Sunday, December 31, 2006

I Am Here

Tomorrow morning, I'll get to participate in a yearly tradition in our Master's swimming group: the year in 50's (fortunately, we cheat a bit and do 107 fifties, not 2007!). It's a big challenge (we do them on an interval of :45!!), and a long ways to swim, but full of good company and the knowledge that we're all still here, still swimming, a year later than the last time we got together to do this crazy thing. All over the city and the world as well, groups of cyclists and runners, walkers, scuba divers, unicyclists, snowboarders, skydivers, and members of every other sport out there will be doing something similar: challenging themselves to take that sport one step further, get up on New Year's morning and do something just a little bit harder than you would choose to do on your own. I've participated in a few of these rituals: "chilly hilly" rides, midnight scuba dives, and probably the most dangerous: hungover skydiving. And tomorrow I'll also participate in the Virtual Tri-Geek Challenge triathlon as well. Upon reflection, I think what it all boils down to is a way to shout "I'm alive" in a big, bold way. To state with our bodies that we're still here, still kicking, still celebrating our ability to move our bodies, smile, talk with our friends, give ourselves a kick in the butt.

This year, there will be a face missing from our New Year's lineup at the swimming pool though. A friend, Jane, was struck by a logging truck on a bike ride with friends in late May. She was an Ironwoman extraordinaire, qualifying for Kona many times over, and someone who helped me many times with training tips and advice in preparing for my first Ironman. She was also a gifted scientist whose papers on nutrition and passion for her work were beneficial to so many people. But more than anything I remember about her, it's her smile that sticks with me. Like the Cheshire Cat, it's the one thing left when all else has disappeared. I will miss hearing her jokes and laughter as we get ready in the lanes, and hearing her stories in the hot tub afterwords. The road she was killed on is one I ride on regularly, and the many times I've passed that one spot on the road this summer have brought her to my mind, as well as the dangers that all of us who cycle on roads with trucks and cars face.

So as I'm swimming tomorrow, I'll be remembering Jane, and wishing her well on her journey, wherever she might be. Her death underlines the fact that what we have is today, now, this moment. The hand entering the water, the head turning to breathe, the smiles with friends at the end of the lane, that's what will exist on New Year's morning. Since we don't know if we will be here tomorrow, we must celebrate the fact that we are here today. And that's what I will be doing. I am here.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Goodbye 2006: Year of the Ironman

In my personal life, 2006 will always be the year of the Ironman. I may do other Ironman races in the future, but this year was defined by my first Ironman, and the Ironman defined me in ways that these intense moments in our lives have a way of doing. As with childbirth, or climbing a mountain, or any activity that takes you to the limits of your most elemental self, the Ironman has a way of teaching you things about yourself that were previously unrevealed.

Today I was raking leaves (again! see again the size of my leaf pile, only now slightly diminished after days and days of moving leaves) and after an hour or so my hands started to get blistered and my shoulders sore. But I now have the knowledge that if I just come out and do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, then I'll be able to go longer and harder every time and eventually it will feel easy to move leaves for as long as I want to. Just like by November of this year, I could jump on my bike and ride a hundred miles, an inconceivable distance to most people, without much more thought than "Do I have enough Powerbars to last me a few hours?"

The Ironman taught me that I could push through fatigue, pain, and hunger to accomplish the goals that are important to me. In fact, it taught me that I could find an inner place that would take me through hours and hours of unanticipated pain, and come out the other side with barely a memory of what I'd been through, and a smile on my face to boot. More than almost anything I've ever done, it taught me about the depths of my spirit: dedication, strength, focus, endurance. It's not just a physical sport, but a mental challenge that cannot be overestimated.

A year ago, I had just registered for the race, and eleven months seemed like an eternity to become prepared. A year ago, I didn't know if my body could do what it failed to do fifteen years ago: make it to the starting line, healthy and ready to go. Beyond that, make it through the swim, the bike, the run, and become an Ironman. Now I know, and the knowledge will be with me always. As we move through the last few hours of 2006, I'm very grateful to have had this experience. If I stay awake long enough to see the New Year turn tomorrow night, I'll raise a glass of champagne to all of you out there, striving to find the place where your spirit shines.

Friday, December 29, 2006

New Year, New Look

I don't know what it is about this time of year that makes us crave new things, new ideas, new approaches. It's no coincidence that many cultures have major gift-giving festivities in the darkest months of the winter, and that the gym and pool are suddenly full of people making a fresh start on their fitness plans. Me, this is about the time of year that I have a little fun with things. Yep, you can take the grrrl out of the punk rock band, but you can't take the punk rock out of the grrrl. See I'm not allowed to have "unnatural" colored hair where I work, but I have two weeks off right now, and with the amount that I'm in and out of chlorinated pools, I know that this lovely New Year's color will only last about 10 days or so. Plus, it matches my purple Pearl Izumi biking shorts, and you just can't beat having color-coordinated hair and shorts. My daughter's hair will stay purple a bit longer, but one of the nice things about homeschooling is there's no one to get fussed about it except for her parents, and well, we don't care!

And yeah, I updated my blog while I was at it, adding a few photos and some pizazz. And now, since my kids are both playing at a friend's house and it's actually not raining and not freezing either, I think I'll head out for a little pre-New Year's brick workout.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What the Bloog

Boy do I feel like a dingbat. All this time, I've been trying to figure out how to make the titles on my blog posts actually look like titles. I've tried various html codes, basically overengineering the whole problem. It's a checkbox in the blog Settings. Yes, a checkbox. One that I, with all of my software engineering background, apparently couldn't find for way too long. Yes, ten years of working in the software industry and there you have it, I can't find a simple checkbox.

But now rest assured, I have Discovered The Checkbox, and all is well. I am now retrofitting all of my previous blog entry titles so that they are actual titles, which should make everything more tidy and searchable, and make me look like less of a bloog and more of a blogger.

Off to hide my head under the covers now...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Jumping In

Trying to find a time to go out for a run today was a bit like jumping rope. You know when your friends are twirling the rope and you're standing to the side, ready to go. You watch the rope go around once, twice, maybe you'll jump in, but it's not quite right. Finally you just have to go for it.

In the course of a few hours today we had sun, rain, fog, hail, drizzle, more sun, more hail... so finally I just jumped in with both feet and went out for a run. The toe is still holding steady, so I bumped up to 3 miles today (after a 2 miler last week), and so far it's still feeling okay. Then it was a couple of hours of raking leaves (remember my monster leaf pile!) and tonight I'll swim a few thou, and call it a day. The weather is supposed to be like this all week, so with any luck I may even get a bike ride or two in, if I jump at just the right time.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Giving Me a Camera on My Bike is Dangerous

For quite some time, I've had one of those older cell phones, you know the kind without a camera, or any other bells and whistles. No bluetooth, no downloaded ring tones, no games. My kids think my cell phone, as compared to those of their friends' parents is "old tech". Well, it happened. I finally dropped it one too many times (not a few of them have been from my bike, while I was riding) and it stopped working very well. So I braved the mall this week (no small task due to the fact that A) it was Christmas week, and B) I hate malls) and got myself a new phone. And this one has a camera.

Now I'm a photography nut, in case you hadn't noticed by the fact that I'm usually including only barely relevant photographs with my blog entries. But I've been hampered by the fact that I don't really have a camera that I can take with me all the time. Both of my digitals are way too big to carry in a pocket, and I've never bought a small point-n-shooter, most likely out of the kind of camera snobbery that comes when you get a degree in Art. I cut my teeth in a black and white darkroom, after all.

But now, I have a camera in my phone, on hand at all times. The time I think I'll really enjoy it is on my bike. There have been so many times I've wished to capture the things I've seen from my saddle. There was the time I came around a corner on a foggy autumn day to find an old airplane in someone's yard, wings rising out of the mist like it was floating in mid-flight. Or the small fawn by the side of the road, recently dispatched in an encounter with a car. But it had fallen in such a way that the leaves behind it made a perfect set of angels wings. All of these images are stored in my head, and nowhere else. But now I'm truly dangerous for I have my phone.

Today's rainbow is from an hour's ride out into the countryside behind the hill that our house is on. It was unseasonably warm (I rode in shorts, in December!), but half of the sky was clouded with rain while the other side was all blue sky. This rainbow split the difference, and was far more vivid than my tiny phone camera could ever capture. But still, I'm glad to be able to save at least a small fascimile of the beautiful ride I had today.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Eat, Drink, (Swim, Bike, Run) and Be Merry

As the comedienne Rita Rudner said: “It takes six months to get in shape and two weeks to get out of shape. As soon as you know this, you can stop being angry about other things in life and only be angry about this.” So here we are launching into the holidays, a time of not only eating, drinking, and being merry, but cold weather and dark, short days. Clearly, a time when it's easy to fall out of shape.

Yesterday was the Solstice, and we celebrated the fact that the sun will be returning to us, a little at a time, each day until summer. But for now the days barely start at 8:00 am and darkness is falling before 5:00. Finding the time during the busy middle of the day to get that exercise in can be daunting, and yet we have parties to go to and platters of cookies beckon. Luckily, like the fat squirrels outside my window, we athletes have a secret. We know that even if we pack a pound or so on here or there over the winter, it won't be staying put come training time. It won't accumulate, like a slow snowdrift, burying us in layers and layers that hold us to the ground. Before long (possibly even before the the last scraps of wrapping paper have been all picked up and thrown in the recycling bin), we'll be hitting the pavement, the pool, the trainer, or the weight room. We can't help it, our bodies just don't feel right without it anymore.

Tomorrow, we're heading over the mountain pass to some cabins where we'll spend Christmas with my mom, sister, and brother-in-law. I've packed up all of the warm coats, jackets, gloves, and boots. We'll probably go tubing, rent snowshoes, or hit the slopes, as well as build snowmen and throw a few snowballs. I won't have time to train, but it will be an active, busy holiday all the same.

So before I go, to all of my triathlete friends, have a wonderful holiday! Eat, drink (swim, bike, run) and be merry!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

All in a Day's Tri

Training on the go: Bike to work at the pool. Sneak in 1700 yards after coaching. Bike home. It's our day to pick up milk from our local dairy guy, bike with kids out to pickup location on this crazy contraption (Bike Friday Tandem, with Burley Piccolo tag-a-long attached). Bike home, dropping one kid off at friend's house. Spouse gets home early just as we roll back in, sun is still shining so lace up running shoes and head out the door. Run 2.5 (still taking it easy on the formerly injured foot), pick up kid from friend's house and run home together. Totals: 1 mile swim, 13 mile bike, 2.5 mile run - kind of like a sprint triathlon in stages through the day, with kids attached. All in an Ironmom day.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Ironman Attorneys Pull Out the Big Guns

I just got a massively intimidating letter from the Ironman corporation's attorneys (all 37 of them listed on the top of the letter) ordering me to cease and desist from selling Ironmom shirts (though I will point out to them that I only created the shirt for me and have made exactly $0 selling shirts.) Apparently, though Ironmom is not trademarked, (nor is Ironskillet, Wrought Iron Railings, my Iron Tablets that I take for anemia or many other uses of the word Iron, I would point out), it is "confusingly similar" to the word Ironman and therefore I cannot have my Ironmom shirt for Christmas.

Bah Humbug.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Working Out the Old Fashioned Way

Isn't it funny how you can swim, bike, and run 'til the cows come home, but spend an hour raking leaves and it's like you've never worked out in your life! I'm so sore today after moving massive (and I do mean massive) leaf piles around our property. We're on a long-term plan to become more self-sufficient as a family, raising our own chickens and gardening. I mulched all the garden beds with the leaves from our killer pile (courtesy of our city's leaf pickup department) and started covering the ivy in the back forty (well, back one-third is more like it). My daughter and I cleaned out the chicken coop, and I hauled forty-pound bags of poultry feed and bricks of cedar shavings down the hill (the wiry 70-year-old gent at the Feed-n-Seed shop tossed them around like they were made of air.)

For sure, our ancestors were no ninnies. Which is probably why in all the old family photos standing next to their whitewashed farmhouse they look as wiry and tough as Feed-n-Seed Store Man (even my great-great-grandma looks like she could whup ya with one hand tied behind her back.) And they didn't need an Ironman to get that way. In some ways, it seems like modern sports are a searching for the activity that used to fill everyday life. When you had to milk your own cow, grow the hay to feed it, and churn the butter, you didn't really need to go run seven miles to feel healthy and strong. More likely, you look forward to the end of the day when you get a few minutes to put your butt down in the rocking chair.

Still, at the end of my hard day's work, it felt good to get in the pool and swim some yards, stretching all those tired muscles in my back and shoulders. But I didn't push it, that's for sure.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Gotta Get a Better Scanner

I just did this with my camera, but here's a really grainy copy of my Ironman finish photo. I'll have to see if I can get a better digital photo than this one! It doesn't look like you can order a digital copy without ordering a full set of all of them, which is a bummer for us digital folks. If any of you knows different, let me know. All I want is to put it in my Christmas letter!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Toe Report

Today's forecast is for happiness with increasing mobility, slight chance of stiffness in the morning and plenty of taking it easy.

Yes, the toe is really and truly well. Theory #2 seems to be proving correct, although I'm still going to give it some time and let it heal up. I did go ice skating with my daughter yesterday and had a blast - it didn't hurt at all (but oh my thighs are paying for it today!!). And I'm still cycling and swimming, but I've put running on hold for awhile.

I went and swam today with my Masters guys, which I haven't done in at least six months. It's so much more fun to swim a workout with other people, I've really missed it! I swam behind The Barge, one of our lane's biggest and fastest guys, and managed to keep up my mantra "follow the bubbles, don't lose the bubbles" through a set of 21 hundreds on the 1:30. Phew! The last hundred we did for time, and even with my spastic one-footed kick and one-foot flip turns, I managed to turn a 1:11. I'm thinking that all that solo swimming as well as increasing my pulling time leading up to Ironman (and because of my foot, post-Ironman as well) has given me a lot more upper-body in my stroke. I'm predicting that as soon as I can kick with both feet, I'm going to be faster than I've been in decades. I'm thinking I might tackle the State Masters swim meet this spring maybe. Haven't swam in a swim meet in 20 years or so, it should be entertaining at the least!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Guess I Shoulda Gone to the Awards Banquet Afterall

I got this in the mail today!

After the Ironman, my family really just wanted to spend our last day in Florida together, so we hung out by the pool and walked on the beach, and I just sort of skipped the awards banquet. Afterall, Ironman had all of my time for the last 6 months, and I figured my family deserved at least one carefree workout-free day in Florida together. I had all but forgotten that I entered as an Athena as well (it was almost a year ago when I filled out the registration), so I didn't realize that I probably placed in the category until I got this 2nd place plaque in the mail today. I'm glad I made the decision to race as an Athena, and not just because I got this cool little shellacked bit of wood and metal, but because I think there are a whole lot of women out there who hear the words "150 pounds" and think "fat". Or think that if they weigh that much, they could never be an athlete.

I remember being at the airport the day after the Ironman. My husband was having a bit of a laugh at my expense, because I was probably the only Ironman in the airport not wearing the finishers shirt. Not really because I didn't want people to know I was a finisher (as if the limp wasn't a dead giveaway), but more because I managed to get a huge shirt instead of a medium, and, well, I have some aethetic complaints about the grey-and-orange motif. So there I was with my two kids, just looking like your average mom-at-the-airport, and all the Ironmen around me were telling their stories to each other. They all looked buffed, athletic, and about 8% bodyfat. As I listened in on the stories, I gradually realized that I was faster than almost all of them in the race. Not that time matters, really, when you're becoming an Ironman. It doesn't (unless of course you're Carole Sharpless getting chased down by Hillary Biscay and nabbing 2nd by a dozen or so seconds). But it was one more reminder that body size and body type are no indicator of athleticism (I don't know how many times I have to get slapped in the head with this before it sinks in). I'm an Ironman. I'm an Athena. I'm an athlete!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

There's Pain, There's PAIN, and There's Absence of Pain

Now I know that you people out there in blogland are probably tired of reading about my Toe. You're probably saying to yourselves "It's a toe already, get over it!" To which I say you have no idea how important one toe is. Really. When you can't run (and you triathletes should understand that one!), can't swim much, can't bike on anything but a trainer, when you can't walk to the store, can't stand in the kitchen baking pancakes for your kids, well you start to realize just how important one toe can be.

Heck, you can't even have a little marital fun without The Toe becoming a problem. Think on this: you can't kneel, you can't lie on your stomach without hanging your foot off the edge of the bed. That limits things just a little. And then, if you manage to successfully block out the cattle-prod-like zings of pain that occasionally just randomly shoot through The Toe, and get into things a little bit, you come to a moment of toe-curling ecstasy and WHAM, The Toe sends you a pain message that causes you to catapult your partner across the room and clutch your foot in agony. Hardly conducive to happy marital relations.

But that's just regular old pain with a lowercase "p" that I've been living with since the Ironman. Yesterday in my karate class, I got to experience PAIN with all capital letters. We were trying a new sparring technique in which my partner was supposed to step past my right foot, except that she stepped right into it, clubbing The Toe with the side of her foot in full swing. Blammo, there was a Pain Explosion that almost knocked me out. Now, I'm no stranger to pain. For one thing, I've had two babies: 'nuff said. For another, I've broken numerous bones, had hundreds of stitches, and dislocated a few random limbs. Other than my twice-yearly trip to the dentist where he has to peel my fingertips out of his chair, I more or less laugh in the face of pain.

But this was like a pain bomb went off in my head, totally unbelievable. I instantly felt like I was going to both throw up and pass out at the same time. My sensei asked me if I was okay and I couldn't even talk. My friend Kay said that my entire mouth turned green, in the way that it does when people suffer a serious shock and are going to lose consciousness (and she, being a nurse, would know this). I valiently struggled to not barf in the dojo and eventually managed to say that I was okay. For about two hours after this incident, my foot hurt bad.

