Thursday, January 19, 2017

Build Your Tribe: Ultraman Crew Intro: The Beav

The scene opens with a husband and wife sitting on the sofa.  The television is on low in the background and a laptop sits open in her lap, fingers poised over the keys.  An interview is about to take place...

MK:  On a scale of 1- 10 how excited are you about UMOZ?!?!

DB:  7.7.

MK:  Why?

DB:  Well, I’m not as excited as you… but I’m excited enough that I want to see it.  Plus since I'm on crew I get a free trip to Australia.  That’s exciting!

MK:  What preconceived ideas do you have about Ultraman?

DB:  I think it’s going to be easier than everyone thinks on you.  And harder on me, sitting behind the steering wheel for 3 days… a week after IM.

MK:  What do you think your strengths will be as a crew member?

DB:  The wiseness that comes with age

MK:  Um, no.  That’s not answer…

DB:  My strength will be that absolutely no matter what — I will not let you NOT finish.  Because I can be tough with you and deal with the repercussions.  #toughlove

MK:  Do you see any weaknesses, or what are you most unsure of?

DB:  How in the hell we’re going to get all of our shit to Australia!?!

MK:  What do you think the biggest challenge for me will be at UM?

DB: Learning how to relax.  Not be in control.  

MK:  So you promise to take care of everything so I can relax?

DB:  mmm, hmm..   Yeah, I’ll delegate that task.    
You can’t sweat the little things because the little things won't matter.  The only things that matter are your nutrition and your bike.  Nothing else matters.  It’s going to come down to the basics.  Do you have your nutrition and is your bike mechanically sound?  And I’ll make sure we have our sound machine. :)

MK:  When did you know that this was inevitable?  

DB:  Sept of 2013.  Ironman Lake Tahoe awards banquet.  You talked to Hillary about it, I think she was getting ready for the World Championship.  

MK:  WOW.  I totally forgot about that.  Cool.  
Would you rather be racing than crewing?

D:  Yes, of course.  

MK:  What?!  Why aren’t you?

D:  You said I couldn’t.

MK:  What?!  No I didn't!  I said we couldn't race side by side!  

D:  Right.  But think about it.  You’d come out of the water ahead of me and have to wait around.  But then I’d have to just chill with you on the bike.  And then we run together.  

MK:  But we can’t share crew!!!  And there’s no drafting!!  And that's a lot of time for us to annoy each other!!!

DB:  I know.  So I won’t do it because we won't go through the cost of Ultraman 3 times. 

MK:  What if I wanted to crew for you?  We could go to Florida.  That’s less expensive.  

DB:  No.  not going to happen.  Though I’m more likely to do Ultraman than a hundred miler.

MK:  Even if I ran the hundred with you?  

DB:  I’m not sure I could do the training that would allow me to do the hundred.  This is not part of the interview is it??

MK:  Yes.

DB:  *sigh*

MK:  OK, OK.  
So what does ohana, kokua and aloha mean to you?

DB:  I guess I haven’t thought about it.  The reality of it is, to get through the race you’re going to have to have a lot of family interaction- trapped in a car for 3 days.  YOU are going to have to love what you're doing to get though the dark spots.  Leading up to it you are going to put in a lot of work— and you’re going to have to have the support of your #tribe to get through the training.  Coach Hillary, me, Melody swimming 10ks with you, and everyone who is going to bike and run with you.  

MK:  I know you’re not the touchy-feely type… are you looking forward to experiencing the Ultraman Ohana?  

DB: yes and no.  Just like with any family, sometimes you want to spend time with them and sometimes you get on each others nerves and you’re ready to be done with them after 3 days.

(mk:  laughing)

DB:  I”m excited for the epicness of it.  Being able to brag to everyone about my wife. 

(mk: beaming)  

Of course that’s why I wanted to do it with you….  bragging rights.  

MK:  But I feel like our crew is pretty laid back , I think you guys will be fine.  
How far do you want to run on day 3?

D:  I would run as far as I’m physically capable of.  Ask me that on day 3.  

MK:  What’s my Ironman swim PR?

DB:  57 : 23

MK:  What?!  NO!!!  

DB:  (Shouts out a few more answers-- still wrong..finally landing on the right one.)  Ironman Lake Tahoe….. 54 minutes?  Are you happy now?

MK:  You’re gonna need to know!

DB:  Why do I need to know?

MK:  When I’m leading the swim they’re going to ask you my stats!!!  

DB:  Who?!?

MK:  The Race Director! 

DB:  WHY?!?

MK:  Cause they want to know!!  We were frantically texting Hillary and checking Ironman websites in Canada when Barry was leading!

MK:  What do I want to know about your thoughts on UM?
What should I be asking you?

DB:  Do I have to perform sexually every night?

MK:  NO!

DB:  Is alcohol allowed in the support vehicle?

MK:  Ummm, not sure.  Doubtful.  I’ll read the rules. 
What can I do to make your job of crewing easier?

DB:  Before we leave tell me 100% what it is you need and want so there is no discussion in the heat of the battle.

MK:  Good.  I agree.  It’s good to have a plan.

DB:  Can I wear my new sound cancelling headphones in the car?

MK:  Bahahahaha!  Yes.  Maybe you can share them.
Do you think I’ll be ready in 4 months?  We land on May 4.  

DB:  Sounds about right. Of course.  You have the best coach in the world and the best work ethic.  So I don’t see how you can’t be ready.  

