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Shopping for a wetsuit

Yesterday I finally took the plunge.

I bought my wetsuit.

Some people eschew wetsuits for triathlons. They either have some sort of bionic makeup that keeps them from feeling cold or live in year-round warm-weather climate. Frankly, there are days when I'm cold in the pool so swims in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, yeah, those are going to be quite chilly. And Keuka Lake on June 8 will likely be cold. Temperatures of the lake range from 55 degrees to 70 degrees and the last two years the lake has been in the 60s for the race.

Wetsuit it is.

I went to Handlebars on Englewood for my wetsuit initiation and tried on several suits to get the right size and then the right feel.

Getting the right fit and putting the suit on correctly are key components to a successful wetsuit purchase and competition use. I had heard so much talk about getting in and out of wetsuits I was prepared for a battle with my neoprene friend.

Truth is, a little body glide and patience and it really wasn't all that difficult to get on.

Wetsuits are supposed to feel snug. You feel a bit constricted and it does limit your arm movement. But it keeps you warm, helps you float and can make you a bit faster. It's a trade off and for being warm with a bit of extra flotation in the open water, I'll take the slight restriction.

And really, you feel kinda cool in a wetsuit. A bit ridiculous as you walk around the store doing your freestyle stroke to check out the fit, but cool nonetheless.

I've bought new running kicks and changed my pedals on my bike. But those are things I might have done anyway,whether I was training for a triathlon or not. A wetsuit is something I would not otherwise have purchased.

I feel official now. Which is a good thing.

That June 8 date is rapidly approaching.

Cleaning out my big bag of stuff

When I walked into the spinning room Monday morning, my friend Darlene promptly got off her bike, came over and gave me a hug.

"I am so proud of you," she said, referring to my improved time in my 5K this past weekend. "You know, every time you write about your times you always way, 'Well I did this, but...' I think you're doing great."

I thought about that the rest of the day. It is something I often do -- qualify my successes or even excuse them. I ran 25 seconds faster in my 5K this week? Yes, but my time is still pretty slow. I cycled through the hills of Italy? Yes, but I wasn't very fast.

I could go on with examples from training, from work, from life in general. Part of it is that nasty habit of comparing myself with other people. Part of it is a fear of hubris. Part of it is a feeling that I'm really not good enough to toot my own horn anyway.

My coach likes to talk about putting aside our big bag of stuff when we train. I think that training can bring up that big bag of stuff in the first place, force us to look at it and dismiss it for what it is -- old junk that no longer serves us. We look at it, try to remember where and why we picked it up, then toss it away with today's easy-paced run. There can be lots of stuff in the bag or one gigantic thing that just won't seem to go away, but once you start spring cleaning that big bag of stuff, everything feels a little freer.

Before I went to master's swim practice Monday night, I came across a quote from Judy Garland: "Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else."

Just another way of letting go of comparisons.

I took that attitude into swim practice and genuinely had fun.

Really. Even that 800 after warmups wasn't so bad.

Even getting a pull buoy tossed at me to use for the rest of practice was A-OK. See, there were times when I used to think, "Boy, I wish I was good enough to just swim with only a few minor adjustments and not have to be stopped and given training toys to work with."

The ridiculousness of that sentiment finally sunk in last night. This is swim practice. I'm not racing my triathlon here. I'm trying to become a better swimmer and gosh darn it, that means using any means necessary. And my nickname at the pool might as well be "Wiggle Worm" since given the opportunity I will use the entire width of the lane to swim my laps.

So when swim master Greg tossed me the buoy I knew it was time to work on my head placement. By the end of my sets of 200 I finally felt the right head placement -- turning my head to breathe but keeping one eye underwater. Heck I could still see things in the pool when I turned my head to breathe.

Greg, are you looking? I think I got it.

A few times water got up my nose as I tried to work with the air pocket on my breath. Greg said I'd get used to that. I figured it was just some extra hydration.

I did get to take a little bit of a break in the middle of my practice as some alarm started going off in the pool. I stopped. Other people were still swimming and it seemed as if there was nothing really wrong. Still, I asked Carolyn who was swimming next to me if we were under attack.

"Apparently," she said.

"Do we keep swimming?" I asked.

She turned to me with a mock-serious face and said flatly, "Always keep swimming."

I actually laughed while finishing that set.

And my big bag of stuff started to feel a little bit lighter.

Learning to fall

Yesterday was an easy day. Just an hour on the bike as I work to get my "road" legs back. I enjoy spin classes but there is something much better about being on the road, feeling your bike go faster and hearing your gears shift to get up those rolling hills that puts me in a zen-like state.

Frankly, I needed a bit of a zen yesterday as it was my first ride with my new shoes and pedals. This system of clipping into my pedals is different than what I'm used to and I was slow off stop signs and red lights as I tried to get that secure feeling and resounding "click" to know that my bike and I were one.

I went to clipless pedals last spring. For those not familiar with the benefits of clipless pedals, they basically give you more power on each pedal stroke and help you become a more efficient cyclist. And they provide great comic relief and potential for any sort of funny home video contest. See, you will fall.  It's a given. When I first got my clipless pedals, I jaunted around my neighborhood to get used to clipping in and out at starts and stops. The first time I tried to clip out, just up the street from where I live, I freed up my left leg and from a dead stop proceeded to fall over onto my right side.

OK. Let's try this again.

Around the corner, I slowed down to a complete stop, clipped out of my left pedal and --- fell over to my right side again.

By the end of the session my right thigh was rather bruised.

It only took me about three falls to realize that my tendency on the bike is to put my right foot down first, so I need to clip out of my right pedal at stop signs and traffic lights.

I am sure some of my neighbors are still wondering about that girl who kept falling over on her bike last spring.

Luckily, I didn't fall on Sunday's ride with the new pedal system but it will take a bit of getting used to. And I'm not ruling out an embarrassing low-level spill just yet. Only this time, it likely will happen in the parking lot of a group ride.

Running from the wizard in Niagara Falls

Sherpa and I were walking toward the car when Tim Schmidt, a sportswriter for the Niagara Gazette stopped me.

"Hey, my day is made," he told me. "I can't believe I beat you."

OK wait a minute. Did someone just say they were psyched because they beat me?

That seems a bit surreal.

I wasn't anticipating a great time at the Envirun 5K in Niagara Falls Saturday morning. I was at the tail-end of a nearly 12-hour training week -- the largest volume and most difficult set of workouts I've had to date.

That first mile felt really good. To be honest, the first one always does and predictably I went out a bit too fast. I passed the mile mark at 9:40 which is a rather quick pace for me. I needed to save something in the tank for when the wizard reared his head.

The course goes along the Robert Moses Parkway and loops around Goat Island. It's a beautiful route, which is why you don't realize there are some unkind inclines and that wind in your face doesn't exactly help your cause.

By the time I hit the two-mile mark the wizard started to appear. I then found myself in a sort of tete-a-tete race with another woman. I passed her. Then she sped up to pass me. And so we went through the last 1.1 miles of the race. As we turned off Goat Island the wizard was in full view. In a previous life, the wizard must have been a boxer or hockey player because boy can he sure deliver a blow right to my solar plexus.

I caught a glimpse of Sherpa off to the side, encouraging me to pick up the pace to the finish. I did. OK, then I let up a bit, then I went back to a sprint across the finish line.

The clock read 30:19.

That's about 25 seconds faster than last week's 5K -- and with my heaviest training week.

I don't know the technical ins and outs but quite frankly I am thrilled with that time. I felt good. I did my hour bike ride afterward, into that stiff wind thank you very much, and continued to feel happy and strong.

Once my ride was done, I took my bike into Tom's Pro Bike Shop to get my new pedals installed and pick up my triathlon cycling shoes. We discussed my training a bit and I was reminded that newbies to the sport often look at their times and get discouraged. Instead, newbies really should just work on getting through each part and trying to keep problems (like crashing the bike or under-hydrating) at a minimum.

It was a good reminder as part of me still wished for a sub-30 minute 5K time but the bigger part of me knew that I have improved leaps and bounds in my fitness and race strategy over the last few months.

The wizard makes sure of that.

The start of shopping season

Nothing quite perks up a day like new shoes.

I knew I needed better running shoes. Hard core runners log how many miles they put on their shoes and change them at certain intervals. I would wait until (a) there was a hole in the toe, (b) they no longer felt all that great on my feet or (c) I wanted a different color. And previously I would go into a store and look at the sale items.

This time, I changed it up. I went to a running-specific store instead of a mega store. They looked at my feet and told me I needed a stability shoe. I tried on several pairs and ran around outside the store to see how they felt.

The verdict: A pair by New Balance in shades of white, gray and pink.

I've already worn them several times and will give it the ultimate test in today's Envirun 5K.

When that's completed, I'll hop down to my favorite bike store to pick up my new triathlon-specific cycling shoes and new pedals. What makes them triathlon shoes? Well, they have a big loop at the heel which makes it easy to grab and pull on. It has only an adjustable Velcro strip so you you're not fussing with laces and buckles. And it has ventilation and cushy comfort which may make socks optional.

But the new gear purchases aren't done quite yet. I still need to work on getting a wet suit as the water temperature of Keuka Lake on June 8 is likely to be quite chilly. And I need a tri-specific top and bottom to wear underneath the wetsuit -- something that takes me from swim to bike to run.

Looks like shopping season has begun.

