Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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A Purple A** For Stupidity: A Training Story

The American culture tends to value “heroic” acts, even when we’re not really saving anyone but our own egos. We all see the videos and read articles and watch moves about folks who suffered through pain and illness to achieve personal goals, and we gaze on those folks with eyes gleaming with admiration. It’s the “American Dream” that leads us to believe that, if we work hard enough, if we want something badly enough, we can achieve it. The more we push through pain, strife and suffering, the sweeter the reward.

As athletes, we understand pushing more than most people. We know that we must push past our upper limits at times to see gains in performance. Still, sometimes, it’s hard to gauge just how far is too far. Training for an Ironman, the culture is very much about pushing limits and pushing past pain that normal athletes would warn against. It is a badge of bravery and badassery to run 10 miles on a broken foot, or to cycle 80 or more miles in the heat ’til you throw up, and then keep going.

Lose an arm in the swim? Oh well, keep going!

Lose a foot on the bike? Keep pedaling!

Turn into a zombie on the run? Keep stumbling forward!

…And, if you quit, if you succumb to the pain, it is a stamp of shame. People pat you on the back, with that special blend of condescending sympathy and half-hearted encouragement, and you have a clear picture that somehow you’re a total loser that doesn’t deserve to be facing such a challenge.

Well, while people seem to be seeking Purple Hearts for their self-imposed bravery in action, they’re getting injured, a lot. Sure, we all need to push, but we all know that point at which the body says, “Nope!” If we keep pushing, we’re in for trouble. Ha, they should give out “Purple Ass” awards for those of us who push beyond that point, because, seriously, it’s ridiculous.

I earned myself one such award this week, after engaging in three consecutive days of full-body bootcamp. Given my travel schedule and my need to fit in three sessions a week, I was left with few options. I thought, “I’m not even that sore after class anymore, so I can handle three days in a row.” Three full-body, tough workouts. Three days in a row. Sure, no problem.  Never mind that I was completely throwing out the sound rules of strength training, that the body needs adequate rest to rebuild itself. And I am no seasoned body builder or strong person. I’m a total feeb. I can barely crank out five full “guy” pushups.

In Which I Do Stupid Things

Day one was a great, energizing morning class, where I felt pleasantly fatigued and pumped. By Day Two, I was ready to go another round that evening, although, initially, the exercises seemed a bit harder, the weights a bit heavier than they were the day before. The Day Two class involved a lot of jumping–in particular jump squats, which we did for four minutes straight–and the class stretched to an hour and a half because there were so many people in attendance that we needed to add a few more exercises onto the rotation. By the end of that class, I felt cooked. I found it hard to imagine waking up the following morning and immediately going back and enduring one more set of plyometric exercises, or chest exercises.

Day Two, still "possessed" by the workout bug.

Day Two, still “possessed” by the workout bug.

Now, for the past few weeks, I’d had an ongoing issue with my right hip/low back, where, upon rising from a bending over position, it would make a “click” noise. My chiropractor explained that it was tight, and helped it temporarily, but it kept coming back, and my low-density foam roller just wasn’t enough to “get in there” to make it go away. I had planned a sports massage while working in Vegas last week, but work ended up taking over, and so my clicks went un-fixed.

On the morning of Day 3 of my boot camping streak, I woke up with a larger degree of fatigue and soreness than usual, and the point where my hip was clicking felt tight and pang-y. It led me to question whether I should actually go through with this, but, of course, the drill sergeant inside my head, yelled, “Don’t even think about backing out now, wussy!”

I bolstered that thought with the idea that, maybe, the reason I never had achieved a strong, muscular physique was that I didn’t push myself enough. “If you want to achieve something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done,” I said to myself.

As I strolled into the room with all of the bootcamp stations set up, I thought, “Wow, my hip is really tight and twinge-y. I hope it loosens up.” The pain felt as though some evil cobbler elves were stitching my muscles together in new configurations, using a huge needle. I feebly tried stretching it, but the pain was in a place, kind of like that spot on your mid-back that’s tough to reach, that was just beyond the scope of any stretch I could think of to provide relief.

By the second exercise, bent over rows, that spot on my low back/hip began to “Nope.” It squeezed with a stabbing ferocity that made me sweat more than usual. I continued to move weakly through the exercises. Some were more painful than others. When it came to running, there was no way. I ended up having to skip a few exercises based on the level of pain that I was dealing with. My trainer friend lent me some muscle rolling apparatuses to help loosen things up.

I am in SO much pain!

I am in SO much pain!

When I got home, the pain worsened to the point of almost leaving me in tears. Luckily, I had two Ibuprofens left in the bottle. I quickly popped those and gave my chiro a call. He fit me in right away, and provided me some relief from the stabbing pain, instructing me to ice every hour.

