Monday, December 13, 2010

Thank Your Sherpas!

This is the time of the year when I look back at the past season and start planning for 2011. I did four triathlons and six running races this year. I had some disappointments, but I also had some great experiences and I know we are lucky, as triathletes, to be able to do what we do.

Looking back also makes me reflect on the huge role our support people play in our success. I need to give a big shout-out to Jody Rausch, who became my unofficial coach this year.

A year ago, when I first joined the Milky Way Masters swim club, I told Jody I wanted to do an Olympic-distance tri and asked her how often I should swim. She told me three times a week. It was a big commitment, but I stuck to it. I could barely swim at all, but I swallowed my pride and went faithfully.

The first time I did a timed 500 Jody was there at the end of the pool, yelling out encouragement and telling me “You’re no quitter!” When I missed a few practices, she got on me about not slacking, telling me to “keep my eye on the prize.” Jody kept me on track to my goals.

Jody is a USAT coach so she always had great training advice. She would send me tips, but more importantly, she gave me encouragement. Before every race she would send me an e-mail with a “pep talk” and when I got down (like after the Hy-Vee Tri) she would pick me back up. So thank you, Jody, for helping me persevere!

There are many people in our club that have acted as “coaches” for me. They may not know it, but I watch them and I learn from them. I absorb every word they say and I try to take that knowledge to become a better triathlete.

Last month I talked about how Brita Loynachan came to my marathon and biked to spots throughout the course to cheer me on. It means so much to have a support crew (or sherpas, as I call them) at a race to keep you motivated.

We also can’t forget about our support crews at home. Maybe you have a spouse that takes care of the kids and makes it possible for you to race. My neighbors take care of my dog (my baby) when I go to overnight races, allowing me to pursue this lifestyle.

Take a moment to thank your support people. They make sacrifices too. We don’t do this alone! Thank you to everyone who has made my dream of being a triathlete a reality!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

My First Marathon

I had reached Mile 26 of the Des Moines Marathon and the volunteer said the finish line was just four blocks ahead. It still looked far away, but I just needed my legs to carry me a little further.

I turned off my iPod. The last song playing was Whitney Houston’s “One Moment In Time.” That song had been my theme for the Hy-Vee Triathlon earlier this year. “Give me one moment in time, when I’m more than I thought I could be…” I didn’t get to finish that race due to the weather and it was my biggest disappointment of the season. It seemed only fitting that the song would be playing before my biggest triumph. I had come full circle.

My friend and fellow MWXer, Brita, had made the trip to support me. She had biked to different spots on the course to cheer me on. Now she was on the sideline, with a throng of cheering people, giving me that last push to the finish line.

I had traveled to Des Moines the day before, full of nervous energy. I went to the expo and heard the course talk, making sure I made note of the medical tents. As I was walking through I saw Jeff Galloway—Olympian, coach, author, running god. He was going to be speaking at the dinner that night, but there he was at the Mizuno booth. I had purchased his book that spring, followed his training plan and spent many nights lying in bed, using my highlighter to mark his words of wisdom. I walked up and extended my hand. “I just wanted to meet you,” I said, gushing like a teenager. He asked me about my training plan and gave me advice on recovery. “You can do this,” he told me.

That night I went to the spaghetti dinner, clutching my Jeff Galloway book. Afterwards I went up to get his autograph. I was officially a Jeff Galloway stalker. Meeting him HAD to be a good sign.

That night I packed my fuel belt and my Spibelt (one can never have too many belts) with packets of Gu, Clif Bloks and cut-up pieces of a Snickers Marathon bar. Apparently I thought I was climbing Mt. Everest and would run out of food. As is my ritual, I wrote inspirational words on my arms. My left arm was “Relax” and my right was “No Quit.” I then drew a turtle on my forearm to signify that the race does not always go to the quick, but to those that keep on running. I was the tortoise.

The next morning I was at the race site early. I was freaking out and veteran marathoner Julie Johnston tried to talk me down. I remembered the words she had sent me. “Don’t over think it. Let your body do what it is trained to do.” Brita found me and she seemed to have a calming effect on me. Knowing I would have a friend waiting for me out on the course made a huge difference.

Before I knew it, the race had started. It didn’t take me long to shed the sweatpants, long-sleeved shirt and gloves I had purchased at Goodwill (all for five bucks!). The first hill was at mile 3 and for the next five miles there seemed to be endless hills, one after another. My hill training with the CVRA running club had prepared me, but it was still challenging.

Surprisingly, I was relaxed and having fun. I ran a nice, steady pace (helped by Brita yelling to me “You look strong!”). I had called club member Laura Grief earlier that week (she had just done her first marathon in Chicago) and she had told me to have fun. “You will never again be a first-time marathoner,” she told me. “Just enjoy the experience.”

