Archive for June, 2013

I Tried

Posted on June 28, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


Believe it or not, I survived last Saturday’s Gator Bait sprint tri at Lake Boerne, Texas.  Better yet, I actually enjoyed it.  Once I got there.

My day did not go quite as planned. But they never do.


For once, I don’t wake up before my alarm.  When it sounds at 4 am, I’m startled from a dead sleep and am so disoriented that I contemplate sleeping for another hour.  But then I remember the race.

I packed up my gear the night before, pinned my bib to my shirt, loosened my shoes.  You know, all that prerace stuff. All I have to do is drink lots of coffee, force my pre-run breakfast down (buckwheat, banana, honey, chocolate almond milk, and blueberries), shower (Yes, I know, I’m just going to get all gunky with lake water and sweat and dirt, so why bother? Because it wakes me up and helps me focus. Showering is my second most powerful think time.), and load my bike onto my car.

My plan is to leave at 5, but secretly I know I can leave at 5:15 and still be way on time.  Start time isn’t until 7, and it’s about a 45 minute drive.  I’m one of those people who get anxious if I’m not at least 45 minutes early to a race (10 minutes early for everything else), so I factor in plenty of time.

So I think.

Even though my plan is simply to enjoy the day and not stress about my time or drowning or anything else, an unusual prerace anxiety kicks in. To make a long and unpleasant story short, I don’t leave until almost 5:30.

I drive 70ish mph (the speed limit) with one eye in my rearview mirror. My bike rack, you see, is almost older than I am, and I rarely use it.  It’s one of those models with lots of straps and buckles and only one brace.  My worst nightmare is that my bike will fly off the back of my car and onto someone else’s hood.

(I’ve been procrastinating getting a new rack, simply because I don’t use it that often. For the most part, I bike from home. Although that would probably change if I had a bike rack I felt comfortable with, right?)

So.  Ten miles out from my exit, one eye in the rearview mirror, and I realize I can’t see my bike’s front tire anymore.  That can’t be a good sign.  I pull over at the next exit.  Sure enough, a strap has loosened and the rack has slipped.  My front tire is only inches from the road. I tighten up the straps, readjust my bike, and decide to take the frontage road the rest of the way.  I swear once or twice (maybe three times), and vow to throw my bike in my car on the way home, ditch the stupid rack, and get a new one.

I drive 55ish mph (the speed limit) with one eye still in my rearview mirror.  Before I know it, I’m in the middle of lovely downtown Boerne, where the speed limit is 25, there are lots of stop lights, and the road is under construction.  Apparently, the frontage road doesn’t front I-10 for the whole stretch.  I swear once or twice (maybe three times), turn around, and try to figure out how to get back to the highway.  Eventually, I do.  My heart rate is slightly elevated.

I arrive at the park at 6:30. Just enough time to pick up my chip, get body marked, and spread out my stuff in the cramped little corner area that’s left in transition.  Barely enough time to stand in the massive porta-potty line, where I meet a nice woman who says her husband told her she should just pee in the water while she’s swimming.  We agree that this is not an art either one of us has yet mastered, but if they teach it in triathlon courses, we may just take one after all.

The Swim

I decide that if I’m going to enjoy the race, I should be one of the last people in the water.  I haven’t been in the water as much as I’ve liked, and I really don’t want to deal with elbows and feet slapping me around.  I stand toward the end with a dozen or so first-timers.  We joke and laugh and I loosen up enough to have fun.

It’s a windy day and the water is choppy.  I try to swim slow and steady. Every time I turn my head for a breath, a wave slaps me in the face and I inhale water.  A couple of strokes in I revert to the breaststroke, which is my strong suit, but not what I have been practicing for nearly a month. I try at every turn to swim freestyle, but quickly switch to breaststroke so that I can breathe easy and see in front of me.

I feel like I’m moving in slow motion, but I don’t really care. I swim at a pace I can comfortably sustain, with my eye on the guy in front of me, who I secretly want to pass.  I do, finally, and am later stunned to find that my time is less than 20 minutes.

500m swim time:             12:17 = 2:27/100m


What can I say about a transition?  I don’t practice them. I was wet.  It was hard to pull on my shirt.  But I remembered to stick a piece of gum in my mouth.

T1 time:                                2:37       


The Bike

I love my bike.  It’s about 7 years old, bottom of the line.  It’s a hybrid, with slightly thicker tires than pretty much everyone else’s, has mountain bike handlebars, and is relatively heavy.  I don’t care.  It’s my bike, and it gets me where I want to go.

The 13 mile ride is an out and back, with a turnaround on the top of aptly named Heartbreak Hill. We head into the wind.  A half mile out, three miles of road has been freshly graveled and tarred.  The out is slow-going, but breezy, and at least I dry off relatively fast.

I pass a guy as the sun peeks out from behind some clouds and shines on his backside.  He is wearing gray spandex, and as soon as the sun hits him, his shorts become less opaque than he is probably aware. I gasp and wonder if I should tell him later.  A guy passes both of us.  He is wearing black spandex.  The sun has the same effect on his shorts.  I make a mental note that they are both wearing regular old spandex and not tri shorts.  I chuckle, but then realize that so am I. This is no longer funny.

(Later that morning, I drag my boyfriend outside into the sun, bend over, and ask him if he can see through my shorts.  He cannot.  I am relieved beyond words.)

I start my way up Heartbreak Hill, giving myself a pep talk. I rode all the way up last year, dang it, so I’ll be danged if I’m going to walk it this year.  Two-thirds up my quads are burning, I am traveling at a speed of 2 mph, and I realize I still have to run.  I swallow my pride, dismount, and run my bike up the hill at over 4 mph.  At least I’m gaining speed.

The most beautiful thing about Heartbreak Hill is that you get to go down.  I do, feeling like that stupid pig in the insurance commercial as I squeal “Wheeee!!” all the way down. Seriously. It was fun. Plus no one was around.

Because I was one of the last in the water, much of the bike route has cleared and during most of my ride I am alone.   I hit a stretch of road with a breathtaking view of misty, rolling hills; birds sailing; flowers blooming; fingers of sun touching here and there.  I dawdle along, gaping, thanking God that I am here, until the little voice in my head screams that this is a race, dang it, not a joy ride, and I better step it up.

I do, and truly enjoy the entire ride, minus the gravel and tar.  Later, however, I will be disappointed in my bike time. It’s the nature of the racing beast, I guess.

                13 mile bike time:            54:32 = 14.3 mph


I approach the transition area with a little boy who’s maybe 10.  He’s in my way and I want to run him over, but decide that might look bad, as the spectators hanging around the area ooh and aah about a kid in the race.  I give him a wide berth and run to my space.  He pulls up next to me.  (Go figure.) I start to feel bad about the urge to run him down, so I make small talk.

“How was it?” I ask as I change shoes.  “Did you have fun?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It was fun.  But not that bad.  I rode 56 miles last Sunday.”

The pummeling urge resurfaces, so I quickly look for the exit.

T2 time:                                1:54

The Run

I am a runner.  Have I mentioned that? This is the leg I am looking most forward to.

The run is several out and backs on 3.5 miles of trail. The trail is rockier than I remember, with steeper hills.  I feel like I’m running through molasses at first, and consciously make myself run faster.  I fix my eyes on the trail ahead of me, repeat a mantra in my head:  Slow and steady, slow and steady.  I level at a pace I could maintain for hours.

There are no mile markers on the route, and I have no idea how far I’ve run or exactly how much farther there is to go.  The wind picks up, and my hat flies off twice. I run clutching it in my hand until I can finally keep it in place on the last stretch.

I feel good, and when we turn the last corner I am surprised to see the finish.  Surely we can’t be done already?  I turn to cross the field toward the line, and a runner comes up behind me, yells at me to pick it up.  Her encouragement lights a fire under me, and we sprint together to the finish line.

                3.5 mile run time:            29:19 = 8:22 min/mile

Post Race

I did it. I finished the sprint tri without drowning, twisting an ankle, lobbing my bike onto someone’s windshield.  I even came in under my goal time of 1:45.

                Overall tri time:                                1:40:40

I guess the bottom line is this.  I am a runner. But I love the heck out of training for tris.  I have my eye on an Olympic distance in August.  It will be my first.  At least it will prompt me to finally get a new bike rack.

