Monday, August 31, 2009

From Swimming

I spent the entire summer swimming open water three times a week. There was an 8-week period where I never set foot or fin in a pool and it was…glorious. Sadly, open water swimming season is now nearly gone. I made what might be my last swim in open water last Monday in Lake Michigan. A week prior the water was a calm and comfortable 72 degrees. On Monday the temperature had dropped to 60 and the water was a mess of anger and chop.

Know what that means? Time to go back to the pool.

It was last Wednesday that I returned to the pool for masters practice. The set was easy enough – something like 4 x 400. The first time through was 4 x100. May I just say I miss the pool – and masters (somewhere Jen Harrison is bronzing that statement). I pushed off and thought to myself I remember this! The push offs, the turns, the taste of chlorine. But standing at the wall after the first 100, I realized something – I was wheezing. And I was really out of breath. For a time that I used to be able to repeat over and over again.

I rescind what I said about missing the pool and masters.

It got worse. My splits were slipping and I was getting more fatigued. Times that used to be easy were now feeling like a painful effort. Not only that but by the third 400 I was nearly lapped. And on the last one I came in at a time of nearly 40 seconds slower than my usual 400 time.

I left the pool in my own pool of pity and frustration. A winter’s worth of swimming four times a week gone in 8 weeks? How is that possible? And how long until it would come back? I had literally busted my ass all winter to the point of where I could swim in John and Chris’ draft. And now…lapped?

F#!&!!($*)(#*92%$%&#*($*8844!1!!!! swimming!

The next week I went back to the pool. It was Thursday. Sprint day. My kind of day. Long sets in the pool – boring. If it’s over 200, is it really necessary? The good thing about sprinting is that it’s so short that by the time the hurt sets in you are at the wall catching your breath. Nothing short can be that bad, I tell myself. Right?

I arrived on deck and see Tom. We seem to have an unspoken understanding that he will lead anything short and I will lead anything pull or long (long being anything over 100). Today we were on the wall. The wall plus Tom is a dangerous situation. We’re talking white caps. The wall plus Tom plus a set of anything over 100 IM means the swim might just be cancelled. But I have learned to enjoy the wall and the turbulence because it feels like for open water. Nothing teaches you to swim in choppy water like sharing a lane on the wall with a guy that’s 6’4” and roughly 260 pounds doing 50 fly or better yet – try swimming free behind him while he’s doing dolphin kick with fins.

The set was a Coach Maria classic – it was all over the place, nonstop and by the end of it you’re thinking to yourself – what the hell just happened there? 50s fast, 25s all out, 100s IM. I was pleased because I was finally hitting times that were closer to my normal times. I was also pleased because I can still do 50 fly. I was not pleased because I nearly swallowed the entire pool in Tom’s wake. Looks like I did not waste the entire winter killing myself in the pool, it will come back to me.

Saturday morning it was time for masters again. I was feeling pretty confident that I could return to my regular lane after the decent practice I had on Thursday. I arrived on deck, gathered up my pool toys when the coach made an announcement:

You are either going to love me or hate me today.

Great. Just what I want to hear at 7:30 am on a Saturday. But, please. What could coach say that would possibly be any worse than these sets from my file of Saturday morning workouts I’d like to never see again:

Timed 1650 followed by 200 fly

10 x 100 all out max effort on the 3:00 where you get out of the pool after each one

The infamous Fisburn set of 5 x 100, 4 x 200, 3 x 300, 2 x 400, 1 x 500 all done on the same interval

6 x 100 IM on the 1:45

What, you think I’m skerred? Try me.

10 x 500 on the 7:00

OK, I’m skerred. And scrqd. That would the word screwed after the vowels got scared shitless right out of it.

The 7:00? Are you kidding? We all groan. And try to negotiate. And we win. In all fairness, it was about 20 against 1. Plus we were all armed with pull buoys and fins. Both of which can be easily thrown. The coach really didn’t have a choice (or a chance). But he did give us some choices (nice) – you can pull three of them and you must kick one of them.

Now that we had negotiated the interval, it was time to figure out how I was going to mentally survive 5000 yards in the pool. The first 500 is a warm up. The next 500 is pull. The third 500 I do as 5 x 100. Then 2 x 250 pull. Next up was 4 x 125 kick. 500 swim. 20 x 25 sprint. 500 pull. And finally 500 swim with every 4th length nonfree. And about 300 yards into the last one my arms fell off.

It was somewhere after 3000 yards that I remembered how much I really do love pool swimming. Somewhere after the 3000 mark, I laugh at myself while thinking this. And really it was just in the past year or so that I started feeling this way. Years before that all I did was complain about the swimming, getting wet, getting lapped – and wonder why I never got any better at it. About two years ago I had enough of my bad self. I decided that if you can’t beat the damn swimmers you might as well join them. Once I started joining them – in everything – I mean all 4 strokes, fins, kickboards, paddles, whatever the hell else they strap to themselves to get faster – once I started doing all of it I started getting accepted. Once I got accepted I got into faster lanes. Once I got into faster lanes I got faster.

It's (sort of) that easy.

The other night I got into the pool for a shorter swim of mostly strength and drill work. As I was putting on my cap and goggles, I couldn’t help but notice the awkwardly curious stare of a young child next to me. Yes, I was doing my drill work in the kiddie pool, kept at a balmy 85 degrees and filled with about 100 gallons of…thank god for plastic pants. Anyways, she was your typical 6, maybe 7, year old girl with a big pony tail, pink goggles and a pink bathing suit.

Are you having fun? I asked.

Yes, she said quickly before disappeared underneath the water then came back up quickly to catch her breath. She started talking to herself in only a way that is socially acceptable for a child. When is it that it becomes socially inappropriate to talk to yourself? It’s been said that self-talk is a tool that children use to make sense of their world and regulate themselves.

I can think of a few adults that should probably start talking to themselves.

I was doing some drills, kicks, swims and at one point decided to do some 100 IMs. For extra fun I decided to do reverse IM. And may I ask why is that I can do 100 reverse IM faster than 100 IM? After each reverse IM I stood at the wall ready to throw my heart up in my mouth because it’s been a really long time since I’ve done any consistent set with fly. Waiting for my HR to descend from zone 5z, I noticed the girl in the next lane.

She looked like she was flapping a set of wings while diving up and down in the water. In a word it looked psychotic. And I expected her to take flight.

That girl needs lessons, I thought to myself. Then I realized something…

She’s trying to do fly.

And something even worse..

Oh my god she is imitating me.

Do I really look that bad?

Don’t answer that, I said. To whomever I asked.

I finished up with more swimming before gathering my things and heading for the pool door. The little girl and her friend were in the end lane and looked up at me. They were staring at me in a way that made me wonder if I had just swam the entire set without my swimsuit on. I started opening the door when I heard the girl say something:

It’s not as easy as it looks, she said.

I smiled - and thought to myself, you know what, kid…you’re right.

It’s not easy. None of this is. Pushing your limits never feels like cupcakes and daisies. Setting a personal best doesn’t come without a lot of pain. It’s easy in our world to think that there is some shortcut through the pain or hard work that will help us arrive at the destination. But there isn’t. On the outside those that excel make it look easy but trust me behind the stoic face or smile they are gritting their teeth, feeling like their quads will burst or wondering if their eyes are bugging out. It’s not easy, kid, but that’s what makes me go back again and again, doing sets of 10 x 500 and seeing if I can make the interval, do 50 fly keeping all body parts intact. Keep trying – because when you finally make it look easy that’s when you know you’re getting one step closer to mastering it.

I'm trying to think of things in life that are easy - and all I've come up with is...cheese. Friendships, work, marriage, children, faith - none of these things are easy. But these are, in life, the things that have most meaning.

If I've learned anything in life, it's that if you're not working hard for it, it's probably not worth it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Living Large

I really don’t like vegetables.

Unless vanilla milk counts as a vegetable.

I had this revelation on Friday night in the grocery store. Yes, I said Friday night in the grocery store. The good news is that I was not the only person who found Friday night grocery shopping their social highlight. But the bad news is that I was literally surrounded by food and couldn’t find a damn thing to eat.

This all started after swimming. It was 6 pm and there we, Chris and myself, were faced with the what’s for dinner question. Neither of us had a good answer. Until I suggested human kibble. I can’t take credit for this brilliant idea – it was my husband’s. Human kibble is the answer to all of your food needs. You need a high powered food that you’re happy to eat any time of the day. Enter human kibble. It’s portable, it’s cheap, it’s everything you need in one-fourth cup. You see, every day Boss looks at his bowl of kibble like it’s the best damn thing he’s ever seen. In fact, he eats it with such vigor that it’s like he’s never seen it before. Same kibble day after day after day. One-fourth cup in the morning. One-fourth cup in the evening. It never changes.

What’s in it that’s so good? Well, we researched the best kibble money could buy and found ourselves with a bag of kibble from Blue Buffalo that costs about 50 bucks and lasts Boss a half a year. Now that’s cheap eats! But he loves it. And according to the bag it has chicken, sweet potato and blueberries. Problem is that it smells wickedly like fish and leaves Boss with really fishy breath. So I’d like me some human kibble but I would skip the fishy breath. But then again if someone threw one-fourth cup of something in front of me twice a day and I almost shit myself with excitement about eating it – I might be willing to take the breath.

Back to Friday night’s dinner. Since human kibble is not yet available, I had an idea. Buckwheat pancakes. “Buck what?” Chris said. Pancakes made with buckwheat flour. Starky told me about them. I was on the phone with him one night and then went shopping and bought some buckwheat flour. Which to my husband turned into:

You went shopping with Starky?

No! I was on the phone with him then went shopping with Starky. Still Chris looked at me like I’ve been late night canoodling at the grocery store with Starky. Give me some credit here. If I was going to go late night grocery store canoodling with anyone I would be a little more careful in my selection process – it would not include Starky. And after I ate those pancakes I realized it would also not include canoodling with buckwheat pancakes. Seriously, I just took eating to a whole new level of disgusting with those things. I’m convinced I might not crap right for a week. I am also convinced I found the anti-pancake. You know how you eat pancakes and it’s easy to put down like 10 of them? Not with these things. I had to force feed myself one-and-a-half.

They really were that bad.

