Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the stories we tell ourselves

I started writing this post on June 2nd.
It was the day after the Boulder Sprint.  I didn't race, but I had athletes racing and I was there in the morning to help yank people into their wetsuits and slather them down with sunscreen.  Before the race started, I sat and chatted with them about how they were feeling, listened to conversations flow around me.  Most were training for IM Boulder, so the sprint wasn't really a key race, it was more of a let's see if I can remember how to get the f*ing wetsuit off and do all the sports in the right order kind of race.  And the comments that I heard over and over again were things like, my legs are exhausted, I'm not going to race well, and I've been putting in so many bike miles that I'm not ready for the run, and I drank too much last night so I'm not doing anything special at this race.  

I hear athletes say things like this all the time, and it drives me a tiny bit crazy.  I'm not good at fly.  I'm a bad climber.  I don't race well in the heat.  Well, of course you aren't good at those things, because for the most part you've decided, it is so.  Once you decide, nothing is going to change your mind, because it's made up.  And even things less related to training but certainly related to health.  Packing my lunch is impossible.  I'm not a morning person.  I could never give up sugar.  There's certainly something to be said for the fact that you need to be ready to change before you can actually embrace change.  But when I hear things like that, what I'm actually hearing is, I am definitely not ready to change.  Or I want to change, but I am terrified.
I've been thinking about that morning since then, thinking about all the ways these athletes were writing the story of their day before it had a chance to unfold.  Thinking about whether or not saying those things mattered - for a race as short as a sprint, maybe, maybe not, because there just isn't time to get trapped in the darkness the way there is in ironman.  But if all those thoughts are in there, even if they didn't come out that day, won't the voices get louder as the distances get longer?  So I've been thinking about it, and this post has been a messy draft of blathering paragraphs and I haven't been able to sit down and finish it up, all this time.  And late last week, I finally figured out why.

I wasn't firing on all cylinders, not running on premium octane, certainly.  I've been slammed with training and work since I got back from Europe - well-earned! - and some things had gone really well and some things had gone less well and some things that I thought had gone well had actually not, which is essentially how life... goes.  So I was carrying around a case of the ughs and the I don't want to's, and I kinda didn't even realize it until I was chatting with someone late Friday night who straight-up called me on my shit.  Sitting on my end of the phone line, trying not to make splashing sounds in my epsom salt bath, listening to someone say all the things that I say to my athletes all the time but instead this time they are directed at me, that was hard.  It made me uncomfortable, I wanted to throw the phone down and run away, my initial reaction was to protest no I am not really doing those things but the truth is, I am.  The stories we tell ourselves, they matter.  Two weeks out from ironman, this is not what my story should be.  I shouldn't be self-depricating, I shouldn't be judging, I shouldn't be walking around saying I am wrecked, because it matters less whether or not I am actually wrecked than it does that it's the story I am turning into truth.  And I bet at least half of the dozen or so people reading this will laugh right now, because they've heard me say those words more than once in the past six weeks, maybe more than once in the past six days.  The honest truth is, these big weeks of training, the ones that come right before the roller-coaster crests the drop, they are my favorite weeks of the year.  The big rides, the hard rides, the long runs that require a camelbak because there are zero water fountains in Colorado and my arm isn't strong enough to carry a 72-oz handheld, the long swims, all of it, it's the time in training where I am happiest, even though most of the time my happy is peeking out from under a desire to do nothing but eat and sleep.  I love the volume, I love the big days, I love when my alarm clock is set with a 4 because that is how long the run is, I love being in the pool and people get in and out and in and out and I am still swimming, I love how full my pockets are when I clip in and roll out to ride, and I really love the rest day at the end of all of it that signals time to shut this shit down.  
But I've been carrying around some crap in my head.  Crap that I don't want to look at, or touch, or disturb with a stick because then I will have to deal with all of it and isn't it just better to bounce around with a happy face and ignore your crap?  (Obviously the answer is no).  But now someone flipped over my pile of crap and it smells awful and worms are crawling out and this metaphor is getting really out of hand but I need to deal with how uncomfortable it is making me to hear these things pointed back at myself, because the fact that it is making me so uncomfortable is how I know I need to deal with it.  And with all the changes I've made this year, over the past five years of my life, I think that this is the piece is what's going to hold me back from getting out of my own way next Sunday.  Even though I've made some changes that have shown up inside and out on my body, there are some voices that haven't changed, some tapes that continue to play the same old story in my head.  Over and over again.  And I let them.  
In the last week or two, at least three different people in my life have picked a fight with me pointed out how I am completely unable to accept a compliment.  (Even typing the word compliment makes me itch).  And it's true, of course I know it's true, I'm lucky enough to be aware of my shit even if I don't always deal with it in a prompt fashion.  And the reason that it's true is because accepting a compliment would mean that I would have to believe it.  Whenever someone asks me about a race I've done recently, my commentary usually goes something like, swam great, rode solid, sure wish I could run!  Because I like to make sure I hang onto the ability to poke fun at myself, to make sure the world knows I am not getting too goddamn big for my already-fairly-large britches.  (See?  Just like that.)  Even the night before New Orleans, talking to a friend and saying something along the lines of, Maybe next year I might have a shot at being competitive in my age group, right now I can swim and bike with most of those girls but I can't run with them.  It's hard, sometimes, to feel proud of the progress you've made and then cross that with the voice that badly wants to quantify that with a but it's still not anything standout, it's not what so-and-so is running, it's just average, regular, normal, you're a nothing-special kind of girl.  The voice that wants the world to understand that you are still modest and humble, that you don't think you're all kinds of hot shit now that you've reached X.  Maybe that voice will always be there, maybe it just gets quieter and easier to squash over time, but nothing helpful or constructive comes out of talking to yourself that way.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  

