International Women’s Day: Nevertheless, She Persisted

We celebrate holidays because they allow us to celebrate our values and achievements.

Consider Fourth of July. This is a pretty big deal for Americans, given our values of independence and freedom. It’s a time to commemorate those values – and to watch fireworks and eat barbecue, of course.

For over 100 years, March 8 has been marked as International Women’s Day to commemorate the value and celebrate the benefit that women bring to our lived experiences.

Why?

Because we value women and the contributions they make to society. We realize that the success of any society – of any world order – is dependent upon equality. Without it, women cannot contribute to the best of their potential. I mean, half of the population has got some pretty cool ideas and experiences.

In the United States, the movement toward equality has created opportunities. Personally, I would not be the woman I am if it were not for the work and persistence of the women who came before me to ensure that I have the right to vote, to pursue any career choice I choose, to live independently, to control choices about my body, to be perceived as an equal.

On this day, I celebrate the women who have fought for women’s rights in history and continue to do so today because equality is a value that deserves celebration and commemoration.

But, this day isn’t only about our political rights. It’s also about celebrating the “everyday” women in our lives, like Beatrice Simone, my “Nana”, and Frances Schwartz, my “Mom-Mom”. Both of these women were strong matriarchs, who taught by example. While their styles were different, they showed me how to embrace a strength of mind, a persistence of will and a determination of spirit. All of which have been good lessons for my success in endurance sport.

Read the rest of this entry »

Asking the Right Questions: Be a Student of Your Sport

John and I after crossing the finish line of our first marathon. We look just a little bit different 😉

John and I were pretty clueless when we first started in endurance sport. How do we train for a triathlon or marathonWhat type of fueling works best, what gear do we need? And that list of questions went on and on and on.

We aren’t the type of people who like to revel in ignorance, so we asked questions of more experienced people.

A lot of them.

We bought books, subscribed to magazines, scoured the web, went to seminars, hired coaches, eventually became coaches ourselves – everything we could do to learn as much as we could to prepare ourselves for the demands of training and a successful race day.

We’ve learned a lot since we first started – and most importantly, we’ve learned that you cannot stop learning. The human body and mind is a complex and dynamic system.

Once you think you’ve got your needs dialed in, things change. And, then they change again. And then science produces new discoveries about the human body.

And, and, and – there’s always something new to know. That’s what makes endurance sport so interesting – and challenging.

Now as a coach, I continue to learn about the body from the complexities of the athletes that I work with. Each body and mind – while sharing some general characteristics – is unique. Science is useful – as it gives us upper and lower ranges of what is “normal”. But, the thing about “normal” is that it’s based on a statistical average – which is actually a very small sliver of the full population. (Side *geek* note: I have a colleague who teaches Health Communication, and she has a fascinating lecture on how medical and statistical norms serve as a way to discipline our bodies and actions.)

A good example of the limitations of statistical averages is heart rate formulas based on age. These guidelines don’t match most people I coach. I have athletes who are exactly the same age with lactate threshold heart rates that are as much as 15 beats apart. I have older athletes with max heart rates well above my younger athletes. And, yes, I have some athletes that fit within the “norm” – as you’d expect. So much for the generalizable usefulness of formulas and averages.

This doesn’t mean that the science is unimportant – but it does mean you need to apply the knowledge we have in a way that best suits your individual situation – body, mind and lifestyle. To some extent, we are all an N = 1.

We need to be students of our sport and our bodies.

Throughout the interwebs, you’ll see many discussions centering around questions related to the “what” of training and racing. These are questions that focus on what types of workouts or training schedules are good/bad for specific race types and distances. The answers to these questions are frequently based on general averages – not a specific understanding of your situation.

For example,

  • What type of training volume do I need to complete to finish X race?
  • What kinds of workouts should I be doing if I want to get stronger and faster?
  • What should I eat during my workouts and racing?
  • What type of periodization should I use: traditional or block?
  • At what intensity should I swim/bike/run?

We’ve all asked these questions. To be clear: these “what” questions are an important starting point, but the answers to these questions could vary wildly depending upon who you ask.

For example, if we ask one person how much training volume is needed to complete an Ironman, that person might tell us that we need an average training volume of 20 hours a week, while another person may say 12 hours a week.

Who’s right?

Both answers can be correct. To determine which might work for you, the “what” needs to be followed up with questions related to why. For example, why and under what sorts of conditions might a higher or lower volume be effective for certain types of athletes? To what extent do the specific training sessions differ in a low or high volume plan – and why?

Asking questions related to why we should train in certain ways helps you to be a critical consumer of the copious information that exists – both on the popular web, as well as more academic sources.

Even in the science, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to optimal training adaptations. If there were, we’d all just do that one thing. If you read enough studies, you’ll notice that as the sample type and size gets more and more diverse – so do the results. Some key examples here include the general differences between male and female athletes, older and younger athletes, or athletes trained for one type of sport versus those trained for another.

So, how can you become a student of your sport and body to ensure you are training optimally? There are many things you can do, but here are my top tips. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m Back: 2017 HITS Naples 70.3 Race Report

Lil Diesel

Lil’ diesel back in action :-). After the race, we went to Key West for a few days, where the sun finally came out, but it was still chilly. Harumph!

I’m back…

I’m back from the edges of overtraining. I’m still pushing my edges – just not tipping over them.

I’m back into the thrill of the chase, and working that line between getting enough oxygen and going as fast as I can.

And, with my first 70.3 in almost 2 years, I’m back to races that begin and end on the same day.

I’m back, baby. I. AM. BACK.

You know what?

I kinda missed the shenanigans. 

Okay, I definitely missed it.

A lot.

While I did a few shorter races in the Fall, I didn’t really consider myself “back” until I did HITS Naples 70.3 on January 7.

Now I feel like I’m back in the Ironman game.

I originally chose this race because I dreamt of escaping the bitter reality of the New Jersey winter, by racing under sunny skies, in 70-something temps, with the warm breeze of the Florida gulf coast.

What I got was 25 mph winds, rain, and 55ish degrees.

That’s close enough, I guess, considering we had about 6-8 inches of snow at home, and blustery 20-something temps.

Read the rest of this entry »

Philadelphia Freedom

Starting Line of the Philadelphia Marathon

Starting line of the Philadelphia Marathon. Photo from VisitPhilly.com.

As I ran the final 10k of the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon, the wind swirled, but thankfully at this point, mostly in a tailwind direction. A smile snaked its way around my face.

I felt ah-maze-ing.

My careful pacing paid off. I felt the strongest I had ever felt in the final 10k of a marathon. Truthfully: it was the best I had felt running in a year or so!

I ran the first half of the marathon with a fair bit of discipline – which is challenging when you feel fresh, and the spectators that line the city streets entice you to push ever onward.

But, I held back.

I stuck to my strategy during miles 14 through 20. These miles brought a zippy little headwind of about 20 mph. I tucked in behind a group of 3 runners, letting them buffer the worst of the wind. Even still, we were blown sideways and backwards, as the wind was not to be ignored or avoided.

At moments, I worried my pace was too slow. Maybe I had more to give? My buffer group moved just a hair slower than I wanted to go (of course, I always want to go faster). Indeed, these were the slowest miles of the marathon for me. But, I resisted the urge to burn my matches, and remained trustful of my strategy to stay within my boundaries until the final 10k.

out and back in Manayunk

Out and back in Manayunk. Photo from VisitPhilly.com. (Note: This was not taken on 2016 race day. We had a sunny day!)

The 20 mile mark comes at the turnaround in Manayunk.

Running into this section, the wind was the most vicious it had been the entire day, and the run to the turnaround is a slight tug uphill. The spectators lunge at you with cups of stale beer, and the entire place reeks of hot dogs. This tour through Manayunk is my least favorite of the entire course, but it’s short and the 20 mile point beckoned.

I rounded the cone.

It’s time to go. 

I had executed a disciplined run up until this point, and I was ready to see if I could remain strong until the finish line. I hadn’t run a straight marathon (without a swim or bike before it) since I ran Boston in 2011. What I remembered of the distance is that it hurt and the final 10k was a challenge to stay on pace. I had faded before in the past.

What would happen today? 

I hoped that 2 years of ultra-running and ultra-distance triathlon would give my legs a different kind of strength–the kind of strength that allows you to push through pain thresholds, to withstand the punishment of 26.2 hard miles.

As we came out of Manayunk and headed back into the city on Kelly Drive, each step I took, my legs delivered on that promise of strength. I was running the fastest I had run all day. Yes, the tailwind helped – no doubt.

I felt the rhythm of my feet as they flew along the river. I heard my breath, reminding me that while I felt amazing – I was still working pretty hard.

And, then, as happens to me in the midst of racing: I felt full of joy. And, those of you who read my reports regularly know what happened next: I was weeping.

My athlete and friend Jill and I after the marathon. Two new shiny BQ’s for both of us!

Weeping because this old girl may still have a few tricks left.

