Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Signed up for Ironman South Africa 2015

I believe I mentioned in my last post that I am taking 2014 off from Ironman training.  I've been very happy with that decision.  My "big" race for the year will be Timberman, and the thought of training for "just" a half is so, so much less daunting than a full.  3 hour bike rides?  45 minute swims?  No problem.  And also the feeling that every little run will help, and I don't have to somehow make it through 26 miles. 

Last weekend I actually did a little race.  Half the reason I did it at all was because it happened to fall on my birthday, and I'd never done a race on my birthday.  Since usually I do pretty much nothing outside of normal training on my birthday, it seemed like a fun alternative.  It was a very small Olympic distance race in a part of New Hampshire I'd never been in before.  Or at least I don't think I had.  The weather was gorgeous and it was a nice, very small and low key event.  There was also a sprint, and a duathlon, and I think an aquabike option for both distances.  The longer race was also the smaller one, so with only 40-something of us, it was actually a mass start swim which was kind of fun.  The lake was the perfect temperature, and nice and clean and a course that was easy to follow.  I managed to be 5th out of the water.  As usual, I was way too slow for the fast people (I think the top 4 all came out at least 3 minutes before I did) and too fast for the average people.  I think I'm forever doomed to swim in no-man's land. 

The bike was actually 30 miles which is a little long, and since I didn't do my homework I didn't realize how long it was going to be until I showed up and looked at the map.  Not that that's a big deal, but I probably should've brought along another energy gel.  I raced without any data whatsoever.  No watch, no Garmin, no bike computer.  It was kind of nice.  The ride was fun and went by fairly quickly.  I probably could've pushed harder, but since I am officially a terrible runner, I figured I was better off not completely destroying any chance to at least kind of, sort of run. 

Off the bike and onto the run course, I think it was good not to know how slow I was going.  I've had once again some pretty interrupted training over the spring with the back issue and minor surgery over the winter, so mostly I just wanted to "run" and get through it.  Wow, I was slow.  And that course was very lonely.  But of course I got through it, and the good news is that if you lack the capacity to run anything resembling "fast" then you don't get blisters and you're not sore at all afterward.  So I've bounced back nicely.  That race also proved that if you find a small enough race you can always manage to place.  I came in third.  Out of all of ten women.  And I won a tri top, size small.  I'm not trying to put myself down, but I'm definitely not a small.  Oh, well, it was a fun morning.  And that's how I spent my birthday. 

July looks to be empty of races but will consist of some training and the annual trip up to Lake Placid to train, coach, and generally have a fun time hanging out with a lot of my friends.  And today I officially signed up to race in South Africa in 2015.  The race is at the end of March, which will make the winter.... interesting.  But I think this will be good for me.  I've never raced internationally.  Actually, I've only ever left the country once, on a family trip to Ireland way back in 1999.  I've got some friends who brought up the idea of making a big trip out of it, and you know what?  Why not?  How often do you get to go to South Africa?  I'm guessing just the once, so I can't wait to make the most of that.  Also, race entry fees there are about $200 cheaper than your average Ironman.  So it also has that going for it. 

Other than that, weather has been good, lots of lake swimming and enjoying sun.  Looking forward to a good summer of not Ironman training, before I have to spend the whole winter very much Ironnan training.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tulsa Training Recap

This is more than a little belated since I've been home for almost a month now, but since I've barely updated at all in the past year I'd say it isn't such a bad offense. 

I spent about a month between April and May training in Tulsa with my friend and pro triathlete Jessica Jones.  One of the things I love about what I do is the opportunity to meet so many great people and how so many times it has led to such good friendships, often beginning from mere days-long training camps.  I met Jessica at a RaceQuest Travel camp last Memorial Day up in Lake Tahoe and we got to hang out a little in Kona, and when she offered to have me come down to Tulsa to train with her, and winter was never ending and I had nothing better to do aside from training by myself, how could I say no? 

I'll say the training there was pretty good.  I can't really complain much.  Drivers were courteous to bikers, I got to swim in a long course pool that is likely the most beautiful facility I've used, and biking and running along the river trails was also excellent.  It didn't hurt to also be a 2-minute walk from a Chipotle.  Well, maybe that's a bad thing.  I can't decide. 

The only really unfortunate thing was that for the first 3 weeks I was there I was unable to run because my back was seized up.  I skipped some swimming too in the initial week or so, but was fortunate that for whatever reason, biking didn't bother it.  Except getting on and off, but as long as I was riding, things were fine.  Then finally one day, out of nowhere, it just didn't hurt anymore.  I suppose I shouldn't say "out of nowhere" because I did get chiropractic treatment, but just as weirdly and mysteriously as the pain had shown up, it was gone. 

