Friday, December 31, 2010

Pressing Reset

It’s the new year and now is the time. It’s time to set yourself up with patterns and behaviors that will determine the success of your 2011 season. You’re doing the training, recovering hard and trusting that in a few months, all of the work and sacrifices will get you to your goal.

Some athletes set the best goals but then fall short. Why? I’ve thought at length about what it takes to be successful. But what if we flip it. When someone falls short, what brings them there? There is a certain amount of luck that is required on race day to reach your goal. About .1 percent. Luck with the weather, equipment and other unforeseen circumstances. The remaining 99.9 percent is in your hands by way of the choices you make. So what are some of the things athletes do to derail themselves?

Mistrusting the coach or plan

It’s pretty simple. If you believe in what you are doing, it is that much more likely to work. Coaching is more about making a connection with someone you trust than it is about secret workouts or price. When you lose confidence in the plan, it doesn’t matter how great your preparation was, doubt eats away at that and robs you of energy on race day. You’ll always be wondering did I do enough? Will it work? Mistrust consumes a lot of emotional and mental energy. On race day you need both. Choose your plan or coach wisely, then commit to it 100 percent. If you have any doubts, immediately address them – be brave enough to ask the questions and also mature enough to listen to the answer.

Overanalyzing the workouts

Data is good but there can be too much of a good thing. Power files, Garmin files, WKO+ - honestly none of that matters as much as this simple question: how did you feel today? In general, you should feel good for about 80 percent of your workouts for the week. The other 20 percent falls into the categories of off energy, cumulative fatigue or reasons never to be known. The less successful get stuck in that 20 percent, start to beat themselves up, perhaps even doubt, letting a few bad workouts derail their confidence. Do the work, and a few weeks later, step back and look at the pattern over time – not the day to day. If you see an upward trend, it’s working. Stay focused on the big picture and let go of the day to day analysis.

Missing the workout window

We all lead busy lives, often going from one activity to the next. But when you consistently skip from workout back to real life without taking time to recover, you set yourself up for under-recovery. Over time, enough under-recovery will impact your performance. There are a lot of fancy formulas and numbers about what to do and when after a workout. Bottom line, within 30 minutes put something in your mouth. Whether it’s a recovery bar, chocolate milk or a well-rounded meal, your body is receptive to energy that helps you repair and rebuild. When you master that process, you grow stronger from each workout and make progress.

Searching for clues

Searching for clues is what we do often online. We read forums, blogs, Facebook status updates for clues about what we need to do. Or, for feedback that what we are doing is right or wrong. So many are convinced that what they are doing is never enough or that there has to be a secret way. Not only is all of this reading/searching information overload, but it becomes, what I call, junk food for the mind. Junk food meets our immediate needs for gratification but long term can have consequences. Spend enough time worrying about what other people are doing and comparing yourself and you’ll end up with low confidence and mistrusting your plan. This year, step back a little and feed your head the healthy stuff. Take a social media holiday, after a few days see how you feel about yourself and what you are doing.

Skipping the easy stuff for the hard stuff

The hard stuff is fun, isn’t it? It makes us sweat and leaves us with that feeling that we did something. You wake up sore the next day and feel like you worked hard, you accomplished something. Yet when you only do the hard work, you miss out on the foundation that allows you to benefit and stay healthy from the hard work. The easy work, though boring, is often the most important. Why? Because triathlon is an endurance sport. Honestly the bulk of your training should be aerobic and easy. Not la-la pace but “sustainable”. If you’re going to do something for 2 to 17 hours, you need to do it at a pace you can hold. Too much hard stuff and too little easy stuff often leads to peaking too early, injury or burnout. Take the time to slow it down and do the work that works!

Outcome vs Process

In our results-oriented culture, it’s easy to become focused on the end result while losing sight of the process. When you place all of the importance on the destination, you miss out on the beauty of the experiences, connections and lessons along the way. When an athlete falls short of their goal, it can be very black or white – success or failure. As someone who has both succeeded and failed, I’ve found that setting smaller process goals along the way, finding the lessons learned in the ‘failure’ make any endeavor a success. It’s just a matter of perspective.

It can’t be that easy

Some athletes overcomplicate what it takes for success. The truth is that to bring out the best your athletic ability, nothing replaces consistency. Consistent work is progress. The most consistent work you can do, day after day, the more likely you will succeed. Consistency is making the commitment to getting up early, running in the cold, saying no sometimes to social engagements, eating well, sleeping more, doing drills. All of these little things, done over time, add up to big success. Yes, it really can be that easy. You just do the work, day after day, and you'll get closer.

Keep it in perspective

Keep in mind that we all do this for fun. When someone takes the sport too seriously and places too much of self-worth in their performance, they set themselves up to fail. I believe Ben or Jerry once said, if it’s not fun, why do it? This goes back to setting realistic goals in the first place. If you don’t find riding your trainer for 3 hours fun, then don’t train for an early spring half Ironman. If you don’t like swimming, then consider duathlon. Remember, you choose to do this and it should be something fun. Moreover, how you do in this sport, in the big picture, does not mean much about who you are. Perspective! I often tell myself, it’s just triathlon. Whether you finish first or DFL, in the big picture of life, only the 100,000 members of USA Triathlon really care. There are billions of people in the world!

The new year is an exciting place to be. It’s that feeling of a “clean slate” that makes us feel like no matter what happened in the past, this year we can truly be something great. Sometimes we get in our own way with overthinking, unnecessary pressure or inconsistency. This year, commit to changing one thing that has stood in your way. Maybe you can recover harder, commit to your plan or set weekly goals to keep yourself motivated. Success is within reach for everyone. Keep yourself focused on what it takes to get there and expect the best from yourself.

Happy new year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


On Saturday, we had breakfast with Santa.

(it’s ok to be jealous)

Think the holidays were busy before? Have a baby. All of a sudden your holiday schedule is busting with things that you normally would avoid. From a very far distance. Including – all things Santa.

I swore I would never do this – all this Santa shit. Because it’s a slippery slope into perpetuating a lie that your children will, if given the chance, take very, very seriously. I believed in Santa until I was 10 years old. Go ahead, laugh at me! I clung to my safe naivete until that age, with my biggest concern being the fear of what if Santa doesn’t know that we relocated from Brooklyn to the suburbs of Chicago.


He found me. And soon later I found out he wasn’t real. The horror! You should have seen me when I found out there wasn’t a stork. (WHAT!?!)

In just a few days, Max turns 5 months old. He’s almost been here for half of a year! The time flies by. Wait a minute. I take that back. Considering I’ve been up at least 2 times a night for the past 20 weeks, the time has not flown by. It has ticked by, each night a new adventure of what will tonight bring? How many times will I find myself awake looking one-eyed at my iPhone at 3 am? Perhaps I speak for many new mothers when I say that while I both love the night because it means sleep (finally!), I also dread it because it means a steady stream of interrupted sleep (he’s up again!?!).

Two nights ago, we were up at 10 pm, 12:30 am, 3:15 am and 4:45 am. All that bullshit about them sleeping through the night: lies. Something that people tell you just to be sure you do your role in keeping the species alive. Hang in there, they’ll sleep through the night at 3 months! Nothing. 4 months, boys are more frequent eaters! Nothing. 5 months. Oh enough already! Just tell me that I’ll be up xx times per night for the rest of my life so perchance when he does sleep more than 4 hours I’ll consider him ahead of the curve.

(but know that I’ve already convinced myself that Max is stronger, smarter, and better than any other kid his age – that’s right he’s gifted!)

All joking aside (wait, this is not a joke, no it’s my life and it’s run on very little sleep, loads of decaf and even more bedhead), I love being a mom. No matter how many times Max wakes up, how many hours he whines at that grating monotonous I have no idea what you want whine, no matter how many times he holds his poop in for 3 days straight and when it finally arrives:

Disastrous. That’s the only word I can use to describe it.

No matter about all of that, I love the little guy. Like Chris said, it’s like falling in love. Every single day. It feels that good and exciting. Until he starts asking for the keys to the car or playing his music too loud. At that point, I reserve the right to find him slightly annoying.

Each night, we have a consistent bedtime routine. Feed, bath, winding down time, feed, book then bed. Chris leads the routine. I have to commend him: he knew Goodnight Moon after only one reading. I warned him – it’s the most pointless book you’ll ever read but kids love it. A few days later, I heard him walking upstairs while muttering good night kittens, good night mittens, good night mush, good night to the old lady whispering hush

For the love of our college educations, neither of us can figure out what all of that shit was doing in that room. And WHO eats mush!?

Despite that snoozeworthy read, Max was up at 12:15 am and 3:55 am which is pretty typical. He eats, he gets changed. While he laid in his crib chit chatting until 4:30 am, I, on the other hand, found myself once again in bed at the junction of awake and very tired but still cannot fall asleep. So, I admitted defeat, woke up and headed to morning masters.

As I walked out to the pool deck, I spotted Dr. Erin. She’s a pediatrician. And I am sure she was thrilled to have someone try to talk work with her at 5:30 am.

I asked her about what was going on. Like, seriously, how much longer will this go on.

Will I/we/he ever sleep again?

Chris wonders how I do it. The other day he told me he was going to sleep in the basement. I said why. He said because I haven’t slept well in two nights. If I didn’t need him to read Goodnight Moon, I might have walked out the door and just continued to walk west while laughing my ass off hysterically. I haven’t slept well since....when did I get pregnant!? At this point, though, I don’t even feel fatigue. I just get grumpy or prone to shouting cuss words. I realize at some point Max will understand what I’m saying and my brother’s already warned me that there is nothing cute about a 2-year saying crap (from his own experience). Given enough sleepless nights, I’ll probably need a shock collar to curb my language.

Dr. Erin gave it to me straight: he is becoming a trained night wakener.

GASP! That sounds horrible! Worse than herpes. Know why? Because it implies I have something to do with it – that’s it not just one of those random it’s just because their babies things. It means that I may have trained him to wake up during the night. Hmm...

Now, I realize I’m talking about parenting here which is a very sensitive issue. Everyone has the freedom to have their own philosophy. And, what I’ve learned is that there is no right or wrong way. Ask some people and they would say I was raised the completely wrong way. You see, I am a successful, healthy, non-obese adult despite overcoming the fact that I was raised to sleep in my own bed, pissed in diapers until I was 2 and fed formula straight from birth.

I know, it’s unbelievable to imagine that after all of that I, at age 35, actually know how to dress myself.

But it’s not that I am worried about my parenting or me. I’m not. In fact, the less I sleep, the better I seem to swim at 5:30 am. (I’ve done a lot of crazy things to get faster in the pool but if all it takes is interrupted sleeping, then that’s one of the least embarrassing) I'm worried about Max. When forced to choose between eating or sleeping, he chooses to eat. When forced to choose between laying in his own filth while sleeping or waking up, he wants to be clean. Do you know what this means? There is a good chance when he is 12 he will wake up to raid the pantry, and, like my mom, if he can't sleep in the middle of the night we might find him vacuuming.

Here it is another day. We are at morning nap time already. Sleep or no sleep – the day must go on! Forget me – there’s a little person who 100 percent depends on me for everything. Sometimes I forget I am his source of food – which let me tell you is not an easy thing! The amount of food I need to eat to stay alive, to train and sustain the life of a human being is ridiculous. If I get behind, I make less milk. If I make less milk, we have a very angry Max. I eat a lot. Some of it is good stuff and some of it is…chocolate egg nog.

Each day, workouts are fit in between feedings and naptimes and naptime is not always predictable. I try to do workouts when he’s napping but the nap could be 45 minutes or 3 hours. This means I might stop to feed during a bike ride. A few times I’ve gotten caught with an awake infant while riding my bike – which explains a power file that looks like 100 x 100 jumps @ 200 percent threshold. That would be me getting off the bike, on the bike, off the bike, on the bike. Finally I just convinced myself each stop is like a stoplight. In my basement.

One thing (among the 1000 things) I’ve learned is how much I used to take for granted. Whether it’s sleep, taking a shower without a squealing infant waiting or being able to ride my bike for 60 minutes uninterrupted, all of that was a period in time I’d like to rename the easy life. (and yes, I chose to leave the easy life) Doing what you want, when you want. Skipping a meal just because. Not having to listen to the hoarse squawking of the breast pump (when I am done with that thing, I am tossing it in the middle of I-88). The simple act of running outdoors in daylight.

Perhaps it’s not even that I used to take these things for granted, rather I didn’t have the right perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up at the pool without my swim equipment or my workout. In the past I probably would have gone back home or saved the workout for another day. Like everything needed to be perfect for something to go well! Bullshit. Perfection is a colossal waste of physical and emotional energy. These days – it’s ready or not - SWIM! BIKE! RUN! The other night I finally got to swim at 8 pm. I forgot everything but my swimsuit. And that explains why I was wearing a pair of junior-sized camouflage Speedo goggles that I found on the deck. They leaked after every 50 yards. But heck if I didn’t swim one of my fastest 100s ever!

Right now, Max is napping and I need to get on the treadmill. Yeah, I used to be one of those oh I never run on the treadmill people too but….if I’m going to run, that is how it’s going to be. Actually, I’ve become much less of those people who say “oh I never” about anything. Yeah, I never would have been the parent to wake up every time the baby peeped or pay money for Breakfast with Santa or swim 3 x broken 1000s for the mainset at 5:30 am.


But maybe parenthood changes you. Because this morning, I looked in the eye of that white board on the pool deck and said – ok arms, we’ve got less than 45 minutes to bang that set out. No hottubbing, no yapping at the wall, no lollygagging. I’ve got to get back home so Chris can go to work, I can feed the baby then work, run and drive into the city.

Goggles down. Checked the clock. Looked at the guy behind me and said, on the top.

The mainset begins. The day begins. Ready?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Traditions

I’m still here.

My laptop wasn’t stolen. I didn’t injure my typing fingers. No, my internet wasn’t down. It was just that every time I sat down to follow up my last blog all I heard in my head was …


Actually, I heard a lot of whining and tears. Which
can only mean one thing: we’ve decided to keep the kid. Yes, it's time to turn the channel back to the kid for a moment. There is life outside sport! And about the kid: there was some question about the return policy but it turns out we’ll keep him. Here’s why….

No, don't get your glasses. He really does keep getting cuter every single day.

The holidays become 100 times busier when you have a child. All of a sudden you have to do things like Breakfast with Santa, waiting in line to take pictures with Santa, Christmas cards, Christmas sweaters, Christmas bibs, Christmas.

Know what?

My whole life just barfed up Christmas. A dramatic green and red mess of bells, candy canes and Baby’s First Christmas ornaments.

All of this explains why my mom was able to talk me into going to the Bass Pro shop on Sunday for a picture with Santa. Of all things you might expect to get at the Bass Pro shop (fly fishing reel, a hootin’ flute, Dickies - if you have to ask, you don’t know and if you don’t know, don’t ask), you don’t expect to get a picture with Santa. But I hear that kids love the Bass Pro shop and that the Santa there is really, really nice.

He’s also really busy on a Sunday afternoon. 90 minute wait. We decided not to wait for that one.

We decided to make another go at it on Monday night. Who goes to Bass Pro on a Monday night at dinner time when it is 10 degrees outside?

Psst….we weren’t the only ones.

Have you been to the Bass Pro shop? I’ve got to admit – I have no interest in hunting but something about the design of the store, the backwoods, rustic décor made me want to don my best camouflage bib overalls and invite Tred Barta into my ice shanty.

There was an entire section of Ice Shantys. I’m not kidding.

(Chris was most baffled by the single-person shanty. Who would sit on the ice by themselves? Someone who is not afraid to drink alone, I said)

We found Santa snug in a section called Winter Wonderland filled with TOYS TOYS TOYS and…a line. There was a line to see Santa. But the rumors were true – it was worth it. He was a nice Santa, well-mannered and kind looking with a clean beard and a smile that reassured me he was thoroughly background checked.

Standing in line, imagine our surprise when we see Swimmy Jimmy from masters and his 4-year old son. He explains to us that they got their picture taken with Santa weeks ago. Which makes me wonder – what brings you back to Bass Pro? I see his son running around to the train table, the car racing track and I realize – this is what you do with your son on a cold winter night. You come to the Bass Pro. You look at man things. You play with cars. You climb into the tents. You look at dead animals on the walls.

And, as Jimmy mentioned, you get free fudge samples.

Santa was gentle with Max and no tears were shed. As a reward, I told Chris to buy me fudge. Hey, you cannot deny that I am 50 percent responsible for that success! I’ve been told, though, that the first picture with Santa goes well. It’s next year that has catastrophic potential, when he’s in between knowing that Santa brings presents and Santa is a large strange man with fluffy stuff hanging on his face.

(only at the Bass Pro Shop would your *free* Santa photo include a stuffed buck in the background)

We spent a good 30 minutes walking around the store. It made me want to campout. Cook out. At the very least shoot something. There was so much to look at as well as fish tanks, a waterfall and free fudge samples – on two separate sides of the store.

Max selects his tent for Ragbrai.

I started to think – when did this happen? When did we make the full transition to parenting? We join the legions of other parents with strollers and small children in tow, walking around a hunting store on a Monday night because it’s free, it’s indoors and it’s entertaining. That is the challenge of parenthood, finding those things. As I watched Jimmy and his son at the store, I sensed this might be a Monday night ritual. Some nights I see them at the pool playing. Some nights they head to Bass Pro.

Next Saturday we’ve been invited to Breakfast with Santa. You’re probably wondering what you have to do to be invited to dine with royalty (it is Santa), turns out you have to have a relative who resides in a nursing home. That’s where Santa makes his rounds before the holidays.

All of this Santa stuff makes me think – shouldn’t we take the first few years at a slower pace? Ease into it? Right now Max has no idea that 1) it is the holidays, 2) you get gifts on the holidays, 3) Santa brings you those gifts. Plus, all of this fuss about Santa when: ***SPOILER ALERT*** there really is no Santa.

In other words, we’ve got time. Is there any need to rush all of this? Yet even though he had no clue it was Christmas, no clue that Santa was a very important more or no clue that kids are right now counting down the minutes until December 25th, I couldn’t help watch Max on Santa’s lap, get a giant smile on my face and start clapping my hands like a seal arfing with excitement.

I was that parent. Proudly.

The other day, my mom showed me an entire stack of gifts she had for Max.

I just got him a few things.

True to her form, a few things looked like a mountain of gifts. An Everest size pile of trinkets, boxes and gift wrap. That’s my mom. She always made Christmas’ magical for us – we would wake up to dozens of gifts piled high in the family room. It’s a tradition she still holds on to through this day. I’m 35 years old and I go to my mom’s house to find a mountain of gifts waiting for me to unwrap.

