Saturday, October 31, 2009

Bloodletting

It’s Halloween. Regardless how you feel about distributing candy to small children who beg at your door like they need a little more sugar and sloth in their diet, I can’t help but revisit the Halloweens of my past with a sweet fondness. There was the Wonder Woman costume with matching mask (I also had the matching underroos). Raggedy Ann. A baby. A cowgirl. I cannot remember anything else but I do remember collecting a giant pillowcase of candy and processing it with – of course – a system. Even at a young age I showed a freakish ability to organize. First to go – the Smarties, Mary Janes and those nasty peanut butter candies that come in orange or black wax wrappers.

WHO BUYS THOSE!?!

Next, I would be willing to eat the Snickers, Almond Joys, Butterfingers and M&Ms.

But I would absolutely trade all of that for Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

This year Halloween has not been about candy. No, in fact I don’t buy candy to give out to children. It turns out that we live in a neighborhood where the median age is something like….70. I don’t answer the door on Halloween. I’ve thought about leaving a bag of candy on the porch with a note that says help yourself but it reminds me of dark porches with bowls of that nasty bubble gum and notes of help yourself which sounded more like a lure into Squeaky’s Porn Shed behind the house than a generous Halloween treat.

Creepy.

This year in celebration of Halloween, I’m not dressing up. In fact I find the whole dressing up as an adult thing kind of ….weird. I like who I am and on most days I can barely dress myself in something other than a jog bra and capri tights. So to assemble an entire outfit that not only is witty, creative and mysterious….yeah, that’s what I call the days when I put on jeans and dry my hair. Call me creative, honey. I’m dressed.

Every year we get an invitation to a friend’s Halloween party. I like them but I hate the “mandatory” command about dressing up for Halloween. In my life, the only thing that is mandatory is starting the day with coffee. Not doing it in costume. Besides, I’m convinced that costume parties are just an excuse for single girls to dress up like a slutty cat. I’m allergic to cats therefore I am allergic to (most) Halloween parties.

Halloween reminds me of black cats, vampires and blood. Drippy, gory things. Somebody take a bite out of me. Oddly enough, my life lately has been about blood. Giving it. Lots of it. I’ve been tested for many things. The only thing I’m pretty sure I haven’t been tested for is distemper.

According to my husband, I’m 100 percent positive.

I’m not dying and I’m not ill. I’m just testing to be sure I am human and not part e.l.f.

Though it’s inconclusive at this time.

There was one week I was at the doctor several times to give blood. Each time I would get home, they’d call and say they forgot something. Back to the doctor for more blood. I almost started sticking them with needles when on the third day they asked me what my blood type was. Shouldn’t you be telling me? Have you not seen enough of my blood to know? Isn’t there some kind of color chart. Like telling if you are dehydrated from your pee? O positive is light red, A negative is dark? I had no idea what my blood type was. Hence another test.

Know what they found?

99.9 percent caffeine and .1 percent little tufts of chihuahua fur. Bottom line: my blood runs coffee with a hint of puppy.

Actually my blood type was A positive. It came as no surprise. I’ve always known I was perfect. I’m not sure what I should do with this information other than tease my husband for being O-negative while I’m a perfect A-plus.

It's like giving candy to a child, information like that.

In that week I got to know the phlebotomist by name. She would ask me what workout I was doing that day. She told me I had great veins. But when she told me the story about how her husband forgot their 10 year anniversary…I got a little scared. Nothing spells psychotrouble like a woman in a white lab coat holding a needle while shouting about her husband. I wanted to buy her dinner, give her roses or at the very least ask her to put the needle down but when she finally stuck me in the arm I could almost taste the satisfaction.

Like my arm was her husband.

This past Monday I gave more blood. It was a different phlebotomist who tried to make small talk with me. I really didn’t enjoy it. Mostly because there was a rubberband pinching off my bicep and she kept pulling out all these little vials. Is this necessary? I’m perfect people, A positive. You won’t find blood more perfect than mine.

Imagine my delight when the asthma-is-awesome doctor decided he wanted to get in on this. He, too, wants my blood. But I thought to myself: this again? There’s got to be some type of overdraft rule here. Like you can only withdraw so much blood from my veins before they are just empty. Veins are tapped out. Ask me to cough it up instead.

To another lab with a new phlebotomist. I know this game well. Roll up the sleeve, stick arm on little desk that sticks off of chair and wait for rubberband.

LOOK AT THOSE VEINS!

I know this reaction too by now. And you know how when someone tells you something enough instead of getting embarrassed or annoyed by it you finally concede to play along.

I know, they’re great aren’t they? (oh my god I just said that)

WOW! WHICH ONE SHOULD I USE?

Seriously it was like phlebotomist Christmas. My arms are like a road map of phlebotofun. (I did not say that)

YOU MUST WORKOUT!

No, I eat Moose Tracks everyday while watching Oprah (lie). But really: they popped out of my arm when I was about 14 years old while taking tennis lessons. (thinking: I’m like Anna Kournikova except way hotter but like her I play a lot and don’t win. I also really like Spanish men)

YOU MUST COMPETE NOW!

I do, or did. I don’t know.

I’M GOING TO USE THIS BEAUTIFUL VEIN!

It's like a bad Carly Simon song. Your great veins, I bet you think this..

When I was out in Colorado Springs I actually quite enjoyed helping with a blood lactate test. For once I was sticking someone with a needle. But the freaky part? Dude didn’t bleed. I had no idea what that meant but one thing is certain: he was not A-positive. Perfect people always bleed gumdrops and cupcakes. I did finally get him to bleed after 3 shots in the finger. I wasn’t supposed to use the fatty part of his finger but…it’s the only place I could draw blood. And then I drank it. And hid for the rest of the day.

Of course I’m just kidding. It’s a little Halloween humor. Oh go eat your Mary Jane. Honestly after all of the needles and blood lately, I feel like I’m totally over Halloween. Either that or I have the perfect costume: I need to go as a sharps container.

That settles it: I’m going to answer the door tomorrow night. I’ve got a great costume. I’m going as the girl with great veins and by my side will be Boss, the Chihuahua going as a Sharpei. Boss had an "inappropriate reaction" (vet speak) to a vaccine that caused him to swell up with face wrinkles and hives. He makes a damn ugly Chihuahua right now but one heck of a ringer for a Sharpei. This is the best damn Halloween ever – no costumes, we are just going as ourselves.

So stop on by tonight. I might answer the door and I might give out the good stuff. That would be dental floss.

Seriously what was wrong with THOSE people?

But heed my warning: if you see a bowl with a bunch of bubble gum and a sign that says help yourself, take that advice – help yourself by running away.

Or else I’m sending Squeaky after you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Secret Identity

The other day, Chris and I were walking out of the gym.

That girl is always here, he said pointing to a girl with long black hair and headphones, no matter what time I’m here, she’s here too.

I knew what he meant. Every time I go to the gym inevitably I see the same guy. And I’ve seen him at the gym for years. I don’t know his name, I don’t know anything about him and he looks pretty nondescript so I just call him “the guy I always see here.”

Thinking about it, there’s about a dozen gym personalities that I’ve seen, repeatedly, over the years. For better or for worse. The man who wears white spandex shorts, the creepy old tan guy who chews gum really fast, the woman who walks around in a jog bra and tights (ew), the skeleton woman who swims with a clear plastic shower cap, the guy who grunts on the treadmill and my all time favorite had to be the couple who worked out years ago in the weight room. The stripper and the meathead. We called her Boobalaroo and he called her babe. Clearly she was a stripper because, ok, we had no good reason to think she was a stripper other than woman’s intuition that the woman knew how to work a pole. She would do incline presses and meathead would stand over her shouting, “come on, big up for a big girl.” Months later she appeared pregnant in the weight room doing one-legged squats with him there shouting “come on, big up for a big girl.”

It was quite disturbing.

The list could go on and – keep in mind – that’s just on the gym floor. I haven’t even gotten to the pool yet. If I were to list the personalities of those who frequent the pool I would either make myself throw up or throw out my neck trying to mimic what the hell they are doing in the pool. I have seen some of the most comical, sometimes just plain…HUH!?... in the pool. From hygiene, to body hair, to swimsuits that really really really need to be retired, to the world’s largest cankles (record breaking), from shower caps to is that dude really wearing his underwear to that really can’t feel good.

Really.

We scanned the pool for a lane when Chris said, there’s the chick who swims really fast. For the record, she didn’t swim all that fast she just had a nice stroke and a graceful flip turn. We sat watching her on the edge of the hot tub when from the lockerroom, the girl who always wears fins started walking toward the pool so Chris said that we better get a lane. At first we had separate lanes then at some point we split a lane because the water aerobics class took over two entire lap lanes so three people could bounce around and walk laps. WALK laps. In the SWIMMING pool. We finished up in the lane next to the tall guy who swims pretty fast for swimming pretty bad. He always asks me how far I’m swimming, I tell him and then he always shakes his head.

