Thursday, July 31, 2008
“Oooooooooeee! Let’s see what we got goin’ on girls.”
Obviously I was part of some strange ritual in which older women sit on wooden benches wrapped in white terrycloth towels while each takes a turn to weigh in on the scale. Up next, a woman boarded the scale clad in towel and shoes while having the most interesting conversation with herself.
“Mmhmmph. A little bit a this, a little bit a that and hmmm, mmmm, WELL! Bless the lord, my soul and everything in between. That number CANNOT be right!”
The crowd responds:
Take off your shoes, someone yells out. They’re worth at least a few pounds!
Meanwhile, I’m trying to remove my swimsuit, grab my shower items and make my way through 10 women and their towels. I realize though that the drama on the scale might be worth sticking around. The woman removes her shoes.
The towel, too! Take the towel off!
On second thought, maybe I should just head to the shower. This is starting to remind me of that one late evening masters where I was the only woman in the lockerroom at 9:30 pm – or so I thought – when I heard giggles coming from the shower next to me. Like two sets of giggles. And then when I got out of the shower I heard giggles coming from a few rows down. Like two sets of giggles. Only to see two women cavorting about the lockerroom trying on clothes from the gym store – one wearing her underwear and one wearing nothing at all and then they started talking…in polish…and in front of the mirror look at one’s new jog bras and I was like – wow, who got lucky here to be part of some skin flick in the lockerroom and how further lucky I am that it’s not even in my language.
Back to the scale…
“Oh lordy, I ain’t taking this towel off. No matter how much it weighs!”
The woman is back on the scale. She stands there with towel – no shoes – setting the balances when she starts talking again…
“A little bit a this, little that, and there, and here, and mmpph, and you know scale if you say what I want you to say you know I’m gonna treat myself to a steak and fry dinner…and, oh…lordy…oh….uh-huh.”
We’re all waiting. Hanging actually. We are women after all. We’re dying to know – what did they scale say? And, if it says the right thing - who’s paying for the steak and fry dinner?
“I’m down a few pounds.”
SUCCESS! The women cheer. Someone says see, I told you to take off your shoes! And then no one else braves the scale after that, for who would want to jump on to find out that they had gained a few pounds and then have to report it back to the group.
But it got me to thinking about women and the war we have with the scale. Not too long ago I too was one of them. On the scale, off the scale, with the towel, without the towel, before the shower, before wet hair, after the bathroom – anything and everything to make the scale say that number. The magic number we are all looking for.
And what is it? The magic number? Who knows. Because how many times in life have we actually found it? Once. Maybe twice. Maybe not at all. I’ve had so many magic numbers I can’t remember what the most magical one is any more.
If you’re an athlete, the scale is perhaps the most evil trick. You are fitter than ever. You train more than ever. And your weight keeps going up. Keeps happening to me. I can’t explain it but the pounds keep appearing on the scale. I look the same. I feel the same. But the number. THE DAMN NUMBER. Not the same.
Ironman is the worst. If you are training for Ironman there are things you should know. You will weigh in about 5 pounds heavier than ever. And you will be more confused than ever. How could I have trained 25 hours a week, sat on bicycle for over 7 hours, ran 20 miles and STILL come out 5 pounds over? HOW!? It’s just the evil curse of Ironman. That and of course very inaccurate scales.
I know the numbers really mean nothing. I know all of this. I’m sort of smart. At least rational. Yet when I see a scale – I want on. I want to weigh myself and see will it be a good or a bad day. Good number and you feel lighter than air, beautiful, fit, strong, confident, alive. Bad number and you want to curl back up in bed and try again another day. Subsist on grapes and water and hope you drop a pound. Or a few.
Eating disorders aside, I think it’s something that plagues most women. The battle with the scale. But think about it. Why even have a scale? What are we looking for? What good is it to know? You have clothes, right? Why not let them be the measure? They fit – you’re good. They fall off – you’re better. They are tight – lay off the ______(insert your vice) for awhile.
I think we all know this. We know what’s wrong with the idea of the scale. Yet as women we still live – and die – by the scale. A few months ago when I realized my weight kept going up, I up and abandoned the scale. But it wasn’t easy at first. I would make my husband weigh himself just in case. In case the scale was off. The measure and balance precision device – OFF. Yes, that’s it. Well it wasn’t. He weighed in – oh damn him he weighed in less than what he thought. Stupid man. Steady diet of corn chips and a beer a day and still down a few pounds. So then I decided husband was reliable but not valid. I replaced the scale battery instead to improve validity. And...same thing.
It’s even worse at the doctor’s office. Not only do they weigh you on something you know can’t be accurate after half of America has gotten on and off the scale but they announce it to you as you stand there and then....then....they write it down. Great. So what you’re telling me is that wearing jeans, a belt, shoes, I weigh 8 pounds more than the start of the day. Well that’s useful to know. And because you didn’t take into account my jeans, belt, shoes, etcetera, when the doctor sees that number he is going to say to me so you’re weight is up. Doctor once did that to me. I looked at him like…seriously. S.E.R.I.O.U.S.L.Y.
But when you hear something like that or see something like that – that your weight is up – no matter how smart, logical, rational, intelligent you are you start to think – what does this mean? Am I fat? Useless, ugly, worthless, out of control, not perfect, slothlike and done? Is this why I’m running so slow? Is this why I never seem satisfied with myself?
Probably not. It’s just weight. And as an athlete you often gain weight as you add muscle mass. Or water retention. As long as you eat good the number is probably not much good to you. But there is another tricky thing for women – eating good. I work with women. Lots of women. Women of all ages, shapes, sizes, backgrounds, abilities. And I see this all the time:
I went on a bender last week where I subsisted on cupcakes, coffee and peanut butter and now I feel like crap.
That may have been me. Or someone else. Either way, it’s not a good place. And we know that. We know we don’t need all that crap yet we can’t help it. We feel we deserve it. We’ve earned it. Or we want one and that one turns into….twenty six. Ok, so here’s the problem. We all know it feels bad to eat bad and then get on the scale to see a number that is “bad” so why do we do it? I don’t know. I think it gets back to a strange relationship or understanding with food. But I think there are some things we can do to help.
First of all, abandon the scale. Free thyself of the magic number and focus on how you feel instead. Before you get on the scale ask yourself – what will this number tell me? Seriously, what is the answer you are looking for? Do you really need one more thing to judge you each day? And a non-living thing at that? We have enough “things” in life judging us, critiquing us or monitoring us. Don’t add another by putting yourself on top of the scale.
Secondly, understand you are a woman and you will have fluctuations in your body throughout the month. You cannot control that. So obviously don’t spend that week complaining that you are heavy and fat. Guess what. You are. We all are. Deal with it and make yourself comfortable instead.
Third, quit taking the easy way out (visiting vending machines, eating fast food, skipping meals). Good nutrition is not hard to do. It does not take more than 10 minutes to assemble a healthy meal. It takes careful planning, smart shopping and commitment. Deciding that you will take the time and effort to care more about yourself. How hard is it to whip up some brown rice (microwaveable), cooked spinach (5 minutes) and chicken (open a package or can, salt free of course)? Once you have the basic ingredients for good eating you have no excuse. Sure this means shopping perhaps twice a week to get fresh ingredients but it’s worth it. Anything worthwhile in life takes time.
Fourth, no more complaining that it costs more to eat better. Yes it does. News flash: we were not designed to live on frozen pizza, fruit snacks or chicken nuggets (neither were our children for that matter). I know it’s cheaper but you get what you pay for. Plus, last I checked diabetes, heart surgery and cancer are very expensive. So, pay now or pay later.
Fifth, stop giving yourself a free pass. I just came back from Ragbrai and witnessed an entire week of people giving themselves free passes to binge. Bad! You can be fit and fat. Trust me. There was just a recent article somewhere too about people that look skinny but have BMI’s over 30. Not that BMI is accurate but you see where that’s going – fitness/training does not cancel out bad food. Bad food is bad food. A long bike ride is not a free pass for lunch at McDonald’s. Fruity Pebbles is not a breakfast of champions. Treats are good – they give us reason to live sometimes (I know this first hand) but the treat itself cannot be the motivation. Look inside for what drives you. Don’t put that responsibility on food. Be honest that calories in must equal calories out – no matter how long you ride!
Sixth, live by this rule: if the first 3 ingredients contain something I cannot pronounce I will not put it into my mouth. Your body knows what to do with food – natural, real wholesome food. A tomato – yup, know where that goes. A cucumber – I’ll put that right over here. Salmon, eggs, nuts…all have a place. Processed foods, dairy, refined grains – confuse your body. It was not designed to process processed foods. Think about it. If your food item has more than 3 ingredients listed – is it really something your body needs? Or knows what to do with? Give your body what it knows.
Seventh, stop the sugar habit. A little piece of candy, a handful of chocolate, a pastry, a muffin – sugar sugar sugar. Ride the sugar wave and at some point you will crash. You get a headache and think to yourself – I need something, anything, quick to make this headache go away. More sugar! It’s a cycle that can take days to break but once broken the headaches and dips in energy will dissipate. Be sure one of the first three ingredients in your food is not sugar to avoid the sugar wave (and be careful because sugar is sneaky and hides as honey, evaporated cane juice, syrups, juice, brown sugar, molasses).
Eighth – and last, commit to it. It takes how many days to create a new habit? And how many days are in a year? Your commitment to good eating is a small price of time and effort in exchange for so many benefits. Give it a month and I promise you will feel better. Admit it – eating like crap makes you feel like crap! For many reasons – one being that what you eat is closely tangled with our self-esteem. How easy is it to gain more self-esteem? This easy: eat better, look better, feel better. You are worth it.
