Friday, April 18, 2014

I am willing: New Orleans 70.3 Race Report

I've been thinking for nearly a week about what to write about this race.  I could write 2947493 pages about just what it took to get to the start-line...

The delayed flight (HOW WILL I MAKE MY CONNECTING FLIGHT?!?), lost hotel reservation, boxed in car on race morning, forgetting my wetsuit and sunglasses at the hotel, and nearly not making it back to the start before the road closed!


But I made it to the start line of New Orleans 70.3... I put my wetsuit on, donned my bright pink swim cap, and hopped into the sea of bright pink caps waiting for our turn in the water.  

Three happy/ready athletes.  I also swam with my sunglasses in my cleavage... No big deal.
The night before the race my coach (and dare I say friend) Katie and I were talking about some of the books she's been reading recently.  She was showing me quotes that she has come across that speak to her in a way that is hard to describe to someone else, but you feel compelled to share anyways.  One of them, (that apparently neither of us can remember the origin of) that immediately stuck a cord with me, was simple: I am willing.

The bight pink caps made our way out onto the dock where we were to jump (feet first only!) into the South Shore Marina to get our journey started.

I am willing.

I lined up with 7 other women and the whistle or buzzer or cannon (I really couldn't tell you what it was) went off and into the water we went.  Not only was it possibly my most awkward water entry of my life, my right goggle immediately filled with water.  No problem, swim a couple strokes and dump your your goggles, adjust and move on.  

I swam steady and strong.  I focused on good form and not being afraid of doing the work.  With the exception of running FACE FIRST (how does that happen?) into a guy's back, there is very little I remember about the swim. I rounded the final turn buoy and headed for the stairs out of the water.  Wetsuit off, run to my bike, all the 2-wheeled crap I needed on.  Now I get to ride my bike.

I am willing.

Two pedal strokes into the ride I knew something wasn't right.  My left calf didn't exactly hurt... but it was making itself known.  Well ok, I've got lots of time to let it relax.  Just work your plan.  My race plan called for me to conservatively ride the first hour at this heart rate, after the first hour if I was feeling up to it, I had another 10 beats up to play with.  I ate a Picky Bar every hour and went through at least a bottle of Osmo Active as well.  All according to plan.

I am willing.

One hour in, my calf was still making itself known but not getting any worse, so I decided to play it safe and stick to the heart rate target I had been riding.  Maybe it needs more time.

Two hours in, no change in status.  I was riding strong at my target heart rate, I was working my nutrition plan, but my calf was warning me that things weren't right.  My mantra of the day was taking on new meaning.  

I am willing.

I was willing to work my plan but also make good choices in the face of whatever would come my way.  My calf was making warning sounds from the moment I got on the bike, and I was willing to ride safely to try to save the rest of my day.  Willing to control my thoughts and stay in the moment.  Ride steady, stay hydrated, eat my nutrition.  Take each moment as they come.

Three hours in and I was ready to get off the bike.  My shoulders and neck were done being in aero.  I wanted to RUN.  Four minutes later I pulled into transition, racked my bike, swapped my shoes, made a porta-potty stop (OMG longest T2 time ever!) and on to the run I went.

I am willing.

To my surprise, my calf was feeling pretty good.  Pace. Check.  Hydrate.  Check.  The only hills on the race course are over passes, there were a couple in the first few miles.  Calf was feeling good.  There was a spectator on the 3rd over pass claiming it was a "no walking zone."  I chuckled as I ran past him.  It was hot, people wanted to walk, but everyone was running - no one wants to be THAT guy.

I crested the overpass.  Step. Oh my calf didn't really like that hill.  Step. Ouch. Step. OUCH. Step.  I can't run.  Step.  I can barely walk.

I hobbled through an aid station.  Water, water, Perform.  Ice.  It was incredibly painful just to walk.  Just before Mile 5 I walked hobbled up to a couple policemen and burst into tears.

"Who do I talk to if I'm not going to be able to finish the race?"

I am willing.

In the quarter mile I hobbled before uttering these words aloud I thought about a lot of things, I had gone into NOLA 70.3 with hopes of it being a confidence booster before Ironman Coeur d'Alene, but ultimately, NOLA was not the goal race of my year.  IM Coeur d'Alene was - and what if I hobbled those final 8+ miles, in pain, causing more pain, and probably causing more injury that could possibly put Ironman at risk?  How foolish would that feel?  And what would it prove?  I've covered the 70.3 distance.  Twice.

