Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.

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Nerves: A Pre-Race Story

Less than a week to Vineman, and it’s really here, it’s really happening. Nine months of slaying fear dragons and getting knocked about, and here we are. It’s strange when you’re training for something for that long. It feels like you’re just going to be in “training mode” forever and that, somehow, the actual day of reckoning will never arrive, but will simply loom, mirage-like, on the horizon. Now the illusion is materializing, and, with it, of course, comes a windfall of hard realities.

My anxieties over my bike time have always hovered in the background, as I have watched my teammates become amazing athletes and cyclists, and I’ve stayed lagging behind, repeating Teddy Roosevelt’s words, “Comparison is the thief of joy” in my head as my mantra. Now I have to face the hard edge of truth, that, I’ll have little margin for error on that bike. Come hell or high water, I have to push, push, push, through pain, through tears, through any random curveball that comes my way.

Last weekend, Coach Jason told me to “keep moving forward”, no matter what. Even if I do face dire challenges that put me in the position of not being able to make that bike cutoff. “Don’t stop until they come sweep you off the course,” Jason advised.

So many of my coaches and friends have told me that they key to accomplishing what I want to accomplish on that bike course lies in my own tangled brain. I should believe, with my whole heart, that I can finish this bike leg, that I can make the cut off. So, when all else fails, I must arm myself with facts:

1) I have been training all season long for this race. I have the strength and endurance within me.

2) I know that I can finish 100 miles in 7.5 hours WITH lots of long stops, so there is no reason to believe that I cannot finish 112 miles in 8.5-9 hours.

3) Race day will provide lots of motivation and adrenaline, and Vineman is a beautiful bike route to provide distractions.

4) I cannot gauge my performance based on what happened at Vineman Training Weekend. Besides the temp climbing to 104 degrees F, my Accelerade did not absorb, causing me to bonk early on. Note: Prior to bonking, I was making good time out on the course.

5) I cannot compare myself to others. As long as I remain within my own pace requirements, I can focus on enjoying the day and appreciating everything that I’ve done to get here.

I will try to keep this logic in my back pocket. I think I will write “Believe” on my arms to keep me in a positive head space during the ride. Once the ride is over, I get to jam on the run (and by “jam” I mean keep a steady 10:30 pace throughout, if possible–Vineman’s run is a little bit tough).

I suppose that, even typing through these thoughts, I feel a bit better. Rather than letting my emotions gulp me down into a neverending rabbit hole of strained nerves and sick stomachs, I’ll try to remind myself to get back to the real world and look at the evidence of my own success.

And, again, so what if I don’t finish? Anything can happen on race day. It’s a long a$$ day. What happens? Well, yes, it’s disappointing to have to come home with a medal-free neck, like I did at Wildflower, but, really, was the medal the point of all of this? You don’t get to wear all of the things that you have accomplished on the outside, but they still show. I walk a little taller now, fear challenges a little bit less, I live with the knowledge that, if you really want something, you can go for it with your whole heart, and you can achieve things you never imagined you could do. I live with the knowledge that I’m tougher than I look, and that I have the strength to weather any of life’s natural disasters.

Of all of the strengths I’ve gained during these last nine months, the most powerful is the strength to believe in myself.  With that strength, I’ll keep the forward momentum.



Even The Best-Laid Plans Get Scrambled: A Training Story

Milestones. Sometimes they’re physical and tangible, like crossing a state line to a place you’ve never been, and sometimes they exist in hidden spaces inside the self. Either way, they are a gateway to a new layer of self, a new dimension of seeing the world, whether their impact is large or small.

This week was our scheduled 100-mile ride, or a “Century”, as spandex-clad Tour de France fanboys tend to call it (and as it’s known in the world of cycling). Century sounds a bit epic and intimidating, like standing at the edge of a cliff and looking way, way down at the infinite landscape stretching on and on for 100 whole miles. 100-miler sounds more like taking one mile at a time, in small bites, til you get there.

