... my journey from ballerina to triathlete

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.