Sunday, November 24, 2013

it's time to hunker down

If I could draw a circle around me with chalk, I said to the poet the other day, I would draw the tiniest circle that I could, and you would still be inside of it.

And then Graham would shove his butt between us, he replied.
The week leading up to ironman is a quiet time for me, I've discovered.  It's not a time to be bursting with energy and socializing and tweeting a million pictures of the M-dot logo.  It's definitely not a time to be using the words crush or smash or destroy.  That isn't what ironman is about, not for me.  So, for maybe the only time in my life, I pipe down.  I spent the week leading up to Lake Placid talking quietly with my husband, having deep and peaceful conversations with good friends, reading alone, or sometimes just sitting quietly with my thoughts.  I leave the iPod packed away, I let the TV shows wait, I stay off of twitter except for the occasional hit-and-run post, I give the volume button on my surroundings a good hard twist to the left.  
I'm not just sitting around obsessing about the race, usually very little of what's going on in my head has anything to do with the race, or with triathlon at all.  I like to write the race plan early, to cement it in my brain, and then let that go as well.  I've practiced it all time and time again in training, I don't remember who said it but race day is simply the day to hit the play button and then stand back, get out of the way.
My circles have been smaller this year.  I said that at the beginning, I know who's on my team and who is standing outside just waving their arms and making distracting noises.  The universe has a nasty habit of helping me to be able to distinguish between those two, and ejecting people, places, and experiences from my life when they don't belong.  Sometimes it ejects these things before I am ready to let them go, while I'm still saying hey, wait a minute, I'm not done trying here!  In the past few months this has happened more than a few times, but perspective in the rearview mirror is fantastic, so much easier than foresight.  I see that all I've been doing is drawing smaller circles on the ground.  And everything, everyone left on the inside, they have only become brighter.
I was on the phone the other day with someone I'm working with in 2014 and I said something that the poet says about me all the time.  I am happiest when I'm surrounded by people that are smarter than me.  I don't like being the smartest person in the room, I want to fill my life with people who are painfully intelligent, unbelievably joyful, curious, bold, strong.  And now it's November, almost December, at the end of a year where I said on the first day that I wanted to be different.  To be okay with being imperfect, but to grow.  To be challenged, stretched, it might even hurt a bit, and to fill my life with people and experiences that are awesome in the truest sense of the word.  And I look around, standing in the middle of my teeny tiny circle, and I am here.
Standing at the line in Coeur d'Alene, I was looking for joy.  Explosive joy, I wanted to spend as many moments as I possibly could with a smile split across my face.  I found it, I had the day I wanted, I had no regrets.  In Lake Placid, I wanted to suffer, to see how much I could pull out of myself.  And again, I found suffering, not really all that I wanted, but it was there.  
I'm not sure yet what I am looking for out of Cozumel.  A two-ironman year has been a different experience than I expected.  I thought the second time around would be tougher to hold my shit together but it's actually been less work than it was for Lake Placid.  Mentally, maybe, the physical work is the same.  I imagined that it would be tough to keep going to the pool and getting on the bike when it's freezing outside and most of my training buddies have packed it in for the winter, but instead I found that when I had to do it all alone, I was there, and I was surprised to feel strong, stronger than I thought I could be.  So instead of going out looking for something in particular to find on race day, I'll go out with an open mind and heart, and I will know that inside of me I already have everything that I need.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

