Saturday, February 2, 2008

The New Road




Hey sports fans! Are you ready for some Football? I know that I am, but (and a big butt here...) my "team" (ahem...slight sob and muffled sniffling) was knocked out two weeks ago. Oh well, that's okay... I suppose. Especially in light of the fact that recent studies have proven that die-hard football fans may actually suffer heart attacks during games.

Not cool.

Yeah - a bunch of German researchers discovered after last year's World Football Cup (Soccer to all US Americans) that fans that are "too emotionally invested" in their team might suffer the ultimate consequence.

Seeing as how I get pretty emotionally charged, perhaps its best that Green Bay isn't playing. At least my blood pressure will be within its normal limits during the game.

And that's a good thing, as my blood pressure has been sky high as of late.


Good question.

I try to follow the principle of "no regrets." I never ever EVER want to look back in the past and wonder "what if?"

What if I had pushed the pace harder in a workout?

What if I had surged at the top of the hill?

What if I had taken a new path instead of sticking to the old?

I don't know why, or from where this came - but lately I've been doing a lot of soul searching. Believe me - I've tried (several times, in fact) to wrap my brain around what's going on in my head.

I think a major part of it, is that I'm seeing how much Nathaniel has benefited from taking a risk. Just over 2 years ago, he applied to flight school - and was accepted!!! It was incredible: he took a chance, he answered his very own "what if".

And now he's making his ultimate dream of flying helicopters come true.

Triathlon and me have been different.

I started out in the sport - simply put, because my bike was stolen during my junior year of college. Nathaniel and I had a great friend who was in the middle of training for IM Wisconsin, and who generously offered to help me pick out a new bike. George was really great, and I'll forever be grateful for his help and support. He and his then-girlfriend (now wife!) Anne took me for my first ride. I was SO surprised when they told me they were going out for a few hours. My longest ride to-date had been a whopping 40 minutes around some of the lakes in Madison.

I was blown away at the thought of biking for an hour, let alone a few hours.

How do people sit on their bike seats for so long? How do they keep their hands from falling asleep? What if they have to use the bathroom?

I tried my best to hold on, stay with them - but alas it was no good. I fell back. Over and over (and over again). They were really supportive - but I felt so guilty for holding them back when they were obviously so much faster and in such incredible shape (worse when they were waiting for me at the top of a hill that I had to huff and puff up. I was very embarrassed). I was out of shape, had no idea what it meant to actually go for a "real" bike ride, and thought that holding anything above 14 mph was pretty speedy.

For Pete’s Sake – I wore UNDERWEAR with my bike shorts. (A habit that I’ve broken only just recently, thanks to Ludi).

Times have certainly changed, thankfully.

After Nathaniel and I got married and moved out to Eastern North Carolina (a little town called "Havelock" - in case you're wondering. It's just off Hwy 70, between New Bern and Moorhead City. Easy to miss... but there's a fantastic Swiss bakery on the outskirts...) I started doing triathlons. It was a great outlet for me: I was active for the first time after college, and it gave me a really healthy outlet when Nathaniel deployed or was gone long hours.

Eventually I started working full time, but continued to train.

And train.

And train.

And train some more.

By the time Nathaniel was in Iraq, I was working 50 hours a week (as a YMCA Fitness Director, but also teaching 10-15 hours per week of fitness classes... crazy!), but ALSO training well over 30 hours for triathlons. I was a machine: I didn't know any different. I had never been coached - had always done my own programs. I would simply wake up and decide what to do based on how I felt.

Again: I didn't know any different.

In some twisted way, this was MY WAY of coping with the loneliness of Nate's deployment. Going home to an empty house (okay - Tabbitha was there... but how depressing is that? Next thing, I'll be known as "the crazy lady who talks to her cats!") was downright depressing. So I got up at 4 am, ran or swam for an hour or two, went to work for 10 hours (teaching between 2-3 classes per day), returned home and did a long bike ride, core/strength training, and perhaps a second run.

And repeat.

And repeat.

Late nights and early mornings and late nights for me were the norm. Anything to avoid the empty house, and all the reminders that my husband, my best friend, my other half - was a world away and out of my reach. I didn't want to face the many fears of his deployment, so I hurled myself into training.

