Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Moments

Funny how time can all of a sudden move at warp speed. For more than 5 months, I have been pondering all kinds of posts about training, racing, and the new direction I have taken my life and career. Drafts have come and gone in my head, but for some reason, this particular subject has been weighing on my heart. As the year closes out, it seems appropriate to write about moments that have created "chapters" in my life...where it felt as if everything changed.

I am not one of those people who can narrate a detailed story of her childhood. I remember (or think I remember) certain things. I know we lived here or there and I went to that school or this school for a while. I remember our pets. I have a fairly clear recollection of our time in Turkey. But it wasn't really until I reached adulthood that I recall "moments." 

The first is when I ran the 1985 Marine Corps Marathon. I made up some crazy training plan based on what little I had learned from my dad, uncle, and running magazines. My college friends were certain I had gone off the deep end when I spent hours on end on the weekends traversing the roads of Westchester County, New York. The original plan had been to run with my dad, but we were separated even before the start of the race, and I was on my own for my first 26.2 miles. While the course has changed much over the years, the finish line remains at the Marine Corps Memorial, and I will never forget the moment I realized I would be finishing my first marathon. It was when I went under the bridge at Arlington Cemetery and I could hear the echoes of the music, announcer, and cheering crowds at the finish. Back then, it was a much smaller race than it is now, albeit, still one of the largest in the nation. And even as I clearly recall that moment under the bridge, I don't have any specific memories of the actual finish line. That was the day I became a marathoner.

A little more than a year after that first marathon, I married my sweetheart. I was young, naive, and completely unaware of what the next 23+ years would hold. We grew up together. Never perfect. But always true. I'm not sure you can ask more of a marriage. All of the decisions made after December 27, 1986, were based on what would be best for both of us. I was not a nervous bride. Excited, yes. Full of anticipation. Happy beyond words. But of the whole day, the moment I remember most clearly is that brief quiet with my dad before we stepped into the church, and he told me I could change my mind if I wanted. All I could think was, "How ridiculous. This is what I am meant to do." And the next thing I knew, I was Mrs. Richard Vesey and partner to my best friend in the world.

Then, we were in the midst of living our life. We probably did what most young couples did. Moved into an apartment. Bought our first house. Changed jobs. Went on vacation. Got older. Bought our second home. Realized we weren't young anymore. 

In 2001, I started graduate school. I chose to go back to my undergraduate alma mater, Manhattanville College, on a part-time program. I would travel from our home in Virginia one weekend a month to New York. The bonus was that I was able to spend most of those weekends hanging out with my grandmother. Her home in White Plains was a mere 10 minutes from the Manhattanville campus, and we enjoyed hours of girl giggles and precious time together for which I will be eternally grateful. Grandma would meet me at the door when I drove up on Friday night, beer in hand, and ready to review my class assignments with me. I finished my final class in December 2004, sent in my final project with a videotaped presentation, and waited for the board to approve me for graduation. In May of 2005, I walked across the same stage I had traversed in May 1986, but this time, the moment of receiving that diploma was so much more meaningful. I had worked my ass off. I felt as if nothing was out of reach.

As I pause right now, I find it almost impossible to believe that was only 8 years ago and how life seemed to completely change from that moment forward...again and again. A year later, we moved from our home in Virginia to Mississippi. Sometimes, I wonder if that was a moment where our world went spinning off its axis...

I had just started triathlon before we moved and quickly became enmeshed in the growing triathlon community in central Mississippi. I did several local races and my first half iron distance and finally decided to tackle the full Ironman distance. In November 2008, I lined up at the water's edge at Panama City Beach with 2,000 other Ironman hopefuls and embarked on one of the most amazing journeys of my life. I went into that race fully confident that I could swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run a marathon. What was unknown to me was how long that would take. I had guesses and goals, but once I was swimming from buoy to buoy, I was only focused on one swim stroke at a time, one pedal stroke at a time, one step at a time. Nearly 13 1/2  hours later (and about 90 minutes faster than I guessed), I was at the finish line. There were lights, there were people yelling, and there was Richard running alongside the chute with a bouquet of roses yelling ten times louder than anyone else. What an incredible moment that was. I was an Ironman.

In August of 2010 I was training for a second go at the iron distance. We were in a good place. But perhaps I should have noticed the shortness of breath and not blamed it on the extra heat and humidity the summer seemed to hold that year. August 21. A Saturday. I went for an early run with friends. Home for a shower and then we both went to work, agreeing to meet for lunch. At 11, I left a message on his phone to say I was heading home. At noon I texted him. At 1, came the knock on the door. And I knew. Moments. The police officer heading me off and keeping me from his side. The EMT trying to tell me without telling me. The heat. God, it was hot. The drive to the hospital. My call to the salon to cancel my appointment. Walking into the ER and hearing what I already knew. And, at that moment, the world ended. My sweetheart was gone, and the words, "Till death do us part," echoed in my head.

It is more than 3 years later, and I am still trying to make the world right again. I continue to find shards and try to fit them into the whole. But the whole is an entirely different shape. There are new people in my life. Many of the old have faded away. I am trying out a new career. My footing is unsure. My steps are hesitant. I frequently stop and think I have completely lost my mind and can't do any of this. 

But in the midst of this upheaval (especially this year) there has been one moment. One very special moment. On November 17, I was baptized. Yes, I am Catholic by birth and upbringing and was baptized in the church as a baby. This was nothing like that. This was my decision to take this crazy, topsy-turvy life of mine and give it to God. He and I weren't friends for a very long time, but I started asking Him for some guidance. A little bit of help. And He gave it. Generously. So, while being baptized has not made everything okay (far from it), my quest for a meaningful life has meaning of its own. And I move forward, bit by bit, everyday, trusting as best I can with my feeble heart that the new moments will come.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi...or not

"Semper ubi sub ubi." A ridiculous Latin phrase that is nonsense when translated literally ("Always where under where") but sounds funny because, of course, in our English "literal" translation  it comes out as, "Always wear underwear." (We all have that snickering 13-year-old boy insides of us, don't we?)

Underwear. Usually, the mainstay of my daily ensemble. Often, there isn't enough of it, and I scramble to get laundry done so I can cover my tush with soft cotton panties before donning the outerwear, as it were.

But, of late, with hours and hours of swim, bike, and run training, underwear has been superfluous. Underwear isn't required and, actually, best avoided under swimsuits, bike/tri shorts, and running shorts. And, so, for a change, my drawers are perpetually full of clean drawers.

This is my brain on ironman.

IMLP is 10 days away. Travel plans are finalized. My tri bike is already on its way to Lake Placid. In the past 30 days, I have swum 25,600 yards, biked more than 552 miles, and run more than 88 miles. I have also had no fewer than 7, count them, 7 flat tires. All in the rear. All within 1 week. (Two different bikes.) On my tri bike, my pedals have been replaced, I have a new chain, my crank has been upgraded to help with the climbs in the Adirondack Mountains.

I have approximately 12,000 more yards to swim, 125 more miles to bike, and 20 more miles to run before I put it all together for 140.6 miles in a single day. My fingers are crossed that neither one of the tires goes flat because I have already paid my dues in that regard...I hope. I packed 5 water bottles, flat repair stuff and an extra tire (tubular), and my bike shoes and gloves to accompany the bike. Yet to be packed are the wetsuit, speed suit (just in case it's not wetsuit legal), helmet, goggles, sunglasses, tri kit, running shoes, and a whole host of other things that just make my head hurt to think about.

In the time I have left before I leave, I would like to have my car washed, get a pedicure, get a massage, have my hair cut, clean my house, balance my bank accounts, paint my house, write a novel...

I think the only thing that will actually happen is the haircut.

Sigh.

In 11 days, it will all be over.

"Nunquam ubi sub ubi."

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Breakable

It has been more than 4 months since my last post. A long time during which I have written multiple entries but never made it to the keyboard. It has been a season of training as I prepare myself for Ironman Lake Placid (now, less than 5 weeks away). And it has sucked.

I have generally prided myself on my ability to keep moving forward. Granted, up until 3 years ago, not a lot of hardship came my way. I was pretty much like everyone else who worked at a demanding job and tried to manage a personal life in spite of it. There were certainly bad decisions, unfortunate circumstances, and life in general. But I didn't let "stuff" get in the way. I maintained a positive attitude, and, in terms of being an athlete, I stayed mostly healthy.

Then, life got turned upside down, and I discovered something about myself.

I am breakable.

For whatever reasons, I have been struggling much more with Ironman training than before. I could offer up all kinds of excuses. My favorite, so far, is that it's harder to do this volume of training as a single person because there's no one to help with mundane everyday life sorts of things like laundry, groceries, housecleaning, cooking, walking the dog. My second favorite is that I have no time to sleep, and isn't sleep an important part of training?

But they are all just that...excuses.

In the past, I would have reminded myself that if I wanted something badly enough, I would have found a way to make it work.

From the beginning, though, this cycle of training has been incredibly hard, both mentally and physically. 

When I sprained my ankle 3 days before my first race of the season, the Gulf Coast half ironman, I kind of lost it. I needed that race. I needed it to get my head back into race mode. Then, when that ankle didn't heal up as fast as I would have liked, and I missed another race, I spiraled down into a black hole. I decided that, no, I wasn't going to do IMLP. It was a waste of time. I wouldn't be ready. I wasn't looking forward to it. It was stressing me out. It was costing me too much money. And, really, what was the point?

