Sunday, March 30, 2008

Epic Once Again

Today was another epic day. I know it is suspect to have two epic days in the span of four days but trust me we had the best triple today.

The plan originally was to start today with a ride. However, apparently it does rain in southern California and the roads were slick. Much to Thomas' dismay, I decided we should start with masters swim instead.

We swam at some swanky YMCA. It has one of the cleanest and biggest competition pools I have ever seen at a YMCA. And the masters group was very friendly. One thing I really enjoy about masters in California is that they do everything off of base pace. Not what you could swim in high school, not what you think you can swim, not where your best friend swims - a base pace.

Thomas and I stood on deck trying to sort ourselves into a lane. The coach explained the first lane sent off their 100's on 1:15. While trying to sort myself out, I looked into the pool and recognized the red hair and Zoot cap of a certain world champion and Ironman Hawaii runner up. Thomas had no idea who I was talking about whereas I almost soiled myself saying that is Samantha M. in that lane.

Very exciting that she was in the pool. However, she was in the fourth lane. It it not good when Sam McGlone is in the fourth of six masters lanes. At that point I was wondering if I should put myself in the therapy pool with the aquacisers as to avoid getting swum over in every other lane.

Finally I put myself into a lane. After warming up, I realized I was in the wrong lane. I noticed Thomas in the faster lane and got a bit envious at how they were moving. So I said that's it. I don't care if I get swum over, lapped or foot tapped I am going in that lane - ducked under the lane and hung on to their 1000 yard train.

That is when I realized I was swimming in S. McGlone's lane. Nevermind that she did a race yesterday or that she could lap me in a 200 on any other day. She and I were sharing bubbles in the same lane. I might have just peed myself in the lane. And when it was my turn to lead 100 yards of the 1000 yard train with her two swimmers behind me I said to myself you are pulling S. McGlone's lane. I told myself to remember this feeling forever of being smooth, strong and on top of the water - effortlessly pulling the lane.

The rest of the workout was a whir of 4500 yards including some 200's on the 2:40. I have no idea how I pulled that off but remember at one point hanging on to the wall for dear life for 50 yards just to get some air before I jumped in again. Then I got mad at myself for giving up for 50 yards - but some lessons are hard learned, a scolding of yourself to make sure you never let it happen again.

Afterwards, we geared up for our 3 hour ride with Brad. Brad planned a beatifully challenging route inland. We rode from his place down some hills before arriving near Del Dios. My legs were exhausted from the past four days. As we began to climb Del Dios, I sat behind Thomas and Brad protecting me from the wind. Up the hill I sat there spinning comfortably when I finally just said to myself make your move. I had no idea if my legs would respond or how long I would last but I took off. Up the hill, pushing hard and killing my legs. Sometimes I feel when you think you are going hard you are not really going hard. It is good to take a chance and make a move to show yourself how hard is hard. And I found it. I found my hard today.

We arrived at the Elfin Forest to do our intervals. 2 x 20 minutes. Before starting, Thomas stopped for quick break while Brad and I went ahead. As soon as we entered the forest I said "giddy up" to Brad and took off. Again, it was time to make a move and while going uphill and into the wind would be hard to hold them off I told myself I had to try.

It took 10 minutes of making it hurt before the boys caught up to me. In those 10 minutes I pushed as hard as I could in my legs. There was pain. There may have been stars. I could see them over my shoulder and when finally they passed I couldn't catch on, watched them slowly ride away.

After 10 minutes, we turned around. The second interval begins, this time mostly downhill with tailwind. Brad and Thomas take off leaving me quickly behind. I am no match for downhill tailwinds and as I pushed to give it my best try I realized I might as well pronounce my legs dead. It took everything I had in my head and the nothing that was left in my legs to ride out the next 20 minutes. Several times I felt ready to cry but then I said THERE WILL BE NO TEARS today. At a certain point you have too many experiences that remind you that crying never once got you through. Breaking down and feeling sorry for yourself will not help turn the pedals any faster. I might be near cracking but I will not crack by crying today. So I just bucked up to the end and met up with Brad.

We find Thomas by the church and there is talk of taking it easy on the way back. This sounds like a good plan since my legs left me about 4 days and 250 miles ago. We begin the climb on to Del Dios and the wind is still pushing in my face. Easy has become hard.

On a quick descent a man passes me. For some reason this fires me up, makes me dig deep in my legs and pull up to Thomas to say "he will be mine." Throw it in the big ring and push up the climb. The man hovers just ahead of me. He outdescends me by sheer size and also climbs fairly well. Del Dios has dips and peaks but as the man stays within sight I push through them both. Finally I pass him and think I have seen the last of him. Then he descends by me again.

Now it's on.

This time I am descending with him. I will sit in his draft and make my move when the moment is right. The final ascent to Cielo is the right moment and I climb - leaving him behind until Thomas pulls up next to me to report that he chased me for awhile before getting within a bike's length and then making a turn away.

It was a fun game but used up everything in my legs. Sometimes it is good to go out on a limb and connect to the raw competitiveness that pushes us in the game. It made me realize that even when I thought I had dead legs I could still find something left. And using that little something in my legs with strategy in my head I could make the most of it and push through.

We ride back towards Brad's and there is one final hill. Thomas and I agree to lay up and spin all the way. I make an attack telling Thomas I was just kidding about laying up, stand, stomp a few times before telling Thomas I was just joking about the attack and sat back down right as the burn set into our legs.

It was an evil trick that left him screaming but was oh so fun.

After the ride, time for a 40 minute run. The run was in a word - painful. I have never felt such pain in my legs. My heart rate would no longer respond to the effort level. And mentally I was at the edge. 10 minutes into it I nearly cried but told myself that won't make a difference. Just do the work, give it some effort and see what you can do. Zone 4 effort actually came up as Zone 2 but I just kept trying harder and harder until the last few minutes Brad shouted that's what I'm talking about and I said to myself good because that's what I meant. This hard work, this gritting of the teeth on tired legs is what I meant to do today.

And then there was food. Lots of food, maybe a beer and of course a piece of cake. Good times, good friends, and too many laughs. Cat said I laughed so hard that I got into that zone where you just start making silent laughs.

Tomorrow is the final day. I asked my coach for my workout and she said "how are you mentally because physically I know you are trashed." Yes, physically there is heaviness and pain. But mentally - well, I can't crack. I have been close, very close but I keep telling myself this isn't hard - you've done Ironman. You've done Ragbrai. You've done this before. You won't blow up, you won't explode. You'll get through it just like in the past.

So for that she gave me hill repeats. And then an easy ride. Thomas almost cried and I have reason to believe he will crack on Monday. But as for me I'm just hoping to power up those hills powered by cake, memories, laughs and knowing that it is my last '"camp" day.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I've Got An Itch

The easy day wasn't so easy.

I have decided that to watch a race is 100 times more exhausting than doing the race. Our 90 minute ride turned into a 225 minute ride not including the cyclocross portion of the ride which consisted of dodging dogs, double strollers and spacy spectators while carrying our bikes through sand (including 3 stops to empty cycling shoes of said sand).

Our race day started early at 7 am. Cat, Thomas and I rode up to Oceanside to catch Chris exiting the swim. When we realized we would be about 10 minutes too late we picked up the easy pace to slightly below pedal like hell pace.

But still we came up about 10 minutes too late. So we decided to have breakfast instead. After a good old big boy breakfast with coffee, we went back to the race. We settled into our own spot at the middle of a hill and cheered loud. Very loud. Ridiculously loud. So loud we just about lost our voices.

We had a blast. Kudos to race organizers for putting participant names on the race numbers. This multiplies the fun of spectating by at least 100 as you can find many entertaining things to say about a person's name. Because this was so much fun, I have decided not to race pro this year instead I will just cheer pro. I am applying for my professional inspirtation specialist card. Because I got mad skills. So does Cat. And Thomas - well, he just called out every hot chick on the course. I'm not sure if that was so much of a skill or just months of being single coming out.

Cat wins for the best phrase that she said to the athlete wearing the Gorilla Multisport jersey:

Go ape shit on this course

I came in second with:

Just put yourself in the hurt box, close the lid and ship yourself right to the finish line.

Thomas - well, after all those hot chicks he was just happy to be in the spectating game.

After the race, I met the adorable Rachel Ross who makes running look way too easy. Eileen Swanson who is now hungry for more. Finally putting faces to names!

Chris had a strong race. He was working hard. I can't imagine what would possess someone to race a half Ironman in March but he went for it with full force and took on that run course like a man possessed.

After the race, we rode back and then I tended to my rear end.

WARNING: I will now talk about my rear end. Consider yourself warned and if you choose to read on you have my permission to laugh (especially Marit).

The other day during my canyon run when my stomach dropped around mile 4 and I dropped my business behind a tree it appears that the pile of leaves I thought belonged to the sycamore tree did not. They were actually poison oak leaves. This means my entire rear end is now covered in a red poison oak rash.

Insert laughter here.

I am so glad you find this funny because I actually just find it very, very itchy and uncomfortabe. Because it is not socially acceptable to walk around with my hand in my pants to relieve the itch. The only place I get some relief is when I am on a bike seat - which is an evil trick at this point because after riding 13 hours in 4 days the last place I want to be is on a bicycle seat - but the pain of the seat completely distracts from the burning itch in my ass.

Of course the boys find this beyond funny. They took this as their opportunity to have yet another woman in their presence drop their pants to reveal their rear end (right, Marit?). I fell for the trick (sort of) until I realized there was no need to give everyone a show just my husband who upon seeing it responded with OH MY GOD and "hey guys it really is that bad."

Thanks.

So, the joke of the night (thanks Cat) has been that Liz said she wanted ass cream not ice cream so when they gave her a scoop of mint chocolate chip she said that's not what I was looking for but the minty cool feeling gets rid of the itch and leaves chocolate chips behind for a later snack.

Cat, that is SO wrong in SO many ways.

I sit here now with medicated rear end looking forward to tomorrow's ride. Because at least for another 4 hours I will have something pressing on my rear that kills the itching pain. I guess you could say I've got a fever and the prescription is...more riding.

And if that doesn't work, I'm going back to the ice cream.


Friday, March 28, 2008

An Epic Day

Chris, Thomas and I drove towards Palomar in the morning. Chris would drive to the top to do a short ride and wait with our running gear. Thomas and I, however, would take the long way - about 13 miles up the mountain at a steady grade.

Thomas and I set out to warm up among the citrus groves. The day was flawless. High sixties, blue skies, no clouds. We did a small loop of the only flats we could find. Along the way, we saw a sad snake that didn't make it across the road. In homage, I broke out into You're A Grand Old Snake sung to tune of Grand Old Flag. Thomas was a bit scared by my ability to break out into song but I said spend 7 years teaching children and you learn a few things.

Before we set out for the climb, I took the opportunity to eat. Thomas took the opportunity to complain about his lack of legs. Then we set out to climb. In parting, I told Thomas "remember, unlike the snake, you have legs." He laughed and took off. The climb was lonely today. Thomas was ahead and we set apart at our slow grinds.

I had two goals today - to climb entirely seated and to keep cadence above 70 rpms. Challenging when you climb for some 80 minutes straight. Climb, climb, climb. Several times along the way I thought about what this climb meant today. Today it was really a climb for my head. I knew my legs could do it. But the battle was just in my head - would my head be strong to not give this up. Today I climbed my own wall of resistance to overcome my doubts that maybe I couldn't do it again. Maybe I would have to stop along the way. When you climb alone you realize you are accountable to no one but yourself. You can stop. You can take a rest. You can back off. No one would know. But something inside of you has to say no. No stopping, no resting, no backing off just a constant grind in the seat. For over an hour overriding the part of yourself that says "stopping would be much more comfortable" versus the part of yourself that says "do not give up this discomfort today." Why? Because this is the discomfort that counts.

Climbing towards the top I couldn't wait to tackle the 45 minute run. My legs and chest were in a much better place than the last time I climbed and I couldn't wait to see how I would run. Finally the green roof of the store at top became visible and I knew I was close. At one point I started to think maybe I can't finish this but then I realized how silly that was. What would happen? I would stop? I would fall off my bike? Come on. I would finish it was just a matter of time. And one thing I have learned is that the time will pass, it always does.

Time passed. I reached the top. I stayed in my seat and I was so proud. I dismounted my bike and immediately there was so much pain from the seat that I wanted to cry. We got ready to run and when I realized at 5300 feet after 80 minutes of climbing that I forgot running shoes back at Brad's place - well, I did cry. I couldn't think of anything else to do. I wanted so badly to run on top of Palomar that I almost thought about doing it barefoot. The boys gave me hugs and though I felt foolish for being the crybaby of the group - that is really how bad I wanted the run today.

But it would have to wait. Until we arrived back at Brad's, got my shoes then Thomas and I went to Torrey Pines State Reserve. I had a plan. We were running today. We would not give this workout up. But first we would have to resettle the pain in our legs after the hour long drive back. I told Thomas we would do a few vultures (circle nervously in an inappropriate place) in the parking lot then climb Torrey Pines, descend it and then climb the hill inside of the park. Then we would take on the 45 minute run with the first 10 minutes up the hill.

Straight up the hill for 10 minutes pushing hard. Is there any other way? No, not if you are chasing Sherpa Thomas up the hill as he shouts at you to give it more and get up there. I tried. Or at least killed my legs trying. Every minute ticked away not quickly enough and I just wanted to die/stop/throw up/lay down/explode. But none of that happened. In fact around 8 minutes when the climb plateaued I decided I would sprint to catch Thomas' feet because - why not? What is the worst that would happen? I would explode? I took the chance and stayed on his feet until 10 minutes.

*I did not explode*

Then we hit a trail. It was twisty, curvy and all sand. Nothing like running sand trails fast after nearly barfing your heart out your mouth, climbing a mountain, driving home and then climbing again. I did everything I could to keep Thomas right ahead of me but he was very nimble. Part of me was frustrated for not being able to keep right with him but then part of me said you are chasing a man that used to run 4 minute miles, you are ok. The sand got deeper and I really thought my legs would just come right off but I kept telling myself to MAKE IT HURT because this is what it akes.

We emerge from the trail and I tell Thomas that I think I might die. He tells me it is time to do flats. That is not what I wanted to hear. We run the flats, turnaround and then I say this cannot get any worse so let's hit the trail again. Back into the sand. Chasing Thomas. He moves around corners with ease while I run into bushes and nearly trip over myself. Then it is time to descend the hill. Finally after 45 minutes we are done. I ask him what zone he was in today and he says after the first 10 minutes - Zone 1. I was pretty much in 4. All the way.

It was an epic day.

We are done and we are tired. There is much pain in our legs. Thomas has disowned his left quad, I have reported my left hamstring missing. Thomas said his legs left him at 4000 feet. I said my legs left me yesterday. Thomas wins the rolling race today by rolling his legs at least 10 times. I sat on top of the foam roller and quickly said 'no thanks.'

So we are doing what any tired athletes would do - eating cake. I have just scolded Thomas for leaving half of his cake in the plastic box. Do not do eat your cake half ass, boy. Have I not taught you anything today?

Tomorrow we spectate Chris at California 70.3. We'll ride up to Oceanside early to watch the race. I can't wait! It is also an easy day for us - just a ride and a run. And more cake!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Breaking Up

I had every intention of waking up at 5:30 am to go to masters today. Disregard the fact that I have a rule that says no one shall swim before 7 am unless a race is involved. I even set the alarm. But at 5:30 am when I woke up and I was still tired I said - the pool can wait. And it did. When I showed up at 7:20 am it was still there and I swam just the same.

So I swam alone. Didn't really feel warmed up until the 3000 yard mark which made me think maybe I should swim another 1500 so that I can say at least 30 percent of the swim felt good. But I settled at 3400 yards and called it done.

Met Marit for coffee and bagels. Marit has the gift of gab in a good way. Her conversation draws you in and makes you want to talk more. She looks good and she is hungry to start towards her goals again.

Chris finally arrived in town - he's here for the California 70.3. We all went up to Encinitas to drop off Marit's bike and then Thomas and I set out for a mostly flat 4-hour ride out to Pendleton.

In theory this should have been a great ride. There were no clouds in the sky. It was about 65 degrees. The course was mostly flat. Theory however does not always hold up in reality.

