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