... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

All Fun and Games Until Someone Breaks a Foot

It is a week after completing my first triathlon, and I am immobile.

Hawaii got the best of me and I had a mishap resulting in me dragging myself back to my car, somehow driving (stick shift) back home, and gimping into the house before collapsing on the floor in pain. I like to think of myself as fairly strong and able to deal with pain, but this one was tough. Intense, steady pain all over my foot and ankle so bad I had cold sweats and nausea. Lying on the ground I was once again glad for my recent training, because the same "I have no choice but to accept and get through this" mentality that got me through the toughest hills on the bike was what helped me stay calm despite the pain.

Three days later, my foot looks like a balloon: a watercolor blue and purple balloon. After hopping around on one foot all weekend, I finally went to the doctor today. I have to mention how amazing the Hawi Hospital is -- I have never had such kind and thoughtful care by all the staff.

But here's where things get complicated: the x-ray tech told be decisively that I had a fracture on the distal 4th metatarsal. The doctor told me that there was no fracture. The radiologist told me that there were "probable fractures on the 3rd and 4th metatarsals." Which of these is correct, I don't know, and so until the discrepancy is resolved I am cruising on crutches with my foot immobilized in a splint. To solve the diagnosis problem, I have been referred to Dr. Hiller at North Hawaii Hospital, who happens to be the chief medical officer for the Ironman Triathlon. Something tells me I can trust his opinion.

No matter what, this is a frustrating set back. If it isn't broken, it will probably take a week or two out if my training. If it is, I will not be allowed to put weight on it for six weeks. I am trying to stay positive and keep my frustration at bay. Life is full of surprises.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lanikai Triathlon 2013: Accomplished!

I am officially a triathlete!

The nerves hit me as I got onto the plane to go to Oahu. I was on my way to do the thing I had dreamed about for over six years -- it hardly seemed real. As I arrived back in Honolulu I was accosted by the city noise I used to be accustomed to but have since forgotten. I was singularly focused on getting out of the airport and into my rental car so that I could make it into town in time to pick up my race packet and rental bike before the shop closed, so I rushed through the terminal and ran to catch a shuttle.

Getting warmed up in the dark
True to what has become the norm during my training there had to be a hiccup, not that the lack of surprise kept me from yelling and swearing when my rental car appeared to be stuck in overdrive. With no time to go back to the rental car company to get a different one, I had little choice but to drive the fifteen miles into town as is, going twenty-two miles per hour at 6000 RPMs. The engine roared, people honked, I swore, and yet again the triathlon had the upper hand. After about ten stressed out minutes, I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

My transition area
Once I made it to the bike shop, I felt like I could finally relax. Imagine my surprise when one of the staff members outside of the shop that I've never been to saw me and said,
Stripped down and ready to go
"Hey! Ballerina! Ballerinas don't run!"
Apparently I'm famous, albeit with a very select group of people. All the same, it made me feel a little more comfortable when I was feeling very unsure of myself. I got my packet, got my temporary bike, and was ready to go!

Awaking at 3:40am the next morning, it hit me that this was it. Luckily I had written down everything I needed in the days preceding, otherwise I probably would have forgotten everything in my shaky, nervous state. Note to potential or future triathletes: make a list of all the things you'll need for race day and pack your bag the night before, just in case nerves turn you into a useless twit the morning of. I don't really remember the drive to Kailua; I was too busy obsessing about transitions and how best to get my feet clean between the swim and bike legs.

Energy was high when we arrived at the race, still in the dark. Athletes milled around, arranging and rearranging their transition areas and exchanging excited words with others. After setting up my towel, water bottle, snack, brush, dri-fit shirt, race belt and number, shoes, and helmet in the order I would need them, I remembered what I had read about first time triathlon tips and walked around the perimeter of the transition area, identifying the entrance and exit for each leg of the race in relation to my bike and gear. I strapped my timing chip to my left leg, got my number emblazoned on my arms in permanent marker, and stripped down to my tri shorts and sports bra. At 6am, I followed everyone else down toward the water, tingling in anticipation.

The beautiful start!
The crowd was alive, chattering and moving and stretching. I tested the water and was pleased to feel that it was warm enough that a pre-race dip was unnecessary. People started putting on their swim caps and so as the men lined up to start, I took a deep breath and put in my earplugs. The nervous conversations were immediately muted and I was left with the glassy water, the peach-colored clouds and light behind the horizon. It was quiet, and beautiful, and I let my nerves relax and reveled in the fact that all of my work was about to come to fruition in this gorgeous place. The crowd cheered as the men took off, and it was time to line up. Focused, relaxed, and bathed in pastels, I took my place where I guessed I fit in among my competitors, having no idea how my swim times compared to anyone else.

The swimmers head into the blue
When the women's start flag was dropped, I took my time getting into a stroke, avoiding the punches and kicks I had been so paranoid about. I was solidly in the middle of the pack, but I think that for the next triathlon I will start myself a little further up -- I was actually passing several people, no small task when surrounded by hundreds of flailing, splashing limbs. It was a taxing start. I wasn't stressed, but it took a lot of physical energy to find a place among the group where I had space to relax into my stroke and I found myself out of breath, something I hadn't experience before when swimming. Oddly enough, once I reminded myself to breath smoothly and slow down I picked up speed and started passing people. I concentrated on feeling the water run over me and using long, strong strokes and very little kick. Rounding the last buoy, I actually wished the swim was longer. Following the advice of the articles I'd read, I swam all the way in to shore until my fingertips brushed the sand before standing slowly and running back to the transition area. This paid off, as I swam past several people trying in vain to run quickly through chest-deep water.

Run that bike!
The first transition was by far the hardest. I felt out of my element coming out of the water in a hurry and trying to think straight about what to do first to get ready for the bike. Again, I was thankful that I had laid everything out in order on my towel so that I didn't have to think. I rinsed my feet with a water bottle, took a swig of Gatorade, dried my feet, put on sock and shoes, took a swig of Gatorade, put on a shirt, my race number, and my bike helmet, took a last swig of Gatorade and grabbed the bike. I have never run with a bike before, so getting to the start line was a little awkward, but I made it and once I was on the bike the awkwardness dissipated. As I picked up speed and hit the open road, I was overtaken by a wonderful feeling of freedom of movement and pure elation. I smiled from ear to ear like a weirdo for the first two miles.

The bike leg went really well. I was passed three times and passed at least fifteen people, maybe more. I tried to stay in a gear that was comfortable but fast, one that wouldn't over-work my legs but kept me passing people. I took long pulls on my grape Gatorade, which tasted like heaven. The ride went through Kailua and onto the military base. I had never seen the Ko'olau mountains or the ocean from that perspective. It was beautiful and even in the midst of the race I had to appreciate the grandeur of the landscape. The weather was perfect, the colors were bathed in early morning light, and I was flying.

Mmm I want more Gatorade
About a mile from the turnaround point, I became acutely thankful for the trials and tribulations I have experienced on the bike here on the Big Island. The otherwise flat course reared up into a huge hill that rose upward and curved to the left. I felt overwhelmed for only a moment before remembering that I was vastly better prepared for hills than a lot of people riding around me. Boosted by this knowledge, I down-shifted and started pedaling with the same mindset I use around here: "Just keep pedaling. You don't have to be fast, just be steady. Just keep pedaling. You're strong."

My attitude, and training, paid off. I chugged by at least five cyclists on the way up the hill, hearing them gasping for air in huge gulps as I maintained my normal rhythm. The tiredness I felt when I finally reached the top was familiar, and didn't phase me as I flew back down the hill. A little more Gatorade, more satisfying than a fine wine, and I was good to go.

Almost there
The transition into the run was easy. Since I was not exactly competitive in this race, I didn't change shoes between the bike and run legs, so all I had to do was rack my bike and take off my helmet. Reminding myself to start slow, I jogged slowly out of the transition area feeling like my legs were encased in concrete blocks. I was once again glad that I had done some research and knew to adjust my pace downward to counter the numbness in my legs, which makes it difficult to judge how fast you're going and creates the tendency to start too hard.

The first mile was hell. My breath was steady but my legs weighed a thousand pounds. I had assumed that the run would start out strong and get more and more difficult as my fatigue caught up to me, so I was a little concerned. After what felt like forty-five minutes I passed the 1-mile marker. Just beyond that was a elderly local woman, sitting alone on the edge of her lawn smiling, waving, and holding a sign reading "Imua!" meaning "Go Forward!" Within minutes, I realized that my legs were loosening up and the run was becoming easier. By the 2-mile marker, I felt normal. I focused on my form, the same things I've repeated to myself a hundred times in the past four months: hips forward, pull your chest back, forefoot strike, arms moving straight forward and back, shoulders loose. I sped up. In the last mile I passed four people, and by the end of the race I was feeling good.

The last third mile or so was on sand -- a fact that was conveniently left out of the race information. The view, however, was phenomenal and the finish line was in sight so I pushed and even passed one last person before making it to the end. I was surprised to find that for the last half mile all I could think was "I'm so sad this is almost over. I don't want to wait until November to do this again!" I can totally see how people get addicted to doing triathlons!

