The Dipsea: Just Go Hard


This is a picture of me looking weirdly cheerful at the Dipsea yesterday. I’m pretty sure it was just after this that I ran full-speed into a thorn bush. I’ve been pulling pieces of thorn out of my hand since then.

That’s actually sort of normal for the Dipsea. The part that wasn’t normal was that I was even on the “trail” that led me into the thorn bush. Since I was going faster than I have before, I ended up sort of ahead of the pack and all of a sudden I was on some “shortcut” through a bush down a mountainside. The other thing that wasn’t normal was how good I felt. I did the best I’ve ever done (108th), but I pretty much never had a “I just want to quit and cry” moment. I mostly felt really good. When we were climbing, I just kept climbing. When anything was close to flat, I ran hard. And when it was downhill, I — well, ok, I lost a lot of time running down stairs, but still, I tried hard.

Do you remember when every race report of mine was basically: “And then I felt terrible and I wanted to quit and I threw myself a pity party, but eventually I finished.” No? Well, I remember. (See: Dipsea 2014, 2013, 2012, or probably mostly anything here.)

Something has shifted recently, in just my last few races, and I don’t know if anyone else can tell but I can. The difference is that I’ve been mostly totally in it mentally. I thought that a shift had happened back in the fall. It seemed like I was toughing it out better than usual. But, since the disaster that was the LA Marathon, in which I learned that I can push it farther than I probably should, and the Cal Poly race a week later, in which I learned that I can do things even when I really really don’t want to, since then I’ve sort of been determined just to go as hard as I can and make it work.

So, yes, the Dipsea sort of sucks and is crazy. But mostly it was fun. I ran hard. I cracked into the top 100, but then I lost those spots on the downhill stairs. I didn’t fall (badly) and my legs hurt today. When you decided to just go hard and not stress about anything else, there isn’t much to say…

The L.A. Marathon: Race Report

Short version: I ran myself into the med tent with mild heatstroke just after mile 16. All the non-sports people I know are like, ‘Oh my god! Heatstroke! You almost died!!’ And, all the sports people are all, ‘It was only mild heatstroke. You could have kept going.’ I’m falling somewhere in between those two right now, and very much never want to try running a marathon again. For at least a few years.

Long version: It was warm. Arguably, it never got as hot as some people were predicting it might, but at 5:45 a.m. at Dodger Stadium it was concerningly warm. All last week I’d been preparing myself for ‘this is going to suck, but you can tough it out.’ My tentative race plan was: 1. You will probably not run your pie-in-the-sky, ‘A goal’ of 3:06. 2. You could still run a PR around 3:10, sub-3:15. 3. Only if you aren’t stupid; don’t be stupid. 4. Go for it, but in a conservative way and 5. When it starts to suck early, because it will, hang tough and know it sucks for everybody.

So, that’s what I tried to do. I ran some 7:05s for the first few miles, but they were all downhill (more or less) and it felt easy slow. I did not let myself get ahead of the 3:05 pace group, because “don’t be stupid.” By mile 2 I was dripping sweat and thought ‘well, this is going to get hot.’ Around mile 4, we went up a steep hill and I let the 3:05 pace group slip away, because “don’t be stupid.” After that, I was sort of just running, some by myself, some through people who were already looking hot and tired.

By 7 or 8, it was feeling really hard and I was getting the chills a bit. But I, literally, thought to myself: It’s not possible to be having heat issues this early; I haven’t even been running long enough, so these chills must be because of the breeze or something (?). And, anyway, I was still running 7:10s or so, so it’s fine. It’s fiiiiiiiine. I was taking water and Gatorade at every aid station, but I wasn’t making it to the next one before I was dying of thirst again. (And, for the record, I had oatmeal, a Gatorade and some water, and a gel before the start, and one more gel around mile 7. After that I was having a hard time imagining swallowing anything else.)

By mile 10, I was struggling. Somewhere around 9, two guys next to me were talking to each other and one said, “It’s not good if it feels this hard this early” and I went, ‘heh.’ I remember hitting the 10 marker and just thinking, ‘Fuck.’ I was still running in the 7:15s-ish, though, and it was hard to tell if we were going uphill, so it’s fine, I thought. It’s fiiiiine. I had promised myself I was going to be mentally tough for this race. I wasn’t going to drop out or check out. I was going to fight for it. So I did. My thing I had planned on telling myself was: ‘You’re tougher than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.’ I had planned on telling myself that in the second half of the race, because I didn’t expect it to be nasty hard too much before then, but oh well.

