Monthly Archives: August 2010

Oh Canada

Monday. 

I did not finish Ironman Canada.  As Lisa Smith-Batchen says “I DMB” I did my best. 

I’d like to say I’m sad but I strangely am not.  My overwhelming feeling is thank God it is all over because I’m tired, so very, very tired.   Not about Ironman, about my year.  I’m more mentally tired than physically tired.  Ironman was to be my punctuation point for the end of The Year of the Suck (TYOTS).  When I think about this year, tears come to my eyes, when I think about not finishing Ironman I really don’t have much emotion.  I am just done.  I don’t give up, I give in.  I surrender.  I have been fighting, fighting, fighting for so long, I just don’t have another ounce to give.

Ironman training was a vehicle for me to cope with TYOTS.  By focusing on training and that challenge I didn’t have to focus on my own medical problems and my family woes.  Ironman was a long shot but it was also a life line. For getting me through the year, I am grateful for Ironman.

The huge irony for me about the race was that all of the demons that I thought would get me, nerves, weakness, stomach issues, fatigue, heat – none of those happened.  I got sneak attacked by cramps.  Not just little cramps, huge seizure-like cramps that literally kicked me off my bike.  But like all good stories I should start at the beginning so you get your money’s worth.

GETTING THERE

On Thursday, my flight into Kelowna went over the Rockies.  I was blown away by the sight.  majestic didn’t begin to describe the mountain range.  I was getting excited.  This really was going to be a get-away destination race and everything was going so smoothly.

The drive from the airport to my condo was nothing short of jaw dropping. I drove one hour mostly following Okanagan Lake from Kelowna to Penticton.  It is most impressive and impossible to describe.

The condo turned out to be exactly as described (maybe a little better).  Two bedrooms, two baths and a 15 minute walk to the race start (my walk pace).  Simple but clean and bright and nice balcony for sitting out and nice little backyard.  Nothing spectacular but extremely comfortable and cheery and moderately priced for the week.   My teammate Peter showed up a little after me and we set about getting some groceries and getting to know town a little. (Peter had been here before so he knew his way around already which turned out to be very helpful.)

PREP

Friday morning we did a test swim in the water.  Although I had been doing a lot of swimming lately, I had not done an open water swim since Rhode Island.  I wanted to get my face into the dark water and remind myself how that felt.  I was shocked when we got down to the beach.  First – it was freezing cold.  Second the water was so clear you could see the bottom with no problem.  Wow, I was not expecting that.  We talked about the race course with a couple of people.  For the first time, I was not intimidated by the distance.  Was that because Okanagan Lake was so huge and we were only swimming in a tiny corner of it?   Versus Mirror Lake where you see you are swimming the entire length?  Interesting…

I got into the water and pretty quickly had an asthma attack.  I couldn’t breathe, I was gasping for air and then coughing.  I have to say that although I get asthma attacks they are so infrequent that I rarely bother with my inhaler.  After my Colorado nightmare, I had inhalers tucked in every corner of my suitcase.  For the race I would take a hit off my inhaler and see if that helped.  I only got in about 10 minutes on my practice swim and it wasn’t encouraging.

Saturday morning was check in.  I wanted to be done by noon so I could put my feet up. I stopped by the expo to pick up a few things and they had a massage tent set up with ART massage therapists.  I asked them how long to see someone and they took me immediately.   I explained to the guy that my calves are really tight and I can feel something pulling in them.  I had been stretching every day and slathering Tiger Balm all over every night but they seemed to be getting tighter and not looser. 

The guy worked on my legs for about 15 minutes.  Fairly gently because the race was the next day.  He said he didn’t want to cause any pain beyond a 5.  Nice and easy. It wasn’t painful at all.  But he agreed – “your calves are made of steel.”   I told him I knew and I hadn’t been able to get them relaxed no matter what.  He suggested I needed to do a foam roller.   I didn’t think that was smart to do the night before the race. 

That night my calves cramped and I had a hamstring seize while I was in bed.  I slathered more tiger balm and stretched stretched stretched.  The more I tried to stretch the tighter I seemed to get.  I couldn’t figure it out.  Eventually everything settled down and I got a decent night’s sleep.

RACE DAY

Race morning I felt okay.  I was very organized.  Ate a big breakfast.  No stomach problems.  Woo hoo.  No stomach problems.  Took a banana and Infit with me to the start  would be at 800 calories when I finished them.  Nice.

I was set up in transition in no time.  I had a great spot for my bike – right next to the bike mechanic who pumped my tires for me and the water station where I filled my bottles.  I took three shots from my inhaler.  Saw my hands shaking right away.  Was okay, just knew to let it pass. Struggled into my wetsuit which felt tighter despite having dropped a few pounds in the last couple of weeks.
THE SWIM

The strange thing about IM Canada is the race start.  The beach is very wide and they let you approach from any which way you like.  The lines of buoys dissect the center of the beach so some people choose to start far to the left and swim a straight line to turnaround, other people choose to start far to the right (I cannot understand that one).  I didn’t really know where to start so I just looked at the buoys and said “well why not start right in front of them and swim straight for them?”  Then they reminded us to seed ourselves and I realized that perhaps the front row was not that smart and I backed off toward the shoreline and let more people in front of me.  I would just watch how it played out.

I got swam over a little bit but really for the most part it was fine.  It only took about 3 minutes for the people who were going to pass me to pass me and then it was pretty much smooth sailing.  I think next time I should just start up front and save the couple of minutes.  People are going to swim past me either way, at least if I start up front I have those couple of minutes ahead.

There were 27 buoys.  They numbered them which was fantastic.  I wish all races would do that.  I zig zagged getting to the first buoy and declared I would have none of that this race and really concentrated on pointing toward my target and following my hand.  By the second buoy I was on target.  3rd, 4th, 5th, I was in a groove.  It was true!!  I actually could swim straight!!  Woo hoo.  More than that I could breathe.  Wow, it was a miracle.  None of the tight chest from the day before.  Tons of air getting into my lungs.  Wow, go figure, that inhaler the doctor prescribed actually works.  I wonder if I should use it more often.

I got to the 1 mile point (1600 meters on the map) at 42 minutes.  That was about 4 minutes of my good pool time swim and only 2 minutes off my bad pool time.  Considering the mass start and my conservative start I was okay with that.  The water was beautiful.  The mountains were beautiful.  I was filled with an abundance of gratitude.  I started singing the song “I am Superwoman” song by Alicia Keys.  Thank you, thank you to everyone praying for me.  I could feel all the good vibes.

The turn around was  ~1/2 mile.  Seemed to be no problem.  I turned the corner and for some reason decided to breast stroke for a second and get my bearings.  Immediately both of my calves seized up.  I was vertical trying to tread water and my legs were cramping under me so I couldn’t kick them.  I became quickly alarmed.  I was about 10 feet from the large boat that was acting as the turn around buoy.  I felt myself start to go under.  I was just about to start flailing my arms when a little voice spoke in my head.  “go horizontal.”  So I leaned forward and got my legs back up to the surface and they calmed down.  I was able to breathe.   Whew, emergency diverted, but I was aware that something was not right.

I continued the swim with a relaxed knees.  That seemed the only way to keep my calves from cramping.  Relaxed knees made it hard for me to drive my arms and turn my body.  So I did a kind of alternating, straight body until calves cramped then limp body till they relaxed.  Just keep your arms moving.  I was extremely proud of myself for figuring it out and I was still swimming straight and I was really catching the water the best I have ever done.  I thought I was doing great.

I had been warned about the swim exit.  It gets shallow very quickly and stays shallow for quite a way.  Don’t fall for it, continue to swim as much as you can to the shore.  It is too taxing to stand up and slog through the water.  I swam until the water was about 3 feet deep but I still had about 50 meters to get to the shore and I had to walk over the rocks..  It was very difficult to get a good footing.  I thought that was very strange, why not make us exit over there where the water was deeper and sandy bottomed?

T1

No worries I got out and saw my watch said  1:48.  I was disappointed but I totally understood – iffy start, cramping calves, rocky exit.  It probably would have been a 1:40 otherwise.  Not as fast as Lake Placid but I was fine with it.  Wet suit strippers great.  Helped me down, helped me up.  Super positive and nice.

The volunteers at Canada are so above and beyond it is incredible.  Not only did I not have to find someone to help me.  They got my bags and handed it off to a helper who literally took me by the hand and said follow me into the tent.  She got me to a nice spot and dumped out all my stuff.  To my horror my bike glasses were broken.  Broken, broken.  Non-fixable.    I had put one pair in my run bag, one pair in my bike bag and I still had another pair in my morning clothes bag.  I told her if I could get to my run bag I would have a pair in there.  She said she would go get it.  While I finished getting dressed she ran and got my bag.  How awesome was that?  Inside was another pair of my favorite glasses.  I was good to go.  Only took an  extra couple of minutes but was totally worth it to be able to have sun protection.  I was out in 7:59 – I think it would have been about 4-5 otherwise.

THE BIKE

As I started out on the bike route I heard the guy on the PA system announce that Sister Madonna Buder was pulling out of the race due to wetsuit problems.  I was very disappointed and sad.  I think a cloud passed over the sun right at that moment and everyone let out a collective moan.  My fantasy of running or biking with Sister Madonna was over.

