Monday, December 29, 2008


I’m not big on curveballs: I like having a plan and sticking with it. But in the last week, I’ve been thrown for a loop several times. The main culprit? One snowstorm after another here in Portland, a city woefully unable to cope with any inclement weather other than rain. We had snow off and on for a week, then starting Saturday, December 20, our world got whiter and whiter. Roads rapidly became impassable, and we were basically housebound for a week except for a few sledding forays (that's Jack with the kids, above). Our babysitter lives across the river in Washington so she was unable to come to work for the three pre-Christmas workdays. I donned my mommy-hat; writing and deadlines would have to wait.

As I’ve admitted many times: I’m not cut out to be a full-time mom. If you’d told me on December 19 that I’d be without childcare for the next nine straight days, I would have been panic-stricken. Yet, much to my own surprise (and delight!), I got caught up in the raucous, messy fun of it all. Sure, I had my meltdowns, just like the kids, but I also enjoyed our kids’ aimless ebb-and-flow. I especially loved sleeping in until the kids woke us up and snuggled, a luxury I never enjoy because of early morning workouts (which were impossible or idiotic due to closed gyms and dark, slippery roads). I couldn’t chart how time passed--it all slid by in a boisterous blur.

My run on Saturday was another longer-than-expected holiday surprise. We had finally braved the roads to visit some of my husband’s relative up on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. I wanted to run 10 miles to prep for my January 11 half-marathon, but was clueless about the area. Will, a cousin’s husband, mapped out a loop that we figured might not long enough. Oh, how wrong we were!

About six miles in, I started to realize I was going to be running for longer than 10 miles, and I wished I’d brought along more than a single Roctane for energy. It had been raining nearly non-stop, and my hands were getting stiff from the 38-degree temps. When I hit a familiar-to-me intersection at about 9.5 miles and realized it was still at least two miles to the cousin’s house, I consoled myself with two daydreams—that Will would realize his mistake and come get me or that I’d hitchhike if fatigue overwhelmed me. Instead, desperation, frustration, and the cold fueled my fire and my pace quickened. I ran the final 4 miles—yes, the loop ended up being 13.4 miles long!—much faster than normal.

Have no doubt: I gave Will plenty of grief about sending me so far. But at the end of the day, I was proud as punch that I’d persevered through an unexpectedly long run. It was exactly how I felt about my out-of-the-blue long stint with the kids. Maybe my life should contain more unexpected turns.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cool Quiet

Few things make me feel more alive than running in the cold. I don’t overdress, letting me feel the outlines of my entire body as I tromp along the streets. I become vividly aware that I am a corporeal being.

This morning I felt this way for two hours as I ran through yet another of Portland’s freak snowstorms. (That's me post-run.) One reason I opted to run outdoors, as scheduled, was because I thought about all you blog-followers who live in colder climes. I figured if you all run year-round, I shouldn’t let a steady onslaught of white stuff to stand in my way. It wasn’t until I was about 8 miles from my house (I did an out-and-back so I wouldn't be tempted to cut my run short!) that it dawned on me: Maybe Canadians and Coloradans run on the treadmill on days like this!

Despite the chilly temps, I enjoyed the heck out of my run, loving the deserted streets and the stream of tunes on my iPod. Around mile two, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Passionate Kisses” came on. The lines that set my attitude for the run were her singing about what she wanted—“Pens that won’t run out of ink/And cool quiet and time to think.” I figured it’s exactly what this mom had been looking for after a week in a snowbound house with three kids amped up for Christmas.

Happy holidays!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sarah 3.0

It’s hard to do, but when I think back to what I was like pre-kids, I dimly remember being able to average sub-8-minute miles on the Hood to Coast Relay. And running the San Francisco Half Marathon in 1:42. It all seems so long ago--and so much more dang fast than I am now. But lately it’s been getting slightly easier to believe.

After having Phoebe (almost 7 years ago!), I got back in shape pretty quickly, thanks in part to twice-weekly Pilates sessions that are far beyond my reach these days (both time- and $-wise). I didn’t get quite as speedy as my pre-pregnancy days, yet I wasn’t too far off. I squeaked out a 4:01 (non-chip time!) marathon 14 months post-partum, and I felt good about where I was.

But then came my twin-pregnancy, and the wheels came off. My firm, Pilates-cized abs were stretched and sliced, and my speed was shot. After having John and Daphne, it became a serious struggle for me to average less than 9-minute miles. Even doing weekly speedwork for last year’s marathon didn’t help matters that much. Looking back, I’ve started to think I was still recovering from the 2-for-1 pregnancy and breastfeeding the twins for a year.

Because, at long last, something has clicked, and my times have dropped. Each time it happened in October and November, I thought it was a fluke. But now I think my hard drive has been reset for good. Like the other day, in the early stages of a sinus infection, I headed out on an “easy” run. I just wanted to get the lead out and enjoy the sunshine; I wasn’t consciously putting the pedal to the mettle. Yet turns out I averaged 8:20-minute miles—5.5 of them.

And the icing on the proverbial cake? That muffin top I’d been sporting since the twins is gone, and when I got weighed at the doc’s office at my diagnose-the-sinus-infection appointment, I found out I’m the lightest I’ve been in 10 years. Sarah 3.0: Not new, but definitely improved.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Secrets of a Happy, Healthy Family??

I hope you don't mind if I solicit help for an article on here every once in a while. I'm working on a story for a magazine about having a happy, healthy family. I'm looking for anecdotes from parents about things they've done to make their family content, fulfilled, and healthy. I'm especially looking for a family who pared back their children's schedules to restore some sanity in their family's life. Like dropped art lessons or cut out soccer. If you have such a tale, pls. post a comment in next day or two.

Other tips welcome! I really appreciate your help.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Getting Engaged

I’m not sure if I’m a few weeks early, or 11 months late, but lately I’ve been carrying out a New Year’s resolution: to be a more patient, engaged mother. It actually started in mid-November on the Friday afternoon when I ditched work after our nanny called in sick. I found when I slowed down and committed my attention more fully to my children, we were all happier campers. It helps that John and Daphne recently had a leap in maturity level—now, when I take all three kids to a playground or pool by myself, I am not run ragged and my blood pressure doesn’t soar. And the three kids have become more simpatico recently, playing school or house together nicely.

Now that the holidays are upon us, I’ve taken my mommy-method a step further: I’m vowing to be less of a Scrooge this year. No more Sarah Bah-humbug Shea. Like yesterday: On my long run, I decided I’d bake a few batches of holiday cookies and invite one of Phoebe’s friends over to help decorate them with my gang. This evening, I’m taking the kids out to look at Christmas lights, and we have plans to watch Portland’s Christmas Ship Parade on the Willamette. I’ve already got our wreath hung, and the tree goes up soon. Opening up an Advent calendar window is an evening ritual. (But turns out I’m not going full-throttle enough: The other day in the van, I turned the radio to a station that plays only holiday songs. Phoebe piped up, “Why are you listening to this—you’re not festive.” Ha, ha, ho, ho!)

Overall, in my new mommy-mode, I find all of us are in better spirits and the kids have fewer flare-ups and meltdowns. I realize I’m not going to become Donna Reed overnight, but I’m aiming to be a phrase a British physician coined in 1953—a “good enough mother.” I don’t have to be perfect, just caring, alert, and reliable. I think that’s the best gift I can give to my kids—no bows or gift wrap required.


Sunday, November 30, 2008


I haven’t done a triathlon since 1995 (yikes: how old does that make me?!), yet lately I’ve been digging multisport workouts. I don’t have any reason for doing them except that I love diversity—it keeps my mind and muscles fresh. November and December are my do-whatever-I-enjoy months before I jump into marathon training with both feet. I am doing a half-marathon mid-January, so I can’t slack off running entirely, but I’m having fun mixing things up.

I adore riding my mountain bike to my health club—it takes about 20 minutes—then swimming for 45 minutes, then biking home. I started riding my bike to the club when gas prices were sky high, but now I do it to shrink my carbon footprint—and to see the sun. We’ve had a relatively sunny fall here in Portland, and I find it tough to justify going indoors to swim when the sun is shining. This way I get the best of both worlds—a direct jolt of make-me-happy sunshine plus time in the water.

