Monday, April 26, 2010

Final Thoughts...

I leave for Utah on Wednesday. I'm nervous because I'm not nervous. How screwed up is that? I am more underprepared/undertrained than I've ever been before such a big race. I did it on purpose, or so I told myself. I was very overtrained for my first 2. This time, I'm trying to see how little training I can get away with. I just hope I did enough. It feels weird to be so rested. I feel fat, sluggish, and flabby. Flat and lethargic. I'm hoping when I get to St. George, it will hit me. I'm hoping all these feelings are signs of a good taper and that on race day, I will do fabulously.

This is my 3rd Ironman. It will mean just as much, if not more, to cross that finish line. I'm just as scared as I was before my first. I still feel like a beginner to long-distance triathlon...and I am. Also, I know how much pain and suffering is involved, and I'm terrified. I'm not sure I will be up to the challenge. I shudder when I think about how much torture I endured for my first two. I know St. George will also be a sufferfest. To be honest, the external elements don't bother me. I just want to be healthy. If I don't have to deal with illness on race day, I'll have so much more energy to draw from.
Crossing that finish line will be a test of my independence. That I have what it takes to accomplish my goals, no matter what sort of crap life throws in my way. I've had monumental personal battles to overcome in making it to the start of this Ironman. I will be triumphant. In addition, there will be a sense of closure. 3 is such a balanced, magical number (my favorite)--beginning, middle, and end. All Ironmans are very special and personal journeys; this one will, by no means, be an exception.
Finally, what you all have been waiting for....(drumroll, please).
I am NUMBER 198!
You can track me live on race day by going to: and clicking on the "Live" section to "track an athlete".

Meanings of Number 198:
  • #198 is a Harshad number (divisible by the sum of its digits).
    The 198 files is a database to classify the mutants in XMen (only 198 were left after Scarlet Witch's "reality warp"). Yay! Superheroes!
  • In the year 198 AD King Mithridates V of Parthia died in battle against the Kushans. He was succeeded by Orodes II.
  • The Albert Einstein Institution lists 198 methods of nonviolent action (

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Stan's Journey--Episode 1

"Where do I go from here?" Stan wonders.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Taper Madness

"Fear is probably the thing that limits performance more than anything - the fear of not doing well, of what people will say. You've got to acknowledge those fears, then release them."
--Mark Allen
I can't believe my 3rd Ironman is less than 2 weeks away. I can't believe I'm almost as nervous for my 3rd as I was for my first. Another year has elapsed. How did that happen? Again? Even thought this is my 3rd Ironman, I've had to overcome so much just to make it to the start line, including a broken heart, death, career disappointment, and clinical depression. Every Ironman presents challenges in making it to the start but this one seemed particularly difficult (my first Ironman was divorce, for instance).
I think I'd rather eat a tapeworm than actually taper. I hate the change in my routine. I hate the angst, the anxiety, the manic increase in energy. I have to carefully regulate my activity, make sure I'm not doing too much, yet make sure I'm doing just enough to sleep at night. This is difficult for my all-or-nothing personality.
For my first Ironman (Arizona, April '08), I was incredibly overtrained when I entered the 3-week taper. I logged more miles than training for my 2nd two, and my body was just not used to it. It took me almost the entire taper time just to recover from being overtrained. For my second Ironman (Canada, August '09), I was also overtrained. This time, however, I was prepared. I designed my training plan so I would be slightly overtrained going into the taper. I think I'm happiest when I'm slightly overtrained. I simply love that completely physically exhausted feeling. Anyway, this time, I added a week to the taper, allowing a full recovery week before entering the 3-week taper. That worked really well, and I was rarin' to go come race day.
This Ironman is different. I'm not overtrained. My taper is the standard 3 weeks. But I'm not overtrained, and it feels, well, it feels wrong. Shouldn't I be more tired? Shouldn't I be more sore? Am I in good enough shape? Should I have logged more miles? Is the training good enough. I am beginning to freak out. Common sense tells me to calm the f*#k down. I look at the training I did. During the final week, I ran 20 miles one day, swam 4000 the next, and biked 100 the day after that. It just didn't feel hard enough. And I'm worried. I did a 70.3 race that went phenomenally well. I did a 50K ultramarathon. I rode 100 hilly miles and then ran 18 hilly trail miles the next day. I rode 80 hilly miles several times. That should be good enough, right? Right? Yet, I'm worried.
I even have little projects planned to keep me mentally busy. Spring cleaning, writing, painting, dog training, etc. I'm trying to stick to these pre-planned projects to prevent myself from spinning off on a tangent. What's the craziest thing you've done in a taper? For Ironman Canada's taper, I applied to vet school. I had the applications done and was getting ready to fly around the country and visit different schools. An Ironman can be a great reality check. While on the Ironman Canada race course, the thought, vet school, floated through my head. I had an instant reaction in response, No. Don't be silly. That's ridiculous. And that answered that. The Ironman race course can be a great venue for answering hard-to-solve questions.
Common sense also tells me that the taper is going well. The first week, I didn't do too much. I think I was a little mentally burnt out. Fatigue lags training too. I felt like crap by the end of the week, which is a good sign. This week, I'm anxious. In re-reading my old posts about tapering, this is also a good sign. Week 1--you feel like crap. Week 2--you're crawling out of your skin. Week 3--race week--all systems go.

Hopefully everything will be okay. Torch gets tuned up today. I ran 10 miles yesterday, and that went well. Today, I will ride 40. We're down to the 10-day countdown. Gulp.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ironman Utah Taper--Here we go again...

I find myself deep into the taper for my 3rd Ironman. How the hell did I get here? Yes, it's that time again. I love the cyclical rhythms of Ironman training. And revisiting old topics with a fresh perspective. It's time to revisit the taper.

What is a “taper? Tri Fuel says:
"Tapering means reducing training volume prior to a goal race in order to facilitate total and complete recovery. You should incorporate a taper a week or two prior to A race(s). The length of the taper will depend on the length of your event; the longer the event the longer the taper length. From a training stand point there is nothing you can do the week of a goal race to physiologically increase performance but there are many opportunities to reduce it."

Obviously, since the importance of the taper has been continuously drilled into my head, "The Ironman Taper" by Alun Woodward in May's Triathlete, advocating to taper less or not at all caught my eye. Woodward states there is "clear evidence that a shorter taper is most beneficial for endurance athletes" going on to say that the 3-week taper advocated for Ironman athletes was developed for marathoners, not long-distance triathletes, and should therefore, be re-examined.
Not too sure what the "clear evidence" is but I'm still not a believer. Woodward explains that the standard 3-week taper was adapted from marathoners. Because overtraining is the norm for marathoners, and it takes 3 weeks to recover from overtraining, the 3-week taper came into existence. Funny, I seem to recall being overtrained at the beginning of almost every taper I've ever done (except this one, of course). Not sure how that discredits a 3-week taper for Ironman athletes as I believe most of us are just as, if not more, overtrained than marathoners.
Woodward also states that speed and strength comes slowly and is lost slowly, whereas endurance is easy come, easy go. "This ability to gain endurance rapidly, though, cojmes with the caveat that we also lose it swiftly. This is why the three-week taper fails for Ironman. We know from experinece that we start to see a decline in endurance ability within seven to 10 days." I have two issues with this statement. First, I've always been taught that endurance is the foundation to our fitness, which is why we log so many "base" miles in the winter before adding the "icing" (speed) to the cake at the end. Therefore, it is the speed that goes first and endurance that takes the longest to deteriorate. After 6 years of doing triathlon and coming back from illness or injury, I can attest to this. I can always manage to go out for a long-distance run but after a few weeks, I certainly won't be as speedy.
Second, the 7-10 day argument. Yes, it takes 7-10 days of complete inactivity to lose fitness. But that's not a taper. You still work out during a taper, just less. Fitness can be maintained for several months by continuing to work out periodically (indefinitely if you add intensity).
My fear is that the average over-trained triathlete (like myself), who hates to taper because of the accompanying anxiety and irritability, will read this article and use it as an excuse to drive themselves further into a hole. Most triathletes don't taper enough. True, taper does not mean 3 weeks of laying on the couch eating bon-bons. Then, you may have a problem. But if you're following the recipe (25% reduction in volume each week), and still swimming, biking, and running (just less), you're going to be great.
Now the benefits of a taper? Recovering from fatigue, replenishing glycogen, increasing muscle mass, mental freshness....that's a huge advantage, one I can't afford to miss.

Previous Blog Posts on Tapering:
Other How-To Taper Articles:
What to Expect During a Taper
by The Mark Allen

"Week One- You start to feel good. The energy system that raises your energy up for peak workouts will still be switched on but you will begin to build energy reserves because of the reduced volume of training. The result is that you will start to feel supercharged.

Week Two- The "respond" systems start to shut down that are normally active during high volume training. You start to go into hyper-recovery mode. Legs and arms can feel heavy. Motivation for working out can drop. But have faith�

Week Three- Your energy will start to come back and you will feel the spark and the spring come back into your mind and body. Remember, this is still not the time to test yourself. That will come in the race a week away.

Week Four- All of the rest pays off. If you thought week three felt good, this will blow your socks off. You will hardly be able to contain yourself. This is exactly what you want. You are now ready for your best race.

Remember, during your taper REST. Take naps (if possible), reduce the overall workload in your life (if possible). Avoid the temptation to fill your free time with a million other things. Rest means rest. By race day the goal is to be so bored with sitting around that you are bursting at the seams to get out there and mix it up with 1500 other athletes!

See you at the races!"

Mark Allen
6-Time Ironman World Champion

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

20-Mile Running Tour of San Francisco

Training is now officially over. The taper begins. Hard to believe. I finished well, logging an 18-hour week and including a 4000 meter swim, a 100-mile bike ride (a sufferfest with 5 flats among our group), and a 20-mile run. I think I'm in pretty good shape.

The last week of training was made particularly challenging by a work conference in San Francisco. Equipped with my running shoes, a camera, and Camelbak, I set out for a 20-mile running tour of San Francisco.

My stay at the Hilton was slightly chaotic and cacophonous due to a lively 3-day union strike occurring outside the hotel entrance.

Weaving through the masses of people in Union Square and the Financial District was a mix of agility and a full-contact sport. As I darted in and out of ambling shoppers, I caught sight of a man dressed in tight, bright pink spandex on a unicycle. Turns out it was the infamous "Pink Man", a local celebrity!

I made my way to the Bay Bridge and turned west along the Embarcadero. Don't know what it is about bridges but I just love their architecture. Such clean sweeping lines.

Fisherman's Wharf was a zoo of tourists, as usual. Everyone seemed to be moving in unpredictable slow motion trajectories. These erratic movements made a collision highly likely, especially on the return trip. I stuck my elbows out, prepared for impact. Somehow, a crash was avoided. All I know is that if people drove cars like they walk, we would have many more fatalities. I enjoyed the street performers, including the guys sprayed from head-to-toe in metallic spray paint and a man in a newspaper suit, including a top hat. Oh, and I can't forget the pimp and prostitute roller bladers, complete with purple sparkly blazer and hat for him and bleached blond wig and mini dress for her.

I reached Ghiradelli Square. Mmmmm. Chocolate. Wiped off the drool and gazed longingly at the swimmers in triathlon wetsuits swimming in the marina. I bet that water was C.O.L.D.!

I ran out on the pier to get a closer look at Alcatraz. One day, one day, I told myself. The Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon is on my bucket list.

I proceeded up the steep hill to Fort Mason. The crowds had thinned out, and parks lined the streets. Joggers, sunbathers, strollers, and dogs wearing no leashes frolicked in the grass. The Golden Gate Bridge was quickly appearing. I don't know what it is about the Golden Gate but ever since I was a little girl, I've always loved it. I used to get very excited every time my parents had to drive over it. I would try to hold my breath as we drove over. I decided to run over the bridge, something I had never done.

I weaved my way through the breathtaking trail in the Presidio, making my way to the pedestrian path on the Golden Gate. The views were amazing. I stopped several times on my way to the other side to stare and gawk.

I made it to the other side of the bridge and officially ran to Marin. This made me smile, for some reason, and I snapped some more pics before realizing I had to turn and run 10 miles back.

Upon completing the 20-mile run, I wandered to the closest Starbucks and wearily made it to the Barista. I announced that I had just run to Marin and back and they moved me to the front of the line. Bonus!

--ice bath back in the hotel room

Monday, April 05, 2010

I Don't Like Earthshakes

I was having a pretty uneventful afternoon yesterday, chillaxin on the sofa while watching a movie. Right before I drifted off, the windows started creaking. I remembered the forecast for rain and thought a strong, gusty wind had picked up. Then the house started shaking, creaking back-and-forth, back-and-forth. I could almost hear springs as the joints of the house flexed and bowed. I sat up. That's not wind! That's an earthquake! By the time this realization had set in, the ground was still shaking. And picking up speed. Ugh. Not again. I decided to pretend it was one of the many elementary school drills I'd had growing up in Northern California. Time to duck and cover. I huddled under the doorway of the front bathroom and called for Travis to come. He was right there beside me anyway. I crouched down, holding him as the quake increased in voracity. The shaking seemed to last forever (42 seconds, actually). Finally, the shaking ebbed, leaving me wide-awake and stunned. But nothing had fallen, nothing had broken. I still had power. No alarms were going off. I went outside. The silence was deafening. All the birds chirping away in the frenzy of early spring had disappeared. I couldn't even hear a fly buzzing.

I later learned from USGS ( that we had felt the remnants of a 7.2 quake centered near Mexicali. I knew it would be a night of aftershocks. After suffering a night of interrupted sleep after 4 or 5 smaller quakes, I can't help thinking about the earthquake that changed my attitude from, "Cool, we're having an earthquake," to "Oh, my God. I could actually die from this."

In 1989, I was living in Saratoga, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. At 5:04 pm, on October 17th, I was doing my homework at the kitchen table. Daylight savings hadn't ended yet so it was still light outside. My mom was putting the groceries away. My 3-year-old sister was in her room, and my dad was still at work. The ground started shaking. Oh, another earthquake, I thought. Very quickly, the shaking got worse and worse. I heard the bottles and jars rattling inside the refrigerator, still open as my mother paused between putting away the greens. Jars and glasses bolted out of cabinet doors, crashing to the ground. The sound of glass breaking all around me jolted me into action. I made a beeline towards the front door, remembering the arch under the front door is the sturdiest structure of a house. As I stood, the shaking increased so violently that I was thrown to the ground. I proceeded to crawl to the door so quickly, I got rug burns on my knees. A bottle of soy sauce crashed and exploded next to my arm. Paintings fell from the walls. A tall, thin hutch toppled to the ground. My mother, sister and I crouched under the front door, waiting for the ground to stop shaking. Although it only lasted 10 or 15 seconds, it seemed to take an eternity.

The ground finally stopped seizing, although I could feel twitches and continuous vibrations for 24 hours as if I was not on solid ground but instead, on an open ocean. I remained under the arch of the front door for several more minutes, catching my breath. I watched neighbors running outside to shut off the gas. One of the biggest dangers of a quake are the potential outbreak of fires afterwards from broken gas lines. There was no electricity. We joined all the neighbors out in the front yard, huddled around a radio, listening to the news. Every couple of hours, there would be an aftershock. Except the aftershocks were all 5-pointers, as big as any earthquake I had previously experienced. The aftershocks caused more insult to the pre-existing damage. No candles to take the place of electricity tonight! My dad made Mac 'n Cheese for dinner, using a camping stove he dug up from the garage and lit the kitchen with a giant industrial lantern he also had hidden away. My sister and I slept in sleeping bags on the floor of my parents bedroom that night. We wanted to be close to each other. My poor little sister kept repeating, "I don't like earthshakes." I wanted to squeeze her.

We ventured out to the grocery store for supplies the following morning. We needed water. The store was being run on a generator and everything glowed under the dim hum of a sickly, pale light. The broken glass had been mostly cleaned up but there were still stains from the goo of fallen condiments and sauces. The supplies that we needed, that everyone needed, were running out or gone (e.g. batteries and water). However, there was a brotherly bond between us and our common strangers. A solemn grace. The shock of the ordeal we had just shared made us hungry for human companionship and understanding. My mom reached for the last jug of water at the same time as another woman. They argued momentarily over who should get it:
"Go ahead."
"No, you take it."
"Really, it's yours."
"I can't. I insist."
Finally, we got the water, I think because the other woman took pity on my mom with her two daughters in tow. I was struck by the power of human compassion in a time of such crisis.

Please review the steps to take during an earthquake:
1. Duck and cover.
Find a solid doorframe or table to crouch under. An open field works well if your outside. Stay away from glass, windows, powerlines, and anything that could otherwise topple down on you.
2. Afterwards, don't go into unsafe structures. They could come down at any moment.
3. Always have batteries, water, food, blankets, and flashlights ready (that goes for any emergency).

On a more important scale, I am painfully reminded that, as much as we like to think we are in control, we are actually little, insignificant specks of dust in this universe. It's almost comical to believe that our meetings and appointments warrant as much stress and fretting as expend over such matters. In other words, live your life. Don't sweat the small stuff and make sure you are living a life you want. Because in the blink of an eye, it could all be gone. Rachel--gone existentialist.

Pics from the Loma Prieta Quake of '89:

rubble in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was devastated and would take years to repair all the damage.

--collapse of part of the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland. Not a single survivor. More would have been killed since the quake was during rush hour. Luckily, since it occurred during the World Series, most people had left work early to watch the game, making it a light traffic day.
--collapse of a segment of the Bay Bridge.