Saturday, December 31, 2011

Why Wait?

It’s New Years Eve, I was sitting on my bike with my veins running coffee, a million thoughts running through my head, when it struck me what an odd place the eve of new years really is.  It’s like sitting on the edge of a cliff and below is a great unknown.  We know we’re going over, we’re just not sure where we’ll land.  

Perusing Facebook, most people were talking good riddance to 2011 and eagerly anticipating the good that would hopefully come in 2012.  The new year is like opening a gift - the possibility of what could be makes us want to tear right in.  With the risk of knowing it could be something we want to return.  But we'll take the chance.  It could be something great!   Worth the wait of an entire year.  

And then it occurred to me…why wait?

There’s something about the prospect of starting over – of wiping the slate clean, starting fresh, pretending like the past never happened to clutter our view of what’s possible in the future.  I, myself, have written dozens of these start over lists, dozens of goals with the start date of Monday, next week, next month, next year.  Sometimes we spend so much time waiting to start becoming the better version of ourselves and in that time, we keep on being the uglier version the self.  We binge, we go overboard, waiting for that designated date to start over and feel good about ourselves again.  

Think about how you feel after you write those start over lists.  Empowered, pleased and in control.  Lists make us hopeful.  List take what seems intangible and puts it within our reach.  Organizes us on how to take action.  And action leads to change, results, improvements. If I do x, y and z; if I commit to this – what could I be?  If I do all of my training sessions, eat well, get to bed early – could I set that new PR?  Win my age group?  Achieve that next big thing?  For that, I sit down at the end of the year and make a list.  Of where I want to be next December.  Of my checkpoints along the way.   

(but sometimes these lists just scream: I’m flawed.  FIX ME!  The list gets bigger.  More things to work on.  The pressure!  Sigh.  Accepting who you are – here, now, for better, for worse – should be a part of our new years resolution.  #1 on the list.  Here I am, with imperfections, things I could do better – all of these idiosyncracies making up the fabric of me.  There is nothing wrong with me.  If I was perfect, what would be the point of living?  I would have mastered everything and had no more need to learn.  Failing, learning, dreaming – these are all things in life that make it worth living) 

Why do we wait until December to write our start over lists?  Why not every Sunday before the next week?  Better yet, every morning?  This process of looking for more in ourselves, our goals and then setting forth and action plan on how to get there – why not spend more time on that?  I know: we’re busy, we’re distracted, we’re waiting for the next start over date to be a kick in the ass.

But why wait? 

If you took action now – if you let go of that bad habit now, if you started over now, if you dreamed big RIGHT NOW – where would you be?  Next week?  Next December?  Does your “list” contain things that you were supposedly working on last year?  What happened?  Why do you keep waiting?

I think in life, far too often we “wait” to press the reset button.  We get trapped in our bad habits, losing sight of the fact that every day we make choices. We get caught up in the busyness and messiness of life.  Distracted.  We put off the big things (change) to complete the little things (grocery shopping – again?).  You choose to be who you are and do what you do.  Food doesn’t control you.  Other people don’t control you.  Life doesn’t control you.  You create it.  Things happen to us but you always choose your reaction.   

15 miles have gone by.  I’ve pedaled 15 miles and gone nowhere.  Sadly, sometimes an analogy for life, isn’t it?  But in that time, I’ve thought a lot about the new year.  How we need to take all of that hope and enthusiasm for our own possibility in the new year and spread it more evenly throughout the year.  Heck, every day.  Start each morning with #1 on the list: I’m not perfect, but I’m ok.  I’m a work in progress.  And the rest of the things on this list, I will work on them to make that progress.  And if I do a little bit of work every day, next December I’ll be in a better place – I’ll know more, I’ll have lived more, I’ll have taken action more.  That will make me a better version of myself.

Sometimes all we need to start over in life is remind ourselves that every day we have the control, power and ability to take action.  Here, now it begins.  It starts now.  And if not now – then when?  And why?  Whatever you want to change or do, it can happen.  No need to wait until tomorrow or the next year.  Start now, take a little bit of action every day and over time – how can you not get there?  How can you NOT consider your effort, your self, your year a success?

It’s December 31, 2011.  You’re sitting on the edge of the cliff.  And the good news – you know where you can land.  Things will happen along the way, some good, some bad but you’re always in control.  You make choices. You take action.  You set goals.  You write lists.  The new year doesn’t have to be a mystery, a place where we “wait” for good things to come to us.  Go out and make them happen.  A little bit every day.  You’ll get there. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Debate

There’s a debate in triathlon that will probably rage forever.

It’s the one question we all want the answer to.  We know the answer is out there – or at least, we think we know.  Once we know the answer, it will all make sense, we’ll all be fast and we’ll all start winning. 

Right?

It’s the intensity debate.  Lately, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this: training approach.  Which is best?  High intensity/low volume, low intensity/high volume?

The answer is not a clear one.  In other words, it depends.  It depends on who you ask.  It depends on who you are.  It depends on your goals.  I don’t think there will ever be research, data or experience to support that one works better than the other because there are so many other factors that go into success. 

So which is the best?  It’s the one that works best for you.  How do you know which approach will work best for you?  Consider your age, your experience, your background, your goals and your ability to recover.  Most importantly, look back at your history.  Look at that approaches you’ve followed.  To determine which was the most successful, consider a few things:

1 – Performance.  It’s stating the obvious but under which approach did you perform at your best?   Be careful to avoid race placement as a criteria – look at raw performance – numbers, data – and compare what counts. 

2 – Repeatability of performance.  Was half your season a bang and the other a flop?  Were there more hits than misses?  What you’re looking for is repeatability, the ability to turn out consistently strong performances.   

3 – Health.  The most important factor upon which nothing else exists unless you have it.   Were you healthy?  No colds, sinus infections, no injuries, no missed days/weeks because of illness/injury/aches/mental burnout.  Look at the whole picture of health – physical, psychological. 

This brings us back to the debate: which then is better?  The high intensity/low volume program of the low intensity/high volume program?

The program that works best is the one that allows you to do the most work consistently over time.  One thing we cannot deny in sport:  work = work.  More is more.  Therefore: more work is better.  Yet the problem is that most athletes apply this concept incorrectly.  More does not mean going out and hammering 3 workouts a day while living on bagels and 5 hours of sleep.  If you’re doing more work, you’ve got to give that much more attention to the peripherals that allow you to integrate that work: sleep, nutrition, etc.  In other words: RECOVERY.  For every 1 more hour of work you do, you’ve got to give your body 1 more hour of recovery.      