By 11 or 12, I was in bad shape. I was getting the chills and things were a little light-headed and dizzy. I was fighting for every mile and keeping them somewhere in the 7:20s, but I knew that it was not fine. At this point, it became one of those battles: If you know you’re in bad shape and it’s only getting worse and you don’t think you can finish, but you promised yourself you wouldn’t voluntarily quit, then what do you do? You make it so you’ll be involuntarily done, whether that’s because you get to the finish or crash out sooner. At least that’s the option I took. I have this tendency to wallow and, like, hope that someone will just spontaneously pull me from the course and tell me I should sit down in the shade and have some nice ice water. But, I wanted to be mentally tough. Instead of wallowing, I tried to smile. Studies show that you can affect your mental state by smiling in races. So. I tried to do all the things that keep you mentally positive. I tried to hang on to people next to me and get whatever boost there was from the atmosphere. I repeated ‘you’re tougher than you think you are’ in my head until it became gibberish. Mostly, I thought, if I’m going to end up running myself into the med tent (which it was starting to seem that I was), then I’m going to run as hard as I can until that happens.

I don’t remember much from 12 to whenever I stopped just after mile 16. I have no idea how I made it that far either. I was almost totally cognizant at the time. I knew where I was and I knew I saw Steve at one point (and tried to tell him with my eyes that I was in a bad place), but it all got a bit blurry, in that way things get in races when it’s like you’re watching from far away on the other side of a bright light. I kept trying to be tough and I would have sworn to you I was hanging on to 7:30 pace, but my Garmin suggests that I actually dropped pretty sharply to 7:50s.

Look, I expected it to get that bad. I did. I’d been preparing myself all week for it to get that bad, for me to have to tough it out for 8-10 miles. I’ve had bad heatstroke before, and I knew there was a chance I’d end up lying down in a med tent with an IV. I just expected that 8-10 miles to be the last 8-10 miles.

By around 16, I was getting the chills regularly. I was cold and hot, and I was dizzy, and things were getting light and dark, and then my chest started to hurt, and my heart felt like something tight was around it (which is new, by the way, that’s never happened before). And somewhere in my head I thought, ‘oh good, a med tent’ and I stepped out of the race and did that crumpling/collapsing thing and laid down on the side of the road. Of course, it turned out it wasn’t a med tent, it was actually just a random tiny tent of people cheering their friends on. So I freaked those people out.

For a few minutes, I just laid there with my eyes closed and rolled onto my side and tried to sit up and tried to get my eyes to focus and the lights to go back to how they’re supposed to be and then that was a lot of effort, so I laid back down. I don’t think I had the capacity to say anything for a couple minutes. And that freaked out the random people I had decided to lay down in front of even more than they were already freaked out. Then the cops and paramedics on bikes got there and also freaked out, and called an ambulance and a fire truck. And, I think my head was sort of lolling to one side and when I did start talking it was all slurred and along of the lines of: ‘It’s fine, ‘tsfiiiiine, my chest just hurts, *wave hands, close eyes*,  whatevvvver, *lay back down*”

Somewhere in my head I knew I was fine, actually. Or, I would be fine relatively soon. This was not a permanent state. I also knew that I always look really bad, even when I’m killing it. And I just didn’t have the wherewithal to explain to a bunch of people the degree to which I was messed up. They wanted to send me to the hospital and I kept saying, “No, no.” Finally, it was decided the ambulance would take me 200 meters down the road to the actual med tent. Then, those doctors kept trying to send me to the hospital and I kept saying, “No, no.” I think I even said, “I don’t go to hospitals,” which is absurd. Of course I go to hospitals. I’ve been to lots of hospitals. That’s how I know they won’t be able to do much for mild heatstroke.

Eventually, Steve found me and Natalie drove over to pick me up and, by then, almost an hour later, I was fine. Not great, not really even ok, but fine.

So, could I have toughed it out for longer? Yeah, maybe. Would it have been worth it? Probably not. Part of the mental calculus that my brain does when it can’t even see straight was that it decided there was no reason to land myself in the hospital. I didn’t care much about just finishing. It wasn’t going to be a good time. And I wasn’t competing for a place. If I really screwed myself up for good, what would be the point? After lying in the med tent for 20 or 30 minutes, I actually thought I should get back up and start running again. Steve said that was dumb.

It always seems to me that how soon after a race you start planning the next one, how much you want a do-over, is often dependent on how much, subconsciously, you felt like you had left to give. The day after my Ironman I basically was Googling to find another one later that month. This time, there is almost no part of me that wants to think about another marathon. People keep suggesting them and I keep cringing. No, no, that sounds terrible. I even paused on an email from the Chicago Marathon and thought about it in passing for a second. I like the course and it’s fast and late this year, but then it made me want to gag. I can, actually, barely think about any races at all right now. They all sound awful. (Which is unfortunate, because I am definitely doing some triathlons that I was excited about.) The amount I am still emotionally and mentally and, to a degree, physically messed up makes me think I didn’t have much more to give on Sunday. For whatever reason. That was all there was.

