Tuesday, September 8, 2015

If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.

After finishing Ironman Lake Placid in July last year, my focus should have shifted to healing my hip/glute so that I could have a strong 2015 triathlon season, but instead I got scared away from what would happen if I wasn’t able to get better and couldn’t ride long distance anymore as that’s what seemed to be the root of my problems.  I was really confused about what my dreams were, what my plan of action was going to be for my hip, and I just couldn’t find focus.  What I did know was that I was 90% sure I could train for a marathon with minimal hip/glute issues (at least minimal compared to long distance tri training).  So, I thought why not chase that Boston dream?! 

The problem:  I turned Boston into my “dream” even though it wasn’t necessarily something that lit me up.  This is not to say that Boston is not a goal of mine, but is it something that gives me butterflies thinking about it? No.  Is it a goal that scares me? No.  I have very little doubt in my ability to qualify for Boston (heck, I already have a BQ…it was just 13 seconds off from getting me to the start line).  This is not me being cocky or overly confident – I know my body and I know my abilities and I understand that a BQ is a big deal that many people spend years chasing.  I am not taking anything away from the accomplishment, I just don’t doubt my ability to accomplish it, if trained properly.

The thing is, I need to be chasing goals that light me up.  Goals that scare the crap out of me.  Goals that motivate me to jump out of bed in the morning.  I also need to be passionate about my training or it will fail.  Training for the Cleveland marathon proved to me that if I am not 100% passionate about what I am training for then it just isn’t going to go as planned, or perhaps it will, but I will be a miserable human being. 

The solution: Simple – I am a triathlete, not a runner.  It took me training for another marathon to realize that while I do really enjoy running, running alone is not my passion.  I love to be in the saddle.  I wake up with so much excitement when I go to bed knowing that a long ride is on my schedule the next morning.  I love how much I have to overcome swimming.  I love running off the bike.  I am a triathlete.  I am competitive.  As a competitive triathlete that loves to go the distance… that really scary dream is Kona.  I have no idea if this goal is feasible.  It scares me so much, but such a big dream puts me in a place where I can find that focus and really enjoy the journey and take each workout for what it is.

My year “off” was so necessary.  A few weeks ago, I had a run that involved LONG, STRONG/FAST HILL REPEATS.  I was not as strong as I hoped I would be.  I struggled and almost threw up after each hill.  It was supposed to hurt and it was supposed to be hard, but I should have felt stronger.  A year ago, I would have been discouraged and gotten down on myself.  This year, I thought “Wow, I am already racing pretty strong and feeling good so just imagine how I will be racing if I keep working hard and start to feel stronger during and after workouts like this one!  I have so much room to grow and my big dreams of the big Island might not be so silly if I keep putting in the work!”

I have always been a pretty positive person, but in the past I can guarantee I would have come home from that workout down on myself.  But this time around, I came home excited to see that opportunity for growth.  That’s what it means to enjoy the journey.  I was in the moment in that workout.  I was 100% focused on finishing as strong as I could and I wasn’t judging myself or getting down on myself for not being as strong or fast as I would have liked.

This year taught me how to be in the moment, how to be smart and respect my body.  In 2014, training for Lake Placid I learned how to respect my body when it really needed an extra day off.  As athletes, we often push through workouts simply because they are on the schedule – even when our bodies are telling us that we need to dial back the intensity for the day or take the day off.  I learned to listen and respect my body.  One of my number one rules is that if I am feeling extra tired or off on a particular day – start the warmup.  If after a good warmup my body is still telling me “NO” then I dial it back/modify the workout or call it a day depending on what exactly I am feeling.  Usually, I am ready to crush my workout after a good warmup, but on occasion, my body just simply needs an extra recovery day, and that’s OK!  That was such a big lesson.

This year as I have been working to become a more competitive triathlete I have learned to respect my body in another way: trust it and believe in it, even when it tells me it’s “done.”  I know I have a lot in me, but it is HARD WORK to get faster and stronger and it is SO MENTAL  I have to trust my body and mind and know that I am able to push through some serious discomfort, especially on race day. I have really been learning how to become a strong athlete MENTALLY and not limit myself because it’s hard, uncomfortable, and quite frankly – painful.

In my 2015 training and racing season, I have learned so much and really kind of found myself as an athlete.  I have big, scary dreams that I am truly passionate about and I am so excited for the journey ahead as I chase my big dreams and continue learning how to be the best, smartest, happiest athlete I can be.  One more race, next weekend(Nation’s Triathlon), followed by a nice rejuvenating unstructured off season, and then it’s time to get stronger and faster and smarter for 2016.  I am looking forward to racing Chattanooga 70.3 with Anthony and I could not be more excited to race in beautiful Mont Tremblant for my second 140.6! (And I think it's a really good sign that I get butterflies in my belly when I think about my next Ironman race!) 

If you're still reading, a quick side thought on this blog.  I go in and out of blogging..I go out of it at times because I feel a bit self centered just writing about my life and training for others to read.  Sometimes it bothers me - I have the same qualms with social media. But I go in for a few more reasons.  I hope that some can read this and find inspiration, motivation, strength, and some sort of connection.  I think having passions and hobbies makes life livable.  I work really hard at work, but being able to afford my pass times is what makes me really appreciate work and want to work harder.  I am a huge advocate of having a work-life balance and putting family, health, and LIFE first.  Of course there is a time and a place to put work on a pedestal, but I just find that far too many people aren't truly LIVING.  I hope that this can motivate people to find that balance. Find that health and happiness while still working hard to make a living.  Everyone's life and journey is different.  Not everyone can make the time to train for an Ironman (ok, most just don't want to and that's fair), but I truly believe everyone should be able to make time to find health and happiness.  

Lastly, this blog helps me so much.  Writing down the thoughts that shape my life is really helpful in finding focus for me.  It's so easy for me to question why I do what I do, but when I think about it and put write it down, I realize that I am passionate about it and I have one life...why wouldn't I do what I am truly passionate about?  It may be selfish, but if I didn't have my passions to follow, I wouldn't ever be truly present, I wouldn't be full of the life that I am.  I believe that being more physically present but without that light and fullness is far more selfish than being physically less present, but full of life when I am around others.  And so... that is why I choose to live this triathlife and it is just icing on the cake that my husband and I can share this passion. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

CLE Marathon: Set A Goal So Big You Can't Achieve It Until You Grow Into The Person Who Can

On Saturday night, after watching some inspirational youtubes and reading some quotes to motivate me, I turned the light off and closed my eyes around 10:00pm.  I am not one to have a restless night of sleep the night before a race, but Saturday night was painful.  I feel like I was looking at the clock every hour until my alarm finally went off at 4:30am.  After my usual race morning breakfast (wasas w/ PB, honey, banana, and granola with a glass of water and coffee) and visiting with my dad and Anthony (and getting lots of doggie kisses), we were in the car headed downtown.  I sipped on OSMO Pre-load and jammed to some good music.  We arrived downtown around 6:15.  I was happy to have Anthony with me keeping me calm and making me laugh. 

We walked around a bit and took some pictures – it was nice to be in familiar territory, I love Cleveland.  Around 6:45 or 6:50, I put my fuel belt on (which had two 10oz bottles each with about 4.5 oz - 250calories - of INFINIT Napalm, topped off with H20).  As I waited in my corral, I went over my race plan in my head.  The marathon, half marathon and 10k all started at the same time so I knew a lot of people were going to be passing me (including the 3:25 and 3:30 marathon pacers) and I reminded myself that this was OK!  I ran 100% by feel for the first mile or so, only peeking at my watch to make sure the crowd of runners wasn’t causing me to go out too fast.  I am a fast finisher, not a fast starter and I didn’t want to ruin my race because I got caught up in the moment.

Miles 1-6 were great.  My watch had me averaging between 8:05 and 8:10 pretty much the entire time.  I felt spot on.  My plan was to try to hold that pace until the half way point and then pick it up to try to average closer to 7:40-7:50 for the latter half of the race.  Aside from the first water station I walked through them all, splashing water on myself and then having a cup to drink.

Miles 6-13:  By the half way point, my pace was still spot on - average pace was down to ~8:02 - 8:05/mi.  I was feeling good about my plan and started trying to pick up the pace a bit.  No problems! WOO HOO! I was definitely on track for a BQ and a PR.  Life is good.  I kept thinking “Man, I love this distance.”  Still walking through water stations as planned.  I was drenching myself in water at each aid station at this point because the heat and humidity were coming on strong.

Mile 13-16: The plan was still on track and I was feeling good!  My nutrition was spot on – a big gulp of napalm every 15-20minutes and the heat and humidity didn’t seem to be getting to me too much as long as I stayed up on my nutrition and continued my aid station strategy.

Approaching mile 17… my calf tried to cramp.  I said no.  I started taking sports drink at the aid stations on top of H20 and my nutrition in hopes that would prevent any more cramping.  I assumed it was due to the heat.  I continued chugging along.

Mile 17.5… I had a cheering section, yay!  What a great pick me up after my first little bit of pain. 

Miles 17.5-22… UGH.  MY QUADS!! OUCH!! The cramping was full on.  When I was running, it was at a decent clip, but I had to stop a few times to walk and rub out my quads.  Holy moly I’ve never had quad cramps – yikes!  I looked at my wrist and my hand – I had two mantras.  #1 was simple “ATTITUDE”  #2 was profound: “Just when you want to give up, you are about to have a breakthrough.”  Just the pick-me-up I needed.  I continued on, but my average pace continued to slow as I had to walk to rub out my quads.

