Thursday, August 28, 2008

Disconnecting for the Holiday

I wonder why it is that we fight ourselves so much. Why do we work so hard (professionally and personally) that we don’t even feel comfortable taking a day off?

I plaster my desktop with fantastic beaches, great forest retreats, and majestic wonders of the world – and almost every picture has footprints, or a trail or a sidewalk that I use to imagine that I’m actually running in those beautiful places. When it comes right down to it, though, I spend all of my time in front of this computer, connected to it in a way that is more binding than a physical restraint. I’ve convinced myself that the whole world would erupt in flames if I didn’t check my work email every 5 seconds - and good thing outlook has that little mail envelope alert, otherwise I might not get the email the second it pops into my box - oh and I’m glad that I have my blackberry pinging away next to me, or I might miss the envelope alert.

I know what my body needs to be able to progress – and a day off once a week, and a recovery week once a month are both requirements to a healthy me. They are non-negotiable. Yet somehow, every Thursday afternoon, when I start to prepare for the next morning, I think to myself “Maybe just a very slow swim….” or “I really didn’t get as much biking done as I wanted to this week” or some other excuse crops up into my mind, that makes me actually feel guilty for sleeping in until 6:30am on Friday morning. It’s not like I don’t have a 7am conference call on Fridays to get me out of bed anyway – I actually still feel guilty for sleeping just a little bit longer than most mornings.

Well this week I’m not allowing it. I’m taking Friday off, with nothing to do, and no plans to make it “acceptable”. I’m not going to look at my blackberry, and I’m certainly not getting on the computer. I’m not going to feel guilty about it either. I’m going to get a pedicure, and I might even buy something new for myself that’s not budgeted, and that I don’t need. I’m going to take a nap at least once, and I think some chocolate chip pancakes are in my future.

I’m hoping this disconnection with my checklist, clockwatching, budgeting, email self can last all the way through the long weekend to Tuesday morning. However, I will be satisfied if I can truly try to relax for one day.

Wishing you a safe, pleasant, and disconnected holiday weekend!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Peak Experience

"Human beings do not realize the extent to which their own sense of defeat prevents them from doing things they could do perfectly well. The peak experience induces the recognition that your own powers are far greater than you imagined them." – Colin Wilson

Truer words could not be spoken.

This week I have felt the peak experience several times over, and I am living in a blissful state. Not only did I spend the weekend exploring the powerful beauty of Sedona in a way that I never have before, but it is absolutely amazing to me how my body has reacted to being fed adequate and efficient fuel. Call it cloud nine, call it the runner’s high, call it what you will – my rosy glasses are showing me an amazing and awe-inspiring world right now.

Lilac and I went to Sedona this weekend to celebrate our decade of friendship. For many people, having a close friend for 10 years may not seem like a long time, but there have been many ups and downs for us during that time, and we have stuck by each other, and supported and loved each other throughout – so we wanted to step back and really appreciate what it means to have someone who is ALWAYS in your corner, who knows every aspect of who you are, and who loves you for the person you have become.

Rather than do the standard Tlaquepaque and Church in the Rock tour, we decided that we wanted to be outside for our adventure – specifically because our relationship has grown even deeper since we started meeting weekly to run and race and tri together. So, we decided to hike Boynton Canyon Trail, and take a Pink Jeep Tour.

Boynton Canyon is spectacularly beautiful. The trail took us from the Enchantment Resort out through the canyon, where we hiked along the bottom of the canyon, through the forest trail while looking up at the amazing red buttes that surrounded us. It was such a cool morning, almost dewy, and the quiet peaceful trail really started the day out on the right foot. It took all of my tension away, and left me feeling relaxed and content. It was as good as an hour massage.

The Pink Jeep Tour was certainly not as calm – we looked like bobble heads as we went up the unpaved and rocky Schnebly Highway, but the views were incredible, and filled me with awe. I’ve never experienced Sedona from the perspectives that we saw it, and it was truly remarkable. We drove all the way up to the top of the mesa and were able to look down at the valley of red rock and buttes. What a view! What a trip!

Since we had hiked on Saturday, I decided to swim and bike on Sunday morning. I was a little nervous about swimming, since I had just had such a breakthrough swim, and I was afraid that it was a one time deal. I did the exact same 40 minute exercise, and although it didn’t feel quite as natural, I actually swam even better! I swam 800 meters MORE on Sunday than I had done on Wednesday. It’s unbelievable! I somehow fit 16 extra laps in the same amount of time as I had done on the fastest smoothest day of my life. Even more, I felt great! I couldn’t even believe it, and I kept re-counting the sets that I had done expecting a math issue to come up, but it never did. It was absolutely amazing!