With a little help from my friends, I reversed that decision, and I am going to Lake Placid in a few weeks. My head still isn't anywhere near race mode. I still am not really looking forward to it. I will probably need every minute of the 17 hours they give you to finish the race. It's still costing too much money, and I am still stressed out. 

But it's okay. I'll get through it. After that, a new adventure will begin.

I'm not sure I like knowing I am breakable. 

I am not the same person I was before. Not the same person I was 3 years ago. I don't really know who this new person is...what her place in life is. She is, however, less stoic and far more breakable than the old me. Her emotions are closer to the surface. Her hurts are far more visible. She is a lot more vulnerable.

And, I think, she is probably very strong.




Monday, February 11, 2013

Table for one

Growing up, my parents emphasized the importance of family time, especially at the evening meal. My mother made every effort to coordinate a homemade dinner that everyone could sit down to each night. Work, sports, other events may have kept one or two of us away certain days, but dinner at home was important and if you were there, you were expected to sit at the table, say grace, eat your peas, and refrain from excusing yourself until everyone else was finished. 

I come from a large, extended family. I am one of five. My father is one of five. My mother is one of four. We have lots and lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins. Not just of the first kind, but also second, third, and twice removed. As we've become adults ourselves, nieces and nephews have been added to the mix. With more on the way. We like to get together when we can. We always eat, drink, and make merry. We reconnect, tell funny stories, marvel at the time that has passed.

The dinner table is our central family gathering point.

I don't think that Richard came from the same tradition. But he adopted the sit-down-with-your-family dinner wholeheartedly. Even just the two of us, busy working adults that we were, sat down together most nights for dinner. Sometimes I cooked. Usually, he put on the chef's hat. When I was training for my first Ironman, there were some nights when we didn't eat until nearly 9:00 p.m. But he almost always waited for me to be ready, and we sat together over something as simple as hot dogs and mac and cheese and talked about our days, people we met, what the rest of the week might hold in store.

These days, my dinnertime is KC and me. She lies at my feet while I eat. I read or watch TV. Sometimes I talk to KC or just muse aloud. (She listens. I can tell by her cute head tilt.) Every once in a while, I go out to eat, hold up a finger, and request a table for one.

My whole life, I have never been alone. Until now, that is. I went from a full, busy household to college with roommates to married. I never lived alone. I never wanted to. 

I know a lot of people who have spent significant parts of their adult lives alone. I assume they're okay with it.

I am not.

My table for one is lonely and uninspired. Yet, it's a tradition I can't seem to give up. 

I plan meals. Shop. Prepare, chop, and cook. I set the table with linens, silverware, and the occasional candle. I say grace, eat my peas, and politely excuse myself when I am finished.

Then, I scrape the dishes, load the dishwasher, scrub the pots and pans, and wonder if one day this new normal will actually feel normal.

And it will be okay to ask for that table for one.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Visuals: Mississippi snow day

It got a little wintry around these parts last Thursday. At first, the forecast was just for a possibility of flurries, but as the the "event" got closer, predictions rose upwards of 1-inch of white, fluffy stuff on the ground. We woke up to snow falling, the ground covered, and even the roads and sidewalks sporting a slushy, slippery coating. 






Alas, as is typical around these parts, by the afternoon, the sun came out, the temperatures rose, and the snow was completely gone (except for a few snowmen stumps) by the time KC and I took our late afternoon walk around the neighborhood. It was pretty and fun while it lasted...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Race Report: Mississippi Blues Half Marathon

I think the absolute best part of the Mississippi Blues Marathon and Half Marathon is the Blues version of the Star Spangled Banner. Every year, it sends shivers up my spine.

Okay. This year, the shivers may have been due in part to the rather cool start to the morning. While most people were raving that the cloudy skies and temps in the mid 40s were absolutely perfect for racing, I was shivering and wondering if I should have put on more clothes. Since living in MS, I seem to have lost all tolerance for cold. And I define anything below 70 degrees Fahrenheit as cold. Yeah. Pathetic.

I did, however, manage to do the Hundred Up while waiting in the porta-potty line. (Want an easy technique to improve running form? Check it out.) Then, did an easy 7-minute run with a few rather weak striders. That was my warmup, and I felt fairly ready to go. Until the start was slightly delayed, and I got cold all over again. Yeesh.

The gun went off, and we were finally underway. 

Of late, my training has been consistent. No worries on the distance. It's also been consistently at a zone 1 or slower pace. Meaning, I have had to keep my heart rate fairly low, which has translated to a pace a bit slower than I am used to. And, definitely, a pace significantly slower than half marathon race pace. No speedwork either. So, it was hard to decide what pace I might be able to go and what my heart rate might do now that it had been given permission to soar.

