Blogs tagged with "attitude"

I'm a proud fan girl.

This morning, the day after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series, I wake up a Cleveland Indians fan. And not only a fan, but a season ticket-holder who attended every home playoff game of the 2016 post-season. In person, I watched my team battle against the odds and the injuries and win its first two series only to lose after leading three games to one, in an epic battle in Game 7 of the World Series - a game that will go down in history as one of the greatest game sevens ever.

It was devastating and heartbreaking and frustrating and all of those things at once. But it got me to thinking. Who am I most heartbroken for? Myself? Not really. I'm still a fan. Do I feel sorry for Cleveland? Kind of. We all have to get up this morning feeling like "we" came THIS CLOSE to greatness but ended up back in Cleveland, often called the "mistake on the lake." Do I feel sorry for the players?


And I know that they probably all get on airplanes and go back to their homes and families in different parts of the country and don't have to live here with the disappointment of another failed championship. They get their huge paychecks and forget about it, right?

Except, based on everything I've witnessed and read and heard, I don't think that's really the case with this team. They are much more than working professionals collecting a paycheck. They're a TEAM.

And I empathize with them because I've been a competitive athlete my whole life. I grew up in a competitive athletic family, and I know what sports disappointments are all about. I know that football losses ruin Thanksgiving dinners. I know that injuries ruin track seasons. I've cried over many of these things, not only for myself, but for my high school teams and my college teams. And I know the heart of an athlete. I know what our Cleveland Indians players are feeling right now. And I know that they will take this with them into next season and it will haunt them.

It will haunt them because of HOW CLOSE it was. I think a blow-out would have been easier to handle. I know this because I, too, came THIS close to a championship and it still haunts me to this day. When I was a senior in high school on the swim team, I lost a state championship by one-tenth of a second. I always wondered what my life would be like had I won. Would people have treated me different? Would I have liked myself better?

I will never know. But I do know that my feelings for the Cleveland Indians have not changed.

And it makes me realize that, as athletes, we do what we do because we love it. We come back the next year and try again. It took a long time for me to get back to the sport I truly love, but I swim now and I keep pushing my limits.

And it also makes me realize that we should never, as I have done in the past, let our sports performances define us or tell us whether we are worthy or not. And I will not judge professional athletes on whether they win championships or not. They can be heroes to us for so many more reasons. For making us realize the human potential. For taking us back to the kid inside us. And for their charitable contributions and actions. Those are the important things they give us.

And those are the things we should recognize in ourselves.

I realize the title "sounds" sarcastic, but it isn't really. I also realize people might be more interested in reading about my race at Ironman Texas, but I need to write this post first. My apologies. There is something else at work here.

It all started when I told my mother I was going to a race in Houston.



"Is that anywhere near Houston?" (Yeah, I know, but give my mother a thumbs-up for actually hearing me say the word "Texas" before you pass judgment.)

"It's IN Houston, Mom - well, actually, it's in a place called The Woodlands."

"You know who lives in Texas, don't you? ......Mark Carboni."

"Yes, I know, Mom. What do you want me to do about it?"

"He would love to see you."

Mark Carboni is my half-brother. He's the son of my father and his first wife. The last time I saw Mark, I couldn't have been more than six or seven years old. He was probably in his 20s. And then he disappeared from my life. I may have asked about him, but there was no real answer. My father said he hadn't heard from Mark and that birthday cards were always returned. No one ever talked about it much... until he was mentioned in my father's will. That was the reason my mother got back in touch with Mark, and they have been talking regularly ever since.

But to me at this point, Mark was just another family member who my mother has said would "love to see me." Did my mother realize I've tried to keep in touch with my other two brothers? Did she remember that they have never seemed to care I existed? Did she remember we almost had to beg my brothers to come to my wedding (and they showed up late to the church)? Did she remember most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins couldn't find the time? (even though I was at all their weddings) Did she remember that every time I drove home to Connecticut from Ohio, my siblings never could find the time to travel a few miles to see me? Did she remember that my father told me I would "never understand this because [I] didn't have children" (apparently, when you have children, you have a blanket excuse to never see your family).

My father's funeral was ten years ago, and that was the last time I saw or spoke to either of my brothers.

Oh yeah, about my father. Ten years ago, my father was diagnosed with liver cancer. He was diagnosed and gone in less than two months. It may have been the worst two months of my entire life. I know it was probably the worst two months of my mother's life. I don't know if it was the worst two months of my brothers' lives. But for me, it was THE worst. And not for the reasons you might think. The fallout after he was gone was nothing compared to the dying part.

You see, my father and I never got along. Ever. I spent all my formative years trying to make him like me. But I was never good enough. Valedictorian of my high school class? Great, but not good enough. It felt like I always let him down, no matter what I did. I excelled at swimming because he paid more attention to me the better I got. One of the worst moments in my swimming career was losing the state championship by a tenth of a second. ONE TENTH of a second and I was back to being a nobody. I tried to make up for it. I went to the college he wanted. I got a degree in engineering. I got a job at NASA. And yet, every time I did something that didn't fit into his plan (dating the wrong guys, not wanting to stay at NASA, not wanting to get married in Connecticut, etc.), the answer was always "shape up or ship out" - or worse: "I wash my hands of you."

Did he say these things to my brothers? I don't think so - but I really don't know. I stopped asking why, assumed it had something to do with being a "girl," and stopped trying to make him happy. I spent the last ten years of my father's life arguing with him and having him tell me I was "put on this earth only to disagree with him." Once, he even told me it was a travesty I never had children because I'll never know what it's like to have a bad kid (i.e., me). It makes you wonder how it was possible that my father's death became the worst two months of my life. I should have been happy to end the strife, right?

Family is weird, though. And my dad was the epitome of "tough love." He truly wanted me to be happy. When I wasn't, he didn't have a clue how to fix it. And, as most fathers are, he was a "fix-it" kind of guy. Car problems? He fixed it. Apartment problems? He fixed it. When I was in college and needed a lofted bed in order to put a desk in my bedroom, he build the most amazing put-it-together-yourself-it's-all-labeled wooden bed structure that surpasses anything IKEA ever created.

So yeah, he loved me. He just didn't TELL me. My mother used to say we fought all the time because we were exactly alike. Stubborn. Idealistic. Perfectionists. Thank you, Dad.

When my father was diagnosed with cancer, I flew home weekly, took him (and my mom) to the doctor. I talked to the doctors, did the research, called cancer treatment facilities, and ... in the end, watched him die. I watched the illness take over his body. I watched the strongest, most organized man I ever knew, lose his mental faculties when the liver toxins spread. I still cry over things that happened during the decline. Once, he got very frustrated and started ranting because the TV remote didn't work. I popped the back off to find the batteries installed improperly - I turned them around and it started working. He looked at me in shock (that I could fix something he couldn't). He asked me what I did, and I had to tell him he put the batteries in wrong. It. Broke. My. Heart. I ran upstairs "to my room" and cried for several hours. It still hurts.

When he was in the hospital, I kept it light when I was with with him. I was a cheerleader when he was afraid and in severe pain (gut-wrenching to witness). The last words he ever spoke to me were the following: "I don't want to leave you without a father."

I can still hear those words and see his face as he said them. It was a moment right out of a movie. And when I was home, or at work, or running, or in the hospital but not in his room, I cried. I cried non-stop to the social workers. When he was in hospice, I added the nurses to the list of people with whom I couldn't keep-it-together. Every time they asked what bothered me the most, the same thing came out: "Does he know that I love him?" Because I wasn't sure I ever told him. The other reason I cried was from emotional pain of watching him suffer. I would have given anything to make it go away. Until my father got cancer, I never truly understood that scene in the movie "Terms of Endearment" during which Shirley MacLaine is screaming at the nurses to "Give [her] daughter the shot!" Often I wanted to grab my father's doctors and yell: "Kill him if you have to, but make the pain go away!" (Don't judge me until you've been in my shoes.)

In the end, the one thing I could do for my father (and my mother) was to be in the room when he died. There were three people there that night: my husband Jim, my mom, and me. No, not one of my brothers.

And then something weird happened. The next day, I stopped crying. It was over, the pain was gone.

When we had to make funeral arrangements, the gift-giving started. Unbeknownst to us, my dad had already taken care of his own funeral arrangements. We knew he would have a military burial in a national cemetery (he fought in the Second World War). We didn't know that he had decided on the type of coffin, the clothing, the funeral home, and even the music (yes, there was an audio tape labeled "Funeral Music"). The funeral director read over his documents, looked up at us in amazement, and said: "This is a gift. Your father left you an amazing gift."

Over the years, there have been many more gifts. You never realize a person's influence on you until they're gone. My mother's ability to organize herself and finances after he passed is the result of his direct influence. I've begun to appreciate the hard-work ethic he instilled in me. Even the things that annoyed us about him have now become hilarious jokes to Jim and me - we can laugh and not be angry.

And the biggest gift was still yet to come.

Which brings me back to The Woodlands, Texas. I hadn't said anything to my mom, but my plan was to go there and do an Ironman. Only. I didn't have time to worry about anything else. Then, the day before we left, I got a text from Mark Carboni's wife, Betty. She and their daughter wanted to hook up with us if possible while we were in town (Mark was in Dallas and wouldn't be there).

I panicked for a split second, but, seriously, there was no reason not to. Besides, it would make my mother happy. And I realized I had the ability to choose my attitude toward this - and for once, I decided to stay positive and do it with love. I let go of all my family and sibling disappointments of the past and went in with no preconceived notions.

Then Mark decided to come home from Dallas to be there. I would now be meeting my brother. Betty and I texted times and locations, and Thursday evening, I called her to confirm everything, and she said "Do you want to talk to Carboni?" (I love that she calls him by his last name, MY last name.)

"Sure." (Sh*t just got real.)

And she put him on the phone: "Hi sis!"

I think I cracked up laughing. What an awesome, lighthearted way to begin our relationship after a 42-year hiatus. I loved him instantly. He described himself as "the only Italian with a Fu Manchu" (see photos).

This photo (taken by Betty) kind of says it all.

Without going into detail, the rest of this story is a lesson in the strength of family ties. In our first embrace in the parking lot of the Macaroni Grill, I felt a bond that one can only know as a loved family member. Mark has my - I mean, our - father's smile (even though I hadn't seen it in a long time). He has a lot of my - I mean, our - father's mannerisms. But that's where the resemblance stopped. He's easy-going, smiles a LOT, and is quick to show love. His face has laugh lines, not frown lines like his - I mean, our - father. His daughter Kasey is a beautiful, talented woman that I am thrilled to have as a niece, and I look forward to following her adventures in life. Mark's wife, Betty, is one of the most peaceful, loving souls I've ever encountered. It's easy to see why they've been together for 40 years and also why my mother loves them so much. I couldn't have asked for three more dear and loving humans to have as my family, and I am very thankful for whatever force brought it about. The only negative thing about the evening was that it had to come to an end. I found a great treasure in Houston and it was hard to let go so soon.

But there was that Ironman thing looming... although the difference now was that the success of our trip no longer depended on my performance. It was already the best trip.

On race morning I got a text from Mark telling me to be safe and that he loves me. It kept me smiling through the entire Ironman swim and bike legs (more on that in a subsequent blog).

As we were leaving Texas yesterday, I heard an echo of what my dad said to me before he died, that he didn't want to leave me without a father. I now have a reply: Dad, you didn't leave me without a father. You LEFT me with a brother. And that is, perhaps, the greatest gift of love you ever gave me.

Two more photos (stolen from Mark's Facebook page):

Sister and brother together after 42(?) years.

Can you tell Mark and I are related?
It's all in our facial expression - eye-closing must be a Carboni thing.
(L-R: Jim, Betty, me, Mark, Kasey)

I realize the title "sounds" sarcastic, but it isn't really. I also realize people might be more interested in reading about my race at Ironman Texas, but I need to write this post first. My apologies. There is something else at work here.

The clocks went forward a couple weekends ago. It's usually my wake-up call for the upcoming season. We'll get more light in the evening hours and I can now think about getting my bike off the trainers and out to ride after work. With my an almost-two-year injury on the mend, I am once again struggling with something that has weighed heavily on me for the last five years of racing. How can I ever hope to compete with people who have all the time in the world to train when I have a nine-to-five job with no flexibility in my work hours?

Here's a quick update on my injury. A couple months ago, my physical therapist gave me the green light to put more stress on my hamstring tendon (it started out as more and harder miles on the treadmill as February has been mostly sub-15-degree days). I've also been increasing my time on the CompuTrainer and spending more time in the pool. Although there's still pain, my hamstring has responded much better than expected, and I've had several hard running workouts with no pain at all. The pain usually subsides before the next training session, but the tendon is still not at 100%. My orthopedic doctor recommended another PRP injection which I will got a few days ago - right before I left for a four-day vacation in Los Angeles.

Increased training time has also brought to light the limitations I now have in pursuing additional goals outside work and racing. It's more difficult than in the past because I've been focusing on my art during the injury recovery, and now I'm torn between wanting to make a go of it (showing/selling my work) and go back to racing Ironman. With a full-time job and trying to get 7-8 hours of sleep nightly, I can only expect about 5-6 hours on weekdays to spend on myself, my family, my social life. When I write it like that, it sounds like a lot of time, but when you add cooking, shopping, housekeeping, etc., and bad rush hours, that time disappears very quickly. Pop culture TV series have been right out - to my dismay.

Until now, most of those hours have been spent stressed out about what I cannot do - or what I didn't get done - and feeling like a failure for it. Recently I found myself being overly honest about it in social media.

Fortunately, I've made goo friendships over the years, and my stressed-out, injured plight turned out to be near and dear to another athlete I've known for many years - his name is Kevin. In his own state of injury, he reached out to me and it turns out that we have quite a bit in common: the same orthopedic doctor, the same physical therapist, the same sport (although he was a triathlete back in the days when it wasn't popular like it is now), and the same worries.

As good as my husband Jim is at helping me through these rough times, having a peer to discuss it with has eased my mind in a way that I never dreamed was possible. Here was someone I had always admired as an athlete - someone I deemed "one of the cool people" because he knew, trained, and raced with all the local heroes of our sport (I mostly trained alone with my self-deprecating thoughts). For the first time ever, I have been able to see myself through another athlete's eyes. I didn't think anyone noticed what I did or how I raced, and Kevin regarded me (ME?) as somewhat of a local hero. He was one of "those people I was always trying to impress" (for lack of a better way to say it). Brain-dumping our thoughts about racing on each other has resulted in an amazing transformation: his outlook on life (somewhat stress-free but not without a lot of work to get there) had begun to affect my own. And now I want to achieve a similar state of ease with who I was and where I was at this point in my life.

It doesn't (and won't) come without sacrifices. I know I have to make big changes in attitude and behavior - changes to be fair to everyone, especially myself. Setting lofty race goals in hopes of being noticed by others was something that only mattered in MY mind. People HAD noticed, but it didn't make me any happier. It was a behavior pattern that began in high school - trying to be a famous athlete and exceptional student so my parents/teachers/coaches/schoolmates would pay attention to me. It was also when the constant stress began.

Thirty years later, I'm still trying to be the best employee, the best web developer, the fastest triathlete, an accomplished artist, and the perfect wife. But all I am is the best at being stressed out and depressed. I've lost any concept of success. And this is what Kevin taught me (because he's been through it): I had to (truly) search my soul for why I couldn't be happy with myself no matter what I did or excelled at.

It came down to something I've known for years.. that I wanted people to notice. That I only judged myself through how I thought others viewed me. My accomplishments only mattered if other people acknowledged them.

So why is this realization different this time? Because this time, unlike the last many times, I have a working model of someone who's been through it and came out the other end with flying colors. Someone I admired, an equally-accomplished athlete. Someone who has the perspective I need. And I've started to let go of trying to impress people and stopped looking at myself through other people's eyes.

One of the first things I did was quit my triathlon team. I used to think being part of a team meant I had "arrived" - that I was "good enough" to be on a team. I wanted to perform well to make my teammates proud of me and thus be worth keeping me on the team. Being injured for a year made me feel I had failed at that too. I maintained the team's website to make up for it. But in the end, no one seemed to care either way and I found it nothing but frustrating. Since it didn't seem to matter if I were on the team or not, or doing the website or not, and knowing I couldn't get to the team's once-a-week rides because my job was on the other side of town, I decided I needed to stop feeling useless and just quit. I still feel sad about it, but I no longer feel stress from it. And I'll always be grateful for three years of support I got from Fleet Feet Sports and Bike Authority.

This  is obviously just the beginning. I still need to get healthy. I still need to learn how to leave work at work. I still need to learn how to say no to extra work and freelance web jobs. And I still need to decide if I want an art career more than racing long. I can't help that I will put my heart and soul into anything I decide, but at least I can be sure it's what I enjoy doing - and not because I need to prove anything.

I was fortunate to have an amazing English teacher in high school who told the class that we will someday use the Shakespeare quotes that we were force to memorize. Especially the ones from Hamlet. And wouldn't you know? He was right.

Which brings me to the quote: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but it battalions." This year, I'm truly living the Disaster Magnet credo, and I've pretty much thrown in the towel. I feel alone. And sad. And worthless. And scared that I'm in a hole I'll never get out of.
I've been struggling since last October to get healthy. I've been doing everything "they" tell you to. I took a lot of time off from training. I'm working with a physical therapist to fix the weak points. But things just keep crumbling. And to make it worse, they're not only related to athletics.
I was determined to fight my negativism, look for the silver lining, not wallow in despair, and laugh at all of it. I had been very successful at this for several months. Even my husband Jim said he was impressed by my attitude this year. But today,... well, today I finally broke down. I'm tired and sad and I'm sick of being injured despite how hard I've been working to get un-injured. I'm sick of having things start to go well only to be struck down by something else. I'm sick of having dental work go horribly wrong. I'm tired of drowning myself in work to avoid having to think about anything else. I'm tired of hoping. And I'm tired of keeping it all inside.
(The latest is that one of my gum grafts didn't take and will most likely require more surgery - believe me, one of the worst things you can experience is having a doctor say "uh-oh" when inspecting a post-surgical site. I also won't be running the Boston Marathon this year because I have a stress fracture in my tibia. This is my fifth stress fracture, but my first in 13 years. This one came without warning. I never even got a chance to back off to avoid it. And it came just when my running was just starting to feel strong and fast again because of the PT.)
I had even lost the will to draw (thus also feeling like a failure because of the promise I made to myself). But I picked up a pen again and made two new drawings (they made me cry even more, but I did them). I know they're pretty bad, but I'm trying to get back on track.
The first one I call "Stress Fracture No. 6":
The second one I call "Foothills" - although it started out being a drawing of the hole I was stuck in.

I was fortunate to have an amazing English teacher in high school who told the class that we will someday use the Shakespeare quotes that we were force to memorize. Especially the ones from Hamlet. And wouldn't you know? He was right.

The Kona fallout is in full swing. The crying. The insomnia. The questions. The search for answers. The kicking myself. The hating myself. The wondering about the future. The doubts. The fear of getting back into training just to fail again.

I've also had doubts about continuing to blog. I don't get much feedback here so I assume few people are at all interested. I guess I just write for myself. Of late, I've reconnected with a very good friend with whom I hope to run over the winter. He is a scientist and philosopher and I've been encouraging him to write a blog because, selfishly, I want reference material for our future running conversations. I told him my thoughts on whether I should continue writing despite having little impact. He gave me the following huge compliment: "Your stuff is interesting because you dare to try to do stuff that is big and then you 'break.' And you make the breaks sound so interesting."

So I decided to channel my negative energy into something productive involving this blog - a new goal to include in it. My thoughts went directly to the other great (creative) passion in my life - the thing I neglect when I'm training and racing - my art.

My new (and I admit, lofty) goal is to do a drawing a day for one year. Starting today.

I've given myself a little leeway. The drawings can be quick incomplete sketches or large-scale manifestaions in color. On anything from barmats or napkins to acid-free 100% cotton paper.

And so it begins... my first drawing is in a sketchbook, and it is a continuation of a group of drawings that I recently renamed "Catharsis" (at the suggestion of a friend) because it involves working through pain and injury.

And here it is, my first drawing in the series, a representation of how my shoulder feels since I fell on it while running this summer:

The Kona fallout is in full swing. The crying. The insomnia. The questions. The search for answers. The kicking myself. The hating myself. The wondering about the future. The doubts. The fear of getting back into training just to fail again.

Morning in Pittsburgh

It's been a while since I wanted to write a blog. Or write anything about my triathlon season for that matter. The short version is that I chose not to write about my second most recent race for many reasons. It was a negative experience and I'm trying to stay positive. So many things have been going wrong this season that I couldn't come up with something to write without sounding even more down than I already was. I decided to find the lessons in the failure and get on with it. I made more really bad decisions with nutrition and hydration and had an experience exactly the opposite of my usual problem, hyponatremia. The end result was another DNF (not by choice) and the embarrassment and self-doubt that is now creeping into my waking hours and threatening my sanity.

It's obvious I needed to finally get scientific in my nutrition analysis, so I gave in and did the sweat rate test - you know, the one where you weigh yourself before you run, then run for an hour monitoring your fluid intake, then weigh yourself after you run. The difference in your weight minus the weight of what you drank is the amount of fluid lost per hour. I used one of those online calculators to do the math.. I put in my weight before, my weight after, and my fluid intake in ounces (not estimated - I drank with a calibrated water bottle). The answer came back - in black and white - and no, I am NOT making this up: "The numbers you entered suggest that your fluid loss was WAY the f*ck off the charts - please check your numbers or retest." I checked my numbers. I even got on the scale again. Yep, the numbers are right. I plan to retest this week.

But.. so.. if the answer IS accurate, I'm so screwed that it won't matter what I eat or drink in my next Ironman. Seriously, it must be a fluke that I've ever even finished one in the first place.

In the meantime, I decided to focus on something much more entertaining and less likely to be screwed up by me - speed work and short racing distances. Thus, I entered an Olympic-distance race I've always loved: the Pittsburgh Triathlon.

View from the Pittsburgh swim start - do you see why I love this race?

The first time I did the Pittsburgh Tri was in 2002. I didn't win - in fact, despite running close to 37 minutes in the 10K, I still got my butt handed to me by a much faster swimmer/biker. But I went back the next year because, not only did I enjoy the race, but I really loved the trophies - they were very artistic and unique welded metal sculptures. I went back despite having been hit by a truck three months earlier. And my fate, interestingly enough, was to actually finish slightly faster than the year before and win the women's race. I went back - and won - the Pittsburgh Tri two more times. But it's interesting to note that every single time, I had to chase down at least one woman (usually more) on the run. And, in 2009, it took me right up until the last mile to catch the leader. Pittsburgh had become a very competitive triathlon over the years and it just kept getting tougher.

I've not been able to go back to Pittsburgh for two years because Ironman Lake Placid fell on the same weekend in July. But this year, I just had to go back to Pittsburgh to race (I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2010). I never go in blind, though - I checked results from the past two years only to find that it had gotten even more competitive, and I didn't stand a chance at winning the women's race. It's easier to know these things in advance, thus I could set some kind of goal - it was to find out how my newfound bike speed stacked up against my times in the past and Pittsburgh's tough bike course.

Downtown Pittsburgh from the North Shore

The other, more important, reason to put Pittsburgh back in the race plan was because my husband Jim and I love taking side trips to Pittsburgh whenever we get the chance - cruising the Strip District and picking up some specialty foods, checking out the great cultural institutions (our favorites: the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Andy Warhol Museum), and eating at two of our favorite restaurants: the Church Brew Works and Piper's Pub. And I know from experience that making a good weekend out of it has a two-fold effect: (1) it keeps my attitude positive, therefore setting up a good race, and (2) it offsets the fallout if I have a bad race.

One of the other great things I've been able to witness by doing this race five times over ten years is the improvement to the Allegheny Riverfront, specifically the North Shore where the race takes place. The original charity supported by the Pittsburgh Tri is Friends of the Riverfront. The first time I did the race, the swim was made wetsuit legal at 80 degrees because of the polluted water, and the run course included a short dirt trail being constructed by Friends of the Riverfront. By the fourth time I did the race, the Allegheny River water had become increasingly clean (dead fish were barely a memory), and all six miles of the run took place on the riverfront trail. It was nice to see such an improvement in an area that had been in a state of severe decay.

Yeah, it's early (and my body-marking was all horizontal)

We got to the race site just after 5 a.m. Sunday morning. I got a great night of sleep - which unfortunately came at the expense of missing the Olympic 400 IM swim finals. I mentioned to Jim that I wasn't nervous at all - he thought that was a good thing, but I worried it might indicate I had stopped caring about racing. Things got a lot better during body-marking when over the PA system came... a Radiohead song ("My Iron Lung"). Jim said that at first (until he heard the music), he couldn't figure out why I was beaming while getting body-marked. In all my years of racing, I've heard just about every type of music imaginable - before, during, and after races. However, I can honestly say that, not once, have I EVER heard Radiohead.

(I hoped it was a sign.)

The race began just below PNC Park (the baseball stadium). We had to swim a short section against the current and then two 90-degree turns would send us with the current to a point directly below Heinz Field (the football stadium). Air temperature at the start was in the mid to high 60s, and the water temperature was barely wetsuit legal at 78 degrees. In the interest of a fast transition, I opted to wear my BlueSeventy swimskin.

Swim start

My wave - the women and relays - started third (and last) at 6:55 a.m. Recent rain and high water was responsible for a very strong current that made it difficult to stay on the line for the deep-water start. Just before the start, we noticed a swimmer from an earlier wave swimming way off course directly at us (little did I know this would become important). Swimming upstream was much harder than I remembered, but I powered through with a few of the lead women. Before the first turn we caught the stragglers from the previous wave. It was a tough swim for everyone and I couldn't wait to get with the current.

The second turn buoy sent us downstream and things got easier immediately. I spotted the next orange buoy and swam in its direction. While approaching it, I realized I was WAY off course and actually swimming right toward the starting line - yowza, unfortunately I made the same mistake as the earlier swimmer I mentioned. When I looked up, I saw a line of swimmers about 50 or more yards to my left. This was NOT the way I envisioned my race starting - frantic, I spotted the next buoy, put my head down, and swam my way back onto the course as quickly as possible. By the time I was back in the mix, there were only three buoys left to navigate. Once I was back on course, I reminded myself to have fun, stretched out my stroke and did my best to enjoy the last few hundred yards... right up until someone swam me into the final turn buoy. My hand accidentally hit him in the head and I stopped to say "sorry," but he was angry and yelled at me. I turned and swam away to avoid fisticuffs.

Everyone looks a little confused.

At the finish, I looked down at my watch to see, shockingly, 19 minutes and change. Even with the course blunder, it was my fastest time in the Pittsburgh Tri's 1500m swim. We had to run up a concrete walkway to get to the transition zone in a grassy area between the two stadiums (stadia?). I heard Jim yell "great swim!" as I was chasing down the woman in front of me.

And then it happened again... As I entered the transition zone, I heard... ANOTHER Radiohead song ("15 Step"). What the? Seriously? Am I dreaming? I had to decide what to do - stay and listen? or get out on the bike course? My decision was to get out of transition ahead of the girl who led me out of the water. I'd have to listen to Radiohead after the race.

(But now I was sure it was a sign.)

The Pittsburgh bike course consists of two laps of one big hill - as expected in a city that's built into a (three-) river valley. It takes place on I-279, in the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lane - without traffic of course. Bikers must avoid road debris (at an all-time minimum this year) and rumble strips. Although they didn't bother me at all, I overheard angry complaints about the rumble strips after the race.

Finishing the first loop

I tried to keep a high cadence uphill and focus on speed, hydration, and nutrition downhill. My legs felt better this year than in the past, and I found myself remaining in the aero position on much of the hill. Before the turn-around I noticed one woman at least three minutes in front of me. I was so focused, it didn't even occur to me to chase her. I just rode strong and relaxed. But while looping back through the start and heading back out, I made bizarre mistakes that still baffle me even now. For some unknown reason, I took the long way around all the orange cone markers. It was as though I went out of my way to take the corners as slowly as possible. And I have no idea why I did it. Approaching the finish after the second loop, I took the corners much faster (like a normal cyclist).

The second loop was similar to the first in feel and speed, and I made up very little on the woman in front of me. At the turn-around, I did notice another woman only about a minute behind me - she was easy to see as she had a pink bike and a pink helmet. With my biking history, I expected her to overtake me before transition, but I didn't expect the spectacular fashion in which I handed her the lead. When I dismounted my bike, I lost control and almost fell down. My bike hit the pavement, and I did some serious damage to my hip just in stabilizing myself and not falling down.

One of the worst things ever, as a veteran of a sport, is to hear someone (I imagine it was someone's mother) say: "do you need some help?" when you have to pick up your bike and run into the transition zone.

Yeah, my hip was hurting

My bike time was around 1:07 for 40K - another PR on this course. Upon entering transition, the girl in pink was RIGHT BEHIND ME. My transition was ridiculously slow (over a minute) because I fumbled getting into my running shoes once again (Jim said I paid the stupid tax by forgetting to use Body Glide on them). Anyway, where's that shoehorn when you need it? I expected some pain in my hip when I started the run, but it was a non-issue until the day after.

By the time I was running, the pink girl (no longer pink but wearing a Virginia Tech orange tri top) was now in front of me. In transition, Jim gave me the information that the leader was about 2.5 minutes ahead, but if I just relaxed and ran my own race, I "should" catch her. I wondered if he even saw pink-now-orange girl leave T2 in front of me looking very strong and determined.

I told myself not to chase her and settled into a good rhythm. In less than a half-mile, I was running on her heels and (in my mind) it was only a matter of time. I think she knew it too - she kept turning around like she was running scared. I held my pace and passed her before the first mile but not without a fight. She surged several times, and then finally gave up trying to hold me off. I couldn't help but smile to myself knowing I was more than twice her age.

Somewhere near the second mile, I chased down the leader. It happened so quickly that I immediately backed off on my run to avoid burning myself out just in case a really fast runner was still behind me. Conserving energy, I still tried to run a steady pace to the finish. With about one mile to go, I met a young guy named Ryan who was doing his first triathlon. He said he would try to hang with me and so we carried each other to the finish line.

Coming into the finish

Upon approaching the finish, a bike escort gave me the heads-up that I was leading the women. I decided to enjoy the moment and celebrate a little at the finish. Afterwards I was worried I overdid it, so I apologized to Jim for excessive celebration. His retort? "Enjoy it - you never know when it will be the last time you win a race." Yeah, I know it sounds harsh, but he WAS being honest, and we HAD talked about that in the past. I'm not getting any younger, and the kids are getting faster.

The infamous watch check at the finish line.

My 10K run time (41:30) was not up to my standards, but I was surprised to see 2:11:xx still on the clock when I crossed the line. It was surprising in that it was more than two minutes faster than my best on the Pittsburgh course. I do believe my bike time was faster because of all the work I've done on the bike in the last two years. I don't know why my swim was so fast when I went off course and I've also been nursing a shoulder injury from a recent fall while running (Am I the only person capable of slipping and falling on a sidewalk in the middle of summer?).

My fueling in this race was simple and effective: one Gu Roctane and 12 ounces of water before the start, one 24-oz bottle of Gu Roctane drink on the bike, and only water during the run. The reason I took only water during the run was because I couldn't decide whether to drink or pour it on myself. I think the air temperature had reached near 80 degrees by the run. For the middle of summer, the weather was mostly perfect for this race.

Reminiscing with Pittsburgh media
who waited for me to come out of "Mr. John" Flushing Unit

Jim and I spent enough time after the race for me to get interviewed by the Pittsburgh Tribune (that was a first) and pick up the cool fish trophy at the awards ceremony. Like I said before, this race has always given out the best awards, and this year's did not disappoint.

It was a good weekend: Radiohead, a triathlon win, and a course PR. The only way to top it off was to get ourselves over to Carson Street for my other favorite thing to do in Pittsburgh - order the English Breakfast and a pint at Piper's Pub.

With a season like the one I'm having, I needed it. All of it.

See? Awesome. Fish. Trophy.
(anti-fashion Gu Energy socks)
(wicked cool Punk Rock Racing visor)

My 2011 season, in metallic form.

The post title was taken from my favorite Jimmy Buffett song (don't judge me, punk rockers): "Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season." But unlike the singer, I can't just stumble next door to the bar for a bloody mary and make the memory of my 2011 season go away. (Well, at least not long-term.)

But seriously, this morning, my race watch was staring at me. It hasn't been on my wrist since October, and it occurred to me that I still haven't looked at my splits from the marathon portion of last year's Ironman Kona. This is in total opposition to my obsessive-compulsive nature. I record my splits after ALL races - even the bad ones. In the case of the bad ones, I eventually review them with a clearer (read: less emotional) mind. And I usually do it right after the race in case I accidentally clear the watch - or worse, in case the watch battery dies.

But after Kona, I stopped wearing that particular watch. I couldn't even look at it - or those splits. Looking at the splits meant I had to relive the unraveling of my Kona marathon, and even now, it's still too much to bear. And so, like a broken record, I ask myself the question once more - why am I dwelling on the ONE race that went (horribly) wrong after so many went right?

Maybe it's BECAUSE so many went right - my expectations had finally risen. Maybe it's because I (mistakenly) viewed Kona as the most important race of the year, disregarding all other performances as "just warm-ups." You'd think I'd be used to it by now, being the Disaster Magnet an' all. But for me, disaster fallout, like speaking in front of a group when you have stage fright, never gets easier. Today, when I look in the mirror, I see someone who is always one step away from the the brass ring. I also see someone who is tired, and confused, and feeling her age - and trying really hard not to "be too hard on myself" and not to give up.

And if I eventually succeed with having that great race at the end of the year, will that be enough?

I suppose not, but it's not entirely out of the question. I HAVE reached goals in the past that allowed me to put things to rest. After running a sub-2:50 marathon, I realized I couldn't run much faster with my genetics and training time. Trying harder would have been a losing battle. I let it go to avoid more scars, more injuries, and more reasons to hate myself. I accomplished my running goal - I ran in the Olympic marathon trials. I was never delusional enough to think I could finish any better than almost last. I managed one more marathoning feat after that - I proved to myself that the sub-2:50 wasn't a fluke. Then I hung up my marathoning shoes (so to speak.. I still run marathons, but not with the zeal I had in the late 1990s).

I wish my trip back to Kona in 2011 was good enough. But I can't help but view it as another missed opportunity. I expected more out of myself, especially after a great year of learning how to race and how to approach racing. When I try to look back at a season of successes, I lapse into just reliving the mistakes and embarrassment of Kona. For crying out loud, I've become the embodiment of the the oft-spoken-in-jest expression: "you're only as good as your last race."

Then there's that growing-up-background-mental-programming thing. I was raised in a family of overachievers. The more my brothers and I accomplished as athletes and students, the happier my parents were. And when "winning" was down, the atmosphere hung heavy over my house. Whether it was us kids or our parents that took losses the hardest, it never really mattered in the long run. Winning was good. Not winning was bad. It was the same for grades. A's were good. B's (and lower) - bad.

I grew up thinking if I wasn't the best, I was a failure. No one remembers who came in second, right? Seriously, it's like a joke - like that line from Talledega Nights (yes, I AM going to quote Ricky Bobby): "If you're not first, you're last." I LIVED that. Every time I didn't win, it gave me one more reason to hate myself. And I assumed everyone else hated me too. I spent most of my formative years apologizing to my family, friends, and coaches for being a disappointment. Sometimes it seems like the only thing I know how to do.

But what really matters at this moment is if and how I can let go of last season so it doesn't continue to haunt me. I need to look it in the face and tell it to go away once and for all.

And along came a glimmer in the distance that might just be the shovel I need to bury 2011 once and for all. USA Triathlon announced their age group athletes of the year, and I somehow managed to garner an honorable mention in the master's category. I keep thinking it must be a fluke. Did they see how poorly I performed at Kona? Or at the USAT National Championship? Someone must have missed something in the details. Isn't it like the Oscars? Doesn't the end of the season matter more?

Maybe things are a little different in the real world - you know, the one outside my head.

And it may just be time to go write those splits down.

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