Yet most of us cannot do that.  We have jobs, kids, spouses, commutes and other obligations.  We can’t take a nap after a workout because we’ve got to get right back to whatever it is we do when we’re not training.  Which is typically what pays the bills.  And so enter the high intensity/low volume approach.  More bang for your buck.  Less is more.  Sounds like the answer, right?  I don’t disagree with this approach but I do feel you need to be careful with it.  I often call this the “give ‘em what they want” approach.  We all want to hear that we can do more on less.  Why? 

1 – Our brain.  The brain is always trying to find shortcuts to complete future work faster and with less effort.  We are looking for the most efficient, least energy costly way to accomplish something.  If less is more, we want to know – our brain wants to know.  Not only that but it’s the attractiveness of getting what we want on as little as possible.  Our society is obsessed with this notion.  Ever seen Six Minute Abs?  

2 – The ego need.  There is something quite ego-satsifying about going hard.  A hard workout makes us feel like we did something and that feeling gives us confidence that we are prepared and ready for something “hard” like a race.   It’s fun to win the workout or go to the group workout to smash it.  But be careful of the ego need – falling into this trap can often lead to leaving our best races in training.  Carefully use your mental and physical energy at the right place and right time – in key workouts and races – not in day to day sessions.

3 – Cultural Work Ethic.  There is a value attached to hard work that is deeply ingrained in the history of our society.  In most areas of life, the harder we work, the farther we go.  We put in extra hours at work, we get a bigger bonus.  We study harder, we get better grades.  As such, we believe the harder we work at sports, the faster we will be.  Though in sport working too hard can lead to the opposite result which you are seeking.    

So is less more?  Is more less?

Work is work.  You can’t deny it.  Whether you do a lot of it or a little of it you’ve got to do it to get faster.  So, my answer to less or more:  do work.  Do it consistently.  Recover well from it, wake up tomorrow and do it again.  Repeat that process over and over again.   Whether during that process you do fast work, long work, slow work, short work – whatever allows you to wake up day after day motivated and healthy enough to get the work done is what works for you.  After all, what we are seeking in this sport is repeatability – repeatability of pace, repeatability of strong performance, repeatability of the ability to train day after day.   

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Aren’t there magical workouts?  A certain number of hours to train each week?  Often times the best approach is the most simple.  Simple is easy on our body and mind.  Sometimes we create more stress worrying about our training approach than the training approach itself creates on our body.  We all know these athletes; classic overthinkers.  They get so lost in overthinking the details of the plan that they lose sight of common sense.  You get faster by doing work, recovering and then adding more stress.  You don’t get faster by adding more stress, underrecovering and then adding more stress.  What you get there is injured, sick or plateaued. 

See how that goes? It’s not in the details, it’s in the big picture.  Whatever allows you to do the most quality work over time is the best approach.  It’s really rather simple.  I’ve often said this about coaching: it’s not rocket science.  No matter what a coach tells you, they do not have their PhD in triathlon.  They don’t need it.  It’s the art of applying science.  The science is rather simple.  It’s more about taking that science and fitting it into someone’s life, their mindset and their ability to recover. 

And here's another secret: want the biggest bang for your fitness buck that has nothing to do with less or more training?  Seek out ways to improve your recover-ability.  Eat the right things at the right time.  Sleep.  Fuel/hydrate well before, during and after workouts.  Train your brain.  Stretch.  Do your strength training.  Learn to compartmentalize – when you’re doing the sport, focus on it.  When you’re not, focus on something else!  Pay attention to your body – then, listen to it.  A little more recovery goes a long way

So which approach is right for you?  Some athletes need more intensity, some need more volume, some need those long rides/runs/etc every week.  Some need shorter workouts with more frequency.  Some athletes can handle multiple intense sessions a week.  Some can only go easy. Whatever approach is applied to them, it has to be one that allows them to work consistently.  Which works for you?  Look back at your history and honestly assess what works for you.  And know that often what we want to do and what we need to do – are two different things.  What we want to do is often driven by our insecurities, our fear, our obsessive tendencies.  What we need to do is driven by our goals, our body, our experience, our recover-ability.  It might be wise to ask for help in figuring out what’s right for you.

More or less?  There are still some athletes who will not let this question go.  Even when an athlete has bought into a particular approach, it’s not uncommon for them to still have questions, to wonder if there is a better way.  Is it insecurity?  Hard to say.  More likely that it’s our inability to ever be satisfied.  It’s the paradox of choice.  We have so many choices that we are rarely content with the one we’ve chosen.  What if there’s something out there that’s better? 

Bottom line: consistency is all that counts.  Whatever you choose to do, do it consistently.  Make sure it works for you and your life.  Then - give it time to work.  Along the way, enjoy yourself, maintain good health and reap the benefits of improved performance.  Can you check of each of those three things off with your current training plan?  If so, you’ve found your answer.  You’ve chosen the right plan.   

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Club

You’ve officially joined the club of parenting when you find your backseat covered in Cheerios.

I swore to myself it would never be happen.  A few years ago, I remember looking in the backseat of a friend’s car – a very nice, upscale car – and noticing the backseat was a sea of baby toys, blankets, crumbs and Cheerios.  Disgusting, I thought, why don’t they clean that shit up.  Why?  Because every time they clean it up, someone sits back there snug in their carseat throwing Cheerios to pass the time. 

What you don’t know is that this club of parenting is only for the cool kids.  I know, you think you’re cool because you have a social life, you washed your hair this morning, you can go to a public restroom without shouting GET AWAY FROM THAT TOILET SEAT.  

No.

Cool is driving around in a minivan and feeling a strange sense of connection when your friend posts a picture of their new minivan on Facebook.  You’re gonna love it!  Cool is standing outside in the dark, 38 degrees, at a parade (let it be told that I HATE PARADES),screaming when Curious George walks by, picking up candy canes off the ground, freezing your ass off all because you are waiting to see Santa at the end of the parade.  He’s not even real!  And even though one day I know my children will tell me – repeatedly – how uncool I am, I’ll know otherwise.  Because you cannot survive this parenting thing without the belief that: I am absolutely bursting with cool.  

