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.
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.
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 »
This is a shot of the Mt. Moosalamoo trail in the waning daylight. Now imagine it pitch freaking dark, like absolutely no light pollution dark, like turn off your headlamp can’t see your hands dark. Yup. That’s what it was like. Image used from: http://sites.middlebury.edu/trailrunner/2012/07/30/a-midsummer-evening-on-mount-moosalamoo/.
Before I started this climb, the nice chap at the aid station informed me, “Just 2.5 miles to the summit of Mt. Moosalmoo!”
He was so cheery. I was so dirty.
He said that as if those 2.5 miles were regular old road miles, and not Endurance Society FUBARed trail miles. I knew better. I knew those 2.5 miles, while sounding so short and swift, would be long and tortuous.
As I climbed this, amidst rocks and roots and mud pools that went up to my ears, it was time to forget any big goals I had for myself. It was time to forget about beast mode.
I had officially entered survival mode.
I had been out there way way way longer than any “normal” race of this distance. All of the stories (warnings?) I had heard about Endurance Society events were ringing so very very true.
These races are hard. So. Fucking. No. Asterisk. For. The. U. I. Don’t. Care. If. You. Pardon. My. French. Hard.
Pace and I running the trails at Wells Mills Park, NJ. This has been a part of my story for the last two months.
Readers, forgive me. It’s been two months since my last post.
This is the point where you, my readers, absolve me of my blog transgressions. I’ll wait.
It’s not that I’ve been at a loss for words – far from it. My draft folder is FULL of the ideas I’ve had since my last post about the Double Anvil. To mention just a few, I’ve got drafts (soon to be posts) about our run across Zion National Park, what our food shopping list looks like, what it’s like to train for a Double Anvil, how to gear up for a season that features two (or more) big races, and one titled “Dreaming Big Isn’t Glamourous.”
These posts are all in various states of readiness – some just need to be proofread. Others are just sparse outlines.
So, what’s going on with me?
Yes, I’ve been busy. But, that’s a lame excuse. I’ve always been busy, yet managed to find the time to work on my piece of the internet. I love to write, and I love that I have loyal readers, and happily welcome the new readers that find me through one post or another.
Ultimately, this is a fulfilling space for me. And, I’ve missed it.
It was exciting and heart breaking and ultimately fulfilling to tell the tale of a small town girl who sets a dream bigger than her abilities, but reaffirms the adage that–at least sometimes–hard work can pay off.
“Is that the start?” I overheard one of my fellow racers ask.
I put my face in the blackest water I’ve ever swum and began my second go-round at the Florida Double Anvil, which is a double iron-distance event featuring 281.2 miles broken into a 4.8 mile swim, a 224 mile bike, and a 52.4 mile run. Each of these distances are completed in a series of laps: 12 laps for the swim, 37 laps for the bike, and 26 laps for the run.
After all of this lapping, there are multiple repeats of food and sleep.
This race report includes a recap of my experience on race day – but first, I have to set the context for this truly unique event. So, settle down, grab your coffee (or your adult beverage of choice), and a snack. This one has plenty of details.
It would be a mistake to think of a Double Anvil as simply twice an Ironman. While the numbers do add up that way, the experience is so much more than just those numbers.
Representative of these differences is the very language used to described the center of the race. An Ironman has a transition area. The Double Anvil has a village. That’s more than just a semantic difference.
Within the confines of that Anvil village–what I’m going to call the Anvillage–lies the key to what makes this event so special: a sense of community that comes from pushing the edges of our comfort zones, sharing the belief that limits are for other people, and finding our strength not only as individuals–but also as a community of people seeking the extraordinary.
While I raced as a solo racer, this effort was hardly an individual effort for me – or for any of my fellow racers. It is not possible to cross the finish line of a race of this magnitude without the support of the Anvillage. The respect and support of the racers, their crews, and the race staff is like no other race I’ve ever done.
I felt myself entering a vacuum where I could no longer hear my mother on the other end of the line. I could only hear that sentence. I could only feel my disbelief.
I was 25 years old at the time. I may have legally been an adult for several years, but I didn’t fully understand the weight of adulthood until that night, until that moment.
I was daddy’s girl.
While it’s been 17 years since he passed, I am still daddy’s girl.