the brain does not like fear

Since I am getting closer to ironman time, it means some workouts with the words "test" or "TT" are showing up on my schedule.  Now, I love training.  I really do, I'd almost rather just train and train than race, races are scary gahhhhh, but training, I love it.  It drips happy juice into my life.  But testing or time trialing or whatever you want to call it, it brings up a feeling in me that I only recently began to pinpoint as dread.  Dread and fear.
Now, why, when I love to train so much, why do I dread these sessions?  Send me out for a long run and tell me to run 60 minutes at MAF and I'm happy as a clam, but send me to the track for a six mile MAF test and I'll do my warm-up and then dither and dally and scuff my feet and poke around and retie my shoes and look around for someone who is going to kick me off for being on the track during school hours until I finally have to say out loud, Just go already, sheesh and then it STILL takes me another minute to start running.  (Probably Sonja, you shouldn't be reading this one).  Then I spend the first mile dreading what the lap button will say, and promising myself that I won't look when I hit it (of course I'm going to look when I hit it) and alternately hoping the custodians or school security will kick me out so I can go finish it on the road or hoping that my leg will twist up and fall off so oh darn, no more MAF test for me.
The same thing happens with swimming, and I love swimming oh so very much, but the longer the time trial, the more time I spend at the wall adjusting my goggles and my cap and my suit and my ear plugs and poking around with maybe I should warm-up another 100 yards and maybe I can do it with paddles and just not mention that part (I've never done this, for the record) and maybe I need another drink and then I finally convince myself to push off and go and the first half of whatever the TT is, I spend talking myself out of quitting and starting over or just trying another day because I feel tired or my bathing suit is too tight or I went out too fast for a mile or whatever. 
Whew.  That's a big heavy suitcase to be dragging around with my brain, which has no fingers to carry such things.

So I've learned that this is what my brain wants to do.  And I've discovered that the less I dick around before pushing the start button on my watch, the less I carry around trying to talk myself out of giving the session my all (this should be obvious but I am obviously a huge work-in-progress).  But why am I so afraid of the test? Why am I so afraid of race day?  
It's fear, definitely, fear of what the clock will tell me, and fear of what I will do with the information the clock gives my brain.  And even that doesn't end so well, because generally I take the information and process it with oof, thought I could run a bit quicker here or wow, based on my last 200 TT my mile should be a lot faster or whatever kind of judgement I come up with that I wish I could just exhale and let go.

I did a MAF test last week, I only ran four miles at MAF but it was my personal world record for pace at MAF.  And it still wasn't good enough, I beat myself up and second-guessed decisions I made on the day.  I did another MAF test yesterday and now I'm more rested and springy which means I am running slower not faster at MAF so of course that launched a whole new ship of self-destructive thoughts about the marathon that's coming up next weekend.  
The same happened in the pool, my swim is in great shape right now, quite possibly the best shape of my life, how did that happen?  And I had a mile time trial to do, and I dicked around and added to my warm-up and then went outside to the pool because masters had just left and then I needed to warm-up some more since walking 15 feet obviously made me cold and then I still stood there, in the water, and watched the clock hit the top twice through before I finally pushed off the wall and went.  And when I saw my first 100 split my thought wasn't great job! it was well, that was way too fast, you're fucked now.  I had a lot weighing on my mind getting into the water, it was hard to hold my focus onto my swim and I felt pretty meh the whole time and as soon as I hit the stop button on my watch, the judgmental thoughts came crashing in.  And when I came home and looked up my mile PR in the pool and realized that this was roughly a :40 second best to that, the thoughts didn't stop, that didn't hold them off, it just let new judgemental thoughts in.

This post doesn't have a fairy-tale ending where I figure my shit out and prance around with no baggage whatsoever, light as a feather.  I know that the answer to this is to just stop.  Stop with the judgement, stop allowing the negativity to leak in, and I'm working on that, I've been working on it all year not to mention all the years I've been in sport.  But I'm hoping that writing it down and typing it out will help me release it into the universe.  To breathe out and blow those thoughts far away.  Because the other lesson that I've learned this year is that all the work I can do is all of the work I can do.  And if I do all the work that I can do, and I recover and eat right and sleep and do all those things, then physically I am maxed out.  There is no replacement for consistent hard work, that is true.  And I think it is generally safe to say that I work hard.  But if I've done all the physical work I can do, that means that any improvement above and beyond that needs to come from my brain, not from my muscles.  How's THAT for fear.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

