Friday, April 24, 2009

Mad Mommies: Why Moms Often Kick the xxx out of Non-Moms on the Race Course

First, note that I said OFTEN and not ALWAYS. I know some of you don't have children, and also don't plan on ever having children and you are hard asses worthy of worship.


I have been thinking about this moms-kicking-ass thing for awhile. You'd THINK that after having a baby a woman's athletic prowess would decline. She's not only physically busted up and out of shape after having a baby, but she now has to take care of a wee one. She is no longer the epi-center of her own life. Baby is. So she should suck now, right? Out of the game, finito, done.

But it does not happen this way. Often said mommy gets better after giving birth.

This has been a source of interest among elite women athletes of late. It has been observed that killer runners like Paula Radcliffe have continued to kick ass after bearing bambinos. Some of the best women pro and amateur triathletes are mommies--like say, Heather Gollnick, Bree Wee, Brooke Davison or Rachel Ross. Kara Goucher recently announced her intention of having a baby following her Boston debut in an interview for Runner's World. She appears confident that having a baby will absolutely not have a negative effect on her racing.

Why is this?

I have a theory.

Women who have children improve their athletic performances after giving birth because having a baby(ies) makes one:

1. tougher than fucking nails.
2. appreciate being athletic in a way non-moms will never understand.
3. more disciplined, focused and yet flexible about her training than ever before.
4. rested. You must take about six months off from serious training when you're preggers.

Let's start with number one.
These paragraphs will be very boring to those of you who haven't given birth. I apologize. Feel free to skip ahead to my summation.

Having a baby makes you tougher than nails.
There is no endurance event that tops the endurance necessary to get from giving birth to the end of a baby's third month. I repeat, there is no. endurance. event. that. even. compares. Double this fact if a woman has twins. Case in point--Heather Gollnick has twins. So does Jenny Harrison. Can you think of women tougher than those two? I struggle to...And if you have triplets? I bow down to you. I really do.

Childbirth itself is a major endurance event. It often lasts longer than an Ironman. I realize some women opt to get an epidural, but lest you think for a moment that means they have escaped the endurance event this is giving birth, you are wrong.

I won't get graphic about childbirth and what it's actually like. Suffice to say it is--umm--painful. Even with an epidural. Hell, just getting the freaking epidural is painful, although it doesn't compare to the pain of contractions which are so painful there is not a word to describe them.

About 40% of women actually don't get birth vaginally, of course. The c-section is a special treat. Oh, it sounds pretty good. Your epidural is turned all the way up and you just feel "pressure" as they cut you open to extract the baby--unless for some reason the epidural is blocked, which it was on my left side when giving birth to my second child. Then it feels like someone is slicing into your abdomen, which, of course, someone is.Good-bye gorgeous abs! Baby has ripped them apart while growing inside you and the knife has cut them in half during surgery.

The c-section is major, and I mean MAJOR abdominal surgery. Recovering from it alone takes women weeks--some months. Even just getting out of bed 24 hours after the surgery is an incredible feat--and extremely painful. Your abs are sliced--all the muscle fibers have been cut in two--and so rising from bed, which requires abdominal strength, is like--impossible.

The incision is held together by staples. Your newborn can rest right on those staples as you attempt to nurse in the first few days. It's comfy. As you nurse your uterus contracts, because it is getting smaller, and that feels a bit like the contractions of childbirth. They feel great throbbing against the incision and often have one doubled over in pain. Add to this that if you are having your first child and are not yet shall we say--broken in--, nursing fucking kills. Your nipples are being bitten, sucked, cracked open, bleeding and mutilated with each session. Your breasts fill so full in the first few days that they are hard as rocks and a size triple DD and they hurt like fucking hell. And did I mention that your baby will turn totally yellow (jaundiced) if you are not disciplined enough in your nursing--waking your baby to nurse at least once every 1.5 hours or so around the clock???
This is the reality: IV still in, hungry little guy, daughter wants attention. 28 hours post-op.

Okay. Enough. Although I could go on and on and on.
After the baby is born and you bring the tyke home, you must rest. You need rest. Your body has been through a train wreck.

But you can't rest.
You must go on.
If you don't then your baby will die.

For the next three months you don't sleep--like ever--especially if your baby has colic and cries from 4-10 pm each day (that was my first). You nurse around the clock. You nipples become like little hard rocks, calloused and completely un-sexy. Your breasts are udders. You are a cow. You can't leave the baby for longer than 3 hours because you are the baby's only food source.

Oh, and did I mention that you are supposed to be glowing, and happy and grateful and fucking high on life?
(Most of us actually contemplate driving ourselves into a tree. Most of us cried almost incessantly for three months straight. Most of us end up on anti-depressants.)
And did I mention that you, as you knew yourself, are gone--like forever? Your purpose is now unilateral.

Take care of baby.
#2 and #3: Mothers
  • appreciate the privilege of training in a way non-moms will never understand.
  • more disciplined, focused and yet flexible about her training than ever before.

If you were "active" before giving birth then during these three delirious months you begin to fantasize.
Running, biking, swimming.
They have been taken from you.
And you want them back.
You want them bad.
You really haven't done any of them seriously since about three months into your pregnancy--so it's been, like, almost a year.

Formerly active moms are hungry. They want it back and they want it now and they are willing to do anything to get it.

They run on the treadmill for the half hour the baby sleeps. They nurse, race to the pool race home, and nurse again. They take advantage of every free moment (which are very few) to exercise. They become ultra-disciplined about taking this time when they have it. Gone are the days when they don't go running right now because they just don't feel like it right now--maybe later in the day.

Likewise, if the baby needs to nurse or be changed or whatever--moms adjust to the fact that their exercise comes second to baby. always. And that is just the way it is. Having to be this way makes moms appreciate exercise in a way that is somewhat hard to fathom.


Moms had to rest, as I said, for like a year. I'm convinced that this is partially what allows them to excel after childbirth. Every last little tear has been healed in that time. The body is ripe to be torn apart and built back up again. I really think there's something to this. People who love to train and don't have children never take this kind of extended break, and therefore never heal to the extent that moms do.

After a woman goes through the act of having a baby she views the world differently.

  • Pain is relative. If you can survive the pain of childbirth and the subsequent three months of sleep deprivation, the constant crying, the loss of self and becoming a cow, you can survive anything.
  • Training is no longer a right; it's a gift. It is to be absolutely treasured.
  • If you have time, you must take it. If you don't, it's your own fault, and you won't get it back. Discipline-- or denied.
It is these views that enable the mother to move to new levels of athletic performance.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Consequence and Aftermath

There are consequences for every action and an aftermath during which one must deal with the consequences.
Yes, I know this is an obvious observation.

I'm a consquentialist.

Essentially what this means is that I act--or don't act--according to my understanding of the possible consequences involved, and weighing whether the action is right or wrong based on the consequences. It's basically a cost/benefit thing. This is different than people who act according to an internal code--something the self has adopted to guide action. These people act or don't act not according to the consequences generated by an action, but according to an ethical code that has pre-determined the rightness or wrongness of an action. The consequences of an action may be good, but these people (deontologists) still won't act if the action is not inherently right.

For example, a consquentialst may lie to save your feelings.
A deontologist will never lie, because lying is wrong, even if the truth hurts you deeply.

Of course we all have a little of both ways of thinking in us. Most of us, however, lean more closely to one end of the spectrum or the other. Consequentialists are often viewed as lacking a moral compass; deontolgists are often viewed as righteous and dogmatic. I'm pretty sure you know which one you are.

Since the end of last year and the beginning of this year I have acted. I have acted in a consequentialist way. My actions have not always been codified right. But I have acted according to my understanding of the cost/benefit of acting, which is the way I understand the world.

But it's been messy.
And confusing.
And exhausting.
And I've been leaning on my training to provide me with joy, temporary sanity, and peace.

But you can't lean too heavily on your body. You can't expect it not to ever, ever fail you.

