Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Black Line Therapy

When you have a personality as intense as mine, with a brain whose neurons probably resemble something along the lines of a bird's eye view of the Los Angeles freeway system on a Friday night, life can be pretty noisy.  My mind goes and goes and goes ALL THE TIME.  It never shuts off.  It's not like I am constantly thinking up new ideas or coming up with the next great invention or anything (though, my idea for a Sleep Number Bike Saddle is ingenious, in my opinion).  No, I wish I were that clever.  Mostly, I rehash the things I have said, done, looked at, screwed up, and forgotten during the previous day, week, month, year, or decade.

And I think my dad saw that in me at a very early age.

I was an edgy kid, mouthy and spunky and talkative in a small family that believed in the old "children should speak when spoken to" philosophy.  And I had no real substantive outlet.

My father pushed my brother into competitive swimming, and my brother was really good.  Like, elite good.  Circumstances kept us from knowing one another, but I always knew of him and what an outstanding swimmer he was.  While my father never pushed me into competitive swimming, he did push me into the pool at around 2 years old in an effort to get me to swim.  And boy, did I swim from the get-go.

Over the years of my mid to late childhood, my father taught me how to do a proper entry dive, a pretty good flip turn, and the four basic strokes.  We never had the money for me to club swim, but he had me swim laps in our neighborhood pool.  Rain or shine, he had me swim laps.  My hunch is that he knew I would love it, partly because of the freedom I felt in the water and the smile on my face when I was in it, but also because it shut everything out and turned my brain off for but a moment.  And I stopped the incessant jibber-jabbering that annoyed my parents so much when I was out of the water.

He was so right.  Not about most things.  But he was spot-on about swimming and me.

To say that I love swimming is the grossest understatement possible.  As a child, I followed Olympic swimmers like most girls follow boy bands today.  My Rob Lowe and Johnny Depp posters were accompanied by clippings of Matt Biondi and Janet Evans.  I dreamt of swimming competitively, of having a gold medal around my neck, even though I knew it was not in the cards for me.

So I settled for my regular black line therapy.

There is something ritualistic and therapeutic about the back and forth of swimming laps.  The rhythm it creates allows me to only focus on one thing - lap counting - and not the 50 different thoughts competing for attention in my head.  I can be quiet, and the world can go on without me for a few brief minutes, and I just don't care.

I had the privilege and the opportunity to swim on my high school team.  I didn't take those years for granted, and I enjoyed every lap and every second.  Even when I came in last in a race, I relished my ability to stand on the starting block and swim a 100, a 200, or a 500.  I was never a great or a particularly fast swimmer, but I was a giddy one.

I know a lot of people who find the idea of swimming back and forth, back and forth torturous, pointless even.  I guess I understand that.  These are often the people who like to run miles and miles and miles without abandon.  You'll not find me feeling that passionate about running, though.  For me, the weightlessness of the water lifts the burdens of life, and allows me to unwind.  I can swim for hours without stopping, once I get into a groove.

So I guess, kind of like the runner's high, I am one of the lucky ones that knows the joy and elation of the swimmer's high.  Staring at the black line does not bore me.  Rather, it centers me.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Race Report: Iron Girl Half Marathon Clearwater, 4/14/13

Welcome to my first race report!  Bear with me, it's a long one!

Coming in to this race, I was injured, overtrained and just plain tired.  Yet, I hadn't trained for this race. How does that work exactly?  Well, this was my 6th race of 2013 so far.  I had trained throughout the winter for back to back half marathons in February, one Sunday followed by the next.  In January, I ran a 15k, where I PR'ed (1:26:56).  In addition, I logged over 100 miles in training alone in January.  I achieved a PR (2:03:46) on the first half at the Five Points of Life half marathon, and not a PR (2:11:46) at the second one at the Disney Princess half marathon.  Following that, I competed in a sprint triathlon, and then a 5k charity race in 1000% Florida humidity less than a week ago.  Since the two other half marathons, I had not run more than 8 miles, and I am nursing some plantar fasciitis, so I was sticking to running shorter distances and running a slower pace.  I feared that my body would rebel on me during the race, but I am not one to back out of a race that I have paid for.  I was hoping for a miracle.

