Sunday, June 29, 2008
All species will be bathed today.
All right, I admit we don’t have a loudspeaker but what fun if we did. I would announce things all of the time like:
The kitchen is closed.
Clean up by the fireplace.
Refill on the coffee.
There has been a sighting of a strange man walking around the house without pants on.
All humans and canines report to the laundry room for bath time.
After announcments, Boss got a bath. He doesn’t mind the bath because afterwards he gets a bone. And I sing to him the whole time. Thanks to my mom who years ago made up a washy-wash song with her dog, I sing a song to Boss. About washy wash. And being a good dog. To get clean and ‘guapo’ for all of the girls.
I told Chris he was next. Report to the laundry room basin for a scrubbing. All species get washed, brushed and nails clipped. At first Chris looked confused, then seemed almost interested in the idea. Chris this is not the bath you are looking for with bubbles and candlelight and a buxom Swedish woman to wash your back. This is business.
Report to the laundry room either naked for the bath or ready to work. Everything must get clean. Today.
Because Beth arrives on Monday. I cannot have her sleeping in my dirty house. It’s not that I don’t like a clean house, it’s just that lately I’ve had other things to do that don’t involve scrubbing floors on my knees or vacuuming the carpet for the 100th time in a day after Boss has torn apart another toy. Yes, I have put it off put it off put if off and now it shows.
My subconscious knows. I woke up thinking I had a dream last night that I got up at 4 am to pee in Chris’ bathroom and there was this nasty black line around the bowl. Except when I went into his bathroom after I woke up I realized it was no dream. It was true.
It took nearly 3 hours. It started with the refrigerator and ended with the floors. I even had Chris make a list of things for him to do. He unclogged a sink, replaced some light bulbs, took some blankets to the laundromat and then disappeared. A few hours later as I was shampooing the carpet upstairs I noticed him riding a bike up and down the street. Somehow cleaning the house turned into standing outside the house working on bikes.
When I confronted him about this and asked for me help he said:
What’s in it for me?
Wait a minute. Wait a M-I-N-U-T-E, cowboy. It’s not like I woke up today absolutely DYING to clean the house (really, I did though). It’s not like I remember daydreaming as a little girl that one day I can’t wait to get married and clean house. I’ve got a million other things I’d rather be doing with 3 hours on a Sunday. But alas here I am cleaning the house. Not so much for my friends for both the love and hygiene of everything that lives in this house. And when I am done I get nothing for it. NOTHING but a clean house.
So answer me this – what is in this for me?
It’s something I ask myself all the time. Why am I cleaning the house? How did the draw the lucky card here? It’s not that Chris can’t clean house. He had a house once of his own. I was a manly man house. I’m not kidding. There were bullhorns that hung above the fireplace. When he moved and wanted to bring the bull horns along I was like…uh, no. No dice. The horns are not going above our fireplace. He tried to pull the but they are my animal symbol – I am an ox. Ox or ass I really don’t care – no bull horns in our house. The horns, in fact, returned to Chris’ parent’s basement along with the rattan furniture with flamboyant magenta cushions screaming with flowers. And about half the other furniture. In fact the only thing I think that Chris brought (by permission only) into our new place was the king sized bed.
Occasionally Chris would clean his house. But not really. One of the first things I did for Chris was clean his house because his idea of clean along with mine was not really the same. For example, you do not clean a toilet by taking an industrial mop, dipping it into a bucket of water and wiping the entire thing down top to bottom and letting it drip dry (seriously). That is not clean. That is a mess.
I realize I have somewhat high standards – but this applies only to certain things. It does not apply to pots and pans, showers and bikes. Those are all things I do not enjoy cleaning so I leave the task for someone else – Chris. Usually Chris does the showers. I was so surprised to see him doing this one day I took a picture. So there is a picture floating around our house of Chris bare butted in the shower with a scouring pad. He takes his work seriously plus thinks if the shower is getting clean he might as well get himself clean too.
What’s in that for me? At least a good show.
After cleaning I had a stomachache. Too much cleaning, not enough coffee is what I thought. The cure - a 2 hour run. It poured rain on me three times. At this point all I could do is laugh. There comes a point where there is no point in fighting it or worrying about it anymore. And what's in the run for me? I realized at mile 12.85 why I do this all. Because when you endure distance, obstacles, weather and pain you realize that you can endure just about anything - anything you've ever lost in life, situationms you have suffered, any type of pain. That was one of those a-ha moments you only find on a long run when your stomach is wrecked and your feet start to ache. Towards the end the run felt so good I didn't even want to stop. That’s really because when you stop running after running that long it hurts really bad and then your stomach gets the cue to unload itself about 1000 times.
After running I was supposed to swim. I had my swim stuff in the car and had every intention to swim but then I realized by the time I finished running the quarry was closed. Besides I really just wanted to go home and eat chicken n’ waffles. My husband makes the best (fried) chicken and waffles. I poured about half the bottle of (high fructose corn) syrup all over them and for nutritional value added some greek yogurt and strawberries. My waffles swimming in syrup had to count for a few laps, eh? Then I ate 4 waffles (2 barns and 2 cows) while watching the swimming Olympic trials (again, this counts for swim workout time).
We finished our day with a trip to Target - there was a lot of stuff in this trip for me. Lots. We bought a new garbage can for the kitchen AND the garage. This is VERY BIG HUGE EXCITING NEWS. You know I’ve even blogged about both cans before. I’m so excited I keep throwing stuff away in the kitchen just to look at the new can. We also bought four new dishes. Chris has decided he does not like the dishes anymore. I’m afraid one night he will get so frustrated with our current dishes he will throw them across the house and I’ll have to clean up yet another thing (he doesn't like the way they hold food). So we decided to start with four new ones to see if they were more ergonomically designed to hold his food. If this doesn’t work I’m buying him an Elmo-themed divided plate.
So the house is clean, Boss is bathed, Chris is well on his way to eating from children’s plasticware and I’m ready for bed. It's been a long day but there have been a lot of good things in it for me - running, a clean Boss, chicken n' waffles, talking with Jennifer about why I should have been in the women's heat of 100 fly (she said I'm too small, I said but an elf can dream), getting the house ready for my friends. Looking back I see that all sorts of good things were in there. I guess that is what life is about - realizing you don't have to ask where the good is in there or when it will arrive. You just have to do your usual things and let the good come your way.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Ok, fine. I will talk about my workouts today. But let me start by saying I quit the sport approximately 10 times today.
It started early this morning. I woke up at 6:30 am. I did not want to do this but masters starts at 7:30 am and it’s a 20 minute drive. Plus the dog needs to be walked, fed and I need to shove a power bar in my mouth. In the rush of things, I decide this morning to go without coffee.
REPEAT: no coffee
It goes without saying this was not a good way to start a day. Decaffeinated, I go to masters. The coach suggests I take my own lane. On the wall. Gee thanks. I won’t interpret that as a gentle reminder that I am the slowest one in the pool. Or that if I swim in any other lane I will get lapped before the mainset about 100 times. I take my own lane. And you know what – after about 200 yards I say to myself forget this under the water. I am joining another lane. Because I do not drag my ass out of bed this early on a Saturday morning to swim alone. No thanks. Go ahead lap me. I DON’T CARE!
I put myself into a friendly lane. One of the other swimmers admits she also did not have her coffee. Together we make a dangerously decaffeinated lane. Tread lightly, coach. Tread light……..oh dear god. What does that say? Up on the board….does that say 20 x 25 done as 4 sets of 5 on the :40, the :35, the :30 and the :25 – all done as….
My arms sob. My shoulders squeak. My lower back prepares to die. I make it through 5 and then say to myself no. No I do not do 15 more as fly. Not today. I need my lower back for biking and running. I will do them in IM order but not all fly.
The practice goes on after that up to 4000 yards. Next we drive 45 minutes west to ride our bikes in St. Charles. I convince Chris to warm up with me so I can enjoy 45 minutes of drafting his wheel. The ride starts out nice enough. Then about 20 minutes into it we find ourselves on a road that has recently been repaved. It seems smooth, it seems like a good choice. About 2 minutes later we realize fresh tar is no fun to ride on especially when they make us switch over into the rough grooved surface on the other side of the road while they repave the rest of the lane. There we were with wheels full of tar and riding at a wickedly fast 4 mph. For about 4 miles. You know what that is? Even more fun.
Finally we are out in the farm fields and riding free. It is time to begin a 45 minute time trial. I am very excited about this. It takes me about 5 minutes into it, however, to realize that a time trial today was wrong. Very wrong. The wind has got to be blowing a steady 25 – 30 mph from the west. I am heading north. This means I am being blown all over the place in a westerly way. This was an acceptable challenge for about 30 seconds before I became very scared. My arms were gripping the bars, I was pressing my weight as far into the bike as I could just hoping to stay on and not end up in a ditch alongside the road.
Needless to say I was not aero.
I make a left turn into the west wind. Much better. Though I am going 13, I am actually able to ride my bike. But then another turn north. And another turn, another…..until it’s time to turnaround and go south. Instead of being blown towards the ditch I am blown towards the middle of the road where the cars zip by at 50 mph. At one point I am blown on to one of those black tar lines in the road and it’s so hot out that the tar is soft and my bike squiggles, wiggles and I am convinced I will die going 23 mph on this road. So I break out some little tears because I am nearing that point of I CANNOT TAKE ANYMORE.