The other day we were at the library.  The kids section has a wonderful play area filled with letter magnets, toys and puppets.  We go there because (a) it’s free, (b) there are other children Max can interact with, and (c) I don’t have to clean up after him.  Another couple was there with a child around Max’s age.  The dad was lying on the ground behind a wooden puppet theater putting on a puppet show while the child watched, mesmerized.  I walked by this scene, while toting my own child away from his latest obsession – the drinking fountain – and thought to myself: we used to be cool.

Remember that?  We used to go out. We used to have a social life.  We used to have adult conversations.  We used to have days that weren’t centered around trying to keep the child as busy as possible so they will take their afternoon nap.  Now, we lay on the library floor putting on puppet shows talking in funny animal voices.

Friday night, Chris and I made a date to go to The Great Indoors.  I waited for this all week.  If this is marriage at year 6, can you imagine year 20?  Let’s go to the Chik-Fil-A for a nice sit-down dinner.  I shudder.  Anyhow, we were looking for things for our new house.  An organizational system for our laundry room.  It gets better.  After this, I wanted to go to the Home Depot.  Friday night. 

Enough said.

I walk in and immediately tell Chris that I HAVE to have the inflatable Santa sitting in a helicopter with an actual rotating blade.  I just feel compelled.  We don’t have any Christmas yard art and I HAVE to beat our neighbor who has his front yard decorated with bizarre Christmas shit.  My favorite was the year he tried to dye the snow red.  Turns out red snow quickly fades.  And that’s how you have a front yard full of pink snow.  When Chris reads the 90 dollar price tag, he says I can’t have it. I almost tantrummed but then figured there was a 99 percent chance that another Waterstraat would tantrum in the store within the next 30 minutes so why steal his thunder.

We looked at some paint.  Ceiling tiles.  Cabinets.  Then Chris told me we had to find a new toilet seat.  Because mine was worn out.  Think about that what you wish.  Next we looked at lighting.  And then Chris said he wanted to find a toolbelt.

And zip your trap about any Schneider comments.

So Schneider and I headed over to the aisle with the toolbelts.  Have you been?  It’s more than you think.  At least two dozen options. 

It’s Friday night, we’re at the Home Depot looking at toolbelts. 

And it was more than just us.  Quite a few couples with small children pushing around the mobile child prison cell – the cart, do not under any circumstances take the child out of the cart – looking at … tools.  Screws.  Hardware.

How and when did this happen?

Chris tries on a few toolbelts.  Yes, tries on a few, and then settles on the cheapest one.  Goes to put it in the cart with Max who throws it right back out.  As if to say: you guys used to be cool.  Fuck this Scheider tool belt fashion show (and how awesome would it be if he actually said that?).  By the way, we have just reached the point as parents when we realize that we need to install a filter – ON OUR MOUTHS!  As my brother once told me, there is nothing funny about a 2 year old saying “crap” when they drop their cookie!

Chris looks around for a few other things while I take the opportunity to update my Facebook.  One can never have enough displays of shameless narcissism and what better place to display it than on Facebook.  I tell the world I’m at Home Depot.  But what I failed to mention is that I also looked fabulous! 

Obviously.

The responses come in.  I find out – I’m not alone.  Thank god for Facebook, it makes me feel…..loved in this lonely world.  What I learn is that other married couples also go to Home Depot on a Friday night.  Makes me think that if you’re married and you haven’t been to a Home Depot – you might just have a marital problem.  Maybe this is love or just real life.  It’s functional, it is not sexy and at times it involves hardware.

A friend with a newborn asks if there are crying children at the Home Depot because if not – it sounds like a glorious place.  Crying children?  None, unless you count mine.  Who attempted to climb a bamboo flooring display and fell off.  I would have saved him but was too busy looking at backyard design books.  Another reason to nominate me – Parent of the Year, folks. 

Right on cue, laying somewhere near the bamboo flooring display, Max has a meltdown. Full-blown tears, wailing.  And let me tell you – the Home Depot echoes.  There’s nothing quite like having an exploding child in a store.  It completes the awesome circle of parenting experience.  Right up there next to blowouts when you forgot the diaper bag.  There’s something that should be absolutely embarrassing about this moment, forcing you to abandon a cart full of items to exit the store immediately to save the rest of the world from your child.  Because before you had kids, that’s what you wished those parents would do.  But then you realize you are officially in the club when you pick up the child and go wait in line for the register.  Why?  Because you’re in the club.  And on your card it says: if you don’t like my crying child, I don’t give a shit!

(oops, I mean crap.  Oops….WHERE IS MY FILTER!?)

Why?  Because at some point in life, no matter which path you have chosen – to have dogs, cats, plants, friends – whatever – at some point YOU were that crying child.  You embarrassed your parents.  You had a meltdown.  You were the loudest, most obnoxious thing around.  You were THAT child.  And what I’ve learned in parenting is that there is a good chance that in any given outing your child will become THAT child. 

I’ve had to remind myself of this a lot.  I spend every day with Max.  We go out into the world.  We go to the post office and if I want to do anything like – say, take out a credit card, sign for something – I have to put him down.  And in doing so, I assure myself that he will remove a half dozen cards from the card display, run around the post office until the polite lady at the counter says: he has a card.

I had no idea.

It would be much easier to stay at home.  It would be a lot less embarrassing. I would spend a lot less time picking up random shit off of store floors (my child once disassembled an entire display of Via and all the barista could say was: go ahead and keep what he’s holding).

But as you can see – membership into the club often has benefits. 

Who couldn’t use some free Via? 

(which incidentally goes great with Cheerios)


(PS: as you can see, I'm going to try to redesign the blog!)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Unmuted

Psst….

I’m here.

Turns out I’ve been here the whole time – blogging, talking.  But it seems that someone pressed my mute button.  I’m not pointing fingers but I know a certain person in our household who loves remotes.  Might just call operation of said remote a certain person’s savant skill.  Or that’s what we thought when it took us a few days to figure out how to turn off the subtitles whereas it took that certain 16-month hold person the press of one button.

So that explains where I’ve been for the past few weeks.  And in case you’ve come here today in search of something poignant, scholarly and life changing – you’ve come on the wrong day.  This might just be one of those posts where I ramble on about poop.

