Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bagged Me A Brian

Last Friday night I faced a dire situation. Three items critical for my daily survival were missing from the house. One was yogurt. Another was Organic Greens With Envy. The third was golden raisins. With heading out of town last weekend, I knew if I arrived home on Monday to find none of these in the house I would barely make it through the day.

A trip to Trader Joe’s was in order.

I pulled into the parking lot around 8 pm. Once inside, it was clear that I had found what the strangest of the strangest strange people of Downers Grove do on a Friday night – they go to Trader Joe’s.

The store was filled with people. Young people, old people, fat people, thin people. A woman with orange hair, a couple with two kids, a clearly has no date on a Friday night young woman, far too many frumpy women with straight hair and glasses, and then there was me.

Look at me.

Black Mary Jane’s, rainbow socks, snowman pajama pants, and a winter coat with a furry hood that I stole straight from Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. Please don’t tell her. And, too top it off, sweaty post-bike hair pulled in frizzy pigtails.

This is standard late night shopping attire. This is what happens when you get married, you get freedom to food shop while looking like this.

There I was, rolling into the store with a cart and dressed most closely like a clown. Where to go first? Well, as long as I’m here I might as well pick up a loaf of bread. I hate shopping for bread. It’s nothing but evil dough-filled trickery. I’ve made dozens of loaves of bread and all they’ve included is flour, water, yeast, salt, maybe a pinch of sugar. So why is it that every freakin’ loaf of bread has an ingredient list twenty words long. I pick up loaf after loaf, looking for something that is not enriched, corn syruped, so on and so forth. Spelt. It doesn’t get much worse, or simple, than spelt. I pick up the loaf. I fear if I drop it I will break a toe. Forget the spelt. Multigrain, rye, kamut, gluten-free, rice-floured, country grain. I just want bread. Some slices of bread. I settle on a loaf of white wheat.

That was way too hard. For bread.

I spot the golden raisins. Easy enough. They make it into the cart.

On to the yogurt. What in the hell is going on in the dairy section. Two small children with two small carts are screaming for the love of dairy for all of the store to hear. The mother is choosing yogurt, the father is off getting some bread (good luck) and the children are voicing their preferences for things they seem far too young to have a preference for.

“Blueberry bites. I want blueberry bites. I WANT THE BLUEBERRY BITES.”

I’m tempted to toss the blueberry bites in the cart just to clear the kid out of the way of my plain fat free yogurt. Come on kid, it’s Friday night. I’ve got bigger and better things to do. Not really. But……oh my god – do you think the kids sense that? Do you think they looked over at me and thought the clown can wait, the clown can wait while I request my blueberry bites besides what kind of clown shops on a Friday night, wouldn’t a good clown be at a party making balloon animals or something?

Shut up kid.

On to the frozen section. Organic Greens With Envy are calling my name. I nab the last two bags.

Now, frozen fruit. If I get home on Monday to find no fresh fruit, I better have a back up. But what’s this – a young girl with fiery red hair is standing smack in front of the organic mixed berries. I wait. Like the kid said – this clown can wait.

But she takes too long. And, after all, what was she reading on the back of the package anyways? Warning: this package of frozen berries contains berries. If you are allergic to berries be advised that this product contains berries. This package is processed in a factory that contains f*cking berries. Visions of a smashed bag of frozen berries threatens to move from my head on to hers. I’m getting berry, berry impatient.

She finally moves. Score one for me and the berries.

All right, almost done, brown rice, extra firm tofu, soy milk. How did three things (yogurt, greens, and raisins) turn into thirty-three?

I roll up to the front of the store and every register is stacked. I wait.

A few minutes later, a young clerk walks up to me and says he can help me over there. Oh he’s cute. I can still notice things like that. I haven’t been married that long. And then he takes my cart. This is the best service I’ve gotten all day – a personal escort to the register plus someone to wheel my food-filled chariot. Is he for sale, too?

Brian starts unpacking my cart. “So, big plans for this evening?”

I look around. Is he talking to me? Wait a minute – didn’t we just go through this a few months ago in Whole Foods? What is it about me, Friday nights, and specialty food stores?

He looks at me waiting for an answer. Right, he was talking to me.

“This is the evening’s highlight,” I report. It was true, other than driving up and down Route 34 looking for the lowest price for gasoline, this would be as good as it gets tonight. That’s right Brian, this is my Friday night special, baby. Want to come along? If you’re lucky, I’ll let you wear Ally Sheedy’s coat. Better yet, Brian, how about we tackle the big list of things I should probably get done this weekend. Would that count as big plans? How about we scrub the shower, or sift through the 700 wedding photos that I still have not sorted even though I was married in 2005, or even better how about we wash grease marks and handprints off the basement walls. Are you big enough to handle those big plans?

He didn’t respond to my questions, instead he posed his own.

“No big plans? Just chilling out and sitting around tonight?” he asks, almost as if too confirm that I was honestly admitting to the fact that Friday night fun for me meant groceries and gas pumps. I’m ready to fess up, but honestly I can’t remember the last time I had “chill out” on my schedule. Furthermore, I’m not sure it’s something I even want to admit too. What does it entail? I mean, I know what I used to do back in college when I chilled out. Is it still the same? When I think about that phrase it reminds me of being under the influence of something – maybe milk and cookies – listening to The Beastie Boys sing I’m just chillin’ like Bob Dylan. Somehow, though, I suspect even Bob Dylan has more exciting plans tonight. Perhaps he’s chillin’? But I wasn’t chillin’. I didn’t know what to say. This was far from chillin’, this was just plain grocery shopping. And then a gas stop. But it will be cold outside when I pump that gas. Does me being chilled count as chillin’?

Back to the conversation.

“No plans. Leaving for Phoenix tomorrow and just wanted some groceries in the house for when I got back,” I said, hoping to exonerate myself from the crime of admitting to the most pathetic and small version of Friday night plans.

“Phoenix, wow, Phoenix…..” The conversation goes on. Actually, Brian goes on. And on, and on. And almost so far on that I started bagging the groceries myself to expedite the whole checkout process. Not that I mind bagging groceries, but I literally had to reach across Brian to reach the groceries. It was that bad. Twenty nine dollars and thirty-four cents have never stretched on so far. Neither have my arms.

Brian finished up the transaction still chatting, handing me my receipt and sending me on my way. I happily wheeled my groceries to the car and drove on to the gas station.

As I drove away, I couldn’t help but contemplate what was so complicated about women meeting men. Is it really that hard? After all, Brian seemed like a nice guy. Sure, he’s working at a Trader Joe’s on a Friday night but he appeared clean, sweet, and capable of starting a conversation. Maybe this is the secret of the married people. That once you get married you stop chillin’ and start finding yourself in places where all the good people really are. Normal people in normal places doing normal things like grocery shopping. The kind of people you’d want to sit down and chill with (of course, the legal post-college type chillin’), or just have a conversation.

I wasn’t really looking for conversation with Brian, but he seemed more than willing to give. Which makes me think that if I had been a single woman I would have found quite a buy for $29.34. Quite a buy. Not only that, but being dressed like I was dressed makes me think that if I had dressed less like a clown - the offers, the conversations, the furtive glances would have just been rolling into my cart like crazy.

So, once again, it’s a call to action for all you single women. I’ve said it before. Get thee to a grocery store on a Friday night. The Brian’s, the stock boys, the customer service clerks are waiting. They are waiting with their tiny little aprons and their fast bagging hands. Go bag yourself a Brian. Or a stock boy. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

When Life Gives You "Lemmons"

Monday morning I woke up feeling like a small truck had rolled over me. But it could have been worse. I could have woken up and gone to work, found myself sitting at a desk.

Truck please.

Our eastern time clocks gave us an early start in the western town of Tucson. On today’s agenda, per Chris’ request, an epic climb up Mt. Lemmon. Epic in the sense of 27 miles climbing over 7000 feet at a 5 percent average grade on a twisty, winding low-traffic road overlooking vistas of the surrounding Tucson area, scattered with saguaros, lined with rocks, along an endless road that seemed to end directly in the sky.

We headed out around 7 am, got tangled in a little early morning Tucson traffic and arrived at the intersection of Bear Canyon and Tanque Verde by 7:30 am.

There’s a few things that could be worse than realizing you forgot your cycling shoes back at the hotel room; having to do the entire climb with one crank arm missing, having to do the entire climb pedaling backwards, having to do the entire climb with your eyes closed. But today, it didn’t get much worse that realizing that indeed I had forgotten my cycling shoes in the hotel room.

After apologizing profusely to Chris, begging him to go on and climb without me, leave me here to dry out in the desert……he selflessly said we were in this together and we would go back together to get my shoes.

Some 90 minutes later, we arrived again at the intersection of Bear Canyon and Tanque Verde – this time to ride, for real.

The road rolls along to the start of the climb with 20 minutes of dusty flats. It’s a nice warm up and it’s nice to see that my legs didn’t feel too trashed from yesterday’s desert duathlon. They were really, really REALLY sore but they were operational. Not fully operational but mostly there.

We reached the base of the climb at the Coronado National Forest and immediately it went up, and up, turned right and went up some more. And then it hit me – it would be like this for 27 miles. For sure I could ride today, but climb for the next 3 hours? I only had two margaritas last night. To trick myself into believing something like that it would have taken at least four.

Chris immediately pulls away, damn him, spinning along effortlessly up the mountain. I am behind him spinning oh so happily along on my time trial bike. And as I watched him pull farther and farther away, I knew this bike would serve me as well for this climb as would a unicycle. Or a tricycle missing a wheel. Or hauling a 200 lb gorilla behind me. Time trial bikes and climbing are never a good combination, especially today.

I am alone, climbing Mt. Lemmon, spinning at 70 rpms, geared out and my legs refuse to spin faster. They left themselves somewhere yesterday in McDowell Mountain Regional Park sputtering in the transition area. I am hoping by this weekend they find their way home, but somehow I know I’m going to feel this race in my legs for at least a week. Early season duathlons are vindicative like that.

I reach mile 1, then mile 2. I’m climbing at some awful slow pace but I have know idea what it is because I realize my wheel magnet is not on my rear wheel. I have no time, no speed, no distance. Just cadence which is screaming 70 rpms and not one revolution more. It was probably a good thing that I couldn’t see my speed.

I continue climbing. I really don’t have any other choice. It’s a one-way ladder and it’s only going up. Every once in awhile, Chris turns around and circles back to me. He’s taking pictures of me which he finds entertaining. He sits on the side of the road saying things like “how are you doing sweetie.” Inside I am thinking that tossing my bike over a 3000 foot cliff would make a great picture right now. How does that sound, sweetie?

Somewhere between miles 3 and 4 I realize it has taken me almost 10 minutes to go 1 mile. I start doing the math but it starts to get mathematically depressing. Forget the numbers. Just keep climbing. Chris pulls away further and we make a turn in a different direction. Directly into the wind. The wind is cold, the wind is strong. And the wind makes this 5 percent climb feel like 50 percent with me going backwards at best. I am now grinding 65 rpms and standing occasionally to give my legs a break which soon makes my hands and feet feel like they will break. I sit back down. Back to the grind.

Around miles 6 – 7, Mt. Lemmon started throwing cold, windy lemons my way. It had a hell of an arm and perfect aim. Each lemon hit me with force splattering all over me and spilling it’s stinging sour juice into my open post-duathlon wounds.

Nearly 1 hour has gone by and I feel like I’ve been trapped in a neverending muscle tension interval. My legs are so sore, my mind is so tired. I try to talk myself into going a little further, just around the bend, up a little more but it climbs higher and steeper.

I reached my breaking point. Here along this rock-lined road, I found my rockbottom. I pull over the side and I stop. Leaning over, head down on my aerobars, sweaty and spent, I cry.

It lasts about 30 seconds, and then I see two men come zipping down the mountain on the other side of the road so I pull myself together. What kind of cyclist stops crying on the side of the road? Not this one, not anymore.

I bargain with myself, I make a deal – I’ll climb to mile 10 and then reassess the situation. So I push off on to the pedals and continue the climb.

I climb past 5000 feet. It’s getting colder in the shade and the wind is still strong. I climb for what feels like forever and then surprisingly see the 10 mile marker. I stop.

I pull over to the pullout and look out into the canyon. It is still and quiet. It makes no mention of the painfully steady climb that takes place along the edges of the canyon walls. It’s a secret that the canyon's stillness, the saguaros, and the sky will keep.

I think to myself that I could keep going on, at 65 – 70 rpms. I could keep climbing. But that’s not what I want to do. It just wasn’t in me. It’s not often that I give up, but you can’t win them all, you can’t always be great. Some days you just have to admit your mortality and hope for a better tomorrow. I turned around.

Descending was worse. What was cold turned very cold and my time trial bike with race wheels was built for speed. Unfortunately, speed was not something necessary on this descent. It was already a given. I think I burned my brake pads off in the first mile.

I descend 1 mile and stop. I stand in the sun, hoping to get warm and just need to slow the speed down. I decide this will be my plan – descend a mile, regroup, then descend another mile. I continue this plan and for about 5 miles it works. I’m making it down, mile by mile.

With 5 miles to go, I am so cold my legs are quivering and my teeth are chattering. My hands hurt so much from gripping the bars that I fear they will seize up and send me flying into the steep canyons below.

4 miles to go and I’m standing in the sun again. It’s not working. My hamstrings are twitching. My toes hurt. 3 miles to go my neck aches. 2 to go and I get passed by a woman zipping by me shouting ON YER LEFT! 1 to go. I reach the bottom.

I hightail it back to the car in an attempt to get warm and just in a rush to be done with this. I reach the car, about 2 ½ hours after starting after about 3 dozen breaks, breakdowns, and 3 inches off my brake pads.

I was done.

Some days you set out to make lemonade and all you get are a bunch of lemons. Big old sour juicy lemons that stung to my core. But it wasn’t a complete waste; it’s good to hit rockbottom and find yourself at 5000 feet on the side of the road crying while leaning on your aerobars, sweaty, and in all sorts of leg pain. That’s a good learning experience.

And somewhere, later in the year, I’ll find myself again in a world of pain and I’ll think to myself THIS IS BAD, really REALLY bad. And I’ll pull through it because while it will be bad, I’ll think to myself that indeed it’s bad but nowhere near that day on Mt. Lemmon. Now that - THAT was bad.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

February's Leap Of Faith

Racing early in the year is never pretty. If you can go into the race with that in your mind, then you’ll come out ok. But you’ll hurt a hell of a lot along the way.

I went to the Desert Classic Duathlon with two goals in mind; 1) let’s get the heck of Illinois, and 2) let’s take a leap of faith.

I know my strengths, I know my weaknesses, and if I’m ever going to turn those weaknesses into strengths I was going to have to take a leap of faith.

My plan was simple – push the first run hard. And that’s exactly what I did. I didn’t run up to the edge, I ran right by it. The gun went off and immediately Kerri and Kristin were ahead and I knew I had to pull ahead of them before we reached the trail. And so I did. I hit the trail first and took off. It was a fast pace, it was a nauseating pace. It was a pace far beyond what I could probably hold at this time of year. But I had to do it. Because, as it says on Ficker’s website, if it’s hurting me, it’s killing them. 7 minutes into the run and I was literally sick to my stomach. I wasn’t just hurting me, I was killing me. My body couldn’t remove the lactic acid quickly enough so instead it was building in my body causing my stomach to lurch and turn. I backed off a bit, just a bit, to regroup, and then fired it up again. I ran this course like a mountain biker, taking the jumps fast, running the tangents, and going full speed ahead.

I arrive at the transition area first, about 30 seconds ahead of the other women. I reached my bike and a new level of pain had settled into my legs and sat in my stomach. Time for the bike – which is where I knew I would have to work even harder to hold the other women off. A little flustered in the transition area – helmet didn’t want to snap, but then I ran through and mounted my bike. Along the way I saw Kristin and knew she would be right on my tail. Time to push.

The way out is mostly uphill and into the wind. I push, I push more. My legs hurt, my stomach hurts. And just like at Du Worlds last year, I think I am seeing stars. Good, this is exactly where I need to be. I need to do this – I need to take this leap of faith to prove to myself that my legs can handle this. Men attack me and I attack back. I can’t sit back today. I have to fight.

The uphill turns into a long downhill and I’m geared out. I think back to last year and remember being passed on the downhill.. That won’t happen again. Geared out, I know the only way to keep gaining ground is to spin those pedals faster. I spin and attack more men.

I exit the park still in the lead. Once outside, the wind picks up and so does the hill. I push up it, in my big ring. I won’t even touch the small ring today. I can’t afford it. There is a heavy pain in my legs and still my head is cloudy from stars, too much speed, too much hurt. This is why I race in February – to get this feeling, this process underway and to get through it.

I keep telling myself to take that leap – to keep leaping with the faith that this is what I have to do. I hit the turnaround and surprise myself that I have still held Kristin and Kerri off. But they are right there. I see them within 30 seconds of me at the turn and know I have to keep pushing. Goddamn this hurts. But if they’re chasing me at this pace it’s hurting them too.

Around mile 12, Kristin passes me. She is amazing. 47 years fit, young, and fast. Incredible. She says something about my bike and I notice that she has the same exact bike, wheels, bars. She passes me quickly but I know I have to keep her in sight. So I work even harder to keep her within 30 seconds of me.

Re-entering the park, I know the real work was about to begin. The 3 mile climb. Kristin is still dangling in front of me and I do everything I can to keep her in my sight. She pulls away a little each mile, but I never give up. I stomp the hills, and when I turn and see the hill going on, I stomp even more. I’m pushing a heavy cadence but I have to do this – I have to force my legs through this to prove to them that yes they can.

The bike is over before I know it. I see Kristin running out of the transition area as I dismount my bike. I get off my bike and cannot believe the pain that has settled into my legs. For only the second time in my triathlon/duathlon life, I doubt if I can even run (the first ever was at Buffalo Springs….yikes). I go as fast as I can to get my running shoes on a winter’s worth of hibernation has left me rusty in transitions. My foot reluctantly refuses my shoe and I’m trying hard to cram it in.

Kerri exits transition with me. She pulls ahead slightly and I think to myself that maybe I can’t keep up with her. Maybe I am not going to make it through this run. Then I hit myself in the head – mentally. I tell myself that is absolutely unacceptable, from a duathlon silver medalist, a national champion, a future champion of whatever my plans might be this year. I am not so much racing as myself, but as the person I intend to be by season’s end. I pick it up and pull away.

The second run is a variety of terrain – from roads, to packed dirt, soft gravel, hard rocks. The gravel is spongy and unforgiving. I am pushing ahead but feel I am taking steps back. I see a woman ahead and I think she is Kristin but then realize it is a pro woman. I pass her and keep pushing on. We set out on the sandy trail portion of the run. I am woozy and my head is still spinning. A brush with a cactus impales my arm with a dozen spikes. I’m not sure which pain is worse – the pain in my legs/head/stomach or the pain from 4 inches spikes in my arm. Either way, both are going to have be ignored right now. I can barely find my way snaking through the rest of the trail and nearly lose my footing half a dozen times.

Back on to gravel, I lift my knees high and then hit the rocky part of another trail. Rocks, rocks, big rocks, little rocks. I run over them, on top of them. The course begins to wind and climb steeply and I am huffing so loud, so painfully that I feel bad for the man in front of me that has to listen. I reach the top of the climb and let out a guttural dear god this hurts so bad I just want to be done 10 minutes ago moan. Down the trail I nearly go head over feet over rocks over the man in front of me. But I make it down and push through. The last ½ mile is on the road, smooth. I lost sight of any women ahead of my about 1 mile ago and finish it strong for myself.