After the first week we were joined by another pro triathlete friend, Logan Franks.  Jessica knows Logan from Team RWB, and I actually knew Logan from when he was with us at QT2.  So funny how everyone knows everyone, just through slightly different channels.  Logan also brought his dog, Ubu, who is a really awesome dog who almost makes me want to get one of my own.  He also loved licking sweat off your legs after a workout.  Logan wasn't training for the race either, so we were both mostly just tagging along for workouts. 

I have to say, for once it was nice not being the one who had to train.  I trained plenty, but there were certainly times when we went to the pool and Jessica had to swim 4000 meters when I would just wait a bit before getting in and/or get out early.  I can't keep up with her in the water anyway, so I promise this didn't make me a bad training partner.  I mean, it didn't make me a great one either, but at least I usually drove us to the pool where we got to listen to what Jessica referred to as the "Russian Roulette" that is my iPod.  You never quite knew what was going to pop up. 

I finally got out to do some running as well, and that was nice.  Well, mostly.  Obviously starting up to run again after some time off is always difficult, but it was nice that it at least didn't hurt.  I was still stuck running alone though, because while I can hang on the wheels on a bike with some pro triathletes, I certainly can't run with them. 

It's a lot of fun sharing some time with people who do the same things you do.  Always on the same page with workouts (well, that was easy since we just followed whatever Jessica was doing!) and nobody made fun of anyone for going to bed too early.  There was surprisingly little down time though, what with all of the training and Jessica's kids.  But we did get to spend a nice afternoon kayaking at a local lake, so it wasn't all training all the time. 

Eventually our training came to an end and it was time to head back to Texas for the race.  Jessica flew down and her mom picked her up since she lives down in Houston, and Logan and I drove down to meet up at the house we were staying at with Jessica's coach, Kevin Purcell.  The house worked out great, not too far away from the venue.  I was once again thrilled that I had not signed up, although I was definitely jealous that they were experiencing record cold temperatures and race day was about 20 degrees colder than last year.  The swim was even 100% wetsuit legal.  Oh, well, it was still better to be on the sidelines that day. 

I got to see a lot of other friends who had come down to race and watch, so that was a lot of fun.  Jessica had a very solid day in what was only her third Ironman, coming in seventh place, so everyone was happy.  And after the race, we got to celebrate with her birthday cake which her mom had made since her birthday was the day before.  Overall it was a really fun trip. 

Sadly, the next day, it was time to drive home.  Driving home is never as fun as driving down.  I opted to forgo the 4am start on day 1 and any attempts to push to get home in only 2 days and instead got up and ran before packing up and hitting the road a little before 10am.  My initial plan was to go just east of Birmingham and stop basically in the same place as I'd stopped by first day on the drive down, but once I got to that point, it wasn't that late and I wasn't sick of driving yet so I decided to push a little further.  Sadly, once you get past that point, there isn't much there.  So when I finally felt like I wanted to stop, there was basically no civilization for a while and I wound up crossing time zones and stopping just past Chattanooga.  But, the good news there was that I was that much closer to home and had that much less road to cover. 

It also meant that I got to stop off the following night in New Jersey to visit my cousin Matt and his wife Carolyn and their daughter, Maddie who just turned 1.  I see them a lot when they come up north to visit my aunt and uncle, but I've never seen where they live and since they were right off the highway on my way and it was too far for me to go all the way home, it made for the perfect final rest stop, and only a little over 4 hours to go the following day. 

So, finally, after being gone for almost 2 months, I made it home.  Of course once again I feel like I never want to drive all over the country again, but I suppose as long as opportunities keep coming up and I've got nothing better to do, I'll take them.  That said, I wouldn't mind if I had more reasons to stay put! 

Since then it's just been adjusting to being home again.  I made an early attempt at open water swimming with my crazy friends who seem to think that as long as the ice has melted, the water is ok to swim in.  That first attempt was... a little too cold for me, as it involved being able to see our breath and slightly numb lips.  I know wetsuits are helpful, but they're not that helpful.  Fortunately a week and a half later the water was perfect, so that has been fun.  I biked with some friends I haven't biked with in years, caught up with some people, attended some family parties, and the weather has at least sometimes been decent.  It's definitely better than it was when I left. 

I think that's about as caught up as I'm going to get.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Definition of Success

I have returned home from one of my stints of driving all over the country and living out of my car (and other people's homes).  Hopefully I'll catch up a bit and write a blog to recap my training travels and experiences, but this is something I've been thinking of writing about for a while and I wanted to get it out.  It has to do with success.  In this case I'll speak more specifically in regards to success in sport, but I do think it applies to just about everything. 

