Almost 2019

Darkness arrives unannounced just as I begin to make dinner. I didn’t ask darkness to come over or darkness’ friend, freezing cold weather, but they sat down at the table anyway so I set extra places because what could I do? Shortly after dinner I fall asleep on the sofa under a blanket because it seems like it’s been midnight since six o’clock this evening even though I know it’s not, yet I don’t want to go to bed before 7pm or do the strength workout I had planned. And, on top of all of this, my 5am morning swim seems to have happened yesterday because it seems so long ago.

All motivation disappears after dinner under that blanket. I want to eat mac and cheese and chocolate chip cookies all day with a mocha to drink.

If many of you are feeling like this, please give yourself a break and peek out from under your blanket, especially as New Year’s approaches with resolutions that seem to negate all the things you’ve done in 2018 in the hopes that you will be a better you in 2019. Remember, you are perfect as you are right now. Always. Even if you are like me on the sofa and not at the gym right now.

In fact, if you’re going to make any resolutions, I suggest changing the way you talk to yourself during training:

Instead of: I’m trying to survive the swim and not drown.

Say: I am learning how to swim more efficiently.

Instead of: I am terrified of riding my bike.

Say: I am practicing my bike handling skills often. 

Instead of: I’m a slow runner. (one of my own that my coach told me to never say)

Say: I am working to improve my speed in running.

Besides changing the way you talk to yourself, start planning out your race year with family and work in mind. I cut way back on what I normally do because I’ve been feeling burnt out lately. I decided that this year is the year that I will do at least one distance swim of 2.8 miles (maybe a 5K swim), improve my times in the sprint and Olympic distance triathlon, and maybe do a 70.3 near the end of the season with the goal of a possible PR. The swim is my big goal, and if I don’t PR in the other distances, I’m OK with that. I train for one thing at a time. I’m committed to three races, but I might do five events, and I chose local races to save on travel costs (2018 was an expensive year with the Ironman, hotels, and travel).

*1. Fort Ritchie Swim Fest-2.8 mile swim or 4500 meters in a lake, May 2019, splitting an Air B and B with my BFF from high school who’s also swimming!

*2. Philly Women’s Tri-sprint distance, July 2019–near me, no hotel needed.

3. Tri AC-Olympic distance, August 2019??? I might do this with my swimming friend…

*4. Waterman’s Triathlon Festival 70.3, September 2019, staying at my triathlon friend’s house three hours away.

5. Richmond Marathon–not a definite…yet., November 2019–Phil and I LOVE this marathon and have run it three times.

All of this takes into account time to visit family and friends, our family’s work schedule, my daughter’s camps, and family time at home.

If you’re short on funds, organize a fun swim, bike, or run with your friends with a plan to meet at a restaurant so that it has the same feeling as a race without the cost or travel. Plan within your budget and look for off-brand races, choose one big goal, and change the way you talk to yourself. Now, when darkness comes over for dinner, you’ll be focused on where you are now and looking to the light of summer. You will see improvement. No resolutions necessary.

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. 

Post Ironman Blues

I’ve eaten too much leftover Halloween candy. Bia hasn’t moved from where I left her after the race, front tire askew against the basement wall. I dust off my bikes every now and then and spin the pedals, but they haven’t moved more than that. I feel like I’ve abandoned Ikaika and Bia. I struggle to go on a run because I’m sick and tired of feeling slow with faster runners passing me as they huff and puff up the hills on the trail. That’s when the “I don’t care” attitude sets in, and I pretend I wan’t passed.

Swimming and strength training have been my salvation at least, but I haven’t done much else. I love the water and hearing nothing but bubbles as I fly in between the lane lines. 

I haven’t signed up for any races next year as I’m staring at the winter wonderland outside my house while I type this, hot cocoa in hand after eating more than my fair share of the kid’s chocolate stash. I just don’t want to train for anything after being so focused the last two years on the half in 2017 and then the full Ironman in 2018. I’m done. Or D-U-N done because I’m too lazy to spell.

Post-race blues are real. And if you experience this, it’s totally normal. If you don’t, then you’re a freak of nature or something. So, to deal with these post-race blues, I plan to do the following: 

  1. Plan out my race schedule with family stuff in mind for next year. I’ll sign up in a few weeks to make it all official. 
  2. Be thankful that I can race and focus on strength training and doing what I love the most: swimming. 
  3. Take care of myself first. I already went to the doctor for an ongoing ear infection and saw a podiatrist about my foot issues. Rest and recover. 
  4. Enjoy the ability to bag a workout or put everything down to do something revolutionary like read a book while sipping cocoa, finish my painting, or finish revising my book for publication. 
  5. Give presents to others–this makes me really happy. 
I like brown paper packages and surprises. Keep checking back for freebies! 

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.

Big Girl in a Little Coat

I know running fast all the time is not good for me even though I want to be fast. I can’t stand getting passed on the trail by breathless runners, or glancing at my pace that was my starting pace when I first began running six years ago. I know my heart rate should stay in zone 2 for 80% of my runs. I know I don’t have the years of experience that some runners have, nor am I gifted when it comes to endurance sports. I have short, stubby legs for my height and a long torso that catches the wind like a sail.

Since I started competing in triathlons, I’ve managed to get my swimming arms and shoulders back, which means more weight on my 5’4″ frame while running and cycling.  Even my dressy wool winter coat is now too tight in the shoulders. If I’m wearing that wool coat, don’t ask me to reach or pick up anything off the floor. I can’t. The coat has to come off first. I am the Incredible Hulk, bursting my clothes off as I flex.

I know I need to run slow to get fast, but with everything else happening, I feel like a turtle running with rabbits. I want to qualify for Boston, I want to break 25 minutes in a 5K and I want to knock off a few more minutes to break two hours in a half marathon. You know, goals?

Instead of complaining about it, which I’ve done, just ask my coach. I am going to embrace the slower than molasses miles. I need to do this if I plan to finish Ironman Chattanooga that I’ve already signed up for and teach myself some patience. I will do my best to avoid Strava and Garmin Connect so that I don’t compare myself to my faster friends, essentially plugging my ears and saying, “I can’t hear you!” when they talk about their races. I guess I’ll be a bad running friend and run more slow miles by myself to reach my Ironman dream. One goal at a time is best.

After Ironman Chattanooga, I’ll either train to BQ or if that doesn’t seem possible, I’ll keep chipping away at my triathlon times, slowly, but surely and be thankful that I am able to compete even if it is slowly. And, I’ll watch myself morph into a big girl in a little coat, bursting at the seams of what is possible.

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.

Click here for help with anxiety and depression