Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sweet Spot

It's been a long week, friends.  Boy Genius has been having more migraines than usual (he started getting them in first grade, he's an intense kid) and woke up Monday morning feeling nauseas and exhausted - which is usually the start of the things.  I kept him home from school and called the doc.  They couldn't get him in until Wednesday - by which time he had been out of school Mon, Tues and part of Wed.  His doctor wanted to do some blood work to rule out anything serious.  Boy Genius - who is ten- has never had blood drawn (except by finger prick which, of course, is not what needed to be done).  He was incredibly brave, talking to me about the book he was reading while they dug around in his arm, trying to find a vein.  I, on the other hand,was trying desperately not to pass out.  Thankfully, the blood work came back normal and he's feeling much better. 

From Boy Genius' doc's office, I went to the Walgreens clinic because I was feeling pretty crappy.  The nurse there - who was incredibly nice and took loads of time talking to me and examining me - diagnosed allergies and gave me some stuff which has pretty much nullified the symptoms. 

The piece de resistance of children and doctors occured last night around 9:00.  Noah had been sounding a little raspy when we put him to bed but seemed fine.  Then, an hour or so after we put him down, he woke up crying and making a sound that no parent should hear from their child.  If you've ever had a child with croup, you know what "strider" is and will probably never forget it.  He just got over a case of croup that went to pneumonia in December so I knew what I was hearing.  I tried the usual - a steamy bathroom, a trip outside - but nothing seemed to be helping.  Hubby got him calmed down but, even asleep in his Daddy's arms, he was still making that "whooping" sound with each inhale.  After some debate which shall remain confidential, we went to the emergency room.  They promptly gave him a steroid breathing treatment which helped immensely and gave him some oral steroid as well which made him strangely hyper but much better.  We were sent home at midnight. 

Its tough to see your kids sick - especially when it seems to occur one after the other, insult following injury. When we go through these things, I thank God that we live in a time and are in a position where treatment is available and effective.  I can't imagine what the mothers at the turn of the century - or those who are desperately poor in our time - went (go) through.  To watch your child suffer is bad enough, to be able to do nothing to help must be unbearable.

This week, as most weeks do nowadays, culminated in my long run - a longer run than I've ever done (which is also normally the case these days).  I chose to head out to a nice flat trail by the river to do my 12 miles and change.  It was a beautiful day.  I left a happy if slightly hoarse baby with a content if slightly tired Daddy.  The sun was shining.  There wasn't a cloud in the sky.  I had some new tunes on my iPod and my legs were fresh from a rest week.  After everything that went down this week, it was beyond luxurious to have a couple of hours to myself.  The first hour was glorious.  It was warm enough that I wasn't chilly but cool enough that I felt refreshed.  There was a fresh coat of snow on the ground (I'm laughing at myself just now because I accidently typed snot instead of snow.  brings about an entirely different image).  The river was clear and reflected the sunshine.  Lovely. 

At an hour, my legs started hurting a little - not a lot.  I found myself slowing down if I let my guard down which, ironically, was harder than keeping my normal "cruise" pace.  Your instinct is to slow down because you're tired but it turns into a slog if you slow down too much - and it feels like more impact, at least to me.  Going too slow will wear me out as quickly as going too fast.  You have to find your sweet spot and stick with it.  Natural enough at 6 or 8 or even 9 miles.  But, you start getting closer to that ten mile mark and the body just wants to call it quits.  By an hour and half into it, I was hurting for real.  I had to fight myself to stay in the sweet spot - even though that remained the most comfortable pace to run and I didn't feel worn out.  As I closed in on the two hour mark (my run was to be 2 hours and twenty min.), I was sure I couldn't go on.  "I can't" my quitter brain would whine.  "yes.  you can.  suck it up." Beast would growl.  I had run to the end of the trail and was almost back to the start where I would have to turn around and run another twenty min. before doubling back again.  I'm not gonna lie.  Turning around was hard.  I was praying again, asking for the right attitude, asking to find the joy, to move above the pain.  But I turned.  And I ran. Then, just a couple of minutes into my second lap, something happened.  The cloud in my brain lifted.  My legs felt a little lighter.  A thought came like a bolt from somewhere deep - "I will not be defined by suffering."  Yes!  " I will be defined by perseverence, by my stubborn determination to keep on putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what."  That's it, friends.  That's it in a nutshell. 

