Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Live From Taupo

It's just about the night before the night before the big day, and I'm settled in here in Taupo, New Zealand.  The weather is beautiful, the town is buzzing, and compression-sock clad triathletes have taken over.  It's almost time!
The main drag.  Bike course and run course go here.
I arrived in Taupo on Tuesday night.  Months ago, after I'd signed up for Ironman New Zealand but well before I'd arrived in the country or really even started to think about the New Zealand leg of my travels, I decided to book my travel to Taupo with Endurance Sports Travel, Ken Glah's company.  For the non-triathlon obsessed out there, Ken was a top professional triathlete in the 1980s and 1990s, and still competes  amazingly well in the 50 to 54 age group.  He's racing this weekend with the hopes of qualifying for his 30th straight appearance in Kona.  Aside from his own training and competition, he runs Endurance Sports Travel, which puts together travel packages for races all around the world.  When I signed up to join EST, I was a bit overwhelmed with trying to make decisions about accommodations (which are generally quite different than in the States) and didn't really fancy being entirely alone in Taupo.  I've traveled to races by myself before, but it's not my favorite thing in the world, and I figured joining up with a group would make the already stressful experience a little less lonely. 
Part of the group, and Ken, getting ready for a practice swim
Although I've now been in New Zealand for almost two months and can certainly navigate myself through the country at this point, I'm so glad I chose to travel with Ken's group.  We have a nice group of 20 or so athletes and friends, the majority of whom (but not all) are American.  The experience and expectations of the participants are widely varying, from those just hoping to finish their first Ironman to those gunning for age group wins, but the common denominator is that everyone is friendly, eager to share their experiences, and laid back.  The organization is top notch,  Ken and his staff whip up delicious meals (banana pancakes for brekkie!) with remarkable skill, share their stories and experiences, and we have a bike mechanic available at any time, which helps keep my pre-race bike paranoia under control. 

Ken sharing bike course knowledge with one of group members, who is an MIT professor and member of Team Parlee with me, WattsUpKarin, and pretty much half of Well-Fit
I said I wanted to enjoy the experience of this Ironman, and thus far, I truly have.  Part of it is being with a group and having like-minded participants around to chat with, part of it is my own attempts at being a bit more "smell the roses"-y this time around, and part of it is just that Kiwis are friendly and laid back and while this town is overrun with triathletes right now, there's not really a nervous, tense energy or too many attempts to show off, but more of an excited buzz about a day that is really quite special in this country (there has been daily news coverage about this event in the New Zealand Herald, pretty cool).   
Getting set up
Much credit goes to Ken Glah, too.  Just with his demeanor and approach to the sport, he brings  perspective to all of this.  Here's a guy who won this race multiple times, was once at the very top of the sport, and when he started getting slower, he didn't walk away like so many do.  Instead, he stayed involved because of the love of the sport.  He's told us stories of Ironmans in which he's had to walk the run (broken blood vessel in his lung, how does that happen?), but instead of calling it a day, saying I'm an Ironman champion and I've done a gazillion of these, he finished the damn race.  Because that's what you do.  It's inspiring. 
Pretty lake

 Add that he's still super fast but drinks Orange Fanta and eats ice cream without hesitation just days before the race, and it makes me realize that really, you don't have to be super-extra-amazingly-regimented and monitor every vitamin and mineral and calorie to enter your body to be a total rock star.   Good to know. 

So I've been playing along with the Ironman party.  I went to the hot springs outside of town with our group and we ate pasta and drank beer (only one!) while lounging in the river.  I got through registration today and just being in line didn't make me want to cry like it did in Madison (although like in Madison, I very, very, very adamantly told the lady weighing us in that I didn't want to know, even in kilograms.)   I met up with Friendly Kiwi Triathlete Jo and had a lovely chat and soy flat white coffee.   I even almost went to the pre-race Carbo Loading Dinner/ Party, until a certain nameless fun-killer answered an email in which I mentioned that I was considering attending with a simple one word response: "GERMS."   So it's chicken and rice for me alone in my room tonight.  Sad.

Now, back to sorting all of my worldly triathlon goods into four different bags to be dropped off tomorrow, along with a little more effort at trying to get my feeble brain to figure out how to deal, clothes-wise, with a day that will start with temperatures in the high 40s and end up in the 80s.   Can't wait (for real)!
This is Didymo Dave, who is passionate about keeping didymo out of Lake Taupo and also triathlon
This is not a nice sign for the bike course
Triathlon statue at the bike turn around in Reporoa

Monday, February 25, 2013

Racing Free

In a few hours, I'm leaving for Taupo, the site of Ironman New Zealand.