I had been running with or near the 5:30 pace group. I got to know people along the course, including Gary who had traveled from Virginia for the race and an older gentleman who was doing his 64th marathon!

At mile 12 I ran the track at Drake University, the site of the Drake Relays. Some of the greatest runners had run on this track. They had a video camera so I could see myself on the jumbotron.

I started to find my groove. I was doing my best running and I felt good. I left the pace group behind. I was passing people and just enjoying the day. At mile 15, as I ran the tree-lined path in the park, I looked up at the sunny sky, the leaves falling from the trees, and all I could do was smile. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt such joy.

Somewhere between miles 17 and 18, though, things changed. My heart started to race and I had to stop. I didn’t think I was pushing the pace. My legs felt good, but my heart was saying to slow down. It was the first time I had struggled during the race so I looked at my arm that said, “relax” and took a deep breath. “You’re fine,” I said. “Don’t panic.”

The 5:30 pace group caught up to me so I decided to just run with them. I would run when they ran and walked when they walked. I enjoyed being part of the group and not being the “lone wolf” on the course. Around mile 20, though, I started to fall back. I was feeling fatigue.

By mile 21 I was in pain. My IT band was on fire and I felt like someone was sticking a knife in the side of my knee. My quads were very tight. Brita rode up next to me on her bike and she could see I was struggling. She told me it was gut-check time and I pounded my fist against my chest—signifying it was “all heart” from here on out. I knew this point in the race would come. I kept looking at the “no quit” written on my other arm. “There’s no quit in you,” I said, as if my body was a separate entity.

I seemed to go on autopilot. I could still see the pace group in the distance. I had wanted to finish under 5:30 so I felt some disappointment, but I also realized: “I’m doing it! I’m running a marathon!”

Some volunteers offered me ibuprofen, but I waved them off. The pain was part of the marathon and I wanted to experience it all. I wanted to earn this…like I was undergoing some type of initiation. Down the road some more volunteers offered me Biofreeze pain reliever. “I love pain!” I yelled. Apparently I was now delusional.

At mile 24 Brita gave me my final pep talk and said she would see me at the finish line. I was on my own now. Those last two miles seemed incredibly long. I was really hurting, but this race wasn’t going to break me.

I ran the final four blocks, saw the cheering crowd, heard people yelling, “You did it!” I waved, pumped my fist, and threw my arms in the air. I was going to enjoy my moment! As I crossed the finish line they announced my name and they said it correctly! That never happens in a race. A volunteer held open the finisher’s medal and said, “Get in here!” and I charged like a bull through the loop of the ribbon.

Laura was there at the sideline and I gave her a hug. I didn’t want to leave the finish line area. Finishing a marathon was the most incredible feeling in the world! I just wanted to hang on to that feeling as long as possible!!

Brita came up to me and it was more hugs. Having someone out on the course to support me meant so much. I could feel the tears in my eyes. I was emotionally overcome by the whole experience. Everything I had been through that season, all the hard work, all the pain and sacrifice, was flooding over me. I knew what Laura meant about being a first-time marathoner and how I knew I would never feel this again.

I finished in 5:32, just off my goal. I wouldn’t be going to Boston any time soon, but I had finished. Running a marathon takes many hours of training, but it also takes a strong will and an indomitable spirit. When I needed it, I had shown the mental toughness to go to the end. I felt proud, happy, relieved. Time for ice cream!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Training Mishaps

It was in January that a crazy idea began to creep into my brain. Maybe I could run a marathon. I blocked out the memory of last year’s half marathon, which seemed really far at the time. I needed a big-time goal and I didn’t want to think I had done “half” of anything.

Through the summer I added the mileage, but my main focus was on triathlons. The swimming and biking provided great cross training, but it was tough to get in a long run on the weekend when I had a tri. I decided to cut my tri season short so I could focus on my marathon training. My last tri would be Hickory Grove on Aug. 29. This was a special race for me. I was traveling to the race with my friend, Brita, who would be doing her first race since beating breast cancer.

I was not healthy entering the race. I had been rehabbing a sore hamstring all week, I had a cold and fluid in my ear from an ear infection. I wanted to be there for Brita. As soon as I began the swim, though, I knew it wasn’t going to be a good day. My body felt very weak, like when you’re sick and the smallest activity can sap your energy. For the first time ever, I thought about dropping out of a race. Then I thought about Brita. She was out here racing after having gone through chemo! If she was tough, I had to be tough too. “Suck it up!” I told myself as I exited the water.

I got on the bike and before I even left transition I could feel my legs shaking. The bike course was three 5-mile loops so I told myself to just try the first loop and see how I felt. I got through one and then another. Soon I was off on the run.

I ran with another girl for awhile. I was running on the grass on the shoulder of the road. “Do you always run on grass?” she asked me. “I’m training for a marathon,” I said. “I’m just trying to save wear and tear on my legs.” Like those three miles would damage me. She wanted to walk so I left her behind. I turned onto the path leading back into the park. Just like my last tri, there was someone in my age group up ahead. I knew I had to find a way to beat her.

I pushed myself to get by her and for the rest of the race I fought to hold her off. I wasn’t feeling well, but if this was going to be my last tri of the season, I wanted to leave it all out there. I finally crossed the finish line and dropped to my knees, pouring water over the back of my neck. Ironically, it was Brita that picked me off the ground. I still felt lightheaded, but I rebounded after some hydration and food. I heard about how Brita had finished, her arms raised in triumph. That made it all worth it. We finished the day with some much-deserved ice cream!

If there is one thing I’ve learned in run training…I need a GPS! Either my mind wanders or I don’t really know where I’m going, but I find a way to get lost. My latest incident involved me running the New Bo Half Marathon course. I saw that the CVRA running club was doing a training run. I’m a member of the club, but I hadn’t really done any training with the group. I was looking to do 16 miles and they would have water on the course, so it seemed like an ideal situation.

I started out before the group so I could get a head start. The course started at the Chrome Horse, headed out on Otis Road and then got on the Sac & Fox Trail. The CVRAers caught up to me on Otis Road. I knew I couldn’t keep up with them and the last of their group passed me as we entered the trail.

I came to a fork in the trail and I didn’t see which way the group had gone. I looked, but I couldn’t see anyone. Now, metaphorically speaking, a fork in the road is when you make a choice that will affect your life. In this case, I made the wrong one. I headed down the trail. Were they that far ahead of me in such a short period of time? Where was that water stop? I had never been on this trail so maybe it loops around and that’s why I wasn’t seeing anyone else. Suddenly the trail just ended and I realized I had gone the wrong way. I looked at my watch. I was on mile 11, which meant it would be 22 miles to get back home! I wanted to cry. “There’s no crying in running!” I told myself.

Maybe someone would come back for me. What ever happened to leave no man (or woman) behind? This wasn’t the Marine Corps and I had to accept that no one would be looking for me and there would be no water stop. I was on my own. I headed back on the trail. I eventually got to the other end, but I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t want to waste any more miles so I walked up to a housing development.

I asked a guy how to get to Cedar Rapids. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Um, I’m from Cedar Rapids,” I replied. How embarrassing! “Oh, you’re about 8 miles from town,” he said. My heart sank. I was tired, dehydrated and about ready to hitchhike. Fortunately, the eight miles turned out to be four, but my body was not prepared for 22 miles. I was one hurting unit.

Note to self…know where you are going and how to get there!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Finding the Fun

This past month has been all about getting the fun back. A friend had told me that I’m too obsessed with my time, which gets me stressed and then I don’t have any fun. I’m competitive and I said my time was the only way I had to measure success. I had to admit, though, it had not been a fun year for me.

When I didn’t meet my goals at the Pigman I moped around all afternoon, instead of enjoying a great post-party with the MWX club. That was followed by the disappointment of the Hy-Vee Tri (weather shortened the race). When I didn’t run a good Fifth Season 8K I allowed it to ruin my whole Fourth of July.

Rosie, MWX prez and all-around wise person, asked me if looking at my watch during a race helped or hindered me. Okay, not running my goal time caused me stress. “Throw away the watch,” she said. Run a race without my Garmin?! She told me to just go out and have fun.

I headed to the Bix 7 in Davenport, leaving my watch at home. It was raining so I didn’t wear my iPod either. It was like I was naked out there! It rained the entire race, but I just focused on relaxing and enjoying the experience.

The weather didn’t keep the spectators away, who always come out to support the runners. I high-fived a group of little girls who were at a birthday party, I waved to the crowd and when I passed a time clock, I stopped myself from figuring out my pace in my head. By the end of the 7-mile race I was running strong and realizing how lucky I was to be able to do this. Did it really matter what my time was? (Okay, it still mattered a little bit!).

Later that day I found out a man had died on the course. He was 41-years old and had done the race before. It was a muggy day and I wondered if he had pushed himself too hard…if he was trying to beat a certain time. It put things in perspective for me.

It was then on to the Camp Courageous Triathlon. It would be the first time that I would race without a wetsuit. I was a little nervous, but I took it nice and easy so I wouldn’t panic in the water if I got tired. The swim was no problem and it was on to the bike.

The bike was a beautiful course through the “Grant Wood Country” of Jones County. I really wanted to bike hard. Up ahead I saw them…a pack of newbies. They were casually biking along, unaware I was gunning for them. One-by-one, I picked them off. I liked that there were a lot of first-timers in this race; it gave me someone to pass!

As I hopped off the bike, I knew there wasn’t much left in my legs. I could immediately feel the heat and I dumped water on my head as I left transition. All the people I passed on the bike were now passing me on the run. For inspiration, the night before I had watched the Hy-Vee Triathlon pro race. I felt like Sara McLarty. She was the first one out of the water at Hy-Vee, led the entire bike portion, then had a sucky run and got passed by everyone. (Not that I ever led anything, but it’s disappointing nonetheless).

Up ahead I saw her. She had a “45” on the back of her leg. Someone in my age group! I figured she was the only other one in my age group still out here and I just wanted to beat her. I knew with the time-trial start, passing someone didn’t mean anything, but it was all I had to hold on to.

I saw 45 pull about 75 yards ahead of me. The dream was slipping away. The heat was brutal and I could feel myself getting dehydrated. At the turnaround I just cared about finishing. Then I saw it…was it just a mirage? It was 45 and she was walking! Was she just taking a break, or had she given up? I drew closer, and inexplicably, I pulled up six feet behind her and started walking too. It was strategy. We were heading up the last little hill before the finish. I thought if I tried to pass her now and she gave chase, I wouldn’t be able to hold her off. I waited until the top of the hill and then I went for it.

I passed her. Was she coming after me? Did I have enough left in my legs? I didn’t want to turn around so I waited until a car went by in the opposite direction and then I acted like I was looking at the car. 45 was still back there and she was still walking. I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t going to race me.

I made it to the finish line and all I wanted was to lie down in the shade. I wasn’t feeling very well and it took some time to get my legs back. I wasn’t sure if it had been “fun” but I was able to relish the little things in a race, like passing one 45-year old woman.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Am A Warrior!

As I wrote about last month, the Hy-Vee Triathlon got reduced to a sprint-distance race and then they wouldn’t let me finish due to the weather. I wasn’t just upset with the race; I was angry at the whole Hy-Vee corporation for “crushing my dreams.”

Okay, so I couldn’t really blame Hy-Vee for the weather, but I decided I wasn’t going to set foot in a Hy-Vee store. Well, Hy-Vee Drug does have a good wine selection so maybe they could be the exception. I do really like Hy-Vee cake (love that frosting) so maybe there was a loophole for eating their products. Okay, so the ban on Hy-Vee was not going to work.

I guess I needed someone to blame. The harsh reality was that if I had pushed myself harder in the swim and the bike, I would have been out on that run course when the storm hit and I could have finished. I had approached the swim and bike like I was still doing an Olympic and pacing myself.

I heard a movie quote recently that really struck me. It was in “Evan Almighty,” the Steve Carell comedy about a man who is told by God to be a modern-day Noah and build an ark. God was played by Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman has this wonderful voice; every time he speaks he sounds like he is imparting wisdom. In the film he says, “If you pray for courage, does God give you courage or does he give you opportunities to be courageous?”

I couldn’t get that quote out of my head. Maybe Hy-Vee had not taken away my dream. Maybe I had not taken advantage of my opportunity. In every race we are given an opportunity. It’s up to us what we do with it.

The week after Hy-Vee I participated in the Warrior Dash. Club member Jody Rausch had talked me into doing it. It didn’t take much convincing…it was a 5K race on an obstacle course that included crawling through mud and jumping over fire! It was just what I needed—a fun race with no pressure.

The Warrior Dash is held all over the U.S. so the Midwest Region race was near Chicago. You signed up for a wave time so we drove over that morning for the 11:30 wave start. We parked at the Chicago Speedway and they bused us to the race site.

“You can smell the turkey legs cooking,” said Jody, “or maybe that’s the smell of burning flesh.” Not a pleasant thought. As we stood at the starting line the announcer got us fired up and we gave our best warrior screams. Two torches shot out fire and it was so hot we could feel it.

We started out by running cross country. Jody ran off ahead and I ran with club member Julie Kann. Soon we were running down a dirt hill into the woods. This race is big into mud so I had a choice of running through mucky mud or through a large mud puddle. At first I chose the path, but I almost lost my shoe. I figured I was going to get muddy anyway so might as well splash through the mud water.

I climbed over a large wooden spool and then pulled myself up a mud hill, followed by crawling through tunnels. It was on to the car junkyard where I climbed over the hoods of multiple vehicles. I was having a ball, but this course was also demanding!

There was more climbing over walls, wading through muddy waters and over straw bales. The tough part for me was the cargo net. I had forgotten I was scared of heights and here I was, climbing up a rope fence, my muddy feet slipping as I pulled myself up. Please don’t fall, I told myself.

It was then on to running up and down a million little hills. I was getting tired! I was approaching the fire jump. The fire was taller than I expected so I really needed to propel myself over. No charred legs; that’s good!

The final obstacle was the mud pit, where we had to crawl under barbed wire. This was the spectator area and they yelled for me to dive into the mud. All the guys were doing it, but I really didn’t want to go face-first into the mud! I crawled on my hands and knees and then up one final mud hill.

At the finish line they gave me a medal and I put on my warrior helmet (complete with horns) to signify I was a warrior! I think this warrior attitude is going to carry me for the rest of the season…

Friday, June 18, 2010

Delayed Dreams

I had my first two triathlons of the season this month. It hasn’t been a good start for me. Between equipment issues and Mother Nature, my races have been a disappointment.

June 6 was the Pigman. I was excited because I had finally learned to swim and I knew this would improve my overall time. The water was choppy, though, and I got off course. I improved my swim time by 2:14, but I thought I could have taken four minutes off.

The bike did not get much better. Twice I had to stop on the course because my aero bottle was coming off. I tried to finish strong, but for the first time, I did not improve my overall time from the year before.

I was depressed. I really wanted to have a strong performance heading into the Hy-Vee Tri, my first Olympic distance. I had to shake it off and just chalk it up to having a bad day. I didn’t know what a bad day was until I went to Hy-Vee…

I had gone to Des Moines early because they let you do practice swims at the race site on Friday. I had put many hours in the pool, but I still feared that 1500-yard swim. After a one-hour lightning delay, they let us practice on the 600-yard course they had set up. I did the course once and didn’t feel tired so I did it again. It gave me a lot of confidence.

I volunteered at the Kids’ Clinic that afternoon (a welcome diversion) and tried to keep myself relaxed, rested and hydrated. I had to take my bike to transition the night before the race and for the first time, I saw the swim course. It looked really far and my heart pounded. The nerves were back.

It had rained every day and the race site was a muddy mess. So it was a welcome sight to get up race morning and see no rain. I felt alive with excitement. The day I had waited for was finally here. An hour before the race a voice came over the loudspeaker…an important announcement. A storm was on the way so they were shortening the race from an Olympic distance to a sprint. I felt tears well up in my eyes. I had been training for six months for this one race and now it was gone. I was no longer nervous, but I would have to refocus. I still had a race to do.

I was starting in the second to the last wave so it was a long wait. Club prez Rosie and I thought it would be fun to be the last two people to start in our wave. Not such a good idea for me as the next wave of men was quickly swimming on top of me. I kept running into women who were doing the breaststroke and the backstroke. Two female backstrokers crashed heads right before I slammed into them. I was just trying to find a lane to swim in all this congestion. I finally made it out of the water.

It was windy and rainy on the bike. As I made the turnaround I tried to pick up the pace. I could hear thunder so I knew I had to get back. A few miles from the finish I was changing gears and my chain came off. “Are you kidding me?!” I got off the road and proceeded to fight with the chain in the rain. Bikes were flying by me. People were yelling out “Are you okay?” and I gave them a friendly wave.

I was back on the bike, but as I pulled into transition, the storm let loose. I was pelted with rain. I thought it was hail at first because it hurt as it struck my skin. It was mass chaos—people were grabbing their bikes and running for cover. I could hear sirens and see lightning. All my triathlete brain could think, though, was to pull on my rain-soaked running shoes, grab my hat, race belt and run.

The “Run Out” sign was gone so I was momentarily confused. I ran out of transition and headed up the carpet. I had to dodge people in my path and I didn’t know where to turn. “Where do I go?!” I screamed out and someone pointed towards the grandstand. I turned into the grandstand, but my path was blocked by cones. “You need to go to the finish line,” the volunteer said. No, my mind raced, I’m not done! They were closing the course and I was supposed to seek shelter. I want to finish! Please let me finish!!

I headed over to the finish line and they told me to take off my own timing chip. Just like that, it was over. I started to cry. Someone placed a plastic packet containing a medal into my hand. For the past year I had dreamed of running down the blue carpet at Hy-Vee, racing into the grandstand full of cheering people, having a medal placed around my neck. Now I didn’t even want the medal; I hadn’t earned it.

As I huddled under a tent, cold, wet and shivering, I could hear them announcing runners as they came in. The runners that were already out on the course got to finish. I would never get to hear my name called. I couldn’t help but think if my chain had not come off or I had been a little faster, I would have been out on the run course when the storm hit. Instead, I had my first DNF.

