(I've been waiting quite a while to post this one, but now is a great time as I'm just over a week out from IM Tahoe. The ramp up in training has led to some reflection on how far I've come, how much work I've put in, and the freakin' awesome road ahead. Shit is getting real.)
I used to watch fast runners and say, “they make it look so easy”, as if to disregard their hard work, intense focus, and effort. At times, I’d take it one step further and make excuses for why it looks effortless for them - and seriously taxing for me. I’d say “they’re only that fast because they’re like 30 pounds lighter than a normal human”. How absurd. In hindsight, I’m embarrassed to admit that I actually used to say these things to myself.
It’s embarrassing because about 4 years ago I started putting in the work to get faster, go further, be stronger, and it hurt. It hurt like hell. It didn’t get any easier. In fact, it got harder….and…I went faster. I pushed myself through so many mental barriers, so many tough miles, brutal stair workouts (see left), and hill repeats. It left scars, which have contributed to the evolution of what “easy” and “hard” means to me. Progress is difficult, it disguises itself in getting dropped on group rides, throwing up in the middle of a treadmill workout, blowing up in a race and feeling people’s doubt in you. But it also exposes itself when you least expect it, and you shatter a concept of what “fast” or “better” or “fitter” means for you.
SIDE NOTE - I don’t want it to seem like I’ve never put in work before. I was probably one of the most obsessed soccer players I knew growing up. Frequently convincing the coach to do extra fitness after practice, staying late to work on shooting, making my dad put extra lights up in the backyard so I could practice my “moves” late at night (nerd alert!). The work was constant, I loved every minute of it. But I also always understood soccer, I understood how much skill, fitness and focus it required to be talented. Endurance sports, on the other hand, were foreign to me. I had to get to know these sports before I could be truly humbled by them. And oh lordie did my opinion of myself drop immensely as I first began to pursue distance running and cycling. But I got faster (it didn’t get easier) and I gained confidence in the process of hard work translating into results.
As I was saying about progress…
I’m assuming we all know this already, but let us be reminded: progress does not happen to you. It is not a passive string of coincidental circumstances, it is a relentless process that takes commitment and borderline obsession. So the next time you see someone running, riding, walking, cross-fitting, putting in overtime at the office, anything….remember to respect their process. Respect the work that led up to their current effort and fight the urge you might have to diminish it. Take time to admire their progress. Hell, learn from it.
And if you still feel like some people have it better and it’s “easier” for them, here’s a saying that’s been hugely helpful throughout my training…brought to you be a well-known cyclist, Greg LeMond: “It never gets easier, you just go faster”. Never, never, never underestimate how hard the person ahead of you is working, it is not easier just because they are going faster.
To properly cite sources, I stumbled upon this gem of a quote in The Rules (see rule #10) of cycling. Some of them are ridiculous, and some are perfect metaphors for life. I encourage you to read them.
People who do triathlon tend to say things like, “nutrition is the fourth discipline in triathlon” or “recovery should be planned like the rest of training”, but what about packing? It's a painful and unavoidable process. Training and racing require a constant cycle of packing and unpacking based on whatever sport(s) you’re engaging in that day. This means you’ll inevitably eff it up and need to improvise….like the time I had to do my post-swim run in my swimsuit on the treadmill (no sports bra/shorts), or the time I wore a damp, sweaty sports bra to the office, or hmm…that one time I forgot to bring a WETSUIT TO A RACE.
Yep, that happened at Lake Stevens this past Sunday. Now, I did manage to pack what’s called a skin suit, but it doesn’t help in terms of buoyancy and let’s be honest….I neeeeeed help swimming!! So we got creative and went to the local bike shop in Snohomish and bought an old rental suit they decided to sell me at 92% off, literally. It has holes in it and no sleeves, but it's better than nothing. Luckily the water was nice and warm (70ish degrees) so I was comfortable the entire swim. This, along with my recent pool torture (thanks coach H), clearly helped as I had a 6min + swim PR.