Getting In (Or Out) Of My Head

Here are a few observations about perception:

    • In L.A., I am the most intense athlete I know—give or take. (Like, yeah, yeah, everyone is intense in their own way. Some of my friends are taking some time off right now. And, you should, obviously, always do what makes sense for you.) But, the net sum effect is that, generally speaking, I don’t know people doing harder workouts than me. This messes with my head. Because (CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF AROUND HERE), I’m not really a super intense workout person. I’m used to lots of people I know doing crazier workouts than me all the time. I’m used to lots and lots and lots of people being lots faster than me. And, I’m used to telling training partners my workout plan for the day and having them nod and be all, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’ When everyone I know is, instead, like, ‘What?! That sounds insane,’ I start to think maybe it is insane. So, if all my internet friends who are Hillary’s athletes (Maggie? Alyssa?) could tell me about their super crazy workouts she has them doing, it would make me feel better and get me back in a good mental place.
    • Friday I bombed a workout. It was 4 x 2 miles and I only did 2.3 of the four repeats. I just was not hitting the times and I had only given myself 1 hour and 25 minutes exactly to do a 1 hour and 25 minute workout. So, when I had to take a loooong bathroom break, I was stuck reevaluating. But, it was easy to cut and I was weirdly not stressed about the fact that I bombed it, because I don’t think I really expected to finish it. This is not good.
    • In the fall, I was very not fit. Yet, I went on a killing-it streak at a bunch of races in October/November. I think it may have been because I knew I wasn’t in shape, so I expected it to be awful and that I’d have to power through. Then, I wasn’t surprised when it hurt. Now, I’m really fit (for me), so I keep subconsciously thinking it won’t hurt. But, it still always hurts.
    • Evidently, somewhere in the back of my mind right now I am expecting an accident or disaster. I’m just waiting for it. Wednesday, I had to cut through a parking garage, because “cycling routes” *shakes head*. And, I had this weird crazy PTSD. It might be the first time I’ve cut through a parking garage since shattering my teeth and I was freaking out. I was convinced that I was going to hit something, or someone was going to hit me, or something terrible was going to happen. Yesterday, Steve and I went cross-country skiing and I was having the hardest time on the downhills, because I was positive, 100% sure, that I was going to have some bizarre accident and end up in the hospital. I’m just too in shape right now, too ready for the L.A. Marathon and collegiate nationals. Something has to go wrong. Something always goes wrong. And, if you really want to get into some Psych 101 stuff, this may be why I’ve been self-sabotaging workouts and races lately, because somewhere in my head I think that I need to balance the karmic universe. (Subconsciously, ok? I’m not doing any of this consciously.)

So, yeah. That’s been fun.

Maybe Skiing is My Thing


This is me looking super serious cross-country skiing. (Actually, it’s after we skied from the trailhead to the downhill resort and were taking a break while we tried to decide where to go.)

I am not bad at cross-country skiing. I am surprisingly good. It may be the first thing in a long time that I’ve been good at and liked right away—probably since I was unexpectedly fast at running my freshman year of high school. This isn’t to say I’m good. I’m just good for having done it only three times now. And, given that we have a lot of cycling and running clothes and aren’t unfit, Steve and I tend to look like we must know what we’re doing—until one of us wipes out. Also, cross-country skiing fun.

If I lived somewhere with snow and trails and could just go every day, I might get actually good. Or, not. The list of things that I’m pretty good at, but then never get much better, is a long list.

This is basically a Clif bar ad.

I am always fascinated, though, by what we could or might be good at. How do you know what you would be best at? What if you never find it? What if what you think you’re good at is simply a dictate of convenience and circumstance? I grew up without a lot of money in Chicago. Skiing was something rich people did, which is also what I told Steve the first time he wanted to go skiing. From Chicago, you pretty much have to fly to Colorado to be a skier. It was not something I would have ever known I was any good at.

The Australian Institute of Sport developed this series of tests a few years ago to find talent and most accurately direct that talent to the most appropriate sport for them, so that Australia could continue winning lots of medals and stuff. Man, I wish I could take those tests. I wish they had those tests for life too. And, then, that you also could still be like, “Nope, sorry, don’t feel like listening to your test. Just wanted to know. Still going to do this my own way. K, thanks.”

