Saturday, February 28, 2009

On Purpose

Lately I am like a magnet for workouts straight from that list you keep in the back of your head of “swim workouts I’d never like to see.” Except I keep seeing them. And then I have to do them.

They are better off in the back of my head.

Last week: 12 x 100 IM on the 1:30.

This is a joke. Really? The 1:30? And IM? I just got to where I can finally repeat 12 x 100 on the 1:30 freestyle. And you want me to backstroke in there too? And all of this on the day when Coach Dave said I could swim in his lane? Have you ever been dropped by 25 yards in a 12 x 100 IM on the 1:30 when you are doing free and the guy dropping you is doing IM?

Wait, I’ve got a better one. You walk in to masters in the morning and you see this on the board:

4 x 1000

Just what I was hoping for.

Or how about two days later you walk in to sprint night and the coach tells you it will be mostly IM. Again. 8 x 75, 8 x 150 and at what point should I just turn around and walk right back from where I came from?

Saturday was no better. I left the house feeling like coffee couldn’t even save me that morning. My legs felt like bricks. My arms did not enjoy the overzealous let’s add weight attitude I had this week. Yet the practice itself was very cute. Most of the team was at the annual Florida swim trip while the rest of us had woken to a 19 degree morning to go swimming in our rinky dink gym 25 short course yard pool that we all decided smelled like baby wipes and tasted like chalk.

So in celebration of that (three cheers for gym pools!) the coach put together a workout called F.L.O.R.I.D.A. That would be fins, long axis, oxygen, race pace, intervals, distance and accelerations.

My favorite was fins but that only lasted 200 of the 4000 yards.

My least favorite was oxygen. I like to breathe and so this year I denounced anything in the pool that involved holding my breath.

Thinking about it my least favorite really was race pace. That involved doing a 50, 100, 50 all out race pace in the lane by ourselves. Well, there were two others with me but we had to swim the distance on our own and then take a big rest interval. So in the lane with me is my 5th grade math teacher. Is anyone else freaked out by that as much as I am? I said MY FIFTH GRADE MATH TEACHER. Excuse me, I was in the 5th grade 24 years ago. That teacher is swimming in my lane. With me. And on the 2 x 50 and 1 x 100? She mathematically kicked my ass, cubed.


Eric is also in my lane. Eric weighs something like 100 pounds but he is freaky fast. At the wall he is telling The Droo his 100 strategy and me – the savvy swimmer that really wants to be a fast savvy swimmer – listens in. Eric says they will cruise the first 50 then go BLIZZOW on the 3rd 25. Huh. Blizzow. Now I know the secret. I just need a little more blizzow followed by bunch of whiz bang. And then I will magically come in under 1:03. Guess what – I tried it and it didn’t work. Stupid swimming.

Anyways….I also wasn’t a big fan of the 2x 500 distance. That would be the first 500 where The Doctor dropped me which meant she also dropped the rest of the lane drafting behind me. The next 500 was better because it was pull with paddles which is my favorite thing in the pool. Unlucky for me The Doctor suggested I take the lead. And that led to a 500 as hard as I could go breathing as little as possible and saying to myself don’tscrewthisup... don’tscrewthisup….why? Because you if you do you may never be asked to lead again.


I liked the interval work because we were going fast and I could keep up but I should mention I didn’t like the warm up because it contained 400 reverse IM.

But overall it felt like a good hard swim. There were many moments my arms and legs and breathing did not enjoy much of it but I finished it thinking, 1 – coffee now; 2 – that was good and hard.

At masters there are many moments like that; for example the 3rd of 4 x 1000 or in the middle of anything involving butterfly or kicking no fins. These moments I hate the workout but if I separate myself from the pain, step back and get over myself I can see the purpose of it. 4 x 1000 is a great endurance set. Kicking no fins is really the only way to learn how to properly kick.

But I still haven’t figured out the point of fly just yet.

Writing workouts to please everyone is no easy task. As a coach one of the hardest things to do is writing swim workouts. Because everyone is so different in what they do and do not like. Who has paddles. Who has fins. Who can’t do fly because of a bad shoulder. Intervals. Who likes to swim in the morning. The night. Never on a weekend. Has a 20 yard pool. Has no pool. Hates the pool. Loves the pool. Loves paddles. Hates fins. And prefers not to do anything involving a side kick.

Sound familiar?

Some days I speak in swimspeak and see things only in terms of rest intervals. Distances float around in my head and I do the best to add up the math there too. Not surprisingly, it’s no secret that I have a serious deficiency in adding up swim workouts which is now coming back to bite me in the form of Training Peaks emails that say “I got bit by the bad ELF math here.”

Very funny, people. VERY FUNNY.

But you don’t understand. I write roughly….A LOT of swim workouts each week. How many times do some people swim multiplied by how many people multiplied by sometimes two weeks of schedules at a time and that’s a lot of yards! So I lose a few. A few hundred. Sometimes 500. But I have never miscalculated more than that!


(yet)

But there is always a point to the swim workout no matter how short it comes up. Some of athletes have 30 x 50 next week. That doesn’t sound like much fun but there is a purpose to that. And the 3 x 900 purposeful yards for some of the IMCDA athletes. Trust me, they'll be grateful for that.

Yes they will!

Whenever I find myself in the middle of a swim set I really don’t like or looks scary I remind myself there is a purpose to all of it. It’s not just something a coach gave us on purpose but for a purpose. The timed mile serves a purpose as does that one crazy time where we did 10 x 100 on the 3:00.

The 3:00?

Yes, when you are doing a max all out 100 there is purpose to that.

So in the week ahead at masters I will continue to search for the purpose. The purpose makes me smarter and smarter makes me faster. To a certain extent. Smart however does not help you break through to 1:03. But I'll get there. Work my booty off with each yard and put more blizzow into my stroke. I will find the purpose and become it.


(and if that doesn’t work I will just put paddles on)

One thing is certain: no matter what will be written on the white workout board this coming week, purposeful or not, it cannot get worse than what I have seen in the past week.

But I wouldn’t put money on that.


BLIZZOW!

(I just had to say it)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spring Training

The other day Boss came up to me and said “Liz, I need some help with my running.”

Boss, get in line.

I know what you’re thinking. He’s a dog. He can’t talk. But we spend enough time together that I feel like I can read his mind. (oh my god she’s the crazy woman that works at home and walks around all day in pajama bottoms while speaking twinspeak with her..dog).

I do.

Anyways, I said Boss, what makes you want to work on your run form?

Well, just the other day, the thermometer cracked 40 degrees so we headed to the field for a series of unleashed crazy laps – a result of 4 months of pent up energy, fur and balls out excitement because SPRING IS NEAR!

(or, in Boss’ case, ballsfreeballsout excitement).

Poor lil’ guy.

Boss said, so in less than a month I will be at the dog park daily and I need to get back in the game. I’ve got to keep up with the big dogs. There’s my bully doppelganger, Biff the Chihuahua who last year shamed me by keeping up with Louise the over 30 pound dog in the under 30 pound dog park while I got run over. There’s Johnny and Ponchy who are clearly in it together so if I chase one, I’ve got to be able to get chased by two. There’s Andre the Mini Pinscher, Sophie the Bichon and I’ll be damned if I get gangbanged by the posse of Beagles again.

I need some run coaching.

I coach all different types of athletes but clearly the biggest hurdle in the next 30 days will be coaching my dog back to peak dog park shape. Turns out that lying on top of a heating vent under the ottoman all winter is not such a good training plan. A few weeks ago in a bizarre turn of over 40 degree weather, we went to the dog park and Boss was merely a shell of the aerobically fit and conditioned Chihuahua he used to be. He spent the first 30 minutes walking around the park to make sure all of his favorite weeds and shrubs were still there. Then he went and remarked everything he marked last year just to make sure all the dogs know that the fence around the oak seedling?

MINE.

The next time we went in a strange string of weather where winter broke and the sun stayed out for 3 whole days, Boss tried to get back to his old level of game. He played catch with Louise and then the man with 3 dogs showed up. The man with 3 dogs is a very loud man with 3 dogs all different sizes. The dogs always poop before they get into the dog park which then shouts for all the dog park world to hear: OTTO, YOU COULDN’T WAIT UNTIL WE GOT INSIDE THE GATE, COULD YOU?

Apparently not, every single time, no matter how loudly you yell at him.

The man was in the little dog park with us even though he has big dogs and assures me that his big dogs won’t kill my little dog. Have you met my little dog? I’d be more scared that he’ll kill you. The other day, upon opening the garage dog, my little dog bolted like fire out the door and straight to the leg of the Fed Ex man. The poor man was carrying boxes of giant boxes Power Bars with a 9 pound Chihuahua jumping at him because he has a thing for men in uniforms. UPS man, mailman – Boss can’t help himself. It’s the uniform or the smell of packing tape.

I haven’t quite figured it out yet.

But while Boss seems to have maintained some of his short burst top end speed (which I credit to an absurdly high V02max and a steady diet of top of the line kibble – really, it’s 6 star kibble. I mean, how much better does it get than SIX stars?) his endurance is lagging.

Right now Boss is not an Ironman.

Writing training plans is what I do so I had to think very little about this one. First of all, Boss, we need you to commit to the plan. Secondly, beyond commitment you need consistency. Third, we need to get you running laps and drills so you have the endurance, speed and agility come spring. And lastly, Boss, I need you to be patient because none of this progress will happen over night. Progress takes…time.

