Monday, December 24, 2012

Simple Connections

In 1994, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. So did Oprah. Yeah. That Oprah. It was my third MCM. It was Oprah's first. Of course, we didn't run together, even though it felt as if we did. For the entire, miserable, 26.2 rain-soaked miles, crowds of "supporters" let me know that "Oprah is right in front of you!" I desperately wanted to catch up and pass her entourage, so I could tell the people on the sidelines, "Oprah is right behind me!" That never happened. Oprah finished in 4:29-something...a mere 2 minutes ahead of me. So, so close...

But, this post isn't about that marathon; although, I distinctly remember a great deal of it. The start cannon boomed, the skies opened, and it poured the entire time. Oprah was right in front of me. I said several bad words to my wonderful, supportive husband at mile 17. A couple of dudes mooned me as we crossed the 14th Street bridge back into Virginia. And Oprah beat me. (In case you hadn't figured that out.)

Nope. This post is not about the marathon, and it's not really about Oprah. But it is about the book she and her trainer, Bob Greene, wrote subsequent to the marathon: Make the Connection: Ten Steps to a Better Body--and a Better Life.

The book actually belongs to my sister. She probably acquired it shortly after it came out and while she was briefly living with us when she first started nursing school. It's been in a box, moved from house to house, since then. As I started sorting through some books (I have way too many books, by the way), I pulled it out. Curious. Put it aside. Then, not too long ago, picked it up and read it.

In part, the book chronicles Oprah's challenges with managing her weight and the breakthroughs she finally achieved with Bob Greene, including being able to run a marathon. But the meat of the book is the approach Bob uses with his clients to help them lose weight.

A lot has happened since the book was published. Oprah is overweight again. Bob Greene is more than a fitness consultant to the stars with a well-marketed fitness-based business that includes programs, books, and food. And some of the ideas put forth in the book are probably not entirely healthy or correct, but at its crux, the basic ideas seem sound...and simple.

Here's the thing. People who are not runners, triathletes, or otherwise consistently physically active will often point out (with a touch of envy, I think) that I can eat anything I want because I work out so much. They then look askance at me when I respond that that's not entirely true and that the process of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, while naturally easier for some than others, is really not all that complicated. I think they refuse to believe me because we are bombarded with marketing that tells us we need to eat or not eat certain kinds of food to lose weight. Diets that are effective are special, based on points, made up of freeze-dried food (shipped right to your door!), and so complex you need to pay someone to tell you how to eat. While I would never discount the value of a good nutritionist (because I think we are so confused about food, we need to be re-taught how to eat properly), the value of a good nutritionist becomes nil if we don't consistently follow through and develop a healthy lifestyle.

Then, of course, exercise is paramount to maintaining appropriate weight. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on the idea that 30 minutes of exercise a day is sufficient and forget that the intensity of the exercise is also important to achieving weight loss. Just taking the dog for a 30-minute stroll around the neighborhood each day, while healthy and beneficial, is probably not going to really help someone meet weight loss goals in the long run. 

(Okay. So I am neither a nutritionist nor an exercise physiologist. It's best to take the foregoing and following with a grain of salt and understand that it's entirely based on my own life experience...which is unique to me, and I know it doesn't mean I'm right. Not that I'll ever admit that I'm wrong.)

Anyway, back to the book. I think that the reason it appealed to me is it outlined a simple, easy-to-understand approach to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It's not going to help anyone run a marathon or complete a triathlon. But I think it does provide the basic building blocks of fulfilling those types of goals, especially if someone is starting from scratch, so to speak. Without further ado, here are the 10 "simple" steps outlined in the book:

