Saturday, November 27, 2010

Full Circle

Twelve years ago on Thanksgiving, I caught the bug.

I did my first race.

I’ve told the story before but a brief recap is in order: ‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving and I had a brilliant idea – I would run the local 5K turkey trot.

In an effort to prepare myself, that night I ran 7 miles on the indoor track.

For anyone who has ever self-coached, you know a training plan like that is priceless. Somehow in your head, despite all logic, you have convinced yourself yes, YES, THAT is exactly what you need to do.

Back then it was a small event with 600 runners. I remember crossing the finish line and thinking that was fun. I crossed the finish line in 21:39. Chances are, in the last mile, I caught a few struggling nonrunners who got talked into running only 3.1 miles with the family to burn the bird off. But more importantly, I caught the bug. The racing bug.


A little over a year ago, I had just completed a run focus in which I did several 5Ks to culminate in that same Turkey Trot. A week before the race, I found out I was pregnant. Scratch the race plan. Instead, I set my sights to 2010. I would run the race as my return to sport with my only goal being to break that original time of 21:39.

2010, here I am. It’s turkey day. I’ve been back at running now for 10 weeks and in that time have run two 5Ks. Was I ready for another one? The morning was a damp and chilly 35 degrees. Motivation was, admittedly, a bit low. You see, in my first race post-partum, I beat that original 5K time. The next race, I dropped another 53 seconds. And so there I was today. Today was wet, cold…do I really need to run this race? I’ve already proven myself. But I knew I had to do this. To mark the beginning, just like this race did 12 years ago.

Max only woke up once last night so I had a decent sleep (meaning, I slept for 5 hours straight - AMAZING!). I ate breakfast, pumped a bottle so Chris could feed Max when he woke up and then fully loaded myself with caffeine

(if you doubt the effects of caffeine, let me assure you – it’s real. I only drink decaf and so the other day after getting my once a week grande decaf Americano I found myself in a store, jittery with thoughts racing and sweaty armpits. I realized that the label on my cup was missing a key word: DECAF)

The race was taking place near my gym. I parked there and had my best idea yet – warm up on the indoor track. Some of you are balking right now – indoor track!? I love the indoor track! Maybe it was doing indoor track in high school that made me fearless of running 1000 laps around a nasty hot gym (yes, I was a miler). But my plan today was to warm up indoors to stay dry and preserve lung function for the actual race.

After a warm up, I ran over to the race site. People everywhere! In the past twelve years, the race has grown to over 6,000 runners. How many 5Ks actually have pace signs set up!? I positioned myself near the 6:00 mile group. I’m finally ready to be up there with the big boys.


(actually, the really skinny boys)

Earlier that morning, I thought through the plan – bolt the first mile, sustain the second mile and gut it out to the finish. Oh, and when I turn the last corner, turn the afterburners on. I have no idea where they are on my body or if I even have afterburners but it just seemed like a fitting way to remind myself to get my ass to the finish line ASAP at that point.

Standing at the start line, I scoped out the competition. Not only is this race huge but it draws a ridiculous number of high school cross country runners (and standing there, doing the math in my head, I realized I am old enough to be their mom). A few of them were wearing their uniforms and let me say times have changed since I ran cross country in high school (then again, that was nearly 20 years ago!) Seems that even the youngsters have caught the need for speed. There had to be half a dozen boys wearing what looked like cycling bibs with – I kid you not – a full face mask that zipped up the back. Except – it had no holes for the eyes or mouth? How did they see? I’m sure it shaves off at least….one second from all the drag that is saved from covered up hair on your head (studies have shown that cutting your hair short can reduce aerodynamic drag by 2%) but more importantly it was a great distraction tactic for your competition. Who can keep a straight face when you’re up against something that looks like that?

A countdown and the gun goes off. Turns out all of the congestion at the start from those who clearly thought 6:00 pace sign was referring to the metric system (because I must have weaved through, darted around and got caught up behind several runners who belonged quite a few minutes back) became a sure way to ease into the race. Noel, one of my athletes who started near me, on the other hand, was proving his strategy was much simpler than that – bolt and if the competition is in your way, just trip them to the ground. No joke, he got tangled with some kid who then did a full face plant to the pavement.

The first mile, surprisingly, felt great. I eased into it, thought about good form and made eye contact with nothing but the road in front of me. FOCUS! I hit the first mile in 6:07 which, trust me – feels a world better right now than the 6:00 I went out at last time. Like the difference between “I’m in control here” and “YIPES, I might crap myself!”

The second mile seemed to take forever but I knew it would. But unlike Ironman where you have 138.6 miles to go when you reach the end of that second mile, at the end of it, I knew I only had one more to go! I hit the final turn, turned on the afterburners (I found the switch!) and when I hit the 3rd mile clock, I knew I had my goal in the bag.

I’ve never actually seen this bag but know that if I ever find it, it will be filled with breakthrough race performances. And maybe a little bit of vomit.

I crossed the finish line 24 seconds faster than the 5K about 3 weeks ago, good enough for the age group win. If you’re keeping track (and you should be – this is very important stuff, people!), I’ve dropped over 75 seconds since that first post-partum 5K about 6 weeks ago. And, more importantly, today’s time was only 30 seconds off of where I was a year ago, before baby.

Why am I telling you this? Because I know there are women out there who wonder – will it come back? If so, how long will it take after baby? Max turned 4 months a few days ago. Right now, my running pace is about 10 seconds per mile off where it was a year ago. My swimming is back at pre-pregnancy paces and my biking is better. Bottom line – it comes back. All of that along with good health and balance. And, if you’re lucky, the world’s most adorable baby.

JUST LIKE MINE!

