Wednesday, April 23, 2008

An Epiphany...Or Just More Rational Thinking

I don't need to do a half ironman this season.

I know--nobody actually ever "needs" to do a half ironman. But many a triathlete has convinced herself that she must. I did one last year, so therefore, I believed that I must do one this that the ultimate goal (yes...that goal...take the "half" out of "half ironman") might be just one step closer.

But I don't need to do a half ironman this season.

Am I capable of finishing one? Yes. Absolutely. Unlike last year, I have no doubt about that. But my brain finally put a few key pieces of information together this week:

1. My bike, which I adoringly refer to as Lucifer, is still ill-fitting, after four (FOUR!) bike fits. I think it's time to face an inevitable truth that Lucifer wasn't meant for my less-than-five-foot frame.

2. Ill-fitting bikes cause injuries. I know this to be true, because at the conclusion of the last two triathlon seasons, I've had ITB issues on my right knee and lower back pain. It's really annoying to dive into fall marathon-training season with a bum right leg. And lower back pain.

3. I don't have the money right now to replace Lucifer, therefore, Lucifer and I are in for another long triathlon season together. That means I should limit the time on my bike, which limits the ability to train for that 56-mile ride that comes right smack dab in the middle of the 1.2-mile swim and the 13.1-mile run.

4. I'm moving. Where? Ultimately New York, with a possible pit stop in Pennsylvania. When? Uh, sometime in the next six weeks, in between attending bridal showers, college reunions, weddings, building my freelance work, helping get the Race with Purpose season underway, and OH YEAH, trying to find a place to live. When, exactly, am I suppose to do those long rides anyway? Or those BRick workouts? For somebody of my speed, they can take all day.

5. The nice race director at the Tupper Lake Tinman told me I could change my entry to a relay. Because my swim coaches have beaten the crap out of us for months now, I strongly believe it'd be a crime to give up the swim portion of the race. Because I have big hopes and dreams for my next marathon in November, I don't want to give up the run either. Cue my good friend Jeff, who doesn't necessarily crave a good swim and generally hates running. But the guy truly rocks on his bike. It's like it's meant to be. Our two-person half ironman relay is born.

Sometimes life gets in the way of a good plan. Like many, many others I know, I've had a hard time accepting that, and it's difficult to let go of a goal. But I also realize that trying to jam 20 pounds of potatoes into a 10-pound sack has turned me into a cranky, tired, irritable person for approximately two years now. No more...the epiphany finally happened.

I don't need to do a half ironman this season.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Remembering the Lessons Learned

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of the tragic shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University. I was going through some old e-mails and came across one that I wrote to my running team as we wrapped up that horrible week of endless news coverage at The Chronicle of Higher Education. I thought it was worth sharing.
I can't remember the last time I was so happy to see Friday. Like Michelle explained at the beginning of the week, we all have our releases and I too count running, swimming, and (sometimes) cycling among them. Unfortunately for you, you've signed on to a group that is a captive audience for my other outlet: writing. Bail now. Hit delete. I'll never know.

Most of you know that my career--the one that pays my bills--is as a reporter for a newspaper called The Chronicle of Higher Education. Busy days for us usually involve a university president getting fired, student-loan scandals, faculty members who have plagiarized, groundbreaking research, or a campus protest that got out of hand.

Obviously the week in higher education took a tragic turn on Monday morning in Blacksburg, Va. And while most of us in this newsroom have cut our teeth elsewhere, hardening us to the tragedies we often cover, this week had every journalist I work with overwhelmed with a sense of stress and sadness, and finally today, exhaustion.

Just about an hour ago, I finally finished writing the last profile of one of 33 victims. She was the captain of her high-school swim team, an environmentalist, and a person whose laugh was so genuine and loud that her professors said they could hear her coming down the hall. She had plans to travel to Zambia to start a career that would take her to the far reaches of the earth, to help those less fortunate create clean water systems. She spent her free time helping community children appreciate the outdoors and learn about science. He adviser told me that while she had the heart of an idealist, she tempered it with a healthy dose of pragmatism, never simply saying that something "should" be done, without figuring out a way to make it happen.

I wrote about a 19-year-old girl whose smile was so warm and broad, her friend told me she could put an entire room at ease without speaking a word. She didn't live long enough to declare her major, but had dreams of becoming an elementary school teacher. In the meantime she was happy playing lacrosse, baking cookies with her friends, and watching reruns of Dawson's Creek. She was killed on Monday during French class, just a few weeks shy of completing her freshman year at Virginia Tech.

So, take a look around your world this weekend and know that life is good, at least for this moment. Cliché? Yes, absolutely. But after a week of talking with those who are in such grief and despair, it's hard to ignore the fact that to care for and love your friends and family so deeply is what makes this life worth living. How many tragedies--global, national or personal--do we need to go through to finally learn?

