Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for a village of support

Happy Thanksgiving Day Celebration

Image: David Castillo Dominici /

Nine months ago I began training for the 2011 triathlon season. After four months, the training became Ironman specific. Since then, I’ve spent countless hours swimming, cycling and running in pursuit of the ultimate endurance challenge and one of the loftiest goals on my bucket list.

Ironically, though triathlon is an individual endeavor, I couldn’t have done it alone. Dave Griffin, in his column for the Times last Sunday, reflected on a quote from Juma Ikangaa, a Tanzanian runner and one of the best marathoners in the world: "The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare."

I definitely have the will to prepare; I have it in spades. But will alone would not have seen me through this journey; I also had to have a way. And this way was paved with a village of people who have provided childcare, support and encouragement throughout this long and exhausting road.

My husband and I are both doing the Ironman, which has been a great experience for us as a couple, but has proven to be logistically challenging. Since my work schedule is flexible, I was able to do most of my weekly training during the day, while my husband had to squeeze in his training during the pre-dawn hours of morning and in the dark of night. But the longest training days were reserved for the weekends, during which we relied mostly on a teenaged babysitter in our neighborhood who was reliable and responsible and whom our girls adored. Without the support and commitment of this particular babysitter, I don’t know how we would have managed to log the required hours.

For the longer stretches, the weekends when we traveled and stayed overnight for races, my parents stepped in to help and our girls enjoyed spending quality time with their grandparents, who also will be caring for our girls while we are at the Ironman. Having the peace of mind that our children are happy and being well cared for while we are training and racing has given us the freedom to pursue this opportunity and chase our dream.

Our friends have provided an extra measure of support and encouragement, from understanding that we’ve been completely MIA during training, to performing rescue duties when I’ve been stranded on the side of the road with an irreparable flat. Some have served as running partners, cheerleaders, or simply lent an ear when I needed to vent, and the Ironman veterans in the group provided critical bits of insight on nutrition and gear.

Finally, there are the friends who have also provided indispensable professional guidance and assistance along the way, such as my swim instructor at the YMCA, and my acupuncturist and massage therapist who’ve helped me overcome and heal from various training injuries.

During this time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to make this journey with my husband and for the many amazing people who’ve been there for us along the way.

As the saying goes, “It takes a village.”

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Going out with a fizzle?

Last weekend I had a glorious 12-mile run. I felt on top of the world. I thought, “I’ve made it! I’m actually going to be able to do this thing.” My confidence was further bolstered by the absence of any post-run complications in the days that followed. I reported the good news to my acupuncturist and we shared smiles of triumph, happy to have bested the beasts that lie in wait in my feet and knees.

The next day I headed out for a 6-mile run and cut it short by 5 minutes when my left foot started acting up. Minor glitch, I thought.

Then there was the hellacious ride in the freezing wind. Amongst my many aches, pains and complaints was a mild zapping behind my left knee. Again, a brief acknowledgement that something was up but I was too numb and dispirited to pay it much attention.

Today, both pieces came together in a highly unpleasant combo of foot and knee protest and I was forced to pay attention.

But first, the ride. Today was a brick—the last training ride my husband and I will do together before the race—followed by a 50 minute run.

What a difference a day can make! Today, the wind was down 50% and the temperature was up 15 degrees. The clouds had retreated, leaving a bright autumn sun in the clear blue sky. Altogether, a huge improvement over yesterday’s conditions, though the winds were still quite formidable when tackled head-on.

We ticked off the 27-mile ride with little ado and moved on to the run, and that’s when the problems started. (For me, anyway. My husband had a great run, averaging 7 minute miles over 7 miles.) I only made it about two miles before my knee started hurting, so I took a short walk break. Within ten minutes, foot pain joined the party and I tried a second walk break. Thirty-five minutes in and I threw in the towel, walking the last 15 minutes home. At a rate like that it will take me at least 5 hours to complete the marathon portion of the IM, if not longer.

So now, instead of running 45 minutes tomorrow as planned, I will either walk it or skip it altogether and hope with a few days of rest, massage, acupuncture, stretching, icing, Advil and hammering, I can get back on track. Last week I was on such a high; I thought I’d be able to finish my training with a bang. Instead, it looks like I’ll be wrapping things up with a fizzle. What a difference a week can make.

A friend and Iron Man veteran recently told me that it is rare for anyone to show up at the starting line of an Iron Man 100% healthy. This actually makes me feel a bit better. Is that wrong?

