Monday, July 30, 2007


And you're all invited!!!

I am pleased to announce (drum roll please...) that my Monday got uber bright when I learned that my transition tip submitted to The Journey of Hakado Ruk (aka Hak) won the Top Triathlon Transition Tips contest for best T2 tip!


How darned fun is that?

If you're looking for some great tips on how to shave time and anxiety from your transitions, check out all the submissions made on the contest page. Every single tip is a little nugget of great information -- not to be missed. Want to know mine? You gotta go there to see!

Also, if you haven't heard about Nuun, definitely check out their site. It's a portable, convenient and tasty electrolyte option for adding more oomph to your water and helping you go further and faster. There's well thought out science behind the product and some of the best triathletes out there today swear by it!

And, frankly, if it's good enough for ELF and Desiree, it's good enough for me!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Understanding that marathon part

It dawned on me today on my bike ride why people are so willing to actually run a marathon after riding a bike for 112 miles.

It's because they're so damned glad to not be on the bike any more, they'd do anything you told them to do.

A little cha-ching in the Iron Bank today with a 108 mile ride throughout beautiful countryside. Really pretty ride, great people, well stocked stations, and me...the ultimate idiot who missed the last turn on the way back and added an extra 8 miles to the ride. Trust me, that Was. Not. Fun.

Needless to say, I was so ready to get off the bike you could have convinced me to do anything.

Perhaps even running a marathon.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Is she talking about poop again??

Spend five minutes in our house and you know that poop is not an off limit topic. No, we don't discuss it over dinner (we are civilized barbarians, you know!), but it has been known to come up in conversation.

Usually a triathlon related conversation. Often relating to fiber intake and a race the next morning. But there it is -- poop convo.

Indelicato, I know.

But here's a post about good poop, as in poop that will help people live a better life.

How? you ask...


Yup, cowpucky.

Canine Partners for Life is hosting a COW BINGO to raise money for their services. Not a little money, mind you -- they're looking to sell 3000 squares of turf to raise $30,000 towards their services.

That's a lotta pucky.

How does it work? You buy one or fifty squares on a grid, that will be laid out in a field at Cow Bingo day. (Which, incidentally, also has fun hay rides for the kids, a blue grass band, and a puppy kissing booth...but back to the poop... .) Then one lucky cow is placed in the pasture and you keep a careful eye on where she chooses to do her bid'ness.

As Lil'Sis would say...we put the K in Klass.

If you've never been to a Cow Bingo before, it's hy-ster-ical. Too fun. I attended a number of them in college, but that's mainly because I went to a small college (2000 of us) in a smaller town in upstate New York. This was what we did for fun.

So -- want to buy a square? Your donation goes to support good services. Important services. Services that allow people to live their lives like you and me, regardless of physical limitations or conditions like seizure disorders.

Good things.

What happens if Bessy the Cow poops on your square???

You win $5,000.

No, seriously. You do.

Five. Thousand. Dollars.

Let me give you an idea of what that would buy...

Enough said.

Go buy a square. In fact, buy a bunch. Consider it an investment in your bike gear.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Because sometimes you DO just need a hug

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ever Mindful

Waffling Wavering Irresolute Uncertain Dithering...

of two minds

That is what I am. Of two minds.

My days recently have been split when it comes to thoughts of September. And, frankly, that's all I think about. I think about it in the shower and before I fall asleep and when I just wake up and while I'm going to the potty and when...well, you get the point.

All. The. Freaking. Time.

Normal, I suppose.

But my thoughts -- and emotions -- are all over the place. Sometimes, when the sun is out and I'm having a strong ride and my legs feel like they can go forever -- I feel like a million bucks. Like Ironman is absolutely attainable. That it's well within my grasp and can't we get there now, like right now, like immediately??? I'll go pack and you get the car started. Let's GO!

Those times are good. Frenetic good. I come home and regale Mighty M with all my fresh plans for what to bring and how I'm going to manage my nutrition and he smiles, nods at all the right places and patiently waits until I wander out of the room, injected with this new sense of power and urgency.

Good times.

Then others, I wake in a state of fear and panic. I think about average speeds and run pacing. I think about cut-offs and DNFing. When I drive in my car, I calculate in my head how hard that hill we just went over would be at mile 20 in good weather and mile 100 in the rain. I'm constantly calculating my limitations and comparing them to a race I've never started in a region I've never visited.

Those times I'm convinced I'll miss the bike cutoff. Or that I'll make the bike cutoff, but not leave myself enough time for running/walking the marathon. I have images of having my chip pulled from my leg, a lonely transport back to the starting line and crying into the corner of M's neck.

Not. Good. Times.

I am of two minds.

In the background of all of this, I'm coming to the conclusion that my state of schizoid indecision is a process more than anything. And it all has to do with what I talked about with a co-worker the other day (hi, Margie!).



There...I said it outloud. I have to be alright with the possibility that I won't finish this race before I cross the Wisconsin state line. I have to be 110% clear about my own reasons for starting this, so I don't get lost in my head out there. And, those reasons have to allow for pulling myself or being pulled from the course.

One thing I'm sure of is that 140 miles is more than enough time to get lost in your head. And 140 miles is more than enough time to struggle with hills and IT bands and nutrition and hydration.

So much can happen out there. So much I cannot control now.

And I think all this waffling and wavering is part of the process. A roundabout, completely inefficient and likely impractical way of getting to that answer...but I never claimed to good at this, peeps. I'm a newbie with a date for the dance in Wisconsin. I dream big.

So, I will continue my training as planned and take full advantage of the high points and my moments of mojo, and try to come up with an answer to the question:

Am I willing to risk falling short so that I can go at all?