As I returned to the lockerroom, I thought about him and the spooky guy who sits in the corner of the hot tub. And then I wondered about my gym personality. I’ve been coming here for years – 10 years to be exact – and I’m bound to have been noticed by others. If I’ve seen them, they’ve seen me and they’ve got to think something about the things I do here.

Standing by the suit dryer, it hit me.

Oh crap.

I’m the girl that sometimes stands naked by the suit dryer.

How awful. HOW OBSCENE!

Do you know what this means? I’ve been called out. By myself! At that moment I was indeed standing nearly naked by the suit dryer. How could I be this person?

Suddenly I got very self-conscious about my new found identity. I fastened that towel around me as tight as it would go and went to my locker. I felt uncomfortable, like I had been found out and needed to rectify this. I can’t be known as naked girl that stands by the suit dryer. I want to be known as the chick with the killer abs or the girl who smells like vanilla. But this?

As I stood there trying on all the other identities I wanted, I realized who was in the locker bay. The mom and her daughter. I might be the naked chick, but these two – these two really disturb me.

It sounds nice enough – you have a mother and a daughter who work out together. That is fine. What is not fine is that routinely they are naked next to each other and carrying on an entirely normal conversation. This is not fine. You can talk about your vagina with your mom, you however cannot show it to her. Nevermind that you came out of hers, do not show mom the vagina.

Please.

All of a sudden I was no longer naked girl but girl who got dressed in 30 seconds flat and got the hell of out there. I really need to consider changing my locker request. Between the mom and her daughter and the woman who spreads the towel on the bench so she can sit naked on it who also wears a rubbery flowered swim cap – I have got to relocate.

I went up to the track to do some strength training. The indoor track was filled with runners tonight. Somewhere between a back extension and an upright row with tubing I heard something.

Oh it can’t be.

It’s the man who blows out while he runs.

No joke he actually blows air out very loudly as he runs in a HOO sound. Every. Single. Breath. Around the track. 11 laps to a mile. I look at him, note that he actually has decent run form too bad he sounds like a train choo chooing on the track. It was kind of like the woman who breaststrokes for an hour – you think to yourself, there is no way they will last more than 15 minutes so by the time they start annoying me they will be gone – no, he actually ran for about 30 minutes.

And HOOed each time.

I laughed about it as he went by and thought to myself that at least I don’t have to be running around with him.

But my husband was.

Speaking of which, husband. My husband who is probably known as the guy who always wears red shorts because he does. Every pair of running shorts he has – red. But as I watched him run around the track I realized his gym identity was much worse.

The dude who was skipping. Around the track. Several laps.

As the dudes on the basketball court shouted out FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!!! from below, taking their game a little too manly and seriously, I watched my nancyredpants husband skipping around the track.

Stop looking at him, stop looking at him and if asked: I do not know this man. I am pretty sure my husband is playing basketball.

Around 6:30 pm I told Chris that I wanted another 30 minutes to attend a class. Our gym has dozens of classes and I want to start attending some. I think. Most of the classes have catchy names that I don’t understand but I was pretty sure I could handle “Pilates”. I’ve never been and always wanted to try.

I walked into the aerobics room and the teacher said we would need weights. Light weights – like 3 pounds. 3 pound weights? Other than holding paper down, what are we going to do with 3 pound weights? And….why? Then she started up the music, turned around and said welcome to Tonga.

Welcome to….WHAT?

Tonga.

Pardon me but WHAT the fuck is tonga?

It’s toning plus yoga. Ton-ga.

My first thought was at least it’s only 30 minutes. I can fake it for 30 minutes. I can do anything for 30 minutes.

Unless she tells me to Rock The Horse. Or do an Around The World. Or Grapevine.

In that case, I’m running out of here.

I faked it pretty good, thought about leaving but didn’t want to appear rude. Plus there were only 4 people in the class. She would totally notice me. I played along and held it together pretty well until she showed us how to Stir The Pot.

And that was about when I lost it.

I looked at myself in the mirror. There I was holding 3 pound weights which together made up the “spoon” with which I was stirring the pot. And, allegedly, working on my core. All set a version of Natascha Bedingfield's Unwritten overdosed on amphetamines set to a techno beat.

The rest is still unwritten.....

Oh no, I'm writing about it. I looked at myself in the mirror which only reflected the pure ridiculousness of it right back at me. I started giggling because the sight of it all was just too damn funny. Yes, if I’ve learned anything in the past two years, it’s how to keep a sense of humor about myself. To take it all a little less seriously. Because it’s all supposed to be fun. I’m not saying I’m above stirring the pot. I’m just saying if my husband walks by the window and sees me stirring the pot, he is going to be known at the gym as the man who shit himself.

The instructor turned around to change the music about 20 minutes into the class – the point at which the Toning switched over to Yoga making it Tonga. I took that as my cue. And became the girl who walked out of class early. I noticed Chris at the cable machine, done skipping, in his red shorts and shook my head at him.

I’m ready to go when you are.

Walking back into the lockerroom, I was almost run over by the woman with the wheeled suitcase before reaching the 250 bay. Naked woman who applies lotion to self gratuitously was standing at the sink. And the woman who swims in the shower cap just walked by. I felt compelled to drop my towel by the suit dryer but I resisted. Besides, I've got a reputation to keep. I'm going to be the girl who is married to the guy who skips. Which at least is better than the chick who tried (ha ha ha) tonga.

Not a word about Tonga, ladies. Not a word.


I have got to start coming to the gym at a different time.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Life Without Lines

I’m like a Where’s Waldo lately except it’s Where’s ELF. And I don’t have a funny stocking cap (speaking of which, it’s almost winter which means it’s almost winter hat season). Here's one from the winter hat archives:



Ok I’m nothing like Waldo but back to the point...

Where is myself? At home now. For the next few weeks. And I’ve been doing normal things that normal people do. I've gone totally normal. And, honestly, I'm enjoying myself!

Everyone needs a few weeks each year to truly enjoy themselves. Take the demands completely away, there is nothing I “have” to do, there are things I want to do but if I don’t get to do them I don’t feel guilty or less of a person.

Know what I mean?

In other words, I have been rocking, absolutely nailing and setting all new personal bests (of least amount of yards swum and lowest power output) in the 6-hour training week.

I know what you’re thinking….the 6-hour training week? Yes, 6 hours. Does it even count? Is it worth even recording in a log? I think so. Because I’ve been doing so. And 6 hours is on the high end. There are some weeks I managed to squeeze in….4. Maybe a few 5s.

There are things I like to do (run), things I probably should do (swim) and things I will do if the weather is nice enough (bike), things I probably should maintain (strength) and things I want to try (flow yoga, wine school, cyclocross).

For the record: you can record wine school in Training Peaks.

And at this point I wish I could record “trying to make the baby” on Training Peaks because I’m telling you this is a lot more work than it sounds.

When I told Chris I was feeling guilty for racking up the 5 hour training weeks, he said:

Liz, maybe you need a few 5 hour training weeks.

I found myself thinking he’s right (he usually is unless the conversation involves why it's ok to eat potato chips before dinner). And after I gave myself permission, I became the master of...whatever. Of taking it easy. Of not swimming for an entire week. Of calling “cleaning my house” a workout. Of counting "walks"...



Exhibit A (above): "walking"

What else? On Monday I went for an easy ride at the Arboretum. This sums up the ride.




I put that picture up on Facebook the other day and got all sorts of weird feedback. Like, what is going on here, what’s wrong, where is this from. This, my friends, is what happens when your husband chooses to make you the subject of the 12904290834902 photos he has been taking with his new camera. Chris does not take scenery photos. He insists that someone is always in the photo. Since he’s holding the camera, the model is me. I can only stand so many pictures of myself smiling in a pose so I decided to pose in a different way.

(it’s worth noting that the next day I woke up and my left side REALLY hurt and it took me a few minutes to realize that is because Chris made me heave my bike into this pose about a dozen times while he changed the lighting and shutter speed)

Tuesday I visited my mom. Rode my bike over there which took all of about 20 minutes which is, coincidentally, long enough to call a bike workout. We made her world famous ghost cookies. They’re actually not world famous but once you all get a look at these adorable little cookies, it will be like a ghost cookie craze. Check it out.



Nutter butters + almond bark + mini M&M eyes = easy yum

Tuesday I also ran track. Yes – TRACK! I’m doing a few local 5Ks so right now the track makes perfect sense. I made the mistake of telling Jen Harrison that I was doing track to which she instantly replied with a page long email containing a workout with specific times to hit.

Gee thanks.

This is what I get for telling someone who knows precisely what I can – and cannot – do on the track. 1600, 2 x 800, 4 x 400, 2 x 200. That was more fun that eating a dozen ghost cookies in one sitting.

Which I didn’t do but my husband did.

On Wednesday, we celebrated Chris’ 21st birthday. The 21st birthday he has celebrated now 15 times. We started at the Arboretum taking pictures. Seriously another picture of me standing next to a tree and smiling? No thank you.



When it got dark, I suggested we go wine tasting. What’s more fun that drinking on a Wednesday night?

Answer: drinking a wee bit too much on Wednesday night. OUCH.

Thursday night I headed down to the city to teach a cycling class. I actually found the north side. I also found that it is hell to get into and out of the north side. First of all, too many Volkswagons. Secondly, 90 East. Say no more. Third, the entrance on Lawrence was closed and the detour took me on a 20-minute tour of stoplights. I think at some point in Chicago you pick a side and you stay there. North Side or South Side. I choose the South Side. Or should I say Souff Side. I like the ghetto impalas and the hoodies. Plus I swear that homeless guy on the ramp of Damen makes pretty eyes at me every time.

On Friday I visited Boss. Chris calls them my conjugal visits. Boss has been on temporary leave of absence at my in-laws for the past 6 weeks. This is our last ditch effort to figure out why I have grown myself asthma in the past year. Not just exercise-induced asthma but full on heavily medicated asthma is awesome asthma. It’s actually not awesome. We thought it might be Boss so we displaced him, went on a cleaning frenzy and encased everything in the house except ourselves. It didn’t help. In fact the only time that my peak flow numbers were good was in Hawaii. It would be only logical to conclude that I need to live in Hawaii.

My husband isn't buying that!

Saturday it was Chris’ real birthday. So he walked around the house all morning in circles demanding Birthday Sex while announcing the fact that he has not played Halo in about a week. I think that is manspeak for….I have emerged from my man cave and I am ready to mate. When he finally did stop circling me, I looked at him, he looked at me and I shook my head ‘no’.

Without too many details….ok who am I kidding, the whole fun of this story is the details so if you are not interested in the details – EAR MUFFS! I think I have peed on over 100 little white sticks in the past few months. The other day I decided to start conserving money and buy the cheaper sticks. And you wouldn’t believe what happened:

Nothing.

No lines. No control line, no - blue - lines.

(crickets)

Do you know what this was like? Waiting for two lines, expecting at least one line and instead seeing NO LINES? WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MEAN!?! Uterus broken? System corrupt? User error? How can you fail at peeing on something! I've spent years peeing on my bike, my racing flats and on myself. Now when it counts, I missed! (maybe?)

Sunday morning finally contains some notes worth recording in my training log. I woke up early to drive down to the city for a 5K. I love the city when everyone else sleeps. For about a mile I even had Lake Shore Drive northbound all to myself. Across the lake, the sun was peeking out of a thin sliver on the horizon. Looking across Montrose Harbor, I could see the entire skyline of the city. It was beautiful.

The 5K was hard. Aren’t they always? What I love – and hate – about the 5K is that it is redline from the gun – it never lets up. A 10K is like a 5K just twice as long. It never fails that I find myself at the halfway mark of a 10K about 10 seconds off my 5K time and thinking CRAP now I have to hold it. If you do a half marathon right it’s like running a 10K up to the 7 mile mark then you just hang on for dear life.

About 3 weeks ago, I did a local 5K and as I crossed the line, the man behind me summed it up: “I think all races hurt about the same no matter the distance, except that in a 5K you have to squeeze all that hurt into a short amount of time.” He’s right. Within 1 mile you’re wheezing, barking and in the hurt box. And you know that is exactly where you need to be for the next 2 miles. I was out there this morning at mile 1 thinking to myself you chose this! I hit the first mile too fast – 11 seconds faster than my track mile the other day – not good - but then again that’s the risk you have to take in a 5K. You really can’t wait and see. You just go. I took about 22 seconds off my time from 3 weeks ago.

The good news is that I beat the family dressed up as condiments. The bad news is that a dude in a chicken costume ran a 16:38 5K.

What the f&#*ck!?!?!



But wait, it gets better. I looked at my 2nd overall medal and noticed there seems to be a discrepancy....it's a medal for the 10K. Do you know what that means?

I just ran the world’s fastest 10K.

ON 6 HOURS A WEEK!

Big thank you to the race announcer who said my name as I crossed the line, said I was in good form (pity lie but thank you nonetheless) and then announced that I have a blog about triathlon and….life.

Is that what this is? Life?

If so then I call this life without lines. Yes, that's it. No lines.

I'm really just a bunch of squiggles. Test me for sguigglyness. I'll come up positive.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

75 Tips For Triathlon

Like I said before, I learned a lot last weekend. Here is my interpretation of the “take away points” from the combined seminars. Some are things you are already know. Some are things you know but everyone needs to hear from time to time. Some are things you may not know. After a weekend of things like this it’s safe to say I had complete brain freeze, like I just ate a giant popsicle of information in less than 30 seconds.

Ouch.

It’s a long list; 75 tips for triathlon. Hopefully there is one thing you can take away and integrate into your own training. If you have any questions, let me know!

1. If you want to achieve a goal (ie., qualifying for Kona, winning your AG at the local sprint race), look at the time/placement that it takes & honestly ask yourself if you can do that then consider what it would honestly take (training, recovery, nutrition, lifestyle) to do that.


2. Testing is an honest look at where you are at; you need confidence & guts to accept & do this so you know how to pace yourself. If you fear testing, you are not being honest with yourself.

3. To achieve your goal you must be able to meet the demands of the competition & be honest with yourself. If you incorrectly pace yourself, you have not honestly assessed or accepted your abilities (strengths & weaknesses).

4. It is better to be 50% undertrained than .5% overtrained. If it sounds like too much, it is too much.

5. The first step in creating a champion athlete is consistency in training. Without consistency, you will not make progress. What deters consistency? Injury, illness, underrecovery, altering the training plan (don't add 30 minutes to a bike ride because it's nice out, you feel like it, you felt good).

6. The best athletes address that training has a mental, physical, emotional & spiritual component. To get the most out of your training, consider each of those factors.

7. Address all peripheral components always; core strength, recovery, nutrition, hydration. Without these, you will not integrate training & make progress.

8. It’s not the training that makes the athlete, it’s the spaces in between the training. Recovery, nutrition, rest, mental aptitude/attitude – these are the things that make champion athletes.

9. If you perform better in a test than a race, your biggest obstacle is mental. If an athlete performs as well in a test as they do in a race, they have the confidence & mental skills to perform to their potential (& they are much easier to coach).

10. The best ITU triathletes in the world are running 60 – 75 miles per week. The best 10K runners in the world are running 125 miles per week. The best runners in the world are running 150 miles per week.

11. Why do short course athletes do long runs (90 - 120 minutes)? Because triathlon is an endurance event. Avoid looking at triathlon like 3 separate races, instead it's 1 endurance event. Even at the sprint level, most athletes are out there for 90 minutes – an endurance event! Long runs build the physiological pathways for improved aerobic endurance & connective tissue required to handle the demands of race specific work for triathlon.

12. Many elite athletes typically have power to weight ratios over 4.25 watts/kg (& many are over 5 watts/kg). Numbers-wise, they have the ability to perform & recover from short pops over 100 watts above threshold for up to 40 times during a 40K draft-legal bike, ability to hit over 600 watts in max power output, ability to sustain over 240 watts for long periods of time. And that is just for the females :)

13. A 5K run test does not test your strength, only your speed. Since triathlon is a sport of strength (& not speed), at times an 8K or 10K is a more appropriate test. Raw speed doesn’t have much to do with triathlon.

14. Frequency of swimming & running is important for neuromuscular adaptation; 3 sessions a week to maintain, 4 to make progress, 5 to reach 95% of your full potential.

15. To improve your run, do low duration/high frequency; shorter periods of time are easier for integrating better run mechanics.

16. 2/3 of training is to train your engine; 1/3 is for race specifics. Resist the urge to go fast all the time. That will not help your engine.

17. If a female did not start swimming before age 19, she will most likely not be able to develop the attachments in her shoulder to reach full potential in swimming. Males can do this. Females cannot.

18. You learn good run mechanics when you are fresh; you should evaluate your run mechanics when you’re fatigued (or breaking down) like in a race.

19. Racing or training at altitude slows your times by about 3.5%.

20. To receive the benefits of altitude training, stay for 10 days. The effects should last 2 – 3 weeks.

21. Athletes who live at altitude are generally better when the course is more challenging or pace is slower since they cannot train up to their full speed potential at altitude (& therefore do not have the neuromuscular ability to hold those faster speeds).

22. If you are going from sea level to race at altitude, go as late as possible, race then go home so your body does not have time to register the difference.

23. The best run race is run with even splits; surging costs too much & negative splitting does not give an accurate snapshot at your body’s true potential.

