triathlon

Haters say what?

“That’s my gift. I let that negativity roll off me like water off a duck’s back.

If it’s not positive, I didn’t hear it.

If you can overcome that, fights are easy.”

-George Foreman

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You know those super perky, obnoxious people who just seem to be happy about everything all the time for no reason?  Does it make you just want to hate them?  Well, I happen to be one of them.  Okay, well not all the time.  Certainly not when I’m at work anyway.  However, I am when it comes to any kind of exercise.  I truly LOVE and enjoy working out.  I am an absolute endorphin junkie.

I remember back when my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, they prophylactically put her on prozac to avoid situational depression.  She loved that stuff.  She would always comment about how it was making her “fat” but she didn’t care because she felt so great on it.  She said she would rather gain weight than give it up.  That is how I feel about exercise.  Sure I appreciate that is good for me, but mostly I do it for the endorphins.  It is literally the only thing that helps my anxiety; so even if I gained a hundred pounds doing it and found out it wasn’t good for me… I think I’d still do it.  I’m an addict.

Perhaps that is why I can’t seem to grasp how other people can workout and not enjoy it even a little bit… like not even when it’s over.   Do they have endorphin resistance?  Are they so determined to be grouchy that even a good workout doesn’t help?

What’s more, I can’t fathom why anyone who doesn’t enjoy exercise or racing would sign up for an endurance event.

Last weekend, the hubs and I had a fantastic time at the Waterbury Duathlon.  However, there was a gentleman near me for much of the course who was ABSOLUTELY hating life.  He was moaning and screaming up all the hills on the bike section, and I (being a friendly and supportive runner at heart) would yell encouragement to him each time I passed. (SIDE NOTE: This was primary because I have a compact crank that makes my bike better suited for climbing… and I’m tiny which also works to my advantage on the way up).  While watching him struggle, I thought of suggesting he invest in having his bike properly fitted, but figured the timing would not have been good.  Besides, what do I know?… well, at least a little more than this guy.

Anyway, apparently I annoyed the bejeezus out of him because when we were about halfway though our second 5K, he grumbled something to the effect of “Congratulations, you are the person I HATE this race.”  At the time, I assured him that I was not trying to pass him and simply trying to run at a comfortable pace.  He growled he would prefer if I just passed him already.  Then, after making a rude comment about one of the finishers coming back through the course to cheer the other athletes on, he admitted to being an “angry runner” (two terms I didn’t think could ever be used together).  So, I asked if he preferred cycling instead.

In retrospect, it was probably a really stupid question… just based on the amount he was screaming and carrying on during the bike leg.  Which begs the question, if he hated the running and the cycling then what on God’s Green Earth was he doing there?  It just sort of boggles my mind.  I didn’t think people who ran and biked that far were capable of being so cranky.  Perhaps he didn’t train enough, but still… what a tremendous waste of energy.

Here is was a beautiful day with a well organized event, and this dude was hating everything and everyone- me most of all, smilingapparently.  Well excuse me Mr. Grumpy Pants, but you’ll just have to pardon my enthusiasm.  If you are truly in the habit of picking a person to hate every race; then maybe you, dear sir, need to find a new hobby.

The day that I stop loving and enjoying running and working out is the day I will stop altogether.  What is the point of going out there and doing these things if not to enrich our lives?  Sure, there are times when I hate the training and the discomfort during an especially long run or tough workout, but mostly I am grateful.  I am grateful because there are so many people who give anything to be able to walk let alone run.  I can do amazing things with my body, and that is a privilege.  It’s also something that can change in an instant- a thought I try to remind myself regularly.

Above all things, trail running is pure bliss for me.  Even in the midst of running a full ultra, I still love it.  I smile the whole way through.  I consider myself lucky to be able to take a whole day to myself to do something I love.  I am not torturing my body when I’m out there running a 50K, I am challenging it.  Yes, sometimes it can be painful, but that is what the training is for.  More than anything, though, it’s empowering and rewarding.  The reality is, there will come a day when I can’t run, bike, or swim anymore.  Until that day comes, I am going enthusiasmto appreciate each opportunity I have.  I will be chasing dreams until the day I die.  That is what makes me feel most alive.

I just don’t understand how Mr. Grumpy Pants missed the boat on what a gift it is to be able to bike and run at all, let alone compete. Maybe I offended him because I made it look easy.  Perhaps it was because I smiled and cheered on everyone around me.  More likely it was my sheer joy and enthusiasm which resonated exactly the opposite of how he was feeling.

Regardless, it wasn’t my issue.  I’m not going to dial down my enthusiasm and friendliness to avoid offending some cranky dude I’ve never met.  Frankly, there is no pleasing people like that.  The struggle they’re facing has nothing to do with you or me.  It’s entirely with themselves.  No one should ever feel obligated to apologize for simply being happy, genuine, and loving life.

Go out there and love life to your heart’s content.  The world needs more passionate people.  Be like George Foreman and let all the negativity around you just roll off your back.  You know I’ll be in your corner. 😉

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Waterbury Duathlon Recap

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.

If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

-Dale Carnegie

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It’s the moment you have all been waiting for!  That’s right, it’s time for my Waterbury Duathlon Recap!  Spoiler Alert: I didn’t die or get maimed.  That means I am now officially someone who competes (and I use the term loosely) in more than one sport!  I am a duathlete!

To say I was nervous going into this event would be a gross understatement.  Absolutely TERRIFIED would be a more accurate Imagedescription.  Luckily, my uber supportive and encouraging hubs came along for backup.  I was a little surprised when he registered because he had signed up for the Five Boroughs Bike Tour the day after.  Have I mentioned recently how much I love him?

Anyway… he made sure our bikes were all prepped and ready to go the night before, so we were all set to go in the morning.  After finally settling on parking at the YMCA (after driving around in circles forever a few times) and taking a short walk to the start, we headed over to registration.  Can I just say that I have never raced in an event that required an ankle bracelet for a time chip.  There were also so many stickers and bib numbers!  It was just a little overwhelming… especially given that I didn’t even know how to rack my bike.  It made me very grateful to have the hubs there to show me how to set everything up.

I was also relieved to have my first race involving cycling with our YMCA family!  There were lots of familiar faces, which helped to put me slightly more at ease.  Everyone was so supportive and encouraging.  All I could think was if I could just get through the bike, I would be fine.  My motto for the day was “go slow, have fun,” and I repeated it over and over in my head.

The thing that frightened me most was that the bike course was in downtown Waterbury, and it wasn’t closed.  This meant not only did I have to contend with my general clumsiness on the bike, but do so while avoiding traffic.  Are you freaking kidding me?  As if I’m not challenged enough. lol  Had I only known what was coming!

I think you could have given me all the time in the world, and I still would not have felt ready at the start.  My bike was racked, my transition area set, but there is just no feeling prepared when you step outside your comfort zone.  As crazy as it sounds I think I was almost more afraid of the USAT official than the actual race.  Not that she wasn’t a nice person, but it was more than a little intimidating to go from just running to a race with rules and penalties.  I was so scared of accidentally drafting or doing something I could get disqualified for…  As if the race official was going to care about those of us in the middle or back of the pack.

The first leg of the race was a relatively flat 5K.  It went by fairly quickly despite the fact that my legs weren’t feeling great.  I tried to just relax and focus on my running form.  I reminded myself that just because I didn’t feel great at the start didn’t mean the whole race would be bad.  If ultra running has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t judge a race by the first three or even ten miles.  As long as you hang in there, chances are things will turn around… eventually.

I was actually surprised when I looked down at my watch at the end of the 5K and saw it had only been 22 minutes.  I made my way around the park into the transition area and caught a glimpse of the hubs on his way out.  I tried to take my time getting set up for the bike leg because it was my very first transition and I didn’t want to forget anything.

roadrashThankfully, I managed to mount my bike without too much difficulty; even though I did accidentally release the fastener on my shoe by hitting it on the pedal and had to fix it before I could get on.  Still, before I knew it, I was clipped in and on my way!  I was relieved to find they had officers at each intersection to direct the traffic.

I just was starting to relax and think it wouldn’t be so bad when the hills started…

It wasn’t that the uphills were particularly hard.  Sure some were steep and long, but it was anticipating all the downhill that had me spooked.  What goes up must come down, right?