Success is never a surprise.  Not really.  I mean, sure, sometimes maybe you didn't expect to do as well as you did, or maybe you failed a few times and it was a little surprising when you finally accomplish what you set out to do, but it is always the result of a lot of hard work and perseverance.  The level of success you achieve may be mildly surprising, but seeing a good result from that hard work shouldn't completely shock you. 

I have seen this in the athletes I coach and most notably in myself as an athlete.  First I need to say that success should not be measured any one way for every single person.  Success means something different for each person.  I've coached athletes doing the exact same race where one went 14:30 and another went 9:30 and got a Kona slot and both were extremely successful races.  It should be based on reaching your potential under the circumstances you have to work with.  This also means that even the same athlete might need to have a different definition of success based on their life situation at the time.  Your best race when you have 20 hours a week to train is going to be different from your best race you can manage when you only had 10 hours a week to train because work got really busy, or your wife just had a baby, or any other number of reasons that life gets in the way.  The result after only training 10 hours a week might not be as good, but if you maximized the time you had it should still be considered a success. 

People I know who are successful in racing don't make many excuses.  They just get the training done.  That's not to say that they are not hindered by obstacles like the occasional cold, an unexpected business trip, sick kids, or again, any number of legitimate reasons that training sometimes gets sidetracked.  But they do take those things in stride, miss the workouts they simply can't get in, move on and let those go without worrying about how it will impact everything else.  But they also do their best to get in what they can without disrupting the rest of their lives.  Yes, I said it's ok to miss workouts.  The successful people know the difference between missing a workout because you legitimately can't get it in (or are legitimately exhausted) and skipping a workout because it is less than 100% convenient or they decide that a minor obstacle gives them a legitimate reason to skip it.  (Please note: I've been guilty of that second one myself.  I think we all are at times.) 

This is not to say by any means that every single person who decides to do a triathlon should never make any excuses, and it certainly doesn't mean that they should prioritize their training over things that really matter in their real life.  It simply means that you should manage your expectations and don't be shocked when you maybe don't do as well as you thought you would.  Or when you maybe don't do as well as that guy you know who you used to be just as fast as, but maybe he has a really flexible work schedule and his kids are in college and he has a lot more free time. 

I don't know a whole lot of people who nail all of their training and then have bad results to show for it.  Of course there are always going to be cases of bad luck like flat tires, broken chains, unfortunately timed illnesses or days where your stomach just isn't cooperating.  "Nailing your training" though doesn't just mean physically getting it done, but it means being mentally present as well.  And taking care of the little things like your health, nutrition and rest.  If you're not racing up to your potential (and again, by "potential" here I mean based on your own life circumstances, so your "potential" as a working mom with an hour a day during the week is different from your potential if you are someone like me who is single with no parental responsibilities) then there is usually a concrete reason for that.  And if you are successful then usually you can look back and see that you just went out and got it done. 

I've been thinking a lot about this because when it comes to myself, I've somehow morphed from a "no excuses" type athlete to.... well, not quite like that.  Training wasn't optional, it was just what I did that day.  Alarm went off, and I was up and out of bed before I even had a chance to think about it.  Clothes were laid out for whatever workout, and there wasn't any stopping to think, "Should I go train or should I go back to bed?"  Again, it just wasn't a question. 

I discourage you from looking at some of my more recent race results, because I know what they say.  But if you do, and then you go back and compare them to some of my better years when winning my age group at many races or coming in top 10 in my age group in Kona happened more than once, you might wonder what the heck happened.  Now, there were some legitimate setbacks in there.  Injuries (hoping for no more stress fractures, ever), minor surgery, or my father's accident and death.  But I allowed the setbacks to destroy the momentum, and I haven't fully gotten going again.  I can assure you that at this point it is entirely mental as I'm probably physically healthier than I've been in a long time, without any sort of lingering aches or pains that I was working my way through. 

I've done some crazy things in the past to get workouts in.  I wouldn't say that every person should do such crazy things, but I will say that when I look back at those crazy workouts and my dedication, it is absolutely no wonder I raced as well as I did.  Get up at 4am to get in a 3 hour run before work?  Sure.  Swim 4000 yards at 5am, drive up to go skiing, and follow up said skiing with a trainer ride and an outdoor run?  Sure.  Getting up between 3:30 and 4am for an entire week of a vacation at Disney World to get 27 hours of training in while not interfering with any of the family fun?  Oh, and also riding my bike on a 2.7 mile loop over and over again, mostly in the dark, for 6 hours, during that same vacation.  Sure, I never even thought that it wasn't an option. 

