Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Commitment

A few days ago, someone asked if I would be willing to talk to a high school girls swim team about commitment.

It’s the perfect time of the year to talk about commitment.  For many athletes, the end of summer signals the end of their 2011 season.  The buzz about next year has already started.  The emails pour in, the “I just signed up for Ironman what have I done” posts on Facebook, the phone calls about this is what I want to do now what do I have to do to achieve it.  Everyone is dreaming big, throwing it out there and serving up big helpings of pie in the sky. 

Dreaming up the goal is the easy part, writing it down is even easier but actually getting there?   

Enter commitment.

Commitment is one of those terms loosely thrown around in sport when talking about goals.  Just like dedication or desire.  We know we need it but we’re not exactly sure how or why it relates to our goal.  Or what exactly it is.  If you show up for practice every day, are you showing commitment?  If you sign up for the race, are you committed?  If you do some of the workouts, is some good enough to equal commitment?    

I thought a lot about commitment. It’s hard enough to spell, can I really explain it to high schoolers?  I started with the definition of the word:  something pledged, an obligation, dedication, an agreement to do something in the future, the state of being emotionally impelled, engagement, involvement, a promise that restricts one’s freedom of action.  

Commitment implies there is something in the future that we dedicate ourselves to achieving.  We feel impelled to engage ourselves in doing these things.  Why?  Because what we are committing to is of deep importance to us – so much so that we have to get involved.  It becomes an obligation.  At times is might restrict our life and actions.  But we feel so strongly about it that we are willing to make the sacrifices believing our commitment is worth it.  Which means we must really care about the end result of our commitment.  And if we are willing to make all of those sacrifices, we have a strong belief that we can get there.  So much so that we commit ourselves every day, consistently, to fulfilling our obligation. 

Then it hit me.  Three things that make up commitment:  care, consistency and confidence.

If you’re going to make the commitment, you’ve got to care about what you’re committing to.  You’ve got to possess it for yourself.  It can’t be something your coach, your team, your sponsors or any external source wants you to do.  This has to be for you.  When you care about something, you value the outcome, you place meaning on it.  When you personally care about something, you do things because you want to not because you have to.  You do things because not doing them disappoints yourself – not someone else. 

When you don’t care, you do things half-heartedly.  You skip things.  You find better things to do than what you’re supposed to be doing.  Your practice becomes half-assed.  We’ve all been there.  Whether it’s because of burnout, a goal that we set too high, or something we’re just not that into, if you don’t 100 percent care about the goal and outcome, you won’t make the commitment. 

When you do care, you’re unstoppable.  No morning is too dark, no day is too cold – you’re up and at it.  The other day, someone asked me why I was doing Ironman.  They gently reminded me that I don’t have million dollar contracts.  This is true.  But I’m doing it because I set a goal a year ago, one that I care about and I won’t be satisfied until I either achieve it or finish knowing that I’ve given it my best.  It doesn’t have to bring me fame, money or anything external but intrinsically it means something to me.  It makes me want to stay committed.

Part of commitment is consistency.  It’s day after day, mile after mile, doing it when it feels good and when it doesn’t.  Doing it when everyone else is doing something else.  The cornerstone of commitment is sacrifice.  To get something you have to give something.  Whether it’s giving it your best, giving a lot of your time or giving up _____, this type of day after day sacrifice and practice is the consistency it takes to stay committed.

After years of competing as an athlete and working with other athletes, I have uncovered only one secret: the only thing that matters is consistency.  Without it, you will not gain fitness, you will not make progress, you will not gain anything from what you do.  Read that again.  To get to where you want to go months from now, you need to be putting in the day to day work right now.  No shortcuts.  The week before the big race is too late.  The month before the big race is too late.  It starts now. 

When you are committed, you are saying that you will be consistent.  To be consistent you have to stay healthy.  This means paying extra attention to your diet, health, recovery, sleep and stress.  Each can influence your consistency.  A week of poor eating, catching a cold, an injury, unnecessary life drama – all of this interrupts your consistency.  True that it takes a lot of time, money and energy to give each of these things proper attention.  But the meaningfulness of your commitment impels you to do so.  To keep yourself in balance and healthy.  It’s worth it.   

When you make a commitment, you do so with the underlying certainty of yes you can.  That is confidence.  Confidence is what sparks us to think – I can do this – and then empowers us to get it done.  Confidence is the bottom line with any commitment.  If you think you can or you can’t – you’re right.  If you’ve committed to something, you know you can – so honor yourself and do it.

In life, you will encounter many people who try to take away your confidence.  People say all sorts of stupid shit to make you feel less able, guilty, weak or less confident.  Understand that you have no responsibility to believe any of what they say.  Know who to listen to.  Listen to yourself, listen to the opinions of those who mean something to you (your parents, your coach).  Don’t place value on anything else.  The best piece of advice I’ve ever received: don’t change who you are for anyone else.

If you made the commitment for a goal, you are confident.  You know you can.  You care about this goal and believe you can do it.  It will take consistency in your practice and habits to follow through.  So, when you think about what commitment means – it’s about setting a goal you care about, it’s about acting consistently to do the work required to achieve that goal and it’s letting your own confidence carry you through. 

So ask yourself: what am I going to commit to this coming season?  Is it a personal best?  Is it winning my division?  Is it showing up to every morning practice?  What will draw you out of bed each morning when the big event is months away, when the water is cold or it’s the dead of winter.  The beauty is that you decide about your commitments – you make the choice.  Which means the process of commitment and achieving things is entirely in your control. 

Go on now and set your season goals.  Commit!

Monday, August 15, 2011

No Need For Patience

And on the 7th day of rest week, she rested.

No, she RACED!

When I planned out my race schedule this year, one that I could not resist was a local sprint. There's nothing better than sleeping in your own bed the night before a race! The Naperville Sprint is a huge race (over 1100 competitors!) with a lot of energy, local support and a beautiful venue along the river.

The day before the race, Kurt sent me a text asking if I was ready. I told him if I wasn’t ready for a 65 minute race then I’m screwed come Ironman! A chuckle back and a direction to change from the long course mindset: no need for patience. I can do that. My usual sprint strategy is simple: if at any point it feels good, you are not going hard enough!

The race starts in the quarry which makes it a popular race for beginners. You’ve got to love the energy of a race filled with beginners. Nervous, frenetic, a naivete that we all had the first time around – I walked to the race site and the place was buzzing. A quick stop at body marking and the high school volunteer said: you look like you’re ready to kick some ass.

OMG! I came here to kick some ass!

Quickly my gear was set up and then I had about….90 minutes to stand around and wait. I actually stood around to make sure my bike – which looked like it was dangling from a 50 story ledge, does anyone else with 650s get really uneasy about hanging their bike by the seat – did not fall off or get knocked off. Meanwhile, I drank myself to 110 percent caffeinated by way of Peaberry, which I had discovered weeks earlier had the power to rend me caffeinated to the point of the shakes.

A light jog, a short swim and before I knew it I was at the start line. Unique start format: they sent off groups of 4 every 3 seconds. Chris did this race last year and advised me to start in one of the top 4 groups. I looked around at the start and knew I was sorely out of place – I was not wearing a high school swim speedo and I was not wearing a collegiate race kit. But behind me stood over 1000 people that were going to swim in a quarry designed not too many more than that. If I waited for a later wave, it would be a mess. So I stood right next to the guy in the speedo and together we took off!

Of course he dropped me before I was even swimming. I was still running INTO the water. I felt like everyone was swimming over me. Ever have one of those days where you just feel like you don’t have any feel for the water? That was today.

Before I had time to fret about that, I began the long run to transition. Chris told me I was the 3rd woman out of the water and 25th overall. Nice counting, husband! I think last year I was so sleep-deprived and shell-shocked while spectating with a 3 week all that I was lucky to even notice him out of the water.

Some fussing around with my shoes (both before and after the bike - which cost me .5 mph, mistakes are costly in a sprint), then I was off. No need for patience - bolt NOW! I won’t lie. For most of the time, the bike effort felt violent. I started chasing the kid in the speedo and a few other men. The course is a few turns and two loops. I looked at NOAA that morning and knew with a northeast wind, I’d be working for half the bike. The first part was with the tailwind so I set out to take advantage of it. I flew through 4 miles in under 10 minutes – fun!

About half the way through the loop, I got out of the saddle and hammered on to 75th Street. The night before at dinner, Chris gave me some strategy. I love when our dinner conversation contains words like “gun it” and “chicane”. I knew I had to gun it through the chicane and, in Chris’ words, “trust the police” to be controlling the turn and intersection. I approached the turn and said to myself trustthepolicetrustthepolice! I turned left so fast and low I thought I was going to lay my bike down!

