On Role Models, Possibilities, and Equality

Outside of my endurance sport life, I’m a professor of Communication Studies at Rowan University, in Glassboro, NJ. (Read: Nerd.) In my research and teaching, I examine how communication creates meaning about “things” – people, places, objects, events, ideas.

I know what you are probably thinking: things exist, that can’t be changed no matter how we communicate or think about them. Of course people, places, and objects exist, and events happen. But, how we communicate about these things affects our interpretation of them–regardless of their tangible properties.

So, let’s say we’ve got this thing that is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run. How we think and talk about a triathlon affects the meaning we have for it, which in turn affects our behavior.

It begins with the name. Do we call it an ultra or full distance triathlon, an Ironman, or a really long day?

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In 2012, a key goal for my performance at the Rev3 (now Challenge) Quassy 70.3 was to finish early enough that I could meet Mirinda Carfrae – one of my favorite professional triathletes. Mission Accomplished! I have an inch on her with the Don King-style hair.

If we define an Ironman as crazy or impossible, we won’t attempt it. Alternatively, we might define an Ironman as empowering or fun. Each interpretation will lead to a different decision about whether we quit before we start, or we dream big and go for it.

So what gives with the theory lesson? Well, like all good theories, the theory of Symbolic Interaction (which I’ve been laying out generally here) helps explain stuff. For the purposes of this post, I want to talk about role models and their value in sport.

Role models help us construct meaning about things, like a triathlon. We observe what they do; we listen to what they say. Through this communication, we shape the realm of the possible for ourselves.

Our role models give meaning to the mantra that anything is possible if we believe it and we work for it. Role models don’t promise us that making our dreams come true will be easy – far from it. They show us, with their hard work, determination and grit, that the extraordinary can be ours if we step out of our ordinary routines and go for that extra. 

Through the years that I’ve done triathlons, various people–some strangers, some friends–have helped shape my ideas about what is possible, by encouraging me to set big goals and to give everything I’ve got in the pursuit of those goals.

While I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, my seemingly impossible dream about a slot on the big island began to take shape In October, 2009. I watched the stream of the Ironman World Championships as a petite professional triathlete ran her way into second place with one of the most amazing runs I had ever seen. It was her first Ironman ever, and her first marathon ever.

I was immediately in awe.

While Mirinda Carfrae’s run was kinetic beauty, she has inspired me beyond that. Through the years, I’ve felt somewhat shadowed (pun intended) by the taller female competitors. But, “Rinny” has shown me – year after year after year – that little bits can play too; little bits can be fierce scrappers.

When Rinny set the course record in 2013, a person, let’s call her Sally, said to me, “Until I saw Carfrae cross that finish line as tiny but as fast as she is, I didn’t think you could beat the bigger women in your age group.” Read the rest of this entry »

Wrapping Your Mind Around This Thing: 2015 Florida Double Anvil

“Perseverance is not a long race. It is many short races one after the other.”

~Walter Elliot

“So, do you have your mind wrapped around this thing?” John asked me a few days before the 2015 Florida Double Anvil (double iron-distance triathlon), which was held on March 6-7 in Tampa, Florida.

I paused.

He has never in all of the history of the things we’ve done asked me that question, which led me to question myself. Wait! Do I have my head wrapped around this “thing”? 

“Um, I…uh, what do you mean? Do I have a race plan?” I asked.

“Not a race plan – I mean have you thought about what this is going to take?”

2015 Florida Double Anvil

I posted this tweet a few days before the race. I had moments when I realized just what exactly was in store for me – only to quickly bury those thoughts deeply lest I lose my nerve.

“I’m going to swim, bike and run until I finish,” I replied, trying to hide my creeping feelings as my brain began to whine with uncertainty.

“Okay, as long as you’ve committed up here,” John pointed to his head, “that’s what you need to do.”

Pre-race pep talk complete.

Yup, fully committed… or committable. I forget which one.

2015 Florida Double Anvil

When you finish any Anvil race, you must strike the anvil as many times as you completed the anvil. So, for a double – that’s two times. The hammer is 3 pounds, so that’s a big ask! (Photo taken by Dan Elliott, and used here with permission, www.danelliott.com. Thanks, Dan!)

