Monday, May 18, 2009

The Little Things

First I found out that Kim Kardashian really does have *gasp* cellulite.

Then Bea Arthur died.

Next were the rumors that both Jon and Kate of Jon and Kate Plus 8 are having affairs.

And then – even worse – Miss California lied. Or something like that.

After I dug myself out of that hole of celebrity despair and got over the drama and the agony, I mustered up the energy to leave my house. To pack my bike. Put myself into the van.

And…of course…get back to blogging (!)

Just in time, because it’s race time! Every year we pile the van high with wheels, helmets, race flats to make the pilgrimage to Memphis. For the past few years we’ve been joined by Lizzie and Eric, good athletes, better friends, all around two kids crazy about triathlon.

We make the perfect pair. Of pairs.

This year we pulled up to their house with Eric coughing out that he was sick.

Press the panic button it’s time to go into high alert Haz Mat mode. I asked Eric if he had a snorkel and would agree to being wrapped in plastic and strapped to the top of the van because there is no way in hell I’m getting sick on this trip! Unfortunately it was pouring rain. And being a skinny little bean Eric would have slid right off the roof. So we put him in the backseat. An hour into the trip he looked feverish with a bad case of bedhead and a hacking cough. He spent the rest of the weekend coughing. How do I know? Starky hit me every time Eric coughed.

Thanks Starky.

Also on board with us was…Starky. That’s right, we van-napped one of the fastest triathletes on two wheels. For reference, he warms up at a wattage above my threshold. If you watched the Clearwater coverage, this was the pro guy that led the bike. According to him, that was his goal. And he spent the first 5K of the run celebrating his goal.

Then he realized he still had 10 miles to go.

The weekend was a trip – in so many ways. 48 hours, 1200 miles and a race somewhere in between. By late Sunday night we were already heading home. The race – and weekend – stirring in my head as we drove north on 57 somewhere just across the border into Illinois. Starky starts talking in a southern accent and insists we start listening to country (the worst part – he knows the words). Chris is nestled in the backseat. Eric announces there’s a Dairy Queen in another 40 miles. Lizzie is driving after being voted “most fresh” after her hypothermic DNF. Someone turns up Ice Cube and declares it a hit from their high school days.

I’m old enough to be that someone’s mom.

As soon as it started, the weekend to Memphis is complete. Let me briefly recap my race by saying: I am allergic to Memphis. Or that is how it is starting to feel. After last year’s implosion I told myself I simply had to cross the line to win today.

I’m a winner, oh yes.

Unfortunately I crossed that winning line in last place.

The race started a little differently for pros this year – at 10:30 am. How many races start with husband saying “Want me to go get Starbuck’s for you?”


The best part about starting late – other than sleeping in, coffee service, having a morning poo at a totally normal time – hell, having one at all – was being able to watch the age groupers and my athletes. I had 10 athletes racing at Memphis, managed to see all but one of them. Smiled with them, shouted at them and got a good feeling inside. Nothing is better than watching your athletes race – nothing!

While I wanted to stand around all day, cheer and watch athletes fly over the dismount line, it was time to warm up. Put on my speedsuit and got in for a swim. Choppy would be one way to describe the water. However, I told myself after you do St. Croix nothing is choppy. This is glass.

A quick warm up and then time to wait. I was freezing. The wind was whipping off the lake and the air was chilled. I have never been cold at Memphis! Leave it to Michellie Jones (shameless namedropping) to devise a plan. She “borrowed” a random towel and then by some divine and cosmic interaction of luck, planetary alignment and just being in the right place at the right time – she grabbed Chris and I to huddle with her.

REPEAT: Olympic silver medalist and Ironman world champion makes herself a Waterstraat sandwich.

Is there a reason to even go on with the race?

After that I pulled myself together and stopped shivering. Got in line for the start. New this year: Chris turned pro. He had the results and did everything he wanted to as an amateur. Time to toe the pro line. GO CHRIS!

The swim starts and I ease into it. No big crowd, no arms flailing. The water is choppy but I quickly get over it. Find the rhythm, roll, breathe…I think to myself it could be worse. It could be St. Croix.

It could even be worse than that. It could be Ironman.

The next turn I settle into a good pace and recognize the arms ahead of me. The color of the skin tone. I know those arms. I know that skin tone. I get closer. I know those feet. THAT IS HUSBAND! I pull alongside of him on the way into the finish. I realize at one point he is now behind me. I AM PULLING HUSBAND! We end up emerging from the water together.

However: he started 20 seconds behind me so who has the faster swim split?

Not me.

A long run to the transition racks and I realize I am not the last bike. It’s the little things sometimes that make your day in a race. Cuddling with Michellie. Exiting the swim with Chris. Starting out not last on the bike. I see Chris going towards the mount line and grab my bike, it goes airborne and I shout at him I WILL BEAT YOU TO THE LINE!

I did.

The bike. Now, I live in Chicago. I know wind. I knew I had to just put my head down and ride. Into very gusty wind. From the northeast at 18 mph gusting to 25. In other words, ELF vs the wind today – ELF DID NOT WIN. I rode alone. Three others pulled away – farther, farther until there was no one left to stagger with. Just me and myself riding down the road. I had to be one of the last riders out there and I was making up time on no one. Regardless I kept telling myself to stay strong, be confident, focus on the task at hand. I focused enough to distract myself from the fact that I was really going nowhere very fast. Rightfully so, I was passed by a guy about 45 minutes into the ride and then noticed something big behind me. Following me. Lurking. Drafting you could say. Don’t they know about the stagger rule?

Problem was it was a vehicle.

Yes, folks, I had the “last racer on the course” vehicle right behind me.

Oh for the love of racing. For the love of my pride. For the love of “I train to do this?” A million feelings and insecurities float through your head. Key word: float. Mostly it was laughter – is this really happening? It is. So now what?

That was frustrating but at the same time a bit…hilarious? Do I really need a reminder that I’m the last one out here? Do they not think I have already gotten that point? It was hard not be become distracted by the pressure of knowing you’re the last one. This vehicle is waiting for you. Inside it they are probably saying “that poor girl”. I suppose it’s called “perspective” or “character building”.

I’m about full of character now thank you.

But at the same time, I’m here. I’m doing this. Someone has to bring up the rear and what an honor, it's me! I think. Hey, wait, I’m still in it. I’m racing and I’m actually thinking good thoughts. After all, I chose to do this. I paid to do this. I’m doing this.

Finally I arrived in transition. Time to run. I was excited to run. You see, last year I DNFed at Memphis in an implosion of self-pity, weakness and fatigue around mile 4 of the run. Funny thing is that my legs hurt today. Just like they did last year but….I was smarter than myself. Time trial start, I kept telling myself. It’s not over until it’s over. Don’t determine the outcome of your race until you cross that line.

I ran looking for someone. Anyone. Most of the other women started coming back towards me around mile 2.5 so there was at least a mile between me and them. Sure, the race was over at that point but I noticed one woman ahead of me at the turnaround. I kept plugging away to catch her but was making no ground.

Meanwhile, the race course is being cleaned up behind me. I reach every aid station to find it deconstructing with a few kids holding water cups for me. It was disheartening but at the same time the price of just staying in the game because I simply cannot give up out of fear, embarrassment or self-pity.

Besides, at least I was not being followed by a vehicle.

Then I saw a Sheriff’s car coming up from the other way.

I swear to god.

May I just add that I’ve always wanted a celebrity escort (and a theme song) but this is not what I had in mind.

I crossed the line smiling. I owe that to myself. My athletes. Anyone who has faith in me. Ironically – yet again – people came up to me afterward offering their condolences. Listen, people, I am not dead, I am just last – and just today. I’ll get over it.

(now, move away before the sheriff drives by just to be sure I finally made it across the line)

All joking aside, l I would be remiss to say that I am not disappointed in my race. I’ve got a great sense of humor and keep perspective about everything. But I still have emotions. So I visited the port o potty for some time with myself. It smelled bad, I was surrounded by toilet paper and may I just ask HOW you miss that bad? Anyways, I had a moment with myself. I kept it together for over 2 hours and resisted feeling anything but YOU CAN DO THIS, STAY STRONG. I owed it to myself to give myself permission to just…break down.

Know why? You don’t need to train to come in last. You can walk to come in last. You can ride a mountain bike and come in last. You don’t need an aero helmet, a coach or a speedsuit to come in last place. You don’t need anything, I suppose. Except …

Except __________(I have yet to fill in that blank but in time I know it will come to me….).

I don’t know. Two years ago I did this course 7 minutes faster. Today I ran one of the slowest 10Ks I have ever run. How do you go backwards while time moves forward? Am I still the same me? Is it worth even trying? I have not answered this yet. All I could answer today was yes I gave it my best. What more can I do? The course was basically disappearing behind me and…in my mind I was in the race. Still doing it. What else can you do? If you don’t keep pushing and believing in yourself, who will?

Moving on: Chris had an awesome pro debut race. He was not last – which is always a plus in your first pro race – and he was less than 1 minute from being in 9th place (he finished in 14th; that was a close race!). I am proud of him for taking it to the next level and know he will continue to grow as a new pro.

As for my athletes, they make me happy. I like them. Swimming with them, talking with them, seeing them smile. 3 of them set PRs on the course today!

Know what else makes me happy? Pancakes for dinner. Good friends to share the car ride home. BISCUITS! Dairy Queen for dessert. Laughing at Starky’s infectious energy and conversation. My iPhone. Hearing Eric try to pronounce the ingredients of NyQuil. Not having to drive one mile of the 1200 mile trip.

The little things. I suppose that is it. You need the little things to keep you going. The thrill of a race. Seeing your athletes race. Spending time with friends. Sunshine. Blue skies. A road trip. All of the little things that make it worth it. And make you want to do it again.

Here’s to the little things!


D said...

I do believe I described to you tonight exactly how you miss that bad ;)

And now I want DQ & pancakes again. Damn you 1am.

ADC said...

Liz, I looove this post. Not sure what exactly but there is something about it so honest that all of us can relate to. I love the comparison to St. Croix, so funny.

TRI-james said...

Great perspective - I love the last paragraph! - It is the little things.

IM Able said...

In my last 1/2, I had a police cruiser escort me for 30 miles, which is really distressing when you can't seem to pee on the bike and REALLY need to pee. Finally had to stop, go back to the cop car and ask him to hang back because I needed to pee in the woods. Oh, and please don't arrest me. *PLEASE*

Then I had an ambulance coast behind me for the last 7 miles of the run. Because of my favorite knee decided to crap out on me. Know what? Takes a long time to walk 7 miles. True story.

Let me tell ya -- when I crossed that finish line I was FREAKING SMILING. Because last still equals finish. And that is always preferred over DNF.

Way to punch it out. Now you can check that off your list of never done. CHECK.

Laura said...

Except - heart, confidence, strength, and in Memphis, Elvis ;) I would think it's a heck of a lot easier to give up than come in last...

I was excited to see you out there Liz, and cheer for you even though I didn't meet you and even though Chris probably thought I was a stalker when I kept smiling at him when he walked by. I forget you guys don't know who we are, when I feel I know you from your inspiring writing....

IronMatron said...

I kind of think you're -- .
I don't know.
I might be in love with you?

just kidding.
You are an insightful, wise, and strong -worthy of goddess status in my book.
huge respect. huge.

BriGaal said...

We are all rooting for you!

Back in college, one of our rivals school's runners made it as an individual to NCAA's in cross (very, very hard to do). She ended up last at the NCAA meet and my coach, who was an evil, evil lady was laughing about it. One of my friends said, so what, someone has to be last. In that sentence she also implied: she was running NCAA's and WE WEREN'T. I was always impressed with her, no matter what place she finished there. Getting there was tough, and she was there!

You'll get there. Keep that head up.

Beth said...

I really like Bri's comment - she captured what I really want to say but don't quite know how... that you are out there doing what a lot of people can't even qualify to do and that you EARN much respect for putting yourself out there in the pro race to begin with - regardless of what place you may or may not come in. I am rooting for you always no matter what! :)

Andrew Starykowicz said...

ELF - Fun traveling with you this weekend. I hope you continue to enjoy the journey. I wish I got an escort.

Thor update?

Ironman said...

This is the kind of post that your athletes, and other athletes need to read. We all have race difficulties and have a hard time maintaining a positive attitude. Great job setting a positive example for other athletes.

rr said...

Great report, Liz. I'm sorry that damn car was drafting off of you, and I'm with you on time going forward but me going a little backwards.. wish I had some wisdom on that one.

Andrea said...

you are definitely first in my book!

i learn so much from you - your stories, voice and wisdom ring in my head every day.

thank you for being human!

Lindsay said...

Liz, I've been reading your blog since I started running just over three months ago (I went to high school with your cousin, Lorraine), and I find something inspiring in it every time. I went from not running at all, in fact HATING running, to competing in two 5k's in one weekend, and shooting for an 18 mile race in October. One of the first things I read on your blog when I started running was when you said "Do the work, it will pay off." - I printed that out and put it on my computer. And doing the work on has shown me that no, not just anyone can finish a triathlon. I think you're awesome, I love reading your blog - it reminds me to push myself and to do the work, and yes, that sometimes just finishing IS winning. You're really an inspiration!

Dave said...

This line resonated with me:

"I shout at him I WILL BEAT YOU TO THE LINE!"

Chris, I'm so glad it's not just me. :)

(And seriously, congrats on a day where you gave your best, whatever the result. I've certainly had some where I couldn't say that much.)

Cortney Riese said...

I just finished my first Olympic yesterday and had a really rough race. I am doing my first 70.3 in 4 weeks and am terrified that I'll be last out there on the course and have been trying to figure out how to swallow my pride and continue to push on no matter what happens. This post helped me get a step closer. A lot of the race for the mere mortal person isn't about winning it is about finishing. I need to keep that perspective.

Angela and David Kidd said...

Loved this post. So much harder to push yourself when you aren't at the front. And your perspective on it is hysterical. I think anything is worth doing if you get a good story and you got a good story out of Memphis!

Christian Waterstraat said...

As Liz and I exited T1, a spectator yells to me that my "teammate" almost took me out (Liz and I both wear the uniform). I say back that she's also my wife. As I'm leaving on my bike, I hear from the guy "Well, that explains it."

Terri said...

Christian's comment - totally hilarious.

I'm telling all my friends to read your blog today. I was in Memphis yesterday. I left St. Louis with high expectations for my race - I had CONFIDENCE - something I think I got from one of your posts. However, I did not have the race I envisioned at all. I did give it everything I had and I also am disappointed. I did not come in last though - been there, done that, not fun at all. It must be an interesting perspective for a pro to see what it is like at the very back - when they are cleaning up the course before you have finished. I think there are a lot of us that have had that experience.

It's pretty brave of you to accept that in front of your athletes and show them that it really is about finishing - that if you finish, you really aren't last. Last is for those that didn't bother to try.

Thanks for giving us all the wisdom to stay in the game even when it's not going our way.

Iron Maiden said...

I really enjoyed seeing your smiling face in person this weekend and I'm so glad I got to see you at the start of your race. You looked so happy and nervous, just like the rest of us. I so admire your drive, focus and attitude. It really does help to have a solid sense of humor - mine has kept me from crying every blasted day! The way I see it is that you've "broken the seal" and now you are free from last year. If you start the year with disappointment in yourself, it just snowballs and you lose faith in yourself and your abilities. Now you have NOTHING holding you back and I promise that anyone that truly matters to YOU has great respect for you no matter what! KEEP ON TRUCKIN', baby!

Roo said...

You need one thing to come in last- a finish. You did it. I know that probably doesn't help, but I tried. Great post- it's always great to read your positive prospective.

Pam said...

I had a kayak following my at my first half iron. The only reason I didn't cry was that I was afraid that it would cause me to drown. Thanks for keeping us all entertained and inspired.

tomdog said...

Great post! I tend to beat myself up after a bad race and at least you are able to joke about it. There is always the next race to redeem yourself. Good job!

Kim said...

way to hang in there while keeping your sense of humor! you stayed strong with holding a smile on your face. kudus :)

Leah said...

One of your best posts ever. Thanks for sharing it.

Jenelle said...

Perspective: Last feels really "last-like" when the sweeper-guy on the *cruiser-style* bicycle says to the motorcycle cop also sweeping you parks when you get off to walk at the really steep section...

I may have been DFL but not a DNF. Yeah! Good times.