today we are here

Over the summer, I went down to Albuquerque to visit with one of my closest friends.  While I was there, she got a new tattoo, to remind her of being in the moment.
She told me that her husband would tell her this when she was rushing around, trying to figure out what to do with the next day or the next.  I was ready to get a tattoo of my own, but was spooked by the "five days to possibly four weeks" of time that I would have to spend out of the pool while it healed (see you in a few weeks, tattoo lady).  But this thought has stayed with me, inked in my brain instead of on my body (although until I just looked up that picture, I remembered it as, "now we are here" so maybe it was just scribbled in pencil up there).  It's a thought I've had rolling around in my head the past few weeks as my life has undergone some more change and growth - which can sometimes be uncomfortable.  But this thought is similarly uncomfortable - not only as a reminder to stay grounded in these moments, but to let go of the moments that have already passed by.  Those moments can't be changed.  

It is true that we are a sum of all the decisions we have made in the past.  This body is composed of all the spinach and bananas and avocado and frozen fruit and sweet potatoes and steak salad with extra goat cheese that I've eaten over the past months, the foods I look towards for strength.  It also carries my weaker moments, inside of my skin is the bag of potato chips that I bought when I was having a bad day and the vanilla porter I drank in celebration of being decisive about making my life better.  It holds all the nights I got 9-10 hours of sleep, but also those where I tossed and turned until the poet wanted to hit me with a pillow so someone could get some sleep.  I am all of these things, I carry them with me (I had just gotten my eyes dilated at the doctor, I'm not high as a kite here).  
With my athletes, we talk about the difference between race goals and race plans.  A goal is something to tape on the fridge, to use to motivate you, to drag your lazy sleep-loving ass out of bed at 5:30am when the alarm goes off to train before a long day at work.  That's what goals are for, that is how I use them.  I won't even be shy about them, breaking an hour in the ironman swim and running off the bike with confidence and consistency: those are the things that I want.  That is what gets all my lights lit up, those are the goals I remind myself of when I'm 4.5 hours into a ride and I have one more hour at X heart rate or watts or whatever and all I want to do is coast on home.  But when it's time to write a race plan, when it's time to stand at the head of the day, those goals have no place here.  We don't talk about time, I see so many coaches repeating this and my own coach has always stressed the importance of it: instead we talk about process.  We break up the day, we talk about how to manage it in small pieces, and how to make good decisions in the moment.  And that is how I work to manage myself and my own races, and it is very late in the race, if at all, that I flip the watch over to "overall time" or "time of day" to see what's going on.  Truthfully, this year for the most part I haven't had a good handle on how my racing was playing out against the clock until I was heading down the finishing chute.  Instead I was monitoring the present: what is my heart rate now, what is my pace now, how am I feeling now?
You'll never know until race day if you are ready to meet up with that goal, to shake hands and absorb it into you.  I think back to IMLP, the run that I had.  I had done all the workouts, I had row after row of green boxes, I had eaten well and slept well and managed stress the best I could, but for whatever reason, I wasn't ready to run off the bike the way I wanted.  And then I made a mistake on the bike in nutrition and suddenly had a reason to let the run go.  It took me weeks to realize that if it hadn't been nutrition, it probably would have been something else, and it was tough to admit that to myself, and later, to Sonja.  I wasn't ready.  My brain, it didn't want to let go of the "I'm not a runner/I don't run well/I get passed on the run" thoughts that I carry around with me, mostly in a grounded attempt to poke fun at myself, but in self-deprication, those thoughts took root.  When I came out of T2 with Sarah, my brain said, let her go, she's so much faster and stronger than you on the run, and then it became truth, when in fact all I had to do was run a little bit faster and maybe I could have spent the whole marathon staring at her little blonde ponytail.  I don't know.  I'll never know.  That moment is lost.  But today, tomorrow, December 1, those moments have not yet been formed.  Those moments are still waiting for me to decide.

