Archive for the 'Guest Blogger' Category
Dana Platin is a rock star. She’s one of my heroes. I asked her to do an interview with me, and she agreed. Here she tells about her recent and only DNF (Did Not Fail).
Q. Dana, tell us about the half ironman you’ve been training for. How did you choose this particular race? What drew you to it?
I chose two half- IronMan races as part of my training plan to work toward racing a full IronMan in early August 2014. An IronMan endurance race consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run with a total distance of 140.6 miles. Not normal, I know. The half distance is 70.3 miles with a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, and 13.1-mile run. I raced two of these 70.3 IronMan races between May and June 2014 as part of my preparation for the IronMan race coming up on August 3, 2014 in Boulder, Colorado, 38 days away!
Q. What was your training schedule like as you’ve prepared for the big race?
I train 6 days a week with a combination of speed swim trainings, strength swim trainings, long distance swims, speed work on the bike, climbs on the bike, speed work with my runs, hill training with the runs as well as long distance runs. Some days, I would combine the biking and running. I wake up at 5am and grab a cup of coffee before I head out the door; this has been my ritual for years. I train between 5:30 am and 7:30 am and then get home, shower, and go off to the office. I have a busy job and have had to learn to plan out all my trainings and work tasks every day, week and month in order to be able to fit this all in. It sounds like a lot, but the training actually is the most peaceful time of day for me. It’s quiet time where I can be alone with myself. I believe my best ideas come to me when swimming, cycling, or running, and I use this time to help me meditate, decompress, and recalibrate for the day to come.
Q. I know you recently had to make a difficult call with regard to one of your half Iron Man races. What was that race like? Highlights? Lowlights? Funny/scary/frustrating/victorious moments? Paint a picture for us of your experience. Take us there (this is where you tell the story of the event).
I have raced over 12 years with a mix of 5km runs, 10km runs, half marathons, marathons, and century rides, 8 half IronMan distance races, IronMan full distance, trail half marathons, mountain expeditions…you get my gist. I have a LOT of mileage under my belt, and I have always finished every race. Now, I haven’t always finished strong and have even finished injured, but this recent race was the first race that I DID NOT FINISH.
In racing, there are terms such as DNF (did not finish) and did not start (DNS), in which the individual signed up for the race did not show up to race or actually dropped out. The results are posted on the Internet and the entire world (if they are looking) knows you were a “no show” or didn’t finish. So I knew I would have a little bit of “ah shit, gotta explain this one.” I usually don’t care what others think, but the explaining I have to do for myself is the hard part. I have been close to not finishing before when I was injured. In those cases I would have to walk to the finish line, slow down the pace, but never have I fully dropped out.
Here’s a snapshot of the series of events leading up to my first DNF…
We showed up at 6am to get our wetsuits on for the open water swim. The temp was about 50 degrees in the morning and the water was a brisk 61 degrees. Everyone was nervous about the cold including me. I hadn’t swum in waters that chilled before but had so much training under my belt that I felt my strength would help me overcome. I put on my wetsuit, which was warm and toasty. I step into the water, my toes felt frozen but the water didn’t seep into my wetsuit. I stood in up to my knees and still didn’t feel anything. I figure, “I got this, it’s not that bad.”
The gun goes off and I dive in headfirst. I come up gasping for air and a shock went through my system as I felt the cold. WOW, this is freakin’ cold!!! I try to take a deep breath and swallow some water. I then get kicked and pummeled by the lovely men to my left and right as it’s a mass start with a couple of hundred people. I had the onset of a cold the day before, nothing major but a bit of congestion and an earache. Still, I start to find my place in the water, set the pace, find my stride and rhythm. After about 5 minutes, I felt my chest tighten up and had a hard time breathing, I slowed it down as I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t breathe, I wasn’t swimming that fast? My legs felt like dead weight and my arms even heavier. I was only 5 minutes into the swim; I had at least 35 more minutes to go! What was going on? I stayed calm and mentally put myself in check. You can do this and “will” be ok. Do not wave the kayak guy to come rescue you, I said to myself.
I turn around and see the shore right there, I can actually swim back and get out of this right now. I tread water, try to breathe and have a moment of “knock this negative talk off” with myself, and onward I go. I have never been scared in the water or panicked. I have seen my triathlon comrades hugging the buoys waiting to be rescued by the safety kayakers or small boats (if you raced in South America, we had fisherman as our safety water peeps J), but I’ve always been fine. This was a strange new experience for me and I didn’t realize the cold had such an impact on me, I just thought I was slow and the wetsuit was too tight causing me to feel cement arms and legs. 40 something minutes later, I make it through the 1.2 mile swim. I get out all water logged with frozen cheeks. My arms were still there and moving. Phew, I am done with the swim!
I try to run to the transition zone to get out of my wetsuit to grab my bike. There are 2 guys there who are serving as volunteers—called “strippers” (LOL)—who help you strip out of your wetsuit. They grab my suit and strip it down, and I fall backwards as it was so quick and I was still frozen. I think of the movie frozen and all the hype around that song “let it go” and just start singing to myself the same lyrics! Am I going insane? I am out of the wetsuit and find my bike. I put on my cycling helmet and shoes, and off I go. I have my race nutrition in a small pouch on my bike, so I drink some electrolyte mix and eat 2 fig newtons (my favorite on the bike) to get the proper fueling for the next hour. Pedal, chew, breathe, drink, pedal, chew, breathe, drink and breathe some more. Off I go. I am cycling like a bat out of hell.
I am cold and trying to warm up and still in a bit of shock that I made it through the swim. I am hitting it hard, flying past everyone on the bike. I am in my aero bars on my bike which has me arched forward in order to be as aerodynamic as possible to move at a faster pace. I am confident, pedaling harder and harder, making up time, breathing well and pushing on. I have a total of 56 miles to ride and it looks as though this will be my personal record for timing on the bike. I am 1 hour and 20 minutes into the ride and my bike clock shows 28 miles have been completed already. I am on track for a 2 hour and 40 minute 56-mile ride. WOOHOO!!!!! I am flying and feeling good.
In the aero bar position you shift your gears up and down from the aero bar shifters. Suddenly, I shift one of the gears and notice the shifter is coming off and flimsy. It comes lose and is hanging, meaning I can’t change the gears and need to ride the remaining 28 miles in the same gear! OMG, this isn’t happening. As I am processing the new mechanical situation of my bike, I fly over a bump and my water bottle sponge that is nestled in between the aero bars pops off and I am being splashed by my limeade electrolyte mix; I am sticky, thirsty and riding single speed in a half IronMan race being bathed in this sticky, sweet and salty electrolyte mix.
Instead of hitting the panic button, I make sure to put myself in check—laugh at how ridiculous this is and then stay calm. I put my mental skills training to work at this point; I carry on and stay focused on what needs to happen next and stay positive. I have learned that when I get negative in a race it just sends me on a downward spiral, and I refuse to let negative talk take over. Just keep pedaling, find that cadence with the one speed you got and make it work. No need to panic, just pedal, push, breathe and ignore the annoying splashing of limeade electrolyte mix in your face. I roll into the finish line in 2:59, completing the 56-miles happy that my gear didn’t completely fail and that I made it through the arctic swim and bike ride. I didn’t get my personal record (PR) on the bike that day but did get my PR on mental skills training and putting up a good fight when the going got tough!
Next, I get off the bike with my sticky face and fingers from the limeade bath I took and race to the transition zone to leave my bike, take off bike helmet and cycling shoes, and put on running shoes. Every minute counts, so I am trying not to fiddel faddel in the transition zone. If it were up to me, I would take a nap in the transition zone, but off I go… I start running an 8:30-minute mile. Whoa slow that down, I tell myself. Then I am at a 9-minute mile, which is the pace I usually race at.
I start to feel my chest tightening up. I have never felt this before during a run. I am not sure why since I just biked so strong and felt fine with no breathing issues. It was the same tightness I felt on the swim, so I slow it down and take some deep breaths. I can’t get air in my lungs. I am now at a 12-minute mile and still can’t breathe. I start to worry and think, Should I tell someone? But maybe it will go away. Just run it off… I continue to run and now at a 13-minute mile, it gets worse. I see an aid station and some very cool women volunteering. I stop and I wait for a minute, deciding if I should share my secret. “Hey guys, do you have any water, gels, bananas?”
“Yes, we do,” they give me the “looking strong” cheers, and I choose not to tell them how I am truly feeling as I am worried about the consequences of my sharing. I would be told STOP, DROP OUT, DO NOT FINISH. I keep going. It starts again; I can’t breathe. I am thinking now, Do I have asthma? It’s not going away and now it’s getting scary. I make it through the next mile and see another group of volunteers. This time I take the plunge and tell them about my symptoms.
They immediately help me, worried it was my heart. They got me all nervous, but I know I am in perfect health, I don’t have heart issues… but could I? SHIT!!! This is “it.” My first DNF…
They ask if I want them to call a medic and I say no, that I will walk back since I didn’t feel dizzy—just tightness in my chest and lack of breathing. The two women stared at me like my response wasn’t going to work for them and they didn’t want me left alone. I convince them that I will walk slow and be fine. They let me go, although one of them came to check on me on her bike (she was awesome.)
I had that long walk of shame; the walk I always wondered about with fellow DNFers. On the walk, I am processing how this feels; I am not finishing this race. I had these moments of asking myself if I should push a little harder and see? But I realize this was the right decision, a wise one, and the decision of a person who knows her body and is being smart about her health.
This wasn’t about getting a PR or the best time or always finishing. It was about making sure my health,
well-being, and security come first. I actually felt empowered and good about my decision knowing it was the right thing to do. I had enough racing under my belt to know that I would finish if I could. I had done it many times before, but today wasn’t that day. DNF it would be.
I walk back, and as I walk, my breathing gets better and my chest is doing better. The medics checked me out and said I had bronchial spasms from the cold water, and it got exacerbated on the run from the up and down motion. While on the bike, I was crunched over and protected, and that is why I didn’t have the spasms like I had in the swim and the run. They wanted me to watch for signs and symptoms of edema and pneumonia that night, and luckily I took care of my health and recovered the following day. I felt more like a badass that I was even able to persevere through the swim and the decision making of saying “enough” on the run and not beating myself up afterwards.
So there it is DNF, DID NOT FAIL. I turned the Did Not Finish into a Did Not Fail nor Fret. It is what it is, and as long as you can walk away from each experience knowing you gave it your best, then there is no failure. I went on to race another half Iron Man five weeks later in Boulder, Colorado and had no medical problems. There I finished strong. I enjoyed the race, stayed strong mentally, and obviously had my bike shifter fixed and bought a new aero bottle so my electrolyte mix wouldn’t bathe me again!
Lessons learned. There can always be another race. One race shouldn’t be the way we measure our overall performance. I have been 100% committed to this Iron Man plan. I know there will be good days and bad; the important piece is “how” we race and “how” we deal with the setbacks.
I was a Peace Corps Volunteer many years ago and lived in the northern Andes of Ecuador. It was there that I learned to persevere and push on. Some very powerful women and girls taught me these lessons that I carry with me on race days.
A huge thanks to Dana for sharing her experience! We learn as much from the struggles as we do from the victories.
I know I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. I’ve missed you. And I promise to tell you why I’ve been away and to catch up with all of you who follow along with me here. In the meantime, I’d love for you to check out the blog of a friend of mine. Ruthie is a woman after my own heart. She writes with passion, works hard, plays at life with abandon—and she gets how body and spirit are ONE thing instead of two separated aspects of our lives.
Ruthie has written a gorgeous blog post in honor of on one of her Kettle Bell pals who is battling Lyme Disease. This is a long post, but well worth your time. So grab a cuppa joe and settle in.
As I may have mentioned, my husband Bill has recently retired from a thirty-year career—most of it as the director of an international exchange program at Western Washington University. This has meant he’s had a little time on his hands to catch up on reading through the stack of books that has been piling up on his nightstand for a long while. His retirement also means I can put him to good use guest blogging for me from time to time. So… allow me to introduce Bill with his first guest post/book review—hopefully the first of many more to come!
Not long ago, as I was sipping on an IPA in one of my favorite local Bellingham establishments (Elizabeth Station), someone whom I’d never met approached me pointing excitedly at the book I was about to open. “The guy who wrote that book is an amazing scientist… biologist, I think. He was also quite a runner in his day… I mean…a world-class ultramarathoner!” With this totally unexpected introduction to Why We Run: A Natural History by Bernd Heinrich, I couldn’t wait to jump in.
Apparently, Why We Run was previously published under the title of Racing the Antelope: What Animals Can Teach Us about Running and Life, and to be honest I prefer the original title simply because this is a book that reminds us that insights into our own ability and passion to run come only from observing other animals and learning from them. And this is exactly what Heinrich does in his book. Framed in the context of chasing after his “dream antelope” of breaking the American 100-kilometer record, Heinrich explores, as a biologist and zoologist, how to prepare to run that far.
In a nutshell, this book shows what’s involved in running an ultramarathon race while pulling together the race experience with insights from his studies of animals. What can we learn from insects about running? What can we learn from birds about endurance? What does the antelope have that we don’t…and how did it become such an amazing runner? What insights into endurance running can camels provide us that antelopes can’t? And what’s the lesson to be learned from frogs? Why We Run takes a close scientific look at these questions and many more.
I found the chapter on racing fuel to be fascinating, as Heinrich experiments in his own training for the 100-K with a range of scientific insights about carbohydrates, fats, and glycogen depletion.(At one point in this chapter, Heinrich even quotes one of our legendary local Bellingham ultrarunners, Jim Pearson!) Heinrich’s training process was based on a series of experiments, some quite entertaining. His third experiment went like this:
“My third experiment was with a combination of lots of carbohydrate and lots of water – beer. I had done my trial runs on a 20-mile course, making a beer cache 10 miles out under some bushes. I timed myself out to the beer, downed the twelve-ounce bottle, then ran on and timed myself with the stopwatch over the second part of the course. If I slowed down, I figured I’d better try something else. If I speeded up, I could be onto something. I had speeded up slightly. For a real test, I entered a long road race toting three six-packs. Presuming a fast racing pace, I planned on having one every 4 miles. We took off like a rhinoceros in rut, and I was soon in the lead, chugging one beer after the other and increasing my lead even further. While starting to congratulate myself on the great run, with just three beers left to go, I suddenly felt weak. With two left to go, I lost all my will and just dropped out. I felt sick. More fine-tuning would not have been a bad thing if I’d really planned on this as something serious. However, I did not repeat the beer experiments. Instead I tried Ocean spray cranberry juice…..”
The last few chapters of the book, in which Heinrich describes his final preparations for the 100-K and the race itself, are worth the price of the book. He sets the stage for the race this way:
“This experiment of one will be, in the parlance of science, an anecdote. Nevertheless, it is still an experiment, not just a random happening. It is an experiment because I have been guided by logic derived from a vast body of experimental work on animals, and backed up by my own experiences. I’ve tried to incorporate the empirical facts and experiments toward achieving a scientific outcome, and I have the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve done all I thought I could do.”
If you enjoyed Born to Run, you should definitely take a look at Why We Run. It’s a wonderful blend of world-class distance running with a firsthand account of the biology of running, by a leading authority on the subject.
Postscript: Two weeks ago while down in AZ to enjoy baseball’s Spring Training, I decided to register for a half-marathon which started and ended on a paved trail not far from the Mariners’ training complex. While I enjoyed the race, it was clear that I didn’t heed the insights into endurance running that camels (as experienced desert runners) could provide me with (see chapter 10!). Suffice it to say that camels are masters of heat management and water economy, while I did a lousy job of both on a warm Arizona day.
My thanks to my beloved for his review! I’ve yet to read the book, but it’s in MY pile now. It’s my goal here to post more running book reviews. Have you read Why We Run? What did you think? What other running books are you reading? And what are you learning from them?
As you know, I’m in the process of doing research for a new book on women runners who run covered (such as with clothing prescribed by their religion, or by secrecy because running is forbidden to them for some reason).
A few weeks ago, in the process of doing my first round of interviews, I had the pleasure of meeting (via phone) an extraordinary young woman. Sarah Attar is the first female runner to participate in the Olympic Games on behalf of Saudi Arabia. Sarah grew up here in the U.S. and runs for Pepperdine University in California. A mature young woman who understands her place in history, Sarah told me she dreams of a day when running for girls in Saudi Arabia is “no big deal,” but just something girls do. I share Sarah’s vision. Running makes a girl feel brave, proud, strong, and free. Girls who run come to know that they can think for themselves and stand on their own two feet–literally and metaphorically.
As a senior in college, Sarah is an art major. And at this time, she is working on a creative project for her senior project. I’d love it if you would consider helping her with it. Check out what she has to say:
“From my experience in the Olympics I have started exploring and researching the idea of participation in sport, and my art has been a great way to do that. With my senior thesis exhibition coming up, I am starting a global collaborative project to collect runs from people around the world. Powerful things happen when people come together, and I would like as many people to be involved with this as possible. This project will demonstrate how all of our runs, while individual and distinct, are all part of a larger community, that we are all connected through the simple and beautiful act of running.
“I would love your help with this. I think we can reach a wide range of people and through that create an even greater global community.” -Sarah Attar
To be a part of Sarah’s project send the following to firstname.lastname@example.org:
1. Your age.
2. Your gender.
3. An image of a running route you’ve enjoyed (this can be a screen shot or a link to your route online).
4. The country where your run took place.
5. Your story about running (optional).
To learn more about Sarah’s project, visit runningroutesproject.tumblr.com
I’d like you to meet my pal, Bruce. He’s in his mid-sixties, an adventurer bar none, and a determined runner after my own heart. Recently he completed his seventh continental marathon, and I asked if I could interview him about his experience. Check it out! And scroll below for a smattering of Bruce’s photos (in no particular order). Thanks Bruce!
What made you want to run a marathon on every continent?
My quest for the 7 started in of all places Havana, Cuba after the Habana Marathon, which was the only marathon I started and failed to complete (five hour time limit, and after doing the first half in 2:30–it was hot, humid, and I was apparently not in as good of shape as I needed to be–I chose to stop at the half and call it an experience). After the race, I was having dinner with Lee, a friend I met on the run. We had good wine, wonderful Cuban cigars and a view of La Catedral de La Habana Church and Plaza with Havana Harbor as a background. Lee told me I should consider the Antarctica marathon. He sent me a DVD of his trip he had made the year before, and after watching it, I signed up for Antarctica with Marathon Tours, making the trip in March 2009. I had completed several Marathons in the USA and had finished Prague, CK in 2005, so after completing Antarctica I had three continents completed, including the hardest to get to: Antarctica. I was still doing these trips as adventures and really hadn’t heard of the 7 continents club \until Antarctica, where people were doing running to complete their seventh continent. Africa, Asia, South America, and Australia were left for me, one per year and I could be done before I turned 65 years old. I finished my 7th at the Outback Marathon, Ayres Rock Australia on July 28th, 2012 my 65th birthday exactly!!
What were the 7 marathons you chose and which countries were they in?
I had run several in North America: Tuscon AZ, Reggae Jamaica, Brookings, SD, Phoenix AZ, but I chose Portland, OR to use as the official one since it was documented well.
So here they are:
2002 – Portland OR 5:09
2005 – Prague CK 5:43
2009 – Antarctica 6:29
2010 – Kenya, Africa 6:17
2011 – Tateyama, Japan 5:47
2011 – Buenos Aires, Argentina 6:08
2012 – Ayres Rock, Australia 6:04
Which continental race was your favorite and why?
Each one has a special meaning and experience, but the Tateyama Waskahio Marathon in Japan was our (mine and my companion, Gerry’s) favorite. The race was relatively level, cool temps, with wonderful views along the bay and lots of people enjoying the runners. It was my favorite. Thanks to you (Cami) the experience of being in a small race with friends of yours and now ours was something Gerry and I will remember for a lifetime. As you indicated we got “the full treatment.” And it was wonderful!!
What was your favorite place you visited during your quest?
I enjoyed Havana very much. I went there alone, and was concerned about that but upon arrival found the people extremely friendly, and the city architecturally amazing, with no western influence–and unspoiled beaches. The people have very little to spare but would share what they had with you. Conversations were wonderful, be it about politics or whatever. And they loved to discuss political views with those of us from the States.
What was your most disastrous travel story?
Really we have not had any major problems. We had our luggage stolen in Costa Rica from our little cabana on the beach. Had nothing to wear but the clothes we had on! Gerry lost her purse and billfold, but I had mine, so back in San Jose we bought enough items to return home.
In Brussels, we arrived by train about midnight with no hotel room reserved. Our taxi driver drove all over the city central trying to find us a room and only one could be found for like $400 per night. Finally we agreed to that one, blowing our budget in one night. Gerry gets tired of me saying this, but I always say: “If you have enough money to buy your way out of a problem, you don’t have a problem.”
Then in Buenos Aries we got 500 pesos from a bank ATM machine and no one would accept the money. We couldn’t figure out why they would take Gerry’s money and not mine. Finally someone explained that the money I got was all counterfeit. That was on a Saturday, and Monday was a holiday. Our flight left that same evening so we still have the bills as souvenirs.
What advice would you give others who are trying to do 7 on 7?
What was that old Nike commercial? “Just do it!” I do think that anyone should try and get Antarctica off the list ASAP. It is so environmentally fragile that anything that would happen to harm it in any way could cause these recreational trips to be curtailed in the future. That is only my point of view, but I can see it happening.
Anywhere you travel, if you are a walker, jogger, runner, get up early some morning, put on your running shorts, lace up those shoes, head out the door, and no matter where you are in the world, you won’t go far before you meet someone on the streets running. You may not speak the language but you will receive a smile and a wave.
Don’t be afraid to travel out of the States, Homeland Security is the worst thing you will probably have to face.
Whats next on your bucket list?
The Des Moines Register Newspaper sponsors a bike ride across Iowa the last week in July called RAGBRAI. Which stands for Registers Annul Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. It is a big event, (10,000 plus riders) and takes five days. Riders stay in small towns each night and ride 40 to 100 miles per day, starting with your back wheel in the Missouri River on our western side, finishing with your front wheel in the Mississippi River on the east. I want to attempt it this coming summer.
I also really want to go to Iran. Everyone I have spoken with (outside of the US) says it is a wonderful county to visit. The people are friendly, well educated, and really like Americans, contrary to what our State Department says. Guess I just want to go see for myself.