Miles 22-24 I was really struggling physically, but mentally I was just so grateful.  Even through the pain of the cramps, I was just thinking about how much I LOVE this distance.  I saw my PR slowly slipping away.  I hated that.  I tried to run faster when I was running, but the cramps kept coming back causing me to take more frequent short walk breaks.  I gave myself a bit of a longer walk break and really tried to rub out the cramps to see if I could just finish without any more walking. My avg pace was no longer on track for a PR or a BQ.  That’s ok, I thought.  This has been an amazing day. 

Miles 24-26 I pushed these as hard as I could.  In the last two miles, two women who looked so incredibly strong passed me as they ran to the finish.  I love seeing strong women succeed in sport!   At this point, part of me was upset, I was supposed to be done by now, I was supposed to be passing people. But, part of me was just so grateful that this is how my journey was ending.   I didn’t BQ or PR.  What I did do was learn that my body is strong and resilient.  My mind is even stronger.  I did not give up at any point.  I pushed hard through cramps that would have sidelined many runners.  I smiled while I did it.  I encouraged others to find that strength to finish strong.  I fell deeper in love with 26.2 miles.

Miles 26-26.2 I saw Anthony cheering me into the finish and yelling “YOU LOOK STRONG!”  I finished strong.  I finished with a smile.  I finished proud.  I finished in 3:38:12.  Then I had a beer (ok, I had three...they had Great Lakes on tap at the finish!).

Finishing Strong & Happy

At that start line of a marathon, you don’t know what the day is going to present you with.  You can train for a 3:25 marathon and run a 3:38 like I did.  Or you can train for a 3:35 marathon and run a 3:25.  What I do know, is that I felt smarter, more confident, and more capable running this race than I have ever felt.  I can’t control whether my quads are going to cramp, I can just do everything in my power to avoid that.  So regardless of time, the Cleveland marathon was a huge success because: a) I started which was questionable (see my previous blog) b) I stayed so mentally strong through all 26.2 miles and c) I could really taste that 3:25 finish.  I ran smart and I felt strong.  For me, that time on the clock is so much less important than the mental breakthrough(s) that happened along that course.  

So, after 10 days of NO RUNNING, I will ease back into training for the summer.  I have plans to race in a sprint tri in June and the Cleveland Olympic Tri in July, but the real goal for this year has not changed.  I am ready to get after it and run another 26.2 for a PR and a BQ.  So on Saturday, September 12, I will chase my dreams again as I run the Abebe Bikila Day International Peace Marathon on the C&O Towpath.

Never stop believing in yourself.  Never stop chasing your dreams.  And most importantly, never stop learning.  Every time life knocks me down, I get up so much stronger and smarter.  The lessons I learned training for and running the Cleveland marathon will stick with me forever.  Thank you body.  Life is good.

Thank you to my family and support system - it was so special having all of you out there cheering!  Mom, Dad, Mama Nelson & Bill, Aunt Sue, Grandma & Grandpa Amato, John H, and of course my amazing Coach/Hubby!!! 

Post Race Happiness

Friday, May 22, 2015

CLE Marathon: Maybe it's not about the happy ending - maybe it's about the story.

I don’t know where to begin on this one.  In the 5 weeks leading up to this race I think I told Anthony three or four different times that I was not going to race.  Maybe if I was feeling up to it, I would switch to the half marathon and just run for fun, but I wasn’t going to run the full, no way.  Not because I didn’t think I could do it, but because I thought I was going to let myself down and be embarrassed with the outcome. 

I started focusing on training for this race in mid January and everything was going exactly as I had planned from the get-go.  I was hitting my paces and distances and I was extremely confident about finishing in the 3:25-3:30 time frame.  From January through Early April, my mileage was pretty consistently between 40 and 55 miles/week with a couple of planned 60 mile weeks in mid April.  I was so excited to be hitting those numbers, but simultaneously my mind and body were falling apart.  I was focusing so much on the end goal that every run was becoming a stressful event.  I wasn’t enjoying the process, but instead I was overthinking everything.  Extra unnecessary stress like that added to training is a recipe for disaster.

Anthony kept telling me to just look at that days workout and focus on it – not on what it means to race day, not what's on tap for the rest of the week, just focus on the mile I was in.  Just enjoy the process and have fun training my body to crush 26.2 in May!  My mind was unraveling with this goal that I had put up on a pedestal.  The result:  I fell apart.  My last “long run” (16miles) was on April 12th, over a month before race day and it didn’t go exactly as planned.  I started dealing with old injuries and a new “injury” I’ve never dealt with…..self doubt and general insanity.  The week of April 6th was a 50 mile week.  The “Rundown” in my journal at the end of this week: “Week didn’t go as planned.  Onward and upward!”  My notes show that my glute and hip pain were starting to cause problems again.  This was the start of a mental trip like none I have ever been on.  The next two weeks were each less than 30miles with a swim and a bike ride.  The fact that my hip and glute were causing problems again sent me over the edge.

Every day I tried so hard to get out of whatever kind of mental slump I was in.  I couldn’t quite understand why I was acting the way I was.  I had one last opportunity to get a good week of training in (4/27-5/3).  Intervals on Tuesday went ok, Tempo run on Thursday -I finished, but not at a tempo pace – I gave up.  My fitness was there, but my mind wasn’t letting me access it, so once again, I told myself to just “hit reset.” PT had gotten my hip and glute back under control and I was ready to get it together, or so I thought.  I was excited to prove to myself that I could overcome whatever was going on in my mind once and for all.   Saturday, May 2nd, was one of my last chances to give myself a big boost of confidence before race day.  One last 16miler and….I quit at 8.5miles and told Anthony I wasn’t going to race.  ?!!?! WHO AM I?! OH, and did I mention it was going exactly as planned? 100% on pace.  But I was having slight hip and glute pain/tightness (that the Dr. said I could/should push through!)  After Anthony talked to me and reminded me that I am not a quitter and that I am strong and I can reach my goals, I gathered myself and quickly realized how badly I regretted quitting that morning.

That was it.  I had totally let myself down.  I spent 11 weeks training my butt off to get in “3:25 marathon shape,” and I just let it go.  I finally got it together with about two weeks to go.  Not enough time to gain any fitness back, just enough time to gain a little confidence.  It was time to taper.  I got one last successful interval run and tempo run in and ended the week with 35miles.  Race week was a really great week mentally, but deep down I was really unsure of what I was going to be able to do on race day. Mileage in the five weeks leading up to race week: 26, 28, 40, 35, 19(race week).  I quit and skipped a lot of runs.  Some of those skipped miles were necessary – I had to listen to my body.  But for many of them, it was mental.  This was all new to me, I have NEVER struggled with this insanity, self-doubt, and lack of self-respect in training.  All because I was focused on this outcome that I was letting define me.

I learned so much from this training cycle.  I am still unsure what caused me to fall in to this slump, and as painful as it was, I am really grateful that it happened.  I learned the importance of being a process-oriented athlete.  I didn’t need to learn to push through pain, I’ve been doing that for years.  I needed to remember to enjoy the process and “enjoy” the pain because that is what leads to goals getting accomplished.  I learned to respond in positive ways instead of negative ways, but it is a work in progress. As I become a stronger athlete, my goals become bigger and that is GREAT, but I have to work a lot harder to not let these goals control and define me.  Most importantly I can’t let my dreams of PRs and BQs effect my love of training and racing.   

I am learning to glance at my watch, realize that I am running too slow for a given workout, and instead of being negative, thinking about race day, or quitting, I simply tell myself “just a little harder.”  Or when a negative thought slips in my mind, I am learning to appreciate my ability to push hard even with those thoughts there…they eventually float away.  My body awareness is getting better, my trust in my endurance and speed are getting stronger, and my ability to just trust the plan is improving.  I am becoming a better athlete and I think for that to happen I needed to suffer through a training cycle like this. 

I am so thankful to have had my husband coach me through this.  We learned a lot about each other and I learned how great of a coach he is.  I am convinced that had my body and mind not gotten the best of me that I would have crushed my goals.  I look back and realize how much training I threw away.  My 16 mile run on March 29th, before my short bout of insanity occurred, was at a comfortable long run pace and averaged 7:58/mi! Needless to say, I lost a bit of fitness in the final 5 weeks of my training. 

That saying that you can’t learn if you don’t fail.., That is so true.  I have also gained a new appreciation for my love of running and triathlon and for my body.  I am strong.  I am fast.  I am able to crush my BIG goals.  But for all of that to shine through, I MUST be focused on the process, not the outcome.  I need to take training one day at a time and appreciate the journey. 

I can’t say it much better than this:  “Of all the lessons sport teaches us about life, perhaps none is more dramatic than the danger of focusing on the outcome.” – George Sheehan

I have big dreams and I am learning how to not only accomplish those but also to enjoy each and every mile along the way.  I am so thankful to have a body that allowed me to happily run a 3:38 marathon after essentially taking over a month off of training because my mind was on vacation.  I am stronger, I will be faster, I am smarter, and I am happier all because of this training cycle.  I did not fail, I learned.

Moral of the story: Don’t focus on the outcome, focus on the moment you are in.  If you can simply concentrate on the workout currently on tap and execute it as your coach/plan says without overthinking it or trying to make some comparison to race day… Well, then you are well on your way to achieving the outcome that you want.

On May 17, 2015, my love of 26.2 miles grew deeper.  Race Report to come in the next couple of days.. J