Tuesday, December 29, 2015

on December

I've never finished an ironman feeling quite so peaceful.  It's different than feeling done kaput finished, I'm not ready to wash my hands of this distance no matter how I felt at mile 60 of the bike.  But, like everyone posts haughtily on instagram all the time, I do think that I have finally learned how to honestly be in love with the process.  With where I am, just me, not comparing myself to anyone else around me and where they are and how fast they got there and what their story looks like and how mine doesn't measure up.  My day went how I wanted it to go, start to finish.  That's what I care about, not about the time, or the heat, or the chafing, or the gut bomb, or the blisters or whatever else I could use to bring it down.  And with that comes peace.  Maybe I'm growing up.  
The week after ironman, I did almost nothing.  I had this idea that I would have so much extra time in my life since I wasn't training, but instead my body ate up all those hours with sleep and limping up and down the stairs (I'm 2 for 7 on this now: running the marathon makes you a hell of a lot more sore than a 6-hour walk).  I was home a day or two before hopping back on a plane (thanks, Southwest points!) down to Tucson to support my athletes running half & full marathons.  One week after ironman, I ran somewhere between five and eleven miles at a variety of paces back and forth between miles 19 and 26.2 of the race, and I am here to report that it was a fucking terrible idea although I did have a blast doing it.  I medicated with tequila and went back to bed, my abs sorely disgruntled with how much I laughed over two days.
Home again in Colorado for a minute before boarding yet another plane (seriously, travel points are the best) out to Philadelphia to visit with family for the holidays.  I spent some good time with them, I got to catch up with more than a few dear friends and start drinking at 9am on a Sunday morning.  The Eagles backed up my joy with a win (rare this season, hopefully more planned for next season now that Kelly got the boot).  This is what my teeth look like up close when I'm drunk before noon (hashtag balance).
Coming out of the second ironman of the year, I usually take the full month of December off so that I can spend all of January feeling fat and bitching about how few watts I have on twitter.  But I felt like I got that break with everything else that was going on in my life following IM Boulder.  I wasn't burned out going into Cozumel and regardless of what social media proclaims we all should be doing this time of year, I didn't need a full month away from training to recharge my batteries for 2016.  So I didn't do that.  I took that first week off.  The second week I asked Michelle to dump a bunch of swims on my schedule and I would bike or run if I felt like it (ha).  I did some mobility work and I swam almost every day, that was enough, it felt good.  And by the third week following ironman, I was ready to be moving again.  It was what I needed and it was right for me.  Taking a bunch of time off never makes me feel happy, it makes me cranky and my hips hurt and I miss the 5K swims and being able to shoehorn myself into tiny running shorts.  Moving my body is part of my life, it's a rhythm that I crave and if it ever stops making my life better, I'll stop doing it, but until then, here I go.
That said, I have been a bit more casual throughout the holiday season.  I shut down a couple of sessions when I wasn't feeling like a superstar instead of digging for mojo to finish it out, I had movie popcorn for lunch, I climbed into the shot closet along with all my swimming friends, I lifted hard in the gym, I said yes to every holiday party, every mimosa brunch, and I filled the days between with enough spinach and kombucha to keep my immune system happy.  It's a weird sort of balance, but it worked for me this year.  And one day of twizzlers and blueberry danish pancakes is pretty amazing but after two days of sugar over-consumption I feel like shit and want to go back to eating vegetables so my headache will depart.  I only put on an as-of-this-morning six pounds as opposed to some of my month-off-blitzes of the past, which means I will only be moderately crabby over the next few weeks instead of homicidally angry from sugar withdrawal.  I know.  I'm getting so boring in my old age.
I had a great talk with Michelle sometime in the first couple of days after the race about how it went down, where my weaknesses are and what the plan was for next year.  I still haven't pulled the many-hundred-dollars-trigger on a few things, one due to hesitance, most thanks to the financial holocaust of December.  But I felt good about our talk: where I am now, what we have accomplished and where I want to go from here.  The first thing that's going down is that she has turned me loose in the weight room to lift myself senseless for a while.  I'm only two weeks into it but it's making me really happy to experiment and lift heavy and wreck myself without worrying about what it's doing to my swim/bike/run.  The first day back I moved about 16 pounds and was so sore that I couldn't sit down unaided for a few days, but my body is used at least some level of this kind of work and I feel like I've adapted pretty quickly to the expanded sessions.  I'm taking time to work on things I really suck at (I'm looking at you, squatting), to be precise about form and correct some movements that I've glossed over or ignored as I've lifted through so many seasons of ironman training.  It's interesting and different and I'm enjoying the shit out of it.  I'm curious to see the result at the end of what I'm guessing will be 6-8 weeks of this before it's back to all bicycle all the time, which makes me equally happy but in a completely different way.  
I'm not going to take the time to do a year in review post.  I've spent enough time recording this year already and I'm tired of talking about how hard it has been.  And, to be sure, it wasn't all bad, a lot of that hard has taught me about real friendship, and love, and grief, and all the other crap that goes along with feeling my feelings instead of stuffing them down and shoveling rocks over them with sarcastic comments and dirty jokes.  But I've done enough looking back.  I'm ready to look forward to what comes next, to the next adventure.  I've planning a few trips with my bicycle to warmer places in January and February, I'm hosting a run camp for my athletes where I'll get to share some awesome people in my village, I'm hoping to catch James Taylor in NYC with a good friend, I'm going to run a 5K so I can remember that it hurts more than ironman.  And the small stuff, too, I'm going to finally teach Hunter to drop it and leave it instead of drop it and pick it right back up again, I'm going to cook the bison sweet potato thing five times a month, I'm going to swim outside in below-freezing temps and take selfies on the bike and grudgingly try to make peace or at least find a way to coexist with my run, I'm going to keep eating vanilla almond butter out of the jar with a spoon, I'm going to get to race, maybe a little, and I'm going to work as hard as I can to love the people (and puppies) that love me right back.  No resolutions, no sweeping declarations of change, no strict insane diets or detoxes or new regimens, simply just moving forward.  Working every day to make myself better, to help other people make their lives better, to keep asking question and listening and learning, chasing joy and discarding anything and everything that may distract from that.  That's all I need.  That's all I ever need (puppies say Merry Christmas).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ironman Cozumel Run: race report

