The other day I went to register for my very first triathlon, a sprint distance.
The swim distance caught my eye–800 meters. For whatever reason, I thought it’d be 400 or 500 meters.
My immediate reaction: NO, NO, NO. I’m not ready for that! (Nevermind that I can swim 2,000 meters in a session). To be honest with you, I looked at a June 25 race to give myself more time.
But then my courage took over. I’m so grateful my courage has been a bit stronger than my fear. Besides, it’s good to do things that scare us. We live in a world made for comfort. Discomfort is the path to growth and better things.
A longer swimming distance is better for me in the long run since my plan is to do a half ironman in September.
And I can swim 800 meters.
So I paid my $88 registration fee (why did I have to start a more expensive sport? I’m a journalist. Oh well.), and I bought lock laces for my running shoes.
No turning back now.
One week from today, if all goes as planned, I’ll kick back with a beer and celebrate the fact that I am a triathlete.
When your coach is a bully, running is tough. Especially if you’re a shy, quiet freshman who has always had a lot of respect for authority figures or an adult with the pressure of a shoe contract.
The New York Times reported new details of what Alberto Salazar of the Nike Oregon Project was pushing his athletes to do, it opened up a new discussion on twitter about coaches who are bullies.
I know what it’s like.
My high school cross country and track coach was a bully. He knew how to train athletes and had successful programs, certainly, but he also was loud, bullish, manipulative and intimidating.
“You’re not running fast enough”
While a freshman in cross country, I was the fastest runner on our very small team. I often ran with my fellow teammates, especially on easy days, because that’s who I had to run with.
I was the only girl on the team to qualify for the state championships. In the week before the state meet, I ran with my coach. He told me I was running too slow, that I spent too much time with my other teammates and that I should turn around. I offered to run faster, but he said “no, turn around.”
I did because I didn’t know what else to do. I contemplated running around the track in defiance, but I was so hurt and confused I went back to the girls’ locker room and attempted to do homework. Instead, I fought off tears and wondered what he expected of me.
When I later left the locker room, he acted like nothing had happened. He never acknowledged the incident again.
The confusion from that day still feels fresh. What on Earth did he want from me? If he was trying to goad me into running faster, it didn’t work. I don’t work like that. Tell me what you want from me; don’t play games.
Too much medication and not enough healing
My freshman year of track, I got stress fractures up and down both shins. As I dealt with the pain, my family doctor prescribed me a strong NSAID, Lodine (which now makes me think “are you kidding me? Tell the kid to take Motrin and rest.”). My coach loved it. He seemed happy my doctor prescribed heavy medication. The medication put me to sleep in geometry, and I stopped taking it after a few days.
One year, a teammate of mine was dealing with a serious back injury before the cross country season even started. She took a lot of ibuprofen to deal with it instead of resting and healing. He encouraged it. She never had a healthy season of cross country or track.
I was appalled that he would encourage athletes push through significant pain rather than take the time to fully heal.
Mad at athletes who rested
Along with that, I saw multiple instances when he was upset with athletes for not pushing through the pain of an injury or him being frustrated when athletes with injuries were struggling.
“It’s the end of the season, everyone has something that hurts.”
Yeah, a lot of athletes get to the end of a long season feeling a little beat up. These are 15 and 16-year-old kids. Their healthy and longevity must come first, and a good coach should help teach them that.
Injuries impact our ability to compete at our best levels. That’s something no coach can change.
While I’m not sure if it’s wrong, it’s a fascinating example of a coach instructing an athlete to do something different from a medical professional.
Mad instead of coaching
Being comfortable being uncomfortable was tough for me to learn. I struggled with this during high school. It didn’t help that spring and mid-distances are not my strong suit.
He was frustrated with me that I didn’t push hard enough during the middle miles and meters of races. He was right. I didn’t. But that’s part of the natural learning curve of running (I later taught myself how to be comfortable with discomfort). A coach needs to help athletes get to that next level, not just get mad and shut down. Teaching toughness is hard, but it is possible. It takes practice and time. And not getting angry at the athlete for not understanding what he’s trying to say. At the time, I had no idea what he meant when he said I was too comfortable out there. Racing sure seemed to hurt to me. Getting angry isn’t coaching, it’s just being an asshole.
I felt a lot of shame from that. I didn’t know what he wanted from me, I only knew I was failing.
I remember my senior year of cross country I’d had a particularly tough race.
As many of us do, I needed to step away and take a breather, so I attempted that as I walked over to the starting line to cheer on the boys’ team. It was a short walk alone so I could shake off the disappointment of letting my team down and letting myself down. I was not there to mope or pout, just to collect myself.
This coach runs up to me, snaps “next time I see you, that expression had better be off your face” and runs off. Fuck you, man. I’d shown during the past three years that I was a positive teammate and a role model of persistence. I deserved a few minutes to myself to handle a bad day.
It wasn’t all bad; that’s usually how it goes. I had a lot of success and learned a ton about running. I also learned a lot about how not to behave.
Many times during my high school running years I felt uncomfortable with his behaviors. By my senior year, I learned to ignore it and do what was right for me. I’m proud that I stood up for myself and took time off when I needed it to heal. That worked well on one more than one occasion. For instance, one track season I had some tendonitis, but I spent a few days on the bike and then finished my season healthy and fast.
I was glad to get out of that program when I graduated. Running alone these past 11 years has been such a gift.
This is not something I’ve written about before, although I have alluded to my experiences in a few tweets. If I then had the courage and fortitude I do now, I would’ve pushed back more. I wouldn’t have let him bully me, and I would’ve stood up for my fellow athletes. By sharing my experiences, I hope I can encourage other athletes to share theirs and push back against a culture of bullies.
Why do coaches think they can behave like that? Why do we allow them to? We accept their hot tempers because they succeed. I understand coaches will get frustrated with their athletes, but yelling at them, pushing them around and shaming them are not acceptable ways of making progress.
My experiences are not rare and certainly not limited to high schoolers. This happens to adults, too. This is not OK. I want especially young athletes to know they don’t need to put up with it. You are worth more than that.
It is tough right now given my allergies/asthma, but I’m trying, you guys (just a couple more weeks and I’m free!).
Last week, I did the hardest swim session in months, and then a few days later decided very suddenly I was going to do flip turns now.
Then I got on my bike and flogged myself for 20 miles, which I haven’t done in a while. And then the next day I rode another 20 on sore legs.
The best part? I went all in.
In that fourth of six all-out 100-meter repeats in the pool, I didn’t know if I’d be able to finish. But I did, and my final interval was my fastest by about 10 seconds. And then three days later I got in the pool and swam the farthest I’ve ever gone without a break. That hurt, too.
That first bike ride hurt. All I know about cycling is masochism. I really wanted to quit the next day when my legs were tired and my shoulders hurt like hell.
Underlying all of this is that I decided to try hard again and just go for it.
My first triathlon is coming up in a few weeks. In three months, I hope to do a half ironman.
Going into these races, I’m not going to give myself a time goal at all because that’s tripped me up in the past. I don’t want to get hung up on some numbers that’ll only matter to me. This summer, it’s just about giving it everything I’ve got, accepting the outcome and stepping off from there.
For those of you who don’t speak Klingon, it means “today is a good day to die.” It’s a phrase Klingon warriors say before going into battle.
In high school, I ran cross country and track. Running was a huge part of my life and my identity. I worked harder than anyone else on the team, running all summer and all winter. I ran up to 50 miles a week and did 13-mile long runs. I lifted weights and ran on weekends. I gave it everything.
And I achieved one of the goals I had for myself. Just one. And I did so on the backs of others.
Although not particularly fast and never a college recruit, I was better than most runners, especially at a small high school in a small athletic division. My résumé had four appearances at the cross country high school state finals and two in track. I held the school record in the 1600m and as a part of two relays. We had team regional championships to our name, and I was even on a 1600m relay team that took fourth in the state.
But I achieved most of that success as part of a team, not on my own. Without a good team, I never would have qualified for the cross country state finals my junior and senior year. I never broke 21 minutes for the 5K (just got agonizingly close at 21:06). My 1600m PR was 21 seconds slower than my goal. I didn’t meet my goal of making it to the track state finals as an individual. And that record-setting, medal-winning 4x400m relay team? I was the slowest member by 3 or 4 seconds. During those four years, I watched my teammates rise and surpass me as I plateaued and didn’t improve much.
When I finished running in high school, I was hurting. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough because I was looking into the face of my own shortcomings. I had given it everything and I was not good enough.
I’ve never again given anything my everything.
Not my writing, not myself and certainly not my running. Sure, I worked hard. I ran marathons and set some PRs. But quietly, my fear of not being good enough to achieve my goals grew into a raging monster.
The creative writing I once did dried up until my writing mostly became me vomiting fear all over the pages of my journals. Once, I ended up in the emergency room shocked to learn my inability to breathe wasn’t actually a physical inability to breathe–it was panic. Anxiety dragged me down; it circled me like vultures circle rotting flesh and squeezed me like a python constricts its prey.
I gave myself outs constantly, especially with running. It was so easy to come home from work and nap until it was too late to run as far as I had planned, or eat too much after work before my workouts or wait to run until it was so hot I felt apart in the heat. I was too fatigued. I didn’t feel right. I’d get it next time. There was more time until there wasn’t, and then, oh well, what do I do now? There was almost always something. At least I never again had to deal with my own lack of talent.
What’s worse, I didn’t consciously realize this for nine years and have been a mess of shame and anxiety for the better part of 11 years.
Once I realized the depths of this shame, I worked hard to dig myself out of the hole I had dug so neatly and so well. Brené Brown taught me about shame and vulnerability. Tara Stiles taught me about trying easy. Kara Goucher taught me about doing the work and letting things come to me. Elizabeth Gilbert taught me what it looks like to be a woman with a free soul. But the anxiety wasn’t going away. I tried all the things, and still it haunted me.
Then last summer I was heartbroken for the first time in my life at age 28. It was the kind of heartbreak that leaves you crying on the floor, you know? The good kind.
Rayya Elias once said in an interview she loved a good heartbreak. Leonard Cohen said there is a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in. They are right, obviously.
After all these years of fear and scarcity, my heart couldn’t take it anymore. It broke open. I stopped trying to bully myself into being a person I wasn’t and surrendered to the person I was. The light slowly cleared out the anxiety. I stopped living from my ego that broke at age 18 and started living from my soul again, childlike.
I’ve been running for 18 years, and I’ve failed at running more than I’ve failed at anything else. Failing at running is better than not running. That’s the definition of soulwork.
Today is a good day to die.
That doesn’t mean actual death in my life (I DO NOT WANT TO DIE). To me, it means giving it everything and risking failure. I mean really risking failure, like finding out I’m just not good enough to achieve my lofty goals.
Life is too short to shortchange and sabotage yourself. Fear is boring. It’s the same bullshit again and again. “You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. Don’t try. Don’t even try.”
Maybe I’m not good enough. I survived the shame 11 years ago to fight again and I can survive it now. Maybe I’m not good enough to run a 3:30 marathon. I think I am, but maybe not.
If that’s the case, so what? I’d rather give it hell and find out than continue to cower on my couch and make myself anxious and miserable.
The thing I love about Klingon warriors is they are so alive. They are vibrant and bold. The are loud and aggressive. They laugh and drink and fight with gusto. They walk into a room and everyone knows it. They would rather die in glorious battle than not fight because the outcome matters less than the fight itself.
After cowering in increasing fear these past 11 years, I’m pulling this Klingon mindset into my life. I’m walking through life with a hearty, joyful laugh so that I know I’m alive and kicking. Marathon training is my battle. Writing is my battle. Life itself is my battle. The outcome is not what matters. The process is what matters.
Next time I’m on the starting line, I’ll say to myself in a guttural voice “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam” and give it hell.
I got my InsideTracker results back yesterday and breathed a sigh of relief. The tests confirmed the fatigue and weakness I feel are real.
My vitamin D and vitamin B12 levels are low.
The results are also not what I thought they’d be: My iron is too high and my cortisol is perfect.
There it is. Low levels of vitamins D and B12 can cause fatigue and weakness. Also difficulty sleeping. It wasn’t in my head. Those days I had trouble gathering the strength to do yoga, there was a reason for that.
What’s more, InsideTracker offers ways on how to improve those levels. More fish, more red meat, more nuts, more berries and more beans. I can do that. InsideTracker even recommended a regular dose of dark chocolate.
What’s more, the Food Basket shows a daily spread of what I can eat to meet my nutrient and calorie intake. While I love cooking, I can always use new ideas.
I’m grateful to have this baseline from which to build my health. I don’t have to wonder if my cortisol levels were off the charts, or whether inflammation was causing havoc or if my iron levels continued to lag. As it turns out, I’m doing a fine job managing my stress and my iron levels. InsideTracker also showed me I’m doing pretty damn well, and I don’t need an entire overhaul of my diet. That’s something I had wondered about because I tend to eat a lot of the same few foods: salmon, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and eggs.
Moving ahead, I’m going to boost my diet with nuts, beans, Vitamin D milk and more fish, and I’m going to supplement to help get my B12 and D levels up to par.
It’ll take time, but now I know how to get my strength back.
Ten years ago, I never thought I’d become one of those women who preached love and light and empathy (think Liz Gilbert and Tara Stiles), but here I am.
Not only did I used to think they were full of shit (oh, young me), I also thought I’d never be able to, you know, surrender to the flow of the universe. Or whatever. It seemed like some hippy bullshit. Surrendering was giving up.
I grew up in a world where women are supposed to be nervous and insecure so they are quiet and obedient and buy shit to fix themselves. To compensate for that, I latched on to a masculine mindset and became a drill sergeant to myself.
Over time, I can to realize the culture was wrong, and it wasn’t that being a woman was the problem, it was the stupid cultural rules that were the problem. Women like Liz and Tara aren’t arrogant, they are authentic. They break the rules. And I wanted to be like that, too.
I worked at it for years, and it was a journey that was never easy. But last summer, I finally understood. Sometimes it takes just one event to break through those emotions, and that happened to me. Thankfully, I took advantage of that event and realized I wasn’t completely accepting of myself.
On New Year’s Eve, I celebrated with friends and we took fun photos in front of a beautifully-decorated and lit wall (that’s what you do when the host is a photographer).
She made a portrait of me that’s not only the best-ever portrait of me, made me realize I am one of those women now. I’ve crossed to the other side.
You guys, it’s the absolute best.
I’m still me. I make mistakes and struggle. I swear, obviously, and I’m not graceful, and I love reading about and thinking about the darker sides of life, such as struggle, shame and sorrow.
But I have finally, completely accepted who I am. That’s what it is. I’ve surrendered to the person I am. Hallelujah. I’m not fighting and resisting myself; I’m working with myself. That’s how you get shit done.
It seems like I’ve struggled with fatigue for seven years. I don’t remember being this damned tired all the time when I was in high school or university.
My breathing is shallow, my sinuses are constantly acting up, I have frequent headaches, I have a tough time sleeping and I often don’t feel like doing anything. That’s not exactly the recipe for a Boston Marathon qualifier. The gap between who I want to be and who I am is wide.
This fatigue, which also weighs heavily on my mind and emotions, is holding me back. My training isn’t as consistent and intense as it needs to be, and yet, I often feel like I’m barely holding on. I haven’t had a good year of running in two years.
The seven-year timeline, if I’m accurate, coincides with starting my career. Let’s be real: it’s tough to balance a stressful job with doing all of the other things I need to do. While I absolutely love my job, I’m struggling with not letting it take over the rest of my life.
This hurts. Struggle is a part of life, but this doesn’t feel right and it hasn’t for some time.
So I am doing something about it. I ordered a plan from InsideTracker, which will test 41 bio markers in my blood and give me an idea of what’s going on. It’ll give me recommendations for the best diet for what I need to become my best, strongest self. Although I didn’t intend to spend $589 on this, I decided to go for the most comprehensive plan. My primary care physicians over the years haven’t been able to give me the in-depth information I need because by average American standards, I’m quite healthy.
And yet, I’m coming at my health from the perspective of a serious athlete.
Maybe I’ve got too much cortisol in my body, and maybe my iron is low. Just knowing what’s going on inside will help me organize my life, training and diet in a way that helps me become the athlete and person I want to become.
I don’t know how this effort will turn out, but I feel better for having taken a step forward.