Thursday, October 30, 2008

Frosted Flake

Do you know what I saw this morning covered the field behind our house?


Yes, I do believe the first frost has arrived. On a positive note, frost is a good thing. It signals the end of the growing season and freezes all of the sneezy things that make our allergies itch in the fall. On a negative note, it also signals the beginning of the end.

The end of daylight, the end of fall, the end of outdoor bike rides, the end of heading outdoors without a coat/gloves/hat/scarf.

Winter is on its way.

The other day the temperatures creeped above 50 degrees and I knew I had to get out and ride. The alternative was 2 hours in my basement. I also knew this might be my last chance to ride outside before my final races. I actually headed outside with my time trial bike. Flying over 20 mph through a bright yellow sugar maple grove. I knew rides like this would be few and far between. Life in darkness and cold for up to 5 months is about to begin.

But wait – by some rare, cosmically wrong but very much right mistake the forecast calls for a high of 69 degrees on Friday. 69 degrees! That means yet another ride outside! I am so excited. I don’t think I have ever ridden my TT bike outside this late in the year. It’s another new personal record. I love setting personal records!

Last night Chris told me soon enough we would be in San Diego. I had a major snap freak out. I spouted off anti-San-Diego rhetoric citing that we must end this escapism life we lead in winter. If we want to be somewhere warm we should just live somewhere warm and stop escaping away. What is the point of living somewhere if you always want to get away?

But this is where my job is, he said.


But he is right. We cannot live on love and bicycles while picking money off of the magical money tree. Or maybe we can. In that case, I’m willing to try. Who has the seeds to this tree? WHO? Exxon? Just kidding. There will be no politics here. Back to me. Until then we will continue to escape. At least that is what he said. And he will continue with or without me he says – he will board that plane to San Diego whether or not I am going along!

I have to be honest - it’s too hard to keep going away. Every time I travel somewhere warm and beautiful I want to stay. I tell him that my reentry back into this prison cell we call home in Illinois is just too hard. Don’t get me wrong – there are many beautiful things about Illinois. But living for 5 months of the year in darkness and cold is not right. It is not fun, it wears at you, it puts you on edge. You grow fat in both body and mind because of the bleak hopelessness of the season. Snow is beautiful for about 20 minutes. Then a car drives through it and turns it to black slush.

Winter is season of black slush.

No place is perfect. And no matter where you go your problems will travel with you. You cannot uproot yourself from your life. But sometimes I think it would be worth a try. What brought all of this out? Well, we were at Whole Foods the other night. The new mega big monster Whole Foods. We were like children walking through a decorated mall on way to see Santa. Our eyes grew big, our mouth opened wide. We walked towards the light…

the fresh fruit

Here’s what strikes me as bizarre – people in this world are willing to pay extra money for someone to cut their fruit and put it into a plastic container. What I’m saying is that someone will take the blueberries out of their plastic carton, maybe wash them for you and put them back into a different plastic carton next to a bunch of cut up pineapple and call it $6.61.


We wonder why the world is fat? Why spend $6.61 on fresh fruit when I just heard McDonald’s put a Double Cheeseburger with one slice less of cheese on their dollar menu? And for the record - I have serious concerns about paying someone to touch my fruit. Their hands, my fruit. NEVER! No matter how desperate I was.

Anyways, I was salivating like an unleashed Pavlovian dog at the sight of fresh pineapple. And it made me yearn for Hawaii. Or any warm island. Anywhere I could actually buy a pineapple for less than $6.61 and cut it on my own. Or papayas. Or mangoes, avocadoes, passionfruit.

Yes I know that bread on Hawaii is about $6.61 but I eat a lot more fruit than bread, folks.

I want to go back to Hawaii, I said.

The cure for that? Buy pre-sliced, plastic packaged pineapple. Eating it made me kind of sad but on a separate note the pineapple was worth every overpriced organic cent.

The next night we were eating dinner. We do a lot of eating as you can tell. I was getting something off the stove and put on oven mitts. What fun are these? I decided to pull out a little puppetry role playing from my psychology degree.

Chris played along.

On my right hand is Liz. On my left hand is Chris. Your turn, Chris – what does Liz say:

(I started moving my thumb up and down in the oven mitt to make it talk, Chris who I am convinced spent childhood without pretend play finally gets what I’m getting at and provides the voiceover for the oven mitt)

“My name is Liz and I don’t like living in Illinois.”

And Chris the oven mitt says “Well, neither do I but there is where my job is and I loooooooooove my job.”

(I was using my best puppet voice)

Liz the oven mitt chimes in – this time, no prompting for Chris:

“My name is Liz and I think people don't need jobs, they can just live off of love and pick from the magical money tree that grows in San Diego.”

*for the record I do think people need jobs but it helps if they are highly portable like my coaching business & furthermore please do not get the idea that Chris' job is the only job in this house that supports an expensive fresh fruit habit*

(mitts came off)

So the role playing didn’t go so well. I thought we could talk it out like grown adults while pretending we were oven mitts. I thought wrong but I think I may have just played with Chris in his first puppet show. That only took 35 years to get to.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this other than…to winter. Winter will soon be here. Maybe I should buy myself a giant sun lamp and sit under it with my small dog everyday staring at a picture of a warmer place. I’m also considering making myself very small to fit under the ottoman with Boss. Every morning when the heat kicks on I find him under there (there is a heat vent by the ottoman). I figure if I live on a diet of nothing but fresh fruit I will be very small in about a month.

I will also be very broke.

Until then I suppose I should book my ticket(s) to San Diego. Spend a weekend playing in the sun. But I have a feeling if I did ever move someone warm and sunny all of the time I would miss the cold. The change of the seasons, the colors of fall.

But I think I know the cure if I did – sit by a freezer and surround myself by construction barracades holding a STOP/SLOW sign that I turn over and over again, mumbling things to myself like "you should ride that bicycle on the sidewalk" like a real...flake.

Yes, I would be right at home then. For the next 5 months.

I love winter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Cold weather is arriving and I'm still training. As much as I enjoy the training, I'll admit it is hard at times to stay focused since everyone else seems to be switching into off season mode.

I, however, cannot yet flip my switch.

But mark my words - after November 23rd you will find me knee deep buried in pumpkin pie and washing it down with Christmas wine. Yes friends, I will completely abstain from swim, bike and run for up to 30 days.

I wish everyone else would do the same!

You get a lot of squirrely chatter at this time of year. It’s apropos with all of the squirrely activity taking place outside. Athletes, like squirrels, stuff and scurry their thoughts about winter ahead into the head and send them to me. Everyone wants to be fit, fast, lean, strong, fit, fast, lean…you get the point.

And so they all want to rush into this or that. Making lists, thoughts and goals. And believe me – it’s great to look ahead but right now I think it’s better to look behind and just be. Let it go.

Why? Because in the words of a very wise pal: nothing you do in October will help you, only hurt you.

I agree!

If you are done racing for the year, it’s time to be done. Seriously take a few weeks off of triathlon. Do not do a thing. Be a normal person again. Eat a little junk food. Drink a little wine. Sleep in late. Go for walks. Reconnect with family and friends. Shop. Gain some weight. Decondition.

Why? Because in order to recondition and get stronger you must first decondition and step back. Intuitively this sounds wrong. No one believes it. That cannot be what the top athletes are doing. But trust me – it is. It is not uncommon for the top pros to take many weeks completely off each year. NOTHING at all.

How can they come back stronger and faster then? Because they decondition and get deep recovery. Deep recovery takes place through total rest. Allowing yourself to get distracted with other things for awhile. Get out of shape. That way you will appreciate your shape more so when it comes back. You will work harder for it. You will be less prone to injury because you got true rest and recovery.

You must let yourself slide right now. Yes, the off season is a good time to lose weight but be realistic. You cannot drop into race weight in December, folks. There is such a thing as too lean, too much too fast. All of this trying to drop weight in October through deprivation of things you should just simply enjoy right now - it’s a recipe for finding yourself buried face first in a pecan pie on the holiday buffet table with no hope of getting out unless someone drives in a Bobcat. Set the rules in December or January. For now, just let yourself breathe.

