Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.

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Time Management: A Training Story

Far be it from me to complain about my awesome new job. After eight months of unemployment, the emotional roller coasters of almost-hire situations, the rejections, the stress, I am so happy to have gotten, not only a great position at a great company, but the job that I wanted, and with a team that really wanted me, specifically. Still, I worry about how work is going to affect my life differently, now with no weekends “off” to relieve pressure, but simply training and more training, early mornings, and no sleep, like, ever.

The life of someone training for an Ironman has to be akin to that of a monk in ways, as some of my family and friends will not see you until you emerge, triumphant, clutching a Vineman 140.6 medal in your quivering hands. Many people will understand, but a surprising number will not, and will kind of move on without you, writing you off as being “obsessed” with this whole training thing, not realizing that, in order to complete a feat of such proportions, a person has to be all-in. You have to fight the urge to make empty promises, to say, “Hey, I miss you. Let’s hang out next weekend, after my practice!” when you know full well that next weekend after practice you’ll be passed out on the couch after having consumed a mound of recovery food and hydration.

On the rare occasion that you do end up going out, the story is always the same, “I can only have one [insert your beverage of choice here] because I’m training tomorrow,” or, “I can’t be out late because I have to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow.” Every time you say these things, you’re met with the same thick-lower-lip, puppy dog eyes of a disappointed buddy trying to play some kind of guilt trip. And, because of that, a lot of the time, you opt just not to get out at all.

Oh, and forget about dating if you’re single. Ha and ha. It will “just figure” that, during the time you’re training for an Ironman, you’ll meet some of the most interesting, attractive, clever and kind people, who are totally into you, and who will (of course) ask you out. Maybe you will manage one date, and then have to wait a month or so for date #2, and you know that making any kind of commitment to even a regular dating situation to this person is really unfair. However, if a person is “that” into you, he or she might still keep in touch and might still be game to get to know you after the whole Ironman thing is over. Still, it’s a lot to ask of a person, especially someone you don’t know very well. Hence, why many hardcore triathletes in training for repeated seasons stay single.

It’s funny. I find myself having this repeated urge to press “Fast Forward” to August, when training is over and I have my glorious medal, and I can see how far I’ve come, and now I have all of this free time to do anything I want with on weekends (like sleep). However, I find myself looking at every weekend and being so happy that I have such a supportive bunch of teammates, and a new challenge to test my emotional and physical strength. Sure, managing that time will be challenging, but I think that I’m for it, even if it means pressing “Pause” on other things in my life for now.


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Like A Fish To Water: A Swimming Story

The crippling fatigue I’ve felt for the last two weeks during practice has made me feel a bit defeated. Heavy legs and burning arms made me feel like a wet noodle during most practices, and I wondered how my teammates possibly had the energy to continue on at their normal pace. I cut a bike ride and a swim short this week because my legs and arms just would not revive. They needed more recovery time, and they were going to take it, whether I was willing to give it or not.

Luckily, the week ended in a great victory for me: my first real ocean swim. In weeks prior, I’d hung back with a small group of my OWS-panicked teammates, and we’d practiced diving under waves and getting used to the icy hug of the Pacific around our wetsuited bodies. Today, with Coach Holly as my oceanic tour guide, I set out to conquer the surf (and my cold water panic). As we dove under the towering swells, my breath quickened, but I kept diving, swimming out, diving, until we were far enough away from the shore and the waves flattened out until their only presence was a gentle rocking as we paddled forward toward the far-away pier.

I charged forward, stopping once to catch my breath, shortened not only by exertion in the freezing cold water, but by both amazement and exhilaration of being out in the open ocean. No panic had set in and I WAS doing this. Wow. I plowed on, sighting the pier and Coach Holly to make sure that I was heading in the right direction and wasn’t going to end up in Canada or something. Midway through, the pier wasn’t appearing to be getting any larger, as we swam against the current. It felt like I was paddling in place for a while.

“Trust me,” Holly said. “We are getting closer.”

I paused a few times to catch my breath, and to get my bearings. Eventually the pier did get closer, and, before we knew it, we were heading into shore.

“Watch out for the surfers. Try to stay in between them,” Holly said.