So here's what I don't want.  I don't want to ignore all of my shit for the next two weeks because I know that if there is one place you can't get away from all of your shit, it's eighteen miles into the ironman marathon.  You cannot escape.  I don't want to be running up and down (and up and down) the Boulder creek path, listening to the voices in my head yet again - voices that I recognize, voices that belong to people in my life - which have nothing to say except No and you can't.  Because so quickly that tune changes into you're not good enough and you're not strong enough and you'll never be what she is so you might as well just walk.  And those thoughts come from the same place as, I am wrecked.  In ironman, I am certain, the athletes that do well are not the ones who spend their time self-depricating, who play small, but the ones who can dig into their brains late in the race and find that voice that says, I am fucking awesome.  The athletes that react when someone passes them not with a deflated, well, shit, I suck, but instead with a, I will fucking cut you.  The athlete that I saw just for a few minutes at the end of June when I sat all my shit at the side of the road and gave myself a break and just flew, mind blank, pedal down, fearless, strong.
Friday night.  I gave myself a stern talking-to, I chatted with another friend and for a while just sat and stared into space before tucking into bed.  When I woke up Saturday morning, I was brushing my teeth when a friend texted me, have great workouts today! and I said, out loud to the phone because we're all just a little bit crazy, you know what, I WILL have great workouts today and that buoyed me up and out the door.  I got on the bike expecting to feel the effects of the load of the last week or so but instead I felt like a million bucks, jazzed, jamming, happy to be rolling.  There's a feeling in my legs that I get on good days, I can't even describe it, but it's like I have the biggest strongest plumpest most rosy-cheeked quads in the universe, every pedal stroke is a perfect circle of power and I could probably ride straight up the side of a building if I needed to.  I felt so good that when I bumped into a friend doing a power test, I sat on his wheel for a couple of minutes, reveling in how gritty it felt to burn down and haul (and then realized that wasn't at all what I should be doing with my long ride so I sat up and let him go).  The good feelings stayed with me throughout the ride, even when the heat cranked up and I was stopping every 90 minutes to refill the five bottles I had with me, even when I made a pit stop with 20 miles left to ride but was actually only three miles from my house and had to roll straight past and around the loop again, even when my heart rate climbed and my power dropped like a rock, I still felt meaty, solid, tough.  
With about an hour left, I started thinking about the run off the bike I had to do and what decision I was going to make.  I could choose to skip the run, because it was well over 100ยบ out and ironman is only two weeks away and I could definitely make up some gibberish about digging a recovery hole but actually it's because I'm a grown-up and I do what I want.  I probably could have convinced myself that it was better for the race to store up the mojo and just get into a cool shower instead of the run shoes.  I could have chosen to drive down to the gym and do the run on the treadmill, because that is still getting the run done (although with a 25 minute T time) and at least I wouldn't be baked alive.  Or I could make the decision to throw on the run clothes I left on my kitchen counter along with my Garmin and run off the bike like I was supposed to.  And I decided, spinning home, on the last one.  Because when I'm eighteen miles into that goddamned marathon and my mind is starting to crack, to want to crumble, that is the decision I want to have made.  That is the kind of athlete I want to be and if I ever get there I'll have to shut down the blog because I will quite literally have nothing left to talk about.
I did my run.  It wasn't perfect, I convinced the poet to come ride along on his bike to carry water and make sure that if I collapsed from the heat I wouldn't lay on the dirt for several hours turning into a baseball mitt before someone found me.  More than once, I stopped and tried to hide in the shade of a single weed growing in the ditch, then collected myself and got going again.  I almost never listen to music on the run anymore, but I plugged in the earbuds and then listened to the same song for the entire length of the run because I couldn't focus on anything except the sound of this guy's voice, rewinding every time the lyric played my prediction/I'ma be on top of the world.  And when I was a couple of miles in, I found it.  The feeling, the one that shows up in ironman, the one that almost never shows up in training, the feeling of I just don't think I can do this anymore and turns you from a shuffler into a walker, when you finally give in, give up, let the day go.  On this little transition run, I ran through that feeling, I embraced that feeling, and instead of trying to talk myself into you love running!  you are so good at running! like I have in the past, I let the tape run on empty, the blank hiss of unrecorded sound.  I thought of nothing other than keeping my hips under me and where I was landing on my feet and relaxing my shoulders and reaching with my knees and all those things that I think about all the time on the run.  I sent the poet spinning on home so I could finish it up on my own, the miles clicked by and I ran every step until I was done.