Motivation can be a tricky thing. It burns the strongest when we have the least to do. It’s easy to get motivated when you are training 50 percent less or easier than in the summer time. It’s easy to find the motivation then because there are no other demands. But now is not the time to feel all guns blazing motivated to train and tighten up. I’d rather have an athlete completely swear off triathlon for a month at this time of year than to come at me saying I AM SO MOTIVATED! Hey! Bottle that up and pull it off the shelf in January when it’s 30 degrees and you have to run 2 hours. Talk to me about motivation then. Forget about it for now.

This is the time of year to recover. Consider it hibernation. Shut the body down. I plan to do this the day after Ironman. I am always baffled by people who do an Ironman and then a week later you see their results on a 10K or a month later they are doing a marathon. “But I had all of that fitness.” Yeah, all that fitness in your body which apparently ate up all of your brain cells! Are you kidding? TIME OFF. That fitness will come back quicker than you think. Until then you are a ticking time bomb of injury or burnout waiting to happen. Stop the madness. Take a break.

So many athletes struggle with this. You know this person. They train hard all year round. They jump from race to race, triathlon season to marathon season to triathlon season. It never ends! Seasons get rolled into one endless season of go go go. They never breakthrough. They keep producing roughly the same result. Jennifer and I were talking about this the other day. How many athletes simply have this fear of stopping. Like they are going to lose a year's worth of fitness in two weeks.

But what if you are one of those people that simply cannot - or will not - stop? I challenge you to ask yourself:

What am I afraid of? Why can't I stop? What does the training do for you? Mean to you? Is it a loss of fitness that you fear? Getting fat? Getting bored, disgruntled or out of shape? What is it?

Chances are none of those things will happen. And trust me, I know you like training because of all the GOOD things it does for you but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Nevermind what Mae West said. I bet you like training but I bet you like improving and performing well even better. But you will never reach new heights in peformance if you are always stuck at the same plateau. Why do you plateau? Because you never take a break and let your body heal. Through healing we get stronger. If you are always in a state of semi-health you will never reach your full potential in 100 percent good health.

You have to remind your body how to recover. So many balance life, work, kids, training all year that we are under a constant state of stress. Even when we are recovering we are trying to work, take care of kids, clean the house – all of these are still stress. Our endrocrine system gets completely out of whack and doesn’t know if it should fight, flight, release cortisol or just shut down. Stress is stress! The body cannot distinguish between physical and mental stress. At some point you have to force it, remind it what it’s like to rest and how to recover again. Enter time off. Complete time off. Watch television. Read a book. Put together a photo album. Refrain from physical (stress) activity.

But we are our own worst enemies. We read this but don’t believe it. You can’t get fitter by doing nothing at all. Can you? I had a friend who qualified for Kona for years. After the race he would take off until January 1st. That’s nearly 10 weeks of nothing at all. Each year he came back faster. Each year his body got deep recovery. Each year he returned to Kona.

Fitness can peak twice in a year. Once you reach a peak you can hold it for – at most – three weeks. Do the math. 52 weeks in a year. 20 weeks to make a difference with a training program. Two peaks, 40 weeks – what about the other 12 weeks? Recovery. Time off, time away, shut it down.

Of all the lessons I learned this year, recovery is the biggest one. How to recover and when. I have realized that time off is really time in the bank. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s not an evil trick to make me fat. It’s not time I could spend better doing training. It’s not time to spend 3 hours cleaning all of the wood work in the house with a toothbrush. Time off. LEGS UP. It’s hard at first but once you get past the demons of yourself, it’s actually quite...refreshing.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Who Knew?

Excuse me, are you a professional swimmer?

(insert explosive cynical I can’t believe someone just asked me that laughter filling my head)

*deep breath*


But wait…not so fast…what if? What if today, Liz, standing here in this locker room half dressed blow drying your hair responding to this woman putting on make up, what if today you are a professional swimmer. Why not?

“Actually, I am Michael Phelps’ sister.”

I didn’t have the nerve to say that. Instead it was no. No I am not. I just like to swim. Wait a minute. No I don’t. I just have to swim. Need to swim. Ok, I was ordered by Jennifer Harrison to swim. I pay her to tell me to swim.

“I just like swimming a few times a week.”

LIES LIES LIES. But then again, it could have been worse. I could have told her my name was Elizabeth Phelps.

“I saw you swimming in there and told my husband I couldn’t get into today because it would just look too bad with you next to me.”

She needs glasses. Or an underwater camera because she is seeing things wrong. “You must have been swimming since you were very young.”

No, not really. I just learned to “really” swim about 8 years ago. And each year I have to keep learning. Adult-onset swimming is just evil that way. I explain to her that I swim with the masters team at the gym. I also add that I am one of the slowest swimmers on the team – in the advanced group.

We both laugh about that.

In fact, I barely belong in the advanced group. I can go to the intermediate group and still not be one of the fastest there. I am so slow that when I show up to advanced masters I get my own lane. So slow that they have to make up a new interval for because no one else is that slow. But what I’ve realized is that it’s just a matter of perspective. I go to the intermediate group and its like “I am so freakin fast in this pool.” I go to advanced and I’m like “I need lessons.” That’s kind of what it’s like racing age group versus racing pro. You can be on top of one group and think “I’m such a bad ass” and the next group up you are saying “I keep getting my ass canned.”

I love sports.

But any other time in the pool without masters of course I am one of the few (only) people that appears to know how to swim. But that is like saying I am fast swimmer because I can lead at the intermediate masters practices. It’s a different category you are comparing yourself to – I look fast on these other nights because I am being compared to people that wear plastic shower caps for swim caps, blast out 25 yards no breath before huffing on the wall for a minute then doing it again or breaststroke for 1000 yards straight.

It’s not hard to look good against that.

Have you noticed since the Olympics that the pool is more crowded than before? Have you noticed that most of the people “swimming” are doing something so painfully awkward that you want to give them free advice even though you hate to be one of those people that gives out free advice? But that is not my place. Instead it is my place to tell this woman I swim professionally and went to the trials for 200 fly. Leaky goggles blew my race.

“Let me ask you a question – those green things, what are they for?”

You mean paddles? They are for developing a powerful pull. I think. Ok really they are for making an interval that you would otherwise miss because you are too slow. They are also for entertaining – they make swimming laps a little more fun because following the black line is like someone dragging nails down a giant chalkboard for 60 consecutive laps.

“They help work on a powerful pull.”

“I see. And the white thing between your legs – what is that?”

That combined with paddles is the only way I can swim with Anwar within 10 seconds per 100. That is a pull buoy. Some call it a good way to develop Styrovirus, a medical condition that causes swimmers to think they have good body position when actually they have a piece of floaty Styrofoam between their legs that gives them good body position.

“It’s called a pull buoy. It brings your rear to the surface and allows you to focus on front end swimming.”

“You mean swimming just with your arms.” She is now waving her arms everywhere.

Yes, something like that.

“What about those blue flipper things.”

You mean fins? For the record I was not wearing fins. The man next to me was wearing fins and busting out all kinds of fly with them. Fins make you superswimhero fast. You can swim 25 fly in under :20. You can do an 8 x 50 kick set on the 1:00. You can make a 1:30 interval in 100 IM. But it all comes at a cost. The cost is super contraction of foot muscles and shins. So I have abandoned fins and relieved myself of 18 months living with plantar fasciitis! Which means no more swimming ridiculously fast intervals with fins.

“Those are fins. They give you the feeling of swimming…”

And she said, “fast.”

Yes, I smiled. They make you fast.

“Well, you looked great in the pool. You looked like you were doing something very serious.”

I was doing a long set of laps. I am not sure I was doing them seriously. I find sometimes when I swim my head is all over the place. When I am doing fast sets I am focused on holding form, streamlining off the walls, taking air in/out and feeling fast. When I am doing whatever else you do to pass time in the pool, my head wanders all over the place. What happens under the water in my head is not nearly as polished as what happens above the water. And even that needs polishing.

It’s funny how we filter compliments through our experience. To many people in the hot tub and therapy pool floating with their noodles I am sure I look like a good swimmer. But if you were to put let’s say Dave P. next to me he would be passing my freestyle with his backstroke (which he did the other night, thanks, that always makes me feel good to know that someone on their back can get down the lane faster than me). It is all relative to whom we compare ourselves to.

