Friday, August 29, 2014

My First Off-Season

Several people have asked me the question that I'm sure is on everyone's minds: "What's next -- will there be more races?"

As you can probably deduce from the title of this post, the answer is a resounding "YES!" After all, I can't have an off-season unless I have another "on" season in the future, right?

When I first got the idea to do a triathlon, I expected it to be a one-shot deal, an item to check off the bucket list before moving on to the next thing. It was supposed to happen at the end of my weight loss journey, when I'd be thin and fit enough to be successful. Well, absolutely none of that went as planned! I did the tri without losing weight, and got completely hooked! For the bucket list -- now I have a Super Secret List of races I want to do instead. Well, I guess it's still a bucket list of sorts, but it's entirely fitness-focused. For now, most of the specific races on it are running events, simply because I am more aware of them. I'm still very new to triathlon, so I didn't know too many specific events to list. Also on the list are many types, categories, or distances of races, or certain circumstances under which I'd like to compete in various races. I realize this all sounds very vague, but it will make more sense whenever I decide to share the Super Secret List with you.

My goals for next season, so far:
1. Sprint tri with Candice in the spring (she has one in mind but we haven't committed yet)
2. Iron Girl Columbia sprint tri again in the summer, to attempt a better time

Time, circumstances, and finances permitting, I may throw another sprint tri in there somewhere, as well as some running races. To prepare for next season, I have a lot of work to do in several areas.


1. Research better swim technique for triathlon.
2. Learn/practice better swim technique for triathlon.
3. Re-learn how to do flip turns in the pool.
4. Swim 2x per week until training resumes.

I want to get faster in the water, and the very first thing I need to do in order to accomplish that is work on my stroke. Better form will make a HUGE difference, I'm sure.


1. Keep building my base of endurance.
2. Get toe clips or straps for my pedals (I'm not going to switch to clipless pedals until I upgrade to a road bike...eventually)
3. Ride hills, hills, and more hills.
4. Figure out a way to get through the icy/snowy months (spin class? find a cheap, used spin bike or bike trainer for the house?)
5. Ride 1-2x per week until training resumes.


1. Do ab/core challenges.
2. Do some yoga at home for strength AND flexibility.
3. Research strength training strategies for triathlon.


1. Mindful eating.
2. Take it one small goal at a time.

This hasn't been on my radar in months. My focus was on training for Iron Girl, and that's it. Now that I've accomplished my goal, I care even LESS about the number on the scale. Do you know why? Because it's the same. I started triathlon training at about 225 pounds, and I finished it at right around 225 pounds. My body has changed in that time, though, and I've discovered that I can be a lot more fit at this size than I ever realized I could! To be honest, I'm really only revisiting my weight loss efforts for 2 reasons: (1) I have a lot of clothes a few sizes smaller, and I like them, and I want to wear them again. Also, I'm still too cheap to buy a whole new wardrobe at my current size. (2) My knees hate me. I don't recall having too much trouble with my knees when I got into running in 2010. This time around, I've had a lot of knee pain on my run days, to the point where I basically stopped using stairs whenever possible, stopped wearing heels entirely, and started chowing my way through a large bottle of ibuprofen. I really don't think I am injured, per se. My knees just need a little less weight pounding on them. So now that my brain is on hiatus from the mental focus required for triathlon training, I'm going to direct that focus instead to trying to lose a few pounds. I don't have any huge goals...just going to take it maybe 5 pounds at a time and see where that gets me.


I saved this for last because technically it's not "off-season" for running yet. In fact, my next race goal is in less than two months, the Marine Corps Marathon 10K on October 26th. You may recall that this event was my first-ever 10K back in 2010, and I enjoyed it so much that I knew I'd want to do it again someday! So I've shifted gears into a 10K training program with this race in mind. I haven't registered yet, but I should probably get on that soon, since it might sell out. I will probably run a 5K also sometime this fall, but nothing has been decided yet. Once I cross the finish line of the MCM 10K (and hopefully avoid another post-race slump), I will sketch out my off-season and long-term goals for running.

I'm excited about all that is ahead of me. The finish line of Iron Girl was merely the starting line of the rest of my active life!

Oh, and if you want to know what all is on the Super Secret List, you'll have to stay tuned....:)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Slumping It Up

The Post-Race Slump is a thing, y'all. The struggle is real.

I'm so glad I started googling these sorts of articles, because I've spent much of the past week and a half wondering if I was losing my mind. I was expecting to be on a huge high from the moment I crossed the finish line until....well, I wasn't sure how long it would last, but I was counting on a few DAYS at least! Instead, the slump hit me almost immediately. The day after the race, I sat in the Target parking lot and cried after shopping for school supplies for my kids (this is normally my FAVORITE shopping trip of the year, no lie.) Why was I crying?? I have no idea! Because I'd missed all the good sales and was behind on back-to-school prep, because I couldn't find everything on my list, because I was wearing my Iron Girl shirt but no one in the whole store noticed or cared (What? The world doesn't revolve around ME???)...who knows? I was just a hot mess!

If I had known to expect a day-after-Christmas-like letdown, I might have been able to roll with the punches a little better, instead of feeling so lost and questioning my whole existence. I seriously did not know how to handle the re-entry into normal life. It was ROUGH. And that is why it took me so long to write my race report, and why I've had trouble getting my butt in gear with all the other stuff I have going on in my life.

