Saturday, August 17, 2013

10 Lessons from the Musselman Triathlon

It's been over a month since I did the Musselman half-iron distance triathlon in upstate New York on July 14th.  Before that, the last triathlon I did was Ironman Arizona in November 2011.  Getting back in the saddle - literally - was invigorating.

The setting was idillic, nestled in the Fingers Lakes region of New York.  The swim was in beautiful Seneca Lake; the bike took us through the rolling countryside between Seneca and Cayuga Lakes; and the run tortured us in the blistering sun along the lake and around town of Geneva.  Overall, despite getting heat exhaustion and basically shutting down during the run, I was happy with the race and the course.

As you know, I don't really do race reports.  So in an effort to make this as little like a "race report" as possible, I thought I'd pass along some nuggets of wisdom I learned from Musselman.

1. Make a road trip out of your next race:  If you haven't done this already, find a race that's not right in your backyard and plan a manageable road trip.  There's something to be said for packing up the car and hitting the road, with nothing but the scenery and your music (and coffee of course!), en route to a weekend of race adventure!

The Fingers Lakes were about six hours from me (perfect), and the drive up through Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York was stunning.  I'd never been up to this part of the country and I had no idea that my drive would be so mesmerizing, particularly when I got to the part of Pennsylvania that goes along the Susquehanna River.

Driving along the Susquehanna....
I stopped for lunch along the banks of the Susquehanna and just chilled out for a bit...
Combining a race with a mini-road trip is the perfect combination to get you out of your backyard...

2.  Stay away from the hustle and bustle of the race:  Personally, I'm not one who likes to be right in the mix of the athlete village and host hotel.  I like to be close enough to the race so that it's not  inconvenient to get there race morning, but far enough away that I don't have to be surrounded by nothing but athletes for the next couple days.  Seriously, those of you who compete know what I mean...you get a little tired of seeing people in their compression socks two days before the race, wearing their Ironman or other race t-shirt to let the competition know their accomplishments, and talking about all their races, how many times they've done this race, or their PR's ("personal records" for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about)...

Peaceful trail that went throughout the property...
So I stayed in the small town of Mecklenberg, about 30-40 minutes away from the race site, in an adorable cabin on land that used to be a lily farm.  I highly recommend this place if you're ever in that area.  It was spotless, had everything I needed including a full kitchen, a comfortable bed, and...goats!!  Here's the link to the Mecklenberg property. The owners were so friendly and accommodating.  Plus, the property had beautiful trails, a pond, blackberries, lilies, and, did I mention the goats?

Two of the three adorable goats on the Mecklenberg property...

The mama and her babies...I visited them several times...

Staying a little further away from the race site let me get away from all the buzz and hype so that I could just focus on me...

4.  Get your mind off the race and do a little touring:  One of the other reasons I like to stay a bit off-the-beaten-race course is that it allows me to explore my destination area.  It ain't all about racing folks.  Coming to the Finger Lakes area meant I could do something I've been wanting to do for several years now...tour the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, New York.  (FYI, being a vegan will make you want to do weird things like schedule races around going to a farm sanctuary).  I was absolutely giddy.

The Farm Sanctuary was founded in 1986 and its mission is "[t]o protect farm animals from cruelty, inspire change in the way society views and treats farm animals, and promote compassionate vegan living."  It now has three locations:  Watkins Glen, NY; Orland, CA; and Los Angeles, CA.

The Farm Sanctuary tour was amazing!  Not that I needed anything to reaffirm my commitment to being a vegan, but this certainly added more fire to my passion.  The Sanctuary is situated in the peaceful hills, with acre after acre of happy farm animals.  I won't post all the pictures I took on the tour, but here are some of the highlights:

The pigs were very sleepy...but they loved to have their bellies scratched!

I LOVED the cows!  They were like big dogs! And yes, I stepped in a couple cow patties...

This is Turpentine...the MAN at Farm Sanctuary.  He came out to greet people and puffed up his feathers...Gorgeous! 
The Farm Sanctuary is definitely worth visiting, and I was so thrilled to be able to combine in one trip my love for animals and my love for triathlons!  So next time you're looking for a race, think about what other quirky, off-the-beaten-path activities you'd like to do, and combine the race with a little mini-vacation.

5.  Attend the pre-race lecture, drive the course. and do your pre-race primer:  I cannot emphasize this enough:  unless you're a professional triathlete, you are never too cool or too knowledgable to forego the pre-race informational lecture.  Every time I've gone to one, I've learned something I didn't know or couldn't have anticipated.  Valuable information is given at these talks, such as the 90-degree right turn at the bottom of a hill right on the shore of the Cayuga Lake at mile 25.  Take the time, respect the effort the race directors put into ensuring that you have a good time and remain safe, and attend the pre-race talk.

Also, even if you're not neurotic like me, you should at least drive the bike course, and maybe the run course too (although, I have to say, I've never driven a run course).  I try to drive the bike courses of my longer distance races.  For some reason I find it comforting to familiarize myself with the course over which I'll be hurling myself and my bike.  I like knowing the tricky turns, the ups and downs, landmarks that can remind me that I'm at a certain point...It takes some of the mystery out of a 56-mile or 112-mile bike course.  Run courses certainly are worth driving as well, but for me, I don't feel as unprepared for the unforeseen fork in the road when I'm running as I am when I'm going 3 to 4 times faster on my bike.

And lastly, do a pre-race primer the day (or two) before the race.  This means, go to the site and do a short swim (if they'll allow it), and ride and run a small part of the course.  Nothing long at all - I think my entire pre-race primer triathlon was 30 minutes.  Do it just to shake your legs out, go over your transition set-up, get your mind focused, and work out some of your jitters..

Me on my pre-race primer bike ride....
6.  Get to the race site earlier than you think you should:  However early you think you need to get to the race site, plan to get there at least 30 minutes earlier than that.  Why?  Because you're getting up basically in the middle of the night anyway and you probably didn't sleep well the night before, so just get up 30 minutes earlier and make the morning easier on yourself.  Personally, I like to get to the race site 1.5 to 2 hours before the start.  This gives me plenty of time to use the porta-johns two or three times without having to wait in a huge line or run the risk of not having any toilet paper!  I literally was one of the first 50 people into the Musselman race site, and I didn't even have to use the porta-johns...I got to use the park's regular indoor bathroom, where there was no line, a clean toilet, and plenty of toilet paper.  It's so nice to get that over with in peace and comfort!

Also, getting there extra early allows you the freedom to take your time to set up your transition area correctly, make sure you didn't forget anything, get air in your tires or have the bike techs repair any issues, survey the race site for any last minute changes, and take the all-important pre-race pictures to post to Facebook right before you start...For me, it also allows me time to sneak off by myself, get my head on right, and pray for a safe race.

Getting there early gave me time to also to do a swim warmup once I got my transition area set up.  I recommend doing this about 20-30 minutes before the race start, if you're allowed.  It gives you a chance to see how the water is going to be, work off some of your nervousness, and get your blood flowing.  