Getting in the mood

I opened up my email this morning and read the daily note that my coach sends out to her stable of athletes.

Mary is in crunch time of her training for the Gulf Coast Half Ironman on May 8 and she often shares tidbits of her own process with us

Today, she wrote about how focused she is. How absolutely excited she was to wake up early and get on her bike and start her long, hard training for the day.

I sighed.

Because frankly, the last two days, I haven't totally been in the mood.

Here's the thing: I'll complain in my head all the way to the workout. I'll feel unmotivated and wonder if maybe my time wouldn't better be spent watching a Law and Order marathon.

Then I'll actually start the workout and after the first five minutes, I feel just fine. It's like an annoying old friend -- you hesitate at the beginning but fall into a comfortable and surprisingly enjoyable rhythm over that second cup of coffee.

This is my heaviest training week to date. It's no wonder I'm a little sore, a little tired, a little just not in the mood.

But when I take a deep breathe and stare down what it's in front of me -- whether it be the final 500 yards in the pool, the path that will take me to meet the wizard on an interval run or even a 45-minute spin class -- there is no waffling on my part because I know this workout will make me better in so many different areas.

I may not have the enthusiasm at the start of my workout that Mary has, but I still have complete enjoyment during the work. In fact, at some points, my lack of cartwheel turning joy has allowed me to focus better during the workout, paying closer attention to things like form and pace instead of just pounding away with adrenaline.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a date to meet the wizard. Today is an interval run and I'm sure by the end of the hard running set, he will show up.

Stopping the insanity of comparisons

Inevitably, wherever I am, I will find someone to compare myself to.

I can be at the gym on a treadmill, in the pool, in spin class or even alone on my bike and somehow, I'll find a way to judge myself based on what others are doing.

Check that -- based on what I think others are doing.

Occasionally, it's a good basis of competition for me, as in "See that guy/gal over there? I want to finish this 5K race before him/her."

But more often than not, the comparisons become a bunch of negative self thoughts. I start thinking about how hard I'm working. So then, why am I not going faster? It's not fair. It's frustrating. That person over there doesn't look to be working nearly as hard as I am and yet I'm slower.

The truth is, I have no idea what is going on with that other person.

And so why bother.

Yes, that's much easier said than done and moving away from thoughts of comparison is something I will need to work on for some time. A big part of letting go of negative thought is by being in the moment -- enjoying the group of people you happen to be riding with, or running with or even stuck in a gym class with. It can be enjoying the solitude of a run or ride or the sensory deprecation that comes when you get into a rhythm in the pool.

I've been told numerous times that once you let go is when you take off.

The rest of this week I will work on letting go of judgment and comparisons and just work. My bet is that by the end of this brutal training week I'll have gone much further than I thought I could.

A greener way to race

As I was deciding which triathlons to compete in this summer (because, yes, June 8th at Keuka Lake is to be my first triathlon) I noticed a trend with several race applications.

The question was: How were you going to offset your carbon footprint at the race?

You could car pool or ride your bike to the race. Or you could calculate your "carbon cost" and tack it on to your registration.

Interesting I thought.

So on this Earth Day, I looked a bit into the idea of greening races -- making them more environmentally friendly. Because it's not just the cars that drive the racers to the event that creates a nasty carbon footprint but all those disposable plastic cups at the aid stations and water bottles at the end of the race which end up in the trash can instead of being recycled.

I found two sites on the web which are designed to help race directors run a more eco-friendly race: Athletes for a Fit Planet and 5430 Sports.

Additionally, in my handy USA Triathlon magazine this month is a note that the XTERRA ECO TEAM is researching how to turn old and leftover swim caps into flip flops.

Meanwhile, I think about what I can do to help keep races green and that includes recycling my water bottles and bringing my own reusable bottle with me.

And trust me, I needed to tote around my own water bottle all day yesterday. Yes, three workouts scheduled, three workouts completed. A friend asked when I find time to actually, you know, work. Well, run in the morning, spin at lunch time and swim at night. Leaves more than enough time to get my actual day job done.

It was a long, long, long day and ended with 3,000 yards of swimming. Oh, and that 3,000 yards included just two sets after the warm up -- each of 1,000 yards. It wasn't always pretty (I am so focused on pushing my body up that my swim coach needed to stop and correct my reach and catch on the stroke) but I swam 1,000 yards without stopping. Twice.

Thankfully today is an easy 45 minute run.

Never did I think I would be thankful for 45 minutes of running. It's amazing how quickly your perspective can change.

Cheering for Tom Boonen and a busy week

My coach was very happy with 5K time at the Niagara County Bicentennial.

See, what I forgot was just how heavy a training week I had last week. I put in nearly 11 hours of training in all three disciplines I had an hour-long swim workout and an interval run the day before the race.

So being just a tad slower? Not a bad thing at all in Coach Mary's book.

