Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 26: Santa Brought Suffering

Celebrate Christmas with Pain and Suffering? Only if you're a triathlete, and only if your "Secret Santa" buys you a nine-pack of SUFFERFEST videos. What an exciting thing to get in your stocking (if you happen to like torturing yourself on a bike trainer in the basement all winter, that is).

I downloaded the first of my Christmas Sufferfest videos today, one that's called "The Downward Spiral", and by the time I was done I was thinking it should've been called "Circling the Drain". The whole concept with the downward spiral is that you do sets of intervals, getting shorter and shorter and shorter. Like 2 minutes all out, then 2 minutes rest, then 1:45 all out, then 1:45 rest, etc. until you get down to :15/:15. Then you do it all over again. Wheee! Actually, it made the interval time pass pretty quickly, with good pounding music and visuals from bike races and mountain biking tracks, not to mention some cheeky comments from the video creators stuck on the screen from time to time as motivation.

One thing I really liked is how the video creators thoughtfully included an audio cue to tell you to look up at the screen. So if you're head-down, pedals-to-the-metal cranking out an interval, you know to raise your head at the right time to start and finish the sets. I can hardly wait to try out the other eight videos!

So if Santa only brought you soft and fuzzy things like slippers or snuggies, and you want to kick some serious a** on the bike course next year, treat yourself to some holiday suffering from .

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tis the Season for Crazy Ironman Dreams

It's a little early in the season, but with some traveling and holiday food, I guess my brain decided it was time to start the Ironman dreams. In this dream, Ironman Coeur d'Alene has been transformed into a charity event to benefit world hunger. The swim start begins with a world music festival and an African drumming circle.

My swim is fine and I feel like I'm having a great race in the water. As I get out and run to the wetsuit strippers, they direct me to a huge long table where the athletes are supposed to go next. A big sign explains that 70% of the world subsists on eating staple foods like beans and rice, so in T1, we are each given a mixed bucket of dry beans and rice that we have to sort out. My hands are shaking and cold from the swim as I try to grab little rice grains and separate them out from the beans. All the athletes are laughing and joking with each other about how hard this is and how bad our T1 times will be. I finally complete the task and then run to get my transition bag and head out on the bike.

At the bike turnaround is a big soup kitchen for homeless people. We get off our bikes and stack them to the side, then take our turn cutting vegetables into a giant soup pot. After dicing several onions and stalks of celery, I get back on my bike to finish the course. At that point, I wake up.

My take-away: Christmas is a time to reflect on those less fortunate than ourselves and to make sure we're balancing our focus on our own family and on what we might like to give and receive with what other people actually need to survive.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 27: Have a Plan for the Holidays

Do you feel at the mercy of the holidays? As if it is inevitable that stress, travel, inactivity, bad food choices, and overindulgence are simply going to fall on you like a load of bricks that you can't do anything about?

Having a plan for the holidays can make the difference between dreading them (and the inevitable aftermath: most Americans gain a couple of pounds of weight each year, and most of that is gained during the holidays) and enjoying them (complete with some of grandma's holiday fudge and a candy cane or two).

Here's my plan for the holidays, feel free to share any tips you have for de-stressing and boosting health during the holidays.

Stress: Stress during the holidays often comes from a clash between expectations and reality. Expectation: a big pile of presents under the tree. Reality: Paychecks for many are shorter this year and we have to stretch them farther. Food alone has eaten up 10% more of our yearly budget than it did last year.

Cure: Set the stage for expectations that match your available reality. When our kids were little, we told them that Santa brought one (yes, that's ONE) toy to every boy and girl. So that has been their holiday expectation every year: one present. Yes, even in today's overconsumptive society, this is possible! We also give them a book on Christmas eve. That's it, the extent of my Christmas shopping is one gift for each child and a stocking stuffer for my hubby.  For relatives, we give gifts of animals via Heifer Project or of microfinance via This removes the stress of finding a sweater that will never be worn by an aunt that you don't know well enough to shop for.

Stress: Travel. No doubt about it, holiday travel is stressful.

Cure: We try to mitigate the stress and often danger of traveling at busy times by going at off-times, visiting relatives in the week before Christmas instead of on the actual day itself. The kids really love to have a mellow "just family" Christmas at home with no expectations other than staying in our pajamas all day. We have been quick to see the wisdom in this, and now enjoy a relatively stress-free holiday.

Stress: Inactivity. You're at the relatives house, you don't have your familiar fitness equipment or routines. It's easy to sit around all day yakking and staring at a TV screen.

Cure: Don't be afraid to be the Exercise Wacko of your family. Let's face it, every family needs an eccentric or two, why not step forward and fill those shoes? The easiest cure: bring your running shoes and head out the door for some routes that are out of your routine. Or go to a local high school track and run enough intervals to burn off a plate of pumpkin pie. Engage the active family members in a holiday hike, or a walk around the blocks with the best holiday light displays. I have also been known to bring my bike and trainer and set it up in the living room along with my laptop, headphones, and a DVD or two.

Stress: Overindulgence

Cure: Remember that the first bite is the best. An old friend used to joke around about having the "first and most satisfying" bite or sip of something. But there's big wisdom in that. Try this: open an ice cold Coke. Take a sip. Savor it. Now take a few more. By the 10th sip, it's really just not that good, is it? Try it with a cookie or some fudge or anything else. You'll see that it's true. So take that first sip or bike or two and throw the rest away. Yep, you heard me, starving children in China be damned, throw it away! I hereby give you permission to waste or discard food (surreptiously if need be) this holiday season. Think of this motto: Waste, not Waist. I'm not saying don't enjoy it. By all means, do. But when it truly stops being enjoyable (which is usually sooner than you think), just don't eat another bite.

I was discussing this with a friend yesterday who has been eating paleo this year and we both realized that on Thanksgiving, we didn't overeat. We ate a reasonable plate of food with a little bit of everything, but found we didn't need to take seconds or thirds. We were satisfied, a state that many people find it hard to achieve. Practice Satiation. It gets easier.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Paleo Fueling for Interval Training

Everyone knows that training hard burns through glycogen fast. You can do a lot of slow, easy miles while using primarily fat for fuel, but start to pump up the intensity and your body switches to glycogen. That means when a hard, fast, interval workout is done, you need to replace that glycogen in your body.  Plenty of people have told me that you just can't do that adequately on a paleo diet, but most of my training right now is intervals and intensity.

On my Endurance Nation Out-season plan (I'm on week 7), I'm doing a lot of long "FTP" (functional power threshold) intervals. These are 1/2 - 2 mile repeats on the run, and 10 - 20 minute intervals on the bike, all at just around the lactate threshold region. So they're not all-out sprints, but they are very intense for quite a long duration. In addition to that, I'm training at the karate dojo for five or six hours a week, and throwing in a couple of swims for good measure. So I'm asking a lot of my body, and there are times when I'm simply ravenous for carbs.

I've learned to keep a good supply of quick, easy carbs on hand for post-workout refueling. This includes fruit leather and Lara bars for on-the-road snacking, and bananas, yams, oranges, and frozen cherries and berries for at home. I now cook up 3 - 4 yams at a time, mash them and leave them in my fridge for immediate consumption. I also ran out of bananas one day and made my Banana-Coconut custard with yams instead. It was a little more bland, but I added some pumpkin pie spices which made it quite tasty and it fit the pre-workout fueling needs just fine.

Another variation on the custard recipe is to throw in some coconut flour and some blueberries. This makes it into a blueberry-muffin-like consistency and makes for an easy-to-travel snack.