But, I wasn’t the princess-type of daddy’s girl. My dad taught me how to fish (including baiting my own hook and cleaning the guts). He would take me out on construction jobs way before “bring your daughter to work day” was a thing. I can still remember the smell of his work truck: old spice, earthy dirt, metal and grease.
He showed me how to make a proper meatball. In case you are wondering: it’s all about the feel. I’m sure he’s extremely disappointed that I’m a vegetarian now. What sort of decent Italian girl doesn’t eat meat? How on earth could I possibly make a tomato gravy worth eating without pork sausage? Yeah, dad, I hear you…
One day, my dad taught me how to pee in a bucket. He was working on his boat, which was in winter storage in an old, drafty barn, which he was renting. He didn’t want to trudge me all the way to the owner’s house to use the bathroom. So, he put his foot on the 5-gallon bucket, and pushed it toward me.
My dad (another velour tank) and I out on his boat, which he let me name “The Binky” – after my beloved pacifier (I was about 2 or 3 when I named the boat). That’s how much of a daddy’s girl I was: a macho Italian man let his daughter call his prized possession: “The Binky.” Uh, yeah.
“Here. Use this.” I was probably 6 or 7 years old. Seemed legit to me. Ah, father-daughter bonding at its best.
Looking back, that day may have just been the first step toward learning to pee on the bike.
One of the things that I love about training is that it helps me to feel close to my dad. No, he wasn’t a triathlete. He wasn’t a swimmer, a cyclist or a runner. But, he was into athletics and sports.
I rowed crew in high school, and my dad just absolutely loved it. He came to almost every single one of my races (I think he might have missed two in four years). He also came to our practices, and helped my coach by filming our training sessions for technique analysis.
He would spend hours talking with me about training, how I felt, how it was going, who the competition would be, and on and on.
While the anniversary of my dad’s death is a date I’d prefer not to commemorate, I am remembering him on this day. Really, I’ve been thinking about him like crazy all week, and yes, there’s been some weeping. Okay, a lot of weeping.
I’m remembering how much he loved crew, and I know he would have enjoyed this triathlon and running adventure, too. I wish he was here for it all.
Training–especially training for a double anvil–brings with it many hours of solitude. I’ve got plenty of time to think about stuff, and it’s not uncommon for me to think of my dad. He was tough on me, and expected much of me. I used to joke that our household was like a military regime (it wasn’t, of course!). While he challenged me, he also believed in me (even if I didn’t always recognize that at the time – damn teenagers!).
Now, when I feel like I might be at my limit, he is the voice I hear that says, “You can do this. You are strong. You’ve got to believe.” I bring him with me to every race, and when things get hard, I talk to him. I close my eyes and think of what he would say. I imagine how excited his face used to get at my crew races. I don’t want to let him down.
My dad taught me many more valuable lessons beyond the basics of peeing in a bucket–although, clearly, that is pure gold.
My dad prepared me for the weight of adulthood–even though I’ve had to spend most of that time without him. He taught me to be strong, to stay determined, and to be committed to my goals.
He’ll be the voice in my head, in just 3 weeks time, when I compete in the Florida Double Anvil for the second time. And, when I cross that finish line, I know I’ll feel close to him again.
Winter hiking with John & Pace, Appalachian Trail, off the Bennington, VT trailhead.
John, my husband, is fond of saying, “Triathlon is a winter sport that is played in the summer.”
Indeed. Most of us spend a good deal of time training through the winter months, working on limiters, building strength, setting the foundation for when the racing season begins in warmer climes.
But, let’s face it: it’s now February, and for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve been pushing through a few months of the colder temperatures, freezing rain, and piles of snow. It gets old.
Am I right?
Some lucky endurance sport enthusiasts will take time out for a training camp in warmer climates: Arizona, Florida, Southern Texas, to name a few of the popular spots. These training camps come complete with experienced coaches, professional triathletes, and a group of like-minded comrades, willing to work their bodies for anywhere from a few days to a week (or more!).
Sounds great, right?
Sure, but then you look at the price tag of the camp (without even paying to get there), or you realize the timing of the camp doesn’t fit with your life, or maybe the intimidation factor of a camp is too much, or maybe you just like to train solo (guilty!). Regardless of the reason, you can’t find a camp that will give you exactly what you want or need.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t still have a training camp – you just need to improvise.
A few weeks back, I kicked my own arse for a week in a do-it-yourself style training camp, as part of my overall preparation for the Florida Double Anvil (a double-iron distance race), which will be held on March 18-19, 2016, at Lake Louisa, in Clermont, Florida.