I cross the line two minutes faster than last year, yet again 3rd overall. I couldn’t be more excited. I think to myself that it is not so much where I am right now, here in this race, at this time of year, but where I am going. I think about my goals, my plans for the year and know that those plans are what count. This race, this course is only a stepping stone to what really counts. I took a major leap of faith and worked harder than ever in this race. I don’t think I caught my breath once. I honestly cannot say that I had anything left to give. As far as February goes, I not only spent the money in my bank but make a huge overdraft withdrawal.

But it felt good. Good to know that taking a leap of faith, losing sight of your shore is easy to do. As long as you set your mind to it, and push yourself, your body will follow. Painfully, but it will follow.

My 2007 ship has set sail, and as I sail farther from the shore, I am more excited than ever about the year ahead. It’s not that I wanted to leave what I had on lat year's shore – no, my 2006 shore was an incredible place to dock - yet I’ll never know what better things lie ahead if I don’t lose sight of it, let it go, and take that leap of faith in hopes of finding new places in new lands ahead.

After the race, Chris and I feasted – for me a turkey sandwich and a slice of heavily frosted, double-layered chocolate cake. It tasted almost as good as in my dreams. Of course, coffee followed. We drove south to Tucson and spent the rest of the late afternoon hiking Saguaro National Park. What an amazingly quiet, scenic, and desolate place. The saguaro cacti are a sight – nearly 50 feet high and weighing over 8 tons. It was a great place to reflect on the race, lessons learned, and what lies ahead.

Here’s to a healthy, strong, and successful 2007 – for everyone that I had the pleasure to meet and talk with today – Jenni, Kristin, Kerri, Anne, Alisha, Tyler – and for my husband and myself.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Don't Pedal Push Me

Two weeks ago, when it was about 40 degrees, I decided to take my ride outside.

My road bike was still boxed up from California, it was too windy for my time trial bike, and so I settled on my cyclocross bike. I was excited to ride it. I like that bike. It’s a black Surly and damn it just looks cool. Surly, as in brand name code for STAY AWAY. I feel like a real cycling bad ass when I ride it. Like I can ride down the street in the middle of the street taking control of the road and flipping the bird to anyone that gets in my way and who will not respond in any way other than to brush it off and leave me alone because after all who would approach a woman crazy enough to (a) ride a bike, (b) ride a bike in this weather, and (c) ride a bike with a warning written across it – SURLY – as in do not approach this surly, disgruntled, death-wish of a woman crazy enough to find joy in riding when it’s this cold outside.

I went downstairs to pull my billboard of a bike out of the rack when I noticed it wasn’t fully ready to ride. My mouth grimaced, my eyes narrowed. Even though I have multiple bikes, it’s a miracle if any one of them is fully assembled and functional at the same time. A miracle, I tell you.

Now, there are three pieces of cycling equipment that I cannot live without; a seat, a computer that tells me cadence, and my Power Tap wheel. But this was my cyclocross bike, so there would be no need for cadence or Power Tap. So, I had backed of my expectations a bit. Just a seat would suffice for today. It was just an easy ride.

But I soon learned that in addition to seat, cadence, power tap, there are other key components to a bicycle that you cannot ride without. Things you cannot compromise. And most of those things seemed to be missing today from my cross bike.

First, the front wheel. Off. Ok, one front wheel to attach – not a big deal. This is something even I have mastered.

Second, two tires to pump up. Sometimes a little tricky. We have four pumps but I seem to have the permit to operate only one of these (permit granted when Chris put the pump in front of me and said this is pump is for you to use, as in this and only this is the pump that you can use). The other pumps have left me pumping to broken valves or exploding inner tubes. I am leary about pumping the tires today because I cannot find my pump. I settle on an imposter pump and then realize I have no idea how much air to pump into my tires. I look on the tire for some clue – nothing – and then decide that my time trial tires get 100 PSI, mountain bike tires get 40PSI so using my sophisticated mathematical skills – I take the average to get 70 PSI. Of course, having pulled a mathematical equation into this I feel certain that it was right because how many times has math ever let you down?

Wheel on, tires pumped up, I am so ready to ride.

Wait a minute. Brakes. Something is slightly off with the brakes. They are sticking out, disconnected. That’s not right. Not like my mountain bike, these brakes were trickier and required a little more pulling and cursing. It made me rethink brakes. Necessary at all? Really, would I be going that fast? Could I put my hand down in enough time to stop the wheel? Finally they reattached so I would not have to find out.

Now I am ready to ride and stop. So, I rolled the bike towards the stairs but sensed that something was still not right. Something was missing. A critical component was not there.

The pedals.

There were no pedals. Crank arms – yes, pedals – no. No pedals? Seriously, no pedals? I looked around hoping to find a pair of pedals laying somewhere in the mess before me. No pedals.

Plan B – what is plan B? How often do you need a plan B for pedals? I think about it for a moment and decide that Plan B I find another bike with pedals. I choose my own. I go over to my time trial bike and remember that this will require a pedal wrench.

I am no stranger to wrenches. I have been known to use a torque wrench from time to time. I will admit that the torque wrench is the one tool out there that has intrigued me because (1) I found my husband sleeping with it one day, (2) it makes a cool clicking sound, and (3) it looks like that thing they stick in your ear at the doctor’s office – how fun! But this doesn’t call for a torque wrench – it’s a pedal wrench. Different wrench all together. Though same torque might be applied. So actually it’s a pedal torquing wrench.

Anyways, into the work closet where Chris has fashioned a peg board full of tools. Actually, mostly full of wrenches. Is it necessary to have a dozen wrenches that all look the same? I think for a minute about my shower with about a dozen different shampoos and decide to call it even.

I grab a wrench, any wrench does it matter, and try to take a pedal off. The pedals don’t move. Hmmm. Right tighy? Lefty loosey? Or am I just getting this confused with whitey tighties and loosey goosey? I tried moving the wrench right, left, turning it, twisting it, planting my foot into the carpeting while heaving and ho-ing with wrench in hand.

Eventually I got the left pedal off. But the right one wouldn’t move. Nothing helped. How was I going to ride with one pedal? Not very long. Imagine the world’s longest single-legged pedaling drill. But then again, I’d be doing it atop my Surly bike so it might make perfect sense – a crazy woman, riding in the middle of winter, using only her left leg. Perfect.

I finally accept that the right pedal was not coming off of my other bike. And then I spied something. Perched in his trainer, there was my husband’s road bike with two perfect pedals. Surely they are the same size as mine, I thought. Just to be sure, I put the other pedal on top of his pedal and it’s a perfect match. Surely those would work. I set about to steal the left pedal from his crank set and soon had two pedals in hand.

Two left pedals. Ok, who was the genius that decided the right pedal could only go on the right crank and the left pedal on the left? Obviously that genius had never stood sweating in a fleece lined outfit with a pedal wrench in hand desperately snatching any pedal from any crank arm that would release the damn pedal from it’s tightened grip.

Left pedal back on, I was going to have to take the right one. Not easy, and twenty – yes twenty minutes later I finally had two pedals – one left, one right – in hand. Thankfully they go on much easier than they come off.

Finally I was outside enjoying my ride – pedaling, with both legs. I wasn’t sure how far I went or even how long I was gone because once I started riding I realized the computer wasn’t working. Screw it, I thought. Just ride.

When I got back home, I hung the bike in the garage and went inside. A short while later, Chris came back from his ride.

“Did you put pedals on your bike?” he asked.

Oh no. He must have seen my Surly hanging in the garage and totally ignored the surly-stay away-from-me-crazy-woman-on-board-all-black-bike-warning. I looked at him cautiously. I wanted him to be proud that I put the pedals on but also I wanted him to find himself fully suited up for a ride only to discover no pedals on his bike. How’s that for calling it even? Or, better yet, no seat, no brakes, no water bottle holders, faulty computer. It’s not like I’ve ever found any of my bikes like that.

But I quickly realized he had the skills to remedy any and all of the situations in an instant so I took my mind game a little further into the zone of domesticity that I control with speedy skill and tact. What if you sat down for a poop to find no toilet paper? Or what if I refused to refrigerate the milk for a week? Or what if all of the kitchen towels disappeared? Or what if I hid your pillow? Or what if instead of cleaning your clothes I just made them dirtier?

That’ll teach him.

As I sat there devising my plans for domestic sabotage, I could feel his impending fear of bike part destruction by way of Liz’s hands because I still had not answered the question about the pedals. First rule for females taking bike maintenance into your own hands – admit nothing. Chris knew that if I had taken the pedal wrench into my hands, nothing good could come of it. Something had suffered – some part was now laying broken or – better yet – destroyed.

”Women, did you scratch the cranks?” he asked, suspiciously, and as always, preceding his warning with woman.

Did I scratch the cranks. Really? Did I scratch the cranks? Can you even scratch cranks? Based on the fact that I nearly had to rip the flesh off my palms while torquing a wrench to get the pedals to turn a centimeter, I would say the damn cranks must be made of steel and sealed with concrete so how on earth could I have scratched them? Has he any idea of the amount of pain I endured while sweating buckets under my balaclava and tights just to get the wrench and pedals to move in the same direction at the same time? And he cares if they are SCRATCHED?

I looked at him. I didn’t answer. He had pedal pushed me just a little too far and I think he got the point. But just in case he didn’t, I didn’t happen to share the fact that the pedals that may or may not have scratched the cranks were from his bike. Domestic
sabotage plans totally unncessary because this time I had vengeance in the form of bike maintenance up my sleeve. The pedaless bike would be my secret revenge for him pushing my pedals about scratching those cranks, or better yet for not even having pedals on those cranks in the first place (line of domestic division in our house says man fixes the bikes, woman never touches tools, trust me it's better that way if you've ever seen me with tools). And instead of sharing my secret with him I would wait for him – hopefully suited up in a fleece lined outfit for 40 degrees standing in our 70 degree basement – to figure that out on his own, at a later time.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

My Space

Last night, I was heading out for a short run and noticed a voice mail on my phone. One missed call and it was mom. The voicemail described, in painfully long detail, her new garage door. Rather than take all of the pleasure away from a conversation that could be highly engaging in person, I invited mom to dinner to hear more about this wonderful new garage door.