My biking has also improved. The last two times I’ve biked I’ve simultaneously had high mileage and speed events. To do one is great, but to have both the fastest and longest workouts happen at the same time is unbelievable to me. I’m also increasing the intensity, and have had no ill effects. It feels great!

As if all of that weren’t enough, I had a GREAT run today. I did the exact same workout as my long C run, and I some how ran .25 miles farther in the same amount of time. I also felt like I could go for another 15 minutes – my legs weren’t wobbly, I wasn’t out of breath, and I wasn’t counting down the seconds. I’ve never felt so good after any run – never mind an 80 minute run!

Maybe (obviously) there is something to this nutrition thing, because since I’ve started fueling appropriately I have gone from a slow and consistent chug chug chug up a long hill to an unbelievable jump right up to the top of the mountain.

The view is great from up here. I feel uplifted, and full of self-confidence. I feel like there are limitless horizons and vistas to experience, and I have the confidence and courage to get out there and explore!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Feelin’ My Flow ~

Today was a breakthrough day!

I have been swimming for most of my life. I was taught to “float to the side of the pool” in case of an emergency when I was 6 month old – primarily so my parents could enjoy the many pool parties and beers of 1980’s AZ. When we moved to MA, we lived with my Nana, who had an Olympic length pool, and then we moved to the Cape, and my backyard was an aquatic dreamland. Not only was my house ocean front property, but it was a protected bay (smaller swells), and it had these enormous rocks that you could jump off of into deep water. (A story for another time – contrary to popular belief, we don’t know exactly where the pilgrims landed, but it has been narrowed down to 8 possibilities – and my backyard was one of the best options. There was a big rock that went all the way out to the channel, and could be walked up through the water, right into my backyard. John Howland also lived in my neighborhood, so it’s a good chance. If anything, it was fun to play “pilgrims” at low tide and walk up the rock with our “possessions”.)

Now having the ocean as your backyard does not necessarily mean that you’ll spend every moment of your summer swimming – you may just like falling asleep to the sounds of the waves, or riding jet skis and speed boats, or going clam digging or crab catching. We did all of those things, but what I did most of the time was swim. I was in the water from sun up to sun down. I actually lived, ate, and slept in my bathing suit all summer. I lived by the tide chart.

Then I moved to AZ when I was 17… and I didn’t swim for a decade.

How did that happen? I’m really not too sure. I remember being excited that we had a pool, but the reality of a pool in AZ is a LOT different from an ocean in MA. Basically, the pool was four feet wide and deep, and in 117 degree weather was about 95 degrees, so it wasn’t even remotely refreshing. Some people nicely say that it’s like swimming in bath water. To me it felt like swimming in urine.

When I allegedly fractured my leg last year, I started swimming as a way to keep my running fitness going. At first I was doing pool running, and then I started backstroking, and then I eventually started doing freestyle, and that’s when this whole triathlon idea took off.

When I would “train” swimming I looked at it as an opportunity to do some active recovery, to stretch out my body, and work the kinks out from pounding my body during my run and bike training. I often did laps of mixed freestyle and backstroke, but I never seemed to be able to get through the 2 lap breathing hump. After two laps of freestyle, I’d be exhausted. I eventually worked it up to 4 laps basically by forcing it, and decided that I was ready for Tri for the Cure. Well you know what happened there. So it was back to the drawing board.

Immediately after Tri for the Cure, I bought the book Triathlon Swimming Made Easy by Terry Laughlin. It seemed to have some pretty incredible claims and reviews, but every book I’d read referenced this guy and his swimming. He kept coming up on my day to day reading, so I finally said “Fine. Maybe I do need some help.” It’s the best decision I’ve made with my training to date.

I have spent the last 18 weeks doing no freestyle “lap” swimming. All that I have done, on every single swim day, has been drills from that book. I’m an excellent floater, but even I felt the benefits of this fine tuning that the drills take you through. At each level I progressed, and I felt the progression within the drills, but wasn’t really sure what it would get me at the end. There were drills that I loved, and drills that I absolutely hated, but I did them all, I tried to improve on them all before moving on to the next one. I practiced them in families, so that I wouldn’t forget the benefits of staying “stacked” while I was “zippering”. I followed the drills exactly as they were stated in the book.