When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.
-Mary Oliver

As per usual in ironman, I got some random quote jammed up in my brain at the beginning of the training cycle.  Because I can't just show up and race, I have to feel all my feelings and crap along the way.  I'm not sure why this one was so powerful to me lately other than acknowledging how strongly I needed to internalize the last line: I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.  I want to leave a big fucking dent in the planet when I go, I want there to be a hole in the space left by my absence, I don't want to just visit and quietly depart, I want to make a gigantic mess, leave a permanent scar, have a tiny part of the world ring with silence when I evaporate into nothing.  And what that looked like this fall was this: I didn't want to hide from all of my shit, not anymore, not ever again.  I drew in, certainly; I closed down my circle around the ways and people I spent time and energy on, perhaps more than I ever have.  But there is a difference between drawing in to try and find strength and hiding out of weakness.  I knew that closing into my small piece of the world wouldn't be forever, and I knew that I didn't want to come out swinging and full of fire, but instead: calm, steady, buoyant (heel-striking at mile 1, start as you mean to go on).
I had a pacing plan for the day, and I ran less than 2 minutes before realizing that stubbornly forcing my body to stick to that plan would be a bonehead mistake (I dodged this one but made a few others, follow along in your book).  When I went through the first aid station, I pitched my bottle (sorry, Stacy) and walked for a minute, taking in some Gatorade or whatever orange crap was on the course plus water, packing ice everywhere I could reach.  I was watching athletes coming back on the other side of the road, and I could see that everyone was miserable, drenched, suffering.  I got off the bike quite a bit sooner than the last time I was in Cozumel, where I only had a couple miles in the sun before it started to set, and that made a difference.  I don't hate racing in the heat, I prefer to be cold but I would also prefer for my thighs to fit inside skinny jeans and to not already need special eye cream at night and to be able to eat skittles without getting a sugar headache twenty minutes later so, what I think I'm trying to say is, I wasn't crabby about the heat, I knew what to do and what to expect and how to manage myself without getting all whiny about it.  

It was somewhere in the first lap when I fell into the walk-trance, though, just for a few minutes.  I went through an aid station and gathered and packed my goodies, and then didn't start to run again.  I don't even know why.  I wasn't watching lap pace or wearing a heart rate strap or even looking at the watch at all, but I felt it vibrate and looked down to see a mile split in the 12s and that felt like a slap, hey-o, wake up, let's go.  You are better than this, I said as I continued to chat with myself like a lunatic.  You are a better athlete than walking most of a marathon just because it’s a little bit warm, so how about if you get your shit together, suck it up, and get moving.  (And maybe, close your mouth).
So I did.  I wasn't running fast but I was rolling right along and pretty soon I was heading back into town.  I saw the awesome support team of our house planted in the shade at a restaurant drinking margaritas and that made me happy (with only a tiny side of burning envy).  Spectating can be rough, especially with three of us out there to keep track of, so I was glad they were having fun.  I walked next to the poet for a minute while taking some Pepto tabs, I told him that my gut was just okay but my brain was completely fine, I felt like I was managing the heat and the day and I wanted him to know that he didn't have to be worried.  He was so anxious about me returning to this race, he always frets when I'm racing ironman but this one generated a bit more stress for a lot of reasons based on my history of breaking bones and having massive race-ending meltdowns off the bike.  So when I passed him the first time on the run, it was really important to me to show him that I was happy, that there were no problems at all, I was doing work, quietly chugging through the day.  
The second lap I started to take it a bit personally that the sun was still up although we did get some shade at the far end of the loop.  I saw both of my athletes which was reassuring, one of them looked great, the other one made a sad face and rubbed her belly as she went by, so I stopped and gave her one of my little baggies of Pepto & Immodium and barked at her as part of the circle of life of coaches and athletes all over the world, You know what to do here so FIGURE IT OUT.  My feet were hurting, although I guess it's fair to say that by that point everything was hurting because it's an ironman and it hurts, no shit sherlock like the kids say.  This was the squashed, blistered, over-saturated running-on-knives hurt that I know well after many hot and damp races, I knew that a blister bonanza was going on in my shoes and I didn't want to look down and see but it felt like I was up to my ankles in bloody sludge.  Making it through the thirteen-mile mark felt good, all of my (many) ironman meltdowns have happened in the first half and once I'm counting miles down instead of up, a great deal of my anxiety drops away and it feels like rolling sweetly down into the finish.  All of my fear was about the first hour or two off of the bike and to find peace there felt like so much success, even with another 13 miles to go (seriously, close your mouth).  
Coming back into town the second time, I passed another one of Michelle’s athletes walking and gave him shit as I trotted by (turns out I’m a jackass because he cracked his heel jumping off the dock at the swim start, sorry Kevin).  It was nice to see a face I knew, though, and I realized how isolated I felt out there the whole day.  And I don’t think that was bad, I was doing my own thing, taking care of myself, staying in my little bubble. When I went by the poet and Rosalyn again I waved and said oh my God it hurts so bad (which they actually caught on video and it's hysterical & I can't stop sharing it with people), but I was smiling and they laughed and cheered, I looped through the turn and headed back out, two down, one to go.

I had been handling nutrition fine so far, drinking little cups of Pepsi, holding ice in my hands, mixing water & gatorade the right way because I have learned something from Stacy even if it’s not to eat or drink anything I have packed once I'm off the bike.  But when I started that last loop, the only thing in my head was okay, less than nine miles and this is finished, let’s close this out, I am ready for the day to be done.  So when I left town, I put my head down and I ran.  Not all that hard, but harder than I had been, and focusing on nothing but closing the gap between where I was and the time when I could take off my shoes and eat six pieces of terrible pizza in a row.  Letting my arms be relaxed, trying to keep my shoulders back and feet under me although I’m sure I looked like hell by then, I spent at least a mile repeating with each step I DO NOT HAVE TO WALK.  It was all going fine until I went past the mile 22 sign and suddenly felt a little hazy and realized that I hadn’t put anything in my mouth for well over an hour and I was about to bonk to holy hell and back (dumbass mistake #1).  So I slowed to a walk at the next aid station, I broke out a pack of chews in my pocket and ate them all, plus two cups of Pepsi plus a little cup of hard pretzels plus some Gatorade plus some water (dumbass mistake #2).  I jogged only about five minutes before my stomach revolted from eating way too much at once and - SPLAT - there went all my calories on the ground.  I started to feel pissed, these are dumb mistakes and I know better (although in my defense probably no one is high-functioning 22 miles into the ironman marathon).  
I walked for a couple of minutes and that’s when my negative brain moved in for the kill: I should be running hard back to town and instead I’m walking because I made a stupid mistake.  But then something I learned this fall came into focus: just because I’ve made a mistake, it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person.  And more importantly, the eight billionth thing I've learned from reading all the Brene Brown: When we deny our stories, they define us.  When we own our stories, we get to write the ending.  I spent all day feeling in control of my decisions - my reactions - and to throw that away at mile 23 would be such a waste.  I knew that I could probably yell enough mean things at myself to really get hauling, I could puke my way home, but I've never seen so clearly that I get to write the ending.  And I decided that I didn’t want to write the last thirty minutes of my day angry, digging, pushing, suffering.  I wanted to spend it thankful, for everything I’ve gone through that has brought me back.  I chose to be happy.  I chose to jog as much as I could, to walk a little if I thought I was going to barf again.  To thank all the volunteers, to high-five every little kid in those final miles, to say good job to every athlete that I went by, to smile broadly and gratefully the last thirty minutes of what can only be described as a solid day, start to finish.  I chose to let that cost me a couple of minutes, and it was worth every single one.  I laughed like a loon every step of the last quarter-mile or so, beyond thrilled with the day I chose, I took in the cheers of all the spectators lining the streets and too soon, the finish rose up before me and it was over.  Finished.  Line to line, my way.  (Close your mouth.  Open your eyes.  Pull down your shirt.  Sweet Jesus, as my friend Ashley says, this might just be a lost cause).
Run: 26.2 miles, 4:36:33
140.6 miles: 12:07:19, 12th AG

