Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Chase, The Pass, The Line

"Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt". - Measure for Measure (Act I, Scene IV).

I want to get to Kona before I turn 43.

So I'm just going to go there. And soon.

A lot of life is like that: you must decide you're going to get something, and then act as if it's yours to have. The conviction alone will get you nearly there.

Nearly is not there, though. It isn't yes. And unfortunately, nearly to Kona, but not all the way there, will place a person treading water somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. And treading water isn't the idea. Neither is swimming desperately to the shore seeking safety and penance for the want we tried at and did not achieve.

I-like many- am attracted to those people who make me feel alive and ready to take on the world--those who live close to line--playing and pushing and participating in life without the fear they will end up having to swim to the shore after coming up short. I love those people and I hate them, because they intoxicate me with their desire and passion, and remind me that I'm, perhaps, not fully following my own. These are the people that just do it--hell be damned--and I want that too.

But pushing so far that you don't heed the line has its consequences. It's easy to see when those who live hell-by-damned end up winning the slot, but we fail to see that those who live this way actually do come up short a ton of the time--ending up in waters that are usually not ideal and often unsavory. We envy, but we aren't willing to put it all--meaning our hard earned stabs at stability and safety--on the line. We see their insouciance, and we want it, while simultaneously wanting to stay home and watch another episode of House. We long to eviscerate the feeling that we are not living life to the fullest; that somehow we are squandering time and will end up at our grave pissed that we didn't make more of it all.

This is why I do sport. Sport creates a playing field that is real, but not real; a field chock full of competitors who double as friends, a field on which we can place a dream and know that its fulfillment or lack thereof will not really jeopardize life as we know it. In short, in sport we can chase adrenaline within the confines of something that is bound and appropriate. We can emulate those that put it all on the line and really live--while staying safely behind the line and only crossing it at the end of a race.

This is not to say that I don't/haven't crossed lines other than the finishing lines in a races. I do and I have. I am, unfortunately or fortunately depending on who you ask, rather insouciant myself. But I know the costs of acting that way; I've suffered consequences both painful and humbling. Sport can dole out pain and humility--but it usually does so without taking life and limb. And so sport works for me. And if you're reading this, it likely works for you too.

I've always loved to play and compete and I've always loved the chase of a goal, an idea, a person. The ways I've managed my desire to chase has shifted over the years, but the rush of establishing a goal and seeing it through to its respective Kona has always been with me. I see a competitor in the distance and I place a target on his back. I can feel my body shift into a different gear and a surge of energy course through me. This is the best part; moving closer and closer but not yet signifying to the target that I'm about to make the pass.

Soon the pass must be made though, and herein lies the risk and the rush. It takes courage to make the pass. By passing you are calling the shot, making your intentions known, and issuing a challenge. You never know how the competitor will react, and so often the feeling at that point changes from pure adrenaline rush to pure adrenaline fear. The person could call you on it, match you, pass you back; the person could let you go "for now" only to crawl up your back and make the pass later, or the person could simply be in awe of your speed and not take you up on the challenge to race. In any case, if you pass, you are vulnerable to the possibility that you misjudged your competitor and yourself. You've made public your belief that you've got what it takes to beat said person, and that person could respond to you by making sure he makes it to the line before you. And that can feel -- really bad. It's tough when you make a break and it doesn't turn out the way you had planned. In short, chasing the adrenaline that comes with putting yourself on the line can fuel you to greatness--or it can cause you to crash and burn.

Of course, only chasing and passing in sport isn't enough to make a life fulfilled. Right? We need to chase and pass in real life too. The effect of taking risks in life, I believe, is that it forces us to move to a different place--to something unfamiliar. Such places foist on us wisdom and experience. Armed with this, the small, stable places we have built for ourselves stop feeling confining--and instead just feel like coming home.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Open Water Morning

First, I just wanted to point out that I basically agree with everyone's comments on the Effort post. It occurred to me that I was speaking to the wrong audience in writing it. WE are not full of shit. WE all try our little tushes off, failure or success by damned. WE work hard because we know what it means and what it should mean to work hard. WE teach our kids that hard work is worth it, because hard work, in the end, brings satisfaction, joy, and a transcending of the fear of failure. I guess I was really focused on society at large--and what our nation/culture appears to value, which is talent + hard work. I feel saddened when a kid is convinced it's not worth it to try because he could never really be "good" -- and I get equally sad when I see a kid forced to compete in soccer when it's not her passion--even if she is really good at it. Comments like Dwight's, "I sure hope you're good b/c it would suck to work so hard and not be good," send the message, perhaps not even subtly, that we shouldn't work hard unless we have a gift. This is crap, of course, but it's an amazingly common attitude held by adults--by teachers-by coaches-by parents--and it's absolutely toxic. That's what I was trying to say, anyway. Loved your comments. Thanks. On to new things!I got into the open water for the first time this morning. I met a friend at 5:30 am, and the lake (Farm Pond in Sherborn, pictured above--my fav. place to swim around here) was so calm, so gorgeous. At first I didn't even want to get in; I just wanted to stare at the lake and be peaceful. But get in we did.... Amazingly, the water was not cold at all. I think I could've even gone sans wetsuit. That said, I'm glad I had my wetsuit. I love the way it buoys me up and helps me to glide through the water. Rob, the friend I was with, decided to wear FINS, so I was concerned I wouldn't be able to keep up, but he kindly didn't really start cruising until the end, so it was okay. We swam around the pond, stopping a few times to catch our breath and to just look. I had forgotten how much I love swimming in the open water. I had several moments this morning during which I felt so grateful to be alive--to be in the water--to be experiencing the early morning on the pond. Fantastic. I love triathlon for giving me those early morning moments. Without triathlon, I would've been snoozing away this Memorial Day Monday morning. Enough said.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Joesph & Rose Gilio Mem. 5k Race Report