I was probably the only person who dreaded those down hills more than the up.  As it turned out, it was with good reason!  When we did finally reach the top of all those hills, we were rewarded with an incredibly steep downhill.  Not just a downhill, but a downhill through traffic, with a sharp right turn at the bottom!  I kid you not, I thought it would be the end of me!  I couldn’t help but visualize myself wiping out on that turn.  It was not pretty!  All I could think was that I should have unclipped because I was going to eat it!  What’s worse is that it was still downhill after the turn!!!!  Even worse still, the course was a loop, so I had to do it all over again on the second lap!!!!

I sincerely thought of ditching my bike and quitting I was so shaken.  I almost cried.  In fact, I’m surprised my lip didn’t bleed from how hard I was biting it.  Despite my better self preserving instinct; however, I didn’t quit.  Instead I finished my first loop and headed out for the second.  I dreaded coming though the downhill again, but I was determined to get through it.  The second time through was even more awful because we had to navigate between a line a traffic and row of parked cars.  There was almost no margin for error.  I was SO glad I had practiced riding through all those lane dividers on the Cheshire bike path and managed to keep myself straight.  Thankfully, I made it all the way down and around the turn without crashing.  Once I got back to even ground, I knew I was in the home stretch.

I plowed through the rest of the course back to transition, and after being redirected to the appropriate exit (yes, I initially went the wrong way), I headed out for the final 5K run.  My legs felt heavy as I expected they would.  Again, I focused on form and tried to relax.  Despite the fact that I felt like I was barely moving, the miles were going by quickly so I knew I was moving at a good pace.  The sun and heat were killing me, but I had already survived the bike.  There was no way I was going to let a little warm weather take me out!  It kept telling myself “It’s only 5K, it’s only 5K “.  I chipped the miles off one by one, then before I knew it, I had the park in my sights!!!  One of my swim buddies was volunteering near the park directing runners, and I shouted his name because I was so happy to see him.  I think he was surprised to see me already so close to the finish because I had told him how terrified I was about this being my first event with a bike.  He told me I was “Rocking it!” and I continued on my way.

At that point there was only a short distance… including a ridiculous staircase (I mean really?  A staircase?  Sadists!) to the finish.  The hubs was there at the finish waiting for me.  I ran straight to him and I could see the time on the clock was 1:57!!!  I cannot even explain what it felt like to cross that line!  I had been so scared and worked so hard.  It is just indescribable what it meant to me to actually take the leap and do it.  Less than a year ago I bought my first real bike, and now I’m a duathlete.

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The hubs and I went to check the results and he was excited that he had one of the fastest times on the bike course.  (Woohoo! Go hubs!!!)  I was just happy to have finished.  I was ecstatic it was in under 2 hours, and in utter disbelief that I finished in the top 50.  As part of the race, we got bracelets that entitled us to a free beer and sandwich at one of the local pubs so we headed over to eat.  Instead of finishers medals, we were each awarded a pint glass.  I know, again with the pint glasses.  I’m going to have quite the collection!

spoils

Actually, we left our glasses at the pub… Okay they took them, but we didn’t mind because they had the pub logo instead of the logo for the race anyway.

After we got home and cleaned up, we headed out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants followed by  ice cream at a local creamery.  Just in case you were wondering, I did not feel the least bit guilty about all the calories.  I especially didn’t feel guilty for the DELICIOUS  s’more martini I had with dinner to celebrate.

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Overall the hubs and I both had a great experience.  It was a very well organized event, and I was glad that my first tri event was on our home turf.  It definitely made it less intimidating and added some comfort level.  Plus, it was fun to see so many familiar faces out on the course.  I was really happy that the hubs was so pleased with his performance.  One of the guys from the bike shop we use had recommended he get into racing, and I think his performance might help encourage him.

When we finally got home from all our festivities, the hubs showed me how to clean the bikes and re-lube the chains.  I had told him that I want to get comfortable with the maintenance, so he has been introducing me to the basics.  His mom sent us a text while we were working to let us know she saw our race results and that we had done better than we originally thought.  Sure enough, I had placed second in my age group, 12th for the ladies, and 48th overall!  Not too bad for my first time.  The hubs had finished 26th overall and was well ahead of me with a time of 1:42.  For the record, though, I ran my second 5K faster than him. 😉

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It’s hard to imagine, even now, how much this journey to triathlete has changed my life.  It has forced me to face and conquer my fears on a regular basis.  I decided I wanted to someday finish an Ironman before I even knew how to swim or bike (properly).  Now, I am well on my way to achieving that dream.  I may not do a full Ironman in the next year, or even two, but now I have the foundation to get there.

In fact, the day after the duathlon I went to the pool and swam over 2 miles without even getting tired.  The last 1100m I swam continuously.  It’s a far cry from the girl who was terrified to even put her face in the water.  That’s how much stronger and more confident triathlon has made me.

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Moral of the story: Some of the most rewarding and worthwhile moments of your life will start with being scared to death.  Don’t be inhibited by fear.  Everything worthwhile in life is on the other side of it.

Doing Nothing to Prepare for My Ultra

“Laziness is nothing more than the habit of resting before you get tired.”
-Jules Renard

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We are just 2 days away from my second Ultra, and I am preparing today by being lazy.  Perhaps the most difficult part of training for me is the tapering.  Fellow endurance junkies, I know you know my pain!  I am so accustomed to living life 100 mph that cutting back on training makes me feel like I am literally grinding to a halt.  Plus, given that exercise is my coping mechanism to deal with all the other absurdity going on in my life, the decrease in workouts makes me extra looney.

This time around, however, I am trying to enjoy the downtime.  Life has been so chaotic recently with being promoted to supervisor Imageand my parents moving that the change in pace is actually kind of refreshing.  Instead of feeling like a total slacker, I’ve been reminding myself that my training for Saturday’s run is behind me.  The best thing I can do now is make sure I eat properly, sleep plenty, and ensure my body is well rested.  

So today I am giving myself permission to be lazy.  Rather than worrying about getting in enough mileage of swimming, biking, and running this week, I have been trying to relax… Try being the operative word.  Surprisingly, this has not been as difficult as it typically is for me.  Perhaps this is because I made it to swim class Tuesday night.  We only swam just over a mile, but it was enough to take the edge off and shake off a crappy work day.  

The class was great because we learned a new “punching” drill, and I feel like it really helped my stroke.  Plus Coach M was in a great mood given that I finally gave her my gift for teaching me to swim.  I had noticed she has propensity toward soft, fitted shirts so I got her an “i swim” shirt from the comfiest brand I know: Tough Chik! 🙂  She absolutely loved it!  It’s funny to think how far we’ve come from that first class… 

Aside from swim class, I haven’t done much in the way of exercise this week… Well other than the 5K on Sunday. I might sneak in another swim today, but that will be the last workout prior to Saturday.  Tomorrow I am working, so today my goal is just to take it easy and plan out my gear and attire for the run.  The hubs has agreed to give me a ride and pick me up.  I told him not to feel obligated to stay the whole day since it took me almost 9 hours to finish the last one… plus ultra running is not much of a spectator sport.  I am lucky to have a hubby that not only doesn’t mind me spending an entire Saturday running, but is willing to give up his time to help make it happen.  I think I may have won the spouse lottery.  After all, it takes a special breed to love an ultra runner… especially a tapering ultra runner… 

Who else is racing this weekend?  Any big plans?

Breaking Up With The Scale

“Only when you are aware of the uniqueness of everyone’s individual body

will you begin to have a senseof your own self-worth.”

Ma Jian

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You may have guessed from the title of this post that the Get Fit Challenge has officially ended (YEA!!!!!!).  That means no more weigh ins!  As you know, I didn’t particularly care for the scale; so I am pretty stoked about our official break up.  Our last challenge was to improve our results from our initial fit test.  We got one point for completing it, and one point for each exercise we improved.  I was a little worried about being able to beat my previous totals since I blasted through the first time… and biked over 23 miles at spin before arriving to take it… oh, and ran over 7 miles of incline… and swam a mile…  Okay so I essentially did a whole triathlon prior.  Good cause for concern, right?

Well surprisingly, I sailed through the push ups, sit ups and squats- surpassing my previous totals on all of them.  It was the having to run farther than 1.68 miles in 10 minutes at the end that nearly killed me!  All I could think was “why did I run so fast the first time?”, and then I remembered it was because I had been racing the hubs.  This time around I was not in a racing mood.  I just wanted to survive it!  Luckily, I managed it with a second or two to spare.  Then we had our final weigh in, and I came in at my highest weight since our initial weigh in (which was both humorous and irritating, but not at all surprising given how bloated I was from finally getting my “visitor”… it would figure that she would disappear for weeks on end and then show up that week!).

