Sunday, June 28, 2009

Racing Without Consequence

To quote an old friend, “racing is like pizza; even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.”

I go to every race wanting to give it my best. If I can focus, race with intensity and stay driven towards giving it my best then I’ve had a good race. No matter what place I finish, no matter how long it takes me. Sure, I’d like to set personal bests and beat my best age group times – but that hasn’t happened yet. It might never happen. I just keep giving it the best I can.

Today I gave it my best. It wasn't enough.


Last night I couldn’t sleep. I’ve never had trouble sleeping before a race. I laid in bed awake for 3 hours watching time tick by. I couldn’t slow my mind down. I would start to relax then my mind would start spinning again. I was keeping Chris up. I asked him what to do since he sometimes has trouble sleeping before races. His words, “you lay there until it’s go time.”

Up at 3:45 am, I think I drank 32 ounces of coffee to wake myself up and get things going – but I feel like NEITHER happened. Driving to the race site the winds were blowing – hard. The trees were swayed to the southwest as the wind blew from the northeast. It was dark. There was a long line of traffic waiting to get into the canyon.

Finally we arrived. I set up my transition area in the complete darkness. Hoped that I remembered everything then headed to the beach. The water was choppy and skies were dark. At that moment I told myself “when you get in the water you will relax.” And I did. The water felt so warm and relaxing. I warmed up with some strokes and finally felt calm. Sooner than I knew it, it was time to start.

Out to the first buoy I kept up with the front group but slowly they began pulling away. Still, they were always within sight, their arms coming out of the water making white chop visible from a few minutes back. I started drafting off a woman and also had a woman on my feet. This is a good place I told myself, I‘m with people. There is a big difference between swimming with the pros – you rarely use a wetsuit and you often swim alone (unless you can maintain the lead pack pace). To have women around me was a HUGE goal of mine. And, to focus throughout the swim. Focus on your strengths, focus on your plan, focus fully, I kept telling myself. I found a smooth rhythm and at the last turn buoy I picked up the pace. Which then meant I was leading the little pack all the way to the shore.

I exited the water with a few women behind me. I kept telling myself I will get into transition and there will still be other bikes there. THERE WERE! Coming out of transition is a big hill that I climbed conservatively. Then a short ride out of the park. A girl passed me then I passed her back. Then she passed me once we made the turn onto 400 into the wind.


The wind. It was blowing. I know wind. Still doesn’t mean that I’m strong into it. I put my head down. I did the work. The tailwind sections were great. I was cruising over 25 mph and descending into the canyon at nearly 39! But then heading back into the wind after the first turnaround the wind was like a wall that I kept running into over and over again. The good news is that another tailwind section was not too far away. So I kept breaking it up into tailwind/headwind. You work, you relax.

The bike was moving along ok until I was descending the spiral staircase. It started to rain and the riders coming up started crossing the center line. I kept telling myself that the next tailwind was only a few miles away. Around mile 40 I noticed Chris on the side of the road at a van. A man was replacing his rear wheel. Did he crash? I was kind of worried. Chris said “I’m ok! Keep going, Liz!” Turns out that Chris flatted and forget to bring along a valve extender. So using Fix a Flat was not an option. He rode his flat back a few miles to a van that had extra wheels and got a new rear wheel to use. I cannot tell you how proud I am of him for doing that and then finishing. So many racers are so pent up about how their times look or their placement that they would have just called it a day. Chris just finished the job – because he could. Because he was there. Good for him.

Meanwhile, it is now pouring rain. Age groupers have stopped passing me because really how fast can you go in the rain? I was riding through puddles, contending with the wind and getting very wet very fast. At this point I also realized I was going to be on the bike so long I would have to use my emergency gel – the one you pull in case of emergency, ie, in case you are on the bike beyond the original time planned. That wasn’t too motivating but I kept telling myself to stay in the game, keep racing, keep up the intensity. I wasn’t getting anywhere very fast but little by little I was chipping away at this course.

I arrived in transition finally. Seriously, that was a long ride. But what can you do. Like I said, you do the best you can and if that isn’t good enough on a day then….you at least know you gave it your best. Coming into transition I was losing motivation. I squatted for a pee since everything was wet anyways. I looked at my transition area in a puddle. I looked at my running shoes completely soaked. The thought of putting on wet shoes for a 13.1 mile run was not appealing but then I thought of something…

I thought about my athletes. About Molly, Rebecca and Anne riding longer than I just did in the pouring rain at Boise. About my IMCDA finishers last weekend who finished their race in wind and rain. About Stef who had how many flats but still finished Silverman. My other athletes who would KILL for a finishing time that I would get today. And I realized I had no excuse. I had reasons – discomfort, rain, slow time – but those are just that – reasons. Not excuses.

So I went for that run. I told myself to give it a mile, then reassess. I made it to the first mile in the low 7’s – not a great pace but not too bad. I could do this. The next mile was about the same. Keep going. By mile 3 I told myself I had made it halfway to the halfway point so why not go further. There were two big climbs and I passed a pro on one of them. And then I realized that I was no longer in last place. That kept me running. My athletes kept me running. The fact that I just like to race kept me running out there.

By the long stretch of flat road to the turnaround, I was feeling ok. Legs weren’t zippy but they worked. I started seeing female pros and realized there was about a mile between me and a few of them…and I knew that in 6 miles I would not outrun them by 1 minute per mile but still – I give it my best. The motivation now was to just finish and not finish last. You know what – I don’t like that. Trust me, I’ve been to races and won and set PRs and “not finishing last” is not something I have ever had to strive for. None of us are raised to do things to “not finish last.” Ours is a culture of win, do your best, bring home the bronze, silver, gold. But things change. Perspective changes and sometimes your best is not being last. Believe me when I say that not finishing last is as hard as any win I’ve had. It’s not like I coasted to second to last place today. I worked for it.

At mile 9 I caught Chris. I could actually see him ahead most of the race and kept telling myself to keep him in my sights. Finally I did catch up to him at mile 9 when he started running the other way back UP the hill! I had no idea what he was doing – going out for a victory lap? Turns out his stomach dropped and he needed the port-o-let back a half mile. Poor guy. Not a great day for his first pro 70.3 race. I ended up beating him to the line. Later he told me that his only goal for the race was to get to the line first so he could wait for me and we could cross the line together. I think I melted. Because that would have meant a lot to me. Because I know that he worked really hard to get there today and so did I. We didn’t do our best but we gave it our best. We took a risk and raced without consequence.

I crossed the line in one of my slowest ever half Ironman times. Yes that sucks. But I don’t. It took me awhile to finally say that because trust me when I crossed the line I cried and said to Chris “why am I so bad at this?” Sometimes that is what I think. How can you be so good at something and then two years later be so bad? But I also know it’s a completely different level of competition. I will never regret taking this leap and giving it a try. I kept thinking there today that I do many things but I do not give up. If something isn’t going my way that is the price for taking the risk to see – what if…

Chris and I talked over food. It was actually Jeff Keil who suggested we go eat a lot of junk food to feel better about the race. Good call, Jeff, good call. I had a peanut butter brownie and a Texas turtle brownie – both were delicious. Anyways, it was so comforting to talk with Chris and share this with him. Yes we have raced together many times but now that we are both pro he “gets it”. He finally believes me when I said the first 200 meters of the swim are at a pace above balls out, that the game is different, that it’s 10 times more challenging but you will never regret trusting yourself enough to take the step up.

He agreed.

Still, I would be remiss to say that it feels “good” to finish second to last. Or that getting “beat” by age groupers you used to beat is a good feeling. Know what I mean? I see all of that. My stomach sinks a bit. But, I’m learning to let that go. This is about me and my progress. Yes despite a slow time I still make progress. I was less than 5 minutes behind the next pack on the swim. I was slow on the bike but my run wasn’t that far off. Yes I cried about this race and yes it hurts to take all the time to train, prepare and travel to it to finish second to last. Do I regret it? No. As long as you learn something from it, it is not in vain.

At one point, Chris asked me “Liz, do you want to go to Kona again?” I looked at him puzzled. “Do you want to go to Kona?” No, I said. I’ve been there twice. I had good times. “Do you want to medal in your age group at a 70.3 race?” No, I’ve done that many times. “Do you want to win the local sprint triathlon?” No, where are you going with this? “That is why you turned pro. You had nothing left you wanted to do.” And he was right. Chris and I have nothing left to prove, nothing to lose, nothing to fear. We were good amateur athletes. There is nothing wrong with discovering if you are a good or bad pro. If you are a bad pro at least you trusted yourself and let go of your ego enough to try.

The other side of fear is freedom. When you are unafraid to take a leap and step up to the next level you open yourself up to all new possibilities and lessons. Each race is a lesson, you learn something new. Chris may have finished his race over 70 minutes slower than his best half Ironman time but I am guessing he learned about 70 new things today. I know I did. And I will start by listing a few; 1 – leading a swim pack as a pro is a damn cool thing, 2 – I can descend hills at 39 mph in the rain, 3 – I peed on my race flats so it’s time for new ones, 4 – junk food cures any disappointment from a race, and 5 – as long as you get up one more time than you’ve been knocked down you’re on a winning streak.


*We just got back from awards and Chris got a roll down slot to Clearwater. He finished dead last in 5:17. Let me note that his PR for this distance is 4:06. He came out of the water last but was working his way up before the flat. I told Chris before the race to just cross the line – no matter what. Never give up because things aren’t going your way. His big goal for this year was just to qualify for Clearwater. It wasn’t the race he wanted but sometimes when you follow through and finish it for yourself it pays off. I’m so proud of him!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Race Ready

Yesterday we continued with our Tour de Lubbock – which you can complete in about 24 hours.

