Friday, November 30, 2007

Weeny Dog Laugh

Today I nearly fell off my bike laughing.

I swear.

I was a danger to myself, and to the other 3 friends I was riding with. It was that close (picture me holding two fingers mere millimeters apart).

It was the most I've laughed since I saw something funny on America's Funniest Home Videos. It was 2 days before Clearwater, and I was leaving a phone message for Ludi. Just as her voice mail clicked and made it's usual beeeeep! I saw something really funny. I wish I could remember what it was... Perhaps a lady stuck in the dishwasher, or a little kid who farted baby powder - I don't quite remember (although both of those clips are pretty amusing). The point is, is that the first :30 seconds, yes :30 seconds folks - the amount of time it takes me to reheat coffee in the microwave, or better yet, the amount of time +:10 seconds that a world-class sprinter can run 200 meters in... Anyway, the first 30 seconds of my message to Ludi were simply filled with my laughter.

Bwahahahahahahah! Ahahaha! Ahahah! Bwa Ahahahahaha!!!

And on. And on. And on. Kind of like the Energizer Bunny.

I just kept laughing and laughing and laughing and, well, you get the point.

And the more I laughed, the funnier the clip seemed, and the harder I would laugh. I actually had to leave the room, wipe the tears out of my eyes, compose myself the best that I could, and then finally begin to speak. It's a vicious cycle, I tell you! But it wasn't easy to leave my message. Because about 5 or 10 seconds in, I started laughing. Again. The Energizer Bunny + 5 cups of coffee (or something akin to that). And to top it off, my stomach muscles actually ached from laughing.

I console myself with the fact that I'm not the only one out there who does this: I inherited it from my Mom. Half the times she laughs, we don't even remember what's so funny. Instead, I remember her laugh. It's high pitched, increases with volume and intensity as time goes by, and she can't finish her story - because she's laughing so hard at whatever was on her mind. And then I laugh. And so the cycle continues.

Today I actually do remember what the reason was. I was talking to her on the phone, and she mentioned a story about a cell phone ring that sounded like a clucking chicken. A little funny? Yes - but that wasn't the funny part. My Dad - the serious "Herr Doktor Professor" as Nathaniel calls him, who has a quirky sense of humor all of his own (this is the guy who would beat his chest and make funny noises while walking around the lake amidst throngs of other walkers/runners/rollerbladers/bikers/random people who we've never met, and who therefor didn't understand his sense of humor.. Meanwhile, ,Mom, Karyna, and I would look away and pretended to not know him), took the chicken ring tone a little too seriously.

At the time, he and Mom were in the middle of a church, waiting to talk to the Pastor who would be overseeing Babi Val's funeral. At the sound of the chicken, Dad abruptly sat up, looked around, and actually got out of his seat in search of the lost chicken. In the middle of a church. I only wish I could have been there. (In his defense, I've heard so many odd cell phone ring tones that I myself oftentimes mistake them. The worst was when I heard a cat meowing, and realized it was my neighbor's phone, not our own 18.2 House Monster.) I guess Mom though it was pretty funny, because it took her a good 3 or 4 minutes of laughter over the phone to get her story out. I patiently listened, and before I could help it, was laughing myself.

So there were two of us are - Mother and Daughter - laughing our heads off, unable to get a word in edgewise. Mom's laughing at something funny, and I'm laughing at her... and it goes on. We must look like we're nuts, that we belong in the funny farm, but that's where I get my laugh from, I suppose.

Back to the bike part. That's what this was all about. Well, that and my dangerous laugh.

After not biking yesterday and instead enjoying the luxury of a 3 hour nap, I wanted to at least get in a ride today. Being overly-cautious about my hamstrings/leg soreness that I am, I opted out of my run, and decided to spend today biking and swimming. A slight alteration to the schedule, but one that was justified (and by the way, I feel fantastic after my swim. It was GREAT to be back in the pool!). Ludi had invited me on an easy spin, and I figured I could throw in some time in heart rate zone 3 like Memo had wanted - double bonus was that the weather was beautiful, the backroads of Milton were inviting, and the company I was with were all incredible women.

Ludi, Katy, Petra and myself set off from the Tom Thumb in Chumukula (try saying that three times fast. Good. Now have a glass of wine or two and do it again. :) Not as easy, eh? See - I can get you to laugh. Well, aside from Chumukula, I'll just mention my bowling score high of 65, and that'll have anyone rolling. Or else groaning...) - so we set out from Chumukula and decided to go out and back, rounding out the ride to 1:30 or 2:00 (isn't the off season great!).

The weather was fantastic, I felt so much better than yesterday, and I was really enjoying the conversation with these incredible women. Ludi and Petra both teach at UWF, and Katy is a retired Army Doctor who still writes and keeps her medicine up to date. They are fantastic, inspirational, and every time I bike with them I learn new and interesting things (guess what? There's hardly any snow in Colorado... who would have known? Expect, that is, for Coloradians...)

As we set off down CR 192, we noticed peanut factories (they sell boiled peanuts in road side stands in the middle of summer), fields empty of their recently-harvested cotton crops, and the beautiful green of newly-planted seeds (I have no clue what they'll become). A few miles into our ride, Ludi and Petra started commenting about the dogs.

The dogs?

Yes, down in Florida, where the temperature rarely dips below 30 F in the winter, there are roaming packs of wild dogs. Okay - that's not the funny part. I've actually encountered dogs before while riding by myself. I was in the middle of a 10 mile bike time trial, and about 2:00 into the test, I saw 5 dogs, scampering out from under some bushes barreling towards me. They were an odd pack, ragged, with long fur, covered in mud and seeds. All different sizes, either abandoned or lost; but they had banded together, and passed their time chasing down innocent bikers on back country roads. I almost felt sorry for them, that is until I realized they were after ME, and that if I didn't bike my rear end off, I would be mincemeat. (To this day, my heart rate has never reached the max that I achieved on that particular day. And I doubt it ever will). Not so funny, but something that a lot of athletes, bikers, runners, walkers, postmen have to deal with almost daily.

So when they started discussing dogs, my ears perked up. It was almost as though they were talking about the fall scenery, or the orange and white T-34 flight student 2-seater airplanes passing overhead.

Ludi: "Isn't it a beautiful day?"

Petra: "Yes. Perfect!"

Ludi: "Florida in November is great! Can't believe the fields are so green, the temperature is so warm!"

Petra: "Yes. A beautiful day. Albeit a little chilly. I had to wear arm warmers!"

Ludi: "I know what you mean. Do you remember what house we're coming up to?"

Petra: "Of course! This is where the dog lives. The little one."

Ludi: "Yes, Petra. This is the little, weeny, dog. The big one is further ahead."

Petra: "That's right. Now I remember. First the little guy, then the bigger one."

Marit: Uh. What?

Excuse me? Did you just say DOGS? Two of them? Like it's no big deal? O-k-a-y. I'm not crazy. I know what dogs of all shapes and sizes can do. I know what it's like to get chased by all kinds of dogs - most of them slightly smaller than myself. And I'm not that big. But I'm not that little, either. For Pete's sake, my 18.2 pound cat could inflict a lot of damage on an innocent cyclist given the opportune moment. (She repeatedly attacks Nathaniel, a guy who outweighs her by a good 160 pounds) Sheesh! You guys can take your biking knowledge, your years of experience and go do battle with the "weeny" dog and the "big" dog yourself. I'll find my own peanut-farm, podunk, chumukula-highway roads on my own. I've had enough, thank you very much. And aside from being afraid of sharks and alligators, I want to avoid any and all encounters with dogs. While biking 17 or 18 mph. Humph.

I think they sensed my concern. Was I talking to myself? Were my thoughts out loud? (That tends to happen with me, as I keep myself very good company. Something only a crazy person would not admit to). They reassured me that all would be okay, that I would survive, and the weeny dog had never caused that much damage in the past. What the hell was that supposed to mean? So, onwards we pressed, determined to enjoy the remainder of our ride.

A few minutes later, we came to a small cluster of trailers. They kind of looked like run-down versions of the FEEMA trailers one would find in a hurricane-ravaged area like New Orleans, or Pensacola back after Hurricane Ivan (cat 4, in 2004, I believe). The bits of junk, cinder blocks (minus the car), and random debris strewn about gave away that this particular trailer-dweller didn't care much for outward appearances. Then again, the satellite dish was proudly and prominently displayed in the front yard. Look at us World - we've go Satellite! The lucky bastards, I bet they got to enjoy the Green Bay - Dallas game last nigh. Humph!

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a vanilla-colored movement. The scamper of paws, the sharp Bark Bark!, the panting breath confirmed this was our dreaded weeny dog. It looked to be a mutt-terrier cross. I didn't catch much of a glimpse of it, but from what I could discern, it was little, it was small, but hot damn, it was fast!

I momentarily slowed my speed, lost in my own disbelief. This was the dog? This runt of a puppy?

But it didn't stop. It kept going. Once it hit the edge of the property, the end of the cylinder blocks, it ran directly into the road, straight for my pack of friends. It's tongue was lagging out of it's mouth, and it's sharp Barks filled the air. I could just imagine what it was saying.

Weeny Dog: "Darn you cyclists! I can chase you down! You think you can just waltz by my trailer, my satellite dish, well you have got another thing coming! You think you're fast?? I'll show you fast! I'll be so fast that you'll warn all of your biker friends about me. Because I'm the weeny dog that never stops! Bark Bark Bark! Take That!"

And I did.

My momentary lapse in judgement, was quickly replaced by fear. What the hell? Ludi and Petra had already sped off, away from the weeny-dog from hell, no doubt. But this little bugger, this little guy was right on my wheel.

Great. Now he's a weeny dog, a tenacious weeny dog. And a drafter. Lovely!

And no matter how fast I pedaled, no matter how much I increased my speed, this little dog, this weeny kept right on my wheel, barking all along.

I couldn't believe it. I quickly caught Ludi and Petra, and looked back behind me, sure that I would be rid of my weeny accomplice.

No such luck. A few barks, lots of pants, and the scampering of paws confirmed he was still there. As determined as ever to make sure we knew he was there.

Cool it buddy! We see you! We know that you're fierce, that you're a great guard dog, now shoo!

But no matter how hard we biked, no matter how hard we went, this little weeny-dog-that-could ran right with us, barking and scolding us all the way.

And that's when I started laughing. It was only a little at first, because I tried to suppress it. Big Mistake. I thought I could hold it in. I thought it would be okay. Given the seriousness of the situation, I figured it would be better to look back and then laugh. But hard as I tried, I could no longer contain myself. Pretty soon, I was laughing so hard, tears came to my eyes. Like an explosion, or eruption of sorts. Not Krakatoa or Mt. Vesuvious - my eruption of laughter knocked those explsions off the cart. Well, not really - but I'm sure it came somewhat close. Or at least it seemed to. Let's just say that my outward burst was an eruption of great magnitude! My vision was blurred, my stomach hurt, and I was having a hard time going in a straight line.

I couldn't stop laughing.

We looked ridiculous. The three of us, Petra, Ludi, and myself, being chased - yes chased -at 22 mph for 1/2 mile by a 5, maybe 10 pound little weeny dog - was hilarious. And I just couldn't stop laughing. It was painful. And funny. Which made it all the more funny.

Luckily I didn't crash my bike, and our weeny-dog (friend?) eventually decided to let us pass, and trotted back to his satellite-dish, cinder-block of a mobile home. He had done a great job, protecting his turf, and would no doubt be ready for the next unsuspecting biker or postman to step one toe too close to his area. Beware all bikers/postmen on Milton CR-192, between Chumukula Hwy and Hwy 189!

But it was great. I love laughing. I love the sound of laughter. It makes me happy. It's like music: pure, hearty, and connects directly to your soul. I feel like I haven't done enough laughing this week, this year. I've been so serious, focused, determined. Perhaps that's why when I start laughing, I have a hard time stopping. This is my body's way of releasing and giving into itself and into pure bliss. But I don't care: I want to laugh. I want to see funny things, to chuckle at the silly things, like women in dishwashers, babies farting baby powder, and my dad looking for a chicken in a church. And a little weeny dog, trying to scare me off (and succeeding) to the best of his ability.

