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On family support and Ironman Florida

One way to gage how much your family and friends support you -- they sneak you into their gym for a workout.

Friday brought a visit to my brother and sister-in-law and while I woke up early enough to get in an hour's worth of cycling on my trainer, my lack of preparation for a weekend out of town meant I didn't get in my 30-minute run.

Never fear. I was able to rather easily get into their gym and onto a treadmill.

Heck, for lunch I even got a very nice tofu-based sandwich. I mean, what more can a girl want?

What means most, though, is the ease with which my sibling and sibling-in-law helped me get not only my workout in, but my nutritional quirks, I mean needs, met. If you have an athlete in your life, never underestimate the importance of support.

Meanwhile on Saturday, while I'm doing another 30-minute run, others will be competing in Ironman Florida. I now know a handful of athletes who will be competing there, but one of special interest is Curt Eggers, the husband of my coach, Mary of Train This! While I'll be reuniting with friends I met during my cycling trip to Italy, I will sneak in a few trips to see the updates on the Ironman site and track his progress.

Finding my strength

This weekend I will be reunited with my friend, Michele, whom I met on the Women's Quest trip to Italy last fall.

Among the planned events, we're planning to do a hike on Sunday afternoon.

And so I asked my coach to remind me of the rule: Does the hike take the place of the easy-paced run I have scheduled?

"Last year, yes," she replied in a an email. "Preparing for the marathon, do both."

Insert her evil laugh here.

But I was kind of glad.

Bring it on.

There are some days when my workout is the only sane part of my day. And as other things in my life continue to seemingly swirl out of control my workouts become more focused and more intense. Pile it on. Let me run long, do swim drills forever and bike as hard as I can. The pain of the workout momentarily blocks the emotional and mental pain that otherwise has the potential to paralyze me. It becomes more than just an outlet -- it becomes my source of strength.

On 'marathon eating' and swim drills

Think good eating and marathon running are mutually exclusive?

Think again.

Check out this New York Times article on Joe Bastianich, a heavyweight (so to speak) in the restaurant business. (You may have heard of his business partner, Mario Batali of Food Network Fame). Bastianich took up running as a way to help his sleep apnea and while he doesn't participate in marathon eating anymore, he still enjoys food and wine -- only in smaller portions.

A typical meal for him after a run is "a pan-seared rib-eye steak with a porcini rub, garlicky broccoli rabe and mashed potatoes made with a touch of butter and soy milk."

Not your typical runner's fare. He hopes to finish the New York City Marathon Sunday in 3 hours 43 minutes.

While I am not running any marathons until May, my training took me back to the pool for more drill work. My coach is trying to bore me into going into a master's swim program and yes, coach, really I will join the group swim torture sessions next week.

But there is something calming about doing drill work. It's slow. It's methodical. It's really feeling the water and how your body moves through it. And on days when your mind is racing a million miles an hour, that controlled, rhythmic effort can be more beneficial than pounding out distance.

In memory of Ryan

Last year, the New York City Marathon was to be a celebration of running -- more so than usual -- as the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials would run the same 26.2-mile course on Saturday with the annual NYC event on Sunday.

But triumph and tragedy are often intertwined in life.

At the Olympic Trial race, 28-year-old Ryan Shay collapsed a mile 5 1/2. Autopsy results released in March said that Shay died of natural causes -- from an irregular heartbeat.

On Sunday, 19 of his former Notre Dame teammates will run in his memory as will many members of his family. They say this is a way to honor Ryan -- by running a race he never got to finish.

Shay was a nine-time All-American at Notre Dame but he was a long shot last year to make his first Olympic team. It was his work ethic that got him noticed.

It's one of those classic stories that touches your heart. One of those stories that reminds you that life is too precious to sit on the sideline, far too short not to take a risk on yourself.

Marathon season

While you can choose to race 26.2 miles pretty much any month of the year, the traditional times to compete in the Marathon are the fall or spring.