As you can imagine, this wasn't "the most ideal" thing for my body. After Nathaniel's return in May 2006, I looked great, but was physically beat. My job - which at first had been a tremendous opportunity - was simply wearing me down. Well qualified aerobics instructors are hard to find. Even more difficult are qualified aerobics instructors willing to teach a class for $7.50 an hour! The Y didn't have a huge budget, didn't have the luxury of paying its instructors a large amount of money per class: so I simply took the classes on myself.

As a 25-year old Fitness Director afraid of confrontation and of letting members down (who dearly loved their classes), I taught many of them myself. At times I felt like a very highly paid aerobics instructor. But the job needed to be done: so I rolled up my sleeves and worked my butt off.

My triathlon training and racing began to suffer. I wasn't as fast. I couldn't keep up with girls I had beaten in the past. I was lost and didn't know what to do.

So I trained harder. I trained more. And I decided that if I raced every weekend, it would be a GREAT chance of testing myself. So every weekend in June 2006, I raced.

It was awful.

I went from a decent performance at Kerr Lake, to a sluggish victory at the local Cherry Point Sprint triathlon, to a disastrous race at Over The Mountain (you try going up a mountain after teaching 15 aerobics classes and then tell me how you feel!), to nearly drowning in the huge waves off Kure Beach. I didn't know what was wrong with me, couldn't figure it out.

After Over The Mountain, I had a really nice chat with uber-triathlete Stacey Richardson. She and I biked a cool-down together while cheering on other athletes. I told her about my frustrations, my fears, my concerns - and she listened. She was really sympathetic and mentioned that hiring a coach could be a great solution to my worries. I was so grateful, so happy that someone as talented and as fast as Stacey would take the time to talk with me, to listen, and to offer me feedback.

It was then that I contacted Memo.

I had met Memo the previous year during the Cherry Point Sprint Triathlon (2005). He was a newer tri coach, who loved the sport and was eager to help as many athletes as possible. I remember talking to him about my bike, lamenting the fact that it was a road bike and that I had a hard time going fast.

I'll never forget what he told me.

"Marit," he said, looking down at me next to my road bike. "Marit - it's not about your bike. It's about what's in here -" he tapped his head. "And here," he tapped his heart.

Being the smart-ass know-it-all that I was, the part of me that wanted a shiny, new tri bike thought he was crazy. But the deeper, more introspective part of me knew that he was right.

It wasn't the bike: It was the motor.

In a world where (it seems) someone is always trying to sell something ("buy this-and-this doo-hickey and you'll go a whopping: 35 seconds faster!" or "with this minor tweak and dropping $3,495 you can ride like Natasha!") Memo flatly refused to buy it. He simply believed that everything should come from within.

When Stacey suggested that I hire a coach, I knew immediately whom I would go to.

So in late June 2006, I sent Memo and email. After the Cherry Point Sprint in 2005, whenever he saw me at races, he was really friendly, genuinely concerned about how I was doing, and always let me know that should I ever have any questions, his door was open.

He was great - but at first I was frustrated. I was excited about the program, but upset that he had only scheduled 18 hours our first week together. 18 hours - I was used to 30!

But then I DID the workouts, and I quickly learned the valuable lessons of Quality Training vs. Quantity Training AND the importance of Recovery.

Slowly but steadily, I watched my times improve, but trained fewer hours per week. Nagging injuries - that had been hanging around for several months, soon disappeared, and my body began to heal. I finished the season with an 8th place at Sprint Nationals, a decent appearance at "Best of the US", and my very first Elite 1st Place at the Santa Rosa Sprint. It was such a great ending to what started out as a frustrating season.

All through 2007, Memo and I worked closely together. He built custom plans, answered any and all questions that I had, was a constant source of support and inspiration, and managed to rein me in when I would slip back into my "old trash-mile" mindset. My run speed improved, my biking grew leaps and bounds, and suddenly swimming a mile at "race pace" didn't seem so daunting. I was elated when I qualified for 70.3 Worlds at Oceanside 70.3, and was in disbelief when I finished my season 2nd at Clearwater.

