Thursday, January 31, 2008

Letting Go

Just recently I acquired one of those fancy devices that allows me to track my heart rate, duration, distance, pace, mood, likeability factor, weight, percent water in the body….you get the point. It’s a device that has a lot of numbers.

At first, I found the device absolutely overwhelming. First of all, how can you tell where you are going if you are always looking down at your wrist. Second of all, how can you call something reliable or even useful when it is always fluctuating. Third, is there a particular speed I am looking for that would allow me to call myself “good”.

No……..?

So I've been thinking about numbers lately and then I read Marit's post which was all about numbers. It got me to thinking that a lot of us have numbers on our mind. Counting laps, counting steps, pedal strokes, swim strokes, intervals, speed, watts - ours is a sport filled with numbers to study and analyze. So with one more device to download and observe would it really do me (or us) any good?

Up until recently I had never done anything with pace. I never knew how far or how fast I was going. I would just guess. And the closest I ever got to a measured course was riding one of my favorite run routes on my cyclocross bike to measure it out. I became highly disgruntled when I realized my 1 mile route was actually .9 but close enough. That was the last time I measured any of my courses.

When I got this new device I thought I would have all of my problems solved. I thought I would finally know how far and how fast. But after a few runs it became apparent that I didn’t really need to know. And I shouldn’t really care. Because most of the time what it proves is that yes, I am running slow. And when I am going fast, yes I am going fast.

After a few runs I actually got angry at the device. It would start out slow (slower than my slow) – at a pace that I swear I haven’t run in years and then all of a sudden I would be moving along at mach speed. I figured there was a warm up period and then a delay between the satellites and the device. But still all of this waiting, guessing, pacing just got me mad.

Not only that, but it distracted me on the run. It got me away from focusing on what was really important – how I feel. Making the connection from my breathing to my body to my feet to my pace. And that’s what really counts. Because if you are running along and staring at your GPS device the whole time my friend, you are missing out. You are missing out on what running is really all about – listening to your body, pushing past, digging from within and breaking through.

I almost felt bad for getting such a device. I have sold out. Real runners don't watch numbers - they just run. So honestly I’m thinking I am going to abandon it for now. I didn’t need it up until this point and there’s no point in starting now. I’ve run fast in the past without it and I’ll run fast in the future without knowing how fast I can go.

Plus, there is always that feeling of disappointment when I start to push the pace and I look down at my wrist and it say x:xx. Which could be about 30 seconds slower than I feel I should go. Then I start to feel sorry about myself. I start think here it is, proof that Fedofsky has lost her touch. She has lost her run. And that’s really what we’re looking for, right? An excuse to confirm our worst fear for ourselves – that we are not fast, that we are slow, that we are going to lose, that we are stupid for even trying at all.

Running, swimming, biking fast is all about feeling good. It’s all about getting in that zone where you push past the redline of hurt into an effortless zone. You dissociate from your body and your mind carries you through. That is where the best swim/bike/run occurs. And to get there you have to really be in touch with yourself. You have to be pushing from within and ready to cross into that zone. When you are constantly checking your wrist/the clock/the computer and weighing your pace against your preconceived notions about numerically what is fast and slow – you distract from your opportunity to dissociate and reach that point.

And so, is our fixation on numbers, pace, and instant data feedback really just holding us back? Are the numbers setting us up to feel sorry about ourselves which turns into a cycle of I keep pushing and I get no where. I thought I was slow and this now confirms that I am slow. How will you ever run faster if that is the dialogue you are always having with yourself?

Furthermore, what about the reverse? Let’s say you are running along and the GPS picks up a pace that is really, really fast. Will your defensive mechanism kick in the other way to protect yourself? In other words, will you start to slow down because you think you are not good enough to hold that fast of a pace?

My point here is that before you get fixated on the numbers over and over again – ask yourself what the numbers really mean. What is the point of knowing your pace? If you know that you are going x:xx/mile will that make you have a better day. Or feel better about yourself. Or win a race. I will say with certainty that I have never showed up at a race knowing that a 6:27/mile pace would win the race. Sometimes it does but what really matters for the win (whether personally or overall) is that you respond to the race and race within yourself. And your best race might be a 6:27 pace or a 7:27 pace or 8:27, 9:27 – it is whatever it takes on that day, on that course.

When we focus on numbers we lose touch with that side of ourselves. We put obstacles and distractions in the way of just pushing from the gut. We get wrapped up in how far and how fast. When really we should just unwrap, unravel, just GO! Which is a hard sell. Because we judge and value ourselves based on speed – whether on the swim, the bike or the run. We want speed, we want fast and we want it now. But honestly, no matter how often you look at your wrist or watch the miles click by that won’t make you any faster overall. Because when you get to a race, what you need to do is go fast on that course. Chase down your goal. And push from within.

At some point you have to let go of the numbers, the paces, the heart rate. At some point you just have to swim, bike, run. Free your wrist (and chest) – and yourself - from the shackle strapped around that is holding you back. Sometimes you just need to abandon the GPS, the heart rate monitor and go by feel. Whenever I do my “hard” workouts I put all of that stuff aside. Hard is hard is hard. Fast is fast. It doesn’t matter how hard or how fast just push dammit. Go by feel. Feel it from the inside of your gut. Hurt. There is no magical number you hit where you can now say “I am hurting.” You just get there! And as long as you can put the effort down and get yourself there – it doesn’t matter how fast you go.

I was talking with one of my athletes the other day. She was frustrated because she didn’t hit her intervals in the pool. I asked her if the effort was there – she said yes. Then you win! Guess what, some days you hit your best pace and some days you don’t. Some days you feel like you’re blazing along at 10 seconds faster than your T-pace and the clock says you’re actually 5 seconds slower. You can’t get lost in tracking your progress day to day. And that is why you have to let numbers go. Because what you’ll find is that for every ONE good workout where you feel fast, there are about three to five where you ARE slow. You can’t win them all. But you can push through, you can reflect back to find what you learned and then when race day comes around you can give it your best. It will show.

Let go!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kibbles & Bits

Have you ever gone to buy dog food?

Until last night, I had not. Because Boss came with a bag of food. And then Chris bought the next bag of food. Next it was my turn. So last night I went to the pet store. My goal was simple – buy dog food. But if you have attempted to buy dog food, this is not a simple task.

Need I say more than – there were three aisles of dog food. THREE AISLES. Is this necessary? Must we have so many choices? They are dogs. Little animals from the wild. They will eat dead animals. They will eat socks. They will eat their own shit. Not only that but they will run outside, sniff down, and harbor the shit of other wild animals (like Canadian geese)……do they really need so many choices of dog food?

Yes. Because even though they descend from the wild they are as picky as hell when it comes to kibbles and bits.

Boss is a fine example. Does not like the kibble. Partially my fault – left the food out at all times. He’s a puppy. He is not yet in tune with his hunger cues. Well, that led to the day long graze. Which by the way leads to a day long shit. So this past week has been boot camp with Boss. Feeding hours are 7 am and 5 pm. You don’t eat in 15 minutes, the food goes away. Kitchen closed.

A fine plan. If only Boss liked his food. Plus I noticed his food was giving him bad breath. And I will not be one of those people where everyone is like – cute dog, but really bad breath. No thanks. So I went to the pet store. Thinking this would be easy – grab a new bag of chow, put the money down.

For crying out loud there is a bag of dog food for every darn breed. And size. And temperament. And, natural brands. Natural food for dogs? Seriously? Please do not tell me there are vegetarian options too.

THEY ARE DOGS!

At first I am lost as to where to begin. There have to be a dozen brands, sizes, flavors and styles. Let’s narrow it down my brands which I know Boss does not like. Ok – no clue what the names are but I know the bags. That eliminates – oh – about ½ of ½ of an aisle. Only 12 more ½ of ½ aisles to explore.

Next I look at flavors. Unfortunately none of the labels were very much help. Plus I really don’t know what Boss likes. I think of how silly it is to shop for dog food. Like I know what the dog wants. Like I know what it would taste like in dog world. Perhaps I should ask the dog. Perhaps there should be free sample day at the pet store. Because come on, pet stores of the world, throw us owners a bone. Help us out. We have no clue. Think about it. Think about your dog. Could you imagine this:

Yes, I’m looking for a bag of food to feed to my small dog.

What are his tastes?

Mostly his diet consists of rawhide, strings and from time to time he enjoys eating his own shit. Do you have something that will go with that?

Aside from that, I have nothing to go on. I just know I put the bowl down and he does not eat. Much. Or eats on the fly. Grabs one kibble and then runs. I assume this is a wild instinct. He is the same way with treats. Grabs them and runs under the couch. He has not yet realized that I have no interest in the dog biscuit and neither does Chris. There is no reason to run and hide.

And I'm totally thrown off by the strings. Should I be feeding him spaghetti? What is it with the strings? Confirmation that Boss has been eating strings came the other day. Boss was getting fussy and scooting his rear along the ground. I told him not on my white carpet, dog. So he did it later at Chris’ grandma’s place. Turns out that he had a string hanging from his pooper. A long blue string. When Chris pulled it out, YELP! So Chris asks where did that string come from and I say oh that was the stringy tail of his new blue dog.

So, a diet of steady strings but no kibble that he likes. I am still scanning the bags. I see something that says Smart Puppy. You’ve got to be kidding me. I examine this smart puppy bag. Will it make my puppy smart? Will he get into Yale? Most importantly, will he stop eating strings?

Oddly enough I like the look and feel of this smart puppy chow bag. It is small for small dogs and it is in flavor chicken or some other meaty animal that a real manly dog would eat. So I decide we will give that bag a try. And just because I am at the pet store I decide to buy Boss a floppy rabbit and a new squeaky monkey.

I have bad news about the old squeaky monkey. He bit it big time. Squeaky monkey has been dismembered by left leg and also destuffed. And desqueaked. The squeaker – gone. The white cotton stuffing – all over my house. The old squeaky monkey – replaced by the new.

Sometimes I look at Boss’ toys and I just laugh. There are people that work in tall buildings wearing 3 piece suits while sitting at catered lunches contemplating things like – should we or should we not put a smiley face on the squeaky carrot dog toy. Let me just put in my vote – you should. Because every time I see the squeaky carrot it makes me laugh. It also makes me laugh that I paid good money for that toy.

To demonstrate how ridiculous these toys are I decided to take a picture of a few favorites. To get the damn carrot to stop laughing and the monkey and bear to sit still was a real chore. But everyone pulled together for the picture. Even my sock – which really didn’t want to be a part of these misfit puppy toys in first place (and for all of you naysayers that think what does her dog have to do with triathlon....it's a cycling sock thank you very much).


Now, look closely and you will notice in the lower left corner that dead kitty is running away. Actually it was attached to a long string that Boss pulled at just at the moment I snapped the picture. It was kind of his way of saying – woman, release my toys. And give me that string.

Anyways, every time I go to the pet store I feel compelled to buy another toy like this. Something small, furry, string and squeaky usually makes the cut. And the toys are much easier to choose than the chow. Because it takes only a few tosses and plays to realize what Boss likes for a toy. Plus if it squeaks, it's in.

Back to the new bag of dog food. This morning was the test. Would he or would he not eat the new puppy chow. 7 am. Put the bowl down. And – SCORE! He is eating the smart puppy chow. He is on his way to becoming the SMARTEST dog in the world.

And this is what every puppy parent wants to hear. He is smart after all. Gifted for sure. Just ask the squeaky carrot. He's known all along. That's why he smiles.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Things Are Going Swimmingly

I feel like all I do is swim. Every other day or maybe every day – I have lost track – I am walking into the pool. I go at all different times so I can’t keep track of who I saw yesterday or the day before or the night before or Saturday. It’s hard enough for me to remember to pack my goggles, cap, and suit. And by the way have you ever had one of those days where you have to remind yourself to look down before you walk out to the pool just to make sure you have your suit on?

That is my every day.

Lately it seems like every time I show up to swim practice we are doing something like 1000000 x 1000000 IM. Like today. Today was supposed to be my easy swim day. It was supposed to be technique day in the pool. Little did I know that it was short axis technique day. I may be short but short axis I cannot really do. My breaststroke is proof of why people should never use breaststroke in a triathlon swim. It is the most inefficient and slowest stroke. Please believe me – just watch me. I have finally mastered some semblance of the breaststroke kick but it doesn’t get me very far.

Lucky for me today was all breaststroke kick and fly. That’s great. Because when you are trying to go easy one of the best things for you is fly. Especially 100 fly. Especially when it is wrapped up in a set like this:

2 x 250 IM (done as 100 fly/75 breast/50 back/25 free) followed by 2 x 100 dolphin kick followed by 50 easy.

REPEAT

Because once through surely won’t be enough. But I’m convinced all of this will come to good use some day. At this point I am seriously going to smackdown at my first race and do the entire thing sans wetsuit AND all fly.

Just wait and see.

But this was nothing compared to where I’ve been. 250 IM is nothing compared to 600. Let’s revisit Saturday. On Saturday morning, we did something I can only describe as gutfully hard. That is not a word. I made it up. Because it is the only way I can describe a gut-full of vomit, pain, my pounding heart, wizard stew – it was a workout that went straight to the gut and hurt bad.

400 swim
200 IM
300 pull
12 x 50 descend
12 x 50 power kick
6 x 100 IM
5 x 150 swim
6 x 125 pull
200 cool down

Sure, it doesn’t look bad. But I want you to imagine doing it all on an interval that allows for no more than 10 seconds rest. Plus anything that says power kick you should be very leary of. And the 6 x 100 IM, just for kicks I want you to imagine doing it on an interval that allows – oh – at most 3 seconds rest. Which doesn’t really count so it really feels like 600 IM. And for more kicks, go ahead and lead the lane. You step out of the pool after that one wondering what the hell just happened. And how the hell you were able to pretty much hold your breath for 90 minutes straight.

The best part is that the Thursday before that I had hit the jackpot again.

20 x 25 descending :40 - :20 done as every 4th no breath, free

On paper going on the 40 sounds just fine. But wait until you get to the 20. And then try it with no breath. That is where you cross the line from I was enjoying this to I am going to shove my pull buoy down someone’s throat if they tell me to hold my breath for one more 25.


But I guess someone heard me sassing back in my head. Because after that glorious set, they threw out this one:

10 x 25 fly descending :40 - :30; #4 & 8 no breath

No breath fly? Seriously? Is that possible? Advisable? Should we not have medical staff on hand? No one else seems worried but me. So I give it a try. I can do one breath fly. But no breath – no way. Not yet.

You would think this would be enough watered down torture for one week. But the week actually started on Tuesday when I showed up to evening practice to be greeted with 6 x 400. I hate the 400. Especially when I get lapped. Especially when I get lapped on every single one. And I am in the slowest lane. Life is so unfair. Seriously one of these days I am going to be put me in the therapy pool with a foam noodle and told to swim back and forth for an hour while the big kids finish their swim.

So that was my week in the swim. I may have swam once more but I can’t remember. At some point it all becomes a mix of kick, free, pull, back, paddles, fins, medley, intervals and, and…..the lingering smell of chlorine that I cannot wash away.

And tomorrow, what do you know. I just checked my schedule and there it is again – swim! I think I heard someone mumble that we are doing 20 x 200 tomorrow. On the 3:00 or something silly like that. Honestly 20 of anything sounds like a bit much but part of me is really looking forward to it. I find the more I swim, the more I like to swim. And the more I like to swim, the faster I go. In fact, the other day someone came up to me and said “you’re getting faster, you know.”

Really? Because I didn’t know. Or I wasn’t sure. Because I have found myself hurting, huffing, or lapped so many times that I can’t keep track of whether I’m having a good or a bad day. And that’s when I decided a few weeks ago that I would let it go – whether I was swimming fast for the day or slow didn’t really matter any more. I stopped fretting about intervals and time. I just keep putting in the effort and doing the workout all the way through. And I trust that one day it will get me there (faster than before).

And besides, most days as long as I walk out of the lockerroom wearing my bathing suit I feel like I’m moving along swimmingly in the day. So however fast I swim – well, that’s just icing on the cake.

Monday, January 28, 2008

From the Land Down Under

Happy Australia Day.

What’s that? You didn’t even know it was Australia Day? Well neither did I. But once a year some swimmers from our team celebrate Australian Day. And when two Australians accost you in a hot tub asking if you’ll celebrate with them – well, call me a sucker for strange accents and big shoulders but I couldn’t help but say “ok”.

There’s something about Australians. I suspect that anyone with an accent that quirky would be oodles of fun to spend time around. Not only that but they sure can swim. I also suspect that Australia Day is not an official holiday but rather just an excuse to get together and consume Australian beer. Sure enough, we arrived at the Australia party we find the host wearing a shirt that said I’m from Australia, let’s get drunk.

The name assignment begins next. I guess this is an Australian trick to keep people from knowing the real identity of the very drunk person in the corner by the end of the night. So the host shows us sheets of sticky name tags with everything Australian. He looks at us as if he employed some ancient Australian mind trick to reveal our true identity. Rightfully then, my husband is assigned the name Chunder. Perfect, let’s hope he doesn’t chunder by night’s end. Over in the corner is Chook which I learned means chicken, totally throwing me for a loop because in Italian it means drunk. Of course the guy in the goofy shirt, he is the Dringo. Someone else is the Bush Tucker. No comment. That guy over there is Blotto. Well, not yet. But just give it time. And who would have thought I’d see Germaine Greer walking around. On the bench, Brazza, Chopper and his girl Dantii (Kylie Minogue’s younger, less famous sister). And for me, I am christened:

Snugglepot

Snugglepot? Is that like a honeywell? If that’s the case then color me insulted in this country. The host then assures me that Snugglepot, and his companion Cuddlepie, are cute little babies that live in the gum nut tree.


Thank you, that makes me feel much better. I think.

Now that we have our official Australian names we are granted permission to actually join the party. Australia has exploded all around. In the living room stands the bare skeleton of a Christmas tree, completely deneedled and stuffed with eucalyptus branches instead. Hanging from the tree is variety of Australian wildlife; snakes, fruit bats, koalas, and wait, what is that at the top.

And, wait, up at top, sticking out from the tree…..is that Kookaburra?

It is. Part of me wants to break out into song, the other part of me can’t believe that a Kookaburra is really ‘real’.

There is an inflatable crocodile. Also an inflatable kangaroo. Someone shows up with an inflatable Love Ewe and all of a sudden the kangaroo and ewe are doing nonspeakable things.


There is also Australian fare. A pictoral guide to all of the Australian beers. A plate of Vegemite and butter sandwiches. I am proud to say I resisted the urge to try one. Shrimp that had been barbequed. Lamingtons. Australian candy. Meat pies.

Honestly the meat pies were the most comical. Imagine this, the hostess is walking around with a dish full of meat pies. She walks up to my husband and asks "would you like a meat pie?" But if you speak with an Australian accent it sounds more like "mate pie". So my husband thought they were mate pies or make pies or whatever the case the poor hostess must have said MEAT PIE a thousand times and still he asked me later "what were those things again?"

THE THINGS YOU KEPT EATING.

Someone brings in a CD of the Wiggles. Well, they are Australian of course. I break out into a lyric of “Hot Potato, hot potato” to which someone replies “Cold spaghetti, cold spaghetti.” Good call. He must have a small child. For me, I just like the Wiggles and their songs.

Spent some time talking with Chopper and Dantii. They are racing again this year which means M25-29 and F30-34 better look out. Another triathlete power couple who will likely dominate at MIM and nationals. Mark my words. Of course they won’t be using their Australian code names. Which should leave you in suspense until then.

