Do What You Gotta Do

Streetlights lit the rain slick roads before sunrise. The headache that started on Friday throbbed above my right eye, making it droop with the weight of pain. Ikaiku was already waiting on the trainer with six water bottles lined up and muffins wrapped tightly on the ironing board near the charging iPad in preparation for a five hour trainer ride. I planned to binge watch episodes of The Crown and check in with athletes racing in Lake Placid.

But, this wasn’t how everything was supposed to go. I was scheduled to ride outside for six hours on a hilly course, meeting a local group ride in the middle of my long ride that was to be followed by a one hour run. I was signed up for the NJ State Triathlon on Sunday too. But, I’m still in recovery mode from over-training. And, then the rain rolled in and spiraled around a low pressure system overnight and with that–all of my plans flew away. Plus, Phil had Navy Reserves all weekend, which left me alone with the kid and the weather. Should I have gone early at 6am and rode on wet roads up to 45 miles away from home before the rain came back? Who would come and get me if I got a flat? What if I slipped off the wet roads while going downhill?

All of these thoughts stressed me out. I don’t mind riding in the rain, but I like to have backup at home–someone to call and pick me up if necessary. So, I did what many triathletes do: I rode on the trainer for five hours in the basement, starting at 5am to minimize the time suck on the day. Because I still have a kid at home. Because I am a mom. Because Phil was gone for the weekend. Because I still had laundry to do later, the house to straighten up, and dinner to make, the kid to check on from time to time, and a movie to go see. Because like most Ironmen before me, I am not a professional athlete and need to find the time for training in my schedule and balance a life outside of the sport. I marked the hours with each episode of The Crown and moved one finished water bottle at a time from the desk to the ironing board each hour. I ate a muffin, cranberries, or a banana every forty-five minutes to keep from bonking. There are plenty of worse things to be doing for five hours straight than riding my bike on the trainer–driving a car because I fall asleep at the wheel, being stuck on a plane on the tarmac for mechanical difficulties (two hours), spring cleaning the house, packing or unpacking for a move, waiting at the DMV for any length of time…

So, even though the rain held off until late in the evening on Sunday, the roads were dry by mid-morning, and all of my other plans fell through: I did what I had to do despite the long list of “buts” filling my head because I got it done instead of not doing it at all. That’s what makes an Ironman: getting it done as best as you can.

Searching for the Light

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While wandering through the darkness, trying to find the light, my toes catch the side of the dresser; the bed stabs my knee. All I want to do is find that light switch to see everything in the room clearly, find my phone, and set my alarm for morning. But that switch is not where I thought it was on the wall, so I sit down in the middle of the room that is so dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face. I see nothing.

This is where I am in training for my Ironman in September–trapped in the darkest room during the time of year with the most light. Ironic. I am sitting on the floor with my eyes closed waiting. Waiting and recovering from the deep fatigue that has set in as evident by too high of heart rates on charts in Training Peaks–all of the analysis and science pointing to the same conclusion. Waiting to make a move and hop back on the bike or to go for another run. I can’t do any of that now, until I find the light. I’ve been jabbed and hit too many times by all of the obstacles around me. So now, I wait and visualize what the room looks like before coming out of the dark.

I’ll get out of the darkness, eventually–out maneuver the what ifs and possibilities of a DNF.  I am better than that and can already go the distance necessary. I know that. I can swim 2.5 miles easily (.1 miles longer than the Ironman), and I can run a marathon on tired legs–I’ve done that five times. When I ran Chicago three weeks out from the half Ironman, I wanted to quit at the 5K. I didn’t and kept going. I’ve been on my bike for almost five hours, so what’s a few more?

I know what I am capable of. So right now, I’ll rest and recover. I’ll enjoy the midsummer free time to garden, to read, to paint, and to do all the things I was too tired to do a week ago. Because in the darkness, I can see the layout, and I’ll follow the plan.

Philly Women’s Triathlon

The Philadelphia Women’s Triathlon with Delmo Sports had a 400 meter swim in Kelly Pool, a nine mile ride, and a 5K run through Fairmount Park. I couldn’t have asked for a better day: low humidity and a beautiful setting.

The pool swim began with two swimmers side by side and sent off five seconds apart, which made it more like a free for all open water swim, but in a pool. I noticed a few swimmers bottlenecking at the turns, which meant that flip turns were out, and some swimmers thought they could swim faster and went in an earlier heat, but slowed down after 50 meters.

After observing the first heat, it was time for my heat. I knew I couldn’t do flip turns under the lane lines with all of those swimmers in the way, and I planned to pass people who were slower. That’s just what I did. I kept pace with a woman I was talking to before the race, and we flew by the slower swimmers ahead of us; at one point I passed in between two swimmers, and she passed on the far left. Boom!  When I could, I drafted right at her feet because she was a tiny bit faster than I am. When I got out of the pool, I ran the longer than usual distance to my bike in transition.

My T1 was quick, and I was off on the downhill of the bike course in no time. MLK Drive still had potholes, and I’m getting used to aero on my new bike, so I stayed upright the whole time. I passed a bunch of cyclists, and only three people passed me. I felt strong on the bike, despite my high heart rate, enjoyed the scenery, and then rode up the big hill to transition after the short nine mile ride.

T2 took even less time than T1. Soon after I started, a new triathlete caught up to me and asked if she could run with me for a bit. Her goal was to not walk at all during the 5K, and she wasn’t sure if she could keep up with my pace. I thought she could maintain the pace I was running, and she stayed with me throughout the whole 5K. We ran by Shofuso House, sculptures in the garden, and a beautiful fountain before making our way back to the finish, talking throughout the run. She kept saying she wasn’t a good runner, but I reminded her that she was indeed running and running well for her first triathlon.

About a half mile from the finish, I told her that we need to pick up the pace and take bigger strides. Being six feet tall, she had no problem with that. I took faster little steps to match her big stride, and we finished strong. Best of all, she didn’t walk for the entire 5K and met her goal.

Could I have run faster? Maybe. But that’s not what this sport is about. Congratulations, Anastasia! I hope you’re celebrating with friends and family tonight! Maybe I’ll see you next year at the Philly Women’s Triathlon! I plan to race again, especially for that medal the size of a small plate! Congratulations to the athletes who train with me at the Y and raced today! You know who you are and you all ROCK!

Firecracker Kids’ Triathlon

This little gymnast did her second triathlon over the Independence Day holiday in Cambridge, MD, where Ironman Maryland is held, with her BFF from Norfolk, VA. She’s done more than her fair share of 5Ks, and even though triathlon is not her main sport, she can still hold her own in a race with swift kicking on the swim, an easy transition to the bike, and then nailing the run. She’s strong and determined to succeed.

The kid already has her eye on my road bike with the aero bars to replace her current hybrid so she can ride faster. Maybe when I upgrade my roadie, she’ll get my old one? She already hops on it while it’s on the trainer even though her feet barely reach the pedals with the road shoes attached. Her eyes are aglow when gazing at my time trial bike that she refers to as my “Ferrari”. She can’t have that one though.

She’ll have to wait on a new bike until she outgrows her old one. In the mean time, she’s still fast on her hybrid and is learning about the support from other athletes on the course, especially from her BFF.  In one of the photos, her friend took off her shoes since she finished earlier, but she wanted to run her friend in, which is exactly what she did–barefoot.

Triathlon is always more fun with friends who are willing to go on this crazy journey with you. I hope that these two will do many more races together and have a sport they can grow into.

Philadelphia Escape Triathlon

It took me awhile to get to this post because even though I was looking forward to my first triathlon of the season, I felt broken going into race day, mentally and physically. I was fighting chronic fatigue: getting sick once a month, too high of heart rates in training, and all of my muscles seemed to revolt and refuse to move. I knew I was overtrained, but didn’t comment on any of my workouts in Training Peaks for my coach to assess since I am so focused on Ironman Chattanooga, not wanting to miss a single workout.

This is also the time in the training cycle when things get tough–long, lonely rides and runs, early morning swims, not keeping up with the Meet Up group I started–all of that shook my confidence.

I raced anyway. The swim went well. The water temperature was 74 degrees, and even though everyone and their grandma had on wetsuits, I left mine on the shore with gear check: I knew I would get too hot. The cold water only felt cold for the first 100 meters–I flew by the buoys marking every 100 meters, fought the swirling current at times and made it to the swim finish in a respectable time. But, my nagging headache from the day before was still there, I had menstrual cramps, so I drank a bottle of Tailwind in T1 to keep dehydration away because today was going to be HOT and humid as the day went on.

I set off on my bike and almost crashed within the first ten minutes while messing around with my bike bento. I’m glad no one was around me at the time. I climbed the first hill of the ride, which made me want to quit. My legs burned so much that I wasn’t sure if I could possibly do another hill let alone eight total on the course followed by a run. No matter how my legs felt, I pushed through the bike, rode by athletes walking their bikes uphill, and clung desperately to my brakes on steep downhills that totally scared the crap out of me on my new bike. I am not used to going that fast since my road bike is much heavier.

As soon as I racked my bike, I set out on the run. The course was shaded for the first quarter mile, but then it was in full sun. My cramping returned, and my headache worsened. I thought I was going to pass out more than once. I walked a bit to prevent going to medical and finished the run and the race.

But, I was pissed off. I trained hard, too hard, and I paid for it. I don’t even want to discuss my finish time or place because it just plain sucked. I could have done better. I know I could do better.

I talked to my coach and ran with her while she was passing through Philadelphia. I cried on that short run because I felt like such a failure. She understood.

So, I’m taking about two weeks to recover. The workouts are less demanding, I have more time to think, read, write, paint, garden, and do all the things I usually don’t have time for in the middle of triathlon training, especially during Ironman training. I saw my friends over Independence Day and made plans to meet for some of those long and lonely five to six hour rides rides to make them a bit less lonely and a little more fun. I also went to a sports massage therapist to help with my sloping shoulders–I plan to go back once or twice more before the Ironman. In other words, I plan to use these two weeks to remind myself why I do this and why I should take care of myself first.

This race will be a reminder of what I am capable of because it was one of the hardest races I’ve done. I am looking forward to the Philly Womens’ Triathlon this weekend, rested and ready. And as for Ironman Chattanooga, I’m coming for you.