I am not sure where this ride went wrong. It took us about 45 minutes to ride from Encintas to Pendleton. In case you were wondering, it is possible to catch every red light through Encinatas, Carlsbad and Oceanside. And when you arrive at Pendleton, it is possible to find out that the headwind you were riding into for the past 45 minutes could get worse.

Camp Pendleton is a beautiful place to ride. It is a military base snug in the hills of southern California. Hills that are right now exploding in yellow flowers and lush green. However Camp Pendleton is always a very windy place to ride. I am no stranger to riding on very windy government property. At home I do most of my riding at Fermilab, a Department of Energy proton accelerator laboratory and the wind there blows like nowhere else. Except Pendleton today.

Every time I looked down we were going 14.4 mph. Thomas never left his small ring. It didn't matter how hard I pushed or which gear I was in I was going slow. The hills came, we rode slowly up the hills into the wind. The descents came, we rode slowly down the hills into the wind. Wind wind wind.

We exited through the back gate of the base after 30 minutes and found the old 101. This was even more beautiful than the base. The ocean was within view and the 101 had been turned into a state beach park. It was flat as could be and directly into the wind. Excellent. I thought Thomas would cry. He kept standing out of his saddle to relieve his ass of pain. I was ready to cry. I was being beaten by the wind and the bike. It was like being trapped in a muscle tension interval for 2 hours straight.

Finally at 2 hours we turned around. Tailwind! It was quiet and we could enjoy the ride again. But when we returned to the back gate of Pendleton, showed our ID, the military guard looked at his watch and then looked at us.

"Base closes at 3 pm."

Excuse me?

"Base closes to cyclists at 3 pm."

Please Private Officer Sargent in Training military man please - PLEASE - do not tell me that the ONLY - I repeat ONLY - way to return to Oceanside is through this base and this base is now closed.

"Base is closed."

We thought he was kidding. But it became clear he was not. It also became clear that we were going to have to come up with a different plan. We needed to find a way to ride through the base without riding through the base because riding through the base is the only way back to Oceanside unless you take the interstate.

With that in mind, we rode away from the base and considered our options:

1 - Swim with bikes on back
2 - Walk 16 miles along beach in bike shoes
3 - Ride on the shoulder of the I-5

None were feasible and then we came up with a new option - call Chris. Needless to say Chris was not thrilled. Asking him to drive an hour north along the 5 was not something he wanted to hear after being awake since 3:30 am CST to catch a flight. Plus the traffic along the 5 is evil at best. But he agreed to come pick us up because there was no other way back.

Meanwhile, we still had 90 minutes left to ride. So we rode back into the wind and the muscle tension started again. This felt worse than climbing Palomar. Worse than Soledad. Worse than riding with a gorilla on my bike through gravy. Finally at 3 hours I announced to Thomas that I was breaking up with my bike. The thrill was gone and I was reaching my breaking point. My head hurt, my legs were tired from the constant grind of the flats into the wind. I was thirsty. And it was nearly 4 pm and all I had consumed was a bagel, a banana, 3 gels and a bar. I had enough of my bike for the day.

At 3 1/2 hours Chris arrived. He was a little miffed by the traffic on the 5. I was a little miffed that I was still on my bike and it was 5. Thomas was miffed that he agreed to spend the weekend with a miffed married couple and it was only Thursday.

Chris did a short ride to preview part of the race course. Thomas escorted him. I called my coach and did everything but cry. We all regrouped and decided dinner would make us good again.

That's when I realized when a ride throws lemons your way you take those lemons and squeeze them over fish tacos. And you eat lots of salty corn chips. And then you trash talk Thomas about tomorrow's ride. So that's where we left the day. With good food and good smack talk (note: smack talking ahead):

"Thomas, you better bring your tool belt on tomorrow's ride because when I drop the hammer you're going to need somewhere to put it."

"Liz, you better call Marit and ask her for the name of her gastroenterologist because on tomorrow's ride I'm going to rip you a new one."

"Thomas, you see that drink on the menu called Kick Ass? You better order one so you can get a taste of what's in store for you tomorrow."

It didn't stop there. And it won't stop tomorrow. Because we are climbing Palomar. Again. And when we get to the top we are doing a run. Tomorrow is another day and my legs will be ready. Even if they are not I will push them as hard as I can up the mountain and then on that run. And then afterwards we can break up again and I'll tell them hey it's not me it's you legs. Can we just be friends?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Next Level

We have received word that e.l.f. has arrived in San Diego for SST.

What is SST?

Super Secret Training of course.

Secretly I am in San Diego and I am geared up for another 5 days of super training. Along with me on this covert operation is Special Agent Sherpa-at-Large Thomas. This morning we started with a canyon run. I was on a mission to do an 80 minute tempo run while Thomas went 35 minutes easy.

Who goes 35 minutes easy?

Sherpa Thomas. Of course. And complains of "tired legs." Whatever. I think he was just too chicken to keep up. And I let him know that too. The 80 minute run was most painful and the warm up was the only 15 minutes I actually spent in Zone 1. Beyond that it was just a bunch of huffing in a zone I will describe only as red. I thought about the last time I was on the canyon course with Marit pushing the hills and in memory of this I shouted 185! when I crested one of the hills and almost collapsed. It was hot in the canyon but I kept reminding myself that St. Croix (my first race!) will be much much MUCH hotter. So I kept running. Hot, shaky, and growing more and more tired. Marit, I would like you to know that this time I did not stop even when I reached my breaking point. I ran through it and was pleased to find that I did not break down. Mission accomplished on the run.

Afterwards I found Thomas sleeping in the grass (that's what a 35 MINUTE EASY RUN will do to you). We sat under the sun for awhile. There was not a cloud in the sky. It was glorious.

I convinced Thomas we could survive on bars and gels and just go for an easy 90 minute ride along the coast. During the ride, Thomas and I decided that all rides should be 90 minute easy rides along the coast. The weather, the scenery - all gorgeous today. Imagine riding with the ocean rolling towards you literally hundreds of feet away. The sun shining. And you are on a bike.

Some stretching then Brad arrives home to find that once again this top secret triathlon training camp is based out of his house. Like a good man that has learned to accept strange triathletes squatting in his house, he gives me a hug. I believe he was also engaged in his own secret mission as we saw him wheeling an office chair into his parking lot. Behavior I will just call "shady" at best.

There is rumor that Joe B. is in town. When I told him that we were going to ride 3 hours tomorrow his question turned from one of "are you guys riding" to "are you guys drinking." How quickly things change when the challenge is set. A morning swim, a long ride. And no room for drinking, trust me.

Today I thought about Tiger Woods on my run. There was a great article in USA Today the other day about how Tiger the champion was made. There was talk about his mental toughness and how where others saw greatness, Tiger just kept seeing another level.

I thought of that today - as I looked into the canyon running hard with my head on fire, breathing heavy, feet running jagged over rocks - the view was in a word amazing - a completely different level of beauty than anything I had seen before. And I have done this run about a dozen times. But that is where I was going today - a new level. Taking it to a new level, testing the limits, breaking through. This time in San Diego there will be a rock bottom. I will unravel and there will be tears. Because I'm finding that new level and once I get there I promise myself I will stop and take time to marvel at the view.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

All Things Pink

The other night I came home to find Boss sitting snug in his crate.

Wait a minute. I look closer. What is this? What has been put on to my dog? From under the red blanket I notice something pink. Something pink is fastened to my small yet masculine dog. For the love of all things gender appropriate in the world - is that a pink bra that he is wearing? Is that a pink bra on my dog?
And if so, where did he get it from?

Chris is standing in the kitchen. He looks at me. And with that look I know. Grandma Betty – she had something to do with this. Grandma Betty strikes again with her love of pink. And this is exactly why we should not send Boss to Grandma Betty’s house.

Grandma Betty adores pink. She is nothing but 100 percent girlie girl that believes all girls should be smothered in pink. And even if it’s not a girl, if it is small it should be wearing pink. Just ask Chewie, her male Yorkie, about pink. Literally swaddled in pink as a puppy. Believe me, gender miscues like that can confuse even a little dog. You see, Chewie actually wore a wedding dress on my wedding day (not kidding, there are photos of this).

