Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Getting Ready

In my bathroom right now there is a giant mass of sports gear, gels, and plastic baggies.

Tomorrow I am heading to St. Croix.

I can’t wait.

Just in time because winter has returned to Illinois (it was 36 this morning) and even if I did want to ride outside the only season that has arrived other than winter is construction (meaning everything is a mess or orange cones and merge into one lane) so most of the roads are a crowded mess. Rather than weave in and out of orange construction cones, I choose to race. Hence the trip. And the bathroom mess.

Something is different about this trip. You see, I am traveling solo. Husband has better things to do. Not really but he does have a list of about 20 things I am demanding that he do when I’m gone (lightbulbs, screen doors, take Boss to dog park, clean up pile on closet floor of clothes too clean to be dirty and too dirty to be clean).

I found out that Bree Wee is also traveling alone. Depending on how this clash of caffeinated vs. decaffeinated goes – this may or may not be a good thing. For her, not me. What she needs to know is that my decaffeinated bark is worse than my bite. And generally I don’t bite unless I don’t have coffee.

I’ve already warned Bree that on Friday morning I will be calling her and I will be looking for coffee. I have already checked into the coffee situation on St. Croix and I am sad to report that it is – in a word – grim. So, I am bringing my own. And bringing my own French press mug. You can see that I have been in a grim situation before, learned my lesson (actually the mug was a gift from Chris, poor guy had to put up with years of I CANNOT DRINK GAS STATION COFFEE on the road tantrums) so I’m bringing my mug along – just in case.

Little does Bree know that I also plan to cling to her like her evil twin at the pro meeting because if they found out I don’t flip turn and still swim in the 1:25 lane – they will probably put me in a special wave. By myself. In the shallow pool. With swimmies.

As I was packing today I realized I had no idea where St. Croix even was. But then I realized that was also part of the fun of it. All that I know is I board a plan at 1:55 pm CST and arrive 8:55 EST. I am not sure what that equates to in miles and time zones and hours but does one really need to know? It’s like a choose your own adventure and as I sit on the plan to San Juan (also don’t know where that is) I can turn the page and arrive in St. Croix. How I got there? Don’t know. Don’t need to know. Only thing important is (a) is it warmer than 36 degrees, (2) is there a beast around because I have been looking for him, and (c) where is the coffee.

I have something else very exciting to report other than my confession that I am not a good student in world geography: I fit everything into a carry on suitcase. Oh no? Oh yes. EVERYTHING. You don’t believe me. But believe you me. It’s all in one tiny bag. No extra baggage fees for me.

Of course this means I’ll be wearing the same clothes for three days straight.

This will also be my first time driving on the left side of the road. I have rented a car and Bree warned me that I will be driving. I am sure there is some great story of Bree driving on the wrong side of the road somewhere and when I hear it I will definitely share.

If I could fit Boss I would bring him. But my carry on is already stuffed and I’m trying to keep my bike box under 50 lbs. But I am bringing along smaller lucky trinkets. The bracelet that my sister in law gave me last weekend to bring me good karma, positive energies and protect me from the evil eye. The band identical to the one Marit has. The notes, the e-mails, the quotes. All of these pieces remind and inspire me of the power of things bigger than me.

I did a little brick tonight and I was thinking about the race. Then my thoughts drifted to my athletes and their races. Many of them are racing this weekend. I reminded myself of what I had been telling them about their races. That their legs are ready for their best race. That the only thing standing in their way is what is in their head. So they must be 100 percent ready to overcome themselves and their head to get to their best race. Reminding them that they have choices. That they write their own ending – always. No excuses, no holding out when it counts. Arrival at a goal is entirely a choice you make.

These are the same things I tell myself. The legs are there. The training is done. Between me and the finish line are 70.3 miles that will hurt more in my head. Doubts will try to rush their way in during moments of weakness and pain. But I have to push them out. Close the door and run my own race. Be confident in my preparations. Follow my plan. And chase towards my goal with tunnel vision for the ending I create.

And as I pedaled into the wind tonight riding the bumpy rough roads of Fermilab, thinking about the wind on the island and the rough roads on the course, I thought to myself for this race, in my head, this is what it takes:

Courage to let your hard work pay off
Patience with yourself and the race
Vision to see it through to the end

As long as I keep repeating that in my head there will be room for nothing else.

But I sure wish I had room for Boss!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An Interview with......

There's a fun feature on Facebook called 10 Second Interview. I don't spend much time there but I did answer some of the questions and thought I would share the repsonses here:

What was the last e-mail you received?

One from my coach that said “are you smoking crack?” because I told her I was going swimming at 9 pm.

Would you rather meet your future inlaws naked or in bondage gear?

First of all I already have in-laws, one set is enough thank you, and second of all I don't even like seeing them in their pajamas so I'll skip the bondage gear.

Hello, Hi or Hey?

Hola. Tim Hola if we're talking triathlon.

What's the most embarassing song in your collection?

Hannah Montana. I have no shame.

Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?

Screw that, I'm taking the wookie. Something that tall is bound to come in handy when you stand at 5'2".

What was your first live concert?

Faith No More! You want it all but you can't have it....

What's your earliest memory?

Being in a phone booth in a bar with my mom. That sounds a lot worse than it probably was.

What is the most useful class you've taken?

Typing in high school. How smart was that?

When do you normally go to bed?

Right about when I fall asleep.

My comfort food is...

A gallon of Moose Tracks or a jar of peanut butter (thanks Jenni Keil!)

Take whatever you want. Just don't take my...

Dog, laptop, piano, coffee maker, or husband. Wait, how much will you give me for the husband?

Have you ever fallen asleep at work?

Yes. But in my defense I do work at home.

I believe in...

The united state of caffeination - free beans and good buzz for everyone.

For the talent portion of the competition, I will...

Peform my next magic trick - becoming very small.

A recent poll shows a fifth of Americans cannot locate the US on a world map. Why do you think this is?

There hasn't been a tv show that has shown them.

Naked food fights are..

Not very hygenic.

What was (or will be) your wedding song?

Fly Me To The Moon; we searched for months for the right song and both decided we didn't really care and so we picked the only man qualified to sing at a wedding - Sinatra, plus it kept all the Brooklyn Italians happy and that's always a good thing.

You can see my place, but don't look in my...

Husband's bathroom. I once found a bag of chips and a bottle of beer in there.

What would you do if you could be invisible?

Steal coffee.

Which is worse? Nails on a chalkboard or lemon juice on a cut?

How about doing Ironman?

What flavor Jello are you?

Puddin' Snack

How many times a day do you brush your teeth?

So many my brother once said "you are going to brush all of the enamel off your teeth."

What is your current ring tone?

Drum taps. Only a former marching band dork would choose that.

What celebrity do you wish would just go away?

Madonna. PLEASE stop making music. PLEASE!

When I want to be alone, I...

Generally just leave.

Would you rather own a dog named Growler or a parrot named Captain?

Or a chihuahua named Boss?

What's the worst that could happen?

Probably not the best.

What would your super hero name be?

Small Wonder able to drink tall coffee cups in one single gulp.

Where was sexy before Justin Timberlake brought it back?

Under my bed. In hiding.

Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or white chocolate?

Peanut butter and chocolate. What do you think of that?

What was the best advice you ever received?

"Keep your drawers on." - Mom

SUV, compact, or sports car?

Did you know gas was $4 a gallon? Now who's the smart one.

My first word was probably...


Voldemort or Sauron?

Is this a quiz to get into Mensa? If so, I'm out.

What's your favorite pizza topping?

I am not friends with pizza. OH HUSH UP.

When I was little, I used to believe that...

Clowns were evil (still do).

One in the hand is worth two in the...

Isn't this part of an Ozzy Osbourne song? Ask him.

Which sport is the best to watch

Pro Bull Riding. GIDDY UP.

What music should they play at your funeral? (example: Get On Up)

Just please bring the P-Funk. And make George Clinton give my eulogy ("she has returned to the mothership connection")

What's the first frivolous thing you'll buy when you're rich and famous?

I said "An SRM." My husband said "A bowling alley." Remind me why I married him again?

No matter how desperate I was for a guy/girl, I'd never...

Date my husband's dad.

Why does paper beat rock?

Their domestic issues are none of my business.

Thongs are...

Very bad for your feet.

If you discovered a planet, what would you call it?


Tom Cruise: crazy town, or misunderstood?

Uh, he's had trouble for awhile. Remember Risky Business? The whole underwear bit?

What will JT bring back next now that sexy is officially back?

My money since he bought it from me.

A more appropriate first name for me would be...


If your life were a movie, what would be the last line?


I'd be nothing if it weren't for...

Something? This is a bit too existential for me.

What are three ways you're making the world a better place?

Vowing never to drive without coffee before 9 am. That's just one way but it would count for three.

What was your worst fashion mistake?

Spending most of my days lately in pajama pants. Dressing my dog in Juicy Couture. Allowing my friend Leslie to give my husband a Battle Bots t-shirt (he wears it every Saturday).

