Friday, September 06, 2013

Unscared of Hills

I used to be scared of hills on my bike. I'm not anymore. So many cyclists are worried by hills, but I've finally made my peace with them, come to embrace their challenge, and even love them. The only reason I can think of is just that I've done a lot of them in the last few years.

Crossfitters like to use the word "Unscared". I like it. It's stronger than "unafraid": Being scared of something is just a notch worse than being afraid of it Maybe it's a bit better than being terrified, but "Unterrified" doesn't have the same ring to it.

So I was scared of hills. When I first started riding around here, there was this Big Hill on one of my regular rides. I always dreaded that Big Hill. I knew it was coming, steeled myself for huffing and puffing my way to the top, and was relieved when it was over.

Here's the MapMyRide.com hill profile for that ride:

That Big Hill in the middle is about 75 feet tall. I used to have to stand on my pedals to get to the top.

Here's one of the rides I did recently:
The hill you climb (twice!!) on this ride is over 3,000 feet tall. Yeah, no kidding. A 75 foot hill used to have me quaking in my bike cleats, and now I can toss off 6,000 feet of climbing in a day and still get up the next morning and go for a run.

How did I come to love hills? It's been a gradual attitude adjustment on my part. Firstly, somewhere along the way I stopped being scared of just plain old working hard. When you see a hill, you know it's going to be hard. Assuming it's not so steep that you're in danger of falling over (I have worried about that on a couple of them), the worst thing that will happen is that you will go really slow, it will be hard, and it will take a long time. That's not so very terrible, once you get used to the notion.

Secondly, I decided to prepare for the hills I would encounter in racing by doing even harder hills in training. One year I trained for a Half-Ironman that was reputed to have a 14% grade. So I went out and found a hill with a 15% grade, and went up it repeatedly. By the time I got to the race, I knew I could do it. I was Unscared.

Lastly, this year in training for the Leadman (two weeks away, but who's counting, right?) and training for last year's Ironman Coeur d'Alene, I knew I would have to do a lot of climbing in my training rides, so I've sought out the hilliest rides around, deliberately. Going out and looking for hills to do sounds crazy, but once you start embracing them, hills lose the terror factor and become your friend. I'm still not the fastest hill climber on the block, but I can do them and I'm no longer scared.

And when you get to the top, you get to look out over the universe, see down to where you started out, and know that you earned that view.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Biggest DNF Of All Time - My Marriage

If you read here regularly, you might've guessed by now that something happened. I sort-of fell off of the edge of the blogging earth, and largely off of my other online activities as well. As it turns out, my life has been pretty crazy lately: my husband and I separated two months ago, just six months shy of our 20th Wedding Anniversary. In sports terms, I guess that's a DNF (Did Not Finish). In reality, it's just weird, painful, and awkward, as well as also hopeful, exciting, and freeing. It's a lot of things all rolled into one.

Before anyone offers warm fuzzy feelings, I'm doing fine. I won't go into the reasons here, but suffice it to say that I took my wedding vows seriously, and had very good reasons for leaving. I still care for my separated husband (I guess he's not officially an ex right now), he's a good guy and we have remained on good terms and wish each other well.

Other than a whole lot of anxiety about finding a job, preferably within my skill set (anyone want a software QA person??), this experience is really a net positive. Which is not to say it's not tough. Heck, an Ironman is a net positive and it's tough as hell. So is this. But I know that I will work through it and persevere and come out the other side tougher. If there's one thing I've learned from triathlons it's this: the only way to end the discomfort is just to keep moving through it.

Okay, that's all I have to say. You can give me some hugs now.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Late in Coming: A Thrilling Duck Bill Race Report

That elusive race: the one where everything comes together. The one where you're in The Zone, even if it hurts like heck you know you are operating at top form. Such a race was the Duck Bill Thrill in May at Fall Creek Reservoir. This was an out-of-the-blue surprise as I hadn't put much preparation or even taper going into the race.

However...

I didn't know it when I pulled into the parking lot on race morning.

In fact, I thought everything was going wrong. First, it was supposed to be sunny. Beautiful. Balmy. Race morning looked like this as I pulled up to the lake. Cold. Wet. Rain coming down in sheets. This day was going to suck.


Since it was dry at my house when I left, I had somehow neglected to pack a jacket.

Second, the registration people didn't have me on their list. There was no day of race registration. Thankfully, they took pity on poor wet me and let me sign up anyways. Probably because they were worried no one else would show up with the crappy weather.