Is any of this as easy as grabbing a bowl of cereal or a Powerbar? No, quite frankly, it's not. Paleo takes some prior planning, grocery shopping ahead of time, and ensuring that the fridge and cupboards are filled with quick and easy Paleo carbs to refuel after those tough workouts. But by putting forth just that little bit of effort, I'm ensuring that my recovery from these hard intervals is quick and complete. I can feel totally trashed after a hard effort, sure I won't be able to walk the next day, and yet when I wake up the next morning I feel just fine, ready to hit it hard again.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 28: Running Doesn't Suck Anymore

I like to run. Sometimes I even love it.

I didn't use to like to run. I used to hate running. I used to say that running sucked, and that I sucked at running. But now I like it. Sometimes I think I'm maybe even not so sucky at it after all.

What changed? How does a person go from hating to disliking to barely tolerating to just doing to kind of liking to loving to run?

For me, there were several things that made a difference:

The first was Chi Running, which I've posted about before. That was my first introduction to a different style of running than the heel-striking, shin-splint inducing plod I had done for so many years. It was also the beginning of the end of my years of plantar fasciitis, ITB issues, knee braces, and shin splints. The twenty years before I found Chi Running were littered with running injuries and problems. The six years I've spent since then have been injury free. 'Nuff said.

After Chi Running came barefoot running and my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers in 2007. Now I run all of my weekly mileage, four times a week, in my Five Fingers. Pavement, trails, grass, concrete, dirt, bark. No matter, I run in them.

Two years ago I started trail running and that's when I went from "Like" to "Love" in my feelings about running. That's when I really started looking forward to runs. Being in the woods, away from traffic, noise, stress, and people really is the cherry on top of the running sundae for me.

Now comes Endurance Nation and their "Out Season" training plans. It turns out that I really like having some focus and work to my running. Now I wouldn't want to do this year-round because when the weather's nice, there's nothing like just getting out on a trail and going. But for right now in the dark part of the year, it's keeping me motivated and making me faster.

Granted, I started this year's off-season at a slower pace than normal. Breaking my arm meant very few running miles this summer, and the ones I did put in were S-L-O-W. No speed work, no track work. So when I did a 5k test at the beginning of my training plan seven weeks ago, it took me 27:11. Ouch. My PR is 25:00. Not anything like an actual REAL runner, but in the ballpark of decent.

I've been doing focused 1/2 mile and mile repeats in the seven weeks since that disappointing 5k test. They started out at an average 8:48 pace. Again, ouch. But look at the progress in the weeks since then!

Week1: 8:48
Week 2: 8:40
Week 3: 8:34
Week 4: 8:16
Week 5: 8:13
Week 6: 8:08
Week 7: 8:04

Now I don't think I'm ready to break my 5k PR just yet, but if this trend continues, it might be in the cards sometime this spring. As they say at Endurance Nation: "Work works!"

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yonder Breaks A New and Glorious Morn

I have to admit, I'm a sap for Christmas. Not the commercial, over-the-top version that's on the TV ads, but the kind that's about family traditions, togetherness, and the message that lies at the heart of it. I'm not sure what's worse these days, the merchandisers who have co-opted it into a fest of conspicuous consumption, or the fanatics who are worried that anyone who celebrates a different religion or even wants to be sensitive to that fact by saying "Happy Holidays" is waging a "War on Christmas".

The only War on Christmas comes when people forget that the central themes of the holiday are:
Peace on Earth.
Goodwill to All.

Tonight as we decorated our family tree with ornaments both old and new, we sipped hot cocoa and listened to carols (I jollied my teenager into being festive and wearing a Santa hat), and sat on the couch to read Christmas stories. When I stop for a moment and absorb the words to those timeless songs filling the air, I can't help it, my eyes fill with tears.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
 For despite all of our troubles, despite terrorism and economic woes, despite the fact that people I care deeply about lost loved ones this year, and that we will always face trials and tribulations and sorrows, I have to believe that the world can be a better place when humans strive toward good.

In the world today, there are 123 electoral democracies, up from 40 in 1972. My country, which saw African-American leaders assassinated less than 50 years ago has an African-American president. The World Development Report on Gender Equality now states: "The lives of women around the world have improved dramatically, at a pace and scope difficult to imagine even 25 years ago. Women have made unprecedented gains in rights, education, health, and access to jobs and livelihoods." Child mortality rates are falling:  in 2010, the world average was 5.7%, in under-5 year olds, down from 8.8% in 1990. The Gates foundation announced a malaria vaccine this year. There is much to celebrate. When I think about what it would be like to live in the world a few hundred years ago, I know how very lucky and blessed I am to be living here, now.

That's not to say that we don't have more work to do, much much more work. So this is where I will plug my favorite holiday gift: a donation to Heifer Project International. Bringing together the core values of investing in human initiative, ending hunger, helping women and children become self-sufficient, working for sustainable solutions, and fostering peace and love, giving Heifer Project gifts has become a family tradition for us.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or the Solstice or Kwanzaa or anything else or nothing at all this time of year, I think for the most part, we are all, in this weary world, hoping for the same thing: a new and glorious morn. Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

What Three Plates Of Vegetables Can Do

Several times a day, every single day, we make choices about what to put in our body. For instance, every day that I haven't thrown it away (and I haven't done this yet), I choose not to eat more of that Flan I baked for a Spanish-food-themed party this week. It's calling my name, but instead I reach for the vegetable drawer and a fresh red pepper or celery stalk. Okay, okay, I confess, I did have a piece after my bike ride on Tuesday. But I really should throw the rest away, even if that goes against the whole "starving children in China" thing that we were all raised with.

What is the net effect of those changes? We don't feel them instantly. If we make bad choices, we can't feel our mitochondria shriveling or our liver being taxed. In a way it's too bad, maybe with some more instant feedback it would be easier to make good choices. Or maybe not. How many people have you watched in a coughing fit after smoking a cigarette, but the pack still goes back in their pocket. Unless it delivered an instant electrical shock or something, we humans are very good at ignoring the poor outcomes of our choices in favor of instant gratification (and Mmmmmmm, that Flan is so gratifying...)

Yet day in and day out, I'm reminded of the ways in which my move to a Paleo eating style has positively impacted my health. I'm doing some really hard workouts these days. I'm following a plan from Endurance Nation (who TOTALLY ROCK, but that's a different post) called the "Out Season". This is different from the "Off Season" that triathletes normally follow in that instead of lolling around the winter months putting in a lot of long slow miles, I'm having to actually do intervals and hard hard work.

At the end of each workout, my muscles feel absolutely flogged. I am certain that the next day I'm going to wake up and be stiff and sore and too fatigued to work out again. Yet miraculously the next morning arrives and I pop out of bed feeling refreshed, energized, and ready to hit another hard workout. The miracle, I am certain, involves what I am eating. Specifically, lots and lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed meats.

But don't just take it from me, watch this amazing video, a Ted Talk by a doctor who cured herself of advanced MS with a paleo-style diet. Believe me, even if you think you eat well, even if you think you know a lot about nutrition, you will learn something and be inspired by this talk. I have known for awhile that the paleo diet is changing me on a cellular level. I've talked before about how it has affected my healing from everything from a challenging trail marathon to a broken bone, but this explains the Why of all that. I'm also showing it to my kids today, so that they understand that it's not just Mom As Usual telling them to eat their vegetables (isn't that in the Mother's Manual they hand us when we're pregnant?). And the reason it's in the Mom's Manual? It's a good rule for life. Check it out:

Monday, December 05, 2011

Countdown To Ironman, Week 29: I Have Only One Task To Perform

Trying to squeeze my workouts in this weekend was excruciating. Asa was dancing in the Nutcracker, we had hair to curl and makeup to do, costumes to keep track of. Also houseguests to keep track of and all of the usual chaos in a house with 2 adults, 2 kids, and 17 animals. Spare time was at a premium, and I had to wedge my workouts into some stolen moments her and there. 

As a busy parent, spare time is a rarity, but if I have 15 spare minutes in my day, what should I do? Laundry? Clean the refrigerator? Edit my writing? Read a book? Watch the Daily Show? Help my kids with their projects? Run? Walk the dogs? Play the piano? Meditate? Stretch? Tweeze my eyebrows? Listen to my Italian language learning CD?