On the bright side, going through the slump forced me to do some more soul-searching, which led to some conclusions I really like.

1. The race really is the victory lap.
2. The feelings of accomplishment and confidence might be difficult to recognize.


I've heard it said of marathons that the true accomplishment is getting through the training, and the race itself is really a celebration of what you've already done. I think the same can be said of any race that is challenging for the person running it. A sprint triathlon might be easy to many, but to me it required intense focus and discipline, and pushing myself past what I thought were my mental and physical limits. I expected to cross the finish line and feel like I had conquered the race, but what I didn't realize was that I really conquered the race the week before.

My self-doubt reached its pinnacle when I attempted the run course, and basically failed. I felt so completely lost that day...but the next morning I got up early and dragged myself out to try the bike course, despite still feeling completely lost. By the time I FINISHED the bike course that had terrified me, I was found. Starting the bike course, refusing to quit the bike course, and completing the bike course (and then throwing in a quick mile run for good measure!)...that was me conquering the race. When I showed up a week later to swim, bike, and run all in one morning, I was really doing my victory lap -- I just didn't know it.

What I did know was that I'd passed the point of wanting to quit. Only something insurmountable like actual drowning or a horrific bike crash could keep me from finishing the race. I was going to cross that finish line come hell or high water -- because mentally I had already conquered the race. Even though I didn't expressly think of it as my victory lap, I made it a point to take it all in and enjoy the race, even the difficult parts, so maybe subconsciously I did know the truth. :)


There were a few moments this summer, after powering through particularly tough workouts, or after having little epiphanies where I realized I was really doing this, when I felt a surge of positive energy. I felt confidence coursing through my veins in a way I hadn't felt it in many years. I felt competent and capable, like I could do anything I put my mind to. Somehow, I expected these feelings to be exponentially more intense after I finished the race. I expected to feel like I could conquer the world.

Instead, I felt tired.

I was really happy -- don't get me wrong. And I was proud of myself. But I was also really tired, and a little confused as to why there was no palpable rush of endorphins after I crossed the finish line. I guess my endorphins were just as worn out as the rest of me! hahaha This was when the slump set in...since I didn't feel as "up" as I expected, I immediately felt really really down.

What I figured out over the past week or so is that there wasn't a surge of self-confidence after the race because it had been building up all along! I felt little surges along the way as I built up my base of confidence, much like I was building my base of endurance. I know what I'm capable of now not because I finished the race but because I finished the training AND the race...the finish line was just the final piece of a large puzzle. The confidence is THERE's just quiet and strong and present. This is not to say that I'm not still plagued by self-doubt at times -- it will take more than one big accomplishment to rid me of those demons for good! Just now the self-doubt is no longer the default. Self-confidence doesn't feel like I expected it to, but now that I recognize it, it feels really really good.

In conclusion, I don't know if any of this makes sense outside of my mess of a head. Maybe it's just the ramblings of a clawing-my-way-out-of-post-race-slump woman. Still, I figured I owed it to you to share where I'm at right now.

And if you're wondering what is next for me, now that the slump is subsiding, stay tuned...that's my next post. ;-)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Improbable Dream Come True

Race Report: Iron Girl Columbia Sprint Triathlon
Date: August 17, 2014
Location: Centennial Park, Columbia, MD
Swim: 0.62 miles (1000m)
Bike: 16 miles
Run: 3.4 miles

I dreamed a dream in time gone by...4.5 years ago, to be more precise. The dream became a goal just 3 months ago. And nearly one week ago, the dream was fulfilled, the goal achieved: I completed a triathlon!

Here's how it all went down:

There's a lot of moving pieces in triathlon, and the logistics can be overwhelming at times. We had a busy weekend planned beyond just my race, and very little went as planned, but somehow the necessary stuff got done.

After working all day and attending Holy Day mass with my family, I went to pick up my race packet, which felt real, and yet also surreal at the same time. Then I went to a local bike shop to get my bike and helmet inspected. I felt just as awkward and out of place there as I did at the shop where I first looked at bikes. Someday...SOMEDAY I will walk into a bike shop and feel like I belong!!!! Friday was not that day, but at least Trinity the Tri Trek passed the inspection and that was one more task I could check off my to-do list.


I started off the day not feeling well, then had to run some errands and go to a birthday party, and finally it was time to attend the course info meeting and shop at the expo. The meeting was funny and informative, and actually made me tear up a little when the race director was describing what the finish would be like. My excitement was mounting! I snagged an Iron Girl visor and a purple-zippered race belt at the expo, then headed over to the park to rack Trinity. They had an awesome bike racking concierge service, where someone walked me to my space in transition, and not only showed me the proper way to rack a bike, but actually did it for me. This was an awesome service to provide at an event with numerous first-timers like me!

Looking cool in my visor; Trinity racked and ready for morning

I could only get half of the huge transition area in a photo at a time! Big race! So many bikes!

