Monday, October 1, 2012

You Should Come Run Richmond

"You should come run Richmond."

Those were the last words my uncle said to me as a tumor was encasing his larynx and throat, eventually spreading into his lungs.They were pushed out through a trach in his throat. They sounded like a whisper. I had never heard anything quieter than a bellow from him. I was still riding the endorphin high from finishing my first marathon two weeks prior. That feeling of invisibility was quickly humbled at the sight of my robust, gregarious uncle reduced by a breathing tube and cane. 

"You can stay with us. It'll be good. You should come run Richmond."

His eyes were genuine. While his head was fogged with pain-killers and throbbing with a migraine, his eyes were genuine. I could tell that he was proud and happy to see me at that moment. Doing another marathon was the last thing on my mind but I knew that I would be running Richmond.

Because my uncle asked me to. 

He passed away in April after a short but painful battle with laryngeal cancer. He was 68 years old. He was a well-known business man and community member. He was a restaurant owner who was known for his stern approach and wicked sense of humor. He was an animal lover with a big heart. Uncle Joe was always fair, always generous, and always interested. His reputation and career as a regional salesmen at 3M can only be described as legendary. 

"You should come run Richmond." 

I never visited my uncle when he was healthy. It took a tragedy for me join my mother on the long trip to Virginia to visit him during his sickness. I was so caught up in my life, career, and training. I think of my uncle when I'm running . I think of how precious and valuable our lives are and how we forget what matters. I think of how he wanted everyone to come see him.

I had to drop out of the full marathon due to time constraints and an injury. I will be doing the half.  My uncle will still proud. He will still probably think I'm crazy to run without being chased. In fact, he would tell me to slow down. To look around, to appreciate my health. To relax. 

I cannot talk to my uncle anymore. But I have found a way to communicate with him still.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

NYC Triathlon Recap: How to be Happy in the Hudson

Just like my marathon post, this will not be a mile-by-mile, minute-by-minute recap of every single thing that happened while I was participating in the NYC Triathlon. I've rested, unpacked my bags, and returned my wetsuit. I'm still digesting the glory that was July 8 and maybe some of the Hudson River water too. When I really think about the triathlon and the training, there is one phrase that keeps coming to the surface.


I am overwhelmed by gratitude. I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue such a random goal. I am healthy. I have incredibly supportive friends and family who stood by me through every bad hair day, bruise, and bump in this road. I have a friend who traveled up to NYC, bought an $11.75 beer, woke up at 4:10 am, sent updates to my mom, coordinated support efforts, took pictures and celebrated with us. I have a mom who woke up at 5 am to make sure we were awake. I have a family who kept my phone ringing and inbox full with encouragement. I have a group of coworkers who have asked about my training almost every day. I am blessed with the ability to afford this hobby.

I was grateful to be in New York City. I was happy to swim in the Hudson River. It was awesome to stand on the shore and watch professional, world-class athletes leap into the waves. It was humbling to see the challenged athletes in the mix of nervous wetsuit-wearing wannabe athletes. I was not nervous to jump into the river most famous for scenes from Law and Order. (That's where the throw the guns.) I was ready. Once we reached the plank and the vast brown expanse of waves stretched (and smelled) in front of us, I was really grateful the swim was only a mile. I was grateful for the very strong current that pushed us along rather quickly.

I smiled the entire 25 miles of the bike ride. Even though I was huffing and puffing up some intense inclines, I was doing so in one of the best cities in the world. I rode over the river, I rode in the Bronx. I pedaled on the Westside Highway.

Even during the run, when my lungs felt empty and legs felt hollow, I was amazed to running in Central Park. The Central Park. I was cursing the famed Harlem Hills. I was slowly making my way along trails I’ve only seen in movies or read about in books. It was hard to be miserable when I reminded myself of the moment I was in. Yes it was boiling hot and it felt like there was no air in the air. But I was running the final portion of a triathlon. Of the New York City Triathlon. My legs had just biked through this city. My arms just swam in its river. This was incredible.

While I was happy to alive and on the course, I was more than ready to be done with race. We had been out in the July heat for more than three hours. The minutes were ticking by and the temperatures were climbing. It was time to wrap this up. Lauren and I pushed ourselves past cheering crowds, up one more stinkin’ hill, around one last bend, and finally down the homestretch. Our eyes scanned the sidelines for our friends but always found their way back forward to the ultimate goal. The finish line.

After almost five months of training, we were just steps away from becoming triathletes. Nothing quite felt like that descent to the finish line. Those last six miles of the triathlon were tougher than the last six of our marathons. It was a different kind of exhaustion. It was a different kind of drive. And crossing that finish line was a different kind of joy.

I was especially grateful for the cold wet towel that a volunteer draped over our necks. I was super grateful for the cold bottle of water I was handed. I didn’t even acknowledge the medal because the wet towel dripping icy relief to my overheating body was enough of a reward.

Lauren and I exchanged a very brief, very sweaty, very sore hug. We’ve done a lot of races and have been through a lot together. We know not to hug another athlete for more than a millisecond after competing with them in a race. It a level of intimacy and bodily fluids that doesn’t need to be broached. The after-race hug is not a tight, long, embrace either. It's a glorified double pat on the back that is spaced out like two kids at a middle school dance. Soon after the chaos of grabbing free foods and goodies from vending, finding our friends, finding a clear spot took over. We also had to figure out the logistics for the rest of the morning and afternoon. We were wet. We were hot. We were tired. And we were triathletes.

As we headed out of the park to collect our gear, I was also very grateful to be off the course. Some of the men's groups started almost a full hour after we got out of the water. Some were just beginning their run or were still out on their bikes. I do not understand the reason or rules for why women go first in triathlons, but I will never question it.

I do not regret the decisions I made or the sacrifices I made to achieve this goal. The early morning alarms, the two-hour training sessions, the ice packs, the accussations, the worry, they were all worth it. Completing the triathlon was a victory unlike any other and something I am grateful to always be able to carry with me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dear Triathlon Training

Dear Triathlon Training,

You started as a 'sure, why not' challenge.
You made me get into a pool.
You made me get up at the crack of dawn.
You made me buy a bike.
And a helmet. And shorts with padded butts. 
You made me eat. A lot.
You made me paranoid of overly friendly dogs.
You forced me out of my comfort zone. 
You made me love running again.
You turned me into an anxious ball of overexercised energy.
You took over my life.
You tested my strength.
You tested my limits.
You made me second guess myself.
You made me prioritize. 
You turned my hair into a greasy, natty, mess of chlorine and sweat.
You inflamed my left hip and seriously pissed off my IT bands. 

You made me stronger, physically and emotionally.

Swimming taught me to breath.
Biking on hills taught me to push harder and grunt louder. 
Running reminded me how free and relaxing a good sweat session can be.
All three have taught me that I can do anything I set my mind to. 

This letter may be premature, Triathlon Training as our dance is still a few days away. But I just wanted to say thank you. You got me through a rough patch or two by giving me an outlet and a perspective. You made me smile through the nerves, to work through the hurt, and focus on the positive.

I hope to repay the favor by going confidently and boldly into the water and staying strong throughout. If I panic in the river, wipe out during the ride or walk the entire 6.2 miles,--I will still  be proud of the past five months of soreness, sweat, and strength. And grateful for the challenge. 

In conclusion, I guess it didn't suck as much as I thought sometimes and all. We're cool.
Thanks and stuff.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Indomitable Spirit


Don't tell anyone..... I'm a ninja.  

I'm in ninja school. It could be said I take karate classes. Allow me to explain. 

My good friend Laura started working at a place called a "dojo" about two years ago. She started having really strange bruises and saying words like cardio kickboxing, punches, sparring, black belts, and senseis. I thought dojo was a special language school. Whatever this dojo and 'carrotie' activity was, it was clear that she loved it and had found a new passion.

The problem with passion is that it spreads. And soon my good friend Laura had signed me up for an orientation class. I have no idea what special skill or mind trick she used on me aside from a text message saying, "Hey, what are you doing tomorrow evening around 7pm? It's bring a friend night at work. You can wear yoga pants." I had driven past the dojo--it's an actual place!-- hundreds of times as it's centrally located on a busy highway but never did the bright red KARATE  sign actually register in my head.

I showed up in yoga pants and a race shirt and felt immediately out of place. There were kids everywhere and everyone was wearing black pants and yelling. Lots of yelling. Laura introduced me a guy named Sensei Dan. If you're wondering, Dan is his first name. Sensei is a title. It was kinda odd at first that so many guys in that place were named Sensei.

I was taken to an office where Sensei Dan described and demonstrated two punches, a 'jab' and a 'cross.' It was fun watching an old guy punch the air. Then, it was my turn. Huh? I have to jab and cross? But...I'm a girl. I'm a runner! I work in an office. I am nice and smile at people. I cannot punch things! Again, I am unsure of the mind tricks and skills used, but I somehow found myself on the mat with a group of adults, who also seemed to work in offices, and more than half were female, who all smiled at me, and proceeded to punch and kick like there was no tomorrow.

Before I knew it, Laura, or Miss Laura in dojo-speak, signed me up for a six-week introduction to the program. I was a 'white belt' and really never planned to go any further. I was so out of my element and out of my comfort zone that I would sometimes cry on the ride home. I was convinced that I had a physical development problem that made me use my right hand instead of my left. All I heard for the first few months was, "No, your other left."  

I told Laura that I hated it and wanted to quit. She told me to hang on for the six weeks. Miss Laura said that no one just stops at a white belt. That would be lame. I should at least stay for the yellow belt. She said it would help with conditioning and strength. She also said we could go out for drinks on Friday nights after class. And we did.

Stress? What stress?

What was once terrifying and awkward has become one of my favorite parts of the week. I don't worry about not being lady like or polite when I'm on the mat. I'm not an  employee, a girlfriend, a neighbor, a friend or anyone besides a sweaty, wannabe ninja. I'm fighting whatever demons, stresses, voices, and emotions are weighing me down. I win most of those fights. 

This is why I call it ninja. Karate is an activity that wimpy middle school kids take if they're being bullied at school. Mixed martial arts is what that muscleheaded douchebag at the gym calls kickboxing. Self-defense classes imply that I need protection and am afraid of the world.

It also had nothing to do with paying too much for cable. Thanks, Direct Tv.

Ninja, however, is a mindset. Ninja is never giving up no matter how sore, how discouraged, how uncomfortable, and how afraid you are. Ninja is pushing through injuries but also respecting your body enough to heal. It's coming to class in a snowstorm. It's letting your kids have frozen yogurt for dinner because they were quiet during class. It's listening to a 17 year old dispense life advice without laughing in his face. It's finding a second home, a community, friends, and a lifestyle that fills a hole you didn't know was there.


At the end of each class, we recite the values of the kenpo teachings, Modesty, Integrity, Self Control, Perseverance, Indomitable Spirit. I chant a little louder on the Indomitable Spirit one. That's where my ninja is. 

Just come for one session, she said. It'll be fun, she said. Nothing bad will  happen, she said. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Things I Did Not Know in January But Now I Do

  • The terms gear, cadence, three-up, saddle-sore, or clip-ins.
  • An itchy nose means improper breathing in the water.
  • Swimsuits are really expensive.
  • Bikes are really expensive.
  • Chlorine is an overwhelming odor at first but eventually you get used to it. Maybe even grow to like it.
  • Putting baby powder in your swim cap will prevent it from sticking together. It's better to add the baby powder after you've swam and before you're dressed in a black sweater.
  • There is nothing quite as good as a good run.
  • You do not have to shave your legs to get into the pool. Honestly, no one notices.
  • The mirrors on the left side of the spin class room are good. The mirrors on the right side of the spin class room are evil.
  • Sitting on a bike in the back row of a spin class means that you can watch muscluar guys to pull ups, heavy machines, and lower ab leg lifts behind you. Always get to class early.
  • Dogs of all sizes are fascinated by bike wheels. Dog owners of all sizes are idiots.
  • It is completely possible to learn how to swim in three months.
  • Learning to cycle is not simply 'riding a bike.'.
  • Triathlons are really expensive.
  • Not rotating enough in the water = back pain
  • Seat too high or low on your bike = back pain
  • Taking spin classes to learn how to bike is like only running on a treadmill before your first race. Eventually, you have to get outside.
  • Bike tires need to be inflated at least once a week.
  • If it feels like your bike weights ten extra pounds no matter how hard you push and it's hard to balance than usual, check your tires.
  • We can pretty much do anything we set our minds to -- no matter how daunting, terrifying, overwhelming, and challenging.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The People of the Pool

I have logged countless hours on the treadmills at the Oxford Valley LA Fitness. Countless. I've watched too many middle-aged white men play too many hours of bad racquetball. (I'm just waiting to watch a volley go past three hits. And to see one of them cry.) I wish, oh how I wish, they would one day learn that those windows are transparent and I can see them.

Moving to the pool has been like moving to a whole new gym. The pool has different quirks and social norms. There are casual swimmers. You can tell them by the tankini's or swim trunks. There are the tweens and teenagers (they usually travel is pairs) who assume any pool is a backward pool for cannonballs and handstand practice. The 'don't judge a book by it's cover' principle is also in full effect in the pool. I've been lapped by people twice my age and size.

The most noticeable difference between the pool and the treadmills is the one that has become the bane of existence. There are at least 30 treadmills, 20 ellipticals, and 20 bikes for those seeking a cardio workout. In the four years I've been a member at that gym, I have never waited a minute for a 'mill. The pool, on the other hand, only has six lanes. This shouldn't be too much of an issue since swimming is not as popular and lanes can be split or shared with 2 people. 6 lanes = 12 swimmers, right?

Wrong. Apparently, people do not like to share. And those people who do not like to share are often those who do not swim! There is a new sport in the making. It's called 'Stand and Stare'. The participant gets into the lane. And stands. They do not walk. They do not do leg lifts. They do carry weights while 'jogging' up and down the lanes. They stand. And stare. This practice continues for about five minutes when it becomes time to move to the other side of the pool. The journey for a Stand-and-Starer is truly exhausting as they will then stand and stare from that angle. This must be a religious practice or mediation strategy that originated in Russia or Eastern Europe. The lane becomes hollowed ground that cannot possibly be shared with another. Even if there is a line. Even if there is a Stand-and-Starer in the next lane.  When a Stand-and-Starer is asked to share a lane by an actual swimmer, they respond with a thick, "NO!" and are forced to exert trace amounts of energy in order to escape the intrusion.

The opposite of the lane-hogging Stand-and-Starer is the "No. No, I'll wait" guy. This guy (or gal) clearly wants to swim. They have squeezed into a speedo and are armed with goggles and a swim cap. The patiently wait against the wall for a lane to open. I empathize because swimming is a chore and lanes can take a while to open up and offer to share.
"Hey, we can share if you want. I'm slow but I'll stay out of your way!"
"No, no. I'll wait." He (or she) responds. Ok. Is it me? Is my stroke that bad and pace that slow that he or she would rather sit against a wall and watch the minutes tick by than risk being seen with such a novice? Are they that good? What the what?  I swim on. And they stare on. And then get annoyed that most people aren't almost done. Ummm....but I asked? The best is when they do get into a lane-that they are simply in it to for a few laps or jogs. Was the wait worth it? Whatever.