What is/was your imaginary friend's name?

Lassie. No relation to movie dog.

If I woke up as the opposite sex, I'd...

Probably sniff my armpit. Just in case.

There's more to life than...

Ice cream, puppies and coffee. Maybe not.

The last time I actually cooked something, I made...

A mess.

I'd be mortified if someone caught me...

Decaffeinated after 10 am. I'm apologizing in advance.

I grew up...

On a cement stoop in Brooklyn listening to my grandma and her Italian lady friends telling stories about freak accidents and food.

There you have it. 10 seconds - if you read really fast - with me.

*yes those are bibs. and compression socks.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Week On Speed

I have spent the last week on speed. Never you mind about calling up the WADA. I checked their website to ensure that this type of speed was indeed legal for athletes likes me.

Monday started with a secret pact I made with myself. I would swim 5 days in a row this week. I would reconcile with the pool. The week before the pool and I had a few words. This week we would make friends again. The pool did its part by begin good to me on Monday night which actually surprised me. Because earlier in the day I had done a 55 minute run consisting of steady work. In 80 degrees. While overdressed because I might not live in the heat but I can simulate it with sweaty long sleeves.

Tuesday was a triple day. It started with a swim at masters in my own lane. I often find myself in my own lane. I still have not figured this out. It seems everyone has not yet realized that swimming in the lane with the slow person does not make you slow. It can actually build your ego if you try to lap me 3 times in a 400. Works for the rest of the team. But today I was embracing the pool. And I was going to keep up with the guy in the next lane. We worked hard on the pull sets and then he proceeded to lap me on everything that did not involve a pull set.

That’s ok because I had two more opportunities that day to redeem myself. Once during the group ride and then in the run afterwards. Remember the group ride? The ride that costs me 7 watts per kilogram just to hold on for 2 minutes and 11 seconds? There was no redeeming there. Ended up riding it out on my own. But I could at least pull off a run. I was chasing darkness as it settled in but had one of the most fabulous runs of the year. The effort was – well, effortless and it was one of those runs where you find the groove, stop feeling your feet and move fluidly through the air.

Wednesday. Another swim. On my own. So I decide to do mostly IM. About 1000 yards into it I wondered what possessed me to do 8 x 75 rolling IM. Or 3 sets of 3 x 100 with varying degrees of hardness. Or - for kicks – 4 x 100 in IM order and finish up with 5 x 100 of assorted breath control. Follow all of that up later that night with….track. Perfect. It actually was. The perfect night on the track to run the fastest mile of my life.

Thursday was another day and of course another swim. But first there was a 2 hour ride. Oh yes – that ride. The ride where I said, I’ll go outside. The ride where I then got poured on with rain. And then almost hit by a car because they didn’t see me nor hear me shouting NO BRAKES! Did the other half of that ride in my basement. Then headed to swim that night. And for the record, it is possible to slow down by 30 seconds in a 200 over the course of 1 hour.

Friday was my last day in 5 days of swims. I swam in a tough lane with the big boys. Why not. Everything was going well until goggle dysfunction occurred. And then they completely broke. Then I had to borrow goggles from someone else. All of this occurred during a set of 4 x 100 on 1:xx which I wanted so badly to do and got so badly upset when I missed 2 of them. That’s when you know you’ve been in the pool too many days. You’re ready to cry because you can’t do your last 2 x 100. Because the other 20000000 yards didn’t count for anything. Also on Friday I did a short run on my new treadmill!

And my new treadmill fired me up for my 5K. Yes, waiting for me Saturday was a 5K. And not only that but also 39 degrees and 38 mph gusting winds.

Those are perfect conditions for a 5K.

I actually pulled out my Hyper Speeds. I looked at these shoes and thought how infrequently I wore these shoes because of how rarely you will find me at a 5K. The goal was to push a hard pace on tired (more like dead) legs. The wind also had a goal. Push against Elizabeth at such a hard pace that she slows 30 seconds per mile off her hard pace. It wasn’t a PR and for the love of Garmin it was a long course. But I ended up finishing first and realizing that – wow – speed hurts.

Best thing for that hurt? Recovery ride. Since it’s warmed up to 45 degrees let's take 20 minutes to put on all of our clothes and ride outside. Going with the gusting winds – 23 mph effortlessly. Going into the wind – geared out at 11 mph pushing watts at 150% of LT. I survived 40 minutes before I retreated back inside. Besides, America’s Top Model was on anyways.

That brings me to Sunday. My last day on speed. I woke up at 5:30 am feeling like I had been rolled over by 5 swims, lots of bike miles, a 5K and today was supposed to do a…30K time trial. Walked downstairs. Realized it was 36 degrees. Walked upstairs. Said to Chris “It’s 36 degrees, I’m supposed to do a TT.” He said “That’s just stupid.” And then I went back to bed.

Later Chris admitted it really wasn’t all that stupid he just didn’t want to listen to me complain before 6 am.

But I wasn’t off the speed just yet. There was still one workout left. A bike-run-bike repeat 5x through brick on the bike and treadmill. At first I was a little scared. My lower legs screamed 5K on pavement in HyperSpeeds! But I had to try. And you know what –it was ok. Sure it hurt like heck and my legs were ready to explode and by the last 800 on the treadmill I thought I would need to pull that little red cord for safety. But I pushed out loads of watts. And cranked that treadmill faster than I’ve ever done before.

And when I was done I realized I survived my week on speed. I made it through and for the first time in a long time….I’m pleased! You see, it wasn’t so much the physical obstacles I was worried about – it was overcoming myself. I told my coach the Elizabeth a year ago would have cried upon seeing 5 runs in a week. Three of those including intensity. Or running the day after a 5K. Or swimming for 5 days. Or running hard off the bike 5 times through. A year ago I wouldn’t have attempted any of this at all.

It has taken time and taken a lot of letting go. Trust the process and be patient for the rewards. The weeks and months leading up to this week have been rough at times. I have unraveled on more than one occasion. I have been scared of becoming better than myself, of taking that risk. I have been impatient, too. But I’ve come to realize that impatience and anxiety are really our lack of confidence in disguise. Our inability to simply release, trust and immerse ourselves in the process. To let go of our hanging on the outcome. To instead just trust that one day we will just arrive.

I have my first big race of the year next weekend. Whether I am in the top 10 or the very last person to cross that line, I go knowing that I am confident in my preparations and knowing that I have prepared as hard as I can for now. I am excited to see how the work will pay off but also honest in acknowledging my work is nowhere near done. But each week I get closer. And each big week of speed shows me that I can do things better than before. I am doing things faster. I am getting stronger.

It is never easy but if it was easy everyone would be good at it, I say. It takes something more than that. Will I have that something more? Who knows. But what I do know is that I have weeks upon weeks like this to pull out from my mental files from the past few months. Weeks that have built me up to where I am today and those are the weeks that count for more.

So let’s find out, eh?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lessons From Boss

Who would have thought we would go straight from winter to summer? I’m not complaining but this almost seems too good to be true. I know there is late April snow hiding somewhere. I know there’s another day of 32 with freezing rain.

But for now we are enjoying each day. Last week I rode outside TWO TIMES. A miracle I tell you. I can tell you about race seasons where I rode outside once before May. I ran on the trail the other day and sweat so much I lost 2.4 lbs. I got a sunburn. I did yardwork. The windows are open. And, and….the best part….Boss has become an outside dog.

A totally new experience. You see, thus far in life he has been exposed to cold, snow and sticks. And now spring has come to life. There is grass to eat. Dirt to get under the nails. There are noises coming from birds. This is all very new to Boss and very, very exciting.

Some days I put Boss in the backyard. Tether him to a 12 pound dumbbell and let him be. It’s not like an 8 lb dog is hauling off a 12 lb weight. I like to watch him from the house while I eat breakfast. First things first: he usually has a pee and a good poo. Sometimes if I don’t watch closely enough he then eats his poo. But I am guessing it tastes much better outside than inside. Everything tastes better outside. So I can’t blame him.

After that he just occupies himself. Most of the time he just simply sits. Sometimes he looks out in the field. Other times he looks up at the sky. He listens to the birds. And he gets excited when he hears ducks in the nearby pond. He sniffs. He digs in the dirt. And then he’ll just roll on the ground.

Occasionally het lets out a bark. At the motorcycles, the cars or the crows that pester the owls that nest in the tall evergreens. Boss seems to be saying hey! It’s a nice day out here. Quit ruining it with your noise! I’d agree. There’s too much noise in the world. Things need to slow and quiet down.

The other day we had a stern talk. More of a lecture in botany. The subject – what a hosta is and why we do not eat them for threat of scolding by owner of hostas – dog mom. The next time Boss comes inside with hostas on his breath we will have another talk. About why he can no longer be an outside dog.

Boss loves the sun the most. Who wouldn’t? He chases streams of sunlight as they move through the house during the day. Yesterday he picked the best spot of all to take a nap – in front of the screen door with sunlight shining on the carpet. It’s like his version of an electric blanket. He cuddles with it on the ground.