In the days (now weeks) that have passed since the race, my brain is so quiet.  Silent.  Sated.  I didn't even want to talk about the day for a while, I simply wanted to hug it close to me and keep it for myself, my contentment, it's mine, alone.  Now, the first question everyone has is: do I believe that I have a faster race in me?  Of course I do, and I’ve already plonked down my $700 for the next try.  But I'm not looking forward, not yet.  The goal in Cozumel wasn’t to see how fast I could go, even though that's what I believed heading into the race.  I discovered instead, with a little over three miles to go, that what I wanted was to be happy.  To feel peaceful, in control, strong, steady, for there to be no drama of any sort, to not care at all about the athletes around me or what else was going on in race but instead to truly make this one for me.  And that's exactly what I did.  It's what I said I wanted going into Boulder but that turned out not to be true.  Here, I thought I wanted to go fast, and it turns out I don't give a fuck how fast I went.  The first time I looked up any of my official times was when I sat down to vomit out these posts.  I haven't looked at any of the other athletes in my age group, who finished in front of me or behind me, who I passed and who passed me where, what the fastest bike splits were, how far off the front I ended up, none of that, because I honestly do not give a single shit about any of it.  And that is so liberating.  When I posted the I'm done! selfie on Facebook later that night with a mouthful of cotton candy I said, That was the greatest expression of self-love I have ever experienced in my entire life and that's exactly and all that it was.  I could have easily given away that happiness with three miles to go, I could have decided to flaggelate myself or hand it off to other athletes, people, the critics that surround my own personal arena, and instead I turned all of that down and chose me.  Success, this day, is mine (obviously no selfie will go unshared).
And it feels good.  Damn, it feels so much better than good, it feels completely fucking amazing.  I am happy.  With my day, my race, but more importantly, with the life I am choosing over and over, the story that I have continued to write.  I have made mistakes this year, I am tired of discussing my own failures, but I think that so much of my issue with ironman has been a suffocating fear of success.  But now I have it, by my own definition, and I want to luxuriate here for a while before I leap happily into whatever the future will bring.
Ironman isn't about anyone else.  It shouldn't be.  It should be about me, and what I want to get from it, and nothing more.  Everyone does ironman for different reasons.  I know what mine are, I own those reasons, and I'm finally experiencing the freedom of not giving a fuck what anyone else thinks about my why.  I had lunch with one of my newer athletes last week, and he asked me, you've done seven of these, why do you keep doing them?  And I smiled, and then laughed, and told him the honest truth.  Because I love it.  I love the training, I love my bike, I love the day, but better than anything else, I love the way my own path as a human is so dirty and awkward and deeply intertwined with this process.  I love what I learn about myself, every single time I go through it.  I love that ironman has taught me how much I love to feel so fucking strong.  Over time, the highs and lows have come closer together and on this day they smoothed into slightly over twelve hours of contentment, of moving my body and loving every minute.  And if there is something on this planet that makes you absolutely explosive with joy, why would you ever stop?  (Spoken like a true addict).

None of this would be nearly as fun, of course, without my people.  Michelle, you believed in me long before I knew how to believe in myself, and now that I'm finally learning how, I can't wait to see what kind of heel-striking swimming-every-day too-much-deadlifting elephant-heart happy triathlete-Frankenstein we piece together for the next one.  Erin, Charlie, Julie, Geoff: I'm so freakin' lucky to have gathered all of you up around me over the past few years and I'm thankful that you are all still here after the ups and downs of the last six months (you are all still here, right?).  OSMO & Normatec, I would be lost without you.  All my girls, spread out all over the globe, you held me together when I fell apart.  
And my husband, I don't talk about our story so much in this blog because it is not only my story to share, but you are a single place in this world that I can always go to feel unconditionally safe, protected, supported, cherished, loved.  I'm so glad that the little video I have of the finish line has your big huge loud voice yelling in it, because finally discovering this kind of success would be incomplete without you, simply, as I've said before, the best man I have ever known.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Ironman Cozumel Bike: race report