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I Can Tri

Posted on June 21, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Image courtesy of Triathlon Gifts & Merchandise

On Saturday I am participating in the Gator Bait sprint tri.  My training log for this race has been posted on my fridge since early March. I included in my plan vacation time, other days I knew I’d need off. I included races I intended to run between then and now, extra weeks of training to focus on running.

Usually by now, the week going into a race, I’m a bit anxious. My mind is completely focused on the race. I’m visualizing the entire morning—from waking up before the alarm to getting ready, getting there, fidgeting at the start line, going the distance, and crossing the finish line with the hope of setting a PR.  I’ve checked my gear a million times. Put on my lucky necklace.

This time, however, it’s different.  I feel relaxed, at peace.  Although the race is certainly on my mind and I’m preparing, I’m not obsessing as usual.

I race and train for several reasons:

  1. It feels good.
  2. I’m a better writer when I run.
  3. Training promotes self-discipline.
  4. I enjoy the sense of accomplishment.
  5. My confidence increases when I push myself to do things I think I cannot do.
  6. If I can reach an unreachable goal here, in this area of my life, why can’t I do it anywhere?

For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the training more than the races I’ve entered.  I get a supreme satisfaction when my training log progresses from empty to full, when there’s the least bit of improvement in my running, biking, or swimming.  I even enjoy it when I stop eating cookies and my body gradually changes.

Training is transformative.  Race day is not the culmination of training; it is the by-product.  It’s a goal I shoot for, but not the end in itself.  It’s one step on the road to becoming something more, something better; one more reminder of capability, as well as potential.  It’s a measure of ability in the moment.

If we are lucky, there will be another race.

Going into this race, I already know what’s next for me.  Two races–bigger races.  Two goals I have never been able to meet before.  One I have been too afraid to try.

That doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the moment on race day tomorrow.  On the contrary, I think I am finally in a place where I can enjoy the race itself.

My training plan didn’t pan out as I expected.  I took a lot of time away from training to recover from illness, a car accident I am still feeling.  During this forced hiatus, I was surprised to find how often I’ve taken for granted my body, my ability to do the things I love.

So I’m approaching Saturday’s race with a new excitement, a peaceful satisfaction.  The joy I feel in doing this tri—not having been able to do anything for weeks—is that I can.

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When You’re Smiling, the Whole World Smiles with You

Posted on June 14, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


If there’s one thing that bothers me it’s being ignored.  Not by my mom or siblings or friends, but by complete strangers.   It seems odd to me to pass another person and not make eye contact, whether I’m in a hallway, on the sidewalk, or in a grocery store.  I find it especially weird to not acknowledge someone when we are the only two people in sight.  Like, say, on a trail in the middle of a forest.

I try to be a friendly everywhere, even when I run.  I like to smile and say hello to everyone I encounter. On long runs, however, I may not always smile at passers-by. If you catch me in the last quarter or so of my run, you may get only a nod, a flick of the hand in your general direction.  Eye contact, for sure, but it may be the case that all the extra energy I have is expended by looking at you.

However, I rediscovered something during last weekend’s long run.  The power of a smile.  I don’t mean how a smile affects the recipient—at some point in my run I really don’t care. I just want to get the damn thing over with and get back to my car.  I mean the power a smile can have on your energy level.

I started my run a little later than usual last Saturday on a trail I haven’t run since February.  It was packed—alarmingly packed—with people of all persuasions:  Runners, walkers, bikers, stroller-pushers, dog-walkers, meanderers, and even kids on Big Wheels.

I found all these people to be a challenge.  On the one hand, I was happy they were there, particularly the runners.  My competitiveness piqued and I ran a little bit faster because of it.  On the other hand, there were so many people (dogs, bikes, walkers spread in a horizontal line across the trail—and even a startled deer) to dodge that I initially found it difficult to get into my own head space.

But once I was there, it was bliss. Thank God. The reason (one of many) I run.

Since it was later in the morning than dawn, the Texas sun was up and blazing.  Since it was later in the morning than I’m used to, I didn’t think to bring a hat or sunglasses.  I headed back to my car squinting into the sun, sweating profusely, and probably not quite the friendly runner I try to be.

Before long, my squint screwed into a scowl.  I didn’t really notice it, however, until a pack of people came into eyeshot, walking slowly toward me.  Somehow, I had been running a stretch of trail virtually alone. Just me and the cardinals and an errant mosquito or two.  Bliss. Thank God.  Another reason I run.

