Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Kona Is Coming

In less than one week we leave for Kona.

The lovely airline informed us that our two flight trip just turned into a three flight trip. That would be Kona via San Francisco via Denver via Chicago. We leave some time early morning Monday and arrive some time the following Monday. Or that’s how it will feel after that many airports and plane changes.

I would consider it a small miracle if I make it to Kona with all of my personal belongings, the ability to unfold myself from a seated position and my sanity. Why? Because that’s a lot of time in a confined space with people filled with germs all their little always going to work sick germs, eating fast food germs, never taking care of themselves GERMS.

I’m thinking of bringing a mask.

And, then there are the in-law parents. They are on the same plane. I have never traveled with them but I do realize that they are like the Ironman of world travelers. I have no business being on the same plane with them. In the past year they have been to Alaska, the Phillipines, Brazil, Tokyo and the Mediterranean. I have been to…Connecticut and a few other humble states. It’s safe to say their passports could kick my passport’s ass.

I am most concerned about taking more than two flights because it means I cannot knock myself out with my friend Ambien. I reserve this special pill for long plane flights. For example, last year on the way to Kona. It was the only way I could survive Los Angeles to Kona sitting in economy coach. To prepare myself for any side effects, I did some reading beforehand. Most importantly I read that one should never force themselves to stay awake on Ambien or else you might hallucinate.

Really? All of a sudden economy coach just became 100x more fun.

Anyways, I put on compression socks, popped the pill, said “see you in Kona” to Chris and proceeded to wait to fall asleep.

And waited.

And waited.

Now this did not surprise me. For some reason I have this freakish ability to process things with side effects. Coffee, for one. It takes a lot – I mean A LOT of coffee for me to get the jitters. Beer – it has little to no effect on me which is why I do not drink it. And then Tylenol PM. I need about 3 to do anything.

*still waiting*

Someone out there right now is thinking this girl has superpartyhero abilities. I do. You should see my cape. Unfortunately to my husband's dismay I do not tap into these powers often enough.

30 minutes later when I still wasn’t asleep I got a little worried. First of all, what does it take to shut the elf down? Second of all, how would I pass nearly 5 hours on a plane without more magazines? Lastly, how would I survive 5 hours on nothing but peanuts and one glass of water out of those stupid little cups?

Would it kill them to give me two cups of water? Huh?

I got even more worried because if I wasn’t trying to stay awake would the hallucinations still set in if I was still awake. Is there a difference? At that point I remember thinking the tray table would open itself up and eat me alive. And I remember a small child screaming behind me. Or maybe that was myself in fear of being eaten by the tray table.

After that point it’s safe to say I fell asleep.

So if the weather is good in four different parts of the country, we make all of our connections we will actually arrive late Monday. The rest of the Waterstraat clan arrives at a different time. We have split the group in half – and my half will be staying with Chris’ parents. I found that out the other day. I am both elated and scared. Elated because Chris’ parents are nice people. Scared because his mom has a habit of traveling with enough luggage to require a personal Sherpa (and I AM NOT SHARING MINE). Scared because….I looked at Mr. Tom (Chris’ dad) the other day and very sternly said:

You will not be waking up at 4:30 am

He said no, not on vacation. But since Hawaii is 5 hours behind it’s safe to say he will be waking up at 11:30 pm for the first few days.

My first task on Tuesday is to swim. Then coffee.

(enter sound of angelic choir singing from above): Hawaiian coffee

Then I shall run up and down Alii Drive really fast while everyone else says "there goes a girl leaving her race on Alii Drive on Tuesday". SUCKAS! I’m not doing the race so I can run as fast as I want. And just to prove my point I am going to find all of the men in the 30 – 34 age group running up and down that street, run right past them, dangle there for a moment then start the slow boil because I know two things – (1) the competitive animal in them does not want to be passed, (2) the competitive animal in them will blow their taper to keep up. As long as I can find all 200+ men in the age group by Saturday it’s safe to say my husband’s age group will be pretty clear.

If you would like me to do the same for those in your particular age group it can be arranged. For a small fee (that would be cof - fee!).

I have received my workouts for next week and let me just say you might not be seeing much of me! Sherpa Thomas bring your party pants with extra padding because we are going to have about 300 miles of cycling fun. Give or take. I do however want to balance work and fun. Vacation with training. Mark my words: I will not spend the entire week in workout clothes.

There is no point in marking what will never happen.

I will update my blog daily with photos and talk of what’s going on around town. If you have specific people you would like me to chase (hunt) down, I will take requests. And pictures if possible. And if you’re lucky, I’ll get that person to autograph my leg and I’ll save the pen for you.

6 days..counting down...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The First 100 Miles

...Actually ended up being 107.

Saturday morning the alarm goes off early: 5:25 am.

My first reaction – no. My second – not yet. My third – wait, why? I search back through reasons I might be up this early on a Saturday morning ……..

There are none.

But then it hits me: Ironman.

Oh, yes. That.

I begin the early morning long ride preparations. Quickly I am reminded that Ironman takes time. I forget how long it takes to simply get out of the door. Wait, the heart rate monitor strap. Wait, the salt tabs. The gels. The 3 bottles of drink plus enough mix in a baggie for 3 more. The gloves, the socks. Did I grab my helmet? Finally a cup of coffee, load the bike, don’t forget the husband, a 45 minute drive west to DeKalb for an organized ride. One of those where you pay the money, get the map and are sent on your way.

Getting ready in the parking lot I set a few goals; this will take me under 5 hours 15 minutes. I will not leave zone 2 today. I will ride 100 miles – no more. Even that seems like a stretch. I’m feeling all 5900 feet of climbing in my ______ (name body part here) from last weekend's race. Best thing to clear that right up? I’d say coffee but I’m going big today – let’s say 100 miles.

Someone walks by our car. It is Anwar and his wife Jackie from swim team. Anwar as in – oh crap that’s the only lane left and Anwar is in it. As in – I might have a fighting chance of staying within 5 seconds per 100 to him if I have paddles and fins on. As in – the only guy I know that can do 25 butterfly no breath and frequently does so just because…he can.

They are training for Ironman Florida and he asks if he can tag along. Why not? The four of us start together but soon it becomes just Anwar and I. Jackie is doing her own pace. Chris is doing his own thing and hoping the kinesio tape holds his left leg together. Anwar and I are ready to ride.

The first hour is the easiest. You are fresh and excited. I remember this. I call it the honeymoon phase. The first 20 miles. Time flies by. We have settled into a good pace and there is barely any wind. Yet. Don’t be fooled, I tell myself. You are in DeKalb. There is corn. Much corn. And where there is corn there is wind.

The second hour goes by just as smooth. It’s a great day for a ride. Anwar is good company as he sits behind me – but not on me. His front wheel is like a little stick that gives a little poke to keep the pace. Or not give up. Or stay mentally strong. We are at a stop light around two hours into the ride and I realize I am bleeding everywhere. This is a new one. Third Ironman in training and you are still running into new things. Anwar I have wounded myself, I say. My nose is bleeding everywhere on my gloves and aero bars. I thought peeing on myself in the parking lot was bad. This is just disgusting. But what can you do. You just deal and ride.

We are cruising along in the third hour. I’m having all kinds of conversations in my head. With myself, with others. I’m even singing songs. In all of this, I miss a right turn. I didn’t realize this until we actually rode into downtown Sycamore and I thought to myself – this can’t be right. Anwar studies the map and confirms we have made a wrong turn. Now how to get back? We look ahead – they are repaving the road. A construction man walks up to us:

You’re not thinking of riding them skinny tires down that new asphalt?

No sir. We’ve just gotten a little off track.

Well if you ride them skinny tires you’re gonna sink into the 300 degree asphalt and it’s gonna hurt real bad.

Thank you sir for the lecture in proper English. Like I said, we are a little off track. And in case you were wondering the extra miles we have just ridden at some point today will probably hurt more real bad than your 300 degree asphalt. Trust me. So how far, Anwar? How far off track did we go?

8 miles

DAMMIT! That means from here when I think we have gone 62 miles, we have only gone 54. 92, only 84. And by the end of the ride we’ll be at 108. It is far too early in this ride for me to lose my spirit. And I’m too soon into the training to go 108 miles. I am not happy but what can I do. I am only permitted to have a breakdown after I pass the 90 mile mark and it’s too early yet today.

We backtrack to get back on track and then find the rest stop around 2:22 into the ride. Chris is there. The rest stop has all sorts of treats that I want and none that are part of my plan. Torture by way of Butterfinger. Chris looks so relaxed I am convinced he is not riding today. Just hanging out at the rest stop. He takes off (supposedly) and we do the same.

