Sunday, November 9, 2014

17 lessons learned from 2014

As I hunkered down into my sloppy run today, a thought crossed my mind. With all the traveling Bryan and I did for races this past year, a handful of memories flicker across my mind. I hope these lessons learned in 2014 will serve as valuable reminders as we make our way through 2015:

1. Never take for granted the value of your race support. From near or afar, appreciate the Facebook notes of encouragement, or the phone calls and text messages that flood your inbox. I remember returning back to the hotel room after a race and feeling awash with gratitude when I read text messages from friends and family. On the same note, don't forget to reciprocate and offer the same support to your friends.

2. Thank your sherpa. It's not until you race and travel without him/her/them that you understand how valuable he/she/they are in your race day. Don't be afraid to specify your needs in advance of the race when his/her/their support is offered.

3. If you AND your travel companion are racing, understand each other's pre-race routines. Respect those of your companion, and make known your own requirements. Plan out how the weekend will look. Even if it's down to the hour.

4. On the same note, scope out the bathrooms. I don't mean this just at the race start or in the transition area, but upon arriving at your hotel. Who reading here understands how imperative that pre-race poop is to the quality of your race experience? If your luck is as bad as mine (your travel companion needs an ungodly amount of time to coax it out), you'll understand when I recount how, at one venue, I had to race to the hotel lobby restroom when "my turn" infringed upon "his turn." On another occasion--one in which I neglected to do my homework--I had to find reprieve using the room's garbage can. It was lined, mind you.

5. Pack what food you can. If you're driving to your destination, the task is easier. Pack snacks, pre made meals, and beverages. Crossing the border to Canada with a cooler-full of food proved easier than what we originally imagined, but it required I do my research first. On other occasions, utilizing the airlines made traveling with food a bit more of a challenge, if not impossible. When we flew to Mont Tremblant, our saving grace involved hitting the IGA before we drove into the smaller resort town. We found far more reasonable food prices there.

6. Perhaps you pack most of your meals, but Bryan and I always splurged either pre-race or post-race for dinner. Our "thing" is pizza. Thankfully, pizza and a beer seems to settle just as well pre-race as it tastes post-race.

7. If you're flying with a bike box, know the weight limitations and rules each airline has set for their use. Weight restrictions differ, size matters, and fees are always ridiculous. From this year's experiences, I'll never fly Delta again. If given the chance, fly Southwest. Despite their bike box fee going up recently to $75, it doesn't even compare to those established by other airlines. The weight restrictions are manageable, too.

8. Pack extras: socks, HR monitors, tubes, CO2 cartridges (unless you're flying), and race day nutrition.

9. Because I travel with an extreme coffee drinker, we no longer rely on the coffee makers provided by the hotel. Just pack your own. In Bryan's case, it has to be a particular kind of coffee, specific kind of sugar, and yada yada yada.

10. If prices seem comparable, even if you don't need that extra queen bed, use the room with two beds rather than the rooms with one king or queen. Even with that extra bed in the room, there seems to exist far more room for a cooler, two bike boxes, two bikes, luggage, and two stressed-out individuals.

11. When looking for accommodations, don't discount renting a home instead of reserving a hotel room. Especially in the resort towns we visited, renting a home (or in our case, a cute, cottage-style ski chalet) saved us a significant amount of money (like, $800). Before I look at hotels, I check out Vacasa Rentals and Homeaway.

12. Just rent the larger minivan. In Las Vegas last year, Bryan and I tried to save money by using a crossover SUV. Even when I was the only one racing, we still lacked enough room to travel comfortably. Oddly enough, we've been really impressed by the ride and space of the ever-trendy minivan. Just do it. You won't regret it.

13. Start saving a year (or more) in advance. After a full year of racing, I estimated my expenses topped about $4000 to race the way I did. It helps to travel with someone else (or multiple people) in an effort to share some of the expenses. It also helps to do your homework and see if lodging opportunities exist with friends or family you may know close to the race venue. Take inventory from this year and see how you can put money aside each month to make next year a little more feasible.

14. On that note, race local. You'll eliminate many of the costs associated with using the airlines, flying with your bike, renting a car, and lodging.

15. Use races as your excuse to travel. Bryan and I visited some pretty impressive places this year we likely never would have explored had it not been for the race that drew us there. For instance, we'll likely never visit Mont Tremblant again, but we feel blessed to have had the opportunity to do so. Signing up for Leadman meant Bryan and I got to visit Bend, Oregon for the first time. We're inspired to go back and explore surrounding areas.

16. Race for a team. I drew upon so many positive experiences by racing with Chris McDonald's Team Big Sexy Racing this year, in addition to enjoying the camaraderie of those in my local triathlon club, TriFusion. There seems to exist something inspiring about coming across others wearing your same race kit out on the course, and on more than one occasion, I felt accountable to my teammates to do my best to represent them well. This doesn't just include performance, but sportsmanship and appropriate race behavior as well.

17. Invest in a coach. I will never discount the benefits I've reaped from sharing my year with Derek Garcia of DG Multisports. Initially, I felt fairly confident that because of my strong work ethic and attention to detail, I didn't need to pay someone to tell me to do what I already knew I needed to do. Wrong. Derek outlines my weekly training schedule, makes adjustments as needed, and checks in regularly to ensure I'm feeling well and holding up under his challenging, but quality workouts. For the first year, I enjoyed training and racing injury-free. That's saying a lot when, since 2004, I've struggled with left knee pain that I've not successfully shaken off up until this year.

Seventeen lessons learned means I have a different approach to 2015. First, I'm using this next year to race local (relatively speaking) so I can save for an ultra distance triathlon in 2016. There will be no dipping into the "Emergency Fund" to pay for a spur-of-the-moment endeavor. Second, I hope to volunteer at some events in order to earn comp entries into others. I hope that I can benefit race directors in two important ways by not only supplying them with an entry fee, but also giving them time where it's needed. Finally, even with these efforts, it's no joke that this hobby is an expensive one. Despite these efforts to save money here and there, it's oftentimes not quite enough. Therefore, I'm going to reach out and look for sponsorship opportunities (partnerships, if you will) that will help me to reach my goals in 2015 and beyond.

