Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening--it's painful. Yet afterward, there exists a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way." Hebrews 12:11

I find myself at the end of this season, dissatisfied with the outcome, but discontent with the thought of making excuses. It took every day of nearly seven weeks to heal, rehabilitate, and bounce back into my training routine after my bike accident, and I think I managed better than I subsequently bounced off the the brick wall of an elevator shaft in Coeur d'Alene. Some mornings, I imagine I have fast forwarded into my 60s when I wake up as stiff and immobile as a log. Unfortunately, I'm quickly reminded by my 50-something husband that, in reality, I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. (One of the disadvantages of marrying someone older and "wiser.")

It has also occurred to me how letting a race report go unwritten for a race that took place over a month ago suddenly makes the effort itself seem pointless. By this time, who cares? In fact, we all have the Ironman World Championships in Kona to focus on, now. Yet I suppose that fact alone spurs me to finish this last post for what amounted to the last race of this season. Because I have let this go so long, I'm going to include what I started 4 weeks ago without changing the reference of time. In the meantime, I'd rather move forward and work on the next update, which seems far more interesting to me now.


So, we arrived in Chattanooga, Tennessee two weeks ago for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, and after two days of enjoying the clean air and scenery, I started sneezing. What started as denial quickly turned into dread. You see, I'd returned from a run on Thursday afternoon and, curious to know what the "lilac of the east" (aka crape myrtle) smelled like, I dunked my nose into one of the white flowers of a bush standing robustly in our homestay's yard. Initially unimpressed with the smell, as I didn't find it nearly as strong as our own lilacs of the west, my sniffer scented the sweet aroma that, indeed, resembled that of what I am so accustomed.

Not five minutes later, upon returning inside our small basement apartment, I sneezed. Then I sneezed again. Almost instantly, the flood gates of my sinuses openned and made me a far more snotty person than what I already normally am. Cue the tissues and the Benadryl. Yet I didn't have any allergy medications, not even the regular allergy medication I take daily like a vitamin. My pharmacist of a husband suddenly felt responsible to take me down to the local Walgreens and find me the Sudafed and Benadryl. This would not be our only trip, mind you.

Friday rolled around and I developed a nagging cough. Mentally, I told myself it couldn't be a cold because I didn't feel bad. So, another trip to the local Walgreens (told you) after driving the bike course had me walking out with Mucinex in hand. Problem solved, or so I thought.

Saturday morning (damn it, race morning), and I awoke to my 0500 alarm, eyes wide open, literally afraid for the day. Never have I felt so much uncertainty. In my dreams that night leading up to my 0500 wake up call, I'd envisioned waking up on this morning and throwing in the towel. How would it feel to watch from the sidelines after spending so much money and effort to get here? I decided I likely would not live with myself very well afterward, especially given the fact I'd already not finished Whistler 70.3 six weeks prior. I couldn't stomach two failed races in a row. That, and I did not want Bryan to come away with the benefit of having raced the next day and me flying back to Spokane with nothing to show for my race day.

Bryan instructed me to hop in the shower; perhaps some warm water and steam might flush out the sinuses and clear my head. Yet sitting at the race start and waiting for my ninth wave to go off nearly an hour and a half after the professional woman had jumped off the dock, did not help my head anymore than the shower did.

It turns out, nothing really helped make my race day what I had originally planned on making it. I coughed and sputtered my way mostly upstream for the swim, grateful for my wetsuit and the last 400 meters of downstream current to the finish because my arms had literally died with the effort of keeping me afloat. I snot-rocketed my way up Lookout Mountain, nearly certain that once at the top of the hill, I'd fall over. If the spectators along the course had not made such the valiant effort to cheer us onward and upward as they did, giving me the feeling I had found myself riding in the Tour de France, I likely would have thrown in the towel (or my ever disgusting, booger-laden Kleenex, in this case).

By the time I'd found the second transition, the day had long progressed into a time when temperatures escalate and the sun rests in the middle of the sky. Having survived the ride of 56 miles with F2C glycodurance likely providing me the only energy my body ever had, I started out on my feet with the determination to somehow finish the run.

I did not feel good. Every footfall resulted in a sharp jab up through my stomach and shoulders. I looked down at myself, wanting to feel strong in my new custom kit by Peaks Apparel. It sure looked and felt better than I did, but all I could muster more closely resembled an Ironman crawl rather than the quick clip I'd experienced in Coeur d'Alene. So, I slogged over every hill they found in Chattanooga and strategically placed in this world championship course. Spectators lined nearly every inch of pavement, with larger crowds lining the bridges and turnaround points. Bryan found me at multiple sites along the way, obviously holding back updates as to my progress now that it was apparent it did not matter anymore.

Looking at pictures of me taken from the race, it really does appear that I nearly rolled my way through the course. Arms flailing, torso twisting, and face contorting, I used every bit of my body to get my legs to do what normally feels effortless. I realized I have so much more wrong with my running form and lack of strength that the enormity of my significant muscle imbalances made my cold seem trivial. Despite the mess of myself, I felt relieved I decided to show up under the circumstances and make a showing at this year's race in Chattanooga, as the efforts the city made to make this feel like a big deal really showed through.


With much relief, I move on to scraping every ounce of sunshine and suitably warm temperatures out of the remaining days of October and November (hopefully). Two of my greatest struggles this past year involved limping my way through with a high hamstring strain and subsequently struggling to perform (I mean, pedal) my bike. I have ignored the urge to sign up for fall running races and instead, I use what remaining motivation I have to utilize physical therapy and spend as much time in my saddle as my sore butt can handle. Optimism propels me into the next year, the year I reacquaint myself with Ironman 140.6.

I enjoyed a lovely ride through Idaho during the CDA Medio ride.
I'm hopeful the road never ends when the October weather is this nice.
My view from Kirk's Lodge on Mt. Spokane. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Finish I Never Found

With every triumph, I suppose there exists the inevitable tribulation. When I decided to add the Race the River Sprint triathlon into my schedule, my purpose revolved solely around supporting a local race. I didn't need to wake up at 0300 to drive to Coeur d'Alene, I didn't need to prepare for Ironman 70.3 Canada by racing a small sprint triathlon, I didn't even need the excitement that comes with crossing the finish line. Yet I realized, when lying flat on my back at the intersection of Front and 6th streets, how much I felt deprived of the opportunity to cross it.

I blame no one. Perhaps much of the blame belongs on me for taking the risk of racing even a small event the weekend before a race I've invested in so much more time and money. While I have not had the opportunity to confront the volunteer who communicated (or didn't) with the driver of the truck that entered my path as I flew down Front Street at what must have been at least 25mph on my brand new BMC Timemachine, I look back at each replay in my head and think neither of them must have seen me. Ironically, though, a bystander did. My bike was bright yellow, after all. Yet at the end of the day, none of these details matter.

Swerving to miss the truck that essentially stopped in the middle of the road, my back wheel fish-tailing with the distress of having to stop so suddenly when flying so mightily, successfully missing the volunteer but then riding up onto the sidewalk, I rode myself right into the brick building with what I later learned had a steel door. My right base bar took the impact with the door, snapping in half; my Giro Air Attack Shield helmet managed to preserve my head by cracking upon impact with the brick wall. Unfortunately, I continue to loathe the laws of physics that didn't spare me; the whiplash can't quite be ignored even six days after the incident left me flat on my back with a neck so sore I felt afraid to move anything.

Yet that's all I could think to do when a calm bystander rushed over to assess me, and the distraught exclamations from the volunteer serenaded me in the background. Completely baffled, I realized I'd remained conscious, could answer questions, and most importantly, move my fingers and toes. Though it might seem trivial, or ridiculous, to some, when the man presiding over me asked if he could pray for me, I felt an instant calm. At this point, his query allowed me to shift my focus on talking to my God, too. I figured if I let everyone else do their jobs to call the EMT and race support, then I could manage to focus on breathing.

Hearing the whirring of race wheels in the background disturbed me. I so confidently entered this race and had predicted crossing the finish line with what I had hoped would translate into a personal best. I regretted thinking I could take for granted the opportunity to race through a city and rely on others to keep the course safe. In hindsight, this interaction with a motorist that resulted in my crash was actually the third instance I had had to negotiate hairy traffic situations in this short race alone. That means, in less than 15 miles, I had had to pass two cars stopped at an intersection, without anyone to signal them as to an oncoming cyclist whose course required I turn left around them; I had to swerve wide to the right coming back from Higgins Point when a truck hauling a boat passed cyclists on his side of the road only to encroach significantly into my lane to make his pass; and finally, my luck ran out in a single second of impact when I swerved one last time only to hit a wall.

As much aerobic pain as can be experienced racing a sprint triathlon, I would have gladly embraced it over the way I felt lying on a hospital bed in the ER. Everything had stiffened immediately, and my muscles guarded so heavily against me moving my head that even the MRI that showed I had not fractured anything couldn't convince them to settle down. What made the three hours in the hospital worse was knowing how good the finish line food must have tasted when my doctor, nurses, nursing assistants, x-ray technician, MRI technician, and my transporters to said imaging couldn't even give me a goddamn sandwich. After the two hour mark, I thought perhaps a glass of water would at least allow me to fill my gurgling belly, but in case I had caused more damage to my brain that a helmet couldn't prevent, I was to wait until the radiologist confirmed my negative findings before I could devour a measily glass of water.

Bryan hauled my poor Timemachine back to Morgan, who met him at his shop on Argonne on his day off to take in the dilapidated beauty he had sent me home with just four days prior. I can't imagine the look on his face to see his work of art come back looking so miserably disfigured. I felt ashamed. I called Steve Sparks of Elements Massage in an effort to see about scheduling a massage the next day, hoping I could mitigate the tension that developed over the course of just three short hours. He graciously worked to get me into the Wandermere location with my regular therapist, Kyla, first thing the next morning.

