My Village

I've always trained for races solo. I've been lucky to always have family and friends who cheer me on through training and on race day, but as for the training itself, it's usually just me, myself, and I. I don't have anyone to meet for a run at 6am. I don't have anyone to talk to when I get bored, or to push me when I think I can't keep going. I'm the one that gets myself out of bed. I'm the one that gives myself the pep talks to keep going. For a long time, I really prided myself on that, that discipline and that self-motivation to get through training for everything from a half marathon to a half Ironman, but the closer I get to Ironman the harder it gets to do it alone.

If you follow me on social media, you may have noticed that Ironman training was...difficult this week. From the moment I opened my training plan last Sunday night, the resounding words in my head were, "I can't do this. No freakin' way. I can't do this." And when I slept through core on Monday morning, that voice got a little louder. "See, you can't even get up to work out for 20 measly minutes - how do you think you're going to get through 18+ hours this week?" Some time during work that day I decided that no, that voice was wrong, and I was going to make it through training this week. All 18 hours of it. With a feigned motivation I swam that night and it went well - swimming is really the only thing I feel kind of good at and confident about - but that was just one workout, and I still had so many left to do.

Tuesday was actually a fun day of training - I had a really nice morning run, then Ben and I biked together after work. But I knew the hard parts were coming, and they were just going to get harder. By Wednesday I was feeling more unsure than ever, so I took to Snapchat (as you do):

My swim that night wasn't great, and I was barely hanging on. The next morning things came crashing down when, once again, I was unable to complete a workout before work. This time I had 2.5 hours of biking and running to do, which is hard enough to get through before work, but I woke up 10 minutes late and my whole plan just crumbled. Instead I worked out after work, without eating dinner, which was horrible and miserable. But I did it, and I made it up to 8 hours total for the week (and I let Snapchat know but I forgot to save it). It had to get better, right?

Then came Saturday. It was...umm....I don't actually know what word would adequately describe how bad it was. The sad part is I was actually kind of looking forward to this! The trail where I ride is an old railroad that was converted to a multi-use paved trail, and it's 45 miles long. I park at MP 3.5 and the farthest I've ridden out is to MP 33.5. I remember the first time I rode out there, a 30-mile ride, thinking that eventually during my training I'd get to ride the whole thing. So I was kind of looking forward to it, at least as much as I can look forward to riding my bike 90 miles. So I got up this morning - I was on time and not even tired! - and things were going well. I got to the trail before it was light out so I had to wait about 30 minutes, but when the sun started coming up I got my things all set up and set off.

Usually I ride north because I'm only 3.5 miles from the south end, but today I went south first since I had to ride the whole thing either way. So I was on a part of the trail I hadn't been on before, looking around, admiring the scenery, when all of a sudden I saw a raccoon run out a little bit ahead of me. It ran out from the right side, the same side I was riding on, so it was basically directly in my path. I'm not sure what I was thinking at the time, but since it had run out from the right and was facing toward the left side, I guess I thought maybe it would keep crossing the trail? So because of that, I decided to try to pass it on the right, behind it, instead of on the left, in front of it. I was honestly equal parts afraid of hitting it and getting attacked by it. So I went to the right and as I passed I could see it run toward me (not sure if it was trying to get me or just trying to get back into the bushes) and I'm pretty sure I hit it but to what degree or how badly, I don't know. 

So this raccoon is running either under or just behind my bike, and I'm screaming, and the next thing I knew I was in the bushes on the side of the trail with my bike on top of me. I have never crashed my bike before - I've fallen a couple times just because I've forgotten to clip out when stopping - and the whole thing really, really freaked me out. Luckily both my bike and I were okay - in hindsight I guess it was a good thing that I tried to pass it on the right, because that way I crashed into bushes instead of asphalt. And one of my feet came out of my pedals so I didn't break my legs or anything. I have always wondered how people get thrown over their handlebars since, you know, their feet are clipped into the pedals. I do know that my cleats are pretty worn out so my feet slip out of my pedals all the time, which is usually quite annoying, and I don't know if that had anything to do with it, but if so I am really glad I haven't replaced those cleats. 

I jumped out of the bushes as fast as I could because I really didn't know where the raccoon was and I didn't want it coming after me (I don't think they do that, but it was a very disorienting experience). I got up and my bike was still laying there bushes because it had gotten tangled up in the bushes, and my whole body was shaking uncontrollably. Like I said, I wasn't hurt, just really freaked out. I called Ben just to tell him what happened - I didn't need help and there was nothing he could do anyway, I just wanted to tell someone. I talked to him for a few minutes and he helped calm me down.

You guys. This was a mile and a half into a NINETY mile ride. I had been riding for all of six minutes. After I pulled my bike out from the bushes and finished texting my training group and Tweeting about the incident, I was on my way again, just praying the rest of the ride would be uneventful. 

Unfortunately, that just wasn't in the fates today. Things went okay for a while after that. I made it to the trailhead, and then I was off to cover the 45 miles to get to the other end. I don't even really know how to explain what happened the rest of the way, except that I think I just let my fear get the best of me. In a perfect world, riding 90 miles would take about 5 hours and 15 minutes. Even on an extraordinary day, it would take 5 hours of pedaling to get through that kind of distance. This ended up being a sub-par day (even without the raccoon), so I was looking at more 5.5+ hours to finish. That's a LONG time to be out on a bike by yourself. I'm not even a very social person and like my alone time, but that's a long time even for me. And I just couldn't stop thinking about that as I was riding, even though time was ticking by I still had SO much farther to go. It just got to me. 

At about 35 miles in, a little over 2 hours, I just couldn't take it anymore. I pulled over on the side of the trail. I don't know what my plan was - I don't think I really had one. I just had to get off that bike. I called Ben (or texted? Or both?) and we talked for a while. I also texted my coach telling him what was going on. I'm not sure what I wanted to hear from him, I just wanted him to know.

More tweets.

And funny enough, I checked Facebook only to see that there was a conversation going on in my IMNC group about burnout. So I contributed.

I am not a person who posts on Facebook. If it weren't for these IMNC groups and posts I don't think I would check it at all. That's how badly I needed to reach out to anyone who would understand at that moment.

I had been feeling on the verge of burnout all week and stopping on the side of the trail was pretty much the culmination of that. I thought about turning around, but what would that do? I was 27 miles from the car. It wasn't like I could just call it quits right then and there. I was 14 miles from the north end of the trail - remember that getting to it had been my goal for the day. I decided to keep going at least that far and figure out what to do when I got there.

I got some texts from my training group.

(These are my people so I don't care if you know their names, haha. But from here on out I will refer to them by their initials, except for Jay because I already have a nickname for him and it's Dad)

And Ben.

And, understandably, there was a lot of ugly crying over the next 10 miles. My legs felt like lead weights and it was just so hard to keep going and ugh, even if I did keep going when I got to the end I had to turn around and go all the way back?

With about 3 miles to go until I got to the trailhead, my coach finally texted back telling me to shut it down and try again next weekend when we all do a group ride together. I pulled over again to call him to talk and told him I was almost to the end, 40 miles away from my car, so I really had no choice but to keep going. He asked me if I had enough food - he is super concerned about nutrition, which is good because I seriously suck at it - and I didn't. I had already eaten a banana and apple and had raisins and a banana left, which wasn't really enough for another 3 hours. I had meant to pack a PBJ but I forgot, and I was definitely hungry. Then he told me that he often gets a cup of coffee and a candy bar in the middle of a long ride, so you better believe that once I made it to the trailhead and turned around, I made a beeline to the nearest 7-Eleven. I almost had a meltdown when they were out of iced coffee, but I compromised and settled on this instead and stood outside for about 10 minutes basking in my spoils.

I also posted this on Instagram (along with a caption that was more like an essay), and I have never been more thankful that my Garmin gets smart notifications than I was in the next hour or so. I got a rush of Instagram comments and Tweets during those miles and they seriously helped me power through. I felt so much better on the way back (could have just been the coffee and the candy bar, though). 

The one from Becky about the brewery is the best and worst. There are seriously at least 5, maybe 10? breweries right off this trail - no lie, I passed a different one as she tweeted that - and I never get to stop. One day!

The ride back went much more smoothly than the ride out, until I hit a headwind with about 20 miles left to go. It wasn't super strong, but after the day I'd had, it was strong enough to wear me down. I stopped for water and texted my coach some more. 

At mile 73, T (yes we have the same name but he's a 55-year-old guy and I'm a 28-year-old girl so it's not actually that confusing) called me. "Whatcha doing?" "Oh, just riding my bike..." He's done one Ironman before and was just calling to help me get through. He told me that he had done a 90-miler alone during his training for his last IM and that it was super depressing, so he knew how I felt. We talked about our training for a couple miles before hanging up. I actually called him during his Ironman a couple years ago - I had been tracking him all day and my heart was just about to burst I was so proud of him. He had a really hard time on the run and struggled really, really badly, so I called him around mile 15 or 20 to leave a voicemail to say how proud of him I was. I guess it was his turn to return the favor.

I would say that the last 5 miles were the hardest I've ever ridden, but I once rode 5 miles 2000ft to the top of a mountain, so I can't say that. But they were nearly as tough as the previous 85 miles had been. I was tired, and sometimes I would slow down almost to a complete stop and just cry because it was so hard. 

By the time I finished, I had been in the saddle, pedaling, for 5.5 hours, and out on the trail for over 7.5. I started at 6:20am and didn't get back to my car until just before 2pm. And I didn't even do the hour run I had scheduled for after the bike. I had planned on a long day, but not that long. I thought I'd be back home and showered and napping by 2pm. From the minute I maybe (probably?) hit that raccoon, nothing went according to plan.

Ben initially did the Couch25k program with me and trained for our first 5k and 10k, and sometimes I run with other people in training or just for fun - and I don't want to diminish that in any way - but 95% of the time, it's just me. I don't have a problem with that, and most of the time, I prefer it. I'm not a very social person and I enjoy the alone time. But 5.5 hours on a bike is a long time to be alone, even for the most introverted of us introverts. It's clear from the amount of cellular data that I used between 6:30am-2pm yesterday that I really, really needed people to get me through.

We all know the saying, "It takes a village," and I knew that would be true for Ironman training, but I didn't know to what extent until Saturday. I knew before I even dared attempt an Ironman that I would at least need one other person to be in it with me - to suffer with me, to celebrate with me, to help me pick up the pieces, to encourage me - but I didn't know just how many people I'd need.
"I didn't know how hard this would be" has been a recurring theme for me throughout this training. I just...didn't know. I knew it would be hard on me physically, but I underestimated how hard it would be on me mentally and emotionally. I underestimated how draining it would be to come straight home from work, eat a quick dinner, work out for 2.5 hours, then go to bed only to wake up to do it all over again. I underestimated how hard it would be to be away from my family during the only free days we get together. I underestimated how hard it would be to say, "No, I can't, I have to work out." But I underestimated how many people I have in my life who understand, and encourage me, and believe in me - even when I don't believe in myself. 

So, if you're reading, thanks. Thanks for helping me get through. Thanks for being a part of my village.


Halfway. Ten weeks. Out of twenty. Beginning on June 6, ending on October 22.

I will no doubt post a summary of my Ironman training when it's all over, but I thought it would be interesting to post one at the halfway point as well and then compare at the end. I'm actually a week late posting this - of course - but only including everything up to the halfway point!

On being halfway: It definitely feels like it. It feels like a million years have passed since I started training, and like I have a million more to go until I get to mid-October. This is the longest training cycle I've ever had at 20 weeks, plus 8 weeks of pre-training if you count that. I guess technically I trained for my first marathon for 7 months, but I was also training for my first Olympic tri so the first 3 months of that we're focused on the tri, then the next 4 were focused solely on the marathon. I havent really have any other races that have been training goals this time, so it's 6 months of focusing on one race at the end. 

Ironman North Carolina Training: Week 6

I am ridiculously behind on my Ironman training recaps, and I had half a mind to let them slip into obscurity, but then I remembered you only get one first Ironman training cycle (and, very possibly, only one, period) and want to document them to the best of my ability. Truthfully, it's been hard to do just about anything other than work and train, so finding the time is hard, but I want to have these memories for better or for worse.

If I Blogged

I would probably start off by complaining about the weather. I complain about the heat every year, but this year I'm really serious! It's gotten so muggy that I've had to give up on walking to work. I started taking the Metro and that was going fine, until I got super sweaty just on my 5-minute walk to the station, and then there were delays so I was going to have to stand in on a hot, stuffy platform for six more minutes waiting for my train. I was already a little late to work and annoyed and hot so I just turned around and walked home. I needed a new change of clothes at that point anyway. Ben offered to drive me that day, and now I've given up on Metro. I've been walking about halfway to the closest bike share station where I can find a bike, and changing into real clothes when I get to work. Have I mentioned that summer is the worst?!

I would also tell you that home ownership is the pits. Actually, no, not home ownership. Getting to live in a place with a washer and dryer, where you can paint the walls and nail as many holes as you want and put up tile on the kitchen backsplash...that's awesome. What's not awesome is when you move away and rent it out, and then your renter moves out and you're left paying the bills for a place you haven't lived in in two years. Especially when you also have an apartment, where you do actually live, that costs almost twice as much as your mortgage. 

And I'd tell you that despite those facts, I bought a new bike! I have a tri bike (the ones with the bars on the front that make you kind of look like you're laying down) that I've had for about 3 years, and I really wasn't planning on getting a new one anytime soon, especially since I just bought a new road bike in April. I've never loved my tri bike, but it's a good bike and there's nothing wrong with it. When I got my road bike I instantly fell in love with it - it just felt so effortless to ride, in a way I've never felt on a bike. It was like a light bulb went off, just like I felt when I first started running in Newtons. Seriously, when it hits you, you know!

I loved my new Cervelo so much that I considered putting aero bars on it and ditching my tri bike altogether - not an ideal solution since tri bikes are actually built a little differently than road bikes, but definitely cheaper than getting a new tri bike. I've also been keeping an eye on the Craigslist bike shop, you know, just to see, and last week I found a great deal on basically my dream bike. I felt super guilty (because money) but I couldn't stop thinking about it and was also having serious FOMO. it's mine. I feel like I'm a million years late to the Cervelo party, but I finally get what all the fuss was about.  

I'd tell you that I use my full, hyphenated last name at work and, you know...I don't hate it. I've always used that as my official name and used Ben's name socially, but I'm starting to use my hyphenated name for more things. 

I'd tell you that I'm thinking about cutting my hair, which wouldn't be notable except that I made w vow to myself to not do anything drastic to it for this entire year. My hair doesn't really grow and I've always envied girls with long hair. And I have a round face so I've always thought that the longer my hair is, the longer and skinnier my face looks. Every few years I manage to grow it out to the length it is now and then I end up cutting it before it actually gets long, so this year I told myself I'd try growing it out past this length just to see what happens. But it's so friggin' hot and it doesn't even look good or healthy because that's just the kind of hair I have, so now I don't know what to do. And because #ironmanlife my biggest deciding factor is what length will be easier to manage for working out. I'm also scared because the last time I got it cut was this time last year and it ended up way shorter than I wanted and it was depressing and I honestly didn't know if it would ever get this long again, and it took forever for it to grow out because my hair grows like an inch a year. So now I'm like ugh, all that worrying and time spent trying to get it back to normal and now I'm just going to chop it off again? But also, when an idea pops into my head I usually can't get it out until I act on it (see: new bike), so I'm not sure if I should just cut my hair or work on my impulse control.

I'd tell you that watching the Democratic National Convention last week made me really emotional. I have been in denial about Obama leaving office, and I am going to miss that whole family so much. He's the only person I've ever voted for in a presidential election. I started following him in the beginning of the 2008 primaries. I volunteered on his first campaign. I had a couple doors shut in my face. I championed for him. I remember growing up I would hear adults talk about elections being a choice between the lesser of two evils, and I feel so lucky to have never had to make that choice. It's so bittersweet to have to say goodbye. 

But by the same token, even though I'm not Hillary's biggest fan, I will gladly vote for her. My heart swelled so much watching our first black president endorse our first female president, and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to vote in yet another historic election. Regardless of gender I think she is far and away the obvious choice, but I will be honest and admit that being able to vote a woman into the presidency does sweeten the deal a little bit.

I'd tell you that my confidence about my impending Ironman is lower than ever. It's been pretty rocky lately, but this weekend I went home for a big two days of training and I came back feeling completely defeated. On Saturday I ran 10 miles in the morning (which you wouldn't know from this blog because I can't keep up with workout recaps, so I've been using Instagram as a mini-blog/training log of sorts) and it went as well as I think it could have. In the afternoon I swam a mile and a half in the Chesapeake Bay while it was raining and it was truly the happiest I have been in a long time. 

Then my Sunday started with a 90-mile ride on my new bike, which honestly was kind of a blur and I'm not sure what else to say about it. It took a long time, even longer because our group's stops are outrageously long, and by the time it was over I felt like toast. Then we went into a 4-mile run during which I felt like literal toast in an oven because it was so friggin' hot. The heat index had gotten up to 96 degrees during our ride (and rose to 99 during the run) and we were out on rural roads with no shade except for the occasional, glorious cloud. Seriously, Ben was with me and he made me say, "Thank you, cloud" out loud in between saying, "I can't do this (Ironman). I really can't," and "This is stupid. Why did you let me sign up for this?" It was the hardest thing I've ever done and I know for a fact if it hadn't been for Ben and my dad and teammates I would have given up. If that had been race day I really don't think I would have crossed the finish line.

I'd tell you that life is hard right now. I'd tell you that I've been writing this post for a week, on my phone, because I only have a few minutes here and there to do non-essential tasks. I'd tell you that I'm finishing it on the trainer at 6am. I'd tell you that I love your comments and tell you that I'm sorry it's taking me weeks to respond to them. And I'd tell you that without this linkup I probably wouldn't have gotten anything up anytime soon, so thanks Kristen and Gretch!