Please contact me if you have any ideas!

Now, I have a trainer ride to enjoy with the Seahawks football game in the background...

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Priest Lake Multisports

How could one possibly go wrong enjoying a day (or two) on Priest Lake? This must have crossed Ken Eldore's mind years ago when he began building the Priest Lake Multisports events. I first raced the olympic triathlon in 2011, returning just this year to experience yet another stellar day at Hills Resort in Luby Bay. Since then, I've raced the Spring Half Marathon (held in May) and the Priest Lake Half Marathon.

Sorry for the brevity of this post. I wrote up a legitimate race report on both my Priest Lake Olympic Triathlon in August and the Priest Lake Half Marathon last weekend, only to discover upon trying to post it, Blogger failed to save anything past the short paragraph above. I went to bed pissed off, and I'm going to attempt to do justice to two races I feel deserve honorable praise when it comes to cool, scenic events in the Pacific Northwest.

Both courses begin at Hills Resort, so the half marathon actually took place on most, if not all, of the run course for the triathlon. I remember running with my dad to the turnaround, thinking how much more comfortable I felt. However, this half marathon gets hairy at mile 3 where there emerges a long gradual climb that lasts about a mile on rocky fire access road, only to recede slightly before going up a little bit more in mile 4. Once at the top, it's a comfortable downhill back to the gravel road on which we started, so the finish is relatively flat.

What made this event so memorable for me occurred at mile 3. I've always considered my dad a tremendous climber, both on the bike and on his feet. As a result, I've aimed to climb hills with a certain tenacity and determination, not only to keep up with him, but so I can comfortably overtake people on hills.

On this hill, in this third mile, we ate the leaders for breakfast. As a result, dad and I ran together for 5 miles, as the leaders in the male and female divisions. Our conversation consisted simply of heavy breathing and footfalls, yet it felt perfect.

This kind of experience didn't exactly happen a month earlier during my triathlon. In fact, I came out of the water as second place woman and got overtaken by third on the bike. My Quintana Roo looked good, but its rider couldn't seem to get it into high gear. A relatively flat bike ride from Hills Resort past Elkins on Reeder Bay Road, I couldn't figure out why, despite maintaining my power output, I couldn't attain a faster time.

Nevertheless, I pedaled the QRoo back into transition and decided I had two very talented ladies to chase down. Just as my footfalls approached the second place woman, so, too, did a man's footsteps bare down on my dad and I to interrupt our perfect conversation.

Upon feeling threatened, he encouraged me to go. Despite feeling good at the time, he didn't want his calf pain to flare up by attempting to push the pace a little faster. Therefore, while he and our intruder stopped at the aid station for water, I pressed on at a slightly faster clip to run the final 5 miles with a sense of urgency I hate having to use when I know someone is chasing me.

Ironically, though, I used this same urgency to spur my attack on the lead woman whom I needed to chase down to attain the lead a month ago. In that instance, it wasn't enough to win the triathlon. She had distanced herself far ahead of me so I never found enough power to catch her.

Yet in this race, I managed a win. My only reservation was that I won alone. I had visions in those 5 miles of running with dad of running down the finish chute together, father and daughter, winners of the male and female titles.

It turns out, I only had to wait just under two minutes to see my dad barreling down the road toward the finish line, ensuring he'd secured that top finisher status. At that moment, I understood from whom I'd inherited my determination. My heart fluttered. We'd done it. We'd won.

Top Female Finishers
Top Male Finishers
Much thanks to Ken Eldore for another stellar year of racing the Priest Lake Multisports events. Please consider adding some of these races to your calendars next year. You won't leave feeling disappointed or frustrated with what the venue, the volunteers, and the race itself had to offer.

2015 races:
January 17 Nordic 5k/10k race, snow shoe race, fat bike race
May 24 Spring Festival Half marathon and 5k
June 13 Woodrat MTB race
August 29 Priest Lake Triathlon, olympic and sprint
September 12 Lookout Trail Race
September 26 Priest Lake 50k, marathon, 25k, half marathon, 5k

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Epic Leadman 125, Bend, Oregon

Leadman offered one of those adventures I would have expected only to find north of the border. Yet Bryan and I had just arrived back from the eastern side of the country, and we most definitely found ourselves south of Spokane. Here, Bend, Oregon enticed us.

Our morning started out cold, about sixty five miles southwest of Bend at Cultus Lake. A mountain lake, that sense of relief that often occurs when stepping into a body of water when the air is colder didn't happen this time. Nope. I stepped in hoping it would feel warmer given the outside temperatures hovered in the low 40s. The water felt just as cold. However, I couldn't ignore the clarity of the water, the way I could look down at my toes even when I'd waded well out into the lake to the starting buoys. Mountains surrounding the lake mirrored the ones I'd seen in British Columbia, Canada. Tall. Rugged. Snow-capped.

Before our departure to the starting buoys, LifeTime Fitness had done a stellar job of serving us athletes by providing warming tents for us to change in and pass time. Yet there didn't seem to exist much time to pass, as the shuttle buses that hauled us out to the lake got us there approximately forty five minutes before our start. The athletes racing the 250 started thirty minutes before us, and we started soon thereafter.

The swim course followed one straight line out into the middle of the lake, and we swam around the last buoy back toward the boat launch from which we'd entered the water. I had a problem with this course, and it's not that I couldn't site the buoys, but the line I followed while attempting to stay on the buoy line meandered like a cow happily grazing on green grass in his wide open pasture. Despite following the line, I found myself far to the right of the main group. Upon turning the final buoy, I worked to stay off the line and further to the left, hoping I'd find the exit sooner.

Least to say, I believe my swim time seemed slow when I compare it to other swims I've raced this year. Fifth out of the water, I raced through transition (opting out of arm warmers but donning my gloves) and started out on my Quintana Roo. Today, I'd experiment with pushing a slightly higher wattage than at Worlds 70.3 two weeks prior. Even if I pushed too hard, I only had to run a 12k.

