Monday, December 23, 2013

The Grapefruit Lesson

This is going to be another post about weight loss.  Part of me does not want to be another triathlon blog about weight loss, because I do this crazy sport for so many more reasons than to burn calories.  But this is where I am at right now.  As I've mentioned in many a post before, I've been gaining weight.  I am currently about 10 lbs over my old normal, and 20 lbs over my marathon PR race weight.  My goal is to lose 15 lbs. I've successfully lost weight in the past and have enough knowledge on healthy eating and enough exercise that it shouldn't be a problem.  So why have I been bitching about this for the past year and not done anything but make it worse?

It comes down to wanting an instant result, and I'm not getting it.  On Biggest Loser, they lose 10+ lbs on the first week.  And they aren't triathletes, so why not me?  Ok, I know that is ridiculous and I know there are a zillion reasons why that doesn't work in real life, or at least for people with only 15 lbs to lose.  My logical goal is to lose a pound a week.  That is all I am shooting for.  And yet, if that happens, I feel disappointed.  A pound is so measely, barely beyond my scales fluctuations.  The thought that I have to be disciplined all the time to get a little tiny one pound change gives me the excuse of "well, just this one time, it will only cost you a pound."

I had an epiphany grocery shopping the other day when I picked up a 3 lb bag of grapefruit.  No, this isn't about the health benefits of grapefruit, though they sure are awesome, but rather what I realized when I had 3 lbs in my hand.  You see, I don't have a car and have to carry whatever I buy the 2 blocks home, and then up the 3 flights of stairs.  When I picked up the 3 lb bag, I was dreading it.  Huh, 3 lbs is kind of heavy, isn't it?  If I can just lose 3 lbs, think of how much easier it will be to run.  It will be like I lost this sack of citrus.  And on the flip side, if I pack on 3 more extra pounds, that will be like running carrying this bag of grapefruits.  I don't want to run with grapefruits!

Somehow, this more concrete example stuck.  We've all heard the gains you get in speed for every 5 lbs lost and whatnot, but this was a clear "wow, I don't want to run carrying that" experience.  To make the point even more drastic, I pick up my dog, who ways 20 lbs.  That is what I've gained. It's like the old skinny me is running carrying this dog.  No good.

So it will be a slow process.  I am sure I won't be perfect along the way, but my goal is that in 3 weeks, I will be down a bag of grapefruits.  In a few more, take off a sack of onions.  It comes down to the fact that those 3 lbs seem much more significant now, a baby step that actually will make a difference.  I'm thinking this is the real reason grapefruits are referred to as a health food.   

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sick and Complaining

So remember when I vowed to workout hard about a week ago.  Yeah, that worked.  For 2.5 days.  But this time it wasn't weak will, but the cold from hell.  I know, I am a baby to whine and complain about a freaking cold.  If that is my biggest ailment, I will count my blessings.  But it has been absolutely miserable.  Let me give the play-by-play for a moment to justify just how bad I've been feeling...

Wednesday and Thursday I wasn't feeling quite right. Sore throat, tired, achey.  Wednesday I cut my run short, Thursday I rested.  I knew the crud some of my co-workers had and I wanted to avoid it.  Rest is best.  Friday was congestion, sore throat, and headache.  Saturday was much of the same until that evening.  Worst. Heachache. Ever.  Throbbing, accompanied by dizziness with every movement.  I did the sensible thing and called my mom to complain.  She goes "you don't think it's an aneurism, do you?"  Well, not till that moment!  It was one of those things that I was 99.9% sure was not true, but it was a nagging thought in my head as I couldn't sleep that night.  I was also incredibly nauseous, running to the bathroom repeatedly, but never actually throwing up.  Sunday was a bit better, then Monday and today (Tuesday) was full on snot-fest.  Ok, enough whining.  It's a cold.  I will survive.

This has put a wrench in my workout plans.  The logical side of me knows it is not a big deal.  I will work out through a lot, but not this, I could barely function.  Maybe some tough guy out there would, but not me.  I know it is December, a long, long ways from race season.  But, it is suppose to be test week- time to find out what gains I have made in the 7 weeks of the OutSeason so far.  And instead, I feel like I am losing every single gain.

The most frustrating part is that last Monday, when I resolved to workout hard, I felt so in control.  This time was going to be different.  I was going to get it together.  And then this happened.  A stupid little cold, but it knocked me off my tracks.  I will get better, and I won't even remember this come race time, but right now, I just feel liking sitting in a corner and feeling sorry for myself.  And that is exactly what I've been doing... 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why Wait Until January 1?

“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” -Katy Lamb

 On January 1, millions (totally made up number here) will decide to start the year off right, beginning exercise and diet programs, determined to make 2014 the year.  I am typically one of them, as I always look for a good time for that fresh start.  In the short course of this blog, I have been on and off the exercise/health wagon more times than I can count, continuing to state that tomorrow I will...  (give up sugar, run every day, not skip workouts, etc.).  And yet, I continue to be unable to get in a pattern.  While I could list off a zillion (again, accurate number here) excuses, there is really no one to blame but my faulty resolve, and it will be me who regrets it come next season when I am falling short of my dreams and potential.  

So I'm not going to wait until January 1.  From tomorrow until January 1, I am going to see how much work I can get in.  I do not have a specific number in mind, but I am aiming to run, swim, AND bike every single day.  Yoga and core in there too.  I am not expecting to be perfect at this, but to remember that every minute counts.  Maybe I won't have time for a 5 mile run, but I can get in 20 minutes.  No time for a full out core workout, but why not a few crunches or planks.  If I am going to watch tv, it better be on the trainer.  I am hoping this will set me up for 2014 a little fitter, a little lighter, and already in the habit to get it done. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week- Why it matters to me!

December 1-7 marks the annual Crohn's and Colitis Awareness Week.  Over 1.4 million Americans suffer from these diseases, together referred to as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD- VERY different than IBS- irritable bowel syndrome).  While we all have different stories, there seem to be some common elements, among them being fear, embarrassment, and isolation in addition to debilitating GI issues. 

To be honest, I've never shared my story before this, ever.  Yes, my doctor's know the medical bit, but not the emotions.  My friends might know the emotions, but I spared them the gory details.  I feel compelled to share now for a few reasons.  First, it is about 10 years since I was diagnosed, and I feel I have enough perspective now (finally) to look back without embarrassment and give my account.  Second, I want to help someone else.  As you'll read, I went about six months of having symptoms before being diagnosed.  Not because I was a medical mystery, but because I was too scared and/or ashamed to ask for help and go to a doctor.  I want someone to read this and see that it does get better, but you need to seek medical attention immediately!  Third, I want everyone who doesn't have Crohn's and colitis to understand what it really means to have it.  The pain, isolation, fear, embarrassment, etc.  We all know cancer is bad.  AIDS is bad.  Diabetes is bad, etc. Well, so is IBD.  No, we won't die of it (not 100% true unfortunately), but most don't really know what life is like with these diseases.  Thus we advocate.  And lastly, advocacy isn't just so others can pity me, or think I'm incredible for overcoming.  It is so that others can be diagnosed faster, receive better support from loved ones, improved medical care, and increase visibility for the need for research into these diseases.

When I was 17, I was independent.  Or I thought I was.  I did what I wanted (though I was a very good kid), didn't ask for help, and didn't need any help.  I was an optimist and prided myself on being the "easy kid".  I was just happy, no matter what happened.  That summer I furthered my independent by going to a college prep summer program at Brown University.  It was there, when I was at the peak of my adolescent independence, that problems started.

I remember the night I first had diarrhea.  To be honest, I didn't think too much of it, mostly just hoping no one could hear my issues from the other side of the bathroom wall.  I chalked it up to eating something that didn't agree with me- after all, with buffet dining, I was eating everything.  But it didn't really get better.  I wasn't having major frequency or urgency, but I was not having any solid bowel movements.  This was probably happening a few times a day.  I knew it wasn't normal, but I didn't really know what to do.  I didn't want to call home, when I felt so proud of myself for being away from home.  I knew if I went to the student health center, that would end in a phone call home as well.  I didn't tell any of my friends there, because a 17 year old doesn't strengthen friendships by talking about diarrhea.  So I hid it.  I figured it would pass.  I was still healthy, right?  Still eating, still doing everything I wanted to.  How bad could it be?

The program ended and I went home.  I kept up the charade.  I think it was slowly getting worse, but as it was a slow decline, it didn't seem too drastic to me.  A few times a day became 5, then 10.  That was my normal for a while.  And I still didn't mention it to anyone.  I had my tricks- run water to block the sound.  I remember once my mom asked me if I was having diarrhea.  I just gave a vague "um, every now and then." Nothing serious of course.

And then it kept getting worse.  I was having to go to the bathroom 20-30 times a day.  I learned episodes usually happened in threes.  Lucky for me, our hall pass system had 3 reasons- locker pass, water pass, bathroom pass.  So in each class I could go three times. I'm really not sure why no one questioned whether I had a drug habit or something, but being a good student lets you skate by without having to give many explanations. 

Obviously at this point I knew something was not right.  It was progressing and not just a fleeting thing.  But I looked for other explanations.  My sister had just self-diagnosed herself with lactose intolerance. Ah, that must be it!  So I cut out dairy products and took those tablets.  But still the diarrhea persisted.  Well, dairy can be hidden in things, it must be that, I'm just not being careful enough.  I also was preoccupied with many other things at the time, it was my senior year after all and college applications weren't going to wait while I sat on the toilet.

I started having fears of having an accident.  Sometimes the cramping would come on so suddenly, followed by extreme urgency.  At the time I was still on my high school gymnastics team, and I was terrified of losing control of my bowels every time I flipped. I started wearing an extra pair of underpants just in case, though I doubt one more layer would've helped.  Thankfully that never happened. 

I was in pain the majority of the day and completely fatigued the rest of the time, but I was determined to be a normal 17 year old, so I just kept pressing on.  However, it definitely wasn't normal, as I was turning down invitations for essentially any outing/social activity since it is hard to hide the constant running to a bathroom.  I was isolating myself when I probably needed the support of others the most. 

My sister had just come home from college for winter break and was out shopping with my mom.  That is the night I first saw blood in the toilet.  It terrified me.  I was scared I was going to bleed out and die.  I was so weak, it was difficult to stand up.  My mom called to check in and I told her, just a very quick before I lost my courage "I had bloody diarrhea."  They immediately came home and my mom called my uncle, who is a pediatrician.  He convinced her I did not need to go to the ER, but I was quickly off to the pediatrician the next morning.

Even to the doctors, I initially downplayed my symptoms.  Blood work showed I was very anemic, likely losing more blood than I was visibly seeing.  It also showed very high markers of inflammation.  Stool cultures didn't show any signs of infections.  Everyone seemed to be suspected ulcerative colitis or Crohn's so I was off to the gastroenterologist. 

Things start to blur together there.  It was a mix of terror and relief.  My secret was finally out and I was going to get better.  The colonoscopy was truly no big deal.  Everyone will say it is the prep that is bad, but for someone wtih chronic diarrhea, the prep was just like any other day.  Finally with a diagnosis, I was started on a mix of Asacol, an anti-inflammatory.  No change.  Then I was introduced to prednisone, my best friend and worst enemy.  I think it was around February, when I had my first solid bowel movement in over six months. 

Unfortunately, the problems didn't end there.  Feeling better was short-lived, and soon I was in the hospital and transferred to the experts at Johns Hopkins.  I was on morphine for pain, along with 60 mg of IV steroids and Cipro, an antibiotic rumored to help IBD patients.  Then were all the medications for the symptoms and side effects of the drugs- something to help me sleep thanks to the prednisone, anti-nausea medication, heartburn, etc. 

The rest of that first year was turbulent.  I was in and out of the hospital with uncontrolled flare-ups.  When you go into the hospital, they typically want to allow your bowels to rest, which means you are NPO- nothing orally.  That includes fluids.  I would go NPO for up to three day periods, which was the max before you needed parenteral nutrition.  Of course I was getting fluid through an IV, but nothing nourishing.  Every morning they would weigh me, and I'd watch my weight drop.  I bottomed out at 97 lbs.  I remember once during an NPO period they decided I needed a barium xray, which required drinking a solution most people would gag on.  I was so hungry that I LOVED it and was hoping the test didn't go well so I'd have to do another one. 

The emotional side of this period was tough.  I was in the hospital or recovering at home more than I was in school.  Johns Hopkins is over an hour from my home, so I rarely had friends visit.  Steroids turned me into a monster- I was irritable and just mean some of the time.  I remember having an "accident" one night and when the nurse asked what happened, I yelled and then cried.  I had also gone from a very independent person to relying on my mom, which was a tough transition.  I found out I was accepted to colleges from my hospital room, and feared what life would be like away from home.  When my friend's parents were buying "Best of... Colleges" my mom bought "Best of...  Hospitals."  I honestly had to consider the proximity of a medical center to my college in my decision process.  I can also remember touring my college and having to drop out of the formal tour because I couldn't keep up due to fatigue.  I looked at my mom and went "why are there so many stairs?"

As the medications began to better control the disease, the other side effects came out.  In that first year I had multiple flares of arthritis in my knees, with is an extra-intestinal symptom.  I had a handful of c-diff bacterial infections that landed me back in the hospital.  I would have weird skin rashes.  I got peripheral neuropathy in my feet from a medication, requiring me to sleep in silk socks because my feet rubbing on sheets was agonizing.  I also had a detached retina, which my doctors debated whether it was due to the disease and/or steroid use.

At 17, I knew a lot about healthcare.  I was taking 36 pills a day and going for routine blood tests every month.  I knew that to keep me healthy I was taking pills that could cause a whole slew of issues, including blood cancers and liver disease.  I knew about health insurance.  This included knowing that I would always have to consider what health insurance policy I would have when looking at future jobs. 

It seemed like such a success to finally get away to college, but just a few days into my orientation, I started having symptoms.  I remember calling my mom in tears.  But I knew I couldn't hide it anymore like I had done for so long, so I ended up in the hospital for a few days.  I was amazed by the support of friends I barely knew, but didn't tell them the whole story of what IBD involved.  You know, stomach issues.  I left out the details.  

While the first year was extremely difficult, it did get better. I still battled fatigue that limited my social life.  I initially had a very limited diet, and can still remember the first time I ate salad in the dining hall after not having raw vegetables since I was diagnosed.  I had to keep tabs on my medications and blood draws and get myself to doctors appointments.  I was hospitalized a couple more times in college, but had a good handle on alerting my physician at the first sign of trouble. 

I have been lucky to be pretty stable lately.  But while I am in remission, I still have a disease.  I still take a lot of medications with scary side effects, and spend time, money, and energy on other medical expenses including blood work and other periodic tests and doctor's appointments.  However, the worst is the fear and not knowing when I could be sick again.  In July of 2010, I was doing my first half-ironman triathlon.  I had trained religiously for 20 weeks, and on the way to the race started to flare up.  I was devastated.  I had felt so healthy, and suddenly I wasn't.  Everything I had worked so hard for was being taken away.  Fortunately, with a hefty dose of steroids and a couple days of pedialyte and white rice, I got myself to the starting line and amazed myself when I crossed the finish line far exceeding my expectations.  That moment is something I will remember forever.  I have a disease but it is not stopping me.  Granted, I know that there may be times it does.  Whenever I book a trip or sign up for a race, there is a voice telling me "but what if you flare..."  Whenever my stomach hurts, or I get "normal person sick" as I call it, I panic.  Is this a flare?  What about school? What about work?  What about life?  Unfortunately, stress can trigger flare ups, so they are most likely when we are least able to afford the time. 

My goal is to be more forthright about my struggles.  No more hiding what is happening.  People think it is just a little upset stomach, or maybe worse, like food poisoning, but don't realize the implications it has on someone's life, relationships, self-confidence, etc.  People need to know that we suffer, even when not having a flare.  We need to demand more research funding for diagnosis, treatments, and a cure.  We need to support fellow patients to help them through.  We need to focus on all that we have to be proud of, instead of hiding in embarrassment.  Crohn's and colitis need to become household names, even though they are as unwelcome as diseases like cancer.  Awareness and advocacy can help make this happen, and help people like me keep on living our lives, prepared to handle any flare that comes our way. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

2013 Turkey Chase 8k

The main thing on my mind lately has been the whole element of mental toughness, and more specifically, my lack of it.  It was evident when I did my bike and run tests, and then reinforced by a recent blog post by Elizabeth Waterstraat.  It is truly mental toughness that separates out the elite- the ability to endure pain, crave pain, push through pain.  It is also what stands in my way of massive improvements.

A turkey trot has been a tradition for me since I was probably about 9 or 10 years old. Back then, just by being the youngest, I could bring home some sort of prize, typically a sweatshirt a few sizes too big.  Anyways, just doesn't seem like Thanksgiving to me without starting the day with a Turkey Trot.  In addition to tradition, I was hoping this year's race could also give me a chance to test that mental toughness, and hopefully bump up my vdot. So with that in mind, off I went to the F^3 Events Turkey Chase 8k

Now of course, I have bad preparation going into this race. Sleeping badly and eating worse than badly is not the way to go.  But to counteract this, I talked myself into skipping workouts both Tuesday and Wednesday (after Monday) had been a rest day) to be most prepared. Yeah, obviously my mental toughness was showing well before race day.

After a bowl of oatmeal with brown sugar, I headed downtown.  And it was cold.  So so cold.  Maybe in January that won't seem as cold, but right now, frigid.  I was going to race in an underarmour mock turtleneck, my running jacket, and tights.  On top of this, I wore my big ol winter coat and sweats to stay warm in transit.  I arrived at the race with plenty of time, probably because I'm use to either 1) having to battle 20,000+ people to use a portapotty, and 2) having to check on my bike, inflate tires, put on wetsuit, etc.  This small town feel of a road race was refreshingly easy!  Eventually I had to part with my extra layers, and that is when I got really cold.