Toward the end of the rowing season, about once a week, I did a workout I called the Three R’s: Ride my bike to boathouse; Row with the team; Run a 3-mile riverfront loop; then ride home. (Okay, so that’s 4 R’s, but one is repeated…) I adored the feeling of driving Phoebe to school and having all that under my belt already.

I’m feeling like the afternoons this weekend with the kids were multisport in their own way: Yesterday it was the park, then a dash to the library, while today it was a different playground, followed up by cookie-baking. (First time with all three kidlets!) I’d say those “workouts” are as legit as any swim-bike-run brick, don’t you?


Monday, November 24, 2008

Working My Mommy Muscles

I'm taking a needed rest day today: I ran 10 miles on Saturday, then biked for 2 hours yesterday. But it's not my legs that are sore. No, it's my left bicep. I feel like I did countless bicep curls. When the pain kicked in last evening, I couldn't figure out what made just my left arm ache. The raking I did that afternoon? Riding on the drops for too long?

Nope, I realized: It was carrying dear Daphne around downtown on Saturday when I took the girls coat-shopping for me. Funny how lugging 33 loveable pounds 10 blocks will do that to ya.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

No More Naps

It’s an end of an era: John and Daphne, our 3-year-old twins, are nappers no more. I tried to deny it as long as possible, enforcing “quiet time” in their room for an hour or two every afternoon. That system worked for a few months with their singleton sister, Phoebe, when she was 3, but with the twins it was a joke. Instead, it was “jump on the bed time” or “tear out the insulation time” or “rip pages out of books time.” Argh!

Yet as much as they don’t want to nap, the dear little things still need a siesta. Most days it’s John who is worse for the wear as the day progresses, getting grumpier and whinier with each passing hour. Sometimes cradling him and singing to him allows him to nod off for a 2-hour snooze, but then that wrecks him from going to sleep at night. Usually Daphne is a ball of energy from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. and then she racks hard, but last night, she short-circuited right before dinner, and we put her to bed at 6 p.m. No naptime is tough on them, and on our family.

And now it’s got me worried about my marathon training. Last go-round, a 3-hour nap on Sunday afternoons was as critical to my training as track workouts or weekly long runs. Honestly, doing my 18- or 20-milers, my mental “finish line” wasn’t our back door, but the twins’ 1 p.m. naptime. I’d put them down, set Phoebe up with an activity, and sink into my pillow. When I hit the heavy mileage for the Eugene Marathon, the twins will be about four or five months shy of their fourth birthday…not quite old enough to trust on their own while I rest. (With Phoebe at that age, it was no problem, but John and Daphne are a handful…and then some.)

My only hope is that I’ll find new resources of energy that allow me to power through my heavy training days without a nap. Yesterday, I ran 10 miles and didn’t feel tired all day. But as we all know—10 miles is a far cry from 20.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Mommy for a Day

Work has been crushing down on me lately, making each hour of my workday extra-precious. So it was a real kick in the gut when our babysitter called on Friday to say she was sick. Thankfully Fridays are the day both of our 3-year-old twins, John and Daphne, are at preschool until 1 p.m., so I had half the day to work. But after that I was on full-time mom-mode as my husband, Jack, was out of town on business.

It’s hard to break away from my desk on any Friday, but last week was especially hairy: I was staring down the deadline for the bi-annual Shape shoe review, due on Monday. (And, yes, even though I’d been working on the review all week—tabulating results, amassing great tester quotes, and gathering tech info—the Word doc was a blank slate as of noon Friday when our babysitter dropped the bomb on me. Uh-oh!) As I dashed off to pick up John and Daphne, I debated: I could either make a half-assed attempt at working by planting the twins in front of the boob-tube, or I could embrace my mommy-ness. I decided the kids and I both deserved my full attention being devoted to them, and I told myself I wouldn’t even attempt to work that afternoon.

As the sun glinted off our minivan’s windshield, I told myself it was a lovely day, I had two fun-loving 3-year-olds, and I was going to enjoy our afternoon together. We headed to my health club, a place John and Daphne had never been before. I toyed with dropping them off in the gym’s fun childcare (big sis, Phoebe, has loved it the few times she’s gone!) and swimming laps solo, but that ran counter to my new carpe diem (carpe afternoon?) dictate. Plus, Daphne won me over on the way in, exclaiming, “I love the gym! I love the gym!” even though, to her, it probably just looked like a cinderblock fortress. If she could be so blindly enthusiastic, I could, too!

Instead we headed to the kiddie pool, where Daphne continued to pile it on, shouting delightedly, “I love swimming! I love swimming!” Sure, John whined and barely stuck his foot in the water, but we all had a blast, playing with little floating sea creature plush toys. The twins seemed to comprehend it was a special outing, and they were relatively controlled. (Translation: My blood pressure didn’t spike, and they didn’t tumble headfirst into the deep end.) Before I knew it, it was time to get dressed (I had to bribe them with the promise of a cookie from the cafĂ© and return visits to the pool, an especially effective bargaining chip with Daphne a.k.a. the preschool Dara Torres!) and go pick up Phoebe from school.

While I’m not cut out to be a full-time mom, Friday made me realize I wish I had more latitude in my schedule for an occasional afternoon off with my kiddies. Maybe I’m the one who needs an occasional “sick day”!


Sunday, November 16, 2008


Hi Marathon Moms devotees! I'm going to post in next day or two, so please check back. We're so thrilled you followed us here, and we look forward to continuing to share our mommy-run-work balance with you all.

Friday, May 9, 2008

We've Moved back to Runner's World site!

Dimity and I are blogging again on Runner's World site, so please check us out there. We appreciate you following us to and fro!

Our first post is about Sarah's mommy-guilt feelings about her half-marathon this weekend. Read why her mind will be on another race instead.

Sarah and Dimity

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Sweet Spot

I recently finished reading Lynne Cox's Swimming to Antarctica, of which I can't speak highly enough. She's not only an amazingly strong and gifted long-distance, open-water swimmer, but she's also is an amazingly smart and entertaining writer (as in, she writes for The New Yorker). I'd hate her if I didn't like her so much.** Anyway, in the first chapter or so, she recounts how she learned she wanted to swim The English Channel. She was maybe all of eight years old. She crossed the sucker at age 15, and the rest is history: she has, with varying degrees of support, been able to devote her life to what makes her body and mind sing.

To say sprint triathlons are my version of Coxe's swimming is a stretch, but I can easily say I found my sweet spot this weekend. The race was, in two words, nearly perfect. The worst part: predictably, the water temperature. In the mid-50's. I rented a full-length wet-suit and wore two caps to minimize the heat escape, but putting your face in water that chilly--chilly for mortals, not Arctic-woman Cox--isn't pleasant no matter how you slice it. (And the wetsuit wasn't that efficient, since I poked a hole in the leg putting it on. Ugh. Over $100 for 500 lousy meters.) The cold water forced me to crank up my kick, and I was in T1 in less than 10 minutes, prying my way out of the damaged wetsuit and layering on clothes for the bike. The rest of the race was sublime: the bike was free of wind and significant hills, and I stayed aero for a good portion, picking off people like I never have before. The run was as flat as I wish my abs were. I put myself on cruise control and grooved on in, finishing in a little over 1 hour, 30 minutes.

I didn't wish away the race. I didn't have thoughts of not finishing. I didn't even want to slow down. I was actually smiling heading out on the run--the photographic proof is above. Which are all new sensations for me, and all very, very welcomed. My bring-it-and-bite-it-off mentality placed me in 3rd (!) for my age group, and 10th (!) woman overall. I'm not sure I can go up from here, since my next race is Olympic distance, twice as long, and I'm sure the ghost of races past is feeling restless and ready to rear her ugly head. Still, I'm going to do my best to savor my sweet, sweet spot.

**I like her just from her writing and attitude. I get to confirm that tonight, when I'm going to see her speak in person. So, so excited.

