Friday, August 29, 2008

Bourbon Street

It’s official.

We live in a neighborhood full of lushes. What is a lush? Slang for person who drinks alcoholic beverages to excess. For some reason in our sleepy little townhouse subdivision we have more than a few. In fact, we are starting to realize we could very well be the only sober people on the street.

It was a few weeks ago. Enter crazy neighbor man with large white fluffy dog that shall remain unnamed. Note that Boss nor myself like this neighbor nor this dog. Boss has a thing against fluffy white dogs. They enrage him into a fury of repetitive barks and growls. And I have a thing about crazy men that live within 30 yards of my house. Anyways, this early evening the crazy neighbor man comes tearing into our neighborhood in his car. He then takes the turn into his driveway a bit too fast and ends up taking out a large portion of the shrubbery that separates this driveway from the next one.

Chris actually bears witness to this because he is standing on the driveway. Poor Chris. Wrong place at the wrong time because then the neighbor man goes inside to get his dog and walks up to Chris demanding to see Boss. Demanding. Chris comes inside looking for Boss and I tell him that Boss does not like the white fluffer dog.

But neighbor man is out there.

But Boss doesn’t like him.

But neighbor man is out there with his dog and lit up with about 1000 king-sized cocktails.

Let me get Boss. Because honestly we can’t afford to lose the shrubbery, it is the only protection we have from the alien child next door.

Another example. Friday night. What do most normal people do? If they are training for Ironman they clean the shoes, helmets, gel wrappers, bags, goggles, wetsuits and wheels out of their car. So Chris is outside. I am inside and hear a ruckus on our front porch. Once again, enter neighbor man. Boss runs to the front door and explodes in angry barks and growls. I walk over there to see the large white fluffer dog at my screen door with the neighbor man on the porch accusing me of feeding my dog crystal meth. Yes, yes that is clearly what is going on here. We feed it to him in his kibble. Want some? Chris then walks up to the porch I guess roused deep from the bowels of the van that has vomited Ironman training inside of it. Meanwhile I am holding Boss to calm him while neighbor man begins pointing at our neighbor’s door and shouting “CUJO. BRING OUT CUJO.”

Cujo is our neighbor’s St. Bernard. Actually that is not its name but it is not a nice dog so he calls it Cujo. And tonight after 10929823848 cocktails it sounds more like Ssssssssssssscujo.

At this point, I close the front door. It seems the safest thing to do. Chris comes back inside a short while later and we just laugh.

They were doing an economic study on our village. Our village is – in a few words – mostly deficient in anything that economically thrives. The main street contains the more important things in life like a tailor, a barber and a palm reader. As far as economic assets in our village there were two noted – a certain large park and a shady drinking establishment called the Squirrel Cage. Repeat – in an entire village the only things bringing in money are a large park and a bar. Now having worked at that large park I may know that a good number of the employees frequent that bar. I guess it’s a symbiotic relationship. You cannot have one without the other. But it just goes to show that our little village has a thing with trees and a thing with the sauce.

Thursday afternoon around 3:30 pm. The neighbor across the street – his garage goes up. A few minutes later I see him and another man sitting in their garage in lawn chairs with a case of Bud Light. Does anyone around here work? And am I the only one without a drink in hand? Few weeks ago this neighbor had a late night party – saw him that next morning at 6 am hosing his driveway off. There was a keg in his garage.

I officially live on Bourbon Street.

Last weekend JB was at our house. When we got home he said “the cops dropped your neighbor off.” Totally normal. The neighbor with the big bottles of gin in his recycling bin every week. Like the giant bottles of gin. Someone did the tango with tanqueray and ended up with a DUI. Crazy neighbor man was telling Chris the entire story tonight after Chris convinced him to exit our porch and stop shouting Ssssssssssssscujo. Apparently this DUI man had to be separated from his wife by DCFS. That makes no sense because that is the department of children and family services and unless this man married a child bride (at this point, very possible) then it doesn’t add up.

But then again the story was told by a lush.

Looking at our neighborhood you would not guess this. The majority of the population is in their late 50’s. They look normal enough. They drive (if they still can) normal cars. But apparently all of this is a cover for hitting the sauce. Big time.

I’m thinking with all this time on my hands now that I should join in. Sit in a lawn chair. Water my driveway with a hose. Take out a few shrubs. Walk my small Chihuahua up and down the street demanding to see people’s children. Send out Sssssssssssssssssssjohnny while pointing at their door. Start all of this around 7:30 am. Just to get a head start. Hang out at the squirrel cage until later in the day. Do my part to be a good neighbor for awhile.

By the way, do you know what a squirrel cage is?

I ask Chris this on Friday night. He answers in the most practical way, “I don’t know, a cage to keep in squirrels?”

Not quite. It’s actually a circular fan blade attached to a blower motor in an air circulation system.

The things you learn living on Bourbon Street.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sip n' Shoot

Early this morning I met MT for Sip n’ Shoot.

Sounds intriguing, eh?

Really it’s not. There are no fancy weapons and it (sadly) doesn’t involve wine. But it does involve shooting arrows and sipping coffee. We met at the archery range. I, with my $19.99 bow, MT with her wildly expensive bow and custom arrows (you think race wheels are bad? try buying a custom bow). I was like the Huffy, she was like the Pinarello. There really was no comparison.

We chose our targets. Today we would shoot at the large dice. I’m not sure if this is a common thing to find at an archery range but imagine these giant dice stuffed with plastic shopping bags. You shoot at that. It sounds weird. It is weird. But then again, it’s archery.

By the time I shot through 10 arrows, MT was still fiddling with her bow. Trying to fix some very important piece on the bow. My arrows fly everywhere as MT sits by her large fancy bow case working on this piece. There is another man at the range and after we shoot our round, we collectively say clear and pick up our arrows. MT - still fixing her bow. This goes on for about 3 rounds.

“M, for every 10 arrows I shoot, you shoot 1. What the hell are you doing over there?”

It’s an important piece, something that needs to be fixed, something she knew she would need to do. This doesn’t sound fun. Forget it. Use my $19.99 bow and shoot a few rounds. She laughs, continues to work on my bow when she asks where I got mine. I don’t know – Dick's Sporting Goods? It was cheap, it shoots arrows. It does the job. She realized, then, that my bow does not have a sight. I guess a sight helps you hit the target. So, she asks how I shoot without a sight.

I don’t know. Point and shoot. Sometimes hit, sometimes miss. I mean – the target is out there about 20 yards away. I’ll hit it eventually as long as the arrows keep moving forward. Whether I hit the target or not doesn’t really matter to me. It’s an outcome I’ll likely reach the more I master the process. The process; I like to figure out if I move my foot this way, my elbows up there or put the bow even with my eyes if it will increase the likelihood that I hit. But while I like the process I try not to overthink. Sometimes I just like the sound the string makes when you release the arrow. Sometimes I like to see how far it will fly. Sometimes I just like shoot the arrows with no thought at all.

I move to the 30 yard target and start to shoot again. No way is my bow powerful enough to launch the arrows at speed enough to travel 30 yards but I give it a try. I find an arrow in the holder that someone left behind. A Carbon Force Dominator. And that makes me laugh. Here I am using $1 metal arrows that are blunt enough to bounce off a tree (I may or may not have hit a tree) when there are people out there that spend oodles of money on arrows with threatening names like Carbon Force Dominator.


MT being one of them.

"M, how much did your arrows cost?” She tells me about 6 – 8 dollars an arrow. I guess that is why she has 5 while I have about 30. And why she hits 99 percent of the time while I’m looking for arrows all over the place. Still can’t find 2 of them.

I shoot a few more rounds and hit everything but the 30 yard target. I even hit the wood supporting the target and marvel at the large hole I have put in the frame. That’s impressive. Collect my arrows (minus 2) and see MT still fixing something on the table.

“M, you are overcomplicating things. Just shoot the damn bow.”

She laughs and is clearly involved in bow maintenance that I will never understand. Because archery is not really my thing, it’s just something I picked up for fun. In fact, it’s the first sport in a long time of sport that I can actually be dumb at. And you know what – I kind of like that. There I was watching my arrows ricochet all over the place. I couldn’t hit the bullseye today if there was a hundred dollar bill on it but I had a good time. Sipped my coffee and after awhile I just sat at the table. No need to keep shooting. There was no goal, no magical time to do it, no numbers to hit. Just having a good time.

