One of my writing teachers—OK, a few of them—told me I should write more about running and “being an athlete” and “that kind of stuff.” And I don’t mean in a reporter ‘here’s how to train for your first half-marathon’ kind of way. I mean that they thought I should write more characters who are athletes, more personal essays about “Why I Run,” more about what it all means, etc. Write what you know, right? Or something.

The thing is that when I have, no one believes me about what it’s really like.

Once, after reading a story I had written in which there was a part where the main character was running, I was informed that I had “gotten it wrong” and it just “wasn’t believable.” That’s not how running works, girl in writing workshop told me. You’re not supposed to get angrier when you run. Aren’t there endorphins and stuff, right? Like you’re supposed to feel better after running.

Sure, sometimes. And sometimes you just want to lie down on the ground for a little while and cry. And sometimes you’re so jacked up you’re ready to rip somebody’s head off. Like maybe somebody in a writing workshop who’s telling you that you’re wrong about what running is like. Not to be specific.

The main reason writing what you know doesn’t work is that what you know is that people are wrong about how they think things are.

I have been training a lot lately, probably not a full-Hillary Biscay load yet, but a lot still and it’s been pretty intense. And there’s not a ton to actually say about that. I ran on the treadmill for 11.6 miles the other day. You know what I did during that time? Mostly thought about running on the treadmill. (Also I semi-watched a close-captioned version of the terrible TV show Botched.) Here’s some writing what I know for you: I’m tired a lot, but then I bounced back and stopped being as tired, but I’m still pretty tired. Tantalizing, right? And there’s just really not a super exciting way to say, “And then I almost started crying in the middle of intervals on my bike, but I didn’t and instead I finished the intervals.”

There is a reason most professional athletes’ twitters and blogs and instagrams are all motivational photos and sayings and stories about how they’re working hard and overcoming and they believe. (Oh, and then every now and then they’ll throw in a vague post about “keeping it real” and how they’ve been struggling, but that’s just part of the journey and now they’re moving forward again and don’t worry, they’re going to overcome this because they believe.) Partially, that’s what people want to hear. It’s easier to sell a brand that’s aspirational.

But partially that’s what the athletes want to hear too. It’s what they need to hear.

The line between crying on your bike and not crying is very thin and if you look at it too hard it’ll disappear. Why did I almost start crying the other day, but then I didn’t? I don’t know. Because I decided not to? Writing, though, does not lend itself to a lack of introspection. Training does not lend itself to too much. I don’t think all those athletes are lying to everyone else with their motivational photos and stories that always have them coming out on top. I think they’re lying to themselves, but it’s lies that they have to tell.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’ve stopped writing as much online here about my training at the same time that I’m doing more training than ever. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when my mentality slightly shifted in races, my race reports got sort of boring. When you stop thinking about the funny story you’re going to tell or the excuse you’re going to have or how this is all going to sound later, then all you have left to think about is just doing the thing you’re doing. And there’s really not much to write about that.

1. Challenge Roth is instituting a ‘run loop of shame’ for drafters: Look, that’s cool and funny. And certainly part of why people draft is because the cost isn’t high enough to outweigh the risk. But as with ANYTHING where that is the case, that’s only part of why people do it. The second half of why drafting is so bad at big races is because there are so many people the same speed with nowhere to go. For me, and most women my speed, the biggest problem isn’t women drafting in packs, it’s trying to get through crowds of men who are slow or trying not to get caught up in men who pass you and then slow down. The problem isn’t that we need to be shamed, it’s that we need somewhere to go where these men aren’t in the way (or the men need somewhere to go). And anyone who’s been in a crowded short-course race, like Alcatraz, knows that there literally isn’t enough space to stretch all the participants from end to end with enough space between each to meet drafting rules. It would be longer than the entire course. So when you have courses and conditions that literally can not comply with the rules, shaming people for breaking the rules only solves part of the problem…

2. Serena Williams has muscles: Yeah, duh. But it’s actually a totally legitimate point that women have to balance body image with what they need to be the best as an athlete. Ridiculing the New York Times for pointing that out doesn’t make it not true.