Race morning was like any other.  Up at 4:30, a small cup of coffee, 2 cups of water, a cup of yogurt and granola and a banana for breakfast.  This is my tried and true pre-race meal, it never fails me.

My husband drove me to the race start, where I met up with a friend who was also running.  After taking it down to the wire while waiting for a porta-john, we got our warm-up in as we scurried to the starting line.  This actually didn't bother me, as it gave me no time to really think about the fact that I was woefully unprepared to be running the race at all.

The first mile had us traversing through a bit of downtown Clearwater, for about a mile.  It was merely a distraction for the runners, for as we turned the corner, the first bridge, the massive Memorial Causeway, was there waiting for us.  I can do hills without fear, and I didn't find the first trip across to be very taxing.  I was maintaining my normal 8:45 race pace and I felt great.  It was very humid, but there was a nice breeze off the Gulf, so I hardly noticed the stickiness.

I conquered the bridge, and as we approached Clearwater Beach over the next few miles, I was not only shocked at how good I felt, but it didn't escape my attention that I felt no foot pain.  Regardless, I decided to ease up on my pace, and dropped to around a 9:30.  I went into this not expecting to PR, and kept telling myself that under 2:30 was going to be a good time considering my lack of training.

The miles ticked away, and I made sure to stop at the water stations and hydrate to combat the humidity.  I walked for about 30 seconds through them, and all was good.  I made it over the second bridge, the Sand Key Bridge, running and feeling strong.  As we approached Sand Key Park around mile 5, I started to feel little tweaks here and there, but it was so far so good.  We looped through the park, and I saw my friend plugging away just a little bit behind me, and I felt pretty ok.

And then came Mile 7.

I could feel my quad muscles tightening, which was something new to me.  I tried to shake it off, and I began a run/walk/run thing in hopes of not totally blowing it.  The quad cramping subsided, but began to move down my legs, and into my feet.

Here is where I issue a strong word of advice.  Do not ever wear compression socks or sleeves for a long race, unless you have trained that way!  While I wore my sleeves for the Princess Half, and they did ok, I did recall my calves trying to cramp up then.  That should have been an ample warning to me, but alas.  So I wore them to Iron Girl, and I think it was the biggest running mistake that I have ever made.

As I approached mile 8, the sides of my calves began seizing up so badly.  I stopped to walk it off, and would try to run.  Whenever I started running again, I could feel my feet moving in unnatural directions as they hit the pavement.  My toes kept pointing out, yanking at my ankle muscles.  It hurt so bad, and I wanted to stop.  I couldn't run 15 feet without the cramps amping up.  It was so frustrating.

Mile 9.5, and the return over the Sand Key Bridge was looming.  By then, I knew there was no way I could run it, it would be a walking race from here on out.  I jogged/hobbled through the water station and hit the steep bridge, coming to a complete stop.  My legs, in unison, knotted.  I almost fell completely over.  I had to stop and try to work the kinks out.  I wanted to cry, and did a little.  Runners passed me, some of them in as bad shape as me, and everyone was supporting each other.  That got me over the bridge.  I was slow, but as I approached the acme of the bridge, I was able to carefully jog down.

At mile 10, I took my phone out of my arm band, and I texted my husband:

"3 more miles, cramping badly, legs seizing up.  I want to quit"

He replied: "Don't quit"

I walked most of mile 10.  As I approached the water station, this adorable little girl shouted to me as she handed me a cup of PowerAde: "You are awesome, Robin!" (we had personalized bibs) This lifted me up just enough to jog/walk for the next 2 miles, until I saw the Memorial Causeway, the behemoth of bridges.  You know, Florida might not have a lot of impressive hills, but they sure can build some bridges to make up for it!

