Thursday, June 28, 2012

Buffalo Springs 70.3 RR

Last weekend, I traveled to Lubbock, Texas to race the Buffalo Springs 70.3.

I've heard a lot about this race in the short time that I've been paying attention to all things triathlon.  Quite simply, it had the reputation of a suffer-fest.  As if racing in Texas in the middle of June isn't enough (the high on the day I raced was 100 degrees), Buffalo Springs throws in all the other things that make a race truly memorable -- some nasty hills, unpredictable and difficult winds, and of course, incredibly stiff competition.

My main race this year is Ironman Wisconsin, a difficult course with hills, unpredictable (sometimes hot) weather, and equally unpredictable winds.  Months ago, my coach suggested Buffalo Springs as a race that could prepare me for the worst Wisconsin could offer up.  I loved the idea.  My thinking: bring it on, Lubbock.  Hit me with the heat, the wind, the hills...and if I can suffer through and survive that, nothing can happen at Wisconsin that will scare me.

And, Lubbock threw all of that at me, and I suffered through, and I survived.  Did I conquer? No.  If we're keeping score, I think I can safely say that the score is BSLT 1, Amanda 0.  But, I suffered and survived, and that was the goal.  So now, bring it on, Madison! Nothing you send me can top Lubbock!
One thing is for sure- lessons were learned. 
Lesson #1- Be Honest.

Two weeks before the race, I came down with one of those knock-you-on-your-ass illnesses that had me moaning in bed with a 102 degree temperature, forcing down Pedialyte, and generally wanting to die.  After a course of antibiotics, I got back into my workouts and got them done, but they didn’t feel good, and I remained generally fatigued and without my normal lung capacity all the way up to the race.  In hindsight, I should have been honest with myself (and my coach), admitted that I needed more rest, and taken it.  Instead, I powered through, and tried in vain to convince myself that I was fine, dammit!  Completely fine!  No problem!  This illness didn’t set me back even a little bit!  Lies.
Lesson #2- Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.

Instead of dealing with how I felt physically, I got myself nice and worked up about ridiculous things.  I spent days trying to figure out what to wear during the race.  I worried about altitude (Lubbock’s at 3200 feet, which is by all accounts No Big Deal, but of course I worried about it).  I worried about forest fires (there aren’t any in Texas).  I worried about blisters.  I changed my mind multiple times on whether to use a full wetsuit or a sleeveless wetsuit.  I became obsessed with the possibility of getting a flat tire, and took my bike to the mechanic over and over, just to get reassurance that my tires were OK.  The morning of the race, I switched between dark and clear goggles about 6 times, making the final switch less than 60 seconds before the race. I was just a big fat worrywart.

In hindsight, I went about this all wrong.  Instead of admitting that I just didn't feel  great, taking some extra rest, and working on how to adjust my race plan to account for that, I made myself crazy dealing with the minutiae.  I think I may have made some others crazy listening to me deal with the minutiae (**cough, Mom**) (**cough, Liz**) (**cough, Anne**) (**cough, Andrea**) and for that, I apologize.  Lesson learned, and it won’t happen again.

Put simply, I wasn’t in a great state of mind going in, and just had that nagging feeling that things werent going to end well.  Self-fulfilling prophecy, much?

Got to O’Hare at o-dark-thirty in the AM on Friday, and checked my bike/”exercise equipment” for a mere $30.00 on American Airlines.  Everyone out there that travels with a bike, do yourself a favor and buy this bag:
Aerus Biospeed Bike Travel Case
It doesn’t look like a bike box, it has no outward indication that it’s a bike, it’s light, and it’s not bulky.  I went to the self-check kiosks, pre-paid for two normal, non-bike pieces of luggage ($30 / piece), non-chalantly told the ticket agent that my big black bag contained “exercise equipment” (not technically a lie), and went on my way.    Major win! 

We arrived in Lubbock in the mid afternoon, and after I speedily re-assembled my bike (the improvement I have made on this front is nothing short of amazing), we went over to the Expo.  At which point, I was forced to step on a scale.  I know this happens in Ironmans, and I know there are good reasons for it, but I didn’t expect it here.  And I certainly wasn’t ready for the number I saw, right after spending the day flying, eating carbs, and drinking lots and lot of water.  I tried to hide my eyes, but they wrote the number right on our bibs.  Couldn’t avoid it.  To say I had a little freak out would be generous.  After giving up wine for three weeks and eating as clean as I could, this is my weight???   So, of course, I did some more worrying.