Because I've become convinced that being willing to not finish is my key to being able to finish at all.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Skirts and the City

Anyone running the San Fran Marathon this weekend?? Even just hunting for good deals around the expo?

If you are and you have an ounce of sense in your head, stop by the Atalanta Athleticwear booth!!! A few months ago I told you all about how much I love my Atalanta running skirt -- the fancy look, the fabulous inner short that avoid the rub, functional pockets.

At the expo, the ladies of Atalanta will be raffling away FREE SKIRTS all day Friday and Saturday, plus there will be FREE SOCKS to be had with every purchase.

That's a whole lotta free!

Plus, you'll have a chance to check out their new Inspiration Skirt -- a variation on the running skirt with a "bumhugger" liner (rather than a compression short). It's a light and comfortable fabric and in a TON of cool colors.


(as if there could be more!)

...if you buy an Atalanta skirt and mention IM Able, the great peeps at Atalanta will donate a portion of the proceeds to Canine Partners for Life!

So, in review...

Great skirt: check
Cool colors: check
Awesome company: check
Donation to charity: check

The only thing missing is making you run faster, which is going to have to be left to you gals!!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Meet Me in Madison

Okay, maybe not just me, but what about a whole buncha bloggers?

It's only 50 days now, kids. And my hyperplanning, list-making, Type A personality is working on the itinerary already. There are airport maps and lists of confirmations numbers, estimated arrival times and notes about how to get across Chicago without hitting the mother of all morning traffic jams.

It'll be quite a document in the end. I'll take a picture of it for kicks and giggles. I luvs me some lists.

Anyway. Back to what I was saying. Meeting up.

How much of a shame would it be to spend all year getting to know each other over the internet and then get to Madison and completely biff on actually MEETING?? Like in person!

Tisk,'d be a shame.

I recently posted this out on the raceAthlete forum, but I want to put it out there for everyone.

"IMWI is only (gasp) 50 days away.


So, thoughts have again turned to planning. I'm wondering if there is any interest out there for bloggers to have a central place to post up their plans for connecting while in Madison. E.g., who is staying at the same hotel, those who are planning on doing the Gatorade swim together, ride sharing to/from airport. You get the idea.

I'd be willing to administer a team blog for that purpose if there's interest out there. Thoughts?"

So...would this be helpful? A waste of time? Indifferent?

Also, Siren made a good point that volunteers get the shaft when it comes to fun things to do during the pre-race buildup. No fun wetsuit fittings (um...wait, is that fun??) and Gatorade swims. So this could be a place for volunteers for the race to hook up, as well as racers and friends and family of racers.

{Update: According to The Bold himself, some of this is already in action behind the scenes with Simply Stu and Iron Wil. I'll keep everyone updated who is interested when I know more details. Can't wait to meet the extended family!!}

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Breaking Through

I've heard about these breakthrough sessions. I have. But I don't think that I've had one of them until yesterday.

But, oh boy, did I have one!

Backtrack two days -- I'm in the pool, first swim of the week and had 1000's on the plan. I start with a warmup and about 800 yards into the main set, WHAM. Headache.

Not a normal headache, mind you. A head in a vice, kill me now kind of headache. I literally hit the end of the lane, lifted myself out of the pool and headed straight for the locker room. Clothes over my wet suit and keys in hand, I squinted my way home and prayed I wouldn't throw up.

It was bad.

After a little research and ruling out things like nutrition, hydration and bad head form, I found what was likely my issue. Um, a thing called oxygen.

Seems my fancy 5 stroke bilateral stroke of choice doesn't give my grey matter what it needs. And when your grey matter gets mad...well, it's hard not to notice.

Fast forward to last night. Same set on the roster: 300 warm up, 3 x 1000 mod (ri: 90), 300 cd.

So I warm up and go straight into the first 1000. Four stroke breathing and careful pace. Feeling good. Hit the 1000 mark and think -- hey, let's get race specific and switch my break out with 100 of breaststroke. I don't hold onto buoys in races for rest. I breaststroke. So that should be my break.

I finish that and convert right back to free, this time topping out 1500 meters. The plan was another breaststroke set as a break, but I was joined by another swimmer and didn't want to kick him in the kidneys. Feeling strong, I kept on going and going.

By the end of the set, I had finished the 300 warm up and 3600 straight meters. The main set took me 1:14. And I felt like I could go forever.

And then, headache free, I came home and logged onto the online conversion page to see what that was. And, assuming my pool is meters, I completed 2.4 miles.

Just a random Iron distance swim on a random Wednesday night.

I needed that to build my confidence a bit.

Boo-yah. Wisconsin, here I come!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I would imagine that this is part of the process.

I, of course, have no idea, since this is the first time I'm attempting this absolutely insane journey.

But, I would imagine this is part of it.

Last night I was on a run through town and, oddly, my legs started feeling a little tight. With problems earlier that night changing gears on the bike (Banana's derailleur needs adjustment after having a rusty hanger sucked up into it's mechanism last week), I had worked them a little harder than I had liked because only the big ring was working. So, tight legs it is.

But for this run, I started daydreaming. Now knowing how mental this sport can be, at the most unlikely of times, I have promised myself to not ignore that side of the process. So, as my feet crunched the rocks on the side of Rt. 30, I didn't think about getting the bike into the shop or the groceries I needed to pick up afterwards. Instead, I thought about how it would feel to be at mile 10 in the marathon portion of IMmoo.

Strangely, this was the first time I had really done any visualization. And it was fun.

