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 »

2016 Infinitus 88k: My almost first time DNF

Image used from: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjhmqz6vonNAhWGzz4KHd3zD6IQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fsites.middlebury.edu%2Ftrailrunner%2F2012%2F07%2F30%2Fa-midsummer-evening-on-mount-moosalamoo%2F&bvm=bv.123325700,d.cWw&psig=AFQjCNHZVuYeLyb2-8GvPHOZ3K7C1u4TBw&ust=1464961996584914.

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/.

It was Dark:Thirty. I was somewhere climbing up the Mt. Moosalamoo Trail in Vermont, about 45-ish miles into The Endurance Society’s Infinitus 88k-ish race.

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.

As I hiked in the dark wilderness, I found myself singing a paraphrased version the Talking Heads,

“And you may find yourself, climbing a craggy mountainside, and you may find yourself, sinking in an unavoidable mudpool, and you may ask yourself: well, how did I get here?”

Good question. Let’s rewind a bit to answer that one. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s my story?

ultrarunning

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.

Okay, thanks.

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.

I think in some ways, I have been a little lost, trying to find my story. For three years, many of you read about my quest for the Kona Qualification.

What a great story that was, right?!

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.

There were fun characters, plot twists, and a happy ending. How can I ever top that one? Read the rest of this entry »

It Takes An Anvillage: 2016 Florida Double Anvil Race Report

“3…2…1…Go!”

“Is that the start?” I overheard one of my fellow racers ask.

Yup. 

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.

2016 Florida Double Anvil

The Anvillage

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.

Not. Even. Close. Read the rest of this entry »

Daddy’s Girl

My dad and I, somewhere around 1979-1980.

My dad (big tank) and I (mini tank), somewhere around 1979. Of special note: his VELOUR tank, ballin’ sunglasses, and his big hair (that’s where I get it from).

Seventeen years ago, our phone rang in the middle of the night. I didn’t hear it, so John wound up answering it.

He came into the bedroom, “Maria…” I stirred. “Something’s wrong. It’s your mom.”

I looked at the clock it was o’dark thirty – maybe 3 a.m.?

I picked up the phone and all I could hear was my mother wailing, all of these whirling noises.

“Your father died!” she managed to say between her sobs.

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.

boat days

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.

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