Forget the Scale

I started taking measurements once I stopped taking a medication that was causing some weight gain even with Ironman training and cleaning up my diet. I reached a weight I never thought I would see, but there it was on the scale: 152 lbs. on my 5’4″ frame. 


I train over ten hours a week, so was all this extra weight disguised as muscle mass? My clothes started to get tight in all the wrong places, so that led me to believe that it was more than that: I was getting fat. But how? The weight kept tipping the scale over the last three years I had been on that medication, so it was time to reassess why I was taking it. 

The next day, I made an appointment with my doctor to discuss weaning myself off of the meds that caused my weight to slowly creep up. I also fished out the measuring tape deep in my sewing kit and measured my hips, waist, chest, biceps, and quads and wrote those down too. To keep myself from obsessing over these numbers and the scale, I decided to take the measurements once every three months. Then, I hid the scale deep under our bed so that I actually had to lie down and use a broomstick to retrieve it. 

And you know what? It worked. Since February of this year, I’ve lost 7 of the 15 pounds I gained over three years, but I’ve also lost over 13 inches. Even though the scale has yet to budge since August, and I’m stuck at 144-145 lbs. now, I still lost an additional two inches! What? 

So, the scale can take a hike. I’ll continue to log measurements once every three months to follow the muscle, and maybe check in with the dreaded scale to see if it too complies with the measurements… or not. Whatever you decide to do, remember that you are not a before or after, but are training your body for a race, swim, bike, or run. If you give your body time and appreciate it’s hard work instead of thinking you’re out of shape all the time, your body will see you through. You are perfect as you are right now. 

Together We Are Strong

Greek Girl Runs will now be V Formation Multisport. So, why the name change? I started out coaching runners, and now I also coach triathletes, and the new name includes all of that.

I’ll reveal the new logo soon, but here is the back story to the new name:

During the swim of Ironman Maryland, the wind picked up the waves, creating a chop. I felt my body go up and down with the swells moving to shore. My wetsuit choked me, making breathing difficult, so I flipped over on my back to steady my breath and look at the sky. A few swimmers splashed me as they passed; I glanced around to spot the kayaks or paddle boards to see how far they were in case I decided to quit. The usual fears invaded my mind–fears of sea life, getting kicked by other athletes, sinking to the bottom without a trace…

But, I couldn’t quit. I am lucky to be able to compete in an Ironman, and I have so many people tracking me at home while my family is waiting at the swim finish. I imagined all of them, near and far as a giant V extending behind me–so they all came with me like an unstoppable wave, and I was at the top, cutting through the brackish waters of the Choptank River.

I held onto that image for the rest of the race and brought it to mind when I could no longer sit on my bike, when my stomach refused to take more food, when I thought I was going to pass out on the run course, and when I thought I was alone in the dark– I knew that wasn’t true: a whole team of people was right behind me.

None of us do anything alone, and the V Formation is proof of that: Geese use it to bear the brunt of the wind, cyclists draft off of teammates and take turns riding ahead, and even the Nike runners used it in Breaking 2 for the attempt at breaking the two hour marathon barrier.

The V Formation is strong, and it works. Because if we work together, great things can happen. I look forward to continuing to train my current athletes with this philosophy, and I always welcome new athletes. Together we are strong. Send me an email to get started: laurie@vformationmultisport.com

Ironman Maryland

While running the marathon of the Ironman, two runners asked me why I was doing this. I can’t remember if I asked them why they too were completing an Ironman or not because that would have been polite (and I was beyond polite at the time).  My memory is foggy at best through the delirium I experienced on the run, but I remember replying to each one of them: “I just don’t know; I should have that answer in a week.” So, if you’re looking for an inspirational blog post about my revelations before, during, and after Ironman Maryland: this is not that kind of post.

And, It’s been a week.