It’s something I say a lot lately…

So, let’s start by talking about the basics of good run form. First of all, you need to have more of a forepaw push off to propel yourself forward with each step. Boss, I watch you run and I see a lot of vertical movement which indicates wasted energy. Let’s put everything into moving you forward with each step. And, agility. You need to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee so let’s stay sharp, ok? None of this laying on your back because you all of a sudden decide you want your belly scratched. And, the little overexcitement pee squirt you do when meet someone new? Come on, Boss. That’s totally kindergarten. Let’s get control of yourself if you want to be taken seriously.

Boss will not look at me (you know when your dog pretends not to see you and instead sits with its ears back and head turned the other way?).


Back to Boss’ training plan. We start with some basic preparation before moving into base training. Then we have the dog park specific build. In this build we will practice running crazy laps around the living room as I throw squeaky carrot at him like a dog coming at him from another direction. Frequently I will have him run in booties to get a feel for the uneven terrain at the park. And, as for his kibble? I will reduce his kibble by ¼ of ¼ of a cup. I don’t know what that is (even with the 3 calculators on my table, thank you Cat) but I suspect this leaning out is exactly what he needs for peak shape come the first balmy day of spring.


Let’s get started with the drills….Boss? Boss?

In his usual winter mood, he is under the ottoman again. Any time the heat kicks on he makes a beeline straight for it, commando crawls under it and there he stays. I am convinced he is either the smartest thing to survive winter or one day going to cook himself. In both cases, I need to get him out of there so we can start with spring training. Because when spring arrives, he will be ready to take on Louise, Johnny, Andre, Biff and any other dog that wants to give him a run of things. What he lacks in size he will make up for in speed, endurance and an exquisite taste for men in uniforms. And Mr. Dog Park Popo – that includes you too.

As for the beagles, if they get anywhere near Boss, we are both running the other way, 4 x 20 second strides focusing on getting us the hell out of the dog park as fluid and fast as possible.

HERE’S TO SPRING!

Monday, February 23, 2009

That Girl

The other day someone was asking me how I “let go”. They were getting caught up in comparing themselves to everyone else out there who always seems to be having a much better go of things, doing everything faster, better, stronger...

Isn’t that always the case?

Reader Beware: you can get caught up in the web of blogs, Facebook and twitting. Every is always nailing their workout, going 2 minutes per mile faster than us and doing it all on nothing but a saltine. Awesome! Sign me up for that training plan. Makes the rest of us feel like complete slugs as we slog away at 12 mph in our basement while keeping up with the Kardashian’s.

Nothing so awesome about that.

But that’s just the way a lot of that stuff reads. Everyone is doing more than us, doing it more often, doing it faster, doing it better, doing it sexier than anyone else. I look at Facebook and even I feel like a slug. 2 x 20 minutes at FTP? Jeez! If you want to scare me fill a paper bag with air and pop it in front of my face. No need to include the letters FTP in that. I’m trashed, I’m killing myself, I’m blah blah…what it all really boils down to in our heads is:


I’M BETTER THAN YOU

(even though that’s not what they’re saying)

But I bet that’s how it makes some people feel.

Truth be told. I really don’t read blogs. Not anymore. Why? There are a few reasons. None of which have anything to do with you.

It’s not you. It’s me.

I’m just…not that into you. Why? Because when it come to my workouts, my races, my goals…I’m totally into ME!

I learned a long time ago that my time is time much better spent on myself. What someone else does on any given day at their given speed for their given goals is great…for them. But has nothing to do with me. Forums, Facebook, websites, blogs – all of this is fun to read but can be a big drain of our personal energy, emotion and time. Sure, there are funny stories and random tidbits out there but for the time involved and the risk to myself, I have found it more worthwhile to fill my head with something else. For this reason I am very selective about what I read. And I take EVERYTHING I read with a tablespoon of salt.

(because one grain just ain’t enough for some of what is out there)

I put myself on this diet because I was getting fat on blogs. Reading them all and feeding (and fattening) my inner critic. Totally unnecessary. There are enough sources of doubt and stress in the world for me to add to it with a steady serving of blah blah each day. And all of it was just adding to my mental chatter, the comparisons (I want to be THAT girl), the wondering am I doing enough, is this the right thing and should I trust myself?

One thing was certain: I would not find the answer to any of those questions on any blog. No matter how many I read.

Instead, I’ve learned to fill my head with stuff that is good for me. What is good for me? Sometimes books, real life conversations, sometimes just thoughts about myself. Anything else that I put in my head just becomes mental chatter in the space between myself and my goals.

And chatter – last I checked - does not make you fast.

Who is responsible for this mental chatter? Hello, it’s your inner critic calling. Ring ring ring…..self-doubt here. Your inner critic thrives on self-doubt. Eats it right up and stores it smack on your ass. So you have two choices in what you do: feed the inner critic or feed your true self. Remember, the critic will get fat on their own! You never have to feed them. But if you starve them off the main sources, the critic will – in time – go away.

In time, what you believe will become truth. If someone asked me what the single most important factor for success in any athlete’s training plan was I would say: TRUST. You’ve got to believe. In yourself, in the training plan, in your coach. If you spend your day looking for reasons why it won’t work, doubting the plan or fighting yourself, I promise you will sabotage even the best plan.

chatterchatterchatterchatter

Trusting means just doing the work and turning everything else away. Don’t go sabotage a good swim by comparing yourself to someone else’s good swim. Don’t stop being excited about breaking 9:00 miles because you read about someone’s 6:45s. Don’t look at your training plan that you pay a coach to put together and then read someone else’s blog about this awesome workout they did and so you then tell your coach:

I NEED TO DO THAT.

No, you probably don’t. You need to do what has been planned for you by someone who has taken the time to know you and is working to bring out the best in you. Your role in this: focus on being the best version of yourself, disregard everything else.

I know I keep a blog so it’s crazy talk to hear me say “I don’t read blogs”. But if no one or everyone reads my blog – it's irrelevant to me. It’s my diary where I process my experiences and in sharing them hope someone that enjoys reading might learn something. I’m not saying you should read my blog or should not read or whatever. I’m just saying that reading too many blogs was not good for me. The more I read blogs, the more I start to compare myself and that doesn’t do me much good.


Because I’m not anyone else but me.

Is this selfish? Probably. But…who cares? When I am out there racing on a course no one else but my head will get me to the finish line. Not what anyone else says nor what they did in a workout will help me bring out any more of myself. It’s all…me. The longer you go in the race, the more the race is in your head. Think about Ironman. Sure, you’ll have many spectators and short conversations throughout the day but in the end the only one that will talk to you the entire time is…

Yourself.

So what is in your head and what you put into your head – you should be very selective about. It’s like what you eat! You wouldn’t fill yourself with ding-dongs all day and expect to have good workouts, eh? Treat what you put into your head the same way. If you read stuff that always brings you down or makes you compare or makes you doubt yourself…

Psssst: stop reading.

Sometimes blogs remind me of a gaper’s delay. Know what that is? It’s when you’re driving down the highway and the traffic slows because of something else going on in the other lanes. People slow down to get a peek at what happened. The feeling of “I need to know what’s going on” or the thrill of “what if I see something really freaky?” makes us turn our head. But how many times do you really get something you need? Sometimes you see something really freaky or you see some guy on the side of the road changing his tire. In either case – are you any better for taking the time and energy to turn your head? Chances are if you saw something really freaky you then get disturbed and lose sleep. And if you saw the guy changing his tire…well then…great.

In life we are limited by two things: time and energy. Spend both wisely. And only read, affiliate with or engage in things that keep you moving in a forward direction. Know that you don’t have to turn your head. You can keep your eyes forward, look at the road ahead, know where you are going and focus intently on the task of getting there.


I like blogs, I like blogland and keeping a blog has been a positive experience for me. But sometimes it is good to step away and fill your head with something else. Read your own story. Write your own ending. Be that girl. And get obsessed with yourself.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Swimming Scared

Tuesday morning I walked into masters, scanned my lane choices and stood there.

“You can swim with me,”
someone said.

I look around. It’s Coach C. Talking to me. Me? Really? No, this can’t be. Hmmph. No one else behind me. Uh….um…..realization finally that oh shit he really is talking to me.

Problem is: C. is a swimmer. A real swimmer. Swam through college. Coaches a high school swim team. The kind of guy who I believe one year did the 100 x 100 on the 100 challenge holding close to a 1 minute pace. Just because.

I had no business swimming in his lane.

But I realized the other lane choices were not at my pace or on the wall. No thanks, I’ll pass on the wall. And besides, this week I was thinking a lot about releasing my fears. Time to step it up or stagnate. So today the fear would be released. Perhaps from my mind. Or my mouth. One way or another, I was letting something out today.

Big talk for someone so small. Trust me – I knew that. And also knew that my ability to finish the workout was uncertain at this point. Yet the one thing that was certain was that I would be swimming scrd.

That’s right, scrd. You might notice that even the word scared was so scrd that it got the vowels scared right out of it. In my case you might just swap the v for a b and get the same feeling. Scared shitless. It’s all the same.

