Monday, January 28, 2013

my puppies live here now, too

In general, puppy life is pretty sweet.  It's a constant rotation of love, eating, pooping, and sleeping, with lots of emphasis on the sleeping.  Ours have been adapting pretty well to life a mile high.
I've gotten to take Molly running a few times, and she does really well off-leash.  She loves to tear ahead of me and dig around in the bushes, but she never gets too far and she always comes bounding back.
We took all three on a long walk yesterday, on a trail where cattle roam pretty freely back and forth.  I run there quite a bit, and I've had to stop a few times to get around a cow in the middle of the running path.
Molly in particular was really curious about the cows, and kept running up to one in particular and barking at him.  But as soon as he took a step towards her, she freaked out.
Graham had no idea what to do, and just stood about fifteen feet away, growling and barking his fool head off until we moved along.
So in general, puppy life is good.  They've been drinking a lot more water and Sofie has cracked pads on her foot that we've been treating with lotion (imagine how fun THAT is), but I like to think that they are happy here. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Frosty's Frozen Ten Miler: race report

I've been trying to find a way to talk about the running I've been doing over the past month, what's been going on as I've eased back into training after healing from pneumonia, and I just feel stuck.  Calling this a race report seems like cheating, but there was a bib on my shorts and a chip on my shoes, so here we go.

I planned to run a marathon this spring, but that isn't in the plan for me anymore.  By the time we were done moving and I was done coughing my brains out, there just wasn't enough time to build to it, and half-assing a marathon for a medal and a pair of extremely sore and unprepared legs isn't on my list of things that seem either fun or smart.  So I'll drop to the half, I'll run a marathon later this year, and I won't lose even a blink of sleep over it.  

Rebuilding my fitness from what I thought was zero has been a vaguely interesting process.  I had a couple of good weeks of training at the beginning of December after a long few months of inconsistency, but then ended up taking almost two more weeks off to let my lungs knit back together.  So when I strapped my heart rate monitor on just under a month ago to head out for a run, it felt like I was starting from scratch again.  My first run - one that had me thrilled at how good it felt until I turned around to come home and realized I had been running downhill - was certainly one of the slowest I've done.  And I remember last year at this time, when I was starting to train by MAF for the very first time.  This run would have made me grumpy and frustrated.  I distinctly remember coming in my front door and whipping my heart rate strap off and across the floor.  This year, it just doesn't bother me anymore.

Part of the reason is because I've been through this.  I've learned the hard way that holding myself accountable to keeping my heart rate low is what will help me build my fitness the fastest.  Cheating and running over my cap - even by 2 or 3 or 4 beats - is only pushing back the day when I have to hurt myself, just a little, to get my heart rate high enough to hit MAF.  That's a pretty spectacular feeling, and I went hunting for it.  This time around, it didn't take quite as long.  A couple of runs filled with walking turned into a couple of runs trotting in the 12s, which dropped into the 11s and then I could finally chat with my friends without shoving my heart rate up and over.  Finally, I think it was about a week ago where I warmed up, lapped my watch, and had to haul what I consider some pretty serious ass to get my heart rate up to where I wanted it for four miles at MAF.  It's dark magic.
So I'm making my way back.  A few weeks ago, my Boulder pony training buddies went out and looked for a race to prep for the marathon that they are still running (suckers) and stumbled onto this ten miler.  As it turned out, they both got approved for the five miler/ten miler race day double, but I only got the stamp of approval for the ten miler, and I had to run the vast majority of it as a MAF test.
I've done this before, actually last spring, when I ran the Cherry Blossom ten miler as a MAF test.  I "tapered" for that race by doing a four hour ride and an hour swim the day before, and this time was no different.  On Friday, I headed out with these guys:
For an "easy ride" that ended up looking like this:
Which isn't always a bad thing, but I was not-so-secretly relieved to only have to run ten miles at MAF on Saturday morning and not race my ass off.
Amy was in town visiting for the weekend and didn't want to race, but took the opportunity of me racing to run in the other direction on the trail to get her long run done while I MAF'd.  I warmed up a little, mostly by walking back and forth to the car to change clothes a dozen times, but since I was using the first two miles of the race as an additional warm-up, I didn't really stress about it.  As we were standing around chatting in the minutes before the start, I accidentally ate an entire pack of those PowerBar squishy gel things without really noticing, so my stomach was a little grumbly for the first few miles but at least I didn't have to worry about fuel.