But I’ll spare you that.  For at least a few paragraphs.  An update - on the past few weeks.  Yes, I am fully recovered from Kona.  I felt fine about 1 week after the race.  Yes, I made a few meals out of wine in that time yet I look back on it now and think I did not nearly spend those post-race weeks drunk enough.  Yes, I ate a lot of whatever I wanted in the weeks after the race.  How I then dropped below race weight is one of those universal mysteries.  Kind of like how you can train for an Ironman and actually gain weight. 

Huh?

Since triathlon is less of a focus these days, I’ve decided to focus more on the social life.  For both me and my child.  Max and I have become storytime groupies.  It’s not that I’m interested in hearing yet another rendition of I’m Not Sleepy it’s just that it gets us out of the house and for 30 minutes my child gets to run around a room where I don’t have to clean things up.  Same reason why we sometimes go out to eat.  You mean he gets to throw food all over the floor and it’s not my problem?  In parental currency, that’s priceless.

Storytime is entertaining – if not for Max who insists on spending the entire time running back and forth between the ONLY two outlets in the room that have not been covered – for me as I try to remember the names of about half the girls in the room who I know I went to high school with.  Or to figure out if the old guy who’s always sitting in the back of the room – if he’s actually there WITH a kid. 

Fear not, storytime is not the only time I get out of the house.  If it was, I’d be writing in rhyme, telling everyone to clap their hands and asking how many turkeys rolled under the bed.  (at one point in my life, I actually spoke in normal educated-adult sentences about normal educated-adult things.  I swear)  This past weekend, I took my social life to the next level by attending a friend’s birthday party.  

As the designated driver I successfully refused the bottle of wine that someone’s boss brought back from France.  Along with the Limoncello that someone else brought back from Spain.  And when someone walked by waving a jello shot on a fork in front of my face?  I also turned it down.  

Though sober, it took me about an hour to realize that there was something standing out in the living room.  One of those – I know I’ve seen that thing before but I’m not sure where.  That’s when I had to ask another friend: is that a stripper pole?

Friends shouldn’t let friends pole dance in their living room.  But if it’s their birthday - I learned – they’ll pole dance if they want to.  It just so happens that this friend is taking pole dancing classes.  Why?  When you’re in your late 30s and you have a kid – things like this need no explanation. You have to have only lived that life to get it.  Not saying that I’m taking up pole dancing any time soon but…does it get me out of the house?  Away from my kid for an hour? 

Where do I sign up?

Chris and his sister asked me the last time I saw a stripper pole.  It didn’t take me long to answer:  Ottumwa,   Ragbrai 2009.  It was then that J.R. and I got to answer a more important question in life: is it worse to go into a strip club with your brother or your husband?  Don’t answer that.

The athlete in me was impressed by the amount of core strength you need to dance around a pole.  I also had no idea you could do so many things with it.  Like climb it upside down.  Or do a move call the flag where your entire body sticks out like a flag on a pole.  And you thought pilates was hard?  I did take a whirl on the pole and confirmed what I’ve suspected  all along: I’d make a really bad stripper.  So I did what I know I could be good at:  I climbed the pole all the way to the top (and felt like there should have been a bell there for me to ring or something).

Not that I’ve been thinking about getting one, but we asked our friend how much a pole cost.  400 dollars.  And you thought triathlon was expensive.  Could you imagine taking that thing on a plane to the next pole dancing competition?  You can convince the desk attendant that your bike box is “equipment for a presentation” but what would you say about the pole? 

It’s a really big cane. 

So I’ve been doing some pole dancing.  And I’ve also been hunting for houses.  Which means I’ve been shamelessly addicted to Redfin for the past 6 months.  The good news is that we finally found our dream house.  But it was not easy.  I’ve seen everything from impeccable to squalor.  And if you’re wondering what squalor looks like – take a taxonomist, add a burnout unemployed cigarette smoking son, the fur of 12 cats that you have not vacuumed up for the past 10 years, mix it amongst 3000 square feet and you get: squalor.  With a poor attempt at being covered up by Febreze.  After walking into so many houses that felt and looked wrong, we knew our new home was ours because we walked in and it felt right.  We’ll be moving later this year and we’re very excited.

I’m not too excited about packing but I’ve got it down to a system.  If I pack one box a day, in about a month I’ll be ready to move.  Packing, however, is not easy when you have a 16-month old walking around.  For every step forward I take, I take two steps backwards when Max is involved.  He gets into everything.  And this explains why I find my personal possessions all over the house.  It seems like every time I clean up one mess, he’s made another.  If not on the floor then on himself.  There are some days my life literally is shit – see, I told you I would give it a few paragraphs and here it comes….

A few weeks ago, I had the stomach flu.  I would like to publicly apologize to Whole Foods because I mistakenly blamed their salad bar on what I thought was food poisoning.  Though this doesn’t mean I’ll be visiting their salad bar any time soon.  Hard to after I saw it all come back into the toilet.  Two days later, Chris had the same thing. Two days later, it hit my sister in law, then her husband, my other sister in law, her husband and finally Max. 

Max is always sick – he’s been sick with one thing or another since we went to Hawaii – but most of his illnesses last a few days and then he either gets better or catches something new.  That was not the case with the stomach flu.  He not only caught it but kept it.  And from it has been producing something so wretched and foul that many times I have gagged.  We’re talking 6 to 8 times a day of this. 

I called the nurse and in her ever so everything will be ok in a few days voice she told me to feed him a bland diet, give plenty of liquids and ride it out for the next few days.  When it didn’t go away, she told me it could run its course for up to 3 weeks.  After 3 weeks, I was ready to cry uncle and drop him off on the doorstep of the local fire department.  A quick visit to the doctor instead and I learned that it could really last for 5 to 6 weeks.  The flu killed off the enzymes in his intestines so anything he eats goes right through him.  By the way – if this sounds like a good diet plan, let me send you one of his diapers.  Unfortunately, the only cure is probiotics and time.

5 to 6 weeks of Vesuvius level epic blowouts that require a fully clothed into the bathtub cleaning.  A few times a day.

