Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Me excited to race: are you kidding?

While Sarah's licking her athletic ego, I'm pumping mine up. My first triathlon of the season is on Sunday, and I can't stop thinking about it. I've actually been having random triathlon-inspired dreams for the past few nights, which is really bizarre for me. I was a rower for six solid years, and trained for my last marathon for 6 months, and neither sport ever entered my mind when my head hit the pillow. I don't think I've never been so excited for a race in all of my 35 years.

I usually I dread races, and then exclaim, "I'm just so glad that's over with!" at the end of it and have no desire to work out, let alone sign up for another one for months. But that's usually because it's one long race/slog--a marathon, a half-Ironman--and I've spent months slogging through the training.

This race, though, is my first in a series of at least three over the next three months, in which I hope eliminate any slog. The races are short and, as such, seem so do-able. This one, a 500m swim, a 17- mile bike, and a 5k run, I'm sure I'll be done with in less than two hours. I'll only need one or two Gus. I won't need to refill my water bottles. When I look down at my watch 10 minutes into the run, there will be max 20 minutes left--not at least 4 more hours.

The other reason I'm pumped is that I feel really strong. Like stronger than I did after I trained for the marathon. Ever since my mantra has crystalized as, "I can handle this for now," I've pushed myself more than I usually do. Which is to say, I've pushed myself. I regularly lead my swim lane (even through the what-lap-is-this-again? distance swims, which I despise). I went for a bike ride with a friend last week, and (happily) had to put my pedals on cruise control so she could keep up. At a group run on Tuesday, I jumped in with the middle-speed group (8-10 min. mile pace) and finished a 6.6 mile run in Garden of the Gods (read: hillier than a ski resort) in 56 minutes. Yes, I fell off the back of the group frequently, but that's a blazing pace for me to sustain. During that run, I just kept saying, Five more minutes. You can do five more minutes. My confidence, like my dreams, are so strangely un-me.

More than anything, this race, short on distance and expectations, feels so physically and mentally light. I'm sure I won't feel that way when I'm actually out racing--especially because the water temps are supposed to be in the 50's--but I'm sure that I can handle it. Especially when I take it in five-minute chunks.

I Need to Get A Little Stubborn

I’m fit, but not athletic. Growing up in an erudite family, not an active one, I didn’t play any sports as a child. In part because I was late to the game—any game!--I’ve always considered myself merely an adequate athlete but not a talented one.

Last week I was feeling particularly low on the jock-scale: I got cut from the line-up of my rowing team for a big-time race this weekend. Instead, our coach boated a teammate who is 20 years older and a half-foot shorter than I am. Ouch! Our coach couched his decision with an encouraging message, though, saying I “have a great deal to offer in strength, fitness, and competitiveness, but it needs to be refined in a certain form to make” me the rower he thinks I’m capable of being.

I’ve licked my wounded ego, but I’m left with considerable doubts about whether or not I am athletic enough to fix my rowing technique problems. I feel I am fundamentally lacking the proprioception and kinesthetic awareness (fancy fitness-speak for knowing what my body is doing when it’s in motion!) to make the changes needed to become the kick-butt rower I want to be. (As one of my sympathetic teammates put it, I “will be a force” once I can channel my fitness and strength.)

I believe Part I of the transformation is having faith in my abilities. I recently interviewed a world-champion sculler who is bound for the Olympics. I am trying to ingrain some wisdom she shared with me. “Believing that you can master parts of the stroke that are currently tricky for you is half the battle. That you can change it and make it right. You have to be a little stubborn.”


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

We All Move Together

I just read The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier. Actually, I devoured the book. I started it on Saturday morning and finished it early the next afternoon, despite running 14.3 miles on Sunday morning and being on full-time mommy-duty all weekend. The novel is two alternating story lines: one about The City--a relatively mundane place where the dead exist while they are still remembered by the living—and the other about a woman stranded in Antarctica after a virus has wiped out most of the world population. Turns out the inhabitants of The City are all still there because this one woman has memories of them swirling around her like so many snowflakes. While it sounds somewhat sci-fi, it’s a moving, insightful book.

My mind was whirring after I put down the book. I contemplated how interconnected people are and how much one person can influence the life of another.

Like our nanny, Eva. This week marks her six-year anniversary of caring for our children. She is a beloved member of our family, yet because of the language barrier (she is a native Spanish speaker with limited English, and I stupidly opted for French instead of Spanish in high school), we aren’t as enmeshed in each other’s lives as you might expect. Like I don’t know how she spends her weekends, and she’s is unclear on what my husband does for a job.

But a few months, Eva told me that she was going to 24Hour Fitness every morning before work. I was surprised-- I never thought of Eva as a fitness enthusiast. She and I had once joked—in Spanglish—that she kept from getting gordo (fat) by chasing my younger daughter, Daphne, around her dining room table. (One of Daphne’s favorite games!)

Yesterday I asked Eva if she was still going to the gym. She indicated she’d taken an aerobics class that morning, and that she takes a kickboxing class every Wednesday at 5:30 a.m. I was so proud of her—and I couldn’t help but think my active life had influenced her.


Sunday, April 20, 2008


Here's what a geeky athletic couple my husband, Grant, and I are: we'd rather go for a bike ride together than see a movie. (We fell in love on wheels, really. When we weren't riding, we'd bond over the fact that we both entertained the idea of being a bike messenger in NYC.) With both of us traveling too much lately, we haven't talked about anything more than who is "brushing" Ben's teeth tonight (read: wrenching his jaw open, then jamming in a toothbrush while he wails) or figuring out how to use our newly-bought composter or responsible for leaving bananas off the grocery list. Compelling stuff, I realize, but not enough to carry a relationship. Desperate for some QT together, I found a babysitter for Saturday morning so we could take our first ride together in over a year.

Buoyed by a low-wind, sunny morning--and the prospect of starting a weekend not with chores, but with each other--we set out, and after we got out of town and traffic, I couldn't slow down. As cheesy as it sounds, my spirit was soaring. Newly fitted into my aerobars, I rested my forearms into them, put my head down and pushed and pushed down the route that was, for these hilly parts, amazingly flat.

I was working hard--I was feeling too strong to just cruise--and as soon as I felt like I couldn't carry the pace, Grant would pull up in front of me and toe the line. I'd hang back in his air pocket for as long as I needed to, then assume the lead again. I wasn't watching my heart rate or my bike computer or anything, really, except his ankles or the road. We leapfrogged like that for nearly two hours, hardly exchanging words, but knowing exactly what the other person needed. If only marriage were that fluid and simple.

Towards the end, I rode up beside him and said, "Now I remember why I fell in love with you."

"Why?" he asked. (Truth be told, I wished he would've yelled something like, "Yes, my sweetness! Bikes!" But he didn't, so I helped him out.)

"We love to ride our bikes together," I said, and he smiled.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Portland’s Newest Trailblazer

I’m very excited--I have a new trail running partner!

The only hitch: She and I can’t start running together for about another 7 years or so. You see, it’s Daphne, my daughter who turns 3 this July.

Daphne has always been an active child, even in utero. While her twin brother, John, was content to sit basically in one spot for the duration of the pregnancy, Daphne kicked and flipped with abandon. While she started walking 7 weeks later than John, she was first to run and take stairs two at a time. (Stadiums, anyone?) Daphne’s legs are substantially more muscular than little John’s are.

Daphne sealed her trailblazing status this morning when our family-fivesome went for a hike in a state park. The twins long ago gave up riding in a stroller, so they both took off the second we hit the trail. But it was Daphne who kept going—and going. Occasionally she’d look back over her shoulder, hair flying, to laugh at me, but otherwise the only time she stopped was when she tripped. Then, a quick hand-wipe, and she was off again! (She's the pink blur in the photo, above.) She easily covered a mile and a half.

Now, like her mother after a long run, Daphne is napping hard. Rest easy, my little trail runner.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I can handle this for now

Finally caught my breath from way too many days away from home. First, a week in Florida for spring break (glorious, except for the stomach bug Ben and I got while down there, and two vomiting episodes on planes); then a week at triathlon camp in Tucson for an upcoming story. Yes, I'm very fortunate to call a week at tri camp my "job", but I assure you those perks come along very infrequently--and this perk, which involved training with people who have, like, 10 Ironmans to their credit, kicked my butt clear across Tucson and humbled what little athletic ego I do have.

One thing, though, that became embarrassingly apparent in Tucson was that I'm incredibly mentally untough. My brain, when it comes to pushing myself, just asks why bother?, then clicks off. I'm fortunate enough to be blessed with an athletic body that performs relatively well on hours of endurance training, with only tiny bits of speedwork or intense training thrown in. I'm as thankful for it as I am for having a job that lets me occasionally sweat to earn money, but also know that counting on my lowest physical common denominator is the equivalent of coasting downhill on a bike; the alternative is to shift to the biggest gear and push the pedals to add to the speed. I'm good at pushing when I'm in a group environment or am held accountable by a coach, but I really suck at it when I'm by myself. In other words, I rely on others to make me be mentally tough. (And even they don't help sometimes; if I'm tired, I'll happily throw in the towel and coast.)

So I tossed around some ideas and mantras to see what could make me push myself a little more. I'm not ready to HTFU (harden the &*% up) and the idea of posting a word like suffer on my handlebars, as a coach at the camp did, doesn't suit me either. I can't go from one extreme to another so quickly, even if that's all I worked on. And I've got plenty of other things to work on if I never pedaled again--two kids, a job with tight deadlines, a marriage I want to thrive in--that if I concentrate solely on honing my race skills, I'll surely pay a much bigger and more significant price later.

But what I can do is put myself out there more and see what happens. I signed up for four triathlons this summer, and, as I resolved on January 1, plan on racing them--just not surviving them. (My first is Tri For Your Cause, a sprint in Boulder on May 4th.) I plan on saying, "I will," when somebody asks who is going to lead the lane in master's swimming (I already did this once, and I was totally fine). I'm going to find a cycling group whose average pace is a little faster than mine, and hang on their wheels to the best of my mind's abilities. I already know my legs and lungs are capable of going faster.

I'm also going to repeat my new mantra, which I found in a book for female triathletes, as often as I need to: I can handle this for now. Which means to me, there's no pressure to blow up, but no excuse to slow down either. A good start.