Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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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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Resurfacing: A Training Story

Wow, has it really been that long since I last updated? I guess this is all part of me adjusting to my new schedule. Work is going great, but it is occupying a lot of my time and mental energy, and, when you add in longer, tougher IronTeam practices, it adds up to me not being as diligent a blogger as I have been. However, I will do my best to remedy the situation in the coming weeks so that nobody misses out on the outrageously thrilling details of my journey to becoming a real live Ironwoman!

If I pored over every detail of the last two weeks, this post might take you the rest of the week to finish, so I’ll be as brief as possible (for me). Two weeks ago, we encountered for the first time, the myth, the legend, the Wildflower Long Course, known as one of the toughest courses this side of the Mississippi, in Lake San Antonio, for a training weekend before the real Wildflower race on May 4th. The swim, while cold, felt relatively uneventful: a lake out-and-back in relatively murky water. With hills called, “Nasty Grade” and “Soul Crusher”, the bike course was no joke. Almost the entire ride contained rollers to sustained climbs. The flats came too few and too far-between. It was on the bike that I learned the importance of good quality sleep. After a stressful first week of work lacking in 8-hour restful nights, and arriving on the campsite at 2 a.m. before a 5:30 wake-up time (I caught a ride with someone  and things got waylaid, pushing the 5-hour drive to a late-night time frame), I definitely felt the pain. My legs gave way just before the top of Ol’ Nasty, which caused my sanity to give way into semi-hysterics at the prospect of re-mounting my bike to continue the climb. I attempted once, and fell, in front of a cute Silicon Valley IronTeam guy (of course), and, skinned my knee (again, no training weekend is complete without my bloodshed). Of course, that’s when Coach Jason popped up and, as always, carefully smoothed over my ridiculousness with his common sense, and coaxed me on, up the rest of the hill, and the next hill, and on through the rough bits coming back, including a steep, sweeping downhill, where we hit 40+ mph (frightening).

After the bike at Wildflower, I’d begun to think that maybe I wasn’t quite cut out for all of this nonsense. I was SO slow, finishing the 56 miles in a little over 5 hours (granted, I did stop to deal with saddle pain and snot quite a bit during this ride, which is not usual, but still). I began to again question my abilities and whether doing a full Ironman was really within my capabilities. Everyone has limitations, right?

The run, however, saved me. The next day, we awoke early to conquer the run portion, which, while not as legendary as the bike course, was equally as difficult. The first five miles climbed endlessly and steeply through trails and uneven terrain, leeching what little energy remained in my body. By the time I hit Mile 5, I thought, “How in the heck am I going to finish 13.1 miles of this?” The climbs gave way to flatter terrain, and my body suddenly found its salvation. Suddenly, all of the fatigue gave way, and my body began to go to work, through long and short climbs, gentle rollers, and flat terrain. Before I knew it, I was flying down the hill toward the finish, energized and feeling like I could have done another five miles!

It’s funny how one good day can negate the bad. After a triumph on the run, I felt like, maybe, I could handle this race in May (after a good night’s sleep, of course).

Lessons Learned:

1) Get a full night’s sleep before tough workouts

2) Don’t stop on a hill

3) Don’t try to get back on your bike, on a hill, in front of a cute guy.

Chilling (and eating apple pie) at our Wildflower Training Weekend campsite after the bike ride.

Chilling (and eating apple pie) at our Wildflower Training Weekend campsite after the bike ride.

Setting up

Setting up our transition area at Wildflower Training Weekend.

Last week, we hit the pinnacle of our hill training (no more crazy hills after this), powering through 70 excruciatingly hilly Palos Verdes miles, with a 60-minute transition run, and finishing the weekend with an hour swim and grueling 15-mile semi-trail run. Given the saddle pain that had occurred the weekend, prior, I’d purchased a new saddle, a Terry Butterfly, supposedly one of the number one choices among women, given its wider design and strategic cut-out area. Coach Dave put it on for me before the ride, asking, “Are you SURE you want to try a new saddle before a 70-mile bike ride?”

“Yes!” I emphatically declared. “Nothing could be worse than my current saddle.”

About 15-20 minutes into the ride, I knew that I’d been wrong with that statement. The new saddle was putting even more pressure on sensitive places than the old one did. And here I was, “saddled” with it for the rest of the ride. Oh, boy.

