I’m excited to kick off The T3 Project with Tieks by Gavrieli — “The ballet flat, reinvented.” This is a great brand for women on the go, and female triathletes are perhaps some of the “going-est” women out there.
As a recap, the T3 Project is about finding brands that help women strike a fashion-forward, time-saving, feel-good balance between their lives as athletes and their lives as moms, wives, friends, working professionals and everything in between. Here’s how Tieks performs on the T3 criteria.
T3 Brands Must Do Good —Tieks Empowers Women Entrepreneurs Around the World
The Gavrieli Foundation contributes money to women around the globe (often in countries where poverty prevails) in order to inspire social change and provide opportunities for women to improve their lives (and those of the people around them). For every “like” the Tieks Facebook page gains, a dollar is donated to the foundation. To date, the company has committed $709,330 to this cause.
T3 Brands Must Be Innovative — Tieks Are Portable, Comfortable Fashion
Any woman who has ever packed a bag to transition from workout to workday at the gym will tell you that getting an entire outfit into a single, compact area without snagging, tearing, wrinkling or soiling the garments is a major stress. Tieks are the only shoes that you can actually fold in half and store in a small, protective pouch.
Handcrafted from fine Italian leather, you can rest assured that you’re not only packing a high quality, fashionable pair of shoes to change into post-workout, but there’s no risk of a jagged heel catching on anything, or your sweaty, dirty workout clothes coming in contact with the leather. (Sweat can eat away the metal frame on a spin bike, and cause hair ties to SNAP after a handful of workouts. Not exactly the kind of substance you want to pack your Louboutins next to).
The shoes are also comfortable, thanks to way they’re made. An elastic band around the majority of the shoe ensures a good fit, but it gives way to a cushioned heel for more support and comfort in the back. Unlike many ballet flats, these shoes are also crafted to offer additional support through the arch of the foot and a durable non-slip traction in the signature Tieks-blue sole. Having a closed-toe shoe that looks and feels stylish, AND is comfortable is a miracle product for the athletic woman whose feet may be in perpetual need of a pedicure (black toenail anyone?) and a massage (ask any woman training for an Ironman which she’d rather indulge in — six-inch stilettos, or a foot rub…).
Tieks come in every color you can imagine, and every pair is shipped with its own packable tote, for the woman who may be looking for a place to ditch her heels and slip into some ballet flats en route to her workout after a day of dress-up.
T3 Brands Must Be Non Multisport — Tieks, Meet Tri. Tri, Meet Tieks.
When I first reached out to Tieks about being featured in the T3 Project, I wasn’t sure how they would respond. The website features a parade of women that evoke high-fashion editorial, as opposed to high-volume training. (No sports bra/bike short tan lines on these ladies, and nary a stich of Lycra to be seen!) The brand was really excited about the multisport audience, and a perfect fit to kick off our project.
FROM BEAST TO BABE: You’ve nailed your tempo run, and hammered out your bike ride. Now transition from workout to werk-it in a pair of Tieks ballet flats without sacrificing style or comfort.
I’m a new mom. I’m not sure I’m doing this right, but we’re both still breathing so I’ll go with it.
My son, Emmett, has two ages. A gestational one: five weeks, and a corrected one: zero. Preemies get to have this kind of “leap year” status for a while until they develop to the same benchmarks as their full-term peers.
Emmett seems to know he arrived early and underweight, and has been enlisting the help of my boobs to get on track as fast as possible. I used to have nice nipples. Pre-pregnancy nipples are small and round like funfetti . These days, they look more like a couple of beat up Chapsticks that went missing—you know what I’m talking about. The ones that eventually turned up in your car one random afternoon in July. THOSE Chapsticks.
This round-the-clock “cluster feeding” as my parenting books refer to it, is really putting a dent in my sleep. I knew this would be part of motherhood, but what’s surprising me is my ability to sleep through breastfeeding. Despite my son’s forceful latch and the fact that my breasts feel like they’re running over a cheese grater every time he feeds, I actually catch myself dozing off and have to snap-to so I don’t drop him onto the floor. I’ve heard women talking about being able to lay down while their children lay beside them feeding peacefully, so I thought I’d give it a try.
It was going well until I heard some congestion. In my snoozy state, I made a note to myself that I’d spend some time in Emmett’s nostrils with the nose plunger the next time we did a diaper change, but then I realized the sound was coming from the breast milk that was running out of his nose.
I was waterboarding my son with breast milk. Worst.mom.ever.
We quickly got ourselves sorted out…I blotted up the milk with the edge of my shirt (note that shirts are just bibs fashioned into garments you can wear over a larger surface area of the body). I pulled Emmett into the familiar football hold, cursing my attempt to innovate the tried and true ways of breastfeeding. In a wave of shame, I glanced around the room as if a jury of experienced moms might be lurking in the shadows of 5:00AM, waiting to revoke my maternal rights.
This cocktail of self-doubt and creativity seems to be a familiar feeling as I head into my sixth week of motherhood.
Triathlon is a combination of three sports, linked together by two transitions. The first transition, T1, is when the athlete goes from swimming to biking. It usually requires the athlete to make a mad scramble from the water to an area where she sheds her wetsuit, puts on cycling shoes and grabs her bike before cycling for several hours. The second transition, T2, is when the athlete puts her bike away, changes to sneakers and heads out to run a number of miles before finishing her race.
Ladies, I think it’s time to talk about a third transition.
T3: The transition from tri training back to the rest of our lives.
I’m all for tearing up a workout, getting down and dirty and going beast-mode to be a better athlete, but when the workout is over I want to get back to my softer side…I just don’t have a lot of time to do that.
In 2014, I’m committing myself to make the effort to reclaim a little bit of the woman I was before Ironman. I’m not talking about LESS training, or editing my goals…I’m talking about bringing back some of the style and flare I used to spend time and money on BEFORE I started swimming, biking, and running 17-20 hours a week. I’m talking about the MOJO before multisport.
I’m on a mission to find the brands that make it possible for me to look and feel just as good in the boardroom as I do on the bike. I’m packing away the race T-shirts, yoga pants, flip-flops and sneakers, and pumping up the pizazz, pretty and polish. I’m looking for function AND fashion, sense AND style, comfort AND couture.
And don’t tell me it’s not possible, because if being an Ironman has taught me just a single thing, it’s that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.
To kick off the project, I’ve researched a few brands that GET it. I’ll be featuring the first T3 brand and product review in January here on TRI MOJO. The brands that GET IT understand that we wear many hats in our lives.
It’s not just about making it easier to go from swim cap to helmet to visor, but to the hats we wear as career women, moms, volunteers, board members, social butterflies, and everything in between.
Here’s how it works. I’ll review a new brand/product every month, as long as it meets the following T3 guidelines:
T3 Brands Must Do Good
Triathlon has become a platform for spreading awareness and making positive changes in the world. Many athletes use the sport to improve a cause close to their hearts. We’re looking for brands that do the same. Just like triathlon is about more than the numbers on the clock, a T3 brand needs to be about more than the numbers on the bottom line.
T3 Brands Must Be Innovative
As triathletes, we’re constantly looking for brands that “change the game.” Innovation in multisport usually boils down to the ways a product can ultimately improve our performance to make us faster. A T3 brand needs to find ways to bring flare, function and fashion together FASTER so we can Clark-Kent our way out of a locker-room looking and feeling like the amazing women we are.
T3 Brands Must Be Non Multisport
This is not your typical triathlon gear review guide, and therefore we are not looking for your typical triathlon gear. We will not review any products that are traditionally associated with the sport. A T3 brand is one that caters to the woman on the other side of her workout.
I’ve been working out for four weeks now, after having to recover from my emergency C-Section 12 weeks ago. Sitting the bench (er, couch) for two straight months took its toll on my fitness level, but ironically I’m feeling more alive and healthier than I’ve ever felt before as I exercise these days.
Last week I did my first real run — five miles looping through my neighborhood, averaging just over nine minutes per mile. Honestly, I was shocked to be running anything under 10-minute miles. I’m 25 lbs overweight, was running in the middle of a hot summer day, and have logged most of my workouts post-surgery off the handle of the stroller. Truth be told? I think that baby buggy is my secret weapon. It’s forcing me to change my perspective on fitness (five miles of walking with a stroller can be just as taxing as seven hours riding a bike!), and pushing me to get more creative with workouts (you say stroller, I say portable gym!).