Today I came full circle. Twelve years ago, this race started the adventure of a lifetime – of racing, of making friends, of meeting the man who would become my husband, of travels, of victories, of lessons learned about myself that I could not have learned any other way. Here I am about to embark on an incredible journey again. It is the beginning, again.

Sometimes I wonder – will I be better than the previous version of myself? Can I go further than I did last time? I’ve been training now for 3½ months, and the short answer is that time will tell. But I suspect that if I open myself up to my own greatness again, I will get there. Perhaps get a little further and even faster than the last time.

And that is what makes 2011 so damn exciting.

Let's go, I'm ready.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Penance

So, an Amish woman walks into an elevator…

Heard that one before?

No, seriously, I was at the mall and an Amish woman walked into the elevator behind me.

To say I was a little scared would have been A FREAKIN’ UNDERSTATEMENT.

I’ve got nothing against Amish people. I like their buggies and beards. It’s just that around here, you don’t really see too many Amish people. Last I checked there was no Amish colony in the Chicago suburbs. So seeing her surprised me.

I looked at her, and smiled.

She looked at me, smiled and then after the longest most silent pause in which the elevator and time very well might have stood still she said very solemnly….

Going down.

Oh god.

I mean, oh gosh.

Is this what happens when you die? Am I dead? Did I finally keel over from lack of sleep or all those mean things I’ve thought about people when no one else is listening that make me think I am not only going to hell BUT DRIVING THE BUS THAT GOES THERE! So this is it? You board an elevator with a highly religious woman, the door closes, you press the lower level button and it sends you careening straight into hell?

It felt like eternity. Eternity! How fitting! I felt like God was in the elevator with me, observing me, grading me. Jesus! AH! Scratch that. All of a sudden everything about me was sinful, wrong and I felt guilty. Think quick: what was the last thing you did. I don’t know! Where to begin? REPENT! REPENT ALREADY!

Donotmakeyecontactdonotmakeeyecontact. But I can’t help myself. Out of the corner of my eye I see her looking at me and she knows I’m looking at her because – she is probably the right hand puppet of god.


I'm so scared!

All I can think about is what I’m doing or what I’ve done wrong. CONFESS YOUR SINS! Damn Catholic guilt! I can’t even go shopping without it hitting me. But there I was in the middle of the afternoon with my baby sleeping in the stroller happily sucking away at a pacifier (evil!), with a large cup of Dunkin Donuts decaf coconut with cream (I’ll admit it, I wanted the fatty fat fluffer cream today!), my iPhone in my hand (tool of the devil!) and a Delia’s shopping bag in my other hand (Delia’s!? What am I….12?!). I’M A HEATHEN! Clearly she is scrutinizing me against her little bonnet of perfectness tied upon her head. And just as I want to pound on the glass to the shoppers below signaling an existential emergency was taking place SEND HELP NOW, the elevator bing-ed.

The door opened, after what had to be the LONGEST ONE FLOOR ELEVATOR RIDE OF MY LIFE.



Our eyes met.

After you.

And then, she followed me. I wish I was kidding. I pick up my pace. I dart into Home Goods, discretely glancing over my shoulder – she’s there. Going toward the back of the store - THERE!


Take the coffee. Here’s the pacifier. Heck, take the child! And you’re right, I am too old to be shopping at Delia’s!

After all of this internal turmoil, she fakes me out by walking towards Marshall’s. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT!? Is this a warning? Is this how you become a Catholic in bad standing (more on that later). And if so – how did the Amish get involved?

Forgive me, for I have sinned. I am shopping in the middle of the afternoon when I should be working. But please – I have a 4 month old and if I read one more book about puppies, sing one more song about what is mommy doing now or get spit up on one more time I WILL LOSE MY MARBLES and create a much greater sin – getting very, very drunk by 10 am. Who can blame me. It’s survival!

Yes, Max and I have been going to the shopping mall once a week to get out of the house. When he naps, I work. When he’s awake, we play. When I feel like I can no longer rattle the Pirate Octopus toy or make animal sounds, we go to the mall.

And, I’ve learned, I’m not the only one who uses the mall as escape.

Go to the mall on a weekday and it’s filled with the unemployed who simply cannot give up pursuing their American dream lifestyle, old people eating ice cream and mothers with strollers. Entire brigades of suburban moms pushing UppaBabys, Chiccos, Gracos. Paying good money to put their child on a train that goes in circles. Resisting temptation of about 100 places that always seem right in front of my face selling cookies or chocolate. Getting verbally assaulted by the lady selling lotion at the kiosk (WHO BUYS THAT SHIT!?). And, of course, shopping.

Which reminds me – I have GOT to stay out of Gymboree. That place is like crack to new mommys. Oh you think you can stay away. Then you go in there and see the cutest damn monkey hat or get wooed with the siren song of a sale race boasting an extra 20 percent.

Work of the devil!

The scary part – I am learning the language of the mall. I’ve learned that if you pretend like you don’t speak English, the lady selling lotion won’t bother you. If you need to nurse or change your baby, hands down Von Mauer has the best women’s lounge. I’ve learned that if you go to the Dunkin Donuts right around 2 pm, there’s a good chance the clerk will make you a fresh pot of decaf and give you a large even though you ordered a medium. I’ve learned that despite my best attempts, I am not Forever 21 anymore and might better fit at Ann Taylor.

Eeks.

I was at the mall today to buy an outfit for Max’s baptism. (I’ve never been to a baptism so I don’t know what to wear and all I have to work with is my mom’s warning to not wear anything risqué - in case I was planning on showing up dressed as Heidi Fleiss). For all of my non-Catholic friends, a baptism washes away original sin from your baby. It wipes their slate clean so they can spend the next 18 years filling it up with all sorts of sins like stealing candy, sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night and calling their siblings names.