It’s not about the gifts, though, it’s about the traditions. It’s her thing and to her – and us – it shouts CHRISTMAS! Parenthood throws a lot of challenges at you (bedtime, naptime, tantrums, fits, tears, whining, sleep deprivation, diapers that make you think where do I even start with this) but the biggest are the ones you know are truly the most important – the responsibility of shaping this little person’s life with traditions and memories. That is a lot of responsibility! The family vacations, the holidays. I realize that we need to start thinking ahead to these things, about how we’ll create the opportunities for those memories.

Is it wrong that I’ve already planned out our first family camping trip?

I find myself thinking – what will our holiday tradition be. Will be let Max open one gift on Christmas Eve? Will we pile the gifts there little by little leading up to Christmas or let him think that Santa dumps them down the chimney the night before Christmas. Will I make Christmas raviolis like a good Italian girl and say mangia to the kid even though the ricotta stuffing scares him? All of this stuff doesn’t sound important but it is. It’s what memories and magic are made of. That’s what Christmas is all about.

We’ve got a lot of thinking to do. But we’ve got time. There’s at least 3 good years before he realizes what the heck is going on during Christmas. Hopefully we’ll have our traditions and our act together by then. Until then, we’re showing up this Christmas with Max wearing his Christmas sweater, Christmas bib and we just might hang the Baby’s First Christmas ornaments from him. As long as he can’t tell how ridiculous he looks, we’re going to decorate him ridiculously as advanced payback for all those times when he’s a teenager shouting in angst that we’ll never understand him and to please drop him off down the street from school so no one sees us.

Years from now, Max will look back at his first picture with Santa and say – you took me to a hunting store for my first picture with Santa? Seriously, parents, what was wrong with you? Well, we did. And if you’re lucky, you’ll have memories of us taking you there on a cold winter night to pass the time with the train, the cars, free fudge, and some good laughs in a 4 person ice shanty.

It may just be our holiday tradition.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Fitness & Health

For some reason, a copy of Lava showed up in our mailbox.

Before bed, I was flipping through the pages, searching for content between glossy images of gritty athletes and new you need this now equipment, when I noticed a particular page. It was a picture of Laura Bennett. And it got me to thinking – I wonder how many people reading this magazine know who Laura Bennett is.

Laura is a short course specialist. She’s done a few 70.3s but that doesn’t take away from the fact that her reputation was built on short course speed. More importantly, Laura Bennett hasn’t done an Ironman. And while this magazine covered the sport of triathlon, off the pages oozed Ironman. The forums, the blogs, everything in our sport seems to ooze Ironman. And it makes me wonder: in our sport, does that make Laura Bennett a nobody?

I look at some of the athletes in our sport – from pros to age groupers – and think we’re doing a lot - half, full Ironmans, several a year. It’s a relatively “new” phenomenon, and like many new things, the benefits or consequences are still not understood. Is there research being done on this? I’m not sure. But if I was an exercise physiology student, my wheels would be turning. You see, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fitness and health. After being in the sport for over a decade as an athlete, a coach, I’ve concluded that while many of us are fit, very few of us are healthy.

And I think Ironman has a lot to do with that.

I turn the page. More pictures of athletes who have done Ironman. Pros who are now doing several of them per year. In fact, the new Kona qualification standards demand that pros do more than one Ironman to gather the points that they need. Good for Ironman. But, is it good for the athlete? How many of these events can one do before it interferes with health?

True, there are outliers in the sport, those that seem to have superhuman adaptability to pile on the miles in training and racing without much disruption to their performance or, perhaps, health. I remember reading something about Dean Karnazes, the ultramarathon man, in support of what we’ve suspected all along. He’s not like the rest of us. His blood did not show the usual suppressive markers that one would expect after doing marathon upon marathon. I suspect there are triathletes who would display the same. Knowing this, while we may be impressed by their durability and performance, should we really be inspired to do the same?

More thought on this comes after the recent coverage of Ultraman, an event of truly epic proportions that needs no other explanation than the statement that it finishes with … a double marathon. Pictures of athletes on crutches, on stretchers afterwards. Yikes. Is this good for us? Is this something we should do? And, more importantly, in ten years, where will these athletes be. Is someone studying their endocrine systems? How will this event impact their health?

I know what you’re thinking: how can someone who can “race” for hours on end be unhealthy? This begs a discussion, first, of what health truly is. While there are many athletes who are fit enough to do an event, this is no guarantee of their health. Fit is being capable of doing something. Health is much more dynamic.

The story almost writes itself – too much training or too little recovery depletes the body and causes systemic imbalance – hormonally, physiologically, emotionally, psychosocially. The end result: someone who is fit but unhealthy. In my own journey in the sport, I’ve come full circle to realize that there are times when I crossed the line into too much with too little recovery and paid the price with my health. Eventually, you run out of health currency. Pushed enough to the edge, and at times over it, you exhaust your health resources.

And health resources are not replenished quickly.

There’s a lot of buzz right now in the sport about metabolic health. You don’t need to have a degree in physiology to understand what is going on. Lew Kidder once told me that training is not rocket science. You apply a little stress, then you back off. Then you apply a little more stress and back off again. In doing so, you figure out just how much stress it takes to achieve performance. The key is balancing that with recovery. That balance is connected to metabolic health.

Yet what I’ve seen is that many athletes do not fully understand the balance. Or, they are stuck in a pattern of ignoring their body (whether it be the feeling of hunger, fatigue, their intuition) so that they cannot achieve balance. Their body gives them a message. They stopped listening. The balance becomes…upset.

Women seem particularly prone to this. Combine a history of disordered eating (which is not the same as an eating disorder; I argue that to some extent most women have disordered eating for a variety of cultural, psychological and later physiological reasons) and an extreme sport (which the half or full Ironman is) and you get a woman who is at risk for becoming metabolically unhealthy which often manifests itself through chronic inflammation (acne, allergies, asthma), thyroid problems, injury or pain (especially in the foot and knee), frequent illness, irregular menses, weight loss/gain or underperforming not otherwise explained.

I, myself, had all the signs of poor metabolic health. This is not a confessional, rather it’s a true learn from my mistakes story. I, like many others, ignored the signs of poor health. I didn’t realize to what extent until a long while later when I looked back and thought to myself – was I deaf? Blind? Hindsight has clarity, though, that we cannot judge ourselves against when in the actual moment. Combined the signs were clear – I was fit but not healthy. In fact, in my early thirties, my health had never been worse.

My skin was a mess. I developed asthma that required two pills and two inhalers – daily. Each season, my allergies got worse. For over two years, my foot had a pain in it that no doctor could diagnose and no treatment could fix. I had developed PMS that got more painful every month. I was always cold. I craved sugar or coffee. I seemed to get four major upper respiratory infections each year no matter how much medicine I took. I was irritable – a lot. I had been to dermatologists, allergists, gynecologists, nutritionists, had my blood tested, etc etc….what was going on here? I thought I was healthy? I do all of this exercise, why do I feel like a sick old person?

Therein lies the problem. I had done too much with too little recovery for too long. While I was fit, I was so unhealthy from a combination of life stresses (including but not limited to training) and poor recovery that all of my fitness was going to waste. Over time, it became the inability to perform. Nothing I did was going to fix me except to stop doing. Or, to rest.

Rest. There it is – that dirty little word. As a coach, my job is often to tell athletes what not to do. Trust me, rest is a tough sell.

I find myself now much healthier now for a lot of reasons. I got some deep rest. I spent the last year training aerobically. It’s no surprise that anaerobic training – the short, hard, give ‘em what they want – training that is sold as so sexy and time effective is indeed effective. But it comes at a cost. Done too frequently, done at the wrong time, it throws off the balance of hormones. And applied day after day, it becomes too much stress, not enough recovery.

Which is really what this is all about – too much stress, not enough recovery.

Keep in mind, it’s not just training that is stress. How often do I hear, but I love to workout, it helps me work off stress. I know, it does for me too. But the problem is training for these long course events is not working out. It’s far beyond 45 minutes on the stairmaster or a step aerobics class. Our training can become stress. And on top of that we have work, family, relationship, real world stress. The body does not compartmentalize stress. It doesn’t file away the fight you had with your spouse before you go swimming. It’s all connected. Too much stress and not enough recovery is an equation out of balance.

Finding balance. How do we do that? First, you start off by committing to work at your own health. This comes before even following a smart training plan. Proper nutrition, adequate rest, emotional maturity, supportive relationships and perspective. And when you have all of those, and you add a smart training plan, you get fitness and health which sets you up for performance. You cannot have performance without health or without fitness. Many athletes have the fitness. Very have the health.

I wonder if Ironman is partially to blame for this. Of course exercise makes us healthy. In moderation. But Ironman isn’t moderation, is it.
Moderation needs to have a place in Ironman. I believe it can be done. Whether it’s doing only one a year or skipping a year before doing another one, making sure you're optimally healthy before you begin training for one, coaches teaching athletes how to recover (and not just train), doing the least amount of training that will yield the best result, monitoring your body/blood for markers that you are crossing the line and – above all – learning to listen to your body again. If there is a message (pain, fatigue, illness, hunger), loud and clear, stop ignoring it. Five words that will always get you in trouble in sport: maybe it will go away.