I said goodnight to Trinity and headed home to help get the rugrats to bed. I wish I could have gone to bed too, but I still needed to quickly practice setting up my gear and going through the transitions, and then pack my bag. Somehow this took me way too long and I went to bed way too late. Story of my life. Also, I discovered while getting everything together that my watch was missing. This briefly sent me into panic mode, as I always ride and run with my watch on. It's just an ordinary sports watch, but I'm used to it and the thought of going without it was freaking me out a little bit. Finally I convinced myself that I didn't need it -- I could use my phone to make sure I headed over to the swim start on time, and after that, time didn't matter. Since my goal was just to finish the race, I really didn't need to know what time it was or how long it was taking me to do anything. Still, I'd gotten myself worked up enough that sleep did not come easily.


The 4:00am wake-up call was painful. Thank God for my husband, who'd set the coffee pot the night before! I ate a bowl of Cheerios, got dressed, threw the last few things in my bag, and headed out the door with two travel mugs full of piping hot java. Race traffic wasn't too backed up yet when I arrived, and I managed to get a great parking spot inside the park, so I didn't have to take a shuttle from somewhere else. Yay! I finished my first coffee and headed over to transition.

What I look like at 4:00am; What I look like still way too early but after lots of coffee!

Getting set up was easy -- almost too easy, in fact. Naturally, I second-guessed myself and wondered whether I was doing it "right." Meanwhile, I went to get bodymarked. The volunteer who wrote my bib number and age on me was enthusiastic and funny. Really, I can't say enough good things about ALL of the volunteers for this race -- UCF puts on a great event! Next, I walked the route from swim in to bike out, then bike in to run out, to get comfortable with my location so I wouldn't get lost in the transitions. By the time I finished that, the racers whose bikes were on either side of mine had arrived, and we got to know each other a little. Two of us were first-timers, and much to my relief, the experienced triathlete told me it looked like I had my gear all set up well. Whew! I could stop second-guessing then. :) I was so glad to meet these awesome ladies, because until that point I had been feeling a little lonely. It seemed like most of the other women there so far knew at least one other person in the race. Suddenly the sky started getting light, and my rackmate who was also a newbie and I decided to head over to the swim start.

My transition set up; My cheesiness -- I painted my nails to match my swim cap!


After the National Anthem and the announcement that the course was ready for us to begin, my rackmate and I congregated with our fellow navy-swim-cap-wearing Athenas and awaited our turn to enter the water. I was still pretty nervous about the swim, despite my practice at the beach. I was expecting the water to be really gross, and just didn't know how I would handle it. My rackmate was nervous about the swim too, so we encouraged each other as we paired up for the time trial start. I'm really glad my first triathlon had this type of start, where the racers enter the water two at a time, a few seconds apart, because it really cuts down on the wild thrashing around and kicks to the face that can happen with the typical wave start. As we entered the lake, we had room to spread out and get comfortable in the water and settle into our stroke without running into many other swimmers.

I might be in this picture somewhere. I was in the water when it was taken. Somewhere, out there...

My first impression of the lake water was that it was a very comfortable temperature, and next I noticed that it wasn't quite as gross as I'd feared. I mean, it was murky, and I knew it wasn't exactly super clean, but the area where we entered was decent enough. Still, I was hesitant to put my face in too much, and thus it took me a long time to really settle into a normal front crawl swim stroke. Once I finally relaxed a little, the swim became fun! However, it was also LONG. So, so long. That's a big lake. Breathing was a bit of an issue, so I took periodic breaks from front crawl to dog paddle a bit, or do a bit of sidestroke or backstroke...whatever it took to catch my breath. I got passed by a lot of ladies also in navy caps, but it wasn't too long before I spotted green caps going past as well. I ended up getting passed a lot more on the swim than I expected, so I wasn't too surprised later to find out that my swim time was significantly slower than I thought it would be. It was a great experience though -- it was a beautiful morning for a swim, and I never felt scared or panicky. I did feel tired, but I knew I would make it to the end. As we got closer to the final turn of the swim course, the water got noticeably grosser -- it started to stink, and stray pieces of lake grass started brushing my arms and legs and got caught on my goggles. Luckily, once we made that last turn, the exit point was just ahead! Even though I'd enjoyed the swim, I was thrilled to get out of the water! My rackmate and starting partner actually exited the water at the same time as I did, and we high-fived each other with congratulations for surviving the swim.

Swim Time: 00:36:46

I took my time walking to transition. It seemed like everyone around me was scurrying up the hill, but I was in no hurry. I just wanted to catch my breath and scan the crowd for my family and Candice. And suddenly, there they were, cheering me on and taking pictures! Yay!! At this point, my day was complete and my heart was full. I'd made it through the lake without panicking and drowning, so now only a catastrophic bike accident could stop me from completing this race. It was time to take it all in, soak up as much of the experience as possible. I was enjoying myself in transition, dancing to the peppy music that was playing as I ate some shot bloks, chugged some water, and put on my fanny pack (as always, shut up). When I finally sat down to dry my feet and put on my running shoes, even my kids noticed that everyone else was moving at a faster speed than I was, and they shouted at me to hurry up! Ha! Finally I unracked Trinity and headed off to begin my weakest leg.

T1 Time: 9:05

Slowest transition in history; Trinity and I starting the bike leg


Okay, this is where things got weird. From the very start, despite being tired from the swim, I felt really good on the bike. I wasn't afraid of the hills or stressed at the prospect of having to walk. I wasn't nervous about the traffic zipping by (it was not a closed course, but the police and volunteers did a great job of keeping us safe!). Because I'd ridden the course the week before, I felt comfortable and prepared. As such, I was able to enjoy most of the ride, even the parts that hurt. And somehow, I rode stronger and faster than I had before! I only got off and walked 5 times, compared to 10+ the previous week! I was surprising myself over and over as I powered through rough spots. It didn't even bother me that I was getting passed constantly -- I expected that to happen, but I even managed to pass a few people myself. I spent most of the race behind a 61-year-old woman, and she inspired me to push harder than ever before. There were several hills where I was tempted to get off my bike, but I kept hammering away because she was, and if she could do it, so could I!

I did make one mistake on the bike course: at the aid station, I was surprised that they were handing out whole bottles of water, but I grabbed one anyway. I probably didn't even need it, since I had a bottle in the cage on my bike, plus a bottle of gatorade in my fanny pack (I said shut up!). So there I was with this giant bottle of water, and I didn't want to waste it, but I was afraid of getting penalized for littering if I tossed it too far away from the aid station, so I just started chugging it like crazy! I think I took in too much water too fast, and my stomach was not pleased. The stress of not knowing what to do with the bottle only worsened the nausea, so I spent my favorite part of the course uncomfortable and unhappy. I finally realized I HAD to get rid of the bottle in order to ride safely, so I half accidentally and half purposely dropped it. The stress subsided but my stomach took a little longer to calm down; thankfully it finally started to feel normal again. I felt amazing on the homestretch of the ride. It had been so much fun, and the support and encouragement of my fellow racers had really added to the experience. You can't talk to people much while swimming, but a lot of people interacted quite a bit on the bike and run. I don't think I ever struggled up a hill without at least one (stronger, faster) racer encouraging me. This is an awesome race. :)

Bike time: 01:36:07

I still wasn't in a huge rush in transition, but I did take a minute to try to stretch my quads a little, as they were hurting something fierce after that ride! Then I swapped my helmet for my snazzy new visor and my fanny pack (sh----) for my awesome new race belt (yes, I totally broke the rule of "Nothing new on race day"), grabbed a bottle of water, and headed off to run. On the way out, I got high-fives from two awesome volunteers, including the one who had done my body marking, and the race director urged me to enjoy my run. I was grinning from ear to ear, knowing that all I had left to do was keep moving forward for 3.4 more miles, and (personal) victory would be mine!

T2 Time: 2:00 (estimate due to technical difficulties. might have been a little longer, making my bike time even shorter.)


I'm going to be honest here -- I didn't have a lot left in the tank at this point. Though I'd hydrated well (so well that I kinda needed to pee, but didn't want to use one of the two porta potties by transition) and fueled throughout, I was tired, especially my lungs. It was difficult to keep lifting my feet up, but it was nearly impossible not to wheeze like a pack-a-day smoker. I took frequent walk breaks, not because I was hurting but because I simply couldn't catch my breath. I was still happy and enjoying myself, but I wasn't attacking the run with nearly as much gusto as I had the bike. In retrospect, I think it's good that I'd had my disastrous test run on this course, because after that, I had no illusions that I'd be able to run the whole thing on race day. I expected it to kick my butt, so I was completely unphased when it did. There was no mental breakdown this time around. This is why theatre folks don't mind the bad dress rehearsal -- it makes for a better show!

The best part of my run was on the most annoying part of the course. Most of the time, you run along a lovely wooded path along the water. But then they make you run up "Gatorade Hill" to another part of the park, where you literally run through a parking lot part of the time, and then you have to go BACK UP the stupid evil hill AGAIN. There's a reason they hand out Gatorade up there, for real. Anyway, before looping around to hit the hill the second time, I noticed the two ladies ahead of me veering off the course. I wondered where they were going, and then noticed that the building they were entering was a restroom! I followed, thrilled at the chance to use a real bathroom. I had to pee pretty badly at this point, and was not looking forward to having to hit up the porta potties immediately after crossing the finish line. The potty break added a few minutes to my run time, but it was totally worth it. Totally.

The last mile of the run is less hilly, but you lose the shade from trees as you run around the edge of the lake. It was sunny and hot at this point, and I was prepared to walk much of that last stretch. But then I saw Candice heading my way, snapping pictures and encouraging me to keep going. She ran along with me for a while, which was fun. I was so excited to have her there, since I wouldn't have been there that day if it weren't for her!!

Look! A lake! I swam in this lake!; Extreeeeeme Close-up

After a little bit, Candice darted on ahead to try to catch me at the finish, and I entered the last little stretch of the race, where the crowds were building and the support invigorating. Spectators called out our numbers as we ran by, cheering us on and encouraging us to finish strong. I dug down deep and used whatever strength I had left to run through that chute to the finish line. Towards the end I saw my friend Sherene on the side, and I high-fived her as I passed. Then, just before I crossed the line, I heard the announcer say my name and those magic words: "You are an Iron Girl!"

Oh sure, take a picture of my cheesy thumbs-up but miss my arms raised in triumph just seconds later. LOL

Run Time: 00:54:07
Total Time: 03:18:05

Something special about this race is that the volunteers giving us our medals were all cancer survivors or people currently fighting cancer. So that moment of triumph for us was also humbling compared to the greater battles being fought all around us every day. I will think of that every time I look at my medal.

