Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.

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Finding No Meaning: A Training Story

Easter holiday time, no matter what your religion, can be a good opportunity to refresh: to make new goals or re-double our efforts toward the ones we set earlier in the year. Life happens pretty fast, and, if we don’t take these chances to pop our heads up and assess how we’re doing, like any open water swimmer can tell you, we can end up way off course.

However, while we assess our goals, we should also take a moment to  ask ourselves: are we packaging our goals with a degree of self care and objectivity?

I ask this question because most athletes that I know work very hard to achieve certain goals. In working toward a goal, taking measurements, striving day after day, we tend to grow emotionally attached to our goals. While these emotions become attached to goals, they are often deeply rooted within ourselves, frequently attached to certain perceptions we have about ourselves, the same perceptions that create inner monologues and value judgements based on what we do or don’t do. These perceptions have been honed over time, and I have yet to meet a person who lacks any. Still, it’s what you do with these perceptions and feelings that have a profound affect on your overall well-being as you work to reach your goals.

A few weeks ago, Coach Mikey had us doing my least favorite breathing exercise: 50 yd breathing every 3, 50 yd breathing every 5, 50 yd breathing every 7, 50 yd breathing every 5. Even though I can do 25 yards without breathing at all, somehow, the counting trips me up, and I find myself gasping for air after the second 50.

Stopping for a second to look up at Mikey, I shook my head and said, “I don’t know why I can’t seem to handle this drill.”

Mikey, completely unconcerned, looked at me briefly, and said, “Don’t make it mean anything.”

Oh. Okay. I shrugged off my concerns and kept swimming, caring less about how crappy I was at the drill, and moving forward, relieved from the burden of over-thinking, without much emotion toward it at all.

But that moment was poignant. Her words were like an arrow plunging straight into the roots and earth of every problem I ever had. Hadn’t I always made pretty much everything mean something? Hadn’t I always related every goal and every interaction with other people to some deep insecurity or value judgment of myself?

While racing, every DNF, while I gave my best speeches about how I tried my best and that’s what counted, somehow, deeply, meant that I just didn’t have it in me to be a real triathlete, that I was foolish for thinking so. While at work, every time I tripped up during a big presentation meant that I just didn’t have what it took to be successful. While dating, every guy who wasn’t in the right place to have a relationship, I secretly thought, “…with me.” Sense a theme here?

I have attached so much meaning to tiny, little blips in the grand scheme of things, that every time I have not been absolutely perfect has threatened to rip down the grand scheme of my life. In reality, the stakes are not that high. Furthermore, stumbles and blips are natural, and can sometimes mean, counterintuitively, that  you ARE making progress.

So, lately, when I’ve caught myself getting wrapped up in those emotional roots over a tiny blip, I pop my head up, look around, take a deep breath, and keep swimming.

Waves have their ups and downs. Keep on swimming!

Waves have their ups and downs. Keep on swimming!


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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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Like A Fish To Water: A Swimming Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ah, cool!” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palos Verdes Parking Lot


Recommitment: A Training Story


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palos Verdes Parking Lot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You ready to get back on?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first real "warrior wound"!

My first real “warrior wound”!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coach Emily sent me a great quote:

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

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

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

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

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

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Eyeballs And Elbows: A Swimming Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons learned:

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

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

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

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

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


Warrior Training, Phase 1: A Swimming Story

I again reiterate that Southern California is not always sunny and warm, and last night was an example of JUST how frigid it could get. The Northerly winds swooshed by at speeds around 20 mph, making the 45 degree temps seem much, much lower.

“Dear God,” I thought. “How in the heck am I going to remove my clothes and get into the water in this weather?”

Luckily, my amazing Masters coach, and friend gave me an old swim parka that morning to use to thwart the winter brutality. Its hard shell and warm fleece lining kept out the majority of the cutting wind chill.

When I showed up at the pool, it was only a small group of us, huddled against the wind, most people in sweats, hopping up and down to keep warm. I wondered if the rest of the group had wussed out, sitting at home sipping hot cocoa while writing out their laundry list of excuses. My assumptions were proven wrong in moments, when more teammates began to trickle in to the facility. Pretty soon, we had (almost) a regular turnout of folks. I was impressed.

I mentally tried to prepare for the chill of the wind on my body. I removed the parka first. The air felt like an ice bath, insanely freezing at first, but then my body acclimated to the temp, and it wasn’t so bad. I quickly stripped off my sweats and sandals, and scurried toward the water.

While the Culver City Plunge is “heated,” it is known to be the coldest heated pool in the L.A. area. Really, it’s more like lukewarm. Still, it was better than the outside air temps last night. I plunged in and did a 200m warm-up, then Coach Jason had us get started on the drills (my fave :P).