Life goes by so fast. We all need to sit back and laugh. If not at something, well, then at least at ourselves. Or a weeny dog.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


I'm generally a happy-go-lucky kind of person. More often than not, the glass is half full, and I'm raring to go. At times, it's difficult to hold me back. Case in point: as a little kid, I used to run around the backyard, in circles around my Mom's beautiful flower arrangement. Naked. Happy-go-lucky kid, life is beautiful, all that sort of stuff.

Today just wasn't one of those days.

And yes, I realize that we can't all be like this. The glass isn't always half full, and the grass isn't always green. But the point is, is that there's still liquid in the glass and the grass (hopefully) isn't dead, yet.

I think my funk today has stemmed from this past week of stress. It was inevitable that it would finally catch up to me: I've been so busy with other things, with the rest of my life, that I really haven't had the time to sit down and process everything. Part of that is my own doing: I don't want to face the sadness, to face the unanswered questions, to face the demons that poke their fiery heads through my conscious brain from time to time.

But today I was exhausted. No other way to describe it. 6, yes 6! cups of coffee did nothing to wake me up. After a routine doctor's appointment at 10, I headed home with the intention of a quick nap before undertaking my workouts for the day. I was tired, and the couch - with the comfy IKEA pillows and goose-feather down comforter - looked so inviting. I darkened the shades, flipped on classical music and settled in for what I thought would be a quick nap. Tabbitha joined me on the couch, and we were soon fast asleep, sawing logs.

3 hours later.... Nathaniel came home from school and asked if I was okay. At first I was confused, groggy, and trying to get my contacts unstuck my my eyeballs (don't you hate it when that happens! Aaakk! Very annoying), but gradually came too. It turned out that I had "napped" for nearly 3 and a half hours! HOLY COW! What's going on?

After some brooding and self-reflection, it finally hit me. Even though Babi Val wouldn't want me to be sad, I'm still suffering from her recent death. I am sad, and to say otherwise would be dishonest to myself and untrue to her memory. And my grief has appeared in the form of fatigue. My body is telling me something, and I don't want to listen. I want to keep going, to keep moving, to keep doing. But my body is urging me otherwise. In the end, I'm glad that my body took control and my mind was silenced.

I was supposed to bike and run today, and while I would have loved the workout, sometimes life just happens. I've done the best that I can in keeping true to the workouts Memo gives, and following the program to the best of my ability. But that's just how life is: we get a monkey-wrench thrown at us from time to time. And we just have to deal. Like my erg story yesterday: it's not always easy, but we keep going nonetheless.

So instead, I took it easy. I let my body, my mind relax. I accepted my grief, my sadness as part of the process. And that's okay, because it's how I'm feeling. I wish I could say that I knew when it will go away, but just like training at a high intensity, or high volume, it isn't so easy to shut these emotions, these feelings off.

The interesting thing I noted, was that while I was sad, and moping about with my glass-is-nearly-empty approach, other things that weren't usually annoying, seemed to become nearly unbearable.

First, the football game I was so looking forward to isn't on TV. Packers vs Cowboys. What the heck? Yes, I realize I'm a relative "newbie" to the big wide world of football, but my Green Bay fanatic husband has patiently explained every aspect of the game, so much so that I actually enjoy watching football.

I'll repeat: I actually ENJOY watching football!

Am I attentive the entire game? No way! I'll usually write or read in the background. But I do enjoy watching the teamwork, watching the rushing game, enjoying the beauty of the passes, and seeing the tremendous amount of teamwork these players have to endure in order to perform at their best. Yes it's a brutal game, one that I never though I would enjoy. But I still get a kick out of it... and it's quality time that Nate and I get to spend together.

So when we learned that only Dish Network was carrying the game, we were furious! I think I was more upset than Nathaniel. (Tomorrow he's got a test for helicopters, so his foremost focus is on the test... but he has the amazing ability to study while watching the game. Incredible). I was looking forward to reading the blogs of fellow triathletes, catching up on the news, and doing some writing of my own.


Score 2 for Marit's disappointment.

Then while channel surfing a few minutes ago, I discovered that "National Treasure 2" (National Treasure 1" being one of my favorite movies!) isn't coming out on the 7th like I thought. Instead I'll have to wait another 2 whole weeks until the 21st of December.


To add onto everything else, the weight training kicked my rear, and my hamstrings are both sore. So much that I don't want to run today or tomorrow... I am afraid that they'll get worse. And believe me, the last thing I want to do over the next few weeks is be out of the pool and out of running. Not a good combination. Usually my hamstrings are okay, but I think its the combination of weight training for the first time in several weeks, combined with my lack of flexibility ( hey, with no training I was doing no flexibility work. Two words: big mistake!). So while I've set up an appointment with my brilliant massage therapist who always works wonders n my body, I'm still a little anxious.

Triple Humbug.

And finally, while I'm jumping out of my skin to go home for the holidays, the idea of spending two weeks with our families and away from my bike/usual training routine is beginning to make me a little nervous. Rationally, I know that it's not a big deal. What the hey? I can cross train, and there are plenty of local gyms. And let's be honest, it won't kill me to take it easy through the holidays before I start again in earnest. But the irrational part of me - the part that whispers doubts and sheds light on my fears - is doing her best to make me nervous.

Quadruple Humbug.

So I guess what I learned from this day is that I tend to "catastrophize" things (is that even a word?) IE, when one thing goes wrong, everything else seems to fall out of place as well. Bloody Dish TV network!

But that's also the awesome part: I recognize this. I realize what I'm doing, and I can take steps to change it.

Just tomorrow, though.

Tonight, I'll read and enjoy another glass of wine. Tomorrow I'll head out for a great ride with Ludi and jump back in the pool (yea!). I'll probably still be a little sad, a little tired - but I'll recognize the symptoms and realize that I'm learning about myself more and more each day. And the wild little girl in me will come out again - just not naked. (Phew!)

She does, after all, like to jump off the high dive.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Erg (Ergometer!)

Today I did something that I haven't done in a long, long, long time. I erged. And not just because I could, or because it was given to me by Coach. No, this I planned myself.

First, to make things simple, let me explain. Ever since getting back from Philadelphia, I've been fighting off a small (albeit pesky!) cold. My mantra of I won't get sick I won't get sick! seems to have been working in part. While my stuffy nose stayed with me for a few days, my throat never got to be too bad, and my sinuses didn't implode. As a kid who grew up with two or three bad sinus infections each and every year this was a pretty big deal.

I just had to sacrifice my swimming in the process. (Stop grinning - a few of you out there are smiling at this very moment. Kacie - I'm thinking of you!). Late last season, after reading Jen Harrison's blog about the wonders of swimming, I decided to take a new, HAPPY approach to the pool. Swimming IS FUN! Every workout would be an opportunity to play in the water, grow as an athlete, and oh yeah, get faster! So by the end of the season, I was really getting into it. And it paid off, because my splits got faster, and I felt - simply put - better in the water. Who would have thought? But it's totally true. (And it helps to start every swim with a jump off the high dive. The little kid in me never ceases to remind me of her presence!)

And after this past week of no swimming, I know I wasn't kidding myself at the end of last season. I really miss it!

My only consolation is that it's still my off season, and that nothing I was supposed to do had any kind of intensity or speed. Just technique work and a little pulling. Sigh. But I'm still bummed that I'm not in the pool. But I also realize that it's for the best. It's a heckuva lot better than being laid out for two weeks with throbbing sinuses.

Last June I flew home to Minnesota for two weeks. It was a chance for a wonderful mid-season break. I got to see my friends and family, attend Karyna's graduation, and I was hoping to get in a lot of great training. My body (along with the really sick guy on the plane next to me) were planning otherwise. Three days after I arrived, I came down with a doozy of a sinus infection. Yuck. In the middle of June. Double yuck. At my parent's house (and while it was great to have Mom and Dad there looking out for my every need!) - they don't have air conditioning. Triple Yuck. But in their defense, it's Minnesota - it NEVER gets all that hot up there. Back to double yuck. Unfortunately, last summer Minnesota had a record breaking string of 9 days of 90+ degrees, and I just so happened to be there, sick, while it happened. Quadruple yuck.

So there I was, cooped up in my parent's beautiful house, enjoying the splendors of their beautiful new kitchen, but sick as a dog. I was miserable. And my sinuses felt like they were going to explode. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have gone to the pool the day after I arrived with a stuffy nose. That only exacerbated the situation... I guess the only good thing that came out of it, is that now when I have a stuffy nose, I won't go near the pool. (You don't even have to cue the Jaws music for that one, folks.) What I learned (along with taking 2 weeks off from training entirely in the middle of the summer will drive me crazy), is that stuffy nose + swimming = full blown, worst-sinus-infection-of-your-entire-life.

Which means going on medication. Which makes you tired. And groggy. And cranky (sorry Mom and Dad for being ill-tempered!). And constipated (see the previous apology). And stressed out! And visiting a new doctor in a different state from your regular health care provider, is a big pain in the you-know-where. Long story short, I got my meds, but I was cooped up for nearly the entire trip, was forced to take it easy for a few weeks... and oh yeah, and I don't ever care to repeat that again!

Am I being a little overly-cautious now? Probably. But for good reason.

Hey, right now I'm on the road to recovery. No stuffy nose, no sore throat, no meds, no sinus infection! DING DING DING! We have a winner!

So even though today's workout called for a swim, I wanted to avoid the pool for another day or two. Just to be sure (and no, I'm not making excuses - again Kacie, I know what you're thinking!), because after all, who wants to be sick over the holidays? I mentioned my dilemma to Memo, and he suggested that I either add a little bit of bike volume (easy!), cross train, or just keep it simple and skip the workout. He assured me that I had plenty of time to prepare for IM Arizona, and to not worry about it. So being the good pupil that I am, Monday I spent an hour on the trainer instead of my swim, and today I cross trained.

Why cross train?

I know this sounds funny, but I wanted to get a workout in that specifically utilized my upper body, arms, and back - yet would still be a "total body" workout. If I'm not going to swim, at least I want to use similar muscle groups.

I went over the possibilities in my head. Hhhmmmm. Tennis? Ping Pong? (no - too much coordination. And besides, you get too many breaks). Bowling (no - too slow, and besides I always hit the gutter. My all time low is 22. My all time high is 65. And the high was accomplished with the aid of "bumper bowling" lanes. You know, the things that block your ball from rolling into the gutter. I'm embarrassed to admit it - I wasn't deliberately trying to miss, I'm just not very good. Let's just say that I'm not the greatest bowler. Enough about that). Golf? (No - way too slow). Water Polo? (No - you need a team, and besides I'm trying to avoid the pool if I can help it). Gymnastics? (No, the adductors are still too sore). Yoga, Pilates? (See previous reason why not. Well, that and I've got a serious problem with holding in my laughter. If something is funny - like a funny position name - I have a very difficult time holding in my laugh. In the past, I've had to leave the room. Very un-yoga like.)

And then it hit me: Rowing! Score!!!

A total body workout minus the impact of running, but with the added benefits that you use your entire body with each stroke you take. Sweet!

Minor technicality: I didn't have a boat. And I'm sure that there were sharks teeming in the Gulf Waters - but it was okay. I could ERG instead. (Ergometer, or indoor rowing machine, for all you non-rowing people).

I had my mission: today instead of swimming, I was going to erg! Bring it on, I welcome it! (Oops, wrong post).

Contrary to what most rowers will tell you about their experience with the erg, I love it. LOVE it. Yes, it's a torture device, yes, it has caused me more pain that I would ever care to admit. But it's also given me some of the best satisfaction, the best moments of my entire life. To be a rower, to be a good rower, means you have to be a little crazy. Just as in triathlon, you put up with a lot of time and hours spent working and crafting your sport. Rowers and triathletes focus on technique, on drills, on repetition. We push our limits, go beyond what we thought capable, and then reach even further. Triathletes, however, race anywhere from 1 hour up to 17 at the very most. Rowers are done with the standard 2k (2,000 meters - the Olympic distance event. The other common distance is the "head" race, typically a 3 mile race done in the fall, which takes anywhere from 18 minutes up to 30, depending on the conditions and boat size) in a matter of minutes. 8 minutes (or less in most cases - again depends on the type of boat and the conditions) later, you're done. Finished. Game over.