Mo and I started together, and we spent the first two miles being chatty and getting loose, nice and easy.  When we saw the second mile marker, I put my headphones in and started working my way up to MAF.  She's got a ton more fitness than me (rude), so she slowly pulled ahead while I picked up the pace from behind.  The race course itself was pretty excellent - it was mostly on a concrete trail next to a little stream (river?), and the day was gorgeous and sunny.  

MAF tests, in general, are pretty unremarkable.  My heart rate stayed steady except for the 180ยบ turn-around of the out-and-back, where it dropped three beats for about ten seconds.  It also dropped a bit at the aid station at mile 7.5 where I slowed to suck down four cups of water because I felt ridiculously hot and thirsty (Colorado in January, people, it's a fabulous thing).  But other than that, it held smooth and steady for six solid miles.  At mile eight, I was supposed to ditch MAF and haul ass.  I dug in a little bit and prayed for my gel to give me a kick in the ass, but as it turns out, 3-4 weeks of rebuilding doesn't produce a whole lot of speed after eight miles.  So I held it as far above MAF as I could (about four beats, sigh) straight into the finish, and then I was done.  (Stolen shot of my form, which is both constantly improving and endlessly fascinating only to me).
Last spring's ten-miler-done-as-a-MAF-test produced a PR, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when this one did as well, but in all honesty, it's only a PR because I've never really raced the distance.  One of these days I'll get around to it, I suppose, or maybe I'll just keep paying to wear a bib for MAF tests.  
Either way, it was a gorgeous day, I ran ten miles that didn't suck and then I ate brunch with lots of old and new friends.  Running is going well.  Training is going well.  It's not particularly exciting.  It's getting up every day and getting the work done, to the best of my ability.  Some days it's fun with training buddies or co-workers, some days it feels a little bit like work, some days it's in the gorgeous outdoor pool or on the trail with a cow chewing grass in my ear, and some days it's on the trainer in a boring room by myself.  
But a lot of the time, especially in the winter, that's what endurance training is.  It's not a CRUSH BALLS RAWR, it's not sparkly highs and lows, it's not thrashing yourself until you puke.  And I think that's why I'm not really interested in talking about it right now.  I'm more interested in getting out there, enjoying it in the moment, being happy, and then moving right along.

Monday, January 14, 2013

a Graham update

It's been about six months since Graham was in the hospital, and I wanted to check in with an update on how he's doing.
The overall answer is, pretty good.  He's still at the lean end of what a healthy weight is, despite the fact that we're feeding him more than we used to.  The vet thinks that because he lost so much intestine, his body can't hang onto as many nutrients.  So his morning and evening meals are a little bit larger, and he gets a little bit of peanut butter as a treat most days.  He isn't technically underweight, but he's still about 5lbs less than he used to be.  
He isn't allowed to run, and that's sad but a fact of life.  I know that he misses it, because his eyes and ears perk up when we take the girls out.  The vet told us that he's welcome to run around in the backyard and exercise at the dog park, but extended runs we should probably avoid.  That's partially because of how easily he could become dehydrated, and partially because he's having enough trouble hanging onto weight.  So he gets to play and wrestle in the backyard, but the days of taking him out for 2-4 miles are over.  His 5K PR stands where it is.  I wish I could explain to him why that is, but without a frontal cortex, he'll never understand.
He is extremely spoiled, and I'm okay with that.  He gets to climb up on the bed and snuggle with me after the poet leaves in the morning while the girls go back in their houses.  He comes to work with me while the other two stay home.  He gets a little bit of extra love, because at least once a day I look at him and remember how close we came to losing him.  That doesn't mean the girls are ignored or deprived - hardly - but Graham will always be special.  We fought for him, and he fought for all of us.
As far as the help we received, we haven't forgotten.  It has changed our lives, and that's not an exaggeration.  Before all of this, before I lost my job and we emptied our savings to the IRS and everything that happened to devastate us, we were very financially focused on paying down debt.  I volunteered my time to the golden retriever rescue, but our funds were all being poured into trying to kill off our student loans.  And that's just not true anymore.  It took us until late August to pay off the debt that we had accumulated over the summer, and as soon as we had paid off that debt, we started paying it forward as we had promised.  Every month, every paycheck, a little bit would go into rebuilding our savings account from zero, but another chunk would be donated.  When our house in DC sold, we were able to make a couple of significant donations from the money that we made there.
We haven't quite reached the point where we've donated the same amount of money that was donated to us to help Graham, but we're close.  I talked several months ago about selling my horn, and I'm hoping that the person that is testing it out right now purchases it.  If so, we will be able to donate yet again, above and beyond what we have promised.  Both of us have been working two jobs for several months now, and that is a big part of why we have been able to make these things happen so quickly.
But the poet and I have discussed this, about what happens when we have paid all the money back or forward.  And we've decided that it's not going to stop there.  We do still have student loans that we are working on paying down, but it's more important to us to donate monthly, to remember and be grateful, than it is to pay those off as quickly as possible.  Some people might call this stupid or irresponsible.  I believe it is necessary.  We've decided that we'll continue donating until we've matched the total amount of money that was spent on his surgeries - an amount that is approximately four times as much as what was donated.  And we probably won't even stop there, but that's where we are headed next.
Graham getting sick has changed our lives, in a real and permanent way.  We talked about it this weekend.  Before all this happened, it just wouldn't have occurred to us to donate in this way.  Maybe in part because we are selfish white people trying to pay down our expensive college educations, but I think it's also because we hadn't been affected by tragedy like this before.  And once affected, we will never be the same.  Every time I see something somewhere about a hurt animal or a rescue foundation or everyone someone raising money to fight actual human cancer, I try and send money, even if it's only $10 or $20.  Because someone did that for us, people reached into their hearts to save a member of MY family, and I know how much even the little donations help.  So many times since this has happened, I've heard someone say, "But it's only a dog."  I know that.  I know he is only a dog, and that there are far more important problems going on in this planet than keeping a puppy alive.  But he's also a member of my family.  He is probably the only baby I will ever have.  He saved MY life when he was 7 weeks old, and he didn't even know it, and I'll be damned if I won't fight for his.

Friday, January 11, 2013

wordless friday: peace

I don't have words right now, so this may very well be the most boring update I have ever posted.  I have nothing that I feel the need or desire to discuss, to snark about, to worry about.  Maybe I will once training ramps up a bit more, but right now my life is calm.  It's easier, here.  I said it the first day I arrived: there is peace here.  I wake up - early, because I'm still on east coast time - in the morning and go train before heading to work.
Most days I bring Graham with me.  He sleeps peacefully under my desk.  If I'm going to train at lunch, sometimes I bring Molly instead, and that girl loves to run, to get muddy and worn out. 
My job is good, I'm happy here.  When my day is done, it's done.  I head home to our little house, still covered in unpacked boxes and unhung pictures, and spend time with my family.
I cook things, we eat things, we do laundry and build bookshelves and go to bed early.  My life is boring right now. 
And I couldn't be happier.

Monday, January 7, 2013

you can't schedule these things

So, waaaaaaaaay back in December while I was home and at sea level and had enough red blood cells, I think I had a bit of a breakthrough.  Only a tiny one, but then I got sick and my life was crazy bananas for a while and I haven’t really even had time to sit down and try to process it.  And no one has breakthroughs in December, those should be scheduled for March when you actually might be able to make it useful.  

I stopped talking about specifics of training here on the blog such a long time ago, because for the most part, the numbers don’t matter.  And it (sometimes) irritates me when other people spend so much time focusing on the numbers, so I didn’t walk to talk about this because I felt like I was being a hypocrite but something happened in the water and oh for pete's sake just type already.
It was a boring Thursday afternoon (it was a dark and stormy night...).  I had a swim workout I’ve seen a few times before, broken 250s.  (Sorry, Sonja, if I am giving away state secrets here).  100 fast, 75 cruise, 50 HARD, 25 easy.  Main set, ten times through.  When I’ve done it before, I don’t usually pay attention to the clock, I just work on effort and make sure that my 250 send-offs are consistent.  And the thing that has been happening in the pool lately, well, in all my workouts lately, is that I’m coasting.  I’m cruising, I’m just getting by, and that is probably why I’m afraid of going to master’s swim because then someone will beat my little ass with a hammer called OUCH.  So anyway, the set is broken, the 100s and the 75s are on 1:35, the 50s are on :55 and the 25 slash the whole broken 250 is on 5:00 to make it easy.  I figure in my head that I’ll aim for 1:30 pace on the 100s and slightly faster on the 50s because ehhhh, I’m out of shape I’ve just gotten back into training, I think the last time I did this the 100s were on 1:40 blah blah blah.  BLAH.  I work through the warm-up, wait for the (digital, thank god) clock to grab a double zero and I go.  First 100 feels smooth and only a little hard, and I pop up and see that it was a 1:25.  And the immediate thought in my head is, well, NOW you’re screwed.
So I cruise through the 75, smash myself on the 50, float through the 25.  And the thing that I like about this set is that there isn’t a lot of time to think except after the 25.  I’m telling myself, back off, you have nine more of these suckers to go and YOU ARE OUT OF SHAPE and 1:25 pace is going to be 1:34 touch-and-go on the last four if you aren’t careful.  I rest, clear my goggles, push off and go.  1:25.  FFFFFF.
I think, out loud in my head, the way you do when you're under water.  I’ve been having fun these past few weeks swimming, being at altitude plus taking five weeks off from the pool means that I’ve taken all the clock pressure off myself, plus since I’ve only been a swimmer for a few years I never really put that much pressure ON my swimming anyhow.  Sonja and I talked about it last spring, if I have a bad day in the pool I don’t give a crap, but shovel me up a bad run and I’m pissing and moaning and having a cow about it.  And if only I could detach from running like I do with swimming, maybe I might be able to actually make some progress or at least stop making both of us crazy with it.  
So, sometimes it’s good to be detached, but I think it’s turning into me being generally lazy in the pool, because I worked so hard last winter and made so much progress and I feel like I’ve been stuck on a plateau even since so why bother trying to smash through?  (The paradox of the off-season athlete).  But these 1:25s scare me, and only one more rolls by before my brain starts in with the excuses, with the cop-outs.  It’s starting to hurt, why don’t you just throw on some paddles, or take an extra minute of rest after the fifth one, actually you are running late so maybe just do eight instead of ten and then swim an easy 500 and get out, why the crap are you swimming in the 1:20s in December anyway, maybe just ease off the effort, no one is standing on the deck with the stopwatch, it’s the holidays, go eat some more cookies.  And after another 1:25 rolls by and it’s really starting to hurt, I realize that this is the voice that I need to face.  So instead of backing off, I grit my teeth and dig into the water, I am throwing it backwards away from me.  #4, 1:25.  #5, 1:26, and that pisses me off so much, that I backed off for one second, that I decide that I’m going to hold the 50s at :40 and descend the 100s for the back half of the set.
I have never heard so much screaming, inside my head, in my life.  I suppose this makes me sound crazy, but it was ugly and I couldn’t escape it.  I couldn’t distract myself with music or chatter or trees or birds or a movie like I can on the bike or run, I had nothing but my brain and the black line and fear.  And how much my muscles hurt to swim hard was nothing compared to the pain of standing up to my stupid December self and screaming, no, I will NOT back down.  1:26.  The 50 is burning, I need more rest.  1:25.  Come on, descend, goddammit.  1:24.  1:23.  1:21.  And when I finally pushed off the wall and into the cool-down, there was nothing but silence.

What I sat down to write about, really, was a race report on the meet I did this weekend, and how all I can think of when I look at the times (500: 7:28, 200: 2:49, 100: 1:16) is ugh, and how the excuses want to pile up inside my head.  Altitude pneumonia 6 extra lbs time off blah blah blah.  BLAH.  But the fact of the matter is, this is where I am, right now, today.  This is the body and the set of circumstances that I have to work with, right now.  I can roll those excuses around in my head over and over and keep letting myself off the hook during hard workouts, or I can grit my teeth and throw water.  Those are my choices and those are the ONLY choices I have.  

So I did say a little bit of ugh, just a little, maybe even a few times because I'm never going to be perfect, but then I looked for the work.  That meant cooling down properly instead of stomping into the locker room, getting into warm clothes and eating a recovery meal that actually had protein in it and wasn't made up of cupcakes and then sending a video of my scary off-season-weight'd self off to some of the biggest swimming brain trusts I know.  And some I didn't really know but offered to help anyway.  This is why I love this community.  These people, the ones that mostly exist on my computer screen, watched my wriggly little booter go up and down the lane and then sent me videos of my video and drills and sets and links and more videos and I am eating it up, I am soaking up every second and it's changing my time in the water.  I'm more focused on what I'm doing, even when I'm tired and it all goes to hell, I'm still thinking, reaching pushing digging rolling, trying to put the pieces together, trying to find the fitness I have lost.  The fitness I have never had.
So yup, I've been coasting, these past six months or so.  I've been just getting by, but no more, I've been letting myself off the hook, I've been okay with just being okay.  That's over.  I've had enough of being my own mediocre.  I am ready for this work, I am ready to settle into the stuff that isn't exciting, it's just work, I am ready for this year.  That is the choice I have made.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

of course there is a marching band

I realized recently that I have done a monthly recap post for every month that I’ve had this blog.  Which is quite a long time, if anyone is keeping track.

In each of them, I walk through the goals I set - some serious, some silly - at the end of the previous month.  Then I discuss the current status of my swim, my bike, and my run - always in order.  What follows next is usually a mishmash of discussion about my personal life and what the next month will look like.  Then I round up a few goals for the next month and hit publish.  Done.  Yesterday I started writing my December recap post and thinking about January, and thinking about how I wanted to set it apart from all the 2012 recaps/2013 resolution blog posts, and it just made me feel exhausted.  Mentally, exhausted.  And I realized, I think, that it’s time to change direction.  For good.

I’ve been struggling lately with my life, with the life that we are building here in Colorado.  And I’m struggling because it’s good, and I feel like I don’t deserve that.  When I found a new job at a great company, and then started working and loved the job and the people and the work, all I could think about is - when will this end?  And then the poet found a job and then we found a house, a beautiful little house that was well under what we could afford based on how much we sold our DC house for, a house that will allow us to recover from the financial holocaust of 2012, to build and grow.  I have friends and training partners and a new triathlon team here, it’s everything I wanted and I feel at peace.  But a little part of me is waiting for the other shoe to drop.  

When I lost my job last April, when Graham got sick and my world went insane, those things were horrible.  But in some ways they were almost relief.  Our happy little marriage had been chugging along and I was waiting for something to go to hell, and when it did, I could relax.  Because the wrong turn, the hard and vicious slap, the drop in my stomach that came when the vet walked out of the back and motioned us into an exam room, those were things I expected.  That - I felt like I deserved.

I have no idea why I feel this way.  I’ve tossed and turned with it in my own head, and I wish I could spin this blog post into an amazing story of discovery and renewal, but I can’t.  I don’t have answers.

My whole life, I’ve been a teacher.  I started teaching piano lessons to little kids when I was 14 years old.  That that turned into a career of teaching high school, of private music lessons and technology-related instruction, of coaching cross country and swimming and now, over the past year or so, coaching my own athletes, pulling all the pieces together to help others move forward.  Because that’s all teaching really is, is finding the way to move forward.  
And I think that teaching, that coaching, is such a two-way street, I think that often there is more to be learned as a teacher than as a student.  I have learned from Sonja a love for my own athletes, for every single one, for the ones who check boxes in perfection and the ones who struggle.  I recognize pieces of myself in each one, I triumph when they triumph, I fall when they fall, I am fiercely protective of them.  It’s the same way my heart would beat, hard, when the pile of sticky teenagers won the meet or the goddamn clarinet section finally could play measures 37-41 or the marching band - of course there was a marching band - came in second instead of first and my students looked at me, face upturned, for the answer why.  And this history of mine means that I always search for a lesson, in any situation.  I’m searching now, my face is upturned, I am trying to find my why.

My journey has brought me here.  It has been flawed, it has been riddled with mistakes and errors and wrong turns.  I have never pretended to be perfect, although I have longed for perfection.  I don’t know where 2013 is going to take me, I don’t know the things that I am going to accomplish.  I know that I have been hiding, these past few months.  Every punch that has landed - and there have been so many - has pushed me further into my shell.  After ironman, after Graham, I refused to believe that I had anything great left inside me.  It had been emptied out, it had been replaced by fear, by sadness, by self-loathing.  Or worse, by acceptance.  It’s so easy to look back on the second half of the year and explain away the mediocre performances, the way I just sat back and let it all wash over me.  I can remember, time and again on a race course, these feelings, I can pinpoint the moment I gave in.  The way I lost all of my will to fight.

So, it’s not because it’s January or because it’s a new year or because we’ve moved to a new state.  I’m not going to call anything a fresh start.  A clean slate indicates that I’ve wiped the past away, and I think that would be the worst way to move forward.  To guarantee that I’ll keep repeating my mistakes, that I will never learn.  But it’s time to find my way back.  There is a girl inside of me, one that bounces up and down and yells “that’s right, motherfuckers!” in the face of her biggest critics, of her demons and her fears, a girl that lets happiness explode out of her, someone who wants to embrace the joy instead of punishing herself with the mean, the petty, the anger, the rage.  Who can say, “You know what, you’re right.  I am NOT perfect.  But what I AM, is fucking awesome.”  That’s where this year needs to begin.  That’s what I need to find.