Friday, November 21, 2014

Ironman Arizona Swim: race report

Graham and I hit the road on Monday afternoon just as a big snowstorm was starting to roll into Boulder.  Choosing the road trip over a flight plus a rental car was exactly what I needed for this race.  I was completely content to drive on my own schedule.  I stopped when I wanted to (almost never), chatted on the phone with friends and spent plenty of time singing at the top of my lungs.  We made it into Scottsdale early Tuesday afternoon where the weather was sunny and (womp womp) breezy and warm.  Good friends of mine let me use their empty condo for the week, and it was brilliant.  Quiet (Graham being the strong and silent type), I could sleep as much as I wanted, be picky about food, throw my triathlon shit everywhere and generally rock the 1% of my soul that is introverted (it's not much but it's in there).
I did most of my pre-race workouts with my also-addicted-to-overpriced-running-shorts friend Krista, who lives in Scottsdale and was happy to let me hang out on her wheel and in her gorgeous pool for the week.  I didn't feel that bad while traveling, but when I got to the condo, my body crashed.  Hard.  I slept 10-12 hours every night, I napped almost every day, once for over four hours, I could barely keep myself upright long enough to swim bike run.  I couldn't stop eating, I was eating well but the volume was staggering.  And I didn't worry about any of it, I figured my body knew what it needed and the best thing I could do was hand it on over and stay the fuck out of the way.
So that's my body.  My brain does best staying quiet on race week.  I kept off social media because all the chatter stresses me out, I don't think I even opened twitter for 4-5 days, I might have dropped a couple of hit-and-run photos on the Facebook but mostly I hunkered down into my shell.  I was at athlete check-in when it opened Thursday morning and then got the F out of ironman village, I didn't do the practice swim or attend any of the dinners or parties or events that were going on or even bust out the cowboy hat and show up to let my gut hang out at the underpants run.  Instead, I hid in Scottsdale, hung out with Graham (and Krista and Mary and Shane who were all super chill and perfect to be around), read, slept, let my mind unwind.  No worrying about the race at all, I had a plan, I talked through my nutrition once only to make sure it was solid in my head, and I let it go.
The day before the race was nice, the poet and Erin flew down in the morning, I did a short swim in a WTF-is-the-length-of-this pool and then set a personal record for fastest bike & bag drop-off with the least amount of interaction with other busy buzzy triathletes.  We stopped at Teavana so I could pick up my I have something really hard to do treat, made a quick stop at the yoga pants mothership and then climbed back in the cave of the condo to rotate eating, chatting and napping for the remainder of the day.  
In the days before the race, I worked my way through the last two Harry Potter books but also took the time to revisit some of the good stuff I've read this year.  I have absolutely no idea which book it was in, but one of the segments I reread talked about watching a little kid run at a track.  He ran as fast as he could, a few times around.  When he was done, he didn't stop running but instead went tearing off in search of the next piece of fun in his life.  The author was trying to make a point (I think) about how being in the zone isn't a crazy intense focus, but instead, a feeling of freedom.  That's where my head was, going into this race, I didn't want super crazy blinders down focus, I didn't want explosive joy, I didn't want anything but to quietly set my body free to perform.  To find my way into the gap, between the two trapeze.  I had some really great talks with a few people in my circle in the days leading up to the race, and one of them said to me early in the week, why not?  I love that thought, I've read it in other race reports, the idea of going into a race thinking why not me? why not today? and it finally got through my thick skull and sank in.  Why NOT me?  
And the truth.  This is it.  The only reason I haven't run well in ironman in the past is because I didn't believe that I could.  It had nothing to do with training or nutrition or sleep or selfies or shoes or lifting heavy things with my ass or coaching or how many times I posted on twitter per day or how many broken bones I had during the marathon or much I weighed or talked or if I had cupcakes for dinner or if I was a die-hard NSNG dairy-free Paleo super fiend.  None of that actually matters.  What matters is that I believe in myself.  Life is a constant state of flux, people float in and out of your journey all the time, but if there is one thing I have done right this year, it has been surrounding myself with a support system that believes.  In me.  And the second step, feeling secure in my circle, that has developed into confidence in myself.  I had no goals for this race.  Not a time, not a PR, I was chasing nothing, I did not give one single shit about the clock, I wanted my splits to show not slow or fast or hard or easy or anything else other than simply: I BELIEVE.
Race morning was calm.  I got in and out of transition in minutes and then headed down the lake to sit by myself, far away from the madness.  I took the moments I like to take before any race, listening to my groove tunes and soothing my mind, watching the sunrise.  I didn't start to feel excited until I squashed into the packed swim corral, and I smiled as I listened to people around me say things like it's only a long training day and just take it one minute at a time.  There were no nerves, I wasn't worried or anxious or thinking about anything other getting into the water and starting the day.