But I still have over 3 hours to go.
All right, tailwind. Then some recovery from the time trial. Then some hills. Before that, a stop at my oasis of a water pump at the park. I am in dire need of water. It is so hot, has been so windy that I was behind in my drinking. I could barely take my hands off to shift gears. To grab a full water bottle? Not today. I roll up to the water and start pumping it. Nothing. I pump more. Nothing. I pump pump pump vigorously now knowing the damn thing is either broken or not turned on but realizing that if I pump it long enough I will get out 50 percent of the frustration I feel. There is no water. There will be no water. Just warm gooey sports drink and with that I am running low.
Momentarily I cry again and mumble some not so nice things about the sport. The world. The wind. This ride. I have fought the wind for over 2 hours. I have not seen my husband for miles. I am hot. I am sweaty. I have hill repeats to go and I just want to go home.
BUT I WILL NOT GIVE UP! I am everything today but a failure. Or at least I try not to be. Negative thoughts keep filtering into my head but I do my best to turn each one around. So much that I am getting dizzy. I arrive at the one hill that lasts more than 2 minutes. I start doing my repeats and realize my legs feel good. I’m doing good. This will be ok. Sure I’m going uphill and into the wind but it will make me strong.
Off in the distance I realize some ominous blue gray clouds are rolling in. They look very far away. I will certainly finish this ride before they reach me.
I was wrong.
The thunder starts. Then a drizzle. I finish the 6th hill repeat and it starts pouring rain. It starts pouring madness actually. The wind is coming in huge rushes and the rain gets cold. I turn around and start riding towards the car but when almost blown across the road by a gust of wind I realize it is not safe. My brakes are failing. I can no longer see with the rain. And I have no choice but to stop on the side of the road, to stand there to shake and cry. The temperature is dropping and the storm is right above me. I have no idea where to go. Where is it safe? Above the ditch in front of me hangs power lines. I look up the road and think I see my husband riding towards me but then look again and see no one. I cry more because I am not only cold but crazy and seeing things. Finally I take shelter under a tree. The rain pours. I am cold. I can do nothing but wait.
I quit the sport about half a dozen times. I cursed myself for doing it. I cursed for my coach for writing the plan. I cursed my husband for not being next to me. And cursed myself again just….because.
15, maybe 20 minutes….the rain starts to abate. The road starts to steam from the heat of the day and the coolness of the rain. Someone up the road is standing there with smoke rising from their feet. It is someone with a bike. I pedal towards them. It is husband. The most frustrating part is that if death was going to arrive in the rain I didn't have to meet it alone. Husband really was right there.
When I see him I unleash a fury of expletives, wrath and fire from my mouth. I may have said some not so nice things about…..
The list went on. Actually, I went on. And then I ended it with “I am done.” Husband agreed. He was done too. We would fall short about 15 minutes of our ride but I think after 3 hours you get the point. Another 15 isn’t going to make or break an already broken ride. We pedaled back slowly in the rain. Throw our stuff in the car and drive away.
Chris asks if coffee would make me happy. I tell him it’s 4:30 pm. And then it hits me. It is not only 4:30 pm but I am still working out. AND I AM NOT EVEN TRAINING FOR IRONMAN! I am sitting wet in the car with the taste of salt and sunscreen in my mouth. I have eaten nothing but gel, bar, bagel all day. And even though it’s this late in the day, yes I want coffee.
We arrive back home around 5:15 pm. I tell Chris I am doing my run. I realize a decaf skim irish cream latte (YES I PULL OUT THE FANCY PANTS COFFEE DRINKS IN DIRE SITUATIONS LIKE THIS) may not have been the best idea before a 40 minute run but it was a risk I was willing to take.
At this point the day has heated back up to 10000 degrees and the humidity is on full force. I choose a hilly route and – what the hell is wrong with me? Has there not been enough for one day? I realize my legs have stiffened in the car and I believe my heart quit about 60 miles ago. Perhaps at the first 25 of fly. But you know what? I tried. I tried my 40 minutes to run as hard as was prescribed and my stomach hurt, my legs hurt and by the time I got back to the car I wanted to but didn’t cry.
The day was finally done around 6 pm. I realized that absolutely nothing went right today. I didn’t nail any of my wattages, my heart rate zones, speeds, nothing. Nothing at all. I saw the world on the ride today mostly through tears or rain. And for the love of my head and legs – I was tired.
As we were driving home, we passed a church with a sign that read:
You only lose if you quit
Isn’t that right. I know at times we feel like failures in a workout because everything doesn’t go just our way but really are we a failure for sticking it out? Even when everything goes wrong our determination to finish the ride and continue to seek our best shows that everything really did go right.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that if the workout went perfectly it wouldn’t be much use at all. Because how many times do things go perfectly in a race. Unless you deal with the obstacles and work through them you will never learn to respond. You can respond with frustration, cursing, tears but as long as you keep plugging away and moving forward you are really winning for the day. You are practicing what will eventually become your winning ways.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Summer camp was put together when I convinced Ness and Beth they needed to spend a week with me. Hanging out, drinking coffee, training. Really I just wanted to show them the finest of suburban training – how to share a swim lane with someone walking with a foam noodle, how to bike the same 3 mile loop around an industrial park for 33 miles while dodging trucks, how to run bricks in the gutter.
You may not have read about it in magazines but trust me the Chicagoland suburbs are one of the top 10 places to train for triathlon in the world. And in the famous words of Sinatra, if you can make it here you’ll make it….anywhere. That is, if you survive the trucks, crazy people driving on cell phones and the highway bridge of death by my house.
I am plucking Ness right out of wherever she lives. I’m convinced she lives in a treehouse somewhere out east with her dogs and her crazy homemade contraptions for cleaning cobwebs. I’ve already warned her – out here we have noise. Each morning around 5 am the sounds of the highway, the construction trucks reversing, the wind, the train, the car alarms – they all start like revelry on a bugle.
She assures me she can sleep through anything.
When I asked what she needed me to the stock in the house her request was simple – soy creamer, the one in the pink carton and…don’t screw this up Fedofsky.
I’m a little scared.
Beth is even more of an enigma. Plus she’s married to some guy named “O”. Talk about mysterious. Like Ness, I’ve never met Beth. I am sharing my home with two complete strangers. Don’t you love blogosphere? Nothing says psychoonlinestalker like…we’ve never met, now come stay in my house. So you’ve got me pegged. I am an online stalker that preys on young female triathletes inviting them to my house so I can….draft off of them.
My husband asked if I wanted him to disappear for a week. Did he purchase some kind of magic wand? If so, can we keep it around the house all year just in case? I told him no, there are reasons you should stay. For one thing, how often can you say you are the only male at camp with nothing but tri hotties? Second of all, who will be our mechanic on call? Third, I bet the blogs from his point of view will be worth a read so I’m keeping him around for journalism purposes too.
When I asked Beth what she needed she requested something like 5 bags of frozen vegetables. I thought – wow, she must be on some hard core sports nutrition diet eating vegetables at all 3 meals. She told us that the bags are to ice all of her body parts every night.
Beth, we are going to get along just well.
It’s important to note this is not camp htfu. You can only do one of those a year. Instead I’m calling this one stfu – soften the f*ck up, slow the f*ck up or – as Ness reminded me if I get too sassy before I have my coffee – shut the f*ck up.
The training will be what we normally do and what we’re supposed to do. By golly if my coach says ride 75 minutes that’s what I do and not a minute more. I am totally prepared to put my bike down at 75 no matter where we are. And I don’t go out of my heart rate zones. So go ahead and drop me because I spend a lot of time in zone 1. I know, I know everyone thinks everyone else is out there training in zone 100 getting faster while their mean evil coach is making them train in zone 1. Boo hoo. Well, zone 1 is where I live most of the time. It is slow and in case you don’t believe me – come run with me for 2 hours on Sunday. All in zone 1.
Beth gave me her schedule, I took my schedule and the funny thing was that they were quite similar. There are a few bikes, a few runs and to Ness’ surprise – a lot of swims.
You people sure do swim a lot.
Considering we were not born into the ocean and raised on an island, Ness, us land lovers do have to swim…lots. We’ll do the open water swim race in Lake in the Hills. Yes, I already accepted what will likely be defeat from the entire Multisport Madness Kids Team. Bob, you’ll be pleased to pee yourself about the fact that we will also be attending the group ride. Other than that it’s just your standard stuff that us triathletes do – train, recover, train again, eat, relax. Throw some coffee in there and you’ve got a perfect day.
There’s been some talk from the children about doing workouts before 9 am. Beth even mentioned 5:15 am. Who goes to the track at 5:15 am? Someone still in their 20’s. Jen will join us for some workouts and politely reminded Beth that the elderly (those of us in our 30's) do not go to the track before 9 am. In fact I’d rather go at 9 pm. Ness chimed in by telling us she’d be in bed by 8 pm. I said how could that be – that’s when masters starts?
Fear not, we’ll figure out the timeline and in the meantime enjoy the good company of each other all week long. And I do hope they enjoy the best of my training in the suburbs. I may not have rolling hills or country roads but the places I train are beautiful and challenging to me. We have miles of crushed limestone running paths that wind through meadow and oak forests. Fermilab is serene and makes me feel like I am somewhere otherworldly with the contrast of high power lines set against the prairie landscape. The quarry is a gem tucked along the riverwalk. And my masters team is number one in the state. For all those reasons I’m convinced that anyone who poo poo’s my training grounds will spend the week picking up my dog’s poo poo.
Girls, don’t test me on that.
So let the summer camp taper begin. You have one weekend to build your glycogen stores and relax your legs. Because we’re going to shell ourselves all week long in zone 5a. Beth just cried into her bag of frozen peas. I’m just kidding about all of that. Honestly I’m convinced the hardest thing we will do all week is figure out who is tough enough to handle how absolutely adorable my dog is.
I know, Liz….stfu.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
I suggested the puppy store.
Before you write me off, please, hear me out. I just wanted to look at the puppies. Touch the puppies, smell the puppies, play with the puppies, pick up the puppies and maybe – just maybe – consider that a puppy might be something I want to buy.
I wasn’t sure how Chris would respond. His relationship with Boss is hot and cold. Depends on whether or not Boss makes his poopies outdoors. But lately Boss’ accidental poopy quotient has been pretty low. So his relationship with Chris has been pretty hot. And since I like to strike when the irons are hot, I suggested the puppy store.
I knew exactly which one. Happiness is Pets. That’s where Hero is from. Hero is the miniature pinscher that hangs out at the dog park. He was there last week with his owner, a young girl in her 20’s that shows up sipping an iced latte from Caribou wearing an orange t-shirt with a picture of a recliner that said Laid Back. And she was. She didn’t say much, watched Hero and Boss play. Of all the dogs that frequent the park, Boss plays with Hero very well. They are the perfect size together and seem to know how to roughhouse without aggravating the other one.
Laid back or not, I stared asking her about Hero. You see, he’s quite the little dog. My mom was there one day with Hero and said he looked like an oversized ant. But I disagree. He’s very cute – small, black and shouts a lot of spunk. He is the perfect companion for Boss and if he was mine I would name him…
I’ll forget that I’m already in too far because I’ve already named my second dog. But I really liked Hero and liked the way he looked. So I asked the young girl where he was from and she said:
Happiness is Pets
Is it really? And how would I know? I mean, I love little Boss and his companionship throughout the day. Is that happiness? And is it because he’s my pet? Or is it his fur or ears or the fact that he is best friend a girl can have in the entire world? He’ll never gossip behind my back. Or talk too much. Or tell me I ate too much ice cream. He just licks me and begs to be next to me no matter what. Some days as I work at the kitchen table he insists I pull up a chair next to me, put his little padded bed up there so he can be at my level and help with my work. Together we make a very good team. He writes some really tough swim workouts and I pass all of my athlete e-mail replies through him first:
Boss, Alicia wants to move her run to tomorrow, what do you think? Paws up.
I ask you - would I be this happy without a pet?
I don’t know but I’m willing to go to the store to see if there is more happiness to be bought. Chris is terribly agreeable tonight and drives me to the store. Puppies for sale. Puppies on sale. You can finance your puppy for $298 for the first 3 months. In that case, sign me up.
In front of us is a smorgasboard of puppies. Furry puppies, small puppies and then I see a puppy that catches my eye. It is a little junior Boss. I ask to look at him. They bring him out and I realize right away he sort of smells. And his nails are black. He has poopy on his rear leg. And he is far too stout. This is an ugly puppy. I’m sorry for saying that. This is not my Champ.
We head over to the other pet store – actually the one where we got Boss. As usual, the store is packed. It’s 8:45 pm and everyone needs a puppy tonight. Or a ferret. Or a bird. We walk in and I see something immediately that I want – it’s a dog stroller. I need this. I start wheeling it around to give it a test run. This is just what I need to keep Boss from escaping his harness and breaking out the crazy laps.
A voice in my head - or maybe it's Chris - says Liz, put the stroller down. Unless you are willing to shell out hundreds of bucks for the dog stroller back that thing on up.
On to the puppies. There! There they are! The miniature pinschers. Two of them. I find the clerk and ask to see one. The black one first. She brings him out and asks for my drivers license.
Your license because apparently people are stealing puppies from the store. I look at myself. I am wearing shorts, a sleeveless shirt and not carrying a purse. Where in the sam hill would I put a puppy? And why would I steal something that is microchipped? Chris admits he also doesn’t have his license. We were out of luck.
We look at the other puppies – the beagles, bichons, yorkies and then I want to see the Toy Fox Terrier. It looks just like Boss! They would make a great pair. And for $1195 he would make…a great buy. I asked to see him, the clerk brings him out.
If you sanitize your hands, I’ll let you touch him.
I look a bit puzzled. If I sanitize my hands you’ll let me touch the dog? The dog that has been rolling in its shit all day in a crate and you’re worried about my hands? Ok. I’m sanitized. I touch the dog. He’s cute but still…no champ.
So I move on to the Yorkies, bulldogs, a miniature daschund. Oh she is very cute. She has a whole lobbying group in the puppy corral with her trying to talk me into why I need to be the next owner of an adorable puppy daschund. Because they have one. And the one they are holding is very cute. They are right. She is cute. Floppy ears. Little paws. I need that puppy. I want that puppy. I am going to put that puppy under my shirt and walk right out of this store.
Anyways, we leave the puppy store and drive home. We talk about Boss and how he will stay our number one. And at home we take Boss for a walk. Once inside again, Chris invites Boss to sit on his lap while they watch tv. But then… Chris notices something by the fireplace. Boss has taken a small dump. The relationship quickly turns cold.
Well, Boss, thanks for that, champ. I was this close to getting you a playmate so you would quit begging to sit by me all day. And to think that I was also going to ask about the SRM. And to start looking for a new house in Elburn. What can I say - I know agreeability is a slippery slope. I guess next time I’ll put the puppy lower on the priorities, strike when the iron is hot and ask for something different instead.
So for now scratch that second puppy thought. I look at Boss. I could never make him number two. He is just too darn cute. He drags red blanket from the kitchen. He steals corn chips with lightning speed from the kitchen floor. He chases cabbage moths in the field like they are out there just to play with him. He tears apart his toys with such intent that it seems like his work. He makes me happy. He is my pet. He is Boss!
I guess happiness really is pets. Ain't that right Boss?
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
It was a very special race. I had three athletes competing. I waited for them to cross the finish line like a mother waiting for a teenager to come home for the night. With each split I checked there was first fear – what if it’s not going well – then elation – oh thank goodness it’s going well – and back to fear – what if something next doesn’t go well.
The good news is that it all went well. Each crossed the finish line. I even got teary-eyed. I had never met Sara but when I noticed a young woman with a vibrant smile running down the chute crossing over to high five the spectator I thought to myself THAT’S MY GIRL! And sure enough there she was, crossing the line. Soon after, Scott and Al followed. Somehow they elusively snuck past my screen but then again there was a lot going on at that finish line (cartwheels, rolling, skipping, high fives, arm warmers, tears, a man carrying a rubber chicken, small children, couples and….cowboy hats).
Yet even with all of these good finishes, entertaining sights and happy I-DID-IT! phone calls, there is always bad news…..
Enter: suspense. What is the bad news, Liz?
The bad news is that this latest Ironman seems to have induced a wave of trigger happy sign-me-up-for-Ironman-NOW.
The e-mails started trickling in early on Monday. Some were logical (what do you think of me doing an Ironman?), some were teasing (I was this close to pressing the button to sign up for Ironman), some were desperate (my friends are trying to talk me into signing up for Ironman – help!) and some just admitted defeat (it took me 2000 presses but I got in!).
For all of this fever to take on Ironman, there are things you should know. Things beyond the fact that you will have to train to go 140.6 miles. That’s a given. There are other risks that are not as clear. Risks you should be ready to take on should you choose to train for Ironman. I’ve decided to list some of those risks for you. This list is not exhaustive, but mind you training for Ironman is. So if you’ve got something that I’ve missed on my list, let me know. Chances are I was too tired at the time of training to either recognize or record it:
1 – You may not pee clear for months. On the other side of things, you will poop 3x a day.
2 – You may find yourself weary eyed one night sitting on the couch thinking – who is that man? Yes, that is my husband whom I have seen for about 10 minutes each day in between sleeping, pooping, showering and stuffing food in my mouth.
3 – You will spend more money on workout clothes than normal clothes and you will find yourself thinking that workout clothes could very well pass for normal at-work clothes (they really don’t).
4 - You will spend at least one week convinced you have wounded your private parts for good.
5 – If you add up the time you will spend getting ready for training, doing the training, recovering from the training you will realize that training for Ironman is like taking on a part-time job. Think to yourself – am I ready to take on a part-time job?
6 – You may lose one of the following when training for Ironman; social life, friends, sleep, toenails, skin on your inner thighs, a little piece of your sanity but you will not – I repeat – will not lose weight (physiologically impossible during Ironman – trust me).
7 – Your car will look like you live in it. With your bike. Things you might find in your car include: baggies (you will carry half of your life in a plastic bag on your long rides), small white capsules (salt tabs that escaped), gel wrappers (sticking to anything they can), a scale (for the ongoing sweat rate test), empty water bottles (smelling funky after days old whey protein based sports drink rots in them), socks (used and unused, well, maybe just used just to be safe), goggles (they were your spare pair), bike route maps (folded, tattered from sweat and likely sealed in a baggie).
8 – You will eat 50 percent of your diet in bar or gel form. Fear not, this habit immediately ceases upon completion of Ironman OR at mile 1 of the run. At which point it will be replaced by rabid consumption of defizzed coke or cookies. You will then call your coach after you cross the line to say COOKIES SAVED MY MARATHON.
9 – If you were to stand naked without your tri clothes no one would know because the tan lines have ingrained their outline into your body for at least the next year.
10 – You will do something during Ironman training that completely scares the shit out of you – such as, staying up all night because you can’t sleep, eating an entire gallon of ice cream because you are so hungry, peeing the bed because you were so tired your brain forget to alert you to WAKE UP! WAKE UP!, waking up in the middle of the night sweating in the sheets so bad you need to change them (then again, wait…read the last one).
Regardless of the risks, we continue to watch finishers come across the Ironman finish line and can’t help but get drawn. We laugh at them, cry with them and dream for ourselves. You see the guy who goes 140.6 miles at an even pace and then sprints the finish line. You feel like you’ve found a kindred spirit. The announcer points this out and makes a joke – but perhaps he’s never been? I mean, all those guilty of sprinting to the finish line of Ironman raise your hand?
(mine’s up – twice)
Watching all of this you can’t help but feel – I want that to be me. There's an emotional connection that drawns you in to it. I want to be covered in sweat, I want to cross the line in tears, I want to put up my arms, I want to give the high fives. I want that. I want to do that. Again. So you start clicking on Ironmanlive……could I do Louisville? Wisconsin? Florida? Arizona? Where will my next one be? And when?
But then you realize it’s time to pull the trigger back. Because Ironman is really a loaded gun of hard work, long days and fatigue. The pay off of crossing the line is great but it comes at a huge cost – physically, socially, psychologically, even spiritually. It changes you. It will change what you think of yourself and how you see the world. You must be ready for that.
For those of us that did not just do an Ironman, we still have our sanity and can see all of this. It is a huge commitment of time and energy. Even though we are watching the finishers come across the line, we can stop ourselves, turn the computer off and consider Ironman another time. We realize that what was a fleeting idea while watching the finish line doesn’t sound so good once we turn the sound down. After all, it’s Ironman…you need to train for it for a really long time with really long swims, bikes and runs.
But for those that just did the race and are thinking they should immediately sign up for another Ironman - realize in the 4 weeks after completing an Ironman you are most vulnerable to suggestions like that. You’re in that unsafe place where you could make a very costly decision for yourself. You are in a sense the most trigger happy because you’re floating on the cloud of I AM AN IRONMAN! It’s a cloud of optimism and invincibility that further clouds your judgment for logical things.
But remember, clouds have no bottom and if you’re not careful with your footing you’ll fall right through. Especially after doing the race, your footing and feet in general are not very good. So I give you another list of warnings – for the recent IM finisher - of things not to do after Ironman:
1 – Do not make any major life purchases including cars, houses or pets.
2 – Do not pop that blister on your big toe.
3 – Do not wake up 2 days later saying “I FEEL GREAT!” and go for a run.
4 – Do not get a tattoo – think about it, ask around, give it time.
5 – Do not grab a bar when you are hungry in a rush – for crying out loud give your body real food!
6 – Do not make blanket statements like “that run was awesome” until you see yourself in the photos.
7 – Do not resurrect your racing outfit; instead lay it to rest with a proper burial in the backyard.
8 – Do not wonder if you could go back and do it faster; give yourself at least a month to enjoy what you did.
9 – Do not think you can sit around eating peanut butter cups for 2 weeks after the race without gaining weight; the post-race thinness lasts about…..one day.
10 – Do not peel the Ironman sticker off your bike; it’s a reminder of a memorable day, a monumental experience and every time you look down at it while riding no matter how the ride is going you’ll think back to the race and it will make you feel strong.
Now, everyone, hands off the trigger. Or hands off the REGISTER NOW button. Put the weapon down – whether it’s the lap top or that voice in your head that says sign up now. Step back, walk away, think about it for awhile. And if you still find yourself wondering should I do an Ironman, go back through the lists above and if all of that sounds like something you want to do for 6 to 9 months then by all means…fire away.
(so which one are doing we doing, huh? Louisville? Wisconsin? Florida? Arizona? CDA? Because you know my finger is on the trigger too……)
Sunday, June 22, 2008
This weekend threw me several monkey wrenches. Let us begin on Friday night. I was a bachelorette for the weekend with Chris shipping himself and his bike off to Colorado to canoodle with the Red Bear in his Fort Collins cave. And what’s a single girl to do with her Friday night? Eat chicken wings, drink beer, watch baseball? No. No, she preps for her Saturday morning bike ride and goes to bed by 9 pm.
My nonexistent social life slowly dies a little more every day. Oh that’s right – it started dead. So now it begins to rot. And I begin to pack gels, bars, shoes, gloves - I was so prepared for my ride I was overprepared. Which is never a bad thing. Except if you overlook one thing – the one thing you really need to ride…
I find it on the trainer in the basement with the rear wheel flat.
Now, if I hadn’t flatted last Saturday on a ride and hadn’t nearly thrown the rear wheel across Fermilab into the buffalo range because I was so disgusted with the tire levers that were designed to infuriate me rather than help me and left me standing there cursing into the wind which apparently the security patrol heard because they pulled up alongside me and asked,
Are you ok?
If I hadn’t gone through that I might be a little more inclined to change this flat. But not today. Not this early in the morning; 5:30 am or 5:30 BC. That’s before coffee. And even if I was inclined to change the flat – could I? No. Because where are the spares? Have you been to our basement? How would I know. I know I have one in my pack but if I use that one what do I use if I get a flat on the actual ride? How would I explain to Boss where Elburn was and how to pick me up if I flatted again?
Psst…..Boss is a dog.
The risks were too risky so I decided to grab my road bike instead. Normally not a big deal except for that the fact that I recently was fitted to my road bike. And while the seat and pedals were correctly fitted to me – the front end required new handlebars on special order. So, it’s safe to say I am riding a road bike that is 50 percent ergonomically correct and the other 50 percent (as I have learned on my last two group rides) set up for excruciating crotch pain.
Totally not ergonomic.
Turns out the best thing for that ratio is to do a 4 hour hilly ride with a 45 minute time trial and after that 8 hill repeats. Important lesson learned out there: a 45 minute time trial is best done on a time trial bike. And – wait – that’s not all. Another important lesson you learn: what makes a long ride even better is if you also have a 90 percent chance of getting caught in the 50 percent chance of precipitation. Balance out all of those ratios, subtract the sum and carry the three and you find me standing on the side of the road in pouring rain somewhere west – who knows where – while shouting I get the point – I GET THE POINT. It was time to go home where I finished up the ride in the basement and then went for my swim.
Afterwards I had to get my time trial bike ready for the race. You see Sunday was another “racing as training experience.” The plus side of this is that you don’t have to take it too seriously. The downside is that you still have to have a fully functioning and assembled bike. Clearly a challenge for me today. Requiring yet another wrench. Since I have only one pair of pedals right now (that’s right, about 8 bikes with 1 set of pedals that are not even mine – please don’t ask) I had to take the pedals from my road bike to the time trial bike. Enter the pedal wrench. The right pedal cooperated. The left pedal did not. It must have some type of conspiracy with my angry left foot. 15 minutes, many hot tears, one thrown pedal wrench and a bloody hand (chain’s fault – not mine) the pedal finally came off.
I got my TT bike ready. I even cleaned it. And without any orders from coach to collect data during this race I gave myself permission to use my disc wheel. I even got air into it. Oh you can poo poo me all you’d like but husband is just better at these things. Has husband ever broken a derailleur putting on a rear wheel – NO. Has husband ever bloodied his hand getting a pedal off – NO. Has husband ever deflated the tire entirely before putting in air – NO. I know my strengths and weaknesses and bike mechanics are just not my thing.
(note to self: I will pay for a statement like that at some point down the road...)
But after this weekend I’m beginning to think I better learn not only how to use many different wrenches but also how to reassemble my bike. And learn how to do it with a monkey wrench because that’s all that seems to be on hand this weekend.
Sunday morning I showed up at the race and brought my bike to the bike tent. This is the local shop that knows me and they probably didn’t expect me to show up in the tent since I live with the world’s biggest bike tool (that is a compliment). I explained that since Chris was out of town I needed someone to go through my gears. One small problem though…
Liz, this is a 9 speed cassette.
Ok. Part of me suspects this should be a problem but the other part of me has no idea why.
Liz, you have a 10 speed bike.
Again, I hear what you’re saying but I am not sure what it means.
Liz, even if I adjusted your gears they would still click and not slide.
So what you’re saying is that I might spend my entire ride in the 11 gear at 50 rpms. Perfect. That’s exactly where I want to be. I take my gear masher to my transition rack, set everything up and get ready for the race. Or the workout. Whatever you call it. One goal from my coach: “have a good swim, eh?” In his defense, that questioning at the end is simply Canadian speak for get your ass moving on that swim or I’ll make you swim 9 days a week.
But Paul there are only 7 days.
I don’t care, Liz. We’ll find more. Cheers! Paul.
(he didn’t really say that but I could see it happening one day)
Point taken. I was suited up and we were knee deep in the water ready to go. We, as in, the elite wave at the local women’s triathlon. This was my first triathlon ever back in 1999! Many special memories here and it had been years since I competed in it. This year joined by top competitors Lauren Jensen, Jenny Garrison, some gal with her name on her butt which is always a good (not really) sign (ITU! ITU!). Again, knee deep, count down starts counting down and….rain delay. One hour. Lightning, cold rain. In that hour I proved you could shiver in a wetsuit in late June while wondering if you could find warmth by wrapping yourself in your mother’s tote bag.
Only problem was she wouldn’t give up the tote bag.
Short race even shorter race story – finally in the water and I have my good swim. Not first without a cleverly planted woman to my right who decided she would slap me repeatedly for the first 200 yards. I’ve lost a piece of my hand to a pedal wrench, my crotch died about 70 miles ago but please take this opportunity to slap the only good part of me left – my head. Wait, that is still the good part, right? Exited the swim to the world’s longest transition run, entered transition to find my wetsuit would keep me in a death grip, finally got loose and then ran another…..2 miles?.....to bike out and then fought with my new pedals that are not really my pedals to let me in dammit. Let me in!
My bike cooperated, it was mostly operational except for about half of the gears. But really who needs all their gears? My legs, they were feeling the ride the day before but it was fun to just be out there on a now sunny day pushing the pace. Off the bike, I left transition with Jessica Starykowicz. Her brother, uber-biker triathlon pro Andrew, gets the award for most maniac spectator. I have no idea how but I swear I saw him all over the place – my favorite time at run out as he shouted get on her feet Jessica, it’s war out there – WAR! Holy crap! With a warning like that I ran like my feet were on fire and hit the first mile at 6 minutes – ok cowgirl! Slow that pace down – well, that was taken care of as my body slowly drowned in lactic acid from too much zone 25 way too soon.
From there it was a downhill run to the finish line. A 4th place finish and just an all around good time. I found myself on the run thinking I really like to race. I just like the sport. It’s fun. It’s a good feeling. Forget the times, splits, placement – it was about the there, the now, putting it all together, taking risks and having a good time. The spectators, the crowds, the spirit, my mom at the finish line, my friends – despite a few little things this weekend that went in a not so good way, it was an all around good time today.
I realized this weekend that you learn a little something new with every wrench thrown in your plans. You learn to prepare yourself with more than one spare inner tube, you learn that you might like (or need to) take a class in basic bike maintenance, to bring an extra towel to your next race, to spray your body down with Pam to get out of your wetsuit, and to always check the radar before you set off on a long ride. Your learn good wrenches from bad wrenches and how to deal with one the next time you find it in your plans.
And now I will set about to pick up all the wrenches I threw around the basement in frustration before Chris gets back home.
Friday, June 20, 2008
The other end went quiet. Nothing. Not a word. I thought maybe this was the period at the end of his last sentence confirming that he had indeed quit triathlon for good.
Because that was what I last heard. Some cry me a river mass e-mail about being too busy to train, too much on the road for work and not enough time to give it all he really wanted to. Alas, triathlon would take the back seat or maybe even the trunk. There would be no more. Running races perhaps but for all purposes triathlon and Sherpa Thomas were done.
Then it happened. The other day. He answered the call.
The e-mail at first contained some excuse that he would not be able to be there. Something about a once in a lifetime opportunity with a hot chick. Oh please. What about the twice in a lifetime opportunity with a really fast guy and a hot chick (hot chick's name to be announced). After all, this is Kona. There will be plenty of hot chicks around (literally, it’s damn hot there in the sun).
I read on, the disappointment setting in knowing that I would be solo in Kona watching the race. Who will be Sherpa to my husband? Not me. The minimum requirement is that you weigh as much as the racer so you can carry them if needed after the finish line. I can’t carry Chris.
But wait. In true Sherpa Thomas style the e-mail takes a snappy twist and it turns out the hot chick was all a big joke (I suspected as much) and of course he would be there. Of course he would answer the Sherpa on duty call.
I am elated. Someone to carry my husband. And someone to carry my bags! Actually my husband’s bags. Have you ever traveled with him? He’s worse than a woman. Brings a bag for everything.
Honestly though this means that I can hold someone hostage all week with my training schedule. Sherpa Thomas pull me on the swim. Sherpa Thomas block the wind for me. Sherpa Thomas carry my Fuel Belt. Sherpa Thomas – lid on this coffee. Cut my cinnamon roll. Go up and touch Michael Lovato.
BECAUSE I SAID SO!
Little does he know there are many Sherpa duties that have not necessarily been outlined in the contract that he signed when he said “I’ll be there” but the fine print, the print that said and anything else deemed reasonable by the inviting party - well, that could really include….anything.
If I had any inkling of remorse about not competing it has completely gone away. I talked to the coach and he said I needed to view it as an opportunity to see the race from the other side. And he is right. I will revel in the opportunity to stand on my feet for 12+ hours baking in the sun while watching people spit, shit, sweat and stomp their way down the Queen K. Wait a minute – no need to bake in the sun – Sherpa Thomas hold this towel over my head. There you go. That’s the price of traveling to Kona with me.
I’ve already been thinking about other things I would like to do there. I would like to (s)talk to some of the other pro’s. I want to know more about them and what makes them tick. I’ve started thinking of questions that I might ask them if they would agree to talk with me. More important things in life, things we as admiring fans are dying to know:
If there is one dance move you do better than anyone else, what would it be?
Oreos – top off & scraping the cream off with your front teeth or eating it whole?
Ernie or Bert?
When I get escorted out of Lava Java and asked not to return after that, I will spend the rest of the time on the hot corner spreading rumors that because it’s going to be too hot this year they are thinking of cutting the run short. Just a 5K.
You can see that Sherpa Thomas is really there just to carry me – out of public places that I may get banned because I’m going to have loads of pent up – why am I at a race but not racing – energy. I’ll have all the competitive fire that crackles during race week but none of the release. And so I will need somewhere to release me. I’ve decided key places where someone needs to be heckling triathletes would be at the Gatorade swim tent (asking them to put each one of my personal items in separate bag and then demanding a bottle of Gatorade for each bag I check in), the registration line (pointing at some random guy telling everyone else that he is so and so from such and such and they need a picture with him), Alii Drive (I plan to run 1K repeats up and down to be that girl during race week that is blowing herself on Alii Drive just to show off), the hill at Hawi (telling weary triathletes the winds have shifted and there is a 30 mph headwind all the way back too - surprise!), the energy lab (oh give me time…give me time I will think of something perfect for in there).
To think all of this fun is less than 4 months away. The other day Chris said he was itchy to get back to training. Jen and I laughed. Itchy. Just wait. Give it 2 more months and you’ll be itching for more than training – itching for sleep, itching for peeing clear, itching for your crotch to stop itching.
Until then I’m going to keep formulating my plans and making a list of rules for the Sherpa on duty. I will also practice running up and down hot stretches of pavement while waving my hands. And I’m going to need training on my voice – so I will spend the next week talking in anything but my library voice. One cannot expect to cheer and spectate for an entire day without training. Too risky.
And if all goes well Sherpa Thomas will carry me back after Chris crosses the finish line. Come on, Chris is a tough guy. If he can race for that long in one day he can certainly walk back to the car.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Of course the suburbs are filled with lakes. Ponds actually. Man made places to catch the run off from the miles upon miles we have paved over. These ponds are like toxic hazards to most living things. That’s because they are mostly frequented by ducks and geese and are so shallow that the sun warms them up to boiling causing the growth of bacteria and other yucky stuff. Scientific term. Of course the geese survive it because they are from Canada and we all know Canadians are just a different…breed. So that is why we, as humans, cannot swim in the ponds. They are just not safe.
So we go to the quarry. It’s probably not safe either. Like I said, many small children are in there as well as grown adults in wetsuits. That quarry probably sees more pee than a public bathroom each day. And I definitely have done my part to make sure of that.
Tonight we headed over there for the weekly swim. I may not be the biggest pool fan out there but I love to open water swim. I wasn’t always this way. I didn’t decide to do a triathlon 9 years ago and have nothing but smooth strokes from there. Mind you I have been pulled from the water in a swim race two times. On top of that I have had numerous freak outs. But I’ve realized over the years it’s a mindset. It’s about using what you’ve learned in the pool, taking out the walls and giving yourself permission to relax with a long, smooth stroke – just like in the pool.
But even in the quarry I have to remind myself to just relax and breathe. For whatever reason I can start to feel the onset of a panicky choking freak out almost every time I’m there. Usually it’s when the pace picks up or I have to work hard to keep up with someone else. It’s like sitting on that edge of do you want to get better or do you want to just stay where you are. It’s a choice you have to make. You realize the only thing to fear in the water is yourself. There is nothing else there that will hurt you than your own lack of confidence in doing something you know how to do. So do it all ready. That’s all that it takes.
So tonight I told myself I would do what it takes to swim with the big boys. The big boys are those that lap me twice in a 500 in the pool. I was talking to someone about masters the other day and they were discouraged because they got such a big ass whooping. I said to them that’s what it’s all about. It’s masters, unless you have been swimming since you were 6 you will probably get lapped 1 to 100 times each practice. And that’s not even during the mainset. Tonight I wanted to swim with them. I wanted my ass whooped.
Of course I had a wetsuit and they just had their swimsuits. But that’s ok. I feel that in exchange for their 20 more years of experience I can take a little neoprene advantage. It’s only fair. We do some open water swimming in the deep end to warm up then we head to the lanes. Then the coach throws this our way:
“6 x 50, taking the first 10 strokes as fly then doing the rest as free.”
There was some dissent among the swimmers. I mean, is this not open water? Are you even allowed to do fly? The coach doesn’t buy it and is also the same coach that once made us swim a timed mile followed by 200 fly. To get out of 10 strokes of fly – not going to fly. But at least we could ask her why:
“Because you never know in an open water race when you might need to pull out some fly.”
I thought about Mary, Pedergraham, Jennifer and thought – YES – that is exactly why you need to be standing there in a wetsuit leaping into 10 strokes of fly. And you know what – damn if you don’t see me doing fly for my next open water race. The wetsuit is like a giant fin that seems to propel you into the air with each dolphin kick. So I have decided about the wetsuit/fly combo – it’s good. Very good.
The rest of the practice we did some seeded starts where the faster swimmers dove first and then everyone followed. I thought about waiting in line according to where I should be but then said f*ck it. I’m diving in as the third person and doing what it takes to hang on feet. I believe this move surprised my husband as I felt him dive in right after me. Like oh no you don't wife. You do not try to swim ahead of me. So he swam next to me swatting my legs and feet. Then he pulled ahead of me. Then I drafted him. Then I decided I would try to outsprint him to the ladder. I never did make it there first but it sure was fun to try.
We finished the practice with obstacle course, following the strongest swimmer around the quarry, diving off of piers, zig zagging and going off the diving boards. If you would like a good laugh watch a bunch of wetsuit clad adults going of a diving board. Like children some flip, some squiggle, some hold their nose, and some are too scared to dive at all.
After my dives (your traditional stand and jump off), I realized how much fun I was having. And why I loved the sport. To be swimming with friends, enjoying a beautiful summer night and connecting to what was so much fun as a child – play. We don’t take enough time to play as adults. And we don’t put enough play into the sport. At times we are so pent up about our times, our splits, our heart rate, the expectations we set for ourselves that we forget to enjoy it all. We forget that the purpose is just to burn some energy and have some fun. Just like children at play.
I started thinking about the difficulties some adults have in open water. How it really is something that needs to be unlearned. Because we weren’t always that way. In my experience, most children love water. So much that they need to be watched around water because most don’t have any fears of it. It makes me realize that we as adults in the open water have become filled with our own fears. Fears that come from a maturing rational mind; one that has read or heard about accidents in water, one that has too much information or experience to answer the question of what if. It is those what ifs that begin filling our head in open water, the panic button is pressed and we begin talking ourselves into something worse than it really is.
But children aren’t like that – they are 100 percent absorbed in the moment. They only know the here and the now. Here and now they are with their friends, swimming and having a good time. There is no thinking ahead about the next thing or what could happen – that’s something we have learned to do as adults. Instead, they are completely absorbed in the immediate fact that the water feels cool and good. The water is fun. That is a child at play.
That's a good way to approach open water swimming too. Stop thinking about what could happen and just focus on what is - your body in the water waiting to swim. Just let it go. Let go all of the what ifs and irrational fears. Turn the watch off, turn your mind off and let it all go. There is an inner child that wants to just get in the water and have some fun. Swim in the moment, chase you friends, do a cannonball of the pier, and enjoy some child like water play. And while you’re playing, don’t be afraid to rip out 10 strokes of fly.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
I realize we live in a world of risk management, an overzealously litigious world with plenty of situations ripe for legal action and liability. But push all of that aside and you start to think….come on…what is going on around here?
I’ve been an athlete most of my life. Even as a child my mother involved us in sport; soccer, tennis, dance (yes, I had tap shoes), gymnastics. We tried just about everything. In high school I turned to the one sport that required no skills and no tryouts – running. Perfect for me since I was starting to learn that anything with a ball or complex movement was not for me. But one thing I always learned in every sport situation was that sport is filled with risk. There are balls flying at high speeds, high dives into deep water, throwing your body over itself on two hands, bats, bars, wind, bugs, holes and then there’s just the crazy kid that likes to kick you instead of the ball.
Sport is filled with risk.
After working with children for over 12 years, I realized that one of the most frustrating things that parents do for children is manage all of their risks. Part of my job was coordinating a summer camp for 6 years. During that time I got complaints that in the outdoor world there were too many risks – bugs, pouring rain, hot sun, tall grasses, open bodies of waters, insect-borne viruses, sticks that jump out on the trail, bullies, dumpsters, and my all time favorite – nuts on the trees. Here, let me go pull all of the nuts off the trees for you. Who needs nuts. And for that matter, who needs trees.
Anyways, kids would show up for summer camp looking like they were dressed for war – hats, sunglasses, long pants, long sleeves, sunscreen, bug spray, plastic wrap covering their body as a protective shield. Poor kid would be sitting in my office with heatstroke under 20 pounds of clothes carrying a 20 pound backpack filled with assorted protective lotions on a 95 degree day - but hey at least they didn't come into contact with any leaves. Of course I don’t have kids but do plan on putting plastic covers on them to protect them like grandma’s couch when I do have them - but in overprotecting kids, even adults, from risks are we taking away the opportunity for them to think for themselves, learn from natural consequences and make choices – all skills that will eventually help them become better adults? Or are we taking away all of the potential for risks – so what are we left with is really safe kids (or adults) who don’t know what to do when they do happen to stumble upon a risk?
And, is this what is happening in triathlon?
Sometimes I frequent a certain tri-related forum. I almost lost my coffee on my computer a few weeks ago when I read a discussion speculating that a half Ironman run might be cut short because it was going to be “hot”. The RD might cut the course in half, they said. Because you know what happens when you run in the heat, right…..right?
Unless it is something other than sweat yourself silly, I don’t know either. I mean – it’s hot. It’s summer. It’s sport. Slow down, take your salt tabs - deal with it. I remember a few years ago I did a half Ironman in Arkansas in August. Yes, I was suffering from a little crazy that year. At the pre-race meeting, the race director said that only if the heat index exceeds the military standards of 112 would the run be cut short – and with that only in half. You know why – because if the military can handle being out there running in fatigues, boots and combat gear then a bunch of half naked triathletes should be able to harden the f*ck up and run in it too. Turns out the heat index hit 107 while the temperature read around 97 degrees. Was it hot? Hell yes. Hotter than hell in fact. It was like breathing cotton balls in your mouth and running while wrapped in a wool blanket. Did I survive? Yes through smart hydration and electrolyte replacement. In other words, I was prepared.
I am often surprised how little people know about preparation for sport. But I don’t blame it on them being ignorant – I blame it on not taking the time to be prepared and not acknowledging that a lack of preparation is failure to acknowledge that sport is a risk. Why do people assume you can do an Ironman or any race and guts and will but not with fuel or preparation? I don’t get it. Why don’t people take the sport more seriously?
Why – sometimes I think because it takes personal responsibility. Something our society continues to lose. Plus who has time. Listen, we have jobs, kids, e-mails, we are busy. There is no time to think things through. Let’s just do it and get the shirt. And the tattoo. We live in a very snappy, quick society where you can put what you want on credit and blame someone else when something goes wrong. You don’t have to take things seriously anymore. You can opt out, you can return it no questions asked, you can get a quick fix….heck you can fix any mistake you make. After all, you – the customer – is always right. In a way, you never have to take responsibility for being wrong nor for yourself.
Does this happen all of the time? No – but it happens. We like it here, now and we don’t want to wait. We want it fixed, we want it perfect and we don’t want to deal with all of the risks. Make it safe, make it nice, please make it sport “lite” – give me all the same vanity, fitness benefits and bragging rights as true sport but can you please take out all of the risk for me and replace it with…splenda? Brings me back to my job with kids and camp; I remember someone telling me we should get rid of the bugs at camp. All right, let me do a conference call with god and nature to see what they can do. Are you kidding me? It’s outdoor camp, there are bugs, deal with it or don’t sign up at all. That’s the point – you don’t have to sign up. You made this choice. So if you do sign up, don’t expect me to destroy all the bugs or wrap your kid in netting. Same with sport. Just assume there is a risk. One that you cannot always control for. One of the things our world is losing sight of is that you cannot control for everything and sometimes you just have to…deal.
Lately there have been some changes and cancellations made to races because of weather and other conditions. I realize every situation is a judgment call and safety is key but at a certain point I think we just need to admit that it is sport and it is risky. I think we need to get back to the idea of choosing your own adventure at your own risk.
Isn’t that what sport is about?
It is dangerous to climb Mt. Everest. That’s a risk I’m not willing to take. It’s dangerous to do aerial tricks on a motorcross bike. That’s a risk I also have no interest in taking. Dangerous to mount and try to ride a bull. I don’t do that. Do you see what I’m getting at? I put myself into risky situations that seem manageable to me. I don’t expect a course to change, a race to shutdown or the water to be warm enough for me to take on those risks. That’s because the entire event/sport is a risk. But one that seems ok with me. If I choose to participate I take on those risks. If the risk seems too risky, I bow out. I’m honest about my preparation and my abilities. I realize no matter how bad I want to do something – some things in a race might not be suitable for me. I can make those decisions myself. I don’t expect someone else to cater the course or control conditions for me.
Of course lightning is a different story. That’s serious shit. And 6 foot white caps in the water – that’s another risk. There are also days when you come prepared but still something happens. You get pulled from the water, you crash, you have a meltdown. But, there is a line. A very fine line but are we taking that line and removing it all together saying that any chance of things not going exactly the 100 percent perfect way that we will simply call things off all together and call it a day?
I don’t know.
I have only been in the sport for 9 years. I realize I’m new at the sport compared to those that have competed since the 70’s but even in my time things have changed. I have swam in cold ass water. In case you are wondering, cold ass water is about 54 degrees. I have swam in water that probably should have been considered a biohazard it was so eutrophied. I survived. I have ridden in 35 mph headwinds. I didn’t blow off my bike. I have raced in 35 degrees. I put on arm warmers. It’s the world, the earth, it changes, it’s ok, I slow down, I put on extra clothes, I took a deep breath, I made it through. I responded to what I was thrown on race day.
My first half Ironman was back in 2001. I had a race map that gave me an idea that the course would be hard because the words “wicked downhill” were written in several places on the map. Race morning it was 35 degrees. I showed up in a two piece bathing suit and said game on. Got on my bike and know what – it was – well, darn cold. But I pedaled along. I got to one of the wicked downhills and my stomach dropped. Literally. Got off my bike and thought – what to do - both with the stomach and that hill. I had no idea how I was going to get down something that steep without crashing or freezing or soiling myself. Looked around and noticed a driveway. Knocked on the door and asked them for two things; a toilet and some cold weather gear because by this time I was cccccccold. They equipped me with a wind jacket and a pair of gardening gloves. Got back on my bike, descended the hill and for the rest of the ride tried to figure out how to eat frozen power bars with what felt like oven mitts on my hands. The race threw a variety of challenging things at me, I found ways to deal and figured it out. It was truly an adventure. So much so that I decided I couldn’t wait to do it again.
In a sense, what kept me coming back to the sport were experiences like that. So many of us chase after the perfect race – we think everything needs to go exactly right, conditions need to be sunny, 70 degrees and calm on a flat course with a negative grade for us to have our best race day. But when I look back into my race archives, often the most proud races with the biggest sense of accomplishment are those in which I overcame challenges. Challenges like flat tires, realizing someone stepped on my gels leaving my race belt covered in ants, crashing at Muncie a few years ago only to run 13.1 miles with road rash, my bike not arriving in Buffalo Springs, pouring rain on the Beast – conditions like this that prove to me that when things get tough I can focus, follow my plan and still succeed. Over time you realize the perfect race is often not perfect at all; rather it is your perfect execution of responses to imperfect conditions that allow you to have the best race you can.
An easy victory – whatever your victory may be – to me is empty. I don't want a PR on a flat fast course on a mild day with a 20 mph tailwind at my back. The real victory is in overcoming an obstacle (or two) often one that is myself fretting about the obstacle ahead. Experiences like that build my confidence, make me realize I am made of more than I think I am. I think back to short course duathlon worlds in 2006 in Canada. It was pouring rain and 50 degrees. There was a giant hill to be descended and climbed 4 times. This was dangerous and risky. The race organizers did not flatten the course nor turn off the rain. The race took place. And I survived. Even brought home a medal. To this day, any time I ride in the rain I think about that course. I picture myself mastering the downhills, the turns, riding through puddles of pouring rain. I am more confident because of that. The medal was that much sweeter because of that – I earned it, I proved that I had more than the legs, I had the head to focus, push and succeed.
Maybe it’s because triathlon is growing. It’s attracting more of the masses and with that comes a flock of both experienced and unexperienced athletes. Maybe it’s because of legal risk. Maybe it’s become of global warming. Maybe I’m the idiot for speaking my mind. I don’t know. But what I’m thinking is that everyone needs to take the sport for what it is – a personal choice to participate in an event filled with unknowns and risks. Like summer camp, there are bugs, high winds, potential storms, rogue sticks, hills, holes in the ground, and sometimes kids that just want to kick you over and over again. It’s just a risk you take.
So come prepared – know the basics of swim, bike and run and be sure you can do them for the race course distance. Come prepared with your fuel. Have a mindset that you are going to engage yourself in a very risky, painful and sometimes dangerous thing. For crying out loud take the sport seriously. Sport gets ugly. Sport gets tough. People sweat, bleed and cry in sport. So will you. Respect the preparations that need to be made to cross the finish line. Don’t expect to write the check, rely on someone else, or return your item without a receipt at any triathlon. Know what you’re doing. Buck up. Act like an adult – think and take responsibility for yourself.
You make choices in life – some are filled with risk. Sport is filled with risk. If you didn’t participate in sports as a child, go to a child’s soccer game and watch some kid get kicked in the shin or hit in the head with a ball. Are they wearing helmets? Do they call the game? No way – it’s just the risk you take when you play soccer. Now put that mentality in open water, on a two wheeled piece of equipment capable of descending hills at very fast speeds, then head out on to a road to run…….lots of risks. It’s a wonder that any of us participate at all – think of all that could go wrong. Maybe when we participate in races or sports we should assume anything and everything could go wrong. But also be comforted by the thought that all can go "right" when you are prepared both mentally and skillfully. That perfect union of preparation, opportunity and response to reach the finish line - isn’t that why we do sport in the first place?
It is interesting to me to hear the reasons why people get involved in sport. Sometimes I think people have unrealistic expectations – those that seek vanity, assurance, validation or personality change in sport are here for the wrong reasons. Sport builds you up by breaking you down. If you can’t handle the conditions that might make you broken, perhaps seek a safer, gentler sport. Like putt-putt. But then again – have you ever been hit by a club? Don’t expect sport to feel sorry for you. Don’t expect sport to always hand you water at the right interval on a course. Don’t expect sport to take chop out of a swim because you are scared. Overcome it, face it and prepare for it. Take responsibility that anything can happen on race day. True, a race director and organization has responsibility – but so do you as an athlete. Assume that in an outdoor sport involving water and land things can and will go wrong. In other words, there are….risks. That’s part of the fun of sport and what keeps many of us coming back; the adventure, the challenge, the things that go wrong that you find a way to right – overcoming the risk of ourselves and our own failure - that is what makes truly amazing athletes and exciting memories. This is what brings most of us back.
But maybe that's it - seeing ourselves not as participants but athletes. What does it mean to be an athlete? It's more than getting the race t-shirt, buying the 140.6 sticker, it's more than the training, the stories or sexy equipment. It's a mindset. An approach. A way of thinking on race day. You wouldn't show up to a baseball game to just catch a ball - you would show up to be a player. You would show up to take on any role that was needed on the team. So play the game. Know the rules. Assume the risks. And understand that the business of being an athlete is a very risky thing.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
It started with an early morning swim. If it is possible to swim 8 days a week that is what I am doing now. At first it wasn’t so bad. But string together a week of practices where the coach was consistently 5 minutes late and one day didn’t show up at all – that tends to put water in my ears. And then today for the 8th time this week we did the usual standard masters warm up; 400 swim, 300 pull, 200 kick. I think if I just jumped in the pool at the top of the hour my body would automatically know what to do. Just put a pull buoy and fins nearby.
The swim itself didn’t go so well. I had every intention of having a superstar swim. Really. I got up at 6 am. I ate oatmeal. I drank coffee. I deterred Boss from taking a dump in the house – these are good pre-swim karma things. But then I got girl cramps. And then the swim went slow. And then my lane mate pointed out that I was slow today.
Because there isn’t a giant clock in front of my face or anything.
The only thing that got me through was promise of bagel and coffee afterwards. Nevermind that I had both at home – I wanted them from the bagel shop. There is a difference. Found a great parking place. Got inside the bagel shop. And chaos exploded. There had to be roughly one million people who also coaxed themselves out of sleep, hangover, child-induced wake up call by promising a trip to the bagel shop.
I stood line for what felt like…forever. So long the guy in front of me called his wife – twice.
You want it toasted, right?
I wanted to slap him with his Blackberry. For no other reason than I was tired of waiting in this long line. And I wanted it toasted too. But just as I eyed his Blackberry when he pulled it out again – the woman behind me did something really dumb. She got to the front of the line. When the clerk asked what she wanted she said…
I don’t know.
I know - keep me from hitting you too. You did not stand in line for forever with at least 10 colored menu boards hanging large above your head with spotlights on them, stand there and arrive at the front of the line with not a clue. No. There should be a staff member assigned to take people like that and direct them to the back of the line to try again.
The line was filed with people like that. It took over 20 minutes. Boo hoo. But I got my damn bagel and coffee. Somewhere in the middle of 4000+ yards I dreamt about Vanilla Hazelnut coffee. Now it’s here. Filled my cup, left the shop, took a sip and….
It wasn’t right. If it’s possible for coffee to taste like smoking a cigarette under water, they captured it in this cup. Not that I’ve smoked underwater but you get the point. I went back to the store. I dumped the cup. I wasn’t in the mood for another risk so I selected the Celebration blend. Limited time only. With a name and guarantee like that, it was worth a try.
Back at home, I did some work. Fielded some athlete e-mails and calls. Someone had a salt tab crisis at a race expo, someone set a new 1 hour PR at an Olympic tri, someone DNF’ed, someone is getting squirrely during their taper, someone had girl cramps – you too? It must be going around.
That pulled me through a few hours then it was time to run. A run can improve any bad day – right. Right? The first 20 minutes and I knew I was in no such luck. It was 87 degrees. I was already sweating buckets. Zone 2 felt like Zone 10. And the Boy Scouts were having a camporjamboree on the only shaded part of the trail. I was stuck in the sun. Not only that but I was surrounded by grown men wearing Boy Scout shirts.
It was really creepy.
