Monday, June 25, 2012

Education


What I love most about short course racing is that you can actually race and race often.

This past weekend, I raced.

It wasn’t on my original plan but when I found out that short course Nationals was sold out, it became my plan.  Though I qualified last year with All-American status, turns out you actually have to register for a race while registration is still open to get into a race.

I waited too long.

I don’t have an excuse other than – since when does Nationals sell out!?!

After a few emails with our governing organization, I got them to clarify that though the event was sold out, there would be actual slots set aside at a local “special” qualifier, different than a regional qualifier, but still a national qualifier.  Folks, we’ve got to come up with a simpler system!  The staff told me that I could confirm a Nationals spot by completing the special qualifier race.

(seriously it has felt harder to get into Nationals than into Kona)

With this being a low priority race, I wanted to try some new things.  Let me say that I am not a fan of change when it comes to racing.  I have my formula and trust it.  But I don’t necessarily remember my short course formula.  It has been a long time since I’ve done a lot of short races.  And they are an entirely different animal.  You don’t necessarily pace yourself.  You don’t wait.  You don’t expect your legs to ever feel good.  While I’m getting closer to what it takes to do well at this distance, there are things I’m still learning.  Or maybe I learned them a long time ago but too many half Ironmans and a few full Ironmans made me forgetful.  It was time for some re-education.

The swim was about a 400 meter walk down the beach.  I did a relatively short warm up and then at the last minute, I changed my start position.  My gut said start right but for some reason I went left.  Always listen to your gut in racing!  This position error ended up costing me a lot of time on the swim.  I ran into the water, after a few unsuccessful dolphin dives (another new thing I wanted to try) I saw the lead girls swimming away.  I missed the opportunity to jump on their feet (which is critical at this distance) and it never came back to me.  They dangled in front of me until the first buoy and I could not bridge the gap. 

I swam the entire race alone, passing only the men in the waves earlier.  My swim time ended up being about 2 minutes slower than I expected but part of racing well is taking a disappointment and then moving beyond it.  I knew my swim was off but I also know that I’ve had much worse swims and still gone on to win a race.  I didn’t think twice about it and ran through transition ready for biking.  The bike course itself was nice – it was mostly rolling along the Blue Star Highway – shaded and fast. 

I have never been so excited to get out there and race on my bike.  This past week – I got a new toy.  A Quarq.  I’ve used a Power Tap for the past 7 years. I strongly believe in training with power.  It’s not necessary but if you are interested in getting the most out of your training and racing on the bike: USE POWER!  I’ve also raced with power when it matters most: I used power at Vegas and Kona and felt it was critical to my success.  But in other races, I go by feel.  I’ve been doing this sport long enough that I trust myself and pacing.   But in the past two races I’ve done, I felt like I just haven’t biked up to my potential. 

Enter the Quarq which can be used with any wheel (whereas my Power Tap was only on a specific wheel). I did a test ride with the Quarq a few days before the race and immediately fell in love with it.  I have a Garmin computer that goes with it and I love that I can display everything I want to see on one screen (I raced with real time power, average power, distance, time & cadence).  I am a complete convert now.  You all need a Quarq.  No really.  Stop spending your money on Lululemon and buy yourself a Quarq.

My goal was to hold a range of watts that I knew I should be able to hold based on my last bike test.  I decided to hold back about 5-10 watts below that for the first 8-10 minutes to get my legs settled and ease into things.  In other words, do not go nut bar from the get go.  I knew I could hold my range of power for about an hour and didn’t want to go after it too soon.  It worked.  Once I hit 10 minutes I was ready to go and easily locked in the power.

My legs felt on top of the pedals.  It’s a feeling I can’t describe but when I’m there, the watts feel effortless.  My range of watts felt sustainable and I had great rhythm.  And roughly one pedal stroke away from being in the zone, a woman passed me.  At first I thought – is that 36 or 56 on her calf?  Then I thought – does it matter?  Go after it!  I kept her within range while trying to manage the power output.  At one point I passed her and knew that if I did that 4 more times, I would cook my legs.  I could tell by the burn and the watts. 

At the turnaround, she took off.  I kept watching my average power climb up into the middle of the range I wanted to hold and knew I needed to hold my watts over xxx to minimize the lead she was gaining on me.  I also knew that my legs were feeling ready to go harder.  It was so easy to just DO this with the Quarq.  There was no thinking or wondering IF I was going hard enough – the proof was RIGHT THERE!  I finished the bike not only feeling strong but like I had a complete success out there – I nailed what I wanted to do and my bike split was at the faster end of what I thought I could do.  I came off the bike in what I thought was 2nd place ready to run down the woman in front of me. 

Out of transition there was a fairly steep hill but then the course flattened out and was mostly shaded.  My plan was to use the Garmin to hold back then charge after it.  I do not race with a Garmin (though I think it is a phenomenal training tool, I think for some athletes it is not the best racing tool) but I wanted to try using it.  The first 2 miles I felt good – yet followed my “new” plan  (even though my gut was saying: when you feel good, run good – GO WITH IT) I held back too much based on a pace that I thought would be good for starting and then when it was time to run hard, it was almost too late in the race to go after it.  My usual run pacing plan flies in the face of  what should work but I’m learning that for whatever reason – it works for me.  And this is the beauty of athletics – there are many paths to success.  Finding the right one for YOU is your challenge in racing.

I ended up catching the woman in front of me but then at a turnaround realized there were two more which signaled more work to be done.  At that point I was giving it more but it was getting me nowhere.  Whether I was tired from the week’s training or played it too safe too early – I wasn’t making up enough ground to catch 1st and 2nd place.  My 10K split was subpar for me but I know why and can use that information to improve the next time. 

The last part of the run involved a run down 30 stairs to the beach and then a straight shot to the finish line – in dry, hot sand!  Simply put there is just no fast nor easy way to run 400 meters in the sand.  Those last 400 meters took me a very long time and when I finished all I wanted to do was get OUT of the sand and drink water but the only way to the water was…MORE SAND!

All in all I finished 3rd female, 1st in AG and 13th overall.  My goal was to finish as the top woman but here’s what I’ve learned from nearly 14 years of triathlon – what you want doesn’t always happen.  Even if you work hard.  Sometimes someone better prepared shows up.  Sometimes you fall just short of your goal.   Sometimes you give it your all and it is not enough. 

Wins are good.  But losses are what make us learn how to be a winner.   That’s not failure – that’s learning.  And that’s something a lot of athletes struggle with understanding.  Sport is not black or white.  For most of us, anyways.  It’s not “only” a success if you PR or hit your time goal or win your age group.  Those things are nice but not necessary for walking away from a race feeling like I learned something here, this was valuable.  What I learned from my race has made me that much more ready and excited for my next race – no, my next opportunity, to put it all together and see where it gets me.  Chances are I will learn something new from that experience and it will help me race better after that.  That’s the fun of racing – you learn, you build, you improve from that process of learning and building.  If you’re lucky, that process leads you to a breakthrough experience that is perfectly timed with your peak race, fitness and freshness. 

And if not? 

You keep trying. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Uncomfort Zone


About 14 years ago, I did my first triathlon.  At a local women’s race in my hometown.  Since then, the race has taken on many different names (River’s Edge, Danskin, SheRox) and seen many big names (including: Michellie Jones) and today it has settled on SheRox.

SheRox is a sprint triathlon.  People have asked me what I’m racing this year – and my answer is all short course.  Last year, I raced big, raced long and hit a lot of homeruns.  I left 2011 feeling like I did everything I set out to do and enjoyed every minute of it.  I knew it would be very difficult to top a year like that and honestly, I didn’t want to.  Sometimes I think we just need to be satisfied with our accomplishments and coast on them for awhile.  Enjoy it.  And that was why I wanted this year to be a baby year.  But no baby this year.  So I put together a schedule of short course races and bought myself all new landscaping and a paver patio! 