24. If you are a strong runner off the bike, you should be able to complete the Ironman marathon within 20 minutes of your open marathon time. If not, work on your biking (not your running).

25. Many triathletes are not good swimmers, so they emerge from the swim overworked. Then they think they are good bikers so they override the bike. Then they get off the bike & cannot run. If this is you, improve your swim technique (more than your speed; form precedes speed), work on your energy management throughout the race (pacing) & strengthen your cycling.

26. Every action you make is preceded by a thought. There is no such thing in a race as “it just wasn’t my day” or “it was a bad day at the office”. The responses you made to the “bad” factors were your choice (& required forethought).

27. If you didn’t have your day, at some point you likely consciously or unconsciously sabotaged yourself with your inner dialogue. Pay attention to your inner dialogue in training to find out how you will respond during racing.

28. Ask yourself “what would be a good internal dialogue”, always have a replacement strategy if you find yourself with negative dialogue, thoughts or phrases.

29. Visualization before a race should be always framed as successful, always detailed & always aiming high.

30. To make something a habit you must recognize it needs to be changed, assess why it happened, replace it with something positive & habituate through frequent practice.

31. The athlete with the highest run stride rate will win; but first you must learn to coordinate this rate with your other run biomechanics & be able to maintain it.

32. You will not increase your turnover/cadence in running until you effectively lean forward. Forget the metronome, learn how to lean! Often tight hip flexors prevent us from leaning forward. How do they tighten? Desk jobs, too aerodynamic on the bike, too much kick in your swim.

33. Forward lean + power application in each step (think elasticity without vertical oscillation) = turnover/stride rate.

34. It is much quicker & easier to make a biomechanical improvement than a physiological improvement. You can work all year at running faster at the same HR but it might only take a few days to change your form (which usually equates to better speed). Send your coach videotape or meet with your coach to assess your form; it’s the easiest (& cheapest!) way to make progress.

35. Better run biomechanics means you will recover quicker from training & can handle more training overall.

36. Factors that limit your running; too much upper body mass from swimming, overexertion in the swim, too much kick in the swim, too much body weight, too low a cadence on the bike, improper fueling on the bike, too aerodynamic on the bike, tight hip flexors.

37. It takes 10 to 12 years & 10,000 hours of training (25/week) to create a junior into a world class athlete. Most world class athletes did not start out as exceptional athletes. They just stuck with it & worked hard over a significant period of time. Bottom line: athletic succes does not happen overnight, progress takes time.

38. We need to identify & develop more junior triathletes. Other countries have an advantage in that their athletes start young as triathletes. In our country, the children start as a swimmer or runner then become triathletes. While the other countries are not the fastest runners or swimmers in the sport, they are the fastest triathletes because the kids were developed specifically as triathletes.

39. 90% of success is mental aptitude, the other 10% includes training/recovery, an unwavering belief in your coach, a coach who understands the end product & how to achieve it.

40. Often, do a reality check with yourself. Check in & ask if your goals are realistic. If not, adjust. Honestly evaulate your training. In general, you will not do in racing what you haven't done in training. Racing does not magically add 2 mph to your bike splits or take off 1 minute per mile from your run. You should go into a race knowing exactly how you will do based on training data & stats. Very few athletes (only 1%) have the ability to transcend & outperform themselves on race day.

41. Natural ability doesn’t mean much at the upper level of the sport (age group or elite). Everyone is naturally talented. It’s the little things that make the difference (strength, recovery, nutrition, mental). Always look for “free” ways to improve your speed by giving more attention to those peripheral factors.

42. An athlete is only as good as they recover.

43. To achieve as an elite pro, you must do the hard work – have the ability to do it & the ability to handle it (recovery). In general, short course elites are training 27 – 33 hours/week.

44. If you win all of the races you do or always achieve your goal, you will never learn anything (your weaknesses will never be exposed).

45. Don't work your weakness until it becomes your strength. Work your strengths to make them stronger & work your weakness without giving up on your strengths.

46. The term “pro” in our country does not mean world class athlete. It simply means the ability to chase after money.

47. The best long course athletes come from short course backgrounds. Speed & technique before endurance. Why? It is much easier to make the neuromuscular changes required for good biomechanics/form when you are working on shorter distances. The more you can hold form over longer distances, the more efficient you will be, the faster you can go. Want to stay at the same slow speed? Shuffle a marathon year after year.

48. If you use a low cadence during your cycling test the results are inaccurate; low cadence (below 85) does not permit you to get your HR up to true threshold level. Low cadence does not tax your aerobic system.

49. Using a lower cadence (under 85 rpms) requires much more leg strength & lower carb consumption, if you do not have the leg strength required to push this low of a cadence but you do so anyways, you will not run well off the bike (because of muscular fatigue & probably some GI issues because your body was not consuming calories as quickly as you were putting them in).

50. From time to time, you should do your run test off a (nearly) race specific bike; triathlon is about running well of the bike. Off the bike run splits should be within 4 – 7% of your open run time. If not, you need to work on your cycling (not your running).

51. Eat to train, don’t train to eat. Think about this. How many of you reward yourself with training by eating something “forbidden”? We need to fix our broken relationship with food. You should not look at it like you can eat whatever you want because you train a lot. High qualify fuel leads to high quality performance. Garbage in = garbage out.

52. Always look at the timing, quality & quantity of what you eat. Ask yourself why am I eating this. Eat with a purpose – performance or recovery.

53. If you are trying to lose weight, do not monitor the numbers on the scale. Your power output on the bike & run economy is more important than weight or body fat. In other words, if you can increase your bike power & run faster at the same weight, you are making progress.

54. Some athletes gain weight over time as they get more involved in the sport because of muscle mass gains. However, they appear leaner, make power progress & run faster. Let go of the scale & look at your performance instead.

55. If you want to lose weight, ask yourself why, how will it impact your health, performance, how will it impact you mentally/emotionally.

56. Learn to develop more instinctual eating. Just because it’s lunchtime doesn’t mean you have to eat. Learn to listen to your body’s cues, eat when you are hungry & take enough time to eat (20 minutes at least) to hear when your body is full.

57. Fluctuations in blood sugar & lack of blood sugar control leads to cravings. This is a protective mechanism of your brain as you seek out quick energy from sugar for survival. To eliminate cravings, aim to eat every 3 to 4 hours to have more stable blood sugar.

58. Avoid doing high quality training in the morning; you will not have the energetic ability to perform well because you will be low on calories & wake up dehydrated from sleep. If you must train in the morning, try fluid calories (smoothie, sports drink) prior to the workout.

59. Avoid sports nutrition when you do not “need” it; when not training, for snacks, in the off season. Don't replace real food with bars (a bar is not a meal!).

60. In training, you must do race simulation eating; this is practicing your fuel plan at the intensity you plan to race at. If you go into a race & go harder than in training, your fuel plan may not work & GI distress may result.

61. Be sure to eat carbohydrate, protein & fat at all meals & snacks to promote satiety. Satiety controls hunger.

62. Metabolic efficiency is important for Ironman success; teach your body to utilize fat by training in the appropriate heart rate zones & eating properly. Avoid relying on high sugar/carbohydrate foods throughout the day. This interferes with your body’s ability to utilize fat for fuel. Since fat provides fuel for low intensity/long-lasting events, it is important for Ironman success. A diet high in processed foods or too low of body fat will negatively impact your long course racing.

63. Your carbohydrate stores are very limited; males have about 1900 calories & females have 1200. When you burn through that, you bonk. This is why you need to learn to draw from fat for fuel & why you need to feed yourself during training.

64. Endurance athletes eat diets too high in carbohydrates; this leads to an increased need for supplemental carbs (sports food) but also introduces a higher risk of GI distress during racing (because your body shunts blood to the muscles to work & cannot digest food in the gut).

65. Often athletes say “I lack speed” or “I need more speedwork”. Speed is not a limiting factor in triathlon. Triathlon is a sport of strength & speed endurance, not raw speed. Get stronger/more efficient & you will get faster.

66. You can have bad run form & run fast. Chances are you have a good aerobic engine. If you improve your run biomechanics, you will get that much faster.

67. If an athlete is good in open water & bad in the pool, chances are they have poor “back end” swimming (follow through, kick). This athlete will also gain little benefit from drafting since you cannot catch water when it is turbulent from someone else kicking.

68. Lactate threshold is a more determining performance factor than V02max.

69. Your lactate threshold is around your 10K run pace.

70. Once you go above LT, you cannot get that time back. Pacing is imperative. Once you blow up, you’re done.

71. Elite marathoners may spend nearly 2 hours near LT because they trained that way & have the genetic ability to do so. Ability to work close to LT often predicts 10K & marathon performance.

72. The swim may be the shortest leg of triathlon but the most important. The swim sets you up for a good race. If you emerge from the swim having overexerted yourself, you will not bike or run well. The goal is to be as efficient as possible with as little energy consumption as possible in the swim.

