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” I Love Triathlon”

After a rough start to the tri season, the past two weeks have reminded me of why I am so in love with the sport. With three races in 2 weekends, I have been in my glory. Nothing makes me happier than waking up at the ass crack of dawn, organizing my tri bag, racking my bike, and laying out my shoes on an early summer day. Although triathlon and I have been having a lovers’ quarrel over the past few weeks, I think we have finally reconciled our differences.

There is no doubt that I have struggled in the off season this year. Between a full time job, parenting responsibilities, and training there never seems to be enough hours in the day. My workouts are consistently cut short and with this my confidence is definitely not what it was once was. This season, for the first time, it occurred to me that maybe I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t post the times that I did last season. I would be slow and tired during every race. I felt that I had to meet some impossible expectation of consistent perfection, and had set pretty lofty goals for myself. So when it was time for my first sprint of the season two weeks ago, I was completely terrified.

The day began early (as they always do), and I set up my transition area perfectly. I did not miss a beat packing my new Yankz T2 bag. I mentally prepared myself with a desired time in mind, and, with butterflies in my stomach, I zipped up my wetsuit as I walked down to the water start. As the gun went off I jumped in the water and, as I began to swim, shear panic took over my body. I could not seem to get a rhythm or catch my breath. Knowing that the swim was only a quarter of a mile I sucked it up and continued. I made it out of the swim and into T1, got on my bike, and I was off. The bike felt good and fast. I was loving it. I began my run and had no idea how fast I was going. All I knew was that it felt like shit, but I was not about to let the chick in front of me whose calf read “32” beat me—she was in my age group after all. I crossed the finish line wheezing and pissed at myself. I had let the chick outrun me, passing me at mile 2.5. I was fuming. I felt like crap and thought I had done terrible—and then the results were posted. I felt like shit running because I was running at a 7:30 minute/mile pace. Then I noted my 3rd place finish and smiled; I was happy enough with that. But I also noted in my head how crappy I felt physically.

The next day was a 1.2 mile open water swim race. The water was cold and rough, but nonetheless I zipped up my wetsuit and got in the water. Again I had the feeling of sheer panic as I swam with the 300 other women in the race. Defending my solid organs and face I swam over and under as many people as I could just hoping to finish. I ran into my friend about half way through and had a quick chat with her, and reassured myself that I was going to make it through. Then about eight tenths of a mile from the finish line I got a wicked leg cramp. I brought my head above the water and ripped off my goggles desperately searching for my friend for some reassurance but she was gone. I fixed my cramp and figured I had no other choice but to finish or drown—I opted to finish. As the results were posted it was my fastest open water swim to date. Again, happy but feeling crappy.

Then this past weekend was IM Raleigh 70.3. Even after my successful races the weekend before I was still terrified of being tired and slow. The day before the race, my friends and I decided to do a short brick and ride some of the course. I was nervous, but they always seem to know what they are doing so I went with it. The bike was not an issue. I felt good. On the run however, that all too familiar feeling of heavy legs took over. I stopped, had a temper tantrum, and pulled away from my friends. I ran a bit alone and tried to get out of my head. I did for the most part.

Three o’clock race day morning came quickly, and before I knew it, we were at the start of the swim. I must say I was relieved that it was not a wetsuit legal race. I came prepared with a new sleeveless TYR wetsuit, but opted not to wear it. I honestly feel like it constricts me more than its worth. The horn went off for my wave at 8:16, and I felt great without the wetsuit. I definitely noticed the lack of buoyancy, but I did not feel like I was being choked to death and I felt like I had full range of motion in my arms. Coming out of the water on the bike I felt fantastic. It had not been my fastest swim, but it was still good. The bike went flawlessly with the exception of a yellow card for blocking—hey, you can’t just let everyone pass you, right? Just when my crotch had had enough of the bike, I was pulling into T2, and as the temperature approached 95⁰ I began to run. It was hot as balls. I slowed myself down to a pace I could tolerate for 13.1 miles and took it all in. I had more water, Gatorade, and Clif Shot Blocks than I thought one person could ever consume. It was hot. Ice down the shirt, down the pants, on my head hot. At mile 3 I wondered why the heck I keep signing up for these things; normal people do not do this. I saw my friends on the course, each of them giving me the confidence that I needed to complete the race.

As I crossed the finish line 2 hours and 3 minutes after starting my run, I remembered why I keep signing up for these things. I fucking love it. I love the struggle and the victory. I love beating my previous 70.3 time by 15 minutes. I love celebrating with food, drinks and good friends after the race. I love waking up with my quads on fire. I love triathlon.

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“Black Hole”

The closer Ironman Lake Placid gets, the more anxious I feel. In my head I know that it’s a distance that I have done before. I know that I’m more prepared than I was last year. I know the course. I am going to a training camp. Yet for some reason I cannot help but feel more apprehensive than last year. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t run a marathon since November, or that the last few runs I’ve done have left me feeling miserable and insecure, or that I have so much going on personally that I can’t even begin to make a game plan for race day. At this point, even the thought of doing a 70.3 in two weeks is weighing heavily on my mind. If a few weeks ago I hit the work out “wall,” I guess at this point I have hit “the mental f***.”

Missing my first race of the season due to a nasty and dehydrating GI bug began my spiral. The disappointment of not competing coupled with not knowing my fitness level for the upcoming season has left me feeling insecure and vulnerable to the Gods of Triathlon. I am crapping my pants at the thought of failure at my first sprint tri of the year—a distance that in the past I’ve crushed with my eyes closed. I have actually stalked the competition in my age group. That cannot be a normal thing to do to boost confidence, can it? I am mentally f*****.

After brushing the vomit off of me and rehydrating after my last attempted race, I had the worst 11.5 mile run of my entire life. I have never felt so miserable—I think I shed a tear running, watching my friend run a half mile ahead of me enjoying herself. All I could think was “If I’m unable to run 11.5 miles, how the hell am I going to run 26.2?” I damn-well know that I have done that many times and felt good doing it. My confidence crumbles.

Every week I open Training Peaks and my heart starts to race. I look at the scheduled 5:30 brick and begin to panic. Between a full time job, being a single parent, and balancing all the other things that life throws my way, I have no idea where I’m going to find the time to do that. I think “How am I going to finish this race without completing this one workout?” I try to come up with crafty solutions such as taking time off of work and sucking the vacation time dry. But at the end of the day there is just not enough time every week, and I convince myself that I won’t be able to complete the task at hand. Yet again, I’m trapped in my psychological “screw”.

My race season is quickly approaching and I want to crush my first race. How do I get my mind in the right place? The first thing I’ve done was to take a few days off of work last week. I took care of some personal business, made time for that 5:30 brick (and it felt good…crushed the run), finally got the pedicure I had been talking about for the past 6 months, and got in some really quality workouts. Getting in the open water this week prior to my upcoming race will be the last step in climbing out of my mental black hole.

The struggle to “get out of my head” has been real over the past few weeks, and perhaps more detrimental than hitting the wall. I’m realizing that it’s crazy to think I can’t finish the Ironman because of one (or a handful) of bad or missed workouts. Although the anxiety of the upcoming race season is mounting, I think I’m finally on my way out of the black hole and hoping to do well this weekend in preparation for Raleigh 70.3. Now if someone would just bring me the sacrificial chicken, and, oh yeah, pass the Vitamin C…

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Sick Day

This past weekend finally brought the beginning of the tri season to the Northeast! I had signed up for

the Devilman Half Lite 50 Triathlon, and could not wait to finally begin the season after a cold winter. I

prepared all week for the event: I got a tune up and a new derailleur on my bike, broke out my wetsuit,

found my Tri Slide, placed my new cleats on my new Pearl Tri Fly V Cycling shoes, and installed my new

Speedfil Hydration System. I was told that Saturday morning I looked like a kid in a candy shop, and my

living room looked like a locker room. Early Saturday afternoon, I was ready for departure.

My friends and I arrived to packet pick up just prior to closing on Saturday afternoon. We were stoked

and could not wait for Sunday. After a good dinner and a couple of drinks we headed back to the hotel

for some last minute preparations and a good night’s sleep. With transition bags packed, bib numbers

pinned, and our nutrition prepared, we all hit the hay and eagerly awaited the alarm.

At 3:30 am I awoke with an all too familiar feeling. “F***!” I felt like I was going to puke. Forty-eight

hours earlier, my Petri dish of a toddler contracted a stomach virus, and by Saturday evening I was

pretty sure I had escaped the illness. Clearly I had not. I vomited once. The 5 stages of grief

immediately kicked in. 1. Denial. I thought, ok that should be fine. I can still race. One time is nothing.

It’s like being hungover, and I did Placid hungover. No big deal. An hour later, more vomit. It’s still ok–I

can make it through. It’s not that far. 2. Anger (or in my case bitchiness). “F****** F***!” I

immediately shut everyone else out, and became a whopping bitch. I already had my phone open

looking for acceptable races to do in the next two weeks. 3. Bargaining. “Well, maybe I can do the

sprint” I said. As we drove to the race I came up with a plan to drop my friends off, go back, get the rest

of my things and still race. I had plenty of time, and I had not vomited in an hour. As I pulled away, my

friend who knows me all too well says “So you’re going back to the hotel and getting your stuff, and

we’ll see you at the start line?” I smiled and replied “I’ve already thought about that.”

As I drove back to the hotel, I calculated every move in my head. I could race. I was feeling much

better. I had just enough time. Then it hit me. I pulled over and more vomit. “Grrrrrrrrrrrr! Ok I guess I

really cannot do this,” I thought to myself. 4. Depression. As I pulled pack into the hotel, I was crying

like my toddler when he does not get his way. I hopped in the shower to ease my own mental anguish.

5. Acceptance. I got out of the shower, decided that I was being a huge baby and that I should go

support my friends. I got dressed, packed my stuff and began to drive back to the start line to meet up

with them. On the way back my hard headedness took over, and I got a wonderful yet crazy idea in

my head—if I couldn’t race, I definitely could take my bike out for a quick spin.

As I wished my friends good luck on their swim, I planned my attack. I would wait until they both came

out of the water, snap some pictures, cheer them on out of transition, and then grab my bike and go.

As they both grabbed their bikes and sped out of T1, I headed to the car, being sure to vomit one last

time prior to clipping in. I would make sure to be back before they finished their bikes to cheer them

out of T2. And with that thought I was off. As I hit the 5-mile mark, I hit all the rumble strips along the

side of the road, and pulled over to vomit again. Ok. Well, I have a 20 mile goal today. I can totally do

15 more. So I did–at a pace that I cannot even bare to put on paper.

I made it back just in time to cheer my buddies into and out of T2. I now really felt like shit. Severely

dehydrated, I puked again, and decided to sleep on the grass while awaiting their finish. Before I knew it

they were done, all with strong finishes. Though still mildly bitter that I was unable to race, I was proud

of their performances.

Although not the kick off to race season I had hoped for, at the end of the day I learned a few things: It’s

ok to sit and cheer your friends on if you are unable to race (once you conquer the 5 stages of grief).

They appreciate having you there. A 20-mile ride with a stomach virus is not a good idea, no matter

how hard-headed you are. That said, severe dehydration from vomiting and no fluids during a ride can

quickly put you at your ideal race weight (not recommended). I really cannot wait for my first race now. Two more weeks!

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The “I” in Triathlon

In today’s world, social media has been infused into everything we see and know. Most of us have at least a Facebook account, belong to numerous groups, have more than one page, “like” just about any comment or picture we are mildly interested in, and have multiple “friends” that we do not know yet share common interests with. I, personally belong to at least 4 or 5 triathlon interest groups. Being a so-called “member” of these groups, reading what others post, and following their stories has lead me to one very important conclusion: For such a small group of people, triathletes are a strange cast of characters. With that common thread in mind, I have recently nailed down a few of the habits that all triathletes share. ​ ​We love to talk about ourselves. I see this in myself all the time; I mean I write a blog about mainly…me. Outsiders do not understand. At first glance, it may seem like we are only into ourselves, rattling things off like our athletic accomplishments, how many miles we ran over the weekend, our PR at any given race, our “A” race next season, or the new bike equipment that we just purchased. But in actuality—wait, who am I kidding? What else is there to talk about really? I guess when we are talking to each other we get the narcissism that accompanies just about every triathlete I know.​We love to exceed. We aim to surpass the goals that we have set for ourselves (and then of course talk about it). We obsess over seconds–to beat our PR by just one second is a major accomplishment in my book. We look at last year’s race times, over-analyzing every split, figuring out a way to shave seconds or even minutes off the swim, bike, run or either transition. We compare races, trying to comprehend why in one swim we were 2 seconds slower/100 yards when we felt perfectly awesome on race day. To outdo oneself, after all, is the greatest victory. ​We memorize every turn on a course. I never thought I was guilty of that…but it turns out I am just as guilty as the next triathlete. In speaking with a few others recently, I found myself talking about the turn-by-turn specifics of Syracuse Ironman™ 70.3. I knew exactly when and where she was talking about. We find comfort in speaking with athletes that know “the hill at mile 9” or “the turn by the church before you go up the hill.” ​As I observed people around the room at my local tri club’s annual dinner, this was never more clear. The obsession with triathlon was in the air, and all of the triathletes had a few things on their mind: themselves, their goals and their accomplishments. I even saw at least one person flash their Ironman™ tattoo (and it was not me…come on, mine is in plain sight). Sometimes I sit at my desk at work pondering the question: “How can a group of people be so self-involved?” But then the picture of me accepting my 1st place award at the podium catches my eye, and I think: “Hmmm. I bet if I got one of those cool Speedfil hydration systems, I could shave 5 minutes off my bike split.” And I am immediately on-line searching for next-year’s destination race. ​ ​
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Many of my friends and family think I am absolutely f****** crazy. I “exercise too much,” “get up way too early,” and “belong in an insane asylum” (which may be true). However, when my alarm goes off well before 4am I know why I do it–I am motivated. Motivation is a strong state, causing us to act a certain way…it is why we do the things that we do. As triathletes we are all motivated by one or a few things that make us who we are.

These are a few of the things that motivate athletes: staying healthy, being physically fit, being mentally “fit”, being able to eat what ever you want, or simply to challenge your limits and be the best you can be. I can relate to all of those reasons, but the real motivation for me comes from the thrill of competition. The thought of losing scares the shit out of me…I cannot even let my three year-old son beat me at Connect Four, a run, or a swim…and he cannot even swim yet. When we are playing outside he will say to me “you will never beat me”, and I always reply with “I am already winning”. His typical response to that is “you have a tattoo.”

For Christmas, a friend of mine was given The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances by Matthew Inman. “The Oatmeal” begins with how he began running, how he evolved, and why he continues to do it. His main motivation is to silence his inner demons or the “Blerch,” as he refers to them. The Blerch is his former self, a fat kid who acts as a dumpster, filling his body with all sorts of shit. Outrunning the Blerch is the only way he can feel good about himself, reflect on his day, eat more without guilt, reach the ultimate nirvana of a runner’s high, and feel like he is in control of his life.

Since this book is written at the 4th grade reading level, and is filled with pictures, it is one of the few reads that has totally held my attention. So I picked it up and do what I rarely do–read it cover to cover. The book made total sense. My “Blerch” motivates me as well. Putting the competitiveness in me aside, I too have the inner demons that drive me to get up before 4am and exercise for hours every week. I want to feel in control of my life after a good brick workout, I want to reach the ultimate nirvana, and I too want to outrun the fat pregnant lady inside of me.

Triathletes are a driven, focused, and of course motivated group of people…maybe even a little crazy. The motivation that we get comes from somewhere deep inside of us, and we all have specific reasons that keep us going whether it be feeling good, staying healthy, or outrunning our demons. Although we are all different, we all have our own Blerches. Now I have to get motivated to out-do the damned Blerch and get on the trainer…

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“Success Story”-Guest Blogger Stancie Rhodes

Growing up, the message was clear: You can be anything you want to be. You can have it all. I was an only child, and, as such, enjoyed complete support from my wonderful parents. As teachers, they made a very modest income, but there was always enough for dance lessons, piano lessons, recitals, etc. I did well in school, but really excelled in the arts. I was voted most likely to succeed in my high school class, and it was assumed that I would likely end up on Broadway.