Some days we go to the dog park. The windy days are not his best. He sits in the field with ears blown by the wind. The sounds and smells are too much for him. Then he wants to leave. Runs over to the fence and tries to squeeze through. I look at him and scold his name. He looks back at me with ears submissive and says “but please take me home.” So I do.

Warm, sunny days are his best. He runs frantic crazy laps in circles around the park. He antagonizes the other dogs into chasing him. He steals fur pettings and tummy scratches from all of the adults. He likes the man that brings bacon the best. He likes the beagle named Max. And he hates the white fluffer dogs. He is master of the fake right, go left. He’s a thief of water from plastic bowls. He is little Boss.

We finally got Boss a tag. It hangs around his neck and acts like a built in alarm system for when he is coming. He essentially polices himself. When it goes quiet – I know it’s time to look around. On the tag it says BOSS because we couldn't fit BOSS WATERSTRAAT. But we cuold fit our phone numbers. We hope if ever he got lost someone would return him. But I realize he is very cute so it’s a risk we take.

With this new tag lately I have been trusting Boss to run in the field behind our house. Of course I sit with him enjoying the warm grass and the sun. He enjoys rolling into smelly smells he finds on the ground. Or sniffing at the shrubs. Or marking the weeds. Or eating rogue Doritos on the ground. He runs free like a real dog should and always comes when called. He could do this all day.

Boss knows how to spend a day. He enjoys himself. He takes the time to just be. At times he runs around the house like he has somewhere very important to go. He has things on his mind and he looks to be very busy. But other times he quietly finds his bone, sits and chews. For as much as Boss plays he takes the time to rest.

Getting a dog is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Sure, it’s a pain at times to take him out or worry when he is alone for too long. But I realize there is a lot to learn from little Boss. He strips the world down to the important things – eating, pooping, relaxing , and being in a lap of love. Taking the world in one blade of grass at a time. Enjoying a sunny day. Barking back at noise. And listening to the birds. He’s got a great little life, eh?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Big Girl Shorts

Tuesday night was the group ride.

Note the last time I tried group rides was back in 2005. “Tried” being the operative word. Meaning, I went once or twice, got dropped far too quickly and decided driving 45 minutes west to hang on for 40 minutes was not a good use of my time. However, they are back as part of the 101 ways my coach is trying to kill me with intensity in a group format this year.

Enter the group ride.

Once again, I drove 45 minutes west to find myself in a forest preserve in St. Charles. My husband meets me there as he too is in for the group ride. The difference is that there is a very good chance he will actually hang on to the group ride while there is an even better chance I will just go for a very fast, but short ride.

You see, last week I showed up and hung on for 42 minutes. I know what you’re thinking – that’s not real good considering it’s over a 90 minute ride. However, two years ago I hung on for 40 minutes so you can see I have made some progress there.

Two minutes in two years. That’s almost as good as dropping 15 seconds from my 1000 free time.

My goal this week was to hang on for 43 minutes. Raise the bar by 1 minute from last week and from there just hang on for dear life. I was feeling more confident this week because Chris had removed my compact crank (seriously who needs a compact crank to climb the flats of Illinois) and gave me big girl gears. Add that to my new road bike which now has 700 wheels plus I wore my big girl shorts so I felt like I might get somewhere. Or for 43 minutes at least try.

Chris and I warmed up for awhile along the roads with the other antsy cyclists waiting to start the ride. Everyone circles, vultures, and paces in anticipation of what could be a whole lot of hurt tonight. Finally we all wait at a stop sign for the rest of the group that starts at the bike shop. There is nervous talk of let's get going and comparison of bicycles between the guys. I stood in the back even more nervous pretending like I did not realize I was the only girl there, nor did not realize I might get dropped once we cross the street, nor did not realize that based on the bikes and number of race wheels I might be out of place on this ride.

And then it happened.

“Mumford, we hear you’re going to be a father soon.”

(we interrupt this blog to allow for a long pause in which the author emptied out her big girl shorts from the load she just dropped in them and put on her plastic pants when she realized Reid Mumford just rolled up for the group ride)

Reid Mumford? REID MUMFORD? The Reid Mumford that was the only amateur strong enough to hang with the Toyota Pro Cycling team in a crit a few years ago? Reid Mumford that finished 2nd at some elite national road race championship? Reid Mumford that currently rides for a pro cycling team?

I look at Chris and mouth the words “I AM SO DEAD.”

He looks back at me with a grin and says “I know.”

Understand me being at this group ride with Reid Mumford is about as ridiculous as if I had shown up at masters, found Michael Phelps in my lane (bad choice on his part) and said “want to do a few laps?” Better yet, remember the other night when I showed up at the state meet wearing a normal swimsuit while everyone else was in fast suits? This is similar except add a snorkel and swimmies to my arms.

What to do what to do what to do. Look down, look at the gears. Do I see a motor attached to my gear set because that is the only way I will survive. No. DAMMIT! So I stand there and chew on my nails. I think about turning around. Then I say to myself all you have to do is hang on for 43. 43 MINUTES not a minute more. Then I decide I can’t do it. Then I realize I should at least try. Then I decide I am crazy for trying to try. Then, well, the group started rolling. It was time to ride.

Half of the group crosses the street while the other half gets stuck waiting for a few cars. I am in that other half. The good news is that so is Reid. The bad news is that I realize it is me, two other guys and Reid which means once we cross this street I might get dropped from this group ride. Which at that point would pretty much be a group-cross-the-street-and-stop for me and not really a ride.

Finally we cross and I just play it off like this is totally normal for me to be a part of this ride (it is not). I am sure someone was thinking oh this poor girl please someone tell her she is way out of her league and bound to hurt herself. Oh my dear boys. You are so right.

I sit behind Reid’s wheel and realize this is perhaps already one of the coolest rides - no matter what happens. I am sitting on Reid Mumford’s wheel. He doesn’t need to know that up until this point in the ride I have only averaged less than 100 watts. He doesn’t need to know that me sitting in his draft has already gotten my heart rate up. He doesn’t need to know that his ass is right at the level of my eyes.

My eyes? Yes, my eyes. Which means he’s a pretty tall guy. And he has great legs. I know my husband is on this ride but he is in the group that crossed the street first. Plus I kind of have a thing for pro cyclists. Remember George? A few weeks ago one of my athletes told me that she had been watching the Tour of Missouri and George’s elbow touched hers as he rode by. I told her I might just have to touch her elbow. I was thinking I might just have to touch Reid’s ass too but then realized that he is probably married, I am definitely married and I would like to at least survive more than 2 minutes of this ride.

Some time elapses and the pace is still slow. Apparently there is yet another group joining us for the ride. In the meantime we ride slow. Very slow. I know I was “hanging on” to the ride but this can’t count for overall time. This is not part of the 43 minutes that was my goal. Regardless I enjoy the ride.

But it was still slow. A few phone calls and we are still waiting for a group that was supposedly joining our ride. Soon we will run out of daylight. Let's go! Finally Chris and I just ride ahead with another man. We continue for about 10 minutes and then we see the other guys riding towards us. I’m not sure how that happened but all of a sudden we realized all of the groups had merged and heading towards us was the group ride.

“Liz, you better get going.”

It was like being told to head to the basement as a tornado approached in the sky. I believe that was Chris’ way of giving me a generous head start or at least a small fighting chance. I start rolling ahead with the other guy. We rode for a few minutes nervously looking over our shoulder to see when the group would arrive. Finally the guy said “they’re coming like a freight train, let's go.”

And holy crap. Freight train was right. I accelerated well over 22 mph and they passed me like I was just standing on the platform waiting for the train. Passed me going - oh - about 28, 29, rumor was they were at times holding 32. And then the line kept passing me. A man said “come on, you can do it” and even opened up a little gap for me to get in but they kept going faster and faster then someone surged the entire group up a hill and I kept going backwards, they kept rolling forwards and rolling further and further until….

Just like that they were gone.

I was off the back. Actually I was pretty much standing still. So I stopped and turned around. And unlike last week when I burst into tears for 30 seconds upon being dropped this time I just laughed. I'm learning to have a good sense of humor about it all. It could have been worse. I could have been dropped when crossing the street at the original stop sign. Instead I realized I had hung on 2 minutes 11 seconds in the ride.

I pulled to the side of the road and with my left leg quivering I called my coach. Told her I happened to show up to Pro 1,2 night at the group ride. She came back with a “PERFECT” which was really her way of saying unless your rear wheel had fallen off in the middle there is probably nothing worse than having shown up to this ride.

She told me to just ride it out easy until I get back to the car. I rode myself back an hour and realized that even when dropped and alone you can still have a glorious ride. The temperature was perfect. The roads were quiet. The grass was growing green again. And the sky was fading with light.

