Sunrise Side triathlon: Racing toward freedom

As I biked through the Huron National Forest, I realized I was racing toward freedom. It was the number one thing keeping me going.

On Saturday, I competed in my third triathlon and final race for a while. During the swim and bike, I just wanted to get it over. These past few years and especially this year have been really tough for my running and training. I came to the Olympic distance triathlon under trained.

The water of Lake Huron was blessedly calm. The 15 mile-per-hour winds from the day before settled into a gentle 2 mile-per-hour wind, and Tawas Bay was almost as flat as it gets. The air temperature was not 50 degrees when we started, and the water was about 62. Heading to the event I wore four long-sleeve layers and wrapped myself in a heavy blanket because it was 38 degrees by the big lake. In early September. Not what I wanted for a triathlon.

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But the water felt fine with my wetsuit, and the swim went OK. It felt harder than it should be, and I didn’t know it until after the race, but there was a current in the lake pulling us around. About halfway through the swim I got a lot better with my sighting, I was warmed up and things started improving. 

My dad, Lexi the golden retriever, my dear friend Sarah and her mom came out to cheer, so it was awesome having people to see at the transitions. That definitely boosted my spirits. I wanted to have a good day not only for me, but because it’s more fun to cheer for someone when they are having a good day.

We came out of the lake and had to run across the road get to the transition area. I pulled on a long sleeve over my kit, and I’m so glad I did. It was chilly on the bike.

We road up Monument Road toward my beloved Au Sable River, which was mostly a gentle but long climb. It was taxing. I was really not happy on the first half of the bike, but I kept pushing and took advantage of the downhill second half. All I wanted was to be done and on my long break. Hence the racing toward freedom.

After a quick transition and hello to my cheer squad (a fist pump), I headed off on the run course and noticed my legs felt good, which was a surprise because they had hurt during the swim and bike. 

For whatever reason, I had running legs. During the first mile I shook out the bike, and the next two I kept up a steady pace. At the turnaround, I saw another Olympic woman close behind me, and that set a fire in me. I picked up the pace, and then again about a half mile later.

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With two miles to go, I was pushing. It was a great run. Not particularly fast, but definitely faster than either of my other triathlons this year. The cool weather really made a difference. Coming into the finish chute, I pushed it in hard and felt like a badass. This is what I used to feel like—strong.

For much of the past three years, I’ve been just trying to hang on.

It was a great, uplifting way to go on break. Not only did I have a good day (and finished faster than expected!), I got to enjoy the day with family and friends, got dog kisses at the finish, and I felt good. No headache, no stomach troubles. I ate right away, and then shortly after had pancakes and sausage. I’ll take the cold morning if it means feeling good!

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The whole day was a relief. I competed much better than I thought I would and now I can take my break with nothing hanging over my head. I have absolutely no plans. I don’t know when I’ll run or race again.

Truth is, I think I’ll get back to running before too long. Freeing myself from expectations has gone a long way.

“I know I have the best of time and space — and that I was never measured, and never will be measured.” – Walt Whitman, A Song of Myself

We cheered on the 70.3 athletes, and I know that’s an event I want to do someday. I’ve also had a little Chicago Marathon envy. The love of running and competing is within me. I buried it with out-sized expectations and pressure. It’s hard to look back and realized I took three years away from myself, but I’ve learned about self-acceptance and the importance of running with joy and not ego.

That’s worth a lot.

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Ludington Lighthouse Triathlon: ‘Do what is required’

Two days before my first Olympic-distance and second-ever triathlon, I read this quote for the first time:

“Sometimes it is not enough to do your best. Sometimes you must do what is required.” – Winston Churchill

It stuck with me.

On Aug. 20,  I arrived early in the adorable town of Ludington on Lake Michigan’s shoreline. I hadn’t been very nervous beforehand because I was too exhausted to be nervous.

The white supremacist rally and murder in Charlottesville and everything that happened after had me worn out, terribly sad and angry, as so many of us were. It’s tough to be nervous about a race when there’s so much hate we have to deal with. A race seemed silly, but I also knew I needed it to keep myself emotionally afloat. I needed a bit of joy.

I had no goals for the race except to finish. That’s all I wanted. The time didn’t matter, and it also didn’t matter if I pushed myself as hard as I could. After the very difficult year I’ve had so far, I don’t know that I have enough in the tank to go to deep places.

The swim was in Lake Michigan, which did make me nervous while I was standing next to it. Although the Great Lakes are home to me, they are dangerous. Thankfully, the U.S. Coast Guard was right there, and they kept a careful count of all the swimmers.

A small group of Olympic-distance women were second into the water. I wasn’t at all bothered by the scrum and jockeying in the beginning, but the waves of the Great Lakes are not joke. That swim was hard; I got tired. It’s tough to see the buoys over the waves, and I swam farther than I needed to. It was quite a relief to get out of the water.

The first 11 miles of the bike were tough because I was basically on my own. The roads around Ludington were beautiful, but I didn’t like being out there alone during a race. I wanted some people to key off of so I’d ride harder.

I’m learning the bike is the toughest part of a triathlon. Although I absolutely love cycling, it somehow is not so great when sandwiched between two other disciplines. The Olympic distance was significantly better than than the sprint because at least I could settle in on the bike.

One we made it out to the second half of the course, the various bike courses came together and I wasn’t so alone, and my spirits definitely lifted. We bike north a few miles along Lake Michigan and the dunes in Ludington State Park with the wind at our back, so we all took advantage of that to ride harder. The ride back in the wind was fine until about three miles to go, and then I just struggled in.

Then the run. My body has not been interested in running for months, but I remembered that Churchill quote. Do what is required. What was required of me was running, and so I ran. The route took us on a trail through a campground and by cabins on an inland lake, and I ran. I wasn’t that fast, but I was moving forward. Coming into the finish was such a relief.

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I was proud of how I kept pushing through the day despite these constant struggles. To my complete shock, I won my age group. Thank goodness for small races! My time wasn’t fast; I know I’m capable of so much more. But that’s for another day, another year. Right now, I’m happy with today.

Ego, shame and running

I’ve been in a running slump for nearly three years.

Through most of this time, running has been a burden rather than a joy, even though I want it to be joyful and fulfilling. Slumps happen, but three years shows me that something deep is going on and running through it just won’t cut it.

After my planned half ironman in September, I’m taking a break from running and I’m not going to run until my body tells me it wants to.

Because it doesn’t. My body sure has hell wants nothing to do with running. Swimming, biking and walking are all good.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this slump, and I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of shame in my running.

For the past seven years as I’ve been doing long-distance running, nothing has ever been enough. I’m not fast enough and training well enough. My dream of qualifying for Boston, rather than inspiring me, dragged me down.

It was more egotistical than anything. I wanted the glory. I wanted the status of being that good of a runner. Ego isn’t a good reason to run marathons; it’s not sustainable. Once I cleared that shame away, I thought about the real reasons why I want to run Boston, and they aren’t the jacket or the medal or the bragging rights. It’s the crowds, the Newton Hills and the community.

Someday, I’ll get there. Right now, I’m shelving my plan of running a fall marathon and putting down my dreams of Beantown. I don’t have enough strength to carry them anymore. My body has been telling me for a long time it needs a rest and it needs a new reason for running.

Before this year, I wouldn’t have been able to accept my identity as a runner who isn’t running or training for something. Last summer, however, I learned self-acceptance, and I’ve been on a journey toward self-acceptance since then.

Running, before I got lost in achievements, wasn’t about my ego. It was about feeling alive and strong. I can accept that I’m tough as nails and just the runner I need to be and also not be a Boston qualifier.

I’ll give myself a much-needed rest from running and then chasing achievements for as long as I need to.

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I want running to look like this again.

Salt tablets and surrender

I was about 32 miles into a 62-mile bike trip in Northern Michigan when I noticed I didn’t feel right.

My head felt disconnected from my body, and my legs were hurting more than they should have. But I’m riding hard for the fitness I have, I reasoned, and it’s hilly.

So I pressed on. For the next 15 miles, everything got worse. My legs were cramping, and I felt empty.

“This lake is too fucking big,” I muttered to myself as I made my way around the popular Higgins Lake. Residents, smiling, took walks on the quiet roads lined with cottages along the lake shore. I alone appeared to be miserable, and I was alone.

But HOW? How was I this bad today? I’ve ridden 100 miles before and it wasn’t this hard. My body was betraying me, it seemed. Everything hurt. Everything was too much.

At about 47 miles, I whispered to myself “Please let there be an aid station.” I looked up, and there was that glorious blue tent with its watermelon slices and wonderful volunteers.

I got off my bike and dropped to the ground, utterly and completely miserable. How would I finish this ride?

This was my third appearance at the Black Bear ride, once a bike tour and now a Gran Fondo in Grayling.

The first 22 miles were beautiful. The temperature wasn’t quite 70 degrees, the wind was quiet and I was in Northern Michigan. The course treated us to spectacular views of Higgins Lake and forest dunes after difficult climbs. The smell of pine trees in warm sunshine pervaded the route. It doesn’t get much better than that.

At mile 18, a 70-year-old man passed me and said, “I’m feelin’ it!” So was I. For the next four miles, I rolled. I rode easily at 20 miles per hour, singing songs from Gordan Lightfoot’s “Carefree Highway” to Florence + The Machine’s “Cosmic Love” (a favorite of mine on the bike). The sun was shining, and I overcame my typical pre-race doubts about doing the event to feel pure joy at being out there pushing myself.

Then it got difficult. At the second aid station, I tried to eat a PB&J, but wasn’t able to finish it. I pressed on and eventually found myself on the ground at the final aid station. I staggered up to refuel, and a fellow cyclist noticed how bad I looked.

She offered salt tablets and a pack of Clif Shot Blocs, two items I should have had with me. At least, I should have had the shot blocs. But it hadn’t been hot and I wasn’t drinking enough of the Gatorade I had with me, and I hadn’t been able to touch the Clif and Lara bars in my jersey.

The volunteers offered a bottle of water and a chair in the shade. One salt tablet, four shot blocs and one bottle of water later, I felt human again. My body was coming around.

My body hadn’t betrayed me, after all. I had betrayed it with poor fueling. That’s familiar. I’ve done it before.

This was my first bonk on the bike, which is a different experience than on the run. I didn’t recognize it until I almost collapsed.

With the help of a generous woman, I rallied and pushed myself for the final 15 miles. I followed two men out of the aid station (after many thanks to the volunteers), and after four miles, took off again. I rode alone for the final miles, waving to the military police parked along the road near Camp Grayling and whooping it up on the final stretch back to the Hanson Hills Recreation Area (and more swearing, but this time I was excited and relieved).

I rolled through the finish line at 20 miles per hour, also incidentally tricking some of the spectators and riders into thinking I’d done the 100-mile ride. There’s no way I can ride 100 miles in 4.5 hours, but I appreciate whoever thought I did.

This was a humbling day because I made mistakes I could have prevented, but now I have a nutrition plan for the bike, and I am incredibly proud of the way I kept pushing past the red line. My body screamed no, and I kept riding forward. Not bad for a woman who used to think she was a wimp.

The next day, I rode an easy 20 miles with my dad, and then went out for a slow, 3-mile run.

The day after that was another tough one, though.

I set out on my favorite road for a six-mile run. It was miserable. I felt horrible, much like I have for more than two years. My running since 2014 has been just rough; I mostly feel bad and haven’t been able to find my grove. And here I was today, already feeling beat up, and my body wasn’t having it.

I walked a few times, and I shed a few tears of anger and frustration. Why, why, WHY is running SO HARD RIGHT NOW? Why can’t my body just…run?