Soar, it did. Way, way above zone 1, that's for sure. But I started conservatively, easing into a pace that felt comfortable, but not too slow. I decided to follow my standard half marathon 5-5-5 plan: settle into a moderate pace for the first 5 miles, pick that up to moderately hard for the next 5 miles, and then crank it up as much as possible for the final 5k. I also gave myself permission to abandon that plan should I not be feeling the half-marathon running love.

It was love at first step. Much like last year, I felt great from beginning to end in this race. It's a tough, tough course with several small, steep hills and a few longer more gradual inclines (including the last mile to the finish...is that a requirement of race course planners?) that, along with some rough roads, can leave me feeling a bit beat up. Not last year...and not this year. The effort level felt easy (relatively speaking), I was enjoying myself (relatively speaking), chatted with a few friends (that I passed...hah!), and ended up finishing just a few seconds over 2 hours. Five minutes slower than last year, but with my conservative approach and lack of speedwork, I was extremely pleased, and my plan worked out perfectly:

  • First 5 (+.17...a bit off the mile marker) miles: 48:49; 9:26/mile (average HR 145)
  • Second 5 miles: 44:31; 8:54/mile (average HR 160)
  • Final 5k: 27:01; 8:48/mile (average HR 164)

The funny thing is last year, I ran each of the first and second 5 miles 2 minutes faster and the last 5k 1 minute faster. If nothing else, I am consistent.

The other best thing about the MS Blues Marathon and Half Marathon is the finishers' medals. The first year, they were unremarkable, and the half marathon medal was sort of a sad little half guitar. I didn't do the next year's race, but have run each year since, and each year, the medals have been among the best and biggest of all my gazillion finishers' medals. This year was no exception. 

Very cool.

Because this is a local race, so many friends run both the half and the marathon. I hung out for a little bit to cheer others in, but my skinny butt couldn't take the cold anymore, the rain was headed in, and I wimped out and headed home to warm up. I did stay long enough, though, to yell loudly for one of the ladies in my marathon training group as she finished her first 13.1 mile-race in her whole life. 

It was awesome. 

An excellent way to end the first race of the season.

(Well...it's been far too long between posts. I have a lot to write about this year. My typing fingers seem to be working again. I have so many things I would like to write about: racing [like this post], training, new life adventures, a healing heart, travel, cooking, photography, horses, on and on. So, I promise you [all 6 of you] that I will become a much more regular and consistent blogger with loads of interesting things to read [at least, they will be interesting to me].)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Christmas on a hybrid

As is my wont these days, I traveled to Florida for the holidays. This time, at my parents' request, I went to their home in Jupiter (on the east coast, just north of West Palm Beach). The airline ticket was their Christmas gift to me. So, while it meant leaving KC at home with friends, I was able to enjoy a mild, pleasant week...vastly different than the ugly weather that assailed Mississippi.

In any case, with a couple of races coming up and IMLP looming, I knew I didn't want to break up my workout schedule too much. And since a little bit of research revealed that shipping or traveling with my bike would cost about as much as renting a bike, I decided that I would rent one. Besides, the whole shipping route requires dismantling and remantling (just made that one up) the bike. 

With tools. 

Yeah. Right.

So, several days before I left, I called a local bike shop that advertised rentals, and not just of the beach cruiser type, but also road bikes. Perfect. Except I'm short and I need a little bike. "If you felt comfortable on a 56, I could get you on one of those." I'm 5'4" and my road bike is a 52. I have very short legs and a long torso. Maybe if I tied blocks to my feet. I settled for a hybrid. 

With a kickstand.

Sigh.

I ended up riding that little Trek hybrid just a bit over 40 miles through and around the neighborhoods of Abacao. San Remo to Greenway to Indian Creek to Central to University to Parkside, around the "Island," and back to San Remo. The entire loop is only about 6 miles, so on a few occasions, repeated it several times with variations taking me on little side streets. The big seat kind of hurt my butt bones, and I found myself having to scootch back frequently (noticed my dad doing the same on his hybrid when we took a little ride together). After so many years of clipping on to my Speedplays, it was odd to just use the platform pedals. When it was a bit windy, I felt as if I should hunch down, but there was no real way to reduce my profile. Just meant I had to work harder. I probably "overdressed" for the hybrid in my fancy padded bike shorts, IMFL bike jersey, and bike gloves. I maxed out at perhaps 15 mph. And, by golly, that kickstand did indeed come in handy.

So, on Christmas day, after downing a Bloody Mary with my bacon and eggs, I found myself tooling around the neighborhood at a comfortable cruising speed of 10 mph. Forty-five minutes later, I took a short jog, and called it a brick. 

In all, I managed nearly every one of my scheduled bike rides and runs while in Florida (alas, no swimming...the pool is heated but the outside was chilly [for me] and I decided to skip it). And I really enjoyed it. Really.

So, Happy New Year to all six of my readers...I hope you find some time to enjoy the view from the saddle of a hybrid this year!