Friday, December 28, 2007

Of Finding Passion and Risky Behavior...In the Pool?

Unlike many, the swimming part of triathlon didn't terrify me. I was more distracted by the running distances, since I knew they were far flung from my normal plod-around-the-local-U that I was used to.

But the swimming made some sense to me. First: get in the pool. Second: swim freestyle (or some approximation thereof) for as far as you can muster. Third: get out of the pool and try not to trip on the way back to the locker room.

Easypeasy, right?

Ah, the chuckles I get from this.

Because OF COURSE it went nothing like that. When I first started swimming, I was an awkward ball of nerves, with my attention closer on whether the suit I was wearing made me look like an idiot and whether I was going horribly slow compared to the person next to me. The senior next to me. There was a lot of thrashing and meaningful, serious glances at the big clock on the wall.

At first, I was following a plan that was focused simply on distances. One day would have a 200 warm up, 3x200 at "moderate" pace, some kicking laps, and a cool down.

Looking back, all I can think is...boooooooring.

It wasn't a waste of time. I think if you asked any coach, they would say time in the water isn't wasted time, especially at the beginning of your relationship with the pool. So, my pace started getting better and my confidence in the pool certainly increased. I stopped pulling at my bathingsuit and started wondering what a pull buoy was. And soon, as the road began to lead to Ironman, I started working off of plans that were more intricate -- special drills focusing on form and finishing ladders "on" certain numbers. I started wearing a watch to the pool and feel more in command of myself there.

It was all very exciting and I was building some strength in the pool.

But still, I wondered whether this was really what turned people on in the pool. I read a lot of bloggers posting about killer workouts they had in the pool and I didn't really feel like that. Don't get me wrong -- the days when I would top off 4200 yards in one effort were amazing. I don't think distances like that will ever get old.

But I was bored with my work there, and it showed in my effort. I would cut things short or skip cool downs. I just didn't have my heart IN it anymore. Nothing was new to me there -- it was just a different combination of numbers that I had to get through so I wouldn't drown at my next race. I had plateaued on my times, and was at a loss as to how to get faster. So I maintained and slugged it out.

Recently, though, I've found a new passion for the pool. And this has lead to some risky behavior. Or maybe it's reversed. Let me explain.

It coincided with my coach entering the scene, but it wasn't just because of the Elf's influence. It was because I decided that I would start challenging myself in all the three disciplines this coming year.

I would start actually pushing myself in a way that had escaped me before. No longer was it about getting through the distances. I had already felt what 2.5 miles in the water felt like, I already knew how loudly my knees screamed on a half mary trail run, and how my tail end threatened secession after the 90th mile on the bike. For some reason, I think I needed to get those experiences out of the way first.

But it was time for a challenge. CHALLENGE, in all caps.

So part of my goal to challenge myself for '08 was to pick a coach who was creative, enthusiastic, and very experienced. Well, duh. That was the easiest part. But then to follow each and every thing she told me to do.

So. I did the dolphin kick drills when she told me. I figured out what "IM" meant and became less afraid of each of the strokes. I looked up what drills were supposed to look like on and mimicked what I saw. I watched youtube vids over and over again to see exactly what the hand was doing at every point, what the elbows look like. I went out and got myself my first set of paddles and figured out how to use them. I learned to kick without a board to develop balance and I no longer get water up my nose when I'm backstroking (although I do tend to bump into lane markers when I'm not paying attention!).

They are all little things. All little things.

But they are making a huge difference for me in the water. No...I'm not fast yet. I'm not swimming IMs in the local swim meets and, no, I still don't impress that one guy who comes to the pool and effortlessly swims 10 stroke freestyle lengths.

No. But there is a major difference now.

I look forward to swimming. I get excited when I have a cool set in the pool with something new I've never tried before. Now I finish my collection of 2500 meters in my little lane and wonder where the time went. I kid you not.

Everything I do in the pool is looked at in a new way. No longer do I slug through 6x300s at a "moderate" tempo (what the heck is "moderate" anyway?). Now my 300s are a mixture of paddles and polo swimming (with your head out of the water), sighting practice, and different breathing patterns.

And I've actually done the dreaded FLY public...and lived to tell the tale. Had I not tried it, I never would have known what a great core workout it was, nor would I have used those other back muscles that get left out when all of the freestyle fun is going on.

But more so, had I not tried something so far out of my normal routine, I never would have felt like a swimmer. Like a real, honest to goodness swimmer.

Each time I hit the water, I have a goal. Often I have something new to try, or at least an interesting combination of skills I already have. And I never leave bored or wondering why I even came.

All because I decided, with my coach, that this was the year to try something new. To push the envelope and really sculpt myself into an athlete.

I used to be an athletic person who participated in a lot of athletic endeavors.

Now, I consider myself an athlete. Because pushing limits is what athletes do. And that's what I do now.

So...with that said...I thought I'd include an example of one of my workouts, prepared by her majesty, Queen of the Elfen forest. Even though I no longer make my specific workouts public (it's the Elf's work, after all!), I think sharing this may inspire others to get out there and try some new things in the pool.

Wed, Jan 2

Warm Up
300 swim
3 x 100 kick (50 dolphin kick on back no board, 50 free kick with board)

Drill Set
10 x 50 Distance/stroke drill (count strokes for first 25, drop 1-2 for return 25)(ri:10)

Main Set
4 x 400 on 9:00
#1 - swim freestyle, every 4th length done as backstroke
#2 - swim freestyle, every 4th done as FAST
#3 - pull with paddles, breath every 3 for first 50, every 5 for next 50, repeat
#4 - swim with flip turns* OR streamline kick off of each wall push off (hands clasped, tucked between arms, and KICK to flags before taking first breath)

* see? this is what I mean. I've never done a flip turn. Alright...not since I was, like, ten years old. Next Tuesday? I'm doing flip turns. No matter how intimidating they are, I'm doing them. Scary and fun, all at the same time. Like scun, or fary. Or whatever.

Cool Down
200 swim easy

It's not as scary as you'd think and the rewards are HUGE! Go, try it, be creative. Take a risk. I promise it will be rewarding!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ah, the holidays


There you have it.

My holiday season is. Done. D.o.n.e. Done. Whew.

What a whirlwind!

Leading up, there was much running to and fro for this perfect gift here and that matching wrapping paper there. (Yes, we match our paper...shut up!) And the food making and packing, oh my! My work is very busy right before the holidays because community partners will 'adopt' our client families and I coordinate this process. Heartwarming? Yes. A complicated mash of preferences, schedules and questions? ABSOLUTELY.

By the time I made it to Williamsburg, I was exhausted. But happy. And the holiday was full of cookies (AND MORE COOKIES SO MANY COOKIES OMG THERE WERE SO MANY COOKIES!) and family and nosogreat eating and ...

... well ...

not as much training as I had hoped for. Ah, well. Hopefully one week worth of fledgling activity will not undo all the work of November and December.

But tonight, it's back on the training wagon with a trip to the pool for a killer set, including a fun looking 100-200-300-400-500 ladder that will keep me busy. I need to make a point to write some more about my swimming, because I'm really (REALLY) enjoying it and actually (gasp!) getting better!

For now, though, I'm focusing on the half emptied suitcase in the living room, making my training on time and doing well, getting some actual food in non-cookie form into the house, and cleaning up the inevitable holiday mess that happens when you take three days off from the office.

Onward and upward, my friends!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


My father always said that when I was younger, all I ever wanted to do was to grow up. Be older. Move on to the next step.