No matter what you call it, I was doing it. The team met in a new spot along the Pacific Coast Highway, and I managed to somehow let my GPS lead me astray in getting there. As if 100-miles were not intimidating enough, I ended up arriving just in time to throw on my helmet and scramble onto my bike to catch up with my already-wheeling away teammates.

My goal this week was to relax, to let myself have fun this day, and not worry too much about my time, or about being separated from the pack. Typically anyway, everyone sort of spreads out during the long rides. I was going to keep it steady, focus on keeping my breathing even, and avoid panicking about anything for every mile until the end.

It was going okay, but then it wasn’t so okay Within the first 20 miles out into Ventura County, I began to get a familiar cramping in my thighs and hip. For some reason, my body really does not like that stretch of the PCH. Luckily, I managed to get to the mile 25 SAG station and hop off to get in a long, long stretch session, which enormously helped things.

There are always spots on the PCH that are no fun, like long climbs along lots of beach-going parked cars, and stretches where you can’t really see much of anything cool, and you just have to keep on truckin’ til you do get to something cool. I can definitely think of worse places to bike, scenery-wise, but sometimes the cars and trucks zooming past you while you hug a small sliver of shoulder can be intimidating.

Overall, I was handling my ride pretty well, all things considered, and I was keeping up a nice little merry clip– not all-out, but a good, happy-legged pace. Best of all, even when I had to dig deep, my mind hovered just above that really nasty ditch-place, the one that’s really hard to get out of, once you’re in there, and it’s a really dark, desperately tragic, alone spot to be in.

At the second SAG spot, at the turnaround to head back out to Los Posas in Ventura County, I met up with one of my teammates, Lisa, who’d already “been there, done that” at Ironman Coeur D’Alene the previous month, but who had come out (along with many other already Ironman teammates) to ride support with us along the way. Lisa and I chatted easily along the road, maintaining a 15-17 mph pace along most of the flats and moderate inclines. She told me about how she maintained an easy-going pace, and still had plenty of time to finish her race. Of course, I thought, she had 17 hours to finish hers, whereas Vineman racers only have 16 hours. Yipe and yipe.

Before I realized it, I’d cycled out to Ventura and back to the first SAG station. Over 60 miles killed, and only 40 to go. And I still hadn’t gone to a really dark place. Things were not sucking. I was actually enjoying myself. And keeping a decent pace (for me) just over four hours in.

Back again to the turnaround I went. Lisa had left me to myself at SAG, but the fun I’d had riding along with her on that second loop remained. Though, admittedly, the cycling was getting a little bit harder as my legs and body fatigued, my attitude and outlook were still, as compared to my other monstrous cryfests, really awesome.

I saw my speedier teammates heading back toward the start line, figuring they were probably about an hour ahead of me, overall. Teddy Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Conversely, if you’re feeling happy, then you don’t feel much like comparing yourself to others. Seeing them speed by, the only thing I could think was, Wow, they must be really happy to be that much closer to being over this ride.

I knew it would be my turn to be “over” the ride soon enough. Heading back toward the start, there was a ton of traffic, plus lots of long, not too steep climbs that really required some deeper digging, just to get past them.

Finally, I could see it, the FINISH. Seven hours and twenty minutes in, I was almost there. It was happening. I could almost taste it. Then, SPLAT!

It wasn’t so much a “splat” really, but it happened as fast as a splat would. Something caused my handlebars to jerk crazily to the side, and, before I knew it, I was flying head-first toward the ground at 16 mph. Luckily, my years of horseback riding training had subconsciously prepared me for any fall, as if my brain knows, “Ground contact is immanent. Prepare to go limp in 5, 4,  3…”

My shoulder took the brunt of the impact, although I quickly became aware of my face sliding across the pavement as well. Just to show where my priorities were at that moment, I remember thinking: No! Not my face! I have meetings at company headquarters tomorrow! I tried to pick my head up as much as I could, even though sheer inertia (and my bike) had me somewhat pinned to the concrete.