I cannonballed off the bottom of the stairs (start as you mean to go on) and then worked my way up to the front, wide right of the buoy line.  I bumped into my friends again, Krista let me know that she was going to draft off me as long as she could and I warned her that she would be drinking slightly-used PreLoad the whole way if she did, there was a bit more banter and then my favorite sound in the world: the cannon.
I went out hard, fast, strong.  See, the thing is, I love swimming.  And I swim a shitload.  In any given training week, it's fairly likely that I'm well over the 18K if not the 20K mark, and for no other reason than it makes me happy.  Life is short, bikinis and bodies wear out, so why not spend time doing the things you love?  And the by-product of how much I love to swim is that in ironman, hell, in any race, I should be able to swim pretty goddamn hard without blowing up.  I'm not sure I actually have the ability to swim 2.4 miles hard enough to make a true dent in the day (although back in the summer I did an open water 2.4 where there was my goal).  So I went off the front, and I went off hard, and the only thought in my head was WHEEEEEEE!!!!

I couldn't find feet, for whatever reason I am a semi-decent open water swimmer that completely sucks at drafting, but I was surrounded by thousands of people all thrashing in the same direction so sighting was easy.  I was counting my strokes, singing my boom-boom music inside my head, and I was most of the way to the first turn buoy when my right goggle popped off.  My eye filled with water, so I paused for a moment (and three men crashed straight into me, I'm glad someone knows how to draft) to empty then reseat the goggles on my face.  I started swimming again but when I breathed to the right, I noticed that my vision was blurry, and that made me stop dead in the water.  I thought I had lost a contact lens into Tempe Town Lake, and that thought wasn't even completely formed before I was cursing a blue streak.  My eyesight is completely horrendous, and losing a contact lens would mean my day was over.  There is no possible way I could ride safely without depth perception or shapes or colors out of one eye, and my contacts aren't disposable so I didn't have a spare set in my T1 bag (like a lot of people do and recommend).  
I smashed the goggle down, squeezed my eye shut and then looked around.  There was a kayak about 100 yards away, so I doggy-paddled over and grabbed on.  I wear my goggles under my cap, so I took my cap off, carefully got my goggles off and looked into the goggle to see... no contact lens.  But there was a weird feeling in my eye, so I pushed the eyelid around (contact lens people know this movement) and whooped gratefully as the lens slid out of my brain and popped into my hand.  I put it in my mouth to "clean" it, put it back in, got all my shit back on my head and swam off, waves of adrenaline and relief crashing through me as I went.  I knew there was no point in trying to make up time, I just paddled back into the masses and spent the rest of the swim leg making my way back through the field, saying over and over in my head, OMG.  That was close.  That was so close.  OMG.  Holy shit.  OMG.  OMG.
Swim: 2.4 miles, 1:06:55, 10/112 AG

I made it to the stairs without further mishap.  A volunteer hauled me out of the lake and I immediately ate shit on the stairs and fell right back in.  I finally managed to get myself up and out, got the wetsuit ripped off and zipped around into the tent.  I sat down on the grass to deal with all my bike detritus, took my time to get everything into the right pockets and my helmet loosened and facing the right direction.  Ran out, a volunteer handed me a bike but it wasn't mine so I handed it back and went to find my QR, clomped down the grass and mounted up to roll out.  
The end of the swim had a bit of chop to it but it didn't really register because I was so preoccupied with my close call.  I wasn't on my bike longer than a minute before a gust of wind sent me flying and hastily getting out of areo to correct, and that was the moment I knew that we were in for, quite literally, one hell of a ride.

T1: 4:30

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Longmont Turkey Trot: race report

Last year when this race happened I was rolling out for my last long ride going into IM Cozumel.  It starts less than 1/4 mile from my house, so this year I was happy to sign up and smash it into my last "long" run going into IM Arizona.  And really, the only reason I'm bothering to write a report for it at all is because our friend Rick came out and took some amazing photographs, so don't bother reading the words, just look at the pretty pictures and click away.
I dragged a few of my local athletes into this race, and did about a half-hour easy warm-up with one.  The morning was cold enough that I warmed up in crops and a long sleeve but then changed at the last second into shorts and a tee shirt.  My very rough plan for the race was to run a couple of miles easy and then a couple of miles somewhere around ironman race effort and/or pace, ish.  So I decided I would run the first couple of miles with one of my athletes to have some company as we all know I am a number one chatterbox.  (This is Emma, she let me bend her ear for an hour while she hauled ass).
There were a few mats on the ground so I wasn't entirely sure where the race started, and the GPS on my Garmin decided to sleep in (90 minutes of running = .35 miles covered, ironman confidence booster success), plus I was talking so much that I kept forgetting to hit the lap button at the mile markers anyway.  So I quite literally have no idea how the race went down.  After the second mile, Emma was working hard and I decided that I would stay with her and whip her ass instead of trotting away.  I know that when I'm racing hard, I like having something to occupy my thoughts other than ow holy shit F ow, so I babbled on and on about whatever happened to drift across my mind as we clicked off the miles.  (Anyone who has run with me ever knows what this is like).  
I started picking out people for us to chase down, yap yap yapping away, trying to distract Emma from how much I knew she was hurting.  We caught the guy (girl?) in the weird crops, the pink shorts girl and the guy dressed as a turkey.  The poet trotted back to find us after he crossed the finish and he did some extra-loud last-ditch go-go-go yelling at Emma and then that was it, we were over the line.  
My biggest takeaway from this race had nothing to do with how I ran, or running at all, but instead how much fun it was to be out participating in a race, being a part of the community, chatting merrily along on a sunny Saturday morning.  For me, the best work I could have done that day was to move my body and be happy, that was what I needed to be ready for ironman.  Not worrying about the watch or paces or heart rate or even how many miles I ran, but instead, clearing out my head, chasing fun.  I had two athletes racing themselves and they both had strong, I would daresay, breakthrough races.  And the greatness of the day belongs to them.  I love coaching.  I love working with every single one of my athletes, I love when they want to tackle their weaknesses and their challenges and there is joy in that work being done.  But the moments that are more rare are when an athlete makes a huge leap forward.  It's spectacular to witness, to stand by when all the pieces come together and someone is thrilled, exhausted, at peace, motivated, and dreaming bigger than before about the future.  Those days as a coach are truly better than any day I will ever have myself as an athlete.  
And with that, one week until ironman.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Austin 70.3: race report

Going into 70.3 World Championships, I got the idea in my head that if I didn't execute the race well because I was coughing my brains out, I might want to squash in another race before ironman.  Then WC came and went and I managed a decent day, which I thought would quiet down the let's stuff in something else thoughts.  And it is true that in the weeks leading up to and immediately following IM Boulder, I was feeling more than a little bit burnt out on triathlon, it took some time and space after that race before I was ready to consider if I should show up in Arizona.  Even at WC, I felt removed from the atmosphere, although that was likely because I spent most of the time in Canada asleep in our hotel room.  So I was truly perplexed to find that as things shook out in the weeks following, I had a bit of a twitch to race again before IMAZ.   When the Austin 70.3 posted one of those only ten slots are left teaser posts on their Facebook page and I could find a plane ticket under $200 (obvious spoiler, bike fees more than twice that), that did it, I signed up.