Then, to my utter amazement, it all went away. Totally and completely away. My foot doesn't hurt. The Toe has been demoted to just a toe again. I swam 4250 yards last night and kicked. Just before swimming, I told Kay in the locker room that I had two theories. One was that the Pain Explosion temporarily knocked out all of my pain receptors and I was just experiencing a brief reprieve from the sensations down there. The second theory was that, contrary to what my doctor thought after looking at the x-rays, my foot really was dislocated after all, and my karate partner managed to kick it back into place.

At this, Kay said one of her classic Kay lines: "I think we should always go with the theory that we like the best, even if it's not based on any reality at all." Except you've got to say it with her lovely south-ish of England accent and awesome laugh, which makes almost everything coming out of her mouth sound extremely witty. Seriously, she could read you a shopping list and you'd smile or outright bust up. So that's why I swam and actually kicked, hell and bad toes be damned. But the real kicker is that this morning it Still Feels Great!

So keep your fingers crossed that my second theory is it, and that this is the end of my Toe troubles for good. If not, well at least I'll enjoy my reprieve.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Writing On the Wall

I was at the pool on Friday and it's up on the wall already: the New Year's workout. It's something I usually look forward to with only small amounts of trepidation, our Master's team always does the year in 50's, so this year it will be 107 fifties, leaving on the :45 (a few swimmers lobbied when we rolled over from 99 to 100 to only do the single digits, but somehow that didn't stick). The bummer is, this is the first year I'm not sure if I'm going to make it. The Toe (I'm giving my injury a capital letter, now that it's decided to make itself at home for awhile) is sitting here flaring like it's got electrical current running through it every now and then, and I still can't kick much when I swim, not to mention my ridiculous single-leg flip turns.

I tried my hand at about 40 fifties on the :45 all by myself, and managed to come in to the wall in time to gasp a few breaths before heading out again. Not Good. I had to alternate between swimming with only one foot kicking (an exercise in ridiculousness if I do say so), and using the pull bouy. As I probably mentioned before, I'm not much use with a pull buoy, much of my formerly reasonable stroke was in my legs. I think I'll have to pick a place at the back of the pack, preferrably behind a very nice swimmer we have knicknamed "The Barge" for his lovely draft, and hope that the pull from enough big boys in front of me just sucks me along.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Cool New Coaching Toys

The pool where I coach just got a video camera system, something I've been wanting to use with my swimmers for awhile. If I had a digital video camera myself, I would've brought one in to use, but we sunk our money into a digital SLR this year (which I am, of course, overjoyed over!).

I'm really excited to try this out, since it's often hard to explain to swimmers exactly what they're doing and what it looks like. This will be really useful. Of course, I'd love to get my hands on something really sophisticated like this Dartfish system that Drew posted about on his blog , but in the meantime, I'm just happy being able to show people what their arms are actually doing, as opposed to what they think they're doing.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Slap on the Wrist

Okay, so maybe running wasn't such a good idea after all. My foot hurts, and now my legs hurt too. Geez, ya'd think a gal who could run an Ironman without too much trauma could run one mile without her legs hurting like someone in a bad mob movie just got done hitting them with baseball bats or something. Maybe it's latent trauma re-surfacing or something, but I swear my legs feel worse than they did after the Ironman or my marathon last year! Maybe I ran on them funny in an effort to baby my injured toe, I don't know. I just know it's Not A Good Thing when you can't go down a flight of stairs without looking like your grandmother.

On the other hand, being as I now have to Sit Some More (otherwise known as resting and healing), I went to go see the new James Bond movie this week with my husband and son. I tell you what, looking at this sure took my mind off my hurt foot. I mean, look at those trapezius muscles, of course. Any swimmer would envy those, for sure. Yep. Seriously though, I give a double-thumbs-up to the new Blonde Bond. A much more physical Bond, one who definitely does not look silly or like a total wimp while throwing punches at the bad guys.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

My Christmas Present to Me

I pretty much blew my triathlon budget this year with IMFL and all the accompanying expenses (who knew you could eat hundreds of dollars worth of pre-packaged gooey sugar!) but I created a couple of cool triathlon chick designs and I think at the very least I am going to treat myself to an Ironmom shirt! Yes, that's my shameless advertising plug there, though I could really not give a rat's arse if anyone else buys them, I just made them so I could get one! There's not enough fun triathlon wear for us girlz out there as it is.

Monday, December 04, 2006

If You Want to Kiss The Sky

One whole month without running. It's one month to the day since Ironman, and voila! I ran! My toe's feeling better, and I made it through my karate belt test this weekend without further injury so I think I'm good to go. Now I just need to remind myself to take it slow and easy, one mile at a time.

It's almost like not having run at all, it's almost ludicrous how quickly fitness in any one sport can disappear - the old "use it or lose it" adage seems to hold fairly well. So now, after one mile pounding the pavement, my legs are... well... sore! But it was a great day for it, the sky clouded over and held a tiny bit of heat to the earth, there were great flocks of geese in the sky, and I had loaded U2's Achtung Baby onto my iPod, perhaps one of the best whole albums ever recorded. Their line "If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel" especially resonated with me today. I've done my penance, now it's time to get off of my knees and back onto my feet.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Ironbug Bites

My husband has been my constant companion for fourteen years, almost all of which I have done triathlons. Yet even with trucking me around to races, watching me train, and standing by the finish lines, he has only been tempted to try a race once. That was about five years ago when he did the Blue Lake Sprint distance tri, and that has been his first and last triathlon. I'm sure it didn't help that what was supposed to be a half mile swim got mismarked into the Olympic course and came out at almost a mile, and that swimming is his least favorite sport among the three. More than one sprint triathlete came out of the water sputtering and cursing that morning! But it's just never been his thing. Until now.

The other day, I caught him watching the St. Croix half-Ironman on TV (or, as we now apparently call it, an Ironman 70.3 - ah, marketing!). Then he was surfing on the Ironman website, looking at 70.3 races. And suddenly over dinner one evening it was "I think I might like to do a half-Ironman for my 45th birthday". The Ironbug bites.

I'm not sure exactly why all of the lovely Olympic and Sprint Tri's here in the Pacific Northwest have never beckoned to him, but suddenly the prospect of going over twice that distance does. Perhaps it's the gigantic challenge of it all, or watching the throngs at IMFL, the race week enthusiasm, or just having a big goal out there to mark an age milestone (for his 40th birthday, we biked a 100 miles to the coast with a group of friends), but all of a sudden he's in the pool a couple of times a week and talking of biking back and forth to work when the weather warms.

I'm ecstatic of course. For one, because I've always longed to share this sport together (we met when we both were deeply immersed in skydiving, something that's been impossible to keep up as parents, but was great fun to do together), and for another because it'll be nice to have him as a training partner some of the time, and also maybe he'll get what drives me a little better, especially once he tackles the 70.3. And of course, when the Ironbug bites me again, he'll understand!

Friday, December 01, 2006

A Sunny Day

We've had an interesting amalgam of weather this week: sleet, snow, hail, rain, sunshine, more sleet... Needless to say, I haven't been outside on my bike, and my stack of DVDs from the library is getting thin. I did hear that a local bike store has indoor BYO Trainer workouts in the evenings, and I might have to go do that just to keep from going insane! But today, the sun is shining and I have a free hour while my daughter is ice skating. I think I'll throw on every available leg and arm warmer and head out the door, remembering the warm days and endless miles of summer...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Practice Success

Someone recently asked me some questions about how I got through the Ironman mentally. I typed up a relatively long answer for her, and decided it's probably worth sharing here. These techniques can be used for any kind of sport or life situation (I used the same techniques in childbirth and with clients I assisted as a childbirth doula that I did in training for the Ironman).

Here's my answer to her:

I'm curious if you've seen Kay Porter's book The Mental Athlete. Kay is a friend from my writer's group and I think her book is an excellent resource on this subject. By the time I read it, I was already using many of her techniques myself, but I would recommend it to anyone looking to improve their mental game.

Personally, I think it's really important to "train your brain" and not just your body. In the last two hours of the Ironman, it's pretty easy to tell who has a mental plan and who does not. There is a big difference between pain and suffering. Almost everyone in the Ironman feels some pain, but it doesn't have to be suffering. There are people in those last two hours whose sole focus though is suffering, and man does that look like a hard way to go! Instead of suffering, there's a lot of mental techniques that you can use that help you work through the pain and feel positive and strong.

I have always used visualization and other mental tools in an almost unconscious way, but about twelve years ago I became much more conscious about using them in training and in my races.
Here's an overview of my mental plan for the Ironman.

Positive Visualization: Before I go to sleep at night, particularly as race day approaches, I visualize the entire course of the Ironman, seeing myself moving confidently and smoothly with power and grace through all three sports and the transitions. At the end, I see myself crossing the finish line, feel myself smiling, exhausted and happy.

In any moments during the day when I feel myself becoming anxious or nervous about the Ironman, I replace those thoughts immediately with a mini-visualization. Perhaps I just focus on whatever I'm nervous about, or perhaps I just see myself crossing the finish line. Basically, I practice success. Incidentally, I used this technique during pregnancy with each of my kids, and my first birth went *exactly*, and I mean minute-by-minute exactly the way I visualized it.