Again, this would be a walker.  The same bridge that a mere 1 1/2 hours ago I casually jaunted over was going to be my undoing.  The cramping was so bad that I had to do stop on the side of the bridge to stretch.  And I hate bridges, they terrify me.  Heights nearly send me into a panic attack.  But, at this point, my legs felt like they had been tied in 10,000 knots.  Grasping the railing to stretch, I closed my eyes to avoid the view below.  I stretched the best that I could, and soldiered on.

The peak of the bridge never seemed like it would come, but as I reached it, I realized that the end was blessedly near.  I began to slowly jog on the downhill, and as we approached the corkscrew exit of the bridge, the cheers at the finish line propelled me.  Coming through the finish chute, I felt physical pain that rivaled chid birth (no exaggeration), and just pleaded with my legs to carry me over the line.  As I saw the line, the sight of my husband and kids and their cheering was almost more than I could take.

I crossed the line, took a bottle of water, received my finisher medal, and at that moment, everything stopped working.

I spotted my family waiting for me at the end, and I crumbled into my husband's arms.  All I could do was sob and tell him, "It hurts, it hurts..."  I hurt physically and mentally, and I knew that I had probably sidelined myself for a good while.

My time was better than I had expected: 2:23:03.  Under 2:30.  I am an Iron Girl!  I guess.

After the race, I found a shady patch of grass to rest on.  As my husband peeled off my compression sleeves, he commented that my lower legs were a pale, sickly white color, while my upper legs were bright red.  As I got further into the race, it appears that I was depriving my lower legs of blood flow, hence the severe cramping.  All the PowerAde in Clearwater wasn't going to help, either.  I could have really injured myself.  I learned a big lesson.

So, I am hanging up my running shoes for a bit.  My foot needs to heal.  My spirit needs to heal, too.  I feel like racing has become a chore, and I want to find that spark again.  I want to feel that thrill of the finish line, and that is going to take some time to find again.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Wherein I have to admit that I am human

I've been going along on the triathlon train for a few years now, and so far I've avoided major injury.  I've had a few minor things happen, ingrown toenails, lost toenails (a badge of honor for runners, don't ya know?), and a swollen foot here and there.  My maladies always seem to go away on their own, without me having to stop doing what I love doing (did I say I love it?  Yeah, I did!).

I've almost carried my infallibility around like a trophy.  I've watched other friends, even my husband, suffer from injuries that have sidelined them for weeks and months.  I've watched friends try to fight and compete through the pain.  I watched them wriggle with frustration at the thought of not being able to do this training run or that race.  And I've been there, nose pointed slightly in the air, thinking to myself, "what's the big deal about taking time off?  You want to be at least walking when your old, don't you?"

Because, how hard could it be?  To give up the thing that you DO, the thing that, for love and for hate, gets you out of bed at ridiculous hours to train, to race, to suffer, to rejoice?  Really, just give it a rest, and you will be back to normal.

Yeah, no.

It's easy to pass judgment when you've not run in someone else's shoes.

I trained all winter for 2 back to back half marathons.  While I wasn't training for marathons or Ironman races, the training was tough, and the training broke my feet badly.  The volume, the increase in speed, the pavement pounding, everything.  And I even did it the right way, I was careful to never increase my speed and volume too much per week.  And I didn't feel the effects of the training until well after the races were in the books, even though I feel that the races are where I cemented the injury but good.  So I just kept pushing.

Now, I have developed a nasty case of plantar fasciitis.  And it hurts.  More than I care to admit.  I feel old, I feel defective.

