That’s done!

It’s been almost a month since I met my goal of completing a triathlon.  Yes, I did it!

Me, gooey, but triumphant.  : )


In the final week leading up to my planned event, I did decide to register for the “alternative” triathlon — the one with the pool swim and somewhat shorter distances.  This was good!  The triathlon I did was a perfect first event.  I now know what to expect (when I felt beforehand like I was going into a great unknown), and I can build on the experience if I decide to do more tri’s in the future.

So, what did I learn?  I learned that I need to be more assertive during the swim and speed up my transitions (skip the banana next time and have my number already pinned on my shirt!).  I learned that competing in the rain isn’t bad, as long as it’s not cold (which it wasn’t).  I learned that living and biking in Boone has taught me not to freak out on the uphills (gotta say, quite a few people were complaining about the one “really big hill” on the route, which just did not seem that big to me!).  I learned that it’s possible to run a “personal best” 5K time after swimming and biking.  (How weird is that?!)  I learned that lots of the people who compete in triathlons are nervous or scared or have a “weak event” (i.e. everyone is not an uber-confident pro!).  Mainly, I learned that you don’t really know what something is going to be like until you do it.  As much as you prepare and envision and psych yourself up (or psych yourself out), you can’t know the experience — how it will feel, what you will like and not like about it, what you will be capable of — until you experience it.  You just gotta do it. 

It was good for me to go outside my comfort zone and push myself to do something that was unusual and challenging.  I was happy and proud when I finished.  I’m still on the fence as to whether I’ll compete in more triathlons or other crazy feats of physical endurance or whether I’ll say to myself, “OK, it’s over!  I never need to do that again!”  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, my big 50 birthday, which inspired all this, is just a few weeks away.  Does meeting my goal (set almost a year ago) make me feel differently about turning 50?  Have I made peace with all my demons and let go of my regrets?  Am I at ease with the aging process and what it means physically, emotionally, spiritually?  Am I completely satisfied with where I am in my life?  Do I feel financially secure?  Are all my relationships in order?  Is the path forward clear and free of obstacles?  Well, actually…no.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could give an unequivocal yes to all those questions (and the myriad more that are unvoiced or unformulated)?  But I can’t.  As those who know me will attest, I’m a bit of an over-thinker, and I do ascribe to the idea that the unexamined life is not worth living.  But sometimes all the examining in the world won’t give you the answers.  You just gotta do it.  So here I go — moving forward to 50 and beyond with all the imperfections and uncertainties of my life still knocking around — with all the grace and integrity, physical and emotional health, and joy and kindness that I can muster.

For others who have had “big birthdays” (which ones feel the biggest probably varies from person to person), how did you mark the event?  What did you do?  How did you feel?  Please feel free to share below!  : )

Down to the wire…

Once again, it’s been awhile since I’ve written.  It’s been a busy summer.  But, truth be told, I’ve been reluctant to write about my goals because well…  I’ve been having doubts about whether I can accomplish them.  Doubts, tickling my toes, like little baby waves lapping at the edge of a lake.  lap lap lap.  slap slap slap.  death by a thousand kitten licks.

Still, I’ve soldiered on with my triathlon training, hoping that continued activity will resolve the uncertainty.  And, in so many ways, it’s been great.  I’ve scored a wealth of amazing, perfect moments over these past few months.  Feeling, as always, so lucky to live in this beautiful place where the opportunities to be inspired occur daily.


And, without a doubt, I’ve gotten stronger.  It’s cool to hardly notice hills on my bike that I labored to get up a few months ago.  I like the feeling of just itching to get outside and exercise and knowing it will be fun and satisfying because I’m in better shape.

Yet, there remain a few elephants in the room.  The running — still slow.  But, more significantly, the lake swim.  Around mid-July I began to think seriously about the lake swim.  I knew I had to practice.  But this was easier said than done.  There’s a small local lake that I jumped into a few times, but you can only swim in the roped off area, not further out into the lake so, although it gave me a small taste of swimming in the cold, somewhat murky water without lane lines to follow, it was still a far cry from the big lake swim that’s part of the triathlon.

Finally, last week, I asked a friend to go to the triathlon site at Watauga Lake to swim with me.  He had done the triathlon before and was planning to do it this year, and was also interested in practicing the swim.  We got up early and drove 45 minutes to the lake.  I was excited and not sure what to expect.  Other than a little trepidation about crossing past the “Private Property” signs, everything was perfect — beautiful summer morning, lovely peaceful setting, no boats or activity of any sort in sight…  And, the kicker… the water was incredibly warm!  We started swimming and it felt great, very easy and relaxed, in a “Look, Ma, no hands!” kind of way.  But then something weird happened.  At a certain point, I suddenly felt like I was way too far out in the lake and I started to get scared.  I decided to swim back to shore.  Feeling a bit anxious, I even flipped over on my back for awhile to relax.  Everything was fine, and we were both glad we had done the swim.  But those few minutes of fear have made me think seriously about whether I’m up for the .6 mile open water swim.  I’m sure it will feel more secure with lots of support kayaks in the water, and I think I probably would have been fine if I had stayed closer to shore, but…  Is this an obstacle I can overcome in the next week and a half?

watauga.lake  (big lake!)

For some people, I’m sure the answer would be an easy yes:  conquer fear, gut it out, push through the obstacles.  But I’m not one of those people.  Earlier in the spring, I started to write, but never finished, a blog post titled, “How Hard Should a Hard Goal Be?”  The answer to that question is probably different for everyone.  There’s a thin line between “enough” (enough to be different and exciting and truly challenging) and “too much” (too hard, too scary, maybe just not feasible).  My aim in all this, after all, is to feel celebratory and accomplished, not demoralized.

The upshot…?  I’m hoping to swim in the big lake one more time in the next few days to see if the second time’s a charm.  But the weather is not looking good, and it may not happen.  Either way, I need to make a decision.  In the meantime, I’ve been looking for other triathlons that are coming up soon.  I found one scheduled for the same weekend as the Watauga Lake Triathlon.  It’s near Asheville — still Western North Carolina, still mountainous biking and a scenic running route, but with the swim in a pool.  Back-up plan?  Check.  One way or the other, I’m going to get to the celebrating part!

Swimming is relaxing, biking is fun, and running is… [fill in the blank]

My kids are away this week — hanging out with their grandparents in Asheville and going to a really cool “River Camp” on the French Broad. It sounds like they’re having a great time. No worries there. No reason, whatsover, not to accomplish anything and everything that I’ve been storing up to do over, say… the last year. Right?

I began with a basic list: clean, organize, exercise, create, socialize. Perfectly reasonable aspirations for a five day stretch. Or maybe not. As you might guess, this has not been the period of amazing productivity and self-actualization that I hoped it would be. (Could it be I set my sights too high?!) And I’m trying to be OK with that. Sadly, “create” has been given the shortest shrift. My neglected poetry manuscript continues to languish, and even more tangible projects, like working on the kids’ scrapbooks, were not in the cards this week.

But I did exercise. With a little more time and flexibility, it seemed like the right moment to step up my triathlon training. Awhile back, a friend mentioned that when he trained for a triathlon, he made sure to always do more than one activity at a time because transitioning from one event to another was difficult. He didn’t mean the actual transitions (knowing where your bike is parked, putting your shoes on quickly, etc), but the adjustment your body has to go through to shift from one activity to the next. It made sense, and was not something I had been doing, so this week, I gave it a try.

The first multi-event day (on Tuesday) was biking followed immediately by running. It was horrible. Seriously. I couldn’t run at all. I felt hobbled. Very discouraging. My doubts about the feasibility of actually doing a triathlon began to grow and take on a life of their own.

Today (after a one day rest), I tried again — this time adding swimming at the beginning. Swim, bike, run. My goal was not to simulate an actual triathlon. I knew I’d have way more time between each event because I’d be swimming in a pool and then driving home to bike and run. But I wanted to see how it would feel to string all three events together without too much of a break in between. It went better today. Swimming to biking was not bad at all (though, again, I had a pretty long transition in between — say, 30 minutes). And the running was not as bad as it had been earlier in the week, but it was still the weak link. The triathlon I’m planning to do has a five mile run (long for me!), so this is definitely worrisome.

Actually, I’ve been stewing and grousing to myself about running for awhile. In my mind, swimming is relaxing, biking is fun, but running is… unpleasant. painful. clunky. discouraging. The more I thought about it, the more I resented the running. I’m just not good at it. I can’t do it! I’m so slow. Well, it doesn’t take a rocket science (or a self-help guru) to recognize that these kinds of thoughts are not helping me do better. Today, I realized I needed a word for running — something to add to “relaxing” and “fun”. But what? Running is “difficult”. No. Running is “bumpy”. No. Running hurts my knees…? No, no, no! So, finally, this is what I came up with: Running is challenging.

Swimming is relaxing, biking is fun, and running is challenging. Maybe this is a trifecta I can work with. I will try.

What about you? What are your three words for swimming, biking and running? Please tell! : )

I got this reeeally tight shirt…

So, yeah, I ordered a special triathlon top, and it arrived in the mail a few days ago.  Several of the reviews on the website (Athleta, by the way) said that the top was “hard to put on”.  This is an understatement.  Once you pull it over your head and shoulders, there is this complicated heavy-duty bodice thing made of mesh and padding and super thick, strong elastic that you get stuck in.  This is where your boobs are supposed to go. But while you’re putting the top on, your boobs are trapped outside and it takes some major adjusting to get everything in the right place.  Even in the complete privacy of my own home, I felt fairly ridiculous trying to get this top onto my body.  Definitely not something I will be whipping on and off at the race site.  Yet amazingly, once it’s on, it’s remarkably comfortable (which the reviews also said), and nothing is moving.  That’s for sure.  It’s like Spanx.  (At least I think this is what Spanx might feel like.)

Special shorts are on the way.  Similar to biking shorts but, somehow, so much better (?!).  I know, I know.  I’ve been swept up in mindless consumerism!  I probably have a top and shorts that would work just as well.  But, what the heck?  You only turn 50 once.  And this stuff can double as “control” undergarments, which I may need somewhere down the line!

Really, this is so comfy…

The perks of “training”

The landscape has changed since I first got on the bike this spring.

Early April Mayview/ Wonderland Trail view spot: mayview.spring

Late April:         mayview.view

Spring training included a 32 mile benefit bike ride in Asheville in mid-May.  Here we are after the ride:   

 wheel.ride                                                                              (There really are bikes behind us on the car!)       

“Training” can include hiking with the kids, too.  Above the Blue Ridge Parkway in early June:



Turkeybeard and Mountain Laurel:

turkey.beard         mtn.laurel

And finally, a poem from a few years back about running in the Moses Cone Memorial Park.  As much as I am, and will probably always be, a slow and labored runner, I was reminded again this morning, when I passed within feet of a group of shiny black cows lying in a grove of rhododendron, that I almost always see something beautiful and interesting when I’m running.  And I almost always feel some glimmer of insight or inspiration that I might not have experienced were it not for the run.

What Crosses My Path

A pileated woodpecker, straight arrowed
tree to tree, ancient hatchet head.  Two deer,
in my near-sightedness, I momentarily mistake
for silent bounding golden retrievers.
Noble air of national park and the sanctity
of old land.  Ghosts of gentry
picnicking in the overgrown orchard.
Hand-laid stones.
My own heart thumping before me.
My inexorable thoughts.
Firepinks, scarlet stars, joined by spiderwort
spike and mountain laurel, convened
to tell me again
of what has come and gone.
And what will remain.


Slow and steady does not, in fact, win the race — and other revelations from the life of a non-athlete in training

Sometimes, particularly when grinding uphill at a snail’s pace on the bike, the chant, “slow and steady wins the race” pops into my head, almost unbidden. It’s comforting. There’s a mantra for athletes like me. One day, however, when I happened to mention my tortoise-and-the-hare-inspired slogan out loud to my husband, he bluntly pointed that this was not actually true. Slow does not win the race. Fast and steady, maybe. But slow, no way. Not gonna happen. This is the same guy who, when I moaned to him about my pokey times in 5Ks, suggested helpfully, “Run faster.” Um. Yeah.

Armed with these pithy home-grown truisms, I decided it was time to get more information about preparing for a triathlon from the font of all knowledge: THE INTERNET. I needed answers to questions such as, “what the heck do you wear?” and, “are other people also afraid of the swim?” and “why do we swim, then bike, then run, in that order?” The information I found was the usual mix of useful, irrelevant, alarming, and confusing typically available on the web. I learned that there are many options for triathlon apparel and discovered that, yes, lots of people (including much fitter, more experienced athletes than me) are apprehensive (even panicky) before and during the open water swim. As for my question about the order of the events — three words: drown, crash, trip. Great…

In the meantime, I have, in fact, been swimming, biking and running. Things are going pretty well, but not amazingly. I’m still primarily just putting in time and distance, trying to increase my stamina and comfort level in the the three activities, but not really “training” in a rigorous, disciplined sort of way. In my mind, I envision a distinct turning point — still somewhere in the future, but coming soon (soon!) — when things get hard core and I ratchet up the intensity of my regime. When I really start pushing myself. But what if I’m just not a hard core kind of gal? Can I still pull this off in my incremental, moderation-in-all-things, slow-and-steady-wins the race kind of way? The answer is murky. Two months out, I’m not feeling as confident as I’d like to be. Will keep you posted. Suggestions for tapping into my hidden hard core self are welcome!

One week, two weeks — who’s counting?!

OK, I’m back to report on what I’ve done to work towards my goals since my last post. I didn’t post in one week, as promised — but I did accomplish a few things.

Training for a triathlon:

A) Swimming: 3x = 54 laps = 2,700 yards = 1.53 miles.

Swimming was great — relaxing, peaceful, and invigorating, all at the same time — a perfect exercise — except for the part where it may tend to get boring. I felt really good in the pool, but I have a long way to go before I’m comfortable and confident swimming .6 miles in open water. I’m hoping that putting in a decent amount of pool time and building stamina will move me forward to where the lake swim doesn’t seem so overwhelming. I’ll also need to practice in the lake once the weather gets warmer.

B) Running: 2x = 3.81 miles.

Trying it out and not pushing for much distance — felt good — weirdly ran faster than usual. This may be because the gps on my iPhone app wasn’t working right. It seemed to be recording everything, but the run was in an area without much signal, so wondering… However, for now, will go with the theory that I’m stronger and faster than I realize! : )

C) Biking: 0 (i.e. big fat goose egg). : (

Cycling is the least intimidating — the thing I know I can do (and probably not be last!), so I guess I’m not as worried about that as the running and swimming. Nevertheless, I need to get on it! Literally. The bike.

Things I need to get better at:

Seizing the moment when there’s an opportunity to exercise. We had a spring snow storm this past week, so that was a set-back. (The kids even missed three days of school — groan!) But right now it’s actually pretty nice out (though still snow on the ground). A real runner would probably be out on the trails sloshing through the slush, but I’m lolling around the house with the kids. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me that I could get outside until it seemed too late. It’s true what they say about making yourself go [running, biking, etc.] being the hardest part. I can’t wait around for the perfect convergence of convenience and motivation before I exercise!

Recognizing that friends can help. I’m a self-conscious athlete who generally feels silly (even ridiculous) while athleticizing (silly made-up word). This stuff just does not come naturally to me! However, I think I need to realize that friends can provide motivation and inspiration — try that out — let go of feeling dorky and inferior and exercise with buddies from time-to-time!

Well, I had a few more things to add to this — and was even going to give an update on my other goal (aka “the poetry project”). But my son is agitating to use the computer so, for the sake of posting something, I’m going to cut it short. Will try to come back soon. I hope you all are enjoying the spring! I love the changing of seasons and always find each turn in the yearly cycle exciting, as well as being a natural time for contemplation and new (or renewed) visions. What about you? What is this spring bringing for you?