Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ludi and The Double

The triathlon lifestyle can oftentimes more than not, be a solitary one. Admittedly, group rides, runs, and swims, can make for a more social sport, and a lively post-race bash can bring out the wild side in just about anyone - but ultimately you are the one and only one, who logs in the time and mileage. While I do enjoy group rides from time to time, I do most of my swimming and running by myself. There's just something about being out there, beyond myself, just listening to my breathing, my body, my thoughts. This is my choice, not because I don't enjoy the social side of the sport, but because I find that I learn the most about myself when I train on my own, or with a very small group. During the off season, I love group rides - hanging out in the back, cracking jokes, and spending abnormally long amounts of time at out-of-the-way country stores while admiring the many varieties of beef jerky (who knew processed beef could come in so many different forms?), is just plain fun. No pressure, no worries - just fun. And if I want to push myself, there will always be riders out there looking to challenge.

During my "on-season", things are quite a bit different. I liken my training to the idea of "the loneliness of the long distance runner." And I'm okay with that, because I've done it before.

Too many years ago to count, I used to row. I loved rowing - and still do - but because of life, moving, school, and various other circumstances, it's something that I don't do anymore. I was really competitive, pushing myself to new limits, feeling myself grow, and learning as much as I could from other rowers. It was the ultimate team sport. But that was also part of the problem. I've always been a bit on the short side, something that my first rowing coach, Miriam - a woman who taught me so much more than just rowing, and who I consider one of the greatest coaches I've had the privilege of working with - said would affect my ability to row in team boats. As I became a better, faster, stronger rower, I began having National Team aspirations. Miriam urged me to row in the lightweight single scull - the solitary boat. While I loved sculling, my favorite boat was the double - twice as fast, but with only one other person (both rowers have two oars. When people row and have one oar, that's called sweeping). There was just something about being with another person, pulling together, knowing that you were in this together, working towards a common goal. But at our little boat club, I really didn't have anyone in my age/weight category to race with, so instead I would row in doubles with some of the other women, or practice against them in the single. And I made big improvements, both indoors on the erg (some call it a torture device, other call it an indoor rowing machine. I'm undecided), and on the water. So I began my single training in earnest, logging in mile after mile all on my own, while rowing in my little boat on the Mighty Mississippi. At first I missed rowing with other people, but gradually I fell in love with the solitude and simplicity of just rowing. I didn't have to rely on anyone else, but myself. If I went fast, my boat would fly - not necessarily the case with team boats, as my strength would put in combination with that of my teammates. I learned to think like a single sculler - to internally push myself to new lengths, demand perfection from my technique (it takes 1,000 strokes to row 1 perfect stroke!), and mentally concentrate on form and efficiency. I did end up making the national team, rowing at U23 Worlds, and having a blast. I was hooked and in love with the sport. But, as they say, a series of unfortunate events befelled me, and in my rebound, I started doing triathlons.

Fast forward too many years to count (8!), and I find myself living and training in Florida. Back to the solitary life of long distance triathlon. Nathaniel and I moved to Pensacola, FL from Eastern North Carolina in September of 2006, and being a military wife, one would assume that I'm pretty good at handling myself during moves and such. While moving is okay, I have a hard time leaving old friends, and (believe it or not), making new ones. I tend to be a bit shy, a bit of an introvert in large crowds, but with smaller groups, I'm great. But it takes time. So I kept training, enjoying my long rides, runs, and racing against the really fast little kids at the pool. Everything was fine, so I thought. And then I met Ludi.

How do you tell someone they have profoundly affected you? How do you let them know that their support has made all the difference in your life? How do you thank them for their kindness, love, support, and belief in you?

I don't really think that you can.

I first met Ludi in 2006 at the Santa Rosa Island Triathlon. It was the first time in a race that I'd virtually lead from the start, and then held on for the win. But it was close (10 seconds!). I still remember it to this day as though it had happened just yesterday. I came off the bike with about a minute or two lead over the rest of the field, dazed at the time difference, and then proceeded to almost get run down by the end by some crazy-fast ladies. I didn't realize how close these speedsters were closing the gap until I hit the turnaround and started the 1.5 mile trek back to the finish (What turned out to be the longest 10 minutes of my life). All I can remember is seeing 4 or 5 tall (remember I'm short!), ripped, built, incredibly fast, gazelle-like women streaking by me in the other direction with the sole purpose of passing my sorry butt. I remember thinking Wow! They look really fast! And then nearly having a panic attack. But Ludi was different - she was in that same crowd of talented women, but as we passed each other, I distinctly remember her commenting, "You've got it girl! Go!" At the time it struck me as odd - but it really helped to relax me. Maybe they didn't all want to run me down and leave me in the dust. If she was wishing me good luck, maybe just maybe there was hope that I could hold on through the finish.

After the race, I met her briefly, we exchanged information, and promised to get in touch with each other to workout. We both lived in Pensacola, so it should have been easy. Nothing really happened, but I did see her occasionally at the pool. I had heard from some local bicyclists that she was a crazy fast ironman triathlete who competed in races all over the world, and I was blown away. How could I ever train with her?? I figured that if I saw her on a ride, or met up with her at some point, it would just happen. This lucky encounter came at the pool of all places. I had seen her swimming before (she wears her IM swim caps - that is SO cool!), but was too shy to approach her. What would I say to someone who was that good? So in February we finally met up at the kick board/pull buoy storage bin. She seemed really nice, relaxed, and said that I should join her for a group ride Saturday morning. I agreed, and we've been great friends ever since.

Throughout this past season, she's been a constant source of inspiration. While we don't get a chance to train together all the time, I'll try to meet up with her once or twice a week, depending on our schedules. We'll also adjust our schedules, in order to fit in a specific workout together. It's just great knowing that there's someone else out there with you. And there's someone there to push you - really push you. Through the great times, through the hard times this season, she's been there. I've been able to ask her questions, get her feedback, and have her constant support through and through. But amazingly enough, this fantastic triathlete doesn't treat me as a mentee, but rather as an equal. She asks me questions, values my opinion, and tries to get my feedback on stuff (even though I don't always know the answer. Let's face it - a week or two ago, I though you were supposed to wear underwear with your bike shorts :). I feel like for the first time in my life, I have a really great athlete/friend who just gets me, who understands the stuff that I'm going through, is able to offer advice and keep things fun, but also knows what I'm talking about when I mention a great run or a fantastic ride, or even a really bad workout. She just knows. She's wonderful.

(And not to diminish Nathaniel in any way, he's magnificent in his own special way. But he doesn't spend 4 hours on the bike with me, or always understand why I get misty-eyed when I talk about a particularly fantastic run. Just like I can't identify all of the aircraft in the US military - he can! He's happy for me, but because he doesn't experience it for himself the way I do, he doesn't always understand where I'm coming from. BUT, he makes sure I get my rear out of bed and follow through with what I initially set out to do, even if my Self #2 doesen't always want to cooperate. Thanks sweetheart!)

Today's ride was no different. Quick note: Ludi's been in Costa Rica for the past week, dealt with some stomach issues, not getting enough food, and training for IM Florida. She flew in late Saturday night - I figured we might start our ride sometime in the late morning. Nope. Instead she wanted to sleep in and start at 8:30. I warned her of the workout - 4 X 30 minutes heart rate zone 4-5a. We did this workout once before last summer - it was a real break through, and I today was secretly terrified. I remembered how painful it was, how hard we pushed, and how long it took to recover afterwards. I also remember how hard Ludi made me work - constantly charging me, challenging the pace, backing off a bit and drafting, and then charging again. She was doing her job of pushing me by challenging me physically and mentally. By the third set I had basically told her to "shove off" and that I was "just going to do my own heart rate stuff and that she could do what she wanted." Aha. I had cracked. I got angry. I was pissed, but I learned about myself and my training. And Ludi brought that out. After the workout we talked about it, and she asked if I was upset or made. Hell no! I needed that - that's exactly what I wanted! I wanted to know what it was like to be mentally screwed around with, to feel my body react, and then try to respond in any way possible. Ludi was brilliant, and even though I blew up a bit on our third set, I managed to pull things together brilliantly for the 4th set, and we finished out the workout well.

Today I took a new approach to the workout. While I was still afraid of how challenging it would be, I was also secretly looking forward to it. I knew that Ludi would push herself beyond measure, and in the process, I too would push. And grow. Today was no different. She taught me to attack the hill. I know - very cliche. But she showed me what it meant, and every single hill we hit after the first, I charged. It wasn't easy, and it wasn't fun, but I was completely blown away by what a difference her suggestion had made. And this time I was mentally ready for her attacks. I went in with a positive attitude, and with her constant yelling of, "You rock!" and "You're awesome" and "You're amazing", I really began to believe it. The power of a positive attitude, I tell you, can make all the difference in the world. Her constant positive feedback made the time fly by - it would have been easy to go off and do her own thing, or to draft off me the entire set (which is totally okay with me - I know she has my best interest at heart, unlike other people who have drafted and then tried to sprint ahead at the very end. Cheap shots!), but she kept pushing herself, popping up next to me, her positive feedback never ceasing. I was having a hard enough time breathing out there, let alone gasping for breath, but she would glide up next to me, smile, and yell, "You're doing amazing!"

During the 4th set, it finally dawned on me. While I love rowing a single, and I learn so much from myself while in the single, having another person there can make all the difference in the world. Ludi is my double partner - hypothetically speaking. We're in this together - not to compete, but to grow, to learn, to push each other, to get faster, and to share experiences. I wouldn't be the athlete I am today without her. I don't think that you can ever really repay someone for their support. But as in the double, I feel like we're working towards a common goal - to better each other. I feel truly lucky to have Ludi as my friend, my training partner.

So, back to the idea of "the loneliness of the long distance runner." What can I say? Sometimes rowing in the single is great and necessary. We discover, we grow, we listen to ourselves, we experience, and we learn about our own journey through this process. But other times, the double is truly the way to go. Someone else out there with you, pushing you to new lengths, supporting you, and together working towards a common goal. Thanks Ludi. Love you!

1 comment:

Ashley said...

Hi Marit! My name is Ashley (see I'm friends with Jen Harrison, but it seems we have another connection (albeit weak). I met Ludi through Frank (a training friend of my boyfriend, Peter). You might know Frank Hodges as well? Anyway, Best of Luck in Florida!! I'll be there cheering you all on.