Saturday, January 30, 2016

Training with the Boys

I grew up with big brothers, and my earliest childhood memories include chasing them through deserted fairgrounds, following them into the woods on adventures, trying to stay up with them on my skates through the streets of our neighborhood.  I think maybe my mom forgot to tell me I was a girl.  It's like that weird phenomenon that happens sometimes in the animal kingdom.  A baby duck is rescued and raised by the family cat.  The poor duck thinks it's a cat.  I must have thought I was a boy.  

Early on and throughout childhood, my best friends were boys. There was Jon who lived down the street in Portola, Curtis who lived across the street in Placerville, and Kevin who was a few miles up the road but our families were friends so we hung out a lot. I seemed always to naturally gravitate toward boys and the reason most likely was that I liked to do the same stuff. Tonka trucks and army men instead of baby dolls and barbies.  I liked getting filthy looking for frogs and snakes, and exploring haunted, abandoned shacks in the woods.  I liked building forts and climbing trees.  One day my mom looked at my skinned knees and scars and said, "Oh Cindy, you've ruined your body.  You'll never be able to wear dresses with those scarred up knees."  YES!  Success!

It is no surprise then, when my running days began, that I loved to run with the boys.  In High School when our coach would send us out for our runs off campus, there'd be two groups that would naturally form: the chatty girls in one group, and the boys + Cindy in the other group.  I didn't know why it always worked out that way but it seemed the natural flow. I wasn't interested in goofy, girly gossip on the run.  Running was serious business and it seemed the boys had that figured out just a bit better.  And somehow it was just more comfortable.

This brings me to the point of this blog.  I love training with the boys.  I've been doing it for long enough now that I've got it all fully analyzed.  Boys are awesome and here are 10 reasons why:

  1. They are, on average, stronger athletes than females so the "challenge factor" to stay up with them can be off the charts!
  2. They tend to be emotionally stable and level headed compared to the female athlete therefore adding a "calming factor" to the girl world.  Coach Nash will be the first to tell me "Just get out there and run girl. Stop thinking so much.  You gotta' just go."
  3. Competitively they are in another category so there is less head-to-head competition in training sessions.  Instead, they tend to be extremely supportive of female athletes who can hang with them.
  4. The conversation among boys is much more fun to listen to.  Instead of hearing what Suzy did to her boyfriend, and why everyone hates Sally, you get to listen to intellectually stimulating comparisons of UFC fighting versus boxing.
  5. Boys naturally protect females so there is an added sense of security when training with them. They typically don't drop you in remote places and leave you to figure out how to get back, and when you have a flat, they fix it for you.  If you fall behind they will fall back and pull you back in. This seems to be part of their nature.
  6. Boys are great at snot rockets and the best part is they tend to roll to the side before shooting one out, thereby keeping snot off of the girl on their shoulder.  Although today I was sitting on the wheel of a guy, when I noticed something resembling a blob (a yellowish jelly in the shape of an amoeba) fly by my head.  A near miss. Clearly he didn't know I was back there.
  7. Boys sweat a lot which can be very handy during a bike ride.  For instance, Poul is nicknamed "the swamp-cooler" so on a hot day it is advantageous to ride behind him. He has a tendency to turn his head and ask "am I splashing on you?"  When Poul turns his head, yes he splashes you.
  8. They are great at accepting me into their boy-tribe (I think it's because of my scarred up knees), so this means they don't filter their topics of conversation.  I get to hear all sorts of cool things related to male body parts and bodily functions, what they think of various women, and something about "hitting the head" comes up from time to time.
  9. There is a noted lack of drama among the boys.  However, I do still have to deal with their propensity to envy one another.  For example, Fred got new Italian something-or-other bike shoes.  All the other guys were fixated on them and asked Fred for every detail, to which Fred happily provided EVERY detail. Where he got them, what size they were, what they were made of, how much he paid, details regarding the guy who sold them to him, the other options he could have chosen, the entire story of the experience of trying them on, and it really sort of just kept going.  This scenario happens with all sorts of things, not just bike shoes.
  10. Boys love to give girls advice!  So every training session is an intensive clinic!  This advice usually starts out as a question: "Cindy, why do you peddle so hard?"  "Cindy, why aren't you carrying more water?"  "Cindy, why did you cut the curve at that angle?"  "Cindy, why does your wet suit have that big wrinkle in the middle?" "Cindy, why don't you have cool Italian leather cycling shoes like me?"

