Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.

Palos Verdes Parking Lot


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Recommitment: A Training Story

WARNING: LONG READ (BUT, OF COURSE, WORTH IT)

January 29th, recommitment paperwork due date. I held the papers in my hands and read over the terms. This was it. We were committing to fundraising the whole $5000+ by early July, and committing to completing the ultimate endurance challenge, an Ironman triathlon. Up until now, I had just been going head-first into the Ironman, without questioning or really wondering what exactly it was going to take out of me. I started to think: What was it that I was really trying to accomplish with this goal?

My Swim With Heart coach, Mikey, had said to me a few weeks ago, “You’ve got to find goals that are worth hanging onto, because those are the things that are going to get you through a 10-hour plus race. Why are you doing this? You need to start thinking about those goals now.”

Sure, I had goals, to be an Ironwoman, to achieve what the majority of “normal” athletes would never attempt, to prove to myself that I could do it.  I thought those were pretty great goals to hang onto. I wasn’t quite sure what she was getting at there. I stared at the paperwork one more time before heading off to Saturday practice.

At 7:30 a.m. the outside air wasn’t too bad around 61 degrees F. We were all gathering around a manmade lake, Hansen Dam, for our first open water swim. The goal was to swim two 500m loops in there in under 30 minutes. Piece of cake, right? The problem was that the water was, well, about as cold as Hell would be on Earth.

As we submerged our bodies and let the ice-cold water flood into our wetsuits, the yelps and screams from fellow teammates made us sound like a group of sea lions (no wonder those things bark so much). I followed the pack out as we headed out to the first buoy, my breath quickened and my face elevated above the surface of the water. For the first loop, very few of us had the gumption to place our faces in the giant ice bath. However, by the second loop, several of my teammates had taken the plunge and had headed out, face first, around the buoys.

Several times, I tried to submerge my face, and each time, my face seized up and refused to breathe out. As we know, the general rule to swimming is to breathe in above water and breathe out through the nose while the face is submerged. As hard as I tried, nothing would come out, just paralysis that made me panic further and breathe harder, making my head-above-water swimming all the more difficult.

“You’re tiring yourself out by keeping your head above the water,” Coach Jason explained.

My breath came in short spurts. My mouth hung open over the water. Cold Water Panic had taken over my body. One of the swim practice helpers tried to coax me to put my face in the water. Her saccharine, kindergarten-teacher-esque voice calling out, “Let’s just do two strokes in, two strokes out, ready?”

I know that she was trying to be nice and provide me with some support, but, by the fifth painful face plunge and sputtering gasp out of the water, I wanted to put her face in the water…and hold it there (just for a few lengthy seconds–gawwwrrrsh). The whole thing was extraordinarily traumatizing, and I staggered onto shore. Actually, I half expected to have popped out of the water in one of those cartoon ice blocks, where my teammates would have had to chisel me out for the run.

I weebled my way over to my transition area, trying to “maintain” and pretend that I wasn’t traumatized. I peeled off my wetsuit, dried off my body, threw on my running hoodie, shoes and belt, and hit the route for a nine-miler. This was the first run I was going to experience since I broke my pinky toe last week, but I’d taped it up with gobs of waterproof tape so that it would be nice and secure in my cushiony Nikes.

This was no regular brick. My legs felt heavier than they ever had felt after a bike ride. All of the swim trauma really seemed to do a number on my body. Plus, my toe really didn’t seem to think that the tape was doing that great of a job. Oh, and by the end of the first three-mile loop, my tendonitis on my right ankle started flaring up, just to make things interesting.

It’s those kinds of runs where you have to focus on something, anything that will take your mind off of the nagging pain. Ambling along on this run, I let my eyes wander over the beautiful landscape, the mountains, the trees, the valleys, all which could be seen from a nice long stretch of the Dam’s recreational path. Seeing teammates and encouraging them onward seemed to fuel me as well, and hearing their shouts of, “Good job!” or “Looking good!” brought me a little spark of joy as I chugged on to the finish.

The last two miles were the most painful. I could not even run up or down a small, but steep-ish hill that led up to the lofty Dam path. When I returned home later and had a gander at my toe, I realized that the tape had removed itself in the water, so I was running the entire thing on an unsupported broken bone. Not cool. Still, that explained a lot about the pain. Anyway, the toe was red and swollen, and I decided that it would not be a good idea to do a run again for at least a week or so, and also to find a new method of supporting the thing while it healed.

So, on to Day Two of our training weekend, a 40-mile bike route in Palos Verdes, a place known and loved by hardcore cyclists for both its beautiful ocean views and its good climbs (and by good, I, of course, mean “scary” for me).  I prepped that morning for my ride like a shy kid who has to give a presentation for school: I didn’t wanna, and please, “Mom,” don’t make me. I told myself that, if I wussed out, I would never get comfortable on the bike and I would never achieve my goals of being a super awesome cyclist and triathlete.

Of course, to make things worse, the wind had to be about a million degrees colder down in PV than it was up in nice, cozy Culver City. I could have been in my bed, I could have been anywhere, but I was there, facing a potentially treacherous ride, with unknown hills, unknown bike paths, an unfamiliar route, all with my feet nailed into my bike.

Palos Verdes Parking Lot

Here’s the view from the parking lot. See that road that goes up? Yeah, that’s just the beginning.

The hills loomed ahead, and, before I knew it, we were off. I clipped in and headed out, easily wheeling up the moderate hills, complete with midway stop sign, before we got to the first intersection. Somehow my confidence faltered there, along with my balance. As I started up to make a right turn, I fell over, in front of a few teammates. They helped me up, I felt an orb of heat flash over my cheeks, and my frustration well up inside of me. Why in the heck was this so hard for me?

Slightly shaken and frustrated, I got through another stop and another turn, and fell again at yet another awkward intersection. This time, my shoe came off, as it was still clipped into the bike, my knee was skinned, and I just sat on the sidewalk, feeling defeated. I couldn’t even get through a mile on this ride without falling twice, how in the heck was I going to get through 40 miles? Let alone 112. Maybe I just had no business being here, a newbie cyclist, trying to pull of a full Ironman. I knew it was ambitious, and all I’d accomplished so far was to perfect my falling so that I thoroughly mutilated my right knee (and, not to worry, it’ll come back to haunt me later in life).

I picked up my phone to call Coach Jason and to tell him, quite plainly, that I couldn’t complete the ride, that it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Of course, right then, he rode up.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Are you okay?”

The tears began to flow. “I can’t do this,” I sniffled. “I keep falling and falling. I’m behind everyone else in the group. I can’t keep up.”

Jason sat down next to me on the curb. “First of all, you’re not behind everyone in the group,” he said. “I’ve seen you out there. When you’re up and going, you’re right in the middle of the pack. You may not be the first one, but you’re not the last. Now, as for the falling, let’s go walk down to the market across the street and get your knee cleaned up, we’ll join the rest of the pack when they loop back around, and we’ll try to figure out why you keep tipping over. I’ll stay with you for a while, okay?”

“Okay,” I said, and together we scraped my disgraced carcass and bike off of the sidewalk and walked down to the market. Jason disappeared inside and returned with some ice and napkins for my knee, then went back in and grabbed a box of Band-Aids so I could tape myself up.

“You ready to get back on?” he asked.

I remembered back to being a kid and falling off of horses, and that initial fear of getting back on after a nasty or scary fall, but my instructors always made me get back on, even if it was only for a brief saunter around the riding ring. The theory of “getting back on the horse” holds true for most anything, though. If you quit after a failure, that failure sticks in your mind and attaches itself to that activity, kind of like when you leave food drying on a plate. Then you have to get a scrub brush and let it soak, and–okay, wait, we’re way off topic. Back to cycling, I knew that I had to get on, at least for a little while. I couldn’t just quit on myself like that.

Jason watched me push off and stop and a stop sign, where I came to a regular stop. I started up again easily and we rode alongside each other for a while. He instructed me to add more resistance, that I always wanted to feel something under my pedals, and that I should never be just spinning my legs. He also told me to practice keeping more of my weight over my pedals rather than at the front of the bike, a trait that is common in newbies, but it also causes more hardship with steering than is necessary.

“Did you play sports as a kid?” he asked randomly.

“Ha, no,” I almost laughed out loud. “I was very bookish,” I replied, letting my mind float back to those younger years. Kids could be exceptionally cruel, laughing and pointing fingers at the less athletic kids as they made weakling attempts to do pull-ups, run a relay race, or smack at a softball with a plastic bat.  I would have given anything to have a lithe, athletic physique as a kid. Instead, I was a sometimes-fat (depending on the year), uncoordinated fumbler, who had to fail repeatedly in front of a hateful audience. When you think about it, I guess, it’s pretty traumatizing. I remember, in third grade, I even asked my gym teacher for extra help during recess so that I could learn how to dribble and throw a ball.

“You have a competitive edge in you,” Jason observed. “I see it. I saw it when you were in the water yesterday too.”

Hmm, a competitive edge, eh? “Well, I think, if anything, I’m competitive with myself,” I responded, thoughtfully.

