On taking a break

I didn’t really mean to take the kind of break I took. My intention over the winter was to keep blogging, keeping running and cycling at least once a week, and focus on my swimming.

One of those things happened.

I stopped blogging. Obviously. And, as the temperature dropped and the snow drifts grew, my determination to keep running and cycling waned. I did, however, focus on swimming. During the latter portion of the winter (the portion I wasn’t taking off entirely), I was in the pool constantly. Or, at least, it felt that way. And it paid off with PR after PR in the pool. Turns out that swimming hits all my training necessities: intense, plenty of room for improvement, enjoyable, and satisfying. I admit that I briefly considered giving up triathlon all together and just becoming a swimmer.

And a break from running (and maybe even cycling) is exactly what I needed.  By the time I ran my PR at the Thanksgiving 5k last year, I was teetering on the edge of a full-blown burnout. The rare workout that wasn’t a mental battle was still mentally and emotionally draining, as melodramatic as that sounds. I had spent the entire winter the year before training for a marathon. I spent spring and summer training for an Ironman. And I kept training relatively seriously through the fall while aiming for that 5k PR.

So of course I needed a break.

It was both inevitable and surprisingly difficult. I was hitting the point where I would have needed super-human motivation (the likes of which I just didn’t have anymore) to keep training hard. But I also faced some real guilt when I just allowed myself to relax. I was in the best shape of my life, after all. I worried I would lose all of that fitness if I didn’t keep pushing. When you train consistently, aim to perform well, and love PRs, it’s hard to just chill when you’ve still been seeing results.

After a month and a half or so, where I really did just do what I wanted when I wanted to, I dove into my swim training. I attended Masters all three days every week, as well as swimming on my own most of days Masters didn’t meet. As I mentioned, I intended to keep running and cycling a little during this period, but I just didn’t want to. So I didn’t. And, you know, my swimming improved. I hit plenty of milestones (under 30 seconds in the 50 free, 4000 yards in the one-hour swim, and sub-15 [14:34] in the 1000yd time trial, to name a few), and I feel like I made some serious progress towards becoming a Swimmer instead of just a person who swims.

All that while spring (and triathlon season) slowly crept up on me.

It wasn’t long before I couldn’t really ignore the beautiful spring weather and the advancing calendar any more. I had to start running and cycling again. I’ll admit, though, that even then, I was dragging my feet. I briefly regretted signing up for those triathlons because now I felt obligated to do them, despite my lack of excitement about the season.

It didn’t help that, a couple weeks before my training plan officially started, I took a lovely spill during a run (thanks, overly-long-shoelaces-trend!) which left my hand pretty chewed up and kept me off the bike for a few days and out of the pool for a week or so.

So when my first “training week” approached, I was a bit nervous about how I would handle it. The fact that I came down with the worst cold I’ve had all year that very week didn’t help, either. Here I was, after swimming 5-7 hours a week all winter, suddenly doing 8.5 hours of training a week, complete with running, cycling, and lifting weights. But I made it through the first week week. And the next one. Some of my runs were a little painful (going uphill with a nasty cold at a slightly higher elevation than usual after not running regularly for a few months doesn’t exactly make your lungs feel great). My second “long” ride (1.75 hours) was a rude reminder that climbing is hard and that swimming is not great cross training for cycling up hills. I had to push away thoughts of how much fitness I must have lost and force myself not to think about how tired I was after what would have been an easy recovery workout last fall.

But overall, I was surprised at how good I felt. I refused to time myself for the first few weeks in an attempt to quell insecurities around lost fitness and slow paces. I just did my best to enjoy the workouts and get used to the routine again. After a few weeks of training, I’m surprised at how natural it all feels. Though I do kind of miss lazing around with no responsibilities on weekends, it’s been wonderful to get outside again and enjoy my beautiful city.

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This view is literally 8 miles (and a nice bike ride) away from my office.

And, after an initial period of getting used to running and cycling, I do feel refreshed. While I’m still uncertain if I’ll break any PRs this summer or even approach the level of fitness I had during Ironman training, I’m excited about my workouts again. I feel lucky to be running and cycling instead of obligated to do so. And, while I’ve obviously lost fitness and endurance, I’m not nearly as bad off as I feared I would be after my first couple lung-busting jogs.

When I think about how I feel about training now compared to how I felt at the end of November, there’s just no comparison. Despite being in much the same position otherwise (still a little depressed, still binge-watching way too much TV, still struggling to keep up with other “adult” things like cooking and cleaning), my workouts and my routine are making me feel better and not worse. That’s not to say I don’t sometimes dread a steep run into work or that particular section of a climb on my bike or a particularly painful set in the pool. But it’s something I ultimately want to do. It’s not a burden.

Ultimately, I think for me, taking a break was an exercise in trust. The fear around a break (in anything) is that I won’t want to go back, that taking time away from, in this case, running and cycling will make me realize how much better life is without the pressure. But, whaddya know, here I am. It turns out we come back to the things we love, even if we do initially leave feeling burned out and washed up and even if it does take a little motivation to take those first steps out the door or pump up those tires again for the first time.

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Life lately

October was busy.  Good busy, but busy nonetheless.

So even though I’ve been posting regularly, I feel as if I’ve fallen off a bit as a blogger.  I’ve been posting, and I’ve been (mostly) keeping up on reading, but I haven’t been commenting much, and neither blogging nor training have been the priorities they were when I was training for my Ironman.

Despite my natural tendency to shy away from busy-ness, this period of time has been beneficial.

I wasn’t training for an Ironman anymore, but my mind was still in training mode.  I wanted to take a break but didn’t know quite how to approach it.  It was kind of like I had forgotten how to be a normal human being.  Having a month jam-packed full of other things allowed me to reset my focus and to remember what it’s actually like to exercise regularly (and even train for specific events) without it being the primary focus in my life.

I’ve socialized more this month than I had in the past six months combined.

Rob and I had two weddings to attend this month.  They were both in Boise which meant two whirlwind weekend road trips.  He ended up getting sick and staying home for one of them, but both weddings were wonderful.

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My mom made us take a picture, so we revolted and posed with the present.

In addition to the weddings, we had some friends (actually, one of the newly married couples!) come into town for the weekend.  We showed them around Salt Lake City and went to a couple of our favorite restaurants.

And then, of course, there was Halloween weekend.  Neither Rob nor I had a costume this year, but it was a busy weekend nonetheless.  On Saturday, we went up to the mountains for a Halloween party, and on Sunday, we had some friends over and carved pumpkins.  Rob’s haunted house jack-o-lantern was the star of the show.

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A host of jack-o-lanterns.  Rob did the rad haunted house.  I did the two goofy ones.

I (pretty unsuccessfully) tried to get on top of regular adult tasks like going to the bank and doing the dishes.  Some improvements were made, but this aspect of my life still has the “needs improvement” label.

The biggest change this month is that I got a new job as a medical writer.  This job is much closer to home, and I should be able to commute by bike most days.  But the application process was fast and furious.  And since the process included quite a few different steps, it took up a decent chunk of my time and mental energy.  Of course, it was well worth it, and I’m excited to start once I finish up at my current job.

Needless to say, there’s been a lot going on and a lot of (mostly) good stress.  I’m still looking forward to a few low-key weeks that will allow me to rest and recharge, though.

Post-race slump?

As much as I loved Ironman training, I was ready to be done.  I didn’t have a post-race depression.  I didn’t wonder what to do with all my new-found free time (TV, anyone?).  And for the first weeks after the Ironman, I didn’t even have trouble motivating myself to exercise.  I had spent so much time doing Ironman stuff that I was actually excited to do some hard shorter workouts.  Masters swimming three times a week?  Heck yeah!  Track workout?  Heck yeah!  A “long” bike ride on the weekend? Heck yeah!

My mind felt so great the first couple weeks that I dared to hope I had escaped a post-race slump altogether.  But I’ve noticed a trend as I’ve been writing my race reports the last few weeks.

“I didn’t really want to get up for this workout, but I was glad once I did.”

“I told myself I could take it easy as long as I got out there.”

“I had to bargain with myself to get out the door and decided to do a longer run instead of intervals.”

“The workout was fine, but I just wasn’t feeling it.”

It’s not hard to see the pattern.

I’ve had some great highlights in the weeks since my Ironman.  I did really well in my first swim meet.  I won a 5k (and, more importantly, I think I hit the paces I wanted to hit).  I powered through to a PR up Emigration Canyon.

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PR!

But I’ve also been seriously struggling with motivation.  Some days, it’s harder for me to wake up for a five mile run than it was to wake up for a ten mile run during Ironman training.  There have been plenty of mornings where I almost turn my alarm off and sleep through swimming.  There’s nothing wrong with taking it easy, but I’m torn.  It’d be easy to know what to do if I were constantly sick of exercising—cut back.  But the thing is, when I’m not struggling with motivation, I’m very excited about future goals and new athletic pursuits.  And I know that winter is coming.  I want to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather and fall colors before this whole place turns gray for three months.

I’m of two minds.  And I’m having a hard time reconciling these conflicting feelings.

After giving it some thought, I suspect that part of the problem is my post-Ironman habits.  During Ironman training, I was always very careful to get plenty of sleep.  I’ve (understandably) been a little more lax on that front since the race.  But I’m a person that needs sleep.  If I mix get a fairly even mix of 7 hour and 8 hour nights, I’m pretty much where I need to be.  However, recently, I’ve been having way more 7 hour nights than usual, with a few 6 hour nights thrown in here and there.  And that’s bound to mess with my motivation and make it harder to get up in the morning.  Additionally, I’ve been kind of lazy when it comes to fueling as well.  I’ve been skipping breakfast here and there and choosing to snack instead of actually sit down for a real dinner.

I don’t want to miss out on fall running and fall cycling because I’m suffering from the side effects of not getting enough sleep.  So I’m going to try to focus on getting my sleep and on fueling properly and see if that helps my motivation and general well-being.

And for now, I’m going to keep at it, while offering myself plenty of opportunities to reschedule, rethink, and play things by ear.

That means that so far, in this week alone, I postponed a tempo run from Monday evening to Tuesday morning when I remembered that I had something important to do on Monday evening.  I also moved my planned Tuesday evening bike ride to Wednesday evening after I got to Rob’s house, saw that he wasn’t feeling well, and decided it was more important to be a decent partner and make him dinner than it was to go for a bike ride.

And that’s good.  There’s not much room for flexibility during Ironman training.  But there is now, and a part of finding a schedule that’s maintainable in the long term is embracing that extra wiggle room.

On looking stupid

Last week, I registered for my first ever swim meet.

Our Masters coach mentioned it to us as a good meet for beginners because it wasn’t sanctioned by USMS (US Masters Swimming) which meant that you didn’t have to pay the $40+ USMS membership fee to participate.  Plus, it was relatively inexpensive in general.  It would only cost me $18 to sign up for the two events I wanted to do.

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Any skill level?  It’s so welcoming… what could go wrong?!

However, the other effect of this meet not being by USMS is that it’s an all-ages meet, meaning that anyone aged 6 and up can participate.  There are age groups, of course, with the oldest group being all swimmers who are 17 or older (this is obviously the group to which I belong).  I had a niggling worry in the back of my head from the moment I heard about the meet.  It just sounded like it was a meet geared towards kids which is great, but imagining myself competing at a meet full of kids made me feel a bit like a creeper.

So I asked our coach about it.  “If I sign up, am I going to be the only adult there?”

“Well, there you’ll probably see a few other adults, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was going to be mostly kids.”

Great.

If I signed up for this meet, I was going to be the tall, gangly, creepy 28 year old lining up behind a bunch of 12 year olds, all of whom would be faster than me.  It would be me and a bunch of kids competing, and their parents (who would probably be my age, by the way) would all stare at me and wonder what in the heck my deal was.

In other words, I was going to look really stupid.

I immediately started reconsidering whether I wanted to do this meet or not.  Now, the odd thing is that I wasn’t worried about my performance, per se.  I wasn’t worried that I would swim way below my ability (I’m pretty consistent in shorter races).  I wasn’t worried that I would be bringing up the back of the field (I already knew that was probably going to be the case).  I was straight-up scared of looking stupid.

It wouldn’t be the first time I let “looking stupid” be a huge factor in making a decision.  And, to be honest, if I had been on the fence about the swim meet, “looking stupid” would likely have been the reason that tipped the scales towards me not signing up.  But I wasn’t on the fence.  Usually, I race reluctantly and because I like the way I feel after.  But my swimming has improved a lot, and I wanted a chance to see what I could do in a race.  I was actually uncharacteristically excited about racing.

I see-sawed back and forth for a bit before I realized that literally the only argument my “don’t do it” side was making was, “But what if you look really stupid?”  And regardless of how pervasive that fear is, it’s not a strong enough reason to change my mind.

So I drove about a thousand miles out of my way (well, 15 miles, anyway) on the way home from work and dropped off my registration.

That night, I had a dream that I showed up at the meet and it was literally just me and a bunch of six year olds.

It’s a very real possibility that said premonition won’t be too far off the reality.  And that’s okay.  It’s okay if I get weird looks from twelve year olds who are wondering why a grown-up is swimming with the high schoolers.  It’s okay if some of the moms wonder what the heck I’m doing with my life if I’m still competing with kids even though I’m clearly no longer a kid myself.  And if I look stupid?  Oh well, I guess.  It wouldn’t be the first time, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Highs and lows of Ironman training

I’ve been training with an Ironman in mind for about a year now, and race day is almost upon me.  I shy away from using words like “journey” or “adventure” for the things that I do (if I ever have to destroy a ring or kill a dragon, I’ll start).  But it’s certainly been an experience.  Training for an Ironman is by far the most physically taxing thing I’ve done in my life.  And, like anything tough, it’s had its ups and downs.  There have been times when I have felt like I’m on top of the world.  And then there have been the times when I break into tears for no real reason.

These moments obviously stand out, and I can recall several of each on a moments notice.

The highs

Coming in as the second woman overall in a local sprint triathlon.

Taking well over a minute off my 1000 yard time trial.  I’m not sure exactly where I was a year ago, but I think I was somewhere north of 17 minutes.  A month or so ago, I did 1000 yards in 15:24.

PRing in every leg of my Olympic triathlon.  By a lot.

Going for a 17.7 mile run and a long swim on the same day and still getting antsy enough to go for a walk in the evening.  Long runs that were 15+ miles used to wipe me out completely for the whole day.  Now, they’re rather pedestrian.

Taking in the beautiful views of Utah, whether that be on the bike or on the run.

Feeling excited to be on my bike riding at mile 101 during my first 100+ mile training ride. (That’s not to say I felt amazing at every mile before that, but it was a great way to learn that I can be sick of the bike and then get over that and be excited about it again.)

Finishing peak week, the one I couldn’t look at when I first started training because I thought there was no way I could possibly do all that.

Completing my 2-3 hour long runs with no IT band pain whatsoever.

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On my way to a massive PR!

The lows

Getting my bike and car stolen in one fell swoop.

Sitting on the side of the road crying because my IT band pain was too bad to finish running home.

Failing to hit my marathon goals rather spectacularly.

Getting hopelessly lost on the way to and home from work when I decided to commute by bike.

Having an emotional breakdown on the train on the way to work because I thought the title for my wrecked car was lost in the mail.

Crashing on the bike and spending the next three weeks gingerly favoring a nasty contusion on my upper thigh.

Every single part of my body aching around mile 80 of my long training rides.

Riding 35 miles home against the wind and completely demoralized.

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Aftermath of the bike crash.

These high and low moments stand out in training, but this collection of moments doesn’t really relay what Ironman training is like.  Most of it is neither demoralizing nor inspiring.  Like anything in life, it’s rather pedestrian.  Putting in the time and effort becomes the new normal and simply becomes another part of your routine.

And, while the moments of either extreme are the ones that stick out, they aren’t the important part of Ironman training.  It’s the consistency that matters.  And while a stellar sessions stands out and boosts your confidence, what matters when tracking your progress is how a perfectly average training session goes the first month into the training cycle compared to how a perfectly training sessions goes during the peak of your training.

Earlier this week, I was looking through some old blog posts.  I saw that I mentioned doing a swim workout of 10 x 100 @1:50.  I described a workout that was exhausting and absolutely pushed me to my limits.  And I realized that now, I can do a set of 10 x 100 @1:40 without much trouble at all.  I’ve even started to wonder if I could manage a set of 10 x 100 @1:35.  I’ve seen similar improvements in my running and cycling over the past year.  And it was every moment in my training that helped me make that progress.  It was the breakout sessions.  It was the workouts where I just felt flat but worked hard anyway.  It was the times that I stepped out the door even though I was tired and frustrated.  It was the times I realized that my body truly needed rest and I took a session easier than initially planned.

The workouts and moments that stand out are the ones that are both easiest to remember and ripest for inspiration.  I use the memories of good workouts to inspire myself and memories of hard ones to remind myself that I can keep going.  But really, the daily grind is where the magic happens.

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Injury prevention.
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Trainer rides.
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Track repeats in the snow.
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Consistency is where the magic happens.

Finding Balance: Dealing with guilt

Even after just a few weeks, I’ve learned that training for an Ironman is a big deal.  And it basically consumes your life.  I knew to expect that, but it’s one of those experiences you can’t really understand until you’re doing it.  It’s not that it’s more time consuming or requires more dedication than anything else in the world.  It doesn’t!  It’s just that every experience is a little bit different.  (Like I mentioned in my last post, I don’t even know how parents manage it… hats off to them!)

So,  when I’ve made steps to balance out my life by prioritizing some things over others, I’ve had to make decisions that I’m not comfortable with.  I touched on it a bit in my previous post.  I’ve had to say no to spending quality time with Rob and accept some very generous help from my parents.  When I visit my family, I have to choose to go on bike rides over spending that time with my nieces and nephews.  And it’s hard.  I hate feeling like I’m a burden on people.  I hate not being able to do the things I want to for the people I love, whether that’s cooking dinner for them or spending time with them.  And I hate the feeling (true or not) that I’m taking more than I’m giving in a relationship.

In reality, relationships of any kind are give and take.  In a healthy relationship, you won’t always be splitting things 50/50.  Sometimes, that will be the case, but often, you will support the other person when they are struggling or overwhelmed, and they will offer you the same support when you are struggling or overwhelmed.

Even though I know this is the way it works, I feel so guilty when I’m not carrying my share of the load.  And when you are working hard and chasing a dream—whether that is an Ironman or graduate school or some other entirely different big thing—you can’t always give as much as you’d like in your relationships.  That’s why nearly every article you read about deciding whether or not to train for an Ironman recommends that your loved ones be 100% on-board with your training and with your goal.  During your training, they will be shouldering more than their “fair share” of cooking, cleaning, and being a pillar of emotional support.

I don’t think I’m alone in this guilt.  But finding that elusive place of balance is about more than just the practical aspect of planning tasks and streamlining your schedule.  It’s also about finding a place of emotional stability within that schedule.  And I know that when I am constantly struggling with guilt about what I can’t do or what I want to do, I’m not in a place of emotional stability.  Now, some of this emotional stability can come from the act of streamlining your schedule itself.  When you closely analyze your schedule, you can make sure you aren’t completely neglecting your friends or your significant other.  You can make sure you include short cleaning sessions so that you don’t regress to your college-age self (at least, not very often!).  Still, when you are busy, some things you want to do and would do under different circumstances fall by the wayside.  And that’s where the guilt comes in.

I wish I had a quick fix for this problem.  I wish I even had a healthy list of great options to try!  This is something that I have always struggled with, and that certainly hasn’t changed.  I do use a few techniques to try to alleviate the guilt.

Thanking people for their support. Whether it’s verbal or comes in the form of a quick note, I think acknowledging the sacrifices that people may make for you is not only good for them but good for you.  Just a quick, “I know things have been busy lately.  Thanks for being so understanding about everything” goes a long way.  I think it offers a little moment of connection and often serves as a good reminder that the people who love us actually enjoy supporting us in our endeavors, even if they do face a few inconveniences for doing so.

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Of course, you have to actually write the thank-you notes for them to do any good…

 

Self-talk. I always hate it when people talk about positive self-talk.  I always want to respond, “If I think I’m a piece of crap in a particular moment, I’LL CALL MYSELF A PIECE OF CRAP!”  I realize that’s immature, but it doesn’t help that usually positive self-talk comes up when I’m already in the middle of a mini-breakdown.  But in this case, I do find it useful to remind myself of all the things I’ve said over and over again in this post—people who love me also love supporting me, relationships are give-and-take, you are not a burden just because you inconvenienced someone else, etc.

Do what you can.  When an opportunity arises to help out someone who has been offering you a lot of support and you are feeling up to it, take the opportunity.  For instance, one evening last week, I realized I was feeling pretty good.  I had been planning on asking Rob to make dinner that night, but since I felt just fine, I decided to whip up an easy dish.  I wasn’t being a sacrificial martyr.  I just saw an opportunity to help out without making myself feel overwhelmed and exhausted, so I took it.  In a way, it felt like insurance against the next time that I really did need to ask for help.

I also want to point out that only one of these techniques even begins to address the underlying reasons for Ironman guilt (or grad school guilt or marathon guilt or second job guilt or whatever).  Working on self-talk starts to approach the real issue, but thanking people and doing what you can are definitely Band-Aid solutions (which isn’t all bad—coping mechanisms are important!).  In an ideal world, I’d change your life with a little mantra that reshapes the way you think about yourself in relation to others.  But I think the only thing that can really address that core issue is deep self-reflection, a lot of internal work, and maybe therapy.  And since 90% of the people reading this are probably further along in that process than I am, I’ll leave attempts at life-changing advice to the experts and keep the discussion focused on my personal experiences.

For me, the real work, the work that gets at the emotional issues behind the guilt, is a slow, messy (and very personal) process.  Most of the time I’m not even sure if I’m making progress at all!  But the surface-level coping mechanisms help me keep my sanity as I navigate through my baggage.

Which emotions surface when you are busy that hinder you from finding a place of emotional balance within your schedule?

How to do address these emotions? Have you found ways to truly deal with them, or do you rely on coping mechanisms to get by?

Finding Balance: Prioritizing

I don’t know about others, but I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling like “finding balance” should lead to my being able to do everything I need to do, everything I want to do, and everything I think I should do and still have time to binge-watch Netflix every evening.  I want to fit everything in.  I want to be the adult who is on top of everything and can always be relied on while also being the “cool girl” who is spontaneous and fun and never says no to a fun time.  (In reality, I am the boring girl who always says no to a fun time.)  But I believe that balance is, at its core, more about sacrifices than additions.  What you add into your life matters, sure, but what you take away is more important when it comes to finding balance.

When it comes to deciding what to keep in my life and what to take out, I think it helps to treat your life like you would treat the first draft of an essay.  My writing process doesn’t include a lot of detailed planning.  Brainstorming, researching, jotting down notes, finding connections… it contains all of those.  But when it comes to straight-up outlining, I just don’t do it.  My most structured outlining technique in grad school involved writing brief ideas or quotes onto notecards and then putting them in a rough order.  After that, I’d start addressing them one at a time, always willing to grab a notecard out of order to address if the flow of my writing was pushing me that way.

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This…

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…would turn into this.
So I would end up with a first draft full of all the ideas that had kind of grown out-of-control.  It was wordy and sometimes convoluted.  The ideas were there, but the execution was a mess.  One of the important questions I would ask myself while editing papers was “What purpose does this serve?” followed closely by “Can I take it out?”  Sometimes, the direction of my argument had changed enough in the drafting process that an entire point was no longer really relevant.  Sometimes, an example was relevant, but I could cut down my explanation of it and merge it with a similar example in the previous paragraph.  And sometimes, I found an idea that I hadn’t fully explained and that I needed to expand in order to fully take advantage of it.

I think a similar process can be useful when examining your daily routine.  Look at what you are doing and ask yourself why you are doing it.  If you can’t come up with a good reason, you can cut it out.  I feel like it’s important to note here that something like “It gives me a chance to relax” is a totally valid reason to keep doing something.  Sometimes, I need to space out in front of the TV or my computer and do nothing in particular.  I need to turn my brain off.  It relaxes me, and that’s reason enough.  However, sometimes a task or activity loses its value.  For instance, in the past, I’ve gotten up much earlier than I need to.  I like having some time in the morning to relax before heading off to work.  However, a week or so ago, I looked at my routine again.  Now that I take the train to work, I have plenty of time to relax, check social media, and catch up on blogs before work.  I realized that it is an absolute waste of time for me to get up earlier than I need to.  So now, I give myself just enough time to get dressed and get out the door.  And the extra thirty minutes of sleep is crucial.

This isn’t always an easy process for me.  I want to be a good triathlete.  I want to be a good employee.  I want to be a good partner.  I want to be a good sister, daughter, and aunt.  I want to be a responsible adult.  And sometimes, I run myself ragged trying to fit all this stuff in (a shout-out to any parents reading here—I don’t even know how you all do it!).  I don’t always take out enough, and when I do, my tendency is to focus on taking out aspects of my routine that benefit me (thirty minutes of sleep here, an easy evening in watching TV, etc.).  And while the desire to do everything for everyone does come from a good place, in the end, it’s bad for everyone.  I get overwhelmed and withdraw emotionally.  I get so cranky.  Of course, I can tell I’m being cranky, so then I feel bad for not treating my loved ones well, and you can imagine the kind of negative cycle that starts!

So I’ve had to learn to say “no” to other people or to take them up on offers that I know are an inconvenience to them.  Sometimes, when Rob wants to watch a movie, I have to tell him I can’t because it’s already 8:00pm and that’s too late to start a movie (so sad, but so true!).  Recently, my parents offered to give me my old car from high school because I am currently carless and my daily commute via public transit was absolutely killing me.  I hated taking them up on the offer because I know, at the very least, getting the car out of storage and taking a look at it and transferring the title will be a pain.  But my current commute is simply not feasible while training for an Ironman.  Maybe it would be for some people, but it’s not for me.

In my next (and final!) post in the series, I’ll talk a little about dealing with the emotional downside when you need to make those decisions to value your own time or sanity over another person’s desires or convenience.

Has anyone else taken a hard look at what is needed or not needed in their daily schedule?

What techniques do you use to make the tough decisions about what to focus on and what to say no to?

Finding Balance: Fitting it all in

Much to my surprise, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the idea of balance in the past few weeks.  This surprised me because I’ve never been a huge fan of the idea of “finding balance,” not because it’s not an important concept but because we as a culture talk about it so much that it seems to have lost meaning.  It often falls into same category as phrases like “living authentically” and “finding your bliss.”  My (overly) practical self doesn’t have any way to intuitively process or understand those ideas.  What do they even mean?

Still, for a couple of weeks this slippery idea of balance has been floating about in my head, almost certainly because I’ve been trying to adjust to a new (and busier) routine.  So because this blog isn’t cliché enough already, I thought I’d do a blog series (my first ever! I have no idea what I’m doing!) about finding balance.  Since starting official Ironman training, I have struggled to balance my schedule in such a way that I do what I need to do without completely losing my mind.  I’ve had varying degrees of success, depending on what is going on in my life during that particular week.

When I first started my training program a month or so ago, the hours I spent working out increased.  It wasn’t a huge spike because I had been building a base to prepare myself, but my training time crossed a threshold.  Instead of doing two-a-days a couple of times a week, a morning and an evening workout was the norm.  Instead of getting up at 6:00am most days and having a relaxing, lazy morning, I was getting up at 5:00am most days and rushing off to a workout.  The first two weeks, I thought I was going to die.  Not only was I mentally acclimating to a new, more intense training program, but I was physically acclimating as well.  As anyone who has trained for a long-distance event knows, the struggle is real.

I pretty much became a zombie everywhere except on the roads and in the pool.  I was glazed over every day at work, and I would come home, work out, and then sit on the couch and stare at my computer while wondering when the heck dinner was going to magically appear on the counter.  Dirty clothes piled up.  My plan to meal-plan lay forgotten in my notebook.  My boyfriend sat ignored on the couch (which he may have found preferable to my typical constant bothering…).

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This?  I was handling it.  Everything else?  Not so much.

Finally, one day, I stared at the array of dirty dishes and the laundry basket half full of clean clothes (because the other half had been pulled out and used in the week since the laundry had been done).  “I can’t live like this,” I thought.  “I’m an adult and this is gross.”  The idea came to me suddenly.  If I could do 15 minutes of strength work when I really didn’t want to or go for an hour long run when all I wanted to do was take a nap, I could do the same thing with housework.  So I set my watch for 20 minutes and got going.  I was in a flow when my watch went off, so I did a few more 20 minute rounds.  Pretty soon, most of my domestic life was back in order.

That was the lightbulb moment for me.  I could train for an Ironman and still be a functioning member of society.  I realized that for a few weeks, I might have to obsessively schedule.  I might have to “force” balance.  If you’ve read here long enough, you maybe have noticed that I’m not generally a big fan of forcing things, especially internal, emotional/mental things.  I wrote a post that could basically be summarized as “It’s my training program.  I’ll cry if I want to.  But hopefully I won’t want to for long.”  But I’ve noticed that with any major change of routine (new job, starting grad school, beginning a new training program), I am overwhelmed for a few weeks, certain that this new life is too much for me.  If I want to be at all successful in the “adulting” game, I need to force myself to complete basic tasks for a few weeks while I adjust to my routine to see if it is too much for me or not.

So I busted out some of my planning skills that I developed in college and grad school (some of which I was already using).

What did I need to do?

  1. Train
  2. Sleep
  3. Work
  4. Eat
  5. Bathe
  6. Keep my habitat inhabitable

I was nailing numbers one and two.  The rest were… questionable.  At best.

With this information, I started a new process.  Every week, I look at my training plan for the week and translate it into my own schedule (I move workouts around pretty freely).  After I have a good idea about how much exercise I’m doing each day, I use the same list to plan other aspects of my life.  I keep track of dinner for each day.  This may change throughout the week, and I don’t always have my meals planned out for the entire week.  But I try to have an option in mind for the next day.  And I try to plan dinner based on my workouts. An hour long bike ride after work?  I may throw some potatoes in the oven to bake while I’m gone.  No workouts in the afternoon?  I may plan something a little more time-consuming like quiche.  In the same list, I assign myself a task for each day.  That may be making a phone call I’ve been avoiding or going to a store to get something I need.  If I’m feeling really tired, my task may even be to relax and watch a TV show so that I can sit down without feeling like I should be doing something else.  I also started trying to do at least one 20 minute round of cleaning a day.  (It’s really shocking how much actually gets done in 20 minutes when you just force yourself to do it!)

The thing I like about this list is that it’s flexible.  If Rob comes home from work with the ingredients for a stir-fry, then we can have stir-fry and I’ll make that pasta dish the next day. I typically don’t even fill out the task portion for, say, Wednesday until Monday or Tuesday. If I notice that my laundry is piling up, I just make sure I assign that as my one task of the day.  The one task keeps me from feeling overwhelmed (I’m easily overwhelmed…) and helps me focus.  Maybe I can’t cook and do the dishes and make that phone call and do the laundry and tidy the living room after a long day, but I can bake some potatoes and throw a load of clothes in the wash.  And I can make sure my task for the next day is to clean the kitchen or make that important phone call.

Now, this exact process won’t work for everyone, but my biggest suggestion when it comes to fitting in all your responsibilities is to have a plan.  Write things out.  Think ahead.  Put in two weeks at your new routine to see if it’s manageable.  And if it’s not, you may need to take a closer look and find things to take out of your schedule, which will be the focus of tomorrow’s post.

Am I alone in needing an “adjustment period” before a new routine feels manageable?

How you do fit in all your various, sometimes conflicting responsibilities, especially when training for something important?

Cycling and Whitman: Remembering what matters

Last Friday, I was sitting at my desk obsessing about the weather and the weekend.  I had a 2.5 hour ride scheduled for Saturday, but the forecast called for cold rain the entire day, starting early in the morning.  Riding in the rain is the absolute worst, and I wanted to avoid it if possible.  However, my Sunday had some non-negotiable plans in the early evening, and I didn’t want to risk not having time for my ride and adequate recovery (i.e. several episodes of television) between church and said plans.

I knew what my best option was, but I’m not sure an impromptu 2.5 hour bike ride on a hot evening after a long day of swimming and working is on many people’s list of favorite things.  But after a couple of hours of superficially weighing my options, I accepted my fate.  I knew it would be a long day.  I had gotten up at 5:00am to swim and knew a long ride after work meant I wouldn’t be finished with the day until after 7:30pm.  But pretty much anything is better than riding in the rain.  Get out and get it done was the name of the game.

So after work, I shoved some food down my throat and shoved a couple of waffles into my jersey pockets and headed out.  I knew I was in for a warm and windy ride.  It was almost 80°, and the storm was blowing in from the south, meaning the wind would be blowing opposite the direction it normally did.  This meant I had a tough headwind as I rode out south to the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.  About an hour into this ride, there is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad hill.  It’s not terribly long, but it’s steep.  And with my legs more fatigued than usual and with a headwind, it’s even worse than usual.  I crawled up this hill, my legs burning with every pedal stroke and my speed dipping below 7mph.  After the hill, it’s another half mile or so until the point where I turn around.  And every time I’ve ridden the route this year, this has been the most discouraging part.  I expect the hill to hurt.  But I expect to be feeling recovered from the hill after a nice little stoplight break.  I never am, and I always struggle up to the road where I finally turn around.

Once I turned around, though, my attitude changed immediately.  This particular stretch of road is fast anyway, and with a strong tailwind I was flying.  I glanced down at my Garmin and saw I was holding 30mph easily.  As I often do when I can go fast without much effort, I started singing loudly (and badly) on the bike.  Since the wind is loud enough that I can’t hear myself, that means other people can’t hear me either, right?  I continued to hold 25-30mph for most of that stretch of road.  My average speed spiked, and I made up most of the time I lost with the headwind on the way out.

Then I hit Emigration Canyon.  I still needed some time, so I started up, fully intending to turn back around before reaching the top.  My pace slowed to a steady and pleasant 12-14 mph, briefly punctuated by faster moments when the grade lessened.  It was relatively late in the evening, so the usually crowded canyon was empty.  I saw a few cyclists descending, but I was climbing alone.  I hit the point where I felt that the ride home would fill up the rest of my ride.  Like the last time I climbed the canyon, I was right at the bottom of the last climb, where the grade jumps a bit and things get a little more difficult.  I decided I wanted to make it to the top.  I was simply too close to turn around.  The light was fading, however.  Because it was overcast, I couldn’t tell when the sun would set, and I didn’t want to be out on the roads after dusk without a light.  So I stopped to use my weather app to see when sunset was.

When I stopped, I was greeted with absolute silence.  The wind had died down by this point, and the air around me was perfectly still.  There were no motorists or other cyclists in sight.  It was just me, the canyon, and silence.  Perfect peace.  It was a moment that a transcendentalist would have written about.  Recalling it afterwards, I thought of Emerson and Whitman and their beliefs on nature and the divine.  Usually, I’m not a huge fan of the transcendentalists.  They’re know-it-alls, and they are just a bit too self-righteous for my taste.  Think everything Portlandia pokes fun at, but in the 19th century.  However, while reflecting on this moment of serenity afterwards, I thought of a poem by Walt Whitman:

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

And for a moment, I remembered the real reason I do all this dumb Ironman stuff—the most important reason.  I love obsessing over a training plan.  I love tracking my workouts.  I love having a goal.  But if I didn’t love the training, it wouldn’t be worth it.  In the rush to fit workouts in and gain the endurance I need, sometimes I forget to drink in the scenery of my rides or the sound of my feet hitting the pavement as I run or to the feeling of my hand as it cuts through the water.  I forget to appreciate the effort, the experience itself, even though those moments of being completely present in my body and in the world around me are the most rewarding moments of training.  I obsess over astronomy and forget to look at the stars.

I needed this reminder from transcendentalism, overly sentimental though it may be, and I was thankful for it.

EmigrationMarch
This is an older picture of the top of Emigration Canyon because during the ride, I wasn’t thinking about photos or blogs or anything else.

(Oh, and I finished the climb, making sure to enjoy every last moment of it) and made it home before dark.

Another birthday and a change of scenery

Do you ever wonder if your life is interesting enough to sustain a blog?

Well, so do I.

As I was thinking about what kind of post I wanted to write this week, I thought, “Hey, great!  I took a road trip!  I can blog about that!”  And then I realized that I think that every time I take a trip to visit my family and that it’s always the exact same thing.  I drive to Idaho.  I celebrate something (sometimes a holiday but usually the birthday of a niece or nephew).  I run with my dad.  I ride my bike.  I drive back to Utah.  Even when I’m shaking things up, I’m still boring.

I wish I could tell you that this weekend was different, and I was totally interesting and did things that millennials do like become florists and go to the moon (props if you get that reference!).  However, that’s not the case.  And I’m okay with that.  When the most interesting fact about yourself is that you are training to do cardio for 15 hours straight, you need to come to terms with the fact that you are, at your heart, a boring person.

The ride up to Idaho was (thankfully) uneventful.  Most of the drive takes place in a stretch of desert that many people would describe as ugly and boring, but I’ve always really liked it, even in the summer when it’s just brown.  However, as it is currently spring, most of the landscapes I drove by were quite green.  The green rolling hills and flat plains against the blue sky were absolutely gorgeous.  For most of the drive, I found myself wishing I were out on my bike enjoying the scenery and sunshine instead.

Because I left for Idaho after work on Thursday, I was up pretty late (for me).  A bonus about this visit was that since Rob wasn’t with me, I got the nice bed for adult guests in the basement instead of the bunk bed that I grew up sleeping in.  For some reason (maybe it’s the coolness or the extra darkness or just the bed itself), I always sleep like a rock in my parents’ guest bedroom, so even though I didn’t get to bed early, I got plenty of sleep.

My dad and I planned to go on a run on Friday, and I was nervous.  I felt like this run would be a test.  Up until this point, all but one of my post-marathon runs were under an hour, and the one run that was an hour felt like too much and left my IT band sore the next day.  And on Friday, I had a 90 minute run scheduled.  I flipped back-and-forth about whether I was optimistic about the run or sure it would prove once and for all that I would never run more than a few miles again.  I dutifully stretched before heading out and even popped a couple of ibuprofen just to be safe.  It was a beautiful and warm day, but it was early enough that the air was still crisp.  The sun was shining, and there was just a hint of a breeze.

FrontYard
See what I mean about the beautiful day?!

My dad and I started chatting as we ran, and before we knew it, we were almost halfway through the run and discussing the concept for a software program that high schools could use for a personal finance class.  I hadn’t felt my knee at all, but when we hit that point I was a little worried my fitness would fail during the second half of the run, especially as I considered that I hadn’t run longer than an hour in over a month.  But my dad and I kept chatting and I kept feeling really good.  Before I knew it, we were almost done with his ten mile route.  I had said beforehand that I would decide whether to stop at ten or keep going until I hit 90 minutes depending on how I felt during the run.  I still felt great, so when we got to my parents’ neighborhood, we turned left instead of right and added an extra mile on.  Even at the relatively quick pace (for me) of 8:11/mile, I felt great after the run.  My dad did too.  It was one of those rare, effortless runs, and it was exactly the confidence-booster I needed.

In other words, I’m no longer absolutely certain of my failure, and I actually think that I may have a chance of pulling this off.

I spent some time Friday afternoon playing with my little nieces and nephews.  I have to be honest here.  Usually, they are so sweet it makes your teeth hurt, but I’m starting to suspect the older two might be little sociopaths.  They have a doctor kit that they love to use to treat their collection of tiny Beanie Babies.  So, as is common with them, they opened up the doctor’s kit and pulled out a little stuffed animal to treat.  In the past, I’ve been a little horrified by the diagnoses these animals get.  Jordyn will put on the stethoscope and listen to the duck’s heart and mutter, “Not good, not good.”  Clayton repeats, slightly less understandably, “Not dood, not dood.”  Typically, I ask Jordyn what the animal needs, and she’ll give him a shot or pretend to perform surgery.  Normal stuff.  But when I ask if the animal is better, she invariably replies, “Nope.”  The answer is the same when I ask if the animal will ever get better.

This time around, they chose a duck as their victim patient.  They inspected the duck and then Jordyn grabbed a pair of fake scissors.  “We have to cut his feet off!”

“You have to amputate its feet?”  I asked.  “It won’t be able to walk!”

“Yep,” she confirmed, before pretending to cut its feet off.

Clayton grabbed the duck and the scissors next and proceeded to “cut off” the duck’s bill.

Jordyn loomed over, making sure he was doing a good job.  Then she had an idea, and her eyes lit up with excitement. “Let’s amputate its eyes!”

See what I mean?  Little sociopaths in training!

Saturday morning was fairly early for me.  I went to the local pool and did a short workout, then went straight to my sister’s house to watch the kid’s while she and her husband went for a run.  We played outside, which meant I pushed all three of them on the swings at once.  Super aunt!  They started telling jokes, and it didn’t take me long to realize that their jokes were basically a template that they filled in based on the things around them.

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

______ and ______ dancing on ______’s underwear!

Swing and trampoline dancing on Aunt Katie’s underwear.  Shadow and fence dancing on cow’s underwear.  Grass and cow dancing on fence’s underwear.  The possibilities are endless!  They were so sweet and cute on Saturday morning that I almost forgot I was potentially babysitting future serial killers.

My sister and her husband got back after running 10 miles at a 7:15/mile pace (see why I don’t just do open running events?!), and I went back to my parents’ house to get ready for my bike ride.

If the whole weekend hadn’t been so chock-full of fun and/or encouraging activities, my bike ride on Saturday would have taken the case.  The weather was perfect, and the course was fairly flat.  I rode on the same course that my dad and I ran our marathon in February.  Riding it was way more fun than running it was!  There’s not much to say about the ride (I pedaled, then pedaled some more), but I did get a few pictures that do a fine job of showing just how pleasant the ride was.  Oh, and the flat course without many traffic stops allowed me to hit an average speed of 17mph, much faster than I’ve managed when riding around Salt Lake City.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was for me to hold that higher pace.  I would often look down at my computer and see that I was just cruising along at 17-19mph.  Another encouragement, and a welcome one, considering I was just finishing up my first week of what will be a long and arduous training cycle.

WildlifeRefuge
Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge… you should have heard the birds here!
Orchard
I rode past an orchard…
LakeLowellDam
… and I rode over the dam.

That evening, we had the main event—my little nephew’s second birthday.  He must have shouted “choo choo train!” about three hundred times because literally every present was train-related.  Train sets, train engines, train pajamas.  He was elated.  My phone’s memory rather unfortunately filled up during the party, so I didn’t get many pictures.  I did get a few, though, including one that totally captures his goofy grin when he’s happy.

RustinSmile
The happiest toddler of all!

After the party, my parents and I went back to their house, and I got one last good night’s sleep in the basement room before driving back to Utah in the morning.

I’m a homebody at heart, so traveling is always a mixed bag.  But I’m never sorry when I spend a weekend with my family.  Not only was it great to spend time with them, but it also helped me gain some confidence in this whole Ironman training thing.  Most of my workouts last week were pretty average, but I nailed my workouts over the weekend.  The nice weather, the change of scenery, the good sleep, and the lower elevation combined to give me a few workouts that I needed.  With my IT band issues and my poor performance in my marathon, I’m starting this training cycle a little cautiously and a little worried.  Now, I’m feeling a little more confident that I didn’t bite off more than I could chew and that I can, in fact, have a successful training cycle.  And hopefully a boring one, where the only things that stand out are planned!