I wanted this run to go well. I wanted to feel smooth and good. But alas it kept getting worse. I wanted to barf. My left side started to cramp. My foot hurt. My head was so hot I had to stop every 10 minutes to stand in the shade. At 57 minutes into it, I burst into tears. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t think of anything else to do.
In the quiet of the path, alarms, bells, whistles and buzzers went off in my head. Stop, slow down. First of all, coach warned that recovery was still taking place and you needed to keep an eye on yourself. Second of all, the last time you dug yourself in a hole it was because you kept pushing while ignoring cues like this. Third, you are not a failure if you stop this run.
Repeat: You are not a failure if you stop this run.
I thought about something I read recently in a book about Paula Radcliffe’s life. She said one of the challenges an elite athlete faces is listening to their body. Because for so long we have ignored its cues – we have pushed through pain, overridden the system of warning that something might go wrong. And the risk of stopping is at the cost of the voice in our heads saying “just get over your lazy self”. You are stuck in a struggle of – is it really my body or is just me being lazy? Am I slacking or is something truly wrong?
I have realized that tears are not normal. When you find yourself with no other way to cope with the workout than to cry – it is time to go home. Last time I found myself in this situation I kept pushing. I grabbed the shovel and each time I dug deeper and deeper in a hole. One bad workout a week would turn into two, three, four. I told myself that would never happen again. I would be smarter and wiser this time. So I decided to throw my shovel in the back of the car, go for Plan B and call this run done. And because of that I wasn’t any less of an athlete nor more of a failure.
I got back home; I was tired, thirsty, I needed a rest. I enjoy reading blogs and e-mails to relax. Turned on the computer and to my chagrin – the internet was down. In case you are wondering, even if you call Comcast once an hour for five hours it won’t make the internet come back on any sooner.
I have got to get out of this house. Leave it showered and clean to do something that does not involve a sport.
And then I thought of the cure = shoe shopping.
I went to REI. Someone should have warned the clerk. I am looking for shoes and have no shame in taking every one off the rack to try them on - which is pretty much what I did. The clerk was not happy. It became a game of are you done with those, do you want to see another shoe. Please shoe store clerk don’t get angry with me because I am asking you to do your…job.
I tried on over a dozen shoes. Then I found the perfect pair. I purchased them and left the store. Then I went back. I wanted another perfect pair.
You are back, the clerk said.
I’m afraid so. Get me those in a six and a half. Politely, now.
Next up to Whole Foods. It was time to find an iron supplement. My blood says so. Lucky for me there are about ten different types of iron –ates, -ites, and -ases none of which were the one I wanted. If I paid attention in chemistry I might know what all of those endings stood for. Instead I walked up and down the aisles talking to myself as I read labels on the supplements. I realized I am becoming that lady. The crazy lady that talks to herself in the store. Next up I will be checking my blood pressure in the pharmacy just to be sure I am still alive.
And I am. Alive that is. I went to the other store and I checked.
At home I ate dinner and crossed my fingers for internet. But alas it was still down. The woman at Comcast confirmed that for me. Again. So I read a magazine. Went upstairs to brush my teeth and the dump that Boss has been holding in all day – he dropped by the fireplace while I was gone. I stared at the hapless little turd and thought yes, yes finally someone has captured exactly how I have felt today.
I just had one of those days where nothing felt right – not my body nor my head. And I really couldn’t put my finger on why. I would blame girl cramps but that would be just so trite. I would blame the dog but that’s a given. I would blame husband but he was 150 miles away. I would blame the coach but it’s too new in our relationship to be that sassy. I would blame RR the last person to e-mail me but she’s on the happy blogging bandwagon so I won’t even get a snappy reply.
I would blame myself for not feeling like myself but that would be too obvious. You see, what I need is another Plan B. And so, I blame…coffee. Yes, I blame coffee today for not picking me up and making me feel good. I tried you twice today – before and after swimming – and you were not there. I blame you for not being a better friend. And if you’re not careful, I may just give you up. I don’t care if you call yourself a celebration blend.
But you know what coffee, today because I got new shoes I’m willing to let this one slide. Tomorrow is a new day and I’m willing to start our relationship anew. We’ll try again. I’ll be well rested but still in need of your perkiness to get me through my long ride. So what do you say?
And if that doesn’t work, I’m blaming the dog. Then again, I just looked at him. I could never blame anything that cute. I need a new Plan B. Hmm...how soon until husband gets home?
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
First, we picked up Boss from his weekend away Camp Schaller. The Schaller’s are Chris’ aunt and uncle; they had begged politely to care for little Boss while we were away and after a careful screening process and a bit of protest from Grandma Janet we said ok. When we arrived I will admit I was a bit concerned about his care. Boss was sitting in their front yard tethered to a piece of laundry line cord – and he smelled like Pert. Turns out that his leash has been forgotten somewhere so there my dog was tied up like a hillbilly and dragging a 20 foot cord around and he had gotten into some animal poo so he needed a bath. All in all Boss was well taken care of and came back exhausted after a weekend of crazy laps in their yard, playing with neighbor kids and hanging out with Romeo the squirrel killing Jack Russell Terrier that lives next door.
After picking up Boss, we decided to make a quick run to the grocery store. Mostly we just like driving around with Boss in the car and then like to walk away from the car to see him pop up in the front window looking desperately for us. What can I say. Post-race week and life can get pretty boring around these parts so we have to make our fun in other ways. So we went to the store and besides I wanted cereal for dinner. I know it’s a lousy processed dinner but sometimes it tastes so good. Chris headed off to find his own form of dinner. When we met at the checkout lane, I had my cereal and he had this:
A loaf of Italian bread
Two gallons of chocolate ice cream; one extra creamy, one plain
A piece of chocolate cake
A package of small steak
A pound of bacon
I couldn’t help myself. I'm calling this dinner out.
“THIS is what you want for dinner?”
I am looking at the items again hoping that I missed something. SOMETHING from the food group of wholesome, green and mildly NUTRITIOUS.
“What?” he said.
I’m thrown off by the fact that he walked all around the store – literally hundreds maybe thousands of square feet of any food you’d like and he comes up with…this.
“Chris you are going to eat bacon and ice cream for dinner?”
The man checking us out is laughing and shaking his head. I am waiting for a response from Chris, some justification of how on the good earth this is right. HOW.
Chris tells me that bacon is good. And the ice cream was buy one get one free.
Meanwhile, the checkout man has decided to add his two cents.
“If the man wants bacon for dinner, let the man have his meat.”
Who asked you. And besides are bacon loving men buy one get one free tonight? We purchase the catastrophe that Chris was calling his dinner and head home. The house smells like meat and there are chocolate crumbs on Chris’ mouth.
Meanwhile I am on my second, maybe third bowl of cereal. More milk, more cereal, more cereal, more milk. I am talking online with Jennifer. When I told Jennifer that Chris was eating bacon and ice cream for dinner on Monday night she said “good, he earned it”. Jen, I don’t want my house smelling like bacon all week. A little help here?
But she’s right he did earn it and around him there is that I am going to Kona glow. Around me there is that oh how I wish I was going to Kona glow but I realize being in the major leagues now it will take me another…8 years. So instead I will unfortunately have to take a Hawaiian vacation in October. To spectate. Boo hoo. Cry me a freakin' hot lava river. But I’m sure not racing there will be a huge relief – plus I’ll be able to eat those giant cinnamon rolls at Lava Java and drink Buckets of Fire all week without worrying about how it will affect my race.
And I’ll get to do lots of training out there. I’ll ride out towards Hawi with a headwind, turn around and find the winds shifted so I’ll call Chris from the airport for a rescue. When I hitch a ride back with someone else instead, I’ll pop out of the car window going down Alii Drive with a can of Coors Light while shouting HUZZAH at Chris who will probably be waiting in some neverending bike check in line.
Not that Chris did this to me two years ago or anything.
Yes, I’ll be spending my days lounging at Lava Java with no worries of registration, special needs bags, wind, heat or sun. Instead, I am going to live the island high life. And I will be surrounded by my own 10 person entourage. They will rope off a table in the corner of Lava Java just for me. I will hire someone just to walk around with my bike. And if he can clear customs, I’ll hire someone to walk around with my dog. I will be accepting applications for Sherpas, groupies, dog nannies, bike walkers and coffee cup handlers to accompany me.
Chris’ parents are also planning to go. I think they were ready to try to qualify themselves – they enjoyed it so much last year. Rumor has it Chris’ boss will even be there. Will there even be room for me? I might have to apply to be someone else’s Sherpa just to have a place to stay. Speaking of sherpas…
I’m calling him out.
You are being paged. Your services are required – 50 percent of them as competitor Sherpa duty, the other 50 percent as my training slave; to pull me on the Queen K when it’s windy, to bring me water during runs in the energy lab, to act as deterrent shark bait when I swim in the bay. New responsibility added this year – bringing Chris clean shorts if need be.
Good times, good memories. I can hardly wait. All I have to do is board a plane and bring a grass skirt. There will be no centuries, no long runs, no mega swims for me. But honestly that’s the fun part. Doing the race – that’s the end of an exciting journey on a very long day. Then again, I just remembered the Dairyland Dare. And the Big Shoulders swim. And the 20 milers on the path. Scratch that – I think I’ll enjoy my spectating duties and having a Bucket of Fire in my hand.
Better to have a Bucket of Fire in my hand than in my pants, eh Chris?
I'm still a little bitter about my race shorts...