As I rode back, I promised myself I would keep showing up to the group ride. No matter how many times I get dropped by the end of the season I will hang on for the entire ride. Each week I’ll get a little better. Each week I’ll hang one for a minute more. I’ll be the crazy girl that just can’t take a hint – the one that keeps showing up, getting dropped, and coming back.

Next time I will hang on for 43 minutes. If the wind is just right and it's a good night, maybe 44. Of course that is unless Reid Mumford shows up. Then I’ll just hang for 3 minutes, stop to unload my big girl shorts, ride it out easy and head on home.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Not Dreading The 'Mill

We finally did it.

We bought a treadmill.

Words cannot express how elated I am to have the opportunity to run in my basement on a belt going around in circles while I effectively go no place at speeds in excess of 8 miles per hour. But spend 6 months of your life in darkness, rain and cold and you find pleasure in little ways.

Understand this purchase is the culmination of years of convincing my husband that there could be no other way. First challenge was to convince him a treadmill was something we might need. That took about 7 years. Next challenge was to convince him it would actually make us run fast. That took my coach and I about 2 years. Another challenge was to convince him it would fit in our basement. That is still taking some work.

But once I got him into the store and offered to test run several treadmills, he seemed sold.

It’s being delivered today.

Until then, there is still that one challenge that needs work: Where will this fit in the basement.


I don’t spend much time in the basement. I can’t. Though I have relaxed my neat nicky picky ways (get a dog, do a few Ironmans - it helps), I still do not subscribe to complete disarray. I do not believe you should live in a total chaos of tools, wheels, towels, and bikes.

My husband sees it a different way.

Hence our basement. Which is why he has the entire space. To his own. To do what he likes. And though he keeps telling me that he is going downstairs to clean up his space, I know that he knows that I know he is really just playing Guitar Hero.

(he confessed to this the other day)

Plus I’m not stupid. Nor blind. I walk downstairs and see the same mess in the same place. That is where I found myself on Saturday after the treadmill purchase in the basement wondering where will we make space.

Chris, where will we make space?

“I don’t know, I’ll clean this place up,” he says, “where do you want it?”

I tell him I will tell him that when I actually can see bare space to consider my options. And in the meantime I wouldn’t put it past me to take his plastic guitar away.

It’s actually gotten better than years past. We seem to have cleared the basement out of bikes that don’t belong to us (that was a two year long battle). But what has gotten out of control – though – is the parts. The wheels. The tools. The cables, brakes, the aero bar pads.

Aero bar pads? Yes, aero bar pads - at least a dozen of them.

For at least a few months there have been four separate aero bar set ups on the massage table that we also use for stretching. Correction – used to use for stretching because now it is just filled with aero bars. The table that would be nice to sit at – the other day I counted 18 stems on it.


When I asked Chris first of all – where we got 18 stems and second of all – why we had 18 stems he simply said:

I don’t know.

That’s usually his answer to I know but I’m too ashamed to admit I had a manic moment of crazyness where I went and bought 18 stems just in case.

18 stems, 4 aerobar set ups and at least three dozen wheels. It doesn’t help that right now he is building a wheel too and recabling probably more than a half dozen bikes.

Then there is the issue of bits and pieces that are being sold because they (a) don't belong to us (this is the consequence of confusing our basement with public storage, at some point we will sell your equipment if you don't pick it up), (b) no longer being used, (c) came on a bike that we already had parts for, or (d) got too confused by all if it and just said screw it, let's sell (this often happens when you spend at least once a day swapping bike parts from an assortment of bikes). The ebay loading dock (code for basement stairs) is finally cleared because most of the stuff got shipped out on Monday. At my coach’s house last week I realized this is more of a man thing than I once thought as they too have an ebay loading dock.

But that still leaves all the bikes. And those seem to multiply quicker than I care to admit. The other day Chris said he would put my bike in the car. He asked which bike I would use. I said the Cervelo, silly. He said which one.

Ooooooooo. It’s gotten that bad. I guess right now there might be….three.

But I like them all. And they all need different parts. One has the big cookie. One has the compact crank. And one has no wires, tricks or whistles at all. They all have a different purpose. They all get ridden. And they all...make me realize that I may play a small part in this basement mess (small people can only play small parts thankfully).

But back to the treadmill. I went downstairs Monday after Chris went to work to see the progress we had made towards clean. Plus Chris’ clean is not really clean it is just a verb for “move things around”. And, it’s best to attempt to try my version of clean in the basement when he is not at home. So he does not hear my cries and screams. Boss joined me. Also joining me was the vacuum. You can see I brought the big guns. After a little shuffling of things around, vacuuming of loose bits and pieces and letting Boss pick up the remaining things like broken zip ties, Velcro straps and empty gel packets (his favorite), you might say that the basement was….clean.

And finally a space for the treadmill was made.

Tuesday morning, 7:28 am the doorbell rang. The treadmill men were here. The glorious day just got better because not only was it 60 degrees at 7:28 am but the treadmill men has also arrived early enough so I could go to swim. It takes them all of 10 minutes to set up the treadmill, I sign a paper, and then they leave.

It is there. I stand in my basement and look at it and the heavens may have opened, a choir of angels may have sung because freedom to run whenever I like is finally mine.

I realize I may be a season too late as far as using the treadmill regularly but the point is that it is finally there. For runs when it’s below zero, or pouring rain, or snowing (though it's late April I wouldn't write off the risk just yet) or those delightful run bike run bike run bricks or when the gym is closed. It’s finally in my house, by my music so I can sweat, run, grunt and sign as much as I’d like.

Here is a picture of our new treadmill situated in our (finally) clean basement. If you look closely enough you can count 14 stems sitting on the table in front of it. And a seatpost.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Let's Ride

On Saturday it was Bob (see blog roll to the right) who responded to my “who will ride over 4 hours with me” desperate online plea. He said I will take you to an 18% hill and then he said something about coffee. I was sold!

I drove up north and we were on our bikes by 8:15 am. DID YOU HEAR THAT JEN – 8:15 am! This is very un-Liz-like. I don’t do much before 9 am except drink coffee, let Boss out for a poo and think about training for the day.

Bob lives in Barrington. It is a nice area with nicer homes and the nicest cars you will see (let’s play how many Ferrari’s did we see today). Not only that but it has some wicked nice hills! AND we only stopped for traffic TWICE.

TWICE. (this beats riding around my home where you will stop for traffic and stoplights a thousand times which is good for working on your track stands and power starts but not so good for triathlon)

I heard Bob was a chatty guy. That’s ok – chatty is good. Besides, I survived countless hours running and riding with Marit so I felt well-trained and prepared. But to my surprise Bob didn’t say too much. Maybe he wasn’t sure if I would say much. Or maybe he wasn’t sure what to say.

So I broke the ice.

At 40 minutes into the ride I yelled. I told Bob to use his big guy status and descend the damn hill! Get after it, BOB! Nice job, Liz. From there on out, he took off and left me chasing him after every decline.

Early in the ride I showed Bob the vulture. I was waiting at a stop sign and circled for him one time. He is savvy though – at his first opportunity he vultured me. Three times. A little while later I attempted a very risky move – vulturing him five times. After that I admitted it wouldn’t be a good idea to ride near me because I was very dizzy.

Bob took me out to Bull Valley. It was hilly. No bull! We came around the first hill and I said to myself PLEASE do not tell me THAT was “the wall”. Because it was really just a bump in the road. Bob said “patience my young friend” – not really, but he pretty much said hold your shorts because we haven’t hit it yet.

And holy buckets – there it was. There was a giant HILL in Illinois. One that ascended out of the valley very much like the hills in central Ohio. I may have shouted THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT but when you’re descending fast it is very hard to hear.

Bob told me you could hit 53 mph going down the wall. Correction – Bob could hit 53 while I could hit….43. Not so much due to descending skills rather it might have something to do with 96 ounces of fluids on my bike and body. Or it might have something to do with just telling myself BECOME THE BIKE, melt into it and descend!

Coming back up – not going 43. Miles per hour, no. Going about…..7. And 50 rpms. But in the big ring. That counts for something, right? We make a left turn and descend a big hill again. I say to Bob THAT WAS AWESOME!

Because of that - we are doing it three more times.

I thought maybe Bob was ready to pull a bottle out of my rear cage and club me with it but he came right back with an OK! Let’s climb! Four times through the loop with 12 hill climbs. And not namby pamby Illinois hills – CLIMBS! Ok, not California climbs or South Carolina climbs but at least better than a small rise in the road.

I told Bob too I would be climbing like an idiot today – don’t mind me. I will be overgearing it, staying seated and hopefully keeping it in the big ring. All good plans until we hit THE WALL. Where did this come from? It had me going 5.7 mph at 47 rpms. And staying seated was not really an option.

Beyond the valley we rode some more. It was rolling and nice. At one point we were 9 miles from the Wisconsin border.


Bob asked if I wanted to ride back through the valley to get back towards or go around it. Let’s go one more time and this time I will stay seated on the wall!

Why do I say these things? Once the challenge was set in my head I had to do it. It was tough. I bottomed out at 37 rpms going 4.7 mph. I will for sure remember that when I am climbing the beast. And I will not forget climbing those hills for a total of….


