UPDATED: Original post – Aug. 12

Tomorrow is 8 weeks to Kona. I know this because 1. people on Facebook keep saying it and 2. it’s a Saturday, so that sort of makes sense.

People ask me a lot of questions about Kona training. Am I ready? (No, duh, I have 8 weeks still.) What’s training with Hillary like? (Hard.) How much do I train? (A normal amount for someone going to Kona.) I must train so much. (Not really.) What is that like? (Hard. Normal.) Am I excited? (Sure. And tired.)

I was reading this amazingly hilarious running diary of the opening Olympics weekend in Rio by a Sports Illustrated writer, and I thought that’s perfect for capturing the flavor of it all. I should do that. I should just do a running diary of these last 8 weeks and it will answer all these questions, which really all come down to one question: No, really, what’s it like?

So, this post will just be a running post from here until Oct. 8. (Just had to look up that date; blissful ignorance is my secret sauce.) I’ll add short notes and thoughts to the top, below this intro, maybe every day, maybe every few days. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll be so tired, it’ll just be a weird jumble of words. Welcome to the journey.

Friday, Sept. 30

10:43 a.m.

There are multiple photographers taking pictures out on the Queen K. That is how much of a scene it is. And everyone keeps saying, ‘Just wait until next week.’ Yeah, no thanks.

Thursday, Sept. 29

5:58 p.m.

It is raining in Kona. I officially brought the rain with me.

12:51 p.m.

It needs to be someone’s official job to keep me off social media. If you ever want to have a full-on panic attack about how everyone is doing cooler things than you and has amazing lives and is probably going to win, and you’re just sitting on your couch watching Law & Order: SVU and resting, then you should definitely browse the #roadtokona or #konamoments hashtags.

Wednesday, Sept. 28

5:20 p.m.

There are at least three world champions at the pool. Just in case I wasn’t feeling like enough of an insane head case.

3:22 p.m.

And I pass a guy in full race gear and kit, with a mirror attached to his aero helmet. That probably sums up how I’m going to feel about the next 10 days.

2:58 p.m.

I have officially pulled in to Kona for good.

Monday, Sept. 36

11:40 p.m.

Or maybe I’ve forgotten how to sleep.

11:33 p.m.

I’m so hungry I can’t fall asleep. I just keep thinking about all the things I’m going to eat tomorrow.

5:37 p.m.

I’m running down the side of the road at a tempo pace when a dreadlocked guy, walking barefoot towards me, calls me a “dyke.”

It’s likely that he’s mentally unstable. One could even make the argument that, by definition, yelling “dyke” at strangers isn’t a mentally stable thing to do. Still. It seems like an outdated attempt at an insult? Like 20 years out of date.

Sunday, Sept. 25

5:20 p.m.

I’m getting a massage at this meditative retreat center. It’s one of those yoga + meditation + clothing-optional type of retreat places, with lots of acres of trails and gardens and hammocks and huts to stay in and enjoy nature. I think my mom would be into it. It also has a massage school, with 80-minute massages for $40.

It’s actually a pretty good massage, especially for $40, but it’s definitely, uh, different than your standard sports-focused, performance-oriented body work.

It occurs to me, as I’m laying in silence in the communal massage temple, that I doubt anyone has ever come here as part of their Kona prep before. I may be the first. My masseuse is very excited about this. He’s pretty good and cool and I think enthusiastic about Ironman — it’s hard to know for sure because everything has to be said in a silent whisper and I’m only catching 50% of what he whispers. He does announce, though, based on the muscles in my back, that I’m definitely going to win.

So, just fyi, you all don’t need to show up now. It’s been decided. I got this.

10:45 a.m.

My Fitbit always thinks I’m amazing.

Saturday, Sept. 24

9:17 p.m.

At the lava tube in the park, two different people said to me, as I ran, “Are you doing The Ironman?” And when I said, “Yeah,” they both said (separately), “I could tell.”

Literally, days in the rainforest go by where I don’t talk to anyone in real life. My mom is getting sick of me calling her whenever Happy the Dog or Mr. Willie the Rabbit start to talk back to me. And the only conversations I have with real live actual people in Pahoa always start with, “Are you doing The Ironman?” I suppose I could have struck up a conversation with the guy at the market who was super excited that vodka was on sale, but somehow it would have ended with me explaining how The Ironman works.

I know that once I’m over in Kona, I’m going to be sick of triathletes within 48 hours, and I know I still have to do the damn thing, but god, I’m so ready to be done it’s almost like I already feel done.

2:30 p.m.

After I found the “trail” through the lava field, I was running hard and fast(ish) through the rain and wind in the crater. Everyone I passed was in raincoats and full hiking gear, and I was wearing tiny shorts and a tanktop, leaning in.

And I loved it.

1:25 p.m.

Except, uh, do you see a trail here? I don’t see a trail. I was running down through the steam vents and then through the rainforest and all of a sudden I was on a lava field. Where do you go from here?

14364690_10105740860087173_9218152371337330895_n

12:44 p.m.

Worth it.

14462838_10105740860256833_945574415157994106_n

11:58 a.m.

Some days you have to declare a ‘good for the soul’ day. I needed to do my last (please, I hope it’s my last) long run somewhere that wasn’t a boring mind-numbing hot road. I needed to do something fun. So I’m running around Volcanoes National Park. Volcanoes. As in more than one.

TWO WEEKS TO GO

Continue Reading…

This year, this season, has been important for me. I’ve needed it to prove to myself that Wisconsin, which seemed to come out of nowhere, wasn’t a fluke. I needed this year to build a consistent base of actual training, to make sure I could sustain the load without getting hurt. I needed to see what I could do and I needed to see if there was a glimmer of more potential on the horizon, more reason to keep at it. Because if not, that’s fine and it’s been fun, but then this is sort of it.

So this year’s been all about progress, constant incremental progress. Mostly, that’s been easy. Not easy in the day-in, day-out work, but easy to count on the workouts getting faster. The PRs have come, again and again. Every single race has been a personal best. That’s easy to do when you have so much room for improvement. But I also knew these leaps and bounds wouldn’t last. At some point, I wouldn’t be able to PR a 5K during a random training block anymore. And that’d be fine, because it’d mean I’d picked all the low-hanging fruit. But it’d also mean that all that’s left is the chiseling of small constant incremental progress.

I raced Whistler 70.3 last weekend because I wanted to race one more half before Kona (and I won’t be doing Australia since I screwed that up). It was a good race, a solid race. 2nd woman, 4:48 on a slow course on a tough day. It was also the first race this year that hasn’t been definitively obviously better than the one before it. This may not be obvious to everyone else — courses are different, times are different, competition is different — but it’s been obvious to me. Still. Whistler wasn’t obviously better, but it was slightly better, better enough. Constant progress.

When things started to go really south in the last two miles, when I was swallowing down vomit and covered in urine — so much urine — I kept thinking about all the halves I’ve tried in the past and failed, all the times things went really south in the last four or five miles and I shuffle-walked it in. I started having flashbacks to the underprepared death slog that was the last six miles of Ironman Canada on this same course two year ago. And then I thought: I am not that athlete anymore.

So, instead, I ran as fast as I could, which wasn’t as fast as  I wanted, and did what I needed to do to hang onto second. And then I ran all the way through the damn timing mats (learning! progress!) before I was carted to the med tent to dry-heave bile for a little while.

I had wanted to win. I had wanted to run a sub-1:30. I had wanted to kill it and go into focused Kona training confident that I’m prepared. But that’s not what happened. We don’t always get the lessons we want, I guess, but I got one I needed. I am not the athlete I used to be; I can hang tough. I am getting better, bit by bit. Progress. Constant tiny progress.

Here are some other random notes and bits from Whistler, which may be one of my favorite places if not my favorite race:

  • Caps no longer stay on my head for the whole swim. Almost every race I either have to stop to pull it down or let it slowly slide off. I dunno if my head got bigger or the caps have gotten shittier.Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 5.39.16 PM
  • Rolling swim starts are stupid. A race is a race. If it’s not, then it’s just a random assortment of people completing an arbitrary distance. (A guy tried to argue with me about this the day after, something about how ‘if I really looked at the history of triathlon…’ And, well, you do not want to argue with me the day after a race. I literally said, to this person I had never met before, “No, that’s stupid, you’re wrong.”)
  • At one point, after I swam past all these people, I thought, “Maybe I did something weird, took a wrong turn, and don’t remember it because I blacked out.”
  • I ended up totally by myself for a long time in the swim. Eventually, I saw a guy behind me, so I slowed down to let him go by and then sat on his feet like it was the end of my race. This is how I know I’m getting better at swimming. I used to think that when swimmers said things like ‘and then I let him go by and sat on his feet,’ they had to be lying, because there was no way anyone could be that on top of things during a swim.
  • When the eventual winner and another girl went by me about 8 miles into the bike, I actually tried to go with them, which I never do. Sure, I dropped my chain and lost them when we merged with the Ironman racers, and then I went back to my regular ‘just keep pushing your own pace.’ And it probably wouldn’t have worked out great anyway, if I had stayed with them, since I ended up getting 6 minutes put on me by the winner. But at least I’m trying, at least I’m starting to respond to the race when it goes by me, at least I’m starting to think I belong.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 12.38.27 PM

  • I finally successfully peed on the bike. I have never done this. Of course, the only reason I was able to finally pee on the bike is because I really needed to pee. I thought it’d be subtle. It was not. And because this was on a long downhill, basically there was suddenly a massive torrent of urine, which hit my wheel and sprayed everywhere. I don’t think the people behind me were too happy either.
  • I do not usually pee on the bike, because I do not usually pee in races period. Everyone’s different, but if I get my nutrition right I don’t pee in races shorter than an Ironman. The fact that I peed in my wetsuit warming up before the race was rare enough. Then I peed everywhere on the bike. Then I started having to pee again by the end of the bike. This was concerning. This meant I had screwed something up, and things were going to get nasty sooner or later. I troubleshooted, downed some gels, but…
  • By halfway through the run I had to pee again. It, too, was not subtle. There was pee everywhere. It settled in my shoes as I ran. And I wear Hokas, which meant that I was basically wearing urine-soaked sponges tied to my feet. You could hear them squish with every step.
  • Things went south. I hadn’t taken in enough electrolytes or calories, especially in the hours and day before the race, too much water. But I kept running. And people kept cheering for me. There are lots of downsides to being a woman in sports, etc, but one upside: People love to cheer for you. They love seeing women near the front. And people really love to cheer for me. They’re so excited I haven’t passed out yet. I look like I’m going to die! But I haven’t died! I get a lot of: “You’re doing it!” And I am, I am doing it.

Vineman 70.3 + A Note

July 12, 2016 — 6 Comments

The last time I did Vineman 70.3 was in 2011. I went 5:07 and ended up peeing on myself. It was not a high point — though it was probably a standard point then — in my triathlon career.