I’m sharing these ideas because I work with so many women that seem to be at war with food and, in turn, in conflict with themselves. Many women eat too much of the wrong things and too little of the right things. They eat too little in general and end up creating a cycle of starvation – overcompensation. Remember, as you skip meals, starve yourself or deprive yourself of food you actually cause your body to slow the metabolism and hold on longer to the little food it does get (code for: store as fat) because the body becomes scared that you will not feed it again. This causes you to actually gain weight as you eat less. You are better off eating better, more frequently than to create long periods where you go without food and “bank up” your calories to spend on something “big” (which becomes monumental and stored as fat because you’ve deprived yourself so long).
Nothing is simple in life and not every situation can be solved easily. There are predisposing conditions and body types that shape us to look certain ways. But in general feeling better - and looking better if that is what you are looking for - goes along with eating better. Stop the silliness with numbers and the scale. When you focus more on what you put into your body and less on what the numbers say, you become free of the prison you create with the numbers and food and instead enjoy eating and life again. When you eat right, you look right, you feel better about yourself. Sure you can slip up and should enjoy it when you do – but like athletic training, it’s patterns over time that matter. Not measuring yourself day to day...
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I’ve been at war with my hair for years. Though it seemed to hang poker straight for most of my childhood, during the tween years it grew a mind of its own. So much so that my stepdad dubbed me Flicka. As in My Friend Flicka where Flicka was the horse. Nice, right? My hair is very much like me – a little sassy, wavy, mind of its own. So you can see that we were a good match but also at odds with each other. Enter: war with own hair.
For years I grew it long in hopes to tame it down and to always have an out in case it got too unruly – pulling it back. Train for an Ironman and long hair becomes a long chore so there it all went. Another Ironman, there goes more. Working from home, even more. In fact, working from home you realize how overrated styling your hair, putting on makeup, wearing outfits instead of clothes becomes. And now for nearly the past year I have spent my days sitting in pajamas with wet hair or hair under a hat. No need for a hair style – or any style – at all.
But lately I had enough. Enough of hair just hanging there and besides I was starting to feel old. Time for a change. Start with the hair. It’s the cheapest anyways. A new wardrobe would be too much money and probably not get much use unless it was in the form of pajama bottoms and tops. Painted nails would only last a few swims. A make over – well, I did that after Ironman #2 and it cost me nearly as much as the mortgage for a month.
At first I looked to my husband for advice. Note to all wives: do not do this. When you tell him you want it short but long he comes back with maybe you should consider a mullet. Thanks. Then he confesses that he likes you no matter what you look like or do to your hair. Perfect textbook answer but really not much help. Then you ask your mom who tells you that she likes your hair best in braids. Since I am over age 12 I felt that wasn’t really an appropriate hair style to work towards. So then I was left to the internet. Google imaged searched short hair with bangs and looked around.
I know what you’re thinking – bangs are always a bad idea. And they are. They require a flat iron, a blow dryer, a style. But I’ve noticed I’m getting those little fine lines that start to appear in the mid 30’s. And I’m starting to get lots of breakouts on my forehead from spending most days under a helmet, swim cap or visor. Time to cover that mess up. So I had a general idea of what I wanted, what I didn’t want and what I might be talked into with short hair and bangs.
Off to the salon I go. I’ve been going to the same salon for 18 years. It’s one of those cool salons where the stylists are only allowed to wear white or black. Because that’s what cool people wear. It is so cool they almost don’t let me in because I’m way too uncool and show up wearing something like…grey. I have my same hairdresser who seems to understand my hair. And me. I’m the one that swims, she says. She can always tell because it feels like her scissors are dull. The swimmer that needs to pull her hair back (that is always my one rule). That is me.
I sat in the chair and confessed to my hairy sins – it had been 6 months since my last haircut. I realized she was ready to snap the scissors at me but in my defense I once went over a year without a haircut. Of course my hair today was wet. I had been swimming then showering and decided what’s the point. She looks at my hair and asks what we are going to do. I told her I was in the mood for something different. She plays with my hair and we talk about bangs.
Do you need to still pull your hair back?
I tell her I’m over that. Back in February I cut it so short there was no pulling back. I’ve since gotten over any need to pull the hair back.
Do you plan on blowing it out each morning?
I told her I could make no guarantees. I work from home and work out a lot. Blowing my hair out really doesn’t have top priority in my day. This is perhaps the best thing about working from home – your self esteem increases ten fold because you no longer have to worry about what you look like or compare yourself to anyone. Plus you save about 30 – 60 minutes each day from not having to sit in a giant pile of clothes in your closet choosing what to wear or slave over the mirror as you blow out your hair.
Do you want to wear it curly or straight?
I’m indifferent. Really, let’s go either way. I know my aloofness is frustrating her but seriously it is just my hair. If I don’t like it, it will grow back. And I say that to her. You have expressive freedom with my hair today. Go crazy. It will grow back.
We will go for Katie Holmes, she says. Of course you are not Katie Holmes and don’t have hair like Katie Holmes but we will do something like that.
Sounds reassuring. I don’t have hair like Katie Holmes but I will have her haircut. Thanks, I feel 100 times more confident that this will be my best haircut yet. And you are right, I could never be Katie Holmes. First, of all I don’t find Tom Cruise all that attractive. Too quirky and short. Secondly, I’d run a marathon much faster than 5:29 without wearing my ipod during the race thank you very much.
At that, I am swept over to the sink for a wash. This is my least favorite part of getting a haircut. I don’t like people touching anything close to my ears and the washer gets dangerously close. Plus she takes too long. Seriously girl it’s a wash and rinse. There is no need to allow your fingers to make out with my scalp. Stop touching my head and get away from my ears.
Finally I am back in the stylist’s chair. Imagine how fun life would be with this chair at your kitchen table. You go up, you go down. You spin around. You pump pump pump and then a sudden drop. I need one of these things. Make a mental note to look for one online.
She starts snipping away. Big chunks of my hair fall to the floor. There are layers, textures, and finally there are bangs. Oh crap. Bangs. That might not have been such a good idea. But as she spins me around I realize oh yes there it is...I have Katie Holmes hair. In fact, so much that I believe Katie Holmes stole my haircut and is now getting national press. It looks kind of cute, sassy, short and definitely in need of a daily style. I may have just screwed myself out of a wash n’ go life. But at least I have something very close to Katie Holmes hair.
Now I need her sunglasses, her style, her child and her husband. Wait, scratch the husband request. I need her best friend’s husband – David Beckham – because he is smokin’ hot. And as long as we are putting in requests I also need Victoria Beckham’s boobs. And fashion sense. Ok, my order is now complete.
My hair is blown dry and I realize I am now looking at my fate. This hair cut will require daily maintenance. If not I will have a massive chunk of bangs globbing up my face. I also realize that if you perhaps want to look at your ugliest you should sit yourself in a stylists chair under 100000 watt light bulbs magnifying everything you are trying to hide with the bangs you have already decided that you hate. When I install this chair in my house, it will not be near a mirror nor under lights.
The haircut is complete. I look somewhat ridiculous but I am convinced with some powerful bold hair cream I can get it under control. And a few bobby pins. A little bit of make up. Some earrings. All right, I am accepting that I’m going to need cosmetic surgery daily in my bathroom to look like Katie Holmes. But then I realize she is the one requiring a professional stylist each day to look like me. Because my face and hair have been ready to pimp this style since day one. It just took a few years into adulthood to finally be bold enough to let it out.
So, Katie, I want my haircut back. Oh wait, I just took it. And when you see me walking along the streets of Beverly Hills (seriously I have no intention of walking there) – but let’s pretend you did see me – you can say, I have that girl’s haircut. And you’d be so right. You’d be so jealous of me for sporting the best haircut ever. At least once I grow out these bangs…
Monday, July 28, 2008
I keep rolling down a street filled with cyclists on recumbents, hybrids, mountain bikes and other relics that have survived, albeit rusty, since 1978. At some point the road becomes so bottlenecked with cyclists that I am forced to unclip and walk my bike. There by the local bar I locate my friends clad in bright blue bike jerseys obnoxiously splattered with white hibiscus flowers and the words trousermouse on the collars and side panels of their shorts. We regroup and decide if we will hang out in town or roll. We decide to roll on to the next town.
In between we will ride somewhere between 10 to 20 miles in two long blue lines whirring down the road. On our right, the meat of Ragbrai rides. Mostly averaging about 10 mph with radios blaring from their bicycles, burleys filled with camping gear in tow, toe cages, tutus on their heads, ragbrai virgin written on their calves. They are recreational riders at best – some that have never picked up a bike until the week before when a friend convinced them they had to take part of the biggest party on two wheels that moves across Iowa.
Our line rolls by them swiftly. Tim and Chris lead the way pulling the team along over 23 mph. To pull the team is hard. To sit behind the puller is almost harder. To sit third, fourth, fifth back is the difference between driving a car across country and taking a nap in the backseat. To sit in the back position is to be willing to play an endless game of yo-yo or bridge the gap. And to police the line from overzealous riders that try to latch on only to fall off as we crest the next hill. We roll down the road speaking the language of the paceline bump, slowing, crack, on your left, left side, course right, car up, car back, rider up, cannonball. To the right is corn. To the left is soybeans. Above is nothing but endless blue skies scattered with wispy clouds indicating the headwind we have been facing for most of the ride has plans to stay.
Yes, friends, that is how Monday would go if I was still on Ragbrai.
It is like that for miles upon miles. 500 miles total if you were to ride every day. You start in a town where you have camped for the night. You wake up the next morning ready to ride. Typically we wake at 8 am and take anywhere from 1 – 2 hours to tear camp apart before facing our bike seats. First task of the morning: you search for a kybo. Sometimes this requires a bicycle ride to the middle of town to desperately hope that the line of kybos in the beer garden is still there. If that fails, you head to the local courthouse, always open early and know for the best bathrooms on the ride. You return to tear down your tent covered in morning dew, put on bike shorts that you cannot - at this point - tell if they are dirty or clean, strap on the bike shoes and stand by your bike.