Needless to say, I re-learned a lesson that I’ve learned before, which is: Listen to your body. Maybe it will take a longer road to get to your intended goal, but maybe not. At least you’ll have a more enjoyable ride. Isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

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The Big V: A “Love” Story

Sorry this post is a day late. I meant to post it ON Valentine’s Day, but work and lack of sleep due to stress made my brain too mushy to make real sense. Annnyywayy, take it in the spirit of V-Day, for which it was intended.

As an endurance athlete, especially a female endurance athlete, you get addicted to being tough. Or, maybe, like me, you wedded the idea of toughness long before becoming more serious about exercise. After years of being treated like a doormat and a pariah in middle school, having my first high school boyfriend break up with me and drag my heart through the mud for years afterward, I developed a kind of obsession with toughness. As I grew through my 20s and 30s, I found new ways to seem “tough,” “cool,” “impenetrable.” Only through my writing did I maintain the REAL me. In everyday life, learned to withdraw more and more, to guard my feelings, to always seem like I had it, “together.”

Our culture celebrates toughness. Too often we hear of “hero” stories, where a person pushed through excruciating pain and hardship to achieve a goal. We want to be inspired to achieve things, and to help us to push past our own weaknesses. Never once do we think that, sometimes, these weaknesses can also help us along in our journey.

Vulnerability. It’s a concept that recently slapped me in the face, and has subsequently seemed to come into the forefront of my life as I have experienced so many obstacles in my path over the past couple of years. I even notice the word itself popping out at me as I read people’s Facebook status posts, or get a fortune cookie, or read articles online.

Athletes are so afraid to admit vulnerability. When injured or laid up, we seek the shortest possible route to get back to doing what we do. We are terrified of starting over, of admitting defeat, and so we push past reasonable limits, until, “Uh-oh!” we really CAN’T do anything. Until something’s broken or torn or irreversible, it’s unacceptable to say, “Hey, maybe I need to slow down, to be in this moment of vulnerability,” because it’s scary. It’s so scary to be open, to admit that we need time for self care. Ironically, therein lies our TRUE strength.

I don’t know how to NOT push myself. It seems as though, every workout that I intend to be “slow and easy” ends up in a full-out sprint somewhere, or I take a hilly route, or end up glancing at my pace on my watch in anxious dismay. It is hard for me to be vulnerable and let my whole body agree to just “chilling out” and enjoying a relaxed workout.

In my personal life, I have trouble forming intimate relationships because I’m terrified that people will see me as my true self, which is not “cool” or “tough”– I’m often afraid to admit that I need connection. People in real life have often said that, on first meeting, I seem “aloof,” but the truth is I’m just a big dork, I’m sentimental, and I’m afraid of letting that part out, that I’m not always “perfect.” Wow, shocker, right?

I’m learning that it’s not the impressive things we do that give us the long term strength to carry us over the rough patches, and it’s not those things that make people really want to know us, and love us. It’s the times when we admit that we’re not infallible, that still sing along to Ace of Base in the shower, or that we walked at the top of that big hill because our muscles and tendons weren’t ready for major hill training yet, that we get to a better place in life with others and with ourselves. If that’s the case, being vulnerable is worth training for.

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Luck Be A Lady: An End-Of-Year Story

I think I heard on NPR once that people who seem to just fall into luck at every turn actually just expect to be lucky, and have an overall “glass half full” outlook on life, and so are more attuned to the positive things that happen, and see more opportunities than the average person. I don’t think I’m particularly luckier than most, but I do think that, when things seem bleakest for me, they always seem to have a way of working out better than I expected. Maybe it’s just coincidental, but maybe it’s because I put forth a lot of effort in being positive, calm, healthy, insightful and kind to others.

I have so, so much to be grateful for this year: the fantastic adventure to becoming an IronWoman, the wonderful friendships I’ve made, the lasting friendships that have gotten stronger, the “A-ha!” moments and life-changing lessons I’ve learned, a career at a great company that has valued my talents SO much that they’ve created a new position for me on a brand new team (I can’t wait to get started), and my personal gift to myself of great health that has helped me through rough times. I’m pleased to announce that I DON’T HAVE CANCER! Also, I’m healing from surgery beautifully, and, thanks to my surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Adashek of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, I will barely have a scar to show for it!

Look, Ma, no scar! (Please ignore the fact that I'm not wearing any makeup).

Look, Ma, no scar! (Please ignore the fact that I’m not wearing any makeup).

Sure, there have been some pretty excruciating moments, where I felt lost, alone in some unreachable place because no one could understand what I was going through, but, through all, I’ve been supported, championed, and cared for in such a way that I almost feel unworthy. I’m overwhelmed by you all. Thank you, from the very deepest place of the center of my being. The support I’ve received has made me fall in love with the world again, and with every person who has touched my life.