Anwar says we only have two loops to go. RR told me the Ironman Arizona course is boring because it is 3 loops. That's my bread and butter, baby. I do nothing but loops. Once I topped out at 6 loops around Fermilab for a total of 100 miles. Each loop is always different no matter how much similar it looks. Like on this third loop here today - it was very similar to the others but tihs time we got headwind, bumps, a little loose gravel. Exciting! Not really. It starts to wear on us as we approach 60 (really 52) miles.

But then we make a turn. And we feel good again. Anwar is next to me. It is quiet, Anwar says, this is great.

Yes, my friend, that is the sound of tailwind.

At 3:30-something we pull into the rest stop again. We are at 70 miles. Again, Chris is already there sitting at the picnic table. Has he even moved? We realize the next loop will be the worst. The honeymoon is over. It is now time to tackle the Ironman Lows which occur between miles 60 and 90 of the ride. It might be 30 miles of low or 3 miles. You never know.

So we head out. I think we will have mostly tailwind but that is not the case. There is little wind today which is sometimes the worst. Why? Because every direction you go the wind is just enough there that it is always work. We are both quiet now except for occassional groans as we grind over a bump or into the wind. Finally we do make a turn and there is tailwind. At that point we are about 92 miles into the ride. Anwar takes off. I want to throw a water bottle at him.

Ironman Rule #234: You do not drop she who just pulled you for 92 miles!

We arrive at the rest stop for the final stop. Anwar admits he dropped me. Confession accepted. We are at 96 miles. There is one more loop left. Chris is still sitting there. Seems that he waited for us for the final loop. Still I am convinced he rode about 12 miles for the day and not the 75 he was supposed to. Now, the final rest stop is always tricky. To figure out how far you have left to go. One thing I have learned is that if you are on a 100 mile ride at mile 96 do not assume you have only 4 to go. I ask a few people and the truth is told – there are 19.5 miles left. That would be the 14 miles originally planned on the route plus the 5 mile detour.

I take a moment to regroup myself so I don't rage by throwing mixed nuts, oranges and Butterfinger bars all over the rest stop and then tossing a jug of Gatorade. I am not riding nearly 117 miles today. Not yet. I can’t do that to myself yet. My back hurts. My stomach has turned its head to sports drink. And I only wanted to go 100 today. So I decide (correction: demand) to the boys that we will ride along Route 38 to make the most direct route back to the car.

On paper this is a good idea. In real life – not so much. There is no shoulder on 38. There are just fast cars. So that lasts about 5 miles before we make a turn. And a few more turns. Try to figure out where we are and when we hit mile 101 I realized I should have just done the 19.5 miles because I guarantee myself I will ride nearly 110 today anyways.

At mile 107 we have found our way back to the starting point. I am tired but as I dismount my bike I thought to myself – yes, I could run a marathon. The body remembers. The body knows. I feel good. And I hit all of my goals. We hit 100 miles at 5:10 into the ride. I held my heart rate mostly in the right zones. And I had a good go in my mind. When I found myself thinking this is a long way to go I told myself something I’ve told myself for every Ironman – the time will pass. It always does. You’ll be pedaling away at mile 20 and think 92 more miles to go – and then all of a sudden you’ll find yourself at mile 92 knowing you have less than 20.

So there you have it. The first 100 miles. I made it but I knew I would. Next up - I'm not sure. My schedule only goes so far as Monday for next week. That is never a good sign. But at least if there is another 100 miles coming up, I know I already have 7 miles extra to put towards it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

You Are Now Entering....

In less than two weeks we will be in Kona.

It is becoming more and more tangible every day. Tuesday night, Chris looks up from his computer:

I am number 1437.

It makes the race more real. You can see the number being painted on yourself. I tell him those numbers will look great burned into his arms for the next six months. I look up then to meet the empty, blank look in his eyes.

Oh no. I can see it. The Ironman training so close but still so far away hole. The have I done enough or am I about to fall off the edge of I’ve done too much. The vacant hole that sucks up about 90 percent of the fun loving part of his personality. The dark hole that still sucks him away from the house for hours on end. The one that makes him eat a steady diet of meat and bread. The in bed by 9:30 pm routine. The car full of goggles, water bottles and socks. The If I Have To Drink One More Bottle of Ifinit I will Barf look in his eyes.

This man needs help.

Hurry upstairs, close the bedroom door, the bathroom door, the closet door into the small corner by my laundry basket and make the call.

1 – 800 – IRONMAN

Ironman Hell Hotline, what’s your emergency?

#1437. Husband.

What seems to be the problem?

I don’t know. He’s been doing things - lately been doing strange things that I can’t understand.

One moment while I connect your call to the Erratic Behavior department.

They answer. I explain. Strange, erratic behavior in these final weeks before Ironman. For example - the other night, heading up to the lake for a swim. Husband had finished his two-and-a-half hour run earlier. I knew we were in for trouble when he grabbed a piece of bread and half a piece of meat for his recovery. Driving north on 355, he misses a turn. A new road, a bit of traffic, then a left turn, a no entrance to the westbound 90 and…all of a sudden he stops the car, opens the door in the middle of the road, gets out and screams:

Your turn to drive.

See what I mean? That’s not normal behavior. Who abandons the driver’s seat in the middle of the road? What if he does this in the middle of I-90 next time? What can I do?

(the line goes dead)

Hello? Hello? HELP? (redial)

All operators are busy assisting other callers with Ironman emergencies. Please hold.


Looks like I’m on my own here. No help. It’s just me. And this crazy iron of a man running around the house. Wait, where is he? I look up, he’s not around but then there goes a naked flash walking around the house with a piece of kinesio tape stuck on his leg. Yes, yes that’s him. The naked one with the tape. He says it’s holding his knee cap on.

For being so close, our October 6th departure date is still very, very far away.

The days are ticking away and plans are coming together nicely for the trip. Last week I spoke with Sherpa Thomas about the training. Training? Yes, training. How else does one survive 8 days on an island with the entire in-law family? Oodles of training. And when said family calls athlete crazy for doing all the training she shall point to Sherpa Thomas and say it was his idea, he made me go. Then he will have the wrath of 3 Waterstraat women (one is 6 months pregnant with a girl so that is actually the wrath of 3.6 Waterstraat women) in front of him.

Sherpa duties, Thomas. Read the fine print.

And so, there will be swimming in the ocean. There will be runs along Alii Drive. There will be a ride out and back to Hawi on a little road called the Queen K. Does Thomas know what he is getting himself into? Chris asked the other day as I unveiled my training plans. Of course he knows. I have already warned him that he will be my windshield up to Hawi. It’s the price he has to pay for Sherpa status. Plus he knows I’m training for Ironman.

Yes, I made my final decision. I’m doing Arizona. If you had Facebook you would already know. In fact, if you had Facebook you would already be a member of the TriBlogger Chicks group and know about a little meeting at the pier Wednesday morning at 7 am to swim in the ocean followed by the ritualistic ogling of the hot guys while sitting outside Lava Java and then artfully locating Macca to ask (force) him to be the Token Hot Guy of our group. And if he doesn’t comply we have big plans to smother him in stickers that read You’ve Been TriBloggerChicked.

Anyways, there are a dozen reasons why I’ve decided to do Ironman but none that really matter because even if I explain them to you and actually make sense about it you’ll still bring this up:

Remember this photo? The one I called No More Ironman?

Never you mind about that photo. Besides I am sure there will be plenty more that we can name all kinds of things after November 23rd. Until then, I will maximize my time on the Big Island to prepare. And as one Waterstraat safely exits Ironman Hell, the other will walk right back in as husband holds the door with a sinister laugh.

In the meantime, it might help for husband to keep the Ironman Hell Hotline number at hand. Because things could get pretty erratic in the next few weeks. This weekend I have my first 100 mile ride in a long time. Part of me is excited. The other part of me knows better. This will be work. There will be baggies. And sports drink. I’ll even have to dig up my Ironman nutrition plan. Which means I’m going to need a trip to the store for bars.

And you know nothing spells fun on a Friday night like bar hopping around town.

So be warned - you are now entering Ironman Hell. My journey has just begun. Husband - save that kinesio tape will you? I might need it to hold myself together.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


This past weekend I was fortunate to have the most fabulous homestay. The family set me up in basement bedroom of their son who is in college. It was the room of an athlete. He was a champion swimmer and runner. Medals, certificates, trophies and awards filled his room. It was the perfect setting for success.

The first night I was laying in bed and looked up. Taped to the ceiling, I noticed this:

1:49 – this kid was either one heck of an 800 runner or could put out an even faster 200 free. When I asked his parents about it they confirmed that his event was the 200 free. I asked if he ever broke 1:49. Turns out he did even better than that - by the end of the year he went 1:47.