We had a terrible experience flying United to Canada, as they inexplicably separated the poet and I when checking in for our flights and routed him through a different city that had him landing in Montreal several hours after me.  When I booked my tickets for Austin, I clearly had a touch of amnesia as I booked tickets again on United as they were one of the cheaper options that flew direct.  This time I was able to watch someone throw my bike box quite forcibly onto the belt and when it was finally returned to me, was in this scary condition.  This is just my little reminder, dear self, please travel with the precious QR on other airlines, ok thanks.
One of my athletes and great friends, Jen, was also racing and had offered to let me stay with her in the most adorable little cottage that she booked through one of the VBRO-type websites.  The place was tiny but amazingly cute and perfect for the two of us and our massive piles of triathlon crap.  We slept in on Saturday, and by the time we headed out for our shake out ride, it was getting hot and it felt amazing.  My last few long rides in Colorado have been done in all the cold weather gear I own, and it made me so unbelievably happy to roll out only in short sleeves and shorts.  I did a short run off the bike and then immediately texted this (warning, this is a selfie that does not involve a shirt so if either or both of those things offend you, click away now) to the poet along with the words it is so hot and I am so freaking happy right now!
I don't think that the weather in Colorado this fall has been particularly bad; I've actually been fortunate to get in quite a bit of good weather riding and have spent very little time on the trainer.   But for some reason training in the cold this autumn has been a bit more intolerable than the last couple of years, or maybe I'm just getting older and fucking crankier by the minute.  Other athletes kept talking about the predicted high temps on race day (somewhere in the high 80s/low 90s) with their uh-oh doldrums voices, but I was pumped.  I think that in the past I've been afraid of the heat or feel like I haven't raced well in it when really, I wasn't hydrating myself appropriately and maximizing cooling measures.  Switching over to OSMO in my bottles had made such a huge difference for me - I am sure on this blog somewhere are the words I don't race well in the heat and I am here to retract and replace them with Hot?  Bring it the fuck on.

Logistics of the day before weren't nearly as annoying as I had expected based on other accounts of the race.  We got through packet pick-up and gear drop-off quite easily, I carried my bike over the grass after hearing about all the prickly thorns, we were able to squeeze in a nap and then met up with another one of my athletes, the super bubbly and cute Rosalyn, for dinner.  
Race morning was also very smooth, we dropped frozen bottles into our run bags and then hopped a bus over to bike transition.  I set up all my nutrition, paired my heart rate strap and power meter (cue the foreboding music), had time for a quick warm-up jog and then squatted on the grass to wait the almost-two-hours until my wave went off.  I put on my seventh layer of sunscreen and hooked up my race morning groove tunes, ate my snacks, drank my drink, hung out with my friends and soon enough it was time to get in the water.  This is the last picture I have from the weekend that isn't a selfie and I really like how it looks like Erin is about to slap me. 
Swim: 1.2 miles, 31:36, 5/128 AG
The fun part about being in a very late wave was that we got to watch hundreds of athletes come out of the water.  The pro women times weren't blazing fast so I prepared my brain for a slow (on paper) swim.  I floated up towards the front of my wave and - this is always my one of my favorite pre-race moments - took a moment to look around at all the women waiting to race, at the sunrise, at the course and smile, exhale and be happy.

I went out hard.  I tried to hop on feet, I thought I found a pair but then I accidentally brushed the feet with one hand.  I backed off after saying sorry sorry! in my head, but the woman attached to the feet slowed until I pulled up next to her and then kicked me as hard as she could in the left shoulder.  And it made me laugh.  For whatever reason I seem to swim around the same time as plenty of aggressive athletes no matter where I race.  I simply put my head down and swam fifty strokes hard and just like that, she was gone in the rearview mirror.

The swim was fantastic.  The buoys were easy to spot on the way out, the course was clear to follow even though I never found another pair of feet to ride on, and the waves were spaced close enough together that after about a few minutes I was plowing through athletes from the waves in front of me.  And I know that that doesn't really matter but it is always fun to feel like you are blowing through the field for whatever reason.  I stroked until my hands touched dirt, bounced on the ground long enough to have my wetsuit ripped off, and then headed into T1.

T1: 2:17
I sat down on the ground, as I usually do, to get my shoes on and all my shit in my pockets and strapped on my head.  The ground was covered with little thorny spikes, so I shouldered my bike and walked carefully out of transition, cracking CX jokes that none of the very serious and focused compression-wearing triathletes around me found amusing.  Clomped up to the mount line, noticing that at least two girls in my age group were just a minute or so down the road, hit start on the Garmin and rolled out.