John and I during the SB Tri
My number one training partner and best friend is John Abrami, who also happens to be my husband.  He is a boy!  See how that works?  It is an amazing blessing that we share training and racing goals at an intimate level, and spend quite a bit of time in training and racing together.  He is also a phenomenal swim coach adding an extra component. 

Just getting ready for a bike ride
I also have the privilege of cycling with a group comprised mostly of men and I love it (them).  They do a great job of making me feel like one of the boys and I have truly thrived in that environment.  They are challenging, encouraging, inspirational, motivating and genuine.  

All of my coaching comes from great men! John Abrami, Nash Jimenez, and Fred Maggiore. These guys are experienced, caring and lead by example.  Not only do they guide and direct me, but they also train with me. If I have any success toward reaching my goals this year, these three will be the reason.
At the top of some crazy summit in Mammoth

I'm glad my life started out with chasing my big brothers. I'm glad I still have "big brothers" to chase!  You guys are the best.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Stinging Lessons of Venom

What are the odds?  When something odd happens and then repeats itself a second time, it becomes more than just odd.  I had a repetitious oddity occur over the summer and it ended up being enlightening, motivating and profound.  It was a painful experience (both times) but yet it set my mind and my attitude straight and allowed me to take hold of hope and focus.

Here's what happened.  Back in May I had just finally declared my current Achilles injury healed. It was a year long healing process and at that point I was running without pain and no longer putting any thought to that part of my body.  Healed.  I also was able to train properly for a half marathon and so I trained and did one (sort of).  The race was on a Sunday, then the following Tuesday (2 days later) I made a big mistake.  I did a hard speed workout in quick preparation for the State Street Mile and at the end of that workout I slipped on my spikes and did 4 all out 200's.  I remember thinking after the last one, "I don't think I should have done that." Geez, famous last words.  The next day when I began my run, pain set in on the left calf/Achilles area (the area I just declared healed) and worsened as I ran.  I limped my way back, worried that I'd really screwed things up again.  As it turns out, I did screw things up again and this time it not only included my left Achilles but also muscle damage in the calf muscles as well.  It took me a few weeks to figure out it was another set back and it took me a few more weeks to accept the reality.  A back to back Achilles injury and now another lost Summer of racing and training (maybe more).

I write all this to lay out the background leading to the repetitive oddity I experienced.  I had to lay off of running for several weeks (again!!!) so I found some workouts that would help me keep much of my strength and fitness during that time.  One of those workouts was bike hill repeats which I did on Ladera Lane.  Ladera Lane is about a mile long hill with a fairly intense grade allowing for a full-on cardio-vascular effort and the building of crucial leg strength.  While my running partners hit the track on Tuesday mornings, I rode off on my bike to hit Ladera.  I began my warm up ride over to the hill around 6:00 am and there is a quietness to the morning that is like no other time.  I rode peacefully along the back roads of Montecito, said "Hi" to cute little skunks and an occasional deer along the way. These rides were nothing short of beautiful.  Serendipitous to be sure.  A prelude to the reminders to come: a curse is only a curse if you see it that way.  If you choose to see it as a blessing instead, well then a curse is really a blessing.  The power of perspective.  Read on.

Cresting the top of Ladera Lane
It was on one of these mornings that it first happened.  I was completing my final repeat (4th one) and rolling back down the hill when some kind of creature (insect) thumped into my ribs, immediately after which a searing hot sting rippled out from the point of impact.  I never saw what thumped into me but whatever it was, it either had big teeth or a big stinger.  It penetrated right through my shirt.  I kept my cool and didn't freak out and crash.  I waited until I reached the bottom of the hill and took a look.  There was a big red welt on my left ribs (ground zero) and waves of pain throbbed.  I didn't make too much of this experience.  I was glad at least that I didn't have more repeats to do and instead was able to ride the long cool down back home.  Something about the sting and the pain entered my psyche while I rode and profound thoughts came to me.  There was venom in me. Was it a bee, was it a wasp, was it something else? It's always an uneasy feeling when a small amount of a deadly substances enters your bloodstream.  

The next Tuesday morning rolled around and I left for my Ladera repeats while my friends (and husband) hit the track for their workout.  It was again a quiet, peaceful journey through dim emerging morning sunlight, with a steamy mist of humidity in the air.  I got going with my repeats.  By the way, Ladera repeats are fun and intense.  It's hard to get up that hill and as I pumped my legs for 8 minutes up, I imagined my running partners on the track. I must have been breathing just as hard, pushing through pain and fatigue just like they were.  This helped me find value and quality in my workout up Ladera.  On my third repeat, as I was rolling down, an insect flew right into my shirt through the open collar.  My shirt was loose fitting so I felt it fly in but because I was riding fairly fast downhill, I couldn't really do anything about it.  And there it was again, a searing pain hit me.  At least this time I knew the identity of the creature. It was a large bee (not a typical honey bee).  As soon as I could apply enough pressure to my breaks, I came to a halt so I could release the trapped insect. My first and foremost concern was that I get it freed from my clothing.  It must have been so frightened.  He flew away and there embedded in my left rib cage was his stinger. Remarkably, it was within a centimeter of last week's ground zero.  I pulled the stinger out, and continued down the hill.  I had one more repeat to do so this time I had to deal with this new burning sensation AND perform another intense effort.  All the while my mind was working over-time.  

Two weeks in a row, two stings in a row and both of them basically in the exact location. This is great fodder for profound life lessons to form in my already tender psyche.  I took it as a sign.  If these two poor little bees felt they needed to sacrifice themselves by stinging me, gosh darn it, it was going to mean something important to me.  If only I had a pen and paper with me as the adrenaline surged following the second sting.  

This was what I took away from this repetition of an otherwise uncommon occurrence (prior to this I'd only been stung three times in 46 years).  

I learned that pain is often our friend. While I don't know if this is medically true, I imagined that venom bringing healing to my injuries.  Venom creates inflammation and inflammation triggers the body's immune system and defenses.  

I learned that it is possible to push through pain and necessary to do so if you want to achieve your goals (that is if you have goals like mine).

I learned that I can control myself and deal with an unexpected situation, both by NOT crashing on my bike and also by not losing focus.  

I learned that I can have one part of my body afflicted with injury TWICE in a row and still get up and find a way.  The fact that these stings happened on consecutive weeks in the same spot is not lost on me.  Nothing is coincidence and everything can be used for something positive. At no time did I think either of these stings were a negative.  From the moment I felt the pain my mind set to deal with it.  There was a little bit of "rub a little dirt on it and go back out and play" mentality in play. 

There are unknowns that are unknown until they become known. One constant unknown for me is how I will react regarding bike handling when something unexpected happens.  At least now I know how I handle a bee in my shirt while going fast down a hill, anticipating the sting before it happens but unable to prevent it.  

If I were to get real deep, I could go on and on regarding how this is a metaphor for so many things in life and the good thing is that my mind went to all those deep places as I reflected on this.  I won't share all of that here but let's just say, I learned a long time ago that the right approach to ANYTHING that happens is to accept if for what it is and nothing more. A bad thing is really just a blessing in disguise.  Good things happen, bad things happen, there are blessings, there are challenges. But really there is no need to differentiate them from one another.  See everything as a blessing. See everything as an opportunity.  "Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds." Why?  Because in the end they result in a better "YOU" if you embrace them positively.  To what degree a person is able to do this in my opinion largely determines their character and general outlook on life.

Those bee stings set me on a new course.  I became hopeful that I would soon heal and be competing again.  I was reminded that pain is my friend and that things break and heal, and one day maybe break again. But there is always hope.  I was reminded of goals ahead and set my focus there.  

I wondered for a while if I would get stung a third time.  I kept going to Ladera at the same time on Tuesdays week after week and kept riding past the bee area (I assume there was a hive nearby). I didn't shy away and I didn't fear the sting.  The third sting never came.  But I expect it will sometime in the future.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

2016 The Runner Becomes a Triathlete

2016 is going to be a big year!  To begin with, my singular New Year's resolution is to begin posting to my blog once again.  What a blessed outlet it will be to the chronicles of this new year, which includes some great goals and exciting races.  After a year long comeback from yet another Achilles injury, I proceeded to injure it again within a week of finally declaring it fully healed (something having to do with putting spikes on and running all out 200's on tired, fatigued legs, not recommended).  This re-injury took place in May of 2015 and laid waste to my running and triathlon plans for the Summer and Fall.  But this is all in the past and things are once again healed and I am moving in the right direction to get back to form. Just in time for some 2016 goals!

Goal #1 - Back in October 2015, even though injured and under-trained, I, along with John, competed in Ironman 70.3 Arizona (in Tempe, AZ).  I worked hard on the bike to try and overcome my lack of overall endurance and weak running.  Two-thirds of the race (the swim and bike) went rather well resulting in a slot to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships to be held September 4, 2016 in Sunshine Coast, Australia.  This is now my main goal and focus for the year and in order to make this opportunity a dream-come-true , I have to let go of the "runner" in me and embrace the "triathlete" in me.  Up to this point, my involvement in triathlon has been from the perspective and training strategy of "a runner who sometimes does a triathlon." This year I am fully a triathlete.  To solidify it I sought the expertise and experience of one of our local legends, Fred Maggiore, to help me put three sports together into a seamless, perfect race.  With John Abrami coaching my swim and Nash Jimenez coaching my running, Fred is making me into a cyclist and helping me pull it all together.  I am grateful beyond words and want to make them proud.

Goal #2 - Set up a racing schedule that both satisfies the runner in me but also gets me ready for a triathlon world championship.  This includes three key running races lined up for February and early April, and one key "B" race 70.3.  

  • February 6, 2016 - USATF National Cross-Country Championships (Bend, OR)
  • February 28, 2016 - USATF National Masters 8K Road Championships (Brea, CA)
  • April 3, 2016 - Carlsbad 5000 (Carlsbad, CA)
  • May 7, 2016 - Ironman 70.3 St. George (St. George, UT)
Each of these races are important to me and each one will serve as a building block toward the ultimate goal.  

After a short "off-season" in late October through November (in which I worked on an endurance base, gaining back strength post-injury, and a gentle reprieve from intensity), we began adding back quality and speed into the training schedule in preparation for the upcoming XC race in Bend.  We welcomed back early morning intervals on the grass, trail runs on Romero Canyon (these were new) and brick workouts amidst the normal regimen of Masters swimming, bike rides and long runs.

Enjoying a swift sunrise - exhilerating

With a slow build of strength, I am beginning to feel the pop and spring return to my feet and the excitement of competition is again beginning to seep back into my pores. Santa Barbara must be one of the best locations to train in the Winter. Early morning hard efforts in 50 degree temperatures is about as good as it gets.  The sunrises are spectacular and running with others with common goals is priceless.  I am drinking it all in, thanking God for so many rich blessings.

XC Training at Chase Palm Park

On January 1, 2016 it was time to run a time trial and find out where I am at this point (I hadn't done a serious competitive road race since March 2015). The perfect opportunity to do this was via the SBAA 2016 Resolution Day 5K and 10K.  The 5K was the time trial and the 10K was the strength-builder.  The day could not have been more perfect.  No noticeable wind, crisp and sunny with ideal 55 degree air, and an excited group of runners and walkers ready to start the new year on the right foot!

I have only recently been feeling good again so I was so excited to toe a starting line with motivation and an ambitious goal.  I really just wanted to run with confidence, run hard all the way to the finish line and I hoped I would be happy with the result.  I had a super awesome group to race with and was fortunate to be tucked in with them for the first couple of miles (Matt Trost, Jamie Haggar, Gary Dempster and a few others). A strong group and a great way to settle into a solid pace for as long as I could.  My disappointment came only in the fact that I couldn't hold the pace for the last mile and fell off a bit.  It was what it was and told me exactly what I needed to know.  My speed and leg strength is good, my endurance and VO2 are still a work in progress but at least progressing in the right direction.  I was hoping for something around an 18:20 but ended up with an 18:48.  So now I know where I'm at.  Mission accomplished.

Resolution Day 5K Finish 2016
And so it begins.  The first steps into 2016 with exciting goals ahead.  Armed with incredible coaching and mentoring, amazing training partners, a power meter, heart rate monitor and dreams.  Every day is an important step, every workout an essential piece. This will be the year of no regrets because I intend to give everything I am to these God given opportunities and live life to the fullest.

I'll see you out there!  I know I'm not the only one with 2016 goals.  May all of yours be set and accomplished as well!