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Devilman Triathlon

I’ve been staring at my very first triathlon race number for months now, still trying to comprehend what exactly happened that day. I suppose it’s about time I complete my background story/race review, being as I’ve already gone on to complete my second tri!

I didn’t know how to swim when I registered. No, really. I could do the swoosh with your hands while your head’s above water across the pool on vacation thing, and doggy paddle like nobody’s business, but I’d never taken swim lessons nor had I ever been able to successfully blow bubbles out of my nose underwater. Ever. Until November 2010.

For a while I’d been thinking about switching things up, taking a coaching break from Team in Training and eventually doing a triathlon. On the morning of November 10, 2010, I took the plunge. Literally. I registered for the Devilman Sprint Triathlon, to take place in Cedarville, NJ in May 2011. The distances were .40 mile swim, 20.5 mile bike and 4 mile run.

Our first team swim training at the local YMCA was on a Monday and I wanted to vomit all day. Where will I go, what will I do, how will I do it? I pictured 30 other team members swimming laps and me at the shallow end of the pool blowing bubbles out of my nose with the 5 year olds. I’d heard of others who didn’t know how to swim going on to complete triathlons, so I left my fate in the hands of our Coaches, who ended up doing a fabulous job. (Along with some cooperation from me.)

Six months later, I arrived on race day morning, transition bag packed with everything from extra contact lenses and ear plugs to pickle juice for cramping. I had enough fuel/nutrition for an Ironman. I set up my transition area and waited around. Emotional was an understatement. If you looked at me or even talked to me, I’d snap at you or have to fight back tears. Six months of hardcore training for the unknown was so overwhelming. Let’s goooo.

The race started in waves. Elite female, then youngest age group, next older age group, next older, etc, then Athenas (women over 150 lbs). Then elite men, youngest age group, next older age group, next older age group, etc, then Clydesdales. (Over 210 lbs?) The swim was a water start, meaning we stepped down a ladder into the lake, and then treaded water for a few minutes before the gun went off. At this point I wasn’t nervous anymore. I thought, “Let’s just get this done and over with.” Six months in, I was still not a strong swimmer, but found comfort in the fact that there were kayaks and lifeguards out there in canoes and that you could stop for a breath and hold on for as long as you needed.

(And it’s true – wetsuits make you float. A past-participant on my team once told me that you literally had to TRY and drown in a wetsuit, and she was right.)

It was freezing. Like breaking-surface ice-off-the-water-early-that-morning-and-not-telling-us-first-timers-so-as-not-to-intimidate-us, freezing. Wetsuits help keep you warm, but not dry. They let water in. It was freaking freezing, and I was scared to death. The water smelled and in the few places you could touch bottom, it was scummy and slimy.

The gun went off and I started flailing, realizing I’d gone about 10 strokes without my face in the water. Hell no, when I put my face in the water, it was so shockingly cold my chest tightened and I couldn’t breathe! I’m prone to panic attacks and this did not help. What was I thinking?? By the time I realized I was doing a modified doggy paddle, I looked ahead and saw that most other girls in my wave were doing the same. It was going to be a long almost-half mile.

I finally got my face in the water and ended up overshooting the first buoy, apparently a common mistake for first-timers. I adjusted my route then stopped at a kayak to catch some breaths, calculated how far to the next kayak and began again. Stopped for about 30 seconds at the next kayak, touched bottom and stepped on something that felt like plastic. Moving. Not moving because I stepped on it, but moving like it was already moving by the time I stepped on it. That was enough to get me swimming again. Thank God for balance drills, because the rest of the way was spent on my side with one arm leading while I kicked, or side stroking, or on my back. (I later found out that there are divers under water, looking up, for safety reasons. I’m betting I landed on one.)

I’m sure you’re wondering about the waves behind me. There were probably two more female waves, then Athena, and they were all politely non-eventful as they passed the few of us who were taking our time thoroughly enjoying the swim. But a little past half-way, not a kayak in sight, I had to flip over on my back. I fixated on the clear blue sky and attempted some deep breaths, deciding I would not panic. If there were a canoe or kayak in sight, I might have told them to take me out right then. But I told people I would do this, and there was no way in hell I was going out in the first half hour. (Also, there was not a canoe or kayak in sight.)

