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Yeah…so

February 7, 2013 Fear, Fitness, Fun No Comments

That whole Wildflower thing. Yeah.

You know what slapped me in the face last year? Everything is relative. When I battled the Wildflower Long Course last year, it was The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done (–> at that time). I got to Mile 12 of the run and declared to my friends, “I want to die.”

Now, Wildflower is only a 70.3 triathlon. That run — as brutal as it is — is only 13.1 miles. My whole frame of reference since the day I completed Ironman Canada 2012 is, “As long as I don’t have to run a full marathon after [whatever it is you want me to do], I am good to go.” And you know what? Almost no one asks me to run 26.2 miles in addition to their original request.

The race is May 4, so I’ve got ~12 weeks to train. I’ve stayed active through the off-season, especially with HIIT workouts and running. Swimming and long-distance biking? Not so much. In fact, Monday was the first time I had been swimming since September. But that’s the beauty of the human body and mind. There is muscle memory, and all those muscles do remember.

Plus, the party that always ensues at Wildflower is worth it!

 

Eating My Words

February 5, 2013 Fear, Fitness No Comments

I’m eating a few words I spoke last year, and it’s going to be a big meal.

How many calories does fear burn?

38

December 4, 2012 Family, Fear, Friends No Comments

the number gets bigger. older.

it’s better than the alternative.

i’m so grateful for all that i have — my health, my family, my friends, my work, my accomplishments.

what matters? what doesn’t matter?

these are not rhetorical questions.

GO.

5 Years: Invalid to Ironman

September 18, 2012 Fear, Friends 2 Comments

It’s a little hard to believe that in five years, I went from this:

To this:

Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO RYAN!

Ironman Canada – RUN

September 17, 2012 Fear, Fitness, Friends, Fun 1 Comment

Read about my Ironman Canada SWIM and BIKE first!

T2
I rolled into the Bike In area and was able to dismount from my bike without falling. I looked at this as a good sign. The very nice volunteers were there in a flash to take my bike for me. I had my wits about me enough to remember my pill bottle before they whisked it away. I knew I’d need those salt tabs!

A volunteer was ready with my transition bag and I headed to the women’s changing tent, contemplating what was ahead of me. Who am I kidding? I had been contemplating this for all of the last year: running a marathon. I had never run a marathon before. There had never been a desire to and I can honestly say that my sentiments had not changed, even as I was staring it in the face. It was 3 PM. I’d been racing for almost 8 hours already and still had the hardest part to finish.

A very nice volunteer named Heidi was helping me. She got me a cold water. I had lost my Chap-Stik somewhere on Richter Pass and really wanted something to soothe my chapped lips. She brought some Vaseline. As she helped change my shoes, just like a mother does, she said I was doing great. “You are killing this! There haven’t been very many women through here yet!” I looked right at her and started to well up, admitting I was afraid of how bad the marathon would hurt. She said, “You are doing this. You are going to be an Ironman!”

I believed her. I knew I would finish, and probably ahead of my expected time of 14 hours — unless the wheels totally came off during the run. It has happened before. I tend to fall apart on the run. I stood up and bent over into a downward-facing dog pose, stretching out my hamstrings and back. I did a ~30-second pigeon pose on both sides to stretch my glutes and hips. I’d been seeing an ART specialist to help the pain and fatigue I was having and I knew this run would put that work to the test. I took off my extra pair of cycling shorts. I donned my visor and grabbed my handheld water bottle. Heidi hugged me and I exited the tent. I stopped at the bathrooms and made my way out of the transition area onto Lakeshore Drive. Here we go!

Official T2 time = 8:00
Greg’s T2 time = 3:08
Kidder’s T2 time = 7:03

26.2 26.6 MILE RUN
The run course travels on Main Street toward Skaha Lake. The streets were lined with spectators and signs; the sounds of cheering and cow bells filled the air. There’s so much excitement for these first 2.5 miles that you kind of forget you’re running. This is a good thing. The course winds through city streets and back to Lakeshore Drive to add distance, and as a precursor to what is to come at the finish line. It feels like you’re going out of your way and you are.