This year, I wanted to do much much better and I wanted to go hard. That was my plan. Just go hard. Stay in it. See what happens.

Naturally, somehow, I ran out of time before the race and ended up being that person who is sprinting down the beach, wetsuit in hand, as my wave gets in the water to warm-up. Some guys in the wave behind me helped and I still was in the water with five minutes to go. So. Whatever. Tons of time. Stop being so triathlete about everything.

Steve provided helpful Twitter updates as I was swimming:

The swim, itself, was weird. I was all of a sudden in first and I kept waiting for the girl swimming with me to pull away, only she didn’t. It never felt insanely hard, but I figured we had to be swimming fast, right? I’ve never been in first in a swim before, so I’m just going to assume this is good? Maybe it doesn’t feel that hard because I’m killing it? It actually turns out that if you feel like it’s not particularly hard that should probably be a clue. I was wildly appalled that we ended up swimming a 29:11. But it’s just as well I don’t wear a watch during the swim and only found this out after the race. Note to work on: Stop thinking of self as “just a moderately OK swimmer who is only in the front by mistake.”

CnAnJlPUkAAnCrs

I got on the bike first after arguing with a spectator about whether or not the “hill” at the mount line was too steep to start on. He said it was. I said I’m from around here, this isn’t even a hill.

The girl I’d been swimming with caught me pretty quickly, but I decided she’d come back to me later. Then Emily caught me around 45 minutes in. Objectively, I knew I was biking well. Power, speed, time, catching pro girls. Why was I getting passed so much then? What the hell was going on? I briefly had a ‘maybe my power meter is broken’ line of thought, and then decided it’d be fine. Fiiiiiine. Just keep going hard and they’ll come back to you. This is what I told myself all day. That and: if you don’t eat and drink no one is going to come back to you.

Around two hours in, I caught back up to the first girl and was catching some of the pro women who started right before us (and watching some of the 45-year-old men’s pace lines as they went by). I sort of zoned out a little at the end and maybe lost some time because all of a sudden I was at 2:39 and pulling into the school — and I definitely thought I’d be pulling in a few minutes before that.

It’s fine, fiiiiiine, just keep going hard and they’ll come back to you.

As I biked in, I saw Emily headed out on the run. I thought, that’s what, 4 minutes? I can totally make up 4 minutes, just run hard, it’s fiine. It’s probably just as well I didn’t know it was really like 7 minutes.

I ran hard. 6:40s, 6:50s on the hills, and there were lots of hills. It’s possible I ran a 6:30 first mile. But I felt good, pounding gels and water. I kept thinking I’d come around a corner and see Emily way up ahead on the road. I kept thinking if I just ran hard the race would come back to me. At the winery, I saw Leslie coming out as I headed in. She told me after that she didn’t recognize me because I was running so fast, so there you go. Apparently, when I stumbled into the finish later I was totally recognizable.

It wasn’t until the turnaround that I finally saw anyone in my race. And there wasn’t much to think at that point but: well, shit. Emily was still 3-4 minutes ahead of me and Christine was maybe a bit over a minute behind me and moving significantly faster. I was basically running in third, it just hadn’t happened yet. That’s just math. But I’m sort of proud of what I thought and did at that point: There wasn’t much I could do with 4.5 miles to go; I hadn’t played my cards well enough early enough to get enough time on the swim + bike. All I could do now was keep running as hard as I could, because you never know.

Around 9 miles I also ran straight into a wall. Everything started to hurt, just overwhelming heavy pain. This is what I looked like still trying to run 7:15s:

I was fighting and struggling, and it’s all a bit of a blur. But I made it to the last mile without Christine catching me and really thought I was going to be able to do it. I could see the school up ahead, and then she blew by. And my legs were 100% jello. They just gave out. She put a whole minute on me in that last 5 minutes. But eventually I made it to the finish and my legs buckled and I sort of leaned into whatever was closest, which turned out to be a table of medals. And people were calling for medical and I was like: It’s fine, I’m fiiiiiiine, Imma just sit down for a little bit. Hah.

Next time, I’ll finally run a sub-1:30. Next time.

Now, a note that needs some goddamn head-on addressing:

The top three in our age group were the top three amateurs overall, and very fast. In the aftermath of it being stupid insanely competitive, two comments stood out.

  • Steve was looking at either the 30-34 or 35-39 men’s podium (I don’t remember which) and was like: Hey, that’s sort of do-able; if I get in shape again, I could have a shot at that, as opposed to how insane the women’s category was, comparatively. And I pointed out that’s precisely because there are fewer men racing age group who really should be racing elite. Yes, there are individuals here and there, but look at the top 10 amateurs at Kona, for example, more of those men will be racing elite next year than the women. The overall aggregate effect of this, which isn’t a comment on the competitiveness of any one specific race or age group, is that the men’s age groups feel still within shot, if you trained hard, sure, but not impossible. Which brings us to the second point…
  • A friend on twitter, who’s also 30-34, was like ‘Ugh, that’s so ridiculous it makes me just want to quit, since I’d never have a shot.’ That is exactly the problem with the current situation, with fewer top AG women feeling they have a reason to move up, fewer opportunities for them at the top, it has a debilitating effect that trickles down in the sport. This stifles growth and development. This also isn’t to comment on any specific person, everyone has their reasons obviously, but the net overall effect is a chilling self-perpetuating cycle where the only way you can compete in the age groups is to be good enough to race in the elite field — which seems oxymoronic.

Look, I get that people think this is a weird argument coming from me specifically; I was one of those top three women this weekend. I get that the fact that six years ago I qualified for an elite license and am instead currently racing age group stresses everyone out and has been causing a lot of whispering, so let’s clear up some facts.

1. I was not qualified to race elite, even if I had wanted to, at the start of this year. Literally. Did not meet qualification criteria. I am racing the only category I was qualified to race this season. So chill out.

2. Until races this spring, I last qualified for my elite license six years ago. Once. During that six years, I didn’t even do triathlon at all for a few of them. There are lots of people who have qualified to race elite lots of times a lot more recently than me who are still racing age group. The only difference between them and me is they never took their license before. The difference is definitely not in ability, training volume, time, lifestyle, or resources.

3. Yes, I plan to move up. Let me finish out the fucking season I’ve already paid for, but no I don’t intend to stay here forever. The problem is not with moving up on a schedule, but with never doing so.

4. And this is a bit more philosophical, but: I am a LOT faster than I ever was when I raced elite. I started training for real last summer just to see if I could get good. I needed this year to build a base, and test out if I could actually sustain the training without getting hurt, and make sure I didn’t make the same mistakes I did last time around, and set up my work schedule and support structure and environment, and get my mindset screwed on so I could really be professional about things when the time came. And, yet, I still lose the age group plenty of times. It’s gotten overall faster since I last raced regularly. I never would qualify now for an elite license on my old fitness. And that’s good for the sport, but partially there’s also this class of elite AGers that I don’t remember from before. That system is the problem. I know I have a specific story, but there’s NOT some giant problem of people who used to race elite coming back to age group after taking a break. There’s like four of us in the country and we’re not even the fastest. It’s like worrying about voter fraud; it’s not really a real thing. I know it’d be easier for me to not be the one pointing out the problems with how our women’s age groups are set up, but hell, if anyone knows firsthand the ripple effects on women of our current system it’s me. When we don’t have a separate elite-amateur category, when we don’t force the best people to upgrade, when we don’t have opportunities for women at the top level to encourage them to move up, when we have systemic and cultural attitudes that discourage women from owning their success, this is what you get.

It’s been a year since I started with Hillary. A year of training hard and getting faster, almost like that’s how it’s supposed to work. Naturally, it was fitting that I marked the anniversary with a double race weekend — not this past weekend but the one before that: Pacific Grove Triathlon on Saturday, Dipsea on Sunday.

Why am I writing about two weekends ago? Because it turns out when you do two races in 24 hours, the odds of you getting super sick are pretty high.

Here is the only tip I have about doing two races back to back: don’t think about it; also do the one you really care about first. There were a total of three times I thought about it the whole weekend:

  • when I needed to spin on my bike after PacGrove instead of laying on the ground
  • when I tried to warm-up the morning of the Dipsea and was like: oooooooooh, ouch
  • during the last 15 minutes of the Dipsea, when my brain was just way too tired to navigate the stairs and singletrack at any kind of speed; the expression on my face pretty much sums up my feelings at that point:

dipsea stairs

There are no pictures from Pacific Grove, which sort of sucks, so here is a story instead.

My secret goal was to break the course record. 2:14:36. It’s five minutes faster than I’ve ever gone here, and Pacific Grove is very dependent on conditions, but I still thought I could possibly do it. I ended up missing by 10 seconds, but, well, it’s a long story.

I won it in the swim. FYI. I buried myself in that swim. First time ever actually drafting off the front woman’s feet worked. And then suddenly I was in first and there was a kayak leading me. And when I hit the water for a second lap, everything hurt. Holy shit. But I managed to hang in and came out only 5 seconds back from first — who was a collegiate swimmer! This is basically insane.

The bike wasn’t awesome. Neither was the run. But both were good enough. I actually got very down on myself after the first bike lap because I wasn’t going as fast as I wanted. Or, rather, because I was “sucking.” But then I decided I was still opening up a slight gap on the women behind me, so I couldn’t be sucking too much. I ended up biking a tiny bit faster than the fastest I’ve ever gone here (which I’ve never even been close to since that one time) and I got the Strava QOM, so that’s how you know it really counts.

I glanced at my watch as I hit the run. All I needed to do was run a 42 to get the record. Easy. No problem. And I was pretty sure I was in first. But as I started, there was a girl running with me, from my age group. Which I thought was weird, because I hadn’t seen her, and I assumed she had skipped a lap on the bike. (It happens a lot here.) But then she was running the same speed as me, so she probably isn’t new? So she probably knows what she’s doing? So then I decided I’d just have to beat her. But I couldn’t. I’d gap her and think it was done and then she’d come back on me, and then I’d catch her and pass her again. And even though, when I glanced at my watch, I objectively knew I was capable of running faster, I just could not run faster. And she pulled away from me in that last lap and I couldn’t close. So many side stitches, so many cramps, oh well, I was just going to break the record, but end up losing by 8 seconds or whatever.

Then when I turned into the finish, she turned to start another lap of the run. I waved at her and pointed. I really felt bad. I thought she had beaten me, but I’d end up technically winning because she was confused. Somewhere there is a picture of me looking chagrined as I break the tape.

(Of course, it turned she was confused because she thought it was four laps on the run and she’d only done three on the bike. It’s really three on the run and four on the bike. So yeah.)