Well, more than that, and I still don’t have an answer to that question. But I do know that I would like to do another. Maybe I’m just out to punish my body– to escape responsibilities in exchange for training– to wake up at 4am to train — to ride for hours on end on Saturdays– to swim endless laps in the pool staring at the black line (actually, I like this part)– or swimming loops around swim buoys in a lake for hours, flicking seaweed away– to run on exhausted legs every. single. day. where every run is absolutely a punishment and all of your running friends leave you behind— or worse– to ride for over five hours on a trainer.

Not all training is grueling. I’ve met some Ironmen who have trained with me on the bike or run, and I adore the masters swim team I train with three times a week, and I’ve met the BEST people while preparing for the Ironman.

In any case, here’s my Ironman story. It’s not pretty, but neither is the Ironman.

Four hours from Chattanooga, Lacey sends me a text: “The swim is cancelled; I’m so pissed.” She was checking in on Thursday for Sunday’s race while I was in the car en route. My heart sank. I was devastated: a year’s worth of training and now the swim is cancelled? How can I call myself an Ironman (silly, I know) if I don’t do the swim? The swim is my best sport of the three. With the new staggered time trial bike start for Chattanooga, I wasn’t sure if I would make the bike cutoff, or if I would get pulled from the course at some point. I vented my frustration on Facebook and to my friend, Catrina, racing in Maryland. Lacey received many of these texts too. Catrina sent a message saying that the race director for Ironman Maryland is doing walk-up registrations on Friday from 10am-1pm and that I should consider changing course and race Ironman Maryland instead. There were 30 slots available.

For many of you who do Ironmans, a walk-up registration the day prior to the race is almost unheard of. Phil and I deliberated in the car for over an hour while parked at a gas station four hours from Chattanooga. I texted family and friends and talked to Cathy for awhile. We decided to take the chance and drive to Maryland. It was five o’clock on Thursday, and we pulled into Cambridge, MD by midnight.

The next day, Phil and Sophia slept in while I drove to the transition area for Ironman Maryland. I arrived by 8am and started asking around about the walk-up registration. One volunteer didn’t think they were doing that–it couldn’t be! I was still determined and hung around, watching athletes practice their swim in the Choptank River. I spoke to anyone who would listen and felt like a total outsider. I didn’t belong here. What was I thinking? Did I throw away Chattanooga for nothing?

I headed to the bike in/out for transition when I noticed more activity. An athlete there spoke to me and mentioned that the race director, Gerry, was the guy in the pick up truck right next to me. He knocked on the window, and Gerry eased my concerns when he said that they are doing walk up registrations at 10am where they were setting up tents. Finally! I hugged Gerry too! I was able to sign up, got my green Ironman band, and then proceeded to panic since I had to race on Saturday instead of Sunday. I had to get all of my gear ready and dropped off by tomorrow. Back to the hotel!

Race day came before I knew it. Phil drove me to transition while Sophia stayed with his parents (they were kind enough to head to MD to watch the race after being so close to Chattanooga). I handed my gear and special needs bags to the volunteers and carried my swim bag to the swim start where I still needed to get a timing chip, or this whole thing would really be for nothing. While waiting for volunteers, I forced myself to eat something more, but ended up dry heaving in a trash can near the swim start. I found Catrina and Dylan and calmed down chatting with them and getting my wetsuit on. Soon, Catrina and I lined up for the swim ready to go.

In the corral, I talked to experienced Ironmen and calmed down again. I was ready and still had to pee, which I couldn’t possibly do in my wetsuit. All of that vanished in the rolling swim start–I got my head wet, adjusted my goggles, and swam for the buoys, one at a time. Waves lifted me up and down as I swam forward. My wetsuit felt tight around my neck despite cutting it lower. I flipped over on my back three times before the first turn buoy 500 meters away just to breathe. I thought about quitting and searched for a kayaker. The waves were choppy enough that sighting was difficult, but I told myself I am a good swimmer, I won’t drown, and I have a wave of people who support me coming along for this race. I closed my eyes and pictured all of them following me like geese in formation. I am not alone. I held this image throughout the swim for all 2.4 miles. Whenever I hit sea nettles with my hands that bubbled up from the deep, I pictured my friends and family with me. As I prepared to exit the swim, my calves seized up, and I wan’t sure if I would be able to stand let alone ride my bike. I flexed my feet to stretch out before getting out of the water, which seemed to help.

