Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Polar Prowl 5K: race report

So, this post comes along with a higher-than-usual amount of navel-gazing and vanity reflection.  If that kind of thing makes you want to set your eyeballs on fire, this is your warning to click away.

Last January I raced a 10K in Bear Creek Park.  On the scale of all of the things in the universe, it ranked a relatively awful.  My knee hurt, a lot, it had been hurting for a while and I was rotating through shoes and bike fits and physical therapists and general acts of complete desperation.  I slaughtered myself for a 57:11.  My biggest superfan in the world came along and cheered and took pictures and I spent most of the drive home reviewing them in abject horror.  I never even posted a race report about the race, I was so disgusted with myself, the day I had, the state my body was in.  Frustrated that I've spent so much time and energy and certainly money on this sport that I claim to love and I can't even run 9 minute pace for an hour on a random Sunday morning and I end up facing pictures of myself with four ass cheeks and extra boob hanging out all over the damn place.  
For that reason, yes, vanity indeed, that was the day that I decided, enough.  Enough bitching about how unhappy I am about the way I look and feel and sleep and run and move, enough settling for the body and mind and life I have instead of making the hard choices to seek out the one I want.  The next day was a Monday.  After masters, I dragged a giant bag of shoes into the office of yet another physical therapist who swore up and down he could straighten me out.  I limped home from that appointment and read It Starts With Food in one afternoon, I ordered a pair of running shorts that were a full size smaller, and I replaced my bedtime mixing bowl of ice cream with a cup of tea.  And just like that, in one day, everything changed.  

So. This little 5K.  I have always professed a pretty severe hatred for the distance.  Suffering and I are not friends, I have never understood those who revel in the pain of it, I would much rather cruise along at 75% of what I've got for hours and hours than smash the shit out of myself for 25 minutes.  And the things we hate...are probably the things we should be doing more of in life.  A few weeks ago I ran the Santa Stampede 5K down in Littleton.  I had an athlete racing the 10K so I hopped on board, ran my guts out for a 25:02 and called it good.  That same athlete decided to race an early January half marathon (insanity) and when I learned that the race had a 5K option, I invited myself along for the day.  I managed to drag another one of my athletes into the fun and there we go, it was a party.
I kicked off the day by not getting nearly enough sleep (HUNTER) and then forgetting my Garmin and my sunglasses.  We made a quick stop at WalMart for a cheap Timex and some aviators and then rolled down to Bear Creek.  I didn't realize until we turned off the highway that this was the same park that I ran that 10K last January, the one that will go down in my universe as the race that flipped my switch.  But it was.  And I'm only right now a few weeks back into training and eating properly and not drinking like a fish but the contrast between where I am and where I was a year ago, to me inside my own tiny fluff ball universe, is staggering.
The half marathon left and Emma and I headed out to warm up, I realized three steps into it that I had forgotten both of my inhalers so my warm-up was a weird out-and-back-to-drop-bags-to-the-car-back-to-bags-now-strides-bags-again.  I felt okay, certainly not sparkly and fresh but I've learned that it takes me a good 20+ minutes to be loose enough to race a 5K and that was there.  We lined up, the race was pretty small and there was a tiny girl in racing flats hanging out at the front, I asked her what she was planning on running and then made a mental note not to try and hang, settled myself a couple of rows back and off we went.