Visualization In Action: When I'm training, I use any difficult times to visualize myself overcoming obstacles in the race. As an example, in one of my long bike rides this summer, it was unexpectedly very hot. By coincidence, the road I had chosen to finish my ninety mile ride on was hillier than I remembered it (or at least, I had never ridden it at the end of a ninety mile ride before!), and the hills were all facing the late afternoon sun. I was exhausted, overheated, and definitely hurting. So at that moment, I chose to visualize myself in a difficult moment in the Ironman. I saw myself in the heat, with a large hill in front of me. I focused my mind on believing that making it up that hill meant I would finish the Ironman. So I powered up that hill. I did the same with the next hill and the next hill, and then I was up and over the last hill. In the actual Ironman, I could call on that ability to work through a difficult patch by recalling that I had faced down difficult obstacles in my training and overcome them.

Specific Distraction: I had decided ahead of time on a race day plan for the marathon. I divided it into four quarters of 6 miles each (I left out the first and last miles, because I figured the excitement and crowds at the finish line would carry me through those). I decided that I would take a mental journey across my home state of Oregon. The first quarter of the marathon would be the Eastern Oregon high desert. The second quarter would be the Cascades down the center of Oregon, the third would be the Willamette River valley, where I live, and the fourth would be the Oregon coast. At any point, if I felt my concentration or physical abilities faltering, I would focus on memories from my life that occured in that section of Oregon. This was extremely helpful to me in the last half of the marathon when my foot injury was more or less excruciating. I called up camping trips I'd taken as a child, college road trips, watching my own kids at the beach, running with my dog on trails, anything and everything to fill my body with happy memories and positive feelings. It really worked!

Energy Visualization: I have some visualizations surrounding energy that I find helpful. I can visualize a golden light above my head, and my breath drawing in the light and when I exhale I send it to all parts of my body. This light carries with it a sensation of healing and peace. I can't really use that one during the race, but I use it when I'm relaxing after hard workouts to help my muscles heal and relax. I know it sounds really woo woo, but it works so who cares :-)

During the race I focused on the energy that all of my friends and family were sending me. I knew a lot of them were tracking me on and were following my progress on the course. I would concentrate on feeling their good wishes and their prayers and energy and let that feeling buoy me up and give me strength. I also visualized my husband and kids waiting for me at the finish line, and how great it would be to see them as I came in. They supported me so much through the whole training process, so I dres on that during the race.

In the tough parts of the race, I also called up memories of other extremely difficult times in my life. Times when I faced large obstacles and worked through them. I remembered how strong I'd been in childbirth, how I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro when I was so affected by the altitude that I felt sick. I remembered the time I almost drowned while surfing, and just kept coming up for air between the waves. All of those things are part of my strength, and I can call on them (incidentally, during childbirth I called upon memories of triathlons I had done to get me through!). This is another form of drawing energy for me - drawing energy from past accomplishments and challenges.

Affirmations: I have several phrases that I use as affirmations that help me keep my mind and energy focused in the right place. They are almost like mantras in a way, and I will sometimes use them repetitively if I am in a tight spot, or I can use them as something to muse on or think about. One of my affirmations is "It is a privilege and a gift to be on this road today." There's also things like "I feel strong. I am committed. I will finish this race." Things like that

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Next Ironman

Almost the first question you get after doing an Ironman is "So, do you want to do another one?" I have to admit, that even as a swim coach who has trained people to do the Ironman, I never fully understood how people could get bit by "the Ironman bug" and want to do more of these super-intense, super-long races. Now that I've done one, all I can say is I Understand. For me, the answer to that question is yes, but it's a qualified yes.

Yes, in a world in which I had no commitments and finding the time to train was easy and painless, and the massive cost of registering and traveling to an Ironman was not an issue, I would do them all the time. But I don't live in that world. I live in a world in which, as a homeschooling mom, my children have a reasonable expectation that I will actually be around. Now, instead of dropping them at classes, activities, and friends' houses and jetting out the door with my running shoes or bicycle, I can actually hang out and watch them dance or ice skate or work with the robots. Admittedly, I feel a bit twitchy while doing so. As Maureen said in a comment below, my injured toe is probably a good guarantee that my body will get the rest it needs. I can tell that without it, I'd probably still be out there putting on the miles. It's hard to go from really ramped up to regular without feeling a little let-down. It's good for my kids, our budget, my spouse, my house (ah, the stuff that piled up while I was training intensively) to actually have me around. And, as my husband says, "Now we don't have that fifth mouth to feed either." I can't believe how much I was eating, now that my appetite is pretty much back to normal. Amazing! I don't wake up at 3:00 am completely ravenous. I don't think about food 24 hours a day.

But all that being said, I would love to have another Ironman date out there on my calendar, would love to sustain this incredible level of fitness, this feeling that my body can do anything I could throw at it. Would love to get on my bike and ride for hours and hours without fatigue, to regard a six mile run as a "quick lunchtime jaunt." It's all very appealing. And truth be told, I loved the Ironman. I really loved it. I loved all the stuff leading up to it, the travel and excitement, the other athletes, the feeling of doing something truly amazing. And other than my injury, I had a fun day out there on the course. I was really trained up just right, had put in the miles but not overdone it. I hit my peak and felt great.

Maybe it's crazy to expect that it would be as much fun the second time around, though I met athletes who were doing their third, fifth, or seventh Ironman and still seemed to be having a good time. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the reasons I enjoyed myself so much this time is that I had very few expectations. I wanted to finish. I'm used to being competitive in triathlons, often placing in my age group or even overall. Before a race, I look at who is entered, at previous course times, I try to estimate what time I might hit, where I might end up. I set no such goals for this race. In a way, it really reminded me of my first triathlon 20 years ago. Though that race was a sprint, I had no idea if I would be able to finish it. It seemed like a big, and possibly unachievable goal. The Ironman was much the same, and similarly I just enjoyed myself, especially once I knew I would make it to the finish line.

Looking back over 20 years of triathlons, though, I can honestly say that I've enjoyed almost every one (well, there was that one in the Columbia Gorge where it was 104 degree with winds of 20+ mph and I actually cried during the run). Whether my goal was to finish or to compete, each of them has lived up to Richard Bach's prophetic words in the book Illusions: There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands. You seek problems because you need their gifts. In reference to triathlons, I would replace the word "problem" with "challenge". The Ironman was the biggest challenge of all, and I appreciate its gifts.

Why I Love Doc Martens, Reason #101

I've been wearing my Docs for the last week or so because the sole is really stiff and keeps my toes from bending when I walk. Of course, they also keep my ankle and toes from bending while I drive, which is not ideal, but overall they've been very helpful on my injured foot. My husband thinks they look way dorky, my friends drool over them (I got them at Goodwill, brand new!), and my kids' teenage friends think they are pretty damn cool.

But mostly right now, they feel great on my feet. I put my hiking boots (all steel shanks) on yesterday and hoofed it up a local climb with my husband and kids, and my foot feels okay today, but it still hurts if I don't have it taped up or if I have flexible shoes on. No running in my near future, wah!

Now, I'm pretty sure that if I had this pair, my toe would feel even better...

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Journey Begins: Everymom

When most people say "I'm training for the Ironman", they mean the Ironman this month, or maybe this summer, or at the most next summer. When I started training for the Ironman, I was talking seven years down the road.

When I started training for the Ironman, I had just had a baby, I weighed over 200 pounds, and couldn't run a mile. In short, I was Everymom, not Ironmom. No one would've believed me if I told them what I was doing, so I just chugged along with the support of my husband who bought into this crazy dream of mine.

I had trained for the Ironman once before, in a former life only vaguely remembered through a haze of all-night nursing sessions and laundry baskets full of diapers. In that former life, I was much younger, much fitter, but far less sensible. I had decided to do the Ironman mostly on a whim. The guy I was dating was doing it, and I had done plenty of triathlons, so why not? I sent in my check to Ironman Canada, got my packet in the mail, and that was that. I started ramping up the mileage, doing "daily doubles" and swimming with a group of uber-competitive Iron athletes.

What I discovered is that even young, fit bodies don't respond well to rapidly increasing exercise loads, without a good solid basis of long-distance work. I suffered from shin splints, knee pain, a lot of stress, bleeding ulcers, and anemia. My doctor threatened to take a baseball bat to my bicycle if I drove up to the Ironman, telling me I was so anemic that if I fell and scraped my knee I'd bleed to death. My friends drove away with bicycles festooning the tops of their cars, and I stayed at home in crushing disappointment, consoling myself with the idea that there was always next year.

But next year brought relationship turmoil and breakup which I solved by immersing myself in the adrenaline-soaked world of skydiving. There I met my husband-to-be, and life spiraled away from the Ironman. Though I still did some shorter triathlons here and there, I had too many other things occupying my time to train so intensely again.

