Monday, September 27, 2010

The Victory Lap

Saturday morning, we drove west. Across Illinois into northeast Iowa. Past the industrial skyline of Cedar Rapids into a small town along a sleepy river, Cedar Falls.

We headed over to the state park to check in at the race site. Yes, we were racing. More importantly, I was racing! Chris was closing out his season with a great race, the Peregrine Charities Triathlon. Last year, we attended this race as well. I was supposed to race but at that time was pregnant. Actually, the night before the race I started having a miscarriage. Not exactly a great memory. Fortunately, I got pregnant again a month later, had the baby and 9 weeks later found myself one year later at the starting line.

When I decided to race, I emailed the race director. Not only did she carry over my entry from last year but she generously offered to arrange child care for Max with a staff from her corporate child care center. Can you believe it? It meant that Chris and I could race together while leaving Max onsite with someone trustworthy and skilled. We jumped on that very kind opportunity!

The day before the race was pouring rain and 40 degrees. The water temperature was 64 degrees. Yet I didn’t worry about a thing. What’s to worry about? I get to do this. And honestly it didn’t matter if it was snowing, I was racing tomorrow and nothing was going to get in my way. Not 10 pounds of extra weight. Not having major surgery 9 weeks ago. Not having a newborn. Not having been back to “training” for only the past 3 weeks.

And definitely these boobs would NOT get in my way (three words: double bag it!).

How do you pack for a triathlon when you have a newborn? Every time I walked into the garage, I saw something I needed for racing, told Chris to throw it into the house; wetsuit, helmet, goggles. By Saturday, I had amassed what looked like an entire continent of triathlon gear on my bathroom counter, dumped it all into a bag and said to myself that should about cover it. To think I used to have a laminated checklist and get out of sorts if I forgot to pack my favorite pen! The night before the race I found myself digging into that race bag not sure where to start or what I even needed. Do I ever remember how to do this? It had been over a year since my last race! So I just left it all in the bag and waited until race day. Consider it surprise transition bag!

We got a hotel room that had two rooms – one with a sleeper couch and one with a king bed. Chris took the couch, Max and I took the room with the bed. Best way to get to bed early before a race? Have a newborn! Max and I were in bed by 7:30 pm. Up at midnight for a feeding. Then he squiggled, wiggled and did leg lifts for about an hour (HOW do people do the “family bed” thing?!). He was up again to feed at 2:30 am and then at 4 am for good. Waking up early for race day is irrelevant to a new mother. It is my every day! And with 4 straight hours of sleep under my race belt, I felt amazing!

Race morning was cold. 40 degrees. But it was dry. Chris got the bikes ready then we took turns heading out to transition. I walked into transition like a total rookie. The volunteer asked me where my bike numbers were. Check my transition bag – who knows what’s in there! He kindly helped me put the numbers on (it was like my first rodeo) and I headed over to my rack. Threw my stuff down, looked at it, was pretty sure I forgot something but realized I had to get back to the car to feed the baby. On the way to get my chip, I met the babysitter, walked her back to the car and gave her the lowdown on Max. Chris went to transition. I fed Max one last time and then headed to transition for real this time leaving the sitter and baby in the car.

Back at transition the sun had come up but it was still damn cold. My wetsuit was warm and the water felt even warmer so I got in, warmed up and waited for the race start. Before I knew it, the women were lining up and it was time to swim. I had been so busy before the race that I didn’t have time to worry about anything. I stood at the start line, cleared my head with one exhale then assumed start position.

I was doing the sprint with a ½ mile swim. The swim was directly into the sun. The only way sighting could have been worse is if I had swam blindfolded. The gun went off and I bolted. The first thing that popped into my head…I forgot how fun this is! What a great thought to have! I spent the past two years before being pregnant simply not having fun. I spent so much time trying to figure out how to become successful as a pro that I failed over and over again. I overthought, overtrained, under-ate. And that is how you fail.

I am not going to be that athlete again.

I could have been swimming tugboat speed for all I knew but I felt great. About halfway through the swim I thought to myself – wow, there’s a lot of buoys floating around in the water! Then I realized - it’s the men’s wave! I had caught up to them 3 minutes ahead. I’d name drop my wetsuit as the reason I was swimming fast but let’s be honest here - it’s probably the extra body fat and the boobs! After the turnaround, I made my way through a few more men then found myself again totally alone before emerging from the cold water into transition.

T1 was a rusty mess. My wetsuit was having separation anxiety issues. That’s all you need to know about that.

On to the bike and it was cold. I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. But I thought to myself I only have to be cold for less than 90 minutes. It will be over before I know it. And, I always remind myself it could be worse.

It could be Ironman.

The bike was 15.8 miles of thinking how fun that I get to ride my bike on a Sunday morning! Never mind that it’s ass cold or that I cannot wiggle my toes. My wheels are hitting pavement! I picked off a few men but then rode alone. Keeping the pressure on myself but honestly it was hard to remember how hard to go, how much to hurt. I was overly cautious at turns. And I might have been quicker if I dismounted and walked over the railroad tracks. At the turnaround I saw another woman a few minutes back and pushed harder. My biggest surge came around mile 10 when I saw Chris riding in the opposite direction. I cannot tell you how good it felt to be out there with him, shouting GO CHRIS while he shouted GO LIZ!


T2 was even more embarrassing than T1. My helmet wouldn’t let go of me.

Time to run! Now, I didn’t run for 5 months unless you count the ½ mile I ran at a 15-minute per mile pace at week 38 just to see if I could still run. No really, you can run at that pace. A week ago, I was told to run a mile all out and came up with a pace over one minute slower than what I would have run for my pre-pregnancy all out mile pace. The next day I felt like I had done 10 mile repeats on the track. But each run feels better and the pace is slowly coming back.

Fast or slow, I was so excited to be running! The run took us by the parking lot where I waved to the sitter in our car. I kept thinking, the quicker I run, the quicker I can get back to Max! The course was 1.5 miles out and back. Dare I say it felt like forever? At the turnaround I picked up the pace. There was a girl about 3 minutes behind me. I knew she couldn’t outrun me by more than 90 seconds per mile but then again – did you see my transitions? Anything can happen!

I crossed the finish line 1st female and 6th overall including men. I missed my super secret goal by 4 minutes and 56 seconds. But I also spent more than 3 minutes in transition. Yeah, I’m going to be running around my basement in an aero helmet and racing flats this winter, practicing.

As soon as I finished, I turned around and ran back to the car. Got Max and walked back to transition. A newspaper reporter asked to interview me (I was also interviewed by the local television, seriously did I just win Kona or something!?!). He asked how it felt to race after the baby and I simply said to him:

This is my victory lap.

The way I see it, I have nothing to prove, nothing to fear and nothing to lose. I nailed my peak event for 2010 – having a baby. To cross another finish line 9 weeks later is the gravy. Gravy is good but not necessary. I’m out here racing because I want to, because I get to, because I can.

Can you think of any better reasons to race?

Chris crossed the line in the Olympic race 3rd overall. Great end to his strong season (and now he gets to race cyclocross and eat donuts every day). We gathered our belongings and along the way, got a lot of comments from people. How do you find the time to train? We don’t. We make time and make sacrifices. We don’t watch television and we turn down some social obligations. We prioritize and communicate. We focus on what we have to do (care for ourselves, care for our baby, work) and then focus on what we want to do. We want to train for sports, we want to compete, we want to travel.

And so far, our baby, who we have integrated into our lifestyle, has not complained.

After the race I told Chris I wanted to introduce myself to Kortney Haag. He said she came up to me before the race and said she reads your blog! I told him I was going to go up to her before the race to tell her the same. Kortney had her second child 13 weeks ago. Today, she placed 2nd overall in the Olympic race. When I thought about racing today, I actually read her blog for confidence because she raced (and won) 8 weeks after having the baby. If you ever think you can’t do something, just look to your peers to prove you can – chances are someone is out there doing something that makes the impossible seem possible.

And that is what I love about our athletic community!

Now honestly: I’m not sure what is more frightening: seeing “35” listed as my age on the results (I remember when I was F20-24!), seeing a 7:05 pace next to my run split (yikes, I’ve got a long way to go!), the amount of gear we had to pack for not only the race but traveling with a baby (the kitchen sink was in the van, I swear!), spending 4 ½ hours in a car post-race with a newborn (10 miles from home he pooped on my pants – the ONLY pants that fit me right now!) or the fact that I’m 9 weeks post baby and racing again.


Yes, I’ve got a long way to go before I find my best form again. But that is perhaps the most exciting. I may never be my old self again but I think, perhaps, I am something better already. I’m a mom and I’m racing! You know what that means?

I WIN!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Parent 'Hood

One day I’m going to keep track of all the diapers we go through. Multiply by the cost of each diaper, make a pile of dollar bills representing the total cost then shit on the pile before throwing it out of a very high window.

Seriously – it is out of control.

Now that I got that out of my system...consider yourself warned: I’m going to talk about my baby. I realize that talking about my baby is kind of like talking about my dog (wait, dog? we still have a dog? someone check the basement, I haven’t seen him in weeks) – it connects to some people while it alienates others. So, this is your fair warning to tune out if you don’t want to hear about my baby.