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.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Race Worth Running

I’m jazzed: Phoebe and I are going to run a race together! We are going to do the Nike 5K for Kids on June 7 at Nike HQ. The Nike 5k, along with a Let Me Play 1 Mile, is part of a 8-city series of unique fundraising runs. When you sign up, 100% of your entry fee is donated to the school physical education program your choice. By Phoebe and me running it, the ailing PE program at her school, Buckman Elementary, will get $30 ($15 x 2). (Her school currently only has a half-time PE teacher, and the school has had to cut that position for next school year.)

And schools don’t just get the much-needed funds: Nike offers training runs, school visits (just ask!), and P.E. Teacher’s Night for each race. This race series is part of Nike’s Let Me Play initiative, intended to help kids unleash their potential through sport (right on!), so these extras are propelled by that effort. I know Phoebe and I will take part in a few training runs, as she’s never run more than 2 miles (at her school’s Run for the Arts event last fall, where the above photo was taken).

When I told her about the event, I gave her the option to run the 1-mile race or the 3.1-mile one, and she chose the longer one. (That’s my girl!) She’s been raring to go running with me since last December. After I finished a particularly rainy run, Phoebe asked me, “Momma, when the weather gets sunny again, can I go running with you?” Smart girl! Now if it ever stops hailing and starts feeling remotely spring-like, Phoebe and I can get started!

If you want to jump on this great bandwagon, you can take part in races in Denver (May 4), Seattle (May 10), and Boston (May 31). To date, this race series has raised more than $1 million for schools across the U.S. Definitely causes worth running for, if you ask me!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Parent's Love, A Son's Strength

I just wanted to share a very moving story in this morning's New York Times about Taylor Phinney, a cycling phenom who is the teen son of Olympians Davis Phinney and Connie Carpenter. Taylor looks primed to win a slot on the 2008 Olympic cycling team just days before his father undergoes brain surgery to help control the ravaging symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The story had me crying over my bagel this morning.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

My Half [Baked] Plans

Some of you have been asking which training program I ended up following for my May 10 half marathon. Well, here’s my question back at ya: Is making no decision actually making a decision? I’m not following any prescribed program, just doing what I want to do so far. Is this the same as creating my own program? (Which sounds so expert and fancy!) Or would that involve writing something down and following it week to week?

In my own defense, my indecision springs from a few factors. For starters, I still feel in good shape from my half in January. Except for maybe an 8-miler one Sunday, I’ve continued doing a long run of 10 or more miles every weekend. While I didn’t do a track workout until this morning, I wasn’t completely ignoring speed-- I’ve thrown in some intervals to my runs. And unlike my marathon training last year, I haven’t shied away from hills. I’ve done a few hill repeat workouts, and then last weekend I visited my parents in Connecticut where I ran every day. As any New Englander knows, any run out there involves hills! (Oy, I’d forgotten how many hills there are back East—and how long and/or steep some of them are! But my muscles had some memory—even after a hilly 10-miler on Saturday, my legs were pain-free.)

I’m still considering following a plan—I just got a copy of Run Less, Run Faster by Bill Pierce et al because several of you sang the praises of the FIRST training program—but who knows if or when that’ll happen. Chances are good I’ll be doing an exciting rowing race just a week before my half, which means I can’t be completely running-centric in my workouts. Maybe I should just own up and admit that I’m winging this next half. That's not the same as slacking, right?


Friday, March 14, 2008


I'm in a film club, which is basically the slacker version of a book club: no preparation required, save a good appetizer. Instead, a few friends and I get together once a month to watch a documentary, drink wine, eat something beyond grilled-cheese crusts and have a lengthy discussion, post-film. I love these Sunday nights; they make me feel smart and thoughtful and able to process an argument--all qualities that took a deep dive south when the rugrats arrived.

On Sunday, we watched Beauty.Mark, a must-see film by former elite triathlete Diane Israel. About ten years ago, I went to a cool body/mind/sport camp called Women's Quest, where Diane was a coach. I remember her bringing up her body and eating issues during a seminar. A specific detail: when she had to travel, she used to get up early enough to run to the airport. I can't remember more details, like what she did with her luggage, but the fact that she would get up at 3 a.m. to run 20 or so miles was both bewildering and, truth be told, slightly inspiring to me.

In Beauty Mark, Diane cracks herself--and her eating disorders and beyond screwed up body image--open for the world to see. She didn't get her period until she was 30 years old. She would eat one Powerbar for lunch during days she'd spend exercising. She had something like 17 stress fractures in her feet, and would just run through them. She'd pace like a mad animal on days she couldn't work out. What looked like a world-class athlete on the outside was actually a person killing herself. In telling her story, which happens to also be a exposure of the history of her immediate family, as truthfully as possible, Diane puts a very human and raw face on how obsessed women can become with body image.

I wish I could say I was immune to body obsession, but I'm not. And I'd guess that anybody who makes athletics a priority in their life isn't either. True, not everybody falls as hard as Diane and some of her interviewees--a bodybuilder who used steriods, a spinning instructor, with about 5% body fat, who still can't see her body for the amazing one it is--but I'd bet the film resonates more deeply with many female athletes than they'd like to admit. I know I was uncomfortable in scenes, in the same way that walking by a homeless person asking for change makes me feel. I know the situation is wrong, and I want to help, I'll be damned if I know even where to being tackling it.

While I grunt through the plank pose, I look down at my stomach and am less than pleased with the sag left from carrying two nearly 10-pound babies. Rationally, I know I should celebrate the fact that I could carry two healthy 10-pounders to term, but I'm not always rational. When I have to squeeze my thighs into size 14 jeans, I curse my legs, which can run a marathon, not the dumb designer jeans. (Why does it matter what the tag on my jeans says? I wish I knew.) Somebody else might wonder, as they run, if their quads will ever stop jiggling;somebody else hates that they have thick ankles or big boobs or small boobs or turkey-wing triceps or whatever is the despised body part du jour. Running and other sports have immediate, tangible benefits, and tasting those can lead you down a slippery slope thinking that if you run harder or spin faster or just do one more set of squats, you'll be fixed and whole and somehow, a better person.

After being forced out of triathlons--her body literally could not stand anymore--Diane became a psychotherapist, which is perfect for her: she's intelligent, funny and engaging--the kind of person who you can instantly connect with upon first meeting her. I imagine she's healed many people through her practice. This film, which has a few showings on the east coast in late April (and hopefully many more in the future), has the potential to help many, many more. See it if you can.


Monday, March 10, 2008

Random things that made me smile

1. A six-mile run yesterday--my first in about a week--where I felt invincible. The sun was shining, the wind was low, I had new music on my nano. I swear, if I didn't know better, I was helping turn the earth on its rotation with every stride I took. (And yes, I was striding--not plain old running.) If I'm lucky, I have running nirvana once every six months, and it's rare it happens after a dry spell like this one did. Makes me remember why I struggle on all the other days.

2. The aforementioned music. My new favorite song: Can you Read my Mind by The Killers. (New to lame-o me--it's probably been out for at least a year, given how jetlagged my music preferences are.) The lyric that resonated with me: "I don't mind if you don't mind, because I don't shine if you don't shine." No idea what the deeper context of that is, but it just works for me.

3. Daylight savings time. Not a fan of having the kids up an hour after their normal bedtimes, but it felt so wonderful this morning to roll over, see 7 a.m. on the clock and still be in bed--rarer than a day without a time-out in this house. Even better: a 30-minute run tonight, where I started after 6 p.m. in the light of day. (Read: no more dreadmill!) I can't smell spring's smells yet, but an evening run makes me know they're on the way.

4. After Pre-K today, Amelia tells me, "Hailey said something not nice to me today." I brace myself for "I don't want to be your friend," or "Ella doesn't like you, only me," or some variation on the queen-bee cattiness that I know will materialize sooner than later. "She said we couldn't have a wiener dog vet office," Amelia explains, "Only one for beagles." Phew. Dodged that people-can-suck talk for another round.

5. Headed to Captiva Island tomorrow, on the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida, for a much-needed week with my immediate and extended family. After a hellish travel day--a 4-hour layover in Houston, where I'm sure we'll kill time in the TGI Fridays eating monster fries--I can't wait to dig for coquina shells with Amelia during the day and critique the American Idol contestants with my mom at night. I love waking up early and running with the ocean next to me--on the pavement, not the sand, which is way too hard-core for my legs--knowing that the rest of the day, my hardest task will be chasing after Ben as he beelines for the ocean. After too many weeks of deadlines, pulling together our taxes and feeling generally exhausted, I can easily handle that.