There were more tears.  I was sad to hang around the finish-line festivities and feel like the only one without a medal around my neck.  Sad I didn't get to see how the day could have ended.  I'd be more sad if I were still hobbling around broken.

I am willing.

But the silver lining of the weekend isn't a tiny thin line that you have to squint, and be in the right light, to see.  The silver lining is big, bold, and made with enthusiastic brush strokes.  I PR'd both the swim and the bike by several minutes.  I ran 4.5 SOLID miles off the bike, and felt great, before things freaked out.  Even without the finisher's medal, my hours of work in New Orleans have left me confident about Ironman.  I got cheer my fellow athlete, Daryl, on as she finished her first 70.3, and squeal in delight as Katie was awarded a Worlds 70.3 slot.  I also got to meet another Katie, she took 3rd in our age group and also took a slot to Worlds 70.3.

Daryl, myself, and Katie... Smiles regardless of neck bling.
After hours in the wind and sun the only logical thing to do was try our very hardest to put ourselves into a sugar coma at Cafe du Monde with beignets and hot chocolate.  I'm told, a New Orleans-must experience.

Now, 5 days later, I'm happy to report that I'm pain-free after a full day of rest, 3 days in the pool, and today spent easy on the bike.  I've allowed myself to be a tiny bit sad.  Its not devastatingly sad, just a tiny bit.  

Tiny bit sad, but with zero regrets.  Ironman is just about 10 weeks out and I can hardly wait to see what happens between now and then.

I am willing.
And NOLA 70.3?  I'll be back next year for a rematch. :)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Beast Mode, Training Thoughts, and my Nuggets of Wisdom

She's in Beast Mode!

In these final weeks of preparation before tapering for NOLA 70.3 (I'm now in taper mode!!), I've heard this phrase a time or two.  I don't say this to toot my own horn, truth is, when this is said usually I smile sheepishly, look down or away, and try to do my best to graciously thank that person for the compliment (I mean, it is a compliment, right?).

Here's the truth: I'm not feeling very Beast Mode-ish.  I mean, unless Beast Mode is describing a grizzly bear in late fall that really only has 2 things on its mind - FOOD and SLEEP - then yes, I suppose I am feeling EXACTLY Beast Mode-ish.

So as I rode the 19 miles up Mt. Hamilton a week ago, for the 4th time this training cycle, I got to thinking how I am feeling.... What does the reality of this beast mode mean to me?

My thinking place - Mt Hamilton Rd.
I've worn "real pants" (read: not yoga pants) twice in the past 3+ weeks -- this is mostly because they make me painfully aware of places that I do not yet have saddle callouses (you're welcome).  

My idea of being "up late" involves a time that starts with 10:XX and I've seen that hour only a couple times in the last few weeks.  

Taking a single shower in a day is a rare and unusual treat - and I keep my "nice" shampoo in my gym bag because I wash my hair way more at the gym than at home.  

The front desk employees at the gym know me by name and that yes, I will always need a locker key.

I recently described this stage of training as being similar to being drunk.  I know I've gone too far if I get the the wheepy-crying-at-everything stage, but if I time it just right I get to stay in the I LOVE YOU MAN stage where I am acutely and overwhelmingly aware of how awesome people in my life are that support and love me and I want to tell them often and regularly how much I love them.  A few people have been on the receiving end of this ridiculousness via text, I'm sure they find it both incredibly amusing and hopefully appreciate it all the same.

The spandex/tech/sweaty/smelly laundry.  Oh. My. Word. The laundry.

I've spent nearly as much on Picky Bars and Osmo Nutrition in the past month than I have on groceries.  And absolutely more than I've spent eating out. #teamnosociallife

How's that beast mode picture looking to you?

But the hours spent swimming, cycling, and running have not been wasted.  I feel strong, fit, confident.  The fatigue is becoming a welcomed friend at the end of the day, because it means I'm doing strong, consistent work day to day - and now as I get closer to shedding that fatigue to toe the line at NOLA 70.3 the excitement is creeping in.

