Monday, July 23, 2012

Those damn yellow shirts

Strong. (OK, not really, the bike is super-light!!)
I've started and re-started this entry about six times since Saturday afternoon, when I returned home giddy and emotionally spent from this roller coaster of physical and mental highs and lows. And what it comes down to, what you need to know, is the following: 

The official title of this blog indicates that I am a triathlete. This dates back to 2007, when I actually completed two sprints within a week of each other and was all over that title. I had the USAT sticker on my car, even had a bike rack for my heavy metal Toys R Us bicycle. But the reality is that since the incident at Danskin in 2007, I had done very little tri-athleting and really had focused more on the run, focusing on marathons and ultras and then recently just coming to peace with who I am right now as an athlete, but more importantly, as a person. I know I want sport (and multi-sport) to be a part of my life for the long haul, and I knew I'd get back to it eventually, when I was ready.

On Saturday, I finished a sprint triathlon. I trained only for the swim part, knowing that once I got out of the water, I'd be just fine. I didn't let very many people know about it, because honestly, I wasn't sure how I'd do. The day came way too quickly for me, but I put on my big-girl pants (spandex ones at that - yeesh) and went out and did the thing. It was slow. It was ugly. There was a moment (several, actually) in which I didn't think it was going to get done. But at the end of the day, 1:53 after I started, I finished the race*. I was the VERY last person across the finish line. I did what I set out to do. 

But here's the other thing that you have to know.  I didn't do this alone. Far from it.

We cause quite a stir wherever we go. 
I have these friends, you see, and when any of us is racing, especially a goal race, the rest of us will do what we can to be there for support, and either race it too, because we're all kind of addicted to racing, or to cheer. We are good at the cheering. We have these bright yellow "visible from space" shirts with our nicknames on the back, and seriously, we Bring the Cheer. Glitter signs, noise makers, yelling and hooting and high-fiving. Our crew is hard to miss. We tend to attract attention. 

I loves me some Mr K! 
But what you have to know, and what I don't think you can fully comprehend, not even when you see us on the course, is that for these people, this rowdy group you can hear before you even see these bright yellow shirts,  the noise and the shirts and the high-fives and the signs are just a very thin veneer over the deepest most caring and supportive hearts you'll ever be fortunate enough to know.

I had support and encouragement from these people all along the way, from the minute I signed up, after every practice swim, every time I expressed the inner voices in my head telling me I wasn't ready. Race week, I got text messages and emails. I had people offer to pick up my packet when I realized I couldn't get there during packet pickup. These people were THERE for me, physically and mentally and emotionally. How could I drown when I had all this love lifting me up? I couldn't. That bubble of love is a true thing.

Someone tell me how I survived before I met this woman? 
I'm not going to get into the details of the swim, where I panicked 10 feet from the wall, in 5.5 feet of water. The swim that took me more than 20 minutes for 350 yards, with the lifeguards and volunteers at the end of every lane cheering for me and wishing I would just finish already so they could go. I could sense those yellow shirts every time I flipped on my back to try to calm myself down, and during the last lap, that last 50 yards, when I swam nonstop without flipping on my back once as I had the previous 6 laps, I could feel them pulling me along. I wanted so desperately to show them that I *was* ready physically for this, even if my brain wasn't quite there at the outset. That is the power of those damn yellow shirts. 

Tri chicks. Boo Yah! 
I'm not going to tell you about the bike course, where I went out with flat tires because I made a rookie mistake and forgot to air up the tires on Reveille before the race.  Except that the highlight of that moment was seeing TPG on the course, finishing up her second loop as I went out on my first. And the other highlight was passing this huge group of those damn yellow shirts as I finished the first six miles. 

She brings the #HighSocks. And so much more! She won't always hug ya, but she is awesome just the same!
I'm not going to spend a lot of time talking about the run course, with all the volunteers getting picked up by a truck behind me, as I was the last person out there, and they were all smiling and happy and cheerful as I went by, encouraging and excited for me, each and every one even though they'd been out there for hours and were probably hotter and more tired than I was.  It was blazing hot by then, and my time was the slowest 5K I've ever put together, but by then, I was mostly OK with that. I knew I would finish. And I may or may not have spent the last half mile in tears, even before all those people in those damn yellow shirts made a freaking TUNNEL for me to run under in my last approach to the finish. It was about the most loved and most appreciated and most undeserving I have ever felt in my life. 

Wanna feel like a champion? Have your friends do THIS right before the finish. AMAZING!
And when it was done, and I literally collapsed in a soggy pile of sweat and tears on Alicia's blanket, I was amazed yet again by this group of incredible people with whom I'm fallen into company. And I am thankful and not sure how to ever express my absolute thanks and love to these people in those damn yellow shirts. 

Special notes: 

  • TPG - you kept my nerves at bay with your silly dancing in line, and your absolute upbeat attitude. The spark and smile in your eyes these days brings joy to my heart. I can't wait to see what you do next!! 
  • Elaine - you didn't know I was racing until that morning. And your first reaction was sheer excitement and enthusiasm. I love it! I will be pulling for you in Austin, girl! 
  • Marci - the signs!! YOU MAKE THE BEST SIGNS!! and you can have that damn kitty cat back. I love you! 
  • MK - you gave me a hug. Even when I was soggy!  thank you for so much. So so much. 
  • Mr K - the BEST hug on race day always comes from Mr K. He knew I needed a hug pre-race and he delivered. <3 
  • DK - YOU BROUGHT ME A CUPCAKE!! if that alone doesn't say "you get me," then I don't know what does!! 
  • Alicia - sorry for making your blanket wet and sweaty. It was perfect. I love seeing you at races. I'm excited to see you more and learn from you and laugh with you. 
  • Erin - the BEST post-race hug. Chaos rules. I know your weekends are crazy and I appreciated you being there
  • Fiona - You kept me in the water. Your calm voice of reason was exactly what I needed to hear. Having the girls there kept me going, too. You are such an amazing role model for them - I'm so in awe of you. 
  • Byron - You told me the right words at the right time. You play such a goofball on TV, but we all know you are such an incredibly experienced and talented athlete, and I have much to learn from you. Thank you. 
So, what next? I know I need to practice swimming a LOT more, so that it becomes second nature and I can overcome the doubts and fears in my head. I know I'm not waiting another five years before I do this again. I know I want to build up to longer distances and bigger challenges. I want to actually race one of these soon, instead of just trying to survive. And I know that when I do, I will have the FIGJAM army in my heart once again. In those damn yellow shirts! 

There are no words. None. 
*FIGJAM note: My previous sprint time, at Danskin? 2:30:53. THIRTY-SEVEN MINUTE PR, BITCHES!!! 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Summer Lovin'

So this race... well... yeah... I have been following this training plan, right, and it was supposed to help me run faster. And I'd been hitting my workouts, hitting my paces, everything was groovy leading up to it. Mostly everything. Mostly. So what happened? Welp... Let's talk about this, not so much because I want to relive it (oh, please baby hey-zeus, no, don't make me relive it, it kinda mostly sucked, okay, not really, I'm getting ahead of myself... ) but because I need to get it all out of my brain and process it, and I can only do that by writing about it. Also, I have some MAJOR kudos to hand out, and I don't think I can do that properly without giving some insight into what all was going on in my head...

The setting:  Liberty on the Lake, The Colony. 
The time: 8:05 start, JULY 4th. 
The cast: Frunners abounded. Some I knew would be there, some pleasant surprises. 
The mission: 10K. All out. See where I am. See what I could do. 

