Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pain is ok.

This morning I was fortunate to be able to spend time at the DMV.

The DMV is the place of wonder.....the place it or not...we get to spend (sometimes) hours waiting for our number to be called to renew our driver's license or license plates.

That means, I had plenty of time to myself, to think.

The trend in 2018 seems to be athletes talking about their lack of mental strength and trying to figure out how to get it.

Sadly, we can't just go to the grocery store and purchase it.

It's across the board and typically follows a race where someone didn't have the results they expected.

There are two issues here rolled into one.

1.) Goal setting
2.) Mental toughness

I'm only addressing mental toughness. Every single athlete is different. Every single athlete has an approach that works for them.

This is why it is so important to have a Coach or a mentor or someone help you find the right strategy.

Of course, I'm in this group. This is the Year of Strong. This is the year that I am working on getting to the next level of my little triathlon hobby.

Inspirational quotes only go so far. When you are out on the course, alone with your thoughts, what happens?

Many years ago, Coach Liz told me (not a direct quote), "The half iron and iron are about outlasting the competition. The oly race is about pain. The people who race it the best either embrace the pain it or ignore it better than others".

I thought I understood what she was saying. Over the 4.5 years that I have been with her, I have found that I only hear what I am ready to hear at that moment and understand it in the way that I can for where I am.

Years later, I understand the deeper meaning of what she says.

A few weeks back, Liz sent me an article about peripheral versus central fatigue.

The article hit me like a load of bricks.

Here's a completely watered down explanation. Peripheral fatigue is the physical fatigue that we get. It's the legs burning feeling when you're pushing hard on the bike.

In other words, peripheral fatigue is PAIN.

But, it doesn't mean you're tired.

Here's where the article got interesting. Central fatigue is along the lines of mental fatigue. But, you're not really tired. Your body is experiencing fatigue/pain, so your central fatigue kicks in and says, "you're tired. slow down. back off".

I remembered Liz telling me, "The oly is about embracing the pain or ignoring it better than others".

And that's when it hit me. Just because I'm in pain, doesn't mean I'm tired.

I sent off an email to Liz with all my thoughts.  We went back and forth for a bit, and she said, " An old Coach once told me, 'The central governor won't let you die' ".

Just like that, I had a paradigm shift.

I started approaching my training with a completely different outlook.

Liz would give me a workout that was really hard. I started constantly saying to myself, "You're in pain. You're not tired. Pain is ok."

I started having incredible success with my running (in particular).

One day, I opened my training log to see that Liz wanted me to run my intervals at a 7:30 pace. I doubted myself and started at 7:57. I ended up building the intervals to the exact pace she wanted.
Throughout the workout, I repeated, "Pain is ok. You're not tired. You're in pain. Pain is ok".

I know. It's not exactly a quote that is going to be posted on an inspirational image of people running.

But hey, it worked for me.

I had another workout. It was my favorite type of workout: one of those run-bike-run-bike-run-bike workouts.

Those workouts are straight up brutal. To make it even harder, my runs were going to be sub 8:30 pace.

I'd never run as far as she wanted me to run at an 8:30 pace. NEVER.

After bike intervals at 105%, I didn't think. I started running at an 8:27.

Trust me. It really started hurting. Over and over, I repeated, "Are you tired? No. I'm not. I'm in pain. Pain is ok. Run harder".

I sped up to an 8:13 pace.

I amazed myself, truly amazed myself.

I know this is just training. I don't get wrapped up in training PRs. Still, they are glimpses that I might have found an approach that works for me.

It's not a natural way to think. In fact, it's not really an incredibly motivating way to work. It's more of a "cut through the bullshit. We have work to do" approach.  I'm a ways off from where I want to be and where I believe I can be, but these are the first steps in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

This is where I came from

Some of you already know this story.

Mr. Tea and I have been remodeling our house for an eternity.  This week, I was packing up the "health and fitness" section of our library; which is a fancy word for the bookcases overflowing with books: books piled on top, books sticking out from shelves, books everywhere.

It became a walk down memory lane as I found a treasure trove of old binders. Before the days of the internet (and then before the days of online tracking such as TrainingPeaks), there were binders. I kept track of nutrition, training, moods, etc.