The second loop was exciting – someone who I swim masters with passed me and I made it my goal to keep him in sight. It was mostly a blur of ON YER LEFT as the course was now scattered with the bulk of the race. As I got close to the end I thought to myself – my legs are going to be wrecked off the bike! As far as rides go, my variability index on this one was out of control. And I have the power file to back up that statement! But as got near the dismount line I reminded myself it’s only a 5K. This entire race will be over before I know it. And, if I have the coherence to think right now I am not going hard enough!

Off the bike and…drumroll please…I had the fastest T2 in the entire race. I WIN! Well, not yet. I still had 5K to go. Despite my highly variable power output, my legs felt amazing! I zipped right on to the run course and got news that I was the first female.

Bad news: the time trial start means that every seconds counts! No backing off – full speed to the finish line!

I hit the first mile in a pace that shocked me. These days with Ironman training, I’m lucky if I break a minute per mile slower than that. On a COLD day. The next mile was a battle of can't we back off - no keep pushing - can't we just ease up a little bit - no they could be right on your tail! As I got on to the path to finish the last mile, I got my own personal bike escort. I have the lead female, he radioed. Sounded daunting. What are they going to do with me!? A hundred yards later, he slowed, turned to me and said “so how is your day going?” In between grunts and huffs, I think I said OK!?

The last ½ mile took approximately forever but it was worth the wait. I got to break the tape and hold it! This was better than doing Pigman a few years ago and holding a MEGACHECK for 3rd place. Immediately cameras were on me and I felt like J.Lo! I’m a celebrity! Except my husband is much better looking. And I’m not divorcing him.

I crossed the line and waited for my friends and family. In the meantime, a camera kept filming which I found a little unsettling. Should I do something? Talk to myself? I found my friend Mary’s dog and started petting and talking to him. I’m sure this was riveting footage but I've decided because of it I would make a terrible reality tv star.

My entourage arrived soon after. It was great to see my friends, husband, mom and Max out on the course today. I got scooped away by a local television station for an interview. Next time would someone please tell me my hair was frizzing all over the place! He asked me a bunch of questions – one being about what it was like to get into racing after having a baby. My reply was something I think about all the time: I forget how fun this sport really is! It’s what I thought to myself in my first race post pregnancy (last September) and every race since then.

Something that I couldn’t stop thinking about today is the goal I set at the beginning of the year. I set goals for every race and my goal for today’s race said: top OA. That means win. When I was walking around transition today, I noticed the back of someone’s t-shirt.

It's Here

It's Now

It's Me

I wanted to rip that t-shirt off the guy’s back!

I was reading a book recently (Go Girl by Natalie Cook – a phenomenal book about one woman’s passionately intricate quest to achieve Olympic gold in beach volleyball) and she said that inspired people don’t wait for it. They are always open to and seeking inspiration. They walk around open to hearing it or reading it in unsuspecting places. In the past two days, I have received a lot of inspiration. I drove down a road that I always drive down and noticed in someone’s front yard that they have a totem pole with this saying carved into it: Don’t ever give up. I was picking up my race packet and noticed on the back of a volunteer’s t-shirt it read: Without struggle there is no satisfaction. Inspiration is everywhere – whether it’s on a t-shirt, from your friends/family, in a book – it’s out there. You just have to be open to finding it and then receiving it.

I thought about that t-shirt for the entire race. At the race it was here, it was now, it was me. I arrive at each race knowing it’s an open opportunity for me to make it what I want. When I got distracted, when it started to hurt, I used that shirt to bring myself back to the race. Here, now, ME. It’s the idea of racing in your box, controlling the controllables (you and your actions). It’s more than putting on the game face. It’s knowing that behind that face is razor-sharp focus and in that mind is a constant assessment of what do I need to do know – hold form, give it a little more, hold that guy off. I love the outcome of a well put-together race but I love the process even more. It’s so much more than going through the motions. And what I’ve also found this year is that the process must first be fueled by passion. You’ve got to want to be out there and feel like if you had the opportunity, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

And now - it's back to the iron grind of training. Given a sprint or Ironman, I choose Ironman pace. Sprints are short, fast, hard, no patience just go. Ironman is long, slow, like patiently tolerating a whining child (I can do that!). All joking aside, the excitement about the end of my season is building, so much that I can hardly contain myself! But I suspect that might be because my veins are still running Peaberry.

Less than 8 weeks to go!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

From The Land of Iron

Fear not: I don’t need to be revived from the iron-dead.

