Thursday, September 4, 2014

What I've Learned...

Over the last nine years, I've been heavily involved in the sport of triathlon.  It has taken me around the world and back landing me on other continents I never dreamed I'd experience.  I've met new friends with worlds of kindness and love to give.

If you would have asked me nine years ago if this sport would have provided this kind of fulfillment, fun, adventure, camaraderie, joy, pain, learning, suffering, questioning and character development I would have said a resounding "no way".  Look at where I sit now, with a career that revolves around helping others and even an occasional paycheck for doing what I love and would be doing anyway with or without a professional card.

I thought I would take a moment to write down a few of the things I've learned throughout this crazy experience thus far.  Maybe some of those things will surprise you.  Others, I'm sure you'll share with me as an athlete.  So here they are in no particular order. 

What I've learned:

1. It's supposed to be hard.  Embrace it.
2.  Things will not come easily.  That's what will make them 100 times more worthwhile when they do.
3.  There are many sincere, genuinely caring people all around you.  All you have to do is look and not be afraid to ask for help.
4.  Fears are normal.  In fact, if you're not a little bit afraid, your goals probably aren't high enough.
5. Dream big.  No, dream HUGE.
6. Don't disregard even the smallest advice.  Listen to those who take time to share with you...old, young, beginner, and pro.
7.  It's a journey, not a destination.
8.  Find where you feel happiest (like on your bike!) and spend more time there.
9. Don't be afraid to work hard (harder than you ever thought possible) because most people are not willing to do so and that is what will separate you from the rest.
10.  It's not about talent, it's about consistency.
11.  Stop and look around once in awhile, this IS the dream.  It's overflowing messy car, the piles of laundry, the bike grease under your nails...the finish lines, the people, the suffering.  It's all part of it.
12.  The alarm will go off VERY, VERY early, you best get your butt to bed.
13.  When you feel you have nothing left to give, go ahead, give a little more... it's in there.
14.  You will not smell like chlorine for the rest of your life, but for this part of your life, you will, every single day.
15.  There isn't a hill out there you can't conquer.  Stay with it and eventually you will.
16.  Triathlon makes the rest of life seem easier.
17.  People will judge you and the decisions you make in this sport, but once you get into it awhile, you won't care.  You'll be satisfied and that's all that matters.
18.  Trust yourself.
19.  A DNF (did not finish) isn't the end, it's only the beginning.
20.  You don't have to know how you swim when you start, but you should eventually figure it out.  If you don't, you're going to have to bike and run a LOT faster than everyone else!
21.  Nutrition MATTERS.  Take it seriously!
22.  You will meet people who will change your life.  They will touch you and you will never ever be the same.
23.  Hire a coach.  Now.  You cannot be objective with your own training and racing.
24.  Give back to the sport.  Coach someone for free, volunteer, speak at events, whatever it takes.  Give back to what has given you so much.
25.  Know your limits.   Being a smart athlete sometimes means saying the workout is done.
26.  Don't over-analyze.  Prepare, execute to the best of your ability, recover, let it go.  One day does not a week make, one week does not a month make!  There is always tomorrow.
27.  Riding a bike with a good friend talking about life is much cheaper than therapy (thanks Jocelyn!)
28.  Training hard is good, but training smarter is better.
29.  Don't get ahead of yourself.  Thinking about outcomes (results) is a bad idea.  Follow the plan and get out of your own way.  The rest will take care of itself.
30.  Be humble. What we do is a gift.
31.  Thank your support system profusely.  We are NOT easy to live with, eat with, vacation with or be around (especially when we are hungry).
32.  Follow your heart, if it feels right, then it is right.
33.  Thank the volunteers.
34.  Take a shot. You will never regret trying and seeing what is possible.
34.  Never, ever, EVER give up!

As I head into Ironman Wisconsin this weekend, maybe people are asking why I would race again before the big dance in Kona.  Well, that's personal and that's what makes it special to me.  I have my reasons and they are unique and individual.  I've got to take a shot at seeing what I'm made of on Sunday.  I never want to look back and say what if.  "Are you sucking the marrow out of this life and this sport?"  That's what I've asked myself every day on this journey thus far.  I don't intend to stop now!

Someday it will all make sense.  However, today is not that day.  For now, I trust the plan and I believe in my heart that it will all come together in the way it's supposed to for me and those around me.  I'll be praying and thanking them for 140.6 miles on Sunday!

Thanks to my husband, family, friends and sponsors for making these days possible! 

So here's to digging deep, seeing what we are made of and having the time of our lives! 