I'm less than two weeks out from ironman number three.  I could talk about how my training has been going, over the past few months.  I could do that.  I could talk about the breakthroughs I've had, the hard days where I've struggled, the days where I've started into a session exhausted and then been surprised and grateful about what my body had to give.  There's a lot about training that I could talk about.  But it doesn't matter.  It's all in the past.  What matters, now, is today.  Ironman doesn't care about all those hundreds I swam under 1:20, ironman doesn't care how many miles I ran around my neighborhood or how hard it was to get up at 5:30am all those days (I can hear the echo of myself to my athletes, oh no, not something hard!) or how goddamn windy it is in Boulder in the fall.  My body has absorbed those moments, true, and without them I would not be ready to stand on the line.  But ironman is not about those moments.  
People ask me what I'd like to do in Cozumel, what times I'm shooting for or if I am trying to PR, the questions that your friends ask because they want you to know they care about you and your race.  I don't know.  Part of that answer depends on the conditions of the day, certainly, but the bigger part depends on whether or not I am ready.  Am I ready to hold back on the swim (if you swim X time I will be throwing things, said my masters coach yesterday morning), to stroke steady and not blow apart my day before I get out of the water, am I ready to stay with the bike when it gets hard, to keep pushing into the wind and the heat and the whatever else Cozumel has to throw at my QR, am I ready to grit my teeth and chase down the run I want, to scream straight into the part of my brain that wants me to walk, where I have been weak before, I WILL NOT BACK DOWN?  I don't know.  I do know that while I'm working through my day, I won't be thinking about all the work I did, trying to prove to my body that I deserve something, when really, I've learned over and over that my training owes me nothing.  Instead I will be thinking: now, we are here.  At Lake Placid, I was ready for the swim and the bike, and that showed, and I wasn't ready for the run, and ironman delivered on that promise as well.  Am I ready now?  Well, that's why we race.  To find out.  

Thursday, November 7, 2013

MCCC Strides for Scholarships 5K: race report

I've been working on a post called "where the hell have I been and what I've been up to," but then I raced a 5K last weekend so I get to write a race report and the rest of it can just....well...wait, a while longer.

The poet and I flew back to the east coast as part of a surprise 60th birthday party extravaganza for my dad.  Days before I left, Twitter alerted me that Anabel was going to be in town and Yasi was around.  After a flurry of emails and texts, we decided to race a 5K together.  "Together" being a fairly loose term, but we'd all start at the same time and end up at the brunch table at the same time, which is all that really matters.
I do not like racing 5Ks.  I used to claim that the 10K was my least favorite distance - it's hurts as bad as a 5K but for twice as long! - but that's never really been true, the 5K takes the crown in my book.  I'd much rather race for hours on top of hours, it spreads out the pain in such a way that you can nearly avoid all of it.  But huffing and puffing and getting my heart rate up and dealing with all of the negative voices who start yelling QUITE LOUDLY when I run fast, that's not for me.

So, race morning.  We had our squealing reunion in the parking lot, got registered, and headed out for a chatty warm-up to scope out a bit of the course.  At some point in the texting we obviously started discussing matching race outfits because we are girls, and Anabel gets credit for this brilliance.
The crowd was pretty small, but we chatted and bounced around until the weird siren thing went off.  After a moment of confusion - do we go now? - we were off and running.

Yasi agreed to start out running with me, and we would see where we ended up.  She's pretty speedy but she's also in the middle of a well-deserved break from training, so I had hope that we would equalize.
I went out at the tail end of the front clump.  I knew Anabel was up there, but I had no idea how many other women were in the bunch because it didn't occur to me to pay attention (spoiler alert).  I gave my Garmin a minute to talk to the sky and then slammed on the brakes, telling Yasi this is blow-up pace!  7:00 first mile is blow-up pace!

We settled into a long string of runners as the race turned onto a path that went in front of a building and around a little grassy area.  All the Garmin watches around me beeped quite a ways in front of the mile 1 sign, and when I hit my lap button, the only thought in my head was two more miles to go, I can do this, I run two miles all the time.
The course brought us back by where the poet and Anabel's husband were cheering, and I am sure they said something positive as I chugged by, but the huffing and puffing was starting to get a bit louder and I was drawing into my focus, thinking about tightening up my form, trying to process calm thoughts, this isn't that fast, you ran almost this fast for much longer on Thursday, just settle down and hold steady.