Laura Bennett has longevity in sport. She’s been around. She’s been consistent. She hasn’t done an Ironman and maybe the jokes on me – maybe she’ll do one next year. Maybe a lot of pros do this because they realize if they’re going to make a living in the sport, they have to go where the money is. It’s where the media is, the money is and where I see the most growth in our sport. As a coach, that’s good for my business. Doing an Ironman? I can help! But as my business, this also scares me. Too much Ironman, especially too soon, too many year after year – all of this compromises longevity. It compromises health. Initially it means more athletes in the sport but quicker exits. How much turnover can occur before the sport is tapped out?

My business is keeping athletes healthy. The challenge is getting athletes to the start line fit but also healthy. Any coach knows that writing workouts is the easy part. Weaving those workouts into athlete’s daily life to help them achieve balance and health – that is the hard part. All athletes know that the training is important. Less believe that recovery is even more important if you want to integrate that training. It doesn’t make sense. How can work + work = less? It’s an equation you need only get out of balance once before you truly understand. Work + rest = more. Simple as that.

From my own experience, I’ve learned that you cannot accomplish anything without health. Well, you can fake it, but not for long. At some point, you run out. As I sit here trying to decide my own competitive goals for 2011, I think a lot about health, about longevity. And determining how to maintain the balance. It’s a discussion in your head that is worth your time. There are big things I want to accomplish but in the bigger picture, I want to be sustainable. I want to stretch out what time and energy I might have left to be competitive over as many years as possible. As you think through your 2011 season, think first about your health, how to maintain (or improve) it and then decide how you’ll build your fitness for where you want to go.

Why am I writing this? I’ve thought about that too. It’s far less entertaining than stories about my baby or other senseless drivel from my life (though I think that drivel does have a place in a blog). Maybe this post will make you think, make some changes and then perform better. Often performance improvement is not about working harder, it’s about working smarter. Squeezing that extra little something from what you’re already doing without changing your training. The secret is out: the training doesn’t matter much. It’s what you do in the spaces between the training that will propel you forward or dig yourself in a hole. What to fill those spaces with? It might be sleeping more, eating better, practicing relaxation – all of those little things that will add up to bigger recovery. Which, in turns, leads to better health and improved fitness.

And isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Full Circle

Twelve years ago on Thanksgiving, I caught the bug.

I did my first race.

I’ve told the story before but a brief recap is in order: ‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving and I had a brilliant idea – I would run the local 5K turkey trot.

In an effort to prepare myself, that night I ran 7 miles on the indoor track.

For anyone who has ever self-coached, you know a training plan like that is priceless. Somehow in your head, despite all logic, you have convinced yourself yes, YES, THAT is exactly what you need to do.

Back then it was a small event with 600 runners. I remember crossing the finish line and thinking that was fun. I crossed the finish line in 21:39. Chances are, in the last mile, I caught a few struggling nonrunners who got talked into running only 3.1 miles with the family to burn the bird off. But more importantly, I caught the bug. The racing bug.

A little over a year ago, I had just completed a run focus in which I did several 5Ks to culminate in that same Turkey Trot. A week before the race, I found out I was pregnant. Scratch the race plan. Instead, I set my sights to 2010. I would run the race as my return to sport with my only goal being to break that original time of 21:39.

2010, here I am. It’s turkey day. I’ve been back at running now for 10 weeks and in that time have run two 5Ks. Was I ready for another one? The morning was a damp and chilly 35 degrees. Motivation was, admittedly, a bit low. You see, in my first race post-partum, I beat that original 5K time. The next race, I dropped another 53 seconds. And so there I was today. Today was wet, cold…do I really need to run this race? I’ve already proven myself. But I knew I had to do this. To mark the beginning, just like this race did 12 years ago.

Max only woke up once last night so I had a decent sleep (meaning, I slept for 5 hours straight - AMAZING!). I ate breakfast, pumped a bottle so Chris could feed Max when he woke up and then fully loaded myself with caffeine

(if you doubt the effects of caffeine, let me assure you – it’s real. I only drink decaf and so the other day after getting my once a week grande decaf Americano I found myself in a store, jittery with thoughts racing and sweaty armpits. I realized that the label on my cup was missing a key word: DECAF)

The race was taking place near my gym. I parked there and had my best idea yet – warm up on the indoor track. Some of you are balking right now – indoor track!? I love the indoor track! Maybe it was doing indoor track in high school that made me fearless of running 1000 laps around a nasty hot gym (yes, I was a miler). But my plan today was to warm up indoors to stay dry and preserve lung function for the actual race.

After a warm up, I ran over to the race site. People everywhere! In the past twelve years, the race has grown to over 6,000 runners. How many 5Ks actually have pace signs set up!? I positioned myself near the 6:00 mile group. I’m finally ready to be up there with the big boys.

(actually, the really skinny boys)

Earlier that morning, I thought through the plan – bolt the first mile, sustain the second mile and gut it out to the finish. Oh, and when I turn the last corner, turn the afterburners on. I have no idea where they are on my body or if I even have afterburners but it just seemed like a fitting way to remind myself to get my ass to the finish line ASAP at that point.

Standing at the start line, I scoped out the competition. Not only is this race huge but it draws a ridiculous number of high school cross country runners (and standing there, doing the math in my head, I realized I am old enough to be their mom). A few of them were wearing their uniforms and let me say times have changed since I ran cross country in high school (then again, that was nearly 20 years ago!) Seems that even the youngsters have caught the need for speed. There had to be half a dozen boys wearing what looked like cycling bibs with – I kid you not – a full face mask that zipped up the back. Except – it had no holes for the eyes or mouth? How did they see? I’m sure it shaves off at least….one second from all the drag that is saved from covered up hair on your head (studies have shown that cutting your hair short can reduce aerodynamic drag by 2%) but more importantly it was a great distraction tactic for your competition. Who can keep a straight face when you’re up against something that looks like that?

A countdown and the gun goes off. Turns out all of the congestion at the start from those who clearly thought 6:00 pace sign was referring to the metric system (because I must have weaved through, darted around and got caught up behind several runners who belonged quite a few minutes back) became a sure way to ease into the race. Noel, one of my athletes who started near me, on the other hand, was proving his strategy was much simpler than that – bolt and if the competition is in your way, just trip them to the ground. No joke, he got tangled with some kid who then did a full face plant to the pavement.

The first mile, surprisingly, felt great. I eased into it, thought about good form and made eye contact with nothing but the road in front of me. FOCUS! I hit the first mile in 6:07 which, trust me – feels a world better right now than the 6:00 I went out at last time. Like the difference between “I’m in control here” and “YIPES, I might crap myself!”

The second mile seemed to take forever but I knew it would. But unlike Ironman where you have 138.6 miles to go when you reach the end of that second mile, at the end of it, I knew I only had one more to go! I hit the final turn, turned on the afterburners (I found the switch!) and when I hit the 3rd mile clock, I knew I had my goal in the bag.

I’ve never actually seen this bag but know that if I ever find it, it will be filled with breakthrough race performances. And maybe a little bit of vomit.

I crossed the finish line 24 seconds faster than the 5K about 3 weeks ago, good enough for the age group win. If you’re keeping track (and you should be – this is very important stuff, people!), I’ve dropped over 75 seconds since that first post-partum 5K about 6 weeks ago. And, more importantly, today’s time was only 30 seconds off of where I was a year ago, before baby.

Why am I telling you this? Because I know there are women out there who wonder – will it come back? If so, how long will it take after baby? Max turned 4 months a few days ago. Right now, my running pace is about 10 seconds per mile off where it was a year ago. My swimming is back at pre-pregnancy paces and my biking is better. Bottom line – it comes back. All of that along with good health and balance. And, if you’re lucky, the world’s most adorable baby.


Today I came full circle. Twelve years ago, this race started the adventure of a lifetime – of racing, of making friends, of meeting the man who would become my husband, of travels, of victories, of lessons learned about myself that I could not have learned any other way. Here I am about to embark on an incredible journey again. It is the beginning, again.

Sometimes I wonder – will I be better than the previous version of myself? Can I go further than I did last time? I’ve been training now for 3½ months, and the short answer is that time will tell. But I suspect that if I open myself up to my own greatness again, I will get there. Perhaps get a little further and even faster than the last time.

And that is what makes 2011 so damn exciting.

Let's go, I'm ready.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


So, an Amish woman walks into an elevator…

Heard that one before?

No, seriously, I was at the mall and an Amish woman walked into the elevator behind me.

To say I was a little scared would have been A FREAKIN’ UNDERSTATEMENT.

I’ve got nothing against Amish people. I like their buggies and beards. It’s just that around here, you don’t really see too many Amish people. Last I checked there was no Amish colony in the Chicago suburbs. So seeing her surprised me.

I looked at her, and smiled.

She looked at me, smiled and then after the longest most silent pause in which the elevator and time very well might have stood still she said very solemnly….

Going down.

Oh god.

I mean, oh gosh.

Is this what happens when you die? Am I dead? Did I finally keel over from lack of sleep or all those mean things I’ve thought about people when no one else is listening that make me think I am not only going to hell BUT DRIVING THE BUS THAT GOES THERE! So this is it? You board an elevator with a highly religious woman, the door closes, you press the lower level button and it sends you careening straight into hell?

It felt like eternity. Eternity! How fitting! I felt like God was in the elevator with me, observing me, grading me. Jesus! AH! Scratch that. All of a sudden everything about me was sinful, wrong and I felt guilty. Think quick: what was the last thing you did. I don’t know! Where to begin? REPENT! REPENT ALREADY!

