Excuse Me, I Just Fartleked

Wow. It’s been awhile! Have you missed me? Because I’ve most certainly missed you! It’s just that there’s not much to say when your days are spent shoveling snow and picking up frozen dog poop in the back yard. But spring has sprung (which is a HUGE deal if you’ve spent the last eight months in New England) and it’s time to put down the Prosecco and Girl Scout Cookies and get back in action on the training front.

In that vein, I recently joined some friends for 5K adventure race. No biggie, right? A 5k is a mere sneeze to distance girl here. Except there were obstacles. Big ones! Usually, I’m like, “Yeah baby, just lock in the pace and hit cruise control!” except this particular race was more like, “The mud just sucked my shoe off and why are those people in front of me running around cones holding 40-lb. cement balls?” It was hard. And that got me realizing that, as distance athletes, it’s a whole new world when a race has both the aerobic element (where us distance folk are nice and comfy) and an anaerobic element (which sucks the oxygen right out of your body and leaves you practically twitching on the ground).

It also got me thinking how important it is to spend some time training in uncomfortable places; all in the name improving performance. So I’ve embarked on some fartlek training and highly recommend it. Please note that I could have said “speed work” but fartlek is MUCH more entertaining and gave me a killer title for this post. So, fartlek it is. Deal. BTW: Fartlek is a Swedish term for “speed play” and is used to describe a type of workout used by runners. Dang, those Swedes are funny.

And it’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy: when out for your next run, just speed up between telephone poles (or mail boxes, or street signs, or whatever) to a mildly uncomfortable pace (doesn’t have to be a full-out sprint). Try for 6-8 repeats and watch your fitness improve. Then go home and brag to your friends that you let loose a fartlek. It’ll go over well. Promise.

Finally, this is totally shameless self promotion, but it’s my blog, so there. I recently started working part-time doing marketing, communications and PR at a very fun apparel company (www.teddythedog.com). To kick-off the running season, we designed a really fun shirt (you want one… I KNOW you want one..)

Back of shirt

Back of shirt

Front of shirt

Front of shirt

Fun, eh? You can get one HERE and keep everyone behind you laughing in your next race. And, if you get out there and fartlek, there should be a lot of people behind you.

Posted in Triathlon | 1 Comment

Red, White & Belligerent

Several weeks ago I decided (somewhat last minute) to run a local marathon. It made perfect sense: I had raced the Ironman triathlon in July, then abruptly sat on my ass eating candy for eight weeks, then abruptly started “training” for 2.5 weeks, then abruptly ran the aforementioned marathon (kids: don’t try this at home). The goal was to see if I had even an iota of fitness left (no), cry about it (yes), and then get back on track (in the works).

But alas, these details have absolutely nothing to do with this story other than to explain why I found myself in a starting corral with hundreds of other runners on a recent, cool, October morning.

Another seemingly-useless-but-actually-relevant piece of background information? I’ve been slowly but surely developing a deep, deep rage over bad technology etiquette. Like a “there is no fuse, just a ripcord” level of white-hot pissiness. Don’t get me wrong: I love calling and syncing and streaming and texting and dropboxing and iClouding and linking in and tweeting and twerking as much as the next person. But somehow this 24/7 access to technology has allowed us all to stick our collective heads up our collective butts and completely forget the subtle art of social graces in small or quiet public spaces.

Example, you say? I rarely have time for a pedicure. And if you’ve seen the damage that years of endurance racing can do to one’s toenails, well, suffice it to say that I’m doing you a favor by keeping them painted. Still, it never fails that as I sink into the comfy chair, feet happy in warm soapy water, someone comes through the door of this quiet oasis yapping loudly on a cell phone. And for the next 10-15 minutes, everyone there “relaxes” to a soundtrack of, “YEAH. YEAH. LIKE, TOTALLY! WHAT’D SHE SAY NEXT? UH-HUH. UH-HUH. YEAH. RIGHT. DID YOU TELL HER THAT? THEN WHAT’D SHE SAY? YEAH? I KNOW, TOTALLY, RIGHT? YEAH. UH-UH. OH MY GOD! THAT’S SO OBNOXIOUS! I WOULD NEVER HAVE SAID THAT! YEAH. BUT WHY? UH-HUH. UH-HUH. UH-HUH…”

Nothing warms the heart quite like someone else’s overly loud, one-sided conversation. We’re just trying to chill out, steal a few moments of peace. Find out who the Kardashians are dating. And that’s just the tip of the bad manners iceberg that I’ve witnessed.