I don’t know all of this because I’m a good Catholic but because we had to go to a class on how to be good Catholic parents. Ironically it was taught by a surly deacon who seemed more interested in telling us that when he decided not to be a priest because he liked women too much.

And that falls into the category of too much information.

First we had to answer a bunch of questions about religion. What are sacraments, what is faith. Dammit! No one told me there would be a quiz. We watched a video from the 1980s on what happens at a baptism where I spent more time looking at the hairdos and make up thinking – these poor people were caught indelibly on film looking like that. And then we talked about godparents. Apparently to be a godparent you have to be a Catholic in good standing.

Which begs the question: what does one have to do to be a Catholic in bad standing?

Probably go to the shopping mall at 2pm on a Wednesday because you get a little overwhelmed with parenting. How did that happen? Well…

Max has a new skill:

Squealing

And he is not afraid to use it as a weapon of parental control.

The other night we were trying to cook dinner. Max was supposed to be entertained by the 1000 things we’ve accumulated to entertain him. Yet nothing works like mommy or daddy. He started squealing very loud pitched squeals for a very long time to let us know that the activity mat with all of its colors and animals is not the good time he was looking for.

What’s the return policy on this kid?

30 days with receipt.

I guess we’re out of warranty.

Squealing is developmentally appropriate. It comes right after the a-goo, a-goo stage and before the babbling. Believe it or not, there is a progression to baby sounds: agoo, squeal, babble, bah bah and then they just belt right out with screw you guys you’ll never understand me.


I think that is the stage in language we call teen angst.

Maybe that is why God sent the Amish woman after me, For admitting that there are times where I think to myself – how did I get here and how do I get my old life back? Part of me is kidding but the other part – the part that had to deal with this at 11:30 this morning:




(I sent this to Chris and he said – wow, it’s Max with a giant animal print on his back. Only after a second glance did he realize this was a picture of blowout of epic proportions. Not only did he blow out his second outfit of the day but the high chair covering and his pack ‘n play blanket. And, note that like many blowouts, this one defies the laws of psychics. It’s like he has a rotating nozzle on his pooper that shoots straight up his back. How do babies do this!?)

Anyways, after doing another load of laundry to clean up this yummy mess (only to be outdone a few hours later, and that is how you go through over 3 outfits a day), I thought to myself about that other part that wonders sometimes…

What the hell is going on here!? Where did this baby come from and who is this person!?

I look at him sometimes and see a person with a personality that he reveals to us every day. A stranger to me but certain who he is already is. Yes, I believe babies are wired to be who they are. He is incredibly energetic and curious about the world. So curious that he fights sleep to the last moment of fitful head turns, rubbing his eyes and squeals until finally he is defeated. I’m convinced he would much rather stay awake and see what’s happening. He stares at his toys with my focused intent. He laughs at the world like Chris, happy go lucky.

And we are completely at his whim – he is who he is and right now he doesn’t understand wait, I’ll be right there, you’re fine (but I’m convinced he will grow up thinking his name is HANG ON!). He only knows the immediate here and now. If I’m not there, I might not be coming back. If he wakes up alone in his crib, he just might be in the great wilderness alone being circled by wolves. It’s a very here and now lifestyle as a baby. And all you can do as parents is go with it. You can’t reason with them or explain it away. All you can give them is your patience.

That explains why I was at the mall at 2 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Maybe my patience had worn thin after too many interrupted sleeps or blowouts. I’m not overly religious or even superstitious but perhaps the Amish woman, looking me over with what felt like judgmental eyes was reminding me that this time is fleeting, take advantage of it while you can. Don’t try to escape it – embrace it. And if all it takes to entertain him is waving a Pirate Octopus toy in front of him – then so be it. You’ll be wishing for that in another few years. Who am I kidding – MONTHS when he starts becoming mobile.

So, whomever is out there in the universe sending me signs, point taken. I’ll read I Love Puppies. Again. AND AGAIN. And again until I don’t need to look at the words anymore. THERE!



But I’m telling you, if I’m at the mall next Wednesday and an Amish woman follows me into the elevator, I’ll just drop my coffee, surrender my iPhone and run to the nearest fountain to cleanse myself.

Consider it my baptism.

And I have a fabulous new outfit for it!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Silverman At Sea

In the past 4 years, I’ve made a lot of connections through this blog. I’ve heard a lot of great stories, made some dear friends. All of it because I’ve said something that connected. An email is sent. A story is shared. A connection is made.

Enter Jim. Jim connected with me via one of my athletes who connected with my through my blog. It’s like Six Degrees of ELF. I’m like Kevin Bacon. God. Bacon. Did I ever confess here that my only craving I had in pregnancy was bacon and that was how I knew I was having a boy?

Anyways, back to Jim. Jim is an athlete just like you and me. And like you and me, he is feverishly dedicated – if not obsessed – with this sport we love called triathlon. Earlier this year, after several rounds of email, I had the pleasure of actually meeting him in person out in San Diego. Jim had about 200 questions for me to answer in less than 60 minutes over a cup of coffee. I answered all but 3. His most important question, though, was how to train for an Ironman at sea. You see, Jim is not just a triathlete but also a man of the Navy.

His 2010 race schedule included Silverman to do the full iron distance race. Note that I didn’t call it an Ironman because I don’t want to be fined for using the term inappropriately even though we all know that calling an iron distance race an Ironman is the same damn thing.

But that debate is far too existential for this blog.