The bike course took us through old forests filled with trees so big it would take six people to completely encircle a trunk. Small squirrels and chipmunks chatted on tree stumps along the road, soaking in the early morning sunshine as it made its way through the trees. The first little loop for the 125'ers had relatively good roadway, but I nearly found myself crank deep in a pothole while attempting to take off my gloves. They appeared few and far between, but those holes were large enough to scare me into keeping keenly focused on the road.

My biggest complaint about the bike course was not the hellish climb around Mt. Bachelor, nor the potholes, really. I thought volunteers could have been better educated and equipped with aid at the stations that popped up every 10 miles or so. For those of us who have raced Ironman events, I felt a bit unprepared for having to pull off to the side of the road in order to pick up water off of a table to refill my aero bottle. The biggest concern of the race director involved athletes tossing out their bottles well passed the aid stations, and, riding on forest service land, protecting the cleanliness of the woods seemed reasonable. However, I only stopped at one aid station at approximately 35 miles to refill my bottle. I paid for it later on the run.

Body dehydrating. Calves cramping. Hamstrings pulling. The first mile of that 12k run told a story that initially read as though a disaster would unfold. We ran through residential and newly developing neighborhoods. Therefore, I felt exposed under the intense midday sun. Given the barren, desert country Bend is known for, these ingredients did not at all combine to make for one extravagant final course in this three-course meal. I don't believe there existed a single stretch of flat pavement (or dirt) to speak of, as upon scaling one hill and gingerly stepping down the other side, yet another one grew up before me. I think this trend repeated itself at least eleven times. By the seventh time, I had all but given up.

Yet I couldn't. I had not seen any women up until this point, which led me to believe I might be leading the 125 race. If that wasn't motivation enough, I also kept reminding myself I only had to run a 12k. I'd be damned if I walked. After a year filled with races that included the Boston Marathon, Ironman Canada, and Worlds 70.3, I would not walk in a 12k.

I never did, but I won't discount I might have lapsed into a marathon shuffle at times. Upon crossing the finish line in the heart of the new Northwest Crossing development, I thought I'd just finished a marathon.

This race offered a bit of a reprieve from the hype that often comes with Ironman events. A part of me appreciated this because I didn't feel nearly the pressure or the anxiety that sometimes comes with racing bigger events. In addition, there existed no age group competition because the head referee encouraged us the day prior to race solely against the clock. I did, but I must admit I also thought about the handful of talented ladies in this race and because of my competitive nature, I wanted to come out on top.

Yet I didn't. I never saw another woman on the course because she raced far ahead of me. Finishing just over 8 minutes before me, the lead woman from Bend took top honors. Nonetheless, I nabbed that big belt buckle reserved for those top 15 women and men. I walked away with a sense of accomplishment knowing I'd come into this race after having just raced Worlds 70.3. I happily ended my season with a placing that ceases to relinquish its grip on me. Second place. Next year, I look for a few first places to my name.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Another Canadian adventure: Mont Tremblant Worlds 70.3

Mont Tremblant offered everything Las Vegas didn't. I raced the World Championships there two times before it moved to Canada, and not in the last two years I raced there did I feel like the race was built up for what it truly was: a World Championship.

It didn't take long for Mont Tremblant to overwhelm me. Not only did the venue itself seem impressive, but I could feel the way the entire village embraced the race. It wasn't with anything less than pride. Mont Tremblant did everything to give to the athletes that earned their slot an experience they'll surely never forget.

As I stood awaiting the start of the race on a relatively cool Sunday morning, the fog started to burn off over the water. Bryan and I swam on Friday, and the mild water conditions left me feeling refreshed and excited to once again experience a fast, comfortable swim. This race morning looked to present much of the same water conditions I'd enjoyed in Whistler just about 7 weeks prior. The national anthem played, and an F/A-18 began to emerge out of the north across the lake. The loud wake in it's aftermath made for a fitting prelude, almost as if to quench the jittering anticipation I felt among the athletes.

Before the professional men started, a 30 second count-down began, and not 10 seconds before the start, the fighter jet flew overhead again. This time out of the south, it timed its return perfectly to accompany the cannon and fireworks that marked the official start to the race. In just those 10 seconds, Las Vegas had been thoroughly outdone.

My 11th wave started off at 8:44am. I stood among (what I later learned) to be some very talented ladies. However, while out in the water, attempting to find my pace, calm my breathing, and stay on course, I battled a merciless group of women. What is it about a world championship swim that makes girls turn into complete monsters? I remember experiencing this last year, too, though fending off girls grabbing at my ankles, clawing at my back, and attempting to swim right through me happened far too often this year. I found myself stuck in the middle of the pack despite my attempt to stay right on--if not slightly to the right of--the buoy line. Even so, girls found me, and I could do nothing more than kick a little harder to preserve myself and watch girls' thrash just centimeters in front of my face.

Bubbles clouded my vision for much of the swim, which allowed me to conserve energy when not attempting to exhibit some of my own aggression that my coach encouraged me to utilize. I happened to have my fastest long distance swim yet, finishing in just under 31 minutes. Despite accomplishing a personal goal, 27 girls in my age group had made it out ahead of me.

I didn't know that fine detail at the time, and Bryan knew better than to hit me with such news. I'm not sure I would have raced with nearly as much heart if I'd have known. So, I ran down the long, long, long (really long) red carpet that guided athletes from the swim exit to the T1 tent. Unfortunately, I had difficulty finding my bag before donning my helmet and shoes, and only after struggling to find my bike, too, did I start out of T1.

The hills commenced immediately. Thankful for my power meter, I watched closely as my numbers quickly escalated to get out onto 117 North. I hunkered down against headwinds upon reaching the highway, trying to keep focused as what felt like hundreds of people passed me. Most discouraging was the amount of drafting going on, and on more than several occasions I either found myself being drafted off of or being taken over by one peloton, then another.