But it’s good to know that for at least one day of my life I was a professional swimmer. Who knew that professional swimmers still struggle with flip turns and occasionally find their stroke count over 20 per 25. Who knew that they get lapped twice in a 500 at the advanced practice. That secretly they dislike any set that says "on the __."

Who knew?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My Eyes Are Cyclocrossed

Thursday was my last big ride.

6 hours to be exact. Normally not a problem. Late October in Illinois – slight problem. It’s kind of cold outside. Anticipating this, Jen and I came up with a few alternatives. My alternative was maybe sort of skip the ride. Her alternatives were to do 3 hours outside then 3 hours inside. Or do it all outside.

Those aren’t really alternatives!

But I needed to get uncomfortable. Mentally shook up. Stressed. A little low on electrolytes, sweaty, sore and wondering how I would get home. That was the purpose of this ride. Knowing that made me honestly a little scared. I’ve been shook up plenty this week already. The 20 mile run. The Anwar swim-a-thon. Everything else which is mostly just recovering from that in time for today’s ride.

You could say my body and mind were on the Ironman ledge.

Enter Thursday morning: temperature was 37 degrees. It’s easy to tell me to HTFU from your climate controlled home where you are all on off season break right now. I don’t like riding below 40 degrees but I also didn’t have a choice. It was nearly 9:30 am and if I didn’t start then I’d get caught in rush hour on the way home. So I HTFU’ed and dressed myself. Wool socks, booties, fleece tights, two thermal shirts, my favorite new Cannondale jacket, lobster gloves and my trusty fleece-lined balaclava.

I had about 1 minute to exit the house before I broke into an uncontrollable sweat.

I headed out on my cyclocross bike. Why? Have you ever ridden your tri bike into an east wind at 15 mph when it’s 40 degrees outside? Right. Because you don’t do that. I don’t either. That’s not fun. That’s cold. Torture. And what’s the point of riding aerobars if you can’t ride in them? Bring on the cyclocross bike, black Surly Cross Check weighing in at 25 pounds of pure steel madness.

I love that damn bike.

I cross the highway, ride under the bridge of death and within 10 minutes I am at the path. The path is crushed limestone winding through preserves of maple groves and oak forests all exploding in crisp fall colors. In a word it is beautiful. Plus it goes for miles.

I make my way through Danada, Herrick and finally to the crossing near Blackwell. And just like that I have a plan. I hop on the Prairie Path and decide I will ride up to Jennifer’s house today. I have no idea how to get there or if the path even goes that far. As long as I keep pedaling north and west eventually I’ll find my way there. I suspect at some point the Prairie Path crosses the Fox River Trail which goes right to her house. Of course there were maps posted at every major spur but part of the fun of the ride was not knowing, finding a new way, going somewhere I had never been before. No map necessary. No heart rate monitor, Power Tap or cadence. It was the perfect day for an adventure, so I gave it a try.

The path was filled with multi-users today. Cyclists, runners, horses, moms with strollers, convicts, homeless, a crazy man on a bike blowing a party horn, cats, unleashed dogs, squirrels, children on scooters, high schoolers holding hands, crunchy fall leaves, black walnuts, walkers, birds – all out there.

And then there was me. Cruising along at 15 mph. It doesn’t sound like much but on a bike like this I feel like I’m on speed. The other day someone asked me the difference between a cyclocross and other bikes. A cross bike is like a mountain bike and a road bike combined. It’s a similar position as a road bike but sturdier like a mountain bike with thicker tires. It's heavy but that's what makes it easier to face cold days - you aren't moving as fast into the wind so you don't get as cold.

I reach the spur where Prairie Path meets Fox River Trail. I decide to keep going north and follow the river. Soon enough the trail becomes familiar and I realize I am by Jennifer’s house. After 2 hours, 20 minutes I arrive and invite myself inside.

I demand coffee. She tells me she doesn’t know how to make coffee but I chime in with “I’ll give it a try.” Sure, I drink coffee but I don’t woo coffee like Jerome does. There were four different contraptions on the counter that looked like they had something to do with coffee. I went straight to the most familiar one – the one with a pot – and made some coffee. A quick cup, some conversation, an apple, a bar for the road and it was back on the path for me.

3 hours and 40 minutes to go. The ride back towards home was now into the wind and the day became overcast. I think I like fall best when it’s overcast. The colors stand out against the gray sky and light up the gloomy day. I think to myself how this would be my last long ride before Ironman. Not an ideal ride or…was it? Change your perspective. See obstacles as opportunities. I then think to myself how lucky I am. At that start line, I will have what no else has in their training log:

This ride.

Which was going well so far but would shortly get worse making it a great weapon in my arsenal of things that make me tougher than Ironman. It started to unravel at the 3 hour 48 minute mark when I started to get tired. And a little bit of a headache. The coffee was wearing off. I was so sweaty I was hot but the headwind was making me cold.

So I stopped at a gas station for some fuel and then rode more. The fuel started working but then the time started to drag. 4 hours, 4 hours 12 minutes, 4 hours 18 minutes. Each minute seemed to take a month to pass. The path started to feel uphill. And the east wind was starting to bite. At 5 hours into the ride I finally had to stop. I dismounted and stood by my bike.

Ouch. Everything hurt. I needed a talking-to myself.

“Your head will try to say you can’t do this Liz but you can.”

I said that to myself because it was starting to happen. That voice in your head trying to convince the other part of your head that you’ll never make it home alive. You’ll have to stop. The battle in your brain between good side and bad. Bad side starts making plans for who you’ll call or where they’ll pick you up. For no reason at all. It’s not like you broke your bike. Or lost a pedal. Or have never ridden 6 hours before. It’s just the mental games you play in a stressful situation or a long ride.

I realized the whole “stress you out” purpose of the ride – it was happening.

I remounted the bike and just pedaled. Every time I thought it was too long, cold, hard I just kept telling myself I will get this done. I will ride 90 miles today. Not a choice but a committment that I made and will follow through. And I will have what no one else has – this memory of knowing I pushed through the feeling in my legs and finished this ride. Sometimes I just get this idea in my head and get on my own singletrack. It’s either stubbornness or determination. I haven’t decided yet.

As I got closer to home I kept having to add more loops for more time. And then more. Just one more loop. A little out and back. Traffic was building. The temperature was dropping. Cars everywhere, noise, traffic, construction. I hit the neighborhood around 5:50 into the ride. More loops. Finally just circles around the cul-de-sac. Then finally I am home.

My ass hurts. My back, my neck and triceps from the different position. My quads hurt a new hurt from spinning so much. And there’s a strange feeling in my head. Of all the rides I’ve done this year, this one sticks out the most. I felt like I was out there in another world today. The path was mostly mine, the day was so quiet and the ride…well for the first time in a long time I can say that I did something today I had never done before – ridden this far on my cross bike.

I walked in the house and Chris was there. “90 miles” I said. His response, “no shit?” Yes, shit. And crap. And damn. That is what my body is saying right now. Plus my eyes were literally cyclocrossed. Chris has no sympathy. He tells me to get my ass on the treadmill. Time to run. I don’t like so much when he’s not doing his own training. He has too much time to meddle into mine!

On the treadmill the first 10 minutes and the legs feel heavy. But then they come back to me. I set the treadmill at a solid pace and after awhile I’m just lightly moving along. 25 minutes goes by and I think to myself I have 17 more to go. And what’s 17 when you’ve done 25. When you’ve done 6 hours. What’s any of this at all when you’ve done_____(fill in your hardest training memory)? It’s nothing really. It’s just a matter of passing the time. Pacing yourself. Racing smart. Setting out for the best day that you know from training how to pace, fuel and pass time with yourself.

When I was finished, I had the memory of the ride and then run. There is not much that sets us apart when we hit a starting line. But then there are personal days like these – where you stretched outside of your regular routine, challenged yourself in a different way and learned something new. I won’t forget dismounting my bike and arguing in my head. I won’t forget heading out an unknown path to ride 35 miles to Jennifer’s house when I know that in a car it usually takes me an hour – on a bike took me 2:20! I won’t forget the stress – or that I eventually made it home and was still able to run well off the bike.

Memories like this make us who we are on race day – and beyond.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Chris!

This is a note to myself that I cannot forget my husband’s birthday on Friday.

Because on Friday he has a very special birthday. He turns 35.

As a triathlete you know this is an extra special birthday. Aging up. Now racing in M35 – 39. As a normal person this is proof of mortality. One year closer to 40. And clearly life ends at 40. Or isn’t that the way some people act?

The other day I asked Chris how he felt. “No different than when I was 26.” I told him to give it another 5 years. And then reassess. But I’m just joking around with him. It is strange to have a husband two years older than me. In a sense I watch it happen to him first. Aging. The good news is that it hasn’t happened yet. He looks the same. The bad news is that you know it’s only a matter of time before you look at each other and say “we look old.”

Or do we? What does old look like? How about 23? Or 28? Or 31? I don’t yet know. I told someone on a plane a few weeks ago that I was 33. He said I looked 18. I thanked him. I asked him to come home with me, sit in my closet so I could pull him out when I was 39. Or finally looked my age.

But back to Chris. I have known him since he was 26. That would be racing category M25 – 29. I was F20 – 24. Yes, I’ve been at this a very long time. My first meeting of Chris was at masters swim team. We both swam in the same lane. Sadly, I have not moved up in lanes since then.

I believe the way it worked was that I liked Chris first. For about a year. And then I decided it was futile so I stopped liking him. And then about a week later he announced that he liked me. I was like – great timing, champ. I’m so over you now. Leave me alone. We met somewhere in the middle and gave it a whirl.

I wanted to make mention of his birthday but wasn’t really sure what else to say. Honestly I wasn’t sure where to begin. Then I got a roundabout e-mail about nominating Boss for pet of the week on the Pattern & Paw website. Looking at the nomination form I thought to myself – yes, that would be a good form to describe Chris on his birthday. I know he’s not a pet and I can’t nominate him for a free collar but…then again…maybe?

Name: Christian Thomas Waterstraat

Nick-Names: Chrispy, Waterboy…I don’t know. You know how some couples have a million poofy nicknames for each other? Well we don’t. Sometimes I call his ass clown but that’s a different story all together.

DOB: October 24, 1973

Location: Born, bred, living until death do him part in Illinois.

Favorite Food: Pumpkin pie, corn chips, croissants, beer.

Favorite Toy: Wife? I wish. Is there really just one toy to call his favorite? He has an entire basement full of toys. Tools, bikes, wheels, cables, Guitar Hero.

Favorite Nap Spot: Again, too many to count. On the bed, on the floor, on the couch, in the car, in the basement, on the side of the road once during a bike road (really – and it wasn’t the first time).

I love: My wife, my wife’s dog, riding my bike, making piles around the house, watching movies, fixing things, cooking, eating snacks, being with family, eating meat, secretly I love walking & singing the 'make - the - poopy' song to my wife's dog but I won't admit it.

I hate: Traffic, stoplights, days when I think I don’t need to drink coffee so I don’t but then I get a raging headache and blame it on everything but coffee.

Special Skills: I asked him this and he said “my problem solving skills.” Now what fun is that! What about ability to make fine puppets out of socks (not his special skill..but..what if?), ability to produce an entire basket of dirty laundry in one day, ability to perform inane household tasks with no prompting (vacuuming out the cars!?) yet refusing ordinary household tasks (laundry) even with nagging, getting drunk on one drink, ability to wear same red shirt on every day on 10 day vacation, ability to sleep on Vegas Boulevard, ability to do the solo pull of an entire line of men in blue cycling jerseys every July, ability to do this (see picture below) while driving vehicle at 70 mph.

Super-Power(s): Fast talking.

Anything else special about your pet (husband)? All around nice guy, would help a flea cross the road if given the chance, scary smart with tools, engineering and physics, wants you to know that he "really likes bicycles."

Quips, stories, etc.? Definitely check the blog archives – there’s lots of quips and stories in there.

So, happy birthday to Chris. Today you are 35. You only get half way through your 30’s once. Enjoy today – drink coffee, eat cake and later tonight with your family at dinner go crazy with the wine. I’ll put the lawn chair out front in the yard, let you pass out in when we get home and when I tell you to go to sleep you can tell me that you’re just going to watch a short movie in your head (which is also one of your superpower(s) – ability to watch entire full length features films in his head).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Swim With Me

Now that masters is over and the lake is too cold and I’m still…still…STILL training for Ironman it’s back to the pool to swim. Alone.

There is nothing worse than swimming alone. Maybe finding yourself in a desert with no water hundreds of miles away from civilization. Maybe that gets close. But then you see 80 minutes of swimming on your schedule and realizing you will swim it alone – it’s like you are just sitting in a pile of sand. Waiting to die.

I’m being dramatic. But give me a break. It’s almost November. Masters season is about to begin again – and I am not yet done. I want to be done. I don’t want to see the black line. Or my goggles. Forget the pull buoy the paddles and the swim cap. The only water I want is in a tall glass. Not in a pool.

So I’ve been actively seeking out swim friends. Enter Anwar and Jackie of swim team. They are training for Ironman Florida. I heard they were swimming at a local college so I invited myself to join them. They graciously agreed. And then Anwar sent me the workout electronically.

I almost graciously excused myself.

You see, the workout contained 6000 yards. Anwar informed me that they had been doing 7000 yards. Twice a week. But this week they scaled back. Tapering. It’s not the distance that honestly scared me. It was the detail. Now, I’m coached by Jen Harrison so I have seen my fair share of f-ugly swim workouts. But this one took the cake. Can you say 3500 yard mainset?

You can but after about 3500 yards it might not make sense to you anymore. Nor would you be able to remember your name. Your address. Or the purpose of the two giant noodles hanging at the side of your body.

I sent the workout to Jen asking for permission to swim. I could hear her HA!-ing from 45 miles away. Go for it were her words or something like that. Hang on for dear life. Don’t pee in the pool. Don’t poop yourself. And last…..what interval will you be going on?

The interval of: survive.

Each of us took our own lane. Anwar apparently took the fast lane. Not even through the 500 yard warm up, he already had me lapped. The mainset starts with a straight 1650. I quickly realize that Anwar is lapping me every 300 yards. Every 6 laps this man gets a free one. How is that fair? After a few more hundred yards it becomes a game – can I hold this pace? I didn’t even have to look at the clock. I almost didn’t have to count. Every time Anwar passes me I have gone 6 laps. Like clockwork.

The mainset descended and descended until my arms squeaked and I stopped at the wall and moaned. I can’t remember the last time I moaned in the pool. I’ve done a lot of hard swimming this year. And I think once you have done 400 IM or 200 fly you lose the need (or the right) to moan any more. But this one – it got me. I went home with a headache and red eyes.

The next day I had another swim. I didn’t dare go it alone. I almost didn’t dare try the swim at all. So I sent out a cry for help on Facebook begging someone, anyone to share my lane. Got a lot of nice responses…from out of state.

Then someone local responded to my call: Amanda.

We decide to meet at the pool at 7:30 pm. I arrive a little early to get some hot tub time. Every good swim workout starts in the hot tub. Don’t argue me on that. You won’t win.

But then I open up my gym bag to realize I have made a critical error.

I left my swimsuit at home.

This is perhaps the worst thing other than realizing you walked on to the pool deck not wearing one at all (hasn’t happened yet – but I’m convinced one day it will). I said something to myself out loud and lucky me that there was a woman standing right next to me who heard. A very tall, naked German woman who was now standing so close that her giant boobs were right in my face.

MY EYES! I wanted to shut myself into a locker, pop out moments later and shout HELP!

I know this sounds like some sort of foreign porn fantasy come true – you forget your swimsuit and there appears a tall naked woman with large breasts and a foreign accent – but no. I will just say…no. I’m a little leary of people that walk around lockerrooms naked. More leary if they happen to get within 6 inches of my face. Downright scared if they speak with a thick German accent.

There are other things you can do tonight like walk on the treadmill or…

Ok, stop right there. Please don’t talk to me about other things I can do tonight until you put clothes on. And secondly Frau Boobs-A-Lot in case you haven’t noticed I am wearing pink pajama pants with mushrooms all over them that have little smiley faces on the caps, no underwear and very nonsupportive nonathletic shoes. I am not doing anything in public right now - especially not on a treadmill. I came here to swim.

