Tuesday, February 24, 2015

just...different

I posted my last emotional internet missive the day before I left Hawaii.  I thought that I had had some good lightbulb moments, I realized that back home in training I had been coasting a bit, I had a few days of experiencing what it meant to actually bear down and work, to chase a wheel, to swim hard on not enough rest, I thought I knew.  I even had a really nice chat with Michelle after a glass of wine about how I felt like some of the things I thought to be true about myself had been broken a bit after the week of training.  And then I had one more day of swim bike run in the sunny hot sunshine.  We started out with a pretty hard swim.  Coasting on the success of my Monday morning time in the water, I slaughtered it, I felt great, I swam my ass off...and got out of the water so smashed that I had the thought umm I really wish that was the only workout I had to do today because I might have just emptied my tank.

Got home, stuffed some food down, and rolled out.  There were four of us, and Michelle was good about planning our ride, this person rides here and gaps back from this wheel etc, so we would get our work done without tripping all over each other.  It was one of those days where you groan, loudly, when you push the first pedal stroke around because your quads are not particularly interested in waking up.  But we got going, and I started putting calories down (act of desperation), and then it was time to start the work, so I sat up and soft-pedaled so that I could peel off the back and when I was far enough out of the draft I popped down into my bars and hit lap.
The first few minutes of an interval are always chasing power, first it's 700 and then it's 50 and then back to 700 and it takes a moment to dial in the effort.  But once I did, I was inching up on our quarter-mile long pace line, and I didn't really think I was supposed to be, so I stayed glued to the meter and was really careful to not be overly hammering.  As we worked through the first one, I crept around and ended up sucked onto Heidi's wheel who was sitting on Michelle's, and there were four more minutes to go, and my power dropped into the basement and there was a literal shitstorm going down in my head.  Somewhere along the way, I've been taught that going off the front can be taken as a huge sign of disrespect, and I've ridden with people who have felt the need to say fuck the workout I'm going to teach you a lesson for doing so.  But that was crossed with, oh man, my power numbers aren't even close to where they should be and I'm going to get in so much trouble for this (which is also, of course, completely ridiculous, but like I said, shitstorm).  Another minute went by and I finally decided that not hitting numbers was the worse sin so I swung out and pushed past, yelling I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry over my shoulder as I went.  I spent the rest of the interval wanting to jump out of my skin, waiting for I'm not even sure I knew what I thought might be coming but it felt bad.  It ended, I hit lap and sat up into the recovery and a moment later Michelle pulled up next to me and hollered GOOD GIRL!! at just about the top of her voice and I almost burst into confused-and-relieved-head-case tears right there on my bike somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  
But it isn't the breakthrough, exactly, that matters.  The breakthrough is fun, and that day, on the bike, I rode exactly what I supposed to ride and I surprised myself and something broke, something small but definite, shattered.  We got off the bike and ran hard downhill repeats and I surprised myself a bit more, and I'm sure I slobbered all over the place trying to explain to Michelle why I was such a freakin' bag of crazy, but that's not what is actually important.  A breakthrough is just one day.  And there are a shitload of Nike commercials and instagram quotes that say something along the lines of doing work, quietly, where no one can see it, day in and day out is what builds a champion.  What matters is the aftermath.  It's what I do with the breakthrough.  Do I write it down, chalk it up to an awesome experience, and fly back to Colorado and fall back into all my same old patterns?  Because it's easy to shake my sweaty hair out of the bike helmet after a ride like that and declare to myself everything is going to be different now but to come home, to hold myself to that thought, those ideals, day in and day out, when I'm tired and it's cold and snowing (or, all right, 65º in February and perfect sunshine) and I'm not in Hawaii being sparkly in front of my coach anymore, can I still find this feeling?
The first few days, it was easy.  Colorado was graced with a magical slice of spring, and it's not hard to be motivated and at the top of your game when you can be running around outside in shorts.  But I feel, quietly, a little bit different.  My attitude feels different, the work feels different.  I'm not drifting towards the future, I'm not doing much wondering about what this will look like in a few months, I'm simply trying to start every day with the intention of giving 100% to everything I do, including mid-ride pit-stop selfies.  
I read an article just this morning about expectancy theory.  A coach creates expectations about an athlete; expectations influence the coach's behavior towards the athlete; the athlete becomes aware of expectations and adjusts self-perceptions and behaviors; athlete performance falls in line with initial expectations.  I find this kind of thing utterly fascinating.  And to remove the coach-athlete relationship, and replace it with my relationship with myself as an athlete, there's something fun to chew on.  If I believe that I have high expectations for myself, I'm going to be pleased when I perform up to those expectations and unhappy when I don't reach them.  But what if I am actually holding myself back with these expectations?  This is the shift I'm working on.  One of the first hard workouts I had back in Colorado was in the pool, and instead of looking at the send-offs and calculating what I needed to swim to make them, I swam as hard as I thought appropriate and then was startled by the time on the clock.  I continued that way through the workout, to the point where I actually adjusted the send-offs down by 10" because it was more than enough.  I removed the expectations I had placed on myself and my performance and over the course of an hour, surprised myself over and over in the water.  I wonder what in the hell kind of athlete I would be if I could do that day in and day out?