The Kids' Race
Jordan (7) in the green shirt, Noah (5) in the yellow, Lara (3) in the white (not the pink pants)

My kids love coming to this race. It's run by my good friend Michael Gilio in honor of his parents. Mike has kids, and he makes sure this event is kid friendly. This year he had a jumpy castle, a gigantic slide and a popcorn machine. He also runs a kids' race 15 min. before the start of the event. Every kid gets a medal.
It's the best.

I won this race for women.
And where were my little tots when I crossed the line in triumph?
The jumpy castle.

I honestly can't believe I won this race. The field was small (about 120 or so competitors) but there were some really strong women runners in that field including a whole bunch of my GNRC clubmates: Maureen, Maria, Tracey and Meredith--to name just a few. These are women I always have to work really hard to beat--and often don't beat-- so I knew I'd have to run run run my butt off to even get in the top 3.

I hadn't planned on running this race, but I thought perhaps it might be good to use it as the tempo part at the end of my weekly long run. Jen kindly agreed. Right after this was settled I wondered what I had just done. I can't just run a race. I must race it. And so this was gonna really hurt.

Jen divided my long run into two 90 minute parts, one to be done Friday night after 5 pm and one the next morning. The last 20 minutes was to be the 5K. Her notes were very clear--do not dip into zone 3 during the first first 110 min. of this run. Do, and you will pay. Fair enough.

I admit I'm not really good about zones. My intentions are good, but I am competitive with myself (aren't we all?) and sometimes the competitive side of me gets hold and hammers the patient, be smart, follow the directions side of me. For this run though, I admit I was pretty darn careful. I'd speed up when I saw my pace was slowing up a hill and then I'd check my heart rate and actually slow down. That takes discipline, I tell you. I chose a very hilly route on Friday night, and it was discouraging to watch my pace slip as I trudged up and up, but couldn't push because the heart rate number was also trudging up.

But the 5K. I was worried about that damn 5K.

I took an ice bath after the 90 min run on Friday night and sipped Endurox while chilling. For a workout that short I wouldn't normally be so recovery-focused, but again, I was scared. The next morning I got up and packed my fuel belt for my 75 min. run. That's right: a fuel belt for an hour and 15 min run. I was being uber careful. No need to get dehydrated before the race.

It has occurred to me that perhaps I should end all of my long runs with a race. I don't think I've ever been so careful about drinking and eating on the run, and recovering after it. Fear is a great motivator. I also noted that running purely in z2 with no z3 exceptions even on hills (okay maybe I dipped there a few times) is rather relaxing. I really got some good thinking done on both runs. Usually I am hyper-focused on my body, my pace, and my level of discomfort. Running in zone 2 allows for some spaciness. It's kind of nice.

I timed my run so I would arrive at the race with 10 min. to start time. I quickly changed and got my number, changed into my racing shoes (which are still trainers, but lighter than my actual trainers), and sucked down a gel. I said hi to the Andy and the kids. Andy was the only one who really acknowledged me because the kids were already partaking in Jumpy Castle fun. I said hi to all of my GNRC comprades, and headed to the line. Let's go!

I had no idea what to expect. So, I expected nothing. The race starter said Go! and I just ran. My legs actually felt fresh--which was weird. I felt ready to run hard. I felt warmed up and strong.

The first mile has an early bump which makes your heart rate shoot throw the roof, and then a long flattish/downhill stretch. There was a young woman running right beside me for the first mile. She was my main competition, it was pretty clear. However, I also know that my GNRC women friends pace well, and any of them could catch me in the second or third miles. I also was running alongside two of my male GNRC buddies, Jeff and Mike (the Mike who runs the race). They were really pushing the pace, but I felt strong and so I thought, well! Why not? Just go!
First mile: 6:31.

The next mile is flat for the most part. I decided to just try to hold my pace. I edged ahead of the girl next to me and Mike and Jeff. Mike would have none of that, though! He kicked it up a notch and passed me right back. And I passed him back. And he passed me back. It was fun.
Mile 2: 6:35.

This is an out and back course, so the last mile is a gradual uphill, with a downhill bump in the last tenth. I knew this is where I could lose my lead. I knew the girl was only about 5 seconds behind me because I had seen her on the the turn around. I also knew there was no one ahead of me (women, I mean) because a spectator had shouted, There's the first woman! as I ran by the mile 2 mark.

My legs still felt strong and fresh though. The only thing that really hurt was my lungs. I was really sucking wind and my brain kept trying to talk me into slowing down. You've just run 20, just let it go. You are going to barf. You still have another 3/4 mile. Slow Down! But I silenced the brain.
It shut up.