Sharing is caring, so I thought I’d put together a list of tips for anyone who finds their hands tethered to the toddler-mobile these days. All hope is not lost — you CAN get an effective workout in with your stroller, and it doesn’t have to be boring.
Stroller Workout Rule #1: Lose your ego
Before you read the rest of this, make peace with the fact that you will look slightly crazy you will look like an over-caffeinated psycho trying to stifle a deluge of nervous ticks as you walk around your neighborhood doing your workout. Why? Because in order to make walking into an effective aerobic workout, you have to werk that walk. I follow two rules when I’m walking for a workout:
1) When walking at slower paces, take the biggest step you can by placing your heel on the ground as far away from your body as is comfortable, then rolling through the foot and pushing off on the toe. Focus on squeezing every muscle in your leg as you step the body forward.
2) When walking at quicker paces, think of each step like a sharp, precise dance move. Snap your gait into a rhythm and keep the speed consistent like a metronome.
I usually have music on while I’m walking, so I let the song dictate which pace to go with. It promises you some variety over a series of miles, and will force the body to switch gears as you move along. Try to channel your inner speedwalker. If you’ve never seen actual speedwalking, do a Google search on it. It’s not your leisurely shuffle through the neighborhood. It’s actually much harder (and more aerobically effective) than a slow jog — but it will make you look straight cray.
Stroller Workout Rule #2: Change the way you see your neighborhood
You see Stop signs, I see “Challenge Stations.” In my neighborhood, there are a series of streets that connect in a big figure-8 pattern. Each figure-8 is approximately one mile, and there are several Stop signs along the route. In my attempt to be less bored with doing the same figure-8 over and over again to complete a five-mile walk, I started to weave in some challenges to be completed every time I encountered a Stop sign. Some of the challenges include: Running sprints between every other Stop sign; Stopping to do 15 squats every time I pass a Stop sign; Doing 20 burpees every time I pass a Stop sign.
My favorite challenge workout involves LOTS of lunges. I’ll walk a brisk warm-up mile to start, then do more mile-loops with the following rule: On the first mile, I must do 10 walking lunges at every Stop sign. On the second mile, I must do 20 walking lunges at every Stop sign. On the third mile, I do 30 walking lunges at every Stop sign. And in between Stop signs, I must walk with the pace of whatever song is playing (See Rule #1). The key to a good walking lunge is to make sure you bring the body up from the lunge position while keeping the weight in the heel of the foot on the standing leg. You’ll know you’re executing the movement correctly if you find yourself squeezing your glutes tight at the top of each lunge. Burn, baby, burn!
Stroller Workout Rule #3: Don’t forget your upper body!
It might seem impossible to engage the upper body in a stroller workout, since you need your hands to push the unit forward. Truth is, you only need one hand for that. The other hand can hold an eight-pound hand weight and give you the opportunity to tone your arms as you cover mile after mile. The trick here is to focus on high rep work, so you shouldn’t go much heavier than a 10-lb weight at the most. You can time your reps however you’d like to — stick with bicep curls for a full street, then switch to tricep kick backs on the next street, or count reps before switching muscle groups or moving the weight to the other hand. Whatever you do, keep the balance equal on both sides and be sure you’re using a weight that you can control as you’re walking. The moment you find yourself swinging your arm around all willy-nilly is the moment you should decrease the weight factor or lose the hand weight totally. You can still tone the arms simply by squeezing the muscles!
And what about the core? That can play too. Find a flat grassy patch to stand in, and turn your body so that the outside edge of your hip is perpendicular to the back of the stroller. Grab the handle bar with the hand that’s closest to the rig, then take a big side step away from the stroller so your arms form a “T” and one hand is holding the handle, while the other is outstretched away from you. With your hand gripping the bar, lean the body to the side, away from the stroller, then lean the body back toward the stroller using your core to push it forward and backward. This side-to-side motion works the obliques, and uses the weight of the baby and the stroller to challenge the muscles. Do 15-20 reps, then flip your body to work the other side. To make this harder, you can also do the exercise with the stroller on an incline (I like to stick to grass to create more resistance, but you can do it on pavement if you’d rather).
Stroller Workout Rule #4: Stay hydrated
When I first started “working out” with the stroller, I didn’t think I’d be taxing my body the same way I do when I’m really working out. I was wrong. Many of my stroller workouts take place between 10:00AM-3:00PM, during the hottest part of the day. “Just five miles with the stroller” didn’t seem like anything I’d need to manage with nutrition or hydration. If you’re breastfeeding, you NEED to keep fluids and snacks handy especially when you’re working out. The good thing about working out with your stroller is that you have a great place to stash this stuff, so there’s no excuse to let your body get depleted on your walkabout.
The stroller might not be the carbon-fiber sexy rig I’m used to using when I go out the door for a workout, but the change of pace has been exciting for me and the challenge of making workouts work in the context of motherhood was one I was happy to accept. One year ago, I completed my third Ironman, crossing the finish line in just over 13 hours. It was a personal best for me by more than a half hour at the 140.6 distance. A month after that, I became pregnant and had to change the way I worked out (I stayed active throughout pregnancy, but had to really dial back on the intensity). I’ve missed the feeling of pushing and challenging myself.
While I don’t have an A-race that I’m training for, or any specific goals to accomplish with my workouts at the moment, I have enjoyed these past four weeks of getting to know my body as “mom.” Getting to look down and see my son’s smile as I push the stroller mile after mile reminds me that the sacrifice of faster mile splits, smaller bras, and shorter shorts is well worth the reward of his presence in my life. He makes me feel 10 times more alive than any workout ever could.
Recently, I received an email from a fellow cycling instructor in Australia asking me for advice on how to put together an Advanced Cycling class on a stationary bike (or spin bike). It’s a question I’ve gotten before from athletes who want to recreate my class on their own time, and from other instructors learning to coach an experience somewhere between “aerobic workout class” and “hardcore triathlon training session.” With five years of “advanced cycling” experience behind me, and dozens of happy, strong athletes to vouch for the success of my classes, I feel qualified to answer this and thought I would share it on my blog for anyone who wants a few tips on how to put a new spin on their indoor cycling workout.
I’d like to preface this by saying that the terminology “advanced cycling” does not mean that my classes are intended for only very fit people or established athletes. The classes are “advanced” because they go beyond the ideas of simply burning calories and completing a workout. The classes are designed to build endurance for athletes, but also for people who want to reach a bit further in their workouts—to exercise body and mind. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed the attendance of Ironman finishers, newbie triathletes, senior-citizens, stay-at-home moms, recovering cancer patients, Biggest Loser challengers, thrill-seeking fitness junkies, amputees, first-time cyclists, and teenagers in my classes. There is no “certain type” for an Advanced Cycling class.
It’s about a mindset, not a fitness level.
OUTSIDE WE HAVE ROADS, INSIDE WE HAVE MUSIC.
Putting together a successful spin class requires a motivational playlist. This is not a news flash. However, when you’re trying to make the class emulate an outdoor ride, you need to think of more than just the sound of the music. When I listen to potential songs for my class, I’m listening for “topography.” I can hear hills, straight-aways, brutal climbs and false flats. As a coach, my job is to weave together songs in a way that makes my athletes feel as though they’re covering miles in one continuous movement, just as they would outside on the road. When we approach a hill from a flat road, we don’t stop the bike and get a drink, we “blend” the efforts together seamlessly. We shift the bike into a higher gear and begin to spin the legs to tackle the hill, and when we crest the peak, we resume a slower cadence in a harder gear. In a typical spin class, the focus is on the effort within each song, and the instructor will usually tee up the experience to begin and end with the start and finish of the song.
TIP: To recreate the outdoor riding experience, you must focus on the moments between the songs to emulate the flow of a long, continuous ride.
WE HAVE TO GET THROUGH THE WALL. ALL FOUR OF THEM!
Endurance athletes talk about the “wall.” It’s the term used to describe the point in the workout where we struggle to keep moving forward. It’s the place where many give up, or greatly compromise their expectations. Overcoming the wall is a very mental experience—it’s a game of chicken between what you think you can do, and what you can actually do. The more confidence you have as an athlete, the easier it is to break through what you perceive to be your limit. When you take a “long ride” inside, you’ll often have a tougher time executing it. This is because boredom sets in, and boredom can breed unproductive thinking (or “negative self talk” in coaching terms). Great music is part of the remedy for pushing limits, but it can only take us so far. When you log a few hours on a stationary bike with four walls as your only scenery, you’re bound to figure out a few excuses for cutting the workout short. As a coach, my job is to help athletes “see” beyond the four walls to stay the course. Using the music, I play off the tones and texture of the sound to help people feel (and therefore see in their minds) the miles we’re covering. I like to think of myself as a catalyst…I don’t want to see the road for them, I want to give them enough inspiration and motivation to start to see it for themselves. In this way, I use the class as an opportunity to teach visualization technique.
