The Undeniable Ruth Rotating Header Image

The Undeniable Ruth

How I Manage Stress

Yesterday, my coach asked me how I manage my stress. I instantly responded:

Poorly.

That’s actually not true all the time. When I feel solid and secure, I can be so confident it’s uncanny.

I know that feeling.

I’ve felt that feeling.

Just not lately.

Always Been High Strung

My standard response when someone asks me how I handle stress is, “Not gracefully.” Usually, I find a way to muddle through, but it’s not pretty. I’ve been living with anxiety since I was a wee one – like before age 10.

For as long as I can remember, my modus operandi has been to have a plan for escape – physically, emotionally, and/or chemically.  A lot of my -isms (alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and self-injury) were ways to self-medicate. When I got into recovery and took away those vices, I still had to deal with my emotions and life’s challenges.

Here are some of the things I do lately to manage my stress.

Sweat

Starting in gymnastics and now as a triathlete, I workout 5-6 days per week. Working out gives my brain an endorphin boost it needs, and it gives me a break from the rest of my life. There’s not much I can do while I’m in the pool except swim.

It also gives me a safe way to vent emotions. The day after I got my California Bar Exam results (I failed), my coach had assigned a 17-mile run. I ran one of my fastest paces to date and I got flash of inspiration about how I was going to tell my friends. Pounding pavement for those hours gave me the much-needed break I needed.

Sweat keeps me sane.

Lists

My life is managed with lists:

  • Weekly to-do lists – x2
  • Daily to-do list – on my whiteboard
  • Medication checklists – one for the hooman, one for the hound
  • Workout checklist
  • Program checklist

If I didn’t have my lists, I’d never keep track of who took which medication or whether I did everything I needed to do on any given day. My stress is related to anxiety and depression, both of which make me forgetful.

My lists also give me a semblance of control over what I’m doing, which is reassuring since lately I’ve been feeling out of control. There are days I wish I could emotionlessly work through my lists without dealing with my feelings. Thankfully, I have loving people around me who remind me that I’m not a robot.

I love this photo of Jeff and me from an Ignite Phoenix #17 Speaker Bootcamp. Photo by Brandon Larkin. (Creative Commons License)

Selective Peopling

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an avoidant and an introvert. I’m not a fan of people in general, particularly in crowds or places with a lot of noise. However, I selectively like individuals. These are the people I want to spend time with, and from whom I’ll ask for help. It’s so reassuring to be around and/or text with people I love. They get me.

Every year, I have my jar on my nightstand and I add happy memories to it throughout the year, and then on New Year’s Eve, I read through them. One thing I noticed when I reviewed the memories from 2019, was that a lot of them had to do with hugging people.

Hugs keep me sane too.

Short-Circuit

On rare occasions, my stress gets so bad that I emotionally crash and burn. I panic to the point where I have trouble focusing and I can barely eat. (That’s how I managed to drop 10 pounds in law school.) When my appetite drops out, that’s my tell that I need to take swift deliberate steps to counteract my stress.

Sleep

Sometimes the best thing I can do when stress hits hard is sleep. When I’m asleep, it means my muscles are relaxing and I’m taking deep breathes – two things I need when I’m stressed. (A friend recently suggested I add massage to my self-care routine, probably for the same reason.)

Stress is exhausting.

An hour-long nap can make a world of difference.

Rosie’s Rules

I didn’t realize how many rules I have for the care and feeding of my 12 year-old, blind, arthritic basset hound in the early stages of doggy dementia (canine cognitive dysfunction – CCD), until I had to document them. I have to be gone overnight, and my neighbor volunteered to look after her for 30 hours.

Blind Dog Rules

Don’t leave clutter on the floor.

If you need her to get up, making the kissy sound or the clicky sound with your mouth or saying, “Up up” in a high voice is your best bet.

If Rosie’s going to walk into a wall or other stationary object and you can’t reach her in time to stop her, warn her by saying, “Bump.”

If the skin tag on her nose bleeds after she bumps into a wall, it’s not a big deal.

You can use your legs to help guide where you want her to go – acting as a bumper for her.

All pills and treats are offered from the left side of her face.

Be careful she doesn’t walk off the curb or into cars during walkies. She prefers to walk on your right side.

If you need better control over her during walks, pull directly upwards from her harness and walk her like a marionette puppet.

Sleepy Rosie and her Reflection

Arthritic Dog Rules

Arthritic bassets can’t scratch their ears, necks, or noses. You have to do it for them. Bonus if she makes happy mumble-grumble sounds.

Morning meds (3 pills) are given on a spoon with peanut butter. If the peanut butter drips, try to get to land on her paw so she can lick it up.

Her CBD tincture is squirted into the left side of her mouth. Stand just behind her shoulder blades, one foot on each side when giving her this.

Sometimes Rosie gets “stuck” temporarily in the downward dog position when trying to lay down. Resist the urge to push her butt down. She’ll do it on her own as her muscles are ready.

If Rosie picks up one of her back paws and holds it in the air, she has a cramp in that butt muscle. Give it a good scratch to relax it.

Dementia Dog Rules

If Rosie walks in the wrong direction at mealtime, slide two fingers under her collar to guide her to her bowl.

If Rosie starts pacing as if she’s lost in the house, give reassuring pets and tell her she’s a “good girl.”

If she has an accident in the house, it happens. Towels are in the kitchen. Rug cleaner is above the washing machine. Hopefully it happens on the concrete.

Before bedtime, dip the end of a treat in peanut butter, top with half of a puppy sleeping pill, and give it to her. Otherwise she could be up-and-down all night.

So many rules for a dog who sleeps 18 hours a day!

I’m also going to sleep in the same shirt for three nights and leave it behind in Rosie’s bed, so she has something that smells like her hooman.

Benched

“One of my favorite meditation spots” by Jay Thompson from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

My hip pain flared up at the end of last week, and Coach David benched me for three days. I don’t even have a good story. It just started hurting. Only things I can do are stretch, heat, and strength work that doesn’t engage the hip. (My apologies in advance to anyone I converse with while I’m on the sidelines. I get moody and opinionated when I don’t workout.)

Yes, this is the same hip injury I’ve been dealing with off and on for over a year. It’s the one body part I didn’t blow out as a gymnast (except for a few pulled groins), so they’re making up for lost time.

Coach David has been increasing my workouts painfully slowly – like increasing my running distance by ¼ of a mile each week. (The standard is a runner can increase their mileage by 10% each week.) I’ve pushed myself hard the last few weeks, but I didn’t think I was going too hard.

As always, Coach David uses a practical and logical approach to dealing with injuries. It’s better to take a couple of days off now – over six months before race day – than to push through and be triaging a worse injury closer to race day. This morning David lovingly said, “Your body needs a vacation.”

Thankfully, I was already ahead of schedule in regards to my training, so taking a few days off isn’t a setback in terms of that. It’s just a challenge for me to be forced to sit on my tush.

I’m starting to wonder if the line between pushing hard and pushing too hard is razor thin. It’s frustrating to constantly have to deal with the possibility that my hip could flare. I felt like we were doing everything right. I was slowly gaining speed, strength, and confidence.

I was pushing myself, but not that hard.

Challenging myself, but not killing myself.

Over the last week, I spent a lot of time sitting as I was sending 500+ emails promoting my first online course on the legal side of photography.  I wonder if that has something to do with this most recent bout of soreness.

Rosie’s trying to teach me how to relax.

Regardless of the cause, I’m spending three days sitting on my heating pad, trying to get the muscles to relax and the joint to calm down. (I have two heating pads – one at home and one in the office.)

I’m on board with the plan that it’s better to deal with a minor setback now than to deal with worse pain later.

The goal is Ironman Mont Tremblant, not killing myself getting to the starting line.

New Swimming Accessory: Choker Necklace

Yup. I’m wearing a choker.

I don’t like things touching the front of my neck.

I don’t own turtlenecks.

I don’t wear kerchiefs or fashion scarves around my neck.

When I go to the salon, I ask them to make the drape one snap looser.

Sometimes I can’t even wear crewneck t-shirts because – you guessed it – the edge of the shirt barely touches my neck.

When I picked out my wetsuit, I got one with the lowest neckline I could find. It still touches my neck. Actually, my wetsuit is snug around my neck. It’s snug around every part of my body. That’s how wetsuits work.

When I’m wearing my wetsuit and I go from being vertical and walking into the water to horizontally swimming in it, the discomfort becomes more intense as going face down puts extra pressure across the front of my neck. (If past lives are real, I’m pretty sure I either drowned or was strangled in one of them.) Add in being hit by other swimmers and unable to find my swimming cadence, and it’s enough to make me panic.

Heading into Ironman Mont Tremblant, I’m trying to work on this. I don’t want to start this race with a panic attack.

I can’t control how choppy the water is.

I can’t control other swimmers bumping into me.

What I can do is force myself to get used to swimming with something snug around my neck. (I know some athletes cut their wetsuits to lower the neckline, but I don’t want to do that.)

My chokers, courtesy of the junior section at Target.

I bought myself a set of five stretchy choker necklaces, popular among tweens and young teens. I look like a person having a mid-life crisis when I wear them.

Before I leave the house for the pool, I pull one of these things on, and I don’t take it off until I’m back. I figure the more I wear it, the sooner I’ll get over the heebie jeebies of having something touching my neck.

For my first day wearing a choker to the pool, I opted to wear the red one so if the feeling of it touching my neck was too much and I ripped it off mid-lap, I could easily find it in the water and not litter in the pool.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. I don’t notice it when I’m swimming. Once I’m fully used to wearing one necklace, I may try wearing two, then three, at a time, so I can get used to the material covering more of my neck.

Hopefully, this exercise will teach me that I can have something snug against my neck without feeling like I’m choking myself.

All Genders Deserve Equal Access in Sports

Arizona has joined the number of states that has proposed legislation that would ban male-to-female transgender athletes from competing in female sports unless they have a doctor’s note that proves that they’re female. This law would impact athletes at every from level from K-12 schools to community colleges and state universities.

Photo by Ted Eytan from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Why We’re Having This Debate

The surge of proposed laws followed news stories last year where a female track and field athlete claimed that male-to-female transgender athletes were unfairly allowed to compete in the girls’ division. The trans athletes finished a race higher than she did, which she claimed cost her the opportunity to compete at the regional race, which could impact her ability to get a college scholarship.

What I didn’t like about the reporting of this story is that most reports didn’t state whether the trans athletes were on hormone blockers and/or on hormone replacement therapy which would have made it a more level field than a cisgender male competing in a female sport. By the way, they’re both on hormones replacement therapy.

School Athletics May be the Only Option

My first thought when I heard about this proposed law in Arizona, was that trans athletes should bypass political issues in school and compete on club teams. A teacher friend pointed out that club teams are often very expensive, so the only option to participate in sports is to play on a school team.

Is It Talent or Testosterone?

Transgender girls are girls. They should be allowed to participate in girls’ activities, whether we are talking about Girl Scouts, entering a nunnery, or playing sports. Forcing a transgender girl to participate in boys’ activities or be left out is discriminatory and potentially devastating to her mental health.

In the situation of athletics, I wonder how much of is this outcry based on fairness and how much is based on transphobia. Are girls afraid of being beaten by someone they view as less than a girl?

It’s worth asking how much of these trans athletes’ success is based on talent or testosterone. History suggests that cisgender men have physical advantages over women in many sports. In looking at Olympic Records where men and women both compete in same types of events (e.g., track and field, weightlifting, etc.) the record held by the man is higher, faster, better than the women’s record. That’s why we created Title IX – to give women equal access to participate. But once a trans athlete has the same hormone level as their cisgender counterparts, I wonder if the cisgender athletes are claiming it’s unfair, but they’re using the competitions’ trans status to complain that they didn’t win.

It’s Time to Re-Examine Division in Sports

It’s time we re-examine how we divide participants in sports. With growing acceptance that there are more than two genders, which is backed by law in at least 17 states and Washington D.C., the traditional division of boys/men and girls/women is no longer sufficient. I’m a non-binary athlete (with a birth certificate to prove it), and when I sign up for a race, I rename the divisions “testosterone” and “estrogen” and select accordingly.  

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has guidelines regarding male-to-female athletes and the testosterone level they must have to compete in the women’s division. Lower level sports should adopt similar rules and require every athlete to have their testosterone level checked, and only those with a level above the threshold should be allowed to participate in the testosterone division.

(A friend suggested that the athlete’s sensitivity to testosterone should also be tested for it is possible for a cisgender woman to have a high testosterone level and body that is completely insensitive to it, so she won’t reap any athletic benefits from having this higher level.)

Photo by tableatny from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Where Change Should Start

In thinking about this issue, if we want schools to change how athletes are divided instead of using gender in the U.S., the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) should be the leader. If NCAA schools change from men’s and women’s sport to divisions based on hormones, public and private high schools will follow suit since many of the best high school athletes aspire to receive scholarships to compete in college.  

I sent an email to the Chair of the Board of Directors for NCAA Division I, encouraging them to modify the classification of athletes instead of using gender identity. I don’t expect a response beyond a cursory, “Thank you for your message,” but hopefully it will plant a seed that change is needed.

Sister Laws for Access to Trans Medical Care

If states are going to pass laws that will limit male-to-female trans athletes from participating in sports, they need to a pass sister laws that allow for adequate and affordable access to medical care for transgender people, including the ability to access care without parental consent, and laws that allow non-binary and transgender people to change their birth certificates and driver’s licenses to reflect their gender.  

Open Water Swim Training Update

After a brutal swim at the Half Ironman in Maine last year, I knew I’d be spending part of my off season practicing open water swimming. In the pool, I can see where I’m going, I have my own lane space, and I can put my feet down whenever I want. Open water swimming is the opposite of all that, plus I’m in a wetsuit. Mine has a lower neckline compared to other wetsuits, but it’s snug against my neck, especially when I rotate my body to be parallel to the ground to swim. I always have to remind myself that my wetsuit isn’t strangling me. (I’m really sensitive about things touching my neck.)

I did the Splash and Dash at Tempe Town Lake a few months ago. It had four race options:

  • Swim 1,000 meters, Run 5K
  • Swim only, 2,000 meters
  • Swim 2,000 meters, Run 5K
  • Swim only, 4,000 meters

I suspect the real purpose of this event is to give the people doing Ironman Arizona a few weeks later a chance to swim the length in the race (4,000 meters) in the lake where there’ll be swimming on race day. I signed up for the 2,000-meter, swim only.

Tempe Town Lake – Image by Dru Bloomfield – At Home in Scottsdale from Flickr (Creative Commons License) – No, I did not get poisoned or super powers from swimming in this water.

I arrived at the lake at 6:50 a.m., checked in, and strapped my timing chip to ankle. The air temperature was 58 degrees. The water was 63. The 2,000-meter swim started at 7:32 a.m. They invited us to jump in a little before race time to “splash about” and get used to water temperature. Yeah, no thanks. I was only getting in that water once.

The race route was a 1,000-meter rectangle. Each person did one, two, or four laps depending on which event they signed up for. Like Maine, there were kayakers and paddle boarders throughout the route to help any swimmer who got in trouble. Shortly after I started swimming – 2:19 according to my Garmin – I grabbed onto a kayak, trying not to panic. (There’s something about feeling my wetsuit against my neck coupled with being hit by other swimmers that triggers my “fuck this” response.)

I told the friendly volunteer in the kayak, that I was panicking and he asked an insightful question, “Has this happened before?” That actually helped me calm down a bit. I took a minute to take some deep breaths and compose myself, and then continued with the race.

Once, I calmed down, running into other swimmers wasn’t as big of a deal. After one collision I remember saying, “Oops, that’s your butt.” The rest of the race felt pretty good. I worked on my spotting (trying to swim in a straight line by aiming at landmarks). A good rule is to check your spot every 2 strokes. I was doing it every 10, because I don’t like how spotting breaks up my cadence.

I finished the 2,000-meter swim in 45:03, 17 minutes faster than my time at Maine 70.3. The cut-off time for the swim for the full Ironman is 2 hours, 20 minutes (140 minutes). That’s encouraging to see that I’m on track to have a good swim at Ironman Mont Tremblant this summer.

I still need to work on not panicking when I first hit the water. I hope to do a few more open water group swims before the race.

A Year Without Hair

Ruth Carter Shaved Head by Marc Farb

I made the decision in 2018 to keep my head shaved for a year. My first shave was by a professional stylist, but then I bought a set a clippers and re-shaved it ever 7-10 days. It was great in the warmer months. Not having hair kept me much cooler. Starting in the summer of 2019, in addition to cutting my hair with clippers, I began using a razor blade to cut my hair as close as possible, making my head feel as smooth as a honeydew melon.

Having no hair was super convenient. Every morning, all I had to do was flop out of bed, and I was ready to go. I never had to deal with bed head, and I didn’t have to pay for conditioner, styling products, or haircuts for a year. (I washed my head stubble with a shampoo bar a few times a week.)

I’ll admit, having no hair made me feel like a badass at time, like the embodiment of a superhero. I don’t think it made me more aerodynamic though.

Painted Gold from Head to Toe

One of the best experiences I had while bald was being painted by Skin City in Las Vegas. Since I didn’t have hair, the artist was able to paint me, literally, from the top of my head to the top of my feet (except for a pair of pasties and gold undies. I felt like a living statue.

After the event, I put my jeans and went back to my hotel. My friends liked watching people react to me watching around with my gold head and torso, so I humored them by walking through the casino floor. That’s where we learned the fun way that you can’t walk through a casino with a painted face (which is ironic given how much makeup some people wear). Security stopped us as I was finishing my lap around the room.

Assumptions People Made About Me

There were a few occasions when people asked if I had cancer. One man came up to me in the parking lot of Sprouts and tried to tell me about how carrot juice kills cancer. Every time, I responded honestly that I was just taking a break from having hair.

As far as I know, no one assumed that I was a Neo Nazi, or anything, though a friend said I looked a bit scary in a tank top with my no-hair.

Did I Ever Sunburn my Head?

I am grateful to whoever invented spray on sunblock. I rarely left the house without spraying my head if it was after sunrise. I managed to go the whole year without burning my scalp. When I went outside for longer workouts, I wore a bandana under my helmet when I was biking and a hat when I was running to protect my head from the sun.

Lessons Learned

Here are some of the things I learned from my year with no hair:

  • It’s challenging to cut your own hair around and behind your ears.
  • Yes, you can cut yourself with clippers. I nicked the top of my earlobe on numerous occasions.
  • It’s really easy to cut yourself if you use a disposable razor to shave your head.
  • It’s difficult to find a ballgown that goes with no-hair. The fanciness of the dress didn’t have anything to balance it out up top. I tried to find a sparkly headband, but it didn’t look right.
  • It was easier to present myself androgynously without hair. More people addressed me as “sir,” when I was in baggy guy clothes.

Now What?

Now I’m letting my hair grow out, going back to my previous undercut. I’ve started to miss it. Hopefully, I’ll have enough hair to have the style I want by this summer.

Undeniable Recap of 2019

As I read through the notes in my memory jar for 2019, I noted that a lot of my happy memories this year involved hugs and dogs. It so cute when dogs get so excited, they piddle. Depression and anxiety were regular companions this year, and it shows by how empty my calendar was except for work travel and race training.

Nevertheless, there are still things to celebrate from 2019:

Top 5 Events

1. Half Ironman Maine.

The bulk of my year was focused on training for and competing in Maine 70.3, my first Half Ironman. It was a fun, but somewhat brutal race. The swim in the freezing cold and choppy water was exhausting, and it was only the first mile of the race! I love the bike ride through the back roads of Maine. I had some choice words for Coach David when I realized that a portion of the run was on a dirt trail. It felt so good to raise my arms as I crossed the finish line, but the best part of the day was hugging Coach David after we both had finished.

Proud Coach

2. Meeting the Nibling.

I wanted to meet my nibling before she got too big, so I made a special trip across the country to spend the weekend with her. When I first walked in the door, my sister was feeding the baby. She took one look at me and started to cry. (Apparently, she’d reached the stage where she can distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar faces.) By the next morning, we were friends. I love this little creature – watching her piercing blue eyes take in the world and seeing her independent spirit whether she’s playing with her toys or crawling across the floor. I hope I’ll hear her say, “Oggy” soon.

I was awake. Baby K was working on it.

3. Snuggling with Adorabull.

Aimee’s Farm Animal Sanctuary took in a sick calf this summer. He was found in a ditch, umbilical cord still attached, and covered in mud. A good Samaritan brought him to the sanctuary. Aimee named him Adorabull. She also put out the call on Facebook asking for extra help at the farm since the sick baby needed so much attention. I spent a Saturday morning at the farm helping to tube feed him, give him his meds, and snuggle with him. I nicknamed him “Addy.”  It was such a joy to see him stand up and eat some starter feed. You could see he had a fight in him, even when he was weak. He survived and is doing great at the sanctuary now.

Sweet Adorabull, aka “Addy”

4. Plastic-Free July.

One of the ways humans are destroying the planet is with single-use plastics. We use these plastic items for a matter of minutes, and then it won’t decompose of thousands of years. It makes no sense to use our fossil fuels like this. It makes me sad and angry to see how it’s wreaking havoc on marine life. I challenged myself to do avoid single use plastics for Plastic-Free July, and to find alternative products that no plastic packaging. It forced me to re-think the way I shop for food and hygiene products. Even after this month ended, I still try to avoid single-use plastics at least 90% of the time.

5. What We Left Behind – DS9 Documentary.

I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It’s my favorite Star Trek series to date. It’s a Trek that focused more on relationships compared to the other series, and it how the writers created their story arcs was changed the way others wrote episodic series. I loved sitting in the theater, surrounded by my fellow Trekkies, and hearing all the behind the scenes stories about this series.

Firsts in 2019

I’ve had a lot of firsts related that came leading up to my first Half Ironman race. I got my first triathlon bike, that came with my first tri-bike fitting. That was followed with my first time riding a bike with my feet clipped to my pedals (and my first fall from my tri-bike). In physical therapy, I also had dry needling with electro-stimulation for my hips and back.

I had my first dermatologist appointment this year for a strip-down-check-every-mole skin exam this year.

When my friends got engaged, I thought they were going to ask me to watch their dog during the ceremony. Instead, they asked me to be the presider.

I committed to keeping my head shaved for a year. Starting I the summer, I began taking a razor blade to my head in addition to my clippers.

When my flight was delayed from 11pm to 7am, I spent my first night in an airport.

I was glad I was working from home the morning a neighbor asked me to give his car a jump when battery was dead.

After Shankminds in Las Vegas, I was asked to leave a casino for walking through it with a painted face (and body).

I was painted down to my feet, but I put on jeans to go back to my hotel.

I called the Cleveland Police Department to get more information about Ohio’s decency law. They put me on hold and took a poll around the office to decide how topless I could legally be in public.

With my non-binary birth certificate in hand, I attempted to get a non-binary passport and update my social security record. Both times, a clerk on the phone told me I could change my records, and both times, it turned out not to be true.

Rosie the basset hound is still alive and kicking, thanks in part to cold laser treatment and CBD.

Flat basset!

Foods: Homemade almond milk, Homemade oat milk, Daiya vegan pizza (not food), Homemade crackers (meh), Homemade vegan butter, Mushroom calamari

Places: Canada, Maine, AZ Zipline Adventures, Welcome to Las Vegas sign

Events: Stomp!, Conex, Shabbat

Celebrity Sightings

  • Henry Rollins
  • Mindy Kaling

In Memoriam

  • Sylus Kolsrud
  • Carol Channing
  • Bernice Sandler
  • Tim Frank
  • Mars Rover Opportunity
  • Luke Perry
  • Grumpy Cat
  • Frida Carter-Ortmeyer
  • Zavi Solis
  • Buddy Williams
  • Cokie Roberts
  • Aron Eisenberg
  • Ad Wedzik
  • Johnny Cash Moriarty
  • Caroll Spinney
  • Rene Auberjonois

Half Ironman Maine 2019: Race Recap

My first Half Ironman triathlon is in the books: 70.3 miles in 7 hours, 18 minutes, 25 seconds. I’ll take that.

This race was about a year in the making, ever since I did my first sprint triathlon last September. Less than 30 seconds into that race, I knew the Half Ironman was next.

Getting to Maine

Leading up to Maine 70.3 was training – lots of sweaty training – in the Phoenix heat. I was usually slimy with sweat by Mile 3 of a run, no matter how early I left the house. Coach David and I had to be careful about not having me outside too long on the 110+ degree days.

I also spent the last year dealing with a hip injury. I had to defer both my half marathon and full marathon over the winter because my hip wouldn’t let me train the way I needed to. Thankfully, my physical therapist is also a triathlete, so she was the perfect person to help David and me build up my mileage and adjust my strategy to manage the pain.

Pre-Race Prep

I had many calls and texts with David leading up to race day. We talked about how I was going to fuel during the race with protein powder, gels, and salt. He reviewed my packing list to make sure I brought everything I was going to need. I even made little lists to remind myself of what I needed to do during each transition (swim-to-bike and bike-to-run).

I arrived in Old Orchard Beach, Maine two days before the race. Our hotel was minutes away from the race expo and the starting line. We hit the race expo first to get our race packets (timing chip, race number, bike stickers, swim cap, etc.). I was so jittery-excited I could barely take it all in.

That afternoon, David took me swimming in the ocean. It had been over a year since I’d last swam in an ocean, and it was my first time swimming in my wetsuit. We worked on my form and cadence (which is hard to maintain in choppy water), and he lovingly reminded me of what it’s like to swim in a race by purposely running into me. He calls it Direct Recovery (of) Open Water Navigation (&) Guidance (D.R.O.W.N.G). It sounds cruel, but during a triathlon, people hit and kick you all the time during the swim. It’s better to be ready for it – because it will happen – so it won’t freak you out during the race.

Saturday was all about resting. I think I was the only non-Orthodox Jew in our group. It was fun participating in my first Shabbas lunch and learning all the rules. Since I was the “Shabbas goy” who could do “work,” I walked both David’s and my bikes to the race transition area. He came with me and we timed how long it took to walk from the transition area to the swim start and back to our hotel.

It was windy on Saturday, and David and I talked about what that would mean for my race. I shrugged and said, “I’ll still PR.”

https://www.flickr.com/photos/newenglandcoast/10902548214/
Old Orchard Beach, Maine. This is where we went into the water. Photo by NewEnglandCoast from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Race Day!

Race day morning was nerve-wracking. I was so nervous/excited as a powered down my oatmeal, pulled my wetsuit halfway up my body, and packed my gear bag for the race. David was cool as a cucumber as I was powerwalking to bike transition area, afraid I wouldn’t have enough time to lay out my gear before we had to report to the beach for the swim. (We had plenty of time.)

1.2-Mile Swim in the Atlantic Ocean

For the start of the race, we lined up based on when we expected to finish the swim. Instead of going in all at once, the organizers had us going in four swimmers at a time, each group five seconds apart.

Even though David is a faster swimmer than me, he lined up with me so he could be there to give me a last hug and be the proud coach to who told the announcer that it was my first Half Ironman. We walked into the ocean together, and within minutes we were apart, swimming our own races as we expected.

The swim was brutal. The water was cold and choppy. I had so much adrenaline coursing through my veins that I didn’t feel cold, but it was cold enough that the race was “booties legal” (below 65 degrees). Even though I was wearing goggles, I could barely see anything underwater, except the air bubbles coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t even see the hands and feet that were coming towards me until right before they hit me in the face. With 2,400+ racers, I got hit a lot.

The race route was a rectangle – out, over, and back again. Throughout the route, there were volunteers on paddle boards and kayaks where you could grab on if you needed a minute to rest and breathe. I checked my watch when I grabbed onto the first kayak – 4:45 into the race. I was panicking. I couldn’t find my cadence and I it seemed like I was getting hit by the other racers every few seconds.

There were three other racers holding onto the kayak. We gave each other a few encouraging words before letting go to swim on. 

At the buoy signaling the last turn for shore, I began to get pulled off course. In my wetsuit, I was essentially a floaty on top of the water, being pulled by the sideways current. A paddle boarding volunteer caught up with me and told me to aim back towards to race route. I tried, but it didn’t work. I was too tired and too light to get back to the group. Instead, I aimed for shore and walked back when my feet hit the sand.

One of the challenges of Ironman is you’re stuck listening to your own thoughts for the entire race. (No earbuds or cell phones allowed.) I kept myself going with words of encouragement using “Baby Duck,” my gymnastics coach’s pet name for his gymnasts.

I was so tired after the swim. I finished it in 1 hour, 2 minutes – 12 minutes longer than I wanted – and because I got pulled so far off course, I ended up doing 2,800 yards (including my walk back) instead of 2,100.

As I walked back to the official swim exit, I saw two lifeguards carrying a swimmer out of the water because they were too tired to walk. After the race, I heard a rumor that 70 people didn’t finish either because they were too tired or got seasick.

Transition One: Swim-to-Bike

As I walked over the sensor that indicated that I finished the swim, I said, “Fuck Ironman” and flipped off the photographer getting shot of all of us coming out of the swim. I was so tired and angry. That’s also when I finally felt how cold I was.

At the end of the swim, there were volunteers called “strippers” who peeled off our wetsuits. As I walked up to them, I said, “Who wants to touch me?” Two women held up their hands to help me. They pulled off my wetsuit and handed it to me to carry back to the bike transition.

Once I got to my bike, I pulled off my swim cap and googles, sprayed down with sunblock, put on my socks, bike shoes, bandana, helmet, and sunglasses, and I was off again.

56-Mile Bike Ride

The bike ride took us through the back roads of many towns in the area. I loved that this bike route was a single loop rather than several laps on a smaller loop.

Near the beginning of the ride, I saw a street called Ruth Way. I smiled and thought, “My race. My way.”

This area of Maine is gorgeous – lots of houses with barn stars (for good luck), cows, big trees, and open pastures. The route had rolling hills, and only a few were brutal. It was much nicer than city riding.

Throughout the ride, I found people to pace with – we learned each other’s names and said hello as we passed each other. I was pleased to see that I frequently passed people, especially on the hills. As I climbed each hill, I muttered, “We train on hills because we race on hills.” It felt gratifying to pass other people in my division. (The organizers write your age on the back of your left calf in black marker before the beginning of the race.)

There were three aid stations along the ride that had bananas, water, and Gatorade. I came to a full stop at each one to have a banana and switch out my Gatorade bottle. I was like a Minion, smiling, and saying, “Mmm, banana” each time. Most of the other racers near me could grab and consume these without falling. I wasn’t that skilled yet.

Based on our training rides, I knew there was a chance I’d catch up to David during the bike. I passed him at Mile 36. He was unmistakable with his tzitzit and his neon yellow “Do Epic Shit” socks. I was impressed when he passed me just before the end of the ride. We finished with only two riders between us.

My race medal. I earned this thing.

Transition Two: Bike-to-Run

I made sure I did three things before I headed out for the run:

  • My shoes were tied the way I like them.
  • I sprayed my skin with sunblock again.
  • I put on my hat.

Even though we were in Maine, I didn’t want to finish the race looking like a lobster.

David is much faster in the transitions than I am. (He’s done 6 Ironman and more than 20 Half Ironman races.) By the time I got out on the run, he was already about three minutes ahead of me.

13.1-Mile Run

I felt better than I expected during the run. I’ve heard that some racers have to walk the first part of the run until they get their “legs back.” I could run from my first step. I wasn’t fast, but I was running. Actually, I was surprised by how many people I passed during the run portion.

The race organizers had aid stations every 1 to 1.5 miles along the route with Gatorade, water, Coke, bananas, oranges, and pretzels. I stayed hydrated with Gatorade, treated myself to Coke twice, and gave myself hits of salt from a race vial that I was carrying with me.

About a third of the run was on a nature trail. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like trail running. I’m clumsy enough without outside help. I caught up with David around Mile 4, while we were on the trail. As I approached him, I said, “Fuck you, David,” and he responded, “That’s my athlete.” He “forgot” to tell me that part of the race was on dirt. I passed him and kept going. (He and I have a running joke about cursing his name.)

My strategy for the run was to alternate between running and walking. I started with run 9 minutes/walk 1 minute. At minute 58 of my run, my hip started to hurt, so I shifted to run 6/walk 1.

Crossing the Finish Line

I ran as hard as I could for the last half mile of the race – pushing myself for a strong finish. I raised my arms triumphantly as I crossed the finish line. To be honest, I was so tired, I was surprised I could still lift my arms.

I hung out in the finish line area, knowing David wasn’t far behind me. He crossed the finish line five minutes after me and gave me a big hug. He was beaming with coach pride.

Athlete and Proud Coach

Post-Race

It felt so good to step into a hot shower after the race. I was covered in salt, sweat, and sunblock.

The next morning, I flew home to Phoenix. I was tired and sore, but thankfully, the pain was nothing like I feared.

So many thanks to Ironman, the volunteers, everyone who cheered along the race route, all my loved ones who supported me in this journey, and especially Coach David and his family. I couldn’t have done this without you.

My Pronouns are They/Them

I am non-binary, meaning I’m not a man or a woman. When people used to ask me what my pronouns are, I used to say I don’t care as long as you’re being respectful. I was fine with “he,” “she” or “they.”

Now I realize that I didn’t care as long as you knew that I’m non-binary. It’s important to me that people know that I’m not a cisgender female, which is what most strangers assume I am. Being misgendered is one of the things I despise. Because of this, and to raise awareness that non-binary people exist, I decided that my pronouns are they/them.

(In case you didn’t know, cisgender person is someone who is the gender they were assigned at birth. The prefix “cis-” means “same.” The prefix “trans-” means opposite.)

Content Marketing World 2018

It’s OK If You Make Mistakes

Changing how you refer to me may be an adjustment. It’s ok if you make mistakes and occasionally trip over your pronouns. (I occasionally do this with others’ pronouns.) Just correct yourself and move on. And if you hear someone refer to me as she/her, please correct them.

I expect most people are going to make mistakes most of the time. I have a friend who is the parent of a non-binary child who uses they/them pronouns. She still makes mistakes, and she’s had years of practice.

It’s “They Are,” Not “They Is”

A friend asked about how the grammar works when using “they” to refer to a single person. In English class, we were taught to say, “he/she is” for an individuals and “they are” for two more people. My friend asked if she should say “they is” or “they are” when talking about me, and it’s still “they are.” When you use “they” to talk about an individual, it’s the same as if you were speaking about a person of unknown gender:

  • When are they coming over?
  • Someone lost their keys.
  • Who put pants on the naked statue? High five for them!

According to Merriam-Webster, “they” has been used as a singular pronoun since the 1300s. It’s become more commonly used with increased awareness of non-binary and intersex people. (“Intersex” is the term used for people who used to be called hermaphrodites.)

Telling the Office

Until now, all my email signatures said, “Pronouns: He/She/They.” I updated those to say “Pronouns: They/Them” as well as my LinkedIn profile. The next step was to inform my officemates. I sent out a note to everyone in the building, letting them know about my pronouns. No one cares that I’m non-binary and pansexual, so I knew this would be a non-issue as well. I did get a few unexpected responses:

  • One person asked what “cisgender” meant and asked about the proper phrasing when referring potential clients to me – changing from “I think she can help you,” to “I think they can help you.”
  • Another officemate suggested that I consider using a non-binary nickname since Ruth is such a feminine name. I’m already established as Ruth Carter, and I don’t want a different name. If Dana, Kelly, and Ashley can be gender neutral names, so can Ruth. There’s at least one instance in literature where Ruth is the name of a male character.
  • Someone asked why I don’t use “he/she” since “he” and “she” refer to an individual. I responded, “Because I’m not a man or a woman.”

Questions are Welcome

If you have any questions about my experience as a non-binary person or non-binary people in general, I’ll do my best to answer them. I won’t be upset if you inadvertently say something incorrectly.