I landed with my bike on top of me, and I was in pain. Luckily, it was a holiday weekend, so there were lots of people around to witness my spill. Some woman in a long, jersey dress had stopped along with a couple of men and another, older woman. The jersey dress lady pulled my bike off of me and asked if I was okay. My knee, shoulder and face were bleeding. She was convinced I had hit my head (I had not), and called the paramedics. Meanwhile, a nice man helped to pick me up off of the ground, once I determined that nothing was broken.

I called Jason, who showed up almost immediately (I was only a half mile from the finish), and waited with me until the paramedics appeared, which was also almost instantaneous. They slapped on a crude gauze bandage and put me through some standard brain damage tests. Then, we loaded my bike into the car and headed back to where I started.

Tears flowed freely, maybe a bit because I was in shock, but mostly because I had experienced the greatest ride of my life, and had it end SO suckily that it trumped all of my other spills and mishaps. My insides were stuck on some kind of looping coaster of emotion and couldn’t make sense of any of it.

The next day, we were scheduled to swim two miles and run 20. For obvious reasons, swimming in salt water was out, but I was determined, soreness and all, that I was going to attempt the run.

I started out a little faster than I should have, given that both of my knees and body were pretty banged up. By mile 11, my shoulder and back were beginning to cramp up . I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue.

“I’m just not sure about this…” I began to tell Jason.

“Listen, I know you can run a marathon, but, mentally, I need you to finish what everyone else is doing. If it gets too painful, just walk it out, but you need to finish the mileage,” Jason calmly, but firmly laid down the law.

Booh. This was not going to be easy. Everything hurt. It was hot. I hated the whole world. But eff if I was going to “walk out” the next nine miles. I just kept on going.

While, yes, the mileage was much slower, and much, much more painful than it would have been had I not been body slammed into the concrete the day before, I finished what I started in just over four hours.

“So, theoretically, I could do a sub-five hour marathon on race day,” I mused to Coach Emily while stretching out my ridiculously sore body.

“Yes, you could,” Emily replied. “But don’t hold yourself to that.”

Sure, anything can happen on race day, but I’ve already experienced my fair share of banana peels, monkey wretches, and other such plan-spoiling devices. And, more importantly: I know that I am prepared for anything, that, mentally, I can take the hard knocks.

Vineman, I’m coming for you. And I’m more than ready.

Built Iron-TOUGH!

Built Iron-TOUGH!

P.S. It’s the last weekend to donate to support me and to fight cancer. Please click here to help:


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.


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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Frankenbike: A Training Story

I’m writing this post from atop a block of ice, my lower extremities slathered in arnica gel and Biofreeze. Needless to say, I did not finish today’s 80-miler. Not even close. Even with the best of intentions, I faced yet another stupid monster. And it got me.

I had high hopes for today’s ride. I had a great trainer ride mid-week, and I finally felt like some power was coming back into my legs. My bike, Shadow Comet, on the other hand, had grown tired of all of the switching back and forth of the front derailleur, and obstinately, as it has been prone to do in the past, refused to switch out of the big chainring toward the end of the ride. Fine, be that way. I’m taking you to the shop again. I told it, yanking it off of the trainer and leaning it against the wall.

I had to hit up the bike shop anyway, as I was finally getting on board with obtaining a cadence sensor, which Coach Holly said would help a whole heck of a lot with my overall pace. I was willing to try anything, so the cadence sensor seemed like a good place to start.

Unfortunately, two of my usual shops didn’t have the sensor in stock. I was going to have to shop around(which OF COURSE I have loads of time for). Meanwhile, my bike mechanic, Jorge, had other disappointing recommendations about the status of my bike and its shifters. He said that the shifters would keep getting stuck, so if I wanted to stop the sticking, I would need to get new shifters, rear cassette, chain and front derailleur.Oh. Dear.