It may seem I’m way off topic here, but what this means is that I arrived at the start of that marathon with a massive bee in my bonnet over this issue. And now back on topic.

So there we all were—awaiting the start of the marathon. The race announcer asked us to observe a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. Then a young lady began to sing the National Anthem—you could have heard a pin drop. Except, halfway through the Anthem, you could no longer hear a pin drop because a spectator was standing alongside the corral yapping loudly into his cell phone. While 1000+ runners and hundreds of spectators were quiet. While our National Anthem was being sung. A loud, obnoxious, non-urgent social conversation.

I could feel the annoyed shifting of the runners around me who were glaring at him and murmuring frustration, the outrage building. And then it happened, folks: A sudden, violent attack of verbal diarrhea spewed out of yours truly: HEY JACKASS! IT’S THE ANTHEM! WHY DON’T YOU SHOVE THAT PHONE SO FAR UP YOUR ASS YOUR SPLEEN ANSWERS THE NEXT CALL!

(Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite that polished, but it’s my blog so I can embellish how I please.)

What happened next? Crickets. Then crazy laughter from my fellow runners who were obviously relieved that someone finally said something. (Jackass just continued down the street yapping, by the way.)

Fellow citizens, I’m not trying to be self-congratulatory. While I felt righteous in my indignation, my actions were, uh, a little less than exemplary. But come on. It was a quiet, reflective, emotional moment. Did this person really not notice the silence? Not hear the National Anthem? Not register the stunned stares? And if he didn’t, isn’t that utter lack of self-awareness a whole other problem in and of itself?

I’m not asking for everyone to give up their right to connect through technology. Rather, let’s be more aware in our shared spaces. And the next time you receive a call while sitting next to me in a nail salon (or in a quiet waiting room, or on a train or in a restaurant)? I urge you to show some restraint. Or better yet? Just let your spleen answer it.

Posted in Triathlon | 3 Comments

Grit Happens: A True Story

I’ve meant to tell this story forever. But time sped by and the details became murky. Still, I’ve been left with a remarkable feeling—awe and inspiration mixed with sadness—for almost 17 years.

But now, a few recent events have prompted me to dig deep into my memory and tell you about it. First, the Boston Marathon bombings. Second, the creation of a friend’s blog called “More Good than Bad” which posts stories about the good things happening in the world—a place to visit after watching the violence-filled news that permeates our air waves and high-speed connections day after day. And finally, Diana Nyad’s successful swim from Cuba to the United States at a mere 64 years young.

So, back up to the 1996 Boston Marathon and away we go.

I was a year out of college and working for an ad agency that paid me at the poverty line to wear really short skirts and flirt with the client. (I wasn’t up to speed on harassment laws at the time—I was just a corn-fed white girl looking for a keg party, ok?)  I split an apartment with three other girls, bartended at night to rise just above the poverty line, and had fun, fun, fun. I ran to stay in shape but generally still thought of marathoners as one sandwich short of a picnic. Or a hammer short of a full tool kit. Or assumed the wheel was spinning but the hamster was dead. Still, I admired them. From afar.