Because I had such a long stretch alone, I forgot about people, pulled into my head, and apparently twisted my face into a grimace.  When I passed this mob of walkers, I forced myself to make eye contact, and I smiled.

Incredibly, all the tension in my body melted away.   A simple smile loosened my facial muscles, which are connected to my neck muscles, which are connected to my shoulder muscles, then back, arms. You know the song.  It’s all connected, and like a ripple the tension throughout my body released.  I felt stronger, lighter, and faster.  In short, I hauled.

And then I remembered that I had heard this before from numerous sources:  We tend to clench our jaw, tighten our face when we’re stressed.  If we can remember to relax our face, our whole body loosens and we de-stress.  What better way to relax your face than to smile?

So I tested this theory for the rest of my run by making faces.  I must have scowled, grimaced, frowned, glowered, glared, smirked, and puckered, then alternately smiled, beamed, grinned, and glimmered.  It was amazing what a difference a simple expression could make in the whole experience of my run—my pace, gait, attitude, and posture improved remarkably.

I made it back to my car and walked around the park a bit, drinking water, cooling down.  Another group of walkers I vaguely remember passing must have parked there too, because they came back loudly, chatting it up.  Until they saw me.  They stopped, quieted down, and gave me a wide berth.  I guess I had forgotten to pay attention to passers-by mid-experiment.

I made a point of walking by them as I left.  I smiled, Chesire cat-like, and nodded.  They averted their eyes nervously, as if I wasn’t there.  For once, I didn’t mind being ignored.

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You Can Always Go Home

Posted on June 7, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Norman the Bike Riding Dog

Sundays are bike + run days.  I ride for time or distance, then follow it with a run, adjust to the jarring transition from legs churning like a windmill to legs thick and heavy like sacks of water balloons tight and full and ready to pop.

My sprint tri is in two weeks.  Even though I fell way behind in my training, spent three weeks doing nothing, then two more unable to swim or strength train, I’m getting less anxious.  It feels good to be back on my training schedule. I simply do what I can, as hard as I can, each day.

On Sunday I rode my long route for the first time since last summer.  I debated taking this route until the final minute, when the last option to turn whizzed by.  I hadn’t even driven down this road in weeks, so I didn’t know what shape it was in. For a long time, the westbound lane was under construction, the shoulder ripped to shreds.

If the road gets too bad, I thought as I headed east, I can always turn around and go home.

Biking for me is different from running.  My head gets lazy when I bike.  My thoughts drift off and leave my body to fend for itself.  As a result, my legs sometimes forget that I can pull the pedals up as hard as I can push them down, and I slow down.  I have to remind myself frequently what proper biking technique should feel like.

So on Sunday, I’m dawdling down the road, coasting up and down the hills like I’m on some pleasant carnival ride, scanning the pavement for smushed walking sticks (they grow to the size of hot dogs in Texas—apparently everything is bigger here), and I forget to pay attention to the westbound lane.  Ten miles out at the bottom of a hill I realize I have no idea if I can get home.

For a moment, I panic.  It’s later in the morning than I usually ride, and there is more traffic.  The last thing I want to do is ride a narrow shoulder into traffic for the ten miles home.

Isn’t that life, I think.  We get so focused on traveling in one direction that we forget to plan for correction, just in case.  And before we know it, we’re so far gone that we fear we can never go back the same way again, that maybe we can’t go home.

But here’s the thing.  With experience, you learn that you can.  Sometimes you adapt, sometimes you simply get lucky.  Sometimes the ride is smooth, other times you have to get off and walk in another direction.  There is always, however, a way, and if you have faith, you’ll find it.

I got lucky and made it home, bike and tires intact. But I found one more thing I forgot to take into account.  I live on the fringe of Texas Hill Country, where the ripple effect of the land tapers off into rolling waves, and the road I traveled was more roller-coaster-like than I remembered. Even though it’s been a few days, my legs can’t seem to forget.

This Sunday, I think I’ll take the same route.  Keep my head in the ride this time, give my quads a break.  I know what to expect of the road, at least ten miles out.  But this time I think I’ll go farther, see what’s over that hill.

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