Mike was still right with me, and I decided to pull away. With a half mile to go I heard very heavy breathing behind me. I was going to be passed. Was it Mike? Was it the girl? Nooo.... this was heavy clomping--the clomping of a person with very long legs. And then the mystery person appeared at my side. Jeff. Well, that makes sense. He's well over 6 ft. Where did he come from? He passed. I passed him back. He passed again and started his kick.
I went for it, but I just couldn't get him. He crossed the line a second ahead of me. I didn't care. I had won, and he had helped me do it!

Last mile 6:40
last tenth: 5:27 pace

That's a PR for me!
I've decided that perhaps running 20 miles before a race is the key...

I want to give a shout out to Mike, for always running an awesome race. The kid stuff rocked, the management and timing perfect, the food really good, and the prizes.... Did I mention I got $50 bucks! Wahoo! Thanks, Mike. And thanks for letting me beat you by a few seconds. :)
Also a shout out to all of my club mates on GNRC. There were many PRs (yeah Tracey and Mel B!) and the competition was great. I love my club.
And thanks to Jen. As always.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Right to Work Hard--or Not To

All we care about, Sweetie, is that you put in your best effort and you do your best work.

Last week when I was getting into the pool for an early morning swim, I had a quick exchange with my swimmer friend, Dwight. He was already in the pool, kicking, and we shouted our hellos.
When he got to the wall he added, "Man, you work hard."
"Thanks," I said. "Yes, I do."
"You never miss a workout."
"Right," I said. "I try not to."
"I sure hope you're really good," he chuckled before pushing off the wall.

hmmm. What do I make of that?

Later, resting between a set, he explained. "I just hope you're good because you work so hard. It would suck to work as hard as you do and then to still suck. You know? All that hard work for nothing..." he smiled, conspiratorially. "But I know you're good. You're good, right?" chuckle chuckle.

hmmm. How do I respond to that?
Do I chuckle too?
"I'm okay. Sometimes I place."
"Oh good," he said. "Good to hear." and he swam on.


At first I didn't even question this little conversation. It WOULD suck to work really hard and then to suck.
Wouldn't it?
Isn't that why I work hard? To win? To qualify? To make it to Kona? To prove to the world that I am exceptional, a winner, to be envied, the best?

I would be a liar if I said I didn't work hard so I can have a shot at winning. I am competitive. Of course I want to win! But, does that mean if I really don't stand a chance of winning I should not compete? That I shouldn't even try? Do you have to be a certain level of "good" to justify working hard?

Well, you think. Of course not.

But.... after thinking about it I began to realize the ways in which we embrace this thinking.

I have an image in my mind.
It's of a little tyke who works his butt off in Little League, but he's still the worst one on the team. Moms are on the sidelines whispering to each other about how sweet the boy is, how sad that he is just so-- bad. Fathers, perhaps, are less chatty about it. They are just glad it's not their kid.

Another image.

It's of a little tyke who is a rock star on the baseball field, but he just doesn't work at it at all. He's lazy, the moms say. What a waste of talent. The fathers just shake their heads. They are just glad it's not their kid.

So the tenets here seem to be:

It's a waste of talent if you are good at something, yet you don't choose to work hard at it.

and conversely,

It's pathetic when you work your ass off, and yet you suck.

And what is the best type of tyke? The type of tyke we want our kids to be--the type of tyke we want to be? He is the one who has talent and works hard. You need both. Nothing else is worthy.

We believe this about ourselves; we believe this about our children; we believe this about our peers who are working hard next to us in the pool.

Of course, talent and hard work is a good combination. There's certainly nothing wrong with it.
But, I wonder, what do we do to our own psyches and those of our children by embracing this as the only way worthy of being?

Here are a couple of possible conclusions one might draw based on such thinking:

1. I should only try hard at something if I have potential to be very good at it. If it appears I cannot be good, I should quit.

2. If I don't love to do something, but I have a natural talent for it, I should do it and work hard at it despite my dislike of it.

3. If I work hard at something and it is revealed that I am not good at it, I will be pitied and mocked. Therefore, I shouldn't try at all. It's too risky.

4. If I love to do something, but I am not inherently good at it, I still should not pursue it. I should pursue those things at which I have obvious talent.

I'm sure you can think of a few other conclusions, too.

We spend a lot of time blathering on to each other and to our children about how the most important thing to do is to work hard. Just do our best work. Just put forth our best effort. That it's okay if we fail, it's the effort that counts.

I think maybe we are full of shit.

We are disappointed if our best effort (or the best effort of our children) doesn't produce a win, an A, an AG placing, or a Kona slot. We will be disappointed because this is what is valued by us, and it is in the way we speak, move, and live.

Not a word about learning for the joy of it.
Not a word about playing/competing for the love of it.
Not a word about how the effort we put into something is worthy -- just because to put effort into something is to participate in and engage in life.