Last Friday I had a little, or okay, a large meltdown.
The aftermath of several different actions/ways of being all sort of hit me at once in one massive psychic and physical system failure.
And I went down
. It was ugly.

I was running, an easy 50 minute run, and half way through it I just couldn't do it. My legs became heavy, my heart started racing, I began to pour sweat. I had to stop. I had to sit down. I had to wonder whether I would make it the 3 miles back to my car. I thought I might boot. I thought I might run into the middle of the street and wait for a truck to take me the fuck down.

Speaking of trucks, it's funny how we just truck along, ho hum, thinking we're handling it all just fine.
And then, suddenly, we stop. or fall. or crash.
and we can't seem to get up.

That's kind of what happened.

I hobbled home at a slow pace.
In the car I cried. It was one of those cries were I couldn't stop crying and during which I didn't even care if people in the parking lot saw me cry.

I cried because in that moment--in that hour--my body couldn't handle the intensity or amount of training I was asking it to. It was telling me to cool it--that if I didn't it was game over. That I may be suffering mentally, but that I couldn't make it all okay just by running. or biking. or swimming. or racing. I cried because certain things must be dealt with, and my body was telling me this.
And I. didn't. want. to. fucking. hear. it.

That night I slept 12 hours straight; slept right through the alarm set to get me up to do my 17 mile run. When I woke I put on my running shoes and kissed my kids goodbye, and thanked the hub for allowing me to go for my run later than usual. I stepped out the door, began to run, and had to stop after 49 seconds. Not going to happen. And I came home and cried again.

The interesting thing about aftermath is that there is usually growth during it. The word aftermath comes from Old English and literally translates to after mowing. After something is mowed an aftermath grows consisting of new grass that can be left to grow or plowed under to fertilize future growth.

The meltdown really sucked.
But the new grass that is growing now is nourishing and hopeful.

After a day of rest I came back, did a 5.5 hour brick, and after another day of rest I did that 17.5 mile run.
And today I feel like a million bucks.

And I have made a few important decisions:

1. I'm not going to rely solely on my body to bring me the joy I desperately crave. I'm going to deal--.
2. I'm leaving teaching. I'm done.

Let the chips fall.
I'm ready for the consequences.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I've Got A Lot of Ideas Brewing for Posts...

But for now, just a photo of Noah and Jordan working the mile 8 water stop of the Boston Marathon.

It was awesome.
We had so much fun.
You gotta train them young....
(you WILL run, you WILL run....)
(no pressure, pressure... really.)

A big shout out to all my friends who ran today and kicked butt--but ESPECIALLY to Maria, Rose and Petra who totally rocked it and all went sub 3:30!! Wahoo!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beating the Hours and Daughter Bonding

So here's the thing. Right now I want to best the hours Jen gives me each week. I feel like I must do this. I must put in just a little tiny bit MORE than she gives me. Not hours more--just minutes--like 61 minutes instead of 60. I know a minute is nothing--but it's a mental thing for me. I must beat time. I must win. I think it's a proof thing for me. You know when you are doing a really hard running workout and it calls for say, 5 minutes at an excruciating pace or something like that? I look forward to hitting that 5 minutes for the whole 5 minutes--but then--when it hits 5 I can't stop. I have to do 5 minutes and 5 seconds. I'm not always like this. But I am right now. Yeah, baby. ________________ Tonight my daughter and I looked at bathing suits online for at least an hour. We discussed each suit--and what cap would match it--and what goggles. These are the two suits Jordan chose in the end: Cute, huh? And OF COURSE we choose perfectly matching caps. Swimming is all about fashion. I was drooling over dozens of different Splish suits, but Jordan convinced me to get this Splish in the end: She liked the blue. I'm more of a pink girl, I admit. And this is also too preppy for me, but she was convinced this was the right one, so I agreed--cause she was so damn cute about it. The problem was choosing a cap. Not much matches the blue. We choose white in the end. There were a few Splishes that I really liked, though, that I may have to eventually get. Jordan liked these too, but they weren't pretty enough for her taste. (Love the tail. Jordan thought this one was only good for Halloween. The hub that the whiskers looked a bit like hands across one's breasts. Humph. Leave it to the guy...) I also liked: and this: The hub really didn't like this one--especially the Fast. I like that! humph again. Jordan thought the rabbit was cute, but thinks I have too many pink suits already. The fact that Jordan is now old enough to spend hours talking colors and design of swim suits and bathing caps-- is just Awesome. I'm a lucky woman.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