Lubbock is a strange town. There are over 200,000 living here but it still seems unpopulated and desolate. You’ll find pockets of stores and homes but then – nothing.

Speaking of nothingness we drove the race course. It reminded me of rides at home in between cornfields and not much else. No cornfields here but there are barren open fields with those oil pumps scattered throughout. You can feel the heat pulsing from the ground. It rises up in squiggly lines from the pavement – for miles down the road.

The course is much more challenging than I remember – and that’s a good thing. That means that once I get out there maybe it won’t feel like that much. Basically you ride along the flat roads and then dip in and out of the canyon about 8 times. Lubbock actually sits at 3250 feet elevation so there are canyons carved out and right now filled with green from recent rains. There are two significant climbs up what looks like a spiral staircase of twistyness. Other than that, long gradual climbs that oddly enough remind me of what you find in Hawaii. The run course does not relent. And I’m damn excited about that. Flat courses are great for rhythm and speed for hills are pure strength. There are two significant climbs – one shorter/steep and one long. The swim is in a spring-fed lake with nothing unusual to note. It’s quite warm right now making it a pro nonwetsuit swim.

I’m getting race ready.

The best thing about being a triathlete – you know that if packet pick up opens at 5 pm and you’re there at 4:59 – you won’t be the only one. In fact, you are guaranteed there will be a long line of antsy, driven athletes waiting to do the same.

We’re all definitely not one of a kind.

Packets picked up – check. At the expo we ran into Melissa Schwartz, Kim Schwabenbauer and Kristin Moore. It’s good to catch up and visit with old friends. Had some dinner afterwards then it was off to bed.

The sun sets here at 9 pm and doesn’t rise until 6:30 am. At home the sun has been rising around 5 am.


It's unusual to go to sleep when it’s light and wake up to darkness. We woke up early this morning to get our workouts done under conditions similar to race day. Headed out to Dunbar Lake again for a short run and spin. The temperature was already 78 degrees. Before 7 am. Today it's going to be 99!

I’ve got to admit I’m getting excited. For two reasons; first reason: last night I found my missing race shorts at the bottom of my race bag. I was so disappointed that I might have lost them. These are my all time favorite most comfortable shorts. I have serious sensory issues with shorts. I don’t like to “feel” them. These race shorts are made by Louis Garneau and they are perfect. Of course they didn’t smell so good and I can’t remember when or where I last wore them – but I’m glad they are back. Second reason for said excitement is that tomorrow I get to race. Yes, the forecast calls for 88 degrees and 15 – 25 mph winds but you know what…so what. That’s what makes racing good.

My bike is ready and so is all of my stuff. Actually got it ready last night. Thought about wearing my timing chip for the next day but realized that wearing a bright pink plastic bracelet that says TRIATHLETE is dorky enough.


Anyways, good luck to all racing! As Mike S. said to me, stay relaxed and focus. Coulnd't have said it better myself.

Friday, June 26, 2009

It's Getting Hot In Here

You know how you think you know how hot is hot? You race in Hawaii and promise yourself you’ll never complete about hot again? You should come to Texas. It’s hotter than Hawaii hot.

How hot is hot?

We got into the car last night at 5 pm. The thermometer read 115 degrees. I realize the car does not have pores and cannot cool itself while baking there. But still – that’s hot. We drove over to a lake for a short run. If you find yourself in a new town and you want to run, here’s a tip – go to Map My Run and browse through the local routes. I located one that included these words “flat course, scenic, low traffic and a strong methane smell if the wind is blowing from the south.”

PERFECT!

It actually was beautiful. An oasis surrounded by windmills rising out of the flat dusty plains by name of Dunbar Lake. There was a 2.84 mile paved loop around the lake. A few cyclists out there and plenty of other nonathletic riff raff. We started out thinking we’d be ok without water on a 2.84 mile loop. What is that – 20 minutes? Plus the temperature had cooled off to 97 degrees. Surely we can survive. I got about 14 minutes into it and the survivalistic thinking kicked in – I will die out here and crust to the pavement. Chris assures me the water is just ahead. It’s not. How do I know? Because there was a GIANT windmill near our car and I can see it around what looks like 10 miles away.

I got my water bottle in hand and clutched it for the next loop. I set off on my own. As I was running, a woman on a tri bike rode by. I thought to myself what are the chances that I know her? A few minutes later, she pulled up alongside me and said Elizabeth?

What are the chances that she knows me?

It was Elizabeth Rich! Yes, I know her – we met at Ironman Arizona. She’s from Arizona so she’s used to the heat. I am too, now, I think to myself. If I can get through 40 minutes of this NOTHING will ever feel this hot again. I did this run for the mental perks, the idea that you can keep moving forward when the heat presses on you. It’s just mind of matter. It usually is these conditions.

On the way back I did some pick ups – yay for telephone pole fartlek (I just love being able to say that and know that even though it sounds ridiculous it was very purposeful). I saw Chris going the other way, gave him some water, he told me “You’re ok, Liz. You’re ok.” Then he winked at me. Oh god - the heat is getting to him. Then he warned me that up ahead there were some kids passing the Dutchie on the left hand side in the woods. Good for them, they’re probably having more fun than us. When I finally passed them they whistled, I woo hooed and wanted to note that they were just passed - by me - on their left hand side.

After the run we headed out to the grocery store. There’s a really great market here with a healthy variety of foods. I made a giant salad but I also took time to check out the not so healthy foods. There were plenty. There was an entire CASE of brownies. I have my eye on the Texas Turtle Brownie and…Peanut Butter Brownie. That is an entire brownie made of…peanut butter and topped with a peanut butter cup. I won’t even tempt Marit and D with all of the sheet cake varieties. It was like cake in a box overload. I didn’t even know where to begin. On Sunday evening you’ll find me there very sugar intoxicated.

This morning we went to the grocery store again. This time for breakfast and Peet’s coffee. I like Peet’s coffee! On the way down the elevator, I noticed something in Chris’ hands.

What is that in your hands?

He started to unroll what appeared to be two crumpled plastic balls in his hands.

Chris….

He looks at me with plastic bags in hand like he just did a very bad thing.

Why do you have plastic bags?

We both know what is going on here. You see, Chris’ grandma is OBSSESSED with plastic bags. You cannot take anything from his parents house without it leaving in a plastic bag. You want mango? Ok. Get a plastic bag. There’s a running joke that if you can’t find something in their house chances are it is hidden in a closet wrapped in three plastic bags. When you say to her 'where is the so-and-so' she says look in the closet. When you tell her it's not there she says you no good at looking.

Chris tells me he saved the bags in case we wanted to go back and buy something. I’m thinking that if my helmet goes missing later I might find it in a hotel room drawer wrapped in two plastic bags.

Someone remind me too that I need to hide the orange race t-shirt that Chris insists on wearing. Does your husband have one of these shirts? Chris actually has two shirts that I would like to make go away. One is the BattleBots shirt that was given to him by Leslie Curley after she and her husband went to a machine show in Chicago. This BattleBots t-shirt is part of Chris’ normal weekend wear. Um, BATTLEBOTS!!! It’s dorky but I’m ok with it because it’s at least a normal (blue) color. This other t-shirt is from an adventure race and is bright orange. It’s just not a good color. ON ANYONE.

So we are at the grocery store, eating - and drinking coffee – of course – when I realized there are TWO other men in the vicinity wearing orange shirts. Then I look outside and see a woman walk by with an orange shirt. What the hell is going on?

It’s the new black.

Later on we will drive the race course. I remember bits and pieces of it from 3 years ago; the big climb out of transition. Descending on my road bike wishing I had my tri bike (turns out it decided to vacation without me in Ellenwood, Georgia – go back to the June ’06 blogs for that story). Seeing Natascha Badmann fly by in the other direction exuding nothing but grace and confidence. Watching Heather Fuhr work hard up a hill on the run. Hearing Jerry McNeill say “Liz Fedofsky, you’re going to Kona!” That was pretty exciting. Of course this time around there is not chance for Kona qualification (pros need to do a full IM to qualify) but there are plenty of other chances. Actually racing is not about chances at all – it’s about choices. You make choices out there. To be at your best or to be beaten by the race. The goal is to do your best by choice not chance.

Still, the race will be hard. They all are, aren’t they? I revisit my best swim, bike and runs from the past few weeks for a reminder that yes I can handle the hard. Hanging on JH’s feet for 1.5 laps at Lake in the Hills. The other night bolting to jump on to Liz D’s feet for the perimeter swim then hanging there for 100 yds. The women’s race, not letting up for one minute. That 3 x 20 hard ride with Chris. The other day loops at the lab doing 5 x 5 and Chris telling me “you’re not that far behind” (when riding with Chris that IS a compliment). The 6 x 2 hard at Herrick Lake. The 10K – besting my expectation by over 1 minute. There have also been some not so good workouts but that’s just part of being an athlete. The only thing I remember about those is that I got up the next day and kept working toward my goal.

Chris is sleeping again. Snug in his orange t-shirt. The only man I know that can drink 16 ounces of coffee and fall back to sleep. I think though it was the heavy cream that put him out. Leave it to Texas to have Heavy Cream available for your coffee. I wondered why there were chunks floating in his cup. Of course the Heavy Cream was right next to the Agave Nectar.