Regardless of my epic fail at weight loss (a side effect of not actually needing to lose weight) the hubs and I still came in 3rd place overall, which means we get bragging rights and $25 each to spend at the gym on exciting stuff like protein shakes and gatorade.  Despite my loathing of the weigh ins, it was actually a worthwhile experience for both of us.  Of course now that it is over, I have not had much success in getting the hubs to the gym with me… or the pool… I think he did make one spin class last week.  In his defense, they just switched his shift again at work.  I think he may get back on track when he gets used to his new schedule.  Presently he spends most of his down time sleeping.

I, on the other hand, am really proud of myself for not only continuing to kick butt at the gym (I am soooo close to doing a real pull up!!!), but also sticking to my mileage goals for the year.  To date I have managed 335/1000 miles for the bike, 146/500 miles for running, and 17/50 miles for swimming.  I even forced myself to ride the bike trainer for an hour twice this week (even though it is even more painful and boring than running on a treadmill).  To keep motivated I wear my Tough Chik jersey and remind myself that it is mental preparation.  I also remind myself that I need all the help I can get with cycling… like even more than with swimming, and that is saying something!

All that biking, running, and swimming has meant lots of time at the YMCA.  I prefer to run there when I use the treadmill because they have fancy ones that go up to 30% incline and will even decline up to 3%. The past few weekends I have dedicated my Saturday mornings to doing the 7am spin class, followed immediately by a very hilly run on the treadmill, and then a swim.  My goal is usually to do an hour of each in a row, however this generally gets adjusted based on how great or awful I am feeling that day.  Yesterday I only did a 4 mile run because my legs were fried from all the miles on the bike trainer but then did an almost 1.5 mile swim, which is a new distance record for me.

Surprisingly, I have gotten to the point now with swimming that I actually look forward to class and going on my own.  Saturday mornings have become my “quiet time” swim where I can plug in my headphones and tune out the world.  I purposely brick my workouts out of order and swim at the end because I know the pool we be empty and my body will feel refreshed after the beating its taken all morning.  I consider it an active recovery.  Plus, it just seems really inefficient to shower at the beginning and end of your workout.  This way I only need to shower once at the end.  That means I’m saving water and the environment in addition to kicking ass.

I have to say that triathlon training in general has been a life enriching experience.  It’s exposed me to a new sport (swimming) which I now LOVE and continually forces me to live outside of my comfort zone.  I have become not only stronger, but more confident and self assured.  There is nothing like regularly seeing yourself in a sport swimsuit (and letting the public see you in it) to force you to get comfortable in your body.  I’ve gone from a point of being modest (and at times embarrassed) in the locker room to feeling proud of myself every time I put my swim gear on.  I worked my way up from not being able to swim at all to swimming for over an hour straight with minimal rest.  In fact, I can even swim three different strokes now (though I still look… and feel…like I’m drowning on breast stroke… who deemed it a recovery stroke anyway?)  Last week I even got a compliment from Coach M –which I took as high praise considering how hard they are to get from the epitome of swimming perfectionism– that I had a “nice long stroke.”

So instead of seeing a deer in headlights or pile of body imperfections when I suit up, now I see hard earned muscles, confidence, and a smile.  I see someone who is looking forward to her swim and embracing the sport. I can truly say that now I feel most badass when I wear my swimsuit and cap.  It takes more guts to swim than to run- for me at least! That is what I appreciate in the person looking back at me.Image

Which is why I don’t care about the number on the scale or the size of my clothes.  I know my body is healthy and strong. I also know that I am doing my best, and that is all anyone could ever ask of me- including myself.  My favorite pair of workout capris are bright orange with polka dots and they highlight the cellulite dimples in the back of my legs.  Guess what? I don’t care. I still wear them because I love the color.  Plus, I am pretty sure no one else is going to notice, and if they do they should probably be more concerned with their own workout anyway.  I have become aware recently of how much more obvious our imperfections look to us than they do to others, and I am making a conscious choice to not let my insecurities dictate how I feel about myself or the way I look.  When I wear my orange pants I am proud that I am not covering up my flaws.  Instead, I’m saying this is me; and I am confident, strong, and happy with my body.  I am also saying “You should be too.”

