Monday, September 24, 2012

Long Course Nationals


This past weekend, I raced the USAT National Long Course championship. 

For the entire season, I focused my training on short course, and really enjoyed myself.  The training was a fresh challenge: hard, short, fun.  But I wanted to finish the season with a half Ironman because I absolutely love the distance.  It favors those who can strategically pace and fuel themselves all while going a moderate tempo.  I have a solid history of success at this distance and wanted to build on that.  I won my age group at long course nationals in 2002 and 2004.  I won the overall title in 2005, 2006 and 2007.  Truth be told, I wanted to go there this year and win overall for the fourth time.

After short course nationals I had about 3 weeks of work before I needed to taper.  Since May, I had done a long ride of about 2½ hours and a long run of about 75-90 minutes every weekend.  These were nearly half Ironman distances for me so I had done the required miles but at much lower than race intensity.  For three weeks, then, I had to lock in half Ironman specific intensity.  Basically I repeated the same race specific workouts every 3-4 days.  I did not swim, bike or run one more mile than was necessary.  I believe in doing the least amount of training to yield the performance that will leave you the most satisfied.  That meant 10-12 hours a week of consistent training.
 
Back in July, I started coaching myself.  This was a risk I was ready to take.  I really liked working with Kurt – he did the thinking for me and guided me to great results.  But it was time to trust myself and my experience.  The difficulty of self-coaching is maintaining the objectivity and clarity you need to deliver yourself to peak performance.  So with Jennifer as someone to bounce ideas off of and keep tabs on my daily feedback, I laid out my training plan as I would with any other athlete.  Coaching myself was empowering.  Overall, I was feeling great about my training.

Then, the Monday of race week arrived.  I was sick. 

I have never, ever been sick the week of a race.  But I have also never tapered with a sick 2 year old in the house.  Whatever he had, I caught it.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  Parenting sure does have its privileges!

By Tuesday, I wasn’t feeling much better.  I got worried.  So I told myself what I would have told one of my athletes: I didn’t have to feel good until Saturday and not a moment sooner.  Nothing I would do until that point would change the weeks, months of hard work behind me.  Most importantly, being sick would not change what I was going there to do this weekend: win.

Tapering for a half Ironman is never easy.  I was feeling a little better each day but still blowing my nose wondering how I would actually breathe on race day.  My lower back was aching.  I felt fat, sluggy and apathetic.  The day before the race, we spent very little time on our feet, doing only what was necessary – checking in our bikes and driving the bike course.  The rest of the day we spent either laying in our beds or eating. 

How much?  Three pancakes (with butter & syrup), two eggs, breakfast potatoes, a CLIF bar, a white bagel, some peanut butter, ½ a bag of pretzels, a bottle of Gatorade, some salted almonds, a banana, a small bowl of spaghetti, some grilled chicken, marinara sauce and bread.  Thirteen years of racing and many wins later I know all that I need to know about carbo loading in the few days before your peak race – it works.  

Race morning I woke up.  And you know what?

I FELT AMAZING. 

The race started shortly after the sunrise, around 7:15 am.  With the water level being so low, it was an in water start with all of the men and women in one wave.  My plan was to stick behind Jennifer but she chose a start position too far in the middle.  I lined up farther right for a straighter shot to the first buoy.  Within seconds I was surrounded by men.

Somewhere near the (SMALLEST EVER) first buoy, I noticed the straight arm recovery of Jennifer swimming up alongside me.  I hopped on her feet until she started swimming off course.  I made a quick right back towards the buoys and found a group of men.  I had swam only once in the past week but felt a really good rhythm.  Until a man behind me confused drafting with mounting – three times!  For crying out loud, get off of me!

I could sense that the swim was long.  Sure enough, I stood up and my watch read a time a few minutes slower than usual.  I ran as quickly as I could through the red clay and into transition.  Wetsuit strippers yanked off my suit and I got to my bike.  Jennifer was just leaving with her bike which confirmed what I suspected – I wasn’t slow, the swim was just long.  Anytime I’m out of the water within 1 minute of Jennifer I know I’ve had a good swim!

My plan for the bike was what I always do: take the first 20-30 minutes relatively easy just like you would in a warm up for any other ride.  This allows your legs and stomach to settle into the ride.  The course was perfect for this – the first few miles were mostly downhill with tailwind.  By 20 minutes, I felt ready to go.  I had my range of watts that I wanted to work within.  I noticed, though, that I was holding great speed on lower effort.  So I went with it.  I train with power and race with it.  Yet you must be open to adapting your strategy.  If you’re out there getting speed on less effort – go with it, especially in tailwind. 

Another woman passed me who was 41.  A few minutes later, I passed Jennifer and told her not to let that other woman get too far ahead of her.  Jennifer passed me.  A few minutes later I passed her.  Meanwhile, I kept the other woman in sight.  I noticed that she was a bigger rider, better suited for powering through a flat bike course but not for running.  This run would also be hot, putting her at more of a disadvantage.  Not only that, but I noticed she was out of the saddle climbing on every hill.  And these weren’t even hills.  They were rollers that required you to shift once but stay aero. I knew she was overworking it.

We made a left turn on to a long road.  At times it was bumpy, at times rolling but still mostly tailwind.  The bumps and potholes were very well marked and the course itself was heavily patrolled by course marshals.  I kept my effort steady and kept the fueling/salt/hydration going down.  We hit the half way mark and I picked up the pace.  At the turnaround, I noticed a few women behind Jennifer but none looked like good runners.  At that moment, I knew would be able to run my way to the front of the race which was both exciting and frightening!  I just had to minimize the time I let the first woman put on me.

The way back was a little windier but I was able to pick up my effort, power and felt great.  It felt like any other training ride.  I do most of my long rides solo, aero, practicing race day fueling and pacing.  When I get into the race, it feels like any other day of training.  I know exactly what to expect out there – the watts, the pace, no surprises, no guesswork.  Experience is confidence.  My power slowly crept up but was on the low end of the range I gave myself.  I didn’t worry or try to push harder.  I kept telling myself to bank the energy and save it for the run. 

Before I knew it, I was rolling in to transition.  The bike to run transition is always painful.  And I always seem to forget this part when I sign up for a half Ironman.  My lower back hurts and my hip flexors are barking.  I think to myself: I HAVE TO RUN HOW FAR ON THESE LEGS?  But I made a quick transition and started running.  The run course was two loops with a series of twisting pavement paths around the lake.  There was not an ounce of shade and at this point, the day was warming up to 93 degrees with some wind and that dry Oklahoma heat. 

The first 3 miles felt bad.  Imagine how bad you think it will feel and then multiply that by 10.  THAT BAD.  It has been over a year since my last half Ironman and it’s this bad feeling I tend to forget.  But it didn’t matter. How I felt didn’t change what I needed to do.  I focused on my form and just kept moving forward out there.  I took water at every aid station and followed my salt and fueling.  Keep this up and all of a sudden you find yourself at mile 1, mile 2. 

I kept seeing the mile markers for the full Ironman running simultaneously and thinking – it could be worse.  You could be at mile 20.

People often ask what I think about when racing.  Many thoughts pop into my head – both positive and negative.  I don’t give much value to either.  Negative thoughts – this hurts, this is hot, I’m tired - don’t need to be validated.  I let them come and go.  Only you can give them power and act upon them.  Positive thoughts are nice but I don’t force them.  I do not believe in “thinking” positive.  In fact, most of the time the only thing I’m thinking of is strategy and the process.  Stay in the moment!  And my strategy was to run as fast as possible until I caught the woman ahead of me.  I had no idea how much time she had on me only that I had to find her.  I kept moving forward with that as my strategy and by the time I hit mile 3…

My legs felt FABULOUS.

Just then – I spot her, ahead in the pink shorts.  It takes me a half mile to catch her and when I make the pass, I pass with authority, picking up the pace knowing that if someone wants to go with me it’s going to hurt them.  I hit the 5 mile mark at under 35 minutes and think to myself – keep pushing.  I’d know more at the turnaround.  I’m flying by men, by aid stations, grabbing water, trying to stay on top of hydration.  Mouth is dry – drink more.  Head is hot – put water on it.  I hit the turnaround and it’s time to do math.  By the time I see her on my second loop, I’ve already put 4 minutes on her.  Behind her, the next woman is 8 minutes back.  At that moment, I realize I am about to go on a 6.55 mile victory lap. 

And I won’t lie – that feeling was probably the best.  Ever.

Being pushed in the back end of a half Ironman is painful.  Today there would be none of that.  I backed off the pace and took it all in, all of it.  True, I could have kept going at a strong pace but I remembered something Jennifer told me many years ago: don’t go to the well if you don’t have to.  I’d rather recover quicker from this race and then go after some fall run races.  You don’t get many of these opportunities where you don’t have to work for the last half of the race.  So I enjoyed every mile of it. 

I crossed the finish line and no one noticed me.  Not the photographer.  Not the race announcer.  The race announcer came up to me afterwards and apologized for missing me!  The photographer asked me to go across the finish line again so he could snap my picture!  There was no fanfare, no confetti, no clowns, no party.  My fourth time winning this championship.  I didn’t need a party.  The feeling alone was sufficient.  I felt my season was complete and I nailed it.  More importantly, it gave me great satisfaction to know that by trusting myself and doing the work I knew I needed to do – I got there.   

And now the off season begins.  Already I have some pretty hefty goals: eat dessert every night, stay up until 11 pm, no oatmeal for breakfast for at least a month, limit my vegetables and no structured workouts.  In fact, Chris asked what’s your workout for tomorrow and I just…laughed.  I’m looking forward to hopping into some 5Ks and enjoying the best time of the year – autumn – with my family.

Thank you to everyone who helped me along the way this year.  As I was out there racing, I thought of something my brother told me after his band opened for The Head and The Heart and Blitzen Trapper in Seattle.  He said, "it's really goofy to think that I get to do things like this regularly...I have to pinch myself now and again."  That's my feeling, exactly.  Thank you to all who make that possible.  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Midwestern ODD SC - Part II

Madison.

Saturday night, we drove up to Madison through a wild late summer Midwestern storm.  We found a last minute hotel nearby the race site, got some good sleep to recover from the race and get rested for what would be a long day of spectating.

This is my tenth time spectating an Ironman.  Experience has taught me that the Ironman spectathlon is one of the most arduous endurance events.  Longer than your wedding day, longer than most women are in labor, pushing you to the limits of fatigue, pain and hunger.  Your feet hurt.  Your eyes go blurry.  You have not eaten anything but meals from Starbucks.  By 2 pm, you realize that doing the event might have been easier.  At least you’d be supported by spectators and aid stations. 

Instead the spectathlete is frantically searching over 2000 faces for that one face that they know, thinking of and then shouting meaningful things at just the right moment, emphatically lying you look great when really their athlete looks about 2 gels shy of death, timing their presence at not one nor two but at least three different locations often separated by miles that must be covered by car – in loads of traffic – or by foot – which has an upper limit to speed that I had to remind Lori of many times, as in, I raced yesterday and simply cannot walk any faster, SLOW DOWN! 

But I love Ironman spectating because you see it all.  From expert pros to the complete beginner.  From high end gear to the hybrid bike.  From 112 miles of calories crammed into two bottles and a Bento box to this:  


This, folks, is what Ironman is all about.  THAT person.  Who is less about aerodynamics and more about just finishing the damn thing.  And yes, they finished.  In a little over 14 hours.

We make the brisk walk to the swim start before making our way up the Helix, the parking structure which swimmers run up in order to get to the changing rooms and transition.  The Helix is lined deep with spectators, dogs, children, dayglo pink t-shirts reading Team Beks Back For More! – all exploding in cheers, hoots and cowbell.  Swimmers run up a few at a time then in large packs around the 1:05 to 1:15 mark.  Every athlete is beaming with smiles and confidence.  My athletes run by – some with wet hugs, other with high fives, yet another who went to high five me, missed and took out a spectator. 

I’m telling you, spectating is dangerous.

Next, we drive out to Verona for the bike.  The Ironman Wisconsin bike course is one of the most beautiful slices of middle America you’ll find with lush rolling hills, buttery yellow corn, rustic barns and – of course - cows.  It’s also relentlessly hilly, deceptively difficult and challenging to pace for even the most patient athlete.  A definite rhythm crusher as you’re either going up, down, making a turn or finally settling into aero.  I’ve cursed this course many times.  I’ve quit the sport on loop 2 around Garfoot.  I’ve made the rule that I never, ever ride it in May – history teaching me that if I do, I will emerge 80 miles later covered in hives.   