And that’s when I realized something – this is what I have been missing. This year I have completely overcomplicated triathlon. I’m sitting at the table lost in some detail while the entire race is going by. I’ve got my fancy this and that, my tools that will ostensibly help me hit the target when I’ve lost sight of the fact that you have to shoot the damn thing in the first place to go anywhere at all. While I’m fiddling with something, everyone else’s arrows are moving towards the target and me – I’m going no place.

In between sips of coffee I start to recollect. I realized something during Timberman, something I really didn’t like. I remember running out of transition, the crowd cheering, the announcer shouting my name when I stepped outside of myself and saw something: There I was struggling to buckle a heart rate monitor around my chest. Let me repeat that: I am exiting the transition area of a race, running while trying to put on a heart rate monitor strap. Excuse my language but…

WHAT THE F*CK?

It is a race. You need to go. You need to run. Fast. You do not need to be adjusting and buckling a strap on your body. Let it go and RUN. Run hard, run fast. Run until you catch someone. Run as fast as your feet will carry you and if you blow up – well then that is just a risk you have to take to reach your own greatness. But how can you let go enough to take that risk if you are monitoring numbers the entire time.

How?

You can’t. And that is why I failed. Or have failed many times. Maybe it’s not failure, it’s that I couldn’t even load the arrows in my bow because I was so lost in the details I couldn’t function any more. I lost the ability to stand at a line filled with I can’t wait to shoot my arrows even if they fly all over the place gimme gimme gimme that bow NOW and let me shoot/RACE! That used to be me. Flip that “race” switch and I was ready to go. I used to joke with Jennifer in the days before races that I was ready to make a start line out of tape in my house, stand at it and foam at the mouth for a few days. That’s how fired up I would get.

Overcomplication is debilitating. It wears you out. There is so much to think about you start lose your desire to do the activity at all. The mental energy required to do something becomes huge. You just want to go and do. That’s really what it’s all about. Go and do. Point and shoot. Let’s not make a science out of something that is really just an outlet for our inner animal.

I tease MT some more and she tells me she will never be able to go hunting if she cannot fix her sight. I guess everyone has different goals. I’m not here for hunting, I’m just here for fun. But she is right. How can you hit a moving target if your bow doesn’t work properly? True. But you also can’t hit a target if you don’t let yourself shoot the arrows. You can’t practice for greatness if you can’t even do the most simple step – stepping up ready to start at the shooting line.

In the past 10 days I’ve made a change. I've stepped back. I don’t even know where my heart rate monitor is right now. When it’s time to go hard I go hard. When it’s time to go easy I go slow. And you know what – that feels good. I don’t really need to know how far I go. Or how fast. Fast is fast. I’ve never shown up at a race to be told – today it will take a 6:27 pace to win this race. Or today you will need to hold 30 minute steady in zone 3 to finish in the top 5. Just go. Race the race for crying out loud. Quit looking at a number on a screen as the real race is happening right before your eyes.

Stand at the line. Pull the string. Let the freakin’ arrow fly.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Making A List

The other night Chris went grocery shopping.

Let me just throw this out there first: I hate grocery shopping. Almost as much as I hate putting away laundry but not as much as I hate cleaning showers. Usually I avoid grocery shopping until the last possible minute, substituting frozen for fresh and wondering if I can use the excuse of “we are going away next weekend" if I wait long enough into the week.

Sometimes his frustration builds up to the point where he is so hungry and angry that he actually makes a list. You will recall a few months ago I wrote about Chris’ shopping list. It contained important sources of nutrition like ham steak, sauce, lettuce, parmesan cheese and bacon. For awhile I must have been doing better because there were no complaints about groceries. But now that Chris is deep into Ironman Training Mode – you could say that groceries have once again become a touchy thing.

If you’ve trained for Ironman you know how it goes. You are hungry. All of the time. You wake up hungry. You go to bed hungry. Most of the time you are hungry for something but cannot figure out what. When you finally do figure it out you want it here and now. This happened the other day. Chris woke up hungry for pancakes. He started pulling out the items needed for pancakes. Unfortunately he didn’t get far with most of the items because we were out.

First there was disbelief (how could we have no eggs?). Then there was denial (I know we have another box of Bisquick in here). Next there was acceptance (fine I will just eat oatmeal). And last there was unsettled fury (why are there never any groceries?).

Part of me felt bad but the other part was too few cups of coffee into the day to listen to his complaints about groceries. And so my response: if there is something you are looking for, management would prefer you put it on a list and will purchase it when they go to the store on Monday.

And that ignited full on food craving need pancakes now rage.

He pulled out a marker. And a piece of paper. And set about to make his list. When he was done he asked where I would like it.

“Management will review the list on Monday when they return. Put the list on the counter until then.”

He played along and put the list on the counter. Sat down and buried himself in a disgruntled bowl of oatmeal. On Monday, I (management) looked at the list:



First item on the list – that would be Bisquick. Excuse the French spelling of the word – Buiskuik. The second item on the list – that would be Better Attitude. The last item on the list, Syrup. I’m not sure how Better Attitude made it on before Syrup, especially since he wanted pancakes in the first place but I guess the next time I am at the store I will look for a Better Attitude in the aisles between the Bisquick and the Syrup.

So I guess you could say that Chris has been a little on edge about the groceries. Eventually the Bisquick was bought along with the syrup but I never did find a Better Attitude. Future pancake crisis averted but the calm didn’t last long. Because the other day when once again we were out of a few things, well I guess you could say that Chris got fed up. Or, became underfed for so long that he just took matters into his own hands. Or canvas shopping bags.

It’s always interesting when the husband comes back from the grocery store. What he values is quite different from what I value in nutrition. But what I really think it comes down to is that I can distinguish between those foods I want in the house, those foods I need in the house, and those foods that probably should not enter the house unless accompanied by armed guard.

For example, we need milk. We need spinach. We need lentils and rice and eggs. We want things like fizzy pomengranate juice, blueberries, greek yogurt. Sure they cost a little more but they are worth it. But then there are other foods. Foods we don’t need but we do want but are so bad for us that even if we want them that doesn’t mean we need them in the house. Foods like this:

The enemy: Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups

I love peanut butter cups. I will confess it again for the one-hundredth time to the world. I have a serious peanut butter cup problem. You see, I cannot eat just one. I cannot eat just five. I have to eat about twenty and need to eat them my way. My way is eating the top off, scraping the peanut butter out and then tossing the bottom half. I cannot exercise self-control with peanut butter cups. I love to exercise and I have much self-control but for some reason when you throw peanut butter cups into the equation I don’t get it right. I can’t control myself. I don’t see the point. And that is why they cannot be in the house.

Proof of this: you will notice that already half of the container is gone. GONE! In – my – belly where they belong. Belly feeling not so good. But pleasure center in brain – more than satisfied.

It’s not just the peanut butter cups. I will admit I have a problem too with ice cream. So imagine my horror when I pulled this out of a canvas bag:


My eyes! My eyes! This is not good. Trouble for sure. Plus it's the mega big size - not the usual pint. I do my best to tell myself that belongs to Chris because sometimes that helps. But not always. And if I open it up just for a peek, a sniff, a taste…all bets are off. That carton has about 24 hours to get itself out of the house before I completely demolish it.

But listen up. It’s not just me. I know men have their weaknesses too. Enter Exhibit A:



This is a pecan pie. Correction, this is a half eaten pecan pie. The pie entered our home approximately 2 hour before half of it went missing. The suspect in question: Christian Waterstraat. Witnesses say he was observed at the kitchen counter allegedly cutting himself 1/8th of the pie. He then was observed sitting on the couch. Sources say that a short while later he went back to the pie armed with a knife to take another piece. Before long an entire half of the pie was gone.

This happens at least once or twice or three times a year. Usually the victim is a pumpkin pie. But it is so much a typical pattern of behavior that I often suggest to him he cut out the middle man (the plate) and sit down with the pie. Just eat half of it and call it done.

A short while later we went to bed. Chris did not look right. I asked him what was wrong and he said his stomach was upset. I (politely) pointed out that it might be from eating half of a pecan pie. He said he needed the calories because he burned 4000 on the bike today. I said no one needs 1000 calories of pie. He said you’ve got to be shitting me – there are 1000 calories in that pie? I said, no, in half of that pie. Then I asked if he read the nutritional content. He said he didn’t want to look. Later I look to confirm there were 2100 calories in the entire pie. He told me to throw the pie away.