I still want to win.
But my effort, and yours, means more than that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sudbury Sprint Sprint RR-- or Man, I am a Rock Star

Lately I've been really into the double title. Have you noticed that? So, first I must say that my last post was freaking brilliant, and yet most of you failed to comment on it. Did you notice all of my keenly placed literary references? All of my wit entangled with clear, logical thought? Humph. It must be that I'm so right and so brilliant that you have nothing to say. Or that it was way too long to read. Or that it didn't make as much sense as I thought it did. Or that I got a little to heady on you. Or that you just only like posts about pap smears and tats and other unsavory things. Yeah, I know it. You all have your heads in the gutter. Luckily, I'm a fan of the gutter. My mind actually spends most of its time there. So, back we go. I have a RR to write. I had a really good first race of the season for the most part. The good: 1. I looked super cool in my shark Splish suit and pointy helmet, and Mrs. Zebra (Mzzz Z) (my bike, renamed because she's a Mrs. and she is all black and white) was looking sharp with her spiffy new 404 race wheels. 2. Even though I only wore a swim suit, my privates remained intact when on the bike, and in fact, did not even hurt a smidgen! I am thoroughly broken in and tough as iron down there too. (Sexy, I know.) 3. I beat all of my splits from last year by a lot. I PR'd the whole race by almost three minutes, and it's such a short race that that's a pretty big deal. (Thanks, Jen.) 4. I was the second (I wish blogger would let me make that word blink) female and 15th OA out of a big field. Not sure how big. Maybe 350? Anyway, so cool! I'm very excited about that. Some of the big dogs didn't come out for the race this year (like Jarrod Shoemaker, Alicia Kaye, Ethan Brown and local great Jesse Kropelnicki--who were all there last year) -- but even compared to LAST year's results I would have been the third female according to my time. So yeah me! The bad: 1. I cannot mount or dismount without looking like a tool. This is especially bad because Mrs Z is a cool bike with pretty wheels and I wear a pointy helmet. People with these things should be floating onto their bikes at top speed like witches atop broomsticks. Not me. I stop. get on. get my left foot clipped in. push. roll. get my right foot clipped in. and on and on and on and on. Getting off is even more embarrassingly slow. 2. I had to breathe almost everything stroke toward the end of the swim. I think I kept my pace, but I got sloppy because I was sucking wind so violently. 3. I ran out of T2 WITH MY HELMET ON! Dear God how embarrassing. A nice woman took it from me during the first 10th of a mile of the run course. Duh. Running with a pointy helmet. Can you say, LOSER? 4. I only beat the 3rd place finisher by 3 seconds. That's not really definitive, you know? Overall, though, the race was a huge success. This picture sums up my feelings about the race. If it were a better picture you could seem that I'm like--gleeful. It was taken right after I got on my bike, so I wasn't suffering YET. I really, really do love racing. In this picture, I am, however, suffering. That's pretty clear. At least my suit is cute, right? I honestly did NOT pass out after this shot was taken. I know it looks like I'm about to swoon. As it should be, yes? I'm really catching on to this suffering thing. Here is a brief summary of the race. Well, not brief really. I don't really do brief. Arrival: I lurv my new I-Phone. Got me there without a hitch. Listened to tunes, ate a banana and drank some Powebar Endurance as I drove there. Got there, got my packet and all that jazz, set up my stuff in transition. Naturally I felt the need to chat up everyone in transition. It's what I do. I can't help it. One cool thing: a random woman introduced herself to me and told me she reads my blog. Made me puff up like a peacock! She was very sweet and we talked about TNT, the organization I'm running for this fall in the Dublin Marathon. Warm up. Uneventful. I ran 20 minutes and did a few strides. Then I got in the pool and did a few hundred yards. Then I got out. Then I fucking froze. I was chattering and turning as blue as my shark suit. Finally I went into the locker room and got my sweatshirt, even though the race was about to begin. Everyone kept asking me if I was okay. You know that your lips are blue, right? I have this thing called Raynaud's Disease. Part of it is that I turn blue kinda easily. It's really pretty. I'm sure I looked like a grape with my blue face, lips and blue suit. If you click on the link you can see some cool pics of what happens to my fingers and toes (and other parts of me too, unfortunately) when I get cold or stressed, or in this case, both cold and stressed. The Swim Luckily it was very soon my turn to swim. In this swim you get it in at one end of the pool and zig-zag across eight lanes and under lane lines, completing a 400 by the end. Last year I had a horrible swim during which I had to pass a bunch of people, and I ended up doing a flip turn and pushing off of someone's stomach who was hanging on the wall. I kid you not. It was ugly. This year, though, despite a messed up seed time, things went swimmingly. I got close to the toes of the guy in front of me on the last length, but I did not need to pass him and the person behind me was well behind--. All good. My time was only okay. I stepped out of the pool at 5:29. I think I can swim faster than that, and I'm blaming my slower time on trying to flip turn successfully under the lane lines. It's kinda tough. I worked that swim, hard, though. I was breathing VIOLENTLY when I got out. But at least now I wasn't blue, but red. I ran out of the pool and heard my kids shout GO MOM! Oh, I love that. T1 I was slow, slow, slow. I was all shaky The pool had been warm, and outside it was only in the high 50s with a strong wind. The Bike After an awkward mount I zoomed off on Mrs. Z. We were hauling serious ass. I passed zillions of people. Toward the end of the first loop, though, a woman passed me on a decked out Cervelo and a pointy helmet. Alert! Alert! Do not let her get you! I dropped back and then put down the hammer. It was a seven mile bike. There will be NO passing of moi. NONE. I passed her back and stayed ahead. The only bad part of the ride was that the wind was so strong. It really almost blew me off Mrs. Z a few times. I finished in 19:30 for 7.3 miles. Not too bad for me.... T2 Slow dismount. Slow transition. And I ran out with my helmet still on. Need I say more? The Run After getting rid of my helmet, I began to focus on turning over my legs. I know they call the bike to run a brick for a reason--but MAN--this time my legs really, really felt like they were full of bricks. I was tired! And slow! Ouch! Ouch! After a few minutes I quieted my brain and just focused on turning over my legs as fast as possible. My pace increased. This is a flat run, and I had planned to be totally zippy. I can't say zippiness really occurred. I did manage to average 6:45s, which is not what I had wanted, but was still respectable enough. I finished the run in 14:30 for 2.2 miles The end: 42:06. The hub, the kids and I went out to Dunkin Donuts to celebrate. They had donuts (gross) and I treated myself to a latte and a bagel, which these days, is definitely a treat. Then we came back and I got my award. Yeah! It was a great Mother's Day gift to do so well. Thanks to Jen, my fantastic coach! (By the way, she just wrote a great post called Heart, and you should read it.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Models, Measures, Performance and Passion--or, How to get Susie to Harvard