My way better picture of Steve.
My way better picture of Steve.

Getting Out of Your Head: The Mental Half of Everything

From the New Yorker
From the New Yorker

Happy 2015! Now, stop lying to yourself.

(Kidding. You can totally keep lying to yourself. I don’t care.)

I was at swim practice this morning and — as has happened many times before — I found myself wondering about the thought process going through other swimmers’ heads. I was at the back of the lane, largely because I have never done a warm-up fast in my entire life and I don’t (usually) cheat drills, so I always end up at the back before we start the main set and that’s fine. But, then, when we got to the main set, I was the only one who made all the intervals and followed all the instructions about negative splitting and descending, without “resting” any of the efforts or putting paddles on for the whole thing just so I could keep up. This is a little frustrating, but it’s mostly just mystifying.

Why would you consistently put yourself in a lane you can’t actually do the workout in? Does it make you feel better about yourself? If you have to cheat the workout, then aren’t you not really doing the workout? I totally understand pushing yourself sometimes and wanting to just see if you can hang. I’ve done it too. Sometimes it makes sense to do whatever you can to try to keep up with a lane that’s too fast for you. Sometimes that’s what you need. But, not every time.

There’s a weird mental thing that goes on in sports. I suppose it goes on in everything, in life. But, when there’s a time and a distance and a schedule, it’s impossible not to ignore what kinds of lies you tell yourself. Are they working?

As long as you can do the warm-up fast and make some of the intervals, even if you have to put on paddles and pull the whole thing, then you can still tell yourself you belong in that lane. You’re not slower than you’d like to admit; you’re just having an off day. Because I’m at the bottom end of fast when it comes to swimming, those lies are more prevalent around me. The people who aren’t close to the fast lane yet don’t care or maybe they just don’t know how far off they are. The people who are legitimately fast mostly can’t be bothered with the lies. But, those of us who are fast enough to know we’re not fast, we have the most emotional issues. We can see what we’re not.

I get in my own head a lot. It’s not my predilection for injury and accidents, or my inability to sustain large training volumes, that is my biggest problem. It’s my tendency to doubt myself, to question and worry, to see the lies for what they are.

Since I started training again for real in October and went on my racing binge, things have felt weirdly effortless. The races all hurt, but in a way that was possible to lean in to. I had my ‘this is the slowest I’ve ever gone’ and ‘I’m the worst ever’ moments, but I came back from them all. I was sure my mind had finally gotten on board. Then, the Christmas Relays were miserable and I wanted to do nothing so much as lie down on the side of the course. I started struggling in some workouts and cutting things short. Last weekend, I headed out for my hour run with four miles at goal marathon pace, following a bike ride, and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I felt terrible and I couldn’t stop thinking about the last time I failed at this workout. I almost stopped.

But, then, instead of doing 30 minutes easy into the goal pace, I just started going faster and faster. It was hard, but at least it was hard because it was supposed to be hard. I kept waiting for it to feel effortless, to settle, for my mind to be convinced I was unconquerable again. And, finally, it did. All of a sudden 6:50s felt like I was just ticking off the miles, like I could go forever.

If I’m being honest with myself I know that I cut two miles out of the warm-up. I know that if I’d done those two miles, I would have struggled to drop down to pace. I know that half of my four miles at pace was on false flats downhill. I know that as soon as I finished the four miles, I was jogging 9:00 pace home. And, I know it hurt more than I let myself think about. I know that there were lies I had to tell myself about how easy it felt and how I killed it, but they worked. Sometimes, you do need to pretend you belong in this lane. Sometimes. But, you only get so many times saying that before you stop it. Don’t use them every swim workout.

In Japan, teenage baseball players routinely pitch 700, 800, or 900 pitches over a few days. The lesson is in the doing to exhaustion, until your body has nothing left to teach you. It may also be why so many Japanese pitchers get hurt early in their careers, after coming to MLB. Or, it’s because they get soft in America and stop going past that point of failure. Either way.

The Difference Between Serious Training and Just Working Out

Somehow, recently, I slipped back into training ‘for serious.’ I’m still sort of messing around, but my fitness is coming back so nicely (and I have a month now to build up a big base), that it’s hard not to imagine what could happen if I had a whole year without any major injuries, accidents, or other disasters.

But, the difference between serious and not serious is so thin. It’s all in your head.

The other day I had one of those one-thing-after-another afternoons that used to happen all the time when I was training a lot. Because when you’re training a lot, there’s always something that doesn’t work right, so there’s going to be a lot of ‘When You Give a Mouse a Cookie’ days. Thursday, I needed to change the tires on my bike, but it was really hard to get one of the new tires on and I cut my hand. Blood and grease everywhere. Then, I finally got them on and couldn’t get the wheel to fit into the bike. So, I let some brake cable out to loosen the brakes, but it still wouldn’t fit. Finally, after lots of finagling and yelling, I decided the tire must be too thick for the frame. Took it off, put the old tire back on, re-aligned the brakes. And, by then, it was too late to go for a ride. (I also dropped a drawer on my foot, and tripped and fell into a door frame during all this.)

This would never have happened when I didn’t give a shit. I would have just given up much earlier in the process. That’s one of the major differences between serious training and just working out. These are some of the other things I do distinctly differently when I’m serious:

  • Actual workouts on the treadmill
  • Rain riding
  • Bothering to make sure my equipment works
  • Writing schedules
  • Swimming

Things I have not yet started to do, but will mark when I am really serious:

  • Stop eating all the desserts

Turkey Trot Race Report: On the Art of Returning

Steve won the Turkey Trot 5K we did on Thursday, which surprised everyone — including him. Since he hadn’t run in years until I made him do that Turkey Trot last year (at which he would like you to know he beat me) and now he runs just a couple times a week casually, I don’t think he thought it would go great. But, maybe none of us should have been that surprised that it did. After all, he is a very, very good athlete and that is always in there somewhere.

I won the women’s race too, but it was hard. (Here’s a video of me crossing the finish line, if you really want to see what I look like getting outsprinted by a 14-year-old boy.) It was a classic cross-country-style course. We ran across a field, over a hill, on a path, through a parking lot, down a trail, up another steep hill, and around a soccer field. I ran pretty fast at the start, but it felt easy. Then, it felt really hard. When Ilyce went by me around halfway, I was sure I was done. Mentally, I threw it in and figured this seemed like a good enough pace. Only, then I came back.

Having done three 5Ks in three weeks, among other races too, I think it’s probably time to stop now. But, one thing I have learned in this spate of racing off very little fitness is that it’s always in there somewhere. I’ve learned that I have more capacity to come back than I even realized.

After being a huge bum for August and some of September and then being sick for a month, I wasn’t sure how long it’d take me to come back or how out of shape I was. The answer is: not as much as I was worried.

It turns out the base I built training for Ironman this summer, the years of working out and getting just a little bit better at a time (and then a little worse and then nothing), the miles and miles are all in there. And, then, Friday, Steve and I went for a long bike ride to Marshall. It’s a ride that’s a Marin classic and litmus test — one of the first ones you do when you move here. For me, it used to be epic and take all day. I still think of it that way and so I wasn’t sure if I was in any shape to do it with Steve. But, we did and it was hard, but not that hard. The Marshall Wall didn’t even seem like a wall. It seemed easier and smaller. The Return was scarcely a return. It was just another day to add to the stores.

It Literally Does Not Matter Who Wins

At the USC-UCLA game yesterday (which is, apparently, the big game around here, and for which they can’t call their pre-game bonfire a bonfire, but have to call it Conquest), I was standing in line for the shuttle and this guy behind me was making a lot of comments to his wife — or the woman he was possibly romantically involved with, or not, whatever — about how USC students and fans were stupid, ugly, and deserve to lose. He wanted her to point out where the end of the line was only to UCLA fans. He also hypothesized that the USC slogan, “Fight On,” was a prison thing.

This guy was in his late-50s.

The only connection he had to anything about the game was that some of the kids playing in it currently attend the same institution that he once attended. That’s it. No one playing personally insulted him. Unless he’s a big gambler, he had nothing riding on the outcome. It literally did not matter that some people at a school he attended a long time ago might win a sports thing. That really shouldn’t foster hatred or any strong feelings whatsoever, if you think about it.

And, yet, it does.

I have a hard time understanding this. Of course, I understand it theoretically. Of course, I watch the sports things. And, I root for people/teams and I cheer and I care a little bit, but, unless I personally know you, I don’t really care that much. The outcome of a game is not going to ruin my day — even the ones, like the USMNT game this summer, that I totally mistakenly believe “we” are going to win — unless I get beaten up by an angry opposing fan. And, when you apologize to me later in passing for the outcome of a game, it will take me some time to figure what you did to me. Because the answer is nothing.

I really dislike plenty of people, but I dislike them on an individual level. Like the guy standing behind me in line for the shuttle. I was starting to really dislike him, but not because he went to UCLA, because he seemed like probably a jackass.

Fun tailgating, where we made friends with the tent next to ours (even though they were possibly fans of the other team) and played games.
Fun tailgating, where we made friends with the tent next to ours (even though they were possibly fans of the other team) and played games.