Which brings me to this week. Because this week I will go over 11 hours of training. Today I will do not one, not two, but three workouts -- by design.

I have a feeling that Kayne West song, "That which don't kill me can only make me stronger" will be playing in a loop in my head all week. Sarcastically thanking Coach Mary for the heavy load she replied with a sinister laugh and a "Welcome to Amy's big week."

Ah, there were weeks when I had a light training load and I wondered if I was truly doing enough.

Yeah. Next time I will bask in the glory of a recovery week and put any inclinations toward obsessive-compulsive disorder on the back burner.

Meanwhile, I spent some downtime on Sunday watching cycling on Versus as Tom Boonen won the Paris-Roubaix race with a sprint to the finish line. Boonen became one of my favorites during last year's Tour de France. I actually cheered when he pulled ahead in the final kilometer.

Keeping up with the sporting news, two more athletes earned spots on the U.S. Olympic triathlon team this weekend. There is one more race in June which serves as an Olympic qualifier.

And then today, again on Versus, is the 112th running of the Boston Marathon. Of course the Versus promos for the coverage phrased it "The Boston Marathon featuring Lance Armstrong" as the former cycling champion takes up distance running. Obviously the Versus audience watching a cycling event is going to be more familiar with Lance than with, say, any of the top runners in the field. But it still felt a bid odd to me.

Of course I don't have much time to contemplate the oddness of it all. I have a chase-the-wizard workout to start right about now.

Running from the heart

I looked down at my watch.

30:30.

Crude.

I crossed the finish line slower in the Niagara County Bicentennial 5K than I did in the Bengal 5K.

Here's the thing: At the Bengal 5K I felt like I might just die and finished with a time I was pretty happy with.

At yesterday's race I felt absolutely great. I mean capital letter GREAT. I entered the pain cave at mile two and chased the wizard across the finish line. I was having fun and feeling strong. And my time didn't reflect any of that.

The universe really does have a sick sense of humor.

It bothered me for a little bit. My text message to my core group of friends showed that tinge of disappointment as I gave my time, noted it was slower than last time, but that I felt really good and strong.

My brother was the first to respond: "Feeling good is more important. Plus, it's faster than Mike Harrington could run." (No disrespect meant to my colleague Mike. He would be the first to joke about it, too).

So that made me smile as my parents, who were substitute Sherpas for the day, took me to get pancakes.

Then I got a text from Sherpa, who was working yesterday morning. "Good job." Simple and to the the point. That good feeling I had during the race was starting to resurface.

Then from my friend Michele: "Stay positive! You are doing what you never thought you would a year ago! I've been running three years and you are faster than me! Good job speedy!"

And it all came home. My time actually wasn't that far off from my last 5K. And really, I had a lot of fun. I felt great. And I had pancakes. What more could I want?

I continued to bask in the feeling greatness while I went on my hour-long bike ride to "flush out the lactic acid" as my coach said. Light resistance (I wasn't mashing any gears) and high cadence on one of my typical country road loops. The first 20 minutes my legs were a bit stiff, but they loosened up. The light ride really did help expunge anything that built up in my muscles after the race.

During the ride, I thought about the race. I thought about what I had learned. After all, this is only my fourth race -- ever -- though I'm betting I could run for another 30 years and still learn something each and every time out. What I learned yesterday:

1. I need to work on hydration before the race. I drink too much water before hand and I can actually feel it, swishing around my stomach, about halfway through the course.

2. There's a different mental focus needed for races with few people as opposed to mass races. All three of my other races had been packed with people. Hence, I could always play competitive games with myself. First, at the start of the race, I usually pick out people I would like to beat. Some races I do. Some races I don't. Others I never know. But in the races with lots of runners, there are always people along the course. I don't have to think about my pace much after the first mile. Instead, I would think a bit about my pace while saying to myself, "OK, see that woman up there? Pass her." And so on.

Yesterday's race was small, which was fine. I had plenty of people to pace me through the start. Just after mile two, I passed the last woman I thought I could beat at the start of the race. Then, there was nobody. I was basically running by myself. I dug down deep, made friends with the pain cave and caught a guy who at this point was doing more walking than running. Of course, as I closed in on passing, he started running again but I still beat him across the finish line.

Moral of the story: When I'm on the course by myself I need to focus and not try to rely on other runners to pull me through.

When I returned from my bike ride I had a text back from my coach: "Great performance today, especially on a big week of training!! We need to get you out of your head. No more second guessing yourself."

I wrote her back and said how I felt great and how much fun I had and that I thought that was the biggest thing to take away from today.

She wrote back: "B-I-N-G-O" emphasized with about a zillion exclamation points.

I'm finally starting to get how to race from my heart instead of my head.

And racing from the heart is a whole lot more fun. 

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