The possibilities are endless, and sometimes paralyzing. I've heard people say that they're bored, but this is a phrase that I don't understand. The world is too full of amazing possibilities, not to mention tasks that have to get done to ever ever have a spare minute to spend on boredom. Sometimes it's easy to get overwhelmed with the sheer number of choices available to us. I picture my great-grandmother, who was born in a sod house on the Dakota prairies. What did she have to choose from? Churning the butter, sweeping the floor, or reading the bible most likely. Her life was far simpler than mine, and in many ways probably more fulfilling. We live in a world of endless possibilities (awesome), which breeds endless choices (overwhelming). Sometimes just coping with that feels intimidating.

Mary IronMatron over at Tri-ing To Do It All writes about something we all experience - the feeling that time is slipping away and there's not enough time to do everything we want or need to do in her post Time...Is Not On My Side... Thinking of what she wrote reminded me of this wonderful poem that has the answer.

This short poem is printed on the back of my favorite triathlon shirt ever, from the Sri Chinmoy Triathlon in Victoria BC, 1989, a beautiful race filled with wonderful people. I thought it was worth sharing with you all in answer to that question about how to get everything done in the time we have allotted to us.

So this week, I've brought the shirt out of my Triathlon Shirt Archives to wear, and to remind myself of what is truly important. I have only one task to perform: Smile.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Black Belt Dreams

I've posted before about my Ironman dreams, where I do strange things like run through houses, or have to compete in a frilly pink ruffled wetsuit. Strangely, I didn't have any such stress dreams when I went for my black belt test. But this week, a friend of mine tested for her black belt and I had a stress dream for her.

In the dream, all of us black belts who were there to judge her were sitting in an old-fashioned British courtroom with huge wooden benches and desks. She walked in calmly and then announced that instead of performing her kata for her test, she was going to do an interpretive dance about her journey to the black belt. The dance involved her twirling colored streamers representing all of the different belt colors that she had passed through, and feathers to show her "upward journey". It was very moving and original. And then I woke up.

Fortunately, when the day came the belt test happened in the same room in the dojo that it always does, and she arrived prepared with her kata and bunkai and other techniques, no interpretive dancing needed. Along with a partner, she demonstrated her mastery of the black belt curriculum and she passed! Since we've been training together for many years, I'm so excited for her.

Interestingly, since having this dream (among many other very detailed ones), I came across this post on about Vivid Dreaming and Eating Paleo. It looks like I'm not the only person out there to experience more vivid dreams since switching up my eating habits. I'm not complaining, since I always like a good nighttime entertainment, even if it involves interpretive dancing.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Swim Workout: Thanksgiving Leftovers

What is so great about a Thanksgiving meal that you can't get on any other day? It's not the turkey or the pumpkin pie, or your grandma's red jello with colored marshmallows. You can have any of those any day of the week. It's the variety of food at the table, the sheer numbers of dishes. The different smells, flavors, textures, spices. And of course the company, whether family or friends.

Variety is not just the spice of life at the holiday table, but in the pool as well. All too many swimmers do endless variations of sets that look something like:

2 x 400
2 x (2 x 200)
2 x (4 x 100)

etc. etc. etc. Boring!

So I like to create or find ways to make my swim sets interesting for my Masters group. Often that means varying the length, timing, interval, stroke, or speed, throwing in drills or kicks or fun stuff like making them all get out of the pool to do pushups and situps. I got lucky this weekend because I got up late on Saturday morning realizing I hadn't done my research and written up a good workout for the gang. I say "lucky" because has an excellent bunch of swim workouts already written up and one of them was just what I was looking for. I added and changed a few things here and there, so this workout, like a good Thanksgiving dinner, has a little bit of everything. It went by fast, we were never bored, and it kept us on our toes. I called it "Thanksgiving Leftovers"

WARMUP:   1500

300 Swim, 200 Kick, 300 Drill/Swim by 50's, 300 Pull

16 X 25 with fins on :30, swum as 4 X the following:
     1 X 25 1Left/1Right/1 whole-stroke Fly
     1 X 25 1L/1R/2 whole-strokes Fly
     1 X 25 1L/1R/3 shole-stroke Fly
     1 X 25 dolphin kick on your back

MAIN SET: 2300

4 X 200 on approx. 25 seconds rest
#1 and #3 are pull; descend time on #3
#2 and #4 are 50 kick/50 swim/50 kick/50 swim; descend time on :34

8 X 25 on :30
Odd 25s:  Low Stroke Count Freestyle
Even 25s:  Low Stroke Count Breaststroke

12 X 50 on 1:00
Three rounds of:
2 X 50 backstroke
2 X 50 Freestyle

8 x Two-turn 50s:
Start in middle of pool, swim toward one wall and do a good flip. Sprint the next 25, do another good flip turn, glide back to middle of pool.

75 easy
75 easy

4 X 50 pull on easy sendoff

TOTAL:  4000 yards

Monday, November 28, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Weeks 31 & 30: Social Awkwardness or Why I Train Alone

When you picture an Ironman, you picture the lone warrior, running solo down the road; the lone cyclist pumping up the hill against the sunset. But the truth of it is that most of us train in groups much of the time. And even though our event will take place as a solo effort, it will be spent in the company of thousands.

Sometimes I seek out that group training, and enjoy the camaraderie of a bunch of athletes all pushing themselves to the limit. My Masters swim group is a terrific bunch of folks who keep the boring back-and-forth of a pool workout from being anything but fun and challenging every time. But other times I'm reminded of why I avoid group situations and mostly train alone.

I think I've mentioned here that I'm a very visual person. I discovered years ago in a French class when we watched our first French movie that when a character turned their back to the camera I couldn't understand them at all. That's when it dawned on me that I was lip reading French instead of actually hearing it (which probably explains my appalling accent). Eventually I figured out that Italian was a much better language for me, no silent consonants and lots of extravagant hand gesturing.

Eventually it dawned on me that I actually have some sort of auditory processing disorder and that I mostly lip read in English as well. This might explain a lot of social awkwardness, especially in loud or chaotic environments like parties. People who meet me for the first time in such places will invariably tell me later that they either thought I was silent and stand-offish, or that I was too talkative and boorish. That's because I have a very difficult time actually understanding other people when it's noisy, so I either talk non-stop or I don't talk at all. Neither is a great approach for being friendly and polite.

So fast-forward to yesterdays group bike ride on trainers, a recipe for social disaster for me. It's largely a group of folks that I don't know well. Everyone has their hands on their handlebars, facing the same way, so I'm either looking at people's backs or their sides. Other folks are chatting, but I have a hard time understanding what they're saying, especially with the music and the sound of tires on trainer flywheels. At first I don't talk at all, then when someone starts talking to me I talk too much. I come home feeling like such a heel. Maybe other people feel the same way in social scenarios, but somehow I always feel very alone when I meet new people like that.

Sometimes when I coach my son's robotics team, I listen to the team members interacting and realize that this type of computery, engineery, roboticy brain goes hand in hand with some of the same things that I experience, and I remember what I was like at that age. Sometimes these kids talk too much or too little, talk over the top of each other. I can see their brains going a million miles an hour behind their eyes, just waiting to deliver this amazing bunch of information that's in their heads and not always listening to each other. I hope that as their coach, I can help facilitate better communication and listening skills, and I can empathize with their difficulty in this area. And maybe I can give a little love and forgiveness to the awkward teenager I once was and the sometimes awkward adult I am now.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipe: Maple Mustard Green Beans

To those of you in America, Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! And to everyone else as well, I hope your life today is blessed with friends and family, good food and good company. Here's one of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, something everyone raves over every year. Forget those nasty green beans with canned crunchy onion things on top. Even if you're not celebrating today, this is a great way to cook up some yummy veggies. Make sure you make plenty, because these are leftovers that are worth having extras of!