Donotmakeyecontactdonotmakeeyecontact. But I can’t help myself. Out of the corner of my eye I see her looking at me and she knows I’m looking at her because – she is probably the right hand puppet of god.

I'm so scared!

All I can think about is what I’m doing or what I’ve done wrong. CONFESS YOUR SINS! Damn Catholic guilt! I can’t even go shopping without it hitting me. But there I was in the middle of the afternoon with my baby sleeping in the stroller happily sucking away at a pacifier (evil!), with a large cup of Dunkin Donuts decaf coconut with cream (I’ll admit it, I wanted the fatty fat fluffer cream today!), my iPhone in my hand (tool of the devil!) and a Delia’s shopping bag in my other hand (Delia’s!? What am I….12?!). I’M A HEATHEN! Clearly she is scrutinizing me against her little bonnet of perfectness tied upon her head. And just as I want to pound on the glass to the shoppers below signaling an existential emergency was taking place SEND HELP NOW, the elevator bing-ed.

The door opened, after what had to be the LONGEST ONE FLOOR ELEVATOR RIDE OF MY LIFE.

Our eyes met.

After you.

And then, she followed me. I wish I was kidding. I pick up my pace. I dart into Home Goods, discretely glancing over my shoulder – she’s there. Going toward the back of the store - THERE!

Take the coffee. Here’s the pacifier. Heck, take the child! And you’re right, I am too old to be shopping at Delia’s!

After all of this internal turmoil, she fakes me out by walking towards Marshall’s. WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT ALL ABOUT!? Is this a warning? Is this how you become a Catholic in bad standing (more on that later). And if so – how did the Amish get involved?

Forgive me, for I have sinned. I am shopping in the middle of the afternoon when I should be working. But please – I have a 4 month old and if I read one more book about puppies, sing one more song about what is mommy doing now or get spit up on one more time I WILL LOSE MY MARBLES and create a much greater sin – getting very, very drunk by 10 am. Who can blame me. It’s survival!

Yes, Max and I have been going to the shopping mall once a week to get out of the house. When he naps, I work. When he’s awake, we play. When I feel like I can no longer rattle the Pirate Octopus toy or make animal sounds, we go to the mall.

And, I’ve learned, I’m not the only one who uses the mall as escape.

Go to the mall on a weekday and it’s filled with the unemployed who simply cannot give up pursuing their American dream lifestyle, old people eating ice cream and mothers with strollers. Entire brigades of suburban moms pushing UppaBabys, Chiccos, Gracos. Paying good money to put their child on a train that goes in circles. Resisting temptation of about 100 places that always seem right in front of my face selling cookies or chocolate. Getting verbally assaulted by the lady selling lotion at the kiosk (WHO BUYS THAT SHIT!?). And, of course, shopping.

Which reminds me – I have GOT to stay out of Gymboree. That place is like crack to new mommys. Oh you think you can stay away. Then you go in there and see the cutest damn monkey hat or get wooed with the siren song of a sale race boasting an extra 20 percent.

Work of the devil!

The scary part – I am learning the language of the mall. I’ve learned that if you pretend like you don’t speak English, the lady selling lotion won’t bother you. If you need to nurse or change your baby, hands down Von Mauer has the best women’s lounge. I’ve learned that if you go to the Dunkin Donuts right around 2 pm, there’s a good chance the clerk will make you a fresh pot of decaf and give you a large even though you ordered a medium. I’ve learned that despite my best attempts, I am not Forever 21 anymore and might better fit at Ann Taylor.


I was at the mall today to buy an outfit for Max’s baptism. (I’ve never been to a baptism so I don’t know what to wear and all I have to work with is my mom’s warning to not wear anything risqué - in case I was planning on showing up dressed as Heidi Fleiss). For all of my non-Catholic friends, a baptism washes away original sin from your baby. It wipes their slate clean so they can spend the next 18 years filling it up with all sorts of sins like stealing candy, sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night and calling their siblings names.

I don’t know all of this because I’m a good Catholic but because we had to go to a class on how to be good Catholic parents. Ironically it was taught by a surly deacon who seemed more interested in telling us that when he decided not to be a priest because he liked women too much.

And that falls into the category of too much information.

First we had to answer a bunch of questions about religion. What are sacraments, what is faith. Dammit! No one told me there would be a quiz. We watched a video from the 1980s on what happens at a baptism where I spent more time looking at the hairdos and make up thinking – these poor people were caught indelibly on film looking like that. And then we talked about godparents. Apparently to be a godparent you have to be a Catholic in good standing.

Which begs the question: what does one have to do to be a Catholic in bad standing?

Probably go to the shopping mall at 2pm on a Wednesday because you get a little overwhelmed with parenting. How did that happen? Well…

Max has a new skill:


And he is not afraid to use it as a weapon of parental control.

The other night we were trying to cook dinner. Max was supposed to be entertained by the 1000 things we’ve accumulated to entertain him. Yet nothing works like mommy or daddy. He started squealing very loud pitched squeals for a very long time to let us know that the activity mat with all of its colors and animals is not the good time he was looking for.

What’s the return policy on this kid?

30 days with receipt.

I guess we’re out of warranty.

Squealing is developmentally appropriate. It comes right after the a-goo, a-goo stage and before the babbling. Believe it or not, there is a progression to baby sounds: agoo, squeal, babble, bah bah and then they just belt right out with screw you guys you’ll never understand me.

I think that is the stage in language we call teen angst.

Maybe that is why God sent the Amish woman after me, For admitting that there are times where I think to myself – how did I get here and how do I get my old life back? Part of me is kidding but the other part – the part that had to deal with this at 11:30 this morning:

(I sent this to Chris and he said – wow, it’s Max with a giant animal print on his back. Only after a second glance did he realize this was a picture of blowout of epic proportions. Not only did he blow out his second outfit of the day but the high chair covering and his pack ‘n play blanket. And, note that like many blowouts, this one defies the laws of psychics. It’s like he has a rotating nozzle on his pooper that shoots straight up his back. How do babies do this!?)

Anyways, after doing another load of laundry to clean up this yummy mess (only to be outdone a few hours later, and that is how you go through over 3 outfits a day), I thought to myself about that other part that wonders sometimes…

What the hell is going on here!? Where did this baby come from and who is this person!?

I look at him sometimes and see a person with a personality that he reveals to us every day. A stranger to me but certain who he is already is. Yes, I believe babies are wired to be who they are. He is incredibly energetic and curious about the world. So curious that he fights sleep to the last moment of fitful head turns, rubbing his eyes and squeals until finally he is defeated. I’m convinced he would much rather stay awake and see what’s happening. He stares at his toys with my focused intent. He laughs at the world like Chris, happy go lucky.

And we are completely at his whim – he is who he is and right now he doesn’t understand wait, I’ll be right there, you’re fine (but I’m convinced he will grow up thinking his name is HANG ON!). He only knows the immediate here and now. If I’m not there, I might not be coming back. If he wakes up alone in his crib, he just might be in the great wilderness alone being circled by wolves. It’s a very here and now lifestyle as a baby. And all you can do as parents is go with it. You can’t reason with them or explain it away. All you can give them is your patience.

That explains why I was at the mall at 2 pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Maybe my patience had worn thin after too many interrupted sleeps or blowouts. I’m not overly religious or even superstitious but perhaps the Amish woman, looking me over with what felt like judgmental eyes was reminding me that this time is fleeting, take advantage of it while you can. Don’t try to escape it – embrace it. And if all it takes to entertain him is waving a Pirate Octopus toy in front of him – then so be it. You’ll be wishing for that in another few years. Who am I kidding – MONTHS when he starts becoming mobile.

So, whomever is out there in the universe sending me signs, point taken. I’ll read I Love Puppies. Again. AND AGAIN. And again until I don’t need to look at the words anymore. THERE!

But I’m telling you, if I’m at the mall next Wednesday and an Amish woman follows me into the elevator, I’ll just drop my coffee, surrender my iPhone and run to the nearest fountain to cleanse myself.

Consider it my baptism.

And I have a fabulous new outfit for it!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Silverman At Sea

In the past 4 years, I’ve made a lot of connections through this blog. I’ve heard a lot of great stories, made some dear friends. All of it because I’ve said something that connected. An email is sent. A story is shared. A connection is made.

Enter Jim. Jim connected with me via one of my athletes who connected with my through my blog. It’s like Six Degrees of ELF. I’m like Kevin Bacon. God. Bacon. Did I ever confess here that my only craving I had in pregnancy was bacon and that was how I knew I was having a boy?

Anyways, back to Jim. Jim is an athlete just like you and me. And like you and me, he is feverishly dedicated – if not obsessed – with this sport we love called triathlon. Earlier this year, after several rounds of email, I had the pleasure of actually meeting him in person out in San Diego. Jim had about 200 questions for me to answer in less than 60 minutes over a cup of coffee. I answered all but 3. His most important question, though, was how to train for an Ironman at sea. You see, Jim is not just a triathlete but also a man of the Navy.

His 2010 race schedule included Silverman to do the full iron distance race. Note that I didn’t call it an Ironman because I don’t want to be fined for using the term inappropriately even though we all know that calling an iron distance race an Ironman is the same damn thing.

But that debate is far too existential for this blog.

