Monday, March 24, 2014

nothing changes unless you change

I spent some time in December - in the absence of swimming, biking, and running but not drinking or eating - thinking about the things that I complained about in 2013 (twitter makes this easy to revisit).  To name a few: running off the bike, the size of my ass, I can't do a pull-up, I have two fabulous abs but that's out of a possible eight and those two might actually just be ribs, I let my head tank me on race day, I get the crazy hungry kind of angry, I hate the way my legs look in running shorts (below), and I always have to be the one to send the last text message.  Every single thing on that list, I can control.  I can complain all day about how the running shorts fit, but that isn't the fault of the running shorts.  They are just shorts.  I'm the master of the body inside them, and bitching about the shorts doesn't seem to have made them fit any better, so it's either time to try something different or decide to quit bitching about them altogether.  I've read it countless times in a variety of forms: nothing changes unless you change. 
The first thing I did was to order a new pair of running shorts.  In a size smaller than anything I've worn for as long as I can remember (vanity, thy name is both woman and blogger alike).  When they arrived, I tried them on and made scary faces in the mirror and took a picture to text to my girlfriends with the note I quite possibly just wasted $50 on a pair of shorts that I might never wear outside of the bathroom.  I put them on the counter where I would see them every day, and I think I made the picture the background of my phone for a while until people kept asking me if I liked my ass so much I needed to see it all the time (no).  And let's keep this shit real, I could not run or walk or really even breathe in those suckers.  
The biggest problem with change is that it happens slowly.  Changing your body, your life, it's the opposite of painting your office bright green.  You decide to change, you spend one day being different, excited, motivated about the brand new you that is being created, and you wake up the next day to find that you are essentially still the same you (WTF).  Again and again, you look in the mirror, hop on the scale, look at pictures on Facebook, and even though you feel different on the inside, to the world, you are not.  Having the patience and discipline to wait for change to show, that isn't easy.  It's discouraging, and you will fail, often.  (How much of a pull up I could do in January and I'm pretty sure I gave myself a hernia and dislocated my neck getting this far).
At no point when working through this in my head did I climb a mountain and plant a flag and name it My Slightly Different Life.  There were no declarative tweets about never eating X ever or doing X again or any of the crap that shows up there especially in January when people are all hopped up about a new calendar on their desk.  Sometimes it's good to have someone else to hold you accountable but I wanted to be the only one because I am the only one that is always here, that lives inside my head and curses too much and controls the fork and the steering wheel and the keyboard and the knife.  It had to be for me, and it had to be done my way and I'm still not even sure if I really want to talk about it because it all just seems so unimportant but here we are (sometime in February).
When we ran out of cheese and pizza crust and powerade zero (I know) in the house, I didn't buy more, instead I bought eggs and vegetables and bison.  I started hunting for ways to shake up my strength routine and you'll find how to learn to do a pull up all over my google history (along with knee hurts on bicycle why and how much chocolate in a healthy diet and adam levine no shirt).  I started walking my dogs more.  I picked up the phone and called people, more.  I ate more bacon and less pancakes and Luna bars.  I chatted in mid February about what was going into my belly, and then later about the status of my swim bike run, and that was after about six weeks of itty bitty change, not really anything to get excited about.  I also talked recently about how so much of my training has been doing just what is enough.  I realized that I wasn't bringing complete focus to my sessions, so I got rid of distractions.  I stopped watching TV and looking at my phone on the trainer and only a small part of that is because I've had to completely relearn how to pedal with my right foot.  I started looking forward to hard track sessions in Denver instead of carrying dread around all morning and when everyone looked around blankly in the water saying who wants to lead after hearing the main set, I started saying me me me I'll do it.  A lot of that was uncomfortable, horrifying, frustrating, painful, but I decided that I was okay feeling that way.  Might as well embrace the awkward because if there is nothing else life is, it is awkward (taking so many pictures in the gym, definitely awkward).
Soon it will be April.  The work I've done the last few months is starting to pop tiny green leaves out of the ground.  The shorts I bought in December, not only did I wear them to race last weekend, but I had zero chafing and my race photos don't make me want to projectile vomit in a bucket.  I certainly don't want to focus on weight loss here, it's easiest to simply say that I'm a bit different, both inside and out, mostly because it's more challenging to take pictures of the brain waves.  
But so far, these are only little baby shoots.  A month doing some leading at masters and now I've moved up to swim with the men in the fast lane who are basically just goggles and abs.  The first three days there I spent so much time worrying about how soon I would get dropped that I almost didn't notice that I can sort of hang, totally in survival mode and the last week has destroyed me in a way that swimming hasn't destroyed me in quite some time, but hang.  I think these changes are part of what in the hell happened last weekend at the half marathon, and after three months of riding without power and then going outside last week on the TT bike for the first time since Cozumel, I'm wondering if it is has something to do with that situation as well (which probably means an FTP test is in my near future, speaking of horrifying pain).  
And some of these changes, I firmly believe, have come from something Sonja told me a long time ago.  Chase the fun.  I have some friends who are dedicated athletes, they make every single decision in their entire life through the filter of what is best for their swim/bike/run.  And that's okay, that's their journey right now and bless their serious and dedicated hearts.  But these friends would never buy a mountain bike, none of them would ski so many days and certainly not so much in(to) the trees and backcountry and all the double blacks while whooping like a drunk frat boy, they wouldn't run all over the trail system when the road is faster and more consistent and less likely to result in a season-ending fracture, these friends of mine will always choose to ride alone and nail their intervals instead of spending ninety minutes chattering non-stop with a new friend at 900 watts and running miles that start with 7 off the bike when the schedule very clearly says easy just because they are so goddamn happy to be running next to the ocean in shorts.  (I am not saying I have done any of these things for the official my-coach-might-be-reading-this record).  
And that might sound inconsistent with my yammering about bringing focus to sessions, but somehow, in the scary dark corners of my thought process, it makes perfect sense.  This is my actual life, and I don't want to waste even a moment.  Sometimes that will mean laser intensity on the trainer and sometimes that will mean yapping away with the Garmin turned off, but both of these moments bring absolute brilliance into my soul.  Eating the way I've been eating makes me feel healthy, and strong, and feeling strong makes me feel smashingly thrilled to be alive, so I'm going to keep doing it.  And I do feel strong, that word is all over the pages of my training log.  I felt strong last weekend when I ripped off a half marathon and I felt strong two days later when I was able to launch right back into training because I rocked my recovery.  I felt like a shark when the new toes didn't swim away from me and I felt like the Incredible Hulk this morning at the gym when I did 23 pull-ups (okay, fine, maybe 22 and a half) and then deadlifted what I weighed at the height (width?) of my off-season.  
The point of this is not to preach about living a perfect (i.e. boring) life, because I am not living this life perfectly.  I am, and always will be, filled to the brim with human imperfection, and I've listed piles and piles of my faults in blog posts galore.  I simply decided to stop complaining about the universe not changing around me and instead change myself.  It felt like a fine line at the time, but it's not.  It's enormous.  I had to be the one to change.  Me.  No one could do it for me, no one could make it easier, but no one is more proud of the tiny things I've accomplished so far this year, both in body and in mind (although my texting habits still verge on harassment).  And even if the rest of the year brings nothing new, nothing magical or monumental or breakthrough in my training or racing, even if we get to December 31st and the only PR I came out with was a half marathon in Utah, I would still continue down this path because right now it is far more important to me to spend my days singing and skiing and crashing down a trail all the while talk talk talking than it is that I finally sink a knife into the heart of ironman.  Ironman is a thing, it is a vehicle for a journey and I am so happy that I hopped aboard it three years ago when I signed up for my first, but slaying these demons, chasing my joy, well, that is a far more enchanting way to move through life.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Canyonlands Half Marathon: race report

The best races of my life have happened when I have carried something with me.  A thought, a mantra, an idea, those are plastered all over these pages, the words that have followed me along.  And sometimes these words come from quite the unlikely mouth (spoiler, in case you don't want to read the whole post).
I've been struggling with how to talk about this race.

On the one hand, I've had a rocky winter.  I've been continuing to deal with a knee situation that has plagued me on and off since last summer, and while the field of vision towards complete healing seems to be getting narrower, it has made for a somewhat inconsistent few months of training.  Some sessions shut down here and there, pain popping up at the wrong times, some tears and railing against the universe.  And it's the truth to say that while on the surface I've bopped along just fine, I've struggled with maintaining a positive attitude in the privacy of eight billion emails to my coach, physical therapist, and the rest of the support system that I am lucky to have.

On the other hand, training has become a completely different animal to me.  The changes I've made this year - changes in diet, habit, relationships - those changes have seemed small in their moments, but now it's the middle of March and I've changed.  And I'm not sure I even noticed it, or thought about it, or wondered how it would come out of the body, until I ran this race.
I included this race to Sonja late last year on the list as "my husband is running it plus a bunch of athletes that I'm coaching with a group in Boulder so I'll be there anyway if you'd like me to sign up," and she did.  I was also planning on running the Myrtle Beach half last month, and I liked the idea of running two half marathons four weeks apart before digging into the triathlon season.  The planes left without me and I didn't make it to SC, and that left me more curious than anything else about what in the hell was going on with my run.  I felt in late January like it wasn't coming around very quickly, but then I hopped a plane to California and did a volume dump plus ran a bunch of miles way too fast and blamed Anabel, and even though my body tried hard to come down with a bug when I got back and then my knee threw a last-minute rod, I had some good sessions in the weeks between.  So.  Curious.
We - the poet, the puppies, and one of my super cool athletes - drove out to Utah Friday morning.  Everything about the day before a race went smoothly, bibs and hotel and snacks and meals.  We met up with the big group of F4 runners for the shake-out run later in the evening, and then I got to spend some quality time trying to break my collarbone (as bloggers do) while the sun went down.
At some point in the days before the race, through the fog of frustration at my body, at least a trickle of rational thought got through.  Someone said something to me about the body being a beautiful machine.  I'm sure he didn't mean my body, just the human body, or maybe the body of someone who isn't so grumpy and didn't drink so much wine in December, but it chimed, settled down into my brain where I needed it.  And at the last moment before we left the hotel room Saturday morning, I tucked it under my watch band, to carry, so that if I couldn't find that moment in my mind, I would still have it with me.
Logistics of this race are great, we were able to park a block away from the shuttle that would take us into the canyon.  We got to the start with over an hour to kill and I went down to the river alone and set my mind free for a while.  It's what I've discovered I need before racing, quiet moments to go blank, empty (and not realize that I have something stuck in my teeth before I start taking selfies).
Eventually it was time to warm up, the legs just felt okay, not super snappy, but I jogged it out and made one last visit to the potty and hugged and high-fived everyone before heading into the crowd.  I wanted to run alone, I didn't want to see anyone during the race, I wanted to listen to my feet and my breathing and see how it would all unfold.

My race plan was pretty simple, I had a "do not go out faster than this" first mile and a few other thoughts but no real numbers to hang onto.  I stood around shivering and chatting with some people decked out in head-to-toe ironman gear (sigh) and then we were moving.  The first mile has a pretty big downhill, and I felt like I spent that entire mile laying on the brakes and watching people fly by.  I split the first mile in exactly the time I wasn't supposed to run faster than (good girl) and then for a while, didn't really pay attention to anything.  I couldn't tell you what I thought about in these miles.  I got hungry early and started working on my chews, my handheld of OSMO that I planned to carry for six miles was bothering me after six steps, but I was able to keep convincing myself to carry and drink from it for just one more mile.  Somewhere after mile three I noticed that a lot of people around me were breathing pretty heavily, and I was not, so I wondered if maybe it was time to bust a move, but it felt early.  
The wind picked up after mile five, I think, and I latched onto a couple of guys who announced to everyone that they were on cruise control at 8:30 pace.  They pulled me up a big hill, steady eddy, and then I lost them when they ducked into a water stop.  At some point I passed the two hour pacer, and he was getting chewed out by a runner for how far ahead he was, and every time the wind blew hard I tried to tuck in but couldn't find someone who was tall enough or traveling at my pace, so I would zip around.  And here and there I flipped my wrist over and peeked under my watch, paused, gathered, and ran on.  

The words that I've used to describe this race are conservative and controlled.  I started keeping an eye on pace after I pitched my bottle and chews, and made a few okay no more splits over 8:40 kind of decisions as I moved through the miles.  The wind dropped for a moment just as my watch lapped a mile, I think maybe eight, and a few minutes later I glanced down to see I was in the low 7s, and it still felt too early for that, so I eased back some more.  We spat out of the canyon, under and around onto the highway, and when we passed the mile 11 sign, I finally decided to dig in.  A hard mile, and then the end-of-race negotiations started to happen in my brain.  Only five laps of the track left.  We turned off the highway and the tailwind turned into a crosswind, and my quad let me know a few hours later that I had been leaning into it.  The finish line appeared too soon, a little pop of speed and I was across, and it didn't even occur to me to wonder what my final time was going to be until the moment where I caught a glimpse of the gun time clock and wondered what in the hell just went down (shoe pic a la Heather).  
It's so hard to talk about a race that goes well, there is nothing to say.  This one wasn't perfect, I made some mistakes that I'll jot down for next time, but they were tiny and manageable, or maybe my work of managing is improving, I don't know.  I do know that there was no fear, standing on the line, I can't recall a single negative thought I had throughout the day, I was in control, I was a scientist running a machine (a beautiful machine), and somehow that landed me at the line far more quickly than it has in any of the six hundred other half marathons I've raced.  I'm not sure what to do with that, and I'm not sure I need to do anything with that other than check the box, write the blog, and move along.  
The poet asked me a few hours ago, do you know why you race?  Yes.  Why?  And I'm repeating myself here, so click on away, but standing on the line, for me, is a question.  So many things in life are predictable, I have answers before I can even ask.  A schedule, a calendar, work, groceries, laundry, it's often a straight line.  But when I race, I don't know the answer.  I don't even know the questions that are going to appear once I've walked into the fire.  I do know that I don't get many opportunities to ask these questions, to stand in the howling wind, the eye of the storm and see what happens if when I do not back down.  And there have been many times in my life where I've stood at the line saying I don't want to and that's fear, absolute.  Before Cozumel, I had these questions, some of them I found answers to and some were lost with a broken arm.  So I return to the line to ask again, as I will again and again and again, and what I know about this race is that it felt like a step.  A firm and certain step further down wherever my path is going, into a future that I can't see.  But it also only felt like one step, and if there are any answers at all that revealed themselves to me out of this little race, it's that there are quite possibly a million more steps.  More steps, just like this one, and all I need to do to take them is to reach out and hold on.  With both hands.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

the gap between the two trapezes

There's no real way to write about a big training week that is fascinating to anyone except the people involved in it (just acknowledging before I proceed, as bloggers do).  I find the daily breakdown of hours, minutes, pace, wattage, elevation to be a general bore, not to mention intellectual property of the coach laying down the ass-whipping, so I think it is best to simply comment that I went to California to ride my bike until my legs fell off or my crotch disintegrated (with a little bit of swimming and running and a lot of being around some of the greatest friends I have), and it is safe to say that I accomplished all of these things.
I love Colorado, I knew from the moment we drove over the state line that I would likely never leave, the peace, the dirt, the canyons, the wide sweet plains of sky, those things are starting to feel like mine, my soul has been wandering for years and now I am home.  I’ve done a lot of skiing this winter, a lot of running with snow chains strapped to my feet, listening to my breath and turning inwards to the silence.  I've done a lot of swimming in water that is 80ยบ warmer than the air, when the sun comes out I run out into the yard and stand with my face open to the sky, I’ve spent a lot of time outside this winter, that is true, and it helps.  But the unrelenting weeks of cold and snow, only to be replaced briefly by 50mph winds, have made my heart ache to be back on two wheels, sun in my eyes, singing whatever song I am currently wearing thin at the top of my voice because if there is one thing I am it is loud, sweat rolling into my ears and ever so indelicately down my crack.  
I have terrible taste in music and an extremely irritating habit of listening to a song on repeat.  I can’t just enjoy music, I need to wallow in it, to feel it in my veins, like water like wine, the kind of song where every time you press the button to notch up the volume it just sounds better.  The one currently getting worn out is an old Coldplay song.  I spent a lot of time running on the eagle trail and at the reservoir this summer, and if you saw a little chunk in short shorts flying downhill singing it’s a wa wa wa waterfall at the top of her lungs, well, that was me.  I plugged it back into my shuffle when I packed last week, knowing that sometimes I want company when I’m going to be spending hours upon hours going four mph in my smallest gear, and company it was.  I would guess that I listened to it more than two hundred times in the past seven days, and that might even be a conservative estimate.  I cannot turn this song up loud enough, I cannot sing the second verse without wanting to fling my arms into the air, I can’t even start to explain how precisely Mr. Coldplay has put a pin in exactly how I am feeling in my life right now but by god I am going to try.  
There are things in life that you can control, and quite a few billion more that you can’t.  Things that you cannot control include the weather on race day, the number of people that are swimming in “your” lane when you show up to the pool, the guy in front of you at the stop light who is trying to go straight from a right-only lane and holding up all the works when you are late for your bikini wax.  Most recently in my life it has included someone slamming into my body 84 miles into an ironman and viciously frustrating bicycle-related unsolvable knee pain and flights taking off without me on them when I am desperately trying to get to South Carolina.  But the things you can control?  Your attitude, your emotions, your reactions, your self-talk.  This particular platitude is usually shared with you when you are losing your shit and is generally unhelpful in the moment; it’s something I say to my athletes and my own coach needs to remind me of it, part of the circle of life.  But like most trite sayings, it is true and I think I finally, really, completely understand it for the first time in my life (yes, I only brought two kits with me and washed them repeatedly).  
It was the third or maybe fourth day of riding, we rolled down the bike path in the sunshine, I settled my sores back into the shape of my saddle as we headed yet again for the canyons.  My legs warmed up and felt solid, not snappy but competent, I think I also learned this week a great deal about what my body is capable of when I think it’s a dysfunctional old pile of rocks and gears, or maybe I actually have no idea what it is capable of because I’ve never really asked it to do any more than enough.  We turned off the PCH and started the first and longest climb of the day, I got dropped pretty much immediately (THAT being the actual theme of the week) and spent the better part of the next five hours alone in my head, the most terrifying situation imaginable to an extrovert.  I can remember this going sour on other training days, the peevish grumpiness that accompanies watching your friends ride up and away, the negative spiral that drops you lower and lower as you climb higher, until you finally breach the rise and can unclip and stomp off the bike.  But none of that came through, I plugged in my single earbud (right ear going deaf far more rapidly than the left), picked a number to hold myself accountable to on my tiny electronic device that was talking to Mark’s borrowed back wheel and started really listening to what was going on inside my mind.  It was quiet, confident, positive, grateful, it was the best possible version of myself and once I relaxed into it, I think I could have climbed forever (but thank fuck I didn’t because the saddle sore situation was completely out of hand).  As the day rolled on and I started to run out of calories and I felt the ughs tapping at my door for the first time all week, I reminded myself, I can control this, I can control my attitude, I can’t control that I am feeling tired but I can control how I am reacting to feeling tired, and with that, I turned the bonktown bullet train to crankypants station right back around.  One more climb up and then we arrived at the best part of the day, the moment where I finally get to ride off the front and spend thirty minutes going forty mph directly towards the ocean, squat little crazy pigtails flying, put your butt on the seat, I can’t stop laughing even though it means I end up eating half a dozen bugs on the way down, weight on the hand, my bike doesn’t need brakes because I wouldn’t use them if you held a gun to my head, thinking how is it even conceivable that I used to be afraid of this moment when it is possible that these are the best moments of my life?
The words I can’t stay away from, this song stuck in my head this week, as Anabel would say I am literally obsessed with it: maybe I’m in the black, maybe I’m on my knees, maybe I’m in the gap between two trapezes, but my heart is beating and my pulses start, cathedrals in my heart.  
That’s the feeling that is predominant in my life right now, like maybe I am in that gap between the two trapezes, weightless, like I am flying through the air, heavy, nearly confident that I will be caught but it doesn't matter, what matters is I am still soaring, defiant, full of heart (and probably just a little bit of bullshit).  I’ve been reading a lot of Brene Brown and this feeling is the opposite of shame, it’s kryptonite to vulnerability, it's connection without definition, it's the goddamn tightrope.  I feel powerful, jubilant, like there is absolutely nothing that can drag me under, I am surrounded by the love of my friends, I am ravenous for challenge, it's the voice in my head that states, firmly, when shit gets hard, I will not back down.  I’m on the other side of fear in these moments, maybe I ran out of watts climbing Latigo but I sure didn’t run out of joy.  That’s what training should be, I wasn't in California to ride my bike for twenty-two hours because I want to PR my bike split in ironman this year.  I went to California to ride my bike for twenty-two hours because there is (literally) not a single thing on this planet that I would rather be doing.  
I’m on the plane back to Colorado right now, I’m listening to this song just one more time which I'm sure my seatmate is thrilled about based on the volume that I am blasting it, and my heart is full.  My legs are tired, my sacrum is probably sideways by now, I need a haircut and vegetables and to buy some of that oil that smells like my grandmother that will heal my special parts, I miss my friends even though I only left them a few hours ago, but I am both sated and starved, I am in the gap, hungry, awake, my spirit is voracious and ready for the next adventure, if I had to use my own words to describe how I feel coming off the week, those words would not be oh man, I'm so wiped, they would be more along the lines of bring it the fuck on.