Which I found a little disturbing…?

Anyways, I’m up. That’s all that counts. It’s 10 am! For PEET’S coffee sake. Give your coffee some respect and look alive, boy, LOOK ALIVE!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Won't You Take Me To...Texas?

I’m on a plane heading to Albuquerque.

(I’ll admit it took me about 5 minutes and 10 iterations to figure out how to spell Albuquerque)


I'm refusing the snacks right now. I have an unwritten rule that you should not eat anything in a sealed foil bag before 10 am. Nor should you smoke, drink pop or nachos. All things I’ve seen before 10 am. And when you see that before 6 am something inside of you just shivers and dies, doesn’t it?

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write for a few days. I’ve just been busy. Dozens of thoughts have been stirring in my head about dozens of things. I just need more time.

Time. Where does it go? I’ll tell you where mine went. I spent the better part of yesterday driving. In less 24 hours I drove over an Ironman. We’re talking 145 miles. Most of them through the suburbs. At about 35 mph. Which is like saying I rode 100 miles with one crank. It’s very painful and there has to be an easier way.


It started with my weekly drive into Chicago. That is a relatively harmless drive as long as I leave the house by 3 pm and it’s not raining. Rain slows the traffic down. But did you also know that heat slows traffic down? In the hierarchy of things that can really f*ck up the flow of traffic I’d like to list in order of f*ck-upped-ness; (1) snow, (2) heat , (3) rain, (4) gaper’s delay, (5) Cubs game. Let’s cover the heat first – it has a worse effect than snow. I’m not sure why but I think low electrolytes, bloating and a general sluggish feeling impairs a driver’s ability to…step on the gas. Snow and rain – those are obvious. They are hazards and you should drive slow. Gaper’s delay always pays off when you realized the traffic slowed to 6 mph just to watch some guy change a flat tire. And, lastly, Cubs game – I learned that if you get on the highway and notice the traffic crawling under 4 mph there is a good chance that the guy in the car next to you, behind you, in front of you and a few cars up is wearing a Cubs jersey.

Not a baseball fan.

As you can see, so much driving took it’s toll on me. It also didn’t help that summer exploded around here in 96+ degrees in the past few days. Obstacle? Not really. I call it an opportunity to crash acclimate to the intense heat that awaits me in Texas (which is where we are going via Chicago via Albuquerque – doesn’t it seem like there should be another “r” in there?). Since it was winter until about a week ago, I needed to re-teach my body to sweat and think straight in intense heat. So, I convinced myself that driving 145 miles with no air conditioner would be great training. It was. I was sweaty, uncomfortable and had a millions thoughts with the letters DNF. Eventually I just got used to it. But I’ll admit 145 miles later I had a raging case of road rage and I smelled like a monkey.

I also desperately needed a (sports) drink and a salt tab.

All of this driving and ado was in preparation for our trip to Texas. Let me just say that I like Texas. Maybe I just like the idea of Texas. Southwestern Texas that is. I like the idea of having wide open spaces. I like the idea of owning a ranch. And what would I raise on that ranch?

Chihuahuas.

A few years ago we traveled to San Angelo, Texas, and I really liked that place. For two reasons: 1 – they had a great gourmet coffee shop there. And 2 – they had an even better shop for tasting wine.

That about did if for me.

En route to Texas was a layover in Albuquerque. The view from the airport windows was beautiful because it had something I never get to see – mountains. Even better was my experience in the coffee line. I accidentally bumped into the woman behind me with my laptop bag. Sorry. She gives me a smug look. Oh get over yourself it’s just a laptop bag. She got in front of me while I mistook the order here line for the order here line when really I was supposed to skip the order here line and go straight to the pay here line instead (do simple things have to be so complicated?). While waiting I heard her order a cheese danish. I thought to myself – you don’t need that Danish because nobody does. There had to be 6 inches of circumference to that danish. Which means the danish had a radius of 3. Knowing that, Chris and I calculated that there was over 27 square inches in that danish. (pi r-squared = 3.14 x (3x3) = roughly 27 inches) = area of one said cheese danish. Not only did she willingly purchase and agree to eat 27 inches of danish but then got snippy about being shortchanged a dime.

10 cents.

Anyhow, we made it through another flight to arrive finally in Texas. We quickly recalled the setting from our last trip here. Three years ago when I did this race and Chris had to join me to bring my bike. We remembered a few things – going to Prairie Dog Town and a really nice grocery store. The more important things about a town. After eating some lunch we actually headed over to Prairie Dog Town. Driving in Chris provided the soundtrack by singing won't you take me to...prairie dog town. We watched the prairie dogs. Here’s a recap: stand on top of dirt hole, dig in dirt, stand on top of dirt hole, chirp at your friends who are standing on top of their dirt hole, run into your hole, dig more hole. It was fascinating but it was no Meerkat Manor. We did walk around the perimeter of the town because dammit I just had to move. I called it heat acclimating, Chris called it a hot walk at way too fast of a pace.

If you think this is fast, wait until Sunday.

Next up we walked around the local arboretum. I like plants so imagine my delight when I located the arboretum – we had to go! It was as big as a postage stamp but still we could circle the trails about 4 times to get in a good walk. And more heat adaptation.

We found the grocery store and our hotel too. I’ve already switched rooms. The first one smelled like cumin. I’m not spending 4 days in a room only to emerge smelling like a well-seasoned taco. It’s bad enough that I had to pack my bike shoes in my suitcase and they have to stay in the room. Chris has learned it's just best to go along with me at times like this. I should add that he also enjoyed wheeling the luggage cart with about 150 pounds of stuff around the hotel to change rooms.

He loves me. Actually, his exact words were I have a death sentence in 12 solar systems. I have no idea of that means something good or bad. Yes, I married one of those guys that whips out random Star Wars quotes.

What to do with the rest of the evening? I’ve looked at the local visitors guide and let me just say we might be taking a trip back to Prairie Dog Town because it was listed as the first thing to do on your first day here. Stand on top of dirt hole, chirp at friends, dig in hole. Yeah, I think we know how it’s going to play out but you never can tell.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Intensity

Pretty soon I will race again.

Not some local sprint triathlon, not a little 10K, a real race. A big one. With big names on an epic course that requires me to get there on a plane.

A half Ironman.

Half Ironman is my favorite race. It’s the perfect distance. It’s short enough that you can truly race it and long enough that it requires more than physical skill. It takes a blend of endurance plus tenacity – and it doesn’t hurt to have proper nutrition, pacing and strategy.

Each of us prepares for a race in a different way. The physical is important but I’ve always found that the most neglected – and even more important than the physical is the mind. True, you cannot physically fake endurance in a race. But you also cannot fake intensity and self-confidence.

When I prepare for a race I start with thinking. I think a lot about thinking – and I love to think. Forget chatter and small talk, give me quiet time to reflect and dream. But often my days are so packed that I lose track of the time I need for introspection. To retreat into myself and think about the world. I didn’t realize how obvious this was until MCL commented a few posts ago about me sounding like my old contemplative self.

My ‘old’ self.

I thought for a few days about that. It’s not that I am a different person, it’s just that at times I don’t do the best at managing myself and in that way I’ve changed. I let the needs of others and tasks take time away from the needs of me. Most busy adults are guilty of this. We have so many things tugging at our time, a quiet moment in the bathroom with the door closed or standing in the shower is sometimes the only time we get to ourselves each day. Sometimes we have just enough time take a deep breath. Sometimes we only have the energy to close our eyes. The deeper thoughts…those stay hidden in our head. Perhaps great thoughts that we need more time to dig out, time we don’t often afford to ourselves.

Admittingly, in the past year I’ve not been the best at distraction control. Distractions can be anything – jobs, children, pets, relationships, real life. Distractions even buzz around us in training and racing, desperately trying to steal our focus. They try hard. How are those hills…would you like some heat with them…what about headwind….and as you climb at 6 mph are you wondering what your friends will think about you? The more challenges that pile up, the easier it is to become distracted. The distractions take control.

I’m not sure what makes us more prone to distractions – if it’s self-doubt, low confidence in ourselves, lack of trust in our training plan, low desire for our goals, lack of a plan or just lack of practice. It’s probably a little bit of everything. But I’m not so concerned about why I’m distracted I just know I need to turn it around. You are always in control of yourself. You make choices, you can change. So it’s time to push aside the distractions and find my focus again.

A success history search. When you wonder if you’ve spent a whole year going backwards you look back into yourself. I go back to the books; pages upon pages of thoughts, plans and memories from racing that I’ve recorded. I went all the back to 2006 reading every race plan, recap and the notes in between.

And as I read – it hit me. What I’m missing. Focused intensity.

I used to show up to training with a laser-like focus pointed straight toward my goals. Every training session was an opportunity to get one step closer, to envision it happening, to go through the steps so it was automatic on race day. I have goals, still, yes. But am I doing the backstage work required to get to the goals? You can do the physical training, go through the motions but have you been there, seen it, tasted it, felt it so by the time you arrive at race day it’s just a matter of making happen what you’ve already accomplished in your head six dozen times? Maybe more…

I think the longer the race the more important this is. You can fake self-confidence and preparation in a sprint or Olympic race. Doing those races – and doing them well – is often a matter of pure guts and grit. But when you’re going the distance – and that distance includes challenging weather, hills or any other adversity it’s not as easy to fake it. At some point you realize it’s hard and you’re out there by yourself with about…50 more miles to go.