Jim and a fellow shipman, seaman, nonlandlubber? Not sure of the proper terminology here but let’s just call him “friend”. Jim and friend decided to train together for Silverman. But here’s the catch – they would be deployed at sea for 3 months of the training. Swim training was not an option. They got a few creative training tips from Commander David Haas who trained for Kona while deployed. They rowed. They trained on spin bikes. They ran on treadmills. The timing would be tight but they knew they would return home one day before the race, and then head out to race an Ironman. I mean Iron distance race.

Same damn thing.

The training was done – the long miles on the road, pounding the pavement, making the most of the land time where they could get in the swims. And then (enter suspenseful music and nail biting what happens next)….

An announcement. The ship’s schedule was pushed back a week. In other words, there would be no Silverman because they would still be out at sea.

Now think about this for a moment. When the going gets tough, what do you do? When a road block is thrown in your path, do you sit in front of it, kicking, crying and sending out invitations to your pity party? (and would the font be pink and the envelopes scented with despair?) Or, do you walk right up to that roadblock and find another way. Because there’s always another way. Obstacles are opportunities to get creative, to go in a new direction, to see ourselves from a new perspective.

And of course Jim found another way. After all, this is a man of the Navy. Giving up is not an option. And we can all take a lesson from that. Rather than giving up on his goal, he decided it would be done – at sea.

Silverman at Sea

(and a day later he probably had an oh shit what have I done moment)

The day before the race, they did their own version of race check in. The day of the race, they met early, at 0530, with the anticipation of doing an Ironman ahead of them. The race started promptly at 0600. Now you might be wondering – just how did they swim? They didn’t. With swimming not an option, instead they chose to row.

They moved their rowing machines to the upper deck in the darkness of early morning on the Pacific. When Revelry sounded, they embarked on a 70-minute rowing adventure at sea. Jim chose 70 minutes because his last Ironman swim was around that time. Together, they rowed and watched the ship wake up, the morning rise.

Next, they transitioned to spin bikes. (I won’t ask Jim what he was doing for 13 minutes in transition) Not satisfied to just ride the bike for 112 miles, they downloaded a topographical map of the Silverman course and added resistance to the bike to simulate climbs. With giant fans pointed at them, they encountered the usual catastrophes you find along on an Ironman bike – fatigue, sweating, and a man overboard drill.

Yes, at mile 52 there was a man overboard drill.

Imagine 112 miles on a spin bike. Seriously, people, this is not for the faint at crotch. I can handle about 20 minutes on those things without wanting to run myself over with the fly wheel. It’s uncomfortable, steady, monotonous. Sounds just like Ironman,eh?

With no drafting, no coasting, no tailwind, Jim dismounted the bike in 4:55.

On to the run – a marathon on the treadmill. I can think of less painful ways to pass time on a ship. Like slapping myself with a lifejacket over and over again. But they did it. Jim and his friend experienced some of the usual fatigue you find in the marathon at Ironman but in the end, they both got the run done.

Jim completed the Silverman at Sea in 12 hours 19 minutes and 18 seconds. All that for nothing? Oh no. That would be a 52-second PR from his last Ironman finish time. When he finished, there was no fanfare, no medals, no glory, no Mike Reilly telling him he was indeed an Ironman. They were just done. And the next day it was back to business as usual – doing whatever it is you do on an aircraft carrier.

As I read through Jim’s race report, I got to thinking – why.

Why do it? Why would you do this knowing there was nothing at the end. There was no finish line to cross, no spectators, no finishers gear waiting to be purchased the next day. No post-race party. No t-shirt. No results. No chance to podium. No recognition.

They didn't have to do it. They just did it. And then it was...done.

I thought about it and realized that Jim was driven. Driven by the challenge, the training, whatever it is that inspires you about doing something like Ironman. Or maybe it’s just the local 5K. Whatever your challenge is, if you decide to do it, you have to have that drive to actually go out there and get it done. The bigger your challenge, the more driven you need to be.

Driven is what gets you up in the darkness of the morning to go swim in the winter. Driven is what makes you sign up for that half marathon then actually training for it. Driven is reading a book on nutrition because you want to learn how to eat better for performance and then actually making the changes. It’s setting the goal then getting the work done – and then getting up the next day to do it again. It’s making every minute count. Committing to it and then sticking with it.

You might say but we’re all driven. We’re all Type A, crazy, obsessive compulsive freaks who can’t sit still. True. But to be driven is something different. It’s focused, it’s direct. It points like a beam of light on to what you really want. You see nothing but it. You won’t stop until you reach it. You do what it takes.

Finally, I asked Jim himself: Why did you do it? This sounds like insanity to go 140.6 miles while going absolutely nowhere. Not only that but it sounds painful. He admitted at first that he wanted to do it to spite the change in plans. We’re stubborn, he said. But then after they committed to doing it on the ship, it became something more than that.

We didn’t want to quit.

Now I could completely understand. Because in facing challenging situations, I have only once taken the option to quit. And I will never forget that. My husband once told me the sting of quitting is worse the next day than any pain you might be feeling at the moment you're considering it. Quitting is the easy way out. Quitting was not an option to Jim – and who knows why. Maybe because he once tasted the lasting sting of failure and decided it would never happen again. Maybe because he didn’t want the training to go to waste. Or maybe because he made a commitment to himself to set out to do something and get it done – and he was going to honor that commitment.

I listened to Jim's story with great interest and spent time thinking about it. It showed me if you want something bad enough, if you’re driven to achieve, you’ll find a way to do it. You’ll get it done. People come up with all sorts of excuses why they can’t do things – I’m too old, I’m too slow, too this or that. When I hear about people like Jim, I think to myself – the only excuse that we have is ourselves. Perhaps an excuse really is the inability to get over one's self.

The story comes full circle. Sometimes from this blog, a connection is made. And from that connection I find inspiration. Jim’s story inspired me. It takes a lot of guts, determination and grit to do an Ironman. Even more so to do one at sea. I’d say I have no idea what possess someone to do something like that but that would be a lie because I do get it. It’s possession – that drive and ownership of a goal. A goal you set in the first place because you knew you could – and that – no matter what – you would.

On any given day when we are faced with a challenge, there is always an excuse waiting to allow us to give up, hold back or get in our own way. If you’re driven, you push all that aside and you go after it. Decide to do it! And then, just ... get after it.

And who knows – you just might find yourself many miles later with a new PR and a heck of a story to tell.

And I’m guessing some pretty bad chafing.

No need to send me those pictures, Jim.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Lessons Learned

This past weekend, I raced another 5K.

You might be wondering why. What is the point of racing a 5K. It’s certainly not very long nor anything like a triathlon. But right now it’s manageable, it’s motivating and it’s fun. When you can combine those 3 things in a goal, you know that you’ll go after it 110 percent. When you do that, you’ll likely reach your goal. And once you reach it, you’ll want to set another. This is the process of bettering yourself. It’s contagious, it’s what fuels our performance.

Three weeks ago, I set a baseline at the last 5K. I was ahead of where I thought I would be, off to a good start. Considering I didn’t run for 5 months, I wasn’t sure what kind of pace I could hold. But I knew that my body would quickly remember how to get back into running if I kept after it. The beauty of being a runner is that once you go through the painfully slow adaptation process when you start running, it will never take that long to go through that process again. Your muscles have memory. It will come back to you much quicker than you think.

I’ve also been doing these little races to get back into the habit of racing. To put myself into a situation that requires me to hurt a little, to react and implement a strategy. Racing – real racing – is more than just showing up and doing it. It requires a plan, and then the confidence and wherewithal to implement that plan. Coming up with the plan is easy. Implementing it under stress and pain is much more difficult. It takes a lot of practice!

Driving to the race, the brisk 22 degree temperatures had left a layer of icy frost on all of the grasses. The morning looked cold, it was cold. But I knew by 9 am it would be at least 30 degrees and to me – that’s close to perfect running weather. Once at the race site, I warmed up though it didn’t feel like much of a warm up. I was in full fleece tights, a hat, gloves, two tops. I had barely broken a sweat! I peeled off the layers and did the second part of my warm up with a few strides. Then I was ready. Time to head to the start line.

Once there, I found a few of my athletes positioned all around me. Doug and Todd were trying to convince me to start with the 6:00 mile group. Ha! Not yet, boys. Noel was nearby, sneaky, I never did see him in the race. Jill was trying to get away from me as much as I was trying to get away from her.

The cannon went off – literally, they fired a cannon but that’s what you get for racing at a war museum, and the race began. Immediately, Jill was ahead of me and I hung back for a few minutes, just easing into it. By the half mile mark, I zipped to get right next to her where I stayed for a little bit. Running along together, I realized something: I can either run this safe pace with Jill hanging on my shoulder the whole way and hope I pip her at the line or I can take a risk to get away.

Decisions, decisions. THINK FAST! Sure, this pace feels a bit too fast and I suspect if I pick it up it will only hurt more but it’s now or never and what’s 3.1 miles of pain anyways. And then I remembered my race from 3 weeks ago. I got pipped at the line for 3rd place. What felt like a big gap was a girl beating me by only 6 seconds. I couldn’t give it my all for 6 seconds? I couldn’t hurt worse for 6 seconds? I read something from a professional runner that said the only way to outkick someone at the line is to get aggressive. It has nothing to do with training. You either want it or not. I told myself going into this race that I would be more aggressive. I wouldn’t get outkicked and I would go harder after it. And so it was decided.

