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.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Ultimate Goal: Finding Aloha & the Ironman World Champoinship

In January I declared my intentions for the year in this post.  It was fun to reflect on the original post and see how far my year has come, but here is the important part.  This is where my #findingaloha came to be...

This year my focus will be on creating an environment of authenticity.  I want to be intentional in my relationships and the way I choose to spend my time.  Remove the drama.  Remove the excess baggage.  I have often thought back to the Ultraman Canada awards banquet when the Hawaiian words Ohana (family), Kokua (help), and Aloha (love) were used to describe the Ultraman experience.  This is what I hope to build into my life in 2016.  Surround myself with family, both blood and chosen, in relationships through which we can love, support, nurture one another.  Strive to be true to my passions rather than feeling obligated to continue down the path that I've been following because it's convenient. 

In 2016 I am going to cultivate the spirit of Aloha to:

- get my finances in order and create a sustainable vision for the future
- be intentional in my training, getting the most out of myself every session, every day
- make myself and my health a priority, starting with my nutrition (or lack thereof)
- learn to say no to things that don't enrich my life or make me happy
- begin to pursue my true passions both in my career and personal life

When I run down Ali'i drive in October, I want to feel true happiness, the kind that only comes from devotion, sacrifice, and dedicated pursuit of my full potential.  I want the warmth of the sun to embrace me in my journey, the pavement to radiate encouragement, the wind to blow away my fears and doubts, and my Ohana to celebrate with me at the finish line. 


First off, *goosebumps* to read my dream for my race in Kona, and then to have experienced how near to reality that was on the day.  And second, I am so glad that I chose #findingaloha as my pursuit in 2016 because it made all the difference in Hawaii.

All week long in Kailua-Kona, I looked for beauty and comfort in the harshness of the environment.  The Island of Hawaii is different from the other islands-- and my best friend and I remarked that it is a lot like the desert we live in-- beautiful for sure, but it is the sort of stark environment that one really needs to appreciate in order to see the beauty.  It's easy to post a photo of a palm tree at sunset.  But good luck finding that postcard perfect palm tree.  It's easier to find a photo outlined by the darkness of lava rock and desert landscaped mountains.  The landscape is hot, and windy, and lonely.
Two things in my week prior to race day stood out to me that enabled me to appreciate the beauty that is the Island of Hawaii.

On Saturday (1 week before), Coach Alyssa biked with me from the Mauna Lani (near Waikoloa) to Hawi and back.  It is the only part of the course I had not previously ridden and it is the site of the notorious crosswinds.  It was important for me to see this prior to race day.

Alyssa knows of my fear of winds.  She rode behind me all the way up to Hawi, which was not terrible but the winds were definitely strong and gusty.  At the top we refilled water at a grocery store and then she gave me a few tips.  She told me to stay low.  And that she would sit behind me unless she thought I was being "too much of a pussy" and then she'd go around me and that would be my cue to follow her lead.

We started down and for about 1 mile I was like, cool, we're descending.  And then the crosswinds started blasting us and for the next 10 miles I whimpered and cried like a baby.  I was terrified.  I was being blown all over the place.  It was everything you hear about the winds x 10.  No amount of training could have ever prepared me for that.

After the first 10 of the 20 mile descent, it got marginally better and I was able to get into my aero bars some.  Tears dried up.  I didn't die.  When we made the left hand turn to head through Kawaiihae Alyssa pulled up beside me and gave me some race-day tips.  She said this climb back to the Queen K is nicknamed the death zone because it's often very hot, with no breeze, and it's uphill.  She warned me not to feel shocked if I didn't feel great in this section on race day.

So, hold that thought and in a few more minutes you'll see how this has anything to do with #findingaloha.

Second thing was, I really wanted... needed... to run the energy lab.  I ran the Kona Marathon in 2005, which is the same course only you start/ finish at the Ironman turn around on Ali'i so it's a single out and back.  I am familiar with the course.  But, when I ran the marathon, I was a runner.  I had barely heard of Ironman, let alone Kona.  There was never any superstition or aura surrounding the Energy Lab the way there is in Ironman.  I thought maybe I had blocked out of my head what it was like, or maybe since the marathon is run in the morning it's not super hot then, or whatever.  Anyway, I *needed* to see it for myself, and I *needed* to see it at sunrise.  I don't know why.  It was just important to me.

Race week flew by and I never had a chance to get out there to run as most everything was run straight from my hotel door.  On Friday morning (1 day prior to race day) I had a 20 min jog, and a 45 minute bike ride.  I convinced my #bff to pick me up early and drive me out the the Energy Lab to see the sunrise.  It was just starting to rain when she pulled over on the Queen K to let me out of the car.

Mauna Kea at sunrise.

It was dark when I started down the hill toward the Pacific Ocean.  Cool rain touched my skin and it was absolutely silent minus the sound of my own breathing and foot steps.  About a mile down the hill, the road makes a 90 degree right turn, to parallel the ocean.  Straight in front of you is a small beach with a picnic table.

Energy Lab

I sat down at the table and just looked at the sea.  The sun was just beginning to light the sky behind the mountains.  The rain steadily fell.  As I looked out over the water, I talked to God or Madame Pele or Mauna Kea... whoever was listening.  I promised to give all of myself-- my passion, my joy, my talent, my hard work-- in exchange for safe passage.  I was overwhelmed with calmness and a sense of peace.  I got up and ran back up the hill to where my #bff was waiting.  I was ready.


10.  Crying makes nausea disappear... almost instantly!
The calmness in my heart lasted until race morning.  I slept well and when I woke up I got ready and managed to get a little bit of breakfast down before I started to feel nervous.  I always have butterflies on race morning.  Today was worse than usual and my heart was racing and I wanted to throw up.  This was the closest I've ever been to not keeping my pre race fuel down.

We left the condo around 430 am to walk the half mile to the start line.  As soon as we rounded the bend in Ali'i drive and the finish line came into view I burst into tears.  Everything that I wanted and dreamed about for so long was right there in front of me.  The only thing standing in my way was 140.6 miles.  I had done it 20 times before, but you never know what will happen on race day and I didn't want a mechanical or dehydration or ANYTHING to get in my way of getting to the finish line.

Finish line on race morning.

But you know what?  The minute I started crying my nausea disappeared.  Whatever hormones are released in the body when you have that emotional release must override the hormones that contribute to nausea.  So rather than fight my emotions, I just went with whatever I was feeling.  I cried all the way through body marking, and through transition to check my bike and gear bags.  I cried listening to my ipod while hanging out waiting for my wave to be called.  I cried when my friends from Smashfest Queen came by to wish me luck.  I cried when my friend Chris hugged me just before I went into the water.  I cried until my feet hit the water and I swam out to my place on the start line.... and then I looked out over the crowd gathered around the pier, the thousands of spectators and family members and volunteers... and the beat from the Hawaiian drums filled the air... and peace once again settled in my heart.  This was it.  This was everything.

9.  Swimming with strong women is AMAZING!!
The cannon blasted and a wall of pink caps blazed a trail through the water.  Every time I breathed all I could see surrounding me was pink caps.  We were on a unified mission.

Normally I don't get to swim with women.  Most Ironman events have a single start-- so men/ women all start together.  Being a stronger swimmer, I line up in the front and am usually surrounded by men, which is fine- but you have a higher likelihood of having the crap beat out of you with some 90 lb arm.  This was the first time that I got to swim with a pack of strong women and it was the coolest thing ever.  I was laughing and smiling as much as I could while trying to keep salt water out of my mouth!

I lined up far left, because I still don't like contact and I wanted at least a little bit of open water next to me.  And I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the kayakers didn't force us into as narrow of a lane as I had envisioned.  We had plenty of room.  We did start catching the men after only a few hundred yards, but it wasn't too bad until we made the turn to come back to the pier.  Then it was dodging swimmers every stroke.

Swim exit!
When I got out of the water to run up the steps and glanced at my watch I laughed out loud because I had destroyed my predicted swim time.

Happy happy 1:00:58 swim!!

8.  Sauna training works.
About 6 months ago I asked Coach Hillary about how we were going to prepare for the heat and humidity.  I perform notoriously poorly in these conditions as evidenced by my three attempts at Ironman Texas.  I suggested Bikram yoga.  Hillary thought better and sent me a 28 day steam sauna training plan with a link to some information on the Badwater website.

For anyone not familiar, Badwater is a 135 mile run through Death Valley.  It is very very hot.  Often dry and windy, but there are some points that could be more humid.  The author of the plan explained the rationale, the method, and the benefits.

I was told there was no way I could do it.  I wouldn't be able to last more than 5 minutes in the steam room.  They said I couldn't do it.  I started on September 1 so that I would finish 2 days before I left for Hawaii.  I began with 15 minutes and worked my way up to 45 minutes.  Every. Single. Day I sat in the steam room.  It was like adding another workout to my already crammed schedule.

On day 1 I thought I was going to die after 7 minutes.   On day 2, it was a little bit better.  On day 3 I figured out a way to pass the time quicker by putting my ipod in a ziplock bag with an ice pack.  Some days were easy.  Other days I begged for mercy.

When you hit the button for steam it runs for about 10 minutes.  In case you didn't know this... every single person who enters the steam room pushes the button-- whether it needs to run or not.  Literally I watched some people push the button, walk into the room, turn around and walk right back out.  Because it really is that bad in there.  

I figured out the best timing for steam (50/50 is perfect) and sometimes I literally begged people not to push the button.  One day in the first week I had to leave the room half way through to grab more towels to cover my body.  With the steam running constantly after 15 minutes you start to get steam burns.  After that day I made sure I always had enough towels with me when I went into the sauna.

I figured out the best set up for surviving.  Two towels on the bench, one towel as a pillow, ipod in ziplock near head, sprinkle a couple drops of doTerra Breathe Essential Oil Blend onto another towel to drape over my face, 1 liter bottle of ice water and 1 liter bottle of electrolyte drink, 2 more towels to cover body to protect skin, stopwatch running.  The room was small, and gross, and I was sure I was going to get ringworm, or MRSA, or some other nasty funk from sitting in there so often.

I got stronger.  And as the time built, and I survived 45 minute session after 45 minute session, I got tougher.  Only one time in 28 days did I leave the sweat box early (by 5 minutes) because I was seeing spots and thought I was going to pass out.  I had visions of the CSI episode where they find the girl melted in the sauna after she died in there.  I didn't want my body mopped up from the steam room.

When it was done, I thought, well, this is either going to have been the biggest waste of time... or it's going to work.  It fucking worked.  I never once felt hot the entire time I was in Hawaii, including race day.  I thought oh, we're having a particularly cool year.  Until I talked to people post race who had completely melted down in the temps and my family told me the high for the day.  I was like, BOOM, all the time in the steam room paid off.  It fucking worked.

7.  The bike ride is really fucking hard.  And really fucking amazing.
The bike course in Hawaii is deceivingly difficult.  On paper, you think it's not so bad.  But you add in the winds- headwinds, crosswinds, more headwinds- and you've got a challenge on your hands.  There is over 5000 ft of climbing, rolling hills- reminiscent of IM Texas- which again is no big deal, but you ARE working.

For the first 60 miles I focused on staying within my watts.  The aid stations were about every 5-7 miles so it was perfect for taking in nutrition.  I would take a big swallow of calories as I was entering the aid station, grab a bottle of water to chase it and then hose myself down with the cold water.  Over and over and over this was my rhythm.  The miles ticked by and before I knew it I was climbing up to Hawi.

Fav bike pic of the day!  #lovemybike  Bike time: 5:56:07

As I climbed, I watched the athletes descending on the other side of the road.  Every single person was in their aero bars and I didn't see anyone being blown across the road.  For the first time all day I let myself hope that there wouldn't be a wind on the way down.

I turned around in Hawi, grabbed my special foods bag to replenish my nutrition bottles, and started down the hill.  I talked to myself... out loud... You're fine.  You can do this.  Trust the athletes in front of you.  You're fine.  Over and over and over to keep myself relaxed and in aero.  We did not have the crosswinds that I anticipated.  It was a smooth ride back to the bottom and I could not have been more relieved.

Just a long ride by the ocean... no big deal!  #findingaloha

I turned left into the "death zone" that Alyssa had warned me of.  It was warm and there was no breeze to speak of, but it was also quiet and the view of the ocean was so beautiful I almost cried, and I was overwhelmed with the same sense of calm that I experienced in the Energy Lab the day before.  THIS was #findingaloha.  There was joy here.  And beauty.  And I was racing from the heart, fulfilling my passion.

As I turned back onto the Queen K, the Smashfest Queen support crew was there and I shouted out THIS IS AMAZING!!  I was so incredibly grateful to be racing and to be enjoying every single minute.

Smiling as I was about to be back on the Queen K.

The final 35 miles of the bike ride were hard.  I felt like I was pedaling uphill into a head wind, but I also knew that the hardest part was behind me and I was 2 short hours from being home free.  No chance of not finishing if I got off the bike safely.  This was happening.

6.  Having your Ohana there to support your dream is the best ever.
When I got off the bike I was a little bit dazed.  I had a sharp pain in one of my toes which made hobbling through transition a little bit awkward.  I got in and out as quickly as I could and as soon as I took the first step in my running shoes I forgot all about the toe.

I knew my family was going to be waiting somewhere in the first couple of miles.  The crowds were thick and loud and I kept scanning faces.  As I ran down Ali'i, a teammate popped out and ran next to me for a second while trying to capture video.  I was all smiles and laughing and we managed to capture it on camera!
Teammie!!  #supportcrew

A few moments later my husband was there and I stopped to give him a quick kiss.  A little further down the road my #bff was there and I ran straight into her arms for a sweaty hug.  She screamed how much she loved me and I think we were both crying a few tears of joy.  And my family was there with their Team #FindingKona T's and big lime green posters!  This was the best day ever!!

Support crew!!  Only one camper not happy here.  :)
5.  Having a one-of-a-kind kit is the best feeling ever, and makes for some awesome photos!!
Several years ago, Michele (co-owner of Smashfest Queen) promised that when I qualified for Kona she would make me a lime green kit (because #limegreenismysignaturecolor!).  After I qualified at Arizona, I used every opportunity to remind her.  About a month ago, I received a package in the mail with MY kit.

MY kit!!

My kit (as you've seen) is beautiful.  The pattern reminded me of a palm tree which I thought was so inspired for this course.  Palm branches, in pre-Christian times, were a sign of victory.  And palm trees, with deep roots, are meant to bend with the wind but never break.  I hung the kit in my trainer room and imagined strengthening my roots with every workout so that like the palm tree, I would not break.  I couldn't wait to show the world my kit and race in it for the first time.


The Saturday one week before race day, Michele picked me up to do a photo shoot with my new kit.  She had a couple other surprises for me...  A Finding Aloha trucker hat which I absolutely LOVE... and the new Smashfest Queen Kona kit was named after me!!  The Finding Kona kit was up for sale race week and will be available on the website!

4.  The run course!!
When I left transition, my legs settled into a pace right around a 10 minute mile.  This wasn't what I wanted or what I am capable of... but honestly, I didn't even care.  I knew I could hold that pace, and if I did I was going to achieve every big and small goal I had for the day.  I know part of me was afraid to push outside of that comfort zone because I was still waiting for the heat to get to me.  I was certain that at some point it would all catch up and I would melt.

At every aid station, I dumped ice down my shorts (thank you Chrissie Wellington!) and into my hat.  I drank, ate, and poured water over my kit.  Somewhere around mile 7, a rep from one of the race partners was handing out towels on the sidelines.  I can't remember the brand name (sorry!) but it's one of those towels that stays cool as long as it's wet.  She draped it over my shoulders.  My family said when they saw me again around mile 9 they thought I was overheating since I had a towel and no one else did.  She was offering them to everyone but maybe people just weren't taking them?

I kept the towel until mile 18.  I never felt hot but I kept thinking, everyone says the Energy Lab is hot so I might need it then.  When I turned around at the bottom of the Energy Lab and it wasn't hot, and there was a nice breeze I tossed it.

Running back down Ali'i around mile 9.
With 2 out n back legs, you see everyone out on the race course, and there is so much crowd support!!  I saw all my Team HPB teammates, SFQ teammates, TriScottsdale teammates multiple times.  We all cheered each other on, and got support from each other's support crew on the sidelines.  It was so fun to high five my friend Scott -- we have raced almost every Ironman together so it was fitting that we race Kona for the first time together.  Seeing my friend Cris having as much fun out there as I was -- so amazing, and she even stopped to hug me in the Energy Lab.  And the last few miles I ran in with a girl I shared the podium with at Oceanside and CDA 70.3 earlier this year.  She KQ'd in her first IM race in CDA and had an awesome day in the lava fields.

Run time:  4:26:11

3.  Bad patches are only bad patches if you think they are.
Somewhere around mile 8 or so my stomach started feeling a little sloshy, like I wasn't absorbing.  I kept eating and drinking and waiting to see the BASE salt booth.  At the top of Palani, Matt was there with his team.  I looked at him and it was like he read my mind-- he ran to grab me a bottle of BASE Hydro/ Aminos/ Salt.  In CDA I was struggling with hydration/ energy on the run and he mixed me up this concoction that literally saved me, brought me back from the dead.  My energy levels were fine, but I figured his magic potion could fix me once again by clearing up my stomach.

I drank the bottle between mile 10-12, and as the mile 14 aid station approached I slowed to a walk and gingerly tip-toed my way to the porta-potty where I had blow out diarrhea and immediate relief.  BASE to the rescue once again!  My stomach was cleared out, I felt fantastic and I kept on my merry way.

When I talked to Hillary post race she said she kept waiting for me to go through a bad patch but it seemed I never did.  I was like, well, I did have to hit the porta potty but it really wasn't a big deal.  And I felt fantastic afterwards.  I honestly was so happy to be there, and to be racing I didn't even care that my stomach felt less than perfect for 4 miles.  I was still running, right?

2.  This is the World Championships.
Guess what?  In Kona, people don't walk the marathon.  Crazy, right?  I can get off the bike at IMAZ, literally mile 1, people will be walking.  I don't get it.  I can count on one hand the number of people I saw walking on the marathon course in Hawaii.  I was running a slow 10 minute pace and people were passing me the entire time.  I did pass a couple of people too, but it was so amazing racing with the best of the best.  This is THE World Championships!!!!

Oh, and Peter Reid handed me water at an aid station in the Energy Lab!!  I asked for chicken broth, and he was like, no I have water.  I was like, OMG ARE YOU PETER REID?  And he was like, Yes, keep running.  HA!  I was a huge fan back in the day.  So incredible to have a former world champion handing me water in my world championship race!!  Totally made my day.

Me, the #bff and PETER REID!!

1.  It really is a big deal.
Guys... the finish line...

But before I get there, I forgot one more #FindingAloha moment.  As I was coming out of the Energy Lab the sun was just beginning to set.  I had 6 miles left to get there.  And I could not stop smiling.  I was laughing and announced 5 miles and a victory lap! to anyone who was listening.  I was so incredibly happy and having fun and loving this crazy Ironman thing.  I kept looking for my friend Scott because I knew he'd be getting to the Energy Lab soon.  He was going to see the sunset there and it was incredible.  I got goosebumps thinking of our journeys to get here.  For a second I thought, wait, isn't this the first sign of heat stroke?

But no, it wasn't heat stroke, it was Aloha.  It was racing with passion.  And fulfilling a dream.  And being so close to the finish line that I could taste it.  And being surrounded by the love and support of everyone I love.  It was countless hours in the pool and 4 am wake up calls.  It was lonely miles on the bike and mountains worth of climbing.  It was trails and track workouts, and tired legs, and heartache, and feeling like you might never get there and then one day you do and suddenly everything, all the sacrifices, and the work, all of the early bedtimes and skipped parties, it all makes sense because this is the one thing that has kept you going for the last 4 years and then it's there.  In front of you.  And there is nothing left but to raise your hands.

Finding Aloha in 11:33:22

Friday, September 2, 2016

Ironman Coeur d'Alene: Finding Aloha before the Big Aloha!!

Two weekends ago I broke my longest non-racing streak since 2012 at Ironman Coeur d'Alene, my first Ironman since November!!  9 very long months.

I bring this up because in the last few months I've had so. many. people. question why I would be racing Ironman CDA so close to Kona (7 weeks apart).  I completely understand why most people would opt not to do this, and as I've discussed with my coach in the past- when I share my dreams and plans openly I leave myself open for judgement.  And I'm 100% OK with that.  I think more than anything, it's an opportunity for me to share the whys and hows of racing Ironman.

In the past 3 years my racing schedule has looked like this (not including any half iron distance races, olys, sprints, trail races, ultramarathons, or running races of any sort.... of which I included plenty in between!)

2013:  IM Texas--5 weeks-- IM CDA -- 13 weeks-- IM Lake Tahoe--8 weeks--IM AZ.
2014:  IM Texas--16 weeks--IM Wisconsin--10 weeks-- IM AZ.
2015:  IM Texas--10 weeks--IM Lake Placid--8 weeks--IM Lake Tahoe--8 weeks-- IM AZ.

And here's the thing, since I have started working with Hillary in January 2014, I've had good races and I've had not so good races.  I've been really, really fit for some races, and so-so fit for others.  We have built my plans with all of these races in mind and even squeezed in IM Lake Tahoe at the last minute last year when I had a really good race at Placid and we wanted to build on that fitness some more before IM AZ.  Not every race is an "A" race, but we try to use EVERY race to build fitness and confidence.  I've never regretted a single race I've done, have learned something in every race I've done, and have continued to grow as an athlete.

I LOVE to race.  I'm not an athlete that could sit on the sidelines holding all my cards for ONE race.  A) I would be bored out of my mind and B) putting all my eggs in one basket I think I would be limiting myself and would end up disappointed if it didn't go exactly as I wanted.  By racing often I'm never out of practice and if I have a not so great race, it's fine because there is always the next one.

The other thing is that in the past 2.5 years since hiring Hillary I have recovered better and faster than I ever did before.  And none of that is on me... I'm just getting older... it is everything to do with her and how brilliant she is at incorporating recovery into our programs.  Keep in mind, as my #bff pointed out, I am OCD and do exactly as I'm told.  Never more.  And never less.  I give my best effort every day.  If I am told to go easy, I go easy.  If I am told to go hard, I go hard.  So I do take some responsibility for that aspect.  There's no more guilt about missing a key session and trying to make it up somewhere, doubling up or working extra hard the next day.  My training schedule is written with my life in mind so there's no need to miss any workouts.

But back to Kona.  Here's something you probably don't know unless you've followed me for a while.  The very first time my husband raced Kona (2009) I took my bike to train while we were there.  I was getting ready for IMAZ.  I did my long ride on the course and when I finished what was at the time the hardest ride I've ever done (which was ridiculous considering I only made it 75 miles)... I declared that I never wanted to race in Hawaii.  To say it terrified me was an understatement.  I was bonked, dehydrated, and an absolute hot mess after a miserable ride.

Two years later, I felt differently.  I had grown and changed and thought, maybe I could actually do it and survive.  And 2 years after that I was actively pursuing qualification.

Despite the growth and confidence I've built over the last 4 years, Kona has remained this enigma that seemed, seems still, very surreal.  For me, coming out of IM AZ last year, I knew that I didn't want Kona to be my first race of the season.  I need that first race to remind my body of how much it hurts, and make any last minute adjustments to my nutrition / hydration plan and to get mentally prepared for the big day.  I know it sounds crazy, but my confidence comes from racing (good, bad or otherwise) and learning from those experiences.

I endure more pain (physical and emotional) in training than in a race, and every one of those training sessions is vital to my success.  But it's the race experience that allows me to utilize my training, to put it to the test, and see where I stack up against my competition.  Race day is the icing.  The reward.

IM CDA was the absolute perfect tune up race for me, completely by chance.  I watched the weather leading up to race day so I would know how to pack.  10 days out the forecast was 70s and sunny.  Then the forecast started to heat up, and there was some concern for rain.  As it turned out, it was warm, but not hot.  I never saw the final weather report for that day, but my guess is it didn't get warmer than 83 degrees.  A forest fire started west of town and blocked the sun on my 3rd loop of the run, which actually caused the temps to drop a little so it never reached the expected high for the day.

But it was windy as fuck.  The wind on the second loop of the bike was unreal.  I was having flashbacks to St. George 2012.  And I honestly think this was worse than 2012, but I was prepared for it so it didn't hit me the same way.  There were times I felt like I was going backwards.  And yet, no one was passing me.  "They" always say, everyone is dealing with the same conditions so you can't let them get the better of you, and this was the perfect example.  No matter how shitty I felt on the bike, I was still out front.  Every once in a while some dude would go by me.  And then I would be alone for miles at a time.

The wind is my kryptonite and definitely the thing I've feared most about Kona.  Being able to push my watts on this day, and come off the bike feeling decent was huge for me.  It gave me the confidence to stop thinking about "just getting to the finish line" on October 8.  I know now that I will be OK.  I can stick to my plan, execute my race and have the day that I've worked so hard for.

I have always said that Ironman Coeur d'Alene is my favorite race and I think this still holds true.  It was my 20th Ironman finish, and 20% of those finishes have been at CDA!  The venue is beautiful.  The bike course is challenging, yet rewards those who have worked hard in training and remain fearless in execution.  And the run course is well supported and beautiful.

I didn't have a perfect day at CDA.  In my post race analysis with the boss, we discussed my struggles: I was STARVING all day long-- which has never happened to me before.  I didn't change anything in my pre-race diet and build up.  In the past I've struggled fueling on the bike but I've never gotten on my bike at mile 1 and been like, geez I'm hungry!  Hillary felt that it was most likely just bad timing with some normal hormone fluctuations.  So actually, until I cleaned up my diet, I hadn't had a regular cycle in quite some time.  Since working with Katie at OWN Nutrition for the last 6 months, I've actually seen some progress in this area-- which though inconvenient is a really, really good thing. When you deprive your body of nutrients, regardless of how many calories worth of cookies you're eating, you can set yourself up for loss of bone density and injury.

Good news is this likely won't be a problem in Hawaii (thank goodness it's 7 weeks and not 8!!).  And by keeping better tabs on my fluctuations we can pinpoint when this is likely to occur and be prepared.  In any case, I was pounding calories all day long and still felt hungry, and this eventually caused my second lap of the run to be significantly slower.  However, I was able to recover and actually have a very successful 3rd lap and a strong finish.  I've NEVER come back from calorie depletion before!!  Typically when it occurs, which used to be all the time before we started focusing on it, I'm done.  I think part of my success was because I recognized my hunger immediately and was diligent about taking in as much as I could to try to stave off the bonk as long as possible.  So I was pretty happy overall about how things played out.  Yes, I would have loved to have been on the podium (I was 6th), but the lessons I learned and the takeaways for October were a small sacrifice for the places I lost.

You've probably heard the term "racing into shape" and that was my plan for 2016.  I started the year with Oceanside after about 2 weeks of triathlon training under my belt, and have continued to gain fitness through each race.  Our target since November last year has been IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!  I am prepared to arrive on the starting line in peak shape for the year!

THANK YOU to our good friend, Jeff, who cheered us on all day, took some awesome pics and helped pull me out of my bonk on lap 2 of the run!  Enjoy a little photo collage from our adventures in CDA!

Race morning.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

2 Lap swim course.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Not afraid of leading a few green caps.  (aka: men).  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Bike course!  Super scenic.  

Focused determination.

For 2 miles I was "2nd Place Female" with my own bike lead!!  First time ever!

Run course hurt box.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Finishing lap 2 with a friend!

Finish line!!  I'm always as happy as the very first time!  #findingaloha

Hugging LP -- crushing her age group in 3rd place!  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Finish #20!! 

Racing with my better half never gets old.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

Revealing the softer side if #findingkona.  Photo credit:  Jeff Wruble

I feel like the final photo deserves a bit more of an explanation.  I am terrified of heights.  When I was in college, I visited my boyfriend at his summer job and he took me up to the roof via a ladder.  I got up there OK, but then panic set in and I couldn't get back on the ladder to come down.  It's not that I avoided situations that put me at height.  I love roller coasters.  I've been rappelling.  

In grad school my sister and I visited an amusement park and we went on this reverse- bungee- jumping thing where they strap you into a harness, pull you backwards and up very, very high.  You pull the "rip cord" at the top and you free fall till the tension of the line catches you and then you swing back and forth.  When they started pulling us upwards, I grabbed hold of the attendant and would not let go.  He had to pry my fingers off his arm.  In the video you can hear me screaming the entire time we were being raised which felt like forever.  The second my sister pulled the rip cord -- silence.  It was exhilarating, terrifying, enlightening.  

It's like watching a scary movie.  I hate them but I love to watch them.  It's the kind of fear that draws you in.  

I spent our last evening in CDA with my husband and 2 other friends.  We ate a lot, and drank a little and somewhere along the way we decided we were going to go swimming.  And then our friend who is local to CDA suggested cliff jumping.  I was all in.  Leading the way down the trail.  Let's do this.  And then I stepped out onto the edge of the rock.... and absolutely froze.  

I stood at the top for what felt like an eternity, my heart racing. I went through a lot of thoughts but finally settled on "the water is my home, it will catch me." And I jumped. So glad I did. All worthwhile ventures take a leap of faith.
The moment I jumped.  #findingaloha

Lastly I wanted to share an article written by my coach.  You can find it by clicking HERE.  The article is titled "Top 5 Defining Characteristics of our Kona Team".  She is referring to Team HPB, which is the group of athletes coached by Hillary, Alyssa, and two other very talented professionals.  This year we have 10 athletes (out of about 40) who qualified and will be racing the Ironman World Championships.  I could not be more proud to be on this team of dedicated, hard working individuals and am so excited to represent in Hawaii.  I hope that some of these characteristics are evident in my daily pursuit of #findingkona.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

#FindingAloha after Kona

Drumroll please!.....

I have been invited to compete in the 2017 Ultraman Australia!!

What is Ultraman, you ask?  Ultraman is a 3 day stage race consisting of:

Day 1:  10k swim + 91 miles bike
Day 2:  171 miles bike
Day 3:  52.4 miles run

Each stage has a 12 hour time limit, and the race is self supported which means that each athlete brings a crew of 2-4 people who supply aid during the bike/ run legs.  Your crew is also allowed to run with you on Day 3.  Sound crazy?  Yeah.  It might be.

Craziness aside, Ultraman is founded on the principles of Ohana (family), Kokua (help), and Aloha (love) and this is what most attracts me to the event.  Over the course of the week you become like family with each of the other competitors and teams.  It's such a small group of people, and everyone pitches in and helps each other through the weekend.  As an athlete, you learn humility and how to lean on others for support.  As crew, you embody the meaning of each of those words as you sacrifice your time, and extend physical and emotional support to your athlete as well as each of the other competitors.  It was truly a gift to be able to crew in 2014, and it is my goal to make my Ultraman experience as meaningful for my crew as it was for me.    

It has been my plan for several years now to apply for Ultraman once my mission of #findingkona was accomplished.  I actually have several other big goals I'd like to achieve.  I want to run a hundred miler.  I want to compete in the SCAR swim challenge.  For me, it made sense to apply for Ultraman following the Ironman World Championships because I can build on my triathlon base.  As opposed to focusing on trail running for 12-24 months and trying to come back into triathlon after that.

After crewing for Ultraman Canada in 2014, I *knew* this was something I needed to do.  I always thought I would go back to Canada, even after they separated from the Ultraman umbrella and formed Ultra 520k Canada.

When I brought it up to Hillary in June as I was contemplating plans for 2017 she asked me, "Are you SURE you don't want to race a qualifier for Ultraman World Championships?"  I had never really entertained the idea of applying for the world championship, but when the World Champion herself asked me, I thought I better consider it.  The options for qualification included Florida and Australia.  After a little back and forth, and a little research on my part, Australia started sounding enticing.  Really enticing.

My husband qualified for 70.3 worlds this year.  In Australia.  But with the timing of the race being so close to Kona, he made the decision not to go because it would be difficult for us to travel to Australia and back and then turn around and head to Hawaii.  Not only financially, and time off of work, but also just the toll on the body with a trip half way around the world.  It's been a while since I've traveled internationally, but I remember the jet lag.  Several of our friends were going to stay in Australia and then head straight to Kona which would have been AMAZING if we could take 6 weeks off of work.  Sadly this was not an option for us.

In my research I discovered that Ironman Australia in Port Macquarie is one week before Ultraman Australia.  I pitched it to my husband... we fly to Oz.  He races Ironman, we head up the coast (approximately an 8 hour drive) to Noosa and tackle Ultraman.  We fly home just in time for his daughter's high school graduation.  A few days later, after careful consideration on his part, he agreed.
I am so flipping excited.  And absolutely terrified.  This is way outside of my comfort zone.  Which is another reason why I need to do this.  I have literally been on the website every day since the middle of June.  I've looked at the course maps enough times to know I need to point my bike uphill and do work.  I know where the closest grocery store is to our rental apartment.  I've researched the process of obtaining visas for myself and my crew.  I started a savings account so that I don't touch the funds that I've put away for this trip.

My type A is definitely enjoying the planning part of this.  I look forward to the work that will go into training between November and May (omg MAY!!! like, in 9 months!!).  And I can't wait to be inducted into the Ultraman family!    

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run: At the heart of #findingaloha

One of the things I love most about working with Hillary is that I can bring ideas to the table and she will give me a "yay" or a "nay" on whether or not they'll work into my training plan.  I've almost never received a "nay" -- she believes in gaining fitness through racing, thankfully, so I'm allowed and encouraged to race regularly throughout the season.  Obviously we try to be smart about what races I'm doing and where they fit in so as to maximize the meat of my plan.  

Pre Race!  Obviously cold for us Arizona girls.

Last fall I approached her with the idea of fitting in the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run 55k into my July schedule.  She said yes, and even volunteered to enter the lottery herself.  On January 1, we both were accepted into the race.  At the time I imagined she'd win the race and be chilling at the finish line after a nice shower and lunch by the time I rolled in.  I did NOT imagine running side by side with her for 7.5 hours (at my pace).  Let me say, it was a blast!!  

Not quite the half way mark.  #trt100

We brought a couple of girlfriends along for the weekend and spent 90% of the time laughing.  (The other 10% of the time was spent sleeping).  What happens on girls weekend stays on girls weekend, so sorry... no details.  But it was very refreshing, and we enjoyed every second of our time in Lake Tahoe.  And sharing my favorite trail race with my friends was icing on the cake.  

Final aid station.  Had to get off my feet for 30 seconds.

For the first time I stuck around to witness the 100 mile finish and seeing the runners come through the final crew stop at mile 80 and into the finish line hours later solidified in my heart the desire for this particular race to one day be my first 100 miler.  

On the descent from Snow Valley Peak.

This year for me has been about finding joy and enjoyment (#findingaloha!) in everything I do-- appreciating the simple fact of being able to do the things I love.  Looking back, I think this pursuit has been really life-changing for me.  I've been accused of being pessimistic though I will always argue that though I am not an optimist, I see myself as a realist.  It's enough of a topic for it's own post, but after waking up for weeks on end feeling down on myself and down on life (last fall), actively choosing joy has been a huge part of my recovery and my success this season.  This also means that I have to recognize when something / someone in my life is not bringing me joy-- and I've been working to eliminate those things whether it's hiring someone to help with household chores, or unfollowing friends on social media who constantly post about politics, or getting rid of that toxic "friend" that you don't love but feel guilty about abandoning.  Life is too short.  Being in the mountains definitely brings my heart peace and joy.    

A little swim in chilly Lake Tahoe.

When we weren't running, we swam in the lake, ate at some unique eateries (#sassafrass) and just enjoyed the scenery.  Each of us girls is in a different phase in life.  Single vs. married.  Retired from professional racing vs. actively pursuing goals vs. training and racing for fun.  Too young for kids vs. decidedly no kids vs. in the trenches of family planning.  But together we can encourage, listen, laugh, cry, and just be there for each other.  These are the friendships that are forged through sport.  

The end of my racing season is quickly coming into view with the World Championships being 9 weeks away.  My training volume and intensity is reaching peak.  I am tired... a lot of the time.  I can no longer remember what's on my plan tomorrow or the next day, which is probably a good thing because when I look ahead it gives me anxiety.  

PR up Mt. Lemmon!!

Despite being tired, I am feeling stronger every day.  Last weekend we had a team smashfest in Tucson-- biking Mt. Lemmon and then racing in the pool.  I beat my previous best time up Mt. Lemmon, holding higher watts than I ever have and keeping up with teammates that I probably shouldn't be keeping up with.  And my times in the pool matched my previous best times for the workout.  I have a few more key workouts before I get a bit of rest for Ironman Coeur d'Alene in 2 weeks.  
A little team rivalry never hurts when racing!

If you missed my last post about meal planning, you can check it out here.  I am looking forward to sharing my plans for 2017 as there are some exciting plans on the horizon, but I'm not quite ready yet.  :-)  Soon!