What is swimming scared? It’s that feeling that you get at masters when you know you are in way over your head. Like last week at masters when the woman leading decided we would pull out our 75s in :53. Does the interval really matter? All that you need to know is that we had to do it over and over again. Scrd. Could I maintain it? How hard is hard before your blood pressure rises so high that your arms just detach and you find them floating in the deep well?

I’m getting better at swimming scared but still it’s like race morning. No matter how many races you’ve done you still show up with a little flutter in your belly. A few porta-potty visits to psyche yourself up. Or pray. Or wish you had just stayed in bed.

I jumped into Coach C.'s lane and stood there. Waiting for him to make a move. I’m for sure not leading the warm up. I’m not even putting my goggles on until I take the cue from him. I have worked years to get next to this lane and now that I’m finally in it – I am not screwing this up.

Alice whom I usually swim with walks into practice. She looks at our usual lane then looks at me in a different lane:

“What are you doing in that lane?”

I know, it’s ridiculous. The whole pool feels off, I’ve completely upset the balance here. But I had no choice. I tell her that when someone like C. tells you to swim in his lane you go with it. No questions asked.


Besides, C. said he was “going slow” today. I’m trying not to laugh. So, what you’re saying is your slow will be my all out max shit myself pace. True. It probably is. I’m guessing a 1:15 pace per 100 for him is a recovery swim.

I’m going to die today.

The best part – the reason why he was taking it slow today – because he was coming back in the evening to swim masters. Again. Distance free workout. For a total of probably 9,000 yards in one day.

Silly swimmers.

The masters coach walks up to our lane. She looks at me. I know I should explain. I tell her – he told me I could swim here. Perhaps she could read the fear in my eyes but she chose to ignore it. She said you’ll be fine. Will I? Will I really? Because I feel like I might want to leave my emergency contact information with you.

Before the warm up I decide one thing. My goal today would be simple: do not get lapped. Sounds simple but…I’m guessing this could be the biggest challenge I’ve seen in awhile. We warm up 500 and I think great there goes my goal. C. usually laps me twice in a 500. Usually I notice this from down the pool in my own special lane with bumpers on it. Lucky for me today I might get to experience the double-lapping first hand.

We start the warm up. Do not get lapped. Do not get lapped. 500 yards later - victory! He gets close but I swim like hell to stay ahead. So much for an easy warm up.

Next up we do some pulling. No problem. Put paddles on me and I can keep up in his easy pace draft. No. No I cannot. I did not get lapped but that is only because we did a 300.

Then we did 12 x 50. Finally! A distance I can stay within 10 seconds of him.

The mainset: 3 x 300 on the 5:00, 4 x 400 on the 6:30, 2 x 200 on the 3:15. For some reason it was mega rest interval day. But that was probably a good thing for me. Because I would need at least a minute to regather my thoughts after swimming this pace.

3 x 300. I tell myself on the first one just do whatever it takes. As soon as C. pushes off, I forget about putting 5 seconds between us and get right on his feet instead. They looked great! For the first 50 yards. Stay with him stay with him stay with him. The first 150 it works. I’m not too far off. But then he pulls away. It also doesn’t help that he is nearly on the pool floor pushing off about 5 yards past the flags with every wall push off.

We come in at a new best pace. Perfect! A new personal best. The only problem is we have 2600 yards more to go on this mainset.

Oh no.

I make it through the next 300s. I’m so fast! Next up 4 x 400. I’m so screwed! The first one is supposed to be easy. Easy!? Easy is not holding the same pace as the 300s. Easy is redline for me today. And then – just as I gather my thoughts and spit something out, C. says to me:

Are you ready for the 400 IM?

What the hell kind of question is that? Is anyone ever ready for 400 IM? No. Especially not me. Before I have time to respond or even think about everything that could possibly go wrong in 400 IM, he sends off. I push off knowing I will not be doing 400 IM. Instead I decide to do freestyle right behind him. Clearly I should be able to keep up with him.

Not the case! Boy can swim – doesn’t matter if it’s fly, back or breaststroke. I’m clipping along at a pretty decent pace while he is doing stroke for the first 300 yards. So I make it my goal to bolt with him at the last 100 free. Perhaps the other 300 yards of stroke will have tired him out and given me a fighting chance of staying with him?


Or perhaps not.

The good news – only 2 x 400 more to go! The bad news – I just blew out all I had in that last 100!


The next 400 I tell myself just 200 yards. Just hang with him for 200 yards and do the best you can. RELEASE YOUR FEARS! Oh my arms. Oh my delts. This hurts! I cannot breathe. Even when I can breathe there is water in my mouth. Try kicking more. Pushing off harder? None of it helps and I am trapped in this 400. I just want to get out! Maybe I’ll need to stop? Just quit at the half way point and gather myself? Bull shit. Who stops at a 400? Really. Get over yourself. So when something else gets hard you’re just going to stand at the wall and cry for mommy?

Sometimes I hate my head.

C. laughs at the clock. What. What’s so funny. He tells me that he has never seen himself so slow for a 400. It is nice to know that his “I can’t believe I’m so slow” pace is my “I might need to call for a ride home” pace.

But hey, I’ve only slowed down 2 seconds per 100 and there is only one more 400 to go. I moan. C. must have realized at this point I am a little over my head and tells me “just do your thing, you’re fine.”

Can I just insert crazy oxygen deprived laughter here?

So I do what any half crazy person does around 3900 yards into the swim:

How will I ever pass you if I can’t hang with you?

He looks at me. I have never seen a man with a more puzzled look on his face. The words “I” and “pass you” might as well have been like speaking in Spanish to him.

"What?" he asks

I said, pass you. How will I ever be able to pass you.

Now he laughs his own oxygen rich laughter at me. I know. I made a funny. But he says one thing:

“You’re right.”


I’m not doing my thing in my mediocre pace just yet. I’ve made it this far. I can’t hang with you but I can at least not get lapped. DO NOT GET LAPPED DO NOT GET LAPPED DO NOT GET LAPPED.

At the 300 mark I was lapped.

DAMMIT!

Redemption: 200s, pull with paddles. Oh it’s on. I can do this.

Correction: I can sort of do this coming in at a pace that last year I could not do. Does that still count?


Cool down complete. I survived. In 4200 yards, I got lapped – but only once. Once is not bad, eh? I would have liked a perfect record but along with releasing my fears I learned to let go of perfectionism a long time ago.

Thursday night Coach Dave told me to swim with him. Once again it will be a baptism into the fast lane by swimming scared. I actually cannot wait. I may not be able to hang on for 400s but I’ll tell you what – Thursday is sprint free night and I know I will not get lapped in 50 yards.

I think.

I hope.

We’ll see.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Edge

The other day I asked Chris if he would be ready to race this weekend.

He just laughed.


I only asked because for the past 3 years, we have gone out to Arizona to do an early season duathlon that always takes place this coming weekend. This year we decided not to go. For no other reason than it was time to stop expecting our bodies to race 9 months out of the year and because we both needed (and enjoyed) a much extended period of recovery.

I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to do my first race. Like in 3 months. When I’m actually fit. Until then I’ve realized I don’t need reminders that I’m not fit. Trust me, I’m not super fit right now. In contrast, last year at this time I was approaching way too fit too soon. You learn a hard lesson once and then you do everything you can not to make the same mistakes again. So here I sit, unfit, a little heavy, counting down the training cycles until my first big race.

Tick tock.

Anyways, I was talking to some athletes last night about why we don’t do sustained (meaning, you can go there but you really shouldn’t sustain it for extended periods of time) high intensity go go go training and racing at this time of the year. Why? Because it’s so damn effective. Give yourself 4 – 8 weeks of going going going and I’ll show you close to peak fitness. The problem is when you go too much, don’t include enough recovery and then don’t back off to regenerate after that peak you keeping pushing over the edge of too much, too early and….you’re done.

Last year I was done in April. I just didn’t know it. Or didn’t acknowledge it. All of the symptoms were there and had been there for awhile. The funny thing is that I found a million other reasons to explain away the symptoms. I was a slacker. I was not drinking enough coffee. I was eating too much, too little. I was hormonal. I was not mentally tough. I was not working hard enough. Symptoms waved like flags
in front of my face every single day....

Fatigue (tired all the time no matter how much sleep, caffeine you get)

Feeling washed out/looking washed out
Unusually thirsty
Always hungry - even when resting, when I woke up, all day, especially for sugar
Headaches
Frequent upper respiratory infections or illness
Loss of motivation
Irritable
HR too low or too high for perceived effort
HR high at rest
Decreased performance despite continued training/effort
Sleep disturbances
Frequent bouts of not being able to get heart rate up despite increasing effort


Comparing how I feel now and how I felt all of last year I cannot believe I ignored myself for so long. I was thirsty – always. Unusually thirsty. Like you could drink 3 glasses of cold water and still want more. I wanted coffee – always. I was tired – ALWAYS. I couldn’t fall asleep. I was getting night sweats when asleep but always cold when awake. I kept putting more and more in and getting less and less. Not only that but I would show up to races completely useless. My legs were flat. And I kept thinking the reason was – of course – myself. I wasn’t good enough or taking this seriously enough. I was weak.