She talked to me some more about pajamas, going home to bed (not joking…it was beyond freaky worse than Jackie’s story of being alone in the C.O.D. locker room at 9:30 pm when an older women said “feel my hair”), then she left me on the bench wondering what to do. It was 7:30 pm. I had no swimsuit, no wallet, no cell phone and I’m meeting someone here for a swim. If I was Jen Harrison I would just go out to my car and pick from the 100 swimsuits I have clipped together in the backseat. But alas I am not Jen but like her I will also not skip this swim. I waited all this time, drove here, I will swim. There is a way.

I try to be all MacGuyver about it and look around. First I stalk the other women in the locker room. When that starts to creep even myself out, I take a look in the pool. Maybe Amanda is already in there and I can ask to borrow a suit? No. I walk back past the steam room and see someone’s swimsuit hanging off the door. Now there are scary things (locker rooms), scarier things (naked women walking around the locker room) and then there is the steam room. But I didn’t have the last laugh. Actually it was the woman I almost walked into walking by the steam room who said “what is someone naked in there?” I wanted to tell her to not even bother checking because either way I was about to borrow that hideous brown floral swimsuit for 3200 yards.

I realized that being known as the swimsuit thief was probably not a good thing at the gym I’ve belonged to for 8 years. They even have my name on a giant banner as one of the charter members. Could you imagine being blacklisted as creepy lockerroom stalker/swimsuit thief? As another option I quickly considered wrapping myself in those bags that you put your wet swimsuit into. Then I realized the bags were clear.

So I took the only alternative I knew: I called Chris. Of course Chris pulled out the 1 million things I have never done for him, dangled them over my head and then finally said “I have your swimsuit right here” before agreeing to bring it to the gym.

Finally my suit arrives by way of loving husband that I will never overlook again. As he drove away I waved my swimsuit in the night air and shouted:


I find Amanda in the pool warming up. But what about hot tub warm up time? Amanda tells me she just got back from the Bonaire 10K swim. You read that right – 10K swim in the Caribbean. You swim 6.2 miles. In open water. I have heard of doing crazy things (polar bear swims, climbing Mount Everest, ironman) but swimming 6.2 miles is just plain nuts. Ironically she says that she heard I swam with Anwar and the last time she saw him he was swimming something awful like 7500 yards.

Pssst…the 10K swim is OVER 10,000 YARDS!

Tonight’s swim was written by Jen. At first glance it seemed kind of long and I was kind of tired so I took it upon myself to do a little editing. Trim the fluff if you will. So I crossed off anything that contained the words IM, kick, pull, descend, hard, on the 1:25 or with a band.

That pretty much knocked off everything but the warm up – 400 yards.

After that warm up we were feeling pretty good in the water so we gave the mainset a whirl. What do you know – another 1500 straight swim. I would say I can’t wait but I could seeing that I just did that the night before. Surprisingly the time passed quick and then it was on to the next mainset. Which at this point seemed really small (800) but was on an interval. Amanda contemplated the interval. She explained how she always feels faster in this pool but is slower. I agreed! The other pool seems slower but yields faster times. Then Amanda offers the only logical explanation:

This pool is downhill

She was so right. That might also explain why we only made half the intervals. Damn uphill pool.

After 3200 yards we were done. My arms hurt. My side hurts. I hurt. I am training for Ironman and finally I have found the hurt. But it’s not over yet. I still have my long ride this week. And another swim. I asked Amanda if she wanted to swim again on Friday. She agreed.

Just in case I’m packing my extra suit. And I’m fully expecting to swim something stupid like 10,000 yards with a 6000 yard mainset on the 1:25 interval all uphill. Naked.

Who's in?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

In The Long Run

Yesterday I had my last long run before Ironman.

It’s been over a year since I last ran truly "long". And I’m ok with that. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of running long. I don’t get marathons. Why people like to do them. I’ll train you for one – no problem. But the urge to do one myself? No thanks. That’s just a long way to run.

Unless you ride 112 miles before. I have no problem running long off of a bike ride. In fact some of my best run splits are preceded by a bike. I’m sure it means something – what I don’t know. High threshold for doing 3 stupid things faster than most can do 1 thing solo? Maybe.

My first experience with running long was back in 2001. My then-boyfriend-now-husband convinced me to do the Chicago marathon with him. Our training? Oh this is classic ‘what happens when you train yourself’ training:

Run 2 hours and 45 minuets every Monday and Wednesday for 3 weeks straight.

Brilliant plan!

How I survived that without injury I have no idea. Nutrition plan? Are you kidding? I was a vegetarian (don’t get me started) who had no idea how to feed myself unless it involved a bowl of cereal or a binge. Hydration plan? Does snorting back your own spit or snot count?

Hoping to finish in under 4 hours we ran 3:59:41. We were on pace for much faster until Chris’ quads shut down at mile 18 (or maybe it was from LACK OF NUTRITION PLAN!). From there it was walk/run/walk/run until I was finally like – please – PLEASE can we get this over with. I remember walking somewhere around mile 20 thinking this misery MUST end. I hate running slow. I hate walking slower even more. But back to running slow – it is inefficient and it hurts. I told Chris to pick up the pace.

Finally we were done! I remember feeling nothing but thank goodness that is over with now I can get back to running fast. Took a few days off and then ended up with shin splints a few weeks later. Lesson learned: recovery is key. As is nutrition, hydration and a smart training plan. By the way the photo is from a few years later at the Carlsbad half marathon.

These days I still don’t get excited about running long. It’s more of a necessary evil for long course racing. The longest I run is usually 2 hours. I never run 2 hours slow because it typically includes some intensity. Not everyone is built for that but giving someone that has been running since age 15 a long slow run is like poking them in the eye with a fork. Over and over again. Like telling a swimmer to swim 3000 yards straight at recovery pace with a pull buoy. No flip turns. How does that sound? Slow and painful.

I had some goals for today’s run. I feel like you should go into every key workout with a goal. Today’s goal was to cover a certain number of miles at a certain pace. How would I know? I would put on the evil pace setting mechanism of satan, aka the GPS.

I completely abandoned running with device-of-the-devil about 2 months ago. Since then I have had nothing but glorious runs. Imagine that. I reconnected with the idea of how it feels, looks, sounds when you run easy/moderate/hard. Trust me – when you take the time to listen and pay attention to your body’s cues, it works. It really does.

Plus I’ve been running since 15 like I said. I was raised on a track. Rounding the 400 at a certain pace, it’s in my bones. Ask any runner to hit a pace and they will. I bet if you asked Rachel Ross or Jenni Keil to hold 7:00 pace they could. No GPS necessary. Runners have an innate sense of time and pace. We know how it feels to split 3:00 on an 800 on the track. We know what a 5:56 mile sounds like in lungs. We can tell you the turnover it takes to put out a sub-80 400 on the track.

When I got a GPS this year I thought – this is great! Now I will finally know how far I can run. I quickly became obsessed with checking my pace. Over and over again. I would judge myself and the run on what the GPS said. No matter how good or bad I felt it all got filtered through but how far? I lost sight of how to feel good on a run and how to simply let go.

When you finally let that go, you will start having good runs.

So today when I realized I would need the GPS to realize if I had run 20 miles…well, I thought it would be a good and a bad thing. Good because it was the run of truth. No more “I think I cranked out a 6:20 mile” or “I covered 6.25 miles today!” Really? Bad because what if it told me I was slow. Well, what if? I don’t know. The emotional mystery of how bad a breakdown I might have upon realizing I was holding perhaps 30 seconds slower per mile than what I thought I could hold…well that almost made me want to leave the damn thing at home. But no. Come on, I trust myself. I know what pace I can hold on my long runs. I can feel it. Might as well confirm it too. So I made a deal with myself. I would use the GPS to stay in check but I could not obsess. It is there simply for a check and to keep the pressure on myself.

It was a pretty good day for a run. 50 degrees and overcast. I overdressed a little because I have a feeling Arizona won’t be 50 and overcast. I set out with my Fuel Belt, about one million gels and the GPS on the path. I do all of my running on a path for many reasons – it’s generally 100 times more enjoyable then running in a concrete gutter and it immerses me in nature. I rounded the lake after the first few minutes to find the maples exploding from bright yellow to red and knew this path was the right place for me today.

