Sunday, July 14, 2013

Evergreen Lake

On Saturday, I raced one of the most competitive Olympic distance triathlons in Illinois.  With prize money to the top 3, the elite wave usually attracts pros and top age groupers.  This year did not disappoint.  Usually I do not look at the start list.  But after Eagleman, I felt I could have benefited from better knowing the strengths and weaknesses of my competition.  Needless to say, when I noticed there would be not one but two twentysomething ITU pros (both trying to get to the 2016 Olympics), I had one of these moments:



And in moments like this, it helps to go back to the last blog you wrote and not just read but literally eat and absorb your own words.  Racing against this field?  Why? 

WHY NOT?

I couldn’t control who would be there, all I could control was myself and my mindset.  What seemed a little ridiculous (me against THEM?) became a unique opportunity to rise up to a new level of competition!  I might be a little older, weathered and more likely to pee myself with a good sneeze these days (hence why I feel all of us tri-moms need our own porta potty line, because we cannot hold it and once we get to the front of the line, we’ve already let half of it out so that line would MOVE, folks) - I WAS READY! 

The week before the race I did nothing you should do the week before a race.  I was very busy with work.  I didn’t eat well enough.  I went to bed a little too late.  I gardened in the heat – intensely, including installing a fabulous new concrete bench by myself.  I moved a lot of workouts around.  By week’s end, the only thing I did do right was give up beer for 6 days. 

Which if you’ve been following my tweets lately giving up beer was a pretty tall task.

But I wanted this to be a lower key race (I really know how to pick them).  Coming off a peak race a few weeks ago, I didn’t want to put that same level of intensity and focus into anything again until Vegas.  Not that I wouldn’t prepare, I just didn’t feel the need to overprepare.   By Friday late morning, I had done such a good job of not overpreparing that I wasn’t even packed.  Which is how I found myself packing in a frenzy with the help of a 3 year old.  Let’s just say I’m lucky I made it to the race with half of my gear in my bag.


Yes, those would be my racing flats being used as giant hands for clapping.

We traveled south towards Bloomington-Normal.   Evergreen Lake is nestled a few miles off the highway with the backdrop of dozens of giant windmills standing proud in fields of corn and soybeans.  Continuing with my trend of doing things I shouldn’t do, we didn’t preview the course.  We ate dinner at 7 pm.  I ate a giant bowl of … white pasta (THE HORROR!).  And, I went to bed after 9 pm.  

Yet somehow, despite all of that, I woke up at 4:19 am on Saturday morning feeling completely 100 percent ready, confident and excited to race!  All of this was quickly shattered when I went to get body marked and the girl asked me if I was in the Athena category.

The crash diet begins tomorrow.

Arriving early at the race site, we had plenty of time to set everything up, shoot dirty looks at the competition, warm up and then stand around in the piles of poop surrounding the lake.  Nothing screams e coli like 81.8 degree water and goose poop everywhere!  Between that and taking a shower at the race site (in which I was being sprayed with cold water but upon looking at the ground, I’m not sure I could walk out of there calling myself clean), next time I’m packing antibiotics.

The elite wave included the collegiate competitors, elite men and women.  Some local studs and well known pros.  I positioned myself right up front.  This might not have been one of my better decisions of the day but considering I also bought my prerace coffee that morning AT McDONALD’S, I was throwing all caution to the wind and going for it.

Per tradition, some of the collegiate teams gave their team cheer.  I turned to the guy next to me.

I really need to work on my own cheer.

What’s your name?

Liz.

LIZ LIZ LIZ LIZ LIZ.

Turns out that bit of foolishness came back to my benefit around mile 3 when he was running the other way and shouting GO LIZ! 

Before I knew it, the gun was going off.  Arms, feet, sun glare everywhere.  My plan was to follow faster feet.  Great plan!  As long as said feet are ON COURSE.  I ended up too far right when I needed to be far left.  It took me nearly to the half way point to get in line with the buoys.  When I exited the water, I was disappointed with my swim but also knew that I had swam slower there before and still had a good race.  I reminded myself of something I always tell my athletes: never judge the outcome of your race on any single split.  Just go RACE!

After a quick transition, I set out to bike.  The bike course is just like what we ride at home: flat, corn-lined farm roads.  If the pro girls had any weakness, it would be the bike so I knew I needed to go as strong as possible.  The night before, I was reading through my notes from other races and found a quote I had read somewhere:

When you find yourself wanting to quit, that’s when you know you’ve hit Olympic race pace.

My legs hurt so bad I wanted to quit 3 minutes into the bike! 

But I also knew that it would be only about 20 minutes before I would either settle down or forget the pain.  Sure enough it happened and I found myself holding decent watts.  I went back and forth a few times with two other collegiate guys.  I kept telling myself to not settle, to charge hard past them no matter how many times we go back and forth. Though I didn’t see any women, I knew I was in 4th and knew they were still up there.  I was chasing ghosts but I was chasing hard.  Never settle.  Never give up.  Connect to what you’re doing out there and go full after it.  It worked and before I knew it, I was pulling into the park with one of my best 40K bike splits!

