What If I Forget How to Win?

Here is a list of some things that have happened since the end of the last triathlon season:

  • I had that EP Study and procedure done to figure out what’s wrong with my heart
  • I then had a bad reaction to it and started having atrial flutter episodes, like, all the time, which (in case you were wondering) suck
  • I spent December depressed and contemplating if I was going to have to quit everything
  • Once I started training again, I got insanely bad food poisoning and threw up for 12 hours
  • Also, I passed out from the throwing up and gave myself a concussion
  • I got it together and then a couple days before the 50K Snoop Lion scratched me and I needed two stitches
  • The heavy antibiotics they put me on also messed up all my bacteria and I went on some more meds
  • Oh, and now it turns out I’ve had a cracked tooth since the beginning of January, ever since I got a filling done that went badly

And somewhere in there Tupac got sick twice and had to go to the emergency vet, and the car broke down on my way to work. And, honestly, it all starts to feel like a lot, you know?

At the end of last year, I said I wanted to have more fun and do some more random stuff this winter. And even with everything, I kind of have. I bought one of those class packs for the Crossfit “box” here (and everyone needs to stop violently hating on Crossfit — like, whatever, don’t be stupid about it and it’s perfectly fun in the off-season and can even be useful). I finished the 50K. I raced a half-marathon without really being in any way prepared for it. And then this past weekend I did a cross-country ski race because Steve was doing the longer more competitive race and he convinced me to do the one-lap 15K.

It was not amazing. Turns out I don’t really know how to skate ski that well, since I’ve only ever taken one lesson. I can sort of muscle my way through, but I don’t actually know what I’m doing. And after a bit over an hour I lost even the minor ski ability that I have. I started falling and then I was essentially hiking. With skis on.

The thing is though, with everything that’s gone wrong and with all these random “races,” it’s really easy to sort of give yourself an out. You can still be trying really really hard, but honestly what’s the point in going that extra bit to completely kill yourself for the difference between last and second-to-last in something you don’t even care about. And now I’ve entertained so many random whims I’m starting to worry I’ve dulled any killer edge I once had.

What if I forget how to win?

I know this sounds like one of those pseudo-intellectual wisdom nuggets people are always dropping on Twitter, but it’s a real thing. You have to remember how to tap the well, dig deep, whatever your phrase of choice is. And, for me, remembering not to give up can be hard.

So, anyway. I’m concerned. It’s all been a lot. And I’ve been dragging ass emotionally. But I also know there’s nothing to really do about it but the work and if you do the work then you’ll be ready and eventually it’ll come around. And I always do the work, whatever Hillary puts on the schedule. And the swimming and biking have started to come back around. So we’ll see. First triathlon is Escape Surf City at the end of April to get ready for…WILDFLOWER!

Oh, and I’m racing a Spartan Race this weekend. Naturally. But I promise to try my hardest, or at least the hardest I can try without the risk of breaking a leg being too high.

Crossfit Does Triathlon

I was watching the 2015 Crossfit Games on ESPN this weekend, which included a swim-paddle-swim as the first event, which was predictably amazing. But that just reminded me of the time in 2012 when they included a mini-triathlon. It remains one of my favorite sports videos. But you have to watch it in its entirety to fully appreciate it.

DNFing v. Quitting

spartan - bucket

I’ve never been a big believer in the whole “death before DNF” attitude. Most of the time when people say they’ve never DNF’d a race, I’m pretty sure it’s just because they haven’t tried hard enough.

But I do understand the value in being able to tell yourself you never quit, especially at that time in a race when all you want to do is quit. It’s a tool. And I understand that sometimes the only thing you can do or take away from the day is not quitting.

The difference, of course, is that a DNF is earned. It’s what happens when there is no other option. Even the people who are able to push themselves nearly to death — and the vast majority of people are definitely not those people — have had to be pulled from the side of the road or taken to the hospital. Quitting, well, quitting is a choice, and it can happen even before you cross the finish line. Lots of people who don’t DNF basically quit anyway. (Uh, speaking from experience.)

It may say that we DNF’d the Spartan Race Ultra Beast last weekend, but we quit. And maybe that’s the part that’s been bothering me.

The Ultra Beast was a marathon-length obstacle race up in Tahoe as part of the Spartan Race World Championships weekend. It turned out it was really more like 31 miles in total. We made it through just under 16 of those miles.

