Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Short Post for Others...

A couple things are happening this weekend:

Our first Winter 2010 Season practice for the West Side Marathon team is happening! I'm excited to meet the many new heroes that I'll come to call friends and family in the coming months.

For these new, soon-to-be half and full marathoners, some inspiration:
"If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning." - Gandhi
My good friends Dash (@dashnash), Peter (@peterhvu), Rachel (@chaibot) and the IRONTEAM from greater LA are competing in the Full Vineman Triathlon (Ironman) this weekend. The three mentioned, and many of their teammates, are doing an IM for the first time. I am very, very excited for them - Sunday will change their lives. They will be Ironmen. I can't wait to hear about their experiences when they return.

For the soon-to-be Ironmen, my favorite quote goes to you guys.
"It always seems impossible until it is done." - Nelson Mandela
Sunday is also Isabella's Day. She is one of the reasons I run. Well, she is a third of one of the reasons I run. Her father, my friend Chris, is an amazing writer (and friend, coach, person). And his post about her and this day is here. If you read nothing else from my website ever, please click on this link and read her story.

For Chris and Crea, and for anyone looking for the good in times of despair...
"There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning." - Louis L'Amour

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Man vs. Machine

My friends and colleagues sometimes (lovingly, I’m sure) refer to me as a ‘machine’ when it comes to all of the athletics stuff I do. I can understand why some people at work think I’m a bit crazy. These are the people who don’t spend their off hours running, biking, swimming and hanging out with other athletes. My endurance friends, too, occasionally call me a machine, and I laugh because little do they know how similar I am to them.

This weekend, though, I felt more ‘man’ than ‘machine’ during my workouts. Partly this is because I put in some short-but-tough speed sessions and hill work into my weekly runs. Four pace-pushing workouts in a row rendered my quads tired and heavy. Lead legs syndrome.

Another part of this equation could be that – at 1 month out from 140.6 – I still haven’t taken a +3 day rest period. I’m young. I love to run. Much of my social life and mental health depends on it! I’m reluctant and uncomfortable to step away from it for a long time. So now I am harvesting what I’ve sown.

The Weekend Workouts

On Saturday afternoon I started my workouts. I got in a nice 1-hr swim, 3200 yards. Felt good to be back in the pool. And while that was a fairly fast pace for me to hold, I actually felt pretty relaxed – like I was cruising – through much of it.

I followed the swim with what I thought would be a 3hr run. It would take me nicely into the evening. But about 2 hours in, my legs decided they had had enough. My pace slowed, even slower than the LSD pace I was trying to keep (around 9min/mile).

I just wasn’t enjoying the beautiful weather. I was focused on my discomfort and mental fatigue. So I shut it down 7 miles short of my goal. All man. No machine.

Sunday was another late start – 11:30am – and I was looking at 70 miles on the bike around the valley. The temps were cool and the sky was blue. I set off at a nice, easy clip. But the first 40 miles didn’t come as easy as they usually do.

Maybe it was still the weekly speed work hangover holding me back. Maybe it was because I haven’t done a long ride solo in a bit. Probably had a little to do with the lack of calories I was carrying (and ate that morning). My brain was asking my body why I was even doing this.

What am I training for? Why 4 hours of riding? What’s the point?

All these questions and aches caused me to pull over, grab some more water and think about whether I wanted to finish the ride or pack it in...

The sky above my water stop. Scene of my contemplation

The Lesson

When a machine breaks down, it just stops. No amount of negotiation, convincing, pleading and dealing will get it to start up again. You can’t pep talk the TV to get rid of the snowy static. You can’t trick a conveyor belt to continue spinning. Swearing at the broken treadmill won’t make its dashboard light up.

I thought about this as I got back onto my bike. Maybe it’s okay to be “man” and not “machine” this weekend. Because you can’t talk a broken machine into doing those last 30 miles. But you can talk a man into doing them.

We are, to a great extent, defined by our choices. I could be the person who makes an excuse (I’m tired) and heads home. Or I could be the person that finished out those 30 miles. No one else in the world cares what I choose. Just me.

At mile 51, the point at which I could have rolled back onto my home street, I told myself that excuses don’t build character. They weaken it. And when the sun sets on this day, that’s all I get. It’s gone. Maybe there would some magic in those last 30 miles. Maybe there would be some revelation of potential that I’d miss out if I didn’t finish.

It’s only 30 miles. I’m healthy, capable, and I have nowhere else to be.

I threw my ego, pride and the data I was tracking aside, and I rode. I committed to finishing what I started, what I aimed to complete.

Man can be convinced. Negotiated. Pleaded with. Persuaded. A tired and broken man can fix himself even when his own brain conspires against him.

When the world says, "Give up," Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."

I was not a machine in those last 30.1 miles. I finished the ride in 4hrs and 10mins, a little under 17mph. I stayed a man, a slow one today. But that’s okay. Because I finished it. A human. Flexible, teachable, and perfectly imperfect.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Winter Season Kick Off 2010

Tomorrow morning, after a swim workout, I will head over to Pasadena for the Team in Training Winter Kick Off 2010 season.

I'm nervous about meeting all of the new faces. I'm excited about the upcoming months of training and the friendships that they will build. And I'm enthusiastic that maybe this season will be the last one. Maybe after these months we can say, "We have found a cure." And we will finally rest.

But until those words are said, we will keep on fighting.

Tonight's Final Thought:
"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour is that moment when he has worked his heart out in good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious"
Vince Lombardi

A Short, Leg-Shredding Workout

The struggle for me is never the actual workouts I do, but the compromises I must make to get them in. I have trouble sometimes reconciling my love for long workouts with the reality of my schedule.

Now I’m using the word “struggle” here liberally. Like one someone hasn’t eaten for six hours and they say, “I’m starving.” No, you aren’t. You are hungry. You’re not starving. It’s hyperbole, so pardon the dramatic language :)

Anyway, It’s hard to accept that a 60-minute workout is “worth it”. The hassle of preparing gear (prepping my bike, collecting my swim toys, tracking down my HR monitor for one of the watches) seems like a pain in the ass if I’m only going to be sweating for an hour.

Yesterday I was faced with this challenge. I’d packed up my bike, swim gear, and running clothes all in my car – which has become my locker room on wheels – I even do a full change in there occasionally. But my coworker was out sick, so I saw my workload doubled and my usual quitting time evade me.

I was faced with two choices: Take a rest day (which, admittedly, I am entitled to this week) or cut my workout down. The sun was descending, casting it’s final colors on the rock faces in the park. I wanted to enjoy those colors. So I hauled myself over to the park, unloaded my bike, helmeted up and promised myself a quick brick workout.

The Park

Since time was short, I agreed on a 40min bike and a 20min run. And if I was going to go so short, hell if I wasn’t going to push the limits of my legs.

There is a 5.5 mile loop around that park that includes a +500 ft climb over the course of a mile. It’s a great climb and an even greater descent.

The Hill

I usually incorporate the loop into my longer (+4hr) rides and runs to get a little incline work in. I’d never ridden it at sunset, so doing the loop was a great excuse to see the SF Valley from on high.

I usually average just under 17mph on longer rides that include the hill. But I found my cycle legs quickly and committed to blasting out two loops (11 miles) as quick as I could. I flew around the flats at about 20mph, climbed at about 12mph, and took the descent at paces between 28-36mph. It was amazing. 37 minutes later – the ride was done. 17.6mph. My quads were screaming a little. My calves were talking to me.

And my mind was saying, “Let’s blast out 20 minutes of running.” So I threw the bike back in my car. Swapped clipped shoes for my Sauconys. Hat for Helmet. And I took off. I headed back for the hill, about a mile away from my car. 20 minutes is not enough time to get into a running rhythm for me, but the ride helped me click into the run pretty quickly.

I was 7 minutes into the run when I got to the bottom of the hill. I was going 12minutes out and 11 minutes back – 23min run total. I had 5 minutes of climbing. Time to play mind games. How high could I get up this hill before having to turn around? Can I get to that sign? That hydrant? That tree?

I booked with the incline will enthusiasm. A hunter on the hunt. Eating hills for dinner! I climbed about 400ft before the watch hit 12 minutes.

But I didn’t relax on the turnaround. Time to book back down. Trail runners know that the descent on runs is what kills you – and your quads. I jumped roots, navigated rocks and divots, and made my way back down to the base at a cool 6:45/mile clip. I kept up my pace in the 1 mile flat run to my car. Called it a day when I reached minute 23. Logged 2.75 miles in 23 miles, or about 8:23/mile. I don’t think I’ve ever done that with such a hill in the middle.