A beautiful moment I will remember forever

I collected my ice cold chocolate milk (YUM!) from one of the race sponsors, and went to greet my family and friends. There were many hugs, despite how badly my lake-watery, sweaty self smelled. These people must really love me. :)

Smelly hugs; Me with the people I love most in this world

I have to mention how grateful I was to have friends there. My family is sort of my fan club by default (especially the's not like they had any choice in whether to come! hahaha), but my friends came because they wanted to, and I sincerely appreciate their support. Sherene, the uber runner and marathoner, even brought cupcakes because she's always wished someone would bring her some after a race. I hope I can repay the favor soon, because that was indeed the perfect post-race treat! :) I forgot to take a picture with Sherene brain just wasn't functioning properly. I did get a picture with Candice, and the only thing wrong with it is that she's not wearing a medal too -- next year, my friend!! You can do this, and you will, and no one will cheer for you louder than I will! :)

From two silly girls giggling over padded bike shorts, to this. :)

Everything got really hazy after this. It was a lot like I felt after my first 10K, when I was actually in so much of a daze at the finish that I totally walked past the medals and wandered around aimlessly for a bit before I found them! This time I had my medal, but I couldn't seem to figure out what I wanted to do next. I was hungry, but the food tent seemed so far away. My kids were hot and tired and bored. I still needed to pack up all my gear and clear it and Trinity from transition before it closed. Literally everything was uphill from where we were, and I couldn't wrap my head around the concept of going up another hill just yet. They announced that the final racer was on the run course, and I wanted to be there to cheer for her when she finished, but I didn't want to make my family wait with me, and I also didn't want to just sit there. Finally I bid farewell to my fans, and trudged back to transition to get my stuff.

It didn't take long to stuff everything in the bag, but the next challenge was hoofing it up the hill, pushing a bike, to my car. It seemed almost cruel to make us go up one more steep hill at that point. Maybe next year they could put in some sort of elevator system, just to use AFTER the race, when our poor legs are spent. Just an idea, UCF. Think about it. ;-)

By the time I made it to my car, I was hot, ravenous, and exhausted. I'd thought about going back to cheer on the last finisher, but couldn't bear the thought of walking all that way again. So I got in my car, cranked up the A/C, and headed home. The rest of my day was a blur...I never did refuel properly after the race so I wasn't thinking clearly and my body was confused. I got home, got all my stuff put away, and took a shower, but after that I just drifted in and out of consciousness for most of the day. I did go to church with my family, but I barely remember it. Learn from me, people -- it's important to refuel with more than just a chocolate milk and a cupcake after such a strenuous race! You should definitely eat at least TWO cupcakes. Or something.

Over the past week, I've had some emotional ups and downs, and TONS of introspective thoughts as I've processed what I accomplished. I hope to blog about some of those thoughts in the days to come. For now, I just want to leave you with my thanks for your support, and this picture, which you've probably already seen on my Facebook page:

Triathlete. For real. And forever.

Friday, August 15, 2014

She Has a Name!

Thanks to everyone for your wonderful name suggestions! I loved them all, and I appreciate that you took some time to think of such meaningful and clever names.

Ultimately, the name that I chose is the one with the most multi-layered meaning, while also appealing to my fondness for alliteration. And that name is....


Trinity the Tri Trek!

What is a triathlon but a trinity of sports? I love the parallel: God in three Persons, race in three disciplines. I will be praying for my safety through the race, and now I have the idea to structure my prayers around the Holy Trinity: during the swim I will pray to God the Father, during the bike it will be Jesus, His Son, and during the run I will be begging the Holy Spirit to help me get to the finish line alive! :)

The name Trinity was submitted by Candice, who has now been mentioned on my blog nearly as much as my family! Okay, just kidding, but she's definitely a popular figure around here since she's the reason I'm about to do what I'm about to do the day after tomorrow. I did not pick her name suggestion just because of her part in this story, but I do think it's really special that she's the one who came up with the name I ended up liking the most.

From now on, when I talk about my good buddy, the bike, I will call her Trinity (and hope that no one thinks it means I'm a fan of The Matrix movies, because I am not, at all! hahaha)

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the contest!

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

In less than 48 hours (I hope), I will be basking in the glow of accomplishment, with some awesome new bling around my neck.

Right now, I'm shaking in my boots. Except I'm barefoot at the moment, so I'm just shaking in my skin. Whatever...the bottom line is I'm thinking about the race and getting scared. In order to conquer my fears, I think I need to identify exactly what I am and am not afraid of happening. So here goes!

1. Being slow. I just am slow. I've made my peace with it.
2. Coming in last. This sort of goes with #1. If all goes well, I don't think I'll be in very last place, but you never know what can happen on race day! As long as I finish, I honestly don't care if I'm dead last...just as long as I'm not dead.
3. Looking ridiculous. (There is one narrow exception to this, which I will cover in the next section.) I know I look rough when I run, and I'm pretty sure I make a bunch of odd, pained faces on the bike. Some of these ridiculous expressions might be photographed for posterity. Such is life.
4. Taking breaks. I took breaks during my open water swim practice, so I'm prepared to do it in the race also. And obviously I'm going to need some breaks on the bike, and I've accepted the fact that I will have to walk parts of the run as well. Whatever it takes to get to the finish line...I will slow down to catch my breath, but I will keep moving forward.
5. Drowning. If I can swim in the Bay, I can swim in the lake. It might be unpleasant, but I'm pretty sure I can survive it. Probably.

1. Crashing on my bike -- into another bike, into a car, or just all by myself. Bike accidents can be serious and I don't have a whole lot of experience yet, so this scares me.
2. Wardrobe malfunction -- my tri shorts are tiiiiight. I know they're supposed to be tight, but on me that spandex is working overtime, if you know what I'm saying. And you're not supposed to wear underwear in a race because they'd get wet during the swim and then not dry. So my fear is that I will move the wrong way, and the spandex will cry "Uncle!" and I'll end up with a gaping hole in my shorts that introduces the general public to way more of me than anyone ever needs to see. This is the exception to #3 above, and if it happens, I may have to live as a hermit for the rest of my life.
3. Forgetting something -- I will rack my bike tomorrow, and then bring the rest of my gear Sunday morning. I will make lists and practice transitions and check my bag a zillion times. I will still forget something. I just hope it's not something super necessary, like my timing chip. Or running shoes. Or helmet. Or MIND.
4. Panic -- I have some very specific fears, and then I'm also trying to mentally prepare myself for any number of other things that could go wrong. I want to stay relaxed and roll with the punches, but I'm afraid that something completely unexpected will happen, and it will throw me off my mental game and I just won't be able to cope. Unfortunately I'm not a very laid-back person, and I'm rather inclined to panic. This could easily be my undoing.
5. Vomit -- I hate to vomit. I'd rather keep the feelings of nausea for hours on end than vomit and feel better. I've always been this way. I'm a little nervous that race day jitters + physical exertion could = vomit. Scary.
6. Getting disqualified -- There are a lot of rules in this race, especially for the bike portion. I've read over them a few times and tried to commit them to memory, but I'm afraid I will accidentally do something stupid and end up DQ'd. I hope they are generally pretty patient with first-timers!!!

I think that about sums it up. At least I'm not afraid of everything, right?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm Not Fat -- I'm Just Big-Brained!

Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom. According to Wikipedia, she was also the goddess of "courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill" as well as being the "patron goddess of heroic endeavor." In other words, she was pretty much the goddess of AWESOMENESS.

In the world of triathlon, Athena is a division in which women who weigh more than 165 pounds can compete instead of competing in their age group. It's always optional -- they don't force us big girls into a separate group against our will, to separate the fatties from the real athletes. Instead it's a choice some women can make to compete against "our own kind," so to speak. Many women who qualify for Athena still choose to race in their age group; some of them are still competitive despite their size, and some simply want no part of publicly acknowledging what they weigh. I've read that for some races, you have to weigh in at check-in to verify that you meet the weight requirement for Athena, and many women are very uncomfortable with people seeing what they actually weigh.

If you've followed my blog in the past, you know that I have no qualms about Owning My Number. I know I can't compete with the fitter women in my age group (and honestly I'm probably slower than most of the big girls too!), so I figured I might as well race with my fellow Athenas! We have our own wave for the swim start, and maybe some of us will stay close to each other throughout the course. Solidarity, ladies! I will step on a scale proudly this weekend if I need to prove that I weigh over 165 pounds, though it ought to be obvious just by looking at me.

Just thinking about all this tempts me to go on a rant about our society's crazy obsession with weight rather than fitness. I currently weigh about 225, the same as when I started training for this triathlon. This means my BMI is the same as well. But my BODY is not the same. My FITNESS level is not the same. My HEALTH is not the same. I have more muscle mass than I had a few months ago. I am stronger -- muscles, heart, lungs, etc. I still want to lose weight, because the heavier I am, the greater the strain on my joints when I'm active. But other than that, my weight is just a number, not the main indicator of my health and certainly not the source of my self-worth. I'm a few days away from completing a triathlon, and I'm thrilled to be doing it as an ATHENA, goddess of wisdom and all that other awesomeness!!

Of course, there are some other drawbacks to being tall, large-framed, and heavy. For instance, shopping for my triathlon attire was no picnic. Luckily I had done my research, and I knew going in that there was a good chance I'd have to try the men's suits in order to find a size that fit me. I was a little nervous about shopping in the men's section, but fortunately the tri clothes were all on clearance and grouped together at REI the day I went. I tried a few items, both men's and women's sizes.

A men's one-piece suit. I liked the way it felt but wasn't wild about how it looked.

Split decision: women's shorts, men's top. I liked the look of this outfit, and decided to go with two pieces because it would make bathroom breaks easier.

So on Sunday I will be an Athena in a Clydesdale (the men's equivalent of Athena, for those 220 pounds or more) shirt. Works for me!

Life's a Beach!

Practice open water swimming.
Practice open water swimming.
Practice open water swimming.

Every list of triathlon tips contains this particular nugget of advice. With biking and running, it's possible to train in nearly identical conditions to the race (and in some cases, like mine, on the actual race course itself), but with swimming, training and racing conditions differ considerably. Pool swimming and open water swimming are just not the same.