Lastly, I didn't really have any cold weather gear with me. It was supposed to be warm and sunny on race day, right? I had some arm warmers with me and spent a ridiculous amount of time debating whether or not to wear them. My friend told me I'd regret taking the time to put them on, and since I still remember the race where I didn't qualify for Nationals because I put on arm warmers(!)  I decided to listen to him and leave them in the car. I came to both deeply regret and wildly appreciate taking his advice.

I went through my usual neurotic warmups (out on the bike, several power-ups, lace on my running shoes, 15 minutes plus some strides). The lake felt almost balmy when we got into it, what with all the freezing water falling from the sky. I warmed up thoroughly in the water as well, swimming for at least 10 minutes. This turned out to be a good thing, because....

The Swim:  19:55

As we lined up for the swim, I saw a guy ahead of me whom I know to be a super-duper ultra-fast swimmer. I got behind him and thought if I could just hang on to his toes for a quarter mile or so, it would give me a better swim split. The race starts and there I am right on his feet as planned until BLAMMO, I get hit from the side by something that felt like a linebacker swimming perpendicular to the course. Goggles knocked off, stop and re-set them and of course my beautiful draft pack is long gone. Oh well, settle in. I get my stroke-rate song going in my head (Determinate from the Lemonade Mouth soundtrack - don't ask) and I'm off. Pretty soon I notice I'm in a very good place - pretty much by myself with just a few swimmers around and the lead pack in front of me. And believe it or not, I'm reeling in the lead pack, actually getting closer to them! By the time we came around the loop for a second time, I was just about on their heels, getting out of the water with only three men in front of me (including Mr. Super Fast), for a killer swim time. Looked at my watch and got instantly very happy. The official time has me at 20:04 going over the mats.

T1: 1:07

Buoyed by successful swim, I execute a decent T1 in the rain, getting out of there in just over a minute including the run from the beach.

The Bike: 1:18

The bike is one long painful memory of cold, cold, shivering cold. Wishing I had my dang arm warmers on, and gradually losing sensation in my lower extremities. However.... I am in front of the women's pack, so that keeps me focused like a laser beam on powering through the hilly course. My bike split is almost 3 minutes faster than last year, and I'm a year older, so I'll just go ahead and be happy about that. There are two out-n-back sections on the course, which gave me the ability to see any women who were gaining on me. At the time, it didn't look like there was any females getting closer, though there were several within striking distance of me, given that running is my weakest link.

T2: :39

Still in first place in the women's race after the bike course, I had no choice but to blaze through T2. I had one of the faster T2 times, it seems that I've finally learned how to transition!

The Run: 54:37

Okay, yeah looking at that time, you can tell I'm not a fast runner. In my defense, this is a quite hilly run course and the fastest women's run split was 45:41, so that tells you it's not exactly a fast course.  My run was 3 minutes faster than last year and I felt pretty strong throughout. Even with the hills, my knee didn't give me any grief.  I hung onto my lead until about mile 4, well after the turnaround. The bummer is, I didn't even see this gal coming, I had thought she was a guy on the bike (sometimes it's hard to tell with jerseys and all) so when she passed me and I heard her woman's voice, I was taken by surprise. I thought I still had a decent lead on the next woman behind me. Oh well, this gal passed me definitively and left me in the dust. The next runner to pass me got me right not far before the finish line and beat me by 12 seconds, but I just didn't have any finishing power to hang with her. That's a harsh way to end a race, but I was more than happy to take the Master's Female win and 3rd place overall in the women's race.

Total: 2:34 :27

Not bad on a hilly, wet, cold course. Not much taper, no race specific prep. 17 minutes faster than last year, though about 10 minutes of that was last years' ultra-long swim course. Still, even taking that into account, I shaved off 7 minutes, nothing to sneeze at. Overall, I am happy with my race. I executed well on the details I could (strong swim, good transitions) and hung in there when it got tough, wet, cold, and hilly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Conversation With Self on The Big Weekend


Building up to a long distance race (Ironman, or in my case Leadman) there's always a threshold you cross where suddenly the distances start to feel a little overwhelming. Okay, a lot overwhelming. The hours necessary to train begin to mount up, and inevitably you ask yourself the following question:

Me: Self, why am I doing these ridiculously long training rides and runs?

Self: So you can do a ridiculously long race, of course!

Me: Why would I want to do that?

Self: Because it's.... fun?

Me: I'm not sure I believe that anymore

Self: Because it's....healthy?