I'd made it to the turnaround (after having been slowed by a group of riders that overtook me just before the turn) and enjoyed a nice tailwind on 117 South. However, on a descent, my crank locked up to prevent me from pedaling either forward or back. My chain hadn't fallen off, but had instead become caught between my derailleur and frame. Unfortunately, it required I slow to a stop, dismount, and fix it quickly. I felt thankful it didn't take much more than a few seconds to fix, but I couldn't help but think what even a few seconds would later mean in the final standings.

After a mental "regroup" I continued on my way back toward the village before taking a short but hilly offshoot that reminded me of the Lake Stevens 70.3 course. Winding roads marked with short, steep hills tempted me to get out of my saddle, but I didn't acquiesce. Another turnaround greeted me, which served as my cue for the final homestretch back to T2. What ended up being a slower bike ride than I wanted and expected of myself set me up for a decent run on the most challenging run course I've yet experienced.

Up until this race, I'd thought St. George's course the most challenging. While I didn't have the heat to contend with, the hills that resembled the Boston Marathon's  Newton Hills made me conserve my energy for what I knew would be a harder second loop. I didn't like the way we ran--squished--in one lane of traffic. Already a narrow road, I had trouble avoiding people passing others in the oncoming lane, while also attempting to pass slower runners in mine.

Nevertheless, I settled into what I thought a conservative pace for me. I figured after four miles, I might attempt a slightly increased effort, but the course threw in a hill that humbled me and kept me from attaining a pace just 10 seconds faster than what I had been pushing. I reached the 10k mark, which presented itself as a steep hill through the village lined with spectators cheering us on like I've seen them do in live coverage of the Tour de France. I ran up that entire thing, spurred on partly by the crowd's enthusiasm and also by my own stubbornness, only to be greeted (knowingly) by an equally steep (if not steeper) downhill.

My quads? They burned. I tried to envision how this would feel in my second lap, but I stopped myself. I still had another 11k to run before I needed to think about this again. Thankfully, Bryan drew me out of my terrible daydream and, only after yelling some profanities at him to portray some of the more intimate thoughts running through my head, I started down the chute toward the second lap to begin the hellish course again.

As described later among friends who'd also finished the run, the second loop (while seemingly impossible to admit) did feel a little easier. Looking back, it wasn't that my pace had slowed, but my body had numbed to pain. In every race, it's not until afterward that I realize just how great a phenomenon it is that the body truly can endure a lot while still maintaining consciousness. Yes, I felt my quads and calves spasm. Yes, my right biceps tendon had contracted involuntarily to create that uncomfortable feeling through my arm that most of us experience when we hit our elbow in the wrong place. Yet I talked to myself. I talked to God. I talked to my body.

When that final hill up into the village presented its ugly head again, I'd built up so much energy that prevented me from even thinking about slowing to walk up it. My ego already felt battered, and as my coach instructed, I was to make myself suffer. So I did. Then, I threw myself down the other side of the village, down the hill leading to the finish line, hoping and praying to anything that might listen to keep my knees from buckling and my calves from cramping. I felt determined to finish this race on my two bruised feet. There would be no rolling down the hill over the finish line.

Despite its difficulty, I loved the course. I find no greater satisfaction in knowing I've raced through and overcome a course designed by race directors to make even the strongest athletes whimper. After 840 feet of elevation gain over the course of 13.1 miles, my day had come to an end. Despite efforts in the swim and run that made me most proud, I finished far from my goal. I suppose I'd be lying if I said I'm not at all disappointed by it. Yet most of all, I'm far more determined to kick myself and do the work that I need to do to better prepare myself for a world championship performance.

I send my sincerest congratulations to the top girls in my age group. You've inspired me to do better. I thank Team BSR for the presence on the course and from afar that held me to finishing this race with no less than my best. After a year with him, I'm convinced I have a coach who has shaped me into a far better athlete than I could have ever hoped to be on my own. Derek Garcia of DG Multisports has molded me into a fitter, fiercer competitor, and I look forward to tackling my biggest weaknesses this coming year. My deepest, and most heartfelt thanks go to Bryan for being the supporter, the motivator, the positive force and the most loving Sherpa this girl could ask for. I am blessed.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Ironman Canada, the race

It has taken me two weeks to work up enough mental stamina to delve back into a race that challenged and drained me so much physically. I finished my second long distance triathlon two weeks ago up in Whistler, BC. Perhaps part of my hesitation to relive the day through words is, I’m not entirely confident in myself to portray the race adequately by words alone. I’ve included pictures, but truly, they don’t even come close sharing Canada’s natural splendor and glory. I may have raced an Ironman, but there never seemed to exist a shortage of snow-capped mountains, clear lakes, forests so thick to make a sunny day turn dark, and wildlife to keep one’s gaze looking and begging for more.

Much of the Ironman festivities take place in Whistler Village, home of the 2010 Olympics. Bryan and I stayed in a condo in the heart of the village, just a walking distance from the Olympic rings that seemed to draw a never-ending crowd for pictures. During the week that preceded the race, Bryan and I did our best to lay low, but we also enjoyed daily walks on the myriad of trails through the village and surrounding woods. Knowing we’d miss it on race day, we explored the happenings of the Whistler Farmers Market on Sunday, full of vendors selling everything from hand-crafted woodwork to chocolates, spices, and local produce.

When the Ironman personnel began setting up the tents, we remembered what we’d come up here to do, and much of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were spent getting in our final pre-race workouts and laying low. Really low. Yet that’s hard to do in a place with so much to offer.
Sunday morning arrived far sooner than I’d hoped it would, but Bryan and I made our way to T2 to drop off our Special Needs bags, as well as load our run nutrition in our Run Bags. Volunteers looked far too cheerful, eager to mark us up and send us on our way via school buses that took us to Rainbow Park, the swim start.

Photo by Jon Gessele
Such a clear, gorgeous morning greeted us as we approached Alta Lake. Fog rolled over the calmest waters I’d ever seen, making an Ironman swim actually look pleasant. Having witnessed the hellacious waters at Coeur d’Alene’s Ironman just about a month prior, I was already thanking God for guiding me in my decision to enjoy what Whistler had to offer.

The morning felt cold. When I do this race again, I will pack far warmer clothes. I couldn’t help but admire peoples’ fine judgment in bringing flip flops to walk around in T1, as my feet burned walking on the cold grass, as if I was walking on ice.

Photo by Jon Gessele
Bryan and I stood together outside of T1, waiting for our turn after the pros had their 10-minute head start. Bryan wanted to start closest to the buoy line, and as we made our way out in the water for a deep-water start, I realized later we didn’t get nearly close enough. After the gun went off, a clear first 100 yards suddenly turned deadly with not a single inch of room to take a stroke. Thankfully, a quick glance to my right allowed me to notice an open pocket, for which I quickly crawled and grappled my way. Out of the melee of flailing limbs, I met calm water with open arms. Literally. Swimming has never felt so good in my Blue Seventy Helix. The first lap flew by, and the second one did as well. I coasted along in peoples’ bubbles, and I swam my way to the transition mat in a time of 1:03:09, about 4 minutes faster than last year’s swim at Ironman CDA.
Photo by Jon Gessele

My volunteer who stuck by me in the tent proved invaluable. She guided me out of my swim gear, and before I realized it, I’d asked to be slathered with sunscreen, hopped on my bike, and thanked God I’d made it out of the swim without any damages, without any stomach upset, and with a power meter that read accurate power outputs right from the get-go. I could eat! I downed my GU Roctane gel and so began the bike ride I’d known all along would challenge me on many different levels.

Representing Big Sexy Racing. Photo by Jon Gessele
1.     Stay within yourself. Don’t you dare go outside of your power zones.
2.     Eat.
3.     Drink.
4.     I’m serious. Bide your time.

I broke up the bike ride like this:

1.     Ride to Callaghan Valley road.
2.     Climb Callaghan Valley to the Olympic Village. Be conservative.
3.     Coast down Callaghan Valley and ride back into Whistler. Don’t die letting ‘er rip down those hills.
4.     Pass through Whistler and enjoy the ride to Pemberton.
5.     Enjoy eating that PB+J sandwich and be thankful for Ruby’s Lube to relieve “pressure areas.”
6.     Ride the out and back in Pemberton. You better keep your power output steady.
7.     Grow balls and climb the four hills out of Pemberton.
8.     Twenty kilometers out of Whistler: don’t you dare let your power numbers drop.

As it turns out, my plan worked pretty well. Here were the few exceptions:

1.     I received a warning from one of the course marshals about following too closely up a 10% grade hill, climbing at a speed that equated to “just pedal so you don’t fall over.”
2.     The headwind that almost always greets cyclists coming down Callaghan Valley road decided not to blow when I flew down it. Cyclists surrounded me. I dropped down into aero hoping that any second I’d meet the wind to slow me down, but I realized midway down it the headwind didn’t exist. I prayed I wouldn’t lose it, then I prayed again someone in front of me didn’t lose it, and I finally remembered I probably shouldn’t hold my breath as I approached the bottom of what seemed to be my never ending death ride.
3.     For some reason, I found the ride back through Pemberton meadows after the turn around to be especially difficult. Pushing a wattage I’d once thought easy was a little disconcerting when I still had to climb my way back to Whistler.
4.     I didn’t grow balls, but I did climb those four—or more?—hills out of Pemberton with quads screaming and reeling from spasms.
5.     Twenty kilometers out of Whistler may mark the end of the hills, but it certainly isn’t flat. If it is, well, my legs were toast. It took a considerable amount of mental diligence and masochism to make me push through such pain in my toes (it’s time for new shoes when it feels as though someone is poking needles under your nails) and such fatigue in my quads just to keep my power numbers from falling.

In the end, I managed to stay at the high end of my range for power output, finishing my bike ride in 6 hours and 4 minutes. I knew this ride would be slower than at Ironman CDA, but I reminded myself my primary goal for this race was not to come out with a faster bike split, but with a faster run split instead.

First mile. Photo by Jon Gessele
It turns out, I did. Believe me, I had plenty of reservations when, in the T2 tent, I couldn’t even sit in the chair to don my shoes without my quads cramping into painful spasms. The ladies didn’t have any salt, so I decided the only thing I could do was move. I reassured myself I’d taken in all my nutrition on the bike, even a little extra. I maintained and controlled my effort just as my coach instructed. I’d done everything I needed to do. Now to run my run.

I loved this run course. A two loop run, I managed to break it into smaller sections: through the woods around Lost Lake, back to the Village, through the crazies at the golf course, over the bridge on Green Lake, through the dark woods, a quick out and back along the highway, then turn back for home and do it all over again. I kept my desired pace through mile 13, at which point I had to stop at the special needs and apply Ruby’s Lube to what felt like blistering toes. After taking care of my feet, I set out at a run again, but my pace had slowed. I managed to play a mental game with myself, pushing to each mile marker but upon reaching it, striving again for the next one. I didn’t let myself walk until the aid station at mile 19, at which point I managed to run between aid stations but walk through them to take in water, ice, and coke.

Photo by Jon Gessele
The last mile finally arrived, and with it, left knee pain so great as to cause me to limp. I knew coming into this race my body had maintained an injury-free status, so I pushed myself through it even though it aimed to slow me down. I dared not walk. I did plenty of walking at Ironman CDA last year, and that would not happen again.

What a relief to find the intersection that guided those on to their second loop and others—like myself—toward the finish line. Stepping off the curb from the trail to the road felt terrible, yet I relished the ascent up to the village walk as I made my final turn toward the finish line. I didn’t hear what song played as I enjoyed the last 200 yards through the chute. I did, however, notice the clock and felt excitement swell in my chest, knowing I’d beaten my time at Ironman CDA, if only by about 5 minutes. In the end, it meant I’d run a sub-4 hour marathon. Pure happiness ensued.

While Bryan finished his race, I hung out in the medical tent with ice to my knee. I took inventory and noticed I’d come out pretty well. I didn’t even have a blister or lost toenail, just a knee that needed attention. Bryan accomplished what he had set out to do and crossed the line in just under 12 hours. We both hung out in the common area before making the painful walk back to our rooms—bike and transition bags in tow—to clean up, eat, and enjoy an evening cheering in the last of the Ironmen before attempting sleep.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Race week finale

And then there was one. One more day. Our Whistler, BC vacation has transformed into race preparation for Bryan's fifth (my second) Ironman. The views, the scenery, the buildings and structures have not yet bored us. Truly, I'm thankful for the opportunity to have had the week prior to explore and enjoy as much as we could before delving into our races tomorrow. We could have spent an entire second week (if not a third) to completely uncover all of Whistler's secrets. Perhaps another time, in another season, we'll find ourselves up here again.

Today, Bryan and I finished our last tune-up ride and run before taking our bikes to T1 at Rainbow Park. The sun shown through today! Since our first swim last Monday, Rainbow Park has transformed into T1. Bordered by mountains and forests, some of the views from my bike's parking spot made T1 look spectacular. My Quintana Roo Cdo.1 rests at the end of the first row set aside for All World Athletes, part of Ironman's new marketing scheme.

We took the shuttle back to Whistler Village so we could drop off our run gear bags at T2. Again, I feel fortunate to have such a low number as to make my bag quite easily accessible. How fitting to have yet another mountain in the backdrop as tomorrow, we make our way off the bike to the changing tent before setting out on the scenic, challenging run course.

All in all, I am grateful when I think about the phenomenal week Bryan and I conclude. We've both trained for this race with two full-time jobs, and I feel proud of the way we both accomplished it all with three fur-kids and other tasks we've added to our plates (landscaping, growing our own food, and an ever-abundance of dirty laundry). We organized our training around very full lives. Yet I feel this is part of what makes reaching race day an accomplishment in and of itself. How blessed I am to have Bryan on my team. 

Here's a view from our walk yesterday.

^^ Looking up the river was pretty, but looking the other direction...well, need I say more?


Monday, July 21, 2014

Vagina Monologues for the Ironman in training

I marvel at the view from the couch in our spacious, three-story condo. Simply put, Whistler is spectacular. Clouds currently idle over us, tangled in the mountains, yet it far surpasses the alternative: smoke clinging to Spokane, I left the city with eyes burning and throat itching. This morning, all I smell is mountain air.

After Boise 70.3 and 5 days of recovery, my first 5-hour ride met me in the way of a glorified ass whooping. I knew building to Ironman Canada would require considerable concentration and dedication, but I didn’t want to think what I’d feel like, what I’d think, and what I’d want to do 4 weeks into it.

Yet I made it. Six brutal weeks of 5-6 hour rides, long morning runs that had me up before the sun so as to be done before work, and too many 4000+ yard swims to count, I’m thoroughly enjoying the benefit: this small little town of Whistler, Blackcomb.

This Ironman will be my second, and for some reason, training for this one—compared to Ironman CDA—felt harder. Isn’t it interesting how Ironman training can make one embrace the beauty and fulfillment of a workout (of the entire experience, for that matter) in one breath, yet curse and swear out of frustration in the next? For this training bout, I had the pleasure of sharing some of it with Bryan. Not only could I commiserate with him, but he also provided a certain level of comic relief to the whole experience.

For instance, just 4 weeks into our build phase, I started receiving text messages from Bryan that read, 

            “This vagina just dragged his way through 2200 yards,” or

            “I ran. It was hot. I was hot. My penis was drowning in sweat,” and

            “I’m such a pussy. No juice in my legs. Believe it or not, I’m still slow.”

Truth is, Ironman training has seemed to make the holes in our "what's appropriate" filters bigger, and the things Bryan and I have succumbed to saying in order to express frustration, pain, or disappointment would make my mother cringe. Vaginas, pussies, and penises have made their way into mainstream conversation, and I’m not sure exactly how to feel about it. One part of me feels as though they accurately describe the moment. Another part of me feels like I need to find some hand sanitizer for my keyboard, and I’ll be damned if I’m ever to read this blog post aloud.

What's the allure of the God almighty vagina, anyway? I remember looking with disgust and disdain upon guys in high school who used it nonchalantly among themselves. I was raised to know the vagina as a body part, so imagine how I'm reeling with bewilderment when I say I've grown to know "the pussy" in an entirely different context. While I'll admit I own one, I can't ever say I've called myself a vagina outright. I may have admitted to some poor performances by calling myself a pansy, but never a vagina. And I've certainly never called myself a penis. So why do guys call themselves vaginas? What about this whole training for an Ironman thing has made us use such deprecating terms to quantify and qualify our training? Yet what's so insulting about a vagina anyway? What happened to parts are parts?

During one of our countless times climbing Mt. Spokane, Bryan decided he’d had enough following me at my measured pace. So he passed me. I thought to myself, why not congratulate him on his ballsy move? So I exclaimed, “Sir, glad to see your vagina just got a little smaller!” He smirked. It wasn’t ¼ miles up the road when I’d caught back up to him at a particularly steeper section. He looked at me and said, “I’m just going to Bear Creek Lodge. No further.”

To clarify, we’d set a point just past Kirk’s Lodge as our turn around point, maybe a third of a mile higher than where he only wanted to go. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the thought came to my mind, “Your vagina got a whole lot bigger. Can I find you a tampon?”

Vaginas, pussies, and other body parts aside, this round of Ironman training has proven to feel especially hard, but fulfilling to me as well. I’ve managed to keep my full time job as a physical therapist. I looked forward to the early 2 and a half hour long runs that fell on every Tuesday. They provided me an opportunity to enjoy a part of the day many people don’t get to see, and I could run with my two girls, Maci and Ryder, who noticeably enjoyed their roles in caravanning me—Ryder in front, Maci behind—through the woods and on trails that would soon transform into the Ironman course. We make a perfect team.

The final taper week to race day has come. We biked the first part of the course yesterday, and Callaghan Valley didn’t feel nearly as hard as the last time we rode it (no derogatory, dirty words came to mind). In fact, we entered Whistler Olympic Park and witnessed where the biathlon events and ski jumping took place in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The views and scenery were just as breathtaking as before. We enjoyed the Whistler Farmers Market yesterday afternoon, picking up some local produce—berries, cherries, and vegetables—that came from Pemberton Valley.

The view from my place on the couch hasn’t much changed since I began this post, and I hope it doesn’t. May Canada be good to us!

Bryan races as #265. I race as #141. Your prayers and thoughts would be appreciated.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Boise 70.3

Teams Big Sexy, TriFusion, and Timex.
I'd forgotten how difficult it is (mostly mentally) to prepare for a noon start time. As if waiting for an early morning start isn't stressful enough, trying to keep myself preoccupied for my 12:39 send off seemed especially tough. Why they boast this feature of the race as a highlight, I don't understand. Yet Bryan and I survived the morning and by 9:15am, we made our way to T2 to drop off our run gear before waiting for the school bus that transported us up to Lucky Peak Reservoir. 

The day felt hot. We ambled out of the bus with our wetsuits draped over our arms, already feeling the sun beating down on us due to no cover anywhere around. Set up proved easy, and Bryan and I took one turn at the porta potty before leaving transition at the requested 11:45 cut off. We brought towels soaked in water to drape over our heads in an attempt to keep cool. The umbrella we though might also help to fend off the sun looked better providing shelter to an elderly woman most likely offering support to an athlete of her own.

Yeah, we did that. Picture by Melissa Erickson
Melissa and Dave Erickson parked behind us, but it wasn't long before Bryan's wave hit the water. Dave's was soon to follow.

My initial reaction to the water temperature isn't exactly appropriate to share in writing. Let's just say Bear Lake's comfortable 70+ degrees made Lucky Peak's supposed 63 seem ice cold. My first attempt at Boise 70.3 in 2012 hardly compared to this, however. Instead of hands so cold I couldn't feel them, I reminded myself this dip was likely to be the coolest, most comfortable I'd feel all day given the temperatures that steadily seemed to climb into the 80s.

I took (what felt like) far too long to settle down into a steady stroke. My chest felt tight, and I even experienced a little panic trying to negotiate my way through flailing arms and churning water when I couldn't seem to get a decent rhythm. By the first turn, I seemed to have settle in, but the water didn't ease up. I kept catching mouthfuls of water, and with each one, I knew it would take some serious belching and burping to relieve the pressure in my stomach to make for a comfortable bike ride.

I exited the water in just over 33 minutes, burping my way to the top of the swim exit and into transition after utilizing a helpful volunteer to strip off my wetsuit. The bike ride that ensued didn't strike me as one to really impress me. I've ridden prettier courses, ones that found more scenic terrain than that of industrial parks and barren desert. Yet I got 'er done, and I felt fresh heading out onto the run course.

While I found nothing to brag about in regards to Boise's bike course, I loved the run along the Greenbelt. Trees provided shade from the sun, while the river offered some kind of a distraction from my body that felt like it was slowly, very slowly, falling apart. At this point, I thought I might be one of the leaders of my age group, but I had a feeling there might be someone close behind me. Though I started out at a clip too fast, I found the strength to reel myself in and run at what felt like a comfortable but decent pace of 7:10-7:15min/mile.

I remember hearing Melissa, but I didn't
see her. Thank you for all your cheers
and support!
I think the most challenging part of that course was the short out-and-back that served as miles 6 to 7 and 11 to 12 (depending on what lap you're running). Going out past the finish line for my second loop, I'd not overtaken anyone in my age group. Therefore, someone else who deserved the win was likely going to take it, or I needed to keep my pace to prevent giving up my lead.

The wheels started to wobble at mile 11. Telling myself just 2 miles stood between me and the finish line seemed to bolster my efforts, and the short ascent from the trail to the road leading me to the finish line seemed to strengthen my motivation to run stronger to the end. My efforts were rewarded when I found the finish and my coach, Derek Garcia, shortly thereafter. I didn't know it at the time, but I'd won my age group by almost 12 minutes and earned myself the opportunity to pay yet another race entry to Worlds Mont Tremblant 70.3. (Oh, how bittersweet it felt).

I also PR'd my 70.3 time by about 2 minutes, and I'm very thankful for a coach who has guided me through training, enlightening me on the importance of quality training, among other things. I feel confident I'm not yet quite ready for Ironman Canada, but I have about 6 more weeks to condition myself to everything hilly. I look forward to nothing less than 6000+ feet of elevation on these upcoming rides designed to challenge me physically and mentally as I prepare for my second Ironman.

Thank you to GU Energy, Ruby's Lube, TriSlide,
and Team BSR for the support. I am grateful!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Pend Oreille Mothers Day Half Marathon

I didn't know what to feel as I waited for the gun to go off for the Pend Oreille Mother's Day half marathon in Newport just 6 days after a stellar race at Bloomsday. One thing's for sure: time seems to pass me by so quickly that I barely have time to write a recap before I've finished another event.

In hindsight, Bloomsday this year left me grinning. Just two weeks (See?!?!) after finishing the Boston Marathon, I felt so much more recovered than I have the last two marathons I've run. I crossed the finish line at Bloomsday was a personal best time, just 17 seconds shy of my 50-minute goal. I raced in Corporate Cup with the Royal Maniacs, blessed to be apart of a team whose members I work with each day. I enjoy them all. To top it off, we found out Monday morning we'd won our division.

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to race in a small but up-and-coming race directed by Ken Eldore. He and his wife are the driving force behind the Priest Lake Multisports events. I have yet to participate in one of their races I didn't like. When I think of his events, I think of the wonderful scenery that each one imparts upon its participants. This race didn't disappoint.

The marathon started at 7am. A Boston Qualifier, ran out to a turn around before finishing in Newport. I (and 124 other half marathoners) had time to sleep in before starting our day on a bus that carted us to the start line approximately 11.5 miles out of Newport. We arrived at a small bible camp where Ken had a bonfire going to keep us warm until all three buses had arrived. Bryan and I warmed up, the national anthem played, and we started out on this scenic, flat course back toward Newport.

We positioned ourselves in the front. Mark Evans had already taken off with a young man on his heels. I decided to run only as fast as I had to. So, I ran alongside Bryan and right behind the first female, a well-paced member of the Swifts. When I say well-paced, I mean we ran 7-minute miles. Consistently.

Aid stations waited for us at every 2 miles. I only needed water at a couple and grabbed a GU gel at one to tide me over to the finish. What wonderful views of the Pend Oreille River. The river flanked us on the right, woods and farms on the left. A cool breeze wafted off the water and cooled my skin during the entire run.

By mile 11, I'd dropped my pacer and passed the second leading man to take second place overall. I no longer could see Mark ahead of me, but continued inching ever closer to Newport at a slightly faster clip than 7-minute/mile pace.

We finished in the heart of Newport, down "Main Street USA." Eric Ewing of Nomadz Racing waited for us at the finish, offering our official times. A young woman handed me a carnation and a medal, and I couldn't help but think what a great idea to recognize how important our mothers and families are. (This win was for you, Mama!) Volunteers had watermelon, oranges, bananas, and bagels available to help us refuel upon our return. I couldn't help but feel excited about my win, but even more encouraged by the tremendous potential in a well-directed, well-planned race. If you're looking for scenery and a great Boston qualifying race, consider this one.

Next up, Priest Lake Half Marathon.

Team BM cleaned up. Bryan placed 2nd overall male. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Boston Strong

            Just 100 yards to the finish line, and I couldn’t help but smile. My quads ached, and if I hadn’t consciously thought about each footfall, my knees likely would have buckled. I tried to speed up, just to reflect the enthusiasm of the crowd. Yet my legs refused to respond. It felt peculiar to let my body give out before my lungs. With the finish line within sight, my pain simply didn’t matter.

            I could share my data—my average heart rate, my paces per mile, my average pace, my time—but for such an event as this one, it seems trite. This 118th Boston Marathon marked the success of a city, a country, and a community of runners. Banded together in blue and yellow, we invaded the city of Boston. Its denizens embraced us. Daffodils lined the streets, filled the planters, and decorated the counters of local businesses. This city lacked nothing in the way of determination.

            Bryan and I arrived Thursday to a cold, blustery city. Just two days prior, Boston and surrounding towns had woken up to 2 inches of snow. The snow had thankfully since melted, but the people appeared frustrated by weather that did not want to let go of winter. It wasn’t until Saturday that the sunshine began to warm up the city in preparation for race day on Monday.

            Monday arrived, and Bryan and I felt ready to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day running from Hopkinton back to Boston. I couldn’t help but pray the 26 miles running back to Boston wouldn’t feel nearly as long as the bus trip out to the start line.

            Before we could even toe the line, we spent about two hours in a field full of thousands of other hobos, or at least that’s what we all looked like. People wore old sweaters I’d expect to see at an ugly Christmas sweater party. Two women passed me in pajamas. One man wore a black, wool pea coat as he stood in one of the likely hundred lines to the porta potties that lined all borders of the field. It appeared as though a myriad of Value Villages and Goodwills across the country experienced a sharp upturn in business. As far as business is concerned, I’m certain they appreciated the onslaught of Boston marathon participants looking for cheap, warm clothes to keep warm and then toss before the beginning of the race.

            We quickly acclimatized to our surroundings and decided to help form one of the lines stemming from porta potties before planting ourselves in amongst the other participants who’d already staked their claim on the grass. Sunshine translated to warmth under our warming blankets, and after about 30 minutes of waiting, we decided to hit the porta potties one last time. The lines had lengthened. After about 45 minutes in line, the announcer informed us of our turn to exit the fields for the parking lot. So began our half-mile walk to the start line.

            Volunteers lined the streets, collecting our trash and clothes to be tossed for donation. A group of college guys offered beer, cigarettes, and donuts out of a neighborhood yard. One last park of porta potties waited to serve us, and runners raced to available commodes. Bryan and I peered into the melee, and we decided to join in and not risk passing up one last opportunity to void our nervous bladders.

            Our bladders emptied, we ushered ourselves back into the long line to the start. The crowds of spectators began to increase as we descended into the town square. Volunteers guided us through the corrals, and before I knew it, we’d crossed the start line without any formal prelude.

            Ashland. Framingham. Natick. Wellesley. It appeared the inhabitants of each town had found the course to cheer us on, kept out of the streets by a barricade that spanned both sides of the street for the entire 26 miles of the course. People cheered. Some even handed out water, facial wipes, bags full of ice, orange slices, and beer. Anything to keep us comfortable, I suppose.

            I felt comfortable up until about mile 15, at which point my quads began to argue with my head. Even the enthusiasm of the Wellesley college girls couldn’t pick me up. I giggled at a girl holding a sign asking to be kissed because she still felt sexually frustrated. Later, I found strength going up all the Newton hills, but only pain attempting to negotiate the other side. After scaling Heartbreak hill at mile 20, my motivation to continue slowly waned. Yet I still had six more miles to the finish line.

            Brookline took far too long for me to run through. I remember passing the cheerful Boston College undergrads, totally impassive. Magnolia trees on Beacon Street. Kenmore Square. Where is Boston? I walked. I ran. I hobbled. I cursed my fatigued legs. When I passed mile marker 24, I somehow found strength to run more often than walk. The depth of spectators lining the streets slowly increased. I’d found Hereford Street. Just 100 yards to the finish line…

            …I couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t a race I can brag about, as far as my race performance is concerned. Yet I am reminded that my performance hardly measures up to the significance of the day itself. In fact, I’m happily content finding success in the fact I am not injured after this marathon (my left knee pain has nothing on me this time!) Bryan and I enjoyed our first outdoor, nearly three-hour bike ride yesterday. Today's first run one week post-race felt pretty good, too. We both found considerable strength in what the day meant to the country and runners all around the world. It feels good to revel in Boston Strong.