As I sat on my bed thinking about what to write about today I came to realize that my life is a cornucopia of goodness – I couldn’t settle on one thing. I have so many things to be grateful for and yet, over the last couple of years I have spent a remarkable time feeling angry and resentful and afraid and unhappy. Today I am grateful that I have wherewithal and the desire to turn that around and to consciously work on focusing on the positive as I have so often advised others to do. Today I am grateful that I am finally finding an inner voice that is pro-me. I’m looking forward to enjoying its riches and wisdom from here on out.
I’ve decided to take on the 30 Day Gratitude Project. I think there are a bunch of things written about this but I’m just winging it. I’m going to write something every day to acknowledge what I am grateful for in the hopes that it will lift me up and help steer me in the right direction. I need to make some changes and being positive and grateful is one of them.
Day #1 –
I wanted to start by writing about how grateful I am for my family but that will wait and will probably be expressed in a series of other posts. Today I am grateful for health and friends to celebrate it with. I took a hike with 2 good friends. We didn’t wear a GPS device or even a watch so I can only guess but I think it we hiked for about 2.5 hours and covered somewhere between 8 and 10 miles. It was a beautiful day, it was a beautiful place and my friends are beautiful. I’m grateful to have them in my life and to have the vitality at the age of 61 to go on that hike and suffer nothing more than sore feet and slightly sore glutes as a result. Mostly what I endured is the warmth of friendship and love and the strum of hard worked muscle fibers that have what it takes to go the distance.
Happy New Year to all! I will hold today to be a harbinger of things to come and on the dark days I will remember the strong, happy, uplifted feeling of a day like today.
The most famous 3 words in the world of mountaineering are “Because it’s there” allegedly spoken by George Mallory when asked why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. We all have a Mt. Everest in our lives and some of us climb it because it’s there and we are determined to get to the other side and some of us just look at that mountain and let it get the better of us. We let it become part of who we are.
I’m not one to give myself any credit – at all, ever, so my road to redemption has been an interesting experience for me. How can a person legitimately not give herself credit for moving through 140.6 miles over a period of almost 17 hours, wanting to quit for all but about 42 minutes of it? That is my Everest.
Getting back to my Ironman story, I finished the race. I did it in spite of being very, very close to failing. I did in spite of leg cramps, nausea, sore muscles, tough conditions. I did it when I had missed a cut off by 4 minutes but at that point all I had to do was get to the finish line, a short 7.5k away. It still felt almost impossible, though, because I’d been racing for so long and my feet hurt so much and I was tired and I still felt sick. I had also watched those people who were trying just as hard as me miss the cut off and get put in golf carts and driven back to the finish line, minus their timing chips. I was still in it, so really, there wasn’t a choice. I had to to go on and I had to finish. And I did. And then I had to deal with how I felt about that.
I felt okay. I felt glad that I hadn’t let anyone down. I felt glad that I had gotten my medal and my hat and my shirt. I felt gratefully redeemed. I was so happy to find Kaaren and give her a hug and celebrate our mutual redemption. I was happy to call my coach and hear her say, “16:48 – were you trying to give me a heart attack!” and laugh, knowing she was really happy I finished.
At the same time I was unhappy with my performance; I was disappointed in myself. Yes – I was. I knew everyone in the world would tell me I was rock star, that I earned that finish, and intellectually I knew that, but emotionally I just wasn’t there. I wanted to get there, though. I did not want to just sit there, looking up at that mountain and letting it get the best of me.
The next morning Kaaren and I went to the Ironman village to check on our bikes and to return some arm warmers I’d bought the day before. It’s a pretty big area and they had set up a large stage where they were announcing the people who had placed in the race and having them come up on stage to get their trophies. Kaaren and I were at the far end of the park, away from the stage just chatting and plotting out the rest of our day.
They started calling the winners of the women’s 60-64 and I had a moment, remembering that going in to the race I was pretty sure I could place but at the end I knew it wasn’t possible. Who gets on the podium with a 16:48 finish when there are 12 people in your AG? As I was starting to wallow in my personal shame and disappointment an amazing thing happened – they called my name. OH MY GOD -THAT’S ME!!! I was in 5th and at Ironman the podium goes 5 deep.
I took off running across the park toward the stage. No stairs! No stairs!! I asked a volunteer standing there how to get up and by this time the trophies had been passed out and the photographer was doing his job. I ran around to the back as directed, got on the stage, ran to the front and a man said, “what place are you in” and I said, “Fifth – am I supposed to be up here?” and he handed me a trophy.
I didn’t care that I was holding up the show. I owned that stage – that was my moment! I joined the other ladies and lit the day a little brighter with my smile. Meanwhile, Kaaren had run across the park, full bore, to get a picture. The photographer gestured for us to hold up the trophies and I was only to happy to oblige.
So now how could I not be proud? How could I not fully appreciate my accomplishment? PODIUM!!! I finally decided to surrender and recognize that I didn’t have to stay at the bottom of the mountain, looking up. All I had to do was decide that that isn’t where I belong.
I still won’t say it was a great race because it wasn’t a great race – it was hard and I was suffering and I was unhappy and sick and I almost thought about giving up once or twice. But I didn’t give up, in fact I wouldn’t even let myself finish that thought. I did it. I hung in there. I finished and I ended up on the podium because 7 of the other 12 ladies either didn’t show up, didn’t finish or cheated (yes, the 1st place lady was DQ’d which is how I ended up in 5th) and so I was on the podium because I kept going until I finished. I earned my trip to the top of the mountain where I celebrate my accomplishments instead of finding fault. It’s a trip that’s been a long time in coming and I’m sure I’ll slide down the side more than once in the future but now that I’ve stood on the top and looked around, I’ve decided I rather like the view.
7 months after preparing for the end of July, the end of July presented itself and I felt ready. Very ready. I was fit and strong and I had dreams of how my race would go; of what my time would be; of possibly placing since there were only 11 other women in my age group. I was confident and I was ready. I was surprised.
The Warm Up
We flew up to Vancouver on Thursday before the race. The flight left late and then they couldn’t get the door open when we landed and we missed our bus to Whistler by 3 minutes.
The woman at the desk, who had the patience of a Saint in the face of me muttering dirty, nasty swear words under my breath, checked us through on the 5PM bus but then another group asked if there was some way to catch the bus further on and she said that we could get a taxi and maybe catch it in Vancouver. We ran out to the taxi stand and I asked Kaaren “where are we going” to which she responded “oh crap – I don’t know!” so I had to run back in and ask where the bus stopped in Vancouver. We may have been a little preoccupied.
And thus began Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with the loveliest of British cabbies who, at our request, drove like a maniac. Not that you can be all that maniacal in Vancouver, the 4th worst traffic city in North America, but he gave it his all, even cutting through an alley and then a hotel drop off area, getting us to the bus with moments to spare – VICTORY!
The rest of the ride was calm and uneventful, save for the pre-race jitters. Yes, I had them – at least a bit. I was confident but considered myself to be appropriately positioned on high alert, listening to my body and leveraging the tension to stay focused on my pre-race needs.
Friday we checked in for the race and then went for a wee swim. I had taken both a long sleeve and a sleeveless suit and was trying the full this time. The first thing I noticed is what rough shape the thing was in. And then I realized I had grabbed the wrong suit – this was my ancient Blue Seventy, not my newer 2XU. Oh well…. I got it on and realized it had soft material in the arm pits and it seemed like the best mistake EVER!
We did our swim and got back to shore and as I was taking the suit off a funny thing happened. CUWEEEEEK! I managed to rip the sleeve almost all the way around, about 3/4 of the way up from the wrist to the elbow (and yes, cuweeeeek is the sound neoprene makes when you rip it). Brilliant! All I could do was shake my head, laugh and go to the Expo to buy some repair goo, which I did. I also bought some arm warmers thinking I might wear the sleeveless with arm warmers but ultimately decided on the full because who wants to try something new on race day? No one! Due to the consistently harsh treatment of my wet suits, I am a master at fixing them and this one was fixed easily in spite of the nearly 6 inch rend I put in it. Oh well – moving on!
Up at 4:00 we moved through the standard morning routine, culminating in hopping on the bus to the lake, lugging our special needs bags and some water to fill the bottles. I got all of that set up and then pulled on the wetsuit and cuweeek! I ripped a big hole in the hip – yay! I knew it didn’t matter because I’ve been down this road before (did I mention how hard I am on my wet suits) so I shrugged it off, zipped up, and headed for the water.
The Swim – in which our heroine rises and falls
Probably my favorite part of racing is the pre-race excitement. Music is blaring, the sun is coming up, the air zaps and crackles with excitement and I generally find myself standing in the water or at the water’s edge smiling and dancing. This race was no different. It was a beautiful morning!
BOOM! The cannon went off and me with it – I was right in the washing machine but not getting harmed. After some minor jockeying I managed to find a spot in the swirl where I could just get pulled around the course. I was in heaven until we came around the final turn buoy for the 2nd loop and some guy’s stroke clobbered me in the back of my leg. It responded by starting to cramp and I made my first mistake of the day – I grabbed on to a boat. I looked at my watch and it said 42:10 and I was so very pleased – right on track for a 1:25 – 1:30 swim Awesome! The problem with hanging off a boat, I have now realized after my Alcatraz fiasco, is that when you stop swimming and hold on to a boat, the legs come up, the knees bend and the cramp intensifies.
I got the cramp under control and took off. The cramping persisted and moved to my other leg, as well. I did my best to kick with straight legs, keep my feet flexed, breath on the other side, focus on my arms, you name it. I just kept going, fighting cramping the entire way and then finally, finally, I was swimming toward shore. I got out of the water, looked at the clock and my face fell hard – 1:47. I was at least 20 minutes behind where I thought I would be and only 3 minutes ahead of last year and I was not happy.
T1 – regaining my equanimity
As I ran for the changing tent I thought, “shake it off, girl – you have a long way to go and you are in much better shape than last year – it’s going to be fine”. I managed a pretty fast transition (6:50) and off I went on my bike.
The Bike – Digging for Appreciation
The beginning of the bike course is a short, shallow hill up and then a pretty speedy hill down and then you go through town with everyone cheering and then you start climbing out toward Callaghan. As soon as we started climbing my legs hurt – really hurt. My quads felt like I’d been to a heavy spin class the day before. And now I was worried and wondering how I would ever make it out to Pemberton if I couldn’t even manage this first loop. Again, I shook it off and just focused on riding, hoping my legs would settle in.
The ride was hard. Every minute of it was hard. I did not feel strong, I did not feel ready, I did not feel trained. I did my best to have faith that I was strong and ready and trained and to move as fast as I could. I told myself to look around at how beautiful the scenery was and to be thankful that I had the health and vitality to be on my bike, engaging in this race. I kept going. I got up to the Olympic Park and then in what seemed like mere moments was back down in Whistler. I drew on the crowd energy there and smiled and waved. Kaaren, my training partner, passed me as we came through there saying “I can’t believe I caught you this fast!” and I said, “I Can! See you at the finish!” and headed out to Pemberton.
This is the really hard part of the race but by now my legs felt better. My climbing was okay and I never felt like I couldn’t do it. I got to special needs. swapped out one of my nutrition bottles for my frozen Coke and the woman there said she would just leave my bag across the street, behind a phone pole. Good enough.
I headed out to the flat section, went aero and hit it as best I could. I didn’t feel great and it was getting hotter but I just did my best. Part way back I called out to a spectator and asked what time it was and she said “2:11” and I thought that was okay because I had until 5:30 to make the cutoff and that was 3 hours away. Seemed like I had time. I had time. For sure… I had time. When I finally got to special needs the aid station was broken down and they were tossing all the special needs bags into trash bags. My heart sank. I explained about how my bag was supposed to be put aside but it didn’t matter. The lady who did that did not communicate it to anyone else and my bag was gone. I still had a bottle of nutrition so I just said, “thank you for being out here!” and took off.
Then the really hard climbing started. At this point the ride had gone on for over 90 miles, it was almost 100 degrees out and the hills are very steep. Last year I had to push my bike up the steepest one but this year I made it up in my saddle – YAY! I passed a lot of people who were pushing their bikes and I felt good about the fact that I was not. And then my leg cramped. I was going downhill so I just worked it out while I rode, being extra careful around the left hand curves because I couldn’t bend that leg to counterweight the turn. I managed to keep the rubber side down, though and all was well – until I started climbing again. Then my quads started cramping and I had to get off the bike or risk falling off. I pushed the bike a little way up the hill, worked out the cramps and got back on.
More hills, more people pushing their bikes, one guy screaming in agony because his legs were so cramped up. I offered him some salt but he said he was fine and I kept going only to hear him scream “I can’t breath!” Dang! Then I heard someone else calling for a volunteer to help him so I kept going.
Finally I got to the fateful last aid station. I stopped to get water and had a chat. One guy said, “It’s only 15K – you’ve got this!” and a woman came over and said, “It’s 20K and you have over an hour” Sweet Jebus- once again I found myself in roughly the same place from a time perspective as last year. It took everything I had not to break down in frustration and anger. I looked up the hill and she said, “That’s the last long hill – you’ve got time – you can do this” and so I did. I rode up that flipping hill and then the next one and the next one and finally I was in Whistler and the people were still there cheering and I rode as hard as I could because I knew it was close. I made transition with 10 minutes to spare. Holy hell…. I made it.
The Run – Chasing the Cutoffs or Running from Bears?
A couple of seconds after someone said I made it by 10 minutes, a man said, “you have 8 and half minutes to get out on the run course” WHOA! A volunteer picked up my bag and said, “can I help you” and I said, “I think I’ve got it” and she said, “no no – let me help you” and she did. She helped me get my shoes off and on, get my gels in my hand, clipped my race belt on me and I flew out of the tent yelling “THANK YOU SO MUCH – YOU ARE AWESOME!” That took 3.5 minutes.
And so it went. I ran a little, I walked a little, I felt like puking. I stopped at the aid station and sipped water, I sipped coke, I kept moving. I walked for a while. Then I tried to muster the energy to run from aid station to aid station but I really felt sick. I drank my Gatorade, I sipped water. I ran 45 seconds, walked 15 seconds which worked great. And then I would feel too sick for that and I would walk. And on it went.
The volunteers were amazing. The crowd was amazing. The support at this race is phenomenal. I death marched, I jogged, I walked. I saw Kaaren at one point and we high fived. I finally made the turn around and then got back to Special needs which I knew was the first cut off. It was 8:30 so I was a full 30 minutes ahead of the cut off – woot! Kaaren’s family was there and her daughter had made me a sign. I was too stupified to think to get my picture taken with the sign. I was totally preoccupied with moving forward. So much so that I almost went the wrong way and was in danger of cutting the course! A savvy volunteer figured it out and sent me off in the right direction.
The sun dropped and it got cooler which was great and I was having more success with the run/walk but I still felt sick. I would tell myself to just keep going – 1,2,3…14,15 GO! over and over and over again. It finally occurred to me to use sweet Bia to measure the intervals, so I quit counting and looked at the watch. It got darker – it got very dark. There was stretch of path that had glow rings marking the line down the center and no other light. I kept thinking if a bear walked out of the woods I would hit it broadside which would probably really piss off the bear – so I ran.
At one point a guy coming the other way said “bear ahead, bear ahead” which I took to be some odd, formal type of encouragement until another guy said, “there’s a bear on the left” Holy shit! Another guy pointed and said, “see – he’s right there” I’m happy to say that although I had really wanted to see a bear, I didn’t want to be quite that close and I did not see it. Maybe it had moved on. I moved on. I was seriously chasing the clock now as I had to get to the turnaround by 10:30. It was 10:10 and I was wondering where the hell is it??!! I kept asking people but they didn’t know. It’s 5K up there, it’s 3K up there, it’s 4K up there. OMG – never mind. I ran. I made that cut off by 4 minutes. Repeat – 4 minutes! Other people were behind me and the volunteers were saying “you’ve got this!” but I knew they didn’t and sure enough, they were soon driving past me in the back of a golf cart. These poor people had done all but the last 7.5 Kilometers of the race and they were pulled off. I sped up.
I ran through the scary dark part and then it got lighter and then I could hear the finish line. I ran and it was right there – just to my right. But I had to keep going straight. And then it was behind me. Oh cruel world! Oh damned fortune! But I ran some more. Then I went around a bend and the finish line got louder. And then another bend. And then a straightaway. And then finally, finally I was at the top of the chute – I was coming in!
I ran down the chute and the people cheered. I put my arms out, palms upward and gave the sign for ‘applause’ and the crowd went nuts. I put 2 fingers up in the air and the crowd roared. I put 2 thumbs in the air and the crowd roared more – it was awesome! I heard “Pamela – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” and I was done – I had finished. After almost 17 hours of pep talking myself into continuing and chasing cut offs I was there. I was done. I was grateful.
This is a happy ending but wait, there’s more…. (next post)
The first person down the chute is not me. There is no sound.
There are some things in life that come easy and there are some you have to work for and yearn for and keep after. I am partially through realizing a dream that has taken quite some time but the icing on the cake is just around the corner.
Sunday I race Ironman Canada in Whistler and I really could not be more excited and happy. I have trained, I am ready, and in the process of getting here, lived exactly the experience I played in my head more times than I can count.
I’ve been on this journey for 3 years. In 2012 I signed up because some other friends had signed up and I thought it would be fun to train with them and race with them. Ultimately I could not rise to the occasion. I whined about my injuries. I was too slow, I couldn’t train with my race day partners because they were too fast or, in one case, her life was fully impacted by a parent dying of cancer and twins graduating from high school and she was never around and really couldn’t train. By the time race weekend arrived I had withdrawn from the race, cancelled my airline reservations and just paid for my spot in a house I never saw. She went and did not make the swim cut off because she spent about 2 hours training for a 2.4 mile swim which never goes well.
Last year I hired a coach and was training in earnest but not with anyone else doing the race. It was fine and I was enjoying it some but I got in a minor bike accident that resulted in a broken thumb. I had on a waterproof cast and continued to train for 3 weeks but then the thumb didn’t heal, I had surgery and ended up in plaster cast. Could not swim and running was very uncomfortable as was working out on a spin bike. I went to Whistler with friends, toed the line and then pulled myself off of the bike course at what I thought was mile 95 but was really closer to mile 102. I thought I couldn’t make the cut off. I could have made the cut off. I’ve beat myself up about it a lot but now I’m glad it happened because it lead to this year.
This year I hired the same coach and my IM partner from 2012 who also DNF’d hired the same coach and thus began 7 months of camaraderie and training together on the weekends. We are roughly the same speed and so we spent many, many hours riding and running and doing open water swims and anticipating this day and discussing our fears and our glee at overcoming our DNFs. We are Team Redeem and come Sunday we will swim, ride, run and conquer.
Thursday we will board the same plan and then the same bus and stay in the same condo. We will go to athlete registration together and eat together and go for quick swim/ride/run sessions together and go to the athlete briefing together and get up at the ass crack of dawn Sunday together and board the bus together and hug each other good luck and then get in the water at the same time. And then we will part ways and I will be out of the water before her because I’m a faster swimmer but I hope to be united later in the race.
In my head we will meet up on the run course and keep each other going and we will finish together. And maybe it will go that way and maybe she will pass me at some point on the bike (she rides faster than me) and maybe I will stay ahead of her (not likely) but eventually we will both cross that line and we will be Team Redeemed.
My goal is to make it as big in real life as it is in my head and so far, so good. That doesn’t mean I need to finish in a certain time although I have my goals. It doesn’t mean the dream has to come exactly true although I hope it does. It means I need to keep going no matter what the day hands me and I need to finish and have that medal hung around my neck and I need Kaaren to finish and have that medal hung around her neck and I need us to get a picture together in front of the M-dot background and I need us to feel that overwhelming sense of accomplishment and relief and pride. That will be plenty to make my dream come true.
Let the games begin!
I did a ride this weekend called the BOB which stands for Best of the Bay. And by “best’, they mean climbs – the best climbs. Truth is, there are so many great climbs around here that you could actually argue over which constitute the Best but there’s no arguing that this was one of the best organized rides I’ve ever been on.
The aid stations featured, in order:
1). Latkes and applesauce, fruit, Peets coffee (and water, heed and fruit)
2). Fritatas, goat cheese and almond crostini (and water, heed and fruit)
3). Lunch – wraps, chips, fruit, great drinks including Pelligrino sodas
4). chips, little brownies with peanut butter on them and some other stuff. This one was more standard but we were close to end where you got a free ride at a buffet restaurant.
I can’t recommend this ride enough if you live in the Bay Area. Kudos to the Cherry City Cyclists for putting on a great event. I hope they use the proceeds to throw themselves a big old party!
I skipped one of the climbs (the extra 2100 ft at the end) but here is what I did:
According to my training partner’s Garmin that is about 8800 ft of climbing. Mine said 8600 ft. She really kicked ass on this ride so maybe that’s why she gets the extra credit. Either way, can you say Badass?
And then today was run day so I did this:
And that’s 1,256 ft of climbing
So, mileage and elevation on the weekend was 112 and 8856 ft.
I wish my race were in 2 weeks because I am ready. Ready for the course, ready to stop training, ready to get it done! As it is, I get a rest week and then it’s back to a long combo workout July 4th weekend and maybe a local 10K, too.
The weekend started out with SHARKFEST! which is a swim from Alcatraz Island to Aquatic Park. This was my 6th run at it and so far it was Sharks 0/21CM 5. I intended to keep it that way but you just never know when you’re going to need a bigger boat.
I was accompanied by my local friend Kathy and my long distance, creepy internet friend what I love, Dread Pirate Rackham.
We suited up, including strapping on our Bias walked to the ferry, rode out to Alcatraz where we jumped off a perfectly servicable ferry, into 55 degree water. WHOO! Cold and shocking and then, there you are – out in the middle of San Francisco bay – WITH SHARKS! DPR and I attempted to stay together but it really doesn’t take long to get separated in a crowd of 800 swimmers. Good thing sharks don’t like crowds.
Off I went, happily sighting off the lead boat and thinking I was doing so great! I would be with people then alone, then with people, then alone and then… disaster! SHARK ATTACK!! No, not really.
I got such a wicked cramp in my leg I thought I was going to cry. A kayaker saw my sad, pained face and paddled over to see if I was okay. I ended up putting my feet on on her kayak and she was nice enough to massage the cramp away. This was a such a touching sight and such a fantastic example of how great the support is out there that someone snapped a picture so we can all enjoy my little swimming interlude.
This picture also covers reason 2,367 of why I love the internet because it was posted on Facebook and I got a chance to thank this lovely young woman for helping me out.
I wanted to hug her but I was still pretty far out and still wanting to get to shore before a shark ate me that I took off. Only problem was I took off heading a little too far west, and got caught in the current AGAIN! (just like last year). You can see how quickly I got dragged out and let me tell you, once you get caught in that current you are not likely to get out without assistance and so, for the 2nd time on the day, I got help. This time it was from an SFPD guy on a ski-doo with a sled thing on the back. I climbed up and held on for dear life while he trolled the waters for others to rescue. He picked up another guy and we crossed arms and hung on for dear life while this cop drove like a maniac, twisting and swerving all over the place – it was awesome! I wish I had left the Bia on because I’m sure it would have been an interesting path.
Anyhow, he got us to the opening of Aquatic Park where we rolled off and swam to shore, chagrined but happy to be alive, all limbs attached. I was also frozen – it took until I got changed and into a heated car to stop shaking.
We did what any sensible people would do and went out for a giant breakfast – yum! After that I drove home, met up with my training partner, Kaaren and off we went to Folsom because we were racing Folsom Long Course Triathlon! Do I hear your head ringing with the word BADASS?!! I believe I do!
Here we are pre-race – so fresh, so ready to conquer the day! You can’t even tell it is 6AM because as you can see, it is so very bright and sunny!
Our swim wave went off at 6:36 and that part went okay. It seemed a little long but doesn’t 1.2 miles of swimming always seem a little long? The water was nice, though.
The bike was good. I loved the course and the intersections were well managed and protected and it didn’t seem that hot. I probably should have gone a little harder but I knew I had long, hot run coming up so I held back a little.
Did I mention hot? Holy Hell, people, it was 105 out there. The second I started running I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me – no way!” But on I went. I stopped at every aid station and put ice down my bra, down my pants and in my hat. I drank, drank, drank and I ran when I could. I managed to run from one aid station to the next for a long time but after about 10 miles it didn’t even seem like a good idea. I figured there was no sense in dying out there so I walked a bunch of the last 3 miles. And then I was done. And here we are, burned to a crisp, fried in every way and wearing our much deserved medals.
After we got home I did the only sensible thing a person could do. I sent my baby girl out for Chipotle and then after we ate I took her to BART and then stopped at Safeway for some recovery food and I sat on the couch eating this stuff and watching Orange is the New Black and let my head ring with the word “BADASS! Oh yes you are”