So I was in the grocery store because I needed something more to eat. Actually I just needed to get out of the house. It was 7:30 on a Friday evening and I said enough, I’ve GOT to get out of this house. First I went to Old Navy and discovered this very bad news: straight leg jeans are back in style. Short people of the world hear my cry. We are not meant for the straight leg. Second I discovered that I am too old for Old Navy but too young to roll myself into a grave lined with Ann Taylor clothes. So where the hell do I shop!? Third I loved Old Navy again when Lisztomania came on the speakers. I got really interested in Diva jeans just so I could stand around and sing along.

But really I’m looking for food tonight. Need to get to the grocery store. Wait, first I need hairbands at Ulta 3. And I just need to feel pretty. Any time I feel down, low or otherwise discontent I like to go Ulta 3 shopping. I don’t know. They sell things that make me pretty that I also don’t need. Isn’t that every girl’s dream? I found some fancy smelling spray stuff and hair bands and holy crap do you know what else I did? I TRIED ON HAIR! Yes, real hair! They had these headbands with either a long mane of brown or blond hair. I WAS A BLOND! And I looked….like a really fake blond with dark eyebrows. But the brown hair looked ravishing. I thought to myself I really need this hair because then I could walk around pretending like I have really long hair and then…I saw the price tag. $199! I don’t need this hair!

Damn Friday nights don’t get much better than this. Do they?

The grocery store was full of young couples. I felt alone. I still felt hungry. I need to eat something other than buckwheat pancakes or else about 500 yards into tomorrow’s masters practice I’m going to shout BUCK WHAT while running from the pool into the lockerroom as my stomach drops. I thought about everything I ate today realizing it was mostly in the bread group and realized…I need to eat more vegetables.

I looked at the avocadoes. Isn’t that a fruit? The tomatoes. Fruit. Peppers. Not before masters. Dark leafy…you know what. I don’t want any of this. I don’t want vegetables, fruits or nuts. I just don’t want anything. But as long as I’m here though I probably should pick up some milk. And then it hit me – I want vanilla milk. I don’t need it and it has way too much sugar to be consuming this late at night but…it’s the best sounding thing I’ve come across yet.

I grabbed the milk and then something else hit me. I am a grown adult. And if I say so vanilla milk counts as a vegetable. And who’s to say there really IS a magical number of vegetables we need a day. Or bread. Or dairy. Or any of that other stuff that is about as exciting as human kibble but a lot more expensive.

Ever feel like the rest of the population cannot stop eating food while we, as athletes, are always looking for something to eat? Sometimes food is so hard. How can I make it easier? I need a chef. And a maid. A wife, a dog nanny and a side of leafy greens that tastes like cupcakes.


I drove home alternating sips of vanilla milk with singing along to Lisztomania. Windows down. Friday night. Yeah, I’m living large in the 630.

Of course I'd be living even larger if I was a blond.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Boss' Birthday Bash

I'm re-running this from a year ago! HAPPY SECOND BIRTHDAY to BOSS!

Yesterday was Boss’ first birthday!

Of course we had to celebrate. We started the day with a birthday bath. That’s what every one year old wants, right? He was very cooperative. We have trained him where the only time is gets a minty bone is after a bath. How many of you crave a minty bone after a bath?

Anyone? Anyone?

Maybe not.

Then Chris came home and we made big plans for Boss’ birthday bash. So while Chris was doing his 2 hour 15 minute run I was getting Boss ready for his big birthday plans! First thing, every birthday boy needs a party hat. You might be wondering how I know how to make a party hat out of a paper plate. Two words:

Masters degree

No really – years of experience working with children in a program with a very low budget and you quickly become the MacGuyver of creativity with ordinary household items like plates, spoons and popsicle sticks (in my experience you can put anything on a popsicle stick and increase the fun factor of that thing exponentially).

And that is how a paper plate becomes a hat.

Sadly Boss wanted nothing to do with his hat. While I was making the hat he kept running away from me. Finally I chased him down and put on his birthday hat. Check this out:

What is not to love about the hat? Boss was a very good sport and wore his hat. Correction: Boss sat still while I tethered the hat to his head. He didn’t have a choice. I, on the other hand, actually peed my pants laughing so hard at him in the hat. That was my choice. Perhaps I was a bit leaky from of one too many track workouts, from too many miles in a saddle or from just the plain fact that my dog was wearing a damn paper plate on its head!

Boss posed for a few pictures then got into a fight with his paper hat. First he pulled at the string – really just a shoelace. Then he knocked the hat over to its side. Finally he gave up. He must have realized it was actually tied to his body and there was no hope. So he sat by the front door wearing his party hat.

It was really quite sad.

Then Boss played with his favorite toys. He pulled the tufts of fur out of his new squeaky bone, chewed apart fluffy chicken and continued to destroy squeaky squirrel. There are pieces of squirrel all over the house. He chewed on a rawhide bone and tossed his blanket around. And no day is complete without a few rounds of crazy laps!

Here you can see Boss - still wearing his birthday hat - surrounded by tufts of his favorite toys. Is there any better way to spend a birthday?

After dinner we had the real birthday fun. We went to the pet store. Actually we found this fun while Boss found it a bit overstimulating. As a result we put him into the mobile pet prison cell – a shopping cart (Chris’ idea, not mine). First we chose birthday toys – a new squeaky carrot and squeaky squirrel. Then we selected some treats. And then we found the Halloween costume display. I couldn’t help myself. Boss made a stunning bee. Ok so the costume was way too small, it completely covered his eyes and the antenna made him look like a martian. After I stopped laughing, wiped the drool off my chin I found an even better costume – a witch. He had green hair! Then the ghost and last a cow. I found all of this hilarious. Boss – not so much. At one point I put him on the ground dressed in the witch costume and he ran like hell to the front door. He wanted out!

You can see that the birthday trip to the store was more for my entertainment than Boss’ celebration. When we got back home we walked to the field. Every good day deserves a good poop! (humans and pets, agreed?) At the field Chris said that Boss really likes dark crazy laps. So I let him off the leash and dark crazy laps commenced. Until he found a rotten tomato in the field. Then the crazy laps were called off. Come on he just had a bath! He’s not rolling in tomato tonight.

Back in the house Boss played with his carrot. He chewed off some of its leaves and then pulled out his red blanket. But he didn’t get far. A few minutes later he was back in his crate. Seems that someone had a little too much birthday fun and was in bed by 9:30 pm (as a side note, he went into this crate wearing the hat).

And that goes for the humans too! Here's one for the magazines. I can’t decide what is worth peeing myself more – the picture of Boss or Chris passed out on the couch wearing the birthday hat. And why is he passed out? Too much running, too much Crown Royal, too much...birthday.

There are tufts of all toys squeaky on my living room floor. Two rawhide bones, two socks, a half eaten squeaky squirrel, a bunch of blankets, a bottle of Crown Royal on the counter, a grown man wearing a party hat passed out on my couch and finally a small dog sleeping in a crate. I haven't checked the ashtrays yet but I have a feeling they haven't been emptied.

From the looks of this place I’d say it was a pretty good birthday.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Epic Saturday

Epic Saturday was…a really good time.

For most Ironman Wisconsin athletes, this was the last big weekend of work. The final dress rehearsal. Last chance to practice pacing, fueling and equipment.

When I tossed out the idea of Epic Saturday to the IronMoo Crew, we came up with Barrington as a host site. Barrington clearly could not handle our energy. No one would offer up a pool early enough for us. Sorry, but you can’t start Epic Saturday during adult swim at 1 pm.

Leave it to The Bus to come up with a different plan. He graciously offered up his parents home nestled on the shore of Long Lake. A bike and run route were created. Maps were made. Epic Saturday was born – again.

We drove up Saturday morning arriving at 6:45 am. It was like any other race site – park in the field, unload your equipment to carry it to transition, stop in the porta potty.

Wait – porta potty? In someone’s front lawn? Yes, The Bus had a honeywell delivered to the lawn for us to use. I told everyone they had to use it at least once to get our money’s worth.

Transition was in the driveway. Find a pole, a wall, a tree, anything sturdy enough to prop up your bike. What impressed me most was how organized everyone was. Athletes were walking in with towels, coolers, everything they would need to make the most out of their epic day. They were literally setting up their space like it was a transition area. I think what pleased me the most was that - they were taking it seriously. Not that I doubted them but like I said in the last post – when you help an athlete take their training seriously, they do take it seriously. They make notes, write lists, have plans – they leave nothing to chance and they don’t wing it. It’s all about execution of a plan.

Of course I was participating in a partial epic Saturday. Which meant I had to get my transition area set up too. I was in the pro rack with my husband. I almost went monkeyshit when he was THAT guy who accidentally touched my bike and tipped it to the ground.


Everyone arrived on time except for EE. He came screaming down the hill, bags, a cooler, shoes hanging off his one arm while the other arm was steering his bike in a squirrel’s path. Transition was just about to close but he just made it in with a little outside assistance from Papa Bus.

We all got together for a PreRace Meeting. The Bus explained the course and I offered up a few final coachisms – which at this point in athlete’s Ironman training should be nothing more than “practice as you plan to race.” No surprises on race day. Everything should work because you’ve done it over and over again – your pacing, your fueling, your strategy.

Athletes headed down to the shore of Long Lake. Long Lake was beautiful. The sun was shining and the lake was calm. I believe I was the one who said ready-set-go!- but I can’t remember because in a moment I was swimming and had nothing on my mind but keeping up!

This group has some strong swimmers. Immediately Jen was on my right and we were engaging in that type of tussle you have in a race where someone is swimming right next to you, right into you, right on you. It was just like a race! I was keeping KL in my sight as she pulled away from the group. Meanwhile, The Bus pulls up to my left and now I am in a Bus and Jen sandwich. Give me some room, guys! We have the entire lake. It gets better! EE squeaks in front of me and then slows down with a massive kick. TURN OFF THE BUBBLES, dammit! No sooner did I realize I was mounting him than I made a quick dart left, picked up the pace and found some clean water!

After that rocky race start, I found a clean line to the buoy. Yes, The Bus had borrowed some buoys from the local yacht club and put them up in the lake about .8 miles away. I noticed that KL had picked up another good swimmer – that would be my husband who has a distinct flick of his hand with every stroke. I was hoping they would stop at the buoy so I could then focus on their feet on the way back.