Yet.

It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged. I keep meaning to sit down and write but every time I do I end up reading OMG! Hey, there’s a lot of important celebrity gossip out there! Last week, on the floor with my laptop, ready to write, I got sucked into Jersey Shore instead.

I’m still shaking that one off.

It’s not that I don’t have material. I’m training for an Ironman and I have a one year old. I've got plenty of material. It’s just that: my life has become increasingly ironed out. There is work, home, childcare. These are things I need to do. Any extra time that I do have is consumed by preparing for the next day’s workouts, eating or sleeping (or when you have a one year old, trying to sleep).

Yes, I’m officially training for Ironman.

I know this is true as I often find myself shifting between feeling Iron Fit and Iron Fat. If you’ve ever trained for this, you know what I mean. You feel fitter than ever. On days when the temperature is below…90….you are easily hitting paces that used to take effort. Yet at the same time you feel fatter than ever. It is the mathematical impossibility of burning 3000+ calories in a long workout yet getting on the scale the next day to find you’ve gained 7 pounds.

I woke up this morning and grumbled to Chris that I was sore, tired and feeling fat. His reply:

Sounds like you are training for Ironman.

You just can’t hide from it. Take life, mix in work, add many hours of training, a small child, domestic responsibilities (if I’m not training, there’s a good chance I’m folding towels in the laundry room), toss together, serve at what has been a consistently hotter than hell temperature and you get…

Iron Liz. A salty, sassy version of her former self. I’d like to say smaller but…see above.

All of this explains why I caved and bought tickets to Ale Fest on Saturday. I don’t drink beer. I actually don’t drink much at all and definitely never drink before 5 pm. Ale Fest was the exception. Two streets blocked off, 200 different types of beer, one pint glass. And that is how you find yourself drunk at 3 pm on a Saturday. The worst part?

We got there at 2:30.

The best part about drinking before 5 pm? You are sober by 5 and ready to resume your sadly iron-ated life by going to bed at 8:30 pm so you can wake up at 4:30 to drive to Madison to ride over 5 hours and run 40 minutes.

One word for that: ironrific!

My life has become measured in the number of workouts each day, the number of gels consumed and bottles of salt tabs. Speaking of salt tabs, you know you are having a moment of iron-desperation when you turn around to pick up the 6 salt tabs you dropped in the middle of a county road and then – knowing you will need all of them at some point during the day – eat two of them.

After one had been run over.


The other night it struck me that my life just might qualify now as Iron Lame. It was Friday night. I was doing a little online shopping. For Zym. I then composed an email to a friend to talk about the aerodynamics of my current hydration system. I was in bed by 9 pm so I could wake up early the next day to run long.

Week upon week, the iron work piles up. And the miles. The grocery bill. And the laundry. This week I am resting. The past 3 weeks I put in some solid work and I survived. The last day was a little shaky. I was up in Verona to ride the loops of the IMWI course. I’ve been riding the course with my Ironman group. They – because they have to. Me – because it builds character. Seriously. I forgot how truly nasty that course is. The first loop was a little rough. The second loop almost broke me. I had the brilliant idea to ride the loop in reverse. If you ever have the opportunity, take my word for it: don’t. By mile 80, I had quit the run off the bike. By mile 95 I had gotten over myself and put on my running shoes. I started the negotiations. One of those runs where first you say – I’m not doing it. Then you say, I’ll go 1 mile out and back. Then you say, ok, I’ll do 30 minutes. And before you know it all 40 minutes are done and you get that feeling of giving it a complete effort, the euphoria of finishing what you started. And then the reality that it’s 5 pm and you haven’t eaten real food yet.

The weather cracked recently which means it is finally below 90 degrees. Nothing feels better than a dewpoint of 55. The few days where it was 78 degrees with a dewpoint of 73 and a 15 mile long run? Sponge. You could have wrung me out. There was another long run when it was a 112 degree heat index. I now refer to that as the run that may have taken a year off my life. Swimming in 85 degree water, biking through humidity so thick it takes zone 3 power to cut through it. Summer this year has been challenging. I told myself at the start of the summer that I would not complain about the heat because 1 – I am training for Kona, 2 – on race day you cannot cut the course short, move the day of the race or change the weather so you might as well get used to it, 3 – no one would listen (or care) anyways. In other words, get over yourself and do your workout. That mantra has worked pretty well for me so far in training.