At the turnaround, I took a deep breath. I knew this was my ego yelling because it was bruised and hurting. In that gran fondo? I beat nine riders out of 57 in the 100K. But I don’t do any of this to feed my ego, I do this because I love it. I set my ego aside and listened for the quiet voice within me. It always knows what to do, and I know the consequences of not listening to it from years of not listening to it.

“Everything I need is already inside me,” I reminded myself. And I listened.

“Stop fighting,” the voice said, kind but firm. “Surrender.”

I did. I surrendered to that run, to how I was feeling right then on that dusty stretch of road. I let go of the ego that was angry at how slow and hard this run felt, how slow I had been feeling on the bike and in the pool and how my shorts felt like they fit too tight this summer. If it’s hard, I thought, I’ll let it be hard.

I started trudging forward. You know, I didn’t feel good on that run, but I realized I didn’t feel bad, either. I kept on and my stride opened up a little.

The road took me into the trees, up a hill and down it, across another field, back into the trees, past secret streams and up and over two more hills. My stride opened up a little more. I felt OK. Sometimes feeling OK is better than feeling good.

The only time I slowed was to try to avoid scaring a doe and her fawn because I brake for animals. I kept running toward a silly young buck who walked toward me without seeing me. I kept running until I made it to the driveway, and I stopped, but I was different. I felt lighter and stronger and OK.

“Strength is going through the darkest depths and simply not giving in to the darkness.” — Devon Yanko

Learning how to surrender has been one of the toughest challenges of my life. We grow up in a culture that teaches us to fight and force our way toward everything, but the things we fight fight us back. Acceptance is the only way to start moving forward.

Surrender and acceptance are lessons I keep having to learn again, but it’s getting easier each time I remember, close my eyes, quite fighting and listen to the wisdom I have.

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“The Road goes ever on and on
down from the door where it began.”

Two months after InsideTracker

Am I Wonder Woman? ‘Cause I think I might be Wonder Woman, you guys.

It’s been about two months since I’ve purchased my InsideTracker Ultimate plan and gotten the most detailed, complete blood testing I’ve ever had.

You can read about what’s been bothering me and what the results showed:

I’m sick of being tired, so I’m trying something new 
My InsideTracker results are in and not what I thought

In short, I have been increasingly fatigued in the past seven years, and the tests showed my Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D levels are pretty low.I immediately started supplementing with B and D vitamins to get my levels up. While I typically prefer to get my nutrients through whole food, I needed to give myself that boost. After spending five years as a pescetarian, I still don’t eat a lot of meat to get the B vitamins I needed.

Slowly I noticed I wasn’t feeling that bone-deep fatigue I’ve had for years. My seasonal allergies give me a lot of fatigue, but underneath that, I could tell things were changing. One day in early June, I realized I felt amazing.

I might be slow, but I’m stronger than ever.

Before I started taking the vitamins, work and training would take everything I had. That meant I left dishes and laundry undone for longer than I would’ve liked. After a workout or work, I’d collapse on my couch and either watch too many episodes of a TV show or fall asleep, and then sabotage my training and sleep. I didn’t have the mental energy to do a lot of writing. I couldn’t focus to read books, which is one of my favorite things. It wasn’t that I was lazy; my tank felt empty most of the time. It was a fatigue sleep couldn’t cure. In time, part of me started to think that’s just the way I was and I’d have to deal with it.

But on this day in early June, I swam a mile, biked a hard 15 in the heat and then ran 2.5 miles, and I still felt fine after a little recovery. The next day, I biked 27 miles on a hotter day, took a rest and a trip to my apartment pool for a dip, and then started to clean. That ride didn’t deplete me.

The next weekend I rode 40 miles, the longest of the season. Got done, felt good. Sure, I would’ve felt tired if I’d gone running, but I could do my training and still be a person who does other things.

A beautiful scene on a recent ride.

I thought back to high school when I’d get up early, spend the day working hard at school and then training hard at cross country and track practice and not feel like I had nothing left at the end of the day. There’s a difference between being pleasantly tired in the evening and having nothing in your tank.