#32  Signing off!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ironman Lake Placid 2014 - 2nd place female pro

 Did you ever have a dream so real that you thought it actually happened?  Have you ever awakened still feeling the wind on your skin, the salt crystals on your brow, heard the echos of the crowds still reverberating in your mind when only to find you were in your own bed, covers pulled up in a dimly lit room.  I know I have!  I had seen Ironman Lake Placid in my dreams so many times I often wondered if I already had done the race.  After a 3rd place at Ironman Melbourne in March, I refocused all of my energy and attention on Lake Placid four months down the line.  The history of this race and the quaint town in the Adirondacks drew me to it like a moth to a flame.  I'd been there twice before, once as an amateur and once as a pro.  The first race turned out well with an amateur win that gave me the final sign I was ready to turn pro, and the other ended in an ambulance ride from mile 23 of the run to the finish.  Not the professional debut at the 140.6 distance I had planned when I was there in 2011.  I was ready to come back and settle the score and hopefully put together a great performance that would accomplish some of the goals I had set for the season.  I knew it wouldn't be easy, they never are, but I was ready to bare my soul on a course that I knew was one of the tougher on the circuit and see where it landed me! 

I had a few surprise challenges on race week, including a visit to the ER and some medical issues that I won't go into here, but they really threw me for a loop for a few days.  There were a few times when I wondered if after all of this time, effort and discipline that I was I even going to be able to line up to start on Sunday.  I'm not used to having thoughts of that nature, but my friends and family really came out in a big way to support me, whatever my decision, and in the end I knew no matter what happened I would be fine.  The goal is to go out there with whatever we have that day and see where it brings us.  There are no guarantees for anyone, even world champions, when they line up on the start line.  Racing is about accepting those situations and instead of letting them hinder you, allowing them to drive you to use them to your advantage vs. making excuses.  We all have challenges leading into races, mine was no different.  I took my meds right though race day and moved on! 

I had a great support crew in tow with my good friend Alyssa accompanying me as "race sherpa extraordinaire" for the first few days.  Kyle and Alyssa's husband Sam, along with Kyle's Mom and her boyfriend Robert, were all on the Ironsupport team that would be present on race day.  My coach, Jesse, would be in town and that gave me a great sense of comfort knowing he would be on course giving me the latest on what needed to occur.  

 For the first time in my career I was asked to be on the professional panel pre-race which was a big honor, along with Lisa Roberts and few other folks.  It was neat to be asked to come out and share my thoughts on race day!  Alyssa was filming and the full pro panel can be viewed HERE
We waited for Kyle and Sam to show up on Saturday, having some fun girl time prior to the race! 

I was also asked to help award medals for the 1 mile IronKids race on Friday which was a BLAST!  These kids are cute and fast!  I am not kidding here!  The winner of the 11-12 year-old age group went 5:19 which I'm pretty sure I couldn't throw down right now if my life depended on it!  There were plenty of smiles and it was fun to see young people being inspired to get out and move! 
 I had two athletes doing the race, Witek and Holli so I was able to hang out with both of them pre-race and make sure they were all set to execute their race plan!  Witek ended up doing a 10:24 (1:04 swim, 5:36 bike, 3:33 run) for his FIRST Ironman which is pretty darn impressive!  Holli took 6th in her age group and had a great day as well.  So neat to be out there with them on the race course!!

I gave some shout outs to my Ultragrain!

Finally, Kyle and Sam arrived on Saturday and it was time to get this show on the road! 

Couldn't do it without this guy! 

Mirror Lake 

When the gun went off, for the first time in a LONG time, I felt I had a really good start.  I jumped on Jess Myer's feet and swam with all my might.  Unfortunately, that lasted about one minute before she was gone and I was swimming solo.  As I swam on the line only 5-6 feet under the water, I was determined to go hard and see what happened.  I ended up catching a few girls and drafting for a few minutes, but I decided I was better off going around and going on my own to which they promptly (as they should) jumped on my feet.  I pulled them around the first loop and felt the waves of the age group start already starting to reverberate through the lake with 2500 of my closest friends!  Diving in for my second 1.2 mile loop, I noticed the skies were getting VERY dark and I started encountering more age group athletes on the way out to the turn buoys.  I was still navigating pretty well, but once we got close to the turn-around things got very messy.  People were everywhere with no clear line to get close to the buoys and keep moving.  The swimmer behind me pulled around and I followed, thinking they could do a little work and hopefully get us through this mess and on our way back home.  I didn't sight for a few minutes and just focused on hanging on and by the time I looked up we were at least 30-40 feet off the line under water and in a mass mayhem of bodies in every direction.  The rest of the swim was spent zigging and zagging, trying to keep figuring out which way to go to get out as quickly as possible.  It was a mess and I did not enjoy it.  In the meantime, the skies started opening up and I had a bad feeling about my swim time.  Good thing I didn't know! 

1:03 and change swim time - UGH!  Moving on! 

 Photo Credit: Rebecca Lee

I grabbed my Rudy Project sunglasses, shoved them into my top and I was off on the bike!  I was already worried about the very famous screaming descent that comes about 15 miles into the Lake Placid bike course that is hard to stomach in the best of weather, let alone a thunder storm.  I just kept hoping we would get lucky and it wouldn't be a torrential downpour during that section.

 Photo Credit: Rebecca Lee

My bike felt great and I was focused on hitting my numbers and getting in my Powerbar Perform right away on the bike! My Coeur Sports kit felt spectacular and I was excited about the day to come.  The hard rain began just before the descent and I gave myself a serious pep talk about how the race wasn't going to be won or lost on this section, but that I couldn't be afraid as that would just cause me to brake hard or erradically and that would only be MORE dangerous.  I knew I had to stay smooth, confident and trust my bike handling skills while silently praying for safety for me and the other racers.  At times, the rain pelting my arms and legs while heading down hill felt like a thousand bees stinging my body and all I could think was "we do this for fun, no really, this is what we call fun!"  It was laughable! 
 Photo Credit: Rebecca Lee

The course here is spectacularly beautiful (when you could see it between downpours) and my family was out at many turns cheering me on and helping me to not feel so alone!  I passed a few girls and kept tabs on the distances when we would do the out and back sections.  It kept my mind interested and I just focused on riding my race and doing my best! I was pretty surprised to hit T2 with reports I was in second from Mike Reilly over the loud speaker.  My legs felt a little toasty those last few hills into town with a nice headwind for all of us so I was interested to see if they were going to come around for the run.  

Final Bike Time: 5:18 - Fastest bike split of the day

 Photo Credit: Kelly Burns Gallagher

Running out of T2 in second is definitely new to me as I am used to being MUCH farther back!  It was a nice feeling, but with the way my legs were feeling it was hard to even crack a smile in mile one.  I knew from the very start it was going to be a tough day and every single mile was going to require complete focus. 

Photo Credit: Rebecca Lee

Hearing the cheers on the course was just spectacular.  There were friends, family and people who didn't know me, but cheered me on just for having my own biker!!   It was just awesome!  I so wished I felt better so I could look up a little more and acknowledge the support.  It was just going to be one of those days so I watched my heart rate, worried about the factors I could control and tried not to think too much about the pain.  Splits out of T2 from my coach let me know I was around five and a half minutes back from Amber, but I knew my best bet was to run my own race and if I pulled her in, then I did.  Twenty-six miles is a long way and the quickest way to blow up is to go out too hard in the beginning and try to run someone down right away.  Patience in Ironman is KEY! I also wasn't feeling like my usual self on the run, so it was about managing what I could do and not worrying too much about anyone else at that point.  You have to control the controllables! 

The miles ticked off and I counted, sang songs, stayed focused on my biker (who was fabulous by the way) and just tried to keep grinding it out bringing up my heart rate little by little.   Along river road (the flat section out and back), I had some amazing support where there is no spectator access) via these signs from my family!!  How lucky am I!

I almost cried when I saw these and the love and heart that went into the making of each one.  To have this kind of support is what makes races possible for athletes and allows you to dig deeper than you thought you ever could when the going gets really difficult.  I know I am the luckiest girl in the world for the gifts I've been given, and the people in my life are one huge part of why I can achieve my dreams.  There were times when I wondered if this was the worst I have ever felt in a race, but then I remembered Ironman Texas at 105 degrees and decided this was close, but not quite that bad.  

The climb back into town I was barely moving, but the cheers brought me through those tough spots and all I had was an out and back one mile before I could head home.  When I saw my coach, he said "ALL THE WAY TO THE LINE" and I knew Lisa was hot on my heels so I couldn't let up one inch.  Thoughts of running down Amber left me about mile 20, now it was all about getting to the finish line without collapsing.  

 Photo Credit: Rebecca Lee

The oval was the most welcoming sight ever!  Through the rain, cold, humidity, heat, sun, grimy haze, I could see the finish line within reach.  I was so happy to have second place locked up once and for all on a challenging day. 
The crowd support on this race is just wonderful!  High fives for all! 

Final Run Time: 3:10
Arms raised, it is always a Blessing to cross the finish line safe and sound.  

None of this would have been possible without my support crew pictured above of Sam, Alyssa, Robert, Deb and Kyle.  In addition, my coach Jesse, with QT2, is the total brains behind this outfit.  He's brought me farther than I ever realized was possible.  I am incredibly grateful for my family, friends and sponsors - Ultragrain, Coeur Sports, Rudy Project, NormaTec Recovery, Powerbar, QT2 Systems, Fuelbelt, Biotta and Top Gear Bicycle Shop
This race was dedicated to my special friend and teammate Stephanie who has had the toughest year I could imagine and still manages to trust that the plan for her is the right one.  She never falters, never waivers in her faith and I know she is one of the strongest individuals in the sport who will come back and take this next year by storm.  I'll be rooting for you all the way Steph.  Thanks for inspiring me to be a better person and athlete.
What's up next?  Well, you'll have to wait and see now, won't you!