Something that I forgot in the past 4 years since I last trained for an Ironman is how there are actually 6 parts of long course triathlon. There is the swim, bike, run. And transition. And nutrition. And your mind. Most athletes make a good effort at preparing the first 3, faking number 4, loosely planning for number 5 and skipping number 6. When it comes to Ironman, I actually think you should work that list in reverse. Learn to manage your mind. Have a well-practiced fuel plan that you execute, avoid spending 20 minutes of your race in transition (for a lot of reasons beyond the PR – you’re losing momentum, you’re not fueling…), run frequently, bike quality miles at a realistic pace and swim for efficiency.

Kurt is helping me assemble the swim, bike, run. The workouts are simple, consistent and effective. He gives me the work, I get it done. Transitions – over a decade in the sport and still can’t do a flying mount/dismount. But I also haven’t practiced. Nutrition – I’ve used the same plan for years because it works. And the mind? As I get out there, I notice my mind is much easier to manage now. I don’t doubt myself, worry about what others think, obsess much about the paces/watts I hit (or miss). Most of the time I am just happy to have made it out of the house dressed for the correct sport. Motherhood is wonderful for your mind. Very freeing. Sometimes I have negative thoughts but I’ve learned to distrust them. Honestly, out there, what could happen that I can’t handle? Maybe motherhood makes you more confident. Or maybe after so much cage-pacing crazy each day you don’t care WHAT you're doing, you’re just happy to be out of the house and not needing to spend another 10 minutes cleaning up the high chair.

I hate that thing. When Max is done with it, I’m throwing it into the creek behind my house. Or rolling it into the middle of I-88.

I looked ahead on my schedule today. Why? As if I would be scheduled for a week of wine, those chocolate-covered English Toffee things from Trader Joe’s and naps. I noticed an upcoming week where I run for 6 days. The seventh day? That would be the day I call up the podiatrist and ask him to reattach my foot. And..this just in….is that a run twice in one day? I slowly backed away from my laptop, hands over my eyes while telling myself it will be ok. What I like most about long course training is that even as an adult you experience as “first”. I’ve never ran that much before. It strikes a little fear in me but also a little excitement about the challenge of something new. We as adults adapt very well, our body is efficient and looks for sneaky ways to conserve energy in what we typically do. Throw a new demand at it and you force a new adaptation. This is how you learn and grow. This is what I love about endurance sports!

These days I enjoy all of my swims, bikes and runs. No, really. It's amazing. Every workout is an adventure – can I make it to White Willow Road, how many different ways can I swim around the quarry, where will I run today. This is the fun side of sport that I forgot about as I made it more about performance. Sure, I still have performance goals. But at the end of the day/race, no matter what happens, I’m still me, I’m still a mom, I’m still a complete person. I strive for my performance goals to prove to myself that even as I get older, I can still make gains. Even as my life is more complicated, I can still find focus and channel into my personal goals. And even though a little over a year ago I felt like I would never reassemble my body/my life into a machine that can do all of this, I can.

When I finished Ironman 4 years ago, I remember all that passed through my head from mile 22 onward was yes I can. It’s funny what you find on the other side of iron. I never forgot that lesson. When someone tells me you can’t (gosh, how many people said I would never find time to do any of this after Max), it makes me want to prove to them that yes I can. Maybe that’s what this year was all about. Not necessarily proving it to myself but to everyone else that we all have excuses, rationalizations and reasons. I’m too busy at work, I have a child, I’m too old. Keep thinking long enough and you’ll come up with a dozen reasons why you shouldn’t do anything.

Max turned one year old on July 23 at 5:43 pm. I’m pretty sure it was 5:44 pm when I thought to myself – giddy up, game on, doctor, how long until I can run again? 24 hours later, when they would finally let me out of bed, I could barely walk 5 minutes down the hall. My still gigantic stomach jiggled like jelly. I didn’t care. I didn’t listen. As soon as the pain meds wore off, I took the upcoming year by the balls (yipe!), looked it directly in the eyes and said yes I can.

I’m going to enjoy the next few days of rest before I jump feet first back into the land of iron again. And with all this extra time I have, I’ll probably drain all of the blisters on my feet and reorganize my Bento Box. But now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a high chair full of waffles and applesauce to hose down. I'm going to resist the urge to throw that thing into oncoming traffic and feed my child from the kitchen floor for the next few years. And the towels in the dryer begging to be folded for the 239404th time this week? Yes I can. YES I CAN!