Another Year Stronger

I turned 42 (gulp!) last week, making me think about age and its effect on athletic performance. Despite having three kiddies scurrying around, I started thinking maybe I’m getting “older.” Then a few sporty things happened to make me feel the downhill slide hasn’t started yet….

On my birthday I was busy-busy, meaning I didn’t get around to running until the end of my workday. I dashed out the door with no set plan—no intervals, no tempo, no route. Just see how and where the spirit moved me. When I finished, I looked at my Nike+ and was stunned—and ecstatic—to see that I’d run a little more than 5 miles and averaged about 20 seconds better per mile than I usually do on a tempo run!

Then on Saturday, my rowing team went out on the water for only the second time this year. Yet after a brief warm-up, we started doing 2-minute intervals (called “pieces” in rowing lingo) against two boats of junior rowers (a.k.a. high schoolers). Last season, the juniors had cleaned our clocks almost every time we raced them—and now they’d been rowing six days a week for the last few weeks. While we were excited to go head-to-head, we were managing our expectations, to put it kindly. The girls beat us in the first piece, but then the next two were too close to call. We had found our groove and I sensed that the other seven rowers in the boat felt as strong as I did. We spanked the juniors on the next few pieces—we were elated! During a water break, I said to the rower in front of me, “younger people get tired; older people get warmed up.”

Maybe I’m just getting warmed up.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

I Have Half a Mind…

It’s time for me to start officially focusing on my next running race—a half-marathon on May 10. But as much as I feel like I’ve been doing workouts-of-my-own-choosing since my last half (January 13), I’m not starting from scratch by any means. For example: On Sunday, I ran 11.5 miles with my running buddy Julie. And last Friday and Thursday, I did runs that both ended up being at tempo pace (oops, got a little carried!).

Because I’m aiming to set a post-kids PR (I only need to drop about a minute) at this next half, I don’t want to not follow a program. Yet I’m left debating which program to do—and how closely I need to adhere to it. (Rowing season is starting in earnest so I’ll be rowing two or three days a week. No just run-run-run for me!)

Yesterday morning, after doing early morning hill repeats (see, I am getting serious again!), I realized I could ask you, gentle readers, for advice. The two programs I’m debating between—the 10-week Ryan Hall half program I followed for my January race or Hal Higdon’s Training to Excel at the Half plan. (Okay, so I’m two weeks late to start at the beginning of that 12-weeker…) I was very pleased with the results of the Ryan Hall one, but a part of me is ready for something different.

The third option I’m contemplating? A self-designed hybrid of the two that accommodates my rowing practices and my mood. Like Higdon would “let” me do hill repeats in lieu of track intervals whenever I feel like it. Given that I’m trying to become a stronger hill climber (more on this in future postings), I like that aspect. Mainly, though, I like the freedom I’d be affording myself. My only fear? If I fall short of my PR, I’ll be bummed and feel I only have myself to blame.

What do you suggest I do? I’d love to read your suggestions. Thanks!


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Home Alone

I thought, through the trials and tribulations of running a marathon, you saw the depths of your soul--the good, the bad, the ugly--and came out a better person. That might be true, but I'm here to testify that 26.2 miles have nothing, depth-wise, on taking care of two of the sub-five-year-old person set for nine days straight solo. Nothing--no sports bra, no perceived wall, no hellish hill--chafes more than hearing, "MINE! MINE! MINE!" for the nineteenth time before 8 a.m., and knowing that you are the only one who can somehow soothe the situation. Your shortcomings--and level of patience--are truly and rawly exposed.

While I realize I'm trying to fit the proverbial square peg here, indulge me in my account of my marathon of mothering. My husband, Grant, was on a business trip for nine days: Thursday to Saturday.

Mile 1: We drop Grant off at the airport. I'm feeling confident, capable and have a plan that somehow gets us out of the house for each of the 9 upcoming days, which, like 26.2 miles, feels like cake at this point.

Mile 3: First hiccup. We come home Thursday afternoon to find that our two dogs have gotten into the pantry and consumed--I'm not kidding--11 Metamucil wafers, at least a pound of GORP (raisins, peanuts, cashews, chocolate thingys), a bag of crispy peas and dried apricots. They'll be pooping straight--which includes at least one wee-hour bathroom break--until Grant returns.

Mile 7, around Saturday night: I celebrate being a third of the way through my journey with what becomes my every third-night meal: a glass of white wine, a bowl of Life cereal and too many Thin Mint girl scout cookies to count. I find that making a salad, or really, consuming any semblance of a healthy diet, is impossible when I'm parenting solo.

Mile 10: Not surprisingly, I step in dog poop on the way to the garage to take the kids to school/daycare on Monday moring. I discover it before I get in the car, thankfully, but spend about 30 minutes, which should be devoted to work, cleaning out the treads of my Dansko clog with a toothpick.

Mile 12: 12:45 on Wednesday: haircut, which I'd had scheduled for months. I should've worked up until 12:30, but decide I really need a run. I've worked out exactly twice in nearly a week, which portends bad, bad things for my mood (and my ability to break up the "MINE" fights without yelling). It's ironic that the times you need exercise the most are the times you can rarely fit it in. So I give myself 35 minutes get around a route that usually takes me at least 38, and I book. Finish in a blazing 34, run up to the shower and get to the haircut on time. I can't believe my luck when I get there: a brand new People! Tori's having another baby! The mindless read, combined with the pampering, is so soothing.

Mile 13.1: Halfway point. Celebrate with my Life/wine/Thin Mints dinner and Project Runway. I'm sure Heidi Klum eats like this sometimes, right?

Mile 15: I'm becoming a pro at handling fits that come up because, well, it's a good time to have a fit. Some reasons for having tantrums I haven't already blocked out: "I wanted to get in the bath before you turned off the water!" "I didn't want my quesadilla cut up!" "Ben is sitting too close to me!" My strategy: totally ignore the hysterical fireworks. They'll eventually die down.

Mile 19: Officially hit the wall around 7 a.m. for no reasons other than the following:
A) Amelia tells me her 46th knock knock joke of the week, all of which revolve around this theme: "Knock knock" "Who's there?" "Banana." "Banana who?" "Banana with a potato who sits in a chair." If I don't break out in crazy laughter at her hilarious punchline, I'm subjected to another one.
B) I'm exhausted from going to bed around 11--way late for me; the week was crazy with deadlines--and getting up before 6, when the urchins get up.
C) Ben is mainlining my Aquafresh teeth-whitening toothpaste.
I park them in front of Noggin for...I don't know what cumulative hour it is. I know I'm well beyond my self-imposed hour a day rule, which, truth be told, typically gets stretched to about 75 minutes on normal days.

Mile 22: Thursday night: hire a babysitter so I can go the Y. I start running on the treadmill around 7:30 p.m.--a time I'm usually winding down--and crank my Nano so loud, I'm sure my neighbors think I'm hearing impaired. The Killers serenade me with Mr. Brightside, The Counting Crows are Accidentally In Love and Shakira's Hips Don't Lie. Even on the treadmill, I could run forever. By the time Justin Timberlake wants to Rock My Body, I'm officially feeling like I can finish this solo mama thing strong. The restorative powers of perfect music combined with sweat continues to amaze me.

Mile 25: The kids eat Wendy's for our last solo dinner, and I try to get back on track with an Amy's Veggie Lasagna. After I put them in bed, I'm finishing up the box of mints.

Mile 26.2: A trip to Target kills time before we finally cross the finish line at the airport. Like most finish lines, this one is filled with hugs and kisses and smiles--and the willingness to forget the pain that proceeded the victory.

I'm off on a bike ride before Grant can even unpack.

--Dimity (a.k.a. The Mom-ster)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Shower Power

We have a new tradition developing at our house—the family shower. No, it’s not as NC-17 as it may sound as Jack has yet to jump in. Just me and the kids so far.

It started a few Saturdays ago after I went rowing. I leave for my boathouse before anyone else in the house is up, so when I walk in the door, the kiddies are very excited to see me. There’s no escaping them. When I stepped into the shower, John and Daphne, both 2.5 years, clamored to join me. How could I deny them—they are too darn cute! Once big-sis Phoebe saw them in there with me, she wanted to join the party, so she stripped down and came in. Lucky for me, the shower in our master bathroom has two showerheads! While it didn’t make for a very relaxing post-workout shower, I’ll admit it was fun having so many naked little bodies dancing around under the spray.

The next day, after a 10-mile run, there were the frisky kidlets, begging for another mommy-and-me (and –me and –me!) shower. Who knows if the custom will continue this weekend. For now I’m not complaining—I know there will come a day, sooner rather than later, that my kids won’t even let me see them naked, let alone bathe together. Scrub-a-dub-dub!


Friday, February 22, 2008

Raising a Good Sport

As a preschooler, my older daughter, Phoebe, was lousy at losing. She’d get huffy and pouty when her dad uncovered more pairs playing the Dora the Explorer matching game (think Concentration, but matching Princess Dora or Swiper cards instead of the seven of clubs or ace of spades). Phoebe would quickly get frustrated trying to jump rope after seeing her friend Piper excel at it.

Yet they now must teach good sportsmanship in kindergarten along with reading and math. Suddenly Phoebe is Little Miss Magnanimous when it comes to games and sports. Case in point: Last weekend our whole family went to the playground. As we walked across a faded 100-meter-dash outline on the blacktop, Phoebe suddenly asked me if I wanted to race her. Me specifically, not her dad, Jack. As she headed toward the starting line, I whispered to Jack, “should I let her beat me?” He told me to just see how it went, implying she might legitimately beat me. (Ain’t gonna happen I thought—I’ve got a ton of 400s and 800s under this marathoner’s belt!)

Phoebe and I both got a good jump off the start, but I fired up the afterburners and cruised across the line several seconds ahead of her. After Phoebe finished, I looked down at her face, fearful tears would be welling or a frown appearing. But to my surprise—and my delight and pride—Phoebe broke into a huge grin, and exclaimed, “I wanted you to win, Momma! Now you can tell everybody you won a running race!”


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A different kind of finish line

Instead of getting up at the crack of to swim with the master's team at 5:30, this morning, I got to sleep until 5:45 so I could head up to Denver, where my sister and marathon partner, Sarah, lives. Yesterday, Sarah learned that Bailey, her 15-ish year old hound, would have to have a cancerous leg removed to continue her life. That scenario was too much even for Miss B., who has had more lives than a houseful of cats. Sarah's very gracious and generous vet, who had a day off today, came by her house at 8:30 a.m. to help Bailey drift off to her next adventures.

For all her faults--halitosis and gas that could knock you into Nebraska; glassy marbles for eyes since cataracts had taken them over years ago; the firm idea that any flat surface, be it wood floor inside or grass outside, constituted the perfect bathroom; a shed rate so high, Sarah could have made bucks making dog fur coats, if her fur had been soft, not stiff--Bailey was a love. She wasn't necessarily a running dog--her why-exercise-when-you-can-sleep demeanor always overruled her Kenyan-esque frame--but she's the kind of dog that you want to come home to after a long day, a bad workout, a fight with a boyfriend. (Actually, all dogs fit that bill.) She loved and licked unconditionally and always had a wag, albeit one that left a trail of fur, for friends or strangers.

Before she headed to the greenest pastures, where fresh hamburger meat is never in short supply, where dogs off all kinds co-mingle and gossip ("Did you see how she sniffed his butt? Dude, she's looking to have a litter!"), where there's always a pack up for a good romp, Bailey got to leave this world with her head resting on the lap of the person who loved her best.

We should all be so lucky to have that be the last finish line we cross.

Rest from your journey, then run as hard as you want--on all four, healthy legs--Sweet Bailey Jane.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

A not-so-dreadful treadmill workout

Today, I had a choice: run outside in the blowing snow and heavy winds or run at the Y. So really, my choice was this: do nothing or run at the Y. I reluctantly chose the latter.

I was staring down a 55-minute run--I have a coach right now through Carmichael Training Systems, because I'm taking their power cycling class--with no plan except to survive it. Ten minutes into it, I composed a workout simply because 45 more minutes of the same pace, same incline and same tedium might have sent me toppling over the back of the 'mill, mentally. I'm a big believer in breaking things up: to get to point E from point A, think B, then C, then D, then E. If I only focus on E, I can get discouraged embarrassingly quickly and quit.

So enough rationale: here's the workout.
10 minute warm-up (you knew that part). Set a base pace (BP) and base incline (BI) during the warm-up. This should be a comfortable, I can run for an-hour-straight, no-prob pace. For me, that was 6.2 mph and 2% incline.

20 minutes of climbing intervals:
4 minutes at 4% at BP, then 4 minutes recovery at BP + BI
3 minutes at 5% at BP, then 3 minutes recovery at BP +BI
2 minutes at 6% at BP, then 2 minutes recovery at BP + BI
1 minute at 7% at BP (this one is hard!), then one minute recovery at BP + BI

(Note: 30 minutes already done! More than half-way through the workout!)

20 or 22 minutes of speed intervals (for this, I lowered my BI to 1.5% and kept it there for the duration)
4 minutes at 6.7 mph, then 4 minutes recovery at BP + BI
3 minutes at 6.9 mph, then 3 minutes recovery at BP + BI
2 minutes at 7.1 mph, then 2 minutes recovery at BP + BI
1 minute at 7.3 mph, then 1 minute recovery at BP + BI (while doing this one, marvel that this is slower than the pace of a recovery run for an elite marathoner)
Bonus: 1 minute at 7.5 mph, then 1 minute recovery at BP + BI

(Note: this part was much easier than increasing the incline, so it's kind of fun to do it second and see how fast you can go.)

3-5 minutes of cool down and wham-mo: I was done! It still felt long at parts, but getting through four minutes mentally is cake compared to thinking about laboring through 55.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Blossoming Daphne

If you are a regular reader of Marathon Moms, you might feel like you almost know my older daughter through my many Phoebe-centric postings. Yet I rarely mention my younger daughter. Dear Daphne, 2.5 years, is John’s twin sister, yet she is very much her own independent, unique child. Like every mom, I think all my children are special. However, while I see many similarities between big sis Phoebe and John, Daphne is truly one of a kind.

Daphne is going to be our athlete. In most instances, she’s more physical and active than her twin brother. But more than that, she just radiates an inner athlete. When I’m out on long runs, and I let my mind drift to my kids, it’s always an image of Daphne that springs into my head in clear focus.

And Daphne is already attuned to the fact that Sunday is a day of running. On Sunday morning, I took John and Daphne on a stroll around the block. John, my darling momma’s boy, was content to have me carry him most of the way. But Daphne had to literally run ahead on her own, tearing down the block. Then whenever she got about six houses ahead of us, she’d turn around and dash toward us, always yelling, “Love you, too, Momma! Love you, too!” She’d crash into my legs, giving me a huge hug as she laughed and laughed. Later on, when she and John were doing their favorite—dancing naked in their room—Daphne suddenly changed tact and announced, “I go running!” She ran around and around in a big circle, the most gorgeous streaker ever.

Give her a few years—and a few adidas outfits—and she’ll be running alongside of me.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Flat tires: How do you deal?

So here's the deal: I'm a strong athlete, own a really nice bike and yet, I prefer to ride it indoors instead of out. Why? I'm terrified of getting a flat tire. The idea of being helpless, possibly tens of miles from home (and even worse, out of cell range), with only my very meager mechanical skills to rely upon to get me home is terrifying. Yes, I do know how to change a tire, but I'm far, far from proficient at it, and even if I do get it on right--a very slight possibility--there's always the chance I'll flat again.

I've been assigned an essay by a major magazine to write about this situation, and wonder if I'm alone. I hope not. I know this blog is mostly devoted to running, but if you're a cyclist (or think you'd like to be one) who is as frightened by the "psssst" sound of a emptying tube as I am, I'd love to hear from you. Tell me a funny story about when you flatted or how you're overcoming your fear of flatting or a tip about how to make the changing process more efficient or why I'm such a stereotypical girl. In other words, tell me anything about flat tires. I may use it in the story. You can either post a comment here, or e-mail me at dimitymdavis at yahoo dot com.