It won't always work out, it won't always be a grand slam.  This past Sunday, I was tired in the water, I had a 1K to descend and the 200 split I caught made me snort, stop, and pull on gear to finish it out.  But then I got pissed off at myself, I spent 300 yards arguing about why I had done that, returned to my coasting behavior, and I ended up taking off the paddles and descending that motherfucker right down.  I had some hard 50s and 25s to swim after that and I know the difference between good enough and the best I can do.  And it's just some 50s at the end of a long day that capped off a long week, it certainly would have been acceptable to swim a bunch of 38s at the end of that session but being able to write in my log :35 :34 :36 :35, it made a difference to ME.  The same thing happened in my long ride on Saturday, the same thing happened during my hill repeats, this tiny weird crazy argument with myself is showing up all over my training and there's no wonder why as I've been giving into it for a long time.
I work hard, I'm a workhorse, it's what I do.  I'll never forget talking to my horn professor in graduate school after a disappointing performance and telling him that I thought I needed to work harder and him telling me, no, you don't, it's what I tell so-and-so, no one works harder than Katie.  But I wonder if sometimes I hide in this work ethic.  I'm checking the boxes, putting in the miles, but I'm holding back in small ways that sure do add up.  When we got off our bikes in Hawaii, Michelle looked at me and said, this is a good thing but now my expectations have gone way up here (imagine holding hand above bike helmet) and that was a little bit scary, but it's what I need.  This is why we have coaches, by the way, because someone else standing outside looking in might be able to figure out the tiny little key to unlocking your bullshit and then pushing you up and over the line.  So I'm back in Colorado, I'm surrounded by friends and training partners alike, and every day I feel a little bit more like something is rumbling, getting ready to turn over.  Different.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

