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Pat Summitt's lesson on competing

It was one of the first timeouts of the game and Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt gave each of her players her trademark icy-blue stare.

The Lady Vols were struggling in the start of their Sweet 16 matchup with Notre Dame and Summitt challenged each one in the huddle, asking one by one "Are you going to compete?"

That was it. No discussion of strategy. No offensive plays drawn up. No diagramming how to defend the high post screen and roll that gave Notre Dame easy points.

Just a question of heart.

Coaches are fond of saying that winning, particularly in March, comes down to who wants it more. Sounds odd at first since, well, doesn't everyone want to win?

You may want to win, but the intangible lies in if you're willing to sacrifice in order to get the win. The particulars for the Lady Vols in their NCAA tournament win over Notre Dame included playing defense and rebounding which translates into throwing your body all over the court to get possession of the basketball.

Sometimes sacrifices are really just choices -- decisions we make every day. Is it really a sacrifice to get up at 5 a.m. to get my first training session completed? To pass up going to a Sabres game as fan in order to attend master's swim practice? To eschew the easy, fast food inspired meal and instead take the extra time to cook something healthy?

Aren't those really just choices I make? And the more I make those choices part of my daily life, the less they feel like sacrifices and the more they feel like part of who I am.

And when they do feel like a sacrifice, when the easy, lazy choice looks so tempting, I now trott out my all-purpose motivational line:

June 8.

That's the date of the Keuka Lake triathlon. That's the goal. That's the proverbial prize I have my eye on. June 8 is what will make all the difficult choices (and sacrifices if you will) worth the effort.

Tips from Olympic hopefuls

I have always loved the Olympics. Even now that every single thing -- from time to people -- is an opportunity for gluttonous corporate sponsorship, it's an event I never miss. In fact, I have often sung the praises of living within distance of Canadian television to get actual live coverage of events rather than the pre-packaged, tape-delayed style of coverage American networks are so fond of.

Immersing myself in training during an Olympic year also has its advantages. As the Olympic trials creep up, there are more videos on the web, which in swimming particularly gives me more chances to watch technique and try to replicate it myself in the pool. (OK, I won't actually be able to look like Michael Phelps nor will I be confused with Amanda Beard, but seeing the proper form on my laptop then jetting to my workout gives me a visual to work from.)

Along with trolling the web for video of my favorite swimmers comes this series from The New York Times which offers training advice from Olympic hopefuls.

The first came from swimmer Ryan Lochte who trains at different tempos and has come to add copious amounts of kicking and weight training into his weekly routines.

Along with Lochte's story is the coach's corner which features a series of kicking drills by Gregg Troy, the head swimming coach at the University of Florida and Lochte's personal coach.

For me, the drills and ideas of how to structure a workout in the pool are great for days when I'm on my own in the pool and need something other than just an easy-paced swim.

But even more important than the specifics of the swim, reading about Lochte's workouts provides some inspiration and motivation on those days when spring and summer feel so far away.

A little trash talking to myself

In one of the first meetings I had with Mary Eggers, my triathlon coach, I had asked about how many women participate in triathlon.

The number was growing, for sure, but there were things that held a lot of women back, like typical family and work commitments.

"And believe it or not," Mary said to me. "A lot of women don't do triathlons because they have a fear of wearing a bathing suit in public."

Uh, yeah, I believe that.

Self-consciousness is one of my calling cards.

Which is partly why training for my first triathlon publicly might actually be good for me.

I have to let go of that self conscious part of my brain that wonders if I look like a dork. Or a geek. Or completely not up for the challenge.

Or, worse than those, getting caught in a completely unflattering photo for one of my monthly updates in The Buffalo News or ending up photographed in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle by accident.

I would love to say that I've evolved past harshly critiquing myself but the practice is so ingrained in my character that it's difficult to completely purge.

But training does help quite down my inner critic. Or at least it gives me some pretty good ear plugs to drown out its chatter.

Because nothing is quite so bad during the day after swimming 1,000 yards in the morning when a few months ago your time in the pool was spent bobbing and floating.

Nothing can throw you completely off your game for the day after pounding out a quick 20 miles on an early morning bike ride. And if the day does go wrong, there's always a 30-minute run waiting for you at the end of it all to clear your head, generate some endorphins and give you confidence.

I've committed to my training program and I'm doing it. Who cares what I look like along the way?

OK, sometimes, yes, I do care.

But when that inner critic tries to dismantle my confidence, I start to trash talk back to it.

"Oh yeah?" I say to my inner critic. "What have you done lately, huh? Do you think you can beat me at a race? I could kick your butt. Bring it on."

OK, my trash talk isn't always that lame, but neither is always suitable for a family newspaper (or family newspaper Internet site).

Those self-conscious thoughts will continue to come. It's unfortunate. But I can always drown them out by cranking my iPod to some ungodly tune that my inner critic would absolutely hate.

Ah yes. Bring on the Britney.

It's going to be one of those days.

Announcing the Amy Memorial Race ... sort of

ALBANY -- OK, there's something about Albany and snow that just is plain wrong.

A few weeks ago, I got stuck in the state capital for an extra two days while covering Canisius and Niagara in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball tournament in a downtown hotel with a fitness center room that left much to be desired.

This morning I wake up to snow covered and slippery roads with a light but steady wintry mix continuing to fall as I'm back in Albany to cover the Niagara men's hockey team in the NCAA tournament.

OK, so much for going to the canal running path for today's workout.

Which is a major bummer on several fronts.

See, I was going to run a race. Well, sort of. I was going to wear an old bib number and do about a 5K in my 30 minute run. I was going to come up with a name for it. (Thankfully it can't be the "Amy Moritz Memorial" just yet. That may change, however, after my first open water swim.) I was going to finish both first and last and generally just have a good time with it.

The reason? Three of my four training races have fallen on days when the Niagara men's hockey team has played a game. And all three of those times, the Purple Eagles have won. Tonight, they face national No. 1 Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

And though it makes no actual difference in the outcome, I was going to race anyway. For the record, should they upset Michigan tonight there is a 5K race at the University at Albany on Saturday and I'm ready for that.

In the meantime, I found a promising fitness center near my hotel which looks like it might actually have an indoor track and a pool (insert gasp of disbelief here) along with strength training equipment that is, you know, useful.

Heck, if it works out, maybe I can do a mini version of the indoor tri and time and pace a swim and a run.

At least then I'll actually get a good workout in on the road and for once not feel like a total slacker when filling out my daily training log in a hotel.

Lunch-time update

When I last came to Albany I stayed downtown in order to walk to the arena and avoid things like traffic and parking. My colleague Mike Harrington was slightly appalled, since there is no Marriott in downtown Albany and if you know anything about sportswriters it's that above all else, earn the Marriott points. I headed his advice this time and stayed on the outskirts of town in a Marriott-brand hotel.

And lo and behold, there was a fitness center just down the street and around the corner.

I mean a real fitness center. With a pool and an indoor track. Heck it even had an indoor water slide and basketball courts. It was a freakin' fitness cornucopia.

So even though I was not scheduled for a swim, I jumped at the chance to get in the lap pool (thankfully I had thrown my bright orange swimsuit with "Andiamo" emblazoned across my rear into my workout bag) and swam for half an hour doing about 1,000 yards. I'm not quite sure that's exactly what I did. I tend to lose count when I swim as different things pop into my mind to distract me: feature story ideas, the possibility of pancakes, whom I could get to smuggle me some Coffee Crisp and Aero Bars in from Canada. You know, the usual mental banter during training.

I then moved up to the indoor track and ran my prescribed easy pace for 30 minutes. Then for good measure I threw in some functional strength training.

Thank goodness a bunch of pint-sized boys invaded the basketball courts or I might have goofed around for another half hour or so.

Back on the road to Albany

The message from my coach came via email this week: Just relax.

Um, hello. Did she just meet me?

Actually she knows me pretty well by now. Hence the message to relax. It's another travel week for me and I spent too much extra energy trying to figure out how to get in swim and bike workouts in Albany. I was so engrossed with moving things around on my weekly training calendar at Niagara's men's hockey practice the other day, I almost forgot why I asked to talk with forward Vince Rocco in the first place.

Ah yes, that whole NCAA tournament thing.

Seriously, I think the chlorine is leaching into my skin and chemically altering my brain.

On the bright side, all that time in the water is starting to pay off.

All right, so yet again I ran out of time at master's swim practice to complete the entire workout that Greg Murnock gave us last night. I swam the three sets of 400 yards. Did the three sets of 300 yards and finished the three sets of 200 yards before I noticed the clock read about 9:58. Those 100 yard sets were just not getting done in the next two minutes.

And I still had some packing to do before leaving for Albany to cover that NCAA hockey regional.

Yet I felt like I was going fast. I felt like my turnover picked up. I felt like I was finally getting my stroke right and pushing myself forward. Heck, I felt like I had different speeds within my sets. This is progress considering my previous speeds in the pool consisted of "swim" and "float."

For the next few days my focus will be on running since that's what I can most easily do on the road. (Though I am hoping the hotel this time has fitness room with better equipment so I can do at least some of my strength training.)

And maybe, just maybe, I'll give myself permission to relax.

Celebrity Tri Match: Me versus J-Lo

To borrow a phrase from Sports Illustrated, this week's sign that the Apocalypse is now upon us came when I opened up my weekly email digest from USA Triathlon.

Apparently, Jennifer Lopez has decided to enter a triathlon sometime in the fall of 2008.

Frankly, I'm not so sure how I feel about undertaking the same athletic goal as J-Lo. Does it bring some recognition to the sport or does it drag triathlon into the pop culture world? (I officially call jumping the shark if she starts designing fashion triathlon gear.)

It does bring memories of the original MTV series "Celebrity Death Match" which pits celebrities in a wrestling ring almost always ending in someone's untimely, and ungraceful, demise. Not that I would win a triathlon celebrity death match with J-Lo. But thinking about it serves several purposes including (a) distracting me when I'm on a coach-imposed iPod-free run and (b) allowing me to forget, for a moment, that I have now lost my second heart rate monitor.

On the non-J-Lo front: I'm ready for the cold weather to break so I can get on my bike. It's back from the good folks at Tom's Pro Bike Shop, who have taken better care of me and my Specialized Allez than either of us deserve. It's tuned up, repaired with new bike tubes and ready to roll -- if only the air and wind temperature would cooperate. Yes, I know I could suck it up and get out there anyway, but it's difficult to stay hydrated when the water freezes in your water bottle.

My bike is celebrating its third complete season of summer riding. We've been through a lot together, including the hills of Italy this past September. Yes, I have very strong (and admittedly somewhat unnatural) feelings about my bike. I was even considering towing my bike along to Albany this weekend for Niagara's appearance in the NCAA hockey tournament since on my last journey to the state capital I found the canal bike path. The weather forecast looks uncooperative, but I might bring my Specialized along with me anyway.

Tell me, do you think J-Lo has that type of commitment?

Taking cues from Oklahoma State

There was a little more than a minute left in a tight second-round NCAA women's basketball game between No. 3 Oklahoma State and No. 11 Florida State.

During a time out, coach Kurt Burdke reported asked each of his Oklahoma State players to give him everything they had left. Leave everything on the floor.

The Cowgirls did and they held off Florida State for a 73-72 overtime win Monday night.

Back in the ESPN studios, commentator Doris Burke pointed out the importance of that coaching strategy. Burdke didn't put any pressure on his players. There was no pleading to make plays. Just work hard. Work as hard as you can. By focusing on that, the plays would come. And if by chance the plays didn't come it surely wasn't for a lack of effort (which is in your control) just a lack of chance (which is out of your control).

In the three races I've entered to date, my triathlon coach has always given me the same race plan -- sprint the final bit, finish strong. There might be plenty of technical things I can think about at the end of a race but it comes down to just going for it, putting my head down, sucking it up and knowing there are pancakes in my future if I can just gut out this final mile, this final lap or heck, even this final .1 mile.

The emphasis on effort and working hard when you're not blessed with tons of talent has made me a fan of Oklahoma State this season.

So too has the fact that just two years ago they went 0-16 in the Big 12 conference.

Now they're in the Sweet 16.

The change didn't happen overnight and I'm betting it didn't come easily.

But the turnaround took place thanks to work, belief and effort.

It's just the kind of inspirational story to get me through the dregs of March with that warm spring weather somewhere around the corner.

My mother has no fashion sense

My mother walked into the kitchen wearing this hideous bright lime green shirt. She appeared to be very proud of it, though I wasn't quite sure why. I smiled and nodded my head and went back to writing my story about the Niagara hockey team's placement in the NCAA tournament field.

"Look," she insisted.

The bright shirt was emblazoned with "Team Mo" with the phrase "What time is it?" on the front and "Game Time!" on the back.

Seems my sister-in-law designed the t-shirts for my family to wear as they cheer me on at my first triathlon at Keuka Lake in June.

OK. Reality check. This was tremendous.

First of all, the shirts are supposed to be ugly. She designed them like that on purpose so they'd stand out in the crowd.

Second, the "What time is it? Game Time!" is something my brother and I have done over the phone before my training races. Yes, we have covered way too much college basketball in our day. And yes when people see me yelling "Game Time!" into my cell phone they look both confused and disturbed. Then again, my brother and I are used to getting those looks. When put together we immediately revert back to being 12 and 8.

Which frankly, is a good thing.

It helps keep me loose. It helps me remember to have fun. Occasionally on training runs the thought of "Game Time" will pop into my brain. I smile. It's a touchstone for me, one that helps me relax and focus at the same time.

Keeping the fun in my training has become one of my weekly goals. My coach encourages all her athletes to write weekly summaries. In it, you discuss the week that was (what went well, what didn't) and your goals for the upcoming week.

It has a purpose for my coach who takes the information to help devise the next week's training plan.

For me, I get a chance to reflect on the previous week, to note improvements, where I was too hard on myself or where I was too easy on myself. This week I was extraordinarily pleased with my training. I hit all of my scheduled workouts, managed to fit some extra yoga into my week and generally felt great about my intensity and focus.

Goal setting for the week can be as basic or complicated as you want it to be. Mine always includes hitting my scheduled workouts -- doing what my coach asks of me. This week, I also have a goal to be easy on myself if things get out of sorts as traveling back to Albany for the NCAA hockey regional could pose a few training snafus.

And one of my goals this week was to remember to have fun.

Yes, sometimes I have to remind myself of this. Because fun can come in a lot of different packages that we don't always recognize at first. It can be in verbal banter decipherable to only my brother and myself. It can come in finishing my swim workout feeling like I was gliding through the water. It can come in the random compliments I get from people at the gym.

And sometimes, it can come in the form of a bright green t-shirt.

The zen of chocolate creme eggs

I have a very simple training goal today: Not to eat my weight in Cadbury Creme Eggs. Or in Polish coffee cake.

Granted, I won't be abstaining from such Easter treats entirely but I'm hoping that I can act like an adult and not a 6-year-old kid who has just been given free reign over the candy store. Then again, why start acting like a grown-up now?

Lately, I've been doing double duty while writing my blog posts -- as in sneaking bites of breakfast in between keyboard strokes.

But this morning I made it a point to eat breakfast at the kitchen table in an effort to start practicing mindfulness. It started when I read a post from multisport athlete Alicia Parr about mindfulness (also known as being present or being in the moment). In general, it is a way of practicing being focused, whether it's on a task (like cleaning, swimming or eating) or on the people you are with.

How do you do that? Well among the 12 essential rules to live more like a zen monk are practices such as doing one thing at a time, doing things deliberately and developing rituals.

"There is no law saying what should be essential for you," the post on Zen Habits reads. "But you should consider what is most important to your life, and make room for that by eliminating the other less essential things in your life."

It sounds like a great place to start Spring cleaning -- clearing out the clutter in my head along with purging my closet of clothes that no longer fit me.

What is essential in my life today? Going for my 50-minute easy paced run to keep up with my training, which has become a very essential part of my life. Also essential -- enjoying a Cadbury Creme Egg and pastry with family and friends in mindful celebration of the season.

Making peace with my results

There are two ways to measure yourself in races -- by where you finish in the field or where you finish in comparison with yourself.

Which one is more valid? Which one is more important?

For me, it depends on the day. And that can be a bad thing. Since I really should only be concerned with my personal improvement, not my placement in the field.

But that's easier said than done.

Take for instance, my overall results from the RIT Indoor Tri last weekend. All my individual performances improved but overall, I placed 81st out of 100 athletes. Percentage-wise, that's about the same place in the field that I finished the previous month when I ran the Rochester YMCA Indoor Tri.

Frankly, that result bummed me out.

Then, because I am a firm believer that you can make numbers tell you anything you want, I broke down my results further.

Looking at female competitors, I finished 29th out of 43. In the swim, my distance was the 41st best. My run placed 19th and my bike 13th.

So I gather that I was in a field of pretty strong swimmers.

And that's something I can't control. I can't control who shows up to a race. I can't control who my competition is. Hence, I can't really control where I finish in the field.

I was talking with a college basketball coach about this athletic predicament -- showing signs of individual improvement without the results (wins or placement) to prove it.

It's one of the tricky things about the mental side of athletics. You do your best to prepare physically, mentally and emotionally. You put in the work and the focus ... and you still may not win or be successful. Then comes the fear: What if my best isn't good enough? That fear, she said, holds back a lot of athletes.

The desire to win alone doesn't get you the wins or the placement, she told me. The desire to win drives you to make the sacrifices on a daily basis to become your best. Competition is the reward for that work.

And it is a reward. So I may have wished my race placement was better, but those indoor tris and road races have been fun.

Mary, my tri coach, was very happy with my results. I swam 100 yards further this time, I ran further and I did back-to-back races at a darn good clip.

Oh, and if you recall a few months ago my struggle to complete swimming a length of the pool? Heck, I've already come a long way, regardless of what the final results sheet says.

And, if I focus daily on the things I can control, the placing will eventually take of itself.

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