It hearkened back to summer dreaming with my best friend, Nicole, while walking back from playing tennis in the sun and hunting down spare balls outside the courts. It reminded me of dreaming of things like eighth grade dances and posing in my new black velvet (I know!!) dress in my bedroom mirror, with Joe Cocker in the background on my stereo. Daydreams of college and law school graduations, first kisses and championship games.

Collective mental snapshots of perfect moments and happy endings.

My Rundreaming last night was ever so slightly different than a middle school dance, but it was just as satisfying. I dreamed about just the right foot strike and nice strong cadences. I dreamed about keeping my shoulders back and looking around at scenery and spectators. I dreamed about feeling stronger than I likely will and running faster than I should expect. I thought about what I would think about out there. I thought about how I may feel. I imagined what those last six miles would feel like, as my body slows and grows tired. I practiced evoking memories -- of successful runs and surprising finishes. I practiced managing disappointment. I reminded myself to remind myself that wanting to quit will help me not quit.

Visualization is a good thing. It got me that awkward but thrilling slow dance with the exchange student from Peru in 8th grade. Hopefully it will get me through the marathon in September.

Friday, July 13, 2007

To place at all

Before I can tell you about the end of my Mountaineer experience, I need to tell you a story. About my Mom. Many of you have "met" her through previous posts -- like this one -- but not everyone knows about her and the Brian's Run.

I grew up in and recently moved back to a wonderful town, outside of Philadelphia. It has everything you'd want in a suburban locations -- historic homes, arts and culture, a thriving university, a diverse populous. And, of course, beautiful rolling countryside at your doorstep, waiting for you and your bike.

Each year since I can remember, my Mom would sign us up for the Brian's Run. In the 70s, it was the only running game in town. Since then, it's joined by innumerable weekend 5ks and 10ks. But Brian's Run is the original.

And each year Mom and Dad would suit us up, bring us down to the football stadium on South Campus and we'd run. Usually Lil'Sis and I would do the kids fun run and Mom and Dad would do the grownup 10K.

And every single year, Mom would come in last. Not in the back of the back. No -- dead last. We joked about how she knew the ambulance drivers each year, because they would shadow her through the course. She would wave them up to her and talk to them for the long miles through their windows.

She never seemed to mind it. She was an exceptionally slow runner, she was. I remember, as I began to shoot up in my teens and she would ask me to join her for her trips around town counting telephone poles to measure distance, I could often walk at the same pace that she ran.

For Mom, running had very little to do with going fast and more to do with communing. Communing with herself, in the folds of her day and on her on terms. Communing with our town and it's beautiful side streets and friendly people. Communing with her thoughts, I would imagine. Now, as an adult woman, I wish I could have heard the echos of her thoughts during those runs. I imagine they are full of years of wisdom.

At the Mountaineer Tri, I spent an awful lot of time thinking about my Mom. An awful lot of time. From my perspective, I had been dead last since around mile 40 -- about half way through the race. And dead last was becoming a very lonely place.

I worried about the people who were waiting for me. The friendly volunteers who were keeping their water stations open and resisting the strong urge to pack up the pretzels and dump the last remnants of ice in the grass. The spectators who had been out there for hours upon hours, now hoarse from cheering and with sore palms from clapping. And Mighty M, who had been awaken at 5 and then left to bounce around town for the whole day, trying to catch sight of me on the course.

You worry about these things when you're last. There's lots of time to.

The transition from the bike was uneventful. I grabbed my numerous GU packets and salt tabs that were part and parcel to my nutrition plan. I grabbed a throw away water bottle with plain water, so I could start drinking right away. Turned my number around and headed out.

The conversion from the solitary bike to the run was welcomed. The run course was a double loop, first paralleling the waterline and then veering into town for a portion of terrible hills. It was a truly pretty route, with the possible exception of Devil's Hill.

What was most pleasant about it was there were people!! So many spectators and racers were still around because a bulk of the group were on their second, and last loop. It helped energize my legs a little. It helped keep me focused and alert.

I started eating GU packets right away, as planned. One in transition, and then one every three miles. I kept filling my water bottle -- that I was gripping with some bionic strength and wouldn't let go. Problem was, I wasn't peeing. In fact, I hadn't peed all day. Um, not good.

Miles 0 - 5 were good. GU, water, run, water, GU, run, breathe, breathe. All good. I saw Mighty M so many times on the route, and each time was a new shot of energy and a dash of relief.

Around the fifth mile, the course turns into the hills of town, namely Devil's Hill. We had driven up it the night before and it had made the car down shift...twice. I'd say it's something like a 18% grade. It's insane. Everyone walks it -- you'd be foolish not to. And the whole three blocks of it, it gnaws on your hamstrings like red licorice laces. And at the top you feel like someone has injected pure lactic acid into the backs of your legs. Someone exceedingly mean.

Thankfully, the grade flattens for about a quarter of a mile, allowing you to recover from the beating. The next two miles are a series of steep assents (which I walked -- my momma didn't raise no fool!) and downhills. The campus area is actually really pretty and this part of the race was alright.

It was the second loop that I had to worry about.

You see, everyone I was running with kept encouraging me -- keep it up, you're almost there! Almost done!

I didn't have the heart to tell them that I was on my first loop. I just didn't have the heart.


Have you ever been the last person in a race? It's a unique experience. I never really paid much attention to the mental side of racing, since the articles always seem to speak to those who were racing, rather than just trying to finish.

But there is a huge mental task to being last. Huge. You run the race solo. You often have limited supplies left at rest stops. Volunteers are surprised to see you. The miles seem longer, since there is nobody to pace off of. In shorter races, this matters less. But in a race of this distance, it weighed heavily on my mind.