Sunrise over Seneca Lake as the race coordinators set out the buoys for the swim course...
7.  Embrace your race:  As my wave of age-grouper women entered the water to wade out to the starting buoy, a woman next to me asked me if I was nervous (apparently she was).  I paused for a second and said "You know what?  I'm actually not.  I'm really excited."  In four years of triathlons, I don't ever remember being so excited.  Sure, my nerves were firing, but it was different from other races.  Usually I'm worrying about the swim, hoping I don't crash on the bike, and wondering whether I'm going to blow up on the run.  But this time, I was ready.  Granted, I know that you can't control everything on race day.  But for once, the uncontrollable "what if's" didn't bother me.  I knew that up to that point, I'd controlled all I could.  I'd done my training, I'd worked hard, and there was nothing else I could do now except rely on that hard work to put it all together.

So when our wave went off, I attacked the swim for the first time ever.  I'm usually very hesitant, almost apologetically moving out of the way anytime someone comes remotely close to bumping into me.  Not this time.  I just put my head down and swam.  Someone bumped into me, I kept going.  And if they tried to swim over me, I had no problem pushing them off.  (Yes, I think if you run directly into someone on the swim it's incumbent on you to stop trying to swim over the top of them.  Move the hell around them!)  My buoy siting was dead on.  And there was no panic.  No fear that I could drown.  No wishing the swim would hurry up and get over.  For the first time ever I embraced the swim...and I enjoyed it!

On the bike, I did about as I expected and was happy about that.  But half-way through the 56-mile rolling hill course (which included dodging horse poo from Mennonites in their wagons on their way home from church), my neck and shoulders cramped up so bad that I couldn't turn my head to the right without my neck having a spasm.  I've battled neck and shoulder cramps/knots ever since I first started riding my triathlon bike.  And even though I'd just had another bike fit (my fourth one), I knew the problem wasn't totally fixed.  So as painful as it was, I just embraced it.  It hurt, it sucked, oh well.  It wasn't keeping my legs from pedaling, and that's all that mattered.

The run was a little more difficult to embrace.  I don't know that I "embraced" as much as I said "fuck it."  The minute I started the run, I knew I was in trouble because the sun was so intense and there was virtually no shade along the mostly asphalt course.  Heat + sweat + me = heat exhaustion.  Again, something I've battled for years.  So my run basically fell apart and I did a lot of walking.  I was pouring ice down my shirt and shorts, putting wet sponges on my head, going through every hose that the town residents were spraying on us (bless each and every one of them), drinking all the water/electrolytes I could get my hands on...but my body just wasn't having it.  At first I was pissed because I'd really hoped to nail this race and especially the run.  But after a couple miles, when I saw that everyone was suffering - badly - I just embraced it and started commiserating with the other runners.  Misery loves company, and everyone out there in the heat that day became best friends for 13.1 miles.  As my Uncle Bud would say, "It is what it is."

8.  Get your nutrition RIGHT:  Turns out, one of the reasons that my heat exhaustion was so bad during Musselman (aside from the blistering sun and lack of shade) was the fact that I was taking in half of the calories and carbs that I was supposed to.  Apparently there was a miscommunication between my nutritionist and me.  After discussing a series of numbers with her, I asked her what my bottom-line calorie/carb intake should be.  She thought I was asking her how many calories and carbs were in the sports drink I'd been using and gave me that number.  So while I needed to be taking in about 235 calories and 65 carbs per hour, I actually ended up taking in about 120 calories and 35 carbs an hour.  Big difference!

Lesson learned - if you're working with a nutritionist, get a specific breakdown - in writing - of your nutrition intake requirements and make sure they are hourly, race-specific numbers.

9.  Relax and refuel post-race:  Whether you're doing a destination race or not, take the rest of that day and the next day to relax, refuel, and recuperate.  Sleep in.  Take the day off work.  Spin your legs out on your bike or go for a short swim if it will help shed some of the built-up lactic acid, but take it easy.  Treat yourself to a massage (which I did).  Go to a nice restaurant for breakfast or lunch (and wear your finisher shirt if you want, but don't wear your medal around all the next day...)  Allow yourself to bask in the glow of your accomplishment...

I enjoyed a leisurely post-race morning the next day, just relaxing at the cabin and watching the butterflies...
10. Be thankful that you finished, no matter what the clock said:  Although I finished Musselman about 30 minutes slower than I'd hoped, I finished.  To some people, that's not enough.  But for me, no matter how much I complain about the race (and I do complain) or how I wished I'd been faster (I'm never satisfied), I am always very much aware of how fortunate I am just to have finished.

Always a welcome site...
Two people died as a result of injuries they sustained during the Musselman races this year.  One man died during the sprint race the day before when he apparently was coming down a hill and hit a car that was parked along the side of the road.  A woman also died - the week after the race - as a result of injuries she sustained in a bike crash during the half-iron event.  I'd actually seen the aftermath of this accident as the ambulance arrived, but didn't know at the time how serious it was.

We all know that we can die or become seriously injured during any portion of the triathlon.  But that knowledge means about as much to triathletes as the knowledge we all have that we could die any time we get behind the wheel of a car.  You know it's a possibility...you just never really appreciate that it could happen to you.

These two competitors were young, healthy, vibrant people who, in the stroke of a pedal, had their lives ripped away and their families' lives shattered.  In that context, the race clock and my age group rank really are meaningless.  I finished.  Some weren't so fortunate.

When I signed up for Musselman, the registration form asked me why I do triathlons.  I'd completely forgotten about this.  But when I got into transition the morning of the race and found my designated spot on the bike rack, the amazing folks at Musselman had this reminder:

I loved that Musselman did this...
I started running 16 years ago because I wanted to be healthier.  Well, mission accomplished.  I'm healthier than I've ever been and I continue to grow stronger every year.  That one little reminder kept repeating in my head during the race and, honestly, was probably part of why I just embraced the entire experience.  (Although, I have to admit that it did cross my mind during the sweltering run that collapsing from heat exhaustion isn't exactly a healthy thing...)

Every time you start training for a race, think about what made you want to take this journey.  Whenever you toe up at a start line, remember the blood, sweat, and sacrifices that it took to get you there.  And every single time you step or crawl across the finish line, be thankful, above all else, that you made it.

Musselman was a fun, difficult, rewarding, and educational race.  And in reality, it was just a training race to see how I'm doing in preparation for Ironman Lake Tahoe this year on September 22...So my journey to be as healthy as I can be and to cross another finish line continues...But next time, it will end (hopefully) in the heart of Squaw Valley after 140.6 miles...

The road to the end of another Ironman marathon continues...



Saturday, July 6, 2013

Roosevelt Island and Capital Crescent Trail Run

A couple of weekends ago I set out on a two-hour, rainy Sunday run.  I was dreading it, not only because it was pouring, but because my runs lately haven't been going all that well.  So to take my mind off my running woes, I wanted to run someplace where I don't go very often, with new scenery to distract me.  My choice:  Roosevelt Island and the Capital Crescent Trail.


Roosevelt Island is named, you guessed it, after out 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt.  The island, with swampy woods along the banks of the Potomac River, is designed to honor the outdoorsman that Roosevelt was.  

There are several trails that wind around through the island, and on this particularly rainy Sunday, they were pretty muddy.  But I wound my way around the trails and found myself at the actual memorial portion of the island.  

Hello Mr. President...
I have to say, as far as Presidential memorials go, I think Teddy's wins hands down.  He has an entire island!!  Plus, he has a beautiful memorial with walls of wonderful quotes:  

I'm going to have to add this to my list of favorite quotes...
Another wall of quotes....
After I left the memorial, I started back along one of the muddy trails.  Suddenly, on my left about 15 feet off the trail, was a juvenile deer.  I've written how the deer is one my Eight Empowering Symbols, and I tend to see deer at very meaningful and opportune times.  On this day, seeing this deer to remind me to be light and agile on my feet (like the deer); to remind me of my childhood love of Bambi Gets Lost that my mom always read to me; to remind me to slow down and appreciate all the beauty around me - it was just what I needed.  
Hey Bambi!  
The most amazing thing though, is that the little deer never moved.  He just stood there as I had a conversation with him for about 10 minutes (Yes, I stood and had a conversation with a deer, in the pouring rain).  I'm sure it's because he's so used to seeing humans on the island, but still....

I shot this video of him just chewing the grass and watching me:  

video

I hated to leave my new little friend, but I had another hour and a half of running yet to do...

From Roosevelt Island, I headed over the Key Bridge into Georgetown to pick up the Capital Crescent Trail...another historical trail.  That's what I love about the D.C. metro area...there's a history lesson virtually everywhere you turn.  

According to the Coalition for the Capital Crescent Trail, the paved trail is a rail-trail that was built on the abandoned railbed of the 11-mile Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad.  The trail goes from Georgetown to Silver Spring, Maryland and it provides another beautiful wooded trail for running...Well, except maybe when it's raining, in which case you have to watch out for pollution from combined sewer overflows that dump into the Potomac...Again, only in D.C....

Lovely...Uh, yes, it was raining that day....
Nonetheless, the trail is beautiful...pollution and all...

I also spotted another deer along the trail...It must have been my day for Bambi sitings!  

Deer on the Capital Crescent Trail...
The trail runs between the Potomac and the C&O Canal...

C&O Canal out of Georgetown....

There are lovely grassy fields and woods along the trail....

Gorgeous views of the canal and bridge crossing...

And views of D.C. along the Potomac...

Rainy view looking south down Potomac toward Washington Monument....
The trail basically was a gradual incline the whole way out, so once I turned around to head back to Georgetown, it was all downhill...

By the end of the run it had stopped raining.  I felt surprisingly good and was thrilled with my two deer sitings and the gorgeous scenery...

A soaking wet, but happy runner after 2 hours of deer, woods, beautiful sites, and rain...
Not bad for a rainy Sunday run....

Where's one of your favorite places to run where you live?  


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

LTE Book Club: May Selection

I hope you enjoyed our first LTE Book Club selection A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington.  I haven't yet provided my wrap-up summary and I sincerely apologize, but will do that soon!

I didn't want to delay, however, in sending out May's Book Club selection.  There are so many that I have on my list, but I've picked this one for spring because if anything represents the springtime notion of "rebirth," it's this book:  The Long Run by Matt Long.


This book has been out for almost three years now, so some of you may have read it.  I'll confess, I have; but, this truly is one of those books that you should read again.  I highlighted the hell out of my copy!

If you're not familiar with Matt Long's story, here it is in a nutshell:  NYC firefighter, Ironman, Boston Marathon qualifier, and one of many siblings in a large Catholic family.   During the NYC taxi strike a few years ago, Long was riding his bike to work when he, quite literally, was run over by a bus that had been hired by a company to take its employees to and from work.  The extent of his injuries was horrific and he details them quite graphically in the book.  So this is the story of his struggles and his rebirth to not only walk again, but to compete in Ironman.

This story, more than many I've read, epitomizes the heart and soul of an endurance athlete...

I'll get my final thoughts on Wellington's book up this weekend.  In the meantime, get crackin' on this new book.  I hope you love it as much as I did...I'll be reading it again along with you.  The book is about 266 pages, so like last month, that's a little less than 9 pages a day!

Happy reading....

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Day That Changed The Finish Line Forever...

Of all the memories that will remain burned in my mind, two of them will be the first time I finished the Marine Corps Marathon in 2006, and the time I finished Ironman Arizona in 2011.  I remember them not only because of the accomplishment they each represented, but because my mom and other loved ones were there to cheer me on and welcome me across the finish line.

Mom and me at the start of the MCM in 2006...I had shirts made with my Grandpa's Marine Corps picture.
And although I don't remember every finish line I've crossed over the last 15 years, I remember many of them. Each time the finish line represented the culmination of months of training, hours of sacrifice, and buckets of sweat and tears.  Each time, no matter how small the race, there were spectators along the course, particularly at the finish.  Spectators, some of whom had loved ones in the race, but some of whom were just there to cheer on complete strangers.  And every time during a race when I needed a little inspiration, I'd see either a familiar face or a total stranger who was cheering me on.  Every time as I approached the finish line, it was the roar of the crowd, their applause, and their cheers, that gave me the extra wind to come across the finish with a little "umph."  Each time I crossed the finish line, there stood a stranger or volunteer to hand me a medal, a bottle of water, take off my timing chip, and congratulate me.

That finish line has now been forever changed...

Today at the Boston Marathon there were 28,000+ runners.  That means there were at least that many spectators, but probably more.  Even conservatively estimating that there's one spectator for every runner, that means there were 56,000 people running or watching the Boston Marathon today.  That doesn't even include the countless emergency personnel and volunteers who were helping with the race.

So let's just say there were 60,000 people out in force for the world's premier marathon today.  Do you understand how powerful that is?  Do you grasp how amazing it is that 60,000 people would be in one place, celebrating one goal, all cheering and bringing their positive energy to one event?

That's what race events do.  They bring people together to support the accomplishment of one goal - the mastery of a particular distance.  Races are different from sporting events where there are two teams, where the crowds can become hostile as they compete for the win.  Races are even different from other individual sports like tennis or golf, where the spectators are still cheering for a "victor" to beat the other opponent.  In those team or other individual events, there's always a slight air of negativity, even when there's a storybook finish.  Those events are always slightly tainted with at "let's beat 'em" mentality.

But you don't really see that in races.  Sure, there are the elite athletes who certainly want to "beat" the other elite athletes.  But that rivalry is nowhere near as contentious or negative as other sports rivalries.  Moreover, even if the crowd is rooting for a particular athlete to win, people still are happy and congratulatory when everyone else comes in after the first place finisher.  That doesn't mean races aren't competitive - they most certainly are, especially given that most people who run them are Type A personalities.  But, most of the time, the competition is within each person more than it is against another person.  That type of internal competition brings out the best - not the worst - in people.

In addition, triathlon and running races are one of the few events where regular 9-to-5 Joe's and Jane's get to compete on the same course as professionals.  That gives us amateur athletes a sense of how unique these events are.  You'll never get to play football with Drew Brees during an NFL game.  But you can certainly run in the same race as Craig Alexander (albeit a pretty far distance behind him, but still....)  Thus, endurance events are head and shoulders above other sporting events because they literally put amateurs and professionals on the same competitive field.       

And like no other sport, the spectators are right in the action. The race sidelines are closer than any football or baseball sideline.  The spectators truly can reach out and touch the competitors.

But more than all of that is the cohesiveness and comradery that permeates a race event.  The overwhelming majority of endurance athletes are giving and supportive people.  Sure, there are jerks just like in every sport.  But during races more than any other time in life, I see random acts of kindness and support.  I've seen heart warming gestures as one runner helps another across the finish line, or stops to help another runner who has fallen down or is throwing up along the sidelines.

All of these things have allowed athletic races to bore a special place in my heart.  Nowhere else do I feel such a sense of people united for one goal.  Nowhere else do I feel that kind of unsolicited support and affirmation.  Nowhere else do I feel such accomplishment as when I cross a finish line...

Yet now, the acts of a one or a few evil individuals have tainted the magical nature of the finish line forever....

At this point, we don't know who is responsible for the deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon today.  Nor do we know the motivation behind their heinous acts.  Whether knowing the "who" and the "why" will make a difference, I don't know.  What I do know, is that if ever there were a group of people who can take a tragedy like this and not only bounce back, but bounce back stronger, it's the community of endurance athletes and those who support them...

Although this tragic memory will forever waft over endurance sports from this day forward, it does not have to quell the spirt of those running and watching the races, including the Boston Marathon.  Endurance races are popular and successful for one reason and one reason only:  endurance athletes have extraordinary spirits that will not let anything get in the way of their goal.  Bombs will not stop the endurance athlete any more than terrorists have stopped Americans from flying.  Sure, there will be some people so understandably traumatized by today's events that they may never enter or watch another race again, just like there are people who have never flown again since 9/11.  And that's ok.  But there will be countless more people who not only continue to enter endurance events, but who may decide for the first time in their lives to reach for the goal of entering an endurance event.

It saddens me beyond words to know that the memory of this tragedy will creep into my mind and the minds of other athletes every time we cross a finish line in the future.  It's the same as every day when I pass the Pentagon on the way to work:  the memory of 9/11 creeps in, even if but for a fleeting second.  It's inevitable.  It changes you forever.  But you can either make that change in a positive or negative direction...that's a choice everyone impacted directly or indirectly by this event will have to make.   

I hate that runners and spectators were deprived of their lives, limbs, and sense of security.  I hate that an 8-year-old child was killed.  I also hate that so many runners and spectators were deprived of the joy that I experienced when I finished my first marathon or Ironman.  I hate that any runner who was competing in the marathon for the umpteenth time did not get to experience the magical finish line that they'd experienced so many times before.  I hate that the acts of one or a few evil individuals have scarred tens of thousands of people forever.

But as an endurance athlete, I feel it is my responsibility not to let this keep me from toeing up at any start line ever again.  Believe me, within a few minutes of hearing of today's attack, I thought of the Marine Corps Marathon that I'm scheduled to run this October.  What if there's an attack during that race in the Nation's Capital?  I can't let that stop me, however.  I'm an endurance athlete because my soul craves the journey and the destination.  I'll be damned if I'll let the threat of evil deprive my soul of what it craves.

More importantly, I feel that if we let this evil deter us from ever crossing another finish line, we're doing a great disservice to those who were killed or injured today.  Those people were there either because their soul craved the same journey, or because they were supporting a loved one on that journey.  Either way, we owe it to them to continue that journey and continue to support others on that journey....

Yes, the finish line has changed forever.  But so too has the spirit of endurance athletes and those who support them, which should rage stronger now than ever before...


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reactions to First 130 pages of A Life Without Limits

Hopefully those of you who have jumped on board with the LTE book club are enjoying our first book, A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington.  By now if you've been reading about 9 pages a day, you should be up to around page 126, so let's just call it 130!

So here are my reactions so far.  What the book has made me think, things I can relate to, etc.  All page cites are to the hard copy book:

Page 47:  "It's all too easy to see a homeless person on the street almost as a non-person. It doesn't really occur to you that they have a life and a family and have often been in so-called 'normal' jobs.  But at some point, or points, along the way they have encountered adversity and have been unable to cope.  A lot of them were ex-Forces.  They had become institutionalized, and had left the system without any support."

I love that Wellington is always conscious of those in need around her and around the world.  For her, these social issues strike a deep chord within her.  I can relate to that.  How many of you try to talk to the homeless people you see on the way to work or as you're out getting your morning coffee?  There are two homeless men that I usually see and talk to on the way to work or when I'm out getting my afternoon cupcake!  Both of them sell Street Sense, the homeless newspaper, and both have fascinating stories.  One of them, Ivory Wilson, just published a book on Amazon called A Player's World: Wanna Be a Pimp?  It's about his life as a pimp and how it sent him on a downward spiral.  His hope is that it will encourage other young men not to take that same path. His life story is one of despair, drugs, and ultimately, redemption.

But those two men don't represent a fraction of the homeless people I encounter in this metropolitan area.  Yet, many of them, I don't speak or even see.  I'm a hypocrite, just like all of you...And yes, you are.  Unless you stop and talk to or give money to every single homeless person or person in need that you see, we're all hypocrites.  But that's ok.  The flip side of that is that even if you talk to one person in need or help that one person in some way, you've made the world a better place.  That's all we can ask.

Also, the next time you see a person in need, remember, as Wellington points out:  "Your own problems paled into insignificance."  Always keep perspective.

Page 52-53:  When Wellington first joined the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a "civil servant," I could relate to her enthusiasm. That's how I felt when I first joined the Government as an environmental attorney.  I too, was "bapti[zed] by fire; I was flying by the seat of my pants."  It was exhilarating and rewarding.  Then, later on she explains:  "Something else had been growing inside me in 2003, and that was the sense that my work at [the Department] was not making the difference to the world that I had hoped it might.  I was becoming disillusioned with all the bureaucracy and red tape."  (page 62).  Again, I can relate, and find myself in that exact same position now....

Chapter 6 - Nepal:  This whole chapter made me want to quit my job and go ride around Nepal!  The "sixteen-day bike ride from Lhasa" that she describes (pg 74)  is the exact type of endurance activity that I think calls to so many of us.  It's brutal, physically and mentally demoralizing, yet so unconscionably rewarding.  This chapter shows how Wellington truly started to find herself.  What it leaves me struggling with, however, is how can those of us who can't afford to take off and bike around Nepal, start to find ourselves?  I posed the same question to myself when I recently watched the movie The Way, with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez.  It's about hiking the El Caminio (the way) through Spain. Thousands of people do it every year and it takes at least a month (depending on your pace and how long you stay in towns along the way).  People do it because they're in search of that elusive "something."  My heart longs to buy a plane ticket, pack a bag, and set off to walk the El Camino on my own.  But again, responsibilities here preclude that.  So what can we do instead?  I have yet to figure that out...

Page 93: Wellington talks about her diagnosed "weakness in [her] core, [her] glutes and hamstrings[.]"  You're preaching to the choir sister!  I have the same issue and it's something I need to be much more diligent about working on.  This is also one of the other reasons I find Wellington so relatable.  Not only is she so open about her eating disorder, but she's honest about the fact that her body needed work to get to the level she wanted.  All athletes think that. All athletes think their core is weak.  But Wellington's weaknesses were much more similar to what most of us women face.  Even more than that, however, is the fact that she turned all of her weaknesses into strengths.  She wasn't resigned to having a weak core, and neither are we!

Page 101:  Wellington talks about the swimming weaknesses that Brett Sutton pointed out.  Again, preachin' to the choir!  It almost made me want to go out and hire Sutton and break out my paddles and pull buoy!  Again, she shows her weaknesses...and then in the end, shows how they became a strength.

Page 123:  I love the email that Wellington quotes from Sutton.  My favorite part:  "I hope you are receiving the point i am making here.  it's time you forgot about, 'woe is me, all these coincidences,' and got some self-discipiine in your head.  the training you got a handle on, the walking around in nerd lad you have not.  you get over that the same was as improving an athletic weakness.  BY KNOWING AND BY TRAINING IT OUT.  life is nothing but a habit.  get to work."

One of the other important ways in which I relate to Wellington is her "nerdiness" - her own self-proclamation as a "muppet."  I too am clumsy.  I too get wrapped up in all the details.  I too flail around like a muppet.

I bust may ass with training, but what do I do to mentally train my mind and my spirit?  Mental focus is such an integral, yet often looked-over, part of training.  Not only does having a strong mind and spirit keep you going, but it keeps you upright.  If you're not in the moment and totally focused on what you're doing, you'll likely end up on your ass.  It's so easy when you're out on a long run to just zone out, letting your mind wander.  Maybe you're thinking about the problems in your life, maybe it's happy memories, maybe it's what you'll make for dinner.  Whatever "it" is, it's depriving you of the moment.  It's also making you more susceptible to stepping on a rock and twisting your ankle.  Or getting hit by a car.  This is where road running, I think, is a disadvantage over trail running.  It's so easy to zone out when you're running on the road.  You do that running on the trail and you'll be on your ass in a flash.  Running on the trail forces you to focus on every step, every rock, every tree root...every moment.  When you get to the point where your mind can be that focused, you're actually free.  You hit a meditative state where you are completely within yourself and your surroundings.  Not anywhere else.

It's possible to reach that meditative state off the trail too, and not just running on the road, but in every day life.  Do I work on that though?  Nope.  Instead, I (like Wellington) seem to focus on what's happening to me.  I focus on all the obstacles that have fallen in front of me and think "woe is me."  If you come across a fallen tree on a trail run, do you think "that tree fell just to be in my way!"  No, you think "well, let's just go around or over it."

After being reactive for so long, my mind has just developed that habit.  But, like any muscle, I can retrain it to do something different.  To not look at something that is being acted upon, but as the object that is doing the acting.  To be proactive instead of reactive.    To take control.  To be in the moment.  To really see myself in my surroundings.  Only then will my mind be as strong as my body...

I hope you're enjoying the book...

What are your reactions so far? 








Saturday, March 23, 2013

LTE Book Club: April Book Announcement (9 pages a day)

Hey LTE'ers!  I'm very excited to announce the launch of the LTE Book Club!  In response to my last post, several of you said you'd be interested in a virtual book club. No, we're not going to meet at anyone's house to discuss the book; but, I would like to have some online chats...but more on that in a minute.

Let's get right to the good stuff!  The first book for the LTE Book Club starting April 1, 2013, will be A Life Without Limits, by Chrissie Wellington.


So why did I pick this for the first book?  Well, first of all, if you don't know who Chrissie Wellington is, she's a 4-time Ironman World Champion and has never lost an Ironman race.  But that's not why I love her.  I love her because if ever there was a "regular Jane," she's it.  Like many triathletes (pro and amateur) she came from humble beginnings and just worked her ass off.  She's relatable, and we all need role models to whom we can relate.

Me with Chrissie Wellington at her book signing last year...
Second, she's struggled all her life with body image issues, including bulimia.  For many women (and some men) reading her story about how she's learned to deal with those issues can be very powerful.

Finally, she teaches us that life is about more that just one thing.  Before she became a professional triathlete, she was working for the British government in environmental issues/international development (something to which I can definitely relate). Through her travels and her work, she fed her passion for international development and continues to pursue that passion through charitable work today.  Triathlons gave her a platform to raise awareness about some of these issues.  Triathlons also gave her a doorway into a healthy lifestyle where she takes care of her body and appreciates what it can do for her.  And then, after she accomplished all that she wanted, she stepped away from triathlons after her last championship in 2011 to go back to pursuing some of her other passions.  She teaches us that life has many chapters, each one building on the next.  It's a good reminder about how you can't get too hung up on any single one of them.

So I've picked this for the first book because it may inspire the regular Jane's and Joe's out there to accomplish more than they can imagine; it may teach women to overcome their body image issues; and it may help us all realize that life is about being well-balanced.

One little FYI:  the foreward in the book is by Lance Armstrong, which obviously Chrissie had him write before he confessed about his years of doping.  In recent public statements, Chrissie understandably has been very outraged about Lance's actions and has even said that she regrets having him write the foreward.  So, whatever your feelings are about Lance, don't let the foreward deter you from her book.

The hard copy of the book is 274 pages and I'm sure you can download it for Kindle, iPad, etc. There are 30 days in April, so you'd only need to read nine - 9 - pages a day in the hard copy to finish it!!  Now anyone can do that!

I'd love for people to post their thoughts on the book as you're reading; however, I don't want anyone to ruin the book for someone who may not be as far along.  So try to (a) keep up with the reading and (b) remember that if you're reading pretty quickly, you want to be careful not to spoil the book for anyone else.

So please post your favorite quotes; inspirations, etc. as you're reading so we can generate a dialogue.  You can also post questions for other LTE readers, like "What do you think about Chrissie's first coach, Brett Sutton?"   

You can post your reactions, thoughts, quotes, questions, etc. on the blog here, on the Life Through Endurance Facebook page, or Tweet them to me @LifeThruEndure.

Happy reading!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Takers for an LTE Book Club?

I've been pretty MIA from the blog world lately, but hopefully soon I'll get on a more regular schedule.  So in an effort to help me do that and also watch less t.v., broaden my horizons, be inspired, and read more books, I've been thinking of starting an LTE Book Club...


Now, I know I'm no Oprah and I may get exactly less than 2 people who'd be interested. The idea is not to put a burden on anyone to read a certain number of pages or even to have any discussions if you don't want; rather, the idea is to get others out there to read some great stories from real life Joes and Janes who've used endurance sports as a way to better their lives.  And actually, even if other folks aren't interested, I'm going to do this on my own and post my "book reviews" and reactions as I'm going along...It'll be a good motivational tool for me!

When I started thinking about it, there are a fair amount of endurance-related books out there:  The Longest Race; The Long Run; A Life Without Limits; Unbroken.  All of which I've either read or am currently reading.  So there would be more than enough to fill up the rest of the year.

This is definitely going to be on the list....
I'm thinking one book a month starting April 1, 2013.  I'll post what book I'm reading in advance of the first of the month, and will occasionally post my thoughts, favorites quotes and lessons, etc., from the book.  If you want to join me to share your thoughts, reactions, etc., that'd be great! I'd love to hear how some of these books could impact your lives.  And of course, there's no obligation to read a particular book...It's a totally voluntary and virtual book club thanks to this crazy little thing called the internet.

If you're interested, leave me a comment....I'll let you know in a couple weeks what the first book will be.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Make Out Like Bandit...Be Relentless

I recently posted a YouTube video showing The True Spirit of Sportsmanship.  I now want to share another video that should not only make you smile from ear-to-ear, but also inspire you to be relentless...

Before I get into the video, I want to provide an explanation, so bear with me.  If you're not someone who's particularly concerned about animal issues, then you can skip these disclaimers and go straight to the video below.  This video was shared by a group with which I'm involved - the Pit Crew of the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.  And no we're not an Indy 500 group...the "Pit" in "Pit Crew" means "Pitbull" and, technically, all "bully" breeds.  The goal of the Pit Crew is to spread awareness about pitbulls, hold training sessions and walks, and attend events.  It's a fabulous volunteer group, along with the Animal Welfare League of Arlington (where I volunteer as a dog walker).  

The video below was created by a group called Peace, Love, and Pitbulls, and has been circulating among a lot of pitbull groups and Facebook pages.  For the most part, it's received wonderful responses.  There have been a few people, however, who concerned or dismayed by the video.  The video shows a pitbull puppy - Bandit - who is trying desperately to get on the treadmill that another adult pitbull is using.  

For those of you who don't know the pitbull breed, treadmills are sometimes used to give pitbulls (and other dogs for that matter) additional exercise.  Unfortunately, some people improperly train pitbulls for fighting using treadmills and other equipment that pushes the pitbulls too hard; but, some people and trainers use treadmills more properly to help exercise them.  Whether that's an advisable technique or not is probably up for debate among dog trainers.  I'm not here to get into that debate.  

A few negative comments I've seen have said that the adult dog on the treadmill seems to be panting. Well, yes, dogs (and people) tend to pant when they're working out.  That doesn't mean the dog is suffering (any more than I was suffering on my run last nite in 17  degree temps!).  Another comment said that it's not safe to have the dog leashed to the treadmill and that the human should have used a special treadmill for dogs that stops once the dog stops walking.  Although I agree that having the dog leashed to the treadmill is dangerous, it seems that this human did that to allow the one dog to stay on the treadmill while the other three or four dogs were in the room.  Plus, the treadmill was moving at a very slow, safe pace, and the human was there the whole time (at least during the video).  Judging from the Peace, Love, and Pitbulls website, this is not a person who would just leave his pitbull tied to the treadmill and leave him there for hours.  

Also, one comment said that the treadmill was not safe for the puppy because the puppy was putting his paw under the end of the treadmill where it runs underneath.  Again, although I agree that can be dangerous, this person knows his dogs, knows his treadmill, had the treadmill operating at a safe pace, and was standing there the whole time.  

Finally, one comment chastised the person for being lazy and not walking the dogs himself.  As the description for the video reads, the puppy had not had all of his shots yet and therefore all the dogs were quarantined to the house for the time being.  As people who work with dogs know, puppies are very vulnerable to viruses and diseases their first few months until they can get all their shots.  So they typically are kept away from adult dogs when they are in shelters and not allowed outside until at least three months old.  The biggest threat to them is the parvo virus, which is extremely contagious and spread very easily - such as by another dog tracking in the virus from outside.  So, this person was not being lazy - he was rightfully being cautious to protect against the adult dogs from bringing the parvo virus into the house to be spread to the puppy....

I felt that as a pitbull lover, general dog lover, and all creatures-great-and-small lover, I had to provide those explanations before sharing the video.  I have to stop and wonder whether the people who left all those "concerned comments" about the safety and welfare of the puppy have ever watched how their beef and chicken is slaughtered.  If you're concerned about one living creature, how can you not be concerned about another...but I digress...

So now, onto the video and my explanation below as to why this is related to endurance sports:  


You have to admit that you're now smiling from ear-to-ear, right?  I've watched this video nearly every day (and sometimes more than once a day) for the past several days.  What do we, as endurance athletes, have in common with Bandit?  

Well, for one, some of us (e.g., this writer) are a little rolly-polly and have lots of wrinkles!!  But seriously, doesn't Bandit embody the spirit, determination, and confidence that we all want?  

No one ever told this little puppy that he wouldn't be able to walk on the treadmill.  And even when he kept falling off, he refused to believe that he couldn't do it.  He was relentless....

Like most of us, Bandit saw a role model in the adult dog.  He saw another bigger, stronger dog, doing what he wanted to do.  We are no different when we look to professional athletes and think to ourselves "I want to do that."  They inspire us to try it ourselves...

Also like some of us, Bandit jumped right in - without much planning!  When some of us set our eyes on a goal, we often forget that it takes time and baby steps to get to that goal.  Sweet little Bandit would have been better served to wait for his own time at the treadmill and let the person help him a little bit at a much slower speed...But Bandit didn't care about baby steps...He wanted to run with the big dogs!  

And unlike most of us, Bandit was not afraid to look silly!  It seems that we often are too wrapped up in what we look like - how's my triathlon kit look? What kind of bike do I have?  Do I look cool on the run?  Did anyone see me fall down?  Who cares about all that!  Bandit certainly didn't care how many times his cute little butt went sailing off the treadmill...He climbed back on every single time.  

Bandit also needed the help of a coach and a little encouragement. I look at the white pitbull in the video as the coach.  I could see him saying, as he nudged Bandit's butt back on treadmill, "Get back up there son, you can do it!"  I think we all need a coach, a buddy, someone to nudge our butts once in awhile.  

Bandit also wasn't afraid to ask for a little help.  After so many attempts, he finally stood at the edge of the treadmill, trying to get the bigger dog's attention.  It was as if he was saying, "Um, excuse me sir, but could you please slow it down a little for me? Or maybe show me how you're doing that?"  He even raised up his paw once - in determination - to get the other dog's attention:  "Hey, yo, down here - a little help please!"  But even when that didn't work, Bandit was relentless...

He went to the back of the treadmill, hopped on, and ran a few steps.  I could almost hear what was going through little Bandit's mind as he took those five or six steps on the treadmill:  "Holy shit, I'm doing it, I'm really...aw crap..."  Then off the back he goes...Yet he gets back on again.  Remember how great it feels when everything clicks?  When you get that perfect "catch" in the water, or that perfect form on the run?  Sometimes the perfection doesn't last long, but it's enough to inspire you to keep trying for it again and again....

And finally, as Martin Luther King said:  "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."  When little Bandit was probably too tired to keep trying to walk on the treadmill, he didn't go curl up in a corner....No, he took one paw and let it move back and forth across the treadmill.  This cracked me up!  It was almost as if he was saying "I could do it if I wanted to, but I just don't want to right now.  So I'm just gonna chill out with one paw for a bit."  Instead of giving up, he did what he was capable of doing until he can get stronger - giving it the ol' one-paw.  

I think there's so much we can learn from Bandit, and from young ones in general.  In the beginning we believe we can do everything because we've never learned or been told otherwise.  Then somewhere along the way, we fall and we're laughed at, or we're told that we could never accomplish X,Y,Z, or we compare ourselves to others and think we've failed.  Very young children who've never experienced those negative things, will never know anything but confidence and success, just like Bandit.  You certainly didn't see Bandit losing his confidence.  In fact, he seemed to learn from his experience, realize he needed to change his plan of attack, be creative, ask for help, and continue to be relentless....

Next time you're falling down, going slower than you want, or comparing yourself to the big dogs, think of Bandit.  Be comfortable with where you are right now.  Be creative.  Be willing to ask for help.  But most of all, be relentless...

What did you think of Bandit?   


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Checking in on the 30-Day Challenges

Hey there LTE'rs...Just wanted to check in on those of you doing the 30-day challenge!  It's winding down in the next couple days, so I hope you've stuck to it!

I'll be honest...I wasn't able to accomplish my two challenges:  yoga every day and getting to bed at the same time (10:00).  But, while I haven't been perfect, I've been so much better than I was before.  Just having those two goals, and yet giving myself the freedom to fall off the wagon if I have an off-day, has kept me more regimented and able to achieve them more often.  As a result, I'm getting much more sleep and I'm doing a lot more yoga!!

I can't wait to hear about how your challenges are going...Don't forget to email by 5:00 p.m. EST on Thursday February 7th to let me know how the challenge went.

How's your challenge going? 

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The True Spirit of Sportsmanship...


Have you ever wanted to win so badly that you thought you'd do anything? Well, define "anything."  Would you dope if you knew you wouldn't get caught?  Would you sacrifice family time?  Would you let someone else win?

There's a great video circulating around of Spanish runner, Ivan Fernandez Anaya, who was in second place coming into the finish of a cross country run behind the leader, Abel Mutai.  Mutai mistakenly thought he'd already crossed the finish line, so he slowed down.  What did Anaya do?  More importantly, what would you have done?

Well, watch the video to see...




Would you do what Anaya did? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

It's Definitely Not About The Bike...For Me It's About Lies, Cheating, Double Standards And Yes, Forgiveness

For those of us who watch professional sports and engage in amateur sports, we develop our own secret, yet deeply personal relationships with the athletes we admire. For the most part, we never get to meet these athletes, let alone develop any real-life relationship with them; yet, these athletes inspire us, bring out the best in us, make us smile, make us cry, and sometimes, break our hearts.  In that respect, Lance Armstrong is like any other professional athlete...

In another respect, Armstrong also is like other athletes who have cheated and/or lied about behavior that directly impacted their sport.  Growing up I was a huge Pete Rose fan.  I remember watching "Charlie Hustle" with my mom and talking about how he gave every at-bat, every run around the bases, every catch, his absolute "all."  I played first base in softball so I could be like Pete Rose.  He epitomized the heart, the grit, the passion, the pure joy, of baseball.  So when he was banned for life from baseball for gambling on games, I was heartbroken...

In the summer of 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa re-ignited the country's passion for baseball.  I remember being mesmerized by every at-bat for those two that summer, completely caught up in who was going to break Roger Maris' homerun record.  Those two athletes made this country fall in love again with baseball.  And I remember sitting in my apartment, with tears of joy streaming down my face, when McGwire hit the record-breaking homer and Sosa ran out on the field to congratulate him.  Then, sometime later, as the story unfolded that these two likely took steroids during this historical homerun chase (as well as before that), I felt my heart breaking again...  

And now, once again, my heart has been broken by an athlete with whom I'd developed my own "relationship" - my own admiration, inspiration, and personal connection.  Lance Armstrong was the first athlete who got me interested in the Tour de France and cycling.  I'd read his book - It's Not About the Bike - and was captivated.  As a cancer survivor myself (thyroid cancer in 1996), I and virtually every cancer survivor in the world latched onto Lance's story.  He gave people more than hope...he gave them faith as only someone who has stared death in the face can give.  Faith that you can beat terrible diseases and come back to fight your way to the top.  Faith that a death sentence doesn't always come to fruition.  He carved out a place in my heart with his amazing story of cancer, marriage, children, and victory.  

So in 1997 when Armstrong launched Livestrong, I was fully on-board.  Shortly thereafter, my Grandpa was battling lung cancer.  So I immediately bought 200 Livestrong bands.  I kept several for myself and gave the rest to my mom and Grandpa to distribute to the staff and patients at the cancer center.  It was like I'd given them winning lottery tickets.  The faith that this little yellow band (unfortunately made in China) gave them, was priceless.  In nearly 16 years, I've only taken my Livestrong band off less than a handful of times.  I look at it to remind me of what I, my Grandpa, and other loved ones battled and overcame...  

In the summer of 2005, Lance once again reinvigorated my faith in life...particularly, my faith in a healthy life that includes endurance sports.  That July, while the Tour de France was in progress, I'd flown home to Nebraska to help with a surprise party we were throwing for my Grandpa's 80th birthday.  My brother and I went to his assisted living apartment the morning of the party to find my Grandpa lying on the floor, groaning in pain.  He'd fallen in the middle of the night and been there for hours.  After several days in the hospital, it seemed like his condition could persist for awhile, so we made the decision for me to go ahead and fly back to D.C.  While I was back home, I remember watching Armstrong win his 7th Tour de France....again, with tears streaming down my face.  I remember feeling so immeasurably certain in my ability to conquer anything based on what Lance had accomplished.  One day later - on July 25th - my Grandpa passed away....wearing his Livestrong band.  

And now....well now, my heart is once again breaking...

I defended Armstrong without any hesitation or doubt during all of these years that he's been accused of "doping."  

I believed him every time that he said that having cancer made him never want to put anything bad in his body.  I too want nothing but good things put into my body because if there's one thing that cancer makes you realize, it's that you don't ever want anything harmful in your body ever again.  

I believed in the fact that he was the most tested athlete ever and never tested positive for any illegal doping.  

In many ways, I put the same faith in him that I put in people with whom I have actual, personal relationships...

And as with some of my personal relationships, that faith was tested, shit on, and ripped to shreds like a bad bridesmaid's dress....

Yet, like every relationship where I've been on the receiving end of a truckload of lies, I still manage to find the silver lining(s) and the lesson(s) to be learned.  And I can honestly say that if I've forgiven people who have personally lied to me, stolen from me, or screwed me over, then I can certainly forgive Lance....

Armstrong's recent interview with Oprah certainly has people divided.  But what I find ironic is the failure in most blogs, newspaper articles, and media reports, to mention the comparison to other athletes who have lied, cheated, and, in some instances, gone much further than bullying.  The double standard that exists in professional sports disgusts me, yet no one else seems to notice...More importantly, the double standard we Americans perpetuate with professional athletes and superstars, is even more disgusting...So this is where it seems to be that Armstrong is not like other professional athletes - or at least not being treated like other athletes (except for maybe Pete Rose, who also has a lifetime ban).  

In January 2010 - nearly 12 years after the historic homerun chase - Mark McGwire admitted that he used steroids during 1998.  Like Armstrong, he cheated to accomplish his record-setting career and then lied about it for over a decade.  Yet, where is McGwire now?  An MLB hitting coach.  Armstrong, by contrast, faces a lifetime ban from USADA-sanctioned sports.  Now some may say that McGwire didn't "bully" anyone (as Armstrong described some of his own action) and didn't sue anyone who was actually telling the truth (like Armstrong admits he did).  Does that really matter when what's really at issue is the "crime against the sport?"  The USADA and other professional sports organizations don't (to my knowledge) possess the power to ban people for being bullies and initiating bad lawsuits; they do possess the power, however, to ban people for crimes against the sport, like doping and gambling.

Professional sports organizations also possess the power to ban or suspend people for illegal activity, e.g., DUI's, assaults, illegal drugs, and murder.  Yet, rarely, if ever, are such athletes banned for life from their sport.  Case in point, Michael Vick.  I don't truly hate anyone, but Vick comes as close as you can get with me.  Let's be clear:  Vick gave his permission for the brutal, inhumane killing of 6-8 fighting dogs who "underperformed," and later admitted to personally killing 2 dogs, one of which he hung by a rope and dropped over an edge.  And that's not to mention the whole illegal dog fighting gambling ring that he pled to.  Now let's compare to Armstrong...

Armstrong did not physically harm anyone or any living creature.  I don't care if someone felt bullied or pressured into blood doping, they're big boys and have to make their own choices.  Also, while Armstrong was a self-admitted jerk and inflicted a lot of mental and financial pain and suffering on people around him, that's all a far cry from Vick's actions of actual physical harm.  Yet three years after the NFL "indefinitely suspended" Vick, this convicted criminal was allowed to return to football glory.  On top of that, he has endorsements from such big sponsors as Nike.  Conversely, Armstrong (who it does not appear at this time will face criminal charges) faces a lifetime ban from cycling, triathlons, and running events.  Moreover, before Armstrong confessed, Nike dropped him like a bad habit.  How Nike can endorse someone like Vick while dropping someone like Armstrong is beyond me.   I will never buy anything from Nike again...

The notion that Vick "did his time" so he should be allowed to return to the NFL is irrelevant in my mind.  The time he did was to repay society in general for the crime he committed, which is what every convicted criminal must do.  That has nothing to do with damage he did to the NFL, his team, and his fans.  And this is where the double standard between athletes and us regular Joes really bothers me...

People claim that Vick should be allowed to return to the NFL, despite his abhorrent crimes, because that's all he knows how to do - play football.  Well, all Armstrong knows how to do is compete in cycling and triathlons.  So shouldn't the same consideration be given to Armstrong as was given to Vick?  More importantly, most "regular" people with 40-hour/week careers would not be afforded the same consideration.  I can tell you that being an attorney is all I know how to do, and I invested a lot more in my actual career from a financial perspective than Vick did.  I didn't have full-ride scholarship (but Vick did) and I have a huge student loan debt (which Vick did not).  If I get convicted of a crime or even commit an ethical (although not illegal) violation, I likely would be banned for life from the one thing that I know how to do:  practice law.  Why is the same standard not applicable to professional athletes?  I know that all professional sports are governed by different bodies, but it seems there should be one standard for all.  If you're going to allow Vick back into the NFL after the crimes he committed, then why shouldn't Armstrong be allowed back into professional cycling and triathlon?  If you're going to allow McGwire to become a coach after his admitted steroid use, then why now allow Armstrong back in?

If that's not enough, then look at one more example.  Bill Clinton.  Do I need to remind people of the phrase "I did not have sexual relations with that woman..."? The President of the United States - a position obviously more powerful than that of a professional cyclist - lied to the world.  Cheated on his wife.  Abused his public office.  Yet was he impeached, banned from politics, financially ruined, or even knocked off the public stage?  No.  If anything, Slick Willy is more popular and more financially well-off now than ever.  Why is Armstrong held to a more penalizing standard than the President of the United States?

So, in that respect, Armstrong certainly has not been treated like other athletes, or for that matter, like other non-athletes....

Unlike any of these other athletes I've mentioned, the American public seems so much more offended by Armstrong's lies.  I've read several articles or blogs where the writers said they felt like "chumps" because Armstrong lied to their faces all these years.  Really?  Who among us has not been lied to?  If the mere fact that someone lies to us makes us a chump, then maybe we all need to form a Chumps Anonymous support group.  If these writers think that Armstrong's lies somehow harmed their reputation as writers, I find that hard to believe.  Most of the country believed Armstrong's lies, and when you act, in good faith, on something that someone has told you, I don't think you have any personal fault.  Plus, I have yet to see or hear of anyone suffering in their reputation because they believed Armstrong's lies.  If you want to feel like a chump, why don't you try dating someone who told you he was divorced, "borrowed" $6,000 from you, turned out not to be divorced and, then, just vanished.  That happened to me and, yes, I was a chump because I didn't do my due diligence.  I just took his word for it.  But all of these writers, who did their due diligence and found the same evidence and information that we all did, do not in my view qualify as chumps just because they were the brunt of a very convincing, well-planned lie.  Further, if Armstrong's own son, Luke - who vehemently defended his father - didn't feel like a chump, then how can you?

The people who deserve the most to be offended and hurt are those whom Armstrong "bullied," those whom he wrongfully sued, and those whom he slandered.  Those people were directly and personally impacted by Armstrong's actions.  The most that the rest of us - the mere admirers who put Armstrong and other athletes up on a pedestal - are entitled to is disillusionment and disappointment.

If you're pissed off at Armstrong, you're wasting your energy.  Like most people with whom we are angry, they usually never know or care.  And even if they do know or care, the person investing the most negative energy on the anger is you.

If you'll never again be a fan of Armstrong, then that's your choice.  If you say you will never forgive him, then I ask you:  how many of your friends or family have lied to you?  How many times have you forgiven them? And, more importantly, how many times have you lied, or even cheated?  Whether you were caught or not, don't you hope to be forgiven by those you've wronged?  More importantly, did Armstrong ever inspire you to be more than you thought you could be, or to fight cancer, or to start an endurance sport?  If so, and yet you're so quick now to abandon your support of him, maybe you should consider whether you were a real fan to begin with...

Armstrong was dead-on when he wrote and said "It's Not About The Bike."  It never was.  The bike was a means to an end....the means to a career, financial security, popularity, and health.  But as Armstrong recognized back then and now in his Oprah interview, there are so many more important things, like fighting cancer.  For yet another comparison, I'll throw this out there:  how many of the other athletes I mentioned initiated a movement that inspired and helped so many people?  At the end of the day, if there's one good thing to come of all of this, it's the existence of the fact that Armstrong established one of the most powerful organizations out there today:  Livestrong.

I've seen people bash Livestrong because it doesn't fund cancer research. That's not the mission of the organization.  The mission of Livestrong is to:
"empower the cancer community to address the unmet needs of cancer survivors.  To do so, we encourage collaboration, knowledge-sharing and partnership.  Then, we develop evidence-based solutions to address both the common and unique problems survivors are facing around the world."
Livestrong has helped provide resources, counseling, and advice to millions of cancer survivors and their families, myself included.  It fills a need for information and support that previously did not exist.  Ironically, if Armstrong hadn't won a single Tour de France (let alone seven) after beating his cancer, it's questionable whether Livestrong would have been formed.  I don't think that justifies his doping by any means...I simply point it out in an effort to take something positive out of this entire mess.  And while Livestrong certainly got it's start because of its association with Armstrong, it just as certainly has thrived on its own and can continue to thrive without him.

Some people have urged Livestrong to change its name to get away from the "strong" part of the name - an obvious association with ArmSTRONG.  Although Armstrong's name was the inspiration for Livestrong, it doesn't embody the current meaning of Livestrong - at least not for me.  To me it means survivor, strength, and faith.  And for that reason, I will continue to wear my Livestrong band....

So I ask - will you forgive Armstrong?  To be sure, the man has a lot of work to do, amends to make with those he wronged, and personal growth to achieve.  I truly hope for the sake of him and his family, that he can do all of that.  Why would I forgive him for cheating, lying, and all his other jerk-ish actions?  Because I would want the same. Because we imperfect humans are supposed to forgive.  As much as it pains me, I have to forgive Vick for his heinous crimes; but, I don't have to like him or be a fan.  You certainly have the same prerogative when it comes to Armstrong.  But at the end of the day, it's not about the lies, the cheating, the double standards or even the bike...It's about forgiveness...