I went for a run, and showered quickly afterwards. Chris walked into the bathroom and stepped on to the scale. After shouting words at him like jumbo, too big to register, the scale wants some of its weight back, I opened the door and said, “and, by the way, my mom’s coming to dinner.” I shut the door.

“WHAT!?” he said.

I opened the door again – not very good for keeping the water in or the heat in but very good for making a dramatic point. “She’s coming over for dinner and she wants to tell you all about her new garage door.” I shut the door again.

Chris was thrilled.

Needless to say, it was about 20 minutes later when my mom arrived. We were in the basement stretching so I told her to come downstairs to join us and talk. Chris says something about being in his underwear which she quickly brushes off. “I’ve seen it all before,” she says as she settled upon the stairs reading to spin a story about her new garage door. That’s my mom. She gets freaked out by a bee but husband in underwear – not a problem.

We hear all about her new garage door – it’s buttons, it’s features, the infamous lock and light buttons which should never be pressed at any time. After this fascinating story, she settles quickly and comfortably into the mom role and starts walking around the basement.

“I see all of your little trinkets around,” she says, walking around carefully scanning things on the walls, shelves, and floors. By trinkets, she is referring to the mess of stuff scattered around our basement, including pictures from races, medals, bike parts, bikes, posters, and such.

She looks at me with that look – the look of what the hell is going on down here and how can you let this happen, Elizabeth. And she would say it just like that – E – LIZ – A – BETH like she only says when she is boiling underneath with interrogation or concern. How can you have a basement that looks like this, Elizabeth, when the rest of your house looks so nice. This basement, Elizabeth, would make a beautiful sitting area or a play room for your children but it’s filled with bike parts, Elizabeth, what are you going to do with all of your husband’s bike parts and why, Elizabeth, can’t you get him to clean up what was once a beautiful cream-colored basement with clean berber carpeting.

I read all of this in her face within seconds. I can see it there. I can see it almost pouring out of her mouth waiting for an answer.

“Mom, this is Chris’ safe place.”

She looks at me like she doesn’t care. Like I should know better, that the only safe place for a man in a home is the garage. Safe as in, all of his stuff is outside therefore the rest of the house is safe from a mess like this.

This was going to require further explanation.

“It’s like giving a dog a crate. You teach it to go in the crate, sleep in the crate, and love the crate. But if the dog is bad, you can’t reach in and pull it out of the crate. The crate is the dog’s safe place.”

The look in her eye tells me she doesn’t buy it.

“Mom, this is Chris’ crate. I can’t pull him out of it or scold him for what he does in it. IT IS HIS SAFE PLACE.”

I look over to Chris who, almost on cue, is playing with some bar tape on my cross bike. I half expect him to start licking himself or go shit in the corner like any bad dog in a crate, but instead he stands there smiling – thank god finally with his pants on – and rewrapping the tape.

“Let’s go upstairs,” I say to her, and hope that she will find something on the floor, or some dust on the table to distract her from this mess of a basement. I escort her upstairs to a more female-friendly level of the house.

This is what happens when you don’t live with a man anymore. And my mom hasn’t lived with a man in over 10 years. Her big house has been entirely her own space for nearly a decade. As such, she has forgotten how it is to live with a man, and his things, his tools, his trinkets. You forget that in a house that oozes with femininity and cleanliness, a man still needs a place for himself.

In a sense, it is similar to what Virginia Woolf wrote about in a room of one’s own. Woolf describes how a woman, living in a world with male-dominated ‘establishment’, needs money and personal space to have the freedom to create. Without this, all of her creative genius would remain unexpressed.

Which is why it’s important to give woman free reign of the majority of the house. She needs to express all of her creativity by decorating the house, cleaning the house, reorganizing the house, moving the books here, putting the lamp on that table. Even if you’re not a clean freak, you probably have your special way of organizing cans in the pantry, or utensils in the drawer, a way of folding the clothes. A system that your husband will never understand.

Is it, then, the same for men? Can we suppose that a man also has ways of his own and needs a room of his own? A place where he can retreat and be himself without the limits imposed by women – no need to keep it clean, orderly, and in style. A place where he can have boxes of tools, and canisters with little screws, throw greasy towels, walk around in his underwear, and empty beer bottles. To meet with male friends and talk about….tools. A place where putting up a pegboard is the latest and greatest addition to his space. A place to be himself in all of his messy, scattered, unfemininized glory uninfluenced by the female-domestic-establishment.

Like Woolf suggested, without a room of one’s own, the woman is destined to die with creative genius and words unexpressed. So, is it the same with men? If Chris didn’t have his basement would he be filled with latent energy for putting things together, taking things apart, throwing things on the floor?

More importantly, where instead would that energy go?

Wait, I know the answer. In fact, I saw it the other day. On Saturday, my urge to clean house came rushing back to me and I cleaned house at a maniac pace. A few hours later, there was one task left and I was all out of cleaning fury. So I asked Chris - please vacuum the stairs. On Tuesday, when it still wasn’t done, I made a deal. “No coffee until you vacuum the stairs.” What astounds me the most is that I finally have a husband that responds to caffeinated bribery - so I am taking full advantage of it. What astounds me further is that he accepted the deal. It was not even 7 am and the vacuum was whirring on the stairs. This is matrimonious glory, this is a husband with a halo around his head, this is….too good to be true.

30 seconds later, the vacuum had already stopped.

I came down a few minutes later to find the vacuum in pieces on the counter. Here we go again. Remember the Nike Triax last year? In pieces. And both garage door openers? Currently in pieces atop a bookshelf. Not surprisingly, the vacuum met a similar fate - the filter was in the sink, the top was on the washer, and the sad short little engine was sitting on the counter with chord between its legs.

Lesson learned – let the man keep his disassembly to the basement, with his own things in his own space rather than putting my equipment out of service for another few days and leaving it laying around my space.

And so it’s best to let the man have his own space to disassemble and dishevel his own things, on his own time schedule without interfering with mine. I’d like to think that men need their own place to become better problem solvers, better engineers, better builders in this process. Not that a woman can’t do this work, but be honest that most men excel at fields like this. Think about all of the men you know – how many are engineers? Now think about the women – how many are engineers? Exactly.

Even the ones that aren’t engineers are oddly fascinated by putting things together, figuring out how things work, taking things apart and throwing them around. Just this past weekend, swim team Dave came to our house to learn how to put his bike together. It completely baffles me why someone would desire to spend a Sunday afternoon learning how to take apart and then put back together their bike. But when I saw him and Chris standing in the laundry room washing bike parts and chatting about derailleurs like two school girls about boys, I knew they were both in a safe, happy place.

At one point, Dave looked at me and said “sorry for bringing my dirty bike parts up into your clean house.”

It was a nice comment, but it was also interesting proof that all men need time to take things apart – and actually enjoy this – and that all men sense a clear distinction between the basement (his space) and the rest of the house (my space). They seem to realize there are boundaries, there are lines drawn in houses that separate man from woman, his room from hers.

Perhaps men need this type of place where they can completely deconstruct everything to figure out how to put it back together again. And perhaps with all of the pieces laying on the floor they can see patterns and possibilities for how to put it back together in a better, more efficient way. Maybe this deconstructed, trinket-strewn basement is good for us all. For so long our society worried about women having their own space, their own needs met that I think we forget to remember what was important all along – that everyone needs their own space.

Now, I won’t leave a voicemail for my mom explaining this to her. After all, these days she’s just sharing her space with a 14 year old spotted pooch by the name of Cookie. Who also happens to be a girl. But I do think it’s important to remind myself, and other women, that if the man has taken over a space and it’s a far cry from what you’d do with your own space – let him be. Let him have his safe place. And stay out.

Tonight I’ll probably find Chris in the basement, in a mess of wires and wheels but I know he’s happy down there. It’s his safe place, it’s his own space. The problems he solves down there are probably much more important than they appear and who knows, maybe in all of that mess he’ll see patterns for building something to revolutionize the cycling world.

And not that he would, but if he craps in his safe personal place, in that proverbial dog crate, I will go down there and I will pull him out. No exceptions.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Are You Afraid Of Monsters?

Are you afraid of monsters? I’m talking monster swim monsters. In excess of 6000 yards monsters. Does that make you scared? Are you shaking in your swim cap?

Prior to last year, that would have done it for me. I had never swum beyond 3900 yards. There was no need to. 3000 yards was more than enough. Anything beyond 3500 was impossible, even crazy.

If you come from a swimming background, this is nothing to you. You probably swam twice a day, 10,000 yards a day. But if you’re not from a swimming background, like me, 3900 yards is a very, very long way to go. That’s 78 laps. That’s 156 touches to the wall. 20 strokes per length, we’re talking over 3100 times of arms going around.

But last year I realized that if I was even going to get better in the pool, I was going to have to embrace swimming. And I was going to have to swim more yards. The perfect opportunity to not only embrace but give swimming a big bear hug came last February. The monster swim. Sponsored by our swim team, it was a swimming event consisting of 100 100’s on the 100. For those not ready for the 100’s, it was 100 75’s on the 100.

I was not yet ready – so I took on the 75’s.

Our coach suggested swimming 75 of the 75’s and then calling it a day. And that was good – because at 5625 yards my entire body was ready to be done. I still remember how useless and worn my whole body felt by that point. I was barely snaking through the water with a weak pull and a heavy kick. But I made it through.

Until today, that was my longest swim to date. But in between now and then, things have changed. Oh my have they changed. You see, I trained for a little thing called Ironman. And that included lots, and lots of monster-sized swims.