So it came to be that eight years later I was sitting on a park bench in the early spring sunshine with a three year old on the playground and an infant in my lap and it hit me that the Ironman dream was not one I was willing to give up on. Motherhood was wonderful, but triathlon was a part of me that I was not willing to relinquish, and the Ironman is triathlon's penultimate challenge. Though I wouldn't mail in an entry form for six years, from that moment on I was training for the Ironman.

I Solemnly Swear I Will Never Take My Toe For Granted Again

My toe/foot is finally starting to mend. Today, I swam a thousand yards kicking lightly with my right foot and it felt pretty much okay. I managed to do flip turns too. It felt so good I wanted to kneel down and kiss my toe for getting better. I remember breaking my little pinky toe when I was in college and how surprised I was that I couldn't do anything until it mended. It's amazing how something so small can be so vital to everything we do, everything we take for granted.

One of my mantras when I train and race is "It's a gift and a privilege to be running (or biking or swimming) on this course today." Now I know how true that is. I vow to appreciate the gift even more, now that it is coming back to me.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' She chortled in her joy...

Lo, even though the rain fell upon her
and the wind beat at her face,
Even though the air was chilly
And the pavement threw great stripes of mud up her back
The water pouring off of the overpass
Dumped a chilly Niagara down her neck
Still she rode
Her own bicycle
And all the world was good,
and she smiled as she rode

Saturday, November 18, 2006

My Enemy is Now My Friend

I used to hate using the pull buoys when I swim. A lot of my swimming stroke is in my legs, with a very efficient and strong kick, and as a woman my upper body strength can't match that of the guys I swim with in my Master's group, so whenever the pull buoys come out, I fall behind. When I first started swimming with them, I couldn't go more than a couple of hundred yards with a pull buoy before the men lapped me or my arms gave out.

Then I started training for the Ironman. Swimming for a prolonged period of time in a wetsuit in open water is different than swimming in a pool. The wetsuit gives you buoyancy, and also takes away some of the leg and ankle flexibility that makes for an efficient kick. So when you swim with a wetsuit on, you rely on your arms much more than you do in your regular pool stroke. In short, it's a lot like pulling with a pull buoy. I started increasing the amount of pool yardage that I used the pull buoy for, until I could easily pull over 2,000 yards without my arms getting tired. In retrospect, given the wild waves of Ironman Florida, that was a very wise move. After that first leg of the Ironman I didn't feel like I'd swam 4,000 yards, instead I felt like I'd gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. It really took a lot of arm strength to muscle your way through all those waves and chop, so I was grateful for my time with the pull buoy.

Now, of course, the pull buoy is my friend. I still can't kick or push off of the wall with my right foot, so the pull buoy lets me swim when otherwise I'd be grounded. Since I can't run and can barely cycle, the pull buoy is saving me from complete and utter madness. And I think those guys in my Master's group are in for a surprise when I finally get to return to practice. They won't be lapping me again!

Friday, November 17, 2006

When Being Good To Your Body Feels Right

One of the greatest paradoxes of modern life is that we've reached a place where treating our body right feels wrong. Our culture and our media epitomizes exercise and eating right as the things we "should" be doing, but they make it sound like a difficult, and almost unattainable goal, one we will struggle to meet and perhaps never entirely achieve.

The question I hear asked most often when I talk or correspond (email, bulletin boards) with others about health and exercise is "How do I get to that place where doing the right thing feels right? How do I get to where I want to do it?"

Here's an answer I wrote recently for a discussion on a Health board. I thought it might be worth sharing:

I think the single biggest key is this:

Meaningful Change is Slow and Incremental

I think when we look for big, immediate change, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Our entire culture points to immediate change as the path of success, but instead it is most often the path of at the very least failure, and at the worst self-destructiveness.So when we immediately embrace (or think about embracing) some new diet or exercise regime, we are either in that place of euphoria, where we are actually doing it, or we're in that place of despair where we can't keep up with it, or we're euphorically planning the next big change. These steps both work against us and keep us from dealing with the real day-to-day issues that our thoughts about food and our thoughts about our bodies are hiding.When we throw this whole notion out the window that change will be immediate and all-encompassing, we begin to live in the here and now. We begin to have to exist and deal with whatever is happening to us now, today, this moment. We can also begin to make small, incremental changes that will carry us on a path to health and wellness and emotional stability (instead of the wild rollercoaster).

One of my mantras is "Walk in the Direction You Wish to be Going". Every day, we're faced with lots of choices. Which direction do we wish to be walking? In the direction of health? Or the direction of unhealth? Personally, I would divorce this decision-making from any notion of fat/thin. Thin is not necessarily healthy, fat is not necessarily unhealthy. Instead, think of good health.

So if I'm facing the refrigerator with an overwhelming desire to eat something sugary and fatty. Where does the desire come from? What will I gain from eating it? What thoughts am I trying to avoid by focusing on the notion that this food will make me feel better? What is the healthy choice, right here and right now? Sometimes the healthy choice might just be the piece of cake on the bottom shelf. That's okay, it's not a loaded gun. It won't kill you to eat a piece of chocolate cake if the rest of your steps that day are toward total body and mental health. If you can examine what is going on, and start to make choices toward health, if you can stop beating yourself up when you make a choice that takes you in an unhealthy direction, but instead just make the next choice for health, you will be walking on the path of health.

If you take one step today toward health, and if you don't beat yourself up for any other steps you take, if you can stop thinking in terms of fat or thin, stop making everything a loaded weapon to shoot yourself with (metaphorically), if you do those things, then I will bet that the next step you take toward health will be easier. And the next even easier. And some time in the future, probably not today or tomorrow or the next day or even the next week or month maybe, it will be easier to take a step toward health than a step toward unhealth. The healthy choices will become the ones you want to make. I am 100% convinced of this.

Be gentle on yourselves. The path always has detours and setbacks. Just start choosing health, because you deserve it, because it will feel good, and don't be harsh with yourself if you don't think you've chosen right. Remember that making yourself miserable is also a step toward unhealth, even if you eat carrots instead of cake.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Oh Happy Day

My bicycle is home. When I saw the state of the shipping box, I was afraid to even open it. This is one of seven holes and rips in the box. Fortunately, all is well (I'm thanking my choice of titanium over carbon fiber for my bike right now) and nothing was damaged. My foot is still not capable of riding outside or taking much pressure (like hill climbing), but I can spin on the trainer and that will have to do for now.

You can bet someone will be getting a letter over this one! I was glad to have the ability to have my bike packed and shipped home directly from the Ironman, and not have to disassemble it in my hotel room, or ship it on the airlines - I saw two TSA employees literally sitting on some poor athlete's bike trying to jam it back into it's case! But this packing job was ridiculous.

Nevertheless, all is well. If the sun shines for a few moments this weekend, I might even try taking it out on the flat bike path. Oh happy day!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Glossy Lie

Nine years ago, I was standing at the finish line of the Portland marathon, waiting for my husband to run across the line. Now, he's a pretty fit guy: at the time of the marathon he was 32 years old, 5'9" and about 170 pounds and one could easily picture him on the cover of one of those glossy sports magazines that always seem to feature buff youngish people looking vibrantly athletic.

The eye-opening thing that day though was the people who crossed the line in front of him. People of all ages, shapes, and sizes, people who ran faster than my fit poster-boy husband. There were dumpy grandmas, gangling teenagers, middle-aged executives, and a notable woman with a bust so big that it made me uncomfortable just to watch her run. That day, a realization dawned on me, something that had been kept from me all my life, something that is largely kept secret from all of us:

You don't have to be thin or buff or athletic-looking to be incredibly fit.

I know it sounds simple, but this one piece of information keeps so many people from believing that they are athletes, that they even could be an athlete. The fact that this concept is kept from people means that so many don't step out the door, don't even try. This idea affects even the lives of real, true athletes every day. I remember my neighbor once said to me, after I lost about 5 pounds (my usual amount) in the final stages of training for a half-Ironman "Wow, now you are really starting to look like an athlete!" Yes, starting to look like an athlete. Despite the fact that I had been running, and often placing well in triathlons for 17 years at that point, I was starting to look like an athlete. Why? Because I got a bit skinnier.

I am used to this, of course. I'm a big girl. I've always been a big girl. I was "a fat kid" in school, though looking back at photos, I was far from fat. I was stocky, big-shouldered, big-boned (much like my own children). I was also muscular, but that doesn't count if it means your waist or hips are bigger. So I did not self-identify as someone who could be an athlete, nor did others see me that way. I have always loved swimming, so I tried out for the swim team. The coach said I was "lazy" and would never be a good swimmer (there's also this myth out there that chubby or fat people are lazy, which is often far from the truth).

And even to this day, I deal with surprise, even from other athletes, that I am as fast as I am. I stood on the beach of a triathlon start one day and listened to three athletes behind me malign the Athena category (the female equivalent of a Clydesdale race category - to enter as an Athena, a woman has to weigh more than 150 pounds) as the "fat chicks division". They probably didn't know that the athlete in front of them (me) was registered as a bona fide fat chick. In fact, I beat the weight requirements for the category by a good 10 pounds. And that was also the last they ever saw of me, except on the run, coming toward the finish line, I spotted all three of them still heading out. In another race where I was entered as a Pro, one of the other Pros caught me just before the finish line and said (really!) "I can't believe you're this fast." In the Ironman last week, a couple of fit and hardy male athletes that I had met earlier were out on the run course when I caught up to them. We chatted for awhile and then I prepared to move on. One of them grumbled about having three hours left. When I said I was on my second loop of the run course, their jaws all but dropped.

Now I tell all of this because I think it's a vital message for people out there to get. So many people don't start exercising because they think they can't. Maybe their body type will never be thin, maybe they'll never get rid of that post-baby tummy or heavy calves or thick chest, or whatever their natural shape may be. I've seen plenty of people cross finish lines with those things. All of the fitness magazines out there give us a not-very-subtle message: if you look this way, you're fit. If you don't, you're not. I call it the Glossy Lie. Some of those people in the glossy photos are probably fit. Some of them are taking steroids and EPO and all kinds of other drugs in order to get that way. Some of them are starving themselves or throwing up or taking laxatives to look that way. Some of them are not fit at all. Some dumpy middle-aged woman out there crossing the finish line at the Portland marathon may be fitter than all of them.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Insult to Injury

I had expected a sort of post-Ironman letdown, as happens when you plan and prepare for any great event. And I had expected a difficult time transitioning from huge, huge workouts to a much smaller amount of time spent biking, swimming, and running. But this foot injury (from the race) has quintupled all of this. I can barely exercise at all - I can swim with a pull bouy, and without really pushing off of the wall, I can bicycle with my foot taped up and my cycling shoes keeping my toe straight, and I can't run at all, and can barely limp along walking. This weekend, I tried to walk to the store with my husband and kids and only made it 1/4 mile.

I went and got an X-ray on Friday. My doctor seems to think I have pulled the tendon attaching my toe to the rest of my foot, and possibly it has pulled some of the bone away on the bottom of my toe bone (the bone there looked "fuzzy" where the tendon attaches). He seems to think it will heal itself if I stay off of it.

Apparently, it might take months.

Ack! Death Sentence! I don't think I can do this, so closely on the heels of the Ironman, and in the middle of Oregon's rainy, rainy November. I am going to go stir crazy. And I am the world's worst patient to start with. My husband lives in fear of anything truly bad ever happening to me and having to deal with me (I was bad enough after the kids were born, popping out of bed to do things almost immediately). I am not good at sitting still and healing.

I'm off today to find a toe splint of some kind. I think if I can keep it stationary, it will make letting it heal easier while still being able to get around. Wish me luck!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Thoreau Said it All

The quote in the journal that I've been using all year to record my training and experiences:

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Reading that today as I wrote down my race splits and then closed the cover, I realized how important that quote was to me every day as I trained, and how true it rings now.

Here's to everyone out there, putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of your dreams.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Ironman Dream #3

The race is over, the equipment neatly stowed, the dreams of next Ironman (probably 5 years down the line - Ironman Brazil and Japan look intriguing!) are on a back burner... So why am I still having these crazy dreams? Here's last night's installment:

It's the bike-to-run transition, and in my gear bag I don't have my running shoes. Instead, I have my husband's old beaten-down favorite leather deck shoes. Having no other option, I put them on and start running, with their worn soles going flap flap flap on the pavement.

After the first mile marker is a special area where all athletes have to stop. Part of this race is that you have to put on a costume from a play, and you are judged not only on your finish time, but how well you stay in character during the race. I pick out a raven costume with feathered wings and put it on. I start running, remembering to let out a realistic "caw caw caw" every time I pass a judge's stand. A couple more miles into the race, I begin to regret my choice, because the feathered arms are very hard to keep up and look bird-like while I'm running. My arms start to get really heavy and tired, and I begin to lose my voice. I wake up while worrying if I'll have enough voice left by the time I reach the final judge's booth to still "caw".

Analyze that one, I dare you!

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Day in Pictures

Here's a few from raceday that my wonderful hubby took. My official finish picture is pretty good, I'll have to try and scan it in at some point.

I took the first one in the hotel bathroom, just after eating breakfast, 4:00 am.

Wayne took this when I was coming back on the bike course. Looking happy and feeling strong!

At the run turnaround, around 4:30 pm. Feeling no pain, yet...

Exhausted and ecstatic, with the kids at the finish!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Ironman Race Report: Waves, Wind, and Wounds

What an amazing experience this all was. By the end of the day, I could hardly remember how it all started. We had to be there by 5:00 am, so I was a bit bleary. A couple of athletes from our hotel gave me a ride to the race start, which was really nice.

Standing on the beach with 2,500 athletes was incredible, and just a bit scary. I decided to stick with my usual policy, based on the principle of the hypoteneuse not being all that much longer than the long leg of a right triangle - I started all the way to the right of the big group of people and swam at an angle to the first buoy. This was great, since I wasn't in the thrashing mob for the whole first quarter mile. By the time we got out towards the first turn, however, it was really clear that his was going to be a Tough Swim. The waves were really big, plus a lot of chop on top of that. Couple that with so many swimmers, and it was like a mosh pit out there, with people getting picked up and dropped on top of other swimmers. After rounding the first corner, you couldn't see the second turn buoy unless you were up on top of one of the waves. Apparently, they pulled one drowned athlete out and resuscitated him on the beach, and some of the pros were asking them to cancel the swim (and a couple did not start the race, or dropped out in the middle). One guy I talked to on the beach had come with a group but the rest of them decided not to even start! Talk about your tough conditions.

The nice thing was that people were generally very polite about it all - far from the image of athletes swimming over the top of each other, people generally just tried to hold their course as we all got bopped around into each other. One unfortunate and notable exception was a swimmer behind me who grabbed the big toe on my right foot going by (maybe hanging on for dear life?) and pulled it going by! That hurt like @#$!!, and I felt a pop sensation which really worried me. Not much to do though but soldier on. I came out of the water in 1:03, which was reasonable but about 6 minutes slower than my estimated time. Probably in about the first 100 swimmers out of the water.

My first transition was basically a debacle. I was queasy from the swim (remember, I get seasick very easily!) and slightly dizzy, and my foot hurt like nobody's business. Toe sticking out at an angle, that's not good! Luckily, as one of the first women swimmers, the changing tent was pretty empty and I had a personal volunteer to help me. I had first-aid stuff in my T1 bag, good forethought there. Pull toe until it pops back, tape it up tight, stuff ibuprofen in my pocket. Then I managed to put on my arm warmers (remember the unusually cold temperatures!), then remember I had no sunscreen on my arms, strip off the arm warmers, apply sunscreen, then realize that it is almost impossible to pull on tight lycra armwarmers over newly gooped-up arms! It would be funny to watch the comedy of errors from the outside, I'm sure. But I finally made it out of the tent and grabbed my bike.

The race announcer had said before the race that the seas were calm (a lie!) and that the wind on the bike course died down to nothing after 7 miles (another lie!) The bike course was quite windy, with the whole first half of the course straight into a headwind. I tried to hunker down and remember all of my windy rides at home, and how coming back I would make up the time if I didn't struggle to go too fast into the wind. The hardest part of the bike for me was feeling my toe throbbing and my whole foot swelling up, not knowing if I was even going to be able to run, walk, or hobble through the run course. It was entirely possible that I'd get through the whole bike to find that I just wouldn't be able to finish. Mentally, that was tough.

The second most frustrating part of the bike course was the appalling state of the race officials and their lack of penalties. I had fortunately been warned about this, so it wasn't a surprise, but huge groups of drafting cyclists came past, doing a good 4 miles an hour faster than I was doing without drafting. For those of you who don't know, you're not allowed to draft in the Ironman and are supposed to be time-penalized and even disqualified for drafting violations. It was hard to watch so many people choosing to essentially cheat, and knowing that by not doing so I was basically handicapping myself against all these athletes whose times would be so much faster. The officials just rode on by and did nothing, and the penalty tents sat absolutely empty. Completely ridiculous!

Other than that, the course volunteers and cheerers were great (my favorite was the family all dressed as superheros, handing out food and drink) and the bike went well for me. I had no flat tires or technical problems, and my heart-rate monitor kept me from over-amping and chasing the faster cyclists. I stuck with my nutrition plan and felt good when I got off the bike. I averaged 19.6 mph, but with the 6 portapotty spots (after drinking all the salt water from the ocean waves!) retaping my toe since it swelled so much, and retrieving my special needs bag for more medical supplies, I came in at 6:05, not much over my 6 hour estimate. I got to see Wayne and the kids cheering for me both coming and going, which was awesome. About two hours before the run, I popped the last ibuprofen, crossed my fingers, and prayed I'd be able to run on my injured foot.

After another semi-frenzied change in the tent, and a few more ibuprofen, I was out on the run course and my questions were answered - I could run! I really appreciated having my name printed on my race number because everyone along the course cheered each athlete by name, which made such a big difference. The ibuprofen played havoc with my stomach though, and I had a lot of abdominal pain and a hard time taking any food and drink. I've never done well taking ibu in the best of times, and the IM marathon is not the best of times for a stomach. I did my best though, and the chicken broth on the course really saved me, it was pretty much the only thing I kept down. I was feeling really great at the run-turnaround, right on my race plan of 10:15 per mile pace, including :30 of walking through each aid station. I gave a double-thumbs up to Wayne and the kids and told them to meet me about 7:00 at the finish line.

It got dark and a huge gorgeous full moon came out. At somewhere around mile 15, the ibuprofen wore off and I was in trouble. My foot started throbbing and swelling up, I started doing this weird hobble-limp run, and everything in my legs started cramping up from that. I began to take longer and longer walking breaks. The pain was intense every time I took a step. I really fell back on my mental race plan which helped me a lot. I had divided the run course in my head into four segments, a mental trip through Oregon. The first quarter was the Eastern Oregon high desert, then the mountains, then the valley, and finally the coast. I called up memories from those places, and that helped to keep me going. I alternated this with thoughts of all those supporting me: friends and family, and also the things I've accomplished in my past that were difficult. At some point though, the pain was too much and my brain just checked out. I have a big blank spot in my mind for about two hours of the marathon. Except for throwing up, I can remember every place I threw up. By this time my stomach felt completely wrecked and nothing stayed down. Somehow, I just talked myself into putting one foot in front of the other for those last 11 miles. Although my pace must've slowed dramatically, I  somehow made it to the finisher's chute at 12:21, still within my estimate of somewhere between 11:30 and 12:30.

To my surprise, Wayne and the kids were waiting in the chute to run across the finish line with me! I was thrilled, because the race rules had said they wouldn't allow that, but they changed the rules and did. I couldn't believe that I was really crossing after all these years, the training, the time and effort and travel and everything. I was so excited and grinning from ear to ear.

Through the chute it was a total zoo. I got photos taken and a metallic space blanket, and started walking around. Pretty quick, I was dizzy and very nauseous. While hanging my head over a handy railing by some bushes, Wayne noticed I was getting very unresponsive, and the last thing I heard before losing consciousness was him yelling "get a medic!" and my daughter asking "is mommy dying?". Into the medical tent I went, where I posted a blood pressure of 88 over 50, very dehydrated. A couple of bags of IV fluid later and my blood pressure was better and I came around, but the cold saline fluid and my wet clammy clothes, combined with the plummeting temperature made me start shaking so hard I couldn't talk. They took my temperature and found it to be 96! In the meanwhile, Wayne was trying to get my dry clothes from the transition area, but they wouldn't let him in with the kids. Finally, we got it all sorted out and I was dry, warmer, and standing up without the world swirling around. It started to sink in then, I'm an Iron(wo)man!!

Now, I'm stiff and sore from the weird limp-run and my stomach's a wreck. Everyone here is hobbling around and grinning congratulations at each other. We packed off my bike, picked up my gear, and tomorrow we head out for home. If you've been following this saga, I appreciate all of your support and good thoughts. It's been a long and tough journey, and I was tested to my limits (it's more than a little scary to think how my brain managed to hold my body together through the finish when I was obviously so close to breaking down!). I'm just ecstatic at finally completing my Ironman.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Weather, or Not

Well, here goes. Everything's checked in, and all I have to do is figure out a way to fill the next 10 hours that I won't be sleeping, until 4:00 am tomorrow when I need to get up.

Everyone here is busy speculating about tomorrow's weather. When we hit the bike course, the temperature outside (after figuring in wind chill) is supposed to be about 35 degrees F (!!!!!), but by the afternoon, it will be in the low 70's, thus leaving everyone with the dilemma of what to wear, and what to bring, and where to put it on the course so that we don't either freeze or roast, or both.

I'm glad I brought my armwarmers and my head wrap from chilly old Oregon, but truth be told I was really looking forward to biking in shorts and a jersey and not feeling all bundled up like the Michelin man. Well, somehow I will muddle through and hopefully remain relatively comfortable.

So, I know you'll all be with me tomorrow in spirit, and I appreciate the calls, emails, and good wishes from everyone. Hopefully my next post will be titled "I am an Ironman"


I haven't had my camera with me whenever I've been out biking or running, or today while signing in and checking my bike and bags. If you know me, you know I'm rarely without my camera! I've seen some great Ironman snapshots, but you'll have to use your imagination, since I don't have visuals.

I've seen a half-dozen high-end race bikes leaning against the wall of a bright yellow Waffle House restaurant. A never-ending line of runners and bikers coming past the hotel down the strip, a 77 year old man getting his gear ready, a room full of Iron-athletes, cheering a man who lost 140 pounds this year, in order to come here and go 140.6 miles. It's really inspirational being here, I wish I could share it with all of you!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I'm Either Very Brave or Very Stupid

Maybe a little bit of both, LOL. The winds have really picked up here (supposed to be 17 mph sustained, gusting to 20 tomorrow) and the ocean looks like some evil witch stirred it up with her broomstick. I went down to the Ironman course this morning to swim. The beach looked like a scene from my favorite movie City of Angels, with all these people in black standing and looking out to sea at dawn. Out on the course, it was, well ugly and a bit frightening. Somehow I think this will not be one of the fastest swims of my life. The swells and chop out there are pretty intimidating, and I really feel for the people who are not strong swimmers. If the conditions are similar on race day, I think more than a few people will not meet the swim cutoff time of 2:20. Myself, I am adding 5 - 10 minutes to my estimated swim time, for sure! I think the winds will make the bike course tough too, but the cool air will feel great when I'm running, compared to yesterday's heat.

I also wonder if I'm the only person out there in the middle of the ocean with the theme song from Jaws running through their head. It's funny, because I've got hundreds of hours scuba diving under the ocean, many of them spent in the company of sharks (including, on one memorable occasion, a real live feeding frenzy), but somehow that is not as scary as being on top of the water, not knowing what might be lurking beneath you. I guess the comfort is that with 2500 people in the water, it's highly unlikely that any ocean life will want to be anywhere near the Ironman.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Flat Tire Bugs

I made an important discovery about Florida wildlife today while riding my bike. After about 8 miles on the road, I heard that sound that all cyclists dread, that rythmic phhht phhht phhht sound of a tire going flat. But when I stopped and examined my tire, all looked well. When I started cycling again, it sounded fine. That is, until about 5 miles down the road, when I heard that sound again. Repeat stopping and examining tire. Nothing. Again, sound is gone. Repeat this one more time, but this time as I was standing there scratching my head, I heard the sound again. Only this time, I wasn't even moving, and the sound was coming from a tree. Apparently, there is some cicada-like bug here that makes a sound remarkably similar to a bicycle tire in the process of going flat. Joke's on me!

Earlier today, I went through the registration tent and got all of my wavers signed, timing chip bleeped, weighed in (so they know on the course if you are seriously dehydrated, I'm guessing) and picked up my packet. We looked around the rest of "Ironman Village", and got to meet some very nice athletes (including one woman who is doing her 6th Ironman, and gave me some great tips). The kids got to make signs that will go out on the run course for some inspiration when it will be most needed!

Then we came back to the hotel for a nice afternoon swim. Lots of dolphins swimming off of the beach today, we watched them for a long time. Very cool!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Bike is Back

My bike arrived today, all in one piece and looking very welcome! More and more athletes are arriving and it seems that they've all cycled past our hotel at least a dozen times. I was feeling really antsy, wanting to get out there too. While waiting, we drove the course today. It was really quite lovely, with nice-looking road surfaces (except for one stretch near the turn-around), and much more rolling and curving roads than I had expected (I wasn't looking forward to 112 miles of flat and straight). The biggest hill is a bridge over the bay, but hopefully my hill-trained legs will still serve me well on all that mostly flat ground.

I picked up my bike late in the afternoon, and got to take it out for a short spin down the first part of the course. I was passed just outside the hotel by two serious-looking dudes who obviously thought I was slow-enough looking to dart drastically around me into traffic. For the next dozen miles, they kept looking over their shoulders to find me (apparently disconcertingly) still there, just spinning along behind them (politely far enough back not to be drafting). Ah, I just love being underestimated. Sadly, they treated the motorists around them with equal disdain, riding side by side well into the lane and blocking up cars behind them. No wonder half the drivers want to run all lycra-clad two-wheelers off the road.

This morning was a nice two-mile ocean swim, with schools of fish surrounding me and dolphins just out to sea a little ways sending larger fish leaping out of the water into the air. The water is a gorgeous turquoise with incredibly white sands. Wish I had my camera cables, I'd share a photo or two. It's just heaven to swim out there. And I'd forgotten how buoyant salt water is, it makes swimming almost effortless!

Tomorrow, Ironman Village opens. Whee!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Dispatch From Florida

After grueling day of transit yesterday on Bankrupt Airline (read: no food service other than "snacks", ancient seats that kill your back), I was more than ready to take a swim this morning. It's beautiful here and we're right on the beach. The ocean had more than a few wetsuit-clad swimmers churning along this morning. It was a bit colder than I thought it would be, especially when you get out past the shallows, and I think I'll be wishing for a full wetsuit instead of a farmer john style. But the water is really beautiful and it felt great to swim out there.

I have to admit, I get major butterflies every time I think about Saturday morning and standing on the beach with all those people. Heck, I get butterflies every time I see the Ironman logo on the back of another shirt (apparently, it's mandatory that if you've done an Ironman before, you buy enough Iron-logo'd apparel to wear for the whole Ironman week. It's only Monday, but the Iron-logos are walking around everywhere already.)

Tomorrow I'll hopefully get to pick up my bike and check out the rest of the course.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I Have a Number!

For those of you who have said you'd look in on me at on race day, I have my bib number: 2323. That feels like a good number to me (though I am not normally a superstitious type), another good omen.

I went and had my last back-cracking yesterday (oh do I wish I could pack my chiropractor in my suitcase!) and a good massage, and slept so wonderfully last night as a result. I also had my fastest long-distance swim ever, doing the last 1,000 of my 4,000 in 14:20, for about a 1:26 pace. I am feeling good and ready, and we leave tomorrow morning! Now all I have to do is finish packing, ha. The list from the Ironman website of what I need to bring includes such items as "bike pajamas" (I wonder if I should also bring my bike a teddy bear in case he gets lonely in that transition area overnight), and reflective tape which is supposedly mandatory - great, one more thing I have to somehow find in all my spare time.

We're bringing a laptop along, so hopefully I will be able to update this blog while we're in Florida.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bye Bye Bicycle

The UPS man came took my bike yesterday, the next time I see it will be in Florida! My sweet husband let me borrow his bike, which I actually used to use for a year after I wrecked my last one. Dang, it makes me appreciate my own bike so much. And it totally shows how much fit matters. I took his bike for a ride and it isn't quite fit to me, though he and I have about the same length legs, so I thought it would be fine. Now I'm sore everywhere, and my shins really hurt (a lesson in what not to do right before a big race!). I also really miss my Terry women's saddle with that lovely cut-out in the middle. Really, really miss it. 'Nuff said.

It's also suddenly gotten cold here (finally, though we've had a really lovely warm October so far), and biking means completely bundling up with leg warmers, arm warmers, ear warmers, full gloves, the whole mummy deal. It will feel so great to be back on my own bike, in the warmth with just some shorts and a short-sleeved jersey. I can't wait!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Good Omens

When our daughter was about two, she used to call almonds "omens". I would always ask her "are these good omens or bad omens?"

"Good omens, mommy," she would say with the utmost toddler seriousness, my humor flying over her head.

Today, the first week of my taper, I had a handful of good "omens" before setting out for a semi-long bike ride of 4 hours, with a half-hour run as a follow-up. The weather was stunning: Oregon autumn beauty at its finest. Vine maples and oaks turning brilliant red, and maples, walnuts, and alders turning gold, set against a blue sky. I biked up through the broad Willamette valley, picking as flat a course as possible to mimic Florida. Into the teeth of a typical north wind, I was only doing about 16 mph, but when I turned around, I flew home at 20 - 25.

All along my route, people kept giving me thumbs-up. Truck drivers, farmers, field workers, moms in minivans. It was as if I had a big sign saying "almost at the Ironman, cheer me on!" I'll take that as a good omen, and maybe when I'm out there slogging away in the Florida wind, I'll remember all those cheery Oregonians wishing me well.

Monday, October 16, 2006


So this is it. I've peaked, I'm in the home stretch, in the taper, heading toward the starting line. I've done my last long bike, last long run, it's all downhill from here (well, until race day, that is). It hit me today when I was thinking about all of this that this is probably the peak of my life's fitness as well. I will never be as fit again as I will be in when I walk to the beach on Ironman day.

Sure, I trained for the Ironman once before, even had my entry number and hotel reservation. But that was when I was 25, young and impatient and too driven for my own good. By this time, three weeks before race day, I was a wreck. Overstressed, underslept, having been through a bout of shin splints, and suffering from ulcers and severe anemia, my doctor actually threatened to take a baseball bat to my bicycle if I dared to head off to the Ironman. So my race number has sat in the bottom of a drawer all these years, mute testimony to the fallacies of blind ambition, and a challenge to me to find a smarter way to train.

So at 25, I was not nearly as healthy, fit, and strong as I stand today at 40, mom of two (though I looked a damn sight better in a bikini back then). This, then, is it. The zenith of my power in this human body. A resting heartrate of 48, and more strength and endurance than I've ever experienced. I'm not planning on training for the Ironman next year, or the year after, or the year after that. It's too much of a time and resource drain on my family. Though I have thoroughly enjoyed the journey, it's not something I could put them through on a regular basis. I may revisit the Ironman again, perhaps at age 45 or 50, but the aging process will take its toll on me between now and then. Perhaps not much, but it will be there. I'll be a little stiffer, a little slower to recover, my muscle mass will be a little less, my endurance slightly reduced.

Yes, today I stand on the peak, and it is both exhilarating and slightly scary. But it's a damn fine view.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Why Ironman Blogs Always Stop About Now

Who has time to write? In the last week of peak training before my taper, I'm trying to get double workouts in every day. With the kids' homeschooling schedules, this gets mighty challenging. Up in the morning, go to Karate with the kids, son goes to friend's house, daughter goes to soccer. Bring bike along. Bike 1:15 while daughter is in soccer. Pick up kids, eat early dinner. Take kids to robotics team meeting on the tandem bike. Ride home by myself, ride my own bike down to work (coaching swimming). After swimming, get in 4,500 yards. Bike home. Collapse. Get up tomorrow. Do it all again.

Is it any wonder that most Ironman bloggers just stop posting right about now?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Flesh Is Strong But the Stomach is Weak

I feel like I'm in tip-top form, all the muscles firing nicely. I can ride six hours, start running, and my legs hardly feel fatigued at all. I can picture myself making it through the Ironman without actually sitting down in the middle of the road and crying now.

There's only one major weakness that I'm worried about. My stomach. I guess I didn't encounter this particular bugaboo when I trained for the marathon and half-Ironman, because they don't last this long. Somewhere about 5 1/2 hours, my stomach just up and quits functioning, folds up shop, throws in the towel. I'm worried. I don't really want to crawl across the finish line, heaving my guts up. And I definitely don't want to DNF because my alimentary system is in shut-down mode.

So this week's long ride, in addition to being a gear check, will be to try a new policy: no solid food on the bike whatsoever, and I'm going to try taking a Dramamine before heading out. After reading about IM Florida seasickness issues on the BBS, I was going to try that out anyways. I'm notoriously green around the gills in the slightest oceangoing vessel (odd for someone who has flown in aerobatic airplanes without a hitch, but there you have it). So we'll see if the dramamine has the added benefit of quieting the queasies.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I Eat. I Sleep. I Train.

Well, yeah, I also homeschool, shuttle my kids around to various activies, attempt to cook meals and keep the house clean (it's much harder to cook when you're always hungry, however) and keep a few minutes a day to connect with my hubby, but all extraneous activities have gone by the wayside. Forget renting movies because I fall asleep before watching them. Books? Haven't cracked one in a month or more (and that's an anomaly for me). Internet use is down to a few minutes here and there. I am loving this whole Ironman process, but I'm realizing that it's a sport for people who don't want to do anything else, and that's just not me. So while it is fun right now, and I can't wait for race day, I also can't wait for the day when my six year old doesn't have to say "Mom, you're going biking again???" as I head out the door, and I don't have to squeeze in a run while the kids are in their robotics team meeting, I can just hang out with them again and enjoy. And maybe pick up a novel or two...

Friday, September 22, 2006

The "Day Off" aka God I Must Love This Dog

Like every good athlete who doesn't want her joints and ligaments to tear themselves to shreds, I take at least one day off every week so that my muscles and stuff can recuperate. This week, a friend and I took our kids hiking to one of our favorite lakes, and as I have on every hike before, I brought my wonderful and faithful dog, Sabre. Except that Sabre is no spring chicken anymore, he's 13 1/2 years old, which in big dog years is very very old. About 95 I guess in people years. Although last year, he hiked with us just fine, now he can hobble about 1/2 mile down the trail and then he's just done.

So I did what any dog-loving nut would do, I decided to bring my Burley stroller, and when the old pup pooped out, I thought, I'd just push him along. That was the plan anyway. As it turned out, I took a slightly different trail than the one we usually take, because it looked flatter and less rocky. Which it was, except that it was also about a mile and a half longer! And while I was busy going on this trail, my friend and the kids backtracked to take our usual route. Except that they got lost and when I got to the peninsula where the kids like to play, they weren't there. Which meant that I more or less sprinted back to the parking lot, insanely pushing my dog over roots and rocks in the stroller. At 6000+ feet of elevation! And when they weren't at the parking lot, I pushed him back. Finally, we met up at the appointed spot.

Yep, my day off. Pushing a dog in a stroller for 5 miles on a bumpy trail at over a mile of elevation. Phew. Now I'm really ready for a day off! I might be tired, but they just don't make dogs better than this one.