Tag Archives: training

My Competitive Side(s) or From Finisher to Competitor?

As a triathlete I compete of course.  However I don’t compete with others; I compete with myself.  I always have.

When I started competing in triathlons I was just trying to get into the sport.  My goal was to earn that “Finisher’s” medal which is given to each athlete who crosses the finish line.  That’s it.  If I do this then I win.  And with every race so far, I’ve done this.  I have a successful track record of finishing sprint, olympic and half Ironman distance races.

After losing Noah another competitive side emerged.  I’m competing against my old self.  I’m competing against the confusion, emptiness and sadness I have from losing my son.  Yes I’m competing against the bitterness and anger I still have as well.  I’m competing against the mornings when I don’t want to get out of bed.  I’m competing against the pain and challenges Noah experienced during his way-too-short-of-a-life.  I’m competing against all of those cardiac arrests.  I’m competing against the screaming-in-your-face-reality that life is not fair.

And now I’m sensing a third competitive side developing.  As I’ve focused on improving speed during my training for Nationals, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this actually means to me.  How much more can I improve?  How much faster can I go?  How much deeper can I dig?  How much more can I take on?  

What is this?

I’ve been reviewing my past race results.  Hoping to PR is a great goal but it’s rather ambiguous.  Am I trying to shave 10 seconds, one minute or even more off my time?  Also, each race is different, even if the distance is the same.  The terrain is different.  The climate is different.  Even the logistics can be different.  Then what sort of PR should I aim for?

Before my last race, California Sprint Triathlon, (which I raced two weekends ago as a warm up for Nationals), I looked up the 2011 results.  Over the past month or so I’ve also been studying the top 10 age grouperssplits from last year’s National Championship.

I’m beginning to think the real questions to ask AND answer are along the lines of:  How can I improve my rankings with each race?  How much time do I need to shave off to finish in the top 10, 5 or even 3 within my age group?  Am I no longer competing with just myself?

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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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Physical Strength for My Broken Places

Perhaps strength doesn’t reside in having never been broken, but in the courage required to grow strong in the broken places. ~Kristen Jongen

Compassionate Friends is pretty active on Facebook where it posts words of advice and comfort for bereaved parents.  Recently it asked its members what they feel when someone comments on how strong they are.  One of the responses is the above quote.  It resonates with me.   I’m making my way through my journey which includes growing strong in my broken places.  And then there are the days and moments when I feel beyond broken.

I believe strength comes in several forms: emotional, spiritual, mental and physical.  I’ve mentioned these four types before.  From training and racing, I feel myself growing stronger physically as each day passes.  During my low-beyond-broken-periods, I believe it’s this physical strength that helps me with or, at the very least, provides temporary fillers in some of my broken places.

As odd as it may sound, I like to think Noah is helping me with my broken places since he gives me strength as I train and race.  He is my inspiration after all.

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Speed!!!

After taking a week to recover from Honu 70.3, I’ve resumed my training.  USA Triathlon (USAT) Olympic Distance National Championship is my next race.  (I guess USAT recently modified the name from USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship to this.)  As the name implies, the race is an olympic distance consisting of a 1.5k swim, a 40k bike and a 10k run.  I’ve raced this distance before so it’s not a matter of “will” I finish but “when.”  (Of course that’s assuming I don’t have a medical emergency.)   In the past I hoped to achieve personal records and finish with respectable times. For this race I have these same goals.  However, given that it’s Nationals, I’m feeling like the bar should be significantly higher.

With the distance being shorter than Honu 70.3, my main focus for training is speed.  When I spoke to a few coaches last year about training for Honu 70.3 and then Nationals, they all said Nationals is all about speed.  At that time I thought I understood the concept.  Now that I’m actually training for this race I don’t think it sank in then.  But it’s definitely sinking in now and very, very quickly.  I’m still getting a sense of the key differences (between training for Hawaii and Nationals) with my workouts, methodology, mindset and overall a focus.  I’ve already realized that since I was focused on distance for Hawaii, I need to make a real, almost physical transition to shift my mindset to speed.  So far I’ve identified the following changes:

  • I’m not looking to dig in for the long haul.
  • Managing my energy level requires a different strategy.  I think I need to manage at higher levels of intensity for most of, if not the entire race.
  • The time I had to ramp up during my training sessions for Honu 70.3 now seems like a luxury.  I need to start my sessions at a much faster pace.

All of this may sound a little odd since I’ve already completed three olympic distance races.  It seems odd even to me in some ways.  I think these observations and realizations come from the fact that:

  • I was so focused on a much longer (and new) distance up until very recently.
  • With each race and season I complete, I’m more experienced and tons wiser about my training and racing.  My goals change as well.
  • It’s the National Championship!  The best of the best age groupers will be there, and they’ll be ready to give it their all as fast as they can.  I owe it to myself and them to be as competitive as I can.

I’m not quite sure what other goals I want to set for this race.  I’ll continue to think about this.  For now…I’ll focus on….speed.

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Honu 70.3: Thoughts & Feelings

It’s been almost two weeks since Ironman 70.3 Hawaii.  And I’ve been struggling with writing down my feelings and thoughts about racing Honu 70.3.  I feel overwhelmed and intimidated.  I question whether I’m capable of appropriately articulating what I experienced during and right after this race.  Nevertheless, I believe it’s important to write down as much as possible.  Doing so is therapeutic as well as a way to record this.  So here it goes…

A wedding determined the location of my first Half Ironman race.  (A couple of good friends married on Oahu the following week.)  Nevertheless Noah inspired me to compete in a Half Ironman.  While in Hawaii during race week I found a great deal of comfort from this.  I had a lot of time to think and just be.  With the beauty of the Big Island and many opportunities to be surrounded by calm and quiet except for the sounds of waves, birds and far away muffled voices, transitioning into a peaceful state was relatively seamless.

As mentioned before, race week is also taper week so by the time I arrived in Hawaii my training was over.  In addition to resting and completing lighter workouts, I shifted my focus to preparing mentally and emotionally for race day.  I still had some anxiety (about possible flats, GI issues, etc.) going into the race but I also had some confidence, more than I thought I’d have.  I had confidence in my coach, his training plan and support.  I had confidence that I would push myself extremely hard during the race.  I had confidence that whatever happened on the course I’d somehow get through it.  I had confidence in my support system, most notably MLH.  I had confidence that the reason I was racing was the best reason I will ever have.  And I had confidence that Noah would be with me.

During the swim I didn’t really think about Noah because I was so focused on making sure I was swimming the actual course.  However, during the bike, I spent a lot of time thinking of Noah and in fact I found myself talking to him.  I had a couple of moments when I thought about stopping because the crosswinds were so bad; I was scared. But I managed to move past these moments by thinking back to Noah in the CICU.  I felt silly, a little pathetic and then immediately emboldened.  “So what if I’m blown off the road,” I thought.  “I’ll probably get some scratches and maybe a bruise or two and even more severely injured but that all can heal.  It doesn’t compare at all to having a congenital heart defect, struggling to breathe, constantly dealing with throwing up or pangs of hunger because having food in the stomach before surgery or a test isn’t allowed.”  Yep, once again I was greatly humbled.

I had moments when I knew I needed to push harder.  It’s almost as if I trained for this because digging deeper and deeper came very naturally; I seem to have developed a switch.  By flipping it “on” my mind, heart and spirit knew exactly what to do.  And I dug down.  Riding hills were actually fun; I embraced such opportunities.  (I’m not saying I’m really good on hills; I just like them!)  I remember passing many folks as I climbed.  My attitude was: “bring it on – the steeper the better!”

With the race taking place along the Kohala Coast, I had the ocean on one side of me for a good chunk of the ride.  I made a point to look out and take in the ocean view as much I could anyway.  During these moments I talked to Noah.  I found myself talking out loud to him.  Who knows if others heard me; I really didn’t care.  I wanted to enjoy the amazing setting with him and I did.  The notion that water brings peace was reinforced.  Even as I fought heavy winds, climbed hills, navigated amongst other cyclists and managed my body and nutrition, my moments when I enjoyed the view with my son were moments of peace and comfort.

The run course was not as beautiful as the bike or swim.  The ocean was not in sight until around the last quarter-mile.  While the wind, heat and humidity were very challenging, I felt like my entire body knew what it needed to do and it did it.  Once again I connected with my son to help me dig way down.

After the race I felt a major high.  I still can’t believe I actually raced 70.3 miles!  And it boggles my mind that I did this for a little over six hours.  It’s not that it took about six hours but that I actually lasted this long!  I felt proud.  I felt proud to finish.  I felt proud to race for my son.

Looking back on my race week I now sense something shifted ever so slightly in me then.  And almost two weeks later I still feel this shift.  Perhaps it’s permanent.  I’m not quite sure how to describe it.  All I can say at this time is when I think back to Honu 70.3, I feel good.

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