How, then, do you practice for it? I read through all of my notes and realized I was the master of focused intensity. I don’t think I’m any faster, more talented or prepared physically than anyone else. I was just mentally connected and knew that if someone was going to beat me they would have to get by me first which would be hard considering I had already owned my goals in my head. Six dozen times. Maybe more.

The game has changed – sort of. I realize I can’t show up to a race with Olympians and world champions and boldly say if you’re going to beat me you have to get by me first. And because of that I think I just gave up on setting goals and let go of my intensity. That was my biggest mistake. I let go of what I was really good at – focusing intently on what I wanted and making it happen – no matter what – on race day.


I decided to plug back into myself on today’s run. It was a hard run and summer is finally here. It’s about time! It’s about 87 degrees with 90 percent humidity. In the shade. The run had about 25 minutes of gut-turning hard work which today would be extra challenging. I took the time before the workout to focus. What did I want to accomplish and what would fill my head. I’ve been too loosey goosey in training. Rushing from one thing to the next – just showing up and expecting the work to count. It doesn’t work that way. Easy sessions are one thing but if you’re going to show up to a key session with an empty head you might as well go home. Instead take the time to sit, get ready to connect, plug in and focus on your goal.

In the warm up I kept repeating the word “FOCUS” breaking it up into two syllables to go along with my foot steps. After 25 minutes it was time for the work. Time to draw out the focused intensity. Full speed ahead, no stops, no negativity just gritting it out with intensity. No heart rate monitor, no pace just pure hard work from the gut. You don’t need something to measure that. Hard is hard. If you’re not hurting, you’re not going hard enough.

Dammit it was hot. My feet were turning over fast on the path and all I kept saying to myself was intensity, focus, focused intensity. I was digging deep. And it felt really good. Actually it was very painful and by the fourth interval my legs hurt and in the last 30 seconds of the next two intervals I felt myself starting to shake from heat or not beating able to push the lactic acid out quickly enough. It hurt. A few days ago I did a long run and did 30 minutes at a hard pace that hurt too. And you know what happened? I had to stop for a moment with myself. I needed a break. It wasn’t that I couldn’t handle the hurt – I just was too disconnected to want to handle it. I went into that run with no focus, it was pouring rain and I had a million things on mind – none that had anything to do with myself or my next race. My body was ready, my mind was MIA.

I go back to what JH told me years ago. It was 2005 and I was doing my first half Ironman of the year on a hot, hilly course. I distinctly remember sitting at my job, back when I had a cubicle, pretending like it was a work call when on the other end of the line she was directing my weekend race:

Elizabeth, you’ve got to mentally connect to this course.

Maybe it’s not a course. Maybe it’s just a hard session in training. A group ride. An interval to hit in the pool. How bad do you want it? Bad enough to push everything else aside and become your goal? Last week I told AV to race with blinders on. She outdid herself. It’s about blocking everything else out so you have tunnel vision for where YOU want to go. Connect to what brought you here in the first place....a competitive drive, an intensity that you couldn't put anywhere else so you chose...sport.


Today I connected. I was 100 percent present and felt completely locked into place. I remember this. This is the good stuff. After the last interval I shuffled for a few minutes then sat under a tree. Which then turned into laying under a tree and looking up at the sky. The outcome is big like the sky when you engage yourself in the process. I had the run I was looking for because I made it happen. It didn’t just happen to me. Gritted my teeth, embraced the heat and misery. That is intensity.

I read through my notes today and found myself thinking I want to be that girl. Pause. Think about it. Wait – I am that girl. The game is the same. I just get a head start from everyone else in the first wave. Sure, I’m racing Olympians, champions and all sorts of other contenders that probably have V02maxes, stats and awards that I could never touch. But they're not all like that. What I want – still – is to be at my best. My best has never changed. How close it gets me to the top has changed but that’s just the cost of trying to better yourself. There’s a level I may never reach but I’ll try to get as close as I can get. And I’m ok with that. You see, I love to race. I love the game. Competitive intensity. What I can do is connect better than anyone else. Push aside distractions and focus on what is in my control; my race, my plan, my intensity.

Someone draw me a start line. I’m ready to stand there.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Oh Baby

Hi, my name is Liz Waterstraat, I am nearly 34 years old and I do not have a baby.

(enter the muffled gasps of a thousand people paid by my family to ask me WHEN)

The sacrilege of it all is unbelievable. I know. What a waste of a vagina (listen, you talk about the baby, you have to talk about the vagina). But somehow, childless I move forward in life.

Without a child.

This is not easy. And no one seems to be working with me. In the past few months, three of Chris’ relatives had a baby; his cousin, his other cousin, and the kicker – his sister.

Who is 6 years younger than him.

In Chris’ words, we blew it. 100 percent had our chance to have the first grandchild and threw it away. Along with the oodles of toys, a crib fit for a queen, a swing that I swear to god does everything but fax papers and an entire wardrobe of pink frilly things that no baby needs but baby WILL wear.

Part of me says to Chris – we are lucky. By the time we have kids, no one will care which will save us the painstaking task of having to dress our kid in a pink bonnet with flowered mittens and a matching headband. On an 80 degree day. And that’s just if it’s a boy.

All of this baby googoogaga came smack in the face at me on Sunday – the day of Aubrey Jane’s christening.

Isn’t that a beautiful name? Aubrey Jane? Know what’s even worse? This kid is freakin’ beautiful. Know how sometimes you tell people that their baby is really cute even though it’s really not? Not Aubrey. She’s the real deal. Beautiful. Like someone should elect this kid the new face of Gerber baby. You should probably pay an entrance fee to just look at her.

Enter Exhibit A:



Now send me 10 bucks. Everyone.

The christening was beautiful, too. Aubrey was dressed like the world’s only 6-month old bride and even had a bonnet to match. Call it the finest in christening couture. I picked her up and her body temperature was roughly 200 degrees (estimate after doing the reliable hand to forehead test and hey did you know if you are not hot you are cool as a cucumber…what sort of scientific term is that and how many cucumbers do you have to touch to know that they are cool..?) so I took her bonnet off. I realize it completely ruined the lacey ensemble but it had to let out at least 100 of those degrees into the rest of the room which might explain why Chris was sweating like an animal half way through his meal.

I walked around with Aubrey to give her parents a chance to eat in peace because I’m guessing eating + peace are not very common occurrences around their house. Meanwhile Aubrey and I scanned the buffet. The buffet was one of those All American everything you don’t need to eat but really want to plus BONUS(!) it’s all soaked in mayonnaise buffets with Quiche, Oysters Rockefeller, Eggs Benedict…need I even bring up the desserts? Or the waffle bar, the omelet station or ice cream sundae stand? Aubrey and I decided I would go back for a plate of gnocchi, scrambled eggs and petit fours. That is what I call a complete meal – carbs + protein + sugar (a little known food group).

As I walked around I realized that holding a baby is the next best way to get attention other than having big boobs. Seeing that I don’t have those, this baby was the first time I felt like all eyes were on me. Someone even came up to me and said she is beautiful. I KNOW! But I felt obligated to tell them the truth she is not mine. But to my surprise they came back with well, you look good with one.

Did anyone in the far right corner of the room pay you to say that!?!?

Eventually I brought Aubrey back and watched her get passed like a hot potato (also a favorite American children’s game which I never liked and might explain why I still don’t like potatoes – who wants to eat something that everyone has touched?) amongst 75 other relatives. After about an hour of that Aubrey blew up in a predictable as the weather fit of tears before someone figured out that she was slowly melting under 1000 pounds of lace so they took it off.

ALL OF IT…off.

The next thing you knew, a very naked except for a diaper Aubrey was happily bouncing on her daddy’s knee.

Meanwhile, my baby I mean husband Christian was sitting next to me shouting “HOW COME SHE GETS TO TAKE HER CLOTHES OFF WHILE I HAVE TO WEAR THIS STUPID SHIRT AND TIE.” I wouldn’t put it past him to strip down to his shorts to run around the room with Aubrey’s bonnet in a protest to having to wear a suit and tie in the first place (this from a man who has naked beer slided on Ragbrai while covered in baby oil).

Side note: when I asked Chris if he would be embarrassed if the world knew he naked beer slided on Ragbrai while covered in baby oil he said, I told the world I shit in my pants last year. While wearing your race shorts. Do you think I care?

I rest my case.

Remembering now that I should probably pack diapers for Chris when we go out, I told him to at least loosen his tie to cool off and let some heat out as he has a history of crapping himself under extreme heat and pressure.

His reply? NO, I was told to wear this shirt and tie so I’ll be DAMNED if I take it off. I am wearing this he said with a charge in his voice that made me think he was heading straight for the finish line in this outfit – no matter what.

(a little background: he was told via 100 texts, phone calls, voice mails and in person demands that he must wear a suit and tie…)

At that point, we got up to move around and get some air and the questions started rolling in – when are you going to have a baby? When is your turn? Where is the baby?

Someone even touched my stomach.

Is this normal? Forget appropriate – the answer is NO – but is this …. NORMAL!?!!

Smile and nod, smile and nod. That is really all you can do. Because no matter what you say they will not (a) hear, (b) care, (c) respond until you…make the baby.