Once we came out of the valley we found one of Bob’s friends. His name was Mike and he joined us for the ride. Mike rode next to me and asked me many questions.

“So you must be all of 25, right?”

Try 32.

When I guessed he was 36 he said a day shy of 49.

I am so going to keep riding my bike.

When he asked me to guess how many of his body parts were not his own (that’s a fun new party game), I didn’t guess three. And then he asked me what my claim to fame was, I didn’t know. For today I just said “I am Bob’s friend. And I just turned pro in triathlon.”

Bob used his descending skills to blow by us and then Mike asked me my favorite question of the day “do you want to go attack Bob?”


Sorry, Bob. We did. But he had a good spirit about it. After about an hour, Mike peeled off from our ride. It was shortly after his confession that he spent a good part of the previous night watching Dr. Who.

Who watches Dr. Who?

The same man who did not know who Dora The Explorer was. And if he spent less time watching Dr. Who he might know who Dora was (and for that matter, how does Bob know Dora if he doesn’t have kids?).

We rode some more and then found one last climb. Going up it – yet again – at 5.7 mph I pronounced my legs dead. Bob’s legs spoke and they agreed.

After the ride we returned to Bob’s house. Let me just say that I want to be one of his neighbors because on Sunday there is a party on the lawn. It was totally inappropriate and out of place – a slice of redneck in Barrington. WHO in Barrington sits on their lawn in a lawn chair on a Sunday BEFORE noon wearing a camouflage hat, drinking a beer that is resting on top of a cooler while talking NASCAR with their friend? Who?

Bob’s neighbors do. Apparently every Sunday when it’s nice.

I left Bob to debate who is better – Junior or that other guy they saw last year at the Joliet Speedway….and I went off to run. I haven’t run off a bike that long in a long time. Probably not since Ironman! The first 15 minutes were hard. But my legs felt great! The heat – it was hot. That was worse than my legs but then I got to settle the pace and things felt more comfortable.

All in all it was a great day! This was my last big ride/run combo before St. Croix. I’m very grateful that Bob took the time to ride that long with me and show me hills that will prepare me for the many climbs I have ahead.

Ok, so next weekend – who’s next? Let’s ride!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Lane Rage

Friday night was the state swim meet.

Understand I was not having a good two weeks with the pool. And the worst of it hit the day before - on Thursday. The thought of going to the pool made me sick. The clock. The stupid smell. The people in the therapy pool with the foam noodles. The guy in the lane next to me that tries to pretend he’s not racing me but I know he’s racing me. Sharing the lane. Getting in the cold water which no matter how many times I go it always feels cold. The feel of the pull buoy. The goggles. The cap. The swimsuit that always feels too tight. The hairy man in the hot tub. The sound of water blowing out my nose. The flip turns. The workout written on 12 pieces of paper.

You could say that I just needed a break.

Not a good place to be the day before the state swim meet. Not that I show up expecting to be fully tapered ready to rock the aquatic world (I don’t) but I at least wanted to feel some small inkling of love for the pool.

I didn’t.

Chris and I were both doing the 1000 at state. I almost wrote 1000 free but then I realized any swimmer reading this would think I was an idiot for writing 1000 free because it’s not like someone would do 1000 fly (or would they, Ness?).

My heat started at 6:41 pm. I won’t even start to tell you how many ways a race at 6:41 pm is WRONG but that’s the time slot that I got. I sat on the bleachers first protesting the removal of my clothes. Next the execution of warm up laps. And finally just the idea of getting in at all.
But we drove an hour – and by some way collectively the Waterstraat’s would swim 2000 yards.

Give or take.

As I watched the swimmers in the early heats doing a smooth, effortless dance down the lane like only good distance free swimmers can do…well, I got a little inkling of love for the pool. I mean, I do like to swim laps. I like how the water feels. I like to feel smooth too. I like…

The love was coming back.

But just as I started to remove my outer layers, just as I started to feel the love of the pool, I looked around.

Oh no.


And I mean a “normal” swimsuit. Like the one you buy on the discount rack that is bright blue with fluorescent pink flowers for $29.99. That’s the one. The one that was on me. The one that makes you think there is NO way I am diving off the blocks with a suit like this because if I do everyone’s eyes would be instantly drawn to the girl that not only is wearing the world’s ugliest suit but also cannot dive.

You see, looking around everyone else was wearing those fast suits. With the long legs. Some only had legs. And all of a sudden I felt like a triathlete. I was the newbie at the race with the mountain bike and the upside down stem. Dear lord someone help me. I need my aero helmet and disc wheel. Here today at this meet in this suit I might as well be wearing a scarlet T and a seal mask.

No sooner do I realize this than I’m up. It’s my turn. I think I’m warmed up. And wouldn’t you know I have to pee. This is actually what I love about the pool. No one will know if I just pee on top of the grate on deck. Besides no one will care because they’ll just chalk it up to not only was that girl wearing that ridiculous suit but she peed herself. Did you expect anything less?

The 1000 was fairly uneventful. I worked hard. It hurt. I tried to keep up with the guy over two lanes. He must have caught on because in the last lap he took off. I did manage to lap someone. That felt good. I also got lapped. That felt…well, no one likes to get lapped. But when it was all said and done I took 15 seconds off my time from two years ago.

Wait a minute, wait 60 seconds….it just took me two years to drop 15 seconds.

Swimming is so unfair.

Regardless, I got it done. Hopped out of the pool huffing and got ready to count for Chris. The swim team coach was already counting laps for him by the time I arrived. She handed me the board and maybe it was the look on my face but I was like – I don’t know if I should operate this thing.


Because I don’t know how. She said I was being silly. I said really I don’t know. First of all when I swim, I count laps. Not lengths. Secondly, I count in my head. Third, I don’t understand the system of which flaps to open and which flaps to close. And last, I am not sure when I should flash red.

She said don’t worry if your husband is anything like you he probably also counts in his head. I said that’s the problem. He’s not like me and he can’t count his way out of a paper bag. Routinely we swim together and he never knows how many laps to go. I have to club him with a paddle, throw a pull buoy or just simply hop right out in front of him to get him to stop in the middle of the lane. If I leave him without a lap counter at this meet in something as long as the 1000 free there is a good chance we could all leave, go home, come back tomorrow and he’d still be swimming away. Waiting for someone to flash red.

She gave me a quick lesson in how to turn the flaps on the sign. But still it didn’t make much sense. Flaps open from the right, from the left and sometimes they go over the top and completely go away. She could sense my insecurity so she said she would stay nearby for sign support.

By some miracle, I tapped into my savant sign turning skills and turned the lap counter to 7 just as Chris flipped. I guess you can’t turn the sign too early but let me tell you I nailed it. As he flipped, I flipped. And I got the number right. Anyways, Chris comes down on length 9 and pushes off the wall and then pops up.


He fidgets with his goggles and then starts to swim away. The coach, a friend and I breathe some relief. But then, he stops again. Not a good sign. I know my husband well enough to know when he is about to rage. And when he started swatting at his head in an apparent effort to either hit himself for going too slow or to rip the cap off his head – well, I knew we were in for a show. Something was boiling in the Waterstraat volcano from the same place that he was voted most likely to rip out an “Aw, f*ck you guys” on Ragbrai on day one while we were still in the van.

He’s got a short fuse.

My friend Christy looks at me. I knew that she knew that Chris was about to lose his fuse. You see, Christy traveled to Memphis with us last year and she witnessed the Waterstraat rage. When Chris couldn’t find me after the race, he lost his marbles and they all came spilling out of his mouth in a series of cuss words and “aw f*ck you guys.”

In fact, the rage had been boiling and even unleashed earlier in the week between Chris and Boss’ dog gate. It was Monday night after Chris returned from a not so good swim (what can I say, it has been a week of bad swims at the Waterstraat house). I wasn’t home so he saw that as his opportunity to take it upon himself to take out his rage about the swim on the dog gate. I came home to find Chris eating dinner at the table with the dog gate in bits and pieces under and around the kitchen table. I have no idea how a bit and piece also ended up in the kitchen sink.

“Chris, what happened to Boss’ gate?”

“I don’t know.” Says it without even missing a beat. Like everything was totally normal. The dog is actually sitting on a bit and piece of the gate, it’s obvious something here has gone very wrong but he just goes about it in his totally normal way. It reminds me of a story that Chris’ sister told me involving Chris’ dad and a box of raisin bran. He was sitting at the table eating breakfast while surrounded by an entire box of raisin bran that just happened to explode on the floor. And so there is a lot of pent up rage in Waterstraat men that sometimes explodes in the form of dog gates. Or raisin bran. Or when swimming in the state meet in the end lane.

Chris approaches the end of length #11 (or maybe it was lap 5.5) when he starts fiddling with his goggles again. He swims back towards us and pops up. He makes the sign that he wants to quit when the coach says “Elizabeth you get down there and tell him he is not done.”

I shake my head and know that if he decides to stop there will be no other way. Chris pops up again and gets closer to the end of the lane.

“Elizabeth tell him he cannot stop swimming.”

Chris is now at the wall ripping the goggles and cap off and trying to get out of the lane.

“Elizabeth get down there and make him swim.”

I look at the coach, look at Christy – she knows – that there is no telling my husband anything. In fact, Christy says it best herself when she says “he’s just having one of his moments.” Best to let him be and leave him like that. Years have proven to me that nothing I say will get him to swim in that lane.

Afterwards he confessed to leaky goggles, a cap that didn’t help and the realization that when you set out to break a time goal in your head – when you get disrupted and realize it won’t happen there is no reason to even try. Likely story and a sad, watery tale. I ripped out a Rutger Beke walking the marathon at Kona with a sh*t-eating grin. Sometimes you just make the best of your day. Even with leaky goggles and rage.

I’m not sure he bought it or even cared. I’ve been there before – so annoyed with swimming that you’ll hear it no other way. He spent the first few minutes of the drive home giving me 100 reasons why swimming was stupid. I sat there and smiled, saying I could feel his pain. He’s crying me a river that I’ve been swimming in and against for these past two weeks. It’s frustrating at times and we have to work so hard. It’s enough to make anyone rage.

But if it was easy then everyone would be good at it. And if everyone was good then there would be no challenge or reason to try at all. So I will continue to accept the challenge of the pool and take it day by day. That’s a good approach because according to my coach I can expect to be swimming each week all but two days. That’s a lot of swimming and a lot of potential for rage.

And though I might rage from time to time, protest, or refuse to go at all, know that even if myself or my husband throws a box or cereal or destroys a dog gate we’ll be back at it again the next day. Because we need to embrace the challenge and continue to work our weaknesses until they become our strengths.

And because I need him to pull me down the lane.

And because someone’s got to count laps for him anyways.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Risk Management

Today one of my athletes sent me a link to an article about the use of breath control:

She’s an accomplished and strong swimmer and assured me she was not sending it to raise the white flag of surrender thee from anything hypoxic, coach. Instead, we had an interesting conversation about pain thresholds, boundaries and pushing ourselves.

Hypoxic sets are challenging. For those with a swimming background it seems they come much easier because naturally they have more practice at it but also I am guessing better lung capacity/physical design. Naturally our bodies fall into different sports. There’s a reason why I have always been a runner – I’m just built for it. Same as the reason why my husband is a great cyclist. Have you seen his legs. Swimmers have great lungs. Vocalists have great lungs. Our bodies, abilities, and preferences tend to gravitate towards our strengths based on what we are built to do.

For those that do not come from a swimming background, then, breath control sets are very challenging. I’m not saying it is easy for swimmers, I’m just saying you give a swimmer a set that involves holding their breath and they often look at it like….big deal. Non-swimmers, not the same.

I like using breath control sets for non-swimmers – sometimes. It helps them get over the mental road block of holding their breath and pushing when the burn sets in. It simulates race conditions where anxiety and hard effort meet to create a burn in the head and the legs. However, I see with some athletes that it gets them shaking for days to see it on their schedule. It literally puts them on edge and the thought of holding their breath gets them scared.

I understand this. I feel the same way. There is nothing natural to me about holding my breath. I’m a runner. We need air. Air is good. I would never run a 200 all out while holding my breath. Nor would I only let myself breathe every 5 – 9 steps.

So to be told to breathe every 9 strokes or hold my breath for 20 seconds that is not intuitive to me. It requires me to override a system that has been in place for years. 33 years to be exact. The system that says air is good, breathing is something we need.

Rightfully so, it’s hard for me to hold my breath. It’s part mental but sometimes I wonder if it’s also just flaw in design. And to know that possibly I cannot succeed at something is very unsettling to me. I try and try, I force it and push. And the longer you have been in athletics, the more comfortable you are with pushing yourself. Beyond your own physical limits, beyond their design, beyond – possibly – someplace safe. Look at Marit. The girl rode 20 minutes on a broken back. Talk about overriding the system of pain. As athletes we have taught ourselves to eat pain, to make peace with pain, to ignore it to almost very unsafe points.

But when we do breath control in the pool, are we ignoring to the point where we could die? Read the aritcle and then assess. Makes me wonder if maybe for my body it’s just not safe. I’m not sure. The athlete that brought this up with me also brought up the fact that when I do breath control it makes me want to poop. Sorry, that’s just me being honest. Pooping is also my body's way of being honest, saying hey, we need air, we are shutting a system down here that is less important and not giving it oxygen as a result it starts to go hypoxic, spasms, and gets ready to die. That’s my colon speaking, not me. So is it wise then for me to even try? And as an athlete do I just have to admit to myself that maybe my body just will never be good at it and maybe it’s not safe for me to try?

I think sometimes we get confused with excuses and reasons. And in situations like this we need to sort it out for ourselves. We are told so many times not to make excuses for ourselves. But when we can’t do something is there really a good reason for it. Is it more than just you’re not pushing hard enough, you’ve got to force it. Is there a limit that we need to listen to about ourselves? I’m not saying it’s ok to fail – but if you keep doing something over and over again, what is the benefit of continuing to try? Are we trying to the point of where we could hurt ourselves? Sport is risky enough – should we add risk on top of everything else? And is it better to just abandon something too risky and put your effort someplace else?

There is an attitude that anyone can do anything. It’s hard to avoid this when you get into sport. I also think it’s risky. I don’t think everyone should do Ironman just as I don’t think everyone should climb Mt. Everest. For some the risk is too high and their energy is better spent somewhere else. The beauty of the world is that everyone is good at something. And there is also is a complicated skill, effort and feel to most things that limit everyone’s ability to master everything. That’s what makes top level performance so amazing – that someone had the right combination of skill, work ethic, and genetics to master that one thing. To think that everyone can master it – well, in some regard that is disrespecting the finesse and complexity required to achieve peak performance and flow in a sport.

There are reasons why certain athletes cannot and should not do things. Sometimes those reasons are more complicated than he just won’t try. As a coach, it’s a trap I have to be vigilant about – to avoid becoming hard-headed about my athletes. There is a fine line between he won’t try and maybe he just can’t. I understand that sometimes failure at something is not a result of lack of effort or not forcing it hard enough. Sometimes it is a result of lack of conditioning, lack of ability, or mental roadblock. It’s my job to assess when that happens and how to successfully address each case. But it’s also my job to accept that it’s ok to have an athlete that just "can't". Maybe there is time better spent somewhere else or on a different skill. And I have to keep reminding myself that because someone cannot master holding their breath doesn’t mean they will fail in swimming or that they haven’t tried.

As I push myself harder this year I am acknowledging that there are certain things I am not meant to do. It is a hard pill to swallow because as I push – I want to achieve. I want to reach mastery. But sometimes it’s just not there. I will never push out 1000 watts. I will never run 400 meters in 70 seconds or less. Just like I will probably never be able to hold my breath underwater for 25 yards. That is not in the master plan for me. I’m faulty by design and admitting that – is ok. Because there are so many other things I am designed for success.

But I always try. And I keep within the logical limits of myself. Each day I learn better to assess when I have reached a mental roadblock or something more physical. I have learned to make these choices for myself. While I have a coach pushing me and challenging me, I also know that ultimately I am responsible for myself – to try what I think sounds logical – even slightly illogical – and to see if I can achieve. I also know that sport is risky – so I weigh my choices and efforts by what is the safest for myself. I know when it’s smart to push and when it’s smarter not to try. Again, that’s not by lack of effort or failure. That’s just part of the athlete’s process of becoming intuitively connected and wise to yourself.

As athletes we take on a lot of risk. Like anything there needs to be risk managment; whether it's holding our breath or going out for a ride - we need to make the best choices for ourselves, to communicate with our coach when something doesn't sit well with us. To always give our best and to get better will require delicately riding the fine line between safety and pushing ourselves. Know yourself and your limits - push up against them but accept that sometimes the point is not to force something to mastery rather to just give something a try. Arriving short of success is not failure as long as you've tried.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Keeping It Real

One of the harderst things we have to do as athletes is be honest with ourselves.

Though we will invest thousands of dollars in equipment and training that allows us to reach the finish line in the fastest, most direct way, I often find that we will take great lengths and many detours when it comes to being honest with ourselves.

I know I am not the only one guilty of this. We will find a hundred excuses why we could have gone faster or why we are really faster…..know what I mean? Take for example my other night on the track. I looked back at my mile splits and thought to myself yeah, but I would have gone about 1 – 2 seconds faster per 400 if I had worn racing flats so really my mile times were x:xx minus 4 – 8 seconds.


No, no Liz, really there were x:xx. With or without shoes. But sometimes our minds just work like that. It’s like a self-protective defense mechanism to feel less doubt about ourselves.

