me, or the pure joy that I was no longer running in the pitch, but I easily picked up speed. Around mile 7, I still felt fresh, unwinded, and superpowered. Oooooh, so that’s what my coach was talking about when he said, “When you hit a certain point of fitness, you feel like you can run forever.” Aha! The magic fitness level. Had I reached it?

Getting closer to the start of the trail, I kept my eyes out for fellow TNT-ers. It was nearing 7:30 and I knew that they would be starting out on the trail at any moment, having gathered at 7 and gone through team business. As I neared the bike trail entrance, I saw some familiar faces coming around the bend. It was my team! Not only was it my team, but my specific pace group.

“Fancy meeting you here!” Coach Lisa called out.

Whoohoo! I couldn’t have timed it more perfectly. I was 10.5 miles in, and met up with my teammates to complete the hardest part of the run. The thing was, I felt great, absolutely fine, until about 15 miles in, when my strength started to wane. I grabbed some Gatorade at the TNT aid station around mile 16, and pressed on, but I fell behind my teammates a bit. My tired legs were no match for their fresh ones. I watched as they got further and further ahead of me.

My hamstrings were tired, but still mobile. It was nothing like what I had experienced in the past two weeks. When I finally hit the finish, I was reasonably tired, but not exhausted. My first 18 miler, natched!!!

Lessons learned here:

1) If you’re running in the dark, wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight.

2) Intense sun and heat can take a lot out of you. Running earlier in the morning can make long runs more bearable.

3) Running buddies can help you through a lot of tough runs. Even if your friend isn’t a distance runner, they can still help you through a long run. Time your long run so that your buddy can meet up with you at a distance they can handle, even if it’s only a few miles. Not only can they help you through those last, tough miles, but you also have something to look forward to before the finish, and a way to keep yourself at a steady pace so that you can meet your friend on time. I plan on meeting up with my buddies at mile 10 on my 20-miler solo run.

Buddy runs are the best!

 


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My Steed Awaits: A Cycling Story

I had been battling with mounting anxieties concerning me wanting to do long bike rides and me not having a road bike, mainly because I was really nervous about my cycling ability, and, also, because I didn’t want to show up to my first IronTEAM practice on a hybrid. Since I’d been laid off, the idea of a carbon-bodied, race-ready machine was far beyond my grasp, but I decided to peruse Craigslist for possibilities. Last week, I saw it, a Women’s Specialized Dolce Sport bike, 57 cm, in my neighborhood, for almost 50% retail.  I decided to jump on the deal and contacted the owner.

It took us about a week to meet up, and, when I did get there, I had to help her to pull the bike out of her car. A young woman, she had purchased the bike to ride with her mother, an avid cyclist, and, I’m guessing, she had the bike stored over at her mom’s place. It was really dusty and the gears were dirty, a big no-no if you want your components to work in five years. Still, everything else on the bike looked to be in good shape. I straddled it and pushed down on the pedal. The bike wobbled out of control and I had to stop and restart.

“I’m not used to a road bike,” I called out, apologetically.

Still, the reach felt good and the frame size was okay (there should be 1″ of clearance between the top tube and your private bits, when you’re standing over it). I shifted through the gears, braked, and all felt normal. Compared with the solid comfort ride of my hybrid, the light responsiveness of the road bike felt slippery. My turns were wider than they should have been, but I managed to retain weak control of the thing before I stopped to say, “I’ll take it.”

I’m a no-fuss kind of person, plus the price was right and I needed something to compete on. I handed her the cash, loaded the bike into my car, and that was that.

When I got home, the thing needed a lot of fussing. I promptly cleaned off the dusty frame, then brushed out, de-greased, rinsed, and re-greased the gears and chain (you should have seen the dirt that poured out of these things). Aside from a few tiny scuffs, the thing was in tip-top shape.

I took the bike on a test ride this morning, within the confines of a safe and somewhat secluded parking lot. I’ll admit that, after my wobbly first ride on it, my confidence was a bit shaken.  As I drove to the lot, my thoughts rambled: What if I have a hard time riding this thing? Ugh, one more thing I have to learn/get used to. Why can’t I just be good at something right from the start? Why is it always so hard?

The nimble black and steel grey frame rolled effortlessly beside me. Unlike with my hybrid, I could guide it with one hand on the handlebar stem. I walked it all the way up to the very top of the enormous parking lot, where there was a lot of free space to just roll around, adjusted the pedal, pushed off, and…took off smoothly! Perched atop this lithe beast, I zoomed around the lot, weaving this way and that, standing up in the pedals, feeling, dare I say it, confident and secure! Maybe, just maybe, I could actually ride this thing without losing control!

I slowly pressured my brakes to come to a stop. I remembered from my road bike class that, in order to stop a road bike with the seat height properly adjusted (meaning, high enough so the feet don’t touch the ground when the rider is seated), the rider must choose a dominant leg, step on the opposite pedal, tilt the bike toward the dominant side, and use the leg to “catch” and stop the bike. I tried this and basically managed to bunny hop a few times on my dominant leg, while my other leg also touched down for balance. Way to be slick. I put myself through stop drills five (or ten) times until I could do three stops in a row without hopping or letting my other leg come down.

Next step will be actually taking it for a ride. I’m not sure when I’ll get to test her out on the bike paths, but hopefully next week, before I head out of town. I am kind of excited!

P.S. I named her, “Shadow Comet.”

“Shadow Comet,” my new bike!


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Mad Skillz (And Drillz): A Swimming Story

It’s amazing how drastic a six degree temp drop is in the pool. Our temp-spoiled bodies shivered slightly as we entered the water this morning. I was clearly, clearly tired after being completely unable to hunker myself down into a proper bedtime the night before. Of course, it isn’t until the alarm sounds at 5 a.m. that I realize how big my “fail” was the night before.

As I warmed up, that familiar breath panic set in, and then settled a bit. Mikey announced that we were going to do an exercise called, “Breathing is Overrated.” Ohhhh boy. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. We took turns crossing the pool, breathing less and less frequently each time, until we crossed the entire short course without taking a breath.

With me, holding my breath across the pool, when I’m concentrating on just that, and moving easily, is a snap. I have great cardio and can easily relax and let go of my need for oxygen for that duration. However, when you add in speed, all of my concentration and control goes out the window, and my lungs and heart freak out.

“Legs take up a lot of your oxygen,” Mikey said, which explains why, during kick drills, I feel like I’m gasping for air every five seconds.

I’ve discovered that I really don’t like kicking, maybe because my legs and butt are already tired from running, and I would much rather have them go almost limp, while my arms get the majority of the attention. Still, to be a faster swimmer, kick, I must.

One kick drill we did today was a killer: Ten kicks sans kickboard, then with no hands, flip over and do ten kicks on your back, and repeat. I did okay, but did kind of freak out secretly in my head because I kept getting water up my nose. I named this exercise, “The Otter”–except, when I did it, it wasn’t very cute.

Another week of swim drills clobbered, another week I haven’t swallowed an entire pool. Progress, methinks.

Ooooh! New awesome swimming podcast alert for all you swim nerds: Brenton Ford’s “Effortless Swimming.” (Plus–pssst, ladies, he’s really cute too).