TIP: Ask athletes to come to class with a few specific roads in mind. When you begin to cue certain tracks in the workout, coach them through the process of using the music to visualize the hills or flats they’ve filed to memory.
YOU HAVE TO PUT PASSION IN THE PEDALS.
It’s not enough to have the right music, and say the right things in front of your class. I could put together the best playlist and draft a perfect script for any instructor to deploy in class, but it will not guarantee a successful experience. In my years of experience as a fitness instructor, coach, athlete and class attendee, I have seen that passion is without a doubt the single most important motivator for people to attend a class. I’m lucky enough to be part of a gym that has always had a strong team of engaging and motivating fitness instructors. Many of us have been coaching and leading classes for five or more years. One of the core beliefs of any fitness instructor is that we have to be more exciting than the StairMaster and the treadmill. That’s how we get people to go from their solitary workouts on machines to a camaraderie-driven atmosphere of cardio party fun. On a treadmill, you push the buttons. In a class environment, we push the buttons. That requires KNOWING who you are, what you’re all about, and what makes you tick.
People are drawn to people with passion because it gives them an opportunity to open up their minds to the idea of their own potential. The treadmill can make you feel good about a workout. The right class can make you feel good about life. The best instructors are the ones who so clearly love what they’re doing, that you can’t help but love what you’re doing when you’re with them.
How else would it be possible for me to lead a group of people through two straight hours on a spin bike on a Friday night? I love what I do, and it shows in the way I coach my class. It’s a passion that I cannot fake and cannot teach any other instructor to have. There are times when we have to navigate unforeseen obstacles in class—the stereo system will suddenly stop working, the mic breaks, etc. We’ve done two-hour advanced cycling classes with no music before. When you’re the coach, you make it work. You pull from your passion, and you lead.
TIP: Figure out what drives you as an instructor/coach, and weave that into your class experience. Coach athletes to see the class experience as a life-changing event rather than “just another workout.”
DON’T TEACH MY CLASS, TEACH YOUR CLASS.
“Passion” is a good segue to my final piece of advice, which is that you have to make the class authentically “yours.” We are all driven to fitness classes and athletic challenges for different reasons. At the heart of every person who raises their heart rate during a workout, there is raw emotion at work.
We turn to fitness to fix our health. So we do not die.
We turn to fitness to fix our feelings. So we can be happy when something crappy happens.
We turn to fitness to fit into clothes. Because we want to look and feel a certain way.
Fitness is tied to who we are and what we want to be as people. As a coach, if you can channel YOUR core emotions into building blocks that help your athletes find what they’re looking for in their own workouts, you’ll be successful.
TIP: You know how you tend to “confess” things to the person you work out with? That’s because when we’re working out, we’re churning the waters in our soul. Things loosen, surface and flow out of us when we start to sweat. Share a bit of that with your class—show them who you are as a person, not just a coach. In life, we are inspired by anecdotes. Don’t make your class all “business,” be sure to share some of the “personal” too.
I never expected to feel so lost without a big race to train for.
I’ve been training for big races for more than 10 years, and I haven’t had a summer in as much time where most of the weekends weren’t earmarked for hours-long workouts. As my pregnancy was coming to an end, I remember feeling giddy over the idea that this summer I had NOTHING on the calendar to feel accountable for. No races, no work. I’m on maternity leave until September and my only focus is on being a new mom.
The nice weather arrived and people began posting status updates on Facebook about long rides and runs, open water swims and the first triathlon races of the season. Though excited to be a mom, there were moments I stared longingly at my pink bike in the basement, sitting idle in a corner where it was promptly stashed after completing Ironman Mont-Tremblant last August. What I wouldn’t give to have my body back for one Sunday to soar over the scenic miles of the Syracuse 70.3 tri course with sweat glistening on my shoulders and delicious pain in my legs…
And I never expected to feel so “found” when I held him in my arms.
I’ve heard about mom love. The “infinity times infinity” level of emotion that women realize when they have babies. Before holding Emmett, the only frame of reference that I had for feeling that level of love and protection over something was with regard to our dog, Reilly. She’s 22 lbs and spends most of her time draped upon my lap, staring at me adoringly with squinty eyes while I pet her six ways from Tuesday. Everybody warned me that when the baby got here, I’d feel one thousand times more attached to him than I did to the pug, and that my affections for the family pet would be redirected to my son.
“Yeah, yeah,” I thought. “I have enough love for my dog and my baby.”
My husband used to joke with me (I say joke, but his tone usually suggested he was on the verge of initiating a borderline serious talk…) that I gave the pug more affection than I gave to him. It was probably true. I’ve always been kind of a loner…someone that doesn’t need people around to be entertained or feel okay in moments of weakness or sadness. Historically, I’ve relied on experiences or inanimate objects to fulfill passions and find a sense of security, not people. Over the years, I’ve learned to find this affection with people. My husband will tell you that I’ve come a long way. I will tell you that I’m just your typical independent Aquarius that is being broken down by the maturing emotions of one in their mid-thirties.
On May 24, whatever barriers were still left standing were broken down by all five lbs and three ounces of my Little Man. He is almost a month old now, and I have gone from Ironman to Ironmush. I’d love to blame all the sobbing and sensitivity on hormones, but the truth of it is that I am forever changed. I’ve realized that I am part of him and he is part of me and that my husband and I have created a family that is so much more compelling and meaningful than any finish line in any race. That isn’t to say that I’ve lost my spark for multisport and fitness, just that I’ve found something that exceeds those passions for the first time in my life. And I’ve found it in people.
People scare the hell out of me. They can change, die, move, grow out of you, turn on you, break you. I think that’s what has always made me wary of letting “people” in. People can’t be measured in distances, prepared for through training, or a be a means to an end. People ebb and flow. They are unpredictable. They are deep. You can fall into them and lose your way. I never wanted to feel lost in that, because I’m a planner. I’ve always got a destination and road map to get there. People aren’t like that. People don’t come with maps. And people don’t always care where you’re going, or if you ever get there.
But I’m learning to be okay with that.
I’m learning to measure life in moments now, rather than miles.
I’m gauging progress by heartstrings, rather than heartrates.
I can spend an hour staring at my son sleeping in my arms and it has the same calming effect as a recovery swim across the Jamesville Reservoir.
This isn’t to suggest that I was void of any emotion or human connection before my son was born, it just didn’t come as easy to me before now.
As an athlete, mojo is that X-factor that helps me to be mentally present in the moment in order to perform to the best of my ability in a workout or a race. It sets the tone for every stroke in the swim, every pedal on the bike, every stride in the run. Without mojo, the body merely goes through the motions. With mojo, you allow all five of your senses to absorb an experience and maximize it for body and mind.
As a mom, I find that I still have that mojo… The same stuff that has powered my pink bike over thousands of miles, will power me through the rest of my life as Emmett’s mom and Krispin’s wife. It’s okay that I’ve got 20 lbs to lose as I recover from the C-section. It’s okay that my mascara is running because of tears rather than sweat. I’m alright with pushing the stroller as opposed to pushing the pace.
Maybe the most daunting thing about this new mojo is that I know I will never be able to turn it off. There is no finish line, no race day.
There is EVERY day. And if there is one thing that having HELLP Syndrome has taught me (other than morphine is awesome), it’s that EVERY DAY counts. EVERY DAY is what matters.
My husband and I were going to shoot for the most natural birth possible. We registered for a spot in “The Birth Place” of our local hospital (St. Joseph’s in Syracuse, NY) where the goal is to go through labor and delivery with as few interventions as possible.
Being an athlete, I was actually looking forward to the challenge of a little pain along the way and using the body and mind to manage the experience as it unfolded. In fact, it was nearly expected of me. As a three-time Ironman finisher, everyone in my world reassured me that I was well prepared for the rigors of childbirth thanks to the thousands of miles I’ve put in over 10+ years of training for endurance sports. You say “contractions,” I say “intervals.” Ready to push? I’m on it. I’ll go to the same place I’ve been so many times to get my weary, cramped up legs to give me just one more mile to make it to the finish line. Sure, it wouldn’t be quite the same. My vagina was never torn or stretched during an Ironman, but I’ve been on the pain train in other ways. I knew how to cope and turn pain into push, and turn push into success.
