Yesterday, after my swim workout, I got in my car and started crying. There wasn’t any particular reason. I had totally done the workout just fine and everything was fine, theoretically. The reason was simply: Ironman Training.

Last summer, I was busy with so many other things—like moving to L.A. and my car trying to kill me—and I was arguably undertrained for IM Canada (though not because I’m lazy, just because I was as trained as was smart and made sense at the time). So I never really had the full-on Ironman weirdness happen, where your body just sort of isn’t sure what to do with what you’re putting it through.

Not this time around. This time I’m pretty sure my body isn’t sure what to do, so I’d like some corroboration that weird things happen during Ironman training and also, if you were wondering just how healthy being fit is, well here you go. These are some weird things that have happened that we’re just chalking up to Ironman training:

  • Can you micro-fall asleep? Where you’re pretty sure that you fell asleep for the second you closed your eyes and then you blinked and woke back up? Because I think that’s happening.
  • Also, I can’t really sleep after hard or long workouts. Which is fun.
  • One day, after a really long weekend, I fell asleep on the couch and woke up and couldn’t figure out where I was. Not just for a few seconds, which happens to everyone sometimes. I straight-up walked around the house, took something out of the oven, and still wasn’t sure where I was.
  • Not being able to breath all the way. It just keeps catching in my chest. But then it goes away. Except for the other day when I forgot how to yawn.
  • Freezing-ness. Lots of that.
  • Am I starving? Am I going to throw up? The fun is in not knowing.
  • For a little while, I was convinced I was sweating way more than usual, just buckets and buckets. But that’s stopped. So I’m not sure if I imagined it or if something was actually wrong with me.
  • Sure, I’ve been to the doctors for both my ankles. I think they’re both within the realm of ignorable twinges, though. I have, however, lost the ability to discern ignorable twinges from non-ignorable ones.
  • I also have so many cuts. I’m not even sure how you get this many cuts training for an event that is largely by yourself. But there you have it.

Oh, and yeah, things are a mess. Don’t come visit our house right now. I’m not thinking straight and sometimes I write stuff that doesn’t make sense. Good thing that’s my job.

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I’ve been watching a lot of America Ninja Warrior lately because summer. And I was about to say there are just two kinds of stories on this show—redemption and come-uppance—but that’s not totally true. It’s actually a much more interesting show than people give it credit for.

But, still. There are themes. And one of those is that people are constantly giving up everything to become good at ANW, to finally conquer Mt. Whatever-Its-Called (seriously, they need to do a better job explaining the ins and outs for those of us who aren’t, like, nerding out over every new ANW obstacle). On the show a few weeks ago there was a guy who had quit his job and worked as an usher at a movie theater now just to make ends meet while he trained full-time for ANW, because you can only be good at so many things at a time. If he wanted to be good at this, and whether or not you value the “this” that he wanted to be good at is irrelevant, then he couldn’t just do it as a hobby.

Whether the movie theater ushers (or running bums or aspiring triathletes) are viewed with benevolence or a sense of ‘it’s time to grow up’ seems largely to depend on if they’re successful. If you put aside a career and work odd jobs to pay bills and live with your parents, all in order to make the Olympic team and you make it, then it was all worth it. Sort of. But if you come in 4th at the trials or whatever the cut-off is, then you’re just a guy living with his parents.

People keep asking me what I’m doing now. And I don’t know what to say. They want me to have gotten a super exciting job at a super exciting publication that they’ve heard of, and to be training for Ironman, and working on ambitious side projects, and presumably not sleeping. But, with the exception of one job I applied for and did not get in the spring (even though I would have been totally awesome at it, whatever), I’m not really looking for that lifestyle. I’m working and I’m training and you can only be good at so many things at a time.

Steve has appointed himself as my “elite athlete consultant” and his self-described job is basically to tell me that no, I shouldn’t take that extra gig or project or go to that extra event or worry about that extra thing. If you want to be good at some things, then you can only do so many things.

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A couple weeks ago I did the Spartan Race Sprint in AT&T Park. Despite the fact that I did a Tough Mudder way back when it wasn’t even cool yet and despite the fact that I know everything about obstacle course races after working on my documentary this spring, I’ve never actually done a Spartan Race. I’ve never actually really raced one of these obstacle things either, because the few I’ve done have always been casually and with friends.

So, I just wanted to try one actually hard. Unfortunately, the only one that fit my schedule was the sprint in AT&T Park—which really does not sound like the kind of thing I’d be good at. Short and heavily strength-based? Definitely!

