Friday, November 30, 2012

Dear Sugar,

Last week I went to Maine for Thanksgiving. When there, Alina gave me a copy of Cheryl Strayed's book Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar.  Strayed writes an advice column entitled Dear Sugar for an online site called The Rumpus. The book is a compilation of her favorite letters and her responses to them. 

What makes the Dear Sugar advice column different from other advice columns like Dear Abby and the like, is that Strayed crafts responses that call on her own experience and life story. She opens herself up completely and puts it all out there. She's wise, but also vulnerable. She's smart, but she has done some very un-smart things. She's incredibly insightful. I highly recommend the book; I read it in three sittings, and didn't want to put it down at all. I recommend it, but that isn't the reason I'm writing about it. 

I write about because I have this idea.
I want to be Sugar.
And of course I can't be Sugar.
She is smart, funny, tender, pretty, and most importantly, she gives excellent, thoughtful advice in response to (often) extremely complicated problems.  Also, she's like-- famous. And she has published books, articles, stories...And she has a real life story with really complicated and distressing and sad and frightening parts to it that she had to overcome and did-and she can allude to these things in her responses to the super complicated problems presented to her.
She is the real deal.

Still, as I read her book my vain self thought, DEAR GOD! This is what I was meant to be! My destiny was to be an advice columnist! All these years and I didn't know my true calling...

And of course I jest. Except not really. I really think I was supposed to be an advice columnist. Now, you ask, what makes me think I am qualified for such a job? Oh, whatever. I'm not. Who ever IS qualified to be an advice columnist? I still think it  is my calling, qualified or not.  The question is how to fulfill my calling. And here is where you come in, Reader. You can help me to achieve my dream of becoming an advice columnist! I see it now... All these years I blogged, and all these posts have led me to this: Dear Mary.
(Can't you see it?)

(Yes, I am being sarcastic. Except again, not really. I really want to be Sugar! or rather, Dear Mary!)

But my column, naturally, would not be advice on love and life. (Although I certainly am willing to answer questions on love and life, having made my own fair share of missteps that I'd love to write about to make you all feel better about your own lives, and so on.) No, instead my column would be Dear Mary (or Dear something... you will all have to help me with that), Advice on Triathlon and Life. 

Now, you need to understand that Sugar does not answer your every day run of the mill life questions. She answers some tough, murky shit. (Can shit be murky? Perhaps just the toilet bowl is murky with shit? You know... after your son leaves it and without flushing, and the dogs have their way with it? That is certainly murky.)

Anyway. My point is that the letters to her are complex and confused, and the letters she writes in return are detailed and provide clarity. Here's a good example of an exchange:
Advice Column #96: The Dark Cocoon
(just click on the title above, Mom.)

I provide this example see you can see that what I'd like to undertake is a writing venture as much as an advice venture. So the responses I give would be part memoir, part advice. I'm not expecting that you will write me letters like this, although if you did that would be quite fun. Instead, though, I am asking for letters, or even short questions, that ask about triathlon and life. Or the triathlon life, or just the life of someone who happens to be a triathlete. I'm not sure what that means or looks like because so far I have received no letters. However, when I do, or if I do, I will let you know what that means.

As with Dear Sugar, your letters, or questions, can be anonymous, and should include a pseudonym at letter's end as opposed to your real name. Of course, I will likely know who you are if you email me, but whatever. My point is that I would not publish that information. You can ask silly quesitons or serious questions, and they can be about whatever you want them to be about. In short, that's what I'm trying to say here.

So yes, I am asking you to write to me.
Here's my email address:


Monday, November 26, 2012

Okay, I'm Ready.

Yesterday I followed Ironman Cozumel online.
I checked two age groups pretty consistently--W40-44 and W45-49. I looked at 45-49 because my friend Robin was racing. She kept me on the edge of my seat, that Robin. She swam well, biked better, and ran her way up to 4th where she stayed. But I could tell by examining splits during the marathon that she was edging closer and closer to girls in positions 2 and 3. And then final result came in: she had stayed in fourth but was only 1 minute off third and 2 minutes off 2nd. Amazing performance. But DAMN!

I also looked at W40-44 because.... I was supposed to race in 40-44. My name sat sadly on the bottom of the list, a bunch of zeros following it... because I did not start. Instead I watched the race from my computer in Massachusetts. Becky, a local athlete to me, dominated the 40-44 field. She lead out of the water, was second off the bike, and then reclaimed first and held it for the whole run. It was fun to see--especially because I was  not trying to race her!

I had many a pang as I watched the race unfold online. I felt simultaneous relief and torture. I should be there and I want to be there--but thank God I am not there. 

I have been really taking it easy the last month, and I needed to take it easy. I needed to let the previous season leach out of me completely. In the late summer and early fall I took on the project of having fun in order to start that leaching. That worked for awhile. I did Masters swimming and took flying trapeze lessons and competed in cyclocross races. I bought fun swim suits and swore off Gu and sport drink and salt tabs, and I didn't run for 10 straight weeks. And then I was done with that. I was ready to be quiet and ready to stop trying so hard at forgetting. So I just stopped and read books for awhile. I started to run a bit. I didn't get on my bike at all.

And here I am.

I was supposed to be there, and I wanted to be there, but Thank God I was not there.  The 2012 season needed to leach out of me, and I needed to let it. I needed to let it leach out of me as I allowed its lesson to seep into me. I needed to let my disappointment morph into wisdom.

And I did that. I'm ready to train again.

Today is the day that marks the beginning of the training that will prep me for racing in 2013. I've created my own plan through to my first race in late March, and I'm excited about it. I'm also looking forward to manipulating the plan as I execute it! I love making plans--and I love tweaking plans, and sometimes I love totally changing the plans I have made!

This morning I swam Masters. I wore my pink-polka-dotted suit, my pink cap, and used my pink pull buoy during our pull sets. I nestled down in my lane with my lane mates Ian, Tod and Randy and I worked. And it felt awesome to work! And I can't wait to get up tomorrow morning and work again.

Rest is important, etc, and so on, blah blah blah. You know what? I guess it is. But rest is passive.  I didn't need rest, although certainly I have literally rested. What I needed, and what ahteltes often need, particularly after a very disappointing season, is much more than the passive inaction of rest. I had to fight to let go of last season. I had to fight to get beyond the disappointment of working REALLY hard and having things not go right. I had to let myself heal both actually (I did have that damn fracture) and mentally by forcing myself to try new things that might bring back some of the joy I once found in training and racing.

That wasn't going to happen in just a few weeks. I needed months. Sometimes we need months! And frankly, I will not be the same ever again. Disappointment can change us. I believe when we learn from that disappointment it can change us for the better.

2013 SEASON. 
Both little races and big races. 
Both new races and races I do every year. 
And best of all, everything is subject to change... 

  • Jan. 1    New Year's Day 5k, Needham MA
  • Jan. 20  Jimmy the Greek's 4 Mile Race in OOB, ME
  • Jan. 27 Wellesley Masters Meet
  • Feb. 3  Cape 10 Mile Road Race, ME
  • Feb. 16 Metrowest Valentines Swim Meet
  • Feb. 17 Foxboro 10 Mile Road Race, MA
  • Feb. 24 Casco Bay Toughen UP Challenge (swim meet) ME
  • March 17 Quincy Half Marathon
  • March 31 California 70.3
  • April 14 Wellesley Masters Meet
  • April 21 Run for Charlotte 10K
  • April 28 Cape Swim Meet
  • May 5 Sudbury Spring Sprint
  • May 10-12 Masters National Championship (swim), Indianapolis
  • June 9 Holliston Sprint
  • June 15 Patriot Half Iron
------------------ BREAK
    • July 26 Ocean Park 5k
    • August 18 Tri For Preservation Sprint
    • August 25 OOB Half Iron
    • Sept. 8 Pumpkinman Half Iron
    Sept/Oct/Nov--lots of cyclocross! 

    Tuesday, November 20, 2012

    Running in the Dark

    Last Sunday I started my run late in the day. It was 4:15 when I finally got going. I had on shorts and a long-sleeved shirt, and about 10 minutes into the run I decided I had made a mistake by not wearing tights and slipping on a pair of gloves. I also realized that if I wanted to finish my run, I'd be finishing in the dark.

    I don't exactly like running in the dark, and I'm definitely not used to it. As darkness fell I felt increasingly tentative about each step, worried I might trip, and I was alarmed by how bright the lights of the oncoming cars were. As I ran I kept thinking that running alone in the dark--and not realizing the dark was coming so soon--was metaphoric... for something. Or maybe not a metaphor; maybe an omen? But that's as far as my brain got; I was too focused on not getting hit by a car to allow my thinking to get even a little complex.

    Once done with the run I contrived a couple quite apt, (if cliched) metaphors for my running as the night came on. But the only thing that really stayed with me of those metaphors had to do with the very basic LIFE metaphor.  We try so hard, in life, to refrain from running in the dark. It makes us uneasy; our footing is not secure. And we worry that a car, with its bright lights and careless power, will plow us down as we try to get home.

    My run on Sunday aside, I generally avoid running in the dark. For years I still did so; I was teaching, and to get my running in I had run in the early, dark hours before school began.  To combat my extreme dislike of running alone in darkness I found a group of runners who also ran early and glommed onto them. (I'm still friends with these people. We eventually formed a running club, GNRC.) I still didn't relish getting started in the pitch black, but when chattering away with friends I'd soon forget that we could barely see where we were going.

    Running in the dark, especially when done alone, requires courage and it requires faith.  You need to believe that you will keep your footing even if you can't exactly see where you're landing; you need to believe that others, driving in their all-powerful cars, will notice and respect you.  I don't trust my footing that much, and I definitely don't trust other humans that much.

    Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately, I'm not quite sure) we go through stretches in life where we simply cannot avoid running in the dark. But what I wonder is if those periods of time aren't bad at all. Do those times actually do us good by pulling us out of our complacency? When we run in daylight we move without really paying attention: we know where we are going, we can see the road ahead, we know our pace because we can see the face of our Garmins.  It's all good. But is it? Because just when you think you have this run thing figured out, you then have a run that starts out well, in the light, but  half way through that run you realize you haven't prepared correctly--you are totally under-dressed for the conditions--and you are far from home, and the sun is fading from the sky. We are forced, at those times, to call on our courage and faith, and if it's been a very long time since we ran in the dark, that can be tough to do.

    This seems to be turning into a post in which I advocate just getting out there and running in the dark. Develop your courage! Have faith! Put on those running shoes and boldly step into a pothole and get hit by a car while running in the dark!

    The command is trite. I know.

    I think what I am really after is not the idea that you must put yourself in the dark so you can be awakened, but rather the idea that without running in the dark, we fail to develop our courage and faith. I know faith conjures the religious, and that's not what I mean here. What I mean is that it requires faith to remove ourselves from comfort and declare what we are after. It takes courage to believe we can achieve something if we have no proof we can do so.

    The other day a friend of mine posted his belief--online--that he would make it to Kona in 2013. My reaction upon seeing this was something along the lines of WOAH, Bold statement there! What makes you believe that you have what it takes to get there when you haven't yet even completed your first Ironman? But I realized, soon after having that thought, that my reaction had more to do with me, and my struggle with having faith, than it had to do with his declaration. He KNOWS that he must really believe--or it won't happen. To declare it to the world is a way of making it real. I know, and he must know, that he will be running in the dark to get there. But if he believes he will make it through, he just might. That is the way faith works.

    I wish it was as simple as deciding on faith. I'm a cynic, and that cynicism extends to my belief in my own ability to achieve. So I'm thinking maybe what I need is to run in the dark--you know--sort of symbolically. Maybe I need to act like I have the faith that I won't step in a pothole or slip on leaves or get hit by a careless driver who could care less about my faith--or my lack of it. 

    Between now and my first race of the season, California 70.3 in late March, I am designing and following my own training plan. I don't feel like this is running in the dark. I certainly have done my fair share of designing effective training plans for others and for myself. Still, this move requires faith on my part. My plan is different than anything I have ever done before--and therefore it's both exciting and risky. I have had Kurt look at my plan, and he has offered up that it's not totally insane. I'm taking that as endorsement.

    Here's to faith and courage.

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    The Classics Club

    I'm somewhat of a school addict. If I could take on as my permanent job that of STUDENT, I would be quite pleased. Being a student is actually similar to being a triathlete in training.

    When training, you are working toward something great. You are working toward betterment, toward achievement, toward glory, toward greatness. Your training has a purpose outside of just being a way to keep thin, to keep in shape, to stave off mortality. Being a student is similar. Your reading, writing and insight have purpose when you are taking a class. They are attached to a goal--that of getting a good grade and that of being more articulate, better read and more knowledgeable than Bob who is sitting next to you in class.

    A grade--A race. Same idea.

    I get to work toward something--and that thing, though contrived, is also real. You really do compete in a race; you really do receive a grade. Once that carrot (the race/the grade) is taken from me, however, my effort seems without purpose--just a silly self-indulgence. Of course, you and I both know that even attached to a race or a grade, training and reading/writing is just as much a form of self indulgence. I'm not out to better the world; I'm out to "better" (read indulge) me. I could get all nihilist on you and explain how since the world is inherently devoid of meaning except that which I ascribe to it, I need these contrivances to get me up in the morning. But that's probably a bit much for 11:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning.

    Anyway. Often in the off season I start hankering for goals. Usually this results in me starting a bunch of big projects that I can't execute properly once my training and racing picks up again. Nevertheless, I can't seem to help myself. This week, after my work and short workouts were done, I spent time building a list of classic literature I want to read in the next five years. I've set goals like this before (that is, to read a set amount of a type of literature in a prescribed period of time), but, as explained earlier, when the goal isn't attached to something outside of me--like a race or a grade--I have trouble sticking with it. But this time... this time I found something--a lovely contrivance to keep me working! I am joining a blogger group called The Classics Club. On it you post a list of the 50+ plus classics you plan to read in the next five years. As you read through the list, you blog about each book.  Here is my list.

    I did something similar to this in my late 20s. I didn't join a group, but I did make a list of classics I wanted to read. These classics had to have  had movie versions made of them, however. I'd finish a classic and then reward myself by viewing the movie. I remember I made Andy watch all the movies with me. At the time I kept a journal of my thoughts--whether the movie did justice to the book, or not. I'll be damned if I can find the journal now, of course. Another awesome project alive only in my brain... and not on paper. Of course, even when you have written or photographic evidence of a successful project, it still really only exists in your brain as a fragmented and imperfect memory.

    I'm posting this in my reading blog, where I will detail my classics reading, and on my tri blog just IN CASE any of you triathletes are also closet classics lovers and want to journey over to Reading It to read about my adventures in Classics reading.

    I finished Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meaning this week. Can you believe I hadn't read that one? I know. Me too. I loved it... but honestly I loved Cider House and Garp more. Owen slides into the number 3 spot of best loved Irving books for me. I also just finished Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers. You know, I really did NOT think I would like that one. The premise, that a huge portion of the world population vanishes into apocalyptic air, irritated me. Was this going to be like Left Behind? But I knew Perrotta does not espouse any one particular religious view, so my curiosity was peaked. The novel is more of a character study -- imagining how individuals would respond in the wake of an apocalyptic occurrence.

    Okay, triathletes. Enough on books.
    Next post will be back to our regularly scheduled programming.
    One point five weeks until I begin actual TRAINING again!

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012


    November is almost always a quiet month for me in terms of training and racing. In a few weeks I will officially begin training for next season, but for now I am lazy. Sometimes I do my workouts; sometimes I do not.

    Lately I've been doing a lot of this:

    Hazel is less happy about this development than I am. Here she is trying to communicate with me telepathically: NO more reading, Mom! Time to take me running in the woods! What's the deal here!!

    When I'm not lounging in bed reading, I've been swimming and running a bit. My swimming is going well because I have been swimming with a Masters group that has me swimming more and swimming harder than I have for a long time. Running--not so much. I'm enjoying running, especially since it was taken from me (because of the stress fracture) for eight weeks. But my running is slowwwwwwww. Partially this is because it's supposed to be slow. It's November! Partly this is because when you don't run for 8 weeks you lose some (or a lot more than some) run fitness.

    It's okay.
    I'm keeping the faith that it will come back.

    I haven't been biking much at all lately. I had a ton of fun with cyclocross, but I can feel that my mind and body want to shut it down for a few weeks now, before they have to gear up for real training again. So I'm letting them shut down. See how much wiser I'm getting in my old age?  I know. It's kind of stunning, really.

    My favorite aspect of November is that it is generally a planning month.
    I love planning.

    I plan the garden for next spring, I plan my winter list of books to read, and I plan my next triathlon season.  I've officially decided that I am not training for an Ironman in 2013. I want to train for an Ironman, don't get me wrong. I love that training! But I think my body and mind need a break from it.  Lake Placid this year was hard... hard physically, of course, but mostly hard mentally. I wasn't in the game at all, especially for the run. Then very soon after Lake Placid I was diagnosed with the stress fracture.  I want to be one of those people who bounces back after a bad race and a bad injury; someone who triumphs by moving right on. That has been me in the past... but not so this time around. Maybe that's aging too?

    I spent the fall playing--doing cyclocross--something totally new for me, and I think I'm going to keep up that idea of play during 2013.  That is not to say I am blowing off training or racing... not at all.  But I'm doing a few things I haven't done before, and I'm leaving the Ironman until 2014.

    So, here it is! I know you have all been waiting with baited breath... my 2013 Racing Schedule!

    January. a New Year's 5k. That should be interesting. Wellesley Masters Swim Meet
    February. Cape Elizabeth 10 Miler. (some things never change) and the Foxboro 10 Miler (never done that one!)
    March: Quincy Half Marathon and California 70.3
    April: Break
    May: Sudbury Sprint, Masters Swim Nationals in Indianapolis
    June: Holliston Sprint, Patriot Half IM
    July: Break!
    August: OP 5k, Tri For Preservation Sprint, OOB 70.3
    September: Pumpkinman Half IM
    Sept-Dec: CROSS!

    I like the 70.3 distance, so I'm kind of psyched to be racing four of them next season. I'm also super excited to venture to Indianapolis in May for Masters Swim Nationals. I'll be swimming 50/100/200 backstroke (the only events I can qualify in!) but I'm MORE excited to just view the scene. I love watching really gifted swimmers, and this is the venue for that! And, of course, I can't wait to tackle cyclocross again next fall.  I plan to move and shake my way up from the bottom of  cat 4. Woot!

    Friday, November 9, 2012

    Who are you?

    Last month I met with a Jungian analyst to talk about Myers Briggs Typology. The goal was to determine my personality type so that he could recommend an appropriate analyst for me to see. I've always wanted to give Jungian analysis a shot--and mid-life seems an appropriate time to embark on such a trip.  I've known people who have gone through analysis and I think it sounds difficult, but rewarding and interesting.

    That said, I've tried to get through various Jungian texts numerous times--and I never really succeed. I want to have read Jung more than I want to read him. Most of what I know about Jungian analysis and theory I have learned not by actually reading Jung's work--but by reading about him and his work. This makes me a bit of a Jungian poser, I'm afraid.

    Soooo.....I haven't decided if I am going to pursue analysis. It's costly in terms of time and money--and I don't have a lot extra of either. And I really think I need to make it through at least one of his texts before I decide such an endeavor is a good choice for me, don't you?

    Anyway. The meeting with said Jungian analyst did re-peak my interest in personality type--and I had my MB type revealed to me once again.  I test as an ENFP.

    This is probably not shocking to you if you know me at all and you know anything about the MBTI.
    I have also tested as an INFJ and and ENFJ in the past. But mostly and most often I test as an ENFP. I just don't want to be an ENFP, so I think on occasion I have purposefully answered questions so I would not come out as that type.

    I will make the distinction for you:

    Bill Clinton is (supposedly) an ENFP.
    Martin Luther King, Jr. was (supposedly) an ENFJ.
    (The supposedlys are especially for you, Zac! :)

    See what I am saying here? I actually adore Bill Clinton, but it would feel slightly more noble to share a personality type with know?

    I write all this because I have been thinking about coaching, and the personality types of those who decide to coach. I don't think it's a stretch to say that there are certain types who gravitate toward coaching--just like there are those types that gravitate toward swim/bike/run. And the intersection of the types that choose to coach with the types that choose to compete... I find that interesting, and also worth study.

    It seems to me that knowing your own type and knowing the type of your prospective coach might help you understand each other, which might make working together easier and more productive. For example, if you are an NF, like me, and you are working with an ST, like I am, it might be that you clash a bit (or more than a bit) and you need to understand the other's perspective in order to stay in a working relationship. NF's are gushy and like to be gushed over. ST's think gushing is truly annoying and don't bother with it, assuming that you understand they think you are doing just fine unless you tell them otherwise. So an ST coach is not going to say Super job on that workout! You nailed that! when you do, in fact, nail a workout. He assumes you know you nailed it, and so what is there to say? The ST coach is more likely to clue you in to what you are doing wrong so you can correct it than to praise you when you have done something right. An NF may correct you too... but they will be gentle about it. ST's can be a little... harsh.

    I think most people have more of an idea of who they would like to be as a coach or an athlete than who they actually might be. For example, I am a cheerleading type who has disdain for cheerleaders. I admire and would like to be like those who are cold and scientific. What ends up happening, though, is that I cheerlead in my comments to my athletes, and then do my analysis of their workouts behind the scenes. Because I like to be praised, I assume others require that, too. I assume less often that they need to understand how I am using the data they provide from their workouts to determine their future workouts.  I'm sure this frustrates some of my NT or ST athletes, who really could give a shit if I tell them they did a good job. They just want to know what they did wrong so they can fix it.

    This is probably the MOST boring post ever if you do not know anything about MBTI and you don't know your type.  Here is a link to a quick test that will give you an idea as to what you test as. It's a short version of the test--not the actual MBTI--but it still works pretty well.
    Click here to take the test.

    Personality theory is enjoyed and utilized by some types (like most NF's) and thought of as a sublime waste of time to others (STJ's and STPs.)  I would argue that whether you like it or not, however, it is worthwhile to understand who you "are" and who your coach "is" so you can better understand why certain aspects of your relationship seem to work, and why others don't. Likewise, it's important to know what you require from a coach before you decide on one. Joe or Bob or Sue might be the best coach out there--but not if they don't provide what it is you need and want from a coach--no matter what that might be.

    Okay, now that I have blathered on and on, can you just take the test and tell me what you are and what type you think coaches you--if you are coached? AWESOME! Thank you. Good job. Well done. You nailed that! (No need for you to know why or how I will use the data... ;)