None of this would have been possible without Memo - I am forever and eternally grateful. He took me from a tri newby, trashed and inexperienced, and shaped me into a runner-up world champion. What a run it was!

So why all the introspection???

I kept returning to Nathaniel's helo dreams - of never wondering "what if...?"

So throwing caution to the wind, going with my gut, searching for a change, yet conflicted because Memo and I had such a great past together - I spoke with Jen Harrison. I've been a friend of Jen’s since last summer. (Weird to say that, though, as we’ve never met face-to-face. We were supposed to meet up at IM Florida this past year, but my one-year-a-night USMC Birthday Ball duty called. And the Birthday Ball was way too important to miss – Nathaniel assured me that it would be okay for me to drive out to IM Florida, but I didn’t think it would be right. I was in the middle of my final taper before Clearwater and things were frantic. So, haven’t personally met her yet) I remember reading her blog from a year or so back (around the time Nate and I moved to Pensacola), and being really impressed with her. She was always so outgoing, so positive, so supportive, and had a great record to boot (both with athletes and AS an elite athlete herself).

Then St. Anthony's 2007 rolled around. The day before race after checking in my bike, I remember walking back to my car and seeing Jen with her husband (but I wasn't sure...) walking outside of the Transition area. I recognized her from her blog site, and was immediately impressed. My thoughts were exactly as follows:

"Oh. My. God. There's Jen Harrison. Oh My God."

And then I wondered even more... "Do I say hi to her? How weird would that be? Hi, my name is Marit and I love your blog."

No - I quickly reasoned... that would be way to weird. Very awkward! Especially as we were set to race against each other the very next day. Yikes!

So I kept my mouth shut, but figured that I might pluck up the courage on race day to say hi.

Race morning rolled around and I saw her, and her pink Planet-X Bike in the Transition area, getting ready to race. I was still too nervous, too anxious. And besides, there were a shit-tone of super-elite tri chicks racing in our category.

I didn't want to be the one dork asking for autographs…

So I kept my mouth shut and tried to ignore the waves of nausea coursing through my body (pre race jitters).

It was during the bike leg that I caught my first racing glimpse of Jen. At one of the out-and-back portions, I remember seeing her uber-fast pink bike (cool disc wheel in tow) and thinking that, "wow - I must be doing really well if I can see Jen Harrison!"

(And by the way: she wasn't "Jen" as she is now. She was JenHarrison! Actually, that's pretty much how all my blogger friends are. ElizabethFedofsky!, AliciaParr!, BethShutt!, AshleyLong!... all one name. Not Liz, Alicia, Beth, or Ashley. That would be too simple. Oh God - I wonder how MaritChrislockLauterbach! would be? Aaak! Too much! One day I'll write an entry about my name...)

It was around the 21 or 22 mile mark that I actually passed her. "OHMYGODIJUSTPASSEDJENHARRISON!"

And then I felt the fear of God, Thor, Raa, Zeus - whomever - course through my body. I pedaled like hell to keep her from passing me. But I could see her shadow, stalking me at one of the turns. I knew she was there, working just as hard as I was, ready to kick-my-ass - because this was racing. And its what she did.

We coasted into transition roughly about the same time, and then, feeling a great set of running legs on my body, proceeded to tear out of T2 as though I was chased by hounds. I had the run of my life: my goal was to break 40:00 for my 10k. I was 40:03 - so close! During that race I ran down a few girls, and then had the pleasure of seeing some incredibly fast elite ladies come flying in the other direction. I remember BreeWee! and BriGaal! - they looked simply amazing. It was all I could do to keep going.

After the race, I was beat. I was shot. I had finished in 8th - but due to a technicality was positioned 9th. It didn't matter. I collapsed in the massage tent and felt myself become quite ill. I had managed my first high caliber elite podium finish, and was in disbelief.

During the ceremony, I saw Jen - but couldn't understand why she looked so upset. I didn't think it would be the right time to introduce myself - again scary stalker chick coming up afterwards - and figured I would leave a message on her blog after she wrote her Race Report.

Upon reading her RR, I discovered the truth about what happened. She had been DQ'ed from the race for wearing - at the time the race referee deemed an appropriate race aero helmet - an illegal helmet. It was very frustrating, as she had deliberately gone to the official before the start to double-check that her aero helmet was legal under USAT rules. Through some mistake or another, she was lead to believe that her helmet was okay - when it really wasn't.