There are Things to be Done,

but I'm not doing any of them. I could, for example, be cleaning this house, which is so dirty and disorganized that I don't even feel I can employ a cleaning person to clean it.
  • Or I could be spending quality time with my children, playing Parcheesi or Sorry or whatever it is that quality parents do with their quality children when they spend quality time together.
  • Or I could be changing the sheets on the beds.
  • Or I could be making a nutritious meal for my loved ones to eat tonight.
  • Or going to the grocery store with my little terrors in tow.
  • Or I could be doing laundry.
  • Or I could be giving the dogs a bath.
  • Or I could be sorting through my "to be sorted" pile of papers hat now reaches several feet from the office floor.
But, my friends, I'm not doing any of these things. Instead I'm on the computer--hoping that something interesting and exciting will present itself-- something that will, even if momentarily, allow me to escape this feeling that I should be doing something of worth. It's not working. The internet is failing me. One thing that's not failing me these days, however, is training. Training is going swimmingly for the most part. Yesterday I went on a 90 mile ride with Andy, the hub. This was only possible because it was Good Friday, and although both Andy and I didn't have to work and the kids didn't have school, the kids had the option of going to the home daycare they attend when they're not at school and I'm still at work. Naturally we decided daycare was the appropriate choice. We are thoughtful parents, and daycare is oh-so-much more fun than spending a full day with grouchy parents who really want to spend the day riding their bikes in the sun alone. (Really we love those little cherubs. Really we do.) ho hum. It was a gorgeous day, and the forecast for today (as I write) was for rain, sleet and cold. How great that I was getting in this long-ass ride with Andy and in the sun--when normally I would have to start alone at the crack of dawn on a Saturday--and a Saturday with rain and cold to boot? I was psyched. I ride almost exclusively alone, so it was, I admit, a tad weird to have Andy there at first. He would zoom ahead, and I would begin to feel guilty that I was seriously holding him back. Then he'd slow up and I'd be irritated that he wouldn't get his butt moving because he was ruining our pace. Eventually we got into a rhythm, though, and I led for chunks of the ride too, so it got better. I've been working on several things on the bike lately: higher cadence, more steady pace, no grinding up hills unless prescribed, and riding in all weather, inclement and butt cold or not. I'm also working on the mental piece. For me, being on the bike for five hours is a long time. Physically it's not really problematic--but mentally? At about 3.5 hours yesterday I just wanted to scream, Get me off this fucking bike! I was sick of Gu, sick of the headwind, sick of cars, sick of simply being perched on my bike. To make things worse, I had it in my head that we needed to do 90 miles. Don't ask me why. The workout just called for riding for 5 hours and doing a T run. But I wanted to do 90, and no less, so 90 we did. For the last 10 miles we were close to home and kept having to do loops to get up to 90. It was so, so painful, and again, not physically, but mentally--oh. I just wanted it to end. I tried to remember that I was psyched--that it was sunny and cool and that Andy was doing this with me. I tried wicked hard to remember that. Still, I repeat, five++ hours is a long time to be on the bike. And Ironman is longer..... Oh baby. When we finally got home I laced up my sneaks and headed out to run. My quads felt shot, but T-runs are the weirdest things. You think you won't be able to run a step, and the next thing you know you're cruising along faster than you usually do on your quicker runs. I felt truly awesome. Now, I didn't feel awesome like Hey let's go do a marathon now awesome, but I did feel awesome for the 4.5 miles I did. a marathon. oh fuck. I shiver when I think about it. In the last few weeks I've started running much faster while still staying in zone 2 in terms of HR. I believe this is for a few reasons. First, I shed a couple pounds. Not tons, but a little, and that seems to be making running feel lighter too. Second, Jen has me running really hard (like zone 25) for major chunks of time, and relatively frequently. I think my body now knows that it can pull out 7's when it's working hard, and so 8's are just easy in comparison. My HR seems to agree. This leads me to believe that there are many ways to achieve a lower HR at a faster pace. You can go the route of always staying in zone 2 and waiting for your fitness to allow you to run with a lower HR in zone 2, or you can work your ass off, make higher your ceiling, and hence make higher your floor too. Worked for me. There is more than one way to skin a cat. Who the hell came up with that expression? Nasty. Here's a picture of a part of our glorious 90 mile route which took us through Grafton, MA, far west of where we actually live.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

