Week 26: What We Have In Us

It’s time to race Ironman Mont Tremblant and I’m in taper mode, so I probably have argued with you about some tedious fact, because goddamnit I was right. I also feel terrible. You can read all the weekly recaps of how we got here.

When I signed on with Hillary in June 2015 my goal for IM Wisconsin was a solid race under 11 hours. At some point, while training, I realized I could maybe hit 10:45, and if things went really really well I might slip in around 10:30 and be in the top 4 or 5 girls.

I ended up finishing 2nd in 10:21 and I’m pretty sure if you had seen me in the last two miles, while I was high-fiving every person there, you’d have known exactly how surprised I was about it.

Continue reading “Week 26: What We Have In Us”

8 Weeks to Kona: A Running Diary

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, Oct. 7

2:10 p.m.

It’s time to go, I suppose. I’ve improvised a way to get my number on my bike, packed up all my bags — so many bags — and put the stuff that I need in the places that it needs to be. And, at this point, I guess if it’s not there, then I’ll make do without it.

I don’t know how tomorrow is going to go. I’m not just saying that. I really don’t know. When I do the math on what I can expect, my rough range for a good day is about a 50-minute window. That’s a wide range. And that doesn’t even count if it’s not a good day or if it’s a really really bad day. It’s just really hard to know. You can’t know. I’m alternating wildly between feeling fit and confident, and feeling very worried. There’s so many little things you could fuck up and any one of those little things could be un-recoverable from. I’ve managed to forget all the bad parts from IM Wisconsin, so all I remember now is how it just smoothly floated by. But that’s not really what it was like or what tomorrow will be like.

Last night, at the welcome banquet, Mark Allen was talking about embracing the island. He got all poetic on the topic. Instead of just hoping it’ll be 72 and overcast, with a tailwind all day, he said, you have to lean into the heat and the humidity and the wind and the miserableness. So that’s my goal.

I’m #2126, but you can track by last name too (if you know my last name). And I’ll be handing my twitter over to Steve, though who knows what he’ll tweet.

No matter what, I’m probably going to end up crying, and definitely going to end up drinking. Either way, it’s done tomorrow.

Thursday, Oct. 6

7:10 p.m.

I might be a little emotionally strung out. We’re at the welcome banquet and, literally, everything is making me start to choke up. The odds of me reaching the finish line without sobbing are basically .05%.

9:05 a.m.

Also, I think it’s probably better I missed that.

8:33 a.m.

I slept through the Underpants Run. I needed to get better quickly, obviously. And I do feel somewhat better, but now I just want to sleep all day.

Wednesday, Oct. 5

11:10 p.m.

God, I still feel terrible.

6:43 p.m.

I don’t think throwing up over the side of a boat is good prep for Kona. But that is what I am doing.

I don’t care how cool the lava flowing out of the volcano and into the water is, clearly my body does not like small boats and planes. This, uh, finely tuned machine is finely tuned.

Tuesday, Oct. 4

9:35 p.m.

‘Well, I’m racing on Saturday’ is the universally accepted excuse for why I can’t do shots with you, Mr. Triathlon Legend, even though it’s your birthday. He told me I better do good on Saturday then.

Man, I hope so. I did not not party to suck.

9:05 p.m.

OK, I will go with you to the bar, but I’m just having one more beer. A Bud Light is basically water.

8:44 p.m.

I’m just having one beer with dinner. That’s fine.

8:15 p.m.

Alyssa and Lauren are very concerned that I should be home sleeping.

7:25 p.m.

I’m driving to meet some friends and the DJ on the radio station I’ve been listening to for the last month is telling everyone, “Look, I know it can be frustrating, but we got to show these triathletes the Aloha Spirit. Even if we don’t feel it, they came to our Big Island, so let’s show them what it’s all about.”

So there you go.

5:33 p.m.

The one thing I’ve been stressing about a bunch is heatstroke. And one of the factors in that is the sunburn factor. (As someone who has had heatstroke, I know there’s not much you can really do to stop your body from overheating — other than not going so hard — but you can not do things to make it worse.)

I’ve been going back and forth all week about whether I wanted to buy this skinsuit for the bike, which would cover my back, helping prevent sunburn too early, and ideally be fast. The problems were 1. I had not raced in it, which stresses me out, because you’re not supposed to do too much stuff you haven’t done before, 2. I had never run a whole marathon in a skinsuit, so would probably end up wanting to change in T2 in some capacity, which I have also never done, and 3. I want to be sure to wear some of my team’s stuff (Team Freeplay, yo) during the race, because they’ve been supportive all year.

This has basically been my thing I’ve been angsting about all week, because everyone has something. And then this afternoon I took the plunge. I got the speedsuit. And I’m just going to change in T2. Not 100% sure into what combination of stuff yet. So, you know, I have something left to worry about — which is what I’m doing now.

1:05 p.m.

I decided to go ahead and check-in today, do a walk-through of the expo, and then be done. That way I won’t have to go back there until I drop off my bike on Friday. It was a good choice I think, but I walk in to the ballroom, am directed to a table, and the volunteer asks me, “What’s your bib number?”

Uh, I dunno. Don’t you guys have a list of that?

Solid start.

3:00 a.m.

I keep alternating between being pretty confident about all this — at least in the sense that I’m ready and I can do what I know how to do — and pretty freaked out that I’m going to screw up something stupid and end up with heatstroke. I have had heatstroke. It’s not fun.

Monday, Oct. 3

7:55 a.m.

In a week, I will be on my way home. First time since Aug. 25 or whatever. I had a crazy dream last night that involved me trying to get home with 20 different rental cars and then I got there and Tupac the Cat was like: Fuck you.

Sunday, Oct. 2

4:17 p.m.

Alyssa and Lauren got back to the condo and told me my car had been semi-vandalized and someone had written on the windshield: “Move your fucking car.”

I am now having a very awkward conversation with a very drunk and stoned guy, which primarily consists of me saying, “I’m sorry, I thought this was a public beach” and him saying, “Don’t fucking do that again. You’ve been warned. You’ve overstayed your welcome, fucking move along. Don’t fucking do that shit.”

As far as I can tell, the primary problem seems to be that other people want my parking spot so they can also get very drunk and stoned.

12:43 p.m.

Here’s a secret about Kona: no one is actually doing anything cooler than you are.

8:24 a.m.

Oh my god, my back hurts so bad. And my hip flexors. How am I possibly going to do the rest of an Ironman after swimming this? It is impossible. Everything is impossible.

8:16 a.m.

OK, it’s fine. Fine. Super easy, smooth, except my back hurts.

8:02 a.m.

I take it back. This is the longest swim ever.

7:52 a.m.

This isn’t a bad swim. Maybe the first time I haven’t felt terrible since Wednesday. We’re flopping along looking at fish.

7:16 a.m.

I don’t like getting up early if I don’t have to, but evidently every other person in Kona doesn’t have this problem. We’re meeting teammates at the pier to swim the course (and my condo-mates already went running at 5 a.m.) and it is already swarming with triathletes.

All of whom I’m sure will post photos online.

ONE WEEK TO GO

Continue reading “8 Weeks to Kona: A Running Diary”

Happy Anniversary to Me: A Double Race Weekend

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.

Ready to Race?

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.

 

Why Don’t You Write More About Training

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.