And, scene: 

I got there early. Parked ridiculously easily and close to the start/finish line. Picked up bib, chip and t-shirt and sat in the shady grass for a bit while the other folks started to collect. Noted that the humidity that tortured me on my previous run was non-existent. Yay. Good sign. Folks start arriving, and it evolves into the usual race scene of hugs and catching up with folks. I left my phone in the car for this one - no music, no MapMyRun, NO PICTURES! (gasp). No, ma'am. I was all BIZNASS for this one. I was here to run. No distractions, no getting sidetracked by anything on this day. Thankfully, a couple of other friends had cameras with them and I did demand the assembled peeps get together for a group shot and assailed an unsuspecting passer-by to take the pic. So all was not lost. 

Pre-race pic. Missing Mark, Cairo & Daniel. boo.  We'll draw them in later. 
 I also took a bit of a race hint from another incredibly inspiring Frunner, TPG, and borrowed her magic marker pre-race. I knew I was going to need to remind myself that I am stronger than I think I am. I definitely am glad I did that - I called on that a couple of times during the race. 

Stronger. Waffles. Things to remember. 
Start time arrived and here comes my pacer, Drum, who had done an easy five miles before meeting up with me and the rest of the crew.  We had discussed strategy just a little bit previously, and I said I was thinking I'd like to hit 10:30s for the first 10k and then turn it up in the last 2 miles. So that was the plan. She had her new Garmin set to quarter-mile intervals so she could correct my pace quickly, and we were off. 

LOVE. #thatisall
Right away, I felt good. Too good. I was going way faster than I should have been. I let the crowd sweep me away and I went with them, right in the middle of the fray.  I don't know exactly what my pace was for that first half-mile or so, but I do distinctly remember her reaching for my shoulder and physically slowing me down. "These people are doing a 5k! LET THEM GO!"  oh, snap. Okay.  Thank you, Drum!  

Ok, so we settle in. Kind of. Ok, there was no settling into anything.  Right away, I had trouble regulating my breathing.  I was glad to see the path we were on turn onto a crushed limestone path. I've had great success on this surface, and I was relieved that I wouldn't be on hard pavement for 6 miles. But, I was struggling with my breathing early on. And I suddenly became aware of how hot it was.  There was very little shade and absolutely ZERO cloudcover.  Ahhhh, Texas.... 

Drum was so good to me during this whole race.  She reminded me to keep my shoulders back, head up, so I could open up my airway and get the oxygen I needed.  She reminded me we didn't need to sprint. She tried to keep me calm and get me to shut up the voices in my head. Apparently, it was pretty evident early on that mentally I was in full Chaos Muppet mode. I was getting in my own way pretty much from the start. About this time, we come up on the two-mile mark. TWO miles. And it just seemed like it took FOREVER to get there. And I may have done a mini-primal-scream. More of a grunt, really. Poor Drum. I was DQing it up, big-time. So early, too. Ah, hints of what was to come. 

By now, we're on this path along the lake, and I can very slowly start to see the wheels coming off. I'm having a hard time running. Everything hurts. Not any specific pain, just that general, working hard, OMG-I-can't-do-this-much-longer hurt. And I want to stop. So I start walking. And Drum yells at me, "NO! we walk at the water stop. Not now! Not yet!"  And I love her so dearly for doing this for me, but in that moment, I gotta say, a tiny part of me was like, "whatever, whatever, I do what I want..."  But she was right. Please. It was MILE THREE!! So I sucked it up and ran. Did I mention it was hot? Yeah, it was hot. 

From there, it got hotter and hotter, and the mile markers were further and further apart. The strong happy that I felt at the start?  All gone. And I couldn't get my mind to just.stop.talking. I kept getting frustrated with myself, because I KNOW I can run a consistent pace. I know my body is capable of going much faster than I was going. I let myself get negative-head. And it just built and built. And I slowed further and further down. Drum was awesome. Kept ahead of me so she didn't have to hear me whining, but close enough that I knew if she looked back and I wasn't running she was going to kick my ass. I kept running when I didn't want to because I didn't want to disappoint her. I joked on FaceBook about her being mean and yelling, but really she was perfect in every sense. She reminded me that I asked for this, I signed up for this, that this test of myself, physically and mentally, is what I wanted. She was right. When we hit the 5 mile mark and I was shuffling so badly that my feet were kicking up limestone on the path, she wheeled around and yelled, "You are not a SHUFFLER,  you are a RUNNER!! RUN!"  That made me laugh. On the inside, though, because every ounce of energy was going into my feet and my legs. And it wasn't enough. 