MDot Tat

A tattoo.
The final expression of a serious, serious mid-life crisis.

Naturally I feel compelled to get one. I try not to be half-assed about anything--mid-life crises included.

Should it be the MDot?
I admit, I want to flaunt an IM finish eternally. A tat seems a good way.

I don't like two things about the MDot, however. One is that it is a corporate symbol. Yes, it means more than that to those of us competing in IM, but still, it is first and foremost a company--and a company that makes a buck at that.
I also don't like that M stands for MAN. I will not be an IronMAN. I do not have a penis. I will be an IronWOMAN--a middle-aged IronMatron with a vagina--to be exact.

So what if I turned the MDot upside-down? You know, into a W? (This is, I admit, not my idea. Andy, the hub, thought of it.) I could still put the dot on the top. I am also considering putting the first letter of each of my children's names around the dot. The dot, as womb, my little babies outside of me now, but with me, surrounding me, guided (I hope) by my strength.

Yet another problem I have is that I don't like the color red very much, especially when thinking about it on my body. I think I may get a black, upside-down MDot. What do you all think? Do not worry about bashing the idea. I'm interested in all thoughts.

Finally, the question is where.

I'm thinking back shoulder.
I also like the idea of the small of the back.

I spend much time thinking about these matters.
I have spent the majority of my life being too mature to give into the desire to have a tattoo, or a belly-button ring, or leather pants or -- whatever.
(I don't really want leather pants, actually.)
I am happy to say I have moved past being too mature.
I no longer give a fuck what I am.
I just am.
That's one thing a mid-life crisis is good for.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Down The Rabbit Hole

Sometimes, that's the best place to go. Sometimes it's the only place to go.

April 1st marked the beginning of the actual march toward Ironman Lake Placid. Sure, I was training hard before April 1st, sure I was putting in hours and pushing my limits. But April 1st, at least in my mind, is the actual beginning. At the end of this week I will have put in 16.5 hours of training. Next week I will put in 18. I have never put in 18 hours before. I think I'm prepared for it, though, and even if I'm not, it's still going to happen.

The idea that it is going to happen is a new mental strategy for me. Sometimes, when Jen gives me a really long, laborious or difficult workout, she writes at the bottom of her comments. "I know it's long and hard. Just get it done."

Just get it done. The only way to get to the other side is just to move through it, feel the pain, and get it done. Just keep moving. Just start the next set. Just ride--even if you're really tired and you still have three hours of riding to go. The chances that something catastrophic will happen, like you will drown or fall off your bike, is unlikely. Just keep up the effort for the next 5 minutes. Then the next 5. Then the next.

In my mind this thinking is like going down a rabbit hole. In the rabbit hole there are no distractions. You must narrow your vision, and just look ahead and down the tunnel. You must keep moving until you get to the end, where you can curl in a ball and take a rabbit rest.

In both my training and in life right now I am down the rabbit hole. There is only one direction right now. As far as I can tell, there is only one tunnel. I have been stopped inside this tunnel, worried, fearful, and definitely confused. It's time to move forward. It's time to remember that the only way to get to the end of this workout is to just do it.

It's going to take me awhile, but I will see you at the end of the rabbit hole. Please have some snuggly blankets ready, because by the time I get there, I'm going to need a rest.