When we first brought Boss home, Grandma Betty was thrilled. A new little baby in the house. And then soon after she went shopping for Boss. She showered him in gifts. Got a whole new wardrobe. For the dog. Most of it – pink.

It didn’t stop there. Pictures surfaced of Boss spending time at Betty’s house while wearing a sleeveless shirt that said Surfer Girl. He came home one day with a pink blanket for his crate. I begged my husband to please stop confusing the dog. He needs to wear rugged hoodies or just wear nothing at all. He’s a boy, he’s still got his balls so can we please just treat him like a little man?

No such luck. A few days later Boss enters the house with a Juicy Couture t-shirt.

For as much as I – a girl - love pink (I really do not love pink), I would rather not see it on my boy dog. After losing his balls, gender is a bit of a touchy thing. So finding him in a pink bra didn’t help much with the gender identity crisis that I expect he is going through (I would go through one too if someone cut off my bits).


From his crate, Boss looks woefully up at me with eyes saying it was bad enough you had them take my man bits now add insult to injury and color it pink. He knows. Any man would know when he is wearing something pink. I look back at him with the same I’m sorry woeful eyes. Chris stands watching me and Boss engaged in a communication of glances and stares – dogspeak if you will.

Liz, he was ok with the pink harness until you said something to him.

Good thing. Someone had to save him. I mean, it’s about time he was told hey fancy-nancy-pants you are wearing PINK. Take it off because we are not going to the dog park like that. The Beagle would eat that pink thing right off your back. We just worked up to the point where the other dogs started accepting you – you were on your way to becoming a cool kid – and now this?

Boss is still looking up at me. So I ask my husband the obvious – after all, he was at the house when it happened – why is he wearing that thing?

Because he was the only dog at my mom’s house that fit into the harness that she just bought.

So what you’re saying is that because my dog does not get fed a dinner of people food – including cooked broccoli and boiled chicken, he – HE –is the one “rewarded” by wearing something pink? Tell their female chihuahua chowbox Aichee to drop 10 pounds and then put her pink bra on. My svelte manly man puppy doesn’t want to wear that thing.

But alas that does not help. Because there Boss sits with his pink bra. I feel bad for Boss. So I do what any dog mom would do. I feed him. Real manly dog food. Puppy chow, kibbles dumped straight into a real doggie bowl. He quickly eats down the food, sloppily scattering kibble all over the floor like a real boy dog would do. Go Boss!

In the middle of this, Chris comes upstairs.

He is eating again?

Oh no. Did I do a bad thing? Yes, apparently I overfed Boss with food. Apparently he had already eaten Easter brunch at Grandma Betty’s house. And now he is on bowl two. Actually bowl three for the day. And I guess Chris was surprised that Boss ate the extra food. Uh, he’s a dog. Put food in front of him and he’ll eat it. He is not concerned about his weight. But if you keep that pink harness on him long enough I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts walking in front of mirrors asking if he looks fat.

Soon after, Boss is completely shutdown. Kibble coma, if you will. His stomach gurgles and expands. The pink harness is tighter on his back. He curls up in his favorite red blanket in time for bed. Which means I have a good chance of getting that pink bra off of him before he breaks out in his unpredictable late night crazy laps.

But I never did. I actually went to bed before remembering to take the harness off and he woke up the next day still wearing it. He actually slept most of the morning with kibble hangover so I had a great idea to kick start his day – dog park. Maybe I just felt sorry for him or maybe I forgot he was a boy – but I left the pink harness on. Went to the dog park and just walking up I noticed the crowd was already going wild.

Oh look at that little dog it is SO cute!

Oh he is. And I am at the end of his leash and hey don’t you see that I am SO cute too? Ok, not really. But at least today I put on real clothes. We enter the dog park and immediately Boss is surrounded by Sophie the Bichon, Andre the Miniature Pinscher and Comet the Dalmatian.

Wait a second – what gives? Is this not the under 30 pound dog park? The Dalmatian is way over the weight limit but the owner insists that he can play nice with little dogs. Little dogs like Boss – who they are all going ga ga about.

Oh she is SO precious, what is her name?

Uh, er, ah….actually….even though it’s wearing a pink harness – she’s actually a he.

I swear Andre the Miniature Pinscher started laughing. The two women looked up at me like – you did not just come to the dog park with your male dog wearing a pink harness. Yes, yes I did. Right then I was feeling the shame and scorn of a thousand suburban dog moms staring down at me if not from here then from the houses surrounding so I did what any dog mom would do…

“My mother in law bought it for him.”

With that, they understood. The mother in law is not to be messed with and there is no explaining away the things that she buys. We all have mother in laws and somewhere on our children or in our house there is something the mother in law insisted we have that we would never want but know better than to throw away.


At that moment, I promptly removed the pink harness telling Boss to run and be free. He did until Comet chased him into a stand off in the corner where Boss realized he is small enough to sneak through the dog park fence.

But I guess that’s what I get for taking him to the park wearing something pink. Which I promise I will never do again. It’s blue blankets and camouflage from now on – real boy things so someone best tell mother in law. It’s not
so much that we mind if he wears pink in the house but out in public – well, that seems to be a different thing. After all, he's trying to run with the cool dogs so pink will never do.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Chicken Scratch

Of all the memories of hard work and heavy pain that I carried back from San Diego, it was actually something that Chris said to me that stuck the most. You see, when I asked Chris what my weakness was, he said “sometimes you get chicken.”

Wait a minute – did you just call me chicken?

No, what he was saying is that sometimes when I sit on that edge of breaking through – which is that point where you push a little harder than last time – and breaking down – which is the point where you push through and then give it a little more – well, sometimes I chicken out. I break through often but breaking down – not something I routinely do. And in taking everything to the next level this year, it is something I need to do more.

So, I have spent this entire week fighting my inner chicken.

Work with me here - we all have an inner chicken. It's just a matter of admitting it to yourself and honestly saying the reason I don't _____________(fill it in for yourself; get any faster in the pool, win my AG, push out more watts, break 9:00 miles) is because....I am chicken. I am scared of myself. And I realized this when earlier this week a friend talked me into finding my fire, fighting my inner chicken to reignite myself.

She was right. I was ready. It was time to put on the gloves.

I set out to fill my arms with chicken scratch. It started in the pool. It’s no secret that the pool is my limiter. Yes, I can swim and I love to swim but that doesn’t always equate to swim speed. So this week I said enough. I am going to create swim speed. I am going to force the flip turns even if it means my lungs burn out of my chest. I am going to push to the next level even if I explode. I am going to kick harder, pull more water, apply more force and I am going to beat this chicken because I know – I KNOW – chickens don’t swim.

This was not easy. On Saturday morning I went to masters and put myself into a faster lane. This does not go over to well at masters. You literally shake up the entire order of the universe when you change lanes. I didn’t care. I had my boxing gloves on. I was fighting the chicken today and I would win.

Hell of a day to pick a fight. Should have just settled for laying eggs instead or those little chocolate marshmellow eggs or peeps (can you tell tomorrow is Easter?). Because the main set was a mixture of IM and pull free. But I’m not backing down. I took my position and fought my chicken all the way. 6 x 75 IM, 100 IM, 4 x 50 stroke two times through. The chicken was on my freakin’ back and you think it’s not heavy but try carrying the extra weight after you did functional strength the night before.

Oh yes, Friday night functional strength. Exactly where I wanted to be. You see, I am determined to having the strongest glutes possible so I can kill the bike. I don’t care if my butt blows up tp the size of Rhode Island I will have a strong rear. WILL. Which means a lot of squats, lunges and other torturous moves you can do with a bosu, medicine ball and a band in less than an hour. I fought the chicken with weighted ball while squatting atop the bosu ball upside down.

TAKE THAT CHICKEN.

And then, I decide to take it up a notch. For the swim; push-ups with shins on the stability ball with palms on a medicine ball on the ground. Up and down. 25 times. Not for cluckers. No way. A move on top of many other moves that would kill the morning swim but I didn’t care. I’m going for broke and pulling feathers out along the way. I’m boxing chickens today and I’ve got the bruises to show.

