Thursday, February 26, 2009

I can walk!

Funny title for a post written by a triathlete, no? But appropriate, in this case, because for the past week, I haven't been able to walk without my knees hurting. It's been scary, frustrating, and just plain strange. I think I've always felt a little invincible when it comes to training - yeah, I've had my fair share of muscle problems, but joint problems have been non-existent. So, after a crazy yoga spree, I had to come to the realization that I am, in fact, not invincible - am actually susceptible to all the same weird problems as everyone else, and cannot running around doing stupid stuff like doing 9 hours of yoga classes in a week and a half after not doing yoga for 2 months - my knees pretty much felt like someone had knocked 'em with an aluminum baseball bat in a back alley (though somehow my wallet still kept its contents...). So I sat around being cranky (and not updating my blog...) for a good few days because I couldn't train and how completely miserable is that?!

But yesterday, thanks to my brilliant sports chiro/ART guru Dr. Laney who I here and now profess my undying love for, I suddenly realized I could take a normal stride again. I had wicked point-soreness due to the beating he gave my quads and groin muscles, but I could (kind of) walk without hurting. Today I did as instructed and gave my quads a good stretching, and I can walk - like normal!! Muscles are still a little sore, but knees feel about a million times better. Truly amazing. I went to my favorite all-organic cafe this morning and ordered a big breakfast with eggs and black beans and toast and hot tea and sat on the patio in the beautiful Texas weather and just thought about how completely wonderful life is.

And, while I'm excited to be on the way back to normal, I learned some really good lessons these past few days while I was unable to train - and was unsure when I would be able to start training again. Here are some of my insights on dealing with injuries - the right ways, and the wrong ways...

1. Remember that you were a complete human being before you started doing triathlons. You were happy and alive and reasonably entertained - triathlon did not define you, and you were ok.

2. Don't go around telling everybody about your injury woes - it's depressing for you and for them. Tell a few people who really love you and will care and be sympathetic... but otherwise, keep the talk to a minimum - more negative vibes are not what you need when you're injured, you've got enough already.

3. Go to all your favorite places. Your places where you can be sane.

4. Don't try to train through it. Duh. We all know this one, and yet... never seem to FOLLOW it... it is irrational to think that it will just go away if you KEEP USING IT!

5. Try to help out the athletes in your life. Encourage, lend a helping hand - let yourself live vicariously through them a little bit. Be there for them if they need advice or help with gear or scheduling.

6. Eat well. Don't go on a giant junk food binge, but do enjoy the foods you love. Stay healthy, but indulge a little bit on the foods you really like. If you're like me... hit up Central Market.

7. Do what you can. If you can swim - go swim your little heart out. If you can walk, take some long walks, and use the opportunity of being warmed up as a chance to really get a good stretch in. If all you can do is stretch... stretch away! And ice. Lots and lots of ice.

8. Get outside. If it's warm enough, go sit in the sun. It'll make you happier. I promise.

9. Don't freak out. Don't. Freak. Out. It's going to be ok. Worse things have happened. This too shall pass. Freaking out leads to irrational thinking. Irrational thinking often leads to irrational actions. Which will make the problem worse. So stay calm!

10. Stay proactive. You can always be doing something. Talk to your doctor. Find out what you can do to speed recovery. Research what's wrong with you, and see what's worked for other people. Talk to your triathlete friends who have dealt with similar problems, and find out what they did. Just stay positive and remember, perseverance wins the prize!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Chacos

I still can't train. I still can't train. I still can't train.

AHHHH! Who am I?! I am suffering from UAS - Unidentified Athlete Syndrome. UAS is when training has begun to define you as an individual, and then, due to circumstances also known as acts of God, i.e. those totally outside of your control (injury, family emergency, etc.), you are suddenly unable to train and even unable to race. You first just feel a little stir-crazy once the initial shock has worn off, but then you start to struggle with UAS. The thing that has begun to define you has suddenly disappeared... and you can't even control it. Chances are, this will happen when the weather is particularly fantastic and you can regularly see packs of cyclists and runners with well-behaved large dogs flying past on the road outside your home. While you sit on the sofa trying to remember how you lived before you were outside with those people. Or by yourself, flying solo down deserted country roads, just you and the blue sky and the giant sprawling plains and rolling hills, or gliding through cool open waters... Training... And then it's like, you can't remember how you lived before that! Did you live? Was life remotely exciting or fulfilling or anything? Did the sun really shine as bright? The sky really seem as blue, as when you saw it from the saddle of your Specialized Transition? There is a deep and disturbing suspicion that they did not...

How do we fight the blues of UAS? How am I fighting them? Or trying to, anyways... ? The past few days have been pretty revealing. I love the fact that I tend to throw myself head first into new hobbies and even life-changing decisions. I'm all about full-hearted spontaneous life-changing decisions. Actually, they've defined a lot of my life. But suddenly, I've realized I'm not invulnerable. And that, by letting triathlons dominate my entire life, I've set myself up for potentially brutal let-downs. Chances are, the problem I'm having right now will probably resolved in a few weeks max (knock on wood). My racing season will probably not be drastically affected by my current situation - slight knee pain due to a yoga over-dose - but I've been forced to realize in the past few days that there is always the possibility that I might not always be able to eat, sleep, and breathe triathlon. And it might not be my choice. People get hurt. Accidents happen. Lives have to change.

I was really fortunate a couple of months ago to briefly date a guy who is a nationally competitive chair racer. When he was younger, something happened that caused him to lose the use of both legs, putting him in a chair. I feel like, if this happened to me, my life would end. I wouldn't be able to go on or be happy. But here is this incredible man who faced one of the greatest challenges anyone will ever have to face... and I literally never once heard him complain about it. Ever. I Googled him one day and found an article where he talked about being in rehab, and realizing "it really wasn't going to be an issue." Instead of letting it end his life, or define it in a negative way, he let it turn his life into something amazing where he competes at a national level and is an advocate for the millions of other people in his situation. He's funny and fun and occasionally dry and sarcastic... and incredibly good-looking, if I may say so myself. People are amazed by him because he's overcome so much and always kept on living, kept a positive attitude, didn't let anything hold him back... and that not only inspires amazement, but confidence. It shows us the potential fortitude of human nature under duress - that perhaps we, too, could keep on living after everything we've used to define ourselves is changed or taken away.

We didn't stay together long... conflicting personalities, I think. But I still have immense respect for him. And so part of me looks at myself right now and sees my complete distress and then looks at him and feels really, really small. So I obviously have to find some way to deal with it, and not be the person who let's themselves sit in their discontent and frustration and make themselves and the people around them even a little less happy. Because that's just not worth it. So I took some steps today. I couldn't ride my bike or take a run... but I could sit outside in the beautiful Texas weather on a giant deck with cold water and a well-written book, with a friend and good conversation. I could see my sports chiro/ART specialist, and do as much as could be done to combat whatever this problem is. I could go to my team's swim practice, and do some underwater running and maybe some drills. I could decide to go to my race on Sunday, and just swim, if that's all I can do, because, well, I'm already signed up. I could go to REI and buy a pair of Chacos like I've always wanted and a Life is Good Nalgene with a little dude riding a TT bike on it. I could work on our team's website because that's something that's important to them, and that I can do for them. I can do all of these things. Or I can sit at home. With a bag of ice. And be miserable. And make my roommates more depressed. Well. Be honest with yourself. Which would you pick?

I came really close to making the wrong choice today. But then I remembered that I don't want to be that person. That's not the kind of person with the mental toughness to do multi-sport. That's not me. So. I'm going to swim practice.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I'm an athlete, not an administrator...

Ok, because I'm Type A, I'm actually very good at administrating. I've been an administrative assistant in many guises and titles over the past few years. I do well at it. But you know what I like more?? Riding my bike! But now I've hurt myself doing yoga, and, ok the last day and a half off from training was pretty ok, buuuut I'm already starting to get restless again, and my legs aren't feeling any better yet! I still haven't seen Dr. Laney yet, which is probably why, but still! I've behaved. I've stayed off my feet. I've iced. I've stretched. And for what? They actually feel a little worse now. Bleeeh.

So, anyways, since I can't be out doing what I really love, I've been working on administrative stuff for our team - namely, our website. Duh Duh DUNH! I don't really like sitting at computers that much. An hour is about my max, which is why I could never have a stereotypical corporate job. But last night I spent 6 HOURS on our website, which was supposed to have been finished by someone else, ohhh... 6 or 7 months ago. Frustrated? Who me? Please. I also didn't mind that my knees ached more after keeping them bent in the same position for so long. (Please no comments on the fact that I sounded like an old lady just then). Needless to say, I wasn't too thrilled with the situation. I would be less grumpy about it if I wasn't on a strict training hiatus at the moment. I'm supposed to have an easy run today... I want to run... : (

Enough ranting. So, clearly my legs need to get better ASAP. But for all you yogis out there - I haven't done anything for three days, shouldn't this be better by now? I haven't done yoga since Tuesday, and this really wasn't very bad to begin with... It seems kinda weird to me.

Anyways, sorry for the slightly incoherent and less thought-out post, but I'm going crazy over here. On a happier note, make sure you add our team's new blog to your list of those that you follow:

Have a happier Sunday than me! (Maybe some of the good vibes will make their way here and rub off on me...)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Quiet day

Today is this incredibly beautiful day. The sky is so blue and bright with white sun and the wind is strong, and good, because I'm not riding in it. The dry leaves still left from the fall are bright and dry in the sun, still intact, but looking like they would crunch and dissolve into dust under my shoes. It's a good day for living. I'm sitting by a window with half-open blinds and a little dusty sun spilling on the table next to my lap-top. It's surrounded by Faulkner and Garcia and Melville, and there's a cup half full of tea by me. My chair is wooden and a little creaky, and the worn surface of the table is humble in the full light, and like home, or something, and there's easy folk music, almost country but just escaping it, too soft and modest.

Days like today are good for my soul. Not because there aren't or aren't going to be other bright blue and white days with hot tea and quiet acoustic guitars, but because today I can find some peace in all of that. We lead such full lives, triathletes. We work hard, we train hard, and often, we play hard as well. We do so many things to the greatest extent that they can be done. And our full lives are, secretly or not so, the envy of others who keep existing on the fringe of living. Those who haven't found those things worth living for, those things that make life worth living. But in our great desire to really live, it's easy to forego the quieter things, the sitting and the thinking. To just live big and loud and excited all the time and not be about quiet trails and smooth country roads in the fall and big, quiet blue skies. Rest days. Recovery. The other half of our lifestyle.

I've been so hooked on the excitement of triathlons, 5k's, cycling tours, and half-marathons, that it's easy to forget who I was before all that. Because I know I'm still Morgan and everything that I loved before my favorite obsession of all time doesn't cease to exist or be important just because I've found something else that I love as well.

Before I was Triathlon Morgan, I was also an avid reader and writer, bass and guitar player, nature-lover and backpacker, organic-foods-obsessed gardener... You see, I have this tendency to find something new that I love and to throw myself into it head over heels without looking back. And, lucky me, it's always worked out. I'm so glad I'm a triathlete now, and a slightly obsessed one as well. I love every aspect of the sport, even the goofy clothes we wear. But recently, I've been lying in bed, looking over at my very sad and lonely acoustic guitar sitting in the corner of the room next to my foam roller, and realizing I've done it again. Tried to make myself all about this one thing when there are so many interesting thing I can be about, and have been about. I think I've mentioned before that moderation is something I struggle with.

I recently hurt myself (not badly, but just enough to put me out of the game for a couple of days) doing yoga, and my coach said no more training until I don't hurt anymore. So today I'm taking a real rest day, instead of riding up a hill repeatedly in high winds and cold temps at 9:00 in the morning. 3 months ago, this would have killed me. I hate missing training. I am Type A. Extremely Type A. Ask my parents. They're the ones I get it from. But... today I had a big breakfast with my dad, and then just sat and talked to him for 2 hours. Something we hadn't done in a long time. And then, instead of sitting around wondering when I needed to be ready to run/ride/swim, and where I was going to do that, and what I was going to wear, and whether or not other people were going to be joining me, I looked outside and thought it was a perfect day to sit around and do something I hadn't been doing nearly enough recently - reading and writing. Yeah, I'm a complete nerd, it's ok, you can think it. I'm secure in it. So I got all my things and went to this place in Denton called Art 6 that is like, one of my places. Where I go. When I need to be quiet and sane. It's an old white house that a friend of the married couple who I rent a room from looked at and decided would be a good place for coffee and tea and art and music and movie nights in the summer on the deck outside. And I got my usual pot of tea and found an table by a window where I could see all the blue in the sky and all the dry leaves on the ground and people laughing at tables, in chairs, outside where I can't hear them but can still see them being all light and happy. And I read for three hours. Now I'm writing this.

My soul is a little more still. My knees hurt a little bit less. It's been a good day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Some of the good nevers of triathlon

I stole or "borrowed" this idea from the blog "Yoga in the Adirondacks" written by a sweet yoga teacher named Debbie - this is my version of her "Never..." poem.

Never worry that you don't have enough time - the only thing you don't have enough time for is rushing - it will only set you back.

Never let it be all about winning - as soon as that happens, you'll always be losing, even if you're still getting medals.

Never forget that you started somewhere weak and slow and scared - just like the new triathlete racking their Wal-Mart bike next to yours.

Never let it become about the gear, the clothes, or any of the other stuff - it's only as fast as you are.

Never be so worried about you're eating that you pass up your mom's homemade sweet rolls.

Never let your fears, doubts, setbacks, and failures define who you are as an athlete or a person.

Never be too married to your own training plan to be able to take a beginner out on the bike, on the trail, or in the water.

Never forget the joy of an early morning run on your favorite trail as the sun comes up through the tree branches and everyone else is asleep.

Never forget your reason for doing this.

Never think you aren't good enough.

Never look back (especially on an open water swim course).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Roll, stretch, ice, repeat

Iliotibial band:

"A fibrous reinforcement of the broad fascia on the lateral surface of the thigh, extending from the crest of the ilium to the lateral condyle of the tibia." - American Heritage Medical Dictionary

"A real pain in the butt... literally." - Generic fitness website

Ok, I think most of you reading this are probably pretty familiar with the infamous IT band (NOT a popular San Francisco musical group, as mentioned in one online forum...), simply because you do triathlons, and we all know that triathlon and the IT band have a very special relationship - you do one, there's a good chance you'll mess up the other. Well... ok that only stands true one way... you can't exactly "do" an IT band... though it can sure mess you up in a tri! ITB problems can cause pain in all kinds of places because the ITB pulls on all kinds of things. However, some of the most common areas for pain that I've heard of are the knee, thigh, and butt.

Towards the end of the 2008 season, I messed up my left ITB big time during a cycling tour, and it effectively ended my racing season. While I still did my last three events of the season, I had to walk the run in all of them. Talk about a big blow when running used to be my best event! What was really crazy was that, for the longest time, I didn't actually know what caused the damage. All I knew was that I was experiencing severe pain on the outer side of my knee, and that my knee would occasionally "pop"... which even I knew wasn't normal. I had been told (incorrectly) by a chiropractor who will remain nameless that I had stretched out the tendon in my knee running. It literally got to the point where I couldn't walk a quarter of a mile without being in severe pain. Finally, I met another local athlete who recommended me to local ART guy and my personal hero, Dr. Laney, who literally talked with me about the problem for about 3 minutes, said "You know, I think I know what that is - mind if I try just fixing it real quick?" Ok sure, yeah, go ahead, it's only been 2 months I'm sure you can fix it "real quick" no problem... 15 minutes later I could walk/run/hop around gleefully/etc. Due to an improper bike fit, the seat on my Fuji had been positioned too low, and the constant training on that bike had caused scar tissue build-up around my left IT band, causing it to fuse to the quadriceps, and create pull on the outside of the knee. Dr. Laney went in and (yes, painfully, but who cares???) broke up the scar tissue, relieving the pull on the knee.

I went back to see Dr. Laney a few more times as he continued to work all the gunk out of my leg, and also worked on some older problems that had arisen that past summer. My coach Aaron kept me on a easy run training program so that my legs had some base miles to rebuild and re-strengthen. And in a couple of months I was running normally again, and even working on perfecting my forefoot striking. Boy was I one happy triathlete.

Now, in the past couple of weeks, I seem to have awakened old ghosts... As mentioned in previous blogs, I've always loved yoga, but never been particularly dedicated. About two weeks ago, I was starting a recovery week, and decided that would be the perfect time to finally start dedicating more time and energy to my yoga practice. I so enjoyed my new commitment that I kind of dove in head-first... and apparently I was diving on the shallow end. Whoops. So I over-did it and now a lot of the things that I used to struggle with injury-wise have returned in the past couple of days. Nothing severe, by any means, but after the travesty that last season turned into, I'm easily freaked out! Now, Aaron knews me way too well, and quickly sent me a message telling me not to freak out. And to stretch... all day, every day. Well. I knew that. And, like any athlete, stretching is sooo my favorite... Not!! And of course, we all knew it's not just stretching.

We start out with the foam roller or Stick or whatever your torture device of choice may be. We slooowly roll the hurt/tight muscle on said device, rolling through whatever pain it may be causing. This goes on for 10-15 minutes for a really thorough massage. If you're thorough, you'll use moist heat before rolling. Anyways, after rolling, you stretch. I have three ITB stretches I really find to be effective. I like to sit in each stretch from 2-5 minutes to make sure that I'm really breathing and relaxing into it. I find that anything less than that just isn't as effective. Then, after all that fun, I get out the ice pack(s) and ice for 10 minutes. Then, I repeat. This whole process takes 30-40 minutes. I'm so lucky to be a student and part-time worker because I actually have time during the day to do all this. When I have a full-time job some day, I will have to be doubly careful to not get hurt!

So, my plans for today:

- Roll, stretch, ice, repeat
- Reading for class
- Roll, stretch, ice, repeat
- Reading for class
- Roll, stretch, ice, repeat
- Reading for class
- Massage (not the fun kind!)
- 3 hour class
- Dinner with girlfriends
- NO YOGA!!!
- Reading for class

Sound like a fun day?? If so, and you haven't already tried being a college student and a triathlete... you should really give it a go! I joke. Bad days are few and far between. I'm incredibly blessed by my life, and the not-fun times make the good ones even better. Just wait till after my first tri of the season and read about how completely ecstatic I am then : ) But until then... roll, stretch, ice, repeat...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In case you haven't seen it...

I'm stealing this from TRI DIESEL's blog. Please visit this link if you want to laugh loudly and hysterically.

Triathletes - enjoy.

Not my knees!!

The dreaded knee pain... ewww... Last week I decided it would be a good idea to start putting some more time and focus into my yoga practice (or lack thereof - seriously, I'm embarrassed by how little attention I've given it). I've not been feeling so hot recently, and I had a recovery week, so it seemed like the perfect time. I forgot how much I love yoga. After the first session, I was so excited, I went two more times that week. I was having a blast. Then I went the last two nights (Monday and Tuesday). I had a great time during each class, and felt like, if I could keep up that frequency, I could really start to see some improvement in my practice. But then it came... knee pain. Oh yuck. I've had IT Band issues in the past, and I think some of the problem is due to that. It definitely feels that way, anyways. However, there is also just some very mild achiness in other parts of the knees... and THAT freaks me out. As we all know, knee problems can be a death sentence to triathletes.

Obviously the first step was damage control. No more yoga this week. Heat, stretch, ice, repeat. Fortunately I have a second recovery week (since I've been sick and the month and half before these weeks was pretty intense training-wise... and just life-wise, which can definitely have a tiring effect), so my training is minimal. I did a half hour run this morning, and felt fine all through the run - no pain, but I ache a little now. So, anyways, taking it easy this week. Second step - Monday morning I have an appointment with The Laney (my sports chiropractor/ART guy who I swear by and who I think secretly knows magic because there is no other way he could possibly fix everything he has), and hopefully it will be be an ITB problem and we can get it straightened out and I can just go to an easier once-a-week yoga routine. I think I might also need to have my hips adjusted... ugh... fun!

So the third step was online research (I'm a sucker for learning exactly what's going on in my body... though have learned that the internet can, at times *gasp* be unreliable). This visual aid was helpful.


If only I'd known that ahead of time!!!

But I actually did learn that yoga can be completely fantastic for your knees... or completely awful. Depending on whether or not you're doing it right and listening to your body. My guess is that, with the amount of training I do, and the lack of yoga I've done in the past years, the quick increase in amount of sessions the past couple of weeks was a recipe for disaster. I guess I got a little over-excited. And I was probably lucky, since it really does seem that the problem is fairl mild, and mostly refined to my IT Bands. I also know that I didn't have any problems last week, so this is really pretty recent. I've actually wondered if Aaron's insanely hard weights routine on Saturday didn't aggravate things just a little bit. I think it's definitely a possibility. OR it could have been riding the stationary bike on Sunday... why did I do that? I don't even LIKE stationary bikes, it just seemed like it would be easier... WRONG. It was actually quite difficult.

Anyways. What have we learned today?

1. Everything in moderation.
2. You better be hardcore if you want to be one of Aaron's athletes (well, kind of kidding - he is a very good and responsible coach and would never hurt his athletes... but you do have to be hardcore).
3. Online visual aids are useful for learning purposes.
4. Stationary bikes really ARE evil. I knew it.
5. I did too many new things this week. Maybe I should just stick with what works. And meditate or something if I need to get more chi...

Ok now stop reading my blog and go out and enjoy this beautiful Texas weather!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Here comes the sun...

What a gray gloomy day!

We've been really spoiled this winter here in North Texas. It's only iced ONCE, and no snow! And, better yet, the temps have stayed in the 60's and 70's during the day, and the sunshine is abundant and bright. It is the perfect training/living weather. Great for everything and everyone. (Well, maybe not for farmers... but I guess I don't always think about that... sorry guys...) For those who don't know, I am not a cold weather fan. The only cold weather state I would ever live in is Colorado, and that is ONLY because, aside from the frigid winter temps, it is the absolute coolest place in the world. And I hear that, despite the cold, they still get plenty of sun - which is an absolute must for me.

I'm one of those that, when the sun goes away for a day, I can get cranky. Take it away for 2 or 3 days, and I start to get lethargic. 4 days to a week - you better watch out! So days like today, especially after a long succession of perfect sunny days, not only catch me off my guard, but also put me into a state of mild mental hibernation. Especially when I'm not feeling so hot, like I have been the past month. I'm currently camped out in my favorite local coffeehouse, trying to absorb the warm lighting and color scheme, and the heat from my tea while I will myself to 1) do my reading for my Faulkner/Hurston class, and 2) get on my bike later... I kind of feel like a little lizard trying to catch some sun on a rock.

I know I'll feel better after the bike because I'll have all those good endorphins (I can never spell that word correctly...) floating around. I'm also looking forward to yoga tonight, because that always does wonders for my spirit (and I get to wear my new Kyodan yoga pants!). And, after that, Lindsay and I are going to catch a late movie. AND... I know the forecast is sun for tomorrow : ) Sure rainy day blues cure.

Monday, February 16, 2009

You want my arm to go WHERE?

Since I haven't been feeling the hottest the past month, I asked Aaron to give me an extra recovery week (so I have two total now), and decided to use the extra time (and energy...) to re-focus on my yoga practice. Now, yoga and I have had an on again/off again relationship... pretty much ever since we met 4 years ago at the studio my mom goes to. I always say I'm going to be better about practicing regularly, but it never happens. Recently, though, I've heard so many triathletes go on and on about how great yoga has been for their training/racing that I was finally inspired to get back into practice.

So, a little over a week ago, I found myself and my poorly neglected mat in the meditation garden outside the Yoga Hut in Denton. (That's right. There's a meditation garden.) I'd been to the Yoga Hut, ohhh once every two or three months for the last couple of years. I got my roommate to come along for a beginners Hatha class - she was easy to persuade because we'd taken the dogs out on the trail earlier in the day, and both needed to get back in a chi place! The instructor, Sheree, remembered us from our failed attempts at commitment in the past, and chatted with us for a bit before the class started. By the time 6:00 rolled around, the room was PACKED! Denton has gone all yoga on us, apparently...

The class definitely pushed us a little (especially with the downward-facing dog - that pose should never, ever be done for more than 10 minutes... shudder...), and afterwards we went out for a post-class beer and veggie tacos. It was, honestly, a really relaxing night. I felt a lot better mentally than I had in weeks - ever since I'd started feeling sick a month before.

So, two days later, I went for another class - this time a morning one. Another great experience. It was a harder class, and I thought at the end "wow, that really wasn't that bad!" I then went and had a great day. Then I woke up the next morning. Uh... why am I so sore I want to die?? I haven't done weights this week... What the heck? Wha... oh my god. It's the yoga! That's why my hamstrings are trying to separate themselves from my thighs and run away crying. Wow. Flexibility, mental focus, AND strength-training... Yoga is the shit! I have to go again... So that night I go again. Of course. And I wake up the next day... even more sore. Well. Shocker.

Then on Saturday, Aaron takes me through my most grueling weights routine yet. I take Sunday as an easy day with an hour ride on the trainer. Ahhh... not even too sore! I'm getting stronger! I'm going to kick so much ass this year! I will do yoga again tomorrow!

Lindsay and I go for the Hatha class again tonight. I'm feeling like a yoga pro at this point. I've got my mat laid out, I'm in my seated position, relaxing, practicing my breathing. And... well, let's be honest, checking out the cute guy in the back of the room who I've just found out is from Colorado (that's hot, ok?). But just checking him out a little. Mostly being very, very focused and chi. And stuff.

Sheree starts taking us through our standing positions for the night. Now, I know I'm not a very flexible individual. I won't pretend to be. My hamstrings are short and the muscles in my shoulders could put a rubber band ball to shame. But I tend to make it through yoga classes reasonably easily. I'm aware of my body, and know how to manipulate better than many who are new to the yoga practice - I can thank running and tri's for this. But, well, tonight... a week's worth of yoga and that weights session... oh boy. I am not holding things together like usual! Sheree is having to come over and adjust me about once every 4 minutes - and I am not enjoying all of the adjustments. Finally, things come to a head. We get to the restorative portion of the session. I'm laying down. Trying to subtly adjust my crying body. And Sheree comes up behind and says "Ok Morgan, I'm just going to adjust your shoulders a bit..." Grabs shoulder blade. Pulls down towards my butt. Draws borderline expletive from my mouth. Sorry, Sheree... maybe you shouldn't grab that. I try to smile reassuringly, but I probably just look like I'm grimacing in pain... well... I AM in pain...

Needless to say, I will be back at the studio tomorrow morning... I have to keep an eye out for cute Colorado guy...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I can get off!

Ah, the transition. Everyone's favorite part of the triathlon. The part that separates the men from the boys. The women from the girls. The coordinated from the not... so... coordinated. Changing of shoes, putting on of helmets, stripping of wetsuits, mounting of bikes, barefoot running on asphalt and gravel... Perhaps, truthfully, the most stressful of all aspects of a race. Triathletes, we train and train and train in the water, on the bike, and in our running shoes. We follow complex workout schedules, eat specific and (oftentimes) borderline goofy diets, and buy all the best gear to get us to the finish line quicker and easier. We'll do anything to go faster. Because we like to win. But... those awkward minutes spent between events... What about those? Every triathlete remembers their first race. Excitement. Nerves. More nerves than excitement, really. They anticipated using their transition time as a chance to catch their breath and sort of mentally re-group. No big rush. No hurry. The only goal then (and rightfully so) was to finish. To get that first race under their belt so they could move on to bigger and better things - or maybe just so they could say they'd done it, and then move on to something else. But they also remember seeing people racking their bikes, whose cycling shoes were already clipped to their pedals, maybe held in place with... are those rubber bands? What... ? But why? Surely they weren't going to try and put their shoes on while on the bike... ? Those people who really looked like they knew what they were doing, like they were somehow comfortable with the nerve-wracking atmosphere that surrounded them, like they belonged... Those people that we all wanted to look like at some point, who breezed through the transition area as effortlessly as through the three events.

I remember the first time I saw two of the guys from my team practicing the rubber band technique - and thinking to myself, "Yeah, right." No way. No. Way. I always tell people that I have no coordination - and that's why I do endurance sports, instead of sports involving me trying to aim for... anything. But triathlon has this little dirty secret called transitions that, if done properly and efficiently, require just as much coordination as a lacrosse pass or a basketball shot. They require athletes to have deep level of comfort with their equipment, and, in some cases, the ability to manipulate it in ways previously unexpected. They require the clutzes (such as myself) to find a way to control their unintentionally self-destructive impulses in order to spend as little time as possible on something that is not one of the three events purportedly being competed in - but is still very much a part of the race.

So a few months ago my coach uses one of his cheesy lines that I totally love (no joke), and tells me, "Morgan, I want you to come in FIRST at Nationals... in transitions!" Ok ok... So this weekend, he and myself, and a couple of folks from the UNT team all get together in a big empty parking lot on campus, on a cold, rainy afternoon, to attempt to make us look less like fools in the transition area.

We begin with, well, what we're beginning with... Aaron (my coach) has us set up our transition area as we normally would before a race (thank you Playtri for letting us use your bike racks!) - he tells us not to change anything, but to just do it exactly as we normally would. So we all go about laying out towels, shoes, helmets, etc. Getting our bikes racked in our position of choice. Then Aaron makes us all get a ways back from the bike rack, looks at us and yells... "GO!" and we all run at our bikes and start trying to get on shoes/helmets/bikes, ride off, come back, get off shoes, get on shoes, get off helmets... well, you get the idea. We were slow. Which, of course, was exactly what Aaron was hoping to demonstrate - just in case there was any doubt about why we were paying him to be there! Mandy curled up into the fetal position under her sweatshirt. I started to giggle. Andrew, who actually already had some working knowledge of transitions was already over by the truck airing up his tires and making us look even slower. Aaron is, I think, trying not to laugh... too hard.

Ok... that's why we're there!

So in case you haven't already realized, the transition can be broken down into a fine science, particularly everything having to do with the bike, and Aaron has broken it all down into a step-by-step learning process for us:

First - learning to stand with both feet on the same side of the bike, left foot on pedal, right foot pushing.
Desired result: riding in a straight line, turning, and coming back - all without the left foot touching the ground.
Actual result: Mandy and I wildly veering off towards the road and finally, after many repeated attempts, making it to the turn-around, hopping off, picking up bikes, turning them around, and wobbling back to the starting point, while occasionally veering off into other parts of the parking lot. Aaron says "do it again! You have to get this so you can swing your right leg over the saddle!" Mandy and I laugh.

Second - learning to mount the bike while moving.
Desired result: swinging right leg over the back of the saddle and ending up on the actual saddle in a seated position.
Actual result: Mandy and I, after finally being able to ride on one side without veering all over the parking lot, spend about 5 minutes doing some awkward back leg movements that probably end up resembling retarded flamingos trying to do ballet as we repeatedly try and fail to actually get our legs over the seat.

Third - learning to dismount the bike while moving.
Desired result: swinging right leg back over seat and back into its original position right behind left leg.
Actual result: I pedal in circles for 5 minutes. I swear, I'm going to bring it back over eventually...

Fourth - wait. Three and a half.
Desired result: perform steps one-three gracefully and smoothly WITH SHOES ALREADY ATTACHED TO PEDALS.
Actual result: I ride in three giant parking lot-encompassing circles, and during that time manage to 1) get my right leg over the seat, 2) get my shoes on, 3) get my shoes back off, 4) swing my right leg back over, 5) dismount yelling "Hey guys, did you see that?!! Did you see that? I CAN GET OFF!" 6) watch everyone fall over laughing and see guy on the street look at me like I just grew a second head.

Over-all desired result: smooth, precise athleticism.
Over-all actual result: complete hysteria.

Reason #179 that triathlon is in fact the greatest sport ever.

For those of you wondering... yes, we did in fact manage to finally do all the steps appropriately and even somewhat quickly, perhaps even looking like we knew what we were doing (probably not, but at least we felt cool and, as I think I've mentioned before, triathletes are not above a desire to look cool). In all honesty, the clinic was great, and we'll all be a lot faster for it. But I'll never drive past that parking lot again without seeing myself coasting along on the left side of my bike yelling at everyone to look at how I got off...

Friday, February 13, 2009

My body is talking to me...

Did you know that most triathletes are typically Type A, obsessive-compulsive geeks? Well. Know it. We try to put on a cool front, but in case you haven't already seen through it, it's all show. Some of us are Type A about... everything. Life. Work, family, hobbies, traffic... Have to be the boss. Everything has to be perfect to the smallest detail, and if it is not, we will not rest, we will not un-tense our muscles, until it is. Since we have strict personal rules and standards, we also expect others to live by similar standards. Yes - it is frightening. Fortunately, those folks are a minority.

The rest of us are Type A about one thing - training. Some more than others, certainly. I can think of plenty of examples of opposite ends of the spectrum. But regardless of your inclination towards OCD training methods or a more relaxed approach, either way, there is constantly an underlying guilt haunting the back of your mind, waiting to rear its nagging, obnoxious little head when you deviate from your training plan, or, if you don't (gasp - shudder) have a training plan, to constantly ask you "WHY AREN'T YOU DOING MORE??!" I like to call him the Obnoxious Nagging Triathlon Guilt Monster, or ONTGM for short. I do not call him this is in front of my friends. I would feel like even more of a geek than I already am. Not necessary, as all of my triathlon friends would be quick to inform you - and as all of my non-triathlete friends would be even quicker to inform you. But here I am baring my soul and letting you into the secret and stressful world of guilty, over-worked triathletes.

You may ask - Is anyone safe from ONTGM? Some may be. I have in mind a few seriously Type A athletes who literally follow their training plans to the tee, and therefore can have no real qualms, it would seem, about their endeavors. I can't imagine being them and having anything other than an underlying peace and contentment, knowing that I have done everything in power to enable myself to kick the largest amount of ass possible as efficiently as possible. My coach, for instance, is die-hard about his training plan, and he has the research and experience to back it up. I can't picture him ever worrying about not training enough or not training properly. I could easily be wrong, and he might suffer from ONTGM attacks like the rest of us, but I don't see it. On the other hand, I have a close friend who is an excellent athlete, but hardly ever trains, and therefore seems to be continually afflicted by ONTGM to the point where she actually seems to have been been nagged into regular training this season. I mean, this is serious stuff.

Quick pause - if you're a triathlete, right now you're probably thinking "Yes. I know exactly what she means. If only I felt guilty more often I would train more often and be a more competitive athlete." If you're a regular person, you're probably thinking "WTF?" Why do we love the sport so much if entails such a rigorous and taxing schedule? Why? I'll tell you why. It's because WE'RE TYPE A. As mentioned previously. See, triathlon does rely to some extent on naturally ability, but, like any endurance sport, much of an athlete's ability to be competitive comes more from hard work and time spent training. We can control it!!! And I think we can all identify with the joy of working hard for something, and then achieving it. And of course, there are other perks as well - healthy lifestyle, super hot bodies, adrenaline rushes, etc. So don't let my descriptions of ONTGM fool you - we still love the sport, but like any addiction, it has the odd downside.

About a month ago, I came back from a short trip to Hawaii. I noticed the day we left that I was tired - weirdly tired. Fatigued. I just assumed a busy week of hiking, drinking, training, and even some racing, had just left me with the to recover. A reasonable assumption. It soon became clear that something else was going on. I kept having days in a row when I was too tired to get out of bed, and I would feel light-headed and dizzy, with strange headaches. Ok. Not good. I see FOUR, count them, one two three FOUR doctors. I finally get tests run - and they come back with some strange results. First - the CT scan for the headaches. I have chronic sinusitis. Ok. Antibiotic and Mucinex. Second - bloodwork. Elevated iron and potassium levels. Anti-nuclear antibodies present. Oh, and apparently I had mono sometime in the past. Hmmm. Could explain the complete and utter exhaustion of the past month. So I go to the doctor (again), and she starts to go over the bloodwork. She explains that the iron and potassium aren't actually high enough to cause any problems. Ok. That's easy. However, she says that the ANA result is not good. Not good enough that I need to go see a specialist. She starts listing other symptoms for rheumatoid disorders (which are what ANA is indicative of), but I don't have any of them. So that's weird. She seems convinced, ultimately, that I had mono recently, and am still recovering. Only thing is, aside from fatigue, I haven't had any other symptoms of the virus. But she still seems pretty sure. Ok.

So I ask the doctor what I should do right now, assuming I am in fact recovering from mono. She says lots of rest and healthy eating. I say "define rest." She looks at me strangely. Says that I should be getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night, taking my supplements, and eating a healthy diet. So finally, I ask her about training. And she tells me to listen to my body. Listen to my body. It's been talking to me. Apparently. I tend not to listen when it complains because it can be a whiny little bitch sometimes. But now I have to listen to it. Refer back to my description of Type A triathletes given earlier. I am not pleased with this situation.

My sick little Type A triathlete self is definitely having a rough time right now. It's having to make a bunch of choices that make its Type A part a little crazy. Taking days off. Changing up my schedule... It's very painful. I know if you're reading this, and you're not an athlete, you may not understand. And I understand that. A year ago, I would have though anyone in my situation insane for trying to continue to train period. But I didn't have this fun addiction a year ago, so here I am. And, as long as the doc says I can keep training, you better believe I'll be out there. I mean, my first A race isn't until April - and we can have this fixed by then, right? Right.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Why do triathletes love spandex?

It's past time for a blog.

In the past, I have been an obsessive blogger, and then, during one of the most interesting parts of my life... I stop? I mean, I actually have things to blog about now, like bike crashes and backpacking and surfing and... spandex...

I love triathlons. I mean, how can't you love something that can get 100-200 incredibly fit guys together in one place... and all wearing spandex, or some fancy technical variant? I'll tell you - it's not possible. Of course, there are lots of practical reasons for triathletes to wear those tight little race suits, shorts and tops. They dry quickly, which is important when you have to start all of your races with a swim. They provide some compression, which is good for your muscles. They don't have any drag in the wind. They're comfortable and breathe well. Spandex is God's gift to competitive endurance athletes. But you want to know the real reason we all like to wear spandex? A week ago I went to Richardson Bike Mart with some friends so one of them could buy his first tri suit. He was excited. Like... really excited. So we get there, and he goes through all the normal parts of the process of purchasing tri attire... "Uh... it all looks really small." "Holy shit, have you seen how expensive this is?!" "Oooo... feel this one..." And so finally he gets in a dressing room with a few different options to try on. First question: "Is this too tight?" Oh you poor newbie. Once we assured him that what he had on was, in fact, NOT too tight, he looked in the mirror again. Looked at his arm. Kind of... flexed his arm. A little. Then flexes both arms. Then smiles a little at his reflection. THERE IT IS! The first moment of "Damn. I look good in this." You see, triathlon training requires an intense combination of cardio and strength training, and triathletes are (rightfully so) proud of what they've worked for. Modest? No. Endearing? Probably not. But we do like to see ourselves in some skin tight stretchy stuff. Think middle school girl buying her first dress for the school dance. We're about twenty times worse. I promise you whatever we buy, we either use immediately, or go model it in front of our mirror later that day (if not immediately after we get home). We walk around in it. Check out our butt. Check how our calf and quad muscles look. Admire the way it accents our shoulder muscles. If you haven't seen it before, just find a triathlete to go shopping with - it will be worth your time.

It took me a little longer to find a my first suit. I bought one when I was just coming out of my running phase and into actually triathlon training, so I wasn't exactly a svelte, sculpted athlete. I was pretty thin, but what I did have was not rock solid. Or, even... like rock in any way. And of course I was used to being around a bunch of stick figure runners who made even me look like I needed to lay off the Shipley's. So the first time I picked a two piece suit up off the rack I was, needless to say, a bit intimidated. I took about 30 possible options into the dressing room and emerged, half an hour later, with ONE that I felt mildly comfortable with. And even that one made me think, "Damn... ok, 300 crunches a day is definitely not enough." Now? I'm just as shameless as everyone else in the sport. My favorite pair of tri shorts have a three-inch inseam, and I can't WAIT for our team's new race suits to get here so I can have the head-to-toe spandex experience. Of course, doing my first naked 5K this past October definitely helped get me there. Spandex seems like pretty mild stuff after that.

It's ok if you judge me for liking to see lots of fit guys in skin tight stuff. I don't blame you. It's shallow and superficial - but it totally makes getting up for races at 4:00AM a whole hell of a lot easier. And, ok, let's be honest, not everyone in the tri world is exactly at the 4% body fat hardcore athlete point yet (I know I'm not), so we get to see a little bit of everything displayed underneath that spandex... And I like that. I like that people are comfortable enough with themselves and serious enough about getting fit that they're willing to rock the spandex those first few times when they're maybe not exatly the ones the opposite sex is swooning over. I like that the tri community is cool enough to want to help and encourage these people, instead of looking down on them. I like that occasionally, those guys are the ones who zoom by me on the bike portion going like 27+ mph (ok, I never really like getting passed... but it's ok every once in a while). Anyways, like I said - I love triathlon. What a great sport.

I'm glad to be back in the world of blogging. I kept this post light because... it's the first one. You can't get heavy right away. But there's been some heavy stuff going on recently. So if you want to know more... then stay tuned for more updates on my adventures in the world of triathlon.