Maple Mustard Green Beans

2 lbs Green beans, stemmed and boiled for 5 - 8 min just until tender
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
3 Tbs Balsamic Vinegar
1 1/2 Tbs Maple Syrup
2 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tbs chopped green onion
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all of the ingredients and pour over the hot green beans. These taste better the longer they marinate. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Talkin' Smack About Stay-At-Home Parents??

Being a stay-at-home parent and an athlete is an easy job, a cakewalk, you should have lots of time to train. Right? Okay, you can stop laughing now, those of you with kids. And those of you without kids who might be nodding your heads? Think again.

I was biking yesterday while watching Ironman Arizona on TV with some other triathletes (what better way to stay motivated to work hard than watching all the exhausted folks crossing the finish line!). Lots of doctors crossed the finish line, military folks, firefighters, business people, and then a guy comes across who is announced as a "stay at home dad". A comment was made from a triathlete about how ridiculous that was, how easy he must have it, having ALL THAT TIME to train. Yes, ALL. THAT. TIME. Again, parents, you can stop laughing.

So, just to set the record straight, let me state uncategorically that being a stay at home parent is the hardest job in the world. It's the best job, for sure. The most joyful, frustrating, wonderful, terrible, exciting, boring job in the world. But hard. Hard, hard, hard.

Just for comparison, when I was a college student I was so poor that I started my day with a paper route at 4:30 in the morning, and ended it working in the computer labs until midnight just to pay my bills and tuition. From there, I went to work for Microsoft, a place renowned for 60 - 80 hour workweeks. A place so rigorous that several of my co-workers and bosses had nervous breakdowns or had to leave, just from the strain. There were days I came home so frazzled that I drove past my own driveway, repeatedly. At the time, I certainly thought it was the hardest and most stressful thing I'd done.

But neither of those is as tough as being a parent. Especially a full-time stay-at-home parent. Yes, you  heard me right. You have it easy before having kids, even if you don't know it.  The reason? Other than work, your time is your own. When you're working or reading or cooking or sleeping or shopping or driving, no one is screaming in your ear, barfing in your lap, pooping in their diapers, begging for a toy, fighting with a sibling, singing a song, or talking your ear off about Thomas the Tank Engine. When you decide to go for a run after work or on your lunch break, no one has a dance rehearsal they need to be at or homework they need help with. You only have yourself to look after. You get to schedule things and have a reasonable expectation that your schedule will not be obliterated by circumstances beyond your control time and time again.

When you're a stay-at-home parent to very young kids, going for a run can look like this: feed the baby, change the baby, put baby in jogging stroller. Corral the toddler, dress the toddler, get toddler his book, put toddler in jogging stroller. Baby is now crying. Baby just spit up. Take baby out of stroller to clean baby. While doing that, toddler unbuckles and climbs out and is now sitting on his little potty chair singing to himself and reading his book. Twenty minutes later when he's done, you get him back into the stroller. Now the baby is hungry again. Feed the baby, change the baby, put baby in jogging stroller..... IF (and this is a BIG IF) you're lucky, you might get out the door. Then again, you might not.

In the idyllic photo above of my kids when they were much younger biking while I run, it wasn't three minutes later that one of the kids crashed, got a scraped knee, and the run was over for the day. Such is life with small children.

When kids get older, it does get easier in many ways - at least they can feed and clothe themselves. However, they typically fill in this time gap with a thousand activities you need to take them to. If they go off to school, you might have a block of time during the day when, after you get the shopping, cleaning, laundry, driving, chores, banking, and gardening done, you might go out for a run or bike ride. My kids are homeschooled, so I wouldn't know about that whole block of time thing. I do know that when my fellow triathletes were getting up on Sunday, eating breakfast, and getting ready for the day's bike ride, I was getting my daughter ready for a dance rehearsal, making sure she had her pink, tan, and black leotards and tights, her jazz shoes, tap shoes, ballet shoes, and ballroom shoes packed in her dance bag. Making sure she had a lunch packed and her cell phone was charged, and cooking her breakfast as well as the rest of the family. And my Saturday run happened in the cold and the dark on Saturday night because I spent the whole day driving 200 miles roundtrip with my son's robotics team to take them to an event. So although it might get easier at some point (when they leave for college?) it hasn't happened yet.

Just trying to type this out, I've counted eleven different child-related interruptions, but so it goes in the easy laid-back land of the stay-at-home parent. So the next time you see a stay-at-home dad or mom crossing the finish line of the Ironman, or even arriving at the grocery store with matching socks, give them a standing ovation instead of a hard time.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Usual Craziness, Times Ten

This time of year usually involves a confluence of dance and robotics for our family. For every young ballerina, December is the Season of the Nutcracker, and our little dancer is no exception. And for teams involved in FIRST Tech robotics, we're ramping up for competitions in January.

This year, things got just a little bit crazier, as Asa is playing Clara, her dream role. Here she is with the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Nutcracker Prince. Of course, this means dozens of extra rehearsals, which she is just thrilled to do, but in this dark and rainy time of year means more car time  for the taxi driver (me). Still, I can't wait to see her realize her dreams on the stage in a few weeks!

Meanwhile, I'll be driving 220 miles roundtrip tomorrow with our robotics team as we head off to our first Robo "Fest" (an opportunity to work on our robot and scrimmage with other teams on an official playing field).

Again, I'm absolutely thrilled that my science-minded son is so enthusiastically engaged with building and programming robots. I know if these teams had been around when I was his age, I would've been ecstatic. As it was, I had to make do with programming in BASIC on a TRS-80 (don't laugh), and saving my programs onto a cassette tape (hey, at least it wasn't punched cards).

 Meanwhile, show of hands - who thinks my son looks just like Jeremy from Zits?? He's not wearing a plaid shirt in this photo, but the lanky in-the-eyes hair and the hunched posture (not to mention the sleeping late, eating everything in sight and general attitude) are just about a perfect match.

Normally during this time of year I'd be busy getting lackadaisical about my workouts, so none of this would be an issue, but my lack of "on season" this summer, combined with signing up for an early season Ironman in 2012 has conspired to make me work hard this winter. So tomorrow I've got to figure out how to fit a run into the day, and Sunday will see me indoors on the bike trainer spinning my wheels. Somehow, I can't wait 'til Thanksgiving break - four days of nothingness. Except for eating and workouts, of course!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 32: Courage Breath

In our form of karate, we practice different sorts of breathing as well as learning to kiai (what people think of as the "Aiii-yah" in badly dubbed martial arts movies). While a kiai is described as an " inner gathering of energy released in a single explosive focus of will", there are also "focus breaths" and "courage breaths". A focus breath occurs anytime you strike, block, or someone punches at you, and serves to both focus your energy as well as tensing your abdominal muscles to protect your core organs, it's short and sharp and comes from the gut. A courage breath is a slow breath that you take in through the nose and release through the back of your mouth in a Darth Vader-like manner. We use these while making slow, intense, focused movements in a kata, or while gathering energy and mental calm before performing a move.

It's funny, but at stressful times in my life (like, oh, when the kids are bickering while I'm line at the bank, not that this ever happens to me....), I find myself using a courage breath to momentarily center myself and give myself just a tiny mental time-out and re-focusing. It might sound a bit weird to the people around when you suddenly emit a Vader-ish breath or two, but it really does work. And keeps you from knocking your kids heads together.

While training, preparing, and planning for an Ironman is undoubtably thrilling and exciting, it's also nerve-wracking and to be truthful, a bit fear-inducing. I can get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about it too much, and I've learned never ever to think about it late at night or I'll be up for hours from the sudden jolt of adrenaline. Clearly, my body knows how serious it is, even if my mind can fool itself into thinking these are trivial details about an event that is far, far away (though creeping up, week by week).

