Sunday, September 18, 2011

What a Party!!

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Neale Donald Walsch (and thanks to Tara for sending me this quote)

As the endorphin high begins to wear off, I am grieving the end of the season.  Yes, I’m crazy.  I just pushed my body to the edge of its limit for over 8 freakin’ hours, and here I am sad that I can’t do it again until next year.  I suppose my addiction could be worse…

I think I’ll start at the end of the race, because maybe that explains the love of this sport.  Where else can you be dead last and have hundreds of people lining the beach cheering for you as if you were an Olympic gold medalist?  Or have friends tirelessly waiting for you, riding and running with you, taking pictures and cheering you on til the very last moment?  Or have your family standing at the finish line; the sight of them adding some extra lift in those last steps? 

I had no problem waking up at 3:45am, since 4am seems to be my awakening time these days. The girls (partner, daughter and geriatric dog) got up to wish me luck and then all crashed after I left. I was so obsessive in my packing the day prior, that the morning went very smoothly and I was on the road a little after 5am with no beach traffic to deal with.  But because I was hydrating like a mad woman, I had to make several pit stops along the way, and ended up feeling rushed in transition, with just enough time to set up my stuff, get my body marked, and say hello to a bunch of other Tri-NE-ers who were there in full force, participating and volunteering.

Walking along the beach, I couldn’t help but notice some big mother waves.  But before I had the good sense to drop out, the race started J  If the truth be known, I love swimming in gnarly water—I’ve learned not to fight the waves, but to align myself with them.  You want to push me back, well, I’ll just swim under you.  There was one wave in particular that I didn’t anticipate and it literally lifted me about 5 feet off the surface and dropped me.  Despite the conditions, the swim continues to be my favorite part of the race because it creates the least amount of wear and tear on this old body.  And guess what??? The last I quarter of the swim, I had my own personal entourage beside me.  A kayaker AND a dude on a surfboard.  How important can a person be?  I bet that’s what it’s like for President Obama when he swims in the ocean…..oh, or what it’s like when you are the very last person in the water and the lifeguards are sweating bullets praying that you’re not going to drown.  I was having a ball and felt like I could have kept swimming to Charlestown, but it was time for the dreaded bike ride.  So by the end of the swim, it was just me, my lifeguard entourage and 2 or 3 others who unfortunately had to be rescued and brought back to shore.  The worst part of the swim by far, was the seaweed jungle awaiting me upon exit of the water. I wasn’t prepared for this and kept trying to find a place to exit where

there was no vegetation, but it was in vain.  And it wasn’t just a little kelp around the ankles like the weekend before, it was chest deep.  I thought it was going to strangle me.  (As an aside, I had seaweed everywhere on my body the entire day.  It was still stuck to my face, arms, and legs during the run.  And when I showered later that day, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how it made its way under my wetsuit, top, and shorts.  I may never eat sushi again, or at least rolls encased by nori)

Just as I was thinking, “Oh great, first the seaweed, now a wrestling match with my neoprene nemesis”, I remembered hearing about wetsuit strippers being at this event!  I had witnessed wetsuit stripping at another event and they were basically throwing people on the ground and ripping their wetsuits off.  If I hadn’t just swum a mile, I might be ok with a little roughness but I was afraid that if I was thrown down I wouldn’t be able to get back up again.  Much to my surprise they politely asked me to sit down and before I could say “get this neoprene bitch off my back,” my wetsuit was off.  That saved me about 2 minutes of transition time.  But now it was time to deal with my demons.

The bike started off pretty darn ok, but at mile 17 the fun stopped as I descended (or I guess technically ascended) into the bowels of hell, as I like to call the hilly part of the course.  Maybe I was warmed up by the swim, or maybe I was distracted by fellow triathletes coming in the opposite direction yelling “Good job,” but before I knew it, I was done with those damn hills.  No stopping and walking, no falling, no flats, no whining. I made it out and continued on the course.  By the time I hit mile 40, my quads and inner thighs were toasted, my bladder could have exploded at any moment (did I miss the porta-potties?), and the road was torn up pretty badly in some spots.  The last 5 miles I felt like I was on the trainer—going absolutely nowhere.  But finally, I made the last turn and there I was at T2. 