When competing in endurance events--against others, against the clock, against ourselves--it's sometimes hard to know what trajectory to take. Aim too high and you'll crash and burn. Aim too low and be filled with the worst kind of shame: knowing you could have done better. Icarus knew the former, and I'm sure all of us have silently suffered the latter. Quite simply, there's a fine line between challenging yourself and fooling yourself. As competitors, it's our job to find this line and get as close to it as we can. As athletes, it's our job over time to push this line forward. In fact, it's the battle between being realistic and pushing that line that forms our motivation and inspiration. This battle can be highly toxic and it can be extremely powerful.

Different people take different approaches to finding the line. On one end of the spectrum are the total agnostics. Agnostic translates literally from the Greek to "without knowledge." These are the people that just do it: let's go out there, bang heads, and see what happens. On the other end are the cognitive determinists: based on hitting certain points in training, we can know exactly what to expect on race day--one determines the other, completely. Most of us find our place somewhere in between.

I admit to erring on the side of agnosticism, if only slightly.
Consequently this post is written in response to a certain cognitive determinist. This guy is one smart dude, a fantastic coach, and a person for whom I have great respect and admiration. Still, I take issue with his determinism. This is why.

Numbers are objective. Numbers speak reality, not magic.

The problem is that to make predictions we have to interpret these numbers using models and, as any good modeler will tell you, "all models are wrong, but some are useful" (George Box--statistician). Add to this the problem that the numbers we use for performance are typically measures of something and all measurements are subject to error and our uncertainty increases. But forget that latter part for now; I'm more interested in models and model error as it has to do with how we predict and perceive our performances and athletic potential.

We can use objective information (or information that is almost free of error and therefore really close to being objective) to predict performance, but how we use it (our model) is always subjective. The very choice that we make to select or create a model is subjective.
In short, we must interpret numbers--they do not speak to us without interpretation--and interpretation is fallible.

Having established what I think can reasonably be treated as objective (numbers, aka model inputs) and what has to be considered inherently subjective (model outputs, predictors of performance and potential), I want to get at the latter, or how we interpret our models.

Numbers and models can lure you into a false sense of determinism; that is, if your numbers and inputs are objective, then the prediction you spit out must also be objective. If so, then we could easily predict beforehand, based on our training, what we will do in the coming race.

But you know by now that I don't believe this.

Even if the numbers were perfect, a model is just a simplified way of describing how things work and therefore spits out predictions that are imperfect. Just as there are more things in heaven and earth than our philosophy can hold, Horatio, no model can perfectly contain all that goes into determining performance. Even if the person who made the model is wicked smart.

So what does determine performance? Or, more practically, what are the most important influences on performance? I know where you think I'm going--that heart is most important thing-- And you're somewhat right, but not really.

I believe in educated predictions. I really do. It's just that our knowing has its limitations, and this is my first beef. Our predictions can be based on the facts, and yet still be wrong. This is includes knowing how a given athlete will perform on race day when solely using numbers as performance potential.

It also includes knowing how an athlete will react to a numerical analysis of her performance potential, and that's my second beef. I believe the emotional/mental effect these numerical/modeled predictors has on an athlete is variable and affects performance, positively or negatively, depending on the personality of the athlete. I would argue further that female athletes become vulnerable to psychological defeat when a coach makes sure she understands her limitations based on the evidence that has been presented by her current performance indicators. Said female athletes become discouraged, maybe even despondent. They began espousing how they are not innately athletically gifted, and how they feel that perhaps they should just throw in the towel. Their hard work cannot translate into the dreams they had for themselves, at least not in the short term--all is lost--they are not worthy--coach doesn't believe they can make onto the podium, or to Kona, or wherever they aim to go.

This is not the intent of the coach, of course. It's the coach's job to help the athlete find the line--to make sure she is both challenged and not fooling herself. The coach wants to make sure the athlete is being realistic about her potential performance. But the thing is, the cognitive deterministic coach doesn't actually know an athlete's potential, within a reasonable band of expectation. He can make an educated guess at it using the models he's created, but as we've determined, those models can be flawed. Additionally, he hasn't taken into consideration so many different variables of athletic performance: the conditions on race day, the competition present, how the athlete reacts to competition, whether the athlete is able to digest enough in terms of fuel, the way an athlete reacts to the pressure and pain that racing presents, and finally, and importantly, the feelings the athlete has about herself and her performance potential come race morning.