But the time spent working on each respective sport, on perfecting technique, the amount of hours per week is nearly the same between the two sports. (Okay - full IM training is the exception. But when I was rowing on the US elite national team, a typical week involved 15-22 hours of rowing, not cross training or running or any other sports. Simply rowing.) Triathlon is extremely different in the sense that it's a lot easier to space out the work-load over a 5 hour race. Rowing is the true oddity: an 8 minute race is over in a flash, but the individual puts in an incredible amount of time for those 8 minutes. 8 minutes of hell, of hellish agony, oxygen deprivation, screaming lungs, burning quads, fatigue brought on by stress yet the body still needs to remember form and tecnique in order to move the boat... Not only have you got a wizzard on your back, but you're haling your own ass with a boat load of wizzards. And 8 minute, all-out, blackout inducing, vomit tasting, limits pushing, over-the-edge flailing sprint. Because that's the race. (I'll take an Olympic distance or 70.3 race any day, thanks for asking.)

From a pure numbers standpoint, rowers spend infinitely more time rowing in non-race situations, practicing, perfecting technique, than they ever will racing. Muscle memory is one of the only ways it's possible to push so hard, take your boy to it's pinnacle, yet maintain the delicate balance and control required of handeling a delicate shell. It's at times like this when I can hear my old rowing coach Miriam (again, one of the best coaches I have ever had the pleasure of working with) say, "It takes 1,000 strokes to row a single perfect stroke."

I guess that's one of the reasons why I love rowing and the erg so much. In Minnesota, we didn't have the opportunity to row outside all year round, so instead we took out training indoors for 4 or 5 months while the ice and snow built up around the boathouse. The workouts weren't any less intense: if anything, they were more difficult. Rather than focusing on technique, on the feel of the boat, on channeling your energy into every stroke, instead when you erg, you stare directly at a screen that relays your splits, average time, energy output, stroke rating, meters covered, and calories burned (just thought I'd toss that one it) for every single stroke! Pretty cool for the first 2 minutes. But when you're cranking out 4 X 12 min at +:03 from your avg 500 meter split for your 2,000 meter test time (did I confuse you enough?), it gets old pretty quickly. Essentially you're working towards your max, and your numbers that you see with each and every stroke are a constant reminder.

That's why its no longer about what you're doing, how hard you're working, the numbers that you're cranking out, but rather, the mental tricks your mind will play on you.

It's so easy, just ease up. Just stop now. Then you can breath. Then you can see straight. Then you won't feel like your arms are on fire, that you're legs are about to give out, that you're going to throw up at every second. Just pull back, and this will all go away...


And that's why the erg is so challenging: because it's so easy to stop. Your body AND your mind are telling you to quit. They're tossing every ploy in the book at you, begging and pleading with you to simply stop. Every little bit of doubt, every weakness is exposed, until you're left in a blubbering, whimpering, sweaty, heap on a little, plastic, uncomfortable seat. It takes a lot more than "crazy" to keep going. (And you thought triathletes and rowers weren't all that similar...). News flash: we are.

But we do, we keep going. We press forward. We carry on in spite of everything that's screaming at us to stop.


Because the fear of stopping, the fear of giving in, is worse than any pain that we feel at the highest pinnacle of the workout. We keep going because it's simply what we do. After all - you can't stop in the middle of a race. Heck - you can't stop in the middle of life... you just keep going. Stroke after stroke. Pull after pull. Step after step.

And that's why I love the erg.

Today when I sat on the erg, an unexpected flood of emotions hit me like a wall of water. I was unprepared, and didn't quite know what to make of it. Yes, I've erged a bunch of times since I last seriously rowed: but I haven't since then sat at the erg with the intention of actually doing a workout, or planning a set. Instead it was a mere 10 or 15 minutes here or there, maybe 30 minutes easy at the most.

I could feel the old butterflies creep back into my stomach, and I could almost sense Miriam's presence standing over my shoulder watching my splits. I completed my warm-up, and then inputted my workout into the monitor. As I started my sets, I watched my numbers and my average splits begin to gradually fall. No, they weren't near what I used to do, but they weren't that far off... (It kind of makes me wonder what I would do if we lived in a place where there was a crew and boathouse... Yes I do triathlons and I love them, but I've always carried that rower mentality. I guess you can take me away from rowing, but you'll never take the rower out of me.)

With each pull I made, I felt stronger. I could feel my rowing-self awaken. Suddenly, my "easy" pieces became more challenging, as I decided to negative split each part of the workout. It didn't matter how many people were around and looking at me (I was red-faced and gasping for air as my erg whirrrred happily away), it didn't matter that my nose was a little stuffy, it didn't matter that I was in my off season. I just wanted to row. I wanted the feeling back. I wanted my lges to burn, my arms to pull, the erg handle to get slippery with my seat. I wanted to feel what if felt like to row fast again. I wanted to go fast, to move a boat, to hear the bubbles under the gunwales, to feel the catch of my oars in the water, and the send off my blades as I followed through on the stroke. And my attempt to erg, the mimic of the motion, was as close to the old rowing self that I've come in a long while.

And while it was hard, while I struggled, I was also in my element. Holy Cow, I didn't realize doing 6 minute pieces could feel so great! Simply stated, I felt lucky to be erging, happy to feel like my old-rowing-self, but also wistful. The erg wasn't enough: I wanted to be back in a boat, to feel the scull glide under me, to watch my puddles fade in the distance stroke after stroke.

For now, it's not something that I'll get to enjoy. Perhaps one day in the far far future. In the meantime, I'll stick to the erging as my cross training. And hope that my nose eventually clears up.

And who knows. Perhaps my absence from the pool for a few days will bring out the old Swimming-Self, and I'll experience the same emotions in the pool as I did on the erg.

So swimming or rowing? I'll wait for my nose to decide, thank-you-very-much. Both sound great, and we'll just have to wait and see what happens. Maybe I'll get to Nordic ski when I'm at home over Christmas. You never know. Yeah! Another old sport that I'll get to fall in love with again. So we'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I'm not really 100% sure what I'll do.

I take that back. I know one thing (for certain) that I won't do. Sorry folks, my all time high of 65 will just have to remain as is. No bowling for me, thanks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bring it on, I welcome it!


Today I woke up in pain.

What did I do yesterday? What have I done to deserve this?

I closed my eyes, and attempted to shift positions. Mistake. BIG mistake. Not only did I feel my hamstrings and glutes, but somewhere my adductors (the inner-leg!) screamed out in agony. And the totally sad part? I only shifted my body, didn't squeeze my knees together or do anything that would require an adductor.

Was I hit by a car? Was I in some kind of accident?

Oh yeah, now I remember. I started training again.

Yesterday I lifted weights for the first time in 4 or 5 weeks. Maybe even 6. Who knows?

So it's really a good thing. Something I'm happy about. In fact, I'll even go so far as to tell Coach, "Bring it on - I welcome it!" Even though my body is protesting today, I know it'll be for the best. And I know it'll make me that much stronger next season.

The funny thing about this, is that while my season ended a few weeks ago and I had a great break from training all together (hello sleeping in, late night TV, treats and snacks galore, bottles of red wine!), I'm ready to go. I want this. I want to feel fast, I want to work hard, I want that feeling of bettering myself. Of pushing my limits and discovering new ones. The hard part right now, is that the training is only minimal! Nothing too complicated, nothing too long, too fast, too hard. Just a little bit of structure and technique to get me through the holidays. Then, aha! Only then do I start my training in earnest.

And I'm sure that by early March, while I'm at the peak of my IM Arizona build, I'll look back to this entry and figure that I was crazy. What the hell was she thinking, wanting more?? Yes, I had a loose screw. One too many cocktails! The lights are on, but nobody's home! Yep - call me crazy, but now, it's what I want.

Bring in On - I Welcome IT!

Just last weekend I went on a really relaxing (albeit slow) ride with Ludi. We met up at the Blackwater trail, but didn't have any definite distance or time goals. After chatting and getting ready to go, we finally settled on 25 miles out, and 25 back, totaling 50 miles (and you though I'm no good at math! Ha! Just because I tend to loose count on swim laps, well...I can calculate running and biking miles with the best of them). As I had forgotten my watch (but was wearing my heart rate monitor), I didn't feel the urge to continually check out my heart rate and splits. Usually I'm a big numbers person: I love to know what's happening to my body, to see and to feel what I'm doing, and make the connection between the perceived exertion and work output. But these past few weeks of my off-season have been wonderful: no need to hold a certain split, to meet a specific time, to average a certain heart rate. At the same time, though, it's been challenging.

We had a fantastic time, enjoying the beauty of the Blackwater Forest and NW Florida. The weather was beautiful, and the cooler temperatures did nothing to diminish our soaring spirits. The trees were finally beginning to turn, and seeing the flecks of gold and streaks of orange was electrifying. The air smelled crisp, and was occasionally permeated by smoke from camp fires and cozy fireplaces. Simply put, it was a beautiful day for a ride.

One of the great things about riding with Ludi, is our conversations. Yes, she pushes me like no one else and never fails to help me find a higher level of intensity hidden deep within my subconscious, but she also understands the emotions of the sport. One of our discussions last weekend was our respective off seasons. We both agreed that some of the biggest challenges we were facing was the feeling of complete and utter meltdown. The feeling of "bleh". The feeling of total and absolute deconditioning.

Simply stated, we felt slow. We felt fat. We felt out of shape. (And Thanksgiving Pumpkin Cream Cheese Roll didn't help, as we combined to devour 3/4 of the roll... Along with a few select bottles of red wine. Oh well, 'Tis the Season!)

We didn't feel like ourselves.

But at the same time, it felt great to air my grievances. I knew that I wasn't alone: she wasn't the only one who struggled with the inner conflict of necessary off-season vs the feeling of out-of-shapeness that comes with it.

The more I read about other triathletes (and their blogs), and the more I talk to other athletes about these feelings, the more I understand myself and my own struggles. And I've come to the realization that I'm not alone! This is natural; this is okay.

I guess that's just part of the cycle, part of what we all go through. We work so hard to achieve our results, to go fast, to be strong, to be our best selves. Day in and day out, we focus and do what it takes to reach our potential, to achieve our goals. By the time race day arrives, the thousands of little decisions, made on a daily basis, have helped to shape the athletes we are. We work hard, we set out to accomplish our goals: we do this day in and day out. It no longer becomes a part of our thoughts, rather it becomes second nature. We do this because we simply are this way.

And that's why our down time, our off season is so hard. It's darn near impossible to simply switch these engraned processes off. No longer are we racing or training at high intensity. We don't push new levels in workouts, and we don't live at that constant state of hyper-workout-race-on-the-horizon-associated-stress. Additionally, we aren't used to the simple idea of "time off". Rather the norm of, taking it easy usually occurs after a 4 hour brick. Post-workout fatigue is the only way we know how to relax and kick our feet back while feeling like we've truly earned it.

Therefore, the off-season is just as much about re-programing our bodies just as much as it is about re-programming our minds.

So when my season begins in earnest, I'll be ready. I'll climb the highest hill, reach the tallest rooftop, stand at the edge of the ocean and scream at the top of my lungs, "Bring It On, I Welcome IT!"

That's why I'm so excited to take the tiny first steps. It means that I'm almost there, that I'm just about ready. Sure, I'm doing a little bit of working out - 10 or 11 hours this week - but nothing near the intensity or volume that I'm accustomed to. And that's okay. Now I realize this. I know and understand the emotions of what I'm going through. What my body is experiencing is natural. And I'm beginning to finally understand why.

Because I love this sport. I love the early morning swims, the beauty of a long ride, the floating sensation while running. I love the challenge, the new hurdles I have to overcome. I know it's not always easy, but that makes the end result all the better, all the sweeter.

Bring it on, I welcome it!

So today I'm in a little bit of pain. Yes, it hurts to move my legs, and I'm anticipating that tomorrow may be a little worse. But that's okay, because I know that it's all part of the process. I've enjoyed time off, and now a new phase is about to begin. Now I get to enjoy the light volume, low intensity, and no workout-associated stress through the holidays. I know it'll be hard (as I'm sure that one of the various groups I bike with will want to kick off December by cycling another century). And I'll resist the temptation to ride the entire way with them. Instead, I'll do my own thing, go at my own slow pace, and enjoy working out purely for the sake of being outside and reveling in winter's splendor. My body and my mind need this break, but at the same time I'm raring to go.

Bring it on, I welcome IT!

