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.

Continue reading “A Sorta Wildflower Race Report That’s Really a Life Report”

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.

Week 20 & 21: Three Stories

I was going to write this amazing essay about California and America and training and balancing injury with always being on the edge of injury anyway. I’ve been writing it in my head the last two weeks while biking and I’ve been spending a lot of time biking, so it was pretty good in my head. But, well, I’ve been spending a lot of time biking. And working. And eventually the math just isn’t there on the number of hours left. So instead, here are three things that happened in the last two weeks:

1. On 4th of July I went for my second long ride in four days. I was exhausted and the ride sucked. Then, as I was almost done, descending back into town and had to be home for an interview in 27 minutes, my back brake caliper came off. God, I was so pissed. I almost started throwing stuff over the side of the bridge I was on: water bottles, phones, keys. But the fastest way to deal with it was to pull myself together and fix it (temporarily), so that’s what I did. And, then, totally true story, as I was rolling home from there, soft-pedaling through town, a bird shit on my arm.

2. Wednesday night I was supposed to be at a show from 8-11:30 p.m. But Tupac the Cat has recently decided his new trick is to go out and refuse to come home for many, many hours. We ended up rescheduling the show for this week and, so, I ended up with three free hours where I had nothing I had to do. Theoretically. Yet, somehow those hours got filled with work due the next day, with fixing up my back-up bike while the Dimond was getting worked on (not as nice as the Dimond but got to make do), and getting things done so I could ride first thing in the morning before we had to leave immediately after I was done. Basically all stuff that had to happen that night. Which raises the question: What was my plan originally? Did I have one?

3. Friday, it was 107 degrees up in Sonoma. I know this because I rode the 60 miles back from Healdsburg. Usually, heat isn’t too bad on the bike and I deal OK with it at this point (though I still hate it), but Friday was a furnace. The wind blowing in your face felt like an oven. I couldn’t literally drink enough water. And then I started to get nauseous and have a bad headache—things that happen when you’re getting heat messed up. Add to that, I was barely turning the pedals over. About 25 minutes from home, struggle slogging through the miserableness, I saw my front tire roll over a rock and go flat. And for maybe five minutes I stood there, in the 3 p.m. heat, trying to decide if I should call someone to come get me, if I was going to die on the side of this road. Then, I got on with fixing the flat, one slow step at a time, and then I got back on the bike, and then I rode home.

This week sucked. It was ugly and rough, and when I can’t physically cram everything in, I get angry. It goes something like: This is stupid, what the hell are we doing, why the fuck am I trying to make this all fit when it won’t fit, am I some kind of goddamn idiot. It sucked.

But I think there’s something Ironman training teaches you—for better and definitely for worse—where you just keep going one step at a time, and there is no plan, because for the love of God you can’t think beyond this immediate step you’re on right now, all you can do is the next thing you need to do and then the next and hopefully eventually it all works out. I mean, if that’s not the underlying principle of Ironman, then I haven’t learned shit in the last two years.

Why I Started Crying on the Top of Mt. Lemmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Not Always Alone: Team Freeplay

I spend a lot of time by myself. Besides Steve and Tupac the Cat, there are plenty of days I don’t really talk to anyone. And that’s fine. I prefer that. I especially prefer it when it comes to hard workouts.

If things are getting nasty and ugly and rough, I don’t really want to have to deal with anyone else besides myself. I don’t even want to have to deal with being nice to someone else. I just want to get out of this on my own. I’m familiar with the inside of my own head, even if it’s not always a nice place to be. This is so true that I have been known to let myself get dropped more than once when I didn’t want to deal anymore. Oops.
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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.

I Just Can’t Even Anymore

I was trying to explain the other day how my mentality has shifted a little bit, just a little bit, in racing. I’m trying to just do my thing and whatever about the rest. And it’s sort of working, even to the extent that I haven’t cared much about results after my last few races. Because I knew I had raced as hard as I could and however that stacked up was how that stacked up.

This is sort of bleeding over into life too. Sort of. Or maybe it’s bleeding from life the other direction. I don’t know. All I know is I can’t even anymore with caring about the bullshit.

Not to be all ‘now that I’m 30, I’m too old to care what anyone else thinks about me,’ because those people are annoying. But I just am tired of caring what anyone else thinks about me.

I know this is going to be funny to lots of you. You all think I didn’t care before, but it’s a lie. Reporters, sponsored athletes, some combination of the two, we are always worried someone is going to not pay us, someone is going to drop us, someone is going to get offended. Maybe I need to put more exclamation points in my emails. Maybe I need to post filtered motivational pictures to build my brand. Maybe if I say online that I think the Second Amendment was designed for a citizen militia, but not for you to carry a handgun, then I won’t get hired for a job even after multiple interviews. Oh, wait, that happened. So, yes, it gets old when everyone treats you like a novelty that says wacky things, but you aren’t even saying the wackiest stuff that actually comes into your head. You’re actually trying to be “normal.”

The other day on Slowtwitch someone told me I was turning people off my “cause” because I made a sarcastic joke. The cause, apparently, being “women.” And I just couldn’t with that. I hadn’t even cared that much about the mansplaining, eye-rolling-ness of the original discussion. (I mean I just finished a journalism Masters fellowship with a cohort of all women; it’s not like I’m super eager to talk more about media representations and diversity.) But, fine, fine, you think that was me turning you off, just watch. Then I was all kinds of bitchy and I turned off reply notifications and I haven’t gone back since to see what names he probably called me. Because I just can’t even anymore.

I’m trying to figure out what this means for my life. How do I turn being me into a career? Isn’t that the dream? What do I want to do now? Besides train a lot, write some stuff, and finally sleep…

What Does It Feel Like to Go Hard?

Sunday I raced the West Coast Collegiate Triathlon Conference championship in San Luis Obispo. Because I am a moron and I thought why not follow-up one of your most debilitating non-finishes with 30-40 hours straight of thesis work, complete emotional and mental fatigue, and then an Olympic-distance triathlon.

The race was fine. Whatever.

I almost threw up at the start simply from the overwhelming desire to not do it. But then I did it anyway. Needless to say it was not my most amazing effort ever.

During the race, though, I actually felt like I was keeping it together. I felt like I was mentally totally in it. When I got out of it for a little bit, I came back. I felt like I was redlining and going as hard as I could, which was my only real goal. Since I had no knowledge of the course and no real computer or anything on my bike and it seemed slow and windy, I was just going off that feel. The only problem is that my “feel” is all messed up.

It turned out that what “felt” like redlining as-hard-as-I-could-go pace, was really more like moderately hard pace. This occurred to me about two-thirds through the bike when I started getting passed. Then I tried to go harder, but I’m still sort of a mess about twisty steep descents on my bike, so that didn’t go great. It’s not that I’m consciously trying to be conservative on descents; it’s just that subconsciously my brain is screaming, “NO MORE FAKE TEETH!

That my feel might not be accurate occurred to me again just before the turnaround on the run. The girl who was winning was on her way back and I looked as her as she went by, 10 minutes ahead of me or whatever stupid ungodly amount I was behind her and seven other girls by. She won collegiate nationals last year and she’s definitely a fast runner, but she was also so clearly trying so much harder than I was. I “felt” like I was running hard and strong and keeping a high cadence and could not possibly go any harder, but she looked like she might keel over before she reached the finish. (I was going to put a picture of her in here, but that seemed pseudo-creepy. Suffice it to say that she, generally, looks like she’s killing herself on the run.) Yeah, she probably is a more talented runner than I am. Even at the same effort, she would probably still be faster than me. But, we weren’t even at the same effort. She was pushing herself so much harder than I was. And that’s probably what really separates people: how hard you can push yourself.

For comparison, here is a picture of me as I sprinted my 7-minute mile into the finish and tried to not throw up:

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Side note: There was another different sprint race going on at the same time, hence the woman behind me who is clearly not of college age.

That doesn’t look like I might keel over does it? It looks like I’m trying hard, but not that hard.

So I’m on a personal mission now to re-remember what hard feels like. Granted my whole perception last week was distorted because, oh man, I was really messed up after the two-thirds-of-a-marathon, and I didn’t run at all between the lying down on the side of the road last Sunday and the pre-race warm-up this Sunday. But still. If I’m going to go through the trouble of racing and being in a bunch of pain anyway, I might as well really make it hurt.