3. Seriously, you need to sleep more: Like, for real. Like, science suggests that even moderately not getting enough sleep has massive effects on your health. Look I’m not super observant about myself. There is a reason by the time anyone realized, when I was 8-years-old, that I needed glasses, I was almost legally blind. It had never occurred to me that wasn’t how everyone else saw the world and that I didn’t just need to deal with it. Ask Steve about how bad I am at paying attention to details in training. (“I just thought I must be going slow?” When, no, actually my bike wheel had popped out slightly and I was dragging it behind me against the inside of my frame, so hard that I was wearing a hole in the fork. Didn’t even notice!). So, I don’t really notice how I feel most of the time. But I really notice when I don’t sleep enough. Even just two or three days of six hours of sleep makes me start to feel dull and slow. How do people not notice the effects of sleeping more (or less)?

Last summer, when people kept telling me the World Cup was starting, I was like, “No, no, I’m sure that’s next summer.” Hah. Turns out I was sort of right. Just turns out that I sort of care more about women’s soccer than men’s.

So when I found out the final was in Vancouver and tickets were like $70, it was a no-brainer to go.

At first, I wanted to work the tournament for FOX. Then, I actually didn’t want to work at all because I am exhausted. Then, I sort of ended up working anyway, writing this and this.

It was still sort of a vacation, except with a lot of driving. We drove up to Eugene on Thursday, but because traffic was insane we didn’t get there until late. Headed right to a brewery and then ran Pre’s Trail in the morning (which isn’t that cool a park, but is such a soft trail that I managed over 10 miles without really feeling it—even though it was so, so hot and my ankle has been bad lately). Bought some stuff from the Nike store, naturally, and then hit the road again.

More traffic on Friday, because cars are just my most favorite thing, and we finally got to Vancouver around 9:30 p.m. We were staying in the West End, which I picked based on three things: you could walk to the stadium, there were lots of bars and restaurants, and we were close to Stanley Park. I was right. It was a pretty cool area and Stanley Park has to be the best urban park around. But I didn’t get to run in it much, because the wildfires meant the smoke got really heavy and thick by Sunday.

The game, itself, was kind of insane. Soccer goes by so fast. It’s not like baseball. You have to load up on all your food and drinks beforehand, or you’ll miss something. Then three goals are scored in 15 minutes and aren’t you glad you loaded up before the kick-off? And then, in less than two hours, it was over. We stayed for the celebration, but there’s only so long you can keep cheering. Outside the stadium, it was just about one TV camera per every ten spectators. We hit up a bar and tried to figure out a way to get into the team party, but the smoke was getting so bad and we were both so tired, then we didn’t prowl the streets too long.

I wrote about what it was like and women’s soccer and Hope Solo and Canada.

Then it was more traffic Monday morning, when we spent well over an hour at the border. The border agent seemed weirdly suspicious of us, when I said we weren’t bringing any food back and didn’t buy anything, so finally I was like, “Oh, well, yeah a t-shirt.” Which wasn’t true, but it made him feel better and he waved us through and we went on to Seattle.

I got to run in another park, Discovery Park, which was very cool, but maybe my least favorite of the three. And then we went to the Space Needle (because you ought to do that one time you go to Seattle), the big REI store, and of course another brewery.

Now, vacation’s done and I’m so tired I don’t even know how to get back to work.

USA! USA! USA!

USA! USA! USA!

The celebration -- through the increasing smoke.

The celebration — through the increasing smoke.

The number one question I’ve been getting recently has been (and you have to do it in the right tone of voice): “Sooooooo, what are you doing now?”

Living my best life, bitches. Oh, and trips, lots of trips. Right now, I’m in Vancouver for the Women’s World Cup, which I would write more about, but I’m tired and I’m on vacation, so suffice it to say: women’s soccer — kind of like men’s but I actually care about it, and Canada — really a totally different country, eh.