Which makes me wonder: have you seen my baby?



ADORABLE!

Max I are settling into the routine we call week days. In the past few weeks he has discovered the world and developed so many new skills. He is becoming a little person. This little person smiles, coos, voices his opinion, kicks, wiggles, grasps, poops and spends at least an hour every day entertaining himself on the activity mat (I still have not figured this thing out – it’s like baby Narnia).


This thing cracks my baby shit up!


The saving grace to every parent is a secret weapon: routine. Or, schedule. Max is still too young for a concrete schedule but I like to fake it. Trick him into thinking our day has non-negotiable structure. What really helps with that structure is to get the kid signed up for things. Yes, I’ve become one of “those” moms, guilty of signing my child up for things they don’t necessarily need to do but I want (them) to do. Of course some of these activities cost money but it's a small price to pay for mommy sanity.

When I signed up to be a parent (there’s a list that gets passed around while you're out late on a weeknight drinking responsibly, be very very careful and do NOT carry a pen with you), I knew one thing: I did not want to become one of those unkempt psychocrazy moms who imprisoned herself in her own home passing the hours by talking to herself or watching Oprah. How to avoid that - force yourself to get out of the house.

Now I say forcing myself because it’s so so so easy to sit around the house all day in pajamas taking care of your kid. It’s hard to leave the house. There’s a lot of shit you need – the stroller, the car seat, the diaper bag, the extra outfit, the blanket – it goes on. And you’re always bound to forget something. But unless you want to be the mother I described above, get over it and get out of the house. You won’t regret it.

(plus activity is like baby Ambien - usually results in a very long nap, or hallucinations...maybe that explains what happens under the activity mat)

Every day I try to have one activity that Max and I do. On Monday, we went to the gym. Our gym has an entire kid’s gym, kiddie pool, classes and babysitting service. For a small fee each month, we have access to all of that and 2 hours of babysitting a day. Did you hear that – 2 hours a day when I can go to the gym. Not that I need to go to the gym everyday but I’m thinking if they sold coffee and had WiFi I’d have myself a new office (they don’t but I’m also not opposed to just sitting in the bathroom there for 2 hours of quiet alone time).

When I got to the kids desk, they asked for Max’s membership card.

Really? Look at him – he’s 8 weeks old. Membership card? No kidding. I had to go to the membership office to get Max’s picture taken so he could get his membership card. I can barely remember mine half the time, now I have to get him to remember his?

Max and I went swimming. Now, there’s a lot of information out there about not swimming before the child is 6 months or something like that. Irritates their skin. Same reason you should wash their clothes before they wear them and wash everything in Dreft. Psst…let me tell you a little secret – I didn’t wash a damn thing before he wore it (you’re going to wash it enough as it is), I wash his clothes in Arm n’ Hammer detergent (I’m a heathen!) and after swimming in the pool his skin did not fall off. I’m sure some kids react to all of that but mine – does not.

Thank god. Because if he did, I’d make him do his own laundry.

Max loved swimming in the kiddie pool. Here’s what we did: take a kick board and place baby’s back on it. Walk around with them in the water. It gives your arms some rest from carrying them and is a nice way to introduce them to the water. Then, do tummy time on the kick board. You can also have them surf by standing them on the board and walking around. Then we practiced our 50 sprints, freestyle kick and diving off the blocks.

HEAD DOWN! HEAD DOWN!

You can never start too early.


(after swimming) Moist towel, anyone?

On Tuesday we do music class for 45 minutes. Never mind that it takes about 15 minutes to get ready, 20 minutes to drive there both ways, 10 minutes to walk to the class – he loved every minute of it. It’s a program called Music Together and I highly recommend it (I taught children’s classes for over a decade so I’m a tough customer but this program was the real deal). All of the children were under age 5 and maybe I’m biased but I’m telling you – Max was the most well-behaved. There was one kid who walked around the whole time saying bye-bye while darting toward the door.

Kind of makes me grateful that my kid can’t talk right now.

On Wednesday we had what was sure to be Max’s favorite activity yet. A trip to the doctor for his 2 month immunizations. Imagine you are seated in your mommy’s lap only to be tag teamed by two very large nurses holding needles. You’re damn straight I closed my eyes! When I opened my eyes, Max was screaming like crazy and bleeding on both legs. It lasted about 30 seconds. Then he got over it.

(while waiting we may or may not have had a conversation about putting on big boy pants and taking the needle like a man to which Max replied: BRING IT)



Shots? Who wants another round of shots? The monkey’s buying.

Aside from the doctor calling him “she” the entire time (kind of an awkward moment when he opened up Max’s diaper and discovered she was a he) – the appointment went well. My little man weighs in at 12 pounds, 6 ounces. That might explain while walking with him up the stairs is becoming a workout that I might start logging into Training Peaks. The doctor told me he’s in the 50th percentile which makes him “average.”

If the doctor ever says the word average around me again I will demand he tests Max’s V02max to set him straight.

Thursday is another fun activity day. Baby and Me Yoga. Mostly it consists of Max laying on a blanket and me stretching his arms and legs. Sure, I can do this on my own at home but…it’s kind of like why we have coaches. It’s different when someone tells you to do it. We stretch and do yoga poses. He’s already mastered baddha konasana, a bridge and half lotus. We also do boat pose with baby on our quads – very challenging!



Namaste!

On Friday – well, we’re going to do what we do every Friday. Go to the Arboretum, throw a blanket on the ground and look at the sky. Sometimes we bring books (current favorite: I Love Puppies) or toys (get yourself a rattle that you put around their wrist – highly entertaining toy that they “do” themselves) but we always bring coffee.

One of Max’s favorite activities, seriously now, is alone time on the activity mat. He lays on it while swatting, looking at and talking to his toys. When I see Max doing this, I know he is my kid. I actually don’t see much of Chris him (other than the ability to drool, right?). Chris loves the hubbub of social activity but Max likes his alone time. He’s got his own agenda and when he’s ready – he’ll play with you on his terms. But not a moment before he gets some time to himself.

That’s my boy.

In between all of that structured and unstructured baby activity, I do my work and my workouts. The nice thing about planning activities for Max is that I never feel guilty when I do my own activities. I spend quality time with him, focusing on him. Then it’s my time. And when I move into my time, it’s like a flip a switch. I don’t even think about Max (who? I have a kid? Really? Is he with the dog?).

And, while it’s exciting to see him hit milestones each week he develops, I’m also hitting some of my own. I’ve been able to hit times, wattages and paces in my workouts that are honestly not far off from where I left off last year. In each workout I get stronger and faster. This is VERY exciting after spending nearly a year getting slower and slower. I have to remind myself that now I have the ability to make progress!

Another exciting milestone of new motherhood: the other day I walked downstairs into the kitchen and announced to Chris that I finally fit into my moose pajama shorts.

(my moose pajama shorts are by far my favorite pajama shorts, I tried them on a few weeks ago and could not get them past my saddlebags and AMEN THEY FINALLY FIT AGAIN!)

Last week I even got into a pair of my old pants (though I still have not really lost weight – I’m losing inches but not weight, if someone can explain that mathematical mystery I’d appreciate it).

Tomorrow Max is 9 weeks old. He still wakes up at 1 am and 4 am so I’m not sleeping through the night but life is definitely running much smoother. And I keep running faster. I can change a diaper so fast that he doesn’t even have time to cry. I can pump and type at the same time. I can tell the difference between feed me/change me/hold me/swaddle me cries. The results are in and so far I’m winning this parenting thing.

Come on, a little overconfidence never hurt anyone!

And, yes, I know that I’m screwed once he starts crawling and talking.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Hurt Cap

Remember in grade school when the teacher was about to present something extra attention worthy or hand out a test she (they were all “she” back then) would tell you to put on your thinking cap? In my mind, I always envisioned the thinking cap like one of those old fashioned leather football helmets. For whatever reason, blind obedience or not knowing any better, I would follow the teacher’s command, put on that ridiculous thinking cap on and even take the time to fasten it under my chin.

Because learning can be a very hazardous endeavor, safety first.


The thinking cap was symbolic for getting yourself prepared for something hard. I suppose the logic behind it was that because it was hard, the cap would be your cue to engage yourself to think – hard – and do your best.

Either that or protect yourself when you beat your head against the desk because you had no idea how to find the circumference of an isosceles triangle.

(Yes, I got a D in geometry)

As I get back into training, I’m realizing how beneficial it might be to have a hurt cap. To prepare myself for the hurt because even though I experienced a variety of pain while being pregnant and at one time – many moons ago – I was an athlete who could hurt very well – none of that compares to the pain and hurt felt in training after a very long break.

Speaking of pain and hurt: one thing that is evident right now is my lack of strength. Now, I strength trained twice a week throughout pregnancy but after being cut open, sewed back together and then spending over 4 weeks doing next to nothing but sitting hunched in a chair feeding a newborn – well, to say that I’m a little tight and weak would be putting it lightly. Knowing that core strength is fundamental to performance and injury prevention, I wasn’t going to mess around. So, I met with Jen’s personal trainer the other day. I know a lot about strength but nothing replaces the knowledge and objectivity of an outside source who specializes in strength.

We met for an hour long assessment where I set baselines for strength-related exercises. I’ve heard a little about this assessment from Jen but figured how bad could it be. Even if it was really bad, I have no problem with expecting myself to completely suck at everything right now. I have an excuse, right? And, the worse I test, the more progress I’ll make the better I’ll feel about myself, right?

Wrong. You see, I cannot go into a test – ANY test – without that little competitive spark lighting up to a full-blown fire alarm YOU ARE GOING DOWN BITCH fire.

(which is why I confessed early on to Kate that my goal in being there was to break every one of Jen’s records)

But as much as I want to bust records apart, I simply cannot right now. I’m just not that strong. It’s hard to accept this weaker version of myself but at the same time I can’t ignore it. So, I decided to bring in the big guns. Enter Kate.

Kate started by just looking at me. And honestly right now just looking at me you can tell a lot. My shoulders are hunched from nursing, my hip flexors are tight from the incisions being pulled as it heals, my back is swayed from being heavily front loaded for so many months. My hip flexors are doing all of the work because I forgot how to activate my lower core. My deltoids are getting overloaded because my lats are so weak. I’m a mess.

(but a HOT mess because I’m still sporting a bigger chest than usual though I will say that they have significantly shrunk at this point and I’m not complaining)

Without giving away all of her secrets, there were about a dozen tests that I was put through. I will touch upon the more fun (painful) ones. Let’s start with plank. COME ON! Who can’t do a plank. I don’t even do planks they are so…boring. (YES I AM GOING TO EAT MY WORDS ONCE A WEEK FOR THE NEXT 6 MONTHS) She starts by telling me that the record for holding plank is 8 minutes. By a 50-year old woman.

The first part doesn’t surprise me. Doesn’t seem all that hard just quite boring. What do you think about while holding plank for 8 minutes (this from someone that has done Ironman twice!?!)? The second part she should have just left out. It was like adding insult to injury. As in, if you can’ t do this for 8 minutes, you’ve been beaten by a 50-year old woman

(which makes me laugh considering at Kona in 2006 I did not catch Laura Sopheia, a then 50+ year old woman until mile 24 of the run…I know some pretty hard core F50-54s)

All you need to know is that I did not hold plank – that would be proper plank - for 8 minutes. I got halfway before my glutes started screaming at me then shaking then just dying on the spot.

Several other tests pass painfully (and yes I even had one “fail” – I can do NO pull ups right now but who can blame me, I’m about 100 pounds ELF and 20+ pounds milk) and then we get to the wall sit. Oh that. Jen talked about how she held it for something like 20 minutes. As I got into it, I realized I was deciding how long I could hold it rather than just holding it. I thought to myself I’ll hold it x minutes. And then reassess. I’m not sure if I was goal setting or selling myself short. But all I know is that when Kate read a time that was within 15 seconds of my time goal, I said to myself – hold it 15 more seconds then you’re done. Yes, I was shaking but was I really done? I mean, is that as far as I could physically go or mentally go or could both demand more….

When I finally gave up (23 seconds after my “goal” time), she told me that I got within 17 seconds of the 4th place record on the wall. At that moment I thought two things – maybe carrying around all that weight in pregnancy did help. And, if I had known I was that close to a record I would have held it longer. Which made me think even more – if I had more to give, WHY DID I GIVE UP?

I thought about it on the way home and came to this conclusion: it’s just like Chris said.

A few weeks ago, Chris told me the hardest part about getting back into sport would be learning how to hurt again. The kind of hurt it takes to breakthrough in performance, to get to that next level. There is pain, but then there is hurt. Many athletes can handle pain. Very few can push past hurt. Those who do are at the top of their game. As I’ve gotten back into training again and in doing these tests, it became clear to me:

I’ve forgotten how to hurt.

How do some athletes grit their teeth past the hurt while others give up before they are even close? I thought about the tests Kate just put me through. How my performance was so closely linked to the times she was reading off her watch or to what I thought I should be doing. Which made me think one should be very careful when setting goals. So much of performance has to do with what we think we can do.

I remembered then that the mind is a muscle that needs to be activated just like any other muscle in the body. If you want to perform well, you need to strengthen the weak muscles by first learning to activate them. The mind is the same. I realized that to push past my expectations right now, I need to not only reset them but to learn how to hurt again. In other words, go to that place. Put on my hurt cap and get my mind ready to accept the suffering.

Yes, I’m weak physically in many areas but who would have thought that a series of simple tests would reveal to me that my mind is also a weakness. After all, I spent years pushing myself to PRs in races based on what I always felt was not physical talent – just mental toughness and a superior nutrition plan. If I’m going to succeed again, I need to reconnect with that. It’s in there, it’s just in hiding.

How apropos that the day after this discovery I had a swim test. 10 x 100 on 10 seconds rest. True, there are many swim tests out there – but this one, to me, is the gold standard. You can either do it on 10 seconds rest or not.

And, in 10 seconds, there is no room for crying.

I walked into the pool, reached into my swim bag and good thing I found it – the hurt cap. No, it wasn’t an old leather football helmet (could you imagine the drag?), it was some swim cap that my husband gave me because last week I had a string of head-up-my-assed-ness-moments where I forgot a major piece of swim equipment every single day.

(this explains why I spent 3200 yards wearing children's goggles that I found in the pool office that leaked after anything over 150)

I warmed up and before I knew it, I arrived at the test. I was excited. And fearless. When I was planking the other day, I realized that I was not incapable, I was afraid of hurting. I gave up before I even started because I knew it would hurt. I told myself I would handle the hurt for x minutes. When I hit that time, I was done. Today I stood at the end of the lane fearless. I don’t care what the clock says, I’m just going to make each 100 hurt. Times 10. I cleared my mind, waited for the top to roll around and right before it did I said to myself:

This is going to hurt.


The moment I pushed off the wall, there was a quiet that I heard - this is why I love swimming. Underwater is one of the most peaceful places in the world. Everything seems to stop – time, noise, chatter. I see the pace when I come in, I think to myself it seems fast but tell myself to just keep making it hurt. Don’t assess – yet. By number 3 I think to myself – this is a really long test. By number 5 I find a rhythm. And by number 7 I tell myself the next two will hurt the worst – just push through it and get to the last 2 where you can give it all you have left. Number 9 is evil – you’re almost done but not quite yet. And number 10 puts me right where I want to be – close to barf.

I hit the wall, check the clock, do the math in my head.

I was prepared for the worst. In pregnancy, I lost about 30 seconds per 100 by the end. I was swimming my 100s in slower than intervals I used to send off on. Yikes! I knew the test pace might be ugly. But instead what I found was that my pace was only two seconds slower than my best test pace.

Two seconds.

It didn’t make sense to me. No speedwork. Didn’t even swim for 6 weeks. Maybe it’s the personal flotation devices (two of them) on my chest. Or the extra body weight. Or maybe I just remembered how to go so hard that it hurts. Bad. Maybe there is something to just believing in yourself and letting the mind take you there.

I walked away from the test remembering that hurting is hard. It takes a lot of focus. It takes a lot of just pushing past yourself and quieting the you can’t do this, you don’t have to do this voices in your head. It isn't easy and takes a lot of practice. Sometimes it feels draining but that's where you have to go if you're going to make a difference in your performance.

The next few months will be a series of tests, workouts and exercises in learning how to hurt all over again. All I can think to say is...OY! But I guess I should just do what the teacher says; put on my hurt cap, maybe even the big girl pants, buck up, nut up, you know, all those things that make me remember that this isn’t supposed to be easy.

But then again, no one ever said it would be.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Working It Out

A few months ago, I remember someone commenting about wanting to hear how I fit workouts in after the baby arrived. Because before the baby – that’s the easy part. After the baby – it gets a little harder.

Ok, a lot harder.

Let me start by saying I’m fully back on the workout wagon and it feels amazing. I feel like myself, I am starting to look more like myself. It’s taken a few weeks (TWO MONTHS) but I even lost a pound (I’ve gotten past the stages of denial, then anger and now have settled for small victories). I got more physically active around 4 weeks after birth by adding in some cycling along with the walking. Around 5 weeks after birth I was cycling and running. By 6 weeks I was back on board with swimming, biking, running and strength training. I listened to my body and did what felt right. You can listen to your doctor but more importantly, listen to yourself. You know the right thing to do as long as you are honest with yourself.

Fitting in workouts before 6 weeks was easy. Chris was on paternity leave. Why more companies don’t do this I will never understand. He was an integral part of my recovery and sanity for the first 6 weeks. He also got to bond with Max during some of the most amazing weeks of his life, waking up to the world. While Chris was home, finding the time to fit workouts in was easy. He would do his workout, then I would do mine. When he went back to work, I knew it would become more of a challenge.

So how does it gone done every day?