The first 30 minutes were a warm up. Focus on form, turn those feet over, feel good, keep the heart rate low. From there, open up to hold pace for the next…2 hours. 2 hours is a long way to hold pace. But before the run I read something I had posted in my closet. It’s my Wordle! It’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever posted in my closet. Every time I get dressed I see it. Every time I have a workout – good or bad – there is a word there to make sense of it The other day when I was too tired to do anything, I read the word ACCEPTING.

And I was like, yes, I am accepting today!

Today, as I got dressed the words POSSESSION, PERSISTENCE and TOUGH caught my eyes. Today that is what it would take. Completely possessing this run and my ability. Persisting with the pace. And acknowledging that this would be tough – but I could be tougher!

The next 30 minutes into the run I nailed my pace. I nailed it perhaps a bit too fast but the heart rate was fine and I decided to just go with it. In training you take risks. In racing Ironman you follow your plan based on the risks you have taken and how they went. Today I would be better able to determine a plan. But first, a few risks to take.

The first hour sails by and I’m feeling good. Of course. That is the honeymoon phase of the run. From there it just became a matter of clicking off 2 miles every 15 minutes. The GPS did what I said it would – kept me honest. I thought a lot out there about two people; Chrissie Wellington and Jessica Jacobs. Every time I see Chrissie Wellington run she looks like she is ready to tear someone’s flesh off with her teeth. It’s like she just eats up the miles. And when I saw Jessica Jacobs running on her way to a 3rd place finish at Ironman Wisconsin one word came to mind – jamming. That girl was jamming on the run. Her arms were like little engines pushing her forward and she just looked damn fast.

With that Bob Marley pops into my head and there goes another 4 miles. Up to the 2 hour mark I’m feeling ok. I’ve done this before, many times this year. Plus I knew there was only 30 minutes more to go. It would be tough, yes, but I could do this. I will not give it up! Why? Because that darn GPS is keeping the pressure on me. Any time I want to back down it is there telling are falling off pace. Actually the pace is all over the place. How can you be running a slower mile downhill? Yeah, I'd say there is some delay with it.

Just as I decide I can do this, the sky opens. It is pouring rain. I go from being cold to being very cold. My hands are so swollen and cold I cannot close the right one. My thighs are bright red from the temperature. Right quad is starting to bark. I am soaking wet. I find myself running up a small hill and think I want to cry.

And then I stop myself. How stupid is that? You cry when a pet dies, when you get hurt, when you lose something. Who cries when running? Who? Why? So I brush the thought away and realize my experience out here, in these final miles will be mostly mental, just like Ironman, all in my head.

At 2:15 into the run I am on pace. Oh my legs do not want to do this but my head is going all the way. My heart rate is starting to go haywire, I am cold and wet. I know it will take only 2 more miles to get to 20 miles but these will be the hardest even though the pace is the same. The last mile is downhill mostly. And in the middle of it, around 19.2 miles into the run something very strange happens. My legs jerk a little and the world spins. For the first time ever I think to myself – what if I can’t make it back? Would someone find me laying here wet and spent? No, because I am finishing my 20 miles. Slowly but surely. My heart rate drops as quickly as the pace slows. My legs have checked out for the day. But I still move forward. I will get this done!

Perhaps my biggest fault is stubbornness. If I set out to do it, I will. With or without myself. If if I say I will run 20 miles I will run 20 miles. Even if it means running circles in the parking lot. When I didn’t notice the giant puddle I realized that if my shoes weren’t soaking wet puddles themselves before – well, they were now. Finally I hit 20 miles at one minute more into the run than I planned. On one hand I cannot believe how good I felt until 2:23 into the run. On the other hand, I cannot believe I let that one minute go.

I got in the car. My legs hurt. I was soaking wet. Cold. Covered in path and woodchips. Thirsty. Spent. But I wasn’t thinking about any of that. I was thinking – with proper rest could I hold that pace for another 6.2 miles. And it hit me – yes. Yes I could. I know I could. I could dig deeper and pull it out. My legs now know.

I thought a lot about my marathoners out there today. One just did her marathon and went 3:30. Even up to the days before she told me she had no idea how she would run 8 minute miles for 26.2 miles. I told her it was all in her head. Stop thinking and start committing. Quit wondering and make up your mind. If you did it in training – if you got close – you can do it in racing with a proper taper and rest.

You’ve got to possess your goals. Set them, possess them in each key workout. Simple as that. Take them and make them yours. Do the work. Persist at it. And accept that it will be tough. Toughness is what training is for. In training you take the risks, you figure it out. You don’t have breakthroughs every time – in fact, you often find yourself 7 minutes shy of being done wondering how you will walk/shuffle/maybe crawl back to the car; a certified breakdown. But that is what training is for. To go through it. To last it out. In the long run it is sessions like this that let you know you have owned your goal enough to chase it on race day.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Social Healing

Psst…I found it. The cure.

The secret cure for fatigue, jet lag and stress.

Prescription: wine. Dosage: lots.

Chris called it social healing. I called it getting drunk. Either way you look at it sometimes you need to let go and throw back a glass. Or two. Maybe three. At most – four.

Enter Saturday night. Actually start with early Saturday. I woke up with night sweats. This is one of my favorite symptoms of stress. Nothing beats waking up in the middle of the night feeling like you just did 800s on the track. But I knew what it meant. I was fatigued. Tired and spent. Ten days of training in Hawaii, walking talking breathing eating sleeping triathlon and living with the in-laws – color me done.

I took Saturday off. It was time to go back to life like a ‘real’ person. For at least a day. It started as any good day should – getting out of bed at 9:30 am. Then, a shower. Dry hair! Make up! Clothes? Underwear! Next – coffee. The day just got better in a cup. A trip to the dog park. And then, a hike up the Greene Valley hill.

Yes, there are hills around here. About 3 of them. One in Blackwell, one in Mallard Lake, the other at Greene Valley; second highest point in DuPage County at – get this – 980 feet. That’s nearly 1000 feet above sea level. In northeastern Illinois! The hill itself climbs 190 feet over 1 mile. Compared to the places I’ve raced this year, that’s just a bump in the road. But it was a good little hike. Boss climbed the entire way!

When we got to the top, the day was so clear and Illinois is so flat we could actually see the Sears Tower in Chicago. Over 30 miles away. Then we walked down and enjoyed the fall day. Chris was so impressed that little Boss walked the whole 2 miles he said “next time I walk the marathon in Ironman, I’m bringing Boss along!”

Next time?

The evening rolled around. While Chris was at the train show with his dad (yes, I said train show, as in a show where you look at and talk about trains, the ones that go choo choo and yes this was a show for grown men including one token women in a bikini selling some train-related part that had nothing to do with bikinis), I was told to come up with an evening activity. I thought about it, an evening activity, and the only thing I could come up with other than washing the windows, putting away the laundry, cleaning the rugs, washing, painting the stairwell, organizing the basement….well, the only meaningful activity I could come up with was: wine.

I love wine. I have said it to the world. I don't drink it often but I love it nonetheless. But not just any wine – good wine. I am a self-admitted wine snob. I will not drink your table in a cardboard box wine. Oh no. I want it to be authentic with a rare varietal from a faraway region of the mountains of Argentina or the grasslands of New Zealand. I want my wine to have a personality. A smell. A story behind the name.

If I wasn’t living life as me, I would be living a life of wanderlust; traveling around the world sampling wine and local cuisine, walking roads into ancient cities, reading the landscape and writing about it.

But alas I am just me and living in..Lisle, Illinois. As I always say, gee I drew the lucky card. Lucky for me a few miles away from Lisle there is a fabulous wine shop. We headed over there in the evening and stood by the counter. The clerk approached us right away and said we
looked like it was our first time. I gave a polite if-you-only-knew laugh and when clerk placed the wine sheet in front of me it was filled with a lingo I could speak. Intimately. I’m no newbie, ma’am. I’ll raise your Meritage and see you to a Malbec. When it comes to wine fancy, with me it’s game on.