MK:  Which day would be your favorite?

DB:  Day 3 for sure.  That’s when you realize all the work has paid off.  You get the reward.  The icing.

MK:  Which day do you think will be hardest?  

DB:  Hardest:  day 3.  Mentally, day 2.  

MK:  Yeah, 170 miles is a long way to bike.  

DB:  In your head.  But you’ll be prepared for it.  And that’s key.  

MK:  Will you massage my legs every night?

DB:  Yeah.  Cause we all know what massage leads to.

(MK: giggling)

DB:  What do you want me to know?

MK:  Just what you already said— we need to have a plan in place so nothing is left to chance.

DB:  And who is in charge when everything falls apart?

MK:  Well, in general— the crew captain has final say.  And obviously if it's a bike issue, Chris.  But I think if it’s a  breakdown in nutrition, etc— you are probably going to have the most input, the most creative ideas— because you know how I train, what I like, what I don’t like.  You have had to be creative in your own training.  You will be able to make suggestions on things to try that I might be able to eat, etc.  

Fades to black....

Friday, December 23, 2016

Build Your Tribe: Ultraman Crew Intro: Chris Blick

Off season is over and 2017 is nearly upon us. My Ticker tells me we are under 5 months from Ultraman. (OMG!!!) I thought it would be fun to talk to crew member extraordinaire, Chris Blick, about his experience crewing for a fellow Dimond guy at Ultraman Florida and the Ultraman World Championships held last month on the Island of Hawaii. And after this interview, I had so much fun I decided that I would profile each crew member over the next few weeks! So stay tuned, there will be more coming in the Build Your Tribe segment!

How did you meet Rob?  How well did you know him before UM Florida?  

I first met Rob via email. It was quite awhile before I eventually met him in person, but we had gotten to know each other pretty well by then. I was working at Dimond at the time, it must have been Spring/Summer of 2014. I wrote Rob to introduce him to Dimond and ultimately try to get him on board one. He was receptive to the idea and after a few discussions he joined Team Dimond and immediately got even stronger on the bike, which was already his bread and butter in triathlon. I didn’t meet him in person until the following year in the Bay Area when I was hosting demo rides at his local bike shop, Cognition Cyclery. He lead a group of guys, some Dimond owners and some test riders, on a popular training loop from the shop. We maintained a lot of communication from then on, especially because Rob loves him some technology. He was constantly upgrading parts of his bike which kept him in touch with us frequently. Rob also raced Ironman Arizona that year (2015) which was my first Ironman. We hung out a bit that week and he was a big supporter of my first full. He gave me some especially positive vibes when he ran past me on the run course (his second lap, my first!). Our friendship really strengthened during the week of Ultraman Florida.

Give us a little insight into Rob since we don't really know him.  How did it come about that he was racing UMFL?  

Rob is a pretty impressive dude. He wasn’t always a stud athlete. He was born with underdeveloped lungs, and I recently learned that at one point in his life he stacked up at his current height of 6’1” and a whopping 127 lbs. Growing up in South Africa provided him ample learning opportunities. He got into tech and became quite adept in the world of programming and software utility. That lead him into a startup tech company before working for Microsoft and now Google. His career transplanted him to London for a few years, then the Bay Area. He now resides in lovely Boulder, Colorado.

Rob shares a lot of the common traits in elite Ironman triathletes. He trains and he trains hard. Perhaps his greatest attribute, though, is his mind. He is a student in all that he does. He has gotten very good at the science of triathlon, from training and fitness, recovery strategies, nutrition, metabolic efficiency, etc. He’s also gotten pretty good at optimizing his equipment with a keen understanding of aerodynamics, weight, storage optimization, biomechanic efficiency, etc. If you’ve got product questions, he’s probably got some insight to offer you!

Ultraman Florida is actually just an antecedent to Rob’s primary goal of racing Ultraman World Championships. Upon the impending doom of his 40th birthday this year, Rob wanted to take his endurance sports game to a new level. He had raced well in Ironman, raced Kona a bunch of times, and kind of mastered the distance in a way, if anybody ever actually does that. Ultraman was a new beast and he wanted to conquer it. He decided that the most sure-fire way to get into the Ultraman World Championship race was to compete in another Ultraman, pad his resume so to speak. That’s how Ultraman Florida became a reality.

What is his personality like, outside of ultraman?  How would you describe him?

He really is as cool as they come. He is a very bright, curious and driven person. He is equally kind and pleasant to be around. For every bit of fierce competitiveness he exhibits during training and racing, he exhibits the same amount of friendliness and camaraderie outside of it. He is always willing and eager to share valuable learning experiences with others. He’s been instrumental in helping me grow as an athlete and as a person.

There is something about the Big Island. It’s simultaneously intimidating and nurturing.

Paint us the picture of how you came to be a crew member for FL.

Upon the inception of the idea of racing Ultraman Florida, Rob began assembling his crew. There are lots of strategies one might employ in selecting a crew. Your crew is so important to racing Ultraman. You need generally reliable, dependable and competent people. Beyond that, you need some specific qualities. Bicycle mechanic skills are a must! Ethan and I both have those, so he was in good hands there. Additionally, I was driving the Dimond Van back then, which housed 5 demo bikes and a litany of spare parts and tools, specific to the Dimond, including one Dimond that was setup almost identical to Rob’s bike (same size frame and same aerobar, making it a good fit). This bike was perfect for bringing along as a backup bike, which is encouraged for Ultraman in the event of a catastrophic mechanical issue on your primary bike. (More to come on this point!)