Once I went over the edge, I tried rest but never really got out of the valley of fatigue. I would climb out a little and think I'm ok! But then I would fall right back in again. And then would need to take more rest. Blah. I cannot tell you how many weeks I just had to sit out during the summer. And how bad that sucked! When the weather in Illinois was finally good enough to GO outside, I was stuck doing nothing. REST. Complete rest until I was no longer thirsty, no more night sweats and my resting heart rate went back to normal. Even then I wasn't healthy. It took me nearly 6 weeks of nothing at the end of the year to feel normal again.

Many athletes constantly flirt with the edge. The edge is exciting and feeds our need to “do” training. The tricky thing is that the edge is where you can make big fitness gains. Yes, you need to overreach at times to make progress. You should be on edge at the end of a training block. But then you must take big recovery. Even throughout your training block you should find yourself able to get recovery. If you keep applying more stress, you will go over the edge.

What happens over the edge? Worse than injury is being overtrained. You can usually wait for an injury to heal. There is generally a timetable for recovery. Overtraining could last for weeks. Months. An entire season. You cannot tell.


So in that time for me I learned big lessons last year about recovery. I thought a lot about the why and the how I got there. One thing stood out: underrecovery. Ending two seasons with an Ironman and taking only 3 weeks off each. 3 weeks? Going 12 weeks last year without a day off. Always doing something.

Where was the recovery?


Recovery is where you actually absorb the work. It is a lesson I learned very hard myself. You can do loads of go go go workouts all week long but if you don’t recover from them you might as well not be training. Trust me, when you learn lessons in recovery the hard way you learn to distinguish between what is truly recovery and everything else.

This year, I take one day a week off. No active recovery/light easy...whatever. If you want to recover then by all means - REST! Yup, that kind of stinks. I love to workout. I hate to “not move” for a day. But I have learned (the hard way) that this is the most important day of the week. It’s the day where I recover and recharge my energy. Not everyone needs a day off but in working with different athletes I have found the one thing in common is that they could all use a little more recovery. If you recover too little, well once you teeter close to that edge of recovering not enough…you are on a very slippery edge.

Recovery is also more than just getting rest or taking a day off – it’s about nutrition. Most importantly the nutrition you get before, during and after your training. How often have you heard this “I don’t need calories when training because I’m riding indoors or because it’s winter or because I want to drop weight.” WRONG! Every time you skimp out on calories before, during and after training you dig yourself into a hole a little more. Do enough of this digging and you find yourself so far in a hole that it takes major, true rest to bring you back. And major true rest is usually more than 1 month.

How much is 1 month of training worth? What about a whole season?

Recovery is also sleep. 7 is a minimum. 8 is great. 9 is sometimes necessary. I know - that's a lot! But so is training for something like Ironman. Your body will tell you how much sleep you need. You should wake up feeling rested and energized about the day. It’s normal to need a little coffee but if you need multiple rounds it might be time to review your recovery or your overall nutrition (in my experience, people do not eat enough which causes even more fatigue).


Recovery is de-stressing. Stress is stress is stress. If you are balancing a million things and going from workout to job stress to personal stress to….stress is stress. If you live a stressful life or you are going through a stressful situation, step back on the training. The training is yet another stress. You cannot recover if you are always going from one stressful situation to another – work – kids – training. Add to that poor nutrition, little sleep and you get no recovery.

You cannot gain fitness without recovery. Sometimes I see people cramming in workouts – sacrificing sleep or recovery so they can get in their training. Might as well stay in bed and relax. Training done while on the edge is risky training. Not worth it. Sure you might not feel the effects of underrecovery immediately but add up enough of the factors (poor sleep, stress, nutrition, too much intensity too soon, inadequate rest) over time and you find yourself a few months later wondering why your HR won’t go up. Or why you have plateaued. Or why you have an injury.

Best thing I ever did: take recovery very seriously.

I’m not super fit right now. There is nothing race ready about me. But for the first time nearly a year I am healthy. My heart rate responds. I am not fatigued. I feel like a normal person. I am doing quality training and recovering from it. And I’m gaining fitness at a rate my body seems to be able to handle. It’s never quick enough and damn I would love to feel fast and light right now. But alas it’s February.


Smart training is not about working hard and pushing yourself all of the time. It's about working hard at the right time and getting adequate recovery. I am doing my best to train smart. Will it all be worth it? You never know. But I will tell you that feeling healthy, feeling “normal” again is worth more than any race result.

So, can you sacrifice a need to “do something” or work hard every day for what an entire season’s goals are worth? Sometimes our need to always do something 7 days a week or train more or work harder costs us fitness, performance, injury. Your health is a very delicate thing. Train at the appropriate pace. Follow a periodized plan. And include ample recovery. When you think you need to do more, do less. When you know you’re going harder than you should, back off. And when in doubt – opt for recovery. Don’t keep pushing too close to the edge. Listen to your body and trust what it needs. True recovery – health, nutrition, rest, relaxation so you can be at your best. By all means enjoy the view from the edge but then back away and look at something else.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Thinking Big

It’s that time of year – time for the annual monster swim!

What is the monster swim, you ask? Even if you did not ask you should know. Because I think everyone should do a monster swim at least once in their life for a variety of reasons; mental toughness, muscular endurance, confidence, to build character, just because you can.

55 swimmers participated in the monster swim. Some did 100 x 50. Others 100 x 75. And then 3 lanes of us did 100 x 100. The catch – all of it done on the 100 interval. In swim speak that means every 1 minute and 40 seconds you send yourself off.

The first year I attempted this I survived 75 of the 75s. The next year I survived 75 of the 100s. Last year I broke through to survive all 100 of the 100s. This year – again – I was going all the way but you see last year I made a deal with myself:

10 of them would be done as IM

More on that later.


Now, 100 x 100 on the 100 is not a hard interval. Not in true swimmer-swim terms. But what is hard is doing that interval 100 times while pacing and fueling yourself. But you can do anything for an entire day as long as you pace and fuel yourself. So I showed up with my little gels, sports drink and a pace in my head. I would hold 1:20 – 1:25 pace to get enough rest to keep doing it over and over again. This is not a game of how fast – this is a game of survive.

Usually my safe place is in Chris’ draft – but not today. He is not in my lane. By some torturous mistake he has been placed in lane #1. That would be the fast lane. That would be with the swimmers holding around 1 minute pace. PER 100. Oh poor Chris. He looks at his lane assignment, looks at me and I can tell in his eyes he is ready to retreat to his spirit cave.

10 second countdown: 3, 2, 1….welcome to the monster swim!

1: I come in at 1:26 and think to myself this is going to be a long day at this pace.
2: Someone announces we have 99 left.

3: I feel the urge to slap that someone but realize I should save my arms instead.
4: Settling into a 1:23 pace and thinking – this might just turn out ok.
5: I have found my happy pace around 1:22.
6: I tell myself I can do anything on 10 seconds rest, what can I do with 18?
7: I’ve reached the point where I found my stroke and all feels fluid.
8: And then I realize there is 9200 yards to go.
9: Dave and I make a deal that he will lead the next 10.
10: The first 1000 is down and so is my first gel.
11: Only on 11? In no time it will be 99. All I have to do is wait for the time to pass.
12: Thank you to my friend draft I am coming in at 1:21 comfortably.
13: I think to myself what an unlucky number this is.
14: In the time it takes me to get through 100, 3 guys in the next lane catch up.

15: Which means they are holding a sub 1:10 pace.
16: I see Chris at the wall & suspect he has cramped or soiled himself from the pace.
17: I could draft like this all day.
18: The coach announces that Coach Dave won a free rectal exam in the raffle.
19: Coach Dave didn’t hear it but I did & I’m still trying to master the underwater laugh.
20: Dave who's leading my lane announces it’s my turn to lead again.
21: I decide to make these 10 x 100 the fastest of the day.
22: 1:20, seriously I can do better than that.
23: 1:18, not bad.
24: I start bargaining with myself – can you hold it?
25: I can.
26: Time for another gel, scratch Vanilla Orange off the list of gels I like.

27: 1:17!
28: My arms inform me there is a big difference between cruise & threshold pace.
29: "SNAP!", this is my cue today & reminds me to snap my arms to pull water.
30: Dave?
31: Thank you for your draft.
32: I make a deal with myself that I will swim the first 50 naked.
33: And by that I mean without pool toys.
34: I think to myself everyone should swim overdistance at least once a month.
35: All of my athletes will love me for what coach thinks about at 3400 yards.
36: Dave is the only guy I know that slows down with fins.
37: Still I’m not complaining nor giving up his draft.
38: We are now past the 1 hour mark.
39: Which means there are…nearly 2 more hours to go.
40: In things like this it is really not best to think too far ahead.
41: I will lead the last 10 before the 3-minute break.
42: 1:22 feels like clockwork now.
43: Last year I could hold 1:25, I’ve worked my ass off for those 3 seconds.
44: I realize we have swam just over an Ironman.
45: I bet you I could drop 5 seconds per 100 if I wore my wetsuit.
46: I bet you I would also get dropped from the team if I did that.
47: 3 more to go, 3 more to go.
48: Goggle malfunction.
49: One more one more one more one more one more...plus 50.
50: TIME FOR A BREAK!


While everyone else makes a beeline to the bathroom, I head straight to the COFFEE! Before I know it, there are 20 seconds before we have to start again.