So much healing has occurred as I sit here in Whistler, thinking about everyone who has worked to support me. I appreciate the reception I received almost immediately from Isaac Mann and Curt Dupois, the two race directors for RtR. I even had the opportunity to talk to the calm and prayerful bystander who stayed with me throughout the entire ordeal, ensuring my safety until race personnel could transport me back to transition to find Bryan. While I had no intentions of posting my ordeal on Facebook, it seems the inquiries of friends and family as to my wellbeing made it inevitable that I relay how incredibly fortunate I really do feel. I broke no bones, tore no ligaments, and though my melon may have rattled a bit, I don't think I'm any more weird or crazy than people described me before the incident.

My optimism to race this Sunday in Whistler only seemed unclear up until Wednesday. I have sought the help of many and made rest a priority as I embrace the chance to at least cross the liquid start line of Alta Lake. What remains unclear, however, is how (if at all) I'll manage to find the finish line. My level of experience racing the long course distance of triathlon seems to offer me no reassurance that I will finish this time. That startles me tremendously. All I know is what transpires will be, and what will be, I will accept.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 70.3 Breakthrough

I struggle to convey the emotions that finishing the CDA 70.3 last weekend inspired. When I finally found the finish line at the bottom of Sherman Avenue, I reminded myself to turn to the spectators for inspiration. Pumping my arms, gesturing with my hands to suggest the sidelines sounded too quiet, and signing "thank you" with a smile on my face, I entered the finisher's chute to the announcer's voice.

His exclamation clear and loud, I heard I crossed the line as first amateur woman. Suddenly, it seemed the heavy feet I'd worked hard to carry swiftly over the pavement through Coeur d'Alene subtly left the carpet. While this moment did not quite fulfill the vision I have longed to act out (of me grabbing the tape and holding it overhead), it certainly stands out as a significant step in my quest to race to my utmost potential.

Looking back on my race performance, not much stands out in the swim worth wasting too much time explaining. I am thankful I have nothing to divulge in the way of haphazard kicks or goggles flooding with water. Because race volunteers directed us into the lake single file, plenty of time existed to orient ourselves without having to fight our way into position.

I exited the water and ran up toward transition, pleasantly surprised by the row of volunteers who had open arms in anticipation of grabbing hold of my wetsuit and stripping it from me. The long run to my bike positioned two racks from the exit did not discourage me, as it seemed I had mounted my bike and pedaled off toward the city center within seconds. I focused primarily on keUIKeyInputDownArroweping my cadence high and power slightly higher than at what I'm normally comfortable. It worked for the better part of the ride out to Higgins Point and back into town. I remember thinking after passing the last spectators on Northwest Boulevard before exiting onto Highway 95, here's where the real race begins. 

Thank you, James Richman, for your stellar photography!
It began, and then it went. I have very little to share, as it seems I'd shut my mind off and allowed only thoughts of pushing myself past my comfort level to maintain a new effort of riding. The concentration I needed to get up the Cougar Gulch climb gave way to guarded exhilaration on my way back down. Last year, I don't remember seeing signs to stay out of aero position, but I thought I'd heed the advice this year and pulled myself out onto my bullhorns. Mentally preparing to hop off and transition into my running shoes, I think now about how fortunate the circumstances to have Ken Collins to jog back and forth with as we crossed the last bridge and rode ourselves back into town. Staying in the moment seems to be the greatest lesson I'm learning this year.

I set out on the run at what felt like a comfortably uncomfortable clip, consciously aware of my left quadricep that seemed angry by the sudden change in movement. I noticed a nice gentleman who had settled in behind me. It seemed easier to run when I engaged with him, and I responded well to his encouragement to hold my pace. He insisted he would follow me, and the sounds of our footfalls did more to keep me on pace than my watch ever did. Like in all races this past year, I never looked at it for my run splits.

Photos by James Richman.
Within the first four miles, I caught up with the two lead ladies in my age group. Despite overtaking them, it did not occur to me at the time that I'd propelled myself into first place in my age division. I knew not my placing overall, so perhaps my legs kept churning knowing I had a loftier goal of finding the overall amateur position. My body must have worked on autopilot because I missed the arrow that directed me to the second loop of the run. An alarm seemed to go off, however, because I instantly knew something didn't feel right, and thankfully, I corrected my mistake quickly to get back on course. This second loop hurt more than the first, but despite losing my shadow of a running partner, I managed to continue with mildly blistered feet toward that home stretch on Sherman Avenue.