We ran up a little hill for the second loop, and there was a water stop which I ignored but grunted out a thanks as I ran by.  My pace dropped as I climbed the "felt like a mountain but was actually barely up" hill, so I started telling myself all the things that you do when you do hill repeats.  Use your abs, pump your arms, feet under you, shoulders down, you live in freakin Colorado and this isn't even really a hill.  (Still no hip extension, sorry Dr. Maggs, I'm working on it!)
When I started heading back on the second loop, I was having a hard time with math.  I knew where the finish line was but I couldn't figure out how we would get there without running much further than three (point one!) miles.  The negative voices crept in, I knew that a PR was easily within reach and the little chatterys wanted me to slow down, to take a break, ouch it's hurting I don't like this, and I remember very clearly thinking I've run over two hard miles now, if I slow down I'm going to be mad later about missing out on a PR and then I'm going to have to run these exact same two miles again someday so it might as well be today.  And for the first time - yes, the first time ever in a 5K, I'm not proud of it - I did not barter a walk break with my brain, I did not give the okay to apply the brakes or even let up on the gas a little bit, I told all those little thoughts to shut the fuck right up. 
We got to head back down the little hill, and there were a lot of people that were doing the 1-mile walk that I had to dodge around, and then a woman came into sight in front of me, and another one right in front of her.  I reeled her in enough to hang on the back of her shoulder.  I focused on her ponytail, on her blue tights, on staying with her.  And when we ran past the poet and Anabel's husband again, they were both yelling at the same time but I clearly heard Mark say, Go get her and my illogical brain went - Why?
Why.  WHY.  I coasted on her wheel into the finish, only to learn about a minute later that she was third woman OA, and the one right in front of her was second.  And then I was mad.  At first, because why wouldn't I chase someone down?  It's a race, for pete's sake, I can hear myself saying the words, out loud, to one of my athletes, and it makes me laugh.  At myself.
I've never been competitive on the run, I can't even get close to the front of the pack most of the time. So I never worry about racing anyone.  The races I do are always about me, about racing my own demons and sometimes the clock and sometimes just for fun but it's never because I want to chase anyone down.  For the most part, I'm the one getting chased down.  And because of that, I don't have a competitive streak in me on the run.  There are times where I feel it in racing, but it's far more present in the water than anywhere else (like most of the good things are for me, in sport).  Mark told me to go chase her down, and my thoughts weren't I can't or too hard - the thoughts were - huh?  Why would I do that?

The difference between me and the second place woman was nine seconds (third place: four seconds).  Did I have nine seconds in me, on that day?  Probably.  I can't say definitely, or that if I had passed them they wouldn't have passed me right back, but I was mad because I didn't get to find out.  Because it didn't even occur to me to try.  (Anabel bitch-slapped the entire women's field by almost three minutes, for the record).  So the positive I took from the day is that I shut out the mean voices and kept the pedal to the floor, but now I need to work on actually racing when I race.  Slay one dragon in your brain and four more grow up in his place.

Yasi rolled in about a minute behind me, and we creaked off for our cool-down, chattering and happy and high on endorphins.  We got to attend the awards ceremony and all ended up with first place medals (Anabel for the win, Yasi and I for the AG win).  
And while it was fun (sort of) to get out and race a bit on my ironman-trained legs, the best part of the day was spending time with some of my dearly loved friends.  I'm lucky to have met Yasi and Anabel through the strange lands of the internets, and the friendship that we've built over the past year is precious to me.
Three weeks to ironman.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chicago Marathon: race report (guest post)

What does triumph look like at mile 19 of a marathon?
I had been so happy out of the gate, running the first few miles by heart rate. Running without any music. In fresh shoes and new shorts that I knew would not chafe. Finally, at this race I had wanted to run since seeing Spirit Of The Marathon, standing on the start line while they blared Sweet Home, Chicago.
But, by mile 19 the bad voices had started and all they wanted was for me to stop for just a few seconds, to walk the water stops, to cease whatever I was doing. And normally, my strategies would be to turn the music up (but I had no music) or tell them to STFU (shut up!). But I had been reading Eat and Run and several Pema Chodron books. What Chodron and Scott Jurek have in common is their belief in staying here, in this moment, as you are, embracing it.