Bike: 56 miles, 2:54:25, 6/128 AG
I spent the first few minutes trying to avoid crashing into the crowd of athletes with poor handling skills that had started the bike in my zip code.  Once we got out onto the main road, it thinned out, and I finally looked down at my Garmin long enough to notice that nothing was registering on the screen.  No power, no cadence, nada.  I spent a few minutes asking it to search, and finally gave up and powered it down.  Powered it back up, coasted in hopes it would find the meter, tried to pair again, and so on and so forth until suddenly the mile 5 sign popped up next to me on the road and I realized I had been wasting a lot of time dicking around.  I said, obviously out loud to myself, well, I guess this is how it's going to go today, dropped into aero and got to work.

I realized that after turning the Garmin on and off so many times, I had no idea where I was in true time on the day, so I decided I would eat every ten miles and try to be through a bottle every fifteen.  The roads were very crowded and working my way through the packs of athletes kept me quite occupied.  The bike course itself was great, although the conditions of the roads were terrible and we rode over bumpy railroad tracks five or six times.  But the terrain was fun, lots of short and punchy ups and downs, a fair amount of flat, and plenty of twisty climbing in the last ten miles.

About halfway through the ride we made a right turn onto a long flat stretch that had a blasting headwind.  I hunkered down into aero, trying to stay tiny - think small thoughts! - under the wind and out of the way.  The only female that I saw pass me during the ride did so at the front of this section...glued to the rear wheel of a long line of men.  I registered her not-that-far-off-from-my-own-age as her calf spun by, had a moment of cursing drafting stinkers, and then attempted to use the end of that group to keep my effort up into the wind.  I was pacing pretty far off the back of them, trying to stay legal, and they quickly disappeared into the distance.  That stretch turned into bumpy chip seal and when we finally turned back onto asphalt and out of the headwind about forty minutes later, my hands and teeth continued to feel like they were vibrating from the bumps for another 3-4 miles.  I said to Jen after the race, I'm surprised I didn't eject any bottles - shit, I'm surprised I kept all my teeth in my mouth during that section.

I realized at some point that I was feeling down and my heart rate was in the low 120s, and it took me a few minutes to notice, diagnose, and shove some calories down, which left me feeling like I gave some time away out there.  I fixed it and came back around quickly and then spent the last ten miles trying to catch and pass the men that I had been playing leapfrog with all day.  Before we turned back into transition, I flipped my Garmin over to total time, knowing that it was wrong due to all my power meter troubleshooting but wanting to check the box in my brain anyway.  I got out of my shoes, screeched to a halt and was off into transition.  

Nutrition: 4 bottles of OSMO, including one with one scoop of Preload & 5 salty balls. 96oz of OSMO +  700 calories = 32oz/hour and 233 kcal/hour.  

T2: 3:22
It was hot, I noticed as I ran across the asphalt in my bare feet (obviously I have learned nothing from T2 at IM Boulder).  I sat down to deal with my gear, I dumped out my bag but things got tangled up and my brain wasn't working.  Finally got everything back in, jogged over and got sprayed with sunscreen and was two steps from crossing the mat when I realized I had left all my nutrition in the bag.  For a split-second I considered leaving without it, but ran back to my rack, dug through, got everything I needed and trotted out, Garmin in my teeth and hands full of run debris.  

Run: 13.1 miles, 1:55:35, 6/128 AG
I spent a few minutes settling and getting my watch going and my belt facing the right way and all the other things you futz with coming out of T2.  My legs felt like crap, which they always do, so I ignored them and headed down and out on the course.  I had a bottle of OSMO with me so I skipped the first aide station and headed out and up the hill.  The run course was more rolling than I expected based on my maybe-I-should-actually-look-at-this examination of the maps the night before.  I hit the first mile at 8:35 and was content with that against my effort, but then we started heading uphill again and I knew it wasn't going to be one of those perfectly-negative-split-by-every-mile kind of races.

My plan for the first lap was to run at a manageable pace, which I did.  My bottle of OSMO that was supposed to last me an hour was empty by mile three, which was alarming due to both the heat and the fact that I needed to figure out ten more miles of non-OSMO electrolytes.  I grabbed sponges coming through the end of the loop and threw my first cup of ice down my bra, but I felt the way I have felt often in hot races powered by OSMO - like the heat was a nagging fly instead of something crazy hot that was destroying my day (thanks, PreLoad!).  I finished the first lap feeling like I could absolutely run two more.  

The second lap I started working a mixture of water and whatever gatorade-type-drink was being handed out in little cups.  The aide stations were further apart then they looked on the map because they were only on one side of the course, although a few times I dodged over and swam upstream to grab some ice.  I got down some chews but was mainly focusing on cooling myself, and by the time I finished lap two I had the no, I actually do not want to run another lap feeling.

The third lap I ran as hard as I could.  A few times I stopped and walked through aide stations, which I normally don't do, but it was hot enough that I wanted to make sure I got electrolytes AND water AND ice AND sponges or whatever else was available.  I wasn't moving particularly quickly but the course was crowded and it felt like I was passing people in droves.  There were lots of athletes out there making friends and walking and chatting and doing the things that you do when you give up on a race. Through my haze of heat I noticed this enough to be thankful that I wasn't having that kind of day, that at this distance at least, I have finally grown out of being that particular kind of athlete.  The last mile feels awful, there's an upwards slant to it that is a bit miserable, and then the chute dumps you around and suddenly you are blinded by the darkness of being inside and boom, over the line.

Nutrition: 1 pack of Honey Stinger chews & 1 24oz bottle of OSMO plus little cups of orange drink and water and ice chips and some coke and maybe two little salty pretzels for I have no idea how much anything per hour.  

70.3 miles: 5:27:15, 6/128AG

As soon as I went over the line and stopped moving, my legs gave out.  A volunteer grabbed me and I tried to tell her look I'm fine I just need a minute but I couldn't get the words out straight and she dumped me in medical straight away.  They had shirts soaking in giant ice buckets and someone draped one across my back and my vision cleared like magic.  I told a different very sweet volunteer that I was truly fine and she let me go.  

So, that's the race.  Was it a solid day?  Absolutely.  This is the highest I've ever placed in a field this size across any distance I've done.  Was it a crazy breakthrough PR kind of day?  Absolutely not.  And I really struggled with these contradictory thoughts for quite some time after the race, especially being quite surprised to learn that I finished one spot off the podium and then had a 70.3 worlds slot roll to me and then, somehow, unroll (long & unimportant story).  
The night before the race, I did the thing you aren't supposed to do and took a look at the results from last year.  And they were fast.  When I got off the bike, in my head my rough idea of my bike split had me, somewhere in the 10-300th place range, which didn't bother me but I did have the brief thought that I was nowhere near the pointy end.  It turns out that I didn't do my research properly, though, because if I had, I would have known that the bike course was changed pretty significantly this year.  And the question of the week is: if I had known that I came off the bike in 6th, would I have been able to pull any more out of me, to chase 5th down?  I don't know the answer, I won't ever know the answer, I do know that the answer is that it shouldn't make a difference because I should always be racing but that isn't always how my little Katie brain works.  

I do know this.  On the run, I was completely focused inwards, on what I needed to survive, to keep pushing, to manage myself across the miles, to keep allowing those steady steady splits to show up on my watch, I stood out of the way and my body performed and I had no thought for the rest of the race that was going on around me.  Those are good things, I raced confidently, I raced steadily, but in the aftermath when I asked myself, was that everything you had?, the only answer I had was, well, I don't know.  That's not a fun way to feel after a race, even a race that I signed up for late on a whim and came into on the heels of a bit of a rocky time in my life.  These past months have been bumpy, there have certainly been highs but there have been plenty of lows, I was sick, I thought I broke my foot, I've really struggled with getting my eating back on track after the tequila bender I went on post-IM Boulder, I've declared today is day one! at least half a dozen times but haven't made it further into a whole30 than day 8, there has been plenty in life to celebrate and I have done so with gusto but life stress has also been higher than usual and there have been a few meltdowns, some tears, and through all of this training has not been even close to the highest priority in my life.  None of these are excuses in any shape or form, more just me acknowledging, on the real internet where no one ever forgets anything, that the last three months have been inconsistent and imperfect especially when compared to the progress I made in the first half of the year.  And after Boulder, I was ready for a period of loosening the reins a bit, I needed a time where it was okay to drink a beer because the poet was born and I'll make my pancakes with 1/4 tsp of brown sugar and no kittens will die and every once in a while I just need to sleep until 9am.  So I'm not upset about the past few months, I'm not angry at myself for my decisions, it's part of the learning curve I am on as an athlete - as a human! - and the fact that my journey has brought me to a place where I can rip off a 5:27 70.3 while not properly rested and a few chocolate bars plumper than usual, well, for right now, that's okay with me.  Here's another selfie in case the lack of pictures in this post made you super sads.
Much love, as always, to the people who keep me healthy and happy even when I have no idea where I am going : CoeurSports for making sure that there was no post-race shrieking in the shower because I can always count on being chafe-free in their sick gear; OSMO Nutrition for creating a spectacular women's-specific product that lets me stay out of the way of my low-heart-rate elephant machine; Charlie Merrill for the lucky pre-race leg yank and moving my bike seat one centimeter, not to mention months of eleventy bajillion needles in my neck and back and butt cheeks and adductors and most horrifyingly notable of late, calves; and Josh Shadle for the really excellent elbow he shoved in my ass three days before this race.  And to everyone else who has a hand in my mixed-up overly-adjectated (is that even a word?) journey through this life as an athlete, especially a few people that have become a bigger and more positive presence over the last few months: for all of you, on a regular basis, I am thankful.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