I have to say that I was a trooper through all of the pain, even though it felt as though a wild animal was attacking my most sensitive areas the entire time. While stopping to adjust at times, especially on slight inclines, where it seemed to hurt the most, I did my best to stay mobile and think happy thoughts. My cycling buddy, Marissa, and I resorted to singing karaoke songs at one point, although our voices were (probably fortuitously) drowned out by vehicular traffic. It helped for a time, but, for most of it, I was miserable.

This route was similar to the 40-miler I’d done that day when I kept falling with my new pedals, and Coach Riz cheered me on up the steep Hawthorne hill. The hill was still tough and still required quite a lot of pushing, but I made it up, all the way, without stopping, just like I did the last time, and, hey, I didn’t fall at the light at the top!

The next day, the swim left me a bit more unsettled than it had the previous times. I got through the water, but I got knocked for a loop a couple of times by the break, and that was a bit terrifying. I had trouble catching my breath as we swam, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been at Desert Tri.

The 15-miler, as I mentioned, beat the living daylights out of me. While I felt fairly okay toward the beginning of the run, after climbing up some fairly steep switchbacks, and trying to scramble up a shortcut and ending up with my right side in the smooshy dirt (I looked like Pigpen after that), I lost my mojo. By Mile 10, I was fading. I was fairly certain that I probably hadn’t consumed enough nutrition for this run, and I wished that I’d brought another Gu along to slurp down for some easy energy.

When I finally made it to the finish, I declared, “Dear Run: I quit you. I quite you SO hard.”

It was a rough day, but we all have rough days. Nobody made it through that run easily, that’s for sure.

Lessons Learned:

1) Extra exertion may require additional fuel. Come prepared.

2) The ocean doesn’t always play nice.

3) Don’t try to take really steep, risky shortcuts, especially while you are already covered in sweat.

 

After the 70-mile bike ride last weekend, I kept feeling like, if I could just have one pain-free, no bike problems ride, I could actually gain traction with the bike. Maybe I could actually keep a consistent pace and quit stopping so much.

I headed over to Helen’s Cycles in Santa Monica, CA yesterday, after a “light” 3-hour ride in Santa Monica (and a nasty, rough ocean swim). I met Josh, who helped me to choose the right saddle. He, along with several women I know, recommended the Adamo brand, which has no “nose” and a gigantic cut-out in the front to eliminate pressure on certain areas. It’s especially meant for people who ride in the more aerodynamic, triathlon position, and who spend a lot of their time leaning forward in the saddle. It wasn’t cheap, so I sincerely hope that this saddle makes my life a lot easier.

So, there you have it, an abbreviated version of the past few weeks. Stay tuned for more updates, coming soon!


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Where To Find Hope: A Training Story

It’s pretty safe to say that these past two weeks have put me into an emotional tail spin. With the persistent dragging undercurrent of joblessness pulling on me at all times, it’s hard enough to remain optimistic and upbeat, but with the added twists of devastating news, bad luck, and, heck, the hard, cold backhand of reality, it’s been tough to keep focused on that narrowing sliver of light at the end of this dark, twisted windtunnel of my life.  I was looking forward, at least, to this weekend’s long practices, where I could shut out all of the bad stuff, focus on being around good people, getting stronger, and slaying more of my fear dragons on those hills.

Earlier in the week, I’d taken some time out to meet up with Coach Amy, to attempt to learn how to “drink and drive” on the bike. Being a newb, the idea of removing my hand from my handlebars for any considerable amount of time not only seemed impossible, but terrifying. However, as the rides were getting longer, I knew that I couldn’t get away with only drinking at stops, especially in the dead of summer. I would have to learn to do it sometime anyhow. I might as well get started now.

Amy and I met up in the parking lot at Hanson Dam, which is a bit of a drive for me, but it’s a great spot with a lot of open parking lots. She had told me to wear long leggings, as I might fall. I found my roller blading knee pads and strapped those on too, just in case (my knees had had enough skin scraped off to make up a whole new person by now). Now that I was thoroughly dorkified, I wheeled myself around the lot, attempting to remove my hand from the handlebars. A couple more rounds and I was able to reach down toward my bottle. A-ha, I thought. This is more of a confidence game than a skill game. Before I knew it, I was grabbing the bottle out, and had started to become confident in putting it back.

“Well,” Amy said, after I’d picked up and replaced my bottle for a third time. “Sorry that you wasted your time coming all the way out here.”

I told her not to worry about it, I really had nothing better to do. Besides, parking lot practice can definitely help a person gain confidence. Plus, having a coach help to walk you through things can make a world of difference in progress and confidence. Sometimes I need someone there to tell me that I can do something, especially when i think that I can’t.