73. If you are chasing a fast swim split, you have to ask yourself “at what expense?” Remember, once you go above your threshold you cannot get that time back (& you set yourself up for GI complications).

74. Pro/elites often swim 25,000 to 27,000 meters per week; the majority of that work at slower than threshold pace.

75. There should be no difference between your pool & open water stroke. The only exception is moving/turbulent water or big swim packs (which requires taking shorter strokes until you get to cleaner water). Learning to apply your pool stroke to open water is a matter of focus & mindfully not changing your stroke.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Higher Learning

Two weeks, nearly 15,000 miles, 5 times zones, 8 flights, a low of 32 degrees, a high of 92 degrees, humidity from 10 percent to 90 percent, from sea level to being surrounded by mountains – and volcanoes – rising over 14,000 feet. I am tired. My brain is full. My lips are cracked. And right now my body honestly has no idea what time zone it is in. Or when I should sleep next.

Last night standing in the check-in line at the Denver airport, misreading a departure screen that said my flight was cancelled I bemoaned to CS that I need to return to sea level. I need to return to my natural habitat.

This was after 5 busy days in Colorado Springs, resting at a dry and crisp elevation of 6,200 feet. My body completely confused went from the hot and humid volcano of Hawaii to dry altitude in less than 24 hours last Wednesday. My skin revolted. My sleep schedule was completely off. And I have a feeling my internal clock will not be right for the next few days.

But it was worth it.

I spent those days learning. I love my husband, I love coffee, I love my little dog and I love learning. A life does not have meaning unless you are learning – because if you’re not learning, what are you doing? Going in a circle with the same information and making the same mistakes over and over again. Learning opens our eyes, learning is experience. Without learning, your mind is dead. Take the time to learn something new each day.

I arrived last Wednesday in Colorado Springs for a coaching education program designed by our sport’s governing organization. Over the next few days, I participated in a rigorous schedule filled with guest speakers, practical sessions and interactive tasks. Each day was a series of lectures, activities and power point from 8 am – 5 pm. With a working lunch. And an after school group project. The days were packed. At times I was so energetic from the excitement of it that I couldn’t wait to hear more. At other times I was so tired from the nonstop go go go schedule that as CS pleaded on Saturday night:

I just want time to sit down and take a crap.

There was a lot of information presented. A lot of theories, data, tests and ideas. With some I agreed. With some I disagreed. But that is the beauty of learning – you listen, your learn, you filter. The good ideas filter right into the file of things I will integrate into my own coaching approach. The not so good ideas file right into File 13.



The program took place at the United States Olympic Training Center. Wow. Read that again. The power of the Olympics, of the idea of being an Olympian is something any one who has ever been an athlete can relate to. Having a dream, setting a goal, sacrificing every day with the desired outcome in mind – not even knowing if you will reach it but feeling that the possibility of reaching it is so meaningful to you that you will give up anything to get there.

That’s what it means to be an Olympian, I think. And this is the closest I will ever get to being an Olympian.


The facility is located in Colorado Springs, an absolutely beautiful town nestled at 6,200 feet above sea level. The air is thin, dry and fall was just arriving. In the days we were there, the leaves along Colorado Avenue changed into burnt yellows and browns. All of this set against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains.




You pass through a security booth and then head over to the designated buildings. There’s USA Judo! There’s the Aquatics center! It becomes real, the 5 Olympic rings set on every building. You feel the energy of what is going on here – or what has gone on here. Through these doors have passed greats like Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps, Andy Potts.

Wow.

Every day we learned. But at the end of the day after sitting still for 9 hours (eek!), we just wanted to play. I traveled to the program with one of my athletes (also a coach), CS, and one of my local friends, KK. KK was just coming off the Chicago Marathon and wanted nothing to do with any type of athletic play. CS and I were like caged animals at 5 pm waiting to bust out and see what was around town.


Our first evening there, we went over to Garden of the Gods. I’ve heard of this trail system before and wanted to see what it was all about. I wasn’t disappointed. We have some “nice” running trails in Illinois but then again they start and finish at about 720 feet. Within a few feet of entering the Breytag Trail we were already climbing. The trail went over 6500 feet and I was reminded of how it feels to run at altitude – breathless, dry and heavy. But it was beautiful. After 60 minutes of ups, downs, rocks, twists, turns, sometimes it was better to just walk it out, I covered very few miles! And if it wasn’t for CS, I’d still be out on that trail as cougar bait trying to find my way back on the trail. There were so many turns and trail offshoots that I couldn’t tell where I was going.

We did some swimming one evening too at a local gym. I experienced a saline pool. I also experienced the joy of a gym without towels. Nothing like standing under a hairdryer with a clump of toilet paper to dry yourself off. CS showed me how to make my glutes hurt really bad in under 20 minutes during some strength training.


The next day we returned to Garden of the Gods. My goal was to run easy for 35 minutes on a flat trail. I realized there is no such thing as a flat trail there. I ended up doing a mix of run/walk and for the first time ever, I just laughed about it. It’s just a run. I’ll have another one in a few days. Instead I just hiked around and enjoyed the scenery. By the way, that trail above was the 1/2 mile of flat section I found. And I ran it back and forth!

In between play, the days were busy. There was a lot of learning. On the first day we learned the vision of the program: to teach our level of coaches to identify future elite athletes and develop them. To bring them up through junior, U23, ITU, perhaps the next Olympics. The entire program was designed on this. Wait. A few quizzical looks. But….we mostly coach age groupers? The ordinary guy with a full-time career, wife, mortgage, 3 kids, a dog, who just wants to go out and beat his buddies at Ironman, to get a little faster, to make the most use of his time, to ultimately stay injury-free. Doesn’t that describe all but 3 percent (or the roughly 300 elites) of the nearly 125,000 members of the governing organization? And, if so, then what are we doing here? How does this translate?

Over the next few days, I realized what we were doing there. Looking at the sport from a different perspective to see what it takes to truly develop an athlete. I mean, what does it really take to get to the truly upper elite level of the sport….how can you get to that highly specific place, what numbers do they need, how much time will it take? It’s not those details that are so much important but rather learning the process of bringing out someone’s best through development. All of the pieces of the puzzle put together to create the big picture. It was about coaching to the whole athlete; the training plus the peripheral (and the peripheral, honestly, is what matters the most…anyone can train but can you recover from and integrate the training…?).

I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a lot I want to say. I will. In the next few days. I’ll share bits and pieces of what I learned. Until then, I shall reapply some chapstick and eat some lunch. I think it's time for lunch.

I really don't know.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Transition

Who am I? More importantly, where am I?

Back in Chicago!


The last day in Hawaii was the best day. Isn’t that always the case?

We headed down to Kahalu’u Bay for some play time in the ocean. The ocean was cloudy and there were not too many fish around. I tried body boarding and realized that I will not be turning pro at it any time soon. In fact the only way I could move on the board was to do butterfly arms. I’m pretty sure that is not the right way!

After this I decided we should take an adventure – drive down Ali’i the other way. Bree told me that it goes for about 15 miles. Along the way we found a FABULOUS pool at a resort! Two slides, two hot tubs, and lots of floaty mats that are good for (1) racing your husband, (2) to launch yourself from the slide, (3) do not attempt to stand on the mats, (4) if you lay perpendicular on the mat and paddle like hell you can spin yourself in a really fast circle. This was possibly the most fun I had all week. Down the slide, playing on the floaty mats. Chris Lieto sat by the side of the pool and I considered handing him my business card along with some advice:

It’s called tempo descend, my friend. Long run with a strong finish.

Driving back to the condo, Chris told me he was going to drive Hawaiian. This means that you are in absolutely no hurry to get anywhere. You drive 15 mph because you can. No one honks at you. No one gives you the stink eye. If you tried this in Chicago you'd have some road raged asshole honking incessantly while trying to smoke/eat/text. But here, there is no hurry. What would be the point? Where are you going to go? It’s an island. The road goes in a giant circle. At some point you would end up in the same point without ever turning around.

The rest of the day flew by and before we knew it, the sunset arrived. We had dinner at Kona Brewing Company which we both enjoyed. They also had a porter that tasted like coffee. If you like thick beer with a kick, this is one to try!

Back at the airport. BOO. The line at the airport is always indescribably long and painful. It could be a language barrier (we finally just had to remove ourselves from the line with all the Germans) or it could just be that things run on Hawaiian time. Either way, we’ve never missed a flight out of Kona. They either wait for you or at the very last minute, shoo you in.


Hottie spotting one last report before I leave the island: Jo Lawn at Lava Java, Kate Major at Kona Brewing, Heather Gollnick sitting on our LA flight, Timo Bracht’s bike (I may have been standing behind him but have no idea what he looks like, just know that his bike was in a bag right next to me).