I found a book of triathlon training plans with hand written notes:

Swim test with results of 2:30 per 100

SHITtake mushrooms.

I found a training plan from Runner's World from 2011.
My goal was to run a half marathon in 2:25.

That got me wondering what race I did. I had no memory of running a half marathon in 2011.

I decided to check my results on Athlinks. I don't really keep athlinks updated very well, but I thought it was worth a shot.

Athlinks has my results back to 2003.

I'm not sure if it is a complete list, but it's good enough.

This is what I want you to see. I regularly talk about coming from the back of the pack.

This is why I am who I am. 

This is why I encourage people constantly. 

THIS is why I take the time to answer questions at races.

I have been there. We have all been new to a sport. Some of us have to learn how to swim or get on a bike for the first time since we were kids. Some of us, spend more time (than others) at the back of the pack.

The first time I went to Nationals, I almost lost my shit. I was so nervous. I looked at all those super fast women and felt like a poser.

I don't belong here. It was a freak accident that I qualified.

At my 1st nationals, I met BD. BD is always ranked somewhere in the top 20 of my age group. I think she could tell that I was a nervous wreck. She spent time with me explaining the course, explaining rules, explaining how things were done.  The last thing she said to me was, "You qualified for this. Take it all in".

The next year at Nationals, we met up again. I took the opportunity to thank her.

The story continues......

I'm happy to say that I will be heading to the back of the pack this year as I venture into new races. This time around, I'm doing it with a new found appreciation for what it takes to get really good at something. I am going back to racing for the sheer enjoyment of racing with no regard for where I place.

This doesn't mean I won't be competitive. This doesn't mean I won't be giving everything I have.

It simply means that I respect those who have worked for many many years to get on that podium.

Maybe I'm not starting at the begining, but I am starting all over again.

Saturday, March 31, 2018


I started blogging in 2003 as part of a running forum. It's amazing to me that over the years, I've kept in touch with some of those runners. Some of them even read my blog, now and again. 

We've watched our kids grow up; we saw painful divorces together; we've lost family and friends; we've gone through treatment for horrible diseases...and won...and sometimes lost the battle. We've seen the arrival of grandkids.....or multiple grandkids.

We've seen each other go from casual runner to BQ'er to ultra-marathoner to triathlete to cyclist to yogi to cross fitter to Spartan racers to mountain climbers....and on and on.

We have celebrated so many wins together.

During that time, my blogging has changed. When I first joined the running forum, I was a casual runner. I'd done races over the years. I never trained for anything.

My blog posts were all about everything that I'd accomplished. I ran 8 miles, 10 miles, 15 miles for the FIRST TIME EVER.

I crossed the finish line of my first half marathon in 2:21 and my first marathon with those people (5:57---which is actually a lesson in how to "not" actually train for a marathon but run it anyway in a blizzard...because.....what else do you do when you turn 40)?

We've all done stupid stuff and laughed about it.

As I grew as an athlete, my training had to change to meet new goals.

What's that line in Miley Cyrus's song? Something like, "There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move".

I no longer talked about how hard a workout was. They're all hard. It's the nature of short course. We can go harder more days of the week because the workouts are shorter. I'm a triathlete so I'm speaking in terms of managing 4 sports (swim, bike, run, srength). If you are a single sport athlete, the number days of intensity depend on your distance, your age, your experience, etc. Obviously, you can't run hard 5 days in a row. In my world, I can train hard for 5 days in a row. 

I kept this quiet except for a few people. I made Team USA again. When I found out, I thought back to what it has taken to get to this point.

You'd be surprised at the number of people who will put you down for your success. They pretend to be supporters, but their jealousy rings through loud and clear. They see something in YOU that they don't believe they have.

They see your success as their failure.

At first, those comments really stung. Then, I realized (many years ago) that their words and actions reflect on them and have nothing to go with me. They are toxic people. I cut them out of my life.

Through my blog, I have aired my dirty laundry.

I have put my weaknesses and strengths on display. You've seen me get frustrated beyond anything I'd had experienced before. You've seen me surprise myself.

I have given you all access to all the good and bad about what it has taken me to get to where I am.

This is starting to sound like a Dear John letter.

It's not. It's about transformation.