Each year, I stand on Midtown Hill, one of the three “bigger” hills on the course.  The hill is long and steep enough that the athletes are going slow enough to see you and even have a conversation with you.  By the time we arrive, the pro men are riding up the hill.  We stand by mile 90. 

It takes only a few minutes for me to decide that drinking coffee by the mile 90 sign is far better than riding by it.    

The hill fills in with other spectators.  Entire families sitting on the side of the road wearing matching shirts, including one on their dog, training clubs with tents, three guys sitting in lawn chairs telling every girl she’s hot or she loves this hill.  On this hill we see it all.  We see a guy painfully slow, stop and then fall to the ground screaming with cramps.  We see a teenager riding a bike akin to what I rode in my third trimester of pregnancy, looking about as comfortable.  We see several athletes walking their bikes.  We see THAT GUY who will by lap two will regret not throwing on the 27. 

The spectators are crazy – they are cheering, roaring, there are bullhorns, cowbells, vuvuzelas.  There are costumes, signs, motorcycles, officials, traffic coming down the hill as bikers go up the hill.  I’ll let pictures explain the rest.


There are almost no words for a photo like this.  But somehow I managed to find an explanation.  Wonder twins activate into shape of giant two-headed orange panda. 


Iron wisdom.  


What impresses me most is that this guy was walking around in a speedo when it was 50 degrees.  It was cold on that hill! 

Soon after, Erik arrives.  Erik was in my Well-Fit training group in 2009, becoming the athlete who smiled the entire day and – at mile 19 – shouted to me I FEEL INCREDIBLE (read more about it here).  Erik joined our group again this year but some leftover pain from back surgery halted his training.  When life gives you pain, some people quit, others take the opportunity to dress up like a clown.  When he told me he was going to dress up like a clown, I told him that some people (myself included) are really, really scared of clowns.  Seeing a clown at mile 90 would have frightened the crap out of me.  I realize that after 5 hours of bars/gels/salt tabs, scaring the crap out is pretty easy but still…

My warning didn’t stop him. 

Erik staged himself at the the bottom of Midtown Hill and stood in a bush, popping up and blowing his horn.  If I saw this clown while biking, I would have turned around and ridden clear to Minneapolis forgetting all about Ironman.  

Since the race, I’ve seen talk of the clown on Beginner Triathlete and the Daily Mile.  I’ll apologize on his behalf for any psychological damage he may have caused to athletes.  I’d also like to give a fair warning for anyone who signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2013.  Come Midtown Hill, you might just see a clown.

After a few hours on the hill, we headed back to State Street.  State Street is filled with restaurants, cute stores, coffee shops, oodles of college co-eds who have no idea what this Iron-craziness is that has invaded their town.  It’s easy to see your runner at least 8 to 10 times with the two loop course.  I found my second wind in a grande Americano and cheered like crazy.  With the weather being perfect – and I mean perfect with temperatures starting in the low 50s and only climbing into the low 70s by late afternoon with some wind but nothing worse than we ever have here in the Midwest – I’ve never seen so many people running the marathon!

We make a few visits to the finish line to congratulate those who finished in daylight.  Walking back towards State Street, we catch a glimpse of this.

 
The clown is robbing an aid station.  When confronted, he tells us that he paid for this water, then blows his horn in discontent.  Soon after, Veronica arrives and I snap a picture of 3 training group alumnis, Lori, Erik and Veronica.  At this point, Erik (the clown), asks if I have anything to help him remove the make up.  Negative.  But I tell him it takes a brave man and heck of an endurance athlete to wear clown make up for over 15 hours.   

Here's a picture of Lori who can finally answer the question, which is more difficult - Ironman or spending 72 hours straight with Liz?  Erik who, after Veronica said, we left your beer at the table, is a sad clown.  And Veronica, who is my go to doctor for all things Ironman gastroenterology.  

Shortly after this picture, an official Ironman event staff asked us to step away from the aid station.  I don't blame her.  That fucking clown is scary!

Next, I put myself at mile 12 (or 25) and did my best to find faces in the darkness.  My eyes are tired.  My feet are tired.  My legs are heavy.  At this point, athletes have that look of empty in their eyes, like they are alone on their iron island.  Late night Ironman can be lonely.  But leave it to the crowd to cheer athletes up.  A nearby spectator who I assume has been overserved is dancing in front of the athletes and chasing them down, insisting they give her high fives.  I admire her ability to not only hold her liquor but also still run after 14 hours of spectating. 

Lori and I are fading.  There’s still a long drive home and work the next day.  We depart Madison around 9:30 pm.  Finally, I’m home at midnight, exhausted.  Ironed out.  I reach into my drawer to find a t-shirt to sleep in and pull out an Ironman finisher shirt.  I throw it on the floor, refusing anything else ironman today.  I reach in for another shirt, to my dismay it also says Ironman finisher.  I accept defeat, put on the damn shirt and crawl into bed.  Laying there, I hear the ringing of cowbells, the shouts of a man echoing down State Street.  

But it's all worth it when at the end of the day, you see this:


Or, the next day, an athlete sends you this:  


The next morning I wake up.  I feel like I did Ironman.  My legs are swollen.  My feet hurt.  I am completely purged of my need to do/talk/see anything triathlon for at least a few days.  But 11:58 am rolls around and I remember the task I have been put up to.  I open up Active.com and wait for 12 pm. 

At 12:02 pm, I have signed up for an Ironman.

Registering my husband.

(fooled ya, didn’t I?)

He told me he wanted to do Ironman, briefly, a few weeks ago.  Whether he was serious or kidding just got lost in translation along with a $650 entry fee.  And a promise that next summer he will get very, very close to his bike saddle.  Myself?  I’ll be cheering for him on the Helix, Midtown and State Street. 

But I draw the line at wearing clown make-up!

Congratulations to all of the Ironman Wisconsin finishers!

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Midwestern ODD SC - Part I


This weekend, I drove over 600 miles in what can only be described as a Midwestern odyssey.

But the title is ODD SC because anyone who knows us knows that my husband’s dream machine mini-van, which we had before our child, is a Honda Odyssey with a vanity plate – his idea – that says ODD SC.

It’s ok to laugh with me and at him.  It helps making the pain of driving around a mini van with vanity plates a little better.

Part 1:  

A Friday departure for a sprint race in Indiana.  Van loaded up with triathlon gear, all of my fast toys and one of my athletes, Lori.  We drove into Indiana for The Mighty Mississinewa Triathlon.

Go ahead and say that three times fast.

Somewhere off of I-65, the road stretches out beyond faded fields of corn to some of the most beautiful Midwestern scenery deep within Indiana.  If not for the GPS, we had no idea where we were, it was like being blindfolded, spun around, driving a few miles past the bar that has jello wrestling on Friday then told to make a turn on County Road 625 Southeast when you’re really going west.  

And, yes, it took everything we had to resist the idea of jello wrestling instead of triathloning.  It's like being able to eat the lake you're swimming through!

The race was organized by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources in a gorgeous recreation area surrounding Mississinewa Lake.  We picked up our packet in the main office, which included a variety of taxodermic creatures you might find in the area.  We really should have camped, it would have been more convenient, cheaper and we could have gotten up close and personal with those animals we saw in the office.    

That evening, a fierce storm moved through the area.  I haven’t seen a weather radar that lit up in red and yellow since I did Powerman Alabama a few years ago and Tory’s dad told me where the basement shelter was in his house. 

But in the morning, we awoke to clear and dry conditions.  It was a 30 minute drive to the race site in which we got to watch the sun wake up over the landscape.  It was beautiful.  Temperatures were absolutely perfect – low 50s.  I told Lori if she couldn’t go fast on a day like this, she couldn’t go fast.  All summer we’ve been training through a blanket of 90 degrees.  This felt glorious.

Race morning went by quickly.  The lake was calm and the water was perfect.  I did a long warm up and watched the first two waves go off.  For my wave, I lined up close to the buoys – not my preferred start position but with the swim being only 500 yards, I didn’t want to overswim it and knew that it would be at least until the first buoy before I might catch the next wave and at that point, I could swim wide if needed. 

Lori, who was in a later wave, said I bolted at the start.  This is true.  I’ve been focusing more on getting a strong, clean start.  In a short race, every second counts.  I took off as hard as I could and noticed a women to my left but quickly dropped her.  At that point, I was at the first buoy and knew I was in the lead.

I caught the wave in front of me and then a lot of the next wave.  How I outswam some of these men by 4 minutes in less than 500 yards is beyond me.  I was flying by swimmers and felt superb.  I ended up having the second fastest swim time of the day, men and women!  Jennifer Harrison just SQUEALED!

The run to transition included a run up the beach then up a grass hill.  It was long!  I’ve also been working on transitions, tired of wasting time there!  I sprinted up the hill.  It was hard, as it should be.  I’ve been doing more running before the bike and it really helps in situations like this.  I transitioned quick and was on the road.

We previewed the bike course the night before and knew it was a mix of flat and rolling.  Wind would be an issue on the way back.  Until then, it felt like a lot of tailwind so I put my head down and pedaled.  I was passing a lot of men and figured I was gaining a nice lead on any women.  I just kept going after another man then another until I found myself riding into the wind in the last few miles.  Before I knew it, I was running my bike into transition.

I thought I had a lead, until I saw the other woman entering transition.  I had spotted her earlier in the morning, actually Lori pointed her out.  You don’t show up to the local sprint tri with a custom disc wheel not looking to win!  Sure enough, she was right there.  RIGHT THERE!  47 seconds later, I was out of transition running. 

The first part of the run was a straight stretch along a rolling broken asphalt road.  I suspected the woman was not a strong runner but still wanted to start at a pace so fast that if she tried to go with it, it would hurt her more than me.  I TOOK OFF.  About a ½ mile into it, a group of spectators said I was the first woman and they cheered loudly.  I listened for them to cheer on the next woman – and noticed it was about 30 seconds later.  I was putting a sizeable distance between us, I just had to maintain it.  By the time I hit the mile mark, I wanted to stop and throw up. 

Right at that moment, it was time to take a right turn into a section of single track through the woods.  It was wet, bumpy, twisty, hard to maintain momentum and my legs were starting to hurt.  I stayed light on my feet and kept the pressure on myself to keep pushing.  

The trail dumped us out on a road that ran alongside the bikers and went straight into what was now a pretty stiff wind.  At this moment, my legs started hurting even worse.  Every step ached.  At moments like this, the best thing you can do is stay the path.  Keep running!  In another ½ mile you could feel amazing or feel the same – in either case, you are still ½ mile closer to the finish line!  

Running into the wind was, well, annoying.  I thought about my long run last weekend when the last 7 miles were directly into the wind and told myself that’s exactly why you do that in training.  One mile into the wind right now was nothing like 7 miles into the wind at the end of 15 miles.  With the pace at tempo descend.  

The last part of the run went back into the woods – more trails, a 20 foot wide deep puddle, and then a sign that said stairs.  Stairs?  Yes, stairs that descended to a bridge that I nearly slide out over, mud, grass and finally – FINALLY – what felt like the longest 3/4 mile stretch of road that went across another bridge, down the road and into the finish line. 

I finished 1st woman and including men – 6th overall!  When 2nd place crossed the finish line, I thanked her for keeping the pressure on me.  She informed me that I took her record down (she had won the race 3 times in the past!), I broke the course record by over 2 minutes!  When I walked away, she said to someone that little girl took my record down!  Now that I’m over 35, I greatly appreciate any time anyone wants to call me a little girl!  

It was a well-run, fair, fun and challenging race where I got to experience tri rockstar for the day.  They even had prizes for the top 3 overall and AG winners (you got to "shop" on a table of prizes).  The DNR staff were very professional, showing me yet again that you don’t need a lot of glitz and glam to do a race RIGHT.  I love the feel of the smaller races, no nonsense, done by 11 am and the best part?  Free showers after the race.  They weren’t glamorous but after doing enough Ragbrais, I could shower in a spigot and walk away feeling totally refreshed.

We drove back home, shopping (garden art) and drinking (coffee) our way back across Indiana so I could spend some time with Max before meeting up again in the late evening to drive up to Madison for Ironman Wisconsin for Part 2 of our Midwestern ODD SC.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The Other Side


It struck me the other day: the problem with parenting is that it’s the one job where doing a bad job can have really, really bad consequences. 

I know, I know.  I’m talking about my kid again.  I realize this might be disappointing.  When will she talk about triathlon again?  Soon.  This weekend I’m racing a sprint and spectating an Ironman.  Safe to say by Sunday at 11:59 pm I will be bursting with triathlon stories and at least one report of a competitor napping in a bus stop on State Street (true story).

But back to parenting. The problem is that parenting is a trap for perfectionism.  You live on the edge of I can’t do it half right, it’s got to be all right or my kid will be that kid, maladjusted, unhealthy, dependent, weird, living on a diet of cheese puffs and Sesame Street.

Some of you may have been that kid and have gone on to lead very productive adult lives.  If that is the case, I do not want to hear about it.

Right now, we’re having lunch.  Max is eating shredded parmesan cheese (don’t ask) while watching assorted Elmo sing alongs on You Tube.  He’s become addicted to “Mel-mo.”  Walks around the house at least once a day shouting MELMO!  How Sesame Street can hook a 2 year old into a red, furry puppet is a mystery.  How I will survive the next 2 to 3 years of these songs without banging my head repeatedly into the fireplace may just be my greatest feat of endurance sport. 

(if you haven’t heard REM’s rendition of Happy, Furry Monsters, click HERE.  Warning: do not click this is you are about to go off and do something monotonous like a 60 mile ride or a 10 mile run - like Call Me Maybe this song has freakish ability to get stuck in your head with no escape)

Parenting.  All of my jobs, I’ve loved it the most yet at the same time feared every day at the office.  The office is never clean enough.  My co-workers are selfishly driven by meeting their own needs – food, kibble, blankets, milk, MELMO.  They leave crumbs everywhere.  There is Play Doh squished into everything.  They have no regard for my need for peace, quiet and at least a few hours without asking, did you make poo-poo?  Sometimes, they stand in the corner by the window grunting, red-faced while denying that question.  As if I were stupid.  As if I didn’t have a masters degree which is so very, very useful, when I realize that kid in the corner is shitting me.

Literally.

My support staff is out for 9 hours of the day.  When he comes home, he’s not in the mood to hear about it. Not how I somehow managed to mow the lawn while simultaneously watching the kid and not running him over with the mower.  Not how I just washed/folded/put away a giant load of towels right before Max dumped a Mr. Potato Head full of toilet water all over the bathroom.  I feel like the things I do – though menial and tedious – deserve not only acknowledgement but a full blown party celebrating the fact that I kept him alive for another day.  Which comes down to this: I want fucking balloons to drop from the ceiling, party horns, confetti AND cupcakes saying CONGRATS!  YOU KEPT HIM ALIVE!  YOU DONE GOOD TODAY!

(or just a gold star?  maybe?)

When I wrote this, we were one week out from the start of preschool.  I was tapering.  Making a giant list of things I will do with my alone time that include: showering without watching one of my personal possessions “accidentally” get dropped into the toilet, going to the car without chasing my child into the street (boy can run!), coffee shop without my kid touching every single ceramic mug on the shelf (must they keep two dozen of those things RIGHT at kid height!?). 

The other night, I went to preschool orientation. This was different that preschool open house.  Think race registration vs. prerace meeting.  Race registration is tolerable – you see some friends, you pick up some free stuff.  Prerace meeting is where everyone hears what they already know and others ask stupid questions. 

I know, I know there’s no such thing as a stupid question.  But ask yourself: have I ever heard a stupid question?  Yes.  The answer is yes, so can we all just get over it already and stop kidding ourselves!?

Open house was much of the same. We learned how to drop our children off.  They’ve convinced me that they can unload 100 cars in 10 minutes very much like I’ve convinced myself I can run a sub 5-minute mile.  We learned about the book sale.  Then we learned about snacks.  You get a shopping list and then have to go shopping for classroom snacks.  It is a very specific list.  And, most importantly, nothing can be processed in a factory that has so much uttered the word…nut.

Nut allergies.

My heart goes out to these kids.  And their parents.  Imagine a life without peanut butter.  Almost like a life without coffee.  SSH!!  Don’t ever say that again, Liz.  And as much as I respect that we need to make accommodations for nut allergies, what about MY allergies.  

WHAT ABOUT ME.  

Here we go again.  The undervalued parent is speaking out.  It’s all about me, every one.  You see, I’m allergic to ragweed, cats and stupid people.  No really.  Every time I’m in a room with stupid people my eyes itch and I get this feeling in my throat like I’m going to say something like SHUT THE "F" UP ALREADY!  Stupid people are everywhere.  Internet forums, chatting up politics on Facebook, driving below the speed limit, waiting in line for coffee then getting to the front of the line with no idea of what they want! To these people, I have a LIFE THREATENING ALLERGY.  If I come across them I wish to be injected with something that makes them go away. 

Can I wear a bracelet saying that?

This really has nothing to do with nut allergies.  I completely understand, my niece has a nut allergy.  My other niece has food allergies. With all due respect, I know it’s a very hard life.  It’s just that – our world has changed.  The world of school and parenting has changed.  We are hypervigilant, careful and prepared. Does that make us better?  I don’t know. But as I watched the preschool director hold up her iPhone and explain that we could email her any time of the day I thought to myself – is that really what we all need?  Better yet, is that what she needs? 

Times have changed, haven’t they?

I look around at the other parents.  It strikes me that we are all the same age, wearing thirtysomething faces.  They are all just like me.  Just a few years ago they were fun, spontaneous and never left the house with day old hair and running shorts as an outfit for the day.  Now we are here.  I think back to when we were all in school, circa the 80s, when important things were communicated on paper.  When calling in sick really meant you picked up the phone.  When you could eat a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every single day.  I realize that the world is changing.  I am changing.  I look around and it hits me that I am now on the other side.  It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting next to my mom, in a giant auditorium like this, listening to someone tell her important things. 

I wonder sometimes if we hadn’t become parents if I would still think of myself as the kid.  Never growing old, never … growing up?  As I listen to the director, I realize that I now have responsibility.  The huge responsibility of my child.  For now there will be a shopping list I need to follow but in a few years, it will be helping with homework.  God help him if he brings home math.  There will be field trips, musical instruments and maybe a semester abroad.  I am responsible for turning this little person into a man.  This is a huge responsibility. More so than making sure I let Boss back in from making a poo each morning.  This little man of mine will one day be in the work force.  He will one day be a father. 

I think sometimes about what I want for Max.  I want him to be healthy, obviously, but I want to raise him to be confident, considerate and personally responsible.  Every day I try to figure out the formula for how to do that.  I think he needs to sit to eat and pick up his toys before bed.  I think he needs to learn that his clothes go in the hamper.  Chris has his own thoughts about parenting.  For Chris, keeping Max alive each evening is a roaring success.  Nevermind if his dirty clothes are left on the floor.  I try to figure out what is more important: having fun or having a sense of responsibility.  Is there a balance between learning how to live life and just living it. 

These are the more philosophical questions I consider about parenting when I get dangerously close to the bottom of my coffee cup.  

Moment of silence, folks.  My mug is now empty.  

*sad*

These days I look in the mirror and realize there are small lines around my eyes and if I don’t stop intensely looking at things I am going to have permanent marks in between my brows.  I always wondered what makes parents look older.  Sleepless nights?  Tantrums?  It is worry.  The worry of wondering if what I’m doing today, every day, is going to make this little person a success in the future.  Am I doing the right thing?  Is it enough?   

The answer to this question is: I don’t know.  I might have to dive deep to the bottom of a few more cups of coffee before I find it.  But I do know one thing.  I might not be the perfect parent but I am always better dressed than this:


I snapped this at the park while Max was playing in the sandbox.  I apologize in advance if you know or if you are this woman.  And if you are, you have some serious explaining to do. Forgive me while I go all Suri's Burn Book on you folks, but I ask you: where do you buy an orange adult-sized onesie with a long metal zipper down the back, the worst panty lines I’ve ever seen and matching lipstick.  I have no explanation for this outfit other than: 

circus couture

(which doesn't surprise me, because if you're going to do circus style in Naperville, you better do it well)

When I find myself at the park encountering situations like this, I think to myself, I’m ahead of the pack.  Even with my worst bedhead and old Brooks running shorts, I have a substantial lead that makes me think me and my kid – we’re all right.  

My kid and I are gonna be ok.