And my body started to protest the prolonged effort. My nutrition was fine -- thankfully there was no bonk in sight. But there was a general fatigue that began to set into my bones on the second loop. I had to force myself to keep up a modest pace, because the natural inclination was to slow way down. I took the occasional walk through a water station, but I tried to run the whole way, remembering Jen's advice about momentum and continuing to move forward.

At the turn around on the tow path -- somewhere around mile 8 -- I finally took a bathroom break. I figured, what the heck? I'm last! And at the stop, they asked if I was the last one. I said I didn't know for sure, but I suspected as much. When I was about 50 yards off, I heard them yell back at me that there was another person.


Behind me?

And, of course, they were right. There was one more runner who was plodding along about a 1/2 mile behind me. He looked like a very strong guy, so I assumed his bike sucked more than mine. He was friendly and it was a relief to know he was there.

The race director and I got to know each other well in the next 4 miles or so. Him, on his scooter with lots of reassuring words, and me plodding along at some god awful slow pace. I was starting to feel some generalized pain. Nothing specific, but my body was done. And I had at least 5 more miles to go.

At my darkest moment, I thought I would see Mighty M. On the first loop, he had been sitting under this one tree, near the finish. On this loop, he had moved and I missed him. I shuffled and kept running for another mile or so, wishing I could see his face. And then I did -- he was on the path ahead of me. He had been up talking to the college student who dresses up as the Devil on the big hill. He was cheering on those last few people in the race on the hardest section. He's that kind of guy.

He could see I was failing. Even in the pictures he took at that moment, I was clearly low, with my head down and left arm stretched out to block the camera. I wanted no more pictures. He ran along side of me for a little and I told him how tired I was and how I was the next to last person. I told him all those things I wanted to say when I rode past on the bike, what seemed like days ago. It all spilled out of me. And you could imagine his response.

So I did what he said. I kept on going. I had the hills left, but I already knew they would be walked. All I had to do was focus on finishing.

So I ran and ran. I walked the hills. I ran doggedly. My face all screwed with determination. I just kept going. The last mile was the hardest. I guess it always is.

And soon, I rounded the corner to the finish chute. No spectators were left. The race staff was busy, hunched over their laptops calculating placements, and were surprised to see me. There was no great announcement, and my name wasn't over the loud speaker.

But, let me tell you, I felt that finish line. I felt each and every inch of it. I pumped my thumbs up in the air for cameras that had packed up and left hours before. I smiled the biggest smile ever smiled in the history of smiles. Everyone in the med tent cheered and I was done.

It bears repeating.


After 7 hours and 50 minutes of racing, I managed to complete my first half ironman. M was there to congratulate with hugs and proud words and I cried behind the lenses of my Oakleys. I didn't have a finishers metal to grip (we would find an abandoned one later in the, likewise abandoned, transition area) because they had run out.

But I was done.

And soon after, the very last person came down the shoot, with his kids and wife running along side. Turns out he was a Navy Seal. That must have been a hard bike for him.

At the end of the day, I actually was dead last. Once you accounted for who started when, I hold that distinction for this year's race. And I think my Mom would be proud. I really, really do.

When I think about this race, now that it's a couple of weeks behind me and I've gathered a little perspective on it, I think I was meant to finish that way. I think I needed to learn why that is just fine, and how irrelevant it is compared to why I am doing this.

I am doing this year -- the Iron training and the fundraising and the hours away from my "other" life -- do be a better person. Not to be a faster person, or a more competitive one. I'm doing it to grab hold of each moment I am alive and make the most out of it. Breathe each breath that I'm granted. Take full and complete advantage of the life that I have -- graciously free of disease and heartache and full of joy and wonderful people.

I want to serve as an example to Mighty M's nieces that they can do absolutely anything they set their mind to. I want my neighbor's kids to know that having dreams is truly living. I want my own girls one day to know that no matter what, they can touch every inch of this world. I want those things.

Someone joked with me recently about how they just don't know why I do this -- it's so hard and contrary to what comes easily for me, the other demands of my life and how my body is crafted. We had been talking about the Mountaineer race and the long march to the finish line.

And I realized I do this because it is the right thing to do. It's right to make the most of being on this earth -- being alive. My Mom had decades of her life stolen from her by cancer. But, she knew that you grab hold when you can and participate for the experience, not to avoid last place. Somewhere in those last 30 miles or so I dropped that knowledge and got distracted with numbers and expectations. Somewhere in those last turns and hills I forgot what she taught me with how she lived.

But I remember, now.

You do it because it is the right thing to do. You do it to place at all.


Total Run Time: 3:00:26
Run Pace: 13:46/mile

Total Overall Time: 7:50:21
Total Overall Place: 293 of 293
Athena Place: 2nd

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Passionate Recon


You know you do it.

For each of my "big" rides or races, I look at the elevation charts. When they're not conveniently linked on the event's webpage, I hunt them down with the dogged vengeance of a woman scorned.

Call it passionate recognisance.

But I need that info to get ready for the day. Maybe it's too much to know. That could be debated. Have I psyched myself out before starting? Maybe. But when it matters, I'd rather not leave anything to chance.

So, it has been with much CHA-GRIN that I read posts from the crew who went to WIBA last weekend. You know the ones -- that talk aboutthe hills, and how HILLY it is, and how UNGODLY RELENTLESS the hills are, and how they come over and over and over until you have to will left to live?

Yeah. Fun. Soooo looking forward to it.

So I need my own testing ground now. Somewhere I can find some semblance of an equivalency. My PSAT, if you will.

And I've found it. Oh yeah, kids, I have.