Mind you folks, I purchased this bike for a mere $600 off of Craigslist. I was unemployed, so my options we limited at the time. Let’s just assess what I’ve spent on it so far, shall we?

Bike fitting: $200
Tune-up: $100
Second bottle holder: $10
Service fees for brakes, shifters, etc.: $180
New pedals: $60
New bar tape: $40
New tire: $50
New saddle that felt like a wild animal was biting my crotch: $100
New saddle that was less painful than the others: $200
Saddle cover to deaden the saddle pain slightly: $20
Third and Fourth bottle holders: $40

My bike total: $1600

Basically, if I purchased all of this machinery, I would have been able to buy a much better bike, brand new, for the ridiculous lot of cheddar that I would be dumping on this thing. Of course, all of that money had been spent and was now a whole lot of Velveeta under the bridge anyway (hey, I follow through with my cheesy jokes). Plus, what if it happened again during Vineman? It would be devastating to not finish on a mechanical failure, a race I worked SO hard to finish!

Needless to say, I left my bike (and my grocery money for the next month) at the bike shop, and hunted down a new cadence sensor. When I entered the third shop, and asked the sales guy about whether they carried the sensor, he seemed to know right away where to find one, except there were none where he thought they were. After some hunting, he found one, but he told me that it was on hold for another customer. You have got to be kidding me, I thought. Was there some run on Garmin cadence sensors among the cyclists of Los Angeles that I was unaware of?

The sales clerk disappeared into the mysterious back room for a while, I’m assuming to consult The Great And Powerful Wizard Of Cog, and emerged with good news. I was granted permission to purchase the sensor. To heck with that stupid holding cyclist. You snooze, you lose, Bucko!

I even succeeded in mounting the thing on my bike myself, without much help (thank you, YouTube). Armed with all of the tools for success, my lovely Frankenbike and I were ready to rock the weekend’s 80-mile ride.


Initially, I was a little surprised at how low my comfortable cadence had been. Starting out, my legs really liked 75 rpms. But that was my problem. Previously, I would begin a ride at a high gear, with low rpms, and my legs would tire, mid-ride. Furthermore, once my legs fatigued, they were used to slugging along at low rpms so my pace would fall and I would be unable to pick back up.

Today I was training for high rpms. Instead of mashing a higher gear up the hills, Coach Quinton stayed back with me. I worked on spinning up them, working the whole leg and whole pedal stroke to get up the slopes. It felt weird and cardiovascularly annoying, as I felt like I was running on my bike.

Quinton helped guide me as I acclimated to this new riding style. My legs felt as though they were flailing wildly, with nothing to push solidly against, but without lower gearing and higher cadence, a triathlete can melt down on the run. I had to learn this. It was for my own good,

Spin easily uphill and work the downhills and flats I thought to myself. With no bigger gear momentum to get me up hills, I felt slower and more winded climbing at first. I spun fiercely against those grades, maybe too fiercely.

Around Mile 20, I felt that familiar tight ache in the back of my leg, the kind where a muscle fiber feels as though it has been stretched beyond its limits. Crap. I think I pulled a muscle. I started to worry. Am I going to be able to finish 80 miles on a pulled muscle?

I tried to push the pain out of my mind, but it kept getting worse, stronger and sharper as I climbed up hills. On the last couple of climbs before we hit the SAG stop, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to continue. The crazy part was, I felt like I was just getting warmed up and probably could have gotten into an okay cycling “zone” at that point, if it wasn’t for the pain. I wanted to keep going, to keep practicing my cadence, but, at that point, I knew that it would be stupid to continue, and risk the season. I SAG’d myself out, yet again.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even cry this time. I felt disappointed, but I accepted it. I didn’t flog my own sorry hide about being a slowpoke or for being a baby and not pushing through an injury. I didn’t boohoo over the fact that I’d just spent all of this money and still had a stupid ride. I didn’t lament the fact that I have never had a good bike ride, ever.

Sure I’m nervous about my race, but I think the bigger lesson here is that I
have to be kinder to myself. I still have time to get used to having a higher cadence and to become a stronger cyclist. I want to do it, and I will. Next week we will probably ride most of the Vineman course. The only real monster I have to face is myself.

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Losing Faith: A Cycling Story

Anaheim to San Diego: 80 miles. It’s the longest I’ve ridden so far. I was half dreading, half looking forward to this ride, thinking that, somehow, maybe, my body would make a breakthrough and my legs would propel me at a steady pace all the way down the coast.

When we arrived in Anaheim, my teammates buzzed excitedly about the scenic journey ahead. Some had ridden the route before, while others, like me, had no idea what to expect. I hoped that, at least, we wouldn’t get separated.

We started out on the bike path near Angel Stadium. For a while, I stayed with the pack, but, little by little, they began to pull away. I piled on the gears and spun furiously, trying to keep up, but, even at 16-18 mph, I was no match, and I was beginning to tire with no real warm up. My speed dropped to 15-16 mph, and I trailed behind.

The bike path ended at the Pacific Coast Highway, where my paper directions told me to follow South. I headed down the road alone for a while, until Coach Quinton and my teammate, Bobbi, caught up with me. We followed the road up and down rollers, through stop and go traffic, and to the first SAG stop at Mile 33.

I guess that I had held out some kind of hope that more of my teammates would be waiting at the stop, having dropped off from the furious out of the gate pace they began with. Only two teammates remained when I got there, everyone else having done what they needed to do and rolled out already. I was beginning to feel like a huge loser. I could feel the defeat loom over me like a suffocating dark, smoggy cloud. My heart sank into my cleats as I clipped in and rode on.

Just before Camp Pendleton is a long stretch of false flat, a slight incline that caused the pressure of my saddle to multiply. My breath quickened as I tried to pedal through the searing pain. I whimpered slightly, pedaling by campers, who gave puzzled looks as I passed with my pained expression. My pace was about 14.5 mph, as I tried to keep from having a total meltdown.

Everything hurt by the time I rolled through the military base, a long stretch of un- scenic territory that seemed to last forever. Quinton remained about 100-200 yards ahead of me as I pedaled furiously to keep up. Looking down at my watch, I knew that I wasn’t going to make the cut-off time that the coaches had planned, and that I was going to be the only one on the team who wouldn’t. Me, the stupid, stupid slowpoke, I was thinking. I am not an Ironman. I wasn’t cut out for this.

It was then that the dam burst. First I started whimpering, which led to pathetically weak sobs, which broke into full-on wailing. I didn’t even care if anyone heard me. I couldn’t stop. I cried to all of my frustrations, all of my failures. I grieved with such sorrow all of my hopes and dreams of the last year. They fell to the speeding ground, with my tears. I failed. Now to finish this stupid ride, I told myself.

Quinton was far enough away that he hadn’t heard my sobfest. Once through Camp Pendleton, he pointed out that we were quite near the final SAG stop, which was only 15 miles from our final destination. Getting to SAG was an ordeal, as we had to navigate through a busy port town, with hoards of beach goers streaming toward the water. Starting up into traffic, my wheel accidentally caught Quinton’s and I went down, scraping my knee a tiny bit (of course), right in front of lots of people(of course). I cried a few frustrated tears, and carefully wove through cars to the parking lot, where I got some refills on water and a cookie.

The last fifteen miles were slow torture, with tons of dangerous beach traffic, rough roads, and tons of stop and go. I just need to get there, I just need to get there. I ridiculously chanted to myself, over and over. My seat was starting to hurt again as we hit the last couple of miles on a false flat, my legs ached, and I was emotionally quite worse for the wear.

Everyone else on the team had gotten to Pizza Port, our final destination in Solana Beach, and had already changed clothes and ordered food. Even as teammates and coaches high-fived me, I felt like I was being patronized. In my mind, I had failed. I was the worst one. The worst cyclist on the team. I didn’t deserve a high five.