So mixing and mingling went well. And then I hid in the back of the room again. Watched Aubrey being passed around along with another cousin’s baby, too. On top of that, there was talk of the other cousin who just had a baby named Chase Logan. I told Chris if we don't get started soon all of the good names will be gone. All that would be left is naming our baby something like...Mutt. Meet Mutt Waterstraat. We wanted to name him ______ (fill in any decent name that will likely be taken by the unborn-yet-children of Chris’ 100000 cousins) – but all the good names were taken so we settled on Mutt.

There were so many babies and talk of babies that I just wanted to either spit up or poop my pants. I picked at my giant dessert plate instead. I chose something that was covered in chocolate sprinkles and imagine my horror when I realized it was a chocolate covered…banana. After a banana in my oatmeal, a banana post-race and a banana in a protein smoothie I said no way in hell am I eating another banana today. EVEN if covered in chocolate. But wait, bananas, know what they remind people of? Babies. Because babies love bananas!

Sc
ratch bananas off the grocery list.

I exited the christening without immaculately birthing a baby. Imagine that. I guess you could say I survived. Yet no sooner did divine intervention intervene again than the next day. On Monday I met Kathy for coffee and she brought along two-year old Sydney. After coffee she asked if I would be up for outlet shopping. Count me in! There’s a Nike outlet there and I am addicted to their running shorts. Laugh all you want but I could give a hoot about discounted Coach bags or Kate Spade. You can’t run in those! Give me comfortable running shorts instead – I’m willing to pay full price!

Who knew that all you need to occupy a two year old while shopping is a sippy cup and a steady supply of M&Ms? Who knew a two year old could also be very helpful in choosing some clothes? While Kathy wanted a brown top in Banana Republic, Syndey said I think we’ll take the blue one. At the Gap outlet, she entertained her face in a pair of fabulously rainbow golf shorts that were probably more appropriate for R.O.Y. G. B.I.V. than a woman. She then stood by the Gap Body line laughing her ass off at the stuff they are trying to sell for 30 bucks that you sleep in. Played hide in seek in the sale rack of dresses in Ann Taylor Loft and tried to eat the flip flops at J. Crew.

It was shortly after that when we ran out of M&Ms along with water in the sippy cup. Let me tell you, like most things in life, it’s all fun and games (and good outlet bargains) until someone craps their pants. So Kathy and I parted ways – she too the restroom, I too the dressing room to try on some clothes. Made a few purchases and was glad I didn’t need a diaper change.

As far as the baby – I don’t think I’ll be making that purchase any time soon. I realize all the good names might be gone and I risk living the rest of my life raising a child named Cowboy. I’m ok with that. I also realize I am passing up on the opportunity to have thousands of pink frilly outfits thrown my way along with the world’s first can fly to the moon baby swing. I am also ok with that.

But, everyone else, are you ok with that?

Don't answer that. Just remind me the next time I go out I need to be holding a baby. Much easier than having my own baby. Plus I’ve been told I look it’s a good look for me. And god knows borrowing someone’s kid is cheaper than buying a Kate Spade bag.

Even at outlet price.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back To The Beginning

While everyone else will have these exciting race reports about how they raced at faraway destinations against stacked fields on grandiose courses for special slots, I bring to you:

the local women's only sprint race

Going back to the beginning. This race was my first ever triathlon 10 years ago. My entry into the sport is rather humble – and comical. When I learned my hometown had a women’s triathlon I said to myself “that would be a good goal”. I hired a personal trainer, did the training and one week before the race the personal trainer said:

Did you sign up for the race?

Uh…………

NO!

At this point, the race was sold out. Long story short, my beginnings in triathlon were completely illegal as I raced as someone else.

Please don’t tell.

The race went well. It only took me about 650 of the 750 meters to put my face into the water but once I got on land I knew I was golden. I attacked that course on a men’s mountain bike and then did what I always knew how to do – run.

I was hooked. I have no idea why. In my opinion, the biggest problem I encountered all day was how will I hold my hair back? I figured that out and somehow got the itch to do it all again. I still remember how good I felt running down the Riverwalk in the last half mile, smiling at my mom as she took a picture, crossing the line and thinking yes, I must do this again.

Ten years later, here I am. Where have I been in the sport? Where haven’t I been. Mountain bike races, crits, run races, marathons, Ironman, duathlons, world championships, sprint, Olympic, 70.3. I’ve been around.

When I realized the local women’s sprint race was coming up and it was my 10-year anniversary, I realized I couldn’t pass it up. I realized this just last week one of those last minute that sounds like fun ideas.

FUN!

I woke up at 4:30 am and let me just say that the day started off with a win because I beat the sun up. Yes, that is damn early friends. Got into transition and absorbed the women’s only energy.

It’s different than a co-ed race. And it smells like shampoo and froo-froo lotion.

After a quick run it was time to warm up in the water. The race was held at the “beach” where I swim at exclusively in the summer. I have sworn off the pool this summer. Unless it is absolutely an emergency – which only includes a cataclysmic weather event at this point.

My strategy today was to go hard. When that wasn’t working, the alternate plan was to go harder. It’s a sprint. What more can you do?

The entire race just seems to move faster in a sprint. Up to the start line, the gun goes off and let me say this: I have started swims with (key word being “start” not finish…) with S. Lessing, M. Carfrae, A. Potts but I have never felt a swim start this aggressive. CAT FIGHT! Before I knew it the girl to my right was pawing all over me and I had Jenny Garrison's foot in my mouth. I was being pummeled, pulled at and if I wasn’t careful I was going to mount Jenny any minute or get mounted by someone else. I actually stood up, shook them off and then a second later started swimming again.

All of a sudden I had clean water and realized it was just me. For the entire 750 meters. I could see a pack of a few girls. I just kept swimming hard hoping to keep the distance minimal between us. I got out of the water and noticed Jenny about 30 seconds ahead of me. I always judge how I’m doing in this race by the Jenny Factor. If I can see her upon swim exit, I’m having a good day. Too bad the only things between me and her were (1), a run through sand, (2), the world’s longest transition run, (3) an entire parking lot filled with pebbles. If I do this race again I am bringing my own broom. By the time I got on to the pavement, my feet hurt so bad it was like running on glass.

OUCH!

On to the bike – finally! I took it easy for a few minutes to just settle and then went hard. When I felt myself backing off, I threw a gear and pushed harder. Took the corners deep and went hunting. For what? Whatever was in front of me.

I saw the sign for 12 miles and said to myself – 2.2 miles to go. And then, Adrienne passed me. I pushed, she pushed back. We both passed another girl, who then pushed us back. And then it dawned on me – THIS IS RACING! I’m doing it! I remember this!

PUSH! I pushed out of the corner faster (this is like my savant skill, pushing out of corners – it requires training on routes with lots of stoplights and then bolting at the green) but then they pushed past me. We all came into the dismount line together and for the first time ever….I beat people across the line. I ran haphazardly to my rack, threw my bike on, shoved my feet into my shoes and I was off. That was worth the fastest T-2 out of all 1,711 women!

I saw a girl in front of me and started off toward her. I also realized at this point that I was one of the top few girls because I had a bicycle following me. It’s always exciting to have the bicycle escort but at the same time I felt like I was going really slow because the poor guy on the bike had to coast a lot! I started to pretend like I was chasing the bike to also get the girl in front of me. Problem was she was keeping my pace. I kept trying to find that next gear up to pass the girl ahead of me but this was it. I think it’s a symptom of triathlon when you just have that monotone run pace. Great for long course, not so great for a SPRINT!

Behind me was hard charging Adrienne. I was gaining some time on the girl ahead of me but also realized that there were two girls gaining behind me. For such a short race that damn finish line sure took it’s time getting here. Finally I hit the line 9 seconds behind 2nd place and 4th place was only 4 seconds behind me.

That was close!

Of course, I look at the results now and think 9 seconds? Like I couldn’t bridge that or go 3 seconds faster per mile? Why is it that when we are out there racing 9 seconds is like crossing an ocean even thought – count to 9 it’s not that long.

But that’s why we do these races. Not to be on top of our game but to reveal any weaknesses in it. You want to show up to your big races ready for flawless execution of your plan. You show up to smaller races to figure out what needs work in your plan – or how to plan for your plan.


It felt good this weekend to go back to the beginning, to where it all began. To reflect on how far I’ve come, to remember how good it’s been. 10 years and probably over 100 races with many highs and lows. There are many minutes, hours of memories of good racing and good times in those 10 years. And looking ahead 10 years from now, there will be more. I will come back to this race in 10 years and wear a mankini and a bra top just ‘cuz I can.

And I’ll be damned if I don’t pull out the fastest T2 in the race. Watch me put on shoes. See that? SHAZAM! I'm so fast you didn't even catch it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Have You Seen This Season?

WANTED: Summer. Also known as "the one season out of the year where it is mildly enjoyable to be outside."

I'm sending out a search party for summer because it’s nowhere to be found.

Technically it’s not summer yet. I know that. But if you’ve lived in Chicago long enough you know that we have two seasons around here: cold and hot. Cold generally lasts from late September through late April. Hot lasts from the last week of May through August. True, there are a few weeks left. Those would be the seasons know as spring and fall.

Which both last about 3 weeks.

Where is my hot season? I am waiting. By now we are usually slowly suffocating in the growing humidity that goes along with Midwest heat. 85 degrees with 90 percent humidity. For about 3 months. Yet for the past week now it’s been under 60 and rainy. Kind of like fall except that it’s spring but really it should feel more like summer.

I’m starting to think I might not even get to play my game. Which game, you ask? You didn’t ask but pretend like you did. While we’re on the topic of games you should know that I play a lot of household games. For example: can I empty the dishwasher in the time it takes for my oatmeal to cook in the microwave. The answer is often yes if I go really, really fast and risk chipping a plate or two.