The day of the 1996 Boston Marathon I had steered clear of the city. Then, after the event was well over, I met up with a friend for drinks at a bar near the finish line.  It was a memorably stressful evening as I had to decide: Corona with a lime or without? Mozz sticks or nachos? (Folks: this was way before I knew anything about refined carbohydrates or the Glycemic Index or saturated fats. In other words, life was perfect). As the sky darkened, and my friend and I were an hour deep into drinking and eating (Corona with lime, of course!  How could I even question that?), I happened to glance out the window and notice a woman running down Boylston St. What caught my attention was that she had some major physical challenges (not to mention she was probably in her mid-to-late 60s). It’s difficult to explain how she was running, but it was as if she hopped forward on one foot, paused, and then dragged her other foot in line—the foot being dragged looked as if it had no ability to hold weight, or that it was possibly paralyzed. Regardless, I remember being impressed she was going out for a run at such a busy time of the evening. And thinking that it must take her an hour to run a mile, and wasn’t it uncomfortable?

But as she got closer, an aching sensation spread through my insides. She had a number on. A Boston Marathon bib pinned to her shirt. Now, my little grasshoppers, when I say the marathon was over, I mean over. Cheering crowds, evaporated. Police presence, gone. Finish line, dismantled. Aid stations long since packed up. The marathon course had been open to traffic for quite a while. What was thought to be the last runner had crossed the finish line hours beforehand. Hours.

But here she was. This warrior of a woman with a significant disability had started her day in Hopkinton, and was finally two blocks from the finish. I’m sure the last 13 miles (if not more) had been devoid of aid stations. I’m sure as she ran through the center of Wellesley, no one even knew she was in the race—just a woman out for a slow, slow jog. Here’s what went down next:

Me: Maggie! That woman is running!

Maggie: So?

Me: No, I mean running. As in the marathon!

Maggie: Can’t be, it’s over.

Me: But she has a number on – look!!

Maggie: Oh. My. God. She’s still running the marathon!?

After about 30 seconds of stunned silence, we threw money on the table and sprinted out the door and onto Boylston. Maggie went to one side of her, and I to the other. We started clapping, cheering, shouting. And crying. Hard. As in Niagara Falls down the sides of our faces. The woman nodded in acknowledgement and carried on. Over the course of those remaining blocks, other people on the street began to understand what was going on, and joined our cheering squad. And, honest to God, we became a random group of 18-20 sobbing strangers jogging next to her, witnessing one of the most spectacular displays of grit, determination and hard work. Hard, hard, work.

Folks, we never got her name. She wasn’t talkative at the end and she just wanted to go home (can you blame her?) and she gently, but firmly, pushed away our offer to help her home. (As if someone tough enough to run a 7+ hour marathon with a major physical impediment would need our help.) Her name would never show up in the list of finishers, because there is a cut-off time in most events like this after which an athlete “doesn’t count” in the record books. But it seemed obvious she wasn’t out there for the glory and the recognition anyway. She was out there to finish what she started—her other motivations we’ll never know.

See, it’s easy for us to glorify elite athletes and marvel at their talent. But I’ve been around endurance racing to know that the people who work the hardest—who experience the most suffering and have to dig the deepest and overcome the biggest obstacles—are not those who come in first, but in many cases, those who come in last. And while I don’t know who our mystery runner was, I want everyone to know that she existed and what she accomplished that day.

Sad and awful things happen in the world—even at a marathon. But there are also people like this runner who remind me that it’s easier to persevere when surrounded by adoration and attention. But those who can still find their wings alone in the dark and silence truly embody the spirit behind Boston Strong.

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Deep Thoughts, by a Burnt-Out Triathlete

Months of training. Massive amounts of money spent on coaching, massage, physical therapy, bike components, sassy tri apparel, Master’s swim fees, computrainer classes, race fees, training camps, carbon fiber bike, multiple running shoes, aerodynamic water bottles, socks that supposedly make you run faster, deep dish race wheels that are obsolete five minutes after purchase, warm-up clothing, cool-down clothing, bike trainer, herbal supplements, nutritionist, cool-ass cycling glasses with interchangeable lenses, aero helmet, airfare, hotel fees, rental car, bike shipping fees, Christmas gift for the beloved bike mechanic, cooling gear for hot days, warming gear for cold days, rain gear for wet days, wind-blocking gear for windy days, All this, coming together for the big event: The IRONMAN.