As I was trotting along mile 1 of the run, I noticed someone on a bike that was right on my tail.  I was thinking, “Dude, you gotta be freakin’ kidding me—just pass me ok?”  After about 5 minutes of being tailed, I turned around and gave him my most vile peri-menopausal axe-murderer glare and he cheerfully introduced himself as Skip, and told me he would be riding with me the entire time.  Again, I thought this must be how President Obama or Madonna feel when they go for a run, but I realized yet again, Skip was the Sweeper and I was the caboose.  All I can say is yeah, I am the world’s slowest runner and that poor man had to ride his bike behind me at 4 mph for 13 miles.  Ouch. 

I was quite happy that I was able to run about 90% of the run, although at my pace, I’m not sure it really qualifies as running.  But for me it did.  And something amazing happened, I was able to disconnect from the pain much easier than the last time, most likely because I knew what to expect.  I think everyone has dark moments during their race and mine come at mile 35 of the bike, and mile 8 of the run.  It’s at those points I feel really fatigued, bored and so over it, and think, “Why the F are you doing this?”  But there was not a single moment when I thought I couldn’t finish. I knew this plane was running late, but it was going to land no matter what. Around mile 9 or so, a Tri-NE buddy appeared out of the blue on her bike to check on me and to cheer me on during the last lonely miles of the homestretch.  Bless her heart.  We chatted and the time flew by and before I knew it, she and Sweeper Skip guided me to the golden path that led to the final 300 or so yards that were…WHAT????....on the beach???? the sand?????  Was this a joke?  Hahaha, oh very funny.  I was coherent enough to get out of the deep sand and find my way to the packed sand near the water.  But I have to say this was one of the best parts of the race.  As I mentioned previously there were hundreds of people on the beach, standing up, cheering me on as if I was running to the chute in Kona.  And then out of nowhere, 2 other Tri buds appeared and ran alongside of me.  And then what was like the equivalent of a mirage of cool water on the desert, was none other than my partner and daughter.  Was it really them—yes! I ran hand in hand with my 6 year old the last 100 yards and we crossed the finish line elated.  I hope she always remembers this moment.

I can’t say enough about the volunteers—Skip, Tri-NE-ers, those taking pictures, those manning the intersections and fuel stations. There was one guy in particular who, after I passed his fuel station, ran after me for about 100 yards, just because he wanted to make sure I had a lei and felt festive, since the theme of the race was Hawaiian. The food servers were waiting for me with food to take home and some woman handed me a festively decorated pineapple.  There were also the residents of Narragansett who stood outside their homes cheering and offering much welcomed sprays from their hoses. 

I know I said this about my last HIM, but the winner of this race could not have been more elated than I was.  Yes, like I was at the best party ever. But I think this girl has pushed the bounds of her genetic  and biological capacity for speed at least.  My motor neurons and fast twitch muscle fibers could not have fired any faster.  I could not have possibly gotten my legs to move any faster on the bike or especially the run….but interestingly I could have gone on longer.  I think I’ve found a home with endurance events and life outside the comfort zone. I definitely see a 140.6 somewhere down the road…..and who knows what else?  But for this post-race week, I am riding high on endorphins, chillin’ in my recovery tights, enjoying a massage, and sipping pomegranate/mango cosmos.  Cheers!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Standing on the Shoulders of Others

“No (wo)man is an island…”  John Donne

As I was eating my oatmeal at 4am on race day this past Sunday, my partner reminded me how proud of me she was, and also how proud prior generations of my family would be.  I thought about this at various times during my 8 hour body pummel fest, along with how each prior generation sacrificed to make it better for the next.  I thought about my great-grandmother, who lived in a small town in Italy most of her life.  She helped her family pick olives in the fields of Modena.  She came to the US in her late 60s, not knowing how to read or write or speak a word of English.  With her, she brought her 4 children ranging in age from about 5 to 11.  I can’t imagine the courage it took to leave her country and family and take her 4 young children on a packed, rat-infested, disease-ridden boat (yeah we’re not talking first class accommodations here) across the Atlantic for several weeks, all in the name of making a better life for her children.  Her oldest child, my grandmother was the first of her family to be sent to school.  As I grew up, she told endless fascinating stories about “the old country,” as she would call it.  She never missed it and never looked back.  She and my grandfather ran a small grocery store that they lost during the Depression.  My grandmother worked in a sweatshop, sewing garments, and my grandfather was a cement finisher who very proudly helped build some major buildings of the northeast.  I have written previously about my own parents, who, through their sacrifices, gave my brother and I many opportunities and a sense of confidence to push our limits.  That’s 3 generations of confidence and courage behind me in all that I’ve done, and that which has compelled me to continue to push myself to the limit in many arenas.  But only do I have a foundation from the past, there continues to be many shoulders on which I stand, and tons of support in the present:

 There is my partner (aka my triathlon widow) who has lived with: my 15+ hours of training per week, schlepping to events at ungodly hours, stood in the pouring rain or beating sun for hours (only to get a glimpse of me at T1, T2 and crossing the finish line).  Gear and literature have overtaken the house:  running, biking, triathlon magazines everywhere (12 months x 3 different subscriptions x 3 years and don’t you dare toss any). You've tripped over my bike trainer which I move from room to room throughout the house, you've grown accustomed to the smell of neoprene from my wetsuit always seemingly hanging to dry over the tub, listened to me talk about every aspect of my training and possible body ache.  You’ve learned (although with much perplexity) to replace jewelry with tri gear for birthday, anniversary and other gifts. You’ve taken the time to learn the lingo and culture and can converse about bonking, bricks, gear reviews, and other tri talk with the best of ‘em. 

There is my coach, Tara, who believed in me even when I didn’t.  She slowly and gently pushed me out of my comfort zone, and was attune to what I needed.

There’s the rest of my family including my brother and mother-in-law, who cheered me on at my last half, my Tri-NE teammates/friends who have supported me and cheered me on and on and on—you all rock, and my other friends who have patiently listened to my non-stop talk of training endeavors.

There’s Lou Ann, Ken, Vicki, Dr. M. and all the other medical and health personnel who have patched me up in one way or another.  And Steve S. who gently helped me begin this fitness journey 4 years ago before I had abs or any other identifiable musculature.

And of course there is my little girlie, who inspires me to be the best I can be every day.

So although I crossed the finish “alone”, and it was indeed my own personal victory, I crossed on the invisible shoulders of countless others who have helped make me who I am.  Thank you all. 
Next up: my race report.  And for all you impatient people out there, I promise it will be soon J

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Embracing Fear

"Fear is only as deep as the mind allows"
Japanese Proverb

There is a zen koan about a man who feels the presence of darkness behind him and his fear of the unknown force causes him to flee. Never once does he look back, but instead continues to run and run and run…to the point of collapsing and finally dying of fear.  If he had only looked behind himself to face the perceived demon that pursued him, he would have discovered that it was his own shadow, and what he would have had to do to escape his fear is turn to face this innocuous presence, or merely rest in the shade to make it disappear. 

While fear can be immobilizing, without it we would die.  Our fight or flight response allows us to survive by responding to perceived threat.  We need that thumping heart, that increased blood flow to our legs and arms to be able to bolt, whether we are running from a bear…or running toward a finish line. So what does this have to do with my last post about my own fears and wavering morale?  I returned to the bike course to tackle it one last time before my upcoming event.  And while the KFR section was still very challenging, it was not as horrific as I remembered the first two times.  I made it up hills I couldn’t do in prior attempts.  I guess I first sat in the shade so to speak, to allow myself some rest, and then faced the shadow of my doubts. 

Do I still have lingering doubts about this course?  I’d be lying if I said no. But I am accepting my fear.  As Tara Brach teaches, we may want to actually invite our fear—explore what it looks like and what it feels like.  So what would be the very worst case scenario?  As I’ve been reminded, if I get to a point where my legs cannot take one more iota of hill ascent, what in the world would prevent me from hopping off the saddle and running with my bike for 30 seconds?  I won’t get arrested, assaulted, lose my house, family or friends.  I won’t die. And taking an extra minute or so when it takes me 8 hours to finish a HIM anyway, is statistically and functionally insignificant.  (Ironically, I probably could run faster pushing my bike than riding it up that last hill, if the truth be known.) 

This entire course may be a little tougher than the last one, but hey, remember I’m the one who is actually drawn to situations where there is a bit of an unknown edge to explore and not 100% certainty of conquering.  Oh, and unlike the last HIM where there were time limits and I lived in fear of the sweeper van chasing me and trying to remove me from the course, this upcoming event has no time limit and actually has a post-race luau….meaning if I had to, I could hula across the finish line after dark and not be swept.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that J  All positive vibes sent my way next Sunday are welcome. 

And of course, I remind myself that next Sunday, September 11th, the day of the HIM, has a much deeper and greater meaning to the world than whether or not I can swim in the gnarly ocean or make it up a hill or two.  I am not a hero; I’m just out there having fun.  I am keenly aware of my gratitude no matter how the race turns out.  Til next time…