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Storytellers: Anne | On Fortitude

Posted by Lexi Miller on
Storytellers: Anne | On Fortitude

I met Anne two years ago when she organized a cycling trip to Chamonix.  Being from France, she was the clear expert.  But she's also the type to take charge, with an efficient, get-it-done attitude.  She's a small but mighty force of nature: mom of two, high-tech executive, and partner to Vincent.  She takes on challenges with determination, commitment, and a smile.

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Alexis:             

Thanks for your time. I think what inspired me to reach out to you was your and Vince's Boston marathon post on Facebook, and just both of you being so impressive and having your PRs there on a hot, humid day. Everybody has a story about how they got into cycling, and into endurance events, and so I figured you must have an interesting story. I know that you and Vince, you met him in college in France, and you've been this dynamic duo since then in various parts of your life, and you've got two kids, you're in your, what, early 50s even though you don't look like it or seem like it-

Anne:              

Yeah. Yeah.

Alexis:             

... and you’re atypical in that way that you are so adventurous and active, and so I'm just curious, is that something that was always a part of your lives? Was it always something you've done and managed to do when your kids were growing up, or was it something that you got into once they left the house?

Anne:              

No, It's pretty new actually. So I've always been into sports, so when I was little my parents put me into gymnastics. So I did gymnastics for, I think, 12 years, at the competition level, and I hated everything that had to do with endurance.          

So when Vince and I got together, it was after my gymnastics life, and then I knew I wanted to do some sports but I struggled to find something that was as exciting as gymnastics. So I did platform diving for almost a year but it was super difficult because the pool was only open at 10:00pm for platform divers. Then Vincent got me into playing squash, but I was not very good. And then we badminton for a while until I was pregnant.  We played for a year maybe and then I got pregnant again, and then no sport for, I think I would say 7, 8 years no sport at all. I did nothing. I felt like there was nothing really that really interested me as much as gymnastics had.

So when our son was three or four years old, Vincent, who had been trying many times to get me into running offered me for my birthday the Encyclopedia of Jogging and a heart rate monitor plus the watch that goes with it.       

And he told me "just try for a month, just follow the directions in the book, use your heart rate monitor and the watch and try to get into running". And I said "okay, fine one month I can probably survive". The first time I went running, I was running for 200 yards, stopping for two minutes because my heart rate was so high and then running again for 200 yards and stopping again. And the second time I think I went running, he came with me and he was like "well this is not possible".          

But I was following directions and I was pretty much running 5, 10, 15 minutes every day. And then, I remember the first time I reached like 20 minutes without feeling like I am exhausted I was like oh this is great! I love it! And then I was doing 30 minutes and then 35 minutes and then after a few months I signed up for my first 10K and we ran together the whole race. And I don't know how much time it took me but it was exhausting. And I remember that I was passed by very old people who were almost dying next to me. So it was kind of a disaster but actually after the race I was like "oh maybe I'll do another one to get better" and so that's how I got into it.

At some point, I did my first half marathon. We were still in France so it was probably three or four years after I started running. It was so hard. But I finished and I signed up for another one.  It’s funny because I got interested into running a marathon and Vincent was not. I was like "okay, so I've gone this far. I've done a lot of 10Ks and halfs and now I really want to do a marathon. You have to do one with me".

And that's when we did our first marathon in San Francisco in 2013. And I loved it, I think that's when I realized that there is something about long distance where you find a space and you are just at peace, which I love. All marathons are super hard physically but mentally it's really a very interesting sense for me because it helps you to learn to disconnect from the physical pain and just get going. I mean it makes me stronger, in all senses. After a race, I'm super happy, I'm invincible.

I wanted to do marathons that were not boring so we did Big Sur the next year, then we did the Lake Tahoe Marathon 2014. Then we did Napa Valley Marathon. And then I got into trail running somehow. And I did my first 50K probably, and then we moved to San Francisco in 2015.

When we moved to San Francisco and the kids were gone we felt like it was a good time for us to join a club, a running club, where we can join classes, because we were not really busy with the schedule of the kids. So we asked people around and people recommended the Bay Club.

They gave us three free classes, so I signed up for all three. Swimming of course was a disaster. And then Pilates, I liked it. And the guy who was doing the fitness assessment was Dave Winton, and he asked, "are you interested in triathlon"? And I said "well there is no way I've got the swim in a race, I mean running and biking I love it". And then he said "well why don't you come and try a training class with us one of these days, in the studio".

So we went and it was super welcoming we had fun, actually, doing the class. I had no intention to do racing. I wanted to train on bikes and get stronger at running, and that was my only interest. But somehow all the people doing the Wildflower Triathlon that year convinced me of trying to do my first triathlon.

So I got more in the pool and at some point I realized well actually I can swim 1500 meters, that's not a big deal. And so I did it, so I signed up for Wildflower in 2016 I think. And I was on the podium, my first triathlon and I was like wow, my god this is crazy! And during the race I was about to give up during the swim actually. Of course I didn't know what I was doing, I'd never been in an open water race. And I started to swim and people were grabbing my leg and bumping into me and swimming over me and it was terrible. And at some point I was like I cannot go on. I was panicking, and I turned around really to go back and say this is not for me and there were all these people behind coming at me. And I was like okay! I need to go. So I went and I finished. And yeah getting out of the swim it was amazing, I mean just going on the bike and then the run. I mean I loved it.

So I realized well actually I love it and I'm not too bad at it, I'll do more. So we signed up for more, and Vince was kind of the same. Suddenly we felt like just running is boring and having three disciplines is super interesting. And so we felt we were getting stronger physically and also better, because we were developing all these muscles that we were not before. So it started to feel good and then we moved back to the south and we joined another club, and it’s been fun. It’s less racing, it’s more like doing adventures.

Yeah so there a lot of those things that when you look at on paper, it feels huge and impossible but then you do it because you're with a group and you realize that your brain tells you oh no you cannot do that because it’s difficult but actually you can. There is a lot to say about how much we can do which we don't realize.

Alexis:             

I think you touched upon some things that really inspired me to reach out to you. It's always inspiring when women get involved in endurance sports, and especially cycling later in life. The fact that you and Vince constantly find more things to do instead of just being complacent, is also really inspiring. And also just your partnership.  I think it’s really interesting how you hated running at first and then all of a sudden you convinced him to sign up for a marathon. And so what's it like to have that kind of partnership where it ebbs and flows, where one person is a little more into something but you're just so committed to doing it together that, sometimes, I'm sure some days one of you doesn't want to do it, and the other is like no we committed to this.

Anne:              

Yeah, that's right. I mean even for example this morning we went for a run and initially Vince wanted to go but not really, and I'm doing the Santa Rosa Ironman in two weeks. And Vince is not doing it. And I said well I need to go because I need to train. And so he said okay I'll come with you. But yeah, somehow we help each other in getting where we want to be. I think we are very lucky that it is this way and I feel bad for all those people training for an Ironman just by themselves.  I mean there is so much time I spend training, especially for this one race. I'm super glad that Vince can come and be with me.

Alexis:             

So how do both of you navigate those days where one of you just doesn't want to go?

Anne:              

I think Vince is super competitive. So if I do it, he will do it…but men are that way. I mean "what? A woman would do more than me?" So even though we love each other I know that he's super competitive and he wouldn't accept very well that I do something that he doesn't do.

So we usually discuss the day before what we are going to do. And agree if we are going to do it together but sometimes if one is not super motivated just seeing the other just waking up and go, will just make him go. I don't remember how it was in the beginning but now it feels so natural. I don't even think we question, unless one of us is sick or whatever. But we go, we just go together.

Alexis:             

And so it's just become part of life.

Anne:              

And sometimes even without the same workouts. We don't even have the same workouts sometimes, so I remember when we were training for Boston, I mean we had similar structures of workout but our bases were different so we'd start together and then we'd finish, I mean he'd finish his earlier or whatever, then we'd get breakfast together. But I think knowing that you warm up together and you start the training together makes it easier for us.

Alexis:             

Right, that's helpful to have somebody who's on the same page.

Anne:              

Yeah, you feel like not alone, right?

Alexis:             

Right…Even though I haven't known you that long or that well, I did get to know you when we went to France, and the thing that strikes me about you is that you just keep going--but not in this very spastic, crazy way. I think in endurance sports you have to keep going, but a lot of times people can get really rattled in their lives and not to bring up something sad, but you organized this amazing trip to France for all of us, which is still imprinted in my brain as the best week of my life. And tragically, your Mom passed away right before that and any normal human being would not have the fortitude to show up and be with these 20-some odd people and ride a bike.  And it struck me how you're just this strong person.  Was it therapeutic for you to be riding at such a sad time in your life? Did that help to really keep moving—physically and emotionally?

Anne:              

Yeah so sports has been my way of keeping sane all the time. So I mean when I was doing gymnastics I remember that I was super happy to go to the gym and just train, just to get either the stress out.  And now, I love to work out and just go to let everything go, right? It ends your day on a very nice note, instead of reliving all the struggles of the day and just never getting out of it. So I think for me it's very meditative and also keeps me sane.          

So when my mom died it was a few days before the trip and I had a discussion with Vince and I said well as much as I want to stay around and stay with my dad and my family and whatever I told Vince, for me personally, I need to get out, I need to do this trip. I need to be in the mountains, I need to get out, I need to ride and I'm going to be much better coming back to my dad after this trip than just staying with them and just making circles and just not really being super helpful because ... he needed some space, I needed some space as well, and I needed some exercise as well. So yeah, I know that it seems maybe hard to do for a lot of people but for me the motivation was coming from the fact that I knew that I would feel much better if I was doing it. So at the end there was no question about not doing it. I felt like, yeah this is the right thing.

Alexis:             

I mean they say it's cheaper than therapy, right?

Anne:              

Yeah, exactly, totally. I mean in endurance you have to have this mental capacity of going, continuing to go. And what also has helped me a lot is meditation retreats as well. I think it was about 10 years ago, we went on silent retreats, and it was a big change in our life as well because when you realize that whenever your brain sends you a signal that something is painful, because you're tired or whatever, usually, the pain goes away if you don't really pay too much attention to it. So it's a lot about reacting to stuff, unless of course you're injured.

So yeah, you keep going. So it's a very good exercise to get out in nature, whether it's running or biking, which are the two disciplines I prefer. To just disconnect completely and just be in what you're doing... remember when we were climbing those hills?

Alexis:             

Oh, I do!

Anne:              

When we looked at those hills we were like this is impossible, but yeah no this is possible. I mean your brain thought it was impossible, it's going to be painful but in the end it's not really ...

Alexis:             

Yeah that was a great trip, so thank you again for putting that together. Because that was on my bucket list forever and I just remember leaving France and being so sad it was over but my body was like ... ugh.  I think I didn't ride my bike for a couple weeks after that.

Anne:              

Yeah, no. It was good. Yeah it's good memories also for me.

Alexis:             

But, then I think it was the summer after that, didn't you get your wheel stuck in a track and you broke your arm or your elbow?

Anne:              

Yeah I broke my elbow. So I was preparing for the New York Marathon, and the Santa Cruz triathlon. So yeah my wheel got stuck in the train tracks in Davenport then, just fell. My elbow is the only thing that took everything. So I had surgery, so of course I didn't do the triathlon but I was also training for the New York Marathon,  So I knew that I couldn't swim for a while, I couldn't bike for a while, and I asked the surgeon well can I run? And he said well if you don't fall. So I remember I was training in a sling, on a number of occasions I had my guard up to people and I was trying to avoid that anyone touched me. My arm was pretty big. It was pretty swollen for a long time, and blue and yellow and all the colors. It was awful.

Alexis:             

I mean that's a big fear of many cyclists is falling and breaking something. And, fortunately I have not done that, knock on wood, but I have been injured before and once you have an injury, it sets you back, it's like sometimes it's hard to get rid of that fear.  But again, you just kept going. I remember you posted a picture, it was a year later, you were in the same spot but you weren't in your sling and you had a big smile on your face. So did you have to think about getting back on your bike for the first time? 

Anne:              

Yeah, it was hard, going back on the bike was super hard because I was always thinking about it. We just did a small loop very close to our and came back home. And yeah I remember I was super aware of everything on the road. So my eyes were looking at everything, and I had the overwhelming quantity of information coming to me like oh I just did this and that and that. I was just like scanning all the time, which I usually don't do, but  I was very tense I remember.           

And the first time I crossed train tracks again was very scary actually, and we do it all the time. I still think about it every time I cross train tracks but I mean I know how to cross them now and I'm careful to be at the right angle. But yeah it's something that doesn't really go away. And I remember very well how I felt, I mean if I had forgotten the pain maybe it would be easier, but I don't. I remember.

Alexis:             

Yeah, well it just seems like you're good and just keeping going. Which really admire. You don't get stuck.

Anne:              

Yeah, sometimes I think it's hard for us. I mean that's my style is for everything. So I kind of keep going and sometimes it’s hard when you live with others, just to keep going and still include them. I think I have a tendency to just move on for everything very quickly, and so I feel like sometimes I have to be very conscious of not moving on too fast because not everybody is ready to move on or to go to the next thing.

Alexis:             

That's right, you're a force to be reckoned with. You can't move too fast, you can't leave everybody behind.

Anne:              

Yeah

Alexis:             

All right, that's all I have to ask. Unless you wanted to add

Anne:              

No it's good, thank you. Thank you for doing this. I appreciate it.

Alexis:             

Of course! Everybody's got an interesting story. Thank You, All right well, say hi to Vince.

Anne:             

Have a good Friday and weekend.

Alexis:             

All right you too, get out there.

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