Racing without the Garmin was pretty brilliant and I think I'd like to keep doing it for shorter races.  I spent the first mile having no idea how fast I was running, so instead I had to focus on effort and form and control (weird).  I counted five women that went out ahead of me, and another one flew by about 20 yards into the race, so there were six up there.  But as that first mile went by, I started to reel them in, and by the time I split the first mile, I was in fourth.  Mile one, a bit friendly terrain: 7:20, mental check: this is either going to go really well or you are so totally fucked.
Mile two had a short up and then a long down and then a steep up and then we turned around a tiny cone in the middle of the trail and headed back.  By the time we hit the turn-around, I had caught another woman and I counted as I headed up to make sure my math was right, I was in third.  But I watched behind me as I headed back and learned that the next woman was less than 10 seconds behind me.  Laughed at the second mile split, which I knew was going to be slow because of all the climbing on the trail, 8:35 (ouch).
There was one more long up at the start of mile three, I tried to keep form under control although race photos reveal there is still so much work to do here, and every step I was running completely fucking terrified of being caught.  My shoe came untied at some point in the second mile and there was no way in hell I was going to stop and tie it.  I remembered the 5K I ran in PA a few years ago, where my brain cruised in instead of chasing the girl that landed me in fourth overall as opposed to third, and how pissed I was at myself after the race for not going for it.  I caught a couple of men in front of me that were walking, the woman in second place was long gone, I was breathing so hard and my bib was flapping and I couldn't tell if someone was right on my shoulder or if I was just hearing my own noisy racing elephant self stampeding towards the finish.  The mile three marker came into view (8:00) and footsteps came flying up behind me, my angry brain yelled NOOOOO inside my head and I tried to find one more gear, the footsteps passed me with less than 10 feet to go to the finish and I choked out I AM SO GLAD YOU ARE A MAN before staggering across the line and to a stop (24:55). 
I am sure, I am completely 100% positive, that I have never hurt like this in a race before, ever.  The only thing I was thinking about during that last mile was what I could do to not get caught, I don't think I've ever understood quite so clearly the motivating power of fear but it was there and pulled the best race out of me that I was going to find on Saturday.  Not the fastest 5K of my life (although I will tip my hat a little to the difficulty of this course) but certainly the best, cleanest, hardest I have ever run this distance.  And with that, strangely enough, comes a desire to do it again.  
I've never been on an overall run podium before, even at tiny races the best I've done is to place in my age group, and no matter how much I want to qualify this with the size of the race and the time of the year (who runs fast in January?), I haven't and I won't, but I'm also not going to spend a lot of time reveling in it.  I worked hard for that place, I wrecked myself and was lucky enough to land on the box, and I spent a few minutes in the car on the way home smiling a little bit and feeling a bit proud, but that was it.  No pancakes no new running shorts no fancy hot tea, the things that I usually use to treat myself with when I'm feeling particularly up or down.  Instead I went home to my puppies, I realized that the weather was nice enough to ride outside for the first time in several months and I enjoyed a peaceful spin on a quiet afternoon.  Reflecting.  Another day, another opportunity to realize that while I always want to be working, changing, looking ahead, I am at peace with myself right now.  Mind and body.  And there is no greater feeling in the world, than that.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

the off season

Every year, I take the off-season more seriously.
Last year I was forced into it by a yes-I'll-finally-admit-it-was-broken arm, but that combined with an unsatisfying race meant I was itching to get back training by about mid-December.  I think I gave myself about a week or so of rest and then I filled the rest of the month by trying to do things my body wasn't ready for (see: swimming), getting annoyed, saying fuck it and drinking beer, rinse and repeat.  I was thrilled when the colored boxes of January 1 showed back up in my life.
This year was different.  There was absolutely no itch.  And I think that's part of being incredibly grateful for a solid season.  If we're counting, which obviously I am because I'm the boss around here, I PR'd every leg of every distance that I raced this year, and some of those were significant.  But WAY more important than any PRs, I figured out some of my shit.  I made changes.  I tried new things.  I was healthy, credit should be distributed a few places to all the people in my village who worked hard on my often-uncooperative body, but start to finish 2014 was the healthiest and most consistent year I've had.  And when I closed out my season with the best ironman I've been able to put together - so far - it left me at peace.  Content.  No itch to train, no being mad at people jogging because I had to rest, no driving to the gym "just" to swim twenty minutes, nothing.  More than ready for a few weeks of eating and sleeping and cooking and traveling and all the other things that I fill my life with when I'm not happily bouncing along the hamster wheel of training.
Only because I know I'll look back at this in a year and wonder, I'll share.  I took two weeks completely off.  During the second week, I had a minor medical procedure done that prevented me from any activity at all, but even during the first week I had zero desire to do anything.  We traveled home from Arizona the day after the race, and the next day I boarded a plane back east to visit friends and family.  No swim cap, no running shoes, no spandex.  No checking pool schedules and setting alarms so I could run before anyone woke up.  Just, off.  I stopped being horrified by bread baskets, I stopped trying to keep sugar at a reasonable level, I drank wine, there was obviously plenty of tequila, beer, potato chips, I ate when I was hungry and slept when I was sleepy and those two things took up 90% of my time.