Another quick transition and out on the run course.  My legs – oh, why do you even ask them how they’re doing anyways?  Just make them work!  I focused on turnover, arm carry – as we get more fatigued, these are the things that slow down and, in turn, we slow down our pace.  The run course is mostly flat with two out and backs.  On the first out and back I realized the top girl was quite a bit ahead but 2nd and 3rd were within 5 minutes.  I couldn’t believe it – though I expect BIG things I am also very realistic.  I knew there was a chance I could be VERY far back in this field.  But I was not far off!  I kept the pressure on myself and pushed as hard as I could until the finish line. 

In the end, I ended up 4th overall!  I raced my fastest Olympic distance time since 2007.   I raced 4 minutes faster than I did 2 years ago on this course.  I finished 3 minutes behind someone training for the 2016 Olympics.  I am doing all of this at 38 years old!  I crossed that finish line excited about this race but also excited for what’s to come.  I believe that my best races are still in me.  I train every day with that in my mind.

Unfortunately, there is no medal, no money for the excitement of being fourth place.  Yup, this year has been the year of being fourth.  Off the podium, walking home empty-handed per se.  The irony is that I’m racing as fast and at times faster than I’ve raced since 6 years ago.  Yet I’ve missed a lot of my “finish in the top 3” goals.  Not because I’m failing but because on that particular day, someone shows up who’s that much faster.  That’s life.  That’s racing.  And it’s been good for me.  It’s forced me to rethink what I consider success.   It’s reminded me that for the majority of people out there racing, it’s not about being top 3, it’s not about getting on the podium, it’s not about staying for the awards.   It’s about going out there, giving it your best and going home knowing you nailed it or learned something to better yourself.   Putting those lessons together for the next race, chasing after your best performances.  That continual intrinsic process is why most people race.   And why those people often reach their goals. 

We made the trip back home and then I spent the rest of the afternoon laying on my couch in Norma-Tec boots, drinking recovery a smoothie and updating my Facebook status.

OH WHO AM I KIDDING?

I walked two miles mostly uphill in the hot sun while mowing our giant lawn.

Here's to real life recovery! 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Why Not?

Hi, in case you didn’t know me, I am Liz; wife, coach, athlete but most importantly I am Liz – mom to my adorable 3 year old (He's 3?!  HOW did that happen!?)  Every day, approximately 7 am, I start my shift.  It ends around 4:30 pm when my husband walks in the door and I give him either a look of WORST DAY EVER HE’S YOURS or smile gleaming with the pride of knowing on that day – I kept him alive, yet again! 

VICTORY!

But where was I – I have moments like that all day.  Where was I?  What was I doing?  Parenting is multitasking at its most frenetic pace.  Just when you are moments from walking out the door which took 20 carefully orchestrated minutes of grabbing extra diapers, extra snacks, not letting the dog out and getting shoes on both you and child before someone darts out of the door shoeless heading for the driveway – well in the moment right after THAT - someone found the container of coffee grounds, the one you said DO NOT TOUCH, and threw it all over the kitchen counter. 

Why?  Ask yourself not why.  Think like a 3 year old:

WHY NOT?

But rest assured this isn’t going to be about parenting.  It’s actually about training. 

In the last few weeks, I’ve decided to take a huge risk and completely change my training.  It’s something I’ve thought about for awhile.  I’ve spent the past 6 months doing things that were well within my reach and clearly worked.  Let’s be honest: the best training is the most consistent training.  I got fit.  I got fast.  Consistent I have been and it paid off.

But something struck me while I was at Eagleman.  As I raced the bike, I went back to all of the moments on Ragbrai.  Those gritty, nasty, pancakes in my mouth rides where I surprised not only myself but the line of men I dropped up a hill on day 3 – those where did that come from moments.  And not much of my training.  Which made me wonder: day to day, week to week, am I getting enough of myself?  

Don’t get me wrong.  Any idiot can thrash themselves day after day in training right into a useless pile of fatigue.  I don’t want to be that athlete.  But I believe there’s a better athlete in me.  I want to give that an athlete a chance to come out.  If I’m going to spend the next 12 weeks of my life training for another world championship, I want to give the best of me chance to come out.  I want to be carefully challenged.  I want to raise the expectations.  I don’t want to cross the finish line with any unanswered questions. I don’t want to play it safe. 

I’m a big believer that you often hear the things you need to hear when you need to hear them.  You don’t have to look for inspiration, it’s often right in front of you.  You just have to be open to receiving it.  This just so happened in a conversation I was having with one of my athletes.  Conversations with my athletes are not only where I learn more about them but I learn more about understanding and coaching athletes.  Communication is the heart of coaching!  In this conversation, this athlete was telling me about her goals.  As I listened, I thought to myself: her goals are ambitious but not impossible.  Ambitious because they would require a high level of work, recovery, passion and attention to detail.  So I told her this: your goals are ambitious but not impossible.  Her response to me was a classic movie quote (from Jerry McGuire):

If you tell me to eat lima beans, I’ll eat lima beans.

That conversation got me to thinking.  It wasn’t really about lima beans.  It was about commitment.  About dreaming big.  Doing what’s uncomfortable to get to that next level.  Sacrifice.  Wanting it – really, REALLY bad.  There was a fire in her eyes and her words that made me realize how deep the hunger for high performance can growl.  I greatly respected and connected to that.  It made me ask myself:  

Was I ready to eat lima beans? 

Yes.  You see, I want to be better.  I want to expect big things.  So it was time to take a big risk – I was very comfortable and quite fit at what I was doing.  Why change something that was clearly working?  Well, in times like this it helps to think like a 3 year old:

WHY NOT?

The idea of getting completely uncomfortable and taking a bigger risk lit my fire again.  In doing so, I know I might fall completely short of my goal.  Better yet, maybe do something that will completely NOT work.  That risk, to me, feels completely worth it.  That risk motivates me.  That risk actually frees me.  Makes me feel like I’ve opened myself up to the possibility of anything; failure or success.  If I succeed, it will all be worth it.  And if I fail?  Also worth it.  I would learn more about myself in the process and have no what ifs, no questions unanswered when I cross the finish line.     

Last week I was on the track doing a very challenging workout.  It was hot.  So hot all I could smell on the track was burning rubber.  I had some aggressive times that I wasn’t sure I would hit.  I got to the point in the workout where it becomes you against you – the chatter and negotiations start in your head.  It’s been a LONG time since I’ve been there.  You know the place.  I’m hot.  I’m tired.  This is hard.  This hurts.  We can back off a little.  We can give up here.  That’s when you know you’re on the edge.  Push through and you start bridging the gap between where you are and where you want to go.  Settle and you safely stay behind looking across and wondering when will I get there? 

You won’t.  Trust me. 

It’s those moments where you have to have a stern talk with yourself.  You say, self, do you want to play it safe or do you want to do what it takes to be ______ (insert goal here).  You make the choice, in that moment.  Play it safe or risk everything.  If you hit it, you break through.  If you blow up, you now know your limit.  Both are valuable learning experiences.  Every choice you make at times like this, the difficult, painful choices are the ones that get you closer to where you want to go, physically and psychologically.  But you’ve got to be in situations and workouts that get you to the point where you have those conversations.  I’m putting myself in those situations now in training.  Carefully, with purpose, but I’m going there.   

I’ve raised my bar.  All around.  Can I recover harder, sleep better, eat wiser, outsmart my body into thinking we can do this?  Yes.  WHY NOT.  I’ve stopped saying your swim is good enough, Liz.  It can be better.  Why settle?  The other day I put myself into not just the fast lane but with the guys who lead the guys in the fast lane.  After a 2000 yard warm up, they chose to do their 200s on the 2:30.  Without consulting with me.  THE NERVE!  When I realized the interval, I literally screamed OH MY GOD!  Yes it took paddles and a pull buoy to make it.  Small details that the Fake Swimmer never frets about!  But I made it.  And stood at the wall afterwards thinking I’ve never done that before.  That is the building block of confidence. 

Last week, I took along one of my athletes on a ride knowing that when the challenge of a workout is high – almost impossible? – misery loves company.  After we got through the first challenging interval she asked what’s next?  I said – two more of those and then wait until you see what’s after that!  Even worse, summer had thrown a thick blanket of humidity over us making any workout much more of a challenge than usual.  But these are the days you go back to when the race gets rough, thinking I got through that, I can get through this.  I don’t want only days where I nail workouts flawlessly.  I want to struggle a bit.  I want to stop to gather myself.  I want to think can I really do this?  These are where great performances come from.  That place.  Rising above, working through it.  Not from the easy successes. Because let me tell you – the race successes: they are never, ever easy.

(simple, yes, but not easy)

I’m not suggesting you destroy yourself day in and out.  I am suggesting you become fearless enough to seek new challenges when appropriate in training.  Challenge doesn’t have to mean going long or fast every day.  Challenge can be flawlessly executing your fuel plan, not missing the recovery window, hitting your watts in a bigger gear, making a certain send-off.  A few times a week look at your training plan and think to yourself HOW am I going to do that?  Get a little scared.  Put yourself in the faster lane.  Ride with someone stronger.  Chase speedier splits.  Do a triple brick.  Will it work?  Dream big enough to want to find out.  And trust that this process can be as rewarding as any victory you achieve.  It’s the process of learning and bettering yourself. 

In the past few weeks, I’ve also completely readdicted myself to coffee.  Heading to the coffee shop is one of my guilty pleasures – the one place where I don’t have to do a damn thing. I pay someone to make the coffee and pour it in my cup.  Sure, I can make coffee at home.  But for 2 minutes out of the day, I want it to be all selfishly, lazily, greedily about ME (unless I take my 3 year into the shop with me – then it’s all about keeping him away from the reusable mugs and $3 juices).  Little did you know the coffee shop is also a great place for inspiration.  Sure enough, something on the latest marketing poster resonated with me:

Turn the what ifs into why nots?

Exactly.   What I’ve been saying here all along.  Think like a 3 year old.

Who’s with me?