Weeping because I felt so full of f@cking joy.

Weeping because I am just so lucky to be able to do this sh#t.

Weeping because all of the censored (or uncensored) curse words cannot fully express what I feel in those moments of racing.

In the lead up to this race, my friends joked that I was “only” or “just” doing a marathon. But, I do not take any distance for granted, and I believe that every race brings its challenges – regardless of the distance. When we race with heart, we push limits and find the deep strength we have within us – whether it’s 1 mile or 100 miles.

While 26.2 miles may seem like a “short” day compared to some of the shenanigans I’ve been up to, the marathon has always been a magical distance for me. My first marathon was the beginning of my endurance journey, and it still offers the same delight I felt when I crossed that first time marathon finish line many years ago.

Some of the best moments of my life are wrapped up inside of a good run. There is a freedom in those foot steps that teaches me to love myself, to find the joy in the simple things in life, and to celebrate the rewards of hard work.

A different kind of locker room talk: The power of words

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been intrigued by language. This connection to language is part of the reason why I became a professor of communication, why I write this blog, why I love to read. So, I imagine it will come as little surprise when I tell you that I believe words do matter.

Words can hurt us – as do sticks and stones. But, words can also lift us up.4ebfe1fc-17da-4912-81dd-ff33c2e144e9-1852-000002aa9c630851_tmpIt’s up to us – in our use and interpretation of language – to decide what they will do. In this sense, words can be seen actions, as well as paths to action.

As a young pre-teen, I learned that words mattered to shape meaning, and to outline the paths we believe are possible.

I was an overweight child, and I still remember some of the harshest taunts and names that came from other kids. I learned in those young years that how I looked mattered if I wanted social status on the playground. So, what did I do? Toward the end of seventh grade, I starved myself until I had lost over 35 pounds, and weighed about 95 pounds–in clothes. On a 12-year-old, 4’11” frame – that’s a lot of weight to lose in what was a very short amount of time. So much weight, in fact, the school nurse called my house to tell my mother.

Following that weight loss, the words I heard were: “You look great!” “You lost so much weight – that’s awesome!” “You’re so pretty.”

What did I learn from the combination of these words? Being fat is shameful. Being skinny pleases people.

These words treat our bodies as objects, and teach us that our worth can be measured by some in this society more by how we look than by who we are. Do we have to accept this lesson? Of course not. However, resisting widespread cultural beliefs is a complicated process – and requires the support and words of others.

As a professor of communication, I have learned the words and the rational arguments that explain how this objectification is harmful to our psyche, our relationships, and our well being. And, yet, I still struggle when I see my body in the mirror. As much as I want to believe that our society has evolved beyond this type of objectification, I read and listen to the public discourse and think, yeah, not so much. I hear the things I tell myself when I look in the mirror, and I know those words have affected me deeply. Read the rest of this entry »

The Turtle Hunts The Hare: Journeys in Finding Speed, Part 2

Ya’ll, trying to get this endurance turtle to become a speedy hare is hard work. Right about now, I’m am cussing myself out for letting what snippets of speediness I had go by the wayside as I trained long, and then longer still over the past two years.

Second place overall female at Survival of the Mills. The weather was terrible - and I reminded myself that I love adverse conditions. Yeah, that's it.

Second place overall female at Survival of the Mills. The weather was terrible – and I reminded myself that I love adverse conditions. Yeah, that’s it.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve dabbled in the “delights” of shorter course racing with one sprint triathlon (Egg Harbor Sprint Tri) and one olympic-equivalent 7-stage triathlon (Survival of the Mills). These were fun, local races and I was able to race well.

Survival of the Mills, in particular, was an incredibly fun race that mixed trail runs with biking and swiming. It was a total of 26 miles, spread across 7 stages: run-bike-run-swim-run-bike-run. It was fast-paced, and is a race I would do again and again.

Now, I’m training for the Philadelphia Marathon, and while I have the traditional “long” run on the weekends, I’m mostly emphasizing quality over quantity in my workout sessions. Given how stressed I’ve been in the past, I also have to be cognizant of how I’m feeling every day and privilege my recovery above all else.

I have to admit, this type of training is different for me, and I continue to fight the urges to pump up the volume in my training schedule. The differences include everything from getting used to the weekly total training averages of 9 or 10 hours – instead of 17 or 18 hours, to convincing myself that a 45-60 minute workout focused on intensity is “enough” when I plot out my schedule.

Of course, after I do said intense session, I feel pretty toasted.