And it was good.  I blew back through Colorado and then headed out to California to support several of my athletes that were running the marathon.  I swam a little with them while I was there and I probably ran seven miles in two-minute-sprints doing bottle hand-offs and check-ins all over the course.  There was a gorgeous early morning run right with Ashley before I got on the plane, but none of it was because I had to, it was simply because this is the rhythm of my life.  I flew home Monday night and spent Tuesday getting my shit together to start training again, so of course I woke up Wednesday morning bright and early and ready to head to the pool, with a sore throat.  
My only guess is that my body wasn't ready to be done resting.  I waffled between taking days off and plowing through some training anyway, and after about ten days of that and (shockingly) not getting any better, I ended up in a doctor's office getting a stern lecture and almost a month of antibiotics, which I hate because I believe that antibiotics are creating a world that will one day be wiped out by a super-bug a la The Stand but that is completely beside the point, which is this: one of these years, I will learn.  
I always really enjoy coming back from a training break, at least for about two weeks, and then I'm just annoyed that my fitness doesn't magically spring back and that none of my running shorts fit.  But the first little while is happy, I spend the time laughing to myself about the paces I have to run to keep my heart rate low and checking the batteries in the power meter over and over and at least the swim is somewhat okay because all of the added buoyancy is sorta helpful, those weeks are fun for me and, more importantly, I think they are necessary.  I ran a 5K in there somewhere (seriously, maybe someday I will learn?), a coughing choking hip-collapsing effort that left me wondering when 8-minute pace got so hard.  
The antibiotics kicked in (FINE modern medicine is wonderful) and I got moving again, enough for me to rip off a 10K swim on New Year's Day without too much struggle.  This is the third 10K swim I've done in my life.  The first was way back in 2011 with my good friend Emily in the sketchy basement of the LA Fitness where I trained for ironman number one and I'm really only mentioning it so I can post this amazing photo of our goggle marks.  
The second I did alone, this year, the day after my birthday with an absolutely appalling hangover.  And the third was last week, I had the company of two of my athletes (not to mention two separate master's groups that came and went while we continued to flip, flip, flip) and an awesome and not-that-crazy-at-all set from Michelle.  It was fun (it was long), we all know the pool is my happy place and I do well on anything steady with good intervals, I settle into the clock and counting flip turns and calculating send-offs and all of a sudden 9600 yards has gone by and it's time to cool down.  
One more tiny thing in my long list of random gibberish.  This post doesn't really have a point other than spitting out things I'd like to be able to look back on next year when I am bitching about being fat and slow, and the biggest thing that happened in December is that we brought home another (yes, a fourth) puppy.
After my last blog post, the poet and I had a conversation, maybe the thousandth one, about bringing another love home, and it was finally the right time.  It happened quite quickly, there were some emails and then I went to meet him and the next day we had our foster visit and he was home.  Ours.  His name is Hunter, he has a very sweet personality with just the slightest hint of side-eye.  I know that saying this in a public place is going to bite me in the ass, but out of our four, this is the easiest puppy-transition we've had.  He mostly sleeps through the night, he cries for just a few minutes in his crate, he knows how to sit and wait for his dinner, and there have been not that many potty-training incidents in the three weeks that he has lived here.  Sofie has only tried to kill him twice, Graham is thrilled to have a new playmate and Molly refuses to acknowledge that his existence other than to throw him a look of sheer disdain if he happens to get within eight feet of her.  
I'm not planning on a 2014 recap post (which is good as it's already January sixth and I think that blogging ship has sailed).  Everything that I want to remember is already up in this space and I don't have the desire to rehash it all (other that the video I put together in the days before Christmas because it made me happy to do so).  It was a good year.  Life, relationships, training, friends, dogs, love, travel, races, all of it.  Hundreds of spectacular moments.  
I am looking forward to 2015.  I'm not about to spout off a list of goals as that isn't what gets my fire burning hot, but I am quietly starting to piece together the shape of the year.  Someone on Twitter shared an except from the book Burn Your Goals and I downloaded it to read (although the shared excerpt, so far, is the best piece of the book).  The author says, I want to know what you are committed to doing with your 24 hours a day to close the gap between who you are and where you want to be.  I've been thinking about that a lot lately, about the concept of being in the moment and not worrying too much about what's going to happen in the future, and it helps to ground me.  What can I do today to be the best wife, friend, athlete, coach that I can be?  And, in my athletic space, what are the controllables that I am ready and willing to commit to working on?  That's easy - my weakness in this sport is very clear.  So I've spent the past few weeks asking questions, analyzing, approaching the work with intention instead of just checking off the boxes, picking the brains of anyone who will let me rifle through their personal encyclopedias of knowledge, forcing myself out of my comfort zone, adding to the village I have built.  I am committing to learning more about myself, about my body and what it needs outside of the carousel of swim-bike-run that I ride ten or eleven months out of the year.  And last year I learned a good lesson about the effect that small changes can have, done regularly and consistently and applied to time, I learned that, how after even a few short months, your life can become unrecognizable.  
But along with commitments, thinking about the gap.  I learned last year that I am light of heart in that gap, living, flying, weightless in the space between the two trapezes.  I learned that change is cumulative, I know that there is still a cavernous distance between who I am and where I want to be, but I learned that it is okay to exist, there.  Last spring I spent a week training in southern California with a good friend and it was on that trip that I realized that my happiness comes from the work, the chase, plotting, planning, working, growing.  And the work I did last winter spring-boarded me into one of the most joyful - albeit imperfect - years of my life.  Now it's January.  Simply time to begin, again.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