This will be my second Ironman in (just) less than six months. Unfortunately, I've found out the hard way that experience with this distance doesn't necessarily alleviate the nerves. Going into this race, I've been just as nervous, or even more nervous, that I was before Ironman Wisconsin. The nerves and fears are slightly different. With Wisconsin, there was fear of the unknown. Can I make it? Just how much is this going to hurt? In what possible sane world does it seem possible to run a freakin' marathon after riding a bike, over hills, for almost six hours? You know, that sort of stuff.

Now, there's a fear of the known. I know it's going to hurt. I know I'm going to want to walk, a lot, in the last part of the marathon, and I'm going to have to use every mental toughness trick up my sleeve to just keep going. I know people are going to punch me during the swim. I know there will be a part, during the bike, when I swear I never, ever am going to ride again. I know I'm probably, at some point, going to have a stomach that is unhappy with me. I know all those things are going to happen, and I also know that there are about a gazillion other little struggles that could pop up. That's of an Ironman.

To be honest, there have been a few other fears that have consumed me more than they should. I had the race of my life in Auckland six weeks ago and snagged a Kona slot. That should have taken the pressure off this race. I should be going in completely free and excited. No concern about place, just for fun, just for the experience. In reality, I've struggled with that. I've still felt a lot of nervousness about the outcome....what if this performance doesn't measure up? What if I'm slow? What if I'm not ready? What if I get beat? What if Auckland was a fluke?

I've been doing my typical pre-race introspection and (over)-thinking, and yesterday I think I finally got to the point where I'm just flat out sick of the nervousness. It doesn't help, it's counterproductive, it feels quite a lot melodramatic, and it's not fun. And I'm done.

Is it that easy, to just say, I'm done with being scared? I don't know, but I kind of think...yes. It is that easy. It's a choice to be consumed by fear when that fear doesn't make any sense at all. And I'm chosing to move on from being afraid of this race. I'll still have the jitters come race morning, and probably before then too, but it's not going to be fear, and that's a meaningful distinction.

The very wise coach Liz gave me a great quote a while back: "the other side of fear is freedom." It spoke to me then, and it's speaking to me now. I'm going to race fearless and free. On race day, I'm going to go out, do my best, execute, troubleshoot and fight like hell when it gets tough, and if that doesn't end with the perfect result, in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter.

And most of all, I'm going to smile and revel in the experience. All of it. I may have taken my first Ironman, last fall, a little too seriously. I was laser-focused on lofty (albeit unspoken) goals and didn't allow myself to actually enjoy the day, to soak in the surroundings, to revel in the coolness of actually participating in an event as special as Ironman. I didn't smile, I didn't celebrate the gift of simply being able to swim, bike and run, and when I was done, I didn't feel the joy that should follow accomplishing something as awesome as covering 140.6 miles without a motor of some sort.

So this is my do-over. This is my chance to really race free and happy. Instead of hunkering down in my hotel room and avoiding the scene, I'm going to take part in some of the pre-race festivities and enjoy Taupo. On Saturday, I'm going to smile as the day goes on and gain energy from the crowds, even if I feel like hell. When the pain comes, and it will come, I'm going to embrace it and then fight it tooth-and-nail. This time, I'm not giving in. And when the race is over, I'm going to celebrate, no matter the outcome, because just to be there and doing it....that's grounds for celebration in and of itself. It's going to be a good day.

And, oh yeah. In Madison, I didn't hear Mike Reilly's famous, "Amanda, you are an Ironman," announcement. You know why? He never said it. I think I wrinkled my number too much that the spotters couldn't read it, and I didn't get called. Mr. Reilly's going to be in Taupo. So, it may take finishing two Ironmans to get that announcement, but I'm going to make sure I keep that race number nice and smooth and visible, and I WILL get that call this time.

Gots to look around, NZ is kinda pretty (all scenes from my ride last Sunday)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Taper Crazies

It's now T-minus 9 or 10 days to Ironman New Zealand, depending on your day counting methodology (any other litigators out there know that day counting methodology is not an insignificant question) which means my training volume is gradually decreasing and the taper crazies are increasing.

Some people like tapering.  I am not one of those people.  Maybe it's the decreased endorphins from less working out, the additional free time, increasing nervousness about the race, or just the physiological changes that come from shedding fatigue, but tapering makes me feel lazy, sluggish, fat, and more than a bit cranky.  I find that even though my workouts are a little shorter, I'm less motivated to do them.   Nor am I terribly motivated to do much else.  I know, wah, wah, wah.  Poor unemployed-by-choice, vacationing-in-paradise, winter-dodging baby.  I know.

But I also know this taper stuff is a necessary evil and it'll get better and I always feel this way before big races, so I'm just trying to ride the wave and maintain perspective.  I've been reminded by multiple people this week of the importance of keeping everything in perspective.  I shouldn't need the reminders, but they help, and I will say, as much as I have loved my big traveling adventures (especially the time I've spent in New Zealand.  I've said it before and I'll say it again-- this is a special place), I'll confess that at this point, my perspectives are a little off-kilter.  I know that a lot of people are able to handle the anxiety of big races and what not by reminding themselves that in the grand scheme of things, triathlon's really not that big a deal.  Something like:  even if this race doesn't go great, I'm still a great [girlfriend, wife, parent, lawyer, [insert other occupation here], pet-owner, etc., etc., etc.].  Due to the own choices I've made, I don't have a whole lot (any) of those descriptors to insert at this point, and triathlon takes on a little bit more importance in my life and self-identity than I feel is appropriate.  Frankly, as much as I'm enjoying the sun and the lack of responsibility, I'll be happy to eventually get home and start filling in my own non-triathlon-oriented descriptors again.

But not too soon.  I've still got some time here in paradise and things to see.   Today was a good perspective day.   I headed out to Devonport,  a small, seaside village not much more than 20 minutes from where I'm staying.  I'm not sure why I haven't visited Devonport before, but I should have, as it's absolutely charming.  After a morning of workouts and pre-race worry, it was so nice to just sit in a cafe with a soy flat white (my New Zealand coffee concoction of choice), overlooking the harbor and people watching, and ridding my mind of all things triathlon.  Then, I headed to the top of Mt. Victoria, where I was treated to these views of Auckland:

The sun was out, the wind was blowing but in a nice way, and I laid on my back on the grass for almost an hour and just stared at the clouds and the views.  As cheesy as it sounds, for that hour, I was a bit overwhelmed with the feelings of just how lucky I am.  It's summer and sunny, I've had the means and the support to be here experiencing this country, I'm healthy, fit, and physically able to be ready to do an Ironman next week (knowing three people who had major bike crashes in the past few days, I do not, at all, take that for granted and my heart goes out to them), and when I head back to the U.S., I'll still have family, friends, and (eventually) a home that make me happy.  It's a good life.  Taper crazies be damned.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Running Free

I mentioned some deep thoughts on training in my last post, so at the risk of boring non-triathlon aficionados, here goes.


I’ve mentioned on here that before I got into triathlon a couple years back, I had a running background.  I ran track in middle school, high school, a little bit in college, and then after that, I started running marathons.  I did two during college, two during law school, and then after a substantial (i.e., five-year) hiatus from all things sporty, I did one in 2009, the year before I started triathlons.   

These marathons were all done in a relatively low-key fashion – my “training” consisted of downloading Hal Higdon training plans from the internet and crudely adapting them to whatever was going on in my life at the time.  I was quite old-school in my approach.  I wore (gasp) cotton t-shirts more than a few times, and often, in the pre-Apple-obsession days, pounded out the miles while carrying one of those brick-sized yellow Walkmans, playing a mix tape I made myself (True story: one summer when I was interning in DC, I had “Sweet Home Alabama” on my mix tape.  I stayed right by the Watergate complex, and it seemed like nine times out of ten, when that line “Watergate does not bother me,” was sung, I was running right by Watergate.  [Insert creepy Twilight Zone music here].)  
Don't act like you didn't have one, too

And more to the point of this post, I ran completely free.  I did not have a Garmin or any other sort of GPS device.  Nor did I have a heart rate monitor.  I always either ran for time with an old-school, normal digital watch and no concept of distance, or I ran a route of a known distance (usually something I’d plotted by driving my car and watching the odometer) without any sort of watch at all.  I never connected the data points.  If you asked me what pace I did my training runs, any single one of them, I’d have no clue. 

There were negatives to my low-tech approach, sure.  Mostly, when I got to the marathons, I had pretty much no idea what a reasonable pace for my fitness was, so I’d just go out easy and then try to get faster and end up surprised (good or bad) at the end.  But that negative was probably outweighed by a whole lot of positives – I knew my body well and I suspect I listened to it more than I do now.  When I had a day where I felt bad, I slowed down.  When I felt good, I went faster.   A slow run didn’t bring me down or discourage me, because, well, I just didn’t know whether it actually was slow or not.  Blissful ignorance. 

When I started doing triathlons, I saw a lot of people were very methodical, very data obsessed, had lots of fancy watches and devices and all of that.  I resisted for a long, long time.  Part of it was that I knew myself—I knew that if I exposed myself to too much data, I’d over-analyze or become neurotic.  Part of it was that I just didn’t want to know.  It took me a long time to start running at the speeds I used to run, and I kind of enjoyed keeping my head in the sand about how much slower I was.  

Eventually, I began to realize that to be successful, I did need to sometimes be aware of my pace.  My coach gives me different kinds of workouts and there are often paces to hit, and short of running on the track all the time, I was going to need a GPS to keep track of these things.  This stuff is important to grow as an athlete.  So I somewhat reluctantly bought myself a Garmin and started logging my workouts.

I have a love-hate relationship with my Garmin.   On one hand, the data’s good.  It lets me track my progress and hit my workouts appropriately.  It helps me to know what certain paces feel like (although that is still a work-in-progress).  

But on the other hand, and this is truly one of my weaknesses as an athlete, I become a slave to the data.  I don’t think I’m totally alone in this regard.  When I get home from a run, I analyze and then I overanalyze the results.   I’ll sometimes feel good about a run, but then I’ll look back at my training log and see that the last time I did a similar workout, I was a little faster, and then I’ll feel bad.  I’m constantly racing myself and judging myself when I have that thing on.  I tend to overwork a LOT of my workouts because I’m testing myself or racing the clock (it would probably be a lot easier if I’d just do the workouts as assigned instead of filling my training log with tons of “sorry, that was too fast,” “my bad, got carried away,” and so forth) and I cannot truly run easy, not when I have that Garmin on, because I just hate seeing “slow” paces show up on the screen, so I increase the pace, even when I’m supposed to be going really, really easy. 
Too many days like this
Most of all, I feel like sometimes when I have the Garmin on, constantly giving me instant feedback, I stop listening to my body's feedback.   On days when I don’t feel great or the conditions are making things a little slower, if that Garmin shows a pace that doesn’t make me happy, I either: 1) pick it up to an effort level that is probably not appropriate for the day; or 2) panic (oh my God, I’ve gotten so slow, how did this happen, how can I be this much slower than last week, etc. etc. etc.).  Neither have good outcomes.  

Tying this back to recent events--  I think everyone has a certain workout that scares them a little more than others, and for me, it’s those really long runs, the 20-miler sorts of deals.  I had my last long run before Ironman a few days back.  It was scheduled for the day after another really long training day, so I was really quite fatigued going in.  I was also more than a little nervous about that run.  I’d had a couple minor setbacks in my training that forced me to cancel the long run scheduled the week before and left me worried about the ability to complete this workout at a decent pace, and I also had some unpleasant memories.

See, last fall, before Ironman Wisconsin, I had this same sort of “last big weekend,” scheduled, with the big bike + run on Day 1, and the long run on Day 2.   I got through Day 1 just fine, and then strapped my Garmin on for my long run on Day 2, feeling fatigued from the start.  And…. I failed that run.   I started, I was tired, my legs were dragging, I looked at my Garmin, the pace was slow, so I tried to pick it up, then I looked at my Garmin, and the pace was still slow, so I tried to pick it up more, but still slow, and then I mentally lost it.   The fatigue and the anxiety about the race overwhelmed me, and I shut it down at mile 8 and walked home.   It’s the only workout I’ve “quit” in the middle since I started working with Liz.  

I tried again a few days later when my legs were rested and I finished the run just fine, but that failed workout stayed in the back of my mind.  Looking back, quitting that run was the biggest mistake I made before Ironman Wisconsin.  Because when I got into that race and had that same exact feeling (my legs are tired and the pace on my watch is so slow and I can’t go faster and it’s still early on), I had no idea how to deal with it and just get through.  Quitting and trying again in a couple days wasn’t an option this time, so instead I just quit mentally and stayed in a nice little funk for the rest of the race.

The memory of that “last long run” was in my head again last weekend (and actually, that run before Wisconsin was the last time I’d gone really long, as in more than two hours at a time), and going into my run, I was scared.   What was just a workout suddenly seemed like an insurmountable obstacle.  I emailed Liz, telling her I really wasn’t sure I could do the run, that it just seemed like too much of an ask.  I sat on the floor of my hotel room, trying to talk myself into it, trying to figure out why I was suddenly so phobic of long runs when I’ve been doing them since 2000, when I first started marathon-ing. 
 See :14 in.  That was me trying to pump myself up for the long run.

Then Liz came back with a simple solution—leave the Garmin at home.  Just get it done.  Make the run about getting time on my feet, not about pace, not about speed, not about anything other than just completing it.   This wasn’t the first time she’s suggested leaving the Garmin behind—we’ve been ditching it quite a lot this season for all the reasons I laid out above -- but it was the first time I went into a major workout without it.

But I liked the idea and I did what she said.   Sort of.  I still wore my Garmin, but I changed the display so I couldn’t see the pace or the distance, all I could see was the elapsed time.  I set out easy, just time on my feet, just getting it done (those became mantras of sorts). I did constant body checks, assessing my fatigue levels, my breathing, my form, and I adjusted the pace accordingly.  I was tuned into my body more than I usually am when I’m doing runs chasing certain paces, because the goal today was just to finish and finish feeling strong.  Once I got an hour in (the point where I’d stopped last time) and still felt decent, I knew I could complete that damn run.  And when I got to the point of an hour left, I reassessed a little more and allowed myself to pick it up a bit.   I ran old school, I ran free, I flashed back to those watch-less marathoning days in Columbus or DC or Boston … and when I hit 2 hours and 30 minutes and was done, there was plenty left in the tank.   

Later, while heading back to my car, I let myself look at the results.  And wouldn’t you know it …  I not only ran much faster than what I thought I could, I did it the right way.  I started slow and the run got progressively faster as I went.  The last twenty minutes were, by far, the quickest (and felt the best), a far cry from other long runs I’ve done where I crashed and burned and staggered it in for the last few miles.   I’m certain that with a Garmin there, telling me how slow I was the first few miles, making me want to ignore my own body and pick it up, the run would not have gone anywhere near as well.  

I’m still learning as a triathlete, but I think for me, there’s a real value in just “running free” sometimes.  Removing the clutter, removing the noise, preventing the racing against myself, and just learning to listen to my body.   One of the best Christmas gifts I got was regular ole Timex wristwatch.  No fancy pacing stuff, no GPS, nothing (but it is cute and pink).   And I think that Timex and I are going to get to know each other real well as time goes on.  

Also a good reminder of what I left behind in the States.  Did I mention my sunburn lately?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Taupo and Rotorua Adventures

Happy Valentine's Day, 'mericans! Being situated in Tomorrowland, I'm lucky enough to experience my most favorite holiday (insert sarcastic tone here) twice... yesterday was Valentine's Day in New Zealand (really no big deal from what I can discern), today is Valentine's Day in the Facebook/Twitter-verse (really quite a big deal to a lot of people from what I can discern).  So that's fun.

More fun, for sure, has been my last week of Middle Earth adventures.  Having already explored lots of parts of the South Island, now my focus is on the North Island.  I had my last really big weekend of Ironman training so I decided to pack up my bike and head over to Taupo, where the race will be held, check out the scene of the crime, and then meander my way back to Auckland with a stop in Rotorua.
For my sister and her valentine, who are in the process of building him a man cave in their basement
Taupo is a lovely little resort town situated on the biggest lake in New Zealand, which is more clear and pollution-free than any American lake I've ever seen.   And they are apparently extremely serious about keeping that lake in pristine condition.  There have been multiple communications from the race directors warning that before entering the lake during race week, all triathletes must participate in compulsory "wetsuit dipping" under the supervision of "Didimyo Dave" and receive a required key ring proving  said "dipping" has occurred.  So I'll add that to my pre-race to-do list, even though I have no clue what is going on or who Didimyo Dave is or how he's involved in any of this triathlon nonsense.

Lake Taupo
I spent two days in Taupo, riding the bike course on the first day and topping it off with a little run-off-the-bike.  Have I complained sufficiently here about the rough roads in New Zealand?  No, you say?  More complaining welcome and, in fact, desired?  Well, OK, then....the roads here are really rough.  Roads are basically all constructed using a VERY heavy chip seal, which is jarring at the least, mentally exhausting at the worst, and definitely have a negative effect on speed.  The Taupo course is just as rough as anywhere else I've seen.  But I was warned by Friendly Kiwi Triathlete Jo to be ready as she'd ridden the course the weekend before and lost a bottle and a flat kit and who knows what else as the surfaces shook things off her bike.

Quick aside on Friendly Kiwi Triathlete Jo, which I think shows a little bit about how charitable and awesome people (especially triathletes) are down here.  Jo's an Auckland triathlete who is in my age group, did the Auckland 70.3, and is doing Ironman New Zealand.  When scoping out the competition for those races, we'd both found each other's blogs and independently reached out to each other-- me asking for some her advice on triathlon-ing, her to offer advice.  She competed as a pro a couple years back at Ironman Wisconsin and said everyone was so nice and helpful when she was in Madison that she wanted to return the favor, and she's been an incredible source of information for this slightly-out-of-sorts-feeling American girl.  So hooray for international triathlon alliances and helpful triathletes!  This is kind of a special sport, huh?  And her blog's really funny....check it out.
Told you Kiwis are laid back
After hanging out in Taupo for the evening after my big bike, I headed out the next morning for the longest run of my Ironman build, again on the race course.  When it comes to training, and particularly Ironman training this time around, I have lots of deeper thoughts on my mind (Zoolander?  Anyone?)  so I think I'm going to write a separate post about that, but for now.....long run done completely blind (i.e., I had my Garmin on but I didn't allow it to show pace and only looked at my pace at the end) for the first time in a LONG time, with results that pleased and surprised me, check.
My, that's a mighty big bike you have

A nice thing about New Zealand is that there are so many nomads around that when you've done things like checking out of your motel before a long run that leaves you pretty darn gross and sweaty, it's not that hard to find a place to get a shower.  I paid $4.00 for a six-minute shower at this SuperLoo....and it was TOTALLY worth it.

From there, I hopped back in the car and headed to Rotorua.  Rotorua is known for two main things -- thermal pools and Maori (indigenous) culture.  I got a taste of both.  After Iceland, the thermal baths were somewhat of a let-down (and the smell of sulfur throughout the entire town kept making me temporarily concerned that the car was on fire), but to soak in warm water did feel pretty good after my big training weekend.  Turns out, I realized later, that hot tubs after big workouts are sort of counter-productive and may have actually led to some extra inflammation, but whatever.

Steam from thermal pools and the car Adam is letting me use (which was never on fire)
A thermal lake that is pretty darn hot

Parks in Rotorua just have random thermal foot baths for your soaking pleasure
The Maori stuff was cool, too.
A meeting house in a Maori village
But the highlights of Rotorua, for me, were outside of those two traditional attractions.

After a long run, few things make me happier than breakfast-for-dinner, and Rotorua did not disappoint.
Except they call it Brekkie for Dinner, which sounds so much more charming.  I will say, one of my favorite things about New Zealand is how they shorten words all the time.  Breakfast is brekkie.  Presents are pressies.  Relatives are rellies.  Avocados are avos.  And so on and so on.  I'm keeping this one in my lexicon when I come back to the States. 

Also, I took some time in Rotorua to visit a farm.  I don't know why, but it was there and I wanted to go.  I've grown sort of fond of sheep, having seen approximately 3 million of them since I got here, and this was my chance to get up close and personal.  So I did.   I had no hesitation getting that close to all the farm animals.  BUT, the damn birds milling around, trying to swoop in and steal the leftovers.... those were terrifying.

Baby llama is only 2.5 weeks old
Now I'm back in Auckland, Adam and Pip are on their own little holiday, so I'm house-sitting and cat-sitting and feeling awfully much like I actually live in New Zealand.  It's a pretty cool feeling, I gotta say.    I may or may not have googled "how to get a long-term New Zealand visa" and contemplated staying once or twice, but short of finding myself a Kiwi husband in the next few weeks, it doesn't look like there's a way, so my time in paradise will eventually end and I'll be back to the snow and dark of Chicago.  Bummer.   
Being a little tri-dork, I keep checking into motels and hostels with my foam roller and frozen peas. 

This was actually in Auckland during a ride, but I appreciated the honesty. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Most Terrifying Run of My Life

Two blog posts in one day??? Who have I become?

I said in my last post that I was lacking in stories.  Well, now I've got a story.   It involves birds and horror movies and screaming and running and nightmares. 

But before I get there, a little background.  I've got a little bit of a phobia of birds.  I believe that I can, in good faith, pin this phobia on my family.   Here's why:

As a teenager, like most people, I had to get my wisdom teeth out.  I've got a somewhat freakish pain tolerance (this is not the same thing as tolerance to fatigue or whatever, I'm just as susceptible to that as anyone).  This is not necessarily a good thing, but when it comes to things like dental issues, I can handle a lot.  Case in point:  I got a root canal last year.  I fell asleep in the middle of the procedure.  Not because of the drugs -- I got only local anesthetics -- but because, well, I was bored and a little sleep-deprived.  Given this pain tolerance and price differentials and my own perception of myself as Super Woman, I/we opted to have my wisdom tooth extraction done with only local anesthetic, meaning I was completely awake the entire time.

It didn't hurt, but what truly, fully bothered me about being awake for that procedure was the noises.  The drills, the yanking, the cracking of bones (teeth), the saws (were there saws?  I remember saws.)  The noises were HORRIBLE. 

Then I had my recovery time, which involved sitting on the couch, doped up on pain killers (not as much as most people, but still, I got some) with bags of frozen vegetables pressed to my jaws and a stack of movies to work through.

And here's where the phobia started.  My mother and my brother, neither of whom are lacking in a sense of humor, went to the library and picked up a couple of movies for me to watch. 

Movie One (unrelated to the phobia, but showing just how my family thinks):  Marathon Man, a 1976 classic starring Dustin Hoffman.  My mom:  "you'll like it.  You like running.  It's got Marathon in the title.  Hehehe."  My brother:  just laughing.  I should have known.

Great joke, because Marathon Man also has a nice little torture scene that involves the villain drilling into Dustin Hoffman's teeth without anesthetic.  I sat through that scene, less than 6 hours after my own traumatic drilling experience, and would have screamed a little if not for the fact that I couldn't move my mouth.  Great, great joke.
 Scroll to 2:50 or so

Movie Two (more to the point):  The Birds, by Alfred Hitchcock.  Hitchcock movies are terrifying in and of themselves.  Hitchcock movies while on pain killers.....phobia-creating. 

I've had this weird fear of birds ever since that day.  It mostly manifests itself when I'm running.  Those big, honking, hissing Canadian geese that are all over many of my running routes?  Absolutely terrifying.  I run quickly by them, constantly afraid that they will gang up and peck out my eyes.  It's the reason I always run in sunglasses.  Yeah, I'm practically albino and we blondes have more sensitive eyes, something about the rods and cones and all that, but mostly, I'm trying to prevent eye peckage.   It's also the reason that, when I was living in D.C. for a summer, I started running with my ID at all times.  Not because I was afraid of muggers or murderers or any of the big scary city stuff, but because I was afraid of the big ole geese that made their home on the Canal Path I frequented, and had a very vivid image of them attacking and leaving me alone and eye-less by the side of the canal.
This is terrifying
I was out running today on Tamaki Drive, which is right on the water front.  The run was going OK, until two big sea gulls started circling around me.  I noticed they sounded a little more frantic than typical sea gulls.  They weren't doing the typical "caw, caw, caw," thing, they literally sounded like they were screaming.  At me. 

First thought: "huh, Kiwi sea gulls seem a little angrier than American gulls.  Weird."

And then....they started dive-bombing me.  I wish I was kidding.  One swooped down, missing me by inches, and I panicked a little but figured they were just flying over and got a little too close.  Then the partner gull did his dive bomb, coming within inches of my head.  Still screaming. 

Just as I realized I wasn't just in the way of the flight pattern, I was actually under attack, Gull #1 then flew directly into the top of my head, talons exposed, latching onto my hair for a second, screaming again.

So I followed suit, let out my own comparable (actually probably louder) scream, threw my hands over my head while also trying to protect my eyes, and crouched on the ground, "duck and cover"-like, with visions of Hitchcock running through my mind.  It was my worst nightmare.
Oh My!  Danger!
I hung out there in the fetal position until two guys that I'd passed a minute earlier ran by, and I looked at them in terror, pointed, and said, "those birds attacked me!"  Not sure what reaction I was looking for from these dudes, maybe I thought they'd protect me, whip slingshots out of their back pockets and take out the birds, maybe I thought they'd say something reassuring, like "oh, Kiwi gulls, they're just joking around, they'll leave you alone after that first contact," something....

Instead, they just laughed and ran on.  Laughed!  This was no joking matter.  I'll never forgive those guys.

Long story short, I stayed low and shook and tried not to cry, and eventually the birds flew away and I continued on my way, frequently looking back over my shoulder for my nemeses.  I also made a point to run down those unhelpful guys and pass them with authority as punishment for their laughs and non-protection.  And now, I'm home, and I'm scared to go to sleep, because I just know exactly what is going to haunt my dreams.  Someone, please, pass the sleeping pills, I'm going to need help with this one. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Grinding it Out

Since I returned to Auckland from my South Island vacation, it's been a little uneventful.  I'm right at the peak of my build-up for the upcoming Ironman, and as much as I thought I could still do lots of things while in the midst of peak training, I was perhaps overestimating my own energy levels.  I'm tired, a little lazy, and at times, a little grumpy. 

I'd be lying if I said my training was going perfectly -- it's not.  Recovering from the Auckland race wasn't as smooth as I might have hoped, not helped at all by my decision to use that recovery time not to actually recover, but to fly away and start driving across the country, hiking and kayaking and all that stuff along the way.  Still, that was the deal I had with myself....I'd continue the training, but I was not going to sacrifice my trip, so that's just the way things are and I don't regret that decision.  There have been minor "niggles" and pains that are, in fact, minor, but that hasn't stopped me from freaking out about them, so I've been making trips to physios and massage therapists with my fingers crossed that my travel insurance will cover the cost.  There have been some epic meltdowns and temper tantrums in training (the wind! the rough roads!  the heat! the unfamiliar routes! training alone all the time! I can't take it anymore!), and a lot of times questioning, "why the heck am I doing this?" when I've already sorta accomplished my big goal.

From a ride.  I like it because 1) it reminds me of Madison; and 2) there are no sheep.  What??
But all of these less-than-ideal feelings are normal I think.  I'm glad I have this blog and I'm extra glad that I've been diligent about logging every single one of my workouts, probably in way excessive detail, over the last year-and-a-half since I started working with my coach.   I can look back and see that at this point in my build for my last Ironman, I was pretty much in the same place....tired, cranky, ready to be done, no longer having "breakthrough" workouts but instead just grinding them out.  It's easy to remember those times when everything's going well, but I tend to block out and forget about those inevitable rough patches.  So I'm putting my head down and and just getting through it and trying not to over analyze anything.  There's a light at the end of the tunnel. 
After the race it'll be Cookie Time! (popular brand)
Plus someone, in light of the ridiculous cost of sports nutrition here, very, very kindly shipped me this from the States:

So I guess I better keep on training if I'm going to work my way through that stash.  Or, perhaps I can start selling off gels on the New Zealand black market for the bargain (for here) price of $5 a pop, and use those profits to fund my return flight.  I kind of like that idea (kidding).

In light of the lack of fun stories (you don't want to read about my last six-hour ride that I did, nerve-wrackingly, without a spare bike tube because one of my tires blew out  due to heat while I was driving to the start point, or the time I mistimed my arrival to my favorite pool here and had to circle swim with a group of 7 random Kiwis of differing swim skill and lap-swimming etiquette, that's all interesting to me but not to you), here are just a few New Zealand observations that have amused or interested me and a few random thoughts:
  •  Every place I've been in my travels has been surprisingly tuned into all-things-America (I was particularly struck, when in Europe during the election time, how interested Europeans were in the outcome), but New Zealand often feels like the 51st state.  American shows are on the TV,  U.S. news is news here, too.  The radio is constantly playing songs that are/were popular in the States.  Favorites are Taylor Swift, Pink, Of Monsters and Men (yes, I know they're not American), the Lumineers, and, of course, Bruno Mars (please, please, please for the love of God, make it stop).  I watched the Super Bowl just as you all were, too, except it was Monday afternoon here and that was weird.  And I didn't get the commercials, which diminished the experience significantly.
This is me watching the Super Bowl on a Monday afternoon
  • Kiwis are really laid-back.  I haven't encountered any ridiculous rules, like I saw in the UK (where my local gym would not allow me to use any of my swimming equipment for no discernible reason).  However, there are apparently weird things going on in local locker rooms, as I've seen some of the strangest rules, there: 

  • I won't get political here, but I will say, I have never, ever, once, at any time, felt uncomfortable or unsafe at any place I've been in New Zealand.  I cannot say that about the U.S. (granted, I live in Chicago, but you know). Crime, especially violent crime, is virtually non-existent here.  Working hours seem sane, it's typical for a new mother to get a year of maternity leave, and people's identities aren't as dominated by their careers as at home.  And, wealth distribution is far, far more normalized.  I think it's tough to get really rich in New Zealand, as traditionally "high-power" careers just don't pay as much....but poverty (and the significant problems associated with poverty) is much lower.  Everyone's going to have a different view on whether that's a good way for society to operate, and I'm not telling my view (I'm sure you can guess it, though), but it's interesting, at the very least.
  • I'm pretty good with the driving-on-the-left now, but 5 out of 6 times, I still try to enter the car on the passenger side.  I have a good little "I meant to do that" routine pretty well perfected whereby I pretend to check the tire pressure of the car's front, passenger-side tire, but really, why can't I remember that one?
  • There are no scary animals in New Zealand.  See this cool article.   This makes my Ironman training so much happier. 
  • While scoping out cycling routes and running routes can stress me out, especially when I'm trying to be so good about doing my training right, I actually enjoy finding new pools to swim in as often as I can.  I couldn't sleep the other night, so I counted out the number of pools I've done workouts in since July 1, 2012.  I got to 29.  TWENTY-NINE pools.  That's awesome.  Maybe that's worth it's own blog post (I'm sure you're all right on the edges of your seats in anticipation of that one!).  Here's the latest.  And why I so much enjoy new pools, I do not know.  I am weird. 
This is ancient but a cool shot of Piha Beach which is just outside of Auckland
Adam and Pip, progression of the evening at Piha