“Well, that’s even better for endurance sports,” he said, as we approached another stop sign. I stopped and started with a fine and dandy execution.

Cruising along, with no stop signs in sight, I began to relax and get my mojo working on some little rollers along the coast. We approached that same roller coaster hill we’d approached over a month ago, with its surprising “can’t see over it to the bottom” drop. It was still a little scary, but not nearly as scary as it had been last month. I suspected a little bit of progress had happened there.

Jason had dropped behind for a while to check up with another teammate who we’d caught up to and passed, so I was cruising along on my own, enjoying the cruising, but keeping an eye out for the next potential obstacle. Suddenly, I heard slight huffing and puffing to my left.

“Whoah, man! I have a new fitness goal for myself,” Jason breathed. “I’ll let you get about a minute head start and then try to catch up to you. You’ve got some power!”

I chuckled and we kept cruising, up and down a few more little rollers, but nothing major.

“We’re approaching our first big hill,” Jason pointed out. “Now, it’s not steep, but it is long. Just keep pedaling, or you’ll tip over. I’m going to stay with you, don’t worry.”

Coach Riz was at the bottom of the hill, directing people up the switchback as they approached.

“Let’s go, Lady! You’ve got this!” she called out to me as I passed.

The hill wasn’t really anything, grade-wise, that I hadn’t managed before, but it was really, really, really long. The Griffith Park hill was a flimsy excuse for a hill compared to this bad boy. My windbreaker became a sauna as I pumped up the endlessly snaking road. I kept remembering Jason’s words, Keep pedaling, or you’ll tip over.  I didn’t want to tip over, not again, not on a hill. I kept at it.

The crest of the hill ended at a stoplight, where my weakened fingers slipped off of the brake handle, causing me to, once again, topple. Frustrated again with myself, I took a nice long break at the top, as the coaches approached, offering mad props to all of us who had made it to the summit. We were at the top of Palos Verdes (well, almost)!

As I stood guzzling my sports drink, Riz asked me if I had any water. I thought it an odd question, considering the fact that I had two full 20-oz bottles of liquids. Then I realized that she was looking down at my outer leg, which was dripping blood, with two sizeable and deep slashes across it from the chainring. Yikes.

“Oh, crap,” I said. “Maybe I should get medical attention…”

“You’re fine. You didn’t even feel it until I said something. We’ll call the SAG van and get you cleaned up, and then I’ll ride with you. Don’t worry, you’ll be okay,” Riz abruptly responded, giving me no option but to suck it up and keep riding, wounds and all.

Note: This image is graphic, so you may want to scroll down fast.

My first real "warrior wound"!

My first real “warrior wound”!

Water, more bandages, and I was off yet again to finish the route. We wound down through some kind of scary downhill switchbacks, but I pumped my brakes and found my way down to the bottom, where there were a few rollers and some pretty, New-England-esque horse properties. Riz signaled that we were approaching our second big hill, Hawthorne Blvd. It wasn’t nearly as long as the switchback, but crazy steep.

Keep pedaling, or you’ll tip over, I remembered. I quickly found myself in my lowest gears, and the huffing and puffing intensified as I pushed and pulled my way up. It was getting harder and harder to get up the hill.

“Come on, lady! You’ve got this.” Riz cheered from behind me. “Push down, pull up!”

My bike began to weave a little as I pushed with all of my might. At any moment I thought that my legs were going to fail me, that I’d just collapse before I hit the peak. It burned and burned. Primal grunts and frustrated yelps came out of me as I kept my legs ever churning, one leg, then the other. Grunt, scream, UGH! I wasn’t going to let it beat me. I was going to get up that thing, come Hell or high water.

When I finally, finally reached the top, at yet another light, my legs were so shaky, I toppled yet again. This time, I was so weak, I fell like a feather. Riz managed to shuffle me and the bike out of the way of oncoming traffic and onto the sidewalk.

“You are a bad ass! You made it all the way up that hill without stopping! You don’t think you have what it takes? That’s it, right there!” Riz said, beaming and putting her hands on my shoulders.

I put my head on my knees and let out a sob, my tears a strange elixir of relief, joy, accomplishment and self pity. We mounted up again for the remaining mileage. Of course, not before another semi-steep uphill presented itself (and, of course, allowed me to make it my bitch).

Most of the rest of the ride was a downhill slope, in some parts shockingly steep. Riz told us that a great way to feel more in-control and secure on a downhill is to put your feet at 3 o’clock and coast, holding the top tube between your thighs. It definitely helped with most of them, although one hill was so steep and fast, I pumped my brakes for dear life and hoped that I wouldn’t go flying off.