Talked with code-name-Brazza. If you wake up with a caboodle of lawn ornaments in front of your house, a chandelier hanging from your tree, a plastic deer looking in your window I learned that you should probably blame Brazza. Also if you wonder who would buy an entire herd of chipped concrete deer from Menard’s – that again would be Brazza. This had nothing to do with Australia Day but everything to do with what happens when a group consumes too much Australian beer - they start scheming.

The rest of the evening is just doing what swimmers do best. Submerse themselves in liquids. Of all kinds. I stuck with my water which led to several trips to the loo. And as for the Australians? They advised all to drink until the blue heelers come home. I’m not sure if that happened because we went home at 11 pm. I signed the guest book thanking the hosts for a proper Australian education. And looking forward again to Australia Day next year.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Play On

If you don’t see, hear from, or hear about my husband for the next few months that is because he is downstairs. In the basement. And may never come back up.

You see, he just bought an Xbox 360. And is determined to play Guitar Hero until his fingers and eyes bleed.

It started as a joke:

“Liz, go buy me an Xbox.”

Nagged me all week long. Like I had nothing else to do with my day but go to Best Buy with all the guys in junior college that are really into AV equipment and have never kissed a girl. No thanks. Go buy your own toys.

But then it escalated:

“Liz, tomorrow I need you to go to Best Buy.”

What for?

“An Xbox.”

No! Not today, not the day before no matter how you ask for it I am not going to the store. You’re a grown man and you don’t need a child’s toy. Shut up about me and my dog. That’s an investment. The Xbox is just a toy.

Still that wasn’t good enough.

“Go buy me an Xbox.”

NO.

“Can you pick up that Xbox?”


Again, NO.

“Please get me the Xbox.”

NO! It’s for your own good, no.

For a few days, he laid low. Didn’t say a word. Then the other day it came.

“Let’s stop at Target.”

For the love of god what could you possibly need from Super Target on a Saturday. WHAT?

An XBox 360.

Oh no.

Oh yes. And Guitar Hero. And Halo. And a guitar. And……a whole heck of a lot later I find my husband in the basement with all of his new toys. Haven’t really seen much of him since. The only sign that life exists below is a noise from the downstairs that I shall call “a ruckus”.

On a few occasions I have braved the descent to the basement to see what all of the ruckus was about. Imagine this – grown man in the basement sitting in a wooden chair playing with a plastic guitar. On the screen a bunch of flashing lights, colors and cartoon man also playing the guitar.

I wonder if he realizes this man is not real? Or that it is just a game? But not to him. Up until the wee hours of the morning sacrificing recovery time for time with his…plastic guitar.

I thought he was crazy for being like this but over the holidays I realized this is some type of ritualistic innate male behavior that they cannot escape. We were at the non-Waterstraat house. I walk upstairs to look for my husband, find him in a small room holding a plastic guitar with four other men and an empty bowl of chicken wings.

Need I say more?

The other night I was at the gym. Picture this – a meathead man in the standard sweatpants and sweatshirt lifting about 100000 lbs on the bench – he takes a moment. Sits up. Starts playing…..air guitar. I am not kidding. Sat there for at least 30 seconds playing air guitar and shaking his head. And he didn’t have long hair. Lost major points for the sweatsuit, lost even more with the air guitar. Victim of bad 80’s hair metal band in his headphones or yet another Guitar Hero addict? Your call.

This weekend I also learned that there are grown men that network with these games. They sit in their basement in their comfy chair with headphones connected to some connection that teleports their game to another grown man in his comfy chair with headphones playing the same game such as Halo. So it is safe to say that my husband – his obsession with these games – he is not alone.

And he knows he’s obsessed. The other night he says to me “I am going to the basement to unpack your bike.” And then he continues with “If you come downstairs and see me playing Guitar hero, slap me.” What? Did you just give me permission to slap you? This is the best game EVER! You don’t need to know that I am going to slap you for wearing snowy shoes in the house, for making 10 more socks when I just washed an ENTIRE LOAD, for leaving a bag of potato chips AND a beer in your bathroom…..permission to slap did you say? Please, please….go on….play. PLAY!

I never did catch him. But you know it’s only a matter of time. And if you know my husband you also know he can’t carry a tune in a paper bag so it’s safe to say he also will never master this game. Which is probably why he likes it so much. A challenge he must stalk for days before he gets the win. Prehistorically this makes much man-sense.

But for me – it’s just a game. And a bunch of noise. Flashing lights. Something silly at best. But if it makes him happy and keeps him from making piles around the house then I suppose it’s ok. Play on, husband. Play on.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Off To See The Wizard

The other day someone asked me about the wizard.

“I give up. Who the hell is the wizard?”

They weren’t alone. The next day I had two more requests to reveal the wizard’s identity. Who is this wizard you talk of? And where is he found?

"Seeing the wizard" describes that point in training where you push beyond yourself to breakthrough. It is a push that requires a major effort and a major risk. You are not sure what will happen if you push past it. You might blow up, you might breakdown. You are not sure because you have never been there before.


Imagine this; you are in the pool doing a set of 8 x 25 no breath. You can't seem to master it. You get a few strokes from the wall but then get scared so you take a breath. You were close, but you couldn't push through.

But then one day it clicks. You commit to make the entire 25 with no breath. It is not easy but you make it through. In those last few strokes you think you will either suffocate, explode, pee yourself or die. If you have ever been there you know this feeling I am talking about. It's that edge of fight or flight, pushing on to mastery or stepping away because of fear.

That is where you will find the wizard, right there.

Many athletes never see the wizard. Not because they are not worthy of the wizard or because they are weak – but because they never go chasing after him. To chase the wizard is to open yourself up to failure and pain. Those that chase the wizard are willing to do this because you feel it is a worthy risk. You have committed to improving yourself. You have accepted that improvements come with hard work. Chasing the wizard is hard work.

Other athletes stop short or don’t look hard enough. They ask how to see the wizard, why have they not seen him yet. What they don’t realize is that he’s already there. He’s just ahead, around that corner, at the wall, up that hill, on that rear wheel, running slightly ahead of you. He’s that little bit more you give when you think you have nothing left. Take one step or stroke further and you'll see him there.

Some don't realize that you can't just show up to a workout and expect meet the wizard. You don’t just go through the motions and magically he appears. You have to commit. You have to want it. I mean, grit your teeth and let the sweat drip from your head. Go after it. Hunt it down with animal rage. That is how you find your next level. That is how you break through. You go after it and want it – bad.

The difference with peak performers is that they put themselves out there – all of themselves – to chase the wizard when the moment is right. They have no fear. They realize that chasing after him is reaching to that next level. It is how progress is made. You cannot expect to improve by doing the same thing over and over again. At some point you have to push yourself. It has to come from within. And at some point you have to let go of fears and take the risk. Visit the wizard, if you will.

Obviously you don’t chase the wizard in each workout. He is best chased at select times. I mean, you can’t expect him to show up at a Zone 1 easy base building run. Or a drill-based swim. Or a recovery ride. But when you are in your 3rd week of build or doing a set of tests or on a training weekend – that’s when he’s there. That’s when you look for him and don’t stop until he’s found.

This past weekend I went to San Diego looking for the wizard. This was a select, purposeful training trip where I had been given permission from coach to find the wizard. And what I found is that he is the rear wheel of my husband as I push to hang on, he is in my sight at the top of a hill, he is slightly ahead of me at mile 10 of the canyon run. He is always one step ahead of me trying to convince me that I cannot hang on or go that fast. But this weekend I set out to make him mine. I found him, grabbed him by the robe and looked him in the face. Gave him a big mouthful of you’re mine.

But it’s not always as easy as that. There were times when the wizard eluded me. Times he was within reach and I couldn’t get a hold of him. Times that I couldn’t push past. Those times were just as important as my victories. I sat on the plane last night thinking through the why – why didn’t I catch the wizard there. I reflected on the reasons, wrote them down, then sent them to my coach. Together we will devise a way to strengthen those areas so next time I can reach past.

You can see that the wizard is highly individual. He is who you think he is. It is a point that each of us must find within ourselves. The wizard is something that you see or find at the breaking point. You know your own breaking point. And if you don’t you’re not paying close enough attention to yourself. Chances are seeing the wizard is in that last push, going over the edge, the point right before a breakthrough. Not knowing what will happen, not knowing if you will explode or breakdown.

And when you see the wizard what does he look or feel like? That depends but I have a feeling when you find him you will know. There is a feeling in your body that let's you know he is near. For me it’s the pressure that builds in my head, the burn in my quads as I bridge a gap, the feeling of almost losing control, sweaty hair under a helmet, wanting to heave after a hard treadmill run. You will know when you get there.

I’m not sure why the wizard was chosen as the character. But so far – for me – it has worked. When I think of a wizard I think of a mystical man in a large robe with cavernous sleeves, a tall hat, and crystal globe. A man that can make magical things happen in very secret ways. I think sometimes this is how we look at training – as if there is one magical secretive way to achieve great results. But if you are brave enough to look deeply into those sleeves you realize the magic is made in yourself. By pushing your own legs, pushing through your own limits. There is no magic formula, no crystal ball. It’s all within yourself.

Find your wizard. Go on.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Weekend With Grandma

Something has changed when we travel....

We have a dog.

Two choices:

Boss spends a weekend with Chewie and IChi at risk for being fed things like broccoli to keep regular and cooked chicken because that’s what little dogs like while he terrorizes IChi into her pink house all weekend long while nervously upsetting Chewie for getting near his girl.

Or, Boss spends weekend with Grandma Janet.

Let’s try Grandma first.