These last two variables, an athlete's reaction to pressure and pain and her believe about herself and her potential on race morning can be coached, but it can be a challenge to do so. Athletes must believe they can endure pressure and pain. I'm very interested in how coaches/we can train our brains to interpret extreme pain differently so that we can race through it. However, that's not what I want to get at here. What I want to get at is that other variable: how an athlete feels about herself and performance potential.

One thing I learned in my 15 years of teaching is this: tell a child she's not going to make it to Harvard--her IQ (a fantastically subjective model, I will add) just doesn't support it--and she won't. Oh, every once in a while a child (usually with amazing parents) will say FUCK YOU and prove you wrong, but usually this isn't the case. When a kid works hard, despite what her IQ or intellectual testing may indicate, she needs to be told she can go anywhere, do anything. She's smart, she's hot, she's got the world in her hands. She needs to be told this ESPECIALLY when her testing reveals that her performance needs some major improvement if she wants that Harvard degree. She is already worried that she sucks. Part of a coach's job is to coach her out of this belief--which will only hold her back. She does not need to be told her goal to get to Harvard is unrealistic. She needs to be told that she is worthy, she is smart, and that she should hold fast to that dream. As a bonus, once she believes this, going to Harvard doesn't really matter.

So this is it:

Girls/women beat themselves almost every moment of every day. Most of us totally fear we suck--some of us downright are convinced of it. We are ready for you to say we can't make it. If you confirm the fear that our goal is not achievable, we just may believe you and we just may limit ourselves to the numerical expectations you put forth. This is not solely an argument against model accuracy. The greater enemy is the self-fulfilling nature of deterministic thinking to which you don't want us to fall prey. Instead, if you hold your tongue about those numbers and don't allow subjective objectivism to get in the away, we may just move beyond the doubt in our minds and move to another level in our performances--a level you never would have predicted. If you remind us we rock, and have the potential to rock more, if you voice your pride and your belief in us, while simultaneously focusing on getting us to do the day to day work that will get us the slot and asking us to stay tough, continue to work hard to improve on our performance indicators, and keep the faith, then we will achieve our dream. And if we don't? Who the fuck cares at that point? We held fast to the dream and at least we had a chance to fly.
Last summer I competed in two 1/2 Ironman races. My performance indicators were the same for both events. I weighed the same, the hours I had put in were the same, my speed potential and durability as measured by my workouts and racing were the same. The two courses (Timberman and Clearwater) were very different, of course. At Timberman, my performance indicators put me at a 5:25. At Clearwater my performance indicators put me at a 5:06.

The model I used (some of you are familiar with it ;) made it appear that my training for each race was nearly the same. Yet it neglected some key factors. For the second race I had more intensity and speed work and I had a different psychology going in. But the model didn't capture these variables--it didn't cover all the important aspects of the physical training and it didn't include what I believe to be crucial difference between the two races--the psychological preparation. But how could it? One model can't measure everything. One model can't be solely accurate. One model can't solely capture the sum total of an athlete, her training, her mindset, and therefore her performance potential.

I completed Timberman in 5:21.
I completed Clearwater in 4:55.

In both performances I out-raced my indicators, but with Clearwater the difference was eleven minutes as opposed to four. Why?

I believe it's in the words my coach spoke to me in the days leading up to Clearwater and the day before the race. She didn't analyze my numbers. She knew them, but we didn't discuss them. She knew that what was holding me back was my fear--especially blowing up on the run if I went too hard on the bike, or telling myself I went too hard on the bike and so I couldn't run. She told me to race without fear--to just go. She believed I could do it. This would be the race of my life. I needed to continually tell myself while competing that I was having the race of my life.
Low, when I got on that bike and I began to back off, thinking about the run to come, I picked my pace up again. No fear. My bike split was a 2:34. When I got onto the run and my pace started to slow I pushed the thought that I had worked too hard on the bike out--and I ran a 1:44. It was my psychology that got me those 11 minutes. My. psychology.

To sum this marathon of a post up:
"The purpose of computation is insight, not numbers." (R.W. Hamming, mathematician and computer scientist). How insightful is it to rely solely on numbers, take passion for granted, and neglect psychology in assessing what we will do and how far will we go? Maybe as important, how fun is it?
The answer is, of course, subjective.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I got a pap smear yesterday, but that's not what this is about...

I visited my gynecologist yesterday. Bet you can't wait to read this post!~

Actually, my gyno is also my primary care doc, so it was a duel physical/gyno kind of appointment. I have had the same doctor since I was 22 years old. She delivered all of my babies. She's tough, and funny, and well, I actually consider her my friend. An interesting side note--her daughter writes for and acts in the show The Office. She (my doctor) was actually in one episode of the show, playing Kelly's mom (who is, of course, actually her mom). Mindy is Dr. C's second child. Her oldest is an M.D./PhD. Talk about a gifted kids....

But I digress.
Dr. C (Swati) is freaked out by my weight. She is worried.
This is one problem with having had the same doctor for the last 16 years. She showed me a chart of my weight since I was 22 years old, and it has dropped a few pounds each year, aside from the pregnancy years. I'm a good 20 pounds lighter now then I was then. But--- OF COURSE I am! I am training like a mad woman! And I was slightly overweight in my early 20s because I was drinking like a fish and eating sausages late at night (remember I'm a Bostonian--that's what we eat when drunk at 2 am).
She pointed out the BMI chart and noted that one more block over and I am underweight. Right. But I AM NOT underweight right now. I am kind of exactly where I should be--which is not underweight, but not at all overweight.
This conversation went on and on.
She believes I need to gain 10 lbs.
"That's all, Mary!" (said with her thick Indian accent.) "10 pounds!"
Then she added, "Mary, I can see your wrinkles on your face. They will be gone if you gain ten pounds. And, Mary, you will have breasts again."
Oh boy.
She then suggested maybe I have my breasts injected with saline so they would plump up and I wouldn't look like a young boy.
Oh yeah.
Nothing like the raw truth from your gyneocolgist.
I must admit I kinda miss having breasts. But I run faster with no breasts and that's the bottom line. Fast is better than hot, especially if you are 38 and off the market anyway.

I have my first tri of the season on Mother's Day.
I'm getting nervous.
This is the first tri I ever did. It's a very short one: 400 yard pool swim, 7 miles on the bike, a 2.3 mile run. Yep, doesn't get shorter than that. Sprinting isn't exactly my strength. I seem to fare better the longer the event. I am far superior at the half IM than sprints, for example, and a far better marathoner than 5ker. Still, sprints are fun.
I have a person to beat. Her name is Mary, and she hauled ass last year, so I have to have my game face on to beat her this year. She won't be there to compete, but her time from last year stands, and I will race against her ghost.

The USAT rankings came out.
I got honorable mention this year. I'm #116 in the country in my AG (of those who completed two USAT sanctioned races, anyway.)
I'm happy with this.
But next year I want All American. I'm 11 spots away. I'm gonna get it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Century (and the blog post) that Lasted A Millennium and Other Blah

"This challenging century will take you through the peaceful but steep hills of west-central Massachusetts for a tour of quaint New England hilltop towns to the southeast of the mighty Quabbin Reservoir."

Sounds awesome, huh?
Looks gorgeous, doesn't it?

Tell that to my quads. They weren't too happy by about mile 60--and about 10,000 feet of climbing into the ride. Lest you think I'm kidding around about the 10K feet--please know, I'm not. The ride was roughly 12,500 ft of climbing in total. Beautiful? Yes, in parts. Quaint? Yes, in parts. Steep hills, yes--the whole fucking way.

Last weekend the hub. and I left the kids with my in-laws and embarked on this century. We got up early, headed to McDonald's for some Egg McMuffin Magic (I know, I know. You need to cut me a little slack. I just lurv the Egg McMuffin for a special pre-century treat...) Anyway, we headed west and arrived in the quaint town of Rutland. There was a huge, and I mean huge, multi-town rummage sale going in the church yard across from where we parked. Yep, we're no longer in Boston! I made a few very un-funny jokes about the rut that people must be in living out here in rut-land.

They were nervous jokes. I was nervous. The hub is a super athletico, you must understand. Granted, I am in better shape than he is, but most of this time this really doesn't matter. I could be in the best shape of my life (which, well, I am) and he will still kick my ass. This is a man who has done a 2:40 marathon. This is a man who barely missed making it to the Olympic trials in the Steeple. This is a man who is 6 feet tall to my 5 feet 2 inches, and who has quads twice the size of mine.

So. I was a little concerned. I didn't want to hold him back. I wanted to make him proud. You know.

Andy had been a little sick--or actually a lot sick--for the week preceding our epic ride. He seemed okay this morning, though, so I wasn't worried about that. Actually, I figured that I may have a better chance of keeping pace given he was still under the weather.

(bring in the ominous clouds and music now...
sick + century = not a very good idea)

Okay. So we get on our bikes loaded up with gels and bars and water and drink and maps and tubes and phones and all that good stuff. Andy looked like a pack animal to me with his dorky stuffed camelbak. He reminded me that Joanna Zeiger had a Camelbak on when she won Worlds 70.3 last year. (Yeah, whatever. They're still dorky.)

We headed out. Beautiful day. Not a cloud in the sky (or at least not an ominous one...)
We we're headed downhill. Andy was hammering away at like 35 mph and I was huffing like a seventy-year old smoker trying to keep up. And did I mention we were going downhill? And it was five minutes into our century? Oh yeah.
After 10 minutes Andy stopped, probably a mile ahead at this point, and waited for me. I tried not to give him the dirtiest look ever when I caught up. It didn't work. Dirty look and scorn were written all over me. He shrugged, and took off again.

This went on for the next two hours.
Add to this that the road was craptastic with winter ruin and the downhill turned into slow, gradual, and then sharp, and then gradual, and then sharp uphill.
I was in a shit mood.
Andy would wait for me every once in awhile and when I caught up he'd say things like, God, we need to do this more often. It's gorgeous out here. What a great road. Isn't this awesome? etc etc. etc.
Kill. me. now.
Gradually I began to hold my own. Or maybe not. Had the pace finally slowed?
And then I see Andy, up ahead, stopped.
What up?
His tube has just gone pffft. (note to the unsuspecting: metaphor alert! File this away in your memory...same category as the clouds.) Our first flat of the season.
He changes the tube, re-clinches the tire. A split second after he hits the CO2 cartridge--BAM! Second (and last) tube blows out. Our second flat of the season. This sucks. Perhaps you've been here before. We're 35 miles into the century and probably 34 miles from the car as the crow flies.