Body and mind. That’s where I would be focusing, as our due date June 30 got closer.
But on May 24, my birth plan went from body and mind, to body and morphine.
Things changed quickly, and in retrospect, in a sort of comical, ironic way.
The weekend of May 18, we were in the hospital for a two-day orientation on natural birth techniques. We learned how to incorporate water, stability balls and breathing into the labor process. We watched videos of natural births. We dabbled in conversations about dilation and timing the drive to the hospital and mood lighting. During the tour, we saw the rooms that we’d be in if we chose to stick with the Birth Place, and the traditional labor and delivery rooms where things were less “sway and breath” and more “give me the f*cking epidural.”
We saw the big double doors that would swing open in the event of an emergency.
“Moms, you’ll be rushed into this operation room where we can remove a baby in less than 10 minutes. Dads, you’ll have to wait outside,” the nurse explained as we looked through the small square windows at the bright fluorescent lighting that was the exact opposite of what I outlined in my birth plan. I’m all about low lighting anyway, but this would especially apply to any situation where I’m to be laying spread eagle with no clothes on.
Ain’t nobody looking for fluorescent lighting in THAT scenario.
The tour ended with a walk through the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit). It was a heartbreaking scene that made all us expectant moms hold our breath and silently pray that we wouldn’t need to be there again. At this point in my pregnancy, I had no reason to believe that I would be. I was 34 weeks along and passed every prenatal appointment with flying colors. My pants still fit, my baby was growing perfectly, and I was in a great mood. I’d just retired from teaching three hours worth of spin classes every week. Aside from some swelling feet, I had little to be concerned about.
One thing that was highlighted over and over in the orientation was the idea that if ever we felt that something wasn’t quite right, we should always call our doctors. There were no stupid concerns, no dumb questions.
On Monday, May 20, I woke up feeling like something wasn’t right. I had a lot of clear liquid between my thighs that was unlike anything else I’d experienced yet. It was like water, but I felt it was too soon for it to be THAT water, and I wasn’t sure what it could have been otherwise. I had chest pains that seemed like heartburn, but weren’t going away when I took heartburn medications. And even after eating a yogurt and having a glass of juice, I didn’t feel my baby moving. That wasn’t normal. I called the doctor’s office to describe everything and they made arrangements for me to come in that morning.
In the doctor’s office, I was hooked up to a fetal monitor that measures the baby’s heart rate and my contractions. These were just small contractions that weren’t of the “active labor” variety, but going on nonetheless. It was news to me, I hadn’t felt any contractions in my pregnancy at that point. Then the nurse gave me a clicker and told me to click the button every time I felt the baby kick. Over the course of forty minutes, I clicked it only twice. I had my urine tested and blood drawn, and the end result of that visit was that the doctor wanted me to head to the hospital for extended monitoring.
At this point, the hunch was that I had preeclampsia. At the hospital, I went on the monitor again for a couple of hours and started a 24-hour urine catch (saving all of your urine for 24 hours in a big jug. It’s as sexy as it sounds). The doctor also checked to see if my cervix had dilated — not surprisingly, it had not. Zero centimeters. This baby was staying in the womb, thank you very much. Since my blood pressure was okay over the course of the afternoon, the doctor released me that evening and said I could complete the urine catch at home, with the caveat that if ANYTHING felt weird or like it was getting worse, I was to call her. That night, things were fine and we breathed a sigh of relief, as it seemed that all was well with mom and baby. Around 4:00AM on Tuesday, May 21, I woke up with the chest pain again and it was worse than the day before. We called the doctor and were asked to return to the hospital.
The plan was that I would be back under the monitors again until 3:00PM that afternoon, when the 24-urine catch would be completed and they could test it. So we grabbed a few things to keep us occupied for a “long day” and headed back to the hospital where I was ordered into a gown and given a Hep Lock. I have a REALLY big phobia of veins, and was really queasy at the thought of this tube structure being inserted into my hand and left there for “whatever” for any length of time. Little did I know, the Hep Lock would be the least of my worries in the near future. To better tolerate the invasive wad on my hand, I asked the nurse to cover it completely with tape so I could not see it. And I named it “Charlie.” I proceeded to hold that forearm in a straight position like a robot so not to bend Charlie around in positions that would flex or stretch my veins.
Being in the hospital from 4:00AM til 3:00PM means meeting a parade of new nurses with every shift change. I did my best to convince every single one of them to remove the Hep Lock seeing as how the only thing I was really doing all day was peeing into a giant cup and getting my blood pressure taken every hour. Nobody would take Charlie out though. He had to stay there “just in case.” Meh.
At 3:00PM, the urine catch was complete and the nurse said she thought it looked good enough for me to be discharged home. She had been dipping test strips into my urine all day and found nothing of concern. Sure enough, the doc was just entering the room to tell me the results were good, when the fetal monitor alerted the nurse that the baby’s heart rate had dipped. Nobody was certain if it was actually the baby’s heart rate dipping, or if the monitor had momentarily picked up my heart rate instead of his. Whatever the case, it was certain that the mood changed in that room. I locked eyes with my husband, and tried to focus on him through the chaos.
A team of nurses rushed in and the light banter that had been going on was replaced with doctor lingo going back and forth around the room as Charlie was hooked up to an IV, my underwear were stripped off, and the doctor’s hand went whoosh into me, followed by the words, “Two centimeters.”Come again? The day before I was zero centimeters dilated. Now I was two?
Needless to say, between the dilation and fetal monitor meltdown, I was not released from the hospital that afternoon. Things got a little bit crazy from that point on. We ended up spending the night on Tuesday, and a whole bunch of “fun” was ordered for me.
“Order” is a term that I learned to hate while staying in the hospital because it usually translated to, “a request for someone to come in the room and stab you with something.” Before this week, “order” was what you did to get Chardonnay or burritos to appear in front of you. “Order” was a way to get shoes in the mail from Zappos. “Order” was not about making a fist while a giant rubber band cut off the circulation in your arm.
By Wednesday, May 22, my blood pressure and lab work was good enough that the doctor ruled out preeclampsia, and the fetal monitoring showed no more abnormalities with the baby’s heart rate. The silver lining for Wednesday was a) ruling out my chest pain as a cardiac condition, b) ruling out my chest pain as a gall bladder condition, and c) having a full-fledged sonogram of the baby to determine if his motor skills and development were on track (they were). I don’t know what I would have done without my husband in the hospital with me for all these tests. Though most of them were just precautionary, I knew better than to think that everything would be okay anymore. For twenty-four hours I’d been poked, prodded, lubed up, checked out and woken up for various tests. Eye contact and hand-holding with Krispin were necessary, simple pleasures that helped me to leap-frog from one scary, crappy moment to the next.
We had two sonograms of the Little Man that day. In the first one, he was happily sucking his thumb. In the second, he had his foot in his mouth. The nurse said those were good signs, because the “sucking” action was an advanced skill for that age. I felt my motherly pride kick in when she said that, and in a weird “foreshadowing way,” felt relieved that if he were to come out early, he would be okay because he was doing so well with his growth in the womb.
We were released that night, and I was “ordered” a follow-up appointment with my doctor in the regular office on Friday morning. Thursday, May 23, I went back to work as usual. Co-workers asked how I was feeling, and I told them I felt good and was happy that I didn’t have preeclampsia, and that I would be sitting at my desk with my legs crossed for the rest of my pregnancy so that my baby would stay put until he was full term.
Thursday night, I didn’t sleep. The heartburn struck again and we tried several things to relieve it. Heartburn medicines didn’t seem to do anything, but Greek yogurt took the edge off. Krispin started a food diary for me, jotting down the time I was eating and what every item was. We were determined to pinpoint the source of the problem. I had three Greek yogurts that night, and I’m not sure if it actually relieved the pain or if it was a placebo effect — but I went with it. I slept on the couch for a precious hour with my body propped up at a ninety-degree angle, waiting for dawn to break so I could just be awake and feel normal about it. At 7:00AM on Friday morning, May 24, I got myself into the shower and focused on having a normal day. I had a client meeting at 9:30AM, after which I would leave work to go to my follow-up doctor’s appointment. Since the heartburn was feeling better, I was anticipating a brief visit — bang out a good blood pressure, pee in a cup, and get on with Memorial Day weekend. I was thinking it would be a good night to go catch a movie — The Great Gatsby, or maybe the new Star Trek.
I got to the doctor’s office at 11:00AM, with a freshly printed Birth Plan in hand. One of the prerequisites for the Birth Place was to draft such a plan and review it with the doctor prior to submitting it to the hospital. I also had a food log that Kris wrote down. Since I was expecting a ho-hum appointment, I told my husband to stay at work and that I could go on my own. I was called back to the exam room to get my blood pressure taken, and knew within about 30 seconds that things were going to be crazy again. And that I wished Krispin was with me after all. As soon as my blood pressure registered on the device the nurse’s face twisted into a “holy sh*t” expression and she immediately said she would redo it because it was so high. In an effort to calm myself, I explained that I’d literally just run from work to the appointment, and from my car into the office not 20 minutes ago. Plus, I’d forgotten the folder with the Birth Plan and the food log in it, so I had to quickly run back out to the car to grab it before I was called back to the exam room.
See? There was a perfectly fine explanation for my astronomical blood pressure.
She took it again in 10 minutes, and I was still high. This is when I felt my face getting scrunchy and my eyes burning. Normally, Kris would be with me and be able to quash these seeds of emotion before they became visible to the outside world, but as I was alone this time, I did a piss poor job of holding back the tears. I was brought back to a little room where a fetal monitor was set up — gear that I was overly familiar with at this point having just spent a few days attached to it in the hospital. Once again, I was told to click a button every time I felt any movement in my belly. As tears streamed down my face, the nurse assured me that everything was okay.
This was just a fetal monitor! No big deal. I don’t think she realized what I’d gone through in the past few days, and that to me, it was obvious my “ho-hum” appointment was sprouting red flags like dandelions in a summer lawn.
She offered me a juice to ease my fears, which I gulped down in a fury to inspire the fetal movement I so desperately hoped to feel this time around on the monitor. Luckily, over the course of 30 minutes, my Little Man was kicking up a storm as if to say, “See Mom? I got your back. I’m doing well in here, don’t worry.” I breathed a sigh of relief as I continued clicking and clicking through the session. “Take my blood pressure now, “ I thought to myself. “Now, I am calm.”
After another 15 minutes, the nurse returned and took my blood pressure again. “Lower than before, but still high,” she said. Then she ran her fingers over my swollen feet and the concerned look on her face told me that we were not out of the woods on this, not even close. “I’m going to have Dr. Bowen see you now,” she said.
Dr. Bowen was one of my favorite people in the practice, and the doctor that discharged me from the hospital the day before. He said my son looked strong and that everything was going to be okay with my baby. He had the demeanor of Mr. Rogers and the most soothing voice in the whole world as he described medical situations. When he arrived in the room with his stethoscope and blood pressure cuff, he was all business that morning.
At this point, I could do nothing to stop the building deluge of tears that were forming behind my face. They were streaming down my cheeks when he came into the exam room and he said nothing soothing, no reassuring words, no “it will be okay.” He did the blood pressure twice, and told me that I needed to get to the hospital again for monitoring, that the numbers just weren’t going in my favor.
I left the office sobbing, and called my husband. In short bursts of speaking, I explained that we had to go back to St. Joe’s for more monitoring. He came home to get me, and we packed a bag. This time, we brought a few more things — power cords for the iPad, our own toothbrushes, a change of clothes, etc. I was prepared for an overnight stay, but didn’t think it would come to that. I certainly wasn’t packing as if our baby would be arriving in a few hours.
In my mind, we were still going to see The Great Gatsby later.
Things changed quickly once we arrived to the hospital. The blood that was drawn at the doctor’s office earlier was evaluated and a doctor came into the labor and delivery room I was assigned to. Based on my blood work, they determined that I had HELLP Syndrome. HELLP is a life-threatening pregnancy complication usually considered to be a variant of preeclampsia. HELLP stands for H (hemolysis, the breaking down of the red blood cells), EL (elevated liver enzymes), and LP (low platelet count). Looking at websites with information on the disease, I can see how the week’s worth of symptoms and monitoring FINALLY gave the doctors a clue as to what was going on with me. While HELLP shares some of the symptoms of preeclampsia (protein in the urine and high blood pressure), it doesn’t have to include those and can be present even when urine and blood pressure are okay. So when the doctors were monitoring me for preeclampsia and thinking that I was improving as my urine and blood pressure got better, I was actually getting worse with HELLP and part of the key to my diagnosis was the ongoing chest pain which was never heartburn, but my liver being inflamed. Chest tenderness, pain in my right upper quadrant and shoulder pain while breathing deeply were all HELLP symptoms and all things that I was experiencing and believing to be some combination of heartburn or the baby taking up so much room within my petite frame that I was having trouble breathing because my diaphragm was being pressed.
We were all wrong, but Friday morning the pieces came together.
The doctor stood before me and outlined the options, with the caveat that once another set of results came in, she might make a call on what would happen based on my current platelet count. As it stood in that moment, not 10 minutes after I arrived to the hospital to get a new Hep Lock inserted into my already Hep-Lock bruised hand, we were having our baby. The plan was to induce me, but if the blood work wasn’t great, I would get a C-Section. Neither option thrilled me. I was still nervous about having the baby so early, but I could tell that the situation was dire enough that we didn’t have a choice. While the baby was absolutely fine, it was me — my body — that was not fine.
In the five minutes or so of sitting in shock over the idea that we were having the baby more than a month early, I thought about the irony of my friends and family reassuring me of my ability to experience birth because of my years of endurance training.
I’m not going to lie — I had visions of my baby breezing through the birth canal on or about June 30, sliding into the doc’s hands as he crowned in the aero position. I’d been healthy and active throughout my pregnancy. I ate the right things. I did the right things. His head was already down and in position. I completed orientation and had a birth plan all typed up, proofread and printed up for the big day! I couldn’t help but think that my body was letting me down in this moment, that if I didn’t get my baby out of me quickly, I would be putting him in danger because my blood wouldn’t be able to clot once the labor started and the delivery occurred.
How could my body make it through three Ironman races, but shut down before my first birth? It was a jarring feeling for me.
The doctor returned, and the mood changed yet again. “The number isn’t what I was hoping for,” she said, in reference to my platelet count. The new option — the only option — was an emergency C-Section. A normal platelet count is 150. Mine was at 50, and rapidly declining. They start to worry with anything lower than 80.
What happened next seems like a blur. A lot of people came into the room. My parents hadn’t arrived to the hospital yet, so it was just me and my husband and a lot of medical folks. I was being hooked to an IV of magnesium which I kept confusing with an IV of “magma.” Might as well have been, it made my whole body burn as if there was fire in my veins.
The anesthesia guy came bedside and proceeded to give me the spiel on signing the consent form, which boiled down to “you might die, now sign this.” On the other side of my bed was my husband who was trying desperately to make the situation feel less scary than it was. Just before I was whisked away, he reminded me that this is how we do things…fast, crazy, out-of-the-ordinary. A true statement for the couple that got engaged, married, bought a house and became pregnant all within about a year and a half. The idea made me smile — our crazy life together was just proceeding in a normal fashion. Our son wasn’t going to be a June baby, he was going to be May baby. And while I’d been joking throughout the pregnancy that I’d be happy if he came a little early (because I would prefer a Gemini to a Cancer for optimal mother/son relationship potential), I didn’t want him to be five weeks early. June 21 was the cutoff for Gemini…but my Little Man was comin’ right now, and it was time for mommy to buck up and get to the OR without being a Sally about it.
One of the nurses, Laurie, made the experience much more calming for me. She had the quintessential nurse vibe. A pleasing tone, just the right amount of fact and detail when she explained what was about to happen to me and why, and a happy confidence that things would be okay no matter what she was talking about with me. This was all very important as we bonded over the next few days. She gave me a catheter, a sponge bath, and took a lot of blood. She was with me for the surgery from start to finish. I couldn’t imagine her ever using profanity, which is why I was embarrassed to learn that the first words out of my mouth as I came to from the anesthesia were “my uterus feels like a f*cking Jack-O-Lantern.” But what are you going to do? It was an apt description when I felt like the incision was a smile that was being burned into my flesh with a blowtorch.
I was told that Emmett was screaming when they took him out of me, and Kris got to see him within minutes of the procedure. Then he was taken to the NICU. I was relieved that things were okay, but sad that the expectation was for him to be in the hospital for the next four to five weeks.
By the time I saw him, I was happily hooked up to a morphine drip and thankful that I hadn’t died during the C-Section. My throat felt sore from being intubated, but other than that it was as if I’d gone from the conversation about being induced to the baby being in my arms. Not exactly the natural birth experience we had hoped for, but it really didn’t matter to me how Emmett got here as long as he was healthy. And despite the IV and leads that were attached to him when he was placed in my arms for the first time, he was just that — perfectly healthy.
It was tough to see my baby with a big splint on his arm and the same little Hep Lock in his hand that I had in mine. The beautiful thing about babies is that they don’t have all the mental baggage and negative associations that we adults form as we go through life. I looked at Emmett with cords and lights fastened to his body and told myself that these were just his superhero accessories — the little red light on his foot that detected how much oxygen was in his blood was just a sign that he was thriving. The leads were just picking up numerical representations to show the world what his spirit was made of. When I held him in the NICU, I tuned out the sounds of beeping monitors and alarms all around me and pretended instead that we were in an arcade. My Emmett wasn’t a baby that was sick in the NICU, he was my little fighter and he was acing the game of “premature baby” despite all the odds.
While I was falling in love with my baby for the first time, it felt like I was falling in love with my husband all over again. Like any couple, we have our share of stupid fights and nitpick each other over annoying habits. It’s funny how having a premature baby in the NICU can change all of that. Krispin dropped everything to care for me. Wheeling me to and from the NICU to feed Emmett, wiping away the ever-flowing batch of tears that seemed to generate out of nowhere thanks to zero sleep, crazy hormones and the fear that our situation would worsen before it would improve. And waiting on me without question. During the week we were in the hospital he happily got his hands on whatever snacks I wanted, kept my Nalgene bottle filled with water and ice, made sure I was comfortable in every possible way, and even made a few trips out to our house so he could get things in order before our eventual return home. All of that aside, I have to confess that watching my husband become a dad also had a profound effect on me. There’s just something about seeing our soft, new baby nestled against the tough exterior of my man. I know that he will be there for him in every possible way from here on out, just like he’s been here for me. Emmett has an amazing dad, I have an amazing husband. The Dolbears would get through this.
All through my pregnancy, people told me that I was an Ironman…I HAD this. But the real Ironman is my son. He’s the one that rolled with the punches on “race day” and crossed the finish line successfully despite the obstacles. Mom’s low platelets and all. Can’t stop my Little Man.
And he had already won more than just my heart along the way — the NICU nurses were quite fond of him. He was getting a reputation for exceeding expectations as they finally decided after four days (not weeks) that he was okay enough to be released from the NICU and move into the normal post-partum delivery room with me, though he’d still have to be under the blue lights for jaundice and have a monitor hooked up to alert us of any abnormalities in his breathing patterns.
I’ll never complain about the sound of my alarm clock ever again. When you’re woken up to the sounds of a monitor going off to tell you that the oxygen in your son’s blood is too low, you quickly reassess what it means to be annoyed in life.
Moving into the new room was bittersweet. It was an upgrade in terms of environment — we got a window with an awesome view of the Syracuse Dome and city skyline, and the overall décor of the room was very upscale and modern. The previous room had no windows, and looked as though it could have been the set for a 1970s medical show.
But the new room didn’t have Laurie, the nurse that I had become very close to in the first week of our hospital stay. I wasn’t ready to let Laurie go, and I don’t think she was really ready for it either. I can’t really articulate why we bonded so quickly, other than to say that she was on the front lines in the most serious and scary situation I’ve ever faced in my whole life. I clung to her hope and soothing outlook on our prognosis. Next to my husband, she was the only person that had any ability to make me feel calm in the situations we were going through. She helped to move my things to the new room, and Krispin told me that he’d overheard her explaining to the shift nurse in the new room how things should be set up.
“She likes a little fan right here on the bed, but not pointing at her, just around her. She likes her blanket folded up and placed on the end of the bed,” Laurie explained. I didn’t really compute the fact that my move to the new room meant good-bye until she leaned in for a hug and told me that I’d made her weekend really great. The moment she left the room, I sobbed into my husband’s shoulder. I was sad that Laurie was out of the picture now.
In the days that followed, life seemed to get a little easier. Instead of being woken up at 1:30AM by someone who needed to draw more blood from my arm, I was woken up to feed my baby. Though I tired of hearing the parade of nurses do their own unique song and dance every time the shifts changed and I needed my vitals to be taken, I was relieved that “vitals” were the most pressing thing on my radar. I had given so much blood in the previous days, that the regular nurses were no longer able to find “good veins” to draw from any longer, and I would routinely get a visit from the phlebotomist (a person’s whose sole job is to find a good vein and get blood out of it). I was also shocked to learn that the phlebotomist is not really a medical person. Every one that I talked to had taken the job because it was easy night work. By day, these people were in bands, worked the day shift at Tim Horton’s or sold cars at Hyundai. Okay then. That wasn’t the most reassuring dossier for someone who was regularly probing my arm for a place to jam a needle, but whatever. At this point in the week, I was pretty much over my fear of needles and even stopped giving people my usual speech.
“It’s fine if you want to say ‘here comes a little poke,’ or, ‘here we go,’ but please do not describe what you’re doing beyond that,” I’d say. The very first nurse who took blood from my arm that week was overly verbose while she took the blood. “Nice, juicy veins you have here,” she said while tying the rubber band around my arm and tapping my inner elbow with her fingers. I nearly passed out. I’m not a vein girl.
By Thursday, May 30, we had cleared most of the major hurdles and were hopeful that with one more overnight, Emmett’s monitor would show that he was well enough to go home. By this time, I had been discharged as a patient but the hospital allowed me to stay in my room with my baby, considering him the patient and me his guest. I can’t express how great the staff was at St. Joe’s hospital in accommodating us during this whole ordeal. Typically, when the mother is discharged as the patient and the baby still needs hospital attention, the mother can try to stay in the guest room that is near the NICU — but she must share it with another woman, and your partner cannot stay there with you. The hospital really went out of their way to make us as comfortable as possible, and it really made such a huge difference in our spirits as we continued to process what was happening and how we would handle it moving forward.
On Friday, May 31, one week since Emmett’s birth, we were told that he was being released and we could all go home. Since we had him on a monitor for two days that would sound an alarm any time something wasn’t right with his breathing, we were slightly nervous over the idea of bringing him home. There would be no monitor, no leads and no nurses. The doctor explained to us that as they were observing him over the past few days, they were sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. He was doing so well, it was almost too good to be true.
“But the other shoe doesn’t have to drop,” he finally explained. “He’s a healthy kid. We have no reason to keep him here. Get out of here already,” the doctor said with a smile. We couldn’t believe what we were hearing. It felt like a miracle, and it was just one of the many blessings we counted that week.
Everybody was a little sad when it came time to leave the hospital. Kris and I made friends with several of the nurses and with so much happening in such a short period of time, the people we interacted with while staying at St. Joe’s felt like a part of our family now, and they were definitely a part of Emmett’s success story.
As I finish writing this, I’m sitting in my dining room watching my baby sleep peacefully, almost one week out of the hospital. We already took him to his first pediatrician’s appointment, and he was perfectly okay. He’s back up to his birth weight of five pounds, and we continue to breastfeed with no issues (another blessing). We’re adjusting to our new life with a newborn, and though everyone says the hardest part is coming home that first week, we’ve found it to be pretty easygoing in comparison to our two weeks in the hospital.
My health continues to improve. My blood pressure is still a little bit high, but otherwise the HELLP Syndrome seems to have been cured with the delivery of Emmett, which is what was supposed to happen. I’m finding it much harder to adjust to “recovery” from a C-Section than to get up at 2:00AM for breastfeeding. It will be a while before I can get back to my long runs and bike rides, but I know my body needs this time to heal, and I’m okay with that.
Right before we left the hospital, one of the nurses told me that it might be hard for me to process the idea that I was robbed of my birth experience. After all, I was knocked out for Emmett’s official arrival into the world. I am saddened that I didn’t get to see how the “Ironman” in me would have held up to labor and delivery, but another part of me feels lucky in a way to have had the experience that we did. In an odd way, being in the hospital for almost two weeks felt like a sort of forced retreat from the go-go-go lifestyle I normally lead. After the major medical issues subsided, Krispin and I actually found a lot of time to connect to each other and the idea that our baby was here five weeks early. It felt like being away at camp or something, as we tucked ourselves into the small twin bed in our room to watch Arrested Development on the laptop and eat Oreos under a blanket while our baby slept just a few feet away from us in the crib. Emmett’s time in the NICU was special too…the nurses kept a little scrapbook for him with his milestones for the day, and we know that someday he’ll love to hear the story of how he was born and all about the adventures he had as he powered through everyone’s expectations as a premature baby.
He stole my heart in his first week here. I’ve always considered myself a fairly emotional person, but I feel like I’ve never had any real emotions until now.
I didn’t get to feel my uterus tighten as Emmett prepared to enter the world, but I felt my heart squeeze the moment we knew we were having a C-Section and would get to hold him so much sooner than we expected to.
My water didn’t break, but I made up for it with a steady stream of joyful tears.
I didn’t get to breath deeply and count the seconds between contractions, but I got to exhale a sigh of relief and count my blessings between test results.
It doesn’t matter to me how Emmett Lester Dolbear came into this world, just that he arrived safely and we get to have him home in our arms.
Our Little Man has changed our lives in a huge way, and we’re excited for the adventures ahead, no matter what they might include.
Five years ago, something was born at Gold’s Gym in Syracuse, NY.
A new kind of training program came on the scene, simply named Advanced Cycling. The class was organized as a weekly long ride on the spin bike, providing cycling enthusiasts, athletes in training and gym rats alike with an opportunity to ride longer than the usual hour-long spin classes on the weekly schedule.
On its face, the program seemed to be little more than an extended workout.
In its soul, it became so much more.
I designed the program to give myself a way to train for Ironman on the spin bike, and answer the call that many had made for years: do a class that’s longer than an hour! I wasn’t the only one that wanted to ride long, but I knew that I had to make the best use of my time to transform those long rides into something more than great music and moving fly wheels. There needed to be purpose behind the pedals. How fast to turn them and with how much intensity? I turned my coaching brain on to develop a program that held to the basic tenets of any successful endurance training program: periodization, building aerobic base, increasing volume slowly, peaks and valleys. This was the just the beginning.
For 16 weeks I would use the spin bike as a training tool for my own race preparation, but also as a way to introduce people to the sport of cycling and the psychology of their inner voice.
The power of the mind comes easily to me, but over the years I’ve realized that for many athletes, this is THE area that they are most confused by. How do you teach yourself to THINK differently? How do you push yourself through things that hurt, and when you’ve mastered that, how do you make yourself have a positive attitude about it? I knew that I wanted to make “the mind” a front-and-center focus in my classes.
I didn’t just want to give people “a good workout,” or a “mind-opening session” on the bike. I wanted to give them the tools to make all of their workouts feel that way. On the bike or not, with company or not, as part of a goal or not.
I wanted to teach them to fish, if you will.
As a cyclist, I loath the fact that “spinning” has become a branded term to describe a cardio workout on a cycling machine in the gym. Spinning is technically a cycling term that references a fast, light turnover on the pedals. It’s the opposite of “hammering” which is typically used to describe slower, more forceful pedal strokes in a bigger gear. (Note to self: Can we have a Hammering class?). In the first year of Advanced Cycling, I’d say that half of the athletes were cyclists looking for a way to get in long workouts on the bike through the winter months. The other half were hardcore gym rats who wanted to take on whatever challenge I (or anyone else in the gym) could throw at them. I was eager to take them on my journey through Ironman training, but also to introduce them to cycling.
And most importantly, to the power of the mind.
I wanted them to learn about “spinning” as a way to truly engage their being through the pedals rather than syncing movement with pop music.
I wasn’t interested in push-ups on the bike, jumps out of the saddle, or hair tossing. I thought to myself, “I want to build the kind of class where all of that excitement and drama is building from within.” I didn’t want hype or gimmicks.
If someone were to look through the glass door during my class, they might not see how much work is actually happening on those bikes. Oftentimes you’ll see a person leaning forward in an aerodynamic position plodding along for long periods of time. You won’t see the work from the door.
But you’d see it in their eyes.
My class has been compared to many things—Soul Cycle, therapy, Jillian Michaels, stand-up comedy, a DJ set, and hell, to name a few. I believe people come to get different things out of it. In a row of five cyclists, I could have an Ironman athlete, someone riding a bike for the first time, a recovering cancer patient, a mother and her son all pedaling along to the same song, under the same coaching.
But they will be on five very different rides.
This, to me, is perfect. This means that people are using fitness as a means to an end. Life is hard, reality sucks, and for most of us every day comes with some sort of challenge or obstacle that tests us. Based on what I’ve seen and heard for the past five years, I’ve come to understand that Advanced Cycling has almost zero to do with getting stronger on the bike. Yes, it WILL make you stronger and is designed to do that, but it’s not the physical strength that people talk to me about when they’ve completed the journey.
It’s the mojo.
The program works because it trains the mind. When your mind is strong, you can do anything. Riding a bike for two hours is just the beginning. Crossing an Ironman finish line is just the beginning. Your first 5K is just the beginning. Surviving a break-up, a death, an illness…is just the beginning.
Mojo isn’t about finish lines. It’s about new beginnings. As we wrap up the first week of this fifth year of the program in this evening’s two-hour Advanced Cycling class, I will look around the room at the faces before me. Some are back from previous years, some are joining us for the first time. If you see us through the glass door, know that you’re looking at a sea of change.
Come April 26, we’ll be crashing out of there with the force of a tsunami ready to take on the world.
These are trying times for America. In my pending motherhood and mid-thirties mindset it seems I’m more sensitive to what’s going on in the world than ever before. In the past, political and social banter have felt like a sort of white noise to me. Something I could tune in to now and then, but push to the background when I needed to focus on my personal daily radar. That has become increasingly harder.
I’ll say that it’s much easier to tune out the world when you’re training for something that requires 17-25 hours of your time each week. Some people in my life have regarded this investment in endurance racing as a self-centered journey that’s led me away from what matters…but I think about it differently. “Lisa only cares about her races and herself,” I’ve heard people say (in various, more vague iterations, but that was always the gist).
The hours I’ve spent swimming, biking and running have shaped me into a better, more thoughtful person. My political and social opinions may differ from others, but I know they have come from my heart…away from MTV, the news (which is sort of like MTV these days, let’s face it…), Facebook, Twitter, and the like. In short, I’ve tuned out the mass media and the “group think” that can occur when we take on the opinions of the people we trust, rather than spending time to form the opinions that truly resonate with ourselves.
To me, it doesn’t matter what someone’s political views are. It matters that they are deeply rooted in thought, not the shallow flower box of social media or pop culture.
My training may have started as a numbers game…racking up my 13.1, 26.2, 70.3 and 140.6 miles like sequential badges of honor, but they soon became constellation prizes compared to the real reward of crossing those finish lines—self confidence, loyalty and conviction in a world that’s becoming more double-faced and wishy-washy every day.
I don’t write this to poo-poo anyone with an opposing view (or no view at all). This isn’t me on a soapbox to talk about how enlightened I am because I am a triathlete. This is a post to share one of the possible ways you can tune out the world and tune into yourself, for the betterment of you and the world around you. This a post to promote being selfish.
“Selfish” gets a bad rap. To be called selfish is to be painted in a negative light. To be selfish is to suggest too much of an “on yourself” focus. To feel selfish is to presume that you haven’t given enough of yourself to someone or something else. To “put yourself first” has come to mean that you “put yourself, only.” As if nothing comes next, or the idea of making yourself right and healthy before tackling the well-being of something or someone else is wrong. Relationships 101 says that you can’t be a good partner to your significant other until you are good with yourself. I think the same holds true for being a good citizen in your community.
In this world of sharing every thought that we have with every possible person that is willing to listen, read, like, share, comment, or retweet, it seems that selfish has suddenly become more of an “outward” thing than an “inward” thing.
I might be wrong, but the world could use some more “inward” thinking. More introspection. As a nation, I think we could all use a tune-up on our moral compass. That isn’t to suggest we need to find God, or draft laws, or take sides. This isn’t about finding the opinion you most align with so you can confidently buy into and repost the digital “chotchkies” of Viewpoint A over Viewpoint B.
We don’t need to repost, we need to reboot.
I’ve always said that if everyone in the world ran just three miles per day, we’d all be better people. Something happens when you take yourself out of the white noise for a bit and tap into the pure sound of “you.” It’s a kind of honesty with oneself that stirs the soul, and it keeps things from settling or becoming stagnant. This is the stirring that makes people feel like they can do a race that lasts for 17 hours.
In short, the stirring that enables us to overcome obstacles—real or perceived. It’s also the kind of stirring that strips you clean of any agenda you may have had.
See how much energy you have left for manipulating and calculating in the last three miles of an Ironman. It ain’t there. You’re back to basics. Stripped to the soul. It’s good stuff.
In this modern world, where we are overstimulated and grossly tuned in to the ugliest details of opinion and tragedy, we NEED to find a way to bring it back to basics.
If you want to be great, you must start with you. Be selfish. Find “you time” in 2013 and look inward, even if it means suffering the judgement of friends, family or peers with respect to your relationships and careers. Don’t go through another year on autopilot just because it’s easier to please people or uphold the status quo. Challenge everything you thought you were comfortable with and look for ways to stir your soul. Find your mojo in this modern world.
What has a heart rate of 150 BPM, spends nine months in the aero position, and makes its first transition from 98.6-degree “waters” into your arms?
My husband and I joked that the second I crossed the finish line at Ironman Mont-Tremblant last August, we were going to start “trying” to start a family. We had no idea that a month later, a Dolbaby would already be in the works.
A friend of ours gave us a wonderful housewarming gift from her trip to Columbia over the summer—the mask of an ancient fertility god. I’m convinced that I got knocked up the second we hung it on the wall.
As I close out the first trimester, I have a confession to make. (I fully expect to hear the roars of laughter and round of knee slapping that will come after this next sentence, it’s okay):
I didn’t think that getting pregnant would be much of an adjustment for me. After all, I’m an endurance athlete who loves to put my body through challenges that regularly include pain and the feeling of almost throwing up.
Really, what’s a little morning sickness compared to a five-hour bike ride followed by a 35-minute transition run in Z2? Ha! I say.
More like, “hurl.”
Pregnancy has provided a two-fold gift: The miracle of life inside of me, and also the feeling of getting to know a completely different body.
Over the past twenty years, my body and me have gotten to know each other pretty well. I know which foods I like, what time I need to go to bed in order to be my most productive the next day, when the best time is for me to do certain kinds of workouts, and how to read my “dashboard” when it comes to evaluating my body for signs of fatigue, overtraining, or appropriate level of intensity.
That’s all out the window now. The moment I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test, it’s as if I jumped out of the world as I knew it and into a parallel universe where people play “opposites day” around the clock.
For the better part of the second month, I spent my time laying on the couch in the fetal position groaning about how queasy I felt. Any reprieve from the “gonna barf” feeling gave me just enough time to realize an insatiable need for fast food, which prompted me (or my amazing husband) to head out the door in search of the nearest drive-through. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve been spotted driving down the highway in broad daylight shoveling loads of salty fries into my face with one hand, while the other holds the steering wheel steady. There is a sense of urgency and completion to the whole act—sort of like Thelma & Louise as they take hands just before careening off the mountain to their destiny.
It feels, at times, like my destiny is in the deep fryer.
Who IS this person, and what have you done with the girl who used to snack on cucumbers and garbanzo beans?
I’ve been very anti-vegetable lately, feeling my mouth quiver all vomit-like at the mere mention of raw broccoli or sautéed cherry tomatoes (two of my former favorites). But say the word, “Chalupa” and you can ring my (Taco) Bell all day long.
My diet isn’t the only thing that’s changed. This “grape-sized” being nestled inside of me is apparently diverting 50% of my blood flow to serve its purposes (I may be writing that wrong, but the bottom line is baby is building limb nubs, so mommy no longer passes the talk test during tempo rides).
In the regular cycling classes I teach each week, I’ve definitely noticed a change in the length of the sentences I’m able to say over the microphone before I need to close my mouth and collect myself for a few strides (lest I treat my class to the cacophony of shallow, heaving breaths, accented by the occasional phlegm ball).
Motivational phrases like, “When you find yourself going through hell, keep going,” morph from throaty declarations of “can-do” attitude into a terse, sort of bad-ass shorthand, “Hell. Go.”
Ironically, the week before I found out I was pregnant, I was heavy into promoting buzz around a fundraising event I want to create in the next year called the “Revolution Ride,” inspired by the criticism that Lady Gaga received for gaining weight and daring to wear revealing clothing while performing on stage. The media coverage of her “Body Revolution” campaign made me think about the similar scrutiny that athletes face as people are judged not on their ability to actually CROSS the finish line in a race like a marathon or an Ironman, but on their ability to LOOK LIKE they can cross that finish line. As a testament to those thoughts, I proudly taught my classes that week front and center without a shirt on, showing off the little gut I’ve gained since smashing my personal record in the Ironman this summer.
“This is what a three-time Ironman finishing gut looks like, and I’m not ashamed to show it to you,” I proclaimed, pointing to my rolls as I sat up on the bike with my belly button looking more like an “em dash” ( — ) than a lowercase “o”.
Little did I know, that belly was about to get a whole lot bigger over the next few months, and it wasn’t because of the off season.
I’m starting to feel like there’s a cantaloupe jammed in my bike shorts on every ride these days, an awesome feeling that makes my shoulders ache and my bladder scream about five minutes into every ride.
I just keep thinking how happy I am that I took my coach’s advice and remained on the pill through my entire Ironman training and race day. At one point, I was thinking I would go off the pill at the beginning of the summer so my body would be “ready” to conceive in August.
“Every athlete I’ve ever trained who went off the pill, ended up pregnant by race day,” she cautioned. Would that really be so bad?
If the fertility mask had anything to do with it, I would have been in for a completely different Ironman this year. You think you need to pee on the bike now… Try being pregnant. There’s no end to the pee. And don’t get me started on the idea of combining a Lycra tri suit with bloating. Although, the flatulence on the bike may actually propel you along at a faster pace…
You’re probably wondering by now what all of this has to do with “mojo”? Well it goes back to the idea that life can sometimes throw you into situations where your body (and your mind) must reset back to zero. No matter how much work you did to be a certain way or do a certain thing, you will wake up one day and realize the game has changed and you have to change with it.
There are a few close friends in my life who are dealing with their own “factory reset,” some of them are also pregnant, but some of them are coming out of serious medical situations—rehabbing from illness or recovery from surgery. Others have hit rock bottom emotionally, feeling their fitness slip away while going through trying situations and struggling to find the motivation again in time to reclaim even a shred of what they worked so hard to gain before they went off track.
No matter what brings along this reset, it’s important to see it not as a “loss” wherein you look at something that was there before and gone now, but as an opportunity to start anew. There’s nothing to fix or change or tweak—there is only an open canvas for you to fill with hopes, dreams and goals.
I do not feel that I’ve lost myself as an athlete because of the changes I’m feeling through pregnancy. Truth be told, it’s actually sort of a relief to be able to feel my passion and drive shift gears into something completely new and different outside of triathlon. I know there are more Ironman finish lines in my future, and the work that I do as a person and an athlete will always be “ongoing” and “evolving,” never “finished” or “stalled.” It would be easy to see it that way as I balloon into a bigger body, feeling tired during workouts I used to do after four hours of cardio.
When I heard my baby’s heartbeat a few weeks ago, I felt my eyes get hot with tears. For the first time in my life, I truly felt a moment that was not about myself. I know that sounds self-centered, but you have to understand that I have been independent for a very long time, pouring myself into my career and my training before all other things. Even in my marriage, I still struggle to feel that sense of balance where I must weigh my needs and desires against those of my husband. I’ve always known that having a baby would break this in me…that it would flood my system with compromise, selflessness and compassion and pull me off the Type-A, OCD, “Achieve Goals Now” ledge that I’ve happily stooped upon for my entire life, but I had no idea it would happen so soon. Though I’ll still be Type-A and OCD about things, I know that “drive” will be shifting to the well-being of my family, rather than the well-being of some race.
I had no idea that the sound of my little “kidney bean freight train” making its journey from the womb to the world would stop me in my own tracks and make me completely forget about my own journey forward.
It’s a new kind of mojo, completely unrelated to executing an A-race. It’s about accepting changes, and enjoying the twists and turns that come along the unexpected paths, rather than resenting the missed turns that might have put you on the familiar roads forward.
One day I will be training for a race again, and I want to remember the way I’m feeling right now and over the next few years as I make my debut as mom. I plan to keep this new flavor of mojo around for a very long time.
Stay tuned for the spin-off blog (no pun intended) coming soon to Tri Mojo:
Two Pink Lines:The journey through pregnancy from a self-absorbed, Type-A, wine-slugging career woman in her mid-thirties.