A long-haired Fabio-lookalike surfer guy who was floating by, smiled and said, “Oh, don’t worry. We won’t hit ya.”

“It’s her first time swimming in the ocean,” Holly explained to to surfer.

“Ah, cool!” he replied.

“She just swam a mile!” Holly boasted for me.

“Wow! Way to go! That’s hardcore,” Surfer Guy grinned.

“Thanks!” I beamed, having just been bobbing there, grinning in acknowledgement this whole time.

We let the waves carry us back into shore, diving under a few tall ones that would have knocked us for a loop. As I trudged onto the sand, I gathered high-fives from a few teammates, feeling triumphant that I’d slayed yet another fear dragon.

I’ll chalk this week up as another success story, in spite of some of the not-so-fun parts.

In other news:  I got a job! I start tomorrow and I couldn’t be more excited! Now it’s going to be a whole lesson in time management, but that’s a story for another post (stay tuned tomorrow for more). Yayy!

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Transforming Into A Real IronWoman: A Training Story

3100 hard yards in the pool last night, after the brutal weekend. Coming to practice, I felt exhausted, like my body had not had a full chance to recover from the torture of the heat, OWS panic, and the emotional stress I’d endured over my first triathlon. Somehow I knew they weren’t going to go easy on us, and I hoped that I would wake up somehow midway through the swim.

200 warm up, then two 400s, the second one faster than the first. Amazingly, the first one I finished in a speedy 7:20, but the second took eight minutes. My arms and legs felt like lead. Next up, one 100, 80% effort. I seemed to slow myself down through that sprint effort. Coach Jason said that my arms weren’t getting out of the water enough, creating drag. Ugh. It’s always something with swimming, isn’t it? The rest of the workout went as follows:

3×300, descending set
100 sprint (90% effort)
4×200 steady pace
100 all out sprint

After our all out sprint, I thought, “Okay, we’re done, time for cool down, right?” No, not so much. Coach Jason crowded all of us within the same pace into the same lane for a simulated race start. The first time, he made me and a female teammate take the lead. I sprinted hard toward the finish, feeling the hands of the guys in back brush my legs as I fought to keep the lead. It was actually pretty exhilarating.

We swam 25 yards back easy, and, onto sprint #2. This time, Jason put the gals in the back row, guys in front, saying, “Okay girls, kick their asses!” Challenge accepted. I fought my way between the swimmers, beating out two of the guys by the time we got to the wall. I was shocked that I still had it in me to sprint after all of that swimming. I think I might like this whole competitive swim start thing after all!

Ironman training is no joke, but it proves how your body can develop high levels of endurance and strength. For someone who has only been swimming for six months, it’s amazing to me how far I’ve come. In the three months that I’ve been training with the team, I’ve learned immeasurable lessons about myself, and I’m watching myself change inside and out, with every passing week.

It’s hard to believe that, just a little over a year ago, I weighed well over 200 lbs, I couldn’t ride a bike, and I had no confidence in my physical abilities. Not only have I lost tons of weight (I weigh 145-150 lbs now, depending on which way the wind blows the scale numbers), but I have started to really change my body and my feelings about whether I can be an athlete.

I looked in the mirror this morning and saw the beginnings of really sculpted abs, less jiggle in the tummy area, trimmer hips, and muscular legs. I’m beginning to LOOK like an athlete, and feel more like one too.

I remembered sighing dispiritedly at the results of my first tape measuring back when I started my journey (I refused to weigh myself because I didn’t want to be even more depressed). My waist measurement read 35″; my hips,  47″. As of today ‘s measurement, my waist is 28″ and my hips are 38″, and I feel strong, energized, the best I’ve ever felt in my entire life! And, mind you, we’re only three months into training!

Plus, I’m about to start a bootcamp on Wednesdays at Elevation Fitness in West Hollywood, led by the awesome Beth Bishop, to help boost my speed and strength. It’s going to hurt, but I’m going to love it! Bring it on!!!

Just a reminder of how far I’ve come:

Me (right) with my sister in Florida, March 2011 (225 lbs)

Me (right) with my sister in Florida, March 2011 (225 lbs)

Me (center) March 2013 (145 lbs) finishing my first Tri!

Me (center) March 2013 (145 lbs) finishing my first Tri! (photo credit: Laura Crow)


It Doesn’t Always Happen On The First Tri: A Racing Story

Well, folks, I’m back from the desert to tell the tale of my first triathlon. This story is far from a fairy-tale, but I think it has its value just the same.

I arrived in Palm Desert on a Friday night, after spending nearly four endless hours in traffic trying to get out of Los Angeles. On top of the usual rush hour and weekend getaway insanity, I had forgotten two of my water bottles early on, and was forced to backtrack through the mounting lines of vehicles, tacking on an extra half hour to my journey. I actually screamed, “Just get me out of here!” inside of my car while idling in an unforgivingly slow stream of vehicles inching their way out of town.

When I finally did get there, all I could think was, “I can’t believe that I’m actually doing this.” I felt overcome with a sense of frantic backpedaling, like someone was behind me, about to push me off of a cliff. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well Friday night in the hotel, even though we were only practicing the next day, not racing. I woke up every few hours, and my dreams were filled with pre-race anxieties.

By 9 a.m. on Saturday, it was already about 75 degrees F. The forecast had predicted soaring into the 90s. Luckily, I had been downing Gatorade and extra hydration since Thursday, but my body was still not used to physical activity in the heat. Keep in mind that, just last week, we’d practiced in 40-degree weather. This heat was a total head trip and I only hoped that I wouldn’t melt into a puddle.

We headed out on the bike route fairly quickly upon arrival at Lake Cahuilla. The sprint triathletes had just finished their race earlier in the morning, so there was a steady stream of vehicular traffic to contend with as the team rolled out onto the practice course. You know how much I love riding around cars on narrow roads with no bike lane. Joy.

My team pre-bike, Saturday morning, Lake Cahuilla.

My team pre-bike, Saturday morning, Lake Cahuilla.

The reason that most triathletes in California choose Desert Tri as a first triathlon is that it’s a really flat course. Granted, there are desert headwinds to compete with, but, overall, it’s pretty easy peasey. I was keeping a pretty consistent 17-20 mph pace, according to my GPS, which, for me, is fairly insane. I finished the 24 mile course in about an hour and 25 minutes, flipped my bike over in our makeshift transition area, scratching my right leg on the big chainring in the process (of course, what practice would be complete without my bloodshed?), switched my shoes, and headed out on the run.

Desert mountains, towering over transition.

Desert mountains, towering over transition.

The desert sun was brutal for the run. It made my black jersey feel like it was on fire. Finally, I removed it and felt tons better, even if I was exposing more of myself than I wanted to (no six pack abs just yet). I consumed all of my Gatorade by mile 3, and looped back around to grab more water and electrolytes in the transition area. My run pace was about a 9:30, not too terrible for the extreme conditions. I felt tired, extremely hot, but okay.

We broke midday and grabbed our race packets, ate what we could get down (I only had a recovery drink and 1/4 of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because of the heat and all of the hydration), and chilled for a moment before getting into our wetsuits for a quick swim sesh. I hoped that it would be easier this time. We practiced a swim start, but, after feeling the icy shock of the water after such a hot workout, I panicked.

“Solange, put your face in the water!” Coach Holly called to me.

“I can’t!” I sputtered back, frustration gripping me.

Holly swam over and talked me through my breathing. Eventually, I got to where I could breathe out in the water. I tried taking it 10 strokes at a time, slowing down, and feeling slightly more comfortable.

We didn’t have that much time for the swim that day, as the lake was only open to swimmers for one hour. I emerged feeling terrified as all get-out that I would be stuck floundering in the middle of this 3/4 mile swim, and have to be fished out later with a net by park maintenance staff.

Needless (again) to say, I didn’t sleep all that well the night before the race, although, because the heat had tired me out a bit, I did get a smidge more sleep. My thoughts were filled with panic about the swim. Of course, I managed to wake up just six minutes before the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. There was no snoozing going on, just a whole lot of, “Oh, crap, what am I doing?”

After arriving at the lake around 5:30 a.m. and getting my transition area set up, I walked around trying to calm my nerves a bit. The coaches all took turns giving me a pep talk, and then I went on a little 10 minute jog to warm up my sleepy muscles. Five minutes in, I felt a sharp pain at the inner-backside of my left leg. Greeeeaaaattt. Just what I needed. I’d pulled that muscle very slightly earlier in the week, getting up weirdly the morning after a really hard trainer ride. It must have stiffened up after the prior day’s activities.  I limped back to transition and stretched, hoping that the swim and bike would loosen it up.

After seeing a few teammates all wetsuited up, I decided to pull on mine. Well, actually, it wasn’t mine. I’d borrowed a full-sleeve wetsuit from my teammate, as mine was a sleeveless, and this water was going to be unpleasantly cold. Putting on a wetsuit is worse than wriggling into support hose, and, at this early morning hour, with my brain totally overwhelmed, it was probably all the more difficult to shimmy into.

Walking up to my teammates, wetsuit pulled up, I suddenly noticed an odd calm coming over me. It was as if my body and mind had succumbed to the impending doom. My “fight or flight” instinct had exhausted itself.

Wading into the water, I felt a slight shock at first, but found my breath. I was swimming! I wasn’t panicking! Phew! We spent about ten minutes in the water before wading back onto shore for our respective wave starts.

Before I knew it, us yellow caps were up. I stood toward the back of the pack, waded in, and began to swim out. This was it. Not 100 meters in, and my breath quickened. I flipped over on my back and started to backstroke, trying to catch my breath. I flipped back over, swam a few more strokes, lost my breath, stopped, flipped over backstroked, and so on. The wetsuit felt like a boa constrictor, gripping my chest at full force. I couldn’t breathe. I tried stopping completely, hanging out in the water for a minute to catch my breath. That didn’t work. I tried deep breathing, but it only made things worse. I tried backstroking and thinking how pretty the sky was, which worked for a moment, then, when I flipped back over and tried to swim, the panic came back.  I watched as wave after wave of caps swam past me. The yellow caps were almost non-existent by the time I was midway through. This was my worst nightmare. And, of course, it got worse.

Halfway through, my left calf decided to seize up into the worst cramp I’ve ever felt in my life. I fought to stretch it, while I hung out pitifully in the water, watching caps swim by. Finally, it passed, and I resumed backstroking, by now thoroughly exhausted, hyperventilating, but trying to just get through the whole thing. And, at long, long last, I did. I stumbled out of the water, breathing like a beast, feeling sick to my stomach, where some of the coaches were waiting for me at the chute, cheering me on.

I weebled, bewildered to transition. Was I actually going to get on my bike after this? Actually, during the whole swim, I’d been looking forward to the bike, that smooth, flat bike course, where I felt fast and free. Three months ago I never would have thought that I would look forward to getting on the bike so much. Ha.

Then, it hit me. My stomach was not only nauseous, but it wanted to eliminate its contents, and not the way they came in (sexy, eh?). Maybe this feeling will pass, I thought. Just keep transitioning, get on the bike, you’ll be fine.

My race number ripped from its pins as I put my shirt on. It took me a few minutes to force the pin back through the tough race paper with my feeble, shaking hands. It didn’t seem like that long, but this transition actually took me over nine minutes. Yikes.

Once, on my bike, I struggled to get my legs, find my cadence and my bearings. At first, I sailed smoothly along, thinking, “Everything’s going to be okay from here-on-out!” I was pedaling along at 17 mph, I felt the wind in my face, and things were a-okay.

About seven miles later, I noticed that it was getting harder and harder to pedal. Whew, these headwinds are strong! –I thought. I watched my bike slow to a 13 or 14 mph pace. Fellow racers seemed to whiz by, but I thought, Those guys must be really fast! It wasn’t until I was passed by a few really old ladies that I realized that it was not the course, it was me. My legs were trashed from the swim, all of the furious kicking, the struggling, On top of that, my digestive issues continued and I fought, with every bump, to keep everything in my body from coming out. I had often heard of people having accidents while racing and, to someone who had never had major digestive issues during a race until now, it sounded horrifying. Please, PLEASE don’t let me be THAT person! I begged the unseen Race Gods.

Finally, I rounded the second loop, climbed a tiny hill, and headed into T2. I could not wait to get off of my bike and back to my bread and butter–the run. However, I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage all of that bouncing around with my digestive issues. I needed to find a bathroom, fast. Heading out on the run, I found a small cabin bathroom, the only toilet on the premises that wasn’t a port-o-potty. After taking care of that business, I focused on working out the kinks in my brick legs, and keeping light, quick steps, as Coach Jason had taught me.

The sun was out in full force again this time, and I took full advantage of every water station, dumping cups and cups on myself to keep cool, sipping it and Gatorade to keep myself hydrated. I stuck to 10 minute intervals, walking one minute each time. As I rounded the first loop, I saw Coach Holly, dressed in a Luigi outfit, which was welcome comic relief in all of this torture. She ran with me, asked how I was doing, and I told her about my issues. She encouraged me onward, I kept going. I felt strong, even though the second loop was even hotter than the first. My digestive issues had…no…wait, they were back. By Mile 4 of the run, things were no bueno again. I was forced to walk a few times just to let things calm down.

Finally, I rounded the turn toward the finish, and Mario (Coach Emily) was waiting for me. We ran forward toward the finish together, and then, my team mentor, met up with us, and then another teammate, plus her dog, joined in too. I could see my team cheering on all sides as I sprinted on toward my grand finale, left hamstring screaming at me (it had to turn up sooner or later, right?), furious bowels, and all. Phew! I was never so relieved to see a finish line. My teammates circled around me, giving me hugs and congratulating me as I sobbed and snotted everywhere. What a mess I was.

All of my other tri-newbie teammates did outstandingly well, one girl winning 2nd place in her age group. Other teammates shattered PRs and chattered happily about what a great race it was. For me, things were a little different. I was fairly quiet throughout our post-race meal, listening to everyone else’s excited banter with nothing particularly great to contribute.

When I got home, I looked at my medal and felt nothing. With all of my other races I’d felt gleeful, proud, and strong looking at those medals. I didn’t even feel like I deserved it. Calling myself a triathlete made me feel like an impostor. Triathletes were fast, strong, tough. They didn’t flounder like I had. I felt embarrassed, frustrated and defeated. I cried most of the night.

I emailed Coach Jason about my feelings and experiences, Mikey called and I’d talked to her about them too. Both of them wanted me to focus on the positives, that I overcame obstacles and still finished a triathlon. I was reluctant to hear it at first, I felt like a failure, like something was fundamentally wrong with me, but, in the end, I knew that they were right.

So, here’s what I’m going to do right now. I’m going to tell you why I deserve that medal. Here goes:

1) I worked through a fear of swimming in open water, getting through 3/4 of a mile no matter how tough it was.

2) I swam almost the whole 3/4 mile in a stroke that I had not trained in.

3) I finished the swim, in spite of hyperventilation and feeling completely exhausted.

4) I got on my bike, in spite of feeling exhausted.

5) I got on my bike, in spite of feeling sick to my stomach.

6) I rode 24 miles on my bike, with heavy legs and serious digestive distress, and did not give up.

7) I ran six miles in the heat, after being exhausted from the bike and swim.

8) I ran six miles, even though I was experiencing digestive distress.

9) I managed to pick up my pace on the run, even though I was exhausted and sick.

10) I finished with a HUGE smile on my face.

Both Coach Amy and Coach Holly sent me emails today also. Holly, as my swim expert coach, assured me that the swim would get better, and that I might even end up liking it (I have no doubt of that, if I could only shake the boa constrictor). Amy reminded me that triathlon is a solo sport, that I was always going to be running my own race, and that, in the end, I was doing this for myself. An Ace of Hearts is not an Ace of Spades, but they’re both still aces in their own right.

I had to realize that it was my pride, mostly, that was hurt, but I had put my pride in the wrong place. As one of my marathon coaches once told me, “It’s the days when you have the worst time of it that make you the strongest.” Instead of the experience proving that I could not do this, it has showed me that I can, that I will, and that you’re all going to watch me ace this Ironman thing.

I am a Triathlete!

I am a Triathlete!