Next up – the bike. Yes, a little 2 hour bike in the basement. Because – BECAUSE – it is late March and there is snow on the ground. There are a million ways this is very wrong. But I do not have time to discuss because I can only pick one fight at a time. And this one was with the chicken that nested smack on the seat of my bike.

Hello bike. It is you again. I spent the past week riding your stronger doppelganger that goes by name of road bike through hills of San Diego region. And you know what – it shows. I am warming up at a high wattage today. I do my intervals and I am now pushing out wattage that I could only maintain for about 30 seconds a few months ago. This is not right. Is this right? Just go with it. Keep punching the chicken and pushing your legs. Round one of intervals. And then round two. And then…..and then…..

Oh my. We’re going to need a broom for this mess. There are frickin’ feathers everywhere. We have done our calculations and realize that we have set a new CP60. And CP30. And CP90. And even though it doesn’t exist – a new CP120. In fact, the wattage I maintained for 120 minutes is the same number I could push out at LT for 20 minutes two years ago. The best part - we have done this all in zone 3.

Ain’t nobody here but us chickens – though one of my favorite songs – doesn’t apply here any more. You see, I have arrived. I am here.

Tomorrow I have a run. I know that chickens can actually fly. So I’m going to have to run fast and once I catch up with my chicken there will be a fight. A fight of fast feet and strong legs. I will break through and might even break down. Which means I might throw up, burn, or cry. It’s ok. Because all of these experiences added up have shown me that I have what it takes to box the chicken into the corner, grab its beak and break its neck. I’m sorry to offend any vegetarians out there but the war we wage with our inner chicken is sometimes a meaty, messy display.

Ironically when I was in high school, I had one of those Fisher-Price Little People chickens (I believe the actual name was Henrietta Hen) with a string tied around its neck. If you were born after 1980 you probably do not remember when toys were still small enough to be swallowed. So I have provided a picture below. The chicken’s name was Clucky and I brought it – on a string – to all of my cross country meets. Clucky was the lucky chicken. Yes, I was a little superstitious in high school and a little weird. But I’m thinking I need to go back home and pull Clucky out. Not because I need luck but because I need to tie it to my transition bag to remind me that when the chicken starts clucking there’s gonna be a f*ckin’ fight.

Between me and myself.

Clucky!

Friday, March 21, 2008

On Becoming

Last Friday I climbed Mount Palomar.

Certainly it’s not epic or mountainous like something in the Alps but nonetheless it’s a wicked climb lasting 12.68 miles and ascending over 4300 feet. The average grade is nothing more than 6.5 percent but along the way it just does not let up.

We parked at the taco shop to set off for a 45 minute warm up. Thomas and Chris begin making their post-ride taco orders as we ride. The roads are lined with citrus groves are ripe with fragrant oranges and grapefruits. The sky is cornflower blue with high wispy clouds. It was the perfect day to climb Palomar.

After warming up, we ride towards the start of the climb. Which we have decided will be the second taco shop. The climb begins conspicuously – you are riding along and then all of a sudden realize you have slowed down to 12 mph at 70 rpms. The sure sign that you have begun to climb.

Quickly I dart ahead. Today I had work to do. I was going to own this climb for myself; ascend faster than last year, putting out more power and stay seated for most of the way. Chris pulls up next to me and asks how much power I am putting out. We are 5 minutes into the climb and I spit out a number that is over my LT. This might indicate trouble or might indicate a huge risk. Either way, I’m taking a chance. I pedal onward and accept the climb.

The first part of the climb is the hardest. Perhaps because you are not entirely warmed up and your body still tries to fight the low cadence and climbing grade. Or perhaps because it is along a busy highway with cars rushing along the curves up the base of the mountain. Either way – fear and pain are a noxious mixture that leaves you sweaty and nervous – and it’s just the start of the climb.

As I climb, my mind is totally engaged. It has to be. You have to have a purpose when you take on something like this or else you become victim to your own pain and fear. Early in the morning I set off with this quote in my head:

The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.


As I climbed, I considered what I would become. Wondering what I would learn along the way. The reward is not in reaching the top but in reaching inside of myself to learn something new. I opened myself up to this and listened to the thoughts in my mind – how they overcame the pain or pushed my body higher towards the top.

I arrive at the short flat section before the steeper switchbacks begin. Take the opportunity to finally spin the legs above 70 rpms and exceed speeds of 12 mph. And that’s when I was going fast. I make the left turn, the last half of the climb begins.

Switchbacks. Lots of them. I realize I enjoy the lefthand switchbacks best; taking the turns wide and looking out in the valleys below. As I climb I connect to the course. The trees smell sweet. The rocks are a yellowish brown that I find beautiful. The sky is so blue. The sun shines warm on my arms. As the world on this mountain gushes with beauty I realize there is nothing but ugly in my legs. At some point, your cadence plateaus in the 70’s and speed hovers around 9. Heart rate stabilizes in high Zone 3 and power output is consistent. You get into a rhythm of hurt that your body finally accepts.

Mile marker signs pass me slowly every .2 miles. I am not sure at which mile I will reach the top but at some point the top becomes visibly apparent and I think to myself looking at it that there is still a long way to go. There is a small shop at the top with a green roof. The roof sits obvious in the blue sky and it becomes like beacon to ride towards. Though it never seems to get any closer.

The last few switchbacks are the worst. The grade seems to be getting steeper and around each corner I expect to see the finish but it never comes. Occasionally now I stand out of the saddle to give my legs and rear a rest – or just to break up the monotony of grind, grind, grind, get nowhere not so fast.

Finally, I see the green road sign. I have made it to the top right by the store. About 5000 feet and the air feels cold. Others arrive, a quick trip to the observatory and then we descend. The others descend like slingshots pushing themselves far ahead of me and like most of the climbs this weekend – I descend alone. I don’t go very far or fast. I just get dropped. It’s ok. It gives me time to think and reflect.

On what I’ve become.

You become more patient as you climb; you realize that nothing worthwhile happens in a short period of time and nothing great is achieved without a long, slow grind of hard – even at times boring - work. Often I find people want to be fast, be strong now without giving respect to the hard, slow, long careful work that it takes to get there. There is nothing exciting about getting fast. It takes work. There is no magic workout, no magic pace, no magic piece of equipment, or magic wand – it is just this: hard work. If it was easy and instant, we’d all be world champions. But we're not. Hard work requires going slow, feeling slow, getting dropped, breaking down, wanting to cry, hurting in your legs, hurting in your feet/core/glutes/arms/head, sweating, getting chafed, drooling on yourself, covering your sleeve in snot.

You become 1% more unbeatable when you go through the hard work; experiences like this add up. Experiences like this count. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get to the top or who beats you along the way – you do the hard work and you arrive. You work through issues yourself. If you hit rock bottom you work through it in your head until you bounce back and then you climb on. As you go through this process you become more unbeatable. True, it will take 100 more experiences like this to become totally unbeatable. But the point is that it takes a lot of hard work to become unbeatable and strong; it takes a lot of climbs, suffering and pain. The work is not just arriving at the top but overcoming yourself every pedal stroke along the way. And each time you put yourself through that you get that much closer to unbeatable in your next race.

You learn to have a conversation with yourself. You realize when you are climbing a mountain you are mostly by yourself with your own thoughts. You learn to listen to the conversation; you learn to control it and in turn control the outcome of youself. Often I find people are too caught up in training with others. When finally in a race (especially in IM) by themselves, they completely breakdown in their own head – because their head starts to unravel, talk negative and they don’t know how to respond. Because they have never been alone before. Training, climbing, riding alone is at times uncomfortable and frightening in your mind. You are the only there to push yourself, talk yourself into continuing, talk yourself into thinking you are strong. When it comes down to it – you are the only out there supporting you. If you don’t go through this in training you’ll never pull it off in a race. I don’t care who you are with or who is spectating, the conversations you have in your own head will ultimately make or break your day.


You become fearless. Fearless because you took a risk and forced yourself to push through. Fearlessness requires attention and receptivity. Attention to the task at hand and receptivity to responding to yourself, your body and the external variables as they arise. When you are fearless you accomplish big things. When you stand at the base of a mountain and say to yourself today I will climb to the top you take a risk; because you never know what will happen along the way. Fearlessness says that you are prepared to handle whatever happens in your head or legs along the way. You are prepared to override the pain, the negative thoughts before they even happen, you're willing to take a risk.

You become completely lost in the process. You realize that getting to the top is not nearly as exciting as what you learn along the way. You realize the top will mean nothing if you don’t suffer and learn something new on every switchback. You are so engaged that you stop watching the clock, the cadence or speed. You have no idea how long it took to climb because you didn’t bother to look when you began. You became lost in the power of the process, the power of your own legs to get you through. Often I find too many people are concerned about how fast they are going, their mile splits, 50 splits, speed going out, speed coming back – let it go and get lost in the process. If you are looking at your watch and computer the entire time you are missing out – you are ignoring and disconnecting from yourself. Listen to your breathing, listen in your head – what do you hear, what is happening, what do you find in your mind.

You become filled with perspective. You realize there are different levels of hard; each time you add one you make it that much more likely you’ll get through another one. Hard is going fast on the track, hard is going slow up a mountain. You know there are other hard things you will take on but the perspective of the climb will make you realize that honestly not too many things are “hard”. It’s all what we make of them in our head. You can climb whatever you set out to – it’s just a matter of timing and pushing from within.

I descended to the bottom of the mountain and realized the many things I had become along the way. It’s more than just finishing the climb. Everyday it’s more than just finishing the workout. It’s what you learn along the way. You can learn something every day. Write them down and all of a sudden you have pages of experiences, lessons and quotes that you can fill yourself with on race day. That’s the different between people that show up to just finish a race and those that show up to achieve. Achievers have climbed mountains, they’ve done the hard work, had the conversation with themselves at the bottom of their workout soul where they’ve convinced their legs to push just one switchback higher, turn the pedals one revolution more, give it a few more watts to make yourself fearless, to learn from the process, to fill yourself with perspective so you can become unbeatable on race day.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Support My Sponsors



TriSports.com
I met Sarah Hobbs from TriSports.com at a race a few years ago and figured anyone that can run that fast – I want to be a part of their team! Great supporters, great store. Triathletes that know the triathlon industry. If you are looking for it, they have it. Not only that but they will get it to you quick. Customer service is superb and their closeouts can’t be beat.



Power Bar
Sponsor since 2003 – before I even accomplished anything big! Very generous supporters with high quality products that work. Whether it’s my training plan or Ironman nutrition plan you can be sure Power Bar products are a part of it. Plus I find myself even craving chocolate gels
when I’m not training.


Rudy Project
Rudy Project Sports glasses that do their job – keep the sun, bugs and sweat out of your eyes plus look cool. Very durable – you can run over them and barely get a scratch. Trust me.



Flex Power
Anything that enhances recovery, I’m all for it! Cream that you put on your sore muscles and I swear it feels warm and good!


Wicked Fast
Supplement that promote recovery. Take these after a hard workout, race or daily and it quickens recovery and leaves your legs feeling like nothing happened yesterday.

Headsweats
You’ll never see me racing without a hat or visor and Headsweats makes the best! High quality hats, visors, and head products to keep your head cool and sweat-free.
Speedplay
HIGH PERFORMANCE PEDALS. Enough said.


SOHMAR
The School of Holistic Massage and Reflexology that is. I’ve known Michael McAleese for years – a great person, a triathlete himself who understand the needs of triathletes. You will literally melt into the massage table. And then you will fall asleep. He will work the bad stuff out and leave you feeling good. Located in Downers Grove, Illinois.

TP Massage Therapy Products
Therapeutic self-massage products that help keep you functional and feeling good. I love the ball!

Naperville Running Company & Asics
Top notch running retailer located in Naperville. Kris and his crew know running shoes because they are runners that live in running shoes. They are dedicated runners that have impressive race histories and know their stuff. Asics has been a very generous supporter – and they are the only shoes I will use for training and racing!


Timbuk2
You know the cool bags? Yes, that’s them! Laptops, gym clothes, gear – you can put anything in these bags plus they look really cool.

Running With The Big Dogs

Yesterday Boss and I went to the dog park.

It was 47 degrees which meant it was moderately tolerable to be outside for more than 10 minutes. I was also given a day off. Not really given – more like forced. Demanded. All right, I was restrained. Plus after spending what felt like 48 hours entirely inside and then on a plane next to two young children traveling alone (excellent seat choice if you are have gotten nothing but 4 hours of sleep the night before, have not had coffee and want to spend the entire flight answering the question how much longer until we get there), I felt like I had to get outside.

Boss was the perfect excuse. To the dog park we go. Not before a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee for me. Next, we arrive at the dog park and walk up to the small dog gate. The area for dogs under 30 lbs. Immediately a gaggle (really, there is no other word to describe it) of small dogs approach the fence. They are hungry for Boss. I don’t blame them. He is small, adorable, 8 pounds now of smooth fur. He is the color of caramel and always smells good. He is my little dog!

We enter the gate and immediately Boss is bumrushed by 5 other small dogs; two Schanuzers, two poodles, one Beagle, and one dog that looked like one of those multi-breed combo dogs with a name like Maltie-Yorkie-Pom-Poo – in other words, this dog wasn’t very cute. Regardless they all crowd and circle around Boss. He sits in the middle and looks nervously at me. I am sorry Boss but you need this like a child needs preschool. You need to be socialized.

Socialized in the dog world means have your arse sniffed, your rear end mounted and your remnants of what was once your balls licked. I’m just calling it like I saw it. Boss of course did not appreciate this type of welcome. I don’t blame him. Put me in a new situation surrounded by a circle of furry friends and if anyone gets one inch near my pooper I’d scream.

So he did what any little scared dog would do – he bolted towards me. I’m not saving you dog. Get in there and play. Fight your inner chicken and run wild with the big dogs. Be unleashed and free. But look at him. He stands in the middle of an invisible circle like a newbie trying to make their way into an elite triathlon field. He might as well be wearing a heart rate monitor strap while sitting on a bucket to tie his shoes. In other words, he was sorely out of place.

He just didn’t know what to do with the other dogs. Plus one of the poodles kept mounting him. So he yelped, then he darted and then they all followed him as one giant mass of five curious dogs. I took this as my cue to re-leash Boss and give him a chance for survival in the small dog field. I mean, these other dogs were small but still had about 20 lbs on Boss. So I walk him around leashed to sniff plants and mark weeds. Break him in slowly with these smaller, more manageable dog park things.

A few minutes later I decide he needs to give it another try. Plus I need to drink my coffee. So I unleash him. The other dogs are chasing the beagle with a Frisbee in his mouth. Together they make a one way train of dogs running in the field. Boss joins in on the back end of the train and chases too. He looks ridiculously out of place, tries desperately to keep up with their bigger legs, and is only moments away from the other dogs noticing that he has joined in.

When they do, he gets violated again. Mounted, sniffed, eyed. Boss realizes he must stand tall – as tall as 6 inches can be – so he barks at them. Pounces on them and even tries to mount the poodle. Go Boss! It was a good try but he was too small plus the poodle wasn’t that good looking anyways.

The rest of the time Boss plays with the other dogs then milks their owners for head pats, tummy rubs, scratches and treats. He is the friendliest dog of all of them. I attribute this to good parenting skills. And excellent genes (after all, he was fathered by Count Chocula’s Charlie and mothered by Anissa Flutterby; how can you not emerge a genius with parents named like that?). The only thing he snubbed was that weird maltese-yorkie-poo-fluff fluff thing. And I don’t blame him.

As Boss frolicked and barked in the field, I just laughed. I watched him, whimsical and free and found it to be one of the most amusing things I had seen in a long time. I realized that for all of the difficulty of leaving a dog, finding someone to watch the dog, and caring for the dog – well, I wouldn’t trade the dog for the world.

I’ve decided Boss and I will spend many days at the dog park when the weather permits. If not just for him, then for me to have some free medicine – to laugh out loud, to be free and get my mind on something else. Besides I hope to one day be the proud owner of a dog that is finally accepted into the in crowd with the cool kids that violate the new kids and make them sit in the front of the bus with the rest of the window lickers.

Go Boss!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Homeward

I am heading home this morning. I thought the flight was early but then a giant stomachache woke me up at 2:43 am and I thought – now that’s early.

I have mixed feelings about going home. Of course it will be good to return to regular life but I will miss being with Marit. She is with her father now and in good hands. However I was getting used to the routine of sitting by her side and learning about her life. It is time to move on now though and get some rest. I haven’t really slept much and yesterday my diet consisted mostly of foods in the chocolate and peanut butter category. Ok there was some milk in there too.

I’ve never been in a hospital much. These past few days I have been in the hospital more than in my entire life. I have learned that when you are lonely and hurting a hospital is a very cold, sterile place with long empty corridors and an echo that resonates the emptiness and pain you feel in your own heart. Especially later at night, the building nearly ceases of all energy and becomes a very frightening and hollow place. During the day it felt much more welcoming and safe. The halls were filled with busy people and the sun streamed into the windows. It was more hopeful then.

You realize life begins and ends in the building – and you can feel this as you walk around. Each floor brings a different bag of emotions. Marit’s floor was mostly ortho trauma. Lots of braces and casts. The recovery room in surgery was a very stark and dismal place. All the other beds were filled with still patients with tubes under blankets. Marit was the only one chatting away. It was refreshing to say the least.

A million times Marit began the conversation about my upcoming race schedule. The pain meds were making her a bit forgetful about where her thoughts would begin and end. She kept repeating my races out loud almost to remind herself. It was hard to talk about races with someone whose own race schedule was put on hold. But still she was interested in where I was going and why.

Part of me feels very regretful and almost lost about the situation. I am still not sure why she was hurt and why I was ok. I wish I could take back her hurt. I would give her my sacrum and hip if it meant she could race at Ironman. But that is not possible. And though that makes me said I also know that I cannot dwell on it for her sake or mine. It was a friend who reminded me yesterday that I must keep moving in the direction of my dreams – because that is what Marit wants me to do and what I need to do. If the situation was reversed that is what I would want her to do.

In all of this I cannot believe how many people have literally crawled out of the internet to support Marit. It showed me the value of the online community and how close we can be though so far away. People often ask why I started a blog – and though the reason isn’t always apparent, times like this remind me that in blogging I have made the right, worthy choice. It’s not a waste of time to share stories with the world – someone is obviously listening and when in need people heartfully respond.

I’m at the airport now. And I’ve got to inject some humor into this post. The gal behind me just told her friend she is “too drunk to go to her test today.” It’s only 6:36 am. I guess for some
people the party has been going on all night. For me, it has just begun. A party of six days of mail, two days of husband alone in the house, and 8 pounds of furry Chihuahua wagging his tail.

Homeward and onward from here....

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Day 5: Tough Cookie

The ride yesterday morning was beautiful. It started chilly but the sweeping ocean views and rolling waves made it worthwhile. Our plan was simple - climb Torrey Pines, descend into La Jolla, climb Soleded, descend, ride through La Jolla, down Torrey Pines, pack up, go home. The perfect ending to a training weekend of new friendships, a thousand laughs, and moments of breakthrough pain.

The first climb up Torrey Pines came early in the ride but was a good way to warm up. Marit is behind me saying nothing but positive, pushing words. She is a perennial cheerleader and no matter how hard she works she always has air to say something good.

We descend into La Jolla and then arrive at Soledad - a few cautionary words and the rule - whatever you do, do not stop. Chris darts ahead. Thomas soon follows saying that Chris is making it look too easy. I follow. The grade gets steeper and my feet spin slower and slower. My quads hurt so bad I fear they will explode. Or my heart. Or my head. I want to stop. I want to just sit down and throw the bike the other way. But this morning I told myself there would be no stop. No chicken today.

When you dig deep enough your mind quiets and you wait for words to arrive. There is screaming pain in your body but a silence in your head. And at that moment I heard a voice - it was my own and it said do not be afraid of your own power. I pushed on and finally found the top. Marit followed soon after and proved to herself yet again that she is capable of climbing any mountain in life. She has what it takes.

We took our time with the return. Rode through La Jolla. Marveled at swimmers braving the turbulent rolling waves in La Jolla Cove. Climbed out of the cove then down Torrey Pines. This last descent is long - I caution Marit to be careful because the descent is filled with pine needles, cones and bumps in the road. I descend ahead of her to point out the obstacles along the way.

We make it safely to the bottom. But then we ride into giant swarms of gnats and I think we were both a bit shaken or caught off guard. I scream that I am slowing and pull over to the right slowly. Marit says she looked to see what was on her sleeve, looked at her computer then looked up before colliding with me.

By some miracle, my right hand was already on my brake and I was braking. Marit's bike attached to mine and pushed me forward on my bike; it was almost as if her front wheel rode in between my left crank and the frame. In retrospect, I remember thinking at some point me and the two bikes would fall. I could hear Marit yelling and having the sense that next we would crash.

You never know what you will think or do in this moment. But I found myself thinking be slow, relax and go with the fall. So I fall to my side. For some reason I do not even feel the fall. I was going very slow when she collided with me and miraculously slowed enough to where I felt like I went forward with her bike attached to mine, controlled it and then eventually slowed to a fall.

The bikes are on top of me. I am still clipped into the right pedal and I am trying to shake my foot out. Because behind me I see Marit. There is nothing worse than crashing except seeing your friend behind you in pain. Or realizing that you are ok when your friend appears hurt.

Marit moans. She is in pain. Visibly there is just some road rash on her arm and her rear. Otherwise she seems ok. I know she is shaken; plus she has never crashed before. Crashing is nervewracking - and as the adrenaline wears off you start to realize how risky and serious the situation is. Somehow, she musters up the energy, the spirit, the tough cookie she is mounts her bike to pedal back.

Slowly we make our way back to Brad's place and we look over Marit's injuries. Her body looks ok but she is in a lot of pain. A short while later we decide she needs to go to the hospital. We wait. And wait. Wait some more. She has some xrays, and ct scan, an MRI and eventually is admitted. Everything happened slowly at first but then very fast.

Marit is hurt. She is hurt but she will heal. She is scheduled for surgery at 5 pm today. In the next few days, it would be very meaningful if you could drop a note to Marit. She has appreciated all of the phone calls today and her room felt like a non-stop party line. Even if you do not know her, take my word that Marit is spirited, a shining ray of light. She is refreshing, vibrant and one of the most optimistic people I have ever met.

Not only that but like I said in South Carolina, she is a tough cookie hard to the core. Who else would be plotting their return with needles in their veins? Or telling me they were going to can my ass in the pool because they were going to spend the next 6 - 8 weeks swimming like heck? Or talking about which Ironman would be good later this year. Or what races they would make their comeback at. Or say the good thing about this is that she doesn't have to drink any more carbo - pro. Or imagine all the things she could do in the downtime. Listening to this I realize that even if she can't get out there and train she will be visualizing her next race and in doing so will become more powerful than she already is.

Like any athlete, Marit is thinking ahead to recovery. Soon enough she will read this and I say to her: do not be afraid of your own power. You have what it takes to heal quickly and emerge stronger than before. You will have new meaning to the words powerful, tough and strong. You will redefine them for yourself and in doing so will prove that you have what it takes to achieve anything.

Today Marit asked if I would write about what happened. She is wondering if she should write too. Neither of us is sure how we crashed. We were not going very fast at the time. We were not even riding close to each other. We rode 12 mile descents down steep mountains and a fast paced group ride - yet crashed on a flat road 20 minutes from home. The questions keep multiplying the mystery of what happened and why. I visit her, see her laying in pain and think to myself - why her, not me. How she crashed hard and I just slightly fell. It is a sense of guilt and helplessness that right now I cannot let go.

There are more questions than there will ever be answers. And for now I will just help Marit by being the best friend that I can. And by helping her to believe in herself. I believe obstacles are opportunities. I believe the bodies of athletes are not only resilient but brilliant - and will take only time and hope to heal stronger than before. I believe in Marit today, too. She will be ok.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Day 5 - The Last Day

The last day. The last bowl of oatmeal. This morning the coffee pot cried in fatigue. Thomas just started talking trash about today's ride which begins before 7 am.

Last night we confessed our weaknesses or had someone else point them out for us. Chris said I get chicken sometimes. I thought about it then told him I was going to sneak attack him on the hill, start clucking and say 'who's the chicken now, bitch.' Because it won't be me. I told Thomas I'm throwing down today. Putting it in the big ring and stomping up the hill. I don't care who I leave behind.

But Chris is right. Sometimes I get scared between where I am and taking the big leap to the next step. Whether it is pushing through burn to bridge a gap or fear of throwing up on a run. Training with others is a good way to chase and distract yourself from fear like this. You get caught up in keeping up rather than the risk of thinking what if; what if it hurts really bad; what if I throw up; what if I do it and prove that with my strength I can.

Sometimes that is just as scary. Your own power or strength. It proves who you really are. And what if you find out you do have a lot of both - power and strength. What would you do with yourself then? These are thought processes that sometimes hold me back. And for all my go go go there are times when I am afraid to take that next step. In the next few weeks I will work on that.

Everyone has a weakness and how fortunate for me I have others to point it out. But really if you had asked me I would have said the same. We all know what holds us back. We know because it faces you at some point every day. You get to a point and there it is - whether it is fear or poor nutrition or inconsistent training; your weakness has a way of showing up and showing through. You cannot hide from yourself.

Today that is my challenge in climbing these last hills. And since there is about half the glycogen required for my legs to go, I am filling them with massive amounts of coffee to power my strength.

Thomas just said I have never consumed so much oatmeal in my life. I would agree. And when I get back home I'm off the oatmeal for awhile. Off my bike. Off my feet. And over my fear. Because I'm going to leave it in the hills today.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Day 4 - "Easy"

Today was an 'easy' day.

It started with a swim. We got into the pool and who shows up on deck but Bob from Chicago and Dean! Bob provided a mixed up fun workout which made the swim go by fast. Thomas got out early because he was "too cold" (seriously?) while the rest of us finished up with fun things like race starts, head out swimming and no breath (gee thanks, Marit).

Next up, an easy canyon run. Enjoyed the beautiful scenery - the red dirt path, rocks, blue sky and yellow wildflowers while enjoying MY conversational pace with Marit (which is not my LT). It felt good to go easy and keep things light.

We stretched under the sun and Cat proved she keeps everything in her car including 10 clowns.

Coffee and bagels next. Can't go wrong with that. Especially since they were bagels from Einstein's. Conversation. Too much sugar in Thomas' tea.

Last, an easy ride along the coast. I just sat in the back, let myself get dropped and did my easy thing. It was great. The views of the ocean, waves, and blue sky were inspirational. Marit joined me in back, we sat up and enjoyed the ride. Saving the legs for tomorrow's last hard ride.

Lots of thoughts going through my head that I will at some point put into more meaningful words. But until then, I will just report that it was a very easy, enjoyable and restorative day in the sun.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Day 3 - Are You Feeling It?

I am stuffed.

My legs are stuffed with pain. My eyes are burning. My stomach is full of cake.

It has been a long day and now I am ready to rest. I think I am in company that is also ready to rest. There are many weary eyes and tired legs.

Cat, Marit and I went shopping this afternoon. Finally! We spent some time at Nytro while Cat ostracized their clothing selection and demanded to talk to their buyer. The best was when she pulled an item off the hanger, put it on and then informed all around about its fuh-gly features and why the item should promptly be burned. She didn't stop there. Someone needs to make a television show where Cat goes into a store, picks up the most heinous item and then tells you why it should be banned. I've never laughed so much during shopping.

The boys ate three dinners each. Cat joined us and gave us her best impression of Brown Chicken Brown Cow. Then we went to the store and spent 20 minutes selecting slices of cake. Thomas just settled for an entire cake.

Now Marit is talking in Czech. She had two diet cokes at dinner which I suspect will either keep her up all night or make her wet the bed.

Chris isn't even talking. Which is rare. I suspect he is tired. Actually I just looked at him and he is sleeping in a chair. Then Thomas said something about a bike and he jolted awake. He went from asleep to talking full speed about brakes. His brain never stops with the bikes.

Thomas is on his fifth piece of cake. He even dug into my cake for which I cried foul and then told him it was the reason he was still single. Never dive into a woman's cake. He told me it takes more than that to stay a single man.

We just played Name That Body Part. You name a body part and if you're feeling it right now you say 'feeling it'. There is not a body part - not a single body part - that we are not feeling right now.

And I am feeling ready for bed. Tomorrw we are going to swim. I received a frantic message from my coach that tomorrow we must get into the pool. In the spirit of Jen, I have put together a fabulous workout with a mainset that should make Thomas cry. Because he has never cried. And to get the most out of this trip he will need a cry.

I haven't cried either. I'm not sure anymore what it will take. I've felt so many levels of pain in the past few months that after enough times you realize it's just mind over matter anyways. It's all in your head - the tangible and intangible pain. You can push it away. You can talk yourself into it or out of it. You learn to welcome and seek out the pain.

Holy crap Marit just broke out in the giggles. The overtired slap happy giggles that leave you rolling on the floor. She can't believe Chris and Thomas are talking about shaving legs. Theirs, not ours. She listens intently for shaving tips. Now she is giggling again.

I should have cut her off at the first Diet Coke.

It's going to be a long night. For Marit, for sure.

Day 3 - Legs DOA

Today was the most intense ride of my life.

We arrived at the group ride and Marit looked scared. I realized the one thing that quiets her down - fear. We both realize that we are 2 of 3 women at the ride. We realize that some guys are riding on race wheels. We realize that we might be in over our head and over our Palomar trashed legs. But we also realized we wanted to ride.

Before the ride, I gave Marit two rules; no coasting in the group ride and shift smooth to avoid any delays. I forgot the third rule of group rides - find the tallest guy in the pack and get small behind him.

So I did.

And got pulled along for the first 30 minutes, working hard up the hills realizing my quads were left yesterday at the top of Palomar but their refusal to go was not a choice. They were going. I was going - with or without them today.

30 minutes and the pace picks up. The climbs get bigger. The boys get quieter. A few uphill attacks. And then the Elfin Forest. A surge. The group strings out. Chris is on the back of the first group and I am trying to bridge. He tries to bridge me but my quads will not go. But I nearly soil myself in glee because I realize that I was trying to bridge to the front group of the ride. For that I am proud.

Even when dropped you don't back off. You hammer like hell. I did. Through the forest I descended hard and fast around the twists and curves sweeping up a few guys. I didn't let the pace up. I was huffing hard. My quads were ready to die. Three more miles to go. At most 10 minutes. I can do this.

I arrive at the church where the group waits up. I never got caught by anyone behind. I am so happy by this. The little victories that make me proud. Chris tells me those were the most intense 2 minutes of his life.

2 minutes?

Yes, that was how long he hung on before he got dropped. Wow, I realize when Chris gets dropped the group is hard core. He tells me there were some Pro 1/2 guys in the group and I realize this is the most intense ride I have ever done.

Mac Brown pulls into the lot. Then cycling legend John Howard.

Marit arrives, "Liz, there were tears." Marit cried. I call her a champ and tell her she has found her breaking point. I am so proud of her today.

We take off towards Rancho Santa Fe. They hammer the hills and I am hurting to keep up. A man comes from behind and pushes me up the hill. He tells me to keep a steady pace. He gives me a giant push and then catches his own breath. Then he pushes me more. We hit the descent and he tells me to go a moderate tempo to catch the group ahead. But then gravity gives me up. I am quickly outdescended and watch the group pull away. No amount of heavy work or breathing will catch me back up.

I realize that I stayed with the group for 90 minutes. I could have sat back and cruised in but my punishment for falling off on descents was to climb the rest of the way in my big ring. Killing my glutes.

That was damn fun.

Back on the coast, into the wind and then to the bike shop. The ride is done. I convince Marit we need coffee before we need a T-run. Then together we rode easy back to Brad's. The t-run was a downhil then uphill hard run. Then we were done.

Actually our legs are done. Our hamstrings and glutes are done. The feet. The head. The backs, arms, and quads.

Done, done, maybe even DOA.

But you know what - I would go out tomorrow and do it again. And put sand in my bottles and a gorilla on my back so the next time the group descends I can hang on.

The rest of the day we will recover. And eat. And tonight there will be cake. Oh yes, there will be cake.