Legs shredded. Head happy. Only 60 minutes, but I made the most of it.

The lesson from the workout (because there are always lessons from workouts. Every moment is a teachable one, as someone recently said on twitter) is you do what you can with what you have. Sure, I could have used more time. Could have used more miles. But I am always going to want or need more – that’s the struggle. Fight to get in what you can, and as long as you give it what you have – a little leg shredding included – you will end up with a happy head too.

Final Thought comes from Josh Cox, one of the top distance runners in the country. It's this attitude that I try to follow, that will get me to get out the door, lace up and work hard under whatever circumstance.

"Never give up. Don't let your dreams die. Bleed, claw, sweat, & scrape to make them a reality. The world needs your passion."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One More Mile

In my previous three workouts (bike 90 minutes, run 50 minutes - flat course, run 50 minutes - hills) I’ve noticed an interesting trend. About halfway through the workout, when I decide to negative split it, I push myself hard and wonder, “Can I work so hard that I vomit?” So I push and push and push … And with detached curiosity, I monitor my gut. So far, I am 0-3. No vomit. But definitely some rumbling.

It’s a new development in my training. I like endurance events – the longer the better - that’s what she said – because they allow you to plod along for hours on end, with little concern for a rapid, feverish pace. So in my training, I do a lot of plodding to the tune of zone 2-3 heart rate. Once in a while I amp it up to a zone 4-5 workout. But I never stack them on back-to-back days.

So this recent kick to push my heart rate to the infamous zone 6 (read: like an 11.0 earthquake) has me intrigued. I’m not sure where the no-holds-barred, let’s-dig-deep-and-find-the-speed-demon is coming from.

Admittedly, each of my run, bike and swim average paces have become faster since IMCDA. I don’t know if I credit a mental shift or better health (read: sleep!!). I’m really not sure.

All I know is that when my iPod hits the right song three-quarters of the way through my run, I feel my feet flutter faster and my body moves quicker across space and time. Now, I’m not the fastest runner, but holding a 6:50-7:15 pace for more than a couple miles is definitely a noted change.

During these kicks, my brain goes to my current mantra: the lyrics from Paper Tongues’ One More Mile. I repeat over and over again, “Girl, it’s just a mile / it’s not that far / You can somehow” and off I go. My abs tighten up. My chest gets stiff. My arms swing furiously and I bound along – the front-foot striker that I am – toward some undefined finish line.

It hurts. But it’s a good hurt. The kind of hurt where you feel your muscles breaking down, sacrificing themselves in the name of fulfilling potential.
I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more. - Narrator, Fight Club

Not a picture of Edward Norton…

Time comes to a standstill as I dodge past cars, bushes, bikers and my own limits. Nothing touches me but the pavement below. I'm a machine - channeling my bike chain or the joints in my lower body. Effort in equals effort out. I escape.

And when the workout is over, I’m drenched in sweat. My head is pounding. My lungs are crying mercy, and I’m smiling one of those dopey, doped-up grins. Because somewhere in those last couple miles I scratched the surface of that potential. The Boston Marathoner. The sub-20 5K-er. Kona. The runner.

And in the tomorrow that follows, I hope to be a little faster. A little braver. Dig a little deeper and find a little more. To do it all again, for one more mile.

Final Thought: You learn you can do your best even when it's hard, even when you're tired and maybe hurting a little bit. It feels good to show some courage. -Joe Namath

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Running in [Social] Circles

A couple days ago I posted about the solo nature of my athletic pursuits. Much of my focused training happens by myself. On my own time.

But occasionally, and more so recently, I’ve gotten to share my training with my friends.

But first, a week’s RECAP:

I am fully back into running, biking, and weight training. I am about 65-percent back into swimming, but that is a choice I’ve made – to shorten my time in the pool. The stress of waiting for a lane is not always worth it.

Monday was an easy 3.5mile run. Tuesday and Wednesday were both two-a-day workouts that included 2hrs of running/swimming and 1hr of biking/running. Thursday was 2.5hrs biking/swimming/lifting. I aimed to spend Friday getting some quality (running) hill repeats in. Short and sweet for the legs.

Friday afternoon, as work wound its way down, I impulsively offered up a light post-work run to my friend Kelly. This was instead of my own solo speedwork. It isn’t like me to deviate from my schedule-plan-routine, but I hadn’t run with Kelly in a while (she is a TNT alum/teammate, and we run once every couple of weeks together), and given a big bike ride in the AM, I thought my legs better served by a lactic shakedown run, not a build-up.

She was free and joined for the workout. So I finished off the day with good conversation and an easy 3-miler around the park.

Saturday morning was slated to be a 4-hour bike ride along PCH if I could find the motivation to drive myself out there. On Friday afternoon my friend Chris offered for me to join him on a 60ish-mile ride along the same route…so long as I could show up ready to ride at sunrise. No problem. I work well in the pre-dawn hours.

For the second time in 12 hours, I ditched the solo plan for friends. Good choice!

What would have been a long (but beautiful) multi-hour ride in Malibu turned out to be just that but with better company than just myself. Hills are a little less steep when your riding partner starts swearing at them. Carbo-pro doesn’t taste as bad at 7am when you are with--- No, wait. That incomplete thought is not true Drinking it before 9am is never pleasant. Not sure friends can change that.

Now for some REFLECTIONS:

"Do not underestimate the intimacy of running, and the people with whom you share your miles" Kristin Armstrong
I count myself very lucky to have friends like Kelly and Chris with whom I can workout, hangout and chat during training sessions. They are each very funny, thoughtful people. Very easy to talk to. Sometimes we talk about work. Sometimes about Team in Training or coaching. Sometimes about some ridiculous story from our pasts.

My effort going into a workout - a 60-mile ride or a 30-minute run in these cases - gets cut in half by the good company I share. It’s socializing-on-the-move. Talk out the day, the week, the life you’ve lived.

But even more noticeable to me is what is not said. Or rather, the silence and stillness that I share when I workout with a friend.

"True friendship comes when the silence between two people is comfortable" – David Tyson Gentry
I have plenty to talk about with Kelly, Chris and my teammates/running partners. I have plenty to say to anyone, frankly (a positive quality for a blogger).

But sometimes on a good run or ride you just let the miles roll over you. You fall into a rhythm, a cadence, and a silence that betters the whole experience.

It’s not that I don’t want to speak to the person next to me – whose legs are probably pounding like mine, whose trying to kill the hill just like me. It’s exactly the opposite. The silence between two friends who are working at something is not a buffer. It’s a bond.

During the silences, I am in my head. My pragmatic side is focused on the road or trail; talking through a random problem or appreciating the scenery.

But on another level – maybe emotional, maybe social, maybe soulful – I am attuned to the ephemeral thing that we call “friendship.”

Lately I’ve been quietly regarding the quiet spaces within the workouts. That I can huff and puff or cruise along besides Kelly or Chris in total comfort and appreciation for just being friends, means more to me than whatever miles we put in that day.

And when the words to come back to the conversation, it’s as if we didn’t miss a beat. Because really, a conversation is not only an exchange of a bunch of sentences. It is made up of all of the pauses, gulps, and stutters in between. All those imperfect sounds that make us sounds better than those robotic GPS voices.

Much of the above is true with my friends and teammates with whom I run each Sunday. I spend those mornings talking with a variety of friends – different ages, different stories, different lives than mine. We are all moving forward along our route. Sometimes we suffer together. Sometimes the dialogue is derailed by a challenging stretch of street. And during the good stretches, we fly down the road and speak with the enthusiasm and optimism of a marathoner who can see the finish line.

A couple of my friends. San Diego Marathon 2009

People who face challenges together grow close by necessity. What sets my friends apart is that we choose to face these hills, miles and occasional meltdowns together time and time again. Not necessity. Not obligation. But for the accomplishment. And for the friendship.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Greatest Accomplishment

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." Ralph Waldo Emerson

The above quotation comes from my friend and teammate, Lori who offers as much insight and encouragement to her friends as anyone I know. I thought the quote she posted today was appropriate because I’m in an interesting place in my non-training that has gotten me thinking about who I am. Hold on, it’s about to get philosophical!

The first conclusion I have drawn comes from a self-evaluation of my training. I ask myself, what have I done this week for workouts? How much? When? And did I enjoy it?

I can open up Fitness Journal and take a look at my graphs – they answer the first three questions. The website, however, won’t answer that last one. And the last one is the most important one.

The difference between the workouts during the past two weeks and those that preceded them in the six months leading up to CDA is not the volume. I’m putting in very similar hours and distances as I did in the pre-peak training weeks. Approximately 16 hours each week, with just over 110miles on the bike, 35miles of running, and 2-3hours of swimming.

Admittedly, I’ve stopped going to the pool at 4:45am, and instead I put in a little less time during evening workouts. I try to get the long weekend workout in (+3500yards) though. The pool is just a pain to pack for.

The difference between these current workouts is that I do them because I love the sports. Not because fear or doubt or a deadline is forcing me to put the work in. But because I actually enjoy what I do.

To be myself is to be in motion. Or, as I tell myself when I run sometimes, I feel most alive at 150 beats per minute.

I am a prime personality for scheduling and deadlines. I thrive on them. And I was lost in the two or three days after the race, when I took down the training calendar and put up my “hair cut appointment” reminder. Less fun training for a hair cut. Grow. Rest. Grow. Wash. Grow.

So on that third day, I decided to do whatever workouts I wanted to do. I wasn’t questioning my motivation. I wasn’t trying to maintain that impossible race shape. I was really just trying to figure out who I am within the lens of my athletic life.

We all live in a world that is constantly asking commitments from us. The day job, the night job, the family, the friends, the necessities of eating and sleeping, and okay, showering.

The “World” isn’t always asking us to be who we are not, but nor is it forgiving in its limits. There will only ever be 24 hours in the day.

One of the greatest accomplishments, I think, is figuring out who you are – what heart rate do you live at – and keeping that in sight. Emerson’s observation is clear – we must “constantly” try to be ourselves in the face of forces that tempt us, goad us, and challenge us to do otherwise.

I’m lucky that I like the sports I do. I’m driven by goals (some arbitrary numbers, others personal satisfactions) and I certainly owe a significant amount of my social life to each team I have been a part of my entire life.

But at the end, when the race or the season is over, when the calendar is off the fridge and the short term goals have been satisfied, I haven’t lost my way. I keep-on-keeping-on trying to be myself. Swim. Bike. Run. Think.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Full-Contact Life

Caveat: I wear many hats. I am a coach, one who will go whatever distance and provide whatever support to get my team across that finish line. I lift weights so I can throw them over my shoulder if need be. But I write this post from the point of view as a single athlete and my own training/racing experiences.

With the exception of the IMCDA swim start, there is very little contact made between triathletes. On the bike and on the run, it is generally the norm to keep to oneself. Marathoners and cyclists, too, can train and race without physically or mentality affecting other people.

Having basically trained on my own for the Ironman, I have an acute awareness of the lack of contact one can have with other athletes and the physical world outside of the trail/pavement/pool that comprises the day's workout. There is a part of endurance athletics that embodies a total singular-ness. Because at the end of the day, it is your body and it is your goal. And you alone are charged with getting to that finish line. You alone control the controllable and adjust to the uncontrollable.

I have been involved with endurance sports for the past 4 years (though I have been involved in ‘team’ sports / soccer, volleyball, basketball, golf, javelin for much longer.) And the lifestyle that I describe above was perfectly in tune with the way I have lived my adult life out here in Los Angeles. I have led a very low-contact life. I have my job (and my friends/coworkers), my Team (close friends, inspirations), and my athletic pursuits (my own). I thrive on routine and usually stick to those basic elements around which to build my day. (No, Mom, I still don’t have a boyfriend. Yes, Dad, you can be happy about that.)

During these four years, I amped up my training, excelled at my day job, and grew as a mentor and coach within Team. I stretched myself socially, but only a bit. And I never really put in the effort to break through that realm as I had in other parts of my life.

The Ironman changes people. And 2 weeks out from Idaho, I’ve noticed how it is changing me.

Just as I had to accept that the swim portion of the race is a full-contact sport, I now see that, unavoidably, life is a full-contact sport. You cannot hope to do the Ironman swim without touching anyone. Without being kicked. Without kicking back. Without affecting others’ paths. Without having to adjust your own.

Turns out that the same is true in life. I cannot hope to cruise through life like I do an empty lane in a lap pool. Life isn’t about following the straight, black line and breathing regularly. Because at the end of the day – at the end of a pool session – you don’t get anywhere. You count up your yardage and you head home.

The real progress and the real thrill come out in the open water, among competitors and friends. Helping. Being helped. Getting whacked in the face by a rogue hand. Doing some hitting yourself. Literally swimming with the rest of the world. Life is a full-contact sport. I’d be kidding myself if I believed that faking it in a pool is in any way an equivalent.

Now I’m not writing this reflection from a place of mastery. If anything, I am slightly behind on working my way to a more full-contact mentality. I’m a creature of habit and personal space.

But this revelation, for me, is like the first lap of the 2.4 mile swim. I’ve gotten through the bodies, the splashing, the confusion of figuring out which way to go. I can now make more sense of the course. Now I find my balance, remember what I have been taught, and take it buoy-by-buoy, and join the masses in the gigantic synchronized swim.

"It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away."
– U2 Beautiful Day
(The song I sang to myself during the swim portion of the race).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Random Quote Generator

If I'm out on a long ride or run, after I've thought all of the thoughts I've had to think through, my mind attaches itself to a mantra or phrase that I end up saying/singing/silently shouting to myself for the remainder of the workout.

Motivational words are very personal. When I see certain words, I'm affected. Someone else looking at the same words or phrases would not be. And visa versa. Motivation tends to be loaded with the baggage we bring to it.

Nevertheless, I've come across a bunch of quote lately that piqued my interest. And so I will share them with you. Some of these comes from my time with Team. Others I stumbled across on the internet. And some are from years back; their origins are lost on me, yet they are still inspiring. Enjoy.

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt

"The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man's foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher." -Thomas Huxley

"It's a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired you quit when the gorilla is tired." -Robert Strauss

"Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another." -Walter Elliot

“Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow.” Dan Rather

“It's not what they take away from you that counts: it’s what you do with what you have left” Hubert Humphrey

"Know how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong." - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"Winning is not about headlines and hardware. It’s only about attitude. A winner is a person who goes out today and every day and attempts to be the best runner and best person he can be… Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism, and never, ever, ever giving up." -Amby Burfoot

"You are in a relationship with running. A love-hate relationship. Running kicks you out of bed and into a cold, hard world. Running calls you at all hours of the night. Running gets you up at the crack of dawn and keeps you at practice long after play has left the building. Every day with running is a question of your commitment, and running’s not afraid to ask. Yes, my friend, it is a complex and torrid affair. It is a constant balance, a balance between joy and pain. Work and play. A balance between love and hate. Everything we do is geared toward tipping the balance." - Some Shoe Commercial ... whose brand I don't recall.

Monday, July 5, 2010

An Open Letter to Those Considering Team in Training

In January 2007, I attend an info meeting for the Team in Training marathon team in Culver City, CA. And I had no idea what I was getting into other than these purple-shirted people promised that they could get me to run a marathon. Ha! Had they read my high school essay on the despised “Timed Mile”?

I was still fairly new to Los Angeles, having lived here for only 5 months. Despite the city’s best efforts to overwhelm me with its not-east-coast culture, I decided to take on the challenge of running my first marathon. Why not? Living in LA was difficult enough. Why not try and run across the entire city?

I came to the program a veteran of 1 half marathon (Walt Disney World, Orlando, FL Jan 2007). I remember finishing that race and thinking, “Damn, how do people do this twice?!”

[Left] Post-Half Marathon

Nevertheless, my ambition got the best of me, and I committed to a full marathon, to fundraising $2500 and to seeing through an accomplishment I thought impossible.

Why TNT? Well, it’s really hard to say exactly. Cancer runs in my family, although there is a there is a survivor in my family, without a cure, cancer's presence still looming. And my mother is a pathologist, specializing in hematopathology (blood diseases), so my connection to the causes serves her life’s work. It’d be a gift to help cure it. I am just one person who wants to help out someone who needs help – and TNT provided an outlet.

I didn’t know at the time how much TNT would grow into my west coast family. How much helping those who fight against cancer would become a part of my life. How much my teammates and colleagues would mean to me.

After 3 season as a participant, 1 season as a mentor, 2 seasons as an assistant coach, and 1 season as a co-coach, here I am at the brink of season number 8. The head coach of the Greater LA West Side marathon team. And I write this not from a place of pride, but from a place of enthusiasm, reaching out across the web to encourage anyone who has a slight interest and desire to join me in this journey – whether you are in Los Angeles or not. We are one big family. Corny? Yes. True. Yes.

See, Team in Training is more than purple jerseys. We are more than the “Go Team!” cheer. We are more than a group of individuals who gather each Saturday or Sunday to log our miles, share our frustrations of the week’s workload, complain about chafing, rejoice in conquering extreme distances, and cheers over giant plates of eggs, bacon and toast.

Eight season has taught me that we are greater than the drug, Gleevec; we are greater than the over $1 billion raised to fight cancer; we are greater than the 13.1 or 26.2 miles that stare us down on race day. We are all these things and more. We are a collective of individuals who, through our fundraising and through or dedication to walk and run down the miles before us, can actually make a difference. We change lives – others' lives and our own.

I’ve experienced it. Laura, Nick, Krissy, Phyllis, Kyle, Stevie, Chris, Javi: These are all people dear to my heart. People who I call on when pushing my body beyond the brink seems like a crazy idea. Before my time with TNT, I never considered facing the challenges of running (and biking and swimming) long distances. 26.2 – are you kidding me? 50 miles, running? Why would someone do that? 140.6 miles of swimming and biking and running … and no one is chasing you … and you are paying to do this?

I never thought I had it in me. TNT has given me that perspective, that focus and that drive.

[Left] Three and a half years after that half marathon, the Ironman Finish Line

It is my turn to reach out to you, wherever you are in the country, and encourage you to seek out an info meeting, talk to a campaign manager, and see how TNT could fit in your life. Not just for you. Not just for the patients who will benefit from your effort. Not just for your teammates who will draw motivation from your smile. But for anyone who has ever had the flicker of hope and potential in them – what if I could … what if I did … wouldn’t they all be surprised if it just … - do it for us, and do it for those people.

I’m not trying to shill this experience on you. It is way too personal for me to sell it out like that. I really do mean what I write. It is life-changing. I have an Ironman medal from Coeur d’Alene that I owe to my coaches and teammates from the West Side over the past three years. I promise you that you can be there too. At whatever finish line you have in mind. You can experience thesetriumphs too, if you just give it a chance. Lace up those shoes and don that purple shirt.

Final Thought:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done. - Nelson Mandela”

Jedi Mind Tricks

Confession – I can’t ever remember watching Star Wars. Any of them. I know I grew up with the VHS tapes in our house. I have to have seen them, right? Maybe I should change the title. I don’t feel worthy…but anyway…

When I got my first job in Hollywood, I joked to my boss, “I thrive at tedious, repetitive tasks.” She replied, “You will be good at this job.” Sadly, she was right.

Thankfully, a few years later and a few positions higher, I can reflect on that moment as an insightful one. Because it’s actually true: I do thrive on repetition. Habit. Constant small movements, adjustments and practice that let me hone whatever it is I am trying to achieve.
I was a volleyball player in college – a newbie to the sport, but a four-year setter who now holds a couple school records and has two cardboard cutouts of herself … that’s besides the points… The college track coach approached me my junior year to ask if I’d be interested in some cross-training: The Javelin. Since it simulated the kill swing, he thought it’d make me a better hitter. So I said “Sure.”

My junior and senior springs during college consisted of monotonous, focused work: simulating a javelin throw with a weighted tennis ball. Stance, pause, aim, thrown, hold follow through, retrieve ball. I would do this 200-300 time a day for 5 days a week. Repeat. Repeat Repeat. Cup-Cup-Cup [A reference to In These Girls Hope is a Muscle, a wonderful book]. I had awesome shoulders.

And my repetition paid off with a spot in the track record books and a love for, well, the javelin. Not because it tapped into some primal, hunter-gatherer emotion I had (okay, maybe a little), but because it proved to me that small steps, determination and perseverance really could pay off. If I could learn how to master the awkwardness that is the javelin stance, I could pretty much learn anything else.
The thing that I think endurance athletes have in common is not physical ability, but mental toughness, enough to face each training day, each training season, and embrace it bit-by-bit. On a macro level and on a micro one, we are successful in constantly repeating our behavior.

The macro level is easy to understand. We lay out training plans that exceed 4-5 months. We track our mileage, rest, nutrition and well-being over this time period. We measure the year not by a traditional calendar, but by when our race falls – NYC, Boston, Kona and the others. I will be forever thankful that my involvement in Team in Training, and my own non-TNT pursuits has allowed me to practice this ability – the ability to think long term.

The micro level is a little harder to understand. I was thinking about this when I was swimming today. During each of my swim practices, I count my yards. Each stroke is a number. The first ½ lap is 0-0-2-5, 0-0-2-5, 0-0-2-5. And when I get to the other side and turn around, it becomes 0-0-5-0, 0-0-5-0…etc. I do this up to and through 4,500 yards on long days. The comfort I find in the counting, and the focus I am challenged to maintain is a huge part of my successful outing at CDA. It’s all about concentration.

On the bike, I don’t think miles. I think heart rate. Constantly checking to see if I’m above 130, above 150, below 140 or wherever I am supposed to be. For hours on end I will monitor a single number. How long can I keep my cadence at 90? How much leeway do I allow for hills? On the run – how’s my pace? Consistent? Erratic? It’s a numbers game that keeps me honed in on one particular data set.

And, you know, it’s this gift of focus that has served me well in other parts of my life (jobs, friendships, etc) that I owe to running (and biking and swimming, though I am still new to them). Being able to be mentally tough, to master the Jedi mind tricks with yourself, I have found, comes in handy when staring down an excel sheet, a difficult coworker, or just a long day at the office.

A while ago I re-posted a link, Why Runners Make Good Employees, and its words are the essence of what I have come to value in the endurance community:

You learn a lot about how to break thresholds and get past your own little ego, training for events like these. When you’re tired and sore and hungry but you still have four miles to go, guess what? You still have four miles to go. How you get through these last four miles is entirely up to you. Nobody cares whether you walk those last four miles or run, or hail a cab. Nobody made you set 26.2 miles as a goal. Or 100 miles. Or 144+.

Those who are successful at these sports, they find a way through.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Time to Reboot

I took over a year off from the blog after I finished the ultra marathon in April '09. As personal achievements go, it was one of the bigger athletic ones I'd completed. And naturally, I ran out of words to describe the return to everyday activities. Logging less than 9 miles each week day, and less than 3hrs each Saturday and Sunday seemed too mundane to write about.

In hindsight, I was wrong. It is in the repeated, mundane workouts where our character is forged and our victories are made. (Many famous quotes stem from this thought).

The completion of Ironman Coeur d'Alene has propelled me back into the world of writing. In fact, it is the connection I share with my West Side Team and the twitter support that I have motivated me to restart sharing my training.

I share for many reasons. I will write because it helps me stay accountable. Just as I log my workouts on Fitness Journal (note: they do not pay me, I just love the site), I will have the internet theater to answer to.

I also will write with the hope that someone reading will find some motivation for themselves. To sign up for a race that sounds insurmountable. To join a running group despite their shyness. To take a risk in athletics or in life that is uncertain and, therefore, scary. I've done all three and lived to write about it. Few, if any, things are impossible.

Over the past two weeks, during the pre- and post-Ironman weeks, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to set a goal and see it through. Where as many of my endurance goals have required only a portion of my brain, body and psyche, IMCDA asked for - and received - all of those.

Six months of formal training and 12 hours, 42 minutes and 28 seconds of my spirit. That changed me. Not in a perceptible way. But in a way that has fueled my passion for pushing the limits with myself and encouraging others who have the same desire to find that extra strength and focus within them. Harnessing that discipline is difficult, and it is not without failure. Fail often, learn often. But I have experienced the reward on the other side of that discipline, and I promise you it is magic.

The upcoming posts will meander through the Winter 2010 Team in Training season (which I am coaching), my future race schedule, my daily workouts and my musings on endurance athletics in general. And at the end of every post I will include a final thought in the form of a quote or original idea to pack up and take with you as you and I both sail on to other reaches of the internet.

Today's Final Thought is about Attitude, something I believe got me through Sunday's race:
Winning is not about headlines and hardware. It’s only about attitude. A winner is a person who goes out today and every day and attempts to be the best runner and best person he can be...Winning is about struggle and effort and optimism, and never, ever, ever giving up. -Amby Burfoot

Cheers, my friends.