  1. Exercise aerobically, five to seven days each week. It's really all about the commitment. An hour of exercise, most days of a week, is not all that much in the grand scheme of things. 
  2. Exercise in the "zone." There comes a point when it's a good idea to up the intensity level of exercise and make it harder...harder to breathe, harder to maintain. Not all the time and not for the entire duration of a workout, but for 20-plus minutes of that workout. According to Bob Greene, this helps to raise metabolism, which helps with weight loss.
  3. Exercise for 20 to 60 minutes each exercise session. Most people are busy. It is hard to find the time to carve out for regular exercise in schedule-filled days, but, except on the rare occasion, 20 minutes is probably doable. That's why walking or running is always a good option. Put on some shoes, head out the door.
  4. Eat a low-fat, balanced diet each day. Individual nutrition needs are just that...individual...but this is certainly a good place to start. It's all about making sure we consume the appropriate amount of calories, eating real foods (comes in its own package), reading and understanding nutrition labels when you do have to turn to packaged foods, and doing it all in moderation (don't eat the whole batch of cookies, but one or two is probably fine).
  5. Eat three meals and two snacks each day. I have eaten like this for years...okay maybe three or four snacks for me each day; however, there's something to be said for not letting yourself get too hungry between "feedings" so that you are less inclined to overeat or over-indulge.
  6. Limit or eliminate alcohol. Bob Greene goes on a bit about how alcohol, even a tiny bit, seems to make his workout the next day harder and unpleasant. I have never noticed an effect unless it was quite a bit more than a tiny bit. (I have had some of my best Saturday runs, though, after somewhat raucous, beer-soaked happy hours.)
  7. Stop eating two or three hours before bedtime. I guess there are all sorts of metabolic and health reasons to follow this rule, but when I have no choice but to eat late, I hate going to sleep on a full stomach. 
  8. Drink six to eight glasses of water each day. So, this bit of advice seems to go in and out of fashion. Whether it's specifically valid or not, it seems to me that staying hydrated is a good idea. Although I may not have noticed adverse affects from my glass of wine the night before, I most definitely do notice adverse affects in my workouts if I do not make sure I consume fluids regularly throughout the day.
  9. Have at least two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day. The best balance of dietary nutrition is continually debated (protein, fats, grains, dairy, etc.), but I think this advice is probably pretty sound. And to those of you who say you don't like fruits or vegetables, I say, "learn to like them." There are no substitutes.
  10. Renew your commitment to healthy living each day. Simply put, it should be a priority.
So, okay...maybe a bit hokey and dated. But I think it's not a bad reminder of how simple being healthy really can be. We don't need special, overly packaged foods; we don't need special barefoot running shoes; and we only need to dedicate less than 5% of the hours in a week to regular exercise. 

Simply simple.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cleaning Closets

When I decided to temporarily leave full-time employment 2 years ago, part of "the plan" was to clear out the clutter all over the house, starting in my overly large walk-in closet and then working my way through the entire house, including the attic, sorting, tossing, organizing, selling, and, in short, creating a clean slate.

I have made a bit of progress here and there. With the help of some wonderful friends, the garage has been emptied of the tools that were of absolutely no use to me. I sorted through a bunch of papers that had been shoved in the attic (aha...the missing car title). And I've done some rearranging, picture hanging, and even painted a room.

But 2 years later, the closet still needs to be cleaned.

There just is something about the closet. It is quiet, dark, and intimate. It is where we kept our clothes, the most personal of personal items.

I dreamed about you a few nights ago. It wasn't like so many of the other dreams about you, which are usually both hopeful and confusing. In this one, we were arguing. About what, I don't remember, but each of us was quite peeved with the other. I woke up feeling disconcerted and anxious and, generally, in a bad mood.

Most of the clothing has been gone since that winter, taken to a men's homeless shelter in downtown Jackson. But the closet continues to haunt me, physically drawing my strength and resolve away each time I set to sorting, folding, tossing, organizing. I work for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, dissolve into tears, and am, quite simply, done for the day. Progress is slow. Aching. But I refuse to allow myself to move on to another clean/sort/toss/organize project until the closet is completely done.

Yesterday, the garage door broke. The hinge just snapped. So did I. Nearly every day reminds me of how much I relied on you to take care of the small things that make me feel so helpless and useless. We were a perfect match, you and I. You were the practical, hands-on McGyver who could fix, patch, jig anything with little effort or thought. I am none of those things. In fact, I am the complete opposite, often stymied by the simplest of household repair or maintenance work. So much needs to be done around the house, and I am at a loss for where to start. I call in some local handyman type, but as soon as that repair is done, something else requires my attention. Yesterday, it all crashed down on me, and I am furious with you for leaving me with all of this crap to deal with. And I miss you so very much.

Today, I think I had a closet cleaning breakthrough and have finished reorganizing the built-in shelving.  Creating a jewelry, purse, and journal/personal book shelves. It's as if I made it through the "hard part." I am now certain, hopeful, the rest will be easier, if not quicker, as I go through my own old, outdated dresses, skirts, suits, slacks, blouses, shoes, and piles of t-shirts from races past. 

