Sunday, November 30, 2014

Confidence Is A Choice

This fall/winter/off-season/base-training season, I've embarked on something I've decided to call The Confidence Project.  Because I feel that a lack of confidence is one of my biggest mental hurdles, I have committed to the hard (and somewhat uncomfortable) work that is required to improve it.  One of my assignments for this project was to write a piece entitled "If Confidence Is A Choice, Why Aren't I Choosing It?"  It was very difficult for me to write, but it helped me learn a lot about myself.  I thought I'd share, below.

If Confidence Is A Choice, Why Aren’t I Choosing It?

Why aren’t I choosing confidence?  I had to think about this for a long time. 

I think the first problem I had to overcome before I could consistently choose confidence is that I had to first believe, really believe that it is, in fact, a choice.  I don’t think I always perceived it as an option.  Rather I was much more apt to think that you either had confidence or you didn’t.  You were born with it or you weren’t.  It was one of the tools in your toolbox, or it wasn’t.  And it definitely wasn’t one of my tools.

When I started to understand confidence a bit more, I started to realize that with hard work, confidence could be gained.  It took me a long time to get to this point, but with a bit of research and lots of reading, it started to become more clear.  Confidence could be one of my tools.  But I needed to stop making excuses for myself. 

“I believe confidence is a choice. And I always choose to believe that I am always going to come out on top.” Max Scherzer, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers

So once I realized that confidence is a choice, why am I still not choosing it?  Perhaps the answer to this issue is a bit more complicated.  But in its simplest form, the answer is: I don’t choose confidence because it’s not the easiest option for me.  It’s not where my mind automatically goes.  To choose confidence is hard work.  And up until this point, I apparently have been choosing the easy way out. 



I think that my “confidence muscle” is weak, probably from years of not being exercised.  In the past, I had only “symptomatic confidence” which is the type of confidence that is built only on recent success.  This isn’t particularly hard to come by and doesn’t require much work from the confidence muscle.  But it’s also not particularly useful because it’s very easily destroyed.  It only takes one injury or even just a string of poor workouts to wipe away symptomatic confidence.  Instead, I need to build “sustainable confidence” that which comes from within and is not built on external events.  This is the type of confidence that will withstand the storms of life and still remain intact, but also the type of confidence that requires some muscle behind it.  It’s that muscle that requires hard work and commitment, both of which I have neglected.  I must exercise this muscle.  I must constantly and consistently correct self-doubt and negative thoughts.  This is a difficult process and seems tedious.  It’s not something I enjoy or want to do.  But in order to develop the sustainable confidence that I so desperately want, this is the type of work I must get busy doing.  Without it, the physical work that I so enjoy, is wasted.

On a deeper level, I think choosing confidence requires a strong self-worth, a trait that I’ve likely never possessed.  Or at least a trait that I never remember feeling.

“An athlete’s self-esteem and self-worth are intimately related to their self-confidence. When athletes feel good about themselves, they are more likely to perform well, especially when the pressure is on. An essential key to developing an unbreakable self-confidence is to cultivate an “inside-out” approach to confidence. This begins by teaching athletes to feel good about who they are and how they do things and ends with them feeling good about themselves regardless of outcomes.”  (Vernacchia, 2003)

Do I feel good about who I am?  That’s perhaps a question that I’d rather not discuss, or even think about.  But it is also central to this topic.  Growing up my self-worth was not high.  I ran cross country and track during those years and with success in sport, I found a reason to justify my worthiness.  But the dangerous mistake in this, is having performance so intimately tied to my self-esteem.  When one took a nose dive, so did the other.  And this is not favorable for sustainable confidence.  It easily follows why I fear failure.  With failure comes a significant loss of self-worth.  It seems to be a very tough cycle to break.

Perhaps then, building self-worth is the way out.  With a higher self-esteem, which is in no way tied to performance, fear of failure can be removed.  Even if I fail, I can theoretically still feel deeply good about who I am.  If this is the case, what is there to fear?  With the removal of this fear, pressure lifts and confidence can improve.  When I feel good about who I am, no matter what is going on around me, I am not worried about what people think or say, and I don’t depend on others to make me feel good.  Perhaps the cycle isn’t very tough to break, after all.