I won't guarantee that every single person who completely dedicates themselves like that will be a Kona qualifier, or whatever else your goal might be.  But you can surely improve dramatically if you dedicate yourself enough.  But then I'll also say that you should know yourself well enough to know just how much you want to dedicate yourself.  If your life is such that you can prioritize the training, then great, go for it.  But if it isn't, then that's ok, too.  But try not to be envious of the super fast people, because they are most likely making a lot of sacrifices to be so fast, and those sacrifices are probably not worth the result for you.  And again, that's ok.  Some people's jobs are more demanding, and some people have more family obligations or any other number of real life things that get in the way.  Keep your life situation in perspective when it comes to the goals you set out for yourself and understand that your definition of success can vary based on it.  Rather than being upset about the fact that you can't beat that guy in your age group because he has way more time to train just appreciate the time that you do have and the reasons that you can't train as much, whether those be your great family or a job you enjoy that maybe just takes up a little more time than you'd like. 

But, sometimes the results just speak more to your level of dedication, and sometimes you don't have a great reason.  Or maybe this only applies to me.  My results are no accident.  Sure, I will tell you that I was surprised when I won Lake Placid since I knocked an hour off my (also Kona qualifying) time from the year before, because I was.  I was surprised maybe at the actual level of success, but not at the fact that I nailed the race and felt great the whole way through.  I had been completely dedicated to my training.  I don't recall specifically but I am pretty sure I didn't miss a workout for at least 6 months leading up to it.  I got up early, went to bed early, ate right and raced light.  On some level I still see it as a fluke, (and in some ways it was because of course it just depends on who else shows up) but when I really look at my approach in the months leading up, I was incredibly dedicated.  The same can be said of my race there in 2009.  I did have a somewhat disappointing run that year, but after a terrible year prior, I had to overcome a lot more coming back, and since I once again nailed the training, I had what was probably the best possible result under the circumstances. 

I'm skipping Ironman races this year.  I think I needed to not have a marathon weighing over my head for a year, and so far I'm very happy with that decision.  After 17 of them, I could use a year off.  And I'm hoping to regain that momentum to once again become the successful athlete I was before.  It really does become second nature eventually, and I do enjoy the training once getting over that initial hump where it is not fun and you can only think about how slow you are.  I'm also hoping to start blogging more again as an outlet for my writing and because when life is going well and training is going well, I write more.  So, here's to a fun summer of training and local races and getting the positive momentum going again.  I'm looking forward to doing all races within driving distance this year and hopefully having fun and maybe even doing well.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Adventures in Tulsa

Well, apparently I haven't written in a very long time.  Not that a lot of excitement has happened, but still.  I did at least start a post in July after spectating in Lake Placid, but it looks like I never finished it.  Oh, well. 

So, let's see, for the past year and a half there has been some mediocre training and some terrible races to show for it.  I set some new personal worsts but did at least finish some things, so there's that.  After Ironman Florida last year I wound up not doing a single bit of training until a little over a month ago due to some issues, and since I had already signed up for Galveston, I had a crash course in half Ironman training. 

This winter was harsh, to say the least.  I suppose of all winters to get stuck not training and not contending with the elements, this was probably a good choice.  It was routinely below zero with the wind, snowed quite a bit, and never gave us any of those little breathers in the form of days with unseasonably warm temperatures.  Every time you walked out the door, any exposed skin just plain hurt.  Needless to say, it was not pleasant.  Everyone kept asking me where I was going for the winter, or why I hadn't gone somewhere.  Well, first, I couldn't train anyway.  And after two years in a row of driving all over the place, I'd kind of gotten over it.

But then winter just kept going.  I finally got the go ahead to do some training.  And my friend Jessica Jones Meyers had offered to have me come down to Tulsa to train with her for Ironman Texas.  After a while it seemed stupid not to do it.  So, rather than flying down to race Galveston, I'd drive down and then drive up to Oklahoma afterward to do some training, then go back down to IMTX, and then go home from there, when we can hope that by Memorial Day it will be at least sort of warm back home. 

I did not sign up for Ironman Texas this year.  I couldn't be happier about that right now.  I almost did, and then it sold out earlier than usual, and then it became apparent that I could in no way be ready for it in time.  I've headed into way, way too many races the last few years just not anywhere near where I needed to be.  So I haven't been signed up for an Ironman in months and it feels pretty good. 

Anyway, on March 31st, after one last training day that included a run in pouring rain and 35 degrees, I hit the road for Texas, covering over 1100 miles on the first day and spending the night somewhere east of Birmingham.  The following day, I made the much shorter drive to Texas.  I met up with some of my best friends in Galveston, where we all went in nice and relaxed.  All I wanted to do was get through it, as after basically four weeks of training, totally from scratch, just finishing would be something.  The swim was incredibly rough, but since I'm very comfortable in the water, it didn't really bother me, it just made me much slower.  Also, lack of swim training didn't help. 

The bike was pretty speedy until about 40 miles in when I flatted after running over some glass and there was just no fixing it.  I hadn't flatted in a race since 2003, my second half Ironman at Timberman, so I suppose I was due.  Of all of the races for this to happen at, I'd definitely take that one.  So I went back and watched my friends finish and most had great days. 

So, now here I am in Tulsa.  I've never spent more than a night in Oklahoma, passing through to drive somewhere else.  I know, people are probably like, you went to Tulsa?  To train?  It's not usually the first place that might come up on your list.  But then neither was Birmingham, and I found the training there to be excellent.  I've trained in Tucson and San Diego and a few supposed triathlon paradises.  While the weather is usually perfect as advertised, I've often found the roads for riding less than desirable when it comes to stop lights and traffic. 

Anyway, I've been here a week, and so far, so good.  I'm really getting thrown into the gauntlet here.  Unfortunately, all of that driving seems to have done something to my back, so I haven't been able to run, and swimming doesn't feel so great either.  Luckily biking doesn't hurt at all, except for the fact that I am woefully out of shape and with the exception of one recovery ride, all of our rides thus far have been in the 4-5+ hour range.  So I'm either going to get pretty fit pretty fast or I'm going to totally implode.  We'll see which.  I've just been tagging along with whatever Jessica has been doing.  It's kind of nice not to have to worry about the race at the end of it.  Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy training and I like being on task and getting ready for a race, but right now this is just what I need, and it's nice not to worry about my (lack of) fitness or to be overly concerned that I can't run because my back still hurts.  Then, when I go home, I plan on racing a lot locally and getting the fun back into things. 

It's been great staying and training with someone, too.  I get stuck training alone most of the time.  Of course most of that is my own doing.  More recently I've just been so far off track that I couldn't train with anyone even if I wanted to.  I used to have no trouble going out and doing absolutely everything by myself, but it's certainly gotten old.  It's also crazy to see how Jessica keeps up with not just the training, but also two very energetic seven-year olds.  I've definitely never taken for granted my ability to finish hard workouts and just collapse on the couch.  Although this way does keep things much more entertaining. 

Anyway, nice easy day today and I'm not sure what's on tap for tomorrow but I'm guessing another fairly long bike ride in this nice weather.  I'm liking the roads here, too.  Hopefully this will be just the kick I need to get back on track, and hopefully it will help Jessica have a great race down in Texas.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sticking Around For the Winter

Anybody who knows me knows that the past two winters I've packed up my car and escaped to warmer climates for a few months.  Sure, I got to experience record lows, icy pool decks and snow in Tucson, but the other 2 months and 28 days I was there it was quite lovely.  And I learned that Alabama is actually a really nice place to train as long as you can outsprint the loose dogs when biking. 

I actually kind of enjoyed driving and seeing so much of the country.  Anytime anyone asked me about it, they'd usually shake their heads and tell me they didn't know how I did it.  Sure, it gets old after a while, but when there is no traffic, which there often isn't as you drive through so many remote parts of the country, it's actually pretty peaceful.  And how often do you get to do something like that?  But I think in May as I woke up one morning in Louisiana and didn't stop to sleep again until Pennsylvania over 1000 miles later I felt like maybe I'd had enough driving all over the country and packing up my life for 3-4 months at a time. 

So this year I've decided to suck it up and settle in and accept that yes, I am a northern girl.  And hey, it's been a while since I really got used to my bike trainer and watched a whole lot of movies and TV shows.  In some ways it's nicer than hoping that route I made up while looking at Google maps would turn out all right and I wouldn't get lost.  And then there was that time I flatted in a pretty remote area of Tucson my final week there and then pulled my phone out of my jersey pocket and realized I didn't have anyone to call and it seemed like a total waste that I'd been carrying it with me all those months.  "Hi, Mom.  I got a flat.  No, I know you can't come get me, but I just wanted to let you know.  No, don't worry because every few minutes some random pickup truck drives by and I'm sure the one that stops won't be because they want to murder me."  Plus, just think of how much less mileage I'll put on my car. 

Nothing else much to report here.  I have Galveston 70.3 and IMTX again on tap to start the season.  I never would've thought I'd actually like racing in Texas but I enjoyed both way more than I thought I would.  So, why not go back?  Especially when I can fly there and it won't require driving across Louisiana.  If you've never driven across I-10 and I-12 through Louisiana, I wouldn't recommend it.  Somehow the traffic never seems to let up, you will almost inevitable at some point come across the kind of rain that makes you have to pull over for a few minutes until you can see again, and for some reason people down there seem to like to drive 5-10mph under the speed limit as opposed to 5-10mph over like we do up here. 

All right, that's about it for now.  I'm hoping to get back to blogging more regularly so that all three of you who read this can be further entertained :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Poem From Jack

This may be a new record for longest I've gone between posts, but I'll try a little harder. 