As for now, I'm enjoying a little bit of both worlds. No, I'm not in the best shape, and watching my heart rate creep up at my "easy" pace is pretty amusing. But I'm having a good time. I'm enjoying the late night tv (CSI: Miami marathon!), sleeping in a little, and indulging in holiday treats and spirits. But just around the corner, my 2008 season is waiting. It's so close, I can almost touch it. First the easy, light stuff, and then I'll get to ramp it up. And I simply can't wait.

So I raise my wine glass in toast and shout, "BRING IT ON, I WELCOME IT!"

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Babi Val

It Rains

It rains
over the sand, over the roof
the theme
of the rain:
the long Ls of rain fall slowly
over the pages
of my everlasting love
this salt of every day:
rain, return to your old nest,
return with your needles to the past:
today I long for the whitest space,
winter's whiteness for a branch
of green rosebush and golden roses:
something of infinite spring
that today was waiting, under a cloudless sky
and whiteness was waiting,
when the rain returned
to sadly drum
against the window,
then to dance with unmeasured fury
over my heart and over the roof,
its place,
asking me for a cup
to fill once more with needles,
with transparent time,
with tears.

Pablo Neruda, "The Poetry of Pablo Neruda". 2005, p 841

Yesterday my Grandmother, my Babi Val, passed away. And while I am sad, I know deep in my heart that it's for the best. For the past 5, perhaps 10 years, she has been affected by frontal lobe dementia or Alzheimer's. Seeing her, immobile and confused, in a nursing home and special care facility was beyond difficult; the Grandmother I knew would never have wanted a life like that. She was no longer her self, no longer the woman whose belly shook while she laughed, no longer the Grandmother who gave me and my sister lemon drops and other sweets.

I guess that's one of the most horrible parts about a disease like this: it not only destroys the life of the individual, but also robs friends and family of the person they once knew. While seeing Babi in a nursing home was hard, it was beyond difficult watching the turmoil and pain that my Dad and Mom went through during her illness. They put on such a brave face for me and Karyna, and did their best to support Babi and each other through this difficult time.

I know that sadness is part of this experience; death is only but part of life's journey. In passing, Babi was freed from the confines of her disease, but those who remain behind are left with her memories, and celebrating the joy of her life. Babi wouldn't want me or anyone else to be sad. Instead, she would look at us, quick smile spreading across her bespectacled face, hands on her knees, and laugh emerging from her belly and chortle:

"Oh kiddo!"

So here's to Babi Val: I love you! Thanks for being my Grandmother. And for all the great memories and good times:

-She made eating PB & J sandwiches fun by cutting them in triangles. Very cool to a 3 year old. (And to a 26 year old)
-On long car trips, she would sneak lemon drops to me and my sister under the watchful eye of my Grandfather
-She would clean my messy room every time she visited. My parents would try to make sure it was "neat", but inevitably my closet would look as though it was throwing up.
-She never hid her flatulence. The louder the better. Again very amusing to a 3 year old.
-She almost never tired of playing ping-pong games with me and Karyna
-She and Grandpa helped purchase a violin for me, and faithfully attended every violin concert, even when I could only squeak out simple minuettes.
-How she would always talk about Nathaniel being "in the service" and then bat her eyes at him.
-She made the best Rutabega
-And Lutefisk
-And Ribs
-But her dumplings never could float
-Her laugh, it would start from deep within her stomach, carry up to her lungs, and burst free from her open mouth.
-"Uff-da" and "Kiddo" - two words I commonly use

I don't know what else to say. Today I am sad. I know that life goes on, will continue. Like a swift river, flowing from one bend to another. I'll still be sad tomorrow, but I'll celebrate her life and the lives of my family.

And I'll be grateful for the time I had, for the the moments I shared, for the memories I will forever keep.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Escape

We are bad parents.

I am a BAD Mom!

Today, at approximately 6:15pm, Tabbitha (our 18.2 Tiger, er kitty) escaped.

And the worst part?

I didn't realize it until 7:55 pm.

What kind of parent am I?

Where to begin? I guess I realized that something was "off" when we had been attack-free for over an hour. A miracle of sorts. A strange sense of peace, according to Nathaniel. The work of the devil, thought I.

But let me back up for just a second. Lately, Tabbitha has been hanging out by the front door. I don't quite know why: outside of our door is nothing except a concrete slab and a few other doors in the apartment complex. Rather, drab - if you ask me. Freedom, to an overweight kitty, though. Nothing interesting like at our previous houses. At our first apartment in Cherry Point, NC we shared a hallway with neighbors who owned a Great Dane named Lucy and a Siamese cat named Cricket. There were always interesting smells in the hall, and Tabbitha would dash out of our door and spend lots of time exploring the stairway and blue carpeting. At our second house on base, we overlooked woods and an offshoot inlet from the Neuse River, and Tabbitha would mostly hang out under the bushes in front of our living room window. A perfect vantage point to spy on unsuspecting birds and squirrels.

Tabbitha always loved to go outside, however she never usually went that far. Occasionally she would make a mad dash for the woods or end up down by the river. Nathaniel always joked that she could stay out there, as far as he was concerned. But a few choice words from me, and he was soon helping me look for her, yelling, "Nu-Nu's!" (our word for Cat Treats) at the top of his lungs while I shook the Moist Cat Treat Bag. We always got her back, as she never really went that far. But I always worried.

Fast forward to about 2 hours ago.

As I was, saying... I made a quick trip out to the car to grab a medium sized sauce pan and 9 X 5 baking dish. At our morning bike ride, Ludi had returned the dishes that I had left at her place after our Thanksgiving feast. Last Thursday, I was a little too inebriated to be worried about pots and pans, as my main concern was making it to the backseat of the car without tripping over myself or my three left feet.

I quickly got the dishware, steadied myself against the chilly wind, and made my way back to our front door. Quick as a flash I was inside, and getting ready to make my dinner of chicken noodle soup. Not that exciting, but something I was looking forward to. It tastes especially good loaded with veggies, ham, turkey, and an egg. Delicious! And easy. Double bonus.

After making dinner, I settled in to catch up on some on-line reading, enjoy the 4th OT of Tennessee and Kentucky Football (Tennessee won 52-44!), and then realized that something was missing.

But what?

The dinner was great, I was relaxed and enjoying the fatigue brought on by a great bike ride earlier, I was enjoying my Diet Cherry Coke, and Nathaniel joined me after a few minutes. But something was off, just not quite right... But what??

And then it hit me: Tabbitha was MIA.

Usually she cuddles up to me, will follow me from room to room, keeping me company whenever I'm home. Neurotic? Yes! OCD? For sure! Strange attachment to her Mom? Definitely! But also incredibly sweet and loving at the same time. All things considered, I wouldn't change a bit. On the other hand, she'll still launch sneak attacks at Nathaniel from under the couch, and never misses an opportunity to scratch him when she can. She's not very good at hiding her displeasure. But she's still our cat, and I love her. Nathaniel claims to "put up with her", calls her "Bozo" and "The House Monster", but I know that he secretly loves her. Arm Chair Wars and all.

So after an hour and change of no cuddly companion on the couch, or sneak attacks aimed at Nathaniel, I knew something was amiss.

Could she be asleep? No - I checked.

Could she be eating her heart's desire (how much should an 18.2 pound kitty consume?) No!

Was she in any of the usual hiding places? Negative.

I started to get worried, a little bit of panic setting in. I called her. No response. I shook the treat bag and called her to dinner (hey - food always works with this cat) - nadda. Okay, something was seriously amiss.

And then it hit me: could she have escaped when I went out to get stuff from the car?

The thought sent shivers down my spine, and I felt myself begin to panic in earnest.


After a few deep breaths, I threw on my sandals, opened the door, and half expected to see Tabbitha sitting on the concrete, giving me a bad look. Where have you guys been? You forgot about me! But I'm a good girl! I didn't run away and didn't attack any of the neighbors, even the new annoying one whose father called you a Stewardess and claimed that his son had not one but two medical degrees. (Different story all together). Frankly, if Tabbitha had attacked them, it would be okay. Nathaniel and I would be proud: but alas, she was no where in sight.

I quickly ran to the parking lot, and started calling her name. I know I looked and sounded crazy, but was terrified of the worst-case-scenario. Tabbitha has been a faithful companion, a good friend who has stuck with me through good times and bad. I know she can't talk or communicate with me, but I sense a kindred ship between us, a certain connection that I just get her and she just gets me. Even though she attacks, there's a certain spunk that she's got - she's a no-holds barred kitty, one who makes you work for her affection. The kind of cat that Robert DeNiro's character in "Meet the Parents" would be proud of. Compared to Tabbitha, Mr.Jinx is nothing.

My fear mounted as I ran from one end of the apartment to the other. What have I done? Where could she be?? What if something happened to her - it would be all my fault! What kind of owner looses their pet?

I thought back to all the free-roaming animals that I've seen since living in the South, and remembered how angry I get at irresponsible pet owners. What are these people thinking? Domesticated animals are NOT safe running around in the open! There are too many things that can go wrong, too many dangers, too many things - bad things - that can get them!

I went to the other end of the apartment complex, yelling Tabbitha's name and clapping my hands as much as I could. I didn't care who saw me, or who heard my cries. I just wanted to find my Kitty. At this point, Nathaniel could sense my fear, and he joined in on the search. He dashed up the stairs to the upper level of the building, but after a thorough search didn't come up with any kitty.

I started yelling even louder, clapping my hands so hard that they echoed against the concrete and brick apartment walls.

And then, out of the distance, somewhere down below, I heard a familiar, "Meow."

It was very quiet at first, very timid. Very un-Tabbitha like.

I tried again, this time adding, "Nu-Nu's!" for good measure. When in doubt, kitty treats help.

This time the "Meow" was a little stronger, a little more bold.

I quickly dashed down the stairs, only to see Tabbitha carefully streaking out of the Nature Preserve in our backyard. More of a swamp, if you ask me. In the summer, I'm sure there are alligators and snakes - but this time of year I'm sure that they're all slow and slumbering. Well, at least I hope.

I scooped up Tabbitha in my arms, half scolding, half telling her that I loved her, and half crying. Amazing how one big little kitty can bring out a plethora of emotions.

In the end, Tabbitha was no worse for the wear. But I was a mess. It terrifies me to think that something - completely out of my control - could have happened to my kitty.

But after a while, I realized that's life. We do our best, we do everything that we can to shelter those that we love and care for - but at some point shit is going to happen, things will be out of our control, and we're going to have to hope for the best. It's unrelated, but I never want Nathaniel to get a motorcycle: I love him too much to loose him because of some idiot driver whose not paying attention. I worry about my little sister, navigating the streets of Philadelphia. I worry about my parents, and I want to be there for them if they ever need me. And now I worry about Tabbitha, escaping from the relative safety of our house.

But I also realize I can't live the rest of my life this way - in fear of the ones that I love. WE all have to go through life, to have our own experiences and adventures. If not, what's the point? So I'll try to focus on this, to de-stress a bit after Tabbitha's adventure. And realize that Tabbitha got a chance to explore Florida for the first (and last) time.

Oh yeah, and a good strong drink helped calm my nerves.

So here I sit, Tabbitha curled up next to me, enjoying a bit of British Comedy. And spiked egg-nogg. Works every time.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The OCD Self

This afternoon I went out for a run, just a quick tenure through the UWF trails and then around campus. The late afternoon sunlight cast long shadows against the pine trees, and the breezy wind only added more chill to the already cool air. Fall had officially arrived in Pensacola, and I was doing my best to soak it all in. I deliberately ran later in the afternoon (well, partly because I was suffering from an over-indulgence of alcoholic beverages from the night before, and needed a few hours to let my stomach and head settle themselves), but mostly because I wanted to experience fall at its best. The leaves crunched under my feet, the golden sunlight shone through the misty trees, and I could hear the conversations of birds and other forest animals all around. Simply put, it was beautiful.

A perfect run.

By 4:45, the woods were rapidly growing dark, and I still wanted to run for another 10 or 15 minutes. I had already done an easy 35 minutes, but just didn't feel ready to stop. Yes, it's my off-season, so holding a specific heart rate zone or doing pieces isn't the name of the game, but running for the pure joy of it is. I carefully made my way up the sandy trail, burst through a few branches that pulled at my shirt, and made my way onto the trail next to Campus Drive. A quick check of my watch confirmed I was at 36 minutes and counting. I had one of two options: I could go out and back 5 minutes, or I could loop around Campus Drive, take a right at the stoplight, and make my way past WUWF public radio back to the car. The second option would maybe take another 15 minutes, while the first would see me back at the car a little sooner. I didn't hesitate, and went for the second. The late afternoon, early dusk was too beautiful, and I felt wonderful. My pace had been gradually increasing throughout the run, and I felt like I had finally found my stide. My body was in check, perceived exertion was fast but still felt easy, and I felt like my feet were effortlessly skimming the surface.