Once again Chris upgraded us to first class for the flight to LA. I could get used to warm nuts! (that sounds really bad doesn't it) Maybe I slept two hours (but only because I got sucked into watching the worst movie about a museum coming to life after dark). We found a whole new level of stupid at the LA airport. No signs, no directories, just a bunchy of snarly TSA agents that really weren’t in the mood for questions at 4:51 am. Well I wasn’t in the mood to miss my flight! I think we waited into line for 20 minutes to take a shuttle (that never arrived) to another terminal. Thank goodness for iPhone – I pulled up a map and realized the terminal was a 5 minute walk behind us. We’re pretty sure there are still people waiting in line for that shuttle.

Maybe I slept another 2 hours – and arrived home around 1 pm. Of course our luggage took it’s time coming home and decided to hop on another flight. Once we waited for that it was really time to go home.

Home. Walked into the house and it was 59 degrees! Outside, it was about 40. We had some pancakes for breakfast – not knowing what time it is and knowing that breakfast is always a safe bet. A few errands around the house and then I suggested the perfect cure for jet lag:

Let’s go for a ride.

Tights, gloves, balaclava. Welcome back! A 50 degree temperature swing from yesterday. We hopped on our cross bikes and rode over to the Arboretum for a little ride. Some of the trees have already changed (birch, ash) but the maples are holding out. And of course the oaks are always the last to change. So I’ve got time. I might not be around this weekend but I’m thinking in another 2 weeks there will still be some color left.

That brings me to today. In another few hours I’m leaving for Colorado Springs. I’ve gone from warm and humid and will be going up to high, cold and dry. I'll be traveling with Coach Keith from the IronMoo group and one of my athletes, Colleen (from Seattle). Both should probably carry one of those Starbucks Via packets around just in case. I get surly without my coffee. I’m not sure I will see much of the Springs with the rigorous schedule that has been planned. But if I spot any Olympians, you’ll be the first to know.

Monday, October 12, 2009

An Island Big

The latest I can leave is 7:30, right?

Right now I’m sitting on the lanai, watching the waves crash into the lava rock and asking Chris how late I can possibly leave for a run this morning before I submit myself to melting, sweating and cussing up and down Ali’I Drive.

The answer is 7:30 am. That’s a bit later than usual but today we have mostly cloud cover.

Yesterday we did not. It was oodles of hotness in Kona. I woke up early for a run. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that my darling husband stole my Fuel Belt. I was not too happy. Because he was running for 90 minutes and I was not about to set out without any fluids.

When he returned I grunted, grumbled, grabbed my Fuel Belt and ran. It was hot. Like running in the ass crack of Kona, I tell you. I took 3 breaks in the shade before convincing myself I could continue. You would think at some point I would acclimate. I’ve ran 5 times now in Kona and nothing. NO change in effort or heart rate. I conclude: the heart is just not meant to work in heat like this and protests by giving you hot flashes and sweats.

The rest of the day was exciting. We finally escaped the town. You know you’re almost ready to go home when Kona starts feeling small. After renting a car, we drove to the other side of the island.

Hawaii has 11 of the 13 climate zones in the world. I'm pretty sure the only thing it’s missing is tundra and something else. Polar arctic? Does a shave ice stand count? As you drive from Kona toward Hilo you see lush forests, thick clouds. You go up to 3000 feet, back down – all set against the massive volcano of Mauna Loa that rises itself to over 11,000 feet.

Our first stop was Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Fourteen years ago I traveled to the Big Island and spent some time hiking around the park – across the lava to the flow as it spewed into the ocean, across the crater. This time we settled on viewing some steam vents and walking some short trails. Devastation Trail was short but captured the essence of the park – giant mounds of lava rock surrounded by fern forests and set against a silence so loud you could almost hear it.

Driving out toward Hilo, the trees change, the foliage grows bigger. This is a place of rain. There are giant groves of Eucalyptus trees like you see in northern California. Chris tells me that palm trees like giant fans are Madagascar Palms. Usually I’m the one that rattles off the names of the trees so when I ask how he knew this, his reply:

I read that book on Hawaii in the bathroom. Today was I was on the flora page.

Nothing like learning on the crapper.

After the park we headed on toward Waipaio Valley. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen only second to the Na Pali Coast in Kauai. The drive to Honukaa is incredible as you twist in and out of gulches that form off the ocean with deep valleys, waterfalls and cliffs. I told Chris that I have never seen so many shades of green. About 10 miles out from Waipaio the rain begins. And once we arrive at the valley itself it is engulfed in a thick fog and pouring rain. You could barely see in front of you let alone across the valley to the magnificent cliffs.

I was sad. Even hiking into the valley and descending the 25 percent grade hill that I wanted to show Chris was not an option in this weather. We hoped it might pass but the rain stayed. So, we headed back toward Kona via the Mamalahoa Highway. The highway cuts across the island and into a landscape that reminds me of the rolling plans of Montana. The grasses sticking out of the lava mounds gives the illusion of grasslands in big sky country. The clouds were in layers of gray and the sun was out over the ocean which was many miles away. It was beautifully hilly, desolate and all I could think about was how amazing it would be to ride my bike on this road. It was the first time in several weeks that I actually missed biking.

Here we are today. I finally did go for the run around 7:30 am. In the past week I have ran over 30 miles on Ali'i Drive. I know the shoulder - both sides - of the road intimately now. I know that you go slower downhill into the wind than uphill with the wind at your back. I know that the right side of the road is so tilted that the left side is better - and more shaded. Today I ran 10 x 1:30 at a descendingly hard pace with the last 4 all out. When you just run you can do crazy things like "all out". My heart rate got pretty high but it actually fell down to zone 1 between intervals which tells me one thing:

I think I'm acclimating.

Today is our last day on Kona. We are both ready to go home – which I believe is the sign of a good vacation. It fills you up just enough that you feel like you can live off these feelings and memories for some time before returning to a new destination to fill up again. I love the ocean, the sun, the trees but I have the sense that I am missing something even more beautiful at home – fall. My favorite time of the year. I’m hoping there are a few leaves left that have waited for me.

Alas when I return home I will be turning around the next day and heading out to Colorado Springs for some coach training at the Olympic Training Center. I'm going from complete freedom to sitting through lectures from 8 - 5 eacy day. Flashback to a desk job.

I just got the heebeejeebees.

The cure: float in the ocean time. And coffee. And palm tree breezes.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ironed Out

I am all ironed out.

But that’s what you get for world championship spectathloning.

Marit was up at 4 am eating a delectable breakfast of Ensure, oatmeal and baby food bananas.

I’m thinking right now those are as good as curse words to her.

Anyways, she was up then we were up then we were out. Hoofed it down to the swim start to get a good peek into the bay. I ended up in the bay – somehow – along with my shoes and orthotics which made for a very wet and smelly feet day.

The swim start at Kona is always exciting. Enter nearly 2000 overconfident, antsy, pent up, nervous triathletes and you can just feel the energy. The cannon goes off, the pros swim then 15 minutes later the age groupers go off.

After some coffee, we headed up to the hot corner. Triathletes come charging on to Kuakini for the first 10 miles of the ride. Most leave their ride there. Of note we witnessed one classic crash, a man racing while talking on his cell phone and … the best but worst part when some European “accidentally” kicked over my coffee and I screamed PARTY FOUL which elicited a series of “sorry, so sorry” in a thick accent.

We headed over for breakfast then back to the condo for rest. Quickly the day passes. But that’s what happens when you have world champions racing. They are just too damn fast. I was napping when Chris told me that the lead men were coming down Ali’i. Time to wake up!

Once out there it was clear that today was hot. No cloud cover and the sun was beating down, reflecting off the black pavement to make it feel even hotter. I continually reapplied sunscreen but still ended up red.

The lead men came by. I knew that Craig Alexander would win. I knew it before the race started and once I saw him running along Ali’i. He always looks to be in complete control. I also think that because he only does one Ironman a year he makes himself even more of a threat. Maybe it makes him that much more hungry or that much more fresh.

The lead women – or shall I say woman came by with her usual smile and grace. Little did I know I was standing right next to Chrissie Wellington’s entire GB cheering crew. They were waving British flags and cheering for her like mad. She had a substantial lead and you could tell a record would be broken today.

The rest of the pros came running by. Some looked good, some not so good. The race pretty much played out as I thought it would. I thought it was quite interesting how many of the “classic” contenders completely flopped or DNFed. Here’s the deal: I think some people are just doing too many Ironmans. In ten years I’d like someone to study the cumulative damages of racing more than one Ironman a year. Look at the kidneys, joints and hormone levels. I think you can drain your body quickly if you do too many too often. Of course the pros need to make a living off the sport and need to compete but – at what cost I ask?