(it’s no baby but costing us about the same)

Why short course?  Because I did long course and did it well.  To me, racing long course is a formula – it’s pacing, nutrition and mental toughness.  You don’t race long course, you endure it better and slow down less than anyone else.  There is nothing hard about enduring.  It just takes patience and strategy. 

Short course, however, is nothing like that.  I once had a coach tell me that an Olympic peak is the hardest training he could prescribe.  This is true.  It is uncomfortable.  It does not require a lot of thinking. You can completely botch your nutrition and still finish on fumes – fast.  Done right it is very painful.  Done wrong it is still painful.  There’s no hiding from it. 

Enter: the short course race schedule with SheRox.

Every once in awhile, you need to do a race like this.  You need to take it down to the most basic level and let triathlon get real again.  We get caught up in going to these big whiz bang races where everyone has fancy equipment, everyone is wearing their most stoic race face, everyone has a coach, an aero helmet, a Garmin.  No balloons.  No tutus.  No chalk drawings on the ground to indicate TURN HERE, LINDA, THIS IS YOUR RACK!  At this race, the transition area was buzzing with camaraderie, balloons, mountain bikes.  It was gushingly pink but still yet so … green.  It was refreshing. 

Now I have raced on this course a half dozen times.  I have been to world championships.  I have stood on a start line with Andy Potts and Chrissie Wellington.  Yet there I was, a little nervous about a women’s sprint triathlon.  Why do I do this to myself, I thought?  All week I couldn’t wait to race yet the minute I got there, I couldn’t wait for it to be over.  And can you really be scared of something that lasts a little over an hour when you have several times pushed your body to the edge for over 10 hours?

It’s a whole different rodeo.  Trust me.

I arrived at transition to find one lone rack for the elite wave.  As I started setting up my stuff in transition, another elite competitor, one of five of us, comes up to me.

I just want you to know that I’m not a proI just wanted to be in the wave because my daughter’s birthday party is this afternoon and I wanted to be done early.

Gotta love an honest woman.  I assured her that I also was not pro but I liked her way of thinking. 

Jenny Garrison arrived a little while later along with the woman who won last year.  We all headed to the water around the same time for a warm up.  The water was warm so I warmed up in my speedsuit.  Something that I’m learning about short course is that you need to warm up very, very well.  I swam for 25 minutes!  After a few pick ups, I got out of the water, saw everyone in wetsuits and realized I would be silly not to take every legal advantage I could get.   More speed with less work – that’s a wetsuit, so I went to get mine.

The 5 of us lined up and started talking.  We had been joined by a young woman, 17 years old.  Jenny turns to me and says that she is all of a sudden nervous.  I tell her not to worry - most young girls do not have the muscle mass to bike well!  She said that they can usually swim and run well.  Boldly, she asks the girl what her swim pace per 100 is.  The girl says :59 per 100.  Did we really need to ask?  Jenny asks another girl what her swim pace is – and she says 1:05 per 100.  I think to myself  I am not saying my 100 pace but I do know who is going to be pulling me!

Somehow 5 women at a swim start feels like 500.  I’ve got a foot in my face and I think the 1:05 per 100 woman is trying to swim over me.  She pulls ahead and I do my best to stay on her feet or within sight.  The young girl has taken the lead.  The swim pace is hard – I remember thinking to myself “this is really uncomfortable” but I had practiced that pace with Amanda the other day at the quarry.  We did sprints to the ladder, I going as hard as I can go, nearly taking out a woman in an orange cap 3 times (3 different times but pretty sure at the end of the swim she thought I was purposefully swimming into her, once actually INTO her arms in an embrace).  All week I kept saying to myself: to get there, GO THERE!  You can’t magically arrive on race day some place that you haven’t been to in training.

The effort paid off.  I came out of the water at a 1:09 per 100 pace.  ME!  About 45 miles north of here, Jen Harrison just peed herself!  (mostly in fear, because she knows I am coming after her). It might have taken me 14 years but I feel like finally my swim is not my weakness.  And I have 2 people to thank for that: Marty and Timmy!  In the past year, I have busted my lats in their lane doing whatever it takes to not get lapped by them.  They have taught me how to swim hard – truly hard.  Not just “I think this is hard” but “I need to caffeinate before I even attempt to swim with them hard.” 

I exit the water and begin the long run to transition.  Though the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the course is designed for us to follow about 100 orange cones around the racks of 30+ waves and 1400+ women.  It was at least 400 meters from the beach to transition.  It was 80 degrees.  I was running in a full wetsuit.  Barefoot.  On pavement.  I’m learning that in short course, these transitions are everything.  It pays to do more swim to run “bricks” to get used to this feeling (and maybe I should do them in my wetsuit?).

My goal for this race was to get out of my wetsuit without embarrassing myself or getting stuck.  Last year, I did one race that was wetsuit legal.  I was out of practice!  It took ridiculous amounts of Body Glide to accomplish my goal.  Jenny and I left transition at the same time and then we took off.  I knew to beat Jenny I would have to outbike her, figuring that her giving birth to her 3rd child about 10 weeks ago (yes, 10 weeks ago) might have slowed her down?  MIGHT!?  But I also knew that once Jenny saw that 17 year old girl she was going to bike like hell on fiery wheels.  DAMMIT!  I stayed with her for a few miles before she pulled away – and then further away.  I could see the lights from the lead motorcycle but they weren’t getting any closer.  And like that I was out there – riding alone. 

This tends to happen when only 5 women do the elite wave. 

And you know what – it’s really hard to keep the pressure on yourself.  This was one of the (many) things that made me a not so good pro – I just can’t race out there by myself.  Some athletes have that animal urge to just fight, race and destroy themselves.  I don’t seem to have that switch – or if I do, I can’t flip it – yet.  Honestly this is why I’m doing short course this year – to learn more about myself, to figure out ways to get faster by seeking out new challenges, getting uncomfortable, shaking things up.

Let me tell you, 14.2 miles goes by A LOT faster than 112.  Another long run through transition and now it’s time to runBeing in 2nd place, I got a lead cyclist.  Who kept turning back to look at me – constantly.  It was a little nerve wracking.  Not to mention that she was pedaling really, really slow to keep up with me.  Come on, was I REALLY going that slow?  Can she shift into an easier gear and spin the heck out of it to give me the illusion that I’m moving faster!?  All I could hear was the ticking of her spinning wheels as she coasted while my feet were turning over like crazy trying to chase Jenny and trying to hold off whoever was behind me. 

I held on to 2nd elite overall and got a giant FlavorFlav sized medal for it.  No joke: a medal with a 6 inch circumference.  While I’m pleased with the result, I need to do a better job of racing.  You see, if there’s nothing immediately in front of me – I have a hard time pushing up to my potential.  I get complacent.  I get uninspired.  I realize this is a huge weakness of mine and I’ve yet to figure out how to fix it.  It would be much easier for me to be pleased with 2nd overall and not try to fix it.  But we need to honestly assess our performance to get better. 

I knew when I set out to do short course this year that it would be very uncomfortable.  Already I have wanted to give up and sign up for the nearest half Ironman just do to what comes so easy to me and what feels comfortable.  That’s how you know it’s working – you want OUT!  The other day, I saw someone wearing a t-shirt that said: a champion always seeks higher ground.  I want to find that higher ground or find that uncomfort zone and work there.  That is where my next big breakthrough will be!  Not in the same place I always go.  So this is my season of working my weakness – not until it necessarily becomes a strength but until I become a stronger, smarter athlete. 

But really, short course racing means more racing which means more post-race Dairy Queen. 

The truth is, I’m in this for the ice cream.

But I suspect you've known that all along. 

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Comparisons


In a little over a month, Max will be 2 years old.

I Two years marks the transition from talking in terms of “he’s xx months” to “years.”  Years.  He’s getting older, which means I’m getting older, which means soon I’ll be in my empty nest with an aging Chihuahua, a husband who walks around in a those light blue old man jeans while fiddling with something in the basement he’s been working on for…17 years…and myself with gray hair and a purple track suit.  It might not happen that rapidly but the point is that Max is growing up. 

He’s also growing mischievous.  


The photo is what happens when I leave Max under Chris’ watch for one minute.  Chris was writing a shopping list when I came into the kitchen and noticed above art work.  Creatively executed across our stainless steel dishwasher with permanent black Sharpie.  Moments like this immediately throw you into a rage of HOW and then WHERE and finally WHY.  As in: HOW did this happen?  WHERE did he get the marker?  And, upon opening the kitchen drawer in which you find six permanent black markers, WHY do we have all of these Sharpies? 

Are we planning on personally body marking the entire neighborhood!?!?

Parenthood.  Every day you think you have it under control, you’re one step ahead of him, you’ve got your eye on him when he walks, fully clothed and shoe-ed, in the kiddie pool in your backyard.  Despite what your legions of followers believe, you are not Facebooking instead of watching him.  You are sitting outside - watching him – when you momentarily do something insignificant - like blink - when disaster strikes.  It happens that quick.  He senses a disturbance in your steady gaze and – makes his move. 

This is also how you end up with deodorant smeared all over the bathroom wall. 

(though they are small, they are FAST)

Another example of damn fine parenting:  The other day, Chris had to ride 90 minutes, I had to run 50 minutes.  While he sat on the trainer, I stood at the bar in the basement with the laptop, setting up a playlist and thinking about getting on the treadmill.  We were both “watching” Max which means that we are both in the same room as him and thinking – what trouble could he POSSIBLY get into with two adults within 5 feet of him at any given time?  See – he runs by.  He’s fine.  Max loves the basement with all of its wires, boxes and Daddy items.  Anyone who thinks that kids need fancy toys need look no further than this:


You can spend 20 minutes trying to plug a set of headphones into a trainer.  And then listen desperately like a shell up to your ear swearing you heard the ocean.

I’m assembling a set of tunes that will take me through 10K intervals when I feel something on my leg.  Know that many times in parenting you feel things on your leg.  Kids are obsessed with parent legs – for sitting on, hiding behind or hanging off of.  But this time, it felt different.  Max was rubbing something on my leg.  It took a few seconds but when I finally looked down I realized something wasn’t right.  And at that moment, Max flung whatever he was just holding on to the floor.  And then ran away.  This is built in 2-year old fight or flight mechanism – rather than fight against the parental throes of WHERE DID YOU GET THAT _____ (sharpie marker, screwdriver), they just flee.  In this case, Max fled the scene but left behind a piece of….

Poo.

My child was rubbing my leg with a piece of dog poop.

I did what any normal parent would do – I nearly piss myself laughing.  Then horror and the thought process sets in: HOW did that just happen?  Better yet – HOW long was he holding a piece of poo?  And WHERE did he find a piece of poop?  Next, it cuts to the core of my housekeeping abilities.  WHY is there dog poop in my house? 

At least once a day, I am faced with existential issues like this – am I really a good parent?  Am I doing everything I can to make him a well-mannered, smart and independent adult?  More importantly, do I really live in squalor? 

I consider myself a confident person.  Not much shakes my belief in who I am.  Yet parenting does almost every day.  I’ve not yet mastered the ability of taking belief in myself into belief in my parenting abilities.  I’m constantly comparing myself to other mothers – are they talking more to their child?  Are their snacks healthier?  Are they paying more attention?  And wondering if I’m doing everything I can to be the best parent I can be to create the best person Max can be.  It’s a doubt that sometimes leaves me feeling unsatisfied and frustrated with myself – I can’t do anything right, I’m not perfect, I’m the most distracted uninvolved parent in the world.

It’s negative self-talk at its worst.  It’s not that I expected parenting to be like puppies shitting rainbows (I’ve been waiting WEEKS to use that phrase in context, and let me tell you, if my puppy indeed shat rainbows I would not have spent 5 minutes of my life wiping puppy shit off my leg), but I expected to feel a lot more sure of myself with it.  After years of teaching kids and teaching other adults how to teach kids, I realize all of that education was bullshit.  Like many things in life, you have to learn your own way and build yourself up along that way to build confidence and competency at anything.  It's not something you can learn from "education."

I have to stop myself from comparing what I’m doing to what other moms are doing.  I have to stop worrying that there might be something better – a better meal, a better way to do bath time, a better way to improve Max’s talking.  I wonder if these worries are exclusive to women.  Chris seems to move about in parenting with ease and awkward grace.  Max and Chris together is like a duststorm moving at 120 mph through my house yet at the end of the day – they both seem quite satisfied.  At the end of the day, I find myself questioning – did I do it right?  Did he enjoy himself?  Is he really connected to me?  Are these worries exclusive to mothers only?  Is worrying about and wanting the best for our child part of our motherly genetic makeup? Is self-doubt ingrained into women?

These are the thoughts that cause my space outs in parenting – those moments where your eyes glaze over and the next thing you know, your kid is nearing the street when they were just standing right next to you.  Like training, you can overthink parenting and overthinking always has consequences.  It’s easier to recognize than fix.  And sometimes when you’re in the middle of it, you can’t stop thinking enough to see the way out – which is usually right next to you.

Parenting is a lot like training.  The results are not immediately apparent.  I’m not sure if what I’m doing now is going to pay off – all I can do is trust the process and be confident in my abilities to execute that process.  Like training approaches, there are dozens of different ways you can succeed in parenting.  There is no formula.  It’s art and it’s science.  The more I try to change who I am as a parent, the more frustrated I become.  I’ve realized the best way to parent is to just be me.  I read somewhere recently that confidence is courage with ease.  It takes courageousness to be who you are, but when you do that you feel what can only be described as ease.  It feels right to be me.


So IJ’ve learned to put on my parenting blinders and parent away – not worrying about anyone else’s training plan.  This takes a lot of confidence.  But it works.  Honestly, it’s not lack of preparation, lack of talent, or anything else that usually stands in the way of our success – it’s distraction that takes us away from our end goal.  It’s hard to sustain the focus required to succeed when you’re always looking at someFone else’s plate.  It’s hard to believe when you’re always inviting self-doubt and negativity.

I’ve strayed from parenting to training – which is the messy mix of my life these days.  The two cross paths constantly.  I’ve realized that as I sit at the sandbox and judge myself for not being IN the sandbox with my kid like the other mom sitting there – I’ve just sabotaged myself.  In training, the other mom at the sandbox – or the distraction – is social media or chatter at the local training session.  For as much as I enjoy social media and training with others, as I get deeper into race season, the more I need to step away from it.  I find the less I look at it or listen to it, the less my mind fills with the nonsense thoughts that fill our head as we process and judge everyone else’s random thoughts.  Even if I don’t care what anyone else is doing, the very fact that I attend to it means it needs to be processed and then filed away.  That’s a lot of mental work.  I don’t think any of us need that – the training and recovering from the training is enough work in itself.

Whether it’s parenting or training, you rarely need to change the plan, simply follow it.  Give it time.  If it’s not working for you, you’ll know months from now.  At the end of a year or the season.  So quickly we want to fix or change things to make ourselves immediately feel better.  When all that we had to do to actually ‘be’ better is stay the path.  I know in my heart there is a reason for the way I parent.  It’s not the same as anyone else but it works for me.  I believe the same about my training.  Now I just need to spill over into other areas in my life and enjoy the empowerment of confidence.