First: time management; in other words, I make every minute of the day count. When people find out that you workout, often then will come back at you with where do you find the time? Know that in all of my years of being physically active, I have never looked under a table and found time. Time doesn’t hide from us. Rather, you make time. I make the time to workout. I make sacrifices to have that time. Those sacrifices increased after baby and I had to become even more organized to make time. In the course of a day I cram in the responsibilities of running a full-time business, being a mother and completing two workouts a day (on most days). Being organized and efficient is a must. When I make the time, I then have a limited amount of time to get in, get my ass moving and get that workout done.

Second: sleep. Sleep is very hard to come by as a new mom but I still make it a priority. Sleep keeps you healthy and energized for workouts. Right now Max is not on a predictable schedule. However, I know that when I put him to bed in the evening, chances are he will give me one long stretch of sleep for 4 hours. So, if he goes to bed at 7:30 pm, I go to bed at 7:30 pm. Yes that means cutting my day very short and then waking up very early but I can only go so many days on lousy sleep. I try to get at least 7 hours worth of sleep each night. I also don’t rely on mid-day naps because I find they disrupt my nighttime sleep (which is already disrupted). If I want to gain fitness from my workouts (meaning: recover from them), I know I need sleep. Sleep should be every athlete’s priority!

Third: communication is key. Every night, Chris and I talk about the next day. Communication is huge when you have a baby. I cannot imagine raising a child with someone who did not 100 percent support, respect and love me – and what I do. Chris also does two workouts a day (on most days). So, we figure out who will get the morning or the evening or what he will do at lunch or what I’ll do at nap time. Sometimes we meet halfway – he’ll head to the forest preserve to do a run after work while I take Max and Boss to the dog park at that same preserve. Then, we do the hand off and I head out for my run. We work together to make it work. Neither of us is a morning workout person but what we’ve learned is that if you want to do the workout, you get your ass up early and get it done if that's what it takes.

Fourth: a little preparation goes a long way. The night before, Chris has all of his equipment packed, bike in the car so all he has to do is grab his things and go. As for myself, I wake up and put on my workout clothes if I know I’m going to try to workout while Max naps. As soon as he starts napping, I’m on my bike in the basement. Everything is all set up – including the baby monitor so I can keep an eye on him. Not a minute is wasted. Sometimes our foyer looks like a transition area and it looks like Chris lives in his car but he’s always prepared, never forgets his gear because it’s always ready to go.

Fifth: find some semblance of a schedule and stick to it. If you work from home, you know how difficult this is. Why – because you have nothing that demands structure from you. Max is still too young to sleep at predictable intervals or even eat at set times. But, once Chris returned to work I knew I needed to start putting together some sort of a schedule or I would go haywire. I try to start Max’s day “for real” around 7 am. He has quiet time in his chair with music until I finish eating breakfast. Then we play for about an hour. Then he takes a nap (or I hope he does). I either work or workout. Then we have play time again or go for a walk. Then he takes an afternoon nap while I work. By that time, Chris comes home and we share the responsibilities.

Sixth: have a support system in place. There are a lot of things Chris and I don’t like about living in Illinois, construction, winter, lack of bike lanes. But what we do like is that both of our families live 5 minutes away. Having relatives nearby is priceless. Grandparents are always excited to see the grandchild at any time of the day. Even at 7 am on a Saturday so we can head off together for masters. I could not imagine doing this without the family support. This allows us to get out and even workout together. Things like this keep us connected to our “old” life. If you don’t have family nearby, connect with some friends or find a reliable sitter. You’ll need it (better yet, you’ll want it).

In the past few weeks, I have not had to miss a workout. Chris and I have always figured out a way to make it work. He knows that I’m a better person when I get time for my workouts, and I know the same goes for him. While it has been challenging, it has not been impossible. I’ve finally know what the pool looks like at 5:30 am (the same) or what it’s like to run while watching the sunrise (beautiful). The trainer can be just as exciting as an outdoor mind (visualize it) and the treadmill doesn’t lie (kind of like the track). A workout is a workout no matter where it’s done or when. After all, nothing matters more than consistency in training. So as long as I find the time, I know I can bring it and make it count.

When it comes to working out, there are excuses and there are reasons for not getting it done. A child is sometimes a reason. But it can quickly become an excuse if you don’t take the time to set yourself up for workout success every day. IFor me, so far so good. t’s my hope to show you how you can still pursue your sport while balancing motherhood and business as Max grows up.





OH MY GOD THAT'S MY KID!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ironed Out

I am totally ironed out.

I spent Sunday on the Ironman Wisconsin course to watch my athletes in action. Saturday night we packed up the van and headed up to Madtown. This was our first overnight trip with the baby. If you have not traveled with your infant yet consider packing the car about a week ahead of time because that’s how long it takes to get everything together. One swing, one chair, stroller, car seat, three blankets, four onesies, socks, toys, breast pump, two pacifiers. Did we forget anything? Oh yeah – somewhere in all of that we also packed a 7-week old baby!

I’m sure there is a consensus out there that we are completely nuts for bringing an infant to Ironman. But the show must go on. Coaching is my job. And Ironman is my work day. It’s like the annual nondenominationalnonholiday holiday party at the workplace. Except much longer and much more fun. But still everyone looks drunk by the end. And someone is bound to make a complete ass of themselves (like those guys who get really bitter on the second loop of the marathon and start snipping at the spectators….WHY do they do this!?).

We decided to start the day with breakfast. I can’t not eat while breastfeeding. Ok, I can’t stop eating while breastfeeding. You may say this is why you still have not lost any weight, Elizabeth. To that I say – PIPE DOWN. The day really started before the day actually started. Max was up at 12:45 am, 3 am, 4 am, 5 am and well why don’t we just start we day already MOM! I started the day feeling like I had already done an Ironman!

After breakfast, we headed over to the Helix. For the love of god, people, I HAVE A STROLLER LET ME THROUGH! What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is that when you are pregnant, people hold doors for you. When you have a stroller or a carseat, people wait for you to hold the door for them. I’m not sure if it’s stroller envy/hatred or the attitude that if you pushed that kid out you can damn well push your way through a crowd of 10,000 people…but getting that stroller to the Helix was the hardest workout we’ve done in a long time.

On to the Helix to cheer for everyone. I love this part of the race. Everyone is so fresh and optimistic. The day is young. The feet don’t hurt yet. Aunt Jennifer held a very well-behaved Max while also sassing off to anyone telling her to move back (when will people learn that you don’t mouth off to a woman who is brave enough to walk around in pink with a pink phone and pink even on her shoes).

After the Helix, we headed out to Midtown for the hill. We found the same spot we spectated last year – except this year, the crops rotated. Soybeans, no corn. For the Midwesterners out there, you know what I mean. And you know that you cannot duck behind the soybean to take care of business. Which means I held it for over four hours. There were no epic chain failures, crashes, like NASCAR I was waiting for SOMEthing! It was just a bunch of fit people riding up the hill. Who told them all about a compact crank? I wanted to at least see a dropped chain or a crank fall off! The best entertainment I got was when Chris put the bullhorn up to Max’s mouth while he was cooing. It was like baby goo goo gaga in surround sound.

After the hill, we made our way to State Street and parked ourselves by Chipotle. This is my favorite spot – it’s about mile 6 and mile 19. You get a good view of what Chris calls “the bell curve of pain.” Everyone feels like a rockstar around mile 6. That’s not always the case at mile 19. I watched my athletes run by and helped troubleshoot many problems. My answer to most was – more salt tabs! Whether you’re puking or bloated, it’s usually a matter of electrolytes. I also fed Max about a dozen times. Nothing like breastfeeding your child on a street curb. I was a little freaked out when some VERY drunk college kid sat down next to me. I am NOT feeding you too, kid! I have to draw the line somewhere.


Shortly thereafter he passed out on the curb.

Last year, some guy stopped during the race and told me I looked hot. This year, two athletes stopped to tell me my baby was adorable. Oh, how life changes. We turned that little slice of curb on State Street into our makeshift nursery; we changed diapers, fed Max, let him barf up milk and watched him sleep. I was impressed by all of the athletes on the run course but more impressed by my kid. No meltdowns, no crying. He ate, he slept, he pooped. He was the perfect spectathlete.



I started losing steam in my iron around 7 pm. I was getting dizzy from looking for faces and honestly if someone threw one more cup at me I was going to throw back. My feet were aching and my hands were salty. Not from my own sweat. Ew. We headed back to the capital and watched the halfway point of the run when I pronounced myself ironed out.

And how iron-ic that before that we had walked by a guy on the side of the street with an ironing board and two irons.

We headed back home and there was a tired in my body I had never felt. Three hours of sleep, on my feet shouting all day and knowing that I would be up a lot of the night. Perhaps new mothers can back me up when I say that there are times I fear the night – because I know that going to sleep won’t last. But it was all worth it – both the having the baby thing and watching the Ironman. In fact, both are similar. Both sound like a good idea at the time. Both cost a lot of time and money. Both change your life. You know it’s going to be hard but not until you are actually doing it do you realize what hard is. There is a pain in your legs during Ironman that you cannot replicate in training nor that you’ll ever forget. There is a fatigue in your body when you have a baby that you have never felt before. Yet somehow you get through it, you find the strength to make it through another mile or another sleepless night and after awhile the pain or fatigue just becomes the norm. Either you block it out enough or you just adapt.

Or your definition of pain or fatigue changes.

Someone asked me the most inspirational thing I saw yesterday. I can think of a lot of things that inspired me. There’s the blind athlete (or how about the guy who races with the blind athlete), there's Charisa who ran into 5th pro in her rookie year, there’s my athlete Kara who crashed bad on the bike only to get up and run a 3:40 marathon, there’s Erika from the Ironman group who finished the race after crashing on the bike so bad that she went to get stitches after the race was over, there’s Lore who finished the race with a broken foot, there’s countless stories like that of athletes digging deep and overcoming obstacles that would shut most people down. Most athletes quit Ironman not because of true physical pain but because they give up from fear of the pain or fear of themselves. It’s the ones who triumph past that with true confidence and grit that inspire me.

I’ve been inspired. Many times over. I’m excited to get back into training to chase after my own goals. So, to all of you who swam, biked and ran by me yesterday – thank you. You’ve become my inspiration. And to my athletes who raced yesterday, I'm damn proud to have watched you chase your iron dreams.

And to the streets and sanitation department of Madison – I’d approach the curb across from Chipotle with a pair of gloves and a HazMat suit. Over 5 hours there with a baby and you don’t know what was left behind.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Iron Time

One of my favorite days of the year is getting closer.

IRONMAN WISCONSIN!

I’ve watched a few different Ironmans but none compare to the overwhelming energy and support at Ironman Wisconsin. Set against the backdrop of rolling Midwestern hills and red barns, it’s a beautiful course, honest with a good dose of hills and anything goes Midwest weather. It truly is one of my favorite races to spectate.

Recall if you will my experience last year (click here). I watched the inaugural Well-Fit Ironman Wisconsin training program take on the day. This year, we have another group ready to chase their iron dreams. Months of training, practicing fuel plans, mental preparations – all of this culminates across 140.6 miles on the second Sunday in September.

The other day, I asked athletes to send me their favorite tip for Ironman. Tips came in from all different athletes, everyone from Kona finishers to those crossing the line right before midnight. Whether you cross the line in 9:56 or 16:58, you’re still an Ironman. You can learn something from everyone who’s ever done the race, no matter how they did it, how much they walked or their age group placing.

So here it is; a list of Ironman tips. Some are about training, some about the race itself. But the common thread that runs through all of them is the sense that to make it through 140.6 miles - whether it’s your first time or your tenth time - you need these four things: (1) Respect the distance by arriving with (and following!) a well-rehearsed plan (pacing, fueling), (2) let go of the outcome if it’s your first race (you are there to finish not race), (3) expect to overcome obstacles (always take action) and, (4) take it one step at a time every step of the way.

To all who contributed to this list – thank you! If you also have a tip, add it as a comment.

Someone told me no matter how I felt when standing at the water's edge that once the cannon went off everything I did in training would kick in. It did. Also, take the course one leg, one buoy, one mile marker, one aid station at a time, whatever it takes. When swimming, there is no sense in thinking about the bike or the run.

My focus was to just FINISH. Forget about racing the first one! I had a smile on my face at around mile 12 and one of the volunteers said "Keep on smiling, your body will know what to do with it".

Keep moving forward.

For those of us who are 14+ hr ironmen the things that have really helped me are:

1) Hire a good coach and believe in the plan.
2) You need to put in the training to get to the finish line, but in the end it is your nutrition plan that really determines what kind of day you have out there. Find a simple plan that works in training and stick to it.
3) "Forward progress" is always a good mantra!

Expect a huge range of emotions & physical sensations, both good and bad, during your Ironamn. Remember, whatever you're feeling in the moment, it too shall pass.

My very wise coach told me to ask myself all day "What will it take to get to mile 18 on the run? What do I need right now to get me there?" That singular focus kept my head in the game when it became almost overwhelming. The answer was almost always: I need to eat, I need to drink, or I need to get out of my head. Stick to the plan. The plan is what got you to the starting gun and it will get you to the finish line.

I saw a friend about halfway through the run when i was really starting to hurt. She told me something like, "Dig deep, it will all be worth it, even though it sucks right now." Those words stuck with me and helped me get through it!

Ironman is like a contest to see who can whistle the loudest. A smart, smooth and steady effort will get you across the finish line whereas a hard or reckless effort will run out long before the finish.

Take in everything and every moment. Prepare for the worst and pray the best.

Smile! The day of Ironman is so amazing! Remember to enjoy the fact that you are able to be out there!

Know that you will have good moments and bad moments throughout the day. When you're in a bad moment, know that a good moment is coming. Just keep putting one foot in front of another.


Stay in the moment. Don't think ahead at all (or behind). Think, what do I need to do right now; eat, drink?

The only goal should be to finish. If you're having an "off day" or something isn't going right, you can't be down on yourself for being 30 minutes or 2 hours slower than you'd hope. The only goal is the finish line.

Ironman is all about crisis control. How well you handle and rebound from each one that arises on race day determines how well you can do.

When one thing goes wrong you don't have time to sit and complain about it - get over it and move on! Check in with yourself and if something is wrong nutritionally or emotionally ask how you can fix it. And lastly don't be an idiot; don't wear new shorts shoes or socks on race day unless you've specifically worn that brand before!

Before I raced my first in Florida in 2006, I asked an older gentleman who had done 20 IRONMANS what his advice was; I still remember it word for word: "Don't just savor the finish line, savor every minute"

Here is a mantra (that I got from a complete stranger on race day): On Ironman Wisconsin race course in 2008, a guy passed me on one of the 3 sisters hills....I jokingly... said, "Ha, ha I didn't think my legs were supposed to hurt this much yet" and he said, "well your legs are a long way from your heart."

You need to be MENTALLY plugged in to the training, racing, the grind of Ironman. It's not just the race, but the months of preparation leading up to it. So mental preparation for the race, but also during training is key. And, support from friends and family because it really is a full commitment.

Learn, in training, the difference between feeling sorry for yourself and just needing to HTFU. You won't regret it on race day.

Expect 5 things to happen that you weren't planning on. That way when your goggles get kicked off your face, or something gets caught in your chain, you can "check it off" and it won't get you off course mentally!

1. Expect to race like you train. If you spend your long training rides and runs lollygagging and chatting with friends, don't expect to miraculously be transformed into Speedy Suzy just cause its race day.
2. Consistency in training is the #1 contributor to race day success.
3. Understand that the faster folks are not necessarily working harder on race day than you are. They just are faster at aerobic intensity and most likely work harder in training.
4. K-I-S-S: it ain't that hard. You swim, you bike, you run and you pay attention to what you are doing.
5. Race day swim and bike legs should be the easiest of the entire training cycle.
6. Walking the final 6 miles or so of your IM will totally obliterate any good feelings you had while over-riding the bike.

An ultra running friend once told me that the key to getting through long events was to "be here, now". Keep your "box" manageable and stay the heck in your "box".

Ask yourself while racing, is what I'm doing right now going to help (or hurt) my run?

Practice your nutrition on every long ride. Be anal. Write down what you ate, what you drank, how much of it, weather conditions and how you felt. Change only one variable at a time until you nail it.

Stay with what you are doing - do not ruminate about what just happened, whether it was a kick in the head from another swimmer or a bad gear choice on a hill. Stay PRESENT, think about your swim strokes -- follow your foot around the pedal stroke -- feel your foot hit the ground as you run -- you will stay present and fully tuned into what is happening - this gives you all of the current information that you need to sustain as you go. If a change needs to be made you are poised, ready and fully informed to make the change on the fly which is needed often in Ironman. As the day happens you are fully engaged, present and hopefully having fun!

Have a mantra. And a plan B and plan C. Reassess and use them.

The race itself does not define you. The efforts you put in to training and preparing yourself for the race will say more about you as a person than the race itself. Training needs to be a priority, but it does not need to consume you. Inevitably, life will happen. Road blocks will cause you to stumble in training, and the same is true on race day. Deal with the hurdle, make adjustments then move on. Today may not be your day. But it's just one day in your great life. Learn from it. Grow from it. And apply your new found wisdom to tomorrow.

When you get down (which is inevitable over the course of such a long day), focus why you signed up in the first place. Concentrating on that carrot can help you successfully navigate.

Believe in your training and everything you learned during that time. Things rarely go accordingly as planned and all of that knowledge will come in handy when you have to adjust to the unknown.

#1 - Practice practice practice the nutrition plan in every long training day. Have it nailed down and part of the routine well in advance of race day. Kinda frightening how many people I saw asking in the 2 weeks before the race "so, um, what do you guys think I should do for my race nutrition?"
#2 - Pacing. Hold back, don't get caught up in the excitement so much that you blow your pacing plan because it's easy to do. Because mile 20 of the marathon looks like utter carnage from all the people who blew their legs out on the bike.

The day before Ironman Canada, Lisa Bentley spoke and said something very that stuck with me. Come away with one thing you are proud of. Whether it's a swim PR, bike, or just how you handled the rough water. That stuck with me and I think it’s good triathlon advice but especially in an Ironman where the urge to dissect how every detail could have been better can overshadow the positives you achieved personally or otherwise. It would be a shame to come away with only negatives on such a long day.