Of all the items I took to the shelter, suits, shirts, jackets, shoes, I couldn't take your cowboy boots. Remember how I hated them? I tried so hard to talk you out of them and for years, before you finally broke down and bought them, had been trying to convert you to a more traditional look with lace-up dress shoes. But, you were set on cowboy boots, and those became both your go-to casual and dress shoes. You even had your dress slacks tailored for the boots. Your black, fancy-stitched, pointed-toe cowboy boots now sit on a bottom shelf in the closet next to a box with all the sympathy cards and notes we received and a few photos that remind me of the fun times we had. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Race Report: Pensacola Marathon

The cough started out in standard fashion. I managed to catch a minor end-of-summer cold that left me with the normal, lingering cough. It wasn't a bad cough. Nothing like the chest rattling, ab-ripping bronchitis coughs I've occasionally had in the past. More of a nagging, dry cough that would wax and wane and sometimes send me into an exhausting paroxysm that would make me wonder if it was something more than "just a cough." At one point, I looked up "walking pneumonia." But I wasn't feeling too bad, the cough, at that point, seemed to be on the mend, and the information on WebMD said that it can resolve itself. I really didn't think that's what I had, though, and I variously thought it was allergy related or an onset of exercise induced asthma, as the worst seemed to occur after I ran. And it didn't seem to affect my running. Sure, I was extra tired some days, but I figured that was because the cough was in one of its "active" phases and had kept me up basically all night. 


About a week and a half before the Pensacola Marathon, I decided that a cough that lasts nearly 3 months and doesn't actually get better was probably something more than just a "nagging" problem. The cough was definitely on an upward trend and getting worse. Plus, my back, under my shoulder blades, was really beginning to ache. Sleep was next to impossible, and none of the OTC cough meds did anything at all (except knock me out until I started coughing again).

Time to go to the doctor. Except. Except I had a marathon coming up, and I didn't want (1) the doctor to tell me not to run and/or (2) to be taking medication that might interfere with my performance.

(I still had myself convinced the cough wasn't affecting my performance. Funny how we can spin a little fairytale for ourselves if we think it's necessary and believe it. It's not like I'm stubborn...)

So, as I packed up for my trip to Pensacola, I told myself that I would go to the clinic when I got back.

I had been feeling good about this marathon...unlike the previous 2, I felt as if I had done a good job with my training, and while I didn't anticipate a PR performance, I was confident I could run faster than I had last year.

Any other day, maybe.

By the time I got to Pensacola, got checked in, and settled into my room, I was feeling pretty peaked. I had decided to eschew cough medicine and ended up suffering all night long. I woke up with a mild headache and a lot of fatigue. I was desperately hoping that, as I got ready, I would start waking up, find some energy, and just feel better. Mo and jo, where are you when I need you?

I wanted to cry at the start. I already knew that this wasn't the day for me to run a marathon.

It was a breezy day that started mild but promised to warm up to the 70s. There was on and off cloud cover; that, along with an early 6 a.m. start helped ensure most folks finished before it got too warm. For me, the temperature wasn't much of an issue, as long as I remembered to drink enough. I'm used to warmer weather and I actually like it.

The Pensacola Marathon course is surprisingly (to me) un-scenic and includes a good bit of climbing up a couple of long hills in the first several miles. After running the Double Bridge Run in February, I guess I expected a bit more of the course to be along the bay. And the city of Pensacola is really pretty, but only the last part went through the town...and really, at that point, whose looking at scenery? At one point, as we ran past a sign that said, "Pensacola Scenic Bluffs," someone said something about the scenery. I never saw it. Maybe if I had been feeling better, I would have noticed the more attractive aspects of the course. Not that it's a bad course. I think it's probably good for a fast marathon. For a small race, it's very well supported by both volunteers and spectators. Just don't go thinking you get to run along the beach.

In any case, I struggled in the first few miles to keep my heart rate down. Even though that's where the majority of the hills were, my heart rate was definitely higher than it should have been. After a bathroom break that took a few minutes, it was still way up. I finally had to take an extended walk break, which seemed to calm it down and keep it down for a while. But perceived effort did not equate to actual heart rate/pace. I felt as if I was working too hard. 

At mile 7, the marathoners and the half marathoners split, and the marathoners head out on an 8ish mile loop. I seriously considered just following the half marathon course. But I couldn't do it. That would be like quitting, right? 

(It seems I have spent a good part of the last 2 1/2 years trying very hard not to quit.)

So, I turned right and tried to convince myself that I was feeling better and could pick up the pace. And I did. For a little while. I lasted till about mile 12 or 13. The jig was up. I wasn't coughing, but my back ached something fierce, my feet hurt, and I just felt awful. By mile 16, I was coughing. I took off my heart rate monitor strap to try and ease some of the discomfort around my back. I stuck it in the back pocket of my running skirt and figured I would finally see my heart rate numbers go down. Hah. Apparently, I have a strong pulse in my ass. The average basically stayed the same for the rest of my run jog slog.

