Friday, May 31, 2013

I think, therefore I am neurotic

I am in a funk.  I haven't done a race since last month, and even though I have one on my calendar for September, and a plan to do a few more before then, I feel a little lost today.  My training program for Augusta begins a week from Monday, so this funk will come undone as soon as I have my first big girl double workout day.  Then I will be longing for a funk.  But the in-between time that happens from the end of a race to the beginning of the grind of training for another one just kinda stinks.


Tomorrow I am racing in my first biathlon.  The city in which I live puts on this great Dash and Splash series each summer, consisting of a 5k run followed by an 800m pool swim.  For some reason, this informal little neighborhood race gave me bad dreams last night.  I dreamt that I showed up at the wrong pool.  I dreamt that I wore my running shoes during the swim.  I couldn't figure out why I am so nerve-wracked about this race.  Then, a little while ago, it dawned on me.

I haven't raced in a pool since I was 17 years old.

Now, this isn't like a swim meet.  I don't think I will be starting on a block, and there aren't any starting guns or horns.  But, I haven't raced side by side with another human being - unless you count the pregnant lady swimming in the lane next to me at the pool last week, I could NOT let her beat me to the wall - in over 2 decades.

I have been putting in a ton of pool time, 16 miles in the month of May, to be exact.  For an old lady, that's a bunch.  I've been trying to get faster, pushing myself in drills and sprints, and I just haven't been dropping any significant time.  

I'm afraid that I will look slow and amateurish tomorrow, I guess.

Both my kids swim, and my daughter is always bugging me to race her in the pool.  She's 10, and she is so much faster than I am now, and faster than I was even when I was young and spry.  One of two things will happen tomorrow as she watches me finish my race:

  • I will swim fast enough for her to ramp up her pestering me into racing her at HER swim practice in front of HER coaches and teammates, or
  • I will swim so slow that it will prompt her to ask me if I was telling the truth when I told her that not only did I swim when I was younger, but that I was part of a relay team that set a school record.
Guess which scenario I am rooting for?


On another note, I hate running.  And it hates me.  We get to this place every summer.  Heat and humidity make it feel as if I am running with a loaded-down camel on my back - one who won't share any water from his hump with me, and I feel like I am fighting for each and every breath.  In another 5 months, me and running will be good again.  

Training for Augusta is going to be a long and sweaty road, I foresee.

**I apologize for the stream of consciousness.  This is what happens when I think.  And I thought that pool time took care of all that noise in my head...

Monday, May 20, 2013

70.3 or Bust

I turn 40 this year.  In about 3 months, actually.  There are a lot of things about that fact that are unbelievable to me.  For example, I feel very much like a child inside my head.  Like, there is no way that I have survived on this planet for 40 years, 22 of those years as an independent adult!  Wow!  But I digress.

I am choosing to celebrate my 40th year of living by using (some might say abusing) the body that I was given, and pushing it to its ultimate limit (so far).  I am going to race, of course.  Specifically, I am racing Ironman 70.3 Augusta!  

This is a challenge, a big one.  I am a big mixed up bag of emotions: excited, scared, intimidated, thrilled.  

My training program begins officially on June 10.  It is a 16-week program, and after careful research and option-weighing, I chose it for a few reasons:
  • It's 16 weeks.  Not 20 weeks.  Not 24 weeks.  A longer race does not necessarily require a longer training program.  My husband trained for 20 weeks for a marathon and I trained for 20 weeks for back to back half marathons.  It left us exhausted, injured, and sick of running.  I want to be healthy and excited about the next race when I cross the finish line.
  • I'm in reasonably good condition.  I've been swimming, A LOT.  I've been doing a fair amount of cycling, my rides being between 15-30 miles.  Running, well, I have backed way off to let my foot and hamstring heal.  But, that can be picked back up reasonably easily.  
  • The training plan does not suck up all of my free time.  I have kids, I have a house, I have a job.  I also have a life outside of training.  The really long workouts are confined to the weekends, and the bulk of the program is happening over the summer, when the kids are out of school and therefore have freer schedules, and I have evening daylight that provides extra training time.
I have a lot to do before race day.  I have to book a hotel for the long weekend - which will include a night in Savannah so that I can pig out at Lulu's Chocolate Bar.  I have to get new wheels for my bike, a new bike helmet, and a hydration system.  I have to learn how to tolerate eating nutrition gels without gagging and puking, and I have to learn how to take nutrition on my bike without careening off the road and into a tree.  I need new running shoes, preferably these beauties.  And there is a ton of other stuff  to prepare for that I am sure will come up on this fairly short but intense journey.  I actually haven't even gotten around to thinking about RACE DAY yet!

So, for 40, I will be crowned half an Ironman.  Some people go on a bender.  Some people get liposuction.  This is my way of honoring myself - by swimming, and biking, and running, and sweating, and cramping, and cussing 5 hours into the race at myself...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

It's what you do with it.

My oldest child, my baby, my boy, my nearly 14-year-old, is a typical teen.  He's messy, he smells, he gets embarrassed about girls, he forgets to do his homework, he walks around in droopy underpants asking what's for dinner.  He's also highly intelligent, keenly observant, terribly witty, and one of the cutest nearly 14-year-old boys walking the planet today.

He's also small for his age.

Not a week goes by when some adult - some non-thinking, probably perfectly decent person - whose perception of "normal" or "strong" or "worthy of living" has been skewed by society or by their parents or by a t.v. show says to me either:

"He looks like a 3rd grader" - usually with a snicker or
"Oh, he's so small for his age" or
"Have you taken him to a doctor?"

To the first remark, how the hell should I respond to that?  My inclination is to take out a sledge hammer and pound the person into the ground until he or she is inside the earth.  Usually I make no indication whatsoever that his/her comment has affected me, because it really isn't worth the air that it would take to respond to it.  But I always wonder...would this person, this grown adult who is supposed to be teaching his/her children to accept people for what they are and not how they look (or maybe I'm wrong, and that isn't a current trend in parenting?), say that to my son's face?

To the second, I usually say "Yeah, he is."  In my mind, though, I am saying, "Yeah, he is, and he is obviously not worthy of sharing air with the likes of you, you obviously superior being who has obviously raised superior images of yourself.  So, let's just take him out and shoot him dead."  Do people - GROWN PEOPLE - think that I, that he, doesn't know that he is smaller than his friends?  That he isn't as physically strong or acceptable to the world at large?  For Pete's sake, I don't need anyone's self-proclaimed expert opinion on the matter.

To the third question, I say, "Yep.  Doc says he is short."  That's it.  The doctor says that he is short.  Because of me.  I was a late bloomer, and so is he.  So the F what?  

I know I seem touchy and hypersensitive about the issue.  But you have to understand that there are a whole bunch of ignorant people in the world, and I think just about every one of them has uttered one of those statements to me (and probably behind our backs).  And, like a mama bear, I won't let anyone hurt my baby.  But at the same time, I also won't acknowledge blatant ignorance and insensitivity, which is why I generally ignore comments - despite the fact that it goes against my very core, which requires a great deal of tongue-biting on my part.

I don't bring this up to call out the mean people in the world, or to make an example of my kid.  I wanted to provide some backstory.

Both of my kids are swimmers.  My daughter has some real natural prowess at it.  She's younger than he is, and she started swimming competitively before he did, and she does well in meets.  My son has been doing it a little over a year.  He, too, has some natural prowess.  He busts his butt in practice, he doesn't complain to the coach, he never gives up.  He has his size working totally against him right now, and he is stuck in a practice group with his 10 year old sister and a group of other kids that age.  He watches his friends from school practice in more advanced groups, and he sometimes gets down about it.  He has to swim against kids his own age in meets, kids that are bigger than he is, kids that practice with other kids their own ages, despite never getting to practice against his own age group.  And he generally finishes last in his events. 

And he gets back in the pool every time.  Smiling.

This weekend, my son was presented a challenge.  He was entered to swim the 800 meter freestyle in a meet.  If you don't swim, that is 16 lengths of the pool and you are either thinking (mistakenly) how hard could that be? or you are thinking (correctly) Yikes!  If you do swim, you know how difficult that is for someone that is big and strong.  That is a little more than 1/2 mile.  Most people don't even bother to get off their couches to walk that far in a day, much less swim the distance.  And he had to go as fast as he could, faster even.  He was petrified, but he wasn't about to back out.

Swim meets are stressful for my son and for his parents.  He never performs to his own satisfaction, he beats himself up, leaving his dad and me to attempt to keep him pepped up and positive in hopes that he won't give up.  So, I am ashamed to admit that we were dreading this race a bit, only because we both know from experience how hard that distance can be, and how intimidating it can be if you've never done it before.

He took to the starting block looking as if we were sending him to the gas chamber.  All I could do was think about the things I needed to say to him after the race to cheer him up.  The starting horn went off, and we watched him swim length after length, smoothly and evenly, and diligently.  His coaches cheered for him, his teammates cheered for him, his sister cheered for him, his dad cheered for him.  I yelled for him.  His last 50 meters, he dropped 10 seconds off his split, telling us that he not only could do it, he would do it faster next time!  But there was still that chance that he had disappointed himself.

But when he emerged from the pool, his smile was bright enough to block out the sun.  His coach, his dad, his teammates congratulated him.  I wanted to scoop him up and jump with him and kiss his head.  Instead, I gave him a high five.  You know, to protect his rep.

He was happy with his swim, he was satisfied!  He faced the challenge, and despite the people that are always giving him - and us - those pity-filled looks and making those ill-informed remarks, he was on top of the world.  It didn't matter what his time was, it didn't matter where he placed.  

My son is so many things.  He is not big in size, but he is huge in determination and spirit and the only kind of strength that really matters.  I am in awe of the sheer hugeness of the person that he is.

When I train and I get discouraged, or when I am in a race and I feel exhaustion and pain setting in, my son is what I will turn to for inspiration.

Because it isn't the size of the body that you are given that matters, it is what you do with it that means the most.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Finding My Inner Shanti

Last winter, when I decided that I would run back-to-back half marathons, I knew that I would need a training program that would help me get faster, build endurance, and keep me from getting injured.  Well, I would be happy with two out of three.

I searched the Internet far and wide, wading through half marathon training programs that were either too simple, too complex, too ambitious, or too obviously developed by retired East German Olympic coaches looking to torture poor unsuspecting athletes-in-training out of a need to relive their glory days.  Alas, I became frustrated, mostly because none of them were flexible enough to fit into my life.  Because, yes, I deserve to run half marathons while still being a mom, having a job, and taking care of business.

Finally, I stumbled across this plan.  What I loved about it was that I ran 4 days per week, not 5 or 6.  And it was unique in that it incorporated yoga into 2 of the non-running days.  It was something different, and it looked interesting.

The plan didn't include specific yoga workouts, so I went searching online again.  I stumbled onto this place, which led me to a series of yoga workouts specifically for runners on You Tube.  They were short - 20-25 minutes - meaning I could get it done early in the day and get on with life.

Immediately after doing this workout a few times, I began to build speed in my running, my endurance improved, and my core got stronger.  I am now the proud owner of a 4-pack (childbirth be damned, I fear that the rest of the pack might be gone forever)!

Over the months I have begun incorporating other yoga workouts into my normal routine.  Core workouts, gentle hatha flow workouts (for rough days), and hip-opening workouts have helped increase my flexibility, reduce pain, recover from injury, and hopefully prevent more injuries.  I also credit it to increased running speed, and getting faster in the pool, too.

So, now I am kinda hooked on yoga.  I don't chant or talk about my third eye or anything like that.  But I do look forward to my morning and evening yoga workouts.  They bring me physical and emotional relief.  They allow me to clear my head, which is not a very easy thing for me to do.

If you can't afford to go to a yoga class, or if you don't like classes (like me), plop your laptop or iPad down on the floor, get on your yoga mat, download some yoga workouts, and get to contorting that body!  I promise you won't have to put your feet behind your eyes once (but what you do within your four walls is not any of my business!).  If you are lucky, and you stick with it, hopefully you will begin to feel stronger, more centered, and just generally better about your workouts, your training plans, and life in general.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Guilt Monster

It's a fine line to walk, this triathlon hobby I participate in.  I often tell my husband that it's a selfish thing that we do.  The training sessions can be long, meaning that our children (older and responsible, but still) are left to care for themselves sometimes.  The training sessions can be tiring, meaning that helping with homework, cooking supper, and doing the mundane responsibilities that are part of life can take longer and add a little more stress to things when you are physically and mentally drained.  There is work that, for my husband, means 12 hour days away from the house, and having to find time to fit in a run or a ride or a swim either at 4 in the morning or quickly at lunch or at 8 at night.  For me, I work at home in the mornings and I am on chauffeur duty every afternoon.  Fitting it every single thing that has to be done at work, at home, for the kids, and for me can be tough.  The guilt monster shows his scary face on a regular basis.

Naturally, I feel guilt about doing something expensive and time-consuming, being a mom and all.  I did sign some kind of invisible agreement when I gave birth swearing that I would devote every ounce of time, energy, and piece of myself to my children until they turn 18, right?  Right.

Martyrdom doesn't suit me at all.

I would be lying if I didn't admit that I envy the folks I know who either don't have kids, or whose kids are grown and they are able to devote all of their time to triathlon, or running, or sky diving, or glass blowing, or whatever so-called selfish hobby they've taken up.  I would be lying if I said I don't feel judged - even though I've never heard a cross remark from anyone besides my mother - about having children and dragging them to race weekends or going out on 3 hour training rides while they are at home or hanging out with their friends.

Should I have just waited until it was MY turn, until they are grown up and have moved on?  NO.  Why is that?

Because I saw an opportunity, and I took it.  Because I recognized the chance to improve my body and my spirit and be a more active mom and a happier mom, and I seized it.  Because I knew that my kids could learn that nothing worthwhile is easy, that it comes from hard work and falling down and picking yourself up and carrying on.  But yet, I still feel the weight of the guilt monster sitting on my shoulders.

Guilt is an ugly thing, and most times it is uncalled for.  But it isn't nearly as ugly as the pain of regret.