And it was true. As a teenager, I longed for the freedom and release of my college years. When flexing that independence throughout college, I saw my young twenties as a time when the world would take me seriously and I would gain respect from those I respected. But my twenties became easily distracted and I was frustrated by its lack of predictability and reliability, something I was convinced would be found later...possibly in my thirties and plausibly through higher education and marriage.

My Dad was right -- much of my life has been spent looking forward to the changes of the future, with the unavoidable implication that I was unhappy with my present. And often I was. I was awkward in high school and desperate in college. My fabulous partying self of my twenties took a toll on my self esteem and rolled my growing addiction up into a tight ball in the center of my psyche. And as I transitioned to my 30s, I was growing uneasy with how disparate my actual life was in comparison to my expected life.

I longed and sought to replace. I looked forward instead of sat still. I was unhappy for many reasons, but sometimes it was simply my inability to be happy that circularly argued for my own conclusion of ineptitude.

I remember most of the New Year's celebrations during these years. The ones I spent in Hamilton with my college and townie friends. The ones that brought me to wonderful parties in New York apartments and smokey cabarets. The ones as the hostess with the best hors d'oeuvres and biggest glass of wine. And even the ones with broken heels and expectations, stuck in cabs at the witching hour with casual friends and empty kisses.

And, like many, I thought throughout those nights of my hopes for the next year. For sudden slimness and acquired control over my own prosperity. I, too, longed for the heart exploding joy that rings your ears with a solid note and leaves your life indelibly changed. I would fashion my daydreams of my life together in a woven fabric that defined what my personal success would look like for those 12 months.

Such an exercise. Such an exhausting exercise.

It is exhausting to forever be looking for the next goal and the next definition of want and need. It's tiring to be always a little unhappy or a tiny bit ill at ease. To never feel like here is enough. Like right now still needs work before I'm okay with it being right now.

Because that moment always passes well before you can craft it perfectly and it is never to be attained again. In your eagerness to be prepared and ambitious and right, you manage to let the here and now slip away.

And much of this, for me, had to do with being well. Many of these years I simply wasn't. I didn't have the tools to cope with the tragedies at home. I was ill equipped to recognize my own deconstruction until I was in pieces. I needed help and I got it, but until I was able to I was in no place to do anything but hope for something else.

But now is different.

I don't need the New Year. Go ahead and take it. I don't need to cleans or evaluate or re-evaluate, for that matter. I no longer have that urge to wonder what it will be like and how do I get there and why can't I have that (blank) right now.

Because I'm there. I have a full heart. I have a peace about my own life. I have the here and now, so my urge to plan and prepare for the future has ebbed. I still manage the details, but no longer at the expense of my own experience.

My future still holds more for me. It holds a marriage and children. It holds new homes and new jobs. It will likely hold loss and illness, too. But I'm not captivated by those eventualities. I look forward to my future, but I no longer spend my present looking. I spend my present living. Here and now. With my love, my work, my family.

So enjoy your New Year's resolutions. Find empowerment in them. Find an articulation of your own wants and needs. Resolve for connection and achievement, purpose and motivation. Plan, if necessary. Plan in detail and bright colors if you can.

And maybe, just maybe...resolve to not resolve. Plan to not plan. Make your immediate future about your own immediate. Allow the next thing to be new to you. Allow the now to become familiar before time steals it away. Slow down and breathe.

Define your "one day." And then just let go. Because your one day will come in its own due time.

And you will never see it at its clearest when it is still on the horizon.

Eclipsing The Lists

Christmas has eclipsed my existence for now. In the form of lists.

I make lists on an hourly basis. There's the list for the gifts purchased and wrapped. The gifts outstanding. The schedule this week for where and when I'll buy the things on that second list. There's a list of groceries to make cookies for the office and what to pack for my trip down south.

The lists are on 5 x 8 cards on my work desk. They're jammed in my driver's side door pocket, with an attached pen for good measure. They're folded in my purse.

Oh. There are Lists. They are everywhere. But such is the holiday.

So far, this is the strangest Christmas ever for me. My father has moved from our family home of 20 years (in our home town of 35 years) to Williamsburg, VA.

Beautiful at Christmas, but a god awful long trip away.

So instead of our normal holiday festivities in our normal home with the normal good cheer and heart warming feelings, I'm packing everyone's gifts Thursday morning and driving for 8 hours to a brand new home. Erg.

We're going to have to make it our job to craft some warm and fuzzy moments in the new house. Pronto.

This year, Mighty M and I decided to not put a tree up, which has made me a bit sad and kind of curmudgeonly. There was simply no time to get it up before it was time to attend our relocated holiday down south. No sense in having a tree up in an empty house, right?



You can see why I'm a little grumpy.

BUT. It's still the holiday and I've been exceptionally blessed with not one, but TWO great families, so I'll stop my grumbling about a tree and the travel.

What I have found that will eclipse the list making and taking and stashing is training.

Training is the answer, folks.

My big weekend last weekend was almost shmushed by the holiday spirit, but I managed to wrangle my BIG brick on Sunday out from under the wrapping paper and broken tape dispensers.

And I know I've said it before and at some point I'll just shut up about it, but having a coach plan my training is like the best present EVAH. A year ago I would have done the brick like this...

Sleep the night before would have been marginal, at best. Why? Because I always knew in the back of my mind that the next day was stoptional. If I stopped wanting to do it, I just wouldn't do it and fashion some reason why I skipped out of the training ether.

But when I would do a brick, I would pop on the bike, put it in a gear that was a challenge but tolerable for a long time. And then go...just in that gear...for the whole time. Period. Almost as boring as this post is.

And then, hop off for a run. Likely I would slug it out with sloppy form and focus on the distance and time, rather than the quality of the exercise.

Afterwards, I would feel accomplished but achy, likely because I didn't hydrate properly during and was working off of an "eh" diet. I may have finished a long session, but I didn't really build my engine all that much.

It wasn't the worst training in the world -- I built some level of fitness with that time -- but it was far from smart. And I want to be smart. S.M.R.T. Smart. So, with the Elf's help, now my training is a little more like this....

I wake up from a full night's sleep because I know I'll be doing the brick the next day and I know there are few excuses that count anymore. And, yes, I hem and haw about it for a while. Just getting a coach did not make me a training angel -- sometimes I still have hours when I bounce around the house dreading the impending pain. The big difference now is that I don't barter with myself on ways to skip. I just bounce until I give up and justtrainalready.

I hit the bike with good nutrition in my belly and hydration for the ride. (In fact, this is a newly acquired habit after I saw the crazy increase in heart rate for rides that I would do without fluid. Who knew my little basement would cause all that sweating!?) On the aero's, I have a detailed sheet with my tasks -- warm up for 30 minutes with some spin ups thrown in there, 20 minutes in a big gear @ 90 rpms, spin it out, 20 minutes in a bigger gear @ 85 rpms, spin it out, remaining in small @ 95+. You get the picture. An hour and a half of solid work.

I hop...I mean the bike and take the transition seriously. Why? Because I want to make sure my legs have the benefit of as many bricks as possible. Why? Because I want to win next year. Nothing fancy like age group, but I want to win. And PR. And I do that by not messing around in my basement doing transitions in December. PERIOD.

Then it's time for the treadmill. I watch my heart rate carefully, because I have zones to stay within today. It means changing up the intensity when my ticker gets a little excited. It means slowing to a walk by the end to make sure that I stay in my proper zones. It's NOT about the mileage or the pace. For this brick it's about other things.
So, that's what my Sunday was like. And I lurved it. Every moment. And for that lovely 2 hours, I forgot all about my Christmas-tree-less living room covered in wrapping paper bits. And I forgot about the tapped checking and savings account. And I forgot about the Lists...the many, many lists.