A HA!

So it happens. Men get just as out of control and feel the only way to regain control of their mouth and body and in turn their life is to dump the M&M’s down the sink, toss half eaten peanut butter cups out the car window, THROW THE PIE AWAY!

This is why you don’t buy these things in the first place. A lesson Chris (and possibly many men?) clearly still need to learn. As a woman I have years of experience in avoiding this whole problem by not putting the forbidden items in my shopping cart. I can do it. But the husband – I’m not sure he’s had enough practice in ignoring temptation. I practice weekly. He practices a few times a year. I’ve got my defense (don’t look, don’t touch), he’s got nothing but raging hunger in his belly after a 120 mile ride. I’ve got years of social training (a moment on your lips, a lifetime on your hips) that prevents me from giving in. He’s got years of “the woman never brings back anything good from the grocery store” in his memory. I’m the grocery gustapo. I put a stop to all things yummy, fun and forbidden in our house. He is like a kid in a giant candy store.

God help our hips.

This is why you cannot have the husband go to the grocery store. Fresh fruit? He forgot that. We have bananas on our counter almost every single day. A bright yellow reminder that we like bananas around here. An entire display of bananas at the store that he walks right past and makes a beeline to….the ice cream aisle, the candy aisle, the chips, the juice, the beer.

So what now? It is safe to say we will spend the next week in a peanut butter cup and ice cream coma. And wash away the next morning’s sugar hangover headache with a beer. Maybe that will teach husband a lesson learned – leave the grocery shopping to the wife. Even though she may not come back with pie and ice cream – no one needs a 1000 calorie bellyache. Nor ham steak.

And if there are complaints about that, put it on a list for management’s review. We’ll get to it on Monday.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Other Side


On Saturday I went into Chicago to meet up with some of my athletes for a swim. Kate arrived first. She was in town with her boyfriend, pro super swimmer John Kenny. Kate is one of the most smiley people I have ever met. It is always a pleasure to see her. And Saturday the pleasure was all mine because I got to swim with her! Understand that Kate is an open water national champion. One of those people whose names you see in the USMS magazine….she’s just that silly fast in the water. Myself swimming in a full wetsuit was nearly as fast as Kate swimming in her swimsuit. And when I say nearly I mean, I could put my head up and nearly see her but I was still back from her feet.

Then I met up with the STL boys. We did some swimming – sadly more than Michael bargained for – but he and Tommy did a great job of staying with me and playing my games (you will follow my feet and I will switch up the pace but not tell you when). They loved that for sure.

All this time Chris was swimming in the lake. Poor guy. Training for Kona. Never can stop swimming, biking or running. Afterwards we headed over to the expo. A mass of triathletes! Standing at the front entrance who walks by – Leslie Curley doing a super secret fly by in Chicago. I made her stop and talk to me. She can’t sneak into my city without me noticing.


JB also stayed at our house for the race. As we drove home from the city we asked JB to take Boss out. Three phone calls later we convinced JB that Boss likes to poop in the field, and yes you need to pick up that poop, and no he shouldn’t eat the garbage food that someone keeps tossing into the field, and yes it’s totally normal for him to pee on the neighbor kid.

Sunday morning I headed back down to the city. For the fourth day in a row. Let me say that I now have a raging case of road rage. So much so that I am off the city for at least a few weeks. I can’t take it anymore. 30 miles becomes over 60 minutes of weaving through construction barricades, lanes ending and praying that you don’t miss the sign and find yourself stuck in the express lane.


But Sunday morning isn’t so bad for traffic. And when you’ve driven nearly 300 miles in 4 days what’s another 30. I walked over to the race to find Michael fired up to catch Tommy. The math was impossible (how do you make up 30 minutes) but I admire his drive nonetheless. Then I cheered on the triathletes. Most of them were sprint competitors but then came the elite amateur wave.


The men came by first. I didn’t recognize many except for Eric who was hauling all living ass with something ridiculous like a 34 minute 10K. Slow down! You’ll hurt yourself! Then the women came by. WOO HOO! I saw so many that I recognized. So many that a woman standing next to me said “Are their names on their bibs?” I said no and she said “Then how do you know all their names?” I used to be an elite amateur and I’d be damned if I didn’t know the names, strengths and weaknesses of everyone I raced against! I know who they are! The only one I didn’t know was the one at mile 5.5 that nearly ran up to me and said “Are you Elizabeth?” I am! I was! Who were you? And how the heck did you have enough air to ask me that as you ran by?

Afterwards I talked with friends. Here is the elite amateur winner – Elizabeth Ott or the force formerly known as Liz Attig. F30-34 at nationals – watch out! Lizzie is on fire right now. We are also with Leslie Curley who tried to fly under my Chicago radar. Again, that is impossible Leslie.

Below you will see Jen Harrison. Not the day she wanted because she decided to ride through – instead of around – the sand trap at mile 18. Just kidding, Jen. Rode in on a flat for over 6 miles and still ran out in the top 20. Look at her run - does anything slow her down?


Now because I love Jennifer and love taking pictures of her eating junk food I snapped this one after the race. That would be a “real” Pepsi and a hamburger on a white bun. The banana peel on her plate - just for looks.


Here is Jen helping first year pro – former age group phenom – new baby mama - Jennifer Garrison getting into her wetsuit. No – Jennifer Harrison is not the same person or misspelling of Jennifer Garrison. Now, ladies, I want to point out that Jenny just had a baby 5 months ago! How many women hop into a professional race 5 months after giving birth!

Here is one of the women that Jenny was up against. Actually she exited the swim right behind her. You might recognize this wonder woman world champion.


All in all it was a great weekend where I got to see the sport from the other side. Coaching kids, being with my athletes, spectating. As I watched the athletes running down the lakefront path I’ve got to admit I got the itch to get out there and run. To get caught up in the race, pushing through the pain, digging deep at the last moment to find something you didn’t know that you had. Perhaps everyone should spend a weekend seeing the sport from the other

side.

Friday, August 22, 2008

My Natural Habitat

Today I was in my natural habitat - teaching kids!

The clinic organizers turned the group over to us today and said "teach!" The five of us coaches chose the segments we wanted to lead and then had at it. I loved every minute of it and wish I could have done more.

It is funny - many people think I am very outgoing and chatty. I am not! I am actually shy and slow to warm up to people. It just takes me a bit of time. Kind of like the way I swim, bike and run! I need my warm up. But put me in front of large groups and I'm ok. In fact, I really like the stage. I miss this about working from home. Some days I do not even talk to a live person. Does my dog count? When I worked out of the home I managed a staff of up to 50 employees, ran a summer camp for over 1000 kids and organized education programs for thousands of children and families each season. Talking in front of, leading, teaching people truly became my natural habitat.

But the one to one - I'm not always so good at that. Sometimes I just don't know what to say. However when there is a curriculum, I'm good to go for hours. It's kind of how I (used to) feel about long course racing - I get in that zone and I can go. Maybe that is what is missing this year - I need to get into my zone outside of my work now (triathlon) to remember what that zone was like so I can find it again! I just realized that today. Talk about an a-ha moment.

A lot of what we did today was take the curriculum and intepret it our own way. This is actually what I do best - I used to be a cirruculum developer and love the opportunity to use creativity to adapt material to meet the needs of the audience. How lucky for me that my audience today was children! One thing I have learned about teaching children is that you can say all of the coolest things in the world but unless you engage the children they won't listen. In fact the best teachers find a way to get the children to say those cool things themselves. They said many cool things about triathlon today!

In addition to skills and drills, the children had to swim their full race disatnce - 100 meters for the 7 to 10 year olds and 200 meters for the 11 to 15 year olds. For many of them this was very hard - there was a lot of backstroking and side stroking but everyone made it. And I pointed out to them how powerful this practice was - the knowledge of YES YOU CAN is now in their bank. They can pull that out when things get tough on race day and know they can do it.

Next we went to a track to do some running. The younger children had to run .6 miles and the older children went 1.2 miles. I was impressed when they knew what those distances were in kilometers too! Some of them walked, some ran but all went the whole way. And most gave it a sprint finish. When you encourage children and set the challenge in front of them I have yet to meet a child that does not succeed or follow through. They were all champions! We did some running drills and it was on! Things got a little competitive but in a very positive way. I've got to admit - after working in the suburban museum for so many years I started to find myself thinking no competitive games, everyone is a winner. Then I said to myself - bullcrap! It's a race, right? And at some point there will be a winner. The kids know that and it's ok to get them prepared to deal with that. Not everyone can win in life - but everyone can try.