And now I have to face the fact that I am probably sidelined for a while.  I have to impose a hiatus on running (which, oddly, doesn't excite as much as I thought it would).  I have to heal, because I at least want to be walking when I am old.  And I look forward to the near future, when I can get out of bed at some insane hour to train, to race, to suffer, to rejoice.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Addicted to the Finish Line

Everyone has their reasons for doing whatever it is they do.  Everyone has some motivation for doing - or not doing - something.  When I began running, I immediately knew I wanted to run a race.  Now, I knew I wouldn't WIN the race, of course, but I wanted something to work toward, a goal.  A goal, I have learned in the past few years, keeps me focused, and being the type-A personality with a slight case of adult ADD that I am, it helps.  What I didn't realize back in the beginning, was the power that the race would have over me.

After that first race, I was instantly hooked.  Sure, it hurt and I was slow, but I felt something that I hadn't felt in a very long time, or ever actually:

The feeling of crossing the finish line.

If you haven't experienced it, let me see if I can describe it adequately.  It's a feeling of accomplishment, pride, VICTORY.  Yes, victory, even though I didn't win a darned thing.  Whether someone is shouting my name and cheering me on or not, that moment that I cross the pad is kind of surreal, really uplifting, and never lasts long enough.  The personal win that I experienced the day of my first 5k race has only been matched a few more times since I began racing:

  • My first triathlon ever - that feeling that I actually DID IT.  I trained, I swam, I biked, and I ran (PR'd on my 5k in the process).  If I could have hugged myself that day, I would have.
  • My first half marathon - the distance scared the crap out of me, and I didn't think I would be able to run THAT far for any sustained amount of time.  But I did it, I ran the entire race without stopping, and my time wasn't too shabby.  My finish line photo said it all: I crossed the line, arms over my head, triumphant, and crying like a baby.
  • My first Olympic distance triathlon - I put on my big girl tri kit and went for it.  I had a good swim, a good bike ride, and I completely died in the run.  It was hot, I realized that I didn't train very well, and I learned a lot that day about racing (and training and nutrition).  But I stayed upright, ran across the finish line to the cheers of my children, and I felt like a real triathlete from then on.
I have many more races ahead of me, at least that is my plan.  I don't race to win, I don't race to beat anyone but myself.  Crossing the finish line is a bit of an addiction for me.  An addiction, like any drug, that brings about feelings of power and euphoria and little bit of giddiness.  And, like a drug, it also brings withdrawals when I haven't crossed one in a while.  Except this addiction is one that is good for me, one that improves my body, my mind, and my spirit with each hit.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Weighty Issues

I never thought I would say this, think this, or write this, but I have trouble gaining weight.  

I know that's not something that seems like much of a problem to a lot of people.  In fact, I know there is someone out there that would, upon reading this, say:

  • Must be nice, I WISH I had that problem, or
  • Well, EAT stupid!, or most likely
  • Um, please shut up
I get that.  I was there, for the greater part of my adolescent and adult life.

My name is Robin, and I am a former chubby girl.

I bet that most people wouldn't have considered me chubby, but I had just enough people in my life tell me that I was a "big girl", "full figured", and "really muscular" to convince me that I belonged in the Shamu show at Sea World.  And I have to tell you, now that I have lost weight, and I look back at pictures, I really did need to drop a few pounds.

When I began running, I didn't lose weight right away.  After a few months of pounding pavement, I started to gradually notice a change.  My pants were looser in all the right places, and I was even able to buy smaller sizes.  But when I decided that I was going to take on triathlon and began cycling and swimming, the transformation I saw was so swift and immediate, I just about got whiplash every time I walked past my bedroom mirror.

As I got more into the three disciplines, my diet gradually changed.  It wasn't deliberate, believe me.  I wasn't on any kind of diet, but rather, I began to listen to my body during workouts.  Like, hey doofus, maybe the giant cup of creamed out coffee and pancakes aren't so smart before a run.  It took a few ugly episodes to realize that my body not only didn't let me down, but really performed well, when I ate wisely.

Rocket science, right?