Its taken me more than a week to write this... mostly because I'm never sure what to say when I sit down to write.  With a very few exceptions, this training cycle has gone remarkably well.  I've only once had a total emotion meltdown (of course in the pool), but otherwise its been all about trucking along.  Have I missed workouts? Yes.  Have a few moments that didn't feel like JOYOHMYGODILOVEALLTHINGSTRIATHLON?   ABSOLUTELY YES.  Mostly though, I've been enjoying the training, the work, the progress.  I'll offer nuggets of wisdom I've learned from this training cycle - but they aren't groundbreaking.

FIND JOY, even if it is only a small sliver of it.  There are few workouts that I walked away from feeling 100% negative about.  Even if what I loved most about the workout was that it was DONE, I still found joy in the process.

CONNECT WITH PEOPLE WHO LOVE AND SUPPORT YOU, even if this means distancing yourself from people who you love but aren't standing in your corner like you'd hope.  This shit isn't easy and I'm still struggling with it, but I'm happier any day in training solitude than days spent with people who make me feel less than enough.  People who love you WILL support you, even if they think your crazy, bat-shit crazy, getting too skinny, eating too much, eating too little, not visiting enough... the list could go on and on.  And for those in my corner -- I am forever grateful.

STOP FOCUSING ON YOUR PACE, WEIGHT, SPEED, ETC... these things are not a measure of your worth, strength, or character.  And for many of them, they vary incredibly from day to day which can cause an incredible amount of frustration to even the most level headed athlete.  I mention "the process" a lot because THE PROCESS is what matters most to me.  You don't become a champion with one great run, ride, or swim... it takes practice and dedication.  Work the process, work the plan, see results. 

So here we go... 4 days to race day.  I'm excited to pack up my wetsuit, bike, and running shoes and get on a plane to the Big Easy.  Drinks in the French Quarter after anyone?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The 90% Rule of Healthy Eating

I've been reading a lot about nutrition, more specifically about making good nutritional choices - most notably 1200 Calories, The Truth About Being Healthy, and What Goes in the Piehole.  Like most people, my nutritional journey is a work-in-progress.

Truth is, I grew up eating healthier than most people.  My mom was constantly claiming that fruit tasted exactly like candy.  She made bread from scratch.  We had fruit and/or vegetables with every meal - nearly all of which were homemade.  We ate out no more than once a week, and I could probably count, on one hand, the number of times I ate fast food a year growing up.  Since we didn't eat a lot of meat at home, I knew from a young age what "whole protein" meant and why eating a variety of foods, both during the day and from day to day was important.  Vegetables don't scare me and there are few, regularly available, fruit I have not eaten.

My nutritional foundation is solid.

This does not mean that I always eat a perfect diet.  Or even close to perfect diet.  

Here's the thing about eating healthy...  Even for someone like me, who has had a lifetime of exposure to it, it still isn't easy.

My text to a friend from tonight (2/20/14) - ah, the beauty of supportive friends. ;)
Sometimes Taco Bell just sounds good (and yet I never text anyone about how much I want a salad).

I've spend hours of my life talking myself out of running out the door and grabbing whatever XYZ "delicious" thing I'm currently obsession about that is cheap and easy and always available - and on the DO NOT EAT list.  I've also spent nearly as many hours angry at the world that *I* can't eat those things and look or perform like the athlete I want to be but he/she/they can eat or drink whatever they want - and that is so effing unfair!!!

Life is effing unfair.  It's the truth.

Most of the time I try to eat by the 90% Rule.  Good, healthy, whole foods for 90% of the time, the other 10%?  I don't worry about it.  *But* like many athletes coming out their "off-season," that 90% has slipped to more like 60-65% and its time to rein it back in.  More fruits, vegetables, and home-cooked meals, less late night dinners out of burgers, fries, chicken tenders, quesadillas, and the occasional beer.   Additionally, I've been trying to stay away from grains on a whole, not because I necessarily think they are evil - plenty of people are already doing that - but because I am conducting an "experiment of one."

Enter daydreaming about Taco Bell.

The way I saw it, I had 3 choices:
  1. Go get Taco Bell.
  2. Make something that sounded like a reasonable alternative
  3. Go to bed without dinner
By time I was planning dinner I was already in my pjs and comfortably lounging at home.  Taco Bell sounded good, but having to go out to my car and go GET it did not.  Option 3 nearly won out simply out of laziness.  In a last ditch effort to not eat crap or wake-up in the morning starving, I checked my cabinets one last time for options...

Beans went from the can, to a pan on the stove and Black Bean Burritos for dinner were in the works.