With the length of an Ironman there is time to change things around if something gets off. I thought my body was doing great until I jumped off my bike in T2 and the stomach cramps started. After trying to fuel and run with an angry stomach I decided to stop fueling and take in only water and salt tablets in an effort to get my stomach happy again. This unfortunately led to a little bit of walking and some slower miles towards the middle of the marathon, but saved the rest of my race. Once my stomach calmed down and I started fueling again, I continued to feel stronger and stronger and ran the last 10 miles of the marathon continuously with each mile getting faster. So if something gets off, try to figure out a way to fix it, and do it.

Take the training one day at a time and the race one mile at a time. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the magnitude, but this helped me manage things with smaller 'bite' sized pieces.

The race is really only 140.1 miles. The last 1/2 mile doesn't hurt.

Make sure you have spare sunscreen, Vaseline, salt tabs, and nutrition in your special needs bags. Throw in some band-aids too in case you chafe. And, if all else fails, don’t be afraid to take a short nap - around mile 21, I was curled up like a baby next to a traffic cone on the Queen K Highway. Can’t say that it helped but it sure sounded like a good idea at the time.

The ultimate goal is to finish your first one no matter what your fitness level is. In the end it is a mental game to get to the finish line and you would rather have your mind more “fit and prepared” than your body.

I liked watching You Tube videos of Ironman and becoming an Ironman to get my mind more prepared. I love the one about the athlete who passes out in the middle of the run and gets revived and they ask him if he wants to go on. He stands up and says yes sir to the woman and keeps on going; that in my mind is a true Ironwill, the will to never give up.

Accept that your day will have some high emotions and some low emotions, that way when you start to get frustrated and down on the day, you can say 'duh, this is normal and will pass'.


Change a flat(s) during long rides, even if you never get any in training, still go through changing your tire on the side of the road with the tools you will have on race day. Then you can feel confident if you get a flat during the race, you've done it before.

Enjoy the race and remember why you're there.


Do your 110 mile ride solo and pack all your edible calories on you, a buffet on wheels if you will. Make minimal fast stop(s) (simulate special needs) and replenish your bottles. Pass your bike off, and hit the run with your gels ASAP. If something doesn't feel right, fix it and redo the exercise. Once you’re satisfied, write everything down you ate and drank and record the temperature as well. Analyze race day temps, modify hydration accordingly and then repeat your training day success with flexibility based on course terrain and weather.

Don’t underestimate how badly it hurts – make peace with it and know that everyone else, no matter how fast or slow, feels pain. How you deal with it is what sets apart those who finish and those who give up along the way.

Pack your shovel. Because at some point during Ironman, you are going to have to dig deep to get yourself out of a hole. It also doesn’t hurt to pack your big boy/girl pants.

For all racing this weekend, the best of preparation and luck to you. Yes, it requires a little bit of luck to finish Ironman. Luck with the weather, your equipment and your body. But the other 99.9 percent is in your hands. So, plan your race and then race your plan. Be flexible and connected enough to change your plan as you encounter obstacles. And when all else fails, one foot in front of the other all the way to the finish line.

IRONWARD!

If you’re going to be at the race, please say hi! You can’t miss me: I’ll be on Midtown hill with an infant or a bullhorn in my hands. Both are very loud.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Green Light

Did you feel a shift in the universe on Friday?

No?

Well perhaps I didn’t shout loud enough. In excitement. Because Friday was the day I got the green light and returned to masters!

Truth be told I love to swim. But listen – it was not always that way. Yes, I used to be one of them. A triathlete with a disdain for swimming. Who really would be better off in duathlon. Because if you don’t like swimming why do triathlon? See my logic here? I knew that if I was ever going to get really good at triathlon, I had to embrace all three sports. And so I did. I made peace with swimming and ever since then it’s been nothing but splashy good times.

And I kept getting faster!

Funny how that works.

Anyways. I swam through all of pregnancy. At week 39 I was still swimming over 4000 yards at a time. It felt great. Different – because I had no core, no ability to rotate and moved along at a very very slow pace. But still it was swimming. I kept going to masters. And got used to be in the slower lanes. But secretly wanted to be back in my old lane, hitting my old intervals, discretely racing the guy in the lane next to me.

He knows that I know he knows I’m racing him.

Finally, when my 6 weeks was up, I returned to swimming. And what better way to return than at masters!

I was giddy. Honest to god. I told Chris I cannot wait to go to masters today. Someone remind me of that in 6 months when I’m in the middle of some awful set of 5 x 1000. Or hypoxic 25s. Or 100 IM with 1:30 send offs.

OUCH.

I walked into the gym with my swim bag in hand and who did I see….

TUGBOAT TOM!

Oh how I have missed my all time favorite lane mate! All season I’ve been watching him make up his own interval, skip 50s here and there, chat excessively at the wall as I’ve been out of that lane. I’m like the lane sergeant. We don’t talk at the wall, we don’t negotiate and we never EVER miss the interval. He promptly gives me a (I’m so glad you’re back because our lane has really gone soft) hug and congratulates me for having the baby.

I walk on to the pool deck in my new – albeit bigger – swimsuit which still makes me feel way too big. I’m stuffed in all the wrong places. When I put it on the other night I actually cried but then quickly got over myself. I just needed a moment to mourn everything that used to fit snugly into the smaller suit which now fits snugly into a bigger suit. But once I walked out on to the deck I didn’t feel a thing but excitement. I could have been 300 pounds and it didn’t matter. I was so excited to be swimming with masters again!

I scan the lanes and realize I have two choices here: I could go into the slower lane, probably where I belong, because I got used to swimming over there during pregnancy or I could hop into my old lane. Ready or not, I thought to myself, I am going into my old lane. There’s a good chance I will either lose an arm or soil myself because I am nowhere near ready to swim my old paces but…I’ve got to start someplace and what better place than in Tom’s draft!


We warm up an easy 300 and then wait for the coach to give us the workout. All of a sudden, I see something on the white board.

30 x 100 on the 1:40

Perhaps I should leave.

Can we talk? The 1:40 interval is not a problem. In fact, that’s a very generous interval in my pre-pregnancy days. However. In the final weeks of pregnancy, I was swimming 100s in 1:50. I don’t know who these people are that swim faster in pregnancy or how but I was definitely not one of them. For every 5 pounds I gained, I think I added 5 seconds to my 100 pace! So doing 30 x 100 on an interval that I could not even swim 6 weeks ago did NOT sound like a possibility.

But before I knew it the clock was counting down and Tom was pushing off the wall. There’s no time to think just time for action. Which is the best place to be when you are on the edge of something frightening. As the clock hit 10 seconds, I had no choice...I pushed off.

Ah, the draft of Tom. HOW I MISSED IT! 100 down and it feels – dare I say – easy!? I come in with plenty of rest and before I know it we’re at 5, then at 10. And, let me shout it with my fully capable lungs…..I LOVE NOT BEING PREGNANT! I can rotate. I have a core. I CAN BREATHE AGAIN! (which is very important when swimming)

After number 10, I look up and the coach says to me:

MAMA! If you can do this set post-partum, you’re….and she stuck her thumbs up at me.

I looked at her and said: I WILL!

And it wasn’t easy. I haven’t swam in weeks and I should probably just be swimming easy. But it’s time to get back into things. Months ago Chris told me that the hardest part about returning to form would not be finding the motivation to do things. That’s easy! I’ve got nearly a year of pent up motivation. The hard part is learning how to hurt again. I’ve spent that same year going easy. Easier than easy. To make intervals, to suffer – I am going to have to roll in lactic acid and teach myself how to hurt all over again.

Somewhere around 15 I thought to myself that I will get this done – just like I told the coach. I will. There’s a big difference between I want and I will. I want to be fit again. I want to get fast. The only way I will get there is if I will do what it takes – get out of the comfortable zone I’ve sat in through pregnancy and hurt again. I am willing to do those things. Not only that but I will do them – every single day.

We’re at the last 10 and I’m still swimming. In fact, I don’t feel bad. Cardiovascularly I feel ok. I’m not huffing or puffing. It’s just that my form and my fitness are not working together. I have them both, they are just a bit disjointed. It’s going to take some time to get into the rhythm again but I’m guessing it will happen sooner than I think.

The last 2, Tom looks at me and says “two more, we can do this.” I suspect he’s saying it more for himself than me but it helps. Two more! We finish the set with a good job to each other and a bump of our fists. It’s good to be back at masters. It’s even better to be back in my old lane.

As I got out of the pool, I told Tom that vacation is over. From here on out, this lane means business. And, next year, we’re setting big goals. I’ve got some times floating around in my head and little does Tom know that he is going to be pulling me to each one of them.

The next swim I did was in Lake Michigan. I had a little meltdown that morning because the night before I found myself wearing maternity pants.

But they’re really loose on you, Liz, Chris said.

That is not the point. The point is that I am not pregnant and I AM WEARING MATERNITY PANTS. Right now, I can’t fit into my old pants. Not even the pants I wore when I was 5 months pregnant. They won’t go past my hips. I’m sure my hips will shrink (I’m totally not sure) but until then I guess I’m going to have to walk around in maternity pants.

Right now there is literally a party in my pants about that.

(not really)

The next morning, I woke up knowing that I would have to attempt to squeeze myself into my old wetsuit if I was going to swim in Lake Michigan. I got all antsy and teary until Chris made me try it on before we left. He helped me into it, pulling every spare centimeter of neoprene as far as it would stretch. Of all the things that don’t fit me right now, the irony is that my wetsuit fits me.

Which means that until further notice, I will be walking around in neoprene.

Just like being at masters, as soon as I was at the beach I felt ok. No matter how big I felt, no matter that I needed a shoe horn and some Body Glide to squeeze into my wetsuit. I was going swimming. Triathlon, heck just fitness, feels like my natural habitat.

I am so glad to be working out again...I finally feel like "me".

Sure enough, the swim was glorious. It was my first time in the lake in well over a year. I usually have a freak out my first time in cold water for the season but this time – I told myself I didn’t have time. Really, I don’t have time to freak out, overthink or be wishy washy. It’s time to mentally connect and be fearless. There’s a lot of work to do between now and my next big thing. FOCUS!

The most exciting part about swimming again is that I get to keep getting faster! The strangest thing about working out through pregnancy is that you keep doing work but you keep getting slower. Huh? To know that every time I get back into the water it’s going to feel a little bit better – that makes me want to go back again. NOW!

As I swam back toward the shore, I started to pick up the pace. I could see some swimmers ahead of me and worked to chase them. It took focus and it felt uncomfortable. But that’s the good stuff. That’s when you know the work you are doing is making a difference.

I’ve got a full plate of workouts this coming week and honestly – I cannot wait. I’ve never been this “out of shape” before but also never this excited to work myself back into shape, to gain fitness and hopefully not just find my old pace but surpass it.

GIDDY UP!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Game On

Apparently I’ve had mastitis for the past two weeks.

That explains everything.

Well, not everything. It still doesn’t explain how I’ve lost only ONE pound in 4 weeks. Grumble. But it explains a lot of the other things. If you don’t know what mastitis is, it means that my breasts are sick. Can you blame them? They’ve been working overtime. More like double time. Ok, my breasts have never worked like this EVER and now they are literally my child’s lifeline. What kind of training plan is this? You can’t go from couch potato to 5K in…one day. It takes time! Alas, too much too soon too fast leads to…mastitis.

How did I know? On Thursday I had my 6-week check up. This was the big one – the one I’ve been waiting to go to for the past…6 weeks. As you can imagine, the past 6 weeks have been my prison sentence of inactivity and sleep deprivation. The sleep deprivation – I can handle that. Or at least ignore it. The inactivity – that was not so easy. Honestly it was torture. When you go from very active – even though my activity was at late pregnancy pace (slow) – to inactive, it is not an easy transition.

At the visit, the nurse first took my blood pressure. Wait, no urine sample? I've been holding it for at least 30 minutes unsure if I could pee on command anymore now that their isn't 36 pounds of whatever all that stuff was pressing down on my bladder. This meant I found myself cross-legged and biting my lip waiting for the opportunity to go to the bathroom. Then, she drew blood to see if I was anemic. Listen, I took enough iron during pregnancy that I’m convinced you could stick a magnet to me! (and after years of battling anemia, I found the cure....2x ferrous sulfate daily along with a prenatal vitamin, lots of spinach, eggs and lentils in case anyone out there has struggled with it).


Of course no visit is complete without a trip to the scale. One of these days I’m going to go apeshit in that office and throw the scale through the window. Or, better yet, do what the woman before me did. They weighed her, and she weighed 285 pounds. Her response, that can’t be right.

Exactly. The scale is full of shit. None of us really weigh as much as that damn thing says. That is what I have been saying all along but WHO listens to me – who!? No one.

Then it was my turn. The nurse tells me I weigh exactly one pound less than I did four weeks ago.

And that is all I have to say about that.

Then we head to the exam room. It’s a bottoms off kind of visit. Those are the best because they involve a paper sheet. The best in gynecological couture. I still have not mastered the art of putting on the paper sheet without tearing it in all the wrong places. Hence the paper napkin covering me.

The doctor comes in and asks how I’m doing.

You got time? Because I’ve got an answer. Let’s see. I went to bed last night at 9 pm, Max woke up at 10:54 pm then 12:46 am then 3:14 am and then decided to stay up until 5:15 am at which point I placed him in bed with Chris and said “your turn.” He brought Max into me at 6:10 am to feed then I went to sleep until 8:31 am. That’s right – I spent nearly 12 hours in bed yet only half of it sleeping. So how am I doing? HOW AM I DOING? Right now all I’m doing is going from my bedroom to Max’s bedroom for half the day. And honestly I don’t know how I feel about that.

I know you don’t want to hear this question right now but when are you thinking of having your next child?

OH MY GOD! Woman, ARE YOU MAD? Take it back. Take it back NOW! What kind of question is that!? How about never. Or before I hit menopause. When men can carry babies? When the stork starts doing his job again?? Do I have any options here? She needs an answer. I settle for telling her that perhaps in two years. PERHAPS. Let’s see how this first one goes.

Are you exclusively breastfeeding?

Yes, but between you and me – I am not enjoying it. I know it’s not like it should be a party at my boob every single time but it’s just really draining. She tells me the good news - I might not get my period for 4 to 6 months as long as I exclusively breastfeed. But there are no guarantees.

You could get it in 2 weeks.

Awesome. BEST NEWS EVER. And, for the record, I can’t wait.

I’ll spare you the conversation on birth control, but let’s just say it ended like this.

I don’t want you getting pregnant for at least 6 months.

YOU AND ME BOTH! For crying out loud do not even say the word pregnancy around me.

It would be very harmful to your uterus.

And my mental health.

Of course, this is only because I had a c-section. Other women can jump right back into pregnancy just like that woman with 1900 kids. Or, 19 sets of Irish twins. Maybe someone should talk to her about birth control? Tell her whatever she’s doing, psst….it’s not working.

She looks at my incision and says it’s healing beautifully.

The scar will be much lighter in 6 months.

I wasn’t even worried about that. After all, who’s going to see it other than my husband (who always says he’s just happy to be in the game) and myself. I’m not saying I like the scar. In fact I’ve had all sorts of creative ideas about ways to decorate the scar (how about some barbed wire around it and a sign that says if you can read this you are about 10 miles too close to my private area) but I really don’t care how it looks. Now, if you could promise that the rest of me will be MUCH lighter in 6 months that would make me VERY happy.

Then I ask her to feel something. The other night I found a strange lump in my abdomen. I got all sorts of freaked the shit out. Because the only thing I could think about was: hernia. I immediately got on to the most reliable source of medical information – the internet – and diagnosed myself with 3 different types of hernias all requiring surgery. I had visions of my organs popping out through my now weak abdominal wall and eventually through my belly button. Then I went to bed and cried over myself because I was convinced I would spend another 3 weeks recovering from something else with no heavy lifting or activity.

She poked around and thought it might be a swollen lymph node. But to be sure, she sent me for an abdominal ultrasound. As long as they don’t discover Max’s long lost twin floating in my abdomen, I’ll consider myself ok.

Since I was laying down, I asked her to look at my boobs. You see, for the past two weeks the underside of both of them has been pink and spotted. I figured it might be some weird chafing or reaction to wearing a bra 24 hours a day. Or protest. Something like boobs turn hot and red when angry. Who doesn’t? But as soon as I flashed her she said, looks like you’ve got some mastitis.

The cure: antibiotics. She asked if I felt run down or fatigued. Trick question? I’ve been getting maybe 6 hours of broken sleep every night for the past 6 weeks. At this point what is fatigue.

And for all the athletes out there – ask yourself this before you get pregnant what is fatigue AND what is pain. Because I’ve found that us athletes have whacked out perceptions of fatigue and pain. I cannot tell you how many people look at me cross-eyed and crazy when they see me “out and about” with a 6-week old. You’re getting around well. As opposed to what? Laying in bed all day with a bed pan? Sure it didn’t feel good for a few weeks but it wasn’t life ceasing pain or eyes can't stay open fatigue. The show must go on. I MUST MOVE!

But back to the mastitis, this morning I did wake up feeling a bit more like ass than usual so maybe that was a sign but I just thought this was all part of having an infant. Turns out that your boobs are not supposed to be pink and breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt (haven’t I heard that before).

Next she does some examining.

Your cervix is closed and your uterus has returned to normal.

Well AMEN! But you failed to mention anything about the chains, locks, KEEP OUT sign and the bear trap in front of my cervix for anything – ANY THING – that might try to get within 10 feet of it. And as for my uterus, I am happy to hear it has returned to its normal habitat. Deep within my innards to hopefully not stretch again for AT LEAST a few years.

I sit on the examining table, waiting. Um, don’t we have something to talk about here…how about a little swim/bike/run…hmmph?

Have you returned to physical activity?

Wait a minute. Did YOU just ask ME? I thought this was the appointment where YOU granted ME permission to engage in physical activity. I have been waiting 6 weeks. You told me 6 weeks ago not to do any physical activity for fear that I would burst open the incision and my insides would explode all over the place only to have to be sewn back in again and you’re asking ME if I’ve done any physical activity? Here I had been waiting for all this time for her to announce that I could return to working out. In my mind, I expected something much more dramatic. Perhaps a little fanfare, some confetti dropping from the ceiling, a party horn, maybe even a clown, some trumpets, a parade and the doctor bursting into the room with her magic wand saying YOU MAY NOW WORKOUT!

A bunch of elves appear around me clapping and shouting YAY!!!!!!

Not that I’ve envisioned this moment or anything.

But then she asked me. As if it was all along in my hands. She doesn’t tell me what to do. She asks me what I’ve been doing. I tell her I’ve been active. Physically.

And it was left at that.

So much for any confidence I had in the 6-week guideline actually being grounded in hard core you should follow this science (it’s not).

She asks if I have any more questions. I do. It’s about my abs. You see, I did that little test where you lay on your back, lift your head up and if your stomach rises in a little cone you know that you have diastasis recti. Which is separation of the abdominals. Right now I can fit two fingers in between my left and right abdominal walls. And that really scares me. I’m a little freaked out about what is in there and what could push out. Turns out the uterus pushes out between the abdominal walls as a survival mechanism. So glad the uterus survived at the expense of my abs! Is there any other part of my body that pregnancy would like to claim?

The doctor tells me that they will never grow back. But, if I’m lucky like some women, they will tighten closer together.

I sewed yours up very well when I was in there.

Why doesn't this make me feel any better. You SAW my abs? You very well could have been the last person to see them in tact and you didn’t let me know so I could at least say GOOD BYE to them forever?

Sniff.

She hands me a prescription to clear up the mastitis, tells me to come back in 6 months and that is that. I’m good to go. In whatever sense I want to go. And that’s good news because as you can tell I’m getting a little pent up here and feel the need to run a few – seriously I am going – crazy laps. The 6-week sentence has been lifted! And, now we will return to our regular programming of swim - bike - run...ok, a little mommy stuff too because my kid is just too damn cute to not talk about him!

GAME ON!

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Aftermath

Early last week, I declared an impromptu wine night.

We started at the wine shop and then went to the wine restaurant. There, we sampled two flights of wine. Somewhere between Beautiful Blends and Ridiculous Reds we ordered a third – Perfect Pinots. Before we even left for the first flight, Chris labeled himself as smashed. How is that fair? I declared wine night! Yet I, with either high powered metabolism for milk production, or strong Italian genes, was only feeling slightly tipsy. I think I need to swim in a barrel of wine to get drunk these days.

But then again – I still can’t swim.

Before we left, I used the restroom. On the way out, I noticed Chris standing by the owner of the restaurant. I figured maybe they were talking. Chris loves conversation with strangers. I subscribe more to the stranger danger theory. Anyways, we were about to leave when the man said…

Good luck with everything.

Chris and I looked at each other, puzzled. We looked back at the man, puzzled.

With the baby, he said while pointing to my stomach.

Maybe I was drunker than I thought but for some reason, I didn’t register what he just said. I stood there looking at him. Meanwhile, my husband, in a brilliant comeback from being three flights to the wind, said:

The baby’s already out. It just takes awhile to go down, he said while pointing to my stomach.

The owner sticks his foot in his mouth. He actually didn’t but he probably should have. He apologized and said a very awkward awkward. If only I had a shepherd’s hook to pull him off his stage. When I finally realized what was going on, I laughed and said don’t worry about it.

When we got outside, it hit me.

Did he think I was still pregnant?

The question needed no answer. The answer was a very obvious yes, one that was looking back at me as I looked down at my dress. There is was – my stomach. Now, I’m pretty small. Correction: I was pretty small and whenever I eat it tends to explode outward making me look pregnant. But after spending the past 10 months pregnant, the last thing I want to look right now is still…pregnant.

I didn’t realize how big my stomach my still look until started studying it. I stood, side profile in the mirror, and realized – he was right. By the end of the day, I look 5 months pregnant with a belly hard and bloated. By some miracle, I avoided the loose skin and instead my body decided to rock the pregnant look – maybe forever.

I got scared. Oh my god. What if I look like this – forever. What if this is it. I realize I’m only 6 weeks from giving birth but really I thought I would fall back into shape quicker than this. I thought I would at least be able to wear my old “fat” clothes by now but I can’t even wear my fat clothes’ fat clothes. And if one more person tells me it took 9 months to get this way and will take 9 months to get back to my old self – I will slap them. BECAUSE IT IS NOT HELPING!

Of course it’s probably true. But who needs the truth when we have the internet? I decided to do some searching of my own. And I found some not so good things. Oh you know how the internet is. You can find one million stories of misery which when dealing with the post-pregnancy belly equates to YOU WILL NEVER LOSE THE BABY FAT.

I got scared. What if this is it. This is my new body. How can this be!? WHAT is going on!? It’s kind of like when you have a little pain in your little toe on your left foot. You do some self-diagnostic reading and decide that you have fractured your little toe to the point that it will fall off so you spend the next week only pushing off the pool wall with the other foot. You found the worst case scenario and started believing it. That was me. I was convinced I would be the next housewife who never leaves her house because she was too embarrassed to show the world her belly.

Now, listen – I realize I just gave birth and it takes time to get back to (somewhat) normal. Before you have an intervention to save the body image of E.L.F. let me just say this – I know that matter what I look like I still have a beautiful baby, a wonderful husband and a heck of a set of boobs. But at the same time, I feel despondent, worried, dare I say betrayed about so many things post-pregnancy. Know what I mean? You read all these books and they tell you the same shit about pregnancy - you’ll gain weight! You’ll urinate more frequently! Your chest will hurt! What they don’t tell you is what I needed to know about what happens after all of that. The aftermath. How after 6 weeks after giving birth you’ll measure your waist to discover it is nearly the same size as your husband’s (OH MY GOD!), how you’ll probably piss yourself for the rest of your life from a weakened pelvic floor and every time you walk by a child your breasts will feel like someone has a shock collar attached to them – they’ll ache, fill with milk and get ready to feed the next living thing you pass or how you will see yourself but you will not look the same.

And I’m convinced that post-partum depression isn’t so much depression, rather it’s a deep worry, frustration or ache women get about the life/body they had versus the life/body they now have. It becomes problematic because we, as women, don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it because we think we’re the only ones thinking it. Why do we keep quiet like this to ourselves? Am I the only one who walks by a mirror and thinks WHO is that looking back at me? Am I the only one who is convinced I will go bald from the amount of hair I am losing as hormones drop? Or, wondering if when I stop breastfeeding if I’ll have nipples hanging down to my now permanently poking out belly button? Am I the only one just a little holy f*cking freaked out about these things?

Friday afternoon I stood on the driveway. I told Chris I wanted to go for a walk.

Why?

I feel fat.

But you look boobalicious!

That is not helping.

A few weeks ago, he told me I was his MILF. But I don’t want to look boobalicious or MILFtastic. I just want to look like me.

I know he means well – and husbands, keep saying stuff like that to us. If we don’t find it reassuring we at least find it entertaining. And every new mother could use a good laugh.

Maybe it all seems a little petty. Doesn’t she have bigger things to worry about? I do. And I do worry about those things. But these are my thoughts and sometimes they aren’t rational or intelligent. Sometimes they are just ugly oh my god did she just say that/think that/feel that thoughts. Yes. Yes, to all of it. It’s a matter of insecurity – sure. Admitting your insecurities is better than pretending like they aren’t there. It’s also a matter of inconvenience. Like I have time (or money) to buy yet another set of clothes! Maternity clothes were expensive enough! It’s a matter of feeling like you’ve lost a version of yourself and in between adjusting to a new life, taking care of a new person and adjusting to a new phase in your marriage…while doing all of those, oh, little things, you also have to come to terms with your new self – learn how to relate to, love and respect your new self.

And honestly, that might take some time.

I expected a lot of changes from pregnancy but the one I did not expect was having to re-learn to like myself. It took years to become comfortable with who I am and how I looked. And I know I’m not the only woman who has struggled to find acceptance like that. Just know that if you find yourself on the other side of pregnancy with a little self loathing and disappointment, it’s not uncommon. Nor is it the end of your self-confidence. I may not be super skinny ripped anymore but I am stronger. I’ve got better perspective. I’m resilient and no matter how beat up this body looks after all of it – it’s still beautiful. I tell myself that and now it’s just a matter of learning to believe it.

I’m certain I’ll get closer to where I was – maybe never fully back to that place but close enough. Perfect doesn’t have a place here anymore. It actually never did have a place in my life, I just made a place for it and it caused all sorts of problems along the way. Perfect is over-rated, perfect is costly. In the meantime, I’ll settle for being boobalicious and learn to hold my breath. Because I’m going to have to suck in really deep and long to hold this belly in for now.

Which begs the question: can that be considered hypoxic training?


DAMMIT I WANT TO SWIM!