Monday, August 25, 2014

A year of gratitude

Disclaimer: This isn't really running specific. It's mom specific. I did throw mama-hood into my tagline though, so it's totally permissible to talk about mamahood. 

There is, I suppose, a certain amount of background needed since I haven't really completed my section of 'the mom story' on here. It's hard to know how to write that. How much to share. The story is no secret, and if there is one area in my life that I am not sensitive or thin-skinned in, it's the story of how I came to be a single mom. No question fazes me. There are no secrets. That said, it's not a story I run around bombarding people with, unless asked.
Celebrating 30 with my main man

The brief overview is that kidlet's father has never been involved. He has never met kidlet, or had any interaction. For the first 5 years, I didn't receive child support, and he stayed way off the grid. Eventually though, the courts found him and he had a job! They enforced the child support order and suddenly, I had help. At least financially. I was thrilled. We've always gotten by, but that extra every month was definitely a big boost. We were a little bit ahead. It felt like floating, instead of floundering. Eventually, I trusted that income. I made life changes that relied on that income. I took a new job, that was a better fit, but involved a pay cut. I made up for it with that support.
On our own in our first 'home' (not apartment)

On top of that, I was hearing from the father. Not regularly, but he would reach out every few months. I left a guarded invitation to meet Ben at some point, with stipulations, but that was never acted upon. He sent Christmas gifts "from Santa" to help. He sent me occasional Starbucks cards. He was available when I needed information about his elementary years, trying to understand struggles we were facing. It was nowhere near a second parent, but it was someone who was at least making a small effort. Others were skeptical, but I was accepting of this. It was better than nothing.
Mother's Day

A year ago, I reached out for the first time ever to ask for more money. Just a little for school shopping. He agreed but tried to flake out. I was relentless and eventually got my little extra. A few weeks later I had the realization that I hadn't seen my usual check. They arrived twice a month like slightly off-kilter clockwork. I started paying attention to the days ticking by. I reached out via Facebook to the father (simply for the 'read' stamp that comes with those messages.) I grew increasingly anxious. Until the day I finally called my caseworker and she told me the words I feared, "we got notice that he's no longer employed". I felt sick. I hung up the phone, and cried. And cried. And cried some more. The whole evening. For me, it was a storm.

I counted on that. Our lives counted on that. I was brokenhearted. Not only had I lost a large part of my income, but he had taken the most cowardly route in not bothering to tell me what was coming. Not allowing me to prepare myself. I was blindsided, hurt, and afraid. Selfishly, I thought of what I was losing. I realized I shouldn't travel (albeit not far) to my planned marathon. Or pay my coach. Or even race. Or have coffee. I let myself sink into despair that night and cry it out.
Ocean vacation just before the crap hit the fan

But then... an amazing thing, a beautiful thing began to happen. People knew of the struggle. I opened up about my fears, I talked, I vented. I didn't do so with the expectation that people FIX my situation or take care of me. I just needed to talk it out. But people began to do things for us. A family did a food drive and provided us with a bunch of groceries. My incredible running team all came together to entirely take care of my marathon trip/hotel/entry/coffee. When they presented me with this gift, I was speechless and choked up (for a week, at least). Friends contacted me to offer to help in any way that they could. It was the most incredible time in my life of being blessed by others. I've had people come alongside me in the past, but not like this. I can't even list all the ways people gave me a safety net, and peace, every day.
Photo cred:

Slowly, I found my feet. I still felt underlying frustration and anger at the situation, but I had perspective. I did some math. I figured out I could make it work. I knew it was temporary and we would make it until the support came back. I lived in a place of gratitude. I would have drowned without all the family, the friends, the people in my life throwing out life preservers one at a time. With their words, and their acts, and their kind compassion.

Now, it's been a year. I never thought it would go on this long. I try not to dwell on the questions. Is he working under the table? Is he doing this with intent? It makes me angry, and bitter. A year. How far we have come in a year. I have learned so much about gratitude. I have wanted and wished to be able to pay it forward. I try to, when I can, in little ways. Over the last year though, life has changed, and continues to change for the better every day. I don't think constantly about the situation that threatened to derail me anymore. I am (not so humbly) proud of where we are now. We've made it a year. Okay, we've made it 9 years, really. Every day that I am a single mom, I am grateful. For the people in our lives, and how deeply they care for us and love us. And for the people who are not in our lives, and how we are stronger for it. That sometimes absence of things or people, subtraction from our lives leaves space for the addition of so much more.

It's not even about the money, in the end. Although this year, I bought all the school supplies myself, without panicking. I didn't have to do it myself... I could have asked for help, but, I could also do it. It's about the journey to really understanding what it means to be grateful. That asking for any type of help, and accepting that help without apology is okay. It doesn't mean I am weak and incapable when I can't do it alone. That just having the courage to say "I need help" doesn't need to come with guilt or pity.

So we've made it a year. And what a difference that year has made in our lives. We are physically in a better place, that I couldn't have dreamed of living in. We are emotionally in a better place, with people in our lives who love us. My guard over the last year, the wall of protection, has been breached. A lot. Okay, it's basically laying in rubble. And I had done some damn good construction. People tore it down and held my hand, carried me when I needed it, and never left my side.
My life motto 

So here is to another year of continuing to live in a place of gratitude, grace, joy and most importantly, in the present moment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em

But how do you know?

This post could be pretty real, raw, and whiny. All of that emotion brought to you by Barefoot Moscato.

Let's start at the beginning... which I think takes us back to Eugene 2013. I went into that race well trained, ready to chase a big goal, and suffered a week of setbacks prior to race day. I accepted any potential outcome and released my goals. I raced well, all things considered, but still took it hard. I came home, recovered from the dehydration (wow, that takes time! And countless jars of pickles...) took some downtime, then found a coach, and began the preparation for my fall marathon in Tri-Cities. My coach was tough, and very talented. She pushed me hard and I saw huge leaps in some areas, but struggled in others. Particularly the long run. I was honest with her, but we didn't quite mesh, and she continued to push, with me crawling through runs, crying, and suffering repeated knocks to my confidence. I didn't see it then, but I was over-trained and burned out. I ran a terrible (for me) race, barely convincing myself to finish and spent weeks afterward with an IT band injury. I was done. My pursuit of the Boston qualifier and PR was over for now. I had no desire to run the marathon again for a long while, and I accepted that and set different goals once I returned from my injury.

Fast forward to April. Watching the coverage of the Boston Marathon, and Meb's beautiful race and the goosebumps that I felt when he won lit that fire again. The marathon, like that ex who texts you just when you think you are over them, came calling again. When my friend emailed me that she had signed up for Portland, it didn't take much (okay ANY) work to persuade me to sign up too. I was ready. I was tired of my lower volume training and eager to work hard, build up, and go for it. I shifted my perspective from the outcome, the finish time and instead focused on goals within the cycle (certain mileage peak week, certain paces for my speedwork splits). Things were going just swimmingly. The build up was going flawlessly, I was feeling strong, and I was making improvements.

Then there was the Missoula half. I went in with the expectation that I was strong enough to race a PR. There were other factors at play by the time I lined up on race morning that impacted the outcome, but it was the first domino. After 5 miles of the race, even though I was spot on for my A goal pace, I turned off my watch and just ran. I was completely apathetic. Sometimes I would push, other times I cruised. I was annoyed to be out there running at all. I wanted to be done. It was uncomfortable, but not hard. I was in it, but not. Around mile 8-9 I walked through an aid station eating my gel. Just... walking along, not caring. After that, in the morning heat, I walked through every aid station after that as well. Sipping my water and then carrying on. People would pass me and I would let them go. I would pass people, and not feel a spark. I just ran along, willing myself to the line. I finished, in 1:43.02-my second fastest. In hindsight, if I hadn't walked through all those aid stations, I would have PR-ed. Old Monica would feel frustrated, upset, and beat herself up over it. I simply accepted the time and that was it. I was numb to the race.
Post Missoula. Beers because. With RocketCityRun and Alyssa

A few weeks later, I reached moving day. Packing up 5 years of my life with kidlet wore on me, and by Friday, I skipped my run. A 9 mile tempo workout. I skipped Saturday as well to move. That was a long day and took it's toll on me, and I simply didn't want to work running into my schedule. Then... I skipped Sunday. A long run. I did put in an hour bike ride, but that's not the same now is it? Although being on the bike filled me with joy.
Bye North Spokane. There was no running, and tons of caffeine this day.