Not that I swam more than 4500 yards in preparation for Ironman, but when you do main sets that include 1000’s, 3 of them, you start to build some swimming character. And you don’t forget it.

And when you finally swim nearly 2 ½ miles in an ocean – the most neverending athletic endeavor of my life – you don’t forget that either. And you emerge with tons of watery character to keep you afloat for the following year.

Full of character and with that in mind, I arrived on deck for this year’s monster swim. And this year, I skipped the 75’s and went straight for the 100’s. 70 of them – no more, for fear of wrath by way of coach’s warning.

40 swimmers stood waiting by the lanes. Once the clock started, it wouldn’t stop. Every 100 seconds it would beep sending us off in long lines down the lanes.

I go to my lane assignment joined with other masters swim team friends and some random guy. To our surprise, the random guy agrees to take the lead. I agree to pull up the rear. 7000 yards is a long way to go. Give it about 3000 and people will be begging to bring up the rear. Begging.

The first 10 are uneventful – a warm-up. Random guy is leading, and swimming very fast coming in a good 10 – 15 seconds ahead of us. He’ll pay for that. This is not about who can swim the fastest, this is about pace and can you survive.

The next 10, I decided to pull which turns uneventful and easy into something a little harder. I never get very far with a pull buoy, but at least I give it a try.

At 18 into it, I decide to take a gel. Yes, I’m back on the steady diet of gels, bars, and sports drink. I took a sports nutrition break for a few months back in the fall which has renewed my interest in eating things from packages again.

20 – 30 are an uneventful blur. Swim down, swim back, repeat. Stand by wall. Sip water, push off. Repeat, repeat. The pool is sloshy and turbulent. For every lap I probably take in 20 gulps of water.

At 30, the random guy pulls up the rear. He’s been swimming with paddles for about 2000 yards now. I think to myself that tomorrow he will not even be able to hold his toothbrush. I’ve never seen anyone swim backstroke with paddles but today it is a first.

From 30 – 40, I decide to pick up the pace. I’m swimming smooth and decide today that my only goal will be to swim with good form. For the entire way. That’s easier said than done, especially as your arms get heavy or neck gets stiff from twisting and turning.

Around 40, I ask Jack how he’s doing. He doesn’t respond. I ask him if he remembers his name. He says he is tired. I decide to keep up the pace. What’s another 500 yards at this pace, I think? I start to feel fast and smooth.

Somewhere around 4200 yards, I passed the Ironman mark. I thought to myself about swimming in that damn ocean, the neverending ocean of putting my head up over and over again but not getting any closer to the finishing arch. Nothing will ever feel that long again.

At 5000 yards, we take a 5 minute break. I am wary of those that do not get out of the pool – a sure sign they have been peeing in it.

I see Kate slipping back our lane while eating a Rice Krispie treat.

“You’re going to pay for that in 10 laps,” I say to her with a cautionary smile.

She finishes chewing her chewy treat and says, “but I need the sugar, and it sounded good.”

Oh I laugh. Inside I laugh – very, very loud. I think back to one of my Ragbrai lessons learned – never, ever eat anything that sounds good when you swim, bike, or run. The year was 2004, it was raining and cold, and we rolled into Anamosa. I was hungry and in front of my appeared the gates of heaven in the form of a grocery store. I made a beeline to the bakery section and immediately found myself magnetized to a chocolate covered donut filled with caramel and topped with brownie chunks. I don’t like donuts – but this was something for even me to try. 10 miles later, I thought I was going to barf my entire stomach out on to Joe.

“Something that sounds good during the workout is always a bad idea,” I say to her, half joking but half serious, “this” I say holding up a caramel gel, “this doesn’t sound good to me, but it’s a good idea.” Really, whoever found themselves 50 miles from home on a bike or 2 hours into a run or 5000 yards into a swimming and thinking to themselves I would kill for a gel right now.

Kate laughs.

She’ll see.

5000 yards, 80 minutes, and we are back in the pool. Time to mix it up. Forget freestyle, let’s have some swimming fun. Sue finds a set of fins for me to use. They are literally the size of clown shoes and extend my feet by at least 20 inches. Kate looks at me and says if I’m wearing those fins, I’m leading the lane.

Challenge accepted. I’m kicking my 100’s in 75. The guy leading Chris’ lane next to me is wearing an Ironman Wisconsin cap. A yellow cap of courage, if you will. I make it my goal to keep up with him.

After 500 yards, the clown shoes are killing me. They are too big and make for difficult pushes off the wall. Enough. I go back to swimming.

At that point, almost on cue, Kate says with a grimace on her face “the Rice Krispie treat is now making itself known.” It could have been worse, I thought, it could have been a chocolate covered caramel-filled donut.

Somewhere in between 500 yards of kicking and 5000 yards of swimming, a giant bear has jumped on my back. My triceps start talking and they are not pleased. My neck is tired of turning. But as I swim past the 5625 yard, I realize I have swum past a major swimming milestone. I am now swimming the farthest I have ever swum – in my entire life.

You get to a certain point in your life or in sports where you start running out of opportunities for things like “the first time in my life”. Life has been long already, life has consisted of many miles. But this, these are new miles – actually new yards, and I am seeing them for the first time. This is something to celebrate.

The party plans are forming in my head and for some reason they are flavored with coffee……

At 6000 yards I take Maria’s fins. They are smaller, they are making me 100 times more buoyant than with the bear on my back. He’s jumped off and appears to have gone for a ride atop Jack’s back.

I started doing IM just to break the monotony up. People that say swimming doesn’t get their heart rate up have never done breaststroke arms with a flutter kick, have never dolphin kicked their way under water on their side for 25 non-stop yards, have never alternated 25’s of back and free, have never done all of this around 6500 yards.

The last 500 yards were more for my mind than anything else. I finish them up, painfully and uneventfully. I get out of the pool.

“I thought for sure you’d make it through the entire thing this year,” Coach Chris says to me as I walk from the pool.

Oh no, I thought to myself, oh no I did make it through. 7000 yards. Almost 2 hours. That was more than enough. This is not failure at stopping short of 10000 yards, this is a first time victory. This is something to celebrate.

Celebrate we did, about an hour later, sitting at Caribou. I sipped my Caramel Americano and sat quietly across from Chris. It’s not that I had nothing to say, it’s just that I was too tired to say that I was tired and that 7000 yards was a long way to go.

“Do you think you could have done the whole thing if we could?” he asks. Absolutely, I think, it’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of when. One year, when we don’t have to divert our energy to so much running and biking we’ll be able to dedicate it to all 10000 yards of swimming.

And I guess that’s what Ironman taught me. Anyone can do anything. Last year, I worried for days when I was scheduled for a 2 hour run, or a 122 mile ride, or a 4000 yard swim. I worried about all of these monsters that were hiding under my bed, in my closet, in my running shoes, at the pool, beneath my wheels. But once I just faced my fears, I didn't even
see the monsters along the way. They were really just in my head all along. So, I guess what Ironman taught me is that I don’t have to be afraid of monsters anymore.

But that doesn't mean I want to go swim 8000 yards tomorrow...

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Shaman of Inflammation

A famous person once said that pain is weakness leaving the body. That famous person never felt pain. If pain is weakness, then it should leave the body in a weak manner. Think of something weak; it’s feeble, it’s small, it doesn’t make much noise.

But I have never ran into a pain that casually or even weakly left the body. Oh no. In my opinion, pain snakes, grinds, and weaves its way in and out of every muscle fiber letting you know that it’s leaving – for now - but it will be back. Pain is a bitch like that. The door hits it on the way out and it still wants back in.

Earlier this week, pain was leaving my body via the quadricep/knee connection. I was long into my long indoor ride yesterday when suddenly I felt something in my knee. A few minutes later, it had turned into a steady ache with every push and pull of the pedal. Frustrated, and baffled, I got off the bike and did a slow stretch. Hopped back on and no sooner did I start pedaling than the pain returned. This time worse. I keep pedaling. Pain is there. I pedal slower, faster, easier, harder, pain, pain, pain.

Note that any normal person would have dismounted their bike, accepted the pain, and called it a day. But after you’ve been in the sport long enough, you know better than to fret and fuss about every single little pain. You can’t expect to churn your arms for thousands of yards, spin your legs in circles for thousands of miles, or pound your feet over and over again without a few aches and pains. After awhile you learn, painfully, that pain is indeed par for the course and the longer your course, the bigger your pains.

And so when I dismounted my bike and then went for a run – yes, a run after suffering through about 100000 more pedal strokes of pain - I didn’t think much of the pain. After all, I had grown accustomed to just eating the pain and this was yet another meal at the smorgasboard of aches and pain. I’m not saying this was the smartest decision. On the contrary, it was a very dumb decision. But if I stopped every time I felt a little pain, I probably wouldn’t get very far. So you learn to ride that fine line between suck it up (as in suck up that pain) and f*ck it up (as in stop now or the pain will f you up).

So there I was, later that evening, at Target trying to pretend that I wasn’t in a world of pain, that I didn’t cross the line, that my leg wasn’t f-ed up, when Chris looked at me and said, “are you limping?”

No, pain doesn’t live here in these legs and no, that is not my leg limping in protest of my denial. Maybe if I turn my head and answer he won’t notice me. No, we’re fine. We’re fit, we’re fast. We’ll be on our bike again tomorrow. I have not gone from superfit to superfreak in less than 3 hours.

I limp a few feet further. There was no hiding it. You can’t hide a superfreak. It makes too much noise. “Yes, I’m limping. My knee really hurts.” And after shuffling my way around the store for the next 15 minutes, I believe Chris had enough of the flash forward to what life with me will be like in 50 years as he said “we better get your gimpy ass home.”