Thanks in advance--

Thursday, February 7, 2008


So I throw out a not-so-clever kicker in the last entry--under/overs on Thursday--and guess what? Karma comes back to bite me in my already zapped quads. Very funny. Tonight the ratio was supposedly a little easier--6 minutes in the steady state zone before 4 in the nearly impossible climbing repeat zone--but the effort was way harder than Tuesday, mostly because I was working with licorice legs and a mind that wasn't willing to endure the still-too-fresh, imminent misery.

So as I huffed and puffed and still couldn't get my prescribed numbers, I thought of a few other tasks I'd rather be doing. None, it should be noted, are particularly easy.

1. Clean my children from head to toe: wash their hair, excavate their noses, cut all 40 nails.

2. Learn the intricacies of the voting process: differences between caucus and primaries (and why some states are one way, some another); how the delegates work; the difference between winning states and delegates, and which matters more; why Republicans have winner-take-all states, but Democrats are, well, much more democratic in how they doll out delegates. (I think I can infer the answer to the last point.)

3. Organize our toys: put all legos with legos (and not have random pieces scattered from laundry baskets to my purse); put plastic spatulas and pretend fried eggs in the pretend kitchen (rescue them from our bath toys); put tiny ballet slippers with newborn bibs and miniature pj's (grab them out of the dress up box); find all the balls that fit with basketball hoops, hammer games and tunnels that I always come across when a child isn't begging for them and place them in their rightful spot.

4. Keep the toys organized for more than 20 minutes.

5. Have a family dinner during which at least two of the four things happen: Amelia happily takes one no-thank-you bite from a foreign food; Ben doesn't doll out his helpings to the dogs; I don't lose my temper and wonder aloud, "Why do I try to do this?" as I slurp down white wine; and everybody is happy with plain strawberries for dessert.

Maybe the under/overs aren't as tough as I thought.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Under, Over, Kaput

Usually I exercise until the endorphins flow, and either keep it steady at that easy-to-hold pace or wind it down. Even though I know (and have written countless times about) the value of intervals and speedwork and tempo runs--a higher aerobic capacity, the ability to run faster for longer, blah, blah, blah--I hate working hard. A 30-minute workout where you push your heart rate up into the clouds and hang on for dear life? I'd rather run for three hours at a conversational pace.

That said, I love the benefits of those brief-but-oh-so-painful workouts. (Who wouldn't? It's basically free speed.) So to keep myself honest this winter, I signed up for the power training classes at Carmichael Training Systems, which is about 5 minutes from my house. An eight-week block, two times a week. Think spin class, but for bike geeks: everybody uses their own bikes, whose back wheels spin on an indoor trainer and are hooked up to power tap meters, which chart precisely how hard you're working. There is no perky instructor with a Madonna-esque microphone up front rah-rahing you on, but rather three very qualified coaches who roam around the stark warehouse we're all sweating in and yell at us to crank it up, go harder, realize that pain is our friend. The classes are on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on those days, I get a pit of nausea forming in my stomach around 2 p.m., just anticipating how difficult the workout will be at 6 p.m. that evening. I can't eat, although I know I should since I'll need the energy. Usually I just grab two sheets of graham crackers as I walk out the door and choke them down.

Last night, the sense of dread was more than justified. The workout is a signature one of CTS' called under/overs, during which you spend five minutes in a steady state range (for me, this is a heart rate of about 165-170) then five minutes in the considerably harder climbing range (my heart rate rockets to nearly 180). Take five minutes of recovery, then repeat the whole cycle two more times. In other words, 30 minutes of really, really hard work. (And hard work, it should be noted, that you have to be accountable for: the coaches download the power meters after class, so there's no hiding from big bicycle brother.)

The workout pattern supposedly raises your lactate threshold, or the point at which the cramp-inducing acid creeps into your muscles. By two minutes into the first interval, my legs already were feeling the burn (this was the first tough workout I've done since mostly kicking the sinus infection), and it took every ounce of discipline I had not to tank. "Hang on for 30 more seconds," I'd tell myself. Or, if there were four minutes left. "O.k., Dimity, that's 12 sets of 20 seconds." Or I'd use the alphabet: every time my right foot went down, I'd mentally say a letter. Do A-Z three times on one foot, and that would almost be a full minute. I somehow slogged through it all, but didn't consistently hit the power numbers prescribed for me.

On the way home, though, I wondered why I was doing this to myself. I haven't signed up for a spring triathlon yet. I don't really have a training plan with any goal in mind, other than not hurting my IT band again. I'll never be a great cyclist; it's just not one of my goals. And I'm definitely not looking to befriend pain in this lifetime.

The best I could come up with is that, as masochistic as it seems, taking classes like this gives me confidence and a sense of pride I have trouble finding anywhere outside of athletics--but translates easily to everywhere else in my life. I take on most projects, personalities and temper tantrums because I know I have the physical ability and mental discipline to see them through (or in the case of tantrums, defuse them). In other words, suffering through why-am-I-doing-this workouts makes me prepared for what the world throws at me.

Except maybe another under/over workout on Thursday.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Political Parent

Super Bowl, Schmoooper Bowl: That’s not the super event that has me jazzed. It’s Super Tuesday. I am so excited to see the results, I can barely sit still. Like a child awaiting Christmas, I’ve been counting down the days until this important political temperature-taking. And oh-how-I-wish I lived in one of the 20+ states that gets to have a voice tomorrow (Oregon’s contest isn’t until May 20—give me a break!). I won’t get on a soapbox to convince you to vote for my candidate, other than to say if that person ran 26.2 miles, she too could be a Marathon Mom….

This is not newfound political fervor: I was political before I was athletic. Before I became hooked on exercising, before I ran my first marathon, or before I won my first rowing medal, I co-managed Gary Hart’s campaign headquarters in my Connecticut hometown and shook Senator Hart’s hand. The Bush dynasty queered me on politics, but now I am amped up once again. (It’s almost too perfect that it’s also a Summer Olympics year!) And I am delighted that my zeal is rubbing off on Phoebe, my older daughter who just turned 6 last month.

An intuitive, observant child, Phoebe quickly realized I wasn’t idly watching CNN on primary or caucus nights. (Gee, ya think maybe it was my hoots, hollers, and shouts of “right on!” that gave her a clue?!?) She asked if she could watch return coverage and debates with me, and now we are both glued to the TV on important nights. It’s like how she’s already talking about the runs we’ll do together once the weather turns warmer. I’m not sure which I’m more pleased about—that I’m raising a potential athlete or a political animal. For now, you know where we'll be tomorrow night.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Stolen Day

I've been a bit MIA lately, namely because my family has been hit with the sinus infection semi. No way to politely say this, so I'll just throw it out there: it SUCKS. Got strep? Get antibiotics. Got a headache? Take an Advil (or bubble gum Motrin, for the toddler set). Got a railroad tie going through your temples while your nose runs non-stop green? Don't give your children any cold medicine--if the news stories about it weren't enough to scare me, the fact that it doesn't work for myself makes me realize it's not necessary--and steer clear of meds yourself, if you want to be cognisant. If I take, say, a non-drowsy Sudafed, I'm still knocked out, which doesn't bode well for tending to Ben, who, these days, unrolls a whole roll of TP into the toilet as a hobby. I swear, running a marathon is easier than having a sinus infection and taking care of kids at the same time; nothing like bending over to pick up a 35-pound kid, carry him up the stairs to change his diaper while he's screaming to really aggravate an already awful situation. Given the choice between that scenario and hitting the wall at mile 23, I say, bring on the miles.

Our whole family took turns with the gunk, and Ben was first, so he stayed home from daycare (or "school" as I call it, to make it sound less neglectful) last Friday. I'll admit: at first, I was bummed. I had a ton of work to do, and was coming off a trade show and was exhausted from that. But as the two of us eased into our stolen day, I realized that I spend very little one-on-one time with Ben; typically, it's 15 minutes of book reading before bed. We had a great morning as we built towers and roads and zoomed cars (and I wiped his nose every 2 minutes or so). I was contemplating going to the Y so I could stick him in daycare (I know: bad mom, spreading germs! But it was only going to be for 45 minutes, and I needed to sweat). I looked at the temp outside, though, and saw it was nearly 50, so I bundled him up, stuck him in our Chariot Carrier (which I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually run with) and off we went. We had a ball: we said hi to the choo-choos, hi to the heli-lopter, hi to the dogs we passed. He kept repeating, "Running mama, running mama," before he went into a trance and just enjoyed the ride.

For my part, I remembered that running with a stroller really isn't that much harder than running solo, at least if you're mostly on flat paths. I was happy to have a Ben soundtrack instead of my tunes, which I've so overplayed I have a hard time finding one I like. My body still isn't thrilled with the idea of running again, but instead of concentrating on every ache, I tried to concentrate on how lucky I was: here I was, the sun shining on a bluebird day in the middle of a Friday afternoon, pushing my own loving cheerleader as we shared a stolen day. It doesn't get much better than that. I try as hard as I can to appreciate such moments, but often I'm too rattled or preoccupied to do so. On Friday, I can truly say I did.

My life-is-good attitude couldn't have come at a better time: I walked in the door, and realized our dog had pulled a family size container of peanut butter and a full tub of Smart Balance from the counter--my fault for leaving them out--and proceeded to lick them both clean. Still, I'd rather deal with getting up six times in the night so she can empty out her innards instead of dealing with this sinus infection. Off to shoot up with some Zicam, which doesn't make me loopy, now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Serendipitous Sunday

I may not be fast, but I’m dedicated: When I plan to run, I run. Well…except last Sunday. Like every morning on the “day of rest” (yeah, right!), I got up, put on my running clothes, and got the twins out of their cribs. The plan was for Jack to go to 9 a.m. Mass, and then I’d run when he got home. The kids and I had a ton of fun playing together, and the morning flew by. Jack ended up taking Daphne to Mass, and then for hot chocolate. By the time they got home, it was almost 11:00 and foggy. The spirit was not moving me to run.

In complete non-SBS fashion, I changed my exercise plans and my workout clothes, and headed to the health club. I was going to ride an upright stationary bike, then swim. En route to the cardio machines, I ran into my good friend and rowing teammate Amber. Turns out she and another good rowing buddy, Kim, were going to swim together at the same time I was planning to hit the pool. (Amber and Kim are the two rower-triathletes who ran the same half marathon I did three weeks ago.)

What serendipity: Amber and I never randomly run into each other at the gym, and the first words out of her mouth were, “I usually do a long run on Sundays, but I changed my mind.” Great jock-minds think alike! So after the bike, I met my gal-pals in the pool. Even though swimming isn’t as wonderfully social as running, we had fun churning up the lanes together.

I’m a big believer in fate. As I hopped out of the pool with a big smile on my face and lactic acid in my muscles, I knew it was destiny that I blew off my run.


Friday, January 25, 2008

A Training Plan Set Me Free

My run last Sunday was liberating. For the first time since last April, I ran whatever distance I wanted. No route, no agenda, no mile-tally to hit. And then on Tuesday, I went one step further: I ran without a watch or my Nike+ iPod. I afforded myself this freedom because my next race isn’t until May 10 (the Hippie Chick Half-Marathon). I figure I’ve been on a training schedule—first for the marathon, and then for the half—since early last spring. I deserve a break!

Yet while I’m enjoying my fitness free-will, I am surprised by how much I miss following a training plan. Before Dimity and I embarked on our marathon training on May Day last year, I was dreading, truly dreading having to do prescribed workouts. Part of who I was—I thought—was a person who likes to make her own schedule. It’s one of the many reasons I am a freelance writer who works from home. I don’t like having to be at an office or a desk for a set period of time. Sure, being the mom of three small children ropes me in, but at their ages, all the kids are on my routine, not the other way around. So I thought I’d feel chaffed by a program that dictated I do a specific track workout on Tuesday and a tempo run on Friday.

Instead, ironically, it was freeing to follow a set-on-paper training plan. I didn’t have to debate what workout to do or worry if I was doing enough to stay fit. It also forced me to take at least one rest day per week, a wise habit I’d avoided for years for fear I would backslide into inertia. (Ahh, a topic for another blog…) My plan is to ride this take-it-easier break like a wave for a few more weeks, then jump back into a set plan. It’s kind of like being on a vacation from a new, stimulating job: I’m going to enjoy my “downtime,” but I no longer dread the alternative.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nike Toast

Remember that scene from “Super Size Me” where Morgan Spurlock holds up photos of George Washington, Jesus, Wendy, and Ronald McDonald to see who the kids recognize? To see how kids’ minds are infiltrated by marketing even at an early age?

We had a moment like that last night at dinner. I had made a delicious lentil and eggplant stew, green salad, and warm whole wheat bread. Halfway through the meal, Phoebe says, “Look, Momma!,” holding up a gnawed-on piece of toasted bread. “It’s like that sign on the side of your running shoes.” I took a closer look and, sure enough: She had nibbled her toast into the shape of a Nike swoosh!

Phoebe just scored a bunch of adidas swag from one of my rowing teammates (thanks, Vanessa!)—running shorts, sweat-wicking tees, and a fleece jacket. Something tells me that pretty soon, Phoebe will be arranging carrot sticks or pretzels on her plate to mimic adidas’ three stripes…


Friday, January 18, 2008

Book a Babysitter for the 24th!

To go see Spirit of the Marathon, a documentary about six very different runners preparing for the Chicago marathon. Sarah and I both will be flying the friendly skies that exact night--dang it!--but there will be an encore, apparently, on February 21: hmmm, maybe a late Valentine's Day celebration? Do you think they'll have Powerbars and Gatorade at the concession stands?--Dimity

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My #1 Fan

Once again, my daughter Phoebe (who just turned 6 last week!) proves to be my biggest cheerleader. I called home after Sunday’s half-marathon, and Phoebe told me she had a present waiting for me. I walked in the door and she handed me a card and a wrapped-in-blue present.

That's a photo of the front of the card. Yes, I’m biased, but I think it’s a good likeness of me in motion. The message she wrote inside, however, is what I love best. It says, “Dear Mom I am sorry that you nevr [sic] win a running ras [sic]. I love you Mom.” It made me laugh out loud! It cracks me up that she has the expectation that I should be able to win a running race, so therefore she feels badly for me. (And here I was feeling proud-as-punch about my 1:52 finish!)

The present was a pink beaded necklace and bracelet, in lieu of a gold medal. (Perhaps she read my New York Times piece about race jewelry being a burgeoning trend!) I thanked and hugged Phoebe, then hurried to shower before the twins woke up from their nap. While I was in the shower, Phoebe came into the bathroom and announced, “Momma, remember that race you thought you ran slow? Well, I don’t think you ran slow.” I’m pretty sure she was referring to my marathon last fall. I’m thrilled she is now impressed with my effort—even if I didn’t win that running ras either.


Monday, January 14, 2008

The Finish Line at Last!

At long last, I feel like I’ve finally reached the finish line of my marathon training, which started on May Day last year. As dedicated Marathon Moms readers know, I was sorely disappointed with my finish time at Nike Women’s Marathon (infernal hills!!) last October 21. I flirted with doing another marathon last December, but opted instead to focus on racing a half-marathon yesterday. I religiously followed a training plan from Runner’s World, and set various goals for myself. My conservative goal was to break 1:58, my moderate goal was to beat 1:55, and my balls-to-the-walls one was 1:51 or better. (Oh, and my non-time, ego-driven goal was to beat two good rowing buddies in the race! They are better rowers than I am, but I wanted to show who rules the road. At least in my overly competitive mind!)

None of us were feeling 100% thanks to varying degrees of chest colds, but our mood was light and laughing at the start. But when the starter shouted “Go!,” I was all business. My plan was to run the first 10 miles, then race the final 3.1. I felt surprisingly good during the race—I was pushing myself, but I never seriously worried about blowing out. The few times cracks of doubt or discomfort surfaced, I reminded myself, “You’re here to race.” The pancake-flat course was a blessing, and the fog-enshrouded setting allowed my mind to stay focused on the task at hand.