As I've changed, my blog has had to change as well.

You know that 2018 is the Year of Strong. It's been all mental work this year. The result is that mental gains are being followed up with physical gains.

This is important shit. It's probably the most important training I have ever done. And, I think it is really important to talk about it here, but I struggle with how to do that.  Although, I'm no expert. I certainly have a lot of experience that can benefit others.

Going forward, I don't know if you'll find all this "mental training" incredibly boring. For me, it's another step. I want to continue to share what I'm going through. 

Because not all wins are about a finish time. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

You're fuckin' with a cabbage

Feeling inspired doesn't even cover my current mood.

Yes. That is definitely more appropriate.

In the past month, I've gone from lost to found. Before, I wasn't really sure what I was going to do this year.

During one particularly hard bike session, it came to me. This will be the Year of Strong.

Strong in every way possible. 

It's starting to show. I think the universe sends us signs, and I'm listening.

I have to give credit where credit is due. Everything that is happening because of other people.


Coach Liz has me work with a trainer. I also have a massage therapist who is a cross fit coach. Between the two of them, I have been hitting weights hard and have been giving my muscles much needed recovery. Three times a week.

In order to make strength gains, it doesn't matter if you do heavy weights and low reps or high reps and light weights. The single most important thing is that you go to failure

By now, you know that I embrace failure. 

I do the plan from Liz's trainer. I do the specific exercises from my massage therapist (rolling, stretching and targeted strength training).

The result is that I'm stronger than I've ever been.

Raising my own bar.

Probably the craziest thing that has happened has to do with swimming. 
First of all, a woman (now a friend) joined masters late last year. She is an incredible swimmer and (prior to moving to Denver) she was a swim coach in Vegas.  She should be swimming in some of the fastest lanes, but we just clicked....and she swims with me, in my lane.  She pushes me. She coaches me. She's my secret weapon.

Second, a new guy showed up at masters about a month ago. He and I clicked IMMEDIATELY. He is one of the funniest, most intelligent men that I have ever met. He reminds me so much of my Googs (my oldest son). They are very close in age, too. I didn't know what his background was. All I knew was that he is sick fast, and he does things I've never seen another swimmer do.  He's another swimmer who should be swimming with the big guns. But he doesn't. He swims with me. 

Yesterday, he told me he was a Navy Seal and former All American swimmer.  Of course, I said, "Well, I'm a triathlete. So. There."

He replied, "You're a triathlete? Now, I'm REALLY going to push you".  

(He didn't act like it externally, but I'm pretty sure he was secretly super impressed).

Third, my friend Mike is back in the picture. Mike and I had become good friends. We'd swim masters together. We'd do open water swims together. He is another very very fast swimmer. He left our masters team and started dating a non-swimming woman. We saw each other less and less often.

This week, he came back to masters. 

When I say these people are very fast. I mean VERY fast. They can all swim 1:00 per 100's. I can't even get my head wrapped around this. I don't even know why they swim with me.....except for my striking good looks and charasmatic personality.

For the past month, I have been swimming my heart out at masters, trying, and often failing to keep up. 

The result was that I dropped my swim pace from 1:27 to 1:19. I dropped my pull pace from 1:18 to 1:10. These paces are from 250's not 100's.

So, the other masters swim coach asked, "Are you shooting for a 1:30 pace?"

I said, "No. I'm shooting for 1:20 or better".

He said, "We'll see about that".

I swam a 1:14.

When it comes to swimming, don't be a leader. Be a follower. Do everything you can to hold on to faster swimmers. Take breaks if you need them, drop a 50 here and there to keep up. Wear fins, use paddles. Do everything possible to keep up with fast people.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

I'm getting stronger. My bike power is improving (still chasing 4%). My swim has taken off.

What about running?

During my particularly dark time, I lost my love for running. Since I've been running for over 30 years, I know that my relationship with running is a lot like my relationship with people. We'll go through good times and bad times, but I don't give up on someone I love.

Liz and I have a completely different plan for running. I'm running less often. 

At first, I didn't even enjoy easy runs. I did them anyway. I ran without technology. I just ran.

There were some intensity to the workouts, but Liz told me, "Run however you feel that day. If you want to run easy, just run easy".

For awhile, that's what I did. I would attempt an interval or 2 and realize my heart and the speed was truly.....not.there.

But, I ran. Whenever she scheduled a run, I ran. 

Then, I started to enjoy running easy again. I started looking forward to those runs.

This week, I had more intervals. I failed the first two. I stopped and thought for a minute. I said, "All you have to do is run as hard as you can for 1:00. You can do that. 1:00 is all I'm asking."

The craziest thing happened. It worked. 

I ran for 1:00 at a time as hard as I could. I ran faster than I have in a very very long time. Although, I'm not sure. It might be the fastest intervals I've EVER run. 

If my race schedule is up in the air, what's the point?

The point is that this is the Year of Strong. I am becoming physically and mentally strong.

When I race, I know what I'm going to focus on for each race. I'm not out to impress anyone. I don't care if someone thinks I'm fast or slow or in between. I'm not out to podium. I don't care where I place. I'm not racing to prepare for Nationals. 

I'm racing for me. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

12 years a triathlete

If it doesn't challenge you,
it doesn't change you.

A couple of months ago, I mentioned the book Chasing Excellence.  It's a book that really spoke to me because of the no bullshit approach. As a quick reminder, the book is about how crossfit champions become crossfit champions. I do not like self help books, but I loved this book.

I love inspirational quotes.

I love powerful songs.

But, quotes and songs don't cross the finish line.

To accomplish your goals, we always say, "It's the little things".Those little things are simple, but they are not easy to do.

I was one of those athletes who would always say, "Get ready for BIG things from me this year". "This year is going to be HUGE".

I used to think improvements came in leaps and bounds.

This is my 12th year of triathlon. I took some time to look back over my career. I came to this sport with NO athletic background. I didn't know how to swim, and I didn't even own a bike. 

My entire triathlon story is about little steps. I've moved from the back of the pack to the middle to the front to the podium to making Team USA. 

Yet, there is not one single race that I can point to and say "THAT was it. THAT was my breakthrough race". Every year and every race, there were things that I did that built upon my previous years of racing.

If you want to qualify for a World Championship or podium at a World Championship, it will not happen overnight. It won't even happen in a year. It can take years to accomplish your goals. 

We all need BIG goals. More importantly, we need those smaller intermediate goals. Without the smaller goals, we have no plan to reach the big ones. It's sexy to talk about qualifying for Kona. No one wants to know about the boring, little things an athlete has to do daily to make that dream come true. 

Somewhere along the line, reality set in with me. I no longer talk in BIG terms. 

Nowadays, I think, "I would like to do X".  I know that in order to accomplish X, I need to go through T-U-V and W. 

I (now) know how much work it takes to get to those really BIG goals. 

This year, I am taking the opportunity to work on more of the little stuff. 

Because the little stuff is everything. 


On an unrelated note: If any readers want to follow me on Strava, please let me know in the comments. (No one can see your comment unless I approve it). I recently received a request from a guy in Italy. I deleted his request because I don't normally accept requests from people I don't know. He sent me a message saying, "I've been reading your blog for a few years".  

OH. Ok. Then. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A different plan

I have decided to scrap my race season.

I know what you're thinking.

But no, I'm being serious. All my races are off the calendar. It was a really hard decision to make, and I stressed over it all of January. 

Once I made the decision, it was like a huge weight was taken off of me. 

I made this decision a little over a month ago. I know this is the first time you are hearing this.

I can imagine you might be shocked and surprised to hear this.

But I have moved on.

A month ago, Liz and I had a long talk. I wrote a post here, maybe sometime in January. I talked about the struggles I was going through. (I have since taken that post down).

I realized that I couldn't handle the training load with everything that I am going through. 

She was incredibly understanding (as is her way). I told her that I needed a few weeks off to clear my head. 

I took a couple of weeks off and started back with Liz last week. 

Probably the weirdest part is going from 16-17 hours of training a week to basically going back into off season. Then, one morning I woke up and remembered that I didn't have to do anything. It felt so good. I knew right then that I made the right decision.

Liz and I talked about doing a bike focus. Right now, I want to do the stuff that I really love. I love the bike more than anything. My 2nd favorite is swimming. I have an awesome masters team. I adore my swim coaches, and it's a great mental break. Recently, I've been making huge gains in my swim. My 3rd favorite is running. 

