I am 32 years old (I'll be 33 on December 14th), married for three and a half years and child free by choice.
Just like anything else in life (including having children) being child free is not easy, especially during the holidays. One of the first questions I am asked when people meet me is whether I have children. When I answer in the negative, the next question is usually whether we want children or whether we are trying. These questions only get worse during the holiday season when well meaning friends, family and acquaintances pry as to exactly why we don't want children and make the "but you'd make such a good mother argument" or suggest that "things will change" or that we "would understand if only [we] had children."
Since getting married I have struggled with how to answer these questions.
There's the sarcastic (and very me) answer of "I'd also make a good dominatrix but you're not encouraging me to enter the sex industry."
There's the non-commital answer of "we're just not ready yet" but this is usually met by persistent follow up questions of when we will be ready or the apparently equally ambiguous "we don't want children" answer, which is followed up by repeated "why nots."
There's Shaun's suggested (and untruthful) answer "we've tried but we have fertility problems."
There's the self righteous and defensive "I love children but I chose to be where I am and I don't view it as a failure."
And finally there's the more long form, "right now I am not emotionally and physically able to be a primary care giver for a child and so have decided not to have children."
None of these answers are complete and none seem to appease the questioner.
Our decision to be child free and not trying to get pregnant is personal and private (yes, I'm now writing about this decision in a blog but for me the issue has invaded every aspect of my life and I need to be honest with others about it). I understand that the process of having children is one that generally unites people, it gives strangers something to talk about and its something most people can relate too. However, any issues relating to procreation should not be up for general discussion. Just as its not appropriate to ask the couple who is pregnant with their fourth, or even first child, whether they have considered the financial and physical burdens (yet another) child will impose on their already strapped family, its not appropriate to tell us that if we don't have children we'll grow to regret it. Every person and every couple have their reasons for making what is a deeply personal decision. The judgments of others do not make these decisions any easier. I admit that I am guilty of judging others' choices but I am trying to be less judgmental as I understand how hurtful comments about our decision are to me. There is nothing "wrong" with any of these decisions, they are simply decisions.
Second, I understand the drawbacks of our decision. I know that my 42 year old self may hate my 32 year old self for deciding not to have children now. Ten years from now I may desperately want to have a child and may not be able to do so (I also understand that if I tried, I may very well be confronted with fertility issues now. 32 years old is not young). I have looked into freezing my eggs "just in case" but its an expensive and invasive process. I know that I may change my mind in one, two or ten years. I also understand that not having children makes me a biological failure (this is my term). Shaun hates when I make this argument but our most primitive purpose in life is to reproduce and pass on our genetic information. Not having children thwarts this purpose. It bothers me that I'm not passing on a genetic legacy to another generation (and yes I over think everything and spend way too much time in my own head).
So with that understanding why don't we want children now?
Life is hard. Don't get me wrong life is hard for everyone whether you are single or married, have no children or have a dozen. In many, many ways Shaun and I are very lucky. We both have good jobs, we have a home, we are able to do lots of things we enjoy, we have a very sweet dog and cat (and another mean cat), we are able to go through life without worrying about financial insecurity and we love each other very much. We are lucky that our problems are first world problems, but they are still problems. For the past few years Shaun has struggled with depression and anxiety. He's doing much better now than he was a year ago but its still a struggle. I deal with my own anxiety, including disordered eating and body image issues. Some days are really tough for both of us. I know that we feel overwhelmed on many occasions and I also know that having a baby does not make things easier. My brother was born when I was thirteen years old. He had colic, severe asthma and he spent a lot of his first year screaming and turning blue. Because I know exactly how difficult a baby can be, I know that we are not in the position to provide the emotional and physical support a baby needs.
Even when I give this response, I often get that "things will change" if I have a baby. I think lots of people have something inside themselves that tells them that they really want to be a mother or a father. A feeling like when you know you're in love or know you want to get married. I don't have that feeling (Shaun doesn't have that feeling either), that switch is not flipped in us. I recognize things may change but this is where we are now. Berating us for our decision does not flip that switch.
Having said all of this, one nagging feeling remains. When someone announces they are pregnant there is excitement, congratulations and celebration. When someone says "we've decided not to have children" the statement often met with silence, concern or confusion. Its as if the decision not to have children means that we've reached the terminal stage and are off the ride that is life. Every single person is important, whether they have children or not and every individual deserves to be celebrated by the people they care about most even if the word "we're expecting" never come out of their mouths. As the Eleventh Doctor said "[y]ou know that in nine hundred years of time and space and I've never met anybody who wasn't important before." I'd like if we can all treat each other as important no matter what are decisions relating to children are.
December seems to be the time to write a list of favorites. With the holidays and my birthday there are lots of things I love right now (and I end up buying way too many of them for my myself). So without further ado, my favorite things right now:
From Dog Eared Jewelry the hedgehog necklace. Dog Eared makes lots of really cute necklaces, bracelets and earring. I especially love the "Make a Wish on Silk" Collection where you wear the necklaces until the silk string snaps and you wish (apparently/hopefully/maybe) comes true. All of the charms are super cute and they do a really nice job with the packaging as well.
I am an Anglophile. I have been and Anglophile forever and it only got worse when I spent at semester at University College London. In addition to loving Doctor Who (Matt Smith nom nom nom) and Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman nom nom nom), I recently discovered Sweaty Betty. I am completely in love with the Chandrasana Yoga Leggings. The leggings themselves are super soft and comfortable (and if you order a size up they are completely opaque) but the best part is the print. I love ridiculous looking leggings for yoga and these fit the bill.
I'm a huge Coeur Sports fan but its a bit too cold outside to be biking in a super cute tri kit. For outdoor winter training the Coeur Beanie is super cute (and the black and red are highly visible in the way too dark early mornings).
I run in Sauconys (and I've been running in them for years). Even when it gets cold and snowy outside I hate to use the treadmill, its boring and I run without music so I get bored easily. One of the biggest issues with winter running (in addition to the cold temperatures and the lack of sunlight) is shoes that get wet and very, very cold. Saucony just came out with Gore Tex Kinvaras and I cannot wait to get a pair and try them out in the nasty weather.
this shirt from Anthropolgie is especially cute, I'm just trying to decide whether I can pull off wearing it to work.
Yes, this is a picture of John Dankosky, but he really doesn't count as an item on my wish list. His picture is here because he is hosting the next Connecticut Forum -- An Honest Look at Mental Illness. The Connecticut Forum puts on great shows (show is probably the wrong word, maybe conversations? symposiums?) about interesting issues. Last year the Connecticut Forum introduced me to the work of Neil Gaiman and I'm looking forward to the symposium in March about mental illness. Struggles with mental illness (in particular the effects of anxiety and depression on loved ones and my own personal struggles with disordered eating and disordered body image) are something I am very familiar with and I think its topic that needs to be discussed more. John Dankosky does a fantastic job of moderating thoughtful conversations and I'm really looking forward to being at this forum in March.
Obviously there had to be something Who-y on this list. For 2013 I had a really cute Le Petit Prince calendar. For 2014 I would like a really cute 11th Doctor calendar. Matt Smith is adorable and it would be nice to spend some daily planner time with him in 2014.
This is the Oiselle Peacenik Sweatshirt. I own it in sky color below (I'm actually wearing it right now) and I would really like it in begonia and graphite. Its a super comfortable sweat shirt with a great slightly off the shoulder fit that is pretty enough to wear to work on casual Friday. My mother has even asked for one for Christmas, so I would say it has pretty wide spread appeal. One is definitely not enough so hopefully I'll have three before the end of December.
Last but not least, I'm hoping that I'll be able to give to others this season (or get other to give on my behalf to an important organization. On January 11, 2014 I'll be jumping into the Atlantic Ocean (in Rhode Island, it will be very cold) to raise money for Mystic Aquarium's Animal Rescue Efforts. The lovely people at Mystic Aquarium are responsible for assessing and responding to all marine mammal and sea turtle reports in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Fishers Island, New York. My fund raising page is here and I appreciate all donations. The last time I jumped into a frozen body of water was at Dartmouth during the 2000 Winter Carnival. I promise this jump will be every bit as memorable and it will help our ocean going friends.
Since the inception of the Kona Points Rankings ("KPR") in 2010 for the 2011 World Championship race (and with the recent tweaks to the system that eliminate P-1000 140.6 races and increase Kona to a P-8000 race) more and more pros are foregoing immediate post-Kona downtime in favor of participating in a late season race to "validate" their Kona slot for the next year.
The way the KPR system works is that 140.6 races are worth varying amounts of points. Kona is worth 8000 points, the regional championships, which take place in Mont Tremblant, Melbourne and Frankfort are worth 4000 points and every other 140.6 race is worth 2000 points (it should be noted that athletes receive points only for racing in World Triathlon Corporation ("WTC") races, a great performance at a Challenge or Rev 3 race does not help an athlete qualify for Kona). 70.3 races licensed or owned by WTC are worth between 500 and 3000 points. For women to qualify for Kona they must be ranked in the top 35 of all professional athletes based on KPR points (for men its the top 50).
In 2013, WTC adjusted the distribution of points essentially rewarding individuals who place in the top 10 at Kona, top 5 at regional championships and top 3 at all other races. Because Kona is worth so much more than any other race, a top 10 finish in Kona virtually guarantees that the athlete will be in the top 35 of the KPR points rankings.
Here's the points breakdown from the 2013 race in Kona:
8000 points 7200 points 6480 points 5835 points 5250 points 4725 points 4250 points 3825 points 3445 points 3100 points
Linsey Corbin's 3100 points for 10th place are likely enough to qualify for Kona, but an athlete must also complete a "validating" 140.6 race to secure her Kona slot. This validation requirement ensure that the best athletes participate in additional WTC races during the year, but it also can hinder an athlete's preparation for Kona as racing a 140.6 race takes a toll on the body. The trend over the last few years has been for athletes who place high at Kona to participate in a late season 140.6 races such as Florida, Arizona or Cozumel so that they can spend the next year focusing on Kona. This strategy worked well for Mirinda Carfrae in 2013. After Kona in 2012, Carfrae participated in Florida, validated her Kona entry and then spent 2013 focusing on Kona, which she won and set a course record.
In 2013, 5 of the top 10 female athletes raced a late season validating race. Carfrae and Yvonne Von Vlerken raced Florida (Von Vlerken won Florida in very convincing fashion), Meredith Kessler and Michelle Vesterby raced Arizona (placing second and third respectively) and Rachel Joyce raced and won Cozumel (note Western Australia is on December 8, 2013 but none of the top 10 ladies are scheduled to race). These five women now hold 5 of the top 6 slots on the KPR ranking and can focus the entirety of their 2014 seasons on Kona. The other five ladies -- Liz Blatchford, Caroline Steffen, Cait Snow, Gina Crawford and Linsey Corbin must all race a validating race in 2014.
While the sample size is small, I am very interested in seeing how the decision to race a late season validating race impacts performance at Kona in 2014. My suspicion is that more and more athletes are going to jump on the late season bandwagon making Florida, Arizona and Cozumel increasingly popular races with top level pros.
I am a December baby. Unlike people born at other times of the year who get to celebrate their birthdays as unique events, those of us born in December have to share the lime light with other, larger holidays. Being born so close to Christmas, I would often receive ornaments as birthday gifts. When I was younger, I hated the practice of receiving a Christmas-Birthday gift. As I've gotten older, I have grown to cherish my collection. I currently have personal ornaments from 1980 to the present, as well as, several of my grandmother's ornaments from the 1970s (before I was born). As I tend to share everything, I wanted to share this collection as well.
Here are most of ornaments laid out before hanging (thanks to Erica and Eric for helping with the decorating):
This is my Hallmark Muppet ornament from 1982. I loved the Muppet Show even when I was very young. Kermit the Frog was my favorite.
This is my Grover snowman ornament. Its from the late 80s (possibly early 90s). It came as part of a set of five with Big Bird, Oscar Bert and Ernie (this was before Elmo existed), unfortunately the other three were lost or broken and this is the only one that remains.
This is Strawberry Shortcake from 1983 (I believe). I was never a huge fan of dolls but I did love Strawberry Shortcake. I think it was the wonderful strawberry smell that made me want to eat them (probably not a very good idea).
This is my Shirt Tales ornament from 1983 (remember Tyg Tiger, Pammy Panda, Digger Mole, Rick Raccoon , and Bogey Orangutan). I loved Shirt Tales, really I loved anything with animals (Care Bears, My Little Pony) and still do.
Once we got to the 1990s my mom started buying me an ornament every year that in some way commemorated the year. In 1995 I started racing Giant Slalom so the Ski Dog was appropriate.
I got my driver's license in 1997 and my mother thought she was cute and got me a Corvette ornament to celebrate. When I got my first car in college it was a purple Saturn, not a red Corvette (and sadly neither car was a Ferrari FF).
I don't have any Dartmouth ornaments (this is an omission that needs to be corrected) but in 1999 my mom got me a Dr. Seuss ornament as Theodore Geisel is a Dartmouth alum. Shaun hint, hint, a Dartmouth ornament would be a good birthday or Christmas present this year.
As I got older, my mom moved away from buying me Hallmark ornaments and took a serious liking to Christopher Radko. When I bought my house in 2007 she got me this one. It stands out on the tree and while its not the prettiest ornament I own, its one of the most unique.
Shaun and I got married in 2010 and I had Bunny with a Toolbelt design this ornament for our first Christmas together. Bunny with a Toolbelt also did a lot of design work for our wedding -- you can check it out here -- so I thought the ornament would be appropriate. Shaun is the brown bunny and I am the gray cat, which was designed after my favorite cat Webster.As an adult people other than Shaun and my mom have learned that I love ornaments. In 2011 Emily had name ornaments made for me, Shaun and Abbey. I love the simple balls and glitter lettering. Sometimes less is more and simple works best.The majority of ornaments that I have collected as an adult are animals. Before Emily got married last year we did the Trainer for a Day program at Mystic Aquarium. I love the belugas (especially Juno) and I picked up this ornament from the Mystic gift shop.Many people know I've had a tough year dealing my eating disorder and body image issues. After a particularly rough week I came home to a package from my friend Alex with this little guy inside. Corgis are the most perfect dogs and this is my favorite for 2013.
- [John comes in to Baker Street, where Sherlock is casually shooting up a smiley face on the wall]
- John Watson: [comes in] What the HELL are you doing?!
- Sherlock Holmes: Bored...
- John Watson: What?
- Sherlock Holmes: BORED! [continues to shoot wall] BORED! BORED! [stops, hands the gun to Watson] Don't know what's got into the criminal classes. Good job I'm not one of them.
- John Watson: So you take it out on the wall?
- Sherlock Holmes: Oh, the wall had it coming.
While I'm not at the point of shooting out our walls, I am bored (as a side not if you have not watched BBC's Sherlock, its totally worth the time).
After Ironman Florida, I made the decision to shut things down training wise for a while to let my body heal. The goal was to focus on reducing stress and to get into a position where my body responds to training and nutrition in a productive manner (the theory was stress, including training stress reduces testosterone and increases cortisol, both of which lead to weight gain). Instead of reducing stress, November was incredibly stressful and I have been crawling up the walls over the last few weeks. Most people have their "thing" or "things" that make them who they are. Part of my "thing" is training and racing. Not only is it a major part of my identity, but training also helps me keep my mind in check. Without training I lose both my identity and my major stress coping mechanism.
What was supposed to happen was I would use my extra time to explore other ways to manage stress such as gentle yoga (really rolling around on the floor), meditation (sitting and counting down the seconds until I can move), breathing exercises (I can get competitive at this too), walking and easy swimming. Through "mindfulness" I was supposed to learn how to better manage myself, my stress levels and my hormonal response. The problem with all of these activities is I have no idea how to calm my mind. My mind is always going in a million different directions. I don't see things one or two steps ahead, I see things fifteen steps ahead and with multiple alternative endings. Telling me to quiet my mind is likely telling a Labrador puppy to stop wagging its tail, I have absolutely no idea how to make it happen.
Instead of quieting my mind I spent a lot of time in November thinking about all the things I can't control and how I feel like a failure (in my mind I was a failure as an athlete, a failure as a human being as Shaun and I do not have children, a personal failure as I was making myself and Shaun miserable and a physical failure as I cannot control my weight and body image issues). As a person, I need a goal in life, something I that requires thought, attention and effort. I have lots of things in life that require time but goals are special. Doing nothing and trying to relax is not a respite but rather the opposite of a goal. Instead of creating peace, it created several episodes of sobbing hysterics on my part about how lost and bored I felt (Shaun was not happy to be dealing with me as a massive mess). Unfortunately I am a bit of a junkie and while I recognize that training and racing can be a crutch and an addiction, right now its one that I feel I really need.
Lauren Fleshman, 2006 and 2010 U.S. 5000 meter champion, Picky Bar Co-founder, wife, new mother, Oiselle muse and all around superstar, walked the runway for Oiselle during the 2013 NOLCHA Fashion Week looking like this:
Pretty awesome for anyone but super awesome considering she was 3 months post-partum. Last week Lauren wrote a blog post about how she doesn't always look like this and she shared some not-so-flattering photos taken of her during the same week (if you haven't read her blog post, please do so, it worth the 3 minutes it'll take to read it). In her words, "[n]ever take the photos you see on magazine covers or online too seriously. Everyone has thigh cheese. It’s part of life. Nobody is perfect."
As many of you know I struggle with weight and body image issues. The word is struggle, some days I do better than others. During my current post-A race funk I've been having a lot of tough days. I am having a very hard time accepting my body. Sometimes all I can think about is the size of my hips, the sag in my stomach, the flab on my arms and the ever increasing number on the scale. Body mass and self esteem become intertwined and I'm a pretty miserable person to be around (just ask Shaun). In this state I find Lauren's massage to be very inspiring but it is also a message that's tough to hear. As imperfect as Lauren (and Lauren's body) may be to her, when I look at Lauren I see a model of what the athletic female body should look like -- small hips, powerful legs, flat stomach and defined arms. Even when I look at Lauren's not-so-flattering pictures, I can't help but compare how far away I am from what is considered imperfection (talk about a sentence written in the passive voice).
As much as it is wonderful to hear amazing women like Lauren say that her body isn't perfect, acceptance of your body dosn't come from a picture in a magazine or on the internet. Acceptance of your body comes from within, it is a solo journey and one that I'm still struggling to make.
In early September I attended the New Haven 20K (which serves as the USATF 20K National Championship) to cheer on two very fast ladies who run for Oiselle -- Caitlin Comfort and Melissa Gaceck. Both ladies had outstanding days, Melissa placed 20th overall and Caitlin took third place overall with a time of 1:10:42. Walking back to the pro tent with Caitlin, she got really excited when she learned she podiumed and asked how much money she had won. I responded letting her know she had won $2500 for being the third fastest woman in the United States. She was ecstatic and blurted out, "I've been waiting for the cash to buy new jeans, now I can buy new jeans!" At that point it really hit me that, at least financially, it is a lot easier to be a full time attorney and part time runner and triathlete than it is to be a "professional" endurance sports athlete.
Female Pros at the start of Ironman Florida 2013.
Throughout the coverage there is zero reference to exactly how fast these pros are racing. There is no reporting on speeds, no split times, no paces, no nothing. There's no reporting on the races within races, the late race passes and sacrifices athletes make even if its not for the win. Caitlin Snow had a fantastic pass of Meredith Kessler at the 26 mile mark of the marathon -- if you haven't seen it watch it here -- to take the honors as top American and there was exactly no coverage of Cait on the broadcast, not even a single finish line shot.
There's also no development of who these pros actually are or the sacrifices they made to get to the big island. For example let's talk about Jennie Hansen. Jennie raced Lake Placid and Mont Tremblant, races only three weeks apart to qualify for Kona. Her tearful win at Lake Placid that was a tribute to her friend Heather Boyum, who lost her life to a drunk driver only a year before. Jennie got exactly zero seconds of coverage in the NBC Kona broadcast.
As inspirational as stories about celebrities and age groupers are, pros have fantastic, inspirational stories too. Many pros have full time jobs, full time families and full time commitments to supporting charitable organizations, none of which get any air time. NBC (and WTC) treats the pros neither as true professionals racing a World Championship nor as the inspirational stories they are. Instead they are treated as set pieces that move along a beautiful background in Hawaii. This formula for coverage hasn't changed in decades.
Kona 4th Place Finisher Winning Florida
Second, the macro view, for triathlon to grow from a niche sport to a semi-mainstream sport warranting the same coverage and popularity of, lets say, the Tour de France, the professional race needs to gain acceptance as an actual competition rather than a very pretty commercial for "anything is possible." One way to do this is give the professionals the coverage they deserve. A good example is cycling in Great Britain. The massive success (and exposure) of British track cyclists during the 2008 and 2012 games and Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins on the road has led to huge growth of both amateur and professional cycling in the British Isles. We have fantastic pro triathletes who are both ridiculously talented and have great stories. NBC and WTC, please give them the exposure they deserve and trust that the exposure will be a win for everyone.
Kona 2013 Champion Mirinda Carfrae and Top American Tim O'Donnell
In the weeks after finishing Ironman Florida in 2012 I made the decision that if I just lost 20 lbs I could be super fast in 2013. I worked really, really hard to not eat, (further) messed up my metabolism and hormone levels, gained 25lbs and ended up being diagnosed with an eating disorder. Not the outcome I wanted. I put so much pressure on myself to achieve a very specific outcome that I essentially sabotaged my ability to ever reach the outcome (cue the Beastie Boys Sabotage at this point). Coming out of Florida this year I have a similar goal -- lose weight (now more like 40 lbs) to go faster. This time around, however, life is a little different.
To start, my foot is still a pretty big mess. Post-race its swollen, bruised and there's a decent sized blood splotch (technical term, I know) under my scar from surgery. While my foot feels a whole lot better now than it did during the race, I know there is still internal healing that needs to be done. I'm not sure how long it will take to fully heal but I want to give it all the time it needs.
Post Florida foot, swollen and bruised.
Beignets from Cafe du Monde.
Now that I am back home in Connecticut, the focus is not on dieting but on nourishing myself so that my body can heal. I know that I have high stress levels and I know that my hormones are out of balance due to my stress levels. The goal is to feed my body what it needs including lots of whole vegetables and fruits, to work on managing stress through yoga and meditation and to make sure I get enough sleep. Day-to-day training will take a back seat to taking care of myself. Sounds easy, but its tougher than it looks. When life gets hectic I am very good at taking care of everything else before truly taking care of me. I'm hoping that by focusing on the process I will be able to eventually achieve results (and break 11 hours at Florida in 2014) and not repeat my mistakes of 2013.
2013 was a tough year for me personally and the race report for Ironman Florida is a tough one to write. In some ways I was scared to race. I knew that I wasn't as "ready" as I have been in previous years. I also knew that I really missed racing and that I love going out and really testing my limits. People race for lots of different reasons. My reason for racing long course is selfish, lots of things in life come easy to me but long course triathlon is hard. I like pushing myself and finding out exactly where my limits lie.The night before the race I was a nervous wreck. I can't remember being this nervous about a race ever. I thought the best thing to do was to have constant reminder on race day of how very lucky I am to be able to race so I took out the sharpie and wrote myself a reminder -- "baby ducks have it down." After braiding my hair and Kim's hair I tried to get to bed early.
Baby ducks have it down.
I didn't get much sleep and was wide awake at 3 a.m. giving me plenty of time to eat my applesauce, whey protein and banana. With nothing else to do I laid back down and read several chapters of Neverwhere. Nothing like a good book to help pass the time. At 5 a.m. I put on my kit and started to get ready to head to transition. I put sunscreen on, collected my special needs bags and Shaun and I headed to transition.
Applying sunscreen at 5 a.m.We got to transition about 5:30 a.m. and it was already packed. There were over 3,000 starters for the race (yes, 3,000) and there was not enough real estate for all the athletes, spectators, volunteers and support crews. Shaun was lucky enough to have a media pass thanks to witsup.com so he was able to come into transition with me. We pumped tires, filled bottles, set up the bike computer and dropped off the special needs bags. As an aside I always pack special needs bags but I rarely use them. My bike special needs bag contains an extra "set" of bike course nutrition (4 gels and a bar), a tube and a CO2 cartridge. My run special needs bag contains a gel, a pack of Honey Stinger chews and several lava salt tabs. After dropping off special needs I got in line for the potties and Shaun went off to take some pre-race pictures. Shaun returned to see me trip and fall getting out of the port-a-potty. Yes, I fell and skinned my knee before the race even began. It wouldn't be a race without a little blood, unfortunately this was not my only fall. Pre-swim putting on the wetsuit.
When I got down to the beach I could see that the Gulf of Mexico was still pretty rough. The breakers looked like they were in the 4 to 6 foot range and waves were churning past the break line. Florida had a "modified swim start" where racers lined up parallel to the water line based on projected swim time. Those swimmers who projected a sub-one hour swim lined up closest to the buoys. The slower the swim time, the farther you started from the buoys. I lined up right at the 1:10 mark. Seeing 3,000 people lined up on the beach was quite a sight.
When the cannon went off there was utter and complete chaos. The water was too shallow to swim and the waves were crashing hard. There was no where to go and everyone was getting crushed, grabbed, scratched and hit. This was my sixth 140.6 mass swim start and it was by far the most violent. I was particularly perturbed that once I was able to start swimming I quickly ran into an athlete swimming double armed back stroke. I have no idea why this person would line up with the 1:10 swimmers. The entire first lap was a fight. Playing water polo in college was the best possible preparation for this swim. I made the turn for the second loop in about 35 minutes and hoped that the second loop would be smoother. No such luck. The second loop was just as rough as the first. I couldn't find clean water anywhere and ended up taking in way too much sea water. Despite the rough conditions I finished the swim in 1:12. A 3 minute PR for the distance.
WTC CEO Andrew Messick has been participating in several swim starts this year to experience them from the athlete perspective. I hope that Mr. Messick participated in this swim start because it was down right dangerous -- too many people, poor seeding by the athletes and rough water that made navigation and forward progress difficult.
The sea of T1 bags.
Coming out of the swim I was a bit disoriented. I grabbed my T1 bag (thanks to Eric for standing over it and making sure I got it as soon as I came out) and ran into the women's change room. While the room was fairly empty there weren't a whole lot a volunteers. So I pulled on my bike shoes, grabbed my helmet and sunglasses and ran out towards my bike. In my haste to get out of T1 quickly I forgot to grab my bike nutrition for the second half of the bike (I ended up picking up my "extra" nutrition from special needs). Thankfully I made it through T1 without falling and was off and riding.
The bike course at Florida is nothing to write home about. Its flat, there's wind, drafting is a problem and it can be incredibly fast. Its not that different from a long trainer ride. Coming out of T1 I knew the course would be crowded and that drafting would be a problem but I had not idea how bad it would be. As hard as I tried to ride clean it was almost impossible. 3,000 people on flat bike course makes for a very tight bike. While there were some obvious pace lines, there were also lots of people who couldn't get out of each other's way. I kept looking for USAT officials but there were none to be found. There were quite a few motorcycles on course, however none of them carried USAT officials. Rather they carried VIP pass holders who had paid over $1,000 for the privilege of riding out on the bike course to see their athlete up close and personal. The first two penalty tents were completely empty when I passed and the third tent contained only four bikers.
I did my best to ignore everything else and just bike, drink and eat. It took about an hour to get my heart rate to settle in the mid 140s and once there I held it for the duration of the ride. There was a slight headwind on several sections of the course but there was also an equal amount of tail. I focused on making sure I drank sports drink at least every 10 minutes (the first two bottles were Skratch and then I used course provided Perform), a half a bar at 30 minutes, another half at 60 minutes and then a gel every 30 minutes repeated twice. The bike flew by quickly and I entered T2 with a bike split of 5:50, two minutes slower than my 2012 bike split on the same course.
Heading out on the run.
In pain at the 13.1 mile turn around.
Coming into the turn around, I saw the boys and stopped for a moment for a hug. I needed to completely fall apart for a minute so I could pull myself together and keep running. The run back out to St. Andrews Park was painful. I was counting the miles backwards. 10 miles to go, 9 miles to go, 8 miles to go. Up until mile 20 (6 miles to go) I hadn't looked at my total time but at the 20 mile mark a volunteer told me there was 9:45 total on the race clock and that sub 12 was a possibility. Fueling myself with coke and chicken broth (a weird combination but it worked really well) I was able to start picking up the pace. Sub 12 was a real possibility. Then, when running through the dark neighborhoods at about mile 23 I tripped on speed hump. I fell hard on both of my knees, ripping them open and smacking them on the concrete. After rolling around on the street for a few moments, crying like a baby and refusing offers to call for medical I picked myself up and started walking. After about a quarter mile I started to run. My knees hurt, my foot hurt, my lower back was seizing but I really wanted a strong finish. I knew that as much as my body wanted to give up and walk I could do this. I pushed through the last three miles and as I made the turn for the finish I heard the announcer count down to the 12 hour mark, I had missed it. I kept going, crossing the line at 12:04 with a 4:49 marathon.
As I crossed the line I fell into the catcher's arms and Shaun and Eric quickly grabbed me from the catcher. For the second year in a row I made the trip to the medical tent to have my knees cleaned, bandaged and iced. As I sat in the medical tent I was completely wrecked. I had pushed my body to give everything it had. As much as I hurt I was incredibly proud of myself. Giving up would have been easy and I didn't give up. Florida 2013 was not my fastest 104.6 (its rank is 3rd out of 6) but it took the most heart and that's something that makes me proud.
My salt and tan lines post race.
I wrote a preview of the women's professional race for witsup.com (can can find it here) so I thought I would also write a personal race preview as I sit in my condo the night before the race. This is a tough race for me as its been a tough year. Rapid weight gain at the beginning of the year coupled with foot surgery in August have hurt my mental preparedness for the race. Physically I am prepared as I am going to be at my current weight. Its difficult for me to compare my fitness this year to 2011 or 2012 because I was significantly lighter. I may very well be "more fit" this year than I have ever been but I know I am not going to see that fitness reflected in my race times. This is really tough for me and something that I struggle with even as I sit here the night before the race.
Kona champion Mirinda Carfrae at the pro panel.
The very angry Gulf of Mexico.Thursday morning I woke up at 4 a.m. (central time), waited for the sun to rise and headed out on my bike. I haven't been on the bike outside since I had an encounter with a flying kayak in Maine so it was nice to be off of the trainer and on the road. I followed the bike with a quick run and swim in Gulf of Mexico. This is my third year doing Florida and the Gulf was the choppiest I have ever seen. There were 3 to 5 foot breakers and a nasty rip current that was trying to pull me to Texas. The waves were even worse on Friday morning and the beaches posted a double red "No Swimming" flag. A cold front is supposed to pass through tonight so it will be interesting to see what the swim conditions are like on race morning. Kim and I at bike check.
After finishing up my training, I had a lot of time to think about the race. I have no quantitative goals for this race. I know there is no way I'm going PR (well, if the swim is cancelled I could technically have a faster time than I did in 2011) and I don't really know how fast I'm going to be able to go on the bike (because of all the indoor training) or the run (because of the weight gain and foot surgery).
With those unknowns there are a few things I do know. I know that I have a ton of base. I've been very consistent with my training for over three years, I have thousands of miles on both the bike and run and I will be able to rely on those miles tomorrow. I also know that the 140.6 distance is my strength. I'm very comfortable at long aerobic events (5Ks and sprint triathlons are my least favorite distances to race). I also know that I',m smart at this distance and I know what I'm doing. This is my 6th 140.6 distance race and my 3rd at Florida. I know the course, I know my body, I know how to survive a crash and keep going and I know how to suffer and push on the back half of the run so I have as little time running in the dark as possible (my ultimate goal is to someday finish Ironman Florida while there's still daylight, which requires me to go about 10:58 or so, some people chase Kona, I'm chasing the sun).
Checking my run bag.
So where does that leave me for tomorrow? I'm going to swim hard. Conditions may make it a slow swim but I want to feel like I pushed the swim when I exit the water. I'm going to get comfortably uncomfortable on the bike, let my hip and glute loosen up, hold my heart rate and drink. I'm not going to let the packs or my speed get to head (doesn't mean I won't bitch about them on Sunday). If its a good day, I'm capable of a pretty fast bike. If its not a good day, I'm capable of finishing the bike strong and entering T2 ready to run. On the run, its going to be all heart. I don't have the body to run a PR. When I wake up every day and look at myself in the mirror I am reminded of this fact. While my body may not be there my heart and my mind are. I want this. It may be slow and I may suffer from a fear that my foot won't hold up but I'm going to run 26.2 miles with a smile on my face. I love running marathons off of the bike, its four hours that is all mine and I'm going to enjoy every minute of it tomorrow.
The time on the clock when I finish is going to be whatever it is. I'm pretty confident it won't be my fastest 140.6 but I'm also pretty confident it won't be my slowest. Success tomorrow will not be measured in hours and minutes, success will be measured by my ability to stay positive, keep moving and quiet the demons in my own head.
Female side of the pro panel (and Tim O'Donnell).