One of the coaches did a small talk on nutrition. Of course there were many entertaining comments. When asked about the 3 components of fuel - one starting with a "c" one kid said "Kool-Aid!" I had to laugh - sure it was junk but he spelled it right! They learned basics of good nutrition and then sampled some of sports nutrition products. The particular coach leading the group was sponsored by Hammer Nutrition. I had to laugh when one of the kids opened a package of Recoverite, dumped it in their hand then used to their finger to dip and taste it. Liking it she then passed her hand around to offer the Recoverite powder to the other children. They also sampled gels. I'm guessing some parents have a child right now bouncing off the wall because they enjoyed too many chocolate gels.

The last part was mine - biking! It was raining so we could not ride bikes outside but we did a lot of pretend around obstacle courses. And then we played a bike parts relay and learned to identify strange things like aerobars, bar end shifters and cranks. We concluded with a rousing game of Swim, Bike, Run. Kind of like Duck, Duck, Goose but you get the point. And the middle became the Penalty Tent where you sat out your penalty.

All and all an incredibly rewarding and uplifting experience. I know there will be some future stars of triathlon from that community. Tomorrow they all participate in the children's race on the lakefront. For sure I want to be down there cheering for them! It might be a short race but to them it's the real deal. Hopefully the things we taught them left them feeling confident and prepared to have a safe, fun time.

Good Times

Today I made up with triathlon. We gave each other a big hug and said we would stop saying bad things about each other for now. We agreed that we would have our differences from time to time but that overall we are in a good place and love each other.

Moving on.

I was in Chicago all day for a youth coaching clinic. It is put on by a non for profit organization that has developed an entire curriculum for getting children involved in triathlon. The idea is to encourage children to have fun with the swim, bike and run. Not so much "teach" triathlon but to have fun.

Think about it - as children most of us probably swam at some point. Most of us had a bike. And most anyone can run. We were doing triathlon before we even knew it! And so this organization is trying to get more children involved in the fun of triathlon. It's something most kids already know how to do. So let's do it!

The very unique thing is that these were minority children in Chicago. There are so many barriers they face to participating in sport or even getting outdoors. But triathlon made perfect sense for them. They live by a lake. They had bikes or had siblings with bikes. And they all could run.

The clinic aimed to prepare the kids for the kids triathlon this weekend. Let me tell you - these kids were already pro's! They had been participating in a 7 week camp that taught them all about triathlon. Ranging from ages 5 - 17, some had done the race for the past few years. Some had even gone to nationals. And then some were just beginning. The incredible thing was that no matter what level they were at - they all "trained" together and all had the same fun.

We played games in the pool which taught them a variety of open water skills. We had them practice bike skills in a parking lot. And then did some relays for the run. It was over 6 hours of movement for these kids - with only one break for lunch. It is amazing when you involve children in something motivating and fun - they keep at it and the time flies by.


Tomorrow I go back to do it all again. I cannot wait. Despite the fact that today I didn't have coffee until 8 am and didn't eat anything until 1 pm (NEVER leave the house without eating...I thought I would chew off my arm) - I had a good time.

This is just what I needed. To get over my bad self and put things back into perspective. FUN. Motivating others. Sharing the sport. This is what coaches do. This is what teacher do. This is what I love to do and I cannot wait to seek out more opportunities to work with children again (I miss that about my old job) and to get more invovled in the sport.

I had to laugh today when I was standing in the pool about to send off two boys to swim a length. One turned to the other and said "Wanna go fly?", the other nodded and then they took off doing butterfly down the lane. Fly, free, backstroke, side stroke - heck some were even walking. But they were having fun! That was the point. Doesn't matter how you get there, just have a good time.

I think I'm over myself now.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Tiny Bubbles

For all of you that post pictures of your children on your blog, I throw this one out at you:



Before you think there’s something very Aloha going on in the Waterstraat house, let me explain. No we are not secret training for Kona. Tonight we went to a luau.

Chris’ grandmother lives in a community that had a luau tonight. All things Hawaiian have a very special meaning to the Waterstraat family. You see, his grandparents would overwinter in Hawaii each year. Growing up they spent many a family vacation in Hawaii and there are stories of hikes in Haleakala, the seven pools of Hana and hula pie.

So the luau was very special to attend. Of course Chri walked downstairs wearing his hibiscus shirt. He got that shirt at the Gap outlet back in 2001 when we were in Lake Placid for a race. Or maybe it was 2000. I just remember he came out of the store with that shirt and I think to myself what have I gotten myself into with him. That was back when we were dating. Not that I had a fashion sense – but work with me here. Look at that shirt.

One flowered fool deserves another I suppose. And yes those are matching leis. It was my idea to bring Boss along and an even better idea to dress him in his own Hawaiian shirt. It’s important to note that the shirt Boss is wearing actually belongs to Mr. Pickles my stuffed monkey. Since it was designed for a stuffed bear Boss did have some trouble actually moving in the shirt.

The luau itself was very festive. All of the Waterstraat’s were wearing Hawaiian shirts. Boss fit right in. We were given leis and enjoyed some luau delights. The real fun was when the entertainment began. Hula girls, conch shells, drums, a man in a flowered skirt and the group singing of the infamous Don Ho song – Tiny Bubbles. Singing along (I’ll admit it – I sang along), I decided that my next dog will be named Tiny Bubbles. Bubba for short.

As I watched the entertainment I couldn’t help but think this was the closest I would get to Kona training. As much as I know the Ironman training is exhausting and all-consuming – there is something about it that makes you feel a little more alive. Spending 7 hours in the saddle. Running 18 miles. Ah, the Ironman training days. Nothing like them. But I won’t complain. Eating pineapple while singing Tiny Bubbles is not all that bad. And there are a hell of a lot less baggies and jars of Vaseline involved.

The songs, the drums, the grass skirts made me want to be in Hawaii now. Made me realize – once again – how magical the islands really are. Whether you are hiking the cliffs of the NaPali Coast, the curve of the land meeting the ocean in Waipio Valley, the barren lunar landscape of Haleakala – even thinking about it is breathtaking. Soon enough I will be there watching the Big Island fill with restlessly fit and driven athletes from all over the world. Considering this on a day I divorced triathlon well…this thought made me want to reconcile.

I went swimming today and got out after 28 minutes. Sat in the hot tub and cried. Not for myself nor my failure but just for….for no other good reason at all. Maybe because I’m sad. Disappointed. Tired. I realized somewhere in the middle of a lap that I had never failed before in my life. I’m not saying all of my efforts this year have been complete failures but they have certainly fallen short. And I have never fallen short of my goals. I’ve always nailed them every time.

And I guess that is why I cried. The realization that I am vulnerable. That sometimes even working hard leaves you short of your goal. So short that it looks like you weren’t even working towards it at all. I realize if I walk away with nothing else this year I have great perspective on the full circle of athletic success and I suppose what you would call…struggle? Maybe it was just my turn – to learn that lesson. To make me a better athlete. A better coach. I can now say I have experienced 360 degrees of triathlon. I have won. I have come in last. I have DNF’ed. I have done Ironman. I have been pulled from water. I have peed myself. I have given myself poison oak and – this past weekend – poison ivy from squatting in the woods. I’ve lost sleep thinking of how to carry salt tabs. I’ve lost sleep from being so wired from power gels. There you have it – 360 degrees of triathlon.

But then I got home. Loaded up that picture of Boss and Chris in their Hawaiian shirts. Thought about going to Kona to cheer for my husband, to train some with Sherpa Thomas & Jenni K, to spend time with my friends. About how exciting it will be to swim in the ocean, to ride my bike, to run along the Queen K (yes there is pleasure in that). To drink real coffee, eat fresh fruit and relax in life on the island. I realized I don’t have to race something to enjoy it just like I don’t have to nail my goals to validate my tries. Learning lessons is valuable even if we can’t see it at the time. Learning is a part of growing and growing takes time.

I’m so glad we went to the luau.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Float On

I tried to get the moose to tell me the secret recipe for making my favorite ice cream flavor - but he wouldn't say boo!


Yesterday we spent the day touring. The day started with a big boy breakfast at the inn. It was eggs, bacon, scones. The innkeeper said she figured we needed the extra protein. Even if I didn’t I was all over the bacon. Couple of cups of coffee and then we were on our way.