And now, let us zoom in closer and listen to this super-focused athlete in its natural habitat…


THE SWIM

¼ mile: Feeling good! Heart rate stable – out of the fray. Just lock in this pace, and we’re good to go! This is going to be an awesome day—awesome! Gonna kick some iron ass!

½ mile:  I wonder if I could swim this whole thing butterfly. I mean, if I really had to. Probably not in a wetsuit.  But maybe if it was sleeveless.  Yes, if it was sleeveless I could do it, but I’d need some adrenaline—like that super-human strength crap when moms lift up cars with their pinky to save a kid. It’d suck, but I could do it.

1 mile:  Right now, I’m swimming in the world’s largest toilet. One large, co-ed, multi-cultural toilet.

1.2 miles: Yes! First loop done. Woot woot! If we have to run down the beach, it should be included in the 140.6 mile count. Like, make the run 26.1, duh. And we should have a few minutes shaved off our final time for running in a wetsuit—kinda like in golf, when you’re really good and you play with someone really sucky.

1.5 miles: Are there any man-eating freshwater fish? I guess Piranha are technically fresh water, but would they bother biting through a wetsuit with this giant underwater salad bar of slimy plant crap? Guess 14 rows of razor teeth aren’t needed for salad.

1.75 miles: Seriously though?  I could do butterfly if I had to. I could break it up with some breaststroke. Nah, breaststroke makes me go backwards. I mean, I have breasts and I can’t do breaststroke?  Then again, a lot of people can’t do backstroke. And everyone has a back. Or at least everyone I know.

2.0 miles: I can’t believe no one’s invented floating aid stations. They float a Ford, why not a huge raft with people handing out small water cups? Or a hose! We could just swim by and have clean water shot directly into our mouths! Great business idea—I’ll call it “Water on the Water.” B-rilliant!

Yes! Totally just smoked that guy. Eat my wake!

2.2 miles: Wooohooo— I’m flying! Move over, Phelps, there’s a new sheriff in town and she’s kickin’ some serious a—what the hell!? Is that a green swim cap running up the beach? How’d she get so far ahead? Shit—I suck! But I could totally swim butterfly if I had to.

THE BIKE

Mile 15: Oh, for crying out loud! Why do men wear white tri shorts? I mean, you’re aero for crap’s sake! Gotta pass this guy before I become a de facto proctologist.

Mile 25: Watts are good, heart rate steady, GU down the hatch. Lots of cows around here. Something about the cow is really funny, ya know?

Mile 40: Holy shit! Where did this woman come from?  Fine, go on by me missy, but I’ll see you on the run. She must doping.  Obviously. Or she’s like, 18.

Mile 50: Gotta pee but there’s a huge pack behind me. I mean, what if I see them after the race and they’re all like, “Oh, my god! That’s the girl who pulled a total Niagra Falls at mile 50 of the bike!” No one deserves that. Even Mr. Look-At-My-Intestines in the white bike shorts.

Mile 60: Wonder how many sticks of butter I’ve burned off at this point. I mean, if I downed, like, four sticks of butter, would any of the fat actually reach my butt? It’d be so cool if I could eat a stick of butter, flour, sugar and chocolate chips, and my stomach would bake a cookie. 

Mile 75: More cows? Don’t other female mammals have milk? So what’s the big deal about the cow? Why don’t we milk Zebras?  I mean, crap, we now milk coconuts and soybeans. Even almonds! Ooohhhh… chocolate-covered almonds are so good! Peanuts are good too though. Yeah, I’d definitely vote for the peanut.  Holy lower backache, Batman.

