Coming back strong after breast cancer.
Keep going -- the pain is only temporary.
You didn’t really just do that, did you? Why yes, yes I did.
Running with the Devil. Not the Van Halen song, although that does often find itself in my music rotation. No, I am talking about the June-time race in the Nevada desert that offers the chance to see how far and hard you can go running in the desert heat. The race has a variety of distances, from a 10K to a 50 miler, and it has a reputation for pushing runners to their limits. I have planned on running the half marathon at this race four times. I have registered twice. And not once have I made it to the starting line. It has kind of become my white whale.
The first time I planned on doing this race, I registered for the 10K with my ex-husband (I was not a runner then, but planned on walking). I was excited as we planned on going to run in the sun. A few weeks before we were to go, I was told I had to have surgery on my gall bladder. So, my ex went, and I was stuck at home telling myself I would go back the next year. The next year came and I was ready, we registered, and I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The doctors told me I had to avoid the sun during chemo, so even walking the course was out of the question. Fine, one more year of not racing, no big deal, there is always another year. The third time I thought I was going to do this race, I was hesitant to register prior to the race, so I planned the trip, but didn’t hit the registration button. During this time, my husband had just walked away from our marriage, my company had to downsize my department (and I was worried about my income) and I was in a mad panic looking for a place to live. Needless to say, I didn’t race that year either.
Enter 2012, the year that was my year to make it to this race, period. Nothing was going to stand in my way. I was determined. I had conviction. But I still didn’t register ahead of time. Fine, conviction might be a bit of a strong word, but I had desire to make it to the start. Now, when I first wanted to do this race, I loved the course and the name and it sounded like fun. Yet after not starting it so many times, if I would have been honest with myself, I would have admitted that I was not sure why I was so insistent on going to this race when it seemed like maybe it was something that was not meant to happen. I mean, I live someplace where I get to run in extreme heat conditions as a matter of course and this summer I am heading back out to Death Valley for a fun time of running in a beautiful but punishing place…the place where they hold two of my bucket list races, Badwater and the Furnace Creek 508. So what the heck was so special about this race?
Running with the Devil was this weekend. If you made it this far, I bet you might be thinking I am going to explain why it was so important for me to finally make it to the start, and finish, of Running with the Devil. And honestly, up until Monday of last week, so did I. But I didn’t go. And for once, it wasn’t because something bad happened or I couldn’t make it, but instead I realized that obsessing over doing it, just because I had planned to, kind of took the fun out of it. I was holding onto it because I had made a decision years ago to do it, and hadn’t even considered whether it was something I wanted anymore. I tend to do that with a lot of things.
This last week has really been all about changing my mind, being ok with it, and just letting the new, sometimes better, things come to me. So far, I admit I kind of love the change.
The first step towards my new shiny outlook came with a new (well, new to me) tri bike on Monday. I bought my current bike at a time when money was a little tighter, I didn’t really know a lot about bikes and I was not sure if I was really going to be racing a lot. I ended up with a bike that I love and that has gotten me through four Ironmans and countless other adventures, including my journey through cancer. I have a sentimental attachment to my bike, and up until this week, I never thought seriously about getting another tri bike. Yet, a couple weeks ago, my friends sent me a Craigslist ad for a very beautiful, extra small, Specialized Transition. It was lovely and in my price range and shockingly my size. I said I didn’t want a tri bike, but I looked at that ad everyday for over a week. I finally decided to go look at the bike, with some cash, just in case. It was even more beautiful in person. I test road it, haggled some and walked away with a nicer bike that I had ever thought I would own. I was pleased and excited and glad that I had let go of the idea that I didn’t “need” it because I already had a bike. If I am honest, I don’t need most of the gear I have, but it was sure fun to let myself upgrade to a bike that would hopefully serve me well in a hobby I love.
After I purchased the bike, in an effort to be frugal after my purchase, I decided that my attendance at Running with the Devil would be my fun for the upcoming weekend, but that I would have to be thoughtful about my expenses. This too would change before Tuesday even passed.
Ironman Lake Tahoe opened its registration Monday. I thought for sure it would sell out, since it is the first year for this race. We had all been talking about it over the weekend, as many of us were thinking about registering. The course looks to be amazing, but I was hesitant as it is at elevation and has a couple hilly climbs on the bike. When I did not register on Monday, I was sure it would sell out before day’s end. Surprisingly, it was still open Tuesday and I proceeded to fill out the entry three times and then change my mind before hitting the submit button and committing to try something that scares me a little (fine, a lot). As I thought about it, I kept checking if it was sold out and thinking about whether I should sign up. It went against the thrifty pledge I made just the day before, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I went back and filled out the registration form for the fourth time, but this time I went all the way. A few minutes later the race sold out…I was feeling seriously lucky at that point. Yet I was also feeling nauseous. I just signed up for my first race at elevation and with some big climbs and bought a brand new bike. Both things I had said I was not going to do right up until I did it and I was happy as can be about how the week was starting.
On my first ride.
As I thought about everything I needed to do, I was still planning on heading up to the race this weekend. I started waffling a little when I started thinking about wanting to ride my new bike, how short and kind of tiring the two-day trip would be and how I wasn’t even really excited about the race. Not even a little. And I thought about the blog I wrote last week, where I had made a conscious effort to find the fun in training and racing again. And when I started thinking about Running with the Devil, it didn’t sound fun. It was hard to let myself think this, and it was even harder to give myself permission to change my mind, and say I didn’t want to do it anymore. It’s silly, I mean, it’s a hobby—and hobbies are supposed to be fun indulgences, not obligations that you place on yourself for non-existent reasons. And so, instead of heading to the race, I made places to run and ride this weekend, in an equally beautiful area close to home with friends who mean the world to me, people I would not have seen if I was up in Nevada. And as I have been discovering, there are not really a lot of other ways that I would want to spend a weekend.
In the process of writing this blog, I have opened myself to ideas and experiences that I normally would have strongly resisted…and I think I am better for it. I am rediscovering why I love being active and why I like to push myself harder than I might have thought possible. Sometimes, you have to let go of what you think you want, the “should,” in order to let in opportunities that you never could have imagined if you stayed stuck in the “shoulds and have tos”. Sometimes it feels like I am giving up on something, not following through on my commitment, but really, what am I giving up or not doing?
It’s weird to realize that sometimes following through with your original plans, just because you thought it was what you wanted, can be more destructive than noble. And when it hurts no one other than you, what is the point of stubbornly hanging onto an idea that doesn’t work anymore? It’s liberating to realize that it is not a flaw to change my mind, to reevaluate what I want and what makes me happy and then adjust my life accordingly. I think I am entering a time of change in my life, and for once, change doesn’t seem like a completely scary thing.
At 35, I was diagnosed with breast cancer -- with no family history, risk factors or warning. Over the next 18 months, I weathered multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and the end of my marriage. When I thought I'd lost everything that mattered, staying active kept me going. I finished my first Ironman triathlon two months after the end of my treatment. Even more important, the friends I made while training helped me see that I am not alone, and today my life is better than I ever thought possible. Whatever new challenges await, I'm ready!
Alison Dunlap shares 7 easy-to-follow steps to fixing a flat tire.
Join a group, stay motivated.
We’re all in this fitness thing together. One surefire way to stay motivated is to work out with a friend or join a group, like a local team LUNA Chix, that meets to run, cycle, swim, whatever. Not only is more fun to exercise with some pals, it also gives you a sense of obligation to get your butt out the door on even the nastiest days.
Drinking while cycling.
When you’re on the bike, 12 ounces of water every half hour is a good rule of thumb, so make sure your bike has room for a couple of bottles. For longer rides where you’re not planning to stop (woo hoo!) you’ll want to kick your gear investment up a notch with a large hydration pack.
For long races, change is not good.
For an endurance race like a triathlon, fueling well is essential, but DON’T eat or drink anything during the race that you haven’t already practiced with during your training. Think of long training sessions as “race simulations” for your fuel plan on the big day. This will help you avoid indigestion and “potty issues”.
Triathlon fashion tips.
While having a lot of clothing options is great for a weekend in Vegas, in a triathlon you really want to shoot for something you can wear throughout the race to make transitions as easy as possible. Tops and shorts specifically designed for triathlons are a great choice—they’re made to go into the water, on the bike, etc.
To clip, or not to clip…
Clip in pedals are a better choice for power efficiency, but they can be a bit intimidating for newbies. Go with flat if you are really uncomfortable, you can always switch to a clip in pedal later. If you do get clips, it should only take a few rides to master how to quickly twist your foot out.
Turbo charge your run.
If you always practice at the same pace, you’ll always run at the same pace. You need to do intervals if you want to get faster. Start with 30 seconds hard every five minutes and work your way up to five minutes hard and five minutes easy. Play AC/DC, Jack Johnson, AC/DC, Jack Johnson…
Running requires patience.
If you are really new and running doesn’t come naturally to you (and really, it doesn’t come naturally for most of us!) start with a combination of running and walking. Run for four minutes, walk for one. Keep repeating this until you get to 30 minutes and then add in longer phases of running the next time you work out.
Building endurance for a triathlon.
If you are ready to try a tri, each week of training you’ll want to do one longer workout in each sport, to build up your endurance.
Be kind to your knees.
Running on dirt trails provides the best cushion. Concrete is the worst because there’s no shock absorption. Asphalt is somewhere in the middle. Choose wisely if you have problems with your knees.
85-90 leg strikes per minute (count on one leg) is what you want to aim for to work on improving your running speed and time.
Be a stronger swimmer.
To improve your swim performance, practice rotating from the hips, and dragging your fingertips on the recovery. Use a kickboard to focus on strengthening your leg. A pull buoy and paddles can help you work on your arms.
Land with your foot flat.
If you land on your heel when you run, you’ll put a lot of strain on your knees. Landing on your toes strains your calves. Land with your foot flat, and more importantly, land it under your body for good momentum and shock absorption.
Let’s get this (cycling) party started!
Looking for a group to ride with? If there’s local LUNA Chix team in your area, you’ve already found a great way to connect with other women who ride. You can also find out about groups at your local bike shop, in cycling magazines, or just ask other cyclists—they usually know.
Glide out of your wet suit.
Wet suits can leave nasty hickey burns on your neck, and really, who wants to explain that? Before a long swim, lather your neck and ankles with Body Glide and you’ll be much more comfortable while swimming and get your suit off with ease. Plus, you won’t have to show up at work the next day looking like you’ve been mauled by a vampire.
Another great way to stay motivated? Enter an event. Whether it’s a charity ride for a cause you really care about or a competitive race, having a goal to work towards can really give you that extra push to pull on your workout gear and go.
Riding with turtles and hares.
Whether fast or slow, ride with people you know! It’s more fun that way. Fast friends will push you a bit more, which is great if you’re prepping for a race, and you can draft off them on big climbs. If you’re the quick one, get out in front and give your less experienced friends a break!
Have you checked your tire pressure and brakes? Did you give your bike the once over to make sure nothing’s cracked or otherwise out of whack? OK, now you can go.
Chasing those elusive zzzz’s.
Hard-core trainers will tell you that 8-10 hours of sleep a night, plus a daily nap, is optimal while training for a big race. Back in the real world, those of us with busy jobs or little kids can only dream about this much. Shoot for as many hours as you can and stick with a consistent schedule—quality rest will help your muscles repair and protect your immune system.
If your knees are sore after a ride…
It could be that your saddle is too low. Try putting your saddle at a height where your knee is soft, but not locked at 6 o’clock.
Cycling time, optimized.
If you have an hour or less and want a good cycling workout, crank it, sister! You can go high intensity by hitting steep hills hard or by going out with a riding group that challenges you speed-wise and hanging on as long as you can. If you’re feeling really feisty, get out in front and “take pulls” every chance you get. Just don’t forget to warm up for 15 minutes first.
Keep those hands where they belong.
On your bike’s handlebars. Road cyclists don’t use hand signals much, aside from pointing out hazards like potholes or rocks. It’s also polite to indicate a turnoff. Otherwise, give a yell if a car is coming or if there’s a need for a quick stop.
Let your bike do the work.
When riding off road, your bike should be moving more than your body. And unlike road cycling, you’ll need to use your upper body as much as your legs to absorb those bumps. And don’t forget to look ahead… that way your body will have a chance to anticipate changes in the terrain, like that tree.
Tired muscles need a little TLC. Massage is great as a recovery aid, and working out extra hard is the perfect excuse to indulge. Yoga is also wonderful for increasing flexibility and focus. Distance runners can benefit from 8-10 minutes in an ice bath. If you are brave enough to take the plunge, have a tall Starbucks on hand.
Say no to saddle sores.
Think only cowboys get saddle sores? Nope, they’re also a problem for cyclists. Finding the right bike saddle can help, but if you ride long enough, you’re occasionally going to end up with a sore butt. A good chamois cream can help soothe those sores, but many bikers swear by a cow utter cream called Bag Balm. Who cares as long as it works!
Cyclists are drafting when they line up behind one another to conserve energy. The rider in front breaks the headwind, those behind get a break. Mastering this move can be tricky: the closer you ride to the person in front, the better the draft, but you also risk a pile-up! While learning, stay at least three feet away from the tire ahead.
Building tri strength with “bricks”.
A “brick” is a workout where one activity is directly followed by another (a bike ride + run, for example.) Training this way 1-2 times a week is a great way to gear up for a triathlon.
New to the dirt?
Go out on easy unpaved roads or wide fire trails with a more experienced friend who can show you the ropes. Relax your arms and legs, and let the bike do the rest. And remember, there’s no shame in getting off and walking for a stretch if the terrain gets hairy.
Dust off that road bike.
Been a few years since you’ve cycled on the road? Before snapping on your helmet, take your bike to a local shop for a safety tune up. At minimum, have them check tire pressure, brakes, the chainring and gear shifts to make sure everything works and that all connections are snug. Now you can feel the wind on your face without worrying about your brakes giving out!