The drill set looked like this:

2×100 50 Shark fin drill, 50 swim (shark fin is a high-elbow drill, and we all hate it)
2x 100 50 one arm drill, 50 swim
2x 100 50 catch up drill, 50 swim (catch up is just a delayed stroke drill–where you spend a moment suspended in “superman” position before pulling)
200 50 shark fin, 50 one arm, 50 catch up, 50 swim

And then the main set looked like this:
4×100 build (each 100 faster than the last, 20 second rest in between)
2×200 50 easy, 100 all out, 50 easy (20 second rest in-between)
400 build

100 warm down

Total meters with warm-up/down = 2300 (that’s almost 1.5 miles of swimming–yayy)

I always take an insanely long time to warm up. In fact, I didn’t start to really get into a “groove” until midway through the main set. The first couple of sprints were tough. I think I’m starting to figure out that I’ll probably be a back of the pack racer and position myself to pass people on the home stretch. Where a lot of people start to tire, I’m just getting started. I think that’ll be a great asset, especially in an Ironman. Overall, it was a great swim, and I felt like I finished strong.

Getting out was the hardest part of the workout, as our bodies had adjusted to the water temp, and the air felt even more icy cold. I shivered as I struggled to grab my towel, throw on the parka, and my sandals, and head toward the locker room. Eeeks!

Becoming an Ironwoman is a whole new level of hardcore. In order to do well, we must complete the designated workouts, regardless of weather. We run in the rain, swim in the cold, and bike in the dark if we have to. It’s about being a warrior, no excuses. Wimping out is not an option.

I think last night proved that I could rise to the challenge. I’m ready for the next one. Bring it!

Lessons Learned:

1) It’s not cold once you start swimming.

2) Get a parka. Seriously, you’ll thank me.

3) Working out in less than ideal conditions can help to prepare you for anything and helps toughen your resolve. Train your brain as well as your body!


Note: Hey all! I’m trying to raise $1000 for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society before January 15th! Please help support blood cancer research and treatment by heading over to my donation page ( and giving what you can (even $5 or $10 helps–and it’s much more fulfilling than a fancy latte or a pizza), or by sharing my blog or fundraising page with others. Thanks and Happy Holidays!


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Going Great Lengths: A Swimming Story

I started swimming long course on Monday nights last week. It was time for me to expand my endurance capabilities and to get more of a feel for what it was going to be like once I hit the open water.  Last week, I was amazed at how different it felt, how the water felt more dense, and I felt overwhelmed and small looking down at the bottom of the deepest part of the pool.  It took a while to get my breath adjusted to going further without that little split second of stealing extra breath at the end of a lap (I don’t do flip turns yet). By the end of the first session, I was exhausted, but I felt accomplished.

Last night, I amazingly took to the distance like it was no big deal. I no longer felt overwhelmed looking way down at the bottom of the pool. My body seemed to take it all in stride (or stroke?).

We focused mainly on “staying long.” Mikey said that we still weren’t fully using our length and strength. We did some drills holding the kickboard, a few building pull drills, but mostly worked on lengthening and taking as few strokes as possible to get across the pool. Of course, no drillset is complete without a few sprints, so Mikey made us do a 50m.

I hate sprints. I hate struggling through the water, out of breath, and feeling like I’m fighting myself. My first 50m time was just over 58 seconds. We followed that up with 100m easy, and then we sprinted again. My time was 1:01. Bummer. After that, we did a 100m kick, then she told me to rest for a second.

“I want you to break 58 seconds,” she told me.

Great. I had this feeling like I was going to let her down.

After about 30 seconds, she asked, “Are you ready?”

“Sure,” I said.

“That’s not the answer I want to hear,” Mikey said.

“Yayy, I’m ready,” I replied, weakly.

I pushed off and began the struggle, remembering to follow through and force my arms backward, feeling the pressure and the weight of the water. I reached forward, feeling my back muscles and lats stretch out with every stroke. I tore air from above the surface of the water for a split moment before I plunged myself back into the oxygen-less abyss. Still, I felt slow, sluggish. There is no way that I beat 58 seconds, I thought to myself.

“Fifty-four seconds!” Mikey beamed at me.

Given that your 50m time is about 8 seconds slower than your 50 yd time, that means I even beat my 50 yd time! Yeah, sure, the elite swimmers are usually sub-40 on these 50m times, but, still, for a relatively new swimmer, not bad!

Lessons Learned:

1) It really pays off when you focus more attention on your stroke and less on the speed of your arms.

2) Keep doing things that intimidate you in your training. They will pay off!