In college, my interests turned more toward science, and I soon found myself pursuing a career in medicine. It was important for me to do something where I could have an impact, make a difference, and leave the world a better place. Though I knew that part of me enjoyed the simple life, the other part was enamored by the “you can have it all” mantra. And so I went to medical school and became a surgeon.

It has been almost 8 months since the decision to leave my job as a full-time academic surgeon was firmly set in my mind. For months—or maybe even years, now that I think about it—I felt there was so much missing in my life. I had spent years studying and preparing myself for what I viewed as a very noble and worthy career of saving lives and alleviating pain. I had finally reached a point where I was pulling in a very nice salary and was poised to move up to a leadership position. But at what price? After years of missing school and family functions, paying others to raise my kids, relying on my husband to coordinate all the inner workings of our household, and neglecting my own health and fitness, I had had enough. I had known as a teenager that I never wanted to live to work, and yet I found myself doing exactly that at age 41. Of course, it didn’t help that I was about to “celebrate” my 42nd birthday—the age at which my mother met her untimely death. I had dreaded this age since I was 15. Never was my own sense of mortality and the urgency to live life to its fullest so apparent. Volunteering in the T1 Transition tent at Ironman Lake Placid, watching good friends and hundreds of strangers pull off what would turn out to be a mammoth feat of 140.6 miles in pouring rain, thunder, and lightening was the seal on the deal.

Being home with my family for the last 5½ months has been a dream come true. We’ve moved to the beach which, even in the harsh winter, is like living in paradise. Ending a brisk run by gazing at the surf hitting the snow-covered dunes is euphoric, and I never thought I’d be lucky enough to live in a place like this. We are much more active together as a family. My husband and I, having both been bitten by the triathlon bug, enjoy trainer rides and lap swims together every week. Involving the kids in our activities has also been a plus, with family swims and walks/rides to the beach on sunny days. And of course, following my dreams of self-employment and training for my own IM race (Lake Placid 2015!) are just icing on the cake. It makes me sad to think that most people spend decades working in jobs that suck every bit of life out of them, only to come home and collapse on the sofa for an hour before crashing in bed. By the time they can retire, they are too unhealthy and out of shape to take advantage of the free time—and that’s if they have any loved ones left to enjoy it with, after years of passive neglect. It reminds me of that classic song “Cat’s in the Cradle”, where the father is always telling his son he’ll play with him later, then before he knows it, his son has grown up and doesn’t have time for his father. I consider myself very fortunate to have figured this out early enough to make the change, heal the wounds, and “reinvent myself”, and hopefully create a better life for me and my family.

Today, I am sitting here working on paperwork to start a part-time position in the medical field. I have made some important discoveries—I do not want to work in medicine full-time, I do not want to work in academics, and I need to work to keep us financially sound while we grow our small business. I’ve also decided that my own health and fitness are too important to forsake. That said, it’s time for me to get back to using my skills to do some good for others as well as help provide for my family. I am trying to soothe the little anxious voice in my head asking me when I’m going to find time to continue to train for the Ironman. She also asks me nagging questions like, “Who will cook the meals? Who will host playdates? Won’t you miss your family?” The answer to the last one is a resounding “yes”. I will miss them terribly. But I also have the advantage of experience, and my “retrospectiscope” tells me that as long as we maintain a balance (there’s that elusive “b” word), as long as we keep things in moderation, that everyone will remain happy and healthy—and we’ll be able to pay the bills. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy being a physician. There is nothing quite like fixing a human being’s ailment or alleviating their suffering. I am looking forward to returning to my work, but with one eye on that slippery slope down into the valley of darkness. I will not return to that dark place again. If I do it right this time, I should have ample time with my family, time to dedicate to the business, and less financial strain. Exactly how I will maintain my fitness and keep up with my triathlon training is still a bit of an unknown. But we triathletes tend to be creative people. Maybe I can find a call room to park my bike in and plunk it on the trainer while I field phone calls from the nurses. Maybe a short run at 5pm before heading home to avoid the evil rush hour traffic. Anyway, it’s only part-time. I’ll figure it out.

Some have asked me if I would ever encourage my kids to pursue a career in medicine. My response is usually that I will provide a healthy dose of reality if they express interest in this path. This would be my advice to anyone looking to pursue a career in any of the competitive professions: Know Thyself. If you know deep in your heart that travelling the world is a priority to you, then being a surgeon might not be the best decision. If spending your weekends fly fishing on a quiet river is your ultimate goal, then maybe you should choose a life other than that of a corporate attorney. Being successful does not necessarily require you to make 6 figures nor work 100 hours/week. Success should be measured in simpler currency: sipping a glass of wine while sitting on your front porch; the sound of children laughing during an evening walk on the beach; feeling the warm sun on your face during an early morning run. These are other markers of a successful life. A life full of health, friends, family, and the time to stop, inhale deeply, and just enjoy being. This is the next chapter in my success story.

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“The Wall”

Proper training and preparation are important to the success of every triathlete, amateur or professional. That being said, I have never been much of a “trainer.” In the past I had done the bare minimum to get by. Hell, I didn’t even own a trainer until December! I had subscribed to the belief that less is more when it comes to training, and for the most part had been able to get away with it. If I am training for a marathon, one 15 mile run 3 weeks before is sufficient. I have said many times, “Who needs more than a 6 mile run? Ironman, marathon, half marathon–all you need is 6 miles.” To be honest, that is all I could find time for. Commuting an hour to work, working full time, and being a single parent does not leave much time for proper training. This off season however, my friends started training. Knowing that they were putting in the hours, my competitive side came out and I decided to stop being a wimp, man up, and dedicate as much time as I could spare to do a little training.

I now own a trainer (that I dread), juggle the lap swim schedule at 3 area pools, run more miles than I ever have in the past, and consistently arrive to work late or duck out early to find that extra hour in the day. (My kid is now “sick” more than he has ever been. Poor guy. Must be the new daycare, or at least that is what I tell my co-workers.) Over the past few weeks, however, 3:30am has been coming entirely too early, and for the life of me I can’t seem to get my ass out of bed to swim, bike, or run. Motivation lost. I hit the work out “wall.”

Perpetually feeling tired and having subpar workouts was taking a huge toll on my huge ego. Six mile runs were feeling like 17, sucking wind the entire way. The thought of the pool’s ice cold water in the morning made me cringe and say “F*** it—I’ll do it after work” (which, of course, with a 3-year old does not happen). And don’t get me started on the trainer—it’s the end of April. I should ALWAYS be riding outside at this point, damn it! I had hit the work out “wall.” I could not even look at Training Peaks. With tri season right around the corner my ADHD kicked in and I tapped out. That was until this past weekend, when the Gods of Triathlon Training finally paid me a long overdue visit.

Though still a bit chilly at the Jersey Shore, it was a beautiful weekend: sunny and in the mid to high 60’s, with very little wind. It was glorious. I opened the dreaded Training Peaks to see a 2 hour run and a 4 hour brick. Ugh. I thought “OK. A Saturday run and Sunday brick.” Saturday morning came. I dropped the kid off with a friend, and I was off and running. To my amazement I felt fantastic! Negative splits for 13 miles–less than 2 hours, and I definitely could have kept going. I was back!! Re-energized and ready to go, I prepared for my Sunday ride. I installed my newly purchased Speedfil hydration system, filled it with the Infinit Isis Endurance formula, and found a new route with some decent hills. Again, I felt fantastic (with the exception of a mechanical malfunction cutting down the length of my ride).

I don’t know if I had been over-training, tired or bored, or if it was that the weekend was just so beautiful, but I broke down the wall. Finally ready to get back on track, I set the alarm for 3:30am, and turned up the training. I’m so excited to begin tri season this coming weekend! Hopefully my co-workers don’t realize that cold and flu season is over…