I've decided to employ the courage breath as a regular part of my Ironman training. Borrowing from my martial arts, my plan is to use this breath both during training (since the intervals that are the bulk of my current regimen regularly make me nervous) and during racing when I'm sure there will be some moments when I will need to call on my reserves of courage and calm. I'm going to practice drawing in and letting go of that courage breath when I'm standing on a cold, misty lakeshore in my wetsuit, or heading to the track at dawn.

One thing I've learned well from karate is that nothing, not even breathing, can be done well if you don't practice it with intention. So today my intention is to breathe well, and take courage from my breath. You can follow along, everybody now... inhale..... and aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh. See, don't you feel better already?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Celebrating Fall with a Leaf Ride

The thought of months of darkness and rain ahead of us is scary. This time of year is always about saying goodbye to summer, to sunny days and swims in the lake, riding across town in shorts and a t-shirt and hanging laundry out in the sun to dry with that wonderful outdoor smell. But autumn is also one of the most beautiful times of the year in our town. We live in a confluence of climactic zones that basically lets almost any tree alive grow here. We have everything from palm trees to evergreens to a thousand different kinds of deciduous trees, all dropping their leaves by the barrel right now.

The kids and I have had a tradition of going on a "Leaf Ride" - we pick a dry day when the leaves are starting to pile up and we ride around town going through the biggest piles we can find. Sometimes we're biking along up to our knees in leaves, with their dry crackly sound and that autumny smell. It's a fun way to welcome this season of transition, and get out on our bikes while the weather is still beautiful (if a bit colder than the summer months). Encouraging our kids to be cyclists is a big priority for us, and making it fun with an outing (which ended up downtown with an impromptu picnic) keeps them enjoying it as a fun activity that only incidentally is great exercise, self-sufficient transportation, and sustainably-fueled to boot!

As a parent, it's all too easy to let fear keep our kids from being as independent as we were when we were their age. Most of us biked or walked all over town, didn't we? In 1972, the year I started 1st grade, nearly 90% of all school kids who lived within a mile of their school walked or biked to school. Now the school drop-off lines are long and filled with the exhaust fumes of idling cars dropping off their kids one at a time. Yet the things parents are most afraid of: kidnappings or violent crimes against children, and pedestrian or bicycle-related accidents, have actually fallen dramatically percentage-wise in the last thirty years. We are simply more afraid of them, even though we have less reason to be. And sadly, 50% of the children hit by cars near schools are hit by the parents of other students! Clearly, the more kids that bike and walk and the less that are driven around by harried minivan moms (the most dangerous drivers on the road at 3:00 for sure), the safer our kids will be.

So as our kids bike themselves to classes and activities, and I bike myself into a lather doing intervals and time trials, it's nice to occasionally just take some time out to enjoy ourselves on a beautiful fall day with some big piles of crunchy fun. This last photo is from our Leaf Ride four years ago, and it reminds me of how much the kids have grown and how fleeting this time with them is. The difference between my 8 year old girlie in this photo and the 12 year old young lady in the photo above just blows my mind. Never mind that my son is now way taller than I am, and no longer the peewee chasing his little sis like he was in this photo. I don't know how many more autumn days they'll go for leaf rides with me in the coming years, but I'm going to enjoy every one I can.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Raising Healthy Kids: Eat Your Vegetables

How many times have you heard this mind-boggling phrase: "I can't get my kid to eat vegetables."?

Or maybe "My kid just doesn't like vegetables"?

It always leaves me wondering if, at some point, without me realizing it, eating vegetables stopped being considered crucial to good health.

Because they are. And if they're crucial to good health, our kids should be eating them. Period. Non-optional. In our house, this falls under the Ironmom Tough Shit Policy. In other words, Tough Shit kid, you're eating your vegetables.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. In reality, there's four key things I do to keep my kids eating healthy.

1) Model healthy eating. This is the hardest one. I was busted out by my daughter yesterday for taking a sugary sample from the Trader Joe's sample lady when we had set ourselves out on a post-Halloween no-sugar challenge. Whoops! Setting a good example is hard work dammit. But it's essential step numero uno if you want healthy kids. Filling our own plates with veggies is the best way to send the message that this is the way to healthy eating. "Do as I say, not as I do" never ever works.

2) Explain why vegetables and fruits are essential to good health. Do not rely on your kids "Health" classes to do this in school. Chances are, there's a Coke machine right outside the classroom door. Although some school are catching up (one here in town actually has a garden), you can't rely on anyone but yourself when it comes to nutritional advice.

Information is a powerful tool. A friend of mine once told a group of our kids "if it says Hydrogenated on the label, just substitute the words "cancer-causing". My kids became ardent label-readers and to this day, they will turn down even the most delectable treat if the word "hydrogenated" appears anywhere on the packaging. That was a great lesson for me to not shy away from letting my kids know exactly why I make the food choices that I do, in powerful language.

3) Make it non-optional. This is where the Tough Shit Policy comes into play. You are the parent. They are the kids. They have to do what you say. Now I think my kids would tell you that I very rarely employ the Tough Shit policy. I'm a big believer in picking which hill you want to die on. But when it comes to nutrition, I'm ready to stand and fight.

"A meal is a protein and a vegetable, with an optional fruit" is something you'll hear around our house frequently. That's just me reminding the kids of how to prioritize their eating. Except for breakfast, every meal or snack I set out has vegetables in it, or vegetables on the side. Not eating your vegetables? Not an option.

4) Make it fun. It's not like I force my kids to eat things they hate. They can go to the farmer's market or store with me and pick out whichever veggies and fruits strike their fancy. We like to include all sorts of different veggies in our repertoire: jicama sticks, snap peas, lightly steamed broccoli with teriyaki dipping sauce, carrots with hummus, cucumbers with tzatziki, seaweed snacks, kale chips, and the good old Big Ass Salad. Having our own garden for years has been the best way to make sure they eat lots of veggies. When you can go out the back door and pick the snap peas yourself, they taste infinitely better. And we can grow fun stuff like purple carrots and little orange tomatoes.

So this is how it comes to pass that when we went to a Red Robin's for dinner on a road trip recently, my son orders a chicken caesar salad, and my daughter asks for a steamed veggie teriyaki bowl (which has been her favorite for years and for some reason they just cut from their menu. Boooo Red Robin!). It never ceases to amaze the waiters. The fact that they always comment on my kids' food choices makes me realize how rare they are.

With the words "childhood obesity epidemic" on everyone's big worry list, it's clear that it's time to take kids' nutrition back into our own hands and put the phrase "Eat your vegetables" back into the national vocabulary.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 33: How To Survive Indoor Training

As I mentioned last week, this week starts my "Out Season" training plan from Endurance Nation, looking to build up some speed in the wintertime that I can then add some distance training to once the good weather arrives in the spring. I feel very very lucky that as of last year we have a triathlon store in town, The MultiSport Advantage. More than just selling gels and tri shorts, they have a whole training facility that's thoroughly kick-ass and is going to save me from the horrifying boredom of indoor training.

So this week, when I had intervals to ride and it was raining outside, I didn't just stick my bike on the dreaded trainer (aka Drainer) in the basement, I took it over to MSA and slapped it on their MultiRider CompuTrainer system with six other athletes and rode on the Ironman Kona course instead, watching the Florida Ironman unfold while we were at it. Not only did it break up the monotony and add some spice to indoor training, you really do go much harder when you have people to chase. I was flogged by the end of it.

One more nice thing about the CompuTrainer is that I did a 30 minute time trial and it spits out my power readings for me. I don't have any fancy Powertap type wheels, so that's not something I've ever gotten to train with. I discovered that my starting numbers for the season are an FTP (power average) of 182, and a Watts per Kilogram (w/kg) of 2.4. I have no idea what I've ever been in the past for these numbers (guess: substantially higher) but it gives me a baseline for this year to see what I can do as I improve.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sunday Snap: An Ironmom Week in Pictures

I'm a very visual person. To the extent that I discovered at some point that I lip read almost as much as I hear a conversation, which probably explains my aversion to talking on the phone. Sometimes words are good, but I have to agree with the old maxim that a picture is worth a thousand of them. Therefore, rather than boring you with lots of wordy words about my week, here's a few photos:

Is there anything more exciting for a musician than buying her first guitar? Asa saved up her money for a long time to buy "Shanti", her beloved new electric/acoustic. I, as the photo-loving mom saw it as an opportunity to do a portrait of my lovely young lady.

One of the things I love most about my town is how many gardens there are. Think this is out in the country? No, it's a vacant lot next to my kids' orthodontist office. I don't know who has been gardening here, but they've done a beautiful job.

Hello, Rambo? I heard you needed some help. No, although this week was Halloween, this is not my son's costume. He and some friends are filming a movie out in our woods (quite possibly involving a zombie apocalypse, or a bunch of nunchaku-wielding soldiers). He just happened to wander into the house in all of his gear to take a call.

And unfortunately, he's not ALL that wandered into my house. Look at the entryway, victim of several teenager's muddy feet. Ugh!

Because a mom has to do some shopping, she better have something good to step out in. How about a pair of Doc Marten sandals? I've loved my Doc Marty boots since the ol' punk rock days. Happy to have something to kick around in when the weather is warmer.

What would an Ironmom be if she didn't cook dinner? Shrimp stir-fry, coming right up!


Even the pet rat loves my stir fry. Nom Nom Paleo.

Out for a run, I spotted this lovely gent looking for his supper. He stayed there while I crept close enough with my camera phone to snap this. Wishing I had my big camera along!

The saddest photo of all. Last day of outdoor swimming for the year. The pool is closed for the season! I will now go off somewhere to cry.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Why I Threw Away My Kids Halloween Candy, A Manifesto To Feeding Kids Right

It's National Eat Crap week here in America (otherwise known as the week after Halloween) and the question on so many parents' minds is "How do I raise kids to make healthy food choices in the face of all this crap?" So I thought I'd start off by showing you an image of all of the Halloween candy I threw out. No, this wasn't the candy from this year. This was last year's candy! I discovered a little ant trail going across our basement wall and followed it to a cupboard where I found several pounds of last year's candy just hanging out. The kids had forgotten about it. Yep, you read that right. So I threw it out. I'll probably do the same with this year's hoard at some point (hopefully before the sugar ants discover it).

See, I'm of the mind that if you raise your kids to eat right 99% of the time, then a few days of candy overload really won't kill them. And chances are, if they know what it feels like to feel healthy, they won't like how they feel when they eat too much candy, and they might just forget about that stash after awhile.

Wouldn't it be nice if kids came with an instruction manual, and maybe some of those little packets of food like those Sea Monkeys I ordered from the back of a comic book when I was 10? Just sprinkle some in, and they're good to go. And wouldn't it be great if there wasn't a little Sea Monkey 7-11 around every corner just brimming with crap, not to mention all the TV ads for crap food, the crap aisle in the store and the crap dispensers right next to the cash register so your kids can pester the crap out of you begging for crap when you're trying to pay for groceries (aka Real Food)?

So what's a health conscious adult to do when it comes to feeding their kids?

The two key things I've discovered about raising healthy kids are:

1) Be a Role Model. You can't expect your kids to do it if you don't. If you eat like crap and don't exercise, chances are they will too.

2) Cook real food. That means meals, cooked from scratch. I know that's anathema to a lot of folks, and far too many of us have forgotten what an actual homecooked meal looks like. But it doesn't take near as much time as you think it might once you get in the groove.

So that's all fine and dandy, but what do you actually feed the little sea monkeys? Trimama Laurel sent me an email earlier this week asking what types of paleo foods my kids like to eat. Now my kids aren't 100% on the paleo bandwagon, but they do eat gluten free, and only local raw goat's milk for dairy. And since I eat paleo, that's what they eat by default most of the time, unless they talk me into cooking something special for them.

A lot of our meals are very simple and look like this:

Some form of meat, a lot of veggies, and a piece of fruit. The meat might be roasted chicken, a hamburger, some steak done up fajita-style, or some tuna fish. The veggies might be salad or carrot sticks or some kale chips. And this time of year the fruit is likely to be an apple or pear apple off of one of our trees. In the winter, the kids like frozen berries that we picked in the summer for a snack.

Other meals might involve a few more combined ingredients. Some of my kids' favorites:

Omelettes or scrambled eggs
Sloppy Joes without the buns
Veggie/Chicken Shisk-A-Bobs
Taco salad night
Chicken Curry (I usually throw in zucchini, onions, carrots, and any other veggies I have lying around)
Smoothies of many varieties
Teriyaki Chicken
Bacon, bacon, and bacon
Cauliflower "pasta" with meat sauce

Special things I will cook for my kids are: "Paleo-ized" waffles, pancakes, or crepes. I basically take the ol' Betty Crocker recipe and substitute my own mix of almond meal, coconut flour, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and tapioca flour, throw in a couple of extra eggs and some coconut milk, and these make up some tasty and protein-dense waffles (or pancakes). Often, the kids use these as snacks through the day, and I like them for pre-workout snacks.

The most non-paleo meal I will cook for the kids would be gluten-free macaroni and cheese. I use rice pasta and I make up a white sauce myself using tapioca flour, grass-fed butter, and raw milk. I mix in some sheep's milk Romano cheese and some raw goat's cheddar. Voila, a rainy-day comfort food.

But really, most of the time it just comes down to meats, eggs, veggies, and some fruits. Keep it simple, eat and model healthy behavior (including when it comes to chowing on that Halloween candy), and that's all there is to it!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 34: Reflecting on the Un-Season and Getting Down to Business

This week I start my official training for Ironman Coeur d'Alene. I've spent the week looking back on this year's "Un Season", both the bad (broken arm, lack of training) and the good (fun "Un" events like the Amazing Lake Waldo solo trail marathon, and my epic Crossing of Crater Lake with my Masters Swim Group.), not to mention getting my black belt in Karate in March (that seems so long ago!) Although it's been a very unusual year, sometimes it's good to take a step away from your routine and those things that you always do (whether it's a particular race, or a training routine, or even a favorite running route) and do something completely different.

So in that vein, I've decided to go with the Endurance Nation team and throw my hat into the "train Fast then Far" training crowd with one of their Out-Season plans for the winter. That means that instead of leisurely building lots of slow easy runs and trainer rides where I spin while watching movies, I'll instead be doing much shorter intense weeks in the coming months.

The very first workout of their plan was a 40 minute time trial. I decided to go out to the flatlands north of town to the route used by our local cycling club Time Trials in the spring. I've done these TT's before so I had a good idea of my time. The weather was looking decent, and I decided not to include my race wheels or Pointy Helmet of Speed, just use my regular gear. Typically, this route takes me about 40 minutes and change.

I guess I'm a bit demoralized now because it took me 46:30! Yikes, talk about lack of bike fitness. Then again, my Odometer on my bike computer shows a whopping 181 miles ridden this summer. And to be fair, it was very windy and rainy now in late October (the good weather disappeared about when I pulled up and a storm rolled in!), they just chip-sealed the road (which made about a 2 mph difference between that and the small section that still has the smooth pavement), and I didn't have any of my faster wheels and such. So probably the difference would be more like three minutes and not six, I'm trying really hard not to be too depressed.

The main goal of this pain fest was to extract my heart rate, which averaged 155. Honestly though, my legs hurt so freakin bad, I really couldn't push up to a point where heart rate was the limiter. So I guess I'll wait until Wednesday's 5k run (Oh Joy!) to see what that gives me for HR.

I guess I can use that as motivation to plant my butt on the trainer seat and hit the intervals hard this winter in order to be ready for IM CdA's infamous hills come June!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Prepare To Be Inspired: Lauren's Story

If you have wanted to reach out to your dreams, but been afraid of failing, read this story.

If you think that doing a triathlon is something you can't achieve, read this story.

If you want to start out your Friday being motivated and inspired, read this story.

Lauren commented on my Training Plan post awhile back and I asked her to share her story here because I just find it so inspiring. This is exactly the kind of thing I hope to be able to share on this blog - how we inspire each other to become our best.

Lauren's Triathlon Journey:

Before I start this post, there are a few things you should know about me:
-I am overweight.
-I had never completely finished anything before in my life (except pregnancy, haha!)
-I (used to!) have very low self-esteem and self-confidence.
-I’m not an ace at writing, and it takes me a while to get to the point while I tell a story.
(Brace yourself.)

I'd always been fairly in shape and fairly active, and while I've never had what one might call a "knock-out" body, I've always been pretty proud of my “Athena” curves. I grew up swimming competitively, and I’ve played soccer here and there, but I have never pushed myself to see what I could really be capable of. Basically, when it hurt, when it got tough, or when I got tired, I went home.

Fast forward to spring 2009. My husband and I were blessed to learn that we'd be expecting twins, and I took very good care of myself by watching what I ate and exercising lightly. I gained the average 35lbs with the twins and delivered them full-term. After they were born, I caught a cold that progressed into pneumonia. Eventually, I ended up breaking one of my ribs and had to be out-of-commission for 11 weeks. Finally, when the twins were about 6 months old, I was able to return to the gym and start working out. I was working steadily to lose my "baby weight", and after 3 months of diligently working my tush off (literally), we found out we were pregnant again!

As much as I wanted to be excited, I was a teensy bit sad. I went through some mild postpartum depression mostly because of the way my body looked (and because we don't live within driving distance of our family, my husband is a full-time student, and we had just moved to a new town; I really had ZERO help with the babies.) Cue the violins. Ha! Anyway. Pregnancy #2 went off without a hitch, and our precious baby girl was born healthy and vibrant on June 26, 2011.

Again, I wanted to be happy because I had this perfect, new, little baby to love, and the twins were so excited to have "their baby" outside Mommy's tummy. But because I hadn't lost all of the weight I'd gained with the twins, and then gained even more weight, my body looked like a nightmare.

My husband would tell me day after day that I looked beautiful, but how could I believe him? After all, I was carrying 50 extra pounds, my stretch marks made it look as if I'd gone 5 rounds with Wolverine, and everything, well... it just sagged. I knew I NEEDED to ditch the extra weight, but how? I began to feel myself slipping into that same funk that I was in after the twins were born. Then one night, while feeding my 5 1/2 week-old baby, it came to me: I need to do something to prove to myself that I AM worthwhile. I needed something drastic, something really far-out, something that I (and everyone else) would never expect me to do.

I was going to do a triathlon.
I researched to see if there were any in my area. I didn't know the first thing about a triathlon; I didn't know the distances, the order of the sports, I didn't even know that there was a "season" for triathlons! All I knew is that I was going to do one, and I wanted to do it soon. I found one that was about 2 months away. (It also happened to be a reverse triathlon.) And it was only about an hour or so from our town! When I looked at the distances (.25 mile swim/12 mile bike/ 5K run) I almost fainted. Again, I felt those seeds of self-doubt creeping back into my brain: "I'm not a runner; I can't run that far! I don't have a bicycle! What if I come in last place? Everyone will laugh at me!"

That night while laying in bed, I told my husband I wanted to do a triathlon. He looked at me in his sweet, soft, loving way and said, "Good job, baby. I believe in you, and I know you can do it!"
"Well.", I thought to myself. "That makes one of us."

I asked my girlfriend, Mallory (who happens to be 100lbs soaking wet, very athletic, and is in training for her umpteenth marathon) if she'd like to do this tri with me. (It would be her first triathlon, also.) She shrugged and said, "Ok.", as if it were no big deal. Me, on the other hand, I felt exhausted and out of breath just thinking about it!

Since I clearly didn't know anything about triathlon training, I did what every other child who was born in the 80's and became a product of the “Internet Age” would do: I googled it. I came across a blog with a name that I thought was inspirational: “Everymom to Ironmom.” I skimmed through and found a post entitled: “8 Weeks to Your First Triathlon,” and saved it on my phone and showed it to Mallory. She thought it looked good and was on board with the plan. The very next week, I had my 6 week postpartum appointment with my midwife. I told her my plan, and after looking at me like I was a lunatic, she gave me the green light to start training.

I decided I'd start the 8-week plan on the following Monday because well...I just like starting things on Mondays. I had already decided to put the twins (who were 18 months old when Baby#3 was born) into day care part time to give myself a little "Mama Time." What better way to use that "Mama Time" than to do something like workout and work on Mama?!

That very first Monday morning, I dropped them off at "school," and Baby #3 and I headed straight to the gym. (Thank heaven we belong to a fitness center that provides childcare for infants!) I cranked out the first workout (a 6-mile bike ride) in about 30 minutes and I. Felt. Great! This was my new schedule now: wake up, drop tots off at "school", and head to the gym. I had a goal I was now working toward, and I had someone (Mallory) to keep me on track. Day after day, week after week, I stayed steady on the plan. If I had to miss a day (which only happened once or twice), I made sure to fit the missed exercise in sometime later on in the week. As it turns out, Mallory and I only trained together twice throughout the whole 8 weeks, but we texted each other many, many times daily to check in and keep each other motivated. For further motivation, I actually signed up online (on my phone) for the triathlon pool-side, immediately after finishing one of the swim workouts! I was ecstatic! I even called my mom and dad to let them know I was actually going to do this! (They were excited, too, of course.)

On race day, I was jittery, to say the least. I was so  nervous that I wasn't going to be able to finish (I still wasn't able to completely run 3 miles without walking a little), and I was very intimidated by all of the slim, muscular physiques that I suddenly found myself surrounded by. I was the largest woman there! I seriously considered turning around and running back to the
safety of my car. Ten minutes before the race started, all of the participants lined up at the starting line for a little pre-race meeting. My husband and 3 babies stood on the other side of the mesh fence just watching and listening. I kept glancing over at them, and I'm sure they could see the fear in my eyes. My husband just smiled and gave me a very enthusiastic thumbs up. My sweet baby boy raised his fist and yelled out, "Gooooo Mama!" The next thing I knew, a gun shot was fired, and we were off and running. Literally. I'm not going to lie, the run sucked. I'm just not a great runner, but I want to be, so I know that's something I need to work on. The bike portion was difficult too, but only because the course was very hilly, and I didn't train for that. The swim part was a piece of cake, just as I knew it would be for me. Plus, it was in a pool, and I'm sure that made all the difference in the world.

When I climbed out of the pool and saw my precious husband smiling at me, holding our excited babies, I felt unstoppable! I had just done something I never in a million light years thought I could do. And not only did I do it, it was the first thing I've really ever completed. My self-confidence sky rocketed! I can now say that I am a triathlete, and I have done something that not too many folks have done. And that feels fantastic. I also learned to not be so hard on my body, to appreciate it more, and give it some credit! Sure, I'm not supermodel skinny, and I'll probably never look like I did when I was 18, but my body did something amazing. Just as I will always remember my wedding anniversary and my children's birthdays, October 9, 2011 is a day that I will never forget. That was the day I started and finished a triathlon. Me. The overweight, (now slightly less) out-of-shape mommy of 3, who always told herself she couldn't, did.

If you are teetering on the edge of "Should I do a triathlon? CAN I do a triathlon?" The answers are YES! and YES! I can honestly say that my life has been forever changed by this event, and I now believe that this mama can do ANYTHING she sets her mind to do. Thank you again, Robin, for your 8 week plan. I truly, truly could not have done it without you. Well, without you and the four best cheerleaders a Mommy and wife could ever have!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kitchen Makeover, Paleo Style

Who needs a breadbox when you don't eat bread? 

For that matter, why have a toaster, much less a toaster AND a toaster oven taking up space on your counter? I have a very small kitchen. The woman who designed and built our house lived alone, and apparently didn't consider that someone who had to cook for more than one person would ever inhabit this kitchen. That's why we have the smallest refrigerator available on the market (just TRY to cram enough food for a 15 year boy into a fridge that's shorter than I am!), and very little counter space. So when the opportunity comes along to increase my available food preparation area, that's something I should jump at.

Voila, one day recently it hit me: I don't need any of these bread-altering implements, because I no longer eat bread. What a freeing concept. So away the appliances went to a bottom shelf somewhere and suddenly I have a whole lot more counter space than I've had in the 12 years we've lived here. NICE. Since I spend a lot more time cutting vegetables and meat these days, it's great to have the extra space to do so.

Paleo Update:

While I'm at it, a paleo eating update might be in order: I'm still eating mostly paleo, I say mostly because we buy local raw goat's milk and I occasionally put that in my smoothies or coffee. I will also eat rice from time to time, especially if we go for my favorite Thai restaurant and their salmon-pineapple curry. Yummmm.....

My kids don't eat paleo, but they recently transitioned to eating gluten-free. Realistically, although they do eat some bread substitutes (I might have the only kids in town who love rice cakes), this also means they eat a lot less grains than they used to.We simply haven't replaced all the bread, cereal, pasta, etc. that we used to eat. That also means that they eat more veggies and fruits as filler in meals instead of grains for an overall Nutrient Win.

Only Two Meals A Day?

I finally figured out a meal plan that works for our crazy family's schedule. I cook breakfast in the morning when we get up, and then I cook supper at about 3:30 in the afternoon. Those are our two main meals each day. The kids can get themselves snacks at around noon, and then we're all out of the house or busy from 4:30 - 8:00 most evenings for stuff like karate, robotics, swimming, and dance. So when we get home, it's another snack time. Two main meals and two main snack times seems to work best for our family. Otherwise, I was always stressed trying to cook dinner at 8:00 at night, and no one was really hungry for a big meal then anyways. I can't tell you what a relief it was to figure this out!

These days, with everyone worried about kids, nutrition, and childhood obesity, it feels good to have a plan in place to keep our kids active and eating well. As a parent, the number one lesson I've learned is it really doesn't matter what you say to your kids, it matters what you do. The example you set is what they learn from, so having our entire family eat nutritious meals and snacks, and get out to exercise every day, as well as walking and biking for transportation has been the key to raising healthy, happy, energetic kids and now (ulp!) a teenager.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Blast From the Past

My old grade school teacher posted some photos online. So here's my 5th grade blast from the past. I'm on the left. Love that "Dorothy Hamill" haircut. Cheerleader for the Jacksonville Pioneers!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Countdown to Ironman, Week 35: Getting the Ugly Womanly Stuff Out of the Way

Gentlemen, you can avert your eyes now. You have been forewarned. This is the IronMOM blog after all.

I remember in 6th grade, when we had "The Talk". You know, the one where the boys went to one room and the girls went to another. Mrs. Brown was in charge of the girls, a five foot tall fireplug of a woman from Corpus Christi, Texas. I can remember this scene vividly: at one point in her little speech about "The Change" that was coming for us, she was holding up a Maxi Pad in front of the room, and Scott Whitely came barging in the classroom door at the back, clutching a message from the office. Mrs. Brown turned white as a sheet, Scott Whitely turned beet red. She hissed at him to get out and get out he did, double-time.

The message was clear: Maxi pads were scary and embarrassing things that men must never, ever see.

That message persists into adulthood. Just take a man on a basketball court who gets hit with the ball. He gets a bloody nose, mops it up with his shirt, and goes over to the sidelines holding a towel against his nose. You'd think the bloody towel was a badge of honor by how he treats it.

The same amount of blood coming out of a woman's coochie is like the scarlet fucking letter, right? Shameful, to be hidden, not even mentioned. Not even when he's your husband. If he sees a tiny bit of blood on the toilet seat, he might go faint, meanwhile the same man farts with abandon during episodes of The Family Guy, never thinking that gasses emitting from his butt should be equally...well... concealed.

Which is all to say that writing a blog post about what it means to be a woman and a triathlete, what it REALLY means on one of "those days", is culturally embarrassing. Yet, because we don't talk about it, none of us knows how anyone else deals with it. No one knows that the reason I didn't have a bigger PR in my half-Iron distance race last year is that I spent all those precious minutes in a porta-potty line that I couldn't avoid. What does a guy do? He pees on the bike. Changing your womanly supplies on a bike would require the skills of a circus acrobat and be a good deal more messy. And no ones knows that I went on the pill for four months the last time I did an Ironman just so I'd know for sure I wouldn't have my period that day.

Wouldn't it suck to train for a year, spend $500 plus travel expenses, and not be able to do the race due to your @#!%! period??

So, what happens when you're signed up for an Ironman at age 46 and you're a woman? Women's bodies at 46 are not the same as they are at 36 or 26 or 16. To put it bluntly, they're starting to do weird things. Periods come at odd times when they're not expected. They're either really light or so heavy you might as well pitch a tent in the bathroom for a day or two. Sometimes you end up wondering whether you got pregnant without knowing it and are miscarrying something that looks like Eraserhead. Don't go squeamish on me, I told you I was going to be blunt. So doing an Ironman in the middle of that? It can be difficult.

Luckily, a couple of my women friends clued me in to this procedure called a Uterine Ablation. Yes, that's about as Un-Fun as it sounds. Actually it's way, way less fun that it sounds, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Basically, they burn the shit out of your uterine lining and it never comes back. A few days of painful recovery and you're free of The Curse for evermore. Or at least semi-free of it, or probably free of the worst of it. There's no guarantees of course, but it sounds better than the current uncertainty and mess. Sign me up Scotty!

So that's what I had done this week. Of course, me being me, nothing ever goes quite according to plan. I have this really weird body that has a pretty high pain tolerance (good) coupled with the fact that anesthesia and medications don't work all that well on me (bad). Novocaine has so little effect that my dentist always wants to pull his hair out when he has to work on me. Given all of that, I maybe should've chosen to use general anesthesia for this procedure, but that freaks me the heck out. I keep remembering people like Olivia Goldsmith, who died during general anesthesia for plastic surgery (one more reason I won't ever do THAT for sure!) Thinking about my kids being motherless, the answer for me and general is NO WAY. But then again, I've never had experience with anything like this (even my babies were not born in a hospital) so how would I know what would happen?

So it was some Valium and some Percocet, some injection of an ibuprofen-like NSAID, and we were off. I wish I could tell you that my experience was like all of my friends who have had it done. For most women it's pretty much a walk in the park, for me it was not. I won't scare you with the gory details but it hurt. A lot. Like if it was a mob movie and a torture scene, I would've told them anything. I would've sold my mother upriver just to make it stop. My doctor (and probably the entire waiting room) got to hear every curse word in my personal arsenal, and then some. It was like The Sopranos in there.

Luckily, I'm now on the other side of the River Styx, after the first day of agony with some upchucking thrown in just for kicks and grins. Several days later, I'm just taking ibuprofen and will hopefully be back to training sometime in the near future. I'm hoping this bet pays off, the pain and suffering were worth it, and I have an Ironman to look forward to where I don't have to worry about taking Aunt Flo along on my bike with me.

And because I'm not Mrs. Brown, and this is not 1976, I'll let you know how it goes.