After what felt like an hour, I relaxed and caught my breath. But as I did, I heard a sound. Still on my back, I took my focus off the sky and lifted my head to see the yellow piranhas coming at me; the elite men in their yellow swim caps. (The Yellow Piranhas, as we would later refer to them) They, of course, had their faces in the water and didn’t know that I and a few others were still there in the line of fire, bobbing up and down.

They tell you you might get kicked, punched or scratched at the start. You might get your goggles kicked off. You might not be able to breathe on the side you’re used to because of waves, so you should practice bilateral breathing. We practice mass starts in the pool. The start wasn’t my problem! Honestly, the fight wasn’t what I was afraid of, it was my own panic. A few hit me, most kept going, one stopped and asked if I was ok. I actually laughed. “Yep, I’m good!” And as I finished the swim, happy to touch bottom, I could care less about the slime or the muddy water streaks on my arms.

Bike, my fav. I got a few “GO TEAM!”s from some random, probably past-TNT participants and a few in Livestrong tri-suits. I was passed by many men on carbon road bikes hearing “whooooshhhhhh” as they went by, yet I still passed more than a few people on my clunky, heavy hybrid. I wouldn’t be last. Yesssss.

Run, not so favorite. I have a numb foot thing I need to get checked out. I finished, and not last. 

Hubs went to retrieve my chocolate milk recovery drink from the car and I went to the porta-potty to change out of my gross tri shorts. I closed the door and sobbed for at least five minutes straight. Disappointment over what I hoped would be a better swim, and the release of pressure of six months worth of training while downplaying the hugeness of it all. I just completed a triathlon. I was the girl in high school who came up with excuses why I couldn’t run the mile in gym class. I raised money to cure blood cancers and I should’ve been more present, and should’ve enjoyed it more, but it was over now. I will NEVER do this again.

Lessons learned:

  • Triathlons are big time! Don’t down-play it. It’s a huge accomplishment!
  • Train for performance, and weight-loss/fitness will follow. Bonus!
  • Get open-water swim trainings in. There’s no line to follow at the bottom of a muddy, smelly, slimy lake. Trust me, and all the articles you read. Really. I didn’t.
  • You don’t need to set up your transition area like you’re going on a 7 day vaca.
  • Relax during the swim. Remember and use what you learned in training. Your chances of surviving are pretty damn good. Especially in a wetsuit.
  • My bike was nice, flat, through fields and farm-land (and no flat tires to change, though I was fully prepared.) Wave at the kids on their front lawns cheering for you. One day they might write about how you inspired them after they win their first Ironman.
  • If you’re prepared to change a flat you won’t have anything to worry about on the ride during a sprint, unless it’s raining and slippery.
  • Practice clipping and unclipping from your pedals. I didn’t learn any lessons at the tri, but fell right out of the parking lot on my first training ride.
  • Non-triathlete spectators and supporters won’t get it. That’s ok.

Prerace – Organized, well-run, comfortable.
Swim – Plenty of support. Gross lake. Could’ve been one more kayak between 2nd and finish, but that’s the wuss in me talking. I made it anyway.
Bike – Visually appealing, flat, saw bike support on the side of the road, though thoroughly prepared to change my own flat.
Run – Sufficient (and enthusiastic) fluid stations.
Finish – Announcer. Didn’t hyperventilate – score!

Stay tuned for a less emotional triathlon #2.

Do, or do not…

If you’ve been following, you know my “thing” is mostly half-marathons. It’s a long, yet civilized distance. Geminis don’t have the best attention spans, so 13.1 scratches the itch but doesn’t rip the skin off. I’ve walked them and run-walked them. I’ve gone from taking 4 hours and 20 minutes to finish to 3 hours flat. I’ve pounded the pavement for 10 years, mostly on weekends, one foot in front of the other, getting from start to finish. You start, you finish. In between, there’s a whole thought process that takes place, but that’s for another post. One foot in front of the other, over and over and over.

Similar to most of the other crazy thoughts that enter my brain, one morning I had a new idea and went with it. A triathlon! I would do a triathlon. One, because I knew Team in Training would ensure that I was properly trained, and two, because, well, why the hell not? I don’t mind being a source of entertainment for my friends and family, and if I was successful, maybe I could inspire someone else to take the plunge. Literally.

I told four people that day and only one thought I was nuts, and it was only because I was still fund-raising for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, and would have to fund-raise for this also. I filled in my registration forms, faxed them in and wondered how long it would take me to learn how to swim.