The age groupers started rolling out on to the course. Like the pros, some looked good, some not so good. What I find most interesting about Kona is that when athletes blow up in Kona it is absolutely classic. What you have are some of the best athletes in the world on one course. Most come here thinking they will get their sub 1-hour swim, their sub 5:30 bike and theyll run a sub 3:30 marathon. And when that is threatened you see the complete breakdown of athletes that just are not used to falling behind or getting off their goal pace. Some just give up – like the woman who told me it was ok that she was walking because Michellie Jones was laying in the road a few miles away. Some keep pressing forward and know that this is Kona, it’s different.

Not only that but it’s hard as hell! I don’t think people realize that. Really. Those of us that have been here get it. We know it’s different out there. There are things you don’t know! The air blows different here and it heats up like your kitchen when the oven is on during a hot summer day.

After a few hours in the sun, we decided to head up to the Queen K. We rented a bike from a nearby hotel. I would call the bike a piece of shit but it had two wheels and got me around quicker than my feet. Still, it was a piece of shit. Imagine a rusted 30 pound bike with flat pedals and foot brakes. When was the last time you used foot brakes? Maybe I was 8? I could not master the art of braking then stopping. I also could not get up a hill unless I charged it and in the process dropped my husband on his Cervelo P3.

I’m pretty sure I was pushing out 400 watts there.

As we turned off Palani, I voted the Germans the most drunk spectators. They had a tent, loud music and I finally heard what has to be the soundtrack of hell: German reggae. Yikes. Up on the Queen K things were starting to unravel. Damn I do not miss doing this race. It seems more uphill than I remember and felt even hotter. We were riding along the highway convincing athletes to stick with it, keep it up, or – my favorite – walk like you have somewhere to go. Get moving! When I saw Michael Lovato walking, I told him PICK IT UP LOVATO! He said a cute “ok” and started shuffling!

Up and down the Queen K, cheering for Marit, convincing Joy to keep pushing, waiting for Kris, screaming like crazy for anyone and everyone and I realized something…

No one really looks like they were having a good time.

And I’m comparing that to Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, most athletes just looked genuinely happy to just be in the game. They would talk with me, laugh, make jokes, mostly they just looked alive out there! Out here, I could barely get a smile, or eye contact or any response at all. I’m sure 50 percent couldn’t understand a damn word I said because they didn’t speak the language. But what about the other 50 percent? Is this focus? Is this strain?

It became apparent that everyone was taking this very seriously. From the moment they arrived on this island an intensity set into their eyes that burned like the sun. It’s not about having fun here – but it should be. Really, it should be.

I don’t know. What do I know. Not much. I’ve been there, done it twice. I know the pain. But I also know you can enjoy it. It’s Hawaii. Take it all in, and enjoy the day. Smile like you mean it. Be grateful for the opportunity to do something so amazing in such an amazing place.

Kona looked empty this year. If you finish beyond 11 hours, you’re in for a lonely race. It gets spread out and you find yourself clicking off the miles, 22, 23, 24 mostly by yourself. The highway was scattered with sponges, cups and other assorted treasures. We took lots of pictures of the treasures that people threw at us while standing along Ali’i. Andy Potts threw a Gatorade cup at me. Thanks, I’ll lick that along with my hand. A woman threw an entire Amphipod pouch at me. Lucky for me it contained two packages of shot blocks. Which I may or may not have taken – and eaten later along the Queen K. Fuel Belt bottles, heart rate monitor straps. You could probably outfit yourself in entirely new tri gear if you stood around long enough.

Marit looked tough, along with Joy, Kris, Ange, Bree, Michelle, both Adams, Adrienne, Haley and my new friend Kelzie. Toughness counts in Kona and it gets you across the finish line. The longer you are out there the tougher you are. As we rode back to the condo, in the darkness of night, only a few were left running. In the dark. Mostly alone. Now that’s a long day.

Marit arrived back at the condo. She was chatty, she was smelly (her words) and she had already swore off Ironman. I told her to refrain from making any major decisions about sports, puppies, babies or major purchases for at least another 3 weeks. She said ok.

We all ate ice cream. It was probably the best ice cream I’ve ever had. So I had about 5 bowls. I earned it. I may not have done the Ironman but watching it I must have burned at least … 10 calories.

Tomorrow Marit and her husband leave for Oahu, Chris and I will stay behind. Sunday after Ironman is always a good day. Everyone on the island finally exhales. And eats cinnamon buns. As fun as that sounds, we’re renting a car and heading to the other side of the island. I hear there’s a volcano there. And a beautiful valley. I’ve got to take advantage of the next two days because back at home I hear it’s already snowing.

....really?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Touched

I touched a world champion today.

What did you today?


Before I tell you about that, let me tell you about the rest of the day.

Let’s start by clarifying this very obvious point: Kona is hot.


Hotter than in years past I don’t remember feeling the air this stifling and the sun so hot. Last night there was barely a breeze moving through the condo. And when you are sleeping in the loft that is not a good thing. I don’t think I’ve ever broken a sweat just laying in bed. I actually had to sleep on my side so my back could breathe. I felt like I should have taken a salt tab at midnight just to get my electrolytes in check.

I woke up every hour during the night. Finally at 6 am I woke up for good. The sky was clear, the sun was shining. Paradise is perfect, isn’t it? But what if you lived here every day. Would you get complacent? Would you no longer notice the separation between days or would they all blur together in a mix of hot sun and warm winds?

Once the day got started, I was full of energy. Though I’m pretty sure I lost 5 pounds while sleeping. Chris headed out for some training while I walked down to the pier. First up, a swim with Kris and Tina. They are two of my athletes from California and Kris is doing the race. In the ocean, the water rolled in a long rhythm today. It wasn’t choppy, it just undulated. It actually made me feel a little sick! As we got out of the water, I saw Joy! Joy is one of my athletes from Memphis who has done Ironman – oh – 100 times or so? This is her fourth time at Kona and she’s ready for another go!

After talking race stuff at Lava Java, I walked back to the condo. It was about 12 pm and the sun was pressing in such an evil way. I’ve been here three times and I don’t recall it ever being this hot and humid. I got back and just stood on the lanai in the breeze to cool off. Then I watched Marit pack her bags. And count out salt tabs. And attach things to her bike.

Ironman requires so much planning!

Around 3 pm we headed over to the bike check in. This is actually one of the best places to score free stuff. Most of the bike companies have reps standing there ready to give out free things to athletes with their bikes. They will also give free things to poor little athletes who are just there to spectate a race but have one of their bikes at home. That is how I scored not one, not two but three shirts from Cervelo.

One for each of my bikes.

Walking back to the car I started bonking. No joke. I think I have sweat so much in the past few days; I’ve been running, swimming and walking, plus sleeping (or not really sleeping) with no air conditioning….I don’t even think I’m recovering. I’m the kind of person that loves to sleep in the cold. The only time it has ever been too cold was one year when we were camping at Yosemite. It was 22 degrees. That is too cold for sleep. 90 degrees is too hot for sleep. Add to that 70 percent humidity and I think I’ve been awake for the past 3 days.

Know what the perfect cure for that is? A run. I have been waiting all day to do my hard run. Note that I do not have to do a run, I just want to do this run. If I want to do it, I will do it no matter what. This was my run, my time.

Problem was that it was fucking hot. And humid. And the sun was still two hours from setting. But then I remembered that about a quarter mile up the road there is a place with a treadmill. I know this because we stayed at this place last year. Hmmm…I ran over there and sure enough the door was open. Some would call this crafty, sneaky…I call it resourceful.

I love doing speedwork on a treadmill. It keeps you honest and for some reason I can go faster on it. I put on my headphones, started the treadmill and realized one thing:

It was right in front of the window with the sun blazing. Is there anywhere on this island that doesn't feel like the center of a volcano?


Within 5 minutes my iPhone flew off the back and just as it did I shouted FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! Right at that moment a young guy walks in, asks if I’m ok then hands me the iPhone. YES I’m ok. It’s just these damn headphones never stay in my ears and I’m already sweating a storm five minutes into my hour long run. He started lifting weights and I started my workout.

It was a hard one. I did a series of intervals on this wretched old treadmill that shook any time I went over a 6:00 per mile pace. The heart rate function didn’t work and every minute it beeped. Somehow I got through the first set of intervals and then took some recovery. Right then, a very fit and skinny chick walks into the room and starts talking to the guy. I realize that it’s Linsey Corbin. She talks for a few minutes then walks toward the door. And right before she walks out, I notice in the reflection of the window that she turned and looked at the treadmill.

She was totally checking me out.

Part of me wanted to turn around and shout, I’M COMING FOR YOU CORBIN. But then I realized I was running 7.4 mph in my rest interval. That’s not a very zippy speed. But I was resting, I swear! If she had just stayed 90 seconds later she would have seen me rocking the ‘mill. Instead she probably walked out thinking I could walk that pace.

She’s probably right.