InsideTracker says “Knowledge is power.” It is. Blood data tell you what you’re doing right and how you can improve. I spent too long telling myself I just had to deal. If you feel like there’s something going on with you, there just might be. It’s far better to know than to guess.

Now I can train for my goals confident that I’m doing everything do achieve them.

I hate mornings. I have to be a morning person.

I now have to do double workouts before work. This is really hard.

Also, I work at noon. Does that now seem less hard? Maybe. But not to me.

This is a new change. My work schedule recently changed from starting at 7 a.m. to starting at noon.

I’m not a morning person. At all. Mornings are hard. I can get up when I need to get up, like for work or a race, but just getting up at 6 a.m. is so damn hard I don’t understand how people can do that. I managed the 7 a.m. shift because it didn’t require me to have to do anything physical. My body had plenty of time to wake up, and I could run and workout in the afternoons when my body was ready to go.

Time management is a constant struggle of mine. I like to wake up and go slow and putter. When I’m rushed, I get frazzled and forget things and make more mistakes than usual. When I know I have to be somewhere, I get anxious about being there on time and being prepared. All I can think about is what time I need to shower, eat and get out the door.

If I have 20 minutes to do something before I need to leave, that’s not enough time for me to do much. When I try to read, I just end up skimming pages until it’s time to go. Or I end up on twitter.

Flow is important to me. Getting into a groove and being able to grind away is how I roll. That’s why I prefer the marathon to the 5K, and that’s why I want to go straight toward a half ironman instead of sticking with shorter races. I’m too anxious for that kind of intensity.

I’ve been quite lucky in my schedule that I’ve gotten out of work at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m., giving myself what feels like a nice chunk of time to do something.

Of course, I have the same amount of time as I did before, but it feels different this time.

The secret problem with my old schedule was that I’d take so damned long with things that I would go to bed late. I deprived myself of sleep so I could do the things I wanted to. Now, I don’t have that luxury. The pool hours don’t allow me to swim after work, and I want to bike and run in the daylight.

That presents a new challenge: getting my ass out of bed at 6 a.m. to give myself plenty of time to run, bike, swim and be a person.

This is the second day of week three. Today, I got out of bed and ran and swam before work. This was a big victory, you guys.

The change also has forced me to stop shaming myself about not being a morning person. Ideally, I’d get up between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. daily. That’s what my body seems to want, and after 29 years, I don’t think 6 a.m. alarms are going to be any easier.

But I am a runner. I do hard things. I push through runs when I feel like shit, as I did this morning. I’m giving myself some grace and love. This is a major change for my routine and my attitude. It’ll take some time. That’s OK.

I can run a lot faster

Running a 3:30 marathon has long been a dream and goal of mine.

My PR is 3:54.

Running has long been a struggle for me. If I’m being very honest, much of that has been of my own making. I get in my own way all the time. There are many reasons, which I detailed in this blog: Today is a good day to die and this one: My InsideTracker results are in and not what I thought.

And then some of it hasn’t been my fault, like my severe seasonal allergies.

For so long, I dreamed of running a certain time and dreamed of doing something without really believing I could do it because of my past failures. Then the other day I thought, “I can run a lot faster” because I can. My heart tells me I can run a lot faster; I can feel it in my bones.

Self-belief is a process. Realizing how I was hindering myself from my best was the first step. Since then, I’ve still struggled, but I also completed my first triathlon without a lot of fitness.

This is what its all about.

That race changed me. Doing new things shows you what you’re capable of. We slowly learn what we can do and the confidence growths little-by-little or sometimes in leaps and bounds.

I feel different than I used to when I think about a fall marathon. I feel excited rather than scared, and not just for the race, but for the training.

I’m coming out of the fog I’ve been in. My anxiety is almost gone, my allergies are abating for the season, I’m taking vitamin B12 supplements, I’m sleeping more and I have more energy than I’ve had in a long time. It’s time to train.

I can’t wait to run faster.