Bike started out a little slow.  I told myself to just try to spin, spin to get my legs warmed up and moving.  My bike felt strange.  I couldn’t get full extension on my legs.  Was it my imagination?  I saw a bike support vehicle and waved them down.  They raised my seat ½ inch.  Felt much, much better.  How could that have happened?  All I could think is somehow in tribike transport they had to lower my seat or something?  It didn’t make sense.   Didn’t take more than a couple of minutes and was worth it. (I had tested my bike the day before but was distracted by my loose cleats so I worried about those and not my seat height).

So far so good.  First big hill was a struggle but after that it was flat, flat, flat.  I started to gain time.  I was feeling pretty good but I was aware that I was trying to pedal lightly so I wouldn’t really hammer on my calves.  I think I ended up transferring more of the workload to my quads and hamstrings.  This was the most gorgeous bike course I have ever seen and I was savoring all of it.

At mile 28 I was feeling okay.  I remember looking at my watch and seeing 1:35 for 28 miles.  I knew that was not a fair number to translate forward because the first 28 was mostly just flat.  But I was very optimistic that I could maintain it.  I was warning myself that an 8 hour bike was probable but if I just kept focused all would be good in the end.

To celebrate at mile 28 I treated myself to one of my boiled potatoes with salt.  Oh my God, I do not think I have every tasted anything so good in my life.  I had used boiled potatoes on training rides and runs but this was my first time in a race.  It was the best thing EVER!!  Bananas and Potatoes, two foods I knew I could keep down in a pinch. 

The scenery became got more and more incredible.  I started to feel tightness in my quads.  Then I felt a pinch in my calf.  They all went away.  Just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling.  I was aware I was slowing down a bit but maintaining high cadence to try to loosen up my legs.

There was one hill before Richter pass and that’s when I really started to feel the beginning of cramping in my legs.

I finally hit Richter pass and it was hard.  Up until this point I thought IM Canada bike was significantly easier than Lake Placid.  I had already done more flat riding in the first 40 than Lake Placid had at all.  But the climb up Richter pass was pretty hard – nothing like this in Placid.

I did not have the same legs that I did when I did my ride in Litchfield.  I was struggling.  Richter pass is not undoable by a long shot.  It’s long and it is steep but it has sections that flatten out so you can get a rest.  I realized that if I was only going 4.5 mph and Richter pass was  miles, that added up to trouble.  I just kept moving forward.  I felt the stress in my legs.  They were getting tighter.  I was trying to save my legs but I needed some muscle from somewhere to work.

I wanted to stop and take a breather (I saw two different people doing just that).  But something told me if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to start again.  My legs were barely moving and I knew there was something not right.

As I neared the top of Richter pass there was someone waving  to me.  Willing me up to the top.  I let her.  I needed her.  I wanted to stop so badly but I could see the top and I commanded myself to get to her.  Go, go, go (always avoiding the negative ‘don’t stop’ which is a death sentence.)  I refused to stop.  I absolutely refuse to stop even if this  kills me, this is how I choose to go, right here pedaling up Richter to get to the final top.  It’s me or this  hill.  Period.

As I was getting near the top she ran down to me and started to run next to me as I was trying to crest.  ‘I was here at the first Ironman in 1983.  I was one of 23 people who started and the only woman to finish.’  I was impressed.  What’s your name?  I asked?  She told me her name was Diane Lynch.  She was in phenomenal shape.  ‘you can do this, she was telling me.’  All of a sudden it became a huge confessional.  I started to blurt out all the reasons I wanted to finish this race that it meant so much to me to put an end to this terrible year and she ran ahead and told the guy with the megaphone my story (yes she was running faster than I could bike up the last leg of  Richter pass).  The guy at the top started yelling my name through his pa system … ‘you are amazing!  Yelling my name over and over again.”  I heard him still yelling my name as I started the descent down.  It took a lot out of me but damn it, I didn’t stop and I made it up.  (on another day that would not seem like such an incredible feat but on that day it was all I had and more.)  I knew I had asked more of my legs than they had.

The descent in Similkameen valley is more than I can describe.  It is like entering a painting.  It literally takes your breath away.  There is no way to not feel lucky to be alive.  It is also where the seven sisters live.  The seven sisters are the rolling hills after Richter pass.  The seven sisters are what finally did me in.

THE DEMISE

Ironically I had planned to make my “move” on the seven sisters.  They were rolling hills but my kind of hills, a big downhill before a big uphill.  I planned to make use of my momentum skills and just fly through them.  Not so fast.  First I felt my left quad give out and cramp.  I tried to lighten up the pedaling and just finish up the hill.  It was painful.  This will pass, this will pass I kept saying to myself.

Then on the next hill my right quad gave out.  Same thing.  Violent spasm and cramp.  It had jumped from my left quad to my right quad.  Searing pain.  Oh my God.  What the heck is happening?  I have never had such a thing happen.  Keep pedaling.  Easiest gear you can find even if it flat, it will work its way out.  This will pass, I repeated.

I don’t remember exactly which hill it was but as I was approaching the top my entire right leg seized up.   I was starting to fall over.  I was panicking.  By some miracle I managed to upright my bike and unclip my left leg.  I looked down at my right quad, it was all bunched up like I was doing a leg press.  I got scared.  Oh my God.  It’s seizing, what do I do?  I couldn’t move the leg.  I couldn’t get my leg over my bike seat to get out.  All I could do was let the bike fall to the ground and I gingerly stepped out.  I stood there stunned for a moment.  Did I really almost just fall off my bike?  My leg would not stop seizing.  I was scared.

I picked up the bike and started walking.  Almost immediately it started to calm down.  Okay, okay, be calm, we’ll just walk.  Don’t panic, it will be okay.  I took some more electrolytes even though I had just taken 2 a few minutes earlier. 

Soon everything seemed calm down enough and I was able to get back on my bike. It’s okay, you’re fine.  Breathe.  I started to pedal.  It’s fine.  As soon as I hit a hill – bam, now it was my inside thigh muscle seizing.  I can’t even say cramping – it was beyond cramping.  I would get to a down hill and spin easy, easy and as soon as I hit any hill it would cramp and seize.  It bounced around between my two quads and my two inner thighs. 

That’s when I started to understand that if the cramping didn’t stop I might not make the cutoff.  Should I quit?  What should I do?  My mind was very clear.  You will not quit.  This will pass.  You will get more salt.  I had put salt into my drink I had been eating salted potatoes.  I had been taking enduralytes.  I was only at mile 75 for goodness sakes, why would I be cramping after only 75 miles?  I flashed back to the previous night when I was cramping in bed.  There is something else wrong, it is not salt.  It is not electrolytes.  It was something else, not sure what.

Somehow I made it through the seven sisters with nearly the last of everyone passing me.  The road flattened out and I was able to do about 12 mph as long as I kept it in an easy gear.  I made the turn for the out and back.  Oh God, another little hill.  I made it up the hill and both legs seized at the same time. I rode into the fence and held on to the fence and managed to unclip.  I couldn’t even drop the bike.  I just leaned over the aerobars and started to pray, just let them relax, just let them relax.  A support person came over and asked me if I needed help.  I need salt.  I told her.  (Not true in retrospect but what else could it be?)  What time is the cutoff?  Yellow Lake at 4:30.  What time is it now?  2:30.  How far is Yellow Lake?  I’m not sure but I can go ask.  Please.  I hung over my bike and thought what do I do?  What do I do?  How far can you make it in 2 hours like this?  If she comes back and says 20 miles you go for it.  If she says 30 forget it, you won’t make it.  She comes back and says 24.  Argghhh.  I have to try, I have to go for it.  That’s 24 miles including the climb to Yellow Lake.  If the cramping goes away I can do it.  Have to try so I took off down the out and back.  Ironically waiting that minute for her to come back may have sealed my fate.

THE END

It was going to hurt.  I went down a hill I was sure I didn’t want to climb up.  All of a sudden a SAG wagon was riding next to me.  How are you doing?  I’m cramping.  You have 9 minutes to make it to the turnaround at mile 75.  How far away is that?  About 6k.  I coulnd’t convert to miles and had to ask how far in miles.  3 or 4 miles.  3 or 4 miles in 9 minutes?  Let’s see Central park in 18 minutes?  I can do it if I give it absolutely everything I have.  I must make this cutoff.  I have to try or die trying.  I took off giving it everything I had.  When I got to the turn around the van was there crossed in front of the turn around and the SAG guy standing there with his hands out to stop.  I’m sorry, you didn’t make it.  I didn’t?  How far am I off?  3 minutes he says?  Really?  It didn’t feel like 9 minutes had passed but I think he had been really saying that I had to beat him there and I didn’t. 

I was strangely not upset.  I laid down my sword.  I think I knew it was not a matter of if I was going to miss the cutoff, it was just a matter of when.  I had hoped that I could finish the ride even if I missed the run.  I was really shocked more than anything.  3 minutes?  Really?  But there was no arguing, I knew the truth, my legs were unable to move never mind finish out the rest of the bike including more hills and the difficult climb to Yellow Lake.  “I’ll need your timing chip please.”  That was the hardest part for me.  I felt like a failure as I handed over my chip.  He wrote down my name and race number.  I stopped my watch.  8 hours and 16 minutes into the race.  2.4 miles swim, 75 miles on the bike and my day was over.  (I later joke with Peter that his Ironman took him 12 hours and my only took me 8).