on sunshine & being uncomfortable

I keep half-writing blog posts on planes or buses or in coffee shops, and then a few days pass and I realize it's all totally out of date, that the crap I had to say that seemed so important just gets command-A + deleted.  But I want to get something down, if for no other reason that to remember the things that I keep repeating in my head, ranting or venting or celebrating or just pondering over and over while my body pushes out the miles.  (Seen on the run two hours before departing Colorado).
Backing up a bit.  It's kind of hilarious, I said to the post as he drove me to the airport last Sunday through four inches of fresh snow.  We moved here because Boulder gets 400 sunny days a year, yet every February I pack up and leave to go train in the sunshine.  Three years in a row now I've done this, dismantled the bike and picked a fight with United on social media and headed west with all the running shorts I can current shoehorn myself into.  On the surface, traveling to the sunny days, to riding my bike outside without being layered under every piece of warm gear I own, running without a shirt (sorry) and soaking up the vitamin D, but it's also a few lucky days of laughing, moving, and some good reminders about why I do what I do, and where I want to go from here.
The last two years I've been lucky enough to crash Anabel's training in southern California but this trip around the sun has brought Michelle into my life.  We had a short conversation back in the winter that had me booking a plane ticket not to the palm trees and beaches of Santa Monica but instead a few zillion miles further west to Hawaii where we apparently cannot take selfies with our helmets on straight.
Coming out of the fall, I had some shit to figure out.  The off season helped a ton.  It was a relief to land there with a THUD the day after IMAZ, I needed the downtime to focus on other things.  And by the time January rolled around, the wheels had started to turn again.  Someone posted one of those quizzes on Facebook a while back, about whether you make progress better as an abstainer or a moderator.  Is it better to go cold turkey or to ease out of the mess?  And for me, always, cold turkey.  There is so much less decision fatigue involved in nope I am not doing any of this for X time than the exhaustion that comes daily with am I going to train?  eat?  drink this?  So at the beginning of January, I kicked off another adjusted-for-training-whole30.  The first few days were uncomfortable, but in a way that is familiar, I am doing something good for my body and I am on track and this will pass kind of uncomfortable.  I remember on day eleven, I woke up and felt goddamn amazing.  I floated through my training, I felt good about everything I ate, I was rolling.  The better I ate, the better I felt, the better I slept, the better I trained (and the less my husband wanted to strangle me).  I was in the groove, firing hard, and then there was a tiny blip when my back went out again.  At the time, of course, it felt like the end of the world (so much for not wanting to strangle me).  And even though this is the third time it's happened in my life, I still didn't recognize it right away as my wacky sacrum tilting and rotating and jamming the whole joint up.  (This is the I haven't gotten out of my sweatpants in three days selfie, plus a dog butt). 
Yet again, I rang all the alarm bells I could ring, sent off all the bat signals and the only reason I guess I'm mentioning it is so I can remember, it happens, it goes out but someone can always slam it back in, and all the while, life goes on.  It went out on Monday and I was able to get back in the pool by Friday morning, I went to masters and swam about half my usual yardage and every time I touched the wall, I popped up to the surface of the water bubbling over with the sweet and overwhelming relief that comes along with finally, the absence of pain.  The summary of all of this, I suppose, is that sometimes your body is just a jerk for no reason even if you are doing everything right but maybe (?) the universe was actually helping me out because I landed in Hawaii a bit more rested and motivated and eager to really get after it than I might have been otherwise.
On the plane, on the way here, I was thinking a bit about the last time I shipped myself off to training camp, and how different of a space my brain is in right now.  I was chasing all these carrots, some dangling from ego, from vanity, from shame.  I wanted to run well in ironman, I wanted to be able to ride with the big boys, I wanted to not hate the way I looked in running shorts.  And all of those things were really motivating, for a while.  But now a year has passed and I'm not altogether sure what I am chasing.  I talked a couple weeks ago about working on my run, but I'm not sure that's exactly it.  Thinking about it on the plane, I was a bit unsettled, but now as I've worked through this week that feeling has melted away.  There is so much happiness for me in the here and now of training, I will take a good solid day over a race in a second, sunshine and pedaling and feeling strong, those are my best days, and this week has been full of them (still crooked).
Something I realized, maybe I always get a taste when I train with new people or just remove myself from my tiny bubble of Boulder, is that I love training with people who love to train.  There's no bullshit, no whining, no one wants to talk about how they feel, no it's raining so let's just bail to the treadmill or even any discussion about anything except the how and the when, it gets done, check the box and move along.  On Tuesday, it was pouring and crazy with rain, we swam in it and then we ran in it.  And there was no IF about it, we just changed into run clothes and headed out and you know what, we got the work done and we got a little wet and that was that.  No fuss, no muss, I don't think anyone even posted on twitter about how much of a badass they were.  I love that, and I think it's something that has maybe been a bit lacking in my environment in Boulder, in my circles, and in my own brain.  (The other bike I rode in Hawaii selfie).
We did two long rides while I was here.  I spent some time in the first hour, especially on the second day, with a feeling that I recognize and it's called you guys I am really not sure I can push the pedals like this for the next four hours but both days, I was surprised to find that I could hang.  I was more than fine.  On the second day I chased a paceline that broke away too quickly for me to really be able to latch on but I chased it for 30+ minutes anyway, and I found that could push myself in a way I honestly didn't know that I could do.  But here's the fun.  Now?  I know.  
That feeling, realizing that, it comes with a truckload of emotional garbage.  It's startling, and also I feel a bit silly, but it also opens my eyes super wide to the potential that might be out there for me.  One of my biggest takeaways from this week, I think, is busting through all the crap that I've been thinking about myself as an athlete.  For months, even for years, all these things that I have believed about myself - they are just plain old not true.  It's that simple.  Michelle is strong as fuck and yes, we were doing a nice long aerobic ride and I was saving plenty of watts by glomming on her delicious wheel, but I hung onto that sucker and after the initial oh shit oh shit oh shit faded away, it didn't even hurt that much to do so.  Ceiling, shattered.  (And then there were donuts in the bike-to-swim transition area because Michelle is goddamn amazing).
And I found that feeling again and again.  I didn't swim well the first entire week, I felt out of sorts and the pool was long and slow and I was trying to adjust a few things in my stroke and shit, sometimes the swim simply isn't there and I wasn't all that worried about it but when it did finally decide to show up, just this morning, hot damn did it feel good.  It was uncomfortable, it wasn't nearly as much rest as I wanted and it was effort dialed up to the max, and I had the thought, I wonder if I was doing this session on my own, if I would be pushing myself like this.  And just the fact that I was even thinking that thought tells me, WELP, probably not.  Not all the time.  About a year or so ago I had a realization that I wasn't pushing myself in training, and it was a big AHA moment for me when that happened.  And certainly now, there are some workouts that I bust my ass on (15x1', looking at you), but if I honestly reflect, do I bring that kind of intention to every single session that I do?  Or do I sometimes still coast a bit and then throw on paddles to make the intervals and call it good, because I'm staying out of the place in training where it's not hard, but it's uncomfortable?  The latter, definitely, and that's a tough truth to admit when I consider myself a workhorse.  But turning the boxes green and getting in the miles isn't the same as bringing 100% of my effort and just plain old TRY to training, and I've got one more day here to soak in that feeling before I take my bike apart and return to windy snow breezy snow sunshine snow where I do most of it alone and have only myself to hold me accountable in those moments.  