Me: I'm pretty sure it's really not

Self: Because there's an outside chance you'll someday qualify to go to the World Championships of people who train for ridiculously long races?

Me: Of course! That makes sense...

Yeah, none of it really makes any sense. Up to a certain point, the training makes sense. I know that I personally need a certain amount of time out there on the open road to keep my body functioning well, to keep my mind and soul balanced, and frankly to keep The Big Crazy at bay. But beyond that, training gets to be a strain. I don't know if this is the last year in a while I'll be able to train long, and maybe that's as it should be. This year, I'm committed.

So, this weekend included a 4.75 mile swim. A 10 mile run. An 82 mile bike. I woke up this morning feeling better than most folks do after a weekend spent gardening. Nothing hurts. Nothing sore, nothing tight, nothing painful. I'm sure if I took off in a slow jog I'd realize how fatigued the major muscles in my legs are right now, but beyond that my body has adapted really well to the ridiculous.

What lies ahead? For the foreseeable future, more of the same. It's just a tad demoralizing to realize at the end of an 80 mile ride when you just want to Get Off the Bike Already that in your chosen race distance you would still have 60 miles to go. What was I thinking? Oh yeah, I wasn't.

Take the bike in for service, Robin. Get some rest. Eat lots of high quality foods this week. Be prepared to hit the road next weekend. Shampoo, Rinse, Repeat.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Exchange Between A Motorist and a Cyclist


Not all interactions between cyclists and car drivers are negative. Yesterday I stopped my bike when I realized a big newt crossing the road was about to get flattened by the oncoming car. As I bent over to retrieve the newt, the car driver stopped and the following exchange occurred:

Driver: Are you okay?
Me: Yes, I'm just saving this newt (holding up newt for evidence)
Driver: Oh, well thanks for doing that. I appreciate it.
Me: No problem. Thanks for stopping!
Driver: Well, I just wanted to make sure you were okay and everything.
Me: Thanks for doing that, I appreciate it.
Driver: Have a great ride!

Yes, I love where I live. Not to mention, my favorite cycling road looks like this on a beautiful June day:


Thursday, June 06, 2013

About To Become An Official Coach

I'm here in Colorado this week to go through USAT's Coach certification program, thus making me finally an "official" (or at least certifiable) coach. I've been doing the coaching gig for many years, but am looking forward to making it a bigger part of my life.They keep us hopping here, with seminars runnig from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, lots of good topics to learn about.

In other happy news, I got my invitation today to the National Age Group Championships. I don't think I can make it back to Milwaukee in August, but it's nice to know I qualified again. One of these years I'm actually going to go, I hope. Unfortunately, the year it was in Oregon, I was in Italy. Go figure. But still, I am honored to qualify, and happy that I'm having a good season so far.

I do intend to write up my race report for the Olympic Distance tri that got me the AG win and my slot at Nationals, but I've just been too crazy-busy to get it written yet. Suffice it to say, I had a great race, one of my best, and I'm excited to see what I can do with the rest of the season.

That's all the brief news from here, where I need to get to bed so I can get up early to the seminar.

Friday, May 24, 2013

"Hey Coach"

There are people in life whose wisdom, helpfulness, teaching, and mentoring I value so much that I've ceased to identify them by their given name. Instead, they have become "Coach", "Sensei", "Sifu". In my mind, this is who they are, as much as they might also inhabit their own name, they also inhabit this title like a name. Indeed, when one day I received a phone call from my Wing Chun instructor, he simply opened the call by saying "This is Sifu". Of course. There is no one else who inhabits that name in my world. He simply IS Sifu, and not just to me, to hundreds of people, people who look up to him and honor him. Similarly, my college swim coach will always and forevermore be the one person to me who is just Coach.

So imagine my amazement and delight as, over the years, I've become simply "Coach" to many of my swimmers and athletes. In my race Sunday, which had several out-and-back sections where you could see your fellow competitors, my swimmers hollered out "Way to go, Coach" and other words of encouragement as we passed. At the outdoor pool that just opened this week, I swam with the group - just as another swimmer, not on deck with a workout. Yet still they greeted me with "Hey Coach" and parted with "Goodbye Coach".

To me, this is probably the greatest honor anyone has ever said to me in my life. It means more than any award, ribbon, or plaque ever could. If I go to my grave having passed on a fraction of the encouragement, thoughtfulness, and mentoring that my coaches, senseis, and sifu have given to me in my life, I will be extremely happy.