So demonstrates the power of seeing something to believe it. Of putting it out there to possibly make it happen. First you have to open yourself up to the possibility then do the hard work. Trust me, the work is nothing if first you don’t believe. It sounds so cliché – to see it is to be it. To achieve it you got to believe it. Reminds me of going to church with my grandmother in Brooklyn when I was young. For whatever reason they sold lottery tickets in the vestibule. There are so many ways that was wrong – but then again, it was not your typical church. It was church in Brooklyn. There is a difference. A man selling the tickets would shout “you gotta be in it to win it.” He was always right. You did have to buy a ticket to win it but I’ll never forget him saying that – it was a good attitude for life. Or achieving any goal.

You’ve got to believe it but it’s also got to be in front of you every single day. Not like you sit down in January think about it for 5 minutes then arrive 8 months later. It has to be a little more tangible. I read an article about Michael Phelps. In it he described how he posts his goals by his alarm clock so he has to look at them every single day – whether or not he wants to. Why wouldn’t you want to look at your goals? Well, maybe you’re tired or dragging on a particular day. But if you want to reach the goals you know you have to push through and stay on track. Push aside the distractions and focus at the start of each day. Know that the choices you make throughout the day should be directed towards reaching your goal. You can’t be half in with a goal – you’ve got to go all the way.

I don’t have to tell you how impressed I was that a 17 year old already got that. Most kids can barely figure out how to do homework let alone achieve a sports specific goal. Especially today with so many other distractions out there. Perhaps it was good parenting or really hungry passion inside. Whatever it was, this kid clearly got the achievers gene. The one that makes you want more, strives to always be excellent, pushes you to keep reinventing what is your best.

Hoping his success would rub off on me, I spent as much time as possible sitting in that room. Relaxing on Saturday, I noticed a book on his shelf about becoming an Olympian. Inside the front cover, one of the Olympians had autographed the book along with the words why not? And I thought to myself that I couldn’t have read two words more powerful. Why not. Something we should ask ourselves more often. I find athletes are comfortable asking why of themselves – why should I be able to run fast, why should I think I can do that, why should I be the winner today and not comfortable enough with asking themselves – well, why not?

I spent some time reading through the book. It was filled with stories about different Olympians. Of all the stories and quotes in the book, this one really connected:

What do achievers share in common? An underlying faith in the eventual positive outcome and an unwillingness to give up.

I want to be an achiever. I always have been. I set goals and work hard to achieve them. I remember sitting at the piano in high school, practicing for a competition when my stepdad stood by my side and said “Elizabeth, always be excellent.” Best advice I ever got. That was always my goal – to achieve, to be excellent. So when I can’t get to excellence it is very frustrating.

That brings me to this past season. I had many ups and downs. At times training seemed more like work than anything else. I had lost my fire for it all. This was very frustrating to me because I have always felt completely energized and driven to achieve. Or, to train and compete. Rightfully so, all summer my mind struggled with the fact that my body would not cooperate. It felt like I was stuck in a hole. Failure in workouts from built up fatigue only made that worse. I had less than 10 workouts this summer that I would call a success. And when you are doing 2 workouts a day – that’s not much. Failure plus fatigue and all of a sudden you find yourself overwhelmed and ready to give up. In fact, giving up became the easiest thing to do.

These past few weeks I have come full circle. I abandoned an approach that just wasn’t a good fit for me and returned to what I knew worked as evidenced by patterns over time. As I came out of the hole I started having better workouts again. Better as in – productive, could hit paces, could achieve heart rate zones. When you are physically better your head feels better too. I would start to work hard and actually see my body respond. And as my body responded the more rewarding the whole experience became. I became myself again.

The one thing I noticed, though, is how even when the workout got hard recently – like pushing a sub 6 minute per mile pace at the end of a long run kind of hard – I welcomed the challenged and the pain. I didn’t want to give up. A few weeks ago I would have just given up because I couldn’t face the failure yet again. I realize now that when you find yourself giving up that signals a problem. Achievers do not give up. Achievers cannot even get close to the idea of giving up – it’s too repulsive to them. When an achiever finds giving up an attractive option, something is wrong. Inside I knew something was wrong and that was so frustrating and painful to me.

When I looked up at the ceiling this weekend, I realized I had found myself again. I completely connected to that piece of paper and felt like an athlete again. That simple piece of paper was like peeking into someone’s diary where they admit their boldest dreams and insecurities. And I “got it”. So much that it made me want to achieve again. I felt the spirit and the achiever in me came back to life. I wanted to write my goals on a piece of looseleaf and tape it to my ceiling. Like that young man, I’ve been that hungry before. I could relate.

We’ve all got our 1:49 dreams out there. No matter where you have been this season, what went right or wrong, you can still get there. A lot of crap happens along the way – crashes, sickness, you get the point. It’s never too late though to write down your goals again. That’s where I’m sitting at now. It’s at the corner of possibility and success. And though the season is almost over it’s never looked so bright. There will be many more ups and downs but I know that possibility and success will meet one day. I’m opening myself up to it. Taping it on my wall. I’ll get there. We'll arrive.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More Nutty Scenes

Thanks to Mandy At Endure It Multisports for the pictures...

Emerging from the foggy swim.

That top became like the world's tightest fitting wool blanket after the first hill.

I swear this is a hill I'm running up. Look at that hill climbing form. It's not pretty and you are likely to punch yourself in the face.

I won lots of fun stuff. I like stuff.

Then I got even more stuff.

It's official. I'm a winner. I have the shirt to prove it. The look on my face is "there is no way this shirt is a women's small."

Some Say You're Nuts....

...."I say you're a Nutmegman," said the race announcer yesterday as finishers crossed the line.

In my first season as a pro, I tackled some of the biggest half Ironmans on the circuit (St. Croix, Eagleman, Timberman). While I enjoyed the big races and all of the learning that came with them, I wanted something smaller to fill the space between my last race and Clearwater in November. Enter Nutmegman, a little gem of a race in the Berkshire Mountains of Connecticut. A challenging course, ecologically friendly, donations for charity, organized for athletes by athletes – this sounded like a great event. Sign me up!

I love challenging courses and this was one challenging course. Forget the flats with wind at my back. Bring on the hills! Challenging courses bring out the best competition and bring out the best in you. I went to this race knowing that it wouldn’t be a test of fitness but a test of who would endure on a day that would present many challenges; fog, chilly temperatures and hills. I wanted a course that would test my mental toughness and my legs.

On Friday I previewed the bike course. Heading out of Kettletown State Park this bike course lived up to its reputation – hilly! Oddly enough the course was moved from last year’s site to make it less challenging. That course must have been a real monster because this new course was unlike anything I had ever seen. Consisting of three loops with over 5900 feet of climbing, I was very glad that I put the 12 – 25 gearing on my bike. In fact, I think I might have liked a compact crank! The run course also went two ways for the two loops – up or down. One thing was certain – after the flat swim, this was going to be one of my hilliest races I have ever done.

Race morning arrived. I read the thermometer for the outside and it said 44 degrees. I had to laugh and thought back to 7 years ago on this day when I did my first half Ironman ever in a hilly region of Ohio. Race morning brought temperatures below 40 degrees, a thick fog over the lake and hills unlike I had ever seen before. Seven years and over 25 half Ironmans later, the race venue may have changed but the conditions were exactly the same here at Nutmegman. One thing I know now – though – don’t show up in a two piece race suit and expect to make it through the race!

I arrived in complete darkness at the race site as one of the first athletes there. Small events are so relaxing like this – no long lines for parking, no incessant announcements about transition closing, no rows upon rows in transition. Dressed in full winter gear I got my transition area ready but it was cold out there! Pre-race preparations, staying warm and chatting with other competitors helped the time pass by. A thick fog on the lake delayed the start by 30 minutes. Even then, the fog still sat heavy but it was time for race start. No big fanfare – just someone standing there saying “go!” That’s really all you need, right?

The men started two minutes ahead of the small women’s field. Luckily that meant I didn’t have to look for much else than white caps in front of me. Buoys were not visible and we were told to just swim out and look for the flashing lights of a police boat. It was surreal to swim through the fog and into what seemed like the unknown. After tangling through a few weeds, the water became warm and the boat soon came into view. A quick left and I found myself in the middle of a large men’s pack. Passed them and then made my way to the shore for the second loop. Then out into the thick fog again.

I exited the water with the announcer, pro triathlete John Hirsch, shouting that 3 women were already on the bike. Time for the work to begin! The bike climbs immediately out of the state park area and quickly I passed two women. Rolled down a flatter road before making a turn onto Good Hill and saw the first place woman falling over after dropping her chain. Ouch! At that I realized I was now in the lead.

You know you’re in trouble when nearly every road on the course had “Hill” in its name. Hull’s Hill, Maple Tree Hill, Good Hill. For the record – Good Hill was not so good. Actually it was the worst. I would reach the top of one hill, geared out and find that there was more just ahead. Or another around the bend. Or after the curve – yet another hill to climb. Every downhill was met by an uphill. And the downhills were just as difficult. Roads were twisty, narrow and on some of the descents I bombed down over 41.5 mph. Holding so tight on to the bars to keep control of the bike I realized my triceps would probably be out of commission for at least a week.

I reached the end of the first bike loop after over an hour in the saddle. I thought to myself this could be a very long ride. Did I have enough food? Would my head make it? What about my legs? I realized though that courses like this with so many challenges and obstacles are so good for passing the time. I didn’t have a moment to think about anything else but the race – controlling my bike, responding to the competition, staying safe. It might be 56 miles but there is so much to keep your mind busy along the way.

During the second loop I started to feel warmed up and my legs felt alive. I seemed to be holding second place off for the moment but every time I turned around she was still there. After the race I learned that second place was Kate Pallardy – the top amateur finisher at Ironman Louisville just a few weeks ago. Ironically she just moved from the same city I live in – but we had never crossed paths! Today however we crossed paths many, many times. We exchanged the lead – her passing me on descents, me passing her on the hills. Over time there was no relief – it was work up the hill to build the gap and then hammer the downhill to avoid losing time since she descended very well. Redline up the hill, hammer down the hill. I knew I was overriding the course far outside my comfort zone but I had to respond to the race as it unfolded.

The third loop rolled around and the hills were starting to wear on me. Standing was no longer an option, it was necessity to get up the hill. The roads were more crowded with cars making descending even trickier. A car almost ran into me. The shirt I took time to put on was getting hot. And then at mile 50, Kate passed me with fire in her legs and took off! 6 miles to go I worked to keep her within sight.

Finally back in transition, then on to the run course. If the bike course was hilly, the run course was hillier only because my legs don’t have 12 – 25. They are just two legs chugging up each hill as best they can. Surprisingly my legs felt like a million bucks. I kept waiting for them to grow heavy after the 2 miles of uphill leading out of the state park – but it never happened. I just kept feeling better and better.

By the first turnaround I realized I had a 4 minute lead and started plugging away back up the hill. The weather was beautiful, the course was challenging and my legs felt great. I almost couldn’t believe it. Come on legs, bark back or something! But they just kept responding with good form and fast turnover. Heading out on to the second loop of the run I was excited to get out there on the course again. I love the challenge of a hilly run. I kept thinking of a long run that my coach gave me a few weeks ago with hard mile repeats followed by steep hill repeats. It was one of the hardest runs I had ever done but now I realized why – to prepare me for a course like this!

Around mile 11 a pace bike led me towards the downhill finish line, crossing it in first place. After the race, there were plenty of healthy snacks, entertaining comments from John Hirsch. The awards were generous with food products, gift certificates, a backpack and of course an organic cotton shirt. After that it was time to call myself done. Of all the hills I climbed for the day, the one leading up to my car was the most painful with my bike and my gear on my back. Finally my legs had something to say!

Truly tough and challenging courses are so few and far between these days. Seems like courses out there are getting easier and easier. Who cares about setting a personal best or going fast – give me something to tough out and endure. Give me something that is as hard in my legs as it is in my head. Nutmegman is one of those races – a challenging course in a beautiful setting and organized by someone who really knows what a race is all about. The eco-friendliness of the race just added to the overall quality and knowing it all went to charity made for a good feeling day.

Thanks to Mandy Braverman of Endure It Multisports for great race organization, my homestay family, Trisports.com, Power Bar, Rudy Project, Naperville Running Company, Blue Seventy for all of the support, my coach Jen Harrison and all of the other racers on the course making it such a memorable day!

**This will report was written for XTri.com

Nutmegman Scenes

The lake where the swim took place. Really it's a river but in Connecticut they call this little cove a lake. Connecticut is also the nutmeg state. Yeah, it's a different sort of place.

The transition area was small but organized. It was also one of the cleanest transition areas I have ever seen. The race was promoted as "green" and they generated only 3 garbage bags from the entire event after recycling everything.

And that was how the lake/river looked at race start. You can barely see two green balls off to the left - those were the first set of buoys. There was another set somewhere in the fog by the boat with flashing lights. To the left of the smurf huts right before you reach the Fraggle hole - it was like swimming into a hazy make believe world out there.

Here I am trying to stay warm before the race. In case you ever find yourself half naked in 44 degrees, a wetsuit is the warmest thing around. Plus a wool hat. That's my new winter hat - isn't it great? Check out the fog in the background.

Mile 7 of the run and who do I see? NESS! We visited after the race. Next to her is the infamous Finn dog. You will notice that while Finn could not bear to look at me (he tried to hide in the bushes) he could look at my camera. It's a start.

Hey, that's me coming to the finish line. I liked how the curb before the grass said "DON'T TRIP" in chalk.

Thank you sir for the great race, may I have another? The smile says it all. When you feel good, you do good. But not a word about the arm crossover, ok?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

(Re)Building A Nest

Exciting things have been happening around our house. You see, somewhere in the past month our garbage disposal blew a seal. We realized it the other day when I pulled out the bucket below it to find it filled with rancid water and floaty chunks. Soup anyone? So on Saturday night Chris grabbed his giant flashlight (ok, who owns a 3 foot flashlight?), went under the sink to take a look around.

Assorted grunts, grumbles and comments came from the cabinet under the sink. Apparently he found what happens when over 5 years of sludge builds up in a garbage disposal. Got a real up close view. I’ll pass on confirming how disgusting it was, thanks.

But oh no, here we go again. Another home repair by none other than Christian – Schneider – Waterstraat. Remember Schneider? Of One Day At A Time tool belt, white t-shirt notoriety?

Well, he hasn’t quite gone full toolbelt crazy yet but sometimes he gets close. Recall a few months ago – one hot water heater that would go out at the most convenient of times. Like Christmas morning. The one morning of the year you sort of need to shower. Hot water heater broken. Schneider goes down there, does a few things with some tools. For all I know he finally just kicked it and it came back on. And then a few weeks later – off again. On again, off again. A few more kicks until finally I said enough. We are calling in the big guns – the real men that make a living off wearing a tool belt. Put your tools down, Waterstraat.

Seems he found them again. Took one look at the disposal the other night and somehow decided this repair was in the realm of things he just knew how to do. How do men know this? I do laundry, right? I have no freakin’ clue how to fix the washer. I put groceries away in the refrigerator. No idea how to fix it if it should go out. And the dishwasher? I load and unload it – and the best I can do with its sticky buttons lately is keep opening and closing the door until finally it starts.

Kind of like hitting the television to get reception. Two hits, clear as a bell.

At this point, Chris is online looking up to how repair the disposal. Meanwhile Boss has stolen a plastic bag from somewhere in the house (reminder, there is an Ironman in training around here, plastic bags go with the territory) and he runs around with it like he’s found gold. I’m sitting on the floor icing my legs with a bag of frozen mixed vegetables thinking I should probably get up and save the plastic bag from sudden death by Boss.

In case you’re wondering – this is what married couples do on Saturday especially when one is training for Ironman. I know, I know. Somewhere out there a married couple has the man dressed in a suit and the woman in strappy heels eating some exorbitantly priced dinner at the nearest five star restaurant. I don’t believe it. Or I’ll believe it every once in awhile. Instead I know most of them are at home cleaning up messes. Repairing household items. Chasing the dog after it has stolen things like socks, receipts and plastic bags. Doing loads of laundry. Making trips to stores like Costco in which I swore to myself I would never set foot in there again on a Saturday after getting a little too close to what I would call a real slice of American life. As if you couldn’t top that, eating dinner like good little elderly folk at 5 pm.

And…as if all of that wasn’t enough, they probably cap off Saturday with a trip to Home Depot for their home repair. Chris tried to talk me into joining him. But Costco was bad enough. Costco AND Home Depot in the same day? Death by big box store. No way was I setting foot in a Home Depot on a Saturday night. You think it will be empty. You think wrong. Why? Because every other married couple is in there doing what married couples do on Saturday nights – they buy paint, they select a new garbage can, they pick out a light fixture, they purchase a new Evolution Compact ¾ HP Heavy Duty Motor Insinkerator.

This my single friends is what you have been waiting for all of your life.

Sometimes Chris gets antsy and sad – about our social life. He mourns for whatever it is that other married couples do or other couples with one not training for Ironman do. Times like this I have to remind him that this is exactly what they are doing out there. Wife is wearing pajamas while eyeing the mountain of laundry on the washer. Husband is wearing some ratty concert t-shirt while contemplating his next home repair. Dog is chewing squeaky squirrel apart. There is no secret swingers Saturday night club for married couples living on the edge. This could be as good as it gets. No, it’s pajamas, laundry, home repairs and … has the dog pooped yet?

Chris returns from Home Depot with the goods. He reports that at 8 pm on Saturday night the Home Depot was packed. They were all in there – the married couples. Mostly buying sump pumps and paint. Then he shows it to me. The brand new Insinkerator. Oh this is nice. It looks like R2D2 on the kitchen counter. Where is its tall skinny friend CP30? And that hot guy Han? I am looking over the new disposal when I ask Chris how did he make the choice? Is this another thing that men just know – they look at a variety of disposals and something shouts – that, that’s the one. Kind of like how I know how to select a loaf of bread (I really don’t – have you tried choosing a loaf of bread lately? Can it be anymore complicated and must everything have some sneaky form of sugar in it?) Chris admits that he knew of the brand after we had watched the episode of Made In America about the Insinkerator factory (note: we watched this on a Saturday night).

He installs R2D2 under our sink and then in a display of his handyman repair skills – he turns it on. It is quiet and functional. Schneider can call it a raving success. We are now back to grinding food remnants without any leaks. And finally around 9 pm the tool belt gets put away.

But not for long. Because tonight he installed a new car stereo. I had no idea I married both Home Depot and Radio Shack. Found him on the back porch with assorted colors of wires and a sodering gun. And this was after – AFTER – he made dinner. From scratch. Chili and cornbread. Now before you start sending me requests to clone him, send over his chili and throw in the toolbelt....need I remind you that we have an Ironman in training here. As someone politely pointed out – all of this might have nothing to do with married life Saturday night and manly need for home repair. No folks, you see with less than 3 weeks until Kona all of this can mean only one thing:

My husband is nesting before Ironman.

Not that again. Remember what happened when Chris was nesting last year before Ironman? Remember the "I washed the floor with Pledge wood polish" incident? It wasn’t good. And looking at this year – it’s not good again. It’s safe to say before we leave on October 6th all of our vehicles and home appliances will be rebuilt. The dog will be bathed weekly. Dinner will be made. Tools will be scattered around the house (right now there is a hammer hanging in the laundry room). But as long as I keep him away from the floors, I think we'll be ok.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Do Not Disturb

This morning I found myself at Caribou working and drinking coffee.

Before you call me the ungreenest person ever for driving to coffee and drinking from a paper cup hear me out. Normally I do not drive to get coffee. However, this morning posed an interesting problem.

Imagine 6 bags of coffee bags but no bean grinder. Where is the grinder you ask? In a few nonfunctional pieces. Accidentally it met its death on the kitchen floor when I dropped it. Therefore, no way to grind the beans. And trust me, at 6:50 this morning I desperately considered my options. All of them:

1 - Chewing beans apart
2 - Sucking on beans
3 - Pouring hot water over beans

4 - Pounding beans with giant mallet
5 - Using food processor
6 - Going out for coffee

Reluctantly I settled for number 6 – reluctantly because it would require putting clothes on and taking a shower. Not my favorite Monday activities. Anyways, I headed out to Caribou and quickly became trapped in a mass of morning traffic. Made worse than usual on Monday by the fact that most of the suburbs were under water as 7 inches of steady rain in 24 hours left the rivers swollen and streets flooded.

After going south to the west to go north to finally go west again, I arrived at Caribou. The one place where I can drink good coffee and get free internet. Good because I needed both – coffee as my lifeline, internet as my online connection to my coaching program and athletes.

No sooner did I settle into the quietest table in the back of the shop than the noise arrived. Enter one young girl. I knew we were talking trouble because she was talking incessantly on her cell phone. Kind of loud. Seriously sister I don’t care to here the details of your conversation about...nothing at all. You know the kind? It went on for about 10 minutes. I tried to drown it out but once I had gotten my ears used to ignoring her annoying voice next came the music.

Now, I’m a big fan of music. But not two at a time. On the store speakers was jazz. Good enough. On her laptop speakers was Kanye West. Good enough. But together? Please no. I thought maybe she had her headphones turned up loud but then realized – no headphones. Who sits in a coffee shop playing their music for everyone? And when she played that stupid song by Madonna that samples Abba for the TENTH TIME IN A ROW she almost got my hot dark roast in her lap.

I would have moved. Should have moved. But could not have moved. Why? I was sitting by the only available outlet. And I could have left but do you know how long it took me to get here this morning? I’m staying at least that long at this table. AT LEAST.

I settled on her noise but then faced another challenge. Enter a group of 3 women. After a few minutes I eavesdropped – no, actually I had no other choice because they were talking and it was either listen to that stupid Madonna song for NOW THE ELEVENTH time or tune in over there.

She was getting a divorce. And within 10 minutes I had learned the entire sad story of her married life. The restraining order, the struggle of marrying someone that didn’t pay bills, leaving her family in California. I’m sorry that things didn’t work out but – hey, divorce court, take it outside! Shouldn’t this be done in the privacy of a lawyer’s office?

Can you tell it’s Monday and it poured steady rain for 48 hours this weekend leaving me trapped – TRAPPED I TELL YOU – in my house?

I’ve got a pretty long fuse. I can drown out all kinds of inane chatter and noise. For crying out loud I was rode my bike for 142 miles with nothing but the sound of the wind in my ears. I’ve got crazy endurance for stupid things. But all of this comes after my Saturday morning meeting with an athlete at another Caribou. I know, what’s with the Caribous…well, they are usually quiet, easy to reach and they have good coffee. Enough said. Anyways, while we were quietly trying to talk triathlon, three young children were running around the place like it was a playground. I know kids are squirrely and like to run and shout. But this was like the devil loudly possessed them out of control. Do not underestimate the shouting power of 3 young children. The entire place was echoing with their squeals and between that, the grinder and the other conversations, I could barely hear a word from my friend.

Finally the barista – a gentle older man – went over to the moms and politely asked them to leave.

Yes. YES! They make playgrounds for children to run in NOT coffee shops. When I have kids this might be different but….might not. I shall respect the sacred ground of the grinded beans. Coffee shops are for quiet conversation and introspective thought. Light conversation. Visits with friends. NOT to be confused with Chuck E Cheese, Studio 54 behind me or Divorce Court. All of you outlanders – GET OUT!

Rules. There should be rules. Or at least an age limit. Or a noise ordinance. Curfew? I don’t know. We have rules everywhere else in life – why not in the coffee shop? I take my coffee seriously. There are more serious coffee drinkers out there (ie., Jerome Harrison who has actually posted reviews on coffeegeek.com) but I’m sure they would agree – the drinking of coffee and all of these other conditions actually cancel out the enjoyability factor of the coffee itself.


Perhaps people need a quiz before they come inside the coffee shop. If you can pass it, you can enter. If not, get the hell out the door.

Adults are to coffee shops as children are to:

1 – Coffee shops
2 – Grocery shops
3 – No shops; children do not like shopping go back home and watch the wiggles

Loud music from your laptop is acceptable:

1 – When piped through headphones only
2 – In a coffee shop
3 – Never if your taste includes Madonna – BARF! ICK! Someone please pay her to STOP making music!

Legal problems are best solved:

1 – In the protected seal of confidentiality called a lawyer’s office
2 – In a coffee shop
3 – In front of a dozen strangers who are not interested in hearing the details of your soon to be crazy ex-husband

Ordering a frozen drink in a coffee shop:

1 – Is like ordering hot soup at Jamba Juice
2 – Results in immediate disqualification from future visits to coffee shops
3 – All of the above. And more.

Maybe the quiz was distributed or maybe they all heard my internal cries. Because eventually the music from behind me stopped. And the attorneys wrapped things up with the divorcee. All quiet returned to the shop and at that point it was time to move on in my day.

But I have learned my lesson. Next time I will come to the coffee shop armed with large headphones, a few of those gold ooles they have at the theater with thick velvet ropes surrounding my table and a sign that says do not disturb. And if that doesn’t work, I’m divorcing coffee.

I’m gonna need a lawyer for that. Excuse me - over there - lawyers wearing firmly pressed business suits sitting at the large table in the corner, do you have the time to hear my story about how coffee betrayed me? Get out your legal pad. This one will take some notes.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Big Dogs

The other day Boss and I ran errands.

Now before you think I am one of those crazy people that drives around with their 10 pound accessory dog like it’s a small child (I do) – let me just put this out there: one of the errands was taking Boss to the vet to get his nails clipped.

This is not a post about Boss getting his nails clipped. But I’ll talk about it anyways. You see, I take him to the vet to get nails clipped because count them – 4 paws, 5 sharp nails and 1 small dog that yips any time you touch a paw. Let the vet take the responsibility of clipping off an entire paw. That’s not a risk I’m going to take from a dog that will spend the rest of its life (I learned today he could live 18 years) eyeing me down like paw killer if I nip him.

So we’re driving around, we do a little post office, a little vet, a little bike shop, a little coffee and since we were driving by it we might as well do a little dog park. A new dog park. Not the usual one. Our forest preserve district has about 4 dog parks spread throughout the county. I grab my coffee and my small dog – we enter the new dog park. And quickly I see. Oh. It’s mostly a large-dog dog park. I get it. We don’t belong.

Large dog owners are not like small dog owners. Large dog owners name their dogs names like Molly and Grace. People names. They hate leashes, bring gallons of water for their dogs and don't mind picking up poop larger than they humanly make. Small dog owners are fluffy and noncommittal. They wanted a dog but weren’t sure if they were ready for the full thing. Enter the sub 10 pound dog. They give this dog names like Sarge, Champ or Chief. Solid names to show that just because I’m tiny doesn’t mean I wouldn’t rip your rear paw off if given the chance.

Try me.

Large dog or small dog, at this dog park I don’t care. After all, I paid my annual fee to become a county dog park permit card carrying member. I’m legal and so is my small dog. Boss walks around on the woodchips which I realize become like quicksand for his tiny feet. He cannot run. So instead he rolls himself in animal poo. Brilliant, Boss. Brilliant. Way to represent for the small dogs.

Out of the woods, a few German shepherds emerge. Two owners sit at a nearby picnic table. Boss goes over to mingle with the large dogs. I apologize to the owner assuring him that Boss has no idea how small he is and likes big dogs. The owner says something about Boss having a nice personality and starts throwing a ball. The dogs bolt. Boss follows as they all chase a tennis ball.

After a few more sessions of chase, I lead Boss off on to the path. We took a little hike. No leash, he followed me. He sniffed, I sipped (coffee). We made a full loop before Boss ran up to a man walking towards us with his two (large) dogs. One is a mutt that ran past us. The other is a Rhodesian Ridgeback that has busied himself by doing crazy laps on the 6 foot wide path making circles in a circumference of something so small I wanted to tell the dog to stop chasing itself.

The owner and I exchange pleasantries and Boss runs up to him for some pets.

“You’re too small to be in this park,” he says to Boss.

He is petting Boss but cautiously warning me that Boss is too small, too little, will get lost at the dog park. I laugh it off and try to convince Boss to walk the other way with me. Instead he runs to the man’s dogs to play with them. They chase each other on the trail when the man again says something about Boss being small to play with those dogs I scoop him up and walk away.

Boss and I continue down a different path, he leashless and happy, me lost in thought. What’s with the labeling? “You’re too this or that” as for why he can’t do things. Was my small dog being a big problem to the other dogs? Was he doing something wrong? Who says he can’t play with the big dogs?

So it got me to thinking. You see, Boss has no idea that he’s small. He knows he is a dog. Sometimes I am not even sure of that. But he has no idea that he shouldn’t run with the big dogs. He has no idea that when you throw a tennis ball, it’s probably useless for him to even chase because it’s too big for him. He has no idea this park was suitable for big dogs but like black hole for any dog small.

I suppose ignorance is bliss because Boss is loving the dog park and proving to me he can do a lot of things. And he just seems to adapt. He figures it out, I see him do it every day. Sometimes when he runs with the big dogs he has to run faster to get away. Or he gets run over by a big paw and has to regroup after he takes a belly roll. He realizes what he lacks in speed he makes up for in the fake left, go right nimble agility. If a big dog is too overbearing, he barks right in its face. And when it all gets to be too much he just sits down, takes a break and ignores the bigger dog.

As far as being small, Boss seems to be doing quite well.

We have lots of labels, don’t we? We put limiters on people all of the time. I especially see this with women. Women are small, not as fast, not as strong, right? And so they hold back. Or think they have to hold back. How many times have you as a woman been on a group ride and felt like maybe I should just sit back here and not rock the boat. Because taking a pull or making a move could light up the rage of 20 angry men not willing to be beat by something half their size. Maybe I really can’t do it and shouldn’t even try.

Anyways, it’s safe to say a lot of us – like Boss – are the underdog. We are labeled as less likely, too small, not fast enough, not strong enough, not a threat. And because of the way we look or appear, we have all sorts of assumptions made about us. Especially physically. When someone asks what Ironman I’ve done I say Kona. When they ask if I won a slot in the lottery I want to say…seriously? What about me doesn’t look like I couldn’t be strong or fit or fast enough to qualify? Is there is a certain look to "fast"?

People try to place all sorts of limitations on what we can do based on how we look or how we are built. Even worse, we place them on ourselves. “I’ll never be a good swimmer because I’m too small.” Bull sh*t! Look at Eileen Swanson. She’s teeny tiny and swims like a fish. “I’ll never run fast because I’m too big.” Again – lies! Look at Hillary Biscay – she is not built like a traditional runner, and she just won Ironman. Let’s bring it closer to you - how many times has your coach given you a tight interval to hit and you thought to yourself – no way. No way and in fact – why even try. You’ve closed the door before the workout has even begun.

But what if you opened up yourself to the possibility?

One of my athletes did this the other day. She asked to do a 5K. I said ok under one condition: you have to average sub – x:xx miles. It was an ambitious goal and one I knew she would have to work hard mentally and physically to nail. What did she do? She went out there and blew away my suggestion by 48 seconds per mile. She opened up the possibility to herself, a doorway of sub-x:xx miles and she flew right through.

How? I’m guessing she just went out there thinking about what she could do rather than what she couldn’t do. I’m guessing she finally just made up her mind about herself, stopped second guessing who she is and what she’s capable of. If she’s like most of us, I bet she has spent a lifetime hearing about what she cannot do. For that matter what any of us cannot do. Perhaps even believing what people tell us about you’re too short for this, too tall for that, too old, too skinny, too heavy, too….fill in your blank. What have you been told? Sometimes it helps though to close your ears to all of that. It’s like Boss being small. I’m sure he sees that there are larger dogs. But I’m guessing dogs don’t bark about what little and big dogs can and cannot do. They just go out there and do. They open themselves up to anything. And then they adapt.

I’ve never believed the “you’re too small” or too anything to do something. Admittingly, when I hear something like that it makes me want to go after it even more. Maybe that is what Boss thinks too. You see, I’ve spent months throwing a normal sized tennis ball at my dog at the park. He cannot pick it up. He loves to chase it and then does a loop around it when he gets to it and realizes – for the 100th time – that maybe there is no use. But the other day – he did it. He picked it up. No idea how something with a circumference bigger than his head fit into his mouth but he got it. And then did it again.

Each week I find a quote and I think about it. This week’s quote was in belief there is power. I have no idea what my dog believes. Or if he even gets that deep at all. But I know what I believe. And what my athletes believe. And I know that whatever we believe about ourselves is what is true. Whether it is smashing a mile pace, hitting an interval or picking up a big ball. Be careful of believing in what others say about you and what you can and cannot do. Go out there and define yourself. Leave the labels and limits to someone else.

So go out there and get after it. Put yourself in the big dog park and chase after whatever you want. It has nothing to do with limits and size but everything to do with what you believe and want for yourself.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Finding My Formula

Is there a formula for success? Is there a way to reach your goals?

Often we look outside for these answers but it seems the answer is already within ourselves. Revisit a time when you had a breakthrough workout or set a personal best in a race. See yourself in action again. Now, ask yourself what you see - how did this person look, feel and act?

Make a list of those qualities. Now think ahead to your next goal. Read through your list again. Tell yourself this is what it takes. It does not take inordinate talent to be driven, confident and strong. Anyone can do these things. How do you know? Because you have been there before. The answers are already in yourself.

I made my own list. Lately I read it often. Here is what I see. And so looking ahead to the next workout, the next race, I ask myself:

Am I…

Accepting the challenge

Being patient

Believing I have a good chance

Speaking only in positives
Letting go
Anticipating success
Making good decisions
Visualizing myself at my best

Facing my fears
Surrendering to the process
Confident in my abilities

Acting independently
Becoming better than myself

Committed to my vision
Optimistic about the outcome
Getting out of my own way

Trusting my training
Finding the rhythm

Open to the possibility
At peace with the pain
Full of faith
Hanging on as others let go
Expecting the best

Executing my plan
Remaining in control
Fully focused on the goal
Connected to the course
Seeing obstacles as opportunities
Writing my own ending
Mindful along the way

Saying YES I CAN
Testing limits
Feeling the power of my beliefs

Doing everything I can to arrive
Courageous enough to face the outcome, whatever it may be

Finding your formula means revisiting your success, acknowledging what it took and committing to getting there again. These past few weeks I have been finding my way back to my formula. I have been all of those qualities before. I still am. Each day I strive to be one more of those things so I am ready for that one experience where it all comes together and I am everything. It can happen. Again, revisit your success. You will see it's already in there.

Monday, September 08, 2008

IM Wisconsin Spectacular Spectation

Sunday was my first ever spectathlon.

To make the drive to Madison easier, on Saturday night I slept over Jennifer’s house. After the pillow fights and telling secrets about boys, we watched some Arctic Trucker show on the History Channel. Repeat: Saturday night, Arctic Trucking show, History Channel. Who knew that Jennifer’s front door was a portal that accelerates your taste in television programs about 50 years?

After that round of excitement we were still able to sleep. We woke up at 3:30 am. On the road by 4:15 am heading towards Madison. Thnn we made our way over to the Monona Terrace. Unlike Kona, the atmosphere at Madison is one of high school hallway energy buzzing with crowds, cheer and chatter. Each athlete seemed to have a a cheering squad of family, friends, even pets. All wearing matching t-shirts telling so and so to swim, bike, run, or go go go or ironfan or askin
g what they are made of (FE of course). It was a mood of celebration, a contagion of energy.

The skies were blue, the winds were calm and the water glistened in the rising sun. It was the perfect day for an Ironman. Athletes were already being called into the water around 6:40 am. We find Karyn Austin and join her sitting atop a wall across from the swim start. Jennifer, Karyn and that guy decide to warm up with a few hoots and cheers.

On the surface the water looks calm. Underneath buzzes the nervous kicks and flutters of 2,200 athletes. The gun goes off. The kicks and nerves are released. We watched for a few minutes until the crowd quickly spread into even paced packs.

Once the swim was underway, we visited the Ironman store. We answer the question how many items can you emblazon with the Ironman logo? Many. Many, many, many. And I guarantee you that I will buy at least one. Or two. After shopping it was time to get serious. It was 8:30 am and we had neither food nor coffee.

So we start walking towards Starbucks. And who do we see? Short course speedstar Cathy Yndstead and Iowa tri cyclone Katie Weaver-Jongerius. We spend some time chatting. It is so great to meet blogland in real life! Cyberspace personalities come to life in ways you would expect. Jennifer jumps off the page in pink exclamation points, Cathy bubbles over with smiles, Katie's words are full of pep and I......well, I might have said something about coffee. It's 9 am. And I haven't had any coffee yet.

Jennifer asks if I want to see her on caffeine today. I think to myself that I am probably making a decision I will later regret but I say yes and with that she orders a tall pumpkin spice latte. Little does she know that drink is like asking for coffee with her milk. Rookie. Is there even any room for caffeine in there?

Regardless, after about 4 ounces she announces herself overcaffeinated. We drive to get some bagels and then head towards Verona. Time to burn off the caffeine with some cheers. For about an hour we watched the bikes buzz by. The lead male professional rides by as do a few of our athletes.

Next we go back to Madison to position ourselves on the run course. After stopping in a few shops, we find a good spot to spectate around mile 8 of the course. Down the street is a beautiful view of the capitol. Athletes would run up this false flat, make a turnaround at a timing mat and come back down the hill.

The professional men run by at speeds that seem so inappropriate for Ironman. Then then women come by. Here's the cyclist for the 1st place female, Hillary Biscay. This one made me laugh. The guy is riding a mountain bike with an aero helmet. He does realize he is already in first place, right?

The top professionals run by and then the top age groupers. Being a two loop run course we got to see that athletes fresh with a lightness to their step. Even a few smiles. You can easily see who has been smart about their nutrition and pacing versus who has given in to the Ironman game. There are those commanding the course and those being beat by it. Here is Jen Foley in control of the course and her Ironman.

Spectathloning is hard work and also watching all of these runners go by makes us hungry. Besides, we want to avoid the deadly spectathlon bonk. The point at which you run of of cheers and your feet shut down. So it was time for some instant energy. Enough of the bagels and healthy sandwiches. Give me sugar. Now. First a trip to the Starbucks (again) for a pumpkin scone. Then, a trip to the candy aisle to find "something else." In the Walgreen's, Jennifer finds her natural habitat between three bags of M&M's and I settle on a bag of Bridge Mix.

We sit down at the curb picking through the bridge mix bag. New to the bridge mix, Jennifer keeps asking me what is inside of each chocolate piece like I have x-ray vision into chocolate covered candies. I like the caramel, she likes the peanuts. We both don't like the malted milk balls and set them aside in a safe place. The gutter. We call this, those we left behind.

I decide to toss a few of these into the run course to see how long it would take for them to melt or meet death by foot. What can I say - sometimes spectathloning gets boring and you need to make your own entertainment. Jennifer says someone could get hurt on one of them. Of all the things that are likely to shut a person down during Ironman, malted milk ball seems the most unlikely. So I take the risk. It takes about 10 minutes before the ball is smashed. And no one suffered any injuries.

Athletes continue to run by. Some now are starting to walk. Drew Becker runs by and in a moment of help me this hurts in Ironman he says to Jen "coach, this f-ing hurts." Yes, she says. It's Ironman. Regardless he is running strong. Rebecca runs by looking like she's just going for a short leisurely run along the streets. Katie has turnover that indicates her legs are fresh.

Wired and revved up by about 20000 grams of sugar, I am feeling energized to cheer again. Good thing because the race competition is heating up too. The pro's are on their second loop. Here is Hillary Biscay keeping stride with fellow pro and teammate Luke Dragstra. Funny thing is that I remember Luke from competing in the Michigan tri circuit years ago. He was the guy at the race that had written Looking For SWF and his phone number on his back in black sharpie.

Hillary held the lead for most of the day until Karin Gerber passed her right here. What a great photo, eh? Eventually, Karin faded and Hillary took charge again.

The excitement of the pro's goes by and it's back to the age groupers. Some are clearly breaking through, some are breaking down. The interesting thing about Ironman is that you can completely breakdown and still have a good day. Case in point: Jen and I watched a woman walking with a volunteer escort. She didn't look too great. She took a seat on a bench under a bus stop asking to just stop for a moment. She sat there for awhile going through whatever it was - too little water, too many miles, too much Ironman - then got up awhile later and we saw her running back with her volunteer on the course. About an hour later, I saw her at the run special needs turnaround. And that's Ironman - you can find yourself sitting at a bus stop gathering yourself for about 30 minutes and still pull it together for a great race day. The perks of a really long race day.

About 9 hours into it, Jen and I bonked. We were exhausted. Our feet were barking. Our heads were hurting. The sugar that helped us up was now bringing us down. I sat down on the curb and let out a few feeble cries of "go", "you look great", "you can do this". But then I realized it was time to call it a day.

We walked back to the capitol to quickly meet up with Kellye Mills. I watched the special needs bags being handed out. It seemed like it could be chaos but like most things at Ironman - they have the system down and things went smoothly.

When I arrived home I was completely trashed from spectathloning all day. Watching an Ironman is much harder than doing the Ironman. And the pain in your feet is just about the same. I'd much rather compete than watch. If I'm going to get blisters they better be from wet socks on the run. If I'm going to eat sugar it better be from a gel. I will confess that watching it made me want to do an Ironman. But then again that might have been the bridge mix talking.
And now, I recover for a few days before beginning my final push to my next spectathlon - Kona. The big dance. The world championship. Kerrie and Bree have been trash talking. Secret training. But I'll be ready. Now my body knows what it's like to spectate all day. I've already tweaked my fuel plan and have a better pacing strategy. I'll be ready. Can you say the same?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Hidden Agenda

Life hasn't been all about spectating lately. The truth is that I’ve been racing. You see, last weekend I did a 10K. This weekend a swim race. Next weekend a 40K. It took me a few weeks but I realized that I didn’t train all year to wave pom-pons for rest of the year. Yes, there is a hidden agenda here. I’ve realized I need to race more and train less; the work is mostly done, let's go.

Enter Big Shoulders open water swim race. Big Shoulders because that’s the city where it takes place. Starting from the Ohio Street Beach, the course takes you out into Lake Michigan on a triangle. One leg of the triangle brings you back towards the sea wall with the backdrop of the Chicago skyline. I’m not sure anything could be more architecturally beautiful.

We headed down to the city early and found ourselves at Ohio Street Beach before 7 am. Swimmers sat on the wall with caps and goggles. Not many had wetsuits. Initial reports from those brave enough to get in said the water was cold. How could this be? A week ago it was 78 degrees. But enter the remnants of Hurricane Gustav with 24 hours of steady rain and you get a drop of about 10 degrees.

Maybe more.

But I was prepared with my full sleeved wetsuit. Note that when you show up for an open water swim race, a real swim, a swimmers swim, a swim sponsored by a masters swim team – wearing your wetsuit sends you straight from tri cool kid to total swim dork. Such a dork that they actually have a separate category for you – 2.5K swim dork division (ps – entry into this division requires wetsuit).

I knew I had to warm up. I had to be prepared. I was determined to overcome this swim. Last year I attempted the 5K with no wetsuit and ended up going for a very long rescue boat ride after getting too cold. It’s back there in the blog archives. Have a read. This year there would be no boat. I am doing this and doing it well. Wetsuit on, I walked into the water and confirmed – after about two steps – it was cold. Swam a few strokes then could feel it – impending cold water freak out. OH COME ON! Liz, you can stand in this water. Put your face in and swim. You are doing this. You did not pay a $50 entry fee for a boat ride today. You will get through this swim.


I stand at the start line and look around. Already there are hundreds of swimmers in the water – those that chose the 5K swim. Making that choice was my husband. Actually when you train for Ironman you don’t really get a choice between 2.5 and 5K. You go to the distance. For the record, he wore his wetsuit too.

The announcer told my wave to get in the water and swim to the start buoy. I’m ok – I’m warmed up and ready to go and……..oh no. It’s cold. Goggles are filling with water. Empty them. NOW. Here it comes again – cold water freakout. I can’t believe it. I’ve been a triathlete for how many years? But I am human. And sometimes weak. I start swimming away from the start. Two minutes to go. Liz swim your ass back to the buoy. Goggles are full again. Stand, empty them. Swim back. Swim away. Swim towards. You have 30 seconds Liz. Now or never to start this swim. So I start swimming towards the start line and hit it just as the start goes off.

I’m on my way.

After getting over myself I feel quite good. I am with the front pack – nevermind they have no wetsuits – to the first buoy then start making some moves. Along the second leg of the triangle I keep pace with another woman and then at the final turn buoy I pick it up back to the finish line. I hit my goal - and I haven't done that in a long time. My goal was to break 40 minutes and to win the female wetsuit division. Both accomplished! All in all it felt good to be racing again. It felt good to get nervous, even a little scared. There's something to be said about experiencing feelings and situations you cannot practice when you train.

Here I am after the race with Beth. I believe this is Beth’s first year back at swimming after a too long hiatus. Several years ago she went to the swimming Olympic trials representing Puerto Rico. We usually swim in the same lane at masters and I can attest that she is still darn fast.

Check out the race t-shirt. Only in Chicago. Someone on my masters team liked it so much he wanted to buy an extra shirt. Someone else on our team felt this shirt was forcing an agenda on him. Oddly enough we all get along just fine in the circle swimming world of a pool lane. Throw in a little politics and all of a sudden swimmers are splitting the lane even though we're swimming at the same speed.

At least masters doesn’t start up again until after the election. For the sake of our lanes, that is probably a good thing.

Boss doesn't care which side you are on - his vote is just to swim!

Friday, September 05, 2008

World’s Best Spectathlete

By now you’ve realized my annual training plan has significantly changed. After feeling jaded by training and racing I have decided that spectathlon is where it’s at. Yes, folks, I am training to be the world’s best spectathlete.

You might be wondering what it takes to be a spectathlete. That is a good question. Having not completed a spectathlon before I am not sure what it takes. So I have been reading blogs of other spectathletes, spouses and poor souls sucked into standing on their feet for nearly 17 hours to see their loved one pass by at most – what – 3 times?

From this I have concluded that spectathloning requires:

Endurance – check.
A really loud voice – check.
Arsenal of witty, peppy things to shout at people – oh this is so checked.
Ability to lie through teeth in face of desperate athlete, ie.“it’s not that far”, “you’re almost there”, “you look great” – working on this.

By the way, did I tell all of you how great you look today?

Today marked my first serious day of training. I know earlier this week I said I was tapering for my spectatorship at Ironman Wisconsin but I’ve made a change to the training plan. I’m training through it. I’m going to use Sunday as a long training day that will build huge fitness.

As long as I don’t leave zone 3.

This afternoon I went into the hurt shop to do my first mega spectathlon brick. Here is a picture of my hurt shop. You will notice my heart rate strap hanging from my bike. Very important in spectathlete training for you must be sure you do not get too excited. You will also nearly be blinded by the reflector tape my husband secretly installed on my rear cage. Are you kidding me? I guess one goes from professional athlete to riding a bike with reflector tape quickly around here. Atop my saddle you will see a cowbell. Very important equipment for spectathloning.

My mega brick started on my bike. Warm up 30 minutes of easy spinning @ 100 rpms. So far sounds easy, eh? Let me introduce what you do at 15 minutes into the ride. Start singing Suddenly I See at the top of your lungs to develop ability to cheer while jumping up and down. In theory this sounds easy. In fact I got the idea after watching a show on MTV about finding the next Elle Woods to start in the Broadway version of Legally Blonde. The try-outs were sitting atop spin bikes belting out lyrics to a song. If they can do it, I professional athlete super fit, can do it too. In fact, I am so super fit I will do all of this while remaining in zone 1.

It’s on.

Suddenly I see ... gasp gasp
This is what I want to be ... big noisy inhale
Suddenly I see ... hypoxic set here, burn setting in so bad...until.....


Why the hell I’d rather just compete ... and then I nearly pass out from lack of oxygen

Dammit! (once I catch my breath again)

I check my HRM: I was way into zone 3.

Being dedicated to my goals, I reboarded my bike to repeat for remainder of song. Like anything in sport, the more I stuck with it, the easier it became. So easy I decided next time I could take it up a notch - complete exercise in zone 2, zone 3, zone 4 and only under medical supervision – zone 5a. I'm gonna need a doctor around here. Anyone have The Bachelor's number? He's a doctor, right? I know, forget it. Put a doctor's hat on Boss (got a paper plate?) and call him Dr. Nibs.

Ordinary spectathletes can handle the challenge above. However, if you are aspiring towards the gold medal in spectathlon you embrace this challenge: put IPod on shuffle and sing whichever song comes up next. Depending on your playlist that could go a few ways. I mean, if the lyrics start with...

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes an aeroplane, Lenny Bruce is not afraid.

You better take a deep breath.

Next mainset, hop on rollers. Hold CP.2 for 3 x (5 x 15 - 30 seconds max effort anaerobic capacity threshold attacks). This type of workout is what separates “I will watch the race” from “I will be the world’s best spectathlete”. The purpose is to simulate zipping around the course to see your athlete on race day. In other words, you know they are approaching mile 22 so you have 15 - 30 seconds (depends on how fast they are) to zip over to that spot to cheer for them. Sounds easy but again - not. You will have to zip while avoiding other spectators, staying off the course and weaving around traffic cones. The third set is performed while talking loudly into your cellphone to simulate how you will provide updates to your family about where your athlete is at.

There is a strong risk of crashing during that set so it is best to put your helmet on. Even indoors. I am still convinced you can launch yourself from rollers and ride right through the basement wall. If you are concerned about flying through the wall as quickly as possible - put on your aero helmet. Besides, when you are training to be the best, every second counts - even in spectathlon.

After that, back on the trainer hold functional threshold for 120 minutes. What is functional threshold? It is the threshold at which you can no longer function. How do you know when this happens as a spectathlete? When you lose your voice.

Or hit a traffic cone.

No mega brick is complete without a transition run. Hop on the treadmill. Run at 10 mph while wearing backpack, ringing cowbell and holding cell phone. Every 5 minutes insert 10 positive statements for competitors alternating with talking on cell phone. At 20 minutes into run begin a series of 5 x 1 minute hill repeats at a 16 percent grade. Why? Because you realized you left your camera in the car and it’s parked a top that hill. I’m not kidding. There is this one parking lot in Kona that literally has a 16 percent grade hill. Back me up, Wee.

But wait - there's more. You might think the run is the last event. Not in spectathloning. The last event is actually the ringing of the cowbell. Pick up the bell and ring it steady for 8 x 30 second repeats. Repeat this entire set 3x. There's a good chance that after this training day after I might have carpal tunnel and tinnutis in my ears.

But it's all worth it in the name of spectathloning.

Now, since I’m training to be the best and plan to unveil my spectathlon skills in Kona – I did all of this training today in my basement while wearing my wetsuit.

Full sleeves.

All joking aside, I will be at Ironman Wisconsin this weekend. If you are competing, please let me know your number and I will cheer for you. If you are spectating, I challenge you to a cheer off by the run course.

Bring your pom-pons bitch. I’ve been training. Have you?

P.S. - the word "spectathlete" was coined by the spouse of one of my readers. THANKS for sharing!