Morgan of Mojo Cyclery aiding me the day before the race by
Making a few adjustments and applying some "magic" to my chain. 
While I feel this race served as a significant breakthrough, of sorts, I still feel incredibly vulnerable and amateur. You wouldn't believe me when I tell you that up until two weeks ago, I still smeared Vaseline in my shorts to prevent saddle sores. I learned the subject of Vaseline comes up as early as in the course Triathlon 101: Don't ever use it. Also, the past month has had me reeling with significant anxiety over not feeling comfortable on my bike. More specifically, I'm pedaling very sloppily. Changing my cleats, getting new shoes, and greasing my pedals have all helped a little, but I propose I'm the biggest problem. These next few weeks leading up to IM Canada 70.3 will definitely have me relearning how to ride my bike.

In this stage of my training and racing, I am learning to acknowledge and appreciate the amount of support required to keep pursuing my goals at this level. In fact, after this weekend, all I really care to do is thank everyone and express gratitude for the opportunity to race and push myself on a day when sponsors, friends, coworkers, and family cheered from the sidelines, from home, and via the internet. I know not where this journey will take me; I know not what my circumstances will look like two or five years from now. Part of me feels irresponsible putting this much time, money, and effort into something I once considered an extracurricular endeavor. So, I continue to seek the advice of other more experienced athletes and friends in an effort to mitigate the anxiety I often feel with trying to balance this pursuit with my time and finances. I trust there exists a definite purpose in my efforts.

Thank you, all, for making last Sunday such a memorable day.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Victoria 70.3 Grand Finale

From atop Mount Finlayson
After three consecutive years of ferrying up to Sidney and driving south into Saanich and Victoria for this Ironman 70.3, Bryan and I have decided this race will mark the last Victoria experience we have for awhile. Yes, the scenery, sites, greenery, and significant agricultural lure continue to interest me, but the population growth, horrendous traffic, and deteriorating roads do not. We marveled at the changes that took place in just three years.

For the race this year, race directors moved the start and finish back to the north end of Elk Lake. This allowed for an improved swim, both because of cleaner waters and a more accurate swim course distance. They also maintained the single loop of cycling, which traversed all types of roads and took us through nearly every type of environment this small peninsula of British Columbia has to offer. I appreciated the scenery of this course with the stretches of thick, lush forests that enveloped the road. Finally, the run continued to follow the 10k path comprised of gravel, dirt, and a short stretch of asphalt. This year, we ran in a counter clockwise direction, which is what we did the first year, in 2015.

This race has developed in the past three years, also. We noticed many of the mistakes made in the first and second years have disappeared, and race directors have improved the pre race experience just as much as that of the overall race experience itself. However, parking continues to hamper much of the pre race process, despite their efforts to use shuttles as a mode of convenience. Upon arriving at Hamsterly Beach race morning, a long line extending from the transition entrance had us shaking our heads, too. Body marking should never establish itself just outside the entrance of transition.

Regardless, we made fast time setting up and walked down to the swim start. The corrals that forced athletes to cozy up far too close last year in our efforts to self seed into a rolling start position had widened this year. The extra accommodation allowed us all to position ourselves appropriately to enter the water when we wanted to. Seeding myself in the under 30 minutes section allowed me to actually, for the first time ever, swim a true 1.2 mile course in 28:13. For this reason, I know I'm now a firm advocate for the rolling start format rather than the wave start. Nine times out of ten, my wave start has screwed me. Trying to swim my way through schools of people who swim far slower than me has never seemed fair. With the rolling start, I actually had the opportunity to swim with people like me, and this time, I actually swam with the same people the entire swim, shifting positions no more than three to four times.

Out of the water, I struggled on the bike. Frustration overwhelmed me because of the way I felt coming out of the water. Regardless of the slightly uphill nature of the first 5 miles, my poor power output throughout the duration of the bike ride made me repeat the mantra, "Don't be complacent," when each cyclist passed me. My head kept telling me to push harder, but my legs seemed to have not gotten the memo. I dropped two places on the bike, and the 8 minutes I needed to make up to remain competitive in my age group haunted me during the run.

Despite the slightly hillier bike course this year that proved more challenging than in years past, I seemed fresh for the run. I remember thinking in the middle of the bike ride how badly I wanted to flop off my bike once in transition and embrace the race activity from the sidelines by forgoing the run altogether. I felt that bad. I learned a valuable lesson, though: just giving it a try.

Perhaps I ran angry. I likely ran determined. Within the first kilometer, I encountered Kendra Goffredo, a professional woman I'd had the pleasure to meet last year in Coeur d'Alene. We'd ran together for a bit there before she drew away from me on our way to the finish line. Here, it appeared I had the opportunity to return the favor, seeing as though I felt terrific. She thanked me for my presence on this lonely stretch of the course, and we continued to run together until the fifth kilometer or so, when I started to pull away in my efforts to find the two other women I knew of in my age group who had passed me on the bike.

The first lap: fantastic!
By the end of the first lap, I had not found them. I started into the second lap wondering how long this feeling of invincibility would last. By this time, other slower runners had entered the course for their first lap. It took some effort to fly over roots and rocks and through slower people. I felt compelled to stop and make sure one girl I'd just passed felt okay after she tripped and fell over a rock. I exchanged patient words with a loose dog its owner obviously thought would not be a problem despite the race taking place on the same trail.

The home stretch: brutal.
I ran up the hill at miles 5 and 11 for the last time. Here, I realized I'd actually made substantial ground on the two women in my age group as they ran down the hill when I ran up it. I had 2 kilometers to overtake them, and I decided that yes, I really wanted that satisfaction.

With one kilometer to the finish, I passed them both. Most notably, however, I ran my fastest run split to date, in a time just shy of 1:32. My mixed feelings after this race stem from the fact my two break through performances in the swim and on the run were not enough to overcome my poor performance on the bike. In addition, I realized the downside to a rolling start when, despite crossing the finish line  as the third woman in my age group, I ended up in 4th place. I don't think the satisfaction of passing both those ladies on the run will be tainted by the seconds that inevitably deprived me of third place, though. I remind myself to embrace the small victories that ultimately mean I'm making progress toward my bigger goals. The big picture alludes me sometimes, but generally, I find myself filled with excitement for the potential I have not yet

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Troika Olympic Triathlon

I had plans to write this post no later than one week post race with the idea that I could say it took that long to let my fingers thaw and regain the dexterity to type again. As I sit in a hotel room in Mount Vernon and prepare to depart for Sidney, BC on a ferry in the morning nearly two weeks after Troika, I realize that now, my fingers have not only thawed but actually sport a bit of bronze from the sunshine that radiated down upon us all last week. Leave it to a busy race schedule to hold me accountable to writing my race reports.

Leave it to Mother Nature to remind me of the unpredictability of Spokane spring weather. I remember thinking last weekend while riding across sun-soaked pavement how hot I felt, sweat trickling down my face. On the wet and cold Saturday morning Troika Triathlon (sprint, Olympic, long and duathlon courses) happened to fall upon, my sweat mixed freely with beads of water, both falling out of the ski and splashing upon me from passing cars. To marvel at the irony only makes me shake my head. Well done, Mother Nature. Touché.

What more need I say? We all hope for stellar conditions on a day we pay significant amount of money for the opportunity to knowingly push ourselves past a level of serious discomfort. We all know the feeling of race officials kicking us out of transition with nothing but our wetsuits on to keep us warm while rain pelts us from above, generally at least 30-45 minutes prior to the time we actually dive into the water. Perhaps what surprised us on Saturday morning more than the misery of swimming in the cold Medical Lake water was how much more pleasant the swim turned out to feel compared to the "swim" we all experienced on the bike ride.

In fact, trying to use my frozen hands to pull out the silicone ear plugs I'd jammed into my ears and remove my wetsuit that seemed to have latched onto my ankles proved impossible. Looking at the results, it appears my slow transition times cost me valuable time overall. Though my less than stellar performance on the bike could possibly have done me in, too.

Photo by Rene Guerrero Photography
The wet roads and sheets of rainfall likely did more for my character than my confidence. As I dismounted my bike after a less than enjoyable paddle over the soggy roads of Medical Lake, I felt nothing but gratitude for a bike course that, this year, more closely adhered to the standard distance for an Olympic distance triathlon. Memories of confusion regarding the extra two miles that weasled their way into the course last year made me think how fortunate we should all feel that the storm had held up those extra two miles in their attempt to entertain us again this year.

My sentiments regarding the weather quickly turned to concern when, upon dismounting my bike, I felt relatively disoriented. I reminded myself that despite the puddles I'd landed in, this was neither the time nor the place to experience the sensation that having sea legs imparts. So I pulled off my swim fins came to my senses and waded haphazardly through the chute into transition.

It turns out unbuckling my helmet proved harder than taking off my wetsuit. When I couldn't make progress with my headdress, I shifted my attention to my shoes. By the time I'd donned my Hokas and bib number belt, my fingers had regained enough function to unbuckle my helmet, but the time spent floundering cost me more precious time I didn't have to lose.

Photo by Rene Guerrero Photography
On the running trail, the rain seemed to have abated. The legs I struggled to feel during the bike ride had shown up for the run. Spectators told me I'd come into transition as third overall woman, which meant I had work to do. I found this particular work comfortably uncomfortable. Running at a sub-7 minute/mile pace felt familiar despite not having spent much time this early season running it because of injury. It also made for a fast first lap around the lake, which, though rewarding, hardly compared to the happiness I felt upon finding my good friend, Craig Thorsen, prior to finishing the first lap. After some gentle encouragement, Craig ushered me onward for a second go around the lake with a quick whip, "Get to work."

I thought to myself how difficult that might actually be given I had not yet tracked down either of the two women ahead of me by the end of the first lap. Yet I should have trusted myself when, after making my way through the park, I spotted the talented Kari Cardon about 100 yards in front of me. At the time, I pondered whether or not I should expose myself so soon. We had two more miles until the finish line, and her form from behind convinced me she ran strong. I don't know what compelled me to go for it, but I decided to maintain my pace, and it proved fast enough to catch up with her.

With just over a mile to go, I passed another woman thinking I'd run my fatiguing self into first place. However, I later found out my competition had actually finished well ahead of me, and the other woman I'd passed had merely finished her first of three laps of the long course race.

Not often do I find myself at the finish line shivering. On this day, I did. Bryan finished a few minutes after me, and we quickly gathered our soaking belongings from transition before seeking refuge in the truck. Though not the most pleasant of race experiences, I remind myself how fortunate I am to participate in these athletic endeavors regardless of the weather and conditions. Now, I look forward to tackling Ironman Victoria 70.3 this weekend, and so far, the forecast looks a little more accommodating for a race.

Photo by Craig Thorsen.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ironman St. George 70.3 Race recap

Even before this race began on what happened to be a relatively calm, Saturday race morning, I 
struggled mentally. After a meaningful conversation with my coach Friday night over the phone, I sat down and wrote out 10 goals that I planned to use to keep myself focused on each part of the race. Because I'm currently reading Joanna Zeiger's book, The Champion's Mindset, and because I just finished the part of her book emphasizing the ways athletes can benefit from writing goals, I felt inspired to do it myself. 

My goals fell into one of three categories related to procedure, performance, and outcome. 

Procedural goals:
  1. Glide through the water; blow water out your mouth. Don't swallow air.
  2. Stroke the bike pedals efficiently; use more of my butt than my quads.
  3. Count my pedal strokes and footfalls when my mind wanders. 
  4. Drink at least 3/4 of your bottle loaded with 800 calories of F2C Glycodurance.
  5. Ignore the heat and concentrate instead on your foot strike, cadence, and core engagement.
  6. Think and speak positively at all times; find optimism in seemingly difficult circumstances, and when I can't do that, smile. 
Performance goals:
  1. Improve my 2013 times:
    • Swim: 32:47
    • Bike: 2:43:24
    • Run: 1:42:00
    • Overall time: 5:02:24
  2. Race smarter, be tougher, and use stronger mentation than ever before.
Outcome goal:
  1. Race like you deserve to stand on the podium.

My ride for the last 4 years, the QRoo is racked in front of a
gorgeous backdrop. 
I wrote these goals because I felt uncertain about my physical preparedness leading up to this race, and I needed something else to focus on when I knew I'd feel terrible. In retrospect, it seems paying better attention to achieving procedural goals allowed me to better pick apart the race and work toward smaller challenges rather than get bogged down by the entirety of the race itself. In addition, it required more effort to concentrate on accomplishing the procedural goals because, instead of focusing on my performance and the ultimate outcome, I needed to take care of the feedback I got from my body by taking constant inventory of all my working parts.

I think back to the swim in the 64 degree Fahrenheit waters of Sand Hollow Reservoir. Because of the high wind advisory for later in the afternoon, course directors had opted to cut the time between swim waves short by about 2 minutes. While this meant more traffic for me to swim through as a result of starting in one of the last waves, my efforts to glide through the water and focus on my timing brought me back to shore in a time of 29:55. Positively speaking, it also meant I hopped on my bike and rode out of transition about 20 minutes sooner than had previously been possible with the initial wave schedule.

Overlooking Sand Hollow Reservoir after ascending the first
of many climbs on this beautiful course.
Once on the bike, despite finding one climb after another almost immediately after leaving transition, I remember thinking to myself throughout the duration how grateful I felt for overcast skies and the winds at my back. I noticed how my fellow competitors took my mind off the course by cracking jokes. Surprisingly, those around me actually followed the drafting rules. By the time I found the 40-mile marker, I realized that, despite my low back and hind quarters registering more than "moderately fatigued" on my internal pain scale, I felt well primed to start the 4-mile climb up Snow Canyon. I remembered this section as my favorite part of the race. It served as an opportunity to exude strength and courage when others around me loathed the crawl up 4% of hill (at least that is what I thought to myself.) Bryan and I had told each other during the drive up it two days before that, from gate to gate, it required about 20 minutes of effort before we could celebrate with 11 miles of downhill to the finish line.

Celebrate, I did. The descent back into transition left me with a bike split a little over a minute slower than 4 years ago, but I will not loathe the result when, upon racking my bike and donning my Hokas, I did not experience the same cramping quad pain I did the last time I escaped this transition area.

In fact, imagine how surprised I felt when my internal "check engine light" I thought for the past 2 months in training would most definitely come on, did not. No pain in my butt, my hamstring, nor my calf. The discomfort the sun radiated upon me did, however, took a considerable amount of wherewithal to ignore. I made the conscious decision to change the screen on my Garmin from current pace to time to prevent me from feeling discouraged when my pace didn't reflect the gut-wrenching effort I was sure to feel.

Upon embarking upon the first significant climb from Diagonal Street, professional woman Jeanni Seymour rushed down the hill, the muscles in her quadriceps bulging out distinctly from under her skin. The concentration on her face gave me courage, and I found myself passing the only woman in my age group who had beat me out of transition. Once I had crested the hill, I found Bryan at mile 3. We exchanged a few words before the distance between us grew to discourage continued conversation, and instead, a more determined focus on my present state of competition ensued.

I heard my footfalls. I felt my arms swinging in time with my churning legs. I counted my steps, one to one hundred, to keep my mind off the sun burning my neck. I rewarded my efforts with a short walk through every other aide station to replenish the ice I shoved down my tri-top. I drank as much water as a 15 to 20 second walk would allow. Though I heard the alerts from my Garmin registering every mile covered, I never looked at it. My pace did not matter. What I saw, what I felt, what I chose to think about, did. As a result, I look back fondly on that run. My body felt stronger with each person I passed. I smiled when the expressions I saw on peoples' faces needed encouragement. I thanked every volunteer and morale-boosting spectator.

In the end, even my cramping right calf that inevitably altered my gait by involuntarily curling my toes could not keep me from running down the finishing chute. Having completely lost all control of my running form, I ambled down the carpet like a monkey: arms flailing haphazardly, hips swaying, knees buckling, and toes curling. I have yet to perfect the iconic, strong, Ironman finish line running stature. Yet in that moment, finishing the run 5 minutes faster than in 2013, a run I once thought two months ago would keep me from competing in this race altogether, felt like enough.

The greatest lessons I learned in all of this? Use my head. Speak and think positively. Exude confidence. The course is only as difficult as I make it; break it down and build into it. Competitive effort is supposed to hurt. Focus on achieving goals rather than what the clock says. Find gratitude in all aspects of my current status, predicament, and endeavor. Greatness will happen. Let it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Growing Pains

Note: This post has frustrated me considerably over the past 3 weeks, primarily because I cannot quite convey what I want to with the words that keep appearing on this sheet. I wonder if I was ever meant to post it. Yet if nothing else, it will serve as a reminder for me months or years down the road about how I felt leading up to a race with such uncertainty gnawing at my brain. 


A lot has transpired since February: I've replaced my snow skis for my bicycle. I've "raced" the St. Paddy's Day 5-miler in March and Negative Split 10k earlier this month. Finally, the extra time I have devoted to training has actually encouraged me to do more research on how I should spend my time while not training. I have focused on revamping my diet and determining when and what to eat between workouts, how to also fit in recovery and rest, bolstering and growing my mental strength, and establishing a physical strength routine that will hopefully stave off injury in the future despite using it currently to rehab myself from it. In short, I'm learning some significant lessons about me and the body I occupy.

Avoiding my blog up until now has served as a way to admit the inevitable, the truth that, despite my injuries, days still turn into months, and one month yields to another. I've wanted to stop time. Yet sitting 2 weeks out (now just 6 days because of my tardiness in finishing this dang post) from Ironman St. George 70.3, I have no choice but to charge right into the race.

In hindsight, while I enjoyed the rigors and fitness benefits of skate skiing each weekend, my less than perfect form combined with my insatiable desire for more time on the snow might have contributed to, or exacerbated, a prior injury. Each time I think I have solved my riddle, I wonder about a different scenario. Regardless of how my symptoms present now, I have certainly developed a new appreciation for strength training. In my quest to resolve each issue, I find subtle satisfaction in the exercises I have used and designed to overcome what I once thought would prevent me from training for and racing St. George at all.

I reread the last paragraph and shake my head. Bryan has done the same for the past 3 months. What I'm trying to convey, however, is despite how much I've struggled with the process, I am learning better to embrace it. I'm confident I'm more educated about my weaknesses despite feeling behind the game of competition. In January, I convinced myself my pain evolved from weak glutes, much like piriformis symptoms have developed in the past. Moving into January and February, I wondered about low back and core strength. Finally, April has presented a new, but all too related, issue involving the "forgotten muscle group:" the adductors. Many days I wonder if I should feel so lucky to call myself a physical therapist given the significant tribulations personal injuries cause me. I've decided that even though taking three months to come to a relatively vague conclusion is far too long, perhaps my experience will better allow me to mentor others in the future.

One of the greatest outlets I've employed to balance training and rehabbing with rest (and sanity) is baking (and eating) sourdough bread. I no longer worry about gluten free carbohydrate, nor all the ridiculous ingredients that come with bread from the store. My quest to return to consuming the basics has helped me feel better while eating more nutritious, calorie dense food. You have no idea how liberating it feels returning to eating full fat dairy, sourdough bread, and introducing fermented foods to improve the microbiome in my gut. Perhaps another blog post will better convey this celebration of good food. For now, I'll never deprive myself of real, organic butter ever again!

A few good books I've read to improve my mental strength (in addition to seeking the support of family, friends, my coach, and my patient husband) are listed below. Consider some of these good reads that will inspire a different perspective for training, racing, and leading a balanced, fulfilling life in general:
  1. The Champion's Mind, by Jim Afremow
  2. The Champion's Comeback, also by Jim Afremow
  3. Elite Minds: How winners think differently, by Dr. Stan Beecham
  4. The Mindful Athlete, by Phil Jackson
  5. The Willpower Instinct, by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D.
So, instead of feeling disappointed with where I stand now because of prior, unmet expectations I had last year for St. George 70.3, I will enact the recommendations of several key mentors I've relied on in the past for motivation and perspective. I will race with gratitude for the opportunity to employ the lessons learned from this past winter. Because of sheer optimism alone, the chance to race excites me.

Final thought: Bread and butter, anyone?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

BRRC Partners in Pain 5k

A month of skiing on Mt. Spokane nordic trails has embellished this winter for Bryan and me. Yet the opportunity to test our running legs (that have only enjoyed the whirring belt of the treadmill since November) seemed like a great way to experience this Partners in Pain 5k event held at the West Central Community Center last Saturday. A wet and slushy snow had fallen the Monday prior, and Bryan and I wondered about the conditions of the roads. We promised each other taking risks on finishing an early season race did not take precedence over potentially sacrificing the fitness and strength gains we've worked hard to achieve so far this year.

Luckily, warmer temperatures descended upon Spokane, melting snow and clearing roads faster than some of the snowplows. Granted, the longest stretch of the course likely benefited from early snowplow attention, as cleared pavement allowed runners the chance to gain speeds not quite attainable elsewhere.

During our warm up, which consisted of running the course at a slower speed than I attempted during the race, I cherished the warmth of the sunshine hitting my exposed face and backside (covered, of course.) Only several slippery spots where melted snow-turned-to-water had frozen overnight existed. In fact, my legs seemed to draw the greatest amount of attention, seeking pity for the way the hard pavement felt as opposed to the belt of the treadmill. While the sunshine certainly felt good, it soon transpired the race itself might not.

Bryan and I trotted back to the start line and accompanied the rest of the participants in the WCCC parking lot. At the sound of the gun, we both started out at paces we typically use to warm up. With improved fitness and time on the track, our race times will hopefully differ more significantly from what our warm up paces should feel like. Today, these paces felt hard: race effort hard.

Regardless of our incredibly high perceived efforts, we both crossed the finish line with stable bodies and only mildly bruised egos. In fact, our combined times placed us as the fastest couple in the 81-95 year age group. Suddenly, the discomfort we felt in our legs did not seem so terrible, and we remembered how, at this time last year, Bryan proposed I jump on board with him in marriage to tackle this life together. Oh, the parallels of racing and living a relationship! It turns out, these races challenge us to focus on the small achievements rather than the pain. In doing so, we more fully savor the adventure.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Glide Pole, Glide Pole

If the number of skiing selfies serves as any indication of our dedicated efforts to traverse Mt. Spokane multiple times each week, then I can assure you that yes, we have successfully embraced the challenges of the sport of skate skiing and continue to enjoy the benefits so far. Barring a swollen ankle and a sore knee, we have driven down the mountain each outing with fewer complaints to tell about than successes. Actually, it seems our efforts to keep track of the temperatures and grooming conditions has proven more of a challenge than anything we've yet encountered. Last week, the snow that never seemed to stop falling out of the sky made the groomer's attempts to provide fresh corduroy for skiers difficult. On at least two occasions, Bryan and I found ourselves on what the website described as "freshly groomed trails" to actually look (and more importantly feel) like 4 to 5 brand new inches of snow. Even our skate skies would not glide very far through that much snow. So, while our skating technique continues to improve, our duck waddle has a few more embellishments, also.

Bryan has not quite experienced the same improvement in his fitness as I have in mine, at least by the numbers Training Peaks uses to quantify overall fitness (TSS). In our efforts to more accurately reflect our efforts in a different sport other than swim, bike, and run, we have both found and benefited from wearing our heart rate monitors again. I have also remembered how wonderful it feels to return to Selkirk Lodge, completely beat, and ravage my reward: a peanut butter chocolate chip Bonk Breaker. On just a few occasions, Bryan and I have had to dive into my Bonk Breaker Chews I carry with me on our longer days just so we can make it back to home base. Whatever the occasion, my bonk is broken.

Finally, we have both attempted to embrace the strength training we so badly neglected last season. I am not warming up to this endeavor quite as quickly as I did to skiing, unfortunately. Standing, naked, in front of the mirror, though, does wonders for lackadaisical motivation. If that doesn't kick me into action soon enough, the continued frustration I have with pain in my hamstring and knee sure does. Fury envelops me more than the pain. Until I feel stronger, I'll continue to embrace squats, single leg deadlifts and core exercises. More than anything, I hope to make 2017 a year of strength instead of injury.

Our view on a good day from one of the lookout spots on the perimeter trail called Tamarama.