Mile 90: God, my ass is killing me! Why can’t GU have ibuprofen in it? Is that really too much to ask? That the peeps at the GU factory get together with peeps at the Advil factory and come up with some sort of love child? Oh hell, please don’t tell me that woman in front of me has a “53” on her leg…

Mile 100: I hate this sport.  I’m never doing this stupid race again. How the hell am I supposed to run a marathon now? This isn’t fun! Why do people think this is fun? I’m going to waddle 26.2 miles like I’m in a diaper and everyone will laugh at me and think I suck. They’ll be snickering and posting photos of me as Diaper Girl on Facebook. It’ll go viral. I’ll have to leave the country.

Mile 105: This is so hard (sniff). Nobody understands me. Nobody really gets it, ya know? My butt is numb and this bike is a stupid hunk of dumb metal. And it (sniff) rides really slowly and my power meter broke—if my watts were actually this low, I’d be a cadaver. It’s just so hard… so hard… is anybody listening? Anybody?? I’d give anything to be off this bike right now…

Mile 110-112: Screw this! Little Miss Look-At-Me-I’m-53-And-Ahead-Of-A-40-Something is not beating me into T2!

Fine then. Age before beauty.

THE RUN

Mile 1: Okay, Gumby legs in full force. Here’s what we’re going to do: 1 cup of fluid at each mile, rotating through water, flat cola, chicken broth.  Go through that circuit 12 times and we’re done with this bad boy. It’ll be no big thing, chicken wing—just like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Mile 5: One more GU and I’m gonna lose it. Why can’t they invent real food in tablet form?  Know what would be awesome? If GU and Taco Bell hooked up and created a cheese and bean burrito in a capsule. Maybe not for those downwind, but I don’t plan on being downwind! Boooyaaaaaah!

Mile 9: Oh, God, I’m so downwind right now. Scratch the burrito-in-a-capsule plan.  Headphones would rock—a little P!nk, a little Lady Gaga . No! Books on tape! Yes! Fifty Shades of Grey! Betcha I’d run real fast. Ooooh, then I could move on to Twilight. Hot damn—A Christian Grey-Edward Cullen sandwich. Let’s put that in a capsule! Dammit… heart rate just spiked…

Mile 13: Halfway and I smell like an overflowing porta-potty that was dumped into a sulfuric pond.  I could bottle this scent and sell it for BIG bucks to Gitmo as a new interrogation method. Would give anything to be on a bike right now instead.

Mile 15: You know what would be awesome? If I got some crazy super-human energy surge and blew right past the pros. Like, left them in my dust. And the whole tri community would be buzzing about the new girl taking the tri world by storm. Everyone would clamor for a statement from me (I’ll have to come up with something really profound—something “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”-esque ). They’d be dubbing me the “new generation of Ironman”—although I guess I’m actually older than all of them, so maybe not. Maybe they’d kinda Dara Torres me instead… like 40-year-old blows the socks of reining Ironman Queen…  That’d be awesome.  I’d act all cool-as-a-cucumber and Lava would wanna profile me and then I’d be all like—what the hell!? How’d Miss 53 get up there?

Mile 18: Men people: What’s really the point of bib shorts? Are ya’ll seriously afraid your pair of sprayed-on-from-a-can lycra are going to fall down? They’re not going anywhere, folks. Look up “aphrodisiac” in the dictionary. Then check out its antonym. See the photo of bib shorts? 

Mile 20: Why do these race photographers crouch down so low? Is does nothing except ensure we all have more chins than a Hong Kong telephone directory. You what stinks? Every year, I put one on the wall with pride, except that everyone probably comes over, looks at it, and wonders how someone who trains 20 hours week can have arm fat. At the very least, the photographers could give you a heads up. Like “Hey! Number 743! Wipe the snot from your face and suck it IN girlfriend…”

Mile 22: You know what would be heaven right now? If I could get a massage on one of those tables with the cut out for your face? And then someone could sit under the table and feed me pizza through the hole. Preferably someone hot.

Mile 24: Okay, brilliant business idea number two. After getting “Water on the Water” up and running, I’ll focus on “Stage It.” So cool! A race photograph is staged so you can actually look good! You put on all your race crap but with make up on and your hair looks shiny and cute under the helmet! Then you can strike more flattering poses and stuff and not worry about swamp creature hair and misplaced snot rockets. Gotta trademark these a.s.a.p. Obviously missed my calling as an entrepreneur.

Mile 26: Oh my god! There’s the finish! I’m almost there!

What the hell? This is SO much more than .2 miles! Who measured this? Who?!? And why was 30 minutes added to the finishing clock?

But yeah, totally coulda swum butterfly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Triathlon | 6 Comments

Spinning the Wheel of Fortunate

There are four points in every long-course race (defined as half- and full-iron-distance triathlon) where I officially retire from the sport. Over the past four years, that’s roughly 50+ retirements. (Although highly complex math, such elementary school addition, is not my forte, so it might be more).

  • Point #1: Being called to the water for the swim start. In general, I find it easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy to stay calm, cool and collected leading up to the race. Until, that is, the summonsing to the water. Then, the sensation is that of my Vitamix blender making a smoothie out of my innards, which were recently force fed a spicy Mexican buffet. Get the picture? Even a mere whiff of neoprene can bring it on—it’s a Pavlovian thing.
  • Point #2: The first 15 miles of the bike when the body is trying to transition from swimming to cycling—especially courses like Ironman Lake Placid that warm you up with a grinding six-mile climb. There is something about this early stage of the ride that feels demoralizing—that psychologically makes it easy to decide that you suck, your bike sucks, your race wheels are crap and your aero helmet has a parachute out the back. These thoughts are ping-ponging in your brain with a mere 120.2 miles to go.  The good news is that after years of racing, I know to expect it and that it will pass (except when it doesn’t pass, which is whole different blog post).
  • Point #3: This usually comes late in the bike, when the back, shoulders, ass and undercarriage rebel against the pretzel-like contortioning better known as “getting aero.”  It’s that point when the stomach, taste buds and gag reflex all simultaneously say “Hell no” to another serving of pre-packaged snot that marketing gurus call sports gel. It’s also the point when I start thinking I’d sell my bike and all three kids to anyone standing on the side of the road with a hamburger.
  • Point #4: The onset of sledgehammer legs—usually late in the run. Folks, this doesn’t require much explanation. Just imagine someone taking a sledgehammer to your quads, hammies and calves. If all goes well, sledgehammer legs don’t appear until late, late, late. In which case, you’re close enough to the finish to suck it up and execute a Chariots of Fire finish. However, if you are in fact having a sucky race (see point #1), then it can show up early, say six miles into the marathon.  In which case, no Chariots of Fire moment for you—just 20 miles of weeping and waddling.

With a few exceptions, these points of a long-course race are a reality (at least for me). And after years of racing, I know these points in the race will come. I hate them. I mentally retire when in them. But then, afterwards, I put it all back into perspective and find myself on active.com paying big bucks for yet another whack at it. Why? Because I’ve friggin’ loved this sport and all the maniac episodes that come with it.

But as this season draws to a close, the tenor is different. See, training for long-course has always had pros and cons, but as long as the pros outweigh the cons, well, onward. But what if the cons start to outweigh the pros?

I have a good friend who refers to life’s general balancing act as the “wheel of focus.”  Her theory is that all the things important to you are given equal space on a wheel (think Wheel of Fortune-style). This includes family, friends, work, triathlon, cross-dressing, underwater basket weaving, you name it.  However, only one thing at a time can be at the top of the wheel.  Whatever is on top is not necessarily the only important thing—merely the thing that, at that point in time, you have the bandwidth or need to focus on fully. As you go through life, the wheel spins, putting different things at different times into the focus zone.

I feel grateful that life has been humming along nicely, often allowing me to put racing into the focus zone. But now, I need to spin the wheel. This doesn’t mean quitting altogether, but moving away from the long stuff to free up the focus zone. And the reason I know this is because, at long last, my cons of long-course racing have started to outweigh the pros:

  1. Constant fatigue. I’m tired of being tired. There. I said it. There’s a chronic, underlying level of fatigue that comes with high-volume training, especially when mixed with parenting young kids. It’s not always an obvious “I’m about to fall asleep in my spaghetti” type of fatigue but more of an insidious “I’m just going through the motions, checking all the boxes here” type of tiredness. Instead of being in the moment, I’m often trying to just get through the moment—pretending to smell the roses, if you will.  It’s not fair to family and friends to be in that state indefinitely.
  2. Family Stress. Okay, another unpopular truth: while family time rocks, it can throw those in high-volume training mode into a highly-anxious tail spin.  I can’t truly relax for fear of detraining or missing something. It makes me edgy—and certainly not a fun “in the moment” vacation partner. And don’t even get me started on the expense of racing.
  3. Irritability. This may not be true for everyone, but I have to admit that for me, the end result of weeks of high volume is akin to a caged wolverine being poked repeatedly with a skewer: one meltdown away from court-ordered anger management therapy.  I can keep it at bay about 84.3% of the time. That’s no longer good enough.

Let me be clear: this is not a “woe is me” sob story. Instead, it’s an honest realization that all these cons were outweighed by the awesome rush of racing long-course for years. But now the rush has ebbed to a slow trickle and the cons are bigger than the pros. Performance is slipping.

So, time to spin the wheel and focus on a less time-demanding endeavor for a bit, like training for an ultra-marathon. Just kidding—makin’ sure you’re still awake.

But don’t count me out. Qualifying for Kona is still in the plans—I’m just going to wait until I’m in the W85-89 age group. It’s not that I expect to be super fast at that point in my life. I just expect everyone else to be super dead.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in ftness, running, Triathlon | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Birthing the IronBaby

It’s the two-week countdown to my third Ironman triathlon (this one in Lake Placid, NY) and I can’t help but note the similarity between the journey to Ironman and having a baby. The ladies in the house will understand this, as will the male seahorse population (explanation later).

See, you decide to do this really big thing, right? And you’re excited! In fact, you’re knocked up with excitement! But then reality sets in and the months-long journey to the end is beset with fatigue, physical discomforts and unsolicited commentary from others.  People feel sorry for you. You feel sorry for you. But not too sorry, ’cause you got yourself into this mess.

You’re hobbling around. Others scrutinize your body. Potty-related issues take up most of your intellectual capacity. You can’t stop eating. People find you both interesting and really annoying because your endeavor makes you so damn high maintenance. You need to eat the exact second you need to eat. All food (and food-like) items within a 25-mile radius get sucked into the never-satisfied vortex that is your stomach. Sleep is visceral. As in, “You wake me up and I will TAKE YOU OUT!”

But mostly, it’s a grind, with the occasional exciting kick (to the belly or at the track) and you’re reminded that the end result is so very worth this short-term suffering. You buy a ton of gear–more than you’ll ever need. You have a whole new wardrobe. You worry about your weight. You still can’t stop eating. Cramping has a whole new meaning. Your friends are probably rolling their eyes behind your back. Your spouse/partner definitely is.

But then the big day comes, at last! And you push and push and push and push. It’s painful. You want to quit. Your undercarriage hurts like no tomorrow. You think, “Hell No! I’m never doing this again!”

But finally you reach the finish line, totally wrecked, covered in body fluids–completely trashed. You ache in places you never knew you had. But you did it. You are awed and shell-shocked. Relieved but too exhausted to be elated quite yet. You are in love with the outcome. People mean well, but you want to smack anyone who asks, in the immediate aftermath, “Are you gonna go for another?”

But alas, an amnesia-induced haze settles in many months later and you indeed decide to go for another, because it wasn’t that bad, right?

Total non-sequitur, but about the seahorse comment… In the seahorse world, the males carry the babies to term. I know, ladies, I know. If wishing made it so. If only wishing made it so.