51: No time to pee but always time for coffee.
52: Which means I put the P back in the word Pool.
53: I do the math & figure 5 bathrooms & 30 women means I’m not the only one.
54: Did I mention I was in the lead again?
55: I'm still swimming sans pool toys & decide to keep it up through 60.
56: 1:22 is the new pace.
57: Coach Dave won another rectal exam!
58: Time for another gel.
59: I have mastered the art of spit & breathe with all the water I am taking in.

60: It strikes me that I am gargling in a vat of chlorinated pee.
61: If I did 60 without toys can I do 70?
62: Drafting feels as good as 62 as it did at 12.
63: I ask Coach Dave how fast he’s going, “I’m trying to hold 1:05 but keep coming in at 1:06.”
64: One day I will swim these in 1:06.
65: And the next day I will probably die.
67: 3 more to go until I decide I can pull with paddles.
68: #71 will feel like Christmas to my arms.
69: 1:25 – I’ve fallen a little off pace.
70: But I’m right back on it because relief is in sight.
71: I LOVE PULLING WITH PADDLES!
72: I think to myself I could stuff paddles in my wetsuit & totally rock an IM swim.
73: I think to myself – I can barely fit myself in a wetsuit.
74: At some point my arms should feel tired.
75: I probably shouldn’t think that too loud or else my arms will hear.
76: I AM OUT OF GELS! I grab a random banana off the diving block.
77: Turns out a banana is not easy to eat while swimming.
78: And that is how a few banana chunks ended up in the pool.
79: And why it also took me 300 yards to eat a banana.
80: I realize it’s now or never to start doing 10 x 100 IM.
81: I also realize I will never survive a 1:40 IM interval without fins.
82: For the first time in months I have put on fins.
83: And I will pay for it in currency of my anterior tibs for the next few days.
84: 1:24? Really? With fins you better do better than that.
85: I am racing myself at the 100 IM. It works! I make it in 1:16.
86: And I can do better than that.
87: It’s probably not wise to race yourself doing IM at the 8700 mark.
88: It is also not wise to swim nearly two Ironmans.
89: I may not be wise but I did hit 1:13 in the 100 IM.
90: I cannot wait to take these stupid fins off.
91: I’m going all the way – naked again for the last 10.
92: The coach suggests we do the last 8 at max effort.
93: No one takes her up on that.
94: I wonder why I am feeling good & can come up with only one reason: banana.
95: Then I figure out the real reason: coffee.
96: HOLDYOURFORMHOLDYOURFORMHOLDYOURFORM.
97: Someone screams THREE MORE TO GO!
98: Are we really almost done? I am sad. It is like reaching the bottom of the coffee cup.
99: Do I have to wait another year to do this again?

100: DONE!

10,000 yards, 2 hours 50 minutes and my arms are not feeling that bad. Until of course I try to lift something above my head. I will probably change my mind about that. I swam 8000 yards without toys and next year I am upping the ante to two Ironmans – 8500. And what I do with the other 1500? Well, I suppose there is always 15 x 100 IM.

Why do I do this to myself every year? Listen, I am not a fast swimmer. I know that. But I keep getting better. I go to masters week after week to get lapped, dropped and have my ass canned. But I realized long ago the only way to get better is to keep putting yourself in challenging situations and to keep falling all over yourself. Each time you pick yourself up you get a little faster. Three years ago if you had told me I could swim 100 x 100 on the 100 I would have laughed. I could barely come in at 1:30. Since then I have worked my ass off. I have had coaches tear my form apart. I have been videotaped. I have gone to clinics and tried anything and everything to get faster. Why? Because that is what it takes. And I always expect more from myself. I realize that the day I give up or choose to ignore what needs work is the day I will stop making progress.

It is not easy. Progress is never fast enough. And I am not convinced that there will ever be a day when I won’t get lapped. But each year I will get a little closer. I’ll keep chipping away until I get it down to maybe 1 lap between me and the fastest swimmers. Until then, the space between here and there – to me – is very challenging. And the challenge is exciting. It is why I do sport in the first place – because there is always an exciting new challenge to be set.


Rather than swim against the current with swimming, I realized it is easier to turn around and swim with it. So many athletes get so quickly frustrated because swimming is something that takes so long for progress. But sometimes the harder you work at something, the sweeter the reward. The bigger the pay off. But you have to want it and keeping raising the bar for yourself. Maybe it’s not 100 x 100 – start small but think big.

Always think big for yourself!

When you start thinking small you tend to stagnate. Thinking small is playing it safe. Playing it safe doesn’t lead to very much. Those that take risks and think big are rewarded in sport. Here’s a quote about thinking small versus thinking big that was posted on the pool office window:


And then I found yet another quote posted on the window of the pool office. It was about releasing your fears. Perhaps you are scared of swimming, scared of progress, of swimming with masters, of swimming over 5000 yards, or simply scared of yourself.


Always go big and be unafraid! When you risk everything you stand to gain something in sport. Do not fear your own failure. Do not fear what others will say. And never play it safe. If you had to me last year I could swim 8,000 yards unaided by pool toys I would have said no way! 10 of them IM - fins or not - NO WAY! Think big, try it and either prove (or refute) yourself.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Motivation

Earlier this week I was talking with one of my athletes about motivation.

She was struggling. Finding herself in the doldrums of winter not sure what the point of everything in sport was anymore. No doubt she’s a hard worker, she’s set goals realistically within her reach, mentally a tough cookie but something was getting her down. We’ve addressed the obvious and when all of that cleared you’re left with one thing:

Motivation

How do you help someone find their motivation? It’s a fine line between being a cheerleader and a coach. A cheerleader fills you with pomponblahblah just to make you feel better. A coach helps you to understand the why. Here’s my philosophy: I can help you to feel better but let’s figure out why you’re feeling that way and what we can do to improve it for next time. Ultimately my goal is to help my athletes find what drives then and then use that to bring out their best.

But when she asked me about motivation I’ll admit I had a hard time. Not because I’m not motivated and have no idea what to say – but because what each of us finds motivating is so different. I work with so many different personality types that I see many forms of motivation. Some are driven by beating so and so, some are doing Ironman to see what if, some are trying to qualify for a race.

Basically, there are two types of motivation:

Internal or External

True, we are all motivated by our goals (qualifying for an event, placing at a certain spot, finishing in a specific time) and goals are “external” but how we get to the goals – the motivation for that – can be from the inside or the outside of ourselves.

Those motivated by the inside are fairly easy. Sure, they’ve got some external rewards in their goals but you can see that it is the process of getting there, of overcoming themselves, of learning along the way that truly gets them going. They cross a line and think to themselves – I did it because I can. They don’t care how long it took or where they finished, they’re filled up by mastery of the process and staying out of their own way.

The others are a little more challenging. These are my Type A achievers. In our sport, there are a lot of Type A personalities. Think about it – who goes out and tries to not just do one but three sports? Yet being “Type A” is not a bad thing. A highly driven person will get very far in the world. They are used to excelling in school, getting ahead at work, doing whatever it is they set their mind to. They have a fierce work ethic and they will stop at nothing to achieve.

The problem is, however, that for that hard work they often receive a tangible reward. Perhaps it was getting an “A” or a raise, the corner office, an award, recognition, a write up in a magazine, “Dr.” in front of their name. Sure there are the warm good feeling inside that they also get but no doubt there in return for their hard work they got “something” else.

So, convincing these Type A athletes that in sport it’s ok if you don’t win or have the best body or finish on top is a challenging thing. To them, it’s usually all or nothing. You are either the best or the worst. There is no in between. I’m telling you, though, that in sport you will spend a lot more time in between than you may like. And if you are going to enjoy the sport and keep excelling at some point you just have to accept some time in the middle ground.

Here’s the deal: sometimes when you work hard in sport the result isn’t always tangible. For example; you might work hard and get faster for yourself but that doesn’t mean you will be the fastest. And it never guarantees you can win. In fact, you can work hard for years and you still may never be the best and may never run a 6 minute mile, or swim a 1:00 for a 100 or bike at have a high power to weight ratio. And that is frustrating. Because shouldn’t it be that you work really hard and get the “big” thing or at least become one of the best?

In many other areas in life – yes. In sport – sometimes no. Why? Because to some extent our potential is limited by our bodies and to a bigger extent by time. The one thing you cannot rush in sport is time. As someone once told me, in training there is a lot of TICK TOCK. *waiting* It takes years of muscular development and patience to approach your potential in sport.

So, what does this have to do with motivation? Realizing that it takes time – lots of time, more time than probably anywhere else in life for your hard work to pay off – you must be motivated by different things. Those externally motivated may find more enjoyment if they become more motivated by the process, the little victories along the way rather than the end result. If not, they risk the all or nothing road paved by impatience. Getting close to the top, “winning”, getting recognition may not be immediately possible but down the road you might get closer every year. So if you are a person used to being motivated by those tangible things you have to change your perspective. You have to find something else about the experience or process motivating or else you will feel like you are doing all of your work for nothing.

Last year I had to rework my motivation. Trust me, I was always one of those “I will place in the top 3 of my AG and top 5 overall” at a race. I was used to setting tangible goals and getting there. Enter last year. That approach didn’t work out and showed me that there had to be something more to motivation. At the end of each race, there had to be something bigger to motivate me rather than my result. My results were not motivating. In fact, they were as close to failure as I had ever gotten and made me consider quitting. It’s easy to say “I would never quit” but when you find yourself racing like ass you start thinking – well maybe that would be easier than continuing.

I had to reset my motivation. It became more about learning than anything else. It became more about mastering one little part of the race than trying to put everything together for a victory. My victory became finding someone’s feet on the swim. Keeping someone in sight on the bike. Talking positively in my head. Yes, I celebrated each little victory like it was a win. Yes, I was still very far off from winning. But overall I became motivated by figuring out what was going on – to learn more about the sport and myself.

Maybe that is just being stubborn, stupid or wasting a lot of time. But for me, the motivating part of the sport became learning more about the process and myself. Of course it feels good to win and to get rock star recognition. But at some point that fades – because of injury, age or just an off year. It has to be bigger than that. You can rave about how your hard work leads to your hoped result but one day that formula won’t work and you will be faced with figuring out why and how to keep going from there. I don’t wish that on anyone but at the same time I learned more from being in that position, the position of failure than I ever did from any win.

So, what motivates you? If you went to your next race and achieved your desired result how would you feel? And if you didn’t achieve that result – how would you feel? It’s interesting to think about that – and it should reveal your motivation. Would you give up or would it push you to work harder? Would you feel embarrassed in front of your tri club or would you look at it as a stepping stone to your big thing?

I think we can learn something from both types of motivation.

Those externally driven could benefit from finding something in themselves or the process more rewarding at times. It’s ok to be driven by awards, placement, recognition – but at the same time you risk a lot. You must be very confident to take that approach. You must truly believe you are still a smart, strong athlete if you can only run “x:xx” per mile or if you have an off day. You also have to be willing to keep going if you have an off day. If that one person beats you on your off day – can you move on from that and keep working towards your goals? Learning to temper their impatience becomes part of training; breathe, tick tock, just do the work. I find those externally motivated can get really bogged down in what others think, unrealistic comparisons of themselves, measuring themselves with the day to day ruler of pace, time, numbers, or simplifying performance to the formula of hard work= success. There are many more factors to success than hard work, so it’s not a failure if you don’t succeed after putting in nothing but hard work.

And those motivated by the inside can stand to get a little fire under their ass from time to time. It’s ok to be pushed by the clock or race the guy in the next lane. It is a race after all. It’s ok to race angry or really want to be first. These athletes also get a little too lost in their own details. Overthinking, getting in their own way. Sometimes you have to tell them to get over themselves. Remind them that being competitive is not a bad thing. Get out of your own head and get into the game. Sometimes abandon your plan and just respond to the race or workout as it unfolds. And by all means don’t make excuses or nice with yourself. If you didn’t reach your goal – it’s ok to beat yourself up a little. That is what will drive you towards the next thing.

In either case you need to be motivated to achieve. And it’s totally normal for motivation to fluctuate from time to time. It is easy to be motivated when it’s sunny and 70 degrees. Duh! Who wouldn’t want to train. It’s harder to be motivated when it’s 40 and pouring rain. How you react in those situations also taps into your real motivations. Also, it is easy to be motivated when you are racing and the feedback is immediate. It is harder to stay motivated when you are by yourself in your basement training yourself into this big “what if”. What if this works. What if it doesn’t work. Will it all be worth it? Again, think about: what is your motivation.

Using different types of motivation at different times of the year might be helpful. Right now I keep setting small training goals for myself. “I want to break xxx watts on my next bike test.” Each trainer ride I said that to myself and for my next test – I did it. The reward – for me was feeling POWERFUL but maybe for someone else it would be something external – buying something new, telling friends about their numbers, etc.

Today, think about it – what would get you fired up and keep pushing regardless of weather, impatience, time of the year, etc. What motivates you? And once you determine that, what can you do to stay motivated on the path to achieve? Ask others. What works for someone may or may not work for you but get some ideas. Look around and think it through. Find your reasons why you do this – and then think about how you will stay motivated to get there. Be creative. There is more than one way to stay motivated. And your motivations may change as the year progresses or as you progress in the sport.

To finish this all up, the athlete asked what motivates me. Good question. At the end of the day there is nothing more motivating to me than proving something to myself. I have been in this sport since 1999 – that makes me a dinosaur in tri-years and for all of my accomplishments nothing has been more rewarding than what I have learned about myself and proved to myself. Last year when I set out as a pro I realized very quickly I had nothing to prove to anyone else. This is my time. These are my goals. What anyone else thinks of them or me is irrelevant to the meaning I get out of all of it. I’m here to prove something only to myself and every day that motivates me.

Onward!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Having Fun

WARNING: Men, you might just want to stop reading right now. Mom, you too. Anyone easily offended or convinced that we come from a stork, please tune out. This is not the blog for you today.

Are they gone?

Last week I took a visit to the doctor. That doctor. The gynecologist. Actually not the doctor. Another nurse practitioner.

The reason I went was to make sure I was healthy. According to Chapter 3, line 28 in the ownership manual for having a vagina (and fear not – I will only use the word once), you must visit the gynecologist at least once a year. If you miss your routine check up you might one day find your vagina at 45,000 miles requiring a front end alignment, new spark plugs and a battery recharge.

None of which are very cheap.

Folks, this is not a simple piece of equipment to have. It takes care. I am telling you. I have often thought if I was faced with the decision of do you want a penis or do you want a vagina (sorry, I used it again) I am not sure I could choose. True the penis has a mind of its own but have you met vagina? It is not exactly nice. If you ask my friend Chris S., he will say that anything the woman does that is crazy, nuts, neurotic, bitchy, aloof, sinister, pure evil, over the top, otherwise inexplicable can be traced back to one thing and one thing only…

The vagina.

That is the last time I will use the word because honestly it is starting to scare even me. So I am at the doctor’s and had to fill out a long story of the life history of my private parts and private practices and it left me face to face with the nurse I met with before the nurse practitioner who asked me a series of questions.

The first thing she asked was my height then my weight then she told me why she didn’t just weigh me in the first place because I’m not pregnant and because most women know their weight anyways and at this point I think it really would have been easier if she had just put me on the scale.

Next up she confirmed everything I filled out in the packet they sent to me 3 days before the visit was indeed true. In case I lied. In case I do not have a vagina after all.

Then she asked me if my family really was as healthy as I made them out to be and if I was healthy too. Your mother? Yes. Your father? Yes. Your brother? Yes! For crying out loud we are relatively healthy and sassy Italian folk. Next question. To confirm alleged healthiness she took my pulse, my blood pressure (90 over 62 thank you and yes at this point in the conversation I felt dead too) and then gave me a sheet, a paper gown and said the nurse practitioner would be right in.

I am looking at the gown and thinking to myself – why. Why must woman go through this? Has a man every been tossed a paper gown and a sheet, told to strip of everything and sit in a cold doctor’s room waiting to be touched somewhat inappropriately? Turn and cough is nothing compared to this. In fact, I am convinced that if man had a vagina by now he would have called the whole world off. A few weeks ago I asked Chris what he would do if he got cramps and felt like poo on a stick for at least 2 weeks out of the month.


His reply: “I would probably spend those weeks drinking.”

Exactly.

So, if man had a vagina it is safe to say that he would spend half of his time drunk in a bar drowning out his pain and commiserating with his other menstruating friends. Nothing would get done. And woman would probably be the historically dominant gender celebrating her strength and virility at happy hour while complaining about her husband’s moodiness.


But back to the table. You go to enough of these yearly exams and by the time you are 33 you realize one thing – you are totally over the “I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman doctor phase”. I want a woman and I want it done short, sweet with as little talk as possible. And would it kill them to give me a gown that actually closes in front?

Thank you.

I am in the paper gown which is a lovely look if I may add. How can I get one of these for home when I am feeling risky I will run around held together only by the string – that little string. Is that string a joke? You cannot close the gown with the string. The string is just there for looks. I forget about the string and hold the gown closed instead. I may be in a safe place but I have some humility.

The NP comes into the room. She apologizes that it is cold and doubly apologizes because she also has cold hands. I tell her it’s ok. She says “wait until the breast exam.”

Ok. Please. Stop. Right. There.

She reviews my medical charts, history and then asks me the purpose of my visit today.

I want to be sure I am healthy. Just a check up please. Kind of like getting my oil changed. Also you should know that I have vowed to my husband and family that at the end of this year I will try to start producing babies. I will try. Give it my best. I want to be sure I am fully functional and all of the necessary parts are there in working order.

I realize I have said the wrong thing. Because she then launches into a missive about how to make babies. Please check my chart. My DOB is 7-28-75. I am 33. I know how to make the babies thank you. I know when to make them as my body tells me at day 14 every month WHY AREN’T YOU MAKING THE BABY YET. It’s like one of my eggs wakes up in the middle of night 14 like the man on the Dunkin’ Donuts commercial (circa late 80’s) and says wearily “time to make the baby”. But it never happens. To my eggs, an apology. To my family, please wait a few more months. To this Nurse Practitioner, please stop talking.

She tells me that I should plan to naturally have fun with my husband on days 10 through 18 of the month. That’s right - at least 3 times she reminds me to “have fun” when trying. Don’t make it a chore. Let it happen naturally. I feel like I’m in the 5th grade watching the “what’s happening to my body” movie except it’s being narrated live in front of me. If I wasn’t wearing a paper gown I would have gotten up and just run west. I’m not sure what is located west but it seems like a safer bet.

Then she tells me to be sure to eat my fruits, vegetables and protein. And to keep my heart rate below 140 during exercise.

Whoa. Whooooa. Wait a minute. What are you talking about here? Are you trying to tell me that when having fun and making the baby I cannot exceed zone negative one?

We have a problem here.

She then tells me that she is “super conservative” about exercise when trying to get pregnant. In my mind I am crossing her off my list of possible medical staff that will be given the honor of helping me to deliver the world’s most perfect child with a supremely high V02 max and a power to weight ratio that will rival Lance Armstrong.

Don’t think I don’t have big dreams for this not yet made baby.

Because listen, I am not like the other 20980293840298340923 women that come in here living on a diet of splenda and skipping breakfast every day thinking that the fruit in their Yoplait counts as an actual fruit serving. True that for them getting their heart rate to 140 is probably like my heart rate at 180. Is there not some type of special chart or chapter you can refer to for when dealing with athletes?

“Very conservative.”

Noted. (note to self: find new OB/GYN)

Then she listens to my lungs. My heart. She takes off her stethoscope and looks at me solemnly.

I wonder to myself: Am I dead?

“So, what kind of exercise do you do?”

I tell her lots. She then says “so all of that stuff I just told you about eating right and not smoking and keeping your heart rate low - you probably didn’t need to hear that?” No. Not really. I don’t plan on following up my mile repeats with a cigarette any time soon.

“And you probably wear a heart rate monitor every day?”

Sometimes it is part of my wardrobe.

“How high can you get your heart rate?”

Is this is a trick question? Are we talking swim, bike or run? Because it is different. I tell her 180s. 190s on a really hot day. Over 200 on the track about 10 years ago. I’m thinking she might readjust based on those numbers – give me some extra credit, at least an upper limit of 150.

“You would have to keep it in the 140s.”

*Every time you say that I want to never come back here that much more*

She then starts examining while trying to make conversation. Let’s pretend this isn’t awkward but then again she chose this career path. This is her job. And you thought your job was bad. She is asking me more questions and I keep giving her healthy answers and I want to say to her, listen if you are trying to uncover the one unhealthy thing about me it is coffee so let’s just get it out there right now but other than that…I am CLEAN.

Do you feel this way: as an athlete it is like you are not even part of the real world? Like the rest of the world exists in this maelstrom of fast food and sloth while you are – gasp – actually taking care of yourself and the medical staff of the world is besides themselves with what to do with you. You are the anomaly.

We live in a very wrong world – don’t we? There should be lots of people out there like us, healthy with their only real hazard before baby making being a husband that likes hot tubs (starting this fall, he’s out of the hot tub and might have to remove his bicycle seat). But alas – the hot tub is the least of most people’s concerns. It is their indolence, their conveniently fast diet devoid of anything real and nutritious and their otherwise bad habits of smoking or drinking in excess.

Sigh.

I’m not saying that everyone does that. But it sure does seem like in the past two weeks in visiting two doctors that I – mostly healthy – am the strangest thing they have seen in a long, long time.

The visit wraps up with her saying that I am….pretty healthy. Of course if something is wrong they will call me. And so she wishes me well until I see her again later this fall. Until then “have fun”.

If she says it one more time I’m going to stuff my paper gown into her mouth and run west, really fast with my heart rate around 180.

190 if she gets anywhere near me with a plastic glove again.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Leaving Camp

The morning was, in a word, glorious.

Cheryl, Jennifer (Daisy), Amy and I headed out for an easy 27 mile ride. The sun was shining, blue skies and surprisingly light wind. The pace was comfortable. I reserved my spot in the back of the line for the first half just taking in the surroundings and enjoying my last outdoor ride until I head to Tucson in early March. About half way through the ride, Jennifer and I traded the lead a few times and kept the line cruising along.

And this is the hardest part about traveling for a training trip in winter – could you imagine if every day you could ride outside? If you could run in shorts and a shirt and call yourself dressed? If you could swim in an outdoor pool?

What kind of athlete would you be?

Some strength training with Heather and then the camp concluded. A quick share of final thoughts and we headed back to our separate lives. For one weekend we came together, learned, laughed and got a glimpse at the sunny life of a triathlete in Florida.

One of the best things about a camp is the dynamic of the groups, a variety of personalities mixed together with one thing in common: we are all athletes that love the sport. What better reason to get together?

A few reflections:

Amy: Strong as an ox, this girl can ride. If I am that fast at 45 and look that good please somebody pinch me. She has no idea how strong she is. Jen and I must have told her a dozen times girl you are meant to ride with the big boys – get out there!

Cheryl: I’m not sure Cheryl ever broke a sweat out there. That chick is rock solid and she can ride. I’d watch out for her – what’s underneath that quiet is a strength that I wouldn’t want to tangle with on the swim and the bike. Get out there in front of the race Cheryl and own it!

Jen C: Peppy, zippy, springy. I keep seeing this image of her doing running man in the running store. She has the zippyness of a 12 year old and a spring in her step. Not only that but she can ride like a rocket. If someone takes off she’s right on their wheel. She is more powerful than she gives herself credit for and as I told her many times this weekend – STEP IT UP! She’s got what it takes.

Holly: Holy crap where did she come from!?! Great open water swim stroke and taught herself how to swim. Not only that – but girl can hang on no matter what the speed. Always smiling, pleasant, excited.

Courtney: Definitely the sleeper. If you watched the IM Arizona coverage, her husband was featured as the soldier who trained for the race while in Iraq. Well, surprise surprise – he signed his wife up for the race this year! Incredibly talented and speedy for someone just starting out – and to see her dressed in all of Heather’s gear was absolutely adorable.

Monica: To be so young and so spirited! Ah, I want to be 24 again and just starting out. So patient, kind and caring about all of the athletes. Great to have her there for support.

Rachelle: What I like most about Rachelle is that she does the work. You tell her what to do and it’s as good as done. No excuses, no overanalysis, she stays out of her own way. Plus she’s a workhorse. She came to me this year with an ambitious goal and I told her that we would have to work hard to get there. After meeting her this weekend, I confirmed what I’ve been learning all along – she’s willing and ready to do the work to there.

Kristen: Has what it takes - and needs to let it out! No more nice! There is strength that is just waiting to grow – I saw It on the bike. Loved her sense of humor – wearing the pink jersey, laughing at my short shorts on the run.

Kate: Sooooooooooooooo sweet, smiley and calm. Also so much stronger than she knows. Ironman is her distance. Not sure anything could disrupt her or shake her calm. Great attitude for long distance! Also I am giving her the vote for most pink wardrobe – and bike.

Melissa: Oh Melissa. Kind of looks like the Little House on the Prairie girl but would have been kicked straight out of the farmhouse for dancing or forgetting her “filter”. Wow. Zingy. Tall. Legs Magoo. Learning to tap into her inner animal on the bike. Push those pedals and hurt! It’s in there. Let it out.

Molly: Pippi with her longstocking braids and innocent smile. Inside, however, is a monster that I think we unleashed with 4 words: make her your bitch. I wanted to push Molly this weekend on the bike – to get her to find those big gears, push them with force. It worked. On Saturday I could tell Molly was tired at the start of the ride. She would do most of the ride alone and rather than giving up or feeling down she said to me “I need to do this.” YES YES YES! I was so proud of her at that moment. Getting better is not about winning every workout. It’s not always about keeping up. Sometimes it’s about being dropped or finding yourself on a ride tired and alone – the processes and thoughts that go through your head and how you work through them are what make a better athlete. So many athletes get impatient or down on themselves before they even give themselves a chance to get better.

Miss Daisy: Like cheese, definitely is getting better with age. Enough said.

Sondra and Sherry Lynn: Wonder twins activate form of peppy girls with so much spirit for the sport I wanted to put streamers on their aerobars. I LOVED THESE TWO! I want what they’re drinking because it’s full of GRRRRRRRRRR! Totally impressed here – who is in their first year and hangs on to a paceline in their first group ride? Who? These two did.

Heather: What can you say about a champion that you wouldn’t already expect? Like I said – nothing fancy to her success. A clear understanding that her body is her business. What would you do if your body was your business? How would you treat yourself? You would eat often and well, you would take your recovery seriously, you would believe in yourself, you would commit to your goals, you would spend more time focusing on what you’re doing than wondering about everyone else. You would actually do it – not just talk about it, read about it or wait and wish. Not only that but how many pros would take a weekend out of their training schedule to share what they know with you? Completely selfless, passionate and down to earth. Ever wonder what it takes to be a champ?

Todd (her husband): BEST SHERPA EVER. Gave up his entire weekend to drive us, feed us, photograph us, direct us, clean up after us…patient, witty. What a catch.

Me. With the exception of swimming, I do my training alone. I do my thing and do it the best I can. I don’t get caught up in comparing myself day to day because I know it’s patterns over time that count. I'm fairly patient with the process. But in all the work I do week to week, waiting is the hardest. Some days I’m cruising on the treadmill, some days I literally feel like Fat Elvis running 1 minute per mile slower than I would like. My longest ride has been 1:45 on the Computrainer. I haven’t run outside more than once in the past 5 weeks. All that said, I had no idea where I was at or how things were going - I wait, I trust but really...who knows? This past weekend I realized that fitness is fitness no matter where it is done. Indoors, outdoors, if you follow your plan and commit to yourself fitness it will transfer when and where the time is right. You cannot expect to be fast and fit when it’s 10 degrees outside or on a treadmill. But when spring emerges or you find yourself in a sunny place, if you trust your plan and let it work for you, you will find yourself feeling fitter than you expected. You realize you are an athlete- no matter where you live. You work hard. That counts for something. The miles on the trainer, the pace on the treadmill – all irrelevant for right now. Do the work. It will pay off. I realized this past weekend, I’m right on track. Moving along and when the time is right I will get where I want to go…

At the end of the camp, Heather, Jennifer and I talked about next year. We will do the camp again. We appreciate the patience of the campers this year as we learned what works, what needs work and will put together a camp for 2010 for strong women looking to escape to a sunny place with other athletes.

Can’t wait. Thanks to everyone for a great weekend!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

What Time Do We Have To Get Up?

If it was up to Miss Daisy we would have been in bed until 9:30 am watching tv. Small problem. The television was "broken" along with the phone. I told Jen we were NOT switching rooms again so she put in a repair order.

Meanwhile, we went out for the day. The day of course started early. We met at the coffee shop then drove over to a park to meet up with Heather for a run. Deciding that simply running was not enough, Heather kicked off her day with a 5K. And then she went for a run with us on a beautiful series of trails. The group split up into smaller groups with Heather, Courtney, Jen and I running along. It was a gorgeous morning and the pace was nice. And then maybe it was just me but it felt like the pace kept picking up, picking up until we were cruising along at a pace I will just call so so so much better than treadmill.

I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to run outside.

I finished up some extra time on my own to get in my long run. I wanted to take advantage of the trails and just enjoyed being out there, my mind wandering by myself in the sun. Glorious.

Afterwards, some of the brave went to the ocean and the rest of us went to the pool (I do not do 56 degree water). Heather and I led the campers through some open water skills and drills. It was good to be in the water with the girls to get them to stay right on our feet or practice how to draft. Never mind the creepy guy that was watching us underwater a few lanes over....ick.

Ok then on to some lunch and off for a ride. ANOTHER RIDE! WOO HOO! I rode along with Molly, Kate and some others doing a rotating paceline. Many of these girls had never ridden in a paceline before and they looked like rockstars riding down the road. Everyone held their line and took their pulls. YEAH!

After a short break and regroup forgive me but I decided it was time to drop the hammer but I had good reason. There was some talk from Miss Jen Cunnane and Holly that the hammer was noticeably absent yesterday and I told myself I could not let down the St. Louis girls. Miss Daisy was right on my wheel with Cheryl, Jen and Holly right there and we were cruising along at a pace I will call under control but still a little manic.

IT FELT GREAT!

The second loop around I did some riding with Molly and Kate then rode by myself for quite some time, time trialing. I thought to myself how incredible the feeling was - riding down a flat road, wind in my face, completely alone. Nothing but the sound of wheels on pavement, the sun shining and nowhere to go. I had no phone, no one around me, no idea where I was and I could have ridden like that forever. Completely lost in the moment, it was a ride I will remember for a very long time.

We regrouped and then Jen, Daisy, Amy, Cheryl, Heather and I took off down the road. Good riding, fast times, fun. Nothing more to say except when Daisy and Jen took off a bit requiring a few massive surges which felt GREAT (ha) after the past 2 days.

The evening was pancakes and pjs. I've been watching Heather (not in a crazy way) and there's so much chatter on forums about what pro's do, eat, how do they train. While I'm sure there are some crazy deviations in pros, Heather just seems to be really down to earth and simple. There is nothing fancy. She was doing drills in the pool - those same boring drills that no one likes to do because drils are...boring. She eats normal food like a normal person (and put down a few chocolate covered pancakes for dinner). She wears a heart rate monitor. She rides hard but knows when it's time to ride easy. She knows herself and trusts what she knows.

We finished up by analyzing swim stroke videos and then called it a night. There's one more workout tomorrow and some strength. I'm tired but a good tired. There was good work - nothing over the top, just solid work with some great gals in a beautiful place.

Now, as for the tv. It is on and we are watching Miss Daisy's favorite - a crime show (she also likes prison shows). The repairman came up a few hours ago and Daisy said "the tv is broken." The guy picks up the remote, points it at the tv and...huh. The tv goes on.

I politely informed him that the elderly have trouble with electronics.

As soon as CSI is over, I'm going to bed.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Happy Camper

Where to begin?

The trip to Florida was relatively uneventful and set against the soundtrack of Jen Harrison chatting about...about...I'm not sure but there was a lot of chatting. There were about a half dozen "Miss Daisy" moments where Jen would be telling a story and then in the middle of it say "I forgot where I was going with it".

We are in Florida to help Heather Gollnick lead a camp with a bunch of really fast chicks. Some are bloggers, some are not - but all are athletes and together we are all having a good time.

After a delightful car ride with Heather's father, who in about 60 minutes convinced us to move ourselves and our entire family to Florida (he had me sold), we went to the bike shop hosting the camp. It's really a cool set up - imagine a bike shop with a comfortable coffee shop attached to it and a giant leather couch. And, a giant leather chair big enough for both Molly and I to sit in at the same time.

Last night we talked about motivation and shared some stories. Perhaps the most interesting thing for me at this camp is that I am not only a coach here but also a camper as I get to learn from 5-time Ironman champion, Heather Gollnick.

You learn a lot when you listen to a champion. What came across to me was Heather's inuitive sense of herself; a trusting, a knowing. She shared some of her strategies which were simple but I think that is why they work - focus on the task at hand, control what you can control (YOU) and let go of everything else.

This morning started early with bagels and lots of coffee (for me). The group departed for an easy run which was supposed to last 30 minutes. However....Miss Daisy and I got a little turned around, missed a turn and ended up running a little longer and hoping that running towards the highway would get us back where we started. I've never been lost on a run and let me tell you - it is not as fun as being lost on a bike.

Afterwards we went to a great running store called Fit 2 Run. I stood on this machine that had sensors where my feet had pressue (or something like that) and saw my feet! Heather led us through a bunch of run drills. I quickly learned that Jen Cunnane can do a mean running man and I cannot hop on one foot.

Next up we got suited up to ride. There are about 15 of us at camp and we broke into little groups for two loops. For the first loop, I rode with Melissa, Rachelle, Molly and Kristen to break them of the Mary Poppins with little dog Toto in the basket type riding. Girls are too nice on their bikes. It's time to get a little angrier and RIDE! Basically, I told Molly that in a group ride scenario her goal is to make someone her bitch. Use someone's wheel then surge to the next one. Quit being so nice! I am not sure if they liked it but I had them practice surging to catch someone's wheel to really tap into their inner animal on the bike. Sometimes people wonder what it takes to get faster or breakthrough to that next level - it takes a willingness to hurt while trusting your legs will be there. Because usually they will. And if they are not, you took a risk and learned your limit. Each time you ride you will take one more risk and make it just a little farther and sooner than you think you'll be riding (or swimming or running) with the big boys. I made Molly throw down her gears and ride like hell to catch Melissa's wheel. All the while I am shouting MAKE IT HURT! Molly did and once she caught Melissa's wheel it was time to recover and catch her breath. Then I told her to pass Melissa and high tail it to Kristen's wheel! I'm not sure Molly liked that. I did the same to all of the girls and then saw Heather ahead....I told Melissa, listen how often do you get to draft off of Heather Gollnick? I pulled Melissa to Heather's wheel to her to hang on....hoping she would never forget what it was like to draft off a champion. Melissa hung on for the rest of the loop. She was a champ!

The second loop we were in different groups. I ended up in a group with Jen Cunnane, Cheryl Stine, Amy (I think...from Louisville?), Heather and Monica. We did some pacelining and moved at a nice clip down what was probably the flattest road I have ever ridden on (coming from Illinois that is something to be noted). Everything was under control until Heather said something about sprint to the finish and I said to Jen C. something like "no thanks" but then heard myself say "why not" and then took off at a pace a bit beyond my upper limit right now catch Heather but by some divine miracle of what must have been tailwind and a downhill gradient I pull ahead of her and say "I win" (I mean really how often do you get to say that to Heather) then she pulls out the old "no, it's to the stoplight" and at that point I think my heart rate was in zone 13989023840923 when I just laughed at myself and again said "no thanks" and this time...listened.

After that I ate a lot of food and then we went to the pool to watch everyone swim. I enjoyed the chance to really watch Molly and Rachelle up close to see some improvements we could make in their swim stroke.

Then I went back to the hotel and enjoyed some hot tubbing with Molly (please, mind out of the gutter thank you).

And then...it began. The Jen Harrison food meltdown. I will spare you the details but after we packed up all our stuff and changed rooms because she heard a door opening all night (elderly are such light sleepers) she then started to have a food meltdown. The next 30 minutes were really quiet until she got food again and came back to life.

Dinner was delightful and afterwards we went back to our new room and Kate brought us cupcakes. I joked that it was like a booty call but better because it was with cupcakes. And the cupcakes were REALLY good.

Now it is bed time. I'm exhausted. If we weren't moving we were talking. If we weren't talking we were eating. Very little time for anything else.

Tomorrow - run, swim, bike, food....all the good things.