Monday, September 9, 2013

Cloud Nine and Beyond....

Well, seems Cloud Nine took a bit of coming down from. The drinks had cocktail umbrellas, they played a lot of Wham! and there was a 24 hour crèche. I hooted and tooted up there for days after Montauk, basking in the glory of my achievement, discovering new lines of Ben and Jerry’s and keeping abreast of news with the Kardashian/West baby.

Even my first run post-tri was soft, fudgy and rose-tinted. I cycled too and swam. But something was missing. My feet were slow, mind wandering. Before my race, I’d feared I’d get the blues after I’d packed so much into the training – emotionally and physically. But that wasn’t the case at all. I was properly pumped, firing on all cylinders. The trouble was I had all this triathlon left in me and nowhere to let it come out.

In hindsight I should’ve signed up for more gigs but the Montauk one was nestled nicely in the middle of the summer – handily giving me ample time to train for it while then leaving me with a big fat British holiday just two weeks after the end of it. British holidays, and Scottish ones in particular, mean a lot of fish and chips, curries, lattes and wine. Scheduling was all out – as it should be while on holiday. I managed a cheeky 10k road race with my sister across Edinburgh’s Forth Road Bridge and back, plus a few more runs besides but the holiday was firmly about making merry with friends and family. The bathroom scales now paying tribute to that merriment and I wouldn’t change a minute - or an ounce – of it.

Back in the US, I headed to the pool early this past Sunday morning – the first weekend we were back. It was beautiful out as I drove – clean blue sky, feathered clouds, dappled sunshine. I clocked a police car with flashing lights then spotted a sign with a mile marker. Next a fine physical specimen of a man came flying round the corner on his bike all taut muscle, glistened skin and clenched jaw. I saw the black numbers on his arm – the tri code. There was another came after him, and another. I was in the midst of a triathlon. I remembered this was the tri known as Mighty Hamptons – an Olympic distance event (pretty dang long).

Giddy with tri excitement, I stuck my arm out the car window and whooped. Then felt a little foolish but doubt the racers could hear I was listening to a Jason Donovan track on the stereo.

I passed the beach where they had been swimming and transitioning, slowing down to see the tribes of tri people emerging from the gates, faces fierce, determined, their bikes dazzling in the sunlight. Music pumped, blue and red lights swivelled atop police cars as officers directed traffic. It was awesome.

These were my people. I wanted in on that. I felt the itch for another race – but I would have to wait until next year.

And so I have decided that not only will I try again in 2014 but I will do it harder  My plan is to do this Olympic distance event next June, and not just to satisfy urges to compete in an event with the word ‘Mighty’ in it...
Swim – 1 mile
Bike – 22 miles
Run – 6.2 miles

Whether or not my game face or, indeed, my tri-suit seat can stand up to the rigours of this will remain to be seen. But I am up for it and last I talked to my husband, he was too. In efforts to find me my own bike, he even takes triathlon magazines into the loo with him so I know he’s taking me seriously.

I was warned this tri business could become addictive and I understand it now. It’s not just the sense of achievement when you finish the triathlon itself – as it is at the end of a 5 or 10k road race - but indeed, when you complete each part of it. Somehow that buoyed and energised me enough to attack the parts of my 2013 tri. I hope it will in 2014 too.

Forth Road Bridge 10k. See, Scottish holiday wasn't all cakes and lattes. But mostly it was...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Big Day

Swim – 19.07mins/ Half a mile
Bike – 41.18mins/ 14 miles
Run – 22.16mins/ 3 miles
Total time: 1:25:18

There were razor-sharp cheekbones, jagged jaw lines and muscled tummies. There were fancy bikes and work-of-art helmets. These were the tri people and their things.

After months of training on my own, I was amongst a throng of hundreds. I stood in line, waiting to be drawn on. The race start was imminent. Anticipation zinged. I stood shoulder to shoulder with the tall and small, the wide and slight, the young and the old. The tri people came in all kinds of packaging.

Just below the varicose veins on the backs of my knees, a woman etched my race number on one leg, my age on another. I wasn’t sure why. Lord, I still didn’t properly know how to change bike gears or indeed, what pedal cadence actually meant. But I was now a tri person – I had the black ink to prove it.