Some aspects of the swim portion of a triathlon can't really be replicated during training, such as getting kicked in the face or having other racers literally swim right on top of you in order to pass you. Thankfully, there are other aspects of the open water swim that can be practiced, such as not being able to see in the water, and sighting so you remain on course.

The lake where my race will be held is not open for swimming except during races and special events, so I couldn't practice on the actual course. I've heard a few horror stories of the lake being filled with goose poop and scary lake grass, but I will have to deal with those obstacles for the first time during the race. There actually aren't many places in my area to practice an open water swim, so I chose to hit the BEACH! This coincided nicely with my family's desperate need for some summer fun in the sun. We loaded up the kiddos and headed out to Sandy Point State Park on the Chesapeake Bay. The water is calmer and less salty than the ocean, so I figured it would be a reasonable stand-in for the lake.

My swimming pool for the day!

I played with the kids in the water for a little bit while my husband finished setting up our chairs, umbrella, etc., but then I decided to get the big swim out of the way so I could relax and enjoy the rest of the day. I donned my goggles and swim cap and tried to shake off how awkward I felt, knowing that other beachgoers were probably eyeing me and wondering what the heck I was doing! I'm not sure how long or far I swam, but I started out going to the right, then turned around and came back and passed our spot on the beach, then turned around and came back.

Trying out some new goggles with UV protection -- They fit more tightly than my training goggles, but I think they make me look fierce. :)

The first thing I noticed was that swimming in the Bay was just exhausting. I was breathing heavily and huffing and puffing almost from the start. I did have strong currents to contend with, so that may have been a factor. Throughout the swim, I had to take lots of breaks just to dog paddle for a bit, or do front crawl with my face OUT of the water, or even occasionally flip over and do the backstroke for a while. Regardless of what stroke I was doing, I made sure to keep moving forward the whole time.

Not being able to see in the water ended up being a lot less disorienting than I expected. It just didn't really bother me. When I swim in the pool, I generally lift my head way too far out of the water when I breathe anyway, so sighting was not a major challenge to me either. The worst part of my swim, by far, was the wind blowing the water directly into my face. I took in a lot of water, in my mouth and in my nose, nearly every time I breathed. I gagged on it a lot. It was frustrating and a tiny bit scary at times. I expect (and hope...and pray!!) that the lake will not be nearly that windy for my race, so I won't have to deal with that problem as much. But if I do, I will be ready for it! Overall, I think my open water swim practice was a success, and left me fearing only face kicks, swimovers, goose poop, and lake grass. :)

Post-swim, exhausted but happy. :) See how it looks like I have facial hair? That's dirt. The water was so dirty that my whole face was covered in it. I was totally grossed out when my I wiped my face clean on a t-shirt and saw exactly what had been all over my skin. Maybe I'm ready for goose poop after all...

Closing with a picture of my Boo, just because. It was a lovely day at the beach.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Cursing

Sometimes I miss my hometown of Charleston, SC, usually because of its beauty and charm. Occasionally, however, what I miss the most is its utter flatness. As a child I ran around, rode my bike, and rollerbladed with ease and never had to tough it out up a steep uphill or fear going too fast and wrecking on a downhill.

Where I live now is not flat. In fact, I live right on top of a hill. It has taken me months and months of running to get strong enough to run up the hill I live on, and I still struggle a lot on hills on my bike. When I learned that the Iron Girl Columbia bike and run courses were very hilly, I got nervous. In order to alleviate my fears, I thought it might help to try out both courses before the race.

Out of the two events, I feel more confident about my running. I've been doing it for much longer, and I've built up a reasonable amount of physical and mental strength. I figured that testing out the run course for the race would be fairly easy (easier than race day, at least, since I would do it on fresh legs), and that testing out the bike course would be incredibly difficult and scary.

It turns out, I had it backwards.

On Saturday morning, I headed to the park for a simple (though hilly) 3.4-mile run. I was well hydrated and fueled. I felt good and excited. I was ready. Or so I thought.

Almost immediately, the run felt difficult. My legs felt heavy. My breathing felt labored. I don't remember exactly when I slowed to a walk for the first time, but it was way too early in the course. I was disappointed in myself, and frustrated. And thus my mental decline began. I know that bad runs happen, and I've gotten a lot better at handling them, but on Saturday I couldn't seem to draw on any of that previous experience to get me through the rough patches of this run. Instead I began to unravel. I couldn't seem to run for very long before needing to walk again...and again...and again. At one point I was even crying as I walked along, because I couldn't understand what was happening or why I couldn't push through it. The reality did not match the expectation, and I just didn't know what to do with that.

I did manage to keep moving forward (thanks, Swim Bike Mom!), and I finished the distance running, but then I sat on a bench and stared at the lake for a long time. I felt a little lost. Running was the event I was best at out of the three, and I had just totally bombed it, a week before the race. If I'm terrible at all of these sports, why am I attempting to do them? What's the point? WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING???? I waited for an answer, but one never came. I went home still feeling lost.

The next morning, I was scheduled to attempt the bike course. I'd considered doing a supported ride with a group from a local bike shop, but ultimately I decided to go by myself. I was terrified of the course and almost certain I'd fail, and I didn't really feel the need to share that failure with a bunch of strangers. I loaded up my bike and my gear and once again headed to the park.

Starting out on the course, I felt really uncomfortable. I still feel like an imposter on the bike, like I'm pretending to be a cyclist but I'm really just a moron. The hills started almost right away, and I wondered if I should just give up, turn back, and forget the whole thing. And yet I pressed on. It wasn't terribly long before I had to get off the bike and walk up one of the many hills. I knew it would happen, so it didn't bother me too much. In fact, I was planning to keep track of how many times I got off, because it would be a fun stat to share and then I could work on doing better in the actual race. Well, that didn't work out...I lost count sometime around 8. I'm pretty sure the final count was less than 20, but more than 10, and that's the best I can guess.

Some strange things happened along the bike course. Every once in a while, I'd suddenly think "Oh wow, I'm really doing this! I'm really riding my bike along these roads, getting through the miles, and DOING THIS!" And I even found a stretch of the course that I really loved -- tons of beautiful tall trees, lovely homes on huge pieces of land, rolling hills that gave me enough momentum on the downhills to get me up each incline. I can't WAIT to ride that part of the course again.

I also experienced the awesomeness of cyclists, several of whom said encouraging words as they passed me and left me in their super-speedy dust. They didn't treat me like an imposter. They treated me like I was one of them, just a little slower and maybe a little newer at this.

And then the strangest thing of all -- I finished the ride in less time than I expected to! I thought it would take me a solid 2 hours, but I managed to finish the full 16 miles in 1:44:44. Yay!

I wasn't planning to run that day, since I'd run the day before, but I couldn't resist checking out how my legs would feel after a 16-mile ride. I did a quick 1-mile run, and it was rough. I walked a good bit of it, but ran more than I walked. I veered off of the race course and took a different path, because I wasn't in the mood to confront my demons from the previous day. The good news was even though the run hurt, it didn't kill me, and I felt like I could finish 3.4 miles if I had to.

So somehow, the course I feared became the one that restored my confidence and got me excited again about this triathlon. I'm still slow. And the hills will hurt. And I will walk a lot, on both the bike and run. But I can finish...and I will.

And maybe someday I'll go home to Charleston and do a tri there, and it will seem SO EASY without any hills. ;-)

All About the Bike

Note: I can't believe I haven't posted since I registered for Iron Girl! I've been training so hard that I've literally been too tired to write. It has taken all my energy just to train, go to work, and spend time with my family. It's a GREAT kind of exhaustion though! Now the race is just a few days away and I'm taking it easy this week, so I'm hoping to write a bunch of the posts that have been floating around in my mind! This is the first of two I have planned for today. Enjoy, and please respond!

When my good friend Candice talked me into this triathlon madness, I knew I'd be able to train for the swimming and running, but the one missing piece of the equation was the bike. I didn't even own one (and neither did Candice!). So one lovely early summer day, we went bike shopping. The trip was educational and fun...and intimidating! I felt so out of place in the bike shop, though I did feel a little part of me deep inside that wanted to belong. Maybe I'll go back there someday and know what I'm doing, and not feel like a complete fool.

Did I mention the fun that we had? Because we cut up like a couple of kids, giggling over everything. We thought it could be fun to do a triathlon on a cruiser.
Okay, maybe not such a good idea. ;-)

We laughed at padded cycling pants (how silly of us....I'm putting a pair of those on my Christmas list because holy wow, does cycling hurt!! hahaha) and we about died when we saw the name of this product:
Oh cycling world, you so funny.

We tried out some great Trek hybrid bikes and figured out the size and style we wanted/needed. Unfortunately the brand-new bikes were a little out of our price range, especially since there was a good chance the bike would be used for one race and then only taken out and dusted off for the occasional family bike ride. We started scouring Craigslist, and Candice found a great deal on the right bike for her almost right away. I did not have so much luck.

After a few weeks, I started to lose hope. I felt guilty spending any money on triathlon when our family budget is always pretty tight. The bikes that I knew would be best for me didn't seem to be cheap enough for me to buy, even used. FINALLY, in the first week of July, we found a bike for me on Craigslist, and the price was right. She was a little old (a 2005 model), but in pretty good shape. I was way behind in my training at this point, but at least I could give it a "tri!"

I've had more than a month now to get acquainted with my bike, and I've grown to love her despite her imperfections. She's pretty slow....okay, I can't blame her for that. I'M slow. Very slow. But that's sort of just my thing right now. ;-) Anyway, the one thing she needs right now, before we make our racing debut together, is a NAME!!!!

Yes, I want to name my bike. I'm the sort of person who names my cars (Helene the Honda was my first, named after my first-ever role in a play, and then Edwin the Escape, named after my favorite singer-songwriter, Edwin McCain), so naturally I want to name my bike. My brain is too tired from triathlon training and I can't seem to come up with any ideas, so here is where YOU come in! I'm having a contest for one of my readers to name my bike! Take a look at the pictures below, and think of everything you know about me, and then give me some suggestions for names. I'll look them all over and make a decision on Friday, so she has a name before I take her to be racked for the race on Saturday. If I choose your suggestion, I'll give/send you a little prize!!! You can post your suggestions here or on the Facebook page. So get to it -- Name My Bike!!