Swim, bike, run, that was my week by the teeth.  But closer to the core, oh - oh - OH - AHA - those were the things I found in Hawaii.  I'm coming out of this week full of questions.  What would my swim look like if I sought out that uncomfortable feeling more often in the water?  What in the actual hell can I do on the bike if I push myself on aerobic rides like that all the time, instead of believing the same old story I've been telling myself oh Katie just can't get her heart rate up oh well?  And the run, I don't even know what questions I'm supposed to be asking there, but, what could that look like over time?  (I know Garmin pics are obnoxious but I haven't posted one in like four years and it's my longest run since ironman and shit, at least it's not another selfie right?)
Last year, in January, I decided that I wanted certain things in my life to change.  I took a picture of myself squashed into a pair of run shorts and made it the background of my phone, because I wanted to be reminded, often, every day, of what I wanted, what was important, what motivated me.  I wanted to be faced with the thing I no longer wanted so I was making choices through the filter of desire, to change.  And even though I was mortified more than once by someone picking up my phone and asking do you like your ass so much you want to see it all the time?, I kept it there, and it worked.  Little stupid shit, that's what we do, but if it works, who cares?  Who is it hurting?

The background on my phone for the past two months has been this.
Because that's where I am.  That's what I need to be reminded of, that is what I need.  I know that the thing that is holding me back the most in this sport is confidence.  I don't do things on race day because I don't believe I can.  But I also have learned that the breeding ground for confidence in myself is surrounding myself with people who believe in me.  Who see potential, strength, greatness, despite my many and varied flaws as a human wandering this planet.  That's how I finally cracked the nut of the ironman run back in November, and I'm going to finally say, in print, that I think that run is just the beginning.  I think - no, I know - that there is a better run inside me, a better day entirely, and it's a complete 180º from how I felt last July going into IM Boulder, but it's my joy.  And I'm going to chase that motherfucker down.