The other important role of a crew is run pacing on day three. This was especially important for Rob at Ultraman Florida, because he had never run anywhere near as long as the double marathon in the race. So as something of an athlete myself, I was able to provide some value as a run pacer, too.

Did you know anything about Ultraman before FL?  What expectations did you have prior to flying in for the week?

The only thing I actually knew about Ultraman before Rob asked me to be on his crew was that Ultraman was a stupid-long distance triathlon and that Hillary Biscay was a World Champion! I really had no clue what I was in for until I did my own investigation after agreeing to be on his crew.

My expectations were fairly accurate. Ethan and I drove the Dimond Van down to Florida from Iowa, so we had plenty of time to gameplan and prepare for the race and the lead up to it. As Dimond employees at the time, we made ABSOLUTELY SURE* that his bike was dialed. And damn, did it look good!

Basically, we were there to make Rob’s week as easy as possible. We ran errands with/for him, took care of the bike, helped prepare meals and race day nutrition, organized the crew vehicle, helped navigate travel logistics, etc.

What were you told would be expected of you?  What did you actually do?  

My expectations were pretty much in line with what I ended up actually doing. As I mentioned, I was expected to take care of all things bike related. This involved preparing both Rob’s “A” bike and his spare bike, which was my bike, one of the demo bikes from the Dimond Van. We dialed in the fit to match his “A” bike and made sure we had the right pedals, bottle cages, etc. Perhaps the biggest difference between what was expected and what actually happened was that we ACTUALLY USED THE SPARE BIKE!

Fairly early on day two, maybe 50 miles in if I remember correctly, Rob yelled to us as he passed our vehicle that his aerobar pad fell off a ways back. He kept going without it and we prepared to replace it with the aerobar pad from the spare bike. We stopped him shortly after and got started on the pad swap, only to discover that the threads in the basebar where the pad mounted had been stripped. This meant that no bolt was going to hold in a new pad. He either had to ride the rest of the race with one pad or ride the spare bike. We sent him ahead again with one pad and told him we’d prepare to do a bike swap at our next pass. It is such a hard call to make, because it costs precious time and there is no replacement for the bike the you do ALL of your riding on. The sweet spot on the saddle, for example, doesn’t exist until you’ve put at least a thousand miles on a bike, right?!

Anyways, we pulled off the bike swap relatively quickly, all in all about five minutes. Transferring nutrition, garmin, wheels (we opted to move Rob’s disc wheel from his “A” bike to the spare bike while we were at it), etc. All was well, except for the spare bike did not have a power meter on it, so Rob was racing old school.

I tend to think that if you are the kind of athlete who has decided to compete in this race and committed to it, then you already have the emotional capacity to undertake such a thing.

Like, for real... what actually is involved in CREWING for ultraman?  

Crewing I think is best defined as “doing absolutely anything and everything possible in the interest of getting your athlete to the finish line as efficiently as possible.” As an individual you probably bring one or two specific skills to the team that are key skills and the reason you are there, but you end up doing so much more than that. The nature of the race being three stages over three days means there is a lot of time before, in between and after each race where your athlete needs help. Whatever it is that he or she needs at any moment, his or her crew does. It’s quite simple looking back on it, actually! Just help in any and every way possible.

And be honest, did Rob have any idea what he really needed prior to the start of the race?  Or was it kinda of making it up as you go along?  Had he ever crewed for UM prior to signing up?

Rob might have been the most well-prepared first-timer. He is a strategist, and a cunning one at that. He had no prior experience with Ultraman to my knowledge, other than one of his good friends from Boulder had done the race the year before. That was probably quite helpful, but I think Rob’s personality and racing style would have been enough to come up with a pretty good general idea of what he needed. That said, we DEFINITELY learned as the race went on what he was going to need. More this, less that.

How was the experience different from what you expected?  

I didn’t expect to have SO MUCH FUN! As a crew member, it feels like you will be sort of a witness to what your athlete is doing and you will occasionally get involved by handing him a bottle on the bike, but man, you are there every step of the way. Don’t get me wrong, Rob did the real work, but it was so involved it really felt like a team race. I didn’t really know about the Ultraman Ohana until arriving there, nor did I know that crew members were absolutely 100% part of the Ohana. It seemed like Steve King mentioned my name as well as Ethan’s and Kevin’s on the race coverage mic as much as he did Rob’s!

How soon after FL did Rob sign up for UMWC?  And how soon were you asked to be on crew?

Rob’s plan was always to sign up for UMWC. He originally only wanted to do that race, but knew that his odds of getting picked would go up tremendously if he had an UM under his belt. I think he officially signed up that Spring, and having won Florida he was a virtual shoe-in for the WC race. He asked me to crew for him again shortly after that. Sometime in June if I remember correctly.

How did your preparation/ expectations change since you were now a seasoned pro at the crewing thing?

I definitely checked all of the bolts a little more closely this time! Haha! Not a whole lot changed, to be honest. Having been through it once I was definitely a little more relaxed and moving through the week was a lot less stressful despite the increased stakes of the World Championships. The second time around I was a little more involved with Rob’s strategy. We went over the maps, the ideal feed zones, the timing of key nutrition intake, when to push, when to conserve, etc. That was a lot of fun for me. Ultimately, having done one before, and with the same athlete at that, made crewing a much more manageable task.