She tells us the way it works – you get a glass, you try the whites, then the reds. She explains why. Oh pleeeeeeease – bore with the basics of how to pedal a bike why don’t you. Pour the wine. Now. Please just stop talking and Pour.The.Wine.

Then she talks price – 6 bucks. Seriously? It’s official – I am the cheapest date. Pay 6 dollars for what comes out to two healthy glasses of wine, another glass of the premium wine that you pay a small fee for and then if you are lucky they will be giving away free samples of something you just HAVE to taste.

We were lucky last night.

It started with the whites. I’m not a big fan of the whites. Too froo froo, light, bland. But I play along. Actually I’m impressed. The Vidal Blanc and Voignier are tasty. I might just like whites. Give it another few glasses and I might just love them. On my comment card I write adjectives like fruity, papaya with a hint of coconut (I just spent a week in Hawaii eating a papaya a day – do not laugh at me, I know what damn papaya smells and tastes like and I’m telling you it was in that glass), light, clean, sweet, refreshing.

And then, we hit the reds.

Or shall I more correctly say – the reds hit us. You could say at this point things started going downhill or uphill. It started with a grape called Norton. It started out delicious. It only got better – Tempranillo. This is perhaps god’s most perfect display of red wine. It makes me want to run away with a South American man named Juan atop his burro named Chico. Andale, Juan. Andale. From there it was a Cabarnet Sauvignon and then the premium wine. We buy a glass. Or at that point what felt like a bottle.

But wait. First I used the restroom. In which I realized I was well on my way to…tipsy? Perhaps a little sauced. Definitely not snookered but more than just a little happy.

Social healing, it’s called. Healing.

Next up the dessert wine. It tasted like pears! And then, here it comes – the you-have-stuck around-so-long-and-look-so-sauced-we’re-going-to-offer-you-the-free-wine – the Christmas wine. We’re in! Pour two glasses. And wouldn’t you know they are right. It tastes like Christmas!

(it could have tasted like band-aids at this point for all I know)

Finally the free wine is done. Looking back on my comment card I completely stopped making educated comments after…the white wine. The red wines contains things like “yummy”. There’s a technical term. And the words “rhubarb, $8.00”. I have no idea what the hell that means.

Chris buys two bottles of our favorites. After drinking 9 different types of wine they are all my favorite. I look at Chris, he is bright red. He is like a mirror into how drunk are we. And the mirror says…


Oh no. Oh yes. Because it’s social healing. This is just what the doctor ordered. Dr. Chris. Any problem I have in life – emotional, physical, work – Dr. Chris always suggests the sauce. You need to relax, Liz. R–E–L–A–X. I try. Sometimes I really do. But it works much better when I am force fed relaxation by the glass. Trust me. Every once in awhile you need to visit the well. Drink from the bucket. Let thyself be healed.

After the best 6 bucks I ever spent, we were like - now what? How about a little food. I get a table next door at the restaurant. Finally Chris arrives after purchasing the wine and immediately we break out into giggles. I’m not sure why? Does it matter? Dinner arrives quickly and it is good. Chris starts cracking up when he reads the waiter’s name tag – his name is Enis. Why was that funny? Who knows. Who cares! That’s the whole thing about social healing. It doesn’t have to make sense. It is all good, just ‘cuz.

After dinner we wait it out. Let the wine wear off. Chris proclaims a victory. He says he might not have succeeded at the Ironman but this evening he has successfully outdrank me. I am impressed. In a competition of "I am now more sober than you" we say the alphabet backwards. Chris says the entire thing. I get caught up at “v”.

As you can see, I did not win.

Back at home we find Boss in a sea of toys in the kitchen. On the radio (I always leave the radio on for Boss), the college station is playing Reggae Trip Hop. Sounds like a damn rave in my kitchen. Safe to say that Boss had a little social healing of his own. With a rawhide stick, the pink fluffer toy, a new squeaky carrot set to the perfect soundtrack of Reggae Trip Hop.

And when Chris saw the carrot he said, Liz, why does the carrot have lips?

I don’t know, doctor. I don’t know.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Race Day Revisited

We are back at home.

Fall has arrived in northeastern Illinois. Today the gray skies sit against the bright yellows, crisp browns and warm reds of the leaves. The temperature is chilly and rain is falling.

Less than 24 hours ago I was doing my last early morning run down Alii Drive. I ran over to the aquatic center to swim before running back to the condo. A cup of coffee at Lava Java. And then a sad but sunny good bye.

I'm not sure which time zone my body is in right now or which day it is. I slept 3 hours on the plane, got home, pumped myself full of dark roast and found myself skipping around the parking lot of the grocery store before 8 am because I had some overcaffeinated energy to burn.

I miss Hawaii already. The house is cold and the raindrops are falling. I thought I would revisit the race and the island with some photos...enjoy!

Here's Chris at the pre-race check in. If you want to feel insecure, fat or underprepared go check your bike in at Kona! Everyone is riding top of the line bikes and everyone has an aero helmet. Thomas and I sat on the wall alongside the road watching the competitors. Phil White from Cervelo stood a few feet away handing out Cervelo shirts to all of the competitors riding Cervelos. Zipp representatives were giving away visors for all those riding Zipp wheels. Amidst all of this you could see the fear and anxiety in the competitors eyes making for a very busy, antsy scene.

This is the best damn idea I've seen in a long time! I am not sure if the tape held - but this guy had taped his C02 cartridge and dispenser into the tail of his aero helmet. You will see many uses for tape at bike check in.

I don't think many of the competitors at Kona are prepared for how truly desolate and harsh the Queen K can be. You hear a lot of "it was hot, it was windy". Yes, it's a freakin' volcano! This picture paints how lonely and long the road is at times. If you had visions of a tropical paradise with palm trees and blue waters - those visions are out there - miles away at the shore. Come race day, this is what you see for hours.

Here's Craig Alexander running along Alii Drive. Notice two things: the word WATERSTRAAT written on the ground to the left of him (!) and his appearance. He is the most focused and fluid runner I have ever seen. He truly gets into a zone and looks unshakable. It is like his eyes become fixated on his goal and he doesn't stop until he arrives.

Faris Al-Sultan sort of lopes along. He is lanky and scruffy. While others are clean shaven and proper, he runs by hairy with a speedo. Go Faris! Bend the rules. Be your hairy bad ass self.

This is Cait Snow. Cait was the female pro winner of Ironman Lake Placid. Simply put, girl can run. She clocked a sub 3-hour run on that course. She covered the Kona marathon in 3:01. When she passed me on Alii Drive she was all smiles and giggling uncontrollably.

Here is Chris running along the Queen K. The run course follows the first part of the bike course. I'm not sure most people realize how lonely the run course can feel. It is nearly devoid of spectators and on the most black pavement you have ever seen. Add to that the fact that there is no shade, a 13,000+ foot volcano to your right and the sky is engulfed in vog (volcanic fog) and you get a run course like nowhere else. Though there are nearly 2000 competitors in the race, out here you feel very much alone.

Normann Stalder runs by along Alii Drive - the first part of the marathon. To the right is the ocean literally a few yards away from the road. To the left is mostly condos, hotels. These 10 miles of the course are filled with spectators - both triathlon spectators and locals hanging out at the beaches along the way.

Rachel Ross runs by sticking out her tongue! She may be fast but I'll tell you that she didn't make it look easy. You could tell that Rachel was giving it her all. Sometimes I wonder if we all realize how hard athletes like Rachel or other age group world champions (Rachel has won her AG at Kona twice) really work. Some of it is talent but most of it is just the raw, pure work where you dig deep, push aside the pain and talk yourself into believing you will make it out alive on the other side (across the finish line). No secret other than that. Champions feel the same hurt, heat, wind, pain - they just push past it harder.

Yvonne Van Vlerken runs by in second place. Yvonne had a relatively "slow" swim of 1:06 (by Kona standards) - nearly 10 minutes behind the leaders yet biked and ran her way into a 2nd overall finish. Goes to show that on race day - anything can happen. Ironman is a long day - and it's anyone's to win.

The Waterstraat cheering section in full force along Alii Drive. Three cowbells, two shirts and one hot pregnant chick (Chris' younger sister) - can any other cheering squad boast that? We tatooed the street with the names of everyone we knew that was competing and rang the bells loud.

