Monitor and adjust

One of the first things you learn when you are a teacher is the concept of “monitor and adjust.” It is precisely what it sounds like – you monitor what is happening with the lesson and adjust things if necessary.  Well the same concept holds true for life – it is essential to monitor what is happening in life and adjust things accordingly.

I set out to complete an Olympic Triathlon months and months ago.  I registered, I started a blog, bought a new “cool” swimsuit, and began training… but life threw me a few curve balls these past few months and I find myself having to monitor and adjust. The reality of my spring and summer left me feeling tired and really without too much free time to spend training. As a single parent I now have even less time for training so I have had to monitor and adjust.  In 11 days I’ll complete the Portland Triathlon, but it will be a sprint, not an Olympic. I hemmed and hawed over the decision but the clincher was when my good friend (who recently won the Aluminum Man triathlon – yay!) reminded me that a mile-long open water swim was “the real deal” and it would suck to be pulled from the water by a race official in a kayak.  So alas, I switched my registration and am looking forward to a great race. The new goal is to beat my best time and I’m feeling confident about that.

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The power of a best friend is not to be underestimated…

You may know that I ran the Spartan NW race last month and if you saw my knees after the race you undoubtedly heard descriptions of the race and my experience. If you didn’t get to see my raw, bloody knees or hear about the race, let me explain the Spartan.  First of all running is not the central theme.  Obstacles that make you hurt are the central theme. The race was (I think) 4 miles and the obstacles ranged from fun/scary to strength testing, to plain torture.  There was the GIANT slip-n-slide made from Visqueen placed on the steep side of a mountain that ended in a PIT of mud; the concrete block hooked to a piece of chain that you had to drag uphill and downhill; the countless walls that needed to be scaled – ranging in height from 6 feet to 12 feet; there were also the classic standards like monkey bars, rope climbing, a climbing wall, and spear chucking.  My least favorite, but what I was surprisingly good at was the UPHILL football field long mud-crawl which was covered in barbed wire to ensure racers were on their bellies!  If a racer couldn’t successfully complete an obstacle on the first attempt they had to do 30 Burpees in order to continue.   If you know what a Burpee is you’re already groaning because you know how they feel.  If you don’t know I’ll try to explain – stand with your feet together, now bend down, place your hands on the ground and jump your feet back so that you are in a push up. Now jump your feet back up toward your hands and then jump up to standing.  Repeat 29 more times.  If you read this and you think this is no biggie, actually go and do this 30 times before you read on.

The most difficult part of the WHOLE race (including the wall of fire I had to jump through) was actually pretty simple and really close to the end.  It started with a chest-deep mud pit racers jumped into and waded across. On the far side was this plywood structure – imagine a steep, inverted V about 10 feet tall with ropes hanging over the edge.  The idea was to grab a rope and use both your arms and legs to pull yourself up and over… however the ENTIRE obstacle (including the ropes) were COVERED in liquid dishwashing soap. The ropes, the wood, me, everything was coated in soap and super slippery…  I was behind Kim as we approached it and I watched her go up and over.  It honestly didn’t look that hard. Optimistically, I grabbed the rope and was immediately slipping and sliding all over the ramp!  I finally got pretty close to the top and my feet slipped out from underneath me so I slid back down toward the mud pit.  Fortunately I was able to stop mid-slide and worked my way up to the top again – I did NOT want to have to do 30 Burpees (I’d already done Burpees at three events). At this point Kim came back around and she (along with the two race officials) are cheering me on! “GO TRACI! You can DO this!!!” I started working my way back up and was almost to the top when my arms started to give out. Dammit. The guy in charge of the event told Kim to go to the other side and pull me over, so she did – she scampered up the other side, reached over and grabbed my arm to pull me up but I was COVERED in soap and mud so we both kept slipping.  Finally, I looked up at Kim and I said “Just let me go! I’ll be okay! Just LET ME GO!!! I’ll do the Burpees!” She looked into my eyes and said “NO! Do NOT give up! I will NOT let you go! You are NOT going down there! You are not doing more Burpees!”  Well of course the melodrama of our dialogue hit us and we start laughing, but we are still holding on. At this point three fellow (unknown) Spartan racers came up behind me, recognized my struggle and literally push/pulled me over the top.   On the other side one of them said “No one should have to do more Burpees this close to the end.”

I got over that obstacle because of Kim’s stubborn belief that I could conquer it and her unyielding help when I was ready to give up (okay ya, the brute strength of my three fellow races also helped).  Friends, best friends, believe in us a lot more than we often believe in ourselves. They see things in us that we can’t or won’t see.  They buoy us up when we can longer stay afloat. They push us along when we want to stop. They keep us hanging on until more help arrives. They are both a life raft, saving us when we need to be saved; and a light house, directing us away from dangerous terrain.  They do everything in their power to keep us from having to do extra Burpees.

The power of best friends is not be underestimated.  I am not really religious, but I am spiritual and I thank god every day (lately) for the strength I get from my three best friends and the guidance they give me.  I think my girlfriends are a gift from God, and come to think of it maybe they are… perhaps God realized right away that women are a lot of work and he could lighten his load a little if he made women “demi-angels” to one another…   I know mine have earned their wings these past few months and without them I don’t know where I’d be right now. 

Life is a lot like a Spartan Race.  It isn’t about running as fast as possible from one obstacle to the next just to be done.  Life is an obstacle course and the things we face run the gamut from fun/scary to testing our strength to pure torture.  In the Spartan I had one of my best friends by my side the whole way and I’m not sure how I would have done if she wasn’t there.  Even when we got to the end and were faced with jumping over a wall of fire (literally), I froze a little bit but Kim just looked at me and said “Let’s just go. Don’t think about it, just GO!”  

Life is a lot like a Spartan Race and if you’re lucky you’ll face life’s obstacles with best friends by your side.  Best friends who believe in you; and push you; and look into your eyes and stubbornly demand that you keep going.  If you’re lucky, you’ll have best friends who will jump through life’s fires with you. 

What moves you?

Disclaimer: This started out as an entry about the playlist on my i-pod but somehow became something else…

Stagnation.   What an ugly word. Seriously. Beyond being ugly, what is it? And more importantly why do I care about that word in this blog?  Not to worry, this is not a monologue about a pile of running clothes that need laundering or a forgotten water bottle at the bottom of my gym bag (though both exist).  This is about one idea: WHAT MOVES YOU? If you are not moving you are risking stagnation. My good friend Google gave me the following definitions of stagnation:

  • ceasing to run or flow
  • a foulness or staleness
  • a failure to develop, progress, or advance
  • the state or quality of being or feeling sluggish and dull

Would you EVER want any aspect of you or your life characterized this way? So I ask again, WHAT MOVES YOU? What keeps you fresh? What makes you advance and develop? In what areas of your life are you developing? How are you actively working against becoming sluggish and dull?   Of course I ask myself these same questions too – usually when I am 2/3 the way through a pool workout or staring at the distance counter on my treadmill as my feet pound away on the belt… yes, usually when I have NOTHING better to think about.  But it’s a good question and often ignored in the buzz of day to day demands.  Seriously, who has time to contemplate this when you are putting wet clothes in the dryer, making a lunch, prepping a dinner, signing a permission slip, breaking up an argument, applying a band aid, feeding the dog, replying to a text and brushing your teeth all at the same time? Yes, I just described yesterday morning…  Despite all of these demands stagnation will throw a GIANT roadblock in your life if you don’t address it.  Stagnation is a slow, creeping enemy. It isn’t going to pounce on you out of nowhere, it creeps in bit by bit.  It is what happens when all we focus on is the day to day bits but forget about what makes us interesting… I’m not saying that putting a band-aid on a boo-boo or getting dinner on the table isn’t important – it is! But it isn’t like you are going to bring it up at the next dinner party you go to, right?

If you are stagnating what will it take to get you out of that state? You have one life to live… WHAT MOVES YOU?  I have asked myself that a lot lately. I feel like I am in a state of constant reflection, revision, refocus and I keep thinking about what moves me.  To be honest, my girls move me – both literally and figuratively.  They are why I do the things I do (run, buy organic when possible, listen to classical music, swear very little…).  But I move me too and I think I forgot about that for awhile. I am in charge of me and I am deciding where I want to go and what I want to do. I think I had forgotten that I am the source of my own kinetic energy.  Physics 101:  Potential Energy is energy of position, it is stored energy. Kinetic Energy is energy of motion. Potential Energy is converted to Kinetic Energy when an object is in motion.  We all have Potential Energy stored up in us waiting to be used, all you have to do is start moving… Here’s another thing to remember, no one can give you their Potential Energy, we are each our own source. However, an object can impart its Kinetic Energy into another object… being around others who are moving forward can literally rub off on us.

Note to self: Get up. Get moving. Be around those who are moving in the same direction you are.

Easy 5

Today was an easy outdoor 5 miler on the Springwater Trail.  The weather was fairly cooperative (no hailstorms) so off I went.  No watch, no Garmin, no water, no real idea where I was headed… just the desire to get fresh air.  Perhaps my desire for fresh air was rooted in the fact that I had just driven home from Wilsonville in a car that smelled of vomit… you see on my way to take the girls to my mother’s for the weekend Olivia got sick in the car. So there I was in Wilsonville with a car and a child covered in vomit and the sudden realization that I don’t get a child-free night…bummer.  Paige helpfully spoke up from the back of the car “Well Olivia has a bag full of clothes ready for Grandma’s so at least she can change her clothes.”  Thanks for the silver lining honey…

Here’s the thing about life though, sometimes as thin as a silver lining may be, and in this case it was very thin, that is what you have to focus on. Life is full of vomit, but if you’ve got clothes to change into, well that’s something…

Hail Storms

I have made no secret of the fact that I am a fair weather runner. I don’t really like to get too cold, too wet, or too hot.  In the winter this is problematic because I live in Portland, Oregon and in February the average temperature is 45 F and the average rainfall is 4.79 inches.   These do not make for good running conditions according to me.    However, a girl’s  gotta do what a girl’s gotta do, and this girl has gotta stay in “reasonable” shape through the winter  in order to achieve my spring/summer goals.  To this end I have become much more acquainted with the treadmill at the gym and even made friends with a stairmaster.  But occasionally the clouds stop sending down a torrent of rain and it becomes preferable to run outside rather than next to the over-sweaty, under-clothed people at the gym.  This was the case last weekend. Kody reported that there was a 70% percent chance of rain on Saturday so he went for a bike ride in the morning and then I took off for an afternoon run.  I am not a gambler and I have no idea why I was smitten with the whopping 30% chance that I would stay dry, but it was a mistake.  About a mile and a half into my run the hail storm started… shit.   Well at least it was hitting me from behind.  I kept running, I mean how long can a hail storm last? Well I am here to tell you it lasted for another mile, at which point I turned around only to be running INTO the hailstorm… double shit. About a half mile from home the hail was replaced by rain.  It has taken me a week to write this post because my Monday sniffles became a full-fledged cold by Tuesday and I was heavily dosed with dayquill or nyquill (depending on the time of day) until yesterday.   Feeling good today I decided to check the weather report to see if I could get in a run… A 50% chance of rain… ya, I’ll take those odds.

Training Update

Since this is suppose to be about the process of training it seems long overdue to actually write about how training is going.  To be fair I think the term “training” implies a level of concentrated effort to get better at something and I am putting forth a concentrated effort to maintain my level of fitness until the weather improves.  Perhaps this post is better entitled a “Maintaining Update.”

Running is going well!  I need the least amount of equipment for it and it is my best sport, so I do it the most.  I am hitting the treadmill a few days a week for 30 minutes or so and doing some good interval work.  I know that the intervals are doing there thing because I went for a 6 miler last weekend  and I was several minutes faster than I had been the last time I did the same route.  I am feeling the need to sign up for a race here in the next month or two – having a short term goal makes the monotony of training seem worthwhile, plus I could use another tech T-shirt.

Biking is okay, for sure not my favorite but I went out with Kody a few weeks ago for a 16 mile ride which was a lot of fun.  He is pretty into cycling, okay he is REALLY into cycling, much more than I am at any rate and so I always learn new things as we go.  For example this last time I learned that the left gear shifters and the right gear shifters do different things to the chain and the crank(?)… I might have that all messed up, but regardless I got a a shifting 101 course.  I also had the opportunity to try out my Dukes of Hazard style braking technique, twice.  I didn’t see a car coming (twice) and had to slam on my (wet) brakes which locked up my (wet) tires on the (wet) road and I skidded out Bo Duke style.  I can’t decide if it probably looked cool to the nearby pedestrians or if I looked like a complete moron.  On the homestretch Kody and I were riding side by side and we started to have a pretty serious conversation about our parenting styles and how we thought we were doing.  My legs were a little tired so I suggested we slow down just a tad… My loving husband, who is determined to help me train on the bike, chuckles nefariously and says “You want to keep talking about parenting? You gotta keep up!” and then he speeds up.  Yes, I caught up to him and yes, we finished our conversation and got a solid workout, right to the very end!

Swimming is more theoretical at this point.  I did look through the Title 9 catalog at new swimsuits – so there is some progress.  Last year I bought my swimsuit at Costco and thought it was cute and a good “mom” suit until one day at the pool I noticed a woman at least twice my age wearing the same suit as she walked laps.  That will not happen again.  Ladies – if you aren’t familiar with Title 9 clothes, you really should be!  There is a store in Portland but the catalogs and the website are wonderful too!  http://www.titlenine.com

So there you have it, I am maintaining my level of fitness but doing some of the difficult ground work (i.e. learning to shift, brake, and shopping for a new suit) needed for future fitness endeavors .

Running companions

I have two of the best running partners a girl could ask for.  We have been running together for about 9 years now and in all that time neither of the guys has bailed out at the last minute or begged to cut a run short.  In fact they are almost ideal running partners.  I almost always get to choose the course and set the pace;  they’ve never grumbled when I put my headphones in and listened to music, perhaps because they still have each other; and they are enthusiastic from start to finish (most of the time).  Any sensible girl knows that running with others is also the safe way to go and I have to concur with that.   The three of us have passed some sketchy people and some scary dogs but I’ve never been given any trouble or felt unsafe… maybe because one of my partners is big and black and the other is small, but scrappy looking.  Together they cut a wide path for the three of us.  Oh, it isn’t always perfect, one always has to run in front and the other answers the call of nature at the most inopportune times (it must be a male thing).   The only problem is that they are both in their 70’s and running is harder on them than it used to be. I can tell by our pace and the way they both hobble around when we get back to the house that the runs, though invigorating, are hard on their joints.   A few weeks ago we went for a run together and it became very clear to me that our remaining runs are numbered. Like I said, I’ve been running with these guys for the past 9 years, so thinking that one day they may not be able to go with me is really sad.  On our most recent run a few things in particular struck me: they didn’t pull me along and force me to go faster; they had almost no reaction to passing squirrels and cats; and in the last 1/2 mile when I let them off their leashes they didn’t sprint off and leave in their dust as they used to.

We adopted Porter and Linus over 9 years ago from the Humane Society and I’ve been running with them ever since.  I trained them to run with me in a well choreographed routine that prevents me from stepping on them and them from stepping on their leashes.  It definitely took some work.  I’ve tripped over Porter and ended up sprawled on the pavement; Linus has diverged from our trio and ended up going around the far side of a mailbox only to be stopped short by his leash and the force of Porter and I on the OTHER side  of the mailbox; Porter has body-checked both me and Linus into the hedges when noisy buses come up from behind; and we have long since stopped trying to pass other dogs unless I am between my dogs and the unknown ones.  But once we got our system down they were great. They know to cross the street when I say “cross,” and if Linus happens to step over his leash he will lift his paw back over it when I say “paw,” all without skipping a step. I was even able to take both of them and a jogging stroller out running for many years without any major upsets – in fact they would run slightly ahead of the stroller and Paige or Olivia (whoever happened to be in the stroller) would laugh and try to catch their tails.

This post isn’t about my triathlon training per se, but it is certainly in line with the theme of Go Momma Go.  I am Porter and Linus’ “momma” and when they see me put on my running shoes and grab their leashes every inch of them, from their wet noses to their furry tails, is saying “Lets Go Momma! Lets Go!”

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