“doing absolutely anything and everything possible in the interest of getting your athlete to the finish line as efficiently as possible.”

How did the execution in WC differ from FL?  Did Rob make any drastic changes to the plan or was it business as usual?

Definitely not business as usual. Rob was grossly undertrained for Ultraman Florida. He basically did Ironman training with a few longer runs. He also did it over the winter in Boulder, which meant almost everything was indoors. This time around he was much more prepared physically and mentally. LOTS more running in his build training, lots more attention to the ever-important physiological/nutritional/hydrational factors. He did some really cool stuff with CU Boulder testing his glycogen stores before and after some big simulation workouts to help him determine what he would need to eat and drink between each stage.

Rob’s training was quite a bit different, as it was much more of a proper Ultraman training block. However, I think his race plan was similar, which was ultimately to swim fast (Rob has an uncanny ability to hold him IM swim pace for as long as he needs to. He actually set a 3.8k swim PR in the UMWC race!), and bike hard, especially in the second half of each leg which is his greatest opportunity to put time in on the competition. Then allows the ultrarunners to do their thing on Sunday and keep his pace where it needs to be to maintain the lead by the end. Hawai’i is a funny place, though, and as you know in Hawai’i you stick to your race plans until your body can’t do it anymore, then you adjust.

Did the rest of the crew change for WC?  Or was it the same group?

Different crew. I was the only member for both of Rob’s UM races. For the UMWC it was just Ian Hersey and I on the official crew. Rob’s parents both made the journey all the way from South Africa, too, so they were there and were very helpful through race week. Ian has crewed the UMWC twice before, so he was a great addition to the team. He’s also now a resident of the island and he and his wife are something of Hawai’i buffs. was so involved it really felt like a team race...

Was it difficult to crew with only 2 people?  Did his family help out with driving, etc?  Or they were just there as cheerleaders?  

It wasn’t much more difficult with two compared to three. I think three first time crew members is great, but Ian and I were able to adequately do our job with just the two of us. Again, both of us having crew experience and Ian having really great crew experience having crewed the same course twice before.

You are only allowed one official crew vehicle, so Ian and I did all the driving during the race with the official crew vehicle. That is, all nutrition and hydration and all supplies, tools, parts, gear, etc. were all managed by Ian and I out of the official crew vehicle. [His parents] were very helpful, though, in between stages with an extra vehicle hauling all of our other “stuff” around the island. We stayed at different places each night, so there was lots to haul!

As crew captain, what was your responsibility?  Is there anything that stands out that you have responsibility for over other crew members?  Did you ever have to use your Captain status and pull rank when decision making?  

This is a great question. I’ve always been the type of leader who promotes a good “team effort” attitude. I tend to think that the best leaders cultivate teams that have no real, official leader and that they work as a unit at all times. This was the case for almost every aspect of the week. Technically, as crew captain I had to be there for the race check in, the briefings, check in and check out for each stage, I would have to report bike changes, etc. Most of this is just a formality, though, because someone has to do it and they prefer it be the same person each time so confusion is minimized.

There was ONE TIME when I pulled out my captain card! One of the biggest challenges the crew faces is simply the logistics of the whole week. You have to be at tons of different places at tons of different times. On the evening of day 2, we were gameplanning for the morning of day 3, double marathon day, final day. I don’t even remember the specifics, but we were deciding on a time to leave in the morning in order to get to the start with time to check in, warm up, eat a little, drink a little, give Rob a monster pep talk, etc.

Now, I run on Lombardi time (I’m a Bears fan, but Lombardi was undeniably successful, and most of my family on my mother’s side are from Green Bay, so it works for me), where on time is late and 15 minutes early is on time. ESPECIALLY when you consider how our Ultraman Florida day three morning went! I was in charge of driving for that race and Ethan was crew captain. I had all the important times and places neatly organized, and we were operating very well on my Lombardi time clock. About half way to the race start of day 3 in Florida, someone in the car (I won’t say who!) INSISTED that we were going the wrong way and that we needed to turn around. I was certain that we were going the right way, it was my job after all. However, I obliged to the higher ranking officer and turned around as instructed. Not long after that, it became clear that we were in fact now going the wrong way and that I had us on the right track in the first place. SO, we turned around and I went full Ricky Bobby on em to get us to the start line on time. We made it there with less than 5 minutes to the starting gun. Not an ideal way to start such a long day, especially for Rob.

SO, as crew captain for UMWC, the only time I had to pull the captain card was in determining what time we were to leave in the morning. The debate was over what amounted to a total of about 15 minutes. THE LOMBARDI CONSTANT. I don’t even remember the times we were discussing, but the argument was going so waffly, “oh we won’t need any more than 30 minutes to get there, if we leave at 5:00 that’s plenty of time.” “I don’t know, I’d rather be there a little early than a little late. Chris, what are your thoughts? You are the team captain after all.” Okay, I technically didn’t even pull the captain card, it was presented to me by Rob himself, but I simply said, “We’re leaving at 4:45 am.”

It felt strange, because that’s not my style, but it worked out well!

What trials did you run into in FL or WC?  Were there any moments when you had to improvise, think on your feet, problem solve on the go?  

Definitely the bike swap in Florida was a big one. Otherwise, the rest of Florida and Hawai’i were fairly manageable. I think Rob being really well prepared for Hawai’i made it a pretty smooth sailing race from a crew standpoint. In Florida, everything was a first for us, so there were more things we had to get used to, like replacing bottles of nutrition and hydration on the go in a safe, swift, systematic way. We had to improvise a bit on the run in Florida, too, in dealing with Rob’s core temperature. It was hot and humid, and we had a tough time keeping him cool. None other than TJ Tollakson, who was down in Clermont for his own personal training camp with Jesse Kropelnicki and QT2, came through with a neat contraption of panty hose and ice cubes that did the job for a good portion of the run. No doubt a little creativity can be a good trait in a crew member.

I run on Lombardi time, where on time is late and 15 minutes early is on time.

Was there anything that you hadn't planned for logistically that you felt later you wished you had known before?  Travel, hotel arrangements, car rental, etc.

This is a good question for Hawai’i. Because the race is point to point and eventually circumnavigates the entire island, which meant that we stayed in different places each night. This time around, we booked hotels for each night and moved all of our stuff each day. In hindsight, I think we would do this a little differently. We’d probably keep one place rented all week and leave the bulk of our stuff there and only bring what we need for one or two nights with us each day.

How did the UMWC experience differ from the UMFL experience, taking into consideration Ohana, Kokua, and Aloha?

There is something about the Big Island. It’s simultaneously intimidating and nurturing. The day two bike course is one of the most beautiful stretches of road I’ve ever seen. You cannot help but feel like you are doing something special when you are there.

Do you think the physical toll or the emotional toll is hardest?  Do you think the emotional toll is only present because of the physical toll or are there other underlying factors?  You are aware that being a girl, there will be an emotional toll on me in OZ, right?!?  I mean, I hope it's emotional in a good way...

Haha! Emotions are a huge part of this race. There are dark moments, undoubtedly. The goal is to minimize them and to make sure you get to the finish line where you aren’t allowed to experience anything but good emotions! Different athletes will feel differently about the emotional toll vs. the physical toll. I tend to think that if you are the kind of athlete who has decided to compete in this race and committed to it, then you already have the emotional capacity to undertake such a thing. I think the physical toll is actually harder to prepare for. You simply cannot simulate the state your body will be in until you are in it. I also think that because it is a stage race and you do not have to do any running directly off of the bike that you are able to compete at a higher intensity than you might in a long distance triathlon, like Ironman, for example. Because of this, you end up putting your body through an unreal amount of stress and fatigue throughout the three days.

Do you feel like Rob fully utilized your skills, expertise and knowledge during your crewing ventures?  Did he rely on the crew for moral support or just calories/ hydration?

Yeah, I think Rob got the most out of me. Calories and hydration are sort of first on the list of priorities, but for the most part we stick to a pretty simple plan for that stuff. Next is keeping Rob in a good mood and keeping his head in the game. It can be easy to “lose it” a little bit here and there. The long swim is disorienting and we all know how hours 6+ feel on the bike. A little bit of craziness and overtly positive mojo can go a long way. Also, when possible, it’s helpful to get splits on the next in front or behind you. Again, the Ultraman race is so much different than Ironman, primarily because you’d hardly know it was going on unless you were involved. Anything to keep the mind in the race and ideally in a positive mood is what you want.

I’ve found that the moral support really comes through on the run. That’s when it really hurts, and that’s when the most is on the line. Rob dug pretty deep into the well in Florida to squeeze out the win, and the last 10 or so miles were very interesting. I ran the last 6 with him and I said some pretty ridiculous things to keep him focused and pumped to win. He really had no business running as well as he did, given his training volume, but boy did he get every mile out of his body that day.

Be trustworthy at all times.

Was there anything that you witnessed happening among another team where you thought to yourself, I'm glad that's not us?

Yeah, there were a couple occasions in both of my Ultraman experiences where I felt fortunate to not be in a position that another team was in. In Hawai’i one of the competitors on the run was cramping and dehydrated and their crew went as far as to ask us for some magnesium. We searched our equipment, but we didn’t have anything that wasn’t already built into Rob’s nutrition plan (i.e., donating it would compromise Rob’s race). The moral of the “glad that’s not us” type of story is that preparation is everything.

In Florida, the most surprising thing I saw, and perhaps the most impressive, was one athlete running the entire double marathon by himself, with seemingly very little nutrition intake, or at least infrequent nutrition intake. Compared to Rob, who had a runner escort, holding his nutrition and hydration from about mile 6 or 7 until the end. That wasn’t a “glad that’s not us” moment necessarily, but more of a “glad that’s not Rob” kind of thing.
No doubt everyone has their own way of doing things, and perhaps [the other athlete] prefers the solidarity of running alone.

Were there any disagreements amongst the crew?  And not like fighting, but like I think this is best and you think this is best and we can't agree.  And how did you solve those disagreements?

For the most part this has not been a problem being on Rob’s crews at all. Rob is usually pretty prepared with his own race plan and we are there to help him execute that plan. We did have a semi last minute change in the race plan that involved when to take in caffeine. Equipment discussions are often like this, too. These were never major issues. We were good about considering pros/cons, and deciding what would be best well in advance so that on race day we knew exactly what the plan was.

What are you most excited about for UMOZ?  

Oh man, I am so excited about going down unda!!!! My sister actually just flew yesterday with her girlfriend to spend the holiday break there. I’ve developed quite a hankering for travel and exploration, and this will undoubtedly satisfy a big need of mine. Beyond the sheer thrill of exploring a new place, I am incredibly excited about being a part of this awesome journey with you, Mary. You’ve inspired me throughout my own endurance sports career, and it will be a very special privilege for me to bear witness to your awesomeness in Australia.

Is there anything specific you are excited about bringing to the group based on your past experiences?  Is there anything that you feel strongly, "we need to do XYZ!"?

I haven’t tapped into some mystical Ultraman crew knowledge that I can share with you. Every athlete is different, so some of the specific things I have learned may not apply to you necessarily. What I am excited about bringing to the group is a sense of calm and confidence. I can bear the burden of a lot of the logistics and take a big load off of your shoulders, and keep your body and mind in the right place throughout the week. I mean, I was a psychology major after all ;)

Are there any unique challenges that you foresee with UMOZ?  

No, not really. As long as we are all able to get a healthy dose, but not too much, of all things Aussie, then we should be fine. I think perhaps the biggest challenge for you, and thus, for us, will be to get time adjusted as smoothly as possible. Energy levels are crucial to UM racing, and such a long trip out there will pose an additional challenge. We could talk about ways to prepare you for that even before the flight!

How do I rank on a scale of 1-10 in the HOT-CRAZY Matrix and how will this affect your ability to crew successfully?  OK, just kidding.  But I'm still laughing about that one...

Okay, you would totally be a unicorn, but anyone who has even entertained the idea of doing an Ultraman is at least a 6 or 7 crazy!

As the more emotional gender, do you think there will be any different challenges or opportunities crewing for a female?

Hmm… interesting question. Hard to say. There are definitely some things I wouldn’t say to you that I said to Rob in some of the dark moments to hype him up. I would probably choose slightly different words when addressing a female in those moments.

As crew, do you have any advice for me?  Any advice for your fellow crew members?  

LEAN ON US! You should do everything in your power to worry about nothing and be happy and excited about your race days. Let us do all of this boring, tedious, stressful, exhausting stuff. You don’t got time for that! Fellow crew members, embrace every moment. It is FUN! And it is a special experience for you and your athlete. Be trustworthy at all times. The athlete needs to know and fully believe that we will come through when they need us to most. You should try to embrace every moment, too, Mary. Your mind will wander, and eventually turn to mush towards the end of each day, but you do not want to be deprived of the memories of the race course.

You know me pretty well I would say.  Is there anything you see as being particularly challenging for me, in racing UM?  And on the flip side, is there anything you look at and say, oh, this is no problem?  

I can think of way more things about you that make you very well-equipped to race this distance. You are tough as shit. You can swim like a mahfcka, and you aren’t afraid to find a new level of pain. You do 10k swims on your birthday, and all of your training friends’ birthdays! Also, you might have the most appropriate coach in the world for this race.

Perhaps the biggest challenge I foresee for you specifically is what I alluded to in the previous question. Let go of as much responsibility as you can. You are very much in charge of your own life, and you will want to be in charge of lots of aspects of UM racing, too. Try to delegate EVERYTHING to one of us. Keep your mind free of the little stuff, we can handle all of that.

What do you hope to gain from your 3rd UM crewing experience?  I mean, aside from an all expenses paid trip to Australia of course.  

I’m really excited to go on this journey with you. My friendship with Rob has evolved quite a lot through UM, and I am excited for our friendship to do the same. If I should get a chance to go toe-to-toe with a kangaroo, that would be pretty dope, too.

Any other questions that I didn't ask that I should have?  :-)  

You should have asked me, “Do you think we’re going to win this thing?!” Because I would have said, “I wouldn’t have agreed to do it if I didn’t think you were going to win!!!!!”

Do YOU ever want to race Ultraman?

No. No. One thousand times, No.

Oh, and last question:  Will you be my crew captain?

Yes, I will be your crew captain. It will be an honor and I appreciate you putting your trust in me.

Well, that's all for now!  Tackling this Q & A with Chris got me pumped up to start my Ultraman training.  Worked out perfectly coming off of the off season!  I have never met Rob, but I admit to stalking him through his Florida and Hawaii prep.  Ultraman fascinates me, the mental as much as the physical and it was amazing to follow his journey.  He WON Florida and finished 3rd at the World Championships!  If you'd like to read more about Rob's story you can find everything you need on his website.

If you'd like to relive MY experience crewing for Ultraman, click HERE.

Thank you, Chris, for letting me pick your brain and indulging me with such detailed answers!  So excited for the next few months!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Finding Aloha in Off Season!

Ironman Arizona was last weekend and wrapped up the 2016 racing season in my household!  I love racing locally because there are so. many. people on course screaming for me all day long.  This year seemed even more amped than usual!

I got to hang out during the weekend with some of my teammates.  We see each other only a couple times a year if we are lucky so it is so nice to catch up!


I also had several friends racing Ironman for the very first time.  I was fortunate to run into each of them prior to the start of the race.  And I saw most of them out on the run course- smiling and having fun!  I love seeing people step outside their comfort zone and achieve something that at one time seemed impossible.  This is what keeps me in the sport!

Heather getting ready to smash her first IM!

And probably the best part of the weekend was seeing 2 of my girlfriends who flew in unannounced and showed up to cheer on course.  I saw Dawn just as I was heading out for the final loop of the bike course.  I could hear my name where my peeps were cheering on the sidelines, and then suddenly there she was!  I made eye contact and screamed as I went by.  Here's the photo of me when I saw her:

OMG!  DAWN!!! All the way from TX!

And then on the run course, around mile 19 I am running past the base salt tent so there's a lot of people and activity.  I see a blur of pink tutu out of the corner of my eye, and then I see this sign on staked into the ground:

KJ with the #bff!  LOVE these two!!

And then in a whirl, she turns around and locks eyes with me and we both start screaming.  We screamed for like a full 30 seconds and hugged while running.  It was literally the best surprise ever.  At awards on Monday I hugged her for like 3 minutes and didn't want to let her go.  One of those friends you just never see often enough.

My girl.  We met at my 3rd Ironman.

So the race was.... fine.  (To borrow a phrase from my teammate, KO).  I felt fine on the swim.  I felt really good on the bike.  But my run was a little lackluster.  I kept running.  Just not as fast as I would have liked.  BUT, if I can have a bad day and finish in 10:29... well, there's just not a lot of room for complaint there!

And I did come away with the ROKA First out of the Water award for my age group.

ROKA FOTW.  *boom*
And just like that, Ironman #22 is finished.  2016 is in the books.  Part of me is sad that it's over.  A majority of me is so excited to start working on the big goal for 2017:  Ultraman!  The thought of taking on a new challenge, something outside of my comfort zone is very exciting.  For now I'm trying to get rested and recovered mentally and physically.  We have a bunch of holiday parties coming up and I'm looking forward to drinking some margaritas and staying out late with zero guilt.

Ironman #22.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Behind the Veil

September was National Suicide Prevention month.  I wrote about it and it sat in draft form until I deleted it on the last day.  Everything I wrote was honest, but ... it was a bit heavy and though my feelings were very relevant one year ago, they were far from where I was at on the final day of September as I flew to Hawaii.

And...  I was afraid.  Though it affects more people than you'd ever realize, depression and anxiety are still difficult topics to talk about.

In the last month I've had discussions with three different friends on this very topic.  And to one of the friends I admitted to having written and then deleted my post.  She said she wished I would have shared it.  That you never know when someone else is struggling and might benefit from feeling not so alone.

So I wanted to talk about it.  It started when my therapist shared a post on Facebook back in September.  (Yes, I follow my therapist on Facebook.  That's, like, totally normal).  The post was about the difference between wanting to die, and wanting the pain to stop.  There is a huge difference, I assure you.  She brought up the importance of discussing not only the thoughts you might be having about suicide, but also how do you feel about those thoughts, how do you respond to the thoughts, do you have someone to reach out to that you feel safe talking to, etc, etc.  It's not just a simple "yes" or "no".

14 years ago I faced my first bout of depression.  It started so slowly that I didn't even recognize the change.  A gradual eating away at who I was as a person and what I loved in life.  It started with a job that I hated.  I felt overwhelmed and incompetent.  I cried every day on my way to work for almost a year.  I lost 30 pounds in a year and ate almost nothing.  I started the year overweight, so I considered the weight loss a success.  I worked out at the gym, lifting weights and doing yoga.  I had friends who were in the same boat, all of us struggling to some degree.

The following year I moved back to my fiance (now ex-husband) as he finished school.  I had few friends of my own in the town where I no longer belonged.  I was doing relief work so didn't have a regular group of colleagues to bond with.  And I was in a relationship that didn't feel right anymore, but we were both too young and too immature to call it off.  We thought we'd get married and everything would be better.  (It's the equivalent of the "fix the marriage baby" though thankfully we didn't last long enough to have one of those).

After his graduation we moved to yet another new city.  We worked at a job where we were not only unappreciated, but felt degraded on a daily basis.  I distinctly remember the Friday after Thanksgiving.  The only staff members who had to work on Thanksgiving were the interns.  We each had cases in hospital that we had to assess, manage, make phone calls, etc.  After hours of being at the hospital we looked at each other, exhausted, and decided to head home for the day.  The following day was busy.  It's always busy the day after a holiday.  My boss gathered everyone around and handed out passes to the movie theater.  $20 worth of movie tickets to every staff member, except the interns.  Instead we were lectured, in front of the entire staff, about how we didn't do the laundry on Thanksgiving.  Laundry.  We didn't do laundry on normal working days, but yet, we were expected to stay until ALL of the laundry was washed, dried, folded and put away.  On Thanksgiving.  We got nothing but a slap in the face.

That spring my grandpa died.  My family called me at work and I was a mess.  I hid in the office crying while someone arranged my plane ticket home.  Word got around about the death in my family, and when I went to tell my boss I was leaving he told me he expected me back within what felt like a ridiculous amount of time.  I'm pretty sure he offered me 2 days off.  I worked in Florida, and my family was in Iowa.  I stared at him with a look of disgust and told him I'd let him know when I was returning.  I was only gone for a few days, not even a full week.  His lack of compassion solidified my hatred for my boss at that moment.

After the year of internship during which my husband and I had no money, no free time, and were both so emotionally taxed we had nothing left to give each other... we moved to another new city.  And I made probably the biggest mistake of our marriage-- I took a job working nights.  I loved my new job (for the most part) and I loved my colleagues.  But my husband and I grew further apart as he pursued his residency at the university surrounded by intellectual stimulation.  We never saw each other and when we did, we had little in common.  It wasn't long before he was having an affair.

I knew about the affair, and he knew that I knew.  But neither one of us did anything about it.  I was so severely depressed at that point, and he didn't know how to make me happy anymore.  I felt empty.  Nothing.  I didn't sit around crying or moping, at first.  I read a lot.  Watched movies.  But I felt hollow.  I was fine when I was alone.  But in social situations I was a mess.  I didn't know how to behave in public, with my husband having an affair and I was a shell of a person.  The anxiety reared it's ugly head and I was irrational, erratic.

Behind closed doors I confessed that I wanted to "jump off a cliff".  I never thought about how I wanted to kill myself.  I never planned anything.  I just thought I would be so much better off not here and for some reason jumping to my death seemed like the way to go.

I had alienated my sisters, and I had few friends.  One weekend my parents came to visit and the look of fear in their eyes when they saw me and my behavior was a wake up call.  I love my family fiercely and to see how scared they were for me made me afraid.  After their visit I got help.  At first I saw my doctor and got on an anti-depressant.  It was a game changer and for the first time in 3 long years I started to feel like myself again.  I was able to sort through my feelings objectively without emotion.

I started seeing a therapist, and then my husband and I entered counseling together.  The more I felt like me, the angrier I got at him for how he was treating me.  One day I told him I was done and he moved out.  We put our house up for sale.  I filed for divorce.  On our 3rd wedding anniversary he signed the papers and I was free.  I was free months before he finally signed the papers, but I could legally move on with my life.  I had been off of medications for several months.  I had been released from therapy.  I was me again.

I never wanted to die.  But for a while I didn't know how to really live.

After that I embraced life.  I swore I'd never work in a job I hated.  And I didn't take work home with me anymore.  At the end of the day, I left my thoughts, feelings, paperwork, everything in the office.  I created a new life for myself and pursued new hobbies and passions.  I met a man who treated me like a princess, who made me laugh every day, and who cared about MY feelings.  I was happy.  Life wasn't perfect.  It was hard, and challenging.  But as myself, I could handle the challenges.

Years went by.  I wouldn't say I was looking over my shoulder, but I was also keenly aware of my feelings.  If I felt badly about something for weeks/ months and I was not able to improve the situation-- I would cut it out of my life.  I had no room for toxicity.

And then one day in September last year the anxiety hit me like a brick to the face.  It was overwhelming.  Completely unexpected and there was nothing I could do but react.  I was not going to let this drag on and turn me into someone I didn't recognize.  I involved my best friend immediately.  She was "on call" as I worked through my emotions, and found a therapist that I felt comfortable with.  I can't tell you how many times she offered to drop everything and drive to the valley just to talk.

Recovery, though I got help immediately, took almost 3 months.  During this time (in the first 2 months) I thought daily, hourly, about hurting myself.  Let me back up a minute.  Several years ago a friend of mine lost his son to suicide.  Seeing how devastated the family was showed me how my family would have been had I taken my life 13 years earlier.  I knew that I would never do that to my family.  That I would never commit suicide.  So instead of thinking about not being here, I thought about making myself hurt physically to distract myself from the emotional hurt.

I fantasized about cutting myself.  Some days I'd be in surgery and holding the scalpel in my hand and I would think about digging into my own flesh.  About watching the blood drip out of my arm and feeling acute, intense physical pain instead of the raw, slow burn of emotional hurt.  At home it was the kitchen knives I had to will myself not to touch.

I starved myself.  On one hand I was so anxious that I was too nauseated to think about food.  But once I stopped eating, the physical pain of hunger was a relief and a distraction.

I pushed myself harder in workouts because when I was suffering physically, I wasn't thinking about everything else going on in my brain.

Why am I telling you all of this?  I am not looking for sympathy.  I'm fine, I assure you.  I didn't want to live that way any more than I wanted to live with the dark cloud of depression in my life.  I am telling you this because I am not alone.  And I know this now.  I was released from therapy in December and have spent the last 10 months celebrating every single day because I am still here.  In one piece.  Life is meant to be lived and that I have done.

So, suicide awareness month has long passed, and for most people won't be thought of again until next September, if ever.  But for those of us who have fought emotional battles and won, it's more often.

I don't know how to wrap this post up neatly.  It's like the package under the Christmas tree with the neat bow, but you've unwrapped it, and torn the box apart, and now it doesn't fit back together nicely.  Perfectly.  How you think it should look.  And it's not Christmas yet, so part of you feels guilty for seeing this.  Like you have a glimpse of something that isn't quite yours to have.  What do you do with it?  Pretend you never saw?  Look away, guiltily, embarrassed?

I don't know why I'm sharing this now.  Other than the topic of suicide has come up in conversation with multiple people over the last few weeks.  And I think that more than anything, I want my friends to know... you're not alone.  When the topic comes up I am at a loss for words as much as the next person.  I don't know what to say.  I don't have the magic words.  But I hope that I'm a good listener.  And sometimes, most of the time, that's all I needed.  I also want my friends to know that it doesn't have to last forever.  I was in remission (for lack of a better word) for over a decade.  And when I relapsed, I recognized the symptoms, got help immediately and was back on my feet in less than 5 months.  I have no intention of spending any time worrying about what might happen in the future.  I know there's a greater than likely chance I'll struggle again one day.  And I also know I'll fight back as fiercely as I did a year ago.  

I think going through what I did last year has made me appreciate the little things more.  My friends....  I've leaned on them, been more honest with them (and myself), and valued them more than ever.  I've tried to say thank you a little more, and complain a little less.  I've tried to find joy in every aspect of my life, instead of letting the negative wear me down.  And I've kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Life is not easy.  But it is an amazing journey and I don't want to miss any of it.