Many readers of her blog were outraged, and I left my first comment.

Afterwards, I continued to read and enjoy her blog - along with many others - and felt an affinity towards my newfound "blogger buddies" (even though I didn't yet have a blog site of my own).

It was in August, after Timberman (for me) and Pigman (for Jen) that we finally got in touch with each other. We both had sub-par races, and I left a comment about my Timberman performance on her blog.

She emailed me that very same day, and I've considered her a friend ever since.

We kept in touch last fall and winter, and when I finally started my blog, she was the first person (after Nate, obviously) that I told. Her emails to me had been really positive, and she always went out of her way to see how I was doing. I really looked up to her.

Then on January 8, 2007, she wrote a blog entry titled "The Why." It was about her coaching; her coaching philosophies, athletes that she worked with - and it left a distinct impression. I had never read anything so touching, so incredible from a coach before. I thought about my relationship with Memo, and felt guilty for even questioning his coaching.

But the seed had been sown: a little voice in the back of my head timidly propositioned, "what if...? what if Jen were your coach...?"

I shut it down, wrote a comment on her blog entry, and continued with my training. But I still wondered. It wasn't that Memo wasn't good enough - he coached me to a 2nd place finish at the 70.3 World Championships...what else could I ask for in my 2nd year of working with him?

But I kept Jen's entry in the back of my mind. In the morning, on rides, in the pool, during long runs - I though about Jen's coaching, her philosophy. I reasoned that if I ever needed a new coach, she would be the person who I would talk to first. Not just from a coaching perspective, but from a FRIEND perspective.

Jen had always made it very clear to me that if I ever had any questions or concerns, or just wanted to chat, I could ALWAYS call her.

A few days ago, I took her up on it.

After 5 minutes of chatting, I knew I wanted her as my coach. I knew how busy she was, knew how personally she took each and every one of her athletes. But something about her just set her apart, and I felt an immediate gravitation towards her. I was just drawn to her - more so than any other coach I've worked with (and I've worked with some GREAT ones in the past.) Being a female athlete, she knew where I was coming from. But she didn't try to sell me on her program: she offered me advice as a friend first. She said that if I was happy with Memo - that I should by all means stay with him.

We continued to chat about training, and I asked her for some feedback. Within 5 minutes, I asked her to be my coach.

"OF COURSE!" she whooped.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The past 24 hours have been some of the most emotional of my life. And I'm a pretty emotional person (remember, I form emotional attachments to inanimate objects... like bikes, running shoes, swim suits... just think about how attached I am to people, my coach Memo, a coach who I adore, admire, and have worked with for almost 2 years...) - so I was dreading my conversation with Memo.

This morning I met up with Ludi and Kati, and we went out for a really LONG bike ride up in Milton and through the Blackwater State Forest. I think I just needed to be lost, to think. I knew what I wanted to say, but had no idea how hard it would be. Ludi was really supportive, and offered some great advice. Katie too: and all too soon, we arrived back at the trailhead.

I drove home, obeying all traffic signs and speed limits, but still made the trip in record time. I didn't want to call Memo, to tell him about my decision. How do you tell someone that has changed your life, has helped make you the person that you are - that you're moving on?

Working with Jen is the opportunity of a lifetime. I have looked up to her for so long, and may not have another chance. I know her schedule is busy, that she is devoted 110% to her athletes - looses SLEEP over them. And we had hit it off so well - it just felt so right.

After a few encouraging words from Nathaniel, I made the call. I was in tears even before the phone started ringing.

Memo was really great, really understanding. He told me to not be upset - that the chance to train with Jen wouldn't always come along. He knew that she worked with Spencer Smith, itself really impressive. And he finished by saying, "I would be upset if you didn't take this chance."

Which made me want to cry even more. He was so wonderful, had done so much, but was willing to let me go and grow even more. I couldn't be more grateful.

