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.

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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):

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

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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 »

Superfood is Superbad, Carbs are Good & Other Nutrition Pet Peeves

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Grilled veggies. Yum!

The food we eat (or don’t eat) is personal, pulling from our individual, social and cultural values. Our life experiences are often tied up with our eating experiences, and food can be an important and fulfilling part of our lives.

In short: Food is important to us. It’s yummy, and it makes us feel good.

But, there are other aspects of the relationship with food, which might not be so healthy and harmounious. Particularly in the fitness community, this relationship may confuse “skinny” or “thin” for “healthy” and “fit,” leading to a variety of approaches to food that don’t necessarily put good nutrition first.

While some aspects of nutrition are individual, there are a few current trends and assertions about food that I find problematic because they are promoted as “healthy” or “fit”, when the science just doesn’t support those claims.

Among those assertions, here the top 5 that have been bugging me lately.

#1. Carbs are bad for you. 

The claim that carbohydrates are “bad” is too simplistic and misses the important nuances of the role of carbohydrates, especially for endurance athletes.

Carbohydrates are an important fuel source. Even though long course athletes want to be more efficient with burning fat for fuel, we (and our glucose-loving brains) still need carbohydrates as well. And, when it comes time for recovery, nothing will restore those glycogen starved muscles except for carbohydrates.

Want to get up the next day and get after it again? Well, eat your carbs. Wonder why your recovery is lagging? Maybe it’s your sagging glycogen stores.

Fruit and berry spinach salad - chock full of nutrient-dense carbohydrates. I know what you are thinking: Aren’t some sources of carbohydrates problematic?

Yes!

The processed or refined carbs are problematic when they are a mainstay of the typical diet. It’s these types of foods that give whole food carbs a bad rap.

Luckily for our glucose loving brain and muscles, carbohydrates do come in a nutrient-dense, healthy and whole food variant.

Vegetables, which should be the focus of every meal we eat, have a nutrient dense supply of carbohydrates. And, many vegetables also come with grams of protein and sometimes fat. Yes, vegetables have protein. In fact, some vegetables have a higher percentage of protein per serving than meat-based sources of protein! Those poor vegetarians are saved. ;) Read the rest of this entry »

Age is a just a number & sex is just a division

Unless you consume absolutely no mainstream or social media of any type, it’s very likely you’ve seen this incredible feat by Kacy Catanzaro, the first woman to finish the American Ninja Warrior finals course.

It’s incredible. It’s inspiring. And, it made me weep, thinking of how accomplished, how fulfilled this woman must feel.

But, the more I thought about it, the more there was something about the response to her achievement that irked me. The tone in the announcer’s voices, the amazement on the faces of the spectators, the proclamations of utter surprise all about the social webs–including myself at first.

salmonladderThe more I thought about Catanzaro’s accomplishment, the more I asked myself: what is so unbelievable or surprising about a fierce woman doing powerful things?

Women have the capacity to give birth to human life. Pretty sure the salmon ladder pales in comparison. #justsayin’

Can every woman person complete the American Ninja Warrior course in similar BAMF fashion? Of course not! This woman (and others who finish the course) have a special mix of talent, grit, motivation, and work ethic.

There can be no doubt that it’s inspirational to watch these athletes work the course. But, it’s not unbelievable.

It takes a special kind of athlete willing to do a great deal of hard work in order to make a dream become reality–whether that’s the American Ninja Warrior, a first-time 5k, or well, sure, an Ironman.

Yet, I think that accomplishment has so much less to do with the body’s reproductive plumbing than it does with mental and physical training and preparation.

Catanzaro beasted that course because she believed she could, and because she worked hard to make it happen.

More recently on American Ninja Warrior (okay, yes, we watch the show just a little bit), there were similar oohs and aahs about 52-year-old Jon Stewart (not of Daily Show fame), who is the oldest man to have completed the American Ninja Warrior finals course.

I was pumped to see him do it. Again, it’s 100% inspirational. It’s evidence that we can do what set out to achieve if we believe and we put in the work. But, just as with the response to Catanzaro, I found myself irked with the tone: what’s so unbelievable about continuing to push the body past perceived limits – regardless of age or sex? Regardless of other aspects of the self that we may have constructed as limitations?

While the national TV audience is getting a glimpse of this amazeballment of women and older men defying stereotypes, this is something those of us in the endurance sport community see pretty much all of the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond the White Line: Ironman Lake Placid Spec-Train-Teering Weekend

Ironman Lake Placid

Run turnaround for the 2014 IMLP marathon on River Road.

In 2009, I was a volunteer at Ironman Lake Placid. It was the first time I saw an Ironman live, up close, and personal. What I saw that day amazed me.

A H. M A Z E .B A L L S.

There is absolutely nothing like the first time you spectate an Ironman. Personal. Physical. Primal. The energy permeates everything. So does the smell.

If you have never watched an iron-distance race, put it on your list of things to do. It will change how you think about the human body and mind.

That day in 2009, I had only finished a handful of sprint triathlons and one olympic distance. I hadn’t even done my first half iron distance race, which didn’t stop me from signing up for IMLP 2010, of course.

My amazement bordered on disbelief – how could people do this? How would I do this?!?

Now, 6 Ironmans later, I understand how people could and would do this – but I am no less amazed, awed and inspired by what our bodies and our minds can accomplish. In fact, I’m even more in amazeballment now that I’ve been through the challenges of training and racing Ironman.

It’s such an important day in the lives of the athletes and their families. So much build up. So much preparation. So much much much.

“It’s YOUR day!!” I cheered to a group of the athletes this year as they passed by me. “MAKE IT COUNT!”

I’ve been a participant or a volunteer at Ironman Lake Placid every year since that first experience. I love the race and I want to be a part of it – whether that means racing it, or being a spectator-training-volunteer (spec-train-teer, for short).

This year (2014), we continued the tradition. I, along with John and our friend Tim (who will do his first IM in Lake Placid next year!), traveled to Lake Placid to spec-train-teer. We knew about a dozen friends out on the course, and I was eager to be good support for them, as well as everyone else out there, working through their big day.

whitelineroadWhen I’m racing, I mostly see only what is directly in front of me. I may take temporary notice of someone yelling my name, or someone in a costume, or the passing scenery. But, really, it’s just me, the effort, and the white line in the road.

So, spec-train-teering offers a perspective that stretches well beyond that line. It’s an experience that is different from racing, but equally enjoyable.

You can see the energy in the athletes’ eyes pre-race: anticipation, uncertainty, excitement, and yes, maybe a little fear.

“Race day is celebration day,” I tell athletes who are about to race. “You’ve put the hard work in – now it’s time to celebrate that hard work!”

There are the experienced folk who are calm, focused, and fearless. They know what the day will bring, and they are ready to bring.it.on. Their confidence is not arrogance. It’s rooted in a strong belief and the will to win.

Then, there are the Robo-Cops, who walk around too cool for school, and mistake arrogance for confidence. I prefer to avoid their energy in the days prior to racing.

The pre-race energy of the experienced athlete emanates differently from the first-timer, who bustles about like an excited child, ready to find out what the first time at DisneyWorld will be like.

The energy of a first-timer, oh man. I just love it. It’s intoxicating. I want to bottle it up and suck it in. I’ve been chasing the high of my first-time finish line ever since. The closest I can get is to suck off the fumes from others who are having their first time finish line experience. Read the rest of this entry »

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