But what is wrong with doubt? What’s wrong with feeling like oh shit maybe I’m not that fast. Maybe I do need to keep busting my ass week after week. Maybe this will really hurt. Maybe this is going to be hard. Maybe I can’t do it but…maybe I can. Why do we run from this honesty rather than towards it? After all, feelings like that should keep it real. We can always go faster. There is always someone better than us.

Honesty is one of those traits that athletes have to work very hard to possess. I’m not saying we are dishonest – I’m saying that we are not always honest without ourselves. We will search for all sorts of excuses about why we are not performing up to par when really the answer is right in front of our face.

Because at the deepest level we know what is wrong with ourselves.

How do you know what is wrong with yourself? Think about something you didn’t accomplish lately or something you had to spend 10 minutes writing an excuse about or 10 minutes convincing yourself that you were righteous in failing at. Let’s say you missed a workout or didn’t hit your intervals. Other than major events beyond your control (unexpected meeting, child got sick…) what was the real reason it didn’t get done? Strip away everything else (typical excuses like that pool has shallow gutters so it’s slow, running in the rain is uncomfortable and not something I need to do, it’s too late at night to start that ride) – strip all that away and what you are left with is…YOU.

The pool isn’t slow you just didn’t hit your intervals. The rain is not the problem after all you might just race in the rain. It’s not too late to start the ride if you are really committed to your goals. You don’t need to juice all your vegetables to lose weight you just need to stop eating the crap. You’ll never know if you swim bad in the morning until you stop being too lazy to wake up. These are all reasons where the finger can really only be pointed at: the self.

When I reach an obstacle I often find myself trying to explain it away, attribute it to anything, everything but myself. So lately I’ve been trying to practice more honesty. And admittingly this is a very difficult thing. It is not easy to head-on face yourself. And say to yourself – yes, yes, BUT the real reason is YOU.

This hurts your feelings more than anything else. Makes you feel like you’re not the superstar you thought you were. Or as helpless as you thought you were.

And what you realize is that YOU ARE STANDING IN YOUR OWN WAY. Your excuses and reasons are just obstacles you create for yourself. The real obstacle is yourself. Not the pool, not the workout you did the day before, not your coach, not shoes, not anything that has happened to you in the past, not what you eat or what you don’t eat, not the workouts you do or who you are riding with. IT. IS. YOU. Face it, accept it, and get over it by pushing through.

Though we are all hard-working, driven, intelligent adults that will stubbornly ride through anything - ride 100 miles in the pouring rain up a 10% grade mountain with 85 ounces of fluids on our bike and soggy shorts – we often ride the other way when facing ourselves. We avoid ourselves by starting at the top of a steep hill and pedaling like hell with the wind. Why - when this seems to easy is it so scary? Because it is frightening to take responsibility for ourselves. It means that things really are within our control, failure is (mostly) our fault, we are to blame.

It is frightening to admit that we have a weakness. And even more difficult to face that weakness to then admit that we are strong enough to do the HARD work to get over our self.

I was reading Triathlete magazine the other day. Look in the back at Tinley Talks. In it, he writes:

To strive for something, to really go after it is to be organically honest with you.

Organic is simple, real, clean. To set a goal and say to yourself – I will do everything within my reach to arrive at that goal. This means uncovering yourself. Admitting that your habits are not winning ways. Admitting that you have weakness, failure, that there are things you can change.

Last week I asked my coach if I was doing everything I could to reach my goals. She was organically honest with me. She told me to get my ass to the pool earlier. Stop swimming on tired legs. Commit to it, Elizabeth. Quick making it more difficult for yourself.

Last week I swam first for three days.

Sometimes I ask the coach for the honesty. Other times I bring it on myself. I realized every time something gets really hard in a workout I back away. Especially in the pool. Most notably when holding my breath.

I hate breath control.

I makes me feel like I will die. It makes me want to soil myself. It makes my legs burn and my lungs feel like they will explode. I hate it because it is scary. I hate it because it hurts. I hate it because I know it’s my weakness and to work on it and push through it requires being honest with myself.

But these are things I want: to do no breath fly, to have more lung capacity, to turn off the wall without taking a breath. I want to swim faster with more air. I’ll never get there if not honest with myself. The problem – Liz – is you. You are the reason you can’t do these things. Not little lungs. Not learning to swim as an adult. It’s just – you.

Every day I could make a similar assessment of myself. It would be easy to get bogged down and sad. Instead I’m writing goals. That by such and such a date I will master the no breath in the turn off the wall. That I will do 8 consecutive 25’s of no breath. That I will survive no breath fly. I can do these things. I know I can.

Why? Because I’ve just been honest with myself. That’s the first step. Admit it, get over it, move on. If you are struggling with something sit down and make an honest assessment of yourself: why aren’t you going faster on the bike, why are you walking during the run, why? Be honest with yourself then help yourself. Set small and manageable goals. Celebrate your success.

In our friendships we are always striving to be honest with others. Think of how much guilt we carry if we lie to a friend. It’s not even an option. But we often don’t set the same standards for ourselves. Why? Because for some reason we will accept a less than honest version of our self. It’s easier to swallow. It makes us feel good to give ourselves an excuse or an out.

Work towards becoming a better version of yourself. Have a better relationship with yourself and base it in honesty. When you keep it real you can face up to the things that really need work and move on to improve.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hanging On

Some weeks the pursuit of my goals is a wild ride that I have to hang on to with a firm grip and both hands.

It started Monday. Monday was my easy day. Wait, I take that back. Thinking about it Monday was not my easy day. Monday was the day I swam the 1000 yards wearing an oversized long sleeved shirt with paddles on my hands. That was anything but easy. And when the lady in the lane next to me asked if she could help me put the shirt on – well, I realized I had reached the point where non-swimmers were now feeling sorry for me.

But Monday’s excitement didn’t stop there. I had a hard run with 10K intervals. My original plan was to run these on the track – it’s about 10 minutes from our house. Apparently the school though they would use their own track meaning I was not allowed. Plan B. Really there was no Plan B. There was just the only other option which was running in the neighborhoods around the track. Perhaps the most unattractive, industrial neighborhoods you can find around here and entirely on pavement. Not too great for 10K intervals but I thought to myself if I can push to 10K pace around these ugly parts I can do it anywhere.

Brassy attitude. But did I mention the 40 degrees and 500 mph headwind that day? The one that I had to run into going downhill at top end speed into oncoming traffic because the only place to run was literally in the gutter (good for IT Bands) and still finding myself 1 minute slower than 10K pace. I’ll blame that on the wind because based on the amount of snot blowing out of my noise and the wheezing in my chest you can’t say I wasn’t trying hard.

That was Monday. But being so early in the week I decided the weather, conditions and workouts couldn’t kill my spirit. Yet. So Tuesday morning I hopped in the car at 6:30 am and drove 45 minutes north to my coach’s house. Why? Because she has a computrainer and she wanted me to ride the St. Croix course. I was given a time limit and looking at the profile of the course I was a little scared. But I’m also incredibly stubborn and driven to succeed and told myself it will take me less than x:xx hours if my wheels burn off.

They almost burned off. Anyone who thinks training indoors on a computrainer is easy or nothing like the real thing I invite you to join me the next time I ride the St. Croix course. No there were no tropical breezes nor high humidity but I do believe that baking under a 100 watt track light bulb in a basement with a small fan counts for character points at the very least. Jennifer came downstairs at one point and said you are riding it hard and I thought to myself – is there any other way? Because I tell myself that if I can suffer, sweat, and bake while riding a 13% grade beast at 9 mph and 42 rpms while going nowhere in this basement then I can survive whatever happens on race day.

The day did not end there. Later that night I had to swim. Actually I was supposed to swim that morning. I believe the orders were to wake up for 5:30 am masters then drive to the coach’s house. But while I am usually good at following orders I am not crazy. But I’ll tell you what. I should have just followed her crazy command. Because swimming at 8 pm when you have ridden over 60 miles indoors earlier in the day – not a good thing. I believe the set was something like 3 x 400. And when I was supposed to negative split the second 200 and added 20 seconds instead…..I called myself done. But I was bound to keep swimming. So I turned off my kick, crossed my ankles and imagined swimming over the water in the ocean instead (very good exercise for forcing yourself to focus on front end swimming). After a 400 of that, the coach approached my lane.

“Elizabeth, what is going on with your swim tonight.”

Oh, that? You mean the fact that I am going about 15 seconds slower per 100 and have completely lost my kick? Well I believe you could blame it on the computrainer or my coach but I’m not pointing fingers yet.

“So that was on purpose.”

You could say.

“Because I was about to get out the hook and rescue you.”

Thanks. But totally unnecessary. There is a purpose to this. All of it. And even when I find myself scraping the bottom of the pool with totally trashed legs I will make something out of it. I will.

Because I’m determined. I’m driven. And I’m not giving up. Not yet. Wednesday however almost had me singing a different tune. I was in the pool. Again. For possibly the 20th time this week. I swam another 4000+ yards set and it involved holding my breath. So much breath holding that I actually had to exit the pool to poop (there are things I won’t even do in the pool) because Chris tells me when you hold your breath it can confuse your body into thinking you are trying to kill it and it then has to poop.