The second most common question I’ve been getting lately is some variation on: “Ohhh, so you’re not racing pro? You’re just doing it for fun now?”

To which I’m like, “Wasn’t it always fun?

But, also, let’s be very clear about something: No, I am not “just” doing it for fun. Besides the whole set of issues stemming out of what constitutes “fun” and why you choose this as your “fun,” etc, etc, and the misunderstandings (and boring jokes) that arise between those who choose strenuous activities for “fun” and the general population. Putting all that aside, no, I’m not just out here casually signing up for Ironman Wisconsin so I can enjoy the beautiful course or whatever. I could do that for a whole lot less money and time. No, I’m not just doing it for fun. I am actually training, seriously.

So, why am I not racing pro? Particularly when I’ve been very vocal about the fact that more women, especially those who have qualified for their elite/pro license multiple times, should race in that category?

1. I have not qualified multiples of times. Not to lay all my insecurities bare or whatever, but if there was a mandatory upgrade system, I would not be one of the people forced to upgrade. Since I came back from my two-year break from triathlon I have re-qualified for my elite/pro card once? Maybe twice? And, despite having probably my best races ever at Wildflower and Alcatraz, I lost both of them to “amateur” girls who have qualified for their pro/elite licenses more than a dozen times. As I joked with one of The Kids: it’s not that I’m not training, it’s that I’m not winning.

2. When I decided to come back to triathlon just to do Ironman Canada, I kind of thought that might be it. I’d do an Ironman, see if it was my thing (hah), and then two days later I’d start my journalism program and pour myself into my career. Basically, I’d get this triathlon thing out of my system. Sort of. So, of course I wouldn’t opt to do my first, last, and possibly only Ironman as an elite/pro.

3. OK, so I was wrong about #2. Kinda. I was right that I really wasn’t excited about triathlon after IM Canada and I was ready to just like become a famous writer instead (also, hah). But then I started racing with The Kids and it was fun again. They drove me crazy sometimes, but they also weren’t annoying triathletes and there was an excitement that had been missing. Trying to get in shape for fast, hard, and short stuff with them was different and a challenge. And—and here’s the big thing—it made me like triathlon again and realize that, hey, I’m not terrible at this.

4. So. So. So.

I have about five years left of physical peak. Maybe. In that time, I’d like to actually see what I can do. Actually for real. Not when I’m also working 60 hours/week. Not when I’m injured all the time. Not when I’m burned out. I’d like to actually train hard and see what I’m capable of. And that’s where we are. Which means that no, I’m not racing pro/elite. Not yet. (Maybe not ever. Maybe the best I am won’t be good enough. We’ll see.) What I am doing is building a base and training and not worrying about the bullshit.

This is partially why I’ve just sort of disappeared. I’ve had my head down and am trying to get the work done. And not think about it too hard. Really, not think about it. It’s not that I’m insanely busy (though, also, that some), it’s more that I stopped keeping a log of my workouts, stopped worrying about it. I just can’t even anymore with caring about the bullshit. I’m just doing what Hillary tells me to do and we’ll see what happens.

Oh, and I started training with Hillary Biscay. There were a lot of reasons I thought training with her for IM Wisconsin made sense (like, you know, she’s won it) and I think she does a really good job with shaping girls (women? whatever) of my approximate level, but also, I just felt like she got me, like I could just hand everything off and not worry about pissing her off or being mean or stressing or whatever. And so that’s what I’ve done. And maybe the best things I’ve been writing lately have been my training logs to her — though not in terms of punctuation and spelling, because, man, my stream of conscious is not a good copyeditor — but that’s just how it’s going to be for a little while.