As I'm gearing up for my first Marathon attempt at the Buffalo race in the spring, the world of the fall marathon has caught my attention, particularly with the New York City Marathon at 3 p.m. on Sunday.

I remain particularly interested in the story of Paula Radcliffe -- the defending champion at New York City. Radcliffe is British, which of course means she gets to enjoy all the scrutiny that is the British press including having to face critics after she finished just 23rd at the Beijing Olympics.

But Radcliffe won a 10-mile tune-up race in England yesterday and said that while she was under-prepared for the Olympics (she was dealing with a calf injury) she feels she has put in the miles to defend her title. But she will have competition from Gete Wami, the Ethiopian runner who finished second at the event last year.

Add to the mix the return of Zola Budd -- the runner who was involved with the crash with Mary Decker in the 3,000 meter final at the 1984 Los Angels Olympics -- and it's already an interesting field.

Meanwhile, I was sending out positive vibes to people I knew who were running Marathons or half Marathons on Sunday.

Geoff Nason, a fellow member of The Buffalo News Sports department, ran his first half Marathon in an impressive 1:43.31.

In Washington, D.C. my friend Mark was running the Marine Corps Marathon and finished in 3:57.26.

It gives me hope and inspiration to see people I know not only complete the course but do well. It almost makes me want to go run in the pouring rain today.

Well, almost.

Perhaps I'll wimp out and hit the treadmill instead.

After all, I have seven months to go until the spring Marathon season.

Skill development

At least my workouts aren't boring.

Granted, they're kicking my butt.

And at times I need notes taped to my bike (which has securely become a stationary bike on a trainer in the basement) but right now, two workouts ever seem to be quite the same.

This is what my coach called the "transition phase" of my training. I forgot to ask her exactly what transition phase means but after that we start building my fitness base.

Perhaps this is my transition away from my off-season donuts back into the reality of training with a purpose.

Last year, my workouts primarily were varations of just doing the three disciplines. I would swim. I would bike. I would run.

Now, there's more funky stuff in the workouts.

Like yesterday's bike workout where I spent five minutes pedaling with just my rigth foot (with my bike on a trainer ... don't worry. I wasn't in traffic) then five minutes pedaling with just my left foot.

Trust me, it's harder than it sounds.

Today during my swim workout, I'll spend most of the time doing one drill: the finger tip drag. My actual "swimming" time will be reduced to my warmup and cool down laps.

The idea is to work on skill technique and strength. The repetition builds habits, hopefully good ones, which will carry me through tougher workouts and increase my speed and efficiency in competition.

At least that's the plan. If I'm going to finish my 1.2 mile swim next September in Muskoka within the time limit (something around 1 hour and 10 minutes) then I need all the skill development I can get.

Hills for Breakfast

It was 5:15 in the morning and I was getting in my car, still only half awake though the part of me that was awake was a bit nervous.

I was off to meet my friend Sue and her friend Joe (and his dog Kea) for an easy four-mile run at Chestnut Ridge Park. And I realize the terms "easy" and "Chestnut Ridge" don't really go together. I was going to have to tackle some hills for the first time.

In the darkness of the autumn morning I had a fitness flashback to my childhood where I would get up at some awfully early time to watch (and participate) in the television show Morning Stretch hosted by fitness guru Joannie Greggains. I found she's still helping women across the country get fit and make exercise part of their daily lives, particularly the over-30 set as a contributor to the site Smart Now. And when champion long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad is part of the site, well, I'm in for checking out health and fitness advice.

Back at Chestnut Ridge, I start out for the easy run, without my own flashlight or headlight, and promptly trip myself up. I fall hard on my right side, but since it's cold out my body is completely covered with winter running gear. No brush bruns this time. And no other damage that I can ascertain.

We have a series of small hills and gradual inclines which occasionally make us all agree to slow down the pace. Then we get to the hill nicknamed "Mother." Sue, who just ran a half marathon the day before, jaunts up it with no problem. Joe and I huff and puff our way up it. I have no idea if what I'm doing actually would be regarded as true "running" but I keep going and make it to the top.