The first ten miles felt great.  Legs were good, stomach was settled, power was right where I wanted it to be, brain was quiet.  I had to hold back quite a bit to keep watts in range, which I've never experienced in ironman before, usually it's legs vs. The Power Meter right off the bat.  When I did this race in 2013, I spent the first twenty miles crammed into a huge pack of riders, wasting time sitting up and coasting to try and get shaken loose and frustrated with so many athletes around me.  This year could not have been more different.  There were 2-3 riders near me most of the time; I passed a few people and got passed by a few people, but I had open and clear road for the majority of the ride.  I could feel a little bit of swirly wind going on, but it didn't feel like much, and (sigh) I remember thinking to myself, maybe the wind on the far side of the island won't be bad today and we'll all get to ride so fast! 
I went through the second aid station right before the turn and as soon as the trees dropped away from the side of the road, we were in for it.  I knew that I'd be facing the wind for roughly forty minutes until the next turn so I tried to note landmarks to help me break it up on the following laps and simply stay low and steady in the bars.  But I went through about five minutes of some seriously bad negative brain bombs - this is fucking stupid ironman is stupid why do I keep signing up for this if this was a 70.3 I'd be almost done riding I want to get off this is fucking stupid.  I didn't realize until I was out of the wind that I hadn't eaten at all during that section and likely wasn't tanked up nearly enough going in.  I immediately put down about 400 calories plus a whole bottle of OSMO, plus grabbed two bottles at the aid station for drinking and squirt showering and it was only about fifteen minutes until my brain settled back down.  It just wanted sugar, I told myself as I motored back towards town, everything is fine.  It was nice to start seeing little pockets of spectators pop up.  In Cozumel the support in the town is ridiculous and awesome but there are about twenty pretty lonely miles each lap of the bike.  I started smiling again and by the time I zipped past the poet and my friend Rosalyn I was happy enough to flash some peace signs their way.
I stopped at one of the aid stations near the beginning of the second loop to pee, grab some bottles & reapply sunscreen.  And look, I promise I'm going to try really hard to only say this once but, it was hot.  The day ended up being a bit warmer than is seasonal but on the bike with no relief or shade for so many hours, a few degrees can end up feeling like twenty.  I made sure to get down plenty of calories before turning back into the wind the second time around.  It was starting to get harder to keep my power up and I felt like a lot of energy was going towards managing the bike in the wind.  I stopped at special needs to pound a bottle of OSMO, put three new bottles on my bike and cram a fistful of chamois cream down my shorts.  I took another minute to open and eat a stinger waffle and then got rolling.  The trip across the island was a bit of a blustery crosswind and it felt like it was taking more work to move well, but I was glad to be heading into my last lap.  Counting down.
I pitched some more bottles as I rolled through town so I would have space to grab fluid the last loop.  The third loop was pretty bare - I don't know what it is about where I was riding, but I never saw more than 4-5 athletes around me the whole day, other than a few tiny peletons that went by (at least once with a woman pinned to the back, come on ladies) on the windy side.  I stopped near the beginning of the third lap to pee again and reapply sunscreen.  I've had a troublesome hamstring all fall and it started acting up somewhere after mile 90, not horrible just some twingy pain hello please stop doing whatever it is that you are doing thank you.  I kept shoveling down the bars even though they tasted awful, and when I ran out of OSMO I switched over to ice water in hopes it would cool me down from the inside-out.  

I realized after I made the turn for the last time (THANK GOD I DO NOT HAVE TO DO THAT AGAIN) that my feet were swollen and completely saturated from all the water bottle showering.  That's happened before in hot races, and it usually means that I'm about to spend several hours feeling like I am running on knives and glass instead of sneakers.  I opened up the strap on my shoes to try and let them air out, and after a few minutes of feeling like that wasn't working I took my feet out completely and rode the last 5-6 miles home with them on top of my shoes, twisting and turning them to try and dry out.  I shoveled down one last bag of chews right right before dismounting, and while I'm always happy to hand over my bike, this was a bit more thank goodness that is over than usual.  But I've run well many times in the past off of a challenging ride, and I felt ready.
And in hindsight, I'm content.  I rode a small handful of watts higher than I rode at Boulder this summer (and despite that rode almost forty minutes slower, which I think speaks to the difficulty of the day).  I still need to fiddle with my nutrition timing to help with some of the bumps and lows that I hit, but my gut felt as good as it ever has.  I didn't finish with a massive sunburn or get hit by a Brit going thirty miles per hour while not paying attention or sit up in the wind or say fuck it and roll the last hour at 78 watts or stop eating because I just don't feel hungry.  I spent a lot of time talking to myself like a huge dork in the second half but it worked, my brain felt calm and steady and strong even as my physical body was starting to accumulate the fatigue of the day.

Nutrition: 5 Bobo bars + 1 Stinger waffle + 1 pack of Stinger chews & 8 bottles of OSMO + at least 4 bottles of water = 2120 calories for 370 calories per hour & 256oz fluid for 43 ounces per hour.