 A quick trip to the garden for lettuce added to the rest of the fillings - cabbage, carrots, pepper jack cheese, avocado and radishes.

My family makes 1200+ quarts of salsa every July.  There is no other salsa like it on the planet.  

And voila!  A suitable alternative to Taco Bell was born in 15 minutes flat (And I enjoyed as much, if not more).  

Would it have been the end of the world had I jumped in the car and gone to Taco Bell?  Of course not!  But when I'm trying to get closer to the 90% Rule, I can think of many other things I'd rather use my 10% on than Taco Bell!  I also ate grains when I said I'm trying to avoid them - who cares!  I basically ate a salad on a tortilla!  With homemade salsa!  And homegrown lettuce!  INSTEAD OF TACO BELL!!  Who is not going to call this a win for healthy, whole-foods nutrition?

So today I saved my 10% some another time.  It doesn't always play out the same way, which is fine.  Sometimes I enjoy dinner with friends without caring about what is on my plate, I never even think about it because the laughter and times shared are important too.  Sometimes I stop at the grocery store and buy a single peanut butter cookie - because I want to. 

If anything, I'm learning that my nutrition is a work-in-progress, experiment-of-one - and it keeps evolving.  Completely eliminating foods from my diet only makes crazy, but sometimes there are suitable alternatives that don't leave me hating the world and all its unfairness.  I'll save my energy for Ironman.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Where in the World has Ashley Been?

 Though I'm not always good at balancing work, life, and training, the past 4 months have been an amazing mix of all three.

In November, I had the chance to make my first trip (as an adult) to Colorado so that my coach could bury me in a giant training/fatigue hole to train with my new coach and snuggle with puppies.  We were blessed with mostly really great weather (Colorado wind is INTENSE) and by time I got on the plane home I was barely putting coherent sentences together but my heart was so full and happy.  Not only did I a gain a TON of fitness a mere 4 weeks out from CIM, but it has had lasting influences on life as I know it.  More about this at a later date...

In ringing in the new year, it also meant that recovery from CIM was coming to an end.  At the beginning of every season it is always smart to have your bike looked over and tuned-up... in my case this also included making a fitting appointment and trying out some new saddles.  I'm a huge fan of my new Adamo saddle and my new fit has made a huge difference in how I'm feeling on the bike!

I'm a cautious girl at heart.  Anyone who really knows me is nodding in agreement right now.  I like my routine and my ways and when I've found comfortable things, I like to stick to them.  Luckily the same people who were nodding before also see the benefit in my branching out.... So I have stressful (for me) conversations over coffee or dinner or text when they are too far away for either.  Conversations about my dreams, goals, and how I sell myself short more often than not because my bubble is a very comfortable place.  

I signed up for NOLA 70.3 as my season kick-off for triathlon.  Which I think is pretty rad.  I have hotel reservations for IMCdA.  Also pretty rad.  And completely scary

California is having one of our driest and warmest winters on record, which means that rides that would normally have to wait until the spring have already begun and I've ventured a few times off the trainer to climb mountains (Like Mt Hamilton above, on a clearer day you'd be able to see all of Silicon Valley behind me) and feel the pavement under my tires.  

There has been a lot of Kona harassment and snuggles.  Not only does it make her a happy dog, but it can set the world right when I've got a million different things swirling around in my head and stressing me out.   

I made another trip to Colorado.  This trip was far more social than training focused than my trip in November.  This California Girl was immediately in love with the snow.  I got to hang out with some of the best people on the planet and snuggle more golden love.  

I was super sad to leave this time.  I'm coming to realize and act on the idea that I really do have absolute power over my life.  I can make things happen and not just wait for them to happen to me.  I have control over my thoughts and actions, which build the world around me.  The journey I'm on has only begun to unfold - there will be more twists and turns but I'm working hard to remember that I have more control than being a buoy tossed around the ocean by the waves.  I can paddle to shore or continue to paddle out and see what is beyond.  At the beginning of this year I began thinking a lot about what Coach Katie calls "making her circles smaller" and how this relates to what I want out of life.  I feel like I have been in a state of transition/limbo for more than a year now.  Some of it is self-imposed.  Some of it is simply this: I am in a period of transition.  Life is changing, I am changing - I am trying to discover that when I put away who everyone else wants me to be, who is it that I really want to be?  Its stressful and joyful, all at once.  I have days where I'm sad, stressed, frustrated, joyful, happy, and at peace.  In. One. Day.  Other days just.... are.  I work, train, hang out with friends, snuggle my dog, and talk with my parents without any major emotional upheaval.  I'm thankful for both days.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tales from Training: What I Learn at the Pool

You know the phrase "getting in the zone"?

I know all about The Zone on the bike.

I can find The Zone on the run.

For me, The Zone is when my brain stops and I just do work.  The Zone is a judgement-free and emotion-free place - I do the work that my training plan says to do and I don't think about how fast or how slow.  I don't say mean things to myself about my pace, my body composition, yesterday's workout, or last night's dinner.  Work is work... and in The Zone, work gets done.

I had lost The Zone in the pool until January.  There was no freedom from judgment from the time I put on my suit until I took it off (and beyond).  Swim workouts on the schedule turned my emotions on edge and put my anxiety on high alert.  My brain never turned off in the pool, and most of what I was saying to myself, while I followed the black line along the bottom of the pool, was negative. Negative about the work I was doing in the pool, negative about how I looked in my bathing suit, negative about my work relationships, negative about my social relationships, negative about my life.  Just plain NEGATIVE.  So I hated the pool.  I hated jumping in a following that black line because I never got out feeling better, if I was lucky I got out feeling the same as I did when I got it.

Then the end of 2013 came rolling around and it was time to talk about plans for 2014.  I knew that if I was going to do Ironman this year, I had to come to terms with the pool.  I had to make peace with the black line...

"I'm thinking I need to swim a bunch.  Like 5-6 days a week for awhile.  Whatever is going on with me and the pool needs to be worked out and its only going to happen if I make myself face the pool."

To which Coach replied, "Oh good, I was thinking a big swim block for you in January."

Sweet Jesus, had I known what I was asking for I would have kept my sassy, sarcastic, PITA mouth shut.

For 3 weeks in January I forever smelled of chlorine and showered more often at the gym than at home.  In fact, there were DAYS where I showered more at the gym than I would shower at home the entire WEEK.  I averaged more time in the pool (5-6 hours/week) than I did in any of the other disciplines of triathlon with 12,000-14,000 yards a week of HARD ASS WORK.

In the beginning, I dreaded reading what sadistic torture Katie had in store for me and the chlorine death-pool that day.  There were some tears in the pool.  I bailed on a workout 1/2 way through it because I believed it was too hard.  I couldn't do it.  I wasn't capable.

Then I came back later that day to the workout.  I finished it.  I killed it.  I came through for myself.  It wasn't an overnight transformation, but my attitude began to shift. 

I have this theory that if you have to look at yourself in a bathing suit everyday you get sick of saying mean things to yourself about your reflection.  And by mid-month, I quit saying mean things to myself about my reflection. 

Another theory I have is that when you get out of the pool barely being able to lift your arms over your head to wash your hair, the gap between your thighs is less important than all the muscles that begin to pop out in your shoulders that you're working your ass off to earn.  

Racerback tanks will be my BEST FRIEND this summer...
And yeah, there is a little extra insulation around my middle (it's the winter!), but my core strength is improving everyday which means my body position in the pool is getting prettier and MORE EFFICIENT (read: faster, yay!).  Now when I swim 100 yards ALL OUT, I feel like I want to puke at the end 10+ seconds sooner than at the beginning of January. 

Plank it out with 26.2.
By the end of my swim block I had found The Zone again.  The pool and I can be friends.  It can be a no-judgement zone, just like the bike or the run.

Along with the measurable huge Personal Records (PRs) I've had since my swim block, the effect of coming to terms with myself and the black line as gone far beyond the pool deck.  I'm happier on the bike than I have been, in maybe YEARS.  My inner monologue in kinder than it has probably ever been.  I'm considering changes that are big and scary, and when I think about them, I think about the pool.  I think about how running away from the pool for months didn't foster growth or learning.  I had to show up for the tough stuff, both physical and emotional, to see change.

In my exercise physiology classes we always talked about stress.  You had to apply stress to facilitate adaptation, and adaptation was what made you fitter.  The hard stuff, whether it's a workout, quieting the negative monologue in your head, difficulty with a coworker or a friend, anxiety over life choices, coming to terms with your present place in life, or admitting when you need help, is you life's stress.  When you show up for it, work through it, and find yourself on the other side... that's when you find change.

Are you running from your stress?  What if you faced it?  What could you gain on the other side?