The weather forecast is given. Marsh rips a tuft of grass from the lawn of the homeowner we convinced to host 15 weary yet raucous riders along with their tents, lawn chairs and a cooler filled with beer. Marsh lets the grass go to see which way the wind blows. The ride will either be hard work or a tailwind delight. Most days it is hard work. A plan is made for whether we will eat pancakes 4 miles out of town or in the first town. If you arrive too late and miss pancakes you miss a significant part of your nutrition plan. The team gets atop their bikes and we roll. Slow at first but then building speed. A sign tells us pancakes today are 7 miles way. A collective moan. Some grumbling tummies. A grit of your teeth wondering how far and fast you can go before you completely run out of fuel.
Each morning, someone offers to sag and drive the van filled with our belongings to the end town. Usually that person is in the most pain from either the day’s ride before or the night’s drinking. The rest of us will ride anywhere from 60 to 100 miles to get to the end town. In between there will be about 6 to 8 small towns that have planned for over a year to bring the festival of Ragbrai into their town. Along the way, the course is mostly closed as Iowa seems to have accepted that in exchange for gobs of profit they will need to give up some of their roads. Each town has a theme along with food, drink and music. Imagine a Taste of Chicago but spread it across Iowa. And instead of fancy city food you have nothing but pork, pie and sweet corn.
60 to 100 miles can take 3 hours or can take all day. Depends on the course and how many times you stop. The day of the century we were on the course for 9 hours. Of course the century itself took a little over 5 hours. But when you include time to eat pancakes, wait in line for a kybo and create an impromptu beer garden, the day adds up. And besides there is no rush. Your job for 8 hours each day – or more if you work overtime – is to get to the end town. You could roll in at 12 pm or 10 pm and it would still be the same. In the end town there is nothing pressing. Nothing but your tent that needs to be put up, a hose shower that you need to find and the quest for enough food. And that shower is optional – for you will learn on a week long ride that hygiene is highly overrated, as is stretching, power zones and heart rate. Food, however, is never overrated nor optional.
Along the way you meet people. People of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, abilities. People riding six thousand dollar bikes to people riding something with a chain so rusted you wonder how it carries them up any hill at all. There are two guys riding unicycles. A rollerblader. People carting their kids, dogs, personal belongings and an entire team of men – Team Bad Boy – that hauls a grill, a stereo and literally a kitchen sink. You talk to them. You talk to anyone and everyone that will help you pass the miles after you’ve been dropped or decided to roll ahead. You realize that very few are on their first Ragbrai; most riders have years of Ragbrai’s in their legs. Along with rides through the Rockies, across Europe or following the Tour de France. Riding is life. Spandex is comfort. A good saddle is like a good home – one that is upon wheels but home nonetheless.
Everyone has a team name. A team kit. Some have stickers, hats and other trinket giveaways. A school bus they have painted and covered in inappropriate slogans and equipped with a balcony on top to hold bikes, a balcony on back to hold a kybo, a portable shower or a barbeque grill. It is mechanical creativity at its best and the buses are sometimes more interesting to look at than the ride scenery itself. Team names are lewd and remind you that for one week out of the year Ragbrai is a much needed obscene respite for many that hide behind pent up desk jobs and other real life obligations. For most riders, Ragbrai is like a spring break. Except that it is at the end of July.
Team Mojo, Team Bad Monkey, Party Patrol, Fish, Commoniwannaleia, Bastardos, Spin, Cockroach, Schmooze, Me-Off, Two Tired, Bead Whore, Diegos, Evil and then there is Trousermouse. That is our team. Of course it was a team name created when the guys were about 14 years old. Somehow, though, on Ragbrai it fits right in with the other Ragbrai team innanities. Like the fact that most teams are all grown adults wearing purple wigs, capes, beads, spandex that was a wee bit too tight and the man wearing nothing but the loin cloth – we’re still not sure how he rode at all. And for the record he really was wearing nothing underneath. He showed us so.
It’s not just him - the ride is filled with people like that. Those that are not satisfied with just the toughness of an everyday ride. They take it up a notch. Or take off their pants. Or ride a bicycle without a seat, rollerblade, wear a giant piece of foam pie on their helmet – imagine the aerodynamic drag of that. But with all of that – they still ride and make you realize that in life there really is no excuse. If you are able, you can ride. If you are breathing, you can exercise. If you can move, you should in any way you can.
This was my sixth time on the ride. In years past I remember much more debauchery, nudity and free beer. Not that I went looking for any of that but in the two years I haven’t been on the ride – the bad behavior just doesn’t seem to be there as much anymore. Ragbrai has grown kinder, gentler, cleaner, perhaps just older. For many it seems more like a weeklong binge from town to town to indulge in bratwurst or walking tacos, lemonade or beer. Ragbrai has grown a little slower, a little more soft around the middle.
But still it hasn’t lost what attracts most of us to it after all – its simplicity to bare life down to the basics for a week – eat, sleep, ride. Hang out with friends. Drink some beer. Pass some miles. And, most importantly – take your time. To suggest you will do something other than that is to break the Ragbrai code. It is not welcome and as I realized many days – not the point of the ride.
And how do you pass the time? Whatever way you can. Or want. Sit on a curb and talk to your friends. Grab some food. Listen to the music. Heckle riders on a hill. Walk around a town of 1,000 – which usually takes about 3 blocks. Go to the Casey’s to buy some Gatorade. Pick up free romance books at the library and read selections sitting by the post office. Play games. Silly games that you make up under the influence of too many miles, too tight of spandex, too much Iowa summer sun.
Finally you roll into the end town. You visit the message board and hope the van driver posted. You locate the campsite on someone's lawn. The homeowner usually offers up their hose. They completely sacrifice their backyard for 12 hours to a bunch of hooligans that will litter the lawn with beer cans, bikes and wet clothes. In the morning those same hooligans will clean up and leave without a trace. First priority: decide if you will tolerate the coldness of a hose shower or pay 5 bucks for one at the local school. On hot days the hose shower feels like heaven. You stand there in your bike clothes and get yourself as close as you can to clean. You put up your tent. You then visit the town for food. It is like a carnival with music, beer garden and food vendors. Afterwards you sit around camp in lawn chairs and talk some more. You meet up with friends you only see once a year. You talk bikes. You talk life. You talk sometimes about nothing at all.
You are at the whim of the weather – the sun, the rain, the wind. Ragbrai makes you tough. You sleep through one storm that literally scares the life out of you. You tough through 98 degrees with 90 percent humidity. You bear down in the pouring rain. You ride straight into a headwind with no other choice. It’s not like you can put your bike down and stop. You have to get to the end town. No one will pick your sorry ass up. You get up and ride. You realize there is no such thing as fatigue. You can wake up day after day and push yourself and keep expecting more. If you had a nutrition plan it got off track after the second stop of the day. You eat what you can when you can and tell your legs to just pedal more. You forget about power and heart rate and just ride.
By day 7 your legs become like an army – they just listen and do the work. Any pain dissipates after about 20 minutes or just becomes replaced by the soreness of your private parts after hugging the saddle for so many miles. The chafing, the saddle sores – these are the most painful memories. The pain in your legs – at some point it stops or you don’t notice your legs realize this is now your day’s work. Riding is your job. You get a sense of how it must feel to ride in the tour. Your body goes on automatic. To take a day off would be painful because you feel your body and legs would completely shut down.
Yesterday I did a 2 hour run. My legs are not yet aware that they rode hundreds of miles last week. For some reason they were fast, light and speedy instead. In fact, I ran better than I’ve run in a long time. But today – Monday – my legs are feeling not so great. Climbing the stairs was an epic feat. I’m burning up from a metabolism that won’t slow down. It’s 1 pm and I’ve already eaten 3 meals. I’m officially suffering from the post-Ragbrai. In which I will find myself heavier than ever from all the carbohydrate and fluid retention. From the extra muscle mass. Grown fat from a week’s worth of heaven in Iowa disconnected from responsibility, reality and the rest of the world.
And now I sit here back to work. A kitchen chair is nothing like a bike seat and all of a sudden I feel the urge to shout on your left. I’m looking for a wheel to draft and getting buzzed by one of the Metz boys. I wonder how long I can hold on at this pace. Off in the distance I see the water tower indicating the next town and know I can hold on until I make it there. A car up, a rider up, a big crack in the middle of the road. I roll over and by each obstacle with fastness that makes me feel vulnerable yet strong. I realize out here I am completely alive but also nearly facing the possibility of death every pedal stroke of the way. The corn is my fire escape. And sometimes I realize even if I had to peel off into the corn I would still go airborne and wonder if the corn would soften my land. I shuffle thoughts like this quickly away and just focus on the wheel in front of me. I tell myself to be fearless. To be on Ragbrai riding in a line is to become fearless. To ignore the burn in your legs and focus on the task at hand. You approach 25, 26, 28 mph – at one point 31 mph on the flats and you realize at the end of this week your head will hurt more than your legs from staring at a wheel, from facing the possibility of your own fast crash, from forcing yourself to let go. Throw caution to the Iowa wind and let your legs ride. That’s from where confidence grows.
If you have the time next year, you too should escape. Look out over the rolling Iowa hillsides. Find yourself lost in a row of green stalks of corn. Quiet your mind to the sound of wheels on pavement. Make riding your job and a tent your home. You realize that you can disappear for a week and life will continue to go forward. Nothing much is so important that it needs you there and now. Nothing much resists you from slowing down and stepping back, from disconnecting, letting yourself get a little ragged and forgetting you have worries at all.
So next year come late July, grab your bike, your backpack and cycling shoes. Throw some salt tabs in your jersey pocket just in case but keep in mind that a turkey drumstick or a bloody mary probably has all the salt you'll ever need to continue down the road.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Over 400 miles, countless bars, assorted gels, buckets of sunscreen, salt tabs, sports drink, water, chammy butter, body glide, hose showers, and other things you need to make it through a week of camping and biking across the Iowa state.
