Friday, June 28, 2013

Type A-thletes

I've heard and read quite a bit that triathletes are typical Type A Personalities.  And while nothing is a hard and fast rule, and there is plenty of room for exceptions, after a little research, I have found that this is an overwhelmingly accurate characterization of your garden variety multisporter.  Whether a newbie who is trying the sport of triathlon for size or a seasoned Ironman, I think that it is safe to assume that there are certain traits that lend themselves to success in the sport.**

What do you think of when you hear Type A?  I know what I think of.  I think bossy, I think go-getter, I think domineering, I think a not-wait-around-for-something-to-happen-in-my-lifer, I think ADHD.  How close am I to the real interpretation of this no-so-exact science of defining the psyche of an entire population of individuals and limiting them to a narrow scope of traits?  And how well can they be applied to the sport of triathlon?  Let's see...

Urgency regarding time. Type A folks are always racing against the clock, whether it's on a work deadline or in traffic, so it stands to reason that a sport that requires you to race from one discipline to another with the intention of shedding mere seconds off a T1 or T2 or even beating a previous bike or run split is IDEAL.  The challenge is in the chase for Type A's, therefore triathlon is the perfect place to exercise this tendency with absolutely no restraint.

The competitive streak. Type A's are competitive, so duh.  Triathlon is a superb place to get your competitiveness on, from racing against the clock, racing against yourself, and the very the best thing of all - racing against other Type A's.

We are multitaskers. Because of the urgency we create in getting things done faster than anyone else in the world who has attempted the task previous, and because we also want to do it better than they do, Type A's excel at attempting to do a laundry list of things at once with measurable success.  What better place to get that out of our systems than in a triathlon?  Not only do we get to basically do three races in one day - talk about time savings! - but we have the opportunity to constantly break down each component of each part of the race as it happens.  For example, during the swim, we might simultaneously be thinking about sighting buoys, when and how to push through a group of swimmers, the best place to pee in the water, and what the hell we would do if a jellyfish wrapped itself around our heads (or a water moccasin, if it's a fresh water swim). During the bike, we might be considering shifting, eating, drinking, passing without drafting, and praying to the triathlon gods to keep our tires fat and happy with air all at once.  And during the run, we are likely thinking about PRing, peeing, and trying to remember if there is a beer truck at the finish line (and hoping that there is beer left if you are slow like I am).  A triathlon is a Type A personality's dream scenario.

Independent streak.  We Type A's are somewhat independent creatures.  Maybe it's because others can't keep up with the demands we place upon ourselves, or maybe it's because we are annoying.  Maybe both.  But what I have found is that even if you train with a club, a group, or even a partner, triathlon is by and large a very selfish and individual sport at the end of the day.  It requires a huge amount of ambition and motivation (other Type A traits).  Most people aren't going to get out of their warm beds to go for a 6 a.m. swim or a 4:30 a.m. long run or a 3-hour sunrise bike ride.  Even with you.  No matter how good you smell or even if you bring them coffee.  So we are left to being our own best cheerleaders, our own best coaches.  But if you are like me, that lends itself to a certain level of satisfaction and sense of accomplishment.  Which is a great thing.

One thing that I read that I take issue with is that Type A personalities do not like routine.  I find this a little contradictory.  Regarding triathlon, I can think of no more concrete routine than the almighty training program.  I am so married to the idea of a training calendar that I feel lost when I am not following one.  Now, that is not to say that I don't adapt to change because I do - yep, another Type A trait.  Each plan is different, and I look forward to getting all squishy and comfortable in the middle of each one.  But I also like starting a new one for the next race.  It's like a new Christmas gift each and every time.

Type A and triathlon go together like peanut butter and jelly, ham and swiss, or foam rollers and biofreeze.  But, while it seems that all triathletes are Type A personalities (or seriously lean in that direction), not all Type A personalities are triathletes.  

What do you think of the correlation between Type A personality traits and the sport of triathlon?

**Success, of course, is relative.  Whether you aim for the podium finish or you just bust your balls to beat your previous time or you simply aim to cross the finish line in the upright position, everyone who puts in the time, sweat, and training and finishes a race is a success.  This is not subject argument or debate.

Sources consulted:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Just Keep Swimming

I've been doing my swim workouts for the past few weeks alongside my kids' swim team.  Now, when I say alongside, I mean that I am swimming in the lanes next to them, not working out with them.  Because that would look ridiculous.  Their warm ups are faster than my all-out sprints.  This depressing reality has given me something to think about as I have been pounding lap after lap.  Why in the world did I stop swimming?