You gotta love training during the holidays!

Thursday, December 13, 2007


My back hurts.

Not my upper back, just the lower. Kind of in two vertical columns where others have muscles. Apparently I have them, too, cause they're calling me dirty names right now.

What? You can't hear them? That must be because my calves are drowning them out with their own cries of complaint. This time it's the tops of my calves, not the bottoms. Keeps things interesting, ya know.

And did you know there's a weird muscle that's right near your armpit? Not technically in your armpit, just right in front?

Yeah. Me neither.

Until today.

Last night I lifted for real. Go figure. I have lifted in the last month, but it has been the slooooow easing into anatomical adaption phase type of lifting. Some here, some there, just ease yourself into it. And when your coach, who also writes in ALL CAPS, says "ease into it"... you tend to take the "ease into it" just as seriously. It's a sanity thing.

Sometimes I got to do my routine at home, which is fantabulous since it means I don't need to hang out with the university meat heads (sorry, but it's soooo true) after work. They're fun and all in a predictable sense, but I had enough of that in college.

But the at home lifting pales in comparison to the gym. And last night the gym hit me.

Some casual observations...

I don't know which Roman created that chair, but he should be taken out back and shot. In two repetitions of 25 shots with a rest in between for good measure.

Swapping out the pull down lat machine with a fit looking guy is fun and empowering, until you have to move the pin from 180 lbs to your 30 lbs. Harrumph.

Planks in public should be banned. Period. It's no good for the planker nor the plankee. It just ain't pretty.

That back extension contraption looks harmless enough.

Calf raises can make even the studliest calves cry. Never ever underestimate those three little inches of motion. Ever.

Aleve is your friend. And if it's not yet, send it some flowers and a nice card, cause you're going to need it soon.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not doing "reps to failure" or any crazy thing like that. I'm sure that ring of hell is waiting for, say, February.

But my body is only now starting to wake up to the idea that muscle strength is tres importante. And to get there, hitting the weights will be part of my mo. And soon it will be less of the "omgomgomgomgomg" refrain and more of "wow, maybe it's time to add another 5 lbs" going on in my head.

But until then, it's planks in public and muscling around with muscle heads in my future. And don't worry about me...I'll be able to stand up straight again soon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I seem to have contracted something.

I may have picked it up at the pool. Or somewhere on my handlebars of the bike. Could it have been in my stinky Asics?

Or maybe, just maybe, in that pile of athletic gear in the bottom of that special hamper in the guest room.

But I definitely caught something.

I'll tell you how I know. Just now I was typing away on the computer in a nice little email to the Elf, trying to convince her to let me double up on sessions this week to make up for a sick day yesterday. Who does that?

Me, apparently.

You see, I've been jonezing for this week.

9 and 1/2 hours of training.

BIG swim sessions, labeled as sets that "real" swimmers do. Intervals on my runs for the first time using my new zones. Efficiency drills on the bike and -- dare I say it -- a big solid brick to cap it off on Sunday.

I've been waiting for this week to start the moment it was posted up on my Training Peaks account. And yesterday I was stuck at home sick. In bed. For hours upon hours. Bored by 9:30 and brain dead from television by noon.

And tonight I was in the pool and -- even though I asked before I touched the water where I could swim uninterrupted and I was careful to check the schedule ahead of time [I'm just saying!] -- I was unceremoniously bounced by the obnoxious coach of the tiny tots learning backstroke.

And now I'm itching. I'm feeling PHYSICALLY ANXIOUS that I can't go get back in the pool tonight to finish the set. How's that for all caps! And I'm already packed and ready for tomorrow's adventures. And I've already cleared the schedule for the rest of the week's needs, moving holiday shopping out of the way of running blocks and making sure tree trimming doesn't conflict with the brick.

For all of the training I have done in the last three years, it wasn't until now that I have contracted it.

The itch. The itch. The one that renews your vigor every day and let's you dream of strong strides across the finish line. The one that lets you appreciate feeling like you can go forever even after an hour in the pool. The one that just sits there under your skin so you never need any reminder why you love to train.

You just do. Because.

Just because.

And I have it, under my skin and it itches. In such an amazing way.

Did ya miss me?

Okay, folks.

I'm back.

And even though I'm sure that I have only, like, three people who still read my blog, I kind of miss writing here. Not that the vacation hasn't been fun...cause it has.

But, for the sake of my future marriage, I think I should blog again.

Cause Mighty M may just kill me if I don't.

No, don't get me wrong. He doesn't READ this anymore...nah, he gave that up a while ago. I could divulge his deepest secrets here and he have no idea until someone randomly came up to him and pointed accusingly at a race next year.

No, it's more like I talk too much. WAAAAAAAY too much. And now it's not just about triathlon. Now it's about weddings AND triathlon. And Mighty M is breaking under the pressure.

So I'm going to need to get some of this out in blogging again. Beats payin' for therapy.

So. Things I've been meaning to say and haven't yet....

(1) I've decided that swim paddles are like cocaine for pool rats. The moment you put them on you're bigger, faster, stronger, and will nevereverever stop swimming. The down side? The moment you take them off you have T-Rex arms that barely drag you down the lane any faster than a sea slug. Paddle hangover, I guess.

(2) Cadence is all relative. All relative. When I started up with prep for my 2008 season, I thought 95 rpms as a "warm up" for 20 minutes was some crazy fast nutty stuff I should only do on the trainer outside of the watchful eye of the public. Now? 115 and I are friends. FRIENDS. Go figure.

(3) Single legged drills? Still suck.

(4) I've decided to get my own custom designed shirt for racing next year. People tell me all the time that I wear my heart on my sleeve and I'm an open book. (Apparently, I'm also a walking metaphor.) So I've decided on the coolest of coolest designs for a new custom race jersey. I'll reveal it dramatically at a later date. As in the later date when I have time to just put the graphic into electronic form. I'm a weeetle slow like that.

(5) I've decided to take my writing to a new level. I had a very sad loss recently -- a friend who I will dearly, dearly miss. And in my sadness, I have been searching for a way to manage this loss and convert it to something useful, for myself and others. I don't do many things well, but I know my way around a paragraph. So I've decided to turn sadness into words in a big way. A very big way. More to come for this, but it has been on my mind for weeks now.

(6) I'm still training...a bunch. My coach has been building me up slowly from the bottom and I'm starting to feel -- really feel -- the change in my confidence levels. I'm simply stronger in the pool and stronger on the bike. My running comes easier, too. And that's never happened before. I always tend to have one hiccup each week that messes with the schedule, but I'm being really good about sticking to the plan. And it's paying off. More to come on that, but it's all good.


(7) I'm still getting married. (YEAH FOR ME!!) I'm still in total bliss and gush over Mighty M each day. Our future is so full of hope and joy, I can barely contain my excitement. It's exhausting, of course, finding the right place and managing the budget. I mean, who knew that photographers were that much money? My budget is good on some things and baaaaad on others. We'll figure it out, but the planning is an emotional minefield. So far, no major explosions...well, there was that one, but let's just not talk about it. Cause WE'RE GETTING MAHWEED!!

Okay, that's all from here. More thoughtful, non-bulleted writing to come. But for now, just know I'm back and thinking up crazy things to say here while Mighty M absorbs every second of televised hockey at his disposal.