Posted in ftness, parenting, running, Triathlon | 3 Comments

A MID-LIFE TRI-SIS

Call the Associated Press, ‘cause I’m about to drop some big news: after four intense years racing in the super-competitive 35-39 age group, I have finally graduated into the 40-44 category. Actually, I prefer to think of myself as 39 & 17/12ths, if you don’t mind. And, should you want to send a gift, I’ve registered for a new Crock Pot at Crate-n-Barrel.

But now that I’ve completed my fourth decade, I feel as if I’ve been sold a bill of goods.  Everyone else was supposed to suddenly slow down, allowing me to shine. Except, oh my God, women in the 40-44 age group are still so damn fast. In fact, as I compare times coming out of W35-39 with W40-44, there’s no drop off—some of the W40-44 are even faster. What’s happening? Isn’t V02 Max supposed to take a sharp nosedive? I had BIG plans—such as watching my peers retire to their respective rocking chairs with a glass of Metamucil in hand while I skyrocketed up the ranks and off to Kona.

Needless to say, this isn’t what’s happening.  But before you offer me some cheese with my whine, I decided to think about the factors contributing to the rise of these speedy ladies.

Age before Beauty

Physiologically, athletes in their late 30s and 40s do maintain a higher percentage of their V02 max (or absolute aerobic capacity) and slow twitch muscle fibers—assuming they’re not sitting on the couch all day eating bon-bons. And because long-course triathlon is a purely endurance-based endeavor, the fact that your 40-something fast twitch muscle fibers just took a permanent holiday and your anaerobic system (your sprinting engine) has slightly less power has no bearing on long-course performance. Why? Because it’s the slow twitch you need for long course.

Look at it this way: your slow twitch muscle fibers are like the nice, clean cut guy next door you actually bring home to meet your parents—he’ll always be loyal and there for you when you need him. Your fast twitch fibers are the guy in a ripped Def Leppard t-shirt that you make out with in the back of a pimped-out IROC-Z  (White Snake possibly playing in the background). They are cool and fun, but not reliable once you’re too old to sport a mini skirt.

They’re Baaaaaacccckkkk!!
A fellow triathlete pointed out this fact we often overlook: Many elite athletes that have been racing professionally are returning to age group status in their early-to-mid  40s. However, even as they drop out of the pro division, the exposure and seasoning that comes from years of racing at that level (and the fact they’re still chock-full-o-slow twitch) translates into times that are closer to pro times than age group times. I know. Boo.

Kids? What Kids?
Many (but certainly not all) women who are moms have closed the all-consuming, completely-exhausting pregnancy and birth chapter in their lives by early-to-mid 40s.  As well, many are finally seeing little kids off to school and saying goodbye to the dependent years—freeing up some space (and energy) in the day to do other things. My youngest, who is now four, is in pre-school each morning. And even though it’s a crap shoot as to whether his shoes will get on the right feet, he can find them and put them on.  No more full-body wrestling to change a diaper. No more lifting into high chairs and car seats and bath tubs. Less of a death grip on him in the parking lot. Less time explaining why he shouldn’t eat dog food. Fewer hours spent cleaning up an impromptu wall mural made of Vaseline and scolding two sisters who “should have known better.”  You get the point—kids require a lot of physical, mental and emotional energy. And as the physical components of the mom job ease up a bit, you find some seriously motivated women ready to get their racing on. I actually wonder if this is the biggest reason we see W40-44 kicking some serious ass.

The “No Bullshit” Zone
Even though many of us “older” folk have left the baby years behind, we still have active kids and busy lives. This means laser-like focus and making the most of available training time. You won’t find much procrastinating here—if you’ve dedicated your very limited personal time to training, you ain’t gonna coast come race day. Also, older athletes are often mentally tougher—having lived through more training and racing. They have the experience and seasoning to understand pacing and race strategy, to reign in ego-driven impulses.

And there you have it—the reason why (I believe) my Metamucil/rocking chair fantasy is now completely shattered.

Finally, plug January 30, 2023 into your iPhone and put an alert on it: I’ll be posting an article about transitioning into W50-55. Your excitement is palpable.

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