THEY DID! The three of us set out toward the shore and I just kept thinking about what it takes to keep up. The other day someone asked me what I thought about when swimming – KEEPING UP! What does it take with your form, finding just the right position in someone’s draft. I was right in KL’s draft and I was NOT giving this spot up! Chris even said – you were hauling ass on the way back! I know! It was do or die out there. I don’t need to go for a solo lake swim….you have a good swimmer in front of you and you better work to hold their draft!

KL exited the water via boat ramp ladder first but I – fresh off of nearly 2 months of no racing with a competitive streak right now that would steal candy out of a baby’s hand – ran right around her to make it to the grassy area first. VICTORY IS MINE!

I was, however, beat in transition. It was 60 degrees out – I was changing into dry shorts! And, have you ever tried to change from wet shorts into dry shorts? This was perhaps the most challenging workout of the day. On top of trying to convince everyone to wait for me while I had an entire Luna Bar shoved in my mouth.

Everyone made it out of the swim in speedy times. Some of these athletes had never worn a wetsuit prior to this year, never swam in a lake, had very little swim experience. I was so impressed! The nice thing about being a triathlete in Chicago is that you can get a lot of open water experience in Lake Michigan all summer long. That builds so much confidence and skill for race day.

We set out on the bike course – Chris, CC, RP, MK and I. Hey, I listened this morning when The Bus said the race was draft legal! We rode a short 7 minutes before realizing we had made a wrong turn. The map was wrong! I told RP that the race director would hear about this but we were soon on our way in the right direction.

I did everything I could to hold Chris’ wheel. We had tailwind at this point so that meant I was working pretty hard to match his tailwind pace. The first 45 minutes of the ride were mostly uncomfortable and I was with Chris. But then we hit the headwind and some hills – he took off so I focused on keeping CC in my sight instead.

I set out to only ride 2 hours today. So after that point I was finished, rinsed off and put on my coach’s visor. I waited for the crew to roll in after each loop. Each loop was about 24 miles. No one was riding alone – throughout all of this training they’ve found someone right at their pace in each sport.

Everyone looked great. You know how sometimes you say that in Ironman and it’s complete bullshit? I’m not BS-ing you – they really did look great! Some stopped after every loop, others after every two loops. Their spirits were high and confidence was building. It also helped that we had an aid station in transition with Nutter Butter Wafers. Two packages of those – gone. But this brings up a good point – if there is something you really look forward to on the bike then by all means put it in your special needs bag; Nutter Butters, a toasty Pop Tart, a Pay Day, maybe even…A STICKLE!

The first one back to T-2 was The Bus. Unfortunately it was only a short while later that The Bus broke down. The culprit? Not enough water today. But no harm done. That’s why we do Epic Saturday – to test it out, to see what happens. Better it happens today than on race day. Afterward, he came up to me, told me what he did wrong and how he was going to fix it. Kudos to The Bus for doing that. So many athletes will piss and moan about a bad workout without looking back at what happened and then moving forward with how to fix it. There’s always a reason – find it, fix it, move forward!

Chris and I drove out to the middle of the run course to provide an aid station and also got to watch a criterium for boats. I guess it’s called a Regatta. Really it’s a bunch of boats going in a circle. There is no prime bell and if you crash, no free lap. The run course went around Long Lake and it was a beautiful view – with a few hills, too.

We went back to the transition area to make sure everyone else rolled in and ran out. To give them motivation where they would need it most. But honestly – they didn’t need it! LS rolled in and when I asked her how she was doing she said “just getting it done.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. That’s all Ironman is about the first time around. Just get it done. Don’t worry about how fast you’re going, how far to go. Get it done one step at a time.

Everyone survived Epic Saturday. 1.6 mile swim, 90 to 100 mile bike and a 4 to 5 mile run. There was no winner declared because, well, you know – everyone was a winner today. That sounds sappy but…each person is out there for their own race. Their own reasons, their own time. This is not about how you compare to anyone else. Ironman will be their day.

September 13th is almost here. The days are already cooling off and I can feel summer coming to an end. I’ve seen four seasons change with this group and I’m getting antsy to watch them cross the finish line. I’ve seen them all change too and I know they’ll finish this whole experience in a much different place than they started. The distance they travel on race day will be nothing compared to all the miles getting them there with today being just a few more miles of confidence.


Friday, August 21, 2009


Sunday, August 9th was a day where you learned if you were made of iron.

It was that night that I just got back from Verona with the Well Fit Ironman Wisconsin group. The day took place on the meat of the Ironman Wisconsin course – the loop out of Verona. Verona is about a 160 mile drive from my home. In the car by 4:50 am, a quick stop for coffee and then drove up to meet the team.

If you’ve never ridden the Verona loop you really should. It’s actually quite a beautiful loop filled with red barns, green fields and pastoral settings you only find in mid-America. What you don’t expect to see, though, are the hills. Someone was asking me if it had short steep hills or long grinders. I said both. It’s not what you would expect to find in the Midwest but then again I think that’s what makes it so intriguing. It’s a true challenge beyond the monotonous stretches of flat and wind that we have around here.

Everyone meets up at Fireman’s Park. I can’t imagine the city of Verona ever expected that their 2 dollar showers at Fireman’s Park would be one of the city’s biggest revenue generators but you put a large parking lot with showers, facilities and an small pond right off the Ironman course and you’re gonna make money. If they aren’t selling Gatorade by now they probably should. Add to that chammy butter, salt tabs and Nutella for big time profit capacity.

We rolled out around 7:30 am and I was in charge of the fast group. Whatever fast means. Fast in Ironman could mean a lot of things. Especially in Wisconsin. You could easily blow through the first loop in 20 mph and find yourself scraping long at 16 the second time around. This course is all about pacing. It’s actually one of those courses that favors brain over brawn. So if smarts are your thing and if you feel like you can think your way through a race rather than muscle through it – head to Wisconsin. You’ll surely beat half the field that leaves half their race on the first loop.

I heard the human carnage on the second loop of Ironman is awesome.

I was only riding one loop today and I was grateful for that. It was already 80 degrees with over 80 percent humidity and the winds were kicking up to 20 mph. It was not even 8 am. Surely the weather would make this an epic day but the team was prepared. I had given them fair warning and told them days before that if you look at the spelling, there is no DNF in Ironman. In other words, there would be no DNFing on this ride today.

It was hot. I mean – honest to god dripping in beads of sweat so hot you think you might implode kind of hot. The kind of hot you find in August in the Midwest. Nothing else like it. Except Hawaii. Which is more like open your oven, stand in front of it while wearing your full wetsuit kind of hot. It wasn’t that bad today but it was close.

The loop is always beautiful - especially on a sunny day. It’s the contrast of colors that always amazes me. The blue skies, the red barns, the green fields. It just looks right. The course was in mostly good condition except for a stretch of gravel that you hit while going over 40 mph (perfect timing) and a small stretch of road that was chunky gravel. Other than that, a great ride.

Back at the park I took over at the aid station and went for a quick run. Took my two dollar shower and then waited. Watched the team roll in and out of the park between loops. I believe it was somewhere around mile 70 that an athlete pulled into the park and told me they were done.

Haven't you heard? There is no DNF in Ironman. You are finishing this ride today!

Maybe that's harsh or maybe it's just serious. When you take an athlete’s success seriously, they take it seriously too. Not just that but you are dealing with adults. Adults are smart. Give an adult an inch and they take 140.6 miles. What I mean is that an adult will go out on a 6 hour ride with a bottle of water and a saltine and come back and tell you why they are a better person for surviving a ride like that. No, you were an idiot for doing that. And you need to fix that for next time. But no adult sees it like that initially. Adults will rationalize why their poor decision was the right one. You cannot rationalize your way through Ironman. So, cut and dry, I tell them what went wrong, how to fix it and that you expect them to get it right next time. After all they are adults. They have the capacity to get it right – they just need someone to keep them honest and hold them accountable. To show them that it is worth taking seriously. When you are serious, you pay attention to details, you invest in it, you make sure that it will go right. When things go right they feel good and they are, in turn, more fun. Success breeds more success and boom you have someone that gets through Ironman having a pretty good time.

I told athlete to sit down for 20 minutes, eat some food and find their way through it. Find whatever it takes to bounce back. Maybe it’s a short nap, a bottle of water, a banana, a pretzel, a bar. Whatever it is find it, work through it and get back out there.

Know what? They did. And when they came back into the parking at 98 miles know what I said? Ride around the parking lot until you hit 100. Trust me on that. You don’t remember the 98 mile ride. You remember the full 100. Especially on an epic day like today.

Another athlete rolled in and said they were feeling shaky. First a few questions – tell me about your fluid, salt, fuel intake. Tell me if your daily nutrition recently. Have you lost weight. What did you do yesterday. What else is going on. Questions like this give you the full picture of what is happening. Often I find that it’s not what the athlete is doing that particular day that is having an impact on their workout – it’s what they did the days leading up to that session. Low fueling, dehydration, life stress, work stress, lack of sleep – it all adds up.

The answer to that athlete – take 20 minutes, eat something, go back out for 10 miles and then reassess. You owe it to yourself and your commitment to at least try. Know why? Giving up is a mental f*ck. Those are not my words but something I overheard today and found it so appropriate. When you quit a workout for Ironman, especially on an epic day, it becomes a mental f*ck. Should the conditions be the same in Ironman or should things start to spiral downhill you will find yourself going back to this failure and no other workout. Here’s the deal – in Ironman you don’t remember the day you went out and cruised through 100 miles at 20 mph on a 65 degree day with a tailwind. No. You remember the days where you find yourself pedaling up a 10 mile hill into the headwind going 10 mph while you’ve broken out in heat rash because it’s 90 degrees and your left foot feels like it’s going to fall off and you know that all you can do is keep pedaling to get through it because the time will pass, it always does. And eventually it passed even though you rode the final 10 miles fighting your tears – and a screaming foot. On race day you go back to that. You go back to the workout where you completely unraveled. You think to yourself I made it through that so I can make it through this. But if you never force yourself to make it through – all you have is a memory of giving up and when you are stripped of all defense, sanity and logic at mile 19 of the run – you will go to that memory and it will f*ck with you.

*do not give anything up*

Athletes continued to roll into the park to refuel or rest before going out for their last 40 miles. Today most of them set out to cover 112 to 120 miles. For some the full race distance, for others the very important overdistance ride. Last week when one of my athletes saw “ride 8 hours” on their schedule they said they had to call their spouse in to restart their heart. In my opinion, the overdistance ride is important to teach yourself that you can not only get through the bike course but you can go further. It’s more for mental survival than anything physical. There are no heart rate or wattage goals in that ride – just fueling, survival and battle the demons. I find that athletes come back from that ride changed – it’s a feeling of confidence and empowerment. An overdistance ride faces you with through the ups and downs that you often experience in Ironman – the highs, the lows and all of the unraveling in between. It’s important to put yourself in situations like that so you learn how to deal. And success at Ironman is largely the ability to deal – for 140.6 miles.

When everyone was out on the course again, I went to pick up some sandwiches for lunch. When I returned around 1 pm, I found some of my team in carnage. SB was laying on the ground. MK was in the grass. DT looked like he had the shit scared out of him about 20 long rides ago. RP was shaking his moppy-head. EE was smiling (he sells Lexapro – does this surprise us? No.) And ST was proud that of all the guys he was the only one who had urinated. (I have a rule, you pee every 2 – 2.5 hours in Ironman). I put MK and SB on lockdown from leaving the park until they urinated. It was a proud moment when SB emerged from the bathroom victorious. I told the others to restock, refocus and get rolling again. Only 40 miles to go.

A short while later SA rode into the park. Clearly in a foul mood. Ah, someone has reached mile 80 of the long ride. It’s usually at this point that I find the honeymoon is over and you start to realize that you’ve just plain had enough. Up to mile 60 it’s a joy ride, energy is buzzing and mentally you are satisfied. Somewhere around the 70 – 80 mile mark things go south and a sense of fatalism kicks in. I may never get off this bike. The last thing I want right now is another gel. I cannot believe I have another 30 to 40 miles to go. SA lets a few cuss words roll off his tongue and vents frustration that he just wasn’t feeling that great. It’s the weather, it’s the wind…know what - it’s not about setting a personal best today it’s about getting through it just because you can. I remind all of them today that they are at the end of a 3-week build. Ironman training is not about going out and smashing your personal speed records. It’s about endurance, both mentally and physically, especially for the first one (and all but two are doing their first Ironman). This is the good stuff. This is the training that counts. Get back out and finish the job.

I realize at this point that I’m having a good time. I think back to my last career, my corner office where the 25 instructors would pop in and out of my office throughout each day. Some to vent, some to chat, some to ask questions. I feel like a manager again. A coach is a manager. They plan, they direct, often they redirect, they motivate, they have the door open and sometimes just knowing they are there is all that matters. I realize I am in my element here and I’m not even out there on the ride. What I’ve realized, like I did with teaching, sometimes teaching others to do what you once did well is more gratifying than doing it yourself because it has impact beyond your personal space.

About this time it starts raining. A deluge of raindrops, thunder rumbles through the sky. The long ride in the heat, humidity, wind just became…epic. Excellent. They will go through it all out there. It is about 90 miles into the ride and not only are they fatigued but they will now go through it all. They will be faced with yet another challenge when they are least wanting or expecting it. What you learn about yourself in these moments is more valuable than any training session. The thought processes, how you deal, how you reconcile with yourself – this is separates those that make adversity their advantage and those are content to just walk away.

Athletes begin to roll in at different intervals. Most agreed that the rain was a refreshing finish to the slow cooker they rode for most of the day. Eventually we were just waiting on one more athlete, MK. SB reported that while he cut the loop short after the lightning invoked a 100 cow stampede in the field he was riding by, MK was going for the full 120+ miles. In the pouring rain. MK is just that kind of guy. He’ll gut it out and destroy himself just to follow through and get it done.

About an hour later, MK rolls in. The rain is pouring in heavy, steady drops and he rolls up to the car.

“That was hard.”

I asked him how many miles he covered and he admitted that his computer pooped out after a few minutes in the rain. He didn’t look all that tired and I could tell this one was his victory. And he wasn’t done yet. His next comment was as he turned to EE and said “ready to go for that run?”

After some clean up, we pulled out of the parking lot just to see EE and MK returning from their run. It was still raining and at this point the 2 dollar shower had closed down. Plus they had a 3+ hour drive back to the city.

I hear this a lot from athletes after they do the race: Ironman is hard. Yes, it is. It is possibly harder than anything you’ve ever done unless you’ve pushed out a baby. Or been a marine. Or whatever else has rocked your physical or emotional world. It is hard but if you put yourself in situations that are harder or make yourself face the challenge then on race day all you have to do is everything you’ve already done in training. Sure, you might have to run a little farther than you did in training but after 130-some-odd-miles do you really think the last 10 are going to be that much harder than where you have already been? The answer, if you have done your preparation right, is usually…no.

I don’t make many promises as a coach. But when I coach someone for Ironman I promise them one thing. This will be hard. It will shake you, it will scare you and at times you will want to give up. But that’s what makes it so great. You learn things about yourself and you are faced with so many things for the first time. Today many of the adults on the team rode farther than they ever have in their entire life. How awesome is it that at age 30, 40, 50 you can say that you did something for the first time? New experiences make us uncomfortable and require us to adapt and react. That is learning. You end the day in a different place than you started. You find that happens a lot when training for Ironman.

Commitment comes in so many different styles and variations when you are dealing with adults. Each has their own psychology and experience that compels them to do what they do, how they do it. I saw so many ways of expressing commitment today that I drove home feeling inspired. No, I have no desire to do an Ironman but I do like guiding people for it. I see them learning. I hear them growing more confident. I helped them take something so seemingly big into something smaller and more manageable. Every workout you gain fitness, confidence and add it all up and you’ll cross that line.

Tomorrow is the group’s final big workout. We’re calling it Epic Saturday. It will be irontastic, irontacular, irontabulous, ironific and by the end of it they should be all ironed out. A 1 hour swim, 6 hour ride and 45 minute run. After that, the work is done and their work becomes more and more rest.

It’s almost taper time.

Plans are being made for the Ironman Wisconsin 2010 Well Fit training group. And, this just in, we’re looking to start one in November for Ironman Coeur d’Alene. Ifyou’re interested in a quality training program with two coached workouts a week in a dynamic group setting, inquire within. Now, it’s time for me to get ready for Epic Saturday. As Coach Keith would say: IRONWARD!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Camp Over

Sunday was the last day of camp.

I woke up feeling like a truck had rolled over me. Like a giant Tow Truck. Someone should probably touch me. Enter about 4 days of getting up far too early to feel human, many miles, go go go, lots of laughs and still another 50 miles to go and I was feeling ragged today. Danni noticed – you seem off. You are right. I woke up with my on/off switch completely off and broken. But there is one more bike ride to go. I’m going and I’ll give it my best. I’m tired, I’m crabby, I’m way undercaffeinated. But I reminded myself you did Ragbrai. I’m used to this. I just need to get on my bike to feel normal again.

The weather forecast was turbulent. There was a 50 percent chance we would get rain and a 50 percent chance I would fall asleep on my bicycle. Both are a big risk. We had chosen to ride out in St. Charles this morning. Correction: start in St. Charles and ride west. If a storm rolls in we’ll have to crawl under a cow for protection. Or if we’re lucky enough to be on Dittman – crawl under a llama. If I fall asleep at the wheel of my bicycle I will take down 3 other girls. I grabbed the French press and prayed it had more coffee. It did. And it was gritty.

Good stuff.

We arrived in St. Charles to an overcast sky and growing winds. Today we would have to ride single file and everyone would need to stay together. It was a no-drop ride but I also made it clear that we wouldn’t poke along … know what I mean? I knew they would be tired. I’m tired too. But I also knew that the breakthroughs you make when tired, in a group, pushing through that wall of fatigue or your own expectations – well, that’s where you really learn something. You are out of your comfort zone, in a place of discomfort and do something you’ve never done before.

Let’s ride.

I love this ride. It’s about a 40 minute drive west but once you are out there you find few stop signs and beautiful Midwestern scenery. Silos, barns, corn, soybeans, cows. All things that make me feel at home. The course starts in small rolling hills then heads out to the fields. We make a right turn on to Dittman and get one of the several helpings of tailwind we had in the first hour. Tailwind in the first hour is great – until you realize that you have 2 hours to go and as soon as you turn around it’s going to turn into a headwind.

We rode past the llama farm, up Plato to Tower Road. This is the part of the ride where I always feel like we are truly getting out there. Cat asked where we were and all I could say was “west.” If you showed me a map I wouldn’t know. I just know that if you ride north you hit Hampshire, if you ride further west you might hit Rockford, south to Elburn.

We stop at 1:17 into the ride to make our first turnaround. Pulling the group I could feel the wind doing all sorts of things so I grabbed a tuft of grass, let it go in the air and confirmed that somehow we would get tailwind again. The wind shifted.

At this point, Danni says something about being tired or feeling slow. Me too. Some days you set out and you know that the toughest part of the workout will be just finishing it. You can’t win every workout. You can’t set a personal best every time you’re out. Sometimes you’re just tired and you just do the work without worrying about how far, how fast. Danni later tells us she had a little pity party for herself there. I told her it was a good thing we were all there to crash it.

We ride back and the wind shifts again. From the southeast, from the southwest. All I know is that by the time I got to Peplow I was fighting a nasty headwind pulling the group at 14 mph with my heart in my mouth. I was wrapped in that sweatyhumidsweat you get on days like this, the wind was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think and I was starting to feel nauseous. Eat wind eat wind eat wind. I'm full thank you but what can you do. You can get all worked up by the wind or you can relax, be patient and trust the time will pass. It’s not like I would ride into the wind forever. Maybe it was another 15 minutes. The time will pass. Eventually we will turn.

And we did turn. Once we did, Cat says something about popping (could have been her energy, her ego, her rear tire…I don’t know) and I see a stop sign ahead knowing it was like an oasis. I had to stop there. Give myself a moment to collect my thoughts. The group is weary. The wind had to be blowing at 20+ mph and it was hot. We needed more water. I told them we would ride up a bit further to the park where sometimes the water spigot is turned on. When we got there, it was not. Cat almost raged but Danni gave her some water to save the day.

It was brought up whether or not we would keep the same intensity. 10 miles to go and…yes, yes it would be at this intensity. 10 miles is nothing compared to where we've been this week. These 10 miles won’t be pretty but let’s just get it done.

Danni has gotten her second wind. She’s right with me now and is smiling. We descend Empire and then it’s time for Town Hall! I hammer the hill because it’s unwritten law – you always hammer Town Hall. Danni and I ride together down Campton Hills. You can really build up speed and just fly down this road. I tell her to stay right on my wheel and be confident.

When we go to Peck and LaFox and told Danni it was a job well done. In long rides you go through so many highs and lows. One hour you feel like you are scraping the bottom of the ground, the next hour you feel like you can fly. You just ride those waves out. Trust that the lows will pass and take advantage of the highs.

After lunch at Jimmy John’s (I literally was freaked out by how fast they made my sandwich), we headed home. Got ready to take Danni and Cat to the airport. Convinced Andrea to relax and stay another day. No need to start a 9 hour drive home just yet.

Andrea, Chris and I went over to Downers Grove to watch the US Pro Criterium National Championship. As a wicked storm rolled into town, it was put on rain delay. We hung out in a wine shop. While I obsessed about needing to get home to do work, Chris obsessed over a pint of beer with Shawn. Remember Shawn from Ragbrai? He had done the men’s elite race and survived the downpour and introduced me to my new favorite race strategy. When he realized he would have been better off with less air pressure in the rain, he thought about putting himself into a controlled crash so he could let some air out of his tires while waiting at the Mavic tent for this free lap. Now THAT’S strategy (and stupid but then again….this is crit racing…it’s a different animal).

I tried to get a glass of wine but my license has expired. Well crap. Guess I’m going to need to do my favorite errand – a trip to the DMV!

Chris had a better idea: Go outside, do something to piss the cops off so they’ll give you a ticket.

Shawn’s reply: now that’s Ragbrai thinking!

We watched some of the race but honestly it got boring. It was raining and some guy went off the front and had a 90 second lead on the peleton. Great strategy in the rain but not so exciting for the race.

We went back home and Andrea offered to cook dinner. I was able to get my work done and enjoyed talking a little more with Andrea. If you have an unusual swim workout on your schedule this week, you might want to blame Andrea. She gave me some great new ideas. And she made a delicious dinner for us!

Monday morning camp was over. I was tired and there was lots of laundry to be done. The house was quiet but it didn’t feel right. I had spent the past 5 days living in what felt like dorm-life. The constant company and chatter of friends that keeps you up too late at night with too many laughs. I’m 13 years removed from dorm life but it felt good to go back to it again.

I was talking on the phone with someone on Tuesday when they asked me a good question:

Why did you do that?

In other words, why did I let 3 people into my home for 5 days, to share my space, my time and to work out with me. There was no fee involved, no formal camp, no lectures, no freebies, no guest speakers. Sure it was draining at times but really it was more invigorating. Sharing what I have learned and what I love about the sport makes me feel complete. I might not be that good at competing right now – but sharing, I’d like to think I’m becoming the national champion of that.

So to answer his question – why did I do that – it just felt like the right thing to do. Nothing is more meaningful to people than when you give them your time. Nothing shows them you care more than when you take the time to work with them, to talk with them or just to listen. If they walked away learning one thing to help them enjoy or do the sport better then I feel like it was worth it, it was a success.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Filling In The Blanks

Saturday morning we were up at 6:30 am. If I wasn’t surrounded by 3 other athletes I would never do this. It’s far too early and too close to the top of the coffee cup. Yet when we arrived at Ohio Street Beach for a swim in Lake Michigan I felt like it was the perfect start to the day.

Albeit an early one.

The lake was like glass. I have never seen it so calm. The beach was already buzzing with triathletes. The sun was shining. Chicago in summer is beautiful like this.

Andrea jumped right in and took off solo. Danni and Cat followed and then I took off. Along the way I could see Cat having a few moments of hesitation like we all do in open water. Especially a new body of water. We all need to take a few deep breaths sometimes. We met up at the ¼ mile marker. Cat and Danni decided to swim loops together. Andrea was still of on her own. And I set out to swim to the ½ mile.

I was totally alone. Most swimmers stop at the ¼ mile marker, turn around back to the shore. The water was the perfect temperature today. It was cool, clear. As I got closer to the ½ mile marker, there was some chop and I was still alone but totally relaxed. I keep thinking back to myself a year earlier in open water. I was not comfortable swimming alone and didn’t swim nearly as well in the lake as I did in the pool. I’m an entirely different swimmer now. If being pro has taught me anything – it has taught me to elevate my swimming and take it seriously. To practice as I’ll race and get out of my own way in the lake.

I swam back faster to the shore and found the three girls standing there. I took Cat back out to watch her form – taking advantage of the clear water so I could see her stroke. We identified a few things and then she took the time to practice what we talked about to set it in to her form. It’s one thing to hear feedback, it’s another thing to practice it – even if it makes you slower at first, even if it’s uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, I had some swimming left to do. I swam back to the ¼ mile marker, turned around and realized I still had 15 minutes left. The neverending swim, I swear. At that moment it was like god heard my call as I noticed a tall man with blond hair pop up out of the water. It was The Bus.

The Bus is part of my Well Fit Ironman Wisconsin group. After the initial greeting I told him he would swim another ½ mile with me. He listened – I’m not sure he wanted to but he took the order well. We swam together to the ¼ mile marker, did a little talking then he hauled ass back. I was fighting to stay on his feet, then within his sight, then I was just happy to see the shore. We noticed about 5 other guys from the group there and it was fun to chit chat before heading back to the ‘burbs.

Extra special thank you to Shawn and Dan for letting us lock up our stuff to their bikes.

Andrea and Danni chose to stay back at the house while Cat and I went for a run. I took her to one of my favorite runs; Danada to Herrick Lake. It’s a crushed limestone trail that winds through meadows, savannahs and forest. We ran the first 3 miles together then set out for our own paces (her request – not mine! I enjoyed the company since I usually run alone!). Cat had a really strong run and got a good taste of our Midwestern humidity.

Back at the house we gathered everyone up and headed over to Downers Grove for the criterium. Andrea has been training with a local cycling team and did her first crit a week ago. She asked if she should do the one this weekend – and I said sure! It would be a great opportunity plus it was the national championship. How can you resist that?

A little coffee in Caribou then we headed over to Misery Hill to watch the crit. This race was the Cat 3 / 4 national championship and Andrea’s goal was to stay in the game and of course – not crash! She hit both goals. I admired her perseverance for sticking with it and her passion for a new goal. Not only that – but she has perspective. Sometimes triathletes think that because they can ride a bike – and ride it well – that they will go into a bike race and do well. Unless it is a time trial or possibly a road race, this is often not the case. True, most triathletes probably hold a decent solo speed. But in a crit while you might hold that same speed, it comes with repetitive surges and jumps to going far above that speed and far below it. Steady state and surging require two different engines. All that while trying to keep in mind that position is everything so you’re holding on to a wheel, trying to hold your line, and trying to be so attentive to the tactics in the race.

After the race, Andrea was tired but positive. She kept it all in perspective. She said something that I think a lot of athletes can learn from – when you start something new, you can’t expect to be good at it right away. This is a lesson I learned as a pro – very often. You cannot expect to up your game or take on something new and master it right away. You might finish last the first time, then not last, then.,.every time you get out there you learn something a little more or do something better. One day you’ll get close to mastering the game but it won’t be fast nor easy to get up to that level. It takes development – in many senses, athletically, maturity, strategically, to achieve success in sport.

On the way home, we gave Chris his dream come true. He was riding his bike and as we drove by we shouted at him to pop a wheelie. He did and got this giant “a car full of chicks just shouted at me” grin on his face.

Later that evening we went out for dinner. I chose The Bank in Wheaton and it didn’t disappoint. Driving by I noticed an outdoor table on the patio, stopped the car and shouted “GET OUT VILLASI AND GET US THAT TABLE!” For some reason, Cat interpreted it as Flossy and hence a new nickname was born. Andrea is the perfect Flossy.

The dinner was delicious. After it we did a little “what did you learn today” and then they threw it back to me: what did you learn about us?

It’s interesting as a coach – when you exchange emails and phone calls or read training logs you get one side of the person. You can read between the lines but it’s not until you watch someone practice as they play that you get the whole picture. I spent this week connecting the space between what I knew of them in writing/communication and what I saw in person. I was able to fill in the blanks. I learned that Danni is much better at this then she thinks she is. She just needs to give herself a chance, up her expectations, train with others to push herself out of her pace or head. Cat – when she gets out of her way she learns. When she learns, she improves. When she improves, she gains confidence. Andrea is a sandbagger. I said that with love. Sandbaggers either hide their abilities or have no idea how good they are. Now that I know....hmm...what shall I do....

After dinner – finally – it was time for wine tasting! We were all so excited for this. I was, however, very disappointed because all of the wines this month were – in a word – AWFUL! I poured nearly every glass back into the spittoon. It was like this month’s theme was dull flavor with a tart finish.

On the way home we passed the Tow Show for the 100th time and still I couldn’t convince anyone that we needed to go in there and Touch A Truck. Cat played a Cookie Puss commercial on her iPhone (if I had seen that when I was little I never would have touched a Carvel cake). Somebody accurately identified a Flo Rida song (did I just type that?). I overheard the phrase "don't belittle my pain" and what is it about Noodles being "fashual"?
Danni wanted to get her bottles ready for tomorrow’s long ride. Chris told her it’s a bad idea. The hazards of being a semi-not-tipsy triathlete – overmixing your Carbo Pro. Andrea told me that Cat and I are like sisters. We really are. Except I’m like a mad lib and she’s like…those little magnets you put on the refrigerator to make up funny sentences.

Anyways, there’s a helping of inside jokes for you. But they needed to be recorded. Last day of camp is Sunday. A long ride. What happens when you put us out there for 50 miles together?

I’m guessing some pretty good stuff.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fits & Giggles

Friday morning started like any other – oatmeal, coffee, gathering up water bottles, gels and other equipment for the day’s workouts.

Today we drove over to McKee Marsh for a bike/run brick. On the way we spotted something naught y – a really hot guy riding a bike without a helmet.

Roll the window down, let’s heckle him,” I said.

What proceeded was a HEY SEXY, WHERE’S YOUR HELMET? Imagine my surprise when the guy turned toward me and I realized oh crap I know this guy. He works at the local running store. Shouting HEY SEXY at some guy you sort of know crosses that line into just awkward and inappropriate but it was his fault – he should have been wearing a helmet.

A quick ride up to Fermilab to warm up. Along the way I point out the buffalo (in the barn), a coyote (eyeing us suspiciously) and cagey physicists driving their cars. Cat says the setting is surreal and I agree. There is something about Fermilab that is like another world, a strange clash of natural settings and science with high power lines and oddly-shaped building filled with busy physicists.

After warm up we set out to do 45 minutes at a steady but hard pace along Eola Road. It’s the perfect place for intervals; uninterrupted, flat, about 6 minutes out, 6 minutes back with a tight race-like turnaround at the end. I told the girls to stay on my wheel as best they could. If not, circle around and meet up again.

The way out was into the headwind. It was about 10:15 am and already stifling hot. After about 5 minutes my stomach started churning and I couldn’t believe I had to maintain another 40 minutes of this. Breaking it up into 8 segments helped mentally but damn it still hurt. Andrea was right on my wheel, Cat nestled right on her and Danni was chasing us down with legs on fire. The way back was harder to hold watts with the tailwind. Around the second half of the third out and back, I had made peace with the fact that I only had 2 more segments to go. I was fired up to keep pushing, still with my stomach turning and my HR snug in the danger zone. THAT was fun.

Nearing the end of the sixth segment, I realized my aero bars were moving. Lower. A minute later they were lower. A minute later lower. For whatever reason they were migrating south. This is not good. I thought myself here we are cruising at 25+ mph and all I need is to lose my aerobars and send all of us down.

I didn’t want to stop but safety beckoned. We stopped at the stop sign, Danni once again pulled out her wrench skills and figured out that one of the screws on the stem was tight but not tight enough. Once ready, we told Danni to hang on no matter what. She mentioned something about her legs burning and Cat said something like “didn’t Liz say to get a fire under our asses?” That would be one of my coachisms, yes, and let me add that burning legs, fear of blowing up, pushing so hard to bridge a gap only to find yourself stewing in a soup of lactic acid and pain: THAT’S THE GOOD STUFF! That’s when you know you’re learning and pushing toward new limits.

We finished up the last out and back – just as hard – and all agreed that the 5 minute break didn’t really do our legs good. It almost hurt worse to get going again. Andrea kept tight on my wheel, Cat right behind her and Danni held on with Cat screaming encouragement. I have never wanted any interval to be over more by this one. When it finally was, Danni told us her legs were on fire the entire time. Hey – me too! But add to that my head, face and stomach which was still doing loops. It hurts – for all of us, it’s all the same pain. The difference between champions and everyone else, though, is that they make it look easy but know that underneath that look is teethgrinding, gut churning pain.

Riding back I was sitting behind Andrea and Cat when I heard something:

Do you ever just get the urge to rip it up?

That would be Cat talking to Andrea – who responded with:

Well, go ahead then.

Cat takes off. Bolts like someone stuck a hot iron up her ass. I had to laugh because a move like that is totally not Cat….and it was good to see the competitive streak light up in her. I also think it was good for her to take two Tylenol PMs last night and finally sleep!

Now, when you do that in front of your coach – you are really asking for something. It seems that someone saved a wee bit too much energy sitting in third wheel today. I pulled up to Cat shortly after the end of her microburst when I once again read the look on her face that begged PLEASE LET ME DO THIS AGAIN and said to her: go as hard as you can to the stop sign, out of the saddle, stomping.

Her response: Now?

Yes, now. Go!

After the bike it was a run for Danni, Andrea and myself. Cat opted to sit in the parking lot and make googly eyes at the forest preserve service crew. I set out for a 5 mile run. It was beyond hot at this point – let’s just call it boiling in a wool sweater with a side of humidity. I learned a valuable lesson in too hard, too soon that led to a complete meltdown. It was awesome. A meltdown so classic that when I returned to the parking lot I told all of the girls I wish they had been there to see it because sometimes I think we think we’re the only ones out there that have bad days, bad runs, feels pain, is hard on themselves or isn’t good enough. We ALL blow up, have meltdowns, it’s the price you pay for pushing yourself.

End of workouts. We were cooked. And needed food. We headed over the Whole Foods for a delicious lunch of salad, sushi, coconut water. Typing that it sounds disgusting but at the time it really hit the spot. Back at home for some rest and getting cleaned up.

Cat asked to give Boss a bath. I wasn’t about to say no – it’s not every day someone offers to bathe my dog. Do you do toilets, showers and husbands too? She did a fine job of washing Boss, singing the washy wash song and even brushing him. Meanwhile, all humans bathed and finally got out of workout clothes.

The evening workout: the mall. It’s a beautiful outdoor mall with everything a girl needs. We started out at Anthropologie trying on crazy sunglasses and hats. Cat totally Brooklyn-ed herself with a pair of 80s large square glasses while talking in a Brooklyn accent. Next up, to the Aveda store for some overpriced hair care. After that, we were walking by Bebe when Andrea said this:

I dare you to go in there and try something on.

Oh.No.She.Didn't. Did you just say dare? Is this a challenge? Are you challenging me? Because if it is, I’m ready to throwdown. Instantly, I opened the door to Bebe and sprinted to a rack to select the most heinous outfit I could find. It was in the dressing room as I was dressed in a white feather skirt and a black and silver sequined halter top that I declared myself the winner of this Shopping Throwdown.

The real purpose of this mall trip was to go to Lululemon. Andrea bought some cute things then we headed out for dinner. The service was about as slow as my run pace today. Regardless, with the girls I laughed so hard that I had to remind them to stop making me laugh because my abs hurt so bad from core work yesterday. It didn’t help that every time I turned on my iPhone a picture of Notorious B.I.G. popped up because my iPod kept mysteriously turning itself on. This sent Cat and I into a fit (not a HISSY fit like the Honda Fit vanity plate we saw driving earler in the day) of giggles making my abs hurt even worse.

At the end of dinner, I asked everyone what they learned today. Danni said she learned that it’s all in her head. She said that yelling at herself to chase us faster, harder was a good strategy – because it worked. In her words, “yes, I can do this shit – I’m not super but I’ll get to super.” YES! What did Cat learn? “Drafting really works.” Third wheel is a sweet spot and she rocked it. Andrea’s lesson, “hydration is important.” Yes, hydration counts as does eating and timing. One thing that Danni talked to me about was how good it was to finally “see” what athletes eat – to know what to buy and get an idea of how much it takes to fuel yourself. Eat well, eat often. From what I’ve seen, most female athletes underfuel which places them at risk for poor recovery, decreased immunity and retention of weight. Perhaps they are too busy to eat, too entrenched in years of bad eating habits or thinking that girls don’t eat a lot. When you take on athletics seriously you need to let that go. You cannot expect to perform or improve without paying close attention to what you and when you eat. People think there are secrets to getting better. If you look at the things that top athletes do I think some of the few differences you will see include better recovery and better nutrition (and nutrition is recovery). Eating the right things at the right time in the right amount.

Two more days of camp. There are still many miles – but also many laughs ahead.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summer Camp In Session

Get out your anti-itch and head to the bunk house. Summer camp is in session in Lisle.

It was back in March that I was thinking about summer camp. After working directly with Rachelle and Molly in Florida, I realized that I wanted more opportunities to work directly with my out of town athletes. Enter Cat, Andrea and Danni.

I’ve met Cat a few times, trained with her in San Diego. She’s like my sassy doppelganger; like me she was born in Brooklyn, she is witty, verbal, pensive and eager. I met Andrea late last fall while she was visiting local relatives. She lives in Kansas City and just has a lot of passion for the sport. She is driven but laid back. Focused but knows how to keep it all in perspective. She has no idea what a great athlete she is – or could be. Danni is from North Carolina, does most of her training alone so I felt like this would be a great way to connect her to other strong women at the start of her Ironman training. Danni is reserved but there is a fiery streak in her waiting to break out.

On Wednesday, I picked up Danni and Cat from the airport. We hung out on the back porch admiring my damn fine landscaping and waiting for Andrea roll in. Actually, she ran in desperately pleading for the bathroom. She’d been holding it since Iowa City or something like that. Spent some more time chitchatting then drove the hour north to Lake in the Hills.

We made a quick stop at Trader Joe’s to hunt down Cat’s glutenfree-nocarb-lowglycemic-nowheatbuckwheat breakfast cereal and after spitting all of that out at the clerk we learned they don’t carry it. The trip was not wasted, though. I noticed a pot of coffee in the rear of the store, almost took out two carts to get there, poured a small cup that I shot down in one gulp, turned to Andrea and said “that’s so I can keep up with Jen Harrison.”

Yes, Jen Harrison was there and yes, she was wearing pink. Tonight we were swimming 2 big loops in the lake. After agreeing that the lake itself smelled like canned niblet corn and the beach smelled like hamsters, we hopped into the lake. I love to lake swim. I have not done a pool workout in over two months. We all know this but it's good to hear it: pool swimming is nothing like open water swimming. The open water requires swimming on your edges and pulling water strong. It requires steady state aerobic fitness and strength with no walls to use for free speed.

Right away some guy in a wetsuit hopped on Jen’s feet and spent all of 200 yards overkicking his way into me and slowly away from her while I’m thinking to myself would you kindly get out of the way so I can get on those feet! He fell off quick and then I just kept Jen in my sight. The pace hurt and we were right above my hauling ass pace. But I had two options: fall off pace and then sight for myself or let her do the work. As I learned, it’s much easier to sight on someone’s arms then to find a random boat on the shore where you’re supposed to make a left turn toward the weeping willow tree.


I ended up doing a little over 2.5 miles and I thought to myself – I’ll take this over the pool any day. As a side note, I used my new Garmin 310XT, a toy I got just to see what it was all about. Let me just say that while I give it an F for durability (the face cracked already when I dropped it) I give it an A for accuracy and cool factor. A little hint: when you swim with it, you can’t wear it on your wrist or else it will measure the distance your arm travels with each stroke. That would explain how I swam 4 miles in 45 minutes the other night (I was ready to ship myself directly to Colorado Springs with a sticker on the outside of me that says “Bring me to Phelps. Now.”) Stick it in the back of your suit or in your swim cap for accuracy.

After a dinner seated in the refrigerated section of Noodles, we drove back home and I believe we did one of the twenty loads of laundry we have done so far.

Thursday morning it was oatmeal and coffee. Then, a trip to the track to learn good running form. I had them warm up for 15 minutes and used my iPhone to henpeck some notes about their form. Observations like: weak core, heel strike, tuck the butt, too much dead time, pumping legs but getting nowhere, arms too far forward, you have asthma and probably my most philosophical observation:


My favorite moment on the track was when I told Cat she would do an 800 as hard as she could. Literally spit water out and said “I wasn’t expecting that.” I know! Isn’t it great when your coach is right there and reads your face which is undeniably saying “I really want to do an 800.” Cat would never say that because on Facebook she is Not a Fan of the Track. Each of them did an 800 so I could see what their faster running looked like. Then we taped them running toward me, away and to the side. Reviewed the weaknesses, the videos and then did drills to focus on having the foot fall directly under the body, drive the knees, faster feet and how to minimize the wasted upper body movement.

We headed home with Cat having hot flashes. Andrea said “It’s only 70 degrees out.” Cat’s response? “Yeah, but the heat index must be 75.”

All this from the California girl.

After watching Cat make what I will just call an orgasmic chicken, hummus, taboule and fresh basil wrap, we digested while fitting bicycles. Let me just say hot damn to Danni’s bike skills, she threw out the words “hex wrench” like it was part of her vernacular.

Next up was the pool. Well, really the beach. I can never do it justice in words – it’s just one of those “you have to see it” places. They warmed up in the 50 meter lanes and worked on each of their weaknesses. Danni and I have exchanged video and emails about her swimming – and I have explained the whole swimming over the water concept many times. But it wasn’t until I got into the water and corrected her elbows while swimming that I could see light bulb go off and she made the connection. She got it – finally engaged her lats!

Andrea is a wickedly speedy swimmer who just needs some upper body power. Put some paddles on that girl, had her single arm swimming and she said “I can hear the whooshwhooshwhoosh” now – YES! That is powerful swimming.

Cat is my special swimmy friend. I just love that Cat has chosen a race with a nonstop swim/run/swim/run/swim run format when she probably loves the pool as much as I love….beets. Anyways, the a-ha moment came when I walked next to her in the pool and noticed the pause – the pause in her stroke that is causing her elbow to drop and most of her power to float away. Eliminate the pause and all of a sudden Cat is a fish in the water.

After swimming, we walked over the Starbucks for an afternoon pick me up. Went back home for an easy spin. We rode over to the Arboretum and it was a beautiful run along the tree-lined roads and rolling hills. Danni informed me that they aren’t hills and I’ll take her word for it. But when I rode them up to one of the highest points in the county, at 720 feet above sea level, well, I think we all knew that it’s not every day you climb a mountain.

Back at home it was dinner time. Actually it was bed time. I told myself before today started that I would not still be in workout shorts at 7 pm but I was. I made dinner (chicken coconut curry) which was good for the winter but had us all hot flashing in moments since the house was at 81 degrees.

The real highlight for campers has not been the individualized attention – rather it has been my dog. My dog has slept with 3 different women in the past few weeks. First it was Amy, then Rachelle, and now Cat. He has been eyeing Andrea all evening. I suspect he has found a new victim. Speaking of victim, he apparently murdered Squeaky Carrot this morning. Didn’t even shave it first – went right for the stuffing and then extracted the squeaker.

(I would like to rescind my statement. After making his last potty for the evening, Boss has chosen Danni as his flavor for the night)

It’s 10:30 pm now. I just caught Cat in the kitchen – again – and have renamed her Snack Shop. Girl had her hands full of Bunny Grahams and TLC Crackers. When I do camps with other female athletes, I think one of the most important things that they see (or learn) is how much food you truly need to support all of this activity. Eat often, eat well and never go hungry. And if you are still hungry – EAT MORE!

The house is quiet. I gave Cat a bottle of Tylenol PM and she headed up to bed. I am convinced that even after the LIGHTS OUT call (ha) I’ll find her under the covers pecking away at her iPhone. I thought I was obsessed with mine…then I watched Cat. Boss just finished crazy laps with Danni and Andrea is sleeping in the man cave.

About the man – he actually fled to his parents house yesterday. I’m not sure what was worse in his mind: his house being overridden by 4 women or spending the next 5 days with his parents. While we have oodles of estrogen, they have a cuckoo clock and Popo. I think he drew the unlucky card but only time will tell. I have a feeling he’ll show up on the doorstep tomorrow after being woken at 5 am by 5 hoots and the clanging of pots and pans.

Tomorrow’s workouts: brick at Fermilab/McKee Marsh and trip to Lululemon.

I’m not sure which will be harder.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Once a year I make my annual pilgrimage to the salon.

It’s not that I don’t like the salon – I just don’t see the point. I work from home. No one sees me. It’s a funny thing working from home. You know how when you work in an office you have to get up every morning, put on a pretty face, fix your hair and wear matching clothes? You go to work and then spend the rest of the day looking in the mirror in the bathroom like I went to work looking like this? You may frequently evaluate and worry about how you look, how the weather will affect your hair and what you will wear tomorrow.

When you work from home you really take the mirror completely out of the equation. Or if you look you think to yourself – I look like crap but who cares. It’s actually quite freeing. Don’t walk by the mirror for the rest of the day – problem solved. Your wardrobe becomes pajama bottoms and a cami with a built in bra. A choice you made carefully because putting on a bra requires an extra step in the morning and more laundry. You think to yourself – I need to go shopping for work clothes which is really code for going to Old Navy to pick up more pajama bottoms because the elastic wore out.

All of this sounds casual and dreamcometrue until you realize that you work from home, you talk to your dog and you haven’t left the house for days. Not only that but you get really comfortable looking really sloppy. In fact, you get so comfortable looking that way that you find yourself in the grocery store in pajamas (how many times has Chris asked you are going to the store dressed like that?). You get really comfortable with walking around with wet hair or how about bed head. You get really comfortable with the idea of not showering at all.

Once a year, then, I get the itch to clean myself up. I started this ritual in 2006 after my first Ironman. You spend an entire summer training for Ironman, then do the race and you look wrecked. I went for a complete overhaul, consider it like a 50,000 mile check up – we’re talking hair cut, manicure, pedicure and make up application. I did another overhaul in 2007. And then again in 2008. Here we are in 2009. It is time. Time to get pretty. I’ve been Ragbraied and otherwise violated by too much training for triathlon. So I made an appointment with Val.

Val did my make up for my wedding and every year since then. She always remembers me, always tells me I look great (lie) and always knows that I do athletics. I give her credit for that. Last year Val had this thing where she touched me every time she made a point and this year I noticed that her eyes widened when she wanted to get her point across.

At least she wasn’t touching me.

I bring along what I still have in make up. I pull out a few things of eye shadow, blush and then Val scolds me. You have not been using your sunscreen. No, Val, really I do every day. The thing is that this sunscreen is for wearing under make up. And in the last year I have worn make up so few times that I have barely made a dent in this tube here. Val tells me to get busy with making myself up. That SPF only lasts 2 years.


I like Val, she’s pretty, she has good make up and she works with me. I don’t want to look like a clown and she respects that. Val always starts with some fancy skin care that costs way too much and takes too much time. But I play along. After all, it’s all free today. She can peel me, mask me and moisturize me for the next hour.

Today Val tells me she will be using a product made by a woman who works directly with stars such as Will Ferrell and…I can’t remember the other names. I was so taken aback by the idea of someone giving Will Ferrell a facial (sorry, but he will always be the guy in Old School to me) that I completely blanked out. So this woman came to the salon and gave Val a facial. Best facial she’s ever had. But you know what I’m thinking? If Val touches me and that woman who touched Will Ferrell touched Val does that then mean that I have touched Will Ferrell?

It was a product line with 3 steps. The first step was a cleanser. Then a toner. Then a peel. I don’t know what a peel is but when she pulled out a beaker and a paintbrush I first got a little scared about a chemistry experiment that could go very bad here. But then again I was getting $145 worth of facial care products for free. Paint my face. Experiment.

She begins painting and tells me that it will burn. Yeah right. I love when people tell athletes things that involve pain and expect us to cry at a pinprick like a normal person would but come on I have a high pain threshold in fact I have a high lactate threshold and HOLY CRAP! What the hell are you doing to my face! That burns like a bitch! I’m burning, like really on fire tingly burning when I ask Val what on earth is the active ingredient in this stuff?

And her reply: lactic acid.

Seriously? You are painting lactic acid on my face? Really? this legal? Say, as long as we’re doing this, how about you paint some of that on my legs because the other night I was on the group ride and up to my eyeballs in lactic acid while having a problem turning it over fast enough. You think if I paint it directly on to my legs they’ll get better at that?

Val completes her masterpiece and I look in the mirror.

Oh my god.

I look like a freakin’ clown. My entire face is covered in white pasty paint.

But it gets better. I have to sit like this for 10 minutes.

Ok, no problem. A little iPhone, a little email, a little Facebook. I go to grab my bag when Val takes a seat on the window ledge and tells me she’ll wait with me. For 10 minutes.

Do you know how long 10 minutes really is?

Awkward silence. I should probably say something. Make small talk. I hate small talk. Ok, think, quick….what do you talk about with…what is she? I see a business card on her station. It says Certified Lash Technician. All right, what do you talk about with a Certified Lash Technician…..thinking….

So, it’s pretty hot outside today.

I suck at small talk.

Ten eternal minutes pass and then she painstakingly slowly wipes the paint off my face. And…my face is still there. Along with my dry skin, my blemishes and pores. You mean for $145 it doesn’t take all that away? I don’t need it then.

Val starts putting on make up next. But first she pulled out all of the colors, shades and things she needed to make me pretty. I’m telling you there were a lot of things. And one of them involved an on/off button. I don’t know what it was but I’ m thinking anything that requires an on/off button does NOT belong on my face.

She custom blends the foundation, applies all different colors of eye shadow and then picks up the on/off thing. What is that, I ask. It’s an eye lash curler.

This is a joke.

This is not a joke.

She curls my eye lashes.

One hour later, I am done. I look in the mirror and…I look freakin’ hot! Look out bitches, I’ve got a new face. And it will last….a whopping 3 hours until I go for a swim. Val tells me you look great. Yeah right. That’s like telling people at mile 18 of the Ironman marathon that they look great. Or "you’re almost there!"


The last thing to do is to choose the products I want to buy. This is my least favorite part because it means I have to somehow convince myself that I need 500 dollars worth of make up. I don’t. And I don’t even get close to that. I usually deselect anything that costs over $100, anything that requires a special brush, anything that requires a steady hand, anything that requires more than one step, anything that must be done every morning or night and anything that has to dry before I go any further. Pretty much that cancels out everything but the lipstick. And I really don’t like to wear lipstick.

I choose a few things and will admit that I bought the lactic acid for my face. I was thinking of drinking it but the bottle was not cheap. I’m not sure why I bought it other than it seemed cool to have a bottle of it. So if all of a sudden I get really fast know that I’ve made a dangerous cocktail of inhalers and lactic acid that I hit up every day. Right before I put on my clown face.

I hate clowns. They scare me.

I will confess that this entire trip was underwritten by my mother in law. She doesn’t know that yet but she did give me a generous gift for my birthday and her timing was impeccable. I suspected that the other night they were trying to give me the hint that it was time to visit the salon because the conversation went something like this:

(for the new folks around here: Popo is Chris’ grandma and Lola V is Chris’ mom and yes that name is worth an entirely separate blog some time)

Popo: You look different.
Lola V: What is it? (stares intently in my direction)
Popo: Something is different (waves her hands in front of her face)
Me: I don’t know (finding it unusual that I might just be getting a compliment out of Popo since up until a few years ago she was still trying to set Chris up with Ingrid, the girl from the Phillipines, even though he was already married to me)
Popo: Maybe it is your eyebrows.
Lola V: No, she fixed those a few years ago (again, I can do a whole separate blog about that conversation).
Popo: Maybe it is your hair.

Lola V: No, it is not her hair.
Me: Today I did dry it.
Popo: Maybe it is….
Lola V: What she is trying to tell you is that you look pretty.
Me: (laughing but thinking: Am I also any closer to being done with this marathon…?)


The worst part about having a clown face? You have to take it off before you go swimming. Know why? Because if you don’t you get black mascara lines running down your face and then everyone knows you were wearing make up. What – you don’t think my lashes perfectly curl like this or there is a natural “Sandscape” shimmer to my eyes? Come on. Have you never seen beautiful? It is right here on top of $25084989239842 worth of lactic acid and make up applications.

I'm going back to the salon next week. Lola V's generous make-her-pretty-NOW grant has afforded me a haircut too. If there's anything leftover I'm getting another bottle of that lactic acid. To do shots of it twice a day then show up at the group ride with my Tantastic lipstick (I am not even going to TOUCH that name) to distract the boys then drop them up Town Hall so I can be queen of the hill.

Which is a joke. Considering I can never hang on past Peplow. But it's always fun to try.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

We Have A Winner

And you thought I wasn’t serious.

It's Saturday! Chihuahua Race day. And, friends, this was serious. So serious that standing in line, the line of over 200 chihuahuas, I was starting to feel underprepared. Everyone looked so fit. Everyone had their game face on. And everyone looked fast, sleeker and more ready to win than Boss.

We were feeling a little pre-race anxiety. Breathe.

At first I wasn’t sure the race would go off. It poured rain this morning. But I realized that it was up to Boss to make adversity his advantage. Remember Boss, I told you that 90 percent of success is just showing up. Today will be a race of attrition. You will outlast everyone else because you made peace with the rain.

Boss pays me a monthly fee for advice like that.

After a pre-race breakfast of kibbles and water, Boss looked ready. We pulled up to the shopping center and were greeted with a long line. It felt just like any other race morning. Get ready to wait to race.

The line was restless with the antsy barks and yips of Chihuahuas. Chihuahuas of all sizes, colors, mixes and shapes lined up to take their chance at becoming the next national champion.

Except this guy. He obviously didn’t get the memo that today was race day for Chihuahuas only.

Look at this line! It extended down the shopping center until over 240 chihuahuas lined up with their owners to take on this race. One guy said he drove down from Kenosha for this race. That’s 100 miles away. There was a lot of barking, a lot of dog carrying, and some racers succumbed to the pre-race jitters by doing a lot of poo. But not to worry. Staff was handing out little poop bags.

What surprised me most is that Boss gets a little huffy and yippy around other dogs. Especially when on his leash. But in this crowd – it’s as if he knew. This is my tribe. These are my people. We are all Chihuahuas here. Not a nip, bark or surge came out of Boss. He was in his natural habitat.

It took about 45 minutes to get through the line. While waiting, we scoped out the competition. It was nervewracking! And, honestly, I was a little scared. I mean, look at these people! Actually, just look at this shirt:

That’s right, we’re talking former national champions here. If you think that adults take triathlon too seriously, you should have seen this race. Not only did we have the former national champion in this race but her two offspring.

In fact, many were wearing t-shirts in support of their Chihuahua. If we were properly dressed we would have been wearing shirts that read TEAM BOSS.

We weren't and so we were feeling totally underdressed.

Walking around I realized this event is off the leash! Everyone was dressed in team kits, some had special containers with secret recipe dog treats, some had not one but TWO squeaky toys to distract in had, others brought an entire gaggle of kids waving foam noodles (finally I found out the purpose of those damn foam noodles you see all over the pool, you tie a pink streamer to it for your 8-year old son wearing a pink foam crown to wave like mad while shouting the name TINKERBELL).

That kid’s gonna have problems in a few years.

It wasn’t just their cheering sections. It was their equipment! Why does it seem like everyone has better equipment than us. Some came in strollers, crates, wagons. Others came dressed in the finest in doggy couture. And look at this! A dog stroller with a sunroof. You can see the envy in Boss’ eyes.

Naturally Boss looked around at all of this and thought one thing to himself:

YIPE! (that's dogspeak for OH CRAP!)

Sensing this, we felt it was best to separate Boss from the chaos so he could focus and get in his zone. Look alive, Boss. LOOK ALIVE! It’s almost race time. Get in your zone and focus on the task at hand. Racing is all about rhythm and cadence. Wait a minute. Right advice, wrong species. Racing is all about getting across the line. Believe in yourself Boss. You will cross the line. There is no DNF in Waterstraat. And you are a Waterstraat! Besides, Chris said if you DNF we can’t take you home. He’ll put you up for a Chihuahua adoption. Big things. We’re expecting big things from you, little dog!

We finished the pep talk just in time. Finally we made it to the front of the line and got Boss’ papers. And his timing chip. Wait, no timing chip? Has this course been measured? Is it draft legal? No? So what is the draft zone? Can you measure it out for me with a little piece of string just in case I cannot accurately visualize it? What about drug testing. Are all these dogs legal with vaccinations? How deep do awards go?

Boss Waterstraat?

HERE! Boss was assigned to Pack 12, got his goodie bag (oh and it was about as good as most triathlons except missing the lip balm). Then all we had to do was wait.

Of course Boss got a little nervous. After waiting about 30 minutes for the different heats to go off he finally made a trip to the pet relief area. I was worried he wouldn’t get his pre-race poo as I know from personal experience that nothing good happens when you go into a running event without emptying the pooper first.

Next we previewed the course. Boss carefully observed the strategy of his competition.

Then we talked his strategy. Being the coach, I talked with the team. The team being Boss, Chris and neighbor girl (Boss' best friend Emily; you should know that at Thanksgiving time she made a turkey with 5 feathers in her 1st grade class. The feathers were to represent things she was thankful for. Who got the first feather? Boss.)

Strategy was simple: noise. Lots of it. Sure, others were using food, squeaky toys, some even used live Chihuahua playmates (is this legal?) but our plan was all about making the most noise to get Boss' so he'd make a beeline straight for Chris and Emily.

The call comes across the loud speaker: pack 12 report to the holding pen. It's race time! Being no stranger to competition, I push myself to the front of the line and enter first into the pen. The staff asks us to pull a number for our starting corral and I think about it momentarily, see the number 5 and pull it. Strategy! If we put Boss on the end, chances are he would run off to the side and never make it. If we put him in the middle, he’ll get so scared by the other dogs that he’ll run straight to Chris and Emily.

Boss and I stepped up to the starting gate and eyed up the competition. They looked good. But not as good as Boss. There was an eerie calm about Boss and I could tell he was in his zone. While the guy two dogs down was trying to wave a piece of bacon in his dog's face while shouting BACON!BACON! to get it riled up, Boss was totally zen.

Race time. Chris and Emily are shouting at the other end and I give Boss one last peek at them. I put him down in the starting pen and in a ready, set, go, he’s off!


Boss was declared the winner of Pack 12! All of the weeks – ok who am I kidding – days of arduous training, heat acclimation, kibble restriction, tapering, massaging, ice baths and only the best coach money could buy (me!) prepared Boss to achieve his victory.

Next stop: the semi-finals! Another 30 minute wait and we were up again. This time around, it wasn’t a bunch of amateurs. No, these were the dogs that bolted at the start and ran across the line. The pressure, THE PRESSURE! Potential champions. With blood on their teeth and the smell of bacon at their noise. Every owner was waving a toy, a piece of food – they all had fancy strategies when all we had was NOISE! He was like an amateur in the pro wave. Please don’t swim over me. Believe, Boss. You can do it! Just be yourself. It’s the same race, Boss. Do what you know. Go straight to the line! We reviewed our plan and then the race began.

After a false start (one of the national champion’s offspring ran out of the pen – somebody didn’t get the champion genes). Tick TOCK tick TOCK…then it’s go time! Off to a good start, Boss bolted at the gun. And then about 2 feet from the finish line he stopped. Faked left, went right and then just stood there. Meanwhile, the semi-final round 3 champion was on its way to the finals en route to becoming the next potential national champion.


Immediately we told Boss he was still a champion. He will always be number one to us. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the….I don’t remember how it goes but the point is that he’s a winner. If not in this round, then in doggy life. We love you Boss no matter when you cross the line. Or if you just stop 2 feet away from it, stand there and decide – not today.

Next year, we'll train specifically for this event. Peak for it, taper and have a more solid plan. We will show up on race day and execute the plan. And the plan will include bacon.

Because one day, I want to be the one wearing this shirt.

Dream big, little dog, DREAM BIG!

**In case you are wondering, they did give out a race t-shirt and it has already made it's way into Chris' wardrobe right next to the Battlebots t-shirt. He wore the shirt to dinner tonight. And plans on wearing it on race morning at Clearwater to psyche his competition out. Chihuahua race semi-finalist. What you got, Mr. Potts?