As I ran along the ocean, I thought about sitting at my computer in Boston the first time the thought of doing a triathlon  entered my mind, wondering if I could ever actually do it, and about all of the excuses that had held me back for so long... I thought about the difficult moments of training, or the frustrations and discoveries and about the fact that this had been six years in the making...

And then, I crossed the finish line!

I finished in 1:29:03, at least 15 minutes faster than i was expecting and almost perfectly in the middle of the pack. For a first time effort, I was extremely happy with my time. It makes me look forward to my next triathlon and the opportunity to improve now that i know where I stand.

This experience has changed me. It has strengthened me. It has overwhelmed me, kicked my ass, and given me many gifts. Today, it taught me that even goals that have been neglected can be recaptured and accomplished. It has searched deep inside me and given me a new identity: a triathlete!

Proof! My t-shirt

Proud finisher
I want to say thank you to those of you who have helped me along in my triathlon journey. Thank you to my mom, for inspiring me with her own triathlon experiences, and my dad, for being with me during the toughest miles. Thank you Kate, for supportive texts each morning the week before the race as well as listening and supporting the whole process and Sean for adjusting his schedule to allow me to fit in my training. Thank you to Hawaii Sport Magazine for introducing me to a wonderful community of people, and to Zara for letting me stay with her and going out of her way to help make the night before and day of the race easy for me. Thanks Zara and Jenn who dragged their butts out of bed super early to be there to help me get ready and cheer as I came across the finish line of each leg. Thank you to everyone who sent me supportive messages the day of the race, it meant a lot to me. And, thank you to everyone who has read this blog for sharing in my experience! On to the next!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Reflections at the End if Chapter One

At this time tomorrow morning I should be in the home stretch, running toward the finish of my first triathlon! Last night I looked back over this blog, feeling pleased with how far I've come but mostly laughing at how clueless and bumbling I was at the beginning of this adventure. Since the end of the first chapter (and beginning of the second!) is drawing near, I'd like to share some of my favorite moments of the past four months of training.

One of the best memories (although at the time I wasn't as entertained by it) is of the first day I tried to swim. I had been running for several days with varying success but avoiding the first swim workout like the plague. I had all kinds of excuses, but the bottom line was simply that I was intimidated by my lack of knowledge -- and gear. When I finally worked up the courage to do it, I made a rapid-fire set of mistakes. For whatever reason, I bought goggles and a swim cap at Walmart rather than a sporting goods store... $2.79 seemed like a good deal and I couldn't imagine that they would put out a product that didn't work. The goggles looked like they were made for rabbits, fit only for people with eyes on the sides of their heads, and the swim cap felt like it was made of foam. Then, not wanting to splash around like a fool in front of real swimmers, I went to Waikiki instead of Ala Moana, without considering that there was probably a reason that people don't do swim workouts there. I quickly realized that there was no proper entrance to the water, and ended up flopping off of very slippery rocks into the very shallow water like some sort of awkward manatee. Immediately scraped up by the reef not two feet below the surface, I realized why no one swims there... there isn't even room to move your arms without swiping the bottom. Not to be deterred, I went out deeper, put on my goggles, and started swimming (although "swimming" is a generous description of what I was doing). It took less than two seconds for my Walmart goggles to fill completely with water, rendering them completely useless, and my swim cap did nothing to prevent water from seeping onto my head and into my ears.

I couldn't even swim 25 yards and back. It suddenly occurred to me that swimming takes technique, and that watching the Olympics on the TV is not the same as learning how to do it. I remembered all of the reasons why I had held my triathlon goal in the back of my mind for six years without doing anything about it: I didn't know HOW to do a triathlon. 

The reason I like this memory so much is that it was the first time that I got my ass kicked by this process, and the first time that I learned to accept the discomfort associated with doing something new and challenging and keep pushing to do it anyway. So many of us, perfectionist-me included, live in fear of failing, making a fool of ourselves, or being faced with something overwhelming. This experience was the first time I learned to say,
"Okay, I am terrible at this right now. It is hard, and I feel overwhelmed and foolish and I want to quit and go back to doing something easier, but I'm new at this and I'm going to keep going. This will pass and I will get stronger."

Over and over this theme repeated itself -- I actually FELL OVER the first time I tried to ride my new bike. Crashing into the pavement felt like a thinly veiled metaphor for my incompetence and stupidity in being so arrogant as to think I could do something as difficult as a triathlon, but again I reminded myself that feeling foolish, embarrassed, and overwhelmed was okay. To improve, you have to push through those feelings and accept them as part of the process. You also have to develop a healthy sense of humor about yourself, because otherwise you will be impossibly frustrated.

In addition to my embarrassing moments, I have had some experiences that have been so good I will be eternally grateful for the memory. My first trail run, the Moanalua 10k, left me feeling energized and excited. Running through the forest and straight through creeks was liberating, feeling the rain on my face, water in my shoes, and green all around was incredible, and like many other times in the running portion of my training, I felt my dad nearby. Running has been like opening a portal to my childhood, a time before my dad was gone when my family was still whole. An endless stream of long-lost memories and the feeling of the running community (seemingly the same no matter where you are) have served as constant encouragement whenever I got frustrated. Crossing the finish at the Great Aloha Run feeling strong, biking through the gorgeous late afternoon in Kahala with golden sun lighting up the mountains before exploding with colors across the ocean, learning the feeling of the water rushing gently over my skin when I swim... These are all things that feel like beautiful gifts.

I have discovered a new kind of pleasure, one in which I am connected to my body and mind in the most profound way possible. There is truly no feeling like working your body and mental strength to the point of exhaustion, jumping in cold ocean water, then taking a hot shower or bath with lavender and peppermint and eating whatever healthy concoction sounds most divine. Yogurt parfaits, smoked salmon, banana milk smoothies, raspberries, cereal, or caprese salads... The cravings change but after a long workout whatever it is your body is calling for will taste like it never has before. I am more aware of my appetite, my mood, and I sleep better.

It is hard for me to believe that when I began just four months ago, I could barely stay afloat when trying to do a crawl stroke, and needed a snorkel to make it 50 yards. Now i am swimming miles at a time. I gasped for air and could barely run the 1.8 miles around Kapiolani park. Now my normal workouts include 5 milers. My bike workout started at 2 miles, and my legs were tired by the end of it. Now I can ride 35. Most notable, though, was that I didn't know how to work past the obstacles I was facing.

I was hoping that somewhere along the way I would discover a strength in myself that in didn't know I had. I hoped that somewhere inside me was the toned, bronzed triathlete I had always seen in magazines and although I still have endless roads if improvement ahead of me, I have found that person. Knowing that I can face down the things that overwhelm me, accept discomfort, and conquer my fears instills a kind of confidence that I've never had before. I have truly discovered the warrior inside.

Thank you to those of you have supported me through this journey. Tomorrow, I'll be able to call myself a triathlete and the next phase of training can begin!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Technical Difficulties and Logistics Nightmares

As I mentioned in the previous post, I am feeling quite confident about the race itself. I have run eight miles, swam (swum? Dear God, my grammar certainty is failing me.) two miles, and biked 35 miles, each of those distances being at least three times longer than what I have to do on Sunday. Because of this, and because of the increased difficulty level of my training on the Big Island in the past three weeks, I know that I will be able to finish without any problems.

This does not, however, mean that things are going smoothly.

First, I found out that packet pickup for the race ends at 5pm on Saturday and because the bike portion goes onto military base land, participants must sign a base waiver. Since my flight on Saturday was scheduled to arrive at 6:41pm, this posed some obvious problems. After calling the race sponsors and enlisting friends in Honolulu, I had made arrangements to have someone else pick up my packet, but the base waiver issue was still unresolved.

Then, I made a trip to the bike shop in Kona yesterday to buy all of the things that will make me look like I have some idea of what the hell I'm doing on my bike, like a race belt (which allows you to attach your race number without dealing with safety pins, which can be challenging to use when your adrenaline is pumping and high activity levels make your fingers feel like sausages and your fine motor skills are reduced to the level of a two-day-old baby), a hand pump, a tube for the tire, and tire levers. The kind and - luckily for me - very non-judgemental associate walked me through options for everything I needed and didn't laugh me out of the shop even though I clearly had no idea what I should get. Given my experience with better-than-you hipster biker chick in Honolulu and the fact that this is the premier bike shop in Kona, home of the Ironman, I greatly appreciated his attitude. Whether or not he and his coworkers mocked me after I left, I have no idea, but I don't really care. I left with lots of essential tools and a few fun toys.

The downside of this visit, however, was that in discussing the shipping options for my bike it quickly became apparent that my plan to take it on the plane in one piece was at best wishful thinking and at worst a bad idea that could potentially ruin my first triathlon if the bike did not arrive in rideable condition. The only way to fit a road bike into a bike box is to almost fully disassemble it, something that is almost laughable given that I barely know how to change a tire, much less put it back together from component pieces, and shipping it whole could very well result in a bent frame, broken attachments, or missing parts, none of which would be acceptable since I was set to arrive in Honolulu after all of the bike shops are closed for the day. Ugh.

Following the bike shop guy's recommendation, I called Boca Hawaii, the bike shop sponsoring the race, and found that they have a triathlon bike available for rent for $50 for the day, which is actually significantly less than I would spend to get my own bike on the plane both ways. Add in the convenience factor of not having to haul a bike to and from the airport, and I decided that much as I wanted to use my own bike for my first tri, the smart decision would be to rent for the day. Disappointing, but sometimes logic just has to win over emotion.

To un-complicate the situation one step further, I decided to suck up the $30 change fee and change my flight on Saturday so that I would arrive earlier in the day. This way I can be present to pick up my race packet, sign the base waiver, and pick up my rental bike without having to impose on other people and worry myself sick about all of these things getting done. Finally, with one day to go, I think that I have all of the logistics figured out and will be able to arrive, get everything I need, and get ready to race with minimal stress.

I am ready to go!

Tips for First Time Triathletes: Stop Reading Tips for First Time Triathletes

The triathlon is nearly upon me! In just three days I will FINALLY be able to truly call myself a triathlete. I am flying back to Oahu on Saturday afternoon, picking up my race packet, and then bright and early at 6:15am on Sunday I will be diving into the waters of Lanikai to accomplish the goal I have had in the back of my mind for nearly seven years.
Lanikai Tri Course Map!

I have been religious about training with the small exception of a couple days during moving, and I am happy to say that I am feeling supremely confident. I have trained in landscapes (and seascapes) more challenging than the are I'll be in for the race, and for much longer durations. I know I won't be fast, but I have no doubts that I will finish.

Wondering what else I could do to prepare for Sunday, I started looking up articles on tips for beginning triathletes during or immediately preceding the race. The first article I read (find it here!) was extremely helpful. It offered some very relevant advice on nutritional preparation, warming up, and how to time consumption of liquids or food before and during the race. I knew that I would need to carefully plan what I ate the day before and morning of, but never would have guessed that I should avoid eating during the transitions and rather wait until several minutes into the next activity to let my body adapt to the changing movement. I knew that I should check my position in the transition area, but but never thought of walking through from both sides so as not to become disoriented when entering from different directions from the swim, then from the bike.

Encouraged, I kept googling. The next article I found was about the swim portion. It started out all nice and calm, talking about ways to warm up, how to come in and out of the water, and how to "sight" so you stay headed in the right direction. I started getting uneasy, however, when it casually launched into ways to avoid getting your goggles and swim cap knocked off by flailing arms, where to swim so as not to get kicked in the face, and what do to in order to deter people from swimming over you (solutions in order, in case you were wondering: wear goggles with straps underneath swim cap so that they are less likely to be lost, swim around the perimeter and don't draft too close, and grow your nails out to scratch the shit out of any asshole trying to swim straight over you. Apparently that happens a lot.)

Suddenly I was feeling very nervous. Am I going to get a black eye as a result of wayward extremities? Losing my goggles would suck, a lot, but my worst fear is getting swum over. As I kept looking at various articles, I realized that any of these things are very likely to happen. Each of them reiterate that the most important thing in these situations is to remain calm and keep swimming. To quote the triathlon preparation page from REI:
       "There is no way to avoid contact in the swim. Arms are flapping and feet are kicking, and someone may swim over you. You're going to get punched and kicked—don't take it personally. You might do it to someone, too. Know it's going to happen, be prepared and don't panic. Stay calm and keep swimming."

I can't even stay calm while reading them. Although THIS is a great article, I quickly realized that reading more was probably a mistake, which was confirmed when, hours later, I went to bed and laid awake staring at the ceiling imagining taking a foot to the face, violently scratching people with each stroke, and water pouring into my goggles as I try to swim.

After that, I stopped reading about tips for first time triathletes.

Swim nightmares aside, here are the most important things I've taken away from my reading:

1. Start "fueling" for the triathlon at least two days before the event. Eat lean protein, easily digestible carbs, and small amounts of healthy fats. Hydrate well for several days.
2. Eat an early dinner the night before, then a high carbohydrate light breakfast at least two hours before the race starts on the day of.
3. Do a thorough warm up including slow jogging, light biking, or at very least some calisthenics.
4. Do not eat anything other than breakfast until within five minutes of the race start.
5. Double check entrances and exits to transition area in relation to your transition station.
6. Make sure everything is clearly laid out in your transition station.
7. Don't eat during transitions, but rather once you're on the bike.
8. Start each activity a little slow to let your body get accustomed to it.
9. Stay calm.

I am continually reminding myself that this first race is not to get a great time, but to do something much, much better: accomplish a goal that I have thought about regularly for many years, one that for years I was too intimidated to even say out loud. Whatever happens on Sunday, I have undergone a wonderful journey and become much stronger than I was back in December when I first set out to do this. It seems like years ago that I could barely stay afloat when trying to swim twenty-five yards! Crossing the finish line in any amount of time will be the culmination of one goal and the beginning of many more.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Practically Iron: A Two Mile Swim

This morning I was up early, ready to run. Yet again, my landlord had talked me into joining his (much more zealous) exercise session, this time a long swim at Hapuna Beach, 4 lengths of the beach for what he thought was a total of 1 1/3 miles. This was over twice what I've been swimming, but being the type of person who can't say no to a challenge, (I said ballerinas don't run, not that they aren't competitive!) I agreed.

This should give you an idea of the length of the beach
Since I shared pictures of where I was training in Honolulu it seems only right that you also see where I am here on the Big Island. I think that my swim training has taken a step up from my Ala Moana days. Although the water at Hapuna Beach does tend to be a little rougher than what I have been used to due to less reef protection, the overall vibe and ambience of the beach is a million times better and the water clarity is incomparable. At Ala Moana it felt like swimming in an ocean of milky turquoise -- the color was beautiful but I was hard pressed to see beyond my hands. Swimming at Hapuna is like swimming through a sapphire. No matter how deep I go I can see the bottom, and the sand at the bottom is fashioned into long, wiggly ridges by the currents and waves. Being able to see the bottom, combined with increased wave action, creates a really unique rollercoaster-like effect, picking you up and dropping you back down, pulling you out and pushing you in, moving you in every which way possible and accenting it by letting you have a fixed point of vision on the ocean floor. It feels like nothing I've ever felt before, being moved in every direction at once. It was a little disconcerting at first, but like anything, the body adjusts and now I actually enjoy the sensation.

We entered the water to the far left side of the beach and swam out past the surf break. The water was fairly calm, and the first length of the swim went by easily. I even beat my landlord! (Sorry Don.) Other than a little trouble with a bad seal on my goggles, everything was smooth. I saw a few little fish and after the second length I had settled into a wonderful, relaxing rhythm. Long, slow strokes, rocking back and forth ... it was quite meditative. I try to do a very casual version of speed intervals, and by that I mean that when I realize I have been really slow for a while, I try to find my threshold, the speed at which I am exerting energy but not tiring. Then I sprint for a minute or so, then return to my slow and relaxing pace. This is all done in a haphazard, whenever-I-think-about-it kind of way. I noticed how natural my kick gets during long distances. I wasn't even thinking about it, and suddenly realized that not only was it steady, but my focus on form had apparently sunk in. Despite not making any conscious attempt to keep my knees fairly straight, kick from my hip, and point my feet (finally my Ballerina-ness comes in handy for something!), my form was feeling good!

The "rest beach"
After the third length we rest briefly on the tiny beach secluded by lava rocks from the rest of the sand, then climbed up to the hotel grounds just above Hapuna. By the time we got back in the water, I was ready to make the final swim back. Unfortunately for us, the wind was coming up and by the halfway point there were waves breaking over my head and swells throwing me around like a rag doll. Without thinking much of it, I kept swimming, thinking that maybe I had veered off course and into the surf break. I kept trying to go toward the deeper water, but no matter how deep I got I was still getting hit. Wondering what was happening, I finally popped up to get a look. Immediately, I wished I hadn't. White caps were all around me, and a large wind-blown swell was coming straight at me. It broke directly on my head, and I realized there was nothing to do but keep swimming. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Oddly enough, the time actually went by quickly because I was so focused on sneaking breaths in between getting pummeled by waves, and before I knew it I had reached our start point.

After doing some research, I found out that the Hapuna Beach swim is not 1/3 mile, like we thought, but a full half mile! We swam 2 miles without even realizing what we were doing! Add one more length and I'm at full Ironman length!!! I am allowing myself to be happy and excited about that even though the thought of biking the 112 mile and running the marathon Ironman distances is laughable. No doubt I would keel over and die. All in time, all in time.

Saturday, April 13, 2013



I feel like in the hub-bub of moving, the fact that The Thing I've Been Training For for nearly four months is less than two weeks away has been nearly forgotten. "Eight days until the triathlon" should be in huge, bold, italicized letters everywhere I look, and instead I am having to remind myself how important it is that I eat right and avoid missing workouts. Long term has officially given way to short term.

This is what it looks like when you have no plan
In the spirit of not missing workouts, I began my morning day before yesterday with a 3.5 mile run and punctuated the afternoon with a half mile swim. Running here presents a new challenge simply because I have no established routes. Each time I set out with my GPS tracker in hand, ready to explore a new trail or road, and more often than not I find that it is not nearly as long as I would like it to be. This is evidenced in my strange, slightly crazy-looking route map. I took every road or trail that looked appealing, then doubled back when I realized that I had outrun my choice. Damn.

Even with my schizophrenic back-and-forth path, however, I loved every second of the run itself. The birds were singing, the landscape was too beautiful for words, and that early morning feeling had not yet worn off. The view was of glowing, green dewy pastures rolling down to the ocean, of long grass, dirt roads, and occasional wild fruit trees. My reward for this run was nearly running over three tiny, adorable wild piglets who immediately ran, jumped, and tumbled their way into the field. Mama Pig was kind enough to run after them rather than at me.

Running here, like biking here, is a different beast than it was on Oahu. There is no such thing as a flat course. I am already noticing differences, however, in how my legs feel as I push up the hills, and in the middle of a hill, something miraculous happened: My gait suddenly shifted from strenuous to easy, my legs seemingly propelled by some independent energy, no longer drawing on my limited strength. They seemed to move faster, more smoothly, with no obvious reason but that I had found my stride. It felt like shifting up in a car -- dropping RPM and strain and settling into a quiet, easy pace. I felt like I could have run forever.

I tried to capture it and memorize each detail of what my body was doing, but I guessed, correctly, that this joy would be fleeting. That was last week and I haven't gotten that feeling back yet, but knowing what is possible gave me a huge boost in my confidence. I know that at some point my body will once again find that stride and, with tim, adopt it permanently. Then, perhaps, I will be able to truly call myself a runner. Until then, I'll just have to enjoy the scenery...

That slope is graph-speak for "you're screwed"
Yesterday it was biking time again. My landlord Don suggested a new road to try out in order to avoid riding up the hills back to the house on a street that has fast-moving cars and no shoulder. Not wanting to end up smeared on the pavement, I thought this sounded like a pretty good idea. After biking about thirteen miles up and down the highway (I am skipping over the amazing beauty on either side of the road, but that doesn't mean it wasn't there!), I found this new route. I tried not to be intimidated by the gigantic-looking hill, but soon I was having post-traumatic flashbacks of my recent rides, gasping desperately for air and pedaling ceaselessly until I entered a strange, nirvana-like zen state in which my body kept moving while my mind went blank. Perhaps this is how people get through ridiculous things like Double Deca Ironman Length Triathlons. Yes, that's a real thing. Either way, I made it up the hill and about two miles later I was bombing down toward my house on the road with no shoulder, keeping pace with the cars and not getting run over.

When I got home, I finally, FINALLY solved the "I don't know how to change a flat tire on my bike" problem! My landlord Don was kind enough to walk me through the process, making me do each step so that hopefully it will sink in. With any luck, I won't have to use my newfound skill set during the triathlon next weekend, but I feel a whole lot better knowing that should disaster strike, I should at least be able to get a new tube on the wheel and enough air into it to make it to the finish line. As an added bonus, I feel like slightly less of an asshole. I hate to be "that girl," doing a triathlon while knowing absolutely nothing about the equipment I'm using. Now at least I should be able to fake it.


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Big Island, Big Ass-Kicking: Discovering My War Cry

Well, after one week, one run, two bike rides, and two swim workouts, I can officially say that the Big Island is kicking my triathlon-related ass. Gone are the flat roads of Kahala and Aina Haina and glassy waters of Ala Moana; I am truly in the land of the Ironman.

After waiting impatiently for my bike to arrive via boat, my new landlord somehow talked me into riding 34 miles (yes, as in 14 miles or 70% further than my previous distance record) from my new home of Hawi to the port town of Kawaihae and back. Taken directly from the Ironman bike course, this route drops 800 feet - meaning that on the way up, it gains it back. Did I mention that my landlord does this several times a week?

Slightly afraid but foolishly optimistic, we set out around 8:30am. The air in Hawi stays cool and I was actually a little chilly donning shorts and a tank top, but as we pedaled down a gentle incline and my muscles got going, the temperature could not have been more perfect. To our right, beyond rolling green fields sloping away from the road was the ocean: expansive, vast, and deeply blue. To our left, lush farmlands gave way to sparse vegetation and lava rocks. I imagined riding on Oahu, in constant fear of horrible drivers and smelling nothing but exhaust, and took a deep breath of the fresh air as I soaked up the colors around me. I was so caught up in my surroundings, in fact, that I failed to notice or appreciate how long we were descending. If only ignorance could truly translate to bliss...

Within the first half hour I realized that biking on Oahu, at least in the Kaimuki/Kahala/Aina Haina/Hawaii Kai areas, is no preparation for biking here. What little cockiness and comfort had managed to sneak into my psyche was quickly taken to task as I struggled up small hill after small hill and I found myself short of breath again and again. Every time I felt really frustrated, however, there was something amazing to catch my attention - points of interest along the road explained by Don, my landlord, and whales jumping in the water to our right. After about 12 miles my difficulty-shock had worn off and I was reveling in the challenge. By the time we reached Kawaihae, I was actually looking forward to the trip back up.

After stopping to eat tangerines (from the tree in our yard) and protein bars and chug Gatorade from the bottle attached to my bike, which I had avoided using during the ride for fear that I wouldn't know how to get it reattached without crashing, we started the ascent. By some miracle I actually felt strong most of the way back. I experimented with standing rather than sitting the whole time, and used different gears for various hills. I sweated and my legs burned and I gasped for air, and I enjoyed every moment of it.

Then we hit Mahukona, about 6 miles outside of Hawi. When the hill began, I thought nothing of it. In fact, I relished the challenge. This hill, however, did not end. With each turn of the road I was surprised by upward slope as far as the eye could see, and for what seemed like forever I pedaled away in my lowest gear, constantly expecting to see the crest of the hill and constantly being disappointed. My confidence seemed to be draining away with the strength in my legs. No matter how slight the incline, I felt like I was trying to propel an elephant up Mount Everest using only my legs.

The scenery around me was shockingly gorgeous - greens and blues and golds and tropical flowers, and so I willed myself on. Forward, forward, forward, "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this." Tears came to my eyes and a strange, primitive cry escaped my lips. If I have ever been so exhausted by exercise, I don't remember when.

And then it was over. After 6 miles of straight uphill, we were back at our starting point. In a blissful half-conscious state I walked in my front door and laid down on the floor, letting my mind and legs relax. The mix of endorphins, post-exercise high and ultimate fatigue left me feeling intoxicated and I could do nothing but lie there, melting into the floor. I can only imagine what athletes must feel like after an Ironman.

Today I went for an encore, riding 19 miles in the opposite direction. I had hoped for an easier ride, but although I found some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever laid eyes on, the difficulty level stayed the same. I pedaled past countless things that made my imagination run wild - mossy stone steps leading into a seemingly impenetrable forest, a bubbling stream, a house tucked into the tiny valley between hills, surrounded by groves of palms and banana plants - and over hill after hill after hill. The air was heavy and cool and the road was shaded by the rainforest which crept in further and further on either side of the road. Determined to reach the end of the road and my turnaround point, I found myself yet again nearing tears as I willed myself up the steepest incline I've ever faced, and yet again I pushed myself beyond where I thought was possible as that same foreign, guttural war cry let itself be heard again. I've made fun of guys at the gym many a time for grunting and groaning as they push out the reps, but today made me question: are they simply being overly dramatic, as I always assumed, or had I never pushed myself hard enough to understand?

As I crested the final hill, the beautiful Pololu Valley came into view. A green valley runs from the mountains to the sea, and beyond it layers of cliffs rise to the sky. Just offshore are several tiny islands, and I wonder if anyone has set foot on them. I soak up the wind and the smells and the colors and the huge-ness of it all before turning homeward.

In my first week on the Big Island, I have learned to dig deeper. I have discovered that the strength I thought I understood is more profound than I knew. I have learned to accept a whole new level of pain in order to discover a whole new level of bliss, and I have learned that on this island, in the shadow of the Ironmen, I will be worked harder than I ever have been before.

And I'm ready.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Big Island Love

I am posting mostly to assure my readers (I like to think that I have readers, whether it is wishful thinking or not) that I am alive and have not given up on my training or this blog. On Friday the 29th I left Oahu for my new home on the Big Island and every moment since then has been full to the brim with cleaning, unpacking, furniture-hauling, and intermittent exploring.

Before I left Honolulu, however, my last two workouts were quite memorable. On Wednesday, March 26th, I did my own private biathlon in honor of my late father, an avid runner and swim-lover. Carrying my goggles and earplugs, I ran 2.5 miles from my house to the ocean, where I jumped in and swam half a mile. When I was done I put my shoes back on and ran theater mile home. Doing this in honor of my dad was great motivation and makes me feel like I celebrated his birthday in a way he would have enjoyed.

On Friday morning before getting on the plane I dragged myself out of bed and into my running shoes, dreading every second. My diligence was rewarded, however, as soon as I reached Kapiolani park and was greeted by a rainbow so small I could see both sides directly in my path. As I ran around the park, it stayed miraculously consistent, hovering a hundred yards in front of me for at least 20 minutes. As I turned left and reached the ocean, it moved out across the water where it grew and became stationary.

Symbolism aside (how appropriate that I followed beauty for most of my run before it headed out across the ocean, as I was about to do in my move), it was a lovely reminder of the small gifts I am given each time I choose to seize the moment and get outside to exercise. I am eternally thankful for such a gorgeous last workout in Honolulu.

And so, here I am: partially moved in, un-worked out due to days of hard moving work, but feeling confident and ready to get back on it. I can't wait to see what my training on the beautiful Big Island holds!