One word for Saturday:  grumpy.  That about sums it up.  I did laugh at one point during the day though.  That would be during the course talk, when the Race Director declared that Topic Number 2 on his agenda was “Varmints of Interest.”  For the next several minutes, we were all treated to a run-down of West Texas wildlife and the various odors associated therewith.   John Deere Tractors were discussed at this time, which was somewhat puzzling, but whatever.  Maybe Texans just cast a wide umbrella when it comes to Varmints of Interest.

Race Day:

Up at 3:30 AM, out the door by 4:20 AM, drive to the park, and wheel my bike down a long, steep dark hill.  I set up my transition with no problem, turned on my Garmins so they’d lock onto satellites (spoiler alert….big mistake), and walked over to the swim start to warm up.   After several goggle switcheroos, I headed to the start line.  I felt fairly calm, and I thought I was acting calm, but the last words my mom said to me were, “Just stay calm out there.”  She’s pretty smart and perceptive, and has been around me at sporting events for, what, 25 years now?   So maybe I was projecting more nervousness than I thought.


All the age group women started in one huge wave, with pink caps, of course.  It was a beach start, and I lined up on the front line and at the gun, sprinted into the water and took a good, hard 50 strokes or so.  I was towards the front of the pack and I tried to grab some feet to get a nice draft, but as per usual, I completely failed in that regard and lost track of who was around me or where I was compared to the other women.  
I chose sleeveless.  I'm the one on the left with the really pale arms.
The ladies’ wave started at 6:39 A.M., just barely after sunrise, and the first time I lifted my head to sight, I knew I was in for a long swim.   I simply could not see the buoys.   Something about the light and the sun and the size of the buoys combined to make me feel almost completely blind for the whole swim.  So I just followed others, hoping they were on course.  We started to run into the guys from the wave in front of us pretty early on, so I took a few good hits to the side of the head (and doled a few out, too).   But overall, my swim was just blah.  I didn’t feel strong in the water, but I didn’t feel horrible.   I just felt a little lackadaisical, and not really like I was racing.  I was just swimming (or not swimming, since I had to stop several times and tread water for a moment, in search of those damn buoys).  The swim felt long, it always does, but I came out of the water with my first sub-30 minute half-ironman split, so I’ll take it. 

I ran to my spot, put on my helmet and sunglasses, sprayed on some sunscreen, and started to put on my bike shoes.  Except…. I hadn’t finished taking off my wetsuit.  Whoops.   Caught it just in time, but that could have been embarrassing!

The first 3 miles at Buffalo Springs have the two steepest climbs of the course.  My plan was to take those hills easy and just spin up them, and then worry about settling into my goal pace once things flattened out.  I did that, but apparently I was the only one with the “take the hills easy” plan, as people (mostly guys but some women) were streaming by me, out of their saddles, powering up the hills.  It was a blow to the ego, but I let them all go, trying to remind myself that I had a plan that I knew would work for me.     

Once we got out of the park and onto a flat stretch, I started to settle into my goal watts and chill out.   I felt quite uncomfortable for that first half hour, my shoulders were hurting being in the aero position, and my legs didn’t really want to go, but I knew those feelings would pass.   They did, to some extent, but I never felt great out there.   It was work.   There are those days where things feel effortless.  I’ve had those days.  I had a day like that earlier this year, at the San Juan 70.3, where for the vast majority of the day, I was just in awe of how great I felt and constantly holding back to avoid getting carried away too early in the race.  Today wasn’t that day.   Everything felt hard.  I had to work to get to my goal watts, and then work even more to stay there.   

The day before the race, Liz told me to just keep asking myself: “what’s important now? What do you have to do in this moment?”   And I asked myself those questions about a zillion times during the bike ride.  The answer was always the same:  ride my ride, stay within a range of XXX – XXX watts, drink, eat, take salt.  I didn’t feel good, but I carefully followed my race plan to the T, kept my emotions under control, spun up the big hills, tried to relax (but not too much) when dealing with headwinds and crosswinds, of which there were a lot.  I focused on the process.   