A little before 7am we walked a half mile along the beach to the swim start. Tri people chattered in clusters but I was grateful for the time on my own – to take in the seam of inky pink seeping into the horizon, feel the scratch of pebbly sand, hear the lash of surf.

We were dispatched in waves – marked by different coloured swim caps. The elite people went first, followed by men. Then it was time for us, the green-capped girls. Women 39 and under.

We bobbed gently on the lulling waves, speckled green dots. I swam out further, to where the lifeguard stood on his paddle board marking the boundary. I wanted to take the swim wide, get away from the thick scrum of hungry women scrambling around the buoy.

There was momentary peace and still amongst those green, foamy waves. Then the countdown. My stomach cartwheeled. Go....

My arms sliced, legs propelled. Eyes wide and frantic under goggles. Other green caps thrashed ahead of me. I felt a jellyfish sting. My pace slackened. I couldn’t find rhythm, kept unwittingly veering off to the lifeguard dotted boundary. I realised then I was amongst other colours of hats, ones that had gone before me – whites, yellows, blues. It spurred me on.

The crowd on the beach was in sight. I curled round the last buoy, headed back to shore. Three men in front blocked my swim path. I growled inside, lurched right and went out wide for the final time, passing them. Feet felt pebble.

I jogged up the beach, found my bike, guzzled water while shoving damp feet into socks and shoes. I tripped mounting the bike, my water bottle rolled into another rider’s path. I snatched it up. Shit, sorry...

I heard clanks of gear changes, then the wind whistling. The bike was on. Tiny arm hairs stood white  with salt from the bay. Men sped past me. Then a girl in a fancy helmet. I pedalled on, allowed my breathing to ebb and flow. I found rhythm I never really found in the swim, felt legs strengthen and beat faster.

Now it was me doing the passing. I wasn’t afraid of this bike anymore, I felt confident and forceful on it. A man with thick, black armpit hair sped up alongside me, then pulled in front, slowing me. I growled again, overtook him. Bugger off. This continued for a mile, my growl began to bark. I thrust past him for a final time and raced on. I didn’t notice armpit hair again.

There was a hill. Steep, lengthy. Killing. I’d become entwined in a man pack but as the speed tapered off, I surged forward. By the time I reached the top I was at a crawl, barely able to spin a wheel. Thighs and ass screamed. I’d spent myself. The man pack whistled by me again. I couldn’t have this.

I came back at them. We settled together. Signs read ‘slow down’. Fourteen miles were coming to an end. A crowd thickened, cheering and clapping. A sign read ‘dismount’. Ass and thighs sighed with relief as I hung up the bike without fault in Transition 2. A volunteer handed out water. I drank greedily.

Legs were tight and dull as I began the run. I willed them to move. My steps thudded as I snaked up the hill. The path was divided – to my left were tri people returning from the run. They looked fit and capable. I hated them a little. Their journey was almost at an end and three long miles were stretched ahead of me. Maybe just walk a little? No!....

A mile and a half in, strength returned to my legs. They felt fluid and loose. I saw black numbers marked on legs in front of me. A man my age, another man younger, one much older. I began to pass them. Suddenly I was on the left of the line. I was the one returning from the run. This was almost done. A man ran in just a pair of Speedos. Despite everything I giggled.

Back down the hill, gathering momentum. I heard the pulse of music at the finish line, the thump of my own heart – strong but tired. I marked out a blonde girl in front, decided to beat her to the finish Passing her, she cheered me on. I had this.

We rounded the corner. At the top of the hill was the Montauk Lighthouse, the finish. The crowd was thick and smiling on each side. The blonde girl passed me. But I was searching for faces I knew in the crowd. Then I saw them – my husband, my girls. Smiling, cheering. Mummy....

I crossed the finish line. Alive. Exhilarated. Exhausted. I wanted to share this triumph with my family but I needed a moment first to take it in. I looked out to the sea beyond the lighthouse and the rain-washed sky shrouding it. My chest heaved with the weight of this feat.

This was the End but also the Beginning. At 36 years old I had found my sport. There would be more of these – I knew that for sure then.

But there would never be the thrill again of this, my first triathlon. Of not knowing what to expect and the sea, salt and sweat I’d tasted discovering it.

I kissed my husband and kids. I pinned my race number on E’s shirt. Little P prodded the black numbers still loud on my legs.

Proudly, I wore that ink on my skin for the rest of the day. I was a tri person now.....

The blonde beat me to the finish...

Victory hugs

Support team. Pink Croc style.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Different Kind Of Glory

When I was little I went to a school where we wore our names printed loudly across white sports shirts. The letters were velvety to touch and you could choose the colour and size of font.

My family lived in Malaysia then. I was just seven but remember the thrill of wearing that t-shirt on humid, sticky school Sports Day. I cleaned up at the track events, collected medals and trophies, stood on a podium and felt adored by the crowd. I was pumped. Everybody knew my name. It was written across my shirt...

So much life has happened since those dreamy early school days. There have been first loves, lost loves, cigarettes and a passport full of inky stamps. There has been illness, loss, terrible hurt. There have been bullies. And bitter, regretted words. Then there has been laughter – knicker-wetting, muscle-hurting laughter. There has been friendship – the thrill of new ones, the joy of old ones, the sad, muted passage of dying ones.

There has been fear, doubt and rage. Loss of hope. There have been bad mistakes and very good ones.

There have been beautiful words, love notes and delicious scribbles in school books. There have been weddings, and one in particular. There have been vows. There have been two beautiful babies.

There is much still to come. But to date, I am not yet the adult confident enough to wear that t-shirt. Life has bashed me a little, chipped away at this and scratched away at that. Put me in my place. I am over sensitive and too full of doubt. I lose the rag at my kids. I worry too much about what people think and too little about what I think. I cry too easily – usually at television commercials.

But through the creaks, groans and treasures of life I’ve had these things - my legs, this heart, these lungs. This mind.

After giving up smoking I ran. When I had my heart broken I ran. When I didn’t get that job, I pulled on running shoes and ran. When I felt lonely in a new place I ran. While my belly swelled with new life I swam. When I was overweight after having my babies I ran. When I couldn’t be bothered I ran. When I didn’t think I’d ever run again, I surprised myself and ran – it wasn’t far but it was a start.

I’d feel the pacing of my heart, the stretch of my lungs and the strength of my mind.

And this is what I tell myself. That though I am flawed, I am also determined. For the past three months I have trained on my own for a triathlon. I’ve had no coach, running group or swimming buddy. I’ve just had me.

In a few days time I’ll be one of hundreds standing on a beach at 7am ready to tackle this thing. There will be nothing that stands me out from the crowd except my number, etched in black ink on my arm and leg. There will be no t-shirt bearing my name. And nowadays, that’s how I like it.

Determination is silent but solid. It cannot simply be measured by medals, trophies or where you stand on the podium, if you get there at all.

I will finish this thing I started no matter how much it hurts. I will be knocked, scuffed and possibly a little drowned but I will come back. I may fall off my bike but I will climb back on. The seat of my tri-suit may well split and those behind me will just have to put up with a view of my fish-belly-white bum, poor souls. I will most probably arse up the transitions but I’ll keep going...

Now, how do you fit all that on a t-shirt?....

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The One To Beat

She wore all black. Crop top and running shorts. Her shoulders were slick from heat and there was a pink to her skin. Her warm-up was determined, stretches nimble and sleek. Even her short ponytail bobbed with purpose. She was my One to Beat.

Over three hundred pairs of running shoes jostled at the start of this, the Southampton 8K Firecracker road race. The air was clammy, oven hot and zinging with anticipation. A strangled breeze struggled to lift the dozens of flags lining the main street.

Amongst a sea of runners, I’d lost her. I’d burrowed myself in the middle of the pack for the start, confident I’d find her again. She wasn’t one of the finely-tuned looking, six-pack bearing heavy-hitters who’d no doubt win the race. She had the look of a mother who ekes out what little time she has to train. She was my One.

After a mile I’d found her. I’d peeled off from the middle, felt a surge passing fellow runners, clambering my way forward. She was still some distance ahead, running in a man pack. Around her there was bulging muscle, shaved heads, taut calves, wet skin.

I inched closer as the man pack began dwindling. She kept constant, strong, but the macho muscle mass cushioning her was slowing. I passed the men, heard spitting, puffing and exasperation.

It was around mile 2 when I passed her. As I approached, I sensed her struggle – lingering feet, slack shoulders. We had no shade and the road beneath was leaching heat. I was tiring too. But I had to pass her and get beyond. She was my One.

Ten minutes later my body too was slack. I could feel the dull thud of weary running shoes thumping humid Tarmac.

Then she was there. I saw her shadow first. Nimble legs casting strong lines on the road. I heard female grunting. She wasn’t letting me get away with this.

For a while we ran alongside each other, languishing briefly in the shade of trees lining the streets. We said nothing but the competition was on. She slipped in front of me and we ran like that, safe for a while. Her purposeful ponytail rocked from side to side. No one was making the first move.

But then she did. She inched further forward. Her shoulders seemed strong again, feet lighter. I knew I couldn’t follow her then and part of me gave up a bit. My muscles stung, my throat creaked with thirst. I was sagging. The give-up side of me said she could have this one.

But the stay-strong side knew I had one card left. She slid further and further away but I kept her in sight. She passed two other girls. I knew she’d moved on from me. She had other Ones to Beat.

I cornered the last bend. I knew the crowd would be there soon. My kids, husband, brother - their cheers. I needed them now. Even my stay-strong side was losing courage.

They came into view. I made out glee on my kids’ hot, sticky faces. The finish line was 150 metres away. She was 50 metres from it.

I heard my family and dug deep. Legs lost their ache, propelled forward. Rigid arms locked at my side began to power. In this sagging, worn, sweat-splattered body, I’d cobbled together a sprint. Something ignited in my belly.

Passing her I shot a final glance at that ponytail, those shoulders. I’m sure I heard her mumble ‘sprint finish’.

She was my One to Beat. And I did. Until the next time....

The white-sandalled cheering squad did good

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Commitment Shy?

The Big Day is two weekends away. Really. I sort of told myself that after all the visitors left, I’d stop drinking wine and show 100% commitment to the cause. I’ve been awful good at adhering to punishing schedules but have managed to artfully dodge those chapters in training manuals which dictate what I should and should not be putting in my body in preparation for the triathlon. Presently, I’d hazard a guess my quinoa to alcohol consumption ratio is a little off balance.

So the last visitor left yesterday and here I sit with water. A mint tea will follow. The wine glasses clink together like empty, lost souls in the cupboard above my laptop as I type.

I have a chance to blog. I’ve missed this, my creative outlet amidst all the sweat, pump and grind of training for this triathlon. Because even though we’ve had visitors staying over the past three weeks, I’ve still been training. How’s that for commitment?

Here’s how far I’ve taken commitment. My dear friend visits from the UK with her new baby. She’s less than 24 hours in the country when I leave her at our home with ingredients for a salad and instructions on re-heating a chilli in our microwave so I can compete in a mini-triathlon. I run while she’s here, I bike. I steal her husband one evening and make him swim with me (not just for the sake of it you understand but because he’s a crazy good swimmer...)

My brother visits and I don’t teeter from the schedule – I swim, bike, run. I then have the audacity to make him cheer me on at an 8k road race, starting time 8.30am. He didn’t even get a chance to shower.

This is commitment. Or maybe it’s just being selfish. Either way, these visitors got my script before they arrived. I have this triathlon see, I’m still going to have to train. I’m thankful for their understanding but far more grateful for their company and for the soul-feeding laughs and heart-to-hearts over a bottle of wine (each night) while they visited. I am usually a weekend drinker – a glass of red with my DiGiorno’s pizza and the like. The recycling bins groaning outside with the weight of green glass accumulated over the past three weeks tell a different story.

Of course, something had to give and it was the blogging. And honestly, I found it hard not having the chance to ferret away on the blog.

It has shown me that writing about and training for the triathlon are now strangely intertwined – one feeds the other. And that, essentially, is me. I am not just the sporty one in battered Asics running shoes and purple neon vest, I am the creative too. And sometimes when I run, my head becomes so void of day to day drudge and open to the beauty around me it’s even possible to trace lines of poetry along the seams of clouds. Or at the very least, find something poetic to muster about road kill I pass along the way.

Furthermore, I take your support with me when I train. You people have shown me some serious love since I started blogging. Frankly, it’s kind of bowled me over. And as I approach this final stretch before the race, your encouragement has really helped keep me focussed and on the job when my emotional and physical energies have started to flag.

These past few months I’ve done a stellar job at being accountable to myself. But I’m a little tired now. My commitment is waning. I’d rather watch the Bachelorette than plug 20 miles into the bike. I need an hour to get to and from the pool. That hour could be spent on the internet - Googling ‘Kardashian/ West’ baby’ or filling my cyber basket with stuff I don’t really need from Boden.

Of course, having come this far, I would never veer off course. But now I also have you to keep me accountable and committed. In a good way. You have my back as they say in these parts. And somehow I don’t think you’ll be judging my quinoa to alcohol input ratio either.

So will I abstain from wine during these next two weeks? Probably not. I think I’ve more than shown my commitment for the event thus far. This triathlon is not having my wine too....

Me and My Bro...

...At Wine O'Clock...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Let Sleeping Dragons Lie...

Swim: 30 mins

Tantrums were pitched yesterday. Not just by the four and the two year old but indeed, by me, the 36-year-old. Maybe it was the weather – the thermometer gurgled at 84F although that was positive respite compared to Monday’s 91F. Nope, think it was just a day when grumbling dragons spat fire in our bellies.

We couldn’t peddle our birthday bike (and demanded, not for the first time, that it be taken back to the shop), we didn’t want broccoli, we didn’t want potatoes (in fact we felt so strongly, we threw those), we stubbed our toes on kitchen stools, we didn’t want to wash our hands or share, we were chastised by an abrasive stranger in the post office for playing in the blinds, we couldn’t pull up our bikini bottoms by ourselves, we hit so we didn’t get our fix of evening television, we swore too much, we didn’t have enough gummy worms. We never have enough gummy worms. We couldn’t get the bloody Ants to go in the Pants.

I was scheduled to swim. But the day had growled, snarled and taken a bite. I couldn’t be bothered with the hour-long round trip to the lap pool but knew that more than anything, I needed to do something. The training schedule called for it, but I needed it more.

Round the corner from where we live there’s a body of water called Big Fresh Pond. It is not a pond, it is a lake. It is big, fresh and beautiful.

I’ve been tempted to train for the swim here before but always felt I needed someone with me in case I got into trouble. And also because, against my better judgment, I do worry about what might be lurking at the bottom of it. Tonight I didn’t care. I just wanted out and into something. I exchanged the relay baton with my husband, kissed my girls goodnight and swung onto the bike for the short ride to the lake.

A man was smoking on the small beach at the lakeside. His dog was paddling in the water. Cool evening air breezed. I felt a momentary longing for tobacco. I threw off shoes and socks, pulled on the swim cap, snapped goggles into place.

 I’d been on this beach many times with my kids, paddled with them in the shallows of this water. But I’d never been here alone, well, save for one man and his Golden Retriever. It felt a little eerie, the trees arching over cast different, deeper shadows in this, the last light of day. I spied the bunch of reeds on the other side of the lake – where I planned to swim out to. Go.

The water was peaty coloured, thick. My arms looked luminous against the brown, darkness as I chopped though it. I remembered the snapping turtles which make this lake their home. ‘They’re not predators,’ I heard my husband reassure. But what was in here? I couldn’t see a thing.

I weaved this way and that, felt lungs and heart stretch. I treaded water just to take it all in – where I was, what I was doing.  The man and his dog were now mere dots on the other side of the lake. There were no signs of life at the clutch of picturesque houses framing the lake. Empty chairs sat on deserted jetties. I was all alone out here in this dark, amber water. It felt cooler beneath me now – that dark, unnerving cold you get after swimming too far out in the ocean and then remember sharks live there. That cold which makes you swim back much quicker than you swam out.

But I wasn’t swimming back. I changed course and lurched further left. This was exhilarating. Chilling and a little terrifying but mostly amazing. Twenty minutes had passed. I took a moment to lie on my back, felt buoyed by that uncertain water, strangely safe. An osprey glided lazily. The sky was honey and pink. Clouds drifted like memories.

There may well have been things lurking under that water, big things.  But they weren’t fire-breathing nor were they grumbling. For now, like the dragon in my belly, they were sleeping.

And so, that rare thing, peace.

Big Fresh Pond taken last summer. Told you it wasn't a pond really....

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Last weekend I told a lady she had beautiful toe nails. She really did. They were neon pink and matched her swimsuit, lipstick and, from memory, finger nails.

Her feet, like mine, were standing on a beach in Springs, NY. Around us were 70 others – in swimsuits, tri-suits and wet suits. Our thumping hearts clattered and nervous chatter and laughter hummed against the early evening sun as we prepared to plunge into the cool waters of the bay.

This was the ‘Turbo Tri’ – a charity fundraiser comprising a 300 yard swim, 7 mile bike and 1.5 mile run. I’d phoned up the event organiser who’d assured me it was a very casual affair so I’d figured this would be a no-pressure way to prepare for the Big Day next month - a chance to see how it really feels to swim in open water, to get a grasp of the transitions, to experience what it’s like to switch from using swimming legs, to biking and then to running ones.

Alongside the lady with pink toenails was a teenage girl in an electric pink ‘Turbo Tri’ t-shirt. They were arm in arm, smiling and talking quietly to each other. I assumed it was her daughter. My own kids couldn’t be there, neither could my husband. I felt a pang.

I lost sight of the pink lady after that. I clocked only the line of buoys bobbing gently on the water marking the stretch of our swim like a string of pearls. It seemed so long a string. The race started. I tasted salt, saw only grimy green through my goggles. My arms thundered through the choppy, cold water. Fatigue rippled through my legs.

Lifeguards on paddle boards dotted the route along the bay, keeping us on course. Without the clear black lines of a swimming pool underneath, it was hard to swim in a straight line. ‘Niiiice strokes,’ a life guard called. At me. My heart pumped. I attacked the swim again, felt lighter as I passed swimmers in front of me.

Next I felt sand and pebbles under my feet. A small but vocal crowd had gathered as I emerged from the water, heard a ripple of claps and cheers. My friend whooped. I was the first girl out of the water.

Next the bike, sticking socks onto wet feet, the bike clanking hard against my ankles as I awkwardly yanked on a helmet, my wet butt skidded onto the seat. Off....

Gears cranked, wheels clicked, bugs invaded my face. The route was through a residential neighbourhood. Volunteers stood in front yards directing me this way and that. I didn’t dare look behind me, too afraid I’d fall off my bike. My hands throbbed from gripping the handlebars so tight. I still tasted salt. So, so thirsty.

I spent 365 days in the transition from bike to run. Or so it seemed. Spectators may have thought I was doing a puppet show with my bike. I couldn’t work out how to put the bloody thing back on the rack. ‘Other way,’ someone shouted. And someone else. Finally I hooked it. Time to run – away from the shame of transition if nothing else.

Lead legs. A wrong turn. Girls still doing the bike told me to run the other way. One girl gave me a whoop. I overtook a man in a blue bandanna, mumbled ‘hi’ through spit and sweat. He probably thought I was just cussing. A volunteer had pieced together a broken sign saying ‘This Way’ along a dirt path. Nearing the end, strength returned to my legs as I saw the humble crowd, felt the glow of neon pink. ‘First female,’ I heard, crossing the finish line. My dear friend cried, ‘You won, you won,’.

Water never tasted so good. My friend brought beer and the bubbles lightened my head. My head danced. A light film of salt caked my skin and hair. I had done this thing, dang it.

The event made the papers and it was only then, a few days later, that I learnt more about the lady with the neon pink toenails who like me, had also just competed in her first triathlon. She’d been a victim of domestic abuse. The young girl standing beside her on the beach was her daughter and had been in their home when her mother was attacked three years ago.

Her daughter was now a member of i-Tri – - the charity behind my first tri which teaches vulnerable teenage girls how to build self-esteem through the sport of triathlon. The mother had been so inspired by her daughter’s transformation through the program that she’d learnt to swim to compete in this event.

I felt humbled. We’d stood toe to toe and had a momentary passing exchange. Yet, there was all that going on behind that pink swimsuit, the pink lipstick and those beautiful pink toenails.

I’m so delighted by what I achieved last Saturday. I came home in 43:41:52, have a better idea of what to expect for the Big Day, can rely on my tri-suit not to split up the backside and will learn to hook my bike on the rack properly, damn it.

But the lady in pink’s achievement is on a different plain. She is a wife who survived, a mother who protected, a woman who couldn’t swim but learnt. And now, a tri-athlete - with beautiful pink toenails.


Arsing about in transition