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I’m a Triathlete. I’m a Bereaved Mother. I’m Both.

This is Susan.  She’s joining us for the first time; she’s training for Nationals.

Welcome to our first Women’s Triathlon Summit.

Yep, this past weekend was very much a social one for me.  And yes, it involved interacting with other endurance athletes.  On Saturday I joined my coach’s Saturday group workout for the very first time.  And thanks to a good friend I attended a women’s only triathlon panel discussion on Sunday.

I was a bit anxious about Saturday’s group training session and admitted this to my coach.  Aside from knowing we’ll swim, then bike and finally run, I told him I really didn’t know exactly what else to expect:  What do I need to bring?  Will I have time to change from my swimsuit into cycling clothes or should I wear a trisuit for the swim?  Should I bring my fins?  Is there anything else I should know?

What I didn’t tell him but, of course, fed my anxiety was having to meet new people and engage in conversation with them for a few hours.  My strategy consisted of staying under the radar.  I figure I’ll most likely swim in the slowest lane and ride at the back of the pack.  As for the run, I’ll just push myself so I’m breathing really hard.  Then I won’t be in a position to talk.  Well, I did in fact swim in the slowest lane.  Interestingly though I made an attempt to swim in the next lane over because the only other person in the slowest lane was a pregnant woman.  (Great start, I know.)  However, I felt as though I slowed down the other lane so I moved over to share the lane with the pregnant woman.  (By the way, the fact that I qualified for Nationals while consistently finding myself swimming in the slowest lane bewilders me!)  I ended up being so focused on my workout I barely saw her and her belly.  And when I did I immediately looked away.  It wasn’t ideal but it wasn’t really horrible either.

We did have time to change in the locker room where I met another member of Pete’s team.  As we changed into our cycling clothes we talked about riding and Honu 70.3‘s horrendous crosswinds.  So far so good.

I grabbed my bike off the top of my car and rode it over to join the rest of the group.  My coach introduced me since it was my first time.  And he announced I have Nationals coming up.  Gulp!  So much for staying under the radar.  For the two hours we rode folks talked about racing, training and technique.  Woo hoo!

I quickly learned everyone doesn’t run off the bike during these sessions.  (Officially Saturday’s workout plan does include a run though.)  Unless I’m nursing knee issues or other injuries I make a point of running after biking.  (It’s great brick training.)  So I ended up running with only two other athletes.  We talked about how each of us found Pete and his training group, Honu 70.3 and training for Kona (aka Ironman World Championship).  One of the athletes who ran with me is training for it!

I managed to avoid the topic of children and made it through the other end of the trigger caused by swimming next to a pregnant woman; not too bad.  And the icing on the cake was I enjoyed the conversations I had with everyone.

On Sunday for the Women’s Triathlon Summit, MLH and I were running late from a previous appointment so I rushed over to where the event was being held. The organizers had a pretty nice spread of food, and I was incredibly hungry.  (I don’t think I ate enough after my long run earlier in the day.)  Everybody else was chatting in their chairs.  Nobody was eating.  (The event was running late.)  So while more polished, lady-like women would make their way gracefully over to the food, I dropped my purse on a chair and made a straight shot to the table where I filled a plate up with goodies.  I know, it wasn’t just hunger; I saw this as a way to avoid people.  But then I had to make my way back to my chair to eat.  And eating I did but then a couple of women introduced themselves to me.  Oh well.  We proceeded to talk about our upcoming races.  That’s it!  Once again, I really enjoyed the conversations.

I will say that as one can and should expect — when planning to attend I somehow didn’t think completely through this unfortunately — some of the topics at a woman’s triathlon event will touch on juggling children/family with training.  I didn’t experience very strong triggers when these topics came up.  I felt a little bit of emptiness inside but it wasn’t an overwhelming feeling.  Perhaps this is because I was in such awe of these women who have children, challenging jobs, partners (who either are endurance athletes and/or have challenging jobs as well) AND are top athletes in their divisions!