The SAG wagon ride back seemed okay.  There were five of us in the van and another van behind us.  A couple of gals in tears, one gal who apparently does Ironman twice a year so it was not the end of the world, another guy for whom this was his first triathlon but was an experienced endurance racer and kind of shrugged it off as his first attempt.  I was in strangely good spirits.  How strange?  Why was I not more upset?

My legs kept seizing up in the van and they had to stop to get ice to put on my legs.  I was apologetic.  I didn’t understand why my legs were behaving like this but I was sure it would go away.  I kept muttering that it was only 75 miles, 75 miles was nothing.  They asked me if I wanted to be taken to the medical tent.  I knew the only way there was via ambulance and the only way into the park was on foot.  I took on foot and walked the one block back to transition.  Once I was walking it seemed okay.

One of the volunteers back at the special needs was super nice and got me some more ice and helped me get some food and water.  She sat with me under the tree for a good half an hour while I kept ice on both of my legs.  Turns out she has terminal cancer and given only 3 years to live (tops) and has already survived another kind of cancer.  She can’t get medical coverage now and has a 17 year old daughter she cares for.  Here she was volunteering at Ironman and helping me.  If that was not a message I don’t know what is.

REALIZATION

I know that doing something like Ironman is most certainly a choice and a problem of the privileged.  Who am I to complain about some like this when there are bigger problems in the world?  More important I had to recognize that even sitting under that tree, icing my muscles I  was still lucky beyond belief.  I was healthy enough to sit there.  Granted I was confused as to why this was happening to me but I understood that in a way I was still fortunate, still lucky.  When I asked the volunteer her name, she pulled back her jacket to show me her name tag “Supreme Goddess,”  I had to laugh.  Yes you are.

For some reason the line from Chrissy Evert kept popping in my head, something about the ability to accept defeat with the same grace as you accept victory.  I was trying.

I finally got up and started to move around. I seemed good enough.  I got my gear all packed up and shipped back and moved to the finish to watch my teammate come in.  He looked great and happy and finished very strong.  Everyone was cheering and screaming for the athletes.  I thought I would be inspired as I was back in 2004 when I first witnessed Ironman, when I thought I just had to do this most amazing feat.  Strangely, no, I did not feel that way.  I did not feel I had to run to sign up again.  I did not feel like I had to do anything but smile and applauded them all for their great effort.  I would, however, consider volunteering.  

The only thing that made me cry was feeling like I let everyone down.  So many people rooting for me and cheering for me.  I felt like people had invested time in coaching and standing by me and suffering through this year with me and I couldn’t give them the satisfaction of being happy for me.  I wanted the big victory moment.  Instead, now I knew they would all feel sad for me and I didn’t want that either.  I wanted everyone to be as ready as I was to move on to a new chapter.  To whatever that may be.

Today, the next day, my legs feel like someone has physically been beating them.  I fully expect to look down and see them black and blue.  They are tender to the touch.  I feel lingering spasms.

THE THEORY

I had read an email on a support group about someone finding out that her muscle cramps had been caused by calcium problems.  It struck a chord with me and I thought I would do a little research.  The reason I did not suspect sodium was because I had made sure to take extra salt the day before, it was not hot out (perfect low 70’s), I was cramping the night before (before I even started racing) and during the swim (less than an hour into the race).  I had been hydrating with Nuun electrolyte water the day before and had been taking enduralytes during the race (6 tablets by 75 miles).  I didn’t think it was salt or electrolytes.  I also didn’t think it was potassium because I had eaten about six bananas already in the two days before the race and one right before the swim.  But calcium, I had not been taking my calcium…

During my surgery to remove my thyroid one very important part of the surgery was to transplant my parathyroid glands back.   Your parathyroid glands control how your calcium is distributed through your body (or something like that I can’t remember).  I just know it was a very big deal that two of my four glands were successfully transplanted which meant very good things for my long-term health but I had to be very careful and look for signs of tingling in my extremities which would mean my calcium levels were too low.  At each of my blood tests my calcium levels were just fine so I stopped worrying about my calcium as much as my iron and d.  I would take them when I was at home but I had been traveling up to CT for two weeks before the race and I did not have them with me and I didn’t even think about them. 

I did a little googling and sure enough calcium deficiency can most certainly cause this kind of cramping.  I’m not saying this is the cause but something about it is certainly ringing true here.  I think because I regularly take my calcium and my calcium levels had been fine I had not had this happen before, but maybe the stress and anxiety over the last couple of weeks while getting ready for Ironman coupled with not taking them may have left me in some kind of depleted state.  I also found from Dr. Google that the most common source of nighttime leg cramping is calcium deficiency.  All the pointers looked in the same direction.  This was a new symptom for me and I hadn’t been trained to look for it.

I feel bad about this major error on my part.  Every time I go to the doctor they look at my blood tests for calcium and ask if I’m taking my pills and I say yes and everything seems okay.  Although I had planned for every possible problem to arise during Ironman, I missed something small yet huge.  I can’t be 100% sure but I have a strong suspicious feeling that this is what may have happened.

Nothing else really makes sense to me.  I ride 75 miles all the time.  I cramp often when I swim but I rarely or never cramp at night just lying in bed.  This may all be one just one more piece of the ever evolving puzzle of me.

FORWARD

I will be okay.  I will move on.  Right now I will rest.

I will be taking a couple of weeks off to meditate.  I am going back to Kripalu.  I need to reset.  I will be back with new goals.  Softer goals.  More charity work.  Think of helping others for awhile. 

I went online to Ironman Canada and saw they were still accepting applications.  Maybe this was a sign.  Maybe I am supposed to come back and do it next year.  I thought of Sister Madonna and how she goes back again and again, sometimes making it, sometimes not.  I decided to wait another year.  Maybe I will come back in 2012 but not 2011.  Maybe I’ll come back in 2011 for the wine festival and do a training weekend.  Or maybe just come for the wine festival….

Namaste

http://www.drgangemi.com/articles/cramping_style

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8/23/10 Guess Who’s Coming to Ironman?

Monday.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Where’s the blog?  Probably somewhere near my head in the sand.  Been away for the week up in CT helping out my parents.  Lots to do there.  Will be back there for most of September.  Old age is the original endurance sport.

I don’t have much to say about training.  Nothing really great going on. It’s really taper and I’m tapering probably more than I should.  I’ve been tired so I’ve been sleeping.  I’ve been eating nervously.  I did get a good amount of swimming in while I was gone (thank goodness, I really need more swimming).  My town pool was closing for the summer so I got in a couple of great swims.  50 meter Olympic outdoor pool, basically just me, the blue sky and white clouds.  It was amazing.  So clean.  They don’t even put up lane lines for lap swim time because so few people come out for it.  I started each session with zig zagging my way up and down the lanes of the pool.  Just me and the lifeguard watching.  Then later a few more people showed.  There was never more than 4 people in the pool at any one time.  Next summer forward all my mail to the Town of Canton Public Pool.

My knee went out last week the day after I left the city and of course I was freaked out about it.  I was trying everything to get it to pop back into place.  Causing me more stress.  Nothing I could do would get it to go back into place.  It was swollen too. This is my old, old knee problem — way back to the start of triathlon.  My trick knee likes to pop out of joint and I can’t get it back in. Lots of swimming.  Frog kick seemed to help.  Frogged some more.   Rain came and washed out my ride.  Basically did not do much over the weekend.  Woke up this morning and my knee has been magically restored.  It feels perfect.  100% ready to go.  Not swollen.  In place.  A Miracle.  My mother says “see, nature was forcing you to slow down so your knee could fix itself.”

So everyone wants to know how am I feeling?  Let’s see, I think nauseous pretty much sums it up.  I was getting very nervous before the weekend and had to pull out some Pema Chodron tapes to calm myself down.  By the time Pema is done with me I’m laughing at myself.  How absurd.  What are you worried about?  It will be fun.  Don’t let your ego get in your way.  Everything is just as it is supposed to be.  La, la, la….   Mom says “don’t you think that our worrying about our problems is sometime the problem?”   Buddha Mom.

But then, as I drove back to NYC every mile I started to get more nervous.  WHOLEY CHAPSTICK!!  An Ironman on Sunday?  Uh, uh, uh…  Can we do a rewind?  Mulligan?  Is it too early to cry Uncle? No?  Can I just cry?

It’s not that I’m not prepared.  I have lists of lists and have bought everything I will need.  I shipped my bike, I have a plane ticket and a place to sleep.  I have my running shoes and an American Express card.  I have all the bare essentials covered.  If someone could just find me some courage, I’ll be all set.  “Oh pooh”, my [insert adjective here]  friends dismiss me.  If one more person says “you’ve run across the Sahara, you can do anything” I am going to bop them.  Yes I ran across the Sahara, BEFORE.  BEFORE.  I’m not the same.  I’m not as strong (yet I don’t feel unstrong).  I’m wogging into the unknown again.  According to one friend I am not allowed to whine or complain “just get it done!”  Yeah, Yeah, just get it done.  See what I mean?  I just don’t even believe myself.  I know me.  I know I will work hard.  I know I will get it done.  But I also know how painful an Ironman is when you are in great shape.  I don’t feel in great shape.   I know I’m in worse shape than previous years.  I know I have reasons but that doesn’t change my reality.  (Next friend — “oh shut up, you’re fine.  you do these things all the time.  it’s all mental.”  No.  NO. It’s not all mental!!!  It’s terribly physical.  Everyone should be very afraid for me!!!  Why is NOBODY but me WORRIED?!?!?  Geesh.  (Okay maybe my coaches are a little worried in that bystander-staring-at- a-train-wreck-about-to-happen-kind-of-way).  It’s all quite silly really — I laugh at my absurdity.