I finished the run.  The remainder actually felt pretty good.  It hurt.  But it still felt pretty good.  I hurt now.  But I feel good.  The baby's in the bath, dinner' s in my belly, the day is almost done.  Everyone is well and another long run is in the books.  These are the moments that define our life - if we let them be.  If we resist our temptation to identify with the suffering and ignore the blessings.  Only we can decide what we will be defined by.  And its a choice that's not made once but a thousand times a day.  God give me the strength to choose right more than I choose wrong.  And the strength to keep at it - no matter what.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

And the Verdict Is. . .

Mostly, dumbass.  Sure,there are elements of badass in Sunday's run:  running in pain for an hour and twenty minutes, finishing the run with 3 twenty second pickups despite the pain, heck,just finishing the run. And there were many good things about the run - I had my nutrition absolutely dialed in. Though my legs were KILLING me, I never bonked and didn't even crash very hard afterwards,which is typical of me after a long run.  I usually come home famished, eat everything I can get my hands on and pass out on the couch (or at least try to pass out on the couch, its hard to sleep with a nineteen month old jumping on you and yelling "Mommy!").  On Sunday, I was certainly hungry but a protein smoothie and some graham crackers did the trick.  I took a short nap but didn't feel like I would die without it.  So, the day of, I felt much better than I had.  Yesterday, though, every muscle below my waist was screaming in unison:  "YOU ARE A DUMBASS!".  Thus, the verdict. 

My legs feel pretty good today - tired but not 'injured' which I was a little afraid of.  Training for something like this - especially something that is just beyond what you can reasonably accomplish - is always a dance on the fine line between overtraining and pushing yourself, between injury and soreness, like I said before, between badass and dumbass.  I still don't know if I can do this.  I'm confident after Sunday's run that its going to hurt like hell.  As of right now, though, I can continue to press forward.  I didn't hurt myself - not permanently - and, Praise All of Creation, this is a recovery week.  I'm taking today totally off (which I should have done instead of swimming yesterday - dumbass!) and running easy tomorrow and Friday with an easy spin on the trainer on Thursday.  Sunday's run will be about 6 miles which should ( I emphasize should) feel pretty easy after 11. 

In other, much more important, news,  the charity I'm running for, Wine to Water, has set up an emergency fund for Haiti.  As you probably know, clean water is paramount over there right now.  If you can spare anything, please visit their site and click on "Haiti Emergency Fund".  Or, visit Red Cross's website or Unicef - whatever you feel called to do.  From what I can see, Red Cross and Unicef are providing emergency supplies for immediate relief and organizations like Wine to Water will move in for long term solutions.  Both are needed so, please, do whatever you are comfortable with.  Also, Soles4Souls is collecting shoes for the victims of the earthquake (think about all the broken glass and metal on the street and how many of the survivors you see on television barefoot) so, if you have any old running (or other) shoes,visit their site and find a drop off location.  I'm pretty sure many running stores are participating. 

Disasters like this remind us how important it is to reach out and help those most in need - this earthquake was made many times worse by the extreme poverty the Haitian people endure.  With that in mind, I'm going to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep asking people to give what they can.  You do the same.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Fine Line

There's a fine line between badass and dumbass.  That's been my lesson for the week.

First, the gym, Monday morning recovery swim - the pool was cold (well, not really, it wasn't HOT which meant that, to the rest of the gym, it was cold) at 74 degrees.  I was in there enjoying the solitude and being able to swim without feeling like I'm sweating.  Everyone who glanced in the pool and saw me going at it was thinking "dumbass". 

Then, Tuesday, back at the gym for speedwork - the track was covered in ice and I actually wanted to haul a little.  I was running late and was at the point that I needed to start running NOW in order to get the whole run in.  I was rushing to get my winter stuff off when . . . the fire alarm went off.  Wha??? So, me and the other two chics who were about to work out headed out to see what was up.  Nobody on the gym floor was reacting.  They all kept on running or doing the stair climber or lifting their weights.  They didn't even look up.  The lone employee (it was 5:30 in the morning) was running around trying to figure out what the hell the problem was.  Luckily, I had the day off so I decided to come back for my full speedfest later when the daycare opened.  Meanwhile, two ladies came from the back and announced they smelled smoke.  The gym rats kept on with their workout.  I'm thinking, what if the building were burning down?  Dumbasses.

Later, I was back, hitting my pace for 6 x 800.  The first one was hard.  The second one felt great.  The third and fourth were agony.  The fifth felt fab.  The sixth took everything I had.  Now, Joe Friel says you should stop when you have one rep left in you.  That would have been after the fifth.  But I had a 6 x 800 on the books.  So I kept going.  When I got off the dreadmill, my legs were saying "DUMBASS!"  However, after some stretching and a long nap with Noah, I felt human again - and I wasn't sore at all on Wednesday so. . . maybe I was a badass.  Too soon to tell, I suspect.