This is the fun side of parenting that they don’t tell you about when you sign up.  Kids should come with a warning label.  Or an encyclopedia-sized manual containing all of the fine print: will shit self at moment you are about to leave house in a hurry, will fall asleep in the car cancelling out entire afternoon nap because you woke him up to get him out of the car, will break one dish a week, will take any chance to steal your toiletries to try to eat them.  That’s just page one, paragraph 6, line 8.

But I wouldn’t trade this for anything else in the world.  Parenting completes me in a way that nothing else can replace.  It took me a long time to believe that but once I had a kid, I can’t believe I waited so long.  I’m not sure what I was doing that was so important or couldn’t wait.  Nothing is better than the feeling of being with my kid.

(except bacon, maybe red wine and just a little part of me thinks it’s in a close tie with ice cream)

Speaking of parenting, it’s almost the end of the year.  Which means you have a little over a month left to send in your ballot to cast your vote for Parent of the Year. I’d like to put in a shameless, narcissistic plug for you to vote for myself:  today I came out of the shower to find Max walking around my bathroom holding a razor.  It gets better.  We went to Starbucks and after Max insisted on sitting in the chair, and I let him, he fell out of the chair while I was texting.  Liz Waterstraat, Parent of the Year, everyone.

If I go missing again for a few weeks, someone check my mute button.  And if you can't find the remote in its usual place, check the cabinet with the waffle maker.  He's got a system.  
  

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Power Of Stillness

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The off season.  Or, the place where you magically lose what feels like a year’s worth of fitness and gain a shitload of weight in less than 2 weeks.


I’m kidding.  I think.  It’s been nearly 2 weeks since Kona and so far….please please let’s not say this too loudly…I feel good.  Doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and race any time soon (though I did have thoughts of competing in the local cyclocross race this past weekend until I figured it would probably be much more fun to heckle – drunk – instead) and doesn’t mean I’ve ramped back up my training (unless you call 2500 yards of swimming in the past week “training”).  I’ve been enjoying lighter activities and taking a nosedive into anything that has calories (the more, the better!). 

We’ll see how long this lasts.

In years past, I’ve felt absolutely wrecked from Ironman.  As in, needing to take 2 to 3 weeks off to regain my desire to do anything swim, bike, run again.  This year that did not happen.  Perhaps it was better fitness going into the event, better recovery after the event, the IVs or just that I’m not as psychologically wrapped up in the results of sport.  Don’t get me wrong: I love the sport and it’s a big part of me.  But not the only part.  It took me a long time to reach that level of clarity

Once you let go, you find the freedom to reach peak performance.  Clarity makes everything seem simple.  It’s funny how much we can overcomplicate the easiest things.  The best races come from executing your plan, going on “autopilot.”  In other words, trusting your stuff.  The more demanding the event, the more this freedom and trust is required.  Without it, you just don’t see things for the way they are and get easily distracted.  

I read a lot of race reports – both from my athletes and just randomly on the internet.  Something I’ve noticed is the difference between satisfied versus dissatisfied athletes.  When an athlete has a satisfying performance, the report is often about them – their execution, their confidence, their joy.  It is very free.  When an athlete is less satisfied, they recount a lot of distraction, worry and things beyond their control – other competitors, weather, terrain. 


A few months ago, I found a quote that resonated with me is: our mindset in the moment creates our experience.  It’s no secret that one of the hardest things about training and racing is weathering the long miles in our head.  100 miles is a long way to ride.  Worse yet – 20 miles is a really, really long way to run.  I’m not sure I will ever love running long though I absolutely love running.  During that time, you have hours upon hours of time to fill in your head.

Or should you?

Earlier this year I found a great blog and the author wrote an even better book, Stillpower by Garrett Kramer.  The idea is that rather than forcing your “will” upon the outcome of events, you need to be more “still”.  In other words, quieting your mind and letting things be.  Stillpower.  I practiced this approach on every single long workout and let me tell you – the difference was amazing.

What is stillpower?  Kramer explains it in a recent teleseminar:

Stillpower is the opposite of willpower.  Most of us are taught that the road to success is based on how hard we work, how much we grind, how much we exert our force of will.  The opposite is actually true.  The more quiet, the more still we are, the more success we’ll have.  This does not mean effort isn’t a good thing.  Stillpower is the psychological perspective from which the effort comes.  When a child runs around, it looks like they have unbounded energy, that they are exhibiting effort but in truth – they are just playing.  They are just free.  That’s the source of success.  That’s the answer to following your passions.  The opposite of what most teachers/coaches think - they want us to work, the only thing you can control is your effort but that is not so.  You cannot control your effort nor would you want to. The more you try to work through the lows and control your effort, the more revved up your thinking gets and the more failure you find.  Stillpower is a simple word that says the more clear we are, the more still we are, the more success we’ll have.

How did I put this into practice?  How many times have you been out on a long ride hating yourself.  Your coach.  Your bike.  Your head is filled with negative chatter about everything.  You start writing the bad story about yourself.  About how you’re too ____ for this (tired, busy, old, detached) for all of this triathlon bullshit.  What you need at that moment is your coach to step out from the shoulder, slap you and say “get over yourself.”  Unfortunately, us coaches don’t get paid enough for that.  You just have to find a way to get over your own bad self.

I used to be one of those people that was always trying to turn every negative into a positive.  Think positive thoughts!  Focus only on the good things!  You know what – when I’m out there and the winds are gusting to 30 mph, I’m ready to lick my own arms for salt and my legs shout NO with every pedal stroke, the last thing I’m thinking is positive sunshine, cupcakes and puppy thoughts.  And when I did try to fill my head with positive, it felt like I was fighting myself. I felt even worse.  If I’m not supposed to fix it, what was I supposed to do with my head instead?

Nothing.

That’s right – nothing

Accept that negative thoughts are just that – thoughts…that will pass. The same strategy is true for “time” in Ironman.  Whenever I’ve felt like I was going to be out there forever, I snapped myself back into reality – no one really rides their bike forever.  At some point it will end.  I always tell myself: the time will pass, it always does.  That brings me back to reality! So too shall negative thoughts pass.  Just give them time. 

The difference in doing this was immediate.  No longer was I having long, overdramatic battles with my head.  I was just letting things be.  Rolling with the punches.  Let things pass in and out of my head.  Telling myself, that’s just a negative thought.  I don’t have to accept it or believe it.  I don’t have to do anything.