I must believe that self-worth is a choice too, then.  Just as with confidence, I must commit to improving my self-worth with positive self-talk and with the refusal to believe that it’s something that I cannot change.

This will be very hard, very uncomfortable work for me.  Just as with confidence, my mind does not automatically go to feeling good about myself.  Instead, I more easily hear the voices that say I’m not good enough, that I do not deserve success and that I will never measure up.  I’ve surrendered to these thoughts for a very long time.  I don’t suspect I will be able to quickly turn them around. 

Fortunately, I have never shied away from hard work.  I guess then, that it’s time to put my head down, or rather, learn to hold it up high.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Off Season

There are a couple things in life that I'm relatively good at.  Remembering people's birthdays.  Cleaning my bike.  Matching socks.  Making chili.

You may notice that "off season" didn't make the list.  Because, I'll be frank, I suck at off season.

Off season and I go way back.  We've always hated each other, even in high school when my coach would tell me after cross country season that I NEEDED to take some time off before indoor track started.  This usually resulted in tears and begging and anger and secret runs where my coach couldn't see me.  I'm a rule follower, except when it comes to off season (and speed limits while driving, but that's a whole other blog post...).  I just simply couldn't stand the thought of not getting to run for a few weeks.

Fast forward a few (okay, A LOT) of years to my current self.  I'm older and wiser now and I truly understand the importance of giving my body a rest and letting myself heal after a long season of abuse.  But that doesn't mean I'm any better at off season.  I no longer sneak in workouts that I'm not supposed to do.  I follow the rules.  But I hate it just as much (if not more) than my 15 year old self.

When Tim told me, after Kona, that I had to take 4 weeks off, I stared at him in silence.  I think I was in shock.  FOUR WEEKS?  Is this man trying to kill me?  Here I thought I was going to convince him that I should be able to do Ironman Arizona!  HA!  I had another thing coming!  Instead, a four week prescription of big fat NOTHING-ness.  Zero.  Zip.  Nada.  Oh, and I also had to gain 6-8 lbs.  I wanted to cry.  Or punch someone in the face.  Or both.

So here we are 3.5 weeks later.  I won't say that it's been pretty.  There have been a few (okay, MANY) meltdowns.  There has been begging.  I have been majorly frustrated.  And angry.  But thankfully I have a coach that is more stubborn than me and he didn't budge an inch (just don't tell him I said that!).

Because, here's the thing.  This is what it takes.  Gaining weight, getting totally out of shape, TRULY resting (unlike the off seasons I see that somehow still involve mountain biking and swim meets and 20 mile hikes up mountains - that's MY kind of off season!) and, doing a hard reset.  And for me, THIS is the sacrifice.  Many people see training hard and doing long rides and going to bed really early and skipping desert and all THOSE things as the sacrifice.  But for me, those are the things I LOVE!  That is where I thrive.  I would do that year round if I could.  Instead, my sacrifice comes when I'm asked to not do the things I love and to relax.  We are all different.  We all struggle with something.  This is most definitely MY struggle.  Thankfully, I have a coach that forces me to do it right (and I do truly believe it's the right thing) regardless of how much I complain and whine.  And thankfully, I only have half a week to go.  :)

So what HAVE I been doing this off season, other than wishing I was swim/bike/running?  Well, I've been sleeping (a lot), doing some Your 26.2 work, going to movies (Oscar and I went to 3 movies the first week I was home!), eating a lot, sleeping, eating, sleeping (did I mention sleeping?).  And spending time with friends and Oscar!  That is the best part!  So here's to doing the off season right.  Maybe next year I won't even complain about it!  (highly unlikely)


Kim and I took a trip to visit our college teammate/roommate/BFF near State College.  We played on the trampoline with her 4 year old daughter during which I split my pants (no joke) AND I learned how to do some really awesome tricks.  :)

See that cutie in the middle?  She may look innocent, but she can do a mean trampoline split!

At the Pennsylvania State HS Cross Country Championships, I tracked down these two (also college roommates/teammates/BFFs).  Great to see them as such successful coaches!

Because I was away for most of the fall, I missed a lot of Oscar's team's cross country meets.  But I made it home in time to see them finish 2nd in their district and 5th in the state!

Monday, October 20, 2014

On Running

When I was in 6th grade, my older sister took me for my first ever run.  She is four years older than me and was already running on the high school cross country and track teams.

I'm pretty sure I hated it.  Running is hard, after all.  And I'm sure I was out of shape.  But I wanted to run 7th grade track, so I kept at it.  Funny how one small decision can define the course of your life, even if, at the time, it doesn't seem like a big deal at all.

I did run 7th and then 8th grade track.  I was nothing special certainly, but it was fun and I made some friends.  For someone who was (and still is!) awkwardly shy, making some new friends was all the reason in the world to continue to run.

In 1993 (yep, I'm that old), I was a freshman in high school.  I was super excited to run cross country that fall.  By that point, I loved being on a team for the friendships, but I had also fallen in love with running itself.

That love affair would last for the next 20+ years, and continues today.

That freshman year that I spoke of?  We won the State CC Championships.  I was the 5th runner on the team.
My teammates have always been my closest friends.
On any given Saturday in the fall...
I know you love the mesh basketball shorts!  Uniforms have changed a bit these days...
I know the picture is out of focus, but I keep this one to remind myself that I AM capable of some knee lift...
Cross country can be muddy.
We were probably supposed to be warming up, but instead we were fooling around on the bus.
This scenario played out often in my HS races.  I would lead for a long time and then Chrissie would outsprint me to the line.  I never had much giddy up and go.

After that freshman year, I made another conscious decision that also changed the course of my life.  I decided that I wanted to be the very best I could be at running.  Which meant working hard and making some sacrifices.  From there I started to win a few races and decided I wanted to run in college.  In the fall of 1997, I headed off to Penn State to continue my running career.

Either my freshman or sophomore year of college, NCAA Nationals was held at the University of Kansas.  This here is Jim Ryan and I.  :)
The 3 Beths: myself, my coach Beth, and my teammate Beth.

I didn't have to search hard to find a picture of Kim and I running together.  We've (literally) been running in the same circles for years.  :)
Running not only gave me amazing friends and some of my best memories, but it also gave me my husband.  My teammate introduced me to Oscar when I was a sophomore in college.

In 2001, I competed in my last Big 10 Championship and Oscar made the drive (with Kim's mom, no less!) from Penn State to Indiana University to watch me race.

After college, I continued to run.  Because running is one thing I know how to do.  And because I love it.

A particularly cold race...
One of my best friends and college teammates and I, after running the Cleveland Marathon together.  This is still my stand alone marathon PR, although I've since run faster in an Ironman.
Finishing a local half marathon.
Of course now I focus more on triathon.  Luckily I still get a good dose of running with tri training!  But it's safe to say, running will always be my first love.

This past May, Jesse and Tim of QT2 approached me about taking on the run coaching portion of the business, Your 26.2.  I was thrilled!  And super excited and thankful for the opportunity.  Coaching others who share the same passion for running as me?  And they pay ME to do this?  DEAL!!  Although at first I wasn't sure I was qualified, I then realized I've been training a lifetime for this job.  From the time I went on that very first run with my sister, almost 25 years ago, to now and all the years, miles and memories in between.  Running sure has been good to me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

#kona2014 Thank Yous

You didn't really think I'd write a race report without "a few" thank yous, did you?  :)

I had so many for Kona that I decided to just make it it's own separate entity.  It's so hard to even know where to begin.  I feel an amazing amount of gratitude for so many.  Here goes...

My sponsors:

1) Casey and the gang at CID: who would have thought, 2 years ago when we met at the Y, that this is where we'd be now?  I hope you can truly understand the impact that you've had on my career as a triathlete and my ability to chase my dreams.  You have made a world of difference!

2) Coeur: love you guys!  Your support means the world to me.  I have loved watching you grow as a company and see you flourish.  Of course I knew it was inevitable because your product is amazing AND you know how to treat your athletes well.  Best of both worlds.

We had fun at the Coeur booth at the expo.

3) PowerBar: if there is one thing I've learned about racing Ironman, it's that fueling isn't any less important than swim/bike/run!  Thanks for fueling my training and racing efforts for the past 8 years.


4) Rudy Project: like I said in the video, I owe you my life, because you saved it 7 years ago!  THANK YOU!