I'm getting faster.  Thursday's tempo run was right about my old 10k pace.  Not my PR, but my avg. 9:00/mile 10k.  Now, if I can just get my full run in on Sunday . . . which will it be - badass or dumbass.  Tune in next time to find out.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Run That Wasn't

Yesterday was a beautiful day for my long run.  The temperature had climbed into the mid 20s, still cold but, with the sun, it felt warm compared to the single digit highs we've been having.  Snow covered the ground. The only thing foul was my mood.  Hubby and I had a tug of war earlier in the morning over the rest of my season.  My marathon training, along with the added responsibility of a toddler, has him a bit overwhelmed and my mention of more racing sent him reeling.  Unfortunately, what I heard wasn't "less racing" it was "no more training."  Now, we all know how important this is to me.  How much I've missed it and what it means to me to be "back".  So "no more training" didn't sit very well with me. Which, as you might guess, is an understatement.  I suspect the struggle going on in my mind - the wrestling match between my desire to be reasonable and to be a good wife and mother and my (possibly compulsive) need for training, for "me time" - had something to do with what happened later.

 After last week's effort, I had decided to just take it easy, do my alloted time and not worry about distance.  With that intention, I headed for Chubb Trail - a nice, long trail that meanders through the woods and hills of West County, intersecting three State parks in the process.  The plan was a 1:45 run, out and back.  I had my Gatorade and some Sharkies (I thought I'd try something different since the gel went down so badly last week), a flask of water to round it out.  I put on my Yak Traks and headed down the trail. 

The first two miles or so are mostly downhill with some moderate but short inclines that lead you to the Meramec River Valley and three or more miles of flat, lovely running on soft dirt, sand and gravel (or, in yesterday's case, snow).  I kept it real easy the first 10 min then realized I had to pee.  Great.  The trail wasn't crowded by any means but there were a number of cars in the parking lot which meant someone could come along at any time.  In the summer, the underbrush on either side of the trail offers plenty of cover but, in the winter, you might as well drop trou in the middle of the trail.  I was lucky, however, and found a little ravine to do my business in.  So, relieved (hah!), I set out again.  My heart rate hadn't even had the chance to come back down.  It was going very well.  I was inordinately thirsty but thought nothing of it - though I did try to take small sips to ration my fluids for the duration.  I picked it up a little after my warm up and pit stop and was feeling fine.  I came to the valley and was looking forward to winding around the creek and reveling in the beautiful, snow painted landscape.  I was about thirty minutes into my run, keeping my heart rate in a modest range, cruising along.  Then.  I bonked.  Hard.  My legs turned to jello.  I felt shaky, dizzy, a little disoriented.  I stopped and tried walking, hoping I would get my bearings and be fine.  I sipped Gatorade.  I tried different combinations with my various layers, thinking maybe I was getting too hot.  Finally, even though I was only thirty minutes in, I ate a few Sharkies.  Then a few more.  Shit, I was HUNGRY.  So I ate the rest.  I started to continue the loop but, then, my rational self reminded me that the last thing I wanted to do was to bonk hard more than five miles from my car in the middle of the woods at 23 degrees.  So, I turned around, absolutely defeated.  At first, all I could do was walk. Then, I was able to jog until I came upon a dude and his three unleashed black labs who took an unhealthy interest in me (the dogs, not the dude) and managed to head butt me breathless and knock off my fuel belt.  Only after my meager rations were in the snow did the dude think to call off the dogs.  Like it didn't occur to him before that the tired looking running chic might not want to entertain his boisterous dogs for five minutes before getting back to her car.  You can tell I was still feeling kind of snarky which is probably a good sign - at least I had the energy to be in a crappy mood. 

After a few minutes, the sharkies kicked in and I got back to the car without incident.  I was far too tired in relation to the miles I did, so I know I did the right thing turning around but I still feel like I failed.  It frightens me a little, brings up too many what ifs:  what if I can't do this, what if I'm reaching too far, what if its over for me and this silly little obsession is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to hang onto my Youth (who is, as we speak, packing her things and surfing the net for greener pastures).  I know I'm not old, by any means, but I can't be described as "youthful" anymore.  I'm a grown up.  So, what if grown ups aren't supposed to want to do things like this?  I could list my insecurities for hours but wouldn't that be boring. 

In the end, I made it home.  I had a civil discussion with Hubby in which I calmly told him how important it was for me to do this and which he calmly told me that he would be supportive but that the amount of racing I was proposing was too much for him to stomach.  Less racing I can deal with.  Less training, even (after the marathon).  Less is fine with me.  None is not.  So, I've come to some peace with all of that.  Its an uneasy peace, but I'll take it. 