Ironically today one of my friends sent me a message asking me what I could tell her friend who is doing her first triathlon (at the age of 50) this weekend.  She’s nervous about the swim.  Will be her first open water.  I laughed to myself.  Who am I to be giving anyone advice about anything?  And yet, I am so forthcoming with advice.  It spilleth off my lips.  How unusual!

The swim.  First time?  Walk in.  Don’t get caught up in the commotion.  You are not worried about setting records here.  You are easing your body into the water.  I like to think of the water holding me and it is my ally, my friend.  I don’t think about getting through the water.  I think more about hanging out with the water.  (Okay, note here, I’m not a fast swimmer and that’s probably one reason right there.) 

If you find yourself hyperventilating, just slow down.  Slow down to a stop if you have to.  Get your breath under control.  You will make up the time once you are breathing normal again.  No breathy, no swimmy.  It may seem like hours before you get your breath back.  Reality?  Probably about 1 minute.  Then you get a stride and make up the time.  You can always speed up once you know you have the gas pedal under control. NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A GOOD EXHALE.  I’m adapting that line from Marlie who likes to say “never underestimate the power of a good lob.”

Whatever swim I am doing.  Sprint, Olympic, Half or Full, the swim always looks longer than advertised.  I have to swim to where?  Heck sometimes the 50 yard pool looks long.   I remind myself that it is just an optical illusion.  It is NEVER as far as it looks from shore.  I actually say that to myself  “it’s just an illusion.  Brad and Angelina are just fine.”

Then I start immediately in on some check points.  Thumbs entering the water first.  Catch and fingertips below the elbows.  Head down.  Kick.  Rotate.  Drive.  Make sure my right arm is driving in (it likes to droop and plop).  Roll to breath.  Start all over again.  [note, these are MY check points, everyone has their own — like some people have to remind themselves to breathe]  By the time I walk through about ten check points , I forget that I have to swim 2 more miles.  Usually I look up and think wow, is that the first buoy already?  Then I think chapstick, I have to swim another how many?  And I put my head back down and start all over again.  Thumbs, fingertips, head, kick, rotate, drive.

By the time I get to the halfway point I’ve totally forgotten about the check points and i”m usually already more involved with who and what is going on around me.  I’m looking for people to draft off of.  I am swearing at people with terrible form who seem to pass me with no problem.  (Oh my God, is that guy doing the breast stroke and passing me?  Is that a dog?)  I look for feet to follow and little bubbles.  Tiny bubbles….

By the time I get to the three quarters way I’m disappointed that the swim is coming to an end.  Already?   I’m just getting into a groove!!!    I’m ready for my close up Mr. DeMille.  Mr. DeMille?  Mr.?  Humph.  Where did everybody go?

As I see the shore I start mentally rehearsing what is coming next.  I do a few running kicks with my legs to remind them they are going to have to start running and riding.  I visualize myself running out of the water, unzipping wetsuit, thinking about what comes next in transition.  Before I know it I am on the bike thinking “where did that hour just go?” and “where did I leave my chapstick?” 

So that’s how I’m going to get through Ironman Canada too.  On Sunday, I’m not going to think about the 17 hours ahead of me.  I’m going to concentrate on my hands, my head, my feet, my pedals, my heart, my food….  And when I look up I’m going to say “where the heck did those 17 hours go?”   Then the alarm will go off at 4 a.m. and it will be time to grab breakfast and start the darn race.

So on a good note.  Guess who’s coming to Ironman?  No really, go ahead and guess.  Wrong!! 

It’s Sister Madonna Buder.  Oh yeah!!!  One of my long time idols.  She’s racing Ironman Canada.  Who the heck is Sister Madonna Buder?  I think the article below will tell the story so much better than I can.  But in a nutshell she is a nun who races Ironman.  She started in her late 40’s.  She is going to be 80 this year.  80!!!  There’s a lot of messages speaking to me in this article.  I don’t want to be the gushing groupie who goes running up to her during the race but I have to let her know that she inspires me to get out the door and work harder.  If I get to exchange a few words with Sister Buder it will make my trip.   It’s right up there with meeting Karen Smyers (who raced Timberman this weekend and came in 10th female pro at 49 years old, thank you very much!!!)  They make me want to do better.  I can do better.  I will do my best.

Namaste

http://www.trijuice.com/2010/07/iron_nun_sister_madonna_buder_prepares_to_race_ironman_canada_at_80.htm  (She gets swim questions too…)

p.s.   FAQ.  I love my friends.  They are the best.  Most of you know me better than I know me (and like to remind me of it — often).  Here are the answers to the questions I’ve been getting a lot this week from all walks of life.

Where are you staying?  5 blocks from the race start/finish.  Supposed to be a 10 minute walk.  No address.  Don’t send anything.

Where is it again?  Again?  Penticton, Canada in British Columbia.   All the way over THEEERREEE.

When is it?   Geesh, it’s this Sunday.  7 a.m. BC Canada time.  It will be 10 a.m. EST so you should be all done with your workout already.

Phone?  T-Mobile is charging me 60 cents a minute for calls.  If it’s important call, otherwise, wait til I get back.  Text messages cost me 20 cents per message but I have turned off data roaming ’cause that’s just ridiculous.  I don’t mind the 20 cents per message but not sure if they go through without data roaming.  You may not get through to me.  I will bring a laptop.  Hopefully I will find internet connection.  I already know you all wish me luck. 

Can I track you on Facebook?   God please no.  Please don’t announce to the world how I’m doing every five minutes and post unflattering pictures or numbers.  Isn’t it enough that I’m suffering already?  Here, I’ll give you a facebook update “I’m doing the best I can.”  I won’t be reading Facebook.  So you are not helping me to advertise to the world that I am out there with the crickets.  (Do they have crickets in Canada?)

Will you Twitter?  Really? C’mon none of you use twitter.  I know ’cause you weren’t on it this weekend when I was tracking Leadville.

How will I know how you are doing?    www.ironman.com  or wait until Monday.

Time Zone:  3 hours behind New York City.  Yes you have to stay up until 3 a.m. to watch me finish.  Or do like I would.   Go to sleep and check the results in the morning and just tell me you stayed up all night.  How am I going to know?

Who’s going to be there with you?  Just me and Peter a teammate.  He’s a little, well, how shall I put this?  Faster than me.  He’ll go home, have a massage, eat a nice dinner, read a book and if he feels like it come back out to the finish line.  Or he’ll just wait for me at the condo….

How long will it take you?  Ideally I would like 3 weeks but apparently they are only going to give me 17 hours.  I believe I will get my money’s worth.  I’m not sandbagging.  I’m pretty sure even my coaches will agree that it will be taking some work from the big guy upstairs to get me through.   Yes prayers accepted — gratefully.

When are you coming back?   I start drinking wine on Monday.  If I can find my flight I’ll come back on Wednesday, Sept 1st.  If not, well, who knows?

When can we celebrate?  Honestly I’m already booked for most of September.  I have to go to CT to help my Mom with some medical stuff.  I’m going to Kripalu.  Then back to CT for another operation for my Mom.  I’ll be back for my birthday.  October is wiiiiddeee open.

When’s your birthday?  September 26th

Are you still doing the Lighthouse Swim?   No.

Are you really doing Rocky Raccoon 50 miler?  Yes.  Sign up already.

So really, how are you?  No comment.

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8/15/10 Correction

Sorry I had Rose’s name wrong in yesterday’s blog.  It was Rose Pitinof, not Rose Pittman.  For anyone interested.  Here is the link to original article http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=1&res=9C04E1DC1131E233A25757C1A96E9C946096D6CF  Of interesting note, Rose did not make it on her first attempt to swim this route.

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8/14/10 Born to Do

Saturday.  I have observed in my life several people who take on amazing feats seemingly without  prior knowledge of  the required skill set.   I think the term most people use is “natural.”  I think it’s more like reincarnation or some variation of it. 

In high school I had a dear, dear friend Cindy, who remains to this day one of my tennis idols.  I started playing tennis when I was six.  I am a product of lessons.  Lessons, lessons, lessons.  I don’t play a decent game of tennis because it comes naturally to me.  I play a decent game of tennis (sometimes) because I have taken more tennis lessons and coaching sessions that I can count.  I was never tour material, I was just adequate club material.

I met Cindy in 9th grade.  I was surprised to find out she played tennis.  She didn’t play at any of the clubs where I played (and I played at every club in NorthWest CT).  She didn’t play on any of the regional teams.  I knew everyone.  I had a line of nemesises a mile long.  Basically I thought she couldn’t be any good if I didn’t know of her.  I asked her where she played and she said “against the wall at Simsbury High School.”  Bah, not worth my time.  But we went out partying one night and I said I would play her.