Fortunately, club member Heath had his big truck parked at the site so he could take some of the MWXers and our bikes back to the hotel. Otherwise, we would have to ride our bikes back to our vehicles that were parked at the mall. A visit to the Cheesecake Factory soothed my emotional wounds and Rosie talked about adversity making me stronger.

Rosie reminded me that there are things I can’t control (like the weather) and every time we race, anything can happen. Things don’t always go according to plan. I was looking forward to my “moment in time” but maybe it wasn’t meant to be—at least not that day. I would have other moments and maybe this experience would make me stronger, tougher and able to face whatever came my way. Dreams don’t die; they just get delayed!

Getting My Mojo Back

May is the time to return to open-water swimming. I always dread that first time in Palo lake—the way your feet go numb, that first hit of cold rushing through your wetsuit and how you lose your breath when your face meets the water.

My first time in open water this season was May 18. I didn’t think it was too bad. The water was cold, but I think Nick and the Masters swim club had conditioned me to swimming in cold water. I guess “brainwashed” might be more accurate.

You could tell I had spent the last six months swimming in a pool because I was all over the place. I wasn’t used to sighting and there were no lines to guide me. In the murky water I kept slamming my head into the buoys and feeling disoriented. I would also have to readjust to swimming in a wetsuit.

This would be my first year of actually swimming (using semi-proper technique) so it was like starting over. I would find myself wanting to swim with my head out of the water, like I did in the old days. “You’re not that person any more. You are a swimmer,” I told myself.

It had been a tough pre-season. I had a hard time getting back into the training mode. I had a week off work during May so I thought that would be when something would click inside me and my training would take off. The weather, however, was cold and rainy and I got sick. The slightest activity left me feeling weak and lightheaded, so training was out. I ended up not doing much of anything for six days. I began to wonder if the triathlon gods were testing me.

The truth was, sickness or not, I did not have the desire. All the other things going on in my life had stripped me of my motivation. I felt tired and stressed, and I didn’t care much about anything. Triathlon training was just another thing I had to get done.

Club member LG (Laura Greif, in case you don’t know) reminded me that I should not view training as another obligation but as an escape from the pressures. I had allowed myself to fall into a dark hole, but running, biking and swimming could be my salvation.

The next day I went on a run and I could feel a change in me. I was running with purpose, and I felt a focus I hadn’t felt in months. My mojo was coming back.

As I enter the final weeks until Pigman I know I have to let go of the things I can’t control and grab on to the things I can—like my training. Triathlons bring us a challenge, a sense of accomplishment and the joy that comes with meeting our goals. We may not feel like that in other areas of our life, but in triathlons we have a chance to achieve something. We can’t give up or give in; we have to keep tri-ing!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Dairy Queen Temptation

The picture is me, dressed as a polar bear, for this year's Polar Plunge.

It was March 31 and I stood at the Dairy Queen, staring at the blizzard board. I was picking out the last blizzard I would be able to have for a long time. I have two training schedules—my winter or off-season schedule and the Hardcore Schedule, which kicked off April 1. My love of ice cream would now be limited to post-race rewards.

My self-discipline did not last long, however. On April 8 I was challenged by a co-worker to consume the “Cup of Death”—a 32 oz. McDonald’s Triple Thick chocolate shake. This one shake contains 1160 calories. I was challenged to drink it in one hour. I downed it in 20 minutes, brain freeze and all.

You see, if I hadn’t become a triathlete, I wanted to be a competitive eater. They are the ones who consume 30 hot dogs at a sitting. Despite my size, I was always able to consume large quantities of food and I never backed down from a challenge. So despite my dedication to the triathlete lifestyle, I drank the fat-laden McDonald’s shake. I felt guilty so that night I swam many laps at Masters, often feeling like my swollen belly would drop me to the bottom of the pool like a lead weight.

As people left the pool that night I kept swimming, determined to burn off every last calorie. Coach Nick said Lane 4 was empty and I could move over there. Me? In Lane 4? In case you don’t know, the outside lanes are for slow people, middle lanes for fast. My home was Lane 6. Lane 4 was for the Barry Breffles of the world. I felt empowered in Lane 4…faster, stronger. I was the last one out of the pool that night because I didn’t want to leave Lane 4, enjoying the fantasy that I was an elite swimmer. Maybe someday.

My other training is still coming slowly, but I’m trying to crank it up in the last few weeks before my first race. During my physical my doctor checked out my hurt elbow and said I have an inflamed nerve. It causes pain in my arm and numbness in my fingers. Being the stubborn triathlete that I am, I didn’t want to take any time off. Fortunately, I have a doctor who understands that. She said as long as I can take the pain, I won’t permanently harm my body. No more excuses; time to suck it up.

For the record, my final decision at the Dairy Queen was the Oreo Cheesequake Blizzard. It contains Oreo cookies and cheesecake (what a combo!). I am a member of the Blizzard Fan Club so they send me coupons, further tempting me. It’s also the 25th anniversary of the blizzard so it would be un-American not to partake, right?

So many things are out there trying to derail my training. I guess the more I eat, the more I have to train or vice-versa. All you can do is keep-tri-ing……..

Monday, March 22, 2010

Don't Let Walls Stop You

Last month’s Freezefest 5K was my first race of the year. I knew it wasn’t going to be good. I had not been running very much. It was a perfect day for a winter race—sunny and in the 20’s. I knew it wasn’t my day when a white Eskimo dog ran by me. He wasn’t even pulling a sled! Not even my lucky boxer shorts helped!!

My finishing time was 29 seconds slower than last year. I did find out later that the course was a little long, but I wouldn’t be able to say I PRed every race this year. This is not how I wanted my season to begin.

We sometimes become focused on one sport in the off-season. For me, everything had been about swimming. I knew I had to improve my swimming if I wanted to do an Olympic distance. I was making strides. On Feb. 25 I did a timed 500 that was two minutes faster than two months ago! I was thrilled, but at the same time I was bothered that I was not running.

I really enjoy running, for so many reasons. I love that runner’s high and how I can clear my head on a run. Everything seems more in focus after a run. You really feel a sense of accomplishment. Something was different this off-season. I didn’t want to run and I didn’t know why. It had to be mental and sometimes those are the hardest roadblocks to break through.

I was also fighting pain in my elbow. It sucks when you have an injury this early in the season. Normally you might feel you could afford to take some time off to heal. For me, though, I needed my elbow to swim and I couldn’t lose the endurance I had built up. That 1-mile swim was less than three months away and I couldn’t stop now.

I think there is a certain level of pain that comes with being a triathlete. We have to walk a fine line between keeping healthy and fighting through the injuries that come with the punishment we inflict on our bodies. For now, I was choosing self-treatment and “pain denial” over taking any time off.

So despite my swimming gains, as a whole my off-season is not going well. I refuse to believe that this is an omen for my season. Achieving your goals means more when you have to struggle to get there.

A fellow club member and friend is fighting cancer right now so I choose to take her lead and be a fighter! Her struggle is so much greater than anything us MWXers will endure this season. Brita and I would have been racing together in the same age group so, in a way, I feel like I am racing for the both of us. She wouldn’t be a quitter and she wouldn’t let anything, whether mental or physical, stand in her way. Michael Jordan said when you hit a wall you don’t let it stop you. You just have to figure out how to climb it, go through it or work around it. Or in my immortal words, you have to keep tri-ing!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Training Bloopers

As we start gearing up for the 2010 season, I look back at how far I’ve come. I have to laugh at some of the “training bloopers” that have occurred to me. Maybe they weren’t so much funny, as embarrassing.

The most recent occurred at Milky Way Masters swim practice. I normally swim at Kennedy High School, but over winter break we had an evening swim at Washington. I was in my swim gear and ready to go, but I wanted to use the bathroom first. Someone directed me to the locker room. As I entered the locker room the door made a loud thud behind me and I just knew. Yes, I was locked in.

I knew no one would hear me if I pounded on the door so there had to be another way out. I made my way through the dark locker room and found a door that led to the outside. I envisioned getting lost in the snow outside Washington H.S. and someone finding my frozen, lifeless body. No, there had to be another way out. I found a door that led down some steps and through another door. Soon I was standing in the hallway of the high school.

At the end of the hall there was a group of high school boys who smiled and said “hi.” Keep in mind, I am walking down the hall in only a swimsuit, swim cap and goggles. I tried to forget that I was half-naked and asked if they could direct me to the pool. They pointed across the hall. Here I thought my embarrassing high school moments had ended long ago.

I have had a number of biking bloopers, most of them having to do with me going over with my bike. One was in my first Pigman Tri. I had borrowed a friend’s road bike and I was finishing the bike portion. As I headed towards the dismount line I realized that I could not get clipped out. I had to make a quick decision. The side of the road was lined with people but I saw a small grassy opening so I put the bike down, almost taking out several spectators. As I lay sprawled on the ground a guy said, “You’re supposed to dismount over there.” I smiled and got up, my side covered in mud.

Bike mishap #2 occurred a few months later, shortly after I bought my Felt. I was riding on the trail, trying to figure out my bike computer. Somehow I lost control of my bike and didn’t realize I was only clipped out of one pedal. Over I went. I put my hand down to break my fall and could feel my ankle twist in the foot that was still in the pedal.

