Category Archives: Fitness

Iron Girl Columbia Part One: Pre-Race

“Another day, another dollarrrrrrr, that’s what I’m working for todayyyyy.” Ugh. I grab my phone to shut off the alarm. It couldn’t be 4:15 already, could it? The cheery bluegrass song I had set as my alarm tone to inspire me to get up during the work week wasn’t working its magic today. Ugh. Suck it up, buttercup, get up and get going. Fine, stop badgering me, I yell at myself. I’m not at my best in the mornings. Does 4:15 even count as the morning?? On a Sunday to boot. Whose bright idea was this??

On this particular Sunday morning, I’m getting up at oh dark thirty (or I guess, technically, oh dark fifteen) because I’m signed up to race in the Iron Girl triathlon in Columbia, MD. This summer marks my third year of participating in triathlons and the second time I’ve registered for Iron Girl. I have conflicting feelings about the race and my early morning malaise is further grumpified by my lack of all out enthusiasm for the event.

I love Iron Girl because so many women who would be hesitant to take on a triathlon feel confident enough to try an all female race first. I hate Iron Girl because of its insistence on using Girl instead of Woman. It seems like a backhanded compliment- “You’re strong and tough and you can do this… girl.” I love Iron Girl because I hear announcements at the race like “So-and-so is 71 and a cancer survivor and this is her first triathlon!” and am awed at the strength and guts of the competitors I’ve signed up with. I hate Iron Girl because for an all woman race the announcers are always men. I love Iron Girl because the racers are so supportive of each other, even during the middle of the race you hear calls of “Great job! Keep it up!” and similar sentiments. I hate Iron Girl because out of the seven or eight races I’ve done it is the only one that has a mandatory bike inspection before the race and it feels patronizing. Maybe it’s a coincidence that the only all woman triathlon I’ve done and the only one with this requirement are the same race but I doubt it.

I thrust aside my still sleeping cats and roll out of bed. No snooze today, no way. I need to get going and get on the road. I turn on my nightstand lamp and Tater Tot blinks at the bright light then yawns and tucks her head under her paw. For a moment I am violently jealous of my cats.

I had prepared well the night before and after a quick rinse in the shower I don my race gear- a pair of tri shorts, extra heavy duty sports bra, and a tight spandex UV shirt with long sleeves. Easier than sunscreen. I slip on a pair of sporty sandals and grab my bag and head downstairs to the kitchen.

It’s hard to eat this early in the morning (on top of race nerves to boot) but I had bought an almond croissant the day before figuring the nuts and sugar and carbs would be a good start. (I can feel hardcore triathletes shuddering at my lackadaisical approach to nutrition.) I grab a banana and the croissant along with some coconut water for the bike portion of the race and throw them in my bag. I make yet another quick, obsessive compulsive check of my bag and, satisfied I have everything, head out the door.

For this race you have to rack your bike the day before so that was one large item off my checklist. Not that it mattered, in at least one of the endless dreams I had during the night I had left my bike at home only to realize this as I transitioned out of the swim. I mentally check off my gear once more before I pull out of the garage. Helmet, sunglasses, bike gloves, water bottle, coconut water for water bottle, gel cubes for bike pouch, bike shoes, running shoes, running socks (no socks for the bike portion, just easier that way), race number, baseball hat for run (this is important, I hate running without a hat), croissant and banana for breakfast, Cliff bars if I need them later. Pretty sure I am good to go. I need water and caffeine but will stop at 7/11 on my way out of the city for those.


Racking the day before makes the morning less hectic.

I arrive at Centennial Park and follow the guidance of volunteers waving fluorescent wands around to find a parking spot. I park and grab my bag and my diet Coke Big Gulp out of my car and head for the transition area. The morning is dark and chilly and damp and my feet are soaked by the dewy grass. But that’s okay, I’ll be jumping in a dank lake in a bit, no worries on my damp tootsies right now.

Upon entering transition, I find a volunteer doing body marking and submit to the indignity of being marked with the age of 43 on my calf. I’m 42, I mutter to myself. It doesn’t matter, your age in these events is the age you will be by December 31st of that year. And I’ll be 43 in a few weeks anyway so really, get over yourself, I command. The volunteer wants me to take off my shirt to write my race number on my arms but I tell her I will be wearing the long sleeved shirt the whole race so don’t bother.

