A Sorta Wildflower Race Report That’s Really a Life Report

After Wildflower I was going to write something about my race and how I had a therapy session for myself out on the run course, but then it was hard to explain and long and I never quite got to it and I started it and then I didn’t finish and now it’s ages ago and who even cared in the first place anyway. So. This is sort of that story, but sorta something else. And it’s self-involved and diary-ish. But you know, whatever, if you don’t like it there are other parts of the internet I’m sure you’ll enjoy instead.

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Week 27: Ironman Mont Tremblant 

I’m currently sitting in the Air Canada lounge in Montreal, because when I changed my flight to go to New York after the race it was cheaper to end up with a business class ticket than to pay the change fee. Turns out the thing the rich people never told us is with all the free food and drinks you basically end up ahead. Money makes more money and all that.

Ironman Mont Tremblant happened on Sunday. I finished in 10:02:something, and that’s totally good and fine. It’s a PR and I’m proud of how I rallied on the day.

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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.

 

‘I Don’t Care If You Fucking Feel Ready’

This was something Hillary send to me this past summer when I told her I didn’t feel like I’d be ready for IM Wisconsin. I thought it was kind of funny. The second half of the quote is: “You will be ready.” The point there being that you sometimes you have to stop worrying about how you feel and just do what you need to do anyway.

I was thinking about this again this past weekend. I ran the Super Sunday 5K as a kind of kick-start to remember running races before Kaiser Half-Marathon this weekend. I really felt terrible going into it. I mean really really terrible. I didn’t sleep much the two nights before, just because we were up in Tahoe and the room was hot and the bed rocked every time Steve moved. Saturday, I tried to learn how to skate ski (a kind of cross-country skiing that is very hard to master), which it turns out is exhausting. I ended up doing a couple hours of that and then another hour of classic cross-country skiing and I was so tired. I was so tired I couldn’t sleep. I was so tired I kept waking up in the middle of the night, after barely dozing off, and wanting to cry. I felt awful. My legs hurt; my hip flexors hurt. Why was I even getting up early to do this 5K? It wasn’t a race that mattered; why wasn’t I just staying home to sleep instead? Everything hurt. I was about to start crying, which happens when I’m really tired.

But I got up and did it because I didn’t have a good reason not to. I was still not excited about it at start. I was 95% sure that I was going to run a very mediocre race, but whatever. Just do it anyway.

I ended up running a PR. 18:50. It wasn’t a pretty race. I’m an ugly runner under the best of circumstances and these were not the best circumstances. I thought I was going to have to make a port-a-potty stop in the middle. I was wheezing and then when I couldn’t breathe right, I stopped being able to swallow too. Even while I was running I felt terrible and thought I was doing terrible. It wasn’t until I came around the very last corner and saw the clock that I realized I was actually doing pretty OK.

I don’t care if you fucking feel ready.

There aren’t any photos yet of the 5K. So instead here is a photo from the Spartan Race I did down in Temecula two weeks ago. Don’t I look like I know what I’m doing:

spartanfinish

This is what I actually felt like most of the time, though:

spartan

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.

spartan - peak

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.

You Can Only Be Good At So Many Things At A Time

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

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

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

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

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

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.

No, I Am Not Racing Pro, But That Doesn’t Mean I’m Not Seriously Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. So. So. So.

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

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

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

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

Yeah, yeah, I know.

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