I was by no means whatsoever an elite, or great, or even good swimmer when I was younger.  My father taught me the strokes, he had me swim laps in our neighborhood pool in the early mornings before anyone else was there, he, for lack of a better word, coached me.  I loved swimming, I loved swimmers, but it was only a faint fog of a dream for me to ever compete on any level.

My brother was a great swimmer.  He did the age group thing, he was an All-American, he was supposed to swim on scholarship in college before a devastating motorcycle wreck threw him off course for many years.  And while I never knew him growing up - he and my father had parted ways before I was even born - I knew of him and what a great swimmer he was.  My brother was a mythical figure to me, an idol that I worshipped from afar.  He was someone I thought of as I swam those laps in the tiny little pool, someone I wanted to know one day, someone I wanted to show my own abilities to. My dream coach, my ultimate cheerleader.

So the closest I ever came to realizing any dreams of competitive swimming was on my high school team.  When I decided to join the team, my father tried to talk me out of it.  He pointedly told me that I was no good, that all the other swimmers would beat me, and that I would want to quit because I would lose.  I never could figure out if that was his version of pushing me and supporting me, or if he was really that afraid that I would fail.  It didn't matter, because nobody tells me that I can't do something, especially him.  I joined the team anyway.  I loved everything about it.  I loved practice, I loved my teammates, I loved the meets.  Even though I wasn't a "winner" I certainly wasn't a loser, either, and I was living that faded little dream that I'd had, the one that sometimes included my brother showing up to cheer me on at a race.

Before I head down that road of reminiscing about "the good old days" and it begins to seem as if I peaked in high school, let me just stop right there.  As I said before, I was never a great, or even a marginally good, swimmer.  But I loved it.  And now that I am rapidly approaching 40, and since the day around two years ago that I jumped into a pool and began swimming those laps again, I am realizing that there are ghosts that surround me when I am in the water.  And I think they are ghosts of regret.  

The regret that I feel is that I got out of the water for so many years.  Not because I think I could have won races or set records.  But because swimming has brought me back to my roots.  It has taken me back to those summer mornings when my dad taught me how to do a flip turn, when he schooled me on the proper entry dive, when he taught me how to roll my shoulders when I do backstroke.  Swimming makes me closer to him, even though the memories aren't always so great, but they are at least a piece of my history with him, and there is a certain comfort in that.  Swimming makes me feel connected to my brother, who lives so far away from me both geographically and emotionally, and with whom I've just never been able to establish the relationship with him that I have so desperately craved all my life.  At least we have the pool.

I stopped swimming for a long time.  Babies, jobs, life got in the way.  But as I have made room in my world for training and racing, I have made my way back into the water.  And as I watch my kids do the age group thing, I see them struggle with their love/hate relationship with swimming.  I see them hate to practice, but I also see them joyfully talk about what they loved about practice, what they want to swim in the next meet, who they want to beat on their team.  And so the connection that I have to the pool deepens.  My body might have left, but my heart never did.

I feel like if you truly love something, if it is part of your being, then it never really leaves you.  We always come back to what we love.  Even my brother, who left the pool for different reasons and for so many years.  He's a coach with his own swim club now.  My dream coach, my ultimate cheerleader has his own deep connections to the pool.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ironman Augusta 70.3 Training Log, Week #1

I made it through the first week of honest-to-goodness training for Ironman Augusta 70.3.  It was a tough week, emotionally and physically, and there were moments that I wondered why I am putting my body through this.  If you've ever trained for a triathlon or any big race, then you probably realize that thinking that way in the first week of a training program is not really a good thing.

The workouts weren't difficult.  They were tiring, and I realized that I have some work to do so that I do not go splat on the race course in September.

Monday - I was supposed to swim 45 minutes, but given the fact that our dog passed away, I took a rest day.  By that, I mean I lay on my couch and cried all day long and into the wee hours of the night.

Tuesday - I decided to make up for missing Monday's swim by doubling up.  I did a road ride for the schedules 60 minutes in the morning - a little over 16 miles - and swam in the early evening as my kids were practicing with their swim team.  Doubles usually don't bother me, especially if there is no running involved, but this workout day left me drained.

Wednesday - A 45-minute run, which ended up being 4.65 miles and included a longer-than-should-have-been walk break.  I have talked about my absolute LOVE of running before, and today it enveloped me like a big sweaty grizzly bear and choked the hell out of me.  I felt clunky and uncoordinated, and SLOW.  The humidity in Florida in the summer cannot adequately be described, it must be experienced.  Even at 4:45 a.m., it is a mean and mocking little SOB.  In the cool months of winter, I almost get to the point where I like running.  But in June, I want to humiliate it in front of its friends.

Thursday - I swam again while the kiddos practiced, and got in 2000 yards in 42 minutes.  The plan called for 45 minutes, but I doubt the 3 minutes lost is going to make a bit of difference in the end.  I worked on my backstroke, and 600 yards of the workout was kicking drills because I have no kick and, for their size, extremely weak legs.  This affects me not only in the pool, but also on the bike.  So, despite the fact that I practically move backwards in the pool when I do it, I did kick drills.  And I also observed that 9-15 year-olds swim a lot faster than I do.

Friday - A rest day, amen and hallelujah!  When training for any type of race, you grow to relish rest days, even if you have a twinge of guilt over not training on those days.  Especially when you see someone working out.  Then you feel lazy.  Somehow, though, I manage to get over it as I sip my cold drink while lying by my pool.

Saturday - Weekend workouts are the long workouts, and both my husband and I moan and groan about them while in training.  Today, we were working out with some people from our tri club, a swim-bike brick workout.  I had a decent swim, I felt a little tired but was still able to get in 1900 yards of mostly freestyle and a little backstroke, plus I more than made up for the 3 minutes I skipped out on during Thursday's swim.  That was followed by the bike ride from hell, a hilly and painful 22 mile ride on county roads. My favorite part was having a panic attack when we went over Interstate 75.  Bridges scare the hell out of me, and I wasn't expecting to have to deal with an overpass, whose bike lane was a little too narrow and close to the edge for me.  Oh, and the tractor truck that blew by me at the precise moment that I looked down at the road below when I really do know better than to do that was just the cherry on the cake.  And I realized that I need a new bike saddle.  In fact, I am reminded - even at this moment - every time I sit down.

Sunday - Long run day, my favorite day!  Not really.  We were thankful for an overcast morning and there was a breeze, so the humidity behaved itself somewhat.  Both husband and I were really tired, our legs were tired, our arms were tired, our brains were close to flatlining.  So we did a run/walk/run thing.  We ran a mile and walked one minute, for 6.2 miles.  It was actually quite pleasant, we could talk to each other during the workout, and the walking only slowed us down a little bit.  The run/walk thing is difficult for a lot of runners, because you don't feel like it's really a run if you do any walking whatsoever.  To that, I say get over yourself.  It took me a while to get there, but I am realizing that my legs feel less tired for the rest of the day when I give them a little bit of a break during some workouts.

Total training time logged: 6 hours, 24 minutes

I realize now that my fatigue is likely the result of two doubles during the week.  I feel good that I was able to get in all of my scheduled workouts, and didn't have the urge to blow off even one of them.  It's like being able to check every item off a to-do list, and if you are like me, then you are all like, Yes!  I got it ALL done!  I am Super-multitasker! And then you make your next to-do list.  

On to week #2!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Goodbye, my yoga dog

Today, I watched a life come to a close.  My stubborn, gentle, beautiful, loyal, and wonderful American Bulldog Oliver left us this morning, and it was both the most torturous and most peaceful moment of my life.  

Oliver was not just our family dog.  He was our yoga partner, our running partner, our alarm clock, our resident comedian, our touchstone.  He warmed my feet after a cold run by laying all of his 80 pounds on them, and he was an excellent spooning partner.  He was only 7 years old, and we had barely loved him for 4 1/2 years.  He was taken from us by an aggressive cancer that left him skeletal and weak, a shadow of his former self.  But he never lost the love in his eyes, and the wag in his tail, albeit a weaker wag in the end.

As we watched him slowly die in front of our eyes, the frailty of life - and its temporary nature - was thrust upon me.  This once strong, barrel-chested animal that could knock over a 200-pound man with merely a nudge was reduced to limping across the house in a matter of a few months.  And there was nothing we could do but relieve his pain with copious amounts of medication and continue to love him until we knew it was the end.

I drove him to the vet this morning knowing it would be THE day.  His abdomen had swelled up over the night, and he was having trouble breathing.  He had a look on his face that practically begged for me to make it all go away.  When I arrived at the vet, they led me into a room with a squishy, comfortable sofa.  I sat down, and Oliver looked up at me with a puppyish alertness that I had not seen on his face in a long time.  I invited him to hop up, and he tried so hard, but just could not get there.  For the first time since we had adopted him, I was able to pick him up - he had lost more than 30 pounds of his body weight - and I put him on my lap.  He placed his head on my chest and I stroked his swollen belly, listening to his racing heartbeat and irregular breathing.  For several minutes, I whispered to him all of the things I needed to tell him - how much he meant to me, how he'd healed my soul and spirit so many times, how I loved him - and he relaxed into my body as if to signal that he was ready.  It was a most special moment.  It was our moment of goodbye.

My husband arrived, and the vet prepped Oliver for the procedure.  I had never been a witness to this before, but my husband had.  He tried to assure me that it would be quick and peaceful.  My husband crawled on the floor and laid on Oliver's chest whispering the same loving words to him that I had a few minutes earlier.  Oliver lifted one of his front legs and placed his paw on my husband, as if to embrace him.  It was their moment of goodbye.

When the time came, the vet administered the drugs, and we both gently stroked Oliver's belly.  The quiet overwhelmed the room, it was smothering me.  The vet checked his heart, and told us that he was gone.  But he wasn't.  He was laying right there, and I just felt like he was going to hop up and scurry out the door with us and hop in the car and come home with me, sniffing and biting at the wind out the car window, with his ears and jowls flapping.  

But that would be a memory now.

His lifelessness was startling, but a relief.  He was no longer in pain, and I desperately hope that he slipped away feeling our hands on him, hearing our voices telling him how much we love him.  I was not prepared for the stillness, for the quiet.  Or the anguish.

My husband's early morning winter runs won't be the same, and it will take me a while to get used to practicing yoga without Oliver stretching beside me.  And there will never be another foot warmer like him.

It's so hard to say goodbye to the creatures we love, even when we are middle-aged and should seemingly be able to accept life's cycle.  Love everyone and everything in your life at all times, because you just don't know when the chance to do it will be gone forever.

Oliver, my yoga dog
4/26/06 - 6/10/13
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." ~Anatole France

Monday, June 3, 2013

Can't get motivated? Join a club!

I grew up thinking that other females were the enemy.  Let's face it, we don't always treat each other very well.  For whatever reason, there is a lot of backstabbing, backbiting, and backhanded behavior that goes on amongst the gentler half of the species.  I have been both victim and aggressor throughout my life, and to this day, I have very few female relationships that I would call solid, honest, or even healthy.

When I started running, I didn't know where the route would take me.  It was a whim, really, something different to change up my long-tired gym routine.  At that time, I never foresaw myself living an existence of perpetual training-racing-recovering.  But as my lifestyle evolved, and I began to change physically and emotionally, I noticed that other things in my life began to change.  I saw some of my female friendships disappear.

There were a few women that I called friends at that time didn't share my newfound passion for exercise, fitness, or racing.  In fact, they not only didn't care that I was doing it, they thought I was crazy for doing it.  Slowly, over time, I realized they didn't want to hear about a race experience, or a nagging ache or pain.  I knew they had specific feelings regarding what I was doing, and I have my suspicions as to what they were.  Maybe they thought I was neglecting my family, maybe they thought I was being obsessive, or maybe they were just lazy, and I thought I was crazy for working out all the time, that I should have better things to do.  I will never know.  One of my friends simply starting ignoring me.  Another actually rolled her eyes and smirked at me if I dared to speak of anything having anything at all to do with my newly-discovered hobby.  I have another friend who, to this day, always tells me I'm overdoing it and that I'm going to get hurt.  And I will tell you that even though I probably bored them to death talking about running and exercising stuff, it paled in comparison to our other topics of conversation.

I went through a period of depression over this, because I thought that friends supported each other in their endeavors.  And I couldn't understand why I couldn't even get a "woo hoo, congratulations" when I finished a race.  I certainly would be - and was - supportive in their achievements.  What bothered me most is that I understood that we didn't have to share hobbies, goals, or even every common interest, but why push me away for doing something that is good for me?  I wasn't a heroin addict or anything.

One of the things that I learned very early on when I became interested in triathlon was that finding kindred spirits was crucial in success.  Kindred spirits in this case are those folks that are always thinking about the next race, the next workout, the new running shoe, who just live and love the lifestyle.  A good friend of mine who was already an established triathlete told me to find a local tri club so that I would have training mates.  So, before I even competed in my first race, I went on the search for a local tri club.

As luck would have it, a new club was just getting started where I live.  I jumped in with both feet and never looked back.  I met incredible athletes, weekend warriors, and fellow triathlon junkies.  It was great!

The byproduct of having joined my tri club, and training and racing with people who share my passion (read: obsession) for the sport has been the bonds I have begun forming with the women in the club.  It was an unexpected bonus that has developed over time, but has struck me in a powerful way.

The women that I have met in the past year or two are mothers, grandmothers, wives, professionals.  Many of us are learning how to do it all as we go, and many of us are finding ourselves through this journey.  I have found greater support from these women - many of whom I don't know nearly as well as I'd like - than from most anyone during any other period of my life.  What I am learning is that women don't always tear each other down, but that they can be instrumental in building each other up and being each other's greatest champions.

Do not get discouraged if you feel a lack of support in your fitness journey.  Find a club, turn to your social media, find some way to meet up with other kindred spirits - in person or virtually - so that you can walk the walk with others who share the same feelings, insecurities, struggles, and triumphs as you.