The pool is also home to the Silent Stretchers and the Old Man Stew. These guys prove that a creep is a creep by land or by sea. The silent stretchers are not content with the mats and designated stretching areas in the open gym. They don't say a word, they just lay on the cold, chlorine-infused cement floor and 'stretch.' They could be sleeping. I'm not sure, it's weird. Old Man Stew is my term for the spa/hot tub. I have yet to see a person under the age of 45 willingly go into that tub. It's white in the mornings but a 'greenish-yellow' color by the evenings. It looks overs the pool and through the windows to back row of treadmills and elliptical. And just like their equally dumb counterparts in the racquetball courts, they mistakenly assume there is some kind of immunity or magic freakin’ curtain that hides their blatant creepiness. I guess the steam messes with their elderly minds and they fail to realize that even though my head is underwater, I CAN HEAR YOU!

I would not mind the Silent Stretchers or Stand-and-Starers if they would count laps for me. I can swim well enough to not drown in the Hudson but keeping track of my laps and distance has become the the hardest part. If you're going to hog a lane or be creepy, at least be useful. :-)


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Training for a Marathon v. Training for Triathlon

Misconception #4590 of the triathlon was that my running experiences and marathon training would somehow help me.

A lot of people have asked if I would be able to do a triathlon.
My usual response is "Whatever, Mom. I did the marathon in November and I've run 11 half marathons. Yes I can do it! Gosh!" I mean, I knew how to follow a training plan, pushed my body to run 40 mile weeks, and eventually conquered the big 26.2. So how hard could learning to swim and ride a bike possibly be?"

It's not hard as in algebra hard. It's hard as in trying to write with your opposite hand. I'm going through the motions but the outcome is not what I expected. It looks and feels like a big giant mess that only a crazy person would understand. Training for a triathlon requires a new level of balance, confidence, and determination.

Balance: I was able to train for 11 half marathons while working full-time, going to graduate school part-time, and enjoying a healthy social life. I even picked up an additional fitness goal in karate and was able to have a relationship too.Trying to find the time, energy,and  resources to handle running, swimming, cycling, and ninja classes has been a significant challenge.  The struggle to balance everything has cost me relationships, sanity, and lots of PTO hours at work. I was once able to handle graduate school, GOTR, career, running, ninja, and a relationship on schedule built like a Jenga game and the triathlon toppled it all.

Confidence: Triathlon training is like following a new recipe from complete scratch. I'm dealing with new ingredients and being told to mix them together in an unfamiliar and weird way. Am I running too much? Should I be swimming more? Why do I still smell like chlorine? Do I really need to bake this for 40 minutes? Why is this dough so wet? There are times when I just want to throw it all away and order pizza. 

Determination: When I was training for the marathon, I never ever wanted to quit. The thought of not finishing a long run or not ultimately achieving a goal that I had set and worked towards for three years never once crossed my mind. I had two years and many road races under my belt to bolster my confidence and squash any self-doubt about running. I had the experience and confidence to know that I was going to finish the marathon.
I want to quit the triathlon at least once a week. I've never done this before. I've never swam in open water. I've never biked on a road with other cyclists. I've never done transitions and wetsuits. And I just never know if I'm doing it right. It's frustrating. It's exhausting. It's demanding. I want to quit with ever failed flip turn in the pool. I want to quit every time my foot hurts or my wrist aches.  I want to quit when I come home to an empty apartment because my now ex-boyfriend couldn't handle it. I want to quit every time I step onto the mat at ninja and still don't know the stupid kata because I had to miss three weeks because of injury or training.

But I don't quit. And I won't. I have no idea why. Maybe it's because so many of my coworkers and friends are excited for me and watch me succeed? Maybe it's because I've had to chant "Courage, Self-Control, Perseverance, Indomitable Spirit" at the end ninja classes twice a week for almost two years. Maybe I'm just stubborn. Maybe I've just sacrificed too much and worked too hard to stop now. Maybe I'm just a masochist and enjoy the pain. Maybe I need to know that I can do it.

“Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

― Shel Silverstein.