In the changing tent, a volunteer helped me with my cycling gear while I drank a protein shake, swallowed a salt stick capsule, and ate some gummies. I found a port-o-potty on the way to my bike. Phil found me and cheered me on while I ran with my bike to bike out.

The bike course was fast, flat, and windy. So many cyclists passed me in the beginning, but I stuck to my plan and held my pace and heart rate to prevent burning out later in the race: I ate every forty-five minutes, drank a bottle of Tailwind every hour, and stopped to pee. Around mile 50, I knew I was going to have GI issues, so I stopped again, ate a banana every time my fingers tingled–that happened three times on the ride. Overall, I thought I was going to be OK for the run. By mile 70, I could no longer sit on my saddle and adjusted my position every few minutes. I sang songs out loud to myself and passing cyclists. Wind pushed me around when I was in aero, but I tried to enjoy all of it–even the last 42 miles of wind, wind, and more wind. I smiled for the sports photographer, watched a blue heron land, and traced the ripples on the water as I rode by. I wanted to be here, and I’m lucky to be here.

As I entered transition to prepare for the run, I saw my support crew, which made me feel really happy. I started the run strong with the intent to walk as needed. My stomach was still uneasy, but I ate some pretzels and drank some Gatorade Endurance upon leaving transition. I felt good. Bring on the 26.2 miles!

The first 8 miles went well, then GI issues were back in full force. I went through cycles of feeling hungry, dizzy, and dry heaving, to full for a few minutes, followed by severe stomach cramping that stopped me in my tracks. By mile 16, I could no longer run because of my stomach. All I could eat was chicken broth, pretzels, and water. The aid station made me want to vomit with its cookies, gels, bars, and Gatorade. Just give me chicken broth, please.

The cycle of nausea, temporary relief, and stomach cramps stayed with me for the rest of the marathon. I saw Catrina and Dan twice on the run through some of the most desolate sections of the course–seeing them gave me the motivation to keep going. I tried to speed walk, did calculations in my head to see if I would make the cut offs, felt utterly alone in the darkness when the crowds went home, and when my friends were ahead of me. If I passed out, who would find me? Should I go to medical? All would be lost if I did that, so I continued anyway. At the last turn around, the bright lights made me dizzy, so I looked at the blood orange moon instead. I heard Mike Reilly calling out names of athletes who finished, and I desperately wanted to get to that red carpet.

I passed the last cut off, so I could walk if I needed to. This was such a relief. I heard a song that reminded me of Sophia’s friend, Hope, who beat cancer, and began crying as I ran to the last turn around. How many people are able to do this? How many people have the financial means to do so? How many people have the luxury to train and the family support behind them? I walked faster and maybe even ran. I don’t remember.

After the last turn around, I started to see people behind me, which made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Thank goodness. At the last aid station, I ate an orange, possibly the best orange I’ve ever tasted and kept speed walking. When I hit that red carpet, “Stayin’ Alive” was blasting from the speakers, I sang, I danced, I shook Mike Reilly’s hand, and I became an Ironman.

To answer that question about why I was doing all of this, it’s because the challenge is there, and I can.

Thank you to my coach, Mary Kelley, without whom none of this would have been possible. She make schedule changes, told me when to take a break, and pushed me when I needed it. Thank you to Phil and Sophia for putting up with all of my training days, cleaning the house, cooking dinner while I napped, and for being supportive even when I was hangry, which was all the time. Thank you to my family who had to work around my training while I visited and watched Sophia on the long rides–I took my bike everywhere I traveled this past summer. Thank you to Jan and Clint for driving to Maryland to watch me race and to Aunt Nancy for making so many phone calls to secure lodging in Cambridge. Thank you to Friends Central Masters Swim Team, coached by Kerry, for making me faster and for the friendships there. Thank you to all of the Ironmen I know: Cathy, who got me into this sport in the first place, Dan, Mary, Mary, Lacey, Amajit, Lou, Catrina, Dylan, Bill, Sue, Steele, and John. For being .01% of the world’s population who have completed an Ironman, I know a lot of you! Thank you to all of my running friends near and far: Kim, Marianne, Caroline, Gene, Mira (my running twin), Jen, Megan, Hua, Kelly, and the running pups: Moose, Marla, and Packer! Thank you to my friends all over the place who never doubted that I could do it–Becky, Vince, Angela, and Amanda. I’m sure I missed someone, so thank you everyone!

Philadelphia Escape Triathlon

It took me awhile to get to this post because even though I was looking forward to my first triathlon of the season, I felt broken going into race day, mentally and physically. I was fighting chronic fatigue: getting sick once a month, too high of heart rates in training, and all of my muscles seemed to revolt and refuse to move. I knew I was overtrained, but didn’t comment on any of my workouts in Training Peaks for my coach to assess since I am so focused on Ironman Chattanooga, not wanting to miss a single workout.

This is also the time in the training cycle when things get tough–long, lonely rides and runs, early morning swims, not keeping up with the Meet Up group I started–all of that shook my confidence.

I raced anyway. The swim went well. The water temperature was 74 degrees, and even though everyone and their grandma had on wetsuits, I left mine on the shore with gear check: I knew I would get too hot. The cold water only felt cold for the first 100 meters–I flew by the buoys marking every 100 meters, fought the swirling current at times and made it to the swim finish in a respectable time. But, my nagging headache from the day before was still there, I had menstrual cramps, so I drank a bottle of Tailwind in T1 to keep dehydration away because today was going to be HOT and humid as the day went on.

I set off on my bike and almost crashed within the first ten minutes while messing around with my bike bento. I’m glad no one was around me at the time. I climbed the first hill of the ride, which made me want to quit. My legs burned so much that I wasn’t sure if I could possibly do another hill let alone eight total on the course followed by a run. No matter how my legs felt, I pushed through the bike, rode by athletes walking their bikes uphill, and clung desperately to my brakes on steep downhills that totally scared the crap out of me on my new bike. I am not used to going that fast since my road bike is much heavier.

As soon as I racked my bike, I set out on the run. The course was shaded for the first quarter mile, but then it was in full sun. My cramping returned, and my headache worsened. I thought I was going to pass out more than once. I walked a bit to prevent going to medical and finished the run and the race.

But, I was pissed off. I trained hard, too hard, and I paid for it. I don’t even want to discuss my finish time or place because it just plain sucked. I could have done better. I know I could do better.

I talked to my coach and ran with her while she was passing through Philadelphia. I cried on that short run because I felt like such a failure. She understood.

So, I’m taking about two weeks to recover. The workouts are less demanding, I have more time to think, read, write, paint, garden, and do all the things I usually don’t have time for in the middle of triathlon training, especially during Ironman training. I saw my friends over Independence Day and made plans to meet for some of those long and lonely five to six hour rides rides to make them a bit less lonely and a little more fun. I also went to a sports massage therapist to help with my sloping shoulders–I plan to go back once or twice more before the Ironman. In other words, I plan to use these two weeks to remind myself why I do this and why I should take care of myself first.

This race will be a reminder of what I am capable of because it was one of the hardest races I’ve done. I am looking forward to the Philly Womens’ Triathlon this weekend, rested and ready. And as for Ironman Chattanooga, I’m coming for you.

Open Water Swimming Tips

With the Philly Escape Triathlon coming up on June 24, it’s time to get back into the open water for some practice swims. If open water swimming is something new to you, or if you panic at the beginning of each triathlon season in open water, here are some useful tips:

  1. Practice in your wetsuit. Many early triathlons are wetsuit legal, so get used to swimming in it. If it feels like it’s choking you, you can trim your wetsuit, but be careful not to cut any seams.
  2. Go for an open water swim practice. French Creek Racing has practices and races that you can participate in and so does Mid Atlantic Multisport.
  3. Know the swim course and how many times you need to swim around buoys, what direction you’ll be swimming in, and how the swim will start–is it a run in beach entry? Walk in wade, and wait? Tread water and wait for a mass start? Jump or slide off of a dock? Or will you jump off the back of a ferry and swim to shore?
  4. If you can’t practice in open water before your first race, do your best to get into the water for a practice session prior to the event, if allowed. Some races do not have warm up sessions in the water before the race start. For a practice swim, hop in, totally submerge your face, blow some bubbles, and take a few strokes out and back. That is usually enough to settle your nerves; there’s no need to swim a 1600 or anything as a warm up.
  5. If there is no open water practice before an event, when you enter the water for your start, take your time, get your head wet, fix your cap and goggles, stay away from the other swimmers, and start off slowly, gradually building your speed.
  6. When problems occur like goggles filling with water, your cap slides, a cramp strikes, another swimmer swims over you, kicks you, punches you, or pulls you by the ankles, know that you can turn over on your back to fix many of these issues. Except for jerks in the water who try to pull you by the ankles, you can’t fix assholery, but you can kick really hard.  Do breaststroke for sighting when fatigue sets in. If you don’t know how to do breaststroke kick, do a dolphin kick or flutter kick instead, it still works!  And, if you really need it, you are allowed to hold on to the lifeguard’s kayak, paddle board, or rescue tube while you rest, as long as you are not moving forward. You can also swim any stroke in a triathlon, even side stroke.
  7. Practice open water skills in the pool. A few skills I practice with my athletes during our Saturday “group workout” of 600 yards include drafting off of another swimmer’s feet (this works if they are similar in speed to you, but just a bit faster), dock entry off the starting blocks (I teach a stride jump to prevent athletes from going too far under), corkscrew for rounding buoys, sighting 3-6 times per 25 yards, dolphin dives for beach entry, head up freestyle for sighting in high waves, and bilateral breathing to swim straighter and more balanced.
  8. Know what to do if you get a panic attack in the water. In a panic attack, your heart will race, and you’ll have difficulty breathing. Have a plan. I’ve had panic attacks in open water away from the guards and shore. I turn over on my back, focus on breathing in for three and out for three while kicking lightly and sculling with my arms so that I’m still moving. I tell myself that I am a strong swimmer, and that I can do this. After about 30 seconds or more that seems like an eternity, I turn back over and continue swimming freestyle. If you are close to a guard, ask them for help, hold on to the kayak or rescue tube until you can calm down. Whatever you do, do not try to grab onto a guide buoy because there is no way you can hold onto that, and you’ll only wear yourself out trying.

Here’s a fun 600 yard set you can do to practice some of these triathlon specific drills mentioned above:

8x75s (600 yards) as

Odds = 25: dolphin dive to the deep end / head up freestyle / 25: get out in the deep end and jump off the starting blocks with a stride jump / sight 3x as you swim to the shallow end with alligator eyes (no need to pick up your whole head) / 25: run to the deep end, dolphin dive 1x / swim breaststroke to the wall. REST. That’s one 75!

Evens=  25: Underwater flutter kick until you pop up / bilateral breathing every 3 strokes / wall kick for 10s / 25: corkscrew 3x in one length / pull up or gutter press or vertical kick in the deep end / 25: fast as possible freestyle. REST. That’s two! 6 more to go just like that!

If you have a friend, practice drafting off of each other for one of the lengths. You can draft off of the feet by swimming in the bubbles, just out of reach of the other swimmer’s feet, or you can swim off the hip of another swimmer.

That’s it! Enjoy the triathlon season already under way!

Let’s Talk About Stress, Baby

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Athletes don’t often discuss general anxiety or the depression that follows major races, and they sometimes turn a blind eye to weakness of any kind because the mind can overcome everything. Sometimes though, you need professional help, and you should get it without being ashamed or made to feel weak.

For me, anxiety is like the volume control on a radio, and without proper care, it’s turned up way too loud and manifests itself in the form of panic attacks. I basically can’t hear anything else except for the myriad of things I have to do. Calm down? Just relax? I can’t. So don’t bother saying those things to me or anyone else with anxiety. Just let them know you’re there and that you understand. Talk to them.

I turned to running and triathlon to help alleviate my anxiety, but it didn’t always do the trick because I would actually get panic attacks while running, which made me feel like I was going to die. I decided to get help and write about it. Below is an excerpt from my memoir that I plan to publish, describing what my day to day life was like before getting help for my anxiety and depression. I hope that by sharing my experiences, others will not feel so alone.

Excerpt: 

I run past sit-down breakfasts and take breakfast out the door, sipping my smoothie with my right hand and balancing the bags piled onto my left shoulder—work bag, laptop, purse, lunch. The curve in my spine renders my right side useless for carrying something as light as a purse. In photographs, my whole right side appears as if someone is pushing me down into the ground while my body fights to keep it upright and straight.

The first time I noticed this was in a photo my mom took while we visited the Washington coast on Ruby Beach. My baggy red windbreaker billowed in the stiff west wind on the pebbled beach, yet my right shoulder angled into the sand like a beach umbrella. My smile is uneven too—the left side is slightly lower, and, depending on how you look at it, I could be snarling instead of smiling, but that’s better than not smiling at all with my angry resting face.

I’m one of those people who always appear angry even when I’m not. Whenever I’m at work with the windows to my back, the sun occasionally hits the laptop screen just right so my reflection squints back at me, my face stiff and unyielding. Realizing this, my right shoulder faces the camera more often, hiding the slope and the snarl. I thought I stood tall on the beach, making a conscious effort to do so, but I’m lopsided, the left shouldering the burden of work, kid, house, and family—not always in that order. This morning, I fumble for the car key in my left hand and attempt to open the door without scratching it up. I put my smoothie cup down, but then all the bags come cascading off my shoulder, twisting my torso while releasing my neck.

Still, I run behind the wheel on the highway with each tilt steering my way through traffic. I run through first-second-third-fourth class—lunch! I run with lunch boxes in hand before I trade them for a piece of bread in each palm for tomorrow’s lunch. I run carrying pots and pans and soapy sponges from dinner dishes. I run around bath time and laundry. I run while grading essays with my left hand on my temple like I’m angry about something and my eyes squint behind my glasses. I read and run at the same time until my body has reached the point when it’s had enough of running and collapses on the couch. Then, I get up the next day and run again.

Let me start again—like rewriting a list to make it neater, but only resulting in more time lost. I should know. I have a phone that keeps track of my numerous lists, but I still insist on writing items on sticky notes haphazardly clinging to the case and falling off like crumpled leaves.

Here goes: My mind starts running from the moment my alarm clock goes off. The only reprieve is sleep, and I wish for sleep when my mind is no longer running. I hit snooze for an hour to avoid getting out of bed, only to lie in bed with my eyes shut too tight to plan out my day despite the lists I already made. Sometimes sleep is not restful, and I wake up with a gasp and my heart racing at 130 beats per minute or more. I keep track until it falls to somewhere around 90 beats, elevate my head, breathe in and out slowly to avoid hyperventilating, and try to sleep. If it increases beyond 130 beats per minute, I pace around the house and drink water or start walking on the treadmill at 4:00am. Jumping jacks help if I think walking or running on the treadmill in my bare feet will startle everyone in the house out of sleep. I run barefoot because my heart beats too fast to even think about lacing up my running shoes. If I can raise my heart rate through exercise and then cool down, my heart rate will sometimes drop on its own, otherwise, I end up at the ER.

This morning, the night’s thunderstorms rumble in the distance; I go outside and walk in the cool humid air before the sun rises, listening to the slap of my flip-flops against the pavement. The wet calm that settles in after a storm clings to my skin too as I breathe in the moist air. My flip-flops throw water from the puddles up to the backs of my knees, and I feel the water slap, then drip down to my heel. The mosquitoes still sleep under the mist where a fox roams around the development, away from the dogs trapped behind fences. The fox is aware of my flopping around the circle of the development so early and hides in the brush where a house will be built soon. What was here before in this endless loop I walk, a modern day Sisyphus, walking with nowhere to go but around and around. I reach another fence, visible markers around the half-mile loop. Good fences do make good neighbors as the poem goes—it’s hard to talk when eight feet of solid wood fence stands between you and your neighbor.

The kids know better and stand and jump on swing sets to see and yell and play despite the fence. They’ll scale the ninety degrees to touch a friend’s hand or peak their little eyes over to glimpse what lies beyond in the other back yard—forbidden until a much anticipated “yes” lets them come over, opening the gates.

Mornings like these mean my whole day will be off kilter. I’ll be in what I refer to as “zombie mode” where my body is functioning and preparing lessons at my desk, but my mind is somewhere at home, sipping coffee and reading a book on the sofa. The real me checked out. I can listen and converse with family and friends, but I’m really not paying any attention to them—my mind is using all available energy to remain calm and detached from situations.

Open Water Panic

PhilSwim

Panic attacks are no joke. I am the anxiety queen after all, and I’ve had my share of panic attacks on the swim despite being a strong swimmer. I have also seen panic attacks prevent swimmers from even starting their race. So, this is something everyone needs to consider, even if there is no history of panic attacks or panic disorder.

I, however, have a history of anxiety and panic disorder, which means I have had my share of panic attacks that have landed me in the hospital many times. Before I fully understood what was going on, I attributed my racing heart and panic to my heart murmur. I called 911, rode in many an ambulance, and was even hospitalized for my anxiety. I saw a cardiologist, got an ultrasound of my heart, and was told that absolutely nothing was wrong with my heart and to have fun training for my first marathon. Still, panic attacks would strike when I would least expect to be anxious: while watching TV or reading a book at night, while on my morning run, while driving a car, while on vacation, while doing dishes. You name it, and I’ve probably had a panic attack during that event.

Think of a panic attack as your body’s way of releasing built up stress. When you are relaxed, your body thinks that it’s a fabulous time to release all of this worry and anxiety in the form of a panic attack. This all makes sense as it pertains to triathlon. You’ve trained and prepared for months to race, you know you can do it, and then, BOOM! panic on the swim–you suddenly can’t get enough air, your heart is racing, and you feel like you’re going to die and slip below the water’s surface, unseen by a lifeguard.

It’s scary, right? And the worst part about panic attacks is that you don’t have to have a history of them to have one. So, what should you do? Well, if you’re like me and panic attacks are affecting your life and ability to be a regular human being, go and see your doctor, psychiatrist, or health care professional for counseling and/or medication if necessary.

Once you get help, one thing that prevents some panic attacks for me is identifying my fears and making a plan. Be specific. And I mean “be specific” (this is the English teacher coming out in me). Don’t just say, “I’m afraid of drowning” and instead think of what would cause you to drown: is it the lifeguard not seeing you? Is it someone swimming over you? Is it someone pulling your ankles? Is it getting a cramp?

For example, one of my fears on the swim is being able to see the bottom of whatever body of water I am swimming in. I know, I know, some people like to be able to see, but I’m happy in the murkiest of waters because if anything touches me, I can just tell myself it’s another person’s feet or hands even if it’s not true. Yet, I have a coping plan in place if I do see the bottom: study the contours and shapes like it’s an opportunity to visit another planet. Additionally, I bring my focus to my breath: with each exhale, I say, “Relax” in my head. It all seems silly, but it works.

Another fear I have on the swim is having a panic attack and not being able to breathe because of it. So, my plan if this happens is to turn over on my back and bring my focus to my breath. I tell myself that I have trained for this and am a strong swimmer, and if necessary, I flip over on my back and scull. I actually repeat the following phrases: “I am a strong swimmer. I trained for this. Relax.” And you know what? It works. Have a plan. Be specific. And get ready to use it.

So, when your feet ache from the hard concrete, your body is sweating underneath your wetsuit, and you are packed tightly with swimmers like a bunch of sea lions on a solitary rock before the start of the swim, review how you will take action and be in control of the situation.

Just Another Day

I often run the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia for my long runs. It’s flat for the area and has plenty of water stops; the trail follows the river into the city, past Boathouse Row and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and ends near the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Rowers dot the smooth waters of the Schuylkill, and the trail attracts runners, walkers, and cyclists alike. I love this trail.

I usually park just north of the Falls Bridge in East Falls, Philadelphia since Kelly Drive has lots of traffic right next to the trail. I take time to hide my stuff before leaving with my keys and phone, and I typically have a bag with a towel and a fresh shirt for after the run. I had been looking forward to a run on the SRT all week to escape the hills of my neighborhood–the air was crisp, and I ran fast.

Upon finishing my twelve miler, I looked at the front passenger window of my car and immediately thought I had left my window open in my post-run delirium. Then, I noticed the spiderweb of broken glass clinging to the door and peered inside. Crap. My bag was gone with my wallet, clean shirt, and towel. Glass littered the passenger seat, the cup holders and even the back seat of the car.

I was cold, hungry, and pissed off. All I wanted was for Phil to come and get me and bring me lunch, but he was at work, and my car was still in good working order, minus a window. I had to pull up my big girl panties and handle the situation. I think the thief would have taken my bag with or without a wallet inside in the hopes that there would be. A driver with a sweet bike on the back pulled in next to me. I advised him to park elsewhere since my car was just robbed. He stayed.

I texted Phil and called my bank. Sure enough, the thugs already tried to use my card at Home Depot. Why is it always Home Depot? The last time a skimmer swiped my card information, the crook went straight to Home Depot. Not Lowe’s. Home Depot. I cancelled my cards, called the police to file a report, and spoke with my insurance company. The cards and my driver’s license can be replaced, but I’m more angry about the long-sleeved tech shirt from the Atlantic City 70.3 and my Mile on the Sand beach towel from VA Beach that I lost. Losers. I hope the shirt doesn’t fit and my useless stuff ends up in some dumpster.

Despite all of this, it was still a good day. I remember listening to NPR’s Invisiblia, and how they interviewed a women who couldn’t feel fear: bad events like a robbery were just events that happened, neither good or bad, and didn’t influence the rest of her day. I thought about that and felt lucky that I wasn’t mugged because that would have been much worse. Even though I can feel fear, I’m not afraid. This was just something that happened, but I will be even more cautious if I park there in the future. I won’t even put my towel in a bag.

Post Race Blues

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The cure for anxiety and depression is exercise–just get outside more often. Go for a walk or run. Meditate. Do yoga. Many well-meaning people think exercise can cure depression and anxiety, or some suggest taking supplements instead of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Lexapro, or that there’s some essential oil out there that I can use to cure my panic attacks.

Truth is, none of that works for me except for medication, and there is nothing wrong with me taking it to relieve ongoing depression and panic attacks. I’ve been running since 2011 and began triathlon a few years later, and I used to get panic attacks while running. Yes, I thought I was having a heart attack and going to die while doing one of the activities said to relieve anxiety. Go figure. I would also wake up from a sound sleep in a panic with a heart rate well over 130 bpm. I know because I took my pulse.

So, to tell me all I need to do is exercise is insulting. I spend anywhere from 10-15 hours a week doing just that and most of my runs and rides are outside. Maybe I’m obsessed with the sport of triathlon? Probably. But even with exercise and medication, I still get depressed and anxious.

Oftentimes, after I finish a big goal race, I spend the next two weeks or so depressed, going to bed early and sleeping through my alarm, taking two hour naps on top of all of that sleep, procrastinating on housework and work, not caring what I make for dinner or even eating that much. I know that happens; I recognize it and get my butt moving anyway, but it’s hard.

I’ll get over my post-race blues, sign up for another race, and move on. Anxiety is always there like a radio inside my head, blasting annoying music. Medication and exercise turn the volume down, but it’s still there as background noise, and each day I have to choose whether or not I turn up the volume or leave it as is.

If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you’re not alone. Even if you get the post-race blues, you’re not alone. Many athletes cycle through periods of depression or anxiety. Please get help if you need it. Keep swimming, biking, and running, and see a doctor if necessary.

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