It also prompted a conversation where she actually looked at my training logs and was either insanely horrified or insanely impressed with how l little volume I do. Which, like, yeah, yeah, I know. Then a week later, Steve was talking to me about how he could fit training for Tahoe 70.3 in around a very busy work schedule and I laid out for him what I used to do when I had a very busy full-time office work schedule. After I laid an approximate week out, he says, “No one could be good on that low volume.” Ummm, well, that’s pretty much the volume I did. *long pause* Him: “If you trained more, you could actually be really good.”

Yeah, yeah, I know.

So. We’ll see how this seriously training thing goes.

post_title

I was not super excited about doing Ragnar Utah this past weekend. 36 hours sitting in a van? With a bunch of sweaty people? Running when you weren’t sitting — with my right leg totally crippled last week? It was so not exciting to me that Steve and I were laughing last week, after I wasn’t able to run four miles without limping, that it was so bad it was funny. Here I was crippled after the Dipsea, dealing with injury and needing to train for Ironman, exhausted from traveling, and sick of people.

So, of course, running 18.5 miles (possibly more depending on other teammates’ injuries) over 36 hours as part of a 200ish-mile relay sounds like the obvious answer. Exactly the kind of thing I love.

Hah. See. It’s a good joke.

Here’s the punchline, though: It actually was a lot of fun.

This picture sort of sums up Ragnar Utah I think.

This picture sort of sums up Ragnar Utah I think.

Maybe it would have been exactly as shitty as I was worried if I’d been with a different group or our van had been different. But our van was awesome. We had a huge trailer-type van with enough room to sleep or stand or roll out your legs and stretch. And we had a fun group that was a good balance between being serious and not stressing out. Basically, if you wanted to dance to “Shut Up and Dance” for the 10th time in 10 hours at 6 a.m. while waiting in an exchange zone, then we did that. And if you wanted to run your leg fast and make sure you got enough time after to stretch and recover, then we did that too.

Our fearless leader.

Our fearless leader.

Practicing safety.

Practicing safety.

I guess it was technically a race. We got 29th out of however many hundreds of teams. But it didn’t feel like a race. It felt like an bonding adventure exercise?

Before:

ragnarstart

Courtesy of Andy Jessop

And dancing at the finish (again to “Shut Up and Dance”):

Courtesy of Andy Jessop

From Greg Hammond

The running itself was rough for me. The first 8 miles were at midnight by myself down a mountainside from a ski resort. My right leg was not happy. Also, it turned out Park City is at like 7,000 feet of elevation. Maybe I should have thought about that before.

The second leg of 5.5 miles, after a couple hours of sleep, made it really really clear I should have thought about the elevation beforehand. I do not do well at elevation. In fact, I do so badly the last time I tried to run 7 miles at elevation it turned into a death march that it took me days to recover from. So so badly. But, I just kept moving forward and we weren’t by ourselves anymore; we were actually catching people!

The last 5-mile leg was brutal. At first it was fine and I was chugging along at 7:20-30 pace. Then, I ran out of water, and it was so hot that a kid doused me with a hose and my shirt dried within five minutes. After I drank all my water in the first 3 miles, I got insanely dehydrated and messed up. And I’d only been out of water for less than 10 minutes!! Stupid elevation. Stupid mountains. Stupid everything. I really thought I was going to start walking and crying and everything was going to fall apart, but it didn’t and I kept moving forward and I kept passing people, so maybe I was holding up better than I thought. And, here’s the crazy part: somehow I sort of ran through the pain and the bad stuff and came out the other side, where my legs hurt, yes, but my right leg wasn’t debilitating and I wasn’t limping with a knot in my calf and it turns out I can run at elevation, just maybe not that fast?

I get the feeling that this is sort of what people are going for when they invent crazy races or races that are more about some kind of epiphany than about the race. The idea, I think, is that you find yourself in that moment of such extreme fatigue that you can’t fake it anymore and you can’t think about how to accommodate all your little problems and aches. You just have to find a way to keep going. And so you do.

Or something. And somehow it’s fun too.

A picture of me running, just for good measure.

A picture of me running, just for good measure.