I realized exactly how over my head I was when I was lined up with the elite heat of women at the start. These were some seriously intense and ripped women—the sort for whom this was exactly the kind of thing they’d be good at. And the announcer guy was making a speech about penalties and warnings on certain obstacles and “when you get to the traverse wall, it’ll be like the standard traverse wall you’re used to seeing…” (hah, right) “…except there will be a gap in the middle. do not put your foot on that gap or you’ll be penalized. and of course you all know how many burpees are the penalty.” (uh?)

I went in the second group of 15 women, so that at least maybe there’d be people in front of me when I got to the obstacles so I could see how to do them. And then I enacted my plan: run hard, because the running is the only thing you’re going to be good at here.

It worked ok. As in, I would get a decent gap when we had to run up and down and up, up, up, and around the stadium, and then I’d have to take my time figuring out what the hell I was doing on some obstacle. I mean, I got the gist, but my technique was off. At one point, on the 8-foot wall climb, I was hanging upside down backwards from both my knees and the official/volunteer guy was looking at me like he wasn’t sure if that was penalty or not, because he’d never seen anyone do it that way before. And, of course, 6-7 women passed me when I missed the target on the spear throw and had to do my penalty burpees. (FYI, it’s a 30-burpee penalty.) But, and this is a huge but, the spear throw was the only obstacle I missed. I got through the weird monkey bars and the rope climbs and the Herculean hoist thing (even though it was basically my body weight that I was trying to hoist and the weight kept dragging me around through the sand instead of me dragging it).

It was really an exercise in deliberate-ness. I mean look at how deliberate I was being:

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I really, really didn’t want to get hurt. And, at one point, I was running down concrete stairs, between hard plastic chairs, and then down across the benches in the outfield seats, so that I was stepping from bench to bench, and I thought, “You could really mess yourself up on these; it wouldn’t even be hard.”

Expo/Goodies: Spartan Race isn’t really about the goodies? I think. I dunno. At least not at these stadium races. You got a t-shirt and a sweat armband and a medal for finishing. And I think that was it. There might have been some bananas and water somewhere too. But part of the problem with these stadium races—as opposed to their usual ones outdoors—is that there simply isn’t that much room. Everything is a little cramped in the stadium halls, so there’s no big expo. And it was hard to even find water. The woman at one of the concession stands told me she couldn’t give me a cup of water, but she could sell me some. Awesome.

Course: It’s more or less what you would think it would be inside a stadium. You run up a lot of stairs. Like, if you don’t want to run up and down stairs, do not do this race. And then, in between running up and down stairs, you do some pretty standard strength obstacles: push-ups, heavy jump rope, stone carry, box jumps, rope climbs, walls to get over, etc. It’s cool being able to run on the field, but it’s sort of a mess running through the stadium rows. It’s fun, and that’s what you signed up for, but concrete is not particularly forgiving.

Organizational Details: On the one hand, props for putting on a 5k race inside a major sports stadium inside a major city. That takes some organizing. On the other hand, it was a bit unorganized. Where is the start? Where are results? Where is water? And I was there really early, so I was able to park on the street immediately in front of the park and still be done before the parking restrictions went into effect at 9 a.m. I’m not sure how parking and logistics worked out for other people later. The main problem was that because you were running all over the stadium there was a lot of yellow tape up to direct you in and out of doors and around columns, etc, but it was still a little unclear at times—and you’re running full speed, because this is only 40 minutes long—and some of the stadium staff (as opposed to the volunteers with the race or the Spartan staff) could not have been less happy to be there. They did not care that you were running a race. So it was more than slightly frustrating to be charging hard down the concrete walkway and have the person standing there shrug when you asked which way to go.

On the whole, though, it’s a fun race and a good kind of wacky mix-up from your regular races. If you want to race hard, then go in the elite wave at the beginning, but know that means you can’t get any help on the obstacles. And, because they can only send off 15 people at a time in the cramped corridors, you still won’t really know how you’re stacking up as you go. (ie. I went off in the second group of 15 and I ended up 12th woman overall. So I guess I beat some people ahead of me and a couple behind me beat me? Maybe.)

Also, there’s an attitude to Spartan Race that I sort of respect. Like, you might hurt yourself running across benches over concrete. Guess you should be careful. And, when I would catch guys in front of me, they’d move over and get out of the way or let me go first, because let’s be real: if I’m catching you, with your 10 minute head start, then you’re not in contention to win anything, and it would considered very bad form to not get out of the way. At one point, we were just running up and up and up, and usually when things hurt in a race I think, ‘well, they wouldn’t make something that I can’t do,’ but then I thought, ‘this is Spartan, they might.’ At least more than most mass commercialized races. And I sort of respect that.

Grade: B-

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.

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