I am not sure where I last left off. I'm not sure I provided any sort of a portal into the Ragbrai world. Internet access in Iowa was spotty at best. And even if it was there, I didn't go out looking. There is something to be said for completely disconnecting for a week. To turn off the phone, the e-mail and to strip life down to the basics - eat, ride, sleep. Wake up the next day and do it again.
I believe I last left off on Wednesday. That night around 11:30 pm it started pouring rain. It continued through the morning. Since the van was filled with our belongings it would be impossible for everyone to sag. Most of the boys biked while Dit, Baron, Billy Boy, Trixie, Jen and I decided a big ass breakfast was in order. When you spend a week living on bars for breakfast and then arrive at a Perkins - you know exactly what you want. Eggs, pancakes, syrup, butter, coffee and lots and lots of cream. Even if that's not what you usually take.
In a pancake coma, we arrived in North Liberty. The girls were starting to feel guilty about not riding. The pouring rain had turned simply overcast skies. Perfect for a ride. So we suited up in our pink jerseys and headed out to meet the boys. Riding the course backwards is never easy. You find yourself coming up fast against the meat of Ragbrai - mountain bikes, squirrely pace lines, men wearing skirts and people with all sorts of things in addition to helmets on their heads. Add to that the fact that you are a paceline of 4 fast chicks and you get a lot of looks, hoots and hollers. After about 30 minutes, Jen and Trixie were lured by the siren sound of 'free beer stop'. Jen tried to convince me that it was Team Rule #38 - when you are faced with free beer, you stop. I threw back Team Rule #39 - Liz is exempt from all team rules and will continue to ride. Pulled Dit to the half way town and waited.
The boys never showed up quickly enough so we turned around and rode back. I told Dit to hang on and I would pull into the headwind as fast as possible. At one point I looked behind me and noticed I was pulling nearly half of the men on Ragbrai. It is fun to be a strong woman. You get a lot of comments - hey, that's a chick, holy crap she's fast, look at her go. As we pulled into the end town some guy came up to me and said I've never seen a woman ride like that. I felt like saying mister, you've never met my HTFU friends.
That night was uneventful. We stayed at someone's condo which actually meant an indoor sleeping space and a warm shower. Things like that on Ragbrai are so uncommon you treasure every minute of them. Trixie pointed out it was the first time we had been indoors in over 5 days. She was right. The little things you lose sight of when you live outside.
Friday was perhaps my favorite day. I spent a good amount of time pulling the line with Chris. We did a double line down the road and it felt strong to be in front. Another free beer stop that deterred the team but kept Chris and I going. These are my favorite times and remind me of early days with Chris. It was 2001 that I went on my first Ragbrai after he convinced me I just had to go. I remember the flexion of his calves as I sat behind him in the paceline. These days he goes so fast all I can do is stare at his wheel and the road ahead, praying for my safety, hanging on for dear life. If he has calves that flex anymore I wouldn't know. But I loved every minute of riding with him. At times we would pick up some pack meat and I would tell him pick it up to shake them off. Someone would get brave and pull out my favorite move - the downhill pull and then we would snap them back up like a rubberband.
We decided to stop in Mount Vernon and eat some little loaves of bread from a Russian Tea Room. We learned the French spelling of KYBO was CAIBO as indicated on a bunch of signs in the town. I've seen some crazy spellings of words this week. We walked into a wine shop to see their menu and ended up buying one dollar cans of Schlitz because - seriously - who sells Schlitz anymore? I almost lost it when a guy poured his can into a decanter before pouring it into a glass. Our purpose with the beer purchase was to also bring sustenance to Tim who was meeting us in Mechanicsville. As Chris and I rode towards the town, a man came up alongside me huffing and puffing he asked "is that a Schlitz in your rear bottle cage?" Why yes, sir, it is. He said he "just had to ask" and then peeled off the back. I guess you work for what you really need to know in life. We headed out to meet Timmers and found him with Trixie eating shrimp on the side of the road. Something I would never eat in a state that is more than 150 miles away from an ocean (a rule I learned from Giff) - shrimp.
The rest of the team arrived along with two other teams we seem to hang out with all week long - Atlas and Bastardos. They are strong riders but stronger beer drinkers. As you can tell, Ragbrai is more about the festivities than riding with many. I was reminded of my disobedience to this almost every day. The fact that I would not touch 20 cans of Coors Light each day made me the outlander but honestly - I could care less. I just love to ride.
Jen came walking across the street with a tray full of Bloody Mary's around 2pm. When I thought about having one she said "I'll make that decision for you" and put the cup in front of me. I sipped it - it was ok. And for the record I needed the salt. But could barely finish it. And didn't want to anyways. I wanted to ride again! So I took off with Dit and pulled - again - a line of many men back towards the end town of Tipton.
That night I woke up 1:47 am to the sound of a bear snoring. It had to be. I was surrounded by tents and had no idea where the sound came from. Stormed out of my tent and located the offender. And then I looked around. Something had to be done. I'm a light sleeper and can't stand the sound of anything. So I decided to throw something at the man's tent. I found a few empty beer cans and pop bottles and took my best shots. Then I shouted at him. Next year, I'm bringing ear plugs or some bigger things to throw.
The next morning was the last day. We set out and after 20 minutes I took my turn at the front of the line. This week I have learned I am strong enough to pull the line and need to take risks like that more often. It felt strong, steady and powerful to be in the lead. It hurt my head more than my legs but most endurance sports are like that. Fatigue is really all a head game. As long as you keep the fluids and fuel coming in, you can go and go and go....just talk yourself into it and be ready to fight your head. Giff pulled up next to me in the line. I wanted to keep pulling faster and faster - a move Chris calls the slow boil. We were moving along wickedly fast and Giff was getting the mukes and announcing to me that a muffin and donut were no breakfast for biking champions. That's why I settled for my 100th bar of the week.
The rest of the ride I took more turns pulling then we caught up with another team that was trying to create the longest paceline on Ragbrai. After about 10 miles of that I got bored, slow and itchy to move my own line so I took off with the Red Bear and Dit towards LeClaire. LeClaire was the end town. I passed under the banner and realized that Ragbrai was done.
Back at the van, everyone packed up. The van taketh, the van giveth and items lost throughout the week were spit back out from the van's innermost parts. A water bottle, my swimsuit, a towel. One last hose shower to rinse off and cold water never felt so good. Said our goodbyes and drove back towards home.
I will write more about the lessons I learned along the way. There were many. And I will put them into words at another time. But now I am back at home with about 20 piles of laundry waiting for me and I cannot wait to see my dog. He is at my mom's house and I do believe when I see him I will be doing the crazy laps. If my legs can take it.
Cheers to the Rag - it's good to be done.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
I'm not even sure where to begin. I guess I should start with Monday. Monday started at 2:20 am. There was a golf cart driving through town shouting through bullhorn at all Ragbrai campers that a major storm with high winds was moving in. All of a sudden the giant silver maple that provided shade at 2 pm for our tent was not such a good idea. We moved into the methodist church across the street. Found a pew to sleep upon and thank god for cushioned pews. The storm blew through and we were safe in the church. We were not safe - however - from the snoring bear that was on the floor. By some miracle of god or faith I reached under my pillow and found two quarters. I am not kidding. In my sleepy state I thought to myself - Chris lost his pocket change - anyways I realized I had two chances to stop the snoring bear. I threw the first quarter - in the dark - and heard it hit the wall. The second quarter did the trick. The snoring stopped. In the morning, I woke to hear one of our teammates - Billy Boy - telling everyone that someone threw change at him in the morning. Yes, that was me. Hell of a shot I'd say.
Monday was the century day. Chris, Red Bear, Billy Boy, Baron and I headed out for 100 miles. It was a glorious day. Early on I made a move on the group and beat the boys into town. That felt good. The rest of the team met us at some in between town. The team shopped for new uniforms in a consignment shop. Marsh found the most fabulous disco shirt. Jen got a cat tail. Shady Tom got a bow tie. I found the coolest shirt in the kid section - it was red and said ROCKSTAR in rhinestones. Top that off with a Kum-N-Go (no joke, that's the name of the gas stations around here) hat and you have a stylish trailer trash outfit put together for under 50 cents. We rolled out of that town and the group picked up some pack meat. I was really frustrated so I made an attack to go off the front and drop the entire group. There were about 40 men chasing me and it was hard work. I told myself if I could hold them off for 5, I could do 10 - 20 - turned into 45 before I got swallowed proudly by the peleton. Some other team guy told me my effort was inefficient, I told him to zip it. I'm not here for efficiency.
We ended up creating a party in Scranton since we had beat most of Ragbrai there. Someone bought about 20 x 18 packs of cheap beer. The team was sorely disappointed that I would not parttake in their festivities but I said someone has to be the voice of reason and someone has to instigate a beer criterium and be sober enough to enforce the rules. A giant storm rolled in, the fesitivities continued and then we all rode back into the end town.
That night the Timmers continued the fesitivites a bit too far. I found him in a bar shouting very loudly that he was a townie. The problem was he was shouting this at a townie. We were sitting in these swivel chairs and he make a very risky move. The man behind us who was a townie and also about 300 lbs - well, Timmers decided to swivel him around and shout at him that I was looking for whiskey. I was not. And the townie was not impressed and told the Timmers to take himself and his girlfriend out of the bar. Timmers then excused himself to the restroom and snuck out the back door. We found him later at the camp and then Red Bear tackled him to keep Timmers from running away from us again (note: best not to lose the Timmers when intoxicated).
The next day Chris and I rode mostly by ourselves. It was a short ride and the course was mostly flat. I disqualified everyone on Ragbrai riding with children, fanny packs, I-Pods, beads, camelbacks, tandems, dogs, large toys on their bodies or helmets, writing on their legs, Ragbrai jerseys, tutus, sandals, crocs, toe cages, riding in the left lane going under 12 mph, riding more than 3 abreast, those wearing full European racing team kits, those on teams that start with a man's name....as you can see I pretty much disqualified everyone on Ragbrai.
We had a great camping site at the Iowa State Arboretum. The team ended up stopping in one of the towns (it's a pattern - in the two years we have been off Ragbrai, our team has gotten more into festivities than cycling...) so they rolled in late - and without the Timmers. His sister, Jen, told me I should probably go ride back out to find him or call the Boone County Jail. I would do no such thing. I was finally clean (actually paid for a shower that day) and enjoying my first beer of Ragbrai (and my last). I had gone for a great run on the ISU cross country course and was done working out for the day. The Timmers eventually came back and he had been totally Ragbraied - he was wearing a bunch of beads, a cheetah skirt and had "Val's b*tch" written on one of his arms. I'm not sure he even knew who Val was. Apparently he and another team that we find often had stopped on the major hill into Boone telling the riders welcome to Ames. Ames was about 9 miles away.
That evening we hung out in Ames. I was walking down the street when someone said don't let this underage girl into the bar - and with that I found myself in a bar. Good times were had. My times were all dry times but good nonetheless. You can have a good time without beer. Trust me. Shady Tom announced Ragbrai was his natural habitat. Two cougars stalked Baron and Billy Boy. It was all classic Ragbrai fun.
Today's riding was annoying at best. There were too many people, too many packs, too many squirrely riders and too much wind. I did my share of pulling. I nearly threw up pancakes. We saw many accidents out there which slowed us and scared us. Chris and I finally decided to just ride alone. I broke up with Ragbrai because the day was just frustrating. 77 miles and I just had enough of people riding to the left, riding squiggly lines and riding in giant packs.
And now we sit in camp. Chris, Meredith and I. We wait for the group. We have found a pool but the lap lanes are once again filled with salty cyclists. I am salty. I am hungry. I have ridden about 260 miles in the past 4 days. And there is more tomorrow. I cannot wait. For as much as I disqualify the ride I still enjoy it. I have made many observations about the ride and its riders which I will share at another time. Until then I will keep enjoying the miles, the people I meet along the way. I have yet to eat meat on a stick or corn on the cob. It will happen. After all, this is Iowa and I am on Ragbrai.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Ragbrai time officially begins at half past Chris o’clock when the Waterstraat chimes in with a frustrated aw f**k you guys.
It happens every Ragbrai like clockwork. This year it occurred Friday night around 10:17 pm.
We woke up early Saturday morning, loaded up the cars and drove out to LeClaire. Meredith, myself, Chris and monkey. Meredith always brings along some stuffed friend (nothing says psychocrazysisterinlaw like an obsession with stuffed dolls). We arrived two hours later in the Mississippi River valley to meet up the Red Bear and Jennifer.
We parked our LeClaire. We rented a car to drive to the Nebraska border. Somehow we need to get the car dropped off in Omaha and the driver back to Missouri Valley where the ride begins. The rest of the team is driving down from Minneapolis with the rented 15 passenger van. After some complex math, tactful packing and getting uncomfortably close to men I only see once a year, we somehow jam the van with 12 bikes, 12 lawn chairs, a cooler, helmets, shoes and luggage that most certainly exceeds the 50 lb airline limit. Plus the people.
Red Bear, Jennifer meet us. The car is packed with only one fit of anger from Chris. When he announced the box of booze would be left behind a collective groan came from others. And then the decision was made:
Grab the Jack Daniels, leave everything else behind.
Orders like that make Chris more appropriately Captain Chris. Meredith and I decide we will make him a cape. Finally the five of us, monkey and Jack are on the road. The first beer was cracked at 11:20 am. NOTE: I do not crack beer. There’s nothing wrong with a drink (unless it’s before noon but then again Rabgrai time is a different time zone altogether), there’s just a lot wrong with me drinking and riding. It doesn’t go well. Learned this lesson after doing a shot once at mile 92 of a century. Longest 8 miles of my life. In fact, I don’t drink much on Ragbrai at all which explains why I seem to have the magic ability to remember the memorable moments along the way.
What do five adults do to pass time driving west along I-80? They christen each other with code names. Since this blog will be your inside portal to world and lore of Ragbrai, I shall use code names to protect the guilty and corrupt the innocent. Therefore let me reintroduce you to the Red Bear, Dit Dit, the Waterboy, Chiclet and Rizzy. And we mustn’t forget Bojangles the Monkey.
The rest of the boys are heading down from the Twin Cities. Marsh, Regan, Bill and Baron. Unfortunately that mish mosh of names is actually real. JB – who shall be referred to as JB because he works for the government – is meeting us at the border. Giff will meet us midweek and Joe, JenJen and Trixie will also arrive.
I can feel Ragbrai in the air. I can see it all around. Driving along 80 west there are team buses, RV’s with bike racks, vans, legions of others driving towards the border. We pass signs with names of small towns scattered across Iowa and after enough Ragbrais you start to recognize them and associate them with some memory. Camping by the strip club in Ottumwa, the child sherpas in Glenwood, Operation Echo November in Maquoketa, Chris proposing to me in Marshalltown, the storm in Storm Lake, Bert showing up with the subway sandwich in Riceville. Tipton, Pocahontas, Montezuma, Sheldon, Decorah, north, south, middle of the state.
To make things more fun this year we’ve decided there should be a challenge set each day. Anyone that has played putt-putt with me knows I love a challenge. Red Bear suggested Most Inappropriate Use of Spandex. Should be plenty of opportunity to see that. Trust me. Chris had a good idea. Since there are 4 sets of siblings in our group, the family to put on member in jail one day wins. Chris confesses he has never been to jail but one day might enjoy that. For just a day. First rider to spot Team Tiny. He shows up everywhere and always has a beer - can he really ride?
There was some doubt from the Twin Cities crew that I actually made it to the ride. Is Favre with you? Marsh texts to us. Apparently like Favre I am retired, unretired, retired, unretired from Rabgrai. When we all pull into Missouri Valley at the same time it is confirmed - I am here.
The team celebrates the first night of Ragbrai. Some celebrate bigger than others. At one point Marsh pulls out popsicle sticks with jokes. It was a good try but didn't get too many laughs. They were really bad jokes.
Day 1 passes. I offer to drive the van for the first day. I've got a 90 minute run to do and want to find a pool. The team cleans up the campsite and I set off to run. River valleys have hills. Long long long steep hills. I find the most perfect rolling crushed gravel road instead. To my left are soybeans, to my right corn. It is so peaceful at one point I realized that I heard nothing - nothing - at all. The run was quiet, beautiful and once cloud cover settled over the valley it was cool.
Next up drive the van to Harlan. I decide to ride the course backwards to the first town to see if I can meet up with the team. Soon into it I decide riding the course backwards is one way to risk my life in less than 35 miles. I am nearly taken out by an antsy man making a left turn in front of me towards Tom's Turkey Stop. I stood around in Shelby watching Ragbrai roll by. The team doesn't seem to be around so I turn around and ride back. I make a new friend. I make an effort to walk to the pool but notice crowds of salty riders standing in the lap lanes so I ditch that idea.
And now the team is back. Some are going for a run. Some are scolding them for being overachievers. And for me - it's time for a hose shower. It's 95 degrees and standing under a cold water sounds better than coffee to me.
PS - it is 4 pm and I have not had coffee today. Ah, Ragbrai.
Friday, July 18, 2008
The e.l.f. will be on holiday on a week long adventure in Iowa. Blogging will be limited. Good times and good miles, however, will be unlimited up to 500 miles.
I gave coach the final say - he called me today to say it was a great idea and gave me the green light. I promised him I would not touch beer or pork on a stick but all bets were off with homemade pie. He said as long as I promised to swim as much as possible it would be ok.
So, until next Sunday I will be somewhere between corn and soybeans smack in the middle of Iowa under the summer sun. Until then.....cheers!
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
No structured training, no schedule, no heart rate monitor, no intervals, no pace clock, no watts. Just keeping active and doing whatever I want to do. Because of that I have also decided there will be no structured blogging. Instead I will force feed you a steady diet of zone 1 ramblings written from the comfortable seat of my couch.
This week I’ll be busy with my brother Pete and his girl Melissa and baby Annabel. They flew in from Seattle and I couldn’t be more excited because this is only the second time I’ve gotten to hang with my niece since she was born. Chris also got his first taste of what a baby is really like. This is good for the man that wants 17 children. Perhaps the funniest thing was when I suggested Chris hold the baby and he kind of stuck out his arms like a sofa chair and Annabel looked at him like WTF dude? We’ve eaten dinner with them the past two nights at my mom’s house and there’s nothing like eating dinner with a 9 month old who is more fascinated by throwing food over the high chair than putting it in their mouth. We were surprised at how much she ate but then realized 99 percent of the food was either on the floor or caught in the trough of her bib. By the way – coolest bib ever made by Baby Bjorn that literally has a plastic trough that catches all food (Brenda, any child of B.O.B.’s NEEDS THIS bib). Also entertains baby – when she runs out of food she just looks in the bib and digs something yummy out of there. I told Pete that he and Melissa should make it a fun drinking game – to dare each other to eat from the Bib Trough or take another shot (Brenda, also a good idea for you and B.O.B.).
Chris and I took Bel or B or Annabelly for a walk last night in her new stroller. We decided to bring Boss along. Little did we know Boss would be the problem child. Annabel of course was content to sit in the stroller and share her voice with the world. This kid loves to make noise. The louder the better. Boss however walked about a half of a block before he decided he had gone too far outside of his comfort zone. Oh Boss. Like Jen said, get over your bad self. But if you have a dog you know that when they put on the brakes there is just no use. So we ended up putting Boss in the bottom basket of the stroller. It was the perfect size. Boss really enjoyed the ride and Annabel really enjoyed having Boss in tow. Also made a note that when we buy a stroller (IN TEN YEARS MOM) we will need one big enough for a baby and Boss.
My mom has spent the week trying to feed us as much as possible like any good Italian mom would. Mostly it is stuff like pie and ice cream – and wine and gin and beer. The apples don’t fall far from the tree in our family. My mom made her way through pregnancy eating ice cream and drinking stout. She also has been known to tango with a bottle of Tanqueray. The funny thing about my mom is that if you tell her you like something you can pretty much guarantee seeing loads of it for the rest of your life. There is this rumor in my family that I love ice cream (LIES) so much that I will eat it straight from the carton all at once. Again this is a lie and I did not eat straight from the carton the other night and I will not be touching one of probably many more gallons in the freezer now since my mom realized I liked the stuff.
My husband has been busy this week recovering too but also nesting for Ragbrai. There is bike-related stuff all over our house. A giant bag with sports bars, Ensure and enough baby wipes to wipe all of Ragbrai’s ass clean. That’s right, this weekend I am re-releasing him into the wild for his annual hall pass. One week of bike riding, eating pork on a stick, buying homemade pie, guzzling dollar draws at the American Legion and of course naked beer slides.
Yes, friends, husband is heading out on Ragbrai.
Ragbrai is an acronym for Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa. The ride has been in existence for over 35 years. And my husband’s friends have been going for over 20 years. Do the math – that’s like saying they’ve been going since they learned to pedal a bike. In fact, some were so young when they started that I believe their first ride was on a BMX.
Each day you bike 60 to 100 miles. You start by the Nebraska border and ride east. Each night you stop in some small town Iowa marked by a tall water tower, endless fields of corn, and some old guy with no teeth wearing overalls. You ask some hapless stranger if you and your 5 maybe 10 maybe 15 ok by night’s end about 20 of your friends can camp in their backyard. Little do they know that camping also includes drinking copious amount of cheap beer and at some point hiding your eyes when 25 percent of the group removes their clothes for whatever reason people remove their clothes when it’s 9 pm and you’re in small town Iowa.
NOTE: There is no good reason at all.
Which is exactly why Ragbrai is such a raving success. It’s ridiculous to say the least. You have thousands of grown adults – mostly older adults – that escape to Iowa each year to spend a week in spandex with a beer can in their hand. The amazing thing is that they ride – they all ride. Big, little, young, old, some on recumbent, tandems, rollerblades – have wheels, will ride no matter how slow or fast they go. They have team names, team buses, team stickers. For most of them, Ragbrai is serious stuff; this one week out of the year is what they live the rest of the year for.
Or that’s how it is with husband’s friends.
I myself attended 5 Ragbrais. Oh yes the riding was good. Oh yes I ate Chriscakes 20 miles out of town. I survived on shitty coffee for a week if I got it all. I paid 5 bucks for a shower in a high school lockerroom. I begged some little old lady to let me use her washing machine. I saw half the team naked. I met Team Tiny. I saw Big Earl’s Girls. I spent a week using Kybos that included hours of waiting in line. I paid 3 bucks for a Gatorade. I was involved in a covert operation to possess someone’s lawn jockey. I experienced the full 360 degrees of everything known as Ragbrai.
Though it’s 7 days of riding, it’s really an opportunity to spend a week disconnecting from the real world – back then no cell phone, no internet, nothing but beautiful scenery, my bike and a large group of friends. Days filled with warm summer sun and my favorite sound in the whole world – wheels on pavement. All of these are really all you need to survive in the world.
And each year it rolls around I miss it. I stopped going in 2006. At that time, I couldn’t justify a week’s vacation spent in Iowa. Not that it wasn’t worth it – there were just other places I wanted to be. Another year went by without it and then this year rolled around. I’ll be releasing my husband into the Ragbrai wild happily – for him – but it makes me a little sad. I would love to go. To spend a week worrying about nothing but getting from the start town to the end town.
Part of me is playing with the idea of pulling the ultimate act of nimble vagrancy – showing up at the Nebraska border on Saturday with a bicycle, hobo stick and some cash. Ready to ride. If I’m lucky I’ll have Bert with me and he’ll bring Subway sandwiches for everyone. I’m dying to spend a week shouting ON YER LEFT, car back, car up, slowing, stopping, CRACK and playing the game of chance. The game of chance involves is a risky game where you ride up towards some females and before you go around them you announce that you will play the game of chance. You win the game of chance if you go around the females and they are hot. You lose the game of chance if you go around them and that hot ass turned out to be…a man. Yeah, that’s what happens when you spend a week with 12 men in Iowa. Things get a little gritty and inappropriate like that.
Other things the boys have done: climb the beer garden tent pole naked, buried roadkill in the preacher’s yard while sprinkling Coors Light over its grave (sadly this is on video), handcycle races that involve hovering over your handlebars and pushing your bike forward by using your right hand only on the front wheel, walking off a casino bus naked, getting arrested, being hauled off in a R2unit (when you spend a week with a bunch of Star Wars dorks they find reference for everything, an R2 unit is an ambulance).
Like every other year, my husband has packed like a woman and is bringing two bikes, 12 pieces of luggage and his toolbox. He too has missed out on the past 2 years but has been lured back with the Ragbrai siren song. I hear it too. And this week of active recovery makes me think a lot about what I should be doing next week. Playing wall tag with the pool. Trying to find zone 3 on the run. Seriously? Another week of...that? Not that I’m burnt out on training but I’m getting a little…..well, it’s time for a midseason break and time to have (enter novel concept) ... FUN.
So if I disappear next week for a week, you can locate me via sophisticated GPS unit at the intersection of corn and soybeans in some place like Keokuk, Iowa watching a bunch of men vie for the world record of shotgunning beer on a corner. You are all invited. Just bring your bike, one pair of shorts and your non-library voice ready to shout on yer left.
Monday, July 14, 2008
We hurry in the hotel room, myself eating a cup of oatmeal. No utensils, I’m using the top of Chris’ toothbrush holder. He’s not happy about that. I’m wondering how life has gotten to the point where I’m 1000 miles from home eating oatmeal out of a paper cup with a toothbrush holder.
But life is still good and it’s race day. We head down to the shuttle pick up. This is yet another step in the process of this race. With a point to point course, we had to park by the state capitol, purchase a bus ticket, board the bus by 4 am for the hour long drive.
The bus line is angry. It’s at least a block long and someone takes tickets at the door of the first bus painfully slow. I’m tired of standing. I need more coffee. With envy I eye the cups from Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts from other racers. I have had about 8 ounces of coffee this morning at the hotel – not nearly enough. I think about threatening them with my bike pump for their cup. But I’m not ready to start a scene. Not this early. Save it for the race.
The bus ride is long. It’s dark. The sun starts to rise around 4:30 am and finally we arrive at the shore. I’m pleased to find my bike and bike gear bag have not walked away in the night. The announcer tells us it’s a clean transition race. Meaning nothing could be on the ground except your gear bag – the bag which you would put your wetsuit and goggles into. Everything else had to be on your bike. The rules at this race were somewhat militant but organized. I could understand how it all helped with the flow.
I approach the water to get ready for a warm up. The water looks angry. It rolls into the shore with small waves that seem to hold fury. But it’s all in your head, I say. And besides you need to get to work. My goal for this swim was – as coach said “to have a great swim”. I knew what that meant. It meant finding someone’s feet and holding on for dear life. I was ready. 8 women stood at the line. Pause for a moment – this right here is what makes a pro race different. Stand at the line with 8 women – one known as a formidable swimmer, another an 11 time Ironman champion and others with countless accolades - and tell me how it feels. It feels full but lonely. It feels small but big. It feels the same but completely different.
The gun goes off. I run into the water with them and through the waves. The group bolts and I’m right there. Right there, but falling, falling……I have drifted off – who knows why, the chop, I’m off to the right and there goes the group to the left. I can hold the pace but for whatever reason could not swim a straight line. There they go! And just like that…I am alone.
Like in St. Croix, I find myself by myself. Ok, this is fine. You’ll be fine. The water is not cold. The water is not murky. Those are not creepy ocean weeds touching your legs. That is your wake behind you. The buoys really are out there. It really is only 1.2 miles. A million things go through your head when you’re out in the middle of water by yourself. None of them very useful and all of them needing to be distracted away as quickly as they enter your head – irrational fears of ocean wildlife, of your life, of failure.
I start to repeat my word for the swim DETERMINATION. I was determined to get on feet but you know what – that didn’t work out. Moving on...determined to swim strong, determined to stay relaxed, determined not to swallow any salt water. Determined to stay on course. Determined not to let this spiral out of control and have a solid day. I keep going through a list of things I am determined to do to help pass the time.
Time that feels like forever. I have been in this swim for at least a day. I approach the turn buoy. And make a turn. A kayaker rows towards me. “Off course.” Off course? No. Yes. “Turn at the red buoy.” The red buoy? Oh, that red buoy. Noted. Thank you. Now on course but askew. Now turning. There’s the chop again. This water is choppier than St. Croix. There is no rhythm just a wind whipping. I’m trying to make the rhythm but it’s not there! I make another turn and I’m heading back to the shore. The chop is now with me and carrying me to the shore. And ahead…wait…what is that? A pink cap. A pink cap! I am not the only pro woman out here!
We reach the shore nearly together. Transition is a long run up a very sandy beach then a long run into a very large transition area. My feet are screaming – shoes! My wetsuit comes off, everything goes into the gear bag and then a long run to the mount line. I must have been transitioning for 3 minutes! Now, on to the bike.
Soon into it I pass Deanna. I know she is a strong rider with a run just as strong. I will hold her off as long as I can. My heart rate is high. My legs feel good. The first part of the course is with tailwind along the coast. It is beautiful. My disc wheel makes the whir whir whir that sounds powerful and smooth. I am sailing along with the wind.
My word for the bike is RESILIENCE. The swim didn’t go as planned but resilient athletes bounce back. Last night I had Chris look up the words determination and resilience to give me an arsenal of synonyms. Resilient athletes are tough, durable, persistent and strong. They can handle any obstacle in their way. After awhile we make a turn inland. The flat course becomes hilly with a series of false flats or long gradual hills. At times I am out of my saddle, at times I am seated with cadence low.
After 80 minutes, Deanna passes me. This hurts my head and then it hurts my legs. Passed! She is strong in the hills, my legs feel they are fading. This is my mistake. I should have responded – why not? Fear, failure, risk, pain. It’s big to know you are strong, but I am learning this year it is even bigger to admit you are weak. Each race I take a new weakness and try to fix it. But for today I continue to pedal strong, be resilient but get passed. I will bounce back.
Around 2 hours into the ride I’m getting a little sick in my stomach and tired. Too much salt water? Too much gel? Not enough water? These feelings will pass but in a race this long there are always lows. The highs are high, the lows are low. As in, I want off of this bike now kind of low. A male pro pulls up alongside me and tells me I am fast. Really? The power of suggestion so I start riding faster. The right thing said at the right time. And then, I see Deanna ahead. Good! I will keep her in sight.
The course turns into the wind and then we make our way back towards Providence. It snakes through what has to be the worst part of town. The roads are ridiculously potholed and the turns are tight. It smells like fried chicken. Again I want off the bike. I think part of my bike just fell off. I am convinced I will flat and it sounds like a good escape. But then I see the state capitol and know it will be over soon.
Dismounted the bike. My lower back hurts as if I had just done an Ironman. Do a very long grass run to my transition rack and in my bag find my shoes! They did not run away overnight. The first stretch of the run is unique, you run over a river and you are in the “big city”. Then take a turn over another bridge and then you reach…the hill.
The hill is unlike anything I have ever seen. It is steep, it has two sections. I reach it and my body seems to cry. My foot hurts. My tibilias anterior is cramping. My legs are in a world of pain. How will I run? Break it up. Small segments. I will first get up this hill. I am passed by several other competitors. I feel horrible. How can I be going so slow? What is wrong with me?
And then it starts. The downward spiral. I want to quit. I want to stop. The pain in my legs and foot are beating into me. I need to stop now. I tell myself I will just run back to the start. I will stop this race and lead a normal life. I will drink coffee on a Sunday morning and read the paper. I don’t need this. I miss wearing normal clothes. I miss my dog. Call me done for this race. No, put a put a boot on my foot and call me done for the year. I will DNF.
Wait a minute.
I will not DNF again this season. No. I stop at a corner to stretch my left leg. To gather myself. And then it comes – at just the right time - a random spectator tells me to stick it out. Exactly. A plan was made. I will give it one loop and then reassess. I will stick it out.
A funny thing happened. I started running. My low heart rate started to pick up. The pain in my legs and foot completely goes away. The course goes along a flat out and back stretch and I start to pick up speed. I remember my key word for the run – GRIT. Grit is what it takes. To grit your teeth, to run like an animal.
The other day coach told me to be more of an animal. I think too much. I need to be more of an animal. Starting now. Around mile 4 the pain in my legs is completely gone. My pace has dropped at least a minute per mile. Yes, the first 2 – 3 miles were super super slow. But now I feel good. My heart rate is going up. I hear coach telling me to TRUST my fitness. To keep in mind this is only a B race. Race smart, race strong but above all to trust yourself. And it’s working. I am moving along.
The first lap goes by and I realize now I’m feeling very good. There is about 2 minutes between me and the next woman. I tell myself all I have to do is run 20 seconds faster per mile and I’ll be there. I set out to do it. I nail the second time up the hill. And each time I feel like I’m not going fast enough I check my heart rate then convince myself I still have room to go up. A few more beats. Give it more. Turn the feet over faster. Push off.
Right before I descend the last hill I see a pro ahead. I know she is within reach. But the bad part of myself says but it will hurt to get her. SLAP. What would an animal do. The animal says I WILL DO THIS. I will chase her down. I know it will have to happen on the descent from the hill. This is an ugly descent. I descend it painfully and at the bottom she is right there. I pass her. She responds. She passes me. And then I grit my teeth and say if ever I will make a move it has to be NOW. I have one half mile left. The time to go is now. I look at my heart rate. You will not explode. You still have several beats left. Go now.
I do. And then I look back - she is not there. Continue up the incline, I cross the finish line in 6th place. But it doesn’t matter. I had many victories today. Starting with the one over myself in getting one step better at this game. You see, this year racing pro I am racing slower than ever. How so? It’s just a different game. But it’s a better game. Each race I learn more. Each race I work harder. I have never worked so hard to come in nearly last in my life. I am faced with new challenges – mostly in myself. My own head, thoughts and perceptions of my pace and the race overall. I overcome them. Each time I cross the line in these big 70.3’s I say to myself – this is the hardest thing I have ever done. It doesn’t get any easier but I keep getting one step closer. I was 10th, then I was 8th and now I was 6th. I will get there. I will keep working at it. Though I quit the sport about 100 times today, when my legs finally cleared and my head just gritted down to get over the thoughts of my bad self I realized I love the game. I want to get better at it. I am worth the work and the work is worth where it takes me.
The best part of the day was after the awards. My big goal this year was just to qualify for the 70.3 world championship in Clearwater. At each race there are two slots for the pro’s and they don’t roll down very far. When they rolled the slot down beyond the top 2 and asked if any pro’s wanted it I shouted ME! I WANT THAT SLOT!
When I had that piece of paper in hand I felt like everything I had stuck out today was worth it. It was like a sign from someone, somewhere saying patience pays off. Maybe it was from Coach Paul. Maybe it was from someone bigger than that. But I learned the lesson that when you believe in what you are doing and do your best at it through highs and lows it pays. Sure, I was out of the real pay off today by 1 place. 2 minutes faster would have earned me $1000…..but instead I got my slot. And I’m ok with that. November is a long way but by that time I will learn better how to play the game, keep getting fitter and finally finally when Coach says “this is an A race” (I’m still waiting for that) I will go. I will go like an animal and have my best day.
Speaking of best days...I snapped this photo after the awards. The winds were gusting up to 25 mph and the sky was filled with fast moving clouds. Beautiful.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
That would be one 70.3 World Championship qualification slot in my name. I made it as a pro! HUZZAH! And, a WOO HOO for good measure. So, to Colleen and Rob.....I will see you in Clearwater!
More later on the race. It was interesting to say the least. I will admit I quit the sport about 100 times out there. Most of which happened on the swim.
PS - wives should never let husbands blog drunk. Drunk as in a Sam Adams and a shot of jack within 5 minutes.....read on, the last line is the kicker:
Saturday, July 12, 2008
You might be wondering what clamcakes are. Good question. Clamcakes is my new favorite cuss word. And I've used it a lot today.
We're in Rhode Island. I know, I know...it's not even an island but there is water everywhere. If a giant wave came through I'm convinced this whole state would be swallowed. We are here for the inaugural 70.3 race.
The state is quite beautiful. Being from the east coast, it's always good to be back on the east coast. There is just a different feel. The people look different, talk different, they are just different. Like the two old guys in Panera this morning, they were having one of those heated conversations with "and then he said.....and I said....what did ya do that for..." east coast old men conversations. If you're from the east coast you know what I mean!
It's also land of the Dunkin' Donut. They are everywhere.
Back to the race. We drove the run course early this morning. It winds through the beautiful campus of Brown University. You can just smell the smartness. I mean, there were kids loitering outside some halls last night and you could just see the smartness in their eyes. Aside from smelling smart, the course has a nasty - I MEAN NASTY - hill that you get to do....twice. Think Palani Hill in Kona, plateau it at the top and then climb it again. And that is once through. Other than that the course takes a totally unfair trip past Starbuck's TWICE.
This morning we headed to the convention center for registration at 10 am. So did about one million other Type A Triathletes. Needless to say Chris stood in line for 1 hour. I actually had to leave the line to attend the pro meeting where we were informed we would have to go back and stand in the line. Until they found a super secret doorway and a black curtain to sneak us in through (no joke).
The regstration was perhaps the strangest thing I have ever seen. They should have taken my blood to make the process complete. Even registering for Kona didn't take that long. It included stops at 4 tables, a thorough talk through, a medical evaluation and a weigh in. And by the way - I don't care what you say that scale was not right.
I spent the time talking with Kim Webster, also new pro. She's a cool cat from Massachussetts. Also on the start list were some other cool cats like Lisa Bentley (she is so small!) and Richie Cunningham and Bryan Rhodes who I am convinced at this point are following me around the world. If they show up at my next race I will call them out for stalking me.
Now, the point to point course means that you have to take yourself and your bike 56 miles to the swim/bike start. We did that and did a little ride on our bikes. Then we did a little swim. And let me tell you I have not been scared by water in awhile but today I was a bit scared! I know it's a sheltered cove but something about cold water in the ocean is creepy at first. Especially when you can't see! I had to remind myself that though a shark was sighted at Martha's Vineyard yesterday it was far away - as in south of Virginia (it's really not, but that's what Chris thought and I'm going with the idea that ignorance is bliss). The water was rough going out but coming back into took about half the time.
Afterwards all we had left to do was drive the bike course. Right? Well, not if your husband went swimming with the key for the car. The electronic key that shorted in the water. We replaced the battery (thank you bike shop), we dried it out, we then just pressed the buttons over and over again hoping it would work. When that didn't work I just kept pulling at the door like it would just give up and open.
Now would be the perfect time to insert my new cuss word: CLAMCAKES! It's either that or CHUM BUCKET! But since I have seen 'clamcakes' advertised around here more than chum buckets I'm going with the cakes. By the way, if anyone has tasted a clamcake I'd really like to hear about it.
Found the park police, asked for help. Apparently they cannot touch anyone's car. They also cannot touch anyone's belongings nor anyone's body. The state police drove by and they offered to shoot out the window for us. Gee thanks. What good is it to have all of these people and services around if they are no use? It's like bystander apathy but really more like bystander futility. For no good reason other than....than...you got me.
Anyways, little did we know MacGuyver was parked next to us. This guy had packed his car not only for the race but for breaking into cars too. He was a mechanic and knew the way of cars. Unscrewed the antenna, used duct tape and a piece of cord (as in hillbilly laundry line cord), tape the cord around the antenna in a noose shape an then went through the sunroof that was slightly ajar to pull open the lock. All we needed was a paperclip and a rubberband to make this MacGuyver moment completed.
The car alarm then started going off as soon as we opened the door. Another nice man with is cell phone called our rental car company to ask how the heck to turn the alarm off. Finally we got it shut off (for the moment) but...and it gets better....now every time we open the door the car alarm goes off. Chris has it down to going off with only 3 honks before he can get the car started. I'm betting he can get it down to 2 honks with a few more days.
After that hubbub we drove part of the bike course. On the way Chris had a Jennifer Harrison-esque food meltdown so we had to to dinner at 4 pm. Then with grandma back in the car we headed back to the state capitol to drop off our run gear bag.
By now, BY NOW, it was 6 pm. This entire epic ordeal took nearly 8 hours. It will all be worth it tomorrow if the winds stay the same because the way it is right now we're talking a 56 mile tailwind before I get to run that giant hill. TWICE! (I cannot wait!)
Believe it or not it is 7:10 pm and nearly time for bed. The alarm goes off at 3 am tomorrow. We have to drive to the capital to catch a bus to the bike start. I consider it a miracle if I make it there and another miracle if I actually ride my own bike and have run shoes to wear because all are spread across different points of Rhode Island right now.
You've just got to love pre-race day. All of these little obstacles and silly things thrown in front of you to get you distracted or off your game. I'm not falling for it. And if I get anything else I'm pulling out the clamcakes!
Yes! Those are his shorts. Trust me, I checked.
"Trixie" and "Champ" are ready to ride!
Thursday, July 10, 2008
What is a blog? What does it mean to you? Why do you have one and why do you read others? Think about this for a few minutes – what does the blog feed?
For some it is security, vanity, confidence, control, can’thelpbutlookatthecarwreck, curiosity, assurance, comparison, validation, venting, catharsis, sharing, ranting, raving, information, bullshit, lookatmelookatme, pity me, help me, love me, be like me, support me, hate me, curse me, learn from me – the list could keep going. But what does it mean to you…or to me?
It was June 2006, when I had written a race report, sent it to a few friends and someone suggested I start a blog. A blog? What is a blog? I had never read one, written one nor heard too much about one. Looked into it and realized how easy it was to start and…a blog was born.
I’ve always sought solace and release in words. I have pages upon pages of journaling or writing or whatever you call the angst-filled ramblings of a developing pre-teen, teen, young woman to adult. A few months ago I was looking back into a small purple diary I kept when I was ages 8 to 11. It was filled with things like:
LouAnn is mean.
Stephanie farted in class.
I am a very fast runner.
The boy in the pool was cute.
We are going to Wisconsin.
And interestingly each entry closed with the time I went to bed. Clearly all of the more important parts of a young girl’s existence.
Years went by, the format changed – a binder, a notebook, looseleaf paper with troubles a bit more complicated but looking back – not really. Worries are all the same as we struggle on our way to becoming an independent and rational adult. Even still as we are adults. It was some time after college when I stopped the journaling and left things running simply in my head.
And now there is the blog. It reads like the pages of a diary or transcripts from my mind. At its best it is poignant, at its worst – like any day of our lives – mundane. I promised myself when I started I would keep it uncensored, mildly entertaining, and that above all I would always be me. My purpose was to share my experience with the world – whomever and wherever they may be – to help them to understand they are not the only one that struggles with whatever it is we all struggle with day to day. Whether it is traffic, laundry, bad workouts, injury, barking dogs, cold coffee – that these little things in our lives are really what weave us together into something connectedly meaningful and big.
Each day I find myself reading a few blogs. At times I wonder why. What am I looking for? And how is this right? In a sense, reading someone’s blog is like finding the key to their diary and taking a peek. Looking into a peephole, picking up the phone without them hearing, standing in the next room and eavesdropping. You get a peek into their life and their mind. In a way you get a false sense that you know the person. You feel like their friend, you know you could relate. Even though you’ve never met and live hundreds of miles away.
Yet we all keep reading. And that’s a good and a bad thing, I think. Good because we all support each other and eventually do become like friends. Bad because we get caught up sometimes. Perhaps we read between the lines for a story that isn’t really there. Or we see something they have that we want. Or we think to ourselves all of our problems would be solved if we were more like that. We would be faster if we did that. We get caught up in this world wide web of comparison. It’s only human. I bet some of us spend a fair amount of time thinking I want to be like that, if only I could do that when we read a blog. It’s like we live on a quiet suburban street with all of our kids and fancy cars and try to not only keep up with the Jones' but the Harrison's or the Wee's…..know what I mean?
We hear someone’s story about how they had the most effortless race day. Or how a 35 minute run with strides kicked their ass. Does this mean you are worse off because your race felt like ass? Or your 35 minute run always feels easy? What I’m getting at is that you are hearing one side of what happens to be a very multidimensional thing. Because a blog is just words it becomes very one dimensional – the rest is left up to your mind – as the reader - to add other dimensions and make it tangible.
And then we as blog writers can choose what to include and what to omit. Some writers are very good at giving you the good, bad, and the ugly. Even the fugly in case you were wondering. Some just report the numbers and the facts. Others put a positive spin on everything. It’s not that you can’t believe what all of these writers are writing – that’s not what I’m saying – it’s just that you can get caught up in comparing because there’s no reason to compare at all. Effortless might mean – I suffered through 20 days of piss poor training where my legs felt like lead and by some miracle it all came together on race day. Feeling like ass might mean – I had to run two days in a row, my coach is so mean! See what I’m saying? It’s all relative and variable and in the end doesn’t mean any one thing but lots of things.
Don’t get caught up.
In life we can be our own biggest enemies. We seek validation for the critic inside of oursevles every chance we get. This critic always looks to plant doubt about what we can be or seek confirmation about what we think we are. We have a doubt that we are not talented. The inner critic looks to validate. You didn’t win your age group. You can’t run a sub 8 minute mile. You’re slow. You suck. You struggled with that swim. You’ll never be fast. Says the inner critic to yourself. Blogs feed the inner critic as much as they feed the more positive places in our mind. Blogs make us think – you’ll never be fast if you don’t do that treadmill workout. You will never swim fast for feeling that 2,000 yards was hard when that chick swam 10,000 in a day. You don’t train like that so you’ll never do that well. It goes on and on and…..
I bring this up because I see this situation a lot – people reading someone else’s blog and then questioning themselves. Doubting themselves. Asking - what is wrong with me? Thinking they are not good enough, working hard enough, fit enough or doing the right thing because what they read on someone else’s blog is not what they are thinking/feeling/doing. Voraciously athletes read blogs and set about to compare themselves. The inner critic gets to work. But keep in mind that words are just that – words - there’s always more to the story, a part you do not see. And is the part you do not see really the part that is more like you? Is that the part that your inner critic really needs to see the one that was not written about, the footnotes to the story that show she really is just like me.
I talk to my athletes a lot about blogs – convince them that everyone’s blog is just that – theirs. Their words, emotions and experiences filtered through their personality. Is their story relevant to anyone else? Sort of – relatively speaking. Just because someone else does a 3000 yard swim that feels like nothing at all doesn’t mean for another person it won’t feel like shit on a stick. Just because Bree does an 8 hour brick and survives doesn’t mean it wouldn’t leave me shelled on the side of the road. We’re all different; we all experience things differently, we are all at different points and we all tell a different story.
Look back to the reason I started a blog – an outlet, a release, a witness for my life and words. A record of my experience in the world. I read other blogs to hear about their point of view. To peek in their diary. I walk away thinking about something in a new way. Or take away a strategy for myself. But I don’t compare. Each author is undeniably who they are, where they are. Their specific experiences in sport don’t really have much to do with me. But I like the way their story is told and from them I take away something I will make me a better version of me.
So then, why do some people use blogs as a measuring stick for where they are or how they are doing? I try to understand this every day. Is it doubt, fear, envy, insecurity, a neverending dissatisfaction with one’s self? Is it that someone are driven more by their inner critic than their actual self? Which version of the self will win? And are blogs helping the case either way? In trying to better understand people these are the things I think about; I wonder if blogs are a hindrance or help. Or if there should be a disclaimer about how to read. One that says: I’m telling you this version of the story and though it sounds hard/easy trust me there were days that were easy/ hard too. That for every day I looked thin in a picture I felt fat about 100 more. That for every time I said my legs felt great there were 2 were I could feel them going up stairs. That for every success I write about there were about 10 failures. That for every day I feel good there were 3 I felt like shit. So if I choose to write about the good please don’t think you are any less for feeling bad. And if I choose to write about the bad please don’t write me off as pessimistic and whiny.
It’s an interesting thing, the blog. It’s powerful in connecting us, stirring our emotions, touching us and making us think. What connects us is this make believe world of the super-information-and-story-saturated internet, wirelessly tied together by our words, experiences and views. But like any superhighway, it’s a risky place to be. Keep it all in perspective. Because it’s just that – a matter of perspective, someone’s point of view as they sit at a certain latitude and longitude that is different from where you’re at.
Compare yourself? Not necessary. Celebrate yourself, respect yourself, your personal experiences, your victories and defeats. Appreciate the view from your window, tell your own story to the world.