When a favorite upbeat song came on my “Winter Half” mix, I started my finish kick about a half-mile early. A quick glance at my Garmin Forerunner 350 told me 1:51 was a possibility. In the final mile, I turned to thoughts of my kids to help power me to the finish line, telling myself, “Sprint to that telephone pole for Daphne!” or “Pump your arms for Phoebe!” My official finish time (no chip) was 1:52:32—I was elated! I savored my personal victory for a minute, then walked to the 13-mile mark to run in my rowing teammates (they finished in 1:59:03 and 2:03:07--I’m wearing my imaginary road-ruler crown as I type!).

During my marathon training, my coach told me an accurate predictor of marathon finish time isto double your half-marathon time and add 10 minutes. By this voodoo math, my marathon time on a similar course would be about 3:55. I know the time on the Nike finish clock read 4:13, but in my mind, I now believe I could have done a 3:55 on a flatter course—which is what I suspected all along. I feel proud, vindicated, and ready for a break!


Friday, January 11, 2008

Rock and Roll, Meg

Growing up, my older sister Megan and I had a relationship I imagine many sisters, two or so years apart, do: the younger idolizes the older, while the older deems herself too sophisticated to acknowledge that the younger even exists. I used to sneak into her room just to touch the clothes in her closet, as if I was combing at the racks at Barney’s, not a selection of separates from The Limited. I remember being thrilled when she would actually wave to me at a Friday night football game—which she usually didn’t if I was in my band uniform. Needless to say, she was in a social stratosphere way above me. While she went to co-ed parties, my best friend and I had Monopoly marathons. While she went to prom with a date coveted by her friends, I made a mixed tape the night of, pretending not to care I wasn’t invited. She was valedictorian, I, well, wasn’t.

Sometime in my 20’s, though, living away from home, I realized two things: that her clothes weren’t that cool and I could define my life in the outline of her shadow, or I could create my own shadow. I opted for the latter. I fell into endurance sports, among other things, and completed the 1995 New York City marathon. My family had never been runners, so my taking on the 26.2 came as a bit of a shock. I don’t think Megan understood why I ran, or more specifically, why I’d run that far with no hope of winning. But slowly, she’s come around to the running way of life, appreciating the mental clarity and physical exhaustion it gives. She trained for a half-marathon a couple years ago, only to stop when she found out she was pregnant. After having her second child, she’s been running regularly. (And, it should be said, shopping like me. We ended up wearing the same sweater from Anthropologie on Thanksgiving; neither of us knew the other had bought it.)

Megan is going to take on the 26.2 miles of the Rock and Roll Marathon on Sunday. I’m not entirely sure what prompted her to sign up: possibly sibling rivalry, which, despite us being closer to 40 years old than 4, still exists (my younger sister and I ran Nike Women’s San Francisco together in October) ; possibly needing a personal goal and some structure outside of play dates and conference calls; possibly cutting a mid-life crisis off at the pass. It doesn’t really matter why she’s going the distance. I’m just impressed that she is. She’s not a natural runner—my mom always said she’d break her ankles, which are roughly the width of a robin’s, if she ran too far—and she’s not as athletically driven (read: stubborn) as I am. Much of her training was through the Denver winter, where her bird ankles, I’m sure, were chapped by the biting wind. She dutifully followed a plan in the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer, completing most of her long runs solo—a feat not easy for anybody, let alone a new marathoner.

That said, going the 26.2 certainly isn’t easy for anybody. It definitely didn’t come naturally to me either time, which leads me to believe, since we share the same genes (although I was blessed with more sturdy ankles), that Megan will have both an amazing and amazingly tough day on Sunday. She’ll hit the highs and she’ll hit some lows as she tries to reach her goal: beating Katie Holmes’ 5:30ish time from this year’s NYC Marathon. I'm sure she'll surprise herself by how capable she feels, and she'll leave Katie in the dust.

I thought I’d be more self-congratulatory, my shadow finally leading Megan’s somewhere she wanted to be, but the truth is everybody runs their own race, both in life and on the course. So rock and roll Meg--and enjoy the ride.

Good luck to everybody marathon-bound, Arizona to Disney World this weekend--

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Taste of My Medicine

Mothers constantly give: give baths, give kisses to elbows whacked on counters, give endless made-up answers to profound and hard-to-answer questions. (Amelia's today: "Are people alive in heaven, mom?") Most of the time, I love it. I love knowing that only I know that when Ben screams "Bar!" he's asking for a Cherry Pie Larabar. I love knowing the difference between Amelia's fake, I-want-attention cry and her I'm-seriously-hurting cry, and knowing that my hugs and kisses will make the latter go away. (Nothing, save distraction, makes the former disappear.) I love being the one whose smell is comforting, whose voice is (usually) soothing, whose intimate knowledge of their tiny bodies and minds makes their lives happy and easy. Some days, though, I can get to feeling sorry for myself, and I think, "I want somebody to make me pancakes and get me dressed and entertain me all day then give me a bath, read me books and put me softly to bed."

I'm working on a story for Women's Health about gear, and I need a fit tip--how to know if this piece of gear is right for you--for each item, one of which is running shoes. I called the Colorado Running Company, a running store in downtown Colorado Springs (they don't have a website), the other day and introduced myself, explained the story and asked if I could ask a few questions over the phone. "Why don't you come down and see for yourself," replied a nice voice, belonging to a guy named John. I told him the quote would be a line or two, and I didn't want to waste his time. "It's what we do," he said, "I don't even care if you quote me." So I took nice John up on his offer and brought my orthotics and my shoes from the marathon, which are totally uneven: the left heel is significantly--like 1/3"--more worn down than the right.

I won't bore you with the technical details we discussed, but I will tell you he spent 30 minutes with me, as other customers came in and out of the store and he politely ignored them. (There was one other salesperson there.) He let me run outside in brand new shoes. He videotaped me on the treadmill and showed me what a non-overpronater I am (I thought I was). He talked me through the benefits and drawbacks of orthotics, and the correct shoes to use them in. (Most orthotic wearers don't need motion control shoes, as the orthotics are stiff enough; in fact, combining orthotics and aggressive MC shoes may produce—surprise!—IT problems.) In short, he gave me the treatment mothers can understandably crave: he made me feel like me (and my gross, problem-ridden feet) were the only thing on his mind.

It's not making 3 meals a day, building endless towers, watching Wonder Pets, refereeing fairly when both kids covet the same toy and repeating other mundane tasks I take on regularly, but I'll happily take it. Especially if his thoughtful advice keeps me running.



In keeping with Dimity’s post about her pooch, I’d like to attest that you can teach an “old” dog new tricks. I’m very excited about a technique-breakthrough I just had on the rowing machine.

I fancy myself as very fit and fairly strong, but the rowing machine (a.k.a. “erg”—or should I say “GRRRR-erg!”) has always been my nemesis. To me, an erg is torturous on so many levels—mentally, aerobically, anaerobically, butt-wise (my arse gets SO sore from sitting while using glutes!), and emotionally. I’m not terrible at erging, but I’ve never been able to live up to my true potential on an erg. I always believed there was some secret to success on the erg but I’d missed the memo.

Then last Saturday, my rowing coach, Kalle, sat down on an erg next to me. A tone of defeat seeped into his voice as he began discussing the problems he saw with my stroke. Not a good start: My usual optimism flagged. My dreams of a shared-secret started to crumble—maybe I do suck. Kalle said I wasn’t utilizing my height (I’m 5’ 11”—I only look like a pygmy next to dear 6’ 4” Dimity!), especially my long legs. He wasn’t sure whether it was muscle tightness, technique, or what that kept me from literally reaching my potential—he just knew I needed to fix it.

He talked a bit more, and then I started erging again. Kalle’s words were ringing in my ears. I sensed he felt as discouraged as I did. But then fortune smiled down on me, and something clicked. All I had to do was think about trying to get the handle as close as possible to the front of the erg on each recovery and—bingo—my 500-meter splits were suddenly 10 to 15 seconds faster with no real extra effort. At last, the secret is mine!