The urge to go long is strong within me. But, little by little, I’m breaking myself of old habits, and teaching this turtle some new tricks. (Okay, yes, I’m mixing metaphors, but it’s my blog. I’ll mix metaphors if I want to.)

And with these tricks, there are some treats as well as some reminders of my strengths and my limiters.

Among these reminders, I have confirmed as fact that I would rather run 50 miles at my little diesel pace than to bleed from my eyeballs running at threshold for 5k.

In this past year, I have done both distances. I would gladly take 50 miles of hard fought terrain in the middle of the woods (hello, Infinitus 88k) over pushing at and above the redline for 3.1 miles. The latter business feels like 300 miles when you are in the middle of it.

Seriously: How is it possible for ~20 minutes to feel so long and so terrible?! Read the rest of this entry »

The Turtle and the Hare: Triathlon Style

overtraining

Image reused from: http://wersm.com/social-media-the-tortoise-and-the-hare/.

Two years of super-long course training and racing has made me slow. Perhaps instead of “italics slow” I should say all-caps S.L.O.W., or even the dreaded italics-and-all-caps combo: S.L.O.W. 

After a couple of double anvils (double iron-distance) and 100 mile races, I have determined that I can pretty much go FOREVER once I shift into my all-day little diesel pace. It’s definitely my body’s natural physiology and desire to be the turtle – not the hare.

Yet, I still have a lingering desire to find my turtle’s inner hare-iness. So, I did what most turtles would do and signed up for Ironman Lake Placid 2017.

As I spectated IMLP 2016, watching the awesome performances of my friends and athletes, I felt myself really missing it. I want to return to my favorite Ironman race, and finish up a few things that I have yet to do there.

It’s time to unleash the bunny.

Don’t be scared.

I’ve got a series of goals in mind, but my #1 goal: I want to execute the best race that I can.

I know: duuuuuuhhhhh. Don’t we all want that? But, really: that’s the #1 goal. I want to get to that finish line in the absolutely magical Olympic Oval and feel in every fiber of my body and soul that I did everything I could – and then a little bit more than that.

I want to astound myself. 

The last time I raced Lake Placid in 2013, I was very close to the “astound-myself” goal, but I royally screwed up the final 10k of the run. And, as I’ve learned many a time at an Ironman roll down – close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades, as my father used to say.

Ironman Lake Placid

Running into the Lake Placid Olympic Oval in 2013. My favorite finish line of all the Ironman races I’ve done. Yes, I’m including Kona. I’m about to high five my sister-in-law in this picture.

 

Trouble with this goal is that I’m a total endurance turtle right now. I’m  S.O.  F.A.R.  away from where I used to be in terms of speed that I’ve had a few moments since I signed up for IMLP17 when I’ve felt more than a little overwhelmed thinking about where to begin.


How does a turtle find with her inner hare?

I have pushed beyond the panic by reminding myself: more objectivity, less emotion. That was the primary mantra that focused me the last time I went for the big Ironman dream, so I went right back to it. (Thanks to my former coach Vince, always, for this gem.)

The mantra didn’t disappoint. As I re-centered my thoughts, I knew exactly where to begin: right from where I am.

I can only train from where I am now, not where I used to be at my peak Ironman fitness. I know very well the fundamentals of training for an Ironman. I’m returning those fundamentals. Read the rest of this entry »

Lessons from a Hard Teacher: Vermont 100 Race Report

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lessons afterward.”

~Vernon Law

My Vermont 100 experience was a hard test. I’m trying to decide whether I passed or failed.

When I grade my students’ work, I assess it based on what I want them to learn and how well their work demonstrates that they’ve learned those lessons.

In the case of racing, these “lessons” come in various forms, and one way to assess a race is to think about the goals I set for the race. For Vermont 100, I had my usual tiered set of goals: A) “super secret” goal, B) “good” goal, and C) “just finish” goal.

If I evaluate the day based on my A & B goals, then there is only one assessment to make: I failed, by a lot. Yes, I finished – but I missed my “big” goals. By hours.

This race stomped and kicked my ego into submission. My pride was squeezed into a tiny pellet that I swallowed somewhere around mile 75. It is now lodged in some dark hole in my psyche – afraid to come out for fear of being reminded of how epically off the mark I was in setting expectations for racing the Vermont 100 – how epically arrogant I was about the challenges this race presents.

After a magical first 100 miler at Javelina Jundred, which lulled me into a false sense of my ability, this race was a serious reminder that I am but a wee babe when it comes to the ways of 100 mile running. I knew the race would be hard – it’s 100 miles! But, I underestimated the difficulty of this course, and as a consequence, showed up unprepared – both mentally and physically – to achieve my big goals.

