... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's All Uphill From Here: Overcoming My Aversion to Running Hills

Nothing strikes fear into a novice runner's heart like hills. You can train and train and train but when the road rears up in front of you, all bets are off. I spent my first year and 4 months of triathlon training planning runs based on where the flattest ground was. Where could I run that was free of ups and downs? Where could I get my miles in on level ground? These were the questions that governed my routes.

That's all well and good, except that race directors do not design their run courses based solely off of finding zero elevation change. I learned this the hard way at Keauhou and at the practice triathlon back in May, when hills beat me into walking submission long before my legs should have given out. And so it hit me: would I rather aim to be good in the easiest conditions or in the most difficult? And, being the perfectionist that I am, the answer was clear; I never want to take the easy way out.

I approached my new project like I approached swimming back at the beginning of my triathlon training: I knew I was going to be bad, so I just set out to do the best I could in each session, putting my faith in the assumption that eventually, it would get easier. My first hill run was a re-trace of the Aloha Tri Club Practice course, which had us running up and down short but steep hills for about half of the course, and also included one long, gradual hill. At the time of the race, I had made it through by running the flats and downhills and walking the uphills. I flashed back to one point during that race when a guy passed me and said,"sure glad I run this spot every week!" as he disappeared, and at that moment I hated him with every ounce of my being. This time, I was determined to become that guy. I cut the flat part of the course out of my plan and succeeded in making it over all the hills without walking. Bolstered by my success, I decided to make that my 2x/week pre-work run, and the next weekend I tackled the hill leading up to my house. I huffed and puffed and had to walk twice, but felt like I'd made a major accomplishment. When I looked at my running tracker, I was horrified to see that I'd covered only 2.5 miles at an 11:20 pace. Damn.

Since then, I have incorporated hills into most of my runs, and the results are astonishing. First of all, it has changed my attitude. I am learning to be tougher, and to remind myself that just because it hurts and it is hard for a while doesn't mean I should stop. I am now running through a lot more discomfort than I could before, accepting those moments of pain and knowing that I will transcend them. I stop to walk less often, and I am much better at convincing myself to keep running instead of giving up.

Second, I can finally run anywhere I want. I do not have to eliminate entire portions of the island (including the area I live in) to find a suitable run course. I am seeing new things on my runs, going new places, and enjoying new scenery along with new challenges, and it feels great not to have fear of hills dictate what I do.

Third, and most obviously, the hills get easier. Your legs and lungs adjust to the extra stress and learn to step up. By focusing on using my butt and legs and releasing tension in my upper back, shoulders, and chest, I can usually keep my breath under control. If I completely lose control of my breathing and start gasping, I walk until I can get it back in rhythm, and I'm happy to report that those walking breaks are getting less and less frequent. My legs feel stronger, both to the touch and in function, and I feel like I can run faster and longer. I'm getting so used to the hills that they feel normal.

And last, since the hills have become normal, the flats feel like flying. Gone are the days of huffing and puffing away on a flat road - my lungs are so used to dealing with hills that breathing on a level course feels light and easy. I am no longer fighting for breath. I fully attribute my 10k PR at the Hilo Tri to my hill running, because despite some pain in my knee and hips, the flat run course felt amazing. Running on a flat road now feelings like a luxury.

I decided to face down my hill fear to be better prepared for race courses, but I have been totally surprised by the overall improvement it has made in my running, both technically and subjectively. Now instead of dreading the upward slope in front of me I take it on with confidence, relishing the challenge.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

1st Annual Hilo Triathlon

Almost 2 weeks later, and I'm finally getting this post finished! Life is too busy sometimes... Anyway on July 13th I did the first annual Hilo triathlon, the first triathlon on the east side of the island and my second Olympic distance race.

Bikes are ready: off to Hilo!
Because it was the first year of the Hilo Triathlon, it was somewhat of an X factor, with no one knowing what to expect from the course. The Hilo side of the island is much cooler and wetter than the west side where I usually train, and since I haven't spent any time in the ocean over there, I was completely unfamiliar with the water conditions. However, I was excited about this triathlon because I thought that a change in weather would be fun, and the scenery along the course is some of the most beautiful anywhere on the island.

I didn't do nearly as much self-reflection prior to this race as I have before races past. I also didn't do nearly as much freaking out. It feels like I am finally settling in to triathlon being a part of my life -- that the lack of reflection and freaking out was due to comfort level, not an indication of how important this race was to me. Having done my first Olympic distance race -- 1500m swim (.93-miles), 40k bike (24.8-miles), and 10k run (6.2-miles) -- in November before my office moved and my training habits went to shit, this race has been a beacon of hope for me getting back into shape and being ready for this kind of physical challenge. I haven't mentioned much about it because I keep meaning to write a post about nutrition, but since I restarted my training in May I have lost 14 pounds. I have also been putting some pretty intensive effort into my run technique and how often I run (another separate post I have all written in my head but haven't gotten typed out yet...), and I felt better, stronger, and I ready for this race than I did for the Lavaman in November. I was really looking forward to seeing how the experience compared.

The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls
We left for Hilo the morning before the race. Sean's parents and aunt and uncle were visiting, so we all stayed at my favorite hotel/inn/B&B on the island, the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls. I don't often go into endorsements, but if you are looking for wonderful, relaxing accomondations on the Hilo side and you don't mind being outside of "downtown" (and c'mon, it's Hilo. "Downtown" is mostly just a figure of speech), this is an amazing place. There are many different guest rooms as well as a small house you can rent and have all to yourself, a lush and relaxing bamboo garden, and, best of all, a 110-foot waterfall and natural pool that are open to guests of the inn only. I love it there, and it made for a great place to stay prior to the race. Nothing is better to soothe muscles than water from a natural waterfall pool.

Friday afternoon we went to packet pick up and attended the pre-race meeting, all of which were very well-organized. The water, however, struck fear into my heart. Far from Hapuna's glassy aquamarine, the ocean looked dark and angry. There were waves breaking and the water was gray and rough. Similar to the odd "this can't possibly be part of the course despite it being right in front of me and clearly the only option" response I had to the bike hill on the Keauhou triathlon course, I couldn't quite get myself to believe that this was truly the location of the swim. Sean and I (and seemingly all of the other participants) wandered over and asked some of the official-looking people who were finishing up the temporary dock that would serve as our starting point where we were swimming, and their answer -- a finger pointing straight out into the steel-colored waves -- was clear and concise enough. Okay then.
"Don't worry," said the man. "It's glassy like a lake in the mornings."

I have come to realize that sleeping the night before a race is nearly impossible, and that if you want rest, you'd better get it in the nights prior. Because I had done this, I didn't care that I woke up every half hour feeling like it must be time to get up and going, and when my alarm went off at 4:15 I was itching to start the preparations. I ate an oatmeal/chia seed combo with a little honey and coconut oil, which has become my go-to breakfast. (My eating habits have undergone some very weird changes in the past few months. My morning oatmeal started out as actual oatmeal with cow's milk, brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon, and has slowly morphed into what it is today: mostly chia seeds heated with a few steel-cut oats, then moistened with raw coconut oil, a dab of raw honey, and sprinkled with cinnamon. It looks really disgusting but it's actually quite delicious.) We double-checked our bags to make sure we had everything, then we were off to the start.

I love transition areas on the morning of the race. Part of it is the energy and excitement of the competitors, but more of it is the part where I unpack my bag, see that I did in fact remember everything I need, and stop worrying. I'm learning that if you've trained properly, the distance isn't what scares you; what scares you are the logistics, the minutiae, and the long list of things you might forget.

The wild waters (photo courtesy of David Cotter)
Ten minutes before the start, it started to rain. It was a soft, fine rain, more like a mist than actual droplets, but very effective at cooling you down. Unfortunately, since we were all in swim attire and it was 6:45am, it made us shiver instead. On the upside, the ocean, which was mixed with spring water coming up from its floor and thus icy cold in places, felt like a bath tub when we finally got to go in. I'm not going to lie, it looked terrifying. Far from the glassy lake look that was promised to me the previous afternoon, dark waves broke in our path and currents tugged at our feet as we treaded water waiting for the start. Camaraderie, luckily, was every bit as high as the waves. Nothing encourages bonding like fear!

I was relieved when the countdown came and we started swimming. I had been told to ride the current straight out and swim a little to the left of the finish on the way back in so that the waves could carry me a little, but other than that I knew that there was no strategizing my way through the surf. I was just going to have to swim, search for water-free breaths, and not allow myself to get freaked out. The hardest part of the first 300 meters or so were the pockets of spring water that were, for lack of a more proper description, fucking freezing. It was hard to keep my breath regular when the intermittent icy bursts hit my chest. The current did help on the way out, and it wasn't long before I hit the waves. It was a wild ride. Up up up the face of the wave I'd go, then doooowwwnnnn the back, like gliding over the surface of a mountain with no resistance. I looked up often to spot my destination, and each time I did I was mesmerized for a moment watching the swimmers ahead of me fly up the front of the waves and then disappear over the edge as they went down the back. With a little timing and careful observation, I managed to avoid taking too many mouthfuls of water, and eventually I made it past the surf break and into calmer waters.

I started passing red caps (men!) about 100m from the turnaround boat, which was encouraging for me. I had no idea what speed I was going through the waves relative to other swimmers until that point. It was really hard to see the boat in the choppy water, so I just followed people and hoped they knew what they were doing. We turned right at another buoy and were headed back to shore. I got into a pretty good rhythm at that point, and focused on staying pointed toward just left of the finish line. In a flash of brilliance, the race director had rented two of the inflatable "dancing guys" (often seen at car lots) and placed them at the finish so that the swimmers could see where they should be aiming. The whole "ride the waves in" idea worked like a charm -- perhaps a little too well, because suddenly I realized that I was about 25 feet from a bunch of rocks and the waves were crashing on my head. I got hammered several times as I tried in vain to swim back toward the finish and away from the scary rocks. Finally I seemed to be going in the right direction again, and it was only minutes until I reached the ramp.

Sean and I share the first transition
To my great surprise and happiness, I crawled up onto the stairs, looked at the person next to me, and it was Sean! (A small miracle given that we started 5 minutes apart and were by so many athletes). We got to high-five and run into the transition area together. I took my time and tried to get my head straight before getting on the bike, although I don't think it worked. I stuck with Sean for a mile or two, then he dropped me on the first hill. The first few miles on the bike felt good. I was feeling like maybe my post-swim bike haze problem had finally been conquered when things started to go south. The course is a beautiful out and back, bordered by lush greenery and lined with supportive people. It is also almost all uphill on the way out and all downhill on the way back. It was pouring at this point, making it difficult to see. There were tons of people getting flat tires, and I just prayed that my bike held up. About 9 miles in, I got my first cramp. Similar to the one I experienced at Keauhou but on the left side, it made it nearly impossible for me to pedal. My entire left butt and outer upper leg were useless. I massaged it, rubbed it, punched it, and downed electrolytes and food, to no avail. I started feeling weird: unfocused, wobbly, and a little sick, but forced myself to keep going, using just my right leg muscles to move the pedals. Finally, right before the turnaround, the cramp let go and I rejoiced that I could fly down the hill and make up time. Flying down hills, after all, is where my bike excels.

No such luck. As soon as I turned around, my right side cramped. Every pedal stroke was painful, so I basically coasted while punching my butt and leg, still trying to get more electrolytes into my system by chugging my drink. I felt horrible. I got passed four times on the way down the hill, which is super irritating because downhills are where I usually make up time. I was mentally foggy and out of it, and by the time I made it back into town I was wondering if I'd be able to do the run. It sounded impossible. I had been jockeying for position with one particular girl -- passing her, getting passed, passing her, getting passed -- and I was thrilled when she ended up ahead of me for the last four miles so that I could just follow her without having to think.

"Running! I love running!"
I hit the transition area and immediately searched for food. The real food that I had packed for myself (rice patties filled with peanut butter and banana) were too thick and intense for my iffy stomach. My brain only half working, I grabbed the gummy fuel squares that Sean hadn't eaten before heading out on the run. Thank God our bikes were racked next to each other so that I could steal his unwanted food! I know you're not really supposed to eat at the transitions, but I downed the entire package, then stumbled to my feet to head out on the run. I walked out of the transition area, still trying to get un-dizzy, and suddenly I was overcome by intense joy at being off the bike and able to move freely. I started running and everything got better. My head cleared (probably the nutrients hitting my bloodstream) and everything was okay again. I have never been so happy to be running!

The stride I've worked so hard on
The run course was a flat, scenic jaunt along the water. It was still pouring, which felt great, and there were aid stations every mile, allowing me to keep the electrolytes flowing. I felt surprisingly good. My goal at the beginning of the race had been to run the whole 6.2 miles without walking. During the bike leg, as I faded rapidly into a nutrient-deficient blob, that goal was downgraded to "just finish." When I felt the pure joy of running, however, I struck a bargain with myself. Just run the first three miles, then do whatever you need to do to finish. Somewhere in the first three miles, I re-passed my bike nemesis/friend. We exchanged a fond greeting and farewell. When I hit the 3-mile marker, I told myself "just run to the 4-mile point, then you can walk." I got to the 4-mile point and I told myself I just had to make it to the 5-mile point before I was allowed to walk. I reached the 5-mile marker, still running, I told myself "well you've made it 5 miles without walking and you only have 1 mile left, you can't stop running now!" And thus, I made it to the last .2-miles, still running.

When I looked at my watch and realized I had a chance to make it to the finish in under 3:05, I gathered all that I had left in me and picked up the pace. I crossed the finish line in 3:04:15.

The sky unleashed a downpour, but spirits were high under the tent at the finish line. We ate the great food that was provided, we laughed, we talked, and yet again got to enjoy the victorious post-race feeling. I placed 79th overall, and 6th out of 12 finishers in my division. Basically, middle of the pack. Interestingly, among the women, I was 33rd out of 71 on the swim, 28th out of 71 on the bike, and 36th out of 71 on the run. I would not have guessed that the bike was my most successful leg, given how awful I felt. I am incredibly pleased with my run, at the middle of the female pack, NOT the slowest in my division, and 9:45 average miles. This is improvement!

Elation
I also learned several things, the most important of which being that I need to reevaluate my fueling strategy. To feel that bad on the bike means that there was a significant lack of nutrition going on, so I'm going to have to work on that. Cramps on the bike two races in a row means I need more electrolytes early in bike leg or even prior to the start. I think I'll try drinking a sports drink in the morning before the race rather than just water, and I'll make sure to have both real food and the gummy chews available for myself because apparently my stomach is not consistent with what sounds good under duress.

Overall, I loved this race. I loved the community energy, I loved the course (even the wild swim!), and running in the rain felt wonderful. Finishing strong and accomplishing my goals helped too. As I always do after a triathlon, I'm a little sad it's over and I am looking forward to the next one!

Thank you to my mom, Donna, for listening with great enthusiasm as I talk endlessly about triathlons. Thank you to Sean, for working out with me and sharing this journey. Thank you to Steve, my new swim coach, whose tips are already making a difference. To my dad, whose memory inspires me and whose presence gets me through the tough times when I'm out there training and racing, to Cheryle Hirst for providing support (both emotional and food-based :) ), and to Chris Hirst and Kristy and Tim Evans for braving the rain to cheer us on at the finish. Thank you to Joe Wedeman and Hawaii Sport Magazine for my comp entry to this event, to Dr. Marko Reumann for my beautiful bike, and to DeSoto Sports for supplying my triathlon suit.







Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The King's Swim: Many Lessons and an Amusing Surprise

On July 5th I had my first venture into non-triathlon competitive swimming. The 20th annual King's Swim, held at Kailua Pier in Kona, is a 1.2-mile open water swim that I thought sounded fun. I knew I could swim the distance, but I had never gone quite that far without stopping for a breather, and I was determined to get through this course with no water-treading or float breaks. Having just become an official member of the Kona Aquatics Masters team (that's right, three pool workouts and they brought me over to the dark side), I was really looking forward to doing a swim surrounded by the people I have met in the past month and knowing that afterward, I do not have to immediately bike 25 miles.

There's me in the purple swim cap
There were approximately 280 participants. The check in and body marking was full of laughter, smiles, and the pre-race excitement that I have become addicted to and my new coach, Steve, was welcoming as always. For the $15 entry fee we got a really nice dri-fit T-shirt, which was a great surprise. We would later discover that it also included a wonderful banquet of potluck food that hit the spot after a long swim. Basically, I was impressed with the organization of this race.

At 7:55 we waded into the water and yet again I attempted to guess where on earth I might fit into this pack. I figured that these would be an even more serious subset of swimmers than what we see in triathlons, so I started a little farther back than what usually seems to work for me. I think my choice was pretty good. I got passed by several, I passed several. I got kicked a few times, et cetera, but felt pretty good with the speeds of those around me.

I have learned many things (including that my goggles are to tight
and make it look like I had horrifically botched plastic surgery...)
The course went out at an angle to the shore, through clear blue water, yellow coral, and plentiful fish. The conditions were good and I was able to employ the corrections that Coach Steve has given me throughout the majority of the race. Head down, head down, head down. I tried to keep my stroke long, stretching my arms, abs, and obliques and focusing on the water rushing over me, which for whatever reason seems to illicit a smoother stroke for me. About a third of the way in, just before the turnaround, I really started to feel my fatigue. I kept reminding myself that I am definitely capable of completing the distance, but that I just needed to stay patient, not focus on going fast or where I was in the pack, and not think about how much further I had to go. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming... head down! Just keep swimming... When we reached the boat that marked the halfway point and turnaround, something re-set and the way back in felt much smoother and I didn't feel as tired or tense. I can't say that I'm very familiar with the currents in that area, so that may have had something to do with it.

Making the (possibly inappropriate) pass at the finish
Anyway, I kept swimming and before I knew it I was getting close to the buoys marking the channel to the finish. At the pre-race meeting it had been repeatedly stressed that we must swim between the buoys because of shallow water outside of the channel, but when I got closer I couldn't tell how to do that because of the angle of my line of sight. I had to rely on following people, and somehow I ended up taking the turn a little wide. When I realized my trajectory was off and cut inward, I saw that somehow in the confusion I had passed a large group of swimmers who I had been struggling to catch from the halfway point. Bolstered by this development (and realizing that they were right on my tail and I was about to get absorbed into the mass of kicking legs and flailing arms), I swam with all my might toward the sandy shore.
When I made it to the sand, I stood up, placed my hands on my knees and stood still to make sure I had my balance and wasn't going to topple over, then ran past someone on my way up to the finish line. I'm not sure of the etiquette of swim races... my passing someone on the run to the finish either demonstrated a healthy sense of competition or the fact that I'm a douchbag.

Anyway, somewhat comically, I actually placed third in my age group! Granted, there were only 5 people in my age group and I came in 204th overall, but it still felt pretty good to get my awesome King's Swim mug and hear my new coach say "Crystal! You placed!" as I went up to get it at the awards ceremony. It was such a foreign idea that I got really excited. I am used to being the worst at running, so being moderately okay at swimming was a nice change. After a year and a half of very humbling triathlon training, I have learned to push through the tough times and really enjoy each accomplishment, and laugh frequently. Placing in my age group allowed me to both enjoy an accomplishment and laugh at the absurdity of it. Plus, I really like my mug. 

The King's Swim was a great experience, one that I'm glad I did despite it being new territory. It motivated me to keep improving on my swim, and it made me proud to be a part of the vibrant West Hawaii swimming community. We are so lucky to have such beautiful ocean to swim in and such an enthusiastic and talented group of people who are excited about it. And, like always, the new experience was one that I will treasure. 




Wednesday, June 25, 2014

King's Swim and Big Island Marathon Entries

I'm really excited, and a little scared, to share that I've signed up for my first marathon! 

I've thought about doing half marathons before, and obviously an Ironman contains a full marathon so I knew that one was in my future somewhere down the line, but I hadn't really actively considered pursuing one until I was offered a comp entry for the Big Island Marathon in Hilo. The race is in March of next year, so I have almost 9 months to coerce and cajole my body into the kind of shape it will have to be in to make it through something of that magnitude, and I am excited at the prospect of really focusing on my running, which will in turn have very positive effects on my triathlon performance as a whole. Since I plan on doing Honu, the half-Ironman next June, I think it will be a big confidence/fitness booster to have a full marathon under my belt before that time.

Never, ever in a million years would I have thought this moment was possible if you had asked me about it three years ago. I probably would have laughed at you and called you insane. But then again, I never would have imagined that after finishing a 4.5-mile run the words "wow, I love running!" would ever enter my mind, which they did at the end of my training last night. It's amazing how things change and evolve. I swear, stick with something long enough and your entire outlook might change!

I am also signing up for the King's Swim, a 1.2-mile open water swim weekend after next that starts from Kailua Pier. I have heard about this swim because it's well-known here, with hundreds of people participating, but I didn't really know when it was or any of the details. Since I started going to the coached sessions at the pool, though, I found out that it is organized by none other than Steve Borowski, the coach. The registration sheets were sitting next to the pool, tempting me, so I figured why not. It will be the longest I've swam in a race, but I have done over that distance several times in training (in the ocean) so I think it will be a good challenge. I'm also looking forward to doing a swim race in which I do not have to jump directly onto a bicycle when I come out of the water!

Speaking of swimming, I got my first corrections from Coach Steve when I went on Monday, and found out that my head position was much too high in the water. This is why getting some feedback is so valuable: I knew from what I've read that your head is supposed to sit low in the water, in line with your body, but I thought that mine was in that position. Only an outside perspective could tell me that no, my head was bobbing up like a buoy. I immediately went to work attempting to fix it, and although tucking my head downward felt really bizarre and I swallowed some water trying to re-discover the sweet spot to breathe, he said that it was much better. He also switched me back to breathing every stroke, which is ironic because I just figured out how to bilateral breathe three weeks ago. That's fine, I'm happy to save that one for emergencies only (aka waves crashing over my good breathing side). It was really, really good to get some input and it made me hungry for more. I love learning new things. I also felt like I made some progress keeping track of the workout he assigned; I actually counted the laps and knew when to stop between sets. Small steps, small steps...

So, three races on the horizon, two of those within the next three weeks! It's going to be an exciting time and I'm looking forward to keeping my training going strong after a few days rest post-Hilo tri. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Chlorinated Adventures: My First Pool Workout!

I'm scared of the pool.

It sounds stupid, and it's funny to talk about my first swim in a pool after a year and a half of training since most people learn to swim in a pool, then take nervous baby steps into the ocean. Twice now I've encountered people who swim regularly at the gym but have been too scared to join me in the ocean, yet somehow, I ended up completely backwards in this situation: comfortable in the ocean, swimming three times per week, yet completely terrified of the pool.

