lucky number five (5)

Generally speaking I am not a superstitious person, but I am having a bit of fun developing race rituals. As I get ready for the Annie Oakley Sprint Triathlon happening tomorrow morning (!), I’m reaching for a lot of the same foods, energy gels, etc, that I used for MIM. I’m definitely having pizza and one beer tonight for my carbs. I’ll repeat my MIM breakfast in the morning, too. I don’t know, it just feels comfortable.

On the other hand, I’m switching up my socks and shoes, which probably seems superstitious since I got the fracture last time. I don’t feel that’s my primary reason, but maybe I’m just hesitant to admit that I believe in bad juju after all.

Either way, I’m kind of in love with my race number, and if there are signs, then this is a good one. Five isn’t my lucky number or anything. I don’t believe in luck. But I do have the number five tattooed on my body, and am generally obsessed with it.

So, GO 255, GO ME!

I’m not just trying to get through it this time; I’m racing!


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road to Annie Oakley

I guess I made up my mind to do the Annie Oakley Sprint Triathlon about a week and a half ago, giving myself roughly two and a half weeks to prepare. Yikes! I am certainly not in top training shape, after being down with an injury for 11 weeks, but there are only so many locals tris. And I had really been looking forward to this one, so after my first successful run, I said what the hell.

It’s Saturday. THIS Saturday. As in four wake-ups from today. What am I thinking?!?!?!

In preparation, I hounded some of my friends about doing it with me and gave myself a tough training schedule for all of about a week. This week I’m “tapering,” even though I don’t have much to taper from. Some googling brought me to a lot of links that basically all gave  this information. Even though part of me wants to push hard this week, I’m not up for exhausting my body and potentially re-injuring myself. Following are some highlights of my prep thusfar:

1. Rode the bike course for the race with Howell and a few fellow Star Runners.  And it was TOUGH. Like, I got off my bike on the last uphill tough. We had planned to do two loops for 22 miles, but we stuck with the single loop. H and I also had lots of technical difficulties on the way, mostly caused by my platform pedals and his new roof rack. I swear I’m moving to clip-ins soon; I’m just scared.

And speaking of scared, I had a little freak-out on the ride, caused by none other than a dreaded downhill. Towards the end of the course, you make a turn and all of a sudden, the road just drops out from under you. I rode my break too hard and almost had four people crash into the back of me.

2. Tried a Honey Stinger gel for the first time before a swim, just to remind myself what gels and such taste and feel like.

Oh my gross. The taste is basically the same as squeezing pure, hot honey with an added zing into your mouth. I am not a fan.

3. I did a brick (back-to-back workout) in Heber Springs this past weekend while we were staying with a friend at his lake house.

Howell and I set out together and it was quite beautiful and serene on a lovely morning in the middle of nowhere. Until Howell shouted at me to turn back because a dog was chasing him.

I returned to the start of the ride to work on hill repeats and challenge some of my downhill anxiety.

Then I set out on a slow three mile run to climb some of those same hills. I walked a good bit uphill so as not to challenge my fibula too much. Probably decent practice for the trail run portion of Annie Oakley. I did a little exploring off-road, too.

Ran on a path around this small lake.

Happened across this impressive fish carcass. Something fierce must’ve picked it clean.

Hopefully the brick has me better prepared for Saturday. We’ll see!

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fueling: U R doin it wrong

I made a huge mistake yesterday morning. In my enthusiasm to pack some serious training into the next two weeks, I under-slept, over-trained and under-ate, coming out of a busy weekend and sailing right into my work week. And I felt like shit.

The scenario: get in a 4-miler training run and some serious swimming before work. Eat: one mini whole grain bagel with one tablespoon of peanut butter. Total: 200 calories. Run: two easy 10-minute intervals. Burn: 150ish calories. That would have been perfect, especially with a small recovery snack. Some fruit or a boiled egg, perhaps?

But nooooo. I had to go straight to my swim with no extra food. In my own defense, I was worried about having too much food on my stomach during the swim. I burp a lot when I swim, even if I haven’t eaten anything for 90 minutes before! So. Swim: 40 minutes, appx 1100 yards, drag self through drills. Burn appx 500 calories. Pat self on back for being crazy person.

I had a fine run but a terrible swim. Sure there’s all that stuff about your body having glycogen storage, but it doesn’t take a nutritionist to see that consuming 200 calories for the morning does not properly fuel a body to then burn over 600.  Worst part is that I felt terrible all day. Ravenously hungry, a little tired, somewhat cranky, and with a small headache to boot.

I’m not complaining, but I should know better, and that’s my point. It’s hard to fit it all in, but you have to think smart about when you are doing your workouts. If you aren’t prepared, you may compromise future training, or at least screw up your day.

I’m still learning a lot about fueling, but this is what I know to be true. Fuel smart before you work out, and if you’re doing something for 90 minutes or more, you will probably need to fuel during your workout. That goes for hydration, too. Hydration is a round the clock activity for me. If I’m dehydrated the night before a run, guzzling 30 ounces of water right before doesn’t give me what I need. Instead, I get a stomach ache and may get stuck needing a bathroom. Finally, recovery fuel is super important. Have a small carb or protein right after a tough workout and you can prevent muscle fatigue in your next work out. True story!

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road ID

I feel like myself again.

Ten weeks ago today I finished my first triathlon with a broken leg. That small stress fracture on my fibula has prevented me from doing so many of the things I love. I missed a slew of races that I had planned for, but even worse, my invigorating new lifestyle took a nose dive. You can’t get a runner’s high if you’re not running.

Today was my third run in nearly three months.

The first was less than two weeks after the injury materialized. It was excruciating and misguided.

The second was three days ago. I ran four 6-minute intervals, interspersed with 90 seconds of walking. That’s not arbitrary: it was the day’s workout for the Star Runners 4-miler training group. My running buddy and I slogged through the early evening heat. Most of my thoughts were concentrated on my leg. Is that a twinge? Does it hurt? Am I re-injuring myself? In the end I was happy to be back in the game, relatively pain free. But it was a deeply unsettling to struggle that hard. How could I go from running 7 miles to barely making it six minutes at a time? Running is not like riding a bike.

Leading up to the group run this morning I had stress dreams about being late and losing my socks, which turned into horrible nightmares about gun violence. Yikes. Not only was I nervous about the strength of my fibula, thoughts of floundering in a big group–again, the Star Runners 4-miler training group–overwhelmed my sleep. But somehow everything fell into place. First, I experienced the long-lapsed weekend tradition of getting up early with Howell, chatting over a small breakfast, and getting into our gear to head off to separate training groups. Howell’s company is guaranteed to calm my nerves and send me out with a smile on my face. Next, I rode my bike to our meeting spot. Even a tiny bike commute is a way to feel good before actually beginning. Finally, a bunch of my favorite faces greeted me at the meeting place.

The marathon group was just finishing their main set of miles, and then they ran 8-minute intervals with the 4-miler group. Coolest thing ever. There are people who are just starting out, having logged their first miles over the past few weeks. And then there are people who did the tri group with me, or who have run with Star for four years. I found, because of my pace, that I couldn’t stay with any one person throughout the 3.5 miles, so I got to chat with old friends, tri-group friends, and people I’ve more recently met in the new group. I had some twinges and was very aware of my right leg, but the camaraderie of the group was energizing.

You know what? I ran only for about 25 minutes of the total time, and covered under three miles while actually running. But I am experiencing the same feeling of pride that washed over me when I finished my first five and seven mile runs. After all the waiting and frustration, I know I will work up to where I once was and surpass that point. I don’t care how long it takes; I’m just so happy to be back.

I am a runner again, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been more relieved.

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getting your face wet

Swimming has to be the most solitary form of exercise.

This was especially true when I dropped in for a quick half-mile on Saturday afternoon and was greeted by no one.  Running is so much fun because you can chat all the way through. Not so with swimming. It’s not like you can gab or sympathize while you come up for a two-second breath every three strokes. Swimming also seems to be the most universally scary part of attempting to race a triathlon. On the surface, the fear seems to be about meeting your demise via drowning.  But really the fear is much more simple, and we must approach it from square one. It’s about being out of breath.

You can’t do anything if you can’t breathe. Swimming is hard enough. It’s physically challenging and requires a good deal of practiced coordination for a successful freestyle stroke. Then throw a few thousand gallons of chemical saturated water in your nose and mouth. This was my brain while learning to swim: arm, arm, arm, oh god I have to kick too, ah arm, breath, sputter, cough, burp, armarmarmohgod, breath, KICK, sputter, don’tthinkaboutthatbandaidonthebottom, arm, arm, kick, hairballgross!, arm/kick, arm/kick, choke, dissolve into dog paddle before making it 25 yards to the other end of the pool, gasp for breath, relieved that face is out of water. I struggled lap for lap with those same thoughts, fighting to get my body right, always literally gasping for air whenever I could.

At some point it got better. Each time I got in the pool, another little thing would click. Now, several months later, swimming is still a difficult physical exertion. But it’s more meditative than it is confusing and chaotic. I really hated it at first and all because I couldn’t breathe. Now I kind of love it–tough as it is–and I know I’m breathing better than at any other time in my day.

Become a swimmer (and a triathlete!). Here’s what you need:

1. a lap pool

Duh, you say. Duh. But let me tell you, I have lazily tried to swim laps in a backyard pool. That does not work. You need some distance to fight for. There are lots of options, and some gyms will even let you get a discounted pool-only membership.

Also nice to have: open water options for practice. Don’t start in open water, but you’ll want to have that experience at some point before your first tri. I really wish I had.

2. a patient friend and/or youtube videos

I was lucky enough to have my “aquajock” friend as support for my initial attempts at true, freestyle lap swimming. I noticed, too, that other random people at the pool would sometimes offer tips and answer questions. Watching videos of other people swim is extremely helpful as well!

Also nice to have: a couple lessons. I took some group classes, but probably my best helper was Keith, the assistant coach to my tri-training team. He simply watched me swim a couple times and gave some invaluable feedback to perfect my stroke. Sometimes the smallest thing can make a huge difference in your stroke. For instance, I wasn’t getting my arm all the way out of the water, actually creating more resistance. Keith was able to coach me out of that with just a couple quick exercises. I still do it when I’m tired, but I know how to fix it now. All that to say, even one lesson could make a big difference in your form.


You can totally learn to lap swim without a cap or a fancy compression racing suit, but you can’t do it without a good pair of goggles. You must be able to see in the water, and it’s bad for your eyes (and can even lead to temporary blindness!) to do it without some protection. I happen to have a rather insane pair that I love.

They’re not very subtle, but they do the trick. Goggles are pretty inexpensive; always try them on before you buy, though. Press the goggles to your face without using the straps. Any pair that stays on for a few seconds is a good fit.

That’s really it! As you get into it, you can add more/more expensive equipment.

Also on the nice to have list:

My pool has kick boards and pull buoys available for all users. I would buy them for my personal use if they weren’t already available to me. Both items are really nice for doing drills, practicing breathing, and strengthening your kick. Kind of like training wheels for the water! Swim Outlet sells them pretty cheap. I like this basic kick board, and this pull buoy.

A nice, tight swimsuit, made for exercise or competition. Gals, any tight basic one-piece will do, but obviously the best ones are made by Speedo, TYR, Nike, etc. I’ve gotten them both at Costco and TJ Maxx, so you don’t have to lay down $100 if you look in the right places. Guys, sorry, but loose trunks aren’t going to hack it. My dad used to train in his bike shorts, so any kind of tight-fitting swim or tri short will work. You can certainly swim laps in leisure swimwear, but you’ll be more comfortable and efficient in a swimmer’s swimsuit.

A swim cap keeps your hair out of your face and mouth, and as you might expect, streamlines the swimming process a little bit more. I’ve found that I actually prefer latex to silicone. The silicone ones feel too tight and pull my hair. The latex ones are cheaper–they’re the ones you get numbered with your triathlon entry–but they feel more comfortable to me. Silicone caps are available for around $10 and you can get a latex cap for as little as $2.

Nose clips and earplugs are a matter of personal preference. I became too dependent on my nose clip, which was why I was eventually glad to be rid of it. Ear plugs made me feel boxed in and too disconnected without one of my senses, but some people love them.

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fibula stress fracture of forever

Well, it’s been a minute, orrrr, almost a month, since I’ve written. These have not been my finest weeks. Turns out underneath that sprained ankle I had a stress fracture on my fibula, as you may have surmised from the title of this post. The fibula is that skinny lil bone in the lower leg. Just my opinion, but fibula sounds bigger than tibia, doesn’t it? Not the case.

It’s funny how in retrospect things start to make sense. I have had both a sprained ankle and a broken leg in the past, and this never felt like just a sprain. From the moment the pain began, it was sharp and shot up my leg like little volts of hot electricity. That is not how a sprain feels to me. These things are so subjective. The older I get the more frustrated I become with how to find a good doctor and communicate with him/her about what is going on with me. The questions they ask aren’t always the right ones. The nurse practitioner I saw had me straight on the path to worsening my injury, if I had listened to her.

I’ve been going to Cole Pain Therapy Group for the past several weeks and it’s been great. They listened, waited, tried some things, and finally arrived at the right diagnosis. Many people say that chiropractors are not “real doctors,” but I’ve had better care there than at any other MD office. It’s amazing how the lack of a prescription pad can enable a practitioner to look you in the face and actually listen to what is going on.

So, I’m in my eighth week of injury and I still don’t have the all clear to train again. I’m being referred to an orthopedic clinic to potentially be booted. And in my small endeavors over the past week–a few laps in the pool here, a few miles on the bike there–I know I’m not ok yet. I’ve made huge progress, mostly from resting, and I can even forget about the fracture sometimes. But, my office is on the second floor, my apartment is on the second floor; and when you are still clenching you’re teeth to climb the stairs, you know you aren’t ready for any kind of race.

I’ve battled some mild depression and increasing anxiety since I’ve been unable to exercise. I miss it like a friend! I’m jealous of people out running, even in the crazy heat. I didn’t run LuvMud and I’m 99.9% sure that the Mighty Mite Triathlon is out.

One reason I’ve avoided writing is that I’ve lost my main inspiration, which was training. Another reason is that it seems like I’m just repeating the same lame story again and again. I’m injured, I’m recovering, hopefully I’ll be able to run again soon. Blech. Booooring. And since I’ve been blue about the whole thing, other endeavors have fallen by the wayside.

But no more.

I’m fine tuning my diet a bit. Diet=what I eat every day, diet≠insane plan to drop weight at the speed of light. More on that later.

Even if I’m in a damn boot, I’m going to work on my fitness. I’m going to find an old pilates tape and do the best I can. I’m going to swim laps with a pull buoy (that’s a small float you put between your legs). I’m going to do crunches and lift hand weights, I just have to make sure I’m sitting down!

I’ve actually tried all of these things in the last eight weeks, but didn’t stay on track either because I became discouraged at my limitations or didn’t modify enough to avoid pain. From this point on, I’m making a way.

And I’m going to continue meditating for mental strength and visualizing my next perfect run, whenever that comes!

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mental toughness

Is it fair to say that mental toughness is like 80% of the game in running, tris, and other endurance sports? It all depends on how you look at it. There’s certainly an argument to be made about genetics and training and experience and blah blah blah yadda blah. But then think about how training requires you to show up, and be prepared, and follow a plan, and push through feeling tired or sore. And then to be calm for a race–it’s such a head game. Michael Phelps is good evidence of this:

Michael Phelps has mastered the psychology of speed

An excerpt: “Mental strength can be broken down into two key components, McCann said. The first is an unyielding desire for victory and superiority in competition regardless of the pressure, which is known as an offensive mental aptitude, he said.

This allows an athlete to use the energy surges or adrenaline produced from high-pressure situations to enhance concentration, strength and execution — rather than to produce nervousness, panic, muscle tightening or over-exertion.

The second component, McCann said, is a defensive skill, a resilience that allows an athlete to roll with unforeseen circumstances such as a bad lane assignment, a poor night’s sleep — or a head-to-head collision just before racetime.

Only some athletes, he said, possess one of the two. Very few, he said, display both.”

I might possess one of those. Earlier in my life I might have said it was the former, that offensive, competitive drive. While most who know me would certainly still describe me as competitive, I believe my mental toughness falls more into the category of the latter. It certain situations, I do have the ability to “roll with unforeseen circumstances.” I’m excellent in an emergency or crisis. When I thought I didn’t have a helmet before MIM, I was upset, but once I had one, it was over. I wasn’t rattled in the least during the race. I think I have Star to thank for that, at least in part. She wrote either in an email or a blog post that there is evidence that supports visualization for a good outcome in a race. I spent at least an hour visualizing my perfect race beforehand. Did I get it? Hell no. An illegal helmet, overwhelming swim, and mid-race stress fracture were certainly not what I visualized. But when something went amiss, it didn’t take me long to adjust and move right back to that mental picture of how things should be. Leads me to the conclusion that visualization is a key aspect of mental toughness.

Michael Phelps surviving that collision and then just kicking ass after being taunted is just amazing. We all want good race conditions, but I feel like he just says “fuck it” and steers them to his favor anyway. Wonder if he visualizes?

Slideshow of Michael Phelps, just for fun.

Straight from the horse’s mouth: “Champions sort of always know how to get back to where they once were.” That reminds me so much of my brother. When Jonathan won that crit race a couple months ago, I saw him in third coming for the finish, and I was certain he would take first. He has aggressive mental toughness in spades. And pardon the pun, but I thought it was so cool that Phelps played Spades every night at the Olympics to wind down. (If my triathlon career doesn’t work out, I’m going to become a competitive Bridge player.)

Anyway, just some food for thought, and a little inspiration. I’m down but I’m not out. Even though I’m physically injured, I can still meditate and I can still visualize. Gonna go work on that mental toughness muscle now.

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