Last week we lost a relative after he spent some time battling cancer.  Jack McCarthy was my mother's cousin, although to me he seemed more like an uncle you just don't get to see that often, occasionally joining us for Thanksgiving or Christmas or some other random popping by.  What made him unique was that he was a poet.  He traveled the country reading at poetry slams, which I never knew existed before him, and was quite well known within the poetry community.  He's got a few books of his poetry out, but it really was something to watch him perform.  Boston people can truly appreciate his poem for Bill Buckner. 

When I learned of his passing, I remembered an email he sent me after my father died.  It included a poem that anyone might find quite comforting when facing the loss of a loved one.  I thought I might share the email and the poem he sent me.  The writing of mine he refers to is what I wrote about my father while he was still in the hospital and before he died, and the mention of my brother is in reference to his eulogy.

Jack McCarthy: May 23, 1939 - January 17, 2013

Dear Molly,

Thank you. Actually, Mark printed off a copy and I read it last night. It was beautifully written; all the love was between the lines, you never spilled over into sentimentality.

Funny: I know 20x as much about John today as I did 2 weeks ago. He never tooted his own horn, and I think he usually had to let the dog out a few minutes after I arrived. I mainly remember him as someone I didn’t want to collide with on the basketball court or the football field; it was like running into a wall. Strange to be saying even that; it must be 30 years since we played our last game.

I’m very glad I came. I never would have appreciated the unending line at the funeral parlor, the mob at the funeral. I would never have had an inkling of what a remarkable guy John was.

You have a real talent for writing. There’s not a lot of money in it, but there is a lot of satisfaction. And Johnny could be a writer/performer—but that won’t surprise anyone.

We have followed your Iron exploits from a distance. We’re all very proud of you—although it’s crystal clear that you didn’t get those talents from the McLaughlin side.

You have some hard days and nights ahead of you. Following is a poem that might bring you some consolation in the low moments. (Helen was Carol’s mother; I wrote this for her when she lost her significant other.)

I know that you can never doubt how much you have been loved.


The Spaces Between
            for Helen

It hurts
            when love dies.
When love is deep,
            it hurts deeply—
more deeply maybe than you thought
            anything would ever hurt

But with time,
the spaces between the moments when it hurts
get longer,
the moments themselves become
            less devastating,
till eventually you come to associate them
            with a sad sweetness
that has as much in common
with love
as it does with grief.

I will not say
            Don’t grieve for me
do I look like Saint Francis?

But I wish you long
spaces in between,
and may you carry into them
all of that sweetness,
and only enough sadness to attest

the risk that’s being taken
by everyone who loves you.
Every time we love, we’re saying
            Let it ride,
and what’s on the table
            is the rent money.

And every time we stride again
out into the crisp desert night
our fists shoved deep into empty pockets
we know ourselves for losers.

But, Jesus,
what brave losers we are.
I wish you this too,
for the spaces in between,
this bravery.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ironman Arizona Race Report

Five years ago I promised myself I would never, ever ride on the Bee Line Highway ever again.  Especially not in a race.  I really should've kept that promise. 

My return to IMAZ didn't go so well.  I arrived without incident with my mom  and had a pretty restful few days pre-race.  I did a few short workouts, rode the run course with Pat Wheeler in prep for his perfectly executed race and tried to get plenty of sleep and spend plenty of time with my feet up.  Saturday morning was the carb load breakfast at The Good Egg which also happens to be one of the few restaurants in the country I've been to where I can only eat two of their pancakes.  Way better than Denny's or IHOP.  I ate with Pat and Courtney and then Kim Schwabenbauer who ended her rookie pro season on a major high note. 

After that I packed up my things pretty quickly to get the bike drop off over with.  I've never waited in line for this, but this time there was a huge one that wound all through the park.  For some reason they decided to take pictures of every single bike before it got brought into transition.  I'm amazed that they keep finding new ways to overcomplicate these processes.  But eventually the stuff was dropped off and I was basically done for the day.  Nothing left but to drink and eat and keep my feet up.  And TBS did me a favor by showing some good, funny movies for me to be half asleep while sort of watching. 

I think I slept fairly well.  I'm not even sure anymore.  Breakfast went down fine and then I went back to bed for a bit before getting up just before 5.  My mom was actually already awake and ready to head down to the race.  She was a little paranoid and left before I did.  The hotel, which was only about a mile from the start, was running a shuttle and I had no issue getting down there at about 5:30.  Checked everything out, used the bathroom and before I knew it, it was time to get in the water. 