Jim and a fellow shipman, seaman, nonlandlubber? Not sure of the proper terminology here but let’s just call him “friend”. Jim and friend decided to train together for Silverman. But here’s the catch – they would be deployed at sea for 3 months of the training. Swim training was not an option. They got a few creative training tips from Commander David Haas who trained for Kona while deployed. They rowed. They trained on spin bikes. They ran on treadmills. The timing would be tight but they knew they would return home one day before the race, and then head out to race an Ironman. I mean Iron distance race.

Same damn thing.

The training was done – the long miles on the road, pounding the pavement, making the most of the land time where they could get in the swims. And then (enter suspenseful music and nail biting what happens next)….

An announcement. The ship’s schedule was pushed back a week. In other words, there would be no Silverman because they would still be out at sea.

Now think about this for a moment. When the going gets tough, what do you do? When a road block is thrown in your path, do you sit in front of it, kicking, crying and sending out invitations to your pity party? (and would the font be pink and the envelopes scented with despair?) Or, do you walk right up to that roadblock and find another way. Because there’s always another way. Obstacles are opportunities to get creative, to go in a new direction, to see ourselves from a new perspective.

And of course Jim found another way. After all, this is a man of the Navy. Giving up is not an option. And we can all take a lesson from that. Rather than giving up on his goal, he decided it would be done – at sea.

Silverman at Sea

(and a day later he probably had an oh shit what have I done moment)

The day before the race, they did their own version of race check in. The day of the race, they met early, at 0530, with the anticipation of doing an Ironman ahead of them. The race started promptly at 0600. Now you might be wondering – just how did they swim? They didn’t. With swimming not an option, instead they chose to row.

They moved their rowing machines to the upper deck in the darkness of early morning on the Pacific. When Revelry sounded, they embarked on a 70-minute rowing adventure at sea. Jim chose 70 minutes because his last Ironman swim was around that time. Together, they rowed and watched the ship wake up, the morning rise.

Next, they transitioned to spin bikes. (I won’t ask Jim what he was doing for 13 minutes in transition) Not satisfied to just ride the bike for 112 miles, they downloaded a topographical map of the Silverman course and added resistance to the bike to simulate climbs. With giant fans pointed at them, they encountered the usual catastrophes you find along on an Ironman bike – fatigue, sweating, and a man overboard drill.

Yes, at mile 52 there was a man overboard drill.

Imagine 112 miles on a spin bike. Seriously, people, this is not for the faint at crotch. I can handle about 20 minutes on those things without wanting to run myself over with the fly wheel. It’s uncomfortable, steady, monotonous. Sounds just like Ironman,eh?

With no drafting, no coasting, no tailwind, Jim dismounted the bike in 4:55.

On to the run – a marathon on the treadmill. I can think of less painful ways to pass time on a ship. Like slapping myself with a lifejacket over and over again. But they did it. Jim and his friend experienced some of the usual fatigue you find in the marathon at Ironman but in the end, they both got the run done.

Jim completed the Silverman at Sea in 12 hours 19 minutes and 18 seconds. All that for nothing? Oh no. That would be a 52-second PR from his last Ironman finish time. When he finished, there was no fanfare, no medals, no glory, no Mike Reilly telling him he was indeed an Ironman. They were just done. And the next day it was back to business as usual – doing whatever it is you do on an aircraft carrier.

As I read through Jim’s race report, I got to thinking – why.

Why do it? Why would you do this knowing there was nothing at the end. There was no finish line to cross, no spectators, no finishers gear waiting to be purchased the next day. No post-race party. No t-shirt. No results. No chance to podium. No recognition.

They didn't have to do it. They just did it. And then it was...done.

I thought about it and realized that Jim was driven. Driven by the challenge, the training, whatever it is that inspires you about doing something like Ironman. Or maybe it’s just the local 5K. Whatever your challenge is, if you decide to do it, you have to have that drive to actually go out there and get it done. The bigger your challenge, the more driven you need to be.

Driven is what gets you up in the darkness of the morning to go swim in the winter. Driven is what makes you sign up for that half marathon then actually training for it. Driven is reading a book on nutrition because you want to learn how to eat better for performance and then actually making the changes. It’s setting the goal then getting the work done – and then getting up the next day to do it again. It’s making every minute count. Committing to it and then sticking with it.

You might say but we’re all driven. We’re all Type A, crazy, obsessive compulsive freaks who can’t sit still. True. But to be driven is something different. It’s focused, it’s direct. It points like a beam of light on to what you really want. You see nothing but it. You won’t stop until you reach it. You do what it takes.

Finally, I asked Jim himself: Why did you do it? This sounds like insanity to go 140.6 miles while going absolutely nowhere. Not only that but it sounds painful. He admitted at first that he wanted to do it to spite the change in plans. We’re stubborn, he said. But then after they committed to doing it on the ship, it became something more than that.

We didn’t want to quit.

Now I could completely understand. Because in facing challenging situations, I have only once taken the option to quit. And I will never forget that. My husband once told me the sting of quitting is worse the next day than any pain you might be feeling at the moment you're considering it. Quitting is the easy way out. Quitting was not an option to Jim – and who knows why. Maybe because he once tasted the lasting sting of failure and decided it would never happen again. Maybe because he didn’t want the training to go to waste. Or maybe because he made a commitment to himself to set out to do something and get it done – and he was going to honor that commitment.


I listened to Jim's story with great interest and spent time thinking about it. It showed me if you want something bad enough, if you’re driven to achieve, you’ll find a way to do it. You’ll get it done. People come up with all sorts of excuses why they can’t do things – I’m too old, I’m too slow, too this or that. When I hear about people like Jim, I think to myself – the only excuse that we have is ourselves. Perhaps an excuse really is the inability to get over one's self.

