Ironwoman Dreams

If I can do this, anyone can.


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A Purple A** For Stupidity: A Training Story

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

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

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

Lose a foot on the bike? Keep pedaling!

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

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

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

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

In Which I Do Stupid Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am in SO much pain!

I am in SO much pain!

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

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


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Frankenbike: A Training Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

My bike total: $1600

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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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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It Doesn’t Always Happen On The First Tri: A Racing Story

Well, folks, I’m back from the desert to tell the tale of my first triathlon. This story is far from a fairy-tale, but I think it has its value just the same.

I arrived in Palm Desert on a Friday night, after spending nearly four endless hours in traffic trying to get out of Los Angeles. On top of the usual rush hour and weekend getaway insanity, I had forgotten two of my water bottles early on, and was forced to backtrack through the mounting lines of vehicles, tacking on an extra half hour to my journey. I actually screamed, “Just get me out of here!” inside of my car while idling in an unforgivingly slow stream of vehicles inching their way out of town.

When I finally did get there, all I could think was, “I can’t believe that I’m actually doing this.” I felt overcome with a sense of frantic backpedaling, like someone was behind me, about to push me off of a cliff. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very well Friday night in the hotel, even though we were only practicing the next day, not racing. I woke up every few hours, and my dreams were filled with pre-race anxieties.

By 9 a.m. on Saturday, it was already about 75 degrees F. The forecast had predicted soaring into the 90s. Luckily, I had been downing Gatorade and extra hydration since Thursday, but my body was still not used to physical activity in the heat. Keep in mind that, just last week, we’d practiced in 40-degree weather. This heat was a total head trip and I only hoped that I wouldn’t melt into a puddle.

We headed out on the bike route fairly quickly upon arrival at Lake Cahuilla. The sprint triathletes had just finished their race earlier in the morning, so there was a steady stream of vehicular traffic to contend with as the team rolled out onto the practice course. You know how much I love riding around cars on narrow roads with no bike lane. Joy.

My team pre-bike, Saturday morning, Lake Cahuilla.

My team pre-bike, Saturday morning, Lake Cahuilla.

The reason that most triathletes in California choose Desert Tri as a first triathlon is that it’s a really flat course. Granted, there are desert headwinds to compete with, but, overall, it’s pretty easy peasey. I was keeping a pretty consistent 17-20 mph pace, according to my GPS, which, for me, is fairly insane. I finished the 24 mile course in about an hour and 25 minutes, flipped my bike over in our makeshift transition area, scratching my right leg on the big chainring in the process (of course, what practice would be complete without my bloodshed?), switched my shoes, and headed out on the run.

Desert mountains, towering over transition.

Desert mountains, towering over transition.

The desert sun was brutal for the run. It made my black jersey feel like it was on fire. Finally, I removed it and felt tons better, even if I was exposing more of myself than I wanted to (no six pack abs just yet). I consumed all of my Gatorade by mile 3, and looped back around to grab more water and electrolytes in the transition area. My run pace was about a 9:30, not too terrible for the extreme conditions. I felt tired, extremely hot, but okay.

We broke midday and grabbed our race packets, ate what we could get down (I only had a recovery drink and 1/4 of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because of the heat and all of the hydration), and chilled for a moment before getting into our wetsuits for a quick swim sesh. I hoped that it would be easier this time. We practiced a swim start, but, after feeling the icy shock of the water after such a hot workout, I panicked.

“Solange, put your face in the water!” Coach Holly called to me.

“I can’t!” I sputtered back, frustration gripping me.

Holly swam over and talked me through my breathing. Eventually, I got to where I could breathe out in the water. I tried taking it 10 strokes at a time, slowing down, and feeling slightly more comfortable.

We didn’t have that much time for the swim that day, as the lake was only open to swimmers for one hour. I emerged feeling terrified as all get-out that I would be stuck floundering in the middle of this 3/4 mile swim, and have to be fished out later with a net by park maintenance staff.

Needless (again) to say, I didn’t sleep all that well the night before the race, although, because the heat had tired me out a bit, I did get a smidge more sleep. My thoughts were filled with panic about the swim. Of course, I managed to wake up just six minutes before the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. There was no snoozing going on, just a whole lot of, “Oh, crap, what am I doing?”

After arriving at the lake around 5:30 a.m. and getting my transition area set up, I walked around trying to calm my nerves a bit. The coaches all took turns giving me a pep talk, and then I went on a little 10 minute jog to warm up my sleepy muscles. Five minutes in, I felt a sharp pain at the inner-backside of my left leg. Greeeeaaaattt. Just what I needed. I’d pulled that muscle very slightly earlier in the week, getting up weirdly the morning after a really hard trainer ride. It must have stiffened up after the prior day’s activities.  I limped back to transition and stretched, hoping that the swim and bike would loosen it up.

After seeing a few teammates all wetsuited up, I decided to pull on mine. Well, actually, it wasn’t mine. I’d borrowed a full-sleeve wetsuit from my teammate, as mine was a sleeveless, and this water was going to be unpleasantly cold. Putting on a wetsuit is worse than wriggling into support hose, and, at this early morning hour, with my brain totally overwhelmed, it was probably all the more difficult to shimmy into.

Walking up to my teammates, wetsuit pulled up, I suddenly noticed an odd calm coming over me. It was as if my body and mind had succumbed to the impending doom. My “fight or flight” instinct had exhausted itself.

Wading into the water, I felt a slight shock at first, but found my breath. I was swimming! I wasn’t panicking! Phew! We spent about ten minutes in the water before wading back onto shore for our respective wave starts.

Before I knew it, us yellow caps were up. I stood toward the back of the pack, waded in, and began to swim out. This was it. Not 100 meters in, and my breath quickened. I flipped over on my back and started to backstroke, trying to catch my breath. I flipped back over, swam a few more strokes, lost my breath, stopped, flipped over backstroked, and so on. The wetsuit felt like a boa constrictor, gripping my chest at full force. I couldn’t breathe. I tried stopping completely, hanging out in the water for a minute to catch my breath. That didn’t work. I tried deep breathing, but it only made things worse. I tried backstroking and thinking how pretty the sky was, which worked for a moment, then, when I flipped back over and tried to swim, the panic came back.  I watched as wave after wave of caps swam past me. The yellow caps were almost non-existent by the time I was midway through. This was my worst nightmare. And, of course, it got worse.

Halfway through, my left calf decided to seize up into the worst cramp I’ve ever felt in my life. I fought to stretch it, while I hung out pitifully in the water, watching caps swim by. Finally, it passed, and I resumed backstroking, by now thoroughly exhausted, hyperventilating, but trying to just get through the whole thing. And, at long, long last, I did. I stumbled out of the water, breathing like a beast, feeling sick to my stomach, where some of the coaches were waiting for me at the chute, cheering me on.

I weebled, bewildered to transition. Was I actually going to get on my bike after this? Actually, during the whole swim, I’d been looking forward to the bike, that smooth, flat bike course, where I felt fast and free. Three months ago I never would have thought that I would look forward to getting on the bike so much. Ha.

Then, it hit me. My stomach was not only nauseous, but it wanted to eliminate its contents, and not the way they came in (sexy, eh?). Maybe this feeling will pass, I thought. Just keep transitioning, get on the bike, you’ll be fine.

My race number ripped from its pins as I put my shirt on. It took me a few minutes to force the pin back through the tough race paper with my feeble, shaking hands. It didn’t seem like that long, but this transition actually took me over nine minutes. Yikes.

Once, on my bike, I struggled to get my legs, find my cadence and my bearings. At first, I sailed smoothly along, thinking, “Everything’s going to be okay from here-on-out!” I was pedaling along at 17 mph, I felt the wind in my face, and things were a-okay.

About seven miles later, I noticed that it was getting harder and harder to pedal. Whew, these headwinds are strong! –I thought. I watched my bike slow to a 13 or 14 mph pace. Fellow racers seemed to whiz by, but I thought, Those guys must be really fast! It wasn’t until I was passed by a few really old ladies that I realized that it was not the course, it was me. My legs were trashed from the swim, all of the furious kicking, the struggling, On top of that, my digestive issues continued and I fought, with every bump, to keep everything in my body from coming out. I had often heard of people having accidents while racing and, to someone who had never had major digestive issues during a race until now, it sounded horrifying. Please, PLEASE don’t let me be THAT person! I begged the unseen Race Gods.

Finally, I rounded the second loop, climbed a tiny hill, and headed into T2. I could not wait to get off of my bike and back to my bread and butter–the run. However, I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage all of that bouncing around with my digestive issues. I needed to find a bathroom, fast. Heading out on the run, I found a small cabin bathroom, the only toilet on the premises that wasn’t a port-o-potty. After taking care of that business, I focused on working out the kinks in my brick legs, and keeping light, quick steps, as Coach Jason had taught me.

The sun was out in full force again this time, and I took full advantage of every water station, dumping cups and cups on myself to keep cool, sipping it and Gatorade to keep myself hydrated. I stuck to 10 minute intervals, walking one minute each time. As I rounded the first loop, I saw Coach Holly, dressed in a Luigi outfit, which was welcome comic relief in all of this torture. She ran with me, asked how I was doing, and I told her about my issues. She encouraged me onward, I kept going. I felt strong, even though the second loop was even hotter than the first. My digestive issues had settled...er…no…wait, they were back. By Mile 4 of the run, things were no bueno again. I was forced to walk a few times just to let things calm down.

Finally, I rounded the turn toward the finish, and Mario (Coach Emily) was waiting for me. We ran forward toward the finish together, and then, my team mentor, met up with us, and then another teammate, plus her dog, joined in too. I could see my team cheering on all sides as I sprinted on toward my grand finale, left hamstring screaming at me (it had to turn up sooner or later, right?), furious bowels, and all. Phew! I was never so relieved to see a finish line. My teammates circled around me, giving me hugs and congratulating me as I sobbed and snotted everywhere. What a mess I was.

All of my other tri-newbie teammates did outstandingly well, one girl winning 2nd place in her age group. Other teammates shattered PRs and chattered happily about what a great race it was. For me, things were a little different. I was fairly quiet throughout our post-race meal, listening to everyone else’s excited banter with nothing particularly great to contribute.

When I got home, I looked at my medal and felt nothing. With all of my other races I’d felt gleeful, proud, and strong looking at those medals. I didn’t even feel like I deserved it. Calling myself a triathlete made me feel like an impostor. Triathletes were fast, strong, tough. They didn’t flounder like I had. I felt embarrassed, frustrated and defeated. I cried most of the night.

I emailed Coach Jason about my feelings and experiences, Mikey called and I’d talked to her about them too. Both of them wanted me to focus on the positives, that I overcame obstacles and still finished a triathlon. I was reluctant to hear it at first, I felt like a failure, like something was fundamentally wrong with me, but, in the end, I knew that they were right.

So, here’s what I’m going to do right now. I’m going to tell you why I deserve that medal. Here goes:

1) I worked through a fear of swimming in open water, getting through 3/4 of a mile no matter how tough it was.

2) I swam almost the whole 3/4 mile in a stroke that I had not trained in.

3) I finished the swim, in spite of hyperventilation and feeling completely exhausted.

4) I got on my bike, in spite of feeling exhausted.

5) I got on my bike, in spite of feeling sick to my stomach.

6) I rode 24 miles on my bike, with heavy legs and serious digestive distress, and did not give up.

7) I ran six miles in the heat, after being exhausted from the bike and swim.

8) I ran six miles, even though I was experiencing digestive distress.

9) I managed to pick up my pace on the run, even though I was exhausted and sick.

10) I finished with a HUGE smile on my face.

Both Coach Amy and Coach Holly sent me emails today also. Holly, as my swim expert coach, assured me that the swim would get better, and that I might even end up liking it (I have no doubt of that, if I could only shake the boa constrictor). Amy reminded me that triathlon is a solo sport, that I was always going to be running my own race, and that, in the end, I was doing this for myself. An Ace of Hearts is not an Ace of Spades, but they’re both still aces in their own right.

I had to realize that it was my pride, mostly, that was hurt, but I had put my pride in the wrong place. As one of my marathon coaches once told me, “It’s the days when you have the worst time of it that make you the strongest.” Instead of the experience proving that I could not do this, it has showed me that I can, that I will, and that you’re all going to watch me ace this Ironman thing.

I am a Triathlete!

I am a Triathlete!


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2500 Crunches: AND MORE!

Six days into this 2500-crunch challenge and I’m in good standing. 1650 crunches done, plus my bonus “warm-up” 250 means that I’ve obliterated my core with over 1800 of these suckers. Crazily enough, I am seeing a huge difference already. Sure, the only way to get that six-pack, abs of steel thing to show is to have little body fat over the waistline, but I’m seeing a lot of definition there, and I’m okay with not actually seeing my six-pack (I know it’s there for emergencies, and that’s all that matters, really).

Today, Coach Emily wanted to know how many regular crunches we could do without losing proper form. My honest count is 165, as my elbows started to collapse inward around my head after that point, and I had to fight to keep them back. Regular crunches bore me anyway, so it’s not like I’ll be doing that many of the same ones again, any time soon.

I also added two minutes of planks to this challenge. Special Note: You can help cure cancer and add minutes to the plank challenge by donating $25 to my fundraising page for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: http://pages.teamintraining.org/los/VineFIrn13/SDIronWoman !

Next weekend is Desert Tri! I am so excited/nervous/scared/thrilled! According to the coaches, it’s tons of fun. I’m going to take as many pics as I can, and I’m sure there will be some from our team photographer as well. Wish me luck!

P.S. Good news! My warrior wounds are healing up nicely. I was finally able to wear a skirt to a job interview this week!!!

With any luck, no nasty scars, but a little scarring is okay (physical proof I'm a BAMF). ;)

With any luck, no nasty scars, but a little scarring is okay (physical proof I’m a BAMF). 😉


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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?

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. 🙂