Friday, April 8, 2016

Ironman Texas 2015

Ironman Texas what a day!! I am at a loss of words and still overwhelmed by yesterday's race. It was an experience unlike any other. There were a few blatantly obvious failures on the day on my part, but also some great successes. I was so amazed at all of the wonderful support on course and truly had the time of my life. You know you have been doing this sport for a while, or maybe just racing a lot, when you start to recognize so many familiar faces toeing up on the starting line. Thank you for pushing me to put together the best race I could. 
Before the start of the race, I wrote the worlds "relentless", "smile", and "HKTJ" on my arm. Relentless reminded me constantly of my old coach telling me to never back down and to keep going even when the going gets tough. He was in my mind the entire race telling me that I CAN do this. Smile was a reminder to keep smiling throughout the race and to enjoy and live in the experience. I did just that. HKTJ was for the Fantastic Four, at least that is what I came up with while biking.  Heather AndersonKevin Anderson, and Tom Anderson, without you all, I wouldn't be me and I wouldn't have managed the race I did. 
Three things happened prior to the race that were super significant to me, and they are messages that I want to share. 1) Dave Scott spoke to us at the opening dinner and said something to this effect...when you are on the swim and things don't go your way, think I GET to bike these people down, and at the end of the bike as you are nearing the run, think I GET to run 26.2 have opportunities to make amends throughout the race. It doesn't have to stop at one event. That is the beauty of this sport. It is a race to the very end. Coming out of the water, my very first thought was that I GET to bike these people down...I have no clue how many people are in front of me, but the number is irrelevant and the effort will be as though I am in last place. 2) My mom's flight got delayed coming in from Detroit until closer to 11pm, so I ended up grabbing a late meal in the Woodlands before picking her up to get a few hours of sleep before the race. I had the sweetest waitress, and she gave me on of those "Devious Traveler" mustaches. It instantly reminded me of IM South Africa my friend's perseverance to keep moving, and in a way she ran the entire marathon with me. I had to put one foot in front of the other, because she wouldn't give up if she were in my shoes. 3) The morning of the race, I had no expectations or really goals...I figured I would see what the day would bring. As I was walking over to swim start, I met a 74 year old man who starting triathlons at the age of 68. Incredibly enough, he is a kindred spirit as he raced 5 ironmans last year and has done them 2 weeks apart. He also has raced 3 back to back half ironmans! How incredible is that?? It was so cool getting to meet someone as crazy as me, but even more so. We were talking about the bike and he said that he has never gone all out on it and seen what his legs could do on the run. It got my wheels turning, and I thought...why not see what my legs are capable of. As such, I posted a new IM bike split PR of 5:18.
That leads to the mistake I mentioned an ironman, it is very easy to space out. Never ever get over confident and don't think for a minute that obstacles won't be thrown in your way. I was in la la land on the bike just before mile 90 when low and behold, I hit one of those white lane markers that sort of look like a button in the road. Bam, I went down hard and in slow motion. There was nothing I could was an idiot move and as a result my body got torn up. As a protective mother, I sacrificed myself in lieu of my bike and was lucky to only have to do some minor maintenance on her derailleur and chain to get her up and moving again. It hurt, but in a way, the pain blocked out any other pain, which perhaps helped me push harder. Not to mention, having road rash on both my arms where they sit in the aerobars and on my hands made me just want to get off the bike already. I honestly didn't know at that point if I would be able to run, but I knew I sure as heck wasn't going to give up without trying. This is what an ironman is all about after all, pushing through pain! I think I hardly feel sore today compared to how these rashes feel. Moral of the story, keep your focus and be cognizant of the road in front of you. But, when hardships come your way, take them head on, don't waste time crying over them, and push harder to get back on track. There was a great sign, among many, on course that said suck it up buttercup...that's exactly what I did. 
Despite my failure, I managed a race that I wasn't even aware I was capable of. It goes to show that you should never put limits on yourself. I am super stoked with my results and thank you everyone who followed/tracked me and cheered me on. I couldn't have done this without any of the people I mentioned in this post and countless others. The Wolfpacktri was with me in spirit and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world for having such a fantastic support network. Wearing my US Military Endurance Sports kit and Team RWB attire always reminds me that I am racing for something bigger than myself and reminds me of people, like Tommy, that are sacrificing so much for us to be doing an Ironman and live our daily lives the way we desire to. Thanks so much to Vespa, Optimized Fat metabolism (OFM)Generation UCANNuun Hydration, and Bonk Breaker for giving me the nutrition to achieve a 2nd place AG finish! Also, thanks to Trivillage Multi-sports for my awesome gear!

Weight is Just a Number

I can't say how many times I have seen 12/13/14 year old girls weighing themselves on a scale at the gym. When I was that age, I was playing 5 sports and the only time I saw a scale was for an annual physical. Sometimes...I long to say this:
To the young girl standing on a scale at the gym,
Don't let a scale dictate your life. You are more than a number. You are so young and beautiful, full of life, with so much opportunity ahead of you. The scale shows you a number that is blind to all that you possess. It does not reflect courage, heart, or strength. I wish that I could tell you of times where my life was governed by a scale...a time where I let image take precedence and a number determine my happiness. In focusing on a number, I lost sight of the true purpose behind all that I do. I forgot that vanity is a sin and that being a certain weight did not make me a better athlete or person. If there is anything I have learned during my journey as an athlete, marathon runner, and now triathlete with a love for all things endurance, it is that that number fluctuates and it is okay. In fact, it is more than okay, it is life. Your body is an incredible machine that has so much untapped potential. Sometimes it needs more food to function, sometimes it will seek to shed unnecessary weight to accommodate speed, and sometimes you will be so heavy that you will realize muscle truly does weigh more than fat. I am at my heaviest now and yet I am also at my strongest. Sure, there are times where weight is a detriment, but I embrace it because it allows me to reach a whole new level that I didn't even know I could touch. People come in all shapes and sizes, but they are all beautiful in one way or another. The right people, the people that are worthwhile, will encourage you to be the best version of yourself, even if that means your weight to height ratio might be far from conventional. Focus on being a good person, dedicated, true, and determined. Spend less time on the scale worrying about a goal defined by society and more time focusing on others and feeling happy with yourself. Strength is not portrayed on a scale, it is portrayed by pursuing impossible goals and continuously striving to reach the stars. Be strong and confident and your beauty will shine through. 
This holds true to everyone. Last year, I was so focused and concerned on being light and at a race weight that would set me up for success at Kona. But, after racing Kona, I realized that I had deprived my body of its ability to grow stronger by limiting vital calories. Racing IM Cozumel weeks later and almost 10 pounds heavier, I discovered that weight truly is just a number. I felt so great, and while I wasn't a skinny triathlete, I was able to push more watts on the bike and mentally stay strong on the run. Come IM Texas, I was racing at my heaviest yet and again, felt strong and happy. I wasn't worried about a number anymore, instead, I was focused on giving my body everything that it needed to carry me 140.6 miles. Moral of the story is that you don't have to be the skinniest or your lightest weight to put together your best performance. Do your workouts, focus on giving your all every day, accept the days where you need rest, and your body will be ready for whatever challenge comes its way.