I get home and the sun is just starting to rise and frankly, between the very, very early morning hour and the hill workout, I feel I need to take a siesta at lunch time.

Hill workouts aren't officially part of my training just yet, but I'm already confident that it will help me in January when I'm running the Miami half marathon.

Bird by Bird

1019081251a1_2 The great danger in having friends who both train with you and read your blog is that they can hold what you write against you.

And so it hapened on Sunday morning.

I had my first official nutty of the 2008-09 season in the parking lot of Widewaters Marina in Lockport. Earlier in the day the enormity of what I had signed up for started to hit me. I am training for my first marathon. I am training for my first Half Ironman race. And I'm doing it all by myself. Granted, my position is favorable for many reasons, including the fact that I don't have to balance a husband and children in my mix. Granted, I know that women balance career, family, friends and serious athletic training successfully every day.

But Sunday morning when I saw the pile of dirty dishes in the sink and the basket of unfolded laundry and the stack of game notes and press releases in my home office to plow through, well, I started to feel slightly overwhelmed about the prospect of doing all these things by myself.

And it's only October.

This may prove to be a very long year.

Luckily, I was with a good friend at the Niagara Fronter Bicycle Club ride who reminded me that one of my goals for the year was to reduce my negative self talk. He also gently reminded me that another one of my goals was to keep it simple and remember that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. That one misstep along the way will not wreck my preparation or hinder me from achieving any, or all, of my goals.

He was right.

Don't you hate it when your friends are right about those kinds of things?

So I settled in to enjoy the nice day and the ride to Becker Farms where we had the best donuts perhaps ever deep fried (see my picture of enjoyment?).

It reminded me of a book I received as a present a few years ago, Bird by Bird  by Anne Lamott. The book is primarily about writing -- a type of instruction manual for writers -- but is so witty and has so many applications to every day life it should be mandated on a high school or college summer reading list.

The title Bird by Bird comes from her chapter on "Short Assignments."

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was 10 years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write, which was due that next day," Lamott writes. "We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'"

Lamott continues to elaborate: "You don't have to see where you are going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard."

I concer.

I don't have to run a marathon, complete 70.3 at Muskoka or even scrub my entire house all right now.

I just have to take it bird by bird, workout by workout, moment by moment, until one day it all comes together without me even really knowing it.

The goal lists

Setting goals, quite frankly, has always been difficult for me.

Not the big goals -- the eye on the prize items. I've always been good at naming those, working toward them and, pretty much, achieving them.

It's the medium and small lists -- all the tiny specifics -- that sometimes seem to trip me up. I don't know if it's because I'm a slave to uncertainity (what happens if I don't make it?) or an overdose of humility (who am I to think I can do that?) but those types of goals always feel a bit uncomfortable.

Which is probably why Coach Mary forced me to make a list of goals.

The Big List includes the two main events of 2009: The Buffalo Marathon and the Muskoka 70.3 race.

The Medium List is where things get scary. First order on the list, improve in all disciplines, especially swimming. OK. I can handle that.

But then she added these: To run a sub-25 minute 5K race and to run a sub-2:15 half marathon in Miami in January.

Gulp.

OK, the half marathon goal doesn't scare me so much. I ran a 2:16 in St. Catharines last month. But a 25-minute 5K? My best 5K time is 28:26. She wants me to drop three minutes off my 5K time? Is she insane?

Then I caught a blog by Ironman athlete Linsey Corbin. For four months before Kona, her husband made her say her goals outloud every morning. Her goals included finishing the Ironman in 9 hours and 30 minutes with a top 10 finish. She finished in 9:28, was fifth overall and the first American female finisher.

"What you can conceive and believe you will achieve," Corbin writes.

"I started to state my goals outloud in training when I was struggling or thinking about it while waiting in line at the grocery store. ... I just want to encourage you all that anything is possible and the sky is truly the limit."

So if you see me running and start saying "sub-25 5K" or "sub 2:15 at Miami" don't be alarmed. I'm just conceiving and believing.

Last but not least, there is the Small List. This includes such tidbits as keeping it simple and remembering that nothing hinges on one thing. One missed workout, one missed 100 in the pool one skip off the plan, is not going to jeapordize the big picture. This is not an all or nothing proposition. This is not Project Runway where you are either in or out. It's all a process.

Also on the small list is to continue my good nutrition, my healthy diet, without going OCD. One of the best moments for my coach last year was when I stopped counting calories. Keeping a food journal served a purpose, but getting obsessive about my calorie intake would ultimately drive me crazy. So I stopped, ate healthy food and allowed myself to have things like pizza and cake and cookies and ice cream in moderation. And my weight seems just fine and my energy is good to go. So this year, I need to continue that thinking and get even better at it.

Finally on my small list -- reduce negative self talk. I'm a positive person, but sometimes when things become a struggle, I start to pay attention to the doubts. I need to counter that better this year -- a skill which will serve me well in many areas of my life, not just in my marathon and triathlon training.

I've posted my goals above my desk so I look at them every day.

I may just start saying them out loud every day, too. Because really, all that matters is what I tell myself.

Setting goals and taking a risk

Lake_placid_2008_may_025_3See the woman on the right? She is crazy. Granted the woman on the left isn't much saner.

The photo on the right is of me and my coach Mary Eggers at our training weekend in Lake Placid this past May. We are exhausted from a day of training, a little loopy and enjoying a well-deserved ice cream treat.

I look at this photo and wonder how I became so gullible to have Mary talk me into signing up for a Half Ironman next year.

Yes, you read that correctly. I registered for Muskoka 70.3 -- a half Ironman race in Canada. And yes, I had adamanetly said in previous blogs that any distance which ahd the word "Ironman" in it was not for me. I meant it at the time.

But lately I started to think what other challenges I could tackle. Mary and I were meeting this week to discuss my races for 2009. This second year of racing is much more deliberate than the first. It's not about just throwing me in races for experience, it's about choosing races that are key ones for me (my big goals) and getting in other races for fun and preparation.

My first big goal is the Buffalo Marathon in May. I didn't really have another goal race but as I sent Mary a list of races and dates in preparation for our meeting, I noted that the weekend of Sept. 13 I wanted to go to Muskoka to cheer on a number of friends who would be doing the 70.3 race, adding that there was no way I could do that race this year.

"Now exactly why can't you do a 70.3 race in September? I can't think of a good reason," Mary replied.

"Are you serious?" I quipped back. "This is a hilly course on the bike and run and a 1.2-mile swim with a time limit!"

"From the girl who rode her bike through Italy and Lake Plaice?" Mary shot back. "Yes, I hear your heart pound from here. You better sign up before it closes."

"OK," I said with much trepidation as I clicked the confirm button the registration page. "You better be sure I can do this."

"You just ran a half marathon on a whim," Mary said. "You easily ride 56 miles. You swim the far every time. Glad you enjoyed your vacation."

There are moments when I sit and wonder exactly what it is I have done. I mean, the marathon is one thing. Bumping up to an intermediate distance is yet another. But a half Ironman? Swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 and run 13.1? With a time limit?

The good news is that Muskoka is a year away. I have plenty of time to improve. After all, didn't I have doubts that I could swim far enough to do a sprint triathlon at this time last year? And I did it.

Ok. My heart is pounding just thinking about this race.

There is a lot to risk with this ambitious 2009 schedule -- from the marathon to Muskoka. I can list dozens of reasons why doing either is a bad idea and dozens more why doing both of them is an even worse idea.

But there is one key reason to go ahead and do it: I want to try.

My heart says to go for it and my heart has wisdom I can't put into words.

Am I scared? Yes. Do I have doubts? Tons.

But I know the risk will be worth it in the end. I know that if I take a leap of faith I'll be given something soid to stand on or wings to fly.

Here goes this year's journey, which really might be to hell and back.

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