Remember the Taxing Metric? Yeah. I buried it in the recesses of my mind, too. I remember thinking words like relentless and ohgodthesehillssuck and killmenow. So at lunch today, me and the BT route tracker got cozy again and mapped away.

Booyah. I tell ya -- what we ever did without gmap, I. JUST. DON'T. KNOW.

So, you take the ride from my house to where the Taxing Metric starts, add it to the two ride loops (which conveniently have an at-car stop in between), and add it to the ride home and...


Almost exactly 100 miles and over 6,700 feet of climbing.

And THAT, my friends, is my new measuring stick. I don't care if I have to try it every weekend from here to Wisconsin, I will do that without bonking, crashing, crying, or otherwise falling apart.

It needs a name, right?

I'm going to call it my Proving Grounds ride. Here's the breakdown...

Home to parking area/picnic grounds
Distance: 18 miles
Climb: 950 feet

Taxing Loop One
Distance: 32 miles
Climb: 3065
yes, i'm serious. now i know why that was a kick in the pants for the first ride out this year!

Taxing Loop Two
Distance: 32 miles
Climb: 1800 feet

Return home
Distance 18 miles
Climb: 950 feet

Total Proving Grounds Distance: 100
Total Proving Grounds Climb: 6,765

Total IMWI Distance: 112
Total IMWI Climb: (approx) 7,000

Not a bad comparison, eh?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Managing Expectations.

This is a theme that you hear over and over again in recovery. Learn to manage your expectations. Flexibility of both emotion and thought. Be realistic about your talents and limitations. Manage your expectations.

There is a lot of managing expectations and perseverance in recovery. In a way, it's an endurance race for your life, that happens on the fringes of your days, every day, no matter what. In a way, sobriety is like morality -- when done right, there are no days off. It takes a stubbornness woven into the very fabric of your existence -- tying into your emotions and hopes, all of your choices, big and small. Sobriety has surprisingly little to do with not drinking and a lot to do with making good choices. You become well versed in calmly addressing each crisis, each problem, with the underlying knowledge that if you apply this stubborn perseverance, you'll manage to weather just about anything.

Head down. Carefully. Thoughtfully. Just about anything life can throw at you.

When you close such a destructive chapter in your life successfully, how hard could the rest be?

And those lessons are the ones I thought of on that long road back.

At the third and last rest stop, I stopped the bike. I pulled off to the side of the road and the volunteers looked at me quizzically. Is she stopping? Should we call SAG?

I explained that, no, I'm still going to finish, but I needed to gather myself before the last hill and get some water and food. Boy, did that water taste good! I mixed the cold, fresh water with what was left in my Heed bottle, ditched the finished Perpetuem, and replaced it with Infinite. I ate the second Balance bar and started feeling better.

And then, yet again, I noticed how few people I had seen recently.

"Am I the last rider?" They didn't know. Hmmm. And then a woman my age came riding up the road, grabs a bottle of water and keeps on moving.

Ugh. If I wasn't last then, I must be now. Time to get moving.

I hop back on the bike, thank the volunteers and start pedaling. My seat is ON FIRE, and I've clearly answered the question as to how long a race suit can pad your rump. I see one last woman -- could she be an Athena? -- pass by in the opposite direction on the switchback. There's someone behind me! I'm relieved. Hugely relieved.

And then, halfway up the last climb, the HFP Racing truck drives by. With a couple riders in it, including that last woman. They slow down and say good job, cheering me on with fists out of the window. But I can't help but notice that they pause to tell the cop something at the next pass. Something, I'm imagining, like "here comes the last one...we can open these streets up after her."

Double ugh.

Last place. By attrition.

But there really is no stopping on a bike course, is there? You don't just hop off and magically an escalator appears on the side of the road to whisk you back to transition. It doesn't work like that. And, anyway, I didn't come here to stop.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll let myself change my mind later. But not now.

The last 15 miles were mainly downhill and exceedingly lonely. And tiresome. The extra fluids I started taking on at the last rest stop were making a difference, as was the Balance bar, and this was good. With a little hiccup there, I managed to keep myself on track with food and water. But, frankly, it was time to get off the bike.

Like my weekend before, I've never wanted to start a run more than I did at that last intersection before the bridge over the Monongahela.

Banana -- it's been fun. But, it's time to run.

I look up and see Mighty M on the bridge. He has the camera glued to his face and is yelling cheers of encouragement. I try to tell him I'm the last person on the bike. I want to tell him how they're opening the roads behind me and each police officer seems relieved when I go by, since I'm a reprieve for them from the long hours spent in the sun on their feet. I want him to get the full impact of this realization -- that I'm the very last person in this race and the (mottled and distorted) clear conclusion that I wasn't supposed to be able to finish. I want him to hear all of this as I yell out at him on the bridge.

He hears a little of it. He yells back that there are more behind me and I think he must really love me. Because he doesn't know what I know -- that there's nobody else. That I've become the very last fat chick out on the course. Because I'm now DFL. But, he keeps yelling that it doesn't matter, just keep on going.

It doesn't matter.

Manage expectations.

And there he is, grinning from ear to ear. He's so proud of me. Me! Mighty M, with his shiny bald sunburned head. He thinks that I can do this. He thinks I should keep going. He doesn't care that I'm absolutely last. Of course, he doesn't feel my legs or shame. But he often knows more about me than I do, so I trust that, and I trust him. Implicitly.

So I pull into transition. Back to human kind. Back to civilization. And back in time to run a half marathon.