I was trying to explain the other day how my mentality has shifted a little bit, just a little bit, in racing. I’m trying to just do my thing and whatever about the rest. And it’s sort of working, even to the extent that I haven’t cared much about results after my last few races. Because I knew I had raced as hard as I could and however that stacked up was how that stacked up.

This is sort of bleeding over into life too. Sort of. Or maybe it’s bleeding from life the other direction. I don’t know. All I know is I can’t even anymore with caring about the bullshit.

Not to be all ‘now that I’m 30, I’m too old to care what anyone else thinks about me,’ because those people are annoying. But I just am tired of caring what anyone else thinks about me.

I know this is going to be funny to lots of you. You all think I didn’t care before, but it’s a lie. Reporters, sponsored athletes, some combination of the two, we are always worried someone is going to not pay us, someone is going to drop us, someone is going to get offended. Maybe I need to put more exclamation points in my emails. Maybe I need to post filtered motivational pictures to build my brand. Maybe if I say online that I think the Second Amendment was designed for a citizen militia, but not for you to carry a handgun, then I won’t get hired for a job even after multiple interviews. Oh, wait, that happened. So, yes, it gets old when everyone treats you like a novelty that says wacky things, but you aren’t even saying the wackiest stuff that actually comes into your head. You’re actually trying to be “normal.”

The other day on Slowtwitch someone told me I was turning people off my “cause” because I made a sarcastic joke. The cause, apparently, being “women.” And I just couldn’t with that. I hadn’t even cared that much about the mansplaining, eye-rolling-ness of the original discussion. (I mean I just finished a journalism Masters fellowship with a cohort of all women; it’s not like I’m super eager to talk more about media representations and diversity.) But, fine, fine, you think that was me turning you off, just watch. Then I was all kinds of bitchy and I turned off reply notifications and I haven’t gone back since to see what names he probably called me. Because I just can’t even anymore.

I’m trying to figure out what this means for my life. How do I turn being me into a career? Isn’t that the dream? What do I want to do now? Besides train a lot, write some stuff, and finally sleep…

dipsea

This is a picture of me looking weirdly cheerful at the Dipsea yesterday. I’m pretty sure it was just after this that I ran full-speed into a thorn bush. I’ve been pulling pieces of thorn out of my hand since then.

That’s actually sort of normal for the Dipsea. The part that wasn’t normal was that I was even on the “trail” that led me into the thorn bush. Since I was going faster than I have before, I ended up sort of ahead of the pack and all of a sudden I was on some “shortcut” through a bush down a mountainside. The other thing that wasn’t normal was how good I felt. I did the best I’ve ever done (108th), but I pretty much never had a “I just want to quit and cry” moment. I mostly felt really good. When we were climbing, I just kept climbing. When anything was close to flat, I ran hard. And when it was downhill, I — well, ok, I lost a lot of time running down stairs, but still, I tried hard.

Do you remember when every race report of mine was basically: “And then I felt terrible and I wanted to quit and I threw myself a pity party, but eventually I finished.” No? Well, I remember. (See: Dipsea 2014, 2013, 2012, or probably mostly anything here.)

Something has shifted recently, in just my last few races, and I don’t know if anyone else can tell but I can. The difference is that I’ve been mostly totally in it mentally. I thought that a shift had happened back in the fall. It seemed like I was toughing it out better than usual. But, since the disaster that was the LA Marathon, in which I learned that I can push it farther than I probably should, and the Cal Poly race a week later, in which I learned that I can do things even when I really really don’t want to, since then I’ve sort of been determined just to go as hard as I can and make it work.

So, yes, the Dipsea sort of sucks and is crazy. But mostly it was fun. I ran hard. I cracked into the top 100, but then I lost those spots on the downhill stairs. I didn’t fall (badly) and my legs hurt today. When you decided to just go hard and not stress about anything else, there isn’t much to say…

Tomorrow’s the Dipsea! Apparently, it’ll be livestreamed, so watch all the fun. And here’s a preview if you need a little extra inspiration.

post_title