So I've got two weeks (well, ten days now that I've dicked around over this post some more).  Two weeks to reset my brain, two weeks to understand how to turn off the record player, to start with a new tape, one that has only my voice on it when I am at my best, happiest, strongest, most kickass, joyful, alive.  Because the thing I think I am figuring out is that maybe I don't need to chase, to leap, to burn, to walk into the fire of ironman.  Maybe what I actually need to do is step back quietly, to let the miles wash over me against a soundtrack of nothing, to accept instead of struggle, to float instead of fight, cry, rail against, to clear my mind, breathe into the space and allow my body to do what it is, after all this time most certainly, built to do.  Swim.  Bike.  
Run.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

on keeping your head about you

It has been a long time since I've lost my shit.
In a training session, that is, not in my entire life (because that would be a masterful feat).  I like to share stories about training for my first ironman, how often I cried, and how much I laugh at myself now for it.  The time I called for a ride and after the poet picked me up and packed me into the car and drove three miles towards home, I asked to be let back out to keep riding.  The time I thought it was a good idea to do a MAF test in the hottest part of the day (see, I do it too) and ended up doing it as two mile repeats on the track and hiding under the bleachers wheezing and crying between reps.  The time I got out of the pool and came home and called Sonja and she turned me around and sent me right back.  So I have plenty of experience with the meltdown.

It's a good thing, I think, the ability to talk yourself into holding your shit together when you really, desperately, more than anything, want to blow it apart all over the place.  After going through one round of ironman training, I knew what to expect, how I would feel, and I think that made a pretty big difference.  And now, coaching, I feel a high level of responsibility to keep my head about me when everyone else around me seems to be losing theirs, to stay calm in the eye of the shitstorm.  So swim bike and run, triathlon training, it's been a while.  Getting ready for IMLP, I can think of only one goggle-throwing incident and then by the time I dragged myself through Cozumel prep I think I was plain old too wiped out to waste energy on getting upset when I knew I was going to get back on the bike and keep riding anyway.  
Yet there I was, pounding my angry little fist on the pretty green side of the mountain we had just spent all morning climbing up, yelling FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCKITY FUCK at the sky after my third crash in less than ninety seconds, this one a slippery skiddy too-fast header over the bars that brought the bike with me and slammed all of us into the ground, rounding up the bruise count to an even two dozen and sending blood trickling down my elbow, shoulder, and knee.  I could clearly imagine the sigh that Gloria heaved before turning around and walking back up towards me with a what now look on her face (she was actually very kind; this was all my projecting).  It wasn't even the first time that day I had started to crack, but it was when I went sailing right on over the edge.
The first time was because I had realized, less than twenty minutes into our super epically awesome ride dudes, that it was likely that I was in over my head.  The plan was to climb (probably for about two hours Gloria told me as we got going) up a fire road of some sort, descend on the singletrack that hides under the ski slopes, hop on the trail and ride back to where we started.  It sounded good to me, climbing and descending is one of my favorite ways to spend the day when I'm riding on the road and I figured it would be a similar experience on a mountain bike (hopefully you can hear the bells tolling, DOOM DOOM DOOM, right now).  I am here to report, obviously, that it is not.  My heart rate was in the one millions as the rear wheel of the hardtail I had rented skidded out over and over again on the loose rocky gravely mess that was as slick as cake frosting below me.  The bike corrected, it grabbed the road over and over but every time it did, my adrenaline spiked and finally I unclipped and said, I can't I can't I can't.  So we took a little pit stop, we munched on the unfortunately-delicious-15-euro cake and once some calories were in me I calmed down.  And I was embarrassed, because it has been such a long time since I've lost my shit and there aren't a lot of things worse than losing your shit in front of your friend while on vacation in France.  
There was some walking of the bike, some pit stops to take pictures, but eventually we were at the top and I was relieved, because now all we had to do was get back down.  We flagged down some French guys descending at speed wearing full-body gear and motorcycle-style helmets and asked them to point us to the easiest trail to ride back down, and they did, although by the time we bumped into them at the brewery post-ride we realized that we had done a poor job of interpreting which over that way they meant.  I set my battered ego aside and asked Gloria for all of her best descending on the fat tires tips, which she gave me, I got ready to do all those things and we headed back down the mountain.
It was fine on the fire road, but standing at the top of the singletrack I got the same feeling that I often do skiing when I'm in over my head.  The deep-in-your-gut: well, shit.  But as in skiing, not to mention a million other things in life, the only way out is through, and the worst thing that can happen is you end up walking and your friend gets to make fun of you for being a giant pussy for the rest of eternity.  So I gave Gloria a big gap and then carefully tried to follow her line.  I hit a huge rock and went over (fuck).  I slowed into a turn but not quite enough and went flying on the loose dirt (FUUCK).  And then I worked my way forward, gathering speed and only a bit of confidence just in time to hit a bump before a pretty large ditch and go flying over the handlebars and melt, completely, down (FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCKITY FUCK).  

We had actually had a conversation a few days earlier, about being in over your head, and confidence and skills and fear of looking like a wuss and how that all relates.  And I shared with her how I've done some riding with a friend in Boulder that I probably wasn't quite ready for, but instead of saying, um hang on a second, I shoved all my doubts down and barreled right on through, heart in my mouth, hands sweaty inside my gloves.  I do the same thing on the ski slopes all the time.  I will never say, no, that looks too hard for me.  I've been skiing since I was a little kid, and there is absolutely nothing I won't try, no matter how beyond my ability it may be.  I like to describe myself as fearless on skis, however there are times when the fear is there but I launch myself down the mountain regardless, and I make sure I am whooping and laughing as I do it.  Brash, reckless, stupid, I will take any of those adjectives over the dirtiest, blackest, ugliest word in my book: afraid.  
And that, probably, explains how I got into ironman in the first place.  A lot of people tried to talk me into waiting a while, building confidence and ability at the shorter distances, and I listened to all of them and then did the thing that I the hell wanted to anyway, which was to sign up for CdA.  I remember laying on the couch - the same couch I'm laying on right this minute - tapping in my credit card number, breathless with excitement about doing the daring thing, the crazy thing, attempting the thing that not everyone attempts for whatever reason but I will do it because if there is something I am goddamn not, it is, afraid.  Of anything.

So here's the crux of it; here's the root of the root and the bud of the bud as my second-favorite poet in the entire world says.  Ironman doesn't terrify me anymore.  Signing up for ironman is something that is now squarely inside my comfort zone.  Don't misunderstand, I still have a great deal of respect for ironman, I still have a strong desire to crack the nut of the distance and put the puzzle pieces together in the right order with no broken bones, but I don't stand at the start line that morning filled with fear.  Hopping online to pay the many hundreds of dollars and fill out all the ridiculous questions doesn't make my heart pound hard, not anymore.  Maybe it's okay, sometimes, to have a life filled with things that don't scare the living crap out of you, but when I was crying my little mad tears on that mountain in France, I realized that it's been a really long time since I've done something that has pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone.  And what followed on the heels of that is realizing that maybe it's time to start looking around again for things that do.  But if that's not ironman, than what is it?  And should I be asking myself the question, when I am afraid of something why do I feel the need to throw myself fiercely in its path?  Knowing, in part, that the answer has a lot to do with needing to have something in my life that makes me feel crazily, desperately, vibrantly alive?

(After Gloria took this picture she said, man, you look like I HAVE SEEN SOME SHIT TODAY).
There's a difference, now, in what I do after the meltdown passes.  After the first one, Gloria offered to turn around and ride the easier trail back, and I didn't say yes or no but, stubborn as an ass, pushed my bike up the fire road until I found a spot flat enough to get rolling again.  When I crashed, yes, all the times; after I stopped flipping out and got over myself, I climbed back on and kept trying, kept moving forward instead of turning back, instead of giving up.  I lost my shit, but then I meekly walked around, picked up all the pieces, put them in my pocket and said, okay, let's go.  At some point, the crazy downhilling trail met up with another slippery fire road, and we hopped off there.  And then we made our way back to the real road (asphalt has never felt so good) and then a few miles of river trail, riding that I had the skills to maneuver through quite easily, up and down, over huge roots and dodging rocks and I only walked over one bridge.  By then, I was laughing again, I was happily pushing the pedals and bouncing my way back to town.  
But the feeling that I'm missing, the one I found again on the mountain despite colossally and repeatedly losing my shit, I think it's a feeling that I need to chase.  I haven't figured out, quite yet, what to do with that, or how to think about it, and whether the desire to hunt adrenaline is something I should be feeding with plant food and sunshine and bedtime stories or squashing like a bug.  I do know, and not just because of the picture of the chalkboard that coaches post on their blogs all the damned time, that the magic happens outside of the comfort zone.  Right now, I've had a great year, ups and downs but largely successful, and it means I am fat and happy and square inside mine.  How do I get out?  I don't know.  Ironman for me has never been about speed, it's been about the experience, using swim bike and run to find that feeling, the same one that I get when I stand at the top of the ski slope, in the open door of the airplane with a parachute on my back, staring down the steep singletrack.  I don't know where I need to go or what I need to change to find it, but I think one of the many things that I learned about myself in France (other than how much I can eat in a single day if I really put my mind to it) is that I'm ready to find out.  And the same thing I said a month ago rings true here: may I bring it forth in a motherfucking firestorm.  Lest it destroy me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tribella Sprint Triathlon: race report