Oh, and speaking of wrong, I have to add a sidebar here: I’ve decided that cars moving in reverse pose one of the greatest dangers to cyclists. Please, drivers, look in all your mirrors and then look again before proceeding slowly backward. And don’t just rely on your mirrors; actually turn around and look over your shoulder. You’d be surprised how many blind spots there are if you are only using mirrors.

Also, what is up with the vehicles that come upon a cyclist and then push the pedal to the metal, roaring their engines and sometimes even peeling wheels and honking horns? What is the point of that? What must a driver be thinking in that moment? “I’m so cool?” “I’m faster and more powerful than a bicycle?” “I’m late for a hot date?” “I’ve only got five minutes left to hit the early bird menu or happy hour specials?” And there is no stereotype here—it is equal opportunity asininity. I’ve experienced this display with all manner of cars and drivers, from women and men to teens and grandmas, driving anything from huge trucks and rusty clunkers to sleek sports cars and stodgy sedans. I mean really, who does that?!?!

Ok, that’s my rant for the day.

Iron Man Cozumel—15 days and counting . . .

Friday, November 11, 2011

Channeling Cartman

I was channeling South Park’s Cartman today with this constant mental refrain: “Screw this ride, I’m going home!”

At 10 AM, the temperature was 41 degrees. Winds at 22 mph created a “real feel” temp of 35. As I tugged on my Gore Tex gloves, neck gaiter, ear warmers, and my fleece-lined base layer over my cycling pants I thought, “Shouldn’t I be snow skiing by now instead of cycling?”

The wind howled and rattled the garage doors as my husband and I loaded bottles of Infinit onto our bikes and set off for a four-hour, 64-mile ride that I was absolutely dreading.

The first 30 minutes weren’t so bad and I was thinking, happily, that when expectations are low, you are sometimes pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t as cold as I’d expected; in fact, I was working up a little sweat.

Then we turned west.

It was like running smack into a wall of ice.

My little bike and I could have been in the middle of gale force winds in the Arctic. At times, my bike nearly came to a standstill in the direct headwind. Worse, perhaps, were the winds that attacked from the side, knocking my bike out of the shoulder and toward either the ditch or the road. It was impossible to ride in the aero position and still maintain control of my bike. As a pilot, I’d learned the art of “crabbing into the wind” to remain on course. I never imagined I’d have to apply this skill to cycling. The crosswinds were strong enough to keep light aircraft on the ground, yet there I was, out there on my feather of a bike, trying to cycle in a straight line.

Each stroke was a struggle. My pace was down almost 3 mph. My feet were numb. Instead of swirling around me in a festive, snow globe fashion, the leaves appeared to attack, like a flock of angry yellow and brown birds. And that’s when Cartman began his defiant shouting in my head: “Screw this ride. I’m going home!”

I have been in triathlon mode for almost 9 months and in Iron Man-specific training for almost five and I have not skipped or skimped a single workout. So today, I felt like a rebel, righteous and determined that I did not need this ride to be successful in the Iron Man. Sure, Cozumel will be windy. But it will also be 80 degrees. And flat. The last several rides have actually felt more like mental training than physical training. The first time I hit 80 miles on my bike, I felt confident I could complete the 112-mile ride at the Iron Man. The second time, I figured the training was not to determine if I could actually cycle for 112 miles, but to ensure that I would cycle them well. Every ride after that just felt like torture. Enter: “The mental game.”

Last weekend when I spent 5.5 hours on my bike and rode 90 miles, I went through all the emotions: Confidence, determination, fatigue, frustration, anger, despair. There were moments when I wanted to quit, get off my bike, perhaps even throw my bike or kick it, sit down, cry, call for someone to come and pick me up. I hated that ride, hated the sport of triathlon. I just Did. Not. Want. To. Ride. Any. More! That’s when I realized that this training program, one that requires me to ride 80+ miles week after week, was designed to push me mentally as well as physically. And I did, in fact, finish that ride and felt triumphant afterward and especially happy thinking that the worst was over.

And then came today, the day I discovered that riding 90 miles in chilly conditions is not nearly as difficult as attempting to ride 64-miles in near-freezing conditions and 20 mph winds.

So that was it. Before the half-way point I’d decided I’d reroute and point my bike towards home. The roaring wind, ebbing and flowing through the trees like the ocean surf crashing onto the shore, seemed to mock me, claiming victory. But I didn’t care. I was frozen. I was done.

Instead of 4 hours, I rode 3.5. Instead of 64 miles, I covered 49.

And I’m okay with that. I am home.

Ready or not, Cozumel, here I come!