Saturday, October 26, 2013

What Do Circles and Ducks Have In Common?

There is something that I have been needing to write about but couldn't figure out quite what I was needing to say.  I think I know the question, though I am sure it will be a long time before I find an answer.

The problem?  I lack a point.

Now I know you think "Duck, after 237 posts, you are worried about having a point now?!!"

Not that kind of a point.  I can, AND WILL, ramble on to my heart's content whether or not I make an ounce of sense from now until eternity.  This page is mine to torture as I wish.  No, I mean something else.

My training.  My training lacks a point.  It lacks a purpose.  It lacks an identity.  More precisely, I lack these things right now.

When I was training hard with certain triathlon goals in mind, it became easy to make the hard decisions.  Want pizza? Eat a salad.  Want to veg out in front of the computer? Get your ass out there and run in the rain. Get up early to train, keep an intense pace at work so you can get done early enough to get sleep and get up with enough time to train tomorrow.  Don't make a mistake in time management on Thursday that will cost you on Saturday.  Push when you want to coast. Make sure that session is your best effort, whether that means trying your best to keep it aerobic or tasting pennies on a really hard session.  Finishing each hard workout sharp while visualizing a finish line and asking yourself "is that all you've got?" "Is that your final answer?".  Taking the bad days and muddling through the miserable runs because this is how you get better.  Checking your ego at the door of every workout so that you can be totally honest with yourself.  These moments?  These are what I love, what makes it all worth it.

What do I do? What do I do?
That is where these two come in.
Mine shoulder space is occupied by The Blerch (thank you Matthew Inman!)on one side,
and The Honey Badger (MBE, one bad ass badass) on the other.
That type of thinking, those efforts, brought out the best in me.  They let me find a better person inside myself. Of course, I race to get the rush that is inevitable in that scenario but that is secondary.  I do it to provide a vehicle for the day to day development of myself as an athlete and by proxy, a human being.  It is reinforcement for the fact that I AM an athlete and not someone just playing "pretend".  Competing is the dividing line between a hobbyist and an athlete for me.

Now there is nothing wrong with being a hobbyist.  But the hobbyist has different motivations.  So long as they are fit and lean enough to enjoy themselves and be healthy, then there is no reason to make the hard choices.  You do the parts that are fun and leave the rest.  But here's the snag, self-improvement (regardless of the vehicle- for me it's sports, for you it may be totally different) is not a fun, pain-free process.  It is taking the whole of your experiences and not just cherry-picking the enjoyable parts.

I've never been very good at training just for training's sake.  It's all fine when the sun is shining but it's not enough to get me out the door when I am tired or lazy or the weather is bad.  It won't get me to bed early or ordering the salmon plain but as a triathlete with certain races on the calendar, I would do that and more.  I had a strong vision of how I needed to develop to reach my goals.  Even if a race wasn't imminent, I understood how each thing I did advanced me towards my long term goals and realized vision.  It kept me on track.  I understood how to find balance.  I knew when I could relax the discipline and when I couldn't.  In spite of numerous running injuries thwarted substantial progress, I felt connected with what I was doing.

Then this fall I made the decision to give up trying on the run.  It was a calculated, intelligent decision.  My body's resistance to the run training, due in part to the fact that my physical attributes are the OPPOSITE of what you want in a runner, had hampered my ability to get fit in any of the three sports.  In spite of being more precise in those workouts than any other type, I had seen a plateau and had started what seemed to be a slow decline in fitness and speed.  I felt like the only way to salvage any part of this was to remove the elements that were (for one reason or another), placing more drag on my progress than I could overcome.  Eliminate the run (and swim).  Essentially, turn around and try to make some progress with the wind at my back for a change.

My doc is thrilled. My legs are thrilled.  My coach is on board with the experiment (I don't think he sees this as quitting).  I immediately started seeing a response out of my body as I stopped trying to drag it down a road that it is not made to travel.  Oh, and that hip that had been stubbornly refusing to improve cleared right up.  I am spending more time doing what I really love, the fact that I don't constantly hurt, the fact that cycling by design includes a degree of social interaction that is typically scarce in my life.  In other words?  It is fun.  The people are amazing!  It also comes naturally.  I will most likely be more competitive in this as a solo sport because it is the only area where I have an ounce of talent (provided I am willing to put in the work).  If I can train consistently without being chronically injured, I can finally push past that plateau and get to a new level of fitness (though admittedly I'm going to be sporting the world's largest quads within a month or two.)

Did I say a months? I meant weeks... or minutes.
Running was the only thing keeping these in check.
Basically, I'm never going to fit into jeans again.

This was my idea.  THIS IS WHAT I WANTED!

But there is no trace of that shiny, happy athlete forging ahead with her fitness, breaking new ground in skills and social connections, preparing for a season of crushing souls in the cycling world.  I'm in a total tailspin.

I have never done a straight cycling event other than a time trial.  I have no races on the calendar to lock onto, defining the skills and fitness goals.  Right now, I am aiming in the dark.  And what I walked (limped??) away from is the only thing I can see.

Everything in my twitter feed, my friends, real and online, the blogs I follow, the books I have on my kindle... all of them are inundating me with images of people fighting through the hardship to cross that finish line.  It is especially true now with Kona and Longhorn in the same month.  Everyone of those makes me feel like crap.  I have stopped reading them, looking at pictures, even at times struggled to wish my friends who are racing good luck.  I suddenly feel like I am staring at what used to be my reality from behind a pane of glass.  I have found myself getting bitter towards people who do everything wrong yet seem to glide through the process unscathed.  Damn them and their forgiving bodies!! I have turned into the grumpy cat of triathlon.

Thinking of quitting?
The world is full of motivators like this...
To which I say:
Did I mention I was grumpy?

So what's the problem?  I gave up.  I walked away from the fight.  I walked away from the sport that had started to make up the "walls" of my world.  Yes, there is the intention of gaining fitness, losing weight, and returning stronger than before... but let's get real.  I reached a breaking point and I made a choice.  I quit.  And at the moment, with no other well defined goals or plans, that is the only thing written on those wall right now.  I quit in a sport where the one true win is not quitting.

More motivation:
Quitting is not an option,
I don't know how to settle this with myself and it shows in everything that I do.  I have no focus, no vision of how things will look in 6 months or a year, no idea what I am doing. The result? Well, that has shown up on the scale.  It's shown up in my drive.  It's shown up in the fact that even rooting for a friend at the race this weekend seems like the hardest thing in the world.  Oh, and did I mention that it has shown up on the scale?  I did?  Well, it's shown up enough to be worth saying twice.

Each time I try to challenge myself to do better, it all comes down to one question.

What the Hell am I doing here?

I need to find the point.

There.  It's out.  It's what is really bugging me.  But since I can't solve this today, I'll do what I always do....

Go ride my bike.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Giant Screws, Giant Spiders, and One Dirty Duck!

I have been ducking my blogging duties (pun possibly intended) because when I have big things on my mind, I tend to clam up.  Since I prefer to compare myself to water foul rather than seafood, I decided I had better remedy this.

While I have milled about pondering my future in triathlon, specifically that portion of triathlon that stands between my beloved bike and the finish line, I have been riding... a lot.  And with an increase in riding often comes an increase in the associated obstacles: in this case, flat tires and mechanical failures.

It all started with Big C getting his chain link panties in a wad.  By wad, I mean this:
Chain link panties all wadded up!

Can you see the keeper wedged into the links?
Not how that is supposed to look!

I had to call a friend for a ride home for the first time in my riding career.  Well, I shouldn't have gotten too comfy with that idea since one of the downsides to my lifestyle is that unless I am at a horse show, it is unlikely that I would be anywhere near a friend to call. Fortunately, this little mechanical happened during a show and I called my friend who is best known as Wilbur's beloved Auntie D (who has one wicked throwing arm!).  Auntie D, who is in the process of remaking herself in the image of a cyclist, came to my rescue since Big C had told me where I could stuff it.

That little mechanical was like the first big raindrops before the deluge begins.

Next, I went for a group ride on Little C and  three blocks into the ride, picked up a screw.  Not just any screw but the screw you would want Cerebus' chain bolted to while you are stealing his breakfast.  It was a really big screw.  I was of course riding with the shop guys for the first time and wearing my shiny new (WHITE) team kit for the first time.  No pressure.  I hadn't had to change a flat in so long, I was all thumbs.  Well, that got changed and I was suitably mortified.  Then (and possibly because of this), my breathing went south and I decided that today was not my day.  I peeled off from the group and rode home.  Later that day, I rode solo and put down a confidence boosting effort.
THIS big!! I swear!!

Two days later, I went out on Little C again.  I knew it was going to be raining but I reminded myself that I don't melt and I can't choose the weather on race day.  I kicked myself out the door.

Like water off a duck's back, right??

 I was about halfway home on an out and back when I rolled through standing water on a bridge and both tires immediately ruptured.  I changed my flats but the front was not holding air.  I would later find a tiny shred of embedded glass that was only apparent when the tire was stretched inside out.  I was now out of tubes.  I rode a few minutes before the front was totally flat again, added more CO2, and repeated... until the CO2 was also gone.  Then I started walking.

And I walked.  7 miles... SEVEN... as in more than a 10K... 7 miles home in cleats.. with no socks... and wet feet.  About 2/3 of the way home when I saw blood coming up over the edges of the shoes, I found a cotton plant growing wild on the roadside.  On a whim, I picked the wad of cotton and stuffed it in my shoes to protect the shredded parts of my feet.  I don't think it really worked but it made for a good story.
No kidding.  Wild cotton.
I am Mac-effing-gyver!

I made it home covered in a pretty spectacular amount of road grim but otherwise in one piece.  My cleats were not so fortunate and were replaced the next day.
Road grime at it's finest!

A couple of days later, I showed up to a Tuesday morning group ride on Wednesday morning... yeah, one of those days... and decided to tackle the hills of West Austin solo.  The first road hazard I encountered on this ride was a spider.  A big spider. A spider so large and creepy that I would have thrown myself into traffic to avoid it.  I didn't realize that tarantulas went cruising down the side of the highways in Texas but now I know.  Big.  BIG... ENORMOUS... tarantula.  You cannot imagine how creepy they are when they crawl because unlike little spiders, you see every articulated movement.  ***shiver***
It most likely looked like this...

...but I saw this...

...and did this!
Later,  as I was crossing highway 360, which is a huge road and getting across is no joke, I encountered the next hazard of the day.  I made it into the left turn lane to cross traffic and turn around, when suddenly the bike went bumpity-bump-bump.  ANOTHER damn flat.  This time it was a nail and I was now stuck in what I would not consider to be a very safe place.  (Forget the cars, what if there was another spider!!)  I stood on the median of a major highway and changed that sucker.  The number of people, both on bikes and in cars (mostly with bikes on the back) that holler to me to make sure I didn't need help was a credit to Austinites and cyclists in general.

Flat no. 5: much better than spiders.
And finally, to round out a nice schedule from coach Brain, I did the Austin 70.3 course with a group.  In keeping with tradition, I missed a turn (not paying attention) and did part of the course backwards.  I also got a flat tire.  This time it was a microscopic bit of wire that was almost undetectable, except for the air hissing out around it.

Wilbur and I both like to sport cat 4 tattoos!
That flat rounded out the total at 6 flats in 9 days.  I really shouldn't publish this right now since my next move is to go ride my bike.  But I can't resist the opportunity to tempt fate!