So then I was really tired. After all, my body is convinced I’m trying to kill it so I believe it just shut down. Sent coach an e-mail about the track workout that night and she pretty much said unless you have misplaced a leg you should get your ass on the track. Not in those words exactly but close.

Went to the track. Hadn’t been to track club in roughly 5 years. Slightly scared. As a runner I know that track is a very sacred place where you do very sacred painful things. That is why I don’t go often. It’s serious shit. So we decided this year I need to go to chase fast people and really learn to hurt again. That said, I put myself in the big boy group. I say big boy because I was the only girl. I had no business being in the big boy group. Not just because I was a girl. Because after they did the first mile which I hung with they decided to drop the pace. Since I was reeducating myself in the subject of hurt, I forced to myself to hang on for…two laps. The next one I barely made it one and hung on to my own pace for dear life for the next three laps. Afterwards, I was approached by one of the big boys.

“That was very brave what you did.”

Now what did I do? Did I do 3 miles with my goggles on? Is there a paddle attached to my hand because I’ve swum so much lately I wouldn’t know if there was. Or, worse yet, am I by any chance wearing a soaking wet oversized cotton t- shirt with a woman chasing me who is trying to help?

“You chased a faster group, not many would be willing to give that a try. You could have just led the second group but you went with the fast guys.”

Oh that. Well, I guess I have decided this year that I would rather hang on for dear life being the little fish in big pond than big fish in fish bowl. Call me crazy but I just need more room to grow and besides I’m tired of eating flakes.

After an easy spin that night I finally ate dinner at 9 pm. And it was more than flakes.

Thursday. I don’t remember Thursday. Wait, I do. It was my “easy” day. I use quotes because an easy day by definition in my dictionary is not a 2 hour indoor ride. But that’s what the schedule said – 2 hour easy ride. And I do as the schedule says. Most of the time.

Two hours inside is the equivalent of at least three outside. Four if it’s supposed be easy. Because hard rides have things like intervals, recoveries, rpms and wattages to keep you busy. Two hours easy is just two hours – you…ride. So I decided to get through this ride would take a major shake up. Changing the view. I used my husband’s trainer. Yes, I’m hoping the basement will look a world different when you change position to the right by about 6 feet.

And what do you know – it is. Especially since his trainer is smack under a track light. So not only is it a different point of view but it’s hotter than hell. This is good training for St. Croix I think. Now if I could just figure out a way to ride my bike up the stairs I could also train for the beast.

An hour goes by. Not that fast – oh no. It took flipping through over 547 songs on my I-Pod (of which I listened to about 3 all the way through) and then a lot of singing of songs (good for building lung capacity). My thoughts ranged from my athletes (how are they doing), Bree Wee (how fair is it that she is climbing mountains and I am slowly baking under a track light), my coach (evil for prescribing an easy ride lasting this long on an easy day), my husband (doesn’t he know it’s 100 degrees cooler six feet to the left), and the dog (what is he possibly crapping on upstairs). I save the deep thoughts for my hard rides. The easy rides – as you can see, anything goes.

After that the easy day went by much too fast. And then Friday arrived. A moderately easy day but one in which I would do all three. I chose to swim first. Lucky for me it’s a taper workout as our swim team tapers for the state meet. Not so lucky because it involved a lot of max effort 25’s with fins. Mid pool 25’s to work on turns. And then a 200 medley relay. I chose to do butterfly. Kind of by default it was either free or backstroke but then I said what if I offer to do fly. If you want to make friends really quick at masters you should offer to do fly.

After swimming I went for a run. Easy run in Zones 1 – 2. Legs however didn’t get the memo that this run was just supposed to feel good. It – did – not. It felt bad. Really bad. VERY VERY VERY bad. So bad I had to stop. And stretch. And then almost didn’t want to start up again. I can do this. But then I had a thought – what if I can’t. What if my legs won’t go. I almost burst into tears. How is it I can emerge victorious from the computrainer setting a new CP30, 60 and 180 but be on the edge of breakdown at an easy 45 minute run. I wanted to quit. I have never wanted to quit before. Who quits? Not I. But I was tired of feeling pain. I wondered if I could do it anymore.

But then I got mad. I often get mad at myself. For allowing such useless thoughts. For considering a quit. I haven’t quit yet and I’m not quitting now. I will run into the headwind and have the best run I can. So I picked up sticks. Held on to them to work on eliminating crossover. I am the crazy girl in the forest running into the wind while holding sticks. I have hit a new low. But there is a purpose behind this. The sticks are really for my head. Because I have found when all else fails I can focus on form and distract myself from more unsettling thoughts.

I left my sticks behind. I also may have left my mind about four days ago. But for the rest of my day I really just needed my legs. So I could not worry about my head. It was time to bike. The bike wasn’t easy but it wasn’t hard. But thank goodness it was only one hour. At this point one hour is like why bother at all. It takes me longer than an hour to put on my shoes. Let’s go for two. But of course I stop at one. Finally I am done!

For the day. Because then Saturday arrived. It was 37 degrees and pouring rain. Not exactly ideal for a 100 minute run. So I swap workouts instead. I do Sunday’s two hour ride and 30 minute run. With coach out of town I take it upon myself to write my own misery for the day. A two hour workout with set cadence and speed. It was hard! Why did I do that to myself? I should have just pled "no workout written" and ridden easy instead. And then off to run.

Running on the treadmill I thought to myself you chose this, you could have been some place else. As you can tell, I ended up staying home this past weekend. I had many enticing invitations to train all over the country in beautiful locations, hills, and warm weather with substitute sherpas. But in the end I decided to stay at home. Because I knew it would come to this – a week’s worth of workouts that had mentally – and physically – kicked my ass. Training in Illinois does this to you. It is ugly, hard, cold, wet, undesirable – it is all of these things for 6 months out of the year. But if you can get through it you emerge stronger than you were before.

What do you know. I am stronger. I’m hauling ass on the treadmill in Zone 2 and it feels so good. I feel good. So good I decide to run again Sunday. That’s a lie. It was part of the plan. But not so easy to start the plan. It was sleeting and 40 degrees. I waited until later in the day. I called the coach for an out, to move the run to Monday and by some miracle she gave it to me. And I almost took it until my husband told me you are being a wuss, you need to run today.

Change in the change of plans. I am running today. And I am running fast. Because on the plan it says I have the green light to suffer today. 1 hour and 40 minutes of suffer. I am on the path. I feel good. It is cold and wet but I don’t care. I came out here today to make something better of myself not to make excuses for why I should fail. I warm up 20 minutes then decide to take the next 70 hard. Push them all the way. Could I do it? Only one way to know – TRY. What if you find out you can do it? How would that feel? You’d be a rockstar for a day.

Being a rockstar is hard. It hurts! 50 minutes have elapsed and I wonder if I have anything left. I almost pull out my YOU CAN DO THIS but then I realize at the end of a week like this – that phrase is not necessary any more. I know I can do this. Because I did. Seven days in a row. And I can do 20 minutes more. In fact once I get through the 20 minutes I say to myself why not go the full distance today. That last 1.1 miles hurt my legs and gave me a cramp but in the end…..I was proud because it was done.

Afterwards I still had to swim. There is no getting out of that with my coach so I don’t even try. I am swimming so slow that I decide I should just swim with the ankle leash. Chris laps me after 200 yards. Then he just puts himself into a different lane. Finally we finished, into the hot tub and time to…breathe.

Done! A big week, I hung on and for an evening I can let go until it starts again. Because there is more. There is always more. When you reach a new milestone you just turn that stone over and start again. You find your next level. You look for more. You never stop being satisfied with yourself. When I breakthrough to a new level or speed I want more. I want to see what else is in me that I didn’t know about. The impossible become possible. I keep taking limits off myself.

This isn’t easy. So many times I have wanted to burst into tears or stop all of this. It is so much easier just to give up your goals. But I’m not convinced it would hurt any less. And if I can convince myself to keep pursuing the goals and working hard every day I am convinced I will find something better for myself.

And over the course of all of this, I have realized that success isn’t about who is the fastest, strongest, smartest , possessing the best equipment, body or coach. No, it’s about what they don’t let go. It’s about not giving up. Hanging on when it hurts the most.

I read something the other day that made a lot of sense:

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.

I am not letting go. Each time I hold on I find something stronger in myself. I redefine a limit - whether physically or mentally. Mind you it is never easy and it always hurts.
Moments where you want to let go the most are really those that you need to hang on the hardest. Those are the moments that count. Anyone can hold on when it's easy. When it gets tough, though, most will let go. And in doing so let go of their goals and confidence in themselves.

Hang on a little longer, firm your grip. What you'll find is that it is worth all of the pain. You'll learn how to hold on next time with even more tenacity. The longer you hang on, the harder it is to let go, the more likely you'll last it out until you arrive at your goal.