Another shot of the marathon around 10 hours into the race. You will notice the runners go both ways. It's not uncommon to run into someone as you get into "the zone" out there. At this point in the race, Thomas and I realized you could say anything to the competitors and they wouldn't even know. They all returned the same blank stares. The look of Ironman. Out there you see the full range of human emotions. Pro or age grouper - I saw them crying, walking, laughing, hurting at different parts of the race. Along this part of the road - around mile 21 - you will see some unraveling as others run steadily by. Some stop to throw up, others take a squat in the shrubs, a few steps later Chris sipmly sat down.

Bella Comerford is one of my favorite athletes. Her coach, Brett Sutton, has said of her that she is not as talented as most but works hard. He calls her a soldier. She has won two Ironmans this year and finished Kona in the top 10. One word when I saw her - GRIT. Grit is what it takes. You cannot learn grit - it is something you feel and do. When I saw her I could see the grit in her face. Grit is looking pain, headwind, heat in the face and saying GIVE ME MORE, I'm ready, I've trained for this day all year and I'll give it whatever it takes. I'll never forget that look.

Belinda Granger is one of the cutest people I have ever seen. When I noticed her at the Power Bar breakfast she was talking excitedly with much animation. She is also - as you can see - one lean machine out there. She took control of the race on the bike and at some point fell back on the run. When I saw her running down Palani around mile 24 she was chatting away with another competitor.

Here comes Chrissie Wellington. The girl is an animal. 100 percent pure animal that tears apart the course. She was running out there like it was a 10K. She is a complete contrast to someone like Craig Alexander. While he always looks cool, collected and focused, she looks hungry, passionate and on fire. The look on her face says it all.

The infamous Energy Lab around dusk. You cannot bring your bike inside, so many left bikes here and walked inside to cheer. Thomas and I waited outside the lab letting Chris wrestle with his demons by himself. The Energy Lab is a mere 3 miles or so of the race but it comes around 16 - 18; a point in which hours in the sun and wind either leave you charged up to get the race done or falling apart wondering how you'll make it to the end.

Joanna Lawn running down Alii Drive early in the marathon. Notice the "one compression sock." This was quite common this year. She's built a little differently than most triathletes - tall, sturdy.

Chris rides up the hill on Palani in the first five minutes of the bike. Chris was one of the few people sitting and spinning up the hill. Many were out of the saddle, feet on top of shoes, attacking up the hill. Seriously? There's 111 more miles to go. Give it time.

Riding back along the Queen K, Thomas sees a sign with Twinkies taped to it. He couldn't help himself. When he asked if I wanted one I said no way dude! Those things are made of toxic materials and have been out in the sun so long they have morphed into to something else. He disregarded this and shoved the Twinkie into this mouth.

Hope you enjoyed revisiting these moments with me. I feel warm now!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Leaving Aloha

It's almost time to stop living aloha in our little grass shack.

Chris seems to be recovering quite well. Ironman? What Ironman? Give that boy an IV, a piece of carrot cake, wash it down with a beer and he's 100 percent alive again. I'm sure, though, at this moment along the Queen K he wasn't feeling it.

This is the second, last and only time you will ever see this man on the Queen K with a race number. Believe you me he will never again do Ironman. And I don't blame him. It's not for everyone. He seems to excel at the shorter distances so by all means he should do what his body is designed to do! Go Chris!

Yesterday was a most enjoyable day. Thomas and I started early with a run south along Alii, past the Ironman turnaround, up the hill. As much as we got looked at by those supsicious we had actually done the race, we were also looking at them. Thank goodness we only observed one athlete out there running with a race bracelet. For cyring out loud, you just did Ironman. Give it a rest. For at least a day. Go eat a donut!

The run was perfect. Legs felt good, strong and I finally felt adapted to the heat. It only took a week but that also makes me think - race in a hot place and it takes about a week of sweating it out before you feel like you can breathe there.

Next we took the entire family to the pier for a swim. We swam back and forth to one of the buoys and enjoyed the ocean. It was rough out there but still beautiful. It is easy to see how you would become so strong in swimming if you had the ocean to overpower on a weekly basis. I wish I had an ocean.

A little shopping, a little coffee, then Chris, Thomas and I decided to go kayaking. Back to the pier to kayak along the Kona shore. When we rented the kayaks we were pretty much told we could take the kayak anywhere but couldn't land it. But then again, we could but they had to tell us we couldn't. So what you're saying is that we could paddle to Japan? Really? As long as the life jacket was strapped into the kayak - not even on my body - then yes. Hawaii is so laid back!

Here is Thomas trying to paddle towards Japan. A week's worth of training with me pretty much rendered him useless after a few paddles.

As we paddled away from the bay, it only took a few minutes before the sounds of Alii Drive drifted away and we were left only with the calm of the waves. The water rolling before clumsily crashing against the black lava rocks that lined the shore. We did more sitting in the kayak then paddling. It was one of the most quiet moments of my life.

As Chris learned on our honeymoon while paddling down the Wailua River in Kauai, if you want the kayak to actually GO somewhere, put Liz in the front with Chris steering in back.

Upon our return, I sweet talked the kayak renter into letting us try out the stand up paddle boards. I think I found my new sport. Years of balancing on an upside down bosu ball have finally counted for something. Impeccable balance while paddling myself with a giant oar. Here I am busting out a few lyrics of Tiny Bubbles while paddling.

It's more likely I was thinking holy crap how do I paddle this thing back to shore.

Each of us took a turn. I have no idea how my husband found the balance or muscle power to mount the board and stand still on it. His steering was a little shaky as he almost ended up on the Sacred Beach that we signed a waiver saying we would not go to.

Aftewards it was time to bid adieu to Sherpa Thomas. I offered to pull him on my 90 mile ride the next day. I've never seen a man pack so fast!

On Monday I woke up early for my last long ride. I was actually excited to do this one solo along the Queen K. The day quickly heated up and wind started to blow. I feel like in the past week I have gotten to know this land. The contrast of black lava, wheat-colored grass and the scattered pink flowers is beautiful. Though the land is harsh, it is still inspiring.

The course has become more familiar to me and I have gotten to know the rhythm of each segment, from the airport to Waikoloa, the Kohala Coast finally upwards to Hawi. There is a feel for the terrain, the wind, the heat and the landscape with each of these.

I made the turn at Kawaihae and rode towards Hawi. Before the climb began I turned to head back to get in 90 miles. The North Kohala Coast reveals views to me that are blue and beautiful. The haze of the past week is gone and I see nothing to my right now but ocean. I can see the different colors of blue in the ocean. Could you imagine seeing this on your ride every week?

The way back seems hillier at times and a waiting game of when will the wind start to blow. But I believe I have finally figured it out. From mile 81 to the mile before the airport you will find yourself in a fierce headwind. Best to just put your head down and ride. Don't look too far ahead or start doing the math. Just let it go.

One of the best feelings is when the line of palm trees leading to the airport finally comes within sight. It signals the beginning to the end of the ride. The wind returns in my favor and pushes me back towards the condo. By the ride's end, my arms are toasted red, my head is filled with heat and I have made my peace with the Queen K. She is harsh but I know her better now. One day I will use that knowledge.

Quickly we head to the beach where the others are surfing. I do some swimming/fish spotting in the cove. I swim with a funny and puffy looking fish just to see where he goes. No where very important. We float along.

Afterwards I suggest we head to Kealakua Bay for some more swimming. Chris, his dad and I take the twisty drive to descend on the road towards the ocean. We get there and the water looks deep but inviting. It is a color I can only describe a turquoise blue with bright yellow fish swimming near the coral. Chris and his dad bravely jump in to look around. At this point I am having some post long ride fatigue and take a rest instead.

Our last dinner on the lanai as one big family. I have not been on a family vacation since I was 14 with my mom, dad and brother. My actual family is small but this past week it was up to 9 strong. Megan, Chris, Meredith, Kevin, Thomas, Betty, Sherpa Thomas, Chris and myself. Make that 12 if you count the feral cats.

Leaving Hawaii is always hard. It is a week in a sort of paradise that makes you wonder why you would settle anywhere else. But then you remember the rest of your family, your home, your puppy all waiting. It is good to be away but better to be home.