Friday, March 10, 2017

#R2K: Getting There

So how did I get from one of the most disappointing and frustrating races of my time as a triathlete to punching my ticket to Kona in 6 weeks time?  It wasn't easy and it wasn't a sealed deal that I'd even be racing until about 3.5 weeks out from race day of the 2nd Ironman.  Physically and physiologically we had to make sure my body was up for the challenge.  Recovering from a full IM can take 3-4 weeks in itself and tapering takes another 2-3 weeks...if you do the math that doesn't leave much time for training, let alone peak training.  Mentally we had to make sure I was ready to get back out there, put in the hours, make the sacrifices and do the work.

Priority #1 was making sure I was healthy coming out of Ironman Mont Tremblant.  The first week was a mandatory recovery week - 3 days completely off,  some easy swimming, some easy cycling and some very easy running.  My body felt good and not nearly as sore as I usually am post Ironman. Likely attributed to the inability to push hard and race to my potential due to illness.  Physically my body was feeling good and ready to take on more training after the first week of recovery.  I attribute this in large part to weekly physical therapy sessions at Rose PT.

Upon returning from IM Mont Tremblant and knowing I wanted to try again (likely at Maryland) we resumed weekly PT sessions - working on mobility, stability and anything we could to get me through the training and racing with no pain.  I committed to daily mobility sessions, on my own, post-workout between the 2 races, knowing if I couldn't stay healthy there wouldn't be a start line for me for race #2.   There's no denying that training and racing 2 Iron distance races (as well as a couple
of 1/2 distance races) can take it's toll on the body throughout the course of the season.  Due to some strength imbalances my left shoulder had been starting to bother me with swimming and my left hip with running.

I was fortunate enough to have access to the best treatment in town with my coworkers.  We used dry needling, biofeedback, active release, and manual joint work to help decrease pain and discomfort and normalize and maximize the efficiency of my movement patterns as much as possible in the time we had.  As my training load increases this year I've continued with PT to ensure I stay healthy throughout the year.   We're working on run mechanics, posture, breathing patterns and shoulder mobility to get started.  I'd rather put the preventative time in now rather than try to recover from in injury in the middle of a training cycle.

There were a lot of pieces that all fell into place to make the turn around happen and happen successfully.  A huge part of that was the support system I had behind me throughout both races.  I surrounded myself with training partners that believed in me, pushed me, and were some of my
biggest cheerleaders going into both races and on race day itself.  My coach was on board and family was on board.  The rest was up to me, to listen to my body, be smart with the training, and gain get as much fitness back in the tank as my body would allow.  I prioritized sleep and recovery more than I ever had before during those 6 weeks.  I aimed for 8+ hours of sleep every night and time in the NormaTec Recovery Boots after key sessions.  I focused on my nutrition and made sure my body was getting what it needed to recover and adapt.
One of my favorite photos - so many emotions.
Best friend/training partner watching my finish at IMMD.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Looking Back through the Looking Glass

 If anyone had asked me early in my training cycle during 2016 what might happen I would have responded with I don’t know and I’m just trying to get through the year healthy and happy.  It was a rough start to 2016 with slow paces, high heart rates and low power #’s, which arguably all had to do with the Mirena IUD (read about it here).  That wasn’t my plan for 2016 but we all know the saying…the best laid plans of mice and men…I committed to the process and enjoying the journey day by day, trying to forget about result and time goals.

One year ago I closed out 2015 in Taiwan with 2 of my biggest supporters – Rory and Kara.  One evening we headed out to a small village and bought a Chinese Wish Lantern.  We spent a little while writing our goals and wishes for 2016 on that Lantern.  In big letters I nervously wrote “2016 Kona”.  Earlier in December I set my 2016 intentions to start each day fearless and confident.  Little did I know how much these two things would play into my season, my life, and my journey through the year.

After a few months of frustration and aggravation through training with the IUD I got that thing out and things changed for the better…almost immediately.  Although all my run training had been pretty much at ZR paces I somehow dropped a nice PR at Cherry Blossom 10 miler despite cold and windy conditions on course.  This helped change my mindset for the better, and propel me into each day fearless and confident, committed to the process.

A hell of a start the triathlon season followed a couple weeks later on the heels of a big training day on the bike.   Breaking the tape with a strong all around race at Rumpus in Bumpass Sprint.  This led into a season of solid training, gains all around and progress – all I was asking for was progress at this point.  Two strong ½ Ironman races later I was feeling ready for IM Mont Tremblant.  I was excited about the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead.

Mont Tremblant – the land of lessons and looking back now I can’t believe how many lessons slapped me in the face during this week in Canada.  I can’t thank my dear friend Angela nearly enough for standing by me, becoming an Ironman for the first time and still making sure we had a fun time.   You can read about the race experience in my race report but looking back I want to highlight the lessons learned. 

As I lay sick on the couch in our condo, less than 24 hours before the cannon would sound I didn’t know if I’d even make it to the starting line.  Everything I’d put my time and energy into up to that point had been for this race and it was slipping away before I even got into my wetsuit.   Laying on the couch and trying to muster the energy to just go rack my bike and drop off gear bags something was said to me – and it mentally broke me down even more. “Don’t blame me, blame yourself.” At a time when all I wanted was to be able to race to my potential, to show what I’d worked so hard for.  A time when my heart was breaking because I knew it was highly likely that if I did make it to the start line it wasn’t going to be the day I had trained for. 

The rest of the crew didn’t dare suggest that I not race, they pretty much knew I was going to toe the line and hope the body would come around.  Toe the line I did – the body coming around not quite (not to mention the bike mechanical 20 miles in).  Every pedal stroke and every step I contemplated quitting.  This wasn’t the race I had trained for, I was better than this, but something kept pushing me to make it just one aid station further.   I’m so thankful for the perseverance to continue that day, to fight just to get to the finish line and for best finish line catcher in the sport to to be there as I came across the line (my mom).  Not to mention, witnessing Angela crush her goal with time to spare.   I struggled through accepting (or not accepting) the fact that my dad wasn’t there cheering for me, heck he’d never been to a triathlon and this whole Ironman thing came about because of his accident – my therapy, my release.  Five years later and emotions and memories are still there and they’re still very real.

(Would I toe the line again in the condition I was prior to IMMT – probably not.  It was borderline stupid, and I feel lucky that I didn’t come out worse for that decision.)

The silver lining of racing an Ironman almost completely with your heart rate in zone recovery is that it doesn’t take too much out of you physically.  Somehow the fever and chills and illness didn’t get worse despite the cold rainy conditions and 11+ hour day of racing.  I talked with Kim, we had a plan and let a couple weeks play out to see how my body would take to that plan.  All systems were go and I got the green light to register for Ironman Maryland – not a race I ever really saw myself at, despite the course favoring my strengths but an opportunity I was ecstatic about.

I spent 5 weeks with my head down and focused, getting every once of strength and power back that I could.  I developed and nurtured some awesome friendships with my teammates and training partners over the course of the year and leaned on some of these pretty heavily going into IM MD.  From dinners, to riding partners, to pouring out my heart and soul to you ladies (and guys), thanks for being there and supporting all of it.  To have you all next to me willing to grind, suffer, persevere and push was and is amazing and I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings for us.  I consciously started the process of surrounding myself with those people that build me up and cutting out the other relationships during this time period (I believe I subconsciously started this earlier in the year). 

I kept Ironman Maryland on the quiet side compared to IM MT.  My mom came out and we headed out to Cambridge with one main goal – to have the best day I was capable of having.   Adam joined us and made sure to keep everyone who was following along virtually up to date on my whereabouts.  Apparently the first person texts were quite a hit.  I knew that for me this day would be a success if I could stay focused on the process and stay present.  One day so full of feeling and emotion that it could last a lifetime.   I went into the day fearless and confident and when my HR monitor went on the fritz and the power meter decided to go haywire I honed in on what Ironman effort felt like and trusted the process – confident and fearless.  I had friends and teammates come out and they were everywhere on the course cheering, giving splits and information on the run and the best part was hearing at mile 23 from another friend that everyone was headed to the finish line to cheer me into Kona.  I said it in my race report and I’ll say it again – there’s nothing like crossing the finish line knowing that you’ve punched your ticket to the big island.

I am so thankful that my mom made the trip out to witness that race and the awards ceremony.   Who knew that Chinese Wish Lantern and those intentions would come full circle by the end of the season.  In the moment at Mont Tremblant I wasn’t thrilled with how things had gone but I am beyond happy with the way they’ve worked out.  I couldn’t have written it better myself.

Little did I know the most difficult part of that week still lie ahead, perhaps the most difficult part of the year.  I’d be lying if I said this came out of nowhere, maybe we both knew it was coming and delayed the inevitable because we were comfortable or because we had hope that things would change.  Just days after Ironman Maryland I learned just how meaningful those bonds with my close friends are to me and how hard it can be to remain fearless and confident when everything seems to fall apart.  I ended a 4.5 year relationship (even though I knew it was the right decision for me it was one the hardest things I’ve done) – a time filled with awesome memories, experiences, countless races and training sessions.  Some people come into our lives and quickly go, others stay for while….

That same night I went to dinner with a dear friend and got a tattoo I’ve wanted for 4 years.  I’ve been on dates, I’ve gone on adventures I’ve always wanted to go on, I’ve moved into my own one bedroom (no more roommates!),  and I’ve enjoyed the crap out of off season.  There’s been pure joy, happiness, heartache and everything in between and I can’t be more thankful or grateful for all of the support from friends, family, coworkers, and training partners - especially those who listen to my stories that usually start with #datingat30 (not quite 30 yet!).

I’ve got two weeks left before the training starts and the head goes down – focused, fearless, confident, present and authentic on this #roadtokona.   Biggest of thanks to some of my rocks through the entire year – Erin and Brian, Big Ron, Heather, Bryan, Shannon, Paige, Rachel and Kendall.  I may have leaned on you more than is fair this year, but I hope if you need it, I can repay the favor. 

The day that you stop looking back, is the day that you start moving on.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

IMMD 2016: Dreams Do Come True

Ironman Maryland was not really on my radar this year.  I had loosely talked about it with my teammate Heather if we hadn't KQ'd earlier in the year, but I was leaning more towards doing a late season 1/2 and attempting to punch my ticket to 70.3 Worlds 2017.  Well, IM MT came and blew up in my face and I was left with a burning desire to use the fitness I had spent the long hours working so hard for over the year.  A few days passed after IMMT and I noticed Maryland was still open.  I talked about it with my coach, signed up and told about 2 people, mostly wanting to keep this a bit more low key.

My body came around and the last couple weeks of training went really well.  I rode the bike course two times during my last training block and was confident with where my running was it.  I was much more careful to listen to my body, sleep a full 9 hours and cut workouts short when I needed to as we got closer to race day.  My body had been good to me and I was doing my best to take care of it going into my second IM in 6 weeks.

A mostly non-eventful day - I was able to work 1/2 day and then pick mom up at the airport before heading out to Cambridge.  I loved having an IM so close, it felt like much less of a 'big' deal and just heading out to Cambridge for another long day of training.  Mom and I picked up my packet, checked out the Choptank Lighthouse and the aptly named Choptank River before heading to dinner.  We ended up with a ton of free time on Thursday evening so I decided to start getting my gear bags ready, which I figured wouldn't be a big deal since this was my 6th rodeo and I have photo references of what I like in each bag.  The ever so prepared Holli had prepacked nutrition for each segment of the race into Ziploc bags the week before...and...OH heart sank when I realized I left ALL the nutrition in the bags on my shelf, in DC, almost a 2 hour drive away.  It was 7:30 in the evening, I was on the verge of getting in my car and driving back to DC, though I knew that was not a smart move.  I started getting in contact with everyone I knew still in DC that was heading out to Cambridge.  My lifesaver of a teammate and friend literally saved the day.  She was just getting in her car to head out and drove straight into the middle of the city to get my nutrition - there are not enough words to express my gratitude.  So thank you, Heather, for being the best friend, teammate, and cheerleader I could have ever asked for.  A huge thanks to Paige, Bryan and Adam for also offering to help however they could to prevent me from driving back to DC.

A relatively calm Choptank on Friday afternoon.
After a good night of sleep I got in my final 2 workouts - an easy swim and bike.  I headed down to the Choptank, got into the wetsuit and jumped in.  It was a solid 20 minutes of getting thrown around by the river, and this was in the protected cove.  I was somewhat relieved to see that there was a small craft advisory when I got home and I knew the swim was unlikely to take place in the conditions I had just faced.  A quick and easy ride to check out the far end of the run course and I called it.  It was rainy and nasty and I was ready to go out for pancakes.

After big breakfast we swung by the Base Salt tent to say hi to Heather and grab my nutrition.  Then it was back to the house (2 blocks from the village/finishline) to finish the gear bags and clean up the bike before heading to check it all in down at Great Marsh Park.  With bags checked and bike racked it was a very lazy afternoon with my favorite movie, Cool Runnings.  Mom and I made a simple dinner and lounged around while Adam made the drive down to Cambridge.  Friday evening an official announcement was made that the bike course had to be shortened by 8 miles due to flooding.  While not a major deal this would take away from the time I could put into my competitors as the bike is my strongest discipline.

On Friday night I told my mom I wanted one thing out of the race the next day, and that was to experience every feeling and emotion possible while I was out there.  To be present in every moment and enjoy the day.

RACE MORNING - "Rise and shine it's butt whipping time"- Cool Runnings

Normal pre-race breakfast and Adam and I were off to wade through the tide waters to get to transition.  The tides had come up and some roads were flooded but it wasn't raining so at least we were staying mostly dry from the knees up.  I made it into transition, inflated my tires, calibrated the power meter, loaded on my nutrition and hydration and then made may way to a lili pad on the playground to sit and wait.

I told a good friend a few days prior to race day that I was racing with 3 angels.  An angel for the swim - my uncle John, an angel for the bike - my dad, and an angel for the run - my friend Brady.  

I was ready to go wetsuit and all, in line ready to get this show on the road.  I had been watching the water all morning and I'd be lying if I said I was excited to swim.  The water looked rough and I was convincing myself it was going to be ok, a slow swim for everyone, just get out there and get through it.  Just a couple minutes before we should have entered the water the announcement was made to delay the swim by 30 minutes.  I was relieved and I knew if the swim had to delayed anymore than 30 minutes the course would have to be shortened due to time restrictions and course cut offs. Back
Just sitting on a lili pad.
to the lili pad, watch the water, text coach, and chill.

As 7:15 approached I zipped back up, made my way back towards line and didn't quite get there before they made the final announcement.  I thought we'd be doing a shortened swim, but was  surprised to hear the swim would have to be cancelled.  I had a great 2.2 mile OWS just 1 week before and was excited to see what I could put together for a full 140.6 on this day, but looking at the water conditions there's no way you could have sent 2500 athletes in there and be confident you'd get 2500 athletes back out.  The call was made and we were all sent back into transition to the change tents in order to get ready to start the bike in time trial format.  I had registered very late and was bib 2593, pretty much almost the back of the pack.  I had plenty of time in the change tent to prepare for the race - just about 2 hours. Thankful to have friends Mack and Hilary starting at the back of the pack as well to hang out with in the change tent as we watched everyone else file out to start, mostly in the triple digits.


THE BIKE - 4:37:16 - 100ish Miles
Pure joy.  This bike was built for this.
The course apparently had to have a couple more miles taken out of each loop due to flooding.  I started out on the bike with the goal building into and holding IM effort through the first 90 miles and then pushing hard at the end if I was feeling good.  As per usual my electronics started going crazy on race day.  I backed off for a few minutes and tried to straighten things out (as best one can while riding 21+mph).  I had riden the course two times in the prior 3 weeks at Ironman intensity so I focused on what that should feel like, checked in on the data to see if it might be working and kept at it.  Nutrition and hydration were on point and the weather was fantastic.  

As I came around to start my 2nd loop, I pulled up to special needs to restock.  BSN looked like a complete clusterfuck.  The entire beginning of the area of bags was backed up with lines of athletes.  I contemplated just rolling through and using aid stations for the rest of the ride.  I knew that wouldn't be ideal so rolled on past the crowd toward the end of the bags (thank you high bib #) and started shouting my number.  Thankfully DC Tri had a good number of volunteers working special needs and Pat quickly hurried over with my bag.  No waiting in any lines for this girl, mostly because there weren't any lines at the back of the pack for bags yet.

Second loop was more of the same, head down stay aero and just get it done.  I actually love this course and didn't find it boring at all.  The amount of men I passed that were drafting was horrid (yes you #2053), but not my problem.  My bike was built for the conditions in Cambridge - flat, straight, shifty winds.  I was loving all of it, at some points thinking, what head wind?  As I made the turn off of the loop to head back to town I started to pick it up.  At this point folks were fading and I was feeling the best I'd felt all day.  I pushed it and enjoyed the ride back into T2.

T2 - 3:37
Tried to be as fast a possible.  Flying dismount at the line, had to rack our own bikes and into the change tent.  Socks, shoes, visor on and race belt in hand and I was out of there.

THE RUN - 3:52:03 - 26.2 Miles
Parting the waters.
My legs felt good and I tried to settle in to a steady cruise as soon as possible.  I saw Adam soon after exiting Great Marsh Park.  I knew by my bike split that I was probably doing pretty well, but pretty clueless about my position within the age group at this point (especially since most of my AG started 90 minutes before me).  Around the 1st aid station I saw Lauren and crew from District Multisport.  I love having familiar faces cheering on the run course.  I kept a steady intake of water and gatorade at every aid station as I ran through.  Around mile 2 I passed 'the lead female', she was on mile 11 or so and probably not in the lead time wise, but she was physically so she had the lead bike.  I calculated the time difference compared to my pace as best I could and figured I was doing quite well.  I felt great through the first out and back and was enjoying seeing so many friends racing and cheering.  I came back through Great Marsh - got a good kick in the pants from Heather and Ellen at the Base tent and headed out to Water St. to make my way to the downtown turn around.  Water street seemed to be taking on a good amount of water, but luckily had some high ground left to keep the feet somewhat dry.  My #1 cheerleader, my mom was out there taking videos and pics every time I went by. As I made it into downtown I was greeted by more great cheerleaders from District Multisport (Jen and Daren) and was happy to see Melani and Malissa out there as well.  As I approached the turn around I heard a chant start up, it took a few seconds, but then I realized almost an entire block was chanting my name.  Thanks to my coworkers, Rachel and Kendall, for getting this crowd fired up!
Swim or Run? Still not sure.
Back around for the 2nd loop and still feeling pretty good.  I felt good through about mile 16, started feeling the fatigue set in and kept grinding it out.  I used Brady here, whatever he was going through one year ago was nothing compared to the pain I was feeling in this moment.  Keep digging, keep grinding. This time through Great Marsh was more fun, passing through the Base area and then Water Street...oh Water Street.  It was completely flooded.  Most people were walking through, I powered through with the run and didn't mind it too much.  Friend and teammate Bryan got himself a lawn chair and relaxed in his speedo, ass deep in street water.  It made me smile and laugh, it was great.  Down through town again, more chanting and smiles and I knew I had a shortened loop ahead.    Got some encouraging words from Darren as I came through and then more wading through Water Street before wading through Great Marsh Park.  The swim didn't really get cancelled, the race just got reorganized.  The final 'loop' is modified and much shorter, such a good mental boost.  I knew I was in good position and was told just to hold my pace.  Ellen and Heather had given me the best pep talk as I came through around mile 19.  Hold the pace, got it, in my mind this made me think my lead wasn't all that big and I just had to get my butt to the finish line as fast as possible.  Made the turn around,  more wading into Great Marsh Park and down Water Street.  Matt from Base told me Heather and Ellen were making there way to the finish to bring me in to Kona as I passed through one last time and I started getting very excited.  One final turn around in town by the brewery and it was downhill into the finish.

Coming in to the finish!

I smiled, I pumped my fists, I jumped (even if Mikal says I barely left the ground) and I celebrated.  I was fortunate enough to know that I had punched my ticket to Kona as I crossed the line.  A little collapse beyond the line and I was dragged off to the med tent for a short while.  Luckily my support crew busted in to start the celebrations early.  Adam told me all of the news on my results and then the
girls came in to celebrate.

FINISH TIME - 8:32:56 - 1st AG - 10th Female Overall

Friends, training partners, teammates.  
I can truly say I was present in every moment.  There was enough feeling and emotion to last a lifetime, and that's what I had asked for.  I had the best, and one of the biggest, support crews out there.  Big thanks to my mom for making the trip for #6, Heather for getting the nutrition I left in DC, and Adam for making the trek out to stand in water and keep me going.  A huge thanks to my Coach, Kim Schwabenbauer of Fuel Your Passion, for believing in me to make the turn around from IMMT and setting me up for success going into Maryland.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about it.  There were a couple of times on the day that I thought I'm either having a great race or about to have an epic blow up.  Thankfully there was no epic blow up.

She's excited to go to Kona!
I'm excited and ready for a few weeks of off season, planning out the 2017 season, and a trip to Kona to cap it all off.  After Mont Tremblant I started doubting myself big time, wondering if I wasn't really sick and just making excuses, considering hanging up the bike for a few years and focusing on things I 'should' be doing (relationships, family, kids).  I can assure you I was more sick than I thought in Canada, IMMD showed me that.  I love the journey I'm on, the relationships I've forged through triathlon, the places I've had the opportunity to see and the life I'm living.  Here in lies my passion and allows me to thrive in all aspects of my life.

Celebrating with Rachel and Kendall!
Thank you to all of you that have been a part of this journey, it's been an awesome ride, and I wouldn't change it for the world.  To be able to have the race I've been training for in front of a 'hometown' crowd and so many friends was very special.  Thank you to my Snapple Teammates,  DC Tri Teammates, District Multisport friends, athlete friends (old and new) on the course, and my amazing coworkers.  Your cheers did not go unnoticed, I wish I could take you all to Kona with me.

 Thank you to my newest sponsor, Ultragrain, for helping to incorporate healthy whole grains into my diet (#haveagrainday). Thank you to my sponsors DC Tri Club, Snapple Triathlon, Team, District Taco, Xterra Wetsuits, Rudy Project Helmets, Louis Garneau, Pierce Footwear by Seven Dynamics, and Rose Physical Therapy Group and thank you to Base Salt for being on the course (#saltsaves)! I missed you at IMMT!