The story comes full circle. Sometimes from this blog, a connection is made. And from that connection I find inspiration. Jim’s story inspired me. It takes a lot of guts, determination and grit to do an Ironman. Even more so to do one at sea. I’d say I have no idea what possess someone to do something like that but that would be a lie because I do get it. It’s possession – that drive and ownership of a goal. A goal you set in the first place because you knew you could – and that – no matter what – you would.

On any given day when we are faced with a challenge, there is always an excuse waiting to allow us to give up, hold back or get in our own way. If you’re driven, you push all that aside and you go after it. Decide to do it! And then, just ... get after it.

And who knows – you just might find yourself many miles later with a new PR and a heck of a story to tell.

And I’m guessing some pretty bad chafing.

No need to send me those pictures, Jim.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Lessons Learned

This past weekend, I raced another 5K.

You might be wondering why. What is the point of racing a 5K. It’s certainly not very long nor anything like a triathlon. But right now it’s manageable, it’s motivating and it’s fun. When you can combine those 3 things in a goal, you know that you’ll go after it 110 percent. When you do that, you’ll likely reach your goal. And once you reach it, you’ll want to set another. This is the process of bettering yourself. It’s contagious, it’s what fuels our performance.

Three weeks ago, I set a baseline at the last 5K. I was ahead of where I thought I would be, off to a good start. Considering I didn’t run for 5 months, I wasn’t sure what kind of pace I could hold. But I knew that my body would quickly remember how to get back into running if I kept after it. The beauty of being a runner is that once you go through the painfully slow adaptation process when you start running, it will never take that long to go through that process again. Your muscles have memory. It will come back to you much quicker than you think.

I’ve also been doing these little races to get back into the habit of racing. To put myself into a situation that requires me to hurt a little, to react and implement a strategy. Racing – real racing – is more than just showing up and doing it. It requires a plan, and then the confidence and wherewithal to implement that plan. Coming up with the plan is easy. Implementing it under stress and pain is much more difficult. It takes a lot of practice!

Driving to the race, the brisk 22 degree temperatures had left a layer of icy frost on all of the grasses. The morning looked cold, it was cold. But I knew by 9 am it would be at least 30 degrees and to me – that’s close to perfect running weather. Once at the race site, I warmed up though it didn’t feel like much of a warm up. I was in full fleece tights, a hat, gloves, two tops. I had barely broken a sweat! I peeled off the layers and did the second part of my warm up with a few strides. Then I was ready. Time to head to the start line.

Once there, I found a few of my athletes positioned all around me. Doug and Todd were trying to convince me to start with the 6:00 mile group. Ha! Not yet, boys. Noel was nearby, sneaky, I never did see him in the race. Jill was trying to get away from me as much as I was trying to get away from her.

The cannon went off – literally, they fired a cannon but that’s what you get for racing at a war museum, and the race began. Immediately, Jill was ahead of me and I hung back for a few minutes, just easing into it. By the half mile mark, I zipped to get right next to her where I stayed for a little bit. Running along together, I realized something: I can either run this safe pace with Jill hanging on my shoulder the whole way and hope I pip her at the line or I can take a risk to get away.

Decisions, decisions. THINK FAST! Sure, this pace feels a bit too fast and I suspect if I pick it up it will only hurt more but it’s now or never and what’s 3.1 miles of pain anyways. And then I remembered my race from 3 weeks ago. I got pipped at the line for 3rd place. What felt like a big gap was a girl beating me by only 6 seconds. I couldn’t give it my all for 6 seconds? I couldn’t hurt worse for 6 seconds? I read something from a professional runner that said the only way to outkick someone at the line is to get aggressive. It has nothing to do with training. You either want it or not. I told myself going into this race that I would be more aggressive. I wouldn’t get outkicked and I would go harder after it. And so it was decided.

I was going for it.

BAM! I hit the first mile. The good news is that I can run a 6:00 mile again. The bad news is that I can hold it for about…a mile before my body screams out WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO DO TO ME!? From there, the course undulated through a twisty golf course with sand thrown on the path to cover up icy patches. I was picking up the pace, passing men and using the next one ahead of me to chase after then hang right behind before making a move again. I knew I was the first woman and in my head I kept saying WIN WIN WIN. I’ve never gone to a race knowing I will win, rather knowing that I would give it whatever it takes to win.

By the half way point, my stomach was reeling. In over 20 years of running, I have felt nothing like this. Whether it’s because I am so out of top end running shape or because it was cold or because I haven’t run a 6:00 mile in over a year – I felt like the lactic acid was pooling in my stomach and making me sick. I thought about it – what do I do? Do I stop and throw up? Do I slow down?

Then the answer came to me – the faster you run, the faster you get it done!

In my mind I was waiting for the GATE. I had looked at the course map ahead of time and knew that the GATE would signal the beginning of the end – the last ¾ mile up to the finish line. I kept asking myself. Where is the GATE. Where is the damn GATE already!?! I wondered where Jill was so I glanced over my shoulder to see her a bit back from me. Good – hold it, ow – stomach hurts – hold it, WHERE IS THE GATE!?

THERE! Finally, the gate, I run through it and a man tells me I’m the first woman. LIKE I DON’T KNOW THAT! Trust me, when you’re in the top 3, you know it. All you’re thinking about is how you’re either ahead or behind. And like I’ve said before, in either case all you can do about it is run faster.

The last ½ mile was slightly uphill. I know this because Max and I go to music class at this location. I push the stroller up that slight hill every week. I knew this course and mentally knew where I could ease up because at that point no one would catch me unless they have a killer uphill sprint (rare). In retrospect, I should have kept pushing. You never give anything up until you cross the finish line. I should have known better than that, but that is why I am racing now – to remind myself, to learn all over again.

I crossed the line 53 seconds faster than I did 3 weeks ago. Wow! The drugs are working. KIDDING! Geez, if I was taking them I’d probably forget to take them. I can’t even remember to bring my swim workout to the pool half the time. In all seriousness, I’d say all that’s working is me and my ass. No special diet, no magical training plan and no killer 40 x 400m track workouts. Right now I’m on a schedule that includes 3 runs a week.


As well as a schedule that includes limited sleep and lots of ice cream. It doesn’t need to be much more complicated than that.

Later that night I went home and did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I sat down and wrote a race recap in my notebook. It’s simple; I list out what worked and what needs work. The next time I race, I’ll review what worked and make a note to work on what I said I would. That way you don’t repeat the same mistakes twice. In fact, it’s not a mistake as long as you learn from it.

Winning feels good! I won’t lie about that. But what feels better is making progress. Working hard and seeing a result. Each workout I feel more confident in the goals that I’ve set for next year. They are ambitious for sure. But if they weren’t – why would I set them?

I’ve got one more 5K on Thanksgiving. Twelve years ago, it was the first race I ever did. Last year, when I found out I was pregnant, I told myself I would do the Turkey Trot this year to come full circle – to start again after pregnancy where I got my start in the first place. I’ve got two goals: to get aggressive and to give it my all until I cross the finish line.

I know, I know, 3.1 miles is a really short distance to go. It seems almost silly to get excited about success at that distance when in the next year I’ve got to put together success for 67.2 more miles. But I’ve also got many months to get there. One workout at a time, one lesson at a time. This week I told my athletes when you set a goal for the future, work backwards to make it tangible. Week to week, month to month, what are the smaller things it takes to get there. For me, right now, it’s learning to master my body and mind for 3.1 miles. The rest of the miles – I’ll get there.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

(More) Notes From Motherhood

A miracle has happened.

Lean in. Closer. We’ll need to whisper.

He slept.

For 7 ½ hours straight.

Sshh! Don’t say it too loud! If he knows he’s been sleeping he might just realize he’s missing out on 17 hours of the day that are really, REALLY exciting.

(news flash: they’re not)

Tuesday night we did nothing out of the usual – feeding and then bedtime at 9 pm. When I woke up at 4:43 am, I knew something was different. For one thing, I did not have the urge to shove the pillow over my head and bury myself under the sheets. For another thing, I got up and did not feel like this cannot possibly be enough sleep, I need to go back to sleep, I want more sleep NOW. I actually felt – rested. Refreshed? Something must be wrong. I looked at the clock – 4:43 am, and this is the first time he’s been up?

IT CAN’T BE!

Everyone kept telling me to wait. Wait until he’s 3 months old. At that point, they say (and though I don’t know who “they” are, at times “they” feel like the enemy) a baby should sleep through the night. And sleeping through the night is considered 6 hours straight. Though I’m not sure who would consider 6 hours of sleep sleeping through the night other than college students, those in the military, graduates of law school and the elderly who can’t hold it that long.

Glimpses of longer sleep started last week. At that point, we received a brilliant suggestion – put a larger diaper on him. Clearly grounded in scientific theory: if he is waking up because he’s wet, the larger diaper will absorb more and he won’t feel it. Yes, in exchange for sleep we willingly accept letting our child lay in his own filth for a few more hours.

Besides, he’ll never remember anything before he’s 5 years old anyways.

We bought one size up in diapers and starting putting him to bed later (around 9 pm). And, what do you know…he started sleeping. MORE. And I started sleeping more. And on Wednesday morning when I woke up after 7 ½ hours of sleep for the first time IN POSSBILY A YEAR (I don’t think I slept more than 4 hours at a time while pregnant because of all the late night bathroom breaks)…well, let me just say that it is possible I could climb a mountain right now. BEFORE coffee. And IF we had a mountain in our backyard.

We don’t but right now I am so energized I could probably build a mountain.

Max is a little over 3 months old right now. It seems like when he hit that mark, a lot of things changed. He squeals. He cracks his own shit up. He loves to stand. He will – and I mean, WILL – one day get his entire fist in his mouth (he’s been working on this trick). His eyes follow me when I walk around. He takes longer naps, twice a day (up 3 hours at a time!). He is pooping much less (AMEN). And while I know there are many sleepless, poopy nights ahead of us – for now, I am enjoying all of this.

And when he recognizes me, and his eyes widen along with a toothless smile that melts my heart – well, I enjoy that A LOT.

It makes me want 20 kids. How many does that crazy woman have – 19? 20? I want one more than her just to show her that she can be beat. But alas I am too old and might be able to squeeze out one more before my eggs reach their expiration date. Wait – did I just say MORE kids? It’s like you completely forget how miserable it is to be pregnant and then to give birth. Sure they are beautiful experiences – except for the constipation, weight gain, nausea…should I go on – but I’m not sure I want to go through it again anytime soon. But it’s true, again “they” say you’ll forget about all of that when you have a kid and – believe them. It’s like doing Ironman – you completely forget that in training you were laying on the path, crying and clutching your knees at 20 miles into a run – the minute you cross that finish line you have no recollection of anything you did to get to that point and cannot wait to do it again.

In addition to more sleep, we’ve reached another milestone around here. I’ve made it to 3 months still nursing. In the beginning, I set the goal to breastfeed for 3 months. I’ve heard that one year is recommended, 6 months is better than most and 3 month is the bare minimum. 3 months - check! And, yes, I will continue. Because for all of its drama up front, it has become ridiculously painless and easy. I read something last week that made me realize how easy it is. Come 6 months when he needs to start eating real food, that real food will take time to prepare and serve. Right now, a feeding takes about 10 minutes (he got the fast eating genes from me – thank god – I swear Chris is the slowest eater ever, so slow that sometimes I have to tell him to stop talking and start eating). 10 minutes is very convenient. Blending up food and serving it – that’s going to take more time. So, for now, I’ll be happy that I carry everything I need for food on me, can serve him anywhere, any time in less than 10 minutes. I’m like fast food.

Except not as greasy.

Three months also means that Max is (FINALLY) establishing some semblance of a routine. So, my days are starting to feel more predictable and that is a blessing. The unpredictability of everyday for the past 3 months was starting to wear on me. I’m usually a planner but found myself accepting that with a newborn, you have to just take it day to day. Do not look too far ahead, it gets overwhelming. I get to the end of the day, look back proudly at everything I accomplished and then say to myself – I get to do it all again tomorrow!

Which is kind of a good but bad thing. There’s a lot to do every day.

I’ve become the master of getting freakish amounts of work done in short periods of time. 4 minutes while breakfast is cooking? I’ll empty the dishwasher, just watch me. Yes, I race the clock with the dishwasher. Hey, my first “big” race is many months away. I’ve got to stay sharp! Multitasking does not even begin to describe it. Manicmultitasking is more like it. I have no idea how I used to not have time. I think to myself – WHAT on earth was I doing with all of my time? But I don’t remember much about life or time pre-pregnancy. I suppose that’s another way that nature gets you to have more kids. All you know is the life you now live.

Workouts have been going really well. Jenny Garrison told me that when you come back after pregnancy you’ll feel slow, slow, slow then all of a sudden one day you feel like your old fast self again. Around 3 months. She’s right. Not that I’m super fit or fast right now, but I’m starting to feel more like myself. The paces are coming down and watts are going up.

I’ve been able to consistently get in up to two workouts a day. I’ve even managed to avoid the early morning workout for the most part. For whatever reason – a reason I will NEVER question – Chris has taken to getting up early in the morning for his workout. This means I can get out in the evening when the sun is still out to go for a run. Trust me, it’s the little things. My runs in darkness for the next 5 months will begin next week. I’m not looking forward to that but I am looking forward to running. If I’m going to run, it’s gonna be in the dark. End of story.

The runs and bikes are pretty easy to manage – I can do those at, from or around home. I can put Max near the bike or the treadmill and he seems fascinated to watch me. The pool is a different story. In my next harvesting of the money tree I’m going to build myself a 50 meter pool. Every swim requires getting to the pool, getting the child into the gym, checking the child into the gym day care, finding an open lane in the pool then swimming. By that time, I barely have the patience! Does anyone else feel like there is everything BUT swimming going on in their swimming pool? If I get kicked out of a lane one more time for two women to jump around while trying to not get their hair wet – well, let me just say that I’ve been doing a lot of kick sets with fins and a very very BIG splash.

I’ve gotten over my fear of leaving Max at the gym day care. I try not to think too much about it or even look too much around (gosh, some kids just look GERMY). If I go during the day, they have a staff member solely there to watch the babies. And just this week I made good with that woman. She’s Filipino. Say no more. She said the word pancete, I said, I’ve tasted it and before you knew it she was telling me that I had a beautiful alert baby and could she please hold him while everyone else’s kid was sitting in a carseat.

Twice a week, Angela and I also do kid swap at my house so we can workout. I watch Zach, her two year old, on Mondays and she watches Max on Wednesdays. It’s been helpful to see what I have to look forward to in two years. Pretty much I’m going to have to put everything in my house on lockdown. And I’m going to need to organize my kitchen drawers by next Monday. That’s when Zach will inspect them all over again.

Today is going to be a long day, but at least I’m rested for it. Chris won’t be home until 7:30 pm. That means me and Max together for over 12 hours. You know what else that means? I’m going to do a lot of singing today. You can stall a baby for quite some time by putting anything to song; cooking, cleaning, reading the mail, working, showering. I’m also going to consider auditioning for Food Network’s next big star competition because I have narrated my way through preparing so many meals that putting a camera in front of me wouldn’t make much of a difference.

I’ve also begun to refer to myself in the third person (mommy’s going to make breakfast) which certifies me as either crazy or parental. All parents do this. You quickly realize that if you walk around saying I’m going to make breakfast, you’re actually admiting to talking to yourself. Plug mommy into that sentence and you're only half as crazy.

We’re on nap #1 already which means I need to get to work. Something that has helped me get through every day is the old proverb, strike when the iron is hot. It means taking the opportunity to do something when it presents itself or else you just might lose the chance. So, before I lose any more time – it’s time to strike that iron and start getting things done.


Where to begin?

Monday, November 01, 2010

No Excuses

On Sunday morning, I woke up early for a long run with a friend.

We headed out to Waterfall Glen. The sun was rising into the morning which awoke at a brisk 32 degrees. You forget how cold that is when you haven’t felt it for over a year. The running capri tights come out. Gloves are involved. You wear long sleeves.

I like to warm up into a run, slowly. And I mean slowly. Sue, on the other hand, settles into what feels like a cruising pace from the get go. She comes from a pure running background – she arrives for our long runs with no water, no gels, no watch. She just runs. She has two speeds – pace and faster than pace. And she can do both while talking.

I feel like I’m carrying a bear on my back, the running feels heavy and awkward. I’m heavy. It’s cold. I can’t breathe. I hate running in tights. And then – the ultimate excuse popped into my head – I should just slow down, after all, I just had a baby.

I had been thinking lately about excuses. Everyone has them, don’t they? If you look hard enough, you can find an excuse for just about anything. On any given day, I wake up with a dozen excuses waiting to be used. See above. But the one I find floating around the most is I just had a baby. I hear myself saying it in my head like it means anything. As if it matters. Sometimes I say it to pity myself, as in – I can’t run that pace, I just had a baby. Or, I don’t need to do that yet, I just gave birth 13 weeks ago.

If you give me enough time, I can find an excuse for why I shouldn’t do just about anything. Especially now that things are so uncomfortable. I’ve been forced into this new zone of discomfort. Nothing feels natural. Everything feels like work in a different way. Sometimes things feel so awkward that nearly every workout requires some degree of mental focus and tenacity. Reteaching myself how to not ride a bike but apply pressure to the pedals. Remembering to push off with each step and not just let my running weight sink into the ground. How to hurt in the pool during an interval. Heck, some days just working out in the morning is totally uncomfortable. I was never a morning workout person. Now I find myself on my bike at 5:30 am looking at the prescribed watts thinking – isn’t it too early morning to put out that kind of wattage?

Like I said, give me enough time and I’ll find an excuse for anything. Excuses are our first defense when we are uncomfortable or faced with the unknown. Listen to them loudly enough and excuses become our fears. I shouldn’t becomes I can’t which then becomes I won’t. Or didn’t. Didn’t becomes regret.

Somewhere around mile 5, we hit a long hill. Sue takes off, strong and efficient up the hill. I find myself on the hill thinking – that’s ok, I’m 10 pounds heavier than her. Of course I’m slow on the hills.

Excuses. I’ve almost had enough of them.

We stop to look at a map and maybe it was the momentary break I needed. I told myself to zip it. I had enough excuses floating around in my head so far and didn’t want to hear them anymore. If I didn’t stop them here – who knows how long they would go on. How long can one use the excuse I just had a baby? Three months? Six months?

Years?

Somewhere around mile 7, Sue picks up the pace. She gets a little ahead of me and I realize – I have two choices. I can sit back here and watch her run away or try to keep up with her. Her pace was reasonable but certainly not comfortable. I can hear the excuses piling up for me to listen but instead I turn them off. I pick up the pace and go after her. The other girl I passed must have thought I was some psycho-competitve runner chasing down the redhead wearing purple tights.

Yes, I was.

Sue holds the pace for about 3 miles. I’m focusing on one thing – keeping up with her turnover. All I’m watching is her feet. Just do what they’re doing. Turnover, push off. She’s making it look too easy. We hit the one mile marker and she picks it up, giving it a great tempo finish and I couldn’t match that today. One day – I’ll get there (again). When it was all said and done, I ran ittle harder than I thought I could, surprised myself. But only because I decided, at some point, to get over myself and get after it.

No more excuses.

An excuse is a justification for failure to do something. It is a fail. I have to remind myself of that every day or else I find myself becoming yet another person who sets goals but pulls out every reason possible for why I will fail at them. In fact, excuses just give yourself permission to fail. Spend a day listening to the voice in your head and I bet you’ll hear them….”I ate good today, I can have that junk”, “I’m too busy to work out”, “I’m tired so I don’t have to hit those intervals.” Excuses are not reasons but they can become reasons. They allow us to accept less than our best and to pretend I’m ok with it. But are you really ok with it? When you look back and find goals that you didn’t achieve, do you want the reason to be…yourself?

I’ve got a dozen or so workouts each week. The hard ones – well, lately, there are a lot of hard ones. I’m getting to the point where I’m running longer, biking farther. Doesn’t matter how far I’ve run in my life, the first time going 90 minutes in over a year – yeah, those last 10 minutes are hard. Riding into the wind for an hour is hard. Swimming 4000 yards not just for la la I’m just floating along very pregnant but for time – hard. Of course there are easy workouts where I just run a few miles, turn off my mind and relax. There are easy spins and swims where I do mostly drills. But the other stuff – even as fired up as I am to tackle the work, it’s becoming more work. It takes more than motivation, it’s really wanting it, owning it and committing. Anyone can commit to the easy feel-good stuff. But when it gets harder, what do you do? Do you give up. Do you not even start. Do you find an excuse.

The hardest workout, I’ve said this before, is the strength workout with Kate. I went there last week and wanted to curl up to nap on the mat. I had a challenging run earlier in the day. And to my delight, yet again, she seemed to have put together 60 minutes of everything I was really bad at doing. Then I realized – that’s the point. I was in the middle of some painful circuit that involved the TRX and my hamstrings when I said I’m tired. The excuses started piling up in my head – I have a baby! I wake up twice a night! I haven’t slept straight for 13 weeks! Blah blah blah…

I paused. Replayed that in my head. Then got over myself. Really. She sees me for 60 minutes a week and the last thing she cares to hear is that I’m tired. If I can’t find 60 minutes of the week to buck up and not be tired – or at least pretend I’m not tired – then what am I doing here (and, trust me, there is tired and there is fatigued; tired is whiny, fatigue is drained, if you’re whining that you’re tired…yeah, you can get over it). The rest of the session I just gritted my teeth when it got hard. And worked even harder at the things I was really, REALLY bad at in spite of myself.

If I’m not careful, I’ll spend the entire winter telling myself it’s ok to _____ because I just had a baby. But I’ve found that excuse wore out with me long ago. Not because I didn’t have a baby but because I don’t want to become that person who has an excuse for everything. Know those people? The pool is too cold, the trainer is too boring, using a heart rate monitor makes me run too slow. If you spent less time excusing yourself from being a success, you might find that success you keep searching for.

Simple as that.

When it comes to success, it hurts, it’s uncomfortable, it means doing what you’re really bad at and working at it. Over and over again. Doing the work. No excuses. If you took one day, and every time you heard an excuse, you made yourself do what you were trying to get out of doing, where would you go?

Find out.