I was going for it.

BAM! I hit the first mile. The good news is that I can run a 6:00 mile again. The bad news is that I can hold it for about…a mile before my body screams out WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO DO TO ME!? From there, the course undulated through a twisty golf course with sand thrown on the path to cover up icy patches. I was picking up the pace, passing men and using the next one ahead of me to chase after then hang right behind before making a move again. I knew I was the first woman and in my head I kept saying WIN WIN WIN. I’ve never gone to a race knowing I will win, rather knowing that I would give it whatever it takes to win.

By the half way point, my stomach was reeling. In over 20 years of running, I have felt nothing like this. Whether it’s because I am so out of top end running shape or because it was cold or because I haven’t run a 6:00 mile in over a year – I felt like the lactic acid was pooling in my stomach and making me sick. I thought about it – what do I do? Do I stop and throw up? Do I slow down?

Then the answer came to me – the faster you run, the faster you get it done!

In my mind I was waiting for the GATE. I had looked at the course map ahead of time and knew that the GATE would signal the beginning of the end – the last ¾ mile up to the finish line. I kept asking myself. Where is the GATE. Where is the damn GATE already!?! I wondered where Jill was so I glanced over my shoulder to see her a bit back from me. Good – hold it, ow – stomach hurts – hold it, WHERE IS THE GATE!?

THERE! Finally, the gate, I run through it and a man tells me I’m the first woman. LIKE I DON’T KNOW THAT! Trust me, when you’re in the top 3, you know it. All you’re thinking about is how you’re either ahead or behind. And like I’ve said before, in either case all you can do about it is run faster.

The last ½ mile was slightly uphill. I know this because Max and I go to music class at this location. I push the stroller up that slight hill every week. I knew this course and mentally knew where I could ease up because at that point no one would catch me unless they have a killer uphill sprint (rare). In retrospect, I should have kept pushing. You never give anything up until you cross the finish line. I should have known better than that, but that is why I am racing now – to remind myself, to learn all over again.

I crossed the line 53 seconds faster than I did 3 weeks ago. Wow! The drugs are working. KIDDING! Geez, if I was taking them I’d probably forget to take them. I can’t even remember to bring my swim workout to the pool half the time. In all seriousness, I’d say all that’s working is me and my ass. No special diet, no magical training plan and no killer 40 x 400m track workouts. Right now I’m on a schedule that includes 3 runs a week.

As well as a schedule that includes limited sleep and lots of ice cream. It doesn’t need to be much more complicated than that.

Later that night I went home and did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I sat down and wrote a race recap in my notebook. It’s simple; I list out what worked and what needs work. The next time I race, I’ll review what worked and make a note to work on what I said I would. That way you don’t repeat the same mistakes twice. In fact, it’s not a mistake as long as you learn from it.

Winning feels good! I won’t lie about that. But what feels better is making progress. Working hard and seeing a result. Each workout I feel more confident in the goals that I’ve set for next year. They are ambitious for sure. But if they weren’t – why would I set them?

I’ve got one more 5K on Thanksgiving. Twelve years ago, it was the first race I ever did. Last year, when I found out I was pregnant, I told myself I would do the Turkey Trot this year to come full circle – to start again after pregnancy where I got my start in the first place. I’ve got two goals: to get aggressive and to give it my all until I cross the finish line.

I know, I know, 3.1 miles is a really short distance to go. It seems almost silly to get excited about success at that distance when in the next year I’ve got to put together success for 67.2 more miles. But I’ve also got many months to get there. One workout at a time, one lesson at a time. This week I told my athletes when you set a goal for the future, work backwards to make it tangible. Week to week, month to month, what are the smaller things it takes to get there. For me, right now, it’s learning to master my body and mind for 3.1 miles. The rest of the miles – I’ll get there.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

(More) Notes From Motherhood

A miracle has happened.

Lean in. Closer. We’ll need to whisper.

He slept.

For 7 ½ hours straight.

Sshh! Don’t say it too loud! If he knows he’s been sleeping he might just realize he’s missing out on 17 hours of the day that are really, REALLY exciting.

(news flash: they’re not)

Tuesday night we did nothing out of the usual – feeding and then bedtime at 9 pm. When I woke up at 4:43 am, I knew something was different. For one thing, I did not have the urge to shove the pillow over my head and bury myself under the sheets. For another thing, I got up and did not feel like this cannot possibly be enough sleep, I need to go back to sleep, I want more sleep NOW. I actually felt – rested. Refreshed? Something must be wrong. I looked at the clock – 4:43 am, and this is the first time he’s been up?


Everyone kept telling me to wait. Wait until he’s 3 months old. At that point, they say (and though I don’t know who “they” are, at times “they” feel like the enemy) a baby should sleep through the night. And sleeping through the night is considered 6 hours straight. Though I’m not sure who would consider 6 hours of sleep sleeping through the night other than college students, those in the military, graduates of law school and the elderly who can’t hold it that long.

Glimpses of longer sleep started last week. At that point, we received a brilliant suggestion – put a larger diaper on him. Clearly grounded in scientific theory: if he is waking up because he’s wet, the larger diaper will absorb more and he won’t feel it. Yes, in exchange for sleep we willingly accept letting our child lay in his own filth for a few more hours.

Besides, he’ll never remember anything before he’s 5 years old anyways.

We bought one size up in diapers and starting putting him to bed later (around 9 pm). And, what do you know…he started sleeping. MORE. And I started sleeping more. And on Wednesday morning when I woke up after 7 ½ hours of sleep for the first time IN POSSBILY A YEAR (I don’t think I slept more than 4 hours at a time while pregnant because of all the late night bathroom breaks)…well, let me just say that it is possible I could climb a mountain right now. BEFORE coffee. And IF we had a mountain in our backyard.

We don’t but right now I am so energized I could probably build a mountain.

Max is a little over 3 months old right now. It seems like when he hit that mark, a lot of things changed. He squeals. He cracks his own shit up. He loves to stand. He will – and I mean, WILL – one day get his entire fist in his mouth (he’s been working on this trick). His eyes follow me when I walk around. He takes longer naps, twice a day (up 3 hours at a time!). He is pooping much less (AMEN). And while I know there are many sleepless, poopy nights ahead of us – for now, I am enjoying all of this.

And when he recognizes me, and his eyes widen along with a toothless smile that melts my heart – well, I enjoy that A LOT.

It makes me want 20 kids. How many does that crazy woman have – 19? 20? I want one more than her just to show her that she can be beat. But alas I am too old and might be able to squeeze out one more before my eggs reach their expiration date. Wait – did I just say MORE kids? It’s like you completely forget how miserable it is to be pregnant and then to give birth. Sure they are beautiful experiences – except for the constipation, weight gain, nausea…should I go on – but I’m not sure I want to go through it again anytime soon. But it’s true, again “they” say you’ll forget about all of that when you have a kid and – believe them. It’s like doing Ironman – you completely forget that in training you were laying on the path, crying and clutching your knees at 20 miles into a run – the minute you cross that finish line you have no recollection of anything you did to get to that point and cannot wait to do it again.

In addition to more sleep, we’ve reached another milestone around here. I’ve made it to 3 months still nursing. In the beginning, I set the goal to breastfeed for 3 months. I’ve heard that one year is recommended, 6 months is better than most and 3 month is the bare minimum. 3 months - check! And, yes, I will continue. Because for all of its drama up front, it has become ridiculously painless and easy. I read something last week that made me realize how easy it is. Come 6 months when he needs to start eating real food, that real food will take time to prepare and serve. Right now, a feeding takes about 10 minutes (he got the fast eating genes from me – thank god – I swear Chris is the slowest eater ever, so slow that sometimes I have to tell him to stop talking and start eating). 10 minutes is very convenient. Blending up food and serving it – that’s going to take more time. So, for now, I’ll be happy that I carry everything I need for food on me, can serve him anywhere, any time in less than 10 minutes. I’m like fast food.

Except not as greasy.

Three months also means that Max is (FINALLY) establishing some semblance of a routine. So, my days are starting to feel more predictable and that is a blessing. The unpredictability of everyday for the past 3 months was starting to wear on me. I’m usually a planner but found myself accepting that with a newborn, you have to just take it day to day. Do not look too far ahead, it gets overwhelming. I get to the end of the day, look back proudly at everything I accomplished and then say to myself – I get to do it all again tomorrow!

Which is kind of a good but bad thing. There’s a lot to do every day.

I’ve become the master of getting freakish amounts of work done in short periods of time. 4 minutes while breakfast is cooking? I’ll empty the dishwasher, just watch me. Yes, I race the clock with the dishwasher. Hey, my first “big” race is many months away. I’ve got to stay sharp! Multitasking does not even begin to describe it. Manicmultitasking is more like it. I have no idea how I used to not have time. I think to myself – WHAT on earth was I doing with all of my time? But I don’t remember much about life or time pre-pregnancy. I suppose that’s another way that nature gets you to have more kids. All you know is the life you now live.

Workouts have been going really well. Jenny Garrison told me that when you come back after pregnancy you’ll feel slow, slow, slow then all of a sudden one day you feel like your old fast self again. Around 3 months. She’s right. Not that I’m super fit or fast right now, but I’m starting to feel more like myself. The paces are coming down and watts are going up.