Swim (1.2 miles) - 36:52
Onto the bike. All essential cycling gear had been properly packed and prepared. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it would all function perfectly. My power meter simply didn’t work, it never calibrated. I fiddled with it for a few minutes and then surrendered to racing sans power. (side note: I cannot stand when people say they were “racing blind” without their power meter. You can still feel your legs, your heart pounding, your lungs, and if you’re doing a triathlon you probably know what “going too hard” feels like, stay accountable). As expected, I rode harrrrd. I knew it, I enjoyed it, I pushed it. This bike course is no joke (just about 3300ft of climbing) and the conditions were perfect so I was amped. The steepest parts of the ride come in the final third, which made me a little nervous about how hard I had previously gone and what the run might feel like….
Bike (56 miles) - 2:43
Settled into the run nicely and eventually figured out that I was in 3rd place in my AG. I kept the pace reasonably consistent for the first 8ish miles and then WAM…my legs were screaming. I slowed a bit (disappointing), but still continued to close the gap on the girl in front of me, but sadly didn’t manage to catch her. The absolute WORST part of the run was when I took a sip of Coke at an aid station and then tried to chuck the rest of it into a trash bin along the course…but no, I missed the trash (don't judge - I was the "hustler" on the basketball team, not the 3-point shooter) and threw it on a pile of light grey volunteer sweatshirts!! Really, Caroline? You’re the worst person, ever. I stopped, said “oh. shit. I am so so so so sorry. I’m so sorry. oh gosh. geez. I’m the worst.” and everyone just starred at me like I was crazy because no one knew what had happened. So I just kept running because my legs were beginning to cramp. But I felt awful, so bad. Truly, volunteers are absolutely spectacular and make the race so much better. I’m not going to assume the owner of that sweatshirt is ever going to read this, but I still feel obligated to very sincerely apologize.
Run (13.1 miles) - 1:41
It felt great to PR on a tough course and see Chris at the finish line (although I couldn't help but be frustrated about my 3rd place ranking). We had about a 22 hour journey home (which included power naps at a Motel 6, and a massive traffic jam caused by a car crash that unfortunately involved a truck full of....cattle), and all I could think about was how much work needs to be done in order to get faster.
Total Time - 5:08 (3rd place AG)
This weekend also helped me realize that when I am racing I cannot think about anything else but racing (somewhat contrary to my prior post about Focus). I’m always planning one mile ahead, recapping my last mile, smiling because it’s (mostly) fun, envisioning the finish, even when it hurts - the list goes on. It’s so exhilarating, and while you really put your body through the ringer, I'll argue that racing is easier than most training sessions. In training there is no immediate finish line, no enthusiastic high fives from loved ones when you’re done, no one cheering you on along the way. It’s just you, putting in the work, letting thoughts fly, embracing the pain that comes with growth, and the intense pursuit of speed. The training wouldn’t mean as much without the racing, but the racing would never even happen without the training.
Now we ramp up some aggressive training for Tahoe, which is happening in just over 4 weeks, pshh…nbd.
It’s often a key component to athletic achievement, “have laser-like focus”, “show unbreakable concentration”, blah blah blah. Yet, my attention span is often over-extended. (I suppose that’s just a sweeter way of saying I have a rather short span of attention). And I’ve learned to really appreciate this, because in the world of endurance sports, “focus” now has a very different meaning for me.
Hear me out (i.e., focus!) on this …Having a “focus’” (noun) is necessary if you want to find a sense of purpose and pleasure in the broader scheme of things. Identifying goals is important as well - I always have a goal of going hard and finishing strong. But my ability to constantly “focus” (verb) is less important, and can even be detrimental to my progress. In fact, a wandering mind during a tough session can often times be a life saver.
Stay with me…During a session, I wax poetic with myself about a whole host of things, rarely completing an entire thought. I may start with an “oh shit, this is going to be a tough workout” thought, but then I’ll scrutinize an article I recently read about raising minimum wage in San Francisco and how that might affect small businesses, then I might rehash a conversation I had with Chris about the lost art of bread making, and then contemplate a new Ben & Jerry’s flavor, then a brief pace check, then revisit the “oh shit I feel like shit, this is hard” blast, which is thwarted by a “I wonder what my friend Glenn, from 2nd grade, is doing right now at this very moment,” and then …well….you get the point.
This is good for training. I’m all over the place and that helps me. It helps me get past (and sometimes even forget) the tough moments. While I used to be SO frustrated by my mind’s inability to isolate one thought for an extended time, I’m now quite content to have a brain that can’t sit still while I’m training. Plus, I can't think of moments when it's socially acceptable to be this scattered-brained as an adult?
If I was incapable of jumping from one thought to another, I might never get past my initial “oh shit, this is going to be a tough workout” thought. What if all I thought about during runs was my burning quads? Or during long rides, my uncomfortable ass? What if my sole focus during swim sessions was my weak swim form? It would be a miserable experience. Call it scatter-brained, terrible short term memory, or fleeting amnesia. Call it whatever you want, but really it's a survival tactic, and be glad you have it (if you do).
I'm comfortable with all of this because I know one thing for sure….I will not stray from my broader focus. I will always know and intensely follow my goals, but I’ll keep it interesting in between. To help with this, I recently hired a triathlon coach, (she’s awesome) and training will be intense. I wanted to enlist some experience to help with my big goals of pushing my limits in triathlon, which would mean qualifying for Kona and 70.3 world champs, running a sub 3-hr marathon and swimming…um….better. The two of us are clear on these goals. We are focused.
Where does your mind go during training? Let me know in the comments section so I can read it after I polish off a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s and Facebook stalk Glenn.
(Quitting a job and racing Ironman Coeur d'Alene)
“I Can’t Feel My Face".
I’ve been saying this a lot lately (and not in the adult binge drinking sense). After I officially resigned from my job in finance a couple weeks ago, I felt so flushed…it was as if my face had completely separated from my body. I was scared as hell. I knew I was walking away from what could have very easily (key word here) been my well-paying, stable job for the rest of my professional life. Was I being selfish? Irresponsible? Immature? I didn't have a clear answer to these questions for a while. But now, I will not answer “yes” or even “maybe” to any of these questions. Here’s why….I’ve been thinking about doing this for 5 years. It’s safe to say I’ve thought it through and ran it by the people who matter most in my life. They’re on board and they’re going to help me build this bad boy (a boutique fitness/cycling gym). Building a business will undoubtedly be difficult, as forging a new path tends to be less obvious, less prescriptive, and absolutely less reliable. Is it too risky?
The consideration of risk has been like a dysfunctional stop light in my head. Sometimes it’s a loud “GO!” then (literally hours later) it will start flashing “NO NO NO, STOP!” and then later that day I’ll see another “GO FOR IT!” sign, directly followed by a yellow “ok, just slooowww down and think about this” signal. I was finally able to shut all of this down once I started thinking about the risks associated with staying in a profession that did not feel purposeful. What might happen? Well, I’d become miserable, bitchy and bitter. This would not lead to being the best partner, friend, daughter, sister and professional I could be. So the decision was made and I have yet to feel one ounce of regret (I’m sure we’ll revisit this later). That said - I still can't quite believe I actually pulled the trigger and left work, it's very surreal.
The next few instances that warranted the phrase “I can’t feel my face” came before and during Ironman Coeur d’Alene this past Sunday. It was my first full Ironman. Aside from the stress of constantly training - and feeling like you’re never training enough (or sleeping enough) - the most difficult part was managing my own expectations.
In the week leading up to the race, my mind would randomly just take off in a certain “what if” direction and I’d eagerly follow along. It was usually “what if I hyperventilate in the water and get pulled out?” or “what if I have to walk the marathon?” or “what if I surprise everyone and absolutely crush it?” But usually it was more like, “what if I’m a complete idiot and go too hard on the bike, don’t eat enough and absolutely die on the run?” After hashing these scenarios out on my head, I would quickly run to the bathroom because you know….nerves. I had to go, real bad.
During these anxious moments, I couldn’t feel my face. It was hard to believe that I was really about to race an Ironman. What made these situations extra stressful is that I had very high expectations of myself. I expected to step up, execute and be competitive in my age group. This, coupled with some intense doubt, made for some numbing moments. Then, right before I started the swim at 6:50am on Sunday, Chris gave me the most sensational hug. I just melted into his arms and couldn’t let go….I teared up because I could feel how much he cared and how supportive he was and it meant more than I can possibly articulate….but I knew, once again…that I couldn’t really feel my face.
Three minutes into the swim, I began to settle in to what would be a big day. It was a very choppy morning on the lake and I was so, so, SO freaking nervous. But after a few swift kicks to the face (thanks big huge man who was in front of me, you have massive heels) and getting into a rhythm, I felt confident that I would be able to get through the swim no problem. Here’s the thing, I am land animal so my swim time is abysmal, but I was very happy with it….I swam a 1:24 and was absolutely pumped to be on my bike (a matte black Cannondale Slice, we call her “Cool Whip”). At the transition, there were these amazing volunteers who made you lie down and they would strip your wetsuit off as it they had magical powers, it was so funny. I was actually laughing out loud…like, “stop it, you guys. buy me a drink first”. Anyway, apparently one poor girl was wearing a sports bra and thong under her wetsuit…hopefully she didn’t bike in that?
Swim - 1:24
Then onto the bike…..you guys, it was so fun and I felt proud to be representing the Olympic Club. I had a smile on my face almost the entire ride, and that’s saying something because it was maddeningly windy. This is the point in the race when being a weak swimmer isn't actually so bad, because you just pick people off one by one. I tried to keep track of the other females in my AG as I passed them, but it was tough and I was trying to stick with racing my own race. Stuck to my nutrition plan (except for one dropped water bottle), had a quick bathroom break at mile 90 and was back at it. Felt my face the whole time.
Bike - 6:00
Let me tell you how happy my little tush was to be off that bike! It was like letting a dog out of a kennel after he’d been in there for hours and he just runs around in circles like he’s crazy….that’s kind of what I looked like in transition. But, once I settled into the first couple miles of the run I was really nervous again. I’m used to feeling like a champ off the bike (and usually running way too fast), but this time I felt sluggish and sore and my arms felt like they were about to fall off. Hitting mile 3 and realizing you still have 23.2 more miles to go was another face numbing moment for me. I couldn’t quite grasp it and I knew I wouldn’t be running my current 7:53 pace for the whole run, which is slightly deflating - but you have to be honest with yourself. The spectators along the run were simply the best. Such huge supporters, cheering for every single person that ran by, no matter how fast he or she was running (or walking). I saw my family and Chris so many times along the way and each time I felt my lip quiver just a little as I fought hard to hold back tears. Then, just past mile 25 (and after a few uncomfortable pit stops), Chris told me I was in 4th place in my age group! I think I spoke in English back to him? Something along the lines of “what?!” and he just told me to keep it steady all the way into the finish…..so I did.
Run - 3:51
Total time - 11:24 (4th place, F25-29)
In no way am I exaggerating when I write this….running down the final stretch was absolutely one of the best feelings in my entire life. I was running at what felt like a full sprint (was probably an 8min mile?) and smiling and crying and giving high fives and reflecting on the last 6 months of my life and it was unreal. Nothing else mattered, nothing else even existed…just this overwhelming culmination of adrenaline, sweat, tears and elation. Then, I hugged a handful of volunteers (complete strangers) because they were right next to me and found my crew. They were all I wanted in that instant, just there to smile and hug me and make smart ass remarks. It was perfect. They couldn’t have been a better support crew. At the finish, I felt everything, every single ache and pain and tear streaming down my face, because I could finally believe it. It wasn't another moment of "wow, is this real? is this truly reality? did I just do that?" I could actually believe it was happening, because I made it happen.
This much I know to be true... I'm really happy to be feeling my face again, I earned it.
Here's what your relationship with food is like if:
1. You're training for an Ironman
2. You're my brother
3. Chipotle is involved
So yea, training is going well.