Bike: 112 miles, 6:18:47, 8th AG

There was a big clock outside of the entrance T2 that said 6:27 when I ran by it, which confused the living shit out of me because while I didn't look at my swim or bike times, I knew there was absolutely no chance that was even remotely close to my total race time.  I was alone in the tent and took time to change my shirt, use the potty, and stuff all my pockets; I was getting ready to head out when I realized my hips felt all of whack.  I only paused for a second before laying flat on the ground to unrotate myself and realign my pelvis.  This caused a high amount of consternation from the young girls working the tent, You have to go run now!! but it made me feel about a thousand times better even if I looked ridiculous.  I jogged on out of T2 with a bottle of warm OSMO in my hand, pretty sure that I was going to pitch it without a sip because heat + a ton of sugar is usually death on the intestines.  The poet and Rosalyn were waiting at the run exit and I was so glad to see them, I said something along the lines of well that was rough as I jogged by.  It felt good to release that from my mind and turn towards the last leg of the day: the run.
T2: 4:47

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ironman Cozumel Swim: race report

One of my biggest hesitations about returning to this race was not that in 2013 I was in a bike crash and broke my arm and in all my finishing pictures I have a great big bloody handprint on my shorts.  It was that there are jellyfish in the sea.  I've been told plenty of times that they don't hurt, they are little no-see-ums but when I escaped the first go-round at this race without being zapped, I considered myself lucky and vowed never to return because I was sure my luck would run out.
Last time I was here we stayed in an all-inclusive resort, and for a lot of reasons I don't think that was the best logistical decision.  This time, there were six of us staying in a huge VBRO that we found just blocks away from packet pick-up/the grocery store/T2/the finish line, and it made the whole trip much easier.  After we landed, we picked up our packets, went for a shake-out run and got bikes built, ate dinner and were off to bed.
On Friday we rode pretty early, down to T1 and back, and my legs felt solid.  I got a chance to push into the wind a bit and it all felt relatively effortless.  The rest of the day was pretty relaxing, the non-racing athletes went off to play golf and I stretched out and caught some vitamin D on our roof with my book and girl talk.  Saturday morning we headed down to the practice swim and it felt so good to stretch out and be warm.  I think the two days between my Wednesday workout and getting in the water Saturday morning was the longest I've gone for quite some time without being in the water (because I am a giant nerd that loves to swim every day).  Getting to swim a few minutes did more to center me than anything else in the few days leading up to the race.  
We hung on the cages for a while and watched the dolphins play and then headed back home to get through all the pre-race drop-off logistics.  It all went pretty smoothly, a little bump when we were done walking everywhere and starving and the breakfast place was closed, but we eventually filled our bellies and tucked in for naps.  I slept about 2.5 hours and then sat on the roof in recovery boots, watching the sun go down, chatting with some girlfriends and thinking about nothing more complicated than how much I like salty buttered toast the day before a race.  
I didn't sleep very well that night, which is unusual for me.  I was awake and in the shower as soon as my alarm went off, got dressed and we were on our way.  Getting in and out of T1 and onto the shuttle buses to the start went quickly, we had just a few minutes to visit the portapotty, slather on another layer on sunscreen and suit up.
In 2013 the current was very strong and the swim was quick - I felt like I was laying on a conveyor belt running north-south for most of it.  And it looked like it was fast last year as well, so I wanted to take advantage of that to put up a silly swim time.  I lined up about seven rows back from the start, bumping into a fellow Smashfest-er in the corral.  We chatted for a minute and the first little bit of nerves popped up.  I always hate the waiting around in the crowd, I just want to get going into the day.  It was probably only a couple of minutes before the horn blew and we started the slow stumble through the start.  Looking back, I should have hustled it through but I walked over the mat and then it was probably almost two minutes before I worked myself to the end of the dock (which I found out under the race was actually collapsing under us) and hopped in.  
I had clear water right from the start.  I was expecting a current so I didn't fret about finding feet especially since I suck at drafting.  There was no kicking or thrashing or dodging, I just settled into the effort and I actually spent almost the entire swim completely alone.  I noticed that a woman that was standing next to me in the corral was swimming off to my right when we started, and I was happy to get out of the water at the end with her and a couple of men that I recognized from the start as well, because it meant I had seeded myself properly.

The first half of the swim, I didn't feel like I was moving well, and I couldn't really puzzle out why until I started watching the debris and fish under me and realized that it was pushing against us ever so gently.  I reset my expectations of how long it would feel until I got out - although it still felt long - and kept right on stroking.  I felt a few stings as I started, but I thought it was the salt water against my freshly shaven legs until I got zapped a good one under my chin and realized that I was bumping into jellyfish.  The one under my chin hurt for quite a while, it felt like something was stuck there and I kept trying to pull it out between strokes, and I got a few more on my arms as I went, but to be honest I was relieved to find that everyone was right and these stings weren't really a big deal.  
The docks where we would exit came up slowly, and it got a bit more crowded as we turned to head towards shore.  I blew a tiny bit wide after the turn and had to swim back over and correct, and I paused just for a few seconds to pee one last time before climbing up the stairs to get out.  Without having any idea of what my swim time was (I never wear a watch in the swim or look at the clock if I can help it), I was fully thrilled with my effort and felt like I had executed it perfectly.  I've been having swims like this in triathlon all year.  I swim harder/stronger than I have in the past and then I realize that I didn't die from swimming hard and I probably have a stronger effort in me, so the next time around I swim a little bit harder.  And repeat.  That's exactly how I feel about this swim.  I moved more consistently and steadily through the water than I have ever before in an ironman swim, but based on how I felt running into the transition tent, I think there's still a lot more in there for next time.