Now, I looked at the clock when I came around that last turn and I was pretty sure between that and my watch that I had gone 2:14:2x. I was sort of surprised, then, when the official results said my time was 2:14:46 — ten seconds off the course record. After a lot of time, here’s my theory on what happened: As I crossed the finish, I started to lay down, but somewhere in my head I thought, ‘no, you need to cross the timing mats.’ I sort of stumbled across one of them and then veered sideways and sat down against the barricade. After 15-20 seconds, I stood up to go talk to the girl who I’d been running with. And it seems likely my chip didn’t actually register on one of the timing mat until that point. Which is 1. obviously annoying and why wave starts are frustrating for overall places, and 2. a good reminder to STOP DOING THAT.

Then I spinned on my bike, drove home, ate a burrito, napped, packed up my stuff for the Dipsea, and was way too wired to fall asleep.

dipsea

The Dipsea was fine. At some point, it all starts to hurt anyway. And it’s not like I was going to win. I ran as hard as I could. I actually did the best I’ve ever done — 96th — and I was really excited when I was in 78th at the top of the hill. But then there’s maybe 20 minutes of running down stairs and singletrack that isn’t so much singletrack as it is running through bushes. And my brain was just not capable of dealing at that point. That was when I finally started to feel way too tired.

So I just ran as hard as I could when I could and then it was done. Which pretty much sums everything up for the last year anyway.

I Ran a 38:53 10K!!

June 1, 2016 — 4 Comments

That’s really all I have to say. Officially, the results from the Memorial Day 10K say I ran 38:56, but I think that’s gun time not really chip time and my watch said 38:53.8 when I pressed stop. So, screw it, I’m counting it.

In the last 12 months since I started with Hillary — since it’s basically been almost exactly a year of this test project ‘how fast can I get/what would happen if I actually took this seriously’ — I’ve done a lot of stuff I didn’t think I could do (stuff in training that never makes it to the internet) and I’ve been insanely happy in a doesn’t-seem-like-me kind of way with a few of my races. But running a 38:xx 10K has to be in my top three things I’m excited about.

Even though it was a random race and didn’t really matter and was just part of a training block, I’ve never ever ever managed to run a sub-40 10K. I had started to think it just wasn’t possible for me. I couldn’t do it back in 2009-2011, when I was triathlon training seriously and racing lots of Olympic distance (ie. 10Ks). I couldn’t do it when I took a triathlon break and then got in good running shape in 2013. I couldn’t do it last year when I was pounding out fast track intervals for fun with The Kids at USC.

So when I hit the 10K in 39:30-something during that ugly 10-mile race back in April, and then had to run four more miles, I almost immediately texted Hillary and asked if I could sign up for the Memorial Day 10K. And I started to think maybe, maybe, if I did it right, maybe I could even break 39. But don’t say that out loud.

memorialday10k

I am a shockingly ugly runner. Always.

There’s only one other thing I have to say about the 10K and it is this:

The second mile I didn’t think I was going to make it. Hell, Steve didn’t think I was going to make it either; he told me later that I looked like I was in bad shape. The main problem was that I inflamed the tendons and ligaments around my sternum and ribs on Thursday/Friday. (I think it happened, in part, when I had to get towed in on my paddleboard Thursday afternoon. Whatever.) It really hurt swimming on Friday and was incredibly painful whenever I breathed hard during our long ride on Saturday. By Monday it was mostly better, but that second mile I just couldn’t get a deep breath in. I was doing a weird hyperventilating thing and struggling. And I was sure I wasn’t going to be able to keep going. And I thought about one of those other times, back in 2010 I think, when I wanted to break 40 minutes at this race, but I dropped out a little before the mid-point instead.

And then two things happened: I still ran a 6:10 mile even though I felt like I was dying, and I decided I wasn’t going to quit anyway. And after that it was fine. It still hurt, but by the halfway point I knew I could do it. And even when it hurt after that and I looked like I was dying — doing all my usual sticking out my tongue and closing my eyes and biting my lip — I knew I was going to do it. All that was left was to actually do it.

Also: Steve signed up morning of and apparently his handwriting is so great they thought “Stephen” said “Shethed” — which I am pronouncing SHET-head. Seems logical.

CjzM8bmUUAEgMCO

Multiple people the week after Wildflower (which was last week) kept telling me how tough I am. Which I thought was funny. I told Steve this and he also thought it was funny, so that’s either encouraging or not.

I don’t feel tough. I feel like I had four-and-a-half hours of feeling good at Wildflower and then 40 minutes of thinking I was going to pass out, wondering if my shuffle would get me to the finish line before I passed out, and being 100% certain no one was moving as slowly as I was. There was a long period where I was not gaining on the larger older man in front of me, and all I could think was: That’s not great.

The arguments in my head for continuing to run were: You’re winning the amateur race, you should not start walking. Just don’t fuck it all up now. You don’t even have to run fast, you just have to run. And even if you get passed, you’ve still had a great race, so there’s that. (Yes, I talk to myself in the third person during races. Let it go.)

In retrospect, though, I guess I’ve gotten better at stuff. A year ago, I’m fairly certain the long-course at Wildflower would have left me walking most of the time. A year ago, post-bachelorette party, I got 7th in the Olympic. So. It must have been the RV this year that made all the difference. After Leslie gave me a pep talk post-Galveston about how triathlon is supposed to be fun, I invited myself to join her and Alyssa’s super classy RV to Wildflower. I slept on top of the kitchen table.

RV

We hung out at the campgrounds on Friday, got our pre-race stuff done, and “relaxed.” The two of them kept making me take “relaxing time,” which is a new thing for me. So on race morning I ended up with hours and hours to talk to The USC Kids and hang out with my Freeplay teammate Christine — and by talk and hang out I mostly mean make fun of things.

My goal for the swim was to stick with Christine, which lasted for all of 30 seconds. The problem with my swimming right now is I’m not sure yet if I’m fast or not. I’m almost fast? I ended up coming out of the water with one girl and two others (including Christine) less than 45 seconds ahead of us. Apparently the swim was also long, but I don’t wear a watch anymore, so don’t know, don’t care. I transitioned like a champ, because that’s basically what I’m best at in life. And I caught Christine by the top of the boat ramp.

I either did something brilliant or stupid at this point. I decided if I was in first, and I was pretty sure I was, then I should make it stick. To do that, I had to run the first weird 2.2-mile transition fast. I wasn’t wearing a watch, just went off feel and it felt hard but do-able. In retrospect, though, I’m 90% sure I was running 6:30-40s. This might have come back to bite me later, but it worked, so I’m putting it in the brilliant category.

By the time I got on my bike, I was hoping I had enough of a gap that no one would even see me and I’d be gone and they’d never think about it again. The bike started out windy and kind of miserable. It took almost an hour to do the first 15 miles. But, for whatever reason, that didn’t bother me at all. I’ve spent so much time riding in the wind lately that I don’t even remember how nice it is to not ride in miserable wind. And it was so obviously slow that it was clear it wasn’t me. Either this was going to be slow for everyone (it was) or it would have to get less windy on the back half (it did).

6673fd3da75dcff134b028b1f63534a4

Parts of the bike were sketchy though. When I was going in the mid-30s mph, on potholed roads, with gusts of winds suddenly, and trucks passing, I didn’t even worry about what kind of effort I was putting out. I just tried to stay on my bike. I almost got hit by a horse trailer at one point — the guy gave me enough room, but appeared to forget that his trailer would swing wide behind him, almost hitting me. Overall, though, I felt good on the bike. Thirsty (stupid tiny water bottles at the aid stations), but good.

And I kept feeling good for three miles of the run. Then I really didn’t. Evidently, everyone thought I had done the long-course here before, so no one told me exactly how bad it is. That was a fun surprise. Leslie and Alyssa had mentioned the one really steep section, so the whole run I kept thinking: Is this it? Is this it? I still don’t know which part was the really bad part. It was all bad.

Christine's husband took this photo of me being ALMOST done

Christine’s husband took this photo of me being ALMOST done

I was pounding gels and dumping water on myself. My shoes were squishing. I was hot and I was sure that I was going to pass out. I was primarily concerned that I was going to lose via passing out. Basically, the only thing that kept me moving was that I was in the lead. I was sure I was going to be run down, and I was just trying to make it hard for Christine (or anyone in the later waves) to catch me. Just make them earn it.

At the top of the hill to the finish, there’s a guy giving tequila shots. I really thought about it, but figured I’d be pissed if I lost by five seconds. And then I just had to run down the hill and cross the line.

wildflower - finish

The part that’s crazy to me is that I was completely sure I was running across that line and straight into the med tent. I was so hot and so messed up. But I crossed the line, struggled a little bit, wobbled, and then was fine. Thirsty and tired and shaky, but fine. The next day I was totally fine. By Tuesday, I’d never felt better after a race. This is weird to me. After Galveston, it took a week before I even wanted to do a workout. I napped every single day. I was a wreck. Who knows how these things work. Maybe it’s all in our heads.

I wrote this right after training camp in Arizona in early March, but then I also had written a story about training camp for espnW, so I decided to wait until that ran to publish this. Then, my editor asked me if I had thought more about why I randomly started crying. And I was like, OH, HAVE I. (And also, for the record, all this anger/confidence mellowed out some right before Galveston; we’ll see if it comes back.) So here is my original post:

There’s been this thing recently — as is perhaps obvious — where I haven’t really felt the desire to write stuff here. And I could say it’s because I’m tired and busy (sure, true, whatever), but it’s also because I’ve been fighting this weird simmering unease and anger that’s hard to pin down and that seems to be intricately connected to triathlon in some way that I can’t explain. Since there was no clear and perky thing to write, I didn’t write.

But then I was thinking about Ta-Nehisi Coates’ idea that you write not to make an argument, but to refine your argument in the first place. Not to answer questions, but to understand which questions are the ones you should be asking. And I realized the question wasn’t why I wasn’t blogging or why do I want to punch the old men who make vaguely sexist comments at me when I’m running. Those answers are somewhat obvious. The question really came down to: Why did I start crying at the top of Mt. Lemmon at training camp last weekend? (Less obvious actually.)

Have you seen the new Under Armour ad campaign? The first gymnastics video made me want to go fuck some shit up, but the subsequent Michael Phelps ad did that + so much more. I wanted to break things and cry and prove everyone wrong and buy Under Armour. Kidding, but not really.

Almost every female athlete I know who watches this has had the same reaction. I thought everyone was having the same reaction. But then I showed Steve and he was: *shrug,* the same as Nike. And one guy after another agreed. It was not that interesting to them. The more I think about this, the more I think this isn’t coincidental.

It’s in the tone of the ads, in the darkness of them. Nike’s “Just do it” is a great ad slogan, particularly for guys who have always been permitted to just do it. For women, though, there’s an element that it doesn’t capture. There’s a part of “just do it” that doesn’t speak to all the times you’re not supposed to do it, of putting in the work when no one even wants you to anyway, when you’re being told you should be doing something else, that you shouldn’t be doing this. I think that’s why these Under Armour ads, this slogan — “it’s what you do in the dark that lets you shine in the light” — resonate with female athletes.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the gendered expectations of what I should or shouldn’t be doing lately. Because, I swear to God, I can’t go a day without someone asking me to justify my life to them. Why aren’t I having kids yet? If I’m not having kids, shouldn’t I be climbing the corporate ladder or something? When am I going to get a real job? Oh, this triathlon thing you’re doing must be nice; it’d be so great to have that kind of time.

The idea that I have made a conscious decision to see how fast I can get right now and have made choices to support that effort is so alien as to be an entirely different language. In fact, now, I’m wondering if I should just start sign language-ing the next time I find myself in this conversation. *Signing: I do not acknowledge your boxes; stop trying to put me in them.*

It has also recently come to my attention that I don’t necessarily look like I should be a good athlete. This isn’t a passive-aggressive call for compliments, but a fact. I suppose it’s because I’m small and turn bright red and tend to look like I might pass out or die. This has been true my whole life, but given the difficulty of some of my workouts in the past few months, the degree of redness and possibility of passing out has increased. This is prompting a lot of people, mostly strangers, to make more comments than usual to me. I am a constant source of inspiration, evidently. It’s amazing I’m out here at all. I really should wear sunscreen. Am I sure I’m OK? I probably need a break. You know, I really ought to “ride a higher cadence/drink more electrolytes/midfoot strike when I run/not be out here by myself.”

I’ll give you two guesses about which gender has made every single one of the SUPER HELPFUL comments about what I should be doing.

And, you can be sure people would like to let me know that the science is still out on if women should even, biologically speaking, be pushing their bodies too hard. What if it makes you infertile? What if it’s just too difficult to overcome all your hormones and stuff? Besides, no one wants to see women looking like that. Right?

It’s annoying and bullshit and an artifact of a time I mistakenly thought we were no longer in, but it’s also made things very simple. I spend a lot of time talking to myself while I’m training, because there isn’t anyone else to talk to. And, when so many people have opinions about what I should be doing, it’s very easy to tell myself, “Screw them all, I’m nailing the shit out of this workout instead.” It’s really easy, when I think I might cry, to think instead: I don’t want that old guy eyeing me like he’s got something to say, to think, even for a second, that my crying is why women shouldn’t be allowed to do sports. When I want to hit Stop on the treadmill, I find myself arguing that I can’t, because I want the high school girl watching me to believe, even just a little bit, that she can do things too. It’s exhausting, but it’s also simple.

Last weekend, I was at training camp in Arizona with Hillary and Smashfest teammates, and one of the things I appreciate is that there are a LOT of fast women there, and guys who aren’t the least bit fazed by fast women. Of course, none of this stuff was consciously going through my head during camp; I was too tired. Mostly, I was just trying to try my hardest and not give up. Because if this is the thing you’re doing and you don’t do it, then what the hell are you doing anyway?

So we ran. And then we rode 118 of the hardest miles I’ve probably ever done on Friday and swam 3,000 yards of the fastest 200s I’ve ever done. And Saturday we were in the pool for the longest I’ve ever swum (10,000 yards) and rode some slow slow recovery miles. This meant by the time we were set to race up Mt. Lemmon on Sunday, I was wrecked, but I was determined. I rode and rode, and when I got dropped around 15 miles in, I rode some more. And then I started to fall apart. Maybe this was all a waste of time. Maybe I hadn’t come as far in the last nine months as I felt like I had. Maybe this whole triathlon thing was better as a hobby. Maybe everyone else (not at camp) was right. Maybe I should buy into the American Dream after all, meet expectations.

But then I started to talk to myself like I usually do. And I thought about what you do in the dark, and why it matters. Mt. Lemmon crests just after 20 miles, and then descends, and then there’s a little climb again before you descend the last mile or so into town. I started really hammering that last few miles and arguing with myself about why I needed to try my hardest even if it didn’t matter, even if no one else knew or cared. I would know if it wasn’t really my hardest. And, all of a sudden, as I’m descending into town, when it’s all over and the tough part is finished and you’re basically done, I started to cry.

Why? Because I was tired, yes. Constant fatigue is an overwhelming part of serious training that can not be ignored. But it was also because ‘Screw them all.’ Because I’m doing it anyway. Because who cares if I cry or not; I reject the traditional male lens through which you view sports. Because I was worried I had somehow failed in those miles I’d questioned myself, as if everything could fall apart so easily. Because I don’t have to justify anything to anyone.

And, of course, from there we finished camp and I tried my hardest. And no one really knew how big an emotional meltdown I’d had (ed note: or no one knew until I wrote about it for espnW, hah). Or that in the question of why I needed to go into the bathroom at the Cookie Cabin at the top of the mountain and sob for a few minutes were so many other questions I can’t answer.

 

ICYMI, I’ve been writing these weekly ‘Ask A Random Triathlete’ advice columns, which are kind of my favorite thing I write every week, even if they only crack me and six other people up.

I didn’t really have anything to say about this race right after it happened because I didn’t want to think any more about it. Or rather I was thinking about it a lot, but trying not to. And I was trying to let my brain recharge and rebuild, and the internet is not conducive to that.

But also: there isn’t a ton to say. There’s a reason when pros write race reports that are basically ‘I just didn’t have it today’ it’s SUPER boring to read. Because that may be fascinating to the person in the race but it’s boring to everyone else. So here’s my boring race report: I didn’t have it, and it was fiiiine I guess overall, but I’m 100% putting out paces and efforts in training that made me very, almost irrationally, disappointed with my race.

