Saturday, July 26, 2014

If love propels you

Oh, you guys. I have found a whole new kind of gratitude through this thing. No matter what happens tomorrow, this has already been one of the richest, most powerful, humbling experiences of my life. The outpouring of love and support that I have experienced fills my heart--fills every cell with an appreciation so deep that I can't contain it. My hope is that it comes pouring out of me so that someone else might feel this loved. I experienced this feeling once before, when my little niece Phoebe died. To be able to feel such compassion and kindness now, without the overlay of heart-crushing grief, is a privilege beyond measure. 

Thank you for following along, for thinking of me, for asking about the race, for sending me little notes and poems and videos and photos and cards, for making me signs and for shaking my hand. Your words and thoughts are my fuel!

I want to especially acknowledge my "team" for healing and strengthening my body and really making this physically possible: Kate McMorrow and Thrive, Dave Orsmond at Waldo County Sports and Orthopedics who was exceptionally generous with his time, the PT guys at Orthopedic Associates, and my coach, Scott Layton, who has been an invaluable advisor, cheerleader, and font of knowledge. I feel like it's a miracle to be here. Thank you, guys.

My dear Aunt Sue sent me the "feel loved" card pictured at the top. Inside, she wrote, "If love can propel you, you will lead the pack."

It can. It does. I do.

Thank you all, with so much love back to you-

Only 140.6 to go. See ya on the other side. :)

Gear drop-off and a total freakout

I can't believe how scared I am. Holy shit. My anxiety is off the charts, and it's over something that is actually of no consequence whatsoever. That's the part that makes me laugh and keeps me relatively sane. It's all so freaking absurd, really it is. I mean, COME ON. Yes, yes, yes, I've worked hard and it's going to be tough and blah blah blah, but WHO CARES? It's a totally made up thing. It's not cancer, it's not violence, it's not the Kardashians or any of these truly scary things. I'm not worried about getting hurt, or anything that matters. Not even worried about not finishing. A little worried about being so uncomfortable for so long. Mostly just terrified. It's like I feel when I fly: I'm not actually scared of dying, I'm just scared of being that scared.

I'm also scared of my own mind. How kind will I be to myself tomorrow? We'll just have to see.

So la la la. Spent the day organizing my stuff into bike and run gear for the transitions after the swim and the bike, bike and run "special needs" bags, for halfway between both events, the stuff I need after the race, my nutrition for the whole event. Checked it all in, was so stressed out that total strangers told me to breathe, got talked off the ledge a few times by my fabulous coach, Scott, and a few kind IMLP veterans, then had a pretty good time soaking up the excitement of the scene. Picked up my quadruple espresso from the coffee shop to stick in the fridge for bike mile 56 and the start of the run.

Scott Layton, Ironman athlete, coach and hypnotherapist

Back to the hotel, where this rather fit fellow and I met in the parking lot and hit it off. I said no to the 4:00 movie because I have to be asleep at 7:00, and, well. But still. Hallelujah. 

I'm serious. It is not a joke.
Feet up, foam roller, the Lake Placid hockey movie "Miracle" streaming on the laptop, a hot bath and a light dinner, earplugs, two alarms set for 3:00...

My training buddy is an angel

She would hate this, because she's the one who doesn't want attention, but I can't let this thing go by without publicly acknowledging what a profound influence my training partner and dear friend Mara Crans has been on me.

At the Timberman 70.3 last year
Even though our schedules didn't allow us to work out together all the time (well, that and the fact that she's too fast for me), Mara and I followed the same training plan, so we were doing the same things on the same day for the last 16 weeks. That alone was a huge help, being able to compare notes and strategize and complain and celebrate the same things on the same days.

But I could do that with anyone. Here's the thing. Mara is one of the most genuinely and persistently positive people I know. She's not a pollyanna, all goopy fake and sunshine; she's real about her challenges, but she accepts them with such grace--actually, no, she doesn't just accept them, she embraces them, she tackles them, she stomps them to the ground, then she picks herself up with a big laugh and makes 12 lasagnas because her 4 teenage boys have invited the whole high school and the US Naval Academy over to the house for dinner.

And here's the other thing. Mara was diagnosed with MS eighteen years ago. In the meantime, she has become a powerful athlete who has learned to push her body to its limits while also keeping her MS in check and maintaining an overall level of good health that anyone would envy. She's real about the disease and the additional challenges it offers, but she does not feel sorry for herself in any way, shape or form.

I am kind of a naturally complainy person with a low tolerance for discomfort, so you can imagine the effect that just being with someone like this has had on me. I'm pretty much inspired to shut the f*ck up every time I see her. It's not that she's not sympathetic--she totally is (although she's quick to tell me to put on my "big girl panties" when I complain without merit), it's just that when I feel compelled to whine about, I don't know, how early I had to wake up, I consider how cheerfully she lives with chronic pain, how maybe she can't even get out of bed first thing, and I bite back my grumbling. (I would never know if she can't get out of bed first thing, because she would ever tell me that unless asked directly, by the way.) I have a long way to go for sure, but all this practice has already made me a more positive, less complainy person.

Beyond all that, Mara is an exemplary athlete: she's committed and organized and motivated and she's never late for a 4:30 a.m. workout.  She's smart and she knows things. Did I mention she's a doctor who studied exercise physiology? She knows her body extremely well, and knows how to push herself without getting hurt. She is a yogini. She takes rest days. She eats well.

Which is why it's all the more heartbreaking that a month ago, she experienced an ankle injury that has kept her from running. There were no signs that it was coming. She was doing everything right. Not just right: textbook right. She was the exemplar of healthy training. She was also doing the best and fastest running of her life. Then pop: she was hurt. A month before the race, after 4 months of intense preparation and a huge emotional and physical commitment.

She kept on training, swimming and biking and subbing aquajogging and the elliptical for the run. She is here in Lake Placid determined to do the swim and the bike portion, deciding whether to walk the marathon. She has registered for next year's race.

This week, Mara's sons devised a plan to carry her through the marathon: the eldest would carry her 14 miles, and the other two would take the remainder. Only when they realized that she would be disqualified did they scrap the idea. When she learned of it, her response was 100% Mara Crans: "I mean, who am I to complain...Big whoop, I can't do the run...But I've created these incredible young men who would carry their momma 26 miles." 

Whether you walk those 26 miles or not, Mara dear, my big slow marathon tomorrow is all for you. I'm putting on my big girl panties and I'm gonna try really, really hard not to complain. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Olympic bobsled for tourists

Yesterday I had the great fortune to ride the bobsled at the Olympic training center. Anyone willing to fork over the cash and sign the liability waivers gets hauled halfway up the mountain in a black Suburban by a guy named Gary, fitted in a cheap motorcycle helmet, and trapped into a bobsled modified with wheels and roll bars. We started only half a mile from the finish--just a fraction of the real course--and our speeds would only reach 55, not the 80 MPH the real sledders hit. A wonderful family from Wellesley--a dad and his two girls--welcomed me into their sled for two minutes of sheer terror.

Seriously, I hated it. I mean I loved it/hated it. In the GoPro video, over the clatter of the wheels on concrete you can hear me saying, OH NO! OH GOD! OHHHHH...over and over again. It was too fast, too rough, too upside down, too loud, too rattly, too close to my race and I cannot get injured and who are these so-called "driver" and "brakeman" anyway, they're like 12 years old and probably totally stoned and this thing could just go flying and we'd all be --

And then, only a minute and a half later, it was over, and we were whisked away to pick up our photographs and T-shirts and tote bags compliments of Chevrolet (TM).

The shared trauma bonded our little group, and Dave and the girls let me tag along with them to Tourist Stop #2, the gondola at Whiteface Mountain, kind of a silly ride to the top, look at the view and ride back down thing, but the views were spectacular and the whole thing was a blast.

Lake Placid from Whiteface Mountain

My cool new friends
Whiteface mountain gondola

Ran 30 minutes

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Triathlon tourism and hugging some more Olympians

Deer looking at a bike
Damn, but I'm a good vacationer. Slept late, went for a bike ride on the Saranac road and cultivated a new appreciation for Maine drivers (generally don't drive on the shoulder, rarely honk, don't try to hit you with their beamy boat trailer). Stumbled upon the farmers' market, dug out my list of low-residue/low fiber foods I'm allowed to eat this week (basically 1% of my usual diet, but critical for keeping my gut in shape on Sunday) and bought a gorgeous supply of local plums, cucumbers, carrots, beets, and spinach.

I'm staying at a cute little mom-and-pop motel owned by Anna and Bogdan, a couple originally from Poland. Bogdan has a bike shop out by the tiny swimming pool where he's watching the Tour de France, and he's got a bike stand set up out front under an Ironman tent. Anna says she likes it when "the Iron people come home", and she gave me a free employee pass for all the Olympic venues. 

The Olympic ski jumping complex has a "summer splashdown" freestyle demo series on Wednesdays, so I headed over to watch the kids show their stuff on the jumps above the pool.

Three jumpers in mid-air (bear with me, it's only an iPhone)

They demo was almost over anyway when thunder and lightning chased us all indoors, where I chatted up all the members of the junior Olympic volleyball team who were saying at the training center nearby. The storm cleared, and they opened up the chair lifts for rides up to the big jumps, and a few Olympic team members did what they do on the 90-meter jump. Can I just tell you? No I cannot. Holy crap.



Almost missed this one because I was still so excited about the last one:

And oh my:

Chris Lamb and Luke Daniels

Goin' down the road

Nothing makes me happier than going somewhere new. I'll go anywhere once; the novelty is the thrill. I've traveled to some wonderful places that I'd love to see again, but I never go back, because novelty always wins when it's time to plan the next trip. Loading up the car and hitting the road alone for somewhere new makes me feel free in a way that nothing else does. I came to Lake Placid last month, but I'd never been through Burlington. So layered on my Ironman excitement was the prospect of a drive through northern Vermont and this city that so many friends love.

I left Camden in the highest spirits after a run and swim and a flood of well-wishes from a couple dozen friends. My friend Briar had just given me the perfect shirt for a First Visit to Burlington on the Way to an Ironman, all Phish and wings and fuel and vroom vrrooom vrooooom, so on it went and off I went, elated and free.

At the Penny Cluse in Burlington, home of the veggie reuben to end all veggie reubens

In Bethel, I stopped for a hitchhiker holding a sign for nearby Grantham, NH. I never, ever do this. But I did it. He introduced himself and told me he was a good, Christian guy trying to get home from his girlfriend's house, and for that moment I was less worried about getting chopped into little pieces than listening to him proselytize for three hours. But it was just a thing he said to establish himself as a non-serial-killer, and his only agenda was to get home. Joe nearly fell out of the car when he learned I was heading all the way to Burlington. He was heading home to Hinesville, VT, after a weekend in Bangor visiting his girlfriend, whom he met at the Phish show last summer. He nearly fell out of the car again when he saw my shirt. "You're a good karma girl, a good karma girl," he kept saying. 

A big, gregarious, slighly buzzed 45-year-old kid, Joe offered me snacks and chilled water and told me about his 11-year-old son, Shea, who is 3 years cancer free as of this month. He told me that Shea talks to groups of  200 or 300 people to raise money for Make-A-Wish, and he promised to send photos of the boy with President Obama.

He couldn't believe his good fortune. "I hit a home run today!" he said over and over. I told him my story of preparing for this race, how I feel I'm being carried along in the current of love and support that my friends and family are offering. Thank them, I said, and pay it forward. All I'm doing with the ride is inviting you into the bubble of kindness I've been floating in. 

The car flew past majestic Mt. Washington and into the hills as Van Morrison belted out one soulful tune after another. When we reached Vermont, Joe busted a Grateful Dead CD out of his bag, and cranked it, and we knew all the words of every song they played on July 17, 1990 at Foxboro, and we sang at the top of our lungs as we rolled through impossibly beautiful Vermont countryside. It was all green and blue and yellow and Jerry and Bobby perfection, and Brent was still alive for that show, and I'm going to my first Ironman and his kid beat cancer. 

I took the ferry from Charlotte, VT across Lake Champlain to Essex NY. It was ridiculously fun to be a tourist, and I ran around the small ferry, exploring its corners and chatting with the other passengers and taking pictures.

I'm a day or two early arriving at Lake Placid, and the athletes have not yet descended on the town. A band plays on the lakefront for a crowd of locals and normal-looking tourists. But the Olympic speed skating oval is full of Ironman tents, and Ironman flags hang from local businesses every where. It's surreal and beautiful and so incredibly wonderful.

I'm just crying all the damn time.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The big question



A lot of people have asked this lately, and a few have kindly followed their own question with their most outrageous, exaggerated guesses, offering me a number so preposterous, so impossible, that it's all but guaranteed to make the reality seem like a breeze.

"Will it take you, like, TWELVE HOURS?"

Yeah, it will take me like twelve hours, plus another three or four, if I'm lucky. Here's the deal: the cutoff is at midnight, 17 hours after the race starts. My goal is to finish before the cutoff without injury. To be glad I did it. To be able to enjoy it, in that special way you can enjoy something while you're also suffering through it. To soak up the camaraderie, the love of the crowds, the energy of the event, the thrill of a peak experience that I've prepared for like I've prepared for nothing before. To find out how I handle something so strange and difficult and learn from it. To smile and dance and wave across the finish line. Maybe not dance.

Beyond that, my only time goals have to do with getting it over with. I have no idea how it will go. I will  be thrilled just to finish. I will be elated to do it in 15 hours. I will be overjoyed and shocked if I do it in 14. It won't be less than that, I'm just telling you now. 

For reference, the winner last year did it in 8:39. My wonderful coach and friend Scott is shooting for a sub-ten-hour time. There were 123 athletes who took between 16 and 17 hours. In my age group, 76 women finished. The fastest did it in 10:59. The 76th woman crossed the line 16 hours and 36 minutes after she started.

Right now that's seeming like a really long time. 

Here I go!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ready to go

All packed.

#organized #lakeplacid #tuesday #holyshit

Run: 60 minutes

Harbor to harbor bike ride

Camden to Tenants Harbor, on the prettiest morning ever.
 Bike: 3 hours Run: 15 minutes

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The swimming song

My last long swim before the race: an hour alone in Lake Megunticook at sunrise, with this beautiful song in my head.


Swim 60 minutes,  20 strokes FAST every 200 strokes
Bike 60 minutes

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

God bless my farmers

Been a while since I did a food post, mainly because I figure no one wants to read about how to eat chunks of tofu dipped in soy sauce standing over the stove picking the broccoli out of the steamer with burning fingers, followed by two bowls of granola with hemp milk in bed. Yep, that's how bad it's been. But here we are: I leave for Lake Placid on Tuesday, the race is a week from Sunday. My exercise this week has been cut in half and my nerves are jacked way up. Which means when I got home tonight, I had the time and energy to create a thoughtful meal. And I had some serious inspiration for it. 

One of the highlights of my summer is my weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) share from Village Farm in Freedom. The CSA model offers mutual benefits to farmers and consumers alike. I send in my check in the spring, then every week from June to October, I receive a big bag of whatever's ready for harvest. I'm honored to support the CSA because I think this kind of collaboration is good for people, because small farms are good for the planet, and because my farmer-friends Polly and Prentice are a couple of the finest people you could ever hope to meet.

I also have totally selfish reasons: I love feeling connected to the people who grew my food. I have such gratitude to them for creating this thing that gives me such joy and nourishment. I feel more respect for the food itself. This fresh, local produce is giving me the best nutrients I can get, straight from mama earth. I don't have to think about what to buy, and I don't have to go buy it. I get all kinds of things I wouldn't buy myself. It tastes amazing. And I get an assortment of vegetables that inspire delicious creations. Which brings me to the point of this post: the best salad ever, with thanks to Polly for the recipe idea, which I've adapted based on the incredible bounty I found in this week's share.

Toss together:
3 beets, peeled, sliced, and steamed
About a cup of peas, steamed (I used snap peas because I'm tired but I think shell peas would be nicer)
Fennel bulb, sliced thinly
Garlic scapes, chopped and roasted in a generous amount olive oil
2-3T chopped fresh dill, more if you'd like
Salt to taste
Balsamic vinegar to taste
A little squeeze of lemon if your balsamic is too sweet
More olive oil if you think you need it (I had enough from roasting the scapes, plus I had just eaten a whole avocado when I got home, so, you know.)

Throw on a sprinkle of cashews and marvel at your good fortune.

And oh oh oh: do check out Village Farm's website. It's cool.


1.5 hour bike ride, 1/2 hour run

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Mid-run rising sun dance party on the golf course

At 6 am I was already the happiest runner in the world, with four miles behind me, four to go

the air was cool, the streets empty around Beauchamp Point

and I came up the hill, out of the woods, and this song shuffled into my headphones

(you can click play)*

as this scene came into view

and there was no one in sight

so I danced like a fool in the middle of the road in the middle of that second fairway

I danced like David Byrne

I danced like a child at a wedding

I danced like it was my dancing that powered the sunrise and pushed that sailboat on the horizon

I danced and danced and danced and danced and then I

caught my breath, took a photo, took a drink, and ran on


* If that pesky audio player doesn't work for you, you can get your dance here:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Miss Fussbudget Goes Bicycling

As a kid, when I was especially cranky, my parents would threaten to throw Miss Fussbudget in the nearest major river. Exactly which one depended on where we lived; in the Michigan years it was the Detroit River; in St. Louis, the Mississippi. I don't know where Miss F. ended up when we lived in Indiana--they probably just abandoned her in a corn field.

Nothing is more infuriating to a irritable kid than ridicule, and I remember well how frustrating it was to be reduced to a fictional character who could be disposed of so easily. However, as an adult I realize that laughing at your kid when she's being hideous is one of the things that keeps you from killing her, so overall I'm grateful to my parents for the strategy.

Unfortunately, they never made good on their threats to sink her in the mighty river, because little Miss Fussbudget is alive and well, and today she went on a 70-mile bike ride and complained almost the whole time. Even though the air was sweet with milkweed, even though all the drivers were friendly, even though it was a sparkly perfect weather day, even though the views of the hayfields and distant coastal mountains were nothing short of spectacular, even though we found new roads with fresh pavement, even though that zippy bike topped 40 MPH so many times, even though there were baby turkeys and puppies and puffy clouds and snacks, Miss Fussbudget pretty much hated that entire bike ride. She just couldn't help it. She yelled right out loud, all the way up the New England Road, across Rte. 220 and down a good part of 17. I HATE THIS BIKE I HATE THESE SHOES IT HURTS I AM TOOO TIRED I AM SO SICK OF THIS STUPID EXERCISING THIS WAS THE WORST IDEA I AM TOO TIRED EVERYTHING HURTS I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT I'M NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN I'M THIRSTY I'M GETTING A SUNBURN A HORSEFLY BIT MY BUTT ARE WE THERE YET? NOW HOW MUCH LONGER? OH THIS IS TOO TERRIBLE.

And so on, for five hours. Fortunately, no one was listening, and I dropped Miss Fussbudget's sorry little tush in Rockland at the Blues Festival, raced some motorcycles through town, got home with a smile on my face, and hammered out the best three-mile run I've had all year.

So na na na noo noo, little miss. Into Rockland Harbor with you.


Bike: 5 hours, 71 miles
Run: 30 minutes, 3.3 miles
Holy shit, two weeks.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Why I think I'll finish

This photo. It makes me sob. Literally: gasping, shaking, streaming tears of relief and joy. I can FEEL that finish line in my cells.

Sometimes on my runs, I'll find myself envisioning the finish, and I can hear the announcer: "Shannon Thompson of Camden, Maine, congratulations!!" The crowds are going wild and I'm overcome with emotion. It's visceral--I'm there. I cry every single time I think about it. And not just because I'm a narcissist.

It's been that way for months, even when my old injuries and my doubt made it look like I wouldn't be able to do this. That finish line scene is so alive for me, so immediate and so real, the emotion so raw and intense, that I can't help but believe it's a big part of a probable future. Who knows? Anything could happen between now and then. But as long as I keep falling apart imagining it, I keep believing I'm going to finish that race.

Strength Training
Swim: 20x25, 20x50, Bike 50
This week totals 22 hours of training. I am so tired of exercising. Just so tired.
Next week we start tapering for real.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Photographing while biking

One of the things I miss about normal bike riding is stopping for photographs. If the sole measure of my commitment to my training this year is the number of times I want to stop to take a picture and don't, then I'm doing an amazing job. Early this morning I was out for the Wednesday ride with the Varsity Girls and managed to get a few in while moving. Which I know is really dangerous. I won't do it again. The photos are not very good (I WAS ON A MOVING BICYCLE), but they make me happy.

Bike: 2 hours
Run: 1 hour