happy new year

video

Life has been crazier than usual lately, and blogging has gotten pushed pretty far down the priority list, but I put together this little video instead of the year in races and year in photos recap posts I usually do.  Happy New Year, everyone!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

the truth is

When I first started blogging, I blogged every weekday, five posts a week.  I would usually write it the night before and then post the next morning.  I loved becoming a part of that community, I met people, lots of people, friends that have stayed in my life to this day.  When I went back through my iPhoto albums looking for a picture to post here, I discovered that there were too many.  Too many bloggers, many now defunct or retired, that have become true friends, Kirstin Amy Liz Allison Emily Heather Amy Caroline Sarah the other Emily both the redheads Beth Jason Anabel Yasi and a thousand more, people I never would have known, my life would have been less sparkly without them.  
Over time, it became a chore.  When I moved to Colorado at the end of 2012, I decided I wasn't going to blog every day, not anymore.  Instead I was only going to talk when I felt like I had something to say.  So the wordless whatever posts stopped, the random posts stopped, the lists stopped, and for a while, that felt right.  The blog turned into a journal, I stopped giving a shit about how many comments I had on each post and instead it became much more personal.  It stopped being pictures of my food and pictures of my dogs and became more selfies a reflection of the journey I was on - and by journey I mean the ups and downs of life that we all experience - but few of us are either stupid or brave (or both) enough to take all our emotional clothes off and stand naked in a place where we hear far more from our critics than we do anyone else.  

But over the past year or so, I've gone through some experiences that I haven't felt comfortable talking about on the internet.  All due to fear.  So posts have died down even more, and the ones that do go up are mainly reflections of race experiences, mostly because those are my favorites to reflect on as I've changed.  The risk that is taken when posting everything, ugly or joyful, on the internet, is that you are living your life out loud.  But the problem with living your life out loud is that when you decide to live half of it out loud and half of it in the privacy of your circle, it becomes a complicated tangled mess.  And there have been times when I've posted something that has hurt someone's feelings, a few times now this has happened, and never on purpose, but I know what they say about intention.  Intent does not matter.  Effect, does.  When this happens, just like any time you hurt someone's feelings in life, it feels like the world is ending.  And then I want to burn it all down.  Stop blogging, stop being vulnerable, stop trying to figure out my shit in the very public way I have decided to try and figure it all out and instead hide in my house and figure it out at 2am when I'm supposed to be sleeping but am instead awake and wracked with anxiety like everyone else.