Through trial and error, I learned what to eat before and after workouts, and began to experiment with foods.  I didn't deprive myself of anything that I wanted, but I made sure that when it came to nutrition, all my i's were crossed and my t's were dotted (or something like that).  There was room for ice cream, cake, pie, cookies, oh boy - now you see my weakness..., just not before or after any kind of workout.

So, I lost about 40 pounds, and I did a few races, and I found myself in a place that I never imagined.  I was on a scale, and the numbers smiled back at me: 1.2.8.  I didn't weigh that little in high school.  I didn't weigh that little in middle school.  I was skinny!

Then my husband, who loved me before and has loved me since this crazy ride began, looked at me one day, and said the absolutely positively most outrageously ridiculous thing: 

I think you've lost too much weight.

Come again?

It seems that when you exercise A LOT, you need to eat A LOT.

Again rocket science.  Where's my PhD?

I was eating well, and eating right.  I just wasn't eating enough.  I was burning calories faster than I could take them in.  And I was caught in this weird psychological place that only exists in a woman's mind.  Somewhere on the third floor of my brain, mixed signals were zipping and zapping all over the place.  One part was saying, too much weight, are you nuts? You're a size 2 now!  Let's go for the big 0!  Then the other part was saying, well crap.  Am I making myself sick?  I wanted to revel in the fact that I had gotten my body to a place that only existed in my dreams, but I had done enough training and research about training to know that if I didn't want to land flat on my face in a race, I should probably reassess why I was doing all of the training in the first place.

Now I eat more.  I eat A LOT.  More good stuff than bad.  And I still have trouble gaining weight.

So, why am I trying to gain weight, you ask?

Because, now, I am technically about 5 pounds underweight (Ha!  I find it a little funny to this day that I can actually say that).  And I struggle with that third floor mental ward in my brain that tells me on one hand it's really better to be thin, and on the other hand I've come so far and I can go even farther if I feed my body and my mind.

So, poor me, I am in a perpetual state of maintaining my weight, even trying to gain a few pounds.  I don't take that for granted, I have worked my back side off (literally) to get to a place where I feel comfortable in my body and I don't feel like I am looking in a funhouse mirror every time I get dressed.

It's just a different place to be, on the other side of the fence.

My advice to anyone taking their first steps on a journey of fitness, which will inevitably result in some weight loss, is:

  • Don't sweat it.  I mean, yes you need to sweat, but don't sweat the weighty issues.  Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.
  • EAT, dammit!  Eat well, and eat often.  Don't fall into that trap of thinking that you need to eat less to lose weight.  If you are moving your body, especially with intense activities like running and swimming, the weight is going to leave you.  But you also need to fuel those intense workouts, or you will find yourself needing to be peeled off the giant brick wall that you will most definitely hit.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I love to run, and other lies I tell myself daily

I don't love running.  At all.  To put it bluntly, it sucks.  I've never felt the runner's high that I hear running junkies talk about, I've never gotten so into a run that I have forgotten that I was even doing it.  I am always painfully aware that I am running, with ever pounding step.  So, why in the the world do I keep doing it?  Excellent question.

I have a mantra.  I repeat this mantra to myself when I am doing something that is not easy.  I have repeated this mantra to my kids ad nauseum when they are complaining about something that they perceive as "the most difficult thing in the world".  I have pinned this mantra on Pinterest.  

"Nothing worth doing is easy."

I believe this with all of my heart, and I think this is why I continue to pound the pavement and trails despite the dirty secret that I carry, which is that I really don't enjoy running.  Of course, this applies to so many things in life.  And I guess running truly is a metaphor for life (sorry for the Oprah reference).  You have to learn to pace yourself, work through the pain, trudge up the hills, and enjoy the downhills.  You have to find the physical and mental strength to carry on.

I don't think I will ever love to run.  I won't love it like some of the people I know who run like the wind, who forget they are running, who experience euphoria when they hit that sweet spot in the middle of their workout.  I will always be completely aware that I am running and, for good or for bad, it will keep me moving forward.