But I was probably better off in the store. Because in the store you can’t drop to the floor and starting poking, prodding, or rolling your leg. You know the scenario – you feel something go wrong and you immediately think what can I do to fix this. NOW. No, I can’t wait, I can’t rest until tomorrow, I can’t sit in front of the television without sitting on a ball, running my leg up and down a foam roller, or massaging something to a painful end. You throw ice on it, then heat, then ice, then you roll it out again. It’s a vicious cycle of overzealous pain management left in your own hands. Very, very dangerous, busy, antsy hands.

Unfortunately, I dragged Chris’ hands into my evil den of pain. I convinced him to work out my quadricep trying to release whatever had a death grip on my knee. He started poking on my leg and found spasms that literally brought tears into my eyes. At one point, I made him stop so I could just catch my breath. But this is good. It’s weakness leaving the body, right?

The next morning, I woke up and the pain was still there. Angry little bitch of a pain and it wasn’t going to go away any time soon. Time for Plan B, time to bring out the big guns. Sitting at my desk, I dial the only person that can bring me back from a place as pathetic and painful as this. My doctor; miracle medicine man, purveyor of pain management, the shaman of inflammation.

For the past 7 years, my doctor has literally brought me back from the depths of despair. Many times I found myself walking desperate and forlorn into his office convinced I had fractured a foot, pulled a hamstring, slipped a disc. Then somehow in less than an hour he turned me around, eased my worries, and reinstated me to fully operational status again. He’s just that good.

He knows just the right places to pull, stretch, and poke. And if you can get past the weirdness of it all, you’ll be just fine. It looks like a crazy combination of erotic acrobatics ala Cirque du Soleil and violation via the kama sutra. But more commonly, it’s recognized as active release therapy. And over the years, he has actively released me from the grips of piriformis pain, ITB syndrome, hamstring tendonitis, shin splits, foot cramps, neuromas, plantar pain, backaches, ribs popped out of place, psoas tightness, abdominal strains, and neck needing adjustment. You name it, I’ve had it and he has helped it actively release.

“What are we looking at today, Liz,” he asked as he walked into the room. My legs lay in front of me on the table. I explain the situation, he listens, looks, then feels his way around. Diagnosis – one tight sartorius bound up in the quadriceps and pulling at my knee. He starts a series of pushes and passes over my leg while simultaneously stretching – and subsequently releasing – the pain.

He tells me where the pain is coming from, what it’s pulling on, how he’s going to treat it. I lay there for awhile, eating a new type of pain but still I’m hungry for the information. I ask my usual tirade of questions; how did this happen? Will it get better? Am I done? Is this it? A season ending injury? Did I break my knee cap? Fracture it? Am I permanently damaged? Will I be forced to sit on the couch for the next few months pitying myself while eating peanut butter cups?

“Liz, you trained too hard,” he said looking up at me while working on my leg.

Oh. That’s it?

As he continues to contort and bend my legs, I think about what he said. Yeah, I’ve been biting the pain pretty hard lately. Ate a big brick-sized sandwich of pain just the other day. Sometimes you just dig a little too deep.

And usually that’s all it takes. A simple statement that there is nothing overly complex or untreatable about this. You pushed too hard, too soon, too fast. You worked too much. You overdid it. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

We’ve all been there. We’ll all tasted that kind of pain. But every once in awhile, it pays to listen to the pain, and not just suck it up. Because chances are if you suck it up too much you’ll end up crossing that line. And find yourself sitting on a doctor’s table feeling totally f-ed up.

So next time you’re feeling a little tight, a little pain here, and an ache there, take the time to listen and relax. After all, it’s only February and it’s not time to dig too deep – yet. You won’t lose your fitness in a day and you won’t gain 10 lbs in one night. Instead, you’ll probably fall asleep early and be better off because of it the next day.

And if it comes back, take it one day at a time. Be patient. The pain will eventually pass, it always does.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Blue Pen

Somebody stole my blue pen.

Yesterday, I was working at a different desk and I walked away to make some copies. In the meantime, I think someone sat down there, used my pen, and walked off with it thinking it was their own.

I’m very particular about my pens. To my delight, I found out that the department secretary, responsible for ordering pens, has the same affinity toward the same pen. And so together, in secret e-mail meeting, we ordered a set of the pens and stashed them away in a secret cabinet known only to us.

The recent disappearance of my pen couldn’t have happened at a better time. Friday is the secretary’s last day at our workplace. And since she kept the secret stash of pens under constant, guarded surveillance, I requested that she turn over the stash to me.

I haven’t heard back. Perhaps she doesn’t take my request seriously or it got overlooked in a shuffle of e-mails. But to me, it’s quite important and warrants immediate attention – and action. Turn the pens over to me, I plead. Don’t make me send another e-mail flagged in red.

It’s for the company’s own sake.

You see, today I am using a different pen and it feels totally wrong. This morning, I found another pen in my desk, a black one, and reluctantly picked it up to assist in note taking, phone messaging, name signing, and other random office deeds. Work just isn’t the same. Right now, I am sitting here looking at the other pen, staring at it while shouting OUTLANDER in my head. I probably will only get half as much work done. I’ll be totally unfocused, much less productive, and overly distracted by silent protest of this imposter pen.

I try a pencil, I try a Sharpie, even an ultra fine tip marker. Nothing is the same. Nothing is as comfortable as my blue pen.

I decide to take action, to literally take the matter into my own hands. No pun, or pen, intended.

I formulate a plan. On a mission to find the thief, and my pen, I sneakily walk up to the administrative building. At first, I suspect my director. Former-convicted-penthief and all- around-office-supply-mooch. I stop in to say hello, check on a few things. I quickly scan the desk. In a mess of papers, forms, and files, I look for the familiar blue body and slim shape of my favorite pen.

But it’s not there.

Where could it be? Pen, oh blue pen of my mighty word. Of to-do lists, fee structures, grocery lists, and important dates. Where have you wandered? Whose desk are you sitting upon? Whose hand do you hold? And do you like it there better?

The secretary is of course holding her own blue pen so I certainly don’t suspect her. I skip over her office and give a polite smile as to not give way to the covert operation I am currently conducting. Operation BP. Operation BLUE PEN. Gone missing. Must be found.

My pregnant co-worker? Could she be the culprit? Pregnancy has been known to do strange things to a woman so pen thievery would come as no surprise. I walk into her office and sit down for a brief talk. In the back of my mind, I am performing the ultimate act of multi-tasking as I attend to our talk while scouring her desk visually for my favorite pen.

No dice. No pen for that matter, either.

I’m getting desperate. I don’t know how much longer I can go on with this other pen. This is not a pen for me. I don’t trust it, I don’t like it. It’s too fine, with a ballpoint like a razor that keeps tearing through the sheets of paper on which I write. I will never get through the day like this.

But I need to. Later on today I have one of those death-by-meetings. A two hour bore-athon of useless information overload. My survival depends on that blue pen – for doodling, for chicken scratching, for scribbling SOS’s to the person next to me about how much longer can this possibly go on and what has that person done with her hair.

And then, hope in the form of an e-mail appears in my inbox. The secretary has responded to my request for the secret stash of blue pens.

“They’re in your mailbox,” she replies.

At last, freedom in the form of my favorite blue pens. I walk to the other building and in my mailbox sits six perfect, slim, lovely blue pens. I bring them to the meeting, all six, which stirs up quite a conversation.

“What’s with the pens?” someone asks.

“Why are you carrying around six pens?” another one questions.

“I like them, they are my favorite, I will write with no other,” I admit while proudly clutching my clutch of six blue pens.

“Oh, yes, I feel the same way about my pens,” another co-worker quietly confesses.

So it’s not just me. Everyone has a thing about pens. I wonder what it is. Is it tactile? Is it scent? Is it color of ink? For me, it’s the feel of the pen and the way it writes on paper – thick, blue, solid lines and letters. Secretly, I also like the smell. And I’ve been known to lift my notepad to my face and take a sniff. The clean scent of freshly written blue ink. I also like to sniff my scotch tape. But that’s another thing all together.

Sitting through the meeting, my pregnant co-worker gives me a nudge. “Can I borrow one of your pens?” she asks, cautiously.

I look at her. Really, she knows about me and the pens. I can’t believe she dares to ask. There will be rules, there will be limits. She may even need to sign a waiver.

“I’ll give it right back,” she adds. And with that, I lend her one blue pen. She quickly jots something down and puts it back by my place. All is safe again, order has been re-established in my work-related world.

Afterwards, I walk out with pens in hand. Like a squirrel stashing nuts for winter, I think carefully about where I will store these pens. The top drawer? Too risky. Too many people rifling through my desk for post-its, pencils or calculators. The bottom drawer, hidden in the blue hanging file? Perfect. No one dares go down there. And that is where I stash my secret cache of pens.

Later on that day, before heading home, I sifted through my bag looking for my car keys. And wouldn’t you know that stuck near notebook and buried beneath my gloves was my original favorite blue pen. I immediately took it out and wrote a note for tomorrow. And it makes me feel better knowing that once this pen runs out, there’s a whole hanging file filled with back-ups, my blue pens, waiting just for me.

This is what a desk job does to you. This is how it seeps into your mind and makes you think about the petty, useless details in life like the length of your telephone chord, the color of your mouse, the comfort of your chair. It’s more than an exercise in ergonomics. It’s the little things that help you get through a big day of bullshit. And if a pen is all that it takes, then I’d consider that a mighty cheap deal for my company. They should provide a steady stream of favorite pens. It would be that easy.

Until tomorrow, another 8 hour day, I can’t wait to write again for the work that needs to be done. With my blue pen of course. And then I’ll sniff the paper. And maybe even the tape.

Whatever it takes, right?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

No Donuts?

With a steady stream of snow and a wicked northeastern wind, the streets were surprisingly desolate and traffic-free this morning. Therefore, I decided a special out of my way detour for coffee was in order. And my coffee du jour? Dunkin’ Donuts.