We started as the first age group, six minutes behind the pro women, which made for a tough (but informative) day. My swim was solid. I got on the bike. And then I saw six people the whole ride — four of whom were 40-44 men passing me in the last 10 miles as I had a meltdown. Or, rather, I saw all the people in the later age groups headed out as I was headed back, but I only passed or was passed by six. For all that this race is supposed to be a fast draft fest, my race was lonely as fuck. I did OK on the way out, into the crazy wind, but then I fell apart on the way back. My watts were Ironman numbers, and unfortunately this was a half-Ironman. I was not dealing well with the crosswind and was sitting super weird on my bike trying to stay low or something. I dunno what I did, but my seat was digging into my hamstrings to the point that it was debilitatingly hard to pedal. Whatever. I just wanted off my bike and none, NONE, of the mental tricks I’ve taught myself were working.

I still knew it might come back to me while I ran around a parking lot for 13.1 miles. But it didn’t really. Lap 1 was not great but good enough. Lap 2 I was so hot I wasn’t sure if I was going to pass out before or after the finish line. Lap 3 the only thing that kept me moving as I shoved ice down everything was that a 44-yo woman on her first lap passed me and I figured I really should stay with her.

I finished in 4:43 and was a hot mess. Sitting under the med canopy (not quite a tent) every other one of the girls around me said it was also tough and windy and miserable and hot for them too. So I figured we all were suffering and I felt OK about that. And then 15 minutes later I started crying. And I kept crying randomly all afternoon and evening. I cried in the Denver airport after I stupidly had to leave straight from the race, as I dizzyingly nauseously looked for food during my stupid layover on the stupidest flight decision I have ever made. I cried the next day when a police officer turned me around at an intersection because the road was closed. Basically, I cried a lot. So, no, it’s not exactly a mystery that I was clearly a little in a hole, a little emotionally and mentally and physically beat up. I mean, for fucks sake, I literally thought at one point during the run, “Why am I even spending so much time training if I’m just going to suck like this? Why the fuck have I been wasting my time? I’m a joke.” And then, because I’ve grown enough as an athlete that I didn’t just quit at that point, I thought, “I think my brain is fried. If I get through this, it really needs a break.”

People have given me a lot of pep talks. And, I get that it was still a solid race, a PR, I dealt with it and we figured out some issues (like don’t race an 11-speed cassette on your 10-speed bike, which honestly worked fine enough; it’s not like that’s what was holding me back). But I also know that Hillary probably summed it up best when I did my first hard workout since the race on Tuesday, she said, “These were great, more like your normal files instead of whatever the fuck that was in Galveston.” Which is now how we’re referring to the experience. Whatever the fuck that was in Galveston.

Ready to Race?

April 8, 2016 — 3 Comments

Two weeks ago I was so ready and jacked to race that I was about to tear someone’s head off. Then I was in a hole for a week and now I’m at the teary part of being ready to go. Basically anything about people overcoming stuff is making me cry. This story made me cry a little. This one definitely made me a little wet-eyed on the ferry home from work. Even the University of Phoenix commercial got me choked up — though, in all fairness, it’s a very good commercial.

I suppose I’m ready for Galveston 70.3 on Sunday. I don’t know. I don’t know that it really matters how I feel either. I’ve been training a lot, so it’s probably time to see if what I’ve been doing for the last six months (since Wisconsin) holds up.

We’re weird about how we view talent and ability and performance. We tend to overvalue prodigy. We love the stories of how someone was soooooo good right away, without even trying. We love the blank possibility in that. We think, then, when someone gets better it’s just because they worked harder than everyone else. But none of that is really how it works. The part of The Sports Gene that I read made the fair point that how good someone is at the start and how much someone improves from training are two very different genetic traits, neither of which necessarily predicts how good they will be at the end.

I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my life. I know that. Steve and Hillary know it. I don’t know how good that is exactly. But I know it didn’t happen overnight. It’s the end result of years of playing soccer and running in high school and getting into triathlon in college and learning to ride a bike but having no endurance and racing elite for two years, because why not, even as I worked 60-hour weeks and having injury after injury and learning to deal with all that and quitting from burnout for another few years and building up a different base of random endurance and strength — yes, Crossfit and obstacle course races and marathons and open water relays — and deciding to do an Ironman just to see what it was like but not being ready to get back into the sport and then having fun again with The Kids last year. All of that, every little bit of it, made me ready this past summer for what I considered “the pilot project.” The ‘what would happen if I went all in, if I tried my hardest, if triathlon was what I did and I really did it as good as I could’ test project.

I wouldn’t have been ready for the training Hillary gives me before now, and I wouldn’t have been ready to give it my all until now.

Part of the deal I made with myself coming back to triathlon was that I was doing it my way, which means not being all triathlete about it and not being so worried about what everyone else thinks. That means, in classic fashion, getting to Galveston was a bit of a mess, because all things always are with me before races. When my bike didn’t show up at the baggage claim for an hour or so, I literally just thought, ‘Yeah, sounds about right.’ I already had a Plan B by the time it eventually came. And at least I didn’t forget a passport or have a car breakdown this time. (I also just finally thought all the way through my schedule and flight back, and realized I have about two hours between when I should finish and when I have to leave for the airport. So, packing the bike in the transition parking lot it is.)

We’ll see what happens this Sunday. It may go well; it may not. I’m not excited about the wind and I’m not excited about the humidity and I’m not excited about the waves of drafters behind me, since I’m in the first age group wave. Whatever happens, though, I’m excited to finally get out there and see what happens.