you bet your life on it

The poet and I, we don't really do gifts for special occasions.  I would much rather fill my house with people and then fill their bellies with food than ever open a present - nothing makes me happier, that is how I celebrate, surrounding myself with the warmth of relationships.  But one of my private (except for the part where I hit publish and the goddamned internet remembers it forever) celebrations is this post, piecing together a few hundred thousand million words as I sit still for a moment, reflecting.  

In the past, it's often been a letter to myself, and that's where I've been struggling.  This year, I think it's fair to say that just about everything I've posted (outside of a million bicycle selfies and pictures of me running around Boulder in my underwear, for shame) has been some version of the letter I would write in this particular space.  As I've worked through the days and weeks of my life over the last twelve months, I've spent less time posting lists and puppy pictures and training recaps and more time using this as a safe (?) place to vomit up every piece of myself that I am untangling, be it ugly or shiny or bloated or graced with a six-pack, out into the world (obviously I'm gonna post one of these again right now, mostly because it makes Jen and also the entire internet super happy).  
So instead of a letter, I think, I'd prefer to reflect on my more ordinary moments, the ones that are abundant in a year I consider extraordinary despite the fact that it has been scattered with the gifts of failure.  Failure at ironman, in relationships, as a coach, as an athlete, as a wife, as a friend, I'm pretty sure I've checked every one of those boxes at some point.  But I'm not sure I would ever want to sit down and type a post that starts with wow, life has been absolutely perfect lately, either.  That sounds boring, dull, like I am hiding in the closet instead of out crashing noisily through the world, saying fuck fuck a fat duck when I drop things, stuffing my foot into my tonsils at every turn and leaving muddy footprints and the smell of chlorine in my wake.  So when I look back, my disasters are not what I am going to remember.  The moments I will remember?  Are these.