I stayed on the ground for a moment, still under my bike. “What is with me and bikes?” I contemplated. Suddenly there was an old lady standing over me. “Are you okay?” she asked. Unfortunately, I get asked that a lot. It happened on my first Pigman swim when another swimmer asked me if I was okay because I looked like I was about to drown. No, I’m not okay! I don’t know what I am doing out here!

This latest bike crash sent me to the doctor with a sprained ankle and wrist and I had to drop out of the Trihawk. Since I needed to explain why I crashed my bike for no apparent reason, I told people I swerved to save a family of raccoons. It’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

I can’t recall any specific running mishaps, other than the embarrassment of being passed in a 5K by people pushing strollers. The point is, you sometimes have to laugh at yourself. I realize that my “bloopers” were all part of my triathlon learning curve. It’s the adversity that makes you keep tri-ing. Oh, and for the record, I haven’t put my bike down in a long time!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Mastering My Swimming Fears

I finally joined the Milky Way Masters swim club. I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the name. I wasn’t the master of anything. Maybe the coaches were like martial arts masters that possessed secret knowledge. Maybe the MWM could help me master swimming.

To understand my swimming journey, you first have to know where I’ve been. It was the 1970’s and like many small-town kids, my parents sent me off to swimming lessons at the community pool. It would be over-dramatic to say I almost drowned, but it was one of the more traumatic experiences in my life.

As part of my beginning test I had to jump into the deep end of the pool. I jumped out too far and when I couldn’t reach the side, I panicked. I started sinking. I splashed with my arms, trying to stay above the surface, only to go under again. I thought, “one of the instructors will jump in and save me” but they never did. I don’t know how many times I went under, but they finally took a long pole and stuck it in the water. The first time it slipped through my hands. I was finally able to grab it and they pulled me in. I sat on the side of the pool, crying, choking, gasping for air. My mother took me home and I begged her not to make me go back. From that day on, I would never go into water unless I could touch bottom.

Flash forward to early 2007. I had decided I wanted to do a triathlon. I would have to learn to swim. I signed up for an 8-week course at the YMCA. I learned the crawl, but I had trouble with the breathing. Every time I crossed the line into the deep end of the pool I could feel my heart beat faster and I would have this overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t breathe.

I continued doing lap swims at the Bender city pool, but I couldn’t seem to go more than a few strokes before pulling my head out of the water. I decided to swim the Pigman that way. Needless to say, I recorded one of the slowest swim times in the entire race.

Midwest Xtreme formed shortly thereafter. At the first group swim Greg Bodeker saw my swim style and said “You can’t swim like that.” He told me I was using too much energy. I would have to really learn to swim.

I spent the next two seasons doing hours and hours of lap swims, but I still couldn’t breathe. I used to cry because I was so frustrated. Why couldn’t I get it? What did the other swimmers know that I didn’t? My times got a little better, but that seemed to be due to endurance and not technique. I knew I needed help. I talked to my swim buddy, Cole Stepanek, about getting a swim coach. She said we should go to Masters.

I knew a lot of triathletes went to Masters. I felt intimidated and I didn’t want everyone to know how bad I was. That first night Cole called me to make sure I was going (I almost chickened out) and I found my place in the slow lane.

Coach Nick immediately declared that “he could take 10 minutes off my time.” I think I became Nick and John’s special project. They worked with me on my breathing and my stroke. I felt humiliated and singled out, but I knew they had helped me. Cole called me before the next practice to make sure I was going. Part of me never wanted to go back, but I swallowed my pride and went.

There was so much to remember and I felt like I was on information overload. Nick broke it down for me. “Just try to swim from one end of the pool to the other without stopping,,,and then do it again.” That became my focus. Even though it felt like my lungs would burst, I kept going. When I swam the length of the pool for the first time I could feel the tears in my eyes. I had done it! What other people take for granted, was a major accomplishment for me. “Just do it again,” I said. I swam back and resisted that urge to pull my head out of the water. “You can breathe. You are not going to drown,” I convinced myself. I was actually swimming!

During one practice Nick announced we were going to do a 500-yard timed-swim. We would all start at the same time. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. I knew I was the slowest swimmer there and I envisioned swimming back and forth, long after everyone else had finished, Sure enough, I was out there by myself.

I was surprised to find Jody Rausch, MWX member and USAT coach, waiting at the far end of the pool. She was there to cheer me on. “You’re not a quitter,” she said, using my own words from a previous column. I kept going. When I finished that final lap everyone was congratulating me and fist-bumping me, like I had been first instead of last. I was receiving the same support here that I received from the tri club. I was starting to feel good about swimming.

I have a goal: to swim a mile at the Hy-Vee Triathlon. I have a lot of work to do, but with the support of MWM and MWX, I feel like I am a little closer. Above all, you have to keep tri-ing!