Monday, December 03, 2007


Time for a training update to keep me honest.

This week's joy?


Doesn't that sound fun? No? Not even a leetle beet?

Yeah...I agree. Here's how it played out.

First -- The Swim Test. This consisted of a nice little warm up and then a series of 10 100s in a row, with a rest of 10 second in between. Sure, why not? Sounds like fun, right?

Hell in the form of binary numbers.

The description my coach put in the Training Peaks file indicated I was to go ALL OUT on this.


Until this point, I never really knew what swimming in all caps felt like. Turns out that the first 100 is terribly empowering...the second and third made me feel strong and fast. By the time I hit the third, I was starting to feel the burn and get a bit sloppy, but I WAS SWIMMING IN ALL CAPS so there was no stopping me now. I was in it to win it and I wanted more.

Fourth 100? Starting cussing out my coach. The fifth and sixth were a blur and by the time I made it to the eighth, I wondered if I could actually drown in the Y pool while SWIMMING IN ALL CAPS. Seemed entirely possible at the time. The ninth was the looooongest four lengths of my life and the last one was like running the horse back to the barn...I just tried to block out the pain for only a wee bit longer.

Whew. Swim Test #1 down. Baseline numbers on the books. Now I have zoooooones to work with, no longer my two speeds of (1) swimming, and (2) standing at the end of the lane staring importantly at the clock.

I have zones now. Booyah.

Results: Avg 100 = 2:03

Second...The Bike Test.

This one I was smart about. Do it in the morning, so you don't worry about it all day long. Good advice, self. No ruminations on the impending pain. Just get up, wipe the sleep away from your eyes and kick your own ass in the basement while everyone else is sleeping, cozy, in their beds.

Again, the architecture of the pain was the same. A nice little warm up, nothing you can't handle. Spin away for a 1/2 hour and get lulled into submission by CNN's morning loop of news stories. And right when you're starting to feel good, clear all electronic devices and start anew.


Again with the all caps, dammit. Twenty minutes HARD. Don't blow up in the first 10 minutes, but remember this is supposed to make you cry by the end. So I kicked my own arse in the name of fitness. Pushed hard in my biggest gear for 20 minutes, dripping well earned sweat all over the floor and watching the slow minutes tick away.

By the end I wanted to punch the tv and fall on the floor in a heap. But it was done. I BIKED IN ALL CAPS and made it out the other end alive.

And, again, I'm now armed with zones. Actual zones that will make me faster. Booflippingya.

Results: Avg HR = 157, Max HR = 169, Avg Speed = 26.5, Dist = 8.8 miles

Third...The Run Test.

This, my friends, it my personal ring of hell. I don't like to run. (GASP!) Check that...I love to run, but I'm not very good at it so things get challenging for me earlier than most. My bulky bod and bad knees weren't really made to run. Maybe roll large boulders, but not run.

Do this test was something I dreaded all week long. I have never ever run in all caps. Ever. So the thought of running ALL OUT for 20 minutes was foreign to me.

Twenty minutes.


And when I woke on Sunday morning and found it was sleeting out and I would need to do the test on the treadmill...well, my hell clearly came monogrammed with my name on it.

But my coach told me to do it and I do what she says. Period.

The first 20 minutes were sooo nice. Just jogging along for a warm up at 15 minute miles. Do, do-doooo. Sooo nice. And before I knew it, it was time to put your seat trays up and prepare for take off. Clear all electronic devices and put your bags under the seat ahead of you.

It was time to run. IN ALL CAPS.



People, it sucked. That was the hardest 20 minutes of my entire life. You have no choice on the treadmill. You just push. And push and push and push and push. Until you almost fall off the back and you're completely covered in sweat and you are huffing and puffing like the nutjob that usually runs next to you at the gym. And then you look down at your watch and you see that you have no less than 12 more minutes to go.

And you cuss your coach. And you cuss yourself for having this ridiculous idea to get faster and stronger. And you cuss your boyfriend who is still sleeping in lower case upstairs. And you cuss the news anchor on tv, even though you can no longer hear him over the din now being created by your own personal treadmill hell.

The treadmill's pitch screams just like your lungs. But you can't slow down because you're RUNNING IN ALL CAPS this week. And your coach promised you it would be worth it. And you really hope it will be.

And then, magically, before the puking's done.

Finally, testing is done.

And after cooling down and drying off, I wandered upstairs and found Mighty M sitting on the couch with his mouth in a big "O" looking at me like I was mad.

"Geeze, hun. You were really booking down there!"

Yes, hun, I was. I was training in all caps.

Result: Avg HR = 179, Max HR = 185, Dist = 2.11 miles

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Training Update

I'm making a tee shirt that says "My Coach Made Me Do It" or "Blame it on my coach...I do" Seems apropos somehow. May make up for the psychic scarring I'm experiencing trying to breast stroke with a pull buoy between my knees (I simply don't BEND that way!) or finishing 4 x 50 of butterfly kick with a board (oh my abs oh my abs oh my abs).

But back to the update.

I still love it, even when I take pot shots at my coach. She keeps me honest and I've been more excited about triathlon than I was when I first learned about this crazy little "activity." (Pshaw...activity...more like obsession.) Every single stinking day I look forward to seeing what's on deck for me. I log onto my Training Peaks multiple (multiple!) times a day just to review my week and check my progress. And the mileage isn't high yet and the frequency of sessions isn't crazy, but the MOTIVATION to engage in the process is huge.

For example. Last week I had a day that was 100% craptastic. In fact, I've had a number of them recently that I won't bore you with (I mean really, is every single wedding reception venue booked from here until the end of time? I waited 34 years to get married and you're booked??). But I hit the water BECAUSE SHE TOLD ME TO and I fended off the umpteenth swim coach who wanted me to move for the umpteenth time so her girls could have more room. And I was cranky and focused.

We've all had those days, right? So, I did my drills and it cleared my mind. I kicked and played the catch up game and kicked some more. And I launched into my descending 100s and I ABSOLUTELY.ROCKED.THE.HIZZOUSE in that nice leetle lane in that nice leetle Y in my nice leetle town. Dropped 4 seconds off each one. Each one.

Training helps. Doing what your coach says helps. And, as the Elf said when I reported my little coup de grace in the pool... we haven't even started yet!

Anyway, I digress. Here's the stats for the past two weeks, to keep me honest. I may be taking some time off from blogging, but public accountability (read: shame) is an excellent motivator. Plus, I may not be writing a lot, but I'm still making sure that the guest bedroom is covered with stinky, wet clothes. Mighty M is thrilled.

Month: November
Week: 3rd

Run (0:40/3 miles)
Flat, fast feet drills

Strength (0:40)
AA phase, low weight/high reps

Swim (0:20/1000)
Drills only -- kicked out before finishing session

Bike (1:15/30 miles)
Spin ups, cadence drills

Run (0:40/3.5 miles)
Rolling course


Run (0:45/3.5 miles)
Rolling course, push hills slightly

Swim (1:00/1900)
Drills, IM drills, Descending 100s

Missed Bike
Needed rest day and feeling exhausted.

Month: November
Week: 2nd

Run (0:35/2.6m)
Flat, focus on cadence

Swim (1:00/2000)
Drills, golf, steady swim

Bike (1:15/27.5)

Run (0:40/2)


Bike (1:30/37.75)

Swim (1:00/2000)
Drills, 100s

Swim: 13,200 yards
Bike: 98.91 miles
Run: 20.1 miles
Actual time: 17:39

[Oh, and btw, this may look like blogging and it may smell like blogging,
but it's not blogging, because I'm still on va-ca-tione.
As you were.]

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Takin' to Vacatin'

Okay, folks. I've decided to do something. Take a vacation. An el vacaTIOne.

From blogging.


Sad, I know. But I've got sooo much stuff going on right now -- what with the engagement and getting into the swing of training and whatnot -- that I'm finding it hard to find time to blog.

And, frankly, my blogs have been a wee bit blah recently. I'm not feeling inspired at all, ya know? Prolly just need some time off from the keyboard.

So, I'll keep updating everyone on my training each week by the numbers AND I'll keep reading what you're throwing out there...but I'm forcing my hands and attention elsewhere. Just for a bit. Maybe a week, maybe a month. Who knows.

See ya'll soon!

Monday, November 12, 2007

My coach made me do it...

I should have done this a long, long time ago.

Really. At the very beginning it would have been a good idea. Last year it would have been uber smart. And now that I've done it, I can't imagine training without one.

Having a coach ROCKS!

I've finished up two weeks under The Elf and am really happy with the setup. Each week, I get a complete plan uploaded to Training Peaks, with tons of details about the drills and the goals. And for me, I've actually been excited about training! I look forward to seeing what new thing is at the next session and I'm having lots of fun learning new drills and focusing on the minutia of how I'm moving.

And motivation? Way up there. It really has made a huge difference to not be patching together my plan by myself. I feel like my time is building towards something, rather than a nebulous deposit in general fitness. I wasted a lot of time and attention last year to figuring out what I needed to do, and it left me drained when it came time to just plain ole' doing it. This year is about the doing, folks.

When does it make the most difference? Those Saturday's when I would rather sit on the couch and watch FoodTv all afternoon instead of spin for an hour and a half in the basement. Cold mornings when I would MUCH rather stay nestled in bed than run drills in the local church parking lot.

I just feel more committed. More on. This investment has made a huge difference and I'm actually looking forward to the long 6 months ahead before I actually get to take my fabulous new bike to a race and see what I've got under the hood.

Oh, and speaking of the bike? Freaking love it. LOVE IT!! My future parents in law were over last night and I dragged them (bless their hearts!) down to the basement to look at it. I was like a proud mom, showing off the carbon fork and aero wheels. We've had more miles on the trainer than not (ahem, by far), but I already know I'm in love. Big time.

So...the last two weeks? Pretty killer from the training perspective. (And, to be honest, with our little engagement news? Pretty killer from all perspectives!) Lots of vigor, lots of enthusiasm, lots of gear purchases.

{Oh know it! In the last two weeks I have "rewarded" myself with a cyclocomputer, cycling gloves, booties, a new pair of Asics, extra Asics socks, swim paddles, and yet another long sleeve running shirt. And, yes, I fully intend on blaming that on the Elf, too.}

Oh, and one of the coolest things is that I've been learning new things. Like backstroke. And new running drills. And new swimming drills. I finally learned how to do a proper spin-up and I'm actually going to attempt fly the next time I'm in the pool.

Yes. You heard me.


I am *sure* there will be a story to follow on that one.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Hope and Inspiration

I have lead a lucky life, but I have seen many hard things. I have seen disease waste away my family, member after member, stealing generations from each other. I have seen poverty rob hope from my clients, one bill and hospital visit at a time. I have watched the remnants of familial abuse leave scars across the psyches of those I love. I have had my own life turned inside out with substance abuse and despair. I have seen my own mother's face slowly taken away, cancerous piece by cancerous piece. I have watched friends and family battle anxiety and depression, finding their own thoughts to be enemies.

I'm no fool. I know that I am lucky, still. For my own reasons. But I know what it means to feel lonely and vulnerable, out of control and a prone subject to disease and circumstance. It's hard to manage that. It's a challenge to acknowledge and accept, on faith, that there may be relief buried deep in your relinquishment of control. That you may, at a point, regain command of your future in some meaningful way. Letting go to find control. The oxymoronic caveat to our emotional lives.

It is rare to experience a moment in one's own life when you realize that balance. Rare and powerful. And when you can see that happen for someone you care about, it resists description. When you see someone relinquish pain and heartache on faith that their instincts about life are right, that they will bear fruit once planted. That, my friends is beauty.

I count Bold as a friend of mine. We've met in person only briefly, but I feel connected to him as a friend. Perhaps that's the commonality of loss, who knows. And when I saw his writing this morning, I found a moment of beauty. This is what life is truly about. This is beautiful and I will be a part of it for the long list of reasons disease has force upon me and my family. I will be a part of it because it gives me hope and purpose.

Please read it. I dare you to not be inspired.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

raceAthlete Weblog Awards

How fun! Check out the recent announcement over at raceAthlete. I nominated a few of my fave "can't live without" blogs for fun, but it was hard to keep it to just three! Too many darned good writers out there... :)

Drum roll please!

Once again raceAthlete is proud to recognize the Best Endurance Sports Blogs for the year 2007. Just like last year we will be awarding a Gold, Silver, and Bronze ribbon and prize for the Best Blog of 2007.

Are you a first rate swim, bike or run Blogger, or do you have a favorite endurance Blog that you can't live without?

If so this is your chance to shine, or your chance to make that special Blogger in your life a star by nominating their Blog for the 2nd annual raceAthlete "Best Blog" awards.

The rules are simple and straightforward. Just submit your favorite endurance sports Blog for consideration by clicking HERE. Entries will be accepted throughout the month of November and voting will take place the first two weeks in December of 2007.

Winners will be announced on Monday December 17th and prizes and "Best Blog" ribbons will be awarded to the winers.

Click HERE for complete raceAthlete "Best Blog" award rules and prizes.

Click HERE for the current list of nominated Blogs.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Water up my nose and other beautious things

Session One -- done!

I forgot how much I totally MISS swimming! It's the only one of these dang sports that I actually like to do (alright, that may be an exaggeration, but it does come a little easier than the others). So my triumphant return to the pool last night was glorious.



There was no fanfare and, frankly, the only person there when I arrived was a bratty coed practically yelling her conversation with the lifeguard, who apparently was a friend of hers, about how she just has to make it to all her classes tomorrow otherwise she's in soooo much trouble. Thrilling, let me tell you.

But I didn't really care. Because I was in the pool again. Woot, Woot!

And here are the lessons I learned...

(1) kicking on my back is much easier than I thought,

(2) kicking on my stomach is just as hard as I expected,

(3) I'm likely to get water up my nose (buckets full, actually) at least once while backstroking for the first time,


(4) Boy, do you lose a lot of swim endurance when you're away from the pool for that long.

In the end, it was a nice little 45 minute package of kicking my heart rate back off the couch and into some higher zones. I'm no longer afraid of backstroke, although I look ABSOLUTELY COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY RIDICULOUS swimming that way.

But I trust my coach implicitly and when she says 25 free/25 back/25 free, I do just that. Even if it's an awkward snotty endeavor.


PS -- Who starts their base training on Halloween??? It was a Herculean effort to not touch the candy last night. Huuuuge effort. But I was good and didn't crest the slippery slope. Problem is? There are at least 3 bags of chocolate goodness left at the house. Fingers crossed that Mighty M took them to work with him. Otherwise, I'm going to be the creep on the street corner trying to give away candy the day after Halloween.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Flopping Orca? You be the judge...

Okay, I'm off for my first visit to the pool since a week before Ironman.

As in August.

Yes, August
. Late August, but August nonetheless.*

I'm a wee bit scared of the adventure. And when I say a "wee bit," I really mean "holy sh&t, where is the locker room again?"

Case in point: last night I had to relearn my lock combination. It was embarrassing, even though I was the only one there.

Tonight, I'll be swimming (flopping around) like a fish (in a puddle) with my first coached swim lesson evah. I get to try new things like kicking without a kickboard and trying not to drown. And, yes, I am a loooooser. Other new things include rotate-to-your-side pinkie-first-backstroke.

Hey, it's only been -- like -- 20 some odd years since I swam backstroke...

how hard could it possibly be?

Yup. That's what I thought.

Needless to say, it will also be embarrassing. I'm sure I won't be the only one there this time.

Here's to new beginnings and flopping orcas. Let's hope my costume doesn't get caught in the drain.

* By the way, words like nonetheless? Love them. Anytime you get to smush three or more words together with the same effect...but efficient...I say go for it. Albeit. Notwithstanding. Yougetit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What would YOU say?

First, thanks for all of the lovely, lovely well wishing from everyone!! Mighty M and I are very happy and still gliding around on air. He's managing to get away with murder at home ("honey, can you get me a glass of water?", "babe, thanks for doing those dishes"...), but I'm so happy I just don't care.

Cause I'm getting mawweed.


Okay, back to my original post. Geesh.


So, as y'all know, I've recently gotten myself hooked up with the smallest, baddest coach out there. And you'd imagine she'd have some questions for me to get the coaching ball started. And LET ME TELL YOU...filling out her Athlete Questionnaire was an eye opening experience for me.

It was the first time -- evah -- I had put my goals, strengths, weaknesses, conflicts, hopes, and fears all down in one place. One ten-page long place.

Cathartic. Informative. Exciting.

And I thought to myself, "you know...self...everyone should do this before their next season!" So, I'm going to share my honest to goodness answers -- in no way shape or form edited for audience -- to some of her questions.

You want all of the questions? You hire the Elf.

But in the mean time, here's an example of what she would need to know (and likewise what everyone racing out there should know) about you...

Today's Question: Using SWOT, what are your mental strengths and weaknesses?

My Answer:


· I love this sport. No, really, I love this sport. It is my daily key to stay healthy and I never forget that.

· I’m motivated for myself. My first year of tri was about learning about the sport. My second year was about raising money for others and trying new (long) distances. This year? It’s about me wanting to race. I want it for me and, somehow, that makes it less complicated.

· Knowing thy limits. I’m sensitive to my limits, usually before I reach them and can sometimes avoid a meltdown of epic proportions.

· I know that I can talk myself in and out of things very well, and that’s half the battle. I know when I’m justifying bad decisions, so I know what lines of logic to stay away from.


· I’ve always created plans that are too ambitious, so I rarely hit 100%. I think this is because I’ve never really understood what each session is attempting to do, so skipping was easier than it should have been.

· When I feel overwhelmed, the first thing that suffers is training. Queue anxiety overload and I start skipping sessions. I have to always be on the lookout for balance in life and training.

· Discipline. This is my work in progress. Two years ago, I never would have believed I could maintain the training schedule I did this year. And I’m sure that I will develop more discipline this coming year, but it’s something I struggle with – matching my goals with my daily decisions.

· I try to eat the proverbial elephant all at once. So, I’m always checking myself to focus on short term goals first, allowing long term goals to come later.


· Michael is intimately involved in this whole process and has raced (Cat-3 cycling) in the past, so he understands the demands of training.

· Michael is intimately involved with me and he knows when I’m blowing off training and being lazy. And, when he thinks it’s important, he’ll call me out on it.

· My job, including my boss, is supportive of a work/life balance. I have available vacation for recovery days following big races and can adjust my work hours in advance for things like open water swims in neighboring states.

· My blog tends to be a great way for me to vent about training, as well as get support from other triathletes. It’s become an invaluable support system for me.


· My job is flexible, but it’s full time and stressful.

· I have only a limited amount of spare cash to throw at my training/gear/registrations, so I try to be really careful picking what to invest in. Sometimes it means that I do a $20 organized ride, with a run afterwards, instead of a smaller triathlon that may run over $50. Sigh.


So, what would YOU say?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ever After...

He's my best friend. My soul mate. My safe place to land.

So when he asked, I answered.

Without hesitation, said yes.

I can imagine my life no other way.

He is my happily ever after.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Faaaahbulous Friday!

Someone thinks I'm faaaahbulous. And, since it's Friday and I am wearing a fancy new outfit and just picked up A FANCY NEW BIKE (!!!), I'm going to concur.

I am.

And so are these ladies...

Dying Water Buffalo, because honesty and vulnerability in writing is a rare gift, and she certainly has it.

Meggan Ann, because she's going to rock the Philly Marathon with grit and determination.

The Big Bad KBB, because she gets poop jokes, can dress fancy like a girl, and is not afraid to tell it like it is.

Siren, because she hearts triathlon more than most bloggers out there. Plus, she just tethered her dog to a baby carriage so she can run after her little nugget arrives. That, my friends, is dedication!

Laurie, because she's the most AMAZING cheering squad any triathlete could hope to have, hands down.

IronMin, because she stepped up for Wisconsin and is going to lay it all out there, which (of course) reminds me so much of my last winter. Cheer her on, guys!

(okay, i'm still in the "I" section of my reader...this may be a long one!!)

Jenny, because she's nurturing and adventurous and honest and a simply lovely person.

Nytro, because...well, duh. Read her blog.

Mishele, because seeing her cheering on my run up the Helix after the swim in Wisconsin was so darned fun!

Momo, because she never fails to leave comments that are just so right on. And her feet pictures.

Turtle, because she has worked so hard for her IMFL goal and I'm so darned excited for her!

Megan, because she's that cool and is falling in love with day old cheese. Who wouldn't love that?

Tea, because she just simply rocks. Rock. Star.

Stronger, because she offers up her heart and soul for everyone and asks nothing in return.

TriSaraTops, because she's a baby-making iron machine.

And, of course,

Bold, because what other man could handle such a bevy of faaaahbulous babes??

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Welcome to The Next Step

When I started "working out" a few years back, it was when I was in HORRENDOUS shape and completely clueless about my body and how to help it. It was ridiculously hard to finish a mile and I remember -- vividly -- the day that I managed to run the entire route around our local university (exactly one mile). I called Mighty M on the phone. We had just met. Online, no less. And I gushed about my one mile victory.

He got it, and that's why I let him stick around since then. (wink)

And, if you've been reading about my little journey this past year, you know that I kept at the running thing until I could do longer runs. And then I started to swim, even though I greatly resembled an orca in distress. And then there was the bike. I -- again, vividly -- remember the first ride I took. It was 7 miles around my Dad's neighborhood and ended in a gut wrenching hill. I stopped twice on the way up and thought I was going to pass out.

It's been quite a road.

I've been caught saying that my first year of triathlon was about learning about the sport (although that never ends, right?) and my second year was about trying different distances and raising important money. And, you already know my intentions for this year. But what you don't know is how I'm going to get there.


I've teamed up with one of the most impressive racers AND bloggers I know. Okay, okay, I don't know a lot of racers, but her top ten age group finish in Kona...(yes, I said K-O-N-A)...speaks volumes. And I *do* know a lot of bloggers and she has my seal of approval for being one of the best dang writers out there.

And she loves coffee as much as I do. Possibly more. Which scares me a little.

And for some unknown reason [because I'm hot stuff] she's been willing to coach me.

Wittle Owd Me.

No kidding.

Starting November 1st, I'm back in training kids. In fact, it's probably more accurate to say that starting November 1st I'm finally in training. Last year I patched things together and borrowed from books and practically used a magic ball to figure out my training. Did it get me somewhere? Sure.

But I've got some plans for next year, folks. Some big plans. As in 3 half iron plans. Booyah.

I want to be the biggest baddest Athena I know. I want to be strong and focused and perform at this fantastic sport. I want to stop expending energy in THINKING about how to construct a plan, and spend more time DOING.

And the Elf will get me there.

Yup, you heard me. My coach is The Elf.

Bitchin' ... I. Know.

And, yes, it will likely hurt. I mean, seriously...have you read any of her stuff? This chick is a mah-chine! I've already talked to a friend of mine (another one of her budding triathletes) and she said the same thing. Kick. My. Arse.

But it's a good pain, right? Riiiiight... .

So, I'm stocking up on my Clif Bloks and Asics socks, I'm picking up my new bike from the shop, brushing off my dusty Garmin, and searching for my gym ID. It's going to a long and careful ride from here to my first half ( early MAY?? how cool is that!) and I'm stupid excited to see what it's like with an honest to goodness superstar in my corner.

I finally have the tools, peeps. Now let's see what I can do with them...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ironman Wisconsin -- Before the Dawn

I had imagined that dawn would be like this. Almost exactly like this. But, of course, no matter how vivid your imagination is, it forever pales in comparison to the real thing.

And this was the real thing.

And it was stunning.

I could hardly take my eyes off of the water – with sparkles of early sunshine bouncing off of its surface. It seemed to dance. I felt like dancing. My cheeks hurt from the broad grin adhered to my face. And as hard as I tried, I could barely soak up all of the activity around me. I felt – oddly – at peace. And happy. Deeply happy.

I had worked so very hard for this moment. So many early morning swim sessions and dragging myself out on the bike rather than enjoying leisurely mornings dawdling over cooling coffee. And I had imagined what it would feel like to don my wetsuit and look out over the water in anticipation of my first Ironman. My imagination had come close.

* * * *

Have you ever felt as if your heart is tethered to a fleet of birds, ready to launch right out of your chest? Where your skin feels everything there is – the heat, the air, brushing strangers, the tug of neoprene? When your smile creeps up on you unannounced and takes up permanent residence on your face?

That was me on race day, corralled with the other Ironman athletes getting ready for the water. Getting ready for the start of our day long journey, getting ready to touch a dream.

The day before had been little of what I had expected, by comparison to this morning. Mighty M had made it to Wisconsin the evening before and quietly tucked in bed next to me. I miss him when he’s not by my side, and it was good to have him there. I rolled out of bed early on Saturday for the Gatorade swim. Grabbed my Ironman backpack, stuffed with my wetsuit and goggles, and headed for the car.

I was nervous and apprehensive for the day. I had no idea what to expect, although I knew there was much to do. The swim this morning was so very important. Check in on Friday has scared the willies out of me. The registration line, on the ground floor of the conference center, snakes across the long window facing the water. And standing there, quietly taking stock of the course and waiting for my weigh in, I had begun to panic about my swimming skills. The bobbing buoys seemed to extend far into the distance, much more so than for my half iron swim back in West Virginia. How could that be possible? Could I even make it through the swim? I knew that I needed to simply get in the water and swim…it was the only solution.

So, I rolled my way over to the Gatorade swim on Saturday with coffee gripped in my left hand and my bursting bag in the right. It was like the first day of school – I was equally excited and apprehensive. Everyone was so buff and athletic looking, joking personally with each other and in various states of undress. I only hoped I could manage to get into my wetsuit without falling over in a mud puddle or garnering any questionable glances. I found a picnic table off to the side and started the process.

But I did get into the suit, thankfully without any scarring emotional embarrassments. And, looking around for a helping hand to zip me up, I found Mishele and Greyhound on the edge of the water. Seeing familiar faces and gabbing about triathlons, law and life was exactly what I needed to funnel my nervous energy into true, honest excitement. What a gift it was to feel, for that moment, less alone and scared.

Zipped and ready, I waded down the steep and slippery launch and into the water. And it was right. You know those moments where things click into place and you feel – for that brief second – that all elements were where they should be and things were just…right? That would not be the last time I felt this way on my Ironman weekend, but it was the first. A welcomed first.

I stroked my way out a few buoys and felt natural in the water. My perspective altered out there, and I was able to see the far markers as achievable. Doable. Right. I knew coming out of the water from the practice swim that I was ready to start my first Ironman. And I was finally feeling truly excited. I could barely wait to share this with Mighty M, so I headed back to the hotel full of excitement and energy.

* * * *

My Saturday held so much more for me that I had originally planned on and, looking back, I would have done much of it differently. I am a caretaker and a planner, and a stubborn one at that. If things need to be handled or managed, I’m your gal. And, in my naivete, I had not protected myself from…myself. When all the activities of the day began to turn and swirl into a whirlwind of activity, I didn’t let go. I remained the person in charge and greatly to my detriment. I should have let go. I know that now.

Instead, I fell victim to the tumult. There were phone calls, meeting here or there, balancing our one car – all of the elements of preparing for a weekend race in a far flung location, which Wisconsin was for my entire cheering squad. My bag drop off and bike check in were squeezed between the swim and a brunch with my best friend from college, who had traveled in from the Twin Cities to spend rare time together catching up. We noshed at a local German restaurant on sandwiches and walked along the shore together with her children playing at the edge of the lake. It was wonderful to see her and her family, but I regret I was almost wholly distracted by my thoughts of Sunday.

Mighty M was tasked with gathering my arriving family at the airport, which turned out to be much more complicated than anticipated. Bad directions, a turned off cell phone, and an early arrival twisted our smooth plans into knots. And likewise, me into knots. My anxiety began to increase, and I knew I needed to focus, but was having a hard time finding space in which to do so.

And as the afternoon progressed – or rather sped by – I grew more and more worried about the race and how to find solace on the edges of these arrivals, problems with the hotel, and the long drives to and from the race site. Time seemed to rapidly slip away and before I realized it, it was 8:30 that night. I was fed. My family was safe and ready for the race. And my plans with those coming in for lunch were realized.

But I was a wreck. I had cried a number of times during the day out of frustration. I was twisted and emotional and panicked. I tried to put on a game face, but Mighty M and I knew…I was not in a good place.

Was this normal? Was this to be expected? I thought back to impressions I had from discussions with other racers and worried that I was not in the right place, mentally, for this. And that, of course, added to my worry. I hadn’t planned right – left enough time for driving the course the whole way (we only had time for about a ½ of the loop), time to spend quietly and alone, time to get the bags triple checked.

I simply hadn’t left enough time to find peace, and I suspected I would need it.

Lessons learned. Hard lessons learned.

The clock soon showed after 9:30 and I knew that an attempt at sleep was important. I could accept a fitful night of sleep, as Friday’s was enjoyable and restful, but I needed to lie down and try to find an element of peace in the dark of the hotel room. And as Mighty M snored next to me and the light of a muted tv flickered around, I slowly started to find my center. I went through my tasks for the next day. Imagined, in my mind’s eye, what it would feel like to do the swim well. Imagined my strong legs powering up hills. Imagined my persistence pushing me forward on the run. And the finish line. I imagined what that would feel like, too.

And as the mental movie of the next day worked its magic, I slowly relaxed and fell asleep. All the bags were filled and placed. My bike was ready and waiting. My training was done. All that was left was the execution. The doing.