While I did my best to imagine various race day scenarios, I wonder how anyone could ever have their mind wrapped fully around this thing. I finished the race, and I’m still not sure I have my mind wrapped around what happened out there.

Pre-race, I had moments of fear, excitement, uncertainty, pleasurable anticipation, nervousness, eagerness. I cycled through the positive and the negative – working to reject the negative voices when they wanted to introduce doubt. Every time I let the idea of 281.2 miles enter my thoughts, I had an instinctive response to immediately STOP thinking about the totality.

To state the obvious: it’s a long race.

The Florida Double Anvil features a 4.8 mile swim done as 76 laps in a 50 meter outdoor pool, a 224 mile bike done as 31 laps (plus several miles of riding between the pool and Flatwoods Park where the bike and run take place), and a 52.4 mile run done as 30 laps. Between each lap on the bike and the run course, you come through “Tent City,” where all of the crews are located. Read the rest of this entry »

Where the @#$%# have I been?

It’s been six weeks since my last post - this silence from the woman who rarely finds herself without something to say! So, where the #$@$%& have I been? Hiding under a rock? Escaped from the country? Cowering from the glare of the social media sphere? Buried under a pile of dirty laundry?

None of the above, except for the dirty laundry part.

I’ve been working my part time “job” – otherwise known as training for the Florida Double Anvil, which is a double-iron distance ultra triathlon to be held March 6-7 in Tampa, Florida. When I first started this training journey, my original intention was to write weekly updates about the training–my observations, insights, and general tomfoolery.

Is that....? Nope, just me, tooling around, neglecting my lady-scaping.

Is that….? Nope, just me, tooling around, neglecting my lady-scaping.

But then the training started in earnest, and the volume piled on top of the volume, as did plates of food on top of plates of food. Needless to say, something had to take a back seat. That “something” included 1) my social life, including even the general nicety to say hello or good night to John, 2) certain bits of self-maintenance such as shaving, and 3) this blog.

It’s not that I haven’t had ideas for blog posts – quite the opposite. One mentally composes many a fantabulous gem in 25-30 hours a week of training. The trick was finding a way to keep my eyes open long enough to actually write and edit those Pulitizer Prize winning babies. The “posts” page of my dashboard is littered with half-started, sleepy-eyed, training-crazed ideas.

There was the post that was to be titled, “Just Wait a Minute,” inspired by the 50k training run I did a two weeks back. This run began in the snow, which turned into rain, and then eventually into sleet. I likened it to the Postal Service equivalent of trail running.

I experienced moments of wondering when the misery would end, if perhaps a hunter in the woods might mistake me for a wounded animal and be done with me. These moments were abruptly juxtaposed to those times when I was be-bopping along, singing to the sounds of my favorite trash music.

Time and again in this training, I’ve been reminded of a very important training adage: If you don’t like how you are feeling, just eat some calories. Drink some water. Wait a few minutes. Voila! Read the rest of this entry »

Patient Aggression: Reflection on the Year of the Plow Horse

Little did I know a year ago, when I dubbed 2014 the “Year of the Plow Horse,” how much I would come to depend on the characteristics of the reliable ol’ plow horse to make it through some of the more challenging races I’ve done.plow horse copy

The plow horse is a strong, sturdy animal. She has a lot of work to do, but she can’t rush through it and burn out. No! The plow horse must be patient as she pursues the goals for the day, the week, the month, the year.

The plow horse has been uniquely bred with the intention to balance both speed and muscle, giving her the ability to work hard for an extended period of time. Forget cheetahs. They suck. They just can’t hang for the all day deal. Indeed, the endurance sport community should seriously consider adopting the mighty plow horse as our official mascot.

Channeling the strength, the sturdiness, the endurance and the patience of the plow horse is what got me to the finish line in race after race throughout 2014.

First, there was the Florida Intimidator, in Clermont, with its single aid station in the Florida sunshine and heat. No matter – the plow horse trudges on with or without water!

Then, we went to the hills of Pennsylvania for the Lake Raystown Half iron, where the advertised gain for the half distance was 2,000 feet. In reality it was just shy of 5,000 feet. 2,000 feet. 5,000 feet. Whatevs…  It doesn’t matter to the plow horse. Steady she climbs.

By June it was time for Ironman Coeur d’Alene – the “A” race of the season – the race in which I was hoping to finally do it: qualify for Kona. Ah, yes, a plow horse’s dream! Ironman Coeur d’Alene, where the winds blew 25 mph, and the chop in the 60-degree lake slapped you around like your silly Aunt Sally. Ironman Coeur d’Alene – where I almost coulda, shoulda been a contender – but I fell 90 seconds short of the last qualifying slot. Tough break – but the plow horse sees the long game. It’s not over; there is more work to be done.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the content of this post. It's just funny.

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with the content of this post. It’s just funny. And, evidence that my ass is indeed as big as I claim it to be. Not fishing for you to say it’s smaller – I’m proud of my Plow Horse Ass. ;)

So, onward to Ironman Louisville, my last chance for a lost cause. Ironman Lousville, with the temps near 100 degrees, and the sun shining brightly, baking you like sweet potato fries, except not so sweetly or yummily. But, the plow horse knows: she who stays the course and doesn’t give in to the pain (or the inability to breathe) wins the day!

Thanks to IM Lou, I found my way to the Ironman World Championships (and not a moment too soon, my readers say! This blog was becoming a repetitive advertisement for that race.) As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for – you might just get 40 mile an hour winds. But, the plow horse stays the course (or tries to as the wind whips her from one side of the road to the other).

The Year of the Plow Horse – 2014 – was a challenging year, slower year than 2013, but equally rewarding for so many reasons – many of which have not a dang thing to do with Kona (although it helped ;)). I faced conditions and challenges that several years ago would have had me laying on the side of the road in a ditch, praying for a plow horse to come pick me up. Read the rest of this entry »

Trainer Time: 3 bike trainer workouts for triathletes

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Trainer time is romantic time in our household. John and I on a recent long ride in prep for the Florida Double Anvil.

I could blame the colder temperatures for the time I spend on the trainer, but that would be dishonest. I ride (and like to ride) the trainer year-round, and I find for shorter workouts, it can’t be beat for time efficiency – as well as the ability to nail a workout without worrying about stop signs, squirrels, flying saucers or cars.

Even so, John and I are just a little bit crazy with the time we are willing to put into the trainer. We’ve done quite a few 6 hour heat acclimation rides, and we are steadily working up to 12-14 hours in preparation for the Florida Double Anvil, which will be on March 6-7.

Suffice to say, I have plenty of time to think about trainer workouts. In the past few weeks, I’ve developed a few that I really like, and I wanted to share 3 bike trainer workouts for triathletes that I though you all might find helpful.

But, don’t worry: none of these workouts are over 90 minutes (unless you want them to be!). Each session can be adapted to be shorter or longer depending on where you are in your season and the specific needs of the race you are training for.

Cycling Efficiency

It’s always a good time to work on the efficiency of your pedal stroke, which if you are like most triathletes (who aren’t uber cyclists), you probably aren’t giving that much consideration to form. There are several different ways to work on cycling efficiency, including single leg drills, and high cadence drills. I’ve been mixing up these various drills, plus a few more that I’ve found, to create a series of efficiency sessions.

The one I’m sharing with you in this post focuses on highlighting the pull and push phases of the pedal stroke. Read the rest of this entry »

Liminal State: What’s next?

Where will these feet take me next?

Where will these feet take me next?

As a young graduate student, I learned about the concept of liminality. In Anthropological theory, liminality is described as a state of transition during rites of passage, such as those associated with the transition from childhood to adulthood. Liminality is a betwixt and between state in which you are no longer who you once were, but you have not yet transitioned into who you may become.

The processes we go through to get to and live through a rite of passage changes us: who we are, how we relate to others, the choices we make. Through the performance of rites of passage, we mark our change from one social status into another: child to adult, single to married, amateur to professional, ignorant to educated.

In the weeks since Kona, I’ve thought about liminality quite a bit. I feel that I am in a new place, but I’m not exactly sure what that means. I’ve spent the last three years of my life focusing on preparations that would earn me the right to participate in and survive the race. My time, my decision-making, and my identity was intimately linked to these preparations and the singular focus to qualify and complete the race.

While it is a relief to no longer worry and make EVERY decision with qualifying in mind, I have to admit I’m feeling a little bit lost.  I’m left with a question: “What now?”