It’s kind of weird.  I’m so glad I attended both events and most importantly enjoyed talking to the people I met each day.  I still feel anxiety and automatically put up a wall because I never know when I’ll be asked about children or encounter a trigger.  I don’t know if this will ever truly go away.  However, during this past weekend, I was fortunate enough to talk to fellow triathletes about setting PRs, working with coaches, technique, swimming, bike fits, nutrition and race goals.  I got to meet some amazingly accomplished athletes who’ve qualified for Kona, turned pro, completed 26 Ironmen and earned their way onto the podium several times over!  I almost felt like another person at these events.  I was more social at both of these events than I’ve been at any other event over the past two years.  I actually hung around after the summit to chat with a couple of participants!

Aside from the handful of times children were brought up during the summit and dealing with the pregnant woman during the swim, at these events I felt like just another triathlete training for her next race.  I don’t think it’s like I live a double life:  One moment I’m a triathlete and when I’m away from the sport I’m a bereaved parent.  I think it’s more like I have a couple of layers or dimensions inside.  At both of these events, the triathlete who wants to improve, learn and share is dominant and the bereaved mother, while very much present still, takes sort of a backseat with my wall surrounding all of me.  When I’ve had to attend purely social events, my wall is a lot thicker with the bereaved mother and triathlete switching positions.  And I feel like most of the time when I train both layers are evenly present.

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My Recent Trip

I’m back home after spending 2.5 weeks in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This trip was and still is a big deal.  I was away from home, away from MLH, Abigail & Madeleine, and away from my safe, protective bubble that fosters my highly desired minimal social interaction and relatively gentle days.  The reasons for taking this trip — helping a friend with her wedding and visiting friends — shifted my daily focus and schedule.

Indeed I was able to find a great deal of comfort thanks to two constants:  close friends and my training.  I’m extremely blessed to have very dear friends, with quite a few of them residing in Northern California.  They know about Noah and know me very well.  Aside from my training and a few other activities I spent most of my waking hours with these individuals.  I greatly missed MLH, Abigail & Madeleine and found myself somewhat unsettled by not being in my bubble of a home, but spending quality time with these friends provided a new type of sanctuary.

I was pretty successful in keeping up my training while traveling.  I was challenged with completing only two assigned sessions, and I had to cut three others a little short but not enough to count them as failures.  As expected, when I decided to use Pete, I managed to spend a couple swim sessions with him which was awesome.  Also, a good friend of mine who has a swim video business filmed me in the pool.  (Swimmers and triathletes benefit greatly from being filmed in the water.  Coaches have a tremendously effective tool for identifying areas of improvement.)  And after watching my video, Pete was able to provide very specific feedback on my form; what an improvement I’ve made already!

I’m so delighted and thankful I had the opportunity to help a very good friend with her wedding and celebrate such a joyous life event with her as well as spend lots of quality time with other dear friends.  And I’m grateful I could still train and maintain my special time with Noah while away from home.  I believe I had a good trip, and as much as I’m extremely happy to be back home with MLH, Abigail & Madeleine, I do think the trip was good for me.

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What a Difference a Week Makes!

With my six mile run today I completed my first training week using Pete’s online coaching plan.  It may sound a little funny but already I feel very different.  I’ll go ahead and acknowledge the placebo effect is probably at play.   Something along the lines of “oh wow I’m now doing something different so I must experience a change.”  Placebo effect or not, I’m not sure it matters.  The fact that I feel different is good enough for me.

I wrote in my last post that I rarely did a full cardio segment and a complete strength training session back-to-back.  Well a few days after writing that post I pulled out my training plan for Nation’s (which I created myself).  I have a correction to make:  I did in fact do such workouts (also known as two-a-days) early in my training and quite often. I can blame bad memory for thinking two-a-days are new to me but I think there’s something more to it.  For some reason I felt my two-a-days this past week were…well different.  They were much longer and more intense than what I did for Nation’s.  Also, I’m sure since Pete planned them they’re better structured than what I put together.  And there’s the placebo effect.