“You just rode 80 miles,” Coach Holly said to me. “Don’t take away from that.”

Yeah, 80 miles at a 12mph overall pace, I thought to myself. Tears continued to roll down my cheeks. I felt like an ungrateful brat, but I didn’t care. Riz saw my tears and gave me a hug. It amazes me that my coaches still believe in me, even after I am continuously left in the dust, even during my best efforts. I want to believe, but the faith I had in the beginning is running out of me. Will my best ever be good enough?

I can’t help but be left with this sort of heartbroken feeling, like all of this is for nothing. It’s not like I am not going to try still, but I just wish that I could receive some sign from my body to have a little bit of hope.

P.S. It really was a beautiful ride. Sorry I don’t have pictures. I was too busy pedaling furiously or boo-hooing to take them

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Moving Targets: A Training Story

The past 7 days have tested me again. Here we are, three months before my big race, and I have had moments where I felt completely broken. Last week, I biked 75 miles and ran for 60 minutes afterward, but was so exhausted that I skipped out on my ocean swim and 15-miler the next day, instead opting to go home and sleep for a few hours, and then, later, I made a feeble attempt at running, only seven miles along the beach.

I felt determined to pick things back up again, but, every workout, my limbs felt weighted, and I struggled against them, from sluggy swim, to burdened, burned-out bike, to ragged run. Finally, on Friday morning, I felt a break-through on the swim, a sudden burst of power that hadn’t been there in ages. My arms and torso pulled and twisted in unison, leaving me gliding through the pool like a regular sea creature, through endless 300s, speed drills and pacing drills. I left the pool that morning thinking that perhaps I’d gotten back that mojo I’d lost in the last few weeks.

We knew Saturday would be hot, and that there would be 80 miles of hills to climb. On top of everything, my knees had been a little achey all week from last week’s hilly bike ride. I asked to take the alternate “below the waist injury” route that the coaches had devised, which skipped the Cat 4 climbs, but still included several Cat 5 climbs. No biggie, considering what we’d been doing.

I clipped myself in and headed out on the route, keeping a high cadence and letting the morning air chill what little arm I had peeking out between my warmers and my sleeveless tri top. I looked down and saw that I was going at a good 18-20 mph. I felt okay, like, maybe I could get through this thing without crumbling, or feeling too much pain. 35 minutes in, I wasn’t feeling that sentiment as much. My leg power reverted back to its mid-week faiblesse, and I knew this whole thing was going to be a struggle. I felt cyclists whom I was perfectly capable of passing, or, at least, staying in time with, zoom by me. I gritted my teeth, turned up my gears, and pushed harder, but my bursts of power faded and became less intense as the sun began to turn up the heat.

As I continued on, struggling against my own physical weakness, I noticed that my new Adamo saddle was also beginning to bug me. Adamos are lauded by many triathletes because they have a cut-out in the front, and no nose, so there is nothing to violently smash and chafe a person’s more sensitive areas. However, they are both wider and a bit harder than your average bike saddle, and their positioning forces a person to sit on the sit-bones, as opposed to the mid or front of the saddle, which takes more than a bit of getting used to. Their site’s FAQ specifically mentions that the body must adapt to the saddle, and that it takes several rides to “build up” to comfort. Well, my body was not used to it yet, and the saddle uncomfortably dug into the crease where my thighs met my body on either side, as well as ground into my sitbones. After a while, it would go numb, and I would have some relief, but a change in position would leave me aching again.

After the first 26-mile loop, I had a feeling that two more rounds were going to be tough on me. By the fourth Cat 5 climb, my knees were unhappy. I stopped at our SAG point, grabbed some water, and met up with Coach Dave, where I told him that my knees were bugging me. He told me to cut myself off at two loops, and, disappointed as I was, I agreed that today just wasn’t my day. Tail between legs, I hopped back on my torture device, and started the slow wheel back home. Meanwhile, my right foot started to hurt, right where the pedal sat, under the fourth toe. At first, it was tolerable, but, by mile 45, it was killing me! I began whimpering as I pushed my foot and pedal up the hill. That was that. I phoned up our rescue SAG person, and he came and scooped me up, defeated and miserable.