The last week or so, I’ve been trying to get the last drill #13 to actually feel like my freestyle stroke does… or rather I’ve been trying to take the concept of “drilling” and move on to “swimming continuously”. It hasn’t been working that well. I was able to lower my stroke count without really thinking about it, but I was still struggling with the breathing part of it, and getting gassed after two laps. In fact I was becoming so frustrated with the fact that I had not improved my breathing at all, that I almost chose to do just backstroke today, and forget about freestyle for a workout or two. I just didn’t want to deal with my pent-up frustration over “wasting” 18 weeks of my life and not getting “anything” out of it. However, you know bull-headed me couldn’t get into the pool and not try it again…

… and that’s when everything fell into place.

I had decided to swim backstroke, backstroke, freestyle, freestyle in four sets, and then see how long it took me to determine how many more sets I could do in my 40 min recovery swim. However, once I started freestyling, I realized that it was really my #13, and that it was feeling super easy, AND that I wasn’t out of breath or exhausted when I finished my second lap. I could have done more – and so then I did my second set as backstroke, freestyle, freestyle, freestyle, and even that felt natural and without effort. So then I started counting my strokes, and I had somehow gone from 4 set strokes and 7 breaths for each lap to 6 longer set strokes and 3 breaths per lap!! So I just shaved off 10 strokes from swim per lap,a nd 4 panicked breaths! It was amazing. I felt exalted during and after the swim.

Some days it just feels good to know that hard work in training does eventually pay off.

In order to get my stroke back, I actively drilled for:
- 18 weeks
- 1,648 laps
- 41,216 meters
- 25.76 miles

And it was worth every lap!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Bean Counter Within....

About 5 years ago (wow time flies…) that I met a woman I worked with who was a big body builder. She wasn’t the big hulky kind you’d instantly think of, but a much more svelte “fitness” model type of builder. At the time I had been working off some relational weight, and was looking to do more than just an occasional run at South Mountain, so she took me under her wing.

I was introduced to Mr. Senior Universe, who after flatteringly guessing my weight was about 20 lbs less than what I was carrying around, agreed to train me. I worked with him for an hour 3 days a week, and also did cardio 5 days a week. At this point, because I was still having hip issues, I did most of my “running” on an elliptical machine.

Working with Mr. Universe was great. He was positive, he pushed me, he laughed with me, and he was willing to get up at the obscene hour of 3am to train me. He also fixed my hip – and even now it doesn’t cause me any problems. Part of his program however was a specific diet sheet which I was expected to follow to the letter (of course he let me substitute chicken for salmon, and pork chops for steak, and red potatoes for sweet potatoes… and carrots for bean sprouts… etc.) Initially, the diet sheet worked well. I was following it to the letter, because I trusted Mr. Universe, and I was seeing results. When I say to the letter, I mean actually weighing my chicken, counting out pretzels, packaging exactly a ½ cup of brown rice. I even counted out the number of almonds that I would put in my snack pack. I became the Bean Counter.

At some point during my training – about 6 months in – I hit a plateau. I sat at 144 lbs for weeks and weeks, and it got so frustrating that even Mr. Universe was getting frustrated. At first he started questioning my dieting. Then he said do cardio for 6 days a week. Then he mentioned cutting my caloric intake a little more. Finally he said that as long as my body fat percentage was continuing to change (which it was) than my weight didn’t matter, and he stopped weighing me all together. The scale won.

Unfortunately I had learned my lessons too well. I had cut my caloric intake to about 1,000 calories a day, and I was starting to feel the effects. I was starting to get shaky and dizzy whenever I tried to do anything other than sleep.

I eventually went to the doctor because I had a sore throat. It felt the same as a bad ear infection (I’ve had so many ear infections in my life that I can’t feel them until they spread to my throat) so I asked the doc for antibiotics to clear it up. She said that she saw some redness, but not infection, and thought I might have allergies – which I vehemently disagreed with. Two weeks later, I was back at the doc, this time because my throat was so swollen that I was having a hard time breathing, and there were little white flecks on my throat. They took a streppe test that came back negative, and then they took a mono test that turned out positive. The consensus? I had worked myself into the ground – the doc said it was the worst case she had ever seen. As she was explaining to me that I needed to sleep – not just rest, but SLEEP, for 4 – 6 weeks, and that she would support me actually filing a short term disability request from my work, my head started to spin. The first question I asked?

Well I can keep working out right?

She looked at me like I had just grown three heads. She ignored my question, filled out the paperwork, sent me home, and told me to come see her in 4 weeks. It took 8 weeks before I could get out of bed. I missed the entire months of November and December.

The end result? I worked out hard and dieted hard for almost a year. During that time I lost 40 lbs, 15% of my body fat, and eventually my endurance and my health. At the end of the 8 weeks of sleep, I had gained all of the weight back (thanks to Love’s icecream concoctions to try to get some calories down my swollen throat) and just getting to the mailbox and back required about 3 hours of recovery sleep. It took me two years to be able to get back into the gym consistently, and another two years to develop a program that would keep me from getting sick by pushing myself too hard. I have never recovered my natural vitality from what I did to myself.

Over the last five years I have found a way to make it work – to work out, to get adequate sleep, to actively recover. There is one piece that I have refused to look at, however, and that is the nutrition. I blame the lack of caloric intake on my demise. My memories of that time are mostly of feeling hungry, exhausted, dizzy, and shaky. I also remember being a clock-watcher 24 hours a day – and hating myself for it. “15 minutes until my cardio is done”, “10 minutes until I can eat a snack”, “1 hour until dinner”. I hated that feeling of constantly being hungry. So I’ve refused to even look at what I’m eating in any way other than enjoying the fact that I’m not hungry, and that my food tastes good.

I’m getting to a point in my training, however, where potato chips and oreo’s are just not going to be adequate fuel for me to get through the 90+ minute workouts. I’m risking injury by not giving my body the right (or enough) nutrients to keep me going. Plus, I can’t help but notice that I’m doing hard workouts, and the weight is staying right where it is. After a long talk with Love about my long term goals and desires as a triathlete, I’ve decided to start compiling a food log, so that in a month or so, I can work with a nutritionalist on determining how I can effectively fuel my body.

This is not a diet. My goal is not to be a size 4. I am not looking to be skinnier. I am not going to start weighing my chicken, and obsessively counting every calorie that I eat.

My goal is to continue to be healthy, happy, and fit. I want to be capable of finishing my workouts strong. I want to continue to enjoy the process of training. I want to present a nutritionalist with accurate information on who I am, and in an effort to maximize my training, not my measurements.

Am I afraid that I’m going to fall into the obsessive bean counter role? Absolutely. But I know that I’ve tried this and failed miserably before, and I survived it. I have no need to fear the possibility of success. I am not afraid of my goals, as long as I keep my focus on the right reasons to do this. I will continue to strive to achieve MY goals, and not succumb to internal or external pressures.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Embrace the High

Today the results for the Summer Series posted online, and my entire feelings towards the races changed with the results.

On Sunday, as we were coming down that lengthy hill, I mentioned that although the series concept seemed like a great idea, the actual completion of the races wasn’t nearly as fun as it sounded. I was frustrated with two poor performances, and I was struggling with why I wanted to do this. I wrote my race report, which I’m sure sounded as grumpy as I felt after a tough race…

… and then the overall results posted this morning, and my entire frame of mind changed. This series is unusual because you earn points based on every race that you finish. There are 5 races, and your top 4 scores count towards the overall total. You can imagine how exciting this is to someone who’s definitely a back of the packer – it means I can actually beat people who WIN a race, just by plugging along through several races.

My official results are 170th of 744 women, 20th of 97 women in my 25-29 age group, and with a total of 1914 points!

By working through each race – the good and the bad – I was able to finish in the top 20% of my age group, and the top 22% of women overall! When you compare that to my single race results (for example, the 5th race I was 35 of 36 women in my age group) I’m sure you can see how exciting it is for me to finish in the first quarter of the group, rather than at the very bottom.

It’s a good feeling when you feel like the work you’re putting in pays off. It’s amazing how looking at the results from an overall perspective, rather than a combination of races has improved my feeling on my progress.

On that note, today was truly a red letter day. Not only did I finish in the top 25% of Series, but I also ran 5 miles for the first time ever. For those of you who are ironmen, that may seem like not a big deal at all – but for a slow poke that requires lots of recovery, and takes about 80 minutes to run 5 miles, it’s a huge accomplishment. It’s the culmination of 2 years of hard work, planning, learning MY limits, and slowly building up the mileage. Some people can go from no miles to a marathon in 12 weeks. At this point, I’ll be marathon ready in 2012 – right in time for the London Olympics!

I’ve long thought that the runner’s high came about 15 minutes after I finished running, and only then if I embraced it. If I get home, and immediately jump on the computer and start working, I can actually miss it all together. But if I take a couple of minutes to stretch and keep the music going, I can enjoy that free flowing feeling –the one that makes me giggle for no reason, and dance around the house like a lunatic, with a glowing big grin on my face.

However, during that epic 5 miler today, for the first time I experienced the runner’s high during the run. Granted it happened 1 minute before my cool down started, but it happened. I think it was a combination of a good powerful spot in my podrunner mix, the feeling of success in knowing that I was going to hit 5 miles, and relief that it was almost over. It felt great though – goosebumps, all of a sudden my energy jumped up, and my stride became natural and easy again. I actually bumped up my cool down pace slightly so I could enjoy it for at least a minute more.

The runner’s high reminds me that sometimes you have to slow the pace of your life. You can’t jump from one task to the next without allowing yourself to absorb what you have done – otherwise you’re missing out on a feeling of accomplishment, you’re missing out on your successes, and you’re missing out on opportunities for improvement. Sometimes you need to think about what you are actually doing, and put it into perspective by looking at what you were doing this time last year, and where you want to be next year.

Embrace the high!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Race Report: Summer Series #5 – South Mountain – 5K

Heat, Humidity, and Hills – and I need to be better prepared with all three!
Pre-Event: The last race of the summer – most people would be sad to say that, but here in the Arid-Zona, we say “Hallelujah! Last race of the summer!” Before you know it, we’ll be going out to run at 8-9am, wearing gloves and ear warmers, and this heat will be just another bad memory! But we still have one race to go. I’ve alluded to this before, but Lilac and I had decided we wanted to do the whole series, and hopefully finish in the top 10 of our age groups. However it’s been more challenging than it sounded. We each missed a race due to vacations, and so we’re racing on all of our 4 scores, instead of just our top 4. We got to the race about 6am, leisurely picked up our bibs, hit the honey pots, and went over to the race start. At the start line we saw a girl wearing an official Penguin shirt, so of course I asked her if she had done the Tucson race. She hadn’t, but we told her that she needed to do it next year. Good lucks were exchanged, and we started off.

Race: This course requires some mental preparation – too bad I wasn’t able to find a course map or elevation details beforehand – because the first mile and a half is uphill. It’s that shifty uphill too – not steep enough for you to know that it’s uphill, but you’re feeling burnt out early and you can’t tell why. My goal was to do 5/2’s – take it easy on my knee and still hopefully get a respectable time – but after the second set, and no downhill relief, I lost my edge mentally. I started getting frustrated because I’ve been running WAY longer than what I had done during my training runs, and then I get outside and crap out. As always Lilac was there to remind me that I’ve been training indoors, and said that she wasn’t feeling it either (I believe she was lying, but I’m glad for it!) So we continued to trudge up the hill to the waterstop at the halfway point. After that it was mostly downhill, which felt good initially, but did little to fill up the gas tank in the long run. The good news was that it was only 90 degrees and 60 percent humidity! Why do I do this again? Oh right, because it’s “fun”.

Truth be told it was fun. Lilac and I saw a beautiful sunrise over the mountain. The spot we were running was off of Central, rather than where we usually hit it at 46th St, and the Central portion has more vegetation, is craggier, and I would say even more beautiful. There were saguaros and sage everywhere, so there was some good eye candy. We saw Flag shorts guy, and the Penguin girl several times, and cheered them on. As we finished the race it also struck me that we finished our goal of completing the Summer Series, that we are healthy after all of these races, and we have 5 more memories than we would have had without it – of the rainy day at Papago (it was so cool and wonderful that day), of the Sage Tunnel, of the heat of 4th of July, and of the beautiful scenery that we saw today.

Post Race: 45:13, 542 of 565, and 35th of 36 in my age group. Overall Series Result: TBD

The most interesting part of the day came at the end, as the Penguin chick asked us to drive her to Baseline where she could get some cell service and call a cab. Trust me, I am NOT the type of person to give anyone a ride for even one foot, but there were several items that I considered that made me say ok – 1. Lilac was following me in her car, had her cell phone ready, and the girl knew we were being followed. 2. Lilac took my money. 3. The girl was wearing spandex, and trust me, she wasn’t hiding a gun or a knife anywhere in those pants. 4. She had no bag, or purse with her, and she had just run 3.1 miles, so my guess was that her shoes also didn’t have any weapons. 5. There really wasn’t any cell service out there, and 6. It was only a mile away back to civilization. So I decided to help her.

What I found was that she was an amazing person! She had been in the peace corp, and lived in Tanzania, China, Russia, and was on her way to Chile. She knew Swahili, some German, Russian, and was solid in Spanish. She had fascinating stories to tell (I could probably have grilled her for 2 weeks and not learned everything that I wanted to) and I was sorry to see her get out of the car. It was a brief interaction, but a great one. I’m glad that we decided to approach her with the Penguin credo on her back, and bring her to the gas station. So long Danielle! Pleasant journeys!

As for me, I’m going to keep on training, and keep on tri-ing. Hasta la vista Summer – I won’t be missing you!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni!

I love the Olympics!

I have every opening ceremonies, gymnastics, and figure skating competition on VHS (getting obsolete) since 1992 - when I was 11 years old. Even without those tapes, I can remember the wonder of the “snow globe women” who carried the signs and lead out each of the country delegations in Lillehammer. I remember how I felt when Shannon Miller got the same vault score as Tatiana Gutsu in Barcelona, and being enraged because Tatiana had clearly bent her legs in the air – and she wound up winning the gold. I’ve watched the tapes so many times – in the summer, in the winter, whenever I got the “urge” especially in non-Olympic years – that I can tell you every single score that every single athlete received. But it’s not just the winners, or the Americans that I root for. I enjoy the whole Olympic process. I love watching someone who has trained their entire life put it all out on the line for that moment – which for a sprinter could be less than 10 seconds. I love watching the people who are thrilled with a top 25 finish, or to make it to the semi final round. I love to watch the moments of triumph – whether that’s a gold medal or a personal best.

I’m particularly excited about these Olympics because they combine my two favorite things – the Olympics and China. Does it get any better than your dream land, and your dream sport? Every montage will have pictures of that magical place that I have dreamed of and visited. It will be interesting to see the political plays, but for my One World, One Dream I’m most excited to see the sports in the settings.

The other thing that makes this the most exciting Olympics yet (and I went to the Salt Lake games and opening ceremonies, so I have to be pretty excited for this to be my favorite) is that in all past Olympics I was a spectator only. Now, although I’m clearly just as far away from getting a gold medal as I ever have been, I have been swimming and biking and running – and competing. I understand what it’s like to get in there and train every day and the joys and the failures of your work playing out on event day. It will be very interesting for me to see the athletes and the events (and I watch everything from judo to archery) in a different light. I’m looking forward to it. I’m also hoping that it will give me new daydreams to think about when I’m endlessly on the tready!

My favorite Olympic moment happened in the Sydney games in 2000. The Sydney games were all about swimming. The Aussies LOVE the swimming events. They also had a real world-class swimmer, Ian Thorpe, the “Thorpedo”. On the day of the 100 meter qualifications, the slowest three swimmers were in their own heat. You could feel the slowly building tension of the crowd for what would be coming later, but at this early morning heat, it was still pretty sleepy.

Due to the IOC’s wildcard entries, there were three athletes from developing nations. One of them was Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea. When the other two competitors false started, Eric had to do the 100 meters by himself, in front of a knowledgeable swimming crowd. No big deal? Well Eric had never swum 100 meters in his life. He had never been in a 50 meter pool. He didn’t even have a coach. He had been training for two months. His “trials” were more of a non-drowning contest, in a small hotel pool. The reality was that his wildcard entry had just gone from an opportunity to experience the Olympics and increase interest in his country to a nightmare of being in the spotlight on the world’s biggest stage, by himself. His very best was so poor, that at best he could be laughed at. Even I swim faster than Eric did.

Was he afraid? Maybe. But even if he was, he dove into the water by himself, and he flailed along. He crawled his way through the water slowly making it to the other side of the pool, and then he doggedly turned around and attempted to swim the whole way back. The entire time he was swimming he was the only person in the pool. This entire crowd watched every single labored stroke. By the end, he was completely spent, and those last few strokes look like an attempt to not drown more than an attempt to swim. But you know what? He did it. And every time I watch it (at the 1 hour and 23 minute mark on my VHS tape) I cry. The crowd initially laughs at him, but after a few strokes they realize what they are watching. The encourage him. They begin to cheer for him. By the end they are all screaming hoarsely in support to keep him going. It’s incredible to watch the human spirit – of people digging deep and looking beyond their expectations. At the end, when he was interviewed he said that the crowd was so loud he actually thought he had won a medal.

Even I, an Olympic freak by all accounts, have forgotten who won the 100 meter freestyle that day. But I will always remember Eric Moussambani. I hope that these Olympics bring more stories like his – and I am looking forward to all of the Moments.

Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni! (Jing Jing is by far my favorite Fu Wa!)

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The All Things Triathlon website has a great weekly special, where they post a word from the dictionary, provide the definition, and explain how that relates to their training. The posts are profound and thought provoking, and they always finish up with a great quote. So in preparation for this blog, I went to their site to look for “Success” in the word of the week, hoping to find a good quote.

Instead I found a word on there that I wasn’t familiar with – which is pretty rare on it’s own, but especially rare when most of the words listed are things like “performance”, “achieve”, “train”. Not the type of words that would strain a major spelling bee champ. Of course I immediately clicked on it, distressed that I wasn’t familiar with the word, and I found a precious gem.

Eustress is defined as stress that is healthful and stimulates growth. The “eu” comes from the Greek prefix for healthy – and is the same “eu” that’s in euphoria.

It’s antonym is distress – stress that is unhealthy and prevents growth.

If you read my Mental Toughness blog from earlier this week, you know that I was feeling distress over my training plan, and it’s expectations for me. (Is it sad that I feel that my training log is it’s own entity?) I did find that writing about my fears helped me solidify what I was nervous about, and maybe in some way gave me an opportunity to fight a battle with a “solid” opaque demon thought, rather than struggling with a miasma – a whispery translucent thought that kept sneaking up on me, but that I could never really take head on. Just writing about what I feared helped me to recognize that I was accomplishing the work that I had set out for myself. As the week went on, and I realized that I was not only getting through my workouts, but completing the expectations within each training session, I became more confident about my scariest workout – today’s bike/run workout.

According to my training log, I was going to do 45 minutes of long consistent biking, and 45 minutes of speedwork. I think this looked particularly challenging because I’ve somehow rearranged my schedule for the last 5 weeks so that I never wound up doing speedwork. I was in Seattle, then the Cape, then I had Chances, and here I am – terrified of trying to do fast 2/2’s for 45 whole minutes. It takes a LONG time when you’re only doing 2 minute increments – at least that’s what I kept reminding myself.

To combat my fears, I broke out my splits to start at a doable pace, rise up to a challenging pace, and then slowly descend back to that doable pace. Since I hadn’t done speedwork in so long, and since I’m at the beginning of a new training cycle, I decided to start at 5.0 (very doable) and work up to 5.8 (tougher), repeat 5.8 (the most daunting part) and then come back down to 5.0. That was my plan.

Overall I have to say that my workout was a success! I did 45 minutes on the bike at easy level 3, between 90 – 100 rpm’s. I made a pit stop, and then jumped on the treadmill. There were several mental hurdles, but I kept reminding myself that I do not make decisions about rest until I am in rest mode, and that what I had set out to do was well within my abilities. For the 5.8’s I caved a bit and did 1/3’s instead of 2/2’s but the descent was all 2/2’s, and I felt good about what I had done when I finished.

What I realized when I read about eustress was that by facing my fears – by writing them down (eek! so close to a jinx!) and then challenging myself to meet that fear head on, and not to deviate, I was actually able to grow as an athlete. I am no longer afraid of 75 minutes of anything, or 45 minutes of speedwork. I’m actually looking forward to my “C” week next week to challenge myself again.

I know that many people (family, friends, and co-workers) have asked me why I do this. Why do I get up at the ass crack of dawn during the week (and even worse on the weekend)? Why do I train hard, and break my body down, when I have no chance of “winning? Why do I spend money for events when the best I can be is hopelessly in the rear? I’ll tell you why – because training is a stress that is healthful and stimulates growth – physical, mental, relational, and emotional growth.

I feel good about getting out there and doing something that helps me grow physically. I like the feeling that I’ve accomplished something before my work day has begun. I enjoy the way that training has helped to evolve my relationship with Lilac. I love the feeling of confidence that comes along with successfully meeting my goals.

That’s why I train. Training eustresses me.

Today’s favorite post run song was Jamiroquai’s So Good to Feel Real.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mental Toughness

I am not a strong person. I am not a fast person. I am not a particularly healthy person – in that natural vitality kind of way. I had a bad case of mono about 4 years ago, and I have never truly recovered from it. Because of this lack of strength, quickness, and health, I have to be very measured in my training, and preparation. (Yeah, because triathlon makes sense for someone who’s weak, slow, and not full of vitality!)

Over the last few years I have developed a training plan that works for me – and trust me, I learned every piece of this training plan the hard way! What I’ve found that works is increasing my workouts slowly and with a two step up, and one step down rule. I plan every single workout based on time, rather than distances. This is primarily due to the fact that if you run a blazingly fast 13 minute mile, and you increase your 5 mile distance by 10%, that extra half mile means 7 more minutes of pounding on your legs. That’s a whole extra mile for most people!

I’m totally OCD, and getting the spreadsheet out means that I go crazy with my planning, but I’ve also found that if my training is not structured, I do too much too soon, and get injured. I’ve basically laid it out like this:
“A” week – current fitness level
“B” week – step it up 5 minutes
“C” week – step it up another 5 minutes
“Recovery” – cut C week in half
“A2” week – repeat previous C week
Needless to say, when I put my current Tri training plan together in April, I had my schedule built out through November. That’s right, I told myself what I was going to do this morning (45 mins swim, 45 mins bike) back on April 21st.

Now, I have nothing wrong with the advanced planning. From a training perspective I’ve been able to stay healthy and progress at a good solid rate. I’ve had NO overuse injuries, and only 1 illness, which was more related to a lack of sleep from the Celtics winning the Championship than my training. My problem is the Mental Toughness of where I am in this schedule.

I hesitated even writing about this, because acknowledging my fears have had a tendency of making them manifest themselves when it comes to actually accomplishing the work. However, part of my attempt at blogging is to try to understand myself, so maybe by explaining my fears, I’ll be able to banish them to the internet universe where they can’t bother me.

My current fear is: TIME

When I started, 15 minutes of speed work (2/2’s) didn’t sound too bad. I did 3 sets of sprints and I was done. When I was making the schedule, I thought 45 minutes of speed work sounded like a long time, but I assumed that by slowly building up to it, it wouldn’t seem so long. However, this week I’m at 45 minutes of speed work (after 45 minutes of cycling by the way) and 11 sprints sounds like a monumental task - too monumental for a weak, slow, sickly person like me to do.

The funny thing is that 40 minutes didn’t seem long at all. It was just past 30, which wasn’t long to me. But now that it’s 45 minutes – it’s a whole different story. I feel the same way with my single event days this week. 75 minutes of running is a LOT of running in my book. That means the machine actually turns off, and I have to start it back up again, and then do another 15 minutes. I find myself also shortening my run/walk time on my 75 min run because I don’t think I could do 8/2’s for that long. Part of it is my hip and knee are still a little swollen from the bike accident – but there’s a small part of me that says “Eileen, you’re not tough enough to run for 75 minutes if you do 8/2’s.”

Interestingly, I was able to get through my 75 min bike ride without issue, after the fear subsided. I was able to swim and bike for 45 mins each today – and I felt good when I left the gym, not completely spent. Does that bring my confidence level up? Maybe a little bit.

I think the thing that I struggle with the most is that those chunks of time are large enough that just pumping up the volume of my iPOD doesn’t get me through it. When I’m tired after my 3rd sprint and I still have 8 more to go – it’s not very reassuring, and there’s a LONG time to think about how much longer I have to go. There’s too much time to think. You can only zone out to the latest Charmed rerun for so long.

The solution is to believe in myself, to know I’ve put the time in, and maybe to learn how to do quantum jojunction calculations in my head when I’m training (fat chance, I just had to count on my fingers to determine I’d have 8 sprints left if I had already done 3…). However it’s easier said that done. I’m going to continue to practice visualization every night about what I’m going to do the next day, and try to not panic as I envision 75 minutes of running long intervals. At the end of this “B” week, I have another jump, then recovery, and then I’ll repeat – and hopefully by then 75 minutes won’t seem so daunting.