Swim: 2.4 miles, 1:01:50, 3rd AG

I heard the announcer saying there is still another hour and twenty minutes until the swim cut-off as I was getting changed so I knew I swam somewhere around an hour and that was plenty good enough for me.  There was only one other woman in the changing tent when I blew through, and we gave each other good swim! verbal high-fives.  I sprayed on another round of sunscreen (maybe the fifth layer so far the day, for those keeping track at home), wrestled into my long-sleeve sun top, pounded most of a bottle of OSMO and got moving.  My AWA status (which I kinda think is just silly gold star crap) gave me a baller rack spot for the first time ever, so I had a very short trot to grab my bike and head towards the mount line.  I could hear my husband yelling over the crowd because he is the loudest person on the entire planet and I knew he could see the huge smile on my face as I rolled on out.
T1: 5:09

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

the beginning of the end

I've made it no secret that life beat the shit out of me this year.  After IM Boulder, I made some pretty big changes; the best way to describe how I reacted is to say that I drew in.  I did what I needed to do to survive.  I think I talked to about four people on a regular basis there for a while.  Outside of doing my job and taking care of my family, I didn't have the energy to pour into anything other than the work I needed to do to heal.  
And as the months went by, I started figuring some of my shit out.  It was hard.  It's still hard, it's exhausting, it's uncomfortable; there are times when I want to rip my skin off just to get away from all the feelings, but I'm working on it.  For a while, being happy felt strange, like my face forgot how to make the muscles that move that smile.  Michelle was extremely skilled at navigating me through these months against what she knew about the state of my mental well-being, and in hindsight I'm glad that I kept training through.  I used this space to write about races because that's important to me, to be able to look back on these pieces of what I do, but everything else that I was working on, I held close.  As the weeks went by, I started reaching out to friends again, posting snarky-and-slightly-self-depricating comments on twitter again, I took the GoPro out running again, I felt like I was opening myself to the world again.  And one of the many lessons I've learned here is about how loved I am, as twee as that may sound.  The people in my life that have been here for me through some dark and icky times, I won't ever forget them, or undervalue that.
The two weeks after Arizona, I didn't feel all that great.  We lucked into some decent fall riding weather although there were more than a few of my favorite Colorado weather tricks, like "here's a headwind for 100 miles" and "it drops forty degrees from 9am to 11am" and "that 5mph wind forecast must have been a typo this is more like 50."  I ran twenty miles again (why is it so far?), I rode long, I ate pancakes, I swam hard, I ran so many miles at "goal race pace" that my body forgot how to run any other way, I did all the things we do when getting ready for ironman.  I was hitting numbers in training for the most part, I was doing okay, but I became acutely aware of how much I had lost since the spring.  And I was worried about racing ironman, it felt so soon, too soon.  But somewhere along the way, I had a big weekend and then felt extra-trashed on Monday so Michelle dropped in a recovery day, and then my body just... came back to me.  It was the first time I really felt like myself again, I felt happy, powerful, strong, and with that realization came the one that I had missed that something awful.  I remember lamenting that I was sad to feel good again when I knew we were moments away from shutting it down for ironman, I didn't want to shut it down, I wanted to hang onto the way I was feeling because it just felt so damn good to feel so damn good.
One of my many quite-annoying patterns as an athlete is that I get all freaked when I am ten days out from a race and feel like shit, my brain goes nuts and then my body reacts to the stress and I end up shutting down a bike workout that was probably puttering along just fine and limping home.  So heading into ironman this time, we did things differently.  My big recovery period was placed earlier than I expected, actually following right on the heels on my wait I feel like me again I don't want to stop! revelation, and I bitched my way through it because I didn't want to rest, I wanted to keep powering onwards.  But after going through this whole block, even before the race, I can say that it worked, to hell with whatever it was doing for me physically, it was exactly what I needed mentally to feel confident about tackling this distance again.  I had zero taper meltdowns, no rolling home at 30 watts, no shutting down the hard running for aerobic jogging, no cheating by putting on paddles to make all my send-offs (although cheating by drinking coffee before hard sessions was a constant until about a week out).  