During this past week’s training sessions I felt solid.  I did struggle some on the bike, specifically with keeping my RPMs and heart rate at the desired levels.  Also the last five miles of my 30 mile ride yesterday was by no means easy.  (And as mentioned before I did have to push it a bit with the weights.)  However I felt pretty good right to the end.  Don’t get me wrong, I definitely worked hard this week but I never felt like I couldn’t finish.  I do realize Pete’s current focus is on base building so I anticipate my workouts becoming much more difficult very soon.

Anyway back to this difference – or really differences.  What are these differences, you ask?  I feel like I’ve taken my training up a level already and I feel more confident.  I think I was a little anxious about not being able to follow Pete’s plan.  Well I did and while I experienced some challenging moments, I completed each session strongly.   I feel more focused.  A lot of this has to do with the need to keep track of my drills during each workout.  But also I’m zeroing in on my very specific goals which are to successfully complete Hawaii 70.3 and improve my splits at Nationals.  With each successful workout my body moves closer to being ready to compete.

I do feel one other major difference but I don’t think Pete’s plan has anything to do with it; I think it’s just a coincidence…or perhaps not.

Over the past week my connection with Noah became much deeper and different.  Outside of training, I think of Noah a lot. Sometimes he’s in-and-out of my mind very quickly and other times I spend quite a bit of time thinking and recalling vivid images of him in my head.  When I train though I believe how I think of him is different from this.

Last May I began feeling a very deep connection with Noah as I became much more aware and grateful that my heart could easily handle my endurance training and I could process the oxygen needed during these workouts.   When I feel or see (on my heart rate monitor) my heart rate climbing and hitting 60-85% effort, it’s almost as if I’m raising it for him.  When I feel my breathing becoming labored, I think of the ventilators he was on and I feel as though I’m breathing extra hard for him.  And it’s the stark and unfair contrast between what I and any other healthy body can do seamlessly with what Noah struggled with all of the time.  It’s this appreciation combined with sadness and a little bit of bitterness (yes still) that helps me dig deeper to find that determination and power to push myself harder, faster and longer.

During my workouts this past week though I’ve started feeling a different kind of deep connection to my son.  I now feel his presence almost constantly and this feeling is definitely different than my “non-training day-to-day” thoughts of him.  During my training, talking to or thinking of Noah is like second nature now.  It’s like at some other level I’m having a constant dialog with him as I swim, run and bike.  I’d like to think he and I’ve gotten used to training together, and our routine has him with me all of the time.  I’ve been thinking about how best to describe this and I’ve come up with “endurance consciousness.”

I continue to push myself to achieve 60-85% of my maximum heart rate (depending on the drill) and reach that labored breathing because there’s that connection I still have with him.  But now I have another one.  I’m so grateful for both.

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On a somewhat separate note, please pause for a moment to pray for or send positive thoughts to the parents of a little Heterotaxy boy named William.  After fighting super hard, he became an angel last Thursday.

It’s probably no surprise to you that I spent my first mile on my run today thinking of William and his parents.  I found myself welling up a bit when I thought about what his parents are experiencing right now.  Nobody should have to deal with losing a child.

Noah now has another friend in heaven.  God bless you, William.

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First Coached Workout

My workout this morning was the first one using my online coach’s plan.  (No official training on Mondays since Pete uses them for rest days.)  With the exception of a couple of drills, the workout wasn’t very challenging because Pete is focused on building a strong base for now.

I biked for an hour, ran two miles and then lifted weights.  Pete gave me specific drills to complete during the cardio segments.  This was a bit different from what I’m used to because I usually don’t focus on drills – bad, I know.  And I rarely combine a major cardio effort with an entirely separate strength training segment.  I was tired after biking and running so I had to really push myself with the weights.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed today’s session.

I actually feel like training for Hawaii 70.3 and Nationals has officially begun.  What a fantastic feeling!

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The Coach

Now that I’m racing a Half Ironman and Nationals I need to take my training up several levels. I’ve never raced 70.3 miles which is the distance of a Half Ironman, and for Nationals I need to focus on speed which is a new type of goal for me. Also, I need to create a more comprehensive nutrition plan. I’m comfortable consuming the right number of calories and mix of nutrients for sprint or olympic distances. Racing 70.3 miles over several hours is a different story. To address all of these new aspects I’ve decided to work with a coach.

I’m relatively new to the world of coaching. So far I’ve had only one coach, Lori, who coached me in a group setting when I lived in LA. She specializes in helping women train for their first triathlons. She makes women comfortable with each discipline and each transition. She’s very good.

I’ve also had a few trainers through my gym. After completing Lori’s newbie program, I moved on to Sara-the-Triathlete to focus on strength training and help with my running and swimming. Although I stopped racing once I learned I was pregnant, I continued to work with Sara-the-Triathlete to maintain a solid level of fitness. And when we learned about Noah’s diagnosis, I felt an even stronger desire to be in top shape. I believed — and still do — Noah was healthiest while in utero because for the most part he didn’t need to rely on his own body to live. He needed what my body gave him. While always adhering to my OB’s guidelines of course and even checking in with her about specific yoga positions and whatnot I exercised religiously so my body was strong enough and healthy enough to give Noah everything he required; so it could protect Noah as much as possible.

Around the beginning of my third trimester we moved to D.C. I worked with my last two trainers here. They weren’t very good. I’m sure part of the problem was me. I was probably not enjoyable to be around during the last few months before Noah’s birth and after Noah passed away. I was not in the mood to be social and share with these strangers the ongoings of my life which were mainly focused on Noah and preparing for his birth and medical care. After Noah died I didn’t want to talk to anybody really. Trainers are kind of like hair stylists in the sense that they want to engage in conversation with you; they want to get to know you. They must have been frustrated with me since I really didn’t talk during our sessions. I won’t take all of the blame, though. They weren’t professional, and it was pretty obvious they made up my workouts on the fly. So I stopped working with trainers last May.

Three weeks ago I started looking for a tri coach. In my research I found online coaching to be pretty popular. I don’t know if it’s popular everywhere, a recent phenomenon or more of a regional trend. Perhaps I’m just ignorant about all of this because I never really had to search for a coach before. It was pure luck that I came across Lori and even Sara-the-Triathlete. I learned about Lori through a clinic at a local tri store on the Westside of LA, and Sara-the-Triathlete was introduced to me by another trainer who knew about my interest in triathlons.

I still don’t like socializing with strangers. I dread meeting new people or talking to folks who don’t already know about Noah. I fear they, unintentionally of course, may say something that’s a trigger. Or even worse, they may ask if I have children. I hate that question. I still don’t know how to answer it. Do I say “yes?” What if they want to learn more about Noah? Do I say “he passed away” which creates an awkward moment when usually one of two things happens: 1. the person asking fumbles around to try say something comforting but ends up saying something that makes me feel worse, again unintentionally of course, or 2. the awkward silence puts the burden on me to immediately shift gears and say something to make the other person feel better. (How twisted is that? I’m the one who lost her child but I have to make the other person comfortable with this fact.) Or do I say “I don’t have children” to keep it simple? I HATE that answer because it’s a lie. The two times I’ve tried this response I literally felt a raw pain in my stomach. I know it’s guilt from not acknowledging Noah. I do have a child and although he is no longer alive, he is still my son and I am still very much his mother.

So online coaching may just work for me. I don’t have to talk to someone during my training sessions. My communication with the coach will be via email or phone which most likely will force the discussions to be brief and very focused. Because s/he won’t be with me I can focus on the assigned workout and my connection with Noah. My only concern is not getting help with form and technique. In person coaching is better for this. I have to prioritize my needs though. After all I know all too well that I can’t have it all.

I obtained a few coach recommendations from my tri club online forum, and a couple of friends gave me some names as well. I used the following general criteria to determine which one I’d use: extremely supportive and encouraging; highly professional; possesses a proven track record; in tune with his/her clients; and very responsive. After contacting most of them I decided to go with Pete who is based in the San Francisco Bay area. I’ll use his online program. What’s great about him is he also holds weekly group workouts. These additional services may sound odd given my current location. I already know, though, I’m going to be the Bay area a few times this year which will allow me to take advantage of these training opportunities. I think what really won me over is the fact that Pete and his team raced Hawaii 70.3 before.

I start training with Pete on January 23.

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