* * * *

It was pitch dark in the room, as I bumped around picking up the carefully selected items placed out the night before. It was 4:30 AM and I was wide awake. Race day. My race day. My Ironman day.

My first order of business was a shower. Not typical to my routine (I usually do this the night before), but there was no time on Saturday. It was, however, a welcomed start to a long day. Afterwards I started the eating routine. The plan included two peanut butter sandwiches, made with my favorite raisin cinnamon bread brought from home. One Accelerade now, one before the swim. I dressed in my pre-race clothes, woke Mighty M and we headed toward the race site.

When we made it to the site, I wasn’t sure where the bag drop off was. But, as I was lingering by the open door of the running car wondering which way to try first, Jay (TriDummy) emerged by my side with not only the answer, but warm encouragement and a smile. “It’s right up that street…you can’t miss it.” I was so glad to have seen him and was grateful for now knowing in which direction to head off.

I kissed Mighty M goodbye and was sad to see him slowly creep away in the car, heading back to the hotel to collect my family. But the buzz of activity of other racers heading to transition from the special needs drop off quickly replaced that void and snapped me back to the moment.

I hurried up to the drop off and then back to transition. Huge floodlights cast surreal beams through the crowd, a square of bright daylight in the enveloping darkness. My stomach was already twisting around in anticipation. The first sandwich had barely gone down and I was struggling with my second. While the Accelerade was helping, it was like eating sawdust. I carried the half eaten sandwich with me – gripped it, actually – throughout transition. It did little good in my fist and never made it to my gullet. This was, in retrospect, the beginning of my stomach issues for the day.

I walked to my bike, which was in a prime spot next to the pro’s all the way at the end of the transition area. She was there, quietly waiting for her turn. I placed the nutrition I needed for the bike segment in her bento – power bars, double baggies of clif bloks, my salt tabs. I check her gearing for the tenth time, making sure the initial ramp down the Helix would be safe. I touched the seat and remembered those training miles over the winter and squeezed the newly wrapped aerobars, which helped me learn to trust my riding skills in the most recent months. What a relationship she and I had developed.

Heading back along the long middle lane of the transition area, I was a little scared, but mainly excited. Had you seen my face, you would have seen the joy coming from my eyes. I felt like I belonged. Belonged with this exceptional group of athletes. Belonged with this amazing group of people who believed, as I had learned, that living is about grabbing hold as hard as you can and never letting go. I was a part of this and, oddly, it was more powerful than any other moment in my life.

I felt like I had finally arrived.

* * * *

Body marking was a quick and fun process, and the sky was turning mauve and purple in anticipation of dawn. I looked around for my family and Mighty M, but couldn’t find them among the sleepy looking spectators. Around 6:00 I decided to begin to head towards the water and suit up. I soon found myself in a corral of other racers, for the first time segregated from everyone else.

Me. Little ole’ me. Doing an Ironman today. I could barely wrap my mind around it.

Finding an open spot along the water side of the corral, I plunked down my bag and began the process of getting the wetsuit on. I asked a stranger next to me to help with the zipper. This, as I came to find out, was almost my undoing…literally. But at the time, I felt confident, suited up and ready to rock and roll. After dropping my bag off with the volunteers, it was all about me, my caffeine GU and my Accelerade. I tried to find my family in the crowd again, but later learned they were still looking for parking at that point. Following the announcer’s encouragement, it was time to walk to the water. I was calm and ready.

And apparently coming undone.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Tyler (Jetpack) hugging a friend and taking a last minute picture. I was excited to see him and wish him the best. We paused our conversation long enough for him to take a picture and me to reach back and check my zipper. Good thing I had, because it was zipped completely wrong. But for the kindness of strangers... . Thankfully, Tyler was able to unzip it and get it back on track – otherwise, I would have had the shortest Ironman race in history. Soon we were almost to the water and TriBoomer joined us in the pre-race well wishing. It wasn't until later that I remembered that he was carrying my Mother's name with him, and would for the remainder of his Ironman day. I wish that I had thanked him there for his willingness to remember her in that way.

In no time at all, we were in the water and finding our own places in the starting area. I placed myself in the middle, but rather far back. Until now, I had had excellent luck with my swim and wanted to stay as unencumbered by other swimmers as I could. I spent some time just bobbing around in my wetsuit, watching the amazing number of other racers pour into the water and the excited spectators lining the shore and throughout the helix.

It’s hard to find the words to describe what it was like to be out in the water, watching the shore full of fans and knowing that in mere moments you would be embarking on an amazing journey. I felt it all at once -- every emotion that brought me to this place. Every nugget of hope and every wave of confidence. I was doing it. I had followed through. I had finished what I had started, by simply starting. Bobbing like a cork there, with the sun peaking over the horizon and the day spread out at my feet, I realized that I was a success.

And for the first moment as an adult, I believed it.

The sunrise, courtesy of IronWil

I had arrived. And I finally belonged.

Avoiding the Avoidance

For years, I was the master of avoidance. I was, for so long, mired in depression and isolation and built a wall around my psyche. A wall to protect me from the inevitable fear that I would feel when approached with conflict, decisions or dissonance. I avoided everything. Social engagements, classes, bills, phone messages, people. It was the only way I knew how to protect myself from managing emotional and personal situations that would threaten my little sliver of solace I had built in my various apartments, where I would stow away from life and hide, silent, amongst the needlepoint projects, television and a phone I would rarely answer.

Avoidance became my spoon to China. Intellectually, I always knew that I would never make it there with this maladjusted approach – the problems would never be solved, the issues never resolved. But I really knew no other way. This was all I carried around in my emotional tool box, so the approach became battered and scuffed with many uses, as well as trusty and reliable.

It’s also a hard habit to reject. I’ve become worlds better at identifying when I begin to feel overwhelmed and fearful. I’ve learned to “identify” that feeling and cognitively determine my response. It's almost amusing to watch the process, here the little conversations I have. "Well, I'm feeling a bit ___ about this. But instead of doing ____, I think I'm going to bite the bullet and ... ." The amusing part is I can be caught doing it out loud. Often on runs and bike rides. And it works -- it has served me so much better than my blunt little spoon, but sometimes I forget and fall into old habits. Which I have now done.

We traveled this weekend, Mighty M and me. Almost 13 hours in the car in under two days will certainly give you time to think and reflect. And in between the NPR programs we could find through Baltimore and DC, and the two football games we listened to on AM radio on the way home, there was ample time for reflection on my part.

It seems, in my estimation, that I’m being avoidant. Of my race report. I know…it sounds silly, and perhaps it is. But this blog is the place where my silly resides. And for all of the time that has passed – and even taking into account those things that pull my attention elsewhere – I should have easily written about Wisconsin.

But I haven’t.

And it practically gives me hives each time I think about it.

I’ve been avoidant. Again. I have managed to remember vividly the worst parts of that day, while allowing the wonderful moments to linger, forgotten, in the larger shadows. And in doing so, I've managed to create this hurdle where there was none before. Here I am digging to China with a spoon again – knowing that writing about the race and turning the details over in the sunlight is the answer and, instead, distracting myself. The mind is a complicated thing. A fascinating thing. A frustrating thing.

One thing that I do know, is that I am no longer that same person who wants to tuck away from the world because of my fear of what will happen if I ventured forth – felt the emotions, faced the conflict, worked through the challenge. So enough with the indulgence… it’s time to write the race report. Remember in detail all the great and awful parts of that day, so I am free to be excited about next year.