I met Steve Borowski at least four months ago. He mentioned that he is a swim coach, that he runs a masters training group in the mornings, and that I should come. Once I looked him up, I knew he was right. Recently inducted into the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame, he has held multiple world records, coached Olympians and pro triathletes, and somehow still teaches normal people like me four days a week. Since my swim technique has been built solely on reading articles and watching YouTube videos, I know there is vast, vast room for improvement and what better opportunity is there than to get advice from someone with such an amazing resume?

The idea simmered in my mind for a few months, but I was overwhelmed with school, work, and commuting and couldn't fathom trying to fit another activity into my schedule. I also couldn't imagine getting myself out of bed at 4:45am and out of the house by 5am, which is what it takes to get to Kona by 6:15 when the group starts. As I have re-progressed in training and my morning workouts have gotten longer and longer, however, my wake-up time has progressed with it, and I'm currently getting up at 4:50 four days per week anyway. So when I got a little over-zealous on my bike on Sunday and irritated a muscle in my calf (still not sure how I managed to do that on the bike rather than the run, but whatever) I figured this would be a perfect week to focus on swimming and make it happen.

Once I had the idea in my head, I realized that while it sounded great in theory, I was about to expose all of my inexperience and lack of preparation to a pool full of serious swimmers. Out all alone in the ocean at 6am no one has to know that I still don't own a real training suit and still swim in a bikini, that I don't know how to turn at a wall, or that when I read about swim workouts I had no idea what the ____by_____ format ("4 by 100," "6 by 200," etc.) meant. Yes, there are currents and waves and sharks and jellyfish but it is quiet and beautiful and the motion rocks me into relaxation like a baby. I love the ocean.

Makeshift workout suit
Knowing that I couldn't show up in my faithful string bikini but unwilling to buy a $100 workout suit without shopping around a little, I did the next best thing: I went to Target and picked out the cheapest, most non-frilly-looking bathing suit bottom I could find and hoped that it could masquerade as an athletic swim bottom. (It couldn't). Next step was to have Sean, who was on swim team in high school, explain the whole mysterious ___x____ workout thing to me. And finally, I got everything ready and together so that when I awoke in the morning I wouldn't have to do anything but grab and go. I slept fitfully, waking often to tense, anxious thoughts about lanes and intimidating swimmers making fun of me, and weird pool water, sans ocean salt, that I would sink hopelessly in. Yeah, I was seriously that nervous.

I almost talked myself out of it several times. It has been quite a while since something in triathlon scared me as much as this and made me so uncomfortable. In fact, because triathlon has made me so much more willing to take on uncertainty in all parts of life with a certain amount of pleasure, it has been quite a while since anything has made me so uncomfortable. Once I realized this, however, I knew I had to go, because if I've learned anything in the past year and a half it is that facing down the things that scare you is one of the sport's greatest gifts.

When my alarm went off at 4:45, I was resigned to my fate. The sunrise drive was beautiful, and by the time I reached Kona I was prepared for whatever. I knew I'd be out of my league, but I was ready to just have fun and learn. I certainly have no illusions at this point about taking myself too seriously.

Beautiful morning for a first pool swim!
My first surprise was that the pool is outdoors. I don't know why I was thinking a pool in Hawaii would be indoors, but I felt much more at ease in the open air. There were a lot of people, approximately 35-40, which also put me at ease because I knew I wouldn't be on display. I did, however, quickly notice that I was the only woman wearing a two-piece suit. Guess I'll have to work on that. Everyone started getting into lanes, which at first I thought were randomly assigned. Thank goodness I didn't just pick a lane and go for it, because I would have gotten run over by some of the fastest swimmers in the world. By a stroke of luck and good judgment, I found Coach Steve and he showed me which one was the "fun" lane and deposited me there. At the end he walked me along the lanes, pointing out Bree Wee (pro triathlete), the girl who just won Honu, the fastest man over age 65, and various other athletes whose names I know. Plenty of inspiration there, and perfectly spaced several lanes away so that they remain inspiring rather than intimidating.

Workouts were assigned by lane. To be honest, I don't even remember what ours was because I knew I'd never be able to keep track of how many laps I was swimming because I'd be too busy focusing on not being a total spaz in the pool. Everyone was really, really nice and gave me the run down of which corner to go to to rest, what to do if someone needed to pass me, etc. And then, we swam.

It was a really interesting experience. The taste of non-salt water in my mouth was bizarre, and the 25-yards, turn, 25-yards, turn format was very different than the long haul alone in the ocean feel that I'm so used to. Having other swimmers around me didn't feel as foreign as I thought it would because it fit with the pool atmosphere, and within a couple of minutes the whole environment felt pretty natural. It was definitely not the terrifying nightmare I had imagined. I tried to focus on swimming in the same manner as I do at Hapuna: slow and steady with a little faster burst now and then. Speed-wise, I fit in fine.

I didn't expect much by way of instruction because there were so many people, so I was really pleasantly surprised by how effective the coach was at giving personal notes to every single person in the pool, me included. He came to talk to me three times, and from what I could see this was consistent with everyone. Very impressive. Because he knew I was nervous, he abstained from any corrections, but did mention that he has several notes in mind for me for next time that should help to make my swimming more efficient. Being me, I am really looking forward to getting some feedback and corrections so that I can improve. I think ballerinas are prone to perfectionism, and since we are so used to getting physical corrections, this type of critique is something we come to desire. And, since the swim is the only part of the triathlon that I am naturally decent at, I would love to get a little faster and start myself off with a little more of a head start on the run-prodigies who will inevitably mow me down.

Overall, it was a great experience. Although I'm not really a group workout kind of person, it was fun to be around so many people excited about the same thing and full of energy. In addition, it was oddly beautiful to stop for a moment and look down the lanes, seeing and hearing so many people swimming in perfect lines. The laps really break up the swim, making time go by more quickly. I swam 48 minutes versus the 30 I usually do in the ocean and didn't really feel much of a difference fatigue-wise, although I notice it did make me ravenously hungry. I see now why people work out in pools, because it definitely lengthens the distances and amounts of time you can swim without current and waves to tire you out and mess with your technique. I think it will be a valuable thing to integrate into my swim workout regimen (although I'll still be going to Hapuna two time a week to swim as well. I just love the ocean.)


And, once again, I am grateful to triathlon for teaching me to find pleasure in facing my fears rather than trying to avoid them. It has been so long since I felt so inadequate--probably since I very first tried to swim at Waikiki and couldn't even make it 25 meters. It was a familiar and welcome feeling to feel that twinge of nervousness in my gut, to know that I was vastly unprepared, yet know that by taking the first step I was moving toward a day when I will inevitably feel comfortable in yet another new situation. It is so empowering.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Why Ballerinas Should Run: Making a Case Against Everything I've Ever Been Told

When I decided a year and a half ago that I was going to do a triathlon, my fears were different than many multisport athletes'. Although I hadn't attempted freestyle stroke since I was 5 and I didn't own a bike helmet, I knew that with training, the swim and the bike would come to me. The thing that worried me was running, and the reason is right there in the title of this blog.

You see, ballerinas don't run.

This is hammered into our heads from the time we are little. Our teachers tell us, our peers tell us, our mentors tell us. There are several reasons that ballerinas have been discouraged from running. In fact, if you Google "ballerinas running okay" you will come up with a whole preponderance of articles discussing the topic. The tide seems to be changing a little, with more people whispering that maybe a 5k now and then won't actually make your ballet skills immediately shrivel and die, but there is still a lot of resistance floating around in the dance community. Anyhow, here is what I was told growing up:

Flexibility at work.
1. It builds the wrong muscles.
In theory, ballet muscles are very specialized, and in order for them to be strong, you don't want other, larger muscles taking over. If you run, you build up these "other" muscles, which will interfere with your "ballet muscles." (In-group out-group shaming at its finest).

2. It promotes heavy movement.
Ballerinas are supposed to be light and airy and look like they're flying. Running's repetitive pavement pounding will rob you of your light aesthetic and make you look like you're dancing while carrying 100 lbs. of cement.

3. You will lose your flexibility and turn out.
Running tightens up your hamstrings, quads, calves, and back, and you will lose all of your Gumby-like flexibility, being left with reduced range of motion. Building muscles with your legs turned in (rather than turned out, the aesthetic of ballet) will reduce your ability to turn out from the hip and ultimately harm your technique.

4. Injuries.
You will get injured and will never be able to do ballet again. If you go running, you might die.

5. All that aerobic training will ruin your anaerobic fitness.
You won't be able to do the relatively short but very intense bursts of activity required for ballet class and performance because your fitness will have transitioned to aerobic only.

6. You will get BIG.
The most important message of all: If you run, you will develop huge man muscles and you will no longer look dainty and nymph-like. Company directors will scorn you, Balanchine will roll over in his grave, etc.

When I decided to start doing triathlon, these warnings played and replayed in my head. I didn't want to get hurt or turn into The Incredible Hulk, and even though I'm no longer dancing seriously, I didn't want to affect my ability to go to a ballet class and dance well. I decided that it would be worth it to at least do one tri since it's something I'd always found intriguing, and if new leg muscles somehow began to interfere with my life (... my God, how ridiculous) I would just stop.

Since I was semi-out of shape when I began the triathlon training, nothing on me got bigger. Everything got smaller and more toned. After eight months of training, I found a new ballet teacher and took my first ballet class in over a year. In the past, going this long without a class has meant that my extensions (how high I can lift and hold my leg in the air to the front, side, and back) are pathetic, my legs feel heavy, and my jumps feel like I can't get more than a few inches off the ground. I was ready to be weak and lame. Imagine my surprise, then, when I went to my first class and my legs soared easily upward, my jumps felt like I was flying, and there was no loss in flexibility whatsoever. I was amazed.

Because of this experience, I would like to respond to what I've been told my whole life and perhaps shed light on why running may actually be exactly what ballerinas should be doing.

1. It builds muscles that complement ballet muscles.
While it is true that running and ballet use different muscles, cross-training can provide support for the muscles integral to ballet movements, giving you more stability. Increased stability reduces fatigue in the working ballet muscles. In addition, building running muscles greatly improve your jumps and your explosiveness as well as keeping your extensions high.

2. Increased musculature allows for better jumps and an overall lighter aesthetic.
Prima ballerina and Balanchine muse Gelsey Kirkland once wrote that in order to achieve a light appearance, dancers should try to feel heavy, as if they are constantly pushing against the floor with all their might. While the conventional wisdom says that running makes your dancing appear heavy, you can use your new muscles, especially those in the booty and upper legs, to push against the floor and fly like the lightest of all Balanchine's nymphs.

I think my back flexibility is doing okay...
3. All of these new complementary supporting muscles can actually improve your turn out and avoid injury caused by twisting while forcing turn out from the knees. Your feet will even get stronger. If you're a serious dancer, just make sure that you and concentrate on rolling through your foot while running and do arch-strengthening exercises to maintain your arch height. In addition, as long as you stretch regularly after running, flexibility shouldn't be affected. I haven't noticed any deficits developing.

 4. Injury prevention.
Running isn't the only activity that causes overuse injuries. A shockingly high percentage of ballerinas are taken down by acute and chronic use-related injuries each year, and while it's true that running carries some risk (like any sport), building those stabilizer muscles I mentioned above can actually drastically cut your risk of ballet injury.
My kryptonite in ballet was an unstable knee cap, which, due to a muscle imbalance, started tracking sideways instead of upward when I straightened my knee, causing extreme pain as it rubbed on the tendon next to it. I did physical therapy, took time off, nothing helped. That is, until I started running. Running has strengthened the opposing muscle, which can now hold my knee cap on the correct track, eliminating the problem completely. I hate to admit it, but running was the solution to my ballet injury.
As long as you build your mileage up slowly and learn to run with proper form, the risk/benefit ratio is decidedly in favor of running.

5. Aerobic and anaerobic fitness are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
There are plenty of dances in which aerobic fitness can be a major benefit. As long as you are also doing ballet on a regular basis, you will not lose your ability to dance in intense segments. Improving one type does not have to harm the other.

Tell me again how runners have such bulky body types?
6. Endurance runners and ballerinas actually have very similar body types.
The whole myth that if you run you will develop legs like Godzilla is just stupid. If you do direct comparisons of endurance runners to ballerinas, their overall shape is not so different. Strong, tiny arms, strong abs, lean, muscular legs, etc. Add to this that running may help dancers take off a couple of pounds, and the body type paranoia just becomes ridiculous. If you're looking at a professional sprinting career, you may have some concerns, but otherwise, the fear is unfounded.

So what is a ballerina to do?

Well, start slow. Start with a couple of short runs each week at an easy, comfortable pace. Ballerinas have a great head start because we are used to being hyper-aware of our body positioning. Educate yourself on proper running form: use your good ballet posture to "pull up" and out of your hips while you run, make a conscious effort to use a midfoot or forefoot strike rather than a heel strike, run with a quick, light stride, try to maximize forward motion rather than bouncing, and don't overstride. Read all you can about  running form so that you can maximize benefits and minimize risk. Just like in ballet class, be aware of each part of your body -- its angles, position, and which muscles you are using. Increase your distances very, very slowly. Most importantly, enjoy!

Running can offer ballerinas a great way to get outside, use their bodies in a new way, and enjoy a new challenge. My experience has been so freeing and empowering, and my dancing is better for it. So get out there, because ballerinas should run!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Triathlon Birthday Weekend

The last week I felt a little inertia in getting going again after the Training Tri. I took the Monday afterward off, then sort of restarted on Tuesday with a very short run on the beach before work. I also solved the mystery of why all of the swims I've done have felt longer than I thought they should: Hapuna is not a half-mile long like all the tourism website insist it is. According to my GPS, it is barely squeaking in at .4-miles, maybe even more like .39. Damn. Maybe it was better just not knowing.

My work schedule was switched around because of Memorial Day and the doctor I work for being gone for a day, so my normal workout schedule got flipped around a little, too. It was kind of a weird week, overall. On Wednesday I swam, Thursday I re-ran the course from the Training Tri, this time running the whole thing instead of walking up the hills, which felt good. Friday I was off work, so I did a fairly easy 20-mile bike, which did not feel easy at all because of some nasty wind. Saturday I did a 50-minute hill run, which I was really excited about because I felt fast and awesome, at least until I measured the distance and realized I was averaging almost 13-minute miles. Again, damn.

Saturday was Honu. I couldn't figure out at first why there were twenty people in the water with me during my swim the Thursday before until I realized this. Once they put the buoys out to mark the swim course (Friday), it was really cool and slightly intimidating to see. The half Ironman distance starting at Hapuna Beach going all the way up to Hawi and back to finish at the Fairmont Orchid hotel was, for the second time, fun to watch. Although I had been really disappointed that I didn't sign up in time, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I know that I would not have been in my best shape for it this year and the outcome would have been disappointing. This year I have money set aside and I am ready to register the day the 2015 registration opens, and I will be able to really dedicate the right amount of time to training so that my first half Ironman can be a success. It was inspirational to watch the athletes tame the tough course, and it was fun this year to actually know some people in the race (congratulations to Helgi Olafson and Jason Nixon!)

Creepy birthday beach
The week after an Ironman event on this island is like January 1st everywhere else in the country. Full of resolutions and freshly inspired to transform their flab into muscles and grit, people flock to the ocean, roads, and their bicycles, optimistic but wholly unprepared. My morning swim, during which I am always the only person in the water, is practically crowded with people who are notably awkward getting in and out of the ocean. I watched a girl in spotless new dri-fit and spandex struggle to get started with her clipless pedals, fall over three times, then give up and forlornly walk her new bike up the hill. I sympathize, because I have been there oh so many times, but I also take my trial and error history as a pass to giggle a little under my breath. Because, you know, I'm laughing with them. Sort of.

Monday was my birthday, and again I started my day with a swim. When I got down to the beach, I was almost intimidated away because the water looked strange, like either a storm was coming in or one had just passed. The usually glassy water was churned, the beach was wet much further up than usual and covered in sediment, as if the ocean had been recently angered, and the sky was dark. There were two people in the water, however, so I ignored my wavering confidence and waded in.


It was only minutes into my swim that I saw the manta ray, hovering on the surface. It was about 40 feet away, and although I immediately tried to swim toward it, it disappeared and didn't resurface. Oh well, I thought, and kept swimming. I did about a third of a mile, then turned around and headed back. Suddenly something told me to stop and look around, so I did, and there it was again: a beautiful, huge, 6-foot manta ray on the surface just 5-10 feet from me. Oh, how I wish I carried an underwater camera with me. I immediately dove down and swam toward him. He didn't move. He hovered there, slowly moving his gorgeous fins with perfect grace. For five minutes I floated next to him, admiring him and thanking the ocean for this wonderful birthday gift, before he swam gently away into the blue.

Yet again, triathlon gave me something beautiful. It never fails.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Aloha Tri Club Training Triathlon

Well, despite only having been back to serious training for a few weeks, I let ambition be my guide and participated in the Aloha Tri Club's training triathlon on Sunday. It was a .8-mile swim, 31-mile bike ride, and 5-mile run. It had "training" in the name, so I told myself it would be okay. I mean I'm training, right? So it should be fine!

Pre-race meeting
It was a stretch, but it was, in fact, okay. Everyone met at Hapuna Beach around 7:30 and set up very casual transition areas in the parking lot. We used the bed of Sean's truck, laying out our gear and leaving our bikes ready to go, under the watchful eye of some awesome volunteers. There were stations set up with bikes leaning against cars, trunks open and full of helmets, snacks, and running shoes. People were clustered around their gear, laughing and talking, and it was a really fun atmosphere. After a brief meeting, everyone headed down to the water.

In-water start
It was odd to swim at Hapuna with a lot of people because I am so used to being alone, but it was also comforting to know that increased numbers offer some level of protection from ocean critters. I placed myself well for the start of this swim, I was only passed once and I passed one person. (Unless, of course, you count the lady who kept swimming at sprint speed for two minutes, then stopping, then restarting at break neck speed, only to stop again, forcing me to dodge her extremities over and over and over... don't be that person. It makes your fellow racers really, really hate you.) I know that this seems like a small detail, but it makes a huge difference in energy conservation when you can focus on swimming rather than dodging. The swim felt good, but long. Very long. However, the water was perfectly clear and conditions were really good. I was pleased with my time, too, coming out of the water at 28 minutes, a slightly faster pace than what I swam at Lavaman Keauhou.

One major benefit to a practice triathlon is that because there was no official timing and Hapuna has wonderfully warm showers with great water pressure, I got to take a quick shower before jogging up to the "transition area." Shoes on, shirt on, helmet on, sunglasses on, snacks in my pocket, I was off! The first miles were tough. My legs, like they always seem to be coming off the swim, were filled with concrete and did not seem to want to cooperate and the beginning of the course was two hills. About five to six miles in my legs loosened up and I actually felt really strong all the way up to the turn around point at Mahukona. Unfortunately, though, this strength didn't last me to the transition area and with about ten miles left they started feeling like noodles. The hill coming out of Kawaihae going back toward Hapuna almost killed me, and I actually stopped for a moment to stretch before chug, chug, chugging the rest of the way up. The bike course was largely on my regular stomping grounds, and it was a beautiful day, so I really enjoyed it, even feeling tired.

Bike security :)
When I took off for the run, I knew it was going to be hot. The course was hilly and the sun was already blazing. Armed with big sunglasses (STILL embarrassing non-athletic ones because I haven't replaced my broken pair) and a new addition--a hat!--I took off. I just have to take a moment to say that I have been very, very stupid in not wearing a hat up until now. I couldn't believe the difference it makes to have shade on your face! I will never run without a hat again. I might even go get myself one of the oh-so-distinctive triathlete visors I have scoffed at for so long.

Another new addition to my race gear was homemade snacks. As I mentioned in a previous post, gels and other non-solid fuel sources do not seem to agree with my very particular tummy, so I am always in search of new ways to keep my body going. Following a couple of recipes from an endurance nutrition book, we were equipped with little 2"x2" peanut butter and jelly rice sandwiches (sounds weird, tastes delicious!) and egg, rice, and parmesan frittatas. They were easy to eat, easy on my stomach, and seemed to provide plenty of energy. It is also surprisingly nice to taste real food mid-race rather than chemical-laden packaged calories.

Sean on the run
I was pleasantly surprised with my run, especially given how tired my legs had felt at the end of the bike. My strategy, which I originally created as a joke but realized it actually sounded pretty good, was to walk up all the hills but run anything and everything that was level ground or downhill, worked like a charm and saved my legs until the very end of the race. The first mile and a half was up-down-up-down-up-down, very steep hills. After that, to the aid station and up to the turn around point at 2.5 miles, it was either flat or moderate inclines. The aid station, run by two awesome volunteers, had cold water, electrolyte drink, and pieces of Nature Valley bars, all of which tasted like mana from heaven in the midst of the heat. They even had a bottle of water for me since I was apparently the only one who didn't get the memo that we should carry a water bottle with us.

The last big hill actually made even walking difficult. Up until that point, I didn't know I could actually get so tired that walking becomes difficult, but news flash: I can. However, I made it to the top, ran down the back, to the finish line, and toward the delicious blueberry streusel bread, sliced fruit, and white chocolate mac nut cookies again provided by volunteers. Mmmm.

I finished with a total time of 3:42:15. 28 minutes for the swim, 2:03 for the bike, and 1:02 for the run, plus whatever time is left for transitions. Not fast, but not bad for how little training I've had. It was a really fun event, lots of camaraderie and smiles, and I'm glad we made it despite being intimidated. Thank you to Helgi Olafson and Shirley Pratt for putting it all together, and to the volunteers for keeping our bikes safe and the athletes well-fed.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them!

I know that most of my entries are chock-full of nausea-inducing details about how beautiful my training grounds in Hawaii are. I am semi-apologetic, because... well, no, I'm not. Hawaii is beautiful. BUT, with that being said, even living in Hawaii I have days where my training conditions are less than ideal, and with that in mind I will share my swim training experience from Tuesday of this week.

I left the house at 5:20am, feeling energetic and excited to swim at Hapuna Beach, which is a gorgeous half-mile long stretch of white sand with consistently clear water. In the mornings, it is one of my favorite places to be. The water is glassy and calm, there are usually only one or two people walking along the beach, and I am always the first one in the water. The clouds are generally still pink and the sun is just peeking over the horizon. Everything is awash in pastels. It is quiet and peaceful and centering with only the soothing sound of the rhythmic waves in my ears. I was looking forward to a meditative start to my day.

As I got closer, I realized my morning may not go as planned. It was pouring. Now, I don't mind swimming when it's raining, but I do mind being the only one in the water with no one on the beach. If something were to happen, which is totally possible at Hapuna, with its sharks and open water, no one would be there to fish me out. I checked the beach, but as I suspected, the rain had kept the few early risers indoors.

I was disappointed, but figured I would just go to Kailua Pier in Kona and swim there. (Notice my victory over the Quitting Moment in this situation!) When I got to there, though, my heart sank. The times that I have swum at Kailua Pier in the past, and really every time I ever recall looking at Kailua Pier, it has been relatively flat. Not glassy, like Hapuna, but at least lacking in waves and choppiness. Not so today. There were breaking waves, rolling surf, and wind-blown chop. God damn it.

Kailua Pier, on a normal day (Photo courtesy of lovebigisland.com)
Having just given myself healthy amounts of congratulations for not quitting when I realized I couldn't swim at Hapuna, I would have felt like a total douchebag giving up when I got to Kona. And so, begrudgingly and with a fair amount of fear, I took out my swim cap and goggles and put my towel in the little cubbies provided for swimmers. At one moment, there were two middle-aged women standing near me. Next thing I knew, there were fifteen of them completely surrounding me and blocking me in as they strapped flotation devices around their midsections and chattered about who they weren't inviting to their sunset yoga class. I tried to keep my eye-rolling under control as I "excuse me, excuse me, EXCUSE ME'ed!" my way out of their midst and walked toward the water.

"Do you know that he is King Kamehameha?" Came a voice to my left. I was still annoyed at the spatially-challenged women and it took me a moment to snap out of it. I looked over to see a very dirty but very happy homeless man looking at me inquisitively. He was gesturing in the direction of his friend, also seemingly homeless, who was standing behind him dancing in the middle of the street.

"I did not know that," I responded.
"Yes, he is King Kamehameha. The Great One." He informed me.
"Oh. Nice to meet you," I said.
"Well have a good day," He said with a smile before returning to the dance party.

And so, with that send off, I waded into the water, timing it so that I got swept into the deeper water instead of against the sea wall. I would like to say that it was better than I expected, but it wasn't. The chop had stirred up the bottom and I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Spoiled with clear water for so long, it freaked me out to not be able to see where I was going, especially with waves. And there were waves. I didn't go as far out as I usually do, just tried to swim hard so I got a cardio and arm workout.

One my way back in, the 50-something gossip exercise group had positioned themselves in the shallows completely blocking the swim lane, bobbing in place and still talking a million miles an hour. Of course since the water was so cloudy I couldn't see this until it was too late, but to be honest I got a little satisfaction out of accidentally slapping one of them.

I made it back to solid ground, glad to be out and marveling at what a shit show my peaceful morning swim had turned into. The guy who fixes the air conditioning at our office was standing on the pier, sharing what appeared to be alcohol with my dancing friends. He gave me a wave, clearly un-phased by the fact that I was witnessing him drinking on the street with homeless people at 7am. It seemed like the natural finish to my morning.

The ridiculousness of it all finally hit me and I just laughed. In fact, I giggled all the way back to my car. Because if you can't beat them, you may as well join them.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Quitting Moment

I am finally back. Really back, and exercising on a schedule again. Yesterday I ran 38 minutes without walking once (good for me in my current condition!), and today I biked 20 miles. I feel strong and motivated, feelings that have eluded me for the last few months. So what changed?

Pretty new helmet, embarrassing non-athletic sunglasses
I discovered The Quitting Moment.

The Quitting Moment is that moment when you find an excuse. It's the moment when you know you don't feel like putting on your bike shoes or starting your run and you find an out -- a valid, believable out that allows you to convince yourself you have a good reason not to go for it. It's the flat tire, the bad weather, or the missing piece of gear. It's the moment when you let an option other than "do it" into your mind.

For me, yesterday, it was a pair of socks that I thought were in my triathlon bag but were in fact safely nestled in my drawer at home. I had managed to get myself out of bed at 5am and to Kona with time to spare to run before work, but when I opened the bad and took out my shoes, there were no socks. Immediately I was relieved. Too bad, I thought, Guess I can't run after all. I'll just run later. 

Within a split second I was thinking about how I could go get a yummy omelet and a chai tea and sit by the ocean while I ate a leisurely breakfast before work. I was imagining the cheese and the portugese sausage...
Nice and cool for the Horrible Hawi Hill
But then I realized. I wouldn't run later. If I didn't do it now, I wouldn't do it at all, and eating a big breakfast would not make me feel as good for the rest of the day as exercise would. So, I decided, I would just walk. Walking is better than nothing. (Progress on my perfectionism issues!) The funny thing, though, was that as soon as I started walking all I wanted to do was run. And so I did.

I told myself that I would only run in intervals so that I didn't hurt my feet, but once I started running all I wanted to do was keep going. And so I did. I ran for longer than I had originally planned, and although I did indeed end up with a few blisters, I also came away with a bad ass feeling of accomplishment and strength. I wore those blisters proudly for the rest of the day.

Today, it was a storm hovering over Hawi. I had planned a 20-mile ride, but when I woke up it was pouring. I drank some tea and waited, called my mom and waited, but although it stopped raining, the clouds still looked menacing enough that I decided to call it a day and stick with an indoor weights workout. Then I remembered how I felt yesterday after pushing through the socks obstacle, and realized that this was the same thing. Races happen rain or shine, so why shouldn't training? If I wait for everything to be perfect, nothing will ever get done.

Once again, I told myself that I just had to go ride a few miles, and if the weather was too crazy I could turn around, but once I got on the bike I knew I was riding the whole distance. And if I was going to do it, I was going to conquer the horrible North Kohala 7-mile hill that is my on-again, off-again nemesis. I hadn't done it since January and I'd been to scared to attempt it.

It did rain, but guess what? It felt like beautiful little cooling drops of joy on my sweaty skin, and the menacing clouds created beautifully cool air, keeping me comfortable throughout the ride. The sun came out long enough to illuminate the plentiful green hues washed clean by the rain, and, perhaps most amazingly, I did not see another cyclist the entire hour and twenty-minute ride. I was the only one who had decided to brave the weather, and I was rewarded with a gorgeous, empowering experience.

The beautiful view
I realize now that I have been short-changing myself by allowing the Quitting Moments to get the best of me. By identifying them for what they are and being conscious that I am accepting an excuse rather than a new experience, I can remind myself that I have yet to regret pushing through an obstacle to accomplish a goal, large or small. Strength is not allowing the wrenches life throws at you to slow you down. It is recognizing when you are at the crossroads between the easy way out and a challenge, and choosing to take the challenge head on.

No excuses, no quitting.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Inch by Inch, Mile by Mile

Well, my last post was great, but it's easier said than done. I have made some very, very modest progress. I've cut a lot of the excess processed food and sugar out of my meals, I've gone running several times, I've been swimming twice a week, but the cycling is just scaring the crap out of me for whatever reason. What is it about where I'm at in life right now that makes me feel so far away from the tough, strong warrior that triathlon brings out? Why am I so weak?

I'm asking these questions not because I'm overly frustrated, but rather because I feel like it's important to look inward when struggling with motivation. And I know I'm not the only one who struggles. I suppose that the first question is this: what feeling is it that keeps me from taking the first steps of a run or from getting on the bike? The simple answer is just that I don't feel like it. I feel like cuddling into the couch, drinking tea, and writing. I feel like going to the beach. I feel like relaxing. I feel like taking a bath with lots of lavender. But why? I am tired, and I know that. I don't feel like I have enough time in the day. But these are not the ultimate reasons that I'm not following my training schedule.

On my days off, I can go running in the morning and still go to the beach and take a bath, but I don't. I could do a two-hour bike ride, then drink tea, write, and cuddle into the couch, but I don't. In fact, my days off seem to be when I am least likely to get my workouts done. Why?

I know that part of the problem is that I have been too vague with myself about my workouts. I wrote my schedule down in a place that I am not forced to look every day, so when I plan my next morning's workout I'm not thinking "4-mile run," I'm just thinking "run." Visualization is important, so when I don't know how far I'll be running (or where, or what route) it's too easy to get out of. Same goes for the bike. If I have to plan these things in the morning, it just doesn't get done and I end up sitting around for too long.

In addition, the weather keeps giving me (lame) excuses not to get on the bike. The wind around my house has been insane -- gusts of 40-50mph, and since I'm already weak and out of shape, this just intimidated me out of riding. I know, excuses excuses. There are plenty of people who ride through anything and I should be one of them, but I'm pathetic and scared. So, to counteract this excuse, I got a trainer. Now I can sit in my living room watching Friends or It's Always Sunny pedaling away to my heart's content. Realistically, riding outside is more fun anyway, but this takes away all of my excuses. No excuses.

And that, right there, is really the key here. NO EXCUSES. None of it matters. I can do anything if I really want to get it done. If I'm not getting it done, it's because of me and nothing else. I have to keep reminding myself that all of those other things I want to do -- baths, writing, relaxing, reading -- will be more productive and more satisfying when I know that I have accomplished my goals for the day.

In the words of Chris McDonnell, a Kona 2013 finisher: "Look up. Move forward."

Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's Never Too Late to Start Again

On November 24th of last year, I completed my triathlon goal for 2013 by doing the Lavaman Keauhou olympic-length tri. It is horrifically embarrassing to admit, but what is writing for if you can't be honest? Since that day, nearly four months ago, I have done exactly three bike workouts, two runs, and one swim workout.

Beautiful Hawi, the reason I commute instead of move
It sounds even more awful now that I've said it out loud.

There are plenty of excuses. The weekend after the race, I got a cough. Not a normal cough, but one that left me (and Sean) awake at night, one that rattled deep in my chest, one that kept me from catching my breath, made me lose my voice for almost two weeks, and one that wouldn't leave my body for almost a month and a half. I'm not sure if this was a reaction to exerting myself in the race, or a side effect of sharing an office building with a pediatrician's office, or some combination of the two, but it knocked me on my butt. The one bike workout I did try to do, I gasped for air and spit up phlegm every few minutes. Not fun.

Then, just as my cough began to abate, our office moved from lovely, intimate, beautiful Waimea, which was just thirty minutes from my house, to overrated, crowded Kailua-Kona, leaving me with an hour and fifteen minute commute each morning and evening. This alone should have been handleable, but I also started school on January 6th. While I'm very excited to be working on my Neurodiagnostic Technologist degree (!), I got overwhelmed by too much change all at once. I left the house each morning in the dark at 6:15, drove for almost an hour and a half, worked a ten-hour day, drove the long drive home, arriving again in the dark around 7pm, then had two hours to shower, cook dinner, eat, read and do homework, attempt to relax a little, and get to bed so that I could get enough sleep to do it again the next day.

I failed at this.

Now before you say, "Wow, you are lame, that is not so bad," I would like to offer my explanation for my malcontent. I didn't move to Hawaii, especially to this island, to spend every waking moment at work. Call me what you will, but I have come to the conclusion that for me, life is to be enjoyed, and that if I can't be a ballerina, I don't want to watch my non-work life be consumed by time at the office. I want to be outside, I want to feel the sunshine and the ocean and the wind on my face. I was mourning my old life, in which I could feed the cows behind our house, run and swim before work, and walk around our yard to relax before watching the clouds turn pink over the ocean when I came home each night. I love where I live passionately, and seeing it only in darkness five days out of the week just made me sad. By the time the weekend came I was so tired and irritated that all I wanted to do was lay around. I had lost 7.5 hours per week to driving alone and another 10 or so to school work, and these hours came out of my training time. In fact, they obliterated my training time.

Could I have been more cavalier? Could I have been stronger? Could I have powered through and made it happen with my workouts?

Yes, of course. Yes, yes, yes. That is exactly why I chose to call these "excuses" instead of "reasons." I was tired, weak, sad, and angry, and it got the better of me. That is the truth. The irony, of course, is that if I had mustered the strength to work out I am 100% sure it would have actually made me feel better, because I have yet to finish a workout and feel badly about it. Exercise seems to be the only exception to the concept of classical conditioning - even though I always feel wonderful afterward, it still seems daunting to me.

My wake-up call has been prodding at me for the last couple of weeks. First, I just feel awful. My body feels heavy and fatigued and my stomach is off due to the "convenient" foods I've been consuming. I've gained weight, and I lack energy. Then I went to ballet, and looked in the mirror. I remembered how I looked in ballet classes when I started going to this studio. I showed up with my hair nicely done, in good ballet clothes, and when I moved my arms I saw muscles, not jiggle. I looked like a ballerina. This did not resemble what was greeting me in the mirror. My hair was unkempt, thrown hastily into a messy bun that wouldn't stay in place because I haven't had a chance to get my hair cut, I was wearing socks instead of ballet slippers because I hadn't had time to search for them in the dark that morning before I left for work, and my legs wouldn't lift like they did before because the muscle is gone. And it hit me.

This is ridiculous. I need a plan.

I have been so busy focusing on what I can't do training-wise that I forgot what triathlon has taught me. I am strong. I am tough. Discomfort is okay. In fact, discomfort often leads to the greatest accomplishments and instead of wallowing in it I should be facing it, feeling it, and using it to prove to myself that it can't beat me. I started browsing back through my old posts and found one written at this time last year, just as I was about to uproot my Honolulu life to move to the country; Swimming Through the Tides of Change reminded me that this is not new in my life. Just as I have overcome it in the last, I can overcome it now. It is never too late to start again.

So here is the plan:
1. This year my goal is as follows: Maintain my triathlon fitness and improve my running. Since the Hawaii 70.3 filled up long before I thought I needed to register, and I have neither the financial means nor lack of common sense to pay $600 for a half-Ironman, the race is out for this year. Instead of being frustrated, I am looking at it this way: This year started out badly for me, training-wise, and it's going to continue to be tough for a little while. This can annoy me, or I can take it as an opportunity to really solidify my fitness in the olympic distance. Since running is my weakest sport (even though I have grown to enjoy it), I will focus on amping up my distances and speed. This way, I'll be really ready to increase my training distances next year when I can really dedicate myself to training for the half and full Ironman.
2. Figure out my eating.
My body hates processed stuff and too much starch. That's it. My taste buds love cake and pasta and peach gummy candies, but my stomach does not. I have to get back in the habit of eating cleanly, because it's really hard to have energy to work out when your stomach is churning or feels like a balloon.
3. Follow my training schedule for Hilo Triathlon, as best I can.
I made a lovely new schedule for the Hilo Triathlon, which is July 13th, and I will stick to it. However, if I miss a workout because of work or school, I promise not to get all grumpy and down on myself, because once I am upset I fall off the training wagon. Positive thoughts, positive effort, anything is better than nothing. I will do what I can, when I can, and celebrate that.
4. Pay more attention to taking care of myself.
I've been so far into the mindset of "just get it done" that I've neglected myself. It helps to feel like you look nice, not because of what other people think but because caring about yourself encourages you to do other things to care for yourself, such as working out so that you can feel strong. I do care about myself, so I'll try to show it more.

There is no shame in getting derailed. We are all human, and life doesn't just chug along on an even course. There are ups and downs, periods of time when everything just fits and times when everything seems like chaos. I can't be frustrated by losing my momentum. Instead, I must revel in finding it again. So I am back, learning and striving and growing and, as always getting stronger.