Kramer said it best in a recent teleseminar:

Negative thoughts are just that – just thoughts.  Negative thoughts are productive.  They are our body’s built in defense mechanism that tells us we’re not seeing life clearly.  Those thoughts are telling you that you need to pull back; you don’t need to act from that place.  When you try to over-ride and fight through the negative thoughts, that’s when you make bad choices.  You don’t need to control or fix negative thoughts (you can’t).  If you’re thinking negatively, let it be.  What you think is not necessarily so.  There is no reality to them.  They are an instinctive sign you are not seeing clearly, just look in a different direction. 

In doing this (or not doing anything!), I can’t say that my head ever filled with positives but what it did was empty.  It was not uncommon then for me to go on a long ride and honestly – think about nothing.  There is great freedom and pleasure in going out for 100 miles with a quiet mind.  We live in such a world of clutter and distraction that for a few hours on a Saturday, having peace and quiet – especially as a parent! – was a luxury.  I didn’t have to make every training ride an exercise in thinking positive.  No longer was my mindset a factor in determining if the workout was a success.  Did I hit my watts?  How was the execution of my fuel plan?  All that really mattered was what really, truly mattered.  Following my plan.  Getting the work done.  Not waging a battle in my head. 

The result of this is freedom and clarity.  You start to see things for what they really are.  That wind in your face – it’s just wind.  Not a deal breaker, not something which will last forever.  It’s wind.  Let it be.  See how that works?  

A funny thing happened in Kona.  When I was on the ride – I didn’t think about anything.  The only word I can think to describe what was going on in my head was: stillness.   

It was awesome.
 
Whereas in the past I needed mantras, mind tricks and “crisis management” plans to manage my head during the ride – this time, I just let my mind be.  I didn’t even need to do that – I was riding along and was already there.  I was surprised at how quickly the ride passed, how effortless it felt.  Not once did I have a thought about it’s long, hot, windy.  When it mattered most, my mind was quiet and free.


I had a stillness about the entire race experience.  Because of that, I don’t feel the need to jump back in to do anything, fix anything or prove anything because the race was what it was supposed to be.  I always feel like a weeks after Ironman should be a “no-zone” – no puppies, no haircuts, no babies, no race registration, no major life decisions.  For a few weeks, just let yourself be.  Let the dust settle and then once you’re in a state of clarity figure out the next big thing. 

Until then – my “big” things are active recovery, enjoying the weather and trying new things.  A local yoga studio has a free week of yoga deal that I've been trying.  And the idea of "stillpower" is carrying over.  In the past, I've deplored yoga for all of its "quiet the monkey chatter" uppityness.  What if I like chatter?  What if I like freakin' monkeys!?  Nowadays, my mind in yoga is more still and quiet.  I can even fall asleep in shavasana.  This is a big step! 

Other "big" things I'm tackling: eating bad things and drinking good wine.  Yes, for a few weeks each year, fun Liz emerges from deep within her cave and her power animal is…wine.  My new iPhone just told me there are 13 wine bars nearby my home.  Siri even sorted them by rating.  (by the way: it’s nice to finally be able to talk to something in my house during the day and have it talk back to me in logical, complete sentences)  Looks like I’ve got some off season training to do – visit all 13 bars and confirm the ratings.


I’m going to need more down time.       

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Kona 2011

Ironman Hawaii is complete – and I’m not exactly sure where to start.  So I’ll go back to the beginning…

It started with a song.

An entire collection of songs that Bree sent me from Hawaii.  15 months ago, in our first days home from the hospital, as I tried to figure out what to do and how to do it with a newborn, Max and I listened to the songs.  I thought about Hawaii.  I thought about Kona – specifically treading water waiting for the start cannon.  That moment seemed a million years away as I sat there sore and heavy while caring for an infant.  Listening to those songs made the impossible seem possible.  They gave me hope that I could be what I once was.

Now after a season of competing, I’ve since learned that I cannot go back and be that athlete. 

I can be better.

Arrive at Kona.  October 2011.  Long story (actually 10+ hour story) short, I executed my race plan.  I did what I set out to do.  There were no low moments, no epiphanies, no life changing realizations.  Rather it was a culmination of knowing what I could do, going out there and doing it. 

Simple.    

The long version.  Warning: it’s long but then again – so is Ironman. 

This is my third time racing on the Big Island.  This year, Kurt got me ready to put together my best Ironman.  His training was simple, consistent and effective.  I did not swim/bike/run one more mile than I needed to.  I did 2 x 20+ mile runs, 3 x 100+ mile rides and oodles of 4000+ yard swims.  The focus of training was repeatability – to work at race pace, recover and then a few days later – do it again.  I stayed ridiculously healthy – not sick once since Max was born.  How?  Appropriate training, attention to recovery (nutrition, sleep, maintaining low stress) and keeping it all in perspective.  I don’t sweat the small stuff and I don’t do the big stuff.  No monster epic weekends/hard core intervals/big miles – no time, no desire.  I’ve also learned it’s not necessary. I believe if you can achieve optimal performance on less training – by all means, do it.  You’ll have better health, better recovery and longevity.

As such, I arrived at race week feeling fit, fresh, tapered and ready.  I reached race weight.  I survived 9+ hours of air travel with 3 children and 8 adults.  If you’re wondering how, let me just say that I packed 25 pounds of snacks and toys, of which only Mr. Potato Head kept Max entertained for a few minutes before he realized that throwing his pacifier over the seat and pulling the hair of the woman in front of us was way more fun.

Race week was like being in the eye of a storm.  A storm of 14 members of my support crew including 10 of my in-laws, my husband, my kid, my mom, Dr. Nuts (yes, he is real and is really a doctor) and Sherpa Thomas (to clarify: not a real Sherpa, but a real person indeed) – all staying in the same house.  With no air conditioning.    

The days leading up to the race went by quickly.  Each day, I did my workouts then spent very little time in town mingling or at the expo.  The “scene” of Kona is an energy drain.  Plus, you risk illness when you spend time around 1000+ athletes on edge.  I washed my hands a lot but also mentally prepared for the craziness of Kona, the chaos of my family, the “stress” of doing a world championship.  To help, Chris graciously took over 99 percent of the Max responsibilities.  I slept in my own room.  I also didn’t put much emphasis on the label of Kona as a world championship.  Like Kurt told me, it’s an Ironman that you’re doing in Hawaii.  Enough said. 

Two days before the race, I eliminated all fiber.  My biggest fear in Ironman was what happened on my last trip there – poop.  Lots of it throughout the marathon.  No one knows specifically what causes this but risk of poop can increase due to overheating (the skin being the largest organ requires a lot of blood for cooling; more blood to the skin, less blood to digestion, possible hypoxia in the large intestine which then leads to poop), jostling of items in the intestines, dehydration or too much fiber in diet leading up to the race.  Dr. Nuts said that 48 hours of reduced fiber was sufficient.

The day before the race, I ate a large breakfast then tapered calories throughout the day.  I ate one of the smallest pre-race dinners ever.  Afterwards, Dr. Nuts painted my feet in Dermabond – a skin seal used after surgery.  I don’t wear socks when racing (ever) so wanted to be sure I limited the risk of blisters (and yes, it worked).  Once it dried, I was in bed by 7:30 pm.

Race day started at 3:30 am.  Sherpa Thomas dropped me off in the darkness of early morning at the King K.  I dropped off my special needs bags before getting my numbers painted on at body marking.  Next, I got weighed.  Before I stepped on the scale, I made an emphatic plea: DO NOT TELL ME HOW MUCH I WEIGH.  I knew I arrived at race weight and didn’t need to hear the consequence of heat-induced edema (hello cankles!) and carbo-loading for 3 days.  When transition opened at 4:45, I was one of the first in there.  It was an amazing feeling, even the empty transition area was buzzing with energy.  And so was I – today I get to do an Ironman! 

After getting my bike ready, I tucked myself away behind the King K, hiding behind headphones.  Music pumped through my ears while I did some stretching.  A lyric pops out: take control of your now.  A perfect mantra for the day. 

Before I knew it, it was time to get into the water.  My plan was to start far left by the Ford inflatable.  Treading deep water for 20 minutes was tiring so I hung off the inflatable until foam chunks started coming off and the paddlers told us to back up.  At a certain point, we stopped listening.  Kurt warned me that within 1 minute of the start, the “creep” would begin – the point at which everyone starts swimming before the cannon goes off.  Sure enough, within 1 minute, everyone starts creeping.  By the time the cannon sounded, athletes were already swimming.

The swim start in Kona is one of the most aggressive, frenzied starts out there.  Throw world championship in front of a race name and you get nearly two thousand top notch athletes swinging punches without holding back.  Everyone is good at Kona.  Everyone has nearly won something to get there.  If you don’t go with your big girl panties on, you’ll get eaten alive and find yourself with a mouthful of DNF.  Grace under pressure is critical.  Within seconds, I was getting pulled at, swatted, swum over and hit.  A few times, I actually had to stop to “gather” myself.  I looked behind me to see a giant swarm of angry blue and pink caps with arms like chopping blades.  Keep swimming!       

Every minute of that swim was fierce full contact.  Some people call this poor sportsmanship but really it’s just fear.  Most athletes in Kona are blatantly nervous and afraid.  You can read it between their lines, see it in their face.  Everyone is swimming, biking and running scared – of the pressure, the risk of failure, the reality of just being “good” amongst a field that is “great”.  If you go to Kona, you must go accepting that everyone is fitter, leaner and faster than you.  Get over it then focus on yourself and manage your own race.  

Finally, the swim exit.  Climbing the stairs, I see 1:06 on my watch.  A two-minute PR but initially I was disappointed.  Then I looked around me under the freshwater hoses: Rachel Ross and Lisbeth Kenyon, both women who have won their age group before in Kona.  I turned my disappointment into excitement.  

My plan for transition was to be assertive and quick.  A volunteer appears and the first thing I said (shouted) was: SUNSCREEN.  She smeared me with a white mess and I shouted MORE.  She did it again and I shouted MORE!  Dr. Nuts told me that sunscreen would be imperative for my day.  As soon as your skin starts “feeling” hot, you risk overheating and then gastric shutdown.  I came out of that tent looking like Casper.

The run out of transition is long.  Once on my bike, I was surrounded by a thick clump of men that didn’t shake apart until the return trip on Kuakini.  The pace was fast and we had tailwind. 

Once on to the Queen K, I settled in and focused on holding my power range.  The first aid station was about 15 miles into the ride where I grabbed water – something I would do at each aid station every 7 miles from there.  The day was warm but then again when you’re riding on black pavement that extends what looks like forever and surrounded by fields of black lava – you’ve got to expect it’s going to be a little toasty.

I sailed through the first hour in 22.7 mph.  Tailwind is a glorious thing.  Up to Waikoloa, the miles clicked off quickly.  The ride simply became all about executing my plan.  I controlled the controllables: my hydration, salt tabs, nutrition, my pacing, my mindset.   Mostly, I found my mind empty - not negative, not positive, just still.  Not once did I hit a mental low or wish I was somewhere else.  How would you feel if you got to do everything you loved for a day?  You would embrace every moment, you would enjoy it.  I took the time to look at the lava and ocean.  With all of this beauty and opportunity, how could this not be my day?  Soon enough, I found myself at the turn off to Kawaihae. 

The entire course is a series of long, gradual climbs with a mixed bag of winds but once you turn at Kawaihae, the climbs are more prominent and the wind seems to always be in your face.  I got the sense that it was windy at Hawi based on how the pros were riding back down from it – Kurt told me to be aware of this.  The climb to Hawi is about 7 miles long and today the winds were gusting around 30-40 mph.  I held on firm to my bike.  Everyone was sitting up.  A lot of bigger girls were passing me.  At one point, I think it took 6 minutes to cover a mile. 

At mile 60, we hit the turnaround and started to sail effortlessly.  I made a quick stop at special needs then cruised down from Hawi.  According to my power file, I coasted easily for 38 minutes.  Thank you, tailwind.  Tailwind turned into a pretty calm wind once back on the Queen K.  Towards Waikoloa there were a few who opened the oven door moments of heat but other than that, the ride felt fairly easy.  From Waikoloa to the airport, there was significant crosswind and the crowds had thinned out.  Yet in the last 20 miles, I was on top of my power range and my legs felt amazing. 

Coming into transition, one of my athletes yelled my name and caught my bike (thanks, Kris!).  I shouted YEAH!  I knew from training that I could ride 5:30-5:36 and did 5:36 exactly.  But more importantly: my big goal was to break 10:30 for the day.  I dismounted the bike at 6:46 and at that moment got a little giddy: for sure I would break 10:30 today. 

In transition I assertively shouted SUNSCREEN and dumped my bag.  In doing so, my salt tab container opened up.  And there went 16 salt tabs all over the ground.  I shouted at the volunteer, PICK THEM UP!  I was loud but Kurt told me not to be afraid to gently “boss” them around – that’s why they are there (and of course I said THANK YOU!).  I ran out of transition with a face full of sunscreen and zippy legs. 

Never look at the whole of the marathon – it’s too long!  Instead, I ran aid station to aid station.  I was told to keep the first 5 to 10 miles very easy and when I hit the first mile in 7:06 I had to remind myself that easy meant nose breathing.  It’s hard to go slow along Alii Drive – it’s lined with spectators and along the ocean.  I yanked myself back and told myself sustainable.  Hold a pace that you could sustain all day no matter how hot it is out there.

And it was hot.  I took advantage of any shade I could get.  At each aid station, I grabbed a sponge, dumped two cups of ice in my bra, grabbed two cups of water and then (as needed) grabbed gel.  This year, I decided to rely on the course for gels and almost regret it – every gel was my least favorite flavor and caffeinated!    

At mile 10, you make a right turn up Palani which always feels 10 times longer than it actually is.  I wanted to keep my effort low so slowly chugged up it before making the left on the Queen K.  Shortly thereafter, I hit the half way point at 1:43 – and knew I was on track to have a strong run.  Just another 13.1 miles to hold it.  Mentally, I broke up the Queen K with landmarks.  I clicked off a few faster miles, passing some women in my age group before getting to the Energy Lab.  Chris was all over the course telling me where I was in my age group, how long to 5th place.  I got off the bike in 13th place and made my way to 7th by the Energy Lab. 

The Energy Lab goes by quickly.  I was passed by one woman but kept moving at a consistent pace.  Out of the lab, I had 10K to go.  I was given specific directions to pick up the pace at this point but I couldn’t make it happen.  Maybe because I missed about 5 months of running in late pregnancy and even before that had about 6 months where I wasn’t running long miles.  To excel at this distance, you need an extensive base of miles and strength.    

Not only that but I think I settled.  When I qualified for Kona, I told Kurt I wanted to break 10:30.  Yet in training, I got the sense that based on fitness/data, I could break 10:20.  For whatever reason, I didn't commit to it.  I settled for sub 10:30.  Next time, I will dream bigger - no, BIGGER - and then commit to it.  So much of long course racing is how bad you want it.  At a certain point, fatigue is a choice.  You choose your outcome out there. 
 
The last few miles were a series of thoughts running through my head about just wanting to be done but at the same time being sad that I only had a few miles left.  I heard Chris shouting but wasn’t listening – I was quietly retreating into that place in my head where I go to hide from pain.  Nothing else mattered but seeing the next mile marker.  The next aid station.  I couldn’t drink enough water or get enough ice.  I got passed by another girl in my age group bumping me down to 9th place.  Each street passed slowly – Henry, Kalani, Hualalai and finally: Alii Drive.

Any regret about the last 10K fades as I approach the finish.  There is nothing like running the final ½ mile down Alii Drive.  The crowd is lined thick and makes a tunnel towards the finish line.  They are all shouting my name, clapping, the cheers are deafening.  I cross the line in 10:22:02 and 9th in my age group.  Arms up and a giant smile spreads across  my face.  It was the only thing I could think to do and was 100 percent genuine.  It was a year’s worth of work, sacrifice and making it happen day after day – no matter how many times I was woken up during the night, how many people told me I was crazy, how many pounds I still had left to lose.  I did it. 

After the race, I am greeted by two catchers.  I was thirsty, hot and wanted to sit down.  A woman pours cold water over my head.  Finally the catchers pass me over to Sherpa Thomas.  He takes me to the back to sit down.  I can’t do it – he has to assist me.  Dr. Nuts appears soon after to take me to the bathroom.  I considered it a huge victory that I did not poop all day.  But after the race – that’s a different story.

My feet are throbbing and I cannot walk by myself.  Dr. Nuts piggy backs me to my family.  I tell my mom that I never want to do another Ironman.  She reminds me of a photo I took 4 years ago saying the same thing.  Using the stroller as my walker, I make my way back to the car.  The short walk feels like forever. 

That evening, Dr. Nuts pumps me full of two IVs and a bag of dextrose.  He tells me not to drink water or else it will cause my intestines to spasm.  I eat 2 pieces of pizza which pretty much have the same effect.  I spend a lot of time in the bathroom hating Ironman.  Chris spent a lot of time holding my IV bag while I was in the bathroom.  Pretty sure he was also hating Ironman.

The next day, I woke up feeling ok.  I was slightly tired but the IVs seemed to help with recovery.  Dr. Nuts said that could be psychosomatic.  I tell him to shut his overeducated medical yapper.  My feet, however, were killing me.  My big toe bunions were badly chafed.  I had no appetite.  And I got a nasty case of edema that lasted the next 5 days (Nuts said it’s from the trauma of Ironman – the only “cure” was time and wearing compression socks). 

I spent the next few days on the island – visiting beaches, shopping.  I ate Haupia ice cream (coconut pudding – delicious).  I did not eat vegetables.  I drank porter at the Kona Brewing Company.  While overlooking the ocean, I had a few Mai Tais.  I laughed with my friends and family.  I did absolutely nothing.  It's called recovery.

When I started training again after having Max, I set big goals.  Make the impossible possible.  Take control of your now – don’t wait!  I took it one day at a time and never doubted myself.  So many people tried to pass their doubts on to me: you’ll never have time, you won’t want to leave your child, you’ll never run the same again.  In the end, I achieved what I set out to do – I broke 10:30 at Kona, I set a 10 minute PR, I finished top 10 in my age group at a world championship.  Now I have the confidence of knowing I have what it takes and because of that, a door has opened.  A door of possibility.  Where it goes?  Well, that’s for me to decide as I plan out what to do next….

It goes without saying that a lot of people contributed to this accomplishment: my husband, my child, my family, my coach, my babysitter, my friends, my lanemates, my athletes, my sponsors.  You know who you are and know what you did for me.  Thank you!