It got tough out there, especially the last 15 miles where the wind seemed relentless.  The hills were no joke, but while they were big, there weren’t a ton of them, and I actually enjoyed that they broke the course up.  Overall, I’m pretty proud of myself for the way I rode.  I never felt good, but my overall power fell right within the range I was shooting for, my speed was decent, and most of all, even though I felt like I was troubleshooting from the get-go, I hung in there mentally and approached the ride more like an analytical problem than an emotional one.        

If only I could have kept that up.

I dismounted smoothly, racked my bike, put on my shoes, slathered on more sunscreen, grabbed my Garmin and my nutrition and high-tailed it out of transition.   So far, so good, until I looked down at my Garmin and saw the “Battery Low” warning.  Crap. I’ve got an old school Garmin, and I know that the “Battery Low” warning means you’ve got, oh, like a minute left of time before the watch shuts off.  Great.  I absolutely should not have turned that watch on at 5:45AM in the morning, and let the battery drain for the next several hours.   I stuck the Garmin in my pocket, and prepared for a data-less run.


As usual, my legs felt pretty lousy for the first half mile.  But that always happens, so I didn’t worry.   What I did worry about was my pace.  I have a problem of starting my runs too fast, taking off at what feels like 9 minute miles and then looking down at my watch and seeing a pace that’s much too fast.   I usually take the Garmin to prevent that.   No Garmin this time.   There was one lady around me and I hung on her heels for a while, and kind of wanted to ask what pace we were going.  But I didn’t.  Maybe I started out too fast.  Maybe I started too slow.  No idea. 

When we hit the two-mile mark and my legs still hadn’t come around, I knew I was in for a long, long day.  But I tried to dismiss that thought and remind myself of other races where I’ve felt like crap at mile 2 and turned it around.   There was still hope. 

The first three miles are generally flat, a little rolling, through a campground.  The temperature was rapidly climbing, so whenever we hit an aid station, the first thought in my mind was “ice.”  I grabbed ice, tons of ice, dumped it down my top, held it in my hands.  I’d tried these techniques in San Juan, and they worked, so I was really, really careful about getting lots and lots of ice.  Unfortunately, in focusing on the ice, there was one big thing I forgot:  WATER.  The first three aid stations, I was so zoned in on the ice, I simply forgot to drink.   I may have gotten a Dixie cup’s worth at one aid station.  Big, major, mega oops.

After the stint in the park, the run starts to get hilly (and big, scary hills, too) and completely exposed.  The hills hurt, but I got up them, still trying to not dwell on the negative thoughts, still trying to troubleshoot, just like I had on the bike.   We then hit a long, straight, out-and-back.  I’d been warned that this part of the race, despite being flat, is the toughest.  It’s here where people start to melt down.  You see the heat rising from the road, and then it’s just a long, long road ahead, broken up only by aid stations.  It wears you down.  I was mentally prepared.

But, mental preparation or not, it was on the ‘back’ of the out-and-back that I started to melt.  At first it was just physical.  I was hot, really hot, and I just wasn’t moving well.  I think I got in a real hole by not drinking water early on, and I was dehydrated.  I still had absolutely no idea what kind of pace I was running, but I knew I was getting passed.  A lot.  I kept trying to troubleshoot, to rely on the plan, but mentally, I was worn down.  It’d been a long, long day of trying to figure out how to stay on track despite not feeling good.  The negative thoughts kept sneaking in and taking over.  I tried to ignore them, figuring “this will pass.”  It didn’t.
Trying to hang in there

The last big hill going into the park, maybe in the 9th mile, I saw a girl ahead of me start to walk.   My mental toughness was gone, and all I could think was, “good idea.”  So, I walked, too.   SO. NOT. OKAY.

Once I’d given in and walked on that hill, I was done.  I’d been physically melting, but now I mentally melted down.  The rest of the race was a massive struggle.   I just tried to keep moving forward to get to the next aid station.  I walked the aid stations.   I may or may not have walked a little between the aid stations.  I yelled at myself, out loud (may have drawn some looks at that one).  “C’mon, suck it up, you’re better than this.”   And then, at mile 12, I moved to the side of the road, stopped, and started crying.  The aid station volunteers were alarmed, thinking something was physically wrong.  I said, between sobs, “I just don’t want to go anymore.”  Not my style, and so, so embarrassing.

Eventually, I got moving again, but very shortly thereafter, in the last mile of the run, a girl in my age group passed me and claimed a Kona slot.   

Let’s be clear.  I did not come to Lubbock in search of a Kona slot.  Put simply, I have never thought I am at that level yet.  Kona this year doesn’t even fit into my race schedule, and I’m supposed to be in Argentina in October.   I came to Buffalo Springs in search of a race that would best prepare me for Wisconsin.  And during the race, I didn’t think I was in the running for a Kona slot … when the girl passed me, I didn’t recognize the significance (or even know that she was in my age group).  But to come that close (she ended up beating me by 30 seconds), and to have lost it not because of anything physically wrong, but because I mentally broke down… that really, really stings. 

So there’s been a lot of soul searching in the past few days.  I’ve surprised myself with how disappointed this race left me.  Not because it was a bad time (despite the melt-down, I’m still fairly happy with my overall time), or a bad place (I got a bottle of wine as an award!).  And compared with last year, or the year before, I’ve come a long, long way.  But I’m disappointed because when the going got tough, I didn’t hang in there mentally.  You can train perfectly and do all the work in the world, but if the head’s not in it, none of that matters.  So…I’ve still got a lot of work to do.    

I have great friends and they’ve been enormously helpful in helping me put this meltdown in perspective, learn from it, and move forward.  One sent me a quote from some professional triathlete (Andy Potts, maybe?), who said “the most important race is the next one.”  That’s speaking to me right now… and as I’m peaking my head out from the funk I’ve been in, I’m starting to regain confidence, recognize the lessons I learned, and prepare for the next one.  And I can guarantee one thing, I will NEVER allow myself to give up mentally like I did in those last few miles.      

And, like I said at the beginning, bring it on, Madison.  You’re never gonna have nothin’ on Lubbock. 

Of course, I absolutely cannot forget about the highlight of my trip:  Visiting Prairie Dog Town.   Look at this little guy:
Enough to make you forget about a bad last three miles!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Nitty Gritty

Here's one new piece of news: I am a total sucker.
I have evidence to back up this statement. Recently, I successfully found a lovely family to rent out my condo during my trip. I got lucky.  I hadn't actually started looking for tenants or even figured out the logistics of how to rent the place out. This truly fell onto my lap by way of a friend who had a friend who had a friend that was moving to Chicago with her husband and child, looking for a 3 bedroom place in a kid-friendly neighborhood in which they could live for a year while they figured the city out and bought their own place. It was the perfect match.

Except, of course, for the money. Here's how the "negotiation" went:

Me: I'd like to rent the condo out for X dollars a month.
Tenant: How about X-500 dollars a month?
Me: How about X-300 a month?
Tenant: How about X-500 a month?
Me: Done.

Yeah, I went to law school. At some point, I was taught how to "negotiate." Apparently it didn't take.

In all seriousness, I'm thrilled to have tenants. Figuring out what to do with my condo was the last big
hurdle I had to overcome before my hiatus became a reality. Paying a mortgage while unemployed and traveling to some of the more expensive locations in the world simply was not going to be financially feasible. I probably could have shopped my place around, used a realtor or an agency, drove a hard-line, and gotten more. But it could have taken months, and the uncertainty would have caused me a lot of stress. It was worth it to me to just get it taken care of now. Add in the comfort I get from finding my tenants via a connection (albeit a slightly distant one) and I'm perfectly content with the situation.

Except, of course, for the fact that they are moving in in a month. Which means, I have one month to figure out what to do with my worldly belongings, to pick out the things I'm going to need for the next year, shove them in my car and take them....somewhere... where they'll stay until I actually leave the country. I have one month to get my place emptied out and ready for a family to move in, and one month to solidify where I am actually going to live until my global travels start in September now that someone else will be living in my home.

And here's a secret... I've been researching like crazy and sketching out my plans for my trip, but I have yet to book a single flight or make a single reservation. There's just so much to figure out. Like flights. Do I buy one of those round-the-world tickets that the airlines sell? They're all a little different, but generally you pay a flat fee for a ticket that includes 16 or so segments (or an equivalent amount of miles) and you can use those segments whenever you want, so long as it's within a year. Sounds great, but there's a can't backtrack. Continent-to-continent forward progress only. So that would mean no returns to the States unless I bought a whole 'nother flight. Am I at that place in my life where I can deal with the idea of no Christmas with my family? I don't think so. Instead, do I buy flights individually, shopping around for the best deals, which is more unpredictable and potentially more pricey?  And while we're asking questions: do I take all my belongings with me from the get-go, or do I plan short returns home to re-pack, regroup, replan?  Do I need to have my entire trip planned before I leave, or can I try to figure things out as I go? What do I do about health insurance when I'm no longer employed? How can I set up my phone plan so I'm not paying an arm and a leg to stay in touch? The questions just keep on coming.

I'm not going to lie, I am totally overwhelmed right now. There is so much to do, and so little time. I am not ready. This traveling idea has always seemed sexy and exciting. But now that I'm down to the nitty gritty, it's incredibly stressful. Not that I'm looking for sympathy (I remember a friend posting something on Facebook recently along the lines of, "I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me, but it's really hard to figure out what to pack for a 3 week European vacation." I laughed.), but I can't say that the stress isn't affecting me. I had this vision that the moment that I walked into my boss's office and asked for a leave of absence, the stress would just melt away. And it did...for about 3 days. Until reality hit.

So for now, I guess the best I can do is just plugging away, making lists and checking things off. And searching, of course, for someone who wants to help me haul things out of my third-floor, walk-up condo in the middle of what is proving to be a pretty brutal Chicago summer. Whatdaya say, friends? Anyone? Anyone?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Li'l Brudder

My Li’l Brudder just left for the Army.

 (For backstory on the “Li’l Brudder” thing, see here. Li'l Brudder is a one-legged puppy with the heart of a champion who makes everyone cry because he's just such a trooper.  And if you’re not familiar with Homestar Runner, you should be.  Maybe it’s a little seven years ago, but I love it.)

This whole thing came up kind of suddenly.  My brother is not your typical enlistee – he’s a little older (24), has a college degree, and before deciding to take on this challenge, was working on getting his Masters’ Degree in education.   His life seemed pretty well set.  Like me, he’d gone to Ohio State, which is in our backyard (literally-- Ohio State’s property backs up to my parents’ house).   Unlike me, he seems to like the suburb we grew up in.   While I wanted to run far, far away and never look back (let’s just say, it’s an odd place and was never a great “fit” for me), he embraced the community.  Throughout college and after, he coached swimming in Upper Arlington, the suburb we grew up in, and was really quite good at it.  He even worked at the local country club!  He had a long-term girlfriend who also seemed content in Columbus.  I just assumed he was going to get his masters’ degree, get married, get a teaching and coaching job in Upper Arlington, and live happily ever after.  The path was straight and well-tread, and he just seemed to be on his way.

And then, last fall, suddenly he no longer had the girlfriend and was talking to Army recruiters.  

At first, I assumed the Army idea was a rebound thing.   I think we all had that fear.  It seemed like a drastic change in his life course, too sudden of a decision for someone who’d contentedly stayed within a 2 square mile radius his entire life.  He assured us over and over that this had nothing to do with the breakup, it was just something he’d always dreamed of doing.  Something he needed to do.  I remained skeptical, but over the course of months, I started to believe him, and now I’m fully on board.

In reality, we shouldn’t have been surprised.  My brother was practically born to be in the military.   I don’t have kids, but I’ve met some, and I understand they often go through a stage where they want to pick out their own clothes.  Overriding those selections, I am told, is often a battle not worth fighting.  My brother definitely went through that phase—and his personal decision was to dress like a G.I. Joe.  He had pants that looked like fatigues, little camouflage shorts, little camouflage t-shirts.  It sounds a little weird and black trenchcoat-y, but he was pretty cute and a very amiable little kid, so he pulled it off well.   

And we were surprised??
 And even aside from the costumes, he’s always had the right mentality.  He is, quite simply, a good little soldier.  He always has been.   Coaches absolutely loved him because he did exactly what was asked of him, never more, never less, didn’t ask questions, didn’t complain.  And it worked.  Despite never growing beyond 5’8” (very short for top-level swimming), he was an excellent swimmer who got that way because he worked his ass off and did everything right.  And where he really excelled was in relays—he’d pull out ridiculously fast splits that didn’t seem within his ability, all because he had heart and three teammates at the end of the pool counting on him.

Really, my brother’s got the personality for the Army.  And, growing up, he always said he wanted to be in the military.  But it was post-9/11 and the news from the Middle East was scary and we all just told him to shut his mouth and go to college.   So this decision's been on his mind for his entire life.  It’s just the U-turn he took to get there that threw us all off.

But having thought about this for a while, the suddenness is really what’s most inspiring about this whole venture.  My brother was on a predictable path.  He was doing the right things to have a perfectly respectable life…. a house in the suburbs, a teaching degree, probably the requisite 2.5 children and dog sooner rather than later.   But, looking back, his path lacked passion or adventure.   He’ll admit as much.  And instead of wallowing in it, or becoming apathethic, he changed it.  

My sister, me, and our Li'l Brudder
I won’t tell him, not in person anyway (I am, of course, still the older and much wiser sibling), but his decision to join the Army had more than a little influence on me and my decision to make the fairly drastic change in my own career and life.   My Li’l Brudder showed me that our narratives can be changed.  It takes courage and little effort, but there’s no need to keep dutifully following the well-tread path if it’s not heading in the direction that you want to go. 

So, last weekend I headed to Ohio to say good-bye.  I’m really, really bad at good-byes and emotional statements, and I’m not sure I did the best job of letting my brother know just how proud of him I am.  Not just for serving his country, but for having the courage to walk away from a very comfortable existence and return to the dream he’s had since he was little.   He’s inspired me beyond that which he’ll ever know (at least for the next 10 weeks, until he regains access to the internet and reads this).  I worry a little bit about him (basic training is scary!) but I shouldn’t. He was born for this.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


When I’m not busy planning a trip around the world, wrapping up a six-year legal career and trying to figure out what to do with all my personal possessions, I’ve got another little pursuit going:  I’m training for an Ironman.

The big day:  September 9, 2012. Madison, Wisconsin.  Ironman Wisconsin.  Save the date!
The Wisconsin State House
People I've met who have been through Ironman training describe it as almost a mystical experience.  Either they loved it, or they hated it, but the training itself seems meaningful and life changing.   

However, I can’t lie…. I just haven’t been able to relate.  Ironman training requires a lot of hours (and I know, I know, I’m still only at the “beginning” and it’s only going to get longer).  But thus far, it hasn’t wiped me out, it hasn’t left me begging for mercy, it hasn’t made me want to eat everything in sight (not any more than usual, anyway), and it certainly hasn’t changed my life.   It’s been triathlon training, just more of it. 

But last weekend, I think I finally started to understand what makes Ironman training such a “big deal.”   

I traveled up to Madison on Friday to ride the course for the first time of the season.  The Ironman Wisconsin course is notoriously difficult, and I can’t say I wasn’t a little nervous.  I tried to ride this course a couple times last year; neither attempt was a great success.  The first time I rode it, I crashed, broke my bike, and needed stitches.  (Keep reading this blog and you’ll learn that this is no surprise.  I’m kind of a klutz).  The second time I rode it, well, let’s just say that with an hour to go, I stumbled into a bike/coffee shop having seriously bonked, and pretty much traded my first-born child for carbohydrates.  A Clif Bar and a Coke later, I was back on the course and finished it off….but it wasn’t pretty.

This time, my goal was to respect the course and finish strong.  I needed to ride 4 hours and 45 minutes, and I knew two 41 mile loops of the course would leave me short on time, requiring me to tack on some extra miles at the end.  But in my mind, I was doing two loops….and then some more.  No sweat. 

I started off, reminding myself to ride smart and conserve my energy.  Loop 1 went by without a hitch.   Loop 2 was equally uneventful, except I was passed early on by a guy with race wheels and an aero helmet.  I couldn’t hang, but that’s OK.  I’ll let Mr. Aero Helmet guy take the June 9 Course Ride Win, and I’ll declare myself the winner in the June 9 Game of Life, because, y’know, I wasn’t the one wearing an aero helmet for a course ride.  

Eventually I got through my two loops feeling pretty good and strong.  I congratulated myself—no crashes, no bonks, the only person who passed me was Mr. Aero Helmet Guy.  This Ironman training stuff is not so big a deal!!

Famous last words. 

Then, I started in on those extra miles I had to do at the end.  And suddenly, I got it.  I figured out what it is about Ironman training that is so “epic” (yeah, I hate that word, too). It’s the mental fatigue.  It’s not the physical toll of hours of training that's truly difficult, it’s having to push through that moment when your body needs to keep going, but the brain simply says, “ENOUGH.”

I’d mentally prepared for my two loops and I’d finished them.  And, at that point, I’d accomplished what I’d come up to Madison for.  I didn’t want to be on the bike anymore.  I was cursing the hills.  My hand hurt from all the shifting.  I was tired of making decisions about which gear to be in. I was getting sunburnt.  I was hot.  I was BORED.  I was sick of the damn song repeating in my head (or should I say, the 5 seconds of a song that was repeating in my head).  And I just wanted to be done.  Now.

Physically, nothing was wrong with me.  My legs felt fine.  I wasn’t breathing hard.  I had eaten enough and was adequately hydrated.  I just did. not. want. to. ride. anymore.  I soft pedaled around for a while, feeling sorry for myself.  And then with 12 minutes to go….12 minutes!..... I stopped.  I stood on the side of the road, and I stared at the ground.  Seriously, for 2 or 3 minutes, I stood still and stared at a patch of concrete.  No thoughts, no pain, no need for fuel.   I was just Done.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t Done anywhere near my car so it took a little self-yell to get myself going for those last 12 minutes.   “Suck it up, Amanda, seriously, 12 MINUTES.”

I finished my 12 minutes hating life and hating Ironman, and then had that awful moment when I realized I still needed to run 30 minutes. 

And so, despite being Done, I talked myself into running.  It was a mental struggle and I hated every moment of it.  Then, just to add insult to injury, 10 minutes in, I found this, right off to the side of the bike path, teasing me like an oasis in the middle of the desert:

Side note:  One of the coaches of the training group I am a part of sends out weekly encouraging emails, mostly about swimming.  In them, he repeatedly attaches the word “Iron” to the front of various words.  Like: “Bring your IronSpirit to the IronSwim tonight and prepare for IronFun!”  I love it.  So I’m stealing his idea.

I stumbled onto that little carnival while I was deep in the depths of Done. Or, IronDone, I suppose.  Did I want to stop, have myself a nice cool Hawaiian Shaved Ice, take a spin on the ferris wheel, and maybe start my recovery with a funnel cake?  [Insert more emphatic word for 'yes' here]  But I didn’t.  Instead I snapped a quick picture and finished my run.  And that, my friends, is IronDiscipline (also, I had no money and wasn’t in the mood to beg, but who’s counting?).  

Once I finally got back to my car, having slogged through those 30 minutes, I was greeted with this sight:
A nice little swimming hole!  With water sufficiently cold to call it an "ice bath"!  Of course I jumped right in.  And loved every second.  It was the perfect end to my IronDay, topped only by the slice of mac and cheese pizza I got at Ian's in Downtown Madison.  IronYum!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Sketch

So far, I've taken the big steps in getting ready for my adventure -- first, actually making the decision to walk away from my career (if, perhaps, temporarily), then breaking the news to my employer, and then, of course, telling the world (i.e., Facebook).  That was the easy part.

But now, the big steps are done, and I’m facing the real challenge.  I have to actually plan this trip.

To say I’ve got a long way to go is like saying the sky is blue.  It's not a question.  But, I’ve got a general framework sketched out.   I’ve put the most thought into the first few months, while the last few are full of question marks. I put this out here both to recruit traveling companions (Come join me at any time! Anyone!) and to solicit advice.  I’ve got lots of worldly friends…share your knowledge!
  • July
    • Iowa (RAGBRAI, a week of biking and drinking across Iowa)
  • August
    • Colorado for three weeks
    • Back to Chicago
  • September  
    • Madison, WI (Ironman Wisconsin)
    • Peru (Machu Picchu)
  • October
    • Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • November
    • New York, NY (NYC Marathon)
    • Mendoza, Argentina
  • December
    • Patagonia
    • Chile
  • January 
    • Pucon, Chile (Ironman Pucon 70.3)
    • New Zealand
  • February 
    • New Zealand
  • March  
    • Australia (Mooloolaba Triathlon)
  • April 
    • Lanzarote, Canary Islands
  • May
    • Ironman Lanzarote
    • Spain
  • June
    • France?  Germany?
  • July
    •  ???/ Europe
So that’s where I am.  There are some glaring omissions and completely bypassed continents, and yes, and I’m still thinking about if/how to fit them in. 

And while I’m trying to keep things fairly unstructured, I have some things I’m definitely going to do.  Here's a few:
  1. Swim in this pool:

It’s in Chile and it's 1000 meters long.  A legit swim workout that consists of 3 x 1 lap?? I like it.

2.   Learn Spanish:  I admit, most of my thinking about this trip has been quite positive.  But every once in a while, usually late at night, I allow myself to consider the fact that my vacation won’t be all puppies, rainbows, and unicorns.  I’m traveling by myself, and inevitably, there are going to be lonely days.  I’m thinking those lonely times can be alleviated if, y'know, I can communicate with the people around me.   So…. Spanish lessons it is. 

3.   Learn to surf:  my grandparents lived right on the beach in Cocoa Beach, Florida, a huge surfing locale.  I’ve gone there multiple times a year since as long as I can remember.  Why have I never actually graduated beyond the boogie board?  Don’t know, but I'm going to change that.

4.   Do this
Sandboarding on the dunes in Peru.  I tried snowboarding once.  I finished all black and blue, and spent the next couple days complaining that my "brain hurt."  But sand's softer and less slippery, right?  Time to try again.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Story to Tell

At the risk of stating the obvious, this is my new blog. 

I’ve been thinking about starting one of these for years but wasn’t always sure I really had anything too compelling to write.  Mine has been a life not all that interesting to the outside world -- for the past six years, I’ve been a lawyer in Chicago, defending big corporations in complex litigation, working crazy hours (yes, I’ve spent the night in my office many, many times) and trying to stay sane at the same time.  Not exactly thrilling blog fodder.

At some point, I found an outlet.  Just a little over two years ago, I signed up to do my first triathlon (well, truth be told, my fifth triathlon, but the first four were in high school/college and I rode a hybrid bike and had no clue what I was doing and that was a million years ago anyway.  So those don’t count.)  I needed a challenge in my life at that time, a kick in the ass to start living again. I had been consumed for months by the devastation of a bad breakup, the difficulty of re-finding my way in a city after I already had one foot WAY out the door, the stress of a demanding job, and just general apathy about the direction I was headed.  A half ironman seemed like the solution, so I made my way to google, found an awesome training program in the city, and hit the ground running (and biking and swimming).  Yada, yada, yada, the race went OK, yada yada yada, I did some more, and now, I’m kind of hooked.  

It seems to me like at least 37% of the triathletes out there have a blog.  I could have started to write all about my new triathlon life a long time ago.  Let’s be fair, for two years, it has consumed my time and my thoughts and, well, my money, but it just didn’t make me want to write.  I don’t have sponsors to plug or terribly interesting triathlon tales to tell…what would make me any different from all the other super-triathlete-writers who have already tread this ground??

BUT NOW … I finally have a story that, I hope, will be worth telling.  A couple weeks ago, after months of hemming and hawing, I told my (extremely generous and accommodating) employer that I’d decided to take a break from lawyering.  A very long break.   Starting in late July, I’m going to pack myself up, wave goodbye to my Chicago life thus far, and start traveling the world.  The plan is to take a year.  It may end up being longer or shorter, depending on my finances and my moods and my life-altering realizations and all that stuff.  But, for now, a year.

And here’s the kicker. Like I said, I kinda love this triathlon stuff.  I’m still a rookie and still figuring it out, but I’m not giving it up.  My bike’s coming around the world with me.  I’m going to keep training.  AND, I’m going to keep racing, but in foreign lands.  Is a triathlon in Chile a lot different than a triathlon in Illinois?  I’m about to find out.  My plan is to stay in each place I visit for at least 3 weeks to a month; to really absorb the culture and unique aspects of daily living (and training).  And to find a race of some sort -- whether it’s a triathlon, or a running race, or a kayaking race, or a mountain bike race (anyone who knows even a little about how accident-prone I am just gasped a little), or something I’ve not even thought of.  It’ll be different and it’ll bring me out of my comfort zone.  I like that.  And I’m going to write about it.

Let’s just say, I’m really, really excited.

So that’s my reason for blogging.  I’ve finally got a story to tell. 

And let’s get it out upfront -- this won’t be a work of literary genius, that’s for sure.  I’ve been writing in legalese for a long time, and while I’m pretty good at throwing in words like henceforth, indubitably, res ipsa loquitor, etc., I fear my creative writing skills have lapsed.  I know I tend to unabashedly split my infinitives (see what I did there?), overuse parentheticals (and here?), and make overly liberal use of commas.  So bear with me.  But if I ever screw up a [there/their/they’re] or a [your/you’re], PLEASE call me out.