Sunday, June 14, 2015

Who you callin' rational?

No rational person would stand in the rain (and not some namby-pamby sweet little trickle of rain either, mind you, this was more along the lines of a gentle monsoon) for more than 90 minutes waiting for a race of any kind.

In related news, I spent my morning in the company of completely irrational women.

Today was the Esprit de She women's sprint triathlon. It was a little bittersweet for our tribe, because team-mate Linda is out for the season with an injury. After training together in one capacity or other over the years, having one of our number on the sidelines just makes everything feel a bit off. But it also motivates us forward, to do our best for those who - for the moment - cannot.

Before we even got our transition areas set up, the skies opened. We shed our outer layers and just wandered around in our tri suits ... which would end up wet, anyway, but we got soaked far earlier than we wanted to.

We were pruney before we even approached the start line.

As we stood, huddling under an umbrella, we remarked to one another how days like this is when the cream rises to the top.
Pam, Di and I, crammed under my little green umbrella.

Most people, faced with the challenges of this morning, would roll over and go back to bed. Not us; no, we headed out, ever mindful of the forecast, and approached the start line.

On days like this, only the strong even bother to start. You have to be some sort of crazy, tenacious lunatic with a heart full of hope to stand, rain-soaked, waiting for anything ... but especially to waiting for somewhere in the neighborhood of two hours of sweat-swear-word-producing activity. And yet, here we were. 

Race time rolled around, and we divided into our respective waves. Our tribe has a sort of unwritten rule; even if you start together, generally speaking, your race is your race. So we were all off on our own journeys, starting with a half mile in the water. 

While the rain continued to fall, in case you'd forgotten

After the swim (which was pretty awesome; I was faster this year than ever before), it was time to hop on the bike. Somewhere in about the last quarter of my 13-mile bike ride, I thought to myself, "experiences like this are where goals are reached or abandoned." And I think I was right about that. I was a little pokey here, but on the wet pavement and with a front brake that wasn't quite functioning optimally, I was happy to finish only a few minutes behind last year's time.

Finally, it was time for the run. Finally. By now, it was good and steamy outside, and the rain was done. My legs had just about nothing left in them, but ever forward I pressed on. So. Tired. I had to walk more than I would've liked, but in truth, today was all about conquering the elements. Everything else? That's gravy. 

Mmmm ... gravy ...

Eventually, we all made it to the finish line. Pam earned herself a new PR. Diane finished her very first triathlon. Megan crushed her PR by 23 minutes. And me? Well, I shaved time off my swim and took a little more time with everything else. But I sure do look cute.

Four ridiculous, irrational women, whom I love beyond measure.
Pam, me, Diane and Megan ... my gorgeous triathlete tribe.

Friday, June 12, 2015

I'm an athlete

For years now, I've split us up into two groups. Real runners, then people like me. Real cyclists, then people like me. Real swimmers, then people like me. Real triathletes, then people like me.

This, I've learned, is a massive load of crap.

It may take me more time to complete athletic endeavors, but right now, in this moment, I am an athlete. I step up to the start line. I cross it. And the finish line? Yeah, I cross that sucker, too. Time and time again. Because I'm an athlete.

Last Saturday, I was down in Hudson, IL to participate in the Tri-Shark Classic sprint tri. One of my great, athletic friends (I'll call him Biff, because I do) was the co-race director, and that was reason enough for me to show up. (Reason No. 2? He wears a kilt.) Anyhoo, it was me, and about 599 "real" athletes.

Any rational person would be intimidated, but I'm not all that rational.

Just before getting into the water, Biff came up to me and said, "I see you got her game face on." And yeah, I suppose I have one of those; I get really serious before a race starts. There are a few vital things going through my mind.

At the starting line, I become a little overwhelmed by what we have in common - we, the athletes. We stand there together with identical potential. We've not yet begun to race, and we all know that in truth, we are only racing against ourselves. Our beautiful sameness in those pre-race moments can be pretty overwhelming for me emotionally, but that's mostly because most athletes treat others like ... well ... athletes. They don't know that I'm gonna fight for my near-last-place finish, and if they did know, they wouldn't care. Because athletes - true athletes - celebrate achievement, no matter what it looks like.

Saturday's race was so good for my soul. It was the first time I've ever done a tri without a member of my tribe out on the course with me, but Biff and Amanda just filled my soul with love and encouragement. Biff was waiting on the dock as I came out of the water, and I cannot find the words to say how incredibly cool it was to have someone supporting me like that. Through the bike and the run, I knew I had support, and it inspired me to move forward.

Was I as fast as I wanted to be? Nah. But I made my way to the start line, I got my body through each of the disciplines, and I crossed the finish line.

I trained for it. I worked hard for it.

I am an athlete.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The "final" finish line

Don't panic; it's not that final. But it is the end of endurance running for 2015, and maybe longer.

When I first started running, I wasn't sure what I wanted out of it, other than to have what runners have. I would drive my car and see runners out on the roads and sidewalks, and crave what they have. I can't explain it; there was a need, somewhere deep inside, to be one of them.

I believed - I still believe - that I was made to run. Maybe not well. Maybe not fast. But I was made to run.

The first 5K (3.1 miles) also had a 15K (9.3 miles) option. Our tribe ran the 5, but my sister ran the 15, and man was that spectacular. I remember thinking she was otherworldly. Watching her cross the finish line, I cried. Like, literally cried. I wanted that.

So plans were hatched; I would, in a year or so, work my way up to running the 15K distance ... and shortly after that, half marathon (13.1 miles.)

Since that time, I've lost track of the 5Ks and 10Ks, I've run the 15 several times (three, maybe?) and (if I'm counting correctly) seven half marathons and a variety of weird distances in between. And the thing is ... I'm ready for a break.

As of now, I have no plans to run anything longer than a 5K for the rest of this year. I'm focused on triathlons (with three or four coming up this summer) and yoga teacher training (starting in September), and I'm really looking forward to seeing how my body responds. Long runs are hard on everyone; the weak don't make it to the start line, much less the finish. But I'm ready to pull back a little, concentrate my training on improving my shorter distances, and see what 2016 might bring.

Now and then, you just need to switch it up. Try something different. Re-focus training time and see where it leads. By the end of this year, I will be a certified yoga instructor ... a different athlete than the one I am today. I trust my instinct and my dedication to training, and I am so excited to see where this leads.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Lunchtime bliss in 30 minutes, looking forward, and the Big Breakup

Two posts in one week, for real? Yeah. Pretty stellar, yo. Three topics in this one. Buckle in! Here goes.

1. Big jolt of awesome today, in the form of a half-hour yoga class. Just down the hall from me, a little flow and a little savasana and the rest of my day was really quite lovely. This will be a new routine; once or twice a week, a little break on my mat, just for me.

2. After the crazy-tough half marathon last weekend, I registered for the Soldier Field 10-Miler, which happens over Memorial Day weekend. It will be my last endurance-distance race for the year, I think, and I'm actually looking forward to keeping up my training in order to do my best. After that, it's triathlons as far as the eye can see - three, maybe four, by the end of summer. Five, if I shake down someone who owes me money. (Unfortunately, I don't have enough to loan, so this is highly unlikely.)

3. This is the big one, guys. I initiated the end of a relationship I've been in for about eight years. I broke up with my scale.

Those closest to me know that I put on a significant amount of weight between Thanksgiving and New Years. Between getting sick right before Thanksgiving and all the food-related trappings of the holidays, the pounds crept on unnoticed until I could no longer deny them. And metabolically, things have slowed down in Maggie Town, so the numbers became an obsession.

An immovable obsession.

So I moved Taylor (that's the manufacturer of the scale) to the closet, and never looked back. I'm watching what I'm consuming, but I'm not allowing myself to be consumed by it, and it seems to be having an effect.

Let me be clear: this is not about being thin. This is about being competitive. It's about trying to run a 10-minute mile, getting a new PR in a sprint tri. It's a little bit about great deltoids (I have 'em) and liking what I see in the mirror, but the truth is, I like what I see in the mirror so much more when it's not filtered by the number on the scale. I'll check in now and then just to ensure that we're trending the right way, but the truth is, my jeans will do that for me, too.

The truth is, right where we are, whatever that looks like ... that's beautiful. Growing strong, growing healthy ... that's beautiful, too. Take the time to appreciate where you are, because life is short.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

That time I ran pruney

For the second year, I traveled to Champaign, IL to participate in events from Illinois Marathon Weekend. No marathon for me; this year I did a Friday night 5K and a Saturday morning half marathon.

And lived to tell the tale.

See, while Friday night's weather was perfect, Saturday's forecast was fraught with peril. Rain pretty much from the starting gun through mid-afternoon. Plus lightening, and even a bit of "tornadic activity." (Sidebar: "tornadic" is just an awesome word.) Still, we forged ahead, and at first it wasn't bad. I ran the first full hour with just a bit of a mist and a few legit showers.

That's the point at which all hell began to break loose. The rain kicked in for real, and the entire field of runners just sort of slogged through the streets of Champaign.

Runners wearing rain ponchos is kind of a sight to behold, but there was really no way to keep warm and dry. (You know how they talk about Arizona being a dry heat? Well, here in the midwest, we have a wet cold.) I had contemplated taking off my outer layer (which is now in the trash, thanks to a winning combination of rain, sweat and what's left after having been used as an impromptu tissue for about four miles) and I am so glad I didn't, because my last hour was a chilly endeavor like none I've ever experienced.

Around mile seven, I got sick to my stomach from taking Gu without water. (Note to self: don't do that.) It quickly exited my stomach of its own accord, and I shook it off as best I could. My fellow runners and I made our way through the course, bolstering each others' attitudes as we went. I am convinced that many fewer runners would have gotten this far without the amazing volunteers and spectators who showed up. It was rare to go very far without someone there to cheer, play music or shout encouragement. There were plenty of water stops, and even one with fresh orange slices. Truth is, Champaign knows how to support runners ... even in the worst of conditions.

Nearing mile 11, I was passing a frat house with a porch full of cheering fans and a huge yellow lab. They were playing music, and it inspired me to try speeding up a little. Which was a huge mistake; instantly, my left quad seized up and I started to fall. This was it; my race was over. But wait! One of the porch cheerers was there, catching me before I hit the road. Runners asked if I was okay as my frat friend hoisted me to the porch. His girlfriend got me water, some gel, and showed me how to stretch it out. It wasn't working; they called for a medic, and my race was over. I was close to tears, but trying to be brave.

As all this was going on, the marathon course was being evacuated. Lightening was on its way, and the race was going to be over soon. I had no idea any of this was going on, so when a little rest and stretching seemed to be working, I let the sweet medics in a golf cart know that their services would not be needed; I was going to make it to the finish line, even if I had to walk.

I walked a lot. It took me almost an hour to finish the last 5K of the course, but I made it on my own feet. Entering the stadium, it was eerily empty and quiet. While the night before it had been teeming with fans, friends and fellow athletes, today it was empty and desolate. The stadium had been evacuated and everyone was being moved to the interior areas and to safety. The jumbotron, which the night before we had seen ourselves cross the 50-yard-line today just showed a message against a red background: Athletes, please pick up your medals and exit to safety.

It took hours to get the feeling back in my extremities. Every inch of skin was pruney and water-logged. I was so hungry I could've eaten Velveeta. But I did it; I finished what I'd started.

She who does not quit can battle demons, and that's how yesterday felt. For everyone who didn't believe in me, and for every time I didn't believe in myself, I chose to keep going. And damn, that feels good.

My results were not what I wanted. I was on pace for a new PR, but with all the troubles I had, I'm pretty proud to have at least bested my last half marathon time by a tidy margin. In truth, though, I won yesterday. I entered that empty stadium triumphant.

And I wore my medals to do laundry today.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Prepare and plan, and then ... have a blast!

This year is very different from the last few years; the years since I became a runner.

In the beginning, I never met a race I didn't like. But these days, I'm having to be uber-choosy about my races. Time, budget and just trying not to exist in a perpetual state of burnout require me to be smart about my race schedule. Which means I'm days away from my first - and only - half marathon of 2015, and I'm as prepared as I'm going to be. I've planed as much as I can.

And I'm nervous. And excited. And ready. But mostly nervous!

It's been over a year since I laced up for a 13.1, and I know what I want out of it. I have a few pace and time goals, but I'm not sure I've trained to hit them. So I'm putting my focus and energies into one really big goal:

Have all the fun.

I've never done that where a half marathon is concerned. I've never gone out just for the joy of running, but this Saturday, that's all gonna change. I'm going to hit the starting line with a kick-ass playlist and an attitude that says "I came to play." Because at its heart, that's what this is supposed to be. Running, and working out in general ... this is the recess of our adult lives. Sometimes, I'm so busy training and planning and reaching for the goal, I forget that it's supposed to be fun.

While I won't be in Disney World, and my running sisters won't be there to cheer me on, I will have a fantastic finish line (Illini Stadium, anyone?) and a tribe of runner friends who will celebrate each other. I'm prepared. I'm as ready as I can be.

So now, it's time to have some fun! See you on the 50-yard-line.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Becoming

I've said it before, and I'll say it many times over: we are all in the process of becoming.

In 2007, I began the process of becoming healthy. (Also, divorced. Coincidence? I think not.)

In 1994, I began the process of becoming a college grad.

And a week from yesterday, on Valentine's Day (or as I like to call it, Independence Day), I will begin  the process of becoming a yoga instructor. (Disclaimer: I don't know if I will ever teach, but the training will surely take me deeper into my practice, and prepare me to share it, if I should choose to.)

The process of becoming is scary as hell, but so very essential. If you never grow - if you never become something you aren't today - aren't you mostly dead?

Go ahead. Do something that scares you. Something you're not sure you can do. Something you suck at, but you can learn from.

Dare yourself. What might you become?