The mind games begin.

From there, the course is an out-and-back along the lake. Once you get out of this section of town, there are several blocks where it’s pretty quiet. My mind seduced my body into walking “just for 30 seconds” to bring my heart rate down. Walking felt great. I started running again after 30 seconds, but I was like a junkie waiting for the next hit. I couldn’t stop thinking about the next aid station, where I had already planned to walk. I made it there and blissfully squeezed ice cold sponges over my head and wiped my face. I drank a cup of water and convinced myself to start running again, though I already knew I wouldn’t make it a full mile before giving in to walk.

I saw a sign up ahead that was very clever, and I smiled thinking of how it described me perfectly. And then I realized it was my cheering squad and they had made the sign for me! Kirsten was a good sport and ran with me for a few yards, saying I looked great. There was a lot of energy at that corner and it helped to propel me forward.

There were aid stations at every mile and I walked through them; I tried to keep walking to a minimum (30 seconds or less) in between the aid stations. Around Mile 5, I began to have the sensation of needing to pee every time I was running. If the bathroom at an aid station was open, I went in to go to the bathroom. Nothing would come out. I’d start running again and the sensation would come back. Dehydration.

I was taking salt pills every 3-4 miles, I think. I didn’t have a strict plan. I was eating watermelon at the aid stations. I had a few glasses of Coke and salty chicken broth, just trying to stay hydrated. I even had a cookie at one aid station. It was probably a horrible cookie on any other day, but right then it tasted like the best cookie I’d ever eaten.

Running by Skaha Lake, the crowds dwindle a bit. The scenery is gorgeous, but it’s when those mind games start to really fuck with you. As you can see in this picture below, Greg (and every muscle in his body) is on the threshold of his pain cave.

When I was running, I’d look at my Garmin and see that I was running at an 8:30-8:45 pace. In this situation, that pace just isn’t sustainable. So then I’d have to walk more often. I would give anything to be able to drone out a 10-minute-mile and call it good. I was contemplating this during a walk break as my biking buddy Tory passed me. I acknowledged him and we ran together a bit, discussing the allure of the 10-minute pace. He was rocking it. I was failing. As I shamefully began walking again, Kidder caught me! I ran with him and we chatted awhile, commiserating and questioning our sanity for embarking on this in the first place. I just wanted to be done.

That was Mile 9. Remember Wildflower and me saying, “I want to die” at Mile 12? Well, I was pretty much reliving that scenario now and I still had 17 MILES TO GO.

All the time I’d been running, I was looking for Greg on his return trip. It was here that I saw him and yelled. We met each other on the center divider of the highway and hugged. He was coming into the home stretch! He looked good, though said he was really losing steam now. I could relate…

I don’t really remember getting to the turnaround, other than I’m pretty sure there was a big hill somewhere in there that everyone was walking. Our Special Needs bags were at the halfway mark and I used it as an excuse to walk even more. So pathetic. In my Special Needs bag, I’d packed a lightweight long sleeve top, an extra pair of socks, and a Ziplock full of more salt pills, pain meds, and Band-Aids. I tied the shirt around my waist, refilled my pill bottle, and discarded the rest.

The turnaround point is a mental milestone and I tried to use that to my advantage. I caught up to a guy I saw on the way out and started chatting with him. Jason. Jason is from Kansas City, so we had even more in common than just the craziness of completing our first Ironman. We were working together on our run/walk breaks to keep each other honest in running longer than we were walking. We’d go through several minutes of silence and I’d suggest we focus on the positives. “What are some good things right now, Jason? We have to focus on the good things.”

It isn’t dark yet.
It isn’t raining.
Neither of our nipples are bleeding (like the unfortunate man who just ran past us).

Around Mile 19, I looked at my Timex for my overall race time.  11:35. With ~7 miles to go, could we finish under 13 hours? It would be close. Jason suggested we discuss our chances while running instead of walking. I concurred.

As we passed the 12-hour mark, another athlete looked at me and said, “This is such a long time to be exercising.” Truer words have never been spoken.

When I was walking, it was a fast walk. Somewhere in the 12:30 pace. I’d wait for Jason to start running again and catch up to me. I got a little bit past the Mile 22 aid station and turned around to coax Jason to start running again. He waved me on, “Leave me! You go! I’ll see you at the finish!”

It was very soap opera-like (in my head). At this point, everything was overly dramatic. I was on my own.

I just kept doing the same thing. Running as far as I could, then walking as little as I could before running again. Our race bibs had to be on our fronts for the run, so all of the spectators and aid station volunteers were encouraging me by name. “You’re almost there, Molly!” By this time, it was dusk. The reality of the finish was *right there* and yet so far away. The volunteers at these aid stations were phenomenal. I made a point to thank them as I walked through.

You just keep going because there’s nothing else to do. I didn’t want to be doing this anymore, but the only way to not be doing it was to cross the finish line. It was as simple as that — almost. Remember that dehydration problem? I had several major muscles that were threatening to cramp up on me. Quads, hamstrings, calves. At that point, walking would be the only option and I’d be lucky if I could walk if one or more of those muscle groups seized me. I just kept sipping the water and broth at the aid stations and hoping I could make it 2 more miles. A runner collapsed in front of me, overtaken by a cramp. The volunteers helped him. He kept hobbling on.

By this time, I headed back into the gauntlet of downtown Penticton. When I ran through this at the beginning, I knew it would suck ass on the return trip and I was not wrong. By sucking ass, I mean we all had to go out of our way to get to the fucking finish line. Let me be clear that the spectators were AWESOME. They brought so much energy and enthusiasm, and I’m pretty sure I would have sulked to the finish if it hadn’t been for their belief that I CAN DO IT like they promised me I could.

I willed myself to run through this section just so I didn’t look like a total asshole in front of all these people who were out here cheering me on. Of course, I was keeping an eye on my watch to see where I was compared to my 13-hour goal. I got to the T-intersection where I soooooooo wanted to turn RIGHT and go into the finish line… but the course route took us LEFT for another six blocks. We then did a tight U-turn in the middle of the road, so we were looking at finishers on our way out and looking at those behind us as we were on our way into the finish line. I saw Jason there and we high-fived each other. Comrades!

I had passed the 25-mile marker and looked at my watch thinking could easily break 13 hours in 12 minutes if I only had 1.2 miles to go. But my watch said I was at 24.6 miles. It became very clear at this moment that the course runs long. These are probably the worst four words that have ever been uttered. I had been planning on a certain trajectory and I knew I’d have to over-compensate because of this.

Fuck.

The spectators were screaming at me. I wanted to scream back, “I’M DOING THE BEST I CAN!” But at the same time, I knew they had already moved on to the next athlete and I needed to focus on what I was doing. So I focused on running. I looked at that finish line and focused on it. I watched that clock ticking down and mustered every ounce of energy that I had no idea was there. The crowd was tremendous fuel to my fire.

I love this sequence of pictures:

And of course, Jeff’s video:

YouTube Preview Image

MOLLY SWEENEY, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

Things went downhill from there (see also: dehydration), but crossing that finish line was a glorious moment. I told the people catching me on the other side that I WOULD LIKE TO SIT DOWN NOW, PLEASE. They asked if I wanted to get my photo taken first. Yes. Yes, I would like to document this moment. So I went from bent-over, near-vomiting to this:

I’ve got the trying-too-hard-to-look-happy crazy eyes going. Otherwise, not bad… all things considered. Greg’s finisher photo looks more like a person actually feels: relieved and happy to be done! And why not, with a 10:51:57 time?! I’m so proud of him!

** of note, we both bought all of our (respective) professional photos taken on the course. These are legit! **

Many of you have asked about the recovery. Alas, the recap of the run has been a saga in itself, so I will save that for another post.

Thanks to everyone who came on this journey! I loved knowing that every time I crossed a timing mat that you would know I’d made it to the next level of the game. Since I finished an hour ahead of schedule, I love that my mom was tracking me from Iowa and *happened* to be watching the live finish as they said that “Molly Sweeney — all the way from San Mateo California” was going to be the last finisher under 13 hours.

Official run time = 5:05:43 / 11:41 pace
Greg’s run time = 4:04:21 / 9:20 pace
Kidder’s run time = 4:31:10 / 10:21 pace

It Could Go Either Way

September 5, 2012 Fear, Fitness, Fun 2 Comments

We came.
We raced.
We survived. triumphed!

As athletes were milling around the transition area before the race, a guy walked up to me and said, “I feel like this is a cross between Disneyland and The Hunger Games.”  I concurred. In some ways, it was The Happiest Place On Earth ™ because of the positive energy and music and hugging going on. On the other hand, we were all dressed up in our “costumes” and equipped with our “weapons,” ready for battle. There was a calm surrounding us, knowing that we were competing in something that would test our mental and physical strengths to their very limits.

I’ve read enough race reports to know that you can be well-trained, well-rested, well-hydrated, well-everythinged – and STILL have a shitty race. In a 10-17 hour day, there are just so many things that can go wrong. You get to a certain point where all you can do is hope for the best and try to stay positive if something does go wrong.

Admittedly, I didn’t have a lot of confidence going into the race. I had been questioning my training for about six weeks. I didn’t exactly feel rested. I had never swum farther than 1.7 miles in open water, never biked farther than 98 miles in training, and never run farther than 20 miles. There would be a lot of milestones on race day. I knew I would finish, but I didn’t know just how bad it would hurt or just how long it would take.

I estimated I would finish around 14 hours. This was a very realistic goal based on my training times. It was a big number to wrap my head around. Most of my “normal” days were about 15 hours long. I would often think of Race Day on a normal day and consider all of the things I had done that day – worked at my job, completed two workouts, showered, prepared and ate (many) meals, exercised Miles, etc… And all that time, I’d still be out there on the race course. This mental preparation was the most difficult, and probably the most helpful.

I expected a 1:30 swim. I didn’t know how long it would take me to even start actually swimming with that many competitors. I didn’t know how far off-course I’d have to swim to get around the two turn buoys. I hadn’t ever swum that far and didn’t know how slow I would be.

I expected a 7-hour bike. My long rides were averaging 16-17 mph with the wind and climbing; I knew this course would offer up more of the same. I also knew I was not intending to kill myself on the bike, thereby leaving nothing for the marathon that would follow.

I expected a 5-hour marathon. Based on how every other long (70.3) race has gone, I knew I would lose it on the run. I knew I would be walking every aid station and probably more than that.

I expected my transitions to be as long as 10 minutes each. I’m not fast in transition as it is, and this would give me a chance to take in the moment and catch my breath a little if I needed the break.

I saw a homemade sign around Mile 100 of the bike course that said, “May the odds be ever in your favor” – a reference to The Hunger Games. I had to smile. The odds had been in my favor. Unlike so many others, I was having a great race! Many panicked people were hanging onto the kayaks and buoys on the swim. I saw people stopped for flat tires and cramps. Two people crashed their bikes right in front of me because they ran over stray water bottles or CO2 cartridges. I knew the run would bring more carnage, and I hoped that I had hydrated enough to stave it off for myself.

There were several large muscle groups threatening to cramp up in the end of 26.57 miles, but I made it! Every time I crossed a timing mat, I knew that those who were tracking me would be able to see that I was still going strong. I truly did carry your thoughts and well-wishes along with me the whole way.

My finish time was 12:59:58.
Greg finished in an amazing 10:51:57.
Our friend Mike Kidder signed up for the race 8 weeks ago and finished so strong at 12:37:56.

Nonstarter (almost)

August 22, 2012 Fear, Freewheeling No Comments

ROAD TRIP!!

Greg and I love a road trip even in a “normal” vehicle so we have been looking forward to the 1000-mile trek to Ironman Canada in The Van, perhaps even more than the race itself. (Why? The driving will take ~19 hours and will be done over two days. My race will take ~14 hours and has to be done all in one shot.)

Greg has worked tirelessly getting The Van ready, and most of the work has been done expressly for this trip. It’s our first long over-the-road trip in it and he wanted things to be as comfortable as possible. He thought of so many details and everything came together. Load ‘er up!

We had the bikes mounted last night, the cabinets and fridge full, and our clothes + race gear packed and ready to be loaded first thing this morning. The plan was to be on the road within 30 minutes of waking. Around 10 PM last night, Greg remembered that he needed to add a power supply for his phone in the new mount system. So, electrical engineer that he is, he went to work to quickly take care of this issue. In order to get to the wiring, he had to have the key in the On position and the transmission in Neutral. He completed the task of wiring power to the phone holster and started putting things back together. Done and done. When he went to turn the key off and lock everything up, the situation took a turn for the worse.

The key wouldn’t move. He couldn’t turn the engine over, he couldn’t turn it off. He frantically went to work searching the Sprinter forums, the owner’s manual, the error code reader he installed on his computer. Nothing turned up. He had to disconnect the battery as not to drain it while he continued troubleshooting. He came to bed defeated.

At this point, Greg was convinced that The Van was a DNF for Ironman Canada. He told me to start loading everything into his car — a Honda Element. Ummmm, there’s no way everything we had packed food-wise, clothes-wise, and gear-wise was going to fit in the Element. Add a big dog and it was a laughable thought.

Or it would have been laughable, if it weren’t so devastating.

I refused to believe we were not going to find a solution and be on our merry way. I tried calling my German car mechanic, but couldn’t get in touch with him. I called my dad, but he didn’t have any other suggestions than the ones Greg had already tried. Greg finally got in touch with the “lead tech” on the Sprinter forum he follows and that guy said that it wasn’t some fancy computer switch or anything, so it was probably the tumbler in the lock cylinder. He suggested we try a locksmith.

I was encouraged by this, though Greg kept saying there was no way he could fix anything in time. We’d be better off loading up the other car and going, the sooner the better. Undeterred, I called a local locksmith. He said we’d have to call a mechanic. All the while, Greg was still fiddling with the key in the ignition. Confident in knowing it wasn’t a computer issue, he applied a little elbow grease to the key while poking his needle-nose pliers in to create a little more space.

VOILA! The key came out!

With trepidation, he sprayed WD-40 into the key hole and inserted the key again. He was able to turn it over and turn it off repeatedly. We were back in business! By this time, it was 9:15 AM or so. I hustled to get all of the last minute stuff loaded while Greg took care of his few final chores. We pulled out of the house at 10:25.

I think the lesson learned here, which just became my mantra for Sunday, is DON’T STOP BELIEVING. (Plus, it comes with its own theme song… You’re welcome.)

IRONMAN CANADA OR BUST!! 

Sleep Trumps All

August 12, 2012 Fear, Fitness, Fun No Comments

Ironman training is over. We have reached the taper. I made it! Well, I made it to the end of the training period anyway…

I signed up for an Ironman knowing what it would take to train for it and compete to my satisfaction. All of those realizations — and fears — are coming true right now. It’s hard. It requires commitment. I have a training plan and I follow it pretty much to the letter. I’ve dropped a swim workout here and a strength workout there, but I’m 98% compliant.

Here are the things I’ve learned as I move into the final couple of weeks before competing:

The human body is an amazing machine. I ask my body to do really hard things and it does them, even when I don’t want to or think I’m too tired. I have watched and felt my body become stronger and more efficient. While I have not lost or gained any weight along the way, my body does look and feel different. I trust it.

The human mind is stronger than any body will ever be. It will make or break you, so learn to be friends with it. If you tell it nice things, it will respond in kind. “Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right.” <– Henry Ford was a smart man.

High-end gear is a nice-to-have. The will to do it and belief that you can do it is a must-have. That said, treat whatever gear you have with respect. Know how to change a flat. Clean your chain every now and again. Wash the spilled sports drink off your bike frame and don’t leave your Garmin out in the rain just because it’s waterproof.

Don’t underestimate your support system. Support comes in a lot of forms: a team you train with, your at-home people, friends and coworkers, online buddies, and yourself (in the form of positive self-talk). Figure out who is supportive of you and be up-front with them about what you need. Some days you’ll need a cheerleader. Other days, you will need someone who will listen to you bitch. You’ll always need people who believe in you and, as crazy as this whole thing is, don’t insist on reminding you of that every time you see them.

Few things are more sacred than a solid 8 hours of sleep, more if you can get it. Don’t skimp on your sleep.

The work has been done. Doing any more at this point is counter-productive. I have to believe in my training and believe in myself. Thanks to everyone who has believed in me along the way!

Here we go!

 

Did/Did Not

July 21, 2012 Fear, Fitness 2 Comments

Things I did today:

Swam 1.7 miles in open water.
Biked 80.5 hilly miles.
Ran/walked 7.15 miles.
Consumed 200 ounces of fluid.
Lost 6.4 pounds in 9 hours.
Cried.
Revised my estimated finish time at Ironman Canada.

Things I did not do today:

Pee.
Complete the additional 6 miles that were scheduled.
Puke (though it has been touch-and-go several times even since I got home).
Have fun.

Share The Road

February 26, 2012 Fear, Fitness No Comments

I burned a day’s worth of fear calories this afternoon as Greg and I set off on our long bike ride. We left the house at the same time and headed toward downtown San Mateo. Greg always takes a different route through town, and it’s fun game to see which of us is faster. It largely depends on hitting the traffic lights just right more than anything else.

He got lucky and sailed through one of the lights that takes forever to turn. I was stopped on the other side of the intersection as he made the turn, looking back at me with a big smile that he had “won.” It was then that a Mazda minivan came out of nowhere and directly into his path. I saw the whole thing.

Greg has excellent bike-handling skills and was able to swerve  in order to avoid a more direct hit. He skidded a little bit and caught his balance, though it was clear that the drive had clipped him. The van pulled into a parking spot next to where Greg had gotten off his bike to check the damages. This whole thing happened in 12 seconds. I know this because the pedestrian countdown was ticking away those seconds as I waited for my light to turn green.

This is what happened: the driver of the minivan did a u-turn in the middle of the street (seemingly to snag a parking spot on the opposite side of the street). She didn’t see Greg as she made her turn, as he was coming fast on his bike around the corner. She wasn’t going fast at all, but did turn directly into him.

Greg got very lucky that he was not personally injured. I could see that the car hit his left leg/ankle, based on the way he was wobbling to regain control. He said that it felt like his foot got caught in the front wheel well and he couldn’t get it out for a few seconds. There are a few scuffs on the rear drop-out of the bike. Once he got stopped, he immediately removed the front wheel to test its integrity. Ruined. Greg just got this new tri bike and today’s ride was his second time on it. So disappointing…

Of course, it’s just a piece of equipment and things could have been so much worse. We really dodged a bullet on this one. The driver is trying to say that her light was green (which it wasn’t, because I was waiting at the same light on the other side…) and that doesn’t matter anyway because she made the illegal u-turn before the intersection. Now it’s a matter of whether to fight it or not. The wheel will cost over $300 to replace, not to mention if he has the scratches buffed out on his brand new bike.

The public service announcement to everyone is to WATCH FOR CYCLISTS! This includes motorcycles as well as bicyclists. You don’t have to like us sharing the roads with you, but you do have to respect our right to be there.