I remember Tempe Town Lake being disgusting.  So I was not excited about getting in.  I was also not expecting it to be quite so cold.  I was a little shocked, actually, with how cold it felt when I first got in.  I've certainly experienced worse, but the last time I did this it was in April and the water was a lot warmer.  The good thing I suppose is that in the darkness it was less obvious how gross the water was, and if it's colder, presumably less gross stuff stays alive in there.  I swam my way up toward the front and found myself a good spot probably two thirds of the way over from the inside buoy line and with only one guy in front of me.  I didn't really fight to be in front, there just happened to be space and nobody else seemed to be moving up so I decided to stay there.  And then the cannon fired for my 15th Ironman start.

I started swimming hard, and my immediate thought was, "How am I not getting the crap kicked out of me right now?"  Somehow I had managed to find the magically perfect spot for my swimming ability.  The people behind me were not swimming over me, I was not catching anyone in front of me, and I was not getting squeezed out on all sides.  Seriously, for probably at least the first 200 yards, it was just me, swimming in the lake instead of fighting for my life.  Given that swimming has been going very well for me late in the season, I immediately felt a nice confidence boost from this.  Sure, things got tight here and there, but I never had to do that thing I'd found myself doing in some races where I'd just sort of slow up and let people go around me rather than fighting for my position.  So I was quite happy that at no point during the first leg of this race did I think I might drown. 

The sun started coming up and it got tougher to see, but with a few hundred sets of arms flailing around in front of me I was generally confident that I was heading in the right direction, and the occasional buoy sighting confirmed this.  The water still felt chilly but not uncomfortably so.  I tried to hold a strong and steady effort, reminding myself several times that once I got out of that water I was done with swimming for the 2012 tri season.  Not bad.  I felt like I was doing quite well, and given the small amount of people around me I thought maybe for once I would have a really good swim.  My fastest Ironman swim to date was in that lake in 2007 at 1:05 and I was thinking I'd get myself a PR.  So imagine my surprise when I got out of the water to see 1:09?  What?  Rather than dwelling on it, I moved on.  And actually, I think percentage wise, compared to the rest of the field, I was right where I usually am, the overall time was just a bit slow.  Still, it would be nice to finally have a good swim!

Anyway, out of the water for the last time, and on the long run through transition to change gear.  For a fleeting moment I thought maybe they just hadn't changed the clock from the pro time and I swam 59, but the fact that there were so many people in T1 immediately killed that delusion.  The volunteers are still amazing and they even put my million gels in my jersey pockets before I headed out for my bike. 

I had my instructions on my heart rate zone to follow on the bike and I did my best to stick to it.  This was especially difficult early on in the ride.  There seemed to be a bit of a head wind and it took me a while to settle in, to the point I was even in the small ring.  I got fairly frustrated early as I got passed by a few packs of people, quite deliberately drafting off of each other.  I'd take each of these as opportunities to sit up a bit and drink a bunch to get ahead on fluid consumption.  Seriously, some of these packs were huge.  About fifteen miles in I had let another one go and sat up to drink and I could hear a motorcycle to my left, kind of hovering there.  He pulled up, said my number and told me I got a red card for drafting and had to go to the next penalty tent.  The pack had passed one other guy who was in front of me who I was too close to.  I didn't think I was that close but I've played enough sports in my lifetime to know that you don't get anywhere by arguing with the refs, so I just nodded and sat up to fall back a bit more.

So now I was paranoid for the next 97 miles of riding.  Especially between that and the next penalty tent.  Even worse was that I got passed by several more LARGE groups which I'd then have to sit up and let get very far ahead of me before proceeding on.  I'll admit I was a bit taken out of things at that point.  That was the first penalty I've ever received in any triathlon.  Add to that we were going uphill and into a bit of a headwind and suddenly I was worried I was going to be riding six hours or something ridiculously unlike me. 

Things sped up after I hit the first turnaround eighteen or so miles in when I got to go back downhill and with the wind and finally found my very crowded penalty tent.  At least the marshals had been paying attention.  I had my timer and they marked me down and I felt more of my race slipping away.  But I did at least take a moment to drink and take a gel. 

So, finally it was time to leave the penalty tent for hopefully the last time in my triathlon career.  It took me ten years to get a penalty, for someone who really does try and ride legal, so let's hope that is the end of that.  And then it was downhill with the wind to pick up some speed.  That was much better.  And it seemed like that couple of minutes had given things a chance to spread out and I was mostly just passing people so there weren't really any more fears I might be drafting.  I suppose the three times out and back at least breaks things up a bit, but this is such a boring ride.  And crowded. 