I have a five very simple goals for 2014, so I’ll just list them here:

1) HEAL UP! (This is, of course, the first step)

2) Strengthen (incorporate yoga and get back to running–hoping to walk/run Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon in March)

3) Pay it forward (be an active supporter and angel for friends who need me)

4) Squash unemployment debt (the least sexy of my goals, but it must be done)

5) Kick booty in my new job (because I can)

Everything’s comin’ up roses, folks! It’s going to be a wonderful, beautiful 2014!


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Post-Op: A Health Story

Three days sans thyroid and I’m still standing. Nothing earth-shattering has occurred, in spite of my inner buzzing and fussing in the days leading up to surgery. The whole day of the surgery transpired in a rapid succession of vignettes…

Scene 1: I can’t believe it’s 3:30 a.m. already. After a night of periodic waking, looking at my phone, and drifting off to sleep again, it felt like no real sleep really occurred, like I only briefly staved off the full rush of waking life to pause for moments of deep meditation. I grabbed the dog, who was “rarin’ to go” at any hour and we circled the block in the chilly pre-sunrise air. I’m in “go” mode; no emotion, no real processing. I get ready for Cousin Nathalie to pick me up to go to the hospital.

Scene 2: The check-in staff escorts me up to the 7th floor by myself, where I sit in another waiting room. I look around at all of the strained faces of the people waiting to have surgery, gently clutching the hands of their spouses, and I feel overwhelmingly and immeasurably alone. I’m trying to distract myself from the encroaching fear and loneliness that is creeping up my chest and stinging my eyes. I look at the art on the walls as I scuffle down the hallway. They call me to check-in and I get a bracelet.

Scene 3: I sit in my pre-op stall and wait in my backless hospital gown, shower cap thing, and some warm socks with grippies on the bottoms for my nurse to get around to me. He’s asking the older woman next to me a litany of questions, including the last times she took each one of her seemingly hundreds of medications. After today, I’ll be a medication-taker, I think to myself. Everything is going to change. No one here cares. Suddenly the anesthesiologist comes, a resident, who has a dry personality and asks me a litany of questions. I try to jostle him out of his cardboard-like, boxy demeanor, but he gives me a look that’s like soft sandpaper, and I decide to just go along. He has trouble with finding a vein for the IV, and brings in the lead anesthesiologist, who specializes in children, to poke me. This guy is spun sugar compared to the other guy, and he tells me my veins are rubbery and tiny, like baby veins, but he is persistent and eventually finds one. The nurses and doctors come by, bombarding me with information, questions, introductions and the like. My OR nurse shows me her thyroidechtomy scar and tells me it will all be okay, and that she will be with me throughout the procedure. They wheel me into the room and I get onto the table. More introductions to more nurses and staff, as if we’re going to have a dinner party…only my OR nurse and sugar Doc are saying they’ll see me later, when I wake up, and I think, What the heck are they talking about? Then the meds hit me and I’m out like a light.

Scene 4: Everyone’s all happy and laughing, like Wasn’t that a lovely dinner party? I clearly don’t remember any of it. I don’t feel much of anything at first. I see the doctor, on the phone with my mother already, telling her how things went. It sounds good. The recovery room nurse is flitting around me, asking if I need anything.  She doses me with pain meds and I suddenly feel like I’m going to vom, all over the place. I can’t vom, my stitches will explode. I call the nurse. She shoots some kind of nausea medication into my IV. Shortly thereafter, the pain becomes unbearable again. She gives me more pain meds, which lead to more nausea. I’m beginning to think I’m going to feel horrible for the rest of my life. After the second IV infusion of nausea meds, I feel a moment of calm, where I can drift in and out of sleep.

Scene 5: My nurse’s name is JP. I’m beginning to hate his face, as, it seems like every five minutes he’s waking me up to pester me about something: pain meds, how am I feeling, etc., etc. I just want to sleep and I’m uncomfortable, for life. I don’t understand why everyone’s goal at this place is to poke and prod and pester me, when all I’m trying to do is recover. My neck hurts and my throat is sore. It feels like I have strep throat. My room phone is ringing off the hook and I don’t answer it for a while, until JP comes in to force me to answer it, because my parents have called the nurse’s station and want to talk to me. I waveringly talk for a few minutes, and then lapse back into this restless-restful cycle. JP keeps insinuating that we will go for a walk. Ha, I think. That’s what YOU think, JP. I make doubly sure I’m sleeping whenever he enters the room, just in case he comes in with any of those crazy “let’s walk around” ideas.