5) QR: when you spend as much time as I do on a bike, you only ride one you love.  Thanks for making just that bike, for me!  You guys are the best!

6) NormaTec: of all the wonderful triathlon gear I own, my NormaTecs are the only piece that I use EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Including in airports.  Yep, that happened...  THANK YOU!


My QT2 teammates:

I am absolutely honored to be a part of this team.  It was such a treat to see so many of you out on the course, crushing it.  It gave me a boost each and every time!  When I graduated from college and was no longer on a "sports team", I felt a huge void.  QT2 has filled that void plus some!  Thanks for letting me be a part of your squad!

Just a few of the group that raced.

My family and friends:

I so appreciate every note of encouragement, support, good luck and well wishes.  I read every one and they mean the world to me!  Thank you for taking the time to make me smile.

Special thanks to Cait, Mikela and Beth for taking care of me in the weeks leading up to the race.  And to Amber for making me laugh hysterically during those same weeks.  I've never seen anyone smile as much as you!

To Kim: you made Saturday more special for me than you could ever know.  We've come a long way, baby!



And to my mom: I don't know anyone who would consider a "Hawaiian vacation" to be fun when it's filled only with sitting around in a condo, helping me tape things to my bike.  Or worse yet, standing outside in the hot sun all day watching a bunch of skinny people swim, bike and run.  But you do, because you are amazing.  THANK YOU, for always being there.

I'm not usually one for high fives, but for my mom, most definitely.  :)
My coach, Tim:

There aren't words.  So honestly, I'm not even going to try.  Other than to say, "thank you a million times over" isn't even close to being sufficient.  I'm so thankful for you.

And finally, to Oscar:

I remember when I first told you I wanted to try a triathlon.  It wasn't so long ago!  You didn't even blink an eye and told me to go for it.  And your support hasn't wavered one inch since then.  It's been quite a ride, 'eh?  Thank you for loving me through all the ups and all the downs.  And for allowing me to pursue this dream, no matter the financial, physical, or emotional cost.  There is nobody in this world that I'd rather take this journey with.

And with that, the 2014 season is a wrap!  (I tried to talk my way into a fall IM but that got shot down pretty quickly)  It's been a great season.  Now time to rest up, heal up and dream of ways to make 2015 even better!

#kona2014

One of the most frequent questions I got during my buildup and time in Kona (other than the infamous "are you ready?"), was "why Kona?"  Some times asked more nicely than others, it seemed like a lot of people wanted to know why "someone like me" would want to pursue the goal of Kona, without any hope of walking away with a pay day or a top finish.

I appreciated the question, mostly because it really made me ask myself "seriously, why Kona?!"  Why not focus on races that are closer to home, that are less expensive, that don't require a ton of racing to qualify for, where I have a hope of walking away in the "black" instead of the "red"?

I was pretty sure I knew the answer to that question before the race, but after the race, I REALLY knew the answer.  Which, in short, is the simple fact that Kona captivates me.  Sure, it doesn't make sense for a lot of reasons.  But for THE MOST IMPORTANT reason, it makes all the sense in the world.  Kona excites me.  It is a race that I dream about.  The challenge of getting there motivates me beyond belief.  And I don't necessarily feel that same way about other races/goals.  I realize it's not the same for everyone, of which I truly respect.  But for me, Kona is the ultimate.  And as I tread water in Kailua Bay, with 35 of the best female long course triathletes in the world this past Saturday morning, my answer to "why Kona" was solidified.  It was one of the most terrifying, electrifying, amazing experiences of my life.  And I won't soon forget it.  I will surely need that memory to fuel me through the hard days, when I'm trying to qualify again for next year's race.

I finished 27th.  Yep, pretty far from that top 10 finish (36 minutes, in fact!).  But in my mind, 27th isn't that far away from 25th.  And 25th isn't that far away from 20th.  And 20th isn't that far away from 15th.  And 15th isn't that far away from 10th.  Who knows if I have enough years left in the sport to accomplish all of these jumps, or any of them, or even if I can qualify again and return to Kona next year.  But my answer to "why Kona" is, you must pursue in life what truly scares you, and motivates you, and what you dream of, and what enthralls you.  And Kona is all those things (and more) to me.

As for the race itself, I had what I would call a "solid" day.  Nothing spectacular.  But also nothing bad, either.  Despite a slow swim time, I swam with a group of women that I would not normally be able to swim with.  And I learned that even in the World Championships, people will backstroke if they no longer want to do the work up front.  So yeah, I was the sucker and pulled my entire group in from the turnaround.  Of course this made NO SENSE WHATSOEVER to me, because I was BY FAR the weakest swimmer of the group.  But hey, I just wanted to get out of that water as soon as possible and that seemed like the best option to do so, at the time!

Of the 3 years I've competed in Kona, this year was the toughest in terms of conditions on the bike (and swim also, actually), as the wind was WHIPPING up a storm at Waikoloa and on the ascent to Hawi.  Like "stop you in your tracks" type of headwind with a good dose of "knock you off your bike" crosswinds.  One of the biggest highlights of my day was getting to ride with Natascha Badmann, a true icon of our sport and one of my heros growing up.  She is every bit of awesome that you hear about.  And in fact, when I missed a bottle at one of the aid stations, she rode up next to me and asked if I was okay and got everything I needed.  Amazing doesn't even begin to describe.  When she passed me for good she encouraged me to "keep up the speed, let's go, let's go!"  I haven't known too many of the other pro women to be to chatty while racing so I was loving it.  Natascha, by the way, is 47 years old and had one of the fastest bike splits on the day.  Epic.

Look at that snazzy QR!
And the run?  It was a decent day although that darn Energy Lab gets me every time.  Why is it so hard to keep up a good pace in that place?  I can't explain it because it's really no different than any other stretch of road.  I struggled quite a bit in the final miles but that's how most IMs go!  And I did manage a 21 minute Kona marathon PR.  :)


It's all fun and games on Ali'i.
And then you climb Palani and the real work begins on the Queen K.

When I was finished I was happy.  Happy to be there racing as a pro, especially considering my relatively significant injury in the spring.  Happy to have finished a solid, safe day.  And happy to have the experience and all the learning that went along with it, in my back pocket.  But I certainly wasn't satisified.  And so it begins.  How will I get back next year and improve upon 27th?  Only time shall tell...

Found these two jokers to sit with at the pro meeting.  Another thing I learned about Kona?  There is a LOT of hype.  Like, a lot.  The pro meeting alone was a zoo!

Got to meet many of my QT2 teammates, Bruce included.

Kona is pretty spectacular.

Monday, September 22, 2014

What State Is This?

Lately I've been playing a little game of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.  (Am I dating myself here or does anyone else remember that awesome game?  Anyone??)

First, starting back in mid August, I went to Milwaukee, WI for a USAT coaching clinic.  I was home from Wisconsin for a few days before driving to Canada for Ironman Mont Tremblant.  After Tremblant, I was home for about a week and a half before I went Bristol, NH where I joined some of my QT2 Systems teammates for Pro Camp.

Ahhh...pro camp.  I LOVE camp and this one was no exception.  Although a much smaller group than our camp in Florida (10 vs 30 pros) and therefore a much different dynamic, it was still an awesome opportunity to train and be pushed by my teammates, under the watchful eyes of our coaches.  Having just done an Ironman 2 weeks before, I came into the NH camp needing a bit more recovery but I still got a lot of good, hard work done!

All of our swimming in NH was in a lake.  This was INVALUABLE to me because I struggle in open water and don't get a ton of opportunity to practice elsewhere.  Of course, of the pros that came to camp, they all belonged in the "A-Team" swim club and therefore I got crushed.  Daily.  I might have cried in my goggles more than once.  But there is only one way up, right?  It was good and humbling and hard and cold.  Yep, that water was cold.  I took a lot of scolding hot showers and drank a lot of really hot tea.

Exhibit A: cold lake.  It looks harmless but now I know better.

Cycling in NH is pretty awesome.  Much like home, it's quite hilly, which I love because it's one (very fast) way to make the body strong.  And riding long (and sometimes very hard) with teammates is much better than going it alone.

The running was also spectacular, of course.  And then there was "the hike".  One of my favorite workouts, we drove north into the White Mountains for a 2 day overnight adventure.  This included a 2.4+ mi TT swim, a 95 mile ride with tons of long, sustained climbing and an hour run, followed the next day by a sunrise-ish 4+ hour hike in the mountains.  I had never been hiking before (like "real" hiking where you are scrambling up and down rocks all day) and it was a BLAST!  Of course it also made me more sore than I ever remember being, but the views atop the mountain were well worth it.  Later, after the hike, a swim, a ride, and more running back in Bristol.  Yep, that's QT2 camp for ya!

I came home from camp fitter and smarter - I always learn so much from my teammates, not just in training but from living with them, recovering with them, eating with them, etc...  It's like no other experience and I'm truly thankful for our coaches who give of their time to make these camps happen.

I also came home from camp ready for one last BIG week of training.  It was probably the most challenging week of training I've ever seen - not the biggest volume wise, but nonetheless, filled with workouts that really made me dig deep.  That's my favorite kind of training.  And did I mention I finished the last 3 days of this tough week in Kona?!  Yep, I had this past Thursday off training so that I could fly to Hawaii and spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday re-learning what Kona is all about.  Indeed, it was a good (very hot) way to finish the heaviest load of training.

So here we are, in Hawaii!  It's pretty awesome to be out here this early and to have the opportunity to acclimate to the heat and humidity, the time difference, the course, etc... well before the race.  I feel so thankful and spoiled all at the same time!

In many senses, the last 6 weeks of travel for racing and training have seemed surreal.  It was not long ago that I was just like most people, working from 9-5 with a long commute, trying to fit in training around work, counting my vacation days to see how many I could use to get to each race.  How I got to this point, I'm not exactly sure!  What I do know is, there have been many people that I have helped me get here.  Add to that some hard work and a ton of passion and perhaps you really do get to live your dream.

Not to say it is all rainbows and lolly pops though.  For me, the very real struggle is being away from Oscar for so long.  Of the 22 days that have already happened in September, I was home with him and Roxy for 5 of those.  Skype is awesome, but I still miss my best friend terribly.  And unfortunately I won't see him until October 14 (so yeah, that's 5 days of being together in the span of 44 days!)!  This is certainly one of the hardest "sacrifices" for me in sport.  Yet I have found that I can use it as very good motivation to make the VERY most I can of the training and racing opportunities.  When the going got tough out on the Queen K on Saturday's long/hard ride, I reminded myself that I needed to make it happen, make it count and make the sacrifice worth it.

Not only is this water amazingly beautiful, but it's also not cold.  No hot showers/hot tea required!

So right now, Carmen Sandiego is on an island in the Pacific.  Just a little less than 3 weeks.  HERE. WE. GO!!!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Kona

This morning my alarm went off at 4:40 am, just like most Monday mornings.  I got up and put food in the dog's bowl (but no sign of dog, she sleeps in these days), put on my swimsuit, collected my things for masters practice, and then quickly checked my email.  And there it was, the email that I had been hoping and working hard for, an invitation to compete this year in Kona.  I smiled.  I told Oscar on the way out the door.  He smiled and gave me a kiss.  I drove to masters.  I had a great workout with my good friend Chad, who I've been doing triathlon alongside for 8+ years.  I talked to my friends and Coach Jen.  I took a shower.  I got in my car to drive home.

And then, unexpectedly, as I turned the keys in the ignition, I burst into tears.  I think all the emotion that I've pent up these past couple weeks and months, finally came bubbling to the surface.  This year is turning out to have some of the very highest highs I've ever felt, but also some of the very lowest, lows.  And while I would never consider my "problems" to be on the same level as what many go through on a daily basis, I also don't want to minimize some of the emotional turmoil I've felt this year.  No matter what it is you are down about, being depressed is a real condition that needs to be treated.  And it's not a small thing.

This morning in the car, I was elated, relieved, happy beyond words, excited, and of course, thrilled.  But mostly, I was so filled with gratitude.  It's a great thing to achieve a dream, but even more wonderful, I'm learning, is to realize just how many people have helped you in doing so.  So above all else, what I feel is thankful.  So very, very thankful for all the people that gave of themselves so that I could get to do this.

So this Kona thing, it's really happening!!  Which means I get to train for another Ironman!  I hear it's a bit hot and maybe a little windy on the Big Island in October, 'eh?  ;)