“But, but you’ll be so hot!” she says.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” she asks.

Goddamnit lady, who is doing this race, you or me? My grumpiness is still in full effect.

“I’m sure,” I say.

She writes my race number on my hand and it isn’t until later I notice she transposed the numbers. 476 instead of 467. Why couldn’t she have done that with my age I think with a laugh.

When I reach my racked bike I see I have lucked out. My bike is lonely on the rack, neither of my neighbors have shown up. My mood improves further. This means I have actual elbow room around my spot and transitions will be easier.

I spread out my bright orange Baltimore Orioles beach towel under my bike and set up my gear and pump up my tires. It only takes a few minutes and I look at my watch. Another hour until transition closes and even longer than that until I start the swim. This is the part I hate the most. Waiting.

After visiting the porta-potty and milling around a bit, I make one final check of my bike and gear. All good to go. I yawn. If they only started these things at a decent hour my times would be so much faster I think to myself for about the thousandth time. With nothing else left to do I head down to the swim start. I’m in the sixth group I think. Not a bad wave really.

The sun is making a muted appearance beyond some clouds and I’m glad it won’t be glaring off the water. In my last Iron Girl I had difficulty seeing the buoys in the first leg of the swim as we swam east into the rising sun.

The Star Spangled Banner begins and I rise to attention and put my hand over my heart, hoping those few still milling about can feel my dagger stares in their backs. I whisper the “Oh” part to myself and smile.* When the anthem is done the race officially begins. Not too long now…


*For those who aren’t Baltimore Orioles fans, when the Star Spangled Banner plays before the start of an Orioles game the crowd bellows out the “Oh” in “Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave.”

GoRuck Training Update

So you all might have noticed it’s been a while since I posted my last bit about the GoRuck Light Challenge. I haven’t quit but I have been forced to postpone my goal of completing the challenge for a time. In Week Two, I mentioned my worry about my wrist and its future. I won’t bore you with the details but after years of varying chronic and acute pain and fruitless attempts with therapy and at least one doctor who blew me off with “Oh, it’s probably just arthritis, not much you can do about it,” I finally got a diagnosis from an awesome orthopedist who specializes in hand, arm, and shoulder. After a last ditch round with a cortisone shot failed, I’ve decided to get surgery and just get the damn thing chopped off and be done with it. Not really, but the surgery part is true and means I will be out of commission for quite a while. I won’t be idle during the recovery time. Besides the physical therapy I’ll have to go through, I see this as a good time to get some leg workouts in and do some long hikes and rucks and other things that don’t require specific use of my right arm. Wish me luck!

P.S. Don’t ever youtube any surgery you’re about to undergo. Seriously, bad idea.

GoRuck Training Week Three

“Bring. It. On.” That was how I ended my account of Week Two, confident of my ability to just nail Week Three. What the hell is wrong with me? I thought Weeks One and Two were tough but Week Three has been a new ballgame.

Of course, often the worst part of a workout is not the actual physical part but the mind games your head plays with you before and during the workout. Day One was hard, no doubt about it but if I hadn’t kept reading over the plan the day before and dreading what was to come, it probably would’ve been at least a tad bit easier. Starting off with the two mile ruck with a 30-pound rucksack was no joke. I’m just amazed by how heavy 30 pounds seems when it’s on your back and how much heavier it was than the 20 pounds from the previous weeks. During the first quarter of a mile all I could think was how on earth I could keep that up for two miles. That and how had I ever made it through the army when the rucks were heavier and the rest of you was weighted down with additional gear like Kevlars, canteens, weapon, ammo, and the like.

But I had made it through so why was I so feeling so demoralized about this little bitty old ruck? I needed an attitude adjustment and quick. I had not started the day off well, as a “non-essential” employee I had been furloughed due to the government shutdown and was feeling a bit like someone had suckered punched me in the gut. Worried about my job and worried about the jobs of my team I thought getting out to the park and getting my workout on would be just the antidote. But my doom and gloom seemed to be seeping into my exercise instead of being exorcised.

This particular morning was spectacular outside. A bright and fresh day that seemed to be tailor made for spending outdoors. I was lucky to be out in the park and here I was whining to myself that it was hard. I knew that my biggest enemy right now was me. I do that sometimes, get in my own head and convince myself that I can’t do it (too weak, or too slow, or too unathletic, or too whatever). Not often but I’m ashamed of myself when it happens. And this shit was STOOPID. This was completely within my capabilities so I needed to get over myself and get going. One trick I use a lot is to be my own little cheerleader. I’ll tell myself, “You’ve gone a quarter of a mile, next thing you know it’ll be a half mile and that means you’re a quarter of the way done!” Once I hit that halfway point I know I’ve nailed it. The logic I use here is that I’ve already proven I could do that distance so no excuses in doing it again for the second half. This works with sets too. By the time I hit the third set in a five set grouping I’m more than halfway done. So two more sets is a piece of cake. Yup, piece of cake… It’s a bit silly but it’s gotten me through more runs than I can count.

My little mind games worked once again against the naysayer in my head that lives to tell me how I can’t accomplish something. I finished the ruck and hit the gym for the rest of the workout. There were two more rucks this week but I had already shown I could do it so they didn’t stress me out so much and I got them done. Distressingly slow and with some blisters but done nonetheless.

And you know what? As good as you feel after a hard workout, you feel even better after a hard workout that you were convinced you weren’t going to be able to finish. After getting Day One over with, my attitude improved and Day Two was amazing. It was long and my muscles were quivering when it was done but I crushed it (meaning finished and not even having to modify any of the exercises) and my confidence really soared in comparison with my grumblings the day before.

Another confidence booster was a bike ride I did for some cross-training (and to keep my bike skillz, such as they are, up). It wasn’t a particularly tough ride, I mainly wanted to get my legs stretched out and maybe pedal some of the soreness away. However, since every good ride has to include at least one hill (and since hills are pretty much unavoidable anywhere around my area) I got to tackle an old friend I hadn’t seen in a few months. This hill was pretty tough. It started out all “I’m not so bad, just a long gentle slope, you’ll be fine, I promise” and when you were thinking you were almost done it took a turn and got all “Hahahaha, sucker, climb this!” But here is where the mental game comes into play again. I knew this hill, and I knew I could do it. It would suck but there was no way in hell it was ever going to win. I owned this hill. Here’s the thing though. By “owning” this hill what I usually meant was I got up and over it and my heart, although threatening to, didn’t actually explode. This week was different. I can’t say I was in danger of being ticketed for speeding by the time I got to the top but I felt amazing. My legs were sore from the endless squats and lunges and whatnot of the GoRuck training but they were also strong. I had never felt so strong going up that hill. I was still struggling some (that end bit is just not nice, bad hill!) but my struggles weren’t as hard as they had been any other time I’ve hit that hill. It inspired me and further improved my attitude.

One significant difference I noticed this week was how my body has adapted to the workouts. I’m still a bit sore afterward but it’s much milder than it was the first week. Week Three is done and I now know better than to bellow “Bring it on, Week Four!” Instead I’ll offer a cautious and polite hello. “Nice to meet you Week Four, let’s be friends.”

GoRuck Training Week Two

I had made it through Week One. I was sore in many (so many) places but I felt good as well. Now it was on to Week Two of the 6 Week Plan from GoRuck. When I read what was in store for Week Two it didn’t seem so bad. Not easy, mind you, but not harder at least than Week One.

I was sort of right about that. Day 1 put me in my place right away. The very first exercise was Strict Pull-Ups. I can’t do pull-ups, strict or easygoing or otherwise. Once upon a time I could do a few pull-ups (I think my absolute max ever was a whopping three) but once upon a time I could also stay up drinking all night and then go to work all day. Can’t do that anymore either. At the gym I had been doing assisted pull-ups on a machine on occasion but obviously that wasn’t going to cut it here. These pull-ups were strict, they weren’t going to let me get away with that nonsense. So, as I did a few times in Week One, I had to modify this exercise to make it fit with reality. The number of pull-ups called for in the plan was “max reps.” In my case that was half a pull-up. Eek. But I am proud to say by the end of the five sets I had managed to get ¾ of the way up. I can sense a whole pull-up in my future, you just watch. To aid in my goal I installed a pull-up bar in my bedroom doorway and instituted a rule (originated by my friend who does pull-ups for fun) that I had to at least attempt a pull-up every time I walked into the room. So I started sleeping on the couch.

Varying sets of push-ups were also challenging for me. If I could do sets of 20 I would have passed my PT test. Now, my goal still is to do as many push-ups as the plan calls for but I’m not going to hate myself when I fall short of that goal. I will get there.

Unfortunately, I have started to have some problems with my right wrist. That was a worry of mine at the start and although it’s not too bad yet I will have to see how things go. The pain was most noticeable after doing a set of exercises that included weighted bear crawls and crab walks, both of which seem designed to inflame my skinny little pathetic child-sized wrist. One thing I’m doing to mitigate the stress on my feeble joint is modifying the Front Leaning Rests from the classic top-of-the-pushup stance to a more normal plank where I’m resting on my forearms. I don’t think my abs can tell the difference because it still sucks. If it gets worse maybe I’ll finally get around to going to an orthopedist and getting a final diagnosis/resolution of what the issue is. First, I’ll go back to my old standby and use a brace or maybe tape it up before doing those types of exercises.

The rucks haven’t been too bad. I haven’t rucked for over five years but the ache/soreness right between my shoulder blades came back to visit like it hadn’t ever been away. I’m not sure exactly how much I’ve been carrying. I stuffed as many hard-covered books as I could into my old black Jansport along with a couple of three-pound dumbbells I found under my couch. I think it’s about 20 pounds, the weight called for in the plan. When my GoRuck order comes in I’ll substitute a 20 filler bag for the books and the Bullet Ruck for my good old Jansport. It’s been a surprising trooper but it’s also earned a good retirement.

Time to get ready for Week Three. Week Three, which begins its description with the line “Things are starting to get real in this week.” Yikes. But whatever, I swear my delts are already getting bigger. Bring. It. On.

GoRuck Training Week One

I hurt. I hurt in so many places. Even my skin hurts. It’s funny how you think you’re in okay shape (I said okay, not fantastic) then you start a new program and you feel about as strong as a five day old kitten. I knew my upper body strength needed work, lots of work. But it’s amazing how five sets of 50 squats and 40 lunges will make you feel like your legs aren’t quite as up to par as you imagined either. Okay, maybe not you, maybe you’re doing those sets and yelling “Bring it on!” but for me it’s no walk in the park. Well, literally maybe because I do a lot of the workouts in the park but you know what I mean.

What began this week of sore muscles and bruised ego is the 6 Week Plan available on the GoRuck site. Having signed up for a GoRuck Light challenge in a few months, this seemed the perfect way to get my training going. I know it will be tough but I also know it’s necessary to prepare for my challenge so I can hang when the time comes.

I already publicly humiliated myself by writing about my start of the plan- the dreaded PT test. So let’s forget about that and move on. The plan is quite varied and includes rucks, weight training, circuit training, runs, cross-training (which for me is biking or swimming), challenge simulations, and, my favorite, rest days.

As I mentioned above, I was able to do a lot of the training in the large city park just a couple of blocks from my house. Pretty much all the runs, rucks, and bodyweight PT for Week One took place here. Weight training and swimming occurred at my gym and biking consisted of road rides anywhere from 10-25 miles.

GoRuck rule #1 is Always Look Cool (followed by #2 Never Get Lost and #3 If You Get Lost, Look Cool). I completely violated that rule as I bear crawled across what felt like the entire park but was only the proscribed 50m. I use the Runkeeper app to track a lot of my workouts and I used it here to mark off the 50m distance I needed for the exercises that took place on Day 2. Seriously? That’s 50m? Is this thing broken? That looks so far.

It was far. At least for doing bear crawls.  But I survived both the crawls and Week One. I was able to do most of the exercises as written but had to make a few adjustments to accommodate what I had available. For instance, instead of doing bench presses on Day 3 I used dumbbells instead of a barbell because I didn’t want to wait forever for an available barbell bench to open up in my crowded gym. I also used a 20# dumbbell for the log simulation workout instead of a sandbag because my GoRuck order had not come in yet (Ruck, sandbag, and fillers hooray!) The dumbbell was a bit awkward so I’m looking forward to using a real sandbag next week. The worst was when I accidentally smoked myself even harder than the training called for when on Day 3 I misread my printout and did three minutes of Strict Military Presses and Push Presses instead of one minute. Don’t do that. Seriously.

And now for Week Two… Wish me luck.

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