I swung right at the bottom of one of the big hills near the light, and made my way past soccer fields and the UWF campus police/parking enforcement. No matter how many times I run by the parking enforcement, I never seem to see any enforcers of parking. Which is great, as I've parked as close to the pool as possible when the threat of thunderstorms loom in the air. (My usual lot is near the radio station, about 200 meters beyond the pool lot. But man, oh man, 200 meters can feel like an eternity when you're sprinting for your life in a bathing suit and flip flops, while thunder booms overhead).

I quickly made my way to the end of the road and hooked up again with Campus Drive. I turned right again, and felt myself lean into the uphill section. I focused on keeping the leg turnover high (no sense in letting technique laps completely in the off season!), and really tried to make my quads support the brunt of my uphill effort. After Shelly (the wonderful massage therapist) demonstrated the difference between running up hills using your calves vs. using your quads for primary support, I've really been working on getting my quads to do the brunt of the work. It may feel more natural for the calves to extend and push in the follow through of the foot strike, but the quads are essentially the biggest muscle group in the body, and will allow a much greater work load than the calves. In Shelly's example, she showed me how the body looks climbing stairs -pushing off the toes using the calves isn't the way to go, but powering through the glutes and quads gets more bang for your buck, less effort and more power at the same time! - and the lesson stuck with me ever since.

Easing over the top of the hill, I caught a glimpse of WUWF, and lengthened my stride. Just a few minutes left of this wonderful run. The sky was rapidly growing darker, and I could feel the temperature drop from where it had been a mere 45 minutes earlier. Or perhaps it was just me: sensing the cool air and lower temperatures brought on by the sunset. Either way, I felt myself shiver involuntarily, and looked forward to the post run hot shower.

I passed the Air Force ROTC center and then the UWF digital campus sign, and then swung left into the parking lot. Finally! What a great run! I checked my watch, and then it hit me.

I was only at 48:35. I couldn't finish now, not yet.

And this, my friends, is where the Obsessive-Compulsive in me emerged. Let's face it: if you're in this sport, or just about any sport that demands execution of technique, practice, high effort, and more than a lot of devotion, chances are that you've faced the OCD beast within. Some of us are just better at quieting it than others.

What's the deal? I found my Rational Self asking. This isn't the end of the world. You're in the off-season, a chance to go easy, to relax, to go out and enjoy running just for the sake of it. No heart rate goals, no time goals, no SPECIFIC time that you have to run for. So what gives? Why do you do this to yourself? What's the point? And besides, who will know the difference anyway - in the end, what will it matter?

In spite of my inner dialogue, I couldn't find the effort to stop running. I ran down the length of the parking lot, past my car - ready and waiting to take me home - and back up the other direction towards WUWF radio. Every few seconds, I would peek at my watch, just to confirm that I hadn't yet reached the 50:00 mark. And really, what did it matter?

I didn't need to keep going, but I just couldn't stop.

Welcome to my OCD Self.

My OCD Self can be just as wonderful as she is horrible. While rowing, the OCD Self would demand constant vigilance: every stroke rowed to perfection (the alternative being to take a dip in the Mississippi, as an errant hand position or wobble of the hips could send you careening into the drink), body position perfect but relaxed, the mind always focused on the shortest course, the run of the scull, the sound of the bubbles humming under the gunwales. Through this sport, my OCD Self grew, became emboldened, and began appearing in other aspects of my training. If Coach Miriam wanted 4 X 10 minutes, I would not stop at 9:59. If I was out for a 60 minute run, ending at 59:59 wasn't an option. Slowly, while sticking to my training regiment and following my program to the T (the exception being illness, of course...), I steadily improved. I refused to cut corners, or to opt for the easy way out. The OCD Self quickly became the norm in terms of athletics, and it's been a part of me and my life ever since.

Sometimes the OCD Self can be helpful: when I play violin, I don't like to move onto another passage or piece of music until the first is perfected. If I'm going to devote the time and effort, I may as well give it my all, for anything else is shortchanging myself and my abilities.

Other times the OCD Self can be detrimental, as I find myself making deals while completing a workout. There have been times when I've coasted to my car after a 78 mile ride, yet I feel unsatisfied, unfulfilled. Rationally, I know that 78 miles is great, that the ride was a success, and that I grew as a triathlete. But the OCD Self is unhappy and agitated. In the back of my mind, I hear her whisper, "Why not make it a full 80 miles? It's just a few more minutes... and then you can round off your weekly mileage. Why stop now when you're so close to hitting the big 8-0?" It's exhausting and frustrating.

On one such occasion, I gave into temptation, and rode the additional 2 miles. 80, perfect. But then, a check of my watch confirmed I was at 4 hours and 23 minutes. And before I could control it, before I could stop myself, I felt my OCD Self whisper excitedly, "If you biked for just another 7 minutes, you could round it off to 4:30. Isn't that what you want? A full 4 hours and 30 minutes..."

And no, on that particular occasion I didn't succumb to temptation. My crotch was killing me, and I quickly realized the trap I was falling into. But it gave me pause for thought: how perfectionistic are we? How much extra will we push ourselves, how much more from our body will we demand? And is this just intrinsically part of who we are, or do we develop these patterns only after picking up sport?

Running laps around the parking lot tonight was no exception. As my watch clicked over the 50 minute mark, I told myself that 55 minutes wasn't so far off, nor was 60. A full hour! Just think, a great 60 minute run - isn't that what you want?

And then a stronger part of me took over. My Rational Self had had enough, and decided to call it quits. Without a pause for thought, I hit the "stop" button on my watch, and slowed my pace to a walk.

The OCD Self was furious. Why why why? You're so close! Just keep running to the car! You could at least hit 55 minutes.

My Rational Self refused to comment. I continued walking, feeling my heart rate slow, hearing my body breath, and feeling myself relax.

Okay, maybe not 55 minutes. But you're at 50:16. Why not round it out to an even 51 minutes? Just 44 more seconds...

Luckily, I continued walking. I didn't listen, didn't succumb to my OCD Self any more, but instead began wondering how often this OCD side of me would appear throughout training and racing. How much was this Self, this Obsessive-Compulsive side, a part of my life? How often did she rear her head, only to have me blindly follow? How much of a part of my life was my OCD Self?

As I stretched in the growing twilight, I reflected on how often I had to finish a workout after a :00 on my watch - I always had to round up. 58:30 wasn't acceptable, whereas 60:00 was just fine. Would the additional 1:30 really make that much of a difference?

Maybe not for one run, but over the course of a season it could... I reasoned.

I guess there are just these things, these little things, that we all do that shape our lives and make us a part of who we are. I have training partners who are even more extreme, in the sense that they'll bike an additional 6 miles at 10 mph just to hit 100 miles. I've got other partners who simply don't care. 94 miles is 94 miles, end of story.

As for me, well, I figure I fall somewhere in the middle. I know enough to realize what's happening with my Rational Self and my OCD Self. There are times where Rational will win out, times that are less-stressful, that my cares aren't as significant. But then there are times when the OCD Self will simply take over, and I'm grateful. Let's face it: holding a heart rate of zone 4-5a for 3 X 12 minutes on the track is not easy, and only someone who has that bit of OCD in control will aim to hit her numbers every time. No doubt, it's an interesting battle, a neat concept, one that surely shapes who we are and affects the outcomes of training and racing.

So there you go. How much OCD is in you? Are you okay with a 59 minute run, or do you feel the need to run 60:00 and call it a day? How much in control is your OCD Self?

I'm still trying to figure myself out. There are days when the urge to push to the Nth degree is almost overwhelming, and I can't find the energy to stop. I'm afraid that if I don't give it my all, or at least an honest effort, that I won't reach my full potential, that I won't be the best triathlete that I can be. But being the best doesn't rely solely on running 75 minutes when the schedule call for 75 minutes. Stopping the workout at 70 minutes or (whoa!) 68 minutes is NOT the end of the world. However, getting into a pattern or a routine of following the plan, not cheating yourself, not being satisfied with continually cutting yourself short IS, I believe, a direct reflection on what kind of athlete you are and how much of yourself you're willing to give. If my program calls for a 4000 meter swim, and I only hit 3500, I'm selling myself short. Once, okay that's understandable. Maybe even twice. But falling in to the relaxed pattern of shortchanging can be detrimental both from the physical AND mental vantage of sport.

I guess our OCD Self helps us from becoming complacent. She won't accept anything short of what is expected, what we're meant to do. Hard workout? Tough it out! That's just the way it goes! And watch your cadence, while you're at it. Quick and light! Do it right while you're doing it, and it becomes second nature. Demand the best and it'll become second nature. Good job, now just keep going for another few minutes... And I've become a better athlete because of her.

But there's a time and a place for my OCD Self. She keeps me in check during training and racing, she demands technical proficiency, full concentration, and has helped me become the athlete I am. But just as I need a break from racing and training, I need a break from my OCD Self. So while I appreciate her appearance during my run today, I'm also grateful that my Rational Side took over and put a stop to the madness.

But it's reassuring, actually. When ready, I know that my OCD Self will be ready and waiting. Chomping at the bit, ready to go. Just not yet, though. Wait until after the end of the year, and then I'll unleash the beast, so to speak. So celebrate your inner- OCD Self, but don't let them take over entirely. The last thing I want to do, is see a good friend cycling at 8 mph on the trail in order to hit 60 miles. Not a pretty picture, especially when I consider it could just as easily be me, eyes glazed over, mouth sagging open from the effort, body stiff and uncomfortable from sitting in the saddle. Not a pretty picture, indeed. But one that hits close to home.

In the meantime, next time I run, I'll be sure to end at 49 minutes. Gulp! Or something like that.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Tribute

Well, I'm back, in one piece, and had an absolute blast in Philadelphia with Karyna. It was GOGOGO from the start, but seeing as how I rarely get to see her, I held my own as much as possible. Didn't get a lot of sleep (and am paying for it now), but had a fantastic time with Karyna. The city was beautiful, the fall colors were breathtaking, and while the weather was a little grey (it rained the entire time), I truly felt like fall was making a stand. My Florida body wasn't accustomed to the Northeast autumn, but I felt my Minnesota roots awaken, and I relished every moment that I could.

I didn't get as much writing done as I had hoped, and instead spent as much time with Karyna as possible. (I made great mental notes, and plan on devoting a few entries to the trip). It was so amazing to see my sister for the first time in her new life. She is so grown up! Aside from the tweed pants, button down shirts, great shoes/purse, and beautiful work clothes, I was even more inspired by how much she loves her job. She works at the Devereaux Foundation, helping to enrich the lives of adults with developmental disorders and autism. Additionally, she's working on several psychological papers and projects relating to autism/adult developmental disorders. Her passion, dedication, and devotion are apparent even from a distance, and it was simply wonderful to see her interact with the patients. She's working at this prestigious internship position for a year or two, before attending graduate school, and while she doesn't get paid nearly enough for the tremendous work she does, it's clear that she works with these individuals and families because she cares deeply about helping the cause and enriching their lives. She is much older and wiser than her 23 years would suggest. And it was a tremendous opportunity to see her shine.

Well - Happy Thanksgiving!

I started my day out with a great ride with the West Florida Wheelman. A big group met up at Don and Carol's house (local cyclist/triathlete couple - the nicest people, and fantastic athletes!) for a tribute ride. Don started off by mentioning this ride was a WFW tradition, and was done out of tribute to Carol's grandmother, who had passed away several years earlier. It was an opportunity for her to remember and reflect about the woman who helped raise and shape her life. It was a very moving speech before the ride, and made me think about a lot of what I'm thankful for.

The ride was a blast, but I could feel the difference from a few weeks ago at Clearwater. It's amazing how quickly time out of the saddle makes you feel slow, blimp-like, and stiff. My legs were a little heavy at the start, undoubtedly from my time off and my long flight back yesterday, but after a few minutes of easy spinning, I gradually got warm and felt my form coming back. Ludi had promised the ride would be easy - so did Don - and that it would just be a "fun" ride, at an "easy" pace in celebration of Carol's grandmother and Thanksgiving. But a few surges in the middle thrown in by the roadies on the Jeep team, and a long pull at the front had my heart rate a lot higher than I had intended. At one point, Ludi and I were setting a 20-21 mph pace into a fierce north headwind. I didn't want to be engulfed by the pack, and really hadn't intended on pulling, but figured that it wouldn't be for that long. As we increased the pace, Ludi gasped that her heart rate was 172. A quick peek at my own watch confirmed I was one beat higher at 173. Oops. After that, I resolved to NOT look at my heart rate, and figured this would be my one pull of the day. And if the Jeep guys or other fast people behind us wanted to go faster, they could move around us and pull on their own terms! Luckily, no one made the move, and Ludi kept a steady stream of encouragement going between gasps. At one point, she said, "There's a stop sign about 1/4 mile ahead, and then we'll go to the back and draft!"

5 minutes later, we were still in front. Pulling. Against the wind.

I was too afraid to check my watch, but resolved to keep next to Ludi as long as I could.

"Where's the stop sign?" I choked out.

She smiled, and managed to get out, "You crack me up! It's just up the road. Another 1/4 mile."

Great. I was in pain. My legs were on fire, and I had these fantastic cyclists breathing down the back of my neck. No pressure or anything, but I didn't want to start going backwards at this point. Don was right behind me and Ludi and I heard him joking, "Where's the draft? We've got the two smallest riders pulling the train! What's the point of that?"

It was all good natured, and his joking helped to lighten the mood.

3 minutes later (it felt like an eternity!), I didn't see any sign of a stop sign. I was beginning to get desperate: this was my off season, for Christ's sake! No speed! No fast stuff! Nothing above zone 2!! And here I was, presumably pushing zone 5, my first time on a long ride since Clearwater. No way Jose! Ludi, sensing my discomfort, assured me that her work output and heart rate were just as high as mine was, and that the stop sign was just a little further.

"Let me guess," I commented dryly. "1/4 mile!"

And sure enough, it was.

After that, we coasted off the back, enjoying the comments of great pull and nice ride! from the other cyclists who swarmed around us. And that's when the pace really took off. Luckily it was only for another mile or so until our mid-way gas station stop. But let me tell you, pulling for 15 minutes with a heart rate of 170+, and then watching the pace increase to 27 mph (yes, it was a tailwind now, but still , it was fast and hard) the final mile before the station stop was challenging.

There were a few more surges through the ride, and slowly riders continued to drop off the back. Going up one hill, my legs had had enough. Game Over! I thought to myself as I got out of aero. And then Ludi came up next to me, gave me a few words of encouragement, and I stayed on her wheel. After a great pull on her part, we joined the pelaton and managed to stay on until the end. I tell you, riding at 26 mph in the draft of 10 people in front of you is great! It made me have a new appreciation for the Tour riders - and an even bigger disgust for triathletes who draft. Oh well. The momentum of the pelaton on this ride was great, and it was a fantastic way to pay tribute and remember Carol's grandmother.

After the ride, we all trouped into Don and Carol's house to enjoy bagels, pumpkin muffins, and the best pumpkin roll I have ever had. I took an entire side of the roll, and scarfed it - wearing my biking clothes and standing in the middle of the crowded kitchen - in about 4 bites. I caught a few glances from some of the other cyclists (I may be small, but I can pack it away just as well as people twice my size!) It was fantastic. I felt slightly guilty for enjoying such a calorific treat, but as Don's son pointed out, "It's free calories! You're body will burn it off as long as you eat it right after the workout! Enjoy it now while you can."

Obviously I took his message to heart. Other people didn't, and I noticed a few others go for 1/3 of a roll. Oh well, it just goes to show how much I love Carol's pumpkin cream cheese roll. (I nearly screamed in delight when Ludi said Carol had given her and Katy the exact same roll last week, and we would be enjoying it at Thanksgiving dinner tonight! Score!!! I'll pass on the pumpkin pie, and go for the pumpkin roll, thank you very much!). Funny how the little stuff makes all the difference.

And then I started thinking about all the things, all the people for whom I am thankful.

I'm grateful to my family and friends, for helping me to become who I am. There are a lot of people who have a hand in shaping the person I am today: so my celebration is just as much theirs. There are simply too many to thank personally, but I remember each and every one, and to all of you I give thanks.

I'm thankful for Tabbitha: though she may be fierce, her heart is pure. And she provides great companionship every time Nathaniel has deployed. Oh yeah, and the inventor of Kitty Prozac gets a nod as well.

I am thankful for our members of the Armed Services past and present, for whom our country would not be the same without their selfless service and dedication. I don't like to discuss politics, and this is not about politics (if you know me and Nate, you know that we're on opposite ends of the spectrum. Let's just say that our respective votes cancel each other out), but I'm still grateful for what they do, and for the sacrifices they have made. I've missed enough holidays and special events with Nathaniel to know how painful and hard a long separation and deployment(s) can be. So to our members in the military and their families: thank you!

I am thankful that Green Bay is winning (4th quarter, they lead the Lions 34-12) - because otherwise Nathaniel would be unhappy for the remainder of the day. Okay okay -he wouldn't be unhappy per se, just not as happy had they won. But luckily that doesn't seem to be a problem: the game is going well, and we're having a great time watching together.

I'm thankful for the inventors of Peanut Butter Cups, Peanut M&Ms, Nut Goody Bars, and all other things delicious and sweet.

I'm thankful for fall weather, fall colors, hot apple cider, and the promise of snow (in Minnesota).

I'm thankful for the love and support I have received throughout my life.

But I'm also thankful for the struggles: though it hasn't been easy, I've become stronger for them. And while I'm still working through issues (aren't we all?), I know everything will work out in the end.

I'm thankful for my bike, another faithful companion. She has a personality all of her own, and while her name Sjofin inspires passion, I still get a kick out of riding each and every time. The novelty hasn't worn off, nor do I ever think it will. (Especially in my race set up!)

I'm thankful for Britney Spear's new CD. Today on my ride, when my heart rate was pushing upwards of 175, I used some of the songs (track 9 especially) to keep motivated and going. Funny the things you'll reach towards in order to gain that extra momentum.

I'm thankful that I haven't (yet) been eaten by a shark. I've done enough ocean swimming to know that I'm not alone - cue the Jaws music...

I'm thankful the Packers are still ahead - 4:30 left in the 4th. Packers up 34-26. Not good! Hopefully they'll hold on. And Nathaniel will be happy!

I'm thankful for all the volunteers who devote their time to helping others. This is true not only at races, but for other organizations as well.

I'm thankful for comfy pajamas, soft and warm. Wonderful after an ice bath.

I'm thankful that I still have all of my faculties. And that I remain a "free-thinker", someone who questions. I tribute my fantastic teachers and devoted parents to helping me acquire the education that I have.

I'm thankful for Bridget Jones: because let's face it, we all have a little bit of Bridget in us.

I'm thankful for red wine.

And Motrin.

And before this goes over the top, I'm thankful for the life that I've had, the opportunities that I've been given, the choices I've made, and to everyone who has made me the way I am. I wouldn't be me without you! So thank you to all.

This is our first Thanksgiving in Florida: and I'm sad that I don't get to be at home with my parents or in Wisconsin with Nathaniel's family. It makes me appreciate all the times that I have been home, and will give me something to look forward to in the future.

So here's to old friends and new, wonderful family, a great life, and an incredible cat. Oh yeah, and to pumpkin rolls.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Chillin' with Little Sis!

Greetings from Philadelphia!

I flew out early this morning for a few days of R&R with my little sister, Karyna. Currently, we're eating Peanut Stir Fry and watching Bridget Jone's Diary. Lots of fun!!! No matter how many times we watch this movie, we still have a great time together and really enjoy the movie. Let's face it, we've all got a little Bridget in all of us. Some things never change, I guess.

I flew out really early this morning from Pensacola, with my flight leaving at 0620. Through some miracle, I only packed ONE suitcase - and it's one that I carried on with me... Surely some kind of record for me, as usually I pack a bike box, a huge bag of clothes and gear, and then a backpack and/or purse... in fact, this is the first time in recent memory that I haven't traveled with my bike. It feels wrong, weird, and foreign. I feel like I'm missing something, but as it's 1)the end of my season and 2) only a few days, I'll be able to manage.

And bonus, no $80.00 bike fee. Excellent!

I arrived to misty gray skies, foliage of deep crimson reds, vibrant yellows, and bright oranges, and a chill in the air: it was apparent that fall was here and winter was just around the corner. After a brief fiasco at the airport (me + no working cell phone for 45 minutes = panic!), Karyna eventually found me, slightly panicked and alone at the Airtran Baggage Claim D. Luckily the pay phones out here work brilliantly, and after leaving a message with Karyna and then getting hold of Nathaniel, things eventually worked out. (Can you believe that we used to get by without cell phones? It's amazing to think how much technology has progressed, and how far we've come in just a few years/decades. I hope you can detect my sarcasm).

Afterwards, Karyna and I made a brief detour into Delaware (sweet - another state to add to add to my list, even though it was completely by accident. Let's just say that Karyna isn't the greatest with directions. So occasionally she'll end up in another state. But her fantastic sense of humor, and taste for adventure always gets her through) - and then ended up driving through Winchester, Bryn Mawr, and a few other neat suburbs outside of Philadelphia. After a quick stop for some shopping and lunch, we headed back to her apartment to grab the laptop and then went out to Starbucks so she could work on grad school applications while I devoured Graeme Obree's "Flying Scotsman". It's such a fantastic book, and I'm getting so much out of it, that I'm almost sad to finish it. Reading a good book is like going on a fantastic vacation: first you discover the local area, then you gradually get into the rhythm of life, and by the end you're sad to leave. Books are the same way for me: I bury myself in the pages and find myself furiously reading page after page. I have to finish, yet I never want the story to end. A great read will do that for you, I suppose.

After we got back, Karyna headed out for a quick run - but me... well, as it's my "off season", I took the day off and instead made Peanut Stir Fry. Cooking is a lot of fun for me, and I was happy to do it while Karyna got in her run. Extra broccoli and red peppers infused with the spicy flavor of sweet peanuts... yum!

I'm just really happy to be out here: Karyna and I don't get to see each other often enough, and it is wonderful to have this chance. I'm just looking forward to the whirlwind adventure of the next few days. I'm returning to Pensacola on Wednesday, but until then, Karyna and I are going to hang out, sip the local coffee, check out the local shopping venues, and enjoy all the historical aspects of downtown Philly. Great to be out here, spending time with my one and only wonderful sister!

Thanks for reading - nothing "too serious" today, just a quick update. I'm still digesting a few blog ideas from Clearwater and what it means to race/compete and some topics that deal with the moral/ethical side of sports. But that's for a later time. Now, well - K. and I have Bridge on, and a fresh batch of cookies in the oven. Good times and treats all around!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Timberlake Half Marathon RR


This run was a lot more painful than I thought it would be. I don't know exactly what I was expecting - definitely not a cakewalk. But I thought it would be easier than it was. I guess I wanted to reach that zen-like state, known as a "runner's high", where the body and mind are moved beyond pain, beyond the perceived effort, and instead are jointed harmoniously together in an other-worldly state of being. You move into a different dimension, one without agony or pain, one where you feel like you're hovering outside of yourself, keenly aware of the effort, but feeling none of the pain. Light as a feather, floating, trance-like, running along in your own world with little a clue to your surroundings. You feel great, and while it is difficult, every hurdle that you face seems laughable, because you're simply "in the zone" and not succeeding simply isn't part of the deal. I've hit this stage on a few other half marathons, all of them being during a half-iron triathlon. That should have been a clue... because today was just one long, painful, sluggfest.
So here I sit at the computer, post-ice bath, wearing long socks, Nathaniel's slippers, sweat pants, and three layers on the top. I'm enjoying a Diet Cherry Coke and bag (yes, bag) of Quaker Ranch Rice Cakes (not completely unhealthy, so I can justify going through the entire thing. And yes, I've already had my M&Ms...) And the real kicker? I'm more sore now than I was after Clearwater 70.3 last weekend. Go figure. But here's the report - enjoy!
Part I. Pre-race:

Got up around 4:45 this morning - early, yes, but I was just so excited to go. I love doing local races, as there is no pressure, and I can get home before noon. I can just go and do my thing, have a blast, meet new friends, go as fast (or as slow) as I want, and just enjoy the racing atmosphere minus the big-race stress. It was the last race of the season, so I wanted to be sure to give it my all. Had my pre-race breakfast of oatmeal, coffee, and a trip to the bathroom confirmed I was in for a good day and no stomach cramps or issues. Hurrah! Nathaniel got up (what a trooper) just after 5, and we were on the way by 5:30.
The drive out to Fort Walton Beach, FL was great. The sun was just under the horizon as we crossed the I-10 bridge past Milton. The water looked so calm and inviting - the kind of morning where I would really prefer to be out rowing in a single scull than running. Small wisps of fog were rising slowly from the clear waters, and the water's stillness was occasionally broken by a ripple from a submerged turtle or fish. It was beautiful, and I almost forgot that in a little while I would be racing my final event of the season.