Anyways, the run kicked my mainlander ass. I did it with no music, no fan, just me baking in this damn window on a treadmill from 1983. Finally it was over, the treadmill still in one piece and I left to cool down on Ali’I Drive. Except the moment I walked outside I walked right into a wall of thick air.

There is no cooling down here.

I ran along Ali’i Drive at a pace that was embarrassingly slow but that’s the best speed for cool down. After a few minutes, I stopped, stood on the shoulder and turned around. A girl was running toward me. It took me a moment but right then I realized who she was and the look of child-like excitement and I think I just shit my pants came across my face. Chrissie Wellington. In her signature TYR outfit, running toward me. My face lit up, I started clapping and shouting GO GO GO! A wide smile spread across her face, she reached out her hand toward me, grabbed my hand and said thank you!

She ran a few more steps then walked in toward a driveway where I assume she was staying. I, on the other hand, just stood there. And realized that I had just touched a world champion.

I’m never washing my hand again!

I ran right inside and touched Marit. She stood at the sink with a look in her eyes like, Liz, why are you touching me? I told her she was just touched by a world champion. And then I licked my hand.

Ok I didn’t but that’s just the magic of Kona. You never know who you are going to run into here. Of course to most people these people are nobody. I mean, really, who knows about triathlon? Not too many. But to us they are stars and seeing them is so exciting. Today I saw Kate Major, Catriona Morrison and Marit saw Luke Bell.

Race start is less than 12 hours away. I’ve got the camera. My orthotics are in my shoes. A few bottles of Gatorade and definitely a lot of coffee. Friends, it’s world championship spectathlon time. I'm ready. Are you?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Kind Of Blue

Hawaii has many so many shades of blue.

Today I walked along Ali’I Drive noticing all of the blue. There is the blue gray of the clouds that rise up over the volcano. There is the blue green of the shallow water in the bay. The line on the horizon where the turquoise of the ocean meets the pale blue of sky.

Along with the blue, the sky is also filled with humidity. Last night it was reached an uncomfortable level that has lingered through today. Winds are low today but you can sense something is rising – the heat, the anticipation, the nervous energy.

Starting with Marit.

Marit is popping with nervous energy. This morning she voted herself off of the island. I keep telling her she is ready. She knows Ironman. She knows what lies ahead at mile 90 of the bike or 22 of the run. Her muscles have memory. But this is the strange twist of Hawaii – you don’t know Ironman, really. The Queen K is like a black hole of confusion for heart rate, power, speed. It has no rhythm. You think you’re on a flat stretch only to look behind you to see you’ve just climbed an incline. Even Ali’I Drive is deceptive. It appears flat at times until you realize you are running downhill with a wind at your back. Which you only realize once you’ve turned around.

Speaking of Ali'i, I started the morning with a run along the drive at 6:20 am. You can count on one hand the number of times I have gone running before 7 am in the past 10 years. But in Hawaii if you want to do anything outside without suffocating in the heat and your own sweat, you get up at 6 am. You have a small window from 6 to 9 am for things like running – comfortably. After that is like running in the oven. And after 6 pm, the sun goes down. It’s like this all year round, I think. The sun rises around 6 am and sets at 6 pm. 12 hours in darkness every day of the win. I think the midwest wins this one. Some days in the summer we get daylight from 5 am to 9 pm. We call it summer. It lasts about 21 days.

Hottie spotting: Lisa Bentley, Faris Al-Sultan, Peter Reid, Lori Bowden, Desiree Ficker. And Bob Scott. At age 78 going on 79 Bob is once again at Kona to compete. This will be his last year, he tell us. Why? He does not want to be known for being 80 and competing at the Hawaii Ironman. When I ask him why not, he says how am I going to get a date if everyone knows I’m 80?

Good point. Better point is that Bob is married and totally joking.

He tells me there are other things he wants to accomplish. It’s time to branch out. When you’ve done Kona 11 times I suppose it’s easy to feel that way. Or maybe he is tired of exploring the same 140.6 miles year after year. There are many new miles to explore. He talks about other races he wants to do, when he is 80. Where will you be when you're 80? And will you have biceps like I notice ripple out on Bob Scott's arms?

After the Power Bar breakfast, I met up with Jen from my Ironman Wisconsin training group. We headed out into the bay for a swim. There were only a few other people out there. The ocean is different when you are mostly alone. It is bigger and it opens up more space for fear. We swam far left and what felt like too close to some coral. The illusion underwater is that the coral is right within reach when it’s probably many feet below you. Maybe it was the fact that someone saw a shark out at the turnaround this morning but I sped up, grabbed Jen’s foot and said “WE’VE GOTTA SWIM BY THE BUOYS!” She led the way over there and then we swam back. Afterward, she told me that as we swam by that coral she thought to herself it would be a great place for a shark to hide. I got the chills!


We went over to Lava Java for some coffee and people watching. Meanwhile, Chris headed out to ride his bike on that damn highway. Somehow, Rob Chance talked him into driving out to Waikoloa and then riding out to Hawi. I can think of easier ways to get to hell. Like cursing at your mother or stealing candy from a baby.

I ran into one of my STL boys at Lava Java! Seiichi, his wife and Dr. Bill sat with us and we enjoyed coffee.

It was my third cup of the day.

Later in the afternoon, I went snorkeling by the little blue church with Gail and Jen. Small world that Gail was actually staying with Jen. I’ve known Gail for years – she’s on the TriSports.com team and she was one of my favorite memories from my first time at Kona. I remember being so nervous before the start of the race, sitting and waiting for the cue to get in the water. Gail calmed me down. She’s the one who told me that when things get rough on the bike on the way out, just look left. And then on the way back, look right. In both cases, that would be the direction of the ocean.

We swam out into the cove and the colorful fish swam beneath us. We were in search of turtles. We got a bit too far out when we realized again the water was too shallow and Gail ended up with an anemone in her hand. So we went out in the other direction and it paid off. Turtles. Three of them.

For awhile we just floated with them. And watched them float along too. Occasionally they came up to the surface for air and then dove back down to eat off the coral. Meanwhile, we were doing the world’s most enjoyable hypoxic set, coming up for air, taking a big breath, then going under to watch the turtles. I believe it was Gail who mentioned that the turtles could be a metaphor for life. They don’t fight the water, they just float with it. They don’t swim against the current, they just let it pull them along.

On the way back down Ali’i Drive, we made an emergency stop for hottie spotting. Oh yes my friends Terrenzo Bozzone was running. Not only was he fantastically tanned but he was showing a bit of plumber butt.

No joke.

Unlike most plumbers, when you see a 24-year old pro triathlete with plumber butt, you learn not to look away. In fact, you pull over to the side of the road, roll up your window so you don’t look like a psychostalker and watch the show.

In doing so I also realized that he cannot be my boyfriend. Yes, he runs fast enough but I could never be with someone who’s leg is smaller than my arm. I want to hand feed him a cinnamon bun from Lava Java. Mangia, Terrenzo, mangia your skinny little (tanned) ass!

I spent a lot of time walking today. From the condo to the town is about 2 miles. It was viciously hot but peaceful enough that I could get lost in my own thoughts. I thought about triathlon.

I've been getting a lot of questions about racing. I love coaching, I love the sport but with racing I just wasn’t having a good time. Rather than force it, I’m waiting for the itch to come back to me. One day I will feel ready to ask myself what if again. Until then, I’m giving myself permission to just relax and go with the flow.

I’d make a good seat turtle.

I was sitting on the lanai today, listening to Marit talk about the race. She was somewhere between fear and excitement while talking about Saturday. I sat there eating a persimmon and just smiling. I was smiling because I realized what I was feeling – totally calm and relaxed. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that way. There is no pressure, nothing I have to do, no race bags to pack, no sacrifices to make. If I want a mojito I can have one. If I want to eat mocchi balls – 10 of them – I can. If my butt gets a little bigger, I’m still a good person. I’m in a very relaxed place right now. A place where putting on goggles and looking at fish counts as a workout (really, it does, you can log it into Training Peaks). A place where breaststroking in the water is totally acceptable (better for fish viewing).

It is a very good place.

Watching the athletes buzz by on Alii Drive, focused, fit and filled with I’M GONNA CRUSH IT! energy, I realized that while I don’t miss racing (yet) I do miss the feeling of being on top of my game. That feeling of confidence and preparation – and when those two factors meet opportunity, you are in for a very strong race. I miss the rush of that feeling more than anything else but I am certain one day it will come back when the mind and body is ready.

Until then, I eat papaya, I watch the afternoon rain fall with the backdrop of palm trees and the ocean from the lanai. It’s late afternoon and Chris is still riding on the Queen K. Marit is pre-race jittering. And I’m just sitting here. I guess you could say I’m doing nothing.

You would be right.

Regardless, I’m logging in to Training Peaks today. I’ve done a lot of things that count and I’m pretty sure I’ve burned at least 100 calories.

Which means I get to eat another mocchi ball.

And another just because.