It seemed on the second loop that the wind had shifted directions.  It wasn't blowing that hard in either direction, but this time it seemed to be more with us on the way out and against on the way back.  It wasn't long into the second loop that I was already lapping some people.  I saw a surprising amount of crashes and flats, which is not fun.  Oh, and did I mention the stench of the landfill you get to ride by constantly?  Yeah, tons of fun.  The miles ticked by and thankfully I was getting faster and still keeping the steady effort where it needed to be.  Although I still wasn't going as fast as I was hoping to.  There's really not a lot to say about the ride.  I was mostly passing people, especially by the third lap, although many were quite possibly only on their second.  I drank, I ate, I pedaled, and eventually it was finally time to get off after 5:29.  I rode about 5:20 there in 2007 under horrifically windy conditions, so this wasn't such a good ride for me.

Immediately upon getting off the bike my hip flexors were practically screaming at me.  They hadn't hurt on the ride so I don't know where that came from, but it made for a very gingerly run through T2 to grab my stuff and hit the tent, where I had a nice team of volunteers waiting for me.  One even fed me my banana.  By the time I got up, the weird hip flexor thing was gone, and there was nothing left to do but run.  Well, after a brief stop for a slathering of sunscreen. 

I had my instructions on where to keep the heart rate and tried to maintain a nice, steady pace.  For me at this point, steady is still pretty darn slow.  I ran 3:47 here I think the last time, and at the time it was a crash and burn.  Now it seems blazing fast.  My heart rate monitor seemed to be giving me some funny readings, as in, incorrect, so I mostly went by feel at that point.  I felt decent enough, just tried to keep moving forward.  Sometime before mile 3 I stopped in a porta potty just to pee.  Honestly, I already didn't have a good feeling about things, so I didn't think I'd have anything to gain by saving 30 seconds but having to spend the rest of the run in urine-soaked shoes. 

After that brief pit stop, off I went.  It was warm and sunny but it didn't feel hot, which was nice.  I still made sure to douse myself with water and ice when available.  The first loop wasn't too bad, but somewhere around halfway through the race my legs started to feel trashed as though I had already run 24-25 miles rather than only 14-15.  It just felt.... bad.  And it didn't take long before I was walking a whole lot more than I was running, and eventually running just about ceased completely.  Everyone passed me.  The sun went down.  Even walking hurt, though I was pretty sure I'd finish.  Epic failure.

It took a long time to finish that run, although I did barely eke out a run split faster than my bike split.  The only redeeming thing happened at the end of the race.  I had been walking with a guy starting at about mile 24 for me, although he still had another lap to go.  He was still in college, doing his first Ironman with his father and his sister.  It was nice to have someone to talk to for the last couple of miles.  But the better part was with maybe half a mile to go we came upon more of the crowds, including a guy with a microphone cheering people on who looked at us and said, "What are you guys, like fifteen?"  So that at least made me feel a bit better.

At the final split he went off to do another loop and I mustered up a sort of run-ish motion toward the finish line where I crossed in 12:10.  Last time I was there I won my age group by an hour.  That did not happen this time.  My mom miraculously was actually still there.  I got my finisher stuff and then grabbed a piece of pizza and some chips to go sit at a picnic table.  I wasn't that hungry but I do know I need to eat in order to function post-race.  Eventually Mom found me and I got my food down and then took a while to go and get my bike and stuff.  It all took way too long, but even worse was the roughly mile-and-a-half walk back to the hotel.  Ouch. 

So that was that anti-climactic end of my season.  I wasn't really upset, I was kind of indifferent at that point.  I mean, you do have to have some sense of accomplishment just finishing these things, even if you are sort of past that point.  By the time we got back to the room I was too tired to care about going out and eating.  I think it took me an hour to muster the energy to stand in the shower to get cleaned up.  And eventually I just went to sleep.  And I actually slept for the first time I think ever in the history of my doing Ironman races. 

And the next morning involved the hotel breakfast buffet where I still wasn't that hungry, and then we basically just packed up and hit the road.  After a quick trip to In-N-Out Burger, that is.  And finally flying home where I plan to stay for a good, long time.  Tired of plane rides!

So that's it.  The end of my season that involved one good Ironman and one crappy one.  I still just can't seem to break through this wall I've found myself behind.  I'll be the first to admit that much of it is quite possibly still in my head.  But for now, it was time to get some rest and then enjoy a Thanksgiving minus the pre-dinner workouts.  I also haven't yet eaten enough to make myself feel sick which is also quite different from the norm post-race.  In fact, it was Wednesday night before I realized I hadn't even eaten a real dinner since the race.  And it's Saturday and that's actually still the only night I've eaten dinner.  Ordered a pizza, by the way. 

So I've tried to remain positive because it's always hard to figure out how you should react.  Yes, I'm unhappy and it's embarrassing.  And you'd be amazed at how much less people want to talk to you after a crappy Ironman compared to a good one.  But there's not much I can do about it for now aside from take a little break and then get ready for next season.  See you later, 2012.