That’s a hard lesson to learn–honestly, to re-learn–and to admit here publicly. And it’s part of the reason it has taken me 4 weeks to work through this race report, which is turning into something of a mea culpa for fucking up one of my key races of the year.

Yet, I finished the race–trudging, shuffling and at times limping through heat, hills, mud, rain, fatigue, and pain. There are many lessons in that kind of gritty finish. That has to be worth something, right?

When everything goes well, I don’t always learn that much. There’s no need to interrogate the day: it worked out.

But, when things go off the rails, I reflect significantly more, digging for kernels that will help me avoid those pitfalls in the future. Despite the challenges, there were great moments within the Vermont 100 – just not as it relates to my A and B goals. If I let those go (aarrrgghhh, so hard…), I can evaluate the day through a different lens.

From left: Eric, our crew/pacer, John my husband and I goofing off the day before the race.

From left: Eric, our crew/pacer, John my husband and I goofing off the day before the race.

Read the rest of this entry »

4 Tips to Find Your Race Week Zen

what you think you becomeWhen race week finally arrives, it’s impossible to avoid the jolt of excitement and anticipation as I make my final preparations to achieve the goals that have kept me moving through weeks on top of months of long, hard training days. It is possible, however, to prevent these race week sensations from overtaking my emotions in a way that hurts the execution of my race plan.

As athletes, we should expect and welcome some emotional arousal. But, we need to be on guard against feelings of emotional overload, in the form of anxiety, over-stimulation, panic, or fear.

Trust me – I’ve tried it both ways. The latter approach sucks donkey butts.

I prefer to work on a Zen state of mindfulness during race week, which includes an eagerness to experience new adventures, a sense of the present moment with a focus on the task at hand, a control over thoughts and movement to ensure efficiency, and a calm awareness that permits execution of the race plan.

It has taken quite a few years to learn how to cultivate a sense of effective mindfulness in training and racing. And, I am still a work in progress! Focusing and calming the mind in our ever-more-hectic lifestyles is a process – not an endpoint.

When I first started racing, the week or two leading into race day was a psychotic mix of emotions and actions, vacillating between a chicken with it’s head cut off, a zombie on the attack, or a fearful turtle climbing inside its shell to avoid danger. I remember almost paralyzing anxiety at times, brought on by questioning and re-questioning all of the moments that lead up to race day.

In short, I was NOT the kind of person you wanted to be around before the start of a race.

In 2012, I hit a transition point, when I had worked myself into such a frenzy that I literally made myself sick throughout the duration of Ironman Mont Tremblant. I was in such a non-Zenlike state, that John, my husband, walked away from me before the start of the swim because he didn’t want my anxiety. He left me crying on the shores of the lake – all because I was so anxious about where I should start the swim.

Really. That bad.

When I reflected on that race in the days following, I KNEW I had to get my pre-race responses under control, or I would sabotage my long-term goals.

Since that time, I have been as aggressive in my mental fitness training as I’ve been with my physical training. Part of this training process is my race week routine that helps me to nuture a Zen-like mindfulness that is crucial to achieving my race day goals.

As I am about a day out from racing the 2016 Vermont 100, I am deep in to the race week process. I figured I would share some of my tips with the hope that I might help you achieve your race week Zen. Read the rest of this entry »

Is this Normal?

Several years ago, I wrote about the joy of the first time finish line, as a reflection of my first Ironman. Not many race experiences can compare with that feeling that takes over the first time you cross the finish line of an unknown distance or event.

It’s empowering. It’s extraordinary. It’s addicting.

But, the road to that first (or second or twentieth) time finish line is filled often with uncertainty, confusion, and a healthy dose of fear.

first ironman

John and I standing on the shore of Mirror Lake in July, 2010 just moments before my first Ironman. Yes, those are tears. I was scared, excited, joyful, and freaked the f*ck out.

As we get deeper into the season, some of the athletes I coach are doing things they’ve never done before: longest distances, hardest efforts, first time events. I relish working with athletes who are going after their “first” – whether it’s a first-ever race or a first attempt at a particular distance or goal. Through their journey, I get to re-live my first times, by sharing in their joy and excitement.

With the first-time effort comes a lot of questions. At at the root of all of these questions is this basic one: “Is this normal?” “This” can be a lot of things. Perhaps you’ll recognize a few of these. Read the rest of this entry »

Older posts «

%d bloggers like this: