Mental Fatigue

The hard work is worth it when I can experience days like these...

The hard work is worth it when I can experience days like these…

Now I know why only less than one percent of the world’s population has completed an Ironman (70.3 or 140.6… and I am talking the distance, not just the IM brand).  I don’t really know how accurate that percentage is since I really just googled it, but I have a feeling it is pretty close to accurate.  I mean, I do live in Colorado (supposedley the fittest state… think I read that on the internet too) and I was out riding in an area well-known for cycling.  I encountered about 100 cyclists during my 3.5 hour ride.  I was the only one on a triathlon bike.  Not sure if it is because I am the only crazy one training for a triathlon that is held in May or what the deal is.  Maybe that’s it.  Whenever I mention that my triathlon is in May (in Colorado) people assume that I must be completing the swim portion in an indoor pool.  I didn’t think it was such a crazy idea when I signed up back in December because I figured that it would stop snowing by the end of February so I would have plenty of time to train outside.  That blew back in my face.  It is April 22nd and it is currently snowing.

It is really hard (and very boring) to complete 4 hours on a bike trainer.  Even if I am watching a movie (or two).  And I don’t really push myself (since I am supposed to be relaxing while watching a movie, right??).  Sure, I can run outside regardless of the conditions, but there comes a point when you become tired of running in below freezing temperatures.  It takes way to much effort to get dressed in all of that gear.  Somehow I managed to do okay and make it through the winter months of training.  Wait, I am still in the winter months of training.  My mind is starting to deteriorate.  When I hear the weather report I just feel like curling up into a ball and crying my eyes out.  Once in a great while I manage to get out on a day where it is near perfect.  If you call 45 degrees perfect (which I don’t, especially while riding a bike with the wind chill of below freezing).  Last weekend was a rough ride because I was so cold that I couldn’t feel my fingers and toes.  It was hard for me to eat because I kept dropping the food as I attempted to bring it to my mouth while steering the bike.  The temperatures were slightly warmer this past weekend, but nature had to bring me wind to contend with.  Okay, I know that conditions aren’t always perfect, but come on, cut me some slack here!   I’m still somehow disciplined to do it, but I don’t know for how much longer.

My workouts are only getting longer as I reach the peak before the taper to event day.  I have my plan and I stick to it (for the most part).  I work out 6 days a week and rejoice when the rest day is here.   I still manage to go to work, take care of the kids and keep my house in order (okay, I may have sacrificed in that department just a little, but the kids are always fed, wearing clean clothes and smell like roses).  Sometimes I just want to turn off my alarm and hide under the blankets.  Other times I want to just drop off the kids at school/daycare and just go get a haircut.  I spent the past month trying to figure out a time when I could go buy a new pair of running shoes… it finally happened, but came at the cost of dealing with rush hour traffic.  My hair is another story.  That will have to wait.

I don’t give in because I want to succeed.  I want to be ready to finish that 70.3.  I want to finish it in good form.  I want to cross that finish line and still be able to drive home.  I am getting tired (mentally and physically), but I do see the end in sight.  Wait, is there an end?  Maybe I don’t want an end.  What will I do without my crazy routine?  Get a haircut maybe?

My mind can start to play tricks on me when it is in fatigue mode.  I often put things in places where they do not belong and I forget to do things that need my attention (fortunately my kids are smart enough to remind me that I need to fasten their seatbelts before we start moving).  I consider just throwing my phone across the room when the alarm goes off or driving to a place where I can just walk.  Then my senses kick back in and I am off in overdrive again.

Maybe I should do one of those fitness apps where you can get paid for completing your workouts.  Wouldn’t I be rich by now?

Even if this race is the crappiest race ever because I nearly drown, get a flat tire, acquire some road rash or finish in last place, I will still be able to say that I have succeeded.  With all of these training hours, I have already done at least 10 Ironmans (or close enough).  I am proud of the fact that I DO wake up early to go workout, that I DO stay on my bike for 3 hours, that I DO keep running on tired legs, and that I DO swim countless boring laps in the pool.  Why DO I DO it?  Well, because I secretly love it.  And, above all else, it has given me strength to persevere through the mental and physical fatigue.  That strength will be required later on down the road and I will be ready.

Colorado Lake Swimming in April

I tried to keep my face out of the water, but figured that wasn't the best way to swim freestyle.

I tried to keep my face out of the water, but figured that wasn’t the best way to swim freestyle.

I truly have a very supportive family.  We decided to pack up the camper and drive 4 hours to Grand Junction mainly so I could scope out the HITS Triathlon Course.  I am getting pretty nervous about my race in 6 weeks.  The training time has gone by so quickly.  I always feel a bit relieved when I can preview the course of a race before I participate in the actual event.  I usually do events near my home, so this was quite a journey for a course preview.  Yet, my family was excited to gain a weekend of camping in the process.  And we were fortunate to have awesome weather!

The drive over the mountains was not so pleasant.  The battery light on the truck came on and then the lights inside the truck died out.  That was definitely not a good sign.  Fortunately we made it to the nearest auto parts store.  I gathered the girls and took them on a tour of Costco (the only building nearby) while my husband inspected the truck.  Turns out, the alternator was fried.  It only took about an hour, but that brought us to our campsite at dusk.

We were lucky enough to find a campsite right at Highline Lake, the state park where the event will take place.  I had already been in e-mail communication with the park manager regarding my desire (maybe that is a bad word choice) to swim in the lake.  He had told me that the swim beach wouldn’t open up until May, but he instructed me to find him when I arrived so he would help me out.  The next morning I went looking for the park manager.  He told me where to swim and he also reminded me that the water was 52 degrees.

I went back to the camper and pulled on my wetsuit while wondering if I had the nerve to actually get in that dreaded cold water.  My family walked down with me to the beach.  The girls were going to play in the sand while I did my thing.  We saw a man in waders out in the water.  He was using a metal detector to search the sand in the shallow water.  He told me the water was cold… not like I needed the reminder.  I put on double swim caps and just started walking towards the lake.  My family and the wader guy were watching me so I suddenly felt the pressure to get in the water.  I couldn’t chicken out.  So, I just walked in until the water was at my chest.  I put on my goggles and dunked my head in.  Oh geez!  That was freakin’ cold!  My face was numb almost instantly.  It didn’t matter if I could feel my hands or feet, but my face was a different story!

I knew I had to start swimming in order to warm up (okay, the warm up never really happened).  I did the moves with my arms, but I kept my face up out of the water.  Okay, that’s not how you are supposed to swim freestyle, but my face was about to fall off!  I was there to swim so I finally put my face in the water, but made the extra effort to breathe with each stroke.  I swam from one side of the swim beach to the other side.  I had to float for a second in order to warm up my face.  Then I swam back across and stopped to float for a minute.  I thought about the backstroke that I just learned during one of my swim lessons, but that is my least favorite stroke.  I would keep my face out of the water, but I would end up splashing water all over my face anyway.  And I would probably swim the wrong way and get hit by a boat.  I opted to continue with the freestyle.

At one point I realized that I wasn’t moving my legs.  I don’t know if that was because they were frozen or if I just couldn’t concentrate on too many things at one time.  I felt claustrophobic in the wetsuit and was trying to pull it away from my neck.  When I focused on my legs, I lost control of my arms.  The cold water was making it much too difficult to get in a proper swim.   I had no room in my brain for worrying about what was lurking in the lake.  Most of my anxiety stemmed from thoughts about getting hypothermia and drowning as my family watched from the beach.

I’m not sure how long I swam back and forth… maybe 20 minutes?  I was starting to get worried because I would feel fine (and even a tad warm) when I stopped to float.  I wondered if that meant I was past the point of hypothermia.  I decided it was probably best just to get out.

As I wrapped my body in two towels, I looked at the lake and imagined that it should be a nice lake to swim in when May rolls around (I don’t recommend swimming in the lake until then).  I will still need a wetsuit, but I have no doubt that it will be much more tolerable.  With the exception of the passing speed boats, the lake is relatively calm.  When I looked at it in the morning it was perfectly flat and glassy.

After the relaxing swim in the lake, I decided to hop on the bike and explore some of the bike course.  Stay tuned….

The Ups & Downs of Triathlon Motherhood

That is my youngest daughter trying to sneak into the transition area as I trasition from the swim to the bike.

That is my youngest daughter trying to sneak into the transition area as I transition from the swim to the bike.

Time is a tricky thing.  Most of the time, moms feel like they don’t have enough time in a day to get it all done.  Whether you’re working or taking care of the kids 24/7 there is a long to-do list that never seems to get shorter because you always need to add an item even if you are lucky enough to cross one off.  Some moms are fortunate to have help while others are doing it all on their own.  It can be a battlefield at times, but also very rewarding at other times.

Let me talk about one item that should be on every mom’s list: “Doing something for yourself.”  Everyone has a different idea of what this is: reading a book, going for a run, chatting with a friend on the phone (people still use those for talking right?) or maybe relaxing in the tub.  I believe that this item must be checked off every day in order to maintain the flow of harmony and love.  If mom is happy, then everyone else is happy.

Well, my daily item involves training for my triathlon.  This is something that I am doing for myself and I immerse myself in it almost every day.  I don’t get paid to do it.  I don’t get recognized for doing it.  I just do it because I want to.  I must admit that my committment to train for a triathlon does have its ups and downs.

What is so great about being a mom who trains for a triathlon?

1.  I am a positive role model to my children.  I show them what it takes to have courage, discipline and intrinsic motivation.  I am letting them know that it is okay to express yourself and make your own choices.  They should not be afraid to take giant leaps.

2.  My family is leading a healthier life.  We follow a mostly vegetarian diet, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole wheat products, and avoid processed foods.  We go for walks, play at the playground and get involved in local sports.

3.  It is the greatest feeling to accomplish something so challenging.  I love pushing myself to the limits and I am a much happier person when I workout on a regular basis.  The happiness and self-esteem I gain from my triathlon training and racing translates to my role as a mom.  I truly believe that a happier mom is a more loving mom.

4.  I have a chance to meet other moms just like me.  I finally found my niche and have had less difficulty finding friends who share similar interests.  We support each other through the rough patches and applaud each other on our successes.  It is great knowing that I don’t need to be a room mom or soccer mom in order to achieve mommy greatness.  My friends have taught me that I can be a great mom just by being who I am.

What is not so great about being a mom who trains for a triathlon?

1.  It takes away precious time.  It is not like reading a book for a half an hour before bedtime.  I commit a minimum of 2 hours a day, 6 days a week to working out.  I get up early, go to the gym before or after work or just lug my kids with me to gym so they can be supervised in the daycare while I workout.  That is less time that I have to spend with my family in addition to the time taken away while I am at work.

2.  Criticism from other parents (or even spouses) for #1.  They assume that you don’t want to spend time with your family and that you are selfish for choosing an activity that would take away so much precious time.  Fortunately I have a very supportive husband who understands how important fitness is to me.  There are some moms out there who do not have that kind of support.

3.  Pure exhaustion.  Between getting the kids ready for school, transporting kids to school and activities, going to work, cooking dinner, doing chores and training for this triathlon, I am one exhausted mom.  If it weren’t for my husband’s help I would be even more exhausted.  I have somehow managed to train for marathons while my husband was deployed… not sure how I survived, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

4.  In #3 I mentioned something about doing chores.  Yeah, that doesn’t really happen.  Chores are considered very low priority so don’t be surprised when you enter my house.  I am lucky if I can get the dishes done on a daily basis.  And of course the laundry… there is a lot of laundry when you are training for a triathlon (and when you have 3 girls).

Every path we choose will have its ups and downs.  I know that I am on the right path even though it took me awhile to get here.  I love being a mom AND a triathlete (along with all of the other roles I play).

The Pool

It's like a treadmill, but there is no place to put your music or magazine.

It’s like a treadmill, but there is no place to put your music or magazine.

When most people think of a pool they probably think about relaxing with a magazine on a lounge chair while soaking up warm rays from the sun.  There are some people who don’t even get into the pool.  They don’t want to get wet because it might ruin their makeup or damage their hair.  Well, I know that is not the case for any of my mommy friends with young children because when they go to the pool they have to make the committment to actually get in the pool.  Lounging is not even an option.

Well, for me, lounging is definitely not an option even when I go to the pool alone.  It does feel odd to go to the pool alone, but I do it quite often now.  My kids get jealous when I tell them that I have to go to the pool.  I use the words “have to” in order to make it clear that it will not be as fun as it sounds.  I don’t wear a fancy swimsuit, carry a cute little tote or grab magazines on my way out.  I wear my black, boring one-piece with my cheap black flip-flops and use the coarse towels that the gym provides.  As I walk into the facility, I look longingly at the mommies who are splashing around with their kids in the little pool.  Then I think about the peace and quiet I will have for the next hour.

As I get in and swim my first lap I realize that it’s a bit too peaceful and quiet for my liking.  Not only that, but it is nearly impossible to get your heart rate up when you are working out in a prone position and I am definitely not sweating.  I never feel like I am working out when I am swimming.  Yet, I know it is a necessity.  Something I have to do in order to achieve my triathlon goals.

I just wish I were good at it.  That is my challenge.  I don’t know what I am doing.  I just flop around like a fish who is missing its fins.  My head sticks up too high and my legs hang down too low.  My body zigs and zags down the lane as my mouth collects gallons of chlorinated water.  I do feel like I am getting somewhere… just very, very slowly.  I started swimming pretty regularly nearly a year ago and I still haven’t gotten the hang of it.  It didn’t take me that long to improve my running.  It is very frustrating, but I know that I need to do some research in order to get it done right.  Either that or find someone willing to teach me.

I think a lot of people like to swim because it is calm and relaxing.  I find it rather boring.  I try to daydream when I swim, but then I kind of lose focus on my already poor form.  Lately, I have been trying to make it fun by doing sprints.  I usually end up gulping down more pool water, but I do think that it helps me swim with better form.

Yesterday was a rather interesting day at the pool.  I am not a big fan of sharing a lane with others (I know, I have lots of complaints about the pool) so I always try to go during non-peak hours.  This time I decided to try 8:30 PM because I expected it to nearly empty.  Boy, was I very wrong.  There were more people in there than I had ever seen before.  Lots of teenagers who were obviously swimming with a club or team.  After about 5 minutes of swimming alone, someone asked to share a lane with me and of course I obliged.  5 minutes later 3 people got into the lane, but they weren’t moving.  When I asked them what they were doing one woman responded and said that she was teaching the other two how to swim.  Okaaaaay… so I basically just nodded and asked the guy in the next lane over if I could share his lane.  That made 3 in one lane.  Then a fourth came over.  Now I was in a lane swimming with 3 young guys who obviously knew how to swim better and faster than me.  I was sprinting at that point.  As I turned (um, not a flip turn) in the deep end I would see them right behind me.  As I approached the shallow end I always considered stopping to let them pass, but then they would be 10 yards behind me.  I think it was because they rested at the deep end.  I don’t know, but time sure did fly by!  The next thing I know there were only 2 of us left and I think the dude was thankful to have his own side of the lane so he could cruise at the speed of lightning.

One good thing about swimming with a group: it is a more realistic training environment.  I was getting pummeled with waves and had to be very observant of where I was going, who was in front of me and who was behind me.  However, I do still enjoy being in my own lane all by myself… even if it is rather boring.

Littlefoot Triathlon

 

The night before the race I was anxious.  I tried to tell myself to relax.  I think I get myself all worked up because I have high expectations.  It is a bit different from getting my mind prepared for a running event.  I already know that I have no chance when I stand at the starting line of a running race.  There are always hundreds of people who run faster than me.  Just once (out of the 30 or so events I have completed), did I manage to place 2nd in my age group.  I was very lucky that it was a small event and I just happened to be at my prime.

 

Triathlons are a different story.  Yes, they are growing and becoming more popular, but they are still relatively small events in comparison to running events.  With that said, you have a better chance.  Not necessarily a great chance if you happen to be contending with some top athletes, but you still have a way better chance.  The running joke is that you don’t win a marathon, you just finish it (if you are lucky enough to do that).  When it comes to triathlons, I think most people (of course not all) are racing and competing against each other.  Triathletes don’t necessarily agree with the running philosophy of competing with yourself.  Okay, I suppose I can only speak for myself here.  I was talking to a young lady right before the start of our swim.  It was her first triathlon and she told me that she was just hoping to finish.  True or not true?  Who knows? I always say that I just want to finish because I don’t want to make myself look bad if I happen to come in last.  I will have still met my goal even if I come in last.

 

So, when I told my facebook friends (you know, the ones who actually read my posts) that I just wanted to do my best and not hold high expectations…. well, I wasn’t being completely honest.  In my mind, I was telling myself that I wanted to place in my age group.  Whether it be first, second or third place it didn’t matter.  I just wanted to be up there at the top.  However, I didn’t want to say this out loud because I don’t want to portray an obnoxious ego or (on the opposite side of the spectrum) I didn’t want to disappoint myself or anyone else when I didn’t come out on top.

 

But, you know what?  I had trained hard for this event.  I had put in the effort.  I deserved a fighting chance.  So, on the morning of the event, I froze my rear off and got in that lake.  I freaked out for a minute during the start of the swim, but then I yelled at myself (in my head… didn’t want any of the lifeguards to think I needed a rescue) and told myself that I had trained for this.  I knew how to swim in that very same lake.  Get with it girl!  And I eventually snapped back to reality and pumped those arms that best way I knew how (which isn’t the best way, but it is my way and it seemed to work out okay for me).  That was a long half mile in the water, but I finally reached shore and kept going.  I pulled off that tight wetsuit and donned my warm gear even though my daughter was trying to tell me that it had warmed up outside since I had entered the water.  I didn’t want to take any chances so that long sleeve cost me a few extra seconds.  I just knew I couldn’t tolerate being a popsicle.

 

I got on my bike and pumped my legs as hard as I could.  I pumped them up and down the rolling hills for over 12 miles until I was sure that they would fall off before I could manage to squeeze in a 5K run.  I didn’t care that I was huffing and puffing because the air was so thin.  I had a feeling that people thought I was crazy for breathing that way when I passed them with every ounce of energy I had.

 

I was surprised when I hopped off the bike and could still move my legs.  They hadn’t failed me yet.  My lungs were about to, but I ignored them and just let my legs tell me what pace I should run.  I didn’t let one single person pass me during those 3.1 miles.  Not one.  I ran up that darn hill before the turnaround thankful that it was mostly downhill (but smart enough to warn myself that it wasn’t all downhill).  Then, I was finally there… at the finish line.  Right away I wanted to know my place.  Did I make the cut?  I wasn’t sure yet.

I waited and they finally started posting the results.  There I was, third in my age group.  Yes!  I had accomplished my goal, but at what price?  What disappointment lies ahead when I don’t make the cut?  Maybe I have set the bar too high.  Having my name called and being presented with an award (whether it be an exquisite plaque or an odd poster) fills me with pride, but maybe it was just luck on my side.  Will I be so lucky next time?  Everyone says that I should only focus on finishing… is that what I should do?