I still managed to get in an hour run immediately afterward, but I felt so disappointed in myself that I hadn’t been able to complete 80 miles with the rest of the team. Well, not everyone finished the whole thing. Some had worse days than I did. Still, I have yet to have an amazing bike ride. I don’t even know what that feels like.

Jason suggested that I stop mashing such heavy gears, focus on my quad strength and my technique, which I will attempt in the near future. Still, I worry about making my cutoff at Wildflower if I go that route. I know mashing is bad for a person’s knees, but, if that’s the only way I know how to go faster, how can I train myself the other way in time for a tough race? It’s a concern, that’s for sure.

The next day, we gathered in Santa Monica for our regular ocean swim session. As we got up to the water, I choked, remembering the high, scary waves that had occurred last time I found myself in that big body of brine. Coach Quinton stayed with me the whole time, making sure he was in my line of sight as we navigated the smallish waves on the way out. I found it hard to catch my breath in the chilly water, but, eventually, I was able to keep going more than a few strokes at a time.

Before I knew it, I was out of the water, exhausted, but feeling accomplished that I didn’t let my fear get the best of me. Finally, we were onto the run, and I was feeling ready for the 17 miles we were about to accomplish.

Our coaches planned the route along the CicLAvia To The Sea event, a city-wide block party in Los Angeles that ran from Downtown L.A. to Venice Beach. What a sight for L.A! No cars, just people of all ages and races out enjoying the weather on bikes, rollerblades, and on foot. As we ran along sidewalks in our purple TNT gear, random folks would shout, “Go Team!” from the crowd in the street. It felt like some kind of crazy, reverse-world marathon!

The sun was working overtime that day as well, as we ran up Venice Blvd. My Nuun-filled water bottles were sucked dry by the time I got to SAG at Mile 6 (and we had stopped at a Taco Bell to refill them and go to the bathroom at Mile 4), and I was down to very little by the time we neared Fairfax, our turnaround point, two and a half miles up the road. Luckily, one of our teammates, Rob, came to the rescue, offering us ice pops, ice and water to fuel us forward on the next leg.

By the time I got back to Kris, my bottles were again drying up. I refilled with more Nuun, which wasn’t my typical long run electrolyte (I’m a Gatorade gal on a long run), but I’d thought, “I’ll be fine. I have two GUs and a Stinger waffle–what could go wrong?” Not even a mile out of our last SAG stop, I felt it happening. My legs slowed down, my eyes felt droopy. I was bonking, hard. Wuh-oh! Luckily, I still had Gu #2 stashed away. I slowed to a walk, and sucked it down, along with some sips of Nuun. I hoped it would get me through the last five miles of the run.

About ten or fifteen minutes after my Gu shot, my energy returned for a bit. My pace picked up and I managed to get in some conversation as I continued forward. The initial burst of energy flagged a bit by Mile 14, where I took a couple of early walk breaks to get through the rough patches. The last mile, my endurance returned, and I finished strong. All in all, I finished in under three hours and ten minutes, and, with all of the stopping (stop lights, SAG stops, bathroom breaks), the crowds, and lallygagging, and bonking because of the heat, I think that wasn’t half bad.

Afterward, a teammate and I stood in the ocean for a bit to cool off our legs, a natural ice bath. What a weekend!

Sometimes I think that I’m not getting any better as an athlete, because of these hardships, but, as Coach Quinton put it to me this weekend, “You’re trying to hit a goal, but the goal post keeps moving, the training keeps getting harder. So, you are getting better, but you won’t know it until your race.” I sure hope he’s right!

Here are some pix:

[All photos are credited to Paiwei Wei]