I'm still puzzled about why I bonked so hard.  I would love some advice from you veteran marathoners out there.  I didn't eat a whole lot before hand - I couldn't finish my lunch two hours before, though I ate most of it.  It wasn't really carb heavy - a salad and turkey on a whole wheat pocketless pita.  Maybe I should eat more carbs just before my run.  As I've mentioned, I'm trying to drop these last ten pounds so I've been cautious about my calories.  I had my usual Zone bar about 15-30 min. before hand.  I got enough sleep the night before.  Could I be overtraining?  Up to yesterday's run, I've felt pretty energetic though I feel a little worn out today.  Was it my emotional turmoil?  I know that can be just as exhausting as a workout sometimes.  Anyway, input is appreciated.

Meanwhile, I'll just keep putting one foot in front of the other.  You do the same.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I got on my bike Thursday night.  Just on the trainer in my laundry room, but still.  Poor Pyro has been neglected, hanging forlornly from the ceiling.  Her tires were flat.  The brakes look a little iffy.  She needs some attention.

Man, I'd almost forgotten how much I love that bike.  And how much I fear her.  Just putting some air in her tires made my pulse quicken and the butterflies flop around my stomach.  See, she's the Beast in corporal form.  I "feel" Beastie stir when I'm on my runs, "hear" her encouragement when I need it most or her low, rumbling growl when I consider staying in bed rather than hitting the track or the pool or the spin class.  But Pyro is the Beast.  I don't know why - maybe because the bike has always been the scariest, most challenging aspect of triathlon, maybe because Pyro is painted with fire - that's just the way it is in my mind. Beastie is this firey crouching thing - part animal, part machine.  And when I'm in the saddle - even on the trainer - its like I'm riding the Beast - 90 miles an hour with my hair on fire.  Its terrifying and exhilerating all at once.  I've missed it. 

But, I also remember . . .  Pyro bites. 

And so does the Beast.

She can be encouraging, empowering and faithful.

But get cocky, or careless, or fail to respect the danger that lies at the heart of her and you can end up on the pavement. 

She doesn't put up with false bravado, ignorance of limitations or any general monkey business.  That's one of the things I love most about her.  It also intimidates the hell out of me.  Damn, its good to be back.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Decorational Athlete

There's this chic in my spin class.  The first time I saw her, I was sure she was a triathlete.  She just has that look - confident on the bike, disciplined, buff beyond belief.  Then, the other day, I realized that I only see her lifting weights or spinning.  I never see her run or swim.  That doesn't mean anything, necessarily, but then, it occurred to me - maybe she's a decorational athlete.   You know, a person who is serious about fitness, training and nutrition but for the singular purpose of how it makes them look.  I'm not saying there is anything wrong with it - its just a value system that I've been trying to get away from.  That the way you look is the primary goal to any endeavor. 

When I was a teenager and a young woman, I didn't care if something was healthly, only that it wouldn't make me fat.  I smoked, I ate crap just because it was "fat free" (shows you how much we knew back then), I exercised - but it was always about how it would make my legs look or my arms or my abs or my butt.  Most women and many men are obsessed with these things.   We live in a society which prizes appearance over nearly everything else.  Beauty = power.  Its exhausting.  Because not all of us can be beautiful - at least by our narrow cultural standards.  And those who are beautiful realize only too soon that beauty fades - at least the kind that is defined by youthfulness.  I've met Boston Marathon runners that have gotten boob jobs, Ironmen who obsess about their body fat percentage, cyclists who worry what their thighs look like in a pair of jeans.  And me.  Before I got pregnant, I was hoping to lose yet another ten pounds so that I could get my body fat down and be lighter and, therefore, faster.  Truth be told, the "faster" excuse was just a cloy for my own desire to be closer to the "cultural image" of beauty.  Now, I wish I could just lose the last ten to get me back to where I was.  And, next year, I'll probably be back worrying at the next ten pounds, right where I started. 

When does it stop?  One of the things I love about Crossfit is that it focuses on performance not appearance.  If you can do the pullup - you win.  Who cares what your back looks like while you do it.  Racing is much the same.  Though there are competitions within the ranks - silent, appraising competitions where each athlete compares his or her body to the one beside them - the bottom line is finishing time.  Whoever makes it across the line first wins.  They don't have a scale or calipers at the finish line to separate the buff from the average.  It doesn't matter if you look like a winner.  And for those of us in the back-middle of the pack, the ultimate test is how we run ( or swim or bike) compared with how we did it last time.  Did we beat our record?  Or did we feel better than we've ever felt or go farther than we've ever gone?  Objective, comforting numbers. 

Back in September, 2007, I found someone inside myself that I didn't know was there.  She was strong, she was powerful - and those things made her beautiful.  I began to find my legs attractive because of what they could do not how they looked.  Sure, it was cool to see all those muscles but what was cooler was that they could carry me across a fifty mile bike ride or a ten mile run or an Oly distance tri.  They could take me places I never thought I could go.  I wish that feeling had been permanent, but, unfortunately, the old patterns creep in.  I want to get back to that place where Power = Beauty, not the other way around.  And power, friends, is out there if you're only willing to grab it.  Let that be my New Year's Resolution - to strive to embrace my power and not my desire to be a knick knack.  Let someone else be a decoration - I want to be a Phoenix.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Long Run

Last week's long run was great.  I felt fast, I felt fabulous, I barely got tired.  My first trip out to Queeny Park, I did a loop in 50 min (as compared to my former 45 min avg. time) and was pretty happy with that.  Last week, same loop, same effort, same heartrate - I did it in 47:30.  I was thrilled.  I was encouraged.  I was cocky.

Nothing like a long run in 15 degrees to knock the pride out of a body.  My hamstrings are particularly pride-free this evening.  Today's long run was, in sharp comparison to last week, a suffer-fest. 

Well, that's not ENTIRELY true.  The first hour was actually pretty good.  It was cold.  Did I mention it was 15?  That's pretty cold where I come from.  But it was good.  There were a few nasty patches of ice that slowed me down some, but I felt strong.  My legs were a little sore from yesterday's one hour yoga session, but I was doing it.  I finished the first loop in 48:30.  A minute slower than last week but, you know, the ice.  So, I was pretty confident that I could finish my scheduled hour and a half without a lot of trouble. 

I started my second loop, made it up the hill of my nightmares without incident, finished sucking down a gel - which did not go down well, anybody else get heartburn on a run??? yuck - and completed my first hour with only thirty minutes to go.  Then the wheels came off.

My legs started telling me there was just no way they could go another step.  Total whiners.  I tried ignoring them but, as they were doing most of the work, it was getting difficult.  So I started making deals with myself.  Get to the top of this hill.  Get to the next turn in the trail.  Walk up this little stretch and you can go again.  Everytime I looked at my watch to see how long I had, it was only 30 sec. since the last time I'd looked.  The bright side was that my heartrate went way down because I was hurting too much to go fast.  Whine, whine, suffer and bitch.  I wish I could say that I was thinking about the men women and children that I'm running for and the intolerable suffering that they have to deal with every day, but I wasn't.  I was thinking of myself and my sad, out of shape body and how much I just wanted to stop running while at the same time I felt like I would just die if I stopped running.  Then this morning's daily meditation popped into my head.  I just started getting these from UCC's website (my church is affiliated with United Church of Christ) and the prayer at the bottom of this one struck me in particular: 
I'm your child, Lord, while I run this race. And I don't want to run this race in vain. I'm your child, Lord, while I run this race. Amen.
So, that prayer started running through my head and that started helping.  I've always half-joked that when a run was getting particularly difficult that I was "running with Jesus".  Nothing like running with the Lord to make you feel like a big fat whiner... "but my leegggs hurt... wahhhhh".  Anyway, after a half mile or so of that, I realized that I was picking it up again and my legs were feeling a little better.  (To clarify, I do NOT think that God healed my sore muscles so that I could keep running, I think He's got better stuff to do) Then, according to my watch, it was time to start cooling down, so I slowed it down and felt WAAAY better.  Then I came to a sign.  I technically only had another five minutes or so left to run.  But the sign said "2 miles" to the trailhead.  Two miles to go and I would have made another loop - 9 miles total.  My old long run.  My back in the day Phoenix kicking some arse long run.  So, I picked it up again.  If the Lord had still been running with me, I'm sure He would have advised me against such a foolhardy decision.  But, as it was just me and the Beast at that point, foolhardiness won the moment.  I ran another fifteen minutes - 1:40 instead of 1:30.  But I made it. 

And I've been paying for it ever since.  My brain stopped working as soon as I stopped running.  Or maybe it had stopped working long before and I just didn't notice it because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.  My legs didn't seem to know how to walk.  And that heartburn really started telling me about it.  So, I overdid it.  Nothing new, really.  Truth be told, it was kinda fun.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, One and All!  May you enjoy and relish the year ahead and experience each moment as though it was your first.

To ponder - A lesson in going after what you want and enjoying every moment once you get there: