Thursday, May 24, 2012

In My Skin - A Body Image Revelation

I think I’ve discovered Nirvana.

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you’ve witnessed first hand that I have body image issues. That’s a really dramatic sentence for a very low-drama reality. I mean really, in honesty, don’t most 20-something women have body issues?

I’ve had my share of frustrating shopping trips, poked at every area of my body before walking around in a swimsuit. I’ve pulled and pushed my stomach to figure out which way I look best. I’ve dieted, I’ve lost a lot of weight and I’ve gained weight. And through all of that, I’ve dealt with the mind games we play with ourselves. “If I just lost x pounds…if I looked like x super model…”

Let me tell you what you already know: it’s all crap.

The other night, I came home from the gym and was about to grab a shower. I shrugged my shirt off and flexed my arms in the mirror. Instead of jumping to criticism, for some reason, this time I smiled and turned so I could see my back in the adjoining mirror. I repeated this process head to toe standing there in my running capris and sports bra. Sure, I could drum up some criticism, but why? Instead of hitting myself with negative comments, I looked at myself proudly. Damn. I look strong.

And a word about shopping and fashion...This skinny jean fad is pretty much crap. Y’all, I am tired of saying to sales people and my shopping buddies “yeah, no on the skinny jeans. I have big legs” and getting this response “oh stop, you are so thin.”

I’m not saying I won’t wear skinny jeans because I think I'm fat. I’m saying I won’t wear skinny jeans because honey, these legs run marathons. I have a lot of strong, powerful, sexy muscle in my legs and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m proud of it because I worked for it. I don’t want skinny legs, mine are just fine, thanks. It would be really awesome if fashion decided to ditch the skinny jean fad, though.  Can’t a girl get a normal cut jean in one of those awesome colors? Who wants to have “matchstick” legs anyway. Eww.

I have always been concerned about my arms. You know that girl who worries about her arms in photos? That was me. But now, I look at my arms and I thank swimming. They haven’t gotten smaller, they’ve gotten stronger. My shoulders have gotten broader and stronger. And when I’m a half mile away from shore in my half IM, I will be very very grateful for all that muscle and power and strength.

For the first time in my adult life, I’m not thinking (or caring) about what I weigh or what size pants I’m wearing. I care about how fast I run, how strong I can swim, and whether or not I’m going to eat it on the bike (odds are currently 3-1 on eating it). I have no idea what I weigh and I literally have 4 different sizes in my closet (and I fit in all of them. A size label doesn't define you). I strongly suggest you put yourself on the road to finding that self acceptance. It is an astounding freedom. 

I care about my performance, my health, my strength…not so much that I’m not a waifish stick figure. I’ve actually even begun to find it unattractive and unappealing in fashion magazines to see size 00 women. And wouldn't you know...I haven't been sick (aside from the Noro Virus) in months.

If you’ve fallen into the “if I lose weight I will run faster” mindset, do yourself a favor and please read my teammate Victoria’s blog post about Weight Versus Running Speed and do some reevaluation.

So how do you get to this magical head space? The secret is not to run out and sign up for a half Ironman, nor is it to get to a point where you’re happy with your body and work like hell to stay there. It's to focus on the positive. For me, it took signing up for a half Ironman to rob me of any time for negative thought. All I can think about (and really, WANT to think about) in my spare time is how to train, when to train, gear I want need, workouts, food, etc. etc. etc. There's no time for negativity and I'm kicking myself that it's taken this long to get here. 

Take a moment and promise yourself that at least once today, you'll stop a negative body image thought and replace it with something physical about your body that you're proud of.

Being comfortable in your own skin is really worth it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A Race By Any Other Name

On May 4th, I was halfway to Cincinnati when my phone buzzed. We were stoped at a gas station that proclaimed a very bastardized acclamation of the Gospel (sorry to anyone but rich, white landowners, heaven, apparently, just ain’t for you!). I was basically in nowheresville.

I checked my email, expecting spam or work and instead saw this:

From: Ironman 70.3 National Harbor
Subject: Important Event News

You tell me what you think when you see that. I had two thoughts: 1) I probably need to request a start time or something. 2) The race is cancelled.
#2 was the correct gut feeling. This was the content of the email:
Dear Ironman 70.3 National Harbor Athlete, 
The inaugural Ironman 70.3 National Harbor Triathlon has been cancelled. Athletes registered for the event will receive a full refund of their entry and processing fees.Refunds will be issued within 30 days and will be credited to the card used for registration through the Active Network. 
Ironman is committed to helping participants reach their goal of racing an Ironman 70.3 in 2012 and will further offer each athlete impacted by the cancellation a $50 discount to one of the events listed below: 
[Blah blah blah list of races and how to re-register] 
Thank you for your understanding and patience through this process. We wish you the best of luck with your training and racing.
I’ll leave the commentary to other bloggers who have better deconstructed this quick cancellation, but I can tell you what I thought: nothing.

I was so caught up in the travel to Cincinnati that I literally had 0 concern for this. I was really lucky. I got on the phone with my coach immediately who, of course, already knew about the cancellation. She encouraged me to not worry about it, that she already had some options lined up for me, and that we’d talk about those after Flying Pig – but not now. In case you were ever considering getting a coach, this is one of those top 5 reasons to have one.

I will admit that I did spend a good portion of the drive wondering why. Having worked in PR before, this hasty cancellation without explanation was driving me mad. I knew something else was behind it. Coach mentioned the National Harbor’s bad rap for hosting races (anyone remember the Hot Chocolate 15k?) 

I also remembered the problems that DC Rainmaker had when he previewed the course  and that the Potomac has been worse and worse for race conditions (to the point where swims are frequently cancelled). 

When Coach said that this cancellation was a good thing, I believed her. But my PR mind was still chugging. You only send out bad news at 4pm on a Friday. Twitter rumors were swirling, lots of finger pointing was going on, but in the end, this was the second email we received, almost two weeks later:
Dear Athlete,
The Ironman 70.3National Harbor Triathlon was cancelled because not enough athletes were registered for the event. 
Initially we kept quiet because Ironman asked us to stay silent, not post anything on social media and not send out any press releases so that the damage to Ironman’s brand would be minimized. We were fools to agree and that was a big mistake on our part. 
We should have communicated immediately and told you the reason from the start. We have nothing to hide from the truth and were just initially intimidated by Ironman's request. 
We apologize.
I believe almost 90% of this. There’s something else, but it’s neither here nor there.

I got an email from Coach the morning after my marathon and reviewed my options:
  • Ironman 70.3 Timberman, New Hampshire
  • Patriot’s Half in Williamsburg, VA
  • Ironman 70.3 Austin
I also looked at the list and, at the urging of my twitter friends, added two more to the maybe pile:
  • Ironman 70.3 Augusta
  • Beach to Battleship, North Carolina

I nixed Timberman pretty quickly. I don’t know New Hampshire and it’s a long drive (flight?) and it just seemed like it may as well be in a foreign country when you applied a half ironman to it. Austin is a bit late in the season, and since I’m pretty sure I want to do Giant Acorn (how can you not with a name like that?), it didn’t work. Especially not if I sign up for the Richmond Marathon.

While I was batting around ideas for a new race with my friends in Cincinnati, I floated Augusta. A friend said that the swim course was the easiest for an Ironman – it’s in a river, with current. This was sorely tempting to me, but pride beat me when the same friend said, “I hear that a doritos bag made the swim in 45 minutes.” Pass.

Between B2B and Patriot’s I have two great options for a new 70.3. The only thing that stuck with me was that neither is Ironman branded. In fact, Patriot’s is actually 2 miles longer (on the bike) than an IM 70.3.
I sat down and tried to deconstruct this one night on my bike trainer. If you’ve been on a trainer at all, you’ll know that you do a lot of thinking on that bastard piece of shit (read the link, trust me, you’ll die laughing. Scroll down for description)  

I realized after an hour of going no where (literally), that a brand name doesn’t make the race. The effort and time and training I put into it makes it a race. I started out with this thought process:

My heart says I should choose Patriots. Coach will be there, Williamsburg is close, it’s cheaper than an IM race, and some of my teammates are going. I should do Patriots.

But it’s not an IM branded race. Do I care? I feel like I should care. You were in marketing. You realize that this is basically just good marketing. It’s 2 miles longer than an IM. That makes it more badass. They should make magnets specifically for this one. 72.3. “Well, yes, I’ve done a half IM, but it was 2 miles longer.” This isn’t my only 70.3. This is a good first one. Admit it, you had nightmares about T1 from National Harbor.

But what about Augusta? That’s close to my folks. But then you’ll have done the easiest of the half IMs. Pansy. No, not pansy. Half IM. I hate my bike trainer. This thing is a piece of crap. Why am I on this bike? I could give up training right here, right now. I could just quit while I’m ahead with a sub 4 marathon. That’s pretty beast.

After a lot [more] of inner monologue, which I will spare you, I came to the conclusion that a brand doesn’t make a race any more or less awesome. Ironman or not, I’m doing a 7[2].3 and what will make that race badass is that I will have trained and poured myself into that accomplishment.

How about you? Does race branding matter to you? If so, why?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Flying Pig Marathon...or How I Learned to Love the Marathon

If you follow me on Twitter, then you already know my big news:

That is 2 minutes and 45 seconds under 4 hours. It’s also 10 minutes and 49 seconds faster than my last marathon.

I’ve had so much to say about this last weekend that I’ve put off writing this blog post in hopes that it would just write itself, but it’s not gonna happen like that and I don’t want to forget anything. I finally just wrote down an outline and now I’m going to get to it on my lunch break.

The Trip to Cincinnati
I have the incredible fortune of being part of the Ragnar family. I have a network of teammates who are basically as nuts as I am. When I posted on Facebook that I was considering doing Flying Pig, four of my teammates were immediately registered and on board. We picked up some other Ragnarians and were suddenly 7 on our way to Cincinnati.

We rented a Ragnar van (that I can’t park very well)
Ragnar Van

And made the 10 hour trip to Cincinnati. We talked, laughed, played apples to apples, slept, ate, stopped to pee and I felt like I'd known these people all my life. There was a lot of flying tulle since we were also all making our tutus. We got into Erlanger, Kentucky at some god awful hour in the night after some pro rain-driving by Renee.

Our hotel was basically between Cincinnati and the place that God forgot. Don't get me wrong, the people in Erlanger are wonderfully hospitable, but there is precisely 1 gas station, 2 motels, a biker bar called Peecox and a Waffle House.

The Expo
On Saturday, after a butter filled breakfast at Waffle House (thank God I had a little exercise planned for the weekend), we headed out to Cincinnati (about 20 minutes away) to pick up our packets.

Ragnar Ambassadors!

I have to congratulate the Flying Pig on their organization. We found parking easily and popped in. I didn't wait in line for a single thing. We picked up packets, took pictures with pig statues:

We walked through a lot of great vendors. My haul included:
- Flying Pig Pearl Izumi Cycling Jersey
- Flying Pig "Piglitically Correct" mug
- Flying Pig pint glass
- Flying Pig T-Shirt
- "Multi-Talented Swim Bike Run" bamboo shirt
- Pocket bra (for those hours on the bike trainer when I want a place for my phone)
- Gus, Body Glide, and a blister kit (this will be a big mistake)
- MORE sweaty bands (seriously, it's an addiction, y'all)

At the end of the expo, you pick up your tech shirt, the duffle bag, and a marathon poster - great race swag.

Pre-Race Day
At this point, we were all hungry and tired and needed to get off our feet, put food in our mouths and get back to resting. So Cheesecake Factory and back to the hotel for beers and sitting outside while I finished my tutu. 

Not my tutu - but Renee's prototype is pretty awesome

At this point, I was starting to get nervous. Like I said prior to the marathon, I felt like I hadn't worried enough for there to be a marathon just around the corner. I kept telling myself that in 24 hours, I'd be in a van driving back home, this awesome weekend would be coming to a close and that all I had to do was run for 4 hours. Everyone else went for dinner at the Peecox, but I moved into my solo hotel room, organized for the morning and went out for a walk.

I found myself in a little glen. The Super Moon was out, the silence was only disturbed by the quiet hush of the highway and evening bird calls, and the light was just finishing fading.

I stood there for a good 15 minutes. I prayed aloud. I walked in circles. I did little jogs back and forth. I stood in silence and this is what came to me:

I am blessed to be able to run. I am blessed to be in Cincinnati with good friends. This weekend has been an amazing break from reality and all too soon, it will be over. The training is over and the race is here and at this point, all I can do is run. That was Chadd's advice to me before my first marathon and I've held on to it since: it's just running.

I tucked into bed and thought about writing a blog post, but eventually decided it wasn't worth the time. No use spending time worry about what is already done. In a marathon, the race is never about the actual race - it's all about the training. 

Race Day
Race morning came and we piled into the van around 5:30. We got there with plenty of time to spare. We all dawned our tutus, body glided, and went to the bathroom a couple million times. I felt an amazing sense of calm through the morning. It didn't hurt that I was with multi-marathoners who were calm and collected. My friends had been right - not having a race crew is sometimes a great thing. I wasn't worried about where someone needed to be or how they were feeling or if I'd see them along the course. Instead, I was focused on how amazingly short the portapotty lines were (again, nice going Flying Pig).

Justin and Jason
Matchy Matchy

Justin, Me, Ayla, Amanda, Renee, and Jason (sans Jerry)

Ayla and I jumped into the "Pen" and waited for the gun. When we lurched forward, I ran through all the things my coach and I had talked about:

The Race
The first 9 miles I was to stay behind the 4 hour pace group. If they came out too fast, I should let them go, but keep them as a beacon. I stayed about 30-50 seconds behind the pink balloons. Every time I edged up to them, I forced myself back. I'm certainly glad I did because FPM is not a course to plan to bank time. The course is gorgeous - you go over a bridge into Kentucky, then back into Cincinnati over another bridge. Incredibly soon, there you are at the 6 mile point, where every runner feels that sickness in the pit of their stomach. The hill.

At the turn to 6, there was a "Squealer Party Zone" where volunteers and other supporters are stationed, screaming and cheering. Everyone loved my tutu. I mean, how can you not? Everyone started chanting "PINK TU-TU! PINK TU-TU!" So, naturally, I started blowing kisses. I was kind of a ham (har har har, see what I did there.)

At this point, I was supposed to be at 1:00. I was at 0:57. Uhhhoh. comes that hill. I figured I'd worry about those 3 minutes after I climbed.

I was shocked at how easy the 3 mile climb was. First, the idea that it's a 3 mile climb straight is false. You climb, you level off, you climb, you level off, then suddenly, you're almost to 9 and it's over. Somewhere in there, a retirement home was blasting No Sleep Till Brooklyn:


Yeah, you tell me that doesn't make you want to run faster. 

After the climb, you find yourself at the top of the hill and you can see out into a vista. It's breathtaking, really. The river, the hills, all sprawling before you. 100% worth the climb. It's almost like an easter egg the race director planted out there. If you make it through this hill, you'll see something so beautiful it'll take your breath away...if the hill hasn't already done that.

My next check-in was at the half point. By this time, the half marathoners had veered off (just around 9) and I realized I was in sub 9s. I looked up to check in with the 4 hour pace group and couldn't see them anywhere. I checked my watch. I should have been at 1:59:00, instead, I was closer to 1:57:30. Not too shabby. I kept trying to look ahead of me around a curve. Where the hell was the four hour pace group, where was my beacon?

Then I turned around. They were behind me. Coach had said at the half point, if I found the 4 hour group to be annoying, crowded or the wrong pace, I could ditch them.

So I did.

My next check point came in at mile 18. These 5 miles were actually great - there's a small township where you do a loop of some description. The crowds are raucous (holy crap, the Lulu Lemon girls were nuts!), the sport was amazing, the bands between songs cheered out "NICE TUTU!" I felt like a freaking champion and I was loving my run.

18 came around and I was supposed to be at 2:43:00. Instead, I was somewhere in the late 2:30s. With the next check point being 22, this is the hardest point in the race for me, mentally. I have to give mad props to the cheer section at 18 - the parrotheads were great. This section of the race featured a long highway. I said to myself over and over again, "It's just 4 miles" (Thanks for the mantra, coach!) My borrowed gps watch was telling me I was holding an average 8:47. I started saying aloud, "I've got this. I feel good. I feel so good. This is going to be amazing." In reality, I was fighting the "You're going to hit a wall. You've only trained to 18.5. You don't know what's going to happen."

Then 22 appeared. 4.2 miles to go. This was my check point. I was supposed to be at 3:20, I was closer to 3:15. The negativity shut off. Hyper drive kicked in. I will do this. I am going to do this. I am doing this. Tuesday's Runner's World quote reminded me precisely of the clarity I felt in that moment:

It's an odd thing, when your body says no and your mind and your spirit say yes. It's frightening and empowering and clarifying and beautiful all at once. It was the past year of my life, shortened into a span of 26.2 arduous miles. It was the culmination of experiences, the knowledge that my body can be pushed past its breaking point, just like my heart. 

Around 23, I saw a guy who was struggling. Pain was all over his face and his form was in pieces. I slowed down beside him to walk. I talked to him for a bit, learned it was his first marathon and remembered just how badly I hurt at the 3 miles to go point. I cheesed out on him, but when you're at this point in a marathon, it was all I had. I asked him if I could tell him what got me through my marathons and he said please.

"When I don't think I can do it anymore and when my body hurts so badly, I have to remember that eventually, I won't be able to do this anymore. This pain is a good thing. So, even though we don't WANT to do this today, there will come a day when we can't do this anymore. And that isn't today."

It's the bastardized version of my favorite mantra: "There will come a day when I cannot do this. Today is not that day."

I patted his back and went on ahead. There is such a community and connection among runners at this point in a race. The love and hope and fear you all feel is tangible. And it sounds corny to say, but I have never felt more connected to people in my life than I do in those last miles. Delusion? Probably.

Mile 24 crested ahead of me. 2.2 miles. I had 20 minutes left and I was still running 8:48s. 

Mile 25. Hail Marys are literally pouring out of my mouth. The crowds were getting thick and marathoners who had finished were walking back to cheer on friends. "You can do it. You are almost there, it's just over the hill." 

I so appreciated that FPM had a "1 mile to go sign" at 25.2. Forgive the language, but when I hit that sign, I ran like a mother fucker. 

My last mile was an 8:51.

When the finish line came into site, I had over 5 minutes to kill. By the time I got to the 26 mile marker, tears were streaming down my face. I was either entirely deaf to the crowds or deafened by them. I think the best comparison is like hearing while being under water. 

The race director stands in the middle of the road, giving out high fives and congratulations as your cross the first timing mat. The announcer calls out every runner's name. I heard "Amelia Rommel!" and I looked at my watch: 3:57:33.

I stopped, hands on my knees and totally lost my shit.

A friend on twitter recently wrote, 
Saying "I did this great thing because I am great" is different from saying "I'm proud I was able to do this thing I found difficult." - Paul
And that is honestly how I feel. I finished in sub 4, not because I am awesome or any more special than anyone else, but because I worked through something difficult. I trained in the cold, the rain, and the snow. I went to track practice when I'd rather have been drinking beer. I laced up my shoes and met my team at the asscrack of dawn on the weekends to run hills. 

I called Chadd, my parents, my coach, crying and snotty. I went and found my teammates who had done the half and had beer and lounged in the sun.

Still standing!

Lounging and BEER

As we piled into the car and headed home, I realized that for the first time immediately after a marathon, I wanted to do another one. 

So maybe the third time is a charm. The first marathon, you don't remember, the second, you're miserable, and the third you fall in love.

Congratulations to all my fellow runners at the FPM and thanks to FPM for a great race!

Anyone want to do Richmond?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

T-Minus Three Days to Flying Pig

Hi. I'm not dead. 

I've just been a terribly non responsive member of society lately. Aside from my day job, most emails have gone unsent, volunteer work has not been done, planning or writing or anything has been on hold.


I don't know. It's like I suddenly stopped caring. Perhaps I reached that edge where having a lot on my plate was suddenly not a motivator and instead, it was a paralyzing factor. Or maybe it's because I really enjoy training and after I train, all I want to do is sit on my butt and think about training/watch tv. Whatever the reason, if my begging off on my friend/volunteer/teammate/anything duties affected you, I'm sorry. I came home on Monday night and had a small cry about how I let everyone down and all this that and the other. Chadd got ready to go to the gym, told me to make a list, lock the cats out and just go one by one down my task list. It's embarrassing how little time it took to do everything.

So, now that I've put my big girl panties on, it's time to talk about a big event that is happening in 3 days:

My third marathon.

I chose the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati because...I have no idea why (honestly). My recollection is that part of it was timing (late Spring marathon!), part of it was that Runner's World said it would be fun (if you love hills!), and partly because I had just spent too much time at the Marine Corps Marathon Expo when picking up my 10k bib. 

This has been a really weird pre-race experience. It's all jumbled in my head, so let's try to break it down:

1) One is the Loneliest Number. This is the first time I'm doing a major race (read: marathon) without support crew. The first time, my mom, my then boyfriend, and Chadd were there. My second marathon, Katie and Chadd came out...but this's me and the road.

I totally underestimated how awesome it is to have crew. During the RnR National Half, I saw Chadd at 6, accidentally saw Cyndi at 10, and my coach just after 12. And every time I got tired between those, I started to think about how I would see someone soon and that powered me on. This is not to discount the friends I'm going with (including Justin, Ayla, and Amanda - some of my Ragnar rocks). But these amazing friends will be running their own races. 

I suddenly feel naked.

I've been told that this is a VERY friendly marathon. I think it may be one of the reasons I saw in the RW article. They apparently close the course down after the allotted time, but they continue to support runners after they've moved them to the sidewalks. Now THAT is friendly.

2) Holy Hills, Batman. So, in a moment of true intelligence, I didn't look at the course elevation profile prior to registering. And now that I've looked at it, I have the pre-race nervous pees. I'm amazing with rolling hills. Probably because of my spinning, I'm totally cool with glorious rolling hills. May go towards explaining why I loved the RnR National Half course. What I do not particularly love is a 3+ mile incline. This gives me flashbacks to Ragnar PA where I had 10+ miles up Mt. Pocono. There is actually a photo of me somewhere slumped on the ground, considering death after that.

Ah. There they are.

Y'all. My COACH had a temper tantrum in 2010 when she did this race. Granted, she also placed second in her age group...but, yikes. The positive to this is that my coach knows this race and has been able to give me a lot of insight into it. We've agreed that I shouldn't go out trying to bank time in the first half. Instead, I'm going to hold a 9:30 for the first half, check my watch at the 10k, the half, the 18 and the 22. The back half of the race is my strong suit - again, cue rolling hills.

3) As in...Sub-4. This may have been the wrong race to try and have such a strong PR. But I WANT that sub 4. I mean, that's the real reason I'm running another marathon (or that's my publicly facing reason, I could keep a shrink in business forever if we went into my addiction to endurance sports). 

I keep telling myself that the last marathon I did, I did not run a smart race. I ran without regard for strategy. I got a late start in the wrong corral, I fought my way back to my group and was totally spent by 20. 

4) Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger. It's weird to have a marathon simultaneously be a non-event and cause me anguish. I've been impressively nonchalant about it in the past months. Mostly because I spend all of my anxiety time thinking about the 70.3 in August. Maybe it's also because I've distracted myself with unemployment, two job changes, and a bunch of other stuff. It's not like worrying MORE about a marathon makes it easier. It's not like this is a part of training, but in the back of my mind I feel like I'm behind on worrying. It's almost like I haven't gotten over my worry process and now I'm not going to be prepared.

In reality, I should be confident. I haven't been worried because I have this awesome thing called a coach. Coach T has taken all the pressure off of me because all I have to do is what she says. And I've done just that. I haven't been sore after any of my runs. I have comfortably held 9:30's and below on all my training runs. I need a steady 9:07 to pull this out of the bag, which means I trained at the right pace and I should be able to pull out a sub 4. I will run a smart race because I was smart when I was training.

5) The Future. Unlike the last two times I've trained, I haven't gotten sick of training. Sure, I wasn't stoked about going out for 18 miles, but it's not been the same imposition as it's been in the past. I've actually enjoyed it. I'll credit my coach with a big part of this. I've already started thinking about marathons for the fall if I don't hit sub-4 (and let's be honest...even if I DO hit sub 4...). So, unlike the last times where I've had goals (a time goal AND a goal to never do a marathon again if I made my goal), this time I just have one goal: sub 4. And if I don't make it, I just have to try again.

So, in just 3 days time, you will see a very brief post. It will hold the results and probably another marathon goal - sub-4 or not.

Let me know if you'll be in Cincinnati! I'd love to say hi!