We drove north on the Franconia Parkway. It was scenic road filled with trailheads, basins, gorges and other beauties of nature. Our first stop was at the Flume. I was a little miffed that you had to pay money to walk to the flume. Further miffed when I realized part of it was uphill. Worsened by the fact that I would eventually have to go downhill. Which then resulted in full on bonk. Completely shutdown on the 60 minute hike – ready to sit down by a giant rock and be left for dead.


The flume itself was beautiful. I’m still not sure what it was but I think it is geological for fast-moving water from tall place. The view kept getting better and better. Finally we were faced with the flume, could feel the water being thrown from the rocks and then hiked down the other side to the pool. Bonk aside it was worth the 12 dollars a person to see it up close.

After that I was in a state of major food emergency. Post race day leaves me feeling a few ways – thirsty, nauseous and hungry. All day hungry nonstop food affair. We drove up to Littleton, a small rustic town along a river. After lunch, I wanted to visit a store that advertised it had the world’s largest candy counter. Count me in! Turns out it did – lots and lots of candy. But I was more interested in the fudge. Can’t remember the last time I had it but they had flavors that made me want it. Get this – Moose Tracks fudge and Peanut Butter Explosion fudge. I am so lucky I am not a tourist more often. I’d be as big as a house.


Next we decided to walk along the riverfront. Found a covered bridge and ate our fudge. About one half pound of fudge later (and worth every ounce of it), Chris wanted to climb into the rocks in the river and sit down. We found a flat rock and he convinced me to put my feet in the water. It was cold! We used our most scientific way to determine how cold – Do you think this would be a wetsuit swim? Could you put your face in it?

It would be a wetsuit swim.



Then we just sat quietly. I watched the water ripple over the rocks and the wind catch the leaves. A birch leaf dropped into the river and slowly swam towards me. It took a windy path as it floated up and over the riffles, swirled in the eddy for a few moments before finally gathering the momentum to make it up and over the next set of rocks again. The pattern would repeat itself – it would spin for a few minutes trapped under the pressure of the water pouring over the rocks, release itself and move forward.

Watching this, I realized I wanted to be the leaf. The leaf would struggle in place for a few moments but it kept moving in a forward path. Eventually it would become free again and seemed at peace with is float and moved forward to some place further than where it was before.

Sitting along this river I thought about my year so far. We put so much into our “seasons” and want to move forward in a progression that is meaningful to us. Whether it is based on our results, times, or lessons learned – we need to keep moving forward. In the past 3 races I have produced the same result. Sure there have been little victories but I have completed a half in 4:55. Think about that – I have not completed a half in 4:55 since 2001. Somehow in the past year I have gained over 20 minutes on my best half time and taken over 6 years worth of steps backwards. Here I am after reaching a point to where I was able to take it up a level this year – and instead of moving forward I have gone backwards. To go backwards is not a path I enjoy. Of course I will accept struggles and spinning in place at times but in general I want to move forward. I am not foolish enough to expect to breakthrough every time and I understand it’s a different game but that doesn’t lessen the fact that underperforming hurts like injury. You start to wonder if the injury is really just with yourself.


Which got me to thinking – what is going on? And where do I want to go? What am I doing – and why? I didn’t have an answer. So all I could do was ask myself what I enjoyed about the sport…

I really enjoy coaching. Sometimes more than training and racing myself! I enjoy guiding people to reach their goals. I like to see them learn something about themselves or achieve something they didn’t think they could before. I have always been a teacher and being able to teach something that I love and have experienced is better than some of my best race memories.

I really enjoy all of my tri friends. I enjoy traveling around the country and seeing familiar faces. I enjoy meeting up with people like Kristin and feeling like we never missed a step – even though we haven’t seen each other in nearly a year. I like the connection this sport builds between people of like minds and passions.

I really enjoy being outside. This weekend we did a lot of hiking. I miss hiking and walking. I miss running on trails and mountain biking. I spend so much time on streets, tracks and in pools that I am getting away from what attracted me to the sport – feeling alive by being outdoors.

I really like fudge. And coffee. By the way, I bought so many bags of coffee beans in New Hampshire that it put my suitcase over the 50 pound limit for the plane.

I really enjoy being with my husband. I miss training with him after work and I know it’s bad to save workouts until the end of the day – but I just like being with him. I realized this weekend that I will always be young with him. And as I spent more time apart from him I am starting to feel old.

That’s all I’ve got for now. I thought more about things while taking my feet in and out of the wetsuit legal cold water (pro rules, sub 72 degrees) and realized I don’t want to travel to another race for awhile. I want to run more. The fall is coming and the fall is for running – 10K’s, cross country. I will do those things. I want to do cyclocross. I will fall down and get lapped but I want to do it. I will also ride my mountain bike at Kettle Moraine. I will hold my breath making the tight descents and curse the rocks but after one Blue Loop I will be so sweaty and wired that I can’t wait to do it again. I will stop swimming 5 times a week. It is becoming not fun and my new motto in life is taken straight from a Ben & Jerry’s carton if it’s not fun why do it. I will eat more Ben & Jerry’s and swim less.

After the race on Sunday, Cynthia Wilson asked me how it went. I had the pleasure of meeting her in St. Croix - she's quite talented and finished 3rd overall at Timberman. Anyways, I told her it was hard at times but I'm learning a lot and never expected it to be easy. And she said to me keep at it. And I will. I want to and I will but sometimes I get frustrated with the journey.

At this point I am sure reading this blog at times is like watching a wreck. You can see it coming and when it happens you can't help but look. Trust me, I get that and I do hope you enjoy the elf show. But I want to be honest about everything I think and feel along the way. Some days I can see the positive in everything. Other days I am just human like everyone else. You just caught me on a human day. Here I am! And this is my honest journey. Thanks for traveling with me...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Fear Factor

Am I on Fear Factor? Because that is how this is starting to feel.

Remember the chair lift from yesterday? Some place you don’t want to be if you don’t like heights. And then there was another challenge yesterday, after dinner. We decided to go for a short walk along a riverfront trail. The river was actually a Category 2 – 3 white water kayaking river. I’ve never seen water move that fast! But up the trail was something even more fearful – an old train trestle. We decided to take a look.

The last time I was on a trestle was a few years ago in Danville with Meredith and her at that time boyfriend. We had just gone for a run in Kickapoo State Park. What I remember about that day is that Chris had really bad bedhead during the run and the trestle was about 300 feet above the ground. Someone thought we should walk across it. Not a big fan of heights but always finding myself in risky situations thinking if you chicken out on this it will become a metaphor for what you will not accomplish in life. I’m my own worst enemy what can I say. So that is how I found myself on my hands and knees trying to cross a trestle with vertigo as I looked down between each track.

The trestle along the river last night was not as bad. Nor as high. But it was kind of rotted in places and didn’t look like it was saying walk across me. Chris went ahead and convinced me it was ok. I was not as convinced so he came back and held my hand across. Very gentlemanly but did not make the 100 foot drop into the river any easier to accept should my foot fall through a track. But I made it across and – you could say – overcame myself a little bit along the way.


Fast forward to the race this morning. Fear factor of a different kind. In the water, the start line. The pro wave going off with both men and women. Standing there as they announce the world champions, the two Ironman world champions, the Olympians that are in your wave. And then there’s me! Hey guys, I’m here!

Anyways, I will write more about the race when I lose the pounding headache. I will say this – it was hard and I hurt. I hurt a lot. In a whole new way. I was just telling someone that I have never worked so hard to finish last in my life. I have never finished last until this year. I’ve had a very good athletic life of working hard and reaping "rewards" – wins, titles, awards. But then this year – I work hard and the reward is different. There is no hardware, no awards, no call up to a podium. But what you realize is that is not what racing is about. It is about giving it YOUR best, saying I could give it no more at the end of the race. Even if you are in last place.

So should I give up because each race I find myself at or close to the bottom? No. Because everyone has to start some place. And you can’t expect to master something in a year. Sure, some athletes can but they are very rare. Most work at it for quite some time. In that time you have to wait, learn your lessons little by little along the way. But trust me - in that waiting you start to fear – what if my success never comes. What if I keep coming in last? But if we fear being last does that mean we should not try? No – because failure is from a lack of effort. Not from arriving at last place after giving it all you had for the day; that is actually a success - to me.

Sometimes all of this is hard to swallow but I realize this is all part of the fear factor. And each race that fear factor gets a little less. I learn a new lesson. I race a little smarter. I make another right step. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just give in to the fear factor and give up. But then I realize how much I like to try because of what I learn. I like to try just to keep proving to myself yes I can.

I had many exciting new things today. The best part about being a new pro is that you are learning how to race the sport all over again. Each race is like a test where you get to pull from your training, your last race and the advice given along the way. I remember last year every race started to feel like a day at the office. Competing as a pro is definitely nothing like that! I might be in the same “office” but I have a completely different job now! And with something new comes a lot of firsts...

For the first time ever I led a pack on the swim. I had women pulling my feet the entire time. That was probably one of the most exhilarating things I have ever felt in a race.

For the first time ever I out transitioned the other women that entered transition with me. The wetsuit strippers – sounds silly, eh? But I was out of that wetsuit in 5 seconds. No hands!

For the first time ever I had someone in my sight for most of the bike ride – except the last few miles. That gave me hope. When you are competing in a wave with 14 women and you can see ONE nearly the entire time – that is really exciting.

For the first time ever I was gaining ground on the run. The only problem was that I ran out of ground to gain. One day they will do the 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 26.2 mile run event. And I will win!

The hardest part in all of this is staying grounded and not becoming overwhelmed by my fears. I think back to all of the fears I had when I started the sport 9 years ago – fear of descending on the bike, fear of my hair looking really bad on the run, fear of the open water, fear of injury. These fears can hold us back or keep pushing us ahead. Each time we overcome one or get past it, we become a better athlete. I started the swim today realizing there were about 30 other fears standing in the water with me. They had world champion, Olympian, course record holder, Ironman legend behind their names. I had every reason to not even try. I suppose that is really what you could say about this entire year – I had every reason not to give it a try – fear of failure, fear of getting lapped on a two loop course, fear of being really slow, fear of coming in last place. But if I gave in to that fear – or any fear, I would get no place. And looking around at the start line I realized that all of those fear factors standing with me - maybe 9 years ago they were standing in the same place as me – surrounded by their fears, taking them on one by one and becoming a better athlete along the way.

Could you imagine if they had never given it a try?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Going Up


Do you love my pink backpack?

Hey, here we are at Gunstock - it's a ski resort where most of the Timberman activities take place. Except the race. That actually takes place a few miles away at Ellacoya. We started out our day at Gunstock for the pro meeting. I convinced Chris he should sit in on the meeting with me - people bring their relatives with them all of the time. So he got to experience his first pro meeting. Afterwards he said "basically, don't draft, right?"

Right.

Of course the meeting was filled with lots of superstars. One thing I've learned is that you just have to go into these meetings and races as a competitor, as part of the race - not someone starstruck by who's at the race. You can't expect to show up to a race and throwdown with someone and in the next step turn around and ask for a picture with them. And trust me it's easy to get starstruck. Everyone at these meetings is a rockstar with the big cool sunglasses, lean legs and golden tans. Simon Lessing, Michael Lovato, Terrenzo Bozzone. Yes, all the hotties were there. How incredible to be sitting in the same room as legend Karen Smyers and Chrissis Wellington. Soon later a guy walked in, I looked at him and thought who is that? He was your standard tall, thin, jeans and a t-shirt kind of guy that I thought he was one of the pro's husbands. Then Kim pointed out a little known athlete that wearing the t-shirt and jeans...one that went by the name of...Andy Potts.

Ok!

After the meeting (don't draft), we decided to take a ride on the chair lift. You know the one that carries you to the top of the mountain when you ski? Chris convinced me it would be fun. You should know that my husband grew up skiing in Colorado during winter breaks. On the other hand, I have only skiied once. In Wisconsin. And that totally doesn't count. I agreed, however, and found myself on the chairlift (where is the safety belt?) literally frozen on the bench for fear that I would slip right under the lap bar. We kept going up.....and up.....


And then went up some more. I was ready to vomit. You know that feeling where your mouth gets really warm...kind of like the response when I say something like this:

Fried Clams, Lobster Rolls, Boston Chowda

Yes - kind of like when you hear that you just want to throw up in your mouth. That is how I felt and seriously wondered if at the top I could walk back down! But the view was well worth it.


Once at the top though I heard someone on the radio saying get as many as you can on the chairlift as soon as possible. Something you don't want to hear from atop a mountain! A storm was blowing in and we had to go back down. But not before Chris snapped this shot of me and my backpack.


We made it back down in time. And the way back down was not as nauseating as the way up. But for the record, we went really far up and I don't like heights! See?

Afterwards we went for a bike ride along the run course and checked our bikes into transition. Then I found this:


How much for the truck? And how soon in the morning will you be serving?

And now we rest! Tomorrow will come soon enough. Thanks for reading and before I go will leave you with this:

Clamcakes, Fried Oysters, Lobster Bisque

Need a bucket to throw up into yet?

PS - I noticed that every room in the Bed & Breakfast has a fireplace and above each one is a rifle. LIVE FREE OR DIE!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Live Free

Hill repeats, anyone?

(if you squint and look at the top of the picture you will see a small tower at the top of the "hill")

We are in New Hampshire. You've got to wonder about a state that feels compelled to shout LIVE FREE OR DIE on all of its license plates. So much for subtlety. I will say - however - that this state is quite beautiful. Wait, it's wicked awesome beautiful. Or something like that.

You'll have to excuse any of my ramblings or typos. I've been up since 3 am CST. Arrived in Manchester with no problems - know why? Flew out of Midway. That's the secret to getting somewhere from Chicago. Once we arrived, driving to Gilford we passed by an outlet mall and my husband - I think it was my husband - said let's go shopping.

Finally, I WIN!

Did you know that in less than 10 minutes you can make 2 purchases of excellent new sporty gear? And did you know that working from home has killed any hope of living a semi-fashionable existence. Who gets a green light for shopping and buys a pair of running tights and a run top. Who?

Me.

The real reason we went shopping - to buy a towel. For the love of my dog if I heard one more thing about a towel from Chris I was ready to steal the car and drive straight to Canada. We needed to swim in the lake but didn't have a towel. We needed a towel. A TOWEL! One more time - TOWEL! And now we own a Ralph Lauren Polo (outlet buy!) towel for $9.99.

Did some swimming at the lake. The lake was mostly cool and clear. Did some pick ups, then dared Chris to do the slow boil. He took me on. He tried to slow boil it down the buoy line and I was right there with them. Nice try! You know what that means - it's the new wetsuit!

We drove the bike course. It goes up. And up. Up a little more. Makes a turn...and...up. Gradual long hills and smooth roads. Kind of reminds me of the back part of the island in St. Croix. Except it's not an island. And there are no chickens.

We went to packet pick up. Holy tri dorks from high heaven we were the first in line. Actually we waited outside until they opened up the line. Best part - two words Jen Harrison - PINK BACKPACK. Not kidding. I have no idea what I will do with a pink backpack but at least now I own one (jealous, JH?).

We are staying at a bed and breakfast. It's one of those historical homes with lots of antiques. There is actually a rifle hanging above the fireplace in our room. LIVE FREE OR DIE! DIE!

Ok, ok - I get it already.

Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to prance around the room with my pink backpack and then get some sleep.

Let's Get (Medium) Small


Does anybody look good in these things?

Check this out. It’s a full sleeve blueseventy Helix. I knew I needed to try one after that pre-storm swim in Lake Michigan with Rachel and Chris. I was doing my best to keep up with them and was getting dropped by about 50 yards every 50 yards. Needless to say I was going nowhere fast. They suggested it was because they had more neoprene. Not because RR is capable of something silly like a sub 1 hour Ironman swim or my husband is so many lanes away at masters I might as well be swimming in the kiddie pool. Regardless of that those two slick marketing mavens convinced me that my sleeveless wetsuit – which until now has served me just fine thank you – was no match to their super fancy smart could probably swim on its own blueseventy Helix wetsuit.

So what you’re saying is that it will make me fast? Consider me sold.

It was time for a new one – and it was time for the full sleeves. You see, as a pro the only time you get to wear a wetsuit is when the water is below 72 degrees. That doesn’t happen very often. I figured the only time I would get to wear a wetsuit was in cold water anyways so I might as well be as insulated as possible. I might just start wearing it to masters because someone (ERIC.OTT) told the front desk at the health club that the water in the pool which was just about right was too warm and now takes over 100 yards to warm up in because it’s just about too cold.

I’m not saying, I’m just sayin’. That’s all.




This is Chris in his natural habitat – the garage. In his habitat he is behaving like most of the garage natives do – working on something that will result in dirty hands. Here he is getting my bike ready for the race. This weekend we are heading out to New Hampshire for a small race called Timberman. Trixie is getting all cleaned up, chain greased and will be wearing her fast wheels. You will also notice in this picture – Chris’ ghetto table. He puts this table up when he is doing “serious” garage work. Then he leaves the door open, stands on the driveway with Buckethead blaring away while doing something that involves a lot of grease. All that is missing is a car propped up on cinder blocks. Speaking of cars, you will notice his dream machine in the background – the blue van.

Anyways, you will see above that I tried my new wetsuit on and it fit! This was my second attempt at a suit. First I ordered a small. I am small, I think. I know I’m not extra small but you would think an elf is small – if not extra. But little did I know – elves are not small. They are medium small. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t try stuffing myself into the small. I then demanded Chris to zip me up. He refused on grounds of that suit is too small. Me not wanting to admit I am not truly small but medium small pleaded with just give it a try. This went on for about 10 minutes before I took it off and defeated said I will order the medium small.

Sigh

The medium small arrives and I am excited to see if it fits. No – it was more like desperate. Race day is Sunday! I try it on and then open the garage door to ask Chris to zip it up and…he’s gone! Not there! Meanwhile I am starting to fill the suit with sweat. But there’s no way I’m taking it off. Do you know how long it took to get into it? I decided I would just wait for Chris. Wait and sweat. Wait and sweat. But in the meantime I was baking banana bread and had to check on it. WARNING: you should NEVER under any circumstances open a 350 degree oven when your entire body is covered in neoprene. You could spontaneously combust from your own body heat. You could melt! A little black pile of melted rubber is all that would be left!

(I do however think standing in your full wetsuit in front of your oven would be great training to simulate how it feels to run down the Queen K around mile 14)

I keep opening the garage door to see if it makes Chris magically appear and it finally works – he is there. PLEASE zip this up so we can see if it fits. He did, I feel like all 62 inches of me has been compressed into a one dimensional body bag when I realize – yes, indeed it fits.


Perfectly.

So me, husband, Trixie and my new speedy wetsuit will be heading east for the weekend. Here's to fast wetsuits, sub 72 degree water, husbands that like to work on bikes in garages and medium small elves!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Contagion

Good thoughts are contagious, know what I mean?

Every day I log my thoughts and comments about each workout to my coach. I include everything - the good, the bad, all of it. Last week I announced I would put my SRM out for garage sale, I broke up with my GPS, I cursed mother nature. But if you look at those conversations and comments over time, what I’m starting to realize is those conversations very much control the outcome of the workout.


The other day my coach said when I tell him I had mostly positive self-talk in my head, I have my best workouts. When I list the 100 things that went wrong – the workout doesn’t go as well. Imagine that? Sometimes it takes someone outside of you pointing out the obvious for you to really get it. Then to look inside ourselves and admit how guilty we are. How often do we sit there and tell ourselves the one thousand reasons why the workout won’t go right, why we feel like crap, why obviously there is something wrong with the training plan?

Probably a lot.

For example: Last week I had a tempo run. It was the day after track. There were more than a dozen reasons why this workout should have felt like crap. Rather than let those fill my head, I stood at the starting point of the run and pictured myself typing the words NAILED IT. From there I knew I was screwed – because I would have to nail the workout. I’m stubborn like that. And I was also screwed because I knew to nail it would really hurt. My legs weren’t happy but I got it done and I nailed it. Got home, typed those words and called myself a success for the day.

What I’ve really found is that successful workouts are most often a result of saying successful things in my head. And there is NO good reason why I can’t say successful things in my head for EVERY workout. NO GOOD REASON AT ALL. Fatigue? Deal with it. Cramps? Take a Motrin. Hot, humid, sticky, windy, sunny, cloudy? Get over it and move on already.

So I’ve been making a bigger effort to say only good things in my head. And what better time to practice than yesterday during a 90 minute bike ride with some time trial efforts. I decided to ride from home. This was not the wisest decision. There are probably 10 stoplights between home and Fermilab, 100 construction barricades, limited shoulders and loads of squirrely lunchtime traffic. But with all of that, I decided to make the best ride for myself. I would ride strong, ride like someone was right on me, use the stoplights to push me and once free to do the time trial efforts - find the rhythm in my legs.

I get to the lab in record time and then begin my TT efforts. The legs are moving, pedals are turning, eyes are scanning the environment – but the real work is in my head because the entire time I’m talking to myself:

You are strong rider.
You are tough enough to ride with the big boys.
You can hold this pace.
Can you give it a little more?
Focus on what is right ahead.
Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm.
Dial it in and hold it there.


What a great conversation! But occasionally a bad conversation would enter my head. Who said it? Me. I am only human after all:

This hurts.
My quads hurt.
This road is bumpy.
Why is all of this gravel here.


And that is when I launched my conversational counterattack. Every bad thought I quickly snapped back. I had a response to kick it out of my head.

This hurts – No one said it would be easy
This road is bumpy – Imagine how fast you will go when the road is smooth
Why is all of this gravel here – Focus on staying in control & riding right through it

Positive thoughts, negative thoughts, counterattacks…by the time I set out on my way home my head was like a loaded weapon of nothing but good energy. I had kicked all of the bad stuff out and filled it with nothing but thoughts of being fast and strong. And that’s when I realized how contagious a good thought is! All of a sudden I was having the best ride ever and I’m telling you it isn’t because I have fresh legs! Good thoughts, good self-talk are like contagion in your head.

What is contagion? It’s a term often used by social psychologists:

Social contagion is a copycat effect, imitative behavior based on the power of suggestion or word of mouth influence. It operates on three levels – emotional, behavioral and ideational. Emotional contagion is often filled with infectious moods or feelings. Behavioral contagion could be laughter with a group friends. Ideational contagion is exemplified in urban legends, rumors.

How can we as athletes use the contagion effect? Become contagious to ourselves! Make our good thoughts and positivity something we can’t help but catch. Emotionally start your workout with excitement, giddiness and zest for the possibility of what you can achieve. Behaviorally – talk positive to yourself, encourage your efforts. Ideationally – create a rumor in your head. That you are a force to be reckoned with, that you are a powerful athlete, that you are known for having _____ as your strength. Become your own legend! You don’t have to tell anyone but yourself – and that is the only person that needs to know. It doesn’t matter how big something is that you say in your head. It’s your private conversation with yourself and it can be as big as you’d like. No one censors, judges or listens in on what you say in your head.

Make yourself – your conversations, your energy – something you’d like to catch. There is so much negativity in our world, so many judgments and pressure on ourselves. Don't become yet another negative force. Why? Because negative forces attract negativity. When you think you can't - you're right, you can't. When you think your legs hurt, they do. When you think you can't keep up, you won't. But if you become the positive force that you can't help but catch you will attract all of the possibilities for doing what you can.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's Your Thing

I’m a little hooked on the Olympics.

But can you blame me? All of those strong athletes from around the world chasing down their dreams. Some from powerhouse countries, some from countries I’ve never heard of at all – Togo? – but all speaking the same universal language of victory.

So many sports, so little viewing time. In the past few days I’ve watched white water kayaking, water polo sand volleyball, fencing, basketball, gymnastics and of course – swimming. My favorites are still yet to come – diving, track and field, and all right, I’ll admit it – triathlon.

No matter which sport you are watching, though, you see can see it out there. It is what it takes. It is the life of an athlete. The passion, the drive. The need to wake up early to train, to make sacrifices socially, to closely monitor food intake, to stretch, to improve, to hope, to sometimes just maintain.

Regardless of the sport watching you feel this connection, like you can relate. I am an athlete, they are an athlete too. It’s like watching thousands of your closest friends. You get it. You watch the man in the kayak and you know he has a license plate holder that says “Paddler” or “Up a Creek & Lovin’ It”. That paddle he’s using to muscle through the water – you know he spent more money on it than his car. You know he’s gone on paddling vacations, that he reads paddling magazines and that he has a paddling coach. You know that simply put – paddling is his thing.

I met with a friend the other day. She’s gotten really into bow hunting. Walking into the coffee shop, she was holding a book all about the basics of bow hunting. I told her that something crosses the line from passing fancy to budding obsession when you buy a book. I know because my basement is full of triathlon books. I was so excited to hear her talk about her “new thing”. Her sister got her into archery and soon enough she had her own custom bow. Custom arrows. A fancy protective case. After coffee she was even meeting her sister at the archery range.

I was telling her how interesting it is that in our world there are so many things. So many little niches we can fill. And when you are in a niche – how some place so small – let’s say the sport of triathlon with only 100,000 members in the governing organization – can feel so big. How the little corner that your sport occupies can feel like an entire world. Whether your niche is archery, triathlon, kayaking or even knitting – you can find a place where people are as passionate about it as you are. Some maybe even more.

Even her husband has a thing. He has gotten really into karaoke. Now before you start laughing – trust me, we laughed about it a lot – the fact is that karaoke is just his thing! Four nights a week he goes out to do karaoke. He doesn’t drink. It doesn’t cost money. And the only equipment he needed was a karaoke machine. He goes to a bar or a restaurant where they have karaoke and finds other people there that also like to sing. It's so popular that there are even “regulars” that show up at the same places throughout the week. There are people with reputations for only singing show tunes and others with reputations for singing -well, just really plain bad. But not matter what they all have the same thing in common – they love to sing! It's their thing!

Sometimes the world seems so big or we feel so lost in it that I believe we make our way to these niches so we can find some place small and manageable enough that we belong. At other times I think it is our medicine to cover up a condition that otherwise would rule our life probably not as productively. The other night I was watching a program about female bodybuilders. They had interviewed a doctor who speculated that any obsessive endeavor into sport could be our body’s way of covering up a depressive condition. The behavior then becomes our body’s way of administering its own medicine. If that’s the case then there are a lot of us out there getting good medicine from our things!

And maybe that is why we all have our thing. It just feels good! Really then the Olympics is just a celebration of people that really found the right thing. They were talking on the radio this morning about Michael Phelps – about how he is absolutely built for swimming. Look at his lats! His wingspan is over 72 inches! Some of those guys have size 15 feet! You bet they can power and move through the water – or down a lane in 10 strokes or less. Watch enough of the different Olympic sports and you realize that everyone has a thing. There is something for everyone in life. And even if you’re not built for something as long as you work hard at it and enjoy that process, you’re probably pursuing a very good thing.

I like watching the Olympics because I like thinking about each athlete and their thing. I wonder what life for them is like. What do they eat every day and how do they live. Sometimes I read Simon Whitfield’s blog when I need a good reminder of what it takes. He talks about his diet – which is so colorful and clean it makes my diet look like floor dirt – he talks about his daily training regimens, how every detail of his training is centered on his success at his next race – the Olympics! People often ask what it takes to achieve peak performance, to get faster or better. That is what it takes! You don’t have to be Simon Whitfield but you do need to pay attention to the details. Those are the little things that are so easy to control once you decide to do it – and the little things that add up to big things.

And when I watch the Olympics, I can relate to all of those little things. We’ve all made sacrifices too. Maybe it’s not deciding to eat gluten-free bread but we’ve made sacrifices with our families, work, other things to be able to fully pursue our thing. And to do that is not selfish or unworthy – it’s what you feel is the right thing. For whatever reason, the thing you have chosen to do fills you up in a way that nothing else can. It makes you feel alive, real and purposeful. So you agree to the sacrifices, you do the best you can to balance your life while pursuing your thing.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

So when I watch the Olympics, I understand what they are all about and what they are hoping for. Victory, success. Fulfillment of their dreams. Actualization of their goals. I have dreams, too. I move in their direction every single day. I make sacrifices and I coach athletes that do all of these things too. And sure the Olympics is on a completely different level but with victory – we can relate. We all know what it’s like to win – whatever winning is to you. Success, pride, accomplishment – these are universal concepts that we all understand.

Universal? Or maybe just part of our natural development. A recent study showed that even our expression of these concepts – the expression of pride or victory – is innate. Something we all know how to do at birth. At a Paralympics judo competition, even those athletes born without sight celebrated their victory by puffing their chests and raising their arms above their head. They engaged in a victory display – even though they’ve never seen one before. If you watched the men’s swim relay the other night, Phelps gave a perfect example of that type of display. We all knew what it meant. It meant – victory.

Victory at your thing – whatever your thing may be. Find it, chase after it, fulfill yourself. And when you reach your victory – you know what to do. Actually your body can’t help it. Throw your hands up and celebrate. It’s your thing – you found it, you worked hard at it, you made it. At the local sprint tri or the Olympics - we're all athletes here. We get it. Now go do your thing!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Way I See It

A few days I stopped at Starbucks. I’m a big fan of the Pike Place blend. Finally coffee from Starbucks that I can drink without spurting it back out. Other blends are a bit too strong for me but this one is fairly good.

Walked up to the counter and the barista looked strangely at my shirt.

So did you do an Ironman?

Part of me just wants to say no. Pretend I am walking around wearing a shirt that just says Ironman. Little does this barista know about Ironman. Like I would be caught wearing an Ironman shirt without having done an Ironman. Could you imagine? You’d guarantee yourself being followed by an angry mob of Slowtwitchers ready to tackle you for misrepresentation of corporate logo while also be stalked by a bunch of their cagey counterparts lurking in a bush.

No thanks.

What to say, what to say. This is kind of like answering the guy down the street that always asks if Boss is a Chihuahua (he’s still a Chihuahua by the way). There are many things here I could say:

1 – Yes I’ve done an Ironman.


Ho hum.

2 – My husband did one and bought me this pink shirt.

Getting better.

3 – I bought the shirt on E-bay.

YES YES! That is it. I bought it on Ebay. After all, it was an Ironman world championship t-shirt.

But I just didn’t have the heart to pour out such a sassy lie. And so instead I replied, yes I did an Ironman.

Boring as that.

You must be crazy, she said.

A point to be debated, to say the least. But not as crazy as if I had bought the shirt off of ebay. However, yes, a little crazy nonetheless because you are right – Ironman is crazy. But I didn’t say any of that. Settled for yes, it is a little crazy, took my coffee and left.

I try not to think too much about conversations like that. One person's crazy is another person's wildest dream. For all I know she could be the world's biggest Ides of March fan. Now that's crazy (side note: Last night my husband got talked into going to an Ides of March concert, came back and said best concert ever; I still can't figure out if he was joking or seriously rocking out to Vehicle). Who am I to judge what she calls fun on a Saturday night (or in the case of training for Ironman...an entire Saturday).


Taking the conversation not too seriously, I am distracted by a feeling of guilt. You see, I feel guilty for getting a paper cup and really should have just brought my own. But since I already had it in hand I thought I should make the most out of it by reading everything printed on it. Of course there was one of those The Way I See It blips – something about music being orange juice. Whatever. What if you don’t like orange juice but you like music? Riddle me that.

So I thought what if Starbucks had The Way I See It – Tri Style, what would the cup say?

Success is 50 percent showing up, 50 percent making up your mind to do it.

The real threat is not on the start list, the real threat is inside of yourself.

Repeat after me: There is no such thing as a magic workout, magic shoe, magic pill, magic coach. Magic is what happens when you wave your wand at bullshit. PS – nothing magical happens to the bullshit, that’s the point.

The faster you get the harder it gets to become faster.

Succeeding at an IM means taking the IM out of impossible and then putting that IM into your realm of possibility.

We will find every reason to explain away our failure except the most simple one – something we failed to do from inside of our self.

Treat every Ironman like it is your first; don’t assume your experience with the distance will mean something on a different race day.


More dangerous than injury is complacency.

Confidence is the bridge between preparation and opportunity that you cross to arrive at peak performance on race day.


Spend less money making your bike aerodynamic and more time riding your bike instead.

If you know how the workout will go then you might as well go home.

Racing is just fee-based training on a particular day.

Only one person can win which means everyone else is out there for something else. Before you start your race know what your something else is. This, rather than the drive to win, is what makes you a winner as you cross the finish line.

Overthinking is as debilitating as overdoing.

Train your mind like you train your body and your mind will know what to do with your body on race day.


And now, one more. But first - just as it reads on the bottom of the Starbucks cup, I am posting a legal disclaimer disavowing legal responsibility for my opinion:

If you have to bring a bucket to a race, perhaps you should go fishing instead.

That's how I see it. What about you?