My alarm went off at 5:20am, just like it does six days out of seven.  I scraped together breakfast, I threw a hoodie over my jammies, OSMO into my swim bag and drove to the pool under the round eye of the moon.  Earplugs, cap, goggles and I dove - oh how I love this moment - into the lane next to my good and dear friend, one of the few brief flashes of grace in my life, weightless, flawless, my moment of choosing to fly.  I spent an hour watching the sun rise out the window, chattering and splashing and emptying the pool with butterfly, back and forth in a new suit while the clock blinked the seconds away.  
I hugged my friend Erin in the weight room, I helped one of my athletes learn how to use his ass for more than holding his pants up, I cautiously foam-rolled my newly-back-in-place sacrum.  I went out for coffee with a friend (I always ask let's meet for coffee? even though I don't actually drink it), stood in line at the post office to send treats halfway around the world, drove home to cook a luxurious four pieces of bacon with my breakfast.  I filled the pockets of my jersey and rolled out, winging into the breezy sunshine of the day.  The miles unrolled, the watts rose and fell, pangs and twinges came and went in the body but the mind was constant - as constant as a northern star - and steady, too soon the Garmin flipped over to 90 and I was back in my driveway, pink-cheeked with wind and work, hoarse from accompanying Florida Georgia Line.  
Puppies, crying and wrist-biting and racing to get to their favorite place in the world - outside! - more OSMO, a blaze through email, a shower and a swipe of mascara and we were back out the door, not a single item of spandex on my body and shoes that click-clack down the walk.  Dinner with friends, filling my round puppy tummy with a rich and sweet and non-Paleo feast, wine poured into the cracks, laughter, chocolate, not a thought to the waistline or the scale or dragging it all up the side of a mountain on the bike.  Tumbling noisily back home, the evening a warm blur until I was tucked into a dark room full of soft snores and the gentle thump of tails wagging in their sleep. 
This day, these moments, all are precious but none are extraordinary.  The extraordinary fact is that these are my ordinary moments (other than the fact that I did almost no work on my birthday because I don't believe in it).  But even work, the life I have built in that particular bucket and the people that have filled it, that matters, that is important, they are a huge part of the reason why this year has been exceptional.  
In a year.  I left my job to spend every moment nurturing something that is bigger than a business.  It is truly a family, and with perhaps the only maternal instinct I will ever have, I feel the need to defend it, ferociously.  I worked my way into new running shorts, I taught Sofie how to roll over, I stopped eating grain, I snuggled myself even more comfortably into my little life here in Boulder.  I broke my arm in Mexico, I (possibly) broke my ribs on 36, I broke myself of a lifetime habit of the post-race shame shower.  I ate one million salty balls.  I stumbled into some new friendships; I gently stepped away from others after too many moments of heartache.  I was fortunate to cross many finish lines, some battered, some bruised, some triumphant, but all, crossed.  I worked, I studied, I watched, I learned, I made mistakes and I have failed.   
And maybe it's all crap.  That's what I think as I edit this post for the third time, maybe it's time to say good-bye to this space, maybe I'm just talking to myself in circles with too many fluffy adjectives when instead I could be bragging about my watts and how many OMG miles I ran last week and how I felt.  Maybe there is such a thing as too much vulnerability, as too much wandering around in public in your emotional underpants, there is probably even a thing as too many bicycle selfies but please don't tell any of my friends on Instagram that.  What I want out of the world, the poet says it all the time, is to help people make their lives better.  If I am lucky, at the end of my life I will be able to say, yes, at least one person, I helped.  But this year I worked hard to make my own life better, in a million small ways as I staggered like a drunk, forward in time.  There's gratitude there, for that.  
So.  This year, a lot of shit has gone into my brain, I've figured some shit out and then discovered new shit that now I need to figure out.  That's how life goes.  And to reflect on anything more would probably just be more repeating myself.  But the important things I've pulled out, to not forget.  Be brave.  Be stupid.  When someone in your life is staining it an ugly dark green with negativity, when they make your heart cramp with sadness, boot them the fuck out and do it the first time, not the fiftieth.  When someone in your life adds a piece to your puzzle, no matter how insignificant, grab them by the ear and plaster on your most disarming smile and flutter your eyelashes like Miss O'Hara herself and ask sweetly, wanna go ride bikes?  Buy the most ridiculous swimsuit, sing at the top of your lungs no matter what it does to your watts.  Be humble but be proud.  Just be naked in the locker room, I promise no one cares and it's a lot faster when you aren't dicking around with a towel.  Your heart is no good to you in perfect and pristine condition, rip it out and whip it at the sky and let it be used, breathe into rejection and try again.  Hug the introverts.  Work on Saturday nights so you can swim on Tuesday afternoons, it's worth it.  It is not the goddamn critic who counts.  Be vulnerable, my God, if this trip around the sun hasn't been sponsored by that word already, and don't just lean into it but stalk it with the expert eye of the hunter.  Fuck it, take the selfies, if there is something the internet needs it is more ridiculous shit to make people snort with laughter and less everyone telling everyone else that they are wrong while they sit on their couch wasting their lives.  
And run.  Lace up your shoes, scrabble your hair up into the visor and head directly west, into the wind, chasing the sun, feet turning on dirt, primal, you bet your life on it, do not forget.  How it started, how I started, five years now of blogging, of puppy pictures and ridiculous faces and race reports and overly wordy and personal posts about how I am gradually figuring out how to exist on this planet, it all began with the run.  With my love for it, my fierce desire to move my body over the flex of the earth; I'll never know if I was chasing something or if something was chasing me, but as the days have flipped over, as the miles have turned and I have opened delicate to the sky, that has never changed.  It never will.  

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2013 birthday post
2012 birthday post
2011 birthday post
2010 birthday post