The start was right along the lake.  Wind in your face, just in case the cold hadn't woken you up yet.  I tried to do some warm-up in the grass, but my feet were numb and legs weren't too far behind. They announced that due to the high winds, there would be no start/finish arch or mile markers.  Ok, good, I wasn't making up the winds.  As I stood there getting colder and colder, the mental weakness was seeping in- maybe it is too cold to push it, wouldn't want to get hurt, I'll just take it easy.  Then the good angel was telling me to still go as hard as I can, maybe it won't be my best, but better to try.

The race went off and I was running at a good effort.  My legs definitely felt the effect of the cold weather, and I definitely felt as though that was my limiter at the start.  We were running into the wind for the first half.  Unfortunately, they didn't have the miles marked in any way (my one complaint about the race) and I was not running with my Garmin, so I really had no idea how fast I was actually going.

Quickly the crowds thinned out.  Obviously the leaders were a ways ahead, and I was towards the front of the pack, but mostly alone.  I'd occasionally leap frog with a few different people, but mostly focused on my own pace (which was unknown).  It was definitely getting harder, as the effort was catching up to me.  I knew the wind was against me, so I just kept telling myself that once to the turn around, it would be easier.  There were a couple times on the way out where I let myself slow considerably, to get back from that uncomfortable state to the sort of comfortable one.

I hit the turn around under twenty minutes, and was happy.  I was on track for a sub-40 (sub 8 min miles) which was my modest goal.  Immediately after turning so the wind was at my back, I was getting warm.  I tried to keep my focus but the mental weakness was increasing.  I am sad to report that I stopped not just once, but twice on the way back.  Not just slowing, not just walking a few steps, but stop and stand on the side of the road.  ARGH!  What is irritating is that looking back on it, I can't remember what was so bad that I had to stop.  Was it my legs? My lungs? My brain?  Obviously, stopping was not necessary.  Obviously I could have powered through.  But I didn't.  So as much as this race is a benchmark to my running fitness, it also shows my mental game, and that is a major area to work on.

Ironically, even with an out and back, I had a poor concept of where the finish line was.  I was switching back and forth from thinking it was right ahead to thinking I had a ways to go.  I tried the trick of "you only have 10 minutes, you can do anything for 10 minutes."  Turns out 10 minutes is a long time to be uncomfortable.

I ended up finishing in 39:03.  Pace-wise, I am happy with this.  It bumps up my v-dot, giving me new training paces.  It is closer to where I want to be, though my 8k PR is 35:36 so I have a ways to go to get back up to speed.  However, I am definitely headed in the right direction.

My plan is to get comfortable being uncomfortable.  No more skipping intervals in workouts, no matter what the excuse.  I am also going to sign up for a few more 5k-10k races this winter, as I know they push me more than workouts do.  I am against paying $45 for 5ks on principle, but maybe they can be worth it to get me over this mental hump.  The mental game and type of uncomfortability (is that a word?) is very different in a 5k versus an Ironman, but both require that internal dialogue of SHUT UP LEGS!  I want to run my Ironman (yes, run, not walk!) with memories of when I pushed through no matter what the distance.  Time to train the brain!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

That run I didn't want to do

There are mornings when I wake up as soon as my alarm goes out, hop out of bed, down a banana, clothes on, and I'm out the door for a run before I can even process it.  Today was not one of those days.  I did the wake up, go back to sleep deal for a while, followed by a very lazy morning.  I was moving slower than slow.  My motivation to run was not helped by being reminded of what 23 degrees feels like when I walked the dog.  Being cold in my ridiculously warm coat, gloves, and hat for a short walk around the block is not exactly what makes you want to go run in tights.

I was not looking forward to this run at all, and the only reason I was doing it was part of Operation Get in the Habit Again.  I was worried about the cold. About some GI issues I've been having. About my shin. My hamstring. I think deep down I was worried about disappointing myself and getting another reminder of how slow and out of shape I am.  The prescribed workout was a measely 30 minutes- out at zone 2 (8:57 pace), back at zone 3 (8:38 pace).  I finally got myself out the door thinking I'd start by just running and then worry about hitting the paces, if at all.

Well, a block from the house my Garmin announced it lost satellites.  Awesome, glad I stood in the cold not moving for 3 minutes while it searched so hard for them before I started.  Oh well, just run by feel.  I felt like I was running a decent pace, not sprinting, but not just skipping along.  Then my watch beeped to tell me I was at the mile mark. And based on how I know where every mile essentially is from my home (a special gift of being a runner), I knew it was pretty close.  I guess it had magically re-found satellite and somehow guessed those parts it missed?  Magic technology aside, I saw I was at a 7:50 pace.  While this would once not have been a feat for me, lately it is.  My 5k pace is 7:57.  Yes, I had the wind helping me, but I had no warm-up and it was cold, and I was running this pace not feeling like I was going to die.

I kept on.  Now it was feeling a bit more like I was pushing it, but still not that awful going to collapse any moment feeling I had with the 5k test.  I didn't look at my watch much, just kept going.  Minor stomach cramps came and went, nothing to bad.  When I hit the turn around, it got much harder as I had the wind in my face, both adding resistance and just some good ol' suck value to the run.  I got a bit more of a side stitch but told myself I only had 15 minutes to go.  Around mile 3 I slowed down significantly, but I didn't stop or walk.  My body wanted to, but I knew I had no good reason to.  Slowing down was allowable, but I wasn't going to succumb to walking.  Mental toughness builds in the winter, far ahead of the long rides and runs of the Ironman build.

I finished the run with an overall pace of 8:02 min/miles.  I was elated.  Not only was I resembling my old speed (though at a harder effort) but I had an awesome run when I had been dreading it.  I wonder if this is the power of expectations.  I had the bar set low for the run.  I was going to be proud of myself just for getting out the door and slogging through 30 minutes.  I wasn't going into it as a test, where I have expectations and am disappointed in results.  A few weeks ago, I quit on myself during the test, walking some steps.  Today I powered through.  I believe during the test I felt defeated halfway through, and gave up.  Today, every good step just felt like a bonus.

I need to keep this in mind with future workouts I am dreading.  It tends to be those that I really put off that end up surprising me.  The power of low expectations cannot be underestimated.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Battling Excuses

Back in the good ol' days when I was in decent shape, I never skipped workouts.  I didn't make excuses to skip a workout, instead, I made excuses to skip other things that were potentially in the way of workouts.  It was a mindset, or even an addiction or compulsion.  While it might not sound very healthy or balanced, I am trying to get at least part of that mindset back.  My mindset much of the past year was "well, what is another missed workout" or justifying it, as ____ is more important, and that way, I'll have more time later to get the workout.  I also realize that one of my major issues is that I let perfect be the enemy of good.  It was that all or nothing attitude.  If I wasn't going to be able to do the full hour ride, why do any?  Or if my legs were toast and I couldn't do the prescribed workout, I'd bag it all together. 

Last night I had a bike workout on my schedule.  I'd been out of town for 10 days and hadn't biked in nearly 2 weeks.  It wasn't routine.  I got home from work and it was later than I had planned.  Then I realized I didn't have my power cord for my computer that no longer maintains a charge, so I had to go and install TrainerRoad and the ANT+ application on an old computer of mine.  It was getting later and later.  I felt excuses every step of the way.  The truth is that skipping that workout would not have mattered physically.  But it would promote the pattern of skipping workouts and not help in getting back my old mindset.  I powered through, and felt pretty darn good the whole time. Score.

Well, when you lose the momentum, you lose it.  Overcoming excuses last night did not have my magically psyched up for tonight's run.  My original plan was to run around 4ish, from work, then go home after.  I had my snack at 3:30.  Then I got busy with something and before I knew it, it was 5:30.  Having a dog puts some limits on my schedule and I needed to be home somewhat soon.  Hmm, skipping was tempting...  Cold and rainy didn't help either.  I had those thoughts of "I can do it tomorrow" but I reminded myself that my history says that won't happen.  So I talked myself into a new plan- run home.  It is about 7 miles if you do it the short way, which is longer than I had intended.  As I stood outside waiting for my Garmin to find satellites (which ironically takes forever considering we are across the street from the Garmin store), it started to rain.  Then a bit of my old attitude sank in- this was fun- I was badass.  Of course I was going to run home.  Because I can do it. 

It turned out to be a nice run.  The lakefront at night is magical, just the glow off the water with the waves.  Somewhat eerie, but enough people out to feel safe.  However, this run was not perfect.  I skipped the prescribed intervals.  My reasons can all be seen as excuses- sore hamstring (still!), shin splints, can't read the watch well in the dark, etc.  But I still got a 7 mile run in.  To me, that is good.  Not perfect, but pretty darn good!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thirteen Years of Races Without Dad

Today marks 13 years since I lost my dad. During Ironman training this summer, I read a father's account of his race experience, finishing an Ironman with his daughter.  Maybe it was the emotions and fatigue of training that led me to be a sap, but I found I felt better after writing this.

I grew up with a dad who loved to be active.  He was always running, rowing, biking, swimming- heck, even building cardboard boats for us to take part in the "Cardboard Boat Race".  I have memories of my mom making lasagna for his rowing club to carbo load with.  I remember jumping in the car with my mom and sister to hunt my dad down after he went for a run in the dark and it starting storming. When we found him, he didn't see what the big deal was.  A little rain wasn't going to hurt anyone.  He said that line a lot, actually.  Still to this day, when I am getting ready to run in cold, rain, snow, heat, wind, or whatever mother nature throws our way, I remember my dad saying "If you only run when the weather is perfect, you'll never run." And when things hurt, there is always his equally infamous (and not original) "No pain, no gain." I'm not sure how much I admitted it at the time, but I loved going for runs with him. We would do local 5ks and the annual Turkey Trot Five Miler, which was a big feat for a kid. Of course, he made it seem like an even bigger deal when he would take my medal and ceremoniously place it in our "Trophy Cabinet" among his various plaques and trophies.

I remember the day my dad died, he was getting his PICC line out after a long course of antibiotics. When he wasn't answering at home, we figured he had finally gotten out for a swim- something he hadn't been able to do and was so looking forward to. That thought of my dad happily returning to physical activity was still in my mind when I found my father dead at age 49, never to complete another race.

My dad was an endurance guy. He wasn't ever going to be the world's best, but he loved being his best. While the embarrassment of being a 13 year old with your father picking you up from school in neon spandex is very real, so was my pride for all my dad could do. Most of my friend's dads weren't up at 5am every day to row, or sneaking in a 8 mile run before a family bike ride on weekends.

One of the big "sucks" of having a parent die when you are a kid is that they don't get to see the adult you grow up to be. For me, my dad never got to see the athlete I have become. I didn't get to call him and tell him when I broke an 8 minute mile (and then 7 minute), or when I finished my first 10k. He wasn't around when I signed up my first half marathon, and raised $3900 for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America doing so. Heck, he didn't even know I had to overcome this disease to be the athlete I have become.  He wasn't there when I finished my first marathon, or qualified for Boston on my third, or when I started dabbling in triathlons. He wasn't there when I crushed my half-ironman expectation away and finished in 5:33, two days after starting to flare. It might seem insignificant that I am sad he doesn't know me as an athlete, but that is because who I am as an athlete is who I am- it is my determination, my courage, my strength.

Most of all, my dad hasn't been there for my Ironman journey, from the excitment I had when I registered, to the moments of panic I'm having as I taper. I think that if he was alive, we might have been embarking on this journey together.  I imagine us signing up, excitedly, together. Calling each other after each long session, sharing tips, the highs, and the lows. I can picture him bragging- not about his own accomplishments in training, but about mine. As any father, he was more proud of anything I might do than himself.

I know a lot of people will say that he has been there, in some form or another, all along, and will be with me on September 8.  In some ways, I agree, but it isn't enough.  My mom will be there when I cross the finish line, and yes, that does mean the world to me, but her version of a pep talk when I admit how terrified I am of the 140.6 miles I am about to cover is "well honey, I still love you if you don't want to do it."  I like to think that back when I was just a kid, my dad taught me to love sports knowing it would get me through the tough times and shape me into who I am today. This year was a tough one for me, and the training was what got me through. I don't have my dad around to offer advice or be a shoulder to cry on, but thanks to him, I have 140.6 miles of therapy.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Testing, testing

I officially have my first bike and run tests of the 2013-2014 season behind me.  Testing is something that is still relatively new to me, and that I never did before joining Endurance Nation.  The bike test consists of 5 minutes all out, followed by 10 minutes of recovery and then an all out 20 minute segment.  The run test consists of a 5k run.  Sounds simple enough, but the thought of a looming test gives me nightmares. 

There are several reasons to test.  The advertised reason is to know where you are at now to set your training zones for the next weeks, and track your improvement.  More valuable than this, I believe, is the practice of pushing yourself.  As hard as we may train on a daily basis, in the endurance world it is more the prolonged suffering than lying in the fetal position about to puke.  And while Ironman intensity is far different than that of a bike or run test, the mental practice of pushing through the pain and not listening to your head telling you to stop is incredibly valuable.  Once again, I have a quote to capture this-

“That’s what our training is for, we practice not panicking, we practice breathing, we practice looking directly at the thing that scares us until we stop flinching, we practice overriding our Can’t.” - Kristin Armstrong

With that in mind, I think it is important to judge the success of tests not only on the FTP or pace, but how successful we were at overriding the “can’t.”  So how’d I do?

Run Test:
I did the run test last Tuesday, and the timing was far from ideal.  I was coming off being sick, the puking your guts out sick, and hadn’t trained well for about a week.  It was also a day before my big licensing exam, so my mind was definitely elsewhere.  I tried to make excuses for pushing it back all day, but finally I laced up and went.  I warmed up for about 12 minutes, nice and easy.  Then I was off.  While I had my Garmin, I’d also mapped out a route on mapmyrun as I didn’t want to run any extra due to a misbehaving Garmin.  I’m not sure the last time I ran fast.  It was kind of funny how I just flipped a switch from my just running along pace to pushing it.  Fair to say I went out to fast.  It felt ok at first. Almost fun or freeing to be running fast.  I was spinning my legs, breathing hard but not painful.  Then it started to get a little hard. I reminded myself that it would be over soon enough, and just keep pushing. Of course, I said this thinking I was almost to the mile marker, when a glance at my Garmin showed I hadn’t cleared a half-mile yet. Doh. It was hard, but it still seemed doable.  I tried to slow down just a hair, thinking I can save it for my final kick. Then I slowed down some more.  While I was most certainly fatigued and hurting form poor pacing, it was mental/psychological fatigue that was getting to me.  I didn’t like how it felt.  I didn’t like how my legs felt, my lungs, my overall comfort. I even walked a few steps.  I kept telling myself this is to practice pushing through, but I was not strong enough to listen.  So in that respect, I failed. 

In terms of the pure run time, I ran in 24:16.  Definitely not something to write home about, as while I have not run a 5k in a while, I know this is significantly slower than what I was capable of just over a year ago. However, it could have been a lot worse.  I finally have an honest view of where I am at, and I think it incorporates both my physical ability and my mental.  Getting stronger in either will result in a better test next time. 


Bike Test:
Due to traveling last week and being sick, the bike test didn’t happen until Monday of this week.  I hadn’t ridden the trainer since last April, and was reminded of how annoying it is to set up initially- changing to a trainer tire, changing the skewer, centering the wheel.  This year I was using TrainerRoad with my PowerTap, so I can’t really compare to last year.  I was also inside on a trainer tire, making it different than outside.  Therefore, I had no idea where the FTP would fall. 

As soon as I started warming up, I saw that my numbers were going to be low.  I think I therefore went into the test a bit disheartened.  The five minute test saw a rapid decay as I immediately realized my initial effort was not sustainable.  The good thing about the 5 minute test is it really will be over soon.  Then came the 20 minute test.  It just goes on and on.  I did do a good job of pacing overall, as no major decay in the power.  It felt hard throughout, mentally and physically, but I whole-heartedly believe I could have pushed harder.  Again, mental toughness has a ways to go. Interestingly, my cadence was high- 94 for the 5 minute, 98 for the 20 minute test.  I always thought of myself as a low cadence rider, even lower inside.  The test ended in disappointment.  I never thought my FTP would be that low, and while I don’t have a true basis to compare, I am sure I am deconditioned.  I had false expectations that the OutSeason would just be building on what I had- I forgot I first have to regain what I lost sitting on the couch.  Well, as I’ve said before, no where to go but up!


An area I struggled with in both tests was not having a clear expectation going in.  This made it difficult to both pace myself, as well as motivate myself.  Going into the next tests, I will be able to formulate a stronger plan, as well as have a benchmark to compare myself to.  Something I knew I did before and can therefore do again, but this time, better.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How to Build a Wall

Tomorrow starts the infamous "OutSeason" training plan. Fourteen weeks of intense bike and run workouts guaranteed to make you want to cry faster.  Yes, I was planning on delaying this due to my shin pain, but as of now, I'm still hoping to start.  This means that tomorrow evening, Baby Beluga will get put on the trainer and I will do my first bike test of the season.

I am terrified. First, it is going to be hard, as a test requires you to push as hard as you can. This means it is uncomfortable. I have trained my body to fight fatigue and just keep going, but the uncomfortableness of an Ironman is totally different than that of 20 minutes all out. And honestly, I'd take the Ironman. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable is one of the themes of my outseason.  Second, I know the numbers are going to be bad. I have done barely anything since IMWI, and then this weekend I got a stomach bug and have been puking my guts out and barely eating. Not a good combo going into a test, but you have to start somewhere.  I am planning on probably bumping up my numbers a bit in the first few weeks as my legs come back (at least I'm hoping they will).

I will start this plan of pain with exactly 11 months to go until IM Chattanooga. And all I am thinking about is IM Chattanooga. I use to think this is a good thing- a long term goal to drive me.  Unfortunately, if you are focused on one goal for 11 months, you burn out.  Right now, my focus needs to be 100% on what I am doing that day to get my workout done as well as possible, and how that will contribute to a successful season.  In that line of thinking, a great quote was posted today-

“You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out and say ‘I’m gonna build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that has ever been built’. You say ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid’. You do this every single day, and soon you have a wall.”
- Will Smith

I can't go into my bike test tomorrow saying "I'm going to go to Kona." I have to go into the test prepared to do the best test possible, with what I have to give tomorrow. I will strive to treat each workout like that, each subsequent test, and each race. And eventually, (hopefully) I will get there.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Argh, shins!

When I started running, I thought shin and calf pain was just part of the game. It hurt bad. Every single run, from start to finish.  My calves were tight, and would burn when running.  I'd stop several times on my 20-30 min runs to stretch them out.  I'm sure the shin pain was linked, and I'm also sure I should not have just run through them.  But then there was the glorious day where I ran and it didn't hurt. I was amazed at how wonderful running could be without pain.  I finally realized that, in fact, pain was not just a normal part of running (though how often we run through it!).

Since then, I have had shin pain off and on.  It plagued me, along with patellofemoral syndrome, through my first half marathon.  It came back with my first marathon. Then it has mostly been at bay.  Occasionally my shins "talk" to me, but never a lengthy thing. I chalked my recovery up to have a good base, which I still believe to be true.

As mentioned a zillion times already, it was hard to come back from losing my base this past year, and shin splints were one of the injuries along the way.  I never really purposefully rested with them, just toned it back a bit (though the lack of motivation might be more at play than my thoughtful recovery plan) and started using compression sleeves.  By the time of IMWI, they were a non-issue.

In Milwaukee, I went for a run, and had some right (always the bad one) shin pain. Then yesterday I went for a run again, this time with my calf sleeves, and the pain started right away. I thought I'd run a bit, as it sometimes subsides with a good warmup.  A mile in, and no change.  ARGH!! Today it is sore just walking. 

A few issues are to blame.
1) Still don't have a good base. Consistency has been poor in running, and it matters so much. That is why it is so frustrating that to recover, you really must take some time off, since this causes that base to further deteriorate.
2) Tight calves. My calves are ridiculously tight. I have a rocker stretcher and man, do I feel it. Gastroc, soleus, posterior tib, all of them. I need to get on a good stretching regimen ASAP. For those unaware, these muscles actually insert on that bone that hurts with shin splints. They give it a nice tug when tight, and can really cause that pain.
3) Weight. Wait, wait, don't tell me- being heavier is bad for your body! I was reviewing some old notes today and found that a 1 lb increase in body weight is 4 lbs more of force on your knees. Ouch. I am about 20 lbs heavier than I was at my last marathon two years ago. And yes, I'm working on that, but in the meantime, that is a whole lot more pounding on my legs.  At the grocery store I bought a 3 lb bag of onions. Then I thought that I've gained almost 7 of those. I felt like writing an apology letter to my legs.  On the flip side, a 3 lb bag is significant, as well as an achievable weight loss goal. I hope that I will feel better as I take incremental bits off. 
4) Running shoes. Early in the summer I had a total panic attack in Fleet Feet when I found out the Asics Foundations, which I've worn for years, have been discontinued. I'm now in Asics Kayanos with SuperFeet inserts (copper) and know that they don't control my love for pronation as well as the Foundations do. I am still confident I can run successfully in them, as I resolved my shin pain wearing them over the summer. It is just one more contributing factor at the time being.
5) Fancy Shoes. At the conference last week, I was wearing my "fancy" shoes. The quotes are because to anyone else, they wouldn't be fancy. They are flats because I fall in anything remotely resembling a heel. But they lack an arch support and have no cushioning. They aren't my running shoes which I wear pretty much all the time.  While there are arguments to more minimal support, I am firmly in the camp of, at least for me, I need support or we're in trouble.
5) Other weak areas.  Overall, I have pretty good running form.  I don't really think about it, but I've been told on several occasions that it is good. Yes, as a PT I should be more aware of my form, but however perfect it may be, I am aware of my weaknesses.  My core is pathetic. My hips are weaker than your grandma's. My single limb balance is atrocious. I am a hamstring dominant runner to the point where my glutes might as well not exist. How much these issues contribute, I'm not sure.  But they can definitely cause malalignment, especially since I'm a pronator, and increase forces my poor legs are taking up.

So there you have it, I can diagnose my problem, I'm just not a compliant patient.  I obviously need to be stretching my calves like crazy and doing core work.  I also need the day to have a few extra hours in it.

My plan for now is to really let these shins calm down. I will then rebuild my base. Slowly. Consistency is key, but it can be in the flavor of 20 minute runs and build from there.  My original training plan had me start the Endurance Nation Outseason plan this coming Monday. After asking the coach about my situation with shins that might not behave well with high intensity running, things are going to shift. I will now do a bike focus plan as I build up my running, and start the Outseason in January. Ah, what they say about plans...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The First Seven Days

I am seven days in to my Whole 30 attempt. I'll be upfront and say I'm not doing it completely by the book.  I am not sweating stuff like "what oil was that cooked in?" or traces of cheese.  Partially because I am traveling a lot this month and know that much of that is out of my control, and partially because I do not have an issue with those sort of details in my relationship with food.

So how has it been going...  for the most part- good! I am not tracking calories, though in my brain I find myself occasionally doing mental calorie math.  I am keeping a journal of what I eat, which makes me feel more in control. The week started with very little cravings. I was shocked at how easy it was, but in a way I was just excited to have a plan. Same as when you start a new training plan and follow every single thing exactly.  I had a bad run early in the week which was depressing, and was a little discouraged that I wasn't immediately feeling skinny. As the week went on, despite my weaknesses (see below...), I did realize that I had not ups and downs throughout the day. I am curious to see if this will help my self-diagnosed ADD.

I believe this was a lifesaver at the conference. While I was initially worried about traveling with "rules", the rules really helped.  There were continental (free) breakfasts with loads of baked goods that I could see myself binging on.  There was hot chocolate, sugary trail mix bars, froofy coffee drinks, etc.  Traveling previously turned into a reason to binge, and I kept that all in check. I ate the inside of sandwiches/wraps and left pasta salad on my plate at a luncheon, surrounded by people who probably were curious as to my eating but didn't ask and I didn't feel the need to explain. I went to Qdoba one day and got three chicken tacos with salsa and guacamole, and then ditched the shells. I carried bags of mixed nuts if I needed them, and had more tea than I probably ever have.

There were a few times I was tempted to give up and try a sweet.  I heard my head saying "you can try again later" but I know how that works out.  It will always be hard and there will be no perfect time.  I keep telling myself that that sweet adds nothing to my health and will lead to more sweets. Also, it really just isn't that good. I know how it will taste, it will make me feel good momentarily, but lead to hunting down every sweet and hating myself.  I think eventually I'll limit sweets to special occasions when they really are good and the environment makes me stay in control. 

Tea has become a treat.  I would look forward to it in the evening at the beginning of the week, and at breaks during the conference.  It was like a little luxury to be sipping it.  Nice and warm. Comforting. Something to do instead of mindlessly snacking. Yay for replacing unhealthy habits with tea!

My weaknesses are nuts and fruit.  I took the big bags of cashews and mixed nuts from Trader Joe's and individually bagged them by 1/4 cup servings to keep myself from overeating them too much, but have still helped myself to a serving when I really wasn't hungry.  Almond butter is out of control. Small spoonful, then big spoonful, then many big spoonfulls.  The stuff is crack.  In 3 days my rather large container was half gone.  As for fruit, at the conference I was at I ate my body weight in fruit salad.  I would have a big helping at breakfast, then more at the free breakfast once at the conference, and then some more at the first break.  It was largely melon, which I believe is a preferred fruit on Whole30, but still, way too much fruit, and worse, it was eating when I was already full, which is a habit I'd love to break. I do recognize, however, that if not for this, I would have eaten way worse than fruit.  I also see that late nights are my weakness as well.  I am tired and stressed, and it is getting further from dinner. Just another reason to work on sleep!

I had a minor slip up, apart from my exceptions on oil and cheese and that.  There was a "make your own trail mix" bar during a break. I went to check it out thinking there might be some nuts.  What I found was banana chips. I have great memories from college of picking up a bag of banana chips the night before an exam and plowing through the bag with a little help of my study buddies.  I tried to think if they had added sugar or not.  I know regardless, they were probably not the best thing for me, but I ignored that voice in my head and got a big serving. Once I tasted them it was pretty obvious there had to be some sugar there, but I just kept eating them.  I was proud of myself for not turning it into "I broke it, might as well give up and eat everything in sight." However, I do think it made me crave sugar a bit more after that.  Good reason to be stricter/smarter.

Another habit I have to break is wanting dessert after I eat a meal.  I had a salad one night (complete with olive oil and red wine vinegar instead of dressing- point for me!) and was satisfied afterwards. But I had this nagging that the meal wasn't complete unless I had dessert. In the end, I ate a larabar, which, while followed the rules, doesn't help in breaking the cycle of needing dessert after a meal. I will try tea from now on.

I am realizing I have a fear of being hungry. Or maybe it is just how I justify more food. I have to eat now, because heaven forbid, I get hungry later.  It is so rare that I actually experience being hungry.  Though, I'm not sure what is better- preemptively eating to prevent hunger, or skipping that snack and being hungry and possibly overeating because of it.  Mindful eating is definitely a goal for me, and slowing down my eating would help feel satisfied. 

All in all, a good first week!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Taking a stab at Whole30

I have decided to do a Whole30 challenge. Time for a reset!  In terms of eating, I have more bad habits than good at this point, despite knowing so much about nutrition and loving to cook.  I know I need a change, as I am impairing my health and my performance.  I just have yet to be successful at making the change.  In all my failures, I have seen that I need rules.  Whole30 = lots of rules. It promises to change my life, and while that is probably a bit extreme, I like the sound of that.

I have tried similar things before. In the past year I have done two bouts of the 21 Day Sugar Detox, and lost it by two weeks in.  This is a little more flexible, as fruits are allowed.
Whole30 is ideally how I would like to eat long term.  I realize that in the heat of Ironman training (and I picture myself being lean and mean at that point), I might need some carby things like rice to fill in the gaps, but that is a ways off.  I also know that as my training picks up, I don't want to not fuel my workouts. Gu's were created for a reason, and despite how fun it was to eat a mashed up (green) banana out of a ziplock bag last year during long runs with the 21 Day Sugar Detox, I will eventually go to the gu and Perform and whatever else. But to truly reset myself, I do plan on not using any gu's during the Whole30. 
The timing honestly couldn't be worse.  I am going to a conference this week out of state. My 30 days will also include a wedding and another conference.  But I've decided to go for it anyways.  1) I can't keep going down this road for even another day.  2) Training-wise, the timing is perfect. None of my workouts are too tough where it will be a real struggle to not have tons of carbs. 3) With my big exam coming up, I really want to have stern rules to prevent stress eating. 4) Real life happens. If I always make an excuse for some upcoming event, I won't get anywhere. Instead, if I use this to learn that I can survive, then I really won't have any excuses. 
Another caveat of Whole30 is no weighing.  I weighed myself yesterday morning, and will try my best to stay off the scale.  Honestly, if this doesn't happen, I'm not too concerned, but keep it at a once a week at most deal.

Yesterday was day 1 and now I am half-way through day 2.  I even went in both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's yesterday and didn't get a single free sample.  This morning at work there were cookies and candies galore from patients, and I found it wasn't even hard to resist them. Yay for rules!  I am probably overeating, and definitely overdid it on the nuts and nut butter, but baby steps! 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Happy Marathon Weekend!

It is a big sports weekend.  For those of us who define sports as swimming, biking, running, or combinations of all three.  First up, Saturday is KONA! Superbowl of triathlon. But more local and attainable, is the Chicago Marathon on Sunday. I ran in 2009, 2010, and 2011, and this will be my first year spectating, which I am very excited about.  In 2011, I was a CARA pace leader for summer marathon training, and wrote the following for my pacees in anticipation of the big day.

At the starting line you are surrounded by 45,000 people, mostly strangers, but all sharing the same goal.  You all come from all over the world and have a zillion stories and reasons for running.  While your friends might still not get why you gave up your social life for 26.2 miles of hell, these folks get it.  They were right there with you waking up at the crack of dawn all summer to put in those miles. 

The first few miles you can't believe you are here, running a marathon.  The day is beautiful, the energy is insane.  You are feeling good.  Nothing will stop you. 

Miles 5 and 6 you are running by the zoo.  Run like an animal!  We've run near hear every weekend, but now it's different. 

You are in your groove.  Step after step, bringing you closer and closer to 26.2. 

Miles 7 and 8  soak in the party around you.  This is way more fun than any training run.  This isn't a marathon, it is a 26.2 mile party!

Mile 10 is approaching and you are confident.  How many people can know that 10 miles is just the beginning?  Remember how we celebrated our first double digit run- now its no big deal!  Think of how far you've come in these past 18 weeks... 

Mile 13.1- halfway there.  Run from aid station to aid station.  Take in your water and gatorade.  Listen to your body.  Adjust your pace as need be.  No one said this was going to be easy. 

Take in the crowds.  These people are out there for you, amazed by you.  Let them inspire you and you inspire them.  Many of them will take up running after watching you, and change their lives just like you know running has changed yours. 

Miles 15 to 17- you are getting tired.  This is ok, you knew it would be tiring.  You also know you are prepared and will finish this.  Take in some calories, it will help. 

Miles 18 to 20 - start repeating your inner mantra to yourself.  You've done this in training.  You KNOW you can do 20 miles.  You know the crowds and the adrenaline will take care of the rest.  There will be periods you don't feel good, but most likely they will pass.  Just, Keep. Going.

Mile 21: Now you are in uncharted territory.  No, we didn't go this far in training.  This is where you realize you can do anything.  Remember- "Everything you ever wanted to learn about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles."  Whenever things get tough in life, you can look back and remember this moment, and how you just kept going.

Miles 22: "You can quit if you want, and no one will care. But you will know for the rest of your life." - John Collins (Ironman founder)

Mile 23: Yes, it hurts.  But you knew it would hurt.  YOU ARE STRONGER THAN THE PAIN.  18 weeks have made you stronger than the pain.  Think of those who live every day in pain, and be inspired by their struggles.  Your pain is only temporary. 

Mile 24: Remember all those training runs you didn't want to do.  All those times you made yourself wake up and do it anyways.  And now you just have a couple miles.  Easy!

Mile 25: Think of that first time you ran.  How proud you were of yourself.  And now here you are, 1.2 miles from finishing a marathon.  Be impressed by your achievements. 

Mile 26.2: "When you cross that finish line, no matter how slow, no matter how fast, it will change your life forever."- Dick Beardsley

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

About that powermeter...

When I joined Endurance Nation, I was hearing about power constantly.  It was like the cool club that I wasn't part of, but would guarantee I would be better if I was on the inside.  I bought into the idea, more so for training than racing initially.  I never knew if I was pushing too hard or not hard enough on the bike. Typically when riding outside, I'd base it off of speed. High numbers = good ride, low numbers = I'm a failure. While Chicago doesn't have hills to challenge this technique, it does have winds.  Riding into a 20+ mph headwind that I swear wasn't that strong as a tailwind makes for a not fun ride, and it is even worse when you feel like a slow slug the whole time despite your legs screaming. So yes, something was off with my speed based training approach.  When I rode inside, mainly with Sufferfest videos, I was never too good at that RPE scale (despite that I have patients use it...). A powermeter it seemed, could solve all these issues.

I started with Virtual Power with TrainerRoad- highly recommend! Then I went for the PowerTap, and trained and raced with it all summer.  I am definitely no power expert, my rides are still extremely variable and I am just scratching the surface on how to use the data. But as my first year with Endurance Nation draws to a close, I feel I can adequately reflect on how I feel about the whole power monster.

I like it. And I hate it. And I am positive I am not the only one saying this.

Power will, without a doubt, make you a stronger, faster, smarter cyclist/triathlete. It will also give you a gazillion ways to measure and prove that you are better than your old self. Power tests are also the devil's work, but more on that in a few weeks when I do my first test in months...  A powermeter has allowed me to get a really good focused workout in.  For Ironman training, my Wednesday morning bike rides were rarely over an hour, but kicked my butt every time.  Back in my old training days, any ride would have to be at least 1.5 hrs of just riding along to feel I had done anything. Better training in less time is a definite win.  It also pushes me. I have numbers to hit, and most of the time I am motivated to do so.  It lets me know when I go out too hard or not hard enough. It also tells me when something else is making the ride hard (wind, false flat, etc), as I can see my power going up and my speed going down. Basically, it gives every ride a purpose.  Not only is this great for short FTP intervals, but makes a 4.5 hr ride go much faster. It isn't just 2.25 hrs up and then turn around, it is split up by hitting set intervals along the way, and before you know it, time is ticking by (until your butt hurts. and your back hurts. and you have no idea why you ever though this would be a good idea. yeah, time does eventually stand still on those rides regardless of intervals).

I'm not even going to get into what it does for racing, because that is a whole long deal, but in summary, it lets you "flatten" any hills or wind and stick to a target so you can actually run the run. Because no one brags about swim, bike, walk.

When I say I hate it, it isn't because it makes a ride hard and painful and horrible. That is a good horrible. I hate it because sometimes it just takes the fun away.  I have been riding my bike for years- as a kid I was super independent by riding to friend's houses or just around the block over and over again. In Chicago I love riding the lakefront from top to bottom, or heading up north to the burbs.  Unfortunately, when you are focused on your watts and glued to the Garmin, you lose some of the fun. You don't notice the scenery, or just the awesomeness of riding around.  When you are having a leisurely ride in gorgeous fall weather, as I was doing today, you glance down at the numbers and then feel inferior. Your power sucks. Why are you riding if you aren't trying? Well, because this is all fun and games, and if it isn't fun, quit. And I don't want to quit.  So I must remind myself that the power meter is a tool to make me better, but I need to be mindful of when it drains the fun.

I think it is important to occasionally bike naked. Not the type of naked that leads to embarrassing chafing, but without the technology. Data is fun, and trust me, I'm a data whore, but just spinning along can be pretty sweet too.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I want to feel like a runner again!

There are a few misconceptions people have about you when you do an Ironman.  1) You must be in the best shape of your life.  2) A marathon will seem so easy now!  False and false.
First, I might have the best endurance of my life, and great willpower to just not stop.  But best shape? Not right now.  That might be different if I had trained better, but I would guess that for most of the MOP, we don't need to be in tip-top shape. At no point are we really racing, we are just hoping to keep going and survive, getting to the finish line in a reasonable time.  Obviously, this is different for FOP.

As for the marathon comment, someone just said this to me yesterday and it made me pause.  Yes, the Ironman marathon was ridiculously hard, but a very different hard than a stand alone marathon.  It is more mentally challenging and you are just exhausted.  When I did the Chicago Marathon in 2011 in 3:32, that was hard! I was pushing it the whole time. So much so that I had a prolonged sympathetic response, meaning that my heart rate and blood pressure stayed elevated for a couple days. It was awful since all I wanted was to sleep but my body truly couldn't calm down. I heard in training that the Ironman marathon isn't a marathon, it is 26 one mile repeats to the next aid station, and that is very true. It is an entirely different beast, and makes me no less afraid or prepared for my next stand alone marathon, whenever that might be.

So, to cut to the chase, while I did an Ironman one month ago (exactly), I do not feel like a runner. These days a nine minute mile is the norm, not the sluggish pace.  I have to psych myself up for a 4 mile run, and it isn't easy. My weekly mileage is teensy.  I don't look like a runner in the mirror.  And I know my marathon PR is way out of reach at this time.

I think part of this is due to a return to triathlons.  I spent 2011 focused solely on running.  In my marathon build I hit a few 50 mile weeks, and was consistently in the upper 30s to 40something miles.  A five mile run was no big deal. 10 mile runs were really no big deal. My pace was comfortably below 8:30, and when I paced the CARA 9:00 group for marathon training, it requiring a lot of looking at my Garmin to make myself slow down.  I was always sneaking in a run- before work, at lunch, after work.  It was just part of life, and I felt off when I didn't run.  I had a great base, so nothing ever hurt. Ahh, the glory days. 

Yesterday I ran home from work. 7.6 miles, and I really did enjoy it.  I use to run to or from work frequently, and I always found it to be such an enjoyable way to commute, a little confidence boost to start or end the day.  While I enjoyed it yesterday, it wasn't easy, and I longed for when that was just part of the routine.  Today I went for a 4 mile run at lunch. It hurt. My hips were tight, stomach unhappy, right foot pain (and of course my mind jumps to stress fracture) now that the plantar fasciitis on the left has stopped).  Running just seems hard.  The main difference between then, when I felt like a runner, and now, when I feel like an imposter, is ease.  I rarely struggled on my runs then. I felt like a rockstar when I could bang out five miles at just over an 8 minute pace and think it was easy.  I was also able to push it, make it feel hard, but that resulted in awesome times.  Now when I push it, I still feel slow. 

Right now I am working on building up my running again.  Focusing on frequency, getting my body accustomed.  Getting my brain in the habit.  Getting my brain and my body to not listen to each other.  I'm not sure I will be able to get back to my running prime when focused on triathlon, but I'm hoping to at least move in that direction. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

It seemed so promising...

The week that wasn't.  A week ago I felt that I was back. I felt mostly recovered from IMWI. I felt I had the motivation, and I had my whole season mapped out. I was ready to make my return to more formal training. 

Well, that didn't happen.  Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday went great. I was running, I biked with my powermeter again, I even swam, and for bonus points, went to a yoga class at the gym.  My eating was right on track, nice and clean, no cravings, felt healthy.  The scale was being nice to me.  The whole big dreams for the 2014 season seemed to be giving me a good push in the right direction. 

This was very similar to how much of my training this past season went. I'd seem on a roll, like I was back in my old groove, and then it would fall apart again.  Three to four days seems to be the limit.  I have been looking at the cycle and this is my hypothesis.

Day 1: Feeling good. Rested. Yay for healthy food. Love this sport!
Day 2: Look at me, two days in a row. I'm making sure to get the workouts in, but life stress might be starting to climb up just below my conscious level.
Day 3: Uh oh, lots to do with work, cleaning, studying, etc.  Stay up late. Don't want to miss tomorrows workout, so still wake up early.
Day 4: Ah, wonderful, 5 hrs of sleep. I can do this. Possible struggle through a morning workout, possibly just use the early morning time to do other things, since I tell myself I will feel more like working out later.  But then I am tired and stressed. I eat crap. And when I say crap, I mean ice cream for breakfast, finished off by handfuls of chocolate chips. Then I'm on the sugar roller coaster and binge all day, with barely any real food. Of course I feel too nasty to workout, so I skip and feel guilty. But the sugar keeps me up too late, so the cycle continues tomorrow. 

Yes, bad eating, as said before is derailing my workouts.  But I think the root cause is lack of sleep, and the root cause of that (yes I am not using "root" correctly) is stress and chaos in everyday life. 

So once again, this is a new week.  I'm not going to make goals about hitting every workout or being perfect with my eating (though both would be lovely. Kinda like when you say on your first marathon you don't have a time goal, but man, are you chasing down 4 hrs). Instead, my one goal is to get 8 hrs of sleep a night. This will be an n=1 experiment. My hypothesis (aren't I a good scientist) is that I won't have the food cravings. I will feel more in control. I will want to workout. I will be a better me. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Starting the Year with Deena Kastor!

Today is my "Happy New Year." Nope, not January 1, not a new school year, not my birthday, or not even Rosh Hashonah. But it is a year until my next Ironman- Ironman Chattanooga 2014! Being this, I have decided today officially marks the end of my 2012-2013 season and the start of my 2013-2014 season.  So, Happy New Year to me!

I've always loved the start of a new year.  It seems so promising. It seems that you can wipe away the things you disliked about the last year, and more importantly, the person you were in the past year, and start again. I am sure I am not alone in my love for this idea, seeing as how most people at least make New Year's Resolutions.  On Rosh Hashonah, the Jewish New Year, we take it to another level. We judge ourselves and prepare for God to judge us for who we were this past year. While I believe faith is important, I am not a very religious person, however, I find myself flocking to temple year after year on the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur) because, as solemn as these days are, I believe in the important of taking stock of yourself in the past year and preparing for another chance to do it better.  One of my favorite meditations from this time is the story of the Chasidic rabbi Zusha:

"I'm afraid!" said Zusha. "Because when I get to heaven, I know God is not going to ask me 'Why weren't you more like Moses?' or 'Why weren't you more like King David?' But I'm afraid that God will ask 'Zusha, why weren't you more like Zusha?' And then what will I say?!"

I hope no one takes it as sacrilegious to apply this teaching to triathlon, but I see triathlon as a metaphor for life and personal betterment, so I believe it is appropriate.  This morning I ran with Deena Kastor (more on that in a bit).  I will never be Deena Kastor. I will never be an Olympic athlete, and I am perfectly fine with that. I have other important contributions to make. I do have big dreams though (cough Kona cough) and the person I was this past year is not someone who was on the path to those dreams. I am not and never will be Deena Kastor, but I can be the best "Rachel the Imperfect Triathlete" that I can be, and see where that takes me.

I think the heart of all resolutions is respecting yourself. Respect who you are and even respect the mistakes you have made. Most of all, respect who you want to be.  That is the easy part, we all have high hopes for what we might become.  The tough part next is respecting the dream, respecting the process, and respecting that who you are right now is always in flux.  When we break resolutions, it is because we lost respect for ourselves. We started to doubt that we could achieve those dreams, that we were worthy of that success, that accomplishment.  Respect is different and more important than willpower.  Willpower is what people claim they have or don't have when they stuff the donut in their mouth, or are able to walk by the office candy bowl.  Respect though, is knowing that you deserve the success you imagine for yourself, and that giving in in that moment is disrespecting those dreams, and disrespecting the person you can be.

I have not been the best Rachel I could be this past year.  Not just in training or horrendous eating, but in many aspects of my life. I was lazy and apathetic for much of the year.  I have not lived up to my potential.  My best friend frequently quotes her mom to me, saying "The great thing about life is that you can always change." How true this is! And while it is true any day, any hour, any moment, I see a New Year (whether of the Jan 1, jewish, academic, or triathlon flavor) as the epitome as a chance to change.

For my "New Year's" celebration, I kicked it off in epic (for a geeky runner) style- I ran with Deena Kastor. No, unfortunately it was not just me and my new BFF, but a sponsored "Run with Deena" Fun Run at Fleet Feet.  I got up before dawn to meet the group at 6:30 for a run, and I am so glad that I did.  My first observation was that this girl is TINY! I have gotten use to seeing triathletes, even the pro's who are minimal body fat have very muscular legs. I'm not at all saying that Deena isn't muscular, I'm sure she is pure muscle and bone, but has that elite runner build that I am so far away from (again though, I'm not trying to be Deena, just to be the best me). She briefly chatted with the group, and told us about how people ask her about nerves.  Then she said that she has been running since she was 11 and has never been nervous. Huh? But she proceeded to describe those race morning feelings- the knot in your through, butterflies in stomach, shaking hands when tying your laces, and then said "That isn't nerves, it is excitement." We laughed, but how true! I would argue that the high before a race is better than any high afterwards. It is being around hundreds or thousands of people, all with different but similar dreams, who have all done the training and made the sacrifices and are ready to test their bodies. Just like a New Year, it is the point where anything seems possible, and we dream big. I am yet to have a finish line where I felt as excited as the start line, and that is the high I chase when I sign up for races. 

The other main thing I got from Deena was her love for the sport.  Yes, she is paid, and I am sure would not make sponsors happy if she appeared to be a grumpy runner, but she truly seemed genuine, wanting to run with us lowly recreational runners. She even spoke of how that is what is so awesome about the sport- all levels can share the same experience, and I believe this is so true. To think that in an Ironman more people come back to see the final finishers than the winner- how amazing is that! Sometimes it is easy to become a slave to a training plan and lose that joy and love for the sport. While it is a job for some people like Deena, for most of us, it is a game we are lucky to play.  I need to remind myself of how fortunate I am to run (bike and swim) and that while it hurts so bad sometimes, it feels so good too.

The great thing about this New Year's Run with DK was that it pushed me. It pushed me out of bed when I honestly thought about just sleeping in. It pushed me to run further than I have (umm, Deena, interesting definition of 5 miles), and it pushed me to go faster. Heck if I was going to get left behind by Deena Kastor- I wanted to be as close as possible to soak in her awesomeness (swear I'm normal, not a stalker...). I think it was the push I needed to start my year off right.

In lieu of making specific resolutions for my triathlon new year, I pledge to respect myself. I will respect both my current abilities and my goals in all facets of my life, and take frequent stock of whether I am living up to being me. I guess we can call Ironman Chattanooga Judgement Day!

Monday, September 23, 2013

North Shore Century 2013 Recap

Yesterday I took part in the North Shore Century. I chose the 50 mile route as with biking to and from I would hit 62 miles. For two weeks out from Ironman Wisconsin, I thought that was a respectable distance. I hadn't been on the bike since Madison, apart from a quick spin to meet the group for Saturday's run. Confession: I still haven't washed Baby Beluga from Ironman Wisconsin. There is a solid layer of sports drink and other gunk, along with my bike sticker. As in, yes people, you are passing me. Look here, I did an Ironman two weeks ago. Sometimes it's ok to brag.

The weather was perfect. It was an ideal fall day, started around 60 degrees. My goal was to enjoy the ride, no focus on power, speed, etc. Just pedal forward. I left home just before 8am to head up to Evanston to join the ride. There was a large group there, but registration went smoothly.  I usually shy away from paying for rides that I do on my own, but despite my summer spent on the North Shore, this ride went a different route going north so it seemed like it would be a nice change. The volunteers were telling everyone, along with signs, to follow traffic laws in Highland Park and around Ft Sheridan, as apparently cops have been ticketing cyclists there.

The ride was just what I was looking for. Once again, I found myself smiling most of the time.  It felt so good to be back out there, no matter how slow I was. There is just something about endurance events that I have come to crave. Keeping the pace easy, my legs felt perfectly fine. But the numbers don't lie. My speed was <15 mph, and my power was lower than my Z1. Pretty sure that is the recipe for an enjoyable post-Ironman fall ride.

The ride started out heading west and then north.  It was a nice change of scenery from my normal jaunt up Sheridan Rd. However, in terms of using this route for training next year, I think it might be too stop light/sign heavy for a good training ride. Once up in Lake Forest, we headed east through the town (really nice, I somehow have never ridden right through it) and up into Lake Bluff, also lovely. I stopped to take a picture of the lake through the trees. It doesn't do it justice of course, due to 1) being an iPhone, 2) I'm a triathlete, not a photographer.

After that it was back south, but not before I followed folks who I later realized were not part of the ride and took a wrong turn. I don't think it cost me more than a mile or two, and luckily I was able to find my way (i.e. type it into my phone) good ol' familiar Sheridan Road.

The route took us on a detour through Fort Sheridan that I had never done before and plan to add onto some of my future rides. I love that about being on a bike- can just take a new turn and find out where you'll end up. Much less fatiguing than new/wrong turns on runs (flashback to Bakersfield where my 4 miler turned into 7). By the time I got back to Evanston I was feeling ready to be done, but nothing really hurt or felt fatigued, just mental. I stopped for a few minutes in E-town before heading the 6 miles back home.

The Garmin file for my ride is here. Yes, abysmal stats:
Distance: 63.6 miles
Time: 4:22:08
Speed: 14.6 mph
Average Power: 90 W
Normalized Power: 98 W 
Nothing at all to brag about, but who needs that when I can still brag about the Ironman?

Course support was great. There were two rest stops with lots of fruit, sandwiches, baked goods, water/gatorade, and other goodies. Volunteers were plentiful and friendly. The course was very well marked, so my slight detour was really just my fault. I would definitely do this ride again, except next year it will be the week before Chattanooga. Maybe the 25 mile route?

As this was day 2 of my "Healthy Eating" kick, I was mindful of my nutrition, careful not to give myself permission to just eat whatever.  Before the ride, I had oatmeal with chia seeds, banana, and brown sugar. I carried and refilled two bottles of water, and had a powerbar and two powergels. At aid stations I snacked on fruit.  Garmin says I burned 1400 calories, so I think I did good. For a race or even in season, this would not work as enough fuel, but for any easy ride when I am targeting weight loss, it was just fine. On a more general nutrition note, today marked day 3 of healthy eating. My rules have already relaxed, but I think it is ok. I have had popcorn as well as a TJ's 100 calorie dark chocolate bar, and I'm feeling good. Actually, that is a lie. Right now I feel the opposite of good- headache and nauseous, but hoping to feel better with some sleep.

I was a bit worried about Baby Beluga after the incident the day before IMMoo, but that probably seems to have resolved. I am still having the squeaking when I downshift (maybe upshift too?) in the middle of my middle chain ring.  I am hoping to be able to get it in to be checked out this week. Of course, to prove to me that he too is worn out, as I was putting BB back in the bike room, the bottle cage snapped in half. Bright side- most definitely the cheapest component to replace, and far less traumatizing than when my seat post broke this summer.

This ride reminded me of how odd the endurance mindset is.  Normal people do not go out and ride 63+ miles and think little of it.  To most, that would be a huge accomplishment. And yet, it was just a nice, leisurely ride.  At EN, we talk about "doing cool things with your fitness." In other words, I have worked hard (not as hard as I should have) to get myself to this place. Now I can have fun with it, and fun, sadly, is more endurance events.  Even within myself, my mindset has changed. I remember bragging about biking the whole Lakeshore Path- 36 miles.  Now that is a short ride. I think a huge part of Ironman training is getting comfortable mentally.  Being on my bike for 4+ hours is not boring anymore, and that is the huge difference.  I think many would be able to do the ride I did with no training at my 14.6 mile pace. But it is the mental fatigue/boredom that would get them, and that is a very strong muscle on me right now.

This weekend was great to be back out there running and biking. My big take home message though, was that I am not back.  I am still recovering.  I feel fine, but my body isn't putting out the speed/power I am use to.  I wonder if this is almost a protective reaction of my body- "no, you can't go full throttle (or even half throttle) right now or you will do serious harm."  I am trying to listen, but balance it with getting back out there.  I think focusing on good nutrition will also help my body heal. For that reason, I am not attempting to restrict anything beyond good sense. If my body wants an apple, even though I've had 3 pieces of fruit already, it can have the apple. If it uses the same reasoning with chocolate, which I'm sure it'll try, I will have to use a different tactic. I know when I have done marathons before, you feel about 85% better within the first week, probably even the first few days. It is that last 15% that takes about a month. Ahh, patience, now that is still in training.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Back on the Wagon

I feel like a healthy triathlete again! This morning I went for my first run of any significance (I did a 20 minute jaunt last weekend). I met up with the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation's Team Challenge to do their 6 mile training run with them. Team Challenge is how I started my foray into endurance sports five years ago when I did my first half-marathon with them in Miami in January 2009.  Obviously I feel a connection to them and am so thankful for the work they do fundraising, but really they do seem to always be a great group of people. I got to do this week's "Mission Moment" to talk about my journey with IBD and how I did the Ironman to raise money and awareness. Always fun to show people who don't have the disease under control yet that it does get better.

It was really nice to run with people. However, I felt like I was running a really strong pace only to find out that it took me 58 minutes to do 6 miles. Huh. That is my slowest running speed (minus the IM marathon).  I guess my legs still are recovering.  I was also slightly worried since I had some foot/achilles pain. Plantar fasciitis? Oooh, I hope not! I'm hoping it is just a warn out body complaining a bit. Other than that, I felt great.

More importantly, today I started my healthy eating. It felt really good to be putting healthy stuff in my body, no surprise there. I also really like cooking and meal planning. I went grocery shopping and did the age old trick of "if you don't buy it you can't eat it". 

I also spent some time today mapping out my training plan for the upcoming year.  Endurance Nation does this for me, but I'm waiting on my plan from Coach Rich right now and just started by creating a spreadsheet of all the races/events I have planned as well as life obstacles, such as travel for conferences or weddings.  I have a pretty good guess of what he will have me doing, so we'll see how well our plans match up.

Tomorrow I am doing the North Shore Century.  I am planning on doing the 50 mile route, plus riding there and back for about 62 miles total.  I'm excited to just have a nice easy ride, not pushing it, worrying about anything like power, pace, nutrition (well, eating would probably be a good thing). Should be a nice fall day for it too.