More than anything, I just wanted to stop. But, when you are out there solo, with no one expecting you to finish, it's hard to pull the plug. How was I going to get back? There wasn't anyone I could call to come get me. I'm sure race support would have come for me, but how long would I have to wait? I didn't want to hang out and get chilled in the wind for some indefinite amount of time.

Keep moving forward. Walk. Run 200 steps. Walk some more. Run 200 steps; keep running; get to the next mile marker. Walk. Play tag with two other runners. Run some more. Eight more miles; 10k to go; only 5 more miles. Four miles...less than most training runs. The wind, which had been a headwind at the beginning, changed directions, so it was also a headwind for the last couple of miles, as well. Sweet.

Finally, nearly 5 hours after I started, I was at the finish line. Happy to be there. Not crying. Too tired to even cough. Got some food. Got a beer. Copped a squat. Afraid if I were to lie down, I might not get up. Walked back to the hotel. Decided that it was really, really dumb to run that marathon.

After coughing all night again, I headed home, picked up the pup, and drove myself to the clinic. It was a holiday, so pretty busy, but the wait wasn't too bad. Had a nice visit with the doctor. He didn't chastise me for running the marathon, so I think I like him. Took 4 vials of blood. X-rayed my chest. I am exceptionally healthy. Except I have a stupid cough. When all the obvious gets ruled out, consider mycoplasma, or "walking pneumonia." I guess it's somewhat of a pain to actually test for this bacterial infection and easier to treat it with antibiotics. If it goes away, then probably that's what it was. I went back to WebMD to review the symptoms:

  • Cough that may come in violent spasms but produce very little mucus (check)
  • Mild flu-like symptoms like fever and chills (nope)
  • Sore throat (nope)
  • Headache (check)
  • Tiredness (check)
  • Lingering weakness that may persist after other symptoms go away (nope)
  • The entry also noted that OTC flu and cough medicines don't help much with the symptoms (no kidding)
Fifty percent chance, I guess. 

In addition to the antibiotic, the doctor prescribed a corticosteroid inhaler, just in case it was actually the result of some sort of extreme allergic reaction. Really, he was just trying to cover the bases and rule out the "easy" stuff before referring me to a pulmonologist.

Well, it took nearly the entire 5 days of the z-pack, but the cough finally subsided, and I started sleeping at night. I no longer feel as if I have to take a nap every afternoon, and I am waking up at a normal time, mostly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. 

I've enjoyed a rest after the marathon. A full week off, and very light, easy workouts these next weeks. I am enjoying being somewhat unstructured, but looking forward to getting back into a training cycle soon. My next marathon will come at the end of a 112-mile bike ride. I may try for that standalone PR again in the fall, but am reserving deciding on that until after July 28th.

So, marathon #19 ranks as one of my slowest and most painful. Each and every one is an experience...a learning experience. This lesson: don't ignore the cough.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Horses' Names

Mystic. Golden Boy. Desert Fox. Lil’ Bit. Cevahir. Ceylon. Kelebek. City Player.
I remember the name of every single horse that was part of our family. I may not remember my friend’s name from pre-school, but I know that my mom and dad rode horses named Mystic and Golden Boy when we lived in Oklahoma. 

Then, my dad had a horse named Desert Fox when we lived in Monterey, California. Desert Fox was stabled at Fort Ord. I remember this, and I wasn’t even old enough or big enough to ride, yet.

When I was 9 and 10, we moved back east and Dad was stationed at Quantico. I finally started taking riding lessons at the stables on base. My riding instructor was Major Meek. I rode horses named Da Nang, Montezuma, and Fubachi. I took my first fall when Da Nang decided he had enough of the horse show and took off at full speed for the stables.

Dad got orders to the embassy in Turkey and, in preparation, we moved back to Monterey so he could go to language school. He bought a sweet, chestnut Quarter Horse mare named Lil’ Bit and kept her in beautiful Big Sur. She will always be “my” first horse.

We moved to Turkey and lo’ and behold, it is horse country. They love their horses. The American base in Ankara had stables. We first acquired Cevahir. A lovely, liver chestnut, Arabian-Thoroughbred stallion. He was a retired racehorse (racing was a big deal) and a direct descendant of KuruĊŸ, the Turkish equivalent to our Man O’ War or Secretariat. Shortly after we arrived, a retired colonel from the Turkish Calvary came to manage and teach at the stables. Ahmet Bey. He had been the Turkish national champion in dressage many times over and had trained for a time in Germany. He remains, to this day, the most amazing rider I have ever seen.

Cevahir was an incredible horse who taught me so much. On him, I learned dressage basics. I jumped over my first 5-foot fence (with my eyes closed, I’m sure). I blew up in frustration on more than one occasion, and he always forgave me.

My brother started to get into riding, and as I was not willing to share my beloved Cevahir, my parents bought Ceylon. Ceylon was the quintessential Arabian. Petite, beautiful dished face, big brown eyes with long lashes, perfect ears, high tail carriage, all wrapped up in a dynamo package.

I rode a lot of the other horses at the barn, as well. There was Ceverhan, Zeynip, and Bebek. And then, there was Kelebek. While most of the horses were long-term residents, passing from one ex-pat family to the next, Kelebek was a new arrival. She was a baby—a mere 3 years old when she arrived—and, unlike the Arabian or Arabian-Thoroughbred backgrounds of the other horses, she was all Thoroughbred. A bright bay with perfect black points and the only white, a little upside down question mark on her nose. She was goofy. I rode her some when her owner was out of town or unable. She dumped me nearly every single time. Not my favorite horse. Initially, at least.

Then, I fell in love, and Kelebek became a part of our family for a while. On Kelebek, I learned how to school a young, green horse. How to stay on when said young, green horse decided to buck and romp with joy. Kelebek in Turkish means, “butterfly.” Aptly named, this horse.

When we moved back to the States, we had to leave Kelebek behind. It broke my heart, but I know others were able to delight in her joie de vive.

Back in Virginia, I returned to the stables at Quantico and Major Meek’s tutelage. Da Nang was still there and still a favorite of the beginners. I rode Sir Winston, Punkin, and, sometimes, this crazy horse named, City Player. One day, City Player came to live with us at the barn in Aquia Harbour. My dad and I spent the next 2 years trading off who took morning barn duty, and it was there that I learned all about "hands on" care for horses: stall cleaning, feeding, horse cleaning, vet care, farrier, tack cleaning. I felt as if I lived at the barn, and I was perfectly content with that.

Then, I was off to college and City was off to a different barn where his temporary owner kept him (we leased him initially, and while it seemed like a good idea, now, in hindsight, I think he would have been better off if we had sold him outright). By my junior year, I had discovered a nearby show barn and got a job as a stablehand/groom. Funny that I don't remember many of the horses' names there…maybe because I didn't ride them? They all had fancy show names anyway, but the couple of barn names I remember were Sven and Squid. I ended up having City brought up to school, and it was great for a while. But toward the end of my senior year, it sorta' fell apart as I got ready to graduate and kind of forgot I had a horse to take care of. In the end, he stayed there, and I went home. It's one of those things that I look back at and am horribly ashamed with how I treated a trusting animal that was supposedly under my care.

Maybe that's why it's taken me so long to "return to my roots." I was always an equestrian--long before I was a runner, gymnast, swimmer, or triathlete. Of all the sports I have participated in, I always felt as if I was a better horseback rider than I was anything else.

And so, here I am, some 25 years later, taking riding lessons again. Riding horses named Rowdy, Laddie, Duo, Woodrow, and Bentley. I even rode Cody Pony once. They all live in a beautiful barn in Mississippi with Stainless, Boppie, Lily, Desi, Monty, Ethel, and Prince. I share them with the Mississippi College equestrian team, and just like those young girls, I canter around the ring, jump a few fences, and I dream of one day owning my own horse…again.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Gotta be slow to be fast the right measure (with apologies to Nick Lowe).

I am tapering for the Pensacola Marathon on November 11, and as always, I am stressing about whether I will be able to meet, or even come close to, any of my goals, which, of course, are all based on time. I want to, at least, run faster than last year's Rocket City Marathon (4:20), and I would be over the moon if I could beat my 2005 Richmond Marathon time (4:10).

But my training of late has been heart rate based, which always makes me not only feel slow, but also convinces me that I have forgotten how to be "fast" ("fast" being a relative term).

Heart rate training begins with a test. It's no wonder I hate it from the beginning. I hate tests. I have taken these "tests" a few times over the years. This time, it was a "step" test. On paper, it doesn't look so bad. 

  • Step 1: go to a track, warmup really, really, really slowly. 
  • Step 2: run 800 #1 at a heart rate that is barely perceptible. At the end, record the time it took to run the 800 and the RPE. This first 800 required me to walk, stop, take a nap, and took a few hours to complete. 
  • Step 3: run 800 #s 2 through 8 at progressively higher heart rates, trying to achieve max heart rate on the final one (estimated max based on history...races, etc.). 800 #2 was a wee bit faster and more active than #1. Numbers 3, 4, and even 5 were not too bad. I started to feel as if I was running and as if it was something natural to do. Then came the final 3. Apparently, I peaked on #6. After that, my heart rate barely budged, yet I felt like I was running so hard I might fall down. By #8, my average heart rate was actually lower than #7, but I finished slightly faster and was wheezing so hard it took me a long time to get my breath back enough to write down the results. 
  • Step 4: Transcribe results to table and send off to coach.
  • Step 5: "Voila," new heart rate training zones.
For some strange reason, I was feeling confident that my updated zones would make running "easier" because, well, I had "grown" into my heart rate. Yeah. That's the scientific approach. It appears, however, that my version of "science" doesn't fit with the real, hard data. New heart rate zones look something like this:

  • Zone Recovery (ZR) - Get out of bed. Make a cup of coffee.
  • Zone 1 - Walk the dog.
  • Zone 2 - Run a little bit, but make sure to take walking breaks to get the rapidly rising heart rate back down where it's supposed to be.
  • Zone 3 - Run all day.
  • Zone 4 - Race.
  • Zone 5 - Blow up.

Debi has been patiently listening to me whine and complain about heart rate training ever since I first started using heart rate 5 years ago (per her direction, but, heck, that's why I hired a coach--to direct me). I recently came across a March 2007 log entry that read, "Okay. Really. The HRM just sucks." 

But, here's the thing. It works. I know it works. If nothing else, the results of the other athletes Debi coaches are proof that it works (because I am fairly certain she is using the same training approach with them as she is with me). Most of them have experienced significant improvements in their training and racing. Even if you compare my 2007 heart race/pace with my current heart rate/pace, it is obvious that I am running quite a bit faster at lower heart rates now than I was then. In fact, I have this sneaking suspicion that all of the 11 minute/mile and 12 minute/mile pace groups I led for the Fleet Feet marathon training program a couple of years ago have had a major impact on my more recent PR race times. And I have to confess, I told many of those participants (as well as other running/tri friends) that it's okay, and it's even very good, to run slow most of the time.

On the other hand, it's so darn frustrating. I allow myself to get sucked into staring endlessly at the readout on my Garmin, freaking out when I see the number go 1 beat above the prescribed zone or lamenting my overall sluggish pace. None of my friends is really interested in working out with me because most of my workouts are "too slow." Sometimes, it's as if the data is whispering to me, "you're doing it all wrong."

For now, I am sticking it out. The new heart rate zones are recent. We set them up only a few weeks ago. So, I have had to work on the adjustment while trying to simultaneously recover from a half ironman in September and train for a marathon in November. The only goal that matters at this point is getting through the training and to the finish line in one piece, uninjured, and relatively happy. 

That doesn't stop me from grumbling, though.

"Baby, you've gotta be slow to be fast."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


When you ask me how I am doing, and I tell you "I am fine," I am lying. Two years, 2 months, and 3 days ago, Richard died, and I haven't been "fine" since.

I am the one person who is always supposed to be "fine." I am the eldest child. I have moxie, practicality, and resolve. "Karen will be okay." "She is so strong."

I have none of those things, and I am not okay; nor am I strong.

Every single day takes every single bit of willpower to get out of bed. And then to stay out of it. Sleep is my refuge. In a dreamless sleep there is nothing, and, for now, I am kind of a fan of nothing.

I cannot say why we never had a family. It's not as if we didn't consider it; it just wasn't something that worked out for us. We were our family. The 2 of us. And we were content with that. But, now, there is only 1. I belong to nobody and nobody belongs to me. I am achingly lonely.

"She acquires momentum as she advances." (Virgil)

Momentum gets me through each day. I run because it is momentum. 

In the span since "after," I have added approximately 15 miles per month to my running totals. I have to keep running. When I run, I do the laundry, go to the grocery store, play with KC, clean the house, make dinner. Then, and only then, do I allow myself the luxury of stopping to read, watch TV, or take a nap, because, once I stop, I am done.

"A body in motion tends to stay in motion." (Current ad for a popular arthritis drug)

It has been 795 long and excruciating days. I am not fine, but I am an optimist. So, I believe that one day I will reclaim some sort of joi de vivre; until then: p = m * v 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Accidental Runner

I have come to enjoy the triathlon lifestyle in the 10 or so years I have been involved, but, at the end of the day (and, coincidentally, at the end of the race), I am a runner. 

Just as I became a triathlete by accident (I never thought I would combine 3 sports, especially cycling, and I couldn't even imagine doing an Ironman...I thought that was downright nuts), I am an accidental runner.

I will blame it on my dad. He was the runner. He and his brother. They did crazy things like marathons and trail runs and 10k races...whatever those were. I rode horses. That was about it. One day, though, he signed me up to run a 1-mile race at an elementary school field day/track meet event. And then he coached me to run that 1-mile race. It was one of those things in life I will never forget. I was 12. The boys and the girls all ran together. Someone said, "go!" and it was a mad dash as if the race were only 100 yards rather than 4 times around the track. My dad said, "go slow"; so, I went slow and, before long, I was at the complete back of the group. Unhappy and grumpy. But he was right. Somewhere around lap 3, I began to pass people. By the last lap, I had passed everyone, except 2 other girls. That's right. My 12-year-old, bad-ass self had passed all the obnoxious, disgusting, cootie-filled boys. In the end, I was 2nd in that race, and I was officially a "runner."

That was a very, very, very long time ago. I wasn't always consistent, but I was officially and forever "a runner." I ran cross-country in high school and walked onto my cross-country team in college (I was the slowest person on the team...I think I run faster now than I did then...we were not known for our athletics). I ran my first marathon in 1985. I got a job, got married, got sick, didn't run very much. Then, started the cycle all over again. Ran a couple more marathons, local races, discovered trail running, worked mega hours, stopped again, started again, got sick again, started all over again.

But no matter what, I was always a runner and no matter where I was, I could always run. It was easy. Put on my shoes. Step out the door. Go.

Usually about August/September, I get tired of swimming and biking and measuring and calculating and logging and analyzing. I can't wait for the triathlon season to be over, so I can put up the goggles, pull buoy, paddles, bike shoes, and helmet and just put on my running shoes, step out the door, and go.

Running is my sanity. It gives me 30 minutes or a few hours of simply moving forward, breathing, and letting my mind wander. Nothing gets done. There are no light bulbs or moments of enlightenment. I just exist in the moment.

Yesterday, I ran through the streets of Orlando, Florida. Going wherever the sidewalk led me. Out, back, and around. It was easy. It was simple. Just a pair of shoes, out the door, and I went.

Friday, October 5, 2012

2012...the year I qualified

Up until about 2 years ago, I was content to be a mid-/back-of-the-pack, somewhat underachieving triathlete. The occasional age group award was nice, but never expected. Then, everything changed. My focus changed, I trained harder and more consistently, and I got faster. Go figure. I began placing, sometimes winning, and, for the first time in my life, I felt as if I were actually racing.

It's a whole different world, this racing stuff. I started feeling the pressure. I felt as if I had to perform each time I stepped in the water or up to the start line. By the end of the 2011 season, I wasn't sure I really liked it very much and swore off the whole "racing" idea. I wanted to return to having fun.

So, I didn't train as hard, and I wasn't as consistent. But I was enjoying the process again. I started to get slower (go figure), except for running. Somehow, I got faster. I be-bopped through the 2012 Mississippi Blues Half Marathon and still managed to run the crazy hilly course within a few minutes of my most recent best time (I no longer count PRs that occurred more than 20 years ago). I ran one of my fastest 5k times, and was only about a minute off my fastest ever (which was most definitely more than 20 years ago). I managed to not just once, but twice, set an Olympic distance tri 10k PR. And I was still often earning an age group award...mostly by chasing people down.

Not sure if that's the best way to race a triathlon.

Oh wait. I wasn't racing.

Then, I started to qualify for certain national-level championships.

To be honest, last year, my time at the May Gulf Coast Triathlon (half iron distance) was fast enough to qualify for the USAT Long Course Nationals (HalfMax) race, but I decided not to go. This year, Gulf Coast was a special Long Course qualifier, with the top 30% of each age group qualifying for Nationals. And this year, there is no way I would have qualified based on time. We had waves. Big ones. And a rip current near shore nearly took me to Destin. Then, the last 6 miles of the bike were into a screaming headwind, punctuated by vicious crosswinds between the beachfront condos. What had initially been a pretty good bike quickly turned into a dismal ride that I was just thankful I survived unscathed. I recovered okay for the run, but the damage was done, and I was a good 20 minutes slower than I had been in the previous year. I was still in the top 30% of my age group, though, and qualified for the 2012 USAT Long Course Nationals in Oklahoma City. I decided maybe I should go...just in case I never got the opportunity again.

So, I re-hired my favorite coach again. And I started training harder and more consistently again.

A week after Gulf Coast, I drove up to Tunica, MS, to do the famed "Memphis in May" triathlon (not sure that race has ever actually been in Memphis). It is a "5150" (Olympic distance) race, under the auspices of the WTC, and apparently, if you finish in the top 15 of your age group, you qualify for the Hy-Vee 5150 National Championships held in Des Moines. This was probably my best race of the season. I had a very good swim (for me), despite swimming all over the lake (a theme for the year). My bike started slow into the headwind, and my legs were protesting they had just raced 56 miles the previous week. But I made up a bunch of time on the way back with the wind at my back. Whee! Run was pretty good. Sure 'nuff, a week later, I got an email congratulating me on qualifying for the Hy-Vee 5150 U.S. Championship (I think I was 14th).

Well, heck. Now, it seemed, I should be racing.

My next race, our local Heatwave tri, didn't qualify me for anything, not even an age group award. (I would rather not talk about it. <pout>)

Then, it was a long time before the next race. I was focused on getting ready for the Long Course Nationals (Redman Triathlon). I picked up an Olympic distance race, the Gator Bait triathlon in Vicksburg to see how training was going, and I really wanted to "race" this one. Swim was okay...not the best. All over the lake, again. My bike was just terrible. But the run... Thank God for running. This. This, I can do. I ran myself up into first in my age group with a third overall master's place. It's not official yet, but my Gator Bait age group first should qualify me for the 2013 USAT Age Group Nationals.

Finally, the A race was here. However, the month before, I had taken a trip to Florida and Ireland and ended up off the bike and out of the pool for 2 weeks. When I got back, I had 2 weeks until the race, so was simply extending a taper that had already begun. I got a cold. I didn't ride longer than 90 minutes or hardly swim at all. At least, I had been running. I still had high hopes for a strong race, aiming for meeting or beating my previous fastest time at the 2011 Gulf Coast.

The Redman Triathlon is held at Heffner Park, just outside of Oklahoma City. The lake is actually pretty nice (it's a drinking water lake, so usually no swimming is allowed), but the drought this year had severely affected its level, and we had a longish walk through the lovely Oklahoma red clay to the middle of the lake. Luckily it was cool enough for wetsuits. I started well enough, but once again, ended up swimming all over the dang place. I even got far enough off course to get shooed by one of the canoe supporters. My time wasn't nearly what I had hoped for (when I looked back at results, though, it was certainly within my "parameters" based on others' times), and my bike was a bit lonely on the rack when I finally got there.

Transition took a little bit longer than usual since I had to scrape mud off my feet, but once I got on the bike, I was feeling pretty good and relaxed. The Redman course is rolling, but not hilly, by any means. Just enough to shift a few gears and to enjoy the occasional downhill coast. The roads, though, were rough. I do not do well with rough. My bike doesn't do well with rough. I started to get uncomfortable and unhappy. My overall speed started to drop...precipitously. Two hours in, and I was done. This was not the bike ride of someone who should be "racing." I was depressed and angry at myself for allowing a little trip to Europe to completely derail my bike fitness. Then, it occurred to me that not everyone can have a good day all the time, and I had certainly had my fair share of good races over the last 2 years...when it would have been easier to just give it all up, anyway. About then, I burst into tears.

Good thing I had a helmet and sunglasses on.

I spun my way through the final 8-10 miles, giving it up. Not giving up, but giving up the need to be my absolute best that day, the need to show everyone I could function on my own, the need to prove myself a survivor, despite it all. Because, in reality, I had already done that.

So, I got ready to run.

Leading up to the race, the OK City forecast had been pretty good...not too hot. Then, as the days went by, it was getting warmer. But, still, a high of 85 is relatively mild after a hot MS summer. In reality, it was about 10 degrees hotter. No shade on the two-loop run course. In other words: brutal. But I ran. And I ran hard. I took every ounce of remaining energy and channeled it to my legs...and to my heart. When I finished, some 6 hours and 17 minutes after I started, I was satisfied and content. I didn't place. I wasn't even in the top 10 (my goal). I was off my best time by more than 17 minutes. But I felt as if I had a race to be proud of on a day that was physically and mentally tough.

A week later, the official email came: "Dear Athlete, Congratulations! You are being contacted because you have earned a spot on Team USA for the 2013 ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships because of your outstanding performance at the 2012 USAT Long Course Triathlon National Championship."

Triathlon season is officially over for me. I am running a marathon in about 5 weeks. Then, I am hoping Coach Debi gives me a little break before we start training for Ironman Lake Placid next year.

And I have decided that I am not racing again next year. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hitting Restart

It's been a couple of years. I thought I might try this blogging thing again. I figure I am ready now to "put it all out there" and do some public sharing of how I am coping with widowhood. Mostly, I figure I'll write about training and racing, like I did before, with a little bit here and there about I am fitting pieces of my old life into an entirely new life. Writing helps me figure things out. Believing that someone is listening (or reading) and actually cares makes me think hard about the path I might take.

For now, the site is "under construction," as I figure out what to add and how to do it. It will become more interesting (I hope). In the meantime, I am going to post regularly. I think my first real post to get us started will be a reflection on this year's triathlon season. Maybe tomorrow.