I didn’t fly off, and, in fact, that weak topple at the crest of Hawthorne was the last time I fell on that ride. My GPS had me in at over 36 miles once we got to the parking lot. Almost 40 miles, and two crazy hills, and I did it!!!!

A teammate actually mapped out the elevation and compared it to Wildflower long course, which is one of the hardcore half Ironman races out this way, with lots of hills on the bike and run.  Our Sunday ride is on top, Wildflower’s on bottom.

Our Sunday ride (top) vs. Wildflower long course (bottom). Yeeks!

Our Sunday ride (top) vs. Wildflower long course (bottom). Yeeks!

And, of course, I got awesome medical attention from my teammate, Clare, who is also a nurse. Luckily, my wound wasn’t actually deep enough to get stitches. A few butterfly bandages and some disinfectant, and I was good to go:

"This is how tough girls roll"--says Coach Jason (photo credit: Jason Schneider)

“This is how tough girls roll”–says Coach Jason (photo credit: Jason Schneider)

You never think that one practice, one ride, one swim, or one run, can change your life, but, really, it can. I had doubt, I questioned whether I had the mettle to be an IronWoman, and, in the end, I found my answer within myself by facing my fears, by digging deep into those ugly places, by facing those doubts, head-on, and getting to the other side, triumphant.

Coach Emily sent me a great quote:

“The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt. (p. 21)” ― Rollo May

Even if I never run another step or bike another mile, or swim another stroke, I will know this about myself: I have what it takes to slay my fears, and to reach for whatever stars in the sky that I might be wishing on.

I will never again be that shy, self-conscious kid who never tried because she never wanted to look foolish. I will always move forward knowing that I can and will accomplish the things I put before myself.

It’s funny. Through all of those tears, a newfound joy has emerged. Yes, I have what it takes.

I’ll be handing in my recommitment paperwork tomorrow. 🙂

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(Un)Lucky Breaks: A Training Story

It seems like, when something in a person’s life happens to gain momentum, other, similar things in a person’s life follow suite. If that momentum-gathering thing happens to be something that is not a happy thing, other unhappy things knock loose and tumble like a rockslide into a person’s otherwise merry way. In other words, life really appears to be throwing rocks in my direction. If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect that the universe was trying to bring my IronWoman dreams to an untimely conclusion. I know better, though, and it’s just a challenge, an obstacle, like ay other.

It all started last week, when a dreaded all-too-familiar tickle in my chest, as if a family of porcupines had begun building a nest in there. Colds that immediately settle into my chest make me nervous, as I am ridiculously prone to secondary chest infections (I once had four bouts of bronchitis in four months when I lived in London–and they don’t believe in prescribing antibiotics). Tuesday night was still unseasonably frigid, with temps in the mid-forties. There was no way I was going to put my body through swim while it was trying to fight off this wretched thing.

I rested the chest until Thursday evening, when, after driving six hours up to San Francisco for a job interview, I joined one of the TNT teams for a swim. Midway into a kick set, my chest seized. I had to stop kicking entirely and stood to the side to dry-cough my lungs out before starting up again. I managed to choke and cough through a few more sets until my chest calmed down. The sets were short, much shorter than what I was used to doing. My body felt stiff from being in the car all day, even midway through the set. The team captain criticized my form, saying my “glide” was non-existent, and he didn’t see how I was going to make it through 2.4 miles like that. I knew I hadn’t been performing at my best, but, still, I felt embarrassed to be representing our LA IronTEAM and doing such a shoddy job. Oh, smell, I thought. I probably won’t see these folks again anyway.

My congestion worsened throughout the weekend, thickening and causing me to embarrass myself in public several times with extended coughing fits (never, ever leave home without a cough drop, people). I was beginning to envision myself as a tiny speck behind all of my teammates as they sped off on those wheelie cartoon legs into the rising sun, leaving me with my cough drops, hacking uncontrollably in a billowing cloud of desert dust.

Determined to get at least one run in, I took off from home with a friend (who was visiting from out of town),taking on some rollers into Beverly Hills, and hoofing it for seven miles,  stopping many times to launch into phlegm-loosening activity, down more water, and to recover from the chest-gripping uphills. At the end, I actually felt slightly better, and I was glad that I’d gotten one run over with, in spite of all of the pestering side effects.

Monday morning I’d lent my friend Shadow Comet so that he could meet some friends for a ride, but I planned on taking Little Glory, my poor, neglected hybrid out for a leisurely beach spin. As I bustled around the apartment, putting things away, I accidentally knocked a box of straight pins onto the floor in the hallway. As I spun around to pick them up, CRACK! I slammed my pinkie toe right into the door frame.

It didn’t sound pretty, it didn’t feel pretty. Maybe, maybe I could just “walk” it off. The toe flamed red and started to swell. The pain didn’t subside as it normally did with a usual stub situation. My attempt at wrapping an ice pack around it only resulted in achieving borderline frostbite. I decided to put it up for a bit, no bike ride, and then we’d see where we were.

My friend texted, saying he’d gotten a flat and, in spite of the fact that I’d equipped him with spare tubes, would be arriving in a pick-up. The bike is fine (as am I), he reassured me.

When he got there, it was the rear tire that had gotten the flat. The CO2 cartridge had popped the new tube. Well, it was about time for me to learn to change the rear tire anyway (which I did, pretty quickly, and with no issues). I also purchased a hand-pump. No more CO2 monkey business for me.

Later in the evening, after I’d dropped my friend off at the airport, I got a good luck at the toe aftermath. There was a lot of blue and purple, and it still hurt to walk, with a kind of shifty-feeling in the bone area. A break, most likely, and, for a pinky toe, not much can be done, except tape.

The next day, I arrived at TNT coached swim, feeling pretty deflated by recent events. Still, part of me was excited to get into the pool, to do something that would relieve some of the stress. Then, of course, I heard what we were actually going to be doing. Today we were doing a marker set, 1000-yards timed. I fretted a little bit over my remaining congestion, the toe, and my lack of continuous training, but, at this point, I was so defeated, I just decided to let it all go, to get into the water, and to have fun, without worrying too much about being a Speedy McSpeedster.

We warmed up with 15 minutes of continuous swimming, took a full minute break, and started our set. Of course, in true SD Mulligan fashion, I managed to have a goggle band break right before my set, which delayed things a bit. I ended up starting off 100 yards behind the rest of the group in my lane.

Since my pride had been bruised the week before, I decided to focus on my length and glide through the water. Pretty soon I was overlapping my lane mates. I passed a couple of people, but then stayed stuck behind a teammate whose wildly flailing legs made going around seem a little more risky than it ought to have been. I slowed my “roll” and stayed back, managing to keep the front of my stroke away from the churning leg blades in front of me. Halfway through, the teammate actually stopped and allowed me to pass, and I took off, accelerating slightly, but mostly out of the pure enjoyment of gliding through the water, feeling unfettered by my stupid toe, flat tires, or dragging body weight. My congestion still bugged me, forcing me to take a breath every two strokes, but, in spite of the rattling, short breaths, I still managed to appreciate the rhythm and flow of my time in the water.

In the end, my coach told me my average split was at 2:03, which, while not great, was at an intermediate level. After our time trial, we had a 200 easy swim, and then a series of 100s at “cruising speed,” which, for me, seemed much faster than my 1000-yard speed. Maybe I was finally warmed up? I felt like I could have done the 1000 set again, with faster times. Maybe I am an endurance racer after all!

Maybe this swim is a sign that things might be headed back to normalcy. Maybe there isn’t such a thing as normalcy. Maybe you just have to take the bad with the good and put peanut butter on it (because PB makes everything better). Anyway, here’s to developing IronWoman emotional, physical and mental toughness!

P.S. I would have posted pics of my gorgeously purple toe, but my phone fell in the toilet last night and is drying out (yep, it’s been one of those weeks, for sure).


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Heavy Legs, Strong Heart: A Training Story

So much of endurance training is in the heart. No, I’m not talking cardio fitness (although that’s a big part of it, for sure). It’s that lionous beating drive that makes you want to achieve, it’s that belief in yourself, even when your limbs don’t want to follow the motions, or your mind slips its grasp on a technique over and over again. It’s what keeps you going when everything else quits. Passion is the pulse of the Ironman.

The team is enduring another build phase of our training. This past Saturday’s practice was a Griffith Park “Grand Prix” training session: a 30-40-minute cycling loop with a mega lengthy hill climb, transition, one mile run, then transition back to bike and repeat two more times. The goal was to practice fast transitions and to get our bodies acclimated to brick workouts (bike followed by run).

I hadn’t been on the scary clipless pedals since last Saturday, as I did an indoor workout as my midweek ride, so I felt nervous, as usual. Still, I clipped and rolled out with the rest of them, around the flat part of the loop, over some little rollers, and then, up the dreaded climb. I’m not sure how long the climb on this loop is, but it gets steeper and steeper toward the top, and winds around so you can’t see just how far you have to go (both a blessing and a curse, depending on where you are on your climb). I huffed and puffed like a steam engine up that thing, partially from exertion, and partially out of anxiety. As one of my teammates so eloquently puts it, “You have to keep pedaling, or you die.”

When I finally reached the top, I faced the long, steep, winding downhill, with its few hairpin curves. Again, my nerves about being fastened to my bike at breakneck speeds and cars whizzing by with no bike lane got the best of me, and I clutched my brake something fierce down those hills. My hands were starting to hurt near the bottom. Sure, there probably wasn’t as much danger as I imagined, but, as a newbie cyclist, I find it’s always safer to stick with what feels right. One bit of panic, and that’s where you really get yourself in trouble.

Heading into the transition area after my first loop, I realized that I was right in the middle of our team, meaning I was keeping a pretty average speed, at least on the flat and climbs. After I put my bike up, one of the coaches came over to my bike and promptly expelled the air from my front tire.

“Oops, you have a flat,” he said. “Enjoy your run!”

Crud. They got us good. We were told that we were going to have a tire changing clinic where we would have to remove our tires and tubes completely. We weren’t expecting this.

My legs felt particularly brickish on that first leg of the run. My GPS told me I was running a 10:15 pace. I felt like I was barely moving. Holly ran back with me into the parking lot, where I grabbed my bike and attempted to jimmy off the tire. My tire was thick, so it took quite a bit of prying to get the thing off. Once it came undone, I removed the tube and tire completely, but, then had trouble getting everything back on.

Little did I know, a Gatorskin tire isn’t so easily popped on and off, especially a newish one. two coaches tried to help me, and finally, Coach Dave, the expert, had to come wrestle my Gator back onto its proper rim. The CO2 cartridge I had then promptly exploded and burned Coach Holly’s finger when she tried to help me with it. What a red letter experience! Thankfully, someone had a full sized pump available, and I filled back up and got myself going again, but not before some of the people who I’d seen when I first got to the transition station, come back from their second loop. Oops.

My second loop definitely felt the strongest, and the run felt a little bit easier, coming down to a 9:40 pace, according to GPS. So far so good, and no falls, but I was beginning to get tired after those long climbs. Would I still be able to accomplish another hill, strong stops, and a great finish? Plus, the park was getting busier, with lots of events happening all over the place and people and cars everywhere. Would my cougar and wildebeast nightmare come true as I rolled down that wind-y hill?

I’m proud to say that I braved the masses, the confused drivers trying to find parking spots and stopping abruptly in the middle of the road, the other cyclists, and the families meandering into the bike paths without looking. I even made it up another huge climb, pedaling to avoid “dying” or at least road rash.

Almost the whole team was back by the time I made it. Apparently, Coach Jason cut some people off  at their second loop, but the majority of people changed their tires in–well–less than 30 minutes :P. I grabbed my sneaks and made quick feet toward the run trail for my last mile of fun.

My legs felt like they weren’t moving much, but when I glanced down at my watch, I was going at a 9 minute clip. Go fig. I kept my feet churning and light as I headed back into the lot.

The large group of teammates waiting there cheered and clapped as I finished my run, feeling accomplished and (dare I say it?) victorious! First triple brick AND tire change, done, done, and DONE!

Of course, an IronWoman’s weekend is never done with just one long workout. Today, we set out on an eight-mile trail/road combo run, with lots of inclines. I’ll just say that my glutes were not “inclined” to do any more inclines after Saturday’s bike, but, there I was, suffering through the mileage.

Last year, during marathon training, a teammate once told me that the moments in running where a person suffers the most are the times when they benefit the most, both physically and mentally. Quitting is a habit, just like any other, and so is not quitting. If you get into the habit of not quitting, even when you want to, then the less likely it is that you’ll give up.

Mile seven was a big struggle. My legs felt like oak trees–with lead centers. I kept grinding those leg gears. Luckily, I had a great running buddy to talk to, swapping stories to keep our minds off of how tough it was. Stopping was not an option.

Nothing feels as good as when you’ve set out to accomplish a goal, and you achieve it, no matter how small. Finishing all of that training this weekend was as much a victory as any of my races. I pushed through the tough spots, fear, embarrassment, and I got to the end. If every training weekend leads me to this feeling, I have a lot to look forward to this season!

Lessons Learned:

1) Practice changing your tires, even if you already know how and you haven’t done it in a while. It’s good to refresh your skills, just in case.

2) Just keep going. Quitting is as much of a habit as any other–form good training habits and you’ll reap the rewards.

3) Brick leg is just something I think I’m going to have to get used to this season. Methinks it won’t be going away any time soon. 😛


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Eyeballs And Elbows: A Swimming Story

You know that feeling–the one where you know you’re onto something–you’re learning, growing stronger in that area, and you just know that you’re on the brink of a major breakthrough? That’s kind of how I felt about swimming this past month. During practice, we’d been slowly building distance to where, now, we’re consistently swimming over a mile and a half each hour, with all kinds of drills and fitness-building sprints mixed in.

Up until now, the sprints were killing me. I felt like I was frantically clawing and thrashing through the water, and pretty much getting nowhere. My fastest 100m time was at about 1:45–not terrible for a beginner, but not great. All I’d get was a whole lot of chest heaving for my efforts, and maybe a mouthful of water or two, if I was really spinning out there. Awesome.

The SMC pool finally opened its doors after a month off. Hallelujah! The warmer, swankier facility was a welcome change from swimming in the barely warm Culver City Plunge during this ridiculous Southern California cold snap. I met Mikey last Monday for class at 7:30 in the evening at the long course pool. She made me do a timed 100m marker set. My result: 2:16. Ridiculous. It was the slowest time I’d gotten almost since I started swimming in the first place.

“It’s like you’re weighing yourself down,” Mikey said. “You’re spinning your arms and shortening your stroke because you’re getting all panicked. You’re acting as your own obstacle.”

It made a lot of sense. So much of being an athlete is mental. Anticipating the hard work of sprinting, I panic, lose my form, and end up clawing through the water like an 800-lb sea tarantula. Mikey suggested that, instead of thinking about the speed first, that I should set up my stroke for the first 20% of the sprint, then focus on going faster, and then, for the last 10%, focus on strength. I did two 50s on that principle, and felt a little bit more confident.

The next evening I had team swim practice, and, admittedly, I was a little bit nervous that, perhaps, I was losing my swim mojo. A bad swim time can worm its way into and infect your psyche like so much pool water in the ear canal. Surprisingly, though, right away, my stroke felt long and strong, and I started breezing through the warmup drills.

Coach Riz said my elbows weren’t high enough out of the water, that my stroke was a little flat.

“Imagine that there’s an eyeball on your elbow, and you want to tilt it to look at the wall as it comes out of the water,” she said. Oh boy, the weird things coaches say…but, it worked!

Suddenly, my push through the water became even stronger. I began to glide forward, stretching out, tilting, and pulling, pointing those elbows up, and feeling effortlessly powerful.

Coach Jason shot his pointed finger down at me with a grin on his face, “THAT’S the stroke that you’re going to use all 2.4 miles!”

By George, I’d got it! Now, for the build set. Blerg.

I mentioned to Riz that everything fell apart for me during the sprint. She told me just to focus more on a stronger pull and kick through the water, that with those two things alone, I’d be faster.

Somehow, that advice quieted my anxious mind. I pulled harder, kicked harder, and went, well, faster on my sprint sets. Finally, I was beginning to understand the mechanics of speed through the water.

Back to SMC this morning, I brought my new technique and put it all together for sprints: long strong pulls, fast arms, and strong core. We didn’t time our sprints (except for 100s we did with fins on, which doesn’t really count at 30 secs), but I kept up with one of the advanced swimmers in the class, who I could never touch before (and she had flip turns to her advantage). I can’t wait to see my time improve!

Lessons learned:

1) Keep calm and swim on. Even a speed drill is not grounds for panic.

2) If the rest of your stroke is correct, focusing on your elbows helps give you power.

3) To swim faster, don’t lose your technique–just pull harder and kick harder.

4) Just like bad run days, there are bad swim days. They don’t last forever.

5) When it comes to things that your coaches tell you, if it sounds crazy, it just might work!


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The Magic (And The Pain) Of Clip-less Pedals: A Cycling Story

Yesterday was the day. It was time to put all of my fears aside and get my feet clipped into that bike. As I screwed the new pedals onto my bike again, I thought, “These aren’t coming back off this time.”

As I drove to meet Coach Holly early in the giant parking lot in Thousand Oaks, where our team meeting was located, I watched the chilly 41 degree temp on my car’s thermostat drop another 10 degrees. Yikes. Cold wasn’t even applicable. Freezing was more like it. Was this really Southern California?

By the time I got to the parking lot, I was shivering with cold and anxiety as I prepped myself for our clip clinic.  I had long imagined the horrors that awaited me with clip-less pedals (a stupid, stupid name for a clip-in pedal): wobbling out of control in front of oncoming traffic as my left foot pawed wildly for its clip, or being stuck onto the bike as a cougar chasing a wildebeast barreled into my path as I descended a mountain–hey, it’s my imagination, sue me. Holly taught us to clip-in in four steps. In the first step, Holly had us clip in our dominant foot and push off, coasting for two or three counts until we came to a stop. In step two, we clipped in with one foot, coasted, and sat on the seat before hopping down and coming to a stop. Step three, we clipped in with one foot, sat in the seat, and then pedaled with the other foot for two rotations without clipping it in. Step four, we put everything together and clipped in. Surprisingly, it felt more secure than I thought it would–my clipped-in foot providing momentum to keep me from falling or swerving as my left foot sought its rightful clipped-in place. I fell twice in the parking lot while stopping, but came out unscathed.

As we headed out on our 24-mile ride, I noticed that my pedal stroke had more power, that the harder gears seemed lighter. I practiced clipping in and out at stoplights and stop signs, trying to come to a smooth, controlled stop. Things were going pretty well, I thought. Of course, my glow of success didn’t last too long, when I managed to topple over trying to start my bike on an uphill. I banged my forearm pretty hard and had to stand by the side of the road for a moment to “shake off” the pain.

Coach Riz came along behind me and asked if I was okay. She said that the trick to starting up a hill was to put your clipped foot at 12 o’clock for maximum power. I started again and got my bearings a little bit, then began powering through some lengthy climbs. These were not the most fun things, these climbs, and, while I did have more power going up, I still found myself huffing and puffing.

After some powerful hills, I fell again, getting myself to a stop sign. A woman stopped her car to ask if I was okay. SO embarrassing! I’d torn a hole in my bike pants by this time, but I was otherwise fine. I waved her on and thanked her, got myself back up and kept moving, incredibly relieved once I got back to the flat loop area. No more falling, yayyy!

I hopped off of my bike and got ready for my transition run, a 20-minute out and back. Oy, wow, was I feeling it! Not only did my bloodied knee hurt, but also my glutes packed a punch that I was not expecting. I felt a little broken, shockingly exhausted, but pressed on through the run.

On the way back toward the parking lot, a piece of sidewalk jumped up and tripped me, and my exhausted body again went sprawling across the pavement. Unreal. I’d torn another hole in my cycling tights, as well as bloodied the other knee, and my elbow. With that fall, I’d set the record for the number of times I’d fallen in one day. I’m starting to think that a career as a stuntwoman might not be too outlandish an option for me now.

Now home and bandaged up, I realize that I do have a long way to go with my cycling fitness. I never knew it would be so difficult. While I’m proud of myself for getting into those clipless pedals, I still have a lot of homework to do with them. I hope that I’m not in over my head.


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Recovery Week: A Training Story

Well, folks, I thought I’d have awesome news to share in the new year. In fact, I was almost certain of it, but, alas, the awesomely perfect job I’d been interviewing for extensively fell through at the last minute (they cited budgetary reasons). I found out the Friday morning before Christmas, right after timing my swim splits for 400m.

Christmas was a good distraction, but, of course, after the tinsel falls away,  reality sets back in. We have to go back to real life where we left it off, and also survey the damage that was done pre (and during) the holidays. The good news is that I actually lost an inch and a half from my hips over the holiday season, but my mood was in not so great shape. Post-Christmas, my energy level plummeted and I’m still struggling today. My motivation for everything has waned and I can’t seem to get enough sleep (I walk the dog at 6:30 a.m., return at 7, eat some toast, and go back to sleep until 9:30, when I have to pry myself out of bed with a crowbar to get moving). I’m not sure if I’m coming down with something or whether it’s depression, but I suspect that it’s the latter of the two.

My tendonitis returned in my left foot last weekend on a rain-soaked and freezing 6.25 mile run. The good news is that my overall training pace is now about a 9:25/mile, which proves that I have gotten stronger and faster. Last Sunday, we did a bike ride, and, in spite of struggling up some of the steep hills with my platform pedals, I did fairly well on the rest of the ride and finally felt less winded overall (some of the windedness, I suspect, was due to nervousness also).

Coach Holly is going to give me my official start on clipless pedals on Saturday, which will, admittedly, give me more power and advantage up hills. I know for sure that I’m really behind everyone else on the team for that reason. I have strong legs, so there’s no reason I shouldn’t be keeping up there with the rest of them.

I missed a bike and a run this week, which bums me out, especially since the bike I could have done, but I just felt too exhausted to do. I really hope that my energy returns. It is beginning to worry me. Still, coaches say that this is a “recovery week,” so I will take it as a chance to recover from the blow of not getting my dream job, to get some rest, and to redouble all of my efforts in training, job hunting, and in taking care of myself.

Lessons Learned:

1) Sometimes, even IronWomen need a break.