Since moving day, I have struggled to capture my drive. I have completed workouts well, strong, hitting my paces, or exceeding them. I've also skipped some runs, because I am not a morning runner, and the heat in the afternoons was too much, and by evening, I just didn't want to do it. I set out a few times in tears just not wanting to go. I would get over it, and nail the workout, and feel better, but the next day... down again.

I raced the CDA scenic sprint and was completely ecstatic the WHOLE day!! I smiled so hard the whole time. I was full of my old spirit and couldn't stop talking about HOW MUCH FUN I had had, and how great I felt about the day. I expected it to carry over into training. It sort of did, but then, my achilles tendon flared up. Mid run. With no sign it was even aggravated until I was 5 miles from home and was walk/run/cursing it the whole way back. I took the next day off, then ran again, feeling good again. I committed to the Huckleberry festival 5k in my boyfriend's hometown. I went into that race with the intent to win. I've never shown up to a race stating, out loud, that I wanted the win. I felt strong the whole race, hovering probably 20 ish seconds behind the 3 lead men (boyfriend included) for the first half. The second half is a gradual downhill, and the men opened up a bigger lead but I still finished 3rd overall, 40 seconds behind the boyfriend who defended his overall win title, and 20 seconds behind another fellow. I was giddy. Again, I felt like maybe this would be the boost to light the fire for Portland again.

The next day I was scheduled for 18 miles. I didn't sleep well the night before and pushed it to an afternoon run. My sister was here as I was preparing to leave and I grabbed all my gear and headed downstairs. Wouldn't you know, I slipped off the top step from my upper level of the house and fell down to the landing. I landed on my ass, made some weird corrections, tweaked a shoulder, a wrist, and landed on my stomach, narrowly missing a table corner. No run. No walking. Just icing my butt and assessing the damage. By the next morning, I was struggling to take deep breaths, and my entire back, neck, sides, everything hurt. I went to urgent care and had to have x-rays. Fortunately nothing was broken or fractured. I was given a shot of painkiller, muscle relaxers and super duty ibuprofen and sent home to recover from whiplash and other pain. The first day was horrible. Yesterday was better, and I was moving normally again but still feeling sore and limited in my range of motion with headaches and nausea. Today I felt sore but functional. I could have run. I should have run. But, I didn't. I got dressed, and my garmin was dead. I cried, I took off my shoes, and I didn't run. I didn't want to anyway. And I felt guilty and distressed at that.
"I love racing! This is so fun!! MORE!" why can't I capture this?!

And that's what scares me the most. I am not used to this kind of apathy toward training. I usually want to run. Nope, not right now. I want to ride my bike, a lot. I put in 30 miles Saturday after the 5k because I just didn't want to get off my bike. I only stopped because I was hungry! I WANT to run, in a way. But I don't, because I am scared of what this last month means for Portland. My mileage has not just dipped, it has gone down like the Titanic. My goals feel impossible. My coach asked me if my apathy stemmed from the fact that maybe I have already written off Portland and allowed IMCDA to take over my brain. At first, it did. When I signed up, it was ALL I could think about. I still think about it a lot, and cannot wait to take on the training... but no. That's not it. I didn't write Portland off when that came along. I was still in it. So why am I not now? And the harder questions... do I keep going? I have missed two critical long runs, and several other important training runs. I have had some setbacks, which happen, and it's possible to move past these... but do I want to? Do I race Portland with no expectations? Do I accept that it could be a personal worst (okay, unlikely) or nowhere near the day I want? Do I just run? Do I keep trying to find my spark?

What do you do when training takes on a bleak feel and you can't find that joy?

How do you move past the setbacks and trust your training?

How do you readjust your goals for a race? 

Monday, August 11, 2014

The long road to ironman

So yeah, I kind of wrote a handful of posts, threw out a huge "signed up for ironman!!" announcement and then went off the grid. Life got crazy. From IM weekend, til now, it felt like there was barely a weekend free.

Quick life recap: 4th of July fun, Missoula half marathon/getaway with mom-friend Alyssa, Seattle weekend with my ironman and kidlet (amazing and much needed), then we moved our whole life a whopping 30-40 minutes from where we lived, but to a whole new community (freaking awesome new location!!), one weekend of downtime, and then my first sprint tri in 2 years! Does that sum it all up? I should recap some of the fun that happened in those weekends, but I probably won't. So let's just start with the tri!

After I registered for IMCDA, I figured it might be smart to get in a little refresher before the summer ends, and more importantly, get my face into the open water at least once before next May! My favorite sprint fell on the weekend I was moving. The first time I did it was the day after I moved into my old house... so it wasn't unrealistic really, but not ideal. The ironman raced it, so I was still up at the crack of dawn after moving day to go cheer! God bless quad shot espressos. Just sayin. But when my friend Alyssa decided impulsively to sign up for the CDA scenic sprint, it didn't take much to talk me into it. The CDA Scenic Challenge has previously been only an olympic distance and boasts a challenging-hence the name-bike course. I  lack a lot of confidence, not to mention fitness, on the bike, so the olympic wasn't up my alley. However, a sprint? I could get on board for that. It still contained some decent hills. In fact, it was essentially the run course from the CDA 1/2 marathon I ran in May. I have an irrational fear that even in my granny gear, I will lose all momentum on a climb, roll backward, crash and die. But, I bit the bullet and signed up. The ironman decided to race the olympic, and he signed kidlet up for the kid's tri (his first)!!

My training prior to the race included a good amount of running, since I'm training for the Portland Marathon. I put in approximately 3 swims, but none since early July. I also got in 3 rides in 2 weeks after a lovely teammate gave me her old aero bars for my bike. So, with a whopping 3000 yds total swimming, and 48 miles on the bike (all flat) I was extremely anxious about how it would go. I set zero expectations. Well, I had a loose goal of 1:40 for my finish time, and the plan to make it as far through my race as possible before my boyfriend could catch me on course.

Race morning we were all up around 4:30. I didn't sleep much the night before... I would guess MAYBE 2 hours total due to a plethora of reasons. I was puffy eyed and congested when I woke up (well that sounds like I cried all night. I didn't. I was just exhausted). But, I popped in my headphones and turned on music trying to psych up for the race. Transition opened at 5:30, with the olympic race starting at 7:10 and my wave of the sprint was not until 8:05. For breakfast, I had a nutritional shake (generic brand ensure) and eventually a banana. We got all the adult bikes (our friend JJ was also racing the sprint) and kidlet's into the truck and headed out around 5:30. I love triathlon. There's so much morning prep involved, but it's just more fun to prepare for in the morning than a straight road race.
Alyssa and I battling our nerves! 
We met Alyssa and her mom at the parking lot where she was waiting with coffee I asked her to pick up. Bless this woman. We got our gear, pumped tires and headed in to be marked and set up our transitions. I set up next to Alyssa, and we chatted out our nerves and I made several trips to the porta-potties due to a really sketch stomach. We eventually cleared out of transition, and headed toward the water. The lake was choppy, and my nerves were increasing. This race was 1/100,000th of the IMCDA distance I will face next year, and staring out over the same venue was wake up call. The ironman warmed up and then after a quick good luck kiss he hit the water for his race and I wriggled into my borrowed wetsuit for the first time in years. Note to self: new wetsuit. I obsessively body glided my neck and we watched the lead olympic racers come out of the water. Once the ironman was out, we headed down to the beach to warm up. Alyssa wasn't getting in beforehand, so JJ and I got into the water. It was warm as bathwater. I waded out and started to swim and was immediately surprised by the comfort level. I didn't have any panic about being in open water and despite the waves smacking me in the face each breath, I felt immediately better about the odds of completing the swim. It sounds silly but it was truly a concern for me.

Gotta love mom photography. Ready to swim!

The race swim is 500 yds, clockwise in a triangle. When our wave was up, nobody was really moving forward so I found myself in the front row of the swimmers as we waited. I am not a fast swimmer, but I stayed put and told myself to just go for it! As the start sounded, I ran in like I knew exactly what I was up to and as soon as the others began to swim, I followed suit. I took off fast-for me, and my breathing was immediately ragged. I breathed to the right every stroke (in the pool, I can breathe bilaterally, but to stay calm in open water, I tend to breathe every time to the right, until I calm down) and didn't feel any sense of panic! This was new!! People passed me, but I wasn't feeling jostled, or like I was being dropped. I sighted a few times and green caps were plentiful ahead of me, but I was holding my own and even attempted to 'stay on feet' although I really have no idea how. Once I realized we were turning to the shore, I eagerly picked up my pace. I'm sure my swim was akin to a drunken crab, and will require a lot of work, but I made it out of the water feeling really pleased and calm. I got goggles off, unzipped the wetsuit, pulled it down to my waist on my way through the run to transition and cap off. Every step was smooth which shocked me. I expected to wrestle the suit, slip and fall in the grass, any number of unfortunate outcomes. But I made it to my bike feeling like I had my wits about me!
Thanks to Alyssa's mom for this pic. Swim exit is not flattering is it?

Time: 10:35

T1: 1:39

I got the rest of the suit off my feet without much difficulty, and without having to sit! I got my shoes on and strapped, helmet on and clipped, shoved a packet of Honey Stinger chews (cherry blossom) into my top and grabbed Baby off the rack! I trotted cautiously to the mount line and came to a complete stop to shakily mount and take off!

Heading out with Baby - photo and apparently editing done by kidlet?!

The course was 13 miles (or 14.53 per Garmin but I'm not complaining!) out and back. The course rides through downtown CDA and then out along the lake. It's gorgeous. I told myself to sit up for at least a mile until my breathing regulated. I also waited about that long before drinking a little. I had one bottle of Osmo on my bike (this stuff is amazing, and I'm loving it so far in my testing for nutrition). In my past (also wildly undertrained) races, I am passed by everyone on the bike. Everyone. Oh, kids with training wheels? They fly by me. So I was surprised to find myself passing cyclists as we wove out of town. Once we were out, on the first gradual uphill I stayed in aero and continued to reel in athletes, just waiting for the athletes behind me to fly by. After we pass the back side of the resort, it is a subtle downhill and then a flat stretch to Bennett Bay Hill. I just peddled what felt like a good cadence, drank every 2 miles or so, ate a few chews here and there and never stopped smiling! I was having a BLAST! As we came around the bend to the hill I'd been fearing I lowered my gears and sat up and told myself to just stay steady. I passed a few cyclists up the hill and felt pretty good. I was moving well for me. I never once looked at the speed on my watch so I just rode on effort. Once we reached the top, I worked up the nerve to get into aero and 'fly' down the backside!! Again, more smiling. We cruised down, turned around in the parking lot at Higgins point and began the ride back. It is a longer more gradual return up the hill, and a steeper descent. I continued feeling strong, chasing athletes, and smiling my ass off. We flew down Bennett Bay which is a little rough and I hit a few bumps that scared me but I just held on and rode it out. We followed the road back into town, and while I was excited to run, I didn't really want the ride to end. We merged with the olympic distance athletes coming off their extended loop and I did some quick math at that point figuring out where my ironman might be on the course. Per my math, he was about to the run, which I think was correct, or at least close. We cruised back into town and I was still riding strong and loving life. As I passed a volunteer through town I got a discrete "chick them!" as I went by. I did. If it sounds braggy that's not the point. I am not sure in the history of cycling I have ever passed other riders, and not had every racer fly by me as if I am walking my bike. So to ride strong, and handle the hills I had feared much better than expected filled me with excitement and joy! I chatted with or cheered for other athletes the whole ride, and thanked as many volunteers as I could on course. I came around the last corner to transition, hollered at my mom and dismounted my bike.

Time: 46:43/19mph per Garmin

T2: 1:05

I quickly racked Baby, got out of my shoes and into my beyond old Brooks ST-5 racers. My beloved orange and blue pair were retired after last fall's marathon, but as they are my only shoes with speed laces, I pulled them out for a 5k. I also tossed on my bright yellow Montana moose trucker hat that I picked up coming home from Missoula so that I would stand out. I clipped on my number belt, tucked in my tank and headed off. I came out of transition confused, and headed out the 'swim in' path. I was quickly corrected, but those couple seconds would haunt me later.

Best. Kit. Ever. Looooove Coeur. And a great final race to retire my Brooks for real.

The run was a 5k out and back through City Park, along the "dike road" toward Riverstone and back. The 10k also went that way, so it was impossible to know who I was chasing and who I wasn't. My breathing was obnoxiously labored while I adjusted to the run. Again I didn't check my watch and just tried to move. I checked when each split beeped off but that was it. First mile was 7:14 and just after that I passed a woman with 30 on her calf and tried to stay ahead of her. We ran past the sewage plant and I willed myself not to gag. At the turnaround, I told the volunteer "God bless you!" in relief and headed back. I was behind two 16 year old girls. One immediately took off, and the other stayed just ahead of me for the rest of the next mile. Mile 2 clocked in at 7:18 and by now, my quads were screaming! The hilly (to me) ride had gotten to me, and that spot right above my knees in my quad muscles?! Holy cow it was knotting and I was worried I might eat it. Just before the park I passed the 16 year old, but once we reached the park, and less than a quarter mile to go, she passed me back and began her kick. I said good job as she passed, but I was worried about my legs. Mile 3 was 7:27, and I finally found the next gear and trusted my legs wouldn't seize up and leave me face-planting so I kicked too. I didn't catch the youngun ahead of me, but I ran in strong to the finish! Final .16 was 6:24 pace, thanks for playing nice, legs!

Run: 23:02

In the end, I finished in 1:23.03 which blew all of my expectations out of the water. If I hadn't taken that minor detour out the wrong path, I might have pulled off a sub-23 run, which was the only thing in the run I could even complain about. Or maybe if I had just trusted my legs a little more in the last mile. It's hard to compare any sprint races due to varying distances in each discipline, but this was a 5k PR for my triathlon racing by over a minute.

The icing on the cake was finding out I was 4th woman overall, and had won my age group! What?? I was beyond giddy (...but what if I hadn't let that 16 year old outkick me. Nope, no what ifs. I ran my day).
Huckleberry ale and a first place medal. Things I don't normally have! 

Anyone who knows me knows I finish most run races complaining or disappointed in something. I was ALL smiles after this race, and couldn't stop saying how awesome it was and how much fun I had. That's my standard reaction after every triathlon I've ever participated in, which is a big indicator to me that I am heading in the right direction with switching my focus to triathlon a little more. I love it so much! I was so stoked that the entire day felt so smooth. I was worried about so many little things that could go wrong, and considering how unprepared I was for this, I felt like it was the best possible day I could have had. I had run a solid amount of faster than usual miles in the week before and yet my legs came to play. The bike especially surprised the hell out of me. I felt like I was in my element, which is something I never feel in a triathlon bike leg.

The rest: I raced in the Coeur chevron kit which was love at first wear (NO ANGRY KITTY! Those shorts are the best thing that I've ever worn on the bike and run ever). The top rode up on me, due to my 'narrow' waist and hips that don't lie. But after I reached out with sizing questions, Coeur and Kebby responded with so much enthusiasm and friendliness to help me get the right fit to avoid the ride up! The moose hat was the size of a bucket, sure, but I loved it.

Then I got to see ironman finish his race, and we ate some free BBQ, had our post race free brews, and then watched kidlet race. This was the cutest thing I've ever seen, and I think he smiled as hard as I did all day. He was hooked immediately, and watching my ironman, and our friend JJ and my mom cheer Ben on was one of those things that just melts your insides into sappy pieces of sunshine. It was an amazing day.
Moose on the loose and her triathlete dudes. 

Cannot wait to begin my Ironman journey now that I have reminded myself just how much I love triathlon!!