Just Another Day

I often run the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia for my long runs. It’s flat for the area and has plenty of water stops; the trail follows the river into the city, past Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and ends near the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Rowers dot the smooth waters of the Schuylkill, and the trail attracts runners, walkers, and cyclists alike. I love this trail.

I usually park just north of the Falls Bridge in East Falls, Philadelphia since Kelly Drive has lots of traffic right next to the trail. I take time to hide my stuff before leaving with my keys and phone, and I typically have a bag with a towel and a fresh shirt for after the run. I had been looking forward to a run on the SRT all week to escape the hills of my neighborhood–the air was crisp, and I ran fast.

Upon finishing my twelve miler, I looked at the front passenger window of my car and immediately thought I had left my window open in my post-run delirium. Then, I noticed the spiderweb of broken glass clinging to the door and peered inside. Crap. My bag was gone with my wallet, clean shirt, and towel. Glass littered the passenger seat, the cup holders and even the back seat of the car.

I was cold, hungry, and pissed off. All I wanted was for Phil to come and get me and bring me lunch, but he was at work, and my car was still in good working order, minus a window. I had to pull up my big girl panties and handle the situation. I think the thief would have taken my bag with or without a wallet inside in the hopes that there would be. A driver with a sweet bike on the back pulled in next to me. I advised him to park elsewhere since my car was just robbed. He stayed.

I texted Phil and called my bank. Sure enough, the thugs already tried to use my card at Home Depot. Why is it always Home Depot? The last time a skimmer swiped my card information, the crook went straight to Home Depot. Not Lowe’s. Home Depot. I cancelled my cards, called the police to file a report, and spoke with my insurance company. The cards and my driver’s license can be replaced, but I’m more angry about the long-sleeved tech shirt from the Atlantic City 70.3 and my Mile on the Sand beach towel from VA Beach that I lost. Losers. I hope the shirt doesn’t fit and my useless stuff ends up in some dumpster.

Despite all of this, it was still a good day. I remember listening to NPR’s Invisiblia, and how they interviewed a women who couldn’t feel fear: bad events like a robbery were just events that happened, neither good or bad, and didn’t influence the rest of her day. I thought about that and felt lucky that I wasn’t mugged because that would have been much worse. Even though I can feel fear, I’m not afraid. This was just something that happened, but I will be even more cautious if I park there in the future. I won’t even put my towel in a bag.

Post Race Blues

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The cure for anxiety and depression is exercise–just get outside more often. Go for a walk or run. Meditate. Do yoga. Many well-meaning people think exercise can cure depression and anxiety, or some suggest taking supplements instead of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Lexapro, or that there’s some essential oil out there that I can use to cure my panic attacks.

Truth is, none of that works for me except for medication, and there is nothing wrong with me taking it to relieve ongoing depression and panic attacks. I’ve been running since 2011 and began triathlon a few years later, and I used to get panic attacks while running. Yes, I thought I was having a heart attack and going to die while doing one of the activities said to relieve anxiety. Go figure. I would also wake up from a sound sleep in a panic with a heart rate well over 130 bpm. I know because I took my pulse.

So, to tell me all I need to do is exercise is insulting. I spend anywhere from 10-15 hours a week doing just that and most of my runs and rides are outside. Maybe I’m obsessed with the sport of triathlon? Probably. But even with exercise and medication, I still get depressed and anxious.

Oftentimes, after I finish a big goal race, I spend the next two weeks or so depressed, going to bed early and sleeping through my alarm, taking two hour naps on top of all of that sleep, procrastinating on housework and work, not caring what I make for dinner or even eating that much. I know that happens; I recognize it and get my butt moving anyway, but it’s hard.

I’ll get over my post-race blues, sign up for another race, and move on. Anxiety is always there like a radio inside my head, blasting annoying music. Medication and exercise turn the volume down, but it’s still there as background noise, and each day I have to choose whether or not I turn up the volume or leave it as is.

If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. Even if you get the post-race blues, you’re not alone. Many athletes cycle through periods of depression or anxiety. Please get help if you need it. Keep swimming, biking, and running, and see a doctor if necessary.

Click here for help with anxiety and depression

Yes and No

meIronshirt

Yes. I have worn this shirt every single day this week.

No. I don’t want to wear anything different.

Yes. I love the color blue.

No. I don’t care if the same people see me in the this shirt.

Yes. I loved my first 70.3.

No. I don’t wear make-up, and I leave my hair naturally curly.

Yes. I like it that way.

No. None of this is a fad.

Yes. This is my life now. Swim. Bike. Run.

No time to do my hair or face.

Maybe one day you’ll get it.