I’ll never forget the first time I played with Cindy.  She showed up in cutoff jean shorts and a t-shirt.  I had all white tennis togs from Talbots (which had a  tennis shop back then).  One thing bonded us immediately though — we both showed up with Bancroft Tennis Racquets.  Yes, we played with wooden racquets back then.  Cindy hit the ball and I was shocked.  She didn’t barrel it past me.  She hit it perfectly to me.  Over and over again.  No matter where I hit it, she would glide across the court and send the ball gracefully back to my racquet.  It was unbelievable.  I knew I was in the presence of someone who could be great.  She didn’t know it, but I knew it.  The next week I was hitting tennis balls with Cindy against the wall at Simsbury Hill School.  If that’s what it took to hit like that, I was going to do it until my racquet bled.  I stopped wearing matching tennis clothes and only wore my torn up jean shorts.   But I never hit the ball like Cindy did because I believe Cindy was Born to Do it. 

In my own family I have similar stories.  One of my older brothers is a world renowned Japanese scholar.   He’s written books in Japanese, he teaches in Japanese to the Japanese about Japanese art.  He never spoke a word of Japanese until his Junior year of college.  I took 4 semesters of French and all I got was my professor telling me he’d give me a C if I promised not to come back.  You don’t just grow up in CT and all of a sudden one day start speaking Japanese like it was your first language.    Unless of course, it really was your first language at one time and you were Born to Do it! 

I have another brother with the same kind of story.  Never heard of fencing before he went to college.  Sophomore year took it as an easy credit and played intramural.  Two years later he was regional champion.  Ten years later he was winning and placing in tournaments all over the world and ultimatelty played in the Olympics for the U.S.A.  He was welcomed with open arms in snobby fencing communities in France, Germany and Russia.  He lived amongst them as one of their own.  You don’t learn that.  You are Born to DO it!  (He even got a “fencer’s scar” when he was a little boy… Freaky weird.)

Me?  I don’t have any inborn skill.  I’m like my mother — a professional student.    We are kind of okay at a lot of things but not really stand out Born to Do just one thing.  I don’t think everyone is Born to Do something.  I just think there are some people who stumble into an arena and find the spotlight shining on them quickly.  Or they find an inner strength or muse to Inspire them to do something.  (Yes, I used the “I” word.)

Today I swam 2.4 miles and my fingers went numb and both of my calves got cramps.  Yesterday, my friend the Manhattan Mermaid swam 17 miles, yes you read that right 17 no decimal place, from East 26th street in Manhattan, down the East River, under the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, past Governor’s Island, down the coast of Brooklyn, under the Verrazano bridge and to Steeplechase Pier on Coney Island.  She swam.  She didn’t bike it (which would be an event for many a charity).  She didn’t run it (which would have been greater than any half marathon out there.)  She SWAM the whole freakin thing.  Not a relay.  Not a team event.  Not a single other swimmer in the entire ocean.  Just the Mermaid, her two arms and two legs, her husband in a kayak and a couple of guys in a big boat next to them directing traffic.  There’s a little story behind it.

I met Manhattan Mermaid (MM) doing Ironman ’08 (aka the year of the deluge — shoulda been a hint).  She was just like the rest of us.  Stumbled into triathlons.  No special athletic background but willing to put in the work.  Finished Ironman with desire to get better and through a series of events decided that she would explore swimming further.  (This is where I would offer it was already out of her control.  Destiny was pushing her somewhere.) She started to take swimming more seriously.  She is the one I wrote about that coordinated a team of swimmers to circumnavigate Manhattan while swimming.  That went off without a hitch.  Rockstars.  Meanwhile Queen Mermaid had read about a woman, Rose Pittman,  almost 100 years ago who did a famous swim from 26th street to coney island.  Mermaid decided to recreate the swim.  (Did she decide or was she Born to Do?  You decide.)

Months of planning.  Months of training.  Hiring boat captains.  Getting husband kayakafied.  Getting U.S. Coast Guard approval to attempt this feat.  Of course I was not officially invited to attend but she let one too many details slip and I knew the date and approximate time and set out to see if this thing was going to happen.  Basically I’m a big snoop.

I shot for 10 a.m. at 26th street.  One traffic barrier after another.  26th street was strangely cut off — police dividers.  Very strange — had nothing to do with the mermaid swim.  I got a cab to 23rd street and figured I would see a boat somewhere and then I could run to catch up (not forgetting Manhattan Island swim when they swam faster than I could run).  I start making my way up but the shore is blocked by buildings.  I see a security guard blocking an entrance and talk him into letting me into the building.  I have no idea if it will lead anywhere but I get toward the water.  It’s almost  10:45.  Guess what is right in front of me?  The BOAT.  With the Mermaid and the kayakified husband.  I look like a total tourista.  I have my binoculars, my cell phone, my camera, my backpack.  I’m jumping up and down.  I found them!!  Wholey Moley!!  I found them.  It was just the boat and them in the middle of the freakin East river.  I think they were surprised to find me.  I admitted to stalking.

My camera stinks but if you look closely, you’ll see the Mermaid’s arm coming up out of the water by kayak.

They see me and swim closer.

And then they just say, “Okay, let’s start.”  There was no gun.  Nobody yelling anything.  Just them.  They waved to me, said hello and started swimming down the freakin East River!

The Mermaid starts swimming and is going nowhere fast.  I’m looking at the water, the current is against her and she keeps stroking her arms  like she is in an endless pool.  She’s moving but it is very slowly.   I”m not sure she is going to finish.  How can you finish 17 miles when the first mile is taking an hour?  But she won’t quit.  I’m yelling and jumping up and the people on the runner path are asking me questions.  The parks department people are picking up trash by hand and they are moving faster down the river than the Mermaid.  “I know she is gonna make it ’cause that’s her husband and he loves  her and you are here supporting her, she’s gonna make it, I just know”  says one parks person.  “I dunno know” says the other, that’s a filthy river there!”  Thanks people.  I spent 1/2 a mile walking with them repeating the same thing over and over.

Beautiful Scene with the Williamsburg Bridge above her.  That little pink ball in the middle is her!!

One guy comes up and starts talking to me like we are colleauges.  “Well I’m sure she’s already studyied the tides and is going against the tide now to be able to go with the tide the rest of the way.”  He spoke with such authority that I thought he might be a crazy endurance swimmer too — or he could have been a typical New Yorker just offering his opinion on anything.

I was trying to recall all the prayers I learned at that camp up at Kripalu.  Mother Earth, Father Sun?  Grandmother wind?  I couldn’t remember who was who.  I don’t think we ever learned who the ocean was never mind the East River.   Cousin? Grand Aunt?   Arggh, come on, everyone, help out.

Then the Mermaid’s unofficial press person showed up (he didn’t know the Mermaid, he just adopted her from the shore).  He lived down lower East Village across from the Domino Sugar factory.  When he was a little boy (probably about 50 years ago) his father swam across the river to the Domino Sugar Factory.  They had picked his father up on the other side and drove him back.  It was family legend to this day.  He was so excited about the Mermaid he followed her down to the Brooklyn bridge on his bike and from then on when anyone asked me about the swimmer I just pointed to him and said “there’s her press agent he will tell you everything.”  He had it all down (because I had told him).  He knew Rose’s name,  the year Rose swam, the number of miles, why this was an achievement.  I have to admit I was really impressed but at the same time I just wanted to get away from him.

One of my favorite lines on the East river was when someone exclaimed “Oh my God, It’s a WOMAN!”  Then everyone came running to the fence to look.  You mean to tell me that if it was a man swimming they wouldn’t have been shocked?  But the fact that it was a woman made it special?  Really?

About 10 people asked about how safe the water was.  There was a weird device around 18th or so a bunch of buoys and ropes that seemed like a net collecting garbage in the water.  I was grateful that the garbage was being contained. 

Two  little girls (maybe 2 and 4) were mesmerized.  They were cheering for the Lady swimmer.  I told them her name so they could cheer.  The older little girl said her own name was Catherine and that she knew how to swim too and one day she wanted to be a swimmer like the lady in the water.  So cute but I wanted to run and find her mother and warn her now to start an endurance sport fund.  It will make college look cheap.

When I got to the Brooklyn Bridge the mermaid gang was on the other side of the river ready to take the sharp turn past Governor’s Island.  My cue to go get my car.  A van was chasing me down the street honking.  Three guys who wanted to know who the swimmer was and what was the story? Uh oh, a celebrity was being born.

For time reference, I took a cab to midtown, I ordered lunch, I had  40 minute conference call and I then I got into my car and drove to Brooklyn.  I ended up driving around and finally found a parking space.  When I got to the boardwalk I was shocked to find that I was smack at the SteepleChase Pier.  I had never been there.  I had never heard of it.  My GPS did not know about it.  But I somehow managed to get to exact point where the Mermaid was supposed to finish. I guess I was Born to Be there. 

4 p.m.  Mermaid had been swimming for 5 hours already.

Now I had a game of sit and wait.  I walked to the end of the boardwalk.  I had no idea there was a section of coney island totally private.  COMBED beach.  Yep, combed.    Pristine.  Nobody on it.  Granted it was a Friday afternoon but still not a footprint on the beach.  Why did I not bring my bathing suit?!?!? I walked and sat and waited.

