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.

What Now?

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This is what our living room looks like right now. Except you can’t see the bags behind me or stuff still in our car. It’s only getting worse as I try to unpack and move back in. It sounds like everyone has big plans after graduation and big plans for what’s next. My only immediate plan is to sleep and let my brain rebuild and then to get started on the millions of things scheduled for this summer:

  • Vacation to Ireland
  • The Kids coming to stay with me for Escape from Alcatraz
  • Ragnar Relay in Utah
  • My roommate’s wedding in LA
  • The Women’s World Cup Final in Vancouver (yes!)
  • Week-long family reunion in Florida
  • Steve doing Tahoe 70.3
  • Followed up immediately by a wedding in Boise

Oh, and I basically made it four days of being bored before enacting the next part of my “creating my best life” plan. I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin. So there’s that.

When Your Body Fails Right After You Finally Make It Through Everything

The last few weeks I’ve been sure I was going to get sick. Thesis project, South Carolina nationals trip, more final projects, bachelorette and Wildflower, final final project, and then moving a bunch of my stuff back up to the Bay Area. And, also, it’s possible that I might have gotten very drunk after that final final project. Theoretically.

Basically, I’ve been waiting for my body to give out and it made it all the way through all those things and now, here is a list of ways my body has betrayed me since Friday:

  • I dislocated my thumb. Randomly, while loading the car. It popped right back in, after hurting like a mother, so I figured no problem. But, since then it’s been really painful. I couldn’t even open my beers at Beer Mile with that hand. And then the thumb popped out again today. Now, I can barely use it. I’m sort of hoping this gets better on its own. Or possibly I splint my hand.
  • My Achilles has been hurting after run workouts. At first, a few weeks ago, I thought it was just sore. But, it’s gotten worse and worse. After the hard run on Sunday, I couldn’t even bend my ankles. Then, I hit a wall funny on a flip turn yesterday, and it just kept hurting. This is concerning.
  • I’ve gotten sick. Finally, it caught up with me. Last night, I thought I might be getting sick, but I’ve thought that a bunch the last few weeks and usually I wake up feeling better. Today, I woke up feeling sick instead.

Also, add a whole bunch of bruises and blisters and whatever. This is not just my imagination. There’s, like, for real studies about how people get sick after big events. Sure, it’s probably because you have a weakened immune system and then you get sick after the gestation period. But I think there’s also something to the fact that your body can hold on for so long but then no longer.

What USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals Is Like

Here’s a story: At nationals, there was a Snapchat that everyone used. It wasn’t official. Just some guy from one of the colleges had made an account. All 1,200 athletes friended him, sent in snaps, which he screenshot-ed and then added to the nationals story. And then everyone clicked through all thousands of snaps. It was The Thing in Clemson. Most of it was selfies with funny captions or random pictures of people. There were poop jokes, a few bare asses, party plans, basically anything that was sort of ridiculous and fun. USAT must have gotten word of how all the kids were into the Snapchat, because then they made an official one. It was only official-like stuff of the actual races, nothing untoward or crazy. And no one used it. No one.

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Here are some observations and things that happened:

  • The official type people said at the awards ceremony that the nationals club championship has been happening since the early 1990s. Um, yeah. I dunno about that. Not unless you’re counting all those years Wildflower declared itself “the national college championships.” The first USAT-produced nationals was in 2007, I’m pretty sure.
  • The official type people also talked a lot about the sport becoming NCAA and the future of draft-legal racing. But I’m not sure they’ve actually talked to all the college students they’re supposedly speaking for. Because everyone I talked to didn’t really know too much about what the official people were talking about.
  • Another thing that happened at the awards ceremony: one team dressed up in horse heads staged an impromptu horse race around the gym.
  • When it came time to compete for the spirit award (which we should have won, by the way), the Santa Barbara team got up and did a song dressed as Pac-Man and whatever those things are that Pac-Man eats. Halfway through the song there was a turn and they stripped off their pants and started running around as underwear Pac-Man. The USAT official people didn’t seem to quite know what to do with that either.
  • Everyone shows up for nationals a few days early. Lots of driving overnight and long-distance bus trips. Then the hotels all get overrun with college triathletes.
  • There are more parents and friends that come to watch too than there used to be.
  • The main race (the non-drafting Olympic) is also much more serious than it used to be. There is seeding and a set number of spots for each team for each of the waves. There’s a gap between the men’s and women’s races. Transition closes early and there’s tons of USAT officials. It is very legit.
  • It is also very competitive.
  • Arguably, the top 3-5 were always pretty competitive. But now it’s competitive all the way through the top 100 or something. The depth has evolved. Especially on the women’s side—a development that I think you can see across the sport actually. Here are two charts The Kids made (I’m not 100% sure what analysis is suggested by these charts or what conclusions can be made in a broader sense, so let me know if you have analysis thoughts):