My initial instinct when talking about this race is to find ways to qualify it, to minimize it, and then to brush it off as a brief highlight in a long summer of training.  It’s the voice in my head that insists no athlete can ever be too humble.  So I’m not going to dwell on it forever but I am going to spend just a few selfish moments reveling in it because, you guys, winning a race is totally goddamn awesome.
Back in April, CoeurSports announced that they were the title sponsor of the TriBella Sprint Triathlon down in Denver.  I thought that was pretty excellent so I signed myself right up and then mostly forgot about it.  I figured it would be a high spot in a big block of ironman training, a little blink of hard then back to riding my bicycle all day every day and complaining about running.

Saturday morning, I woke up grumpy.  I didn’t sleep well, and then I dropped my recovery drink and it exploded into a clumpy almond milk disaster all over the kitchen and the dogs were trying to eat it (NO!  BAD DOG!) and I almost forgot my wetsuit and there was traffic and my leg was really hurting and stiff from my PT appointment Friday afternoon.  I didn’t have a meltdown (although the poet may disagree) but I was flirting with the idea of, screw it, let’s go out to breakfast and then back to bed.  By the time we rolled into the race site, it was all I could do to drop off my crap in transition and head out for a warm-up jog before I strangled someone out of pure frustration.  

The eight or so minutes of jogging helped.  I managed to pee and get into the water for a few minutes before warm-up closed, and that helped too.  Sonja was there with Prianka who was visiting from DC, and I got to meet the new puppy and chat with them for a second, I think all Sonja said was something like, just swim as hard as you can.  The announcer talked through the entire course one more time (spoiler: I did listen which turned out to not be helpful at all) and then we waded out to the first buoy.  I had a few moments of ugh, standing there in the water splashing around, just some thoughts of what my legs felt like and how not excited I was about going hard and how my gut felt heavy from eating a big breakfast and my wetsuit has somehow become a bit too big.  I was lined up at the front, I chatted with some of the other girls and I’m not sure why I am always surprised by a race starting but just like that, we were going.
My effort felt pretty similar to the two-mile effort I was putting out a week earlier and that brought in a truckload of unpleasant thoughts right off the bat.  At the first turn buoy there was still a good amount of traffic, but once we made the left turn I was able to pull up behind a set of feet.  Drafting is a work in progress for me in the water, there is an art to finding the right set of feet and it’s a skill I need to continue to hone because it’s something I solidly suck at right now.  So I settled in on the feet for about a dozen strokes, I was sighting towards the next buoy and I couldn’t really see anyone out in front and I decided that I would just sit back and take a breath.  And as we approached the turn buoy to head back towards shore, something snapped or popped or clicked in my brain.  I’m not sure exactly what.  But I just decided, fuck it.  Fuck that my legs are tired and sore, fuck my grumpiness, how well I didn’t sleep, fuck all the stories I am telling myself, right now (sorry for so many F bombs in a row).  I’m tired of getting out of the water second or third or fourth after swerving after feet all the time, I’m tired of coasting, I’m tired of listening to my own voice say that I’m not good enough, I was simply tired of myself and all the high-training-volume whiny bullshit that was rebounding around inside my head.  So I pulled around the feet, I set my eye on the red arch, and I swam as hard as I possibly could towards the shore.

After a few strokes I felt the feet drop back a bit and then I wasn’t really paying attention, I was breathing every stroke, focused on the pull, I was thinking about how mad my swim coach would be if I swam this hard in ironman (don’t worry, I won’t), and then my hands touched bottom and I stood up and heard the announcer say, and here comes the first woman out of the water, and the hugest happiest proudest smile ripped right open across my face.
I was pretty confident that there was someone right on my tail but I didn’t look back as I ran up the carpet and into transition.  My bike seat was tangled in the rack and it took me a second to wrench it free.  As I ran towards the exit, I both heard and saw the motorcycle crank over to lead the women around the bike course.  I know there are so many things that make this not a big deal and it’s completely dorky to put this in print but the sound of that moto starting up, because of me, it’s going up there as one of the coolest moments of my athletic life.  

I thought the bike distance was eight miles but then I think the announcer said it was ten but someone else at the start said maybe it was twelve, so I really had no idea how long it was and it honestly didn’t matter.  There were no thoughts of pacing, or speed, or anything except going as hard as I possibly could for as long as I could hang onto it.  I was riding scared, I knew that there were strong women back there and that they were coming, I ran into my friend Jen right before the race started and if there is one thing I know, that girl can put minutes into me on the run.  So every time the bike started to hurt bad, every time my huffing and puffing turned into wheezing and gasping, I told myself, you’ll make up more ground hurting now than you can on the run, every second of this effort now is a second you don’t need to - and maybe can’t - find in the run shoes.
The first out-and-back went around a small loop and it was too wide to be able to see if anyone was riding me down.  I started to see women as I worked my way back, snot was running down my face and I’m sure my mouth was hanging open because I’m completely unable to bike hard without swallowing bugs.  There was a little climb and I stood out of the saddle to rip up it and when I glanced down at the top, the number in the watts box started with a 5 so I decided it was probably best to stop looking.  I tried to keep track of how long it was until I saw the next woman, but there were some riders out in the park that were just enjoying a little Saturday morning spin so I wasn’t sure who was racing and who was just noodling along and really, even if I had seen someone with a bib on, I’m not sure it would have registered in the blue blazes of oh shit oh shit oh shit that was going on behind my sunglasses.
I swung wide into transition and was off, I completely forgot to get out of my shoes on the bike so I slid and clacked full-speed back to my rack.  I’ve recently switched into another Brooks shoe that has a slightly different tongue configuration and I couldn’t get it on over my foot and I cursed the entire corporation of Brooks Running (sorry, I actually super heart you guys) from top to bottom while I wrestled with the stupid shoe.  Elastic laces aren’t a part of my life, I don’t generally race events where tying my shoes makes or breaks my day, although I suppose maybe it’s time to get some of those ducks in a row too.

Run out was the same as swim in.  I remembered from the announcer that I needed to run down to the water and then turn left on the path.  I did so, and ran a few feet, and then the path split and there was a huge piece of tape across part of it and no arrows or signs or volunteers or anything.  I looked left, and then back at the path, and ran left a bit, but it seemed wrong, and finally I stopped dead in my tracks and yelled around in frustration, WHERE AM I SUPPOSED TO GO?!
People started looking around and pointing and a different friend Jen came running down the hill yelling, that way! go that way! so I took off in that direction.  There were no signs or markings and I ran down the trail pretty firmly convinced that I was going to be running as hard as I could in the wrong direction for miles before I finally gave in and walked it in.  And I hoofed it up a little hill and down the other side and out of the weeds popped two volunteers holding cups of water and I have never been so happy to see anyone on a race course in my entire life.

I didn’t take any water, I yelled can you please just throw it at me, which they happily did, and my watch beeped through the first mile and I thought, okay, well, there can’t be much more than twenty minutes of suffering here (I have no idea why I always think in ten minute pace no matter what distance I’m racing).  Running felt horrific, I kept glancing down at my feet because I was convinced that I had put the right shoe on the left foot and vice versa.  I knew there were women back there, I was running on fear and adrenaline and the possibly-as-many-as-two chews I got in my mouth on the bike, I was being hunted by the scary voice at the beginning of the last Harry Potter movie: THEY ARE COMING.
I bounced over the turn-around and was heading back, trying to say, good job!, to everyone I saw but I’m sure it was coming out, GURLD ORB.  The path took us back past the finish line and I was still holding my Garmin in my hand because I couldn’t rub together two brain cells to actually strap it on my arm.  As I got close to the three mile mark someone yelled, just so you know the course is 3.2 miles I measured it, there was gravel, Sonja was saying something to me and I pitched my Garmin her way, I got up a hill and onto a sidewalk and finally there was the chute.  I managed to get my arms over my head for a second because for some reason we as humans have decided that’s how race finishes go and when I crossed over the line I couldn’t even turn my head to look around and see if someone was right behind me because I was completely and totally, through and through, wrecked.  Shelled.  Empty.  I’m sure I was white and my eyes were as big as saucers when I looked at the poet and choked out, what did I just do.
I did the other thing athletes are genetically predisposed to, which is to bend over and spit on the ground, and then someone gave me some water and someone else told me, you won but there are other women from other waves still out there so maybe not (thanks) and we took some pictures and after about ten minutes I stopped feeling like I wanted to vomit clear from the very very bottom of my intestines.  We ate our tiny veggie burritos and I sucked down my recovery drink and finally enough time passed and someone told me that I had hung onto the win, enough finishers had crossed, it was over.
There’s something to be pulled out of this day for me, and it’s definitely not the W, although I was happy to celebrate that with my favorite tea and another new pair of overpriced running shorts and Sunday afternoon fancy pancakes with 23847g of sugar on top.  This whole season has been so radically different for me, some days I feel as though nothing has changed, because in so many ways nothing has, and some days I can barely recognize myself or the athlete that I am becoming.  And I’m not sure I can name what it was that I found on Saturday but blogging is all about using four thousand words to try and describe something you can’t figure out so I'm going to vomit it all up here while I'm still stuck on this plane for another three hours.

I know this.  I didn’t win a race because I trained more hours, or bought a faster bike or lighter running shoes or wore my aero helmet, or because I tweeted 234787 a day to anyone that would listen about how much of a motherfucking badass I am.  I didn’t win a race because I had the fastest swim or bike or run split of the day (I don’t think), or because I’ve lost a few pounds or can throw 60lbs of kettlebells around or have a really great massage therapist.  I think that, just maybe, I won a race because I got tired of my own shit.  That’s what the click was in the water.  It could be strength that I discovered, or focus might be a better word, or maybe it’s as simple as for an hour and five minutes on a random Saturday morning I managed to step away from the enormous truckload of emotional garbage that is constantly anchoring my self-worth to the ground.  I shut out all the crap, all the voices that belong to people I know so well, telling me that I can’t or I shouldn’t or I won’t, especially the big voice that belongs to me which is actually the loudest one.  It wasn’t joy I found in the water when I said fuck it, it was aggression, it was anger, it was me being completely fed up with the same old story.  But moments later, when I burst out of the reservoir and into the sunshine, that was it, that was joy, and it blew me forward like a hurricane.  

I’ve made changes in my life recently, that’s been obvious, and some of those tiny changes are really starting to show green grass down here in June.  But I’ve been on this journey for quite a bit longer than the first six months of this year.  It didn’t start in January when I raced a shitty 10K and was finally pissed off enough about my race photos to do something about my diet, it didn’t start in February when I started swimming in the fast lane or in March when I could finally do a goddamn pull-up.  Lately it seems as if the magical combination of preparation and the opportunity have treated me kindly more often than not, that those things have largely outweighed my mistakes and setbacks - yet there have been plenty of those this year as well.  But I do feel as if I'm starting to find my way, it's been on my mind in the form of a quote circling my mental drain over the past few months, and it's been sounding stronger as I've become more free.

If you bring forth what is within you,
what you bring forth will save you.
If you do not bring forth what is within you,
what you do not bring forth will destroy you.
(Attributed to The Gospel of Thomas)

That may be the root of what I am discovering.  I am learning what I need to be happy in life, I am taking a firmer grip on the choices I make and the direction I head, I am trying to never be a victim of circumstance but instead hold myself responsible for figuring out what is essential for ME and I am bringing it forth in a firestorm.  Lest it destroy me. 
So the race.  It was amazing, a brilliantly fun experience, and I’m grateful that my path snaked me through this day, but it’s also just a day.  And it went into a week full of good days, wonderful experiences, the other pieces of my joy.  I had a triple-digit day on the bike.  I ripped my legs off with a friend, I ate vanilla almond butter directly from the jar, I PRd my back squat.  I found a new gorgeous rolling road for my long run, I got thirty or a million needles shoved in my leg by my favorite sadist, I spent probably too much time in the pool, I bought a new pair of running shorts, I had a dinner date with my husband where there were sweet potato fries and I won a race.  When I look at all of those things scattered across the days that passed, I feel content.  And if my path is imperfect, if the tiny detours that I take mean that I no longer follow the straightest trajectory towards being the best triathlete that I can be but instead mean that I am doing what makes me goddamn happy, then I am at peace with the things that will miss me when I hop off the path along the way.  Because I am certain that I will not miss them.  

Friday, June 27, 2014

Bare Bones 2M OWS: race report

I'm not exactly sure that this even qualifies as a race, but I paid money and someone wrote on me with sharpie so here we go.

This open water swim was on the schedule for the group I'm coaching with in Boulder.  I had a long series of training days with lots of early wake-ups leading up to the weekend, so when I went to bed Saturday night, I told myself if I get up early enough to make it, I'll do it; if not, I'll go to masters instead.  And the sun popped up early and so did I, and I felt okay so I threw the freak in the car and headed over to the reservoir.
I got checked in pretty quickly and sat on the grass breaking not one or two but three sets of goggles, finally managing to arts-and-crafts together a single frankenstein version just in time to miss most of the warm-up.  At the reservoir, they open up a closed-in area for warm-ups and everyone swims in a tiny whirlpool circle, and it always makes me laugh to watch.  I was able to get in two quick laps (left arm always gets more warmed up than right in here) and that was pretty much that.

The half mile version of the race went off first, and then all the two mile people sloshed into the water.  I worked my way up to the front-ish few rows, blew some bubbles underwater, and looked around.  An athlete and friend of mine was standing right there next to me, and I jumped up and high-fived him once, and then again while we waited for the horn to go off.  It just set the tone of the whole day so nicely for me, laughing and splashing in the open water, in a split-second I felt the joy of the day come in and then the gun went off and we were going.
And holy shit did we go (I'm pretty sure one of those arms might be mine).

I thought back, while thrashing in the fray, to the first open water swim I ever did.  It was the swim relay leg of the Key West Triathlon several years back, and I was the only one without a wetsuit.  It was cold and murky and there were lots of weeds and I was terrified to put my face in the water, so I did backstroke for about 70% of the swim and gasping breaststroke for the rest.  The swim was a mile, and if I remember correctly it took me well over forty minutes, and it was awful and I never wanted to do it again.

I'm such a different athlete now, a different swimmer.  I love being in the water, more than just about anything on earth, it is where I find myself most truthfully, where I am safe and zen and at peace.  Open water, especially here in Boulder where I can see the mountains when I breathe, it's a special place.  I never believed anyone who told me that I'd get over my open water swim fears, but here I am, I'm over it, I'm far in the other direction, it makes me euphoric the same way it thrills me to descend down a mountain on two wheels at 50mph, eyes wide, mouth (obviously) open, this is what happiness is, to me, and it makes me want to say, whatever happiness is to you, go and find it, because if it's this good, it's worth it.
So off we went.  Boulder is, well, Boulder, and athletes here do not fuck around.  This was easily the most violent open water start I've ever swam through.  I got kicked in the gut, punched in the nose, the ears, the temples, rolled over, yanked under, it was so much worse than IMLP last summer which was the worst whaling of my life to that point.  I think it's likely in part because I was so close to the front, but I wanted at least a tiny chance at getting into that front pack so I fought hard for it, off the line.  And instead of being completely pissed off like I was at IMLP, it made me laugh, it fired me up, I wanted to be in there, swinging my own fists and kicking my own noses, I had an inkling that this is what it takes to race.  

I swam decently hard the first few hundred meters, trying to find feet to hang onto while everyone blew apart.  And for a little while, every time I breathed to my left, there was my swim start friend in his matching goggles, breathing towards me, and that made me smile (and swallow water).  Once he disappeared I spent the rest of the swim wondering if he was just chilling out in my draft.  We turned north for the short side and then had just rounded the buoy towards the west when I noticed that my gut was feeling heavy and rumbly.  Right before we started I dug a melted disgusting and probably very old LaraBar out of the bottom of my swim bag and scarfed it down, and that was not good when combined with all of the reservoir I surely sucked down in the initial thrash.  I swam hard a couple of strokes, turned my head to breathe and instead puked up a huge gush of water and slightly-used bites of bar (triathlon is so fucking classy, I don't know how I stand it).  I actually felt quite a bit better after that, and ended up finding a set of feet somewhere along the way while trying to clear my mouth out.  But either the feet were drunk or I was, because I spent the entire long stretch across the back getting dropped from the feet and looking up to see them way off to the left...and then finding the feet again, over-correcting, and there they were off to the right.  It's pretty likely that I have no ability to swim straight but I think this was about the worst job of drafting I've done in open water, ever.

When we came back around to start the second loop, I felt pretty good.  I didn't feel like I swam the first loop particularly fast but it felt solid, certainly better than the "singing Katy Perry songs in my head" effort I was putting out last month in Chattanooga.  I searched the shore for the poet as we went by but didn't see him, and when we hit the turn buoy to flip north again, I decided to dig down and see who I could catch.  The hard part about catching people in open water is that if you can catch them, you can probably swim faster than them.  So I would come up behind someone, hop on their feet to grab an easy breath, and then see if I could go around without sprinting like crazy.  As I came off the long back stretch for the second, I hopped on a pair of feet that belonged to a woman swimming without a wetsuit (beast), and I finally found my perfect match.

She stepped up the effort as we turned, and I went with her.  She was swimming just hard enough that I was able to swim hard myself without touching her feet every 4 seconds.  (It turned out later that this is someone who swims one lane up from me at masters on Sunday mornings so I was thrilled that I was even able to hang on).  I followed her straight in, stroke for stroke, and suddenly my fingers were scraping the bottom and it was time to get out.
I ended up 7th OA wetsuit'd woman and I think 11th or 12th including the heroes that swim without their neoprene safety blankets (so brave).  54 minutes for two miles that included a bit of a chill effort and some hard swimming, and the first thing I said when I got out of the water was, I wonder if I could get in and swim another loop?  
So, a pretty nice day in the water.  Certainly I didn't use up one of my precious few all-out race efforts that I think we only get a few of each year, but I did feel like I swam much better than I did last month, and there's a bit of satisfaction in that.  I also got to wear my favorite bikini (that has now drooped into a parachute) one more time before trashing it, I am totally in love with the freak and any day I get to rock I'm happy (me to anyone who will listen: Look!  It has abs drawn on it!), and then I had brunch with my new partner-in-crime, Jenni.  Excellent work for any Sunday, I'll say.