On Saturday’s long, 56-mile ride at Zuma Beach, we had a “drinking and driving” test before we left the parking lot. I was still nervous and shaky, so it took me a few times around the lot to get up the nerve to take my bottle out, drink from it, and put it back. By that time, all of my teammates had booked it, and I was the last to head out.

Coach Adam and I pedaled briskly along the route, taking in the sparkling ocean views along the undulating Pacific Coast Highway. The 70-degree sunshine felt much warmer than it was, given that the past several weeks had been in the 30s and 40s. I was glad I’d gone ahead and bought an obnoxiously yellow lightweight cycling vest (on crazy sale) to wear over my breezy running shirt, instead of sporting a warmer jersey.

“You’re a strong climber,” Adam remarked, as we powered up some of the hills on our way up to the first turnaround.

Enough people have said this on the team so far that I’m starting to believe it. I guess that’s a good thing, considering that our team’s major focus these days seems to be hills, hills and more hills.

Speaking of hills, our first major climb came up at about Mile 20. Encinal Canyon Road. There is a State Park, called “Charmlee” along this road that I like to go to with the dog, not only for its peaceful, un-crowded trails, but also for the incredible ocean views and calming meadows. I would often see cyclists climbing this hill on my way up to the park, and I would think, “Gee whiz, this guy is crazy.”  Now I was the crazy one, pedaling steadily upward.

The road was supposed to be relatively undisturbed by vehicles, but, as my luck would have it, an endless brigade of midlife crisis sports Porches zoomed past my weebling two-wheeler like a hoard of angry hornets. Once we got to the turnaround point, it was terrifying to imagine them whizzing back down, especially when, as a beginning cyclist, I had much less control on the downhill than I did going up. I carefully crossed the road and headed downward.

My quads burned on the downhill, mostly from supporting my weight down such a steep decline while I gripped my top tube for dear life. While downhills scared me much less than they used to, I was still terrified down the steep, winding paths. If I could see the bottom, the quick zoom down the hill was a blast. No bottom, no bueno.

I got to second turnaround and headed back toward the first one. My shifter got stuck on yet another hill climb. Luckily I noticed and fixed it. By about Mile 33, my body was feeling a bit drained. I knew that I was more than halfway to the end, but that there was yet another huge hill climb awaiting. Riding those high PCH rollers, I hoped that my nutrition would sustain me through that last big push. I got to the crest of one hill, switched into my big chain ring for the descent, flew toward the bottom, and then pressed the shifter to bring it back down for another immediate climb. The shifter wouldn’t budge. Ugh.

I pulled over, jimmied the shifter this way and that, and got it to switch down again. I hopped back on, climbed the hill, only to face another steepish descent, followed by another immediate climb. I switched up, and then, click!, nothing. Drat. And I was already commencing the ascent. At that point, I committed, pushing earnestly upward, breathing in my usual steam engine fashion, cursing as I got myself over the crest and to a more level area. This time, it was seriously stuck. Here I was, almost at Mile 40, almost finished, and my bike was thoroughly broken. I felt horribly cheated out of a good dragon slaying.

I broke down and called our roving SAG person, Kris. Meanwhile, a friendly hardcore triathlete guy, with all sorts of gadgets adorning his suped up cycle, stopped to help. Despite his apparent technical knowledge, he couldn’t help me. I thanked him and waved him on, along with a parade of other cyclists who slowed to ask me if I was okay. One thing I will say about cyclists is that they definitely do go out of their way to help out their own kind, which is more than I can say for most motorists in Los Angeles.

It took quite a while for Kris to find me along the route, but, finally, he arrived and scooped up me and my bike in his Land Rover. Kris offered me boysenberries and hand sanitizer to wash away all of the bike grease that had besmirched my hands. It wasn’t a fix-all for my bummy mood, but it helped. On the way back, he received another distress call from a teammate, who’d gotten dizzy riding down the last big hill.

“Ooh, this is just like riding in a cop car,” I exclaimed to Kris. “So exciting!”

Kris laughed. “Yeah, the Batmobile!” he said, turning the Land Rover around and heading up the giant climb that I would have taken on two wheels, had I made it that far.

We scooped up our teammate and drove the few miles back toward the Zuma Beach lot. I figured I would redeem myself somehow on the run, broken toe be damned. I stripped down into my transition gear and headed out on the path. Surprisingly, my toe wasn’t too ouchy. In spite of walk breaks every 10 minutes, my watch averaged my pace to 9:25, which probably meant that I was running about a 9 minute mile. I hadn’t lost my mojo! Phew!

Of course, then, around Mile 3 of the run, I felt new stabbing pain in my left foot, right under the ankle bone. Great. I stretched a bit and walked for a couple of minutes until the pain subsided, then I picked my run pace back up, hoping that I’d just landed funny. I could still feel it. While not debilitating, I knew it wasn’t a good thing. That’s what I got for not taking it easy, I scolded myself. I still got in over six miles in the hour, but I knew it’d come with a price.

I had a feeling that the 11-miler scheduled the next day was going to be a “no go” due to this new injury. Meanwhile, Coach Dave, the mechanic, had a look at my shifter and told me to take it to his former shop to get it fixed, as the mechanic who had looked at them before said that my shifters were just low-end, and that nothing could be done. I returned home, feeling a little defeated, a little like I couldn’t catch a break. While, surely the universe hasn’t conspired against me to keep me from being happy and successful, it surely has felt like it recently.

Hopelessness is a tough feeling to shake. It grabs onto your shoulders and holds you down, making everything you attempt all the more difficult. There is so much of me that wants to believe that everything will turn out okay in the end, that, like my shifters, one day the bad stuff will magically be fixed and I’ll no longer be stuck in this bad place. I guess that life can shift quickly. I’m not sure what kind of magical force will un-stick me, but at least I have a tiny bit of hope that it will.

Meanwhile, I’ve been icing the ankle and trying to make the best of being on the sidelines. Besides, I did make a friend last night at an art gallery, who told me to cheer up, that life isn’t all black or white:

I got to pet a baby zebra last night! How cool is that?

I got to pet a baby zebra last night! How cool is that?


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On The Other Side Of Terror: A Training Story

Yesterday I’m fairly certain I looked death in the face. No, this isn’t a metaphor for how icy cold it was that morning (32 degrees F) as we rolled out at 8:00 a.m. in Westlake for a 45-mile ride, but a treacherous moment during our ride that has either made me a stronger cyclist and person, or has scarred me for life. Time will tell.

Yep, frost. In Los Angeles. Not okay.

Yep, frost. In Los Angeles. Not okay.

Other than the ridiculous cold, I felt pretty good heading out. We encountered stoplight upon stoplight , and I managed to remain upright throughout all. Celebrate the little things–that’s something I’ve learned here so far.

I still had a small reminder of my previous falls with me, however. I had decided that I needed to wear my favorite tri pants that had just the right amount of padding–not too little, not too much–that I had previously punctured with multiple tumbles. Because spandex isn’t the easiest thing to repair, especially on the bendy knee area, and I wasn’t looking to dispense a fortune of cash for the repair, I had to use a bit of the ol’ “Solly D” ingenuity. My solution? Black cotton KT tape as a patch. And you know what? It worked pretty darn well. The stuff actually adheres better to fabric than it does to skin. Go fig.

We wound through some country roads, and, to my delight, a vast number of sporthorse stables. The smell of hay, grain, and other horsey fragrances, brought me back to my regular riding days, and how, back then, neither wind, sleet, nor snow would keep me from getting to the barn. The President would have had to declare a state of national emergency to keep me away from the one thing I loved more than life itself. What a trooper I was–in extreme heat or cold. A little chilly-ness never hurt anyone, I thought, as I tried to quit grumping about my numb fingers and toes.

The climbs began early on. I powered up  in my usual, steam engine fashion, grinding away at those pedals as if my life depended on it. My uphills started and finished strong, and often had me catching up to and passing teammates who were faster than me on the flat. There was a spot, toward the top, where things got quite steep, that required one of those slow-motion, dig deep, gritty pushes to get over its crest, but I made it. Of course, the other side held the “reward” of some relatively steep and winding downhill slopes.

Our coaches had warned us about a steep and wind-y downhill portion of the route, which, as a beginner, is my least favorite thing to navigate. Not only does a person’s bike flame down the road, slicing reaction time to a fraction of a second, but the wind-y part forces the rider to have utmost control, lest he or she go flying off of a ridge into some kind of hellfire abyss (or rocks). Plus, because the road winds, it is impossible to anticipate what’s coming, or when the treachery will end, or even to pick out a decent spot on the road for one of those roadside crosses with your picture on it (which reminds me, I should get new headshots).

Coach Amy was stopped along the side of the road as she waved us on.

“This is the start of the steep downhill,” she said.

“Oh, crap, I’m scared!” I whimpered, mostly because we’d already done some fairly steep and wind-y downhills, which, silly me, I thought were the steep downhills to which my coaches had been referring.

Oh, no, my friends, I had been wrong. This hill dove dangerously downward, carving true hairpin curves along the cliffs. As I started down the hill, my heart leapt into my mouth. Gibberish tumbled from my lips about how scared I was, combined with “Help!” to no one in particular, combined with a “You’re okay, stay calm” repeated mantra. As I got halfway down, I noticed a bunch of my teammates walking their bikes. My fleeting lament as a flew by: “I could have walked this??” It was too late now.

Somehow, someway, by the strings of the universe, I made it all the way down that hill. Nothing, NOTHING ever has been quite that terrifying before. Still, somewhere inside all of that terror, there was a satisfaction in knowing that I’d made it all the way down without dismounting.

The rest of the ride was pretty peaceful, with minimal hills between mile 15 and mile 30. My bike got stuck in the large chainring on a short, but steep climb around mile 32, and I had to walk it up the hill, as my legs were now thoroughly trashed. Climbs got increasingly difficult as I kept going. I couldn’t wait to get back to our parking lot. As I approached the last big hill and started to climb, I realized that my legs wouldn’t cooperate. I stopped and proceeded to walk my bike up the hill, a terribly humiliating experience for someone who is supposed to be decent at climbing.

Coach Emily rode up behind me, asking me what the problem was. I told her that my legs were trashed and that I just couldn’t do any more climbing. She asked about my nutrition, which, admittedly, I had not consumed enough calories or hydration. I’m too scared to take my hand off to drink while on the bike, so I find that I need to consume whenever stopped. The stoplights on the route were relatively short, so I didn’t get a lot of time to sip, and stopping every 10 minutes, mid-route seemed detrimental to my already slow 15 mph average pace on these long treks.

After impressing upon me the imperativeness of keeping up with nutrition on the bike, Emily looked down at my bike.

“Why are you in the big chainring?” she asked.

Doh. So, that’s why I couldn’t get up the hill? The dang thing had gotten stuck again, and, because I was probably already on an incline while switching, and because I was so incredibly exhausted, I hadn’t noticed. I thought it was me the whole time!

“There’s a lesson in this,” Emily mentioned as she pedaled beside me. “You always assume that something’s wrong with you, instead of wondering what else could be going on.”

“Yeah,” I said. “You’re right, I do that a lot.”

“Didn’t you know? This whole IronMan thing is a metaphor for life,” Emily chuckled.

She was right. Every single lesson I learned during my training has revealed more to me about myself than anything else. I’ve had to face my deepest fears, I’ve had to learn to trust myself. It’s humbling, but also empowering. So far, it’s been the greatest single life experience that I could have put myself through.

“Every week you’re going to feel overwhelmed,” Emily said. “You’ve just got to get used to it.”

I was never more relieved to get my carcass off of that bike when we entered the parking lot. I stripped off my bike jacket, gloves and helmet, grabbed my running shoes and belt, and took off. Still on that broken toe, I tried to take it easy. My first 2.5-mile run loop was about a 9:45 pace, but, as I tired and as my toe started to throb, I slowed considerably. I walked, a lot. My legs felt wobbly. Running felt like torture. The last uphill portion had me suffering, but the comfort of the parking lot was waiting. I couldn’t wait for the moment when I could finally stop moving, for good.

Today, I can say I’m considerably sore, but it is the first day of considerable soreness since I started IronTEAM training, so I’ll wear it as a badge of honor. I’ll be endeavoring a 10-mile run-walk today, along the beach, all by my lonesome, but it will be a nice day to just get out and enjoy the ocean, reflect on my experiences, and to get in the mileage.

I told Coach Jason I would never ride that hill again and he seemed surprised.

“Why? You got through it, you did the whole thing and you were fine,” he said.

“Once is enough,” I declared. “That was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

“Every practice you’re going to find something like that,” Jason said. “I’m not saying we’re doing that hill again, but you’re always going to encounter things that are scary for you. You just have to get through it. You’ve come a long way since you started. You’ve proven you can do it.”

I couldn’t argue. I haven’t failed yet. Every week there will be a new dragon to face, a new “Boss” I have to fight to get to the next level in this crazy game. I keep winning and I keep coming back. There must be more to gain just over the next hill.

Palos Verdes Parking Lot


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Recommitment: A Training Story

WARNING: LONG READ (BUT, OF COURSE, WORTH IT)

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. 🙂