Saturday, September 20, 2014

Forty years of bad ideas

I learned recently that the sport of triathlon, as we know it today, was born in San Diego on September 25, 1974. I had been born just four days before, and just a few miles away from Mission Bay, where that first swim-bike-run event was held. (I didn't grow up in San Diego, but I was actually born here. This was, no doubt, the place I was destined to make my home.) Triathlon's roots trace back to France, as do mine. And we're both about to turn forty years old.

So when I saw this ad in Competitor Magazine a couple of months ago for TriRock, an intermediate distance triathlon being held on the beautiful Embarcadero Park in downtown San Diego - on the exact date of my 40th birthday - it seemed like yet another sign that it was finally time to give this sport a go. Training for the Ventura Marathon was already well underway by that point, and I knew that the timing was bad. Being so focused on racing a good marathon, I wouldn't have the time or energy to train for a triathlon. I'm not a strong or experienced swimmer or cyclist, but hoped that the bit of each that I did weekly as cross-training would at least be enough to get me through the individual distances, and that the "residual fitness" from having trained for a marathon (I totally made that term up, I think) would see me through the event in its entirety. And when two of my oldest and dearest friends committed to coming to San Diego to celebrate my 40th by competing in this event with me, the deal was officially sealed. Sign me up.

I'm now sitting here looking down the barrel of tomorrow morning's 6:30 a.m. swim start, and realizing: this was a bad idea. I am not ready for this. But some of the most memorable moments of these first forty years were born of my poor impulse control and bad ideas, so why not kick off the next decade with another one? Beyond a pathetic lack of multi-sport training and the fact that I'm not fully recovered from the marathon I ran two weeks ago, I also don't have any of the proper equipment. I do have a bike, but I've still not been properly fitted for it, and will have absolutely no idea what to do if I have a breakdown out there. I'll be cycling in my running shoes because I am too scared to clip in, and wearing an old pair of Dior sunglasses, because I'm near-sighted and need a prescription when I ride but have never gotten around to having a pair of sport glasses made. I did buy myself a pair of "tri-shorts" last week, but I am going to be honest with you: they scare me.

I've got a few things going for me, though. First of all, I've got these two:
Friends Julie and Krista, on the morning of
their first triathlon, in 2009. Full circle, you guys.
Five years ago I flew up to Sacramento to surprise them at the start when they competed in their first triathlon together. I had so much fun out there cheering them on with their husbands and kids, and saying to myself, with perfect clarity, that "they are nuts."

Secondly, we're scheduled for nearly perfect weather tomorrow. After an unusually hot and humid summer, the heat has recently broken, and we've got our mid-70s perfection back, and nice warm water temperatures (74* this morning). I figure this has to make up for at least a little bit of my lack of physical preparation.

And finally: it's my birthday! So screw whatever else might go wrong out there. I love birthdays, and think they should be celebrated with gusto. So bring on the swim, the bike, and the run, whether I'm ready for them or not. Bring on the friends, the family, the food, and the celebration at the finish. And bring on 40.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Blood, sweat, tears, and some other stuff

At last, I’ve mustered the courage to sit down and write this recap of last Sunday’s Ventura Marathon. It shouldn’t take long, because I honestly can’t remember very much of it. It’s a blur.

The Ventura Pier, which serves as
the race start and finish.
Training for this race began in mid-May, and I can definitively state that I was more committed than I have ever been, in 15 years of running marathons. I’m usually pretty relaxed about training. I skip workouts occasionally, and don’t always eat or drink the way that I should. It’s partly because I’ve never wanted marathoning to rule my life, but it’s also a way of insulating myself from the vulnerabilities of race day. If I don’t perform well, I can lay it on “poor training,” and tell myself that I’ll train better next time. And then I’ll race better next time.

For me, Ventura was “next time.” Early on, I decided that this time I was going to let marathoning rule my life, and see what I could do. I wanted to know when I lined up on race morning that I had given myself every chance of success. For 16 weeks, I didn’t miss a single workout. I struggled through many of them, but I got them done, and aside from some of the hotter days when I had to slow down, I was pretty much hitting my pace targets. I paid attention to what I ate. I limited my alcohol intake. I got plenty of sleep. I tapered properly. I even skipped dessert! (A few times.) I did everything right, and didn’t leave myself any opportunities for excuses. “If only I’d _____________,” then I would have had a better race.

So to have given training everything that I had, to have aimed high for a challenging but achievable goal (a 3:45 finish), and to have held myself so publicly accountable to it, and then utterly fall apart on race day? It brought me to my knees. It’s been a week, and I am still trying to shake it off.

Despite warm temperatures (a mid-80s day, and a hot, sunny morning with none of Ventura’s signature marine layer), I had a great first half. I spotted my husband and friends who were out at mile 9 with signs and noisemakers, and was in good spirits. I was working hard, but had expected to. I had trained to! I was on pace as we made the half-marathon turnaround, and feeling well. A mile later, it all went to hell.

During mile 14, I developed a stomach ache. I know this happens to runners from time to time, and although it’s never happened to me and I didn’t know what to do about it, I wasn’t terribly concerned. Should I stop? Is it going to go away? Will more water or electrolytes help? Should I eat? I opened one of the fig newtons from my pack (which I train with, so my gut is used to them), but got a small bite down, and became horribly nauseous. I tried sipping a little fluid, to no effect. The only thing I could think to do was to slow down to control the “jostling” of my stomach, because the last thing I wanted to do was to throw up out there. The discomfort continued, and within a couple of miles I was feeling dizzy. I later figured out that I had unconsciously shallowed my breathing due to the stomach pain, which I think left me light-headed. I won’t get too detailed here, other than to report that after several more very slow and uncomfortable miles, shortly before mile 21 I did finally get sick. (I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible, but apologize to any runners who may have been an accidental witness! I’ve been there, and I know it’s awful to see another runner in that state.) And then it just got worse from there. I never felt that I was in an unsafe situation, although I look back at it now, and wonder. I was still sweating, and I didn’t feel overheated or dehydrated, but absolutely could not make the stomach pain or dizziness go away. All I could think to do was keep looking down the road, and keep on running, no matter how slow. Almost everything that happened after the mile mark 21 is a fog, with the exception of the finish. My crew was there, in full effect, and my pal Berkeley ran me in for the final stretch. I got across the mat, and a medic immediately approached me and asked if I was alright. In that moment, I thought I was okay and told her so, but again in looking back, I probably could have used some attention. I dizzily made my way to my husband and friends, and then hobbled over to the pier for some shade and rest. I was too light-headed to stand upright for more than a few seconds, but eventually was able to take in a little water, a bit of fresh fruit (the really good fresh fruit at the finish was awesome! Big points to Ventura for this perk!), and a few sips of beer. The carbonation and bitterness were a little bit of heaven, and seemed to settle my stomach a bit. It was probably a good half hour before I came around, an unusually slow and difficult post-race recovery for me.

I think this photo, taken just after I
crossed the finish line, says it all.

My stomach continued to hurt for the rest of the day – but not half as much as my ego did. What happened out there? A week later, I’m no closer to an answer. And I don’t know what I should have done differently. I’m big on turning negative experiences into learning opportunities, and my inability to put a positive spin on this has been, I think, the most difficult part of my recovery. I did everything right, and I still failed.

In my brighter moments, I tell myself that it was a fluke, that I will be able to build on all of these months of solid training, and come back even stronger, even better prepared for a good spring marathon. But in my darker moments – and there have been many – I wonder quietly if I am simply not capable of this. Is qualifying for the Boston Marathon something that is beyond my physical abilities? Am I silly to keep trying?

I’m still wrestling with that one, and in the meantime, time has continued to march forward. We happily celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday this week, and will celebrate mine next weekend. And there is so much to be celebrated. I have everything I need: an endlessly supportive group of friends and family, meaningful work, a beautiful place to live, and a healthy body to live in (all throwing up on the side of the Ventura Marathon aside). The dark thoughts and the nagging questions are still with me, but I’m hopeful that in these next few weeks, as life begins to fill in the spaces that training required, my heart will recover from this race as fully as my body will.


Enough with the depressing stuff. 
Let's look at the PHOTOS!

My two favorite pre-race things:
It was so nice of Hershel to show up on race day too!
Mile 9. Note the noisemaker in the foreground!
My support crew was EPIC. Horns, great signs, and lots of love.
Another photo from the finish.
Somehow, one foot just kept ending up in
front of the other, for 26.2 miles.
It felt so good to smile again, once it was over.
Thanks to Marc, Steph, and Berkeley for
hanging in there with me.
Official finish time: 4:17:08

Friday, September 12, 2014


I know it's been a while since I've posted here, so I'm writing to check in briefly and confirm: I am still alive. It was touch and go there for a while around mile 20, but I did survive the Ventura Marathon! My race went very poorly, and I'm still trying to make sense of it all, but I'll eventually get around to the recap. In the meantime, life continues its roil and boil, and I'm having a great time with my "40 days to 40" countdown, which started in August and will end on my 40th birthday later this month. My goal has been to try at least one new thing every day during these 40 days, and now already three-quarters of the way through it, I realize that my list of "new things" that I want to try could last a lifetime. (And I hope that it will.) And while I haven't been blogging much of late, I have been documenting all of the fun (and the occasional sorrow) on the "40 days" tab of this blog, and I invite you to join me: