Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Anatomy of Prince Charming

I'm floating on top of the water, smooth, effortless...

I look forward just enough to see my down-turned thumb lead my arm into the water. I catch with my pinky, doing a semi-circular sweep of the rim of large bowl that ends at my belly button. Then I push that water out from my belly button to my upper thigh, exiting the water as though taking my hand out of my back pocket. Then relaxed, relaxed, relaxed on the recovery 'til my thumb enters the water again. Repeat, breathe, glide...

Prevents crossover = I look forward just enough to see my down-turned thumb lead my arm into the water.

Keeps my elbow high = I catch with my pinky, doing a semi-circular sweep of the rim of large bowl that ends at my belly button.

Thrusts me forward = Then I push that water out from my belly button to my upper thigh.

Keeps me straight in the water, elbow out first = Exit the water as though taking my hand out of my back pocket.

Get the most glide out of my effort and conserve energy for the underwater effort = Relaxed, relaxed, relaxed on the recovery.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Swimming Infatuation

Once upon a time, there lived a runner. That runner did 5Ks and 10Ks, 2 milers and 26.2 milers. Then she started doing triathlons. Now this runner was very pleased with her performance in the biking and the running portion of her triathlons, but found that her rank in swimming sucked. Her fairy godmother waved her magic wand and the Triathlete lived happily ever after.

Oh, were it so!

Now for the true story. The above is all true - up 'til the wand part. I have been working on my swimming for the last 3 years. And - sacrilege - sometimes I love it almost as much as running. It offers a unique set of triathlete temptations.

#1. If done right, provides a runner's high. I never thought I could get that from any other sport, but now I do. Intervals are the key. My recent discovery of 8x100 on 1:45 (or 1:40 if I'm with my ballsy partner) have put me into a whole new realm. I'm addicted. It is a high. I have the same feeling as I do with running intervals. Nervous dread/excited anticipation before I go, chest-pain effort during, and blood-pumping, gelatinous body exhilaration when we're done.

#2 Braininess of it all - technique is so important and you have. to. think. Some sort of crafstman in me likes it that form matters in swimming. Much more than in biking or running. I like concentrating on the different aspects of my stroke and perfecting them.

#3 It's the one of the 3 elements that I consistently do socially - it gives a whole new aspect to this individual sport that I pursue. I've hit it off with a group of people who love what I love and we've clicked pace-wise. Our coach is a successful, inspirational triathlete. Never hurts.

So right now Swimming is my Prince Charming. I'm looking for a fairy tale finish next season.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thankful - At Last

I'm back. Don't know how. Just the hazy veil lifted. I think it's chemical, not my fault (the result of too much sugar and other bad living) as I had earlier concluded.

But I'm willing to forgive my brain & its playful chemistry because that same brain allows me to:

1) Read Shakespeare and reflect on the nature of Kate the Shrew, unable to play until Petruccio calls her to it. That's the interpretation proposed by the lecturer I'm listening to. I want that to be Shakespeare's intent else Katherine's last speech is too terrible to bear after her earlier beautiful show of wit and will.

And the story resonates with me at a personal level. Am I, with my irascibility, a Kate? And is Chris my Petruccio? Refusing to engage with my anger and sulks but rather biding his time until they pass. Then we can laugh at my tirades and point out how ridiculous they are - and play as Kate and Petruccio do. (I'm glad he doesn't steal Petruccio's methods wholesale. Being out-shrewed and hoisted around would wear thin pretty quickly.)

2) Enjoy the nature of being human - as felt by me and as I observe it lived in those around me. That's why blogging has come to mean so much to me; it's another lens into how others view their world and their training. And I find us interesting. Athletes have a frame for their worldview unlike other bloggers. I have become aware of the frames we share: the pattern of diurnal training-thinking, our general "granola" nature/love of outdoors/ environmental awareness, our goodness, our drive, and our need to share this with like-minded people.

Yet even within that frame, there is infinite variety (have to steal from Darwin while I'm robbing Shakespeare) among us. That is harder to name, but I think it comes down to brain chemistry and our resultant personality, of which gregariousness is a part. Some of us are very sociable, while others of us are introverts.

Even how we write, some with unsurpassed eloquence, and others with less eloquence and more need to just put the words on the screen, is revealing. Some write deeply, giving us a "window to their soul," while others write the numbers - a training log. And there is everything in between.

I am thankful for all. And for the ability to one day appreciate the training log type and get out the door and run; and the next find my inspiration/salvation in the deeper soul blogs that get my brain out the door for a run.

I am thankful to be back to this spot where I can be grateful, where life feels good. I think I'm even ready for more hugs and stories from my fifth graders. :) Maybe I just needed a break, and this 4-day vacation came at the opportune time. I told Chris that I felt I needed to get outside of myself. But now I think I was too outside of myself: too into school and my projects there, too worried about keeping my chin up and presenting the person everyone expects me to be. (It's a paradoxical kind of self-absorption and exaggerated sense of self-importance, isn't it?)

These last 4 days, I have been able to go within myself: I've found Shakespeare (again), played piano, run a 10K (50:43 for the numbers-folks), and written. Maybe that was the remedy for my depression. Or maybe it was just the changing chemistry of my ever-playful brain.

Whatever it was, I am thankful - at last - today.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


In the pink dusky light of last night's hike, I realized what I had been reaching for all day. And that it was a metaphor for how I've been living. Clawing to push aside the cobwebs that cloak me. All day, I had been longing to take pictures of the hike, but the light just wasn't right.

All this week, I have been longing to feel good, pushing myself to keep acting the part, grasping for thankfulness, gratitude, warmth. Cursing my perversity when they wouldn't come.

Then, finally, after a full day of hiking, the pink light began and I captured it. It is patience, it is biding, the opposite of straining and surging. Some things need to come of their own volition. Some things need to be endured, lived through, and then the appreciation of the pink light is all the keener.

I am a shallow pool, like my mother. I look so inviting on the outside. You can dive into this smiley, friendly teacher. My fond 5th graders hug me and tell me their stories and cling to me. And I hug back and comment and encourage. But, as I now understand my mother, the hugs become cloying, the comments and encouragement grow stale and rehearsed. I feel a need to cleanse myself in the cool, deep pool and I swim until I am free. As I wished for my mother when I was a girl, I wish for me now; I wish I were deeper.

I am irascible like my father, I am SAD like my Sweet Sister. I am obdurate like my Strong Sister.

Yet I love all these people. Can I love myself?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

New Age Group

I have officially passed into the next age group: 35-39 year olds. I debated on taking this step, but when my parents drove 3 hours to surprise me on Wednesday night bearing Mom's homemade Heath Bar cake (my very favorite birthday cake since I was a wee girl), I pledged my commitment to the 35 year-olds of the world and joined their ranks.

Other birthday perks? Chris told me that this year he was really going to do a good job on my birthday. So, did he force me to work out after Parent-Teacher conferences like I told him to do? Nope, he cooked me up a triple-fatty meal and got me drunk on expensive red wine. Which may be good for endurance athletes. Maybe there's hope for this guy yet. :)

Can You Die from Cramps?

On yesterday morning's run I was convinced I could. The Spanish say, "Me duelen los riñones," (literally: my kidneys hurt me) and it became my refrain as I slogged on - up the hill, around the curve. Me duelen los riñones.

I remembered Ironman and how I conversed with and convinced myself, "No one dies from the cold." And I didn't.

I slogged on, thinking of the night before IM, eating with my family. My parents asked Chris what he thought of all this. I had already coached him, "Under no circumstances are you to let me quit this race! I don't care how tired, or hurt or sad or defeated I am, tell me I've worked too hard for it and have to keep going."

He told my parents that, as a dutiful husband, he was honor-bound to leave me at the side of the road should I be lying there.

You see, I had fought these demons already - the fatigue, the boredom, the pain, the nausea and even injury. You don't do 2 hour swims and 6 hour bike rides without learning. My family received strict instructions too: they were to leave me at the side of the road.

They all had a good laugh at that imagery. But they knew that I - at least - meant it.

Me duelen los riñones.

I have had Chris bail me out in the past. There was a marathon I was walking with his mom and sisters - early in my marathon career - and at mile 21, I hopped into the car with him and didn't look back.

I have wanted Chris to bail me out at other times. My 2003 BQ attempt. I knew I wasn't going to make it when I bonked at mile 16 and had everything I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I told him to meet me at the finish line. He snuck back and took pictures of me from the bushes, but he didn't let me quit. At the end - and only there - I felt I had finally earned the right to say, "Take me home."

Me duelen los riñones.

Chris's words to me later that Ironman Eve, "You tell me you're hurting 3 times tomorrow, though, and that's it. I'm scooping you up. Ironman or no Ironman. I'm taking you home."

But I didn't. I didn't even say it once. I didn't hurt, I was ready for it. I wanted it and I did it.

No me duelen los riñones.

I had pushed, slogged - lived through it. The cramps had subsided. I felt my beautiful, beautiful legs take over and the surge felt like what I live for. We rounded the corner into a stiff head wind.

"Piper, did we beat the cramps just to let a little cold wind push us around?!? NO! Let's go..."

is what I will remember next year when every breath hurts, when my quads are screaming at me to slow down, when my piriformis snaps at me. Trying to qualify for nationals will hurt, setting a HIM PR will hurt - shit - my interval workouts are going to hurt! But I know I can do it because I have faced these demons and...

I didn't die from the cramps.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

To tenderfoot snow dog.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Top 10 Reasons to Hate your Spouse

(Don't worry, Honey; it's the sugar talking)

#1 Leaves me a pan of Chicken Alfredo in the fridge that I take out to find that there's all Alfredo and no chicken.

#2 Teases the cat, the dog, and me mercilessly, but when I tease the puppy just a little bit "doesn't even want to look" at me. Aargh, I'm gritting my teeth.

#3 Insult upon injury of starvation: I open the microwave to find its walls spackled with exploded bits of chicken and Alfredo sauce. He does this all the time -repeatedly sullies the microwave because he puts his food on top of the microwave cover. The effort it would take to lift up that little piece of plastic and place it over his food... Sheesh, we can put a man on the moon, but think we could teach him to cover his food pre-microwaving??

#4 OK, losing steam... at least I got the big 3 though.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Section 1: New Name Needed

So what should happen last night, but into master's swim class walks the woman whom I affectionately call Hell-on-Wheels-Coach -- and she did something nice. I'm feeling awfully shame-faced as I write this cuz I've taken her name in vain more than once.

Well, she sauntered in - woops, walked in like a normal person - and sat in the hot tub. The rest of us plebeians started the workout and were about 10 minutes into it when She came over to stand at the end of my lane. She asked if I had a minute.

Oh bother, what's wrong with my stroke now??

I ordered my face muscles into neutral-at-all-costs position and said, sure I had a minute, and told my swimming partners to go ahead without me.

"Would you like to travel to races together next season?"

Wait, troops! Neutral position! Neutral position!

I nearly guffawed. Shock does that to me sometimes. Elicits really inappropriate responses.

So the outcome?... I said yes.

But now I've been in a dither all day. She (who needs a new name now that we're friends) wants to qualify for nationals. She tried 3 years ago, got injured, but now thinks she's back on track. But what about me?

Section 2A: What Does a Woman Want?
I'm not sure I'm cut out for nationals level competition for many reasons...

#1 Obvious - I'm not sure that I'm fast enough.
#2 I'm not sure that I'm mean enough, and, according to my GENTLE swim coach who's done Nationals, Worlds, Kona, you name it, you have to be kick-'em-while-they're-drowning driven and competitive.
#3 In a word, I'm sorta lazy. I don't know if I want to work that hard. Yeah sure, stabbing-breathing pains are OK once in a while, but I'd be signing myself up for a whole season of that. And I currently love this sport. Would I love it after that?
#4 I currently do this sport on a pretty meager budget. Most of my budget is spent on tri toys/gear. I would have to add travel expenses to the roster. And I'm not sure I can reconcile myself with that. This is a hobby. I love it, but it's a hobby.

In a nutshell? What's the cost/benefit analysis for this?

Prior to this, my plan was to do local races and set a HIM PR next year. Maybe throw in a marathon to mix things up. So laid back and easy... I get uptight just thinking about nationals. Do I want stress in my hobby too??

Section 2B: On the Other Hand
Yet last year's IM caused me a lot of stress and I truly thrived on it. Now that it's gone, I appreciate the focus it gave me - not to mention the guaranteed adrenaline rush and happy endorphins every single day. I was a nicer person. Without it this fall, I've reverted back to my old rhythm of happy-for-5-days/depressed-for-5-days routine.

So, yeah, I'm a little f'd up, but I'm willing to look at it honestly - or at least practically. Isn't it a lot cheaper and better for all concerned for me to be chasing a triathlon goal than to be swinging from the trees? As my brother-in-law put it, "Ironman is a lot cheaper than therapy."

Section 3: Unresolved, but I think the end of this post
Whew! I needed to get all this off of my chest. I've been wanting to blog all week, but never found the time, so here it spews. Any and all input is welcome, and if you've made it this far, why not put your 2 cents in? (Make my decision for me, please!)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

2006 Turkey Trotter Triumphs

How did my legs learn to do that? I didn't do speedwork or hills in preparation for Ironman. Where did they learn this??

Scuttle, scuttle, scuttle up the steep hill I went, quick-stepping it just like I was running up steps. And then, click, at the top - I opened up to let those self-same legs carry me loping down the other side, passing people. Me, passing people, and feeling good.

I had an excellent race today. It almost wasn't. I slept for 11 hours last night only to wake with thoughts - not of racing - but of cleaning the house, doing some lesson planning, walking Piper. And then I remembered that, oh, yes, I had signed up for a race today. Hmm... should I go? Yeah, I'll go.

Hmm... what should I wear? (SO different from Ironman - remember the lists made months in advance and tweaked daily until the hour before the race started? How far I've come.)

When the time came, I hopped in my car, drove an hour, and checked in to the race. I hadn't read any of the literature closely because I'd done this race before (2 years ago) and thought I'd remember all the basics. I didn't.

Thinking that the 5K & 5 Mile races started consecutively, I lined up with the 5k-ers. I even started to run, but overheard a conversation that lead me to conclude that my race, the 5 miler, actually started an hour later (11:00). I stopped my watch - and as inconspicuously as possible - slunk off the course.

So I waited around for an hour, watched the 5k-ers finish. At 10:50 I headed to the starting line. And had my second, "it sorta feels funny" sensation. No one else was at the starting line.

Being that my stellar memory hadn't served well so far, I decided to follow my hunch and look for a different location for the starting line. I had an ah-ha moment when I saw it - about a quarter of a mile away on the other side of the registration building and over a bridge.

After verifying this with approximately five people, I queued up to the starting line and checked out the other runners. Fit, young, yet more seasoned than the really young-looking college kids that had populated the 5k. Then the gun sounded, and I started my watch for the second time today, and was off. Right from the start, I knew that my earlier worries about having lost my competitive streak were in error. I wanted to go fast and hang as far toward the front as I could. And it felt good. To be breathing hard, to be pumping strong.

I swore I was working so hard that my first mile would be a sub-8, but it was 8:06. OK, I thought, 8-minute miles might be a stretch today, but goddammit, I told blogosphere that I'd be close to that, so I will be!

Mile 2 was slower; my split was 16:25. Then I went up that hill. The steep one that allowed me to pass people going up and coming down the other side. And I felt my legs take over. They drove my breathing and instructed my eyes to pick the shortest distance through the curvy forested path. I cut to the inside of those curves whenever possible and lauded myself on my intelligence, all the while also registering how hard I was working. Tightness in my chest, throat and between my shoulder blades. Also I felt my piriformis (AKA butt muscle).

I am working hard and it feels good. Be it resolved that I will leave nothing on this course today.

3 miles: Trisaratops is somewhere doing her 5K today. I wonder how she's doing. She's almost done now.

And I thought - 2 miles to go. I can do this. I decided that I'd hit my watch at the 4-mile mark and open myself up for a final push at a sub-8 split. I passed many people in this mile and found myself marveling at how even my breathing was - theirs sounded so ragged.

4 miles. I began the push. Up a hill, down a grassy knoll, up one side of a creek, down the other end and into the curvy woods for the final time. I had passed everyone easily-passable and was alone. The next people were all in a pack about 50 yards in front of me. I knew I couldn't catch them, and felt myself wanting to slow down, to alleviate the pressure in my chest and throat, to slow my now ragged breathing.

Don't you dare let up! Letting up is not an option. You have this distance in you. You should have another 22 miles in you! Don't you dare let up!

I didn't. I rounded the corner out of the woods and saw the finish chute ahead of me. 39:52 and counting.

I need 40:00. Go!!!

I sprinted, watching the clock and the precious seconds tick away... beeeep, I crossed the mat.

Time? 40:01!

But, I'll give myself that second. I worked hard! Last mile? 7:44. This was not an easy race and/but it felt so good. I'm back. My running is back. This is the new baseline from which I'm starting. It can only go up (well, down time-wise) from here. I'm a racer. That is what I learned today. My body, no - more specifically - my beautiful, beautiful legs love to run. They've been running for so long that the muscle memory just takes over and carries the rest of me right along.

I was prepared to be happy with that time and the euphoria of racing, but then at the end of the chute, I got hardware too. A volunteer pressed a medal into my hand - 1st place female, age 30-39. I got lucky to place with that time, but I'll take it.

Signing off: Triteacher who is a runner again!