True to form, Nathaniel got us there in record time. He's got a bit of a lead foot, while I drive at speeds comparable to an old lady. Which is why I prefer that he drives: we arrive with time to spare, and balance each other out pretty well. Sometimes I have to remind him to watch his speed, usually by saying something like I think that's a cop under the bridge or NO! We do not go 85 in a 65 zone! Because he recognizes that I can get a bit anxious, he usually slows down. Today he was great - we only saw 2 cops, and made great time.
I registered, met some other triathletes who live in the area (about 45 min to an hour from Pensacola), and waited for the start. About 45 minutes before the race was set to go, a few of my new triathlete friends asked if I wanted to warm-up with them. "How far are you going?" I asked, wondering why they were running so early.
"We're going about 3 or 4 miles."
I don't think so! I thought to myself. Instead I smiled and joked, "Wow, that sounds like 2 or 3 miles than I want to go - but have a great warm-up!" We all cracked a few jokes - as people before races inevitably do, and then they headed off. Later, I ended up going out for around 12 minutes or so, including not one but two stops in the woods. As there was only one port-o-potty to serve all the runners, I figured it would be easier to head into the shelter of the woods. Lots of privacy, and no lines. Oh yeah, and no sickly-sweet smell of the port-o-potty - yuck! After jogging 50 meters onto a pine-covered dirt road, I headed a few meters into the woods. Just as I was about to do my business, I heard a car rapidly approaching. Great! I thought as I stood up and made sure I was decent. I got myself out of the woods and back on the trail just as the car - the local sheriff's dept - came within sight. Wonderful - the cops saw me and I didn't get a chance to pee. Could I hold it? Negative. A 2 or 3 minutes' jaunt down the road, and into the woods I headed once again. Aha! Much better! Way more private, and I felt a lot better afterwards.
Back to the car, a quick temperature and clothes assessment (it was 37 degrees at the start of the race!), I snapped a picture of Nathaniel right before he woke up to accompany me to the start, and then we were off. The two of us walked the .1 miles to the starting line, surrounded by other excited runners and their families and/or friends. The atmosphere was electric! Everyone seemed nervous, but excited. Because the half-marathon was being run in conjunction with the 5k, everyone was going to start out together. Then, when the 5k runners hit their turnaround (a mere 1.5 miles up the road), they would head back while we continued on. I thought briefly about what a great feeling it would be if I were just running 20 minutes or so, but quickly pushed that thought aside. I had a goal: I wanted to break 1:30. I've never done it before, but with each half-ironman that I had done, I've set a new run pr. All season, I had watched my time go from 1:33 out in California, to 1:39 at Gulf Coast (okay, not faster, but it was HOT - 92 degrees with 80% humidity), and then two 1:31s at Timberman and Clearwater. I was SO CLOSE, I could almost taste it. This would undoubtedly be my last opportunity this season, and I wanted to make the best of it.

We shuffled to the start of the line, and the announcer made a few surprising last minute announcements. I didn't listen to the first few - Nathaniel wanted to take a picture of my pre-race excitement. I was just bouncing all over the place, I just wanted to GO GO GO. But then the race director repeated the announcements, and I was a bit surprised, to say the least. The first thing I noticed was the county sheriff, the same one who saw me creeping out of the woods. He didn't seem to recognize me, to say the least... perhaps he was distracted by the cigarette he was smoking. Kind of funny - you've got all these people getting ready to run a race, who for the most part are in-shape (or trying to get in shape), and then a guy who's smoking right behind the race director. Oh well. Just a bit of irony before a race, I suppose. Then the RD continued on. He mentioned that there would be 5 water stops, but the final 2 or 3 didn't have any people at them - just tables with water on them. So far so good.... Then he got a little more serious. We all quieted down and listened closely. Talking ceased when he mentioned that we might, just might hear gunfire or muzzle-loader shots in the woods during the half marathon. He assured us that we were safe, the hunters knew that there was a race going on, and that they would be careful not to point towards the road. I heard nervous laughter around me - I have already been through the "running/biking in the woods and hearing gunfire - don't wish to repeat those experiences again, thanks very much!!" - so I figured that as long as I was with other people, the chances of getting injured were slim. Like getting eaten by a shark in a triathlon - slim, but still possible (I suppose). After checking to make sure the port-o-potty was clear (there were sill 3 people in line), the RD got impatient and sent us off with a loud BWEEP! of the starting horn. We were off! (Minus the two ladies - one of whom is show below - waiting in line for the loo)

Part II. The Race:

The pace started out quickly, mostly as a result of the speedy 5k runners. The start was a bit crowded, but I soon worked my way through the dense bits and after a few minutes found myself at the front of a larger pack. I could see about 10 or 15 runners out ahead of me, and was surprised to not see any other women. Oh well, they were sure to show up at some point I figured.

My plan was to start out around a 7 minute per mile pace, and then slowly work my way down and negative split (if I could) the course. If I could get to the turn around point in 44:30 or 45 minutes even, and with relative ease, I knew I could beat my goal of 1:30. I was a little concerned about my left calf, as it has been sore all week - no doubt residual crap left in from my race last weekend. My massage therapist said everything checked out okay though, and that I should be great on Saturday. As I was running the first mile, I could feel it tighten a little, but nothing that made me alter my gait. It was just there for lack of a better word. Like a bee that hovers around your coke on a sunny day, nothing you can do about it (unless it stings you).

After the first mile in 6:50, the field began to rapidly thin out. I had a fun time being pre-occupied by picking off other runners who had started out at a slightly overzealous pace, and were paying for it now. Sorry guys I thought to myself It's gonna be a long run! But with every runner I passed, I wished them good luck, or told them that they were doing a great job. I know how awful it feels to start of fast only to fade by the end, and I would not wish that on anyone. Around the 1.5 mile mark, we came upon our first water station and the 5k turn around point. Suddenly I heard very heavy footsteps and raspy breathing over my left shoulder. Wow, I thought to myself someone sure is working hard! A quick peek out from under my cap (let's face it, you can't STARE at someone when they pass you - it gives up your game face...but you can tell them good job...just don't turn and look! At least that's what I've been told by coaches and other serious-runner types), confirmed it was another woman. Well, if she was breathing that hard, she could have it, for all I cared. Another 11.6 miles was (or whatever the distance was, I couldn't calculate it at that moment) a long way to go at that oxygen output. But when I saw what she did, I actually laughed out loud, and drew a few curious stares from some of the remaining runners around. She turned, looked directly at ME, and with a flourish, sprinted to the 5k turnaround and started gunning it for home, her arms flailing and sweat pouring down her made-up face (she went a tad heavy on the eye-liner, if you ask me). And I, well, I kept going. Beacuse I was in the "cool" group and running the 1/2 marathon. Good for her I thought, lady - you've got a lot to be proud of... you beat me by 2 seconds to the 5k turnaround. Way to go. From my standpoint, it was pretty funny. Even though it's a low-key race, people are SO serious!


One of the really great things I love about these low-key races, is how supportive most of the runners are towards each other. I chatted with a few guys as the field narrowed out, noted my 13:50 at the 2 mile mark, and decided to pick things up a bit. As I passed another two or three guys, we all exchanged pleasantries. One of them wanted to know what I was planning on running, and asked if it would be okay if he ran with me for a while. To which I replied, "Hop on the train!" I didn't mind, we chatted for a bit before I decided to pick up the pace up a hill, and he slowly dropped back. When I saw him after the turn around, he looked great!

Past another water stop at 3 miles, and a check of the watch confirmed my 20:37 3 mile time. I was a little over what I wanted to run, but it was still early at 3 miles in... the last thing I wanted to do was pr for my 10k...surly a bad omen for the final half of the race. I made a quick assessment of my body: calf was still tight, but loosening up nicely. The quads felt great, although a little sore from the pounding of the pavement, and the hamstrings were great. My heart rate is what concerned me the most. It was already in zone 4, very high for what it should have been at, give the weather conditions (40 degrees F... and I was in SHORTS!), and my recent taper/peak last weekend. However my perceived exertion didn't feel all that high, only something around the upper zone 2, maybe lower zone 3. I felt comfortable, like I could hold this pace. However, I was afraid of blowing up in 5 or 6 miles, as my oxygen starved muscles started producing more and more lactate, and would no longer be able to handle the work output that my body was so desperately trying to maintain. I decided that because it was the last race of the season, this would be as good of a reason as any to try new things, go out on a limb, and test my limits. What the heck?

So with that, I stopped looking at my heart rate - not all together, I checked it every mile or so, just to make sure I wasn't blowing up or it wasn't rapidly spiking. Interestingly, it remained pretty much constant for the entire duration of the race.

Mile 4 and 5 passed and faded into memory. I could see 4 or 5 guys ahead of me, but at this point there weren't any other runners around. I passed another water station, this time with no volunteers. Which made me even more appreciative of all the volunteers who donate their time at these races. I had a few moments to decide if I would run through with or without water. I decided that by NOT taking water, I was only hurting myself. It was a split decision, but one I'm glad that I made. I had almost caught up to guy #5, but as I pulled over, watched him pull away. As quickly as I could I grabbed a paper cup from the stack, filled it with water, and was sipping and running as best as I could. Just before the water station, I had managed to take in about 1/2 a gel pack, so I alternated between sips of water and the rest of the gel. Well, actually it didn't go quite like that. I managed to get a few tiny sips while running before most of the water sloshed all over my face. (For that matter, I am always so impressed when I see the professional runners/triathletes sipping water through aid stations. They make it look so easy! But after one or two futile sips on my part, half of the water is already on my shirt or up my nose. Oh well.)

By mile 6 I caught up to guy #5, and caught a glimpse of the first place male running in the opposite direction. My time of 40:42 felt great, not too difficult, and if I would be able to keep this pace up, I could cruise in around 1:29 or just under 1:30. Guy #5 and I chatted for a while. It turns out that we knew a runner from Jacksonville, a really fast gal who ran at Florida and coached his wife. After a while he asked what I was trying to run, and when I told him my response, he said that he would keep tempo as long as he could. He was, unfortunately, having a "bad" day. He had originally hoped to go under 1:20, which he had done before, but a long car trip and late work afternoon on Friday had left him cramped, depleted, and tired. But he was a great sport and I could feel the tempo pick up just as we passed the half way mark.

Hit the turn around in 44:05. Excellent! Game on - now time to maintain!

Guy #5 fell back pretty quick after the turnaround, and after wishing him good luck, I once found myself alone.

One of the wonderful things about an out-and-back course, is that you are able to see the other runners heading towards the turn-around as you're on the way back. I wished a hearty "Good Luck" and bellowed "Good Job, you're looking GREAT!" to as many of the other runners as I could. Why the heck not? So many of them were urging me on, telling me I was the first female and that I was doing a great job. "You GO GIRL!" was a common theme, it seemed. But I didn't mind: we were all out there, running the same course, united in our desire to finish, to succeed, to survive. We were doing this because we wanted a challenge, we wanted to push ourselves. It wasn't all about setting a pr or winning the race: just being out there, pursuing a goal, working towards that finishing line, persevering - was all that it took. I fed off the energy from these other runners, and tried to give out as much encouragement as I could. I would really need it in the last 4 miles...

Right as I sailed past mile 7, one of the runners behind me slowly came up to my shoulder. After talking for a few minutes, I asked him if it was okay if I tucked in behind him, as the wind was a little higher on the way back. The headwind wasn't bad, just draining and never-ending. And as the road had no significant bends or turn in it, it would be a long trip back battling the wind. He said, "SURE!" and was off. I tucked in as best as I could, and forced myself to concentrate on his leg turnover. Just hang with him for another mile or two, just a little longer. Because you know what'll happen if you don't: You'll be by yourself. The connection will be lost. And the race will be 10X more difficult. You MUST maintain contact. Just run!

I still was shouting encouragement to the runners passing the other direction, but I noticed (to my horror) that my breathing had become much more ragged, and it was a lot harder for me to speak. Could it be that I had blown up already? Was I paying for my own overzealous pace? Was my body sending me a message of "No More!"?? My running buddy asked how I was doing, to which I choked, "Hanging in there!" He could tell that I wasn't a happy camper, but did his best to encourage me. He said that he was aiming for 1:30, so we could run together for a while. He went on to comment that he had been running behind me for the entire first half of the run, so it was only natural that I should run behind him. He was fantastic, and I was cheered by his positive outlook.

Because I had just hit a new world of pain. Long gone were my thoughts of floating above the pavement and my vision of discovering "the zone" was replaced by the pounding of my heart, laboured breathing, and sharp pains running up and down my legs. I thought briefly to my 1/2 marathon run at Timberman and Clearwater - both 1:31, and so effortless. Yes, I was working my rear end off, but I felt great in the process, like the first part was easy and then the pace just got faster and faster and faster. During those races, I kept passing people the entire time: as soon as one target was run down, another was established on my radar. This race was different. I had just been passed by a guy running the same pace with very little visible stress on his part, was in a lot of pain, and had very few other runners to run down. There were maybe 5 or 6 in front of me, and then the rest of the field behind. For the first time since January (when I ran my last half marithon without the swimming and biking beforehand), I began to feel truly awful while running. We passed mile 8 around 54 minutes, which meant I had just run the last 1.5 miles in 10:05. Not bad, but I was feeling the effects. For the first time in the race, I became afraid. What if I can't do this? I thought. And then my fear turned to panic, and I became downright negative, forced to deal with my own demons. What if I don't go under 1:30? Here I am, and I can barely keep up with this guy who's making this look like a run in the park. I'm an awful runner, I'm going to DIE in the woods, gel in hand, calf seized up, and I'll never hit the finish. This was a stupid idea, why the hell would I want to "do a fun half marathon" a mere week after the 70.3 World Championships? What normal person does this? This is crazy, a complete display of idiocy at its best. I will not succeed.

I knew this was the wrong way to think, but I just didn't know how to stop. I was surprised at how quickly the negative thinking came out, how quickly I went from feeling fine to feeling like my legs were going to quit at any moment and that I would no longer be able to finish. I had fallen into the trap of making my self worth equal to that of my physical performance. If I don't hit x time, then I'm an awful person who doesen't deserve to run. As soon as I realized I was doing this, I tried to buck out of it. I focused on the yellow race flats of the guy infront of me, and tried to settle into my rhythm. Just keep the connection until that tree... until that road sign...until mile 9. Focus, just stay connected.

The next 5 minutes were agony, and it was all I could do to not look at my watch. When I saw the unmanned water station at mile 9, I told my companion I was going to grab a drink, but that he should have a great rest of the race, and that at this rate, he would break 1:27, let alone 1:30. His quick nod and word of encouragement were all that I needed, and before I knew it, I was at the table.

Again, I fumbled for the cup, caught my breathing, but was off and running before my body could register the fact that it had momentarily stopped. It was simply too tempting. If I stopped for too long, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to start. I folded the edges of my cup together, had about 1/2 of my second gel, and sipped as I ran. It wasn't all that bad.... and the funny thing is, is that I noticed a rapid improvement in my mood. I wasn't running any slower than before, and sure, I didn't have my friend blocking the wind, but I actually felt better! I didn't quite know what to think of this. In retrospect, the only thing I can come up with is that I struggled in his shadow, plagued by self-doubt and pain. His lack of effort made my pain all the more unbearable and real. However, when I was out of his draft and running on my own, I managed to start closing the gap, gradually picking up time - all while my percieved work effort was lower. At this point in the race, my legs were in so much pain that I didn't have the heart to look at my heart rate. I knew it would be high, but I thought that if I just held on for another 30 minutes, it would all be over.

Oddly enough, I have been schooled so many times about maintaining contact with the pack, staying with the other runners. I've seen so many runners fall back from group 1, only to be swallowed by group 2. If they're lucky they hang with the second pack, if not, they get chewed up and spat out the back, left to carry out alone. But for the first time in my life, I felt better running by myself, rather than with another person. Undoubtedly it would have been less work for me to tuck up behind him, avoiding the wind and maintaing that ever-so-important physical connection. But I was amazed at how much better mentally I felt while running on my own. No longer did I have to conentrate on him, his effort, his steps, his lack of laboured breathing, but instead I could focus on all the positive things I was doing. Sure, I hurt, and yes my legs were seriously beginning to protest - especially the quads - but on my own I simply felt better. I'm still trying to work that one out, but I'm pretty amazed by it. (In the end, he ended up beating me by about 45 seconds, but I kept him in sight the entire way)

Mile 10. Legs? Check. Breathing? Double Check. Calf? Not feeling anything, so presumably okay. Check. Stomach? Intact, but sore from maintaining my PROUD running form (shoulders back, chest out to promote better O2 intake, tummy tucked in supporting the back). Check. Cadence? Around 93 bpm... check. Pain level? Off the chart, but I've come to temrs with the fact that this was never supposed to be pleasant "run through the woods", so I'm willing to put up with another 3 miles of discomfort. But seriously, ouch. My quads were killing me, and about 3 miles back I had decided to forego looking at my hr monitor for fear of how high the numbers would be.
With each step, I could feel the impact in my quads. Usually it's the hamstrings that take the blunt when I run, but today it was the quads. My body was NOT happy that I had decided to push it to such extremes, and it was letting me know in every possible way. Just hang in there. 2.5 miles to go. Just wait until the 5k turn around mark and then you can think of crazy 5k lady who wanted to beat you! She could never gut out what you've just done: she would have wilted 100 meters past the 5k turnaround point. Just keep going. You see the guys up ahead, just stay connected. Focus. Relax. Breath. In 17 minutes, this will all be over. When you hit the 2 mile mark, you get to think about running 12 minute pieces, because that's how many miles you covered during the last peice... just one step infront of the other. Ignore the pain, push it aside. No wait! You know it's there, accept the fact, but use it to HELP you run faster. Think MIND OVER MATTER! If I don't mind, then it won't matter. The only thing on my mind, the only thing that matters is going under 1:30. The Pain? Bring it on. I don't mind, and it doesen't matter. It will NOT get in my way. 2.5 miles and my season is officially over. All the hard work, all the intervals, long runs, long training days, all the heartbreak, the celebration, the blood sweat and tears, all down to this final 2.5 miles. Let yourself go and fly - you Will do this, you Will. Just believe. And go. Because you're running out of time. But you can do it. Just go. Keep going. Mind over MATTER!

I gritted my teeth. I dug in. I pushed beyond my screaming quads, beyond my knotted calf, beyond my raspy breaths, and found a new zone. It wasn't the pleasant, "floting" zen-like state I had so hoped for. It was a hellish demention, saved only for those enduring self-induced agony, self-inflicted torture. For I didn't know what was worse: not going under 1:30 when I was so close, or giving into the pain.
I passed the water stop at 2 miles to go. Grabbed a cup, sloshed most of it on my face, and did a watch check. I don't remeber my time, maybe a little over 1:14 or so. I was trying to do the math - so simple now while I type, but at the time seemed like a Hurculean Task given that my Oxygen was going towards my starved muscles. I strained my eyes down the road: I could nearly see the 5k turnaround point...just 3 minutes away. So close, like a mirage. I kept running and running. And running. But no matter how hard I went, no matter how much pain my quads were in, it seemed to keep moving backwards. What the hell? I was so close, so close! I would not loose this now. It was too much.

Finally, I came to the 5k mark. Just a little more. 10 minutes. You can do anything for 10 minutes. Focus on the guys ahead. They're just up the road. You've been holding the same pace for the past 3 miles, why should they be that far ahead? Close the gap! Because you can! Because you've earned it! Because they worked off of you in the first half! Because you can!

From somewhere deep within, I found another zone, shifted forward and felt my speed increase. For every 100 feet they would take, I would close the gap by 5 or 10 feet at a time. At this point, I didn't care if I beat them or not. I just wanted to stay connected. While I didn't want to run right behind them, I wanted to know that they were within reach. That I could do it, if I needed to. That the end truly was in sight, that I was almost done with this hellish experience.

1 mile to go.

My quads were beyond finished. The sharp stabs of pain had been replaced by indifference. I simply didn't care. They were going to hurt, and there was nothing I could do about it, except keep running. I noticed landmarks from my warm-up, and was happy that the final segment was on a slight downhill. My quads protested, but I kept hammering away. It didn't matter, as I was a woman on a mission. This was the one goal that had elluded me all season, and I wasn't about to give up now, not that I was so close. I could taste it.

1/2 mile to go. 3 minutes and change. A peek at my watch confirmed I was going to go under 1:30, unless something seriously went wrong.

But I hurt. I was in agony. I looked like shit, probably smelled like it too, and it was all I could do to keep going. Stopping wasn't an otpion. I was so focused on the finish, so focused on those final moments of agony, trying desperately to stay connected, to stay in reality. Mind over matter! I kept reminding myself. I noticed the curve ahead in the road, and thought for a brief moment that I could hear the Race Director announcing the finishers ahead of me. In reality, I was probably hallucinating, lost in my own world of pain. But I was sure I could hear something. I noticed the path that I had tried to pee on, out towards the right. And then I came to the slight bend in the road, another trail heading out towards my left. A sign read "Archery Range. No guns, No Dogs." For some reason this stuck with me, and I wondered if people who use bows and arrows have dogs or guns. What if you bring your dog hunting and use a bow and arrow? Is it illegal to use a bow&arrow on a gun range? I caught myself drifting and instead focused forward. I saw the lone port-o-potty that signaled the "Start" line, and knew that I only had .1 miles left to go. Wonderful, here I was focused on The John and hunters. NO! Focus on the Race! I was right at 1:27 something when I hit this point, and it was all that I could do to maintain my form and keep moving forward. I had started to come upon parked cars, and I could hear the cheers from the crowd as I made my way towards the finishing chute. Just a few more steps...

My vision became tunneled, as I focused on the finish line, a wonderous place that signaled the end of one type of agony and the beginning of another. I was in so much pain, but at the same time focused on reaching the end of my destination, seeing my final season-goal come true. I saw the clock tick over 1:28, and it was all I could do to keep from falling over as I crossed.

I had finished.

I hit my stop button on my watch, and gasped for air. Big breathfulls of it, filling up my deprived lungs with oxygen.

And then the pain hit. For such a long time I was focused on finnishing, on stopping, that once I did, I had nothing else left to focus on except the pain. But I had finished. I was done. I had beaten my own demons, had grown in the process, and was proud of the effort I put forth.

In the end, I ran 1:28:10. Good enough for 1st place female, and 6th or 7th overall.

Part III. Conclusion

My legs felt like jelly. I was in serious pain. For some reason, I feel better when swimming and biking a long ways before running a half marathon. Next time I decided to do a race like this "for fun" I'll read this blog. It was not fun, nor was it easy. But I am so glad that I did it. I accomplished my goals, and finished my season on a really positive note. When I told Ludi how awful I felt, her response was, "What did you expect? 1:28 hurts. End of story. What did you expect? period." And she was right.

I hobbled around, finished off the other half of both gel packs, took in some water, and did my best to stretch out my legs. It was painful, but I was extatic. I made sure to thank some of the guys who were ahead, and as many volunteersas I could find, and had a great time watching the other runners finish.

Overall, it was a great race. Not as easy as I had hoped, but what did I truly expect? And besides, if I had just cruised the entire way, I don't know if I would have felt that I had worked to my full potential. Today I put that thought to rest: I worked my tail end off, and my body responded accordingly.

Thanks to Nathaniel for his wonderful support. I know it's not always fun for him to come to the races with me, but I really appreciate his support nonetheless. Plus, I got in a really good nap (during the short!) car trip home.

And by the way, did I mention that I was sore? Double Ouch. Now I'm going to go take a second dose of Motrin, maybe have another glass of wine, and enjoy some more M&Ms. Time to really start celebrating the off season. And my new pr. Yea!!!