I’ve been able to consistently get in up to two workouts a day. I’ve even managed to avoid the early morning workout for the most part. For whatever reason – a reason I will NEVER question – Chris has taken to getting up early in the morning for his workout. This means I can get out in the evening when the sun is still out to go for a run. Trust me, it’s the little things. My runs in darkness for the next 5 months will begin next week. I’m not looking forward to that but I am looking forward to running. If I’m going to run, it’s gonna be in the dark. End of story.

The runs and bikes are pretty easy to manage – I can do those at, from or around home. I can put Max near the bike or the treadmill and he seems fascinated to watch me. The pool is a different story. In my next harvesting of the money tree I’m going to build myself a 50 meter pool. Every swim requires getting to the pool, getting the child into the gym, checking the child into the gym day care, finding an open lane in the pool then swimming. By that time, I barely have the patience! Does anyone else feel like there is everything BUT swimming going on in their swimming pool? If I get kicked out of a lane one more time for two women to jump around while trying to not get their hair wet – well, let me just say that I’ve been doing a lot of kick sets with fins and a very very BIG splash.

I’ve gotten over my fear of leaving Max at the gym day care. I try not to think too much about it or even look too much around (gosh, some kids just look GERMY). If I go during the day, they have a staff member solely there to watch the babies. And just this week I made good with that woman. She’s Filipino. Say no more. She said the word pancete, I said, I’ve tasted it and before you knew it she was telling me that I had a beautiful alert baby and could she please hold him while everyone else’s kid was sitting in a carseat.

Twice a week, Angela and I also do kid swap at my house so we can workout. I watch Zach, her two year old, on Mondays and she watches Max on Wednesdays. It’s been helpful to see what I have to look forward to in two years. Pretty much I’m going to have to put everything in my house on lockdown. And I’m going to need to organize my kitchen drawers by next Monday. That’s when Zach will inspect them all over again.

Today is going to be a long day, but at least I’m rested for it. Chris won’t be home until 7:30 pm. That means me and Max together for over 12 hours. You know what else that means? I’m going to do a lot of singing today. You can stall a baby for quite some time by putting anything to song; cooking, cleaning, reading the mail, working, showering. I’m also going to consider auditioning for Food Network’s next big star competition because I have narrated my way through preparing so many meals that putting a camera in front of me wouldn’t make much of a difference.

I’ve also begun to refer to myself in the third person (mommy’s going to make breakfast) which certifies me as either crazy or parental. All parents do this. You quickly realize that if you walk around saying I’m going to make breakfast, you’re actually admiting to talking to yourself. Plug mommy into that sentence and you're only half as crazy.

We’re on nap #1 already which means I need to get to work. Something that has helped me get through every day is the old proverb, strike when the iron is hot. It means taking the opportunity to do something when it presents itself or else you just might lose the chance. So, before I lose any more time – it’s time to strike that iron and start getting things done.

Where to begin?

Monday, November 01, 2010

No Excuses

On Sunday morning, I woke up early for a long run with a friend.

We headed out to Waterfall Glen. The sun was rising into the morning which awoke at a brisk 32 degrees. You forget how cold that is when you haven’t felt it for over a year. The running capri tights come out. Gloves are involved. You wear long sleeves.

I like to warm up into a run, slowly. And I mean slowly. Sue, on the other hand, settles into what feels like a cruising pace from the get go. She comes from a pure running background – she arrives for our long runs with no water, no gels, no watch. She just runs. She has two speeds – pace and faster than pace. And she can do both while talking.

I feel like I’m carrying a bear on my back, the running feels heavy and awkward. I’m heavy. It’s cold. I can’t breathe. I hate running in tights. And then – the ultimate excuse popped into my head – I should just slow down, after all, I just had a baby.

I had been thinking lately about excuses. Everyone has them, don’t they? If you look hard enough, you can find an excuse for just about anything. On any given day, I wake up with a dozen excuses waiting to be used. See above. But the one I find floating around the most is I just had a baby. I hear myself saying it in my head like it means anything. As if it matters. Sometimes I say it to pity myself, as in – I can’t run that pace, I just had a baby. Or, I don’t need to do that yet, I just gave birth 13 weeks ago.

If you give me enough time, I can find an excuse for why I shouldn’t do just about anything. Especially now that things are so uncomfortable. I’ve been forced into this new zone of discomfort. Nothing feels natural. Everything feels like work in a different way. Sometimes things feel so awkward that nearly every workout requires some degree of mental focus and tenacity. Reteaching myself how to not ride a bike but apply pressure to the pedals. Remembering to push off with each step and not just let my running weight sink into the ground. How to hurt in the pool during an interval. Heck, some days just working out in the morning is totally uncomfortable. I was never a morning workout person. Now I find myself on my bike at 5:30 am looking at the prescribed watts thinking – isn’t it too early morning to put out that kind of wattage?

Like I said, give me enough time and I’ll find an excuse for anything. Excuses are our first defense when we are uncomfortable or faced with the unknown. Listen to them loudly enough and excuses become our fears. I shouldn’t becomes I can’t which then becomes I won’t. Or didn’t. Didn’t becomes regret.

Somewhere around mile 5, we hit a long hill. Sue takes off, strong and efficient up the hill. I find myself on the hill thinking – that’s ok, I’m 10 pounds heavier than her. Of course I’m slow on the hills.

Excuses. I’ve almost had enough of them.

We stop to look at a map and maybe it was the momentary break I needed. I told myself to zip it. I had enough excuses floating around in my head so far and didn’t want to hear them anymore. If I didn’t stop them here – who knows how long they would go on. How long can one use the excuse I just had a baby? Three months? Six months?


Somewhere around mile 7, Sue picks up the pace. She gets a little ahead of me and I realize – I have two choices. I can sit back here and watch her run away or try to keep up with her. Her pace was reasonable but certainly not comfortable. I can hear the excuses piling up for me to listen but instead I turn them off. I pick up the pace and go after her. The other girl I passed must have thought I was some psycho-competitve runner chasing down the redhead wearing purple tights.

Yes, I was.

Sue holds the pace for about 3 miles. I’m focusing on one thing – keeping up with her turnover. All I’m watching is her feet. Just do what they’re doing. Turnover, push off. She’s making it look too easy. We hit the one mile marker and she picks it up, giving it a great tempo finish and I couldn’t match that today. One day – I’ll get there (again). When it was all said and done, I ran ittle harder than I thought I could, surprised myself. But only because I decided, at some point, to get over myself and get after it.

No more excuses.

An excuse is a justification for failure to do something. It is a fail. I have to remind myself of that every day or else I find myself becoming yet another person who sets goals but pulls out every reason possible for why I will fail at them. In fact, excuses just give yourself permission to fail. Spend a day listening to the voice in your head and I bet you’ll hear them….”I ate good today, I can have that junk”, “I’m too busy to work out”, “I’m tired so I don’t have to hit those intervals.” Excuses are not reasons but they can become reasons. They allow us to accept less than our best and to pretend I’m ok with it. But are you really ok with it? When you look back and find goals that you didn’t achieve, do you want the reason to be…yourself?

I’ve got a dozen or so workouts each week. The hard ones – well, lately, there are a lot of hard ones. I’m getting to the point where I’m running longer, biking farther. Doesn’t matter how far I’ve run in my life, the first time going 90 minutes in over a year – yeah, those last 10 minutes are hard. Riding into the wind for an hour is hard. Swimming 4000 yards not just for la la I’m just floating along very pregnant but for time – hard. Of course there are easy workouts where I just run a few miles, turn off my mind and relax. There are easy spins and swims where I do mostly drills. But the other stuff – even as fired up as I am to tackle the work, it’s becoming more work. It takes more than motivation, it’s really wanting it, owning it and committing. Anyone can commit to the easy feel-good stuff. But when it gets harder, what do you do? Do you give up. Do you not even start. Do you find an excuse.

The hardest workout, I’ve said this before, is the strength workout with Kate. I went there last week and wanted to curl up to nap on the mat. I had a challenging run earlier in the day. And to my delight, yet again, she seemed to have put together 60 minutes of everything I was really bad at doing. Then I realized – that’s the point. I was in the middle of some painful circuit that involved the TRX and my hamstrings when I said I’m tired. The excuses started piling up in my head – I have a baby! I wake up twice a night! I haven’t slept straight for 13 weeks! Blah blah blah…

I paused. Replayed that in my head. Then got over myself. Really. She sees me for 60 minutes a week and the last thing she cares to hear is that I’m tired. If I can’t find 60 minutes of the week to buck up and not be tired – or at least pretend I’m not tired – then what am I doing here (and, trust me, there is tired and there is fatigued; tired is whiny, fatigue is drained, if you’re whining that you’re tired…yeah, you can get over it). The rest of the session I just gritted my teeth when it got hard. And worked even harder at the things I was really, REALLY bad at in spite of myself.

If I’m not careful, I’ll spend the entire winter telling myself it’s ok to _____ because I just had a baby. But I’ve found that excuse wore out with me long ago. Not because I didn’t have a baby but because I don’t want to become that person who has an excuse for everything. Know those people? The pool is too cold, the trainer is too boring, using a heart rate monitor makes me run too slow. If you spent less time excusing yourself from being a success, you might find that success you keep searching for.

Simple as that.

When it comes to success, it hurts, it’s uncomfortable, it means doing what you’re really bad at and working at it. Over and over again. Doing the work. No excuses. If you took one day, and every time you heard an excuse, you made yourself do what you were trying to get out of doing, where would you go?

Find out.