Bike time: 3:58:45
Average pace: 14.1 mph
Overall Rank: 303 of 305
No. people actually behind me: about a half dozen
Transition time: 0:02:17

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Turning the Corner

On the bike, I felt a sense of confidence. Before I started swimming and running, I biked. I made it from New York to Boston in under 4 days with the Northeast AIDS Ride. That I managed on little training and relying on the body of a 23 year old. I'm ten years older now, but I have my time in the saddle. Regardless of my triathlon experience, Banana and I had been places together. She brought me some much needed confidence after a challenging swim.

I escaped transition with nary a trip, fall or embarrassing snafu. I am thankful for that. Cause when I fall, I tend to do it in front of large groups of people. Like in front of full restaurants with plate glass windows.

I don't fall small.

So mounting and staying mounted was my first feet for the day. Bravo. And then I was off like a herd of turtles.

The greatest things about being a blogger during race season is getting to read so many race reports. Learn from others. I repeat -- Learn From Others. It works.

So I went out sloooooowly. High cadence. Slow speed. No! I will not be seduced by the first flat out and back! No! No! No!


But, to be completely honest, I wonder if I really could have turned it on anyway, if so inclined. My legs were a little mushy and I felt like I was spinning through quicksand for the first five miles. Ah well, we'll just call it part of the plan. Quicksand cadence? Check!

A number of people passed me on this section -- and when I say a number, I mean the entire Masters/HIM section and a bunch of the Olympic field. But I reminded myself -- I'm racing my race, not theirs. Maybe they'll poop out later, after going out too strong. Maybe they won't. I'll never know. Wasted energy to worry about it, right? Right.

About this time, on the out and back by the river, I started eating and drinking. First a Balance bar and then started on the Perpetuem. Not too fast, but we were already 15 minutes into the bike section and -- learning from others -- I remembered that this was the key time to begin.

Anyway, it tasted like sawdust. It was awful. I ate it, but bletch. Gross.

The course itself was two full laps, each with one loooong hill (about 4 1/2 miles) and one steep hill (under 1 mile, but the same elevation change). Mighty M and I drove the course the night before, so I was prepared for a mind numbing assent. After each turn on the long grade, there was yet another section of -- you guessed it -- a long slow hill.

But knowing ahead of time makes all the difference in the world. Learn from me, people. If you can, ride the course first. Do your recon. Map it out on the online tools. Know what to expect. It will help with managing your effort. Trust me.

Anyway, the first loop wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The long assent -- felt like cake. Granny gear and a high cadence kept me feeling fresh. I skipped the first rest stop (at about 15 miles) since I still had a good amount of fluids on board and I had no idea how to do the hand off. The steep hill was a challenge -- my heart rate spiked through the roof and I was clearly feeling the effort. It didn't help that it was devoid of trees or cover from the morning sun. Sweaty! But I got through it fine, and it was downhill the rest of the way back to town.

(This, by the way, was when I was first "caught" by the pro field on their second loop. Holy geeze. I've never been in a race with these kind of pros -- ever. They are astounding. Impressive doesn't cover it. They take your breath away. Except for the first one, who I yelled at for not calling out an OnYourLeft in a particularly craggy and narrow section of road. After figuring out he's a pro, I forgive him. I'm sure he gives a hoot.)

So, when I swung through town and saw Mighty M at the bridge over the Monongahela, things were all thumbs up. I was feeling good -- to be halfway through and know that the long climb didn't kill me. I was in need of some fluids and a little solids, but all was good.

This was the last time that day I could honestly say I was in a good place.

It's amazing how quickly things can turn from good to oh-my-goodness- this-sucks-monkey-balls. How very, very quickly.

Rest stop two -- at the main transition area -- included my first hand off. Wahoo! A new water! Yeah! Banana please...(snatch)...wahoo!, what do I do with these things?

Yeah. I didn't really think about things like "ditch your used water bottles before the rolling rest stop, and replace with the new ones." Nobody taught me that lesson! Now I know. Ditch and roll. Ditch and roll.

I allowed myself a quick stop in the parking lot to fill up with fresh water and peel and eat a mushy banana. Back on the road for the second loop I felt great. I was on track with a bike time somewhere around 1:45. I'd been in a good place if I could do that one more time. Saw Mighty M again and he was cheering like a rock star. I felt fueled and strong.

But soon my energies started going down. I was only starting to catch up with a little dehydration I felt on the way back into town, although the waterstop helped. The fast and flat out and back by the river, before the long climb, suddenly felt like a long hill. The padding (or lack thereof) in my race suit was making itself known -- with each and every pothole and bump. Discomfort turned the corner to pain. More people passed me, efficiently tucked in aero and spinning away. The field thinned noticeably. My left aerobar was twisted out of position (how did that happen?) and my legs felt heavy and empty.

Where was everyone?

As my legs started getting tired, I became concerned about the climbs. My gearing for the long one was clearly more forgiving the second go around. The last obnoxious sharp hill at the top seemed doubly obnoxious.

And it was dawning on me how quiet it was out there. Lonely, even.

Now, the first time around, there were people doing both the half iron distance and the olympic. So, my rational mind told me that all those Oly people were out on their run.

But, my pragmatic mind knew better. And with the knowledge came the dread. And that dread was confirmed at the last out and back section of the course.

I was in a race for last place. And I was running out of fuel.

Gazpacho Goodness

We take a brief pause in the Mountaineer Race Report for a little foodie love. Cause for all y'all who don't remember, I'm a foodie at heart.

(And a lover of reality TV. So it goes without saying that this, this and especially this makes me as happy as a clam with a universal remote!)

But with the advent of this ridiculous heat wave and the realization that I had yet to make it this season, this weekend I embarked on making my favorite summer indulgence -- Gazpacho. For those who don't know, it's a delicious cold soup (yes, I know -- soups are usually hot...get over it!) that has a ridiculous amount of veggies in it and packs a huge flavor punch.