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  • The swim is the most brutal part. There’s so many fast swimmers collegiately. But that’s not true in the age groups, so where do they all go? Do they forget how to swim?
  • Colorado always has really good bikers.
  • Surprisingly, I don’t think there were any bad accidents. Even in the rain.
  • And, then, as is the custom, mostly everyone goes out after the awards ceremony and has a huge party that is sort of just declared a party wherever there happen to be triathletes in the same place. I felt kind of bad for the regular Clemson students who were confused by all these people wandering around their bars. And, then, everyone has to start the overnight bus rides and early morning cross-country flights back…

Race Report: Collegiate Nationals

Last Wednesday afternoon, 25 of us flew to Atlanta and then drove to Clemson, South Carolina. We raced Saturday, in the rain, and then flew back Sunday morning. You would think that being in Clemson for four days with nothing but a two-hour race to do, there would have been some free time.

Hah.

USA Triathlon Collegiate Nationals was fun and exhausting and insanely competitive and maybe what it was and what USA Triathlon thinks it was are not exactly the same thing. But that’s another topic.

Short version: I raced harder than I have in a while. Maybe since Alcatraz last year (though IM Canada was a different kind of hard). Saturday, I swam and I biked hard and then I hung on during the run and tried not to throw up before the finish line. And it almost all came together for a really crazy good day. Instead, it was just a good day, which I’m still very happy with, and I finished 17th in 2:16.

Long version: It was pouring on Saturday morning. And the boys raced first (in the downpour). That meant I ended up with four hours to kill in the rain. We went and slept in the car for a little bit, turned on the heater some, and tried to eat enough for all the extra time but not so much that we threw up. I was struggling with this last thing. By the time we finally did start at 10:40 a.m., I was hungry, but also had been gagging on everything I tried to eat. Basically, I was not dealing well with the anticipation of the hurt that was to come. Even if you know you do better in the rain and when conditions suck, that doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it.

And, even with all those hours, I still managed to lose my timing chip and had to run to get to the start on time. Naturally. (Side note: If you sprint up to the officials’ tent, wearing a sweatshirt and a gold skirt over running tights, and gasp out “Ilostmytimingchip,” they really won’t know what to do.)

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The swim start was awful. I’m pretty sure collegiate swim starts are what give me nightmares about triathlon. It was insanely aggressive and there was nowhere to go when the people behind you and the people next to you decided that you were the only thing between them and their dreams of glory. Eventually, it calmed down a little bit. And, then, I just swam hard. I would have told you that I always swim hard and that I didn’t feel like I was swimming any harder this time. In fact, I had no idea if I was sucking or doing great. It turns out that in the past, apparently, I have not been swimming as hard as I could have. I came out of the water in 23:15ish, which was really fast for the day, and put me pretty high up (for me) going into the bike.

There’s some kind of lesson here, but I don’t really know what I did differently other than not even a little breaststroke.

My real goal for the day was to bike hard. I have not been killing it on my bike lately, so I wanted to put in a really solid effort. It stopped raining for the girls race, so it was just overcast (which is great) and cool-ish (for South Carolina). But, when I put my head down to get to work, I couldn’t find anything. I was up and down, all over the place that first lap. I got passed by some girls, which doesn’t usually happen that early, but I suppose it was a result of swimming faster than usual. I had a gel and tried to drink some and hoped I could will the legs to come around. Eventually, they sort of did. My second and third laps were stronger, with the last lap actually feeling the best and, by then, I was edge of throwing up, so I figured that meant I was going pretty hard.

It turned out, though, that all my laps were pretty evenly split, so it may have all been in my head. It also got more crowded those last laps, so it might have just been easier mentally to pick people off. Either way, I biked a fairly strong 1:07:45ish and my head told me I was doing pretty good.

Apparently, I decided to do a trackstand in the middle of the race?
Apparently, I decided to do a trackstand in the middle of the race?

Originally, I had thought I’d get through the swim, move up on the bike, and then pick off some more places on the run. But doing better on the swim-bike meant there just weren’t that many more places I was capable of moving up on the run. Maybe that’d be different if I could run a 37. But, I can’t (for now…). Instead, I was killing myself to simply maintain position.

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The run was an out and back. They called it two laps, but you had to go back and forth twice each lap, so it was really basically four laps. Every one of those there was a long false flat hill we went up and then down. I started out right on the heels of two very fast runners and by halfway through the first lap I realized they weren’t opening up the gap on me (which meant I must be running pretty good) and I was just hanging off a big pack of girls that included 10th, but I also realized vomit was coming up the back of my throat. It was getting very muggy at that point and I became seriously concerned about my ability to complete the course.

I’m not sure what I thought about then. It’s sort of a blur. But I think the middle of the run was one of the few times on the day I sort of lost focus. Eventually, I realized that I was only having to swallow vomit on the uphill sections and that I was making up time on the downhills, so it was easier to get through then. Also, there were so many people on course the second lap, I had no idea who was ahead and who was behind.

On the last uphill, with a half-mile to go, someone said that a girl was coming up on me. I literally mouthed, “Fuck.” What did I have left to give? I tried to pick it up some and, as I got closer, everyone was yelling that she was coming and I needed to go. I picked it up more. I made the sharp turn onto the grass, through a mud pit, another sharp turn in what was a bog by then, and I was full-on as hard as I could go. I made it across the finish line, fell over, and threw up a little bit. It took me a few minutes to get off the ground.

It was ugly and it was rough, but I’m pretty sure that I could not have gone any harder on Saturday. And that’s really all you can ask of yourself.

The day before it started raining. Everyone actually did well too, and I wish they would tell us how we placed, because I think it wasn't bad.
The day before it started raining. Everyone actually did well too, and I wish they would tell us how we placed, because I think it wasn’t bad.

USAT Collegiate Nationals

Tomorrow’s the day. Collegiate nationals has changed a lot since the last time I did it in 2007. Now there’s a whole Snapchat story everyone keeps sending things into and more Specialized Shivs than I’ve ever seen at a race. But one things still the same: rough weather. It’s supposed to storm and possibly thunder all day. Fingers crossed guys.

Training Week: From the L.A. Marathon to May

I stopped posting my weekly training logs not because I wasn’t training (or because I got too busy, though I did that too). Instead, I thought maybe I’d try something else: not really laying it all down in writing. At first, I thought maybe I’d just stop writing down my weekly workouts on the internets. But, then, I sort of stopped writing them down at all. I picked up my training calendar the other day and realized I hadn’t filled in a square on it in two weeks.

This wasn’t a deliberate decision exactly. It’s more that I knew I just wanted to get in three hard weeks between the LA Marathon and collegiate nationals. I also knew, generally, what I wanted to do: work on my Olympic-pace biking. So I decided it might be good, for a change, not to sweat the details too much. Or, at least not to do so publicly, in a concrete way.

Not that worrying about details isn’t a good idea. Because it is. And, obviously, there are a lot of details I’m still concerning myself with. But this is just sort of an experiment to see if maybe keeping things a little looser and just in my head helps at all with whatever. Plus, extra bonus, it means that I’m sticking to The Kids’ training plan slightly more, with changes to approximately reflect my own life schedule (because workouts can only be two of the three: social, convenient, or good for your training) and my own strengths/weaknesses.

I love The Kids. They are fun and fast and a little bit nutty. And we have definitely been hitting on some of my weakness, like, um, speed. So, we’ll see how it all works out.

Here’s my rough training weeks since the marathon:

Less running. But a long trail run in Marin, naturally. And weekly track workouts, which just further confirm speed is not my strong point, but at least I’m getting better. Maybe. I’m not sure, actually.

Two or three Olympic-distance pace workouts on my bike to fine-tune the pace. And two harder workouts to push a pace slightly past that a little bit. These I feel good about. I think.

Swimming some, whatever. And a little strength work, but not much.

And that’s that. Two more workouts planned then pretty much resting/tapering into nationals. (Which I know is not really a For Real taper, but I’m doing Wildflower the week after and Alcatraz three or four weeks after that, so it’s what makes sense for me, in my head.)

A Few Things Right Now

1. Wednesday I was in Palos Verdes and I biked past a guy down on his hands and knees in his perfectly green manicured lawn. He had a pair of scissors and was pulling out errant strands from his perfect lawn one at a time. Obviously, he had to compete against the more perfect lawn across the street, denoted by the sign in front of it saying it won the neighborhood’s lawnscaping award. My second thought was: Don’t you know there’s a drought. But my first thought was: Man, I wish I had that kind of time.

2. You know when you time your sprint finish just perfectly, but then it turns out that the finish line is just around the corner and you end up like sort of limping across the line because you used everything up. That’s how I feel about life right now. I finished my thesis (yay!), but it turns out I still have six more weeks of grad school left after that (ah!).

3. Remember when I said I wasn’t going to apply for the Women for Tri board thing and you can too. Look, I know people think I’m a “shit-stirrer,” as was explained to me the other day. But Hillary Biscay isn’t. And if she’s saying that she’s resigning from the Women for Tri board because it is not the place to affect true change for women, then you should listen to her.

4. I wrote about the new L.A. professional frisbee team and the competing professional frisbee leagues. Yes, there are two professional frisbee leagues.

5. I know a lot about obstacle course racing right now. I think I might become a professional(ish) obstacle course racer. Watch out.

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.