Shape up for cycling.
A hour long ride once or twice a week is just about right for a beginner looking to get her legs (and butt!) in cycling shape. And if you want to enjoy that post-ride high all day, set your alarm and head on out there when the sun is coming up.
Climbing with conviction.
Positioning yourself for a big climb can be tricky. Common mistakes are leaning too far forward, putting too much weight in the hands, and straining your quads. Lean back a bit so you’re centered over the saddle, let your glutes and hamstrings do some of the work, and go easy on those handlebars.
Aching arches in the morning?
Most likely it’s Plantar Fasciitis—an inflammation of the tissue along the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes. Caused by increasing your running volume too quickly, bad shoes, or poor foot mechanics, this annoying injury requires some TLC, ASAP. Slow down for a few days, do some stretches and apply ice. And see a doctor if there’s no improvement.
Training for open water.
There’s no black guideline in the ocean. To prepare for an open water swim, practice in the pool with your eyes closed. (No cheating!)
Surviving the inevitable tumble.
If you mountain bike long enough, there will come a time when you will dismount and tumble unexpectedly. The good news is that most crashes happen at low speeds, either when clipping out or on switchbacks. But if you are really moving, let go of the bike, tuck your arms and legs into your chest and try to “roll” with one shoulder in and your back to the ground.
Pain while running means one thing: STOP.
A mild pain can turn into a major injury over the course of a single run, so listen up when your body says “ouch!” Most problems can be alleviated with a few days rest. If you still feel bad after taking a break, it’s time to call the doc.
Time to go shoe shopping.
Running 300-500 miles is the perfect excuse for a new pair of shoes! Once you’ve gone that far, they lose their support, shock absorption and the wear can mess with your foot biomechanics. Might as well throw in those new wedge sandals too—you’ve earned them.
Lycra or baggie shorts?
Well, that depends on whether you are casual girl at heart or like showing off that booty! Some mountain bikers like the non-racey, looser look of baggie shorts off road, but there is one caveat: when you are bouncing around coming downhill, they can get stuck on your seat.
Try a bike ride.
When giving cycling a try, the objective is fun! Borrow a bike, keep it under an hour and don’t let your Lance-obsessed neighbor talk you into some crazy 100-mile loop. Bring a helmet, water and LUNA Bar in case your energy flags. Also important: a portable pump, tube and repair kit for flats that hopefully the more experienced friend you’ve invited along knows how to use.
Beyond the obvious helmet, no cycling woman’s wardrobe is complete without a pair of tush-friendly chamois shorts, a lycra jersey, gloves and sunglasses to deflect bugs. Any kind of soft-soled athletic shoe will work for flat pedals, but cleats are a must if you clip in. A light jacket is a great accessory for colder climates, as is a safety light when riding after dark.
Stop that stitch!
While the cause of the always-annoying side stitch is up for debate, deep, full belly breathing can help chase it away. Namaste!
Buying a mountain bike?
Before hitting the shop, ask yourself how you want to ride. If you just want to have some weekend fun in the dirt, a bike with full suspension will ensure maximum comfort off road. A more light-weight cross country bike is best for climbing and racing. And if you like tearing it up in the mud, disc brakes are must!
A bike that fits.
Like your favorite black bra, a bike performs best when it’s fitted specifically for your body type. Many pro shops offer this service, so check in with your favorite local outfit to find someone who can take measurements and help make the proper adjustments to your bike.
Saddle up your bike.
Just like a too-soft mattress can be bad for your back, a too-cushy bike saddle can be bad for your butt. Flat and slightly wide is best, with a women-specific slot up the middle. (Trust us on this one—you’ll be thankful.) It doesn’t hurt to check out what the pros use—they definitely put their tushies to the test!
Tart up your transition towel.
Triathlon transitions can slow you down big time if you’re wandering around like a doof looking for your stuff. Buy the loudest, brightest towel you can find (think 80s neon) and park your gear near an obvious signpost in the transition area. Even if your mind is still rehashing your last leg, you’ll be able to transition quick.
Ah, the simplicity of running gear…
Not much is needed to get up and running. Good shoes are essential, of course, and a running specialty store can help you with the best fit for your foot type. You also might want some socks, shorts and tops that can help wick away sweat to keep you cool. Add one iPod for cool tunes.
Fueling for a ride.
Carbs are what you want—about 30-60 grams of carbs per hour, depending on your weight and pace. This can either be in solid or liquid form (try a LUNA Bar or some Clif Shots) but be sure to eat before you are hungry. Forgetting to fuel means you’ll run out of gas mid-ride and have to call your roommate to come pick you up in her car. Embarrassing.