Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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So, Then What? A Training Story

Yesterday’s challenge: A 4/2 brick, four solid hours on the bike, followed by two on the run. It was two hours short of the epic 5/3 brick, which is going to be our last big workout before we taper for Vineman.

Our small group of Viners gathered in Westlake, headed by substitute coach, Pete, who was a participant this year, but who has been a TNT coach over the years, as well as a seasoned triathlete and Ironman himself. Our team of coaches were in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, helping and cheering for our fellow teammates as they completed their journey to becoming Ironmen.

The course Pete designed took us up and over Potrero Rd hills, through a few Cat 5 climbs, and then looped onto Agora Rd, where we met lots of little climbs and rollers along the way. As usual, the pack pulled away from me, at a 20+ mph pace, early on. Spinning at 17-18 mph up Potrero, I felt the ever-yawning stretch between me and the group pull my heart downward. I was last…and alone…again. The panic began.

The course felt like climb after climb, after climb, which didn’t afford me many chances to speed up or maintain a higher pace. My breath remained quick. I got stuck at every light, it seemed, and made a wrong turn and had to walk my bike back across two crosswalks to get back on track. Then, I discovered that my front wheel was loose, and my rear wheel had the brake pads knocked out of alignment. Some older guy stopped and talked my ear off about fixing bike wheels (everyone’s an expert), and, then, finally I got back along my not-so-merry way.

Watching the clock, I could see how much valuable time all of the stops were sucking up. According to me odometer, I was going along at a 15-16 mph pace, but, overall, I was barely over 11 mph, nearly two hours in. Plus the climbs seemed to suck me into a tar pit of slowness. I would watch as my pace slowed to 6 mph up some of the rollers, and I knew that it was a shortcoming in me, because none of my teammates where spinning that slowly up the hills. I started hyperventilating.

Does this mean I suck? Am I not going to finish the bike on race day? Will this amount to yet another DNF?

The thoughts raced through my mind. My breathing staccatod and unnatural, rushed in and out of my lungs. I couldn’t seem to control it. I wrestled with the air, trying to take deep breaths, to keep my muscles oxygenated, but I couldn’t seem to regain consistent control.

At the 40-mile mark, I looped back into the parking lot, where Pete asked me how I was doing. I told him I wasn’t doing great, emotionally. He told me to quit worrying about everyone else and about my overall mileage, and just to get out there and ride my bike.

I tried. I worked on keeping consistent and fast-ish pacing. When I saw one of our faster riders heading in from a longer loop that the one I was on, I made it a goal to keep up and keep pace with her for the stretch of road that we were on. Keeping up with her gave me a slight burst of confidence, at least for a short stretch.

Shortly thereafter, we headed out on our 2-hour run, back up Potrero, with some consistent climbs as the heat overhead began to rise. Surprisingly, my legs felt pretty good on the run, and I kept a consistent 9-10 min/mile pace for the first six miles, but Gatorade bottles were depleted by mile 6 and I was quickly becoming dehydrated and upset because of it. I began to walk more to conserve my energy and sweat, since I didn’t know where the heck I’d see Pete next.

By mile 7, I saw Pete and got refilled, along with an extra mini-Gatorade bottle to swig on. While my run pace remained fairly consistent, I took quite a few more walk breaks in the heat than what I normally would have done. In the end, I finished 11 total miles in just under two hours, which, for really hilly and hot, I guess is acceptable.

After practice, Pete had a talk with me. Reason #555 why Pete is amazing is that he doesn’t sugarcoat what you need to hear, and he honestly cares.

“You have got to stop the negative self talk,” he told me. “I’m serious.”

He explained that the negative self talk, above the physical aspects of the race, would be the thing to hurt me. As history had shown, it wasn’t exactly helping my life. I just didn’t know how to get rid of it.

He told me that I needed to find something to replace it with, something that felt true to me, that didn’t feel trite or contrived. One thing he said that he does when times get tough on the bike and he starts to go to that negative place, he reserves one special phrase that doesn’t often get used when we talk to ourselves. He says, “I’m proud of you, Pete.” Just like that. Out loud.

I had never said that to myself, especially while riding my bike. I’m hard on myself, I suppose. All people attempting the Ironman are. If we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here, I guess. I was willing to give that phrase a shot.

But then, what of the fear? The anxiety that always came with every ride. I felt like, although I was getting stronger on the bike, so was everyone else, and that I would never catch up to them. And that, somehow, the team was a marker for how I was going to fare in my race. Pete had me look into the face of my fear: What if I didn’t finish? What then?

Surely my life wasn’t over. I could try this again another time. I could be more patient with myself and more forgiving–to go from non-triathlete to Ironwoman in 8 months time, that’s quite a feat. Especially for someone who was never very athletic or coordinated.

More importantly, I could look at where I started, and how far I’d come. I could think back to all of the times I fell while learning to clip in, and of that epic day in Palos Verdes, when I climbed up all of Hawthorne without stopping. Those memories of how I conquered my fears, those feelings of triumph, I earned those. I went from shaky newbie triathlete to someone who swims, bikes and even runs with more confidence than ever before. The things that I can do today make me a stronger person, a forever changed person, and, in the end, I don’t need a medal to prove that I am an Ironwoman. I am today, and maybe I’ve always been one, deep down inside.

So what if I don’t finish the bike? I am proud of myself anyway.


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Being Your Own Superhero: A Training Story

I saw “Man Of Steel” this past weekend with my Ironteam buddies, on the Friday night before our long Saturday practice. Good lord, that man is attractive! — Sorry, I digress. It’s actually kind of hilarious how, after all of this training, even fictional superheroes don’t seem to impress me as much as they used to. This whole experience has changed me forever.

Still, I felt that familiar lump in my stomach while prepping my gear Saturday morning for our longest bike ride to date: 90 miles. I worried about what sort of pain and mental anguish I would encounter today. Lets face it, because every ride thus far had given me some kind of grief, I wasn’t naive about the possibilities. I hoped for the best, told myself to “just enjoy yourself” but had to prepare my mind in case the bad stuff came.

Right before we took off, Coach Amy pulled me aside and said, “Your assignment for today is not to think about what anyone else is doing. This is your ride. It doesn’t have to be all fun, you’re going to have to work hard, but just try to enjoy as much of it as you can.”

The lot of us all started out, as usual, in a pack, but everyone’s quickly sped away from and passed me as I wheeled up the hills. Something felt weird to me, like I had less power in my legs than usual. It was early on in the ride and I just could not gain any momentum.

My inn thigh and glute began burning. As the ride progressed, this burning became cramping.
What is wrong with me? I whimpered to myself.
Why do I suck at this?
Clearly, Amy’s assignment had gone out the window. I was wheeling and cramping and whimpering myself into Self Flagellation City, Population: 1.

Ding! A stupid cyclist’s bell interrupted my pity party. I scootched to the right to let him pass.
Ding! Ding! Ding! He didn’t move forward, but pulled up alongside me.
“How are you doing?” It was Coach Jason.
“I’m cramping,” I whimpered.
He asked me where it was and when it started, and asked me if I could ride to SAG, which was another mile and a half up the road. The cramping was searing and horrid. I focused on pedaling with my left, non-cramping leg until we got to the SAG stop.

Jason made me stretch several different ways before I hopped back on the bike, telling me to pull over and stretch if I felt the cramping again, rather than try to ride through it. I ended up pulling over to stretch about every five miles for the first 50 or so miles of the ride.

The pain was a slow build, from a subtle burn to searing pain over the course of a sustained climb. It felt like a devil’s paw gripping around my glute and thigh.
“Ow! Ow! OOOWWW!!!!” I screamed over and over again, with such a venom and ferocity while climbing a gradual incline to Los Posas along the PCH, that I even scared myself, not to mention probably a group of cyclists who had stopped to enjoy the ocean view in a little gravel lookout area near the side of the road.

I hated the pain. I hated my bike. I hated everyone on my team for being naturally fast. I hated myself for being slow. I hated that I couldn’t get any faster, no matter how hard I tried. I was beside myself with anxiety and anger.

The ride to Los Posas seemed to take forever. When I finally got there, I stretched again, ate a Bonk Breaker, and took a moment to snap out of crazy hysterical mode. I was going to finish this ride, no matter what it took.

Mile 50-75 found me able to go a bit longer between stretches, about every 10 miles. I saw the majority of my teammates on the home path, back to base at around mile 70, hour six for me. They all finished 90 miles in the time it took me to finish 70. Wow, I am terrible at this, thought the bad student me.

I was out there, completely alone, and, strangely, there was something wildly freeing about that. I had no one to keep up with, no one to chase, no one to worry about on that course but me. And you know what happened? I flew! Well…no…I didn’t fly, nor did I cycle insanely fast on PCH hills, but I averaged about a 15-16 mph pace on the way back, with stop lights and stopping to talk to Jason (he was worried about me and drove back to find me). It was fast for me.

When I got back to Zuma Beach, my teammates had already run and were relaxing in the parking lot. They cheered when I came back in. Sure it felt a little bad to be so far behind, but overall, I felt accomplished. I didn’t quit. I kept going. And I even ran for an hour afterward!

In the end, I discovered that I’d paced overall at over 12mph. While that’s a pretty slow overall pace, my constant sustained stops and the occasional stoplight add up. Best of all, to finish Vineman, I’ve calculated that I need to keep an overall pace of 13 mph or more, so, as long as I stay consistent, I have got this!

This is the lesson in which I learn to quit worrying about other people, that my accomplishments are my own. I rescued myself out there, I found my inner Woman of Steel, dug deep, and kept going, in spite of all that the Dark Lord of Pain could throw at me. I say, who needs a superhero when you can be one yourself?

20130617-211635.jpg I kind of like this Superhero persona (better keep it under wraps)!


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Embracing The “Suck”: A Training Story

This whole book of lessons continually reveals new chapters,even after I think the end is sure to be on the next page. I keep studying, even though I really am not certain whether these lessons will amount to success in the end, or end with crushing disappointment. I keep following because there is still hope in me that, miraculously, I will finish this thing.

Let’s rewind a bit. The past several weeks have seen me struggle with mental and physical anguish on my bike, sometimes plowing through, and sometimes throwing in the towel, feeling defeated and completely crushed. I’m still trying to get a handle on why I am unable to handle the pains associated with cycling, and why I keep quitting. Quitting is a habit, just like any other. If you set your mind to, “If I feel bad, I can just bail out,” then, whenever you are feeling any kind of pain, the mind has a way of worming out of situations that get mentally and emotionally challenging.

I quit again last weekend, at Mile 70 of our 80-Mile Vineman training weekend in Sonoma. It was 102 degrees of dry, dry heat. We had splashed through our 2+ mile practice swim in the lake, and proceeded to spin along the race course route. The race course was spectacular. Initially, I tried to focus on keeping my pace up, staying with the others for a little while, until, as always happens, they disappeared from view, and I was out on the course alone with my thoughts.

For a good while, things were going okay. I had a shifting epiphany when Coach Riz told me to “click up one gear, get to the speed you want, and then click back down and keep a high cadence to maintain it.” Oh Em Gee. All of this time I had been shifting up and up and up to get a faster pace, but then burning my legs out in the high gears trying to maintain the cadence. I began flying along the road at paces I had never before been able to maintain for sustained periods. I began to think, “Wow! I could actually finish this race!”

Around Mile 40 I started feeling bloated, so much so that the front of my stomach started to hurt as the waist of my otherwise stretchy and loose Tri shorts started to dig in. I struggled fiercely climbing Chalk Hill, the one Cat 5 climb of the whole race, and not something that I hadn’t ever done before. By the time I got to a stop sign after Chalk, I started feeling light-headed and dizzy. The sun toasted overhead. Coach Amy rode up and advised me to stand in the shade awhile to regain my composure and cool off.

When I finally got going again, I began to think about how long this was taking me, and how every time I stopped, I added more time to my overall ride. I thought about how everyone would have to wait for me to finish, and how I would feel like a loser, again. My legs were getting weaker and weaker, even though I was taking in calories and electrolytes. My stomach was feeling pretty gross. My feet both experienced “hot foot” from swelling in my shoes, which was incredibly painful.

I pushed on, feebly struggling to maintain a pace of 10-13 mph. I started to panic, get upset. I asked out loud, over and over, “Why can’t I move?!?” I begin to grunt and cry and throw a tantrum at my feeble legs, whose hamstrings screamed for mercy. Then, the headwinds hit. I told myself, “You are not quitting!” It took everything I had to press on with my weak, weak failing legs.

Finally, at Mile 70, after hyperventilating and sobbing some more, I stopped at a stop sign. The light-headed ness has returned. I thought, “There is no way I can climb up Chalk Hill again.” I could barely cycle on the flat, how was I going to get up Chalk Hill?

Our roving SAG person caught up with me and asked if I needed help. She told me that she could pick me up and I conceded. I gave up. Not finishing again made me feel like more of a loser than if I’d been the last finisher.

According to Coach Jason, my nutrition had stopped absorbing (hence the bloat), despite my efforts to fuel it. That would make sense as to why my legs quit on me. Still, I felt like a wussy, a worthless DNFer who just wasn’t as good as everyone else.

I redeemed myself a little on the next day’s 18-mile run, finishing before a good number of my teammates, even though I still wasn’t feeling very strong. Still, the weekend left me a bit unsettled.

Coach Amy called me midweek to chat about my struggles. We talked about pain and nutrition and getting through the “dark” places during the ride. We talked about my specific struggles and my self doubt. In the end, we came up with a new nutrition plan and an assignment for next week’s ride:
“It s a shorter ride this week, I want you to just have fun on the bike. Don’t worry about your time or what anyone else is doing, just go out there and look at the scenery and enjoy your ride.”

It sounded simple enough, but I knew that it came with its own challenges for me. Those crushing moments when the pack pulls away from me, those times when I’m struggling up a hill or feeling pain in my feet, all were obstacles I saw that could thwart me from my purpose. Still, challenge accepted.

Our Vineman training group, whittled down to just 12 members, started off in a small pack. Per usual, the pack kept a starting pace of over 20 mph. I know this because I was going 18-19 mph and they pulled away from me and disappeared quickly. Instead of letting it become a source of anxiety, I focused on my own pacing and cadence, however slow, because, as Coach Quinton said once, “There is nobody (besides the elites) who finishes an Ironman bike fast.”

One of my assets as a runner is that, even though I’m not super fast, I am solid, and fairly good at pacing myself. I decided that I was going to attempt to translate those skills over to the bike, assuming that a solid overall pace would be about 15mph, including all climbs and descents. Things were looking pretty good. I was cruising along at about 16-18mph on the flats, using Riz’s click up method. Then, I heard a bizarre clicking.

I stopped my bike and checked my cadence sensor. Things appeared normal there. Then, I noticed the problem: a flat tire. Not only did I have a flat, but a piece of metal was jammed into my tire, piercing the tube. Really?!? Someone out there was really trying to make it so that my ride was the least amount of fun imaginable. After struggling for several minutes to pull the metal out, I finally dislodged it, grabbed my one tube and removed my new Gatorskin from the wheel.

What seemed like lots of struggling and many minutes later, I finally got back on the road, determined to enjoy the ride. Coach Emily was waiting for me at Mulholland Canyon. I told her what happened, and we proceeded to climb up. Suddenly my ride got very bouncy. We pulled over to the side of the road and, sure enough, I was going flat again, Huzzah.

Emily helped me to pump up my bike and we got back on the road, only to be stopped again shortly thereafter because, you guessed it, the tire had gone flat again. With no spare tube, my only option was to call SAG. Emily waited with me for over 20 minutes, when SAG pulled up with a replacement wheel, and I was good to go.

Was I nervous about being so far behind my group? Sure I was, but at this point it didn’t really matter, so I tried to just enjoy the ride. Having Coach Emily to talk to generally helped things, on top of the expansive views during the very long, sustained climb up Mulholland.

As we descended down a very technical hill, I realized how far I’d come, how much more in control of my bike that I felt, in spite of being a newb. Near the bottom of the descent, we encountered a hidden horsey wonderland, with Shetland ponies and well-groomed horses in pastures, in some of the Valley’s rare shady spots. I felt calm, relaxed, joyful here, something that rarely came over me on the bike.

I was in such a state of zen, I didn’t even freak out when I saw a live baby rattler on the road while we were encountering some rolling canyon hills. When Coach Emily left me on my own at mile 27 or so to finish the ride, I was still enjoying myself, playing with various gears and speeds on the bike.

The loop was 31 miles,ending at the start, but we were required to do a total of 40, which meant an additional out and back. I could have cheated, said, “Eh, 31 miles is good enough after all I dealt with today,” but I was determined to finish what I set out to do.

The out and back was relatively flat, so I played with my gears and effort level, enjoying the various challenges, and the fact that I felt relatively fresh after a 40-miler. When I finished, I rolled in feeling like I had accomplished some sort of personal victory. I did what I set out to do, in spite of the challenges.

These days, I’ll take my wins however they come.

20130609-184337.jpg Go Team! Post-run, in Sonoma. Photo credit: Laura Crow.