The other logic being that the struggle, the fight, the argument with yourself takes heart rate and energy which you should be channeling into the run. And so, this time I let the bad voices in. I welcomed them in. I said to them, “Hello, it’s nice to see you. You have as much space as you need right now to complain. And we have a little more than an hour to hang out together.” And for a little while they went silent.
Katie was everywhere on the course. Chicago is a big out, around and back loop that makes it easy to move inside of. We agreed before the race that I would run to the left side of the course so she could stay in the middle and I would see her. At thirteen miles I needed her. I had been counting the minutes to say hi, to tell her I love her. Besides, we had done a terrible job of accurately high-fiving before then, so I called to her to run with me for a minute. I was happy.
Letting the voices in takes away their power. They want to be knocking on the door, knocking you down, being the naysayers who are not allowed in the main room. Once they get in they are awkward and quiet and do not know what to do with the vast space. Each time they popped up I welcome them, thanked them for being there, ask them to stay. And at each mile marker I would say to myself, “20. You have earned the right to spend the next hour with yourself, in a state of honesty most people will never reach.”
But I was slowing down. So I tried to keep my feet moving, tried to go fast. Tried to take in the crowd’s energy, to expand into the moment, take in the city. I enjoyed it. And when there was dialogue in my head, it was all about form. "Quick feet, pump your arms, straighten out your left foot. Good good."
At mile 25 Katie jumped in and wanted to run. I had spent the last hour getting to know myself, making peace with the voices, knowing my mind. Sans music, no distractions, peering into the core of my being. What I thought I said was, “I have earned this last mile and want to finish, just me.” What Katie heard was something along the lines of “leave me the f’ alone.” Who knows what was actually said.

In the last mile a woman in front of me slowed to a walk. I had almost no interaction the whole race with anyone. But I put my hand on her back and said politely, “We only have 8 minutes more to do this. Don’t give away what you’ve earned.” And she started to run again, away from me. The same woman stopped again in front of me. This time I said, “Just six.” And she took off. After the race, she thanked me. This is not a solitary sport.
I crossed the finish line happy. I did the post race zombie walk, happy. I had met a part of myself and not labeled it bad or crazy. I welcomed this part of me. I didn’t look at my watch until an hour or so later. Then I was pissed. Then I saw that I was nine minutes behind my PR, all of it given up after the half, most of it after mile 19.

What does success look like? Is it time on the watch? The opportunity lost? I fretted about this the rest of my trip. Chicago is a great town. It is, maybe, the only American city I would live in the heart of. The marathon, honestly, is long stretches of flat and boring. Essentially, you do 8 miles out that way, turn, do 10 miles straight, turn, do 2 miles out and back, then 4 miles into the finish. Not so much the race, but I love the city.
Weeks later I have come to peace and found that you run the marathon you train for. I asked Katie not to wear me out this time, not to make me hate running. I didn’t eat my best leading up to this. I was pissed that the people who were supposed to run with me didn’t. I was lax on some workouts. I got the race I trained for.

So what does success look like? Well, it looks like you spent some time learning. It looks like you know what to do next, what you need to do if you want to improve. At mile 19 it looks like you are enjoying the moment, like you are here and now, and not off in some other place, dreaming. It looks like you care about those around you, that you love what you are creating, in your life, in your run, it looks like acceptance and compassion and ambition to do better.

Katie asks people all the time, “What type of race do you want to have? Do you want to kill it, to feel great, to have fun?” Set that up early and train to your intention. Success looks like knowing what you want, committing to what it takes to get there, and, then, chasing it down. I know now there is work to be done.