I send the e-mail out to my mom early in the week – Boss is excited about spending a weekend with grandma, it’s all he can talk about. I also send directions on how to care for Boss; two half cups of food per day, enjoys chewing on rawhide sticks, should not be trusted on upper levels of the house, has a thing for strings, prone to pulling the blankets out of his crate, enters puppy witching hours between 8 – 9 pm, tries to engage you in play by growling, at least once a day may be found dominating his red blanket.


An e-mail comes back:

Nervously awaiting Boss’ stay.

Nervous and my mother go hand in hand. Growing up in a major city will do this to you. Lock the car doors, don’t run the dryer when you aren’t home, unplug things while you are on vacation. My mother is convinced she will find herself trapped in her home poisoned by carbon dioxide emitted from a locked dryer door – a dryer that should have been unplugged in the first place.

But still she is terribly cooperative and supportive of most of the foolish choices I make. Like buying a dog when Chris and I spend at least 4 days each month in some faraway place. She agrees to try to care for Boss and in her best teacher voice reviews his care directions with me.

Packing for a training weekend away is hard enough – packing to send a dog to Grandma’s house is even harder. Baggies with measured cups of food, rawhide sticks to pass the time, all of his favorite toys including squeaky duck, rope pull, squeaky ball and brand new favorite – squeaky carrot. Plus his prized possession – tiny nub of rawhide bone that he has been chewing on for weeks. Add on top of this the blankets, clothes (after all you cannot send a 6 lb dog into -3 degrees without a proper thermal outfit), gates, bed, crate, leash, bag, and don’t forget – Boss himself.

Thursday, it seems that Boss senses he is going away. The Sherpa Bag sits on the kitchen counter and he starts barking at it. It doesn’t matter where the bag is going he wants in. I realize he is communicating his utter excitement to me and also realize if I don’t contain it he will end up excitedly peeing all over the kitchen floor. So I put the Sherpa Bag on the floor and he jumps right in. Sits in it for the next hour. He can’t wait.

Later that evening, we go to Grandma’s house. I decide to stay to see how the transition goes. Grandma is nervous. Because it’s not just Boss. Enter one ancient, smelly, neurotic spotted pooch – Cookie. Cookie may be 14 years old, can’t see or hear a damn thing but when Boss arrives she knows something is amok. Something that will disrupt her nightly routine of sitting next to her mom on the couch or eating Mr. Barky’s in the kitchen or laying on her bed. Yes, Cookie, change is near and his name is….Boss.

Boss may be the size of Cookie’s head but he lets her know right away that he is the boss. The first mistake comes when Cookie approaches (as in looks in the direction of) Boss’ crate. The next comes when Cookie nearly has the shit scared out of her as Boss darts by to catch squeaky ball. Then she makes the mistake of sniffing squeaky ball.

BARK, GROWL, YIP!

Boss is on the defense. No one will approach his house. Nor squeaky ball. Nor his blankets. Especially the red one that he has a special place for humping at least once a day. I decide Boss, like most little dogs, needs larger territory. An entire room in the back of the house for his crate and toys. He quickly realizes this is his new home, grabs his tiny nub of bone and runs back to the room to play. He teaches himself to leap on to the couch and then demands our attention.

My mom seems skeptical that the pairing of Cookie and Boss will work. But we have no choice. We are already hauling enough stuff to San Diego and Boss simply cannot come. Besides if we have to pay one more extra fee to bring something on to a plane we will surely go broke.

I tell my mother it’s only 4 days. And besides how much trouble can 6 lbs of dog make? She still seems nervous. So I give her an out. If it gets really bad take Boss to Chris’ parents house. They will know what to do. Not really but at least it’s a Plan B.

Friday, I get an e-mail from my mom. Boss was in his crate all day while I was at work. He is doing ok. Right now he is in the basement doing his crazy laps.

I am glad to hear he has settled in and is doing his crazy laps – a sure sign that he feels at home. Later that evening, I call my mom just to be sure things are really going ok.

“Boss won’t eat his food from his bowl,” my mom says.

What do you mean he won’t eat his food?

“He will only eat it if I throw it on the laundry room floor.”

My mom has a pattern of quirky feeding rituals with dogs. Recall several years ago when Cookie would wake up at 2 am and the only way to make her go back to sleep was to sprinkle Cheerio's on her bed. AT 2 AM! So this is not really what I need - a dog that learns only to eat when kibble is scattered on a laundry room floor while I simultaneously hop on one foot and sing him a song.

“And he only drinks water from Cookie’s bowl.” You mean the bowl she steps in and dumps over at least a dozen times a day? If that's the case then he's not drinking much water. Send him to his own bowl. But all quirkiness of eating and drinking aside, things are going well. So when I check in on Saturday, I expect to hear the same.

Not the case.

An urgent e-mail comes in:

This has been the day from hell. It is – 3 degrees here and nobody wants to go outside. So there are potty accidents all over the house. Boss got mad at Cookie and peed on her bed. Cookie then couldn't hold it and peed on the kitchen floor and collapsed into it which made Boss bark. Boss won’t let Cookie sit on the couch. They both want my attention. These two dogs do not work well together.

Oh boy. One day with two dogs in negative 3 degrees and my mom has cracked. I send her my support. It’s only two more days. Put Boss in the crate. Control him. *He is only 6 lbs*

The next day I call my mom. She is in her bathroom with Boss. He is in his Sherpa Bag. In less than a day she has devised an entire routine to manage herself, Cookie and Boss that involves careful timing of trips outside, scattering of kibbles, delivery of Mr. Barky’s treats, and select use of the Sherpa Bag. In other words, Boss has seen a lot of his bag. Like a portable prison cell. It contains him plus oddly enough he seems to like it.

In the background I hear Boss barking.

He is mad that I am not talking to him,” she says. She goes on to tell me how Boss is calm as long as she is in view. Which has sort of complicated shower time. But fear not - my mom - the science teacher - has this problem solved. “I found that when I am in the shower if I open the shower door and wave my hand he quiets down.”

Oh My God.

"STOP CHEWING ON YOUR BLANKET IN THAT BAG!" she yells in her best mother/teacher voice that I know very well.

Yelling quickly turns back into love. She goes on about how Boss is a very smart dog, very smart (emphasis she added). He tells you when he needs to go out and he listens to what you say. Note that for years Cookie also had magical powers to tell my mother when my brother was coming home - Cookie would look towards the garage door which would then cause my mother to get up to look at the garage door meanwhile Cookie would mischieviously steal something like an entire loaf of bread from the table.

She then tells me about toys she has bought him and special rawhide treats. And of course Boss likes the bones she bought him better than mine. This is typical grandparent talk. But I am glad to hear things have settled down and see this as a sign that she would be willing to care for him again.

On Monday night, we head to my mom’s house to pick up Boss. We arrive and the house is quiet. Boss is in his crate. My mother happily gets Boss and walks him up to us. He immediately goes to Chris (I am only slightly offended by this move) and then he comes over to me. It is time to take him home.

So the weekend at Grandma’s was – for the most part – a success. Other than squeaky monkey who unfortunately lost a leg, nothing else was destroyed. And that’s a good thing. Because it’s already on Grandma’s calendar to watch Boss on February 23rd.

And Boss can’t wait. When I told him, he jumped right back into his bag.

Thanks, mom, for watching little Boss.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Monday Monday

Monday morning, 6 am, nothing like the constant nagging of one tiny Italian woman to rouse two grown men out of bed to be on their bikes by 6:45. (note: but not before they both protested by eating cherry pie for breakfast)

Reluctantly at best the boys followed me with the plan - 2 hour hilly ride. We would search for the wizard one last time. But 10 minutes into our ride we realized the weather had other plans - rain. Steady annoying cold rain.

Isn't this southern California?

The best wishful thinking couldn't turn our ride into anything safe or fun. So we rode 1 hour easy along the coast and called it a day. Actually I called it coffee time - the best start to any day.

Now it is time to go home. The weekend was a success and we all trained safe. We enjoyed spending time with old friends and new friends.

Sherpa Thomas feels pretty good he says. Give it time. In two days he'll be bathing his saddle sores in medicated cream and wishing for an entire week off.

Chris says he feels "ok" - not terrible.

Liz says she feels tired but was so ready to ride today. There was a look in her eyes of BRING IT one last time. But alas all good training weekends must come to an end and it is time to return to the 'real world'. Ok, the COLD as heck Illinois tundra I call home.

Soon we will be back home, I will be back in the pool and the basement and with my dog. So long to San Diego and if you live in the area and find pieces of my legs along the road - please send them to my home.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Weekend Wizardry

The good news is I have found the wizard.

The bad news is that I have pronounced my legs dead.

You could say things in San Diego have gone very well.

My goal in coming to San Diego was to find the wizard. Actually not just find him but stuff him in my suitcase or at the very least bring bits and pieces of his robe back home.

My quest started on Friday with a canyon run. The wizard arrived early in the form of my husband who warmed up at a pace I will just call "snappy". Going into the wind, over the dirt trail chunky with rocks, banks, and steep hills. And, just for fun - sand. Which by the way is the ideal substance to start 6 x 1/2 mile cruise intervals on the way back. But I was determined not only to keep up with the wizard but even pass him. It required insanely fast leg turnover and discomfort I have not felt for quite some time. People often say to me that running doesn't feel good or feels hard - yes, that's because it's running. Running is hard. To run fast is hard. It hurts. It hurts in your feet, your chest, and your head. It hurts to run hard and fast.

11.25 miles and finally we were done. So we headed over to the hotel to find Sherpa Thomas by the pool with a hobo stick, a helmet and his bicycle. He was ready to ride. So we did an hour easy along the coast watching the ocean and just enjoying the ride.

Because on Saturday our ride would mean serious work. It was time to ride, it was time to climb. We warmed up along the coast and then headed out on La Costa towards Rancho Santa Fe. Early on I committed to not only finding but chasing the wizard. Because you cannot wait for him to come to you. People have said to me they cannot find the wizard - they have not seen him yet. But he is there. He lurks around every hard workout. But he is sneaky and will do everything he can to hide. If you truly want to find him you go looking. You climb hills seated in the big ring pushing out gobs of power just to make it to the top first to see if you can get a piece of that damn wizard's robe before any one else. I was warned early by Sherpa Thomas that I best climb in my smaller gear. Not today Thomas. No, I can climb seated and spin up "hills" in my basement all winter long. Today I'm taking the risk. I'm going to mash my gears and stomp those hills and if I have to carry my bike back to Del Mar at least I will walk knowing that I tried.

We finally enter the Elfin Forest. Chris takes the lead and decides we will descend into the forest fast. I am holding on to his rear wheel as best I can while steering my bike through the twists and turns. So fast that one of my bottles decides to leap to safety at 27 mph. I turn back to rescue the bottle and decide a new way to sneak rest during a hard ride is to say BOTTLE DOWN. No questions how it got down you just go back, stop, and get it.

The Elfin Forest is truly a beautiful place. There is a small stream running through the canyon and the sunlight falls dappled from the fragrant trees. We exit the forest and realize a street is closed on the rest of our route and so we decide to return through the forest in reverse.

Chris however takes that as his cue to drop the hammer. I suppose he is scared of dwarves, gumdrops, and other things you might find in the Elfin Forest and wanted to get the hell out of there fast. At that moment I realized that sometimes the wizard looks like the rear of my husband spinning at speeds over 25 mph over twists and turns, hills and flats. I tell myself I will do whatever it takes to hang on. I will put myself out there. I am pulling Sherpa Thomas through the forest, my legs are buzzing with pain, my eyes are ready to pop out of my head, and the wheels spin frenetically to stay with Chris. Occasionally we fall off and it takes massive amounts of pony power from my legs to get back on. But I always bridge that gap. Because falling off is not a choice - for long. Not today. Today I take risks, big risks and I may leave my legs on this ride in this forest but that's what I came here for.

The forest is over quicker than it feels and immediately upon exiting a giant hill greets us. I announce to Sherpa Thomas that my wheels have officially come off. I put it in the small ring and spin up the hill. We head back towards the coast and Chris does not let up. Thomas and I do our best to chase and at times we see nothing but the small fading figure of my husband pedaling far away. We finally reach the coast and ride easy back to Del Mar.

But it wasn't over yet. Oh no. Someone wants to climb Torrey Pines. Not a particularly hard climb but it's about 8 - 10 minutes of steady grind. And so we climb. Thomas and I get a head start which doesn't amount of much as Chris comes spinning by us like this hill is just a small bump along his way. We reach the top, descend and climb again. This time near the top I see a woman ahead. She is the wizard now. She has blue shorts and blond hair and I decide she will be mine. I stand and push, force the pedals to turn and come up to her side. And wouldn't you know the wizard picked the pace up. Dammit! She is matching my pace stroke for stroke with the pedals and I am getting close to explode. And rather than just take it over the edge I sit back down defeated.

Argh!

I am so aggravated with myself for being beat by the wizard that I descend again and this time force myself to climb it seated - all the way. Which means Sherpa Thomas passes me. And it takes me two minutes longer to climb. But I do it. And then Thomas rubs it in my sunburned face, "I beat you on the third time up." Thanks.

We ride to La Jolla Shores and decide at the 4 hour mark that surely it would be a great idea to descend into La Jolla and climb back out before retuning to Del Mar. We descend and climbing back up I wonder to myself whose idea this was. I make another turn climbing more and I think to myself maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all.

Finally we are done. 4.5 hours and the ride is done. We meet Cat for some swimming. Cat is one of my athletes and she is as snappy and witty as she comes across in her e-mail. Somehow I talked her, Thomas, and Chris into doing 16 x 25 IM order. Which meant she and Thomas had to first try doing the strokes in IM. And guess what. They liked it. They did it very well! Two more butterfly converts and one happy e.l.f.

Sunday started off sore. I won't lie about that. But I didn't come here to feel good about myself. Or leave without sore. We watched Meredith run the Carlsbad half marathon (2:02! A PR!). Also saw Joanna Zeiger and Michellie Jones running the race. And Jeff. Good job to Jeff for holding his pace!

Afterwards we started our training day with a 30 minute run up the coast. Warmed up 15 minutes then decided I would take today's leap of faith - drop the pace. The wizard woke me up this morning saying today your legs will be tired you'll never be able to hold a strong pace. I showed him the best strong pace I had. Left the boys behind and said score one for the e.l.f.

Next we rode up to Camp Pendleton. It's windy, it's rolling. It reminds me of riding at home in the cornfield roads. The roads are nice for longer intervals as they are mostly flat with about 3 moderately steep but short climbs. We did 3 x 15 minute intervals. We all started together but then Chris just pulled away leaving Thomas and I. But that was ok. He stayed at my side during intervals pushing me to push harder. At the third interval I passed Thomas who was shouting something about finding Chris to "stop the madness" - I think it was safe to say his wheels had officially come off.

We rode back from Pendleton along the coast - it was an easy, beautiful ride. No traffic because everyone was inside watching the football game. All in all 3.25 hours; when we got back Meredith said "now you guys have a 30 minute run." Super.

The plan was to push the first mile HARD (fear when the coach puts it in all caps) and then finish up the rest moderate. We set out together and Chris set the pace at HARD. It was hard. As in sub 6:00/mile pace hard but I wasn't about to boo hoo about it. No, there was the wizard again running right in front of me and this time I am going to chase, chase hard and I will catch up. I chased. For one mile I pounded down the street until we reached the beach and ran more. 1 mile down now the rest to enjoy - sort of. It was low tide but running on sand is always a bit of a challenge. The pace was still fast but it felt good.

When we were done we were done. We wanted food. We wanted rest. Many pretzels were consumed. Even some corn chips. There was talk of tired legs. And watts. Heart rate. The talk of athletes who have spent a weekend chasing their own personal wizards. I believe Chris found his on the third time up a big climb. I have found mine in bits and pieces along the way. And Thomas, he's convinced he saw three Hershey's kisses alongside the road in the Elfin Forest. Along with a lollipop princess and man with a sword.

But to each his own. And tomorrow is another day. We will ride. And run. We will find the wizard one more time before stuffing him in the suitcase and heading back home.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Heart of It

In the past week I have gotten three of the same questions from athletes about heart rate.

In each case, the athlete had been reading other blogs. And they read that some athletes are training at higher heart rates or have higher heart rate zones. So they started to wonder if something was wrong with their heart rate because it wasn’t as high or if it indicated they were not as fit.

The answer is no.

Heart rate is highly individual. Meaning that two individuals of roughly the same age, fitness level, even gender will not have the same heart rate. Maximum heart rate is determined mostly by genetics. Your heart rate on any given day can be influenced by dehydration, altitude, age, fatigue among other things. But max heart rate likely will not change.

Having a higher heart rate (or higher heart rate zones) does not indicate a higher level of fitness or speed. Let’s see how this works:

Two males, roughly the same age, both fit. One is my husband, the other is a friend I have coached for a few years:

Chris’ max HR on the run 192 bpm
Marcus’ max HR on the run is 154 bpm

If you look at warming up in the Zone 1 heart rate zone – Chris is still in Zone 1 at 160 bpm whereas Marcus is warmed up around 124 bpm.

What does all of this mean? Chris and Marcus are different people and therefore have different heart rates. The fact that Marcus has a lower heart rate has no impact on his speed as Chris and Marcus ran within 10 seconds of each other at the same 5K.

The variance in heart rate is amazing. How we can all be human but all be designed so differently. Here are some examples of how heart rate can differ:

Marcus (M30-34) = 154 bpm
TS (M60-64) = 155 bpm
The ELF (F30-34) = 184 bpm
Chris (M35-39) = 192 bpm
RK (F20-24)= 194 bpm

As you can see, there is quite a range that crosses the lines of age and gender. It is important to note that each of these individuals is very fit – and their heart rate is not an indicator of their fitness. And so, that is why comparing heart rates or heart rate zones doesn’t make much sense. We are all different.

Not only are we different in how we are built – but our efficiency and economy in each sport is different too. Meaning that I may be able to hold a faster pace in Zone 1 because I am more efficient – whereas another athlete may fatigue quicker because of form sending their heart rate into a different zone at the same pace. That is why you also cannot compare heart rate zones to another individual or even heart rate zones to pace.

It is important to also note that heart rate will vary by sport. Your heart rate in cycling may be 10 – 15 beats lower than running. Swimming may be 10 – 15 beats lower than cycling. This is not indicative of your fitness rather the work your body needs to do in each sport. Running is obviously the most strenuous, followed by cycling, and followed by swimming which requires no weight bearing at all (easier on the heart).

Keep in mind that heart rate will also fluctuate day to day. This is where those fancy little GPS watches can actually drive you nuts more than anything else. Yesterday I went for a run. There was a two-and-a-half minute variance in my pace in the same heart rate zone (Zone 1). Why? Well, there were hills, and wind, and it was cold, and I may have been tired, or……who knows. This is why it is difficult to use both pace and heart rate in the same training session. There is a time to obsess over pace – that is on the track, on a tempo run, on a long run, during time trial intervals. All other runs and rides – let it go. Go by heart rate, go by time – let go of distance and speed.

Other factors: Heart rate is also affected by hydration. If you find your heart rate goes up the longer the workout goes on – you are likely not hydrating enough. Heart rate is also affected by fatigue. If you cannot get your heart rate up, you are likely tired. Back off or call it a day. Heart rate is also affected by distance over time. If you are on hour number 5 of a 7 hour ride my guess is you are stuck somewhere in Zone 2. There is a limit as to how long you can work in Zones 3 and above.

In sum, it’s not that your heart rate will go higher as you get fit. Rather it is your ability to produce more work output at that same heart rate. As you become more fit, you can essentially go faster at any given heart rate. You teach your body to do this by training appropriately in your zones; this is why building aerobic capacity and efficiency in Zones 1 – 2 at this time of the year is so important.

As athletes, I know we have strong feelings about numbers. To some extent, how fast and far we go is a measure of our self-worth in sport. It’s important to us. But at times you just have to let it go, accept that it will change (day to day) and some days you’ll be fast and other days you’ll be…slow. Day to day numbers don’t matter. And the best athletes let the numbers go. They realize that it is patterns and consistency over time that count not numbers from each swim, bike, run.

Be cautious about comparing numbers across blogs. The nuts and bolts of another athlete’s training doesn’t really have much relevance to anyone else – except that athlete. Numbers really don’t mean much. What counts is what you do on race day. I have never shown up to a race and known that it would take a xx:xx 10K to win. Pace, numbers – don’t really count. What counts is how you respond to the race day – the conditions, the weather, the competition and yourself.

The next time you train – rather than worrying how fast how fast how fast how about worrying about how to climb that hill more efficiently or correct flaws in your form or smooth out your pedal stroke or have someone watch your swim stroke. Added up these are things that will make you fast in numbers. That is how you get to the heart of getting fast.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Guilty As Charged

With all of the training I do what hurts the most is the guilt.

Last night I felt the guilt. I had misread a workout and dismounted my bike 15 minutes early. Not a big deal per se but to me – well, it was. If you tell me to run 45 minutes I will circle my neighborhood until I get it done. If you tell me to do 3 x 5 minutes intervals I will push only 1 second further than 4:59. Perhaps this is obedience. Perhaps this is respect for my coach who put the time to think through my schedule and plan something with purpose. Or perhaps it is just respect and high expectations for myself.

Or perhaps it is…guilt.

When I let myself down and cut something short for no good reason at all (note: good reasons would be illness, injury, family, circumstances beyond my control), there is guilt. Guilt is a funny feeling. For the most part it is truly personal emotion that comes from within. But once it sets in it may as well be a heavy chain hanging around your neck.

In a sense the guilt is really just a way of policing myself – from making bad choices. It’s the system that I have in place to make me second guess everything that rides that fine line of good or bad. It keeps me on the straight path and reminds me that there is only one way – the hard way – to get where I want to go.

In training, I believe it is guilt that drives me to be my best. To follow the training program and stay on track. I would never, ever skip a workout. It’s not even a choice. First of all, my goals are important to me and I’m going to do whatever I can within my control to reach them. Secondly, why would I pay someone (my coach) to ignore them? Third, there is no shortcut to success – you can’t skip workouts and expect to simply arrive at your goal 6 months later. Last, it’s a slippery slope. It’s like letting yourself walk in a race. Once you take that first step, what’s to stop you from taking more? Once you skip one workout, what is to keep you from doing it again?

If I did any of these things – ditched my goals – ignored my coach – skipped a workout – I would feel GUILT.

And to some degree (even if you have a coach) you have to police yourself. You have to put up the guilt filter and funnel every decision in sport and training through it. There has to be a consequence and that consequence comes best from yourself. Because the commitment to your goals came from yourself. No one else needs you to reach your goals this year. And the only thing that is stopping you is likely yourself.

Maybe then what keeps me committed is the guilt. The guilt of performing poorly because of myself. The guilt of giving less than 100 percent of myself. The guilt of letting myself down more than anything else.

By definition, guilt is remorse caused by being responsible for an offense. When you commit to your goals, skipping the work to reach them becomes perceived as an offense, something that is wrong. Something is right or wrong when it’s part of your belief system. Your belief system is who you believe you are and who you believe you can be. Perhaps it’s the age group winner, a national champion, Kona finisher, etc. When it is in your belief system, it matters to you. You make the choices that matter for yourself. You are responsible for yourself. Ultimately you are responsible for your success. So when you make a poor choice that steers you from success, there is guilt.

So you can sort of see how this guilt – it’s a good thing. Because again, something has to police ourselves. Sure, 15 minutes on the bike wasn’t really much compared to the rest of what I did yesterday. And it wasn’t really the 15 minutes – it was what they represented. Commitment, following through, dedication, sacrificing now to set myself up for success later. Trust me, I didn’t need 15 more minutes. I was on workout #3 of the day. And that’s why it mattered even more. If I give up when it’s already been a really tough day, what does that say about myself? What will I do at mile 11 of the 13.1 mile run when someone has run up behind me and threatens my place? What will I do in those last 15 minutes? Blow them off? Say screw it and walk to the line? Go home to sit on the couch instead?

No, I’m finishing it up, I am going to follow through, I will push to the end. So to skip those 15 minutes yesterday and give up was not really a choice. Because of the guilt. The guilt that comes from myself. The guilt of doing things half ass or short of finish. The guilt of giving up. The guilt of getting in my own way. The guilt of wanting to achieve x, y and z this season but not just doing the workout as planned. The guilt of letting success run away from me when it’s right in my hands.

Each day we make choices about ourselves. We choose the food we eat, the rest we get, the commitment to which we give to our training plan. Something has to police this process. And sometimes it is guilt. Guilt is not a bad thing. I think we try to make it a bad thing because we feel guilty about the guilt. We have this warm fuzzy attitude that you should walk around smiley, happy, love yourself, be satisfied with yourself, be happy with who you are and what you do even even if it is.....half ass.


Buck up campers. Sometimes it takes more than that. Sometimes you need a good kick from a dose of guilt. It reminds you of what you are trying to achieve and what it takes to get there. The road to success isn’t paved with smiles and warm fuzzy thoughts. There has to be hard work somewhere along the way. And even if there isn’t, you should at least believe that there is. So that way when you try to skip the hard work guilt will set in and remind you to get your ass on your bike and get over yourself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

SAN DIEGO!

SAN DIEGO!

SAN DIEGO!

SAN DIEGO!

Yes at the end of this week I will be in SAN DIEGO!

I can’t wait.

As long as the sun is shining, my bike arrives, and the ocean is still there I would consider the trip a huge success.

There are things I must do when I am out there. Obsessive compulsive San Diego behavior. I must eat bagels and drink coffee while watching the ocean at that little cliffside park. I must run at the canyon. I must ride through the Elfin Forest (not because it’s particularly exciting but because, come on…ELF, elfin forest, it’s where I belong), I must swim in an outdoor pool – IN JANURY! –I must go into the little surfer wear shops and buy something totally inappropriate to wear at my age. I must drink coffee. I think I already said that. I must go hottie spotting outside the Starbucks. I must run on the beach. I must ride. And ride a lot. Up hills and maybe mountains. Drink sports drink. Perhaps revisit the Ironman nutrition plan.

Ew. I just go the chills. And a warm sensation in my mouth preceeding a hefty barf. Scratch the IM nutrition plan. I will just stick with….gels.

Joining us will be Sherpa Thomas of Kona-sherpa-duty-fame. I have just learned that I have been granted permission to sleep next to Thomas. Hey it was either me or Chris and I guess there’s something not so right with two men in a bed (those aren’t pillows!). This is good for me, not so good for Thomas. You see, I like to do secret training in my sleep which means there is a very good chance I will kick Thomas…all night long.

Sherpa Thomas says we must swim in the ocean. But the last time I attempted this in January at La Jolla Cove a few things happened:

I put on my wetsuit.
I put my big toe into the ocean.
I pulled my (cold) big toe out of the ocean.
I stood and looked at the ocean.
I look at the buoy in the cove.
I decided I could swim out and back to the buoy.
I finally put myself up to my knees into the ocean.
I launched myself – against my will – into the ocean.
I did a few breaststroke kicks.
I put my face into the water.
I looked down.
I saw rocks.
I decided I did not like rocks.
I swam back out of the ocean.
I decided I did not need to swim in the ocean.

This entire decision-making process took 30 minutes. So, the ocean swim, we’ll see how that goes. But everything that does not involve cold water and rocks, I’m all for it. And aside from swimming, biking and running - things that will likely happen during my four day stay:


*I will get hit by a rogue Frisbee while running on the beach
*I will balk at a minimum of one highly overpriced item on a menu
*I will get passed by some man twice my age wearing his bib shorts over his jersey riding a Bianchi
*I will wake up in the middle of the night sweating bullets because Dit has cranked the heat up to 90 degrees
*My stomach will drop in the middle of the canyon requiring me to make friends with a smooth rock

And one thing is always for sure – I will, I will at some point see the wizard. In fact, I can’t wait. Other than the sun the one thing I really want to see is the wizard. Because I’ve been working hard lately. I’ve been hitting rock bottom. I have found new low low lows and I know when I find him I will be ready to give him a piece of my mind.

So if anyone lives in the San Diego area and has seen the wizard lately – tell him I’m coming for him. I’m going to look far up into his sleeve. And I’m not going back home without a piece of his freakin’ robe in my hand.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Adult Swim

And so you are wondering. About the intrasquad swim meet. How did it go.

I arrived at the pool to find I have forgotten my goggles. Super. The only thing I am really picky about and really need I have forgotten. So I ask Drew for goggles. He pulls out an extra pair and then proceeds to tell me about twenty minutes worth of directions on how to put them on. Seriously? So I try to put them on and he’s right. I mean, these goggles are something else. He gives me the directions again and tries to talk me through it and I swear ten minutes later the goggles are still not on so I just ask if he has another pair of goggles that do not require a PhD to put on to your head.

Leave it to husband to have such a pair. No surprise.

So then I am assigned to what surely would be the winning team. Maybe not but it was the team that Dave wasn’t on and that’s good because the night before Dave and I had decided to talk “staged” trash in an effort to get the team riled up. Which involved a bunch of finger pointing and finish time barbs. When he got of the lane after doing 100 breaststroke in 1:10:09 I told him I would have gone faster. I would have gone 1:09.

But you can’t talk trash without yourself getting in to deliver. So I signed up for what seemed like a dozen events. Of course I’m not half the swimmer most of the swimmers on our team are so thank god I ended up in the second heat of most events. When I thought I was mistakenly put into the first heat of the 100 free I shouted I DO NOT BELONG IN THIS HEAT but then the coach informed me I know that’s why we switched you into the next (code for: remedial) one.

Thank you.

I warmed up 1000 yards and then stood on the deck. First event. 200 medley relay. Opted out of that one. Not sure what it even entails. A swim and a song. Who knows. Ok, next event. 100 open. Yes, I report to the deck, I will do 100 IM.

Wait a minute, the coach says. You will do 100 IM? Disbelief. I know, there is something fundamentally wrong about this but yes, me, 100 IM. A raised eyebrow.

“Lane 5.”

100 IM. I dive, dolphin kick, kick, kick, breathe, kick, arms, breathe. One down, 25 fly. Backstroke. This should be easier. My head is out of the water. This is not easier. WHY IS THIS NOT EASIER? Now on to breaststroke. A little problem here – I don’t do breaststroke legs. But I can dolphin kick with breaststroke arms. Ok, good, good, now a two hand touch. On to free. Free feels like home. And then I’m home.

I get out of the pool. Two people are in front of me.

You have been double disqualified.

Oh for the love of the dryland will you at least let me catch my breath. And isn’t this just for fun? Crazy swimmers. Get a hold of yourselves. And what is this talk of disqualification. I swam the whole way. Apparently I did dolphin kick during breaststroke (yes, I know) and apparently you cannot flip to your stomach during backstroke before you hit the wall. First of all – I can’t believe they were watching me. Second of all – must we get lost in the details of how I got to the wall after 100 yards, can’t we just be happy I got to the wall at all. And third – how will I know where the wall is if I can’t turn around. Hmmph?

No one answers my imaginary questions. But they do tell me my time. That’s a good time for 100 IM. I look at the stopwatch. I have no clue what this means. Tell me this – what did my husband swim. Ok, I was 9 seconds slower. That’s all that counts. Next time we swim 100 IM I will kick his ass. A benchmark has been set. The other day I said to him I will beat you this year. He said in what? I said never you mind just know that somewhere along the way it will happen.

He laughed. That was probably the most appropriate response.

Next up – 200 free. Is there any worse event than 200 free? Not short enough to sprint, not long enough to feel like you have permission to go slow. I’m in the fast heat which means I am about half a length behind everyone else and still reeling from 100 IM. Husband is ahead of me by at least 12 yards. I am the worst 200 free-er ever. EVER! I hate this event. HATE IT! Know what that means? I am going to have to do it at the real swim meet in three weeks. Rule of the pool: that which we hate is really that which we need most.

Next up – 50 open. I choose 50 fly. I know - why? I don’t know. Why not. I have nothing more to say about this event other than…50 fly.

Next up – 50 free. An event built for me. Dive in and bolt! No breathing necessary just spin those arms and kick those legs. But after 50 fly there is not much left in the tank so my time is only one second faster than at practice.

One second
(I have found just found a numerical value worse than 4 watts).

100 free. Realistically I should do this fast. I love this event. Bolt for 25, bolt for another 25, bolt even harder for 25 and then kick it all the way in. But if you add up 100 IM + 200 free + 50 open + 50 fly you get……a – 400 percent chance that you will break your best 100 free time. But that is ok. Did I mention I did 50 fly?

Last event – 200 free relay. I choose to go last. I will be the anchor! I dive in and do my best imitation of windmill arms no breath. I emerge from the water, a woman walks up to me and says “I have never seen anyone turn their arms over that fast.” I know, I’m something special when it comes to swimming what can I say.

The meet is over. I have no idea which team won because we weren’t really doing it for the win. It was fun. Good old Friday night fun. And to think people go to bars to drink beer from plastic cups. We swim. As adults we could be anywhere on a Friday night. We choose the pool for a little friendly competition, a little trash talk and some relays.


This is why I love to swim.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dirty Words

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of dirty words.

Words like hypoxic, threshold, no-breath-off-the-wall or my least favorite lately which I seem to keep seeing over and over again…..repeat.

Dirty words that have been swimming around the pool lately. And I’ve been doing a lot of swimming in the pool. And as I hopped into the pool today when the coach put the workout sheet down by our lane there it was, another dirty word. At top in big, black, bold letters I see the word:

LACTATE

A dirty word. Because what it means is that you are going to do something hard, fast, and repeat, repeat, repeat. And it seems like every time I get into the pool lately it’s something about lactate or threshold or IM reverse repeats or my personal favorite when I showed up to masters on Monday and learned that it had been declared “Fly Week”.

Super. Not just a dirty word – fly – but an entire dirty week.

And so all week, these past few weeks I’ve been swimming dirty at threshold, seeing stars, 12 x 200 on 10 seconds rest, 3 x 100 fly repeat, 4 x 400 as 200 all out 200 tempo, did we really just swim 4700 yards in that time, eight dolphin kicks off the wall before you can breathe, 8 x 25 underwater no breathing, and my personal favorite…25 fly no breath.

No breath?

NO BREATH.

*I have now declared “no breath” a dirty word*

But back to tonight – a serving of lactate on a silver platter which doesn’t make the dirty word any more clean. 8 x 200, by 50, 10 seconds rest. Repeat. Repeat, repeat some more.

But first a warm up of 400 with some breaststroke, backstroke, some fly. After all, it’s still fly week and there is much more dolphin kicking to do. Thinking dirty lactate set impending thoughts in the middle of 200 streamline fly kick, I almost swim smack into Jugs Magoo. Yes, she’s my friends and yes, she’s back in the pool after a one year sabbatical from all things fit. Search back into my archives you’ll find tales of a friend who did IM a few years ago, the friend that had me saying I’ve heard of people doing strange things after Ironman but the boob job is all together something else. And it is. It was. They are. I’m sorry, that’s the boobs talking, not me. And now she is back, and there she is standing at the wall which I realize as I nearly swim into the twins of Jugs Magoo.

She is the perfect partner for this lactate set.

The coach tells me to lead and I almost miss the start. I am too busy wondering if Jug’s jugs would be better off in their own lane. Come on, Jugs, I couldn’t resist that one, this pool is swimming with dirty talk (Lactate! Kick! Hurt! Hard! Streamline! Push! Fast!). So I barely get my goggles on in time to start the first set. After 4 we come in and all agree that the first 4 50’s already hurt. That the rest after each 50 is really just a joke. Nothing big is accomplished in 10 seconds and certainly nothing close to “rest”. 4 x 50, 50’s are hard, at the hardest pace we can maintain 32 times.

32 times?

Yes, 32. Dammit, someone in our lane did the math. I think it was Jugs. That’s what I get for talking dirty about her twins. She reminds us we are not doing 8 x 200 nor 8 200’s broken with 4 50’s. We are doing 32, count them 32 50’s in case it didn’t feel the same. Well it didn’t. Because I went off on the next one thinking I have 20 more 50’s to go.

32 becomes a new dirty word.

And after about 12 of them I start thinking my own dirty words. Dammit this hurts. Damn my triceps I think they are going to detach. Dammit that is my lunch coming back up. Dammit I still have……18 more to go.

The lactate is building and we are swimming close now to our threshold. Around 20 someone says this hurts while Jugs and I stand at the wall. She starts to unravel, saying she might do the last 3 as kick. We exchange dirty thoughts. She threatens to switch lanes. I tell her she is only in our lane by default to which she replies mumbling under her breath that I am going straight to hell.

For that, I pick up the pace on the next set.

We are almost done. I am determined on #7 to make it my fastest set yet. And if I can make #7 fast can I make #8 faster? I do. I did. The dirty words, they are all done. Along with this set. No more lactate, or repeat, no breath, monster sets, and this is also nearly the end of the week of fly.

I cool down and then sit in the hot tub. The swim work for the day is done. And for now, there are only calm, quiet words. But tomorrow is the intrasquad meet. And I have already announced to Chris that I will be swimming 200 free, 100 free, 50 free, 50 fly, relays and 100 IM.

100 IM. You see that used to be a dirty word. Until I decided I was going to learn to do it and do it right. In the past few months with the 100 IM I’ve come clean. And so I wonder if tomorrow they’ll have 200 IM? And am I ready to turn that dirty word into something clean? I am and I’ll say it – 200 IM – you can wash my mouth out with soap and count me clean.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Of Chicken Wings & String

The other day Chris and I were talking about Boss and what an exciting little life he must have. Playing with squeaky duck, barking at the mystery item across the street, looking for fallout on the kitchen floor, pulling blankets out of his crate, chasing strings around the house and the ever so exciting chicken wing. Such an exciting life that if Boss wrote his own memoir it would be called Of Chicken Wings and Strings.

It was a few weeks ago when an unusually warm day turned the snow into watery slush in the gutters and on the grass. This was back before we realized Boss had taken to his new behavior – bolt – when Chris took him outside. More than five minutes later, I heard Chris bolt himself through the front door and run to the back door.

I thought nothing of it because this is Chris and he is prone to doing very bizarre things. There is no other way to put it. Even my mom noticed it – the other day she said “he is just a funny guy.” I know, mom, that’s why I married him and I can’t put my finger on what exactly is funny but then I think of things like this. Like Chris bolting through the house in one and out another door.

I hear patio door slide open but it does not close. Now, being the highly entertainable wife I am I keep my ear on this situation because it’s about to resolve itself in a very funny way. I hear Chris return through the door, this time presumably with Boss, while he shouts “and now you need a bath you bad little muddy dog, Liz will be mad.”

Mad? I don’t know. Curious, really. So I walk downstairs, feign like I know nothing of this situation and ask Chris why Boss is all wet.

“For no reason.”

Obviously. But honestly. That’s not what the trails of muddy paws from the patio door said. Really, what happened.

“Oh nothing.”

There is 6 pounds of wet fur running around my kitchen. Don’t tell me nothing happened. So then he confesses. The result of ancient Italian torture by nagging woman which always works.

Chris tells a tale of bringing Boss outside off the leash. No sooner does Boss decide the unseasonably warm day is the perfect day to bolt. Around the neighborhood. About a dozen times.

But that doesn’t explain the wet fur. What next?

Well, he ran to the field behind the house. Which required Chris to run through our house to quickly catch Boss. This doesn’t make mathematical sense to me but I go with it, like there’s a time warp you enter in running through our house. But there isn’t. So once in the field Boss decided it would be fun to tumble in the mud.

And the wet fur?

Naturally once he was caught he needed a bath. To wipe of evidence of mud and sauce from the Hooters chicken wing.

Wait, the Hooters chicken wing?


Yes, apparently Boss found a chicken wing alongside the road and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. Or Hooters. Your call. So he grabs the chicken wing and runs around the neighborhood a few times getting mud on his paws and sauce on his fur. That – that is why he needed a bath.

I want you to imagine a 160 pound man chasing a 6 pound dog with a chicken wing. Around a neighborhood. Multiple times. And for the record – how did he know it was from Hooters? I suspect something only a man would know.

I am in tears.

Of laughter and of new law. New law that Boss must be leashed when outdoors at all times. Because we can’t have another chicken wing incident though he’s tried. He’s tried. But the leash he really doesn’t mind. Because it fits nicely into the category of strings. And chasing all things string is what he does best.

So the other day we took Boss to the dog park to give him some freedom off his big string, the leash. We are dog park virgins and not prepared for the complex decision making process ahead. We are faced with two gates. Behind one gate you see a large fenced area with packs of large dogs fetching balls and sticks. On the other gate, we see a sign:

“Dogs under 25 lbs.”

There are no dogs behind that gate.

But Boss is too little to play with bigger dogs so sadly we push open the gate and go in. We take Boss off the leash and he likely thinks this is a trick. They are testing me, he thinks. So he sits in a large puddle and looks at us for a clue. When we tell him to play he goes to a bunch of weeds. Sniffs around. Finds some piles of poo (but not to be trusted around them as he is the world’s smallest turd burglar).

He keeps walking to the gate that is shared by the field for larger dogs. He eyes the other dogs longingly and seems to want to play. So we take a risk. Put Boss back on the leash, take him to the other side for larger dogs. Immediately the larger dogs are enthused. They quickly approach Boss and sniff him. Boss is scared. He sits with ears back looking up at me. He is no longer the big dog.

And that’s a good lesson for him to learn. Because with smaller dogs he can be a big bully. He harasses Chewie and IChi like he is twice their size; steals their toys, takes their bones, even goes into IChi’s safe place and you never, ever go into a dog’s safe place.

So Boss has a few lessons to learn. Starting today. A Bernese Mountain Dog walks up to Boss and says “I got chunks of dogs like in my stool.” Boss runs the other way. I don’t blame him. That dog probably had chunks of things bigger than me in his stool. After being sniffed by a Beagle, a Black Lab, Australian Shepherd Dog, a pack of Border Collies belonging to a man who politely informed us that there is an area for small dogs over there (gee thanks), Boss wants to go back to the small dog gate.

We let him in again and this time he runs free off the leash. He bolts. Runs around a tree, another tree, across the field. He is all by himself but he doesn’t care. He runs through the mud, the gravel, the grass. By the end his stomach is covered in black and gray grit. The hazards of being so low to the ground. After about 10 minutes, he is done.


So we take him home and give him a bath. Give him a bacon bone and call it a day. A good day, in the life of Boss. And so there it is – a brief chapter from Boss’ memoir Of Chicken Wings & Strings. And Dog Parks. Soon to be on the best seller list.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A Different Beet

Monday night at 5:30 pm I went to the grocery store.

It was such a rookie mistake.

Here I am, first real week in the new year, stay at home dog mom coach pro with the entire day to go grocery shopping and I save it until 5:30 pm. Yes that is how much I love the grocery store.

Usually the grocery store means Trader Joe’s. But I am on Trader Joe’s hiatus. I can’t take that store any more. Call me a cynic but everyone in there is just too damn happy to be working at the cash register and everything in the store is just too damn good for you. Plus I started to notice my cheap trips to the store started becoming more and more expensive because I wanted things like pomegranate seeds or Argentinian wine, halibut, Irish cheese.

I don’t need pomegranate seeds.


So it’s back to the basics, back to the generic everyday people grocery store. Empire of processed foods in highly attractive and colorful boxes. Where everything good for you costs ten dollars and everything bad for you is dirt cheap.

I couldn’t wait.

There I was rolling in to the store. And I notice I am one of three people in there. Is there something I should know? Is the store closed? No, no. But no sooner did I wheel my wagon over to the produce section did I understand. It was Monday. 5:30 pm. In the grocery store.

The store had been trashed.

Stripped and pillaged of all healthy foods. For the love of all things green there wasn’t a bag of spinach in that store. Nor orange peppers. Nor on the vine tomatoes. And bananas – saddest bunch of bananas I’ve ever seen.

But I needed them. And I settled for the ten for ten dollars mangoes. Some oranges. And guess squash isn’t a big hit because there’s plenty there. Wheeled my way through some cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, noodles, beans, and then stood and look at the butter for some time. Butter would be good. Butter tastes good. Butter is good on things like waffles and pancakes. Look at all this butter. Look at those little round tubs. I need some butter. Butter come here.

You don’t need butter.


I rolled the other way. This store is one big marketing trap. Everything, I swear EVERYTHING is making eyes at me. The crumb cake. The donuts. Even caught the coffee looking my way. Almost forgot what I really came there for oh, food, food I might call fit for me to eat. Do you have such food here?

This type of food was proving much harder to find than I thought. Not a big fan of the high fructose corn syrup and almost threw the box when I found out it was even hiding in Special K. Come on, freakin’ Special K. There is nothing sweet or tasty about those flakes, ‘k?. My usual Trader Joe’s cereal – sure it was on the shelf for a reasonable FIVE DOLLARS a box. And I’m not spending five dollars on cereal. Maybe on pomegranate seeds but cereal – no way.

It was at this point I started to feel bad. I felt like I was cheating on Trader Joe’s. I imagined it’s little aisles and section of plastic bagged nuts and dried fruit. The peppy cashiers in Hawaiian wear. The little bell they ring. I wanted to abandon this cart and head right over there.

But it’s rush hour and there’s no way I’m driving across town. Disgruntled. I grab a loaf of bread and head to the checkout line. Greeted by cashier. Fashionably young, probably in high school, probably hates being a cashier. He gets through most of the items easily but the bag of Medjool dates – completely threw him for a loop.

“What are these?”
he asks.

“Dates,” I say. You think they would have covered this in cashier school. How to identify the products that we sell in the store or something like that.

“Beets?” he asks.

Beets? Are you kidding me. How could you confuse a date with a beet. They look nothing alike. One is a large bulbous hardly edible purple root, one is a brown wrinkly fruit.

DATES,” I clarified. Dates, child, DATES. Have you not had dates? Not a date – clearly we know the answer to that – but the food item of dates.
But back to the beets. Wait a minute – is it possible – could it be – that this kid has never had beets?

“You’ve never had beets?” I asked – I was curious.

“No,” he quickly admitted with a snarky tone.

No beets? I’m dumbfounded, amazed. NO to the beets? This kid was half my age and surely he has been through dinner times with parents enough to have encountered the beet.

No beets,” he said again.

My mouth drops open. No. No, I think with an utter of surprise. Impossible. How did you get past your parents? What on earth were you fed? If not vegetables that only adults should be allowed to buy and eat – what did you eat? You lived on macaroni and cheese. And spaghettio’s. Didn’t you. You lucky bastard.

Am I the only one that was tortured as a child with food? Am I the only one that dreaded dinner time to sit down and find a loving and oversized spoonful of brussel sprouts, beets, three bean salad or – oh no, no it can’t be please don’t say it – RATATOUILLE on my plate with direct orders to finish my plate before I asking to be done.

You see it wasn’t dinner time at our house. It was character building time. It was you’ll eat the horseradish because it will put hair on your chest time.

But I don’t want hair on my chest.

YOU’LL EAT IT ANYWAY!

And there it sat. On your plate. You, the plate, the plate, you, looking back and forth at each other. Across the table your brother sits, the same fate, looking at the food and his plate and catching your eye but you dare not make eye contact lest he thinks you will cut a deal and eat the beets tonight if he would just take this ratatouille off the plate.

But that was never the case. And dinner times went on like this day after day after day. Until one day you were an adult and realized there are things in life you like and don’t like. And sometimes you have to do what you don’t like to get what you like. And sometimes you just do what you don’t like because that’s life. You can’t always eat cake and sometimes you have to suck it up, eat the ratatouille and get on with your day.

But this kid – behind the register – never had beets. Probably never had brussel sprouts. Probably never had to eat fish to spit out in napkin and throw it away to hide from your parents who have threatened to never serve you anything but beets again if you don’t eat all of your fish. No, this kid never had beets. Never seen a date. Probably never been on a date.

In the midst of my childhood torture by food flashback, the cashier finished ringing up my dates. And he stood there with a smile. I think he realized that he was the winner here. He might be 16 years old stuck behind a register but he had made it through life without eating beets. Or dates or probably anything that stared at you from a plate over and over again. And could avoid the moment at 32 when you realize you were force fed disgusting foods while the rest of the good world was eating butter and sugar covered macaroni and cheese.

Life is so unfair. And to avoid reminders of this I will return to Trader Joe’s. Because around there people seem to march to a different beat. Know what I mean? And somehow I have a feeling that everyone there has stared down a plate of beets. Has eaten a medjool date. Has hair on their chest. And understands where I’m coming from.