So my big news, my "new path" is that I'm now working with Jen Harrison. I am super excited, but incredibly nervous. I have an incredible amount of respect for her, and am devoted 110% to the program. Already she has inspired me with a few great phone calls and email attachments. There are elements about training, racing that I never even thought about before. I have come so far, but clearly - I still have a lot to learn. And I can't wait.

Then again, I had better be careful about what I wish for.

Already, she's planning a swimming test for me. No worries, though! I'm FIRED UP! Ready to ROCK AND ROLL!

However - if you read news clippings from Pensacola, FL, about a girl at the UWF pool, swimming like mad and shouting about Dumbledore the Wizard, rest assured that it's only me. And more likely than not, I'll be doing one of Jen's swim workouts.

Yeah, I'm nervous. Sure, I'm excited. Who wouldn't be? I've got a date with Dumbledore. And Jen Harrison as my coach. AND I CAN’T WAIT!


Beth said...

That's so exciting Marit!! I'm sure you guys will make a GREAT team!! Best of luck!!

Ness said...

Marit, that is HUGE news! Congratulations on making the change that feels right for you. I went through some of the same stuff with switching coaches last month and it was not easy to leave my old coach but so EXCITING to be making a connection that felt better for me and for my triathlon future. Since that change I have seen some significant improvements in my attitude and approach to training. Good luck - JenH seems like a really grounded coach and I'm sure you'll do really well with her!

Pedergraham said...

How wonderful for you. This is great. It sounds like Jen is the perfect choice to take you where you want to go with this sport.

I can just see you on the podium one day at Kona, collecting tips and autographs from the other girls!!!


Anonymous said...

Holy big news Batman! Congratulations! Making this change was a HUGE decision for you but from what I know about Jen, you couldn't have chosen a better coach!! Good luck Marit!!

Courtenay said...

hey what's wrong with having conversations with your cat?!?! i do it all the time!
anyhow congrats on finding a good match for yourself and for making a tough switch.
also: did you go to school at madison? and my brother's name is nathaniel. it's a great name!

Anonymous said...

HERE WE GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Ok, Marit.....get ready, my friend.
Jen H.

Kellye Mills said...

I think being comfortable with your coach is very important. Good job in making a tough, but what should be the right decision!

E.L.F. said...

It is totally normal to hate JH at least once a week. Also totally normal to curse her name during a swim. To look at your schedule and say OH NO SHE DIDN'T tell me to run off the bike again. Or sit on my bike for 7 hours. Or post a picture of her in your basement to throw empty gel packets at while you gut out intervals in your basement - again all totally normal and part of the Jen Harrison coaching experience. Welcome, friend - and if you ever need someone to trade "I can't believe she made me do that" 's know how to reach me.

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! Your support has been most ecxellent and greatly appreciated. Making a change - a big change - is hard. I don't ever want to hurt anyone's feelings. I try to be honest, ethical, fair, and yadda yadda yadda. So, as you can imagine, this has been a pretty big conflict, an enormous struggle. But I am comfortable, confident, and very excited about my decision. Can't wait!

Train-This said...

Way to go Marit..... Seems we've done many of the same things. Teaching 20 spinning classes a week and training 20 on top of that was exactly how I started as well. We shall have to confer next month ;-) and great choice in Jen...... just don't send her anything that invloves caffeine for holidays or birthdays! :-) Mary

Ashley said...

I'm SO EXCITED!!!! oh, we do have lots to catch up on... can't wait until the upcoming training weekend. YEAH! Yippee!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Marit - I loved your story about how you became a triathlete. Among other things, I too rode with underwear at first and I also did the training way too much early on for complicated psychological reasons.
It's refreshing to read about someone so enthused about the journey to triathlon greatness, and I'm looking forward to reading more!


BreeWee said...

How did I miss this post! I just got your email about Jen coaching and I wondered why you never posted it... YOU DID! I read your blog everyday & I missed this post! Kainoa must have been distracting me!
I am so so so so (50x so) happy for you and the coach you are about to get with Jen! I love it! You are gonna kick so much a$$ and give your readers some funny stories about being her athlete- this will be fun!
I like your St, Anthony's story too- I would have totally asked for Jens autograph (but I am a dork like that). I am so excited for St. Anthony's this year and to meet all you guys!
Have fun with your new coach! YAHOO!

Anonymous said...