That doesn't mean I didn't have any workouts where I wanted to quit or sessions that I thought would break me.  About a month out I did a hard run that I think had six repeats in it.  I got halfway through the second one and paused my watch to stand on the sidewalk and cry a little bit, not even really crying just tears leaking out, for about twenty seconds.  It had to be before 6am and it was cold and windy and dark and the monumental amount of effort required to hit the not-that-challenging-on-paper paces was more than I felt like I had in my tank.  I thought about it, then, shutting it down and jogging home, but instead I promised myself that I would try, I wouldn't stop trying and if I missed my paces then I would get to cuss like a sailor in my post-workout comments, and that cheered me up enough that I got moving again.  And do you know what, I hit every single one of those fucking repeats that morning and when I finally shut my Garmin off and walked up my driveway, leaking snot and sweat and crazy hair under my wool hat, I thought to myself, this is what excellence looks like and maybe I have never experienced it before.  
I carried that thought with me through the next few weeks.  There was no magic, I wasn't hitting paces or numbers that I've never seen, I didn't reach some stellar new level of physical fitness, but somehow I figured out that I can do hard things.  Instead of worrying about the hard 100s that were 2K down the line in a swim set & holding back on the 50s so I had gas for them, I worked as hard as I could in every moment and didn't think about what was next, or whether or not I could do it.  When I felt like I was going to blow up two minutes into a 45 minute interval, I didn't shut it down because it was too hard, I just kept pushing and pushing to hang onto my watts as long as I could and more times than not, actually maybe all of the times, I made it.  I sorted out that it's okay if something feels really impossibly hard, that doesn't mean I can't do it.  I have a clear memory of my grandma telling me when I was little, can't means won't and all those times in training that I've said I can't, what I've actually been saying is, no, I won't.  I've started to figure out how to remove the huge governor placed on my body by my brain, and while I know it's going to be a work-in-progress for a while, it has gradually but significantly changed the way I approached training.  There was an only-marginally-ridiculously-hard bike session that I did twice in the month before the race, and the first time I did it on the trainer due to weather and it wrecked me.  The second time I lucked out with a not-horrific day of weather and managed to do it outside, and I felt so solid, my brain quiet, riding alone, HARD, watching power and fueling on a stopwatch and fucking nailing it, over and over and over.  When I got home, I hung my bike up on the wall in the garage and paused for a moment with my hand on the doorknob into the laundry room and said quietly into the silence, YES.
I'm not sure that I've ever experienced a "perfect" build into ironman, such a thing might be an actual unicorn: does not exist in our universe.  Adding a late-season ironman after a mid-season breakdown certainly isn't going to result in a day that sweetly culminates years or even months of training.  I know that I have gone into ironman much more fit and better prepared.  I also didn't feel significantly underprepared, I was simply aware of some holes and perhaps lack of consistent depth in certain areas of my fitness.  But I also know that physical fitness is not what has limited me at this distance in the past.  The hardest work I've done this fall has been in my head, and I felt more psychologically fit than ever before going into this race.  And to be honest, knowing all of this, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to accomplish in Cozumel in the weeks beforehand.  In Vancouver, I wanted to be present.  In Santa Cruz, I wanted to see I could find joy in racing again. (In DC, I wanted to eat donuts).  In Arizona, I wanted to smash myself on the bike.  I couldn't figure out what I wanted here.  I could easily list the things I did NOT want - no broken bones, no crying at mile three of the marathon, no jellyfish stings, no bike crashes no shitting myself the whole run no stomping twenty-two miles - but I had trouble defining what success would look like at the end of the day, and without definition, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to recognize it at all.  

I did everything I could while tapering to strip anxiety down, to keep life bumping along normally as long as possible.  Having higher-than-usual training volume until a couple of days out helped a lot, I wasn't crabby and emotional and bitchy (at least not any more than usual).  I had a mechanical issue with my bike which meant I made no less than five trips to the bike shop in the three days before we flew to Mexico, and I didn't flip out, I took care of it and it was fine.  I didn't write a race plan, I had a chat with Michelle and she did a quick scribble on the day but that was that.  I didn't stalk the weather or obsess over data or bore everyone around me with the pace I wanted to run off the bike.  I felt happy, peaceful, I watched my body quiet down and heal, and suddenly it was Wednesday and everything was fantastic.  I had my last few sessions: stomped it out on the bike (text to a good friend: I FEEL LIKE I CAN FLY!) and then blew through the water, packed everything up and it seemed like just a few minutes later we were descending into Cozumel.  I realized with relief that I wasn't feeling anxious or nervous about racing, it was pure excitement about being there, being present, my last race of 2015, the end of this year, my brain felt quiet, my body felt strong and I danced in my seat to my current favorite crappy pop song until the plane bumped down to the ground.