Atlantic City 70.3

 

This race is so big that I don’t know where to begin, so I guess I’ll start at the beginning, sort of. I woke up at 3:50am to allow myself time to eat and have a cup of coffee. I sat at the tiny table in our hotel with the coffee machine as my companion.  The bathroom light was on and the door ajar, providing a crack of light. I hunched over my hard boiled eggs, plain bagel, and fruit, forcing myself to eat something at this hour in between sips of coffee. My tri kit and bag were ready to go, but I wasn’t.

Phil woke up at 4:30 to take me to the race while Sophia slept soundly at the hotel. There was no need for anyone to be awake except for me, but I wanted Phil to have the car in case he needed it later on, so he dropped me off at Bader Field by 5:15am due to race day traffic. Being this early, meant I had plenty of time before transition closed at 6:30am because it doesn’t take me an hour to set up.

My bike was already racked, so I carefully laid out my gear, checking and double checking that everything was there and in good working order. I ate a granola bar, used the port-o-potty and waited until the last possible moment to put on my wetsuit. The water temp in the back bay of Atlantic City was a chilly 73 degrees F. I thought about not wearing the wetsuit–I picked it up, and then put it down a few times. Everyone else wore a wetsuit, and I wanted to be faster too. I can fly through the water in my wetsuit. I slid my wetsuit on half way up and exited transition. If you ever want to feel like your clothes don’t fit, try putting a wetsuit on. Uggh.

The swim start had informal corrals based on swim times for the 1.2 mile swim. I lined up behind the sign for 36-45 minutes with my swim time being right at 40 minutes or less. Perfect. Soon, I was in a tight crowd of athletes in caps, goggles, and wetsuits. I couldn’t move for about forty minutes while waiting for the swim start. Another athlete was ushered out by medical, which made me panic a bit. I focused on my breathing, closed my eyes, and held the top of my wetsuit away from my neck to prolong the choking feeling I get while wearing it. Just breath. My feet ached from the hard pavement, but we soon moved to the dock to enter the water.

As soon as I lined up with five other swimmers, the buzzer went off–we all took a step to jump, but the volunteer held out her arm–a lifeguard boat with another athlete whizzed by; she was removed from the swim course for medical reasons. I placed my hands on my goggles, happy that I didn’t jump or get hit by the lifeboat. And, then we were off! The shock of cold water always takes my breath away, but I quickly swam past the swimmers who jumped in with me. I got a good pace going until I felt someone’s hand hook around my ankle. What the heck? I’ve heard of this happening in races, but couldn’t imagine anyone trying to grab me to pull me back in order to get ahead. Then, I felt the hand again. I turned on my strong kick and got away from that crazy athlete. When I did, the water opened up, thankfully. As I started to get closer to some of the buoys, my hands felt like they were pushing down rubber balls in the water. I had my eyes open, but saw nothing. Jellyfish? Regular fish saying hi? A shark snout? Who knows? I lied to myself and told my brain that they were other swimmers’ feet in my way even though no one was that close to me. It’s amazing how you can lie to yourself in a race.

Out of breath, I exited the water, shocked to have avoided drowning. Volunteers pulled off my wetsuit from my feet like they were shaking out a t-shirt to fold with one flick of their wrists. I stepped under the cold shower to rinse off some of the salt water and ran to my bike. Shoes, sunglasses, helmet–go! Now for 56 miles on the bike. Thank goodness I could sit down and just churn my legs while I eat and drink, eat and drink, eat and drink for over 3 1/2 hours. Some cyclists passed me too close and scared the crap out of me, I saw a few flat tires, and a massive bike crash involving at least five bikes. Yikes! One guy passed me and said, “Is that a bagel? What a fantastic idea!” I told him I had another half if he wanted it, but he just told me to have a good ride. And I did. I enjoyed the bike, practiced grabbing a water bottle held out by a volunteer through the water stops without getting off, and stretched my hands to keep them from going numb. I watched the white cranes in the marsh. And I ate as much as I could.

Off the bike, my heels and the sides of my feet stung with pain. I winced. I couldn’t walk, but somehow managed to rack my bike and take a seat to tie my running shoes. Another athlete needed help with her tri kit, so I zipped her up and handed her some TriSlide for chaffing. When I stood up, I almost fell over because the pain in my feet was so bad. I grabbed my water bottle and had a conversation inside my head about whether my foot pain was an injury or just cramping. I wanted to cry, but my tears were all dried up from sweating so much. I wanted to throw my visor to the ground. I wanted to give up and be pissed off with myself forever. I didn’t. I made a plan that if my feet weren’t better by the time I left Bader Field, I was going to call it quits–DNF because of cramping. Loser. By 1 1/2 miles, I stopped, used the port-o-potty, got some Gatorade, water, and a banana and kept on running. Another athlete and I helped another runner up who fell in front of me and did a somersault. By mile 3, I picked up some salt and greedily downed some of it. The pain was still there, but manageable. I could run, albeit slowly.

I passed people on the boardwalk, chatted with an athletes walk/running, walked through each and every water station, and even sprinted at the end where Phil and Sophia waited for me. I made it to the finish line I’d never thought I’d see. I can do anything. I am an endurance athlete.

 

A big thank you to my coach, Mary Kelley, because even coaches need coaches. Her guidance, nutrition advice, and training plan helped me finish in under my goal time. Check out her website and contact her for coaching too!

Mary Kelley Coaching

Thank you to Phil for putting up with my crazy training schedule, coaching other athletes, and my new triathlon class at the Y.  You made dinner, cleaned up, and did loads of laundry, and watched Sophia. Thank you, Sophia, for riding your bike with me for some of my long runs, you are an amazing kid who will talk to me for over 2 1/2 hours on the bike and keep me sane. Thank you, Mom, for showing me that anything is possible if you don’t give up. Thank you to my friends, Angela and Jeff, who watched Sophia for some of my long runs and rides when Phil wasn’t there. And thank you to all of the Ironmen and endurance athletes and running buddies I know: Cathy, Mary, Sue, Mary, Catrina, Dylan, Steve, Bill, Becky, Donna, Kelly, Karissa, Laura, Mira, Chris, Thomas, Belinda, Kelly, Brittany, Irene, Brittany, Rhonda, Jen, Lucy, Kerry, Gene, Hua, Jennifer, Megan, Ann, Deb, and all of the other amazing athletes I know. You inspire me every day, and I’m lucky to know so many awesome people. No one does anything alone; and with others, the impossible is possible.

Ironman in My Pocket

Bia

I have Ironmen in my pocket:

they are all women–

Mary, Sue, Cathy, Kelly, Catrina, Mary–

I say their names in my head

pedaling to a smooth cadence,

turning my legs over on the run,

or cutting through brackish water,

daring a shark to catch me.

 

I have Ironmen in my pocket;

they are my secret weapon,

small and fierce.

They race like princess warriors

cast from a different mold

than most–too strong to be contained.

 

They all earned the title of “Ironman”,

and they whisper “Ironman” on the wind

because one day, I’ll be one too.

Taper Week Cravings

I chug some milk chocolate chips from a small bowl. Most of them make it into my mouth, and the one that falls to the floor? I eat that one too before my fat cat, Neko, sniffs it. Five second rule. I’m waiting for water to boil for my hot chocolate, but my chocolate chips won’t last that long. I get some more and hide them back in the pantry. Who am I kidding? Everyone in the house knows where I keep the chocolate chips.

I need a safe place like my dad has for his stash of chocolate. He keeps his secret dark chocolate snow caps in an air tight Tupperware container on top of the refrigerator. My sister and I were too short to reach it, and it one of us tried to move a chair, my dad would know. Chocolate is sacred. And goes best with orange juice (don’t judge).

I don’t buy expensive chocolate from Malley’s in Cleveland like he does, but heaven forbid if there is no chocolate in my house–especially during taper week. I don’t know what it is about taper week that causes me to crave all of that milk chocolate goodness. After my ride on the trail today, I actually talked myself out of going to Starbucks for lunch and a mocha. I must have looked at Bia (my bike) hanging on the back of the car, and I didn’t want to leave her alone on the rack while I went inside.

What was I thinking? I no sooner got home and grabbed my chocolate chips and boiled water for hot cocoa. That’s not enough for lunch, but I didn’t want a salad with some random protein and nuts. I didn’t want fruit on the side. Hummus and carrots were out of the question. I wanted a burger and fries or pizza before downing all of that chocolate. I compromised and made a black bean and cheese quesadilla to go with the homemade guacamole.

No. I didn’t take a picture of my food. I’m not ashamed of consuming so much chocolate. In fact, for my next mini bowl of chips, I’ll eat them one by one. No chocolate chugging.

My Mom Who Rides

My mom who cycles though the park

day after day, racing against the cars,

bikes circles around the runners and walkers

in her path along the greenway through the city.

Day after day, racing against the dark,

leaves fall in red orange yellow under her tires–

gripping the asphalt and spraying road grit,

splashing upward like a unclean fountain,

fanning mud across her back in the shape of a tree

that grows with each pedal stroke churning

with the strength of her legs.

She rides in circles, racing against time

and faster than those half her age

along the greenway through the city,

passing old neighborhoods and schools

she no longer needs for her children.

Yellow orange red keep falling

and she keeps pedaling through time,

ignoring the grit and breathing in crisp air.

My mom’s bike roars like the lion she is,

and you better keep up.