No, there weren’t fancy coaches. Just me.
No, there wasn’t a big group of athletes pushing each other day in, day out. Although, I was lucky to have a friend or two join me on a few of the sessions!
What there was in my DIY camp: a fantastic week of training, without the need to balance life, work and everything else.
The idea for this solo training camp came about when I realized two things:
Winter time is cold New Jersey, and not conducive to outdoor riding. Okay, I didn’t “realize” this – I already knew it, but let’s say I processed it fully as part of setting up my ATP leading into the 2016 season.
There is a new course for the Florida Double this year, and it’s in Clermont, Florida. Having raced in Clermont back in 2014, I remembered one thing about the area: hills, some of which can be aggressive–shockingly so considering impressions of Florida as mostly flat. While the group discussion on Facebook about the Florida Double Anvil indicated there weren’t any aggressive elevation changes, I craved some certainty so that I could structure my at-home training more specifically to the new course.
What follows are some tips from my experience in the event that you’d like to DIY a personal training camp of your own.
After all, I/she hadn’t simply scheduled a nice steady endurance swim. Nope. It was a hard one. In fact, it was a session that I had done last year going into the 2015 Florida double. But last year, I didn’t quite hit the marks I had set for myself.
When I scheduled this one again for this year, I was clearly looking for a little revenge training. I was determined to hit those marks.
But, as I stood on the pool deck, I felt just that small twinge of doubt. As I looked at the paper I had printed with the workout details, I thought about last year. I’m not going to lie: I felt like this workout might just be a bit too impossible for me.
Maybe my targets are too aggressive? I thought. Well, I’m not going to hit them thinking that way. Get going!
The beginning of the warm up didn’t help improve my confidence. Everything felt tight, sluggish, slow, slappy. You know those days in the pool when you wonder if you actually know how to swim? Yeah, sorta like that.
The voices were threatening: Eh, don’t worry about it. They tried to lull me. Maybe today just isn’t the day. The voices love a quitter.
But, I don’t love quitting. I wasn’t ready or willing to give in to those thoughts–I mean, at this point, I was only about 500 yards into the swim. That was hardly enough time to get my old engine to idle, let alone revved up.
So, I ignored those thoughts. I realized that my body needed a little more time, so I extended the warm up, in the hopes of finding a grove. There’s no rush here. I added a few 100s of backstroke to stretch myself out, to loosen up.
My originally-planned 1200 yard warm up had turned into 1700 yards. I could stall no longer. It was either time to start the main sets, or slap my way through to 4800 yards. I wasn’t in the mood for slapping.
The main portion of the workout included alternating sets of 300 yards, one hard, one steady, one hard, one steady – and so on for 3600 yards (6 x 300 hard, 300 steady).
I hit the lap button, and told myself: I have to try!
The first hard set felt much harder than it should have for the pace. Ugh – is that it?! I looked at the split pace on my watch. I was in the target range, but it just felt unsustainable for 5 more sets!
STOP IT! I knew I had to get a hold of myself–of my HEAD–or this session was going to break me again.
No. JUST NO.
I gave myself a pep talk during the first steady set: Just find your rhythm. Just one lap at a time. Catch. Pull. Catch. Pull. Stop fighting it, just flow.
Somewhere through that first steady set, I felt something click. And, I watched my splits come down. In fact, this steady set was almost as fast as the hard set – but it felt a lot easier.
The power of the mind is an amazing thing indeed.
With the next hard effort, I pushed a little more, and I felt good. Could I descend each hard set, and each steady set across the 6 sets? And, with that thought, the game was on.
I’ve been putting a lot of time into my swim this year. Last year, I lost a lot of speed doing most of my training for the Florida Double at an easy to steady effort, mostly because the volume of swimming was beyond anything I had every done before. This year, that’s not the case. So, I’m pushing limits to regain my old speed (well, speed for a triathlete swimmer, anyway). And, in the past two weeks, I’ve been happy to see it’s starting to come back. It’s not where it used to be, but I’m chipping away at it.
Before I began this workout, I thought briefly that the targets I wanted to hit might be impossible. But they weren’t. I hit – and exceeded – my targets. My body could do it all along – after all, the targets were based on my threshold test. So, it was my mind that I had to get on board.
Not every workout is an impossibility-breaker – and nor should it be. But we have to open ourselves – mind and body – to the chance that it could be. We can’t let the voices in our heads shut us down before we even get started.
Every time we push ourselves in training to achieve the impossible, we make the realm of what is possible that much bigger.
Muhammad Ali had it straight. Impossible is nothing.
FTP also stands for: F**k This Pain. Image from http://www.slideshare.net/TrainingPeaks/power-terminology-1.
Forgive me, data junkies, for I have been an FTP slacker. It has been just shy of 2 years since my last FTP (functional threshold power) test. Yes, 2 years.
I’m not a fan of frequent testing, not only because I don’t like them (which I do not), but also because they require a re-organization of the training schedule. In my training and coaching, I prefer to use prep races and key weekly sessions to gauge improvement and to set “A” race targets. But, even still, some baseline and ongoing testing is needed from time to time.
As I’ve been re-introducing myself to the velo over the past few weeks, I tried to convince myself of two things: 1) Cycling is not all that poopy, and 2) I can totally figure my zones out just by doing some steadier state rides.
The first stage is denial.
But, as a coach and an athlete, I knew I had to do a threshold effort in order to round out the data I have. While the steady state rides give me important information – they don’t tell me everything I want to know.
So, I scheduled the FTP assessment in my calendar for December 8th. And, then there was acceptance. Sort of.
Even into the warm up for this session, I was trying to convince myself that I didn’t need to do it. The voices were chattering.
You know that it is. Suck it up buttercup, barked the hardass brain.
There were quite a few gems of observations and chatter from the various parts of my brain before during and after this process. People often ask me what I’m thinking when I train. Welcome to the inside… Read the rest of this entry »
A few weeks back, I introduced the new Yanking Chains Podcast (and videocast) I’ve been co-hosting with Vince Matteo and Matt Momont. We are now up to Episode 5! Wow 🙂
All episodes can be seen on YouTube, at the following playlist.
We continue to tweak with the form and experiment. Eventually, we’ll transfer over to iTunes, but we are still experimenting for now.
The episode airs live on Google Hangouts every two weeks, Friday mornings at 9 a.m. EST and 6 a.m. PST (time zone conflicts make this the only time we can do it!). If you watch live (from your bike trainer perhaps?!), you can live tweet (to @maslife) or Facebook questions. If you want to watch the archives, click the playlist above or use the MP3 downloads below.
If you’d prefer to have the MP3 version of these episodes here the links:
Image from http://therapyworksltd.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/bee-bicycling-72dpi.jpg.
For many triathletes, the Ironman World Championship race in Kailua-Kona represents the crown jewel, the mecca, the peak, the main event, the…–oh let’s face it, it’s perceived as the ultimate set of bee’s knees for long course triathletes.
While not everyone wants to race there, most long-course athletes will speak wistfully of what it would be like (or what it was like) to race
K. O. N. A.
Four years ago, I announced on this blog that I wanted to qualify for Kona. At that time, I had a very vague (and quite naive) idea of what it would take to find myself on the big island.
What I learned was more than I could have even imagined–and some things I didn’t want to imagine.
Given my route from the back/middle of the pack to the slot, I receive emails from athletes, who find themselves in a context similar to mine, with the explicit or implicit question:
What does it take to qualify for Kona?
For example, one email I received a few weeks ago began:
“I wanted to ask you about the journey from BOP to Kona – what advice you’d give as someone who did it. I figured you’d be the one person who wouldn’t laugh me out of the room for even having these delusions.”
Nope. No, I won’t laugh at anyone who sets big dreams.
This emailer also suggested that they might be “bothering” me, but that’s not the case at all. I don’t mind offering my advice – even though as you read this post, you may not like some of it. As my father used to say, “Don’t ask a question you don’t want the answer to.”
The journey to qualify requires a considerable re-organization of your life, a single-minded focus to decision-making, and a willingness to sacrifice the short term in favor of the long term goals. At least that’s how it worked for someone like me – who wasn’t exactly Kona material when she first started. (And, I still question whether I’m Kona material. A roll-down slot is not the same thing as a qualifying slot. The impostor syndrome is strong in this one.)
While it’s hard for me to speak to a specific person’s individual chances of nabbing a Kona slot, in this post I lay out 5 basic principles that guided my life (and continue to do so) during the years it took me to get to the big island. Your chances may be better than mine, and in those cases, the journey will be different. Read the rest of this entry »