As we got to the finish line, I started to hear people yelling my name. A lot of people. I am so fortunate to have so many dear friends at this event, and in my life, all cheering for me and pulling for me, and holding me in their hearts. Everyone was cheering for me. It was too much. I have that rule about crying on the course, but thankfully, it doesn't apply once you cross the line. I burst into tears nearly as soon as I crossed, once I was sure I wasn't going to puke or die, or possibly both. Those were frustrated tears, happy tears, grateful tears, tired tears, all kinds of emotions going on up in there. And then my friends gathered around me, and I got the BEST hug ever from E, who had a GREAT day on the 5k course, in her first race back in MONTHS. And E very quietly reminded me that we both walked that race last year. And she reminded me how far we've come. And then another lady came up to me, someone I didn't know, and told me that I had a strong race, and that she was following me and trying to catch me the whole time but couldn't. 

And then I was ok with whatever the clock said. Not right away, no, but as the day wore on, and I basked in the comfort and companionship of so many wonderful friends that morning over waffles and bacon, and when I drove home and my son asked me why I had "STRONG" written on one arm and "WAFFLES" on the other, then, well, then I was OK with what the clock said. 

We were accidental matchers. I love her. 
I said going in I had no time goals. I thought I might come in about five minutes faster, based on my training paces and what I'd been able to do on the treadmill. But I also knew that doing the bulk of my training on the treadmill was going to be a hindrance to my heat acclimation. I owned that. But that was a choice I consciously made so that I would be more sure to hit my paces. I knew it would bite me, and it did.  The heat sapped my strength and it sapped my drive. 

I also knew that the voices in my head, comparing myself to the Runner That I Used to Be, were going to be strong. I just didn't realize how strong until I got out there. I have to reconcile to my current state, or I'm just going to keep poisoning myself during races. I have to embrace the new me and the new paces and look for improvement from yesterday, not chase PRs from two years ago, when my body and my life were oh so different. And that's hard to do. But it's something to work on, along with holding my head up when I run, and breathing properly, and remembering to pick up my feet.  Because I am a work in progress, not a finished product. 

So while I was initially disappointed in my result, I also know that I WILL get to where I want to be. It might not be in October, at my next big goal race. It might not be for a long while. But I do know that all along the way, and waiting for me when I get there, will be an amazing group of people with whom I've somehow been lucky enough to collide paths. And there will be one helluva a party. You're invited. 

Sweaty, hot and awesome. 

How did I ever get so lucky? 
Splits, because I have them, and because they so elegantly describe the GIANT IMPLOSION:
 9:46 - Hey!! Slow it down, Sparky!
10:14.24 - much more realistic, but the damage was done.
11:13:36  - is it me, or is it hot out here??
11:54:03  - add 30 seconds or so...
12:21:09  - and another 30 seconds or so...
12:57:48  - and another....
(.25) 2:43.12 (10:53 avg)
 - quickened pace from the Frunner Love! 

to Drum, for being my pacer. For being real with me. For telling me what I needed to hear, when I needed to hear it. For Not Coddling That Sh!t. I love you! 
to That Pink Girl, for lending me her marker, and running me in the last .10 of a mile. and holding my sweaty visor, and reminding me to smile all the time, because it's worth it. 
to MK, and Mr K, for sharing their love and their home and their bacon. Being around all these amazeballs friends makes me realize that I am such a blessed person. 
to E, for reminding me of the journey and that it isn't over yet. and for the BEST hug in the world. 

We sometimes share a brain. This is a good thing.