That’s right, I didn’t know how to swim 10 weeks ago. I could do the tread water thing for a few minutes at the hotel pool and doggy paddle across, but stroke? Hell no. Four tenths of a mile?? Hahahahaha – noway.

I was sick the entire day leading up to our first team training session. Like sick, couldn’t eat breakfast or lunch sick. I envisioned the rest of the team swimming laps and me at the shallow end of the pool blowing bubbles out of my nose with the 5 year-olds. Where do you go, what do you do, will I bring everything I need, are the showers stalls, or wide open like in the movies, what if I don’t know what to do, all these thoughts making. me. sick.

I went and thankfully, didn’t throw up. I also didn’t make a fool out of myself, although I couldn’t make it to the end of the pool without inhaling water up my nose and down my throat, and stopping to put my feet down once I could touch the bottom. I got to the end of the pool, (25 yards) and my breathing sounded as though I had just outrun a train. I learned that I needed to get earplugs and that if I ate before swim training, the food would feel like it was stuck high in my throat.

I’m proud to say that about 10 weeks later, I can swim! My arms go into the water a little too flat, apparently, but I can swim! I got the “roll” down, great body position, I can breathe out of my nose under water, and I actually have a rhythm. If a little wave hits me from the other lane and I inhale water, I recover without stopping. I can get about two lengths, or 50 yards without stopping for a breather on the wall, and it’s only for a few seconds. I have 3 more months to get better at swimming four tenths of a mile. I’m not so worried about the 20 mile bike or the 4 mile run (or walk). I just NEED to get through the swim.

A few months ago I was looking for a motivational quote above the windows in my little home gym and my trainer recommended this:

It is the most perfect quote ever, not just because it fit in the space perfectly, but because the husband is a Star Wars fan so he agreed to let me put it up.

“Do or do not, there is no try.” Well there’s a tri, but no “try.”

As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized I really only have two acceptable choices. I can do, or I can do not. If you set your sights on just trying, you have an out. You go into something having already set up your out. If you say you’ll try to eat better but you end up stuffing yourself with brownies, it’s easy to say, “Oh, but I did try.” Pointless. If you know me, you know that I say to most things, “either do it or don’t.” Black or white, yes or no. Do a triathlon, or don’t. I’m doing it.

I’m not trying, I’m tri-ing. If you’ve been thinking about it, just do it. Tri it.

Heroes

On Saturday, January 8, my husband and I completed the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in Orlando, FL. It truly was a magical experience at the most magical place on earth.

While walking through the parks throughout the weekend, I saw children everywhere lined up to take pictures with characters. Tarzan, Woody, Snow White, Peter Pan. They stared with their little eyes wide with wonder and amazement at the fact that they were close enough to touch these characters they idolized. My childhood was filled with heroes who could fly, scale buildings, become invisible and always get the Prince. Untouchable, celebrity-like, larger than life. I was quite certain that I would never in a million years meet Wonder Woman. I couldn’t be more wrong.

Over the years, I’ve had the honor of meeting so many heroic individuals. Cancer survivors, teachers, police officers, military personnel, family members, anyone who’s ever taken a chance and made a difference in someone else’s life.

My real-life heroes are confident. They’re unwaveringly loyal and are the rocks I trust leaning on. Anytime. Without even being aware, they inspire me to be a better person. They risk following their hearts when their brains seem the more logical and safer choice. They combine their talents and strengths to do something positive, in a world full of rejection and negativity. They selflessly dedicate their lives to things bigger than themselves.

True heroism is made up of real-life super-powers. It’s what made a little girl with blood cancer, on her tricycle, lead a group of Team in Training cyclists on a training ride that began at her house. It’s how a friend knows exactly what situations call for sitting in silence rather than sitting talking. It’s what makes someone open their families and homes to children who have neither. My world is full of heroes. Everyday, ordinary heroes.

Risk vs. Payoff

I love to gamble. Super Bowl pools, scratch-off lottery tickets, craps, 3 card poker and even an occasional stop at a slot machine. For me, it’s all about the excitement of the bells, the triple-checking of the half-time score, a roll of ten “the hard way” right after I pressed it another ten dollars. When you succeed, those gambles are addicting.

“Risk – the hazard or chance of loss.”

For me, risk is about playing with what you’re willing to lose. At the casino, and in life and love. To me, it’s not about being reckless with no regard to consequences. If I walk away with more than I showed up with, fantastic. I only play with what I’m willing to lose in the first place, so if it goes, so be it. For me, the hardest part is establishing and sticking to your limit.

I’m a risk-taker. I enjoy the uneasiness of putting my raw self out there. A few months before I met my husband I almost picked up and moved clear across the country to the opposite coast just to be uncomfortable and do something crazy. My limit, however, didn’t consist of not having a job before I got there, so when I didn’t receive any job offers, I didn’t end up leaving NJ.

I got “the card” in the mail about Team in Training and assumed it was a scam. Train for a marathon, raise money and travel free for a weekend? No way. Well I took a chance and signed up to walk a half marathon (13.1 miles) in New Orleans. Still involved 10 years later, I’ve made life-long friends, physical achievements and have been inspired by more people than I can count. The risk, minimal. The payoff, priceless and truly life-changing.

I asked for a promotion once, and risked looking like an over-confident 20-something year old. I got the promotion. I’ve asked people for money risking hearing “No” over and over throughout the years. I’ve raised tens of thousands of dollars to cure blood cancers. I recently registered for a triathlon without knowing how to swim, risking the embarrassment of having to man-up if I wussed out.  I’m positive I’m not going to be the last one across the finish line, and there is no way I’m wussing out. The satisfaction once completed is unimaginable to me today.

Do the risks I take always end with a happy ending? Not a chance. I once left a job for another, (open and honestly) decided it wasn’t for me, went back to job #1 and was promptly laid off. I’ve driven in snow and had accidents. I’ve chosen to focus on the “wrong” priorities and let the “right” ones suffer.

But here’s the secret I’ve learned. If the risk you take results in loss within your “limit”, you still have the opportunity to gain even more in the long run by the lesson learned. I needed to take that job because it taught me that the grass isn’t always greener. I needed to have that fender bender and the crap scared out of me so that I know when it’s too dangerous to drive. I may never learn to prioritize because there are just too many and that’s ok. Because I expect to learn until the day I die, and the people who surround me get that.

Our limits differ from person to person and that’s ok.

You know those people. Heck, you might even be one. The ones who do the same things day in, day out. I was one. Same schedule, same meals, same activities, same old, same old, same old. ZZzzzzzz… The investment is always the same. If something great happens to them, it’s usually just because… it happened. Now if they shook things up a bit and succeeded at something they’ve always been too afraid to try, could you imagine the resulting enthusiasm?

So when was the last time you put yourself out there? Really said what was on your mind because you felt it was right, or did something crazy with the confidence that the outcome would be a positive one? When was the last time you took a chance and honestly risked something important because you were confident you knew what you were doing?

Tell her how you feel. Speak up in your next staff-meeting. Ride that roller-coaster you think might give you a panic attack. Take more chances and experience the addiction and elation that comes from winning after putting something valuable on the line. I’m not talking about dropping your life savings on black the next time you walk past a roulette table. But if you have an extra chip or two, why not bet a little more?

Itchy

When I first took pictures of my ornaments, they were hung on artificial evergreen garland and a wreath and photographed indoors on our covered pool table under light bulbs. Today, since I had some spare time in daylight, I figured I’d photograph some new ones on the spruces in front of the house. Apparently, I’m allergic to spruce, and for 3 hours tried not to fall asleep from the Benadryl while at the same time not peel the itchy red skin off my hands. Itching aside, I’m much happier with the natural sunlight photos.

Speaking of TNT… ALL SALES, both online, and in person from Nov 13 – Nov 20 will be donated to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society!
Team in Training NJ Chapter had their Spring Season Kick-off yesterday, and Mile Stones was there with some magnets and ornaments for sale. All funds collected were donated back to LLS, whose mission is to “cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkins disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.”

Ken

This is Ken. (and me) I know 2 things about Ken. He completed the Marine Corp Marathon this past Sunday in Washington, D.C., and he did it with Team in Training.

Where to start…  My mom died in 1995 of complications due to Hodgkins lymphoma. A few years later, I received “the card in the mail” from Team in Training, a fund-raising endeavor of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. For those of you who know about TNT, (Team in Training, because for obvious reasons, TIT just doesn’t do it) approximately 90% of participants say “the card” is what brought them to the info meeting that got them to register.

“Complete a marathon in London… all expenses covered.” What’s the catch? I threw it out.

I received another card in 2001 and noticed that it said that you can WALK. I brought it into my new job to show my new coworker turned soulmate-ish friend who immediately said, “Let’s do it. I want to do this with you. For your mom.”

Oh crap. We’re doing a marathon.

It ended up being a half marathon, which is always 13.1 miles. A marathon is always 26.2 miles, and a half marathon is always 13.1 miles. Why, you ask? Because Pheidippides allegedly ran that far from the Battle of Marathon to Athens, Greece to announce that the Persians had been defeated in 490 BC. And then he keeled over and died. For those of you familiar with the marathon, you understand why.

We didn’t attend the group trainings all season, we didn’t return phone calls from our Mentors or Coaches. We showed up in New Orleans in February for the race and were sorry we didn’t participate with the rest of the “team” all those months leading up to event weekend. We sat at the pasta party the night before the race and cracked up listening to John “The Penguin” Bingham. We had an awesome time in New Orleans with Coach Dean and Staff Robert. We walked a half marathon in what I remember to be approximately 4 hours and 45 minutes.

When we got home, I filled out the paperwork for the Alaska Mayor’s Midnight Sun Half Marathon, brought it over to Dawn’s desk and asked her to sign. Surprisingly, without bribery, she did. Off we went, and I’ve been involved with Team in Training ever since.

Team in Training is a fund-raising endeavor of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The Society’s mission is to “find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma and to improve the quality of life for patients and their families.” In exchange for your commitment to raise funds to support their mission, TNT provides you with everything you need to walk or run a half or full marathon, 100 mile “century” bike ride or triathlon. Close to 75% of funds raised go directly to support the cause. More than a lot of other non-profits out there. Our coaching staff is amazingly supportive, experienced, dedicated and self-less. Our Mentors will do whatever it takes. Our staff is made up of the most organized people I’ve ever known. And our Honored Teammates, truly inspirational and the reason we’re here. We are the largest endurance sport training program in the world.

TNT has trained more than 400,000 participants over 20 years and has raised more than 1 billion dollars. One. billion. dollars. It sounds like a lot, but we need more.

My step-dad also died of a blood cancer years later, and it strengthened my commitment to the cause. I’ve been a participant, a Fund-raising Mentor, and now a Walk Coach and all-around TNT supporter. I’ve met and trained with blood cancer survivors who motivate and inspire me. I’ve made life-long friends and receive  unwavering support on the course from strangers in purple.

So back to Ken. I was at the Marine Corp Marathon to support some friends and strangers in purple last weekend, crazy purple and green hat and feather boa for recognition, cowbell in hand. Ken passed me at mile 11.5, tired and sweaty. “Great job, Ken!” I turned back around toward the oncoming runners, waiting for a friend, cowbell ring ring, cowbell ring ring.

I felt a tap on the shoulder. “Are you really with Team in Training?” I turned back around, and was surprised that Ken had come back. “Yeah, why?”

“I need a hug.”

Well I hugged him again right before mile 15 and again at the bridge at 20. I looked for him and cheered him on at the finish.

Ken, I don’t know your story, and I don’t even know who you are, but you are one of the reasons I’m here, doing this. Congratulations on completing the Marine Corp Marathon, and thank you for being a hero.

Go Team!!

Someone Wore This

And they trained, and planned and they ran. There was a reason they registered. It could have been their best race, or their worst, or their first. And then they sent it to me to cut into 4 pieces and make into a set of coasters so they could be reminded of their accomplishment. Someone wore this for what was probably a few of the most challenging hours of their life. And I just found out that they wore it as a Team in Training participant! But Team in Training is a story for another post…

I won’t lie. When I worked on the first bib that wasn’t my own, I stared at it, X-acto knife in hand for at least 10 minutes. I almost wussed out. I almost said “To hell with this, I’ll just give it back and say I didn’t have time.” But once I put my big-girl panties on and started working, it was easy. And she loved them!

Every bib has a back-story and I get that. Based on the 10 minute stare-down confession, I obviously get it a little too much. I’ve done at least 15 marathons/half marathons and I can tell you a story related to every single one of my bibs, if not an hour long story about what made me register for that particular event and how great the victory party was.

I think that whether it’s my first coaster set or two hundred and fourth, I will remain in awe of the back-stories that I’ll never really know. So thank you for the opportunity to help you preserve them.

And Go Team!

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