Be generous with your compassion, be quick to forgive, be fast to laugh, and even faster to move on. Be gentle and everybody. There's not enough time to be petty. There's not enough time to be mean. There's not enough time to worry about what you can't control, or to not surround yourself with the people who encourage your dreams and support your goals--and to not choose to live your life in such a way that it's natural instinct to do the same right back.

Go to the 4-miler in the park this weekend and relish the time together. Have brunch. Eat bacon. Laugh loudly. Don't worry about the color of your singlet or the logo on your shorts. Run for the graduate student whose last phone conversation on Monday morning was with his little sister, calming her nerves and confidently saying that yes, she would finish the Boston Marathon, even though it was cold, wet, and windy--after all, they had trained together in far worse conditions in the mountains surrounding their childhood home near Penn State University.

We're all in this together, whatever "this" ends up being. So enjoy it. Every minute of it.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Last Look at the Cherry Blossoms

When I looked out the window early on Sunday morning, I didn't much like what I saw. It was still dark, but the raindrops hitting the puddles below were a strong indication that it was going to be a long, cold, wet day.

This past Sunday was the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, which is one of DC's most popular races. It has become a favorite on my race schedule year after year--I think because it marked the "beginning" for me two years ago as a runner.

Although I had run cross country though out middle and high school and have been running marathons since 2000, the year I ran the Cherry Blossom race in 2006 was really a turning point for me in the sport. It was the first I had actually trained through the winter, and the first I had ever incorporated strength, conditioning, and speed into my routine. I went from running a 1:29 in 2005 to a 1:17 just 12 months later. I astounded even myself -- I had no idea I was even capable of it until it actually happened. And it is amazing what happens when you figure out what you're capable of.

This year, however, was no 2006. For one, it wasn't warm and sunny. It was cold and rainy. And a little windy, too. The course was new and consisted of a whole bunch of out-and-backs that started to make me dizzy. But, as it turned out, that was the least of my problems.

I was fortunate enough to run with Josh, one of my Race with Purpose teammates, who is super fast, but super injured right now, hence the reason he chose to hang with me. I had wanted to see if we could stick to about a 7:45 pace, but my legs had an entirely different plan in store. From the start, they just felt heavy and tired. I had no gusto--it was a chore to keep turning them over, mile after mile. I knew pretty soon into the race that it wasn't going to be my day, so my goal was to just turn it into a tempo run and get a good workout in if nothing else...maybe try to at least run a negative split.

Josh was excellent company throughout the race and I felt bad that although the pace was a walk in the park for him, I wasn't really holding up my end of the conversation. Heavy legs plus no coffee turns me into a lame running partner, I admit.

With about a half mile to go, Josh took off. He tried to get me to go with him, but being the stubborn witch I am (sometimes), I declined for about 2 minutes and he wisely went on without me. The rain started really coming down just as we crossed the finish line, so we hurried to brunch as quickly as we could.

Somehow in the process, I lost my coveted Nike running gloves which totally bummed me out at first, but then I realized that I have never run a good race with them, so I decided they were bad luck anyway. Yes, runners are oddly superstitious. Besides, my friend Michelle brought me a new pair of Asics gloves straight from Japan -- they are like the Five Borough gloves they give out at the New York City Marathon (of which I have multiple pairs), but they have the names of Japanese towns on the fingers instead. They are my new lucky gloves, for sure, not only because they are so very cool, but because they are from Michelle, who has always been and continues to be my running hero (injured or healthy, happy or sad, running or swimming, racing or spectating -- it doesn't matter, because she rocks :-)).

So, my splits turned out like this:

Mile 1 - 8:35
Mile 2 - 8:04
Mile 3 - 7:52
Mile 4 - 7:51
Mile 5 - 7:59
Mile 6 - 7:57
Mile 7 - 8:06
Mile 8 - 8:03
Mile 9 - 7:44
Mile 10-8:03
Finish time: 1:20

Not my best performance by a long shot, but good incentive to take a look at the training plan and figure out why it's not working. Regardless, I had a great weekend with a fun group of friends, so thanks to Michelle, Sonia, Ben, Suzanne, Christine, Josh, and Bill for making the trip down here. Maybe wine and ice cream wasn't the best pre-race meal on Saturday night, but it sure tasted good.

That's it for the Cherry Blossoms this year. Here's hoping that next year brings warmer, drier weather...and a fresher pair of legs.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Happiness Is...

  1. Kicking ass during an hour-long morning hill workout.
  2. Having an entire day of challenging, rewarding, and well-paying work, with no fear of not being able to pay the bills.
  3. Getting a 3,000-meter evening swim workout finished in just less than 60 minutes.
  4. Being too warm in a light jacket on the walk home (nobody does springtime better than the states...and the District...south of the Mason-Dixon Line!).
  5. Picking up a special Ben & Jerry's treat and savoring it completely without an iota of guilt.
  6. Putting on my most comfy pajamas and being contently exhausted.
I had a really good day, and when you finally learn the true meaning of taking it one day at a time, there's nothing more satisfying than that.