Do yourself a favor and love your body today.  Appreciate it for everything it has done for you, and marvel at what it allows you to accomplish.

PS. You still have a few days left to enter for a Free 2014 Spartan Race Entry!  You’ll have a a whole new appreciation of your body after completing one!

A Quick Recap

Life is a song – sing it.

Life is a game – play it.

Life is a challenge – meet it.

Life is a dream – realize it.

Life is a sacrifice – offer it.

Life is love – enjoy it.

-Sai Baba
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Hello All!

A lot has been going on since my last post!  For starters, we found a new home for Ellie through HeavenSent Bulldog Rescue.  The volunteer came to pick her up and take her to her new owner on Saturday.  We were very sorry to give her up, but happy to know she is at least going to a great home where she will be spoiled rotten.  Regardless, it still stung a little when she took off with the volunteer and jumped in her car without even looking back.  It was as if she new she was going to her forever home.  I haven’t cried about it yet today, so I guess that’s progress.

1606769_10151924501192397_1605137012_oIn other (less bittersweet) news, the hubs has made an effort to show his support of my new found love of swimming by surprising me with a water proof ipod!  It always amazes me the things he picks up on when I’m talking to (or at) him… Sometimes I wonder if he even listens (truthfully, most of the time I think he just tunes me out).  However in this case, he happened to pick up on the fact that I had entered a giveaway for one on Swim Bike Mom’s blog.  I told him I had read that ear plugs are recommended for open water swimming and joked that I should just invest in the ipod instead.  I had never in a million years thought he would go out and buy me one!  I haven’t actually had a chance to use it yet, but I am definitely pumped about trying it out.  I think may start with some classical music (to help with the swimming anxiety) but am open for suggestions on a swimming playlist.

On that note, swimming classes have been going fairly well.  I have been swapping back and forth between the beginner and intermediate lanes based on the coaches mood and number of people in the class.  I have basically found that whatever lane I choose will be the wrong one, so I generally will pick the beginner lane to start… being promoted is better on the ego than demoted after all.  😉  Yesterday I also did a 3 hour swim clinic with the Tri Club: same coaches, same freezing pool, with the addition of the Tri Club members and the hubs.  I have to admit it was a little refreshing to watch the hubs struggle with some of the drills… not because I enjoyed watching him suffer, but because my hard work actually gave me an edge over his natural athletic talent for a change!

Beyond swimming, training in general continues… though I will admit I’ve been slacking on the running.  That may 1977169_10152302040113637_772837830_nbe why I gained a couple pounds at the last weigh in…. Or it could have been the pizza, doritos, and brownie sundae I binged on after giving up Ellie…  Regardless, the hubs and I DEMOLISHED our challenge this week for the Fit Challenge of jumping rope 3000 times a piece.  Currently we continue to hover in third place with the last of the challenges now done (GO TEAM RICE!)  Next week will be a repeat of our fit test, and the following week will be our last weigh in- that means we are almost done!  (Happy dance! No more scale!)  While I gained at the last weigh in, the hubs was down to 194 lbs which he was pretty pleased with himself about.  With any luck (and his weight loss), we might just sneak up to second place.

As far as all the other craziness going on recently, my mom has sold her house and bought a new one to downsize.  That has meant I’ve spent a considerable amount of my free time trying to help her clean, pack, and move some of her belongings to my place for temporary storage.  So my spare room is crammed to the ceiling, but luckily that is easily remedied by shutting the door.  As if that weren’t enough going on, I also have been promoted to a management position at work, which essentially means I work more hours for free. 😉

So there you have it: Ellie drama, parents moving, job promotion, new waterproof ipod, and continued training.

Despite all the craziness, I have managed find a few good reads recently which I’ve added below:

How about you? Anything crazy going on in your life?  Any good reads recently?

Confessions of a Newbie Swimmer

“Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I’m swimming, sometimes I’m not sure which one it is.”

-Demetri Martin
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Some people (ok A LOT of people) say that swimming is the most dangerous part of triathlon.  While it’s true that people who die during triathlon generally do so in the swim, I’m not really sure whether this is because swimming is more dangerous or just because it comes first.  Personally, I’d consider myself far more likely to kill or maim myself during the cycling portion… though I could also see where drowning myself might seem a good alternative to the bike

ImageAnyway, my point is that swimming can be a pretty scary part of triathlon training, especially for people like me who are just learning.  That is why I thought it would be very kind and gracious of me to impart to all the other newbie swimmers everything I’ve learned thus far about the leg of triathlon (statistically) most likely to kill you.  

If you are anything like me, your initial visits to the pool have had you filled with anxiety and dread.  Being unable to breath comfortably during physical activity is not a particularly good time… especially when you are first learning to swim- with no concept of timing your breath or lung capacity to speak of.  What I would recommend in this scenario is to find a swim instructor who is more terrifying than the water.  Faced with the prospect of getting yelled at or publicly humiliated, the water doesn’t actually seem that bad.  However, if this option doesn’t appeal to you, you can also try having a more experienced swimmer or trusted friend come with you for moral support while you get the hang of things.  I would recommend picking someone not prone to mocking or teasing as the sight of you attempting not to drown in a public setting may be too much for even a good friend to resist.

Another method I found useful as a total newb was to inform the lifeguard on duty that I had no idea what I was doing was a new swimmer.  He would direct to me to a lane with a friendly swimmer, and then I would proceed to let EVERYONE the people swimming around me also know that I was new to swimming and welcome to feedback.  This was helpful in a few ways. First, by alerting the life guard and other swimmers that I was new, I let them know I was receptive to advice not only on my swimming, but also the pool etiquette.  In general, people were happy to assist in this capacity.  It also gave the lifeguard a heads up to keep an eye on me and make sure I didn’t drown.

Another tip I would recommend is to take lessons.  If you are really self conscious or don’t know how to swim at all, start with a private lesson.  If you already know how to rotary breath but could use a refresher, consider a program like Masters Swim.  I signed up for Masters Swim not knowing how to swim properly based on some bad advice from a YMCA staff member… much to the displeasure of the night coach.  In the end it turned out ok, but my introduction to swimming likely would have been a better experience had I started with the basics.

swimfamilyThat being said, I cannot speak enough about the benefits of swimming in a group like the Masters Swim program.  I find that my swimming anxiety is dramatically reduced if I am swimming in a class compared to when I am alone.  I also swim better.  I think this is partly because I have other people to pace off and partly because I don’t have time to think about what I’m doing.  Plus, it is a great opportunity to get constructive feedback on how to swim more efficiently and learn drills to improve my stroke.  I can honestly say I have picked up something new in every class, and it has made me significantly more confident about swimming on my own.

Besides that, there is a lot of value in the moral support of other newbie swimmers… especially when you bond closely over being terrified of both swimming and the coach (…mostly the coach).  Before I ever looked forward to swimming, I looked forward to seeing my swim family… including the coach.  She turned out not to be so bad once we got the hang of things and got to know her.. though she is still terrifying.

Having spent the past several months consistently swimming there are also actually a few things I’ve learned for myself.  For starters, regardless of how much I improve, there are still a lot of days I get in the pool and feel like I am drowning more than swimming for most of my workout.  I try to remind myself that every swim can’t be a great swim the same as every run won’t be a great run.  When I have a crappy day in the pool, I find focusing on my form and going slow helps.  I have also discovered that when I am tired and winded it not only helps to slow down,swimwall but also to kick less and really work on finishing my stroke and rotating my shoulders.  The more I push off on the last part of my stroke, the faster I tend to go- surprisingly regardless of how fast or swim or kick.

Back when I first started swimming, I would only go as far as the edge of the shallow end (and inhale about half the pool in the process).  Then with practice I could do the full 25 meters.  I thought it was HUGE progress when I started doing full laps, and now I’ve worked my way up to swimming 100m intervals.  The thing about swimming is if I am consistent, I find I steadily improve.  In the beginning it was by leaps and bounds every time I got in the water.  Now it’s more subtle changes, but I am still continually making progress.

Most triathletes I talk to HATE LOATHE the swim and dread doing it; however, I have actually learned to love swimming.  I have finally gotten to a point where I enjoy it more than I get anxiety about it.  In fact, after a few days out of the water I start to actually miss it. gasp!  It’s a nice break from the pounding and impact that come from running and cross training with the same mental alt-control-delete.

To the people still struggling, I’d say try and stick with it.  If you do it consistently, you will find it gets a lot easier.  You may even grow to like it.  Trust me, if I can get the hang of it than anyone can.  Now if only I could learn to love the cycling… Or find an indoor tri with a spin bike. 😉

Why Would You Do That?

“Happiness comes only when we push our brains and hearts to the farthest reaches of which we are capable.”
-Leo Rosten 

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I have stopped telling people I’m training for a half ironman.  In fact, I have stopped mentioning to people that I want to do tri’s at all.  Why?  Well, frankly, I am tired of people asking “why would you do that?”  The first question in itself is not too bothersome, but the barrage that follows is: “don’t you have to swim?” “isn’t swimming hard?” “aren’t you worried about the swim?” “do you have any experience at that?” “don’t you think you should start with something shorter?” “you know I heard that course was hard”… It goes on and on.

ImageWhile I appreciate the genuine concern, sometimes it makes me want to scream.  OF COURSE I know the course is hard!  It’s a half ironman! That is the whole point!  Why would I expect it to be easy?  Also, I am well aware there is swimming involved; but last time I checked, it was not impossible to learn to swim as an adult.  As far as having experience, if we all waited to have experience at triathlons before ever doing one, I suppose none of us ever would, would we?  Besides, I am an endurance athlete.  My favorite race distance is 13.1 miles.  I ride my bike for hours at a time.  Why on earth would I want to do anything with the word “sprint” in it?  The race would be over before I ever hit my groove.  Plus, I just don’t move that fast.  It’s not my thing, end of story.

People don’t understand this though when you try to explain it, so I’ve stopped trying.  I know they don’t mean to rain on my parade, but I’m still tired of the negativity.  I don’t want to be told I can’t or shouldn’t do something when my heart is already set on it; and I especially don’t want to hear how unhealthy my endurance training lifestyle is from people who drink, smoke, and over eat.  I feel like there is something a little backwards when people chastise me for running long distances, but pat each other on the back for binge drinking and hooking up with random strangers.  

What these people don’t understand, and there is no hope in explaining to them, is the deeper why: The is a reason I push my Imageself through grueling endurance events that goes beyond a new record or shiny bling.  It’s about building inner strength and reminding myself what I’m made of.  I try to pick at least one race a year that is way outside my comfort zone because I don’t ever want to stop challenging myself or pushing my limits.  I want to keep finding things that look impossible and prove to myself they aren’t.  Every event is an opportunity to look fear and doubt in the face and then leave them in the dust.  These events have helped mold my identity and make me feel good about myself.

For me, it’s also a reminder that all pain ends eventually.  Not just on the race course, but in life.  It’s a conditioning exercise in dealing with bad times and crisis.  Anyone can handle life when things are going well, but doing these events gives me that extra faith in myself that I’ll be able to handle whatever else life throws at me as well.  

When I was with my abuser, he made it a point to make me feel like I wasn’t good enough.  He pointed out that I couldn’t handle “any little thing” and regularly pointed out everything he thought was wrong with me.  He truly believed that I was Imageweak and couldn’t handle life.  Doing a half ironman (especially after selling my rings to buy a bike) will be my way of saying “hey pal, you couldn’t have been more wrong about me.”  Even more than that, it addresses those little twinges of doubt that linger even years after the abuse.  That little voice that creeps up and tells you that he may have been right...there’s no better way to silence it than prove it wrong.

At the end of the day, when I am out there in the midst of a race hating life and wanting to quit- that is when I am learning who I am and growing.  That is when I feel most alive. I’m not out there to break any records or compete with anyone else.  I am out there for me.  It’s an investment in becoming the best possible version of myself.  I don’t need cheerleaders at the sidelines or pats on the back, I just need me and the course.

I am ok if people don’t understand the why or think I’m strange.  I’ve never been one to follow the crowd anyhow.  The bottom line is I don’t know how to do anything half assed.  Anything I am going to spend energy on- from my job to my life- I am going to give 100%.  Therefore, if I am going to sign up for an event, it’s going to be the toughest one I can handle.  In this case, it’s a half ironman. After that who knows… maybe a full ironman, and no I probably won’t share that I’m training for it. 😉