Walking into Dunkin’ Donuts, I am greeted with a rare sight – an empty store with no line. Two faces appear behind the counter; Rama and Geeta. It doesn’t matter when I go there – weekdays, weekends, even Christmas Day, Rama and Geeta are standing behind that counter. For them, it is always time to make the donuts.

For over a year, they didn’t say much to me. In fact, they didn’t even seem to understand me. Half the time, my medium coconut with cream became a medium coffee with cream. Absolutely not the same as coconut coffee with cream. Two completely different things. One worth driving out of my way for, the other not worth two cents.

But lately, I noticed that they’ve perked up a bit. Maybe they’ve been hitting Dunkin Donuts’ new line of lattes or maybe they’ve just realized that they are in the customer service business as much as they are in the donut business.

Whatever the case, they seem to have picked up on the fact talking to customers equals happy customers and happy customers are more frequent customers and more frequent customers equals more money.

No sooner did I form this hypothesis than my suspicions for their money-driven niceties were confirmed. You see, around this time I also noticed that a peculiar cup appeared on the counter. Scribbled across the cup in bright yellow and black letters was the word TIPS.

It’s bad enough I drive out of my way for coffee, bad enough I pay good money for what I can easily make at home, bad enough that they charge me over $1.00 for something probably worth 10 cents. And so, if I was going to part with any more money, Rama and Geeta were going to have to work for it.

I was very willing to tip, but there were going to be a few rules. First, get my order right the first time. Second, don’t try to sell me anything else. Third, make me laugh. And that was the key. If I was going to go out of my way to part with more money, they had to go out of their way to make me laugh.

At first, this didn’t go so well. I stopped by the store for a bagel and coffee after an early morning swim. The conversation went a little like this:

“Can I have a wheat bagel, toasted,” I said as clearly and concisely as possible.

“You want a bagel toasted?” Rama asked.

“Wheat bagel,” I confirmed the flavor.

“You want it toasted?” Rama asked, as if in asking me I would change my mind? Turn one bagel order into a dozen? What, what what was she looking for?

“Yes, toasted,” I said, thinking to myself haven’t we covered this three times already.

“Wheat bagel toasted,” Rama confirmed.

“Yes,” I said, for what felt like the hundredth time. Next time, remind me to just eat the damn bagel at home.

“No cream cheese?” Rama asked, curiously, as if it would be unhuman to request a bagel without cream cheese, like asking for peanut butter without jelly, coffee without cream.

“No, but do you have peanut butter?” I thought I’d take a long shot. Risky, but really I wanted peanut butter that morning.

Dunkin Donuts does not sell peanut butter!” she screamed as if I should have known better. I had violated the very core of what this woman believed about Americans and bagel spreads. Cream cheese goes on the bagel. It's that simple. No peanut butter, no butter, no margarine, no jam. I had no business throwing the peanut butter request in there. She looked ready to ban from me from ever returning, ready to post a sign with my picture that read let this be a lesson learned – peanut butter does not live here.

“Cream cheese. Dunkin Donuts sells cream cheese,” she asserted, making it clear that this is no place for peanut butter and no place for my ridiculous request.

“No cream cheese?” she asked, making one more attempt to make my bagel right.

“No, thanks.” Oh for the love of god give me the damn bagel and GET ME OUT OF HERE.

“Wheat bagel, toasted – no cream cheese.” Rama reiterated suspiciously to herself while looking at me from under her glasses like she didn’t trust me with such a suspect request because no normal person would eat a bagel without cream cheese.

Needless to say, I did not throw my coins in the tip cup that morning. It was going to take more than being hassled about my choice in bagel spreads to get some spare change out of me.

There I was, just a few weeks later standing at the counter faced with the same tip cup. It was filled with coins. Coins from generous people or coins from those that had simply learned if you throw a few coins in the cup you avoid a few minutes of pressure to buy a breakfast sandwich or turn your one donut order into a dozen. It's your call.

“Medium coconut with cream,” I requested, confident that this morning I would escape this line without being haggled about donuts, peanut butter, or whatever else was on Rama or Geeta’s mind.

“Just the coffee?” Rama asked. Immediately she puts doubt in my mind that I have made the wrong choice. Just the coffee? I don't know. I'm filled with doubt. Oh shit - is there something else? Should it be more than coffee? Should I break down and buy a blueberry donut? But if I do will I be coerced into buying a blueberry donut each and every time I return? What the hell do I do? I should turn around and run out of here and never come back. Screw you Dunkin Donuts! Screw your lusciously creamy coffee with fake coconut flavoring! AH!

“Yes, just the coffee,” I can handle this. I can do this. I can just order this coffee.

“No donut?” Rama asked again. She was relentless. She would accept nothing less than a donut in my hand. She was damned if I was going to walk out of that store with just a coffee.

“No, no donuts.” I stood firm.

“Why no donuts?” Rama probed. Like I couldn't see that one coming. Must we get into this? Must you probe me about all of the things I don’t like? I don’t like cream cheese and I certainly don’t like donuts. For that matter, I also don’t like eggplants, beets, potatoes and pizza. What do you have to say to that!?

“I don’t really like donuts.” I had to do it. I had to tell the truth. The hard cold truth. I do not like donuts.

“You don’t like donuts? No donuts?” This was sacrilege. This was totally un-American. How can you live in this country without liking donuts for breakfast. There must be a panic button. Somewhere under that counter she has pressed a red button that signals the junk food police to scoop me up and ship me off to Canada because I don’t like donuts, and if they find out I don’t like pizza, I’m not even sure Canada would take me.

“No, no donuts,” I said. Still waiting to be deported.

“You are too skinny. You need donuts.” This was the softer side of Rama. The motherly, caring, and concerned side. She wants me to eat donuts. She wants me to be happy and only a donut would make me happy. Here, have a little piece of happiness. It was a clever marketing approach – the maitronly, I will care for you approach. Eat my little cakes and buy yourself some happiness. This woman is pure marketing genius.

But really it was just a segueway into her next sinister statement. “She used to be skinny. Now she eats too many donuts,” Rama said pointing to Geeta, a woman about my age with a pretty face but with years of making, and eating the donuts, settled around her waist.

Geeta looked at me and smiled. And Rama, well she stood there in all of her own skinny sarcastic glory. I bet that woman never ate a donut in her life, I thought. And I bet Geeta eats about a dozen a day just to displace her annoyance with Rama all day long, a woman who will jab, poke, and probe at you until you crumble and buy a donut or order the darn cream cheese.

I stood there for a moment thinking of what to do or say next. They had gotten rule #1 - getting my order right the first time. They had completely violated rule #2 – don’t try to sell me anything else. But, they had nailed rule #3 – make me laugh. So on that day, I left Rama and Geeta a significant amount of spare change, walked out with coffee in hand and laughed all the way to work.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Bigger The Better

Leave-it-to-cleavage was at swim practice yesterday. It’s the second time I’ve seen her there this week. I couldn’t help but notice her on Tuesday. What caught my eye was literally her left boob busting out of the side of her suit. She so badly needs a new suit that I want to give her one of mine. At least to cover one of her boobs. Yesterday, I thought her boobs would explode in a mess of lactic acid all over the lane after a hard set of 50’s. They are just that unruly and big and she was panting that hard.

Speaking of boobs, a few days ago I received some very boobalicious news. It was a friend that I hadn’t heard from in awhile. Her absence intrigued me, I suspected something was up.

The other day, the answer arrived. Enter one highly entertaining e-mail in which she finally confessed where she had been. The words BOOB JOB pop out of the e-mail, literally burst off the screen, into my eyes, and my mouth drops open, drool might have dropped out. I was stunned.

Of all the things I suspected – injury, illness, other major life change, this – this was not one of them. She had completed Ironman a few months earlier and Ironman is known to be a life changing event. It changes the way you think about the world, and the way you think about yourself. For me, Ironman completely eliminated any desire I have to clean my house. I’m not sure what that means but I’m going with it for now. Cleaning house is one thing, a new outlook on life another, but buying yourself a new set of boobs – that, my friends, is something entirely different.

At first I didn’t know what to say – congratulations? cheers? bon voyage my boobified friend? Is there a card I should send? A gift I should buy? Is it like a baby or even a wedding – do you register for new bras, tell your friends, and celebrate with a fabulous new selection of B-cups instead of double A’s?

At that same time, I wonder if I should be worried. Is there a revolution on the rise that I should be aware of that warrants envy, jealousy, or concern? Will I soon be in an even smaller minority of small-chested friends? I wonder if I should cite a warning – small-chested women of the world - BEWARE - for there is mutiny in the masses – no matter how tiny they are - a quiet unrest, a growing number of women who stopped growing before they even started. They’re taking matters into their own hands, they’re going under the knife, they’re buying what they rightfully should have been given in the first place. They are buying themselves boob jobs and they’re damn proud of it.

I try to picture my friend with bigger boobs but have a hard time. You see, we’re about the same size and it’s a strange camaraderie between little people. Little people share little laughs about their little this n' that’s. But now that she’s got big this n’ that’s, she’s not part of the little cupcake club anymore. She went for the full blown scones. Somehow I can’t picture this – which might indicate a good thing that I am unable to visualize women with large breasts. Chalk up a point for me that indeed I have married the correct gender in case you were concerned about me and all this talk of boobs.

Immediately, more questions start popping up. I was curious – how did this happen? How did it feel? What do they look like? And, more importantly, how do they feel? Is it appropriate to ask to look, is it appropriate to want to look? I’m sure it would be totally inappropriate to touch so I promise I won’t make that kind of request. But what if the next time I find myself next to her in the locker room before swim practice and they just jump out and say take a squeeze. Will I be able to resist? I don’t know. How does one prepare for something like this?

I wonder what sealed the deal – what made her finally say I need these, I want these - NOW. The other day I had the same type of I NEED IT NOW urge about shoes and bought 4 pairs. But those are just shoes. You can put them on and take them off. Boobs – not the same. They’re pretty much there. For good.

Most importantly, though, I wonder if they look fake. Do they look like so-and-so with the fake boobs that we see at every major race and secretly whisper behind her back that over there is so-and-so with the fake boobs.

But I’m sure my friend got a better job done. Or something much more realistic. I’m sure she’s not standing there a little over 5 feet tall with double D’s. Right? I begin to wonder if she will rival leave-it-to-cleavage for the title of queen of bursting boobies in lane 3. Will I soon be offering her my swim cap to cover up her goods busting out the side of her now too small suit?

Then it hits me. A wave of envious despair. Though we often swim together on Saturday mornings, suddenly I realize she has made the ultimate in tactical moves to pull ahead of me – both literally and figuratively – in the pool. She has purchased the most evil form of unfair advantage, not only in daily life and interactions with the opposite sex, but in a domain even more important – masters swim team. I have visions of her enhanced with super boobie-powered buoyancy making her way through things I swimmingly struggle through like 10 x 200 on 2:45, 9 x 600 on 9:00, or – dear god – 400 IM.

That is SO unfair. I consider ways to slow her down. Sand in her swim cap? Fog in her goggles? Hanging on to her feet? Shout EVERYONE LOOK AT XXXX’S NEW BOOBS before taking off for a 50? Putting a laminated sign on the back of her swimsuit that says objects under this swimsuit are now bigger than they once appeared.

That'll teach her.

Then I think about her husband. Generally a smiley guy, but I’m guessing this totally pushed him over the edge. I’m guessing he is literally smiling from ear to ear. Heck, he might have even gone in to get another ear just to smile even wider. Do you think they got a 2-for- 1 (sort of) deal? Is it appropriate to say congratulations the next time I see him at the gym? I could see my own husband, giddy like a small child waiting for Christmas thinking to himself today – TODAY – is the day that my wife gets bigger boobs. I have been waiting my whole life for this, he would say. I could even see him skipping.

Imagine you could have them but didn’t have to pay for them. Imagine you could instantly own two new bags full of fun. I imagine it would be the equivalent of me sitting there and suddenly a million dollars falls from the sky while I am simultaneously surrounded by buckets of ice cream, bags of peanut butter cups, and cowboys. All of my favorite things. It would be that good.

But everything in life comes with a cost. So I think about the recovery process, is there much pain involved. Not because I’ve ever considered it – oh no – but because I’m just curious. She tells me she’s been laid up for two weeks; no workouts, no running. The other day she took to the treadmill and was pleased to find they functioned quite well. Took them for their first run. It was just fine. There was no major boob slapping in the face, no injury to her back. Hmmmm…..bigger boobs and you can still run? Tell me why I haven’t done this yet?

Of course – the answer - someone has to be queen of the cupcake club. And who better suited for that position than me. But I’ll admit that there have been times – mostly in college when you don’t know any better and your whole life revolves around bars, boys, and – sadly – boobs - that I secretly wished for something bigger. But after awhile you realize these are the two boobs you were dealt so you might as well deal. At what point, then, do you decide you have dealt enough?

So I ask her. What made her do it? And then she confesses with a most simple answer to a highly complex question – she did it just because. Because she always wanted them. Because she was tired of walking around with two cupcakes formed in a size triple A muffin pan. Tired of looking like a 12-year old. Time to grow up and grow like the big girls. Time to wear big girl pants. And a big girl bra.

Honestly she admits that she hasn’t even had time to buy a new bra. In her words, she’s still stuffing a pound of potatoes in a half pound sack. Imagine the delight, the fun of shopping for new bras. I picture my friend walking into Victoria's Secret, jutting her chest out, while saying - loudly of course - I AM LOOKING FOR THIS IN A PERFECT 34B with her husband standing next to her still smiling ear to ear.

We talk a little more about her new adventures with her new boobs and I see she is having fun with this, she is happy. So, I tell her to proudly embrace her new identity. In fact, I suggest an entirely new identity and christen her “boobalaroo”.

So, boobalaroo, this one’s for you. Enjoy your new big girls and live large from here on out. And if you’re looking for somewhere to dump all of your now-too-small jog bras, I’ll proudly accept them on behalf of the cupcake club. Tax deductible donation, of course.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

What It Takes

The other day, an athlete approached me and asked about success. He read about a goal I had achieved and wondered how I did it, how I made it happen. I thought for a moment, and responded with – “a lot of hard work, a little bit of luck, and a whole lot in my head.”

Reaching your goals and achieving success involves a lot of hard work. But it’s not just the work in your arms and legs. It’s the work you do in your head that makes the hard workouts really count. This is the difference between those that breakthrough and those that breakdown. You have to know what to do in your head to reach a body-involved goal.

Many of us search for ways to boost our physical fitness without giving our head the same kick in the ass. You can’t expect to dig deep and pull through if you’ve never done it in training. You can’t expect to go faster or harder in a race if you’ve never been there before. You have to get there in training, you have to push yourself. And the only way to push yourself is to talk yourself into it.

Here’s how to kick through the mental roadblocks that might be getting in the way of your goals. This is the kick in the head that all of us need from time to time. Get your boots out and get ready.

There is no substitute for commitment

Above anything else, first and foremost you must make a commitment. You’re either in or you’re out. There’s no such thing as in between. You can’t be committed to your goals on sunny days and against them when it’s cold. You can’t expect to achieve your goals at 100 percent with 50 percent of the effort. You either want something or you don’t. If you don’t want it, then abandon it and shoot for something that you truly have passion for. If there is lack of commitment in your mind, your body will never know what to do. But if you do want it, then go at it full force. Put yourself entirely into it, make the commitment, and don’t stop until it happens.

You still have to do the hard work

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in the sport for 1 year or 10 years – you still have to do the work. Time in the sport doesn’t mean less time in training. And as you get better, you have to work harder because the amount of improvement possible becomes smaller and smaller. You end up working 10 times as hard for 10 seconds. If you’ve reached a plateau, it’s time to reassess if you are really doing the hard work. Are you giving up just shy of it, or stopping just before you’re done? Redefine your idea of ‘hard’ and see where that takes you. Take it up a notch. The harder you work now, the harder it is to surrender when it counts.

There is no shortcut to success

You can’t skip the hard workouts and nail the easy ones and still expect to succeed. If success was easy, then everyone would be winning. It’s not easy, so don’t expect success to come to you if you’ve taken shortcuts or given up on yourself. You have to go at it full speed ahead. You have to have tunnel vision and follow the path to succeed. Understand that the path to success involves sacrifice, commitment and pain. Don’t expect anything less, and don’t believe anyone that says they didn’t sacrifice or hurt to reach their goals.

Get out of your own way

Get over yourself and get out of your own way. Stand there for a moment and consider all of your excuses, yor supposed shortcomings, your reasons for why you did not succeed. Now stand there and raise a middle finger at yourself. Get over yourself. Stop making excuses for why you didn’t succeed and start expecting more out of yourself. Get yourself to that point in the workout where you step aside yourself and have that conversation where one part wants to give up and the other part wants to keep going. Raise your middle finger at the other half and keep going. Successful competitors never give up. Successful competitors truly want to win and will allow nothing to get in their way in order to get there.

Give yourself permission to win

Part of getting out of your own way is giving yourself permission to win, whatever your idea of winning is. You must see yourself as a success. And your definition of success or winning will change each day with each workout. For some workouts, a win is to just finish. For other workouts, winning is to hit a certain time or distance. Think through each workout, formulate a goal, and give yourself permission to reach that goal.

Be honest with yourself

Be honest with yourself. Admit your weaknesses and commit to learning how to improve. What’s tough is to go out and work hard on the things you know you don’t do very well. Anyone can work on what they’re good at – that’s easy, it feels good, it pays off big. But give yourself a bigger payoff - build your weaknesses until they become your strengths. You can only getter better by first admitting that you are not the best at something. Give yourself room to improve.

It has to come from within

Success in entirely within your control. And your desire for success has to come from within. You have to want it – not your coach, not anyone else. It has to be your goal and you must take complete ownership of it. Do it because you want to do it for you. If you find yourself fretting about numbers or focusing on the competition, do this – write down the names of the competition or the numbers you’re perseverating about. Now light that sheet on fire. Let it burn, let it go. Now write down the word YOU. Stick it on your mirror and look at it every single day to remind yourself that you are in control of you and what you want has to come from within.

A failure is only a failure if you fail to learn something from it

Let go of the idea that a failure is a waste of time. If you do not reach your goal you have to look inside of yourself and assess why. To skip this is to circumvent the powerful learning opportunity that one can find in failure. Failures teach us where we need to go next time and careful consideration of our failure reveals how to get there. If you are truly in touch with yourself, connected to a course or workout, you will see where things went wrong or what held you back. I have never walked away from a failure without 5 new goals to work towards and the fire lit beneath them.

Let go of your fear

You have two choices – to play it safe to be good or take a chance to be great. Let go of your fear, go out and attack it instead. Take it for a ride, beat it on a run. Let it run right behind you but never to catch you. True victories come from taking risks. When we let fear control us, we play safe, we play scared, we play small. You must be unafraid of taking big risks in order to achieve big things.

Success is a process, not a product

Success is a long, gradual process in which you will progress along the way. Performance improves when you surrender to this process with patience, trust, and belief in each part of process. Once you reach your goal, you will find something else you want to work towards. As such, success is a continual process that you will keep reinventing for yourself. Keep this process alive by shooting for goals that you truly believe in, that you truly want – for yourself and from yourself.

Success is always within your control. You define who you are and what you can be. Visualize yourself as a limitless success and set your mind up to support this thought every step of the way. Again, achieving success is not easy. It’s going to involve some ugly truths and some painful realizations. It’s going to involve being honest with yourself and then committing, surrendering to the process. So put the white flag up, let go of your fears, get out of your own way and step off on to the long, hard path to get there. It’s worth it. Trust me.