Because racing isn’t stressful enough, we decided to travel to this past weekend’s race with Max, 9 months old.
Before we set out on the trip, I considered asking other parents for advice. Advice other than 1 – don’t, 2 – ear plugs, 3 – medication. I then realized I probably wouldn’t get much advice. When I asked my sister in law, she advised me not to take a Xanax and leave the spouse to care for the child. That does not go over well with spouse, she informed me (but you need only spend a few minutes on a long flight with a crying child WHO IS YOUR OWN to understand why narcotics are very attractive).
When I asked the doctor, she said to bring lots of toys and snacks. She added that their ears are actually better equipped to handle flying and that the old wives tale of giving Benadryl would cause the opposite effect. I packed a bag full of toys, snacks and diapers. Then I said three Hail Mary’s, an Our Father and put on my rosary.
Just in case.
There is a fine line between brave, crazy and stupid. Traveling by air with young child crosses all of those lines at some point in your travels. It actually might happen early on in the trip. Say, when you are at the airport before 7 am and realize you’ve forgotten the child’s pacifier.
(crowd gasps in horror)
I suppose the answer is to not start them on the pacifier in the first place. You tell me that when I’m 6 weeks post-partum, woken up every 2 hours and still look like I’m 5 months pregnant. The pacifier brought us peace. Now, honestly, it’s just a pain in the ass. Or mouth. When child number two arrives (by way of stork, by then they will have the technology to do so), there will be no pacifier.
When we realized we forgot the pacifier, the words out of Chris’ mouth were HOLY SHIT. Yes, we feared not for the child but for the other 200 passengers on board the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Tuscon. That’s a long time in the air with a crying child. There might be an air rage incident. I did not want to be responsible for grounding the plane.
So Chris did what any father would do. Travel tip for new parents – always carry cash. You never know when you’re going to need to buy the spare pacifier off a mother holding an infant.
(side note: they do not sell pacifiers or bottles in airports but they sell about 1000 other useless things like silver jewelry and little license tag key chains!)
The flight was uneventful. Max had his moments of fussiness, quiet and playfulness. A few pages from a magazine were eaten. A stranger’s hair was pulled. A surprise poopy was dropped 20 minutes before landing. Perhaps the most uncomfortable 20 minutes of my life – and probably uncomfortable for everyone seated around us with a decent sense of smell.
We were in Tucson for Duathlon Nationals. Jennifer was generous to let us stay at her comfortable condo. Now, I’ve known her long enough to know she has a chocolate problem. I’ve been to her house and seen her secret drawer filled with chocolate CLIF bars in case of emergency but I did not anticipate finding chocolate IN EVERY FORM everywhere; freezer, pantry, fridge, in the change bowl...
No I didn’t check under the bed.
I was excited to be in Tucson – SUNSHINE! – and do this particular race, my last duathlon for the year in a 5K/35K/5K format. In case you’re wondering, that adds up to fast, ow, it's gonna hurt. I knew it would be a balls to the wall as hard as you can go for about a hundred minutes. I’ve worked hard lately and felt ready to handle it.
We arrived the day before the race, so it was busy. Add Max and you get even more busy. We had his schedule to consider plus our schedule plus the schedule of the race – packet pick up, a trip to TriSports.com to pick up a borrowed pack n’ play, bike check in. They canceled bike check in due to high winds but still driving around Tuscon on Friday during “rush hour” was rough. Tucson is the land of a thousand stoplights that always seem to be red. Other than that, it’s a slice of southwestern beauty set against tall mountains with a lush spring green in all of the trees right now. A cloudless sky, temperatures in the 80s. A nice diversion from the cold spring in Chicago!
Race morning I woke up after not sleeping much. Max was in the room and he’s a snore machine! I woke up every hour on the hour until I finally decided to start the day. The nice thing about being a mom is that when you wake up on race morning, sleep or no sleep you feel pretty close to your “normal.”
It was a gorgeous morning. The sun was warm, the sky was blue, the mountains were an amazing backdrop to the race. In all of my years of racing, this felt like one of the most well organized national championships I’ve ever done. Everything was intelligently placed, convenient and flowed without problem. Kudos to USAT.
I warmed up. It was warm out but dry. Nothing like the heat we feel in Chicago which is like a hot and heavy blanket that you can’t shed. My wave went off late so I was able to watch the earlier waves. When I finally got to the start line, I was slightly nervous but feeling ready. The voice of Tim Yount reminded me that this race was serious. The 10 minutes waiting for the start felt like forever.
I knew who was in my age group, knew what I needed to do and what I wanted to do. I knew the first run would be fast. I went out at a controlled pace and worked my way up into the top 3 of my age group. The course was a few out and backs and finished going up a ½ mile long hill that slowed my pace by about 50 seconds per mile! Still, I was able to pull into 2nd in my age group before getting into transition.
I was ready to give it a painful effort on the bike. I knew that’s what it would take. Three women passed me nearly right away. I tried to respond but my legs were still protesting the first run. I kept them in sight and waited a few minutes for my legs to come back. Another woman went to pass me and I got angry. Clearly the effort I was giving was not enough. So the effort went from what I thought was hard to ok this really hurts now. My stomach hurt. I threw up a little over one of the bridges. The course was up or down. I pushed and pushed and pushed.
I got into transition thinking I was 5th in my age group. Time to repeat that run course. It was hotter out and for sure the effort on the bike would slow some women down. But not at nationals. The women in my age group were in sight but I was not gaining on them. My legs were there and I felt like I was giving it a lot but my splits were not where I thought they would be. I kept turning over but getting nothing in return. I saw a woman in my age group ahead of me and on the final hill started pushing hard to catch her but fell 9 seconds short.
I thought I was 5th in my age group. Results showed me I was 6th. It took me a few moments to catch my breath but once I did, I got really frustrated. My goal was to be top 3 in my AG. I worked hard for that in training. I fell short. I don’t like to disappoint myself.
I could make excuses – Max has been sick, I didn’t peak for this race, it was hot, it was dry, Tuscon sits at 2300 feet (that’s like high altitude when you live at 720 feet, right?). None of that really mattered. And none of those excuses make me feel better. Bottom line on race day – it’s you. Just you. You do it or you don’t. If you don’t – you have to look to yourself and your training to find the answer why. It's there.
A few hours later, the final results bumped me up to 5th in my AG which at nationals is on the podium. I was content to be on the podium in 5th but that’s not the result I worked for. I can’t even say 'hoped for' because I never “hope” I achieve my goal, I just work for it. When I can't put it together, I'm disappointed.
The rest of the day, we enjoyed Tucson. We went for a tram ride at Sabino Canyon and it was perfect. Something about being in natural areas is so serene. Whatever storm of feelings or worry you are feeling immediately fades into the landscape and all you are you left with is marveling at the rocks, the sky, the trees. It's very simple. The trip started to feel too short. The sun felt too warm. Chicago and real life were waiting back at home tomorrow, I just wanted to sit on that tram for a few days.
The next morning, we flew home. Max was unsettled for most of the flight – nothing that snacks nor toys nor holding could fix. Finally I got up to walk him to the rear of the plane and just when the stink of a disappointing race isn’t enough, someone decides to projectile vomit all over the rear galley. Then all over the lavatory. And lastly all over me.
Another travel tip: when traveling with young children, the best outfit is one entirely made of vinyl.
This was one of those scenarios in life I just didn’t have a script for. What do you do when you are covered in vomit at 39,000 feet? You walk back to your seat, you find a baby wipe, you hand the baby over to someone else while you wipe yourself (including your shoes!?) clean. Then, you get a bunch of paper towels from the flight attendant and clean puke up off the floor. I never thought I’d be on my hands and knees cleaning the floor of a Southwest lavatory but there’s a first time for everything!
Max threw up a few more times on the drive home. Later in the day, he threw a party in his pants – twice – with diarrhea. Poor little guy. We’re not sure if it was too much stimulation, something he ate or licking the seats at the airport. Hey, it kept him quiet at the time!
But the mother in me got upset for dragging my child to Tuscon. The mother in me said it was silly to think we could integrate him into our “other” life. The mother in me is sometimes harder on me than the athlete in me. Getting the two to coincide peacefully, at times, is honestly quite difficult.
But nothing a glass of wine at dinner could not mediate.
You have what feels like a bad race and you sit around tired, discontent, cranky. It easy to feel like all of the work, sacrifice and juggling life, baby, workouts, marriage was not worth it. But I know that is not true. Racing is good when it's good and when it's not good - it's still a good learning experience. I’m disappointed but not discouraged. I wake up tomorrow and I move on to the next thing.
So forget racing, let’s talk about my adorable child. Having him with us this weekend was challenging but worth it. He went on his first airplane adventure. He went into the pool and showed off all of the things he’s learned with Daddy at Diaper Dippers. He ate spicy chicken and liked it. He waved for the first time – we’ve been working on this! I got to see him proudly look up at the ceiling and point when I asked him “where is the light?” He’s also starting to say “mamamamama” which I know means nothing right now but one day, that will mean ME.
Our next race is local and Max will come with us. Three hours in the car will be much easier than 3 hours on the airplane.
I should probably cover the entire backseat in plastic wrap and bring along a poncho. And pack a bottle or two of Febreze!