I have a goal of getting to w/kg of 4% on the bike. I have been closing in on that goal. Step by step, with a strategic bike plan....I'll get there either this year or next.

This year will be a step back year, so to speak. I will continue to "train" with Liz. My plan is to work on my weaker areas.

I can't tell you how much I appreciate Liz right now. She was incredibly understanding when I took time off and completely changed course from long to short. 

Most importantly, I can't overstate how important it is to work with a coach, to have a collaborative approach to training. When I brought up the possibility of doing a bike focus, we came up with a plan together

Bike focus, it is. 

And let me tell you, she started in full on beast mode. My hardest workout of the week was so difficult that I couldn't quite hit the intervals. I hit the first one and the last one and parts of the middle ones. 

What Coach Liz says: This is a very hard interval.
What Coach Liz means: I'm going to rip off your legs and feed them to you. 

Of course, she responded with, "This is a great workout for you".

She's absolutely right. I know that it's hard to see workout failures as a positive thing, but that's exactly how I see it.

Growth only comes out of pain. Otherwise, we'll just stay the same. 

She gave me a workout that exactly hit my weakness. Now, we can address it. 

You see. Getting better at biking or running or swimming isn't about doing more. 

It's about doing the right types of workouts for you, to address your weaknesses, so those areas become stronger and stronger. 

Taking a year off might seem like a shock, but just think about how strong I am going to be after taking a year to work on my weaknesses.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Chasing Excellence

I think most of you know that I'm not a warm fuzzy person. I am a "tell it like it is" type. I can smell bullshit a mile away. Fake compliments? Faghedaboudid.

As you can imagine, I'm not really into self help books. There's nothing wrong with them. They just aren't my style.

I'll get back to that point.

It was time for me and Liz to talk about my race schedule for the year.  With my two A races set, I asked her what I should do between them.

She shot off her recommendations.

I put together a schedule.

Sent it back.

She said, "I'd add this......"

Ok. That's not what I expected but...

Back to the drawing board. I sent her my new race schedule.

With this race schedule there are so many things I want to accomplish. There are things in my way.  The big one is mental toughness.

I don't want you saying I'm a bad ass or anything of that because you're full of shit.

I went to Liz, and we talked about the issue(s) holding me back. She agreed that I lack mental strength.

Don't ask for feedback if you don't want to hear what you need to hear. 

I have no ego in this game. I ask for feedback because I want to be my best.

A few weeks back, I started I started working on it. During a long run, I came up with specific weaknesses. I came up with a plan to help me overcome them.

Then the universe sent me a message over Facebook.

I didn't even know the universe had an account, but there you go.

An article came up about Allie Kieffer. Do you know who she is? I didn't either. That's because all the excitement at the NYC marathon was about Shalane Flanigan. Allie was the 2nd American woman to cross the finish line with a PR of 26 minutes.

She was the one no one even saw coming.

Allie talked about a book she read called "Chasing Excellence".  Immediately, I had to look up the book. It's by Ben Bergeron; the Coach to 3 cross fit World Champions (women and men).

Like triathlon, crossfitters all come with their own strengths. Some are better at rope climbs. Some are better at running uphill carrying 120lbs of sand and on and on. They are all in the best shape of pretty much any other humans.

So what separates each of them at the Games (the CF world championship)? Mental toughness.

Self help book? Yes. But one that I could really grasp and relate to because of his no bullshit way. Yeah, there is a little bit of repetition throughout the book. In a way, I need that.

Right at the start, I realized that how I referred to myself, saw myself, defined myself was wrong. I had a self defeating mindset. (I have never put myself down or called myself dumbass or slow or old. But there are other ways, more subtle ways we can defeat ourselves without being terribly mean to ourselves).

I was hooked. Some chapters are things I already do. But other chapters are offering me ways to become mentally stronger. That's the point, right? If I was doing everything perfectly, I'd have already accomplished my goals.

Learning mental toughness is not easy. Learning to push past your preconceived limits is really really painful. But you know what's even more painful? Falling short of your goals.

This is truly my year of Chasing Excellence.