It's made a bunch of different ways and purists may not consider my chunky recipe to fit the technical description since it's not pureed with bread. But, frankly, they can go fly a kite. Because this is nummy and good for you! Not to mention the fact that it doesn't force me to dig out my stick blender to puree it or manage to have day old bread at just the right time. Chunky is good.

So, here's my current recipe...

Gazpacho Goodness
1 - 46 oz container of tomato juice (low sodium for those who are watching that kind of thing)

2 - medium cucumbers, peeled and de-seeded, diced

1 - large red pepper, diced

2 - green onion sprigs, diced, white and green sections

3 - fresh tomatoes, diced

2 - carrots, small dice (I make this dice slightly smaller, since they won't soften in the mix)

1 - large bunch celery hearts, cleaned, small dice

1 - T balsamic vinegar

1 - tsp kosher salt

1 - T coarse pepper

dash hot sauce to taste (I use about 5 strong dashes)

Place all of the ingredients in a big refrigerator friendly bowl with cover or covered with saran wrap. Try to keep a uniform dice for most of the veggies -- a 1/2 inch will do great. The carrots do well with a slightly smaller dice, since they're a bit crunchier.

Chill and allow flavors to blend for at least 2 hours. Serve with Chiabatta bread, drizzled with olive oil and toasted in oven or on grill. Excellent with grilled shrimp skewers.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Monongahela

Here I am.

I wonder if my wedding will be like this. Or the birth of my first child. So fast -- smeared lines and peripheral edges. The turning point to life's most important experiences where you are no longer simply planning for life, rather life is happening to you. It congers up words like 'whisked' and 'flurry' and 'blur.' It's the happening. It's the verb, the action. The authentic moment.

There's no more time to contemplate the inevitable, only time for the movement. Goggles on -- check. Swim cap -- check. Don't forget to smooth the fold so it doesn't roll up. I find my way down the long ramp to the smaller dock area where the first waves are already in the water, starting out one by one.

It's stunningly beautiful out. The sun is shining and the air is perfect. A fellow yellow cap approaches me -- where do we go? Will someone tell us? We walk together. She tells me how nervous she is and it lifts a heavy weight from my shoulders. She's nervous? Well that makes two of us. Perhaps things would be alright after all.

First the toes go in and then a graceless splash. For once, the wetsuit feels familiar -- warm and like a second skin. I drift over to the right edge of the group, where we were starting to form our own colored cluster of caps. We laugh nervously and float. I have a hard time catching my breath. I focus on the in and out.

And wait.

"90 seconds until you're off!" The announcer stands there will a bullhorn and enthusiasm to spare.

"45 seconds..."

"30 seconds..."


And, magically, I start swimming. First a crawl to get my bearings, and then freestyle. No panic getting my face in the water. No freaking out about not seeing the bottom or seeing too much of the bottom. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

My poor ticker is going a mile a minute -- it's not used to this anxiety. I'm breathing every other stroke, which is odd -- so different from the pool, so different from everything. It'll all smooth itself out soon, I think, so long as I can steer my way back to the buoy without adding too many yards.

Whew, buoy number one down -- now heading away from shore for a little and then it's time to turn it on. Turn what on? I can't remember exactly what, but I know it has something to do with that second turn. That long straight away, carefully scoped out the night before. Something is supposed to happen then.

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

Buoy number two -- check.

Now, time to swim. And I do, at least for a little. Twenty yards along I try to sight, with little success -- switch to breast stroke. Okay, you're on track. Back to free for a while. Getting a little tired, but almost half way there.

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

Goodness I'm getting tired. Where am I? Am I close? Half way? Half way?

Oh good lord. I can't even see the yellow buoy in the distance and unfamiliar caps are at my heels. Someone starts tugging at my right ankle. Tugging! Lay off, buster. I'm trying to not drown here, alright?!

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

Breaks for breaststroke become more frequent, yet the puffy yellow goal seems impossibly far away. I start looking for yellow caps to my left. None. In front of me. Only some. And behind? None. I barter down my expectations. Now it's about getting to the next marker. Forget the bike. There will be no bike. I think about everyone's disappointment. How will I explain? It's an indulgent distraction -- first I have to just finish the swim.

Oh god, I'm last. I'm last in my group. I can't do this.

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.

The distance feels like miles and miles, but I slowly make my way to the buoy. As it grows in size, I realize that a current has somehow pulled us into the middle, slightly off course. It takes a little time to correct, but we do and I make it around the buoy.

I promised myself I wouldn't stop.

I want to stop.

The last buoy is easily forgettable -- I'm so closed to the end that I want out of the water now. This wasn't strong. This wasn't part of The Plan. This was slower than molasses and I eyed the flat bottom barge that waits in the wings for the swimmers in distress.

But I wasn't in distress. I was fatigued and surprised. I was blown away at how far away one single point in the distance could feel. I concluded my powers of estimation were gone and the only plan was to get to that damnable dock. But I wasn't distressed. No, I was swimming.

Stroke. Stroke. Breathe. Stroke. Stroke. Breathe.


Blech -- river water.

I look around again for another yellow cap -- this time to feel as if I'm not the very, very last person in the water from the HIM distance. Something to grab onto for these last 200 yards. There was one I could see, to the left of me, and she was motoring. Apparently, she liked less the idea of being dead last. I was just pleased to not be dead.

100 more yards. Felt like a 1000.

50 more yards. Ten minutes go by, or is it 20?

No concept of time anymore. No concept of distance. Only "in the water" and "out of the water."

Soon my arms are reaching out to the two volunteers, who pull me to dock like a drunkin fish. "Graceful," I laugh. They laugh, too. I push forward and shakily stand. Ha, sea legs.

Relief. A brief moment of relief.

One foot in front of the other, I manage to shuffle up the dock ramp and search the crowd for Mighty M. Was he looking for me in transition? On the bike? I must have been in the water over an hour. He's worried about me. Where is he?

The towpath by the river is magically under my feet and something in my brain says STRIP. Shuffle and pull, yank and move forward. The top of the wetsuit is off and I'm running. A 100-yard dash for transition and I'm running. Strangers are cheering and I'm running.


I'm running!

It dawns on me. I'm doing a triathlon. I'm doing a half iron triathlon. Me. Right now, this very moment.

I am actually doing this.


Swim time: 0:43:06
Pace: 2 min 14 sec/100 m
Overall Rank: 283/305
No. yellow swim caps actually behind me: 4

Boat Ramp

I'm standing on the towpath trail, in my wetsuit and gripping a half eaten Espresso GU, and I can't, for the life of me, remember why I signed up for this.

What was I doing here?

In a panic, I tried to find a single statement -- any statement -- that would reassure me that there was a thought process behind this. That I was supposed to be here. And I came up empty. Nothing. My legs shook and I focused on that nothing with wide eyes.

What was I doing here?

Mighty M and I had arrived in West Virginia the night before, after carefully planning what to bring and making sure not a single contingency was left unattended. Wetsuit and nutrition were duly packed, as were emergency arm warmers and extra pairs of socks. Careful lists had been made days before, and even more carefully checked over and over since Friday night. I had thought of everything. There were no surprises.

We had laughed a lot on the way down, as we tend to do when cooped up in a car together. He had suffered my detailed race plan. It was still far enough away to talk easily about transition plans and what to eat when. We were relaxed and eager, on a unique mission.

And yet... .

We rolled into Morgantown after an uneventful trip. It was a beautiful drive. We checked into a perfectly acceptable hotel, with a wonderfully unexpected fridge to house my bottles and Uncrustables safely until this morning. I had signed in for my registration packet, picked my tee-shirt size, and made the obligatory impulse buy at the expo.

And yet, I was still confused by it all. Standing there with a stomach full of nerves, in an awkward wetsuit, and focusing on the ragged edge of the plastic GU sleeve I was trying to stomach.

What exactly was I thinking? Who did I think I was? I don't do things like this. I'm not strong, nor am I exceptionally athletic. All these people around me are chiseled and confident, laughing even. They see friends in the crowd and I desperately trying not to puke my breakfast on my bare toes.

I'm not this person. I'm someone who used to be a mess. Someone who used to give up. Used to bail out. I'm that person who left the long line at the last moment, skipping the roller coaster of experience for the comfort of my own shell. Don't worry, I'll wait for you on the other can tell me all about it then. We'll laugh together like I was there with you.

I spent years upon years learning how to avoid moments like this. How did I find myself literally on this shore? I am no reflection of my peers, of those surrounding me. I'm broader and self-conscious in my tight racing suit. I am shaking all over. I'm uncertain and afraid. I am, yet again, that 29 year-old, woven together with dashed hope and abject disappointment.

How did I get here?

I was flooded with doubt. My long ride the weekend before became an opaque wall directly before my eyes -- the tiring miles and the painful end, that was so unexpected and unwelcome after months of solid training. If I can't finish 50 without crying, how can I do this?

I looked down at the Monongahela River, where the pro's had already begun their swim and my peers were slowly lining up for their chance and all I could think about was my open water swim in New Jersey the week before. How heavy the wetsuit arms felt. How awkward and unbalanced my stroke was. How I felt like I had just learned how to swim. My stomach turned again.

All I wanted to do was to leave. Walk away. Find some reason or none at all, just get the heck out of there. Away from the challenge and the unknown. Back to somewhere soft and accepting. Somewhere safe.

And, for the umpteenth time, Mighty M reached around my neck and forced me to look him straight in his blue eyes and said, "Honey, you're going to do just fine. Don't worry."

And I didn't believe him. I couldn't even respond. And I didn't feel better. But at least I knew that there was no reason to run away. I knew that my soft place to land was standing right there with me. There was no way out of this. And somewhere deep inside of me I realized that I trusted him. If he said so.

It was time to get into the water.

So I handed M the half eaten, sticky GU packet that smelled sharply of synthetic coffee and smiled weakly. "You're going to do fine." I distractedly zipped up my back and tucked the wetsuit tail the way I had been taught. "I'll be over on the shore, by the first buoy." I stifled my surging stomach with a strong swallow and looked for others wearing yellow caps and their own distracted smiles. "You've trained for this. You'll be fine." I could barely feel his lips when he kissed me goodbye, and then I was on the ramp to the dock.

"I love you."

I can't remember who said it.

It was time.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

West Virginia...I'm coming home...

Well, that's one for the books.

Mighty M and I just got home from the trip and I am (finally) freshly showered and ready to fall into bed.

So just some quick thoughts.

(1) Respect the distance.

(2) Nutrition done well will help you almost as much as training.

(3) Seriously, respect the distance.

(4) Sunscreen would have been the bestest of ideas,


(5) M is the most amazing person and boyfriend in the world -- a title he will hold along with begin the best sherpa to my triathlon fantasies. No way would I have finished without him, and it's possible I never would have started.

Guys, I'm cooked and in great need of bed before a full day at work tomorrow. But just so you know, I left everything I had out there on that course. Every little bit of myself. And I finished.

And that makes it all worth it.