In a stroke of good luck (our last), he remembers his patch kit and fixes the first flat tube. He gets his front tire back on and after a 20-minute pause, we're back rolling. Andy starts off ahead but on the first uphill he slows down and lets me lead. I have been hanging out for those 20 minutes and I just want to GOGOGO. So I start hammering. I hammer away for like 10 minutes. Then I turn a bit to check for Andy.

No Andy.
I stop. I look.
No Andy.

I turn around and bike back in the direction from which I just came. Did he flat again?
And then I see him slowly moving up the hill.
When he gets to me he stops. He's red. He's panting. He's shaking. He's sweating.
What. is. going. on.?
This is not good.

He hadn't felt well, and had taken a hit off his inhaler. But that hadn't helped. The nice sunny day had gotten hot. It's in the upper 80's. Sweat is pouring off his face.
Oh boy.
When did you last take Advil? I ask.
At 6 am.
It's now 11am. Okay. You need something more. Do you have any more Advil? Tylenol?
I feel his forehead. He's on fire. He admits he's a little dizzy.
We begin again. He leads. I pass. I am cautious not to move too fast.
After a bit I turn to see if he's okay.
No Andy.
I wait.
No Andy.
I see him slowly moving up the hill.
I wait for him to catch up.
repeat again.
repeat again.

Okay, he's more than a little dizzy--he has completely crashed and has nothing left. He is struggling to go 15mph on the flat. We. are. fucked. We're about halfway through this century and it seems like we have 80 miles to go.

We get to the Quabbin Reservoir. Heat is shimmering off the lake. Andy removes his helmet and I note he's still shaking and sweating. Salt is caked down his face, his arms, his back. I touch his arm and his skin is burning hot. He takes another hit off his inhaler.
I wonder if he'd kill me if I call an ambulance. What if he has pneumonia? What if this is a recurrence of the pericarditis he had a few years back? (That would be swelling around the heart--and yep, it's very serious.)

We take off our shoes and sit down to discuss what to do. We have 50 miles to go. It's already 1 pm. We started at 9:30 a.m. You do the math.
We decide to cool it for a bit--take in some liquids, re-fuel with a peanut butter sandwich.
We sit and look at the resovoir. On any other day I'd think it was beautiful.

After a half hour we start up again. Five minutes into starting Andy is still a wreck. We are crawling up a large, two mile hill, and he is struggling. I wait for him and we stop.
He tells me that I need to go on, finish up the ride, but that he is going to use his Blackberry to GoogleMap the fastest, shortest way back to the car. He is going to take his time and try to make it, and he will call me if he needs me.

what to do. what to do. what to do.
Would a good wife stay with him and guide him home? Would a good wife understand that he can't stand hours more of his wife waiting for him with pity in her eyes? Would a good wife insist on calling an ambulance--or the police maybe to escort him back to the car?
what to do. what to do. what to do.

Finally I just let him go. He is adamant that it's the best way.
I'm so worried about him and whether he'll make it back that I fail to contemplate that fact that I have no Blackberry, no real map, and very little liquid left because I have been relying on Andy's dorky CamelBak to refuel?
umm. no.
Didn't think about those things. Go me.

Within 20 minutes I am completely lost. I have climbed a fucking mountain, I am now in a labyrinth of a neighborhood, and I am close to tears. I see a woman walking and I nearly attack her in my panic. She looks at my pathetic map and says, "Honey, this map is not going to get you back to Rutland. It's just not. And furthermore, honey, it will be nightfall by the time you make it back there. Rutland is 45 miles away!" (Note here that non-bikers fail to realize that you can go 45 miles in few hours.) She helps me find my way down the mountain and to a main route. I call Andy on my cell and tell him I'm taking the main route back to the car. Century. be. damned.

I start hauling ass as best as I can. I'm out of drink. I'm tired. My quads are spent, I have 45 miles to go and it's 3:30 p.m. Every huge long hill I hit I curse. I curse a lot, because the whole fucking ride is uphill. Ten miles to the end I see a biker walking his bike up the road. Could it be? Is that?
Oh my God.

Andy. I catch up to him, stop. His back tire is totally blown out. Our third flat of the season. He's been walking for the last mile and a half.
This has been one stellar day. The only good thing is that I can finally get some drink. I chug from that stupid Camelbak.

We plan that I will haul back to the car, get the car and come to pick him up. He will walk up to the tiny country store his Blackberry indicates is up the street.
I move on. I am spent. I am grouchy. I am parched. I am hot. It is all uphill. It is 4:30. A bridge is closed and I have to backtrack a mile to get around it. I've been on the bike for over seven hours, but only ridden 90 miles. Finally I make it back to the car, which is baking in the sun. The yard sale is now long done. It's quiet in the church yard. I throw my bike in the car, and root around the back trying to find some water. I find a half full bottle. The water is so warm I can barely swallow it. I blast the AC and head back to get Andy, who is dusty, sweaty, sick as a dog, and sitting on the old porch of the old country store, drinking a root beer.

Start time: 9:30 a.m.
Actually time spent riding: 6 hours
Finish time: 5:20 p.m.
Time spent out there: 8 hours
Mileage: 96 miles
Elevation: 12,655 feet of climbing
T-Run: Didn't happen
Mood: Elated. ThankGod the nightmare is finally over.
Time to have a beer!

The end.
(Bet you never thought it would. Neither did I.)