70.3 Buffalo Springs 2015

When I originally signed up for this race, I had no idea that it was going to be the week after the National 24hr Bike Challenge. Even though I am a glutton for punishment, this took that to a whole new level and resulted in this being the hardest back to back combination of racing that I have ever done. After moving to Texas, I had several conversations that lead me to believe this is one of the toughest half ironman races in the circuit. It certainly didn't let me down! 
I really enjoyed seeing a lot of speedy athletes/friends out on the bike and run course!  Always a great day when you can race among wonderful company. Big thanks to Trivillage Multi-sports for gearing me up and Vespa, Optimized Fat metabolism (OFM) and Generation UCAN for giving me the nutrition I need to do insane endurance challenges on back to back weekends. 
Pre-race: Had a great 8.5 hr total road trip over to West Texas with an overnight in Abilene. It was very scenic and I definitely noticed that hills started becoming more prevalent as we neared the race site. Check-in for the race was super simple at the Clarion Hotel in Lubbock and I indulged in Cracker Barrel, a local gastropub with Homemade buns and delectable burgers, and Chick-Fil-A for pre-race grub. No wonder I am at my heaviest now! I spent the night before the race in Post, TX, about 30 minutes from Transition, and it was a perfect small town to stay at. The hotel even offered military discount, which is always nice. I organized all of my gear ahead of time and spent a while deliberating what to wear for the race. I opted for treating it more like an Ironman so that I could represent US Military Endurance Sports and Team Red, White & BlueTeam RWB Houston on the course. 
Race Day: In the morning, we departed the hotel around 4am and were parked by 4:45. By the time we walked from the car to transition, down a rather large hill, transition had opened at 5am. I set up all of my gear by light from my cell phone and got to appreciate a beautiful sunrise over the Lake and catch up with a lot of friends that were racing. Foolishly, I had intentionally left my wetsuit at home since I had been convinced there was no way it would be wetsuit legal in Texas in the summer. Joke was on me! 
I actually was really excited for the swim for once, as I have been working on my form. Speed is still in the works, but I felt really comfortable in the water and had a much easier time sighting than I have in the past. The entire swim I focused on my drills and thought "stab the push, pull the rope, toss the fish" because it is my little way of reinforcing the entry pull and push motion. I couldn't be happier with a fresh water, non-wetsuit 39 min swim. That is definitely a step in the right direction! In a way, I was glad that I didn't bring my wetsuit because the water temp was perfect and I got to race like I had been training. I took my time in transition and the chip seal like transition area was not the most fun to run over, but we all had to do it. 
Biking was a treat, but I was a little worried about how my legs would hold up after last weekend. We started off on a decent couple of hills and it was several miles until we got to smooth road. I decided to leave my Garmin flipped outwards so I wouldn't focus on speed, distance, or time. I went completely by feel and just enjoyed being in my element. True to my norm, I didn't religiously study the race course, so each hill was a nice surprise for me. On the longest climb we had, it had a couple of switchbacks. As I approached, I wondered whether I should switch to the small chain ring, something that I rarely do and generally despise doing. As I approached the base, there was a sign that said something to the effect of "small ring, lol" and it made me think of Andreas Ultrabikexstudio yelling me in the studio to switch my gears early on. Thank goodness, because I am not sure I would have made it up that without switching! The whole ride I had a couple songs in my head..."Battle Scars" by Lupe Fiasco and "Cheerleader" by Omi which reminded me of my crash in Ironman Texas and everyone who was cheering me on/supporting me. I also couldn't help but think how grateful I was to the amazing, wonderful men that helped me to bike so far in the National 24hr Challenge...without them there is no way that I would have had the energy to do this race. I imagined my brothers pulling me when I was cruising into a headwind and did a whole lot of praying to God to give me strength. The hills in west Texas are a force to be reckoned with and we were very lucky that we didn't have worse headwinds, even if we did have to fight one most of the way back to transition. 
Starting the run, I knew it would be the hardest thing that I had done that day. I had ran a couple miles on Friday and my legs had started cramping up towards the end. The first mile, I could feel how exhausted my legs were, but I bribed myself by saying I would just shoot for 13 1-mile repeats and walk the hills since there is an 8% grade one towards the 3 mile mark of the 2-loop course. My goal was just to keep it below 2 hours and to, most of all, have fun and enjoy the race. I know a lot of people who would have loved to be racing in my shoes, so thank you to each of you for keeping me motivated! True to form, I smiled the majority of the bike and run and tried to cheer on all the other runners whenever I was able to. I even snuck in a couple of jumping photos and planked mid-course. Photos soon to follow! tongue emoticon I felt great running after my legs warmed up a bit, and I carried my Nuun Hydration with me to keep leg cramps at bay and stay hydrated in the heat. The aid station volunteers were wonderful and the course was very beautiful as it wrapped around the lake. The hills weren't too tortuous, but there wasn't too much in the way of shade, so I was glad I wore a hat. Walking the hills/aid stations was a great strategy for me, one that I learned at St. Croix last year while racing on tired legs post Boston marathon. As I approached the finish line, my legs started to cramp, so I am sure it saved me from a much longer day on course!

24 Hour Triathlon

Last year, my brother, Kevin, and I competed in the 24hr triathlon in Lake Mills, Wisconsin. We had to complete legs (2.6 mi run, 11.2 mi bike, and .24 mi swim) in any order, so long as they amounted to full triathlons. For example, if we did 20 bikes and runs, but only 5 swims, it would only count for 5 full triathlons. It was the ultimate game of strategy as transitions also had to be taken into consideration between every leg! In order to make it happen, we had to have the best possible crew, which resulted in our parents dedicating 24 hours of their time to be there for us despite the loss of my dad's father that same week. For 22 swims (close to 5.5 miles), 22 bikes (246.4 miles) and 21 runs (54.6 miles) my parents were there for support, filling water bottles, dumping water on us in the high-90s temps, and ensuring we had all the nutrition we needed to cover roughly 307 miles. We are so blessed to have such a wonderful family that goes out of their way to help us accomplish any crazy goals we can come up with. It was incredible getting to share the experience with them and to witness my brother running 47 sub-7 min pace miles! Not only that, but we got to see several other fantastic athletes, with never-quit mentalities, pushing themselves to the limit in extremely tough conditions. Thanks, mom and dad, for being with us for an unforgettable day, to Heather and Tommy for tracking us from afar, to the race directors and bike mechanic for cheering us on, and to our Grandpa for being with us in spirit. Goal are never achieved alone. 

Superfrog 70.3

(Watch the Video link to see some of the course!)
It is hard to find the words to describe this race. The people who competed in it were some of the most mentally tough people I have ever raced against. Going into it, I knew that I would have to give it my all to even come close to earning a Military Slot to the IM World Championships in 2016. 
Prior to the race start, I was absolutely overwhelmed by all of the wonderful people that reached out to me wishing me luck, be it long time or new friends, or simply people I conversed with in passing. I am very blessed to have so much support and so many people wanting to see me succeed. All of the familiar faces out on course definitely made for a really fun day!
The race started on Silver Strand Beach with a rather intimidating swim course that involved 2 loops of open ocean swim with a rather long (~200m) sand sprint between them. We had to dive through the waves at the start before we got to smoother water. I have been working very hard on improving my swim stroke, but the speed won't be coming anytime soon! Despite the challenge of sighting in waves, I felt very comfortable in the water. 
Leading into the race, I decided to race without a watch, meaning that I would have no ability to check my speed or data throughout the day. It is very liberating and allows me to simply focus on how I feel. I sprinted through transition with my bike, as I had the longest to run with it since it was set up in a single long column parallel to the beach and I was by the run out. Once on my bike, I immediately started hammering the pedals to try to catch up with my competition. I caught the person I was using as my reference around the 2nd loop of the 4-loop course and then worked hard to put as much of a gap between us as possible. It was flat, and the winds could have been much worse, so I managed to post a pretty decent bike split despite losing my aerobar pad on the 4th loop and resting my elbow on carbon fiber. 
Coming into T2, I immediately took a pit stop since I had chugged water to avoid becoming too dehydrated on the run. We immediately turned onto the beach for the first 2 mile+ segment of beach running which we would repeat 2 more times (6+ miles of beach running in total). I was so inspired by all of the other competitors, my cheering friends, and the knowledge that no matter how hard it is to run in the sand, everyone had to do it. The run really gave me appreciation for the fact that the Navy SEALS designed this course! After we left the sand via a section of super soft, uphill sand leading back to pavement, I was very grateful for the hard ground. That was short lived, because in less than a mile we were running on loose gravel, which made the sand seem painless! I kept recalling doing the Wilderman with 26.2 miles of far more brutal terrain, and that made it all seem a bit easier. I also was happily reminding myself that this was not another 24hr race, so the suffering would end soon! I managed to keep a pretty solid pace throughout the run, despite the slow course and finished the race 3rd overall female and first in my age group. 
This race was very special to me, I had a lot of angels watching over me and knew that I had done everything I could to prepare, so the rest was in God's hands. I prayed for strength and He provided. Thank you to everyone who was there with me in person or in spirit. I am so excited to have earned a Kona Slot for 2016 and it was absolutely an honor getting to represent the Coast Guard in my awesome kit that Susan Cho Oyler designed! I also loved being able to represent US Military Endurance Sports and Team Red, White & Blue. As always, I fueled with Vespa, Optimized Fat metabolism (OFM) and Generation UCAN and used my gear from Trivillage Multi-sports. I don't really detail my nutrition in race reports, but I roughly took in 100 calories during 5 hours and 10 minutes of racing. 
Huge congrats to everyone who earned slots to the 70.3 World Championships in Australia and Kona for 2016. This whole weekend was such a blast catching up with so many friends and making new ones!!! Now to let this sunburn heal! tongue emoticon

Your First Triathlon

We have all been there at one point or another, because, at the end of the day, even the most experienced triathlete has to have had a first triathlon.  It can be daunting, intimidating, and perhaps even seem overwhelming.  But, the important thing to remember, no matter how much time you have been able to dedicate towards training, is that you won't be alone out there!  At every race there are going to be first timers, because that is what keeps this sport alive.  It is a beautiful thing, getting to share your experience with so many others.  You will have your own share of challenges come race day, but just focus on those around you and inspiration will soon follow.

You might be anxious about making silly mistakes and I am sure that the swim is the most stressful part for most people.  Perhaps it is the bike that you find to be nerve-wracking or maybe you aren't a natural runner.  Don't fear!  We all have strengths and weaknesses, but those don't have to define us in this sport.  You get two other disciplines to make up for whatever you are the least comfortable with, which is more than most sports can say.

Here is a simple check-list that I use before every race to ensure I have all the stuff I need:
Nutrition (Vespa)
Permanent Marker (In case there is a line for body marking)

Swim Cap
Watch (Garmin 910XT that I use for all 3 disciplines)

Bike Shoes
Nutrition (Vespa & Ucan for me!)
Water Bottles
Gear Bag (CO2, Spare Tube, Tools, Tire Levers)
Chamois Butter

Race Belt
Nutrition (Vespa)
Socks (just in case I need to change mine out)
Base Salts

That about sums it up for gear.  Before the race starts, you will lay out everything that you need in transition.  Make sure your tires are good on air and that all of your gear is ready to go!

Everyone has different preferences, but I love to get there as soon as transition opens just to reduce all the chance of errors with the things that I can control come race day.  This gives you plenty of time to triple check your gear and head over to the swim start.

Now, when it comes to the swim, even as a slower swimmer I like to start in the front because I would rather have people swim over me than have them kicking me from the get-go.  But, I have heard many beginners that prefer to let the chaos get started and settle into the swim a minute after the more aggressive swimmers start.  Sighting is very critical in this sport to avoid swimming extra long distances, so try to remember not to just follow people in front of you and wear goggles that allow you to see the buoys!

For the bike, settle into your groove and don't get caught up in the initial sprint that ends up burning out even the strongest of legs.  Do remember to abide by the drafting rules and which side you need to allow passing on/pass on.  As a helpful measure to all competitors, saying "on your left" or, in some cases, "on your right" is encouraged.  The bike should be painful, but not so painful that you don't have anything left for the run!  Ensure you stick to your nutrition plan on the bike and hydrate!

For the run, you are so close to the finish line, you literally just ran by it!  This is perhaps the most mentally challenging portion of the race.  You already managed to complete the first two legs, but now you need to defeat all the demons in your head that start telling you a 5k, 10k, 13.1 or 26.2 are too far.  It is key to stay cool out there, hence why I wear a hat and if it is a longer, hotter event, throwing ice in all available spots is key.  Also, take in nutrition, but me mindful of over or under hydrating.  I like to use aid stations as mile markers and plan my recovery walks through all of them. One step in front of the other will get you to the finish line, so just take in the scenery around you and rely on your fellow racers for encouragement.  There are always some great fans out there and neat signs to help distract you.

Congrats on completing you first triathlon, and I hope you will continue with this sport for the rest of your life!

Relationships with Running

I am reminded yet again that there is no greater therapy than running, and running in the rain even more so.  It makes me feel as though God is crying with me, but then when I look up in the sky and see light shining through, I know He is also showing me hope. 

As I run, I often think of themes to reflect on to pass the time.  Fittingly enough, having started the run with a heavy heart, this run focused on the similarity between running and a relationship.  Why?  Well there are various reasons and I will list a few.  For one, all running must start from a firm base.  Jumping into a sub 5 min mile is not going to happen for everyone, nor is running an ultramarathon.  Relationships must also start from a sound base of friendship or companionship before they advance.  To complete a run, you have to take that first step.  Just as in a relationship you have to be willing to be open to it.  Typically, we let adrenaline carry us and take off too fast during the first mile.  In a relationship, that first mile is the first couple of months where we are full of infatuation and imagining the possibilities.  We have to settle into a pace that saves our energy to keep going.  As a runner, we are faced with several injuries from the past that we carefully monitor and pay close attention to, trusting they won’t reoccur.  That is similar to emotional baggage from previous relationships and heartbreak.   The distance of a run is comparable to long distance relationships.  The further it is, the crazier people think you are for attempting it.  Oftentimes, the greater the distance is, such as a marathon, the greater the reward and fulfillment.   But with great distance, comes the need for even more dedication and drive, more determination to see it through.  To make a long distance relationship work, you have to want it more than anything and you have to be willing to make sacrifices and step out of your comfort zone.  In every run, there are setbacks.  Be it cramps, dehydration, hitting a wall, or just lacking motivation to go any further, as runners we have to mentally defeat these obstacles one by one and realizing that slowing pace or listening to our bodies might be necessary.  Relationships are full of challenges, but we are made stronger by them and have to fight for what we want despite the suffering that might ensue.   No matter what, there will be times when we just have to pray to God to give us the strength we need to go one more step, one more mile, to reach the finish.  God is critical to any relationship, and trusting in Him might just be the only possible solution at times.  Like running, relationships always have room for improvement.  Sometimes we will fail at a goal or won’t finish a run.  Some runs are more like sprints or we step out the door just as a storm begins.  But if we keep running, we never fail.   Running is a beautiful gift, but it can also bring us to tears.  No matter what, I believe every step of the journey is worth it for the thrill of reaching the finish line whether that is tangible or just in our mind.   Love is equivalent to the finish line, there is no better feeling than seeing it and when you reach it, all the challenges to get there dissipate.  I want a relationship that can withstand any distance, any obstacle, and that makes me feel the same joy and satisfaction as completing the Boston Marathon.  I want someone that will run by my side matter where our feet carry us, hopefully to somewhere I’ve never been before.   Until then, I will continue to run with my heart.  Though it sometimes is in pieces, running makes it whole again.