Scene 6: I decide that JP isn’t a bad guy. In fact, he’s pretty cool. We talk about How I Met Your Mother and X-Files, and he seems to genuinely give a hoot about my pain and comfort. I’m almost sad when his shift ends, and my night nurse, Alex, comes on board.

Scene 7: Alex is pretty cool too. She reveals that she may have to undergo a thyroidechtomy as well, and has a lot of questions for me. By this time, I’m not feeling quite so awful and am able to converse fairly regularly, as well as get out of bed to pee (apparently anesthesia makes you not have to go for a while).  My general physician, Dr. Shammas, comes to check on me, and I am so grateful to see her. She has a very motherly quality, but in such a way that she understands exactly how I’m feeling. She gives me further instructions to help with recovery and I hang on her every word. At that moment, she is my favorite person on the planet. She cares, she gets me. Alexis still doesn’t let me sleep, but I’m not quite as sleepy now, and watch a bunch of sitcoms, plus the movie, “Win A Date With Tad Hamilton” (totally predictable and unrealistic rom com—yawn).

Scene 8:  I don’t like the day nurse.I was hoping JP would come back. This girl seems to have as much personality as a dead rectal thermometer. Luckily I get to go home after breakfast, which comes in freakishly copious abundance: oatmeal, yogurt, a bagel, hardboiled egg, two juices, tea, and soy milk. It’s a lot of stuff. I eat most of it, of course, because I figure I need to eat for recovery. I don’t end up eating lunch that day anyway.

Scene 9: It’s weird to come home and be thyroid less. I’m not sure what to do with myself, still in pain, but trying to get on about my normal life. I’m grateful that my friend, Kristie, is staying with me to help deal with the Beags and also to make sure I am okay, just in case. It’s comforting to have that. She stays for the whole day and overnight, and she leaves early in the morning, after taking the dog out, of course.

Conclusion:

Benjamin Franklin said, “Do not anticipate trouble, or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”

I don’t think that I feel much different without a thyroid than I felt before. If anything, I think I might feel slightly better than before. I don’t know if it was the stress of the surgery or the synthroid, but I feel as though there is a low-grade depression, a heaviness, that has completely disappeared. I hope that this is a good sign, that things are going to be better now that I don’t have a thyroid, that I’ll have more energy and be faster and stronger, and a much more awesome version of me, but let’s just take one day at a time.

Tomorrow May Rain, So I'll Follow The Sun...

Tomorrow May Rain, So I’ll Follow The Sun…


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When You Stop Bouncing (Back): A Race Recovery Story

One of the most hilariously clever movie lines ever written comes from the original silent movie version of “The Patsy”, where the lead character is so angry with her sister that she exclaims, “I’ll hit her so hard, she’ll starve to death bouncing!” I think it gets funnier the more you think about it.

Okay, so this is not so funny. The last several weeks of Ironman training, culminating in the day-long endeavor that was the Ironman, hit me hard. In the last several weeks of training, all I could think about was how tired I was, how burnt out I felt, and how I couldn’t get enough sleep. My coaches seemed to think that a lot of this was mental, and so I tried to focus on the tasks at hand and struggle through the fatigue. It always seemed to take me a full week to even sort of recover from the colossal weekend of training, And, of course, I was still training during the week.

After Vineman, I gave myself a week to do nothing, then I tried to pick up some light activity. Everything was tough at first. Then, the weeks went on and things didn’t get much easier. I would try to go for long runs and would feel like falling asleep mid-run. Any hard effort would leave me so exhausted on weekends that I would have to take a nap or drink coffee to stay awake afterward.

After about a month or so of this, without much improvement, I spoke to Coach Brad, who will be heading up IronTeam this winter. He mentioned that I might want to see a doctor, because most people bounced back to 100 percent after their Ironman race in a month or less. So, I made an appointment.

My new doc had a great bedside manner, and wanted to know everything about my lifestyle and family history before examining me. When she got around to examining my lymph nodes and throat, she said, “Someone has told you that you have a nodule on your thyroid, right?” Um, noooo…

She pulled out a mirror and showed it to me. A huge lump in my neck, and I hadn’t even known that it was there until I knew what to look for. Ignorance is bliss, I supposed.

She had me schedule an ultrasound and a nurse drew blood. She told me to come back in two weeks and she would have all of the results then, and we could talk about whether I would need treatment or next steps. She said that it is possible that I could have thyroid issues, or the lump could be inactive, in which case we still may have no leads on the whole fatigue thing.

In the meantime, I’ve continued regular person training, and have thrown in some yoga, Pilates, and the occasional hike to keep things interesting. I’m holding back on training for anything specific until I know what’s going on with my health situation. I’ll know more in a week!


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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: http://pages.teamintraining.org/los/VineFIrn13/SDIronWoman


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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]

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