Friday, December 21, 2012

In Search Of Suffering

I think "suffer" is a weird word.  It always makes me think of Sylvester the Cat's "sufferin' succotash!" expression on the Looney Tunes.

This would be Sylvester, in case you didn't have the pleasure of watching Looney Tunes as a kid (or adult).
I've always been a little suspect of defining what we do in sport as "suffering" (and I'm especially suspect of the term "sufferfest").  Suffering, to me, is what the families of the Newtown shooting victims are doing.  Suffering is what I see at the hospital, when patients are in the midst of a bad diagnosis and they are very afraid to die.  Suffering is your 3rd or 4th round of chemo. 

Yet I will certainly admit to saying things like "I really suffered that last 10K of the race" or "those intervals on the trainer this morning really made me suffer!"  And I don't want to minimize the type of pain we all feel when we push our bodies to the brink.  So I think what we should do is categorize suffering into two groups - (Type 1) the kind we are forced to endure and (Type 2) the kind we willingly submit ourselves to.

This morning Oscar and I went on a run.  It was early and dark and very cold and windy.  It consisted of a warmup, a 30 minute "tempo" portion in which we aimed for a specific average pace, and then a cooldown.  Because a picture is worth a 1000 words:

Click on the picture to make it bigger so you can read my explanations.
As you can see, the tempo portion of the run started off downhill.  Maintaining my goal pace was quite easy.  Then we ran the majority of the tempo along the river.  This part was flat with only slight elevation gains.  It is here that I will admit to giving myself a little cushion to work with on the average pace because I knew what was to come.  What was to come you might ask?  Well, the last 7 minutes of the tempo were straight up a mile+ long hill that starts off some what tame but that is so steep at the top, my lungs (and legs!) were begging for mercy.  My breathing may or may not have sounded like I was going to lose one of those lungs.  I should also mention that turning to run up that hill also coincided with turning directly into a very strong (and cold!) wind.  Fun times.

So what is the moral of this story?  Perhaps to pick a better course for my tempo run next time!  :)  But really, what I want to say is this: I think we are really lucky to have the opportunity to struggle and do some Type 2 suffering in our endeavours to swim/bike/run faster.  I chose this route on purpose this morning because I wanted to make myself "suffer" and struggle up that last hill (and trust me, I sure did!).  Why?  Because I can!  Because Type 2 suffering is a luxury.  Because I'm healthy and strong and my body will take the beating I give to it.  And that is such an amazing thing that I am so very thankful for.  And I encourage you to do the same - to perhaps suffer a little more than you have to, just because.  Not all the time, but every once in a while, just because.  I think there are many people going through some Type 1 suffering that wish they could be so lucky.

Wishing a very Merry Christmas to you all!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Is This Thing On?

Holy lack of blogs Batman!  (and I have no excuses because I'm not that busy!)

1) I started back to training!  It is awesome.  I always have and always will love structure in my training and life.  I'm pretty sure it's how I'm wired.

2) I'm sore as heck.  3 weeks is plenty of time to get good and out of shape and that's exactly what I did!  One round of my core/strength routine and I was having trouble sitting up the next day.  Those core muscles get weak in a hurry don't they?  (or maybe that's just mine... :)

3) Kim and I (and Oscar too!) visited my college teammate over the weekend.  She has the cutest kids ever as evidenced by the picture below.  In just one afternoon I learned that (1) being a mom is likely THE hardest job that there ever was and (2) when we have kids I'm going to have to get used to a whole new level of loud.  My world is really quiet and most of my time is spend alone or with one other person.  4 kids = a whole lotta crazy!

4) Thanks to an early Christmas gift from my Mom and Dad, Oscar and I are officially owners of the cutest mutt ever! 

Who doesn't love a Christmas sweater?
5) I signed up to do my tri club's 100x100 swim workout this Saturday!  I'm pretty darn excited although slightly frightened that my arms might fall off around #75.  I did this workout last year but I wasn't coming off a a big break.  Oh well, it will be fun either way!

6) I've also been riding my road bike which is quite a funny little machine!  I feel like I'm lounging on a recliner.  And I tried to get down into the (non-existent) aerobars a good 20-30 times in the first hour I was on it.  It's pretty odd to me but I'm sure in no time at all I'll get the feel for it and my TT bike will feel foreign!

7) I had another root canal done by my favorite dentist ever and now my mouth is so happy I could do a jig!  Root canals are seriously the best procedure ever.  I no longer have to live on Motrin and I don't cringe in pain with every swig of cold water! 

Hope everyone is getting in the holiday spirit!  :)

Monday, December 3, 2012

What I Did On My Winter Vacation

Similiar to those essays you wrote when you were a kid about what you did while you were on summer vacation, triathletes should write about what they did in their "off season" or "down time" or whatever you call that period between the finish and restart of racing. 

1) I washed all the curtains in the house.  Don't even ask.  I have no idea what came over me.

2) We got both of our cars serviced and cleaned and all nice and spiffy.  And in doing so, the very kind mechanics at the VW dealership took the seat out of our Jetta and found my wedding band!  YEAH!  :)  Also, it's now safe to sit in our back seats because all dog hair has been removed (for at least a week...)

3) I've been reading a lot.  Well, a lot for me.  I finished Outliers and then I read The Art of Racing in the Rain and Gold.  I realized today I have nothing left to read in the house!  Might have to find where the library is in this town... (that we've lived in for 8 years :)

4) I've slept A LOT.  This might be my favorite thing about down time from training - time to sleep in, time to go to bed early, time to take naps.  Yes, please!

5) Family time.  The beauty of IMAZ is that it leads nicely right into Thanksgiving, which Oscar and I spent at my sister and brother-in-law's home in North Carolina.  My parents were also able to come.  It was awesome.

6) I thought about this past season, next season and I bugged the heck out of my coach with lots of emails and questions.  :)  Just kidding, he is very gracious and patient with me.

7) I put my bike back together and I even rode it once.  But that was it.  If there is one thing I need a break from during this time of year, it's my bike!

8) Speaking of bikes, I (by "I", I mean the guys at Big Bang Bikes :), re-habbed an old (but new to me!) road bike in preparation for the Coast Ride in January!  YES!  Some how I got talked into this ride that involves many miles and many, many feet of climbing down the California coast in January.  I'm pretty pumped for it, mostly to ride with some awesome friends and see the beautiful west coast via 2 wheels!

9) I worked on sponsor relationships and tried to figure out how to get Southwest to fly me free all year long.  No ideas on that one.  Let me know if you think of something.  :) 

10) O and I bought all our Christmas gifts and sent all our cards!  This has to be some kind of record (for us).  I didn't wrap anything yet.  Must save something for next week. 

11) I worked a few extra days at this place

12) I've taken Roxy on a few extra walks.  She liked it.  I know this because she told me so.  :)

13) I spent A LOT of time figuring out my responsibilities as an athlete who was selected for USADA's (United State Anti Doping Agency) registered testing pool.  I got notice that I've been added to the International Testing Pool which is the one where you have to file your whereabouts in ONE HOUR increments for 3 months at a time so that they can test you any where, any time.  Think about that for a second.  Can you tell me right now where you're going to be on February 9th at 4:30 pm?  That's essentially what we have to do.  And it's not a joke and it's something that is to be taken very seriously (obviously!).  But I'm definitely not complaining about it and I WANT to be a part of it because this is what it takes for clean sport right?  I very much want to do my part.  (but I will say, the online whereabouts filing form makes me go cross-eyed...ha!)  So it is time well spent and I have to say, I have a much better understanding of how this whole process works (after the tutorial) and now a very, very healthy fear of taking ANY supplement!

So that's what I've been up to!  And my down time isn't over quite yet!  I'm still looking forward to a trip to visit my college roommate next weekend, some Christmas parties and a movie or two with Oscar.  When that first schedule shows up in my inbox I'm certainly going to be well rested and rearing to go!  :)  Hope everyone else is enjoying their down time too! 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Rookie Pro Season In Review

To tell you the truth, I'm not a very thoughtful person.  I don't mean thoughtful in the sense of "wow is she thoughtful to have brought over some chicken soup when I was sick."  But I mean I *literally* don't think too much on any one thing.  I don't dwell, I don't stew.  I was that person in school that took a test in 20 minutes because once I answered a question, I moved right on and NEVER went back to have a 2nd look. 

As an athlete, I can see both a benefit and a down side to this character trait.  I could probably learn a lot more from my mistakes if I ever really gave them pause.  But at the very least, I live a relatively un-tormented life in that I don't weigh myself down with OVER-thinking.  Let it be known - I've never not been able to sleep because I was thinking on something too much!  :)

Having said all that, I will say I've thought through this past season of being a rookie pro more than any other previous season.  Not sure why other than the fact that it was a very unique year for me, not just as an athlete but as a PERSON.  Below are some of my thoughts on the year. 

1) Racing pro is certainly different than racing as an age grouper and comparing times from the two isn't really fair.  There are benefits to racing as a pro and there are benefits to racing as an AGer.  In my opinion, the biggest difference BY FAR is the swim.  Even to swim the same times I did as an AGer, I need to totally remodel HOW I swim by having the ability to go WAY, WAY over threshold at the start to maintain any sort of contact before things calm down.  Um...still a work in progress.  :)  I do have this theory though that if you are a superstar fishy swimmer, your transition to being a pro and your experience as a whole is very different than someone like myself who was an "okay" AG swimmer.  And this is all because HOW the race plays out is totally dictated by where you come out of the water.  The swim can't win it for you nor can it totally lose it for you but it truly sets the course of how the day unfolds.

2) Having said all that, I TRULY loved racing as a pro this year!  I maintained a very high level of motivation through the entire year to both train and race, despite a very long season.  And I attribute this soley to the fact that the challenge of being a pro totally captivated me.

3) There is more to being a pro than one might think and I had (and still have) a lot to learn about being a professional athlete.  It's obviously not football or baseball or any other of the mainstream sports but it's still a business.  I will ALWAYS do sport because I love it and because it's something that challenges me to be a better person.  But competing as a professional adds a whole new dimension of being able to make (a little) money while doing what you love and that can change your strategies a little!  ;)  I raced a lot more this year (LOVE!) and traveled quite a bit more.  I went to many more races by myself.  These seem like small things but it was definitely an adjustment for me.

4) I was really quite pleased with my year.  I'm ever an optimist (both a good and a bad thing) and so as I think over my races and training from 2012, I have a tendency to highlight only the positives.  I am most happy about (1) staying healthy the entire year (2) being able to maintain a higher level of training AND racing and learning how to recover enough to make it through the season (3) setting PRs at Olympic, 70.3 and IM distances and (4) my consistency throughout the entire year.  If there is one thing I can claim, it's consistency.  I never really have those breakthrough type races but instead I (very) slowly chip away race after race until one day I look up and see that I'm faster than the previous year.  :)

5) Although I am incredibly pleased with season #1, I do know that my one major fault this year (and truthfully in much of my athletic career to date) was a lack of faith and having major doubts about myself and my ability to race at this level.  Friend and fellow rookie pro, Beth Walsh, said it perfectly in her own blog written just a few days ago:

"I'll be the first to admit it. At the start of this season, I did not believe in my heart that I had what it takes to be competitive as a professional triathlete. I knew I could be "ok" and get by and just prayed I didn't get beat by too many amateurs. But knowing, and truly believing in yourself, may be half the battle. Maybe that's the extra 1% I've been missing..." (Beth goes on to say that after 8 months of racing pro her mindset has changed and she now has belief in her ability to be a top IM athlete)

Ditto.  At the start of the year I felt like I was just trying to prove that letting me race as a pro wasn't a mistake.  I was simply trying not to embarrass myself.  But if you are racing with that in mind, you are doing yourself a disservice.  I see that now and can definitely say that I am a very different athlete than I was in March of this year.  Physically different a little bit but mentally different by a ton.  And like Beth said, that little bit of belief can go a long way.

This year taught me many, many things.  But mostly it taught me where I stand and it's now much clearer as to what I need to do to bridge the gap to where I want to be.  This year has taught me that I love the 70.3 distance and that I need to find 8-10 extra minutes at this distance to CONSISTENTLY be in the mix and on the podium.  I do believe God has given me the ability to get those extra 8-10 minutes (even though fins and gills REALLY would help me out here...  :).  And although I know those 8-10 minutes won't come fast, nor will they come easy, I have never in my life been more excited by a challenge.  Season #2 will be dedicated to taking that next step physically.  Thankfully my heart and my head are already there.

One million thanks over and over to all those that made this first year as a rookie pro possible and so very special: a wonderful group of sponsors, an amazing coach, fellow competitors that pushed me beyond belief and in the process have become great friends, an amazing group of friends in and out of the sport that have provided much needed support, and a family that loves me unconditionally.  Without any one piece, I would be lost!

So pro season #2....HERE WE GO!  (but first, I still have some lazy time, sleeping in and eating bon bons to do...  :)