Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Goodbye 49!

Tomorrow I will be 50! I'll have gone around the sun 50 times and will embark on my 51st journey. I just took this unedited photo to document the moment. All-in-all, I'm comfortable with me. I think that comes from being happy with what my body can do, the places it takes me under my own power, and the way it lets me feel!!

I don't wish to be a different age. That would mean undoing things I have done and things I have learned. Life has filed away many of the sharp edges and left me softer, more open, less fearful. I like myself more now than ten years ago. I know that the things I value most can't be taken from me - love, relationships, knowledge, skills, courage, freedom, fun, resilience, and gratitude. 

This past year has taught me that I'm capable of more than I thought, and shown me that I am stronger than I believed. 

I choose to move forward with a spirit of adventure and with a heart full of love. Yeah, I think that pretty much sums it up. 

I'm opting to have a pretty low key birthday without any special "50" related workouts. That is a big departure for me. I have a brick scheduled and I'll do it as planned - my first race, a duathlon, is just a month away! Training has been going reasonably well - on track and on schedule - which is kind of amazing if you knew how insanely packed life is at the moment.

I want to wrap this blog post with something I say a LOT, which is how wonderful it is to be a part of the running/swimming/tri community. People are active and competitive through their 80's, 90's and beyond! There's a great flow of energy and fun with friends in the sport and from the sport itself. I feel very fortunate and never lonely!

Watch out 50-54's...here I come!

P.S. Once the semester is over I will be grading less and blogging more, lol. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Making vs Having Time

I am back from a nice 50-miler (with NO traffic lights) on this unseasonably nice February day with my good friend (and multiple Ironwoman) Janet. I noticed the forsythia is just starting to bloom which means spring is not too far away! Despite the lack of blogging, rest assured my training is on track as I prep for my eighth race season despite the self-imposed crazy busy-ness of life.

This year I added an extra bit of "excitement" to life by agreeing to teach one class this semester at Virginia Tech. It's been a while (years) since I've been in the classroom, and when I was asked I was simultaneously excited and terrified! I'd not taught this class before, the whole course management platform had changed since I taught last, the class has 84 students, and there is a lot packed into this 3-credit Introduction to Green Engineering course.  Critical to me has been ensuring that it does not take away from my work with the triathletes and companies we support through the fortyninegroup, so most class prep happens on the weekends. 

the classroom

I get a kick out of this when I start up the AV system!

Triathlon has taught me that it's alright and even good to take on things that are scary, and to do so without feeling like you are ready or that you know everything. Sometimes you just have to jump off that cliff and have faith that with hard work it will be ok! Anyway, I'm glad I made the decision to go for it. I'm enjoying the material, the challenge, and the students. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it. Yes!

This added responsibility means I have had to get even more efficient with my time. For example, I teach at 8 am T/H, which are my swim days. So now, I swim at 6 am, am out of the pool at 7:20, I change for class, eat a snack on the way, and am in the classroom by 7:50. Is it easy to plan and get up at 5? No. Is it worth it? Yes! 

There are some folks around me who seem to think I must have a life of leisure to be able to incorporate such "frivolity" as triathlon. It's not about HAVING the time, its about MAKING the time. Like a lot of us, I work full-time (and then some) and am raising two boys and managing a household. We all make choices and tradeoffs about how to spend our time and for me, training is the scaffold of my life. I wrote this bit of reflection to Coach Jim after a hill workout a few weeks ago:
The training time provides MUCH need time away from the computer, phone, and people. It gets me off the hamster wheel of life and gives me something that involves tangible progress - yards, miles, minutes logged. I like knowing I'm doing something that most people don't do and it's a daily reminder that I'm resilient and capable when other parts of my life might be sending me different messages. So, thank you very much for being my coach and for the thousands of workouts you have written and responded to, and for giving me such an important, constant source of structure, purpose, and joy for the past almost 8 years now. I'm very grateful for the time and energy and encouragement you pour into me, and I'm grateful for that training calendar!!!!"
I make no apologies about devoting some time to fitness, getting outside, and being with friends!

I've been encouraging my students to get outside too. One of the ways they can earn extra credit is to listen to podcasts related to energy and green engineering topics and provide a written synopsis and reflection. I've suggested while they listen that they get outside to walk or hike and if they do, they can write to me about their experience outdoors! There's no better motivation to protect the environment than by being out in it and appreciating its beauty and the priceless ecosystem services it provides (clean water and air, nutrient cycling, waste removal, etc). I want them to leave class knowledgeable and empowered to influence and make decisions that are positive for the planet.

Engineering, environment, life - it's ALL about tradeoffs and choices. 

I stand by mine.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A year of endurance, in sport and in life

If there has been a theme for my year it's surely been endurance: "the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity." By activity I would mean...life. It's been a year chock-full of personal challenges that have rolled in one after the other, rather tsunami-like. I've left a lot of it off the blog, because frankly it's all the white noise of life. It IS life. While my particulars differ from yours, none of us are immune from the "stuff" of life that we are dealt.

I'm using this post to reflect on my year and to look ahead. My thoughts are taking form as I type this so my apologies if it's a little rambly.

This year has taught me that just when I think I can't handle any more, I discover I actually can. Does that sound like something else? Like maybe a race? 

To reach a new level as an athlete takes consistent effort, getting out of one's comfort zone, and having belief that better performance can be achieved. This year, I want to carry that mindset beyond training and into life.

Training keeps me on an even keel. Nothing beats the free therapy that comes from fresh air and sweat!! I realize more than ever how much I NEED and appreciate the reason to move, especially outside. I will never regret or apologize for a single minute or mile. I will always make room in my life to be active. 

This year taught me that you don't have to have ideal life conditions to race well (or to do some other thing well). You just have to put in the work and be able to flip the switch to clear the mind for your sessions and races. Racing has given me a much-appreciated infusion of strength and confidence to carry me into 2017 - most recently a half marathon PR last month (1:39:45) and a solid go at the annual Runabout Sports Frosty 5K on December 24 (21:39).

I did 14 races this year, winning three, landing on the overall podium at three others, and finishing top female master's at five. As someone who never called herself an athlete until her 40's, it still feels like an "out of body experience" to be decent at this stuff. For anyone who races for years on end (8 so far for me), racing is just a small part of the larger fun of it all.

I've learned you can't wait for life to be smooth or planets to align to go for your goals and be happy! I have some of my race schedule planned for 2017 including a few new races and challenges. I'll be "Du"ing my first duathlon in April. It's just a few hours away so it seemed like a good opportunity for a 5 mile bike, 33 mile bike and another 5 mile run! I'm also putting the Mountains of Misery 100-mile bike ride on my list. It's a rite of passage for most cyclists around here and it attracts masochistic cyclists (who love a steep uphill finish)! Pinehurst, if family and schedule will allow, will be a new-to-me race enjoyed with others from our swim group!

I can't close out the the year-end without the 2016 training stats
  • Swim - 314,342 yards (178 miles) 117 sessions 
  • Bike - 3043 miles, 172 hours, 150 sessions
  • Run - 933 miles, 132 hours, 173 sessions 
  • Strength - 41 sessions - not so good :-(

Swim/bike/run friends are the best. Most of my social life happens before noon on the roads and trails, and at the lake and the pool, and I wouldn't have it any other way! Thank you, friends!

Here's to a bright New Year, full of possibilities and opportunities!! 

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thankfulness and Lightness at the Star City Half

Malin, Zach, Theresa, me, Julia

Yesterday I ran the Star City Half Marathon. It was a last-minute decision, but an easy decision, driven by the need to feel the energy of fellow runners and friends and to run a new route in different surroundings. I also wanted to run the half marathon that I never finished at IM 70.3 NC and end the season on a more positive note.

With just 44 unstructured off-season run miles under my belt in the last month, I wasn't exactly primed to race. (Nor had I told my coach!!) I had no expectations, and my only goal was to stay happy and relaxed for the duration. (inspired by Kelly's amazing relaxed marathon PR)

I left my house just as hints of the sun began to appear and I was suddenly filled with happiness, for the morning, and for life in general.

I arrived to a very warm welcome (Julia!) on a crisp and clear morning that was perfect for running! Off we went - the half marathoners and 10k-ers starting together. I settled in with a small group and was pleased to discover that my legs felt light and willing.

I spent a lot of time on that course thinking about how fun it is that you can run alongside perfect strangers, and with great ease share words, space, time, and effort. Imagine doing that in any other environment - just hanging off someone's shoulder in their personal space like that!

I leapfrogged a few times with my friend Dave who, when he isn't managing an IT band situation, would be far ahead. I bridged up to a group of 5 girls who were running strong and I thought I'd be pretty thrilled to hang with them and not get dropped. Then I got a burst of "flow" and moved past them. The miles ticked by and I was still in disbelief at the lightness I felt.

photo by Tyree Ellison

At mile 9 there is a short steep uphill of the sort that was my undoing at IM 70.3 Chattanooga. I took it super easy but kept running. At the top we were rewarded with an awesome sweeping downhill section where I passed another runner.

Things started to feel hard and a little lonely around mile 10 as I ran solo, but here I thought about elite runner Kate Grace (Runners World, Dec 2016) who said when she has doubts in a workout, she acknowledges it then focuses on the "but." So, I'd think, "this feels tough but I am tougher!!"

My calves began to cramp, and again, I thought "my calves are cramping, but at least it's not my quads, this I can manage!" I downed a mustard pack and tried to will relaxation to my legs! It was a hard final two miles but when I got near the finish I could not believe my eyes! I saw 1:39:__ on the timer and I gave it all I had, finishing in 1:39:45. That was a PR for me, by just 10 seconds compared to the Hokie Half from two years ago, but a PR nonetheless at age 49!!

So, it's fair to call me a sandbagger. Or one could say it's the "spirits of endurance sports" working their magic - humbling us one day, and unexpectedly rewarding us another. It's one of the things I love most. When we say "have faith in the training" it doesn't mean it will necessarily play out the way we hope or when we expect it. It means it will ultimately be worth it.

After the race, I walked back to my car, got in, and tears began to stream down my face. Life has presented some major personal challenges lately, but I can't help but feel blessed beyond measure. (thanks Janet for the timely texts :-) The things that matter most, aren't things at all, and can't be bought.

I am so incredibly thankful for running and triathlon and for the community that comes along with involvement in the sport. To everyone who cheered for me, or took time to say hello or chat, I just want to say thank you. I am thankful for each of you, and I hope my energy lifts you in the same way that yours lifts me.

Happy Thanksgiving week everyone!

Monday, October 24, 2016

IM 70.3 NC: The Race that Wasn't

Hey Finisher Pix...I didn't finish. 

I'd like to actually.

I was SO READY for this race, what was to be my fifth half-iron distance race. I felt confident and primed for all three sports and was really looking forward to seeing what I might do on the run in the cooler fall temps. 

I went to bed the night before the race relaxed and happy. When I woke up in the morning my very first thought was something is NOT right. My stomach was churning and noisy, and things were moving fore and aft. I had no appetite but forced down most of my oatmeal and some coffee, took some Tums and Immodium and figured I'd shake it off.

My get-up-and-go had gotten-up-and-left. I went through the pre-race motions quietly and efficiently, and when race officials Mark and Lee Turner stopped by I blurted out I wasn't feeling great. 

However, I was still feeling positive and confident. I reminded myself that "you don't have to feel great to race well."

I burped my way through the swim. That was a first. It's more manageable than you might think. Toward the middle of the swim, one burp went too far and I lost my oatmeal (I hope no one was behind me). I got out of the water and headed toward the wetsuit peelers, knowing my friend Malin was among them. I sat down in front of her and said, "I'm not feeling well," to which she offered appropriate supportive encouragement and I continued on in some kind of brain fog, wetsuit in hand.

I headed out with my bike and noticed my heart rate was quite a bit higher than I expected. It remained elevated for about half an hour. I had a hard time hitting my expected HIM bike power. My stomach hurt to be in aero position, and my back hurt from my neck to my hips when I sat up. I had a hard time taking in any calories. By 30 miles in I was miserable. We'd had a nasty headwind and I hoped when I turned back southward that I'd find relief, but I didn't. 

I saw later in my Garmin data that my power faded impressively. The last 80 minutes of my ride I was riding at my "easy aerobic" power levels but it was killing me! I had begun to wonder in the last third of the ride if I should bail, but I also figured the quickest route back to T2 was on my bike and under my own power. 

the face of discomfort

I did absolutely NO hurrying through T2 and took a few moments to gather my wits. I was very happy to see Malin along the Run Out and I stopped to talk to her. Stopping OR talking is totally out of character for me in a race. I asked how do I know if I should bail? She reminded me there would be more races but I decided I would try a few miles of the run.

You'd think the decision to withdraw would be simple. But unless you have maybe a broken leg or severed artery, believe me, it's not that easy!

With one Port-o-John stop and some dry heaving in the first two miles, I saw a small group of EMS folks on a corner and told them my race was over. I laid down in the grass, they covered me with a jacket, and I proceeded to cramp and wait 30 minutes for transport. They said I was dehydrated and my electrolytes were out of whack (of course) and with fluids at the medical tent I'd be OK again. They were getting annoyed by the delayed transport, but I was happy to just lay down. (As I rested and listened, I discovered they had to go get and pay for their own lunch which hardly seems fair.)

The volunteer transport driver didn't know how to get me through the race traffic to the medical tent, so she dropped me off where she could. It was closer to the hotel than to medical, so I just went to my room, showered, and got in bed. Sleep didn't come - I hurt too much. I think that transport system could use a little refinement. A medical assist could have probably helped me feel better quicker.

While it certainly sucked to not finish, I know it was the right decision. I would rather be eager to come back for the next race, as opposed to being haunted by an absolutely miserable race and miserable run all winter long. I am disappointed for myself and for Coach Jim who didn't get to see how the training would play out on race day. It's like losing the last chapter to the book, except it's not the last chapter.

Coach Jim and I talked today and after reviewing the data with him, I felt even more at peace with it. 

During my training I make sure to check in with myself and ask, "if this race doesn't happen, am I enjoying this training for training's sake?" Aside from the occasional rough session, I always answer YES. I guess this is one of the true tests of enjoying the journey, and I surely do!

Did I mention it was "Restaurant Week" in Wilmington? It's quite possible I contributed to my own demise by my food choices, but I will never really know. For me part of the fun of racing is experiencing new cities, venues, and food. And over 7 years of racing, I've done just fine to this point. Working with professional triathletes, I've seen most of them have one or more DNFs and/or DNSs for various reasons. They happen.

The race was "just a thing" that didn't happen.