One way to answer that question is to look toward my 2015 goals: a double iron-distance triathlon at the Florida Double Anvil on March 6-7, and a 100 mile ultramarathon (most likely the Javelina Jundred in November).

But, that’s only part of the answer. Read the rest of this entry »

Persist, Persevere, Ho’omau: Ironman World Championship Race Report

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”                                                                                           ~Henry David Thoreau

This picture is the reason we did the race. It was all for the picture.

This picture is the reason we did the race. It was all for the picture.

The Journey is the Reward

Now that the big day is a memory, I am struck by what seems like a (now) obvious truth: racing the Ironman World Championships in Kona has never been about the race itself – even though, at one time, I had thought it was.

The race itself is not significantly different from any other Ironman. There’s a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run. There are moments of pain and pleasure, frustration and joy. Sure, there is all of the fanfare and excitement that goes with a World Championship competition, but the race itself is only one part of why this experience – this journey – has been so gratifying.

I completed my first Ironman five years ago, and the extreme rush of joy that I felt as I crossed the finish line that day in Lake Placid has been difficult to duplicate. I wasn’t fast. It was a thirteen and a half-hour day for me – and I loved every single moment. I rode the high for a good 3 weeks – and that’s about how long I wore my wrist band – so long that the lettering had all but faded off. (You can read my race report from that first experience by clicking here.)

So, how did I go from a back of the pack, timid little mouse of a triathlete to qualifying for Kona?

Each of the experiences I’ve had from that first race until now answers this question. What and who I have become – been in a process of becoming – is the reason why doing the race is not as magical as the journey you take to qualify for the race.

It is and always will be about the journey. 

In this regard, the Kona quest is no different from any other seemingly impossible dream that we turn into a reality through hard work, discipline and belief.

The theme for this year’s Ironman World Championships was ho’omau, which is a Hawaiian word that translates as “to continue, to perpetuate, to persist” (from http://wahinoho.net/page_glossary_ ver_7_hoo.html). Ho’omau is to live in a way that embodies the values of perseverance and persistance.

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This is the design that was used for the official posters, and was also found in stamps along the sidewalks, as shown here.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Click

Exercise Asthma

One of these images depict “the click.” The other, not so much. Can you guess which is which? If not, now may be the time to realize you need glasses. The left image is Ironman Coeur d’Alene around the half-way mark on the run, when I went on to have a PR marathon time. The other, Ironman Louisville, one of my worst marathon times ever.

You know the moment during a run when you feel the click? Your body smooths into the stride, the rhythm of your footfalls feels effortless, and your mind is focused only on the present.

Yup – that moment. It’s absolutely delicious, right?

Those are the moments that give us the grit for the tough days because we know that we carry inside of us the potential of the click. The body may shift into gear at any moment. Even if you think the workout or the race won’t get better, just hold on. Wait for it. Stay focused. Stay positive. It just might come.

That’s the promise of the click.

In terms of clicks – or bells or whistles or just plain old feeling okay – it’s been a challenging period for me since I finished Ironman Louisville six weeks ago. (Has it really only been six weeks?!)

In the first week or two following Lou (my pet name for it), I was running (and swimming and cycling) off of pure excitement alone. I had finally qualified for Kona! I Every waking second was clicking. I would just think to myself: KONAAAAAAA!

That thought, when played on repeat in my brain, was plenty for short spurts of energy. But, that excitement does wear off after the first two weeks, and I was left with the normal hard work of preparing my body for my third Ironman in 15 weeks.

Yeah, okay, I absolutely understand that other people have done more in a season than I am attempting to do. But, it’s the first time my body, this body will undertake such a feat, and it’s been giving me signs that it’s not all that much put back together from the first one, let alone the second one.

So, the training – if you want to call it that – going into Kona has been a series of pathetic performances peppered with the occasional flicker that there once was a time when I was a contender. Very few clicks. Quite a few clunks.

But, in the past week or two, I’ve been feeling hopeful again. The promise of the click remains.

In my race reports from Louisville and Coeur d’Alene, I mentioned that I had some difficulties breathing. I mistakenly thought that maybe those were just normal reactions to hard efforts. As it turns out, my body – my lungs in particular – were trying to tell me that something wasn’t normal. Read the rest of this entry »

Ironman Coeur d’Alene: Course Review

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Beginning of the AG swim.

This post offers a detailed Ironman Coeur d’Alene course review. Based on my experience racing there in 2014, I give you my perspective of the swim, bike, and run, as well as some tips for racing.

If you aren’t interested in the intricacies of the IMCDA course, no need to read any further :). But, if you are planning on racing or even thinking about racing IMCDA, please read on!

If you are interested in reading my race report of my experience at IMCdA 2014, you can click here to read it.

The Swim

Lake Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful clear body of water that is typically cold with average water temps in the high 50s to low 60s for race day. In 2014, the water temp was 61 degrees on race day, although warmer temps were reported in the days leading up to the race (around 63-64 degrees). Thanks to several days of rain, it brought the temperature down a few notches. All of this is to say: don’t take the water temperatures in the days and weeks leading up to the race to mean much. It will change.

I’m warm blooded so I didn’t find 61 degrees to be a problem at all – despite the fact that I have Raynaud’s. I wore a neoprene cap, which I’m not sure I needed, but I was happier to have it than to not have it. I did not wear booties or gloves, nor did I feel like I needed them at any point. My suggestion: get in the lake in the days leading up to the race to see what you will need to be comfortable, and to give your body some time to adjust to the cold.

The swim is a two-loop rectangle. After the first loop, you must get out of the water and cross the timing mat on the beach before you start the second loop. For this swim, in addition to the cold water, you should also expect some chop. From what I hear, the chop we had in 2014 was not typical (with reports of 2-3′ swells and ample whitecaps), but it’s highly unlikely that the lake will be flat.

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This image shows the choppier-than-typical conditions of the 2014 race. Some kayakers reported swells around 2 feet out in the middle of the lake. Oy!

IMCdA is part of the swim start initiative, so they use a rolling start method, which I absolutely love (and I wrote about last year when I did Ironman Lake Placid). Corrals are set up, starting with those projecting under 1 hour for total swim time, and then +15 minute increments after that. While there is still contact during the swim portion (not sure you can ever get rid of that), I think it is significantly less contact than a mass start with almost 3,000 people, especially for swims that begin in a small area, such as Coeur d’Alene, Lake Placid or Mont Tremblant. For swims with a wider area, such as Cozumel or Kona, a staggered start may not be as important for the swim portion. But, it does help with the congestion on the early portion of the bike.

The race directors provide an area for a swim warm up or acclimation prior to the start, and it’s accessible from the corrals. Give yourself time to get there as it can get crowded with all of the bodies, making forward progress toward the beach a little slow. After you exit the warm up area, you can just wait until your corral comes around – unless you plan on swimming 1:15 or less, then you can walk up the beach to your corral. Read the rest of this entry »

Last Chances and Lost Causes: 2014 Ironman Louisville

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This is what happens when you drown your sorrows in Fireball. Be careful…

*Note: This is a race report about my experience with IMLou in 2014. If you are looking for a course overview of Ironman Louisville, please click here.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

In the 24 hours after I finished Ironman Coeur d’Alene, narrowly missing a Kona slot by 90 seconds, I hastily decided that I was swearing off Ironman for at least a year. I didn’t want to take the sting of another defeat if it didn’t work out. Again. Again. Again.

Three near misses were starting to shake my confidence. And, sitting through three sets of slot allocations was pure torture, feeling like my heart was being torn from my chest as I watched others celebrate their dreams come true. At IMCdA, it was downright depressing, struggling not to cry, trying to pretend that it was okay.

Nope. I didn’t think my heart could take it again. I wanted to keep believing, but my heart was broken. Again. Again. Again.

Here’s the email I sent to Vince the day after the IMCdA (sorry in advance about the cussing):

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 1.19.51 PM

 

Wow. I sound PATHETIC, a whining little baby. Then, I regrouped and sent him this email, the next day:

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 1.21.49 PM

 

Okay, back to determined, don’t stop believin’ and all that jazz.

Then, there was another email to Vince a few days later, after I tried to see if I could get a charity slot or endurance sports travel slot for IMMT. More cussing:

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 9.02.58 AM

 

His response to that email brought me to tears with what he said and the support he gave me. So, a funny thing happened on the internet about a little over a week after that, the results of which I sent in an email to Vince and John, with more cussing, of course:

Screen shot 2014-08-27 at 9.30.33 AM Read the rest of this entry »

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