I was nervous.  I started to think about the distance.  How could a human being do this?  This was not possible.  I started to think of the mileage.  This is not a mile (a goal of many people).  This is not an Ironman 2.4 miles (plenty for me, thank you.)  This was SEVENTEEN MILES.  I started to worry.  I had a walkie talkie that Mermaid’s hubby had given me at the start when he saw me.  I spoke into it.  “Rumble Girl calling Manhattan Mermaid, do you read me?”  The boat responded “We are passing under the Staten Island Bridge.”  The Staten Island Bridge?  Does he mean the Verrazano?   The next hour was long.  I paced back and forth waiting.  Looking through my binoculars.  And then finally I saw the tip of the mast of their boat.  She’s coming!!!

Granted just because you see a swimmer a mile away doesn’t mean she is going to get to you that quickly.  Now I see there are a lot of waves and the ocean is choppy.  Chapstick.   It only took me 30 minutes leisurely walk from the pier to the end of the boardwalk.  She would be able to swim that fast if the waves would calm down. If you look closely at this picture the kayak and the Mermaid are dead center.  Half way between the red buoy and the guy fishing off the jetty.

 

Now it was just a matter of following her to the pier.  But the waves were getting choppier and I could see she was swimming harder.  She was throwing her arms up and over the waves.  Oh my God,  what strength that must take.  She was over 7 hours in.  Seven hours of swimming?  Are you kidding me?

The beach security tried to whistle for them to come in.  It was 7 p.m., past allowed swimming time.  I laughed.  You go ahead and whistle all you want, they are not going to come in because you are blowing a plastic whistle.  I told them they had a coast guard permit and they all shut up.  Now they were interested and everyone on the beach kept asking the same question.  How old is she?  I was getting p.o.d.  How old is she?  Why would that matter?  Then I said “She’s 40.”   Whooaaaa they all exclaimed.  Like 40 was old.  But I’m looking at them and they are all about 20.  So I guess when you are 20, 40 is a big deal.  And who knows?  Maybe when they are 40 they will think about setting some goals because of the day they saw the Manhattan Mermaid swim to Coney Island?

When she reached the pier the fishing people on the pier lifted their fishing lines so she could swim in and then they all clapped and cheered.  The boat honked its horn and told everyone she had swum 17 miles.  8 hours and a few minutes (almost identical to Rose Pittman).  Then she turned around and swam back to the boat.   That was it.  No party.  Just swim back to the boat and get in.  She waved a couple of times to the new-found fans.

I don’t want to take anything away from the Mermaid’s swim. I believe it was all her.  She put in the training and the planning and executed it all perfectly.  But at the same time I have to wonder if we are sometimes “adopted” by a memory.  Part of me believes that Rose really wanted her to finish.  Part of me believes that Rose was there swimming stroke to stroke with the mermaid.  They finished in almost the same amount of time — ~8 hours.  I truly believe that there are only a handful of people that could finish it.   And I firmly believe that there was only one other person who was Born to Do it — the Manhattan Mermaid.

Rumble Mermaid, Rumble.

Namaste

I am stealing these two pics from Kayak husband.

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8/12/10 Dress Rehearsal

Thursday.  This morning I did a dress rehearsal for Canada.  I suited up my bike with race day bottles, bento box.  Tina is all prettified with her new decals.  Wore my aero helmet (dweeb alert), outfit I will be racing in, bike shoes with the new cleats I put on last night (2 freakin hours to get the old ones off!).  Got to the park 2 minutes late 5:17.  Team had already started the workout.  I took off trying to catch them figuring they would just be warming up.  I didn’t see a soul.  I ended up doing a 20 minute for my first loop of the park which was not terrible and still saw nobody.  Finished 3 loops plus a lower loop and on my way out of the park saw a couple of the fastie fasts.  Figured I wouldn’t have kept up with them anyway.  Oh well, bye I guess….

Now Tina is getting packed up to go on her drive to Canada.  I am dropping her off tomorrow (Velo nice bike shop taking her 3 days early) and leaving for CT.  Right now I’m going over lists, race plans, what gear goes in which bag.  So much stuff.  I’m using Tribike transport to send my bike.  I get to send one bag with my bike but it can’t weigh more than 25 pounds.  Once this bag is packed and Tina on her way, no turning back now!

For my final rides I’ll use Sylvia up in CT.  She’s all decked out in her Lake Placid finery so about time she get’s some mileage in.  I have to do a 2.4 mile swim on Saturday with a 4-5 mile run.  On Sunday I do a 50 mile bike with 6 mile run.  Then that’s the end of the big workouts.  Everything else will be shorter.

Just got an ad for a new book “Race Week: The Final 7 Days to Your Best Triathlon (Ironman)”  I can’t believe they sent this out two weeks before my Ironman.  So of course I had to be the dumb sucker who bought it.  I’ll post a review next week when I get it.  What secrets could they possibly reveal that I don’t already know?  I just paid $12 to find out. 

A lot of friends with big races coming up.  A lot of nerves flying around.  I guess that goes with the territory.  I wish there was something I could say to help people down off the ledge.  All I can think of is Stay Present.  Appreciate the feelings you have.  Being nervous is part of the journey.  I will tell my Coach Earl story from year 1 IM.

Picture it, Lake Placid 2007, first Memorial Training camp for me.  Day one we have to ride back from Wilmington.  There’s a terrible head wind.  I’m going 6 mph. I’m the last one back to camp.  Then Coach Earl says “so maybe you were going 6 mph on your way back in the wind.”  (Gasp, how did he know?)  “Try to look at that with no judgment.   Just say to yourself ‘so this is how it feels to be going uphill in a headwind.’   Then also note the times when you are flying down the hill with the wind on your back and say ‘so this is how it feels to be going downhill with the wind at your back.’ ”    I’ve taken that advice over and over again.  So this is what it feels like to be coming back to running.  So this is what it feels like mile 2 into my swim or mile 80 of my bike or mile 2 of my run.  No judgment.  And when getting ready for a race it’s the same thing.  Ah, so this is what it feels like to get ready for my event.  I have butterflies in my stomach.  I’m worried I’ll fall flat on my face.  I’m worried I didn’t do enough.  I’m worried I’ll do great and it will never happen again.  I’m worried I’ll come in second to Nancy Pelosi!  (Old joke).  Whatever it is, just observe it.  You are not the feeling, you have the feeling.  You are the observer.   It will all turn out exactly the way it is supposed to. That’s all I have for you.  Smile and be grateful.

Namaste

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8/11/20 Plan of Attack

Wednesday.  My schedule has changed at the last minute.  Mom’s surgery postponed until September.  Now I’m refitting all the things that had to fall off the schedule and trying to get them all back in.  I got another ride in Central Park this morning.  I had a complete professional overhaul done on my bike.  It feels slower.  Yeah, it’s the bike, not me.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  (Okay, okay, by loop three the “bike” was loosening up a little.)

I feel like I hit taper as if  I was running 10 miles an hour and accidentally hit the wall.  Workouts are suddenly short.  1 hour run?  I kept turning the paper over looking for more notes.  Optional bike?  Weird.  I will get a swim in today before I head to CT for my final weekend workout before Tina (my bike) gets on the bus to Canada.

So how am I feeling after Colorado?  A little tired but okay.  Nothing too terrible.  I’m getting my stuff together.  I’m not nervous anymore about Canada.  It’s going to be what it will be.  I will just go and try my best and what happens happens.  I am looking forward to seeing that part of the continent.  Smile.  “It’s all good.”   (Quoting Stella’s brother the rock climbing guru.)

One of the problems with endurance sports is you have to start planning so far in advance.  I’m not even done with Canada and I’m looking ahead to what I want to do next year.  My lists are long.  (Yes I have lists of things I want to do.)  One one list I have a bunch of triathlons that I want to do.  Alcatraz, Wildflower, Rev 3 CT, Vineman.  On the other list sit the desert runs with racing the planet.  Specifically I am torn between the Atacama Crossing in Chile and Gobi March in China.  I keep coming back to the Gobi desert.  I think it is the right time (June).  It seems to be calling my name.  The adventure looks fantastic.  But if I do Gobi, I will be pretty much out of any half ironmans for the year because I learned from doing the Sahara that it becomes impossible to put in long bike rides when you are running that many hours/miles per week. Full Ironman 100% out of the question.  Not interested.

So although I am leaning strongly toward the Gobi I haven’t made my decision.  What I did decide is to do the Rocky Racoon endurance trail run in February.  It felt like a very good fit for me.  They have a 50 and 100 mile option and I signed up for the 50.  Yes, you read it here first.  I signed up already. I’m looking forward to getting back to some long trail running.  I will be free to come and go between CT and NY as I like.  Ironman training was a good prep so I’m really ready to start training now.  (I don’t call this last year training as much as recovery).  Regardless of what I decide to do later in 2011, Rocky Raccoon will fit with either.  If I want to continue on and do the Gobi then by February I’ll be ready to slap on my backpack and keep on running.  If I want to do more triathlons I’ll have a good fitness/running base.  My plan is to continue with two days of biking as cross training so I won’t lose all of my biking skills like I did with the Sahara.

The way I pick events is by how they feel.  I’ve heard really great things about the Rocky Raccoon run.  It’s relatively flat, it’s trails, it’s in Texas in February.  All sounds good to me.  The internal tuning fork rings true.  I can concoct a few endurance training camps of my own and talk some friends into tagging along.  Sounds like a perfect plan to take me through the fall and winter.  (I’m already imagining Fall runs through the leaves and connecting the dots on the Metacomet trail in CT.)

No, I’ve not signed up with anyone to do the run with me, but I have put out a few “suggestions” to people who might enjoy the challenge. This is the link to the race Rocky Racoon

Of course I have some other stuff to throw in there.  Back to some tennis, yoga, pilates, tai chi.  Too many things but I’ll just try to add a little of each.  Not to mention the Himalayas, Tibet, Machu Pichu…. oy, where am I going to find the time?  And the money?

Life is good.  Life is full.  Now if I can just get my desk cleaned I can get out of here.

Namaste

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8/9/10 Wild West Wowie

Monday.  Well all I can say is Wow, Wow, Wow.  Just got back from doing the Wild West Relay in Colorado this weekend and I feel like I have been gone for a month.  So much to process.  Some really hard parts, some really ugly parts, some really fun parts, a lot of love and a TON of adventure.   This weekend will remain one of those top adventures in my memory.

It all started because my friend Stella was turning 40 and she wanted to do something fabulous.  She came up with the idea of getting some friends together to do this relay.  I have to say I was really surprised when she included me in the original guest list.  Sure we’ve had a lot of fun training and doing races and stuff but this was a team race and let’s face it, I’m the back of the back of the pack.  Add onto that the fact that I’m still struggling with my health, I had to admit I didn’t think I was the best candidate for the job.  But she insisted that it was going to be for fun (I’ve heard that before).  I think I was the first person who had their flight booked for Colorado.

Stella was super supportive and gave me first pick which legs of the race I wanted to do.  I chose the runner position that added up to the “easiest” rank.  One hard, one medium and one easy.  I know enough now to know that “easiest” rarely means “easy” in races.  C’mon, we are running across the Colorado mountains, what part was going to be “easy?”   We had 12 people on our team.  11 really fast people and me.  Even though I knew everyone and they were all the nicest people in the world I couldn’t shake the knowledge that I was really out of my league.  Who knew that when our coaches say “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun” that it actually can be fun?

So we started on Thursday.  A bunch of us arrived in Denver about the same time and Stella told us to dress for some afternoon fun.  I thought she meant shopping (a common interest we enjoy).   She meant mountain climbing.  The real kind of mountain climbing with harnesses and everything!!  First thing we did was hike up to the mountain where everyone would strap on a harness and attempt to climb the face of a huge rock (boulder?  cliff? I don’t know what you call it.)  Stella’s brother is an experienced climber and teaches climbing so he was there to give advice and make sure nobody fell.  There was no way in this life time you were going to get me to do that.  I thought the hike up (rocky mountain path) was plenty for me and I had fun watching the others strap in and try to climb up.   It looked hard and challenging and not for me thank you very much.  I have a short list of things I just never have to do in my life and rock climbing is one of the items on that list.  Maybe some day.  Nah, never mind, maybe never.

Once the rest of the team arrived we all headed to the hotel to get checked in and get some sleep because we were starting to race at 7 a.m.  This was a relay race which meant we had 12 people divided into 2 vans (A & B).  The first van would go first with six runners.  One runner at a time would get out and run their “leg.”  Their van would drive ahead to the next exchange spot where the runner would hand off the little yellow Livestrong wrist band to the next runner.  While van A was doing their legs, Van B with the other six runners went to the grocery store and got some supplies and then headed ahead to exchange area number 6 where the runners in Van B would take over the running job and the Van A runners would find food and drive ahead.

This entire event took an enormous amount of planning and our fearless birthday girl left no detail unturned.  Our schedules and to-do lists were all laid out for us in little folders and personal bags filled with amazing goodies.  Best swag bag ever!!!  She had everything covered for us from stainless steel water bottles to body glide and sunscreen to snacks and shampoo! To top it all off she had designed an amazing team running shirt for each of us with little figures of each of us running up the mountain.  It was the cutest thing EVER.  The whole planning of the event was just over the top.

I was runner number 11.  To say that I was nervous was an understatement.  I was so worried I was going to let the team down and ruin Stella’s birthday.  The first six runners had blown through our predicted times.  They were something like 45 minutes ahead of schedule despite the heat and fact that only about 4 people on the team were acclimated to the altitude.  (It’s harder to breathe in the mountains).  I was glad we were ahead of schedule (because that meant I could use some of that time to make sure I made the cutoff for our team.)    But then I was worried that I might jeopardize our team doing well.  There was also the focus factor.  In a regular race when you are running for your own result you don’t have everyone sitting there waiting just for you.    All of my recent runs had a been a crap shoot — some okay, some terrible, none great.  Now all these fastie fasts who were blowing through the course would be sitting around for yours slowly.  To say I was nervous was an understatement.

The scenery was just amazing.  Everyone in the van kept laughing at me because I kept exclaiming “look everyone, look at that, we’re in COLORADO!”  One direction was more beautiful than the next.  Majestic was all I could think.  Our friend Eric said it best when he said “the sky is just bigger out here.”  I know exactly what he meant.   Everything was wide open for miles with more mountains everywhere we looked.  Breathtaking.  Like driving through a painting.

Stella passed mile 40 during her run.  Everyone (all the runners and supporters) came out to mile 40 to cheer her up and “over the hill” to celebrate her birthday.   They made a huge sign and we all stood and cheered to welcome her into her 40’s.  Great fun.  Great spirit.  A lot of love out there.  She seemed happy (when she wasn’t thinking about the pain of the hill she was running up and over.)  We were all so very happy for her.  What a great way to celebrate.  Not much time for festivities.  We had to get ahead to the next exchange to get ready for the next runner.

When we got to the exchange where I would take off running I was not happy to see that I had to start out running uphill.  (Okay, now that the race is over I see that is a funny statement because MOST of the race was uphill).  Everyone coming in was commenting on the increasing temperature and it was getting hot.  My first leg was to be 4.8 miles and was labeled “Hard” by the race directors.  (Race legs were labeled, Easy, Medium, Hard and Very Hard.)  The description was “through the foothills past mountain homes and ranches.”  My elevation gain was only 759 BUT I was starting at 7,747 feet and climbing to 8,270 feet.  That was altitude that I had never run in.

Sun was out but in the distance were some rain clouds.  My friend and assistant coach Dennis was there and asked me if I wanted to bring a rain jacket.  I said no because even if it rained it was hot enough out that I wouldn’t get cold.  I would be fine getting a little wet.  The clouds  were on the horizon so I wasn’t too worried about it.  I was wearing dry fit fabrics and I had a spare shirt and shorts in the van (we only carried what we needed for the race in the van, the rest of our clothes and stuff were in a truck that we would get at the end.)  Besides, it’s not like I’ve never run in the rain before (talk about an understatement!)

Within 5 minutes I was out of breath running up the hill.  It wasn’t even steep, I was just huffing and puffing.  I was very nervous and attributing most of my being out of breath to that.  Even though everyone kept saying “don’t be nervous, we don’t care how fast you go” I didn’t want to be the one to bring everyone down.  Within five more minutes the sky was dark.  Within ten minutes it was raining — hard.  It was like someone threw a blanket over my head.  It was Lake Placid 2008 deluge all over again.  In five seconds I was soaked from head to toe. The van came back to check on me.  I gave them the high sign.  I’m okay, wet but okay, they took off to wait for me at the next exchange point.

There was a wide patch of dirt path next to the asphalt road.  I had chosen to run on the dirt over the road figuring it would be easier on my knees and it had been nice until the rain turned it into an instant mud slide.  Within a five minutes there was about 2 inches of water on the ground making the dirt muddy and unrunnable.  I think this is what they mean by flash flood.

Then I started to feel a little pin pricks on my arm.  More on my face.  Then I felt them on my chest through my shirt.  Then pricks all over my body.  What the heck?  I’m looking at the rain and realize it’s not rain.  It’s ice.  What?!?!?  It’s a freaking hail storm.  Pelting me with these tiny little ice rocks.  It didn’t hurt that much it was just like someone was taking tiny little darts and throwing them at me.  I can’t say it was exactly pleasant either. I was more worried about the thunder I heard rumbling in the distance.  I remember in the race book they said in case of lightning to jump into any active van or get out of the storm.

I had to laugh.  I mean really laugh.  I looked up at the heavens and said once again “you have a really sick sense of humor.”  Wasn’t it enough that I was nervous about this?  Wasn’t it enough that my health has been iffy this year and I didn’t even know if I could do this leg on my best day?  You want me to run through a freakin’ hail storm at 7,500 feet altitude UPHILL?  The combination struck me as so ridiculous that I just had to laugh.  And then that’s when something really strange happened.  I relaxed.  I realized there was no point fighting the universe.  What’s that quote?  “Man plans and God laughs?” No matter how bad you think you have it, there is always more it can toss at you.

I guess because I laughed and then relaxed and then I got a little downhill I was actually able to start running better.  The rain was coming down hard and the hail was pummeling me.  Cars were pulling over to wait out the storm.  It was absolutely, 100% ridiculous.  You couldn’t make this stuff up.   I just kept trucking.  Now I hit another uphill and I got up it without stopping!  Okay Universe, this is how you want to play it?  BRING IT!!  I’m not stopping and I’m going to finish this leg no matter what you throw out here.  The harder it rained and hailed, the harder I ran and the more I was smiling.

That’s when it hit me.  Not the ice, the message.  The Universe wasn’t trying to punish me, it was trying to show me something.  I wasn’t fainting, I wasn’t exhausted, I wasn’t weak.  It was throwing all of this at me and I was still doing it.  I got it.  I got it.  I am strong enough again.  I can do this.  The rain was not a punishment, it was a blessing.  The hail was not to trying to weaken me, it was to show me how much of my endurance I had reclaimed.  This was huge!  All of a sudden every little ice prick was welcomed.  I get it. I understand.  I opened my arms and welcomed it all and lifted my face to the sky.  Then I got pummeled with a billion little bits of ice and put my head back down.

The van came back to check on me again.  They cracked the windows an inch and asked if I was okay.  I was overwhelmed with the message from the universe and I just yelled back to them “I wouldn’t have it any other way!”  They gave me some cheers and kept going.  I meant what I said.  I really wouldn’t have had it any way.  I’m sure they just thought I was a nut ball but how do you explain to people that one of the reasons I do these adventures is because out there in the hail storm I found a little piece of myself that was lost a long time ago.  I’m running the planet to pick up my pieces.

The last mile of my 4.8 miles was too steep for me to run. I had to power walk it.  But I was keeping up with two runners ahead of me who were jogging it.  I was just doing the best I could.  I was determined. During the mile the rain disappeared and the sun slowly came out.  By the time I hit the exchange point everyone was cheering me in and there wasn’t a drop of rain in the sky.   It was like the hail storm never happened.  The only proof was me wringing out my running skirt and having a gallon of water come pouring out.

I changed out of my soaked clothes and we kept on going.  Each runner doing their bit and enduring their tortures because the course was just filled with them.

When our group finished our six legs we drove ahead to the next van exchange spot.  Stella had rented two cabins for us to crash in while we waited for the other group to arrive.  We got there at 7 p.m. grabbed a little food and fell asleep until 10:30 when we got up and started hustling cause the other group were blazing through their leg and we were ahead of schedule.  11 p.m. they came in looking for beds and showers and we were back in the van and running again through the night.

Race rules stated any women running in the dark at night could have someone run with her.  I chose Dennis to run with me.  He’s a good friend and a coach and he knows I don’t run fast.  Plus he’s an ultra runner now and ultra runners don’t mind doing run/walks.  People who run shorter distances don’t usually go for the run/walk but I figured he’d be used to it since he was training to run 100 difficult miles solo in two weeks time.  2:30 a.m. and it was my turn to go.  Dennis and I put on our headlamps and headed out into the dark to run my second leg which was 4.9 miles and labeled “moderate”  Flat with some rolling hills. Total elevation gain was only 361 ft and we had actually dropped to under 7,934 elevation which is still ridiculously high.

I demonstrated to Dennis my running system of stopping, sipping, smiling and scootching (see previous blog post).  We stuck to a 4 minute run 1 minute walk unless we started going up a hill when I couldn’t breath any more.  It kind of felt like someone was squeezing my lungs.  I didn’t need a heart rate monitor to tell me when I had to stop — lack of oxygen did that just fine.   It was great having Dennis with me.  Only one runner passed us in the hour we were out there  and if he hadn’t run with me I would have been in the dark all by myself.  It wasn’t as epic as my first leg but I was grateful that I was able to do it and keep going.  It was really kind of cool running in the Colorado night.  The moon was spooky cool and there were so many stars out it felt like you could put out your hand and grab one.

We had one more runner in our van to finish before we could pull over into the Sage Meadow and park the van and take a nap while we waited for the other van to catch up to us for exchange.  The Sage meadow was amazing.  It was a huge field filled with wild sage.  Some people thought the smell was overwhelming but I just loved it.  I couldn’t get enough of the smell.  A couple of people pulled out sleeping bags and some were sprawled out in the van.  I couldn’t sleep a wink.  I was wide awake so I went for a nice long walk with Suzanne, an old teammate.  We walked and talked through the sage meadow and I just loved it, I could have walked for days but we figured we should save some of our strength.  I was having some difficulty breathing — coughing a little too much and I had to borrow Suzanne’s inhaler.  I didn’t bring mine because frankly I hadn’t needed it in so long.  I pack it every time and I never use it.  This time I forgot to pack it.  No worries Suzanne let me use hers a couple of times.  It seemed to help a little.

I wish I could have slept. I  kept trying but I just couldn’t get into REM.  I was feeling fatigued and hungry.  We didn’t have any real food.  We were now all living off of  snacks that Stella had provided in the van.  We had a cooler and I should have bought more stuff to put in it when we stopped at Whole Foods the day before.  I’ll know better for next time.  I didn’t want another pretzel or peanut butter cracker.  A church group came out and had set up a griddle in the field and were selling pancakes.  That didn’t look too appetizing to me.

I saw Lynne my friend who did MDS with me and she’ll be doing Leadville with Dennis.  She’s a nurse and I told her about needing the inhaler.  She said not to worry, people in her van were sucking on their inhalers and that pretty much everyone out there was having difficulty breathing.  A lot of headaches going around too.  I had popped about 6 tylenol in the last 24 hours.

The first group had started to slow down on their runs.  I heard they were struggling now too.  Steep mountain passes, a couple were throwing up.  We were getting into really rough territory but they were all gutting it out.  The hard part about this race is not just the running, the terrain and the altitude.  It’s also the waiting and the lack of sleep and dying for a real meal and a bed.  Oh yeah, and the need for oxygen.  But through all of that, everyone seems in a really good mood.   It was strange.  Nobody was getting cranky.  Still lots of laughter when the van is moving.  Everyone was chipping in and doing whatever little thing they could to help one another.  It really was a great group of people and I felt very blessed to be included.

As the day wore on I was getting more and more tired and hungry.  We were driving up rabbit ear’s pass (the Continental Divide) and we watched Dennis run up this most difficult leg of the run like it was a Sunday jog. It might have been the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  A really great runner is like a dancer — graceful and smooth and flowing.  I resolved that I would become a hill runner this fall.  To be able to do that — to run up a mountain without having to stop and to run faster than I could ever sprint downhill (he ran the entire Mountain pass in sub 8 minute miles!)  this one vision stands out for me.  How a human being could do that boggles my mind.  Some people are born to do this. The rest of us…. well… we try.

Finally it was time for my last leg.  I just wanted it to be over.  I was exhausted.  It was 1:30 in the afternoon.  We had started at 7 a.m. the day before.  I was beyond needing sleep.  I needed food, sleep, a shower, a conk on the head.  I wasn’t worried about my last leg.  It was labeled “easy” and it was going downhill from about 7,000 feet to 6,764 feet.  Downhill I can do downhill.  Let’s just get this sucker over with.

Of course I had to go up a little hill before I could go down.  I was sucking for air immediately.  The sun was fierce.  There was no humidity so I couldn’t really tell the temperature.  Maybe 90?  I was breathing hard right out of the box.  I was tired but sleep-deprived tired not systemically-sick tired.  Just keep going 4.3 miles you can do this. 4.3 miles is NOTHING.  But I couldn’t.  I couldn’t breath.  The air would not come in.  I would stop and walk and I still couldn’t breath.  There was zero shade.  I was out on a road with not a tree in sight.  Just telephone polls.  I could barely even run downhill.  Unbelievable.  Then I saw the telephone polls.  Okay just run 2 telephone polls and walk one.  Within steps it felt like someone had put a plastic bag over my head.  I was gasping for air.  This was not good.

I saw the van waiting for me to check on me.  They offered me more water.  I took it.  I had drunk almost a full bottle in 2 miles.  2 miles and I needed assistance?  Oh wow.  I had dumped a little on my head because I thought I was over heating.  “I can’t breathe” I told Jasmine, one of our support runners.  “It’s okay, just walk.”  “I can’t breathe walking either.”  I said.  “So I might as well just suck it up and get it done.”   I kept trying to run.  One foot felt like a mile.  I was sucking for air so hard it was like doing an ab workout.

Finally the finish line in sight.  I see Suzanne.  I motion that I need the inhaler.  Windpipe was closing.  I’m wheezing.  I cannot breath.  I pass off the band to David who takes it to run the final leg in.  I need air. Someone give me air.  Suzanne comes running up with her inhaler.  I take three puffs.  In a minute I can breathe again.  I will NEVER, never, never, NEVER go to a race of any distance without my inhaler again.  Over the next 24 hours so many people tell me they take their inhaler even if they don’t think they’ll need it.  I’ll make sure I have it for Canada.  If I bring it, I probably won’t need it.

We finished around 3:30 with an overall pace of 9:30.  I didn’t even stop to calculate how my slow running had brought down the team average.  I really don’t think it mattered.  We were all happy to be finished and it was a successful weekend all around.  Now it was time to party and celebrate Stella’s birthday the way most people celebrate with a glass of champagne and piece of birthday cake.

Everyone was so excited to get back to the hotel to shower and order some real food.  I broke my “fast” and had a couple of beers.  There was no question we all deserved it.

It was an amazing weekend.  From the incredible vistas, the great people, the amazing organization by Stella, the well-wishers and obvious love everyone had for her was so heart-warming.  Not a single bad-apple in the barrel.  The race was an amazing experience and for as hard as it was I would absolutely go back and do it again.  I am blessed to be able to do these adventures and to share with such incredible people.

Now onto Canada.  Maybe a nap first.

Namaste

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