We have very chipped plates.

I learned that I was not the only one that plays games like this when I read on Dawn’s FB status update that she too had raced the dishwasher.

And she won.

The game got riskier just last week when it was dishwasher vs. toaster. In other words, could I empty the dishwasher in the time it takes to toast a bagel. Almost losing to a burnt bagel, I put away the last knife right as the bagel popped up.

Really.

It was close. Very close.

Of course those are games you can play year round. But in the summer, I like to play the game how long can I last without turning on the air conditioner. Last year, the house got up to 83 degrees before I finally caved. I gave it a good fight. We’re talking no bed covers, ceiling fan at full speed an windows thrown open to the sky. But when the thermostat inside hit 83 and the humidity was more like 1000 I heard my wood floors crying SAVE US and turned on the air.

You call it crazy I call it heat acclimation. Never miss a training opportunity.

This year, I am surviving sans AC. Some days I don’t even have the windows open. It’s almost mid-June for crying out loud. Throw us a bone already. Or at least a sunny day.

Who is to blame? If Mayor Daley wasn’t ass deep in hot water for parking meters I would have blamed him. A man seated so long in Chicago certainly must have some pull with the weather. But alas he’s too busy f*cking up in other areas right now. I think about it. And what Illinois did to deserve this. And I can think of nothing other than:

Blagojevich

Both of them. Rod and Patty. Rod for being arrested while wearing that stupid blue running suit. And Patty for being on that dumb television show. Illinois had it coming, folks. And God is pissed.

(I don’t blame him. Did you hear the tapes of those phone calls?)

The other day I met for coffee with my mom and we started devising a plan. In between catching up on the catastrophe known as John and Kate Plus 8 (like you haven’t grabbed a People magazine at the checkout line out of curiosity), we devised an exit strategy.

There must be a better place.

She confesses to me that she will go wherever I go. I think to myself I’ve got my dog, my bike, my mom – what am I missing?

Husband.

Is this a necessary item or a luxury?

I'll wait to answer that. But in the meantime...

This just in. Someone posted on my Facebook page that meteorologists propose there may be no summer at all. The jet stream has dipped so low that some areas may not see a summer. The midwest included. I think about that for a moment. A year without summer is like…winter all year round.

DAMN YOU BLAGOJEVICH!

Sigh.

Maybe it’s time to turn negatives into positives. To accept where I’m at and make peace with the weather. So I will make a list. Of reasons why it’s ok if summer never comes.

1. Lower energy costs.
2. Salt tabs not needed.
3. The one year where my skin will not age because I’m not getting any sun.
4. No 40 mph gusty southernly summer winds to ride into.
5. All swims will be wetsuit legal.
6. The disappearance of white pants (really, it’s a bad look folks).
7. No summer festivals where people stand in line for hours to eat food on a stick.
8. Which also means less carnies in town.
9. The ice cream truck will not drive around playing the same stupid song over & over again.
10. No chance to get eaten alive by mosquitoes.
11. Less bad smells.

That’s all I’ve got. You see, it’s not ok if summer never comes because even though I am an adult now, summer still has the same magic it did when I was a kid. It may only last for 3 months but those 3 months lasted for what felt like an eternity. The orchestral sound of crickets and katydids into the summer night. Watching the fireflies flicker in the field behind our house. Summer storms that roll in out of nowhere with dark clouds and thunder. Swimming in Lake Michigan when it finally gets above 68 degrees. Late August when the goldenrod explodes in the meadow and the Joe Pye Weed nears 5 feet tall. There’s a lot about summer in Chicago that I can’t wait for – so I’m hoping that some time, in the next 3 months, that it finally arrives.

Tonight we went for a bike ride. It rained all day long and finally at 4:30 pm the clouds broke and the sun streamed. For about 2 hours. It was 59 degrees. It is June 10th. Think about that. Anyways, riding around I realized I was wearing long sleeves and Chris was wearing leg warmers. Plus arm warmers. I said to him I cannot believe you are wearing leg warmers. His reply? Heat training.

He is right. Summer may not be here yet but when it arrives we will be ready for it in many ways. So bring it, summer. Bring it on. Send me your stifling heat and thick humidity. Bake me under the sun and leave me burnt on the path. I am ready. The windows are open and the ceiling fan is on. But until you arrive I will climb under my winter blanket because honestly with the damn fan going...it’s kind of chilly in here.

In an effort to keep busy while I’m waiting for you, I’m gonna race the dishwasher. Today it’s Keurig vs. dishwasher. Think I can empty it before the coffee is ready? I’m ready to race. I've got crazy fast dishwasher emptying skills, Keurig. You're mine.

Never miss a training opportunity.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Get To Do This

It’s 9:30 pm and I just got home from Chicago. I spent the past 2 ½ hours talking Ironman to my IronMoo athletes. I answered everything from nutrition to pacing, equipment, pooping, bloody nipples, drinking (the real drinking not sports drinking) and everything in between.

And I mean everything.

Earlier in the day I rode 80 miles, took a quick ice bath, answered oodles of emails, met with a run consultant, grabbed some food from Whole Foods before heading to the city to coach. My day has literally buzzed with triathlon. That is my life nearly every day of the week. And honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In all of the busyness of life and work it is easy to forget to take time to reflect on the why. Why do we do what we do in our life. And, do we really love that we are doing it? I considered this after receiving some questions for an interview on the Training Peaks blog and after being interviewed for Chicago’s Amateur Athlete magazine. In other words, I’ve been questioned a lot about triathlon lately. I like these opportunities because they force me to define myself and my work. It’s one thing to do your job but when you consider why you do it and what it means to you – the answers either excite you or inspire you to move on.

Two years ago I made the transition from full-time office career to full-time work from home coach. When I made the switch to running my own business I took it on with full force. I had a thriving position in education program management with a 5 minute commute, good salary, health benefits AND an office door in the corner office with 3 windows. I managed 50 employees and had a flexible schedule. My boss worked in another building and my dear friend worked in the office next door. I wasn’t giving up all of that to sit at home for 40 hours a week to coach 5 people and call it my job. If I was going to call it my job it was going to be just that – a full time job. And it was. Word of mouth, word of blog, references grew quickly and before I knew it I was managing a roster of athletes that was keeping me busy for 40 hours a week – and then some.

And it’s the then some that proves to be the most challenging. When you work in an office you can walk away from it. You can close your office door. You can leave it there on the weekend and ignore it for a few days. You can let the phone ring through to the receptionist. When you run your own business – especially if your business is people, your business is in real time all the time. All hours of the day, from the Pacific time zone all the way out to Sweden. Questions, workouts, paces, power, race plans fill most hours of my day. People have needs, emotions, thoughts and people change. Injuries, sick children, travel – people change and change a lot. When you think your work is done, it’s just a phone call, text, email or status update away from being undone yet again.

Most days I’m exhausted but it’s a good feeling. Like most people, I work hard, I work a lot. I make lists, spreadsheets and try to stay organized. Sometimes I get a date wrong and I’m known to do some bad swim math. I do the best I can with athletes that are interested in being at their best. What it takes to bring out there best is more than just writing workouts for schedules. If it was that easy I’d have my job done in less than 5 hours a week. It takes time to plan how each day fits into the big picture. It takes time to think through what it takes for success. It takes a lot of communication and finding what motivates each athlete. Integrate all of that into each athlete’s training plan while asking for their commitment, patience, trust and cooperation. That’s pretty much what I do day to day.

Sometimes what I do or what I ask for is a hard sell. I know that because I’m an athlete too and realize that selling what you know about sport through coaching is not easy when you have grown adults with freedom to choose, think and analyze. Plus no one needs a coach, and if you have one it’s a luxury. I am expendable. Run your business knowing you are not necessary and your way of doing business changes. You become more patient, more gracious, more…grateful. You become vested in doing the best you can when you can because if you don’t – you’ve dropped your own ball of quality and reputation. Your business is you and the way you run it represents who you are, your values, your strengths, even your weaknesses.

Some days I think it would be easier again to simply work for someone else. To blame mistakes on bureaucracy and delegate to a staff. To risk less of myself on a daily basis to do my job well. It’s a risky business and the opportunities for failure are more plentiful than success. Yet I wouldn’t trade the choices I’ve made for anything else. I realize they have completely changed my life and how I use my time. I never thought working from home would be so damn time-consuming and so damn hard. But then again, I like hard things. I’ve done Ironman.

Tomorrow there are many things I need to do. It’s Wednesday and that means it is time to start posting training plans. I need to complete at least one-third of them to be on task to finish them by Friday night. I need to help my athletes put together their race plans and then sit on the edge of my kitchen chair all weekend waiting to hear about the xx athletes I have racing this weekend. I need to meet with two of my local athletes and complete two of my own workouts. I need to do a lot of things but what I like to do is help others do the best they can. Whether I start at 6 am or finish at 10 pm I enjoy every minute of it. I sometimes wish there were more hours in the day. I wake up excited to get started on my job and see where it will take me each day. Each day I learn something new about coaching, a business, others and myself.

In two years I have a built this business. For all of the hours I put into this each week, I look back and see that I have built something that makes me proud. My business is represented by some of the finest athletes in the sport because of how they race and who they are as athletes. And I am grateful that they allowed me the opportunity to play a role in that. Each month I feature a different athlete at http://www.multisportmastery.com/. Because of all my athletes, every day I get to do this job. Actually it is not a job it is a passion. A passion for teaching and for sport that I get to combine every day.

Racing season has really just begun for the year and the best part of my job is about to play out every weekend from now until November. To see the athletes put it all together out there. When they succeed, I succeed. When they fail, I too fail. When the cross the line at Ironman, I scream. Ok, sometimes I also cry. Honestly it’s as exciting and challenging to help others in the sport as it is to do the sport. And I get to do this. Every day.

THANK YOU!

Check out http://blog.trainingpeaks.com/2009/06/trainingpeaks-member-profile-elizabeth-waterstraat-triathlete-and-coach.html for more on how I got involved in the sport and coaching.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Legs? Here.

On Saturday morning I got up very early to run a local 10K. After my personal lifetime worst 10K split at Memphis three weeks ago I have been working on my run. Returning to what I know works for me.

Sherpa Thomas once told me that when you feel off in sport you return to your roots. My roots are running. I return to running because of the simplicity of the sport. What is it about running races that they are so real, down to earth and just – they are what they are. No pretense, no bullshit. There are no excuses in running. You either went hard or you didn’t. You were fast or slow. You can’t blame it on a current, the wind, drafting, buoys, none of that nonsense that doesn’t matter when all you’re racing with is a pair of shoes and a watch.


I put myself about 3 rows deep around some other girls that looked fast. In running there is no mistake – the fast girls look fast; sinewy with thin legs and wearing singlets sponsored by local run stores.

My goal was to take the first mile slow. Inevitably I bolt out at a sub-6 minute mile in every running race. Of course it feels great. For a mile. Then I end up above my threshold and wheezing the rest of the way. That is ok in a 5K. But in a 10K that is not such a good plan. Today I wanted to hold back to a 6:40 pace for the first mile. The gun went off and I took it out at a comfortable pace.

I don’t run with a GPS (somewhere ABK is rolling her eyes). To me, it doesn’t feel right. It feels like someone shouting at me the entire time “speed up” “slow down” “speed up”….I end up looking at the thing and forgetting about the other things that make running good – your breathing pattern, your foot push off, your form, staying loose, the thoughts in your head. How I feel and what I run becomes disconnected. I run to feel good. When it feels good I hold pace. I learned that by running a lot when I was young. I didn’t have a GPS then so it doesn’t feel right now.

Of course the problem is that in the first mile of a race anything feels good. I was running along telling myself “smooth, loose” form cues that remind me to relax and just feel good. Hold back. Keep the breathing under control, 1 breath, 4 steps. I hit the first mile in 6:08. Not exactly the 6:40 I was hoping for.

The next two miles I held back a little more and found two high school boys to pace off of. They were chit chatting and taking overly dramatic runs through the aid stations. Their shenanigans distracted me from the hurt. I realized the first 5K was their warm up. Their warm up was right below my threshold. Ah, to be 16 again. They ended up pulling me through the next 2 miles at a more appropriate pace.

6:08 – right now – is not an appropriate pace!

At the 5K point I know it is time to pick it up. The high school boys start their race and take off. I see a girl ahead of me and make it a goal to pass her. There are many turns on this course and I don’t think I was any faster than her – I just took the turns better. When you are on a course with a lot of turns your run it like you mountain bike. Ride the tangents. Straight lines, not curves!

Mile 4 starts to hurt. This is why 10K is such a bitch. 5K hurts then it’s over. Before you even realize how bad it hurts you’ve crossed the line. 10K hurts those last 2 miles because you’re going a bit slower than 5K pace but not enough to really matter. The worst – an open half marathon. It’s like running a 10K for 13.1 miles. A girl passes me after 4 miles but she has a pacer so I feel like if I had a personal cheerleader, water cup-getter and pacer I would have been able to pass her back (note to self, next time fly in personal Sherpa to run local 10K with me). Mile 5 feels uphill even though the course is entirely flat. Someone tells me I’m in 5th place and it makes me smile. I’m kicking it with the real runner girls. Except they’re about 2 minutes ahead. But still….top 5! One thing was certain: I was totally breaking my MIM 10K time today. Thank goodness!


Mile 6 felt like the longest mile of my life. And I’ve done a lot of long miles. Mile 8 – 22 in Ironman is a long mile. Just 14 of them. Mile 6 here was a loooooooong street where you could see the tents by the turn to the finish line off in the horizon but they were still far away no matter how much closer you got.

I finally make the left turn to the finish line and sprint to the finish. Look at my time and realize I crossed the line over a full minute faster than my goal time and nearly 5 minutes faster than my MIM 10K time. I was pretty excited about that but it wasn’t a surprise. I could tell one mile into the race that my running legs showed up today. The weather was perfect and the course was flat. No, it wasn’t short either. The current was with me and the buoys stayed in a straight line.

I love running. And it finally feels good again. Going to run races makes me want to do them more. To be able to race every other weekend and have it all over in such a short amount of time. No gear to haul back to the car except your warm up shoes. Go back to your roots. It feels good.

After the race we headed back home to hop on our single speed bikes and ride up for some coffee. Single speed into a headwind and slight uphill was not the best idea but coming back it felt great. Later that day I did something perhaps even more challenging than running hard for 6.2 miles. I wore a dress and heels for about 12 hours as we headed up to Minneapolis for a wedding.

It’s safe to say after that my legs were gone.


But nothing a little open bar couldn't fix.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Confessional

To me, track is like church.

You go to make peace. You go to make penance.

When you’ve been running since you were very young, running becomes like religion. It feels good. Doesn’t matter if you just ran the slowest mile of your life. If it feels good, it is good. And there need be no proof. All that technology, GPS and heart rate monitors….opiate for the masses. Sometimes you just need to…run.

I still remember when I was 9 years old, my stepdad took me running from our home on East 52nd Street to my grandmother’s home on Quentin Road. Realistically this was probably less than 2 miles. To a young child, this was like hiking the Inca Trail.

Long, and most definitely at altitude.

That was my first introduction to running. I liked it. And he let me eat Cheerios after the run. I liked Cheerios. From there, I liked running. As I got older, I realized that running was the least skilled of all sports. Anyone could run. I was hopeless with a ball. Yes, I had track hands. Like there was a giant hole in my hands that a ball would fall right through.


That is, if my hands were not protecting my face for fear of being hit by that ball.

In high school I ran cross country and track. Truth be told I was in it for the jacket that signified I might look like I’m 12 but dammit I’m in high school! To my surprise I wasn’t that bad. But I wasn’t that good either. There were girls on our team running miles in 5:03.

I was still on lap 3.

But what I took away from that – varsity letters or not – was a sport I could do (hopefully) for life. A love for setting goals. And a tremendous respect for the track. I don’t go there unless someone commands it. I don’t go there to just run any workout. You go there to bring it, to hurt, to throw up in your mouth.

Tuesday it was time for track. My last experience on the track was a few months ago and it was disastrous. I got about 2 laps into a 2400m and the entire sixth grade descended screaming and running toward the track. Upon reaching the track one of the students then politely pointed out to all 100 of them SHE IS WEARING A BRA! Yes, I was and yes I was also wearing shorts but when you are up to your eyeballs in lactic acid the last thing you want is….to hear that and the screams of all those overly hormonal junior high kids (I have already told Chris we are shipping our children off between the ages of 12 and 15). So I abandoned the effort around 1600 into it when I had just had enough of dodging sixth graders running toward me in lane 1.

Plus the pace was not great. Confessional: I abandoned the effort because I also gave up. There is no need to keep running at a pace 10 seconds off per 800 on the track. Like someone might as well have been shouting in my ear: YOU ARE SLOW! Rightfully so, the past few months my running has felt off. As a runner, you just know when your running is not right. I was at a workshop with Bobby McGee a few weeks ago and I had to laugh when he was talking about when an athlete needs to work on their run. He said “when you just know”. I chuckled and thought he’s one of us. A runner. He knows that you know when you know that your running is just not right.

So now that I knew – what to do? I realized I need to get back to what I know works with my run. Hill repeats, mile repeats, long runs with purpose, race pace bricks…all the stuff that hurts. REALLY hurts. Like you can’t hide from it hurt.

Alas this week it was time for track.

I woke up Tuesday morning to pouring rain and 40 degrees. Checked the calendar, uh-huh, June 1st, looked out the window and wondered if I slept through summer this year and forgot to turn the calendar page.

Or, about 3 calendar pages.

No. No, it is close to summer and yes I might just have to wear gloves to the track. The good thing about going when it’s pouring rain is that you don’t have to worry about the entire sixth grade descending on the track. The bad thing is that there is no cover. It is like you're running with someone pouring a bucket over you the entire time.

Within 2 laps I was soaking wet.

And damn cold! Sure the temperature had warmed up to…49 @($(*@#$&(*&#!!!degrees but it didn’t help. And the gloves weren’t really helping. BECAUSE THEY WERE SOAKING WET!

I did my warm up and a few strides. Then it was time to enter lane 1.

Lane 1. Forgive me for it has been over 2 months since my last track….

I really don’t understand how a flat surface can collect puddles but there were puddles all over lane 1. Enter really thin race flats and I might as well have been barefoot. As I rounded the first lap of my first 800 a north wind hit me in the face and made me thinking running wall for the next 100m might just be easier.

I finished the first 800 in a time that was not good but it was not bad. I could taste a million salty thoughts of frustration and what is wrong with me entering my mouth but then said you know what…shut up. Just stop it. It is pouring rain and 49 degrees and your second time on track this year. And you’re going to set a personal best?

Don’t be greedy.

And for the love of god: JUST DO THE WORK out there.

I did a 400 next. Let me just say I think I have one fiber of fast twitch in my legs. The one fiber that helped me break my goal time by 1 little second. The next 800 I pushed it. I figured why not. How hard would you have to go to go really hard? And do you even know how to go hard anymore? I realized I do not. Because as I rounded the last 100m curve I found the hurt. You know this hurt? Where it feels like you are digging deep from your stomach which starts to churn and you just want to close your ears to the sound of your breathing? That was hard. And it still wasn’t that fast but it was faster than the first one. And two seconds below my goal time.

All right another 400. What do you know it turns out I have two fast twitch fibers in my leg good for two seconds.

I realize the rain is pouring harder now. I look at the houses behind the track and wonder if they see me what they will think. Commitment? Crazy?

The last 800 was strong and the final 400 was my fastest. Not super fast but it gave me hope that I was (literally) on the right track.

I started to cool down in lane 8. I put on my wet rain jacket which didn’t help but at least I was no longer the crazy girl running in the pouring rain in a bra. And that is good because as I finished lap 3 the entire sixth grade started running toward the track.

No joke. They were wearing rain ponchos.

During the cool down, I thought to myself: I am a better athlete because I did this workout. Better mentally, physically. Better because I ignored the weather and focused on the task at hand. Better because I faced the fear. There has been a lot of fear in my running in the past few months. Fear of what if I can’t do that, fear of why, what, how…..This is my confessional on the track: I’ve been scared. I stay away from the track and timed courses when I am scared and unsure. It is time to face myself on the track. The track never lies. You run the 400 you have a time. That time is either fast or slow.

The time for me right now is ok. I told myself that a lot of athletes would kill to run these splits. I need to be more grateful. Have some gratitude for where you are at right now and know that it’s a better place than where many others are at. Sometimes we are too critical of ourselves. When you are too critical you always fail. When you always fail you can never build up toward success.

(let us pray)...that I continue to find my freakin’ run legs! I know they are in there. I saw glimpses of them on track. It’s all about turnover and just getting after it. Oh yeah it hurts. But it is a good hurt. And nothing that a little ice bath afterwards can’t take care of. Ice bath. Ice is like an opiate too.


But legal with the WADA.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Girls Rule

Last Thursday, I headed out to St. Charles for the group ride.

All week I was waiting for this ride. To me there is nothing more exciting than the level of hurt you can put upon yourself in a group ride. Perhaps it is because I married a cyclist. Perhaps it is too much Ragbrai in my veins. But there is nothing like gritting your teeth, burning in your quads and pushing so hard your neck explodes in that sweaty nervous sweat on a group ride.

We arrived at Leroy Oakes and rode easy over to Fairway. Cyclists congregate at this corner to meet up with the group that rolls by around 6:15. This evening, we pedal up to find the coach and about a dozen of the MSM Kids Team.

I know what you’re thinking – some group ride with a bunch of kids. Hear me out. These are not just kids…these are national champions. World champions. Probably one day future Olympians. And these kids can ride. I’ve been spit out and shot off the back of the rear wheel of these kids more than one time. Draft legal is their game and they play it.


And play it well.

Imagine my surprise, though, to see girls from the team waiting to ride! After a few minutes of waiting, their coach started talking to them about getting a head start. I realized I had a unique opportunity here. First of all, an opportunity to actually warm up more than 12 minutes (very important for the group ride) and also an opportunity to do something you don’t often get to do. Sure, my workout , my ride was important but how often do you get to lead teenagers on a group ride? How many teenagers out there are outside, let alone riding a bike at very fast speeds? Not just that – how many of them are girls?

Soon as I knew it, I was leading the girls out for a head start. I figured the boys would catch up to us within 20 minutes so I kept the pace moderate and just pulled them along. We’re cruising around 19 mph and they’re right on my wheel chatting like any teenager would do.

Around the 30 minute mark, we make a right turn on to Crawford. Descending the hill, I hear one of the girls say “we’ve never made it this far before” and they both giggle. A left turn on to Lenz, another on Dittman and now the pace has increased. They are still keeping up. We take a right turn on Kendall along the flat stretch into the wind. To my surprise, one of the girls says “we can pull if you want to” and with that one of them takes the lead.

At that moment it became clear to me that (1) these girls can ride, (2) there is no reason why we can’t start pushing the pace, and (3) there was no need to wait for the boys so we could have our group ride. We're no longer waiting, we're working. And i
t became a game of not how long until the boys catch us but how long can we hold them off.

GAME ON.

This is one of my favorite games. Even better than Bridge The Gap. You play Bridge The Gap when you are bored in the back of a paceline. You play How Long Can I Hold Them Off when you are in the lead of a race. As an age grouper, I played this game a lot. The measure of how good my race was going was often determined by how long I could hold off Leslie Curley, a great cyclist. If I held her off 30 minutes, that was decent but I would still need to have a heck of a run. I still remember the race where I held her off for 2 hours and realized I was on to something big.

I went on to win that race.

How Long Can You Hold Them Off is not something I get to play as a pro very often and so I miss the game. I’m not using being chased. I’m usually chasing down some phantom group of pros that exited the swim a day before me. That’s an exaggeration but you can see how different the game is and how fun it was today to just get back to one of my favorite games.

I was so ready to play.

If we can hold the boys off for 30, surely we can do 45. I love this game. This pace. The power that pulses through my legs. I push most of the headwind sections and hills. The girls are right behind me. I push myself up to my max in power and HR, back off to catch my breath then do it all over again. I love this feeling. I realize I need to do this more often in a race. To race like I train. If I am willing to smash myself over and over again like this on a ride, why not in racing?

What holds us back?

Back to the road and Melanie is now pulling us at 23 mph. She’s in her clip on aero bars and I’m sitting third wheel. I feel like I’m part of some breakaway pack that is riding like mad to hold the chase group off. A few miles later, Kelsey takes the lead. And just like that we start rotating through. We now have a paceline. Each of us keeps pushing the pace. And I’m working. This is no namby pamby sissy pants girlie girl ride. There were times in their draft that I was putting out over xxx watts. In their draft. Kindly do the math.

That is 4 watts per kilogram for me.

IN THEIR DRAFT!

45 minutes, 50 minutes and now an hour has gone by without the boys catching us. I realize at this point that we are on to a good thing. A really good thing. If they haven’t gotten us now, they probably won’t but that doesn’t mean we can stop pushing. The girls, too, have realized that we are doing something big. We aren’t just taking a head start. We are holding the head start. Gaining with the head start.

We are the lead pack!

Behind me the girls are guessing as to what happened to the boys. Why haven’t they caught up to us yet? Maybe something happened? Maybe Adam didn’t show up tonight? Maybe they caught traffic at the major stop signs?

Maybe, I told them, we are just riding really strong.

Maybe we’re holding a steady pace.

Maybe we’re just having a really good ride.

(why is it that we, as girls, look for reasons why others are failing out there to explain our success rather than just accepting that we are good enough, fast enough, strong enough….)

We make the turn on to Beith and then cross Anderson. Melanie announces there are 10 miles to go. 10 miles at this pace is less than 30 minutes. Kelsey says to us; “If we could hold them off until Town Hall that would be amazing.” Amazing it will be. I say to them, let’s go, let’s make it happen. And we’re off.

Melanie is pulling us now at over 24 mph. I realize that this entire ride is amazing. With teenage girls 13, 14…15 years old? It’s hard to judge age when you’re sitting on someone’s wheel. Most teenagers are thinking about when they’ll get to drive a car at these speeds. These girls are just doing it on their bike. We start approaching Town Hall and Kelsey tells us we’ll have to wait for her. Not today! I tell her to explode her legs and chase after me.

It took over 9 watts per kilogram for me to get up and over that hill.

And Kelsey was right behind me.

I tell them because we were the first to climb the hill today, we are the queens of the hill. The boys fight for king of the hill. They drop each other and tear their legs to shreds to be first up this short, steep climb. But there would be no king tonight. The girls were already there.

Girls win. Not only that, girls rule.

We cruise down Campton Hills and Melanie says there is one more hill before we have held the boys off for the entire ride. When we finally come over the hill past LaFox we realize we have done a good thing.

We held them off.

For the entire ride.

Time to breathe. The girl talk begins. They ask me if I do triathlons. I do. They ask me what is my favorite. I say running. They tell me I am lucky. I say I’ve been running since I was their age. I tell them I am old enough to be their mom. They laugh. I tell them I’ve done the sport for 10 years. They do not believe me. They tell me about their most recent race, about worlds, about running, about triathlon.


How many teenagers do you know that talk...triathlon?

We pull into Leroy Oakes and it’s time for a run. Before I can even dismount my bike they already have their shoes on and they start running.

I have just been beat out of transition.

About 5 minutes later while I am still tying my shoes in transition, the boys pull in. I set out for my run and see Kelsey killing the run with Melanie not far behind. I tell them the boys just arrived. They run by huffing and puffing a surprised ”NO WAY!”

By the time I return from my run, they are gone. I missed my opportunity to say thanks. Thanks for pushing me. Thanks for joining me on one of the hardest - yet most enjoyable rides - I've had in awhile. Thanks for making me realize that the future of our sport is strong.


And, it goes without saying, thanks for pulling me.