The truth is, I would really like to adopt another dog.  We would.  We talk about it all the time.  And there are two reasons why we haven't done so.  One is because I am worried about the financial implications, I will never forget how it felt to be unable to care for sick Graham after losing my job three years ago.  Learning that no matter how big your safety net is, sometimes it is just not enough.  And the other reason is that there is a tiny part of my heart that remembers being attacked for the decisions I made in those moments, and it doesn't matter how much we have done to pay it forward since then, it doesn't matter that that particular experience changed my life in a significant and meaningful way, what matters is that I can't bear the cruelty of but what would people say.  
The truth is, I have developed an embarrassing and unhealthy addiction to overpriced running shorts.  It has taken over the top spot of "clothing I have an unnecessary amount of" from hoodies.
The truth is, I don't have a healthy relationship with food.  People ask me all the time about what I eat, about the changes I have made, and while my body might be better off physically than it was, one or two or five years ago, I'm not sure that it is mentally.  For example, I eat the same thing for breakfast every day because it is safe.  I read "Grain Brain" over the summer and it scared the living fuck out of me, but it also didn't help this relationship.  I know that I am judgmental about what other people eat, and I don't even know where those thoughts or feelings come from, but at some point over the summer I went out for lunch with two friends and was horrified, then smug, to watch them order sandwiches.  Sandwiches, for heaven's sake, not heroin with a side of tequila and marshmallows.  That was the first time I was really aware of it, but the truth is, I hate it, and I don't know how to fix it.
The truth is, I have lived here for two years and yesterday I bought my first winter coat that was not a 6000-pound ski jacket or actually just a hoodie pretending to be a real jacket.

The truth is, I work too much, because I am afraid.  Of everything I don't know, of all the things I haven't learned yet, of the knowledge I don't yet have, of making mistakes.  And some of this may be considered healthy because it motivates me to never stop learning, reading, watching other coaches, watching other athletes, asking questions, learning about all the different methods that exist and the many, many ways to skin the proverbial cat, but I have more fear than I probably need.  I have poured so much of myself into building my business, and I'm so grateful to the athletes that have let me learn from them over the years, but I live in constant fear of making the wrong decisions.  
The truth is, I have a difficult time with sincerity.  My own and anyone else's.  I am afraid that my headstone will say she was really good at being sarcastic on the internet.  

The truth is, when I was in France with Gloria, that was the first time in almost three years (other than off-season breaks where I did jack shit) that I trained based on what I wanted to do every day instead of doing what the long row of boxes threatening to turn red held for me.  It was terrifying.  And then it was freeing.  I came back from Europe conflicted, it took me quite some time to sort through everything that I was feeling (part of this due to jet lag), but one of the many results of that experience was deciding to end my official coaching relationship with Sonja, who I love dearly and have learned so much from over the years we have worked together.  There was no shortage of tears about this decision, but looking into my future at the end of June and seeing uncertainty and being excited about that, about feeling bound to no races, no training, no athletic responsibility, that is how I knew it was right at the time.  I haven't talked about it because I had no idea how to talk about it in a way that is honest and gracious, that honors the time we spent together, everything that she poured into me, all of her hard work to take me from an athlete that had one triathlon and one half marathon under her belt not to mention a seriously busted ass and massive disaster from the neck up, into the 3-about-to-be-4-time (when we talked on the phone) ironman.  I have struggled with parting ways and what that has meant for me, it has been difficult to figure out how to gently land a relationship that has been important and valuable for so long, and probably talking about it on the internet is going to equal hurt feelings for someone out there but for whatever reason, I woke up this morning and it was time.  

The truth is, one of my grandmas is really sick.  I saw her last winter and then I saw her a week ago and in the time between those two visits, I lost her.  She doesn't know me anymore.  The only thing I know how to do with all the emotion wrapped up in this situation is stuff it down and hope that it just goes away.  But it scares me to death.  
The truth is, I'm lonely in Colorado.  I have made some great friends here and I know that it takes time, but I am still growing into our life here, I am still figuring out who and what and where makes up my community.  It has been tough, sometimes I meet someone and I think we could be friends and I react so enthusiastically that they back away from me with wide eyes and holding their hands out like I am a grizzly bear trying to eat them for lunch.  I didn't have really any friends until about the seventh grade because I spent all my time reading and doing hard math problems and I haven't really learned how it goes other than you are a human let's ride bikes.


The truth is, when I post something on Instagram, I obsessively check to see if people like it.  Puppies are the favorite.  Workout selfies are not, but sometimes I just can't help myself.  

The truth is, after IM Boulder I think I lasted about ten days before deciding to do IM Arizona after all.  Because I was dissatisfied with my day, which is maybe not always the best reason to stand on the line but it was mine.  The truth is, I changed my mind.  Sometimes that's all it is.  I thought I wanted freedom, hiking 14ers and riding the mountain bike and living without the colored boxes.  But feeling disappointed - again - after ironman pushed some buttons that I didn't at all expect to be pushed.  You can't predict how you will feel in the future, you can only deal with how you feel in the present.  So when I decided to go ahead with Arizona, I did what anyone would do - I called a friend.  I asked her if she would help me get through ironman without killing myself, which would surely be the case if I was at the helm.  I can barely navigate the rest of my life without constant nuclear-level destruction.  I warned her that it was likely a short-term project because I was feeling burned out and ready to be done with ironman, but after the day I had at Boulder I had enough juice in my system to give it one more try.  And I was a disaster this fall, I was not an easy project to take on, it was not a nice thing to ask of a friend.  I was tired of triathlon, I got sick, I was stupid about shoes, I was inconsistent, I made some poor decisions both in and out of training, I was reckless, I was a terrible athlete and any coach in the world would have been banging her head against the wall by the third day.  But instead, Michelle was patient, she was kind, she offered a different set of eyes on my particular variety of hot mess, she brought my volume way down so the rest of my life could come way up, she was unwavering even when I was completely cracking up.  The truth is, different doesn't have to be better, or worse, there is no judgement associated with different, it can simply be not the same.  And what I needed to drag my emotionally exhausted self through one more ironman training cycle, was that.  The truth is, the impact that she made on me in such a short time monumentally changed how I feel about myself, as a person, as an athlete, and was one of the big puzzle pieces falling into place that led to the breakthrough I had on the run a couple of weeks ago.  I hope it is not insulting to say that I was surprised, I went into this hoping only to survive, to lay out what I knew was already inside of me and instead came out the other side wondering what else might be possible.  Still emotionally exhausted, still deflated, still struggling with all the shit that I always struggle with as a type-A worrier that carries around a wheelbarrow of anxiety and fear.  But so many have tried to teach me, and failed - through no fault of their own, simply due to my inability to learn - to believe in myself, and from Michelle, I finally learned how.  
The truth is, after all of this, I went ahead and signed up for IM Coeur d'Alene next June.  Maybe it's a new beginning, maybe it will be a final chapter, maybe it will bookend the ironman experiences in my life quite nicely, maybe I have so much mad scientist in me that the thought of a new experiment is simply irresistible.  Five times now, I've set out into ironman chasing the same goal, and now I've accomplished it, and I don't know what to chase next.  The only thing that I am certain of, today, is that another finish line awaits, and I will learn plenty along the way.  A lot of it will surprise me, there will be joy and struggle and at least one day of wanting to throw my bike into the bushes, I will make mistakes and piss people off and cry when we are out of avocados, just like every time that has come before, but I remain lucky to have another opportunity to stand on the line.  To ask questions.  To find out.  

My last truth, is this.  I have no idea how to talk about any of this.  Some of it is inconsequential, silly, my attempt to inject a bit of flip lightheartedness into a post full of fear.  Most of it probably does not matter to anyone but me, and I am not always sure why I feel the need to continue to publicly chronicle my comings and goings.  Lately, every time I've hit "publish" and sent another missive out into the world, I've wondered if it would be my last.  But these are my elephants, this is another attempt to be vulnerable instead of deciding to burn my private-journey-that-I-share-with-the-entire-world down.  It may be stupid, it is less likely that it is brave, but it is my life.  Unedited, raw, imperfect.  Mine.