Yeah, it was hard. Mostly it was really cold. At the top of the mountain, close to 9,000 feet, it was in the 20s and winds were around 30-40 mph. That sucked, but it was fine. And it sucked when we had to jump in the cold lake with our clothes on, but I kept telling myself we’d warm up. I’ve been cold getting out of the water before. The real problem was then, before we’d warmed up enough, we had to crawl/roll through a half-mile of barbed wire. Crawl, climb a wall, crawl, climb a wall, crawl, jump in another pit of water. The whole thing wasn’t keeping anyone’s body temperature up enough to stay warm. When I got to that pit of water, I must have looked bad — white and shaking, teeth chattering — because I was like, “Do I have to do this?” and the guy said I could skip it and do the penalty instead. He also asked if I was ok. I said, yeah, I was fine.

By the end of that section, I physically couldn’t climb the rope, my hands wouldn’t hold on.

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I warmed up eventually, and by the time we got down to the transition zone area, it was fine. But it was ugly. Mostly, I think there was an over-it-ness to everything. It was hard to do any of the obstacles, because our hands were so messed up. I fell off one rope onto my back. Everything hurt. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Hillary it’s a very acute sense of exactly how “fine” I am when things are really, really awful.

So I couldn’t ignore the fact that I could have gone on. I put on dry, warm clothes. And I could have physically kept going, for at least some amount more. We just chose not to.

The guy who got second, Miguel, I interviewed for my school documentary back in the spring, and he talked to me at one point about this Spartan promo video, about how you have to want it, you have to want it more than you want to breathe.

I thought about this after the race. I definitely didn’t want it that much. We didn’t even want it enough to deal with all the trouble of not quitting.

I probably would not have made it to the finish line even if we hadn’t quit. I was already failing at obstacles I knew how to do easily, so it would have just turned into a burpee trudge. I would have been colder as it got later. I might have fallen on something really bad. Already, every time I was climbing up over the top of a really tall rope net or wall, and hit the wind, and could barely hold on, I would feel blown back, like I so easily was going to slip, break a leg, land on my head. So, yeah, I probably wouldn’t have finished. I might have gotten really hurt. It definitely was not worth it for something that was just supposed to be for fun. But it would have been an earned DNF.

Everyone keeps telling me it was a smart choice to quit. But you don’t really do do these kinds of things because you’re trying to make smart choices.

Spartan Race AT&T Park: A Race Review

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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-

Three Articles All Over My Internet

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)?

The Women’s World Cup is Awesome

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.

Watching Professional Endurance Sports Events Is Weird

Thursday night, I went to the HOKA ONE ONE Middle Distance Classic (a name which maybe helps explain why track meets are hard to turn into bigger sporting events). It was fun before it started pouring rain. It was also $10 if you didn’t have a student ID. Perhaps unsurprisingly, or maybe surprisingly depending on your point of view, there were about 200 people in the stands.

Even Justin, who was with me, asked if there was anyone big there. Um, yeah, like a bunch of Olympians, some Olympic medalists, World medalists, etc. He agreed he had heard of some of the names I was listing.

The weird thing, if you think about it, is even the people you can’t name, who won’t make it on even the most niche coverage, have to train a LOT to be that good. You train and you train and then you go to a random track at a small school in the suburbs of Los Angeles, warm-up jogging around the neighborhood, then run as hard as you can in front of a few hundred people until it starts pouring rain. Go ahead and try to explain that job to a career counselor.

After graduation on Friday and some celebrating on Friday night, we then rode up Mt. Baldy on Saturday to watch the Tour of California. We made it on TV, though I don’t know if you can see us through the crowds on the side of the road:

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Then, after going for a run Sunday morning at JPL, which is right by the Rose Bowl, we went down to watch the end of the race at the Rose Bowl. I thought we wouldn’t be able to get close, but we basically just parked down the street and walked up.

It actually was really exciting. Peter Sagan, who is best known as a sprinter, managed to do well enough up Mt. Baldy that he ended up just three seconds out of the overall lead. This is crazy. And if he placed in the top three at the last stage (or at the intermediate sprint during that last stage) it would give him enough of a time bonus to take back the overall win.

He actually managed to do it by just millimeters at the line. See, it was genuinely exciting. But it’s hard to explain or to get anyone who doesn’t know about this stuff to care.

I know a lot about triathlon, like for real, a lot. But then I’ll peruse the new TRS Triathlon website (which I actually mostly like) or the ‘Twitch or, god forbid, the ‘Twitch’s forums